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Title: Koushounin series 03 | Koushounin wa Furikaeru [交渉人は振り返る]
Page: 165 - 199
Author: Eda Yuuri [榎田 尤利]
Illustrator: Nara Chiharu [奈良 千春]
Publisher: Taiyō Tosho
Year of Release: 2009
Eda Yuuri is the original author of this work, and this is a fan translation. Feel free to re-post this elsewhere if you like but please credit this site. I did buy the original copy of this book, along with the rest of the series, so it'll be great if you can support her by buying her books.
By the way, this work contains BL, or homo-eroticism. And some animal cruelty too, with the bear’s paw and all, if it bothers you.
As I have no formal training in translation theory nor am I an expert in Japanese (or English, for the matter), I cannot guarantee the quality of this translation work, but I promise I did my best.
I have been a big fan of the Koushounin series by Eda Yuuri ever since I got my hands on the BLCDs for the first and second instalments of the series, and have been waiting patiently for the BLCDs for the third instalment onward… to no avail. It has been 8 years since the sensei published Koushounin wa Furikaeru, and I am beginning to accept that there might be no BLCD after all.
Nevertheless, the fujoshi doesn't give up. The following is my attempt at the English translation of the rest of the series.
The business that I started in October last year have more or less gotten on track.
The first two months were difficult; at that time, after I paid Sayuri and Kiyo their salaries there was close to nothing left for me. But by the time summer came, I was finally able to draw what a normal salaried worker would make. On top of that, it looked like I would be able to give Sayuri and Kiyo a little bit of a bonus in December. As the manager of the office, I can put my mind to ease for now, knowing that all is going well.
"Shall I buy a bear's paw to pray for the prosperity of this business?" I muttered to myself as I watched the news on the old CRT television we had in the office. On the screen showed the hustle and bustle of the crowds that thronged the shrine at Asakusa.
"If you want to pray to O-tori-sama, you'll only have until the end today, you know," said Sayuri as she tapped audibly on her abacus. Kiyo had to go for a shift at his main job and was not in office today, but he said he might be done by evening.
"It'll be okay if I tried bargain for a better price for the bear's paw, right?"
"Of course. The more you drive the price down the luckier the charm is, they say. The understanding is that you would give the difference back to the shrine, though."
"Ah, that sounds good. I would like to do that, you know, the thing when you go 'shan, shan, shan' and clap your hands…"
"You mean, the ceremonial hand clapping? That's only if you buy a bear paw that is considerable in size. We could probably start with a small one though. Like a business, the bear paw is something you start small and grow as you go."
As what you would expect of someone born and bred in Edo, Sayuri-san was knowledgeable about such things. I picked at fried dough sticks and nodded eagerly at what Sayuri-san said. Though I was due to meet two new clients today, it so happened that both of them cancelled their appointments. This wasn't uncommon, so I didn't mind.
The wintry wind tapped its cold fingers at our window, but the inside of the office was warm. The air-conditioner didn't work very well in the summer so I had it fixed, but now it was working fine. I also introduced a humidifier to the office, so that the air wouldn't get too dry. After all, it is said that a cold is the root of a thousand illnesses.
"Today is San-no-Tori, the Third Day of the Cock, so I think it'll be pretty crowded."
The news had ended, and the screen had switched to a variety show. The performers were laughing uproariously at something a comedian said.
"If you were going to go, shouldn't you hurry?"
"Un. I probably should." I said, absent-mindedly.
I should do that, I should do this—thoughts like that swirled in my head but I could not find motivation to put those thoughts into action. It is different when it comes to my work, though. When I think, this is for work, I could move with boundless energy, but it was difficult to summon any kind of enthusiasm to do anything else.
I knew why I felt this way.
Asahina was still weighing heavily on my mind. Some time had passed since I decided to pull out of his case, but I have been unable to put it behind me.
"How about going to the shrine with the young head?"
"Un… Huh? With Hyoudou? No, I won't!"
"Why… you ask. Wouldn't it be bad luck to buy a bear's paw at a shrine with a gangster?"
I was completely serious, but Sayuri-san laughed loudly. "Oh, chief. You really don't need to be shy."
"I am not!"
It was a lie. Actually, I had gotten a little self-conscious. I was aware that Sayuri-san and Kiyo had noticed the true nature of my relationship with Hyoudou, but I was still embarrassed every time they said it out loud.
"I thought he would be a great person to have around when walking through a crowd."
She had a point there. The powerful yakuza aura that Hyoudou gave off would probably reduce the population density around us…. But if I asked Hyoudou to go to a shrine with me for a reason like that, he would be pretty pissed, I think.
"I’ll just quickly go there by myself and come back. Would a 3000-yen one do?"
"I think it will. It's cold, so do take care."
Sayuri-san saw me off and I left the office wearing Hyoudou's coat on top of my suit. It was a bit too large for me but it was light and warm so I found it really handy. Hyoudou must have been busy, as he hasn't visited my office since I met him at the coast that day.
As I walked to the train station wondering if I could walk to the shrine from Uguisudani Station, the hand phone in my pocket rang, and the caller ID showed a number that was withheld. I was used to receiving such calls, so I answered it: "Mebuki speaking." It was a phone I used mostly for work, so I usually start the conversation by introducing myself.
I heard the caller's intake of breath, after which a husky voice on the other end of the line said, "Sensei."
I knew in a thrice who it was. Stopping in my tracks, I ventured: "Asahina-kun?"
"Sensei, please save me. I'm done for. I can't go on any longer."
"It'll be okay, so calm down."
His voice was shrill and nervous, so I knew he was fairly upset right now. In order to not distress him further, I consciously strove to keep my voice calm as I asked: "Where are you right now?"
"An apartment… A weekly apartment. Will you come for me, Mebuki-sensei?" He sounded like the student he was, black then.
"I'll go." I answered. "Tell me the address, and I'll head there now."
"I'll tell you how to get here, but please, don't hang up on me. I might not be able to call you again." Asahina seemed to be afraid of something, and I assured him I understood before asking him where that weekly mansion was. It wasn't too far away—if I flagged a cab now I would reach in about fifteen minutes.
On the way there in the cab, Asahina wouldn't stop talking about what he and his family had to go through after the court decree—he rambled on and on, like he had been possessed.
"The phone wouldn't stop ringing, and the fax-machine rang non-stop. We got that when the case was still being heard in court… but it became worse after the case was judged. 'Murderer', 'pay for your sins', 'you should die too', the callers said. And after that I received text messages from my dead girlfriend that went, 'Why did you kill me? You will be sorry you did'… and also a poster with 'this is the house of a murderer' written on it was found on our front door, and my mother started to not get up from bed… our family photos were circulated on the internet…. and then my father's company threw him away… debts we didn't know of started to surface…. and my sister's marriage agreement was annulled. Everything was a mess."
At that time, he repeatedly called the office of the firm which I had been working as a lawyer for.
"I thought that Mebuki-sensei would do something to save us," he said. However, I was always out of office when he called. It was probably a busy period for me, at that time.
Despite that, Asahina did not leave any messages. He had already pulled out the phone in his house and cancelled his hand phone contract, so he had been calling from a public phone, thus it was difficult to request that I call him back. Asahina did not sound bitter, but his voice shook as he spoke about what happened in the past.
"The bashing had more or less died down by the time I got myself a new phone… but my father died, and my mother was admitted to the hospital…"
By then, I had reached the front of his apartment, and I gripped my hand phone as I hurried to the unit Asahina said he was in. When I rang the doorbell, Asahina said to me over the phone, "I'll open that now."
"Sensei," The steel door swung open, and there stood Asahina, looking like he was about to cry. His clothes and hair were in a mess, his face had the same sickly pallor, and he looked even thinner than the last time I saw him. Perhaps he was relieved to see me; his expression softened, and he finally hung up.
"How good of you to come for me… Really, I'm glad. Please come up." He bade me to enter, and I obliged. Weekly apartments were usually one-room apartments, but the one he was staying in was a 1LDK apartment. The inside of the apartment was a mess. Littering the dining table were the remains of ready-made meals, and a brief glance into the Japanese-style bedroom revealed bedding still out on the floor. It would seem that Asahina had been living here for at least a couple of days.
"I thought you wouldn't come," said Asahina as he collapsed onto the sofa in the living room.
With a faint smile I said: "But I would," I took a seat next to him and. In front of me were magazines and empty snack wrappers, strewn all over the coffee table. "I thought you wouldn't contact me again."
"It's hard to say something like this now… but I'd like you to bail me out," said Asahina as he hung his head. I touched his shoulder lightly and answered: "Un. I want to."
"I will think about what I can do to help you, but first I would need to know exactly what is going on. Would you tell me?"
"I'm in trouble," Asahina began as he lifted his face. His hollow, vacant eyes stared into mine. "They're hunting me down… I might be killed."
"Did someone threaten to kill you?"
"T-They used me for all I was worth! They had such an easy time, sponging off my earnings … but then they suddenly turned their backs on me…! E-Even Toshi was working for them, too. He was sent to keep an eye on me!"
"Asahina-kun, calm down." I clasped his rough hands tightly in mine, and his eyes started to swim about in their sockets. "Calm down, and start from the beginning. Don't hold anything back. First of all, what position did you hold in the scam group?"
"… I am the leader."
There was no strength in his words, but he seemed to have calmed down somewhat. Asahina shook his hand free of mine and stood up. Going to kitchen, he called: "Do you want anything to drink?"
"I want to hear what you have to say first. Do sit back down."
"I want something to drink…. probably coffee. The strong kind."
From the kitchen, I could hear rustling sounds as he rummaged through the drawers. Sitting in the middle of the mess in the kitchen was an expresso machine, the newest model. It was the kind which you push a capsule of powder in and it would brew a cup for you.
"If you were the leader, don't you have a number of men under you?" I sad to Asahina's back, who was fitting the capsule into the machine.
"Yeah. I had five guys make the calls. Toshi and I did the accounts… he was from the kumi."
He was being surprisingly forthcoming.
"He was sent to monitor you?"
"Uh huh. They didn't trust me. Fuck…"
"Saitou-kun was a candidate for the sixth member of the group, then?"
"Yeah. He seemed to be in need of money… and he is fairly sociable, too. That's pretty important when dealing with old folks."
He then came back with two demitasses of coffee he had prepared. The coffee was what you might call a double espresso; the tiny espresso cups were full to the brim. Looking at the coffee he prepared for me made me feel that this apartment was indeed once used as an operational base for a scam group.
Right, milk, he said, and started to go back to the kitchen, but I told him I didn't need any. Wordlessly, he returned to sit next to me. While staring at the rich colour of the thick coffee in his cup, he said: "I thought that I should meet him before making him a formal member. I need to see him with my own eyes what kind of person he was… that was why I set up an interview, and went down myself to do that tobashi exchange. It was at that time,"
He met me.
"I was really surprised. What was going on? Why is Mebuki-sensei following Saitou? Then I found out, almost right after, that Mebuki-sensei was no longer a lawyer. He was now a negotiator, with an office in Ryougoku—Toshi ran a check on you and all these turned up almost immediately."
"Then you got in touch with me, because you were afraid that I would alert the police?"
"There was that too… but that wasn't the only reason." Asahina hesitated briefly, before admitting to me that he had found me particularly hateful. As I sat next to him, I noticed that he smelled of sweat. It would appear that he hadn't showered in a while. "My resentment was unjustified, really. I know you have been kind. You saved me from a prison sentence back then, and I knew I wasn't making sense. Yet, I was furious with you. You might have won that court case, but my family and I still had to go through all that. I wanted to ask you, if you knew."
"I can't really blame you for thinking like that. I wasn't aware of what happened to your family."
"Look at you. That's how kind you are," he hissed, and drank his espresso.
I picked up my cup as well. To be honest, I was nervous, and being on the edge had made me rather thirsty. If I could not persuade Asahina to turn himself in, then I really have been of no help at all.
"You are kind, with a strong sense of justice, and you also said things like 'you can still turn over a new leaf' to me. But that's not true… there isn't a way out of this for me."
"You can't make blind assumptions like that, Asahina-kun." I put an arm around his thin shoulders and tried to lift his spirits, but when I looked him squarely in the eye, I found tear stains on his cheeks. He had been crying.
"But I have become a drug addict," he sniffed, curling his upper lip. The crying had ruined his pretty face, and he looked like a defenceless child. I wavered, unsure of what I should say to him.
A criminal who is also addicted to drugs—that is what Asahina is, now. Furthermore, he cannot hope to rely on his family. With his current situation, it was hard to say to him things like 'it'll be alright', or 'it'll work out somehow'. That was how far Asahina had fallen from grace.
"Even so, I will believe in you," I said, looking at those eyes that were overflowing with tears.
"…believe?" Asahina echoed softly.
"Yep. I believe that you can make a fresh start."
"What's that supposed to mean… don't say things like that so easily."
"Didn't you call me, trusting that I would help you?"
There was no strength left in his eyes, but his pupils trembled slightly at my question. "What if I said that I didn't?"
"Didn't you tell me to save you?"
Asahina started to roll the demitasse, now empty, around in his hands.
"I would like to trust you, sensei, but I can't."
"Sensei and I are too different."
"That isn't true. All of us have our weak points. The only significant difference between me and you are our environments…"
"Prove it to me." Asahina coaxed, cutting my sentence short. "Prove to me that you believe in me, sensei. If you do that, I'll tell you everything, everything about the scam group, and about the guys on top of us—I would even turn myself to the police."
I hesitated, then. Being trusting was the attitude I strove to have when dealing with others, but this was the first time someone had implored me to prove to them that I did. Despite that, I was heartened by the fact he said that he would turn himself in. I made it in time after all, and it'll be fine, I thought. Asahina would be fine.
"Tell me, then. What do I need to do for you to believe me?"
Asahina did not answer. He did not speak as he stared pointedly at my cup. I picked it up and finished all the coffee in it, before putting it back down onto the coffee table.
"Asahina-kun, what do I need to—"
No matter how many times I pressed him for an answer, all he said was: "If you do nothing, I'll believe you, sensei."
I fell silent, no knowing what he meant.
Asahina picked up my cup and murmured: "You drank it all up, didn't you?"
A terrible chill ran up my spine upon hearing those words. I realised that I had broken a rule. If I was on the 'Away' team, in other words, the place of negotiation had been specified by the other party, I must not accept any food and drink that was served to me. I should not even drink the water, if they offered any. There are far more instances in which the other party is not well-disposed towards the negotiator than not, and you never know what they might put in it. Asahina was not the other party in a negotiation, but I should not have overlooked this rule. There was no one with me now and I haven't informed anyone of my whereabouts.
"The coffee was really strong, so you probably didn't know."
"It's not poison I put in. The stuff in it is the same kind I've been taking." He fished about in his pockets and pulled out a pill case, which he emptied on the coffee table, and numerous capsules filled with white clattered as they bounced off the table top. I was at a loss for words, and could only watch.
"It's a synthetic drug, but it packs a punch. You'll feel clear-headed at first, like you've become the king of the world. You wouldn't get tired, nor hungry. But the high is relatively short-lived… and the withdrawal symptoms are terrible. The subsequent downtime can get pretty bad. You'll start to feel like a worm that should be crushed under someone's foot."
"Why, did you—"
I was desperate, desperate as I tried to stay calm, but my voice had gone up in pitch. I have only just ingested the drug orally, he didn't shoot it up my veins. If I tried to induce vomiting now, or get my stomach pumped at a hospital, I might be able to get it out before it gets into my system.
"I said that, didn't I? I said that I wanted to trust Mebuki-san," said Asahina as he threw one of those capsules into his mouth. "Sensei is looking at me from somewhere too high up. You should, fall a little lower."
He then washed the capsule down with water from a plastic bottle, a crooked smile upon his features.
"If you would fall to where I was now, I would believe you, sensei. You can't profess to know how I feel if you haven't had the same experiences as I had. I'm not asking you to become and addict… you only need to do this once, now. You only need to stay in this room, and do nothing."
"Do I… truly need to do this before you would trust me?"
Un, Asahina nodded. The ghost of his smile was blurred with tears.
"You're crazy." I must have gone pale, and a cold sweat had broken out all over me.
I had some basic knowledge about narcotics, but I haven't had any experience doing drugs, naturally. I could feel frissons going up my spine, and I felt like throwing up.
"I'm sure I have been doing some pretty crazy things since back then too, you know… well then sensei, what would you do? Would you leave, and run to the hospital or the police station?" Asahina peered into my face happily, like he was enjoying this. "That's to be expected, I guess. You're angry, aren't you sensei? That I did something like this to you… That is why no one will save me now. Sensei will abandon me now too, won't you?"
Leave now, the logical side of me urged. Leave this apartment immediately and try to throw up the drug. And go straight to a hospital after that. Do not belittle the drug he gave you. What could be more important to you then your own health? Go now, before it is too late. This spoilt brat is hopeless, and you should not have concerned yourself with his affairs.
Will you forsake him?—the voice inside me asked. Were you only paying him lip service? Perhaps you were. This isn't part of your job, and Asahina is not a client. He is simply a person with a criminal record that you once helped… no, tried to help. There is no way you could have believed that this person can turn over a new leaf, and it's natural that you wouldn't. Why would you, when you know that he has even dabbled in drug use?
"It is only effective for twelve hours," said Asahina as he looked at a clock on the wall. "It's now 6:00 PM, so by 6:00 AM tomorrow its effects should be gone. If you would agree to remain here with me until then, I'll go with you to the police."
"To, turn yourself in?"
"Un, I'll start anew, like you believed I would."
Are you telling me the truth, I asked, and Asahina only stared at me. In hushed tones, he said: "It's fine if you don't believe me."
I want to believe that he was.
I want to be able to believe that he was.
Perhaps, though, I actually did not think he was being truthful. It is, after all, very hard to believe that he was. Incredibly hard, in fact, which was probably why my autosuggestion was activated. Yes you can, it whispered to me. You are a person who can listen to what others say to you and not doubt them. Asahina needs me to believe him before he would believe me, and in order for that to happen—
"I got it… I'll stay," I answered.
A voice inside me let loose a colourful string of curses. How stupid can you get, Mebuki Akira? Are you okay with this? This could be a mistake that you can never put right, it continued reproachfully, but I ignored it and didn't get up.
My heart pounded loudly in my chest, my heartbeat an unpleasant buzz in my ears. I couldn't tell if it was due to the drug I had ingested or my panicked state of mind.
Asahina smiled, like he was going to cry. Then, he asked: "Would you take your hand phone out, please?"
It was 6:07 PM.
Kiyoi's hand phone vibrated in his pocket. He was still wearing gloves, but he took it out anyway. His phone was completely covered in layers of plastic wrap but he could still make up the words on the screen.
It was a call from Mebuki-san. He wanted to answer it, but his hands were a little full right now. Today's job was at a room at an apartment; he had to clean a room in which a double suicide had taken place. An eighty-two year old man, and his ailing, bedridden seventy-eight year old wife whom he had been caring for, had killed themselves.
He heard that both of them had gotten tired of living and had chosen to end their lives. They had no kin, no money, and limited welfare support. The man first wrung his wife's neck and then hung his own. Both bodies were not discovered until about a week later, when the neighbors complained of an odious smell and the landlord finally unlocked the door of the apartment.
Naturally the bodies would have smelled, but as it was autumn, the stink wasn't too bad. If this had happened in summer the bodies would have rotted even faster, and they might have been found earlier.
Kiyoi was from the cleaners, so when he entered the apartment, the bodies have already been carried out, but he could imagine how it had been when the bodies were still there. He could even guess where and how they had died, by looking at the stains and blood on the tatami. The first thing he did was to install an ozone generator to eliminate the odours in the room, and now the smell from outside the room was bearable, even if he opened the windows.
The body fluids that had run from both bodies had seeped into the tatami, so he would have to remove the bedding, dismantle the tatami, and dispose of them in the incinerator. He had to work quickly, too. When the call from Mebuki-san came, he was just about to carry the tatami out of the apartment.
"Alright then. Shall we haul this out now?" his partner asked, his mouth obscured by a mask used for this purpose. Kiyoi gave up on trying to answer his phone and started to carry the tatami out of the apartment. After he and his partner packed all the things to be disposed of into a waiting truck, it drove off.
Before re-entering the apartment, Kiyoi asked his partner to give him a minute as he motioned towards his phone, and his partner nodded and entered the apartment first, leaving him outside. His partner, who was often paired with him, was someone much older and a veteran in the business.
He peeled off the plastic wrap where the speakers were, to listen to message Mebuki-san left him.
"—Kiyo? It's me. You must be hard at work now… eh. I won't be returning to the office today… so… would you tell Sayuri-san for me?"
Mebuki-san's voice was a tiny bit shriller than it usually was. There were also strange pauses in between his sentences… how weird, Kiyo thought with a puzzled tilt of his head.
"—I was going to buy a bear's paw… at the Rake Fair at the Tori-no-Ichi market. Praying for prosperity for our business is important, isn't it? It was then that I suddenly remembered that I haven't returned him his coat. That's why I won't be going back to the office today."
This was become stranger and stranger. He wouldn’t think there was a problem if the message hadn't been from Mebuki-san. Would Mebuki-san, something who always speaks cogently, really leave him an incoherently worded message such as this? What does the bear's paw have to do with a coat?
"—that is why, you don't need to worry. See you soon." The message ended there.
There were furrows etched in Kiyoi's brow, but he decided he should just call the office first. He would need to pass chief's message on to Sayuri-san.
I heard low, rumbling sounds.
It took me awhile to realise that it was just ringing in my ears.
"Asahina-kun," I called. Then I remembered that he wasn't in the apartment. It was so ridiculous that I would forget something like that that I laughed out loud, at myself.
Speaking of ridiculous, the state I was in now was rather ridiculous, too.
I wasn't wearing the jacket of my suit, nor do I remember when I took it off. My necktie was also gone, and the top three buttons on my shirt were unbuttoned. I had unbuttoned my shirt myself. It was really hot, after all.
I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, fettered at the ankles with shackles that had probably been modified handcuffs, and the other end of the long chain was fastened to the pipe of the washbasin. I guess I would call the chain long, but the chain, fully extended, was really only about one and a half metres. Asahina probably made it so that I could use the toilet. How considerate, I thought gratefully. If only it was long enough for me to move myself to a restaurant, too.
The key to the shackles was nowhere to be found. It was in the apartment, though. Asahina had tossed it somewhere in the next room.
"It looks like… I am being confined here," I tried saying out loud, but no one replied. I wonder where Asahina had gone. He was there beside me, just a moment ago.
—this is for your own sake, Mebuki-sensei.
That was what Asahina said, as he fastened the shackles on my ankles. At least, that was what I remembered. Before that, he told me to take out my hand phone and he made me call Kiyo… or was that after? My memories were jumbled up. In any case, I didn't have my hand phone with me, and I couldn't contact anyone now.
—the amount you've taken the about the same as what I'm taking now… so it might get pretty tough for you. When the downer hits you, you might start hallucinating. If you were to run out of here and go shouting on the streets, the police might come knocking and you might be arrested for abusing drugs…
That is why you have to wear these, Asahina said.
"Though I'm perfectly fine, really," I said with another laugh.
I slowly got up, and unhurriedly sat back down. Truth is, I have been repeatedly doing the same thing since just now. I got thirsty, so I drank water from washbasin in large gulps. I didn't have a cup, so I drank directly from the tap.
"I won't be hit by that downer. Look at me, I'm doing okay as you can see. There is no problem with me at all. Morning will come, Asahina will return, and we'll go to the police together."
What are you talking to yourself for?—a voice inside me said.
"It's okay, isn't it? There isn't anything particularly wrong with that," I answered cheerfully.
How scary they are. Drugs are scary, aren't they?—I thought someone whispered that into my ear, but I started laughing out loud once more and that thought flew away. My head was clear and sunny, and I was full of energy. Since there was nothing else to do, I thought that I should perhaps do some squats.
I will be fine, and everything was alright in the world.
Shall I leave Asahina's defence in Shimeno's hands? I guess not, he is a legal advisor to a fraud victim group, after all. I would like to defend Asahina in court myself, but I have already quit the legal profession… It'll be okay! I could simply find another capable lawyer. Asahina will turn himself in, and he'll provide information to them. In Japan, you could plead for a shorter sentence in exchange for providing the police with information, furthermore, if the accused showed remorse, it would leave a favourable impression on the judge. This time, Asahina will get back on his feet, and I will not take my eyes off him. Right! I should write an appeal letter for Asahina. I'm not his family, and the letter probably won't be presented in court, but it was better than nothing.
Asahina had trusted me, that's why.
He had believed in me, believed that he could make a fresh start, and had turned himself in—ah, wait. I mean, he will, tomorrow. He will turn himself in tomorrow.
When morning comes.
After the day broke.
…when did it become evening, I wonder?
It's dark in here. Somehow it got really dark.
I got up and switched on the bathroom light. My reflection could be seen in the mirror, and it was only then I realised that my shirt was soaked. I was caught up in a laughing fit once more. I looked like a handsome man with his dripping wet shirt clinging to his skin. In fact, I was so tickled that I started to pound at the mirror with my fists.
It didn't hurt, not the least bit.
But then again, where on earth has Asahina gone to?
"Why did he call Kiyo-chan, though?" said Sayuri-san with a tilt of her head. That was a question that Kiyoi wanted to ask, too.
It was past seven in the evening, and Kiyoi had dropped by the office. He had passed on Mebuki-san's message, but somehow he couldn't get that message out of his head. Like Sayuri-san said, he found it odd that Mebuki-san did not simply make a call to his office. Mebuki-san must have known that Kiyo would be at work, and that he would not be able to take the call. Why did he choose to call Kiyo, then?
Furthermore, Mebuki-san could not be contacted after that.
"I have a really bad feeling about this," said Sayuri in a worried sounding tone, as she drew her deep red cardigan tighter around herself. "The first person that chief calls when he is in trouble is you, Kiyo-chan. An old granny like me wouldn't be of help then, but he could rely on you. You're brawny, you're smart…"
"…and I'm male, too."
"There's probably that too. Anyway, the reason why I think chief called Kiyo-chan and not the office was because he had gotten himself into some sort of trouble."
He couldn't deny that possibility. Kiyoi took out his phone and once again played the message Mebuki had left him. No matter how many times he listened to it, he thought that Mebuki didn't sound like he usually did. He seemed flustered, somehow.
—I was going to buy a bear's paw… at the Rake Fair at the Tori-no-Ichi market. Praying for prosperity for our business is important, isn't it? It was then that I suddenly remembered that I haven't returned him his coat. That's why I won't be going back to the office today.
He heard from Sayuri-san that he did discuss the part about the Rake Fair with her. Mebuki should have been heading to Asakusa, in order to buy a lucky charm for his business, a bear's paw.
"Eh? Did you say something, Kiyo-chan?"
"Who did Mebuki-san borrow a coat from, again?"
Ah, nodded Sayuri-san. "If it's that expensive looking coat you're talking about, he probably borrowed it from Suou-gumi's young head."
"Then maybe it's that. Mebuki-san was saying something about going somewhere to return a coat."
"He was? Shall we ask the young head, then?" Sayuri-san put on her pair of long-sighted glasses and began scrolling through her address book on her hand phone.
"Eh? You have Hyoudou-san's number?"
"Of course, I do. He has mine, too," she answered, like that was the most natural thing in the world, and Kiyo was so awed that he was momentarily at a loss for words. On an unrelated note, Hyoudou's number was not filed under 'H' in her address book but "Y". Kiyo wondered if she had saved his number under the name 'Yakuza' instead.
Sayuri-san held the phone to her ear, and whispered to Kiyo: "He didn't pick up."
In a brisk, lucid tone, she left him a message: "… Hello. This is Murai from Mebuki Nego Office. I believe that our chief went over to your place to return you your coat, but it'll be a great help if you tell him to get into contact with us once you hear this message. We have not been able to contact him," and just as she kept her phone away, it started ringing. Hyoudou had called her back. After exchanging cursory greeting, she launched straight into the issue at hand.
"—yes. He said he was going to return your coat… you haven't seen him? I see… eh. We haven't been able to get him on the phone. We were a little worried, so… ah, he's here."
Sayuri-san held out the phone to Kiyo, which he accepted. "Hello," he began, but Hyoudou cut him off before he finished.
"What is going on? Explain everything, from the very beginning."
It was a voice like an icy blade.
My throat was dry.
No matter how many times I drank from the tap, my thirst would not be quenched. I wished I could drink an isotonic drink like Pocari Sweat, but I couldn't leave the bathroom. The chains rattled as I moved, but they wouldn't come off; in fact, they wouldn't even budge. There were purple bruises on my ankles, and blood oozed from the abrasions that have formed from the shackles rubbing against my skin, but it didn't hurt. I felt no pain. That was why I continued to kick and struggle against the chains, the shackles biting into my skin, but they still wouldn't come off.
What am I doing?
What am I doing here?
Why am I chained to the sink?
"… Asahina. Asahina, Asa…!" I shouted as I stood up, but I could only take three steps before the chain became taut. When I tried to go further, I stumbled and pitched forward, hitting my face hard on the door which I was trying to cushion my fall with. There was a blinding flash of heat, and by the time I realised that heat may have been pain, something warm began dripping from my nose. I felt the bottom of my nose and my hand came away bright red. It was a nosebleed.
"Asa, hi… na… blargh."
A great wave of nausea washed over me, and I threw up everything I had in my stomach, but all that came up was mostly water. How many times have I thrown up, I wondered, as my throat stung and burned. There was something flowing down my cheeks, but it wasn't blood… perhaps they were tears. I wasn't aware that I was crying, but my tears flowed in rivulets, down my cheeks.
"Urgh… uh! Guh…!"
I staggered and managed to get onto my feet, but when I caught sight of the reflection in the mirror above the washbasin, my heart jumped into my mouth. What is this? Who is this monster with half of its face stained red? I eventually realised that the red was simply blood from my nose, and tried to wash the blood away with water from the tap and dry my face with my shirt, but my tears and nosebleed wouldn't stop. The water smelt strongly of chlorine, but still, I drank it.
"Asahina…" I called, as I looked into the mirror at the terrible state I was in. As I called his name, I wondered who he was.
Why, have I been calling this name over and over, since just now? Was he someone that would come and rescue me? Was he someone that would unlock the shackles on my feet? In the first place, why was I chained at my feet?
This is your punishment.
Someone answered my question, and I realised it was me.
My own reflection in the mirror had spoken to me, and was eyeing me levelly.
"What… what do you…"
This, is your punishment. You know that, don't you, Mebuki Akira?
Liar. Don't pretend you don't. My reflection jabbed an accusing finger at me. I leaned into the mirror at the washbasin barely able to stand, listening to me being denounced by myself.
"I… I am not a liar!"
Humph. You're good at making excuses, aren't you Mebuki Akira? Isn't it just like you to be really good at justifying yourself? I know, that the most precious person to you is yourself. You pretend to be kind to others, but really you only care about yourself.
"That's not true! I am always doing things for… other people…"
The gift of the gab that you possess, you do not use for others. You only use it to protect yourself, my reflection said scornfully. You have been using logical arguments like bricks to build a brick wall around you, haven't you? You build an unseen brick wall that is so high that it stands towering over everyone else, and there you stand at the very top of the wall you have built, laughing foolishly, as you extend a hand to those in need. You know that your hand can never reach them, yet you say things like, I would like to be of help to you, I trust in you, and other such nonsense.
My accuser in the mirror seemed ready to fly at me so I backed away, till my back was pressed against the cold wall of the bathroom, before sinking down onto the floor.
Can't find a comeback now, can you, you hypocrite? My reflection sneered at me once more. Then his face suddenly morphed into Asahina's.
—sensei is looking at me from somewhere too high up.
Said the face, in Asahina's voice.
—whatever happens to that boy, is whatever he brings upon himself. I do not want to concern myself with his affairs.
The face and voiced now changed to Yoriko's, his sister's.
I remained on the floor, shivering. My teeth chattered as I covered both ears with my hands, but I was unable to block out the accusing voices as they echoed in my eardrums.
—you would believe a swindler on active duty, a person whose occupation is to deceive others?
This time, the face belonged to Hyoudou, and that was Hyoudou's voice. He said the same thing to me once, on the coast.
"I… I will…"
My lips were trembling, and I could hardly get the words out. It was cold, so very cold. My shirt, now wet with water and blood, clung icily onto my skin. Yet there was a fire scorching the back of my eyes, and my head felt like it was going to split open.
Are you still going to say that? I laughed at me, while prodding me with a toe. You'll feel a lot better if you just admit that you don't. You are a person who cannot trust others. There is no way you can ever become someone who does… even back then, you didn't believe him too, did you?
Didn't you forsake him? You know, that person. Didn't you stand by and do nothing while he suffered? He depended on you, trusted you, and yet—
"That's, that's not true! I was… I was…."
It's all true.
The face once again changed, and my breath hitched in my throat. I couldn't breathe… He, that person, was now looking down on me. His expression was placid, but in his eyes was an accusing look.
This can't be true. He cannot be here. He is no longer here, in this world.
That is because he is already dead.
My hands balled into fists. This is weird, this is illogical. The dead cannot come back to life, thus this did not make any sense. I would need to erase him from existence. I would need to wipe him from the mirror.
I staggered to my feet, and with faltering steps walked to the mirror and swung my fist at it with all the strength I could muster, but I was unable to smash it completely. The sharp edges of the cracks appeared in it cut the skin on my knuckles and there was pain, there was no pain. Looking around, I realised I could use the shower head, so I screwed it off and struck the mirror with it, as hard as I could.
There was a loud smash, accompanied by a harsh ringing in my ears. I couldn't hear very well for a while. Those things glittering in the light were pretty to look at, though.
What were those glittery things, again? Right, they were broken fragments of the mirror, scattered at my feet. Someone of them had pierced the dorsum of my feet.
The mirror was gone.
I was overcome with relief. With that, he can never come here again. The dead whom I didn't believe in will never come back again.
Slipping about on the floor, I sank down to sit at where I was. A soft, pathetic whimpering met my ears, and I realised that that I was sobbing. Where was I? What am I doing here? Oh… right. Asahina. He made a promise, and he will be back in the morning.
The chill was unbearable, but there was still some warmth left here and there. Only the parts where my blood was still flowing was warm.
By the time Hyoudou reached the office, it was already 4 AM.
He had a grim expression on his face, and he was, as usual, accompanied by Hakuta, but contrary to all expectations Shimeno was with him as well. Shimeno's suit was as impeccable as ever but his features were clouded with worry.
"Were you able to get into contact him?" Hyoudou asked curtly, and Kiyoi shook his head. Mebuki's hand phone remained switched off.
"Sayuri-san said that we should call the police," Kiyo said, but Shimeno answered: "The police wouldn't help us even if we call them." Sayuri-san had insisted on not leaving but Kiyoi managed to convince her to get some rest, and he had sent her home.
"The police will not do anything if a fully grown adult became uncontactable for just one night."
"It is as the lawyer said. We can't rely on the police," Hyoudou agreed, in a rare show of solidarity with Shimeno. Kiyoi wondered how they got together in the first place, but decided that confirming Mebuki whereabouts and ensuring his safety took precedence.
"Asahina has hidden himself, too," said Hyoudou, and Kiyoi eyes widened slightly. That wasn't good news.
"I have a friend in the police investigation team looking into all these scams, and he said that they have been keeping tabs on Asahina for quite some time now, but Asahina hasn't returned home for the past few days," said Shimeno.
If Mebuki had known that Shimeno was privy to this piece of information, he would no doubt be shocked. However, Kiyoi knew that Shimeno had kept it from him for his own good.
"We heard that same thing, too. There is a chance that senpai met Asahina yesterday."
"I thought that Akira had already pulled out of Asahina's case."
"He's a pretty stubborn fellow so I don't think he would have given up so easily."
"I know that, too."
"Right now I know him better than you do."
They stood glowering at each other for a moment, but quickly turned away; they probably realised that it was not an appropriate time to be quarrelling with each other. Both of them did not speak after that, and Kiyoi was at a loss what to do. The day was breaking, and an uncomfortable silence filled the office.
A buzz broke that silence, and Kiyoi instantly felt his pocket for his phone, but it was Hakuta's instead. Hakuta flipped his phone open, with all eyes trained on him.
"Yes, this is Hakuta. —ah, is that so…? Yes, I understand."
He promptly hung up after that. Turning to Hyoudou, he said: "We have found Asahina's hideout. It is a weekly apartment in Kiba. I was told he moved there a week ago."
Hyoudou did not bother to acknowledge this new information, nor did he even nod. He simply said: "Let's go," and walked towards the door.
Kiyoi called: "I'll go too," but when he followed Hyoudou out to the main door, he was met with a flat refusal. "You stay," snarled Hyoudou.
Kiyoi scowled, but Shimeno calmly told him: "It is important to have someone on stand-by too. We will call you immediately if anything happens… Akira always said that you were someone he could count on." His hand came to rest on Kiyoi's shoulders, and Kiyoi reluctantly agreed to remain behind.
The two men got into the back of the Toyota Corolla, and the car drove off. Kiyoi watched as the taillights of the car receded into the darkness, but his gaze lingered long after the car disappeared from view.
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