VOLUME 4 - FEELINGS TO PROTECT file 02: blaze ()
‘What is this?’
Those were Hata Hideyoshi’s honest feelings when he saw the scene.
He had been a doctor for thirty-five years. He’d autopsied strange corpses as a coroner for more than ten years. He had seen countless corpses up until now.
Corpses with their limbs cut off. He’d seen so many drowned corpses and of course burnt corpses too. He wasn’t surprised by much.
However, this was different from the corpses he had seen until now.
Detectives and examiners are walking around the scene to look at it very carefully, but I wonder how many people noticed how odd this corpse is –
Most of them definitely thought it was just a burnt corpse.
The ones like Gotou, who had left the room earlier, must have had no suspicions at all.
Hata stooped over the corpse and observed it carefully.
It was splayed spread-eagle on the floor and there was crushed charcoal spread on top of it. That was what it looked like.
’What a splendid way of burning,’ said an examiner who had stooped over the corpse like Hata.
It wasn’t at the level of splendid. Clothes and hair were natural, but the flesh and bones had also burnt completely and carbonised.
From somebody who didn’t know, they might think that was what burnt corpses were like.
However, somebody with a bit of medical background would know this was strange.
On top of that, he was interested in why just the portion of the body above the left wrist hadn’t been burnt. Why did just that part of the body not burn –
It wasn’t just the corpse that was strange.
The whole floor was covered in a yellow and sticky glue-like liquid. That let out an awful smell, making it uncomfortable just to breathe.
There were many other things he didn’t understand.
’Where did the fire start?’
Hata voiced one of his doubts.
’That... Nothing that looks like it could have been the start of the fire has been found.’
The examiner shook his head.
Why did the body burn in a place that didn’t feel like it could have a fire?
’Is this room really the only place that burnt?’
’It appears that way.’
Hata looked around the concrete-surrounded room once more.
Black soot was drizzled on the room’s walls like it had sprayed on.
Though it was a concrete room, how could the fire have spread to the point that it burnt human bone?
He had more doubts the more that he thought.
What on earth happened here –
Hata felt a shiver done his spine.
How many years had it been since he felt this way?
Come to think of it, he felt like he’d seen the same sort of thing before.
What was that? He couldn’t remember.
After Gotou left the pump room, he stretched and then lit a cigarette.
Honestly, everything was so confusing. He’d come after being told ’Come to the school right away’ only to find a burnt corpse.
When he shifted his gaze, he saw the person who’d called him out.
Saitou Yakumo –
He was by the pool fence and looking vacantly with sleepy eyes at the investigation members milling about.
’I didn’t want to see your face for a while.’
Gotou walked up to Yakumo.
’The feeling is mutual. I didn’t want to see you again for the rest of my life.’
As Yakumo spoke with his usual tone, he ran a hand through his messy hair.
Damn, this brat isn’t cute at all –
’By the way, how’d you get wrapped up in this?’
’As is her habit, a repeat trouble-bringer paid me a visit.’
Yakumo looked behind Gotou.
When he turned around, he saw Haruka sitting by the school building while shivering. Ishii was beside her, looking concerned.
Now Gotou understood. Well, Yakumo wouldn’t just stick his head into trouble on his own. Haruka must have picked up something about ghosts somewhere and brought it to Yakumo.
’So what do you think about the incident?’
’The duty of a virtuous citizen is just to report to the police. What comes next is your job, Gotou-san.’
This guy and his impertinent mouth – he could throw him in the pool right now.
’My, my. You’re all together.’
A small-framed man in white hobbled over to them.
Hata, the coroner –
Even though he’d just seen a corpse, he was smiling so happily.
He really was a creepy old man.
’Gotou. You’re a blockhead, as usual.’
Hata looked up at Gotou’s face and let out a demonic giggle.
Honestly, what sort of greeting was that?
’If you don’t stop that, I’ll fold you into quarters and stuff you in a rubbish bin.’
’I won’t burn, so put me in with the oversize garbage.’
Saying he won’t burn after seeing a burnt corpse – what a tasteless joke.
’By the way, Yakumo-kun.’
After he giggled, Hata turned the conversation around.
’What is it with the corpse this time? I’ve done this work for a long time, but I’ve never seen that before.’
’Did you notice?’
To Hata, who was speaking seriously for once, Yakumo replied with an equally serious gaze.
Gotou had seen the corpse earlier too. It was strange for a burnt corpse to be discovered at an elementary school pool.
However, it appeared that what Hata said about having never seen it before was regarding the corpse itself.
’Isn’t it just a burnt corpse?’
Hata and Yakumo sighed simultaneously.
Were they making fun of him?
’Gotou-san, did you really not notice anything?’
Yakumo’s eyes were narrowed with disdain.
’You must be blind not to notice. How pitiful.’
Hata shook his head emphatically.
’You! Who’d you say was blind?’
’Hata-san, that’s incorrect. Gotou-san is just an idiot,’ said Yakumo.
Hata nodded, like he understood.
Both of them – they were the worst combination.
He didn’t even feel like objecting now.
’Forget about my stupidity. Tell me what’s strange.’
’There are three suspicious points regarding the corpse and the scene which are suspicious.’
Yakumo put up his fingers as he started to explain.
’Yes. First, there was nothing at the scene which could have started the fire.’
That was right. It was a pool pump room, after all.
’Maybe it was just covered in gasoline and lit up? Maybe the guy did it or someone else did.’
Yakumo didn’t respond, let alone refute Gotou’s logic. He continued his explanation.
’Second, even though the person burnt so completely, the fire didn’t spread to the building.’
Now that he mentioned it, that was true.
For now, they would put aside whether the burnt corpse was a suicide, murder or accident.
The room was concrete, so it would be difficult for the fire to spread, but if somebody had burnt so completely, it must have been a considerable fire.
It was unnatural for the room to escape just with soot on the walls –
’And the third problem. This is just something I have reasoned by looking at the corpse, so I would like to ask for your opinion, Hata-san.’
Yakumo turned the conversation to Hata.
’I haven’t autopsied it yet either, so I can’t say anything definite, but I dare say my reasoning is the same as yours, Yakumo-kun.’
Hata nodded at Yakumo.
’Is that so...’
After Yakumo murmured in a discouraged voice, he pinched his brow with his fingers.
Gotou cleared his throat and waited for Yakumo to continue.
However, both Yakumo and Hata seemed to be thinking about something and didn’t say any more.
’Oi! What’s that reasoning!?’ Gotou yelled, unable to keep it in.
’Even the bones of that corpse were burnt,’ said Hata, sounding fed up.
He said it like it was obvious, but Gotou didn’t understand why that was unnatural.
It was a burnt corpse, so of course it burnt.
’What’s strange about that?’
’You really are an idiot,’ Hata replied without a moment’s delay.
’What did you say!? This old man! You want to test it yourself?’
Gotou’s head was hot as he pulled up Hata by the collar.
However, Hata, instead of being afraid, actually laughed in enjoyment.
’There is no need to test it.’
Yakumo was the one who said that.
’What do you mean?’
Gotou let go of Hata and turned his gaze to Yakumo.
Though Yakumo was a man of pale and delicate features, sometimes he would have a frightening expression that would give you shivers. This was one of those times.
’Even if a person is burnt for cremation, the bones are left behind.’
The bones left behind were shut in funerary urns, so it’d be a problem if they were burnt up.’
’That is about nine hundred to a thousand degrees.’
Even if Yakumo mentioned a temperature of that level, Gotou couldn’t actually understand it.
The conversation had as little real meaning to Gotou as talking about foreign exchange rates. He had no way of converting that temperature into something he recognised.
’Explain it in a way that makes it easier to understand.’
’All right... There are past examples of somebody carbonising like the corpse we saw earlier.’
Yakumo’s eyes seemed to be far away as he answered the question Gotou had spat out in his irritation.
’What, so it’s happened before?’
Hata let out another creepy giggle after Gotou said that with a snort.
Damn, he was making fun of him again. Maybe he’d pull off his head.
’The past examples I am referring to occurred at the hypocentre of an atomic bomb,’ said Yakumo, giving Gotou a sidelong glance.
’Wha!? Atomic bomb? You...’
Gotou couldn’t think of what to say next.
It was impossible to think of such a tremendous heat occurring in that room.
’In short, if we are to come to a conclusion about the burnt corpse at the scene, all we can say is that it is impossible.’
Yakumo’s expression when he brought that to a finish was so twisted it seemed like he could cry at any moment.
Gotou also finally understood how serious the situation was.
What on earth happened here –
There was no way Gotou could understand something Yakumo and Hata couldn’t.
Before he’d noticed, the cigarette in his fingers had burnt up and all that was left was the filter.
With complicated feelings, Ishii looked at Haruka, who was sitting with her back to the wall of the school building.
He was happy that he had met her for the first time in a while, but he couldn’t see the usual smile in her profile. Her face was pale and it looked like she was holding back her pain.
It wasn’t unreasonable. Anybody would be shocked from seeing a corpse.
Ishii himself had shrieked many times. The only people who could look fine after that were the team of three demonic men talking on the other side of the fence, starting with Gotou.
Ishii wanted to cheer Haruka up somehow, but he didn’t know what to say to a woman at a time like this. He had no experience.
That made him irritated at himself.
Indifferent to Ishii’s thoughts, Haruka hit her cheeks with her hands and suddenly stood up.
’A-ah, Haruka-chan, a-are you all right?’ said Ishii, flustered.
’Yes, I’m all right. I apologise for worrying you.’
Even Ishii could tell that smile wasn’t natural.
’No, not at all. But it’d be better if you didn’t push yourself.’
’I’m fine. Forget about me – Ishii-san, don’t you have to go to the scene?’
Ishii couldn’t say anything to what Haruka had pointed out.
He was worried about Haruka. That wasn’t a lie. However, at the same time, it was also true that he didn’t want to go to the scene.
As a detective, he had a duty to go to the scene. He knew that.
But if he went to the scene, there’d be a corpse.
To see that – it frightened him.
’No, it’s nothing. Er... I’m waiting for my turn right now.’
He’d said something strange.
’You’re... waiting for your turn?’
Haruka cocked her head like she thought it was curious. Her doubts were natural.
’Yes. Er... the scene is small and there are many people there right now, so I am waiting for my turn. Ah, I hope my turn comes soon.’
Haruka laughed aloud at what he said.
A real smile, different from the one she’d put on before. Ah, he’d wanted to see her smile.
’Ishii-san, you really are an interesting person.’
Haruka brushed her hair behind her ear with her fingers.
That gesture made Ishii’s heart skip a beat. Haruka-chan really was cute.
’What are you doing here?’
A slim middle-aged man walked towards them with a wide stride.
He had sensitive-looking features and wore an outfit – chino pants and polo shirt – which made him look like he was returning from a game of golf.
Haruka looked surprised.
’Answer my question. I asked what a trainee teacher is doing at school on a day off.’
’You know that you have to notify us in advance if you’re coming to school a day off, right?’
Even though he was the vice principal, that was a very arrogant attitude. Ishii looked for words to defend Haruka but couldn’t find any.
It felt like there were sparks in the air between them.
’She was the first person to see the corpse and was cooperating with the investigation. Who are you?’
Gotou walked over with good timing.
Yakumo was next to him as well.
’I’m the vice principal. I’m asking why she’s here on a day off.’
Konno flared up at Gotou.
There were some people whose positions at work overflowed into their private life. This man was the definition of one of that type.
’That’s our job to investigate as the police – not yours. I don’t care whether you’re the vice principal or whoever – keep out of it!’
Gotou approached Konno as he threatened him.
When Gotou was like this, he had as much pressure as a yakuza. Not many people could strike back.
Konno bit his lip for a while, but then he turned around and walked away silently, like he’d decided he was out of luck.
’You were of a great help to me. Thank you very much.’
Haruka put her hands to her chest as she bowed at Gotou.
’Don’t worry about it.’
Gotou waved his hand like it was nothing.
’But what a high-handed person he was,’ said Ishii in his relief.
’It’s true. He’s always like that...’
’He probably thinks he’s some big shot,’ said Gotou with a frown, lighting up his cigarette.
’Gotou-san, the school premises are non-smoking,’ interrupted Haruka without a moment’s delay.
’You’re so fussy. The police are exempt.’
After saying something selfish, Gotou blew out smoke for show.
’Don’t play around – we should head back already.’
Yakumo yawned, like he was signalling the end of the situation.
It made Ishii angry to see Yakumo treat Haruka like she was his possession, but he couldn’t express that aloud.
’I wasn’t playing around.’
Haruka stuck her tongue out at Yakumo.
Yakumo snorted scornfully and walked away briskly.
’You guys really love trouble,’ muttered Gotou, looking up at the clear autumn sky.
’Gotou-san, please don’t start talking like Yakumo-kun too.’
’I’m just saying the truth.’
’If you say things like that, your wife will leave you again.’
’Shut up! That’s unnecessary concern! And my wife’s properly at home... probably.’
Perhaps he felt awkward, because Gotou stuck his hands in his pockets and turned around from Haruka.
’Well, I’m leaving then.’
Haruka bowed with a smile.
Ishii just felt Haruka was pitiful, as she acted so strong even though she’d not only gotten wrapped up in trouble but also had to listen to the endless comments of insensitive men.
’That’s right, Ishii. You look at the scene too,’ said Gotou suddenly.
’Eh, do I really have to go?’
’Of course you do, fool. What would a detective do if he didn’t go look at the scene?’
Ishii tried to think of a reason not to go look at the scene, but it was useless.
Haruka finally caught up to Yakumo just before he was about to pass through the school gates.
He could’ve waited a bit –
’You all right?’ said Yakumo with his back to her.
She froze automatically at those unexpected words.
So even this blunt guy was a bit worried –
What she had seen in the room was still fresh in her mind, but she felt a bit better just from Yakumo’s remark.
’How long are you just going to stand there?’
Yakumo turned around, looking exasperated.
It was mysterious how gentle his eyes looked, even though they were just as sleepy as usual.
Haruka walked up to Yakumo and rammed into him forcefully.
Yakumo lost his balance and almost fell forward.
She ignored Yakumo who looked like he didn’t understand and continued walking.
She thought that he would say something cynical, but Yakumo didn’t say anything.
For some reason, it felt kind of nice. She had been down, but now she was incredibly lively.
’So what’s up with this case then?’
Deciding that Yakumo’s silence was a good thing, she tried asking him a question.
’Why do you always...’
’Rush to a conclusion? That’s what you want to say, right?’
She said it before Yakumo could. She was in a good mood today.
’Don’t ask if you understand that.’
’Can’t you just explain the situation?’
Yakumo just looked up at the sky while walking, not answering Haruka’s question. The air around Yakumo felt more suffocating than usual.
’This is just my explanation of the situation. Don’t get ahead of yourself.’
After running a hand through his messy hair and saying that, Yakumo started his explanation in a reluctant manner.
’Just as that boy of yours said, there was a spirit there.’
There was –
Yakumo followed that spirit of the dead and found the corpse.
’I saw two spirits there.’
’The first was a middle-aged man. I followed that spirit to that place.’
’And the other?’
’The spirit was right beside you. Looked like a kid of elementary or middle school age.’
’So is there one more corpse?’
Haruka unconsciously gripped Yakumo’s arm.
’I don’t know. From the clothes, I feel like that spirit’s from a different time...’
’This is just my gut feeling, but I think it might be the kid that died in the fire before.’
If that was the case, it’d mean the spirit had been there for a very long time.
Yakumo had said this before. The spirits of the dead wander because of feelings that have not been dispelled – what sort of feelings did that boy have?
’Hey, what are you going to do now?’ Haruka asked, prepared to hear a response like ’Think about it yourself’.
’First, I requested that Gotou-san look into the fire that occurred at the school.’
’You move quick, just as expected.’
’Don’t make fun of me. There were various details about the corpse that was found today that are worth thinking about, but I’ll have to wait until Hata-san has finished his autopsy...’
’Hey. Isn’t there anything I can do?’
When Haruka asked that, Yakumo suddenly pulled her arm towards him with a jerk.
The movement was so sudden that Haruka staggered.
Then, at a distance where the tips of their noses were almost touching, there was Yakumo’s face.
Eh, wait –
Her heart was beating furiously at this sudden development. The blood rushed to her head, making her feel dizzy.
’Continue to walk straight like this,’ Yakumo whispered into her ear.
’What do you mean?’
She asked him that question, but Yakumo didn’t reply. He just continued walking while pulling at Haruka’s arm. It felt like he was walking at a slower pace than usual.
Finally, Yakumo stopped when they’d reached the intersection.
’Look at the mirror,’ said Yakumo quietly.
She did as he said and looked at the mirror at the intersection. She could see the warped reflection of themselves in the convex mirror. She could also see a boy a little bit behind them hiding behind the telephone pole.
Haruka called out as she turned around.
Their eyes met. Masato froze with his eyes as wide as saucers.
Why was he here?
Haruka took a step towards Masato. At the same time, Masato jumped back like the repelling side of a magnet.
She took another step.
Masato turned around and fled like a rabbit.
Why was he running?
Haruka chased after Masato. However, she soon stumbled and fell.
– It hurts.
When she stood up, her hands on her knees, Masato had already disappeared.
’Honestly, are your reflexes dull? Or are you clumsy?’ said Yakumo with a yawn.
She couldn’t find the words to object. Since she was probably both –
’I wonder why Masato-kun ran.’
Haruka threw that question at Yakumo.
’Because he was following us,’ replied Yakumo staring at the street which Masato had run down.
’Following us? Since when?’
’I noticed right as we left the school gates. At first I thought I was mistaken, but since he was so suspicious, I tried shaking him up a bit. If you hadn’t yelled, I would have caught him once we turned the corner.
’I see. My bad.’
’So you understand,’ said Yakumo with a raised eyebrow.
Ah, honestly. That attitude really riled her up.
’But why was he following us...’
’It’s your duty as his homeroom teacher to confirm that, though you are still a trainee.’
Just as Yakumo says, that is my duty.
Putting aside whether I can do it or not –
The day after the corpse was found, Gotou headed for the university’s <Movie Research Circle> room.
He came to meet Saitou Yakumo, who lived here, using it as his secret hiding place.
’Sorry to bother you.’
When he opened the door, Yakumo greeted him with a yawn.
The guy really was like a cat. What sort of daily life was he living?
’I’ve said this many times, but if you know you’re being a bother, please leave.’
Gotou sat on the folding chair opposite Yakumo.
’Gotou-san, you have a slight smell to you.’
Yakumo wrinkled his nose purposefully.
Honestly, suddenly complaining –
Of course he had a slight smell to him. He hadn’t been home since yesterday.
Yakumo was the one who was strange for not smelling at all, considering he lived in a place without a bath or a water supply.
’Where is Ishii-san today?’
’He’s working another case. We don’t have enough hands either.’
’Isn’t that because you skip out on work, Gotou-san? Ishii-san must be tired of it.’
Honestly. This guy said whatever the hell he wanted to. Gotou was the one who was pitiful with that useless subordinate. Gotou was forced to do unnecessary things.
Yesterday, Ishii had fainted the moment he’d seen the burnt corpse.
In the end, Gotou had to take him home.
’Say what you want,’ said Gotou, finding it too troublesome to explain.
’So what did you discover?’ said Yakumo, with his chin in his hands and a vacant look in his eyes.
He’s acting like he’s not interested, but it feels like he actually really wants to know. Honestly, he could just be a bit more honest –
Gotou placed the documents he’d brought on the table. Yakumo took those documents in his hands and flipped through the pages.
’First, it’s true that there was a fire at that school. Seems to have happened twenty-eight years ago.’
Even though Gotou was going out of his way to explain, Yakumo just glanced up without saying anything.
Honestly, this wasn’t worth it. He sort of understood why his wife complained every time they ate. Next time, maybe he’d comment on how delicious the food was.
Gotou threw himself into continuing the explanation.
’The fire started in the PE storeroom. It’s been taken down and now it’s the pool. Which means that’s the location. It started because some kids were playing with fire. Somebody nearby saw the smoke and reported it. Then the firefighters came.’
After saying this much, Gotou paused. Explaining what came next would be difficult. Where on earth should he start?
’I don’t care what order you explain this in, so please hurry up,’ said Yakumo while tapping his brow with his finger. So he’d seen right through him? He really was an unpleasant guy.
’When the firefighters got here, there were still two kids inside. One had his face burnt but it wasn’t life-threatening, but it was too late for the other.’
’So that was the kid who’d died then...’
Yakumo looked up at the ceiling, as if there were something there.
Gotou waited, thinking Yakumo might say something, but he didn’t say anything else.
Honestly. He shouldn’t just speak so meaningfully. It was confusing.
’This is the problem. The kid who lived transferred to a school in the next town after that. His name was Tobe Kengo... Actually, that man...’
’Killed his father and escaped during his psychiatric examination.’
Even though Gotou had been building up to an explanation, Yakumo went and said the punch line. He was probably the type of guy who was disliked.
’You know about it?’
’Even I read the newspaper. And then?’
That made sense. Not just the newspaper – it was broadcast almost daily on television. It’d be odder not to notice.
’We’re following that Tobe case.’
’I know that the police also have insufficient personnel, but they must be incredibly shorthanded if they’re going to make you investigate, Gotou-san,’ said Yakumo with a smirk.
Couldn’t this guy just quietly listen to somebody talk? Gotou felt angry, but he swallowed that anger since it would just come back to bite him if let it out.
’We met the lady who did Tobe’s examination, but that lady says there’s a possibility Tobe’s psychological state is an act.’
’He is thought to have dissociative identity disorder, yes?’
There was a bit of force in Yakumo’s sleepy gaze.
’That’s right. He didn’t seem to reflect at all during the questioning, and he called himself Ushijima Atsushi instead of Tobe Kengo...’
’Could that Ushijima Atsushi be the name of the boy who died in the fire?’
This guy really caught on quick.
’That doctor lady had some compositions written at Tobe’s elementary school. Ushijima’s name was in those compositions, and he’d written this: I want to become Tobe-kun.’
Yakumo pinched his brow with his fingers and listened to Gotou’s explanation. It was the pose he struck when pondering over a difficult problem.
’And one more thing.’
Yakumo lifted his head just slightly at Gotou’s words.
’What is it?’
’We went to see Ushijima Atsushi’s mum yesterday, but she said her son was killed by Tobe.’
He didn’t understand what she had said then.
But it was different now. The fire twenty-eight years ago. Had that really just started from playing with fire – Harue doubted that.
However, it was difficult to say whether Harue hated Tobe for that.
That woman had said it was a good thing her son died. She was a failure not just as a mother but as a human being for saying something like that.
Without saying anything, Yakumo started reading the documents.
I’m counting on you, Yakumo. Gotou yelled that at the bottom of his heart. That fool Ishii couldn’t be relied on, and Gotou couldn’t think of anything either after going through the information.
’Gotou-san, could you obtain the composition in question? I don’t mind if it’s a copy.’
Yakumo spoke with his eyes still on the documents.
Anna had them. He could just borrow them.
’As well, please reinvestigate the fire from twenty-eight years ago. I would like you not to just look at documents but to also talk to the people who were at the scene.’
’The people at the scene?’
’Yes. There should be people who lived nearby and the people from the fire department. Please hurry.’
Got it – is what Gotou was about to reply, but he came to his senses.
’You sound so high and mighty. When’d you become my boss?’
Yakumo looked nonchalant even under Gotou’s glare.
’If you don’t want to, it’s fine by me. I just won’t ever cooperate with you again.’
Ishii visited Sasaki Mental Health.
Like the day before, he was sitting stiffly on the sofa in the counselling room.
Gotou told Ishii to inform the psychiatrist Anna about what they had found out so far to ask her opinion.
Will I be all right on my own –
He took a handkerchief, wiped the sweat on his forehead which came from anxiety and adjusted the position of his glasses with a finger. He just couldn’t relax.
’I apologise for the wait.’
Anna, who’d left her seat, came back holding coffee.
Ishii sprung up and bowed his head deeply.
’Please don’t be so formal.’
Though Anna said that with a smile, he couldn’t just change his behaviour because of that. Ishii sat on the sofa again with his back straight.
’It’s because I didn’t have any medical examinations today. I apologise for my attire.’
Anna said that while sitting in front of him. Unlike the calming clothes she had worn the day before, she had on a casual outfit of a white blouse and jeans.
It was mysterious – at first glance, the clothes seemed boyish, but they seemed provocative when she wore them.
He could just see her bra because her blouse was unbuttoned down to her chest.
It was too much for Ishii, who had no immunity against things like this. He didn’t know where to look so he stared at the coffee cup in front of him.
’Is something the matter?’
While Anna said that, she touched Ishii’s arm and peered at his face. There was a sweet scent.
’I’m fine. It’s nothing.’
Ishii leant against the back of the sofa and put distance between him and Anna.
This was no good. Somehow, he couldn’t focus in front of this person.
’You’re alone today.’
Anna’s almond eyes looked at Ishii from behind long eyelashes.
’Yes. Detective Gotou has another case.’
’I’ve heard that it was a rule for detectives to work in pairs, but it seems that isn’t the case.’
Just as Anna said, the rule was to work in twos, but rules didn’t work on Gotou.
’Today is an exception. Detective Gotou had something that he had to do.’
Ishii quickly made an excuse. It would be troublesome if she mentioned it to the higher-ups.
’I see... So why are you here today?’
At Anna’s question, Ishii hurriedly tried to take his notebook out of his suit, but he fumbled and dropped it.
’Ah, actually, I was going to explain what we have found out from the investigation.’
Ishii quickly picked up the notebook.
’Are you all right?’
’Please forgive me. I’m actually here to request your opinion on the matter...’
’Ishii-san. Have you been worrying about something recently?’ Anna interrupted Ishii.
When he looked at Anna’s eyes, which were looking straight at him, it felt like his mind would slip far away from him.
’I-I-I wonder? I don’t think I have any...’
Anna’s fingers touched Ishii’s hands, which he had clenched into fists in his nervousness. Ishii’s body shivered like an electric pulse had gone through it.
’I am an expert. Please don’t restrain yourself.’
’N-no, I’m really not.’
Ishii’s forehead felt sweaty.
It was the first time Ishii had been touched by a woman like this.
’Are you pushing yourself too much at work?’
Just as Anna said, he really was pushing himself. He frantically chased after Gotou – but he always messed up.
He couldn’t help but dislike the person he was.
’There is no need to hide it.’
Anna placed her palm on Ishii’s shoulders. His stiff shoulder relaxed in that warmth, like melting ice.
’I see... a dream.’
Ishii opened his mouth unconsciously.
’What sort of dream?’
’A very frightening dream... In a dark place, I run after Detective Gotou frantically, but I can’t catch up at all. Just when I think I have...’
Ishii’s words caught in his throat partway.
If he said what came next, he had a vague fear that it would become true.
’Ishii-san, it is only a dream. What happens afterwards?’
Anna smiled, like she had sensed Ishii’s feelings. He felt relieved.
That’s right. This is a dream –
’When I catch up, Detective Gotou... is dead.’
’It seems that you are severely overworking yourself.’
Anna looked down.
’I-is that so...’
’Dreams reflect a person’s mental state. Ishii-san, it appears that you want to become a person like Detective Gotou, but that has become a burden on your mind.’
He did want to become like Gotou, just as Anna said. However, he didn’t think of it as a burden. If you asked him why, it was because he wanted to be like that of his own volition.
Anna put a finger to Ishii’s mouth, which had opened to object.
’Ishii-san, you are you.’
I am me –
That was obvious. However, it appeared he had forgotten that.
’Ishii-san, you are very competent. By trying to be somebody you are not, you are wasting your talents.’
Haruka walked with her worries –
Though there was a problem, was it really all right for a teacher to involve herself so much with one student?
It might set the other children against him. However, that didn’t mean she could leave him alone.
– You’re a trainee teacher.
She suddenly remembered what Konno had said.
At the time, she had been very angry, but now that she thought about it again, there were things she couldn’t deny.
She wasn’t their official homeroom teacher – she was a trainee. She would be gone in two weeks. Even if she did all this now, she couldn’t take responsibility until the end.
Haruka stopped once she reached the intersection.
When she looked up at the sky, she saw the clear blue sky, so unlike her emotions.
Masato’s cold expression, inappropriate for a child, flashed across her mind.
He was obviously suffering. Haruka just couldn’t overlook that.
I should stop grumbling. I’m not Yakumo, but I’ll go take a look. I’ll just think about what comes next afterwards –
Haruka turned right at the intersection.
She saw a small children’s park. About ten metres ahead was the apartment where Masato lived.
Haruka checked the map again as she stopped in front of the children’s park.
I see it. That’s it.
An old wooden apartment, portions of it had come off and the entire building seemed to be slanted.
Masato’s flat was at the corner of the first floor. Haruka had planned on walking right up to it, but she hesitated when she saw that somebody was already standing in front of the door.
It was Komai. She was knocking on the door and saying something.
Something like that had happened, so Komai was probably also worried about Masato and had come to check up on him.
Haruka thought about calling out to her, but it wouldn’t have been a good thing for Komai if her trainee teacher went to a child’s home without the teacher in charge.
Haruka just watched from where she stood.
Finally, Komai gave up and turned around to start walking.
Oh no, she’s coming this way –
Haruka quickly hid behind the public lavatory at the children’s park. She let out a sigh of relief.
The bushes in front of Haruka shook unnaturally, though there was no wind.
Somebody’s here –
She stooped and peeked behind the bushes.
When Haruka unconsciously called out, Masato put his finger in front of his mouth, as if to tell her to be quiet.
Haruka replied with a nod and squatted.
’Hey, why are you hiding?’ asked Haruka quietly.
“Cause she came.’
Masato stuck out his neck to look at the road.
’By she, do you mean Komai-sensei?’
Masato didn’t affirm or deny it.
’Komai-sensei came because she’s worried about you, Masato-kun.’
Haruka said that admonishingly, but Masato looked away from Haruka.
’You don’t know anything.’
She felt like his small eyes were hiding something.
She’d heard something like that before.
It had been when she’d first met Yakumo. Haruka really hadn’t known anything. However, she couldn’t know anything if he wouldn’t tell her anything.
’Just as you say, Masato-kun, I don’t know anything. So tell me.’
Masato froze at Haruka’s words. His shoulders were shaking slightly.
He looked like a lamb afraid of a wolf.
After saying that, Haruka touched Masato’s shoulder.
’Let go!’ yelled Masato, like he’d lost his temper, and he brushed Haruka’s hand away.
’Don’t come over here.’
Masato stood up and backed into the fallen leaves behind him.
’What do you mean by curse?’
’Don’t come over here!’
At the same time as he yelled, Masato ran off.
What was he burdened with?
I don’t feel like heading home right away –
Haruka arrived at Yakumo’s secret hiding place in the back of Building B at the university, like she’d been drawn there.
Yakumo would just say something cynical if she met him, so why had she come?
Unable to come up with an answer to her own question, Haruka opened the door.
Yakumo, sitting in his usual spot, welcomed Haruka with a yawn.
’You really do have a lot of free time.’
She didn’t feel angry at Yakumo, who was saying sarcastic things as always.
After sitting opposite Yakumo, she rested her head on the table, exhausted.
I wonder why? It’s just a folding chair and a table that’s like scrap wood, but I feel so relaxed –
’Hey, let me stay here for a while,’ said Haruka, still on the table.
Yakumo didn’t reply. Well, whatever. She’d stay here even if he said no.
’Hey, am I really meddlesome?’
She didn’t expect an answer. She just wanted to say it.
’What, so you know?’
Haruka sat up and looked at Yakumo. He was reclining with a smile, as if amused.
’That’s right. I’m meddlesome.’
Haruka’s expression soured as she put her chin in her hands.
Yakumo stopped smiling and raised an eyebrow as he ran a hand through his messy hair.
’When I was in middle school, I had a teacher as meddlesome as you.’
It felt like Yakumo’s eyes were elsewhere as he suddenly started talking.
How had Yakumo’s time in middle school been?
Haruka made Yakumo wear a gakuran in her head. Hm. It didn’t suit him. She frantically held back her urge to laugh.
’What sort of teacher?’
’I just said – weren’t you listening? The teacher was as meddlesome as you.’
Even though Haruka wanted to hear what came next, Yakumo stopped there.
Maybe Yakumo didn’t want to talk about it, but Haruka wanted to hear more.
’What did you think about that teacher, Yakumo-kun?’
Haruka continued her questions.
Yakumo frowned, looking troubled for once. Haruka still stared back at Yakumo.
After a while, Yakumo opened his mouth like he’d given up.
’I thought my teacher did pretty well.’
’Were you the teacher’s pet?’
’That’s not it,’ Yakumo said curtly, looking away.
It looks like there are traces of tears in his eyes. I might just be seeing things though –
’I wonder what Masato-kun thinks of me?’
’He obviously thinks you’re meddlesome and a pain in the neck,’ replied Yakumo immediately.
He was the worst. Couldn’t he have said something nicer?
’That’s right. I’m...’
’I thought that teacher was meddlesome and a pain in the neck too.’
Yakumo interrupted Haruka’s words.
’I wondered why my teacher was trying so hard for a complete stranger – my teacher didn’t know anything but did so much.’
In view of Yakumo’s past, it made sense for him to think that way.
He might not have been able to believe somebody would selflessly do something for him.
’That’s because your teacher was worried about you, Yakumo-kun.’
’That’s your teacher’s kindness. Your teacher couldn’t leave a child in pain alone.’
After he heard Haruka’s words, Yakumo’s shoulders relaxed and he smiled slightly.
So Yakumo could smile like that too. That was what Haruka’s mind was strangely preoccupied with.
’My teacher was kind. But I couldn’t understand that simple kindness.’
There, Yakumo paused and looked up at the ceiling, like he was thinking about something.
Maybe he was thinking about his teacher.
’I learnt about selfless kindness from that teacher.’
Yakumo slowly looked at Haruka.
What sad eyes –
’That boy called Masato is probably afraid too. Without knowing your true intentions.’
She had no basis for it, but she felt like Yakumo and Masato were similar.
’Yes. So you should just teach him. About selfless kindness.’
Yakumo stopped there.
Taking in the slight kindness shown by Yakumo, who was normally blunt and unparalleled in his contrariness, Haruka nodded.
When Gotou returned to the station, it was already past ten.
He was able to find a firefighter who had been at the scene twenty-eight years ago and ask what happened, as Yakumo had asked him to.
The elderly man had just retired last year and might have had a lot of free time, since Gotou ended up having to listen to a number of war stories that he hadn’t wanted to hear.
Gotou sank into the chair and lit his cigarette.
He was exhausted. The only good thing was that the firefighter’s memories had been clear even though the event had happened so long ago.
He glanced over at the seat opposite him.
Ishii wasn’t there. If he had just been going to talk to Anna, it shouldn’t have taken so long. He couldn’t have ended up getting counselling himself, right?
Maybe he’d call him. Just as Gotou picked up the phone, the door opened.
He thought it was Ishii, but he was wrong. The one who came in was Miyagawa.
’Hey. You look tuckered out.’
As Miyagawa said that, sounding amused, he walked briskly up to Gotou.
The way he swaggered was just like a hoodlum’s.
’Whose fault do you think that is? It’s already been three days.’
Miyagawa smirked as he saw Gotou grumbling with his loosened necktie.
’If you can still talk so much, you’re fine. So what’s happened with that lady doctor?’
’There’s been no progress after that.’
Miyagawa was fidgety, which was unlike him.
’What is it?’
Gotou was no good with atmospheres like this. He urged Miyagawa to continue.
’When you discovered the corpse at the school, you said you got a report from a civilian.’
’Yes, I coincidentally ran into a friend.’
’Could that acquaintance perhaps be the kid who can see ghosts?’
Why does Miyagawa know about Yakumo –
Gotou was only confused for a moment.
Miyagawa had met Yakumo before. He had seen that power during the case that occurred six years ago.
Now that he thought about it, that was the first case he’d solved with Yakumo.
’That’s right. That’s the brat. He’s a university student now.’
’Already, eh... I’m getting old.’
Miyagawa laughed, sounding embarrassed.
Gotou also felt sentimental as he thought of Yakumo in middle school.
Yakumo had denied everything in the world then. He had even wanted his own existence to disappear.
He’d had the eyes of a dead fish. But he’s different now –
’Though we don’t know anything for certain yet...’
Miyagawa’s slowly spoken words brought Gotou back to reality.
’What is it?’
’We know the identity of the burnt corpse.’
They’d done pretty well with what they’d had.
Yesterday, he’d heard that even the bones had turned to charcoal. In that situation, it’d probably be difficult to check the DNA with the dental records, let alone fingerprints.
’So who was it?’
The name Miyagawa said shook Gotou’s mind.
Why’d the guy who escaped end up burnt to a crisp there –
It was unnatural. That was what Gotou felt. He didn’t have any basis for it. He felt it instinctively.
’What do you mean?’
’The corpse. The left hand didn’t burn, right? The fingerprints matched Tobe Kengo’s exactly.’
’Then, in any case one thing’s wrapped up,’ said Gotou, though he didn’t mean it.
’Well, that’s how it is. Tomorrow morning, the chief of the police is going to meet with the press, saying that we don’t know why he died but it’s likely he committed suicide.’
Making announcement at this stage seemed premature, but Gotou understood that they wanted to stop the media from ganging up on them for letting a murderer escape as soon as possible.
Looks like Miyagawa doesn’t agree though. It feels like there’s more to this story –
’So what are you telling me to do?’
With a laugh, Miyagawa said, ’You’re sharp,’ and he continued with what he had to say.
’I heard about the autopsy, but according to Hata-san, it’s impossible for people’s bodies to burn up like that normally.’
’Yes, that seems to be the case.’
Gotou had heard that too yesterday.
’I can’t think of this as the work of a person.’
’Not the work of a person?’
Gotou furrowed his brows at Miyagawa’s extraordinary statement.
’That’s right. Ghost or demon or whatever. It’s something we don’t know about.’
’You’re joking, right?’
’I’m serious. But I’m only saying this ’cause it’s you. If I said this to the other guys, they’d think I was going nuts.’
Well, it made sense.
If the investigation team say their chief stand in front of them and say something like ’The culprit is a demon’, it’d be a joke.
’Could you be telling me to investigate?’
’The investigation’s still going to go on to find out the truth, but the team’s going to be cut down and it’s just going to be an investigation on paper. But I want to know. What happened there?’
’I want to know as well, but it isn’t something that we can do on our own.’
When Gotou flared up, Miyagawa’s lips turned up in a smile.
’Don’t you have an expert cooperating with you?’
So that was how it was. Gotou finally understood why Miyagawa had brought up Yakumo.
Set a thief to catch a thief. So he was telling him to use Yakumo to find out the truth.
Miyagawa had misunderstood Yakumo though. Yakumo could see the spirits of the dead. However, that was all.
He couldn’t do things you’d see in a manga like use spiritual powers or exorcise spirits. The person said so himself, but he didn’t have any exceptional power – just the ability to see them.
Gotou was troubled as to whether he should explain, but he finally stopped. He could tell Miyagawa would just say something like ’It’s the same, right?’. Plus, he didn’t think he could explain properly.
’I’ll do what I can.’
He was probably satisfied with Gotou’s answer. Miyagawa stood up and quickly headed for the door, but he came back like he’d remembered something.
’I forgot. I have one more request.’
After coming this far, getting one or two more requests didn’t make much of a difference.
’What is it?’
’Truth is, the police have to hold a meeting for the children’s guardians tomorrow afternoon.’
’You can’t be asking what I think you’re asking.’
He didn’t want to. Standing up in front of people to explain something? Was he kidding? PR could do that.
’I’m counting on you,’ Miyagawa said, and then he escaped from the room.
Somehow, Gotou felt ill at ease.
’I saw Chief Miyagawa run out, but did something happen?’
Changing places with Miyagawa, Ishii returned to the room.
’He just had something to talk to me about.’
Gotou looked up, feeling exhausted.
’What sort of talk?’
’A talk about how we’re going to work through the night again today.’
Ishii threw his head back in exaggerated surprise.
Gotou visited the university in the morning.
He instructed Ishii to wait in the car and then headed for Yakumo’s secret hiding place.
When he opened the door, Yakumo wasn’t where he was usually – instead, he was sleeping in a sleeping bag in the corner of the dark room.
He looked so damn comfortable. Unfortunately, Gotou wasn’t nice enough to let him sleep like that.
Gotou stooped over, put his face close to the sleeping Yakumo’s eye and took in a deep breath.
’Oi! Wake up!’
In response to Gotou’s voice, Yakumo’s body jolted up like a fish hooked out of water.
That was payback for how he always acted. Served him right.
Feeling pleased with himself, Gotou sat on the chair and waited for Yakumo to get up.
’Please don’t speak so loudly in the morning. It is troublesome for the neighbours,’ said Yakumo, his eyes still closed as he stayed in the sleeping bag.
’You’re the only one who’d live in a place like this.’
’Going to somebody’s home without permission is trespassing,’ said Yakumo, still wrapped up in his sleeping bag.
He had quite the mouth for somebody who’d just woken up.
’Living somewhere without permission is called unlawful occupation.’
After Gotou made that retort, Yakumo started squirming around.
Gotou thought that Yakumo was finally getting up, but he had been completely wrong. Yakumo took out his mobile phone and started dialling.
’What are you doing?’
’I’m calling the police. To tell them there’s a trespasser.’
Yakumo replied to Gotou’s question while rubbing at his eyes.
This guy was really calling.
’You’re not going to stop!?’
Gotou snatched the mobile away from Yakumo.
<Is anything the matter?>
He heard a voice from the other end. The call had already gone through. Damn. What a frightening guy.
’This is Gotou from the Setamachi precinct. Called the wrong number. Don’t worry about it.’
Gotou say that one-sidedly and hung up.
’What is it called when you’ve done something bad?’
Yakumo sat up and ran a hand through his bedhead, which was even messier than usual.
’Shut up! How would I know!?’
’I see. Good night.’
Yakumo tried to return to his sleeping bag.
Damn. He was such a pain when he sulked.
’Ah, wait. My bad. Sorry, sorry.’
Gotou hurriedly apologised, which made Yakumo stop for a moment, but then he shook his head like he was dissatisfied and went back into his sleeping bag.
’Gotou-san, is that how your parents taught you?’
What a comment.
His impulse was to hit Yakumo, but they’d get nowhere if he made Yakumo’s mood any worse.
Gotou bowed his head while bearing with the humiliation.
’So you can do it if you try.’
After Yakumo nodded in satisfaction, he finally got out of the sleeping bag and sat in the chair opposite Gotou after yawning.
Rather than his usual shirt and jeans, he was wearing a navy jersey on top and bottom.
He looked at Gotou while mumbling incoherently. It made Gotou doubt whether Yakumo was really awake.
’So what do you need from me this early in the morning?’
Yakumo rubbed at his eyes like a cat.
They’d wasted some time with a boring exchange. He’d bring up the topic at hand now.
’We found out the identity of the body.’
Yakumo stopped moving and his gaze became sharp.
OK. The monster cat took the bait.
’That corpse was Tobe Kengo.’
Gotou had thought that Yakumo would be a bit surprised, but Yakumo yawned and scratched his back, looking comfortable.
This guy. Didn’t he hear him?
’So it’s come to that...’
Just when Gotou was going to confirm Yakumo was listening, Yakumo said that sentence.
It wasn’t like they were playing shogi, so it hadn’t come to this or come to that.
’You’re not surprised?’
Gotou decided to ask anyway.
’Would being surprised solve the case?’
’That’s not what I’m say...’
Gotou stopped himself. Yakumo was scratching at his neck while holding back a yawn. He wouldn’t listen to what Gotou had to say. As Gotou had thought, he was more of a dog person.
’So, Gotou-san, what do you plan to do now?’
’Find out why he died.’
’Is that so? Do your best.’
He’s playing dumb even though he knows –
No matter how much Yakumo didn’t like it, Gotou wouldn’t let him get away. He’d get him to stick with him until the end.
’Haruka-san. You OK?’
When Haruka went to work and got to the staff room, Komai’s expression changed as she walked over.
’Ah, yes. I’m fine.’
After giving Haruka an evaluating look, Komai relaxed.
’Honestly. I was so worried. When I heard that you were the first person to find... It would’ve been OK if you didn’t come today,’ murmured Komai, like she found it difficult to say.
It would have been a lie if she said she hadn’t been shocked. However, there was something weighing more heavily on Haruka’s mind.
’I’m fine. I apologise for causing trouble.’
Komai patted Haruka’s shoulder with a smile.
Haruka was troubled as to whether she should ask about what happened yesterday, but in the end, she said nothing.
If she said it aloud, she would also have to explain why she’d gone to Masato’s home.
Though the morning meeting was supposed to start soon, the staff room was not as calm as it usually was.
The staff members were noisy like children waiting for test results. It felt unreal.
There was no helping it.
Police were standing at the school gates, and a blue plastic sheet covered the area surrounding the pool.
The media were crowding about too – a number of microphones were thrust towards Haruka before she entered the school gates.
There was an incomparable atmosphere. It spread through the whole school.
’Silence, please. It is time for the morning assembly.’
The teacher on duty that day spoke up with a clap.
The staff members sat down, still noisy, and formed a circle along the walls. Konno, the vice-principal, stood at the apex of the circle.
He had his arms crossed behind his back and his eyes closed.
When the voices quieted and the room was enveloped in silence, Konno spoke.
’I believe everyone already knows, but on Saturday, a corpse was found on the school premises.’
Konno took a pause and glared at Haruka.
It was like he was saying it was her fault. Being treated like the culprit was depressing.
’Today’s classes will go as planned. However, homeroom teachers should explain the incident to the children while avoiding direct expressions.’
The staffroom which had become quiet started to become noisy again.
Haruka wanted to speak up herself. If they avoided direct expressions, how were they supposed to explain to the children?
When she looked at Komai beside her, she was troubled too.
’Silence!’ said Konno with intimidating force.
At the same time, the room silenced like a wave had come over it.
’Some of the children are shocked. Choose an appropriate response without overlooking that.’
I wonder what would be an appropriate response to somebody who thrust away a child –
The discomfort spread through the room.
’In the afternoon, there will be a briefing for guardians from the police. The PTA will contact them, but everyone should participate. That is all.’
After Konno sai
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