And thus, our high school life started peacefully.
For the start of the school year, most of the new students decided to just wait and see. Some observed, while others investigated and polished their basic strategies to build up human relations. Of course, there were also those who threw a strong punch right off the bat, but I managed to successfully distance myself from them.
Eventually, my classmates started gradually catching glimpses of each other’s true personalities. It was a peaceful day after school in the middle of June.
It had been raining in the day, so the ground was still wet with puddles of water. With Osanai-san accompanying me, I was walking down the staircase from the fourth floor, where the first-year classrooms were located.
“…There’s a new crepe store. I’m looking forward to trying it.”
“Looking forward? In the present continuous?”
“Yes, I haven’t gone there yet, since I hate crowded places. Although I think it’s still crowded…”
“Shall we go together?”
“You’ll come with me?”
I was about to suggest visiting the store as we went home from school, when my phone vibrated. I retrieved it to find that it was not caused by an email, but by a phone call. After signalling for Osanai-san to wait for a moment, I answered the call.
On the other side of the connection, Kengo spoke in an excessively loud voice.
“Jougorou? Are you still in school?”
“Yeah, I was about to head home.”
“I need a hand. Help me out.”
Hmm. If he’s asking me to lend a hand so suddenly, something must have cropped up. I’ve just made a prior engagement, but I would feel bad for turning down his request. I looked questioningly at Osanai-san, who tilted her head a little to the side.
“How long will it take?”
“How long do you think it will take?”
“How long… About thirty minutes, I’d say.”
“Thirty minutes, huh…”
I looked at Osanai-san again. This time, she looked down in a slightly downcast manner, and said that she would wait. She could have gone home first, but since she said she would wait, I’ll have her wait for me.
“Understood. I can help if it’ll take only about thirty minutes. It’ll be bad if it goes longer than that, though.”
“You have something else on? I won’t ask you to help any longer than thirty minutes, then. You’re at the shoe lockers, aren’t you? If so, come on over to the east-side staircase on the second floor.”
He hung up. Just to be sure, I asked Osanai-san if she would come with me, but as expected, she lightly shook her head.
If you view Funado High School from the top, you would see the character エ, with one horizontal stroke tilted to the left, and another to the right. Those horizontal strokes are known as the North Block and South Block. Since the first-year shoe lockers are in the North Block, Kengo must be referring to the second floor in the North Block.
Which one is the east-side staircase? There are signs to both the North Block and South Block, so I wouldn’t be confused over them. On top of that, there were signs on the staircase landings that said things like “1F – W” and “3F – E” which I was really thankful for.
I arrived at the agreed place to see Kengo clad in the deep green school regulation tracksuit, standing with his arms folded. Around him were two male students and one female student. One male student was wearing a tracksuit like Kengo, while the other was wearing a tsume-eri1, like me. The female student was in a sailor uniform. The male student in the school uniform and the female student in the sailor uniform had a badge on their collar and chest respectively, so I could tell that they were first-year students. That meant that the other student in the tracksuit was probably not an upperclassman.
Each of them had a difficult expression on their face.
“This seems serious.”
Kengo was also frowning.
“You wanted a hand?”
Kengo nodded and unlinked his arms.
“There’s something we want to find: a pochette.”
A pochette, huh.
That can’t be owned by Kengo. I looked at the girl in the sailor uniform behind Kengo. It might not be a praiseworthy thing to say things about someone’s personality based on their outer appearance, but she seemed to give the impression of being spaced out. She had well-built, mature facial features, and I would describe her as a fragile Japanese beauty. That said, she’s definitely no match for Osanai-san in the fragility department.
Noticing my gaze, Kengo nodded.
“It’s her pochette. It was stolen.”
…Ah, that’s certainly serious.
Having a theft occur in school is not exactly unthinkable, but what makes it serious is that it caught Doujima Kengo’s attention. With his arms folded, fists clenched and a frown on his cubical face, Kengo spoke.
“So there are people here who do petty things like stealing a girl’s bag.”
I asked, but Kengo stared at me.
“What do you mean by that?”
“No, I didn’t particularly mean anything by that.”
I started by playing it off, as usual. But Kengo didn’t believe those words, and instead jerked his chin, as if saying, “Explain.” Having no choice, I continued.
“I was just thinking that if there was money in that pochette, then it wouldn’t just be petty, but it would be a crime.”
“It’s a crime even if there was no money inside… But I suppose you’re right. Yoshiguchi, what items of monetary value were inside the bag?”
Yoshiguchi was the name of the female victim. Contrary to my impression from her appearance, she answered the question crisply and clearly.
“No, there were only things like lip cream, ball-point pens, and scissors. Ah, there was also a notebook, I think.”
“Yup, that’s all. I didn’t put anything else inside.”
With their relaxed exchange, Yoshiguchi-san and Kengo were probably from the same middle school. Anyway, there was apparently nothing of monetary value in the pochette. Meaning…
No, I’m not required to think here. If that’s the case, I shouldn’t think about it. Kengo only asked me to lend a hand. After looking at the two waiting male students in succession, I asked Kengo.
“I understand that a pochette was stolen. What are you planning to do by gathering so many people?”
“…You’re being strangely honest.”
I shrugged. Kengo frowned for an instant, but returned to normal in the next.
“I did say that it was stolen, but we still don’t know if that’s what really happened. It might have been hidden, for example. We were about to conduct a search of the entire school.”
I see. That’s quite a calm response.
That must mean that the other two male students were volunteers for the search squad. They were either nosy like Kengo, or were forcefully dragged over by him. One of them was built firmly and looked like he did judo or some kind of martial art, while the other was of medium height and built, and had a subservient-looking smile on his face.
“That’s how it is. Help us.”
I smiled upon hearing Kengo’s words.
“Yeah, sure, if it’s for something like this. I don’t think it’ll even take thirty minutes.”
Yoshimoto-san turned towards me.
“Thank you, er…”
You’re welcome. It’s just some simple work, after all.
“So, about the pochette we’re finding. Yoshiguchi?”
Kengo asked. Yoshiguchi-san extended her arms about thirty centimeters apart. That’s quite large for a pochette.
“It’s about this big… Also, it’s deep red in color, has a thin shoulder strap and has white lining.”
I was planning to stay silent, but I instinctively spoke up.
“When did you lose it?”
“It was there until the sixth period, which was physical education. When we returned from that class, it was gone.”
I see. So she didn’t just lose it somewhere.
“Hmm, red and white, huh.”
Kengo muttered as he stroked his chin and nodded repeatedly.
“…Right, let’s begin. I’ll take the first floor. Shimomura, you’re on the third floor; Jougorou, the second floor. Takada, you do the fourth floor.”
Based on their gestures of acknowledgement, Shimomura was the one who was smiling, and Takada was the well-built one. The two of them walked up the stairs, while Kengo called out to me, “I’m counting on you!” before heading down the stairs, leaving me and Yoshiguchi-san. Before starting the search, I turned to Yoshiguchi-san with an ingratiating smile.
“Yoshiguchi-san, was it? It must be rough, huh.”
She replied, “Yes,” in an almost inaudible voice. Without dropping the smile, I continued.
“About the pochette, did Kengo… I mean, did Doujima forcibly call for a search?”
I noticed Yoshiguchi-san’s countenance suddenly relax. With a sigh, she replied.
“No, he didn’t force anything. I’m thankful that he’s willing to help me search, and I’m truly troubled that my pochette is missing. That said, seeing him be so enthusiastic about it is a bit… and having three other guys help me makes it seem like I seduced them or something… it’s quite distressing.”
To be precise, it’s distressing if her classmates think that way about her. This girl seems to be a member of my party. Here’s to glory and peace for our petit bourgeois club!
“You don’t owe me anything for this, by the way. I’m not doing this for your sake, but on Kengo’s request. Yoshiguchi-san, try searching areas where guys can’t get into.”
Now, I should begin as well. If I can find it quickly, I wouldn’t have to make Osanai-san wait.
The second floor which I was assigned mainly consisted of third-year classrooms. Even if Yoshiguchi-san’s pochette was indeed hidden with ill intent, it would be difficult to imagine that it being in one of the third-year classrooms. If it was not in a classroom, then there would only be a disappointingly small number of places to look for it. In Funa High, the lockers are located at the back of classrooms, so corridors exist solely for people to walk around on, and therefore contain only a few objects. But since I’m helping out on a request, I’ll do it properly. Behind the water cooler is the boys’ toilet. There’s no way it could be there.
That’s because if the pochette was indeed stolen and hidden, the culprit cannot be a guy, and if the culprit is a girl, it would be difficult for them to hide it in the boys’ toilet. The corner where the water cooler is located is an even simpler matter. It’s not wide enough to hide anything.
Starting from the east end of the second floor of the North Block, I moved west until I reached the other end. While I was fully utilizing my powers of observation, I couldn’t find anything like it at all. I backtracked a little to the connecting walkway to the South Block, which was an open steel frame, and went through it. Come to think of it, the area in this steel frame is most suitable for hiding something. With that realization, I conscientiously returned to the connecting walkway. It had windows, from which one could view the courtyard.
I squatted and looked inside the steel frame. I stood on tiptoe and looked inside the steel frame. The floors of Funa High are made out of linoleum, which made my indoor shoes squeak. This was unexpectedly tiring.
Checking out the connecting walkway took a lot more time than I thought it would. I searched around the South Block, then returned to the North Block. There was now nowhere left to search on the second floor, besides the classrooms that the third-year students were using and empty classrooms that were locked. The possibility of the pochette being in either of those two places was exceptionally low. Would he still tell me to carry on searching?
I was curious as to how long I took, but I’d unfortunately forgotten to put on my wristwatch. I took out my phone, thinking of relying on the time display, when my phone vibrated. It was from Kengo. Come to think of it, I’d unconsciously left my phone in manner mode. It’ll be fine if he doesn’t need me for some urgent business, I thought as I answered the phone.
The call connected in less than a second, causing an angry voice to blast from the speakers.
Thinking that he should know who he’s talking to if he just checks the display, I answered calmly.
“…Sorry, but I’m Kobato.”
I could hear an obvious sigh from the other side.
“Oh, Jougorou, huh. Where are you now?”
“Second floor, at the passageway. I’ve checked everywhere on the second floor.”
“Alright, let’s regroup. I’ll go over to you. Got that? Don’t move from that spot, no matter what.”
That was a strange thing to emphasize. If he told me not to move, of course I wouldn’t move.
“I’ll be there immediately.”
Leaving those words, he hung up. Since he asked me to wait, I’ll wait obediently. Is Osanai-san also waiting like this by the shoe lockers?
Kengo’s final line was not a lie, for he appeared in less than a minute. He had a considerably grim look on his face.
Instinctively, I asked, “W-What’s the matter?”
“Nothing much… just that Takada’s scampering about and I can’t get a hold of him.”
Takada’s the guy in the search squad wearing the tracksuit, right?
“Can’t get a hold of him?”
That was when I noticed that Kengo’s breathing was a little ragged.
“He told me that he’d finished checking the area by phone, and like with you, I was going to meet up with him.
“But that idiot suddenly hung up without properly hearing the meeting place, so he wasn’t there when I went over. After that, I called him, but he said he was on the third floor, then the fourth floor, the west, the east, the North Block, the South Block, and so on. I’ve been totally given the runaround by that guy.”
An image rose in the back of my mind. It was of a miniature Funa High, with its cross section exposed like a dollhouse, with Kengo and Takada scampering about while looking for each other to no avail. I think I’ve seen a similar skit a long time ago.
“…What’re you smirking at?”
“Ah, well, nothing at all. That must have been really tiring, huh.”
“So, wasn’t there another guy?”
I asked. Kengo spat out his reply.
“If you’re talking about Shitamura, he’s already gone. He left as soon as we split up.”
I checked the display on my phone again. Oh, looks like almost thirty minutes have passed. I probably won’t be needed any more, so I should take my leave. I opened my mouth, about to say as such, but I was silenced with a gesture. Was Kengo telling me to wait? It seemed that he was getting a phone call. As soon as he opened up the vibrating flip phone and answered the call, he barked in a stern voice, reminding me of our previous phone call.
“Takada, listen, don’t move. And don’t hang up, you idiot!”
At first glance, Kengo might seem simple and straightforward, but he doesn’t usually raise his voice like this. Well, he might have changed in the three year period, but that’s as much as I know. As for this situation, it looks to me that Takada’s disregard for communication caused Kengo to run around the entire school.
“Now? I’m at the passageway, on the second floor. I’ve met with Jougorou… I mean Kobato. You should also… What? You’re outside?”
Kengo exclaimed, then dashed over to the window.
Curious, I also looked outside, and spotted a guy a short distance away from the shoe lockers, facing us with his left hand by his ear and his right hand waving wildly. He was trying his best to appeal, “I am here!” I would definitely not be able to make such a performance in public, I thought absentmindedly.
“I see you. Listen, don’t hang up. Come up to the east-side staircase on the second floor in the North Block, or the place where we met with Yoshiguchi and the rest. You got it, right? Let’s finally end this game of cat-and-mouse.”
After ending the call, Kengo looked at me with a face filled with sardonicism.
“That damned Takada actually said, ‘That’s my line.’”
We rendezvoused at the first meeting area, although Shitamura was not present. Yoshiguchi-san had apparently been waiting there after doing a quick search of the area. Takada, who had run over here, was short of breath, and the hem of his tracksuit was drenched. I was worried about the time, but it seemed that the search squad was about to be dissolved, so I should stay until the end.
We were supposed to report our information, but the only piece of information we had was that no one had any information worth reporting. If they were continuing the search, I would have to ask to fall out, but fortunately, they came to the conclusion that searching any more would be pointless.
Kengo folded his arms and groaned, apparently in a bad mood.
“If it still doesn’t show up, we’ll have to bring it up to the police.”
“The police! That’s overreacting. We should first bring it up to a teacher.”
Takada exclaimed in surprise. Kengo slowly spoke to explain his reasoning.
“I’m not sure how the Student Guidance Department in Funa High is, but in nine cases out of ten it’ll be useless if we go to them… Something was stolen. It was an undeniable act of larceny! I don’t celebrate people for following the law, but I just can’t stand a person who would steal a woman’s bag.”
He also can’t stand a person who would steal a man’s bag, though.
If I had to say, I would be opposed to Kengo’s suggestion. As a petit bourgeois, it’s no joke to be involved with the police. However, just as the Student Guidance Department would probably not take action for one bag, the police probably wouldn’t, either. That was why I did not voice my opposition. If I say that it’s someone else’s problem, it wouldn’t reflect well on me, but well, that’s just how it is.
I expected Yoshiguchi-san to say that she couldn’t agree to Kengo’s suggestion. If she was also a petit bourgeois as I thought, she definitely wouldn’t want to bring the matter up to the police. However, my expectations were shattered.
“Yes, I plan to file a police report.”
It seems that her resentment for having her pochette stolen was surprisingly deep. Kengo nodded upon hearing Yoshiguchi’s agreement.
“Sorry to say this, but there’s no way police officers will conduct a search just for one pochette.”
Oh? Why, then?
“However, if the school hears that you filed a police report, the teaching staff will make their move, and that will corner the culprit. You should do it as soon as possible, like tomorrow, for instance.”
That was interesting. I piped up without thinking.
“You sure know your stuff, Kengo.”
Kengo answered calmly without displaying even an ounce of pride.
“Something like this happened in middle school.”
However, I was still feeling quite uneasy. The fact that we would be dragging the teaching staff in for the sake of one pochette early in the beginning of my new life just looked like nothing but a bad joke when held up against the creed of life I wished for. It was, of course, not impossible for me to escape alone, but… What should I do?
In any case, it was decided that we would wait and see for today. I checked the time display on my phone. The promised thirty minutes had already passed.
Captains (Tier 3) : SuperKatsu, Marieta Tan
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Slush56, Ashley Soffietti, Jen Murph
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, _Maki, Jaime Cuellar
Thank you very much for all your support!