The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume6 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: [email protected] Hayabusa & Hachikawa Tomoe
Part 1 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
“Tarot Girls 22 here! First it was burgers, then it was gyudon, and now we have a brand new fast food revolution! The revolutionary restaurant Neko Manma is exactly what it sounds like! This bowl full of rice covered in exactly the kind of miso soup you want is a friend to the masses. And of course you can choose red miso, white miso, bonito broth, sea slug broth, pork broth, or seafood broth. As the Empress of the Major Arcana, I, Anemura Kaede, am rooting for this nostalgic yet new style of food!!”
An idol’s recorded announcement played on a loop to match the commercial playing on the restaurant’s TVs.
I copied the mascot’s cry of “Miso soup splash!” as I poured the shark broth on the steaming white rice in my bowl.
Ahhh!! Working out of the office is so hard!!
Investigation Department 1’s chief was shoving all the worst jobs on me to repay me for acting without permission so much lately. Food was the only thing I had to look forward to, which seemed like a major red flag from a mental health perspective.
“Eh, ah, ahem!! ‘Uchimaku, take this file and get investigating. A coroner’s autopsy isn’t enough to determine whether the old folks who died alone in their homes and then mummified really did die natural deaths or not. Go reinvestigate everything to see if there was a crime involved.’ Detective, your colleagues really do hate you, don’t they?”
“Why are you here, Miss Compulsory Education? And how can you do such a spot on impersonation of the chief from this morning!?”
“That’s. A. Secret☆ By the way, detective, if you’re gonna eat at Neko Manma, you need to get the famous Miyazaki cold miso. Honestly, don’t you know anything? That’s the #1 dish here.”
“You’re kidding. Wouldn’t that leave you with cold rice?”
The twintailed Mystery Freak was pretty much wearing a swimsuit around town again. She suddenly appeared in the seat next to me and took a bowl. The one thing that was appropriate for her age was the scarf modeled after a character with a really long body. It was midday, so the counter seats were packed full and she used that fact to press up against me more than absolutely necessary.
“You aren’t going to find any new evidence in this reinvestigation. How many years ago did the first investigation end? How many decades ago did those old people die? Unless the blunt weapon or blade reached the bone, not even an autopsy would find anything at this point. You aren’t going to find any new witnesses or a murder weapon. There’s just nothing there.”
“The chief probably knows that and wants me to waste my time. To hell with him.”
If you were willing to live with a corpse, it might be possible to commit the perfect crime without dumping the body in the forest or ocean. As long as you didn’t illegally take money from their pension, it would be treated as a natural death and no criminal case could be made. And as long as the family living in the same house “didn’t notice”, it didn’t count as abandonment of a corpse. Of course, it would take twenty or thirty years of living with the stench of death to receive the benefits of mummification, so it was simply too frightening to imagine.
“What are you doing, Mystery Freak?”
“Well, my actions might overlap with yours, so I thought I should pop in to say hello.”
“Hey, hey. If you’re investigating the mystery of the old mummies, why not go on a date with me☆? Splitting up would be inefficient, so if we’re both going after the Ubasute Apartments, we might as well flirt along the way☆”
That unexpected term left me in shock.
“Uba” was rarely used to mean “old woman” in modern times, but it could still be seen in the name of a Youkai called a Yamanba.
Ubasute was the act of abandoning one’s parents in the mountains because you didn’t have enough money to support them or were sick of taking care of them. And the fate of an old person abandoned in the dark mountains was obvious. People argued about the ethics of euthanasia in modern times, but the concept of Ubasute made it hard to say the past was always better. The topic made my food seem completely flavorless.
I didn’t know what exactly this was about, but I knew where the name Ubasute Apartments had to have come from.
Meanwhile, the Mystery Freak spoke up while rubbing her head on my shoulder.
“Its official name is different of course, but over fifty old people have died alone there in the last three years and they were all immediately deemed natural deaths. Don’t they seem oddly unwilling to call it a crime? Are you feeling a little more motivated now?”
Part 2 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Sugamo was known as the Old Lady’s Harajuku, but it was slowly changing. Trees had been planted here and there to add a little more green to the scenery and residential areas were popping up for old people who wanted a peaceful life. Of course, land was always at a premium, so the apartments tended to be in high-rise buildings.
Ikebukuro was nearby, so it might have been something like Daikanyama was to central Shibuya.
“That’s not an apartment building. These days, graveyards are built in high rise buildings too.”
“Seriously? Well, at least I can’t imagine any ghosts or offering thieves showing up there.”
“And that tree over there is a grave tree. They get a whopping fifteen applications for every open spot. …But I feel like a lone tree standing in the middle of a park would end up withering away from all the things people would do to it.”
We spoke back and forth as we made our way to the investigation site on foot.
The Ubasute Apartments in question were outside the aforementioned residential area.
Around twenty identical buildings were squeezed in together like bookcases in a library. The buildings themselves looked old, but they seemed properly maintained and didn’t feel unclean. Still, their overall atmosphere was somehow different from the other places. The area had a lot more trees than elsewhere, so the apartment buildings seemed to poke out from a thick forest. Just by blocking the view and the road gave the entire place a sense of rejection.
“Is this really the only way in?”
“It certainly is inconvenient.”
The brick-paved road was narrower than a farm road and it meandered back and forth. The road itself was quite bumpy because tree roots were pushing it up from below.
I doubted you could get a scooter through, much less a car.
We continued down the awful road for two or three hundred meters as if going for a picnic…no, for a light hike. If the path had been straight, it wouldn’t have been half that long.
Finally, the manmade forest cleared up and an impressive form stood in our way.
We had reached the Ubasute Apartments.
The closest building’s entrance was a lot like a school’s main entrance or a hospital’s visitor’s entrance. According to the plate set up there, the official name was Wankashi Camp Apartments.
As I read that name, I heard a slamming. I looked up at the six or seven story building and saw one of the many windows slam shut.
No, it wasn’t just one.
After that first one, that sound of rejection continued from all over. It was just like when a meeting had fallen silent and someone cleared their throat.
“Now that’s what I call a warm reception.”
“I don’t care as long as they don’t drop a flower pot on us from the balcony. …Anyway, what are these?”
Several metal buckets were sitting around here and there. They were dented and filled with dirty water. Were they full of rainwater?
Then I noticed an old man in a track suit watering a flower garden with a watering can. After using up the water in the watering can, he grabbed one of the buckets from the ground and poured its contents into the watering can. Filled with that much water, the bucket had to be quite heavy.
The Mystery Freak immediately jumped at this chance.
The old man sounded incredibly suspicious, but he didn’t refuse to talk altogether.
Enbi used that to her advantage and pushed further.
“That looks tough. Why do you collect the water in buckets?”
“The buckets gather rainwater. This is the most efficient way.”
“Mister, but wouldn’t it be easier to use the faucet?”
“Water is valuable. Kids these days might not get that, though.”
He then asked us a question with the refilled watering can in hand.
“What are you two doing here? I didn’t think door-to-door salesmen would visit a place like this.”
Let’s see. Where did I put my police badge?
I checked through my pockets and finally pulled my ID from my back pants pocket.
“I’m from the police. I’m here today for, well, additional investigation on some people who died alone.”
“You’re a police officer?”
He clearly frowned and gave me an even more skeptical look.
“Don’t the police normally work in groups of two?”
Police officers in dramas were sometimes mocked for acting alone, but it was pretty common in reality. If there was a rule forcing us to work in pairs, we’d be spotted right away if we tried to tail someone. It would completely undermine the concept of a plainclothes officer.
“But it certainly isn’t normal for one to be working with a teenage girl.”
“That is very true. I am well aware of that fact and I have nothing to say in my defense.”
“I don’t care how kids dress, but at least cover up your midriff. You’re only hurting yourself doing that.”
After spitting out those words, the old man started toward the building with the empty watering can in hand.
“My name is Tayama Sunao. You can check around the apartments if you want.”
“I’d like to speak with the manager, so do you know where they might be?”
“No. In fact, haven’t seen them in a while.”
Tayama-san didn’t even turn back our way.
“Oh, and while I don’t care what you do, don’t use the elevator.”
With that, he really did vanish into the building.
The Mystery Freak and I exchanged a glance.
“What should we do?”
“Whatever we can. We don’t really need his permission.”
I pulled out a cellphone equipped with a police SIM and called up the file for this job. I decided to check the rooms of the deceased old people and then ask around at the neighboring rooms.
I walked through the large apartment grounds based on the file.
As we made our way through the closely packed buildings, the windows slammed shut around us. They were rejecting outsiders, but they weren’t ignoring them. The buildings were filled with countless eyes and I could tell they were all focused on us.
These were the Wankashi Camp Apartments, aka the Ubasute Apartments. According to the Mystery Freak, more than fifty people had died alone here in three years, but the closest such room was on the sixth floor of Building 3.
The building had nothing as fancy as automatically locking doors, so we walked right in. The first floor was not part of the living area. Instead, it seemed to be focused on recreation. A lobby for chatting was filled with benches and a large room was lined with health equipment. We passed through that area and climbed the stairs.
“Hey, Mystery Freak, why’s this place known as the Ubasute Apartments anyway?”
“I’m sure you can guess. It’s an inexpensive option for old folks to live alone. It made waves online for being so incredibly cheap in the city center. The problem is no one knows how to contact the real estate agency.”
“Don’t ask me. I’m only repeating the rumors.”
We discussed the case as we climbed the stairs, but the Mystery Freak was already worn out by the third floor.
“Wait, detective… I’m tired…”
“How!? You have to climb three or four flights of stairs at school, don’t you!?”
“My school has elevators. So how about we use the ones here? That old man’s not looking.”
It was true the apartments had seven stories. And twenty buildings, too. If we had to go up and down the stairs that many times, it would be about as much effort as some light mountain climbing.
The Mystery Freak walked right past the next flight of stairs and entered the hallway. There, she pressed the button to one of the four elevators.
“Look, it isn’t even malfunctioning or anything. The light came on, so…”
But Enbi was cut off by another voice.
“Hold iiiiit!! Didn’t anyone tell you not to use the elevator!?”
The roaring voice sounded like a nearby lightning strike.
The Mystery Freak jumped and I looked over to find an old lady in an apron poking her head out from a door and giving Enbi a devilish glare. She stomped over, grabbed the Mystery Freak’s hand, and pulled her away.
It almost looked like she was moving her away from the elevator door.
“Honestly. Don’t you give any thought to your safety? …And what kind of outfit is that!? A young girl shouldn’t be walking around in public with her midriff showing!!”
“If that dense man would finally give in and have his way with me, I wouldn’t have to dress like this to seduce him! And it’s already October, you know!? Even I know wearing a swimsuit now is weird!! This scarf is a decoration! This is the surefire sexy swimsuit scarf! Tah dah!!”
“If you know it’s weird, then why don’t you stop!?”
I shouted back with my skin crawling, but no one was listening.
At any rate, the old lady seemed to have taken that conversation at face value.
“Hm? The population has grown to 150 million, but there are still traces of the Immoral Ten Year Project meant to increase the birthrate? How sad. If that scarf is fur, I might faint.”
The apron old lady sounded angry, but she didn’t seem to have all that bad an impression of us. It may have been that she was scolding us instead of angry with us. And her issues with the Mystery Freak’s clothing seemed grounded in worry for the girl’s safety, not her own displeasure.
Tayama-san from the flower garden may have been the same.
In that case, why were they telling us not to use the elevator? I had initially thought it was a way of telling us we were uninvited guests, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
“So what are you two doing here?”
“This doesn’t explain her, but I am a police officer. …Um, this is hard to say, but I’m performing some additional investigation into the death of some people who died alone.”
“Oh.” She readily answered without seeming displeased. “You mean Akasabi-san. That isn’t entirely unrelated to me.”
I was confused, but the old lady also seemed confused.
“Is that not it?”
“Well, the investigation has only just begun, so I don’t know any of the details yet. But if you’re willing, could you tell me about this Akasabi-san?”
“That’s fine. Besides, whoever you ask, you’ll end up talking about Akasabi-san. That’s just how well-known the story is.”
Part 3 (Hachikawa Tomoe)
I had completely forgotten we had school off after the midterm exams, so I had no real plans despite the day off. With nothing else to do, I decided to visit “his” grave since I’d been putting it off for quite a while.
That was because my mom had gotten remarried. My new dad was nice and I had no real complaints about our new family, but it was still hard to talk about “him”.
Well, since I was able to dig up those old memories, maybe I had finally managed to come to terms with that incident involving a Jinmensou and my friend Mio.
I left home on the pretext of going shopping and boarded the train to Sugamo. I had to wonder what my mom thought when I left in my beige blazer-style winter uniform despite having the day off. I chose some random flowers at the florist by the train station and walked to the graveyard with the bouquet. It was a weekday, so it must have been a strange sight to anyone who didn’t know about our post-exam day off. Still, I wasn’t stopped by a police officer. The big city really could be cold.
On the way, I spotted a middle-aged man and woman arguing at the main gate of what seemed to be an elementary school.
The man looks like a teacher, but who’s the woman?
“Please calm down, ma’am. Just calm down a little, okay?”
“Shut up!! I know they did it! Who else could have? You suspect them deep down too, don’t you!?”
“Like I’ve been saying, there’s no way to be sure.”
“But they brought a weapon to the school that other time… If you aren’t going to report this, I’ll do it myself. But if I do it, you might just be found complicit in this!!”
…What in the world is going on?
The woman returned my curious look with a sharp glare, so I made a rapid exit. I had no concrete dreams for the future, but I had a few clear ideas of what I didn’t want to be. A housewife who only caused trouble without doing any housework was one of those. If you didn’t do any housework and didn’t have a job, you were just a grown-up shut-in.
I regathered my thoughts and continued toward the graveyard.
High-rise graveyard buildings and grave trees had become common in recent times, but “he” had prepared himself a stone grave on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. And he had done it long before he died. He had pretentiously said a policeman never knew when he was going to die so he had dealt with that ahead of time, but I doubted that was the real reason.
The buildings and grave trees had people to look after them, so the family didn’t have to maintain the grave. I was pretty sure he hadn’t liked the sound of that.
He tried to keep a composed appearance, but he could actually get pretty lonely.
I set foot in the temple’s graveyard while messing with my cellphone, but I found someone was already there.
The man was a police officer just like “him”.
I was pretty sure his name was Sotobori Gaku. His most noticeable features were the solid build of a judo ace and an extremely intimidating face. He also had plenty of scars. Of course, he was a professional who fought day and night against large criminal organizations, so he had probably given himself that look on purpose.
He had arrived ahead of me, so the grave was already clean and the withered flower and old offering had been replaced with new ones.
He smiled bitterly when he saw me.
“What’s this, Tomoe-chan? Are middle school girls so attached to their electronics that they can’t put them down in a graveyard?”
“I’m playing this for ‘him’. It’s Tarot Girls 22’s new song. …Honestly, can you believe a man of his age was supporting some teenage idols behind his daughter’s back? That man really loved his fads.”
“Eh? What? Really!? I’ll never be able to think about him the same way again!!”
“Ah ha ha. And he’s not going to drink that sake you brought as an offering. He would act cool and go along when his colleagues went out drinking, but when he got home, he’d start vomiting into the toilet.”
But despite what I said, I wasn’t confident I knew who he really was either.
He had lost his life during the Jinmensou incident involving my friend Mio, but I hadn’t noticed a villain had taken his place until the very, very end.
If the detective named Uchimaku hadn’t saved me, that villain probably would have killed me.
I separated my bouquet’s flowers and placed them around the grave as offerings. Then I held my hands together in front of the grave.
Thanks to my mom’s remarriage, I was now part of the Hachikawa family, so I didn’t know if I would end up in this grave engraved with the name “Toujou”. Still, I thought I should at least be allowed to pray for the deceased.
After I reopened my eyes, I asked Sotobori-san a question.
“Hey, what kind of person was ‘he’ to you?”
His answer came without a moment’s delay, but he must have thought that wasn’t enough because he scratched his head and said more.
“Being a police officer is an occupation. If they didn’t pay you, no one would do it. But once you keep at it for five or ten years, it starts soaking into every part of you. That’s what I mean when I say he had brought being a detective to the level of a lifestyle. Even if he had been fired for some reason, I doubt he ever could have escaped that way of living.”
“That’s just how it is. You may not like to hear it since he was always neglecting you, but Toujou Miyabi lived the life of a detective to the very end. If he didn’t have steadfast convictions, he would have stopped before he was killed.”
Honestly. Does that mean he grew up or that he never grew up?
Sotobori-san here and Uchimaku-san who had saved me may have been the same.
And speaking of Uchimaku-san…
“H-hey. You know Uchimaku-san, right? What’s he doing now? He seemed a lot like ‘him’, so is he doing well?”
“Ohhhh, I see.”
“That guy only seems to attract the ones who ‘aren’t quite there yet’. If they just had another ten…no, even just five more years, he would have had a man’s idea of heaven waiting for him.”
“Wh-what are you trying to say!?”
“Let me ask you something instead, Tomoe-chan.”
Sotobori-san grinned as he pulled a cellphone from his pocket.
“I know Uchimaku, so I naturally have his phone number and email address. So what are you going to do, Tomoe-chan? This is the perfect chance if you want his address.”
They really are kids! The police are nothing but children!!
“Wh-what? What are you-… I don’t, um, want…”
“This might be your one and only chance, you know? Over thirty million people move through Tokyo every day, so surely you aren’t thinking you’ll just so happen to miraculously bump into him again without putting any work into it yourself.”
I looked away from him.
Damn, I can feel the heat in my cheeks. I know what this means, so why can’t I stop myself from holding out my cellphone!?
My voice was barely audible as I announced my surrender.
“Please…give it to me.”
“Sure thing. …Y’know, this means I’m giving a grown man’s address to a man’s daughter right in front of his grave. I hope he doesn’t start haunting me.”
“Sh-shut up. That isn’t what this is about! And I don’t care if he does show up as a ghost! That would probably make things a little livelier around here!!”
My argument was losing any coherence as I held the cellphone close to my chest.
I-I have it.
But what am I supposed to do with it!?
Sotobori-san then turned his head as if he had noticed something.
“Now, then. I can’t intrude any longer, so I’ll be going. It’s probably been a while for you, so take your time.”
I gave him a puzzled look as he waved and left, but I soon realized what this was about. Someone else was approaching through the graveyard.
She was ‘his’ younger sister. That made her my aunt.
“Long time no see, Tomoe-chan.”
I didn’t know what to call her, but I finally smiled and called her the same thing I had the last time we had met.
“It's nice seeing you again, Aunt Midori.”
Part 4 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
The old lady in an apron we met in the Ubasute Apartments was apparently named Nezu Yuki. We didn’t want to stand around and talk, so she showed us to her apartment.
It seemed to have been designed with a family in mind because it had a fair number of rooms. It was all well-maintained, so it looked old yet clean. However, the size of the apartment made it feel a little lonely for an old woman to be living there alone.
Also, the lighting was oddly dim, but it wasn’t enough to make reading difficult. She probably just wanted to save electricity.
“I won’t serve you any tea. I’m out of tea leaves.”
She was also incredibly blunt.
“Well, this topic will kill your appetite anyway, so it may be better this way. Anyone who could eat while discussing Akasabi-san couldn’t be human.”
“So who is this Akasabi-san?”
“Probably one of the people you’re investigating.”
Nezu-san sat at the kitchen table with a groan of effort. The Mystery Freak and I decided to sit in the opposite seats.
“Akasabi-san was one of those who died alone, but the situation was a little different from the bedridden folks without anyone looking after them who dried up, collapsed from a sudden illness, and weren’t found by anyone. Akasabi-san was trapped inside.”
In where? And by who?
If a third party was involved, it wouldn’t be a natural death. That was more than enough to be a crime.
But when she saw the sharp look in my eyes, Nezu-san waved her hands in front of her face.
“Hear me out first. I’m talking about the bath door. It had apparently already been old and rattling in its frame, but at some point the door seems to have soaked up enough water to expand. That kept it from moving at all. Akasabi-san was trapped inside the bath.”
“Oh, I get it. So they were trapped inside all on their own.”
Nezu-san nodded at the Mystery Freak’s comment.
“Regardless, they couldn’t get out. At first, they apparently didn’t feel much danger since they were still inside their own house. …But that doesn’t change the fact that they were trapped inside. And people die if they don’t have anything to eat. After realizing the danger, they banged on the door, but it was no use. They couldn’t use the phone and no one showed up after they shouted from the small window.”
How would that have felt?
No one ever thought of their own home as a dangerous or deadly place. The trapped person might laugh at what had happened, but as soon as they realized it’s no laughing matter, everything they thought they knew would be turned on its head.
“There was some bathwater left in the bathtub. Drinking that was enough to stay alive, but only stay alive. Their strength faded as the days passed and they lost the strength needed to break down the door or even shout out the window. This continued for a week or two. …They couldn’t even die. They knew they were going to run out of strength eventually, but they extended their suffering. They probably wished they hadn’t had that lifeline so they could have just given up. I heard the bathtub plug had been pulled out by the time the body was found.”
It was an unimaginable story.
Had their thoughts on life and death been turned upside down along with everything else?
In that small world, living had become suffering and death had become a salvation.
“But apparently the dampness of the bath hadn’t completely vanished. Finding a naked corpse would be disturbing enough, but the group that found Akasabi-san apparently saw a pile of bright colored mold covering the entire bath. The corpse was curled up in the center of it all and I hear the mold had turned it to mush like severe athlete’s foot covering the entire body.”
She was right about this not being a topic to discuss over tea.
I was a detective and seeing crime scenes was a part of the job, so I was fairly accustomed to seeing corpses. But this was different. There was no malicious trick yet someone’s life had been carelessly lost. It felt so empty because the only solution was to accept that these things happened.
“Everyone in the apartments started talking about how we didn’t want the same thing to happen to us, so we started worrying about how the bath doors fit in their frames.”
But if this woman’s story was true, there was no crime involved. It wasn’t something a police officer like me needed to investigate any further. …If it was true no one else was involved, that is.
A drowning could be disguised by letting the corpse mummify or decay. Strangling them could leave a rope mark around the neck or break their neck, but nothing of the sort remained if they were drowned. The mold would have caused the corpse to decay in an extremely short time, so what if someone had intentionally set the room temperature and humidity to promote its growth?
I pulled out my cellphone to find this Akasabi-san on the list of those who had died alone, but then the Mystery Freak spoke to Nezu-san.
“Hey, ma’am, I have one question about this famous Akasabi-san.”
“What is it?”
“Which room did they live in?”
It was an obvious question and the old Nezu Yuki-san gave a clear answer in a tone that seemed to ask why we were asking something so silly.
“That’s the thing. Everyone will point to a different room if you ask them. Well, I’m sure one of them is the real one.”
Part 5 (Hachikawa Tomoe)
It had truly been a long time since I had visited a relative’s house for fun.
Toujou Midori-san’s house was near the graveyard. It was a small house, but I thought it was amazing enough to have your own home in Tokyo when the country’s population had grown to 150 million.
“Sorry. Takkun would have wanted to play with you, but she’s still at school. She’s probably only just getting back from her field trip. Would you mind killing some time with your aunt instead?”
Despite the “kun”, Takkun wasn’t a boy. The girl’s name was Toujou Takumi-chan and that had been shortened to Takkun. I couldn’t quite remember how old she would be, but I was pretty sure she would still be in elementary school.
We watched TV in the living room and I had a meaningless chat with Midori-san. She would complain about how the beautiful had all the luck since the Tarot Girls 22 could have a scandal but come out of it more popular because it made them seem “more human”.
At some point, Midori-san changed the subject.
“Come to think of it, Tomoe-chan, did you see anyone strange on your way here?”
I remembered the woman throwing a fit at the elementary school, but that didn’t seem to be what she was talking about.
“There’s an apartment complex just outside of this area and the old people that live there, well…”
“What about them?”
“I guess you could say they get angry easily and, well, they’ve been causing a lot of trouble in the area lately. But as long as you weren’t caught up in it, it doesn’t matter.”
She seemed hesitant to speak, so she was clearly choosing a softer way of putting this.
It might have been forcing my own image or role onto them, but I felt like old men and women should be living in big rural houses. The old folks who would snap angrily at anyone and got so obsessed with the horse races honestly seemed to be wasting their time and it felt kind of sad. It was too painful to watch when they started shoplifting because they wanted attention or started stalking any young woman who so much as smiled their way.
Of course, old people were human too, so there were good ones and bad ones. They had their own thoughts and some would always be filled with shallow desires no matter how long they lived. That was probably all it was.
“Anyway, I’m glad to hear you didn’t see anything like that, Tomoe-chan.”
That was all Midori-san said.
We watched TV for a while longer and she commented that they got the seasoning wrong on the cooking show and told me how many times a certain actress had been married. At some point, I realized quite a bit of time had passed.
Toujou Midori-san checked the clock and tilted her head.
“Oh? She should have been back by now.”
“Maybe she went to a friend’s house.”
“I tell her to send an email when she does that.”
I decided not to mention how restrictive that rule sounded to me.
I stood up from the table.
“Then I’ll go check at her school.”
“Eh? You don’t have to do that. It would be meaningless if you just missed each other.”
“Ah ha ha. To be honest, I just wanted an excuse to go jogging. You’ve been having me eat so much that I can’t even calculate out how many calories I’ve had.”
With that said, I put my shoes on in the entrance, but my aunt still looked troubled.
“Tomoe-chan, I know you’re on a diet, but don’t force yourself. They said on TV some female athletes get irregular periods.”
“I’m not working myself that hard, so don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.”
I opened the front door with a bitter smile.
As I did so, question marks danced inside my heart.
I know they might be causing trouble, but was Midori-san really the type to bad mouth people like that?
Part 6 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
It made no sense to me.
Nezu Yuki-san, the old woman in an apron, claimed to know the story of Akasabi-san quite well, but she also didn’t know where the deceased’s room was. In that case, what was that story? Since everyone here supposedly knew it, I doubted she had simply made it up.
“Detective, do you think this Akasabi-san person actually exists?”
“You might be able to look through your list with a number of different kanji spellings in mind, but I doubt you’ll find anything. Akasabi isn’t a name.” The Mystery Freak grinned. “When the body was found, Akasabi-san was covered in bright-colored mold, remember? I bet it was the rust-like color of the mold that led to the name. They were simply given a name based on how they looked. I bet there really was an original decayed corpse covered in mold, but was it really someone named Akasabi? What about the story about the bath? I don’t know about that. The story might even be based on more than one person.”
Oh, I get it.
When I thought of it like that, it started to make sense and it was a lot easier to judge the credibility of that old woman’s story.
Still, it wasn’t an entirely baseless rumor. It wasn’t something hidden deep in the ocean or the mountains. Someone had died here and no one knew who it was.
The person had died all alone, they had been left to rot, and the facts had deteriorated with time. It felt different from the murder cases I had faced in the past. This was someone’s very existence vanishing, not just their life.
“Wh-what’s this all of a sudden!? And after I was kind enough to tell you my story!”
“Okay, ma’am, then do you know whether Akasabi-san was a man or a woman?”
She immediately started mumbling. We weren’t talking about a beautiful Thai shemale, so she would at least know the sex of someone she had actually met.
“So you could say this Akasabi-san existed or that they didn’t. At the very least, you aren’t going to find them in your data and they aren’t just a rumor. I doubt anyone knows who they were anymore. You might want to check through the past deaths in these apartments. That would probably narrow it down a little in some normal apartments, but this place has an oddly high rate of people dying alone. It would be really hard to determine exactly who this was based on.”
That seemed to settle things for the time being.
Of course, actual investigations weren’t so simple that everything people told you led directly to the truth. With all the people dying alone in the Ubasute Apartments, it was easy for speculation and assumptions to get out of control. I decided I needed to be extra careful as I gathered more information.
And then a heavy rumble and vibration filled the entire building.
I looked to the ceiling instead of front, back, left, or right. I belatedly realized I was reacting as if it were an earthquake, but that was not what this was. The shaking was focused on a single point as if a dump truck had crashed into the building.
Even more surprisingly, the old woman sitting across from us did not seem at all concerned.
Nezu-san sounded perfectly calm when she spoke.
“That may have been the elevator.”
That was hard to believe, but the Mystery Freak and I decided to check it out. We left Nezu-san’s room, but there was no one in the hallway. Not a single person had left their room despite the entire building shaking.
What was going on?
The elevator doors were still closed on this middle-level floor, so checking it here wouldn’t help. Enbi and I ran down the stairs and finally caught a glimpse of the oddity on the first floor.
One of the elevator doors had bulged outwards and fallen over. The elevator inside was tilted outwards. The mirror meant to reveal anyone hiding inside was broken and glass shards were scattered across the floor.
“Looks like it fell from pretty high up. Did the wire snap? But the emergency brakes must not have worked.”
“More importantly, I’m glad no one was riding it at the time.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and a voice reached me from behind.
“Of course not. Who would go out of their way to ride something so dangerous?”
I turned around and found Tayama Sunao-san, the old man in a track suit who had been watering the flower garden.
“Something so dangerous?” The Mystery Freak sounded confused. “You make it sound like you knew that already.”
“Of course I did. I don’t think it’s been inspected for at least twenty years.”
He made that sound obvious, but I was utterly shocked.
What!? Twenty years!?
“Um, wait a second! That can’t be true. What is the manager doing? Haven’t you ever heard of the Fire Services Act!?”
“Don’t ask me.”
I’m not saying it’s your fault!!
“Besides, if you go over all the laws, it’ll probably turn out that we’re the ones in the wrong. That’s why we can’t rely on the police or lawyers. To be honest, I’m still not sure what a police officer like you is doing here.”
“What are you talking about?”
Wasn’t this an obvious case of neglect by the manager or real estate company? What would have happened if one of the residents had been riding that elevator?
Tayama-san answered my questions by pointing to a poster on the elevator hall wall.
“Just look at this.”
Confused, I slowly followed his instructions and only found more confusion.
The poster contained the contact information for the real estate company that managed the Wankashi Camp Apartments.
Or it should have.
“Keep out!! This condemned building is the property of Wankashi Real Estate and entrance is strictly forbidden. If anyone disobeys this warning, we are prepared to press charges. –Wankashi Real Estate. Reception Desk: [email protected]”
If I had skimmed through it without paying much attention, it might have seemed perfectly normal. It wasn’t uncommon for managers to forbid anyone but residents so they could keep out malicious solicitations.
But this was definitely odd.
“What is this? Condemned building!?”
“Ohhh, so that’s it.”
I shouted in confusion, but the Mystery Freak smiled as if it had all clicked for her. She then asked Tayama-san a question.
“Hey, mister, how much of a security deposit or key money did you pay when you rented a room here?”
“There was nothing of the sort.”
“Then one more question. Who was your guarantor when you rented a room here?”
“I didn’t need anything of the sort.”
I frowned at the consecutive denials.
Those circumstances were too far out of the ordinary. The lack of a guarantor was especially damning. While there were celebrities who bought a luxury mansion with cash, anyone else would need a guarantor when making residency arrangements.
There were even young folks who had a job and a decent social standing but were forced into homelessness because they were too isolated to get the guarantor needed to lease an apartment.
At that point, it all started to make sense.
Weren’t there illegal businesses that preyed on people with precisely those problems?
“That’s what this is, detective.” The Mystery Freak grinned as she gave her conclusion. “On paper, these aren’t apartments at all. They’re disguised as abandoned buildings and these old people are technically living here without permission.”
“You mean this is the largest illegal apartment business in Japan!?”
The entire apartment complex!?
I was shocked and Tayama-san gave an exasperated sigh.
He almost seemed to be speaking to two children who just did not understand.
“If that was all, this would be a lot easier.”
“Listen. It’s true that this place is known as an abandoned building on paper. We live here illegally and we keep sending money to someone who ‘technically’ isn’t affiliated with the real estate company. That of course means the elevators aren’t inspected and they have no obligation to send us any electricity, gas, or water. It’s an abandoned building after all.”
The old man told us something unbelievable.
But he wasn’t the one being unreasonable. It was the circumstances he had found himself in.
“So if they want to, they can cut off our lifeline as easily as turning off the tap. That’s perfect for anyone who wants us to hurry up and die in our rooms.”
“You don’t mean…”
These were known as the Ubasute Apartments.
The apartments were filled with an unnatural number of old people who had died natural deaths all alone.
“We were intentionally abandoned here,” spat out the old man in the track suit. “The families that were sick of looking after us worked with the real estate company that had prepared this dumping ground for pure profit. The unusual number of deaths didn’t happen naturally. They’ll cut off our water during the summer or cut power to our heater during winter, so we’re left with no way to survive.”
What the hell is that?
Isn’t that just a large-scale automated execution device?
Since they could wait for the old people to die without dirtying their own hands, the killers wouldn’t feel any guilt. By so thoroughly preparing the environment, the families could easily drive them to their deaths while thinking “that’s just how it is”.
It was exactly like the Ubasute Mountain from long ago!
Part 7 (Hachikawa Tomoe)
I didn’t have a jogging outfit to change into, so I ran more leisurely down the unfamiliar road. The colors of Tokyo changed a lot depending on which region you were in and this one seemed to slow the flow of time. Or maybe the Ochanomizu and Jinbocho area I lived in was just too intense. That area was full of musical instruments, old books, and universities.
But the commotion that awaited me blew that atmosphere away.
It was at the gate to the same elementary school as before.
I was worried it was that same woman again, but there were more now.
Ahh! That shrill middle-aged woman has multiplied!
“Wait! What do you mean they weren’t here!?”
“Managing the route to school is the school’s responsibility! Explain yourselves!!”
“See? This is what happens when you assume it isn’t your problem!!”
Some of them seemed to be directing their anger in a bit of a different direction, but the middle-aged army was making a scene all the same. I felt bad for the male teacher who had waves of old lady smell pressing in on him. The children who cheerfully passed by and said goodbye to the teacher also had a hard life.
I decided to get out of here as soon as possible after I checked to see if Takkun – Toujou Takumi-chan – was here.
“How many times do I have to ask!? Tell me where my Megumu is!! Do you really think I’m going to accept that no one’s seen her as if she vanished into thin air!?”
I briefly doubted my ears.
What was that?
If it was true, this was no laughing matter.
“Um, uh, wait a second!! Wait!!”
“What do you want!?”
“Have you seen a girl named Toujou Takumi!? She’s my cousin and she hasn’t returned home from her field trip!! She was supposed to be back by now!!”
My shout filled the area with a strange atmosphere.
An eerie sense of camaraderie pressed in on me as if to say “oh, her too”.
But that couldn’t be it. It just couldn’t. That would mean Takkun was missing too!
“Please check. This won’t be a problem if she’s in the school.”
“Yes, but all of the students should have received an email saying the field trip had been canceled.”
I ignored the teacher and jumped over the half-closed gate. He shouted “Hey! Wait!!”, but I looked around the schoolyard and made my way to the building. I removed my shoes, held them in my hand, and ran down the hallway and up the stairs to check each room.
She’s not here.
She’s not here, or here, or here!
I pulled out my cellphone and called my aunt, Toujou Midori-san. Takkun had apparently not returned yet. I asked about the security buzzer she carried with her, but it apparently wouldn’t send out a GPS signal unless she pulled the string herself.
That meant we had no clues.
She truly had vanished into thin air.
“No, I must have missed her on the way to the school. That has to be it. If I head back to her house, I should see her on the way.”
I muttered to myself as I returned to the entranceway.
But what if I didn’t find her? What if we missed each other again? How many times would I have to run back and forth before I started thinking of another option?
I held my spinning head with a hand, walked over to the gate, and heard the women shouting again.
“I told you those old people were trouble!!”
“I heard they brought a blade to school last month!”
“Our Megumu was hurt by that old man! Who else could it have been!?”
Those comments caught my attention.
What was going on at this school?
“Um, uh, what do you mean by that?”
“What? You’re still here?”
“Our Takkun might have disappeared! You know how it feels to want to know everything you can, don’t you!?”
I shouted back, and the women fell silent.
Oh, no. I might have talent as a strong-willed old woman.
My worries were cut short by one of the women pouting her lips and answering me.
“We’re talking about those old people. You know who we mean.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Them! The ones from the Ubasute Apartments!!”
Part 8 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
“Like I said, you are currently on private land managed by our company. Those are condemned buildings and are not meant to function as apartments. Contact the government office and they will tell you the same thing.”
“Yes, but aren’t you keeping the power and water shut off when you know these old people are living here? That counts as willful negligence.”
“I am not aware of anyone living there. No one has submitted a certificate of residence, have they? We have nothing of the sort on record and we are not receiving any rent for that facility. Doesn’t that mean no one is living there?”
“Let me ask you something: why would we need to send water and power to abandoned buildings? Negligent management? How much private land do you think there is around Japan without a single guard watching over the place? If you pressed charges against everyone who abandoned their property, you wouldn’t have enough detention cells for them all.”
The voice on the phone seemed to be mocking me.
They were used to this. It felt like they were following the arrows on a flowchart prepared in advance.
“You and your company have created an automated execution device or Ubasute Mountain that lets you accept money as these old people die. If the police take this seriously, we’ll crush this system before long.”
“Feel free to try. We would like nothing more than for you to drive out any illegal occupants. But what would happen then?”
“Where would the old people go once they were driven out? It is none of our concern, but they would probably end up living on the streets. And wouldn’t a lot of the elderly be unable to survive that? Oh, but I guess that’s none of the police’s concern either. You don’t interfere in civil matters, so there’s nothing you can do if someone is withering away on the streets. That’s why you just do your own job. Ah hah hah. You do such a wonderful job of keeping your public and private lives separate.”
They clearly understood everything.
For one thing, the people who stayed in illegal apartments like the Ubasute Apartments tended to be those who could not get a normal apartment. Crushing those corrupt apartments was easy enough, but since the victim had to go somewhere else afterwards, the police would often end up leaving the same victims with fewer and fewer options.
The ancient Ubasute Mountain would have been the same.
It was true the old people would have been too weak to descend the mountain and might have starved to death before long.
But even if they did make it down, what was left for them there?
If they returned to their home, they would be thrown out again. If they went to some other village at the foot of the mountain, who would look after them? With no options left and nowhere to go, they would eventually wither away and breathe their last.
Still, I could not allow this to continue.
All these people had nowhere else to go, so they were being trapped here until they died. They knew exactly what was happening, but they had no way out and could only put up with it.
That was the Ubasute Apartments.
It was a man-eating mountain made of concrete.
To automatically prey on the living, this twisted system had been resurrected in the modern day!
I grabbed my cellphone again and forced out the words.
I was keenly aware that Wankashi Real Estate was my enemy here.
“I will make you regret this.”
“Feel free. Of course, if the police start taking this seriously, I imagine only the illegal residents will be arrested. Regardless, we will be waiting with the best army of lawyers money can buy.”
They hung up and I very nearly crushed the phone in my hand.
“Well, it was pretty suspicious from the moment they gave a cellphone number and not a toll free number or a landline number. And with the [email protected] at the start, it’s probably a throwaway address using an online social game. In the worst case, the phone number might not be enough to track them down.”
“That doesn’t matter. The basic plan hasn’t changed. We need to have this investigated bit by bit.”
Since it had to do with real estate, I called up Department 2.
“Hey, Four Eyes. Ever heard of Wankashi Real Estate?”
“Do you want me to transfer you to the anti-organized crime group? That company doesn’t do any real business, so it doesn’t fit Department 2’s focus on financial crimes.”
“Hey, Heavy Tank. I have a question about Wankashi Real Estate.”
“What, those low level guys? They’re cruel, but they’re small time. You’re after someone pretty boring.”
That annoyed comment came from Sotobori Gaku, a fifth-dan in judo who worked to bring down gangs.
“As you might imagine, they’re the lowest level of a large criminal organization. The Japanese branch at the top is the frightening Kiseki Kaikei. They’re into assassination, organ trafficking, murders for life insurance payouts, human trafficking, corpse disposal, and pretty much anything that puts a price tag on a human life.”
“Who’s at the top doesn’t matter right now. Tell me about Wankashi Real Estate themselves.”
“If you want. They excel at buying and selling land for profit, but whenever they make a mistake, they abandon the company and change their name. To be honest, their performance is pretty lackluster.”
“When you say buying and selling land, what exactly do you mean?”
“You’ve heard the stories about what’s happening to abandoned houses lately, right? When one’s been abandoned and no one knows where the owner is, the rights to the house are confiscated, claiming it’s a hotbed for criminal activity or dangerous insects. Wankashi Real Estate uses that to steal the rights to people’s land and house without them even knowing. It’s gotten so forceful that they don’t even have to get the owner to nod their head. There’s even a case where a family spent two weeks in Hawaii for summer vacation and came back to find their house had been taken. Forceful, right?”
“In other words, they don’t have any land of their own?”
“What about it?”
“Have you heard of the Wankashi Camp Apartments in Sugamo?”
“No. I can look into it if you want, but it’s probably their usual MO. They use a single document to swipe ownership of a building that was abandoned because its owner went out of business and it would cost too much to demolish.”
The real estate company had to know this was forceful.
They were grabbing and selling these buildings for some easy money, so they had no real attachment to any of them. I could understand why they didn’t care too much if I interfered.
The ancient Ubasute Mountain did not refer to just one place.
It had existed everywhere in Japan.
Was this the same? They had set up an automated execution device to bury family members without guilt. Even if one was shut down or demolished, they could change their methods and product to keep providing the service.
“Oh, right, right. Uchimaku-chan, have you been feeling more popular lately?”
“Oh, nothing. Heh heh heh. But, wow. Someone from a previous case, the daughter of a dead coworker, and a middle school girl. That’s like a negative triple seven. If that actually sounds good to you, you have my respect in a backwards sort of way. You do not have an easy life, pretty boy.”
He hung up before I could figure out what he was talking about.
And when I turned around, the Mystery Freak was surrounded by a massive curse-like aura.
“Rumble, rumble, rumble. Hey, detective, what was that about, I can think of a girl who fits those criteria, that’s clearly Tomoe from my class, when did that start to be a thing, even my information network wasn’t able to detect or defend against that one, I need to be more careful. Rumble, rumble rumble.”
“Tomoe-chan? Are you completely insane!? No detective would go after a girl he met while working on a case. This isn’t a job where you can ask for a girl’s number at the funeral!!”
“Um, do you have anywhere to meet girls outside of work?”
“Please stop depressing me!!”
And why are we getting so off topic!? What happened to the Ubasute Apartments driving these old people to death because they have no one left!? No, if Tayama-san was telling the truth, it’s because their families actively want them gone!
But even though we had abandoned the old man in the track suit and even though our conversation had taken an inappropriate turn given the gravity of the situation, Tayama Sunao-san did not seem angry.
In fact, the corners of his eyes looked gentler than when we had first seen him.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been around anyone so lively. You reminded me what human life is like.”
“We’re being left to wither away here. We have a place to sleep and to eat, but that’s all. We can’t leave now. We’re monitored until we wither away and then we’re removed. The atmosphere here has completely dried up, so that really took me back. Sorry about smiling like that.”
That was not living.
It was true clothing, food, and shelter were necessary and irreplaceable, but that wasn’t the only nourishment a human needed. If simply breathing and keeping your heart pumping counted as living, then prison would be enough.
Some people without enough to eat would intentionally commit a crime to get arrested. That way they could get the awful prison food. But these people had not taken that route. Nor had they grabbed a blade and taken revenge on the families that abandoned them. If doing anything else would bother someone else, they had decided withering away in their rooms was the best option.
Why were people like that the first ones to be preyed on?
Thirty million people moved throughout Tokyo every day, but not one of them had any connection to these people!
These were the Ubasute Apartments, an automated execution device or a modern man-eating mountain made of concrete. They were essentially being shut in a box while the air was slowly removed, but had these people done anything to deserve that?
“Hey, mister, did you never think about going on public assistance? With that money and a guarantor company, you might be able to find a proper place to live.”
“I told you my family abandoned me, didn’t I? On paper, I have land and a house. I even have my own bank account. But in reality, my son and his wife have hidden the bankbook and deed from me. So no assistance program will determine I need any help.”
They had wanted the house and they had not wanted him to insist he had the rights to it, so they wanted him gone as soon as possible.
And so they had abandoned their own relative using the new version of Ubasute Mountain that existed in the middle of the nation’s capital.
…I can’t believe them.
“Besides, public assistance is the tax money of strangers, right? Then no thank you. I’m not going to take other people’s money just to extend what little life I have left.”
No, that isn’t how you’re supposed to think about public assistance.
It was true there some idiots who illegally accepted payments because they didn’t want to work or because it paid more than a part-time job, but why focus on them? When someone had nowhere else to turn and they needed an opportunity to get back on their feet, what was wrong with asking for help? Wasn’t that what it meant to support each other? And if the taxes taken from the people weren’t given back to the people, what would be the point?
“We don’t need anything.”
“We have complaints and we could only agree if you asked us if we were angry about any of this, but what’s the point? We don’t have much life left, so why make a fuss that will only make the younger generation suffer? What will that accomplish? So we don’t need anything. Just leave us alone.”
No, no, no!!
Everything about that was wrong, but I couldn’t find the words to argue back. The person I needed to save was right in front of me, but he wasn’t asking for help. I couldn’t tell what would actually hit home for him.
With how long Tayama-san and the others had suffered here, I would probably get some decent hints toward judging the true monsters behind this if I asked them for details.
And yet they would never help me do that. Not as things were anyway. That was clearly true of Tayama-san, but Nezu-san, who had told me the story of Akasabi-san, had not said a word about her own circumstances here. I had revealed I was a police officer, so if she truly wanted help, she would have started by telling me about the situation in the Ubasute Apartments. Even when the elevator had fallen, I hadn’t heard a peep from anyone. It was a matter of life or death and yet the only reaction was wondering who would be next.
These old people were not maliciously hiding the crimes being committed.
They just didn’t want to cause any trouble.
They were sealing away their own lives in a twisted form of self-sacrifice.
They were just like the old people who had been abandoned in the mountains by the children they had raised.
They felt betrayed, they were filled with despair, they thought they must have done something wrong raising them, and they found themselves rejecting every part of their lives. And in the end, they lost even the will to live.
What was I supposed to do? Their resignation and weariness was as heavy as the fog hanging over a damp mountain, so how could I get them moving again? The words of some young stranger wouldn’t be enough. I needed something bigger that was guaranteed to shake their hearts.
At that very moment, I heard a scream from directly overhead. It seemed to have been forced from a dried throat.
“That was close by. That old lady’s room had thin walls, so I’d guess that was on the third or fourth floor.”
While I looked blankly up at the ceiling, the Mystery Freak calmly analyzed the situation. And for some reason, Tayama-san looked sad. I didn’t know what had happened, but I ended the conversation and made my way to the stairs with the Mystery Freak. Then I ran up them.
A small crowd had formed in the fourth floor hallway.
When I got closer, I saw an old woman in an apron lying face down on the floor. She was the one who had told us about Akasabi-san.
I crouched down and frantically rolled her onto her back. I didn’t see any obvious injuries or bleeding, but she was as unmoving as a doll packed with dirt. I placed a hand near her mouth and two fingers on her neck. She wasn’t breathing and she didn’t have a pulse.
What the hell happened!? Did her heart suddenly give out!?
“Does anyone know any medical conditions Nezu-san had!? Anyone at all!?”
I shouted to the surrounding old people, but none of them answered. But this wasn’t them being coldhearted.
“We haven’t been to a hospital in years. None of us know what’s going on in our bodies.”
No help there either. We were in the middle of Tokyo, but I felt so isolated I would have thought we were abandoned deep in the mountains. It wasn’t surprising given their situation, but we felt so far away. Why were they hated so much?
“Mystery Freak, you call an ambulance. I’ll try CPR!!”
As I shouted to the girl, I pulled handkerchief from my pocket, placed it over Nezu-san’s mouth, and placed my mouth over that. I pinched her nose with my fingers and blew air into her lungs. Then I placed my right hand in the center of her chest, placed my left hand over it, made sure not to put too much weight on her, and started making chest compressions.
26, 27, 28, 29, 30!
I breathed into the old woman’s mouth again.
How much time had passed since she collapsed? I knew the odds of success with CPR dropped considerably which each minute, so I could only hope I’d made it in time.
Meanwhile, the Mystery Freak grimaced with her smartphone to her ear.
“What is it, Mystery Freak?”
I continued making rhythmic chest compressions, but she did not answer me and simply switched the phone to speaker phone.
“You’re talking about those Ubasute Apartments, aren’t you? We don’t have the time to deal with some lonely old person. Listen, if you call 119 for such a ridiculous reason again, we’ll press charges!”
What are they talking about?
My mind immediately started to boil over, but then it hit me. There was clearly something wrong here. All emergency calls were recorded, so this person was wrapping the noose around their own neck if something happened. That seemed like too much of a risk even if they did hate the old people here.
Or was there something pushing them in that direction? Was there some kind of system being used to isolate the old people?
“It doesn’t matter.”
I spat out the words and continued breathing into Nezu-san’s mouth.
She had gotten angry easily, but she had politely told us what we wanted to know. Both with the elevator and Enbi’s outfit, she had scolded us for our own good. She had taken on an unpopular role out of concern for complete strangers. She wasn’t just a doll or a name on a document. She was a human being.
I wasn’t going to let her die here.
Everyone would die eventually. That was unavoidable.
But they didn’t have to be carried to death on a conveyer belt.
With all the Youkai filling this country, it may have been wrong to call humans the greatest form of life, but couldn’t we have something?
Couldn’t humans have some small hint of pride and respect?
Please open your eyes! Please, please, please!!!!!!
Not even I knew how many times I had repeated the process, but a hoarse sound finally escaped Nezu Yuki-san’s throat.
“Cough!! Cough!! Cough!?”
When I saw her coughing and removing the handkerchief from her own mouth, I fell back into a sitting position. My hands were stinging. The heart was a mass of muscle and I only now realized how hard it was to externally support its movements.
At first, Nezu-san didn’t seem to know what had happened.
But when she looked around, it seemed to come into focus for her. She held her hurting chest, slowly sat up, and looked to me.
She gave a thin smile.
“You didn’t have to help me, you know?”
Like I would let that happen.
How many times has this happened!? How many times has someone collapsed without anyone noticing, with no ambulance coming, or even with no one finding them until months later? Have they done anything wrong? They’ve lived their lives to their fullest, worked hard, raised children, paid their taxes, and supported the backbone of this country, so why do they have to go through this!? Why do they have to have their own children abandon them in this concrete mountain without feeling even a twinge of guilt!? It’s like they’ve been thrown into the back of the garbage truck!! Even the information concerning them deteriorates until they only leave a rumor like that Akasabi-san!! What the hell is this? What the hell are these Ubasute Apartments!?
I also saw Tayama-san in his track suit after he finally caught up through the crowd.
When our eyes met, he silently shook his head. His eyes were telling me not to investigate any further.
Do you really think I could stop now?
Even if I didn’t have any more hints and even if the victims weren’t asking for help, how could a police officer not continue investigating when he saw something so cruel and heartless?
That was when something interrupted.
My cellphone began to ring. I checked the screen and found an unfamiliar number. I frowned and answered. The phones issued to police officers were convenient because I could instantly turn things around on any scammers who called.
And when this unknown caller spoke, it was with a young girl’s voice.
“D-Detect-…Detective! Um, it’s me, Tomoe! It’s Hachikawa Tomoe!! Um, dammit, my mind is going blank… Anyway, come here right away!! I have something important to tell you!!”
Part 9 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
We parted ways with Tayama Sunao-san, the old man in a track suit, and left the Ubasute Apartments. As we walked back down the winding brick road in the manmade woods, I sensed obvious malice.
“This narrow, winding road… Detective, you couldn’t get a car down here, could you? Even using a bike or motorcycle would be dangerous with all the bumps from these roots. Those old people have weak legs and backs, so they’re trapped here and kept from shopping properly.”
“Look, meaningless height differences have been added in to prevent anyone from leaving the road and cutting straight through. These are two or three meter stone walls made with modern technology.”
Walking back and forth on this horrible road would wear down the old people. That would prevent them from purchasing as much food or other items for everyday life. And without food, they would be even further worn down. It was practically a deadly mountain path.
“And Tayama-san was collecting rainwater in buckets because drinking water is precious. Does that mean what I think it does?”
“They can’t rely on the tap water since it can be shut off without warning. Are you suggesting they use the rainwater after filtering it? But aren’t the clouds over the city full of exhaust fumes? And even water goes bad, so you can’t store it forever in buckets like that.”
I couldn’t believe it either, but an unimaginable situation was underway in those Ubasute Apartments. It was still happening.
“But supermarkets and convenience stores deliver these days, right? Tayama-san and Nezu-san were both dressed well enough, so they have some money to spare, don’t they? Why don’t they use something like that?”
“There may be some kind of trap keeping them from escaping or asking anyone for help.”
The ancient Ubasute Mountain had been considered a sacred place. Even as you threw someone away there, you would clasp your hands in fear that they would hold a grudge. In the same way, the Ubasute Apartments were set up to be isolated from Tokyo as a whole.
“Anyway, we have no more clues at the moment. We need to cool our heads and might as well deal with whatever Tomoe-chan needs. This is the problem with reality. You don’t get to focus on a single case like in the police dramas.”
“Rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble.”
“And why did a dark aura envelop you as soon as I brought up Tomoe-chan? I get the feeling you’re about to shoot red light from your eyes. And stop swinging your scarf around like a morning star. Um, what is that thing? A Rokuro Dog? You’re going to stretch it.”
“It isn’t a Rokuro Dog! It’s Suneky the Sunekosuri!!”
Oddly enough, Hachikawa Tomoe-chan had asked me to meet her at an elementary school in Sugamo.
I found her near the school’s gate in a beige blazer. A young man who seemed to be a teacher was with her.
Right off the bat, Tomoe-chan put her hands on her hips and puffed out her cheeks.
“Honestly!! You’re way, way, way too late! This is an emergency, so why didn’t you drive up with sirens blaring!? Why are you on foot!?”
“Tooomoooeee…. I’d like to have a word with you. If you don’t answer honestly, I’ll have to break out my mongoose style. Shahhh!!”
I ignored the idiot and asked what was going on.
“Um, what exactly did you need in such a hurry?”
“It’s a super emergency!!”
That ridiculous exchange showed just how panicked she was.
But the next thing she said was more than enough to make someone panic.
“My cousin Takkun – Toujou Takumi-chan – is missing! No, it’s not just her. About five kids in the group she always hangs out with have gone missing!!”
What!? This is no joking matter! This has suddenly turned into a kidnapping!?
All my hair stood on end, but the teacher used a handkerchief to wipe sweat from his brow and corrected her with a weak smile.
“We don’t know for sure they’ve been kidnapped. They just haven’t been seen at home or school.”
“So there’s no reason to think there’s been a crime?”
“The students were looking forward to the field trip. It was only to a nature park a few train stations away. I thought they might have been upset the field trip was cancelled and left on their own, so I’ve contacted the campground. Simply put, the children aren’t missing because something happened. They’re sticking to the original plan even after something happened and those plans were canceled.”
I wanted to know whether the teacher actually believed that or simply didn’t want to cause a bigger commotion, but it was hard to tell just from the look on his face.
Meanwhile, Tomoe-chan could not seem to calm down.
“We’re not talking about middle schoolers like us! They’re in elementary school! They can’t go camping on their own! They wouldn’t even be able to get food for themselves! And someone would notice!!”
“The children have made curry in cooking class and we had prepared a fair amount of portable food. Besides, children seem to like restrictive environments. They’ll climb under the kotatsu or gather in the cold, cramped space under the stairs. And I’m not sure how serious the other parents are about this being kidnapping. None of them have called the police yet. I would rather not say this, but I doubt they actually think this is such a big deal. Or rather, I think they’re afraid of having this turn out to be nothing after they make a huge deal out of it.”
There were idiots who called the police for ridiculous reasons like “there’s a cockroach in my room” or “it’s hot, so go buy me a popsicle”. The recordings would be aired on TV during a year-end special, but the opposite happened too. Some people would be too afraid of being embarrassed and fail to call during an obvious emergency.
“That’s why I called in the detective. If it’s nothing, he can just leave. And if there is something to it, he can deal with it as soon as possible. Can you do that?”
“I have no reason to say no.”
“Sigh… If that’s what you want to do, but make sure you say she was the one that reported this. Honestly, all of the parents and guardians are too on edge. In fact, everyone in this area seems to be.”
I frowned and the teacher shrugged.
“Well, I only transferred here recently, so maybe I just haven’t gotten used to the atmosphere yet.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Whenever something even slightly strange happens – for example, a stray cat tearing open a trash bag or a tree in someone’s yard dying due to improper care – for some reason, they allllll blame the old people from those apartments. They’re doing the same thing with these disappearances. I am worried about the children who never showed up at school, but their accusations are way off base. Taking them seriously has only wasted our precious time and scared all of you.”
“Wait. Mister, what do the Ubasute Apartments have to do with this?”
“Besides, those old people only ever stopped by to teach the children origami or how to make bamboo copters. …Sorry, what was that?”
“I was asking why you had brought up the Ubasute Apartments.”
The Mystery Freak slowly repeated herself and the teacher responded as if this was all perfectly normal.
“Have you ever heard of extramural exchange lessons? Basically, people rent out the classrooms and schoolyard afterschool and tell old stories or teach the kids how to make crafts. Normal citizens take part to teach the kids about the local area and its history.”
“Um, what about it?”
“The old people from those apartments were helping with that. But then an old man named Tayama brought a small sword into the school, claiming it was to teach the kids how to make bamboo copters.”
“Oh,” I groaned.
If a sensitive helicopter parent saw that, it would create a misunderstanding on the level of false molestation accusations on a train.
“One of the students cut their finger, so it caused quite an uproar. In the end, the extramural exchange lessons were canceled indefinitely.”
“So those old people are hated because of that?”
“No, that was only the last straw. The people here, well, for some reason they’re very sensitive when it comes to the old people of those apartments. They’re always on edge about them. The housewives use their cellphones and a private website to work together and upload the location of any of the old people they run across. They’re marking out the range of those old people’s everyday lives like they’re criminals. I don’t see how the old people can go shopping like that. And I can’t tell you why everyone hates them so much.”
It was certainly a strange situation, but Tomoe-chan gave even more information.
“My aunt was like that too. She normally never badmouths anyone, but she had no problem badmouthing the old people from those apartments like it was nothing.”
“Hey, Mystery Freak.”
“What a coincidence, detective. I was just thinking Wankashi Real Estate might have something to do with this.”
Something was isolating those people.
Something was affecting the locals who had lived here for a long time but not affecting outsiders like us.
Something was separating out those old people even in the great metropolis of Tokyo.
I knew speculation could be dangerous, but I was having trouble connecting this kidnapping with the old people who would rather disappear than cause anyone any trouble. For one thing, if the parents were constantly monitoring those old people with their private site, they couldn’t possibly have kidnapped anyone.
“Was there any deeper connection between the old people and the children? What did the children think of the extramural exchange lessons? Were they as harsh to the old people as the other locals?”
“Not at all. If the children hadn’t liked it, those old people would have stopped coming. They were volunteers, so it wasn’t their job or anything.”
“Did the children and the old people get along?”
“Yes, I even have proof. I probably shouldn’t show you this for privacy reasons, but I can make an exception for a police officer.”
After that, we ended up following the teacher toward the school building. I exchanged a few words with the Mystery Freak as he guided us.
“What do you think?”
“It’s hard to say. And Mystery Freak, you aren’t trying to say the missing children really have something to do with those old people, are you?”
“Not that. I’m thinking this might have to do with Wankashi Real Estate.”
“The managers of the Ubasute Apartments wanted to isolate those old people, so they wouldn’t have been a fan of those extramural exchange lessons.”
“So they kidnapped the children to silence them? That isn’t how they do things. Their client asks them to kill off the target, but they let them wither away in the abandoned buildings without taking any direct action. They’ve constructed a modern Ubasute Mountain, so I doubt they would dirty their own hands like that.”
“What if something happened that forced their hand?”
The teacher did not head for the main entranceway. The faculty room was apparently on the first floor and we cut through a small side door as a more direct route.
After some rummaging around inside, the teacher returned.
He carried a few dozen A4-sized papers.
“I found them. This is what I was talking about. This should show that the children had accepted those old people. To be honest, I was taken aback when I first saw these, but this is what they really think. I just have to accept that.”
I thought these were some kind of document, but they were not.
I flipped through the papers while the Mystery Freak and Tomoe-chan leaned in from either side.
“I can’t believe this,” I finally said.
Those old people were trapped in the Ubasute Apartments and some children had suddenly vanished on the way to school.
Those two incidents fit together perfectly.
Part 10 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
We went right back to the Ubasute Apartments. Hachikawa Tomoe-chan must have been worried about her cousin Takumi-chan because she followed us.
It was already evening and each second that passed felt like wasted time.
Tayama Sunao-san must have liked gardening because he was out weeding the flower garden.
He was one of the old people who could not descend the deadly mountain even though he knew how it worked.
“What are you doing here? I thought I told you to leave us alone.”
“I can’t do that. Anyway, this might take a while. I know questioning you is impolite, but is there anywhere we can speak more comfortably.”
“Fine. Then come with me.”
He didn’t like it, but the man did not drive us away. As he had mentioned before, he really did like this lively atmosphere. He showed us the way to the large rec room on the first floor of the apartment building. It was probably meant for eating snacks while chatting. It had plenty of tables and chairs, but the drink and bread vending machines by the window were powered down.
We sat at one table and I started by listing five names.
“Igami Susumu-kun, Nagamaki Megumu-chan, Umesaka Satoshi-kun, Kayama Hayate-kun…and Toujou Takumi-chan. Do you recognize those names?”
“Those names… What about them?”
At first, the old man didn’t seem to know what I meant. But understanding gradually seeped into his mind and his face paled.
The Mystery Freak and Tomoe-chan had decided to simply listen for the time being.
The adults, Tayama-san and me, were the only ones to speak.
“I have of course submitted a search request and made emergency arrangements, but that alone is not enough. I don’t like to admit it, but randomly searching a wide area without narrowing down the possibilities is a good way to not find what you’re looking for. So I want your help. I want you to narrow down the possibilities.”
“I’ll do anything if it means saving those children…but what can I do?”
“Wankashi Real Estate,” I cut in. “I want to convince the higher ups they’re involved and focus on them, but I don’t have enough data at the moment. So I want your knowledge. You know how they work.”
“Wait a second. Those people are attacking those of us in these apartments. What would they have to do with the children!?”
“Tayama-san, we’ve heard about the extramural exchange lessons. That had to be the one remaining joy for you before the incident with the sword.”
He had smiled and said it had been a long time since he’d been around “anyone so lively”.
He had not been recalling his son and daughter-in-law who had abandoned him in this concrete mountain. He had probably been thinking of the contact with those children during the extramural exchange lessons.
On those days, during that short time, those old people’s hearts may have briefly descended from the deadly mountain.
“How do you think all that looked to the children? Did you ever think about that?”
“Well…to be honest, I’m not sure. They may have been interested in my old stories or they may have been bored by them. I was really only volunteering for my own self-satisfaction. As long as I was happy, I didn’t ask for anything else.”
He was interrupted by a rustling sound.
I had taken out the papers the teacher had given me and I had placed them on the table.
“Then look through these. This will explain everything.”
He reached his wrinkled hands toward the papers.
That kind of paper was almost never used in the modern age of word processors.
They were writing papers.
“The school asked them to write about an adult they looked up to. The teachers probably wanted them to write about their parents or teachers. Apparently, parents’ day was approaching, so they wanted to show these off to the parents. …But it didn’t go as planned.”
“One student wrote about the old woman who would tell them old stories. One wrote about the old man who taught them how to play kendama or otedama. One wrote about the old man who taught them how to make bamboo copters. The entire class wrote about all of you. In the end, the teachers didn’t hang these up on the wall to make sure the parents didn’t see them. The parents are unnecessarily hostile toward the people in these apartments, after all.”
“But you got through to them. Just as you were saved by teaching those kids, they were saved by learning from you. And that’s why the children noticed something from their contact with you. And they couldn’t ignore it. They saw some old people trapped in some invisible system and they decided to save you.”
At first glance, the essays seemed to talk about how amazing, interesting, and kind the old people were.
But that wasn’t all.
At points, something more was present:
“They don’t seem very happy. I’m really worried.”
“Someone’s being mean to them. I can’t let that happen.”
“I’ll save her. We’re making a secret group to do that.”
And that led to my conclusion.
“While the children were pretending to be detectives after school, the must have stumbled upon the truth. They found something Wankashi Real Estate can’t allow to get out. So the company was forced to act directly to silence them. They disappeared around the time of the canceled field trip, so that’s about two days. Please help us! It’s the only way to save the children who were trying to save you!!”
Even I knew that was not a fair way to ask.
If Wankashi Real Estate was destroyed, the old people might lose their illegal home here. The people abandoned in the Ubasute Mountain would have no one to rely on in a new town, so they had no one at all and could not hope for a place to live. I knew that, but I tried to do my job even if it meant crushing these old people’s lives underfoot.
“Fine. I’ll convince the others, so ask whatever you want. I never really wanted to live too long anyway, but it’s been a while since I had a reason not to die right away.”
The old man did not hesitate in the slightest.
This was not an abandoned life.
I was clearly speaking with a living human being.
“So please. If it will increase the odds of saving those children in the slightest, I am willing to bet my life on it.”
Part 11 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
Tayama Sunao-san admitted he had heard this was related to a Yamanba.
“I don’t know what exactly that means, but it seems to be what isolates the Ubasute Apartments. It creates trouble going shopping, isolation from the neighbors, false accusations, a bad reputation, and any number of other things. It seems to mainly affect the negative emotions of those outside the apartments.”
A Yamanba was an old lady Youkai that lived in the mountains. They were famous for eating people, but there were also legends of them giving advice to the villagers and providing excellent hospitality.
“But how is a Yamanba involved? I doubt the system simply places the apartments as Ubasute Mountain and the old people as the Yamanba.”
“Let’s go over what information we have, detective. For one, what kinds of things are happening between the apartments and the surrounding area?”
“The local people have an excessive hatred of the old people here, right? But outsiders like us or the teacher who only recently moved here aren’t affected. The children aren’t either.”
“There’s one more thing,” cut in Tomoe-chan. “Whenever they try to explain something, it ends up becoming a rumor about how those old people have harmed them. Something turns those old people into aggressors in their minds.”
“The Yamanba is a well-known Youkai, so there are a lot of different legends. But there’s one that’s caught my interest.”
“Whenever they do something bad, it tends to be trying to eat someone, but sometimes they bring widespread disease or disaster instead. There’s a story about that in Tokyo even. When a Yamanba attacked, someone shot her with an arrow and killed her, but a great curse came from her corpse and filled the village with disease. In the end, they chopped her corpse into forty-two pieces, made a burial mound for each one, and sealed them inside the mounds in order. That brought an end to the curse.”
Something the locals naturally detested.
Something that allowed the old people to be aggressors while also being fragile corpses.
It did fit the situation.
Just as no one wanted to approach the rotting corpse at the source of the disease, this malice amplification Package made the locals hate the Ubasute Apartments and the old people living there.
At the very least, it fit the image surrounding the Ubasute Apartments more than the monstrous Yamanba that chased travelers around with a knife or the hard to please Yamanba that gave advice to the villagers.
I decided to assume this was the type of Yamanba that spread a curse after death.
“But wouldn’t that mean Wankashi Real Estate is using a corpse as part of their Package!?”
“That isn’t all that surprising,” said Tayama-san. “A person or two is found dead here every month. Not even those of us who live here know how many have died in all.”
“I’m not so sure that’s it,” said the Mystery Freak. “A corpse that can be carried out and cremated lacks the permanence needed for a Package component. It’s possible the role is passed on each time someone else dies, but they have no guarantee they can secure a corpse at a moment’s notice. When someone dies generally comes down to luck. In that case, the role of the corpse was probably given to something more stable and permanent.”
“L-like what? Is there something creepy hidden in these apartments?”
Tomoe-chan’s shoulders tensed as she asked that, but I had already found the answer.
So I gave it.
“Akasabi-san. Everyone here knows the story as something they don’t want to happen to them, but no one knows who that person was before they died. It’s a faceless corpse that had to have been here but that no one knows anything more about.”
It was Tayama-san who objected to that.
“But how are you going to investigate Akasabi-san? Not even I know which room they lived in. Or more accurately, there are too many theories to know for sure.”
“Can you write out all of the candidates you can think of, mister?”
The old man began writing building and room numbers on a piece of paper. At first glance, it looked like a strange code.
“That’s about it.”
“Now then, mister, which of these are obvious fakes that have nothing to do with someone who died alone? How many in all?”
“Wait a second… In all it would be…forty-two of them. …Ah!?”
“Yes, the same number as the burial mounds used to seal the Yamanba’s disease.”
Part 12 (Hachikawa Tomoe)
To be honest, the detective and Enbi’s verbal game of catch was too fast for me to follow. I could only watch on in confusion as the two of them dug even further toward the truth.
“But wait. If the Yamanba’s corpse has been chopped up and sealed in the mounds, wouldn’t that end the disease? Wankashi Real Estate wants to spread the disease to isolate these old people, so that doesn’t fit.”
“Detective, were you even listening to what I said? To end the disease, you need to chop the Yamanba’s corpse up into forty-two pieces and seal them in the forty-two mounds ‘in order’.”
“You mean…if you intentionally get the order wrong…”
“The disease continues. And at the same time, it lets you correct the order to stop the Package if something unexpected occurs. That’s the ideal Package assembly, isn’t it?”
That seemed to convince them, but I was still confused.
“D-do you mean forty-two of the rooms count as burial mounds and something is hidden in each one? But how many options are there for rearranging those things in the right order! That goes well beyond the possibilities for a cellphone passcode!!”
“But it’s better than nothing. At the very least, we can try.”
“Also, what even is it that’s hidden in this Akasabi-san person’s room!?”
“That’s what we’re about to find out.”
The detective and Enbi stood up at the exact same moment and ran off somewhere. I was still confused, but the old man in a track suit simply shrugged. I bowed and then ran after the other two.
Meanwhile, I felt a strange sense of impatience.
I was afraid of being left behind and I didn’t understand the world those two lived in.
They ran up to the second floor, opened one of the many doors lining the hallway, and stepped inside the room. The evening sun dyed the empty room in the bright colors of a lonely mountain and the two of them wordlessly worked together to search the room.
“Hey, detective. What do you actually think is hidden here?”
“A tooth implant.”
“That’s pretty cliché. I’m expecting some hair.”
By sitting on the detective’s shoulders in her swimsuit-like outfit, Enbi found something in the wiring space above the ceiling.
“Found it. This is…an artificial bone maybe?”
She set it on the floor wrapped in a handkerchief and we all looked down at it.
Um, what is this? Its smooth like glass and it looks like a piece of some kind of ceramic.
“This is what they call a murder without a corpse.”
When I looked puzzled, he explained further.
“These days, you can charge someone with murder even if they dissolved the bones in a bathtub full of powerful acid. You just need some proof that a corpse was there: bloodstains, implants, hair, or artificial bones.”
“Fortunately, artificial bones tend to be made from glass. They don’t dissolve in acid and they don’t burn in fires. That’s apparently really helped the prosecution in a ton of cases.”
Which also meant…
“Hey, what would happen if there wasn’t a murder but you scattered these artificial bones around the scene and prank called the police?”
“Unfortunately, it would be investigated as a murder. And of course, you would receive more than just a talking to once they found out what you did.”
That was what was happening in these apartments. A single artificial bone had been broken into pieces and hidden in the rooms to pass it off as physical evidence that someone had died here. That false information and nonexistent corpse were being used as the core of a Package.
It was all being used to match the legend of the Yamanba’s corpse being cut into forty-two pieces and buried in mounds.
That sped things up. We ended up searching out all of the artificial bone pieces in the rooms.
There were supposedly a total of forty-two, but…
“Hey, detective, what do you think the children found?”
“They weren’t doing a forensic investigation and they weren’t making some grand deductions. I’m guessing they found something by foot.”
“They set out to find a weakness in the Package and they actually did. …It amplified the local adults’ malice toward the old people, but it didn’t affect the kids. Most likely, they knew the old people were reasonable people if you didn’t hold any prejudices and just spoke with them.”
“Didn’t the Yamanba of the forty-two burial mounds eat children?”
“And how did she do that?”
“By copying their mother’s voice and asking them to open the door late at night. After cracking the door to check, they saw the frightening Yamanba, so the children fired an arrow at her to kill her before they were eaten.”
“In other words, the children got scared and killed her without listening to what she had to say. I’m not about to complain about an old story or legend, but she might not have actually intended to kill them. It might have been a simple prank. …And the curse she spread after her death may have come from her frustration with the situation.”
“What Toujou Takumi-chan and the others did was the same as opening the door and talking to her instead of launching a preemptive strike out of fear. That threatened to destroy the field of isolation, so Wankashi Real Estate had to do something about it. That’s my guess anyway.”
The two of them sounded really cool as they reasoned through the situation, but Enbi was acting weird.
“Pant, pant. D-detective…This is as far as I can go…”
Even if we couldn’t use the elevators, Enbi was already exhausted by the fourth or fifth floor.
And the detective was coldhearted.
“I’ll leave you here.”
“Eh? Ah!? Wait!!”
I was the one that shouted and ran after him. I looked back to find Enbi weakly waving up at us.
“You’re kidding… You’re really leaving her behind!?”
“The residents of these apartments aren’t dangerous. They only seem to be due to the filter placed over them by the Yamanba Package.”
That may be true, but that’s not the issue here! What kind of man abandons a maiden in love to run off to work!? Not that I’m one to talk as I run after him despite knowing how Enbi feels!!
Astonished, I chased after him and had a thought.
Had “he” been like this too?
That man had given no thought to his family as he chased after every case presented to him. Eventually, my mom had run out of patience with him. I had only ever seen his back, but had his eyes been focused on people who needed help but could not seek it?
He really had been a hopeless man, but I did admire that at least a little.
Was that what it meant to be a police detective?
By the time we checked the forty-two rooms and found all forty-two pieces of the artificial bone, the colors of evening had darkened to those of night. I sent an email to Enbi and we all met up in an empty room to assemble the glass pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. We finally constructed a silhouette that looked perfect for a dog to hold in its mouth.
“Is this a tibia?”
“It doesn’t matter. More importantly, look here. It gives the manufacturer and a production number.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll search for it. …Ashigara Sports Manufacturing, sprinting artificial bone series, #3-52-6. Hm? I have good news, detective. This was first released two years ago.”
“Okay, we’ve got them now.”
I couldn’t keep up, so the detective said more.
“Wankashi Real Estate insists this property has been abandoned for a long time so they didn’t know the old people were living here or that shutting off the power or water would kill people. …And yet this artificial bone is from only two years ago. The old people had to have been living here then, so the Wankashi Real Estate person who visited had to know they were here.”
“That means they can be charged with willful neglect. There’s no way they’ll be found not guilty.”
“No matter how good their lawyers are, they can’t escape this. And if the full power of the police is sent after them, we’re sure to find the missing children.”
Part 13 (Uchimaku Hayabusa)
The artificial bone fragments were important pieces of evidence, but if they were not placed in the empty rooms in order, the unfair criticism of the old people would never end. At the same time, the missing children had to be found as soon as possible. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I called in some uniformed police officers to deal with the artificial bones. They only had to place them back around the apartments, retrieve them again, and send them over to the forensic investigators.
“The legend says the Yamanba’s burial mounds were built from east to west, right? Should I have them arrange the artificial bone pieces from top to bottom and then place them in the empty rooms starting from the first floor of the building’s east end and up to the top floor? And if that doesn’t do anything, they can try some other arrangements like starting from the bottom of the bone or starting from the top floor.”
I tried to figure out what instructions to give and the Mystery Freak cut in from the side.
“But detective, the Yamanba isolation Package spreads enough false malice for them to refuse to send out an ambulance. Are you sure the police will show up?”
“It only works on the locals. When you call for an ambulance, you’re automatically connected to the closest center, but that isn’t necessarily true with the police. …I just have to go over their heads and call my own workplace directly.”
And so I dialed my cellphone.
“Yes, department chief? I found something incredible while investigating those old people who died alone. Yes, including the cases of attempted murder, this was a plan to kill all two thousand people in these apartments. Isn’t that amazing?”
“This goes well beyond a mass stabbing or shooting on the streets. This is seriously going to go down in Japan’s criminal history. So if you don’t want the local station to get all the credit, you should probably get down here pretty quick. Yes, yes. I suggest sending quite a bit of backup. Bye bye.”
After passing on only the necessary information, I hung up.
The setup was complete. It was time to head for Wankashi Real Estate.
“Enbi, you wait here with Tomoe-chan. When the police arrive, explain everything that happened.”
“Ehhh!? But the arrest of the criminal is the best part of the mystery drama!!”
“A sweaty firefight isn’t your field of expertise. …Hachikawa-san, you keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t try anything. That would be a huge help.”
“W-well, if you say so, detective… Mumble mumble…”
“Oh, that’s right! Tooomoooeee!! This is the perfect opportunity! We need to have a nice long chat!!”
With that, I said goodbye to Tayama-san and the others, left the Mystery Freak with them as she swung her Sunekosuri scarf around like a morning star, and got down to making the actual arrest while contacting some colleagues of mine.
Wankashi Real Estate was located in Ikebukuro, quite near Sugamo.
In an area filled with short, narrow multi-tenant buildings, I approached one of the cars parked on the side of the road, and climbed into the passenger seat.
Sotobori Gaku, heavy tank of the organized crime countermeasure division, waited inside.
“Great job. But are you sure you should be getting our help? I thought Department 1 was the most territorial group in the world. The higher ups are going to be bitching in the conference room.”
“Wankashi Real Estate is the bottom level of a large criminal organization, right? That makes this your territory, so you can make the arrest. Besides, the missing children come first. The credit can come later.”
“Why in the world didn’t you ask to join the juvenile crime division? …Oh, right. Here.”
Sotobori Gaku casually passed me a standard issue revolver.
“You can still lend these things out?”
“Maybe you elites in Department 1 can’t, but outlaws like us do it all the time.”
“Crap, maybe I shouldn’t have asked you for help.”
Meanwhile, we shared some information and discussed our strategy.
“Simply put, everyone in that five-story building except for the convenience store on the ground floor is probably guilty of something. Wankashi is the tenant on the third floor, but if we surround the building, the other tenants might think we’re after them and attack us. So let’s play it by ear and arrest them all! That should settle it!!”
“Could you be any more sloppy!? Are you really part of Japan’s police force!?”
We ended up yelling at each other as we got out of the car. That was the cue for men in suits to step out of other cars around the parking lot. It was not often that Department 1 and the organized crime countermeasure division worked together. Some of the cars attached police lights to the roof and set up a blockade on the road.
The Heavy Tank swaggered up to the multi-tenant building while laughing fiercely for some reason.
“I love this tense atmosphere. This is a real man’s workplace.”
“Keep saying things like that and the women are going to yell at you again.”
“Yeah, but it’s the policewomen in uniform I like, not the ones in suits like us.”
“And that’s what they don’t like. Why do you think your division is nothing but men?”
“Oh? And can you claim to know everything there is to know about women?”
At that point, the lights suddenly went out on that nighttime street.
At first, my vision went dark like when the lights went out in a room, but we were outside. This was not just a building or two. It was a widespread and largescale blackout.
“Hey, Uchimaku-chan, what do you think about this?”
“I just hope they didn’t have a remote-controlled bomb at the transformer substation.”
“Switch from cellphones to radios. The local tower is down, so the phones won’t work.”
“Either way, they can’t stop us now. Listen up, everyone, don’t let Wankashi escape! Let’s go!!”
We were forced to use the car headlights for light, but they didn’t help inside the building. We could barely see as we climbed the stairs to the third floor.
Someone unsteadily stepped out onto the landing.
After twisting the man’s hands behind his back and forcing him to the ground, I left him with another police officer and continued on. It was violent, but we were allowed to secure everyone on the scene when we didn’t know who our enemy was and could be stabbed in the back at any moment. Of course, anything that killed them wasn’t allowed.
“Hey, isn’t that silhouette pregnant?”
“She’s got something stuffed under her clothes. No pregnant woman stands that straight. Secured!! Next!”
We arrived at the third floor. The darkness actually made it more frightening, but we gathered in front of one door with guns in hand.
I cleared my throat and made a suggestion.
“I’ll kick down the door.”
“No fair! That’s the best part! You Department 1 credit thief!!”
“I said I was giving you the arrest, didn’t I? Now, let’s go!”
I forcefully kicked open the door and we poured inside. A young man who seemed to be on phone duty raised his hands in the darkness, but I didn’t see anyone else. Sotobori clicked his tongue after moving further back.
“Oh, damn. The safe is sitting open. This might be bad!!”
We had tried to seal off all the exits, but there was only so much we could do in the confusion of the sudden blackout. They may have gotten the upper hand and slipped out somewhere. If they had night vision equipment prepared, it was entirely possible.
That was when I heard the low roar of an engine down below.
Sotobori shouted into his radio.
“We can’t complete the barricade of cars due to that blackout!!”
I couldn’t let them escape. I had to bring an end to those old people’s suffering in the Ubasute Apartments. I had to find the children who had disappeared after discovering their secret!
I could judge the car’s position from the sound and I didn’t have time to hesitate.
I ran through the darkness, broke through the glass, and jumped out the third floor window.
At that very moment, a red sports car burst from a back alley and tried to break though the center of a group of police officers.
I fell right on top of it.
With the sound of denting metal, the low-riding sports car swerved left and right. The harsh impact had activated the airbag. With the driver’s view and access to the steering wheel blocked by the airbag, a car could easily become a deadly weapon.
It finally crashed into a nearby telephone pole.
I was thrown from the car, but I quickly hopped to my feet on the road. I approached the driver’s side door and used the grip of my handgun to smash the window.
I could see a woman’s face through the gap of some long bangs and a large wound seemed to split her mouth open. At first, I thought she had been injured during the accident, but a closer look showed it was an old wound.
I held the muzzle of my gun to the young woman’s head and shouted to her.
“Where are the children!?”
“I-I don’t know…”
I didn’t have time to deal with this, so I waved over a nearby uniformed police officer.
“You! This calculation could get a little tricky, so could you help me out?”
“Each floor has twenty rooms. It’s a seven-story building, but we can ignore the first floor. That’s six floors of rooms. How many rooms is that?”
“And there are twenty identical buildings.”
“The maximum detention period for a single crime is 23 days even with extensions. What’s that times 2400?”
“Wait just a second… Would it be 55,200 days?”
“And to finish it off, what’s that divided by 365 days?”
“That would be about 151 years.”
I turned back to the driver’s seat where the young woman was dripping with sweat.
“You heard him. Oh, and that’s only the lowest theoretical value. Any old people who have already died will count separately. …If you want to say silent, that’s your right. I can speak with the prosecutors and have you eternally arrested for different crimes. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to stay silent in the holding cell. Isn’t that great? You’ll have food to eat until the day you die paid for by the people’s taxes.”
“Y-you can’t do that. You won’t get away with that! M-my lawyers won’t let you!”
“But lawyers are only called in once you’re indicted. They can’t do anything at the investigation stage. You’ll be stuck in that closed room. Hopefully you’ll live until the trial begins 150 years from now.”
I casually pulled out some handcuffs and the woman looked on the verge of tears.
“F-fine! Fine!! I’ll talk!!”
“Keep it short.”
Technically, the constitution said excessive detention counted as torture and thus any testimony obtained that way was not permissible in court. But I had no obligation to tell her that.
“I-it’s true I tried to silence those children. I even kidnapped them. But I couldn’t do it. I know it sounds stupid, but I couldn’t stop trembling when it came down to dirtying my own hands.” I breathed a sigh of relief without letting it show on my face.
But she wasn’t done talking.
Truth turned out to be stranger than fiction. And in the worst possible way.
“I closed them all in the refrigerator. That way I didn’t have to dirty my own hands.”
I handcuffed this obvious criminal, left her with a uniformed police officer, borrowed a police car, and headed to the refrigerator – technically a refrigerated warehouse – the young woman told me about. The lights on the way were out from the blackout, so the traffic lights were dead and there were accidents everywhere. Fear squeezed at my heart, but I still continued onward.
I made my way to a freezing Ubasute Mountain that worked differently from those illegal apartments.
It took a full thirty minutes to arrive and I could not even imagine how much of the trapped children’s lives were being worn away in the meantime.
I saw what seemed to be guards huddled together speaking near the dark refrigerated warehouses, so I approached them.
“Who’s in charge here?”
“Wh-who are you?”
“That doesn’t matter! Who’s in charge!?”
Oops, I just pulled out my gun before my badge.
The guards went pale, raised their hands, and spoke with a tremor in their voices.
“What are you? A tuna thief? We don’t have anything like that here! We only store ice cream!”
“Some abducted children were closed inside. If you don’t want to be charged as accomplices, then help me search!”
“You’re kidding right!? Which warehouse!?”
“I don’t know, so open them all up and check! Hurry!!”
We rushed off and one of the guards complained under his breath.
“What an awful day. And after this weird blackout wiped out all our products.”
“The freezers can’t run with the power out, right? What if they complain that we didn’t inspect the equipment properly? I better not lose my winter bonus!”
For better or for worse, the refrigerated warehouses were not running.
“Shit, there really are kids in here!! Hey, over here! Over here!!”
Another guard shouted in the distance, so we all ran over. Cold white air wafted out from the opened door, but it was weaker than it might have been.
The guards only peered in without setting foot inside.
When I stepped in, I found five lumps huddled together in a corner. Their skin was disturbingly pale, their breathing was weak, and they were not moving in the slightest, but…
“They’re alive,” I muttered before raising my voice to a shout. “They’re all alive!! Please bring out blankets, heaters, and a pot of hot water or whatever you have. Hurry!!”
Part 14 (Hachikawa Tomoe)
A largescale blackout kept our cellphones from working, but radios and normal landlines seemed fine. The police working in the apartments told us that the detective had found Takkun and the other children safe, so I breathed a sigh of relief.
I then looked up at the apartments again.
“What’s going to happen to the people living here?”
Wankashi Real Estate was clearly a villain, but if they were arrested, what would happen to the rights to the apartments? Someone else might buy it, but if they decided to tear down the condemned buildings, the old people would have to leave.
But where would they go?
I was nervous, but Enbi cheerfully replied while rubbing the head of her Sunekosuri scarf.
“Eh? What do you mean? Will the police help them?”
“The police can’t interfere in civil matters, but that’s why freelancers like me exist. Besides, taking down Wankashi doesn’t mean we’ve judged all of the villains behind this.”
She grinned and pulled out her smartphone.
She seemed to be making a list of what she had to do.
“Don’t you dare underestimate me, villains.”
Part 15 (3rd person)
There was a small but respectable house in a quiet neighborhood along the Arakawa River. Originally, an old man had spent half his life working to pay off the loan, but his son and daughter-in-law had stolen it from him. They had taken and hidden the deed and bankbook and violently thrown the man himself out.
“He was supposed to be dead already. What is Wankashi doing?”
A man grumbled as he stomped in circles around the living room. The man had easily thrown out his own father, so he was hardly the type to make friendly relationships on his own. The room was already filled with a savage atmosphere and the house seemed more like a cage. He might live with his family on paper, but they were actually completely scattered.
Then something happened to further rub the irritated man the wrong way.
An intermittent beeping exploded through the window. The sound was used to warn of a truck or heavy machinery backing up. It was late at night and in a neighborhood, so the man grew irritated at this lack of manners (while ignoring his own constant lack of manners). But then something unexpected happened.
With a shock like a car had run into it, something broke through the living room wall.
He frantically got down on the ground and his anger began to boil up. He rushed outside without putting on his shoes and saw a yellow piece of heavy machinery breaking through the fence. Something like a beak made of thick metal was digging into the material of the wall.
“What in the hell are you doing to my house!?”
That carefree response came from the surprisingly young woman operating the equipment. She continued tearing at the wall and the house was already tilting in that direction.
“You say that, but why are you living in an abandoned house? That’s dangerous, you know?”
“Um, the official owner is an old man named Tayama Sunao-san, but he apparently hasn’t returned home for over a decade. It was deemed abandoned and administrative subrogation was carried out.”
That may be true!!
Yeah, it’s officially that old man’s house and of course he hasn’t come back after we punched and kicked him to drive him out!!
He just about spoke those thoughts aloud, but he obviously could not say that to a city worker.
“Please wait!! We live here! I’m that old man’s son!!”
“Haven’t heard anything about that. Making claims is easy. Everyone living in an abandoned house insists they’re a relative and we don’t have time to deal with it all. If you could contact Tayama-san himself, that would work, though.”
Like I know his phone number! Besides, that old man was supposed to be dead already! Then that hidden deed would be invalid and ownership would transfer to us! So why!?
The more he thought about it, the more unfair it seemed, but he could not think of a way of objectively convincing someone of that.
“Th-then what happens to us? What do we do starting tomorrow!?”
“Don’t ask me. The land was bought up by the ward and the compensation was paid directly to Tayama Sunao-san without going through his bank account.”
A great roar filled the air.
The man’s tilting home finally crumbled to the ground.
Part 16 (3rd person)
It was an unbelievable story.
First, it turned out they could get a new copy of the deed as long as the real estate company still had the original copy stored. And when the owner had not returned for a long period of time, it could be registered as abandoned and directly sold to the local government.
Second, the apartments they lived in had aged so much and so many had died that the property value had fallen about as low as possible. By gathering together the money all those old people had gotten by selling their homes, they had enough to buy up all of the land.
Third, as soon as the Yamanba isolation Package vanished, the local people’s attitudes completely changed. The people at the government office remade the intentionally bad road and the convenience stores and supermarkets were willing to deliver.
And it was all thanks to a twintailed middle school girl in a swimsuit who was their grandchildren’s age.
“I only returned everything to its rightful place, so I didn’t save you. This is just how everything should have been in the first place.”
When the girl had left, she had smiled.
“So if you feel someone saved you, it wasn’t me. Someone else fits the bill a lot better.”
As an old man turned the faucet and watered the flower garden with the hose, he heard some small footsteps approaching.
The previous incident had caused them a lot of trouble, but the children had still come to see the old man.
“Mister, did you know there’s a festival during the fall?”
“Yes, it’s to give thanks for all the fish. The river is filled with concrete now, but when I was your age, you could fill your stomach as long as you had a fishing pole.”
“Will you go with us? Everyone says the shaved ice is the best, but cotton candy is clearly better.”
That was no longer a modern day Ubasute Mountain made of concrete.
If even one person held out their hand, they could easily shatter that invisible cage.
- Akasabi can mean rust.
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