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.1”
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!