VOLUME 4 - FEELINGS TO PROTECT epilogue ()
A week after that terrible case –
Ishii was at the university in front of the door to the <Movie Research Circle>.
He was divided as to whether or not he should open this door. He still hadn’t organised his feelings.
There was a voice from the other side of the door.
It appeared that Yakumo had already noticed Ishii’s visit. Ishii drew up his courage and opened the door timidly.
Yakumo welcomed Ishii with a yawn.
’H-hello. Sorry for intruding.’
Ishii made his greetings as he stepped inside.
’Well, please sit down.’
Ishii sat on the chair opposite Yakumo as he was told.
Ishii’s goal for today was to report the case’s progress. However, the truth was that the case was so complicated he didn’t know where to begin.
The police still hadn’t made an official announcement. Or rather, they couldn’t.
That was how strange this case was.
The newspapers and television news channels had been throwing around speculations – it was out of control.
There were headings in sports news like ’Monster born from the flames!’ on the front page. Ishii thought it was pertinent, in a way.
’So, what became of the situation afterwards?’
Yakumo brought up the topic, as if he had seen through what Ishii had been thinking about in his head.
’Ah, yes, Ushijima Atsushi confessed – perhaps he is resigned.’
His confession had been shocking –
Twenty-eight years ago, he switched places with his classmate Tobe Kengo at the fire.
He had gazed enviously at the completely different environment Kengo lived in, even though they had been born to the same father, and said that his name was Tobe Kengo when he was saved from the fire and asked his name.
That had probably been a child’s frivolous lie.
However, Tobe Masashi’s strange position regarding the inheritance, Ushijima’s burnt face and the way everyone treated it – these various factors piled up and Ushijima ended up living as Tobe Kengo.
But then, Masashi was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have much longer to live. He might have felt guilty, because it seemed like he would reveal everything.
That was why he killed him –
In order to run away from that crime, Ushijima thought that he had to become another person again.
He borrowed Anna’s help to escape and tried to become Oomori Hironori, his old classmate.
He tempted Masato, Oomori’s son and made him out to be an accomplice. He killed Hironori, made it look like his own corpse and burnt it.
Since he’d had to cut off his own left hand to do that, it was unusual tenacity.
’Has the investigation into the teacher called Komai been going well?’
Yakumo ran a hand through his messy hair.
’Yes. Ushijima confessed to killing her and making it look like a suicide.’
’Is that so?’ murmured Yakumo, looking up at the ceiling.
Now that I think about it, the teacher called Komai was unlucky. She’d committed no crime. She was Hironori’s lover – that’s all –
She had been concerned about Masato, who was in low spirits at school, and so Komai went to visit the Oomori home. That was the start of their relationship.
The two had been engaged and had been going to announce it soon.
Ushijima hadn’t know that, so Komai got in his way when she persistently visited the Oomori home after she lost contact with her lover.
They had hidden their relationship from everyone since they were teacher and guardian. That was their ruin.
If that had been public knowledge – if Ushijima had known that from the beginning – Oomori Hironori probably wouldn’t have been the target.
Masato’s family situation would have been vastly different as well, and he wouldn’t have had to suffer.
’Honestly, what a selfish man.’
There was weight to the words Yakumo spat out.
’Selfish... is it?’
’That man is terribly selfish and empty. That’s why he could do what he did. He isn’t Oomori Hironori, Tobe Kengo or even Ushijima Atsushi.’
That might have been the case. When things turned out badly for that man, he impersonated someone else as his cover.
Even though doing that won’t change who he actually is –
An empty man. A man who isn’t anybody –
’Er, there is one thing I don’t understand.’
Ishii adjusted the position of his glasses with his fingers and looked straight at Yakumo.
’The vice principal, Konno-san.’
Yakumo’s head really did work quickly. Ishii nodded.
Konno was arrested because a video camera and peeping videos were found in his desk.
What I don’t understand is why he was there and what role he had –
’I didn’t think he was related to this case at all.’
’He played an important part in this case. You probably know already, but he had taken videos with a hidden camera. Do you know where?’
’The locker room at the pool.’
The moment he said it aloud, Ishii realised what role Konno had played.
’It appears you understand.’
’The camera was probably fixed there. When it sensed people passing, it would start filming. I think that was how it was set up.’
Summer had ended so the pool wasn’t used any more, but for some reason, Konno had collected the camera.
’Ushijima thought his crime might have been recorded on that camera.’
’Exactly. Masato-kun, as directed by Ushijima, went to try to steal that video from the vice principal, who thought that he had been caught...’
So there had been a number of misunderstandings.
’This is somewhat complicated.’
’Well, what Konno-sensei did is shameful on a human level, but this time, it appears that he solved the case.’
’Eh, is that so?’
Ishii’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Yakumo’s face.
’Without that video, Ushijima would already have left town. He wouldn’t have made Masato-kun do something as dangerous as try to steal the video.’
Now that I think about it, that might be the case.
But still –
’Well, that doesn’t make what he has done forgivable.’
Yakumo smiled wryly as he said that, like he’d seen through what Ishii was thinking.
’I feel refreshed now.’
The tense muscles in Ishii’s cheek relaxed.
’Ishii-san, the following investigation will be difficult for you, won’t it?’
Ishii couldn’t look at Yakumo, so he averted his gaze.
This case had been solved because of Yakumo.
However, there were still several details that were unclear, and they still had to gather evidence for the case.
As Yakumo said, the police had to do the following investigation. However, Ishii wasn’t to be a part of it.
He’d requested a holiday from Miyagawa.
He’d thought that Miyagawa would yell at him for doing this at such a busy time, but Miyagawa told him to take the time off to think, like he sensed how Ishii was feeling.
I’m not fit to be a detective –
Ishii realised that painfully this case.
He couldn’t continue just because he wanted to. Everyone had fields of work they were suited and unsuited for.
It was his fault Gotou ended up that way. He didn’t know how he would apologise to Gotou’s wife.
’Ishii-san, there was no preventing what happened this time.’
To Ishii, who had been silent and caught up in his thoughts, Yakumo’s words only sounded like a consolation.
’No... it really was my fault. If I were more reliable...’
Ishii tried to reply, but he didn’t know what to say.
’If I were plotted against that way, I might have been tricked myself.’
That was what Yakumo said, but Ishii didn’t think so.
Yakumo would definitely have noticed that she was an imposter. Even though he didn’t meet her even once, he saw through her –
They found the real Sasaki Anna after that. She’d been on vacation in America.
Originally, the psychiatrist the prosecutor requested for the psychological exam received a proper written request. Then, the psychiatrist asked Sasaki Anna, who the psychiatrist knew well, to substitute in an email.
Sasaki Anna’s email address transmission settings had been changed so the email hadn’t reached her.
Furthermore, the actual written request to the psychiatrist had been proven to be made up.
Everything had been planned. It would probably have come to light eventually, but it would have been too late by then.
The woman Ishii met – her name, her age, her history – that had all been somebody else’s.
It was still unclear who she actually was.
’Ishii-san, it’d be better if you had a check-up at a hospital,’ said Yakumo suddenly, looking grim.
’What do you mean?’
’She probably used hypnotism. That was how Ushijima was able to escape from the guards.’
Ishii could understand the gist of what Yakumo was trying to say. He felt his chest tighten.
’Are you saying I was hypnotised?’
’This is only a possibility. Ishii-san, you might still be under hypnotic suggestion.’
Now that he thought about it, it seemed likely. He’d often felt like his sense of time was off when he went to Anna’s.
The cold smile Anna had shown Ishii in the end came up in his mind.
Gooseflesh rose on his skin because it was so frightening.
At the same time, he remembered something important.
However, Ishii couldn’t decide how to convey it.
’Ishii-san, what is it?’ asked Yakumo, unable to remain indifferent.
’Er, um... Actually, that woman gave me a message.’
Even Yakumo looked surprised. He didn’t seem to think there was a reason for it.
The scene from then came back as a clear image in Ishii’s mind.
Ishii was handcuffed. Gotou was covered in blood on the floor. Then, Anna said this in Ishii’s ear.
’Please give my regards to my cute little brother, Yakumo... That’s what she said.’
Yakumo’s brows furrowed, and he was clearly displeased.
Was she really Yakumo’s older sister?
Ishii wanted to know, but he couldn’t ask. That was how the situation felt.
Yakumo smiled bitterly as he ran a hand through his hair.
Ishii had no way of knowing what emotions were hidden behind that expression.
* * *
After visiting Yakumo’s secret hiding place, he went to the hospital.
He had been coming to the hospital every day since the case ended. However, he had not entered the hospital room once.
When he came to the hospital door, his feet cramped, like he was standing in front of a tightrope.
Today – today, I’ll go in – that was what he told himself.
He just couldn’t take that step forward, and he ended up heading back.
Gotou had to be angry –
When he thought about that, he couldn’t open the door in his fear.
But today I’ll go in. And I’ll properly apologise. After that, I’ll tell him my thoughts. That I don’t have any more self-confidence –
Just as Ishii put his hand on the door, somebody called out from inside.
Is somebody there?
Ishii was frightened again just by that.
– I really don’t know how to look as I meet him.
He was going to run when the door suddenly opened.
Ishii swallowed his shriek and covered his mouth with both hands as he backed into the wall.
A middle-aged woman stood in the doorway.
She was a beautiful woman. She had sharp, strong features.
’You must be Ishii-san,’ said the woman in a husky voice.
’Eh, ah, yes...’
Why does she know my name –
Ishii was confused, but he gave a polite reply.
’This man’s been waiting this whole time for you to come, Ishii-san.’
Ishii understood at this point. She was probably Gotou’s wife.
’Yes. It might be a bother for you, but please go for his sake, since he’s been making such a fuss about it.’
The woman smiled mischievously and walked down the corridor.
’Oi! Ishii! Hurry up and come in!’
Gotou’s angry shout echoed in Ishii’s ears as he stared blankly at Gotou’s wife as she left.
I was noticed –
Now there was no way for him to escape. Resigned, Ishii went into the hospital room.
Ishii obeyed Gotou’s order, still looking down, and sat on the round chair by the bed.
He didn’t know what to do, so he just made himself look small.
’I heard that you asked for a holiday.’
Gotou suddenly brought up the main topic.
A cold sweat ran down Ishii’s body. He just nodded.
’You idiot! If you’ve got the time to be thinking about stupid things like that, go move around! Move! This is why you’re a fool!’
Ishii shut his eyes tightly and accepted Gotou’s angry shouts as they came down on him.
That’s right. I’m a big fool. That’s why – I can’t cause any more trouble.
’I’m going to train you from scratch again, you fool, so you’d better prepare yourself!’
Ishii looked up at Gotou’s words.
Instead of abandoning somebody like me, he’s going to train me from scratch – even though he suffered so much because of me, he still –
Tears started falling from Ishii’s eyes.
’What are you crying about? It’s creepy. And it’s a hundred years too early for a fool like you to take a holiday. Help Chief Miyagawa out ’til I get back. I already told him about it.’
Thank you very much.
In Ishii’s head, he said the same words again and again.
’You’re supposed to reply if you understand!’
Gotou’s fist fell on Ishii’s head.
Ishii stood up and bowed, biting down on his lower lip.
’What are you sticking around for!? Hurry up and go!’
Ishii puffed out his chest, stood up straight and put Gotou’s hospital room behind him.
* * *
Haruka sat next to Masato on the bench at the train platform.
Masato was going to leave this town today. He was going to live with his uncle in Nagano.
Even after knowing Masato’s situation, she didn’t take Masato in.
She put a higher priority on her new life. It wasn’t just Masato’s mother – Haruka felt like this case had been the result of parents pushing their selfish actions to their children.
Still, Yakumo’s late. Even though he said he’d definitely come to see him off –
Haruka had been looking for Yakumo for a while now, but she couldn’t find him. She’d tried to contact his mobile too, but nobody had answered.
Parting is painful – since it was Yakumo, there was no way he’d think something sentimental like that.
He must have been late because he slept in. She should have just gone to pick him up.
Haruka looked at Masato’s profile as he sat beside her.
It still looked like there was a shadow on his back. Though Yakumo lifted the curse, that didn’t mean the injuries on this child’s small heart had been healed.
Masato had given his father sleeping pills.
However, he’d wanted to kill him. He’d probably carry that weight with him for his whole life. Like I did –
’Masato-kun, do your best when you get to your new school.’
Masato nodded expressionlessly.
He really was down. Haruka touched Masato’s shoulder, but then he stood up as if to escape that.
After Masato declared that, he walked towards the gate to the Shinkansen he was waiting for.
Haruka couldn’t think of anything to say as she watched his retreating back.
She really was useless.
Yakumo blocked Masato’s path.
He’s finally here –
Masato stopped and looked up at Yakumo.
Yakumo looked as sleepy as usual as he brought his face close to Masato’s ear and opened his mouth.
’Masato. Let’s make a promise...’
Just then, a train came in at the opposite platform, drowning out the words after that.
She didn’t know what Yakumo had said.
She just saw that Masato looked clearly happier as he smiled, showing his white teeth.
Masato stretched his arm out and waved at Haruka. When Haruka saw that truly happy smile, she naturally smiled and waved back.
It’s the first time I’ve seen that child smile like that –
It’s like I had no space to enter. I can’t make Masato smile like that. Yakumo did it so easily.
I really might not be suited for being a teacher.
Finally, Masato ran to get on the train, sat at the window and looked out at her.
The bell rang to announce the train’s departure.
Next to Yakumo, Haruka ran along with the train as they saw Masato off.
– Do your best. You’ll definitely be OK.
Haruka whispered that in her heart.
Finally, Haruka couldn’t see the train, let alone Masato.
’Hey, Yakumo-kun, do you think I was able to do something for that child?’
Yakumo raised an eyebrow and seemed displeased as he looked at Haruka, with her hands pressed against her chest.
’How stupid are you?’
’What do you mean, stupid?’
Honestly. Why did this person say such things when she was seriously troubled?
’I said stupid because you are stupid. The way you say it, it’s like you’ll never see Masato again.’
Now that he’d said that to her, she felt it was right.
She might have felt like everything had finished.
’From now on, Masato will suffer, knowing he drove his father to his death. Are you going to let Masato suffer by himself?’
Haruka felt like she had been stabbed. She really was stupid, just as Yakumo said.
’In that sense, Masato’s curse hasn’t been lifted. That’s why I made Masato a promise earlier.’
’That I’d go with you to visit him some time soon.’
Haruka looked up in surprise. That was why Masato had smiled.
That was right. She could meet Masato again.
No, Haruka had promised Masato that she’d lift the curse. She had to watch over him until his heart healed.
When Haruka said that, Yakumo looked displeased again.
’It’s creepy when you thank me sincerely. What are you planning?’
Could this person even honestly accept somebody’s feelings?
’I’m not planning anything. But...’
Yakumo walked away briskly, not listening to what Haruka was saying. Honestly –
Haruka hurriedly followed Yakumo.
Haruka didn’t realise that the next case had already started then –
 The Shinkansen is a system of high-speed railway lines run by JR. They are sometimes called bullet trains.
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