“I’ll explain it to you, Kobato-kun. So…”
I unconsciously raised my voice.
Some new material was just presented, so it was worth reconsidering. It was a tape recorder, probably with some tape in it. Tape, which is usually used for voice. A recorded voice. In this case, what was the scene which was related to voice? Something related to voice… I see now, that’s it! How did I ever miss it? It was clear as day, wasn’t it? With that, the earlier theory that Osanai-san used her insider to influence Isawa Hasemi to carry out the kidnapping plot… was obviously false!
I desperately tried to collect my thoughts, but I struggled to put the truth I’d vaguely grasped into words. Seeing me in that state, Osanai-san laughed.
“Halt, you say… This isn’t Shogi, Kobato-kun.”
“This isn’t Chess, Go, Backgammon, Canaan1, or Scotland Yard. Even so, you want to explain it on your own?”
“It’s over. No one needs to resolve anything at this point.
“…But I was the one who asked you to talk to me, so I listened. And now, for your sake, I’ll summarize it so it’s easy to understand.
“Yes, I had an insider. As you said, without one I wouldn’t have been able to know about the abduction to such precise detail. Kawamata Sanae-san was my insider. She was a really useful one, at that.”
Kawamata had flatly refused when Kengo recommended that she cut all ties with Isawa’s group. I’d felt that something was off when Kengo told me about it. It was only second-hand information from Kengo, but Kawamata had said this of him: “You’re a hindrance.”
At that time, I asked if he’d been called an annoyance, but Kengo affirmed that he’d been called a nuisance. How was he a hindrance?
The topic of that conversation was about cutting ties with Isawa and her gang… Kengo was only trying to get Kawamata to leave the group, but that was apparently a hindrance to her. Immediately after Kengo talked to Kawamata Sanae, Isawa Hasemi was arrested and the group was destroyed.
“Osanai-san, you were helping Kawamata Sanae, right?”
“Helping? No. I was merely using her. Sanae-san threatened me. She told me that Isawa-san hated me, and planned to capture me during the summer holidays and put me through a horrible situation.
“During middle school, I helped Sanae-san. Just like Doujima-kun, I helped pull her away from the group when they were abusing drugs. As a result of that, Isawa-san and her group were officially reprimanded, but Sanae-san managed to escape.
“However, after the probation period of a little more than a year ended, Isawa-san started looking for the informant, and Sanae-san immediately went to her to curry favor and say that she wasn’t the one who betrayed the group. Even so, she was suspected, so she threatened me to help her escape again, or she would hand me over to Isawa-san.
“Sooner or later, they found out that I was related to that incident, I think. There was no thorough concealment of the information, after all. At that time, I was quite foolish. When it became known that I was involved, I imagined Isawa-san doing violent things to me.
“That’s why I decided to use Sanae-san.”
Pulling her hand away from the teacup, she pointed at the tape recorder.
“Kobato-kun. Do you now know what’s in there?”
It was a question that could be answered with a short phrase. However, I couldn’t help but tack on a superfluous explanation. It may have been exceptionally atrocious of me, but now that it had come to this, I just had to explain how I got to the answer.
“…I saw a car at the South Municipal Gymnasium. It was a light van, probably used to abduct you. A lollipop wrapper had fallen in the back passenger seat. Also, there was some device that looked like a voice changer in the front passenger seat. At that point, I could only think that it was obvious you were trapped here.
“But thinking about it now, that was strange. Your mother, having taken the ransom call, described the voice as ‘a weird voice, as if they were using a voice changer’. But if so, the voice changer should not be in a place like that. It has to be on hand, in case they are given a phone call. I can’t imagine that there would be multiple voice changers, either. I should have realized that leaving the voice changer there showed that it wasn’t needed while Isawa-san and her group were holding you at the gymnasium.
“The voice changer was not necessary for them. That means the person who made the ransom call at the beginning was not Isawa-san and her gang. In other words, Isawa-san’s group did not want to ask for money in exchange for your safety.
“So, who made the phone call? It was neither Isawa-san, nor anyone in her group. You were being abducted… It was Kawamata Sanae, right?”
With a nod, Osanai-san clicked on the replay button of the voice recorder, causing a low, electronically altered voice to flow out.
“This is Osanai Yuki’s house, right? Now, just keep quiet and listen. It’ll be problematic if you don’t, and I’ll only say this once… Your daughter caused us quite a lot of trouble, so we’ve abducted her. We can let her go, but we need some compensation for the trouble she caused. We’re only asking for five million. With that, we can let her go. You got that, right? We’ll be calling you again.”
Osanai-san pushed the stop button, making a snap sound, then pulled the tape recorder towards her with a hand.
“We decided on the script and recorded it beforehand.”
“Why did you do something like that?”
“It would be troubling if Sanae-san got nervous and ran her mouth during the actual call… with that reason, I had her talk into this. Poor Sanae-san. She recorded her voice based on my recommendation, then handed it to me. She should have considered it a bit more.”
She said it with a tone of pity, rather than one of sympathy. Hearing the coldness in her voice, I was made to experience an emotion I couldn’t remember experiencing before. My words came out in a trickle.
“Basically, it went like this. Isawa Hasemi was trying to kidnap you, and you came up with a countermeasure for that, which involved using the Osanai Summer Sweets Selection as a pretext to get me to play the role of the savior. But you were not content with that. You were not satisfied with Isawa Hasemi’s charge being merely abduction and confinement.
“That was why you made the tape asking for a ransom. You made me witness the moment the phone call came in. Also, you added a premium to the abduction and confinement… which upgraded the charge to abduction with intent to extort!”
I’d had the wool pulled over my eyes. Because I’d witnessed the ransom call, I never suspected if the case was something other than a kidnapping. While I’d glanced at the origin and progress of the kidnapping, as well as questioned Osanai-san’s actions, my understanding of Isawa Hasemi’s group as having undertaken a kidnapping was never shaken.
But Isawa’s group did not kidnap Osanai-san. They might have abducted, confined and even assaulted, but they did not kidnap2. To be precise, they did not ask for a ransom. Just like how adding one card turns a three of a kind to a four of a kind, the girls would now be questioned for a crime one rank higher, and the person who added the critical element was none other than Osanai-san.
…Meaning that the person who kidnapped Osanai-san was Osanai-san herself.
But the perpetrator was unapologetic. She neither tried to play it off, nor tried to feign ignorance. Instead, she smiled, with dimples on her face.
“Exactly. You’ve finally got it, Kobato-kun.”
I bit on my lip and looked down. The chagrin was dizzying. That was part of it, anyway. However… Osanai-san’s tone of voice changed to one that was bright and resplendent, probably having wrongly interpreted the silence.
“Don’t worry, it won’t be exposed. Isawa-san’s group is made up of people she forcefully dragged in, so there is hardly any trust between its members. Even when I was being abducted, they couldn’t agree on what to do with me. It would be a little troubling if everyone who was arrested declares the same thing, that ‘none of them made the ransom phone call’, but that won’t happen. Even right now, they must have an idea of someone other than themselves who would try to extort a ransom on their own. For that purpose, I had Sanae-san spread the idea that some money could be gained by abducting me.
“Next, if the police investigate, they will find a voice changer in Houjou-san’s light van. Of course, I had Sanae-san bring that in. Seeing a new toy that had appeared without them knowing, Isawa-san and her friends were champing at the bit to try it out. They played with it for a while, then grew bored of it and left it in the light van. In other words, it has the fingerprints of everyone in Isawa-san’s group.
“Individually, they don’t know who brought it in. That’s why they will be suspicious of each other and think that one of them must have brought it.
“Even if all that is found out, it should still be fine. I’ve managed to lead Sanae-san to think that she was the one who came up with this plan. Above all, I have…”
She stroked the tape recorder.
“This… The tape recording of Sanae-san asking for the ransom. She just had to threaten me. What a poor little lamb.”
She spoke triumphantly, as if she was boasting about a dessert she’d found. I instinctively replied.
“A crime is no dessert, Osanai-san.”
“Especially for a false charge.”
If Osanai-san’s plan works perfectly, Isawa Hasemi and her gang would be judged to have committed a crime they have nothing to do with. Those girls were not innocent. They’d chosen to abduct Osanai-san based on their own free will, so they had undeniably committed a crime.
However, it is another story to be charged with the crime of kidnapping which they did not commit… in other words, a false charge.
“You’ve broken the promise a few times now. We both took the oath to become little citizens, but I sometimes catch sight of you with a vindictive face filled a lust for vengeance, a face you were supposed to have left behind. But I don’t intend to condemn you for that. I’m just like that, after all.
“But Osanai-san, I think you’ve crossed the line here. If you only incited your own kidnapping, one could say that Isawa Hasemi and her gang were at fault for still carrying it out. But this is… people are getting charged for a crime they did not commit. That’s wrong. It’s a lie. I’ve always acknowledged you to be one or two levels above me, but I never thought you would use the powers of observation, ability to act and judiciousness that you hardly see in others to frame others.”
My voice became a little choked up with emotion.
“On top that, for this plan, you used Kawamata Sanae, you used Doujima Kengo, you used me. We became accomplices to your lie.
“That’s just cruel, Osanai-san. I don’t know how much you hate Isawa Hasemi and her gang, but no matter how conservatively you describe it, this is an atrocious lie… and you’re a liar.”
Osanai-san’s eyes fluttered. For an instant, she restlessly looked around like a rabbit, then turned to look straight at me, her face tilted slightly downward.
“Me, a liar?”
Osanai-san looked up and looked straight into my eyes. Before me was a hatless girl with a bob cut. That was the Osanai-san I’d always been with since the summer of our third year of middle school. Since then, I’d seen various emotions from her. Joy, anger, and even the expression she displays when she’s plotting something.
But this time, the expression on her face was one I’d never seen before. She seemed to be smiling, but her gaze was slowly moving away. Rather than cold, that smile seemed to be desolate and weary.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- Refers to Settlers of Canaan, a licensed adaptation of Settlers of Catan that incorporates Hebrew Bible themes into its multiplayer board game play.
- Throughout the story, the characters use the terms “kidnap” and “abduct” interchangeably as most people do, but legally there is a difference. According to some sites, kidnapping is done with intent to cause the victim to be detained against their will, and is usually accompanied with an intent to extort, assault, etc. Basically, all kidnappings are abductions but not all abductions are kidnappings.