Table of Contents
It was the next day.
With my modest bento laid out on my desk, some noise suddenly drifted from the school speakers. The broadcasting switch was turned on. Since I was well-behaved and didn’t belong to a club, I couldn’t imagine that I was in any way related to the announcement that would follow, so I paid it no heed as I separated my disposable chopsticks. However, while the announcement was indeed directly unrelated to me, it was still related to me by proxy.
“Osanai Yuki-kun from Class 1-C, please come to the Student Guidance Office. I repeat. Osanai Yuki-kun from Class 1-C, please come to the Student Guidance Office.”
I don’t know what she was like in the past, but the Osanai-san now is a humble person. She doesn’t earn the ire of others, and doesn’t transgress or go against what is right1. Even so, she is not overly punctilious, and even seems to have a goal of living every day plainly, without drawing attention. I also call myself a little citizen, but I’m no match to Osanai-san’s devotion in that respect. If my immersion in a group is “moderate”, Osanai-san’s would be “invisible”.
Even with Osanai-san being like that, this would actually be the second time she is called to the Student Guidance Office. We haven’t been in this school for long, so Osanai-san would be nothing but disappointed for being called for Student Guidance twice already. That said, I do have an idea of what she’s being called for.
She might need my assistance for escaping. I quickly finished up my bento and waited for Osanai-san near the Student Guidance Office.
It seemed that she’d already entered the room and was undergoing Student Guidance. After less than ten minutes, the door slid open and out came Osanai-san. She bowed to the people in the office, and noticed me as she turned around.
We walked side by side, but to be precise, Osanai-san seemed to be half a step behind. As usual, she was looking down, but it was not because of her wariness, and because she had just received a shock, for her eyes were spacing out.
“Was it about the bicycle?”
I asked, causing Osanai-san to instantly look up, as if I’d hit the mark. However, her eyes instantly dropped to the ground again, and she nodded.
“Um… They said that it was found.”
“Wow! That’s great!”
I said that brightly with a smile, but Osanai-san didn’t give so much as a grin. Since she had been so concerned about it earlier, I could understand that it wasn’t just “found”. I was thinking of pressing her for more information, but she continued on her own accord.
“There’s a slope if you go straight where the highway branches right at Kitahamae. My bicycle was discarded on the other side of the slope.”
Where the highway branches right at Kitahamae. To be precise, that’s the area where the highway from the south branches east. Going straight from that would mean the narrow path at the T junction. Thinking about it, I immediately recalled what had happened the day before.
“Isn’t that the place where we saw Sakagami yesterday?”
“Yes… If I’d chased after him, I could have gotten my bicycle back yesterday.”
Osanai-san said that with a hollow voice, showing that she herself didn’t believe that she could have done that.
“Someone made a phone call, saying that it’s a nuisance that a bicycle with the seal of Funa High was discarded there. So, they were mad at me and said that I didn’t manage my bicycle well.”
I smiled wryly.
“You’ve heard that before, right?”
With the previous case, the Student Guidance Department should have known that the bicycle with Osanai-san’s bicycle license seal had been stolen. It was totally unfair for them to chide her for not managing her bicycle well. However, Osanai-san did not care at all about the unfairness, and that was only natural. Taking injustice without complaints can be said to be the first rule of being a petit bourgeois.
Adding the assumption that Osanai-san’s lack of cheeriness was related to the bicycle, only one thing came to mind.
“So, the bicycle was mostly broken?”
She glanced up at me for a while, then nodded.
“The person who called the school said that it had been run over by a car. I’m not sure how damaged it is, though…”
I don’t know the details, but if an unmanned bicycle was run over, that would make it a property damage accident, and I believe Osanai-san could even request for compensation. In the first place, I’m a hundred percent sure that the person who made the phone call did so to escape from the responsibility.
It was noisy at school in the afternoon. In a voice that was almost lost in the surrounding clamor, Osanai-san spoke.
“I’ll collect it after school. Could you lend me a hand?”
Our promise did not extend beyond securing a path of escape. Even so, I quickly accepted the request.
After lessons ended, we left the school.
“It would be great if your bicycle can be fixed.”
The conversation that passed between us was devoid of life or color. Even our eyes, which would usually be looking about restlessly at our surroundings, were fixated at our feet. I didn’t have anything to say, and even if I did so, it would be like pushing aside the curtains at the front of a store, or like driving a stake into sawdust. In other words, it would be completely useless.
I walked beside Osanai-san as she pushed the bicycle that she’d bought after her bicycle had been stolen. We walked on the path that we’d passed the day before. As we neared the outskirts of town, we started seeing fields sandwiched between houses. The pavement also became more narrow, causing the two of us to block the entire path when we were walking side by side. Noticing an elderly woman on a bicycle approaching us from the back, I went behind Osanai-san to let her pass, and continued staying behind afterwards. Walking side by side without saying anything made me feel ill at ease.
We headed straight at the junction where the National Highway split east, towards the small northward path and approached the hill we’d seen the day before. Sakagami had ridden the bicycle until some point in the hill, where he dismounted and started pulling it along. Osanai-san, on the other hand, started pulling her bicycle along from the very beginning. Actually, after getting a feel of the hill, I noticed that it wasn’t very steep. Even someone like me could get over to the other side while riding a bicycle.
We stood at the peak of the hill. It was about fifty meters past the end of the downward slope before us. A metallic silver bicycle lay on the road shoulder of a one-lane road. It was, of course, Osanai-san’s bicycle. Osanai-san stared at her bicycle and opened her mouth for a moment, but no words came out. Instead, a sigh escaped her lips, which, for some reason, I thought as disquieting. However, that was just a minor premonition that I could dismiss as a product of my imagination.
The two of us went down the hill.
When we were only a short distance away from the bicycle, I was the first one to open my mouth, and shouted in an especially bright voice.
“Look! It’s not even broken that badly!”
The handles and saddle were properly fitted on, and its frame didn’t seem to have suffered much damage. The chain had been displaced from the two-speed gear, but that could be easily fixed. Machine oil was splattered everywhere, but if Osanai-san wanted, I could clean it up right here. Sakagami seemed to have exposed the bicycle to the rain, so the entire bicycle was covered by a light stain, but we should be thankful that it came back without any problems, right?
However, Osanai-san had a better eye for observation. That said, even if I’d found the bicycle to be in a worse state, I could do nothing else but shout, “Look!”
Osanai-san’s gaze was concentrated on the back tire. I could see what was wrong in an instant… it had been crushed, and the entire wheel was twisted. I frowned. Osanai-san would need to switch it out to get it working again.
Before I could say anything, Osanai-san muttered.
“They said that it was collapsed on its side, with the back tire sticking out on the road. It was crushed by a car in the evening, and the person driving the car called the school this morning.”
A colorful seal was on the back tire’s mudguard, with Funa High’s emblem and the bicycle license number printed on it.
“But wouldn’t it be fine if you just change one tire?”
I asked with an unnatural brightness, almost like a professional jester, but Osanai-san just pointed at the front wheel without even looking at me. There’s nothing wrong with it, I thought, but took a better look before saying that out loud.
The front tire was also damaged. The wheel itself was fine, but a number of spokes were twisted. That would probably make the bicycle quite uncomfortable to ride, but it still wasn’t such a big problem.
“But you could fix this with a hammer.”
Osanai-san shook her head.
“I’m alright with the spokes being twisted. But look, there are signs that they were stepped on.”
Indeed, it seemed like the spokes had taken the impact as a whole. There was also some mud stuck on them. As Osanai-san had mentioned, it did look like the bicycle had been stepped on while lying on its side. Sherlock Holmes would be able to figure out where Sakagami had walked at just from the mud on the spokes, but unfortunately, I’m not that skilled.
Osanai-san’s eyes were quicker than usual today. She continued by pointing at the area near my feet, urging me to take a look.
“He stepped on it here.”
It was difficult for me to see if there was anything there with my eyesight. I would have to crouch down, but I was hesitant to kneel before Osanai-san’s feet. I gestured for her to stoop down a little, then folded my knees to the ground.
There were distinct tire marks on the asphalt pavement, but they were small and still quite difficult to spot.
Osanai-san dragged the bicycle, placed it on its side so that the back tire stuck out on the road and the front tire fit the markings on the pavement. With that, I was convinced that the tire marks were indeed left by the spokes of the bicycle when they were being stomped on.
I looked up to see Osanai-san biting down strongly on her thin lip. She must be desperately trying to endure the frustration. Considering her emotions, I decided to stop the cheery jester act.
Instead of leaving the scene, Osanai-san moved her eyes finely, searching if Sakagami had left any more traces behind. I accompanied her through her silence, noticing that her fists were clenched.
Eventually, she asked me a question in a voice uncharacteristically lacking in emotion.
“Kobato-kun, what do you think happened yesterday? Why did my bicycle…”
I hesitated, unsure about how to answer that question. There was no need for me to do that, and I’d already decided not to show off my intellect. Even Osanai-san should understand, or rather, Osanai-san should understand it the most. If she was still asking me about that, it meant that she probably wouldn’t be able to calm down unless I made a deduction that could convincingly explain the circumstances. I studied the broken bicycle, turned around to look at the hill, then thought back to Sakagami’s figure from yesterday.
What happened the day before appeared in my mind as a relatively clear sequence of events. Discarding the deliberate brightness I’d used earlier, I replied in my normal tone.
“Alright, this is what happened.
“As we noticed yesterday, Sakagami was in quite a hurry. He hurried up the hill and probably tried to forcibly switch gears midway, causing the chain to come off. This hill isn’t so steep that you can’t get a bicycle over it without pushing it up, after all.
“Since the chain came off while he was rushing for time, Sakagami was annoyed. However, he didn’t abandon the bicycle there. It wasn’t as simple as that. A bicycle without its chain cannot be used to traverse a hill or flat ground, but it can still be ridden down a slope. He must have straddled the bicycle at the peak of the hill and used the gravitational force to travel down.
“It’s about fifteen meters from here to the foot of the hill. When the bicycle’s momentum weakened enough such that it became faster to walk than to ride the bicycle, Sakagami abandoned the bicycle. He did that right here.
“After that, he hit the bicycle because he was pissed off that it malfunctioned while he was in a hurry. To be precise, he stomped down on the spokes of the bicycle with a great deal of strength. Then, he ran off, on his own two feet, down this road.”
I turned my head around and peered at the other end of the road I’d mentioned.
But the problem was immediately apparent. The only things that could be seen from here, a location one hill away from a road that deviates from the National Highway, were farms, farms, more farms, as well as the occasional fields, vinyl greenhouses and sheds used to store farming equipment. The road soon ended in a T junction, with the right path eventually leading to a road that crosses the mountains, and the left forming an arc that surrounds the farmland region and eventually returns to town. As I was momentarily lost for words in my confusion, Osanai-san spoke in my place.
“Where to? You’re not seriously saying that he’s toiling away at a farm, are you?”
I was taken aback by Osanai-san’s rude, sarcastic comment. She was resting her arms on the moss green bicycle she’d ridden here, which was leaning diagonally against an oak tree. She also had on a faint smile, causing the premonition that I’d dismissed earlier to return. Osanai-san cannot be complimented as being an honest person in the first place, but she was giving off a rather dangerous atmosphere right now. I called out at her profile.
“Osanai-san, calm down.”
“I’m calm enough. More importantly, where do you think he was rushing off to? The left path goes back to town, and the right one goes to the mountains. It’s far either way, even with a bicycle.”
…That was certainly true. If he wanted to turn left and get to town, he wouldn’t have needed to go over the hill. If he wanted to turn right, he wouldn’t be able to get to his destination without sufficient leg strength and stamina. Abandoning the bicycle further cut his ability to get anywhere. It wouldn’t be a problem if Sakagami were a long walker, but I can’t imagine that he would have that kind of disposition, though I admit that it isn’t right to judge a book by its cover. Then again, if he is the kind of person who doesn’t mind walking on his own two feet, he wouldn’t have stolen Osanai-san’s bicycle in the first place.
I looked up from my feet to stare into the distance, where the country road caused the line between pavement and main road to fade and crack. There was nothing there. I didn’t mean that it was a vacuum, but… well, I might be on to something here.
“…I see. It could be that his destination was this very road.”
Osanai-san’s eyes turned to look at me.
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps he had an agreement that a car would pick him up here?”
“Did he have to hurry to such an extent that the bicycle chain fell off, or would that car not wait for him? Also, he should have a cell phone, so wouldn’t he be able to contact them?”
“It would make sense if it was a bus. A bus wouldn’t wait for him.”
“Basically, it was like this. Sakagami had planned to go somewhere far by taking a bus. However, he was late, and the bus he’d wanted to take just left the station closest to him. Thus, he hopped onto the bicycle and rushed over the hill to overtake the bus.”
Osanai-san gave a small nod, but made a rebuttal.
“But there’s no bus stop that can be seen from here.”
“A bus would probably stop if you waved at it on a peaceful road in the outskirts like this one.”
Osanai-san leant on her bicycle at a deeper angle. She let out a sigh, then slowly replied.
“It might be as you say, Kobato-kun. A bus might stop if you wave at it here. However, I wonder if any buses go through this area, and at what frequency? One bus every hour… or perhaps every two hours?”
“Who knows? You can check up that information, but there’s nothing we can do here.”
I don’t know if Osanai-san had been listening to what I said, but she rolled up the sleeve of her sailor uniform which was too long for her, and her gaze fell to the watch on her now exposed wrist.
“I understand your frustration, but you’ve gotten back your bicycle. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
However, she gave a strange reply.
“I’m not frustrated at all… I’ll be here for another three and a half minutes.”
Fine, if it’s just that, I was about to reply on reflex, when I noticed the peculiarity in her answer.
“Three and a half minutes? Is something happening then?”
Osanai-san kept a watchful eye on the left and right side of the road. However, her gaze was completely different from the one she usually made in school, where she would be wary of her surroundings to allow her to escape from any situation. It had an alert sharpness about it that was cold but at the same time, somewhat gentle. She didn’t even look in my direction at all.
“Another three and a half minutes, and it would be the time when the two of us spotted Sakagami yesterday.”
“If it’s a bus, it should come soon.”
I see, that is certainly true.
Imitating Osanai-san, I raised up the metallic silver bicycle lying on the road and rested my arms on the saddle. We waited for time to pass in similar poses. Osanai-san didn’t seem to be fretting about it, and was naturally waiting for something to happen.
However, I couldn’t help but feel that something was out of place once again. Due to Osanai-san’s skillful inducement, I’d given some thought to yesterday’s events, even though I hadn’t intended to… Osanai-san was clearly acting strangely. Thinking about it calmly and considering her current position, it only made sense for her to have the following attitude: “What a horrible thing to do, stealing someone else’s bicycle, and on top of that abandoning and destroying it! But it’s fine now that it has been returned to me. It’s just a shame that I’ll have to pay for repairs.” Could she really be that upset about Sakagami’s actions?
I silently observed that her right hand was slowly moving. Her slender fingers were inserted in a pocket of her flared skirt, while her eyes were fixated on the road. For some reason, the small Osanai-san didn’t look so small now. After raising my head and straightening myself, I realized that her countenance didn’t look so weak, either. Perhaps she’d noticed me looking at her face from the side, for she pulled her hand out of her pocket, bringing something out.
“You want one, Kobato-kun?”
“Ah, yes. Thanks.”
It was a cola-flavored lollipop, which I rolled around my mouth. Osanai-san’s lollipop was, judging from the wrapping that I’d peeked at, melon-flavored. Since a large lollipop was stuffed into her small mouth, her cheeks were bulging, like a squirrel storing food in its mouth. However, that was currently the only bit of her appearance that gave off the impression of a small animal.
We were silent as we licked our lollipops. We spent about three minutes twirling the lollipops in our mouths, but nothing happened except for a light truck slowly trundling by. However, it was a little impatient to throw in the towel after waiting for only three minutes, and more importantly, we hadn’t finished our lollipops.
I hadn’t looked at my watch, but I estimated that another two or three minutes had passed. Osanai-san pulled the lollipop stick from her lips, wrapped it in some pocket tissues and returned it to her pocket. “What about mine?”, I was about to ask, but Osanai-san’s eyes had unexpectedly widened.
“Kobato-kun, look there.”
We could see a bus approach us from the left side of the T-junction. Since I had been so confident about the hypothesis that Sakagami wanted to overtake the bus and wait for it, I was deeply satisfied when I saw the approaching bus.
The only thing was that it was a small bus, or a minibus. It wasn’t for public transport. The bus quickly neared us, then flashed past us, right before our eyes. There were Gothic letters on the side of the bus. I see, so that’s how it is.
Osanai-san also seemed to be satisfied. She watched the bus as it disappeared from sight, then quietly murmured.
“So he abandoned my bicycle, huh.”
These words written on the side of the bus were: “Kiyoshi North Driving School”. It was a free shuttle bus.
That kind of bus would certainly stop in areas without a bus stop. Besides, there would also be fixed bus timings.
Finally, the bus disappeared from the end of the road. Kiyoshi North Driving School should be somewhere in the mountains on the right. It was like a solitary fort out of the way from town. Considering transportation convenience, it was a driving school that probably attracted many customers from the neighboring towns that surrounded the mountainous area. I’ve heard that it’s especially convenient because you can easily take the test for a driving license at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Center there.
“Oh well. That settles it, then. It’s over, so let’s go home. What are you going to do with your bicycle? You’re going to fix it, right? If you like, I can do the chain for you.”
Upon hearing those words, Osanai-san, who had been staring at the bus’s destination, turned her head to look at me, and smiled brightly. It was a beautiful, unrestrained smile… which freaked me out. Mt. Fuji is beautiful. So is Yellowstone National Park. But you would be freaked out if you saw Mt. Fuji in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. That was exactly how I felt when I saw that smile.
Or rather, I had seen that smile before. That’s why I was freaked out.
“It’s over? No, Kobato-kun, it’s has just begun, hasn’t it? We’ve just got a lead, after all.”
“He ruined my spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. He abandoned my bicycle for his own convenience. I was supposed to be living a peaceful life in high school, but thanks to him, I was called to the Student Guidance Office twice, and I was treated as a thief during the first time. So, Kobato-kun, what do you think about this?”
She spoke in a slow, detailed manner, her smile still not breaking.
Once again, she turned to look at the mountains where the bus had disappeared to.
“I’ll have to make him pay for what he did.”
She’s regressing. Osanai-san’s turning back to the version of her that she’d decided never to become again. I hurriedly put myself in the middle of her gaze.
“That’s no good, Osanai-san. The stolen item has been returned. You should be satisfied with that. You shouldn’t think any more than that. Just let it go. We promised to become petit bourgeois, right? If you don’t cry yourself to sleep in silence, you’re not being a little citizen.”
I spread out my arms to appeal to her. Osanai-san’s smile faded.
“…You’re right. But still, I…”
“You can endure it. This is where you have to put up with it.”
Osanai-san bit her lip. She looked at the bicycle she’d brought along, her stolen, destroyed bicycle, and the bus’s destination, in that order.
“But I did nothing. Nothing. Even so!
“…Right, Kobato-kun, what do you think?”
“What do you think is the most important thing for a little citizen?”
I immediately replied.
“Being satisfied with the status quo.”
But Osanai-san shook her head slowly.
“Isn’t the most important thing for petit bourgeois… the ability to protect their personal property?”
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 fists2 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 bugs3.”
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.”
The situation was complex.
I’ve read countless stories of people with superhuman powers of observation and deduction, who can reach a conclusion in a single leap of logic, but because of that struggle to explain it to normal people. Thankfully for me, I don’t possess superhuman powers of observation or deduction. Since I can’t do leaps of logic, the path that my logic takes can be easily explained. By following such a chain of logic, I can sometimes find myself stuck exploring dead ends, but all I can do is believe in my intelligence. It is always a comfort to me if it goes well.
“Let me think about how to start,” I pleaded for more time. I placed a fist on my head and thought about it as Kengo waited.
One or two minutes passed. I put down my fist and spoke in a leisurely manner.
“…Alright, I’ll start by going through the information we already have, just to be sure. Three days ago, we found Osanai-san’s bicycle by the road, but there were no locations that looked like it could be a destination nearby. Even so, Sakagami needed to get to that spot before a pre-decided time. Thus, we can only think that there is something that passes that road on a schedule, and that has to be a bus.
“What do you think about it so far?”
I summarized the contents of the discussion with Osanai-san three days ago. Kengo looked taken aback for a while, then thought for a while, seemingly digesting what I’d just said.
“Did you confirm that a bus goes down that road?”
“Yes, we did.”
“Sounds good, then.”
“That bus is a free shuttle bus to a driving school. Sakagami was trying to get on that bus. What do you think of this?”
A slight frown appeared on Kengo’s face.
“Hold up. Is that the only bus that passes by during that time?”
“We were in the area for about thirty minutes. You could also say that we were there in a fifteen minute window of seeing Sakagami. The bus that he planned to take was definitely that shuttle bus.”
“In other words, Sakagami wanted to go to that driving school.”
“Next…” I started, but Kengo immediately cut me off with a wave.
“Hang on again. Just because he got on the shuttle bus does not necessarily mean that his destination was the driving school. It could be that the shuttle bus was the most convenient vehicle to get to his destination, and that he didn’t have anything to do at the driving school.”
He sure is meticulous. Indeed, I can’t exactly rule out that possibility… No, I can do that.
“…Kiyoshi North Driving School doesn’t run a shuttle bus service as a voluntary service. They probably wouldn’t let in people who aren’t enrolled.”
“Is that so? Even assuming that is the case, how would they differentiate between people who are enrolled and people who aren’t enrolled?”
To differentiate these two groups of people, those who are enrolled need to produce some sort of identification, and that has to be something that the bus driver is able to recognize even while driving.
I thought back to Sakagami’s appearance four days ago, and there was only one thing I could think of, which was also the only thing that he was carrying. I slowly replied.
“It’s a bag. Or rather, it’s a document holder, and it’s white in color. That’s the only thing that would be easy to spot.”
“I see… Come to think of it, I’ve seen people holding white document holders getting on that bus.”
Well, both Kengo and I have lived in this town for fifteen years, after all, though we don’t have any memory of the first few years, naturally. It was only after he mentioned it, but I also have a memory of that scene. That memory endorses the validity of my thinking.
“So, it would be like this. To get on the shuttle bus to Kiyoshi North Driving School, you need to have be at a certain selected location, holding the document folder given by the school as a means of identification. I don’t know if this is an original rule by Kiyoshi North Driving School, or if they practise this everywhere across the country.
“Anyway, if you agree that Sakagami took the shuttle bus, you are also basically agreeing that he is enrolled in Kiyoshi North Driving School. It would be too strange for him to fill in the forms for enrolment, pay the fees and only use the school as a midpoint.”
“…Yes, I understand. It’s probably as you say. I shouldn’t have interrupted your chain of logic.”
“No, it’s a lot easier with checks like this. We’re talking about Osanai-san’s safety here. It would help me if you’re rigorous about this, so that we don’t make any mistakes.”
Kengo, who had his arms still folded, didn’t say anything.
Now for the conclusion we can make from all this. I took a deep breath.
“Basically, Sakagami was trying to get a driving license.”
Kengo frowned slightly.
“Yes, that would be a logical conclusion. But what of it? Whether or not he wants to get a license is his choice.”
That is certainly true.
However, my conclusion that Sakagami wanted to get a driving license only served to deepen my misgivings. We’d reached that conclusion with detailed reasoning, but it is a conclusion that can be automatically drawn as soon as we confirmed the premise that Sakagami had boarded the shuttle bus belonging to the driving school. As Kengo asked, “What of it?”
What exactly does that mean?
“…What do you think Sakagami is trying to get a driving license for?”
Kengo answered quickly and shortly, as if to stamp out the ridiculousness of that question.
“To drive, or course.”
“Well, you can still drive even without a license. It’s just a machine, after all.”
“…Just say it straight, Jougorou.”
You don’t have to get so sore. My head will go dull if we get too serious, anyway.
I cleared my throat.
“Well, if that is the case, or if Sakagami wants to obtain a driving license for the sake of being able to officially drive a vehicle, then there’s no problem. In fact, I would wish him good luck on his studies.”
“So your conclusion in the end is that you don’t have a problem? I’ll be off if you don’t need me for anything else.”
Ignoring his words, I continued speaking to further my train of thought.
“But is that all? Why is he getting a license? Or you could ask, what is he going to use a driving license for? The use of objects may not always be straightforward. A glass bottle could be used in a ploy for cheating, for example. A driving license could probably be thrown to perform the trick of cutting up a banana.”
“You’re saying that he’s getting a license for that parlor trick?”
“…Indeed, as a physical entity, the plastic card that serves as a driving license can only be used to do something as insignificant as cutting a banana. I would like to turn my eyes to another efficacy of a driving license.”
The efficacy, or authority of a driving license. If you have one, what can you do? As someone who doesn’t own a license, I don’t understand that very well. No, that’s not true. A person actually receiving their license for the first time will not think that there will be some important secret behind it.
A driving license. I’ve seen one a few times. It contains a portrait, date of birth and address, I believe.
…I see. So that’s what I should focus on.
I took a breath, and paused.
“Basically, I’m talking about the side of the driving license that can act as personal identification.”
Probably having sensed that I’d made a leap in my reasoning, a cautious glint formed in Kengo’s eyes. However, no rebuttal came, so I continued, paying him no heed.
“Here we come to a fork in the road. What was Sakagami trying to get a driving license for?
“The first option: to obtain permission to drive a vehicle.
“The second option: to obtain a form of personal identification.
“Do you have a third or fourth option to add?”
Kengo slowly shook his head.
“Nope, but out of those two options, it’s obviously the former.”
“When one says, ‘it should be obvious’, it generally isn’t.”
After randomly spouting a line that sounded like an aphorism, I continued.
“I think it’s suspicious. For the first option, Kengo would just need to go through the normal procedures, which he would have no qualms doing. However…”
But I was interrupted in the middle of my sentence.
“He might have some qualms about getting a license. It could be against the school rules.”
I immediately responded.
“In Funa High, everyone is free to get a license. What about for Minakami High? I’ve seen some of their students leaving school on scooters.”
I didn’t say that the sighting was in front of a cake shop. That was a little embarrassing for me.
“Eight or nine times out of ten, it wouldn’t be in the school rules. Also, I know that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I don’t think Sakagami would be the type to back down even if it were written in the students’ handbook that getting a driving license is not allowed.”
Kengo nodded. I suppose we’ll save this discussion for later, and return to the topic at hand.
“So, as I was trying to say just now, I have some doubts about Sakagami trying to get a license for normal purposes… could you give me some time?”
Those doubts were probably borne from the psychological reaction of not wanting to believe Sakagami to be the type of person to seriously get a license. However, I should try to exclude such biased judgments, as much as possible. If I start saying things like “Since it’s probably not like this anyway” or “Since it’s probably like that anyway”, I wouldn’t make a good detective. In other words, by kicking against the pricks4, being a true detective is completely different from being a petit bourgeois.
Two to three minutes passed. Kengo must have been bored, but he stayed anyway. I sure am glad to have him around.
The bits and pieces of information whirled around in my head as I organized them and gave them meaning. Osanai-san often commented that I look like I’m enjoying myself like this.
I finally wrapped up my thoughts. There were three questions in my mind. How should I explain them? I planned my strategy out for another one or two minutes.
I deliberately raised a finger.
“The first question is one of distance. Why did Sakagami choose Kiyoshi North Driving School?
“That driving school is out of town. On the day that Osanai-san’s bicycle was stolen, I remember Sakagami saying something about going back home to get his bicycle. That means that he usually walks to school, and it follows that his house is close to Minakami High. Also, Minakami High is roughly in the southwest part of town, so even with a bus, it takes quite a lot of effort for Sakagami to get to Kiyoshi North Driving School.
“You should also know, Kengo, that there is another driving school in this town, Kiyoshi West Driving School. Do you know where it is?”
“It’s a little north of Minakami High.”
“Exactly. Basically, it can’t be far from Sakagami’s house. In the first place, Kiyoshi North Driving School is meant for residents of the neighboring towns, rather than the residents of this town. Considering convenience of travel, Sakagami should have obviously chosen Kiyoshi West Driving School.”
“When one says, ‘it should be obvious’, it generally isn’t.”
“Whose words are those? They sound so cliched and common. That’s such a dull warning. Anyway, if you think it’s weak, could you grade it for me? Give me a ratio of how much you think it’s suspicious, and how much you think it’s not suspicious at all.”
Kengo spent some time thinking.
“I would say it’s 65 to 35 that it’s not suspicious.”
“That’s a fair value. Now for the second question: age.”
I raised two fingers this time.
“On the day Osanai-san’s bicycle was stolen, Sakagami was talking to the members of a group, and he called one of them senpai. This is also important, but I remember that person calling someone else senpai. Incidentally, all of them were wearing Minakami High uniforms.”
“You say this is important?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Let’s phrase it differently, then. Since there is a senpai of a senpai, Sakagami is a kouhai of a kouhai. In other words, he is a first-year student, assuming that there are no considerably strange circumstances at play.”
“I understand that much. What I don’t get is why you think it’s important.”
I let out a small chuckle.
“That’s not like you. This kind of official procedure should be within your field of expertise.”
Kengo parroted my words, then raised his head as the penny dropped.
“I see. A first-year student in high school, and we’re…”
I nodded excitedly.
“Fifteen or sixteen. However, the type of license that you can get at the youngest age, which is the motorcycle license, can only be gotten starting from the age of sixteen.
“It is June now. About five out of six first-year students are still fifteen, and cannot apply for a license. Basically, there’s a one to five chance for us to be suspicious.”
Kengo stared on vacantly for a moment. Not giving him any time, I raised three fingers and pointed them at him.
“Now for the third question, about his attitude.
“Let’s assume that he’s sixteen, and that he’s trying to get a motorcycle license at Kiyoshi North Driving School. If I’m not wrong, you don’t need to have taken lessons to apply for a motorcycle license. Now, Sakagami-kun, who has the nerves to steal someone else’s bicycle without batting an eyelid, was running late in getting to the driving school. The shuttle bus had already left, and to catch up with it, he could only rush from the southern part of town straight to the northern outskirts of town on his bicycle at full speed.
“The question is, would he rush to that extent?”
An answer came my way without a moment’s pause.
“If it were me, I would probably do it.”
I also immediately replied.
“You would do it, Kengo, but I wouldn’t. The question is whether Sakagami would do that, all for the sake of getting a motorcycle license. It might be an exam or a lesson, and while you can’t say that he could have it any day, taking that exam or lesson is not limited to that one day. Why didn’t he skip out on that day?”
“Anyone can be temporarily serious about getting their license. Also, he could have some circumstances that were compelling him to do it as fast as possible.”
“I do think there were some circumstances behind it. The way I see it, it would be unnatural if Sakagami were not in some kind of situation. So what is that situation?
“It would be smooth to think of it this way. Sakagami was told to get his license by someone of higher standing.”
Kengo’s gaze sharpened as he tucked his folded arms deeper in.
“Someone, you say? What would they do that for?”
I had a start. I’d never even considered that person of higher standing to be strange. Why did I say that? Was it just my intuition that someone of higher social standing was involved? As soon as I had that thought, a face appeared in my mind, of the only genteel-looking person in Sakagami’s group… No, I don’t have any evidence or rationale to support this, so I shouldn’t be considering his involvement now. I spoke vaguely.
“Well, I mean, we can answer that when we come to it.
“Anyway, I’d like you to make a judgment. How suspicious is this earnest behavior of the bicycle thief?”
Kengo made a short sigh.
“Alright. Seven to three that it’s not suspicious.”
“These are my three doubts. Right, now let’s calculate your suspicion for Sakagami.”
From my pocket, I retrieved my mobile phone and brought up the calculator program that was listed in the menu.
“For the first issue, you trusted Sakagami for 65 percent. For the second, you said it was one to five, which is roughly 17 percent. The third is 70 percent.
“Kengo, how much do you think you believe that Sakagami is trying to get a driving license for a perfectly natural reason?”
The square face crumpled and distorted. He must have realized that he’d walked into a trap. Laying such impromptu traps is my forte. I showed him the monitor of my phone.
“It’s 0.077, or about 8 percent.
“I can get you to agree that even by your thinking, you find Sakagami to be 92 percent suspicious, right, Kengo?”
Kengo unfolded his arms and tightly curled his hands into fists. He then groaned bitterly.
“Damn… This is exactly what you were like back then. You’re not down and out yet, you can do it if you want to. You sure are an unpleasant fellow.”
“For now, I’ll think of that as a compliment.”
I retorted, while sticking my tongue out in my heart.
Actually, the second of my three doubts was a little strange, although I’d managed to cover it up with my skill at conversation. For the other two points, you could say ‘that might be true, but there is nothing unusual about it’, but the same cannot be said for the question of age. You cannot say, ‘He is fifteen years old, but there is nothing unusual.’ Grouping the three ratios and multiplying them is not a correct calculation. Additionally, even if fifteen year olds cannot get a license, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot enrol in a driving school. They just have to be sixteen at the time when they apply for a license. However, I did not touch on that point.
Anyway, even if we let the age question go, with 65 percent and 70 percent, the total suspiciousness would still be slightly under 50 percent. If there’s a fifty-fifty chance that Osanai-san is in danger, I would definitely move to help, and Kengo would lend me his strength. Even so, I did lay a trap, so there is no helping getting called an unpleasant person. What a troubling personality I have, adding to the difficulty of becoming a petit bourgeois.
“It seems that there is some kind of questionable aspect about Sakagami trying to obtain a license.”
I continued the discussion. Thirty minutes had already passed, but I didn’t panic, instead thinking that I should steadily build the chain of logic.
“Now, we get to the question of what kind of ways there are to use a driving license for questionable activities.
“…We’re talking about an official identification document, after all. You can do as many bad deeds as you want with it.”
“This may have nothing to do with this case in particular, but…”
Kengo cut in.
“…When you talk about bad deeds using official identification, criminal organizations come to mind, domestic or international.”
Well, that is true. I can’t say that the image of some kind of organized criminal groups like the mafia, gangs or the yakuza didn’t come to mind. However, just as Kengo had suggested, I didn’t think that they were relevant to the case at hand.
“If you go down that line of thought, it is certainly possible, but I’m not sure that it’s probable. I can’t imagine that Sakagami is such a bigshot of an underling. He’s just a high school student, after all.”
“’Bigshot of an underling’ has such a weird ring to it.”
Kengo quipped as a light smirk appeared on his face.
“So, what is it that the simple high school student Sakagami, who is neither a bigshot of an underling nor a virtuous student, can do after obtaining official personal identification?”
I muttered and fell into thought. But only one idea rose from the waves of thought in my head. To be precise, it was more like a rough direction rather than an idea.
“…Unless he’s secretly hiding some grand ambitions, I think he most likely wants to get a license for the sake of earning some petty pocket change.”
“Putting aside the question of whether it’s petty…”
Kengo stated his preamble, then nodded.
“That sounds right.”
“…You’re satisfied with that?”
I would have been stuck if he’d asked me to prove it, so I was quite surprised by his agreement. Following my unrestrained cry, Kengo remarked.
“On the contrary, I would be surprised if the motive of that kind of guy isn’t money.”
Since he’d already obediently accepted my conclusion, I would sound like a contrarian for saying this, but I felt like it would be good to solidify my foothold. It might be hasty, but I had no choice.
“If he wants to misuse his personal identification, it would certainly be to earn some pocket money. However, he might not necessarily intend to misuse it.”
But Kengo made a counter-argument, as if our positions had been swapped.
“That’s not right. If he doesn’t intend to misuse it, he would be using it normally, to show his identity. In that case, he can obviously use other things, like his student ID, Certificate of Residence or Certificate of the Family Register.”
“…I see. That is true.”
Kengo switched the positions of his folded arms.
“But Jougorou, I’m starting to see some infeasibility about misusing the license. That’s a license for a sixteen-year-old. What could it possibly do?”
He thought for a while, then continued.
“Couldn’t he at least show his license when trying to sell off a CD that he shoplifted?”
I shook my head slightly.
“If that’s the case, he wouldn’t need to obtain the license. His student ID would be enough. Furthermore, if Sakagami got a license just to sell stolen goods, his main motive becomes unclear. The profit margin is too small, with so much effort being put in, but so little reward.”
“…I don’t get what you’re trying to say here.”
I started, then took a breath. The infeasibility that Kengo mentioned was that even if Sakagami abused his personal identification document as a sixteen-year-old, he couldn’t earn a lot from it. So, basically…
“…All we need is a method to increase the profit margin.”
Feeling my mouth go dry, I gently licked my lips. We would soon be getting to the climax of this discussion. I could feel chills in my head, a sensation that I don’t usually experience. I could still express myself fluently, but I was starting to feel annoyed by the clumsy movement of my tongue.
“The amount of money that can be earned with the license of a sixteen-year-old is certainly of little significance. Even if Sakagami does intend to make that small amount of money, it would be ridiculous to use his own personal identification.
“What I’m trying to say is this. If you clearly want to make some pocket money, all you have to do is make a license using the name of someone else over the age of twenty. It would all be possible if you have that.”
I recited multiple lines that sounded like catchphrases of consumer credit personnel.
“Hey, Jougorou, do you know what you’re saying?”
Kengo chimed in with a somewhat perturbed slur.
“That’s forgery of an official printed document.”
Is that so? I hadn’t considered criminal charges. In any case, that’s only preparation for the next step, which is, essentially…
For now, I ignored Kengo’s objection.
“What do you need to enrol in a driving school? We have to do a little investigation into that.”
“…Shall we make a call?”
“That’s also fine, but…”
I suddenly remembered. In the last two days, I’d gathered some materials, which included the pamphlet for Kiyoshi North Driving School. I opened up my bag to search for my favorite white loose-leaf notebook, which had all the materials wedged in it. There it is. Kiyoshi North Driving School Enrolment Guide. Something that you can find anywhere in town.
I placed the pamphlet in the space between Kengo and I. The two of us looked down at it, and found the correct heading. Using his finger as a guide, Kengo read it aloud.
“Items to prepare for enrolment.”
“The applicant’s Certificate of Residence and inkan.”
…Is that it?
That means we have a bit of a problem. I began thinking about it in my head, then remembered that Kengo was still there, so I vocalized my thoughts. I started out slow, but gradually sped up as my thoughts solidified.
“Certificate of Residence and inkan, huh… To get the Certificate of Residence, you don’t actually need proof of identity; all you need is the inkan. This means that to make a license in the name of someone over the age of twenty, all you need is one inkan. After that, you can choose a victim. A resident of this town who is over the age of twenty, and does not possess a driving license.”
Hold on. I pulled the brakes on my words. Don’t I know someone who is related to Sakagami and meets all those conditions? When he stole Osanai-san’s bicycle, he hadn’t bothered to peel off the bicycle license seal. Thanks to that, Osanai-san was called to the Student Guidance Office twice. The second time was three days ago, about the broken bicycle being found. What about the first time?
I continued thinking.
“…Furthermore, the inkan can be just a ready-made seal. I’m not sure about ‘Kobato’, but I’m pretty sure you can buy one that says ‘Satou’ at any stationery shop in town.
“But Sakagami… or to be precise, the group that uses Sakagami targeted someone with quite a rare surname.”
Kengo frowned. It was only natural since I was furthering the discussion based on information that he didn’t know. I quickly followed up.
“There’s a student called Io Kibe in this town. When he went out to vote, his empty apartment was burgled. Since he has the right to vote, he’s a resident who is at least twenty years old. His bankbook was not touched, but his inkan was stolen. And Sakagami’s bicycle… or rather, the bicycle that Sakagami stole from Osanai-san was spotted nearby.
“I don’t think you can dismiss that as a coincidence.”
Kengo, who had a grimace on his face, abruptly faced downwards. Just when I thought he would stay still in the position, he spoke up in a subdued voice.
“In that case, he doesn’t need a motorcycle license. A scooter license would be cheaper, and easier to obtain.”
I considered that for a bit.
“The motorcycle license is more convenient because you can use it for actual driving on roads. Moreover, using a scooter license for social credit is simply suspicious, don’t you think? You don’t hear about that.”
“I see, but…”
Kengo replied solemnly.
“You have no proof.”
I slapped the table. The sound caused Kengo to look up.
“I’ve finally read what Osanai-san is trying to do. Why did I think that she was in danger?”
I took a deep breath, then looked at Kengo square in the face.
“I’ll summarize it in one sentence.
“Osanai-san is confronting a group with a scheme for fraud.”
Feeling that the chain of logic was secure with those words, I continued.
“Osanai-san will never forgive Sakagami, who stole her bicycle, broke it, and caused her spring-exclusive strawberry tarts to go to waste. She is sensitive to his movements, and will probably go for the jugular if he shows any gaps. Three days ago, when we found out that Sakagami was going to that driving school, she said, ‘We’ve got a lead.’
“Come to think of it, I wonder if Osanai-san intends to secure proof with the digital camera she’s so proud of. The evidence she should secure is clear. She needs is a photograph showing that Sakagami’s name is indeed Sakagami, as well as a photograph showing that Sakagami is registered to the driving school under a different name. All that’s left…”
“All that’s left?”
I mumbled the last part of my sentence, but under Kengo’s hawkish gaze, I had no choice but to continue properly.
“…All that’s left is to see how far Osanai-san goes. I don’t think she’ll resort to blackmail or extortion, but…”
“Wait a minute.”
Kengo tilted his head, unable to comprehend what I just said.
“The Osanai-san you’re talking about is that Osanai-san, right? I can’t remember her given name, but that girl came to my house the other day, and, um… she seemed to be the very personification of shyness.”
Reluctantly, I nodded.
“Yeah, that’s Osanai Yuki.”
“But you said she would go for the jugular or even resort to blackmail or extortion…”
My voice grew softer.
“Well, Kengo, I used to be a smart aleck, but I didn’t like that, so I started aiming to be a petit bourgeois.”
“She wants her past self to be kept a secret, but she’s similar to me. Both of us swore to master the path of the petit bourgeois. However, what Osanai-san wants to discard is not craftiness.”
I peeked at my surroundings, expecting to see Osanai-san standing behind me without my knowing, but thankfully, she wasn’t there. Even so, I stifled my voice even more.
“If I can be compared to a fox, she was like a wolf in the past.”
Kengo’s mouth opened wide, painting a simple picture of his mental state.
“Now, Osanai-san makes a happy face only when there is something sweet in front of her. But it wasn’t like that in the past. She used to enjoy herself the most when she thoroughly crushed opponents that posed a threat to her.”
I probably don’t need to explain to Kengo what kind of counterpunches the people that tried to lay a hand on Osanai-san took, or how well she outmaneuvred them to get that result. It should be sufficient to say that there were all sorts of situations. In the first place, I don’t even know everything about her.
The matter of her bicycle being stolen probably didn’t really matter to Osanai-san, and perhaps neither did the matter of her strawberry tarts going to waste. The truly important aspect of this case is the part that gave Osanai-san a pretext to seek her revenge. Her heart must be fluttering from being able to take revenge on someone after such a long time. However, the two of us decided to be little citizens. I decided to leave behind my craftiness, while Osanai-san decided to leave behind her vindictiveness. The day after her bicycle was stolen, she said, “I’ll feel much better having something else to think about right now,” then helped me, which was uncharacteristic of her. It wasn’t that she wanted to think about something else to forget the shock of the bicycle theft. She’s not that pure of a person.
I understood that what she was trying to forget about that day was her own propensity for vengeance.
“No, I don’t believe it, at least with what I can see,” Kengo said. That’s fine. Even Osanai-san would no doubt be thankful for that. Anyway, what’s important now is not her past, but her present situation. Without waiting for Kengo to get over his wavering, I continued.
“In any case, Osanai-san is approaching that dangerous bunch. Based on our calculations earlier, there’s a 92 percent chance that they’re doing something shady, right?
“On one hand, I feel that there’s no need to worry about Osanai-san. You probably don’t know, but Osanai-san is amazing. Her body’s so tiny, so she can stealthily approach her target, although I can’t explain how she does it. She’s dextrous, and her body’s in great shape. Sometimes I think that she can even throw shuriken. She should be able to do something simple like gathering photographic evidence without a hitch.
“But if what I’ve surmised is true, that would mean that Sakagami is the weakness in their plan.5 They might actually be putting up a strong guard around him. All of them are men, so even Osanai-san would be in danger in a contest of strength. If she gets captured by a group of men who cannot be described as virtuous…”
“…I don’t want to think about it.”
“Give me a bit of time to digest all this.”
Go ahead, I replied and closed my mouth. Kengo temporarily released the arms that had been folded all this time, swung them two of three times to stimulate blood flow, then folded them again. His eyebrows were knitted, which showed that he was thinking hard about it.
By all rights, Kengo doesn’t need to do any thinking here. Even if he doesn’t verify that my deductions are correct, he could have just perfunctorily accepted my request and only done the thinking when I actually require his help. However, he’s treating this seriously now that he’s accepted the request. That’s what makes him so reliable. I’ve held Kengo in contempt over various aspects, but I recognize his worth in a much greater number of aspects. He probably knows this, too.
Finally, Kengo moved. He thrust his right hand into his pocket and retrieved his mobile phone.
“I can do a simple check right now. Let’s do it.”
He muttered, then pressed a button without waiting for a response from me. I couldn’t tell who he called, but they answered immediately. It seemed that they were someone Kengo was familiar with, for he instantly broached the subject.
“Are you free now? There’s a guy with the family name Sakagami who apparently graduated from Kido Middle School last year. I want to know his date of birthday. Yeah, sure. You can use whatever method you want.”
I see. Kido Middle School is one of the middle schools in this town, but Kengo had put some thought into that selection. If Sakagami’s house is somewhere near Minakami High School, there is no doubt that he studied at Kido Middle School. With that information, we can find out his birthday. I hadn’t considered this, but a person with many connections could get into contact with someone who graduated from Kido Middle School last year. All that’s left is a simple task. There is a very high chance that the graduation album contains the birth dates of each student.
But Kengo started saying weird responses.
“No, that’s not it. Yeah, it’s related to Kobato… What did you say? So, you accepted it? No, it’s not particularly bad. So, you have the results? …I see. Yeah, that’s all. I’ll hang up, then. Sorry to take up your time.”
He put down the phone. Wondering what had happened, I waited for him to say something. Kengo roughly brushed his head.
“We’ve been overtaken.”
“By Sakagami? Who were you talking to, anyway?”
“My sister. She prides herself on having a hundred friends, so we can definitely rely on her connections. Anyway, it wasn’t Sakagami. It was Osanai-san who got ahead of us.”
“She asked the same thing yesterday. My stupid sister thought that Osanai-san had switched from you to Sakagami, and was feeling sorry for you.”
I felt like laughing. Not from Chisato-senpai’s misunderstanding, but Osanai-san’s initiative.
“I didn’t know that Osanai-san was on such good terms with Chisato-senpai.”
“Well, by my sister’s standards, you’re a friend if you exchange a few words with her. You two have come over to our house, so you would be treated as close friends.”
Well, we didn’t just visit. Chisato-senpai, Osanai-san and I are three comrades who have bested “Kengo’s Challenge”.
“…More importantly, the results are out.”
The results. I straightened my posture. Thankfully, Kengo didn’t leave me hanging.
“There is one guy with the family name Sakagami. My sister forgot the date, but said that he was born in December. Now, there is no question that Sakagami is only 15 years old.”
I swallowed my saliva.
With this, the chances of Sakagami getting a driving license in an honest manner is reduced by a considerable amount. It isn’t zero because it is worth considering the possibility that Sakagami failed his high school entrance examinations, then eventually went to MInakami High… no, not really.
As if to psyche himself up, Kengo exhaled sharply.
“I understand the situation now. Call me if you need my help. I’ll drop everything and run over as fast as I can. But if you know that much, you should spend some effort to make her stop.”
“I tried, but it didn’t work.”
I replied as the two of us stood up at about the same time. Kengo looked at his watch. Come to think of it, he’d mentioned that he had an errand to run, but this ended up becoming a long conversation. I feel bad for him.
We were at the point where we would say nothing but our goodbyes and split up.
That was when my phone rang. I don’t use music for my ringtone, but I’ve become able to tell from the sound if it is a call or an email. This one was telling me that I’d just received an email, so I unconcernedly took out my phone.
“…It’s from Osanai-san.”
“What is it about?”
Kengo stopped moving as he was about to leave the classroom. I felt my body temperature plummet while I was opening the message. Probably sensing my abnormal state, Kengo approached.
“What’s the matter?”
“No… I don’t know. What is this?”
On my mobile phone screen was the email from Osanai-san, but nothing was written in it. There was no subject, and only a URL was affixed to the body of the email. Upon clicking the URL, all I got was a blank, white page.
It would be fine if it were just a blank email. But what is this for?
I didn’t want to think that way, but my thoughts kept drifting in a bad direction. Unconsciously, I murmured.
“What if she’s in a situation where she can’t type out the message…”
Hearing that, Kengo swiftly came to a decision.
“Jougorou, do you walk to school?”
“I see. We can take my bicycle, then. Kiyoshi North Driving School, is it? Let’s go.”
With just those words, Kengo dashed out of the classroom.
To be precise, I didn’t actually witness Kengo doing that. That’s because I was one step earlier, and had already sprinted out at full speed.
I ground my teeth. Worrying won’t make a difference, but it’s hard not to. It’s not so bad if it’s the first time, but haven’t I had an awful experience like this in the past?
I thought back to the words I’d exchanged with Kengo just now, about my three big failures in middle school. The first of which – Because I was putting on airs, I was too late in helping someone.
Indeed, I’d wanted to have Kengo’s cooperation. If things go south, taking down one target along with me would be all I can do alone. If we don’t act in a group of at least two, escaping will be beyond our control.
But now that it’s come to this, that choice might have been a mistake. Being unable to persuade Osanai-san to stop her rampage, I should have stood by her side, brandishing cheap heroism or rash courage. In the most perilous moment, I was unable to fulfil the promise between us. If one of us wants to escape, the other should be a shield. But I didn’t do that.
…No, that hasn’t been decided yet. It could be that Osanai-san’s empty email holds some deep meaning that I can’t think of, or it could be a simple mistake, and Osanai-san might not actually be in danger. Another possibility is that I’m not the fox I like to think myself as, just a huge fool who made a serious error in the deduction just now.
To confirm that, please speed up, Kengo. Or please reply, Osanai-san. But no matter how many emails I sent, there was no reply.
“…Damn, as I thought, this is impossible!”
Kengo groaned. We were on a road approaching a hill in the outskirts of town, the same hill that I’d crossed with Osanai-san three days ago. Even with Kengo’s strength, cycling up the hill with the two of us would be tough. I hopped off and pushed Kengo’s bicycle from behind. In no time, we reached the peak of the hill. It was at that moment when I had an idea hit me.
“Kengo, what time is it!”
Looking at his watch, Kengo shouted back.
“Half past four!”
“To be precise?”
Good, we’re just in time. I’d brought my bag while we were rushing out of school. It was with Kengo’s bag in the front basket of the bicycle.
“Kengo, wait a moment. Let me get my bag.”
“Your bag? Aren’t we in a hurry?”
“It’s because we’re in a hurry!”
Though he seemed to be unsatisfied by my response, Kengo stopped pedalling. Since it would be a pain to take my bag out of the basket, I opened it there and looked at its contents. I was looking for an item that I usually use.
“Here it is.”
It was a completely ordinary, white loose-leaf.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“You don’t need to worry about it, let’s hurry.”
After urging Kengo on, we cleared the hill. I got on the bicycle again at the top, upon which we descended to the other side in one go. Probably as a result of a difference in daily conduct, the chain of Kengo’s bicycle did not come off. We approached the T-junction, where the leftward path led to the urban area, while the road on the right led to Kiyoshi North Driving School. Once again, I asked Kengo to stop the bicycle, to which he became visibly annoyed.
“What is it this time?”
“A bus will come. Just leave it to me, and lock the bicycle.”
As soon as I said that, a shuttle bus that I’d seen before appeared from the other side of the road. Carrying my bag in front of me, I faced the bus and raised the loose-leaf notebook. Then, I slowly waved it over my head, as if it were a legitimate permit. If my deductions are correct, all I need is for the driver’s eyesight to be lower than expected.
I waved it a few times, then put my hand down. I held my breath.
…The lights on the shuttle bus flickered. That must mean that they’ve confirmed that I’m a student of the driving school.
If they got any closer, they would immediately find out that I actually wasn’t holding a document folder carefully produced by Kiyoshi North Driving School. With an innocent look, I kept the notebook in my bag.
Kengo sounded amazed. How disappointing, to be wowed by an amateur trick like this. The bus stopped right before our eyes.
However, twenty minutes had already passed since I received the empty email.
I was silent for the entire ride, because my molars were clenched as I was pushed into the uncomfortable bus seats, which didn’t seem to have any working springs. What can happen in twenty minutes of cornering one person? I couldn’t help but be besieged by bad visions from my imagination.
When I was in middle school, I was too late. By the time I’d triumphantly revealed my deductions, everything had already ended. Something happened without me knowing, and the resolution was meaningless to everyone. I was too late. Will this case be like that too? Will I be unable to make it in time again?
A little over five minutes, and we would reach the driving school. It was an awfully long five minutes.
We were now in the dreary lobby of the driving school. There weren’t a lot of people around, but there was quite a diverse range of age groups. On one hand were youths dressed in modern-patterned shirts, and on the other were elderly folk whose ability to lawfully get a driving license seemed doubtful at best. But Osanai-san was nowhere to be seen. What should I do… I thought in panic.
At that moment, I was grabbed by the scruff of my neck. To be precise, my back collar was dragged by a force from below. A weird cry escaped from my throat as I almost fell onto my knees. I turned around, only to have the strength drained from my knees.
Standing in front of me was a girl dressed in boyish clothes who looked so familiar that I wanted to ask if we’d met before. She was wearing a brown jacket that was frayed at the hems, a pair of ripped jeans and worn-out sneakers. The leather hat she had on looked asymmetric, giving a lack of congruence in terms of fashion.
As soon as I opened my mouth, that girl put a finger to her lips.
Come over here, she beckoned with her hand. I did the same gesture to Kengo, who was standing behind. The three of us shuffled into a small room which had a sign on the door that said, “Coffee Room”.
After Kengo closed the door, the girl removed her hat and smiled in satisfaction.
“You didn’t need to come here so quickly.”
That was Osanai Yuki in disguise. That hat that seemed so inappropriate in terms of fashion was just a prop to hide her amasogi hairstyle.
So I managed to make it in time, with some time to spare… Then again, it’s weird to say that I made it in time, because I don’t see any sources of imminent danger.
“T-This is Osanai-san?”
Kengo pointed at Osanai-san rudely. It seemed that her attire came as a shock to Kengo, who had only seen her in a sailor uniform, as well as that outfit that was like the definition of simplicity she wore when we visited Kengo’s house. Realizing that she’d just been seen in her disguise, the smile on Osanai-san’s face promptly disappeared, and she whispered into my ear.
“Why is Doujima-kun also here?”
While I was unable to completely grasp the situation, it was a fact that Osanai-san was safe. Which meant that it was a waste for us to worry about her. With a face that showed my displeasure in having run a fool’s errand, I answered.
“What do you mean, why? It’s because I’ll be troubled if I’m alone when things get dangerous.”
“You were following Sakagami, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was, but…”
Question marks appeared on both our faces.
“Didn’t you call for help?”
“I did no such thing.”
“But you sent a message. An empty message.”
As I said that, the confusion on Osanai-san’s face cleared up. She brought out her phone. It was a new model, with a camera function.
“Yes, I did. It was photographic evidence that Sakagami enrolled here under Io Kibe’s name. You noticed that I was doing some investigation, right?”
Photographic evidence? I opened up her email and showed it to her.
“Where’s the photo? Your email had nothing but a URL in it, and there was nothing even after I accessed that link. Of course I would be worried.”
Osanai-san peered at the phone monitor. The only thing displayed was an X mark.
“…Kobato-kun, can your phone view images?”
“It doesn’t have such an unnecessary function. I like it simple.6”
Osanai-san slowly shook her head.
“A phone that’s unable to display JPEGs is on a different level than simple…”
“What level is it, then?”
Whipping out her phone, she quickly tapped with her fingers.
“This is what I sent.”
On the monitor of Osanai-san’s new phone was Sakagami facing a table, probably one of the multiple pieces of necessary evidence.
I finally got a grasp on the situation.
My phone was an old model. It could send and receive emails, but couldn’t open images. Osanai-san had uploaded the photos to a server, so the only thing that reached my phone was a URL, and the page was completely blank to me. Basically, the problem was that Osanai-san’s phone was a new model.
All strength drained from my body.
I turned back to Kengo, who was eyes were still wide, apparently still unable to match the boyish girl in front of his eyes with Osanai-san. I scratched my head and explained the situation.
“Erm, Kengo, I know that you pedalled as hard as you could just now, but that was a bit of an overreach. Osanai-san has already completed the mission.”
“Yes, well, no, but, more importantly, are you really Osanai-san?”
As Kengo fumbled with his words, Osanai-san tilted her head with a troubled look on her face, but before long, she politely bowed with an unnatural cheeriness, seemingly having thought of a plan.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Yuki’s twin sister, Maki.”
So that’s how she’s dealing with it.
Looking at Osanai-san, who was able to calmly tell such a barefaced lie, and Kengo, who was visibly getting more confused by the second, I couldn’t hold it any longer, and released a hearty guffaw from the depths of my throat.
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 from the Analects of Confucius, with the whole sentence being, “At seventy, I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing what was right.”
- 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.
- This means to argue against authority.
- Actually, before this sentence, there is another sentence in the original text that goes, “ただ、ぼくの読み通りなら、相手には今回の絵を描いたやつがいる”, which means “But if my read on the situation is correct, that group of people she’s dealing with includes the guy who drew the picture the other time.” I believe this is referring to Ōhama-senpai in chapter 2, but that doesn’t really make sense, because there was no mention of Ōhama-senpai or pictures before and after that line, so I removed it.
- This book was written in 2004, but I was using such a phone even back in 2015, so I can understand what Kobato’s saying.