Osanai-san is in the wrong. The little citizens that we aim to be should not hold such an appetite for vengeance. However, I could not stop her.
Another option I had was to help her, but it was rejected. We did promise to help each other escape, but we never decided to help each other attack. The relationship Osanai-san and I have is reciprocal, not dependent. With the exception of instances when one of us wants to escape from something, we’re nothing more than mere acquaintances. Osanai-san enforced this rule strictly.
“It has nothing to do with you, Kobato-kun, so leave me be.”
That was what I was told.
Those were words that I could agree with. Indeed, no matter how Osanai-san intended to strike her hammer of revenge down on the thief who stole her bicycle, it had nothing to do with me. Even if that fails and Osanai-san is driven into a corner, she’ll have reaped what she sowed. I certainly didn’t have any right to lend her a hand.
…But, whether or not I’m convinced with this line of reasoning, this is something I need to examine.
I felt like I had to think about what “failure” could mean for Osanai-san in this case. I had had a sense of foreboding about it, after all. A deep sense of foreboding, at that.
Even if she were to put her words of “making him pay” into action, I couldn’t imagine Osanai-san cornering Sakagami and saying, “You’ll have to pay me compensation for the damages you’ve done to my bicycle.” Sakagami would never obediently hand over the money, and it could even turn out to be a dangerous situation for Osanai-san.
Even so, she seemed to think that she had some chance of success. That was what I was afraid of. Exactly what crazy plan did she have up her sleeve?
Three days had passed since Osanai-san’s declaration of war. Yesterday and the day before that were Saturday and Sunday, so we couldn’t meet in school. I did send her an email, but there was no reply. I really had a bad feeling about this.
In the meantime, I’d gathered information that I thought would be of some use. However, all I did was gather the information; I hadn’t used it yet. I was still unsure about whether to help her. In the first place, I’d decided to stop acting like a detective. On top of that, Osanai-san’s “leave me be” gave me a strong reason to think twice about meddling in her affairs.
It was now Monday, in the time after school. I reached the conclusion that I should arrange for a situation such that I can respond no matter what happened.
I sent out an email, to Doujima Kengo. It read:
“Acknowledging the need to bolster the reserve force of our mobile defense, I request your assistance.”
The reply read:“You stupid fool.”
Even with that response, Kengo came to help, which I was grateful for.
That said, the Kengo who appeared in my classroom after school seemed to be in a bad mood, with a foul look on his face and his mouth in the shape of the character へ. He drew himself to his full height, with his arms crossed.
“What do you want?”
“Well, why don’t you take a seat?”
I gestured at the seat in front of me. Kengo pulled the chair back, then plunked himself down on it.
Kengo rarely appeared to be in a good mood, but it was difficult to broach the topic with him glaring at me like that. I decided to begin with a preface.
“Sorry for calling you over so suddenly. Did you have something on?”
“Yeah, I did. They were short of hands in the Newspaper Club.”
“Really? I am truly sorry, then.”
“Even if you’re sorry, there’s something you want to talk about in person rather than by mail. I’ll listen, so just spit it out already. If it’s something worthless, I’ll return to my club.”
“It’s not worthless, but it’s not a short story, either. I’m seriously sorry.”
“Spit it out, I said.”
Kengo seemed to be in a rush, but I wouldn’t be able to tell him what I wanted from him if I didn’t follow the order of events. I told him about Osanai’s bicycle getting stolen, about how Sakagami hopped on it and escaped right before our eyes on the day when we bought those spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. There was also that burglary incident when the bicycle was witnessed. I also recounted the events of four days ago, when we caught sight of Sakagami, who was riding the bicycle up the slope in a hurry, and three days ago, when the bicycle was returned to Osanai-san in a broken state.
Affected by the story, Kengo had a solemn look on his face. Hopping on a girl’s bicycle and running away with it was, without a shadow of doubt, an unpardonable offense in Kengo’s book. With his arms unfolded, his overbearing upper body seemed to be leaning over me ominously.
I reached a stopping point, and Kengo spat out a breath.
“…A bicycle thief, huh. That’s a common occurrence.”
“It might be a common occurrence, and the cost might be light, but that might not cure her irritation. One tire, right? That’s about six thousand yen, I think.”
“I suppose, it should be something like that. But it’s good that the bicycle was returned. You hardly hear of stolen bicycles being returned.”
At that moment, Kengo glanced at his wristwatch.
“If it all ended well, there would be no meaning in calling me for help.”
“A brilliant deduction.”
I cleared my throat.
“Osanai-san is planning to take revenge on the bicycle thief.”
Kengo made a weird face, as if he’d just been told that fish were flying in the sky. It was probably the same expression one would make when possessed by a fox. But in the next moment, he broke into laughter.
“Hahahahaha, that’s good. Teach that scumbag what he can expect from taking someone else’s personal property.”
I frowned and waited for the laughter to stop.
“It’s no laughing matter. You could certainly teach them a lesson, Kengo, because you could use your howling iron fists1 if it came to that. I could also do the same, if barely. But we’re talking about Osanai-san here. Her target just has to fight back, and that would be the end of the story.”
Kengo scratched his chin.
“Well, I suppose you may be right.”
He then lowered the tone of his voice, seemingly having just realized something.
“You’re not telling me to act as her bodyguard, are you?”
“In the general scheme of things, it would be something like that, yes.”
“Is this a request from Osanai-san?”
I was momentarily lost for words. I could lie, but it would be found out immediately. Having no choice, I answered.
“No, I’m just acting on my own judgment.”
Kengo’s mouth started to open, probably about to say something like, “It’s none of my business, then.” Without closing my mouth, I quickly continued.
“But I have a reason for it.”
The mouth that was about to open closed for an instant, then asked a question.
“A reason? A reason for what?”
“A reason for my judgment that Osanai-san could be in danger.”
The word “danger” must have had some weight, for Kengo’s gaze grew sharper.
However, I faltered. It was a failure on my part. I hadn’t done a good job of leading up to the topic. I wouldn’t be able to set out the reason, and my talk with Kengo wouldn’t end. Then again, I didn’t exactly want to do that in the first place, because I actually wasn’t finished with my deduction of the reason. It would have been great if I could just tell him the rough story and employ his support in the case of an emergency.
Wait, can I still recover from this situation?
Kengo asked suspiciously. I’ll just say it, then.
“I don’t need to say anymore about this. All you need to know is that Osanai-san is going after someone who frankly does not put much thought into their actions.”
“How do you know that this bicycle thief is a rash person?”
“Someone who uses a little more of their wisdom would have thought of ripping off the bicycle license seal… Anyway, I don’t know how Osanai-san intends to exact her revenge, so I would just like you to lend me your strength when the time comes.”
Kengo stared at me fixedly, causing me to instinctively avert my eyes. He roughly stroked his shaven head, then spoke in a low voice.
“You used to be an unpleasant person who disagreed with everything. You would brag about using even a small bit of wit.”
…That’s all in the past now.
Kengo let out a deep sigh.
“And what of it? What you told me was flimsy beyond words. You might not mean it to be that way, but can’t you tell that what you’re doing is manipulating others on your own terms? If you have something to say, say it clearly. Asking me to be on standby for an indeterminate time after giving me only a half-assed reason is too good for the bugs2.”
I buried my head in my hands. That wasn’t a figure of speech; I was literally holding my head in my hands. Kengo might be uncouth, but he wasn’t stupid. He might be gullible, but he was no idiot. I may have been bragging about my wit again. Kengo was right. Basically, I was making light of him.
“If that’s all you have to say, I’ll be going.”
He got up to leave, causing me to call out to stop him. He stared at me as if testing my resolve, then slowly folded his arms.
“If there are some circumstances that you can’t speak of, just say so. Can’t you just say that you can’t tell me now, and that you’ll tell me when it’s all over?”
“There are no circumstances behind it. To be honest, I haven’t completely figured out the details yet.”
“Do it after you’ve figured it out, then.”
“You don’t know, huh.”
Kengo slowly shook his head.
“There’s something you’re thinking about, right? You’re also confident that you can figure it out, right? Why don’t you do it, then? Isn’t that the kind of situation that you like?”
“That’s what I used to like.”
All I could do was resign myself to the fact that having my past, arrogant self be known to others makes me weak. There were three ways forward from here. I could give up on asking Kengo to be the rear guard. I could sonorously state my deduction. Or…
I chose the third option. With my head down, I spoke in a tone so subdued I surprised even myself.
“I don’t like that anymore. That’s how it is now. When I think back to the time when I liked making such deductions, I get disgusted at myself.”
“The other time when you made cocoa for us, you said that I was acting weird. At that time, I lashed out at you, saying that you were expecting me to have some sort of trauma that made my change easy to understand. Do you remember that?”
“Yeah, I remember it well.”
I frowned for an instance. That was no act. I’d just remembered.
“Actually, there is some trauma that makes my change easy to understand. It was three clean strikes in succession. After being countered, I took a straight to my face. After rebounding from the rope, I received a hook, and while I was down, I got an uppercut for my trouble.”
Kengo replied with a straight face.
“It’s amazing that you survived.”
“I survived, but I was knocked down without a fight. I was witty, but deep down, I knew that it was nothing to be proud of. Those blows were strong enough to make me decide never to show off my intelligence again.”
“I’m not good with abstract stuff. You don’t intend to be concrete about it?”
I shook my head.
“Nope, but it went something like this.
“Because I was putting on airs, I was too late in helping someone, causing people to have a grudge against me.
“I broke a person’s fantasies, but that only caused them to cry, and nothing good came out of it.
“Having confidence in myself, I set out my ideas, but I was surpassed by others.
“Those are very common things, don’t you think? That may be true. But what I realized gave me an even bigger shock.
“When someone tries their hardest to think about a problem, but can’t figure out the answer and is troubled by it, I cut in from the side and solve the problem for them. However, I realized that only a small amount of people would welcome that. Even fewer people would be grateful for that. In fact, most people would avoid me or even hate me for it!”
“…That’s not the case. Aren’t these all misunderstandings on your part?”
“You don’t understand, Kengo. You and your sister are pleasant people. Knowing that I have a good head, you ask me to solve problems. If I do manage to solve the problem, you praise me and say, ‘Nice fight!’ But haven’t you realized? People like you are clearly in the minority.
“Kengo, do you think Katsube-senpai was thankful to me in that case about the paintings? I don’t seek gratitude, and I solve mysteries because I like that. However, I’m not sure about being met with dirty looks. Do you know that there have been more than five or ten instances in which I’ve been told, straight to my face, to not butt in where I’m not needed?
“I’ve been told that my way of speaking is bad, or that I hadn’t given enough consideration to the parties involved. That might be true. I’ve seen truths ahead of other people since I was in kindergarten. Sometimes, the truth is twisted. What am I supposed to do then?”
The thirst in my mouth was starting to make me feel uncomfortable.
“Since that would only produce worthless memories, I decided to aim to become a petit bourgeois who has no special accomplishments, is content with the status quo, and believes that the blue bird of happiness is in my own room. You criticized me for that, saying that I was ‘hiding an ulterior motive behind a smiling face’. So, what am I supposed to do!”
I caught myself. My outburst had seemingly been too loud, for the voltage had risen in the classroom, which still had many classmates remaining. I should calm down.
…There, my smile is restored.
“Well, that’s what it is, so I hope you can let me off the hook regarding that.”
What I told him might be lacking here and there, but it was still pretty much the entire truth.
However, telling him the truth here was nothing more than a result of cost-benefit calculation. Basically, I meant it as a sob story meant to earn his sympathy by showing the weakness I have when playing the role of detective in front of other people.
But I miscalculated again. To be exact, I made two miscalculations. The first was that Kengo did not care for such obsequiousness. The other one was that since it was a sob story, I should have spoken in a more pitiful tone, but I still possessed too much self-respect. As a result, the dramatic effect was too shallow, and I revealed too much of my true colors. Of course, it wouldn’t go as I’d expected.
Kengo resolutely ignored my ploy and pushed it aside.
“All the more you should think. You’re more suited to that.”
“…Were you listening to what I said?”
After unfolding his arms, he scratched his head.
“It seems like you’ve leaked your true thoughts, so I’ll say this clearly. I don’t know if you’re down from taking those hits, but I don’t think I want to associate myself with someone who lives such a small, furtive life. I came here on your request due to the relationship we had all those years ago, but if you don’t say anything now, there won’t be a second time.
“You used to be an unpleasant person, but I didn’t dislike you… if you want to be a petit bourgeois or whatever it is, go ahead. But I’ll pass on listening to requests from someone like that.”
I felt my mouth go agape, as if I was an idiot. But seriously, how can he say those lines without feeling any sort of embarrassment? I continued looking at Kengo, realizing that his unnaturally sulky look was just a front to hide his embarrassment, which caused me to laugh. He did look sullen, but a tight grin eventually formed on his lips, and it appeared that he was putting quite a lot of effort to stop himself from laughing as well.
“Wow, you sure are strict, Kengo. I’ll have to fill you in about my circumstances.”
“Sorry, Jougorou, but I only deal with honesty.”
As my laughter subsided, so too did the modestly uplifting atmosphere. All that was left was a choice. Should I overlook the danger looming over Osanai-san and uphold our promise, or should I listen to Kengo and play my role as a detective?
…This was, in essence, Osanai-san’s problem. Even if I made a choice, I would have to contact her. I reached for the phone in my pocket.
“Since we haven’t started yet, let us make a bet, Kengo. I’ll call Osanai-san right now and persuade her to let go of this case. If I can’t do that, I’ll make use of my modest wit and put into words the reasons for why she could be in danger.”
Kengo nodded, then returned to his most comfortable position, or in other words, folded his arms.
I brought up the mobile phone number and made the call.
With the phone to my ear, I waited patiently. Kengo’s eyes were shut, although I don’t think it was because he was sleepy.
…Come on, pick up the call. I was counting the number of ringing tones. It went over ten, then over fifteen. I placed my finger over the Hold button.
The ringing tone sounded for the twentieth time. It would be fine to assume that she wouldn’t be picking up the phone. I stopped the call, then returned the phone to my pocket. Kengo opened his eyes.
Now that it had come to this, all I could do was steel my resolve. On top of my desk, I rolled my left hand into a fist and grabbed it with my right hand. “Now, let’s begin. In my view… we can deal with this in a solid chain of reasoning.”
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Slush56, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Yazmin Arostegui
Thank you very much for all your support!
- This is probably a reference to Denjin Arrow, a 1960s manga about a cyborg superhero. “Howl, iron fists! Fly, Arrow!” is written in the synopsis for volume 2 of that manga, so it might something of a catchphrase.
- The bugs here refer to the three types of bugs that were thought to cause illnesses in people. An action being “too good for the bugs” implies that it is selfish and causes trouble to everyone else.