Osanai’s feet were surprisingly quick when she ran off.
A firetruck had already arrived, so someone must have called for it. I could hear continued shouts of “Fire!” Residents from the surrounding area were gathering around.
The police would probably arrive soon as well. It was looking to be a busy night. The phone in my pocket was vibrating incessantly. A Newspaper Club member or helper who had arrived on the scene early was trying to contact me. The guy who had been caught by the police before might be here right now, but I had no time to pay attention to everyone.
Osanai was wearing a dark navy blue uniform, so it became difficult to spot her once she faded into the night. Perhaps she’d been aiming for that when she put on that outfit. I thought I would lose sight of her, but I did barely witness her escaping into the park. It was surrounded by shrubberies and an iron fence, and with a cursory glance I noticed that it had only one way in or out. As I steadied my breath, the words “Harimi Children’s Park 1” carved onto a plate came into view.
I swallowed my saliva and took a look at the park. It was not yet 10pm. At this time, it wouldn’t be strange for delinquents in the neighborhood to be loitering around, but thankfully, no such people were present.
An empty bench, a slide, a jungle gym. A tree spreading its branches far and wide, a sandpit. There was no lighting, probably because it was not expected for people to be in the park at night. However, the sky was clear with the moon being out, and light from the street lamps outside could also get in. There wouldn’t be any problems with being unable to see. Yet I still couldn’t spot Osanai… then again, I was absolutely certain that she’d come into this park.
My phone was still vibrating. Clicking my tongue, I turned it off.
With a deep breath, I entered the park and looked around. There were no signs of movement anywhere. Steeling my resolve, I called out.
“Osanai, you’re here, right?”
I focused my attention on the park entrance so that she wouldn’t be able to slip past me.
“It’s over. There’s no point running away now.”
Osanai wouldn’t come out even if I called out at her, so I would have to search each hiding spot. That was what I thought, but she readily appeared from the shadow of a tree. A smile was on her face, and her hands were behind her back.
“What’s wrong, Urino-kun? Why are you saying something as dreary as ‘It’s over’?”
She asked, teasing me with her words. I desperately resisted the urge to flip out. She should know that it was impossible for her to escape at this stage, and was just putting on a front.
With steady steps, I closed the distance between us. My back facing the exit, I stopped at a point where I wouldn’t be too close to her.
“I’ve seen it. It’s over.”
“It’s a misunderstanding. I only met that boy just now when he was passing by.”
“That’s not what I’m saying!”
I snapped, my voice turning coarse. I ground my back teeth.
“That’s not what I’m saying. You should know what I’m talking about.”
But Osanai maintained her attitude.
“What? What is it?”
So she wanted me to say it. Then I had no choice.
“You were the one who set the fires.”
Biting my lip, I continued.
“You were the one responsible for the case of serial arson that has been going on since November.”
“…Why do you think that way?”
The quality of her voice had changed. It was now lower. But that wasn’t all. It also now included a vibrancy that made my blood curdle. Was I really going to be pressured by her like that? There was no way Osanai could escape now. I glared piercingly at her.
“Why were you there, then? What were you doing?”
“I was taking a walk when I saw a fire. Anyone else would have approached it as well. Just like a fly would.”
“A walk? Your house is in Hinoki Town. You taking me for a fool?”
“You knew? Perhaps I told you. Yeah, I probably did.”
Hinoki Town is at the southern tip of Kira City. To get here, the northeast, you would have to cut through the Kira City center, a journey that would take dozens of minutes, even on a bicycle. “Taking a walk” didn’t hold up as an excuse at all.
“My house is way, way over there. Yes, I suppose it’s a bit far for a walk. But you haven’t actually seen it, have you?”
“All you saw was me standing next to the fire. Isn’t that right, Urino-kun?”
Indeed, I hadn’t directly seen her start the fire. That was a failure on my part. However, I’d witnessed a more decisive scene.
I tried to speak, but Osanai beat me to it.
“When I saw the fire, I ran towards it and tried to extinguish the fire with another boy who happened to be there. I endured the heat, and worked really hard. Only for you to accuse me of arson…”
It was dark so I couldn’t really tell, but I felt that she was pouting.
A feeling of guilt instantaneously welled up within me, and I had to bite my lip to stifle it. Did she think that she could talk her way out of this situation with that lie?
“Are you also saying that you just happened to see the fire? I haven’t asked you about your reason for being in Harimi Town. On top of that, aren’t you wearing a really weird outfit?”
Osanai tilted her head, clearly in a state of deep thought.
“…My uncle’s house is nearby. I went over to play since it’s summer break. I borrowed this uniform from my older cousin, Aki-neechan. What do you think?”
“What do you mean! Isn’t that something you just thought up on the fly?”
Another siren raced past the road in front of the park. It was apparently a reserve firetruck, meaning that the fire had not been extinguished yet.
Since my voice was cut off by the siren, our conversation was interrupted. When the noise settled in the distance, Osanai swung her hands behind her back and shrugged.
“Don’t be so mad. You’re scaring me.”
With that, she crossed her legs.
“So, let me ask you a question. Why do you have such a scary thought of me being the arsonist?”
So she was telling me to explain my thinking right from the start, huh.
It was not that deep into the night yet. I had a lot to say, and there was more than enough time. Moreover, this was probably the last time I would speak to her.
“Alright, I’ll say it, then.”
When did I start suspecting Osanai? I could clearly remember the exact moment when I felt something was off.
“…You were also there on the scene of that arson attack in May, weren’t you?”
“May? That’s quite a long time ago. I can’t remember.”
That couldn’t be true.
“That night, I was conducting a stakeout at Ueno Town with the Newspaper Club. When the incident was about to occur, you gave me a phone call. You said you were worried that I would catch a cold. I was happy about getting that phone call. It was certainly cold that day, and I was bored and getting a little sick of continuously patrolling the same path.
“You do remember, don’t you? At that time, I was walking along the bypass, so I couldn’t hear anything when a truck went pass. And I could also hear a loud sound from your side.”
It was not the sound of a moving vehicle. It was more rhythmical than that.
“Of course, I knew as soon as I heard it. It was the sound of the railway. You were next to the railway line. When a train went pass, it made an extremely loud noise and rendering it impossible to talk, so you hung up. Also, the crime scene in May was an empty space, not below an elevated road, but below the elevated railway.”
There was a gap in our height, making me feel that I was being looked up at even when we were having a normal conversation.
“I remember now. I was at Kokura station. The Shinkansen was probably noisy.”
Osanai was still fooling around.
“I suppose it’s impossible to tell whether you were below the elevated railway just because you were near the tracks. The line is long, and I’m not that simple. The point which made me really suspicious was when you said the incident in May occurred on a Friday.”
It was the day in June when the typhoon arrived. I could remember that it was Friday the 13th because Osanai had mentioned it on that day. She’d also pointed out a mistake in Funado Monthly while being considerate of my feelings. My memory being a little hazy, I’d said nothing at the time. However…
“The local page of the newspaper reported the arson attack as occurring on Saturday. The article was written based on the time the fire was reported, not the time the fire was started. It was also written in Funado Monthly that the attack happened on Saturday, because the date had already changed when Honda told me about the fire.”
Before the fire, and even before the phone call from Osanai, I’d sent an email with my mobile phone, and the time of transmission was past midnight. There was no doubt that the arson attack in May occurred on Saturday.
“It was certainly an iffy time. It was just after midnight, but not yet 12:30. However, it was definitely after 12, which was why I wrote that the incident happened on Saturday. Nobody else told me that I was mistaken. Only you said, ‘but it was actually Friday’.”
Osanai lost her composure for the first time. That was what it looked like, anyway.
I continued pressing her.
“The arson attacks always took place late at night on the second Friday of each month. Even considering the date change to Saturday, some members of the Newspaper Club were saying that it would be convenient to treat it as Friday. So it would be understandable if a Newspaper Club member accidentally got it wrong. But that’s not the case for you.
“I was wondering if I told you at some point in time, but something was off. It was as if you were completely certain that the fire in May occurred on Friday. Of course, that was a mistake. But why did you make that mistake?”
Some onlookers had apparently gathered as the firefighting continued. I could the clamor a distance away. Osanai put on a light smile, then muttered something in self-derision that I couldn’t hear.
“There is one reason for that mistake. It was because of the clock. You don’t wear a wristwatch, and you usually check the time by looking at your phone. It’s usually convenient, but you couldn’t use it that night. Right before that, you were in a phone call with me, and it ran out of battery.”
Our conversation had been interrupted due to the sound of the train, but when we could hear each other again, Osanai had said, “My battery’s out”.
“Even when the battery warning comes up, it’s not like you’ll be immediately unable to use your phone. But on that day, right after you hung up, you turned off your phone, correct?”
Osanai readily admitted, although she had been so evasive up until now.
“Because it ran out of power, I turned it off. I knew the battery was in bad condition, so I should have fixed it earlier.”
“So you admit it, then?”
“I admit that I turned off my phone. Continue, Urino-kun. It’s gotten quite fun, after all.”
She didn’t look to be putting on a front, but her words were the very definition of acting tough.
Osanai had temporary lost her mobile phone, as well as a method of telling the time. I also knew what followed.
“At that time, you looked around. You can find clocks everywhere on streets. And on that night, you did actually find one.
“There’s a bypass near the elevated railway above the crime scene, and at the intersection that’s arranged to look like a park, there’s a white pole. A clock is attached to that pole, and that was the one you saw.”
“Was that clock late?”
I put more energy into my voice.
“That clock was broken. The needles don’t move, so the time is stuck at 11:47. If it hasn’t been fixed yet, it should still show the time as 11:47… When the attack occurred, there was only about a twenty minute difference between the actual time and the time displayed on that clock, so it’s understandable that you failed to notice in all the chaos.”
“The clock at Kokura station was also broken.”
“Even if you saw a broken clock somewhere else, you wouldn’t be mistaken regarding the time of the arson attack. You thought it took place on Friday, only because you saw that particular clock at that particular time. You were there at the scene of the crime.”
Osanai glared at me, and I glared back, but that lasted for just a short moment.
“…That’s amazing, Urino-kun, to be able to notice something like that. But that’s not all, right? Go on.”
Of course, that wasn’t all. It was merely the trigger that caused me to start being suspicious of her.
If I had known I would be confronting Osanai here, I would have brought along my file, which contained all information and evidence regarding this case of serial arson.
“Due to the continuous arson attacks, patrols were being conducted here and there, yet the culprit was never caught. Luck may have played a part in it, but that wasn’t all. Naturally, the culprit would have done some meticulous reconnaissance of the area. They must have gone to their next location, selected a target, and determined how to move and escape, at the very minimum. Basically, anyone loitering around the next location for no reason can be suspected of being the culprit.”
“Even if they were just taking a walk?”
“In June, there was supposed to be an arson attack in Kitaura on the 13th or 14th. However, nothing happened thanks to the heavy rain, which started a few days ago.
“If someone went out in that heavy rain, especially right before the supposed date of the crime, going from the southern to northern ends of the street… no one would believe they were just taking a walk.”
As if showing off her composure, Osanai let out a small yawn.
“Are you saying I did something like that?”
She was probably thinking that I had no evidence. But that would be underestimating me.
“Yes, you did. You went all the way to Kitaura, even in the rain. You were there until midnight, at the very least. You also stopped by a book store and bought a book, probably on the way back.”
“What kind of book?”
“I don’t care. All I know is that it cost 609 yen, including tax.”
She let out a chuckle.
“That’s really amazing. It’s like you were there.”
“I don’t need to be there to know, as long as I have the receipt.”
For the first time, some uneasiness was mixed into Osanai’s voice. Yes, the receipt. I’d properly kept it, made a copy and memorized its contents.
“It’s a receipt that showed you bought a book costing 609 yen including tax, from Sankaidou Bookstore in Kitaura on Thursday, 12th June, at 23:51. Where do you think I found it?”
“I can’t remember that far back.”
She replied, but she seemed to be zoning out, with her eyes staring at the ground. I instinctively knew what was going on, and instantly made a decision.
“Because of what happened the next day. Friday, 13th June. The rain was too heavy, so the Newspaper Club’s stakeout was canceled. After school, I found someone in the club room, and that person turned out to be you. Osanai, you left your book there on that day, and the receipt was in between the pages of that book.”
I could clearly see even in the dark that Osanai bit her lip, though it was for just a brief moment.
I was pressing her to make a confession. The freshness of this situation gave me a weird sensation. Since I’d started going out with Osanai, I’d been the one to take the lead almost all of the time. Except for affairs related to cakes, she never insisted on anything.
However, I was always unable to shake off the feeling that I would never have a handle on her, that she would be obedient until the last moment, when she would shake free of my grasp. That sense of frustration was constant and everywhere.
But now, I’d caught up to her. Naturally, I felt a rush of euphoria after that thought.
“That receipt shows that you went to the next arson attack location on Thursday, even in the middle of a typhoon. You said that you came to a relative’s house tonight, right? What excuse do you have for June, then? Were you just taking a walk?”
Osanai said in a slightly trembling voice.
“I’m asking you a question.”
“I’ll sum up everything I have to say later, so just continue.”
Her eyes were still on the ground and her small shoulders were shaking, but I didn’t feel like going soft on her… was this because of my rage at Osanai, who had deceived me for close to a year?
“Fine, I’ll continue. Knowing that you were present at the crime scene in May and were doing reconnaissance at the supposed next crime scene in June, I reconsidered what I really knew about you. In the time that passed since we started going out last year in September, did anything suspicious happen? At first, I thought that you got close to me to gain information. By being close to me, you could know the movements of the Newspaper Club. But to my delight, I found that to be impossible.”
I’d been the one to ask Osanai out, after all. It was a day in September that I spotted Osanai alone in the library and talked to her for the first time. She then brought me to a cafe on that same day, and it was there that I asked her to go out with me. It all felt like a distant memory to me now.
It was January when I started covering the case of serial arson. With Itsukaichi’s article about a charity bazaar kicking things off, it became possible to write about events happening outside school in Funado Monthly. When I got the opportunity to do so, Osanai was certainly happy about that.
Moreover, the arson attacks started in October.
“I remember the first time I wrote an article about the serial arson attacks. I was confident about it, and thought it would shock everyone in school. However, the response to it was weak. In particular, you were dismissive towards it.
“The article only started causing a buzz in March. It was clear that getting the location of the next crime twice in a row was not just a coincidence. Everyone in class got quite excited about it, but the Student Counseling Department stepped in. I thought we were done for at that time. If Doujima-senpai hadn’t spoken so well, the Newspaper Club we have now would probably not exist.”
There was that teacher from the Student Counseling Department whose name I couldn’t remember. With his personal life going poorly, he was emotionally unstable, and squarely rejected my article. I was mentally prepared to never write another word regarding that case, but Hiya encouraged me to carry on. And…
“I remember now. You were the one who told me that that teacher got transferred. You even showed me the article about teacher postings. Don’t you remember? It was at that Japanese-style store.”
“Ouan, right? No matter what you say, I recommend the ice cream combination.”
As usual, Osanai was cheerful when talking about desserts.
Even in such a situation tonight, Osanai’s voice was lively when talking about ice cream. However, I also felt some sadness in her voice.
“Is that so? But I’m more interested in what you said to me that day. I wondered about what you were trying to say to me, and even thought about it in bed. That’s why I can remember. You must have forgotten. What you said to me was this: ‘Not doing anything is the best.’”
As I recalled that moment, those words echoed in my ears. “Childish pranks are no good. I think not doing anything is the best.” Which part of me was “childish”? And why did Osanai think that not doing anything was the best?
At that time, I couldn’t think of an answer. All I had was the faint idea that she did not think well of me for pursuing the case of serial arson. But why was that?
“That conversation continued in April. In the editorial meeting, Doujima-senpai retired from the club. As the new president, I set the direction to spend all our efforts investigating the arson attacks. That day…”
It was my turn to hesitate with my words. My attempt to hug Osanai that day definitely could not be described as gentlemanly.
But more importantly, she’d also conveyed her disapproval of me investigating the case.
“That day, you said again that I shouldn’t do anything, and I asked for the reason. To that, you replied with some nonsense. It was completely incomprehensible.”
Osanai had said this: “I’m a little citizen, and I like other little citizens”.
That was definitely a lie!
“Thinking about that exchange, I realized that your motives for opposing my covering of the case were completely unknown to me. However, I also understood that continuing my investigation would be inconvenient for you. After that, you made those suspicious movements in May and June. At that point, all my doubts were cleared.”
I focused my spirit before continuing.
“You assumed I didn’t know anything, so you said whatever you wanted, like ‘taking a walk’ and ‘visiting relatives’. But tonight, I’ve caught up to you!”
The Newspaper Club members and our supporters were to keep watch in Harimi Town as a thirteen man unit.
I’d decided to take a different course of action. Making full use of what I’d heard as well as the phone directory, I’d tracked down Osanai’s apartment and staked it out. That would make me a stalker, if I was only thinking about Osanai while doing it. But my intention was to lie in wait for the arsonist, so I felt no guilt.
In the evening, there was some movement at an unexpectedly early time, and Osanai walked out of the apartment. She headed off towards the city on a bicycle with large sports bag in its front cage.
At that moment, I knew that I’d hit the mark. Osanai was wearing a sailor uniform that belonged to another school, and not to Funado High. With that outfit, it was clear that her outing was not a normal one.
Moving out of Hinoki Town, she went further and further north. Passing through the shopping street in front of the station, Osanai’s bicycle meandered onto the City Inner Ring Line. On the other hand, I was chasing after her at a distance where I could barely see her. Some of my thoughts at the time were actually more like prayers. Please don’t go there, please let me be wrong. But Osanai’s bicycle entered Harimi Town… and in a moment of hesitation, I lost sight of her.
It was a lot earlier than we’d expected. As the Newspaper Club president, I should have warned the members. I should have told them something like, “The culprit has entered Harimi Town, so the attack could happen earlier than expected. Be on your toes.”
But I hadn’t done that, because I was in a state of panic after losing sight of Osanai.
It also might have been because I’d thought that only the two of us should put an end to the case.
Osanai was still keeping her hands behind her back.
“Fireman, the culprit for this case, walks around with a hammer. It might even be the same hammer stolen from the crime scene in October last year. Using that, the culprit always left a mark at every crime scene, like a smashed wall or signboard. That’s the trump card that only I possess. I didn’t write it in articles so as to prevent copycat criminals. So, what was in that sports bag? What were you holding while you were next to the burning shed?”
That was the finishing blow. Probably for the first time in my life, I pointed at someone else.
“Osanai, show me what you have in your hands!”
Unexpectedly, she simply obeyed. She must have understood that there was no point hiding it, given that I’d seen it already.
Of course, she was holding a red hammer in the right hand.
With the fire still being extinguished in the distance, the commotion coming from the street did not quieten down.
People who seemed to be onlookers came and went, but not one of them spotted our confrontation under a tree in the park.
Even though I’d won. Even though the culprit of the serial arson case I’d pursued all this time had finally been stopped and caught by my hand, as I’d desired. A sigh escaped from my mouth.
Osanai was looking down, her shoulders shaking. She really looked tiny in that pose. Why was I having this strange feeling that I should hold back against this small girl? Before it came to that, wasn’t there something else I could do? …But it was all too late. That string of arson attacks resulted in no casualties. All I could do was pray for a light punishment.
Thud, a heavy sound could be heard. Osanai had thrown aside the hammer that she’d been carrying the whole time. It was a hammer that was used exclusively for pounding, with its head being flat on both ends. What was her reason for walking around with that heavy-looking hammer? But before that, in the first place… there were many questions I wanted to ask her, but for now, I waited for her to stop trembling.
Osanai placed one of her now empty hands on her mouth and stuck the other in a pocket. Her voice was also quavering and so small that it was difficult to understand what she was saying.
“Sorry Urino-kun, give me a moment. I’ll calm down soon.”
She retrieved a small box from her pocket.
I could see exactly what it was in the moonlight.
It was a box of chocolates.
Ignoring my vacant stare, Osanai put one fragment of chocolate into her mouth. Eventually, she looked up and smiled bashfully.
“As you know, I left my house in the evening, so I haven’t had anything to eat yet. The sweet taste is filling me up.”
She seemed to be refreshed and somewhat relaxed. Now that her crime had been exposed, she was actually feeling relieved, or at least that was the only way I could see it.
…Was that really it?
Osanai let out a small breath, and put her hands on her hips.
“Hmm… I don’t hate boys who are direct. Where should I begin, then?”
First, I wanted to ask her this.
“Why did you do this? Please explain your reasons.”
But Osanai responded by shaking her head.
“That’s a secret.”
“Even to the police?”
“Hmm, perhaps I could talk about the paperback.”
Not even taking heed of my words, she gave a small nod to herself. A dubious feeling spread in my chest.
“There’s a book that I really enjoyed. It was a paperback, and I found it to be really interesting. The previous volume ended at a good point, and I wanted to read what happens next as soon as I could, but… since you clearly said you weren’t interested, I won’t tell you about its contents. But you should be interested in its release date, right? It was the 13th of June.”
I see. I now knew what was giving me that strange feeling.
Even at this stage, Osanai was still unapologetic. Jeez.
While peeking at my countenance, she continued.
“The stock usually arrives the day before release date or the day before that, so I was waiting. But then there was that rain, right? I can’t recommend going to a bookstore in the rain, especially if you’re on a bicycle. Even if you go anyway, the stock might not have arrived yet, and even if it has, the book that you’ve been looking forward to would get soaked, which is just terrible. Then again, I’m also quite reluctant to bother them with a phone call just so I can get confirmation.
“That’s why I asked a friend. She’s working part-time at the book store while hiding it from the school. I asked her to buy it for me if it was in stock. The books arrived on Thursday, and I received it from her on Friday. Of course, I reimbursed her for the book’s cost. As expected of a part-timer at a bookstore, she brought it to me in a plastic bag so it wouldn’t get wet. That girl’s also conscientious. She even went out of her way to include a receipt.”
Osanai didn’t have a triumphant air about her. She was simply speaking in a matter-of-fact manner.
“That’s why I didn’t go to Kitaura Town on that day in June.”
What a ridiculous story.
“…Who would believe that? You just thought it up, didn’t you?”
“Sorry. Saying that I came from my uncle’s place was a lie. You don’t trust me just because I told that lie earlier?”
Osanai tilted her head and looked at me with upturned eyes.
“That’s why I decided to come clean about it. I thought you’d believe me. If you want, I can even give that girl a phone call and you can ask her as many questions as you want. I could also show you the email I sent to her. It even contains the date, so perhaps that’s better.”
She spoke as she retrieved her mobile phone from a pocket.
…Was her story actually real?
“No. Even if that’s not what happened in June, my theory still stands.”
“Sure you don’t want to check?”
Osanai looked at me doubtfully. However, I didn’t want to waste time with something that could be easily verified.
“It’s still a fact that you were at the crime scene in May. Also, you have that hammer.”
“Alright, I’ll give an explanation for that, then.”
Poking the hammer at her feet with her toes, she continued.
“This is not the hammer that was stolen from Funado High’s Gardening Club in October last year. I bought it last month at Panorama Island.”
I was shocked by her words, in two ways.
The first was, of course, that she’d recently bought that hammer. The second was that she knew about the Gardening Club’s stolen hammer.
Wasn’t that just a roundabout confession?
“The person who stole the Gardening Club’s hammer was…”
“I think it was the arsonist, but I’m not sure. Everything I know is from hearsay.”
“Hearsay? Who did you hear it from? That’s something only I should know.”
Osanai’s eyes quickly narrowed.
“Urino-kun, you’ve been quite careless since just now. Why did you say that only you know? The culprit and victims know about it as well.”
“That’s different. Also, you would know since you’re the culprit.”
“You can’t really exclude them… But fine. It wasn’t actually just hearsay. Even if you count out the culprit and victims, there should be others who know.”
The first name to pop up in my head was Hiya Yuuto. But he shouldn’t be connected to Osanai. Could it be the Gardening Club’s Satomura?
A short sigh reached my ears.
“You worked hard in your investigation, Urino-kun. And you stored everything you found in your file, right? So anyone who reads the file carefully will naturally know the same things you do. Why do you look down on the other members’ ability to understand to such an extent? Didn’t you ever consider that they’re also thinking and advancing the investigation in their own way?”
Was it Itsukaichi, then? Or was it one of the first-years who always only did as they were told?
“Those guys didn’t say anything about it.”
“That’s because you’re the club president, Urino-kun. They won’t say everything they think in front of you. How easy do you think if would be if they could?
“I also know about that hammer because I read the file. There were copies carelessly left in the Printing Preparation Room. I could easily borrow a key from the staff room and read a copy. It wasn’t explicitly written that ‘the culprit is using a hammer in the crime scene’, but just by looking at how the testimony and photographs were grouped, I could easily learn that the Newspaper Club, or at least you, were thinking that way.”
I recalled that day in June with the heavy rain. For some reason, Osanai was already in the Printing Preparation Room.
Once again, Osanai lightly kicked the hammer.
“One more thing. If you truly understood the information you’d put together, you would have instantly felt something was amiss when we met at the burning shed earlier. I’m not holding the stolen hammer. If the hammer used to leave a mark at all the crime scenes is one and the same, it is not one like this.
“But Urino-kun, you accused me based on the fact that I was holding this hammer. I was wondering what I should do.”
“Yeah, I did think that was strange.”
I blurted out, but it was already too late for regret. I was simply putting on a front with that line, and Osanai had probably noticed that. However, all she did was give a gentle smile.
“Yes, exactly. It was quite a frenzy just now, so you must have missed the details. But you should understand by now, right? This hammer has no claw.”
Indeed, the hammer being nudged by Osanai’s feet had no claw.
What did the Gardening Club say about their hammer’s shape? It should be part of the testimony I’d filed. But that was more than a year ago… I’d forgotten.
“The Gardening Club brought a hammer for the sake of dealing with a signboard. It was written in the file that they broke it to bits and piled the pieces up. They wouldn’t have destroyed it just by randomly bashing it with the hammer. Of course, they pulled out the nails, took the signboard down, then broke it into pieces. In the first place, Satomura-san from the Gardening Club never mentioned a hammer. If the file is correct, she said that the item stolen was a kanazuchi, right? The one who reworded it as a hammer was you, Urino-kun. Why? Because it was cooler that way1
“On top of that, the arson attacks didn’t always occur in places where the culprit could bang away on the hammer in the quiet night. In residential areas or places where people would gather if too much noise is made, the traces left at those crime scene contained some scratches that require a hammer with a claw to be wielded as an edged tool.”
I could remember all those traces. There was the tree by the roadside with its bark scratched off, the torn bike sheets, as well as the no entry sign with diagonal slash marks.
They were certainly not traces that could be left by a blunt weapon.
“Of course, the culprit could be walking around with another weapon besides the hammer. In fact, I think that’s more plausible. Thinking that the culprit always carried around the spoils from their very first attack is a little, umm, steeped in romanticism. In any case, please don’t call me suspicious just because I have this hammer.”
Sure, it might be different from the Gardening Club’s hammer. But it was still a fact that Osanai came to Harimi Town tonight with a hammer. That alone was abnormal.
“Why did you bring that here, then? If you say you’re not the arsonist, why are you here?”
Osanai’s smile wouldn’t disappear. It was almost as if…
Almost as if she was trying to get a troublesome child to smile as well.
“Ah, Urino-kun. Think about it a little more! I was at the crime scene in May. You were right about that. As you can see, I was also at the crime scene in August. What kind of person is that? I know people who did exactly that, and so should you.”
People who were at the crime scenes in May and August?
Of course I would know.
“That would be me, and the Newspaper Club.”
I ran around the streets to catch the criminal and write an article about it. For Osanai to do the same thing…
Why would she do something like this? There was no way she…
“…You were also chasing the arsonist?”
“You worked hard, Urino-kun.”
Osanai spoke in the gentlest of tones.
“That’s the correct answer.”
A cool gust of wind drifted past.
“What a nice breeze we have tonight.”
Osanai said as she brushed away some hair that caught onto her ear. She looked at the direction the wind was coming from.
I caught sight of that action under the moonlight, her finger movements lithe as she cast a provocative glance with her narrowed eyes. While she was in that sailor uniform I didn’t recognize with a shade close to navy blue, a red hammer by her feet.
The situation was completely different, but that was how I saw Osanai the first time, when she was a coquettish girl whispering into Doujima-senpai’s ear in the Printing Preparation Room, numerous months ago. Interested in the imbalance in her figure, countenance and actions, I asked her to go out with me.
Since then, while impossible to grasp, she acted as a normal girl, which was why I’d forgotten. I only thought differently on the day I became the president of the Newspaper Club. When I’d unreasonably tried to hug her, she’d smoothly escaped and smiled. At that time, Osanai had immediately gone home.
But tonight, she didn’t leave.
Her gaze turned back to me. Afraid that she would say something about me, I unintentionally ran my mouth.
“That shouldn’t be possible. If so, you wouldn’t have needed to hide… You would have told me something.”
Osanai’s face clouded over upon hearing those words.
“Don’t say something so sad.”
“Urino-kun, what did you choose? Did you not choose to uncover secrets based solely on facts, rather than people’s words and good faith? Yet you say things like, ‘That shouldn’t be possible’ and ‘you would have told me something’ in face of the conclusion you’ve deduced. That’s just ridiculous. You can easily think up dozens of viable reasons why I wouldn’t tell you, right?”
I had no recollection of choosing anything. All I wanted was to catch the arsonist. But even so… was it really like that?
“I had no intention of saying anything at all. But since tonight is the last time, I’ll tell you. I’ve been helping you out behind the scenes.”
“You’ve been helping me?”
“For example, I’ve asked all sorts of favors from Doujima-kun. Also, there was a student worrying about advertising a charity bazaar, and I pointed them towards Itsukaichi-kun. He then went on to advertise the bazaar using the schoolwide newspaper, didn’t he?”
I remembered that when Itsukaichi-kun suggested creating a column during the editorial meeting, it had been easily accepted, to the point that it felt anti-climatic… I did think something was strange at that time.
“It’s like a receiving a windfall, isn’t it? I really had no intention of telling you. I didn’t want to hurt your pride.”
Osanai replied without hesitation.
“Because you wanted to write the article of your own free will, I supported you behind the scenes. But when you became the club president, you said that you wanted to catch the arsonist on your own. I tried to warn you against doing that, right?… But you didn’t listen.”
I would probably never forget the events of that day. At the time, I’d truly believed I could do it. That was a mere four months ago.
“On top of that, you didn’t know how much danger you were in. After all, you write that the fire will occur at a particular location, and it does happen. It wouldn’t even be strange for a policeman to come and say, ‘I’m taking you to the station’. You’ve been fine thus far, but don’t you think that it’s because the policemen weren’t taking the investigation of this case seriously enough? Or perhaps they did, and were just waiting for you to make a mistake and expose yourself?”
Osanai slowly pointed at the tree next to her.
“In fact, I wouldn’t find it weird for a scary person to be hiding behind this tree, lying in wait.”
I couldn’t see the tree she was referring to, probably because I knew she wasn’t mistaken.2
“Even so, I investigated for your sake, trying to find more I could do to help. Only for you to be so impressively mistaken, and for you to accuse me.
“You remember why I told you to stop, right? I said that I liked little citizens. But that’s not quite accurate. If you were trying to catch the culprit on your own, I thought it would end up in a way that would make you realize that you’re just an ordinary, little citizen.”
“Me? A little citizen?”
I parroted in response, and Osanai tilted her head.
“Exactly. You’re a little lacking in sagacity, as well as cunning. I also thought you could be better in using people. On top of that, you need slightly more skepticism. When I told you that story about getting a friend to buy a book for me on that rainy day, you didn’t confirm that it was true. In these situations, even if you think there’s no room for doubt, I think it’s still good to check.
“Your level of initiative gets a passing grade, I suppose. Even if it’s a long shot, it’s important to look at a crime scene in the right way. As for your efficiency, you could work harder on that. In ten months, you weren’t able to narrow down a million suspects to a suitable number.
“I do think you had some amazing moments. For the sake of being able to catch the arsonist by your own hand, you were willing to let more damage be done, to let someone else’s property be set on fire. This self-indulgent manner is befitting of someone trying to expose a secret. But about your total score, hmm…”
The night wind sent chills down my spine.
“I won’t say that I was disappointed.”
It was only now that I noticed that Osanai was smiling.
“That’s how I thought it would end up, after all.”
I’d been hoping for so long that she would smile like this, and here she was with a radiant smile, as if there was a cake in front of her.
Osanai didn’t say anything more.
I could understand why. I’d disappointed her at the bottom of her heart, and tonight’s confrontation was over. Also, as I’d thought at the beginning, tonight would be the last.
My feet were heavy, as if they were clinging to the ground. That one step towards the park entrance felt unbelievably heavy. I thought I would at least walk out in a dignified manner, but in reality I was probably dragging my body out. My head felt unsteady.
What would happen now?
At any rate, I had to tell the club members that tonight’s search was over. But was it really over? I realized that wasn’t exactly the case, though there was only a subtle difference. It would certainly be over if we’d managed to point out the arsonist. But all I’d done was talk to Osanai.
I turned my head around to search for Osanai, but she was nowhere to be found. Unable to turn my body as well, I asked her a question with my body facing the opposite direction.
“So, what kind of person is the arsonist?”
She readily answered from outside my field of vision.
“From what I saw, it was a boy who’s about the same age as us.”
A giggle then reached my ears.
“He should have been caught by now. The fox has been circling around, after all.”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
Was I unable to understand that because I was a little citizen?
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- I would ignore the bit about the kanazuchi. In modern times, the term kanazuchi is pretty much interchangeable with hammer (just that a kanazuchi needs to have a metal head), and even if we’re going by the old definition, a kanazuchi was meant for striking and thus contained no claw for removing nails. I assume this is a mistake by the author, but the only thing that matters is whether the Gardening Club’s hammer contains a hammer, and not if it is a kanazuchi or a hammer, so in my opinion this little aside about kanazuchi can be marked as irrelevant and safely ignored.
- Quite a weird line in this context, and since it’s written in quite simple terms I don’t think its a mistranslation. I think Urino meant to say something along the lines of, “I couldn’t see if there was anyone behind the tree, but I knew she had a point.” Do let me know if you have an interpretation that makes more sense!