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 Kotetsu1 by my hip and rampage around with the motto “Aku Soku Zan”2 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!