Volume 4 Chapter 1
VOLUME 4 - FEELINGS TO PROTECT
file 01: ignition (TRANSLATION NOTES)
When Yokouchi Kazuhito came out of the staff entrance in the back of the school building, it was already past ten .
He looked up at a beautiful moon .
A full moon –
It took more time than expected to lock up the school, which was something he wasn’t accustomed to doing .
Normally, locking up at the end of the day was the caretaker’s job, but the caretaker was off due to a cold .
Of course, the troublesome work fell to the rookie teacher .
Perhaps it was different for private schools, but the world of public school teachers was still firmly rooted in the old seniority system . Even if he was dissatisfied with it, he wasn’t in a situation where he could say it aloud .
‘This is really annoying…’
Yokouchi walked the path between the school building and the pool while grumbling . He still had to lock the school gates .
He wanted to go home as quickly as possible . That impulse quickened Yokouchi’s pace .
There was the sound of something falling into the water .
When he turned his eyes to the pool, there were ripples in the moonlit water .
He saw a black shadow on the diving board in the third lane .
'A person…’ murmured Yokouchi as he stared .
He couldn’t see the face well, but it appeared to be a middle-aged man from the physique .
Sneaking into the school pool at this time – and it was autumn now, on top of that .
There had been a number of incidents within the school recently . If he left it like this, it’d become a problem of responsibility .
'Er, excuse me . ’
Yokouchi mustered his courage and called out to the man .
The man made no response . Had his voice not reached him?
'Hey! You over there! What are you doing?’
Yokouchi put his hand by his mouth and raised his voice .
It looked like he heard him this time .
The man slowly turned his neck to look towards Yokouchi . However, he immediately turned back .
Honestly, what was it?
'Excuse me! Please leave!’ said Yokouchi as he walked towards the pool fence .
However, the man still did not move .
'I will call the police!’
Yokouchi took the mobile phone out of the pocket of his slacks .
The man would definitely run now that Yokouchi had played that card . That was what Yokouchi thought, but it was no good .
Now there was nothing to do but actually call .
'I really will call . ’
Yokouchi made one more warning and then pressed the buttons 1, 1 and 0 .
Eh? It won’t go through –
Was the connection bad? He took a look at his mobile phone display .
It was out of range .
There was nothing he could do . Maybe he’d go back to the staffroom and call .
Yokouchi was just about to turn his heels around when somebody grabbed his jacket hem .
When he looked, he saw a boy of about ten who had gotten next to him at some point in time . He didn’t remember the face . Was he from a kid from one of the classes?
At any rate, it was a problem for an elementary school student to be loitering at school at this hour .
Indifferent to Yokouchi’s thoughts, the boy slowly pointed at the diving board where the man stood .
Yokouchi’s eyes were led to the pool again .
The man on the diving board looked like he was glowing .
While Yokouchi was being bewildered, a bright red pillar of flame rose from the man’s stomach .
Sparks flew everywhere . The fire eddied up like a dragon climbing to the heavens and swallowed the man’s body in a flash .
Even though the man was swallowed up by the flames, he didn’t move .
Finally, he fell into the pool, raising a sheet of spray .
Yokouchi was so shocked by what happened that these natural suspicions didn’t even cross his mind .
Horror just crept up from his feet and stole the freedom from his body .
He lost the strength in his legs and he sank down to the floor right there .
The boy from earlier peered worriedly at Yokouchi .
Why is this kid so calm? Somebody burned up in front of your eyes –
While Yokouchi was seized with fear, the boy’s face started glowing .
It can’t be –
His bad feeling struck home .
Just when he thought a small blaze was in the boy’s cheek, his entire face started burning with the intensity of a paper being eaten away by flames .
The inflamed skin dripped .
That crackling blaze swallowed the boy whole in no time at all .
Just like the man earlier –
Yokouchi didn’t think of trying to save him .
He just heard a voice in his ear as he tried to scuttle away in his fear –
It’s hot… Help…
Yokouchi’s scream echoed through the school at night .
Ozawa Haruka stood in front of the lavatory sink and looked at her reflection in the mirror .
I look startlingly pale –
No matter how strong she acted, her body showed her nervousness honestly .
With today, it had been a week since she started her training as a teacher at this elementary school .
She had matched the names with the faces of all the children in the class she was in charge of and was used to that atmosphere as well .
No matter how used to it she was, today was different .
It would be stranger not to be nervous, though it was true that she also felt exhilarated .
It was similar to how she felt before a performance .
'Ah, here you were . Ozawa-san, we have to go soon . ’
The person who peeked in from the lavatory door was the teacher in charge of Haruka, Komai Hiromi .
'Ah, please excuse me . I’ll be out soon . ’
'I’ll wait outside then . ’
Komai gave her a friendly smile .
There’s no point complaining now . I have to do it . I’ll be fine .
Haruka told her mirror self that and, after forcing the corners of her lips up in a smile, left the lavatory .
'Well, shall we go?’
'Yes . ’
After Haruka replied, she started walking down the corridor beside Komai .
Even though she had readied herself, when she approached the classroom, her heartbeat was so loud it hurt her ears .
'Are you nervous?’ asked Komai, turning to look at Haruka .
'Yes . Only a little,’ Haruka replied honestly .
For a moment, Komai was surprised, and then she laughed happily .
It might have been rude for her to put it this way, but that expression was cute . Though the teacher was in her mid-thirties, it didn’t look like that at all to Haruka .
When she actually spoke to her, the contents and method of her speech made her seem like an adult woman, but it wouldn’t be strange at all to say she looked to be the same age as Haruka just from her appearance .
She had also said that she would be getting married soon, so that might have been the cause of it .
There was a small diamond ring glittering on the ring finger of the hand that combed up her hair .
'You looked relaxed to me though . ’
Komai shrugged .
'Is that so? I feel like my heart will leap out of my mouth . ’
'If you can say that, you’re fine . ’
After nodding a few times, Komai clapped a hand on Haruka’s shoulders .
Recently, it felt like the way people evaluated her had changed .
Though she wouldn’t be able to reply with a firm answer if asked how it had changed, when compared to before, she wasn’t as timid, or perhaps she could say she felt like she had her own opinions .
It had been that way for her choice of the elementary school she would train at .
There were many students who would choose their alma mater when undergoing training . However, Haruka didn’t dare to do that .
Her reason was that she didn’t want to depend on the kindness of a school that she was familiar with .
This elementary had thirty students per class and five classes per year .
There were nine hundred children . It was smack in the middle of a residential area, so the scale and environment were completely different from the elementary school in the countryside that Haruka graduated from .
Since she had entered the education department, she aspired to become a teacher .
However, she’d wanted to see how serious she was in this completely different environment .
Her previous self probably wouldn’t have thought of placing herself in adversity .
It might be because of him –
'That brings me back . For my first class, I couldn’t do it until the end because I was nervous,’ said Komai, looking up at the ceiling .
'You couldn’t, Komai-sensei?’
Komai narrowed her eyes at Haruka’s surprised expression .
She looked like a prankster who was scheming something .
'Is that unexpected?’
'Yes . ’
'Sensei, your classes are really easy to understand and fair . I can’t imagine that at all . ’
'Everyone fails at first . ’
'Yes . ’
Haruka stopped walking to reply .
She felt like some of the tension had left her shoulders .
Just as Komai said, nothing went well for everybody from the very beginning . People grew as they made mistakes .
'It took me ten years to get here . ’
There was still a long path ahead . She’d have to work hard .
When Haruka raised her head, she saw a plate that said <Class 5-4> .
This was the class Haruka was in charge of during training .
She could tell that the classroom was unusually noisy even from the corridor .
The children also knew that today was Haruka’s first class . Perhaps the children felt anxious like she did .
'Are you prepared?’
'Yes . ’
Haruka took in a deep breath before replying to Komai .
'Now, do your best . ’
Komai hit Haruka’s back like she was sending her off .
Haruka gripped a necklace with a red stone tightly in her left hand . It was the necklace Yakumo had given her .
Please . Lend me a little strength –
After praying silently in her heart, she opened the door .
Suddenly, the children gave a thunderous cheer . There were some children who were clapping and whistling .
Haruka went blank at the unexpected reception .
'Look at the blackboard,’ said Komai .
She was still astonished as she looked over and saw the words 'Haruka-sensei, do your best!’ written in chalk across the chalkboard .
It was decorated with paper flowers and ribbons .
The corners of Haruka’s eyes felt warm, her chest full of surprise and joy .
'Everyone, thank you . I’ll be in your care today . ’
When Haruka bowed, the children cheered again .
Haruka straightened her back and stood at the platform .
When she had been in elementary school, the teacher standing at the platform had looked very tall to her . She wondered what the children thought of her now .
As Haruka looked around the children in the classroom again, Haruka’s eyes stopped at one of the boys .
Oomori Masato . He was carving something into the desk with the needle of a compass, as if Haruka’s existence was completely irrelevant to him .
It looked like he was the only one who was cut off .
He was always like this . Not just in class – even during break and after school, he would be outside of the circle of the class .
Should I keep an eye on him –
'Now, start the class . ’
While Haruka was troubled about what to do, Komai spoke up while erasing the words on the blackboard .
That was right . She should concentrate on class now .
'OK, let’s start . ’
Haruka put that behind her and opened the textbook .
Ishii Yuutarou was running at full speed down a pitch-black road .
It’s hard to breathe –
Ishii didn’t know why or to where he was running himself .
However, he was frantically chasing the back of the senior detective running in front of him, Gotou .
'Detective Gotou, where are you going?’
Gotou didn’t even turn around at Ishii’s voice .
How far had they run? Gotou suddenly came to a stop .
'Excuse me… Detective Gotou . ’
Just as Ishii spoke up, Gotou’s bearlike figure fell backwards .
'Detective Gotou, what has happened?’
Ishii approached because he was worried, but he was startled when he saw Gotou’s face .
His eyes were wide and his face was a pale as a dead man’s . And – his white shirt was dyed red at the chest .
– It’s blood .
'Detective Gotou, please hold on . ’
Ishii put up with his trembling legs and shook Gotou vigorously .
However, there was no response at all .
He’s dead – as if to deny that thought, Ishii shook his head .
'Detective Gotou! Please wake up!’
Ishii gathered strength in the bottom of his stomach and raised his voice .
'Shut up, you fool!’
Something hit Ishii’s head and he jumped up to his feet .
What he saw before him was completely different from what he had seen earlier .
Eh, this is my desk . And it’s not night –
'Wake up already!’
Another fist came down on Ishii’s head .
When he looked up, he saw Gotou standing there, though he had been dead earlier .
There was no blood on the white shirt so shabby it would make even Detective Columbo grimace .
He stood imposingly in front of Ishii with that demonic stature .
Oh, that was a dream –
Ishii finally understood . He had worked all night yesterday and thought he’d take a nap at dawn and rested his head on the desk .
Maybe that was why he’d seen such a dream .
'How long are you going to doze off for!?’
As Gotou yelled, he raised his fist again .
'Eek . S-s-sorry . ’
Ishii instinctively covered his head and let out a voice close to a shriek .
'It seems like you’re enjoying yourselves considerably . ’
There was a voice from the doorway . The characteristic thick voice of somebody who has been drinking .
When he looked over, he saw Miyagawa, the chief, standing there .
He had taken over for the previous chief, Ideuchi, who had quit because of the incident three months ago .
He was a middle-aged man of a small stature, but he didn’t give the impression of being frail . He had the face of a Buddhist priest and thick eyebrows . Underneath that were a pair of piercing eyes .
He could be mistaken for somebody of that sort .
This person might kill a bear with his bare hands . Ishii really thought that .
'Of course we’re not enjoying ourselves . We didn’t sleep last night . ’
Gotou looked incredibly listless .
'You’re paying the tab for slacking off up 'til now . ’
There was reason behind Miyagawa’s comment .
The Unsolved Cases Special Investigations Room that had only Gotou and Ishii stationed there was, unlike its grand name, used for odd jobs . Half the time, they just acted as supporting members for other departments .
That had been fine with the previous chief, but after Miyagawa came in, the situation had made a complete about-face .
They had been ordered to look into unsolved cases, which was the actual work of this department .
It might sound like it wasn’t that much work .
However, the police arrest rate was steadily declining every year and was now hanging around twenty per cent .
Currently, six million cases occurred in Japan annually . Of course, the responsibility was split up by jurisdiction, but it was still an amazing amount .
'So, what did you come here to do? Please leave if you’re just here to jeer . ’
Gotou had his finger in his ear as he said that unpleasantly .
'I don’t have so much free time that I can jeer at you,’ said Miyagawa with a snort .
Their exchange sounded rude, but there was no ill will there . To Ishii, it seemed like they were joking around .
He’d heard that Miyagawa had been partnered with Gotou back when they were rookie detectives .
They were probably very familiar with each other .
'If you’re not here to jeer, what is it?’
Gotou took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it .
Miyagawa glared at Gotou .
'You lighting up knowing that I quit smoking?’
'Why not just smoke if you want to?’
Gotou held his cigarette out towards Miyagawa, but he looked away like he was trying to run away from it .
'My grandkid… hates it when I smell like cigarettes . ’
'People can change, gramps,’ said Gotou, making fun of Miyagawa .
Miyagawa poked Gotou’s chest with his finger as he yelled in his irritation . Ishii’s legs shook under the pressure .
'So what did you really come here for?’
Gotou urged Miyagawa to talk as he put out the cigarette in the ashtray .
'There’s actually some work I want you guys to do . ’
Miyagawa flung the documents in his hand at Gotou .
'Why not get the detective department to do it?’
'I’m just going to say this, but you guys are part of the detective department too . ’
'Oh, that’s right . ’
Gotou sulked like a child . Then, he spread out the documents he had been given .
'Isn’t this the Tobe Kengo case?’
Gotou stopped flipping through the documents and muttered .
Ishii knew that case too .
The man who had beat his own father to death with a hammer one month ago –
After the crime, he had been arrested at once still at the scene . At the questioning afterwards, he displayed signs of insanity and had been taken from the prosecution to a medical specialist for an examination .
And then, during that examination, Tobe escaped –
The female doctor in charge at the time had been assaulted, but she resisted and stabbed Tobe with the scissors that had been nearby .
There had been a lot of blood left at the scene, which was the medical examination room .
They had persisted in searching for him since he could not have run far with his injuries, and there had been a large search, but they had gotten no news of him even after one month .
'I want you guys to help out with the investigation too . ’
'Are you seriously asking that? It’s not something that will be fixed just by adding more people . ’
'I’m not telling you to help with the physical investigation . ’
Miyagawa rejecting Gotou’s displeasure .
'If it’s not legwork, should we be putting up flyers?’ said Gotou, poking fun .
'Are you an idiot?’
Just as Miyagawa said that, he smacked his palm against the back of Gotou’s head .
Ishii couldn’t help but shout at the unbelievable sight .
For him to raise a hand towards Detective Gotou – what a terrifying person .
'The gutsy female doctor who slashed Tobe asked the police for help . ’
'No . Pro… fi… fi, fi…’
'Profiling . ’
Ishii supplied the word Miyagawa was trying to say .
'Oh, that’s it . Profiling . She said the culprit might be found that way . ’
'You’re not telling me to go with her, are you?’
Gotou’s discomfort was apparent .
Profiling was used daily for investigations by police overseas .
However, Japanese police were considerably slower in comparison to police in foreign countries .
As per Gotou’s response right now, profiling was still firmly recognised as an unknown .
'Her contact info’s written in those documents . Go meet her . ’
'She’s just an amateur butting in!’
Gotou hit the desk in his irritation .
'Now, now . Don’t say that . Anyway, I’m counting on you . Put in a report whenever . ’
Miyagawa pat Gotou’s shoulders like he was appeasing him and then left the room briskly .
A person just like a storm –
'Damn, pushing annoying work to me . I’m already worn out . ’
Gotou flung the documents on the desk as he complained .
However, Ishii felt that Gotou’s emotions were the opposite of what he’d said .
After Miyagawa had come, the content of their work had become incomparably harder, and while Gotou expressed his discontent, it was a fact that his eyes were brighter now .
Gotou was probably the type of person who had to be busy .
'Oi! Ishii! We’re going!’
At some point Gotou had moved to the door .
'Ah, yes sir . ’
Ishii hurriedly rushed over .
He fell –
The chime signalling that four hours were over rang –
'I’ll stop here then . ’
At the same time as Haruka finished speaking, the tension left her shoulders like the air from a balloon .
Somehow, she had managed to finish the morning class, but unfortunately, she couldn’t say it had gone well .
At points, her head went completely blank and she was stiff . Each time, Komai gave her advice quietly from the side .
If she hadn’t, the class would have become self-study partway through .
'I apologise for causing you trouble . ’
'It was a good performance for your first time . You’ll get used to it sooner or later . ’
Komai smiled and encouraged Haruka, who was looking down .
Haruka felt there were people who were suitable and unsuitable for working in front of people, let alone children .
I wonder if I’m suitable for being a teacher –
She quickly ended up thinking that way .
While Haruka was buried in thought, the children put their desks together, carried the trays with side dishes on them and tableware and prepared for their school lunches .
'Haruka-sensei, come to our group today . ’
Two girls pulled at her hand . Maiko and Eri .
They were always together and looked like twins .
'Ah, OK . ’
Haruka was dragged by Maiko and Eri and sat down in the low chair that had been prepared for her .
'Hey, sensei, do you have a boyfriend?’
The one who asked was Maiko . She suddenly asked such an amazing question .
'I’m taking applications right now . ’
For a moment, somebody crossed Haruka’s mind, but she shook that away and answered .
'Hey, what sort of person’s your type?’
This time it was Eri .
When Haruka was in fifth grade, she’d had a boy she liked, but she hadn’t had the concept of boyfriend or girlfriend .
'Hm . A kind person would be nice?’
If she were to say more, somebody who was a bit contrary but dependable when it was important .
There was a parade of questions that made her falter after that, like 'When was your first date?’ and 'When did you kiss?’ .
It was honestly difficult to reply to questions like this . Even though they were children, they probably wouldn’t accept vague answers or lies .
While Haruka was being attacked with tough questions, the children who had finished setting the table had all sat down .
'Everyone’s together then . ’
At Komai’s voice, the children replied together: 'Yes!’
'Sensei, Masato-kun isn’t here . ’
A little later, Maiko spoke up from beside Haruka .
Haruka glanced over – the seat diagonal from Haruka was empty . Come to think of it, Masato had already been gone by the time Haruka had sat down .
'Who cares? Let’s eat . ’
'He’s creepy . ’
'Yeah . He said he can see ghosts . ’
'Eh! No way!’
Voices called out from various parts of the classroom . Komai sighed like she was tired of it .
From that response, it appeared that something like this had happened numerous times in the past .
Haruka stood up, walked over to Komai and said, 'I’ll look for him . ’ Komai appeared to think it over for a while, but then she replied, 'Please do . ’
'I understand . ’
After replying, she tried to leave but then heard unhappy cries of 'Ehh’ from the group of children she had been sitting with .
'You can just ignore someone like him,’ someone said .
That was bullying . She couldn’t stay silent after hearing that . Just when Haruka thought that, Komai stood up .
'You promised not to say things like that, right? Everyone in this class is friends . Wouldn’t it be sad if somebody said the same to you?’
Rather than speaking to anybody in particular, Komai spoke to the whole class .
That was Komai-sensei for you, Haruka thought . There were some children who looked displeased, but the classroom was so quiet the fuss earlier seemed like a lie .
'Ozawa-san, please go ahead . ’
'Yes,’ replied Haruka, and then she left the classroom .
Where did that child go –
Oomori Masato’s face came up in Haruka’s mind .
She had not spoken to him even once .
However, she was concerned about him . He felt obviously different from the other children . He was always spacing out by himself away from the group .
He had cold eyes, unlike those of an elementary student .
He might have been troubled with a big problem .
She was also concerned about what the other children had said earlier .
– He can see ghosts .
Was that true?
If it were, Haruka might have been overlapping Masato with that guy .
In any case, she had to hurry . Haruka put those thoughts aside and quickened her pace .
After Gotou sat down in the passenger seat of the white Crown, an unmarked patrol car, he lit up his cigarette .
Damn, this was annoying .
Recently, everyone made a huge fuss about psychological analysis and profiling because of the influence of television dramas .
It wasn’t a problem of numbers – he wouldn’t have to work so hard if they could know who the perps were just by using a calculator .
The basis of investigation was straightforwardly getting info .
Well, it riled him up, but this let him stick his neck into the investigation . He’d been stuck organising files up until now, and he’d gotten out of shape . This was a good opportunity .
'I wonder what sort of person she is . ’
From the driver’s seat, Ishii spoke with a lazy expression .
'Sasaki-sensei, the psychiatrist, of course . ’
'You’re very curious . ’
'There’s nothing I can do about it . I looked at her personal history earlier – it seems like she studied criminal psychology in America . ’
Ishii looked blank .
'Just because she can study for tests doesn’t mean she can catch criminals . Forget about that and drive!’
At Gotou’s yell, Ishii’s shoulders shivered in fear and he hurriedly started the car .
Honestly . Gotou wished this fool would grow up a bit . He just kept on cowering and wasn’t useful at all .
Ishii might have been suitable to be a detective . Gotou might have to find some time to talk to him seriously . It was for Ishii’s sake as well .
After sighing, Gotou spread out the documents for the Tobe Kengo case on his lap .
Tobe Kengo . Thirty-eight . Unemployed –
The left half of his face had been damaged in his childhood by fire so the skin was scarred and reddish purple in colour .
The eyes underneath that were so expressionless it was uncanny . It was like they were fake .
'I wonder why Tobe killed his father,’ said Ishii to himself .
'He was angry?’ Gotou replied curtly, putting his cigarette out in the ashtray .
'But that’s so extreme . Would he kill the father he had lived with for so many years for something simple?’
'Couldn’t he have had some deep grudge we don’t know about because they lived together for so long? It’s not like it’s uncommon . ’
Children kill their parents . On the other hand, parents kill their children . Nowadays, he often heard about bloody cases like that .
Something was off . He felt that way more often now .
'But something is strange,’ said Ishii . He shifted about, like his seat wasn’t comfortable .
'What do you mean by something?’
'Tobe’s father had terminal cancer . ’
When Ishii said that, Gotou looked at the documents again .
It was as he said . Tobe Kengo’s father, Masashi, had had terminal cancer .
Even if he hadn’t acted on his own, the man would have died soon enough . Nevertheless, Tobe had gone out of his way to knock his dad’s brains out .
It really was unnatural . But –
'Maybe he just wanted to do it himself,’ said Gotou as he looked at the photo taken of the seen .
It was a disastrous scene that made you want to turn his head away .
Tobe Masashi had been hit dozens of time with a hammer . His mouth and nose were completely crushed and his face was sunken in .
If he’d just wanted to kill him, there was no need to go this far . He’d cleared years of hatred with his own hand . The ill intent came through the photo .
'Is that how it is?’
Ishii cocked his head, seeming dissatisfied . Gotou thought about showing him the photo of the scene, but he decided not to . If he showed Ishii this now, he’d be startled and would definitely cause an accident .
'That’s how it is . ’
Gotou threw the documents towards the backseat and reclined in his seat, exhausted .
There was something Gotou was more interested in than the motive for the crime .
How could Tobe escape –
He’d been cuffed and police had been there to guard him . If you thought about it normally, there was no way he could have escaped .
He’d looked through the documents, but there were many parts he wasn’t satisfied with . Plus, Gotou only believed in the things he saw and heard himself .
He’d have to check that out before profiling when he met up with the psychiatrist, decided Gotou .
Haruka searched in every nook and cranny of the school building, from the fourth floor with Class 5-4’s classroom to the first floor .
Of course, she checked the lavatory, library and school infirmary – everywhere that wasn’t locked .
However, she couldn’t find Masato .
The teachers in charge would have noticed if he had sneaked into another class . Where on earth had he gone?
The only places she hadn’t looked at yet were the schoolyard and the PE storeroom .
Haruka took her pumps from the staff shoe cupboard and went out into the schoolyard .
She had been looking around the schoolyard and just turned around to the back of the school building when she spotted Masato .
He had his back against the wall of the school building and was staring at the pool .
Haruka was relieved . She was about to approach him when she recognised the middle-aged man standing in front of Masato and stopped in her tracks .
The man had grizzled hair and was thin to the point of sickliness . He had goggling eyes . He was the vice-principal, Konno .
Konno was saying something while pointing his finger at Masato .
What should I do at a time like this –
While Haruka was undecided about what to do, Konno jabbed Masato’s chest .
Masato lost his balance and fell on his behind .
That’s awful –
'Please stop!’ shouted Haruka as she rushed towards Masato .
'Masato-kun, are you all right?’
Haruka spoke up to him, but Masato stood up with a blank expression and brushed off his trousers .
'Are you OK? You’re not hurt, are you?’
Haruka met Masato’s eyes as she spoke to him .
Masato didn’t seem disturbed – he just looked back at Haruka without saying anything .
His eyes were very cold .
What Konno had done was still unforgiveable .
Haruka turned towards Konno and glared at his sunken eyes .
'Why did you do such a thing?’
Her tone was harsh as her emotions seeped through .
'Who on earth are you? You just cut in so suddenly,’ said Konno, crossing his arms in his displeasure .
I greeted him on my first day, and we see each other’s faces at the staff meeting, but he still doesn’t remember –
'I’m the trainee teacher, Ozawa . ’
Konno made a cluck with his tongue in response .
He was the very definition of arrogance . Even if he was of higher rank than she was, there were things that were OK to do and things that weren’t .
'Please answer my question . Why did you do such a thing?’
Haruka didn’t flinch as she talked back to her superior .
'You’re a trainee teacher, and I’m the vice-principal . ’
'That is not an answer to my question . ’
Did he think everyone would listen to him if he used his authority as a shield?
Whether it was the principal or vice-principal, it wasn’t right to use violence against a child .
'Obviously, I was educating him,’ said Konno shamelessly .
Konno had thrust Masato away . That action wasn’t scolding – it was clearly violence .
'What are you saying he did?’
Konno heaved a sigh at Haruka’s words .
'What did he do? He stole something from me . Stealing can’t just be forgiven as some children’s prank . It’s plainly a crime . Do you understand?’
Stealing? That can’t be –
'That must be a lie . Of course he wouldn’t do something like that!’
Haruka spoke up before checking with Masato .
It had been one week since she started looking over Masato’s class . She didn’t know him well enough to affirm it, but Haruka still felt strongly that she wanted to believe him .
'Take out what you stole from me earlier . ’
Konno brushed Haruka aside and approached Masato .
Masato seemed resigned as he stuck his hand into his parka pocket, took something out of it and handed it to Konno .
Konno accepted it with satisfaction and put it in his suit pocket .
This has to be a lie –
'You understand now, right? Don’t be so shameless when you don’t know anything . ’
Konno brought his face close to Haruka’s with a jerk . He said that with a voice dripping in sarcasm and then walked away briskly .
Haruka had no reply and just bit her lip .
Haruka consciously put a smile on her face instead of suddenly scolding Masato as she turned to face him .
'You were OK then,’ she said .
He didn’t make any reply and just stood there with an expression of mixed surprise and bewilderment .
'Hey, Masato-un . ’
Haruka tried to grasp Masato’s hand .
'Don’t touch me!’
Like his reticence up until now had been a lie, Masato suddenly spoke up in a loud voice and warded off Haruka’s hand .
Masato glared at Haruka with hostile eyes .
I have nothing to say back when he looks at me with eyes like that –
'I’m cursed . Everyone who touches me dies . ’
Masato gave the bewildered Haruka a glance, turned on his heels and ran away .
Haruka just watched his back silently .
What on earth is his small back burdened with –
Haruka was irritated with her inexperience, unable to guess how he was feeling .
'This is definitely the right place?’
Gotou’s question made Ishii feel unsure .
A tiled five-storey building . There was a cafe with an open terrace on the first floor, and there was a Greek pattern on the pillars .
The building made one think of a boutique in Omotesando .
Ishii understood why Gotou would doubt that a psychiatry clinic would really be in a place like this .
'This is definitely the address…’ said Ishii, looking at the documents in his hand again .
Once Gotou heard that, he walked towards the building’s entrance .
Ishii hurriedly followed after Gotou and they took the elevator directly in front of the entrance .
'What floor?’ asked Gotou, sounding displeased .
'Er… the third floor . ’
After Ishii checked the documents, he pressed the button for the third floor . The elevator slowly started going up .
When the elevator doors opened, there was a wooden door right in front of his eyes with the plate <Sasaki Mental Health> on it .
'This is definitely the place . ’
While Ishii was confirming this, Gotou had already opened the door without any hesitation and gone in .
Gotou appeared to be the type who moved before he spoke .
I have to learn from him –
Ishii followed after him .
The room had glaringly white walls with a dark green carpet . It felt like they were standing in a grassy field .
Green was said to relax people, but from Ishii’s perspective, it felt a bit much .
Gotou picked up the extension telephone at the reception counter .
'I’m Gotou, a detective from the Setamachi precinct . Is Sasaki here?’
He was taking a highhanded attitude towards a doctor .
Ishii thought that, but he didn’t have the guts to tell Gotou his opinion .
Gotou curtly said, 'Ah, I see,’ and then he put the phone on the receiver . After that, he opened the door by the reception and briskly headed down the path that led to the back .
Did he get permission to go in?
Ishii felt anxious, but he started walking after Gotou .
When Gotou reached the door at the end of the path, he said, 'I’m coming in,’ opening the door without knocking .
That was just bad manners .
'Please forgive the introduction . ’
After bowing his head deeply, Ishii entered the room .
It was about ten tatami in size .
There was a set of brown leather sofas in front of him and plants were placed in the corners of the room . Light came in from the large windows .
In the back of the room, there was a wooden desk and a woman was sitting there while typing away on the keyboard at the computer .
'I’ve been waiting . ’
The woman stopped typing and stood up with a smile .
She’s probably Sasaki Anna, the psychiatrist –
She had a slender frame, straight facial features and pale, delicate skin . She had a beauty that felt appropriate for fashion magazine covers .
Her age had been listed as thirty-three in the documents, but her appearance made her seem in her early twenties .
Ishii’s expression unconsciously slackened .
'Don’t smile like that,’ muttered Gotou, jabbing Ishii’s side .
His breath caught at the surprise attack .
That was right . He’d almost forgotten his duty . Plus, he already had Haruka-chan in his heart .
Ishii braced himself and stood up straight .
'Are you Sasaki Anna?’
'Yes . ’
Anna replied to Gotou’s question in a clear voice .
'I’m Gotou . He’s…’
'My name is Ishii Yuutarou!’
Gotou’s fist came down on Ishii’s head .
'Your voice is loud!’
Anna covered her mouth with her hand as she giggled at their exchange .
'You are an interesting pair . I had the impression that detectives would be tougher . ’
After Anna said that in an amused tone, she undid her hair that had been tied behind her . Her long and glossy black hair fell down her back .
Ishii’s heart skipped a beat .
She’s different from Haruka-chan . The elegant beauty of an adult woman –
'Please sit down . ’
At Anna’s suggestion, Ishii and Gotou sat down on the sofa .
'I will bring out some drinks now then . ’
'Don’t worry about that . We don’t plan on staying long . ’
'I can’t be the only one drinking though . ’
Anna replied to Gotou’s words with a smile and left the room .
* * *
Gotou had thought every doctor wore white .
However, Anna, sitting in front of him, looked more like a receptionist at some company than a doctor in her white blouse and above-knee skirt .
'I did think it was unreasonable for me to offer my cooperation, but I thought that I was also responsible as well . ’
Anna brought up the topic first .
What, so she knows herself –
Gotou cursed in his heart . The police sometimes asked psychiatrists to cooperate with investigations, but never the reverse .
'Is this place non-smoking?’
Though Gotou asked that, he lit his cigarette so there was no point in arguing about it .
'Please go ahead . If you would allow me to as well?’
Anna placed an ashtray in front of Gotou, took a thin menthol cigarette out and lit it .
There was a sweet smell from the smoke .
'I think the police must’ve asked you this countless times already, but do you mind if I ask you a few things first?’
'Not at all . Please ask away . ’
Anna replied with a smile, crossed her legs and leant back on her chair .
Gotou glanced at Ishii beside him . This fool . His face had been strange for a while now .
He’d beat him half to death when they went back .
'When Tobe escaped, you were examining him in this room . ’
'Yes, that’s right . ’
'Was anyone else here?’
'Of course . The guards were here . Two of them were outside the door . There were two standing at the wall in the back as well . ’
Anna pointed behind Gotou with a slender finger .
They had probably been blocking the door .
'He did well in getting away in a situation like that . ’
Gotou felt like there was a shadow in Anna’s almond eyes at his words .
'When I was examining him, the fire alarm went off . ’
Anna put her cigarette on top of the ashtray . The smoke drifted up from it .
'Yes . It was a false alarm, but… because of it, the two guards in the corridor went outside to look at the situation, and the two in the room went into the corridor .
What idiots –
If there were two guards in the corridor, they didn’t need to go out and look themselves . It was an idiot’s mistake .
Gotou put out his cigarette in the ashtray in his irritation .
'Then what did Tobe do?’
'He used that opening to lock the door from the inside… I was really afraid…’
Anna hugged her shoulders as her body shook .
Even that gesture was captivating .
'So did he assault you?’
'No . He tried to escape . From that window…’
Anna pointed at the large window behind her desk .
'I see . ’
Anna pressed her hand against her brow and hung her head, looking pained .
'I tried to stop him . Then, he suddenly rushed at me and strangled my neck,’ said Anna, slowly raising her face .
Talking about it again had probably brought up those memories . She was so pale it looked like she might faint .
'And then you stabbed Tobe?’
Gotou chose to put on a hard expression .
Anna nodded silently . Gotou heard Ishii swallow beside him .
'Where’d you get those scissors?’
'While I was struggling, I touched the scissors on the desk . Then, when I frantically turned to resist… I hadn’t thought of hurting him…’
Anna’s voice grew fainter as she talked and finally disappeared .
The tips of her fingers were trembling . Even if she tried to behave stout-heartedly, it must have been terrible for her . Normally, it wouldn’t be strange to start crying, but her self-restraint was incredible .
'A-a-are you all right?’ asked Ishii hesitantly .
Anna said, 'I’m fine,’ with a smile, but her expression was stiff .
'Ishii-san, you’re kind . ’
As she said that, she looked directly at Ishii’s eyes .
'Ah, no… er…’
'I’ve got most of the situation . Now it’s your turn . You said you’d cooperate with the investigation, but I want to ask what your true motive is . ’
The atmosphere had gotten a bit strange, so Gotou forcefully changed the topic .
Anna brushed her hair and sat up straight .
'My true motive?’
'Your questioning’s over . You’ve already cooperated enough in that sense . You didn’t remember some new testimony, right? Then what do you plan to do?’ said Gotou, lighting up a new cigarette .
'Of course, I was wondering if I could cooperate with the investigation from a profiling perspective . ’
'Do you really think something like that will catch the perp?’
He decided to reply bluntly .
'The police have a misunderstanding about profiling . ’
Anna’s expression was stiff as she gave a firm reply .
'Yes . Profiling isn’t something as unscientific as television dramas make it out to be, wherein one can discover the names of criminals and ambush them . ’
Gotou wavered a bit at the unexpected reply .
'Profiling analyses the criminal’s personality and features with behavioural science and infers from statistics . ’
'Make that easier for me to understand . ’
'In short, profiling, rather than finding out the criminal’s whereabouts, analyses the criminal profile and analyses with statistics what sort of person the criminal is . ’
'Then that’s not really different from actually investigating the scene,’ Gotou said .
In actual investigation, they reasoned out the criminal profile from the contents of the crime daily .
If money was stolen from the corpse that was found, the possibility was high that it was a robbery or there was some grudge –
'That is exactly it . In order to use what is garnered from the investigation of the scene more effectively, profiling takes it and studies it from a psychological point of view . ’
Anna’s expression became softer as she spoke .
'However, Doctor Sasaki, you studied criminal psychology in America . ’
Ishii leant forward as he brought up his doubts .
'In America or in England, investigation is only the information gathering of the police . If a psychiatric examination would solve everything, it wouldn’t be so difficult . What we do is only one part of the materials that make up the investigation, in order to make that information gathering more efficient . ’
When Gotou heard what Anna said, he put aside the preconception in his head and decided to try listening to what she had to say .
'Then let me hear about that investigation material . ’
Gotou put out his cigarette in the ashtray and crossed his arms .
'Yes . First, you do know what happened with the psychiatric examination of Tobe-san on the investigation end, yes?’
Gotou nodded .
He’d given a different name during the investigation and suddenly let out a strange voice and went wild – Gotou had heard there was a big fuss .
The investigation had suspicions that he was insane so he had been brought to an expert .
That was the situation, so the motive for why he beat his father to death was still unknown .
'When I met him, he called himself not Tobe Kengo but Ushijima Atsushi . ’
'In the documents, it was written that he was suspected to have dissociative identity disorder – that is, multiple personalities . If that was the case, it would not be strange for him to have multiple names . ’
'The left side of his face had been burnt when he was young . It could be believed that this was a complex that sprang from that…’
Here, Anna closed her mouth like she was hesitating .
'Doctor, could it be that you do not think that is the case?’
Ishii interrupted the silence .
His eyes are sparkling . He’s a coward, but he jumps right in for topics like this . I don’t get him –
'Please listen to this as one possibility . ’
'In the past, dissociative identity disorder – that is, multiple personality disorder – was not very well-known . However, it is now spread through the media and many people know about it . ’
Anna spoke slowly and was watching Gotou’s expression .
When Gotou urged her to continue, Anna nodded, licked her lips and continued .
'Since I have also only met him a number of times, I cannot say this with certainty . However, while his symptoms are extremely similar to dissociative identity disorder, he does not have the characteristic memory loss . ’
'In the case of dissociative identity disorder, when personality A comes out, personality B does not have memories from then . However, Tobe-san keeps all his memories even when his personality changes . ’
'What do you want to say?’
'There is the possibility that this was an incredibly intellectual crime of intent . ’
Ishii was extremely taken aback .
Gotou smacked the back of Ishii’s head .
This fool is too surprised –
'What’s your basis for thinking that?’
'I said this earlier, but for multiple personalities, when the personality switches, the other personalities are asleep and have absolutely no memory of that time . However, Tobe-san, at least when I talked to him, did not seem to have lost his memories . Moreover…’
Anna suddenly stood up . She returned to her own desk, took a B5 notebook out from the drawer and placed it on the table .
It was an elementary school anthology made of straw paper, rarely seen today .
Anna opened the anthology on the table to the page that was bookmarked .
'This is a composition from when Tobe-san was in third grade . ’
The page was titled 'Dream for the Future’ .
Anna pointed at a point on the page . Tobe Kengo’s name was written there .
<I want to become a company president like my dad – >
What irony . Even though he had a dream like this, he did that to his father .
'Please look here as well . ’
Anna’s finger moved along and stopped at a name . This was the dream written there .
< I want to become Tobe-kun – Ushijima Atsushi>
Gotou looked at Anna, taken aback .
Anna nodded with a serious expression .
'That’s right . This is the other name he gave . ’
'What does this mean?’
Gotou was a bit confused .
'I do not know for certain . However, this anthology and Tobe-san’s burn were from about the same time period . ’
Gotou felt something a shiver run down his spine .
'Whether he has multiple personalities or not, I believe this Ushijima-san holds the key . ’
Something serious is going to happen –
It was vague, but that was how Gotou felt .
When Haruka had finished writing the journal for today, it was already past seven at night .
The other trainees appeared to have trouble with the journal as well, but not as much as Haruka .
When she’d noticed, the meeting room left open for trainees to use had been empty except for Haruka .
It wouldn’t have taken so much time to write the journal if she just had to write her thoughts and actions . However, Haruka could not reach a decision .
What she had seen at lunch break when she had gone to look for Masato –
The time had flown by while Haruka couldn’t decide whether to tell Komai about it .
After pondering over it, she didn’t mention Masato in the journal and decided not to talk to Komai about it either .
When Haruka left the meeting room, she knocked on the door to the staff room .
After opening the door, she saw Komai doing office work at her desk .
There was nobody except her . It appeared that Haruka had made her wait .
When Komai noticed Haruka, she waved her hand with a smile .
'I apologise that this is so late . ’
While bowing her head, she handed the journal to Komai with both hands .
'Don’t worry about it . ’
Komai opened the journal to today’s page and looked at it .
After a silence, Komai closed the journal loudly and sighed .
Was there a problem –
While Haruka was thinking, Komai put the journal in her desk drawer, picked up her bag and stood up .
'Haruka-san, you’re heading back now, right?’
'Ah, yes . ’
'Right . Then let’s go together . ’
After Komai said that, she started walking towards the exit .
'Ah, OK . ’
Haruka gave a vague response and followed Komai .
Even though she’d said to go together, Komai walked silently like she was thinking about something .
Haruka felt that Komai seemed strange, but she didn’t ask any questions, and they headed for the staff shoe cupboard on the first floor .
'Hey, Haruka-san . ’
Komai finally spoke when they were switching shoes .
'Why didn’t you report about lunch break?’
Komai’s voice didn’t sound accusing . That sentence just made Haruka’s chest feel tight .
It made sense .
There had been such a fuss, so even if Haruka kept her mouth shut, so it was natural that Konno, who had been there, would tell Komai himself .
Maybe Komai had been waiting for Haruka to talk about it .
I betrayed her expectation –
'I apologise . ’
Haruka clenched her teeth to restrain the feelings welling up within her .
'Did you think I would be angry if you told me?’
'That isn’t it . Just…’
'I didn’t see what happened directly, and I just couldn’t believe that Masato-kun stole something from the vice-principal…’
Haruka had her hands in fists as she appealed to Komai .
'I feel the same way . I just can’t believe it . But that’s why I wanted you to talk to me . Did you think I’d scold Masato-kun without confirming the truth?’
'No . ’
Now, Haruka felt her concerns were really selfish .
I misunderstood so much . I’m inexperienced as a person –
'Don’t worry about this time . You’ll make sure to talk to me properly next time, right?’
'I am truly sorry . ’
Haruka bowed her head deeply .
When Komai saw her, she laughed aloud .
'You really are so honest it’s unusual . It’s not a beneficial personality . ’
'Is that how it is?’
Haruka gave a vague reply .
'Well, I have to talk to Masato-kun properly . ’
Komai made a cluck with her tongue, sounding embarrassed .
'Is there some sort of problem?’
'Mmhm . Rather than a problem, he’s just been strange lately . He didn’t use to be like this . ’
'Is that so?’
'Yup . Ah, that’s right . There’s something I want you to take a look at . ’
After Komai said that, she took a bundle of Japanese writing paper out of her bag and handed it to Haruka .
'What is this?’
Komai looked bitter when she heard Haruka’s question .
'Do you remember when I asked the students to write about their fathers last week?’
'Yes . ’
That had been the first day Haruka had been training, if she remembered correctly .
'This is Masato-kun’s composition, but the contents are a bit…’
'Read it . I want to hear your thoughts . That kid definitely has a big worry in his heart . ’
'I will . Thank you very much . ’
After Haruka replied, she put the writing paper in her bag .
They started walking out of the school building together, but Komai stopped like she had spotted something .
Her eyes were directed at the pool . Led by her gaze, Haruka looked the same way .
Masato-kun was there –
He stood in front of the fence as he stared at the pool on the other side .
'Masato-kun, what are you looking at?’
Komai spoke up before Haruka .
Masato slowly turned his face . His eyes were vacant . It felt like his heart wasn’t here .
'A ghost . ’
That was all Masato said .
'A ghost? There’s no way something like that is here . ’
'There is . ’
Masato immediately denied what Komai said .
'In this pool . I’ve been cursed by that ghost . ’
Masato said that expressionlessly and then ran off . ’
Komai hurriedly called out to stop him, but Masato didn’t turn around, disappearing into the night .
All Haruka could do was watch silently .
Can this child really see ghosts –
That was the only thought in her head .
'Er… Masato-kun said that he could see ghosts…’
Haruka spoke up, unable to hold back .
'There’s a rumour about here from before . ’
Komai sighed, sounding troubled .
'This used to be a storeroom . There was a fire and a kid died . Then…’
Komai prevaricated .
She was probably the type who didn’t believe in ghosts .
'Do the children know about that rumour as well?’
'Yup . You know Yokouchi-sensei from the class beside ours, right?’
'Yes . ’
'He made a fuss about how he saw a ghost here when he was going home from school . Masato-kun probably heard him and said what he did . ’
Haruka looked towards the pool again .
The moon reflected in the dirty surface was moving gently .
Unfortunately, Haruka couldn’t confirm whether that rumour was true –
After Haruka returned to her own room, she collapsed onto the bed .
Her body felt heavy . She was really tired today . Haruka was the type of clumsy person who couldn’t do two things at once .
When a lot of things piled up, it would really tire her out psychologically .
'That kid’s lonely without his mother . ’
While walking home from school, Komai explained Masato’s home situation .
Masato’s mother had fallen in love with one of the employees at her part-time job one year ago and left her husband and son .
She didn’t even say goodbye –
It seemed that Masato and his father did not get along well, and he had closed his heart off ever since then .
His father worked at a bicycle repair shop while raising Masato, but that had bankrupted a few months ago .
Komai didn’t explain in detail, but it seemed like the manager had been arrested .
Masato’s father hadn’t been related at all, but the rumour had stuck with him .
He couldn’t find another job, so, with the family finances in a pressing situation, he sold their house, and now the father and son lived in a small flat .
Though Haruka hadn’t actually seen how he lived, but she imagined it definitely wouldn’t be satisfying if compared with the other children in the class .
Even though he’d done nothing wrong at all, he was suffering .
Children were powerless against this sort of bad luck . All they could was bear it silently .
'I want to do something for him . There aren’t many things a teacher can actually do . ’
Komai’s last words pierced Haruka’s heart .
I wonder if there really isn’t anything we can do –
Masato’s cold expression, so inappropriate for a child, came up in Haruka’s mind .
How on earth did that child feel about the unluckiness that had befallen him?
He must have forced himself to keep it all in that small body .
Even though it would be easier for him if he let all his complaints and displeasures out at somebody, he didn’t .
Though he’s putting on a brave front, I think he’s a strong and kind child .
Just like that guy –
Yakumo was also burdened with a great unluckiness .
Though he normally hid it with a coloured contact lens, his left eye was red from birth . That eye had the special ability to see the spirits of the dead .
Consequently, those around him despised him and even his own mother tried to kill him .
He didn’t talk about it much, but he had experienced suffering that the likes of Haruka could not even imagine .
Rather than an inexperienced trainee teacher like me, Yakumo might better understand Masato’s feelings as somebody who has walked the same path .
'I can see ghosts . ’
Masato had said that in front of the pool .
Is that the truth –
Yakumo was also the only person who could confirm that .
Fortunately, tomorrow was Saturday so there was no school . He might not like it, but Haruka would go consult him . He would definitely find a clue .
Haruka suddenly remembered the composition that Komai had handed to her . She took it the paper out of her bag .
Masato’s composition was only one line .
<My dad isn’t here anymore . I killed him – >
After returning to the police quarters, Ishii sat on a chair, exhausted .
He’d walked around for the first time in a while, and he’d been more tired than he thought he would be . It might be better if he exercised a bit more .
'Honestly, this is getting to be a pain . ’
Sitting in front of him, Gotou lit up a cigarette as he complained .
It certainly had become something troublesome . However, it could also at the same time be called a big development .
'However, I think we have found a trail . ’
'Somehow . ’
Gotou was sceptical . However, Ishii didn’t feel that way .
Anna showed the possibility that Tobe could be faking his dissociative identity disorder .
Supporting that claim, the other name Tobe gave for his personality, Ushijima, actually existed .
They had run about all day following that trail .
First, they checked Tobe’s composition .
There had been a child called Ushijima Atsushi at that elementary school, but he had already died . He had lost his life in a fire at the school .
They found out that Ushijima had been an illegitimate child and had had no father .
There they turned their investigation around and started looking for Ushijima’s parents .
They checked the family register at city hall and asked for Ushijima’s address, but there was none . Then, they went and asked around and found out that Ushijima’s mother was currently in a care home .
They were going to go to that care home tomorrow .
'We might actually arrive at the culprit . ’
Ishii said that excitedly, but then the internal line rang and interrupted the conversation .
Gotou did not even try to hide his displeasure when he answered the phone .
That was much too arrogant an attitude, but Ishii didn’t have the courage to point it out .
'I’m heading out . ’
After Gotou hung up, he suddenly stood up .
'Eh? Where to?’
'Chief’s call . I’ll leave the report to you . ’
Gotou left the room with a cigarette in his mouth .
He said that he’d leave the report to Ishii, but Gotou had not drawn up a report even once up until now .
Ishii didn’t feel dissatisfied about that .
Though it was strange for him to say it himself, he wasn’t usually very useful . If he didn’t do this much, he wouldn’t know why he was even here .
Ishii spread the report out on the desk and brought the Tobe Kengo documents close to him . After adjusting the position of his glasses with his finger, he looked at his details again .
Thirty-eight years old . Unmarried . His mother died twenty years ago of diabetes .
He received the burn scar on his face when he was ten, so he changed elementary schools to one in the next town after that .
That had probably been out of concern for the child who received such a shock from the fire .
But if they had been going to change environments, moving farther away would have been better –
Or so he thought, but Ishii soon waved that thought away .
The Tobe family managed a real estate company there, so it probably wouldn’t have been easy to move so far away .
His father, Masashi, had been adopted into the family . Perhaps that was related .
No, no . He had to hurry up and finish the report .
Ishii flipped through the pages of the documents .
Suddenly, the bloody face of an old man popped out at Ishii .
This was the murdered Tobe Masashi .
Ishii unconsciously shrieked .
Beating your own father’s face so terribly is definitely not normal .
What sort of person could Tobe Kengo possibly be –
Haruka stood in the prefabricated two-storey building in the back of the university’s Building B .
She was in front of the door with the plate <Movie Research Circle> on it in the very back of the first floor .
In order to meet Saitou Yakumo –
Since it had been a while, she felt a bit nervous .
'Hey . ’
Haruka opened the door without knocking .
He’s here –
Yakumo, sitting in the chair at the front, was running his hands through his usual bedhead and yawning dramatically .
It felt like he’d just woken up . Well, it was always like that for him .
'You again? Do you have so much free time?’
Yakumo looked as displeased as if the end of the world had come .
Is this person incapable of greeting someone directly –
Haruka was half-astonished as she sat in the chair opposite him .
'I keep on saying this, but I don’t have that much free time . ’
'Though you don’t look that busy to me . ’
Yakumo snorted like she was a fool .
Honestly, this person is –
'I really am busy . I’m a trainee teacher right now,’ objected Haruka as she restrained her irritation .
'That starts from fourth year, right? Also, this isn’t the place you’re training at, and I’m not one of the kids you’re watching over, nor do I want to be . ’
Was he going to mock her no matter what she said? Then she’d just take it standing .
She didn’t have any basis for it, but she felt somehow like she could win today . Her fighting spirit was flaring up .
'At our uni, third-year students can participate in training too . Plus, today’s Saturday so school’s out . Your sense of the week is off . I’m training at an elementary school . Since contrary university students aren’t covered . ’
Led by that force, Haruka spoke all at once .
How about that? She struck a victory pose in her heart .
'Which means, in the end, that you have free time right now . ’
It was just as he said . A turnabout KO .
Fine . There was no way she’d win against Yakumo in an argument anyway . Haruka’s shoulders slumped .
'So what troubles do you have today?’
Yakumo changed the topic while yawning .
Haruka stared at Yakumo, who had suddenly hit the core .
'How did you know?’
Yakumo looked away and ran his fingers through his hair in irritation .
'You didn’t sleep last night, right? There are dark shadows under your eyes . ’
When he said that, Haruka hurriedly put her hands under her eyes .
She couldn’t check if she had dark shadows under her eyes by touching, but it was true that she hadn’t slept enough .
'Moreover, your eyes were hollow when you came into the room . You were probably thinking about something else . Furthermore, you always force yourself to smile and say “Hey” when you bring trouble in . Please stop it – it’s unsettling . ’
Unsettling, he says – how rude .
'Well, since it’s you, you probably picked up some trouble while training . Then you came here . Am I wrong?’
She had nothing to say when he’d pointed everything out so correctly . His observation abilities were amazing as usual .
'Will you listen to what I have to say?’
'What are you saying now? Don’t you always talk on and on without asking?’
Ah, she was really riled up . She’d definitely punch him one day .
In order to stave her anger, Haruka took deep breaths before starting to speak .
'At school, there’s a small problem – or rather, a child with a problem…’
'You’re quite the problem child yourself,’ interrupted Yakumo as he rubbed his eyes .
She wouldn’t be able to stand it if she replied to every comment he made . Haruka ignored him and continued .
'In the class I’m with, there’s a boy called Masato-kun, but that boy said he can see ghosts . ’
Haruka felt like Yakumo’s expression suddenly stiffened .
Yakumo, who could see the spirits of the dead, was sensitive towards the topic .
'He can see ghosts . Did he say that himself?’
Haruka nodded .
When she met him at the pool, Masato had said himself that there was a ghost .
Haruka felt like Masato’s problem was related to that .
'And that boy said he was cursed . ’
Yakumo narrowed his eyes like he was under a glaring sun .
'Yup . A curse . ’
'Does he mean your behaviour? The curse . Because of your stupidity . ’
'Listen to me seriously!’
'I’m always serious . If I were a natural airhead like you, I would be so much happier . ’
Yakumo, after replying cynically to Haruka’s objection, pinched his brow and started thinking about something while looking down .
Even though he said so much, it appeared that he was concerned .
If Masato’s words were true, he would be in the same circumstances as Yakumo .
'Hey, what do you think? Can Masato-kun see ghosts?’
She decided to try to ask .
'His saying it himself isn’t any proof at all . ’
Yakumo raised his head .
His eyes looked sleepy as usual, but Haruka could see a faint waver in the back of his eyes . Though it might be her mistake –
'But I’ve heard that the teacher from the next class saw a ghost in the same place . It seems there was a fire there before and a child died . That’s why I think it’s probably true . ’
Haruka talked about what she’d heard from Komai .
Why was she taking this so seriously? It was like she wanted Masato to be able to see ghosts .
'You’ve made a great misunderstanding . ’
Unlike Haruka, Yakumo sounded very reserved .
'Yes . If there was a rumour like that, it enforces how there is no proof that he can see ghosts . Rather, it makes it doubtful . ’
Haruka understood what he meant .
If there was a rumour, that would mean that Masato knew about it . If he knew about it, he could say anything . There was no proof at all that it was the truth .
'Well, put aside whether he can see ghosts or not . That kid seems to have other problems . ’
That was his calm power of reasoning for you .
It hurt to say it, but he was very different from Haruka, who would be led astray by the situation in front of her .
Haruka sat up and explained everything in detail . Of course, she discussed how Masato was at school usually . She also mentioned how he’d run out from the classroom at lunch break, how he’d been cornered by Konno, the vice-principal, for stealing, and also how Masato hadn’t acted like a child then .
Yakumo crossed his eyes and listened to Haruka seriously .
Normally, Yakumo would say something like 'It’s none of my business’ and reject her, but this time was a bit different .
'Do you know what he stole?’
Haruka couldn’t answer Yakumo’s question .
'I don’t know anything, since I couldn’t see it . ’
He’d usually say something sarcastic like 'Don’t you have any eyes?’, but Yakumo just let out a sigh, like he’d given up .
'It’d be something that would fit in a child’s hand,’ muttered Yakumo, and he looked up at the low ceiling with his arms still crossed .
'Hey, are there really curses?’ asked Haruka, ready for a denial .
'There are curses . ’
Her voice sounded strange when she heard the unexpected response .
Yakumo, who could see the spirits of the dead, had created, from his experience, the theory that ghosts were clusters of emotions .
That was why he didn’t believe in exorcism that expelled spirits with chants – he was prejudiced against them .
That Yakumo had affirmed the existence of curses .
'Curses are real,’ repeated Yakumo, narrowing his eyes .
'So is that boy really cursed?’
'You really are an idiot . ’
What did he mean, idiot? He called her an idiot .
'But you just said so, Yakumo-kun . That there are curses . ’
'That’s why I said you’re an idiot . It’s the same as what I said before . Just because there are curses, that doesn’t mean that kid is cursed . ’
Unfortunately, it’s just as Yakumo says . I’m an idiot and a blockhead –
'Moreover, the curses I mentioned are different from what you imagine . ’
'What do you mean?’
'I’ll tell you when you’re old enough to understand . ’
He was treating her like an idiot again! She would definitely punch him one day!
Yakumo ignored Haruka’s anger and stretched his arms out towards the ceiling . Then, he suddenly stood up .
'There’s no point thinking about things here . Anyway, to the place where that ghost comes out . ’
'Let’s go . ’
Haruka finished Yakumo’s words .
Gotou and Ishii visited the care home about twenty minutes from the station .
Built alone atop a hill, it had an unbroken view of the town .
The cream-coloured outer walls made it look at first glance like an apartment, and there were benches in the grassy courtyard .
It was fairly different from what he’d imagined .
'Is she really here?’
Ishii adjusted the position of his glasses with his finger in an affected manner .
'She’ll be here if she’s not dead . ’
'Well, that’s true…’
'You want to say something?’
Ishii’s shoulders slumped like he had withered .
Honestly, this guy couldn’t put anything clearly .
Gotou snorted and walked down the brick road towards the front entrance .
Talking with the psychiatrist yesterday hadn’t necessarily been useless .
Gotou had thought that profiling was something like a superpower which could suddenly point out where the culprit was .
Miyagawa probably thought the same way . That was why he’d pushed the annoyance to Gotou .
However, the profiling Anna talked about used statistics to analyse the reasoning of the investigation of the scene .
Japan’s police force was slower to use profiling than other countries’ . Several years ago, there had been a criminology support research department in the police force, but it hadn’t done anything but minor support for investigations since there hadn’t been enough people and there had been differences in opinion .
Because of that situation, the incorrect knowledge of profiling had firmly taken root in the police .
Gotou had had that opinion himself .
However, it didn’t change the fact that the situation right now was like trying to catch a cloud .
Is there any point to this investigation –
It was also true that he had that doubt .
Well, there was no point thinking so much . He wasn’t good at thinking in the first place .
Gotou quickly went up the slope and headed for the reception in the back of the entrance . He proved his identity to the middle-aged man who was the care worker who came out . When he asked to meet with the person called Ushijima Harue, he was directed to the sofa to wait .
He sat with Ishii on the sofa .
Gotou thought of lighting up, but then he saw a sign that said the entire facility was non-smoking . It really felt shameful to be a smoker .
With time on his hands, Gotou unconsciously looked at Ishii’s profile .
Ishii was always like this, but he was twisting his neck to look around like he couldn’t relax . Just like a pigeon trying to group together in front of the station .
Can this guy really continue at the front of the battlefield –
Gotou was doubtful .
'Is anything the matter?’
Ishii looked dubious .
He was careless . What this guy was missing most could be a sense of danger .
'It’s nothing!’ spat out Gotou, crossing his arms .
'Excuse me . I apologise for the wait . Please follow me . ’
The care worker from before came to call them in .
Now, what’s going to come? Gotou stood up and followed after the care worker .
In order to confirm whether what Masato said was true, Haruka headed to the elementary school .
Of course, Yakumo was with her .
Along the way, Haruka explained Masato’s home situation as she had heard it from Komai .
Yakumo didn’t frown, but he looked like he didn’t understand .
'What is it?’
Unable to bear it, Haruka directed the question to Yakumo’s profile .
'Don’t you think it’s strange?’
He asked a question back .
'Honestly . Being so thick-headed must be blissful . ’
'Are you making fun of me?’
'I’m just giving my extremely honest evaluation . ’
In her irritation, Haruka jabbed Yakumo’s side with her finger .
Yakumo jolted and leapt back like a startled cat .
Recently, Haruka had found out that Yakumo’s weak point was his side . When he wouldn’t stop saying awful things, she would fight back this way .
Haruka looked away from Yakumo, who was glaring at her .
'Well, in any case . You heard the information about that boy from his homeroom teacher, right?’
Maybe he felt awkward, because Yakumo went back to the original topic after a silence .
'Yup . That’s not really strange though, is it?’
Yakumo sighed while shaking his head .
Even if he took that attitude, she wouldn’t understand the things she didn’t understand . And Yakumo never explained enough .
'She knows too much . ’
Perhaps he’d sensed Haruka’s feelings, because Yakumo said just that .
'Do you mean Komai-sensei about Masato-kun?’
'That’s right . ’
'I think it’s normal…’
'Then I’ll ask this – normally, would an elementary school teacher know the details of all the children’s family situations?’
'I think Komai-sensei probably thought Masato-kun had a few problems so she was concerned . ’
Haruka herself was concerned about Masato .
If she hadn’t heard from Komai, she might have looked into it herself .
'Even if that is the case . Well, by looking into it a bit, you’d find out that he’s got one parent and that his dad lost his job . ’
'Then there’s no problem, right?’
'But where did she find out about his mother’s infidelity, her partner and even the situation when she had left home?’
Now that he mentioned it, she did feel like she knew too much .
To find out about his mother’s infidelity and her partner, she would have had to dive considerably far into the matter .
Maybe she went around asking the people nearby like a detective –
Before Haruka gave that answer, they arrived at the elementary school’s gates .
She’d thought that the gates would definitely be closed, but she saw children in the courtyard yelling in delight as they played soccer . They were participating in club activities .
This made it difficult for them to enter the school .
It’d be fine for Haruka, but it would be troublesome if Yakumo were spotted . There had been a number of incidents at the school, so they were sensitive about visitors .
'Oh, is that you, Ozawa-sensei?’
Suddenly, somebody called out to her . When she turned to look, she saw a man in a jersey holding a ball .
It was the teacher from the class next to hers, Yokouchi . The one who said he’d seen a ghost –
'Ah, Yokouchi-sensei . Good afternoon . ’
Haruka put a smile on her face and bowed .
Yokouchi started speaking but then moved his gaze to Yakumo with a surprised expression . Then, a joking smile appeared on his face .
'Oh, a date?’
'No, that is absolutely not the case . ’
While Haruka was thinking of an excuse, Yakumo firmly denied Yokouchi’s assumption .
He always did it, but it was depressing how he didn’t hesitate at all to deny it completely .
Yokouchi raised his eyebrows in his bewilderment .
It made sense . That would mean he didn’t know who Yakumo was . However, Yakumo didn’t seem concerned at all .
'I was slow in introducing myself . My name is Saitou Yakumo, and I am an exorcist, though I am still inexperienced . ’
As Yakumo said that, he pressed his hands together in prayer .
Yokouchi sounded surprised .
That would surprise him . It was extremely unnatural for an exorcist to be in a shirt and jeans .
'Yes . I heard the rumour that a ghost has been sighted at this school from this person named Ozawa-san . ’
Huh . He just keeps on making things up .
Plus, Yakumo said himself that he hates people who call themselves exorcists, but he’s calling himself that now –
Normally, that would make it sound like a lie .
’S-so that’s really how it is?’ said Yokouchi, clearly panicked .
It felt like he was overreacting, but from Yokouchi’s perspective, he probably wanted any help he could get since he had experienced the spiritual phenomenon himself .
'I feel a strong and wicked spiritual power . Ah, around there . ’
Yakumo spoke like he was enacting a play as he pointed with his right index finger in one direction .
He was pointing right at the pool behind the school building .
'That’s right . That’s where it was . I saw a ghost there . ’
Yokouchi was so agitated it felt like he would leap up .
'Could you show me the way?’
'Yes, with pleasure . ’
Thus, Yakumo entered the school premises unreservedly from the front entrance .
Should I call him sly, or –
Ishii followed the care worker down the corridor .
Just like the exterior, the interior of the institution was scrupulously maintained and more beautiful than he imagined it would be .
'I wonder what sort of person she is . ’
He spoke to Gotou, who was walking beside him .
'You’ll find out once you meet her . ’
Gotou’s tone was thoughtless . He might have been a bit irritated .
'That’s true . ’
Ishii shut his mouth and followed the care worker .
They walked to the end of the long corridor to find a place that looked like a conference room .
There was a large window in the wall which let the sunlight in . A line of cherry blossom trees could be seen outside . Though the leaves were fallen in this season, you’d be able to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom from this room come spring .
There were sofas and tables, and about ten seniors were passing the time as they pleased .
At first glance, it felt like a cafe .
'Ushijima-san, you have guests . ’
The care worker who showed them in spoke to a woman sitting at the table by the window .
This person is Ushijima Harue –
Her cheeks were hollow, her wrinkles were deep and her hair was considerably thin . She looked much older than her age .
Despite that, her clothes and makeup were as flashy as that of a woman who worked at a nightclub .
'Who could you be?’
Harue raised her chin and narrowed her eyes .
'I’m Gotou from the Setamachi precinct . ’
Gotou put his police ID in front of Harue’s eyes .
That moment, Harue’s expression stiffened . Ishii could tell they weren’t welcome even if she didn’t say it aloud .
'Can I sit?’
Gotou sat down on the opposite sofa without waiting for Harue’s reply . Ishii followed him and sat down too .
He could smell Harue’s perfume .
He could tell that she was trying frantically not to lose her dignity as a woman even at that age .
'I came today because there was something I wanted to ask you . ’
Gotou spoke after clearing his throat .
'I didn’t do anything . That guy was at fault . ’
Harue’s expression suddenly twisted as she spoke .
'What are you talking about?’
'The food here is so disgusting I couldn’t eat it . That’s why I threw it . ’
The conversation didn’t mesh .
It appeared that Harue had caused some sort of problem and mistakenly thought that the police had come because of that .
'Hey, Ushijima-san . I came here to talk about your son . ’
Gotou’s tone was like one that you’d use towards a child .
Harue’s cheek twitched .
Ishii had no way of knowing what emotion lay in that response .
'That’s right . Your son Atsushi-kun . ’
'There’s nothing to say . That child is dead . ’
Harue’s words were pointed .
'I know that . We want to know what sort of person your son was . ’
Harue puffed her cheeks like a child and turned away .
What an impolite attitude . It felt like Gotou would snap, but he persevered and continued the conversation .
'We’re looking for a certain man . He was in the same grade as your son . ’
'That’s no concern of mine . ’
'Don’t say that . That man called himself the name of your son . He might be related somehow . ’
'My son was killed!’
Harue suddenly declared that –
Ushijima Atsushi died in a fire . Was Harue saying that from a persecution complex?
While Ishii was mulling that over in his head, Gotou continued talking .
'Killed? By who?’
Harue let out an ear-splitting shriek as she hit the table with her palm .
Ishii’s body shook in his surprise .
Was the Tobe Harue talking about the dead Tobe Masashi – if that was the case, the nature of the case would change drastically .
'What do you mean?’
'You’re police – investigate it yourself . ’
'If you think your kid was killed, you’d want the culprit to be caught, right? Tell us what you know . ’
'It’s too late now . It doesn’t matter anymore . ’
Harue frowned .
'It doesn’t matter anymore? What do you mean?’
Gotou’s tone which he was forcing to sound calm was tinged with irritation .
'Well, it was refreshing when that burden of a brat died . So it doesn’t matter anymore . ’
How awful –
There were some things you couldn’t say even as a joke .
'Calling it refreshing is…’
Ishii couldn’t help but interrupt .
'What? You have a problem with that? I didn’t give birth to him because I wanted to either!’
'That fretful brat . He cost money and wailed everyday – it really was a good thing he died . ’
Harue kept on going with a biting force . Ishii was pushed down by that pressure and unconsciously leant backwards .
How can she say so many awful things –
Ishii turned his eyes towards Gotou, sitting next to him . Gotou suddenly stood up without saying anything and slammed his right fist into the table .
It made an amazing noise .
Harue jumped up in her surprise and slipped from her chair to land on her behind .
Gotou put his face so close to Harue’s that the tips of their noses were almost touching and glared at her .
'Got this, you damned old woman? Doesn’t matter whether you wanted it or not . Once the kid’s been born, the parent raises it . To be happy about your kid’s death – you’re not human, let alone a parent . There isn’t anybody in this world who should die . ’
Gotou spoke slowly in a low voice .
Ishii felt a pressure one hundred times stronger than Gotou’s usual angry voice . Gotou didn’t wait for Harue’s reply and walked away briskly .
Ishii bowed towards Harue and then hurried followed Gotou .
He fell –
Led by Yokouchi, Haruka walked to the pool behind the school building .
She took a peek at Yakumo, who was walking beside her . His eyes were sleepy as usual . She felt silly for being nervous .
'That’s where I saw it . ’
Yokouchi pointed at the diving board for the pool’s third lane .
Haruka looked over, but she saw nothing there now .
Just the moving of the dirty surface of the water .
However, it was different for Yakumo . There was a wrinkle in his brow, and his gaze was unusually sharp . From that response, he might have seen something .
'Could you tell me in detail the situation at the time?’ said Yakumo, still staring at the pool’s diving board .
Yokouchi nodded several times with a triumphant air and started talking .
'That day, I was locking up instead of the caretaker and ended up staying fairly late . ’
'About what time?’
'It was probably after ten… I came out of the back entrance and passed by here on the way back when I saw someone at the pool . ’
'What sort of person was it?’
'I couldn’t see his face clearly, but I think he was a middle-aged man . Recently, there’ve been a number of incidents, right? So I thought he might’ve been a pervert and called out to him . Then…’
Perhaps it was because Yokouchi was remembering what happened, but his face became paler before her eyes and he couldn’t say the last part because his voice was shaking .
Haruka had thought he’d just seen a ghost, but from how he looked, it felt like there was more to the story .
'It’s fine . I’m accompanying you . ’
Yakumo placed a hand on Yokouchi’s shoulders and urged him to continue .
'After I called out to him, that man… he suddenly burst into flames . ’
'Burst into flames?’
Haruka couldn’t imagine it and spoke up without thinking . Without a moment’s delay, Yakumo glared at her, as if to say 'Be quiet’ .
Ooh, scary –
'Could you please tell me in more detail?’
At Yakumo’s words, Yokouchi wiped the sweat off his brow and continued .
'How should I put it – fire erupted from his body and enveloped his body in no time . ’
Yokouchi’s explanation was combined with gestures .
'I see . ’
After Yakumo said that while rubbing the back of his neck, he turned towards the school building like he had felt something .
Haruka turned to look as well, but she saw nothing .
However, Yakumo, with his left eye, should have been able to see something that they couldn’t see .
'Sensei, there’s more to the story, is there not?’
After turning around in a slow and deliberate manner, Yakumo asked Yokouchi that question .
It seemed he’d hit the mark . Yokouchi’s eyes went as wide as saucers in his surprise . No, perhaps it was fear .
'Y-yes . That’s right . Afterwards, I tried to run away, but a boy suddenly appeared . That boy clung to my jacket sleeve and then, that boy also…’
'Burst into flames . ’
Yakumo finished Yokouchi’s cut-off sentence .
Haruka had no way of determining whether what he said was true or an illusion .
'Sensei, is it true that there was a fire here in the past?’
Yakumo put his left index finger to his brow .
'Yes, though I don’t know the details either…’
'I see . ’
After Yakumo said that, he briskly walked towards the pool fence and skilfully climbed over the fence about as high as his chest .
'I’m going to take a look . ’
After Haruka spoke to Yokouchi, she followed Yakumo and climbed over the fence .
'Hey, wait . ’
Haruka jogged over to Yakumo’s side .
What, he said .
'Did you see something?’
'Yeah, I saw something . ’
Which meant there was a spirit of the dead nearby . The moment she thought that, she felt cold and gooseflesh rose on her skin .
'You don’t have to follow me if you’re scared,’ murmured Yakumo as he looked at Haruka who was clearly afraid .
It was mysterious how she wanted to do the opposite of what Yakumo said when he told her that . Plus, she had a backbone . She couldn’t turn back now .
'I’m fine . ’
Haruka replied with a smile and then gripped Yakumo’s shirt sleeve so he wouldn’t notice .
Yakumo walked to the opposite side of the fence without looking at the pool and slipped into the narrow path behind the washing place .
The path was so narrow they’d have to go one at a time . Haruka walked along, hidden by Yakumo’s back .
Where was Yakumo headed?
She thought of asking, but she stopped herself . If she said it aloud, he would definitely say something like 'Please shut your mouth’ .
'Watch out . ’
Even though she nodded at Yakumo’s words, she wasn’t sure where to watch out for .
Her heartbeat quickened in her nervousness and anxiety .
Then, the next moment, the ground that should have been under Haruka’s feet disappeared . She lost her footing and fell forwards .
Everything in front of her shook violently, and before she noticed, she was on all fours . It seemed that she had slipped from the steps .
It hurt . Her knees stung .
'Honestly . How clumsy can you be? I told you to watch out . I almost fell as well . ’
When she looked up, she saw Yakumo staring down at her with his arms crossed in displeasure . Even if he said that…
'You didn’t say there were steps!’
'What sort of accusation is that?’
Just as he said, it was Haruka’s fault for not looking at her feet even after she was warned, but he could have at least been a bit worried .
The corners of her eyes felt warm from her mortification and pain . She had clenched her teeth together tightly and tried to stand up when Yakumo put out his hand .
OK, she was prepared .
Haruka gripped Yakumo’s hand and used it to help herself up .
When she looked around again, she saw that the path was surrounded by concrete . What was the point of coming to a place like this?
While Haruka was thinking, Yakumo continued forward .
Haruka’s legs hurt, so he could have waited a bit . Haruka swallowed her dissatisfaction and followed Yakumo’s back .
'Watch your head,’ said Yakumo from ahead .
Something hit Haruka’s forehead with a dull thud .
For a moment, everything in front of her went dark .
It hurt so much she let out a strange cry of 'Oof!’ and pressed her forehead .
Maybe she had a concussion because her head felt dizzy .
'Didn’t I say to watch your head?’
She heard Yakumo’s voice .
He had said that . It was her fault for being clumsy . She wanted to reply, but she couldn’t speak in her dizziness .
At the same time as he spoke, Yakumo’s palm touched Haruka’s forehead .
The throbbing pain left, but then she felt Yakumo’s warmth through her forehead .
It was mysterious . When he held his hand against her forehead like this, it felt like her pain lessened .
It was rare for Yakumo to be kind to her . She thought of staying like this for a while, but she remembered that Yokouchi was waiting for them outside and hurriedly stood up .
'Thanks . I’m fine now . ’
Haruka put a smile on her face .
'The first failure is an experience, but failing again in the same way is foolish . ’
After Yakumo said that, he stooped over and continued down the path with its low ceiling .
This person is just so – ! Just when we had a good mood going, why does he ruin everything by talking? Idiot!
After yelling that in her heart, Haruka continued after Yakumo, watching her head this time .
Only the path’s entrance had a low ceiling . It seemed like there was no worry of hitting her head even if she stood up ahead .
When she looked up, she saw a number of wide pipes running above her head . Were they for the water supply?
After going about fifty metres ahead, Yakumo stopped .
When she took a peek past Yakumo’s back, she saw a metal door . There was a plate on the door which read Pump Room .
'Stay here . ’
Yakumo spoke in a harder tone than usual and put his hand on the doorknob .
Normally, places like this should have been locked . Haruka thought there was no way it’d open, but when Yakumo pulled at the door, it opened readily .
There was a bizarre smell that made her want to cough .
What could this smell be –
'Don’t move . ’
Yakumo gave Haruka another reminder and then went inside, covering his nose and mouth with his arm .
The unfortunate quality of humanity was that being told not to do something conversely made them more interested . She wouldn’t stand for just waiting after all the pain she’d gone through to get here .
Haruka took a peek inside through the gap left by the half-closed door .
She saw Yakumo’s stooped back .
There was a strange smell of something raw and something burning that she didn’t know what to call, so she covered her mouth and nose with her sleeve .
What was Yakumo doing?
Haruka moved herself to take a closer look .
She shrieked in her surprise . Yakumo stood up immediately and pushed Haruka aside to leave the room .
'I told you not to look!’ said Yakumo, clearly angry . Even if he said that, she’d already looked .
'A-ah, wha, tha…’
She had taken in too much air . Plus, her throat was shaking so much she couldn’t speak .
What on earth was that –
Something burnt completely black like charcoal had fallen to the concrete floor . It was in the shape of a human being .
Then, from the corner of the room, a left hand only from the wrist up had fallen .
'Spontaneous human combustion,’ said Yakumo with a hard look in his eyes .
 A closely cropped haircut is sometimes associated with the yakuza .