Part 72: Cracking The CasePart 72 - Cracking The Case
A quiet and urgent command. My breath caught.
"Or else I'll be forced to erase you."
"Y, you'll kill me....!?"
A shudder ran down my back.
I stopped recognizing Rimi as the girl who would save me, and began to perceive her as an unknown entity.
"You're gonna kill me, aren't you!? You really are a murderer....!"
So why do you look like that....
Tell me, "The truth is, it's a lie." Say, "Did I surprise you?" and smile mischievously.
Do that, and we can go back to the same relationship as before. I want to go back.
"Then, I.... what am I?"
"....S, so ridiculous."
"I, I have me, memories, just like I should....!"
"I can't remember the mi, minor details from when I was in middle school. B, but I only forgot them."
A year and a half ago!? Around when I first entered high school.
"Th, then sh, shouldn't I be a year-and-a-half-old baby?"
"Unless I said goo-goo gaga and stuff.... it wouldn't make sense...."
"Y, you wanna say you saw it with your own eyes? We were definitely friends since a year and a half ago, it seems like. Bu, but I don't remember it...."
"Since I wasn't originally a Suimei student."
Rimi was off her rocker. Rimi, too, had been off her rocker.
She was way out there, so far off in the stratosphere, Sena and Ayase couldn't hold a candle to her....
"Wh, who imagined me into being? Try telling me."
"Right, B, BS~. I, I'm a delusion, aren't I? I had a delusion that created myself? It totally contradicts itself. Okay, Q, Q.E.D, thus endeth the lesson."
"Or is this y, your delusion....?"
"It's gotta be your own scenario, in your brain alone, which you came up with all by yourself. Don't get me caught up in that...."
"I didn't want you to know about it, either."
"I didn't want you to come here."
"I should've done more to stop you...."
Rimi raised her face. Resolutely. Her eyes, gazing straight at me,
Were very serious. And filled with light. And they didn't appear to be lying.
"But since we've come this far, I think you're better off knowing the truth."
But it was a lie. This must be a lie. It had to be a lie.
Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to stay in my right mind. Who the hell would believe it if someone suddenly told them, "You're a delusion"?
"It would be better for you to know how your actions whittle away at the life of--"
"Ri, right, what about Nanami!?"
"If I, if I'm a delusion! My blo, blood-related parents, and Nanami, are they delusions too!? That's absurd--"
Her phrasing practically made it sound as if she knew Nanami.
"We, were you the one.... wh, who kidnapped Nanami?"
"Something similar, maybe...."
"I was too occupied with protecting you.... it hadn't occurred to me that they might go after Nana-chan."
"I know about the kidnapping."
So that's how it was, of course.... She was the "demon girl" I'd imagined her to be at the start.
I'd wanted Rimi alone to be my ally. I'd believed in that wish alone the whole time up till now.
But when it came to suspicious things about her, there had been tons of them all along.
I'd intently closed my eyes to them and kept faith in how she said, "I'll be there for you."
Despite that, in the same way as Yua, Rimi too would--
"You're betraying me, too...."
"You're right.... I betrayed you, Taku. I hid a lot of things from you."
"It's okay to resent me."
"Just because you've apologized.... I, I won't believe you. I can't."
That was what I said upfront, but I couldn't prove I was me, the real thing.
Plus, the many paranormal phenomena I'd seen before now clung to the back of my brain, leaving me unable to laugh Rimi's story off as "something offbeat."
It had rescued me from danger. It had saved my heart. It had taught me kindness.
But now, even when she held me like this, her warmth seemed terribly distant.
"....I have to go soon."
"Go, go where....?"
"At this rate, I won't be able to fully protect you."
"That's.... s, so irresponsible....."
"You say all these ho, horrible things to me.... and then you're gonna run away....?"
"Then we can talk together again, about all kinds of fun things."
"It's okay for you to stay there."
A gentle tone of voice. After telling me such cruel things, why did she become kind again?
"Because you have a very powerful imagination."
"See ya tomorrow, then."
Rimi snapped off a salute. She had on an incredibly out-of-place smile.
Turning her back to me, as though flustered, Rimi ran off with shaking shoulders.
Once I'd watched her go in a trance, I crumpled in place.
The world looked drained of its colors. I couldn't detect any hope. She'd completely denied my existence itself.
There wasn't any meaning in my being here. There wouldn't even be any meaning in my dying.
Rimi had left, leaving behind this meaningless me. She, too, was my enemy. She'd deceived me.
And after telling me everything like that, she must've lost her reasons for being with me.
"There's no way she'll come back...."
Rimi had cast me aside.... Because, apparently, I was a delusionary existence. Because I was a monster.
"Hehehe.... fu.... he...."
I didn't care anymore.... I didn't care about anything anymore....
Lacking the energy to stand up. Unable to sort out my emotions. Too shocked to weep.
OST: Truth and false
"But isn't it cute?"
"That's not the latest one. It came out last week, the, ummmm, what's it called again?"
Ban looked at Yua as though seeking salvation.
"Yeah, yeah, that's it."
"I'm sorry, Yua-chan. You must've had a hard time, being forced to hang out with such a messy old man."
"You're awful, Momo-chan. You'd be hard-pressed to find other middle-aged dandies like me."
But Momose, rather than lend an ear to Ban's joking objection, poured some tea for Yua--despite her position as Yua's elder and the company president.
Today, unusually, the Freesia employees who always stayed here until late at night as they worked appeared, for once, to have gone home at a more regular time. So it was written on the whiteboard that contained each employee's plans for the day.
Thanks to that, although the sun had just set, the office interior was as dead-quiet as the middle of the night.
"So, Momo-chan. Did you do some digging about Shinkou for me?"
Before they boarded the train at Harajuku, Ban had made a call to Momose and asked her to see what she could find out about Shinkou.
Still wearing an ear-to-ear smile, Momose flicked a look at Yua, who was tilting back her teacup.
"Yua-chan, you ought to go home once you finish your tea."
"It's gotten dark out, and your parents must be worried about you, no?"
Yua realized that Momose's demeanor concealed an ulterior motive. What they were about to discuss wasn't fit for her, a regular civilian, to simply listen to offhand.
"Are you concerned about me?"
"Yes, very much so."
Turning serious, Momose nodded. Though Yua was grateful for her thoughtfulness, she shook her head firmly.
"I won't go home. I'll do anything if it means drawing closer to the truth about Mia-chan's death."
"You shouldn't have anything more to do with this."
"I've long since become one of the people involved in it."
Yua's words held an unyielding and dignified strength.
Taken aback by her unexpected rebellion, Momose grew perplexed.
"You're surprisingly stubborn...."
"Well, it'd be pretty mean to shut her out now."
Ban's carefree attitude had the opposite effect of leaving Momose unable to hold in a deep sigh.
"I wonder if you have the clout to make it happen, Ban-chan."
"Well, contrary to appearances, I do happen to be attached to the best investigative headquarters under the sun."
"You know you absolutely can't tell anyone what you're about to hear?"
"Because it'll have to do with your very life. Take that to heart."
Her expression strained, Yua nodded.
Her plump body grew rounder still, and she began moving the mouse connected to her laptop.
Ban and Yua peeked at the monitor from behind Momose.
"The Nozomi Group, huh. That's a surprise."
"It's not just the Gero-froggies, either. Chinese-made handbags, Thai-made eco-friendly bags, figure-flattering pants, and so on."
"And the company has a unique way of putting their goods on the market. They always release all their new products simultaneously, over the weekend."
Ban showed a keen reaction to that keyword.
"Whether it's the workings of fate or a mere coincidence, Shinkou's products become hits because of fluctuations in the GE rate. That much is certain."
"I told you how, starting about five years ago, the values have risen every single weekend. It precisely corresponds to the period when the Nozomi Group took over Shinkou."
"Do you think Shinkou is manipulating the rate?"
"That's impossible, since Shinkou itself isn't a particularly large company."
"Which means the parent company.... yeah, Nozomi is suspicious. With the Group's combined might, they could probably manipulate the rate."
"Wait. Nozomi is key, of course, but that's not the really interesting thing about Shinkou."
"Once I worked all the way back to documents from when it was founded, a real big VIP showed up."
"Hahaa, isn't he a leading figure in the Meiwa Party?"
"At the time of Shinkou's founding, though, he was still a member of the Minji Party."
"There's our connection."
"When Professor Outa was murdered, and at the time of the recent earthquake. In both cases, the Meiwa Party put pressure on journalists to keep them from reporting about anything seemingly related to the GE rate."
"Going back to the GE rate graph."
"After exploring it for while, I found another interesting pattern."
The periodic spikes that occurred every weekend. The highest values to emerge from this weren't especially notable, but it rose without fail every time, except on New Year's and the Bon festival.
The second part she looked at was the radical ascents that took place when earthquakes happened.
During the earthquake from two months ago with eight fatalities, and again during the earthquake about a week ago in which over a hundred died, the GE rate had temporarily skyrocketed to an almost awe-inspiring extent.
"And there's a third pattern."
"It took place only four times over the past five years. While it doesn't spike as much as during the earthquakes, it still goes pretty high."
"At first I didn't understand what it meant, but as I did my research, I came across an event that meets the condition of 'four times in five years.'"
"C'mon, tell us. Don't beat around the bush."
"The four Parliamentary election dates and the days of the four GE rate increases matched perfectly."
His face grim, Ban rubbed the five o'clock shadow on his chin.
"The election where the Meiwa Party, then the opposition party, won in a landslide and became the governing party...."
"It took place four years ago."
"And five years ago, Inohana Kouzou made his shocking departure from the Minji party and transferred to the Meiwa Party."
An oppressive silence abruptly hovered between the three of them.
Yua murmured, her voice trembling minutely.
"Even so, it was precisely because we knew about the GE rate that we've picked up on this."
"If we hadn't known, we'd have been left in the dark."
Said Ban, taking his usual fan in hand and casually starting to fan himself.
"On a side note, can I talk about my investigation into the lives of high school girls?"
Momose threw a sharp look at Ban, exasperated by his sudden attempt to change the subject.
"Look here. You aren't to start talking about such foolish things out of left field. Yua-chan is here with us, so be a tad more thoughtful."
"Hey, don't knock it just yet."
A grin floated up onto Ban's face, but there was no smile in his eyes.
"It's about Aoi Sena."
"Hatano Sena's father..., Hatano Issei, is currently a missing person, his whereabouts are said to be unknown, but he's a former employee of Nozomi Technology."
"What's this all about?"
"Exactly what it sounds like."
The Nozomi Technology Company was an enterprise primarily involved in developing software related to medical equipment.
The Nozomi Grouphad originally started off as the Nozomi Technology Company, maturing into one of the most prominent conglomerates in Japan after going through multiple cycles of mergers and acquisitions.
"At about the same time, Hatano Sena herself caused a ruckus by running away from the facility to which she'd been entrusted."
"If you say that's the surface, what's beneath it?"
"The Church of The Divine Light...."
Momose grimaced. She let out a voice of blatant disgust.
"There's another troublesome name for us."
"By the way, this Heavenly Hostel went by a different name up until two years ago."
"And by some coincidence, FES.... Kishimoto Ayase, who still holds a magnetic attraction for Shibuya's youngsters, also used to be institutionalized there."
"It's like she and Hatano Sena just barely missed each other on the way in and out."
At this point, Ban leaned toward Momose.
"Unlike Heavenly Hostel, Ark Heart Medical was a mental-care facility. It treated psychiatric patients."
"Two years ago, however, Ark Heart Medical suddenly transformed into a nonprofit group's independent halfway house, Heavenly Hostel."
"Yeah. Takashina Fumio. He was definitely a psychiatrist at AH General Hospital."
"Incidentally, lemme point out that the hospital director is one of Inohana's intimate friends."
"Yua-chan, you know how you've been chasing Nishijou Takumi? The truth is, he visited AH General Hospital three times this past month."
"The police tailed him the whole time. It's a fact."
"On top of that, there are records of Nishijou Takumi having been hospitalized there some years before. The doctor responsible for him.... was Takashina Fumio."
"I wonder. The investigation didn't cover that possibility, see."
"Ahh, and one more thing about Hatano Sena."
"But she's got quite a story attached to her, too."
"Orihara's father works for one of the Nozomi Group's affiliates."
"They used to live over in Hiroshima. Then there was an incident where three of Orihara's classmates were attacked by someone and suffered grievous wounds."
"Orihara Kozue was also on the scene. People suspected her of being the attacker, but she didn't get arrested, since the weapon involved 'didn't exist.'"
"There've been rumors that this made it hard to keep living in their hometown, and so her family moved."
"The weapon didn't exist? It's not that they didn't find it?"
"It didn't exist. No one even knows what was used to cut at them."
"It got to the point where people seriously debated about whether it might be the kaimaitachi--sharp wind spirit--phenomenon."
"A magic trick where you draw a sword out of nothingness...."
Yua shrank into herself, rubbing her upper arms in an attempt to stop her trembling.
"It feels like some kind of will, one much greater than ours, is at work here...."
"Being in my line of work, I don't go in for conspiracy theories, but this one time, I just might end up believing them."
"The Meiwa Party and the Nozomi Group."
"We can assume the two of them have some kind of relationship with the GE rate."
Momose took a sip of her tea and shrugged.
"Ditching your real work to investigate this sort of thing."
"You baffle me, Ban-chan."
"If we trace it back to the source, isn't it your fault for tellin' me about the GE rate?"
"I'll have nothing to do with it if they transfer you out of the investigation headquarters."
"Really, you're so inept."
Though she spoke exasperatedly, she wasn't condemning him, and her words were in fact a backhanded compliment for Ban as a detective.
SFX: Ban's phone starts ringing
Ban's ringtone was playing. When he looked at the LCD screen, the caller was unknown.
SFX: Heavy static
He heard a violent noise through the receiver.
He took the phone away from his ear and looked back at its screen. But it looked like he had good reception. The problem was on the caller's side.
Ban cocked his head, wondering if maybe they were someplace far away from any cell phone towers.
"Hey, who is it?"
"....Back out of it."
Once you get past the static, the one speaking is the same person Takumi 'met' on the O-Front roof during the Nanami-chan Rescue Quest. It is unlikely to be the same person as Shogun, so I can't get away with using him again. So I used the Darth Spider helmet instead.
It was one of the unidentified, threatening calls Ban had often received as of late. The mechanical-sounding voice probably came from using a voice changer. Ban smiled bitterly as he answered.
"Ahh, it's you. How about, you finally give me your name, huh?"
"I mean, even if you tell me to back out, what is it I'm supposed to back out of, anyway? You've gotta put it in concrete terms."
The calls always cut off here. He'd say "Back out" twice, then end it. The pattern was so consistent, one could pretty much call it a certainty.
No matter how much Ban called out, no answer would come to him.
Yet today was different.
"If you don't--"
Having heard that much, Ban finally grasped, who was the owner of the anguished voice coming on the other side of the phone belonged to.
"Who got you? Where are you now?"
"Was it only one person?"
"Oi, you okay!?"
"Suwa! Hey, Suwa!"
No matter how much Ban cried out to him, nothing came back through the phone anymore.
"Has something happened to Suwa-chan?"
Standing up, Ban hit himself lightly on the cheeks two times.
"Suwa got taken hostage. Seems like he's in AH Tokyo General Hospital."
"Surely not the Meiwa Party....?"
"I dunno, but.... I've got a bad feeling about this."
"You ought to request back-up."
Ban left his favorite fan atop the desk, within Momose's reach. Then he looked at each of the two women in turn.
The ever-unreliable middle-aged detective had a look of fearless determination, one that made him seem a different person.
They were heavy enough to make me think lead had been embedded in my heels.
Not just my legs. My whole body was heavy.
But I told myself that this heaviness proved my body undeniably existed here, proved I wasn't a delusionary existence.
Until a short while ago, I'd dreaded people taking notice of me or making a laughingstock of me, and I'd inwardly called them names, saying, don't look at me.
Now I wanted someone to look at me, and I didn't care who. I wanted to enter someone's sight. I wanted someone to recognize me as being here. I sought such convenient things for myself.
But no one would look at me. If I let out a freakish yell, they'd probably turn contemptuous gazes on me, but I didn't have the energy to put it into action.
I gripped my cell phone in a sweat-drenched hand. The phone I'd gone to buy together with Nanami.
A mere four numbers were recorded there.
Rimi's cell. Nanami's cell. Misumi-kun's cell.
And my parents' home number.
Using only these four numbers, I tried desperately to think of a way to prove I wasn't an imposter.
I'm not a delusionary existence or anything of the sort.
I'm the real thing.
I'm Nishijou Takumi.
I'm seventeen years old.
I'm a junior at Suimei Academy.
I'm a member of a four-person family.
"Help me.... Prove I'm me...."
My trembling kept my teeth from coming together properly.
They rattled. It wasn't cold. Yet I was shaking.
"Ah, Mi, Misu...."
"Takumi, right? What's up?"
"Things go well with Rimi? Guess you must've graduated from being a virgin. Hahaha."
"Be grateful to me. Since I was considerate enough to leave you two by yourselves."
To my relief, Misumi-kun was the same as always.
He knew of me, the way he was supposed to. He recognized me as Nishijou Takumi.
That's why I'm not a delusionary existence or whatever. Rimi had only been lying after all.
"Come to think of it, Minako told me something a little while ago."
"Yeah, my girl."
"At first I wondered what the heck she was talking about."
"But normally, I'd never try getting involved with a guy like you."
"I sort of have memories getting to know you through Rimi, but for some reason, I can't remember the details."
It was the same.... The same condition I'd experienced moments ago.
No. I don't want that. Please don't say anything more....
Though all he had to do was talk about girls in his usual manner and leave it at that, why only today, of all days--
I became frightened. I cut the line in a hurry.
I was about to cry. But no tears came out. There was only the sensation of my heart being pulled to shreds.
I somehow indicated the number with quivering fingertips, then pressed the send button.
Nanami had entered my parents' number. It wasn't a number I'd recorded out of my own convictions. So there was no mistaking it. It had to connect.
Would my dad have come home by this time of day? Or would my mom pick up? Would Nanami be there?
What should I say if it went through....
Would I ask them if I were their son?
They might think I was being an idiot. It was actually a pretty stupid question.
What if they said no?
Or what if they told me, "Right now, our son Takumi is having dinner with his sister Nanami in the living room"?
What if a phone call I'd made to verify I was the real thing ended up verifying the fact that I was an impostor?
What if they asked me, "Who are you"?
One negative thought rose after the other, terrifying me.
I didn't want to know the result. I was helplessly scared.
I was going out of my mind. My breaths started to hurt me. I couldn't breathe well.
That was when--
The call connected. Holding the phone to my ear, I braced myself.
No one would verify that I was me. No one was there to prove it for me. I wanted to die....
When I lifted my eyes, Yamanote Street was before me, with a vast number of cars coming and going across it.
Even if a monster stayed in this world, he'd only be persecuted.
I had neither hopes nor dreams.
I found my own existence unsightly.
I wanted to be put at ease.
I'd be at ease if I died.
Cause I wouldn't have think about anything. Because I wouldn't suffer from anything.
Because no one would laugh at me anymore. Because no one would betray me anymore.
Positive, Negative or Neutral?