Those who do not take action to create opportunities for themselves are known as slowpokes.
Those who cannot make good use of opportunities are basically fools.
In that case, I was close to being like a fool. An eighth of a page had fallen right into my hands, and I could write anything on it. That was undoubtedly the chance I had been waiting for. However…
It was the beginning of a new year. With an editorial meeting to be held on the next day, I was sitting in my classroom after school, literally cradling my head in my hands. The year had changed and the winter break had ended, yet I hadn’t found anything to write. On the table in front of me was a white notebook, and on the other side, sandwiching it was Hiya, whose face was clouded over.
“There can’t be nothing, right? Why don’t you tell me what you have for now? You never know, something could turn out to be a breakthrough.”
Hiya had been giving advice for my column before the winter holidays began. It was really pathetic of me to be unable to properly respond to the goodwill he’d shown, but I wouldn’t get anywhere by staying silent. Thus, I reluctantly told him what I already knew to be useless.
“A couple was given an official reprimand at a billiard hall on Christmas. The boy is in our school, although he apparently didn’t get suspended or anything like that.”
“There was a case in Panorama Island where a microwave oven was stolen. The shoplifter wasn’t caught, so I don’t know who did it, but I heard rumours that it could have been a high school student.”
“Is that so.”
“Someone in Class E got into an accident. They were riding a bicycle when they ran into a motorcycle making a right turn. Some bones on the student’s leg were broken, so they were hospitalized.”
“Something like that happened, huh.”
Hiya replied with only a few customary responses, then fell silent. I was honestly more thankful for that silence, rather than some half-hearted words of encouragement.
Nothing would come out of writing boring stories like getting an official reprimand for staying out late at night or being involved in a traffic accident. President Doujima probably wouldn’t say anything about it, but I could see Monchi or someone else laughing about it. It obviously wouldn’t work unless I grabbed their attention with something powerful right off the bat.
The microwave theft was quite interesting. If I did detailed research and wrote about how the deed was done, it could turn out to be an unexpectedly interesting read. However, could that be run on Funado Monthly? Moreover, I’d intended to write about a kidnapping case, so wouldn’t having shoplifting as a replacement topic be too much of a difference? From the bottom of my heart, I cursed the small scale of disturbances in this world.
“You should have asked a lot of different people, right? Did they not have any useful stories?”
I vaguely nodded.
“Well… I did ask a few, like those at cram school.”
“What about that senpai?”
I couldn’t immediately understand which senpai he was referring to. Was he talking about President Doujima, or Monchi? But how could I have the face to beg for an idea from either of them?
But the person Hiya was hinting at was neither of the two. A smile appeared on his face, as if he was teasing me even though I was at my wit’s end.
“Come on, that adorable senpai who looks like a junior.”
So he was referring to Osanai-san.
I didn’t want him to call her “adorable” so frivolously. I was thinking of giving him another body blow, but that was impossible since we were both seated. In place of that, I snorted as a sign of protest.
With that out of the way, I answered his question.
“No, I haven’t talked to Osanai about this.”
“Don’t you mean Osanai-senpai?”
“Oh, shut it… But don’t you think it’s futile? Does she look like someone with a wide social circle to you?”
“I can’t say for sure, but probably not.”
Asking that shy Osanai-san whether she knows about some incident would be simply a foolish act. Obviously, she would only be able to give answers regarding which cakes had increased in price, or something along those lines.
I really couldn’t underestimate Hiya’s quick-wittedness. With a vexed smile, I replied.
“Furthermore, I don’t want to discuss this with her. I want to show off my good side, after all.”
This time, I thrust my fist and struck Hiya’s forehead. Pow! It made a sound that seemed more painful than I’d expected.
I knew that it was just for the sake of appearances, and that it didn’t make me look good from an observer’s point of view, but I wanted to write the column without going to her for help, no matter what. Since she was cheering me on, it was my desire to brusquely hand it to her, saying, “This is what I came up with.”
However, if I was unable to produce anything, forget being brusque, I wouldn’t even be able to face her.
After taking that fist, Hiya stopped his banter.
“It’s not your fault that there’s no news story to report, Urino. There should be other members in the Newspaper Club, so how about postponing your turn?”
“I suppose, but…”
“If you do find an interesting story, you can write about it then, right?”
I was in a bit of a dilemma about it, but hiding things from Hiya here would seem insincere. I resolved myself to speak frankly.
“Actually, I did think about that option.”
“As I thought.”
I bit down on my molars.
“Even so, it’ll all amount to the same thing. It has already been established that Itsukaichi will be the first batter, and I’ll be the second. If I don’t raise my hand here, I can see them saying something like, ‘So it didn’t work out.’ On top of that…”
I hesitated for a moment.
“… I feel like that’s turning my back on an opportunity. We’ve only got three years in high school, after all.”
Hiya stayed silent for a short while. After staring at the ceiling and letting out a sigh, he put on a smile that seemed to say, “What a troublesome guy.”
“Time is limited, and you have to seize fortune by the forelocks, huh. I wonder if I should also follow this way of thinking?”
“It probably differs from person to person. I might be desperate because I don’t really have any redeeming qualities.”
“It’s as you say, I suppose. Though I can’t be absolutely sure.”
Hiya muttered as he stuck a hand into his bag. I thought he was intending to go home, but I was mistaken. With a black file in his hand, he closed the bag.
“I thought I would be only hurting your pride if I tried lending you a hand, but it seems that you’re quite determined to do this no matter what, so I’ll stop showing you such unnecessary consideration.”
The file was thin, to the point of being flimsy. However, I knew that important things could be transmitted in a single sheet of paper most of the time. As if it were a forbidden book, I timidly accepted it.
“Something that should be useful to you, I think.”
I gingerly opened the file.
|(10 November – Yomiuri Newspaper, Regional Section)|
Suspected Arson at Kira City
An incipient fire1 broke out at Kira City, Nishimori 2nd District at 12:15am on 10 November. The fire originated from a trashcan in Nishimori Children’s Park 2, and spread to approximately one square meter of land around it. Since there were no signs of fire nearby, the Kira Police Department are investigating it as a case of suspected arson.
|(11 November – Mainichi Newspaper, Regional Section)|
Incipient Fire at Nishimori, Kira City
At about 12:15am in the morning of 10 November, a male passer-by noticed a burning trashcan in Nishimori Children’s Park 2 of Nishimori 2nd District, Kira City, and promptly called 119 to report it. The fire burned in an area of approximately one square meter, but there were no casualties. The Kira Police Department are viewing the case as suspected arson.
|(8 December – Asahi Newspaper, Regional Section)|
Suspected Arson at Koyubi, Kira City
An incipient fire broke out in Koyubi, Kira City at 1am on 8 December, burning up waste material in the area. The Kira West Police Department are investigating it as a case of suspected arson.
In the investigations, it was found that the fire originated from a storage area in Koyubi 1st District, and a column of waste material was burned down. The fire was extinguished by residents and firefighters, and no casualties were reported.
They were newspaper scraps, bits that had been cut out from a copy of the newspaper.
After I spontaneously took a look, Hiya spoke at an unusually fast pace.
“There’s one more thing I’d like to add. The Gardening Club we have at Funado High borrows a field at Hamae, and the grass clippings there were set on fire in October last year.”
As if he’d fulfilled his duty, Hiya stood up.
“Use it if it’s useful to you, though I don’t know how it will turn out. Also, I won’t ask why if you don’t want to use it.”
Putting on his coat, Hiya turned his back to me and left the classroom, but I didn’t say anything.
…Well, that’s troubling.
Now I would have to show off my good side not only to Osanai, but also to Hiya.
It seemed that there was a serial arsonist on the loose.
A series of arson cases was significant enough, and on top of that, Funado High School might have been a victim, too. This was undoubtedly a news story that I could use.
As for the investigation, I decided on two policies.
The first was to do it without letting Osanai know. The second, to never hesitate in asking for Hiya’s help if I ever got stuck.
For the policy regarding Osanai, it was, needless to say, due to pride. The one for Hiya was slightly more complicated. It wouldn’t be applicable if I could write the article alone, but I shouldn’t forget that it was Hiya who told me about this in the first place. In other words, while it might seem like I was doing all this on my own from an outside perspective, I had actually intercepted the topic from Hiya, and that was making me feel awkward about it. Though I understood that it was an unnecessary concern, since Hiya wasn’t even a member of the Newspaper Club.
That was probably the reason why I couldn’t throw out my chest in pride as I was about to explain the topic of my article. I’d wanted to seize the vastly treasured pages with pomp and aplomb, but there was no helping it.
The meeting progressed entirely according to schedule. Basically, we first decided on the main article of the next issue. That said, the February issue would always begin with an article along the lines of “With the Center Test2 over, Time to Prepare for the Real Deal! A Collection of Golden Words from Various Senpai”. After that, President Doujima brought up the topic, as if he’d only just remembered about it.
“By the way, who’s writing the column for the February issue?”
“I’ll do it.”
Without a single moment’s delay, I declared my bid.
“Urino, huh? What will you write about?”
I then expounded upon the series of arson cases occurring throughout the city, as well as the newspaper articles about them. The president listened with his usual sullen look, but Monchi scoffed at it, as if saying, “How ridiculous.” However, as long as the president was listening, Monchi wouldn’t be able to interfere.
“Thus, I would like to take up this story, at the very least as a warning against the dangers of fire.”
With my explanation complete, President Doujima nodded slowly.
“I see. Is there anyone else who wants to write for the column? No one else? We’ll leave it to Urino, then.”
If there is a precedent, anything can easily come to pass. Thus, I effortless stepped on the path that Itsukaichi had opened up and Hiya had leveled.
I’d been wondering if Kishi actually wanted to write something for the column deep down. He’d been in favor of Itsukaichi’s proposal during the December meeting, after all. Even with the lack of motivation apparent on his face, he’d given Itsukaichi a push from behind, so I was suspecting if he actually wanted to write something. However, in this meeting Kishi fiddled with his phone when President Doujima wasn’t looking, and said nothing at all.
Now that I have the space, it’s time for the real deal! I was excited to start work, but President Doujima cast a damper on my enthusiasm.
“It’ll be quite tough to investigate a news story like that alone, right? How about it, Itsukaichi? Can you help him out?”
With his name suddenly being called out, Itsukaichi’s eyes widened, and he let out a voice, “Eh?”
I also had the same reaction. I’d intended to do it alone, or with Hiya if that proved to be impossible, but I’d never thought of getting someone else to shoulder the burden.
“Can you do it?”
Having been pinned down by the president’s stern glare, Itsukaichi lost his head, and was unable to provide a proper response.
“But I already wrote last month’s…”
“I’m not telling you to write it. It’ll be rough on Urino to do it alone, so I’m just asking if you could lend him a hand.”
“But last month I…”
He was clearly reluctant to be a part of this. I snuck a peek at Kishi, only to see that he was firmly staring at the ground and had turned into a rock, afraid of his turn coming around.
In any case, it was unnecessary to involve either of them. I spoke out.
“President, I can do it on my own.”
“Urino’s also saying that…”
Itsukaichi’s pathetic voice followed mine.
“He’s saying that he can handle it on his own, so you should let him do it.”
Monchi edged into the conversation, probably with the intention of leaving me out to dry. However, I was thankful for that in this particular instance. Doing it alone would be quite a lot more convenient, and if that proved to be an impossible task, I could still rely on Hiya. I had no use for someone like Itsukaichi.
Seeing Itsukaichi’s indecision, even President Doujima didn’t force the issue. He did glance at Kishi, but no matter how you looked at it, it didn’t seem like Itsukaichi, or anyone else for that matter, would take it up.
“But going it alone is…”
Even so, he was apparently reluctant to entrust it to me, causing me to flare up.
“I’m not saying that I don’t need anyone at all, am I? If you can’t trust me for something like this, just tell me to quit, and I can leave the club at any time.”
President Doujima sighed.
“That’s exactly it. It’s that temperament of yours that I’m worried of.”
He leaned forward slightly.
“I do understand your desire to work alone. I also believe that you can do it. I trust you on that point.
“However, you tend to be too hasty. Now that we’ve gotten to this point, I won’t tell you to stop writing your article. It’s just that based on your story, you’ll have to interview people from outside the school. I’ll be frank. I’m worried that you’ll do something to besmirch the honor of the Newspaper Club, or even Funado High School if you don’t have someone to apply the brakes.”
“Honor! Something like that…”
“Then I’ll ask you a question. You mentioned that there was arson at a storage area. Do you think you can write the article without going inside?”
“Don’t take me for a fool.” That was what I wanted to say.
However, I wasn’t so hot-headed to give tit for tat. Since he said all that, I took some time to consider. Knowing that the storage area was the scene of an arson case, would I have to go in?
The location probably wasn’t well-enclosed. I would hesitate if there was barbed wire, but what if it was like a regular empty lot?
I couldn’t admit it verbally, but the answer was clear. I would undoubtedly go in headfirst.
“Do you understand that in that moment, if someone asks who you are and what you are doing, it becomes an incident caused by the Newspaper Club? I can stop you if I’m there. If we want to enter, we’ll do so only after getting permission from the authorities. But as for whether you’ll be attentive to these things and apply the brakes on your own…”
No one else put in word. Kishi hadn’t even been listening in the first place, while Itsukaichi had his mouth agape.
Monchi’s eyes were wide open, staring at President Doujima as if he was unable to comprehend what was just said.
The president contemplated for a while before finally speaking.
“… But well, now that I’ve said all this, all I can do is leave it to you. Urino, do your investigation prudently. And if anyone asks what you’re doing, say that you’re doing a special feature on fire prevention for the Funado Newspaper Club. If there’s still trouble, call me before it gets complicated. You understood all that, right?”
On that day, I learnt two things. The first was that I was being observed quite a bit more than I’d thought.
And the other thing was that Doujima-senpai was indeed like a club president.
Starting from the Gardening Club would make a lot of sense.
To be honest, I hadn’t even been aware that there was a Gardening Club in the school. Funa High wasn’t a school with a flourishing extracurricular activity scene, after all. While it might be a bit rich as a member of a fellow cultural club member, I wondered what kind of gloomy people had joined such a minor club.
But after doing some research, I found that there was a Gardening Club member in my class, and my useless assumptions were completely off the mark. The Gardening Club member in question was a girl proficient in both sports and studies, and was a conspicuous presence in class.
Homeroom ended, and the students stood up from their seats one after another. My quarry grabbed her bag, apparently about to leave the room. I hurriedly approached her.
“Satomura-san, could you spare some time? I would like to ask you some questions as a member of the Newspaper Club.”
Satomura of the Gardening Club was definitely not a sociable person. In fact, she was an austere girl who even chased out a boy who wasn’t pulling his weight during preparations for the Cultural Festival. I felt a little intimidated by her, but Satomura didn’t seem particularly bothered by me calling out to her.
“Tsumeno, hm? What kind of questions?”
“Oh come on, it’s not Tsume, it’s Uri.”
“My bad, my bad.”
She smiled. Tsume (爪) and Uri (瓜) were indeed close, but Satomura wouldn’t have remembered my name by its characters. Basically, it was a joke.
Hearing our conversation, Hiya butted in.
“It’s not your fault, Satomura-san, it’s Urino’s fault for having such a rare name.”
He was grinning. Then again, he was a guy who smiled most of the time.
“Ah right, Urino, you’re in the Newspaper Club, huh… So, what did you want to ask about?”
She’d turned to look at Hiya when he came in, but never turned to look back at me, so it seemed as if I was interviewing her from the side.
“Satomura, you’re in the Gardening Club, right?”
Hiya interrupted again.
“Do you do some kind of sports? You’ve got fast legs?”
“Who’s got fat legs?”
With that joke, Satomura threw her hands in the air. Hiya’s appearance single-handedly brightened the atmosphere and livened up the conversation. Having all parties actively engage in the conversation was extremely advantageous for me, but for now…
“Don’t be a nuisance.”
“Ah, sorry, sorry, I’ll pull back for now.”
He apologized, while actually moving back by half a step.
I resumed the interview.
“I would like to ask about something that happened in the Gardening Club. Is that alright?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. You probably don’t know what we do, right? Just like no one knows what you guys do in the Newspaper Club.”
We do distribute an eight-page newspaper to the entire student population every month, though. Well, in any case, that was a good conversation starter.
“What do you actually do?”
“We grow flowers. For example, the planters in front of the entrance are grown by the Gardening Club.”
“Eh? All of them? That’s a lot of flowers.”
“All of them… I think. Sorry, you’ll have to confirm that with a second-year student.”
I wrote all of that in the notebook I was holding. It probably wouldn’t be published, but I felt that it was good manners to do so.
Time for the main topic.
“So, you grow those flowers in Hamae, right?”
When I said that, a bored look appeared on Satomura’s face.
“Oh, so you do know about what we do already.”
“All I know is that you borrow a field in Hamae.”
“It’s not a field, but a vinyl house. We only use a small corner of it, though.”
Did that mean that a vinyl house was set on fire? That was quite different from what I heard… Probably in response to the expression I was making, Satomura continued.
“Ah, that must mean you want to ask about the fire.”
For an instant, I was frantically wondering how she could see through my motives, but immediately calmed down. I knew nothing about the Gardening Club, yet was aware that they were borrowing some land in Hamae. It was only natural that I would want to ask about the arson case.
It helped that she was quick to catch on. I nodded.
“That’s right. About that…”
I started, but was stopped in my tracks as Satomura raised her eyebrows and spoke in a sharp tone.
“Before that! There’s one thing that I have to say. No, two things. On second thoughts, three.”
You don’t have to decide on that number, though.
“Ah, whatever. First, the fire did not occur on a field that the Gardening Club was borrowing. It was on an empty plot of land owned by Tanaka-san, who kindly lent us some space in his vinyl house. Also, if you plan on making it into an article, I won’t say a word. That’s because the Student Council got really angry over that and forbade us to speak about that incident. Who did you hear it from in the first place?”
Without hesitation, I pointed backward at an oblique angle.
“Hey, Urino, don’t you think it’d be good to have that journalistic quality of not revealing your news sources?”
Hiya had been silently listening, but hurriedly raised his voice as sparks suddenly rained down on him. Not like I was a journalist, anyway.
However, Satomura’s facial expression immediately softened.
“Oh, it was just Hiya-kun, huh.”
If this was any indicator at all, Hiya would probably be able to reap a good amount of benefits in life with that likeable personality of his. With Satomura’s edge dulled, I continued with my questioning.
“I won’t make a news article out of it if you’re telling me not to. But I’d like to understand. Why did they get angry at you over the fire at Yamada-san’s vacant lot?”
Satomura corrected me and sighed.
“The reason they got angry at us, huh. It’s a ridiculous story.
“Vinyl houses have quite a high maintenance cost, and we thought that it would be wrong to borrow it for free, so we helped cut the grass in the vacant lot. At first, it was only supposed to be cutting grass, so we intended to borrow grass sickles from Tanaka-san, but the plan changed when we went over to that plot of land. There was a JA3 signboard there, and we were told to get rid of it since it was useless.
“It was really stupid. It was a gigantic wooden signboard, and on it were the words, ‘Let’s eat vegetables!’ written like it was for a penmanship class. We could instantly tell that it was absolutely useless.”
…Indeed, it would have been understandable if the signboard had said, “Let’s eat locally farmed vegetables!” or “Let’s eat domestically produced vegetables!” but just saying, “Let’s eat vegetables” wouldn’t help at all.
“Anyway, we’d brought a hammer and work gloves from school. We then split into two teams. One was in charge of breaking apart the signboard, and the other in charge of cutting grass. The signboard group was faster but it was a little awkward since there weren’t enough sickles.
“The entire process took about two hours, I think. We asked Tanaka-san about what to do with the cut grass and broken down signboard, and he told us to just pile them up. That was what we did, but one week later, we found that they’d been set on fire.
“Tanaka-san didn’t say anything, but some old guy from JA made a fuss about how ‘the incorrigible students from Funado High’s Gardening Club set fire to our signboard’, and our student council took that to be the truth. The signboard had been broken to bits, after all. Later, we heard that it was just a small patch of grass that had been set on fire, and not the signboard. They got quite angry at us, but in the end, the reason for that has gotten really unclear.”
“That does sound terrible.”
Hiya immediately replied.
“Right? It was so unbearable.”
Satomura said as she patted Hiya’s shoulder. On the other hand, all I could think was that it was a plausible story. Should I have shown some sympathy as well?
Judging that doing so at this point would only seem fake, I continued with the questioning.
“When was this?”
“It was quite a while ago. Do you want to know the exact date?”
“If it’s possible.”
Satomura thought for a while, then muttered, “Maybe it’s still there,” as she brought out her mobile phone. She haltingly pressed some buttons, as if she seldom used it.
“I think I took a picture of the part that was burnt… Ah, here it is.”
She said, but didn’t show her screen.
Perhaps she wasn’t willing to show her phone to a mere male classmate. That was understandable. I recently set a picture of Osanai with caramel mousse on her cheek as my phone’s wallpaper, and I would never agree to showing it to someone else.
“Erm, the picture was taken on the 15th of October. It was a Monday, and the fire occurred on Saturday, so that would be the 12th.”
I see. I took a note of that.
“Why did the fire occur?”
“I heard it was an act of arson. The grass was apparently smoldering in the middle of the night, but the fire went out naturally. It might have worked for the wooden signboard, but grass contains a lot of water, so it’s hard to burn.”
So she knew it was an arson case from the beginning.
Based on what I’d heard thus far, there was probably not much meaning to the student council’s gag order. It was likely that they only said something along the lines of, “Don’t say anything unnecessary” while scolding the Gardening Club.
There was one more point I was curious about.
“And another thing, is it possible to instantly tell that the vinyl house or the vacant lot is related to Funado High?”
“You can’t tell. We don’t put out a sign or anything.”
Basically, it was not an arson attack aimed at Funado High. That was a shame, since I was thinking of somehow linking the column to the school.
I was just about to thank Satomura and end the conversation, when she spoke up again.
“Ah, that’s right, there was one other thing. The student council doesn’t even know about this.”
I could sense that this was good information. Vigor surged through my hand that was holding the pen. Seeing me in this state, Satomura seemingly puffed up with pride.
“On that day, something went missing.”
“Something went missing? What was it?”
“A hammer that we brought from school.”
A hammer, huh…
I made a note, but my heart sank. The disappearance of a hammer was on a different level from a series of arson cases.
But Satomura didn’t seem to think that way.
“It was school equipment after all, so it was a quite troubling that it went missing. In the end, we all had to chip in for compensation. Really annoying, don’t you think?”
“How much did each person have to pay?”
She tilted her head.
“…300 yen, I think?”
No matter how you looked at it, they were definitely on completely different levels.
The next Saturday, I took to the streets on my bicycle.
I was only intending to check out the crime scenes. Hence, it would have been fine for me to go alone, but I’d asked Hiya to come along as well, probably because President Doujima’s warning was still in the back of my mind, as annoying as it was.
The known arson locations were: Hamae in October, Nishimori in November, and Koyubi in December. While those three districts were all on the west side of Kira City, they still covered quite a wide area altogether, since they were not exactly right next to each other. It would probably take an entire day to walk from the northern end of Hamae to the southern end of Koyubi. Even though we were using bicycles, we would still have to travel for quite some distance. Hiya knew that it would be a long journey, but he still agreed to come along without a single complaint, and I was silently grateful to him for that.
It was now January. Snow hardly fell in Kira City, but a small amount of snow had fallen before and after New Year’s Day, and had hardened at the roadside. I left my house at 9am. I would have been in a fix if the roads were frosted over, but thankfully it was a fine day, perfect weather for news gathering.
Hiya and I met at Funado High School. I’d arrived about ten minutes earlier than the appointed time, but he was already standing in front of the school gates. He was the first to speak.
Hiya was wearing a coat, while I was wearing a jumper. Both of us had mufflers and gloves on. Even so, that couldn’t completely protect us from the cold January air.
“Well, you’ll feel warm when you’re moving.”
It was all I could do to ease his concern. With the season being what it was, the temperature wouldn’t increase by much even if the sun went up.
“So, shall we first go to Hamae?”
I said, about to step on the pedals, but Hiya stopped me.
“Wait. Don’t you know?”
“There was another arson attack.”
I unconsciously disembarked from my bicycle. A rare troubled look crossed Hiya’s face.
“It’s true. But we probably won’t be able to go today. Some abandoned bicycles were set on fire in Akanebe, but I don’t know the exact location.”
“When was this?”
“It was reported in today’s morning paper, so probably yesterday, I think? Sorry, I should have brought over the newspaper, but I forgot.”
Yesterday, or in other words, Friday, January 11, huh.
I bit my lower lip. What the heck, I thought.
My house also had a newspaper subscription, but I hadn’t read it thoroughly. From now on, I should be more sensitive to the news, or at least to news about arson attacks in this city.
“What should we do?”
If it was reported in the morning paper, we could get a copy somewhere. But if Hiya was right, we probably wouldn’t be able to go anywhere else today even if we were to be able to go to that crime scene.
“…Let’s go. We’ll start with Hamae, as scheduled.”
“As I thought, that’s the only option, huh.”
Hiya nodded as he straddled his bicycle.
The wind would be cold if we traveled quickly, so Hiya and I didn’t cycle at a particular high speed. I only ever went to Funado High and its surroundings on school days. While it was familiar scenery, there were no Funado High students at all since it was a rest day, which was quite a fresh sight to behold.
We entered a bypass highway. The pavement was wide, and the guard rails looked to be sturdy. There was also a sign saying that bicycles were allowed on the road.
We might have pedaled slowly, but we almost immediately reached the crime scene in Hamae. That was only natural, since the Gardening Club members usually walked there.
Hamae was connected by a brand new road, but it still didn’t have a steady flow of people. Both sides of the road were desolate, and would have been surrounded by barren plains if not for the farms. A few vinyl houses dotted the landscape.
There were no signs of human presence in front or behind us. We decreased the speed of our bicycles, then came to a stop.
“Is this it?”
“Hang on, I’ll check.”
I took out my mobile phone and opened an image. Within the uniform scenery, I couldn’t tell which empty lot was the one we were looking for.
“Satomura sent me an image of the site. She said I’d be able to tell just by looking at it, but…”
As I explained, a mischievous grin formed on Hiya’s face.
“What a stud, Urino, what a stud you are. I’m impressed. If only I were half as proactive as you!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Satomura-san sent you that image, meaning that you must have exchanged email addresses with her, right? I’m just thinking that was real smooth of you. Satomura-san’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
What a load of garbage. Someone like him could probably say, “Please tell me your address” with a smile and easily obtain his target’s email address, phone number, or whatever.
Sulkily, I replied.
“I’m afraid of her, really. She’s not someone I want to get close to.”
Hiya responded with an awfully large nod.
“Well, yeah, I get you. Osanai-senpai doesn’t seem as scary, after all.”
Not wanting to stand around and chat forever, I started comparing the photograph in my mobile phone with the scenery in front of me.
Holding the mobile phone in front, I twisted my body left and turned my body right, trying to find the scene depicted in the photograph. After a few moments, I tilted my head a few times in confusion.
“…What’s the matter?”
“I think it’s right here.”
It just so happened that the place where we stopped our bicycles was right in front of the vinyl house we were looking for. That was quite a stroke of luck, but there was a reason for us not noticing it immediately. Hiya also seemed to have perceived that reason.
“It’s here? But… there’s nothing left!”
Apparently, nothing was being grown in the vinyl house. We could see through the walls, but there were no signs of vegetation at all.
On the other hand, it was indeed next to an empty plot of land. Only a few fragments of snow remained, blackened and dirty, probably due to smoke from the road. Since we were in the middle of winter, the grasses were withered and the air was dry. If a fire was started here and now, it would probably burn well.
There were no traces that would make one think of a fire that happened three months ago.
According to Satomura, the fire in Hamae had disappeared naturally. Even so, I’d thought that there would be a few small burn traces remaining. Just in case, I adjusted my mobile phone and started taking a video of the surrounding area. If I didn’t get a digital camera in the near future, it would reflect poorly on me as a member of the Newspaper Club.
I wandered around the area aimlessly, arbitrarily taking pictures here and there, but there was clearly no point to it. If only there was a little something that looked like traces of a fire…
As I was doing that, Hiya suddenly called out to me.
“Urino! Do you think this is related to the case?”
“Did you find something?”
I jogged over to him. Hiya was pointing at a road sign that displayed the speed limit in the area, 50 kilometers per hour.
Approximately in its center was a mark. It was dented, as if something hard had crashed into it, and some paint had been scraped off. It looked like it had been struck by a bicycle.
“…What do you think?”
Hiya asked, but I couldn’t say anything at this point in time. It certainly didn’t seem like an old mark, but I couldn’t be sure if it could be tied to the incident three months ago. I snapped a photograph of it for posterity.
Even after that, I stubbornly stuck around. Hiya didn’t complain, but asked a question wonderingly.
“If there are no traces of a fire, this is just a normal, empty lot. What are we doing here?”
“Ah, I just thought of something. I’ll tell you later.”
It was cold, after all. I still had some regrets, but half-heartedly discontinued the photography of the area, then started cycling towards our next destination, Nishimori.
While I said that I would tell him later, we got to a point during our journey towards Nishimori when we could only idly wait for the traffic lights to change, so I just told him what I’d thought about.
“It was necessary to take detailed photographs of the Hamae crime scene.”
Since it was before noon on a Saturday in the winter, the pavement was sparsely populated with people. Hiya and I cycled side by side.
“I was thinking of the column. Just writing ‘A series of arson cases occurred’ would be dull. Since you found these bits of news for me, I was wondering if I could make it bigger.”
“Well, I knew you were aiming big anyway.”
Hiya grinned, then continued.
“So, what do you have in mind specifically?”
Only looking at the path in front of me, I answered.
“I’ll try to find some common points between the arson cases.”
Hiya nodded, but there was a slight ironic smile on his lips.
“It would certainly be good if there was something like that.”
There might not be another common points at all, though. Rather, it would be natural for that to be non-existent.
It was doubtful for a deviant who went around setting fires to have a consistent motive. It could even be completely random. It was possible that thinking about it would be a waste of time and effort.
However, I felt that it was worth trying.
“Hypothetically speaking, what do you think would happen if I do manage to find that common point?”
“It would be easier for you to write that article.”
Hiya started with a light joke, then pondered for a while.
As expected, it didn’t even take ten seconds for him to figure out what I was trying to get at.
“Ah, I see. Basically, you were thinking of predicting where the next arson case would occur.”
If there was a common point linking the series of arson cases, I might be able to find a rule for it. In that case, it wouldn’t end with me merely writing an article of the cases that had already occurred.
There is an arsonist in this city who had already set fire to four different locations… and this is his next target.
I would be able to write an article like that.
Even if I was off the mark, I could simply write it off by saying, “It was worth a shot.” On the other hand, it would be a huge deal if I did get it right. Firstly, credit would go to Funado Monthly for foreseeing a crime before it occurred. Monchi, who had been treating others as fools, would be shut up by this achievement, and President Doujima would be proud of the Newspaper Club. No one would be able to say that they didn’t know what the Newspaper Club did.
And most importantly, I would be able to show off to Osanai.
“At this time, I can’t tell if there will be any common points, but I think we should just start by going to all the locations and taking photos of them.”
For some reason, Hiya sighed.
“Man, I really admire your ability to take action.”
Since I knew what he was like normally, I took those words to be ironic rather than his sincere thoughts. I would have slammed a punch into his gut if my hands were empty, but they were currently holding onto the bicycle handles. It was difficult to grab the brakes with my thick gloves, so punching him would be dangerous. I should let him go for now.
There was no sign showing the boundary between the towns. As we turned the corner at the fire department, we could see a plate wrapped around a utility pole, with the words “Kira City, Nishimori Town, 1st District”4 written on it, telling us that we’d just entered Nishimori.
Days were short in the winter, but it seemed that they were getting longer now that the winter solstice had passed. After moving around different locations in Kira City, we ended up at the station. There hadn’t been an arson attack there, but we were both hungry and tired, so we came to the station to drink something hot and end the day.
There was a hamburger shop near the station. Since I started going out with Osanai, I’d learnt that there were all kinds of shops on this street. That said, I was completely satisfied with a 100-yen hamburger.
As expected, the temperature didn’t rise in the afternoon. Hiya’s face, which was originally white, had turned even more pale, making me feel bad for unreasonably getting him to tag along. He was currently holding a hot cup of coffee in his hands gratefully, though that feeling was probably not directed at me. With an almost non-existent smile on his face, he asked.
I understood what Hiya was saying with that one word. He was asking this: “So, do we have any results?”
The park at Nishimori.
That storage area at Koyubi.
The newspapers included the park name, so I presumed that we would be able to instantly find the crime scene if we went there. However, there was no open area resembling a park there. At that time, Hiya followed me without a word, but I couldn’t help but feel an air of protest behind my back, screaming at me to do proper research before going out to investigate.
Thus, we struggled and toiled, and eventually found the crime scene, but Hiya could only let out a word upon seeing it.
Nishimori Children’s Park 2 was as good as a vacant lot, with only a couple of benches and a wisteria trellis. It was absolutely presumptuous to call it a park.
There were traces of fire on the ground. In that sense, it was certainly a lot more of a crime scene than the empty lot in Hamae. Specifically, there was still some soot on the surface of the dirt.
However, it was just a minor speck. If you said it was a burn mark from kids playing with fireworks, I would have no choice but to agree.
This crime scene was by a residential area. Unlike Hamae, which had only one new road and was still under urban development, this was a jumbled, busy section. It was a narrow road where a car could not overtake another, and one-way signs had been put up here and there. I could not find any common points between the crime scenes at Hamae and the one at Nishimori.
Even so, after settling with a meat bun from a convenience store for lunch, I headed for the Koyubi crime scene. At this point, Hiya said, “Enough, let’s go home,” but still shook his head, laughed and followed. I was quite thankful for that, since I would have probably lost to the fatigue and cold if I had been left alone.
However, it was questionable as to whether the crime scene at Koyubi was a location worth persevering through the harsh weather to visit.
The storage area at Koyubi 1st District was relatively easy to find. As luck would have it, it was just two doors away from the fire department. At that distance, they could have run over to fight the fire.
We could find the storage area, but there was no evidence that an arson had occurred there. It was an uninhabited, empty space in between two old houses that had numerous blocks of timber and steel frames piled up in it. But there were no traces of the arson; it had been tidied up cleanly. A column of waste material had been set on fire, and that was probably the only item that had been taken away. What exactly did “waste material” refer to, anyway? Perhaps it was just a scrap of wood…
In the hamburger shop by the station, I let out a small sigh, such that Hiya wouldn’t be able to detect it. The crimes scenes at Nishimori and Koyubi were not entirely unalike. Both were residential areas that were relatively squalid. But that was all. I couldn’t think of anything to write linking the series of arson attacks, and with the thought that I had wasted an entire day, I was now feeling extraordinarily tired.
Without saying a word, I chewed on my hamburger.
It wouldn’t have been that bad if I was alone, but I had also wasted Hiya’s rest day, and I felt really bad for that. Thanks to that, I could by no means say, “Since these three places were no good, let’s go to Akanebe.”
No, it wasn’t over yet. Before jumping to any conclusions, I desperately thought of any regularities among the three locations. If I couldn’t come up with anything, I would apologize to Hiya for his wasted effort.
A vacant lot next to a vinyl house.
A trashcan in a small park.
A storage area between two detached houses.
A brand new road, speed limit sign, three-way intersection, utility pole and park appeared in my head, one after another.
Each of them were things that we had seen today. They looked familiar although I had never seen them before. It was the first time I had stepped into a town neither me nor my friends lived in, and scrutinized specific areas here and there. From this experience, I had vacant thoughts like, “So this is what the residential area here looks like,” and “This is quite different from our shopping street,” but I certainly couldn’t write such miscellaneous musings in Funado Monthly.
“In the first place…”
Hiya’s voice interrupted my thoughts, though they weren’t very important anyway.
“What is it?”
“Urino, you think that this is a serial arson attack, and it was all committed by the same person, right?”
“I don’t think I asked why you think that to be the case. I was the one who showed you the articles, but I never mentioned that they were all the handiwork of the same culprit.”
It surprised me a little that Hiya hadn’t noticed that.
…No, that wasn’t true. He’d obviously noticed it, but was trying to get me to say it aloud. I appreciated his thoughtfulness. Vocalizing that reason might help me gather my thoughts.
Let’s follow his lead, then.
I retrieved a file from my bag. It was the one that Hiya had given me, with a few memos that I’d inserted into it. The file had become quite thick.
“There’s a common point with the days of the week.”
I opened the file. Spread out on two pages was last year’s calendar.
The articles you gave me were from Saturday newspapers. The two arson attacks described both happened on Friday. Also, there is a high chance that the fire at Hamae occurred on Friday, according to Satomura. Those three cases have the common point of occurring on Friday. Or to be precise, Saturday, since they all occurred past midnight. Moreover, if you look at the calendar, they were all on the second Friday of the month.”
Hiya nodded and gave me a look, urging me to carry on.
“Furthermore, these fires are on the same scale. They burn for a short amount of time, and can be instantly extinguished. There is even the question of whether the fire in Hamae flared up at all. With these similar levels of severity – if that’s the right word for fires – I believe that they were carried out by the same culprit.
As I spoke, I noticed something niggling at the back of my mind. After some thinking, I realized what it was.
“…No, you can’t really say they’re on the same level. They escalate, if ever so slightly. The first fire was on the pile of cut grass, but it didn’t flare up. The next one was in a trashcan, and it quickly burned out. After that was the storage area. If this viewpoint that the fires are gradually escalating is correct, then perhaps it can be used as evidence that they were caused by the same person.”
“That’s good, Urino. You’re starting to really look like someone from the Newspaper Club. Anything else?”
I flipped through the file, reaching a small-scale map of the Kira City, folded into four. I brought it out and expanded it.
“This is Hamae, this is Nishimori, and this is Koyubi.”
I said, pointing at the route we’d taken today. My finger traced only the left side of the map, hardly touching the right.
“These three towns are not adjacent. Nishimori and Koyubi are next to each other, but Hamae is a little distance away. However, it is a fact that although Kira City is so big, there were only arson attacks on the western side.”
Staring at the map, Hiya grunted. He didn’t seem altogether surprised by my statements.
“That’s true. Looking at the entire city map, it does seem unexpectedly concentrated there.”
“And yesterday was the second Friday of January.”
This was proof that I hadn’t had my skin in the game. If I knew the pattern, I should have known that an arson attack would have occurred last night. However, after seeing reports of the past three cases, the thought of another one happening this month hadn’t crossed my mind.
I can’t be like this again next month. While reflecting on my actions, I pointed at the map.
“This is Akanebe. It’s in the southeastern part of the city.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s approximately in the southeast.”
“Though I’m not sure if this counts as being in the east, or whether the culprit will continue expanding from here.”
I sank back into the chair, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“Neither of the the two options are definite. However, with this there is enough evidence to deduce that they were all done by the same culprit, I suppose.”
“I see. If that’s so, it would help if the next attack happens, since that would increase the amount of data we have.”
That was quite a dangerous thing I was saying… though I did mean what I said.
After that sentence, I suddenly realized something.
I’d been trying to find a common point among the four arson cases, but thinking about it, wasn’t it fine even if they weren’t connected?
For example, in mahjong, collecting three “1 Character” tiles would give you a triplet. However, you could also form a sequence by collecting “1 Character”, “2 Character” and “3 Character” tiles. Assuming that a piece of paper with the letter “A” written on it was dropped in all the crime scenes, that would be a common point. But if B was dropped after A, and C was dropped after B, that would also hold significant meaning.
The arson attacks were carried out in Hamae, Nishimori, Koyubi, Akanebe, in that order, or in those positions. Could there be any hidden meaning in that?
I stared fixedly at the map, but I wasn’t actually looking at it. Instead, I was trying to recall every single thing that I’d seen today.
I wondered what Hiya was thinking when I suddenly lapsed into silence, but all he did was nibble on some fries without saying anything. Some time passed like this, but it was interrupted by an unexpected siren coming from the direction of the station.
I raised my head to see a firetruck traveling down the crowded road outside the station, its siren ringing clamorously. On its side was the name “Ueno Town 2”. However, even an emergency vehicle couldn’t crash into other cars. The firetruck’s siren was noisy, but its path was blocked, and could only slowly inch past, bit by bit.
Hope it reaches its destination in time, I vaguely thought as I watched it move away.
It was at that moment when I was assaulted by a sudden idea.
That can’t be possible! I immediately laughed it off, but perhaps there was some merit in checking it out.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- A flame that is still in its beginning stage, and can be extinguished or controlled by portable firefighting equipment.
- Refers to the National Center Test for University Admissions, a type of standardized test used by public and some private universities. However, most national universities have a secondary exam that applicants need to take as well, which is what the phrase “real deal” is referring to.
- Refers to Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, the national group of 694 regional co-ops in Japan that supply members with input for production, undertake packaging, transportation, and marketing of agricultural products, and provide financial services.
- Errata: I always considered Kira as a town because it didn’t seem very big and populated, but in this sentence the words for “city” and “town” show up together, so Kira is clearly considered a city in this universe.