Table of Contents
That night, my stomach, which was so stuffed that it was close to bursting, finally settled down, and I managed to read the satisfying denouement of the novel I’d been looking forward to. It was already eleven at night when I finished and was considering of going to bed soon, but I was interrupted by vibrations from my mobile phone. Thinking that it was just an email, I left it alone, but the vibrations wouldn’t stop. Realizing that it was a phone call, I hurriedly picked it up. “Osanai Yuki – Mobile” was displayed on the monitor.
I had been surprised by Kengo’s phone call, but it had also been quite a while since Osanai-san gave me a phone call. I traversed my memories… I went quite far back into the past, but I couldn’t think of the last time that happened. I even started wondering if that was actually the first occurrence. Thinking that she must have some urgent business with me, I answered the call with slight tension. Osanai-san’s voice actually sounded awfully exuberant.
“Ah, Kobato-kun? You’re still awake? Sorry for calling you this late.”
“It’s fine, I’m still awake.”
“It’s so hot tonight that I couldn’t really sleep.”
Well, it is summer. Based on the layout of her apartment, she seemed to be upper-middle class, so she probably had an air conditioner installed in her personal room.
“You should get some of the night wind, then… So, did you call me for anything?”
“Yeah, just a little something.”
She seemed quite anxious, but she continued.
“Kobato-kun, you remember the talk we had a few days ago about going to the Sanya-dori Festival together, right?”
I answered vaguely. Indeed, I was consulted regarding that matter while we were going back from the fourth place of the Osanai Summer Sweets Selection after having their two-flavor ice cream combination. By the way, under Osanai-san’s supreme directive, I could only order the set with black sesame ice cream and soy milk ice cream, but deep inside, I really wanted to order the standard matcha ice cream. Then again, perhaps it was a good thing, for the black sesame and soy milk ice cream were superb, as expected of flavours that had won Osanai-san’s favor.
On that day, Osanai-san had casually asked if I had any plans on the day of the Sanya-dori Festival, to which I had half-heartedly responded with, “I don’t think so.”
Sensing the lack of excitement in my voice, she abruptly asked me a question, her voice brimming with enthusiasm.
“You’re fine with it, right? You don’t have any plans, right?”
She pressed me for confirmation.
“…I don’t have any plans. I’m free. I’ll go.”
An atmosphere of relief was transmitted from the other side of the call. With a gentle voice, she replied.
“I see, that’s good… I thought I hadn’t asked properly…”
I passed the phone to my other hand.
“You wanted to go that much?”
Osanai-san’s voice was filled with zeal.
“Why? It’s bad for me to put it this way, but I thought it was just one of those shopping street events.”
She earnestly spoke, as if talking to someone who couldn’t understand well.
“The Sanya-dori Festival itself is, certainly just a normal event. But Sanya-dori has Muramatsu House, which is the absolute best place to buy Japanese sweets in this town. That’s basic knowledge.”
What type of person would have that kind of basic knowledge?
“Anyway, Muramatsu House is also on the map that I gave you, right? Do you remember?”
“Yes, I do.”
I saw it on the day I met Kengo at the hamburger shop. Come to think of it, they sold…
“Delicious candied apples, right?”
I wonder what kind of expression Osanai-san is making on the other end of the call.
“Candied apples are mostly considered dagashi1, so it usually wouldn’t make the selection. But the candied apples at Muramatsu House are different. You got it, Kobato-kun? They’re totally different.”
“Every year on the day of the Sanya-dori Festival, the Japanese confectionary shop Muramatsu House will use the choicest apples and their best candy to make top-class candied apples, and sell them over the counter. They prepare apples with a strong acidic taste, and only peel off their skin after a customer orders them. The candy is also not too sweet, yet is not unsatisfying, and has a beautiful golden color that is definitely not achieved by using artificial coloring. The candy is lightly entwined around the apple, producing an exquisite combination of sweet and sour flavors. You could even say that they have taken the concept of candied apples one step further.”
“Is that so.”
Taking the concept one step further, huh…
“I’ve introduced you to all kinds of shops this summer, but if we don’t eat this candied apple, then I will have failed to show you anything of value!”
Now this one has real value, huh? Perhaps I should sit properly and listen.
I wondered if it would be possible for me to tell Osanai-san that I wasn’t exactly a fan of sweet things. But since she was looking forward to the candied apples at Muramatsu House that much, I decided not to rain on her parade. Instead, I gave a subservient reply.
“I’m really looking forward to it. So, are we meeting there?”
Osanai-san was silent for a short while, probably because she was displeased about being interrupted when she hadn’t spoken enough. She eventually answered, but her voice was, in contrast, frightfully calm.
“…No, not there. Come to my house first. We’ll go there together afterwards. Hmm… we’ll meet at about one o’clock at my house.”
“One o’clock, right? Got it. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I replied half-heartedly and was about to hang up, when Osanai-san added another line.
“This is the culmination of our summer memories, after all.”
…I hope it turns out to be a splendid day, then.
– On the 18th of August, at about 11:30 at night, Isawa Hasemi received a phone call from Kawamata Sanae. Kawamata reported to Isawa the movements of Osanai Yuki for the following day, the 19th.
After that, Isawa suggested to Kawamata to carry out the plan that had been previously talked about in their group. Kawamata wanted Isawa to stop beating about the bush, but due to their power dynamic, she knew that Isawa would not accept an interruption.
After hanging up the call from Kawamata, Isawa emailed the other members to give them instructions for the following day. Those emails were stored in the mobile phones of Isawa as well as the members who received those instructions.
That night, the temperature in Kira Town hardly fell, making it the hardest night to sleep in the summer.
The clouds that had been hanging in the sky from the night before thickened in the morning, which cannot be said to be a perfect day for an event. Probably because the heat failed to escape in the night, it was humid and hot in the morning, causing me to be in considerably low spirits. Furthermore, I felt that the tanmen from yesterday was still in my stomach. That’s what I get for stuffing myself with something so spicy…
The appointed time was at one o’clock. Even with the condition of my stomach, it definitely wouldn’t be good to eat nothing. After lightly filling my stomach with some toast, I headed off. Since there would be an event at the shopping street, I was quite doubtful as to whether there would be any free spots at the bicycle parking area there, but I decided to go to Osanai-san’s house by bicycle anyway.
While the sun wasn’t showing its face, the temperature was still gradually increasing, causing me to feel languid and want to neglect everything. Since I had left the house with time to spare, there was no need for me to hurry, so I was absolutely unable to put much effort into pedalling. Even the gentle slope of the narrow back alley at the residential area was giving me problems.
On the way, I was unable to bear it any longer, and stopped at a convenience store to cool down, but I regrettably spent more time than expected. It was already one o’clock, or the time of our appointment, when I reached Osanai-san’s apartment building. Perhaps it was National Rudeness Week, for Kengo had been quite an impolite fellow the day before, and Osanai-san didn’t seem to be at home.
That said, I didn’t slam the locked metal door and head home dejectedly. I took the elevator to the third floor and rang the doorbell for Osanai-san’s residence, but the person who opened the door was not Osanai-san, but a woman with similar-looking eyes and a similarly shaped nose.
I had intruded on Osanai-san’s home multiple times, and in each of those instances, there had been no one else at home. I hadn’t really asked about her family situation, but I knew that both of her parents were working. Also, I realized that Osanai-san only invited me over whenever her family was not around. Since I thought that would also be the case for today, I was taken aback when someone other than Osanai-san appeared.
As my eyes widened in surprise, the woman spoke to me.
“Welcome. You must be Kobato-san.”
I didn’t mean to flatter her in such a cliched manner, but I truly thought that she was Osanai-san’s elder sister. However, I knew Osanai-san to be an only child. If so…
“Ah, nice to meet you. I am Kobato. Umm, you are Osanai-san’s…”
The woman gently smiled.
“I’m her mother.”
Of course. Osanai-san looking like a young elementary school student given her age must be thanks to her mother’s blood. That was the extent to which the woman in front of me didn’t look like she had a daughter who was in the second year of high school. She definitely couldn’t look like a high school student, but she might be able to pass off as a university student, depending on her outfit.
However, the warmth in her smile was the thing that was completely different from Osanai-san, whose smile was generally far removed from warmth.
I gave a light bow.
“Nice to meet you too… Um, is Osanai-san, I mean Yuki-san, in?”
She placed a hand on her cheek.
“That girl went out. I think she’ll be back soon, though.”
“She went out?”
It was Osanai-san who had set our meeting time, too… but well, perhaps something important suddenly cropped up. That happens. I could come again, or I could meet her directly at Sanya-dori. As I was having that thought, her mother opened the door wide.
“She asked me to let you in and wait for her if you arrive before she gets back. It might be a bit messy, but please come in.”
“Come, this way.”
If Osanai-san had asked her mother to relay the message for me to go in and wait for her, then she would probably be back soon. I felt ill at ease with this, but unreasonably rejecting such an offer is not befitting of a petit bourgeois. Sighing and stammering something along the lines of “Thank you”, I decided to take up the offer of going into Osanai-san’s house.
I was led to the living room.
The air conditioner was working well, causing my displeasure, which had been rising along with the Temperature-Humidity Index outside, to fall in an instant. As I thought, having a good environment is important. Just by getting some cool air, I could feel myself becoming more magnanimous.
I had been told at the entranceway that the house was a little messy, but that, as I expected, was a lie. Perhaps other areas were messy, but the living room was clean and tidy. Essentially, there were only a few items around, so it couldn’t be messy. However, as I was given a cushion and served cold barley tea, I started feeling a little comfortable as it was quite different from the other times I’d been over. Usually, I would think that Osanai-san’s home was too clean and didn’t seem lived in, giving it the feel of a hotel, but I didn’t have that feeling at all today. It hit me while I was drinking the barley tea. The lifelessness might not have been caused by the cleanliness of the room, but was probably due to Osanai-san herself. She was just quite a bit different from everyone else.
Then again, I was like that as well, and the main focus of our petit bourgeois plan was to rectify these areas.
I was also served some okaki2 in a tray, to which I responded by thanking Osanai-san’s mother for the gracious hospitality. She elegantly sat on the opposite side of the low table.
“Thank you for taking care of Yuki.”
She said and bowed. I should have returned a suitable polite salutation, but…
I had the feeling that I was being appraised. Just what is this strange sense of tension under that smile? She probably didn’t intentionally mean to stare at me, but I could feel myself being scrutinized by a feverish gaze. It even seemed like my hand that was raising and putting up the cup was being watched.
As I somehow managed to put on a smile, it hit me. Ah, I see. I should have realized. Of course, she’s evaluating the worm hanging around her beloved only daughter. However, her reply betrayed my conjecture.
“Good, you’re the proper sort of person.”
It was certainly an honor to win her favor, but she had probably misunderstood the relationship between me and Osanai-san. Of course, we’d aimed for such a misunderstanding to act as a cloak of invisibility in our school life, but what about our families thinking that way as well?
Unaware of my misgivings, she continued.
“She’s a meek girl, so I’m worried if she’s doing fine in school. We’re a dual-income family, so we haven’t had many chances to hear her talk about it…”
I continued with an encouraging tone.
“She seems to have quite a lot of friends. Also, with her bright personality, she’s liked by everyone.”
That was a rather huge exaggeration, but was not a lie. Osanai-san displayed an acceptable personality in school, so she had no enemies, to the best of my knowledge. While she seemed to have many friends, she didn’t have companions to do things together in the summer, which was exactly like me.
“Is that so? She seemed to be making more calls at night since the summer break started, so I was relieved that she managed to make some friends… but I wasn’t expecting her to have a boy friend.”
I looked at my wristwatch.
“…Do you know where Osanai-san went?”
She put a hand on her cheek.
“She went out in the morning. There was something she wanted to buy, she said. I thought that it was about time she returned, but… I’m really sorry. I wonder what that girl’s doing.”
The appointed time was one o’clock. By morning, Osanai-san’s mother could have meant twelve noon, but it was probably earlier than that. Osanai-san had been gone for at least an hour.
That was strange. She said she was going out to buy something, but we were about to go to the shopping district. She could have asked me to stop by a store while we were out if she wanted to buy something. Osanai-san usually wouldn’t refrain from doing that.
But she did, meaning that there was a good possibility that she really did go to a nearby shop to buy something small. Because it was nearby, she could go there even when she had an appointment with me. However, if that were the case, it was definitely strange for her to take more than one hour to complete that task.
Putting together the deductions, the result would be as such:
Osanai-san went out to buy something that isn’t sold nearby, but didn’t want to buy it together with me.
…Well, it’s not impossible to think of one or two such items. She would probably return sooner or later. It was certainly awkward, but I could still maintain a vague smile. I wasn’t like I was being interrogated with questions like, “What is your relationship with my daughter!” so I should avoid being so stiff.
We continued with trivial conversation in the living room. As if afraid that the silence that had once been broken would return, I was thrown topic after topic for the conversation, and I responded tactfully. In general, I was asked all about what Osanai-san was like in school, but I couldn’t tell any particularly interesting stories. I could have rattled off a few stories if she’d asked about Osanai-san during middle school, too. Although I wouldn’t.
I don’t know how long we spent conversing like that, but it was thankfully halted when the telephone rang.
I thought the ringing sound was coming from a mobile phone, but it as actually from the fixed telephone in the living room. We were just talking about Osanai-san’s homeroom teacher.
“Oh! Excuse me.”
She stood up and answered the telephone, which was just beside the television.
“Yes, Osanai speaking.”
Heaving a sigh of relief, I drained the last vestiges of the barley tea, then looked at my wristwatch. It was already a little past one thirty. Perhaps I should send an email to Osanai-san.
I retrieved my phone.
But at that moment…
A sharp cry reached my ears.
“Who are you!”
Osanai-san’s mother was tightly gripping the receiver, a tense look on her face. The diplomatic smile that was on her face earlier had disappeared. In face of the extraordinary situation, I also stopped moving.
After asking for the other person’s identity, she held the receiver without saying anything, apparently listening to whatever was being said on the other end. I pricked my ears, but all I could hear was the low whine of the air conditioner.
Finally, she burst out.
“Wait! Let me hear her voice!”
But there was no reply. She slowly put down the receiver.
This was no normal matter. I spoke in a solemn tone.
“Did something happen?”
The murmur that came out was weak, but was not incoherent. She picked up the receiver again, and used the speed dial function to make another phone call.
Ten seconds, twenty seconds… forty seconds, fifty seconds. Even after that long dial time, the other person didn’t accept the call. Finally, Osanai-san’s mother put down the receiver, seemingly having given up, and got startled, as if only noticing me for the first time.
“Did something happen to Osanai-san?”
Her response showed her distress, although she was trying to stifle it.
“It must be a prank, just a cruel prank from someone… They said that they caught Yuki, and they’ll return her without harm if we give them 5 million yen. They had a weird voice, like they were using a voice changer.”
They’ll return Osanai-san in exchange for money?
Is that basically what it means?
My voice was pathetically high-pitched.
“In other words… Osanai-san’s been kidnapped?”
She hesitated for a long time, as if she couldn’t understand what “kidnapped” meant.
But that turned out to be the truth in the end. She looked at me and nodded, then let her gaze wander around the room.
“Yes… yes, that’s it. Yuki got kidnapped…”
– The plan was executed on the 19th of August, at 12:50pm. Based on information from Kawamata, Isawa and two followers set up an ambush in Sanya-dori of Motoyoshi-chō in the municipality of Kira. The three of them spotted Osanai Yuki there, surrounded her and brought her to an alley, threatening her with violent words. They then walked her to the parking area in front of the train station by dragging her arm, whisked her into a car that was parked there, and left.
During that time, Osanai was curling up in fright, and could not give any comprehensible response. She resisted fiercely when they were about to put her in the car, but stopped after taking a beating from Isawa.
The incident occurred in the shopping district, and due to the Sanya-dori Festival that was taking place that day, the movement of cars was restricted. Many people went in and out of the area, but no one came to help. Traffic control officers had been stationed at the entrance and exit of the street, but they did not notice anything amiss.
With Osanai-san being uncontactable and the kidnappers asking for a ransom by phone, her mother’s response to that situation was exceptionally appropriate. First, she contacted her husband and explained about their daughter’s kidnapping, then called the police. It was the first time I had ever seen 110 being dialled. I had called the police in the past, but at that time, I dialled the phone number of the police station instead of the emergency hotline.
“I got a phone call from some people saying that they had caught my daughter after she caused trouble for them, and they wanted me to prepare 5 million yen. Yes, I tried, but I could not contact my daughter.”
Next, she expelled me from the house. She didn’t have to do that, though. Why would I want to linger near a family whose daughter had just been kidnapped?
Come to think of it, the term kidnap means to use deceitful words to lure someone in and snatch them. It was difficult to imagine Osanai-san being taken in by words. Thus, it probably involved violence… an abduction.
But that was just a matter of semantics that didn’t matter at all.
Osanai-san got kidnapped? Why?
The first thought that entered my head was one of doubt. Is it even real? By putting together some suitable lies, they could be trying to swindle and extort money out of the Osanai family. If that is the case, then it would turn out to be a poorly conceived scheme as soon as it was reported to the police. However, as long as we can’t confirm whether Osanai-san had indeed been captured, we should always be holding this doubt… Of course, I personally don’t want the kidnapping to be real.
On the other hand, assuming that the kidnapping did occur, I keep worrying about Osanai-san’s safety. Everyone knows that kidnappings for the sake of money can lead to tragedy. No, now is no time for bad omens!
But what overpowered those thoughts and dominated my heart was the surreal, ominous sensation of fear.
I took the elevator from the third floor of the apartment building and pinched my knee. I could certainly feel the pain, but perhaps due to the falling sensation of the elevator, I couldn’t feel my legs.
Osanai-san and I had been in contact with all sorts of trouble. Since the petit bourgeois that we aspire to become will shy away from trouble, all those bits of trouble we had gotten into were due to us getting caught up in them. Also, they were almost always accompanied by imminent danger and a sense of lightheadedness.
While we got close to such troublesome matters due to the personalities we were born with, we always managed to escape the real dangers by exercising due caution, and perhaps utilising the self-defence mechanisms we’d learnt during our period in middle school, when we’d been made to drink from the bitter cup of humiliation. And thus our first year in high school was generally peaceful.
However, this incident was not befitting of little citizens. A kidnapping is not peaceful. This was no leisurely matter which had no impact whether it was solved or not, like the “half” memo that Kengo had left behind, and neither was it a game, like the battle of wits we’d had surrounding the Charlotte. Ironically, the reality of this situation took away from my sense of reality, and instead a nondescript fear.
…And that was not all. Unfortunately, that was not all I, Kobato Jougorou, felt when I heard that Osanai Yuki had been kidnapped.
Resting a hand on the control panel in the elevator, I burst out.
“Seriously, just how much am I…”
Doubt, unease, a sense of surreality. I was certainly feeling those things. That was only natural. But I could also feel an unscrupulous impulse beneath all those emotions, and I had to recognize that.
Feeling shameful for having such an impulse, I muttered in the private room.
“This is not a test of wisdom… Osanai-san has really been abducted!”
I was actually feeling exhilarated.
These opportunities are few and far between. To someone who boasts about being an intelligent person and claims to be able to reach the truth faster than anyone, there is no material more attractive than this. Exquisite skill can only stand out in the presence of a worthy adversary. I’ve not been blessed with such an opportunity for a long time, but having such a case would more than quell the boredom I’ve endured up till now. Long live kidnappings!
Basically, that was how I thought. With this way of thinking, I’d hurt so many people, offended them, and taken the blame for that myself. That was why we advocated for the way of the petit bourgeois and decided to cover our faces and shut our eyes whenever we ran into such problematic situations.
…Even so, I was still having these thoughts of wanting to solve the problem and showing off my wisdom.
The elevator doors opened. I exited the apartment building, only to be greeted by a heavily clouded sky and surrounded by annoying hot air.
It might be extremely minor compared to the danger Osanai-san was in, but at least one good thing for me was that there was no way to meddle in this situation. I may be skilled in finding small clues from my memory and drawing meaning from them, but since there were no clues, there was no need for me to be involved.
Well, to be honest, there may have been two or three points which I felt were a little off, but pursuing those clues would not save Osanai-san. The police were already on the move. There was no need to criticize my dedication to being a little citizen, for there was nothing I could do.
Having reached that conclusion, I was finally able to pray for Osanai-san’s safety from my heart. Osanai-san, a second-year student in high school who didn’t look that part; Osanai Yuki, an irreplaceable friend. I don’t know why, or even whether she was kidnapped, but please, let her be safe. Although I can’t do anything…
Right, I’ll at least buy those candied apples you were so looking forward to. I’ll give them to you when you return.
With that prayer, I was about to straddle my bicycle, when my mobile phone vibrated. I’d just received an email, and the sender was… Osanai-san!
I immediately snatched my phone and flipped it open. With quick button presses, I opened the email.
My eyes opened wide as I read the text on the screen.
This was how Osanai-san’s email went:
“Sorry, please buy me four candied apples and one Canelé.3 Sorry.
– Osanai Yuki was abducted in a normal passenger car belonging to the father of Houjou Tomoko, a member of the group. Houjou did not own a driving license, but had always continued illegally driving her father’s car. Additionally, her father is believed to be aware of that, but implicitly condoned it.
There were five people in the car, with Houjou behind the wheel, and three people at the back. Osanai-san was made to sit in the center, and constantly received prods and threats from the left and right.
Osanai’s outfit that day was a navy blue flared skirt and a white button-down shirt. She was carrying no items like a bag in her hands.
The kidnapping group had shown strong hostility towards Osanai, but did not do anything violent while they were on the move. Isawa kept threatening Osanai with murder, but that was just typical abrasive language. It was probably unthinkable for her to have murderous intent over something like this.
Osanai did not openly resist, and only looked firmly down. Whenever Isawa directed sharp words at her, she would give short replies like “That’s wrong” or “Sorry”, but would never start a topic on her own.
Also, Isawa showed considerable dissatisfaction towards Kawamata Sanae, who did not participate in this operation.
The car ride took twenty minutes.
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 town. 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 town.
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.
We checked the service entrance, looked through ground-level daylighting windows, office windows, toilet windows and, of course, the main entrance, but none of them were open, and none of the windows were broken. Then again, there were still other buildings in the premises. Even a small equipment shed near the tennis courts would be enough to hold Osanai-san. I was wondering if we should split up, but that would defeat the purpose of coming here as a pair in the first place. While I was having that thought, I suddenly spotted a staircase installed on the outer wall of the gymnasium.
“I think it’s connected to the catwalk on the second floor.”
Of course we should investigate. There was a chain at the entrance, but it would not get in the way of someone stepping over it. We climbed to the middle point of the staircase, and I crouched.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s a lollipop wrapper…”
Incidentally, it was a wrapper for a cola-flavored lollipop.
It was neatly folded in four. I opened it and felt the other side with a finger.
“…It’s still sticky.”
Kengo and I exchanged looks, and jointly ascended the stairs more swiftly than before. There was a metal door at the end, but we didn’t even have to test it. The abductors were apparently careless, for the door was slightly ajar.
I put a hand on the doorknob, then looked at Kengo questioningly.
He slightly nodded, leading me to push open the metal door.
Lowering my body for no good reason, I trespassed into the gymnasium.
As Kengo had mentioned, the door led to a catwalk. Old basketball hoops littered the floor. The dirty glass let in some of the afternoon light, but with the overcast sky outside, all that achieved was bring about a gloomy atmosphere in the gymnasium that was just waiting to be demolished. With no where to escape, the hot air could only circulate within, and that stagnant air was nothing if not dusty. Feeling like I was about to sneeze, I quickly held my nose.
Worrying that it might break, I stayed away from the handrail and peeked at the first floor. There were no signs of people there.
Kengo spoke, but I held his hand to stop him from continuing.
I could hear another voice, a high-pitched one. It sounded like someone was shouting. Or was that a scream?
“…Can you hear that?”
“Yeah. It’s a girl’s voice, right?”
Osanai-san’s voice… no, I can’t confirm that. In the first place, it is difficult to tell apart different voices from a long distance away.
“What should we do?”
“We’ve come all the way here. Let’s make a report after seeing Osanai-san’s face. I’ll go in front. Kengo, you watch our rear.”
I stealthily progressed on the dusty catwalk in the direction of the voice. I was tiptoeing, but was also moving at a slight trot.
In the front side of the gymnasium, directly above the entrance hall, was a room separated from the catwalk by a metal sliding door. On a plastic plate were the words “Martial Arts Hall”. I could hear the voice coming from that room. Now that I was close enough, I could tell that those were not screams, but angry outbursts.
“How long are you gonna keep lying, huh? It was you, wasn’t it? Say something, you bitch! You taking me for a fool?”
Flinching from the crude language, I stuck close to the door. I was kneeling on one knee, while Kengo’s head was above mine. Putting our hands on the door, with me on the right and Kengo on the left, we quietly slid it open.
It was a wide room, with half the space floored with tatami, and the other half with wooden flooring. The tatami was the kind used for judo, and I could see a clique of people standing on it. One, two, three, four, five. And the person tied on a chair in front of the girl still hurling curses was… Osanai-san!
She was wearing a white shirt and a navy-colored skirt, an outfit that was just like the summer uniform in Funado High School. She was sitting on a folding chair, and tied to it with a white vinyl string. I couldn’t see her crestfallen face, but between her amasogi hairstyle and her small body that resembled that of an elementary school student, there was no doubt that it was Osanai Yuki.
There were five people in the kidnapping group, more than I’d expected. From what I could see, they were all female, and young. At the most university students, but most likely high school students like us. But looking at their figures, I immediately understood.
(As I thought…)
This was no ordinary kidnapping case. The strange thing that stood out above all was the ransom amount. In this day and age, the ransom for the only daughter of an upper-middle class family should not be only five million yen. Of course, it was not a small sum, and definitely a greater sum than I’d ever seen, but was like only earning a child’s allowance for committing the severe crime of abduction.
To explain the unbalance between risk and return, the only way is to lower the estimates of the culprits. This was not just a matter of impulse or the result of a short temper, but was the work of people who usually strayed so far from the rules that they did not realize they were committing a severe crime. In other words, I thought this kidnapping to be done by people who had gotten carried away.
However, no matter the identity of the culprits, a kidnapping is a kidnapping. It didn’t change the fact that they put Osanai-san in danger. After giving the signal to Kengo, we left the scene, walking outside via the catwalk. Next, I whipped out my mobile phone with no hesitation.
The number I called was under the name “Osanai Yuki House”. The dial tones sounded. Three, five, ten times… Just when I was starting to think that it was going to be a long wait, a tense voice answered.
“Yes, this is Osanai.”
It was a woman’s voice. However, I felt that the voice sounded a little different from that of Osanai-san’s mother, with whom I’d talked with earlier, but that could just be my imagination. Perhaps she passed the phone to a police officer? Then again, I could really be reading too much into it.
“Hello. Is this Osanai-san’s house? I’m Kobato, who came over earlier. I’ve found Yuki-san.”
“She’s at the South Municipal Gymnasium, on the second floor of the main building. The culprits are a five-person group of high school girls. Are there any police officers at your end?”
There was no change in speaker, but the voice suddenly became stiff.
“Who are you? Is what you said true?”
“I’m Kobato. Kobato Jougorou, Osanai Yuki-san’s friend. You can check with Osanai-san’s mother. A clue came to mind, so I went to search for her. She is currently tied up and surrounded by the culprits. Please come quickly.”
“The South Municipal Gymnasium, right?”
“Got it. We’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Thank you very much.”
I let out a deep sigh.
“…T-That was so nerve-wracking…”
That was definitely not a normal person. When I was a middle school student, I used to stick my nose into all sorts of matters. In one of them, I made a call to the police station, but this was the first time I’d ever talked to someone who seemed like an investigator. I was momentarily overwhelmed. If that was not an investigator but actually Osanai-san’s mother, that would be a volte-face just like Osanai-san.
In any case, this was as good as the end of the case. It would be just a matter of time for it to be cleaned up and dusted off. I lightly bowed to Kengo.
“Thanks for your help, Kengo. It should be fine now. Seriously, what a heavy matter this has been.”
However, Kengo did not even grin. In fact, he had a grim look on his face as he spoke in a low tone.
“Jougorou, you saw the loud girl, right?”
“Hm? Yeah, I did.”
“That’s Isawa. No doubt about it. Isawa Hasami.”
But before I could recall, Kengo explained.
“Do you remember Kawamata Sanae? She’s the one whose affairs I was apparently meddling in. Isawa is the leader of the group that Kawamata was dragged into.”
I was taken aback by that sudden revelation. I certainly was not expecting that story to show up here.
The response came in the form of a solemn nod. I instinctively thought about why Isawa Hasami would kidnap Osanai-san, but I realized something more important.
“So Kawamata Sanae’s in that group? She’s the elder sister of your girlfriend, right? It’ll be five minutes before the police arrive, you should get her to pull out before then!”
“Kawamata is not my girlfriend. Anyway, it’s fine, she apparently didn’t show up today. More importantly…”
Kengo suddenly turned on his heels and gripped the doorknob of the metal door.
“I’m worried. Based on the stories I’ve heard, Isawa is quite a short-tempered person. With how she was just now, you can tell what she’s planning to do with Osanai, right? Let’s go back.”
I had no objections.
Once again, Kengo and I stormed into the gymnasium.
This time, we paid little heed to our footsteps, almost sprinting to the area in front of the door to the Martial Arts Hall. We peeked at the situation within from the gap that had been opened earlier.
It was good that we returned!
The girl that had showered Osanai-san with curses, Isawa, was holding a cigarette between the index finger and middle finger of her right hand. Two other girls surrounded Osanai-san from the back. One of them was holding her down, while the other was rolling up the right sleeve of Osanai-san’s shirt. Isawa guffawed with evident satisfaction.
“I’m really such a kind person! I decided to not do it on your face, after all. So? Do you finally feel like apologizing? Not that I’ll stop now, though!”
The fire on the cigarette was nearing Osanai-san’s white right arm. That’s no threat, she’s serious about it!
“Let’s go, Jougorou.”
Kengo said, but he really didn’t need to. My hand was already on the door…
The one who shouted was Osanai-san. She sharply raised her head which had been drooping down, fixed Isawa with a withering gaze, with a smile on her lips.
That was… a smile I can only describe as cruel.
I’d witnessed it multiple times back in middle school. But since we’d entered high school, I’d only seen it once, during the “tart incident”. It was neither mocking nor impudent, but was a faint smile that seemed to display a dark sense of pleasure.
While she was tied up, that Osanai-san was not a little citizen… that was Osanai Yuki, the wolf.
Taken aback by the would-be victim suddenly raising her voice, Isawa’s hand stopped moving. Our hands stopped moving as well. Osanai-san fluently spoke.
“Isawa-san, you slapped my cheek five times, threw four punches, one to the shoulder, one to my arm, and twice to my solar plexus, which hurt a lot. You kicked my shin twice, and in another instance you missed, so your knee hit the back of my knee instead. Also, you yanked my hair even when I said it was painful. As for the people at the back, Houjou-san, you knew that I couldn’t escape, yet you suggested tying me up. I was tied up so tight that I don’t have any feeling in my fingers.
“But I’m fine with that. I’m fine with taking a little pain. I have a small cut on my mouth, but it’s fine. I don’t mind, so you don’t have to worry.
“But if you push that on me, it’s going to leave a burn. If that does happens, do you know what will happen next? Do you?”
“Huh? What are you talking about? Have you gone crazy?”
Isawa replied in exasperation, apparently not cowed by Osanai-san’s monologue. She then brought the cigarette to her lips and took a puff.
Osanai-san casually continued, as if she were talking about the weather.
“If that happens, I’ll remember every time I look at the scar. I’ll remember you, Isawa-san.”
She then looked at the three people standing in front one by one, then lightly turned around to face the other two at the back. At the same time, she spoke.
“As well as you, Houjou-san. And Ueno-san, Souda-san, Hayashi-san… I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget.”
Having been called by their names, two of them were clearly shaken. It seemed that some girls who were not mentally prepared to abduct a person were mixed in the group.
Isawa-san blew some cigarette smoke at Osanai-san.
“You won’t forget? Huh? So?”
Isawa-san, right? Osanai-san won’t state the consequence, but I know. If you get a burn on her, she will definitely never forget about you.
And in that case, there’s no knowing what will happen to you.
“You’re just taking me for a fool, right? So what if you remember? Alright, I’ll make it easier for you to remember. How about making a burn on your neck?”
She raised the cigarette again and slowly moved it forward, and even Osanai-san recoiled. The two girls at the back were apparently not putting in much force, for Osanai-san’s body shook violently, causing the folding chair to creak.
“Don’t move! I’ll stick it in your eye! That’s fine by me too!”
This is bad.
“Stop right there, fools!”
With a loud clatter, the metal door was flung open, and a sharp exclamation was thrown into the room.
Damn, I’m late to move. With one knee on the linoleum floor, I looked up at Kengo, who had just opened the door. Returning my gaze to the front, I locked eyes with Osanai-san.
I raised a hand in greeting.
Not expecting intruders, the abductors froze. Having no choice, I also spoke.
“You shouldn’t commit any more crimes.”
Ah, that was a failure. My line was somewhat lacking, or even quite useless. It was also too common. Since this was a rare opportunity, I should have said something like, “It’s not too late, so return to your home unit!”
“Who the heck are you two?”
It would be awkward to say that we were acquaintances of Osanai-san, because they would then be able to use her as a hostage. Hence, I answered as such:
“Just a passer-by.”
To prevent Kengo from saying anything unnecessary, I pointed at Kengo who was above me with my index finger.
“So is this guy.”
Isawa, as well as the other four girls, turned to look at us.
“If you don’t have any quarrel with us, then go away. This is just a discussion among us.”
“A discussion, you say?”
Kengo replied in a deep, menacing voice. It was the first time I’d heard him use this voice as a high school student.
Striking his right hand with his left, Kengo growled.
“…Don’t make me laugh.”
Not that we can laugh in this situation. Kengo, there’s five of them, and only two of us…
– After receiving the tipoff from Osanai Yuki’s friend, Kobato Jougorou, two police officers from the nearest police box in Zaimoku-cho rushed to the South Municipal Gymnasium. It took some time for them to get into the locked compound, but they arrived at the scene eleven minutes after the tipoff.
At the scene was a scuffle between the informant, Kobato, who was with his friend, Doujima Kengo, and the abductors. Since Isawa Hasami was holding a knife, she was taken into custody. Doujima Kengo, who was cut on a finger in his left hand, was sent to the hospital. It took three days for the injury to fully heal. Besides that, other people had been punched in the face and elsewhere, but they wre only light injuries. Osanai Yuki, the victim, was successfully rescued.
Three people directly involved in the abduction and two people who were involved in confining the victim were arrested, for a total of five. With Isawa Hasami’s previous history of drug abuse, that line of questioning was also pursued.
The police were suspicious of the informant, Kobato, who had ascertained Osanai’s confinement location before everyone else, but the victim actively covered for him, and since Kobato’s mobile phone did contain the email that Osanai claimed she had sent, all suspicion was cleared.
Considering the victim’s shock from getting abducted, her interview was to be held from the following day onward, and she was only asked some basic questions on the scene. Osanai asserted that she could return home on her own, but the police rejected that suggestion, given their duty to escort her safely home.
The wind was out.
With that, the clouds that had been drooping in the sky were finally being blown away. A bit of sunlight was even poking out from the west side.
Unfortunately, Kengo was sent to the hospital. No matter how you look at it, it was just a graze, but he was stabbed in front of the police officers, so it would be treated as an incident, and a medical certificate would probably be required. Anyway, he’d gotten injured as a direct result of me forcing him to accompany me, so I’ll have to properly give him my thanks later on.
Osanai-san would apparently be taken by the police car, to be taken to reunite with her family. Of course, there would be an interview about the incident, but from what I’d overheard, the official interview would only be conducted the next day, considering the mental damage sustained from the kidnapping.
Osanai-san was talking to the mobile phone in one hand. She was communicating with her family.
“Yes, I’m fine. No injuries… The policemen were kind. They want to hear about it tomorrow. Sorry, I’ll be home soon.”
What’s with the halting speech?
After finishing the call, she turned to me and asked two questions, looking like she was still in pain.
“Kobato-kun, does it hurt? Are you fine?”
I hadn’t been just standing in a corner before the police arrived. I’d been haphazardly shoving the other four away to prevent them from interfering in the scuffle between Kengo and Isawa, but I’d also received an elbow under my left eye for my trouble. That made me dizzy for a moment, but since I was hit on the cheekbone, I wasn’t really injured, though it still stung a little.
“No, it doesn’t hurt at all.”
That was, of course, just for the sake of appearances.
“What about you, Osanai-san? You were jabbed quite a few times, I heard.”
She was slapped… how many times again? I remember that her hair was pulled once. Osanai-san shyly looked away.
“As I thought, you were listening…?”
“I’m really hurting all over. That person wasn’t holding back when she punched me in the stomach.”
She said, pouting.
Finding that manner of speaking funny, I laughed. She was kidnapped and punched, so I would have expected her to hold a deep-seated grudge, but she seemed to have gotten over it already, right after the incident.
Why was Osanai-san being so magnanimous, just in this case? Of course, she could be intentionally giving off that impression and thinking differently in her heart, but right now she looked as if she could burst into song at any moment.
I considered the reasons for her magnanimity. I hadn’t really thought about it yet, but there was something that had been on my mind for quite a long time. Then again, Osanai-san could be happy about being released. That was the simple answer.
The police officers were waiting for Osanai-san. After turning back briefly to look at them, she spoke bashfully.
“Kobato-kun, thank you for coming. I knew that you would definitely come. That’s why I was always looking at the door of the room. If it opened just a bit, I would know that you arrived.”
“You unleashed that reckless verbal attack knowing that I was there, right?”
“I wasn’t expecting you to burst right through, though… my intention was to buy some time.”
Well, I was wondering about that earlier. I couldn’t really see her eyes since it was covered by her bangs while she was tied to a chair and looking down, but I did feel like she was looking at me from under her hair. I thought that she wouldn’t unnecessarily provoke them no matter how angry she was, though.
Osanai-san brushed some dust off her navy-colored skirt, then retreated two or three steps. As I was momentarily confused, she gave a deep bow.
“Thank you so much.”
I scratched my head.
“Ah… Um, you’re welcome.”
Osanai-san raised her head. She then put her hands on her stomach and grimaced.
“W-What’s wrong? Does it hurt where you were punched?”
“There is that, but…”
She stroked her stomach and continued.
Oh, is that all. Well, she did go without lunch, after all. It was now three thirty in the afternoon. Too late for lunch, and too early for dinner. She would soon be heading home, though.
I see. The way I see it, I could solve that issue with a sensible suggestion. With a grin, I spoke.
“You’ve had it rough today. Tell you what, I’ll buy something you like and bring it to your house.”
She waved her hands in front of her face.
“I-It’s fine. I still have to thank you, too.”
She was all smiles, even as she was verbally rejecting my offer. At times like this, Osanai-san sure is easy to read… If only she’s always like that. Then again, she wouldn’t be as interesting.
“Well, this is this, and that is that.”
“Let’s go with the next target of the Osanai Summer Sweets Selection. What was that next one again?”
Osanai-san brightened up. Putting up all her zeal, she asserted, while leaning close towards me.
“Tinker Linker’s peach pie! It uses white peaches, and it’s really really delicious!”
But at that moment, her smile froze up.
Even on this hot, humid summer day, I could certainly feel a rush of cold air suddenly descend between me and Osanai-san.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- Cheap Japanese snacks.
- Japanese rice crackers made of sweet rice/glutinous rice, not to be confused with senbei, which is made using regular rice.
- A small French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. It takes the shape of a small, striated cylinder up to five centimeters in height with a depression at the top.