Table of Contents
|(1 February – Funado Monthly, Page 8 Column)|
Since autumn last year, there has been a spate of suspected arson attacks in Kira City. Flames broke out at Hamae in October, Nishimori in November, and Koyubi in December. In a case more recent to the writing of this article, the morning paper recorded another suspected arson attack in Akanebe on 12 January. They were all incipient fires, but with the nature of this season, it is not impossible for the flames to go out of control. It is no laughing matter for Funa High to go up in flames, so all students should practice fire prevention and take care to not throw out combustibles carelessly. However, considering the characteristics of the arson attacks so far, I believe that Funa High and its surrounding area will not be targeted. In my opinion, the next location that meets the conditions would be Kobiki, if not Ritsuno, but I sincerely hope that the culprit is caught before they can set their next fire.
|(9 February – Yomiuri Newspaper, Regional Section)|
Suspected Arson at Ritsuno, Kira City – Vehicle Set on Fire
At approximately 12am on 9 February, a burning vehicle by the river embankment in Kira City, Ritsuno Town, 3rd District was spotted by nearby residents, who promptly called 119. Firefighters rushed to the scene, but the vehicle was already completely destroyed by the fire. No casualties were reported. According to eyewitnesses, the burnt vehicle had been abandoned in that area a few months ago. The Kira Police Department are investigating it as a case of suspected arson.
My article had become a prophecy, exactly as I’d hoped.
Thus, I was able to put on a brusque face in front of Osanai, as I’d desired. I then threw down the two articles, laying them side by side.
However, her reaction was incomprehensible.
In the first place, Osanai was not one to have big shifts in emotion. Well, they might be big, but they hardly ever showed on her face. When she was happy she would only grin, and when she was angry she would only fall silent. I had never seen her display any sort of intense emotion.
But she had a strong reaction upon seeing the articles. Her body stiffened as if she’d been just stabbed by a blade, and she stared at the two articles.
Almost half a year had passed since that traffic accident of a confession after school . Even so, I couldn’t be sure of how her head worked. She was usually absent-minded and seemed like she was interested in nothing but cakes. However, what attracted me to her was that mysterious sideways glance she had given to President Doujima. I’d almost forgotten about that, but now I remembered it, probably because I was startled by the sharpness of her gaze while she was looking at the articles.
Of course, I was extremely proud of my article.
It managed to correctly predict the location of the next arson attack in such a large city. And it wasn’t written by a police officer or journalist, but Urino Takahiko, a mere member of Funado High School’s Newspaper Club! Just how difficult was this to achieve? How much satisfaction would it bring? Even imagining how Osanai would praise me for writing such a brilliant article was a pleasant experience in itself.
However, Osanai took her eyes away from the articles after just a few seconds. Having calmed her nerves, she murmured.
…I was a little surprised that Osanai managed to understand in such a short time that the article in Funado Monthly had anticipated reality, but I certainly didn’t expect the minuscule smile on her face as well as the words that followed.
“But you only got it right once, so we can’t be sure yet.”
The biggest reason for me being so desperate for Funado Monthly was to carve the name of Urino Takahiko into the history of Funa High. But since I’d started going out with Osanai, I started having a second motive, which was to impress her. The third would be to repay my debt to Hiya.
With Osanai not recognizing my efforts, the article that I’d worked so hard to write just lost half its value, causing me to feel a great deal of disappointment.
One month passed.
If getting it right just once wasn’t enough, then I would just have to get it right two or three times. It was a Sunday in March, and I’d managed to secure a date with Osanai.
We’d been going out for half a year already, but I hardly ever met with Osanai on rest days. Since she wasn’t in any club, I just had to send her an email if I wanted to meet with her, and she would immediately reply with “OK”. However, I somehow felt bad imposing on her private time during rest days. This sentiment was like a shell so thin that you could see through, yet couldn’t be broken, and it was hindering my relationship with her. It seemed like it would crack into pieces and break Osanai as well if I tried to forcefully push it away, so I hadn’t even held Osanai’s hand yet.
Even this email had been sent after plucking my courage, but the coldness of the reply got me down a little. I’d written, “Shall we meet in the afternoon? There’s something I want to show you,” and she replied with “Fine.” Osanai didn’t seem like a dexterous person, so perhaps typing out emails was a weak point for her.
At the appointed junction, Osanai was standing in front of the shutters of a shop, almost camouflaged, and reading a pocketbook.
“Were you waiting long?”
I called out, causing her to look up from under her fringe and place a bookmark in her book.
“Just a bit.”
I checked my wristwatch to find that I was actually ten minutes late. That was because I had to talk with Hiya about something, but I should have sent her an message to tell her.
On another note, I wonder how many cafés I’ve been to with Osanai ever since I started going out with her half a year ago?
“Hey, I know a good shop here.”
With that phrase, I was once again brought to another shop I didn’t know of. It was in the semi-basement of an old building, and was called “Tario”.
After lengthy consideration, Osanai ordered a crème brûlée1. As usual, all I got was a coffee. I placed the March issue of Funado Monthly and the regional section of the Saturday newspaper side by side in front of Osanai, although she seemed more interested in the kitchen of the shop.
|(3 March – Funado Monthly, Page 8 Column)|
Last month, this column introduced a series of arson attacks, and another attack has unfortunately occurred. On 9 February, an abandoned vehicle at Ritsuno’s river embankment was set on fire and completely burned up. The fire intensity was much stronger compared to the previous cases, but since it was on the open-air embankment, the damage done was thankfully minimized. This case was reported in the regional section of the morning newspaper, so I believe that many people are aware of it. In order to prevent the damage from increasing any further, this small column has spared no effort to narrow down the culprit’s next target. I have reason to believe that the next target will be Touma Town, Kajiya Town, or Hinode Town. Students living in these areas, as well as those living in other areas should take care to not throw combustibles outside their homes.
|(15 March – Mainichi Newspaper, Regional Section)|
Suspected Arson at Kira City
At approximately 12;15am on 15 March, a burning bus stop bench was spotted by passers-by in Kira City, Hinode Town. Nearby residents extinguished the fire, but the bench was quickly consumed by the flames and completely disappeared. The Kira Police Department are investigating it as a case of suspected arson.
Some magazines had been thrown under the bench, and they were set on fire. The plastic bench was burnt out of shape, but it hadn’t actually caught on fire. That was what I heard from witnesses of the fire when I went to the crime scene.
“What do you think?”
I asked, but it was poor timing on my part, for the waitress arrived with the cakes at that exact time. Some moderately burnt cream was stretched on the surface of the small round white cup. Osanai leaned forward to sniff it, then put on an endearing smile.
Her eyes were fixated on the crème brûlée. She probably hadn’t even noticed the newspapers laid out in front of her. Of course, I wanted her to read the articles, but she seemed to be in such a state of pleasure that it was difficult to tell her to do it.
“But I always associate breaking up the caramelized layer with a forbidden pleasure.”
Osanai picked up her spoon and started poking at the surface of the crème brûlée. After some time, it finally broke apart with a small crackle. What was that forbidden pleasure she was talking about, anyway? Did she eat without paying before?
After Osanai moved the first spoonful into her mouth, she spaced out, and didn’t say a word.
“What do you think?”
Once again, I asked, causing her to snap back to her senses, and reply triumphantly.
“The custard puffs back then were so lovely, but there is nothing lacking with the crème brûlée here at all. That’s a victory for eggs.”
Good for her. Now it was my turn.
“What do you think?”
I asked for a third time. As expected, Osanai’s face turned serious. She stopped moving her spoon, picked up the articles and stared fixedly at them. Since it was the second time, she didn’t have such a big reaction. Or perhaps last month’s intense expression was simply an exception.
After looking over the articles and putting them back down, she let out a sigh which I could not identify. It was not one of exasperation, nor one of dislike. Eventually, she grinned and picked up her spoon again.
She rotated the spoon in the air.
“…Sorry, I should apologize. I didn’t think you would put in so much effort into this. What a hard worker you are. I don’t dislike that at all.”
Under the table, I clenched a fist in celebration.
She stuck the spoon into the crème brûlée and took another scoop. She licked the spoon and smiled broadly.
“You did a really great job!”
In response to that mature-sounding praise, all I could do was smile.
There was a clearer reaction in Funado High School.
I’d just arrived at school on Monday, when Satomura from the Gardening Club charged straight at me.
“Urino! Was it really you who wrote that?”
I was reminded that Satomura was a conspicuous presence in class due to her liveliness. Some people she was friendly with were also with her, and they surrounded me, while I hadn’t even put my bag down yet.
In Satomura’s hand was the March issue of Funado Monthly. It was turned to the back, and of course, she was pointing to my column. I was a little surprised, but immediately threw out my chest.
“Yes, that was me. That talk we had came in useful to me. Come to think of it, I haven’t thanked you yet.”
“That’s fine, but do you know?”
She lowered her voice.
“There was an arson near my house, at Hinode Town. It was last Saturday. Hm? Or was it Friday?”
“It was late at night on Friday, so going by the date, it was Saturday. I know about it.”
“So you knew, then. And that means your article hit the mark again!”
I grinned and nodded.
Some other students who weren’t aware of the situation asked, “Eh? What do you mean?”, requesting an explanation from Satomura. Taking that opportunity, I finally placed my bag down onto my table and retrieved that file.
“You said ‘again’. Does that mean you know about last month’s prediction as well?”
“Yeah. One of the seniors at the Gardening Club brought attention to the article, saying that it might be troublesome if the incident at the vinyl house was written, and that was how I found out about the accurate prediction. At that time, I thought it was just a coincidence…”
Even considering the success in February, Funado Monthly was still not being widely read. Yet Satomura alone knew that the Newspaper Club was covering the arson cases. Perhaps it was because her own club was a victim that she properly read the articles. And just like Osanai, just one correct prediction was not enough to impress her.
Without saying a word, Satomura picked up my file and found a copy of last month’s Funado Monthly.
“Here it is.”
Using that copy, she started explaining away to her followers.
At first, it was just Satomura’s friends, but her explanation caught the attention of other classmates, who shuffled forward to join the gathering. In their midst, some people spoke up.
“Ah, I know that fire in Ritsuno. A car was set on fire, right? I saw that.”
“Koyubi is close, isn’t it? Come to think of it, I heard someone mention a fire that happened there.”
There was now quite a hubbub in the 1C classroom. In the center of that was Satomura, but in her hand was my file.
There had been no visible reaction to last month’s article, so I didn’t expect such a shift in attitudes today. It was September last year when I first decided to write an article about off-campus events, though there had been some twists and turns along the way.
Eventually, Satomura turned to look at me.
“Hey, how did you do it? Do you all know something about the culprit?”
Led by her voice, my classmates’ eyes shifted to look at me. With literally all eyes on me, I only now noticed that Hiya had arrived. He lightly placed a hand on my shoulder and spoke in a theatrical voice.
“Well, we’ll just have to look forward to the next issue. Isn’t that right, Newspaper Club?”
He was right. The readers could look forward to the next issue, and the one after that. For the time being, they would be able to enjoy such articles. With a big nod, I replied.
At that moment, I felt from the bottom of my heart that it was indeed a good thing for me to write those articles.
I’d suffered through the cold, and I’d had my doubts.
But I still managed to pull through.
It was like a chain reaction.
Immediately after the sixth period, which was math, an announcement was broadcast throughout the entire school.
“Urino from Class 1C, please report to the Student Counseling Room immediately. I repeat. Urino from Class 1C, please report to the Student Counseling Room immediately.”
I was about to head to the Newspaper Club room, but stopped to tilt my head, bag in hand, when I heard the announcement. I had never been summoned by a teacher in middle school before. As I was wondering what exactly it could be for, Hiya, who was nearby, made a suggestion.
“It’s probably about that article.”
President Doujima hadn’t given me a warning, but he had been quite concerned about my information gathering methods. During that one month when I went on outings with Hiya, as well as a few data collection sessions after that, I talked with all sorts of people, but never did anything that the club president would be worried about.
That was why I thought that this had nothing to do with Funado Monthly. What could it be about, then? While I was still struggling to figure it out, I headed for the Student Counseling Room. Since it was a location I usually had nothing to do with, I didn’t know where exactly it was, so I spent some time wandering about, and thus it took me about ten minutes to arrive.
When I finally found the Student Counseling Room, I stood in front of the door, caught my breath for a second and knocked.
I could hear a voice coming from inside the room.
I’d been to the staff room a few times, but this was my first time going into the Student Counseling Room. The first impression I got as I walked in was that it was quite a messy room. It was fitted with a hot water dispenser and a sink, and in the sink were four or five teacups, still with some tea in them. There were six tables for the teachers’ use, but they were quite untidy, with documents or waste paper littered all over them. Two people were in the room. One of them was a teacher in the Student Counseling Department who had probably called me over. The other person was President Doujima.
The teacher had a punch perm and a mustache. If I met him on the streets, I would think that he was a member of the yakuza. I didn’t know his name. A pair of light-colored sunglasses was resting snugly on the bridge of his nose, and behind them his eyes stared at me sternly.
“So you’re Urino. You’re late, aren’t you?”
It was an awfully low voice. Would this be what they call a deep, menacing voice?
As told, I stood next to President Doujima, noticing that there was a copy of Funado Monthly on the teacher’s table. I knew it when I saw the club president in the room, but this was definitely related to the Newspaper Club. Hiya’s deduction was right on the money.
The teacher held that copy of Funado Monthly in his hand.
“So y’all think you can do whatever you like? Huh? What is this? Come on, spit it out.”
He was putting on a frightful amount of pressure from the beginning. To be honest, I felt weak at the knees, but President Doujima answered clearly.
“This is Funado Monthly, which the Newspaper Club produces.”
In response, the teacher suddenly raised his voice.
“That’s not what I’m asking about! You taking me for a fool? I’m obviously asking about the article!”
He slammed the palm of his hand on the steel table, producing a loud sound that reverberated in the room. However, if that was meant to threaten us, it backfired spectacularly. As soon as he hit the table, the mountain of documents piled up collapsed in an avalanche and rustled to the floor. Instead of being afraid, I had to try my best to hold in a chuckle.
But the club president did not smile.
“It’s a column about the series of arson cases that occurred in Kira City in the last few months.”
“I can tell just by looking at it, idiot!”
The teacher yelled, spittle flying out of his mouth. It seemed that the collapse of the document piles had caused him to lose his cool.
“What relation do y’all have to it? Y’all just did it for fun?”
“It was written to warn the entire student body to be careful with fire, especially when there is a serial arsonist at large.”
“As I said, that’s not what I’m asking about!”
I was quite confused at his outburst. The president was answering those questions honestly. Sure, he might be too calm and composed, possibly causing him to come off as being brazen, but he gave proper answers to all questions. If the teacher was asking about something else, he hadn’t made it clear at all.
Perhaps judging it to be endless, President Doujima preempted the teacher.
“Sir, is it that you basically don’t like us putting out predictions of the targeted areas?”
The teacher struck the table again, but this time with a fist instead of a palm. The few remaining sheets of paper fell to the ground.
“Shut up, I was talking. It ain’t about whether I like it or not, but y’all are high school students, can’t you tell between right and wrong?”
He clutched the now crumpled copy of Funado Monthly and thrust it at us.
“Y’all wrote whatever you liked even when you had no proper evidence. If something happens, can y’all take responsibility? And y’all better not have started the fires by yourselves!”
The club president fell silent for a moment.
I assumed that he’d been cowed after having fiery words continuously hurled at him, but I was wrong. Instead, he replied, even more calm than before.
“Do you think that the Newspaper Club is the culprit of the arson cases, sir?”
The teacher still had a threatening tone in his voice, but it was evident that President Doujima’s retort had had an effect on him. His eyes clearly showed that he was thinking something along the lines of “Dammit”.
In contrast, President Doujima seemed to be filled with a quiet rage.
“If you want to accuse the Newspaper Club of being the culprit, I believe that you should talk to us with our club advisor, Miyoshi-sensei.”
I knew that Miyoshi-sensei was our club advisor, but I had never seen them before. They must be really busy with their duties, or perhaps they simply didn’t like to interact with others. The student counselor clicked his tongue distinctly.
“Kids these days are so good at quibbling. Brats like you will eventually become trash that can only move their mouths. So shut up and listen when you’re being spoken to!”
His words had become completely unreasonable. I was unable to keep silent, but the president slightly moved his hand, blocking me from taking action. He then spoke from his diaphragm.
“From now on, we will be careful not to write any articles that we have no evidence for. We are sorry for causing you to worry.”
He sharply lowered his head.
The teacher probably hadn’t spoken enough. In fact, he hadn’t said anything yet, but when he met President Doujima’s eyes, all he could do was spit out a couple of sentences.
“You should have done that from the beginning, idiot. Now get out.”
The president bowed once again. I followed suit, and the two of us left the Student Counseling Room together.
While walking down the corridor, I was hit in the gut by a wave of indignation. One reason for that was the unfairness we’d faced earlier. That teacher had also probably been the one to find fault with the Gardening Club for the fire at Tanaka-san’s vacant lot. And there was another reason for me being pissed off. President Doujima had covered for me from start to finish. I had been unable to say anything.
Rage, resentment and disappointment caused my fists to quiver. Unconsciously, I let out a word.
How would the president interpret that? In an unexpectedly solemn tone, he spoke.
“I understand your frustration. He was just finding fault with us… Nitta-sensei wasn’t so bad last year, though.”
So that teacher was called Nitta-sensei, huh.
Without slowing his brisk walking speed, President Doujima continued.
“He’s a strict teacher, but he was just going through hysteria. Various circumstances formed a perfect storm that caused him to become emotionally unstable.”
“By various circumstances, do you mean us?”
He glanced at me and replied.
“No, it’s Nitta-sensei’s personal life. He was recently divorced, I heard.”
I’d been in school for ten years already, but I’d never once cared about a teacher’s marital life. I’d always treated any teachers’ words as the voice of the heavens, and never ever considered that they might have their own personal problems.
The president still had a frown on his face.
Once again, I muttered “Dammit”, but only in my heart.
We reached the staircase. I would be going up, while the president would be going down. At the end, he stopped to talk to me.
“Urino, reveal your sources in the next issue.”
“Write a detailed account of how you were able to correctly predict the locations of the arson attacks. If the column isn’t enough, we’ll make space for it.”
I couldn’t instantly give a proper response, though it wasn’t because I didn’t understand what he was saying.
“Well, everyone will decide on the space during the next editorial meeting.”
“No, not that.”
The words were almost out of my throat, but I swallowed them back down. Now was probably not the right time to tell him.
Instead, I searched for something else to say.
“But didn’t you tell Nitta-sensei that we would stop writing about that?”
An earnest expression still on his face, President Doujima retorted.
“No I didn’t.”
“All I said was, ‘We won’t write any articles that we have no evidence for.’ It’s a different story if your article is grounded with evidence. Don’t you think this is the only way to shut Nitta up and bring an end to this?”
Unable to say anything, all I could do was open my mouth like a fool. What he was saying certainly made sense, but I never saw him as the type of person to use such sophistry. He definitely didn’t give off that kind of vibe at all.
His objective complete, President Doujima turned to head down the stairs, but I was somehow able to blurt out a sentence to him.
“Is it really okay to write it?”
It was a meaningless question, even for me. The president had already told me to write it, after all. He turned around to look at me, the frown on his face loosening.
“I don’t mind… He might be going through a divorce, but I was also quite pissed off back there.”
I clenched my jaw as I watched his retreating figure.
Again, all that welled up within me was a sense of chagrin.
It was obvious why I faltered when I was told to “reveal my sources”.
I had a discussion with Hiya a few days later, during which he immediately read my feelings.
“What a waste. That topic could have been milked some more.”
It was lunchtime, and the two of us were eating together. I was having a convenience store bento, while Hiya was gobbling down a butter roll. My mouth was full of salmon, so I nodded twice in place of a reply.
“Can’t be helped if the Student Counseling Department interferes, I suppose. Though I think you could have dragged it on for another three or four months.”
That was also true. This time, I gave a big nod.
Just yesterday, everyone in the Newspaper Club was gathered for an emergency meeting. President Doujima’s idea was passed, and I was allotted a much bigger space than before, a quarter of a page. I felt bad taking up the space of the honored “Freshman Welcome Issue”, but this was to close the curtains on the tracking of the arson cases.
I finally swallowed the salmon.
“I’m not sure if Satomura helped propagate it, but that article produced a response from the student body. Can you believe it? After school, some people came over to the Printing Preparation Room and asked, ‘I lost my copy of the newspaper, can I have another if you have any spare?’ Three of them, too!”
“The Printing Preparation Room?”
“There you go. Up until now, no one knew that the Newspaper Club uses the Printing Preparation Room. And it became like this after just two articles. I was definitely thinking of stretching the story out as much as possible.”
As I poked at a piece of taro, I let out a sigh.
Hiya seemed to be thinking of something. But no matter how shrewd he was, we were up against the Student Counseling Department here. We were at a heavy disadvantage.
“I wonder if you could just ignore the Student Counseling Department’s order? Perhaps if the Newspaper Club president shows off a little more courage?”
I hesitated, but no matter how badly I thought of him, I couldn’t label President Doujima’s actions that day as cowardly. Though it did vex me to have to defend him…
“No, the president already resisted as much as he could. No matter how you consider it, Nitta was being unreasonable. It takes a lot of guts to pull out a last chance from a guy like that. Anything more was impossible.”
“So you’re just going to reveal your sources, as you were told to? It’s just such a waste, man. If you left it alone, no one would have noticed that pattern, even in a full year. When I first heard of it, I also thought, ‘What stupid idea is this?’”
Indeed, on that day I went gathering information with Hiya, I’d told him my idea while watching the firetrucks rush past the train station, and he’d laughed. However, in the later cases, and more importantly, in the act of passing me copies of the supporting data, he’d shown that he truly believed in the validity of my idea.
“You do understand that once you write that, you’ll have to give up on any more articles on the arson cases, right?”
“No choice, is there?”
I drank some tea and took a deep breath.
If it was revealed why the Newspaper Club, or rather Urino Takahiko was able to predict the arson locations, Funado Monthly would lose its advantage. No one would want to read about the next arson attack.
“I can’t agree with that at all.”
Hiya lamented, then unexpectedly looked into my eyes.
“Urino, you’re not satisfied with this, right? You wanted to leave your name in the history of Funa High, but I’m sorry to say that this won’t cut it. Well, I’m not satisfied. Especially when there was still so much to go.”
“Well, yeah, I suppose.”
“As we thought, the arson attacks became more and more vicious, right?”
This time, I was able to nod honestly.
Without even needing to retrieve the file, the circumstances of each arson attack appeared in my head.
October – Hamae – Dried grass in a vacant lot
November – Nishimori – Trashcan in a Children’s Park
December – Koyubi – Waste material at a storage area
January – Akanebe – Abandoned bicycle
February – Ritsuno – Abandoned vehicle
March – Hinode Town – Bus stop bench
Up until now, the things set on fire were trash, or a trashcan. But this month’s item was a bench, which was actually being used.
As expected, the culprit was intentionally escalating the degree of their crimes. In other words…
But I wasn’t able to say the rest from my mouth. Instead, Hiya verbalized it on my behalf without even a hint of cowardice.
“This case will get even bigger. Your presence could have grown along with it, too…”
I was certainly thinking that there was the potential for our insignificant high school newspaper club to be thrust into the spotlight, going up against a heinous criminal. Of course, I never openly said that I wished for such a thing to happen, but it was definitely an attractive situation to be in.
However, I didn’t have a choice. Next month’s Funado Monthly would be the “Freshmen Welcome Issue’. Writing a column revealing my sources might rub Nitta the wrong way, but I didn’t know what would happen if I continued openly defying him. Sure, I wanted to leave my name in the history of Funado High, but not if I had to get expelled for that.
I said something to help me relax.
“Perhaps we’ll find something better. Then we’ll look back at this arson case and laugh it off as a small story.”
“You’re not saying that seriously, right?”
Well, I did understand that the chances of that happening was extraordinarily slim.
After polishing off the last butter roll, Hiya did a small stretch.
“Fu… well, there is definitely the possibility of a major reversal. But Urino, I have a piece of advice for you. Listen carefully.”
For words like that, he didn’t look very serious. Still, I urged him to go on by giving him a brief nod.
Hiya’s advice strangely sounded like a prophecy.
“You should prepare two different articles. The first is as your club president said, an article to reveal your sources. And the other summarizes all past cases thus far, then predicts the next arson attack location. For that, you should understand the freshmen’s sensitivities, and use that to write in a style that they greatly enjoy. Prepare those two articles such that you can exchange them in time, if the situation calls for it.”
Basically, Hiya was telling me to write something akin to a recap episode, as well as think about what comes next, although there should be no point in doing so.
“…Why should I do that? I mean, I would be happy if they could use an article like that, but that isn’t possible, is it?”
“As I said, there could be a major reversal. You’ve got to stop taking it all at face value, and start thinking speculatively.”
I racked my brains to figure out his true intentions, but as much as it pained me to admit it, I was sometimes unable to understand Hiya’s way of thinking.
Should I ask him to explain himself? As I was considering that option, a bright voice called out to us.
“Ah, is the great detective holding a strategy meeting?”
It was Satomura.
“I’m not a great detective, I’m a journalist.”
“It’s still cool either way.”
In what little time there was left in this lunch break, I focused on devouring the contents of the bento, not caring that it had already gone cold.
Soon afterward, spring break arrived.
I was out in town with Osanai on such a rest day.
I still didn’t know about her family. We hadn’t talked about that yet. All I knew was that she was probably quite well off. While we hardly ever met on rest days, her private clothes were always different. Today, she had on a pretty stylish outfit, with a refreshing white shirt and a black tie. With those clothes, she would look masculine if she were twenty centimeters taller.
It wasn’t just because I hadn’t experienced it enough, but I was still unclear of Osanai’s preferences. No matter where I brought her, no matter where we went, she would always look like she was having a good time, but on the other hand, it didn’t seem like she was always happy from the bottom of her heart. How could I get to see her true, unexaggerated smile again, like when she was eating tiramisu at Earl Gray 2, or when she was enjoying crème brûlée at Tario? Having no idea how to do that, I chose to meet at a cinema again.
The movie we were watching was announced as a love story, but that turned out to be just a marketing ploy. Sure, it was a sweet story in the first act, with a young man unfamiliar with love and a pretty girl mired in unfortunate circumstances. How would their turbulent love story turn out? However, the situation started changing from the second act. Lots of incidents kept happening around the female lead, and at first, it looked like the handiwork of a stalker like that in The Phantom of the Opera.
In the dimly lit theater, I peeked at Osanai’s face from the side. The pitiful female lead turned out to be a habitual insurance fraudster, while the pure young man was being gradually ensnared. First a crime that he didn’t remember, then suicide tools that had been gathered without his knowledge. He tried to believe in her, but eventually, a phone call from her caused him to freeze in disbelief.
I could remember hearing of such a folktale when I was just a kid. I’d intended to watch a romantic film, but accidentally ended up with Bluebeard2. I’d been tricked by the poster. The conclusion left a particularly bad aftertaste, too…
When the movie ended and the lights in the theater came back on, I could sense the awkward atmosphere in the room. We were not the only ones who’d made the mistake of coming to this movie as a couple. Jeers and minor arguments could be heard here and there throughout the theater.
I immediately apologized, saying that I didn’t know it would be a suspense movie with such a bad aftertaste. However, Osanai shook her head.
“It’s fine, I enjoyed it.”
…Lately, I’d begun having this line of thought. Was I being too reserved towards this upperclassman who looked like nothing but an underclassman? I did want her to smile, but wasn’t I trying too hard to please her at this point? I was also considering that being occasionally pushy was necessary, especially since I was frustrated at not being able to hold her hand.
While pondering about these issues, I was led into the café. There, I was asked a question.
“What’s the matter? Is there cream on my face?”
With a start, I realized that I’d been staring at Osanai’s face.
We were on the first floor of a multipurpose building in a secluded part of Kira City’s main street, in a shop called “Ouan”3. The building exterior looked antiquated, matching the old-fashioned Japanese style of the shop interior. The menu also had items like matcha and sakuramochi. Apparently a repeat customer, Osanai didn’t even bother looking at the menu to make her order. “I’ll have the ice cream combination of black sesame and soymilk, and a coffee for my drink.” After thinking for a short while, she added, “And please add some kinako4.”
As usual, I went with just one coffee, since the ticket fare for the movie had caused my allowance to be used up. I really have to start seriously thinking of taking up a part-time job. As I was having that thought, Osanai muttered.
That gave me a shock, causing me to wonder if my thoughts were leaking from my head. My agitation must have been apparent on my face, for Osanai shot me a question quizzically.
“No, you were just saying something about a part-time job…”
“Yup, could you not hear?”
She briefly looked elsewhere.
“That waitress over there is from our school. She’s secretly working part-time.”
The waitress in question was a few seats away from us, and was currently taking an order. I could hear her cheerfully saying, “I’ll repeat your order.” She looked mature, so I wouldn’t have thought of her as a high school student if Osanai-san hadn’t told me.
“It’s the spring break, so perhaps she got permission to do it?”
“She would never get permission for a café downtown. If it was possible, I would have wanted to do it too.”
If Osanai started working as a waitress, wouldn’t it look like she was just taking part in work place experience for her school curriculum?
“Doesn’t everyone do part-time jobs without getting permission for them?”
“Probably, but I definitely can’t do that. I do have a friend who is working part-time at a bookstore, though.”
“So why are you caring so much about her, then?”
Osanai took another sideward glance at the waitress, then tightened her lips.
“…I was just thinking of how much a person can change with makeup and a uniform…”
My coffee arrived first, but I waited for Osanai’s order to arrive as well.
Eventually, the black and white ice cream arrived, arranged on a vermillion-lacquered, rectangular dish with a lacquered, black wooden spoon. The first thing Osanai did was to stick the spoon into the black ice cream and take a lick. As she held the spoon in her mouth, she grinned.
“Black sesame ice cream isn’t rare.”
While expertly controlling the spoon, she continued.
“However, if you let the sesame flavor get too strong, it becomes too distasteful for human consumption. I also don’t like the feeling when the sesame skin touches my tongue. If you don’t make it with a texture easy on the tongue, if you don’t blend the sesame flavor well with the milk, you end up with an appalling taste. In those respects, this shop is perfect. Out of all the black sesame ice cream I’ve had since I was born, this is the most exquisite.”
Come to think of it, I was usually the speaker whenever Osanai and I conversed. But this time, all I did was give short responses like, “Is that so?” and “Really?”, even as she continuously consumed the contents of her spoon. Did she only talk proactively when it came to sweets?
I had no interest in desserts, but wanting to liven up the conversation, I desperately searched for a topic.
“You really like desserts, don’t you?”
With equal portions of white and black ice cream in her spoon, Osanai looked up.
“I was just thinking that you really like desserts such as ice cream and cake.”
Osanai looked bewildered, as if I’d just said, “You’re a human, aren’t you?” But that only lasted for a while, and her eyes soon returned to her plate.
“I like them.”
“Not that you don’t hate them?”
“Yup, I like them.”
“Why is that?”
“Why, you ask?”
She stopped moving her spoon. Was the conversation too boring, and she was sick of it? But unexpectedly, she clearly answered the question.
“Because I can eat without killing anything. Even if you don’t kill the cow, you can squeeze its milk out. Even if you don’t kill a chicken, you can collect its eggs.”
Her gaze was unexpectedly cold.
Osanai moved her spoon again to lick the last bit of black ice cream from it.
“I like desserts because they’re sweet. That’s all.”
“…Oh, so that’s it.”
Unconsciously, I sighed. I didn’t really understand Osanai’s jokes. Also, I was thinking that I should stop being led around like this.
“Urino-kun, do you hate sweet things?”
“I don’t know…”
Not ordering anything when entering the café with Osanai was simply due to me not having enough money. But if I had to say if I liked or hated them…
“It’s neither, I think.”
“Do you not eat them?”
“Rarely. Well, not exactly.”
I just remembered something. Feeling relieved that I could continue conversing with Osanai, I moistened my mouth with some coffee.
“…The other day, my father brought back some sweets, saying he got them as a gift. What do you call them again? They’re made of chestnuts and look like candy.”
“Ah yes, that’s it.”
Now done with the white ice cream, Osanai took a deep breath, then took small sips of her coffee. Perhaps she had a cat’s tongue.
The coffee was apparently too hot. Giving up, she put down the cup and started talking with a dreamlike expression.
“Marron glacé, huh? If it was autumn, this shop would be selling kuri kinton, which is lovely as well. It would be great if we could come here again during the chestnut season.”
“Yeah, I would like to.”
“Do you know how a marron glacé is made, Urino-kun?”
It didn’t seem like Osanai expected me to know the answer.
“For marron glacé, you boil the chestnut, peel it, then soak it in syrup. Like this, you get a sugary membrane surrounding the chestnut.”
“Ah, so that’s how it’s made?”
However, Osanai shook her head.
“No, that’s just for the surface.”
“Isn’t that good enough?”
“No, it isn’t. Next, you need to soak it in a slightly thicker syrup. With this, you get another sugary membrane on top of the first sugary membrane. Then you soak it again in another slightly thicker syrup, forming another membrane… You repeat this again and again.”
Osanai was holding her coffee cup with both hands, as if she were protecting some important treasure. Her eyes were directed at a point above the table, but she probably wasn’t looking at anything in particular.
“You continuously surround the sweet coating with more sweet coating to form several layers, and in the process, the chestnut itself becomes sweet like a candy. Even though it wasn’t that sweet in the first place, and that only the coating should be sweet. So the surface gets switched with the core, and at some point the means become the goal… I love marron glacés. I mean, don’t you think they’re cute?”
The right words wouldn’t come out. Osanai pointed the lacquered spoon at me.
“And you’re my syrup.”
Was that another roundabout joke by Osanai, or was it something else?
Osanai was carefully studying my face. However, she briefly averted her eyes to look at the time on her mobile phone. She never wore a wristwatch. Next, she took one piece of paper out from her bag.
“You’ll immediately understand, so I’ll give this to you.”
It was a newspaper cutting, from today’s morning paper. I should have read it already.
But the piece that Osanai placed on the table was a section from the middle of the paper, a page listing teacher transferals. It suddenly hit me. It was the end of the school year. That would be the time for transfers.
After I picked up that piece of paper, Osanai picked up the receipt.
“Sorry, Urino-kun. I have an errand to run, so I’ll be going home. It’s my treat for today. I enjoyed the movie, so let’s watch another one some time… And one more thing.”
Even while she stood up and I stayed seated, the difference in our eye levels hardly changed.
“Childish pranks are no good. I think not doing anything is the best.”
Before I managed to fully digest what she said to me, Osanai turned around, settled the bill and left the shop. I didn’t even have time to chase after her.
Once again, I was unable to hold her hand. I’d been hoping to see how far we could go today, too. Yet I was politely treated to coffee and escaped from.
While having those thoughts, I held up the newspaper that Osanai had left behind. Some highlighter marking immediately caught my eye.
I wasn’t aimlessly reading through the page, but when I saw that line, my heart skipped a beat.
|Minakami High School – Nitta Takayoshi (Funado High School)|
So that teacher from the Student Counseling Department was to be transferred.
That was exactly the kind of “major reversal” that Hiya was talking about, and now it had become reality. What an unexpected turn of events.
It was a few days after the summer break, and I was setting out under the bright, beautiful sun.
How many times have I been on a date with Nakamaru-san6? I should know the answer if I were to do a detailed calculation, but that was unnecessary. “A lot” was a good enough answer. Lots of dates! Lots of sunsets! And lots of starry skies! Then again, it had been winter up till now, so we hadn’t actually seen that many starry nights. It was just a figure of speech. Winter nights are cold, anyway.
Just like how infinity plus one is still infinity, today’s date was also included in the “lots of dates” we’d had. It was warm outside, such that it probably would have been fine to wear short-sleeved clothes. However, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, as well as a jacket on top. I was feeling a little hot, but it was fine… spring nights are cold, too.
Since meeting each other was the main goal, it was ultimately a date for the two of us, and there was no need for a destination. But that would lead to us drifting around in the middle of the city alone, so we still decided on a place to go to. Today, we were going to check out an exhibition, as per Nakamaru-san’s wishes. There, we would be able to see some beautifully-colored block prints.
Since the parking area at the train station was available, I was cycling there today. I didn’t need to wear gloves in this weather, but it was a different story riding a bicycle.
I’d been through a harrowing experience during that bus ride back then, but I was hit by no difficulties today, and thus I gracefully pedaled towards the train station. After paying the 100-yen fee for using the parking area, I headed straight for our meeting place, but Nakamaru-san had not arrived yet. So I’d arrived first, huh. I then stared blankly at the water fountain outside the station for a good ten minutes, until Nakamaru-san appeared in my vision. Her cherry-colored cardigan looked extremely refined, giving off a demure feel, contrasting her image as a “high school girl who naturally plays around”.
“Did you wait?”
After our cliched exchange, Nakamaru-san looked at her watch.
“Shall we go, then?”
She asked as she walked off.
Our destination, the event space, was on the top floor in a building in front of the station. When we got into the elevator, we found that the small space was packed with other people who were heading to the same destination as us. Thankfully, that only lasted for a short period of time. The doors soon slid open to reveal a sparklingly white floor and an usherette clad in red who greeted us welcome.
I didn’t have any particular thoughts about the exhibition itself. If I saw a dolphin I would think, “That’s a dolphin”, and if I saw a whale I would think, “That’s a whale.” Come to think of it, I once saw Takahashi Yuichi’s7 “Sake” in a book of paintings when I was young. At that time, I also thought, “That’s a salmon.” On that topic, what is the relationship between the pronunciations sake and shake8? I can’t think of them to be merely a result of phonic change. Is it a dialect?
I took a glance at Nakamaru-san, but she actually didn’t look very interested. Well, the exhibition was just an excuse for a date, anyway, so I didn’t really mind that she was bored, but… as the person invited to the exhibition, I decided to ask a question.
“Do you like this painting?”
Nakamaru-san tilted her head.
“Not really. I prefer jigsaw puzzles.”
I never imagined that Nakamaru-san would have an interest in jigsaw puzzles. Based on my biased assumptions, I would think her to be the type to approach someone putting a jigsaw puzzle together from the back, yell, “Why are you doing something so boring!” and flip the table over. That was certainly rude of me. It is as they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
But Nakamaru-san continued.
“Destroying them, anyway. My brother’s just obsessed with them.”
So my biases were right after all.
After about twenty minutes, both of us got bored, or rather, were satisfied with the exhibition, so we slowly got on the elevator back. For some reason, we were stared at by a man who seemed to be a staff member, but no matter how you looked at it, we were just high school students of the petit bourgeois class. He didn’t call out at us, so all was fine.
We exited the building and did a stretch under the spring sun.
“What should we do now?”
There was still a lot of time.
“Shall we go into some place?”
“Ah, if so…”
A few ideas popped up in my head.
“…Since we’re here, Ouan is near. It’s a refined Japanese-style shop. Berry Berry is the closest, but it has uncomfortable chairs.”
As I said that, Nakamaru-san put on a weird face that was difficult to describe. She was looking a little off to the side and seemed to be sulking.
“What’s with this weird thickheadedness of yours, Kobato-chan? I don’t think you’re totally obtuse, but sometimes it shows.”
Did I accidentally say something unsavory?
“Do you not like Japanese-style shops?”
“No, that’s not it.”
Nakamaru-san peered into my eyes, probably only finding bewilderment there. She then let out a tremendous sigh.
“You really don’t understand, huh. But you do know about these kinds of shops, Kobato-chan. Especially those that sell delicious desserts.”
“Ah, yeah. Relatively speaking.”
I nodded, only to have an index finger pointed at my chest.
“Why and how do you know?”
So that’s what it was about, huh.
Almost all the dessert shops that I knew had been introduced to me by Osanai-san.
“You understand? Whenever you talk about these shops, I can see flickers of your previous girlfriend. That’s not good at all.”
I scratched my head. She had a point. That might indeed be the case, and there was nothing I could say to counter it.
With another sigh, Nakamaru-san spoke.
“Let’s take a walk. We rarely get such good weather, after all.”
An idle stroll was exactly what I wanted, but only if Nakamaru-san was fine with it.
The two of us started walking side by side down the main street of Kira City, Sanya-dori, and entered a white-tiled arcade.
Since it was currently spring break, there were many people around, even though it was a weekday afternoon. A variety of splendiferous color combinations caught my eye, from Nakamaru-san’s cherry-colored cardigan to other clothes like a lemon-yellow T-shirt, emerald-green shirt and off-white pants. Due to the shopping street slump, the Kira City main street was, without exception, full of shuttered shops. However, it did seem to show some level of activity, perhaps because winter had just ended.
To kill her boredom, Nakamaru-san brought up a topic.
“Hey, it might be a little late for this, but can I ask you this?”
“If it’s about sweet things, I don’t like them that much myself.”
I could hear some indignation in her voice.
“That’s not it… last year, when I called you to that classroom, did you honestly know about me?”
I was a little surprised by that. It was indeed too late for that question. Though it was half a year ago, I still clearly remembered. I didn’t even know her name at that time.
That said, now was probably not the time to showcase the virtue of honesty.
“I knew that you were a classmate.”
“I see. That’s all?”
I traversed my memories to see if there was anything else I could say, but nothing came to mind. Well, you can’t brandish sleeves that you don’t have.
“I see, so that was all you knew.”
Feeling that I might have been a little cold-hearted, I decided to append another statement.
“Of course, I now know a lot about you.”
For that, I was slapped on the back. One of the things I knew about her was that she was unexpectedly easily embarrassed.
We reached a red light. We stopped, and a throng of people gathered beside us. Wary of those other people, Nakamaru-san shut her mouth. When the light turned green and Touryanse9 started playing, we crossed the pedestrian crossing. The crowd soon broke up, and she asked me another question.
“So if you didn’t really know me, why were you OK with my confession?”
I should have seen that one coming.
As befitting a stroll, Nakamaru-san’s tone was light. However, I could only sneak a peek at her side profile, for I had the feeling that the conversation would take a serious turn if our eyes were to meet.
Her eyes were on the road straight ahead, a springlike, easygoing look on her face. Thus, I answered her question carefreely.
“It was in the classroom after school, right? When I saw you up close and listened to what you had to say, I thought, ‘What a good kid.’”
“A good kid, huh?”
She burst out laughing.
“You say the most nonsensical things, Kobato-chan.”
It was certainly nonsensical. But if I were to be honest, it was probably because I had no reason to turn her down, but that was something I couldn’t say out loud. No matter what I do, the lies just keep piling up.
…Then again, that was probably true for both of us. It wouldn’t be fair for her to be lied to all the time. I should get her to tell some lie as well, or there would be an imbalance. I asked a question, not out of curiosity, but in retaliation.
“It might be a little late as well… but why me?”
But Nakamaru-san was not perturbed at all. As if she’d waited the last half a year to be asked that question, she replied instantly.
“Because you were making a weird face.”
That’s interesting. I’m no expert in facial performance, though.
We reached the next pedestrian crossing, but the signal was green so we smoothly crossed as Touryanse played in the background, out of tune.
“Quite a lot of boys have a cynical view of the world, right? Like it’s cool to say, ‘What a pain’ or something. That’s what I thought of you at the beginning. Your previous girlfriend, Osanai, right? It seemed like you were making an acceptable compromise with her. She’s cute, but also a little plain, right?”
That wasn’t exactly an accurate representation, but I decided to let her continue.
“But that wasn’t it, right? You didn’t seem out of place, and you weren’t treating her coldly. I knew that you had a strong guard, but I had the feeling that it wasn’t the type of guard that a virgin who hates people would have. When you were making a weird face, I wondered what you were thinking about, and I found out that you’d broken up with your girlfriend, so I thought, why not?”
It seemed that my scheme to make her tell a lie had gone awry.
I could sense that Nakamaru-san was telling the truth. If it were a lie, it would be an absolutely meaningless one. Basically, she likes oddballs, and I seem like one?
No, no, that can’t be it. A twitchy smile appeared on my face… I’d taken pride in blending in as a petit bourgeois, but was my ability to camouflage really that bad?
Nervously, I asked.
“Do your friends say that I’m weird or something?”
In response, Nakamaru-san’s eyes widened.
“Eh? Kobato-chan, you care about stuff like that?”
“Of course I do. I never thought I was making a weird face, after all.”
I pouted, causing Nakamaru-san to laugh, loudly and with evident satisfaction.
I had no idea what exactly she was laughing at. All I knew was that she was also quite a queer person in general, though I only thought of her as a member of the little citizens club.
She laughed so hard she almost cried, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. After that, she slapped my back again.
“Don’t worry! The only one who sees you that way is me. In fact, when I said, ‘Isn’t Kobato-chan interesting?’ everyone answered, ‘He’s normal.’”
Well, that’s fine, then.
Nakamura-san’s boisterous laughter seemed to bring an end to that conversation topic. Just as well, since we’d almost arrived at Sanya-dori, and were close to the café known as Chaco. I knew of this place not through Osanai-san, but through Doujima Kengo. However, I should probably keep quiet about that, given the circumstances. I’d been called thickheaded earlier, but I was at least perceptive enough for that.
“Where are we going?”
Nakamaru-san thought for a short while before answering.
“Shall we pass through the aqua park and go to Marui?”
I had no plans, so I was fine with going anywhere.
An automaton clock with large dials was installed above the arcade, spanning a few pillars. I nonchalantly looked up at it, and noticed that a band of dolls had popped up on both sides of the clock. Wanting to tell Nakamaru-san, I pulled on her sleeve and pointed at the dolls.
There was a doll holding a trumpet, a doll with a drum strapped to its neck, and a doll dangling a triangle. All of them were wearing triangular hats, and they stood in a line, though their actions seemed a little clumsy, probably because the automaton was old. At that moment, some resonant music started playing, signalling that it was exactly three o’clock.
It was a piece that I’d heard before, but didn’t know the name of. While there was a band of dolls, the music playing was organ music, and it was also a little too loud. Worried that our voices wouldn’t reach although we were walking right next to each other, the two of us passed under the clock in silence.
With a chirp, the final reverberations of the clock dissipated.
On a wall between two shops was a poster of the exhibition we’d just been to. Nakamaru-san took a glance at it before broaching another topic.
“Come to think of it, have we talked about this yet?”
“Talked about what?”
“A burglar entered my big brother’s house.”
Oh, that must be quite the pickle. While I might be a petit bourgeois of little worth, perhaps I could help her out with something like this? In my heart, I straightened up and got ready to listen properly.
“No, I don’t think we talked about this. Is your big brother the one who likes jigsaw puzzles?”
“So we didn’t talk about it, huh. Yes, that’s the one.”
The two of us slowed down so that it would be easier to converse.
“My big brother is currently going to a university in Yokohama. I’ve visited him once. It’s a really small apartment, and he lives a messy life there. He gets an allowance, works part-time in a family restaurant at night and delivers newspapers in the morning, but he still lives like that. I get so put off whenever I imagine myself having to live like that if I get into a university. I definitely want to live on at least the second floor and have the toilet be separate from the bathroom. Kobato-chan, will you be going to university?”
“He was away for about three days at a training camp for a shady circle10. He said he was in Niigata, I think. Apparently, they set off by car in the middle of the night and spent the entire night taking turns to drive. That’s also something I want to do, going on a road trip with friends after getting my license. Of course, it would be great if you could come along as well, Kobato-chan.
“Anyway, when he came back, he found that a glass window was broken from the outside. Well, not completely shattered, but the area around the key knob was broken off. Even so, books and CDs were scattered so badly around the room that it was difficult to walk, so he immediately thought that it must have been a burglar. My big brother is a fan of metal. He has quite a few rare CDs, so he was considerably upset. Though he told me that he cleaned up his room before calling the cops for appearances’ sake.”
Is that fine? Wouldn’t that get in the way of forensics?
Deviating from the arcade street, we entered a small road in between buildings. It used to be a back alley, but after some alterations, it had become a promenade. There was no one else besides us.
“He said it wouldn’t do for him to be unsure of how much was stolen if he called the police. He turned over his room to check if anything was missing and realized it in the end. Kobato-chan, what do you think it was?”
He checked for damages, and noticed something.
That could only mean one thing.
“Nothing was stolen?”
A bewildered expression flitted across Nakamaru-san’s face.
“How did you know?”
I wasn’t expecting her to be surprised by something as minor as this. Instead of answering her question, I gave a light shrug.
“It’s good that there were no damages.”
“Well, yes, I suppose.”
“The window probably broke after being hit by something, not due to a burglar. And though it may not be my place to say so, the room was in disarray because your brother left it messy, wasn’t it?”
As I said that, Nakamaru-san finally laughed, as if to say, “You’d think so.” That laugh somewhat fired up my self-esteem.
“But you’re wrong.”
“You were right in saying that the room being dirty was due to my brother’s own negligence, but there is no doubt that someone entered the room. The window was fitted with double-layered curtains, and they had been drawn open. If the window was hit by a ball or something, the curtains wouldn’t have been opened.”
Is that really so?
It is certainly true that curtains wouldn’t open if the window gets broken. However, it couldn’t be concluded that ‘there is no doubt that someone entered the room’. Perhaps the wind blew the curtains open, and there is also the possibility that someone tried to enter, but decided against it.
Nakamaru-san was different from me. She was not the type to proceed meticulously in topics like this.
Even so, there was something about the declaration that hooked me in. Nakamaru-san probably already knew that someone had entered her elder brother’s room, which was why she could say it so decisively.
In other words, this story was already over, and the punchline had already been decided. Since the truth was known, I wasn’t being asked to solve a mystery. At best, I was just being posed a riddle.
…No, that wasn’t it. I shouldn’t look disappointed here.
Instead, I faked a smile as if to say, “You got me.”
“I see. So it was certain that someone entered.”
How laughable. Two lovers, having fun with a foolish conversation. Was this not a realization of my dream to spend a rest day as a petit bourgeois?
“But it was terrible. After learning that there were no damages, the police left, and all they said was to contact them if anything happened. What a joke. Nothing was stolen, but the glass was broken! My big brother said that there was an insurance payout for the apartment, but the real problem is the given sum. Since there was a copayment value, he had to pay a little out of his own pocket. Do you know that glass is actually quite expensive? I once accidentally broke a glass pane in school, and it cost tens of thousands of yen! Tens of thousands!”
“Is that so.”
The opposite could also be considered. Basically…
“And what’s more…”
But Nakamaru-san’s story wouldn’t end, which prevented me from thinking.
It was supposed to be a story about a burglar, but contained many impurities. For example, her desire to have the bathroom be separate from the toilet, her plans to travel overseas after getting her driving license, and her recount of breaking a glass pane in the past were digressions from the main topic, no matter how you thought about them. While listening, I had to do some sort of organization in my head, or I would be guaranteed to be confused.
In my view, I could solve the problem by filtering out the relevant information.
“Of course, my big brother was depressed about it. His glass window was broken, someone came into his house, yet stole nothing, so he concluded that it must be harassment. But no matter how hard he mulled over it, he couldn’t think of anyone who would do that to him. He might be a foolish and loose guy, but he’s definitely not the type to be hated by others to that extent, so I thought it to be weird as well. If that happened to me, I would have some idea about who did it, though.
“Anyway, since he didn’t like drafts coming into the flat, he spent one night with the window entirely open, when he had a frightening realization. Do you know what it is, Kobato-chan?”
So there were traces of someone entering his room, but nothing was stolen. What should he be worried about?
“He was worried about listening devices, right?”
Nakamaru-san frowned again and looked at me suspiciously.
“Yep, my big brother did think that.”
She was still staring fixedly at my face. There’s nothing on it… probably.
“Kobato-chan… did we really not talk about this yet?”
“Nope, never heard of it before.”
“Is that so.”
She didn’t seem convinced. I wanted to say, “I’ve never heard of it but I know as much,” but stifled the urge to do so.
“Ah, whatever. Anyway, the electrical outlets in my big brother’s house are behind a gigantic stereo system, so it’s fairly hard to set anything up there. However, there were no signs of the stereo system being moved, allaying his suspicions that there might be listening devices or secret cameras planted in his room. He went to the real estate agent in the morning, but they’d been away until the day before and didn’t know any details about the situation, so they only discussed the topic of the glass replacement fee until afternoon, upon which he returned home… who do you think was waiting for him?”
Now, I probably shouldn’t instantly reply here.
For her to intentionally asked that question, the person waiting for her elder brother as he returned from the real estate agent must be someone unexpected. There weren’t many characters in Nakamaru-san’s story. Her big brother, his circle friends, the police, the real estate agent, as well as Nakamaru-san herself.
It was also an unexpected person, and someone related to the conclusion of the story… there was only one person who fit the bill.
“Just maybe, but…”
That was what I was about to say, but I fortunately managed to swallow my words.
Nakamura-san was suspicious of me. She would certainly not be happy if I gave her the exact answer. I could see it just by looking at her face, and it was even clearer in light of my own personal experience with her. It was something that I should have learnt many times already, yet I still couldn’t understand it from the bottom of my heart. It was exactly as she said. I may indeed be thick-headed.
Getting the right answer here would be a mistake. There is something I learnt in two years of high school, living as a little citizen. In conversation, the petit bourgeois does not give the exact answer. No one taught me that, but I simply learnt that it was taboo to read ahead of my conversation partner.
That was why I had no choice but to tell a lie.
“Hmm, can’t say I know who.”
Basically, that was all I could say.
In response, my conversation partner lightened up with buoyant delight.
“There, you don’t know! Now, you wouldn’t expect it, but… the culprit was waiting there!”
“Woah, that’s got to be scary.”
Nakamaru-san continued with an apparent spring in her step.
“He was standing right outside the door and staring hard at it, so my big brother thought that he might be a deliveryman. But that didn’t seem right, so he said something like, ‘Do you have some business with me?’ And the culprit replied, ‘Are you the person living here? Sorry, I was the one who entered your flat.’ My brother was scared. It might sound arrogant for me to say this, but he isn’t particular strong. He must have been really frightened.”
That fear was certainly understandable. You might not want any trouble, but it still comes for you, and the peace you had disappears once disturbed. Unfair accusations, unreasonable requests… As the men of old used to say, wise men and petit bourgeois stay away from danger.
We passed through the promenade, reaching an open space in between buildings. It was pretentiously named “Aqua Park”, but it was actually just a town square. Just like the promenade, it must have taken quite a sum of money to make, for it was paved with bricks, and was even furnished with a fountain in the center. Three white angels held their trumpets high in the middle of the fountain.
“He seemed to be a gloomy person. A bright person would never do that in the first place, right? But he wasn’t just gloomy, he also gave off the impression that he was highly-strung, my big brother said. What does such a face look like? You’re not like that, Kobato-chan, but there’s someone in class who seems to be that way, right?”
“…I think so.”
I couldn’t remember their name, so there was nothing more for me to add. In any case, Nakamaru-san was in an awfully good mood as she continued speaking.
“Isn’t he called Doi or something like that?”
“Doi-kun, huh. Yeah, that might be it.”
As I spoke, I realized that Doi might actually be a girl. Well, Nakamaru-san didn’t seem to care, so it should be fine.
“So that guy started mumbling something, which irritated my brother. That person looked like he could bring out a kitchen knife at any moment, so my brother was cautious. He asked a question to the thief, or rather, the thief who did a half-done job. ‘Why did you do something like that?’ Thinking about it now, it seems like a stupid question, but the thief stared at my big brother somewhat reproachfully. Then, he explained why he broke the glass and entered the flat, but… it’s quite a weird story. You won’t be able to imagine it, Kobato-chan.”
You’re right, I’m completely at sea here, with not the foggiest notion of what he said!
Naturally, those were the words I was about to reply with. At least, that was what I should have planned to say.
But at that moment, a stroke of bad luck befell me.
I was looking at the three angel statues in the middle of the fountain in the Aqua Park. A column of water shot up from each of the trumpets, causing the bottom of the pool to give off rainbow-colored coruscations, and some light music was even playing in the background.
This was what I thought… It was probably meant to be a chic performance, but I had a feeling that if the angels blew on the trumpets, that would signal the start of the Revelation11.
Thus, I was distracted. With my little citizen’s restraint blown away due to those soundless trumpets, I replied.
I’d already filtered out the information, too.
Nakamaru-san’s brother lives in an apartment.
The flat is messy and small.
The flat is most likely on the first floor, and contains a unit bath.
Her brother is in a circle, and he set off to Niigata with them in the middle of the night.
When he returned three days later, he found that a window in his flat was broken.
Some books and CDs were scattered around the flat. There were some relatively rare CDs in their midst.
He is a devotee of metal music.
There is a large stereo system in the flat.
It is presumed that no listening devices were set up in the flat.
The replacement fee for the broken glass was partly paid from insurance on the apartment.
The culprit revealed himself.
The brother was clearly described as foolish and loose by his little sister.
He works at a family restaurant at night.
The real estate agent was temporarily away on a trip.
And there was also something else that served as a hint. Putting all this information together, the answer was obvious. Seriously, it wasn’t worth spending effort on it at all.
“That’s probably because he wanted to turn off the stereo system, right?”
The culprit’s aim was not to steal anything.
However, he had to enter the apartment. He couldn’t wait for the owner to return, meaning that it was quite an emergency.
The first thing I thought of was an accidental fire. If Nakamaru-san’s brother had left the kettle on, for example, that would be an emergency situation, such that someone would break a glass window to enter. However, if the curtains were drawn, no one would know of a fire in the flat. On top of that, if that were the case, Nakamaru-san wouldn’t have started off by saying that a burglar entered her elder brother’s house, but would have said that a fire was narrowly avoided.
It was not an accidental fire, but there was no doubt that something similar transpired, causing the culprit to have no choice but to enter the flat.
The fact that the culprit did not puff out his chest and demand gratitude was revealed near the end of the story. That meant the emergency situation probably wasn’t as serious as a fire or an alarm going off due to a gas leak. If that was so, the culprit would be the benefactor, and the story would not be about a weird burglar.
What about water, then? Perhaps Nakamaru-san’s brother had left the taps on in the bath before going to Niigata. However, with the flat being on the first floor, it wouldn’t affect the people below.
The next thing I thought about was sound. Some loud sound keeps going on, and doesn’t stop even late at night. It is still noisy even after one whole day, and no one answers the door, indicating that the occupants are away. Even I wouldn’t be able to endure such a situation.
…The apartment was messy and small, according to Nakamaru-san. I wouldn’t imagine that it had thick walls.
Moreover, her brother worked part-time jobs at night and in the morning. It would only be natural for him to set some kind of morning call to ensure that he definitely wakes up. An alarm clock? The phone alarm? Things like that would work.
But the stereo system’s on timer function would work just as well.
The key difference between an alarm clock and a stereo system’s on timer is in the range of music that you can choose… and whether it will stop if you leave it alone. An alarm clock will almost always stop, but for a stereo system, the music might not stop unless you specifically turn it off, depending on the settings.
So Nakamaru-san’s brother set off late at night, and since he was away, he couldn’t turn off the stereo system that was meant to wake him up every day. As a result, it would make a din with its metal music for three days straight. In general, metal music is not soft as a whisper, but is loud and clamorous.
That “highly-strung man” probably couldn’t endure it. He might have even visited the real estate agent to protest and peaceably enter the apartment. But his patience couldn’t last three days, and even the real estate agent was away… So he broke the glass. The culprit was probably an occupant of the same apartment block. By resorting to such an extreme measure, he must have foreseen that a large portion of the glass replacement fee would come out of insurance.
There was also a hint that affirmed my deduction. To be precise, it was from that hint that my chain of reasoning started.
At that time when Nakamaru-san said, “Come to think of it” and started the topic, there was a poster for the block print exhibition in our vicinity. That might have reminded her of her elder brother who enjoys jigsaw puzzles.
But there was another occurrence that gave off an even stronger impression.
The music box clock back there was really loud.
The words I let out were soft, but not so soft that they were lost in the sounds from the fountain.
Nakamaru-san stopped to look at me, not even hiding her doubt.
A memory came back to me, causing me to freeze. It was during middle school, when I said many things to many people, thinking that someone would recognize me for my talents. But that did not happen. The more I spoke, the more I was undermining my position.
And right before everyone left me, I decided to become a petit bourgeois.
Even so, it was certain that I was being uplifted by a huge sense of pride. The me back then would say it aloud, but the me now would only think it. But the fact that I had that thought meant that nothing had changed after all. This was what I thought – Really? Posing a riddle like this is way beneath my abilities. Could you reissue me a more elaborate one?
But I couldn’t say that. Not anymore.
I had no idea what I should say to Nakamaru-san next. Convinced that I’d gotten on her bad side, I thought that there was no helping it, and was even preparing to take on a defiant attitude.
However, all she did was stare fixedly at my face, then replied falteringly.
“I’ve talked about this before, right? I knew it.”
The best brainwave I had today was not when I figured out the ending of the burglar story. My next line was superb, if I do say so myself. As if grasping at a lifeline, I forced the best smile I could muster and spoke.
“You’re right. It was quite a while ago, so I must have forgot!”
Her brother spent a night with the broken window open, meaning that this probably occurred during summer last year. In any case, it was definitely before the beginning of autumn.
The fact that quite some time had passed since that event transpired barely saved my slip of the tongue. To play it off, I changed the subject.
“So, where are we going to next?”
Behind us, the last columns of water rose up from the angels’ trumpets and fell back down.
The Newspaper Club’s editorial meetings were usually held on the first week of each month.
However, with the spring break eating into the first week of April, as well as there being some bustle right after the entrance and advancement ceremonies, among other circumstances, it was impossible to hold the meeting at its usual timing. That said, there was another reason that the first editorial meeting in the school year was being held as an emergency assembly, and I knew that reason more clearly than anyone else.
There was no article revealing my sources for the serial arson attacks in the copies of Funado Monthly distributed on the day of the entrance ceremony. I’d switched in another article at the last minute.
|(7 April – Funado Monthly, Page 8 Column)|
Congratulations on your enrollment, freshmen! The student body of Funado High School extends a very warm welcome to all of you.
The Newspaper Club has been following a certain case from autumn last year. To explain the circumstances thus far to all you freshmen, I would like to provide a summary of the case.
On 13 October, a fire was deliberately started at a vacant lot in Hamae, on a pile of grass clippings. Thankfully, the air was still humid, so the fire did not grow out of control. Firefighters were not dispatched to the scene.
On 10 November, there was an arson attack at a children’s park in Nishimori. A trashcan was set on fire, and while there a trace amount of soot was left in the soil, the fire did not spread far. This incident was also covered in the general paper.
On 8 December, an arson attack occurred at a storage area in Koyubi, where one column of waste material was burnt. The fire was extinguished by residents and firemen.
On 12 January, the saddles of some abandoned bicycles at Akanebe were deliberately set on fire.
On 9 February, an arson attack occurred at the river embankment in Ritsuno. Firefighters were deployed, but a vehicle was completely charred. That vehicle had been left there for quite some time already.
On 15 March, an arson attack happened at a bus stop in Hinode Town. Some magazines were thrown under a bench and set on fire, causing that bench to become unusable.
We have taken notice of this spate of incidents, and have used this small column to caution everyone to be diligent with fire safety. At the same time, we have meticulously analyzed these incidents, and have tried to formulate a pattern for this series (It should be quite obvious that it is a series!) of arson attacks.
In that regard, we have succeeded to a certain degree. In this column, we have successfully predicted that such an incident would happen near Ritsuno for February, and near Hinode Town for March. This is the result of the Newspaper Clubs tireless efforts, deductions made from nothing but pure insight.
However, we will not let the success go to our head, and we have given some serious consideration this time as well. Thus, we hereby deduce that this cowardly arsonist will probably choose Ueno Town, 3rd District or Mount Kazan as their next target.
This year, we will also closely monitor this case. For one, we do not tolerate such a detestable crime. Another reason for this is to show off the strength of the Newspaper Club.
If you are an aspiring freshman, please visit the Newspaper Club. We will be waiting for new members at the Printing Preparation Room.
The distribution was done by the Newspaper Club members. While I was a little apologetic, I also got a kick when I thought about how Itsukaichi, President Doujima and even Monchi must have felt while they were distributing those newspapers.
Now that we’d advanced to the second year, I was no longer in the same class as Satomura-san, so I didn’t know if she’d had a lively conversation with her followers after seeing the article. On another note, while my class was still in the state of feeling each other out, I’d already spotted five people reading Funado Monthly.
I’d predicted that I would have to pick up the pieces afterwards.
When I got word of the emergency meeting, I immediately thought, “Yep, saw that coming.”
While I’d almost completely predicted this turn of events, there was just one unexpected element, the fact that Kishi was not present. He’d apparently quit the Newspaper Club right as the new school year started. I’d heard of something like that. Leaving a club within a year would be disadvantageous for one’s resume if they were to apply for higher education…
That was a myth widely believed in middle school, anyway. While it was quite unheard of, Kishi might have taken that at face value and waited for the next school year before leaving the club. If that were indeed the case, it would be a shallow decision, as expected of him.
Even the opening of the meeting went exactly according to my expectations. Monchi, now a third-year student, started by chiding me.
“Urino, you went totally overboard. You remember what was decided in the March editorial meeting, don’t you? If you’re not going to fulfill what was decided, just quit the club. You’re just making a nuisance of yourself.”
In the March editorial meeting, it was decided that I would be allocated a quarter of a page, as per President Doujima’s suggestion. The purpose was to reveal my sources for being able to predict the arsonist’s targets, and stop that series of articles. In that sense, it was true that I’d gone against the decision.
But of course, I’d prepared my piece before attending the meeting.
“The decision to end the series of articles in April was made by Nitta of the Student Counseling Department, but he has been transferred to another school. There should be no complaints about its continuation.”
“Nitta doesn’t matter. What I’m talking about is you going against the decision made in our editorial meeting. It was a clear decision, and you agreed to it.”
“I’m not so sure about that. It was only decided that I would be allotted a quarter of a page.”
Lifting his eyebrows, Monchi glared at me.
“Are you taking me for a fool?”
Last month in the Student Counseling Room, I was overwhelmed by Nitta’s intense obstinacy and was unable to say anything. I could do nothing as President Doujima defended me, causing frustration that I still could not forget. As if I would get intimidated by Monchi now. In response to his outburst, I replied solemnly.
“I’m doing no such thing. I prepared two different articles. The first is, as per Nitta’s wishes, to end the series of articles. The second is a spare article to be switched in if the situation changes. And the situation did change.”
I recalled the time when I watched a movie with Osanai. On that day, she showed me the article about the teacher transferals.
I’d given some thought to why Osanai was carrying that around. She wouldn’t have wanted to show me something like that if she didn’t know that Nitta was hindering my activities. In that case, her information source was none other than President Doujima.
As usual, the president was leaning back with his arms folded, as if flaunting his wide frame. The image of Osanai whispering into his ear momentarily crossed my mind… those two must have a connection deeper than I’d thought.
But right now, I had to refute Monchi’s argument.
“It is easy to tell me to just stop it, but have you ever thought about how desperate I got for this article? Whenever I heard of an arson attack, I would ride my bicycle all the way to the edges of the city, even during the coldest part of winter. Unlike you, senpai, I have not been writing my articles by saying ‘Mr Principal, please.’”
“Urino, you asshole!”
I was now sure that I’d hit him where it hurt.
That was just how Monchi was. I had no choice but to recognize that President Doujima played his role relatively well, but Monchi did not do any proper work. I had never seen him make a constructive suggestion, and on top of that, he was nothing but the president’s yes man. In the sense that he just vaguely, spiritlessly put in words to meet the word count, he was actually quite like Kishi. Even so, he was always putting on a display of maintaining order within the Newspaper Club, and was thus a hindrance to me. Even Kishi, who always clearly showed his lack of motivation, was a better individual.
Monchi’s face turned red, but I had no intention of backing down. On the sidelines, Itsukaichi timidly looked back and forth between the two of us.
“Who do you think you are, someone important? Whether you go to the edges of town or not, that’s up to you. Who told you to do that? The article you’re so proud of is just a copy of the local paper, anyway. Why’re you acting so big when you’ve achieved so little, huh?”
“Perhaps you’re right, but only if a mere copy can normally predict the location of future crimes. Do you not understand? It was me who found the pattern behind the series of arson attacks. Only I wrote about it. It was impossible for even the newspaper, and more so for you, senpai!”
The words wouldn’t stop, even as the atmosphere in the room worsened. Under the table, I tightened my fists.
At that tense moment, President Doujima uncrossed his arms.
“Calm down, Monchi… I understand what Urino is saying.”
“He has no reason to belittle your articles, but it is true that he worked hard. He did proper investigation, and thought about it well. His articles were in a different direction from what I thought they would be, but he did a good job. It’s certainly difficult to agree with suddenly being asked to stop like that, right? I get his sentiment of wanting to switch the articles after finding out that Nitta got transferred.”
Monchi’s face contorted into a grimace. He must have assumed that the president would have his back. Then again, I was also holding the faint hope that he would understand.
But President Doujima was not so simple.
“…So, just let me do the talking, Monchi.”
With a hand on the table, he stared at me. He wasn’t putting on a surly face like Monchi, but I couldn’t help but straighten my posture with a start.
“Urino, I’ll be asking you a few questions.”
The opening act had concluded, and the real show was about to begin.
“The person who summoned you and told you to stop writing about the serial arson attacks was certainly Nitta… but have you considered that the entire Student Counseling Department could be behind that decision?”
“Nitta was transferred, but that doesn’t mean that the Student Counseling Department disappeared. Even now, we might be called out by them and asked about why we never followed his guidance.
“If you’d put in that article revealing your sources, we could have thought of an excuse. But you didn’t do that, so there’s nothing we can say. If there’s some punishment, we’ll have no choice but to take it. I’m asking if you’ve thought about what happens afterwards.”
Come to think of it…
The president was saying that even if Nitta was gone, the Student Counseling Department had not disappeared.
And he was right about that.
I had a reason for that, too.
“A-At that time, Nitta was the only one in the room. Also, he was making unfair accusations, so I thought that he was alone in saying those things.”
“I also thought so, but we can’t be sure.”
I couldn’t immediately answer. Nitta’s words were unreasonable, but it was possible that the Student Counseling Department’s decision itself was unreasonable…
“Well, we’re still waiting for their move. It’s also possible that nothing will happen. We just don’t know yet… Next.”
President Doujima placed a copy of Funado Monthly on the table.
“You added a call for new members at the end of your article.”
“Since it is the April issue, I thought it was an obvious thing to do.”
The president’s eyes raced across the article.
“But this isn’t a normal situation. Here you wrote that those interested in this case should come to the Newspaper Club, implying that the series of arson attacks will continue. A section of the page was allotted to you in the editorial meeting last year, but I don’t remember letting you decide the direction of this year’s activities. I won’t say something like, ‘Who do you think you are,’ but I will say that you went overboard.”
Indeed, I also felt that my writing was going too far there. Perhaps it was just a slip of the pen. However, I had an excuse for that.
“I was just soliciting for new members as a columnist. There should be a page with the official recruitment advertisement by the Newspaper Club, right? That was why I thought it would be fine.”
“Your reasoning doesn’t make sense.”
My excuse was immediately dismissed.
“There is certainly an article for recruiting new members, but that doesn’t mean you can write the column in any way you want. It’s the opposite, in fact. Since there is already one page with a proper recruitment advertisement, it only makes sense for the other columns to be consistent. You’re not recruiting your subordinates, but recruiting for the Newspaper Club, after all. Also, in this new school year, the Newspaper Club has not decided to pursue this case yet.”
Monchi triumphantly cut in.
“You went ahead of yourself, writing so selfishly like that.”
President Doujima merely gave him a glance in response. Similarly, I didn’t have the time to contend with him.
The president snorted.
“Then again, we’re just a small club of four now. Even if we go into the details of forming a consensus, it’ll be a waste of time. It won’t be too late to think of that after new members come, anyway. If you can become aware of the meaning of what you wrote, I’ll be happy to leave it at that for now.”
Was that self-derision? However, his grave face didn’t seem to waver in the slightest, making me doubt that possibility.
Perhaps it was just my imagination, but President Doujima’s gaze seemed to grow sharper. No, he definitely saw this third point as the most important. After a brief pause enough for me to understand that fact, he spoke again.
“If you say that you thought so highly of your article that you went out of control, I understand the sentiment. But Urino, sorry to say this, but I don’t believe you.”
A tense silence fell over the room.
“I told you to write an article revealing your sources. However, you were delighted when Nitta’s transfer was announced, and claimed that you submitted an article you had in reserve. That’s it. There’s something I want you to show me… If that article revealing your sources does exist, show it to me.”
A groan almost escaped my mouth.
If the article didn’t exist, that would mean I always had the intention to go against the editorial meeting’s decision. If it did exist, it would act as an endorsement for my words.
The president wasn’t questioning if my actions were right or wrong, but if they were forgivable or not. That important point was fully dependent on the existence of the article. I certainly never thought that he would focus on that.
My impression of President Doujima as a rough conservative was steadily changing. The contradictory feelings I’d had outside the Student Counseling Room in March welled up once again… The feelings of admiration and chagrin. That was the reason for my silence, but Monchi probably misunderstood, and triumphantly exclaimed.
“Of course not! This selfish guy just wanted to do it!”
He even added another line.
“Come on, say something!”
I had no intention of saying anything. There was no need to. Instead, I took a black file out of my bag. All the research and investigation I’d done regarding the serial arson attacks was wedged inside it. The once flimsy file was now thick and bloated. From it I retrieved a single-page printout. Since it was not supposed to be used, I hadn’t cut down on the word count, so it was a little long.
As I was about to present it, I wavered for an instance. It was supposed to be my story, mine alone, and thus I hesitated to show others the pattern behind the serial arson attacks.
The president seemed to read my thoughts.
“Funado Monthly is not just for you.”
He was right. If not for this fussy dispute, the information should have been already been shared with the Newspaper Club members. It was probably too late to only present it now.
I understood that, but on second thoughts, I really didn’t like the idea of losing my exclusive possession… Well, I didn’t exactly have the obligation to reveal my trump card.
Well aware that I was making a wry face, I placed the printout on the table.
|(7 April – Funado Monthly, Page 8 Column)|
Congratulations on your enrollment, freshmen! The student body of Funado High School extends a very warm welcome to all of you.
Funado Monthly mainly introduces events happening within the school, but also includes other articles. For example, since February this year, we have been running opinion pieces regarding the series of arson attacks that has been happening throughout Kira City. I would like to provide a brief introduction of those opinion pieces as an activity done by the Newspaper Club in the previous school year.
On 13 October, there was an arson attack at a vacant lot in Hamae. On 10 November, there was another arson attack at a children’s park in Nishimori. On 8 December, at a storage area in Koyubi. On 12 January, on a road in Akanebe. On 9 February, at the river embankment in Ritsuno. On 15 March, at a bus stop in Hinode Town.
We were certain that there was some link between those cases, because they always occurred between the late night of the second Friday of the month and dawn of the second Saturday. Also, the arson targets gradually escalated in scale. Those two facts strongly suggest that those arson attacks were committed by the same culprit.
After some detailed investigation, we managed to ascertain this link. As a result of that, we became able to precisely predict the location of the culprit’s next targets, and we hit the mark with those predictions.
To understand this link, it would be helpful to have a complete map of Kira City. If not, please imagine a map of Kira City while reading this.
We know that the locations for the six incidents are quite far apart from each other. The arsonist selects locations that are a distance away from the locations they have already targeted. However, all we can tell from this is that the target is a different location from the previous one.
What does it mean for the locations to be far apart? It means that the attacks have an effect that cannot be fit in one warning zone. If the fires only happen in the same area, fire prevention patrols made up of residents can be used, and that could prevent the fires. Anything else?
The aspect we focused on was what would happen if a fire appears. If there is a fire, even if it can be dealt with by residents using buckets or boxes, a call to the fire department is usually made. In actuality, firefighters were deployed for these arson attacks, excluding the one at Hamae in October and the one at Hinode Town in March.
Thus, we investigated the fire department, deployments and firetrucks.
As a result, we found that for these arson attacks, the firefighters were deployed from a different precinct each time, in the order of Nishimori Precinct, Koyubi Precinct, Akanebe Precinct. Taking notice of this, we steadily continued our investigation, on the telephone directory, book of postal codes and the Kira City hazard map.
Eventually, we found a list that matched the order. Shockingly, it is the reverse order of the precinct list in Kira City’s Disaster Prevention Plan!
Was it just a coincidence? No, we were certain that it was a hint. Based on that, we wrote in February that the next arson attack location would be at Ritsuno or Kobiki, and that turned out to be correct. Before Ritsuno Precinct on the list is Touma Precinct, which has jurisdiction over Touma Town, Kajiya Town and Hinode Town. That was what we wrote in March, and the fire ended up hitting Hinode Town.
The accuracy of our investigation was proven by induction. (Freshmen should have learnt about inductive reasoning in middle school!) Now we have a deduction to make: The culprit is likely a person related to the fire department, or a staff member of the municipal office. Only someone with a deep relation to disaster prevention would be aware of the existence of the Disaster Prevention Plan.
With this introduction out of the way, we are putting a stop to the investigation of this series of arson attacks. You freshmen should be able to understand what we have done. The activities in the Newspaper Club are tenacious and worthwhile. If you approve of these activities and would like to participate in them yourselves, please visit the Newspaper Club’s room (which is the Printing Preparation Room), as we are recruiting new members.
“Seems like incitement to me.”
That was President Doujima’s first impression of the article. His lips were a little loose when he said that, so that was probably his version of a wry smile.
He then continued.
“Do you have this precinct list?”
Of course, it was tucked inside the file as well.
|(Kira City Disaster Prevention Plan, Page 11)|
Overview of Kira City Fire Department Headquarters
Kira Fire Department HQ
Kira South Fire Department HQ
Kira West Fire Department HQ
Overview of Kira City Fire Department Precincts, with Approximate Areas of Jurisdiction
Kanou Precinct – Kanou Town, Asaka Town, Sanguuji Town
Hinoki Town Precinct – Hinoki Town, South Hinoki Town
Harimi Precinct – Harimi Town
Kitaura Precinct – Kitaura Town
Ueno Town Precinct – Ueno Town 1st District, 2nd District
Mount Kazan Precinct – Ueno Town 3rd District, Mount Kazan
Touma Precinct – Touma Town, Kajiya Town, Hinode Town
Ritsuno Precinct – Ritsuno Town, Kobiki Town
Akanebe Precinct – Akanebe Town, Akanebe East New Town
Koyubi Precinct – Koyubi Town
Nishimori Precinct – Nishimori Town, Kyuudougari
Hamae Precinct – Hamae Town (Includes forested area)
“It certainly fits.”
But Monchi raised his voice after taking only one glance at it.
“It’s just a coincidence. This is just… just a disaster plan!”
Half-seated, he leant forward, spittle flying out of his mouth.
“That’s too much of a stretch. There’s no way something like this would come up. What’s the point of setting fires to the order of something like this? A list that no one knows!”
“You can’t say that.”
As usual, President Doujima had not lost his cool. Carefully studying the list, he replied.
“It’s impossible for this list to be unknown. There’s the person who made this list, their subordinates or superiors. There are also the organizations that this list was distributed to. As Urino wrote in the article, it’s not unreasonable to think that the culprit is someone related to the fire department or a municipal office staff.”
“The affected areas are spread throughout the city. Similarly, the fire department precincts are placed a set distance from each other so that they can cover the entire city. Additionally, I believe that the culprit is an adult. I don’t know where they live, but with places like Nishimori in the west and Akanebe in the east, it’s quite hard to get around without a car.”
But the president tilted his head in response.
“Really? A bicycle should be enough. Though I understand that an adult would have more opportunities to come into contact with this list.”
Indeed, I’d gone to check out the crimes scenes by bicycle. But to be honest, it was quite tough to do so. Since I felt that way even when I was traveling in the afternoon, I naturally thought that the culprit who traveled at night would have used a car.
President Doujima would be fine with traveling at night since he seemed to have almost unlimited stamina, but I couldn’t, and there was no reason to believe that the culprit was particularly fit. There was my counterargument, but I kept silent.
“Monchi also mentioned this, but I don’t understand how following that order benefits the culprit… I can only imagine that since the culprit is so concerned about which fire department is deployed, it must be some sort of challenge or test. But I suppose there’s no point asking anyone about their motive. What I want to ask you is this.”
He placed the list back down on the table.
“How did you notice this?”
I started thinking that the areas of jurisdiction might have something to do with the case on the day I went to gather information with Hiya, at the moment when I saw a firetruck in front of the train station. The words “Ueno Town 2” were painted in white on the red vehicle. At that time, I wondered what it was, then realized that it was to indicate which precinct it belonged to. I also recalled that the precinct in Koyubi was really close to the location of the arson attack there.
Right after I came up with that theory, I laughed it off. However, it did not leave my head. When I reached home, I did some research.
Then again, I didn’t need to go into that much detail. To sum it up in one sentence:
“My brother is a firefighter, so information like this is in my house.”
The president slowly folded his arms.
Perhaps it was so simple a reason that he had nothing more to say.
The president had his eyes closed, as a strange silence filled the clubroom. Monchi was gritting his teeth, unable to get a word in, while Itsukaichi was keeping his head down and staying silent, as if he was trying to survive a storm. Now that I’d proven the existence of the other article, all I could do was wait for the president’s decision.
A few minutes passed. Or at least that was what it felt like, and perhaps not even a minute passed. Finally, President Doujima opened his eyes and spoke.
“This is my mistake.”
With his arms folded, he spoke in a tone more solemn that before.
“My thinking was too shallow. This is only in hindsight, but it’s a good thing that you submitted that article, Urino. It was a close shave for us.”
Before I could respond, Monchi sputtered.
“What do you mean? You’re saying it’s good that Urino selfishly did all that?”
“…Well, I suppose that’s it.”
“But what about the meeting we had?”
“The conclusion we drew then was a huge mistake.”
The president pointed at the copy on the table, at the article that never got published.
“That article was written by and large according to my instructions. We decided for the article to be written that way in the editorial meeting. But Monchi, what do you think would happen it were to be published?”
“What would happen?”
Being suddenly asked to think, Monchi was at a loss for a while.
“Well, we would fulfill our duty to the Student Counseling Department and end that outrageous series of articles. Isn’t that all good?”
President Doujima cut him off.
“That doesn’t make the serial arson attacks disappear. In fact, if more arson attacks occur in the future, the Newspaper Club would have been in an extremely horrible position. It was really a close shave.”
Monchi still hadn’t realized it.
“Why do you say that?”
“You don’t understand?”
The president slowly replied.
“The days on which the fires were started, the escalation of its contents and the Disaster Prevention Plan. Urino, that’s all the common points you found, right?”
I stammered a little, and the president did not miss that opening.
“If there’s anything else, just say so. I’m not telling you to reveal any trump card you’re hiding so late in the game. All I’m asking is for you to say if it exists.”
He didn’t know anything, yet he seemed to have seen through the fact that I did have a trump card left, simply based off my attitude. Since I didn’t have to go into the specifics, I nodded with great reluctance.
“…Actually, yes, there is a common point that only I know.”
“I see, so there is another.”
President Doujima let out a deep sigh.
“That’s some prudence that I didn’t have… Alright, Monchi. Let’s say that this article that reveals everything was published. If a copycat criminal completely follows the pattern here, they would be indistinguishable from the real culprit. We won’t be able to defend ourselves against the accusation that Funado Monthly created a copycat criminal, and that would be a death blow. Disbandment of the club might not even be the end of it.”
Monchi was lost for words.
“But if that isn’t written, we still have room to play because one wouldn’t be able to perform an exact copy of the crime. The Newspaper Club can differentiate between the true culprit and the copycat, then appeal that we would immediately know if anyone tries anything stupid, and that would prevent idiots from trying. Even if a copycat shows up after we’ve made clear that the crime cannot be pinned on the true culprit, that would be just one arsonist. We can also deny any relation to them, since the normal newspapers report on such fires as well.”
The president seemed to be going on a monologue now.
“We were saved thanks to Urino’s arbitrary decision. As I thought, I’m not good with things like this. Perhaps I should have had a consultation.”
That was a strange monologue. He mentioned that he should have had a consultation. But with whom? Did he say that name of the person good with something like this?
The image of one person rose in the back of my mind for some reason. The girl who was whispering into the ear of a seated President Doujima. I had no idea why Osanai’s face came to mind. I was sorely disappointed at myself.
Not sharing my concerns, the president spoke in a voice one magnitude louder than before.
“I’m a third-year. I have exams to take.”
Staying silent, I listened.
“It’s the norm for third-years to pull out by May, but this is a good opportunity. I’ll retire from my position as club president.”
The one to raise their voice was not me, but Monchi, as well as Itsukaichi, who hadn’t spoke a word until now. President Doujima continued with his announcement.
“I’ll also retire from the club. Choose a new president between you and Itsukaichi, and do a good job of running the club.”
I knew that this would come soon, but I thought that it would only happen in May.
The retirement of third-year students, and the selection of the new club president.
Even though I knew it was coming, I never expected it to come today.
Instinctively, I looked at Itsukaichi. He was also looking at me… but when our eyes met, he immediately averted his gaze.
And thus, I was convinced of what would happen, though it was obvious. Funado High School’s Newspaper Club president would be, from today onwards, Urino Takahiko.
Starting from today, I would be leading Funado Monthly.
Instead of basking in ecstasy or reveling in pride, my first reaction was, for some reason, to lower my head to the senpai who was still folding his arms.
“Thank you so much for the hard work.”
Doujima-senpai did not say anything unnecessary. All he did was give his usual grave nod.
I didn’t think of Doujima-senpai as a bad club president. He had a bunch of good points. I had no choice but to recognize his ability to deal with trouble, and more importantly, he certainly had the leadership required to steer a club.
However, I wouldn’t call him the most beneficial for the club. In the end, he was unable to change Funado Monthly. For a newspaper that received funding from the school and could be distributed to the entire student body, it should be more appealing.
I was completely devoted to the case of the serial arson attacks, so I was unable to start anything else. Monchi hadn’t mentioned if he would retire or continue, but I couldn’t rely on him for firepower. Or to be precise, I couldn’t get him to do anything. Itsukaichi was also unreliable, but if I could leave him with the conventional articles, that would fill up the newspaper. Beyond that, I would have to rely on new members. If someone useful joined, I would get him to search for some other story that could serve as the centerpiece of the newspaper. When the arson story reaches its expiration date, it would be perfect to replace it with the next exciting scoop.
I needed to achieve better results compared to what we had already done. The eighth-page column wasn’t exactly too small for updates on the serial arson case, but it would be great to hold it in one full page. I couldn’t possibly display it on the top page, but I could certainly create a section on a page and name it something like “City News Corner”. If so, I would have to strengthen the content. In fact, I was starting to get a little dissatisfied with simply correctly predicting the next affected area. To garner the interest of the readers, I would need some other development.
Our ratings within the school was probably gradually increasing, too. If I get the readers’ expectations up, then proceed to fulfill them, the value of Funado Monthly would increase. And that was something I could do.
I’d already read the arsonist’s movement patterns. If so, the articles I should write, the research I should do are…
It would be a busy period from here on out, but it had also become more interesting.
I looked up to notice that the sun was already setting.
I’d remained in the clubroom alone to sort out what I had to do, but it seemed that I’d been too engrossed in it. In any case, it was a must for me to proceed with the recruitment of new members. Deciding that I should also get Itsukaichi to think of an idea, I left the Printing Preparation Room.
Walking out to the corridor, I was greeted by sunlight coming in through the west windows. The sunset was awfully red today.
There was still quite some time before the end of school hours, but there was almost no sign of people in the corridor. At first, I thought that it was completely empty, but my eyes were mistaken. Hidden in the red light, a silhouette was leaning on the wall, holding a paperback book in her hand. She looked like a freshman, but that wasn’t the case. As small as she was, she was a third-year student, Osanai Yuki.
“You’re finally out. And here I thought you’d shut yourself in there.”
“You waited for me?”
That had never happened before, but rather than being surprised, I was a little suspicious. However, Osanai broke into a genuine grin.
“Yup,” she said with a nod.
“I see. I was just about to head home. Shall we go together?”
“Yep, sure we could, but before that…”
Osanai took one step away from the wall.
“You became the club president, right? Congratulations.”
How did she know, I wondered.
I pondered as I spoke. How did she know? There was only one answer. Because Doujima-senpai had told her.
And why did he do that? Why did he tell her something that should only concern the members of the Newspaper Club?
Once again, the image of Osanai whispering to Doujima-senpai floated in the back of my mind, her elegant body in a crouch, a coquettish look on her profile.
Osanai took one more step closer.
“I waited because I was worried.”
“Um, I was wondering if you would investigate that case even further now that you’re the president… that’s what I was worried about.”
But that was my plan, to investigate it further.
And that wasn’t all.
“It’s not just the case. I’m planning to chase the culprit as well.”
“I’ve got a grasp on the arsonist’s movement patterns. I’ll take a photo of the crime scene, hand it to the police and get them arrested. In fact, I find it weird that I haven’t tried it yet. If possible, I could even catch them myself.”
Imagine the president of the Funado High School Newspaper Club catching the serial arsonist.
What an appealing idea, isn’t it? With this, the name of the Newspaper Club would rise by leaps and bounds, and my name would be carved in Funado High School history. That was exactly what I desired.
Catching them directly wouldn’t be simple, though. I didn’t have any information about the culprit’s physique, but since I didn’t know any form of martial arts, it was doubtful if someone like me would be able to hold a person down.
That said, what if I could take a photo of them committing the act…
“Funado Monthly will have some radical changes.”
Osanai’s countenance clouded over slightly.
“Even though it couldn’t be done when Doujima-kun was there?”
That line caused some dark feelings to violently surge forth.
It was exactly as I thought. Osanai still had some connection to Doujima-senpai.
In what way? How much did she rely on Doujima-senpai?
“He didn’t do anything. It would have been the same with or without him.”
Even when I was investigating the serial arson attacks, Doujima-senpai did not help me out a single time.
That’s it. Now I remember. It was the day when we were supposed to watch a romance movie, but it turned out to be a suspense movie. Osanai, who had introduced me to a shop with delicious ice cream, turned to me and said this – “Childish pranks are no good. I think not doing anything is the best.”
“You’re against me investigating the case, aren’t you?”
“Urino-kun, you look scary…”
“Why is that? Am I too irresponsible? Is Doujima more reliable to you? The one holding the trump card is me. There’s still something that I know, while Doujima doesn’t know anything.”
Osanai held her paperback in front of her chest and hugged it, as if that small book would protect her.
“Yes, Doujima-kun is reliable. He’s convenient. But that’s not what I was saying.”
“You know what?”
Osanai closed her eyes as she spoke.
“You know what? Just listen without getting mad… I don’t dislike hard workers, but…”
Her voice became even softer.
“I like people who don’t do anything.”
“Don’t do anything…?”
“Yes. I’m a little citizen, and I like other little citizens.”
She spoke in a faint voice that almost could not be heard. If the corridor hadn’t been so quiet at this time after school, it would have been easily drowned out.
…Oh, how bad you are at lying! You said all those unnatural lines just to stop me, but did you really think that I would be persuaded?
“I’m not like that.”
I made a clear assertion. Osanai looked up with a start.
“I’m not a little citizen who doesn’t do anything. It’s fine, you can leave it to me. Just wait. In three months, I’ll show you something absolutely amazing.”
With Doujima-senpai no longer in the Newspaper Club, I would be the one to do it.
I had no intention to stop no matter what Osanai said. If she was having doubts about my strength, I would just have to prove it to her.
I extended my arms and grabbed her shoulders. They were small and frail, like they would break if I squeezed too hard. I pulled her close and bent my knees.
Next, I did something I always wanted to do, but could never do before.
I leaned in for the kiss.
However, I didn’t actually come into contact with her lips. I was expecting some softness and warmth, but all I got was a bland taste, as if I was biting into sand.
I never intended to close my eyes, but that was exactly what I did. Feeling that something was off, I slowly opened my eyes.
Only to see one sheet of paper.
Osanai was holding a small, thin piece of paper on my lips to stop me. It was a receipt. She had a paperback in her left hand and the receipt in her right hand. In a corner of my seething head, I thought, “Ah, she must have used a receipt in place of a bookmark.”
Just ten centimeters in front of me, Osanai’s eyes narrowed.
“That’s no good!”
She seemed to be having fun. The receipt was still in front of my lips.
“Fine, if you’re telling me to listen, I’ll listen.”
I distanced myself from her. My hands, which were supposed to be holding her shoulders, were somehow already empty.
With what looked like a skip, Osanai retreated. Twirling both hands behind her, she looked up at me.
“Urino-kun, you said to leave it to you, right? And that you’ll show me something amazing, right?”
I nodded repeatedly.
Osanai smiled. Osanai, who could always only produce a light grin no matter how hard I tried.
And now her smile was what could almost be called the definition of radiance itself.
“…Fine. I’m looking forward to it.”
After saying those words, she adjusted her skirt and turned around.
From over her shoulders, something white fluttered down. It was the receipt, or Osanai’s thin shield.
“It’s yours. It’ll make for a good memory, don’t you think?”
I bent down to retrieve it, then looked up.
But Osanai was already gone, and the red sunset had turned into a gloomy dusk.
My mobile phone vibrated in my pocket. The alarm that I’d set was going off. I placed my mechanical pencil on the table, looked up at the sky and let out a huge sigh that hit the ceiling.
I was in the library on a Sunday. Going to the library not to browse, but to study for entrance examinations was probably not a praiseworthy thing to do, but the Kira Municipal Library had a space called the “Study Room”. There was a label saying “Students, please use this room”, so I’d entered without any qualms. I would act brazenly anywhere as long as I was allowed to. That could be said to be an attitude befitting of a petit bourgeois.
Students like me were in no short supply. About half of the tables in the Study Room were filled, even though it was only April.
Studying for entrance exams in April was a commendable act, but it probably wouldn’t last for long. Fatigue would likely set in at the start of the next month, and the next time I would be spurred to do this again would be in the summer holidays. During that time, students would undoubtedly be packed like sardines in this study room.
Today, I’d prepared an anthology of examination questions from a random university, and I was attempting to answer those questions. I was even timing myself and treating it as a mock exam.
There were a few questions that I couldn’t answer. For example, I still hadn’t learnt the section on probabilities yet. In fact, it was quite weird that I was attempting to answer entrance examination questions that should be learnt from a full three years of study, when I’d just become a third-year student. In theory, I wouldn’t have learnt a third of the topics yet.
I spent about thirty minutes doing some self-evaluation. With the answer key in sheets of loose-leaf paper in front of me, I tilted my head in contemplation. My chemistry was a little weak, but wasn’t that bad for me to worry about. On the other hand, my modern Japanese had its ups and downs. I achieved a full score many times, but I would sometimes get only about sixty percent.
The reason for that is likely related to my personality. Assume that there is a question saying “Due to A, B lost something precious to them. What emotion would B feel when they meet up again?” The questions are in multiple choice format, so all I have to do is search for options that are along the line of “frustration” or “disconsolation”. However, I would occasionally think like this: “No, if it’s going like this, B would definitely feel happy. There is no way they wouldn’t be happy to meet such a key witness and find out more about the truth.” However, there wouldn’t be such an option, so I would be confused on top of being mistaken. In modern Japanese, reading comprehension questions in particular are given a lot of points, so making such mistakes are unacceptable.
I would have to deal with this bad habit before the actual entrance exams began.
… That would be difficult, though, especially since it was a problem borne from my nature. There would still be nine months left, a long period of time that could even seem like an eternity, though it would pass by eventually. The everlasting six years in elementary school had ended, and so had the three years of middle school that I thought to be long rather than a perpetuity. There was no reason for the three years in high school to last forever. I understood that, but what if time suddenly decides to go in a loop?
That could happen, so let’s continue with studying when that time comes. Now, I should pack up my things and quickly leave. Man, what a tiring day.
Before returning home, I decided to buy a coffee from a vending machine placed by the passageway, though I was in a dilemma as to whether I should get it hot or iced. The weather wasn’t cold anymore, but it wasn’t so warm that I would want an iced coffee. In the end, I bought a hot coffee, then sat down on a bench next to the vending machine.
After taking a sip of coffee, I let out a sigh.
From my bag, I retrieved the loose-leaf notepad, and looked at the answers I’d given for the exam questions earlier. Since they were all multiple choice questions, there were only combinations of numbers, like “Q1 = 2” or “Q3 = 4”.As I thought about how long it had taken to merely arrange these numbers and reflected upon the futility and transience of the world, I flipped the pages, since it was quite boring to stare at those meaningless numbers.
While answering the questions, I would sometimes make some scribbles on the page. Those scribbles caught my attention, telling me that I hadn’t been able to heighten my concentration. Basically, they were like splinters buried beneath the skin… things from the previous year that I would occasionally recall and wonder about.
Some proper nouns were scribbled on the page.
The name of that splinter was “The struggle for leadership in Funado High School’s Newspaper Club”.
It could also be called “The serial arson case in Kira City”.
I’d already been thinking for a considerable amount of time about whether I should remove that splinter, and what to do about it.
Usually, I would want to leave something like this alone. I had already separated from Osanai-san, so it would only be right not to care about anything she does. On the other hand, there was still a small chance that the situation could turn into something horrible, and if my misgivings turned out to be correct… there would be a lot more work for me to do afterwards.
I drained the can of coffee and placed the loose-leaf notepad back into my bag.
After leaving the library, I headed for the parking area to get my bicycle.
As I was exiting through the gate, I stopped to consider if I should head to the right or to the left. The right path was the way home. It wasn’t that late in the afternoon, so I would be able to reach home while the sun was still high in the sky. If I went to the left, there would be Doujima Kengo’s house. It would only take me a few minutes even if I walked from here, and much less with a bicycle.
Straddling the bicycle, I muttered to myself.
“Doujima, huh… What shall I do?”
Values like “It is easier to do something than worry about it” and “Act first, think later” are not characteristic of the petit bourgeois. Rather, they are heroic qualities. The act of talking to Kengo could possibly dissolve that splinter, but I was still hesitant to do so because we didn’t get along very well.
I scratched my cheek.
Then again, staying clear of him forever was certainly leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Furthermore, getting curious about this during the entrance examination could be a problem.
For now, I decided to give him a call. If he was at home, I would go over and ask him about it. If he was out, then there would be nothing I could do. Having finally made a decision, I took my mobile phone out of my pocket.
That was the phone that I’d bought last year to replace the previous one, which was simply way too old… Anyway, I dialled the number listed under “Kengo Mobile”, got off the bicycle and waited.
Five ringing tones.
Ten ringing tones.
“…Not answering, huh.”
Perhaps he was sleeping, or perhaps he was out. Pressing the hold button, I hung up with feelings of relief and disappointment.
That was when I heard a voice right behind me.
“Ah, he hung up.”
It was a voice I’d heard before.
I turned around to see Doujima Kengo standing at the entrance of the library, mobile phone in hand. Basically, his phone had rung while he was in the library, so he’d hurried out to answer it.
How conscientious of him.
I watched as Kengo pushed some buttons on his phone, and the phone in my hand started vibrating. On the screen were the words “Incoming Call: Kengo Mobile”. I answered the call.
“Did you need me?”
“I suppose, but how about you look up for now?”
Kengo did exactly that, so it turned into a staring contest between the two of us.
“So you use the library, Kengo.”
“It’s close by.”
I couldn’t have agreed more.
It was good that I didn’t have to barge into his house, and that made me feel a little relieved. For the time being, we went back into the library and sat next to each other on the bench next to the vending machine. Kengo bought a hot coffee, but I’d just drunk one three minutes ago, so I decided to give it a pass.
Kengo scarcely brought the coffee to his mouth before turning to ask me a question.
“So, did you need me for something?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
However, since Kengo had appeared while I was not yet mentally prepared, I hadn’t decided how to broach the subject. First of all…
“Sorry about earlier. If I knew you were here, I would have sent you an email.”
“That sure made me panic. Though it was my fault for not turning off my phone.”
“Well, you didn’t have to hurry out like that.”
Kengo glanced at me.
“I did have to hurry. Whenever you call me, it’s never anything good. It could have been an urgent matter.”
Regarding that point, I felt apologetic to him. I was always asking big favors of him, after all. Also, I would have to some day return the favor to Kengo, who hurried out of the library to take the call because he thought it could be something bad and that I would urgently need his help.
“The call from that other time was weird as well. What was that for, anyway?”
“That other time?”
Kengo gave me a disgruntled look.
“You told me to send a photo of that vehicle, didn’t you? Since it was you, I thought that you would explain it later, but… did you forget?”
Come to think of it, I did ask him for the photograph. I didn’t intentionally neglect to explain it to him, but I had so much to think about afterwards that I forgot about it.
“Sorry, I forgot. I’ll tell you about it now.”
“Didn’t you have something you wanted to ask me?”
“It’s related to that.”
I paused to organize my thoughts a little.
As I thought, it all started from this point.
“Do you remember me calling you around the end of November last year? Or perhaps it was at the beginning of December…”
“Yeah. You mentioned something along those lines when you called me to send the photographs.”
I didn’t remember that at all, though.
The facts of the situation were all scribbled down in the loose-leaf notepad, but there was no need to go to the trouble of taking it out. I’d memorized most of them, after all.
“It all started in September. Urino Takahiko-kun of the Newspaper Club announced that he wanted to write about something off-campus, but you rejected his proposal.”
Kengo looked doubtful.
“What does that have to do with anything? I was asking about the photographs.”
“As I said, they’re all related.”
I’d expected Kengo to have a fair grasp of the situation, but that was apparently not the case. Well, not that he was completely unaware, either.
“The reason why you were against that proposal going through was because Urino-kun probably intended to write about that kidnapping case, right?”
“That was one of my reasons, yes.”
“After that, Osanai-san came into contact with you, and she said something along the lines of, ‘It’s troubling for me if the kidnapping case is written about, but anything else off-campus is fine.’ You found that to be suspicious, so you gave me a phone call.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“What did you think of that?”
“Hmm, let’s see…”
While holding the can of coffee, Kengo folded his arms. He usually did that, but I never knew that he could somehow fold his arms while holding an object. Was it a yoga pose or something?
“I certainly found it suspicious that she knew about what was going on in the Newspaper Club. I also found it weird that she would say all that even though it wouldn’t change my views.”
“Well, there it is. The answer to your first question is simple. Someone else in the club is an acquaintance of Osanai-san.”
“Yeah, I know. This guy called Monchi is in her class, I believe.”
“Yep. I suppose it’s understandable if she heard it from Monchi.”
Sure, it would be natural to think that way, but it wouldn’t be consistent with the facts afterwards. Or was it possible that my thinking was mistaken? Anyway…
“Did Monchi-kun agree to the writing of those articles?”
“No, he was against them. He seemed to dislike Urino.”
I see. It was just as I thought, then.
“Putting that aside, you said that your views wouldn’t change from Osanai-san’s words, but I think that’s not the case.”
“What do you mean?”
Presented with a question about himself, Kengo looked at me dubiously. Perhaps I should put a gentler nuance on my words.
“One of the reasons why you rejected Urino-kun’s proposal was to protect Osanai-san. Subsequently, no matter how many times Urino-kun raised that idea, you were always against it, right? But one line from Osanai-san made you realize that you didn’t need to stick to your disapproval, and you became more accepting of that suggestion… In any case, I believe that was what Osanai-san thought would happen. No matter how you think about it, the meaning behind Osanai-san’s words is ‘Please accept Urino-kun’s idea.’”
“…Now that you mention it, that does seem like it. Was I played for a fool?”
“You were coaxed to do it. There was no way for you to refuse, right?”
“Does this mean that Urino and Osanai are connected?”
“Probably. Monchi-kun being connected as well is quite an irregular element, but he was against Urino-kun’s proposal. As I thought, Osanai-san was supporting Urino-kun.”
Unfolding his arms, Kengo started gulping down his coffee. But he suddenly stopped, as if he’d just thought of something.
“Hang on, something’s not right. Urino did end up monopolizing the column, but the one who brought it up in the first place was Itsukaichi.”
“So that means it was probably also Osanai-san who encouraged Itsukaichi-kun to make that suggestion.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely surprising.
However, Kengo stared at me, a great deal of shock on his face. Ignoring him, I continued.
“There are two ways of thinking about it. The first is that Osanai-san’s motive was to get Ichikaichi-kun to write that column once. Other is that, her motive was to get Urino-kun to monopolize the column.
“In the case of the former, appealing to you would be meaningless. I read Itsukaichi-kun’s column, and there was no danger of him writing about the kidnapping case. In the case of the latter, there would be a point in appealing to you. If there was someone played for a fool, or rather, manipulated, that would be Itsukaichi-kun.
“As a result, Urino-kun started following the series of arson attacks in this city.”
Kengo raised his voice.
“Osanai was intervening in the Newspaper Club’s matters? What for?”
In contrast, I replied in a small voice.
“Well, that’s what I’m wondering about. I don’t think she’s just playing around. And that’s where the photos I got from you come in.”
Specifically, that cream-colored light van, which had been burnt to a crisp when I saw it.
“Kengo, you know of the vehicle that was burnt by the embankment at Ritsuno, right? That was the same vehicle as the one in the photographs you sent me.”
Tension ran across Kengo’s countenance.
“The vehicle in the photographs? You mean…”
“Yes. The vehicle that was used to abduct Osanai-san was the same as the one that was burnt to a crisp at the embankment. Exactly as Funado Monthly predicted.”
“Jougorou, you can’t be saying… No, that can’t be it. So, what about it?”
After finishing the last drop of coffee, he placed the empty can on the floor. Then, he firmly folded his arms, as if to say, “Finally, I can fold my arms properly.”
What about it? That was the interesting bit. It was the thorn in my skin that was giving me the feeling that something was off.
“Let us assume that Osanai-san supported Urino-kun because she wanted news of that vehicle being set on fire to be reported. But that’s where she hits a wall. The column only started in January. The distribution of that page was only decided in December, right?”
“That means Osanai-san knew that the vehicle would be set on fire in February from as early as December, or even earlier than that. So the incident in February was lumped in with the series of arson attacks… I don’t think I need to say any more than that.”
However, before I could swallow down that conclusion, there was something I had to consider. Was the initial assumption valid?
“Then again, news of that abandoned vehicle being burnt up was also reported in the normal newspaper. Putting aside the predictions, there was no information that could only be found in Funado Monthly. That case would have been reported even without using any tricks, so that assumption is suspect. There is no direct link between Osanai-san supporting Urino-kun’s column and the kidnapper’s light van being set on fire.”
“So you’re saying it’s just a coincidence?”
I only now noticed that my legs had stretched quite a good distance away from the bench.
“There is a high chance that it is. I would put it at about 80 or 90 percent, but… Kengo, do you think Osanai-san is the type of person to set a vehicle on fire?”
Kengo was at a loss for words, with his lips tightly shut. The fact that even such a strong-willed person couldn’t give an answer spoke volumes.
If it’s Osanai-san, I don’t know.
It was not unreasonable for Kengo to think that way. With that small figure, her shadow didn’t stand out from its surroundings.
I started thinking a little more proactively. If Osanai-san needed to do it, she probably would. Just like the fraud case two years ago, just like last year’s kidnapping case, just like before. If necessary, she would do anything.
Osanai-san called herself a petit bourgeois, as did I. And just like in my case, it was a lie. It had been more than half a year since we dissolved our symbiotic relationship. If she hadn’t tamed the wolf in her, she could have done it.
“That method is too overt. It’s not Osanai-san’s style of doing things.”
Forgetting about Kengo for an instance, I muttered.
Osanai-san loved sweet things and revenge. If you provoked her, you would definitely get bitten in retaliation. That was what she liked to do, after all.
However, that revenge wouldn’t be carried out by her holding a machine gun and massacring everyone. She would set a trap, trick her enemies into falling into the pitfall, put on a metal cover, then take her revenge.
It was just like how I wouldn’t hold Nagasone Kotetsu12 by my hip and rampage around with the motto “Aku Soku Zan”13 even if I found myself in a horrible, inextricable situation. Fire was not my style, and shouldn’t be Osanai-san’s style, either.
Not to mention, it was weird for her to resort to drastic measures just to make news of her revenge widely known. The two of us knew about ourselves, and I knew about Osanai-san. We were too self-conscious, and since we always felt we were being watched by someone else, we would restrain ourselves. Hence, we would never have a strong desire to show off!
“Anyway, there’s something I want to ask you, Kengo.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Kengo seemed vaguely relieved that the conversation was moving along.
“As president of the Newspaper Club, do you know anything about the relationship between Osanai-san and Urino-kun?”
I actually already knew his answer. It was quite clear given Kengo’s reactions in the conversation up till now.
Kengo shook his head.
“No, I don’t know. Sorry, but I’ve never given it any thought.”
Exactly as I thought.
Well, it wasn’t like there was no more new information to be gleaned, and as a weekend afternoon talk, it was quite entertaining. He’d tried to wash his hands off the matter, but his response was what I would expect of Doujima Kengo. He wouldn’t leave it at “I don’t know.”
“But on that topic, you could ask Yoshiguchi.”
“Yoshiguchi? Who’s that again?”
“A girl in my class. She’s the kind of person who thrives on watching the relationship pairings of others. I also found out about you and Osanai-san’s separation from her.”
There’s a student like an information broker in the school?
Well, I suppose there are all sorts of people in the world. There was the hardy Newspaper Club president, and the girl who liked sweet things and called herself a petit bourgeois. I also knew the junior who showed so much interest in the series of arson attacks, as well as the students of my age who dabbled in drugs and burglary. In fact, a girl who was immensely interested in others’ love relationships could be considered to be normal.
“Perhaps you could introduce her on Monday or something?”
With the intention of continuing the conversation on Monday, I stood up from the bench. However, I was stopped by a question that Kengo murmured.
“Jougorou… there’s another question I want to ask.”
That was my reply, but I honestly felt that it was quite a pain. If we had a conversation about anything more than a businesslike transfer of information, our lack of chemistry would definitely make itself known.
However, Kengo’s question took me completely by surprise.
“So, why are you sinking your teeth into this case?”
“What do you mean, why?”
“The Newspaper Club’s problem and the serial arson case have nothing to do with you, right?”
Well, yes, but…
I never expected Kengo to notice that.
Declining to investigate those cases by saying “They have nothing to do with me,” would be the basics of having an attitude befitting of a little citizen. It was really unexpected of Kengo to point that out, especially when he’d always criticized my desire to become a petit bourgeois as cowardly.
I was probably being tested here. What a roundabout thing for someone like Kengo to do. A little annoyed by him, I answered in short words.
“I can’t sit still if there’s the possibility that Osanai-san started those fires.”
“Even though you’ve separated?”
I hit the bag by my feet.
“We’re taking entrance examinations this year. It’ll be troubling to be distracted by something like this. I’ll deal with this quickly, then focus on my studies.”
Kengo put on a ghost of a smile, then flicked his hand, as if to say, “Just go already.” Thus, I decided to leave without any hesitation.
The next Monday, I visited Kengo’s class, 3E. It wasn’t a topic so lengthy that I would have to spend time after school for it, so we went to the corridor outside the classroom during break time.
From Kengo’s description of Yoshiguchi-san as an information broker who had a good grasp of human relationships, I imagined her to be the type of woman to be absorbed in idle gossip with neighbors while carrying plastic bags from the supermarket. However, that was completely wrong. She had no distinctive features apart from her pretty hair, and seemed to be a mild-mannered girl.
I had no recollection of the name Yoshiguchi, and even seeing her face to face, I could only think that it was our first time meeting. But Yoshiguchi-san immediately spoke after seeing me.
“It’s been a long time since we talked like this.”
Kengo, who brought her out of the classroom, replied while nodding.
“Oh right, you two are acquainted with each other already.”
Kengo, that female student, and me? Was there ever such a relationship? At the very least, Kengo and I had never been in the same class, so the three of us couldn’t have been classmates. Perhaps I’ve used my wisdom for them before?
As I traversed my memories, I suddenly remembered.
Yoshiguchi-san was probably the girl whose bag got stolen not long after entering Funa High, the girl whose bag I was asked to find by Kengo. So she actually remembered me from all that time ago.
That sure brings back memories. Was it really possible to remember someone’s face and name from an interaction two years ago? In any case, since I’d been recognized as an acquaintance, I decided to act like one. I answered her with a grin.
“That’s right, it’s been a long time. Actually, there’s something I want to ask you.”
Yoshiguchi-san tilted her head to the side, then looked towards Kengo. I more or less understood what that look meant. Kengo saw Yoshiguchi-san as a well-informed person who loved to gossip, but she didn’t see herself in that light. That was quite an interesting relationship they had, but I had no time to observe them. There was only ten minutes to the end of the break.
“Do you know an Osanai-san? Osanai Yuki?”
“Y-Yes, I know. She’s your ex-girlfriend, isn’t she?”
So she did know…
Though Osanai-san was never my girlfriend, and was simply my partner in a reciprocal relationship. Well, that didn’t really matter.
“I was thinking of asking you for any information you have of Osanai-san. Especially about the second-year student, Urino-kun.”
Yoshiguchi-san cut me off.
“Yeah, the two of them are going out.”
She readily continued.
“They sometimes leave school together, and apparently go out on dates.”
“How do you know?” I wanted to ask. I would sometimes have some scary thoughts, but this was frightening as well. Was it because Yoshiguchi-san often talked about what she happened to know, while in reality everyone was also closely observing others’ relationships? I enjoyed thinking, but never had much concern for people. Perhaps I was overlooking a great deal of human psychology in my approach.
Peeking at my complexion, Yoshiguchi-san let off a meaningful laugh.
“Oh? It’s disgraceful to to be so curious about your ex-girlfriend, you know?”
Would the fact that “Kobato asked about Osanai” be circulated as new information? Not to mention that it would come with the supplementary information that I was “disgraceful and had not gotten over my ex-girlfriend”.
That would be horrible. Thankfully, Kengo stepped in to help.
“No, it was me who asked for his help. Urino is a Newspaper Club member, and it’s not that Jougorou wants to know about Osanai, but it’s me that wants to know about Urino.”
That couldn’t exactly be called a lie, because some bits of truth was mixed in it. I’d always thought that Kengo was too straightforward, but it seemed that he’d become quite a good talker. Well, just as I’d become a third-year student, so had Kengo. Growth was to be expected.
Yoshiguchi-san didn’t seem to believe him. Not that it mattered, anyway.
With that, my business was taken care of. Yoshiguchi-san’s information backed my deduction. Though I didn’t know if Osanai-san and Urino going out was based on love, or on some sort of hidden exchange.
“Thank you. Sorry for taking up your break time.”
After saying my thanks, I turned around, but Yoshiguchi-san looked perplexed.
“Oh, that’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“Didn’t you come here to ask about Tokiko?”
Who’s Tokiko again? I’ve definitely heard that name before.
…Ah, it’s Nakamaru-san.
For a moment, I couldn’t figure it out. I never called her by her given name, after all. But why did she mention Nakamaru-san’s name? No way…
I unconsciously muttered what I was thinking.
Osanai-san, Urino-kun, the struggle for power within the Newspaper Club and the series of arson attacks. Nakamaru-san possibly couldn’t be involved somewhere in that line, right?
“Yes, it’s exactly as you think.”
“Really? I never noticed.”
Where exactly was she involved? The vehicle that was set on fire at the embankment undoubtedly belonged to Houjou-san. If she was involved, was she related to the victim? Or did she have sort of link to the Newspaper Club even though she always put on an ignorant face? I hadn’t been completely observant, but I certainly never expected my girlfriend’s name to show up here.
I held my breath while waiting for Yoshiguchi-san to say something.
Yoshiguchi-san placed a finger on her lips. She wasn’t smiling, but for some reason she seemed to be having an awful lot of fun.
Still, she put on a theatrical voice filled with pity.
“Exactly. She’s two-timing you.”
“Tokiko always changes boyfriends. It’s rare for her to keep someone around without dumping them, but you’re the second one to be two-timed by her. Also, she has a main boyfriend who is a university student. Ah, come to think of it, she’s not two-timing, but three-timing.”
I had no idea what I should say.
It was information that was absolutely irrelevant and completely unnecessary… However, since Yoshiguchi-san was telling me about it so triumphantly, I would feel bad not acting shocked about it, yet I could not say anything.
Well, I probably looked shocked anyway. Yoshiguchi-san seemed satisfied, so that was apparently good enough.
The break ended.
Yoshiguchi-san returned to her classroom, while Kengo quickly asked a question.
“Did you figure out anything?”
I gave a small nod.
“Yep… in my view, this problem can be solved by manipulating the given information.”
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- A dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hardened caramelized sugar.
- A French folktale written by Charles Perrault about a wealthy man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors.
- Number 4 of the Osanai Summer Sweets Selection Best 10 (Refer to Volume 2: Case of the Summer-Exclusive Tropical Parfait).
- Roasted soybean flour, usually used as a coating for dango and other Japanese confections.
- A confection consisting of a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and glazed.
- Errata: Her name is Nakamaru Tokiko, not Nakamaruto Kiko.
- A Japanese painter, noted for his pioneering work in developing the yōga (Western-style) art movement in late 19th-century Japanese painting.
- Both of them are pronunciations for the word 鮭, which means salmon.
- A common choice for music played by traffic lights in Japan when it is safe to cross.
- An unofficial group run by students.
- An apocalypse prophesied in the New Testament.
- A katana wielded by Seta Sōjirō in Rurouni Kenshin. Incidentally, it has the same name as a Japanese swordmaker of the early Edo period, whose swords were known for their great strength and their ability to cut through helmets.
- Meaning “Slay Evil Immediately.”