I couldn’t really say that it was a pleasant night.
In the past, I’d exposed others’ secrets and extracted the truth from complicated situations. Drunk on how good that felt, I’d always hurled the truth out into the open while everyone else was wandering around, not knowing what was going on. To me, that was like tossing a bomb into a crowd , and greatly satisfied my desire for mischief and self-esteem.
I’d done so many things in the past, and even encountered some scenes that most of my peers would have never seen or thought of.
But perhaps due to fate, I’d never experienced something like this before… a stakeout in the hours of darkness.
As the weather forecast had predicted, it was a night of tropical weather1. I’d been worried about the weather since the arsonist wouldn’t show up in the case of rain, but my concern was unfounded. Even though I was wearing a cool polo T-shirt, I could feel that I was dripping with sweat.
I was confident that tonight would be the final confrontation. Even though I should have stopped showing off my wisdom, here I was again.
I really couldn’t say that it was a pleasant night.
A phone call came from Kengo.
“Good evening, Kengo. Have you secured a good covering position?”
I adopted a burlesque style of speech, but Kengo didn’t play along, instead replying with his usual sulky voice.
“I’m doing what you told me to. All of it.”
Kengo and I were waiting at different locations. I was in the parking area of a CD shop, leaning against the shop wall, while Kengo was already in Harimi Town.
Tonight, the entirety of Funado High School Newspaper Club and their support should be fielded in Harimi Town. According to our inside source, Itsukaichi-kun, there were fourteen of them in total. However, Harimi Town was positioned quite a distance away from the Kira City center, and encompassed a wide area. With the new highway, a small amount of development had been done, but it was still basically an endless expanse of fields that provided a clear view. I was even surprised by its size when I looked at the Kira City map again. Almost the entire northeast region of the city was covered by the name “Harimi Town”. It would be quite difficult to totally cover the area with only fourteen people.
Even so, the Newspaper Club was certainly wandering around. If Kengo were to be spotted, it would cause some unnecessary chaos, so he should be staying hidden.
“So, did you need something? I think it’s still early, though.”
The previous arson attacks all occurred at around midnight, so it should still be early… but I didn’t know exactly what time it was.
“What time is it?”
It was a little troubling that I couldn’t see the clock display on my phone while I was on the call.
Kengo was probably wearing a wristwatch. He sure was well-prepared for everything.
“It’s still early. That’s why I called you.”
“I see. Are there any inadequacies in our preparation?”
“No, not really.”
Well, since we’d reached tonight without any problems, it shouldn’t be that difficult from here on out. I also had the one-man unit Doujima Kengo. The plan was already working.
“That’s good to hear. But just be careful. They might have some kind of bladed weapon, after all.”
In return, Kengo replied in a voice that made it seem like he was putting on a wry smile, which was rare.
“It sure always turns into a dangerous situation whenever I work with you. I’ll be careful. I don’t want to get cut again.”
Come to think of it, Kengo did get slashed by a knife once before. That was last year in summer… which would mean an entire year had already passed since then. The two of us snuck into that abandoned gymnasium and had a scuffle with a gang of delinquents. Kengo used his fists, but his opponent had a knife, so he got slashed and received an injury. While it was a shallow wound that took only three days to heal, he lost quite a lot of blood.
“Sorry for dragging you into that mess back then.”
Unexpectedly, he responded in a low, collected voice.
“It’s fine. Once that ended, it turned out to be quite interesting.”
“I suppose it was. We were really desperate at the time, though.”
“Yeah, we were always out of breath.”
His words trailed off. If our preparations for tonight’s strategy was fine, what was he calling for?
“Hey, Jougorou, tonight will be the last, right?”
“That’s what I hope.”
While the strategy was going smoothly, I didn’t know what else could happen. If that case, I would probably have to rely on Kengo’s abilities.
But Kengo wasn’t talking about that.
“No, I’m not talking about the arsonist… We’re both in our third year. We’ll have to start studying for entrance examinations soon.”
“I’ve started a while ago already. You taking it easy, Kengo?”
“It’s not like I haven’t been doing anything.”
Once again, he replied in a light tone. He was no longer a person worth teasing.
“Don’t make fun of someone when they’re speaking seriously.”
“Sorry about that. So, you were saying?”
Kengo spoke in a sullen voice.
“I was just thinking that this is the last time I’m sticking my head into a troublesome matter with you.”
“…In the end this is about entrance examinations, isn’t it?”
“I’ve been thinking. We haven’t exactly been on friendly terms. That’s because I, er, disliked your behavior. I’ve got a few good friends in class. And in the Newspaper Club, I’ve met some good seniors. And juniors, too.”
A group of high school students passed in front of my eyes. They entered the CD shop while discussing some trivial matter.
“But what I’ll never forget in these three years is that I somehow got involved with you. Although I’ve only talked with you a few times each year… why did that happen?”
That wasn’t an easy question to answer.
“It’s not like I want you to clean up your act. I don’t have the right to decide that for you. But I’ve thoroughly thought about this. From tomorrow onwards, we probably won’t talk to each other again. If we take our entrance examinations and graduate like this, an entire year might pass without us talking at all. So if I don’t say this tonight, I feel like it’ll become a burden on my mind.
“Hey, Jougorou, I’ve been thinking, but when it’s all said and done you’re not really a little citizen, are you?”
Why are you saying this only now?
Wasn’t this why I could never decisively cut my ties with Doujima Kengo, no matter how many times he hits the mark, no matter how many times I get assaulted with that feeling of emptiness during those instances? Even if I forget everyone’s names, even if my mobile phone’s memory gets emptied, the first name to come up would be Doujima Kengo, wouldn’t it?
That too late, way too late. He wasn’t a brontosaurus, so it was way too slow for his brain to reach that conclusion.
While leaning on the wall, I crossed my legs, then switched the phone to my other hand.
“You know, I think a lot of things will happen tonight.”
“You should take care of your phone’s battery. If the battery goes dead at a critical time, it might make for an interesting situation, but it would be simply foolish.”
“I’ll take it easy until it’s time. There’s a CD I want to get, anyway. Bye.”
I started to pull my phone away
But Kengo’s yell still reached my ears.
“Jougorou, it’s a fire! I see a fire! They’ve done it!”
I couldn’t deny that I was taken by surprise. The last ten attacks had occurred at around midnight, so I’d assumed that there would be some time left tonight. However, thinking about it now, it wasn’t strange for them to commit the crime early, just for the month of August.
I pulled myself together, then headed to the parking area of the CD shop at a trot. I kept my mobile phone on my ear.
“Kengo, what about the culprit?”
“I’m looking. They’re there.”
How well would he be able to see in the dark?
“I’ll chase them.”
“I’m counting on you. I’ll also get there soon.”
“Yeah. But that’s… damn, he got away!”
With that tense line, the call was dropped. Perhaps the culprit had noticed Kengo, or had decided to flee anyway. In any case, that was bad. Letting them escape this late in the game was not funny. Though it probably wasn’t so bad if Kengo could see them… Stuffing my mobile phone into a pocket, I hopped onto my bicycle.
I understood that the arson attack occurred in the 1st District of Harimi Town, near Harimi Children’s Park 1. The route was already in my head. It was the fastest route, in which I wouldn’t have to wait for a traffic light. I raced towards the pavement of the City Inner Ring Line2, on which bicycles could travel. I turned at the only junction on the route, sliding on the back wheel of my bicycle. An orange hue could certainly be seen at the edge of my vision.
If only I had a scooter license at a time like this. It would probably be unbearable to experience “a time like this” multiple times, but this was probably only my third time since entering high school. I reached the crime scene only three minutes after the call with Kengo ended.
The arsonist had been gradually escalating the scale of their crimes. Setting abandoned bicycles or a bus stop bench on fire was not a significant matter, but going by the law of escalation, the arson target would eventually have to reach this level.
The fire was coming from a private residence.
Let’s calm down and take a better look, I told myself.
The house itself was not on fire. On the side of the house was a garage, and next to that, a small shed. There was a lot of farmland in this area, so that shed was probably used for temporarily storing farming tools. The building set on fire was that storage shed. To make things worse, it was made of wood. The object actually on fire was a pile of old newspapers under the eaves.
However, it was still hot. The fire was intense. It wasn’t the dry season, yet the fire was spreading fast, and probably couldn’t be handled at this point. While it hadn’t moved to the walls yet, that was just a matter of time.
If the shed caught on fire, it would spread to the garage. It left untouched, the main house would be on fire as well. Was there no one at home? I noticed that there was no car in the garage. That meant that the owners were probably out.
I looked around at the surroundings.
I felt bad for the residents of that house, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was a good thing that this arson attack was occurring in Harimi Town. The house was surrounded on all sides by farmland, and was at least 50 meters away from the next house. Even in the worst case scenario, the fire wouldn’t spread from house to house.
At this point, no one from a nearby house had shown their face. Had no one else noticed this fire? Perhaps they thought it was just a bonfire. In an open area like this, some residents would burn their rubbish, after all.
Kengo wasn’t around. He was chasing the culprit. Would he make it? It should be fine, he is Doujima Kengo, after all.
On the other hand, there was nothing for me, the first one on the scene, to do.
No, there was. Kengo probably hadn’t had the time, and if no one was in the house, and none of the neighbors had noticed, that meant a report hadn’t been done yet. I retrieved my mobile phone and pondered for a while.
The fire department’s hotline is 117, right?
No, that would be the clock.
It’s easy to mistake it for the weather forecast. Why did they use such similar numbers, anyway? Even a number like 112 would be less likely to be mistaken for something else3.
I finally realized that the number I wanted was 119, the hotline for the fire department and emergency services. That wasn’t good. I was making such a basic error with a fire before my eyes. I needed to calm down. With a couple of deep breaths, I got a hold of myself and made the phone call.
“This is the 119 hotline. Is there a fire, or is there another emergency?”
“What is the location of the fire?”
“Harimi Town, 1st District, near Harimi Children’s Park 1. A storage shed next to a private residence is on fire.”
As I explained, I wandered around the shed.
“Do you know if there is anyone trapped in the shed?”
“I don’t know.”
“Could we have your name, please?”
I hung up.
It wasn’t that I was averse to giving my name, but I found something interesting at that moment and was a little rattled, causing me to accidentally press the hold button.
It was the back of the shed which could not be seen from the road. There was another small hut attached to the shed.
The hut was larger than a doghouse, but smaller than the rabbit hutch my elementary school had. The roof was made of corrugated tin, and the walls made of planks. It was about as tall as my waist, and had a wire mesh door. The problem was the contents of that hut.
Three jerrycans lined up next to each other.
I expressed my surprise in an American style, allowing me to calm down a little. It was then that I noticed a piece of paper stuck on one of the walls. In messy children’s handwriting were the words, “No open flames! Please do not smoke here.” Was the father or grandfather a smoker? In any case, it was understood that open flames were not allowed there. Perhaps there was some fuel inside? It couldn’t be gasoline, right? What would it be doing there?
That wasn’t good. The main house was next to the garage, which was in turn next to the storage shed, or the source of the fire, so I could be underestimating the chance of it catching on fire. Would the fire department arrive on time? On top of that, there was some fuel or gasoline, or something else that caused open flames to be prohibited. What would happen if that caught on fire as well and accelerated the fire’s spread? I wasn’t a firefighter, so I couldn’t tell how bad the situation was. In any case, I would rather not have an explosion on my hands.
All I had to do was to get the jerrycans away. Out of the small hut and far from the fire, which had already spread to the wall. I only now noticed that the area near my fingertips was bright. Attached to the wire mesh door was a padlock.
Wondering if the owners had forgotten, I tried pulling on the padlock.
The occupants of this house apparently took great care in crime prevention. It was locked.
The padlock looked sturdy, and the wire mesh that the padlock was fixed to did not seem like cheap material.
Meaning I probably couldn’t kick it down.
But I still had to try. With all my might, I unleashed a mid-level roundhouse kick, and hit my target, the door.
Clang! Pain shot through my body. That was hard. After thinking it over, I muttered a couple of sentences.
“It’s no good. I need some tools.”
There might be something good in the storage shed. But if the small hut was properly locked, would I be able to unlock the storage shed? With only a faint hope, I turned around.
The flames were licking the walls and quickly scorching the eaves. How would the fire spread? If it continued going up like this, the hut containing the jerrycans would probably be fine, at least until the roof of the storage shed collapsed. If it spread horizontally, it wouldn’t be strange for the jerrycans to start getting roasted even now… I couldn’t hear any firetruck sirens. I’d informed them already, right? Did I properly tell them the location? I think it should have been fine, though.
I checked my surroundings again. No neighbors had appeared yet. Perhaps I should shout to get their attention? No, but…
My bicycle was parked at the front-facing side of the storage shed. I hadn’t brought any tools. If I knew how to ride a motorcycle, I could have charged in yelling, “Hey ho!”, making a cool entrance. I checked the door of the shed, but it was no use. It was made of aluminum, and was securely locked.
Was there no other way? Could the key to the padlock be lying around somewhere? While running my gaze around, I did a lap around the shed. A large rake was leaning on the opposite side of the wall that was burning. I wasn’t asking for a sledgehammer, but I would have been fine with a hoe. Alas, there was nothing. Would I make it in time?
After that lap, I returned to the back of the shed.
A dark silhouette was standing in the reflected light of the flames.
It was a school uniform. Since it was in the middle of summer, the uniform was short-sleeved, but it was also navy blue. That blue was in a particular deep shade, and looked almost black. A red ribbon was tied to the chest area of the uniform. Basically, it was a short-sleeved sailor uniform.
It wasn’t the Funado High School uniform, since the shirt in the summer uniform is white. Which school did it belong to, then? I wasn’t familiar with school uniforms. Was there a school in this town that used a navy blue uniform?
No matter which school the uniform belonged or didn’t belong to, the student wearing it was from Funado High School. She looked like a middle school student. Even she wouldn’t look like an elementary school student while wearing a uniform.
It was Osanai Yuki, a third-year high school student from Funado High School.
The fire’s intensity wasn’t waning. The wind was starting to blow sparks up into the air.
Osanai-san and I faced each other at a distance where we couldn’t reach each other even if we extended our hands. None of us said anything, probably because we were both surprised. Or perhaps it was because we had nothing to say to each other. I was safe where I was, but Osanai-san’s area should be awash with hot air.
A hammer was in one of her small hands. It was a large hammer that looked like it could even drive stakes into the ground and was painted red on its metallic parts. With no claw, both sides of the metal head formed a flat shape, causing it to look even more crude. This tool that gave hints of direct violence looked awfully out of place in Osanai-san’s hand.
Our eyes met for a moment that spanned only a few seconds.
The first one to move was Osanai-san. As if having spotted something she wasn’t used to, she tilted her head, a bewildered expression on her face.
She straightened her grip on the hammer.
Then, she looked away.
With a twist of her petite body, she lifted the hammer and took a small step with her left foot. Next, she forcefully brought the hammer down from her shoulder.
The flames rose in the shed, and some pop sounds came from the fire. Within that, a low, dull sound rang out.
The hammer landed a hit on the wall to the hut with the jerrycans. Neither the padlock nor the wire mesh would break no matter how many times they were hit, so Osanai-san was using the hammer to strike the wooden wall.
But once wasn’t enough. She raised the hammer again. Twisting her body, she struck the wall from a diagonal upward angle. She repeated this again and again.
Osanai-san kept swinging the hammer.
Perhaps a hole had finally appeared in the wall, for Osanai-san changed her hammer swings. She stepped forward further with her left foot, and her hammer trajectory got lower. She swung the hammer as if she was hitting a gong. The fire was already making my cheeks feel hot.
The hut with the jerrycans was gradually being destroyed, and sharp cracking sounds could be heard coming from it.
Osanai-san inadvertently let out a laugh. It seemed like she was somehow having fun. Noticing her laugh, she tightened her lips, but it was too late. She was unable to hide her smile. I could understand how she was feeling. I was probably smiling too.
As the fire burnt on, she brought down the hammer. While pulling back her arms and twisting her body around, she gave a faint smile and fluttered her hair.
It was like a dream.
Osanai-san brought the hammer above her head for one last strike. Bringing her body low, almost touching her knees, she drove it in and cleanly smashed the wall. The hole was now large enough. While holding the hammer as if it was stuck to her palm, she stuck her other arm into the hut with the jerrycans.
The jerrycans were apparently filled to the brim. Osanai-san tried to lightly pull one out, but was met with unexpected resistance, causing her arm to get caught and causing her to stumble.
In her half-kneeling position, she looked at me.
I smiled wryly.
“I’ll do it. Let me take your place.”
Still holding the hammer, Osanai-san gave up her place to me. I tried grabbing the handle of a jerrycan, and it was indeed unexpectedly heavy. Also, since I was sticking my arm in a small hole, my posture was bad, causing me to be unable to exert my full strength. Furthermore, the ground at my feet was soft, which stopped me from getting a good foothold. Still, it was just a jerrycan. With a forceful jerk, I yanked it out and threw it onto a weed-strewn patch of ground.
Osanai-san immediately dashed over, grabbed the jerrycan with both hands, then carried it unsteadily to where the fire wouldn’t reach. We did the same for the next one.
The last jerrycan was far from the hole. Kneeling on the ground, I stuck my shoulder into the hole. After some struggling, I finally reached it and somehow managed to drag it out. Although Osanai-san was holding her hands out, waiting for the next jerrycan, I carried it myself since it was the last one, and dumped it far from the fire.
All finished. While the fire would still continue to spread, we’d done all that we could for now.
With half my body lit up by the blaze, I turned to face Osanai-san.
Bang! At that moment, an explosive sound permeated the air. Perhaps there was something flammable in the house? I reflexively ducked, while Osanai-san leapt back with amazing reaction speed.
The sound was loud, but nothing came flying out. As the tension let up, I took another look at Osanai-san and found that she was in a half-stooping, half-bracing stance, which I found to be quite amusing, though I was probably taking on a weird posture as well. Our eyes met, upon which we jointly laughed.
There were many things I wanted to say, like “Long time no see” or “What a coincidence”. I even wanted to ask questions like “Where is that uniform from?” and “Was the hammer heavy?” But before I had the chance to open my mouth, Osanai-san spoke.
“I had a feeling I would meet you again tonight.”
Now that she mentioned it, I realized that I’d harbored the same feeling as well.
“Yeah, although I didn’t think it would be tonight.”
“Are you here because of Doujima-kun?”
Kengo was certainly deeply involved in this case of serial arson, but I was not here tonight because of him.
“By the way, have you seen Kengo?”
“Yup. He ran off.”
“That guy really can run. I wonder what happened to his bicycle.”
Osanai-san casually picked up the hammer, which had fallen to the ground. It looked huge earlier, but now that I was seeing it up close, I learned that it was the type with a short handle.
“That’s quite a handy thing you’ve got there. Did you find it lying on the ground?”
Shaking her head, Osanai-san hid the hammer behind her back. What was the point of doing that now?
“I brought it along because I thought something like this would happen.”
“Well, it turned out to be really useful.”
Her only response to that was a small nod.
The fire reached the roof of the small hut. There was now nothing that could be done. Since Osanai-san was glancing at the fire, I told her just in case.
“I’ve already made a report.”
“Really? Let’s get away, then.”
As Osanai-san immediately turned away, I asked her a question that I’d just thought of.
“Ah, there’s one thing I want to ask you.”
“…What is it?”
I stared fixedly at Osanai-san, who turned her head back to face me.
Even after last summer’s case ended, I’d seen her in school from time to time. I’d seen her laughing away with classmates, and running to the gates because she was almost late for school. But I still felt that it had been a long time since I really saw her.
There was something I’d noticed because of the long gap in time since we last met.
“Did you get taller?”
Osanai-san blinked a few times in succession.
She then put on a smile that seemed to be spilling out of her face.
“Yup, I reached my goal.”
“Congratulations. Did you drink milk?”
Something in the hut must have collapsed, for the sound of a heavy object falling down could be heard. This time, I wasn’t surprised.
“I see. So, why did you do something like this?”
As expected, she didn’t get fooled.
“Kobato-san, you said you had one question, so my answer is ‘I drank milk.’”
At that moment, I noticed sirens ringing. They’ve finally arrived, I thought, although not even five minutes had passed. There was no point in staying any longer.
“See you then.”
I said, and Osanai-san nodded. That concluded our dialogue on this midsummer night, or at least that was what I thought.
I hadn’t noticed, and neither had Osanai-san, until it was too late.
One more person had entered the scene at some point of time. He was wearing a shirt with English letters on it and sneakers. It was a good outfit to move around in. His breathing was ragged, probably because he’d run over. He was a boy who looked to be my age, and although I had never seen him before, I somehow felt like I knew his name.
Osanai-san seemed to know that I would be here, so she might have expected his arrival as well. I shifted my gaze at him and flashed a grin.
“Good evening, Urino-kun. You shouldn’t be walking about so late at night when you’re not yet eighteen.”
Urino Takahiko, the Newspaper Club president after Kengo, and a second-year student with a deep interest in the Kira City serial arson case. I had quite a lot of data on him, but this was the first time meeting him in person. Since he was going out with Osanai-san, my image of him was someone with a childlike appearance, but that wasn’t the case.
Oh? He was glaring at me with an extremely severe look on his face. Feigning ignorance, I looked away and wondered what Urino-kun thought of my presence. But after that singular glance at me, he turned to Osanai-san and spoke.
“I kind of knew it, although I didn’t want to believe it.”
Osanai-san was smiling silently. I never thought I would see that smile of hers so soon when this was the first time we’d met in a long time.
The sirens had gotten a lot closer. Everyone living close by would come running over soon. In fact, it was quite miraculous that none of them had arrived yet.
Urino-kun took a short breath, then muttered mournfully.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!