After receiving the email, I wasted almost no time and immediately called Osanai-san. Holding my breath, I waited for her to pick up.
However, the reply that came was emotionless, only stating that Osanai-san’s mobile phone was not turned on. Basically, this meant that she had switched off her phone right after sending that email. Of course, there was also the possibility that she was in an unreachable area.
Another possibility was that she hadn’t switch off the phone, but someone else had done it for her.
Putting my finger on the hold button, I cancelled the call, and examined the contents of the email again. Was Osanai-san trying to tell me something with this email?
Does she want me to buy candied apples and a Canelé? No, of course not. We had an arrangement to buy candied apples, and if she was reneging on that arrangement, she would have to provide a location for me to meet her after buying the items. On top of that, I have no recollection of the name “Canelé”. It is probably some kind of dessert, but bringing up that name knowing that I am not familiar with desserts only begs the question: what is she trying to do?
If not for an errand, what kind of email is it?
“…It’s an SOS.”
To someone else, it would only seem like an email requesting me to run an errand. However, I knew that was not the case. In other words, Osanai-san who had been kidnapped sneakily sent an email without the kidnappers knowing. Even if they found out about it later, it would not look like a call for help. But I knew what it actually was.
The anguish I’d had in the elevator just now disappeared. This isn’t about being a petit bourgeois or not. If I can save Osanai-san by breaking the code, what is there to hesitate about?
I fell into thought for two or three seconds.
If this is a distress signal, what should I do? To be specific, is this something I should bring to the police and wait for them to conduct a search?
No, that can’t be the right answer. I don’t know what kind of action the police would take in response to a kidnapping incident. Furthermore, it would be good if they listen to me about this email, but it would be just a waste of time if they don’t. The correct option is to find Osanai-san based on the email, then call the cops. Of course, I could directly help her if the kidnappers are not guarding her at all, but I shouldn’t rely on that possibility.
Now, should I get started immediately?
No, that is also wrong. There may be more than one of them. Something unforeseen could happen, and a situation where the mummy hunters become the mummies would only bring harm to Osanai-san. One other person is necessary for me to call for support when the time comes.
Who should I ask? …There was no need to even think. I’d managed to get many friends by living a peaceful school life, but only that guy would take up such a ridiculous request. Naturally, he would be unwilling to do so, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.
I pushed some buttons on my phone. This was no situation for me to languidly type out an email. Instead, I decided to make a phone call and scrolled to the contact saved as “Kengo”. It was good that I’d saved his contact information.
Thankfully, Doujima Kengo immediately answered.
“…What is it?”
“Ah, Kengo? I would like you to come over now if you don’t have anything to attend to.”
“I do have some business to settle.”
“Even so, please come over.”
His voice, which had already sounded displeased, grew even more disinterested.
“Stop messing with me!”
Of course he would feel disgruntled after suddenly being told to come over, although that was what he did to me yesterday. However, there was no time to beat around the bush. I got right to the point.
“Osanai-san was kidnapped. The kidnappers asked for a monetary ransom. After that, I received an email from her. I’ll find the place where she’s being held and call the police, but it’s too dangerous on my own. I beg you, please lend a hand.”
Kengo responded in an astounded voice, as if asking, “What the heck is this guy saying?” It was a perfectly understandable response, but…
“I’m not joking. This is real. Osanai-san’s mother received a threatening phone call. The police are currently on their way to Osanai-san’s house, but the only person who can decipher her message is me. However, I cannot do it alone. It’s too dangerous.”
A faint silence descended.
The words that came back were devoid of irritation. Kengo replied in an awfully flat voice.
“Don’t you have anyone else you can ask?”
…I tried to become a petit bourgeois.
And I had only shallow ties to the friends I’d gained during that process. Of the people that knew me to be like a fox, only Kengo decided to place his trust in me. I didn’t feel like laughing at the irony of that situation, so I instantly answered.
Kengo also immediately replied.
“I see. Where do I go?”
“My house. I need to go back for a while.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“You don’t need to overdo it. Even if I rush, I’ll take at least fifteen minutes.”
I closed my mobile phone and straddled the saddle.
While I was exiting from the apartment building, a dull-looking station wagon entered it in the opposite direction. As I passed it, I could see that it was fully loaded with people.
I was measuring the amount of time I took. I thought I would definitely take fifteen minutes, but perhaps because I was going at full speed ahead, I only took ten minutes to get home. Kengo apparently had not arrived yet.
My home was a detached house, remodelled from an old house. Dashing into my room on the second floor which had been added to the house, I brought out a map. But it wasn’t a normal map. It was Osanai’s Summer Sweets Selection. I spread the map out in the entranceway. It showed the whole of Kira City, with red dots scattered here and there representing the shops that Osanai-san had investigated and recommended. Kengo arrived at that exact moment.
Clad in a worn-out pair of denim pants and a polo shirt that seemed like home wear, Kengo appeared. I thought he’d rushed over, but he didn’t seem out of breath at all. He probably trained a lot harder than me, a person who couldn’t even control his heart rate.
“I’m here, Jougorou.”
“I owe you one.”
With a short word of thanks, I pointed at the map.
“To make a long story short, only Osanai-san and I have this map, which is a special map made by Osanai-san covering all the shops that sell sweet things in this city. And this is the email that she sent.”
I showed him the monitor of my mobile phone.
I thought that Kengo would only see it as an email to get me to run an errand, but after reading the text, he unexpectedly spoke,
“Only one Canelé?”
“…Is it weird to have only one Canelé?”
“The Canelé that I know is a small pastry like a scone. I’m not sure if you can buy only one.”
I have no idea how Kengo would know about a pastry with a name like that. I was a little frustrated that I lost to Kengo in common knowledge, but I decided to leave that for later.
“I see, that makes it seem like an errand request. Take a look at this, Kengo. This is the shop that sells candied apples.”
I placed the ranking list on top of the map. The shop that sold candied apples was Muramatsu House, located in Sanya-dori.
“And the shop that sells Canelé is…”
The Canelé was not listed in the top ten ranked shops of Osanai-san’s selection. However, shops outside the ranking system were also included on the list. The shop described as having delicious Canelé was…
“Lemon Seed. Kengo, please search for Lemon Seed.”
Without a word, Kengo turned to look at the map. The shops that Osanai-san had listed were scattered around the map, and there were thirty of them. There was even a mark for a café in a residential area outside of the city.
Before long, Kengo placed a finger on the map.
“Found it. Over here.”
Lemon Seed was located to the southwest of Muramatsu House, quite a distance away. Now that we’d ascertained the positions of the two shops, the problem was simple. I produced a small grin.
“Osanai-san gave me a riddle a few days ago. It was a really simple one. She named two shops and told me to go to the shop in between. It turned out to be the one right in the middle of the two shops. She must have remembered that.”
“I see, but…”
Kengo pointed at the approximate middle point between Muramatsu House and Lemon Seed.
“Wouldn’t it be around here with that method?”
Right in the middle of those two stores was a large shopping center. It was a place with an outstanding amount of human traffic, and thus could not be a suitable place to confine someone.
“I see. I’ll fetch some tools.”
Dashing up the stairs, I went into my room and retrieved a ball-point pen, with which I drew a line between the two shops. It was a long line that crossed a few roads and even passed through the rail line. In the end, as Kengo had estimated earlier, the middle point of the two shops was the shopping center.
“Is this it?”
“No… that can’t be it.”
“Where is it, then? Even if it’s somewhere on the line, we can’t act unless we know exactly where it is.”
I bit my lip. Was I mistaken in my thought process? Did she actually want to say that she was being brought somewhere else that took her past Muramatsu House and Lemon Seed? Knowing the criminals’ movements could certainly help the police. Is that it, then?
I pulled up Osanai-san’s email on my mobile phone again. Four candied apples and one Canelé. There was no doubt they were referring to Muramatsu House and Lemon Seed respectively.
No, that was not all the information in the email.
“…You can’t buy only one Canelé. That’s what you said, right?”
“Not for me, at least. I don’t have the confidence to say that’s how it goes for everyone else.”
In any case, there must be some meaning for her to intentionally type out those quantities. If only the names of the sweets mattered, then she wouldn’t have needed to specify the quantities.
This was no intricate mystery. If this email was an SOS from Osanai-san, she must have thought it to be something that I would immediately understand. Having me receive the message but take too much time deciphering it and end up being unable to save her would be out of the question.
Four candied apples and one Canelé. If those numbers have meaning, then it would be…
“…Let’s try this.”
With a ruler, I split the line between the two shops into five equal parts.
“Four to one. Four parts from Muramatsu House and one part from Lemon Seed. That would be around here.”
I pointed at the location, but that method didn’t seem to work either. The place I’d pointed to had the words “South Municipal Gymnasium” written on it.
“But it’s just a public gymnasium…”
However, Kengo’s complexion changed.
“No! Jougorou, don’t you know?”
“The South Municipal Gymnasium is currently being renovated. Entry is now restricted, and the building is now awaiting demolition.”
“So do you think it could be used as a hideout by kidnappers?”
Scratching his chin, Kengo sank into thought for a while.
“It is a gigantic abandoned building, I suppose. I’ve heard stories of bad guys loitering around there, so in that sense it’s not completely out of sight. Then again, there are quite a lot of buildings in the grounds. It’s not the best, but it’s definitely a better place if we’re searching for her in the city area.”
In other words, it’s worth betting on that, huh. I stood up, rolled up the map and put on my shoes, at the same time asking, “How long do you think it takes to get there?”
“Let’s go, then.”
We dashed out of the house. Just in case, I called Osanai-san again, but as I expected, her phone was still turned off.
This was seriously out of the ordinary. You could even call it a farce.
Under the heavy, thick layer of clouds that looked like it could fall on us at any moment, within the dreadful hot air with not a breath of wind, as if the curse of global warming was taking it out on us, I was rushing to save a girl who had been kidnapped. My mode of transport was the bicycle. As I moved along while stepping on the pedal desperately, accompanied by a rugged guy who had gone out in his loungewear, I imagined that I looked embarrassingly comical. Since we were about to save a princess, we should have gone out looking a little more stylish.
Kengo and I hurried out of the residential area, grinded our teeth as we waited for red signals that seemed like they were never going away, took bypasses and raced up an overhead bridge with such intensity that we could practically fly off at the peak. We sometimes travelled on pedestrian paths, inflicting fear on the pedestrians, apologizing internally as we did so, but also travelled on vehicular roads, feeling our blood run cold as trucks hurtled right past us.
For bicycles, there is the problem of gear ratio, so we were not travelling faster as we exerted more effort. I was certainly feeling impatient, but with a limit on how fast we could travel, I didn’t ever feel exhausted. Even so, with the high temperature-humidity index, the heat was unbearable. My neck, arms and legs were all soaked, and it was hard for me to judge if it was my sweat, or the water vapour in the atmosphere that had condensed on my body. I had been leading from the start, but I had Kengo go in front as we entered the city area. I knew about the South Municipal Gymnasium, but I had no confidence regarding the directions to that place. In contrast, Kengo seemed to know it very well.
We quickly cycled past the shopping center in the middle point of Muramatsu House and Lemon Seed. We were now fairly close in terms of straight-line distance. The traffic light in our way turned to red, causing us to grip the brakes as hard as we could to kill our speed. We’d almost always been on full speed in the entire journey, so my breathing was ragged.
On the other hand, Kengo did not seem to show any signs of being tired at all, but even his forehead was shiny with sweat. While staring at the traffic light, Kengo spoke in a grouchy voice.
“Come to think of it, there was something like this last year.”
“…What are you talking about?”
“Us hearing about Osanai being in danger and rushing to save her.”
“You’re talking about the ‘tart incident’, right?”
“Ah, never mind, that’s just some jargon of mine.”
Osanai-san had put her foot down on calling it “Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tarts”, but I simply referred to it as the “bicycle incident”, although I’d been gradually pressed to call it the “tart incident”. That said, that case was not often brought up as a topic of discussion.
The traffic signal still did not change. For a narrow one-lane road, it had a good amount of traffic, probably because it was near a shopping center, and it was impossible to cross unless the light turned to green.
“I also caused trouble for you back then. I still feel bad for not properly making it up to you.”
“It’s fine, I don’t care about that. Is Osanai… uh, nevermind…”
He might have spoken ambiguously, but I knew what he wanted to say, a question about whether Osanai Yuki was always like that. And I also generally understood why he swallowed his words. Putting the tart incident aside, Osanai was an utter victim here. She wasn’t being kidnapped because of her wolf-like personality.
“In any case, we just have to find Osanai-san for now. I’ll listen to you later if you have anything you want to talk about.”
While there was nothing else we could do besides waiting for the traffic light, I didn’t feel like talking, no matter how short the conversation. I took a glance at my wristwatch. It had already been twenty minutes since we’d stepped out of my house, and approximately fifty minutes since the ransom call to the Osanai residence. Her ransom was five million yen. However, if Osanai-san could be returned safely by paying that ransom, it would be up for her family to decide.
Five million yen…
I looked up, a little taken aback upon hearing my name. The traffic signal had turned green. I put my foot on the pedal, only to have a right-turning car that had probably charged in while the traffic signal was changing graze the tip of my bicycle.
“If you want to get into an accident, do it on your own, you idiot!”
With that short curse, I hurried after Kengo.
The South Municipal Gymnasium was quite a large-scale sports facility, and was fitted with a huge parking area in front. It wasn’t just a gymnasium, for there was a tennis court, badminton court and archery range at the back as well. I only knew that by reading a signpost, though.
The gymnasium had to be replaced due to its old age, but looking at it from the parking area, it certainly gave off a desolate atmosphere, either because of its style or because of the deterioration. How long had it been since it was last used? Kengo described it as a “gigantic abandoned building”, and I could definitely feel that kind of ambience, even as I stood at such a distance away from the lightly stained glass doors and shrubberies that were nonchalantly raising their branches in the air.
At the entrance to the grounds stood orange-colored bars. It probably wasn’t impossible to slip between the gaps between the bars, but we would have to leave our bicycles there, which would draw too much attention.
“Is there any way we can enter from the back?”
“There’s a back entrance… but I’ve got a better plan.”
With Kengo’s guidance, we left the gymnasium. We took a circular path on the outside, as if going around it, then took a narrow alley to reach a small park. It was separated from the gymnasium by only a fence that came up to my chest.
Thank goodness I got Kengo to come with me.
We placed our bicycles in the shadow of a slide shaped like an elephant, then climbed over the fence, arriving at an area near the back of the cubical gymnasium.
There was a large, heavily-rusted metal door on the wall that had turned gray with dust.
“Kengo, that door is…”
“Probably used for loading and unloading. It should be connected to the back of the stage.”
“Would it open?”
“We can give it a try. But more importantly, look at that.”
Lowering his voice, Kengo pointed at a building that looked like a storehouse. No, he was pointing at a car which was slightly peeking out from the shade of that building.
Paying extra attention to our surroundings, scurried towards the car.
It was a light van, a cream-colored one with not a speck of dirt on it, as if it had just been washed. That meant it had not been abandoned here. Someone had driven it over.
“Was the back entrance not locked?”
“I don’t know.”
Then again, if the lock was just a vinyl wire or chain fastened between the poles, it would not serve as much of an obstacle for anyone who wanted to break in. The lock in front was already not very secure, so it wouldn’t be weird for there to be a gap for a car to enter.
We peeped in through the windows. Thinking of opening a door, I brought out a handkerchief and used it to wrap my hand, but the door would not open. I noticed some kind of wrapper that had fallen in the middle part of the back seat.
“What’s the matter, Jougorou?”
I pointed at the wrapper.
“I can’t see it clearly, but that looks like a lollipop wrapper.”
How does he know about Canelés, but not about lollipops?
“It’s a candy on a stick… Osanai-san occasionally licks them.”
“I wonder if they baited her by saying that they would give her candy if she followed them.”
The image of a suspicious man holding out a lollipop to Osanai-san appeared at the back of my mind. “Come here, little girl, I’ll give you some candy.” But she would have naturally refused. “I don’t need it, I already got one.” “Alright, I’ll give you a Cadbury chocolate as well.” “Yay, let’s go!”
“…Please don’t make such a boring joke at a crucial time like this.”
Embarrassed, Kengo scratched his head.
“Sorry. So, does this confirm it?”
“We can’t really tell at this point.”
I also took a look at the seats in front. There was nothing particularly strange about the driver’s seat. It was quite a fine seat, furnished with an audio and navigation system. Kengo whipped out his mobile phone and snapped a photograph of the car plate number. Perhaps it would be good for me to change to a phone with the camera function as well.
On the other hand, the front passenger seat was in a state of disorder. A convenience store bag with empty bottles, gum wrappers and the like stuffed inside was left on the seat, as well as… a white transceiver the size of a fist. A transceiver? That’s not a commonly seen piece of equipment. Furthermore, I could not see the antenna. I thought of something it could be, but I couldn’t be sure.
“…Kengo, you think that’s a transceiver?”
Kengo, who had been operating his mobile phone, came closer and looked at the thing I was pointing at.
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
“What do you think it is, then?”
“I’ve seen something like it before… I can’t say for certain, but…”
With that preface, Kengo turned to face me.
“It’s a voice changer.”
I thought so too. I hadn’t told Kengo, but the person that called the Osanai residence had their voice changed by some kind of machine.
Now, there was a car that someone had just ridden in the locked grounds of the location that Osanai-san’s email had indicated. And in that car was something that seemed like a wrapper for the kind of lollipop she sometimes licked, as well a machine that made us think of a voice changer.
“Should we report this?”
I felt that we’d gathered some material… but it was still not in the realm of circumstantial evidence.
“Let us first check that Osanai-san is here. Just in case.”
Kengo nodded, walked off for a bit, then spoke up again.
“One more thing… If the front passenger seat was empty and Osanai-san was riding at the back, there might be multiple culprits. At least two, but probably three. Let’s be careful.”
Holding our breath, we decided to investigate the main building of the gymnasium.
The sweat that slid down our backs did not exist solely because of the heat.
– Isawa’s group moved Osanai Yuki to the location that they’d used before, then tied Osanai’s arms to a folding chair.
Two people not directly related to the abduction were waiting at the confinement site, so there were five people surrounding Osanai. All five of them were girls, but not all of them approved of the abduction. Of the two waiting at the site, one of them obviously showed sympathy towards Osanai, and even expressed opposition against tying her up. However, when Isawa denounced Kawamata, who still had not shown up, and a few people raised their voice and chanted words of agreement, she stopped defending Osanai so that she would not put herself in danger.
First, the group questioned Osanai on her relation to the trouble that had occurred in the past. Osanai gave a vague answer, but still basically denied any involvement. However, she was up against a judge who had already decided on the verdict. Believing the denial to be a lie, Isawa and her companions were infuriated, but it was clear that they would mete out punishment if their captive confessed. Osanai gradually became more taciturn, and her voice became softer.
Losing patience with Osanai’s noncommittal attitude, Isawa jabbed Osanai in the shoulder and cheeks. Falling into a state of panic, Osanai strongly denied her involvement, to which Isawa responded by punching her abdomen. Temporarily winded, Osanai could only shake her head to the questions.
With Isawa being so easily angered, no one knew how far her actions would escalate if she continued with her violence. The other members who agreed with the confinement also didn’t know how severe the violence would get, but feared the possibility of Isawa’s rage turning to them if they tried to stop her. The tension in the scene gradually increased.
In that situation, Houjou suggested that Osanai would become more honest by inflicting a burn on her, and Isawa accepted it. Inflicting a burn on someone using a lit cigarette would leave the victim with a scar that would never disappear, but would not bring about any critical problems. The other members also voiced their agreement.
Isawa took out a cigarette, which Houjou promptly lit. She brought the burning end of the cigarette right in front of Osanai’s eyeballs, added some threats, then started thinking about where to brand her.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!