The Funado High School building was generally open during the summer break, mainly for the sake of club activities. Some people came to study, but they were few in number, because the school had no air conditioning. The library was a lot cooler, if you could secure a seat.
It was the 8th of August, and some Newspaper Club members were gathered in the hot school grounds. For first-year students, there were Ichihata, Haraguchi and Etou. Also, there were two new members, Etou and Tanada, who had been impressed by the Newspaper Club’s strenuous efforts.
For second-year students, it was just me and Itsukaichi. Additionally, we’d gathered some reinforcements by using our circles of friends, and there were seven of them. Together we made up fourteen people, the full strength of the Newspaper Club on that day. All of us were male.
As usual, the Printing Preparation Room was cramped and cluttered. It would be too stifling to have more than ten people packed inside, so we formed a circle in the corridor outside.
I kept silent as Ichihata delivered a speech to the crowd.
“Eh, today will be our decisive battle. In May and July, the Newspaper Club found the arson crime scenes as quickly as possible, but the culprit managed to escape. We’ll look like fools if we allow that to happen a third time. Today, we will catch the culprit and put an end to this. Let’s do our best.”
His manner of speech was gentle, but his voice was filled with passion. Upon hearing his speech, the other members tensed up as well. I could easily tell that morale was high. The freshmen, who had been useless when they first joined in April, were gradually becoming more reliable.
After that, Itsukaichi went into the administrative details.
“Well, as much as we want to catch him, make sure you don’t overdo it. Apprehending the culprit is of utmost importance, but we have to consider that he could be holding a deadly weapon. It could be too dangerous, so simply taking a video of him is fine. All of you have a camera, right?”
He was met with scattered nods. However, the only Newspaper Club members with a digital camera were Haraguchi and myself. All other members would be using the camera function on their mobile phones as a substitute. It was possible that some of the reinforcements hadn’t even brought a phone. The incident would occur late at night, so a camera without the flash function would be useless. A disposable camera could still be useful…
But I didn’t say those thoughts aloud. Itsukaichi distributed a map, then instructed each person on their stakeout positions. All I did was watch as he carried out his actions.
“Also, the police patrols have been strengthened. We may be acting to resolve this case, but that reason might not pass. One of us was given a warning in May, and another first-year student Honda was stopped and severely reprimanded just last month. This isn’t somebody else’s business. They were lucky, but the police may not give us a second chance this time.”
Honda had quit the club. I didn’t do anything in particular to convince him to stay.
Itsukaichi’s explanation properly conveyed the dangers of this operation. But all the members wouldn’t be afraid at this point in time. All the people who had remained in the club would do it even knowing how dangerous it could be.
I could now rely on them a little. That was what I thought as I continued being silent.
There was a reason for my silence.
For one, I’d started to think that a club president should not be casually giving instructions. I’d been the one to come up with the personnel distribution chart, but it was fine for someone else to distribute them and do the explanations.
I hadn’t thought like that from the beginning, but just a while ago, Itsukaichi suggested to me, “I’ll handle the trivial work, so you can focus on the article.” I was just about to assign to the first-year students administrative tasks like using the photocopy machine, procuring paper and distributing Funado Monthly to each class. Of course, it was to make them learn our work, but perhaps Itsukaichi misunderstood and thought that I wanted to cut corners with the administrative work. Well, I was certainly grateful that he was now willing to take on so many tasks.
However, there was another, bigger reason for my silence.
It was because I was deep in thought. Today, the 8th of August, was not only the day of our decisive battle. I’d been thinking about this for quite a long time already… that was what I’d been mainly doing for the last month.
July was a busy month for the Newspaper Club.
On the 1st of July, we published the July issue of Funado Monthly, as per usual. Next, we had to take the first trimester’s examinations as high school students. In the short period of time between that and summer break, we’d produced the August issue of Funado Monthly and distributed it at the closing ceremony in July. It was a tight schedule, but I’d spent most of that period deep in thought as well. As a result, my exam results were horrendous.
– Who is Fireman?
I had never actually tried to proactively answer this question. When I was still a freshman, I had my hands full putting up articles of the next target on Funado Monthly. I had to consider how to convince President Doujima, how to handle Monchi, and how to forestall the Student Counseling Department, so I had no time to think about Fireman’s identity itself.
When I became a second-year student, I became the club president, and my biggest goal became taking a video of Fireman at the crime scene and if possible, capturing him. Since I knew where he would appear, all that was left was to actually catch him… With that being the plan, it was meaningless trying to proactively deduce what kind of person Fireman could be.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t have at least a faint idea.
The principle behind Fireman’s target selection was in Kira City’s Disaster Prevention Plan. Information of those precinct names in the same order as the crime locations could only be found there. Thanks to that, we could narrow it down to someone closely related to the Disaster Prevention Plan, either a firefighter or a city hall staff member involved with the plan. That was why I’d named the culprit “Fireman”, as in “Firefighter”.
Fireman also acted only late at night, and in a wide range. I could remember discussing this with Doujima-senpai. I’d suggested that the culprit had an automobile for him to easily get around. But Doujima-senpai had shaken his head in response, saying that a bicycle was enough to cover the distance.
Putting them together, I imagined Fireman to be a person unsatisfied with Kira City’s firefighting system, and wanted to challenge it, someone with too much passion, unable to bear with the status quo, even going as far as setting fires to point out the holes in the system. That was the criminal profile I’d come up with.
However, I lacked the evidence to make such a declaration. I should get rid of this baseless image and think again. What kind of person is Fireman… and who?
I continued thinking.
I felt a light poke on my arm. With a start, I looked up to see Itsukaichi talking to me in a small voice.
Thirteen able men were looking at me. To be able to finally capture Fireman today, they were waiting for my orders.
If I said the word, our plan would be put into motion. We would regroup at 11pm in Harimi Town, Kira City. We would then standby at the determined locations on the map, do some patrols and wait for the arsonist. I should have just said, “Dismissed.”
Up till now, I hadn’t thought about what to say, but after observing such enthusiasm to the decisive battle with my very eyes… the words naturally came out.
“The first fire at Hamae occurred last year in October. It has been close to a year already, and we’ve had 9 cases of arson in 10 months. Neither us nor the police and fire department were able to stop the arsonist, and he was only stopped once thanks to the rain. That’s pathetic.
“But this time, it’s different. We, the Newspaper Club members have gained much experience, and are now fully prepared. So many of you have also come to help. All of you are probably confident that we’ll catch the criminal today. Of course, so am I.”
I took a short breath.
“At the beginning, there was some backlash when we were deciding whether to work on this case of serial arson. The club president and seniors at the time were heavily opposed to the idea, saying that this had no place in Funado Monthly. Even so, thanks to some coincidence and good luck, I was allowed to write the article.
“When I became club president, I decided to directly pursue the culprit. I might look confident in front of you, but I’ve also questioned if something like that is even possible. As I doubted myself, I still pushed forward. And now here we are today.”
But, I was about to say.
But I’m still doubtful even now. Was it really a good thing to be involved with this incident? If I’d listened to my seniors and written articles exactly the same as the previous year’s, I wouldn’t be feeling this way now, right?
However, I swallowed those words down. The time to talk about personal sentiments had passed. Now I should act as the Newspaper Club president and lead these people.
I sharply raised my head.
“We’ll end it this month. There won’t be a next month. After all, I know who the arsonist is.”
A stir swept through the group as they heard my sudden declaration. Some of them were taken aback, while others looked at me with faces that said, “Who is it?”
“We have two options. We could either end it tonight by capturing the culprit, or we could end it tomorrow by paying them a visit. And that is why I’m confident in the Newspaper Club’s victory. That’s all I have to say. Everyone, dismissed.”
Without responding to a single question, I left the school.
There was somewhere I had to go, and they would soon understand anyway.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!