Part 12: The True Family Conference
October 4th, 1986, 11:49 PM
The fighting between the relatives continued without end...
At first, the relatives had crowded around the study. However, no matter how much they knocked, the master of the study did not answer even once. Eva and several others said that they should open the door with the second key, the one Genji held. However, in a flash of brilliance, Natsuhi said that Kinzo had been in a particularly bad mood and had taken back the key he'd previously given Genji, Meaning that he now had both keys himself. She claimed that this was the reason they couldn't open the door.
After she promised to let them meet Kinzo tomorrow morning no matter what, they finally returned to the dining hall. But, of course, the argument continued on even after they returned to the dining hall. Eva's group wanted a lot of cash very soon, and they were trying to threaten Krauss somehow and make him pay up. Apparently, Battler's solving of the epitaph threatened Krauss's position as the next head, which gave the others a huge tailwind. On the other side, Krauss and Natsuhi based their argument on the claim that it had never been specified that ownership of the gold would be handed over to the person who solved the epitaph. It hadn't been hidden gold, but just Kinzo's stockpile, and it was still Kinzo's property, which meant it was only natural that it be distributed only after Kinzo's death with the rest of the inheritance. After they claimed this, Eva's group once again started demanding that they be allowed to see Kinzo.
...It's probably been obvious from the beginning. This sibling fight can only be settled by Kinzo...
It was obvious that this confrontation was between Eva's group, which wanted cash fast, and Krauss, who was hiding his lack of funds but still didn't need money right away. As he listened vaguely to this exchange, Battler marveled at how, despite their usual affluent airs, they were surprisingly deep in debt...
According to the clock, it was almost midnight. It certainly was a perfect time for a break. The atmosphere relaxed just a bit...
"I agree. It'd do both sides some good to take a breather. So, why don't we take a record down for the rest. I've had enough of fighting over what was or wasn't said."
"Seriously. We really can't do without a record of proceedings, not when Nii-san can so easily deny something he's said before the words stop bouncing off the walls."
"With a written record, just writing it would be a pain, and it'd be open to forgery."
"Right. Aniki, want to fire this up?"
"A tape set, is it? I see. This way, we can keep a record without bothering to write it down, and forgery will be impossible. It's fair for both sides."
"Make sure you don't mess anything up...! Those are Father's precious music tapes!"
The dignified tape set had a sense of weight to it which matched this majestic dining hall perfectly. On pleasant Sunday mornings, it would sometimes be used to play famous tapes or records. However, right now, it was the most neutral and impartial conference record keeper around...
Rudolf fished randomly around the cassette rack, searching for a blank tape. And every time he found some tape with 'sophisticated' music, he would chuckle at how pompous it was.
"We're taking a break. Sorry, but could you make us something to drink? And maybe some biscuits would be nice too."
"Certainly. I will prepare it right away..."
"Also, sorry. Do you have any cold medicine? I've been feeling a bit feverish."
"Then don't overstrain yourself. Get some sleep."
"If you really feel like it, why not get some sleep, Rosa? Though I wouldn't step out of such an important conference because of a simple cold."
"Really? Allow me to take a rest as well. Natsuhi, why don't we take a short rest too."
BGM: Moonlit Night
...Even if this hadn't been the case, she was so desperate to get out of the room even for a moment that she'd have taken any excuse. Krauss and Natsuhi left the dining hall, and the tension in the room truly relaxed.
"You've been doing great, Battler-kun. I imagine you feel just horrible. Think of this as part of growing up and just accept it."
"Just how long am I going to have to sit around doing nothing here?"
"...Who knows. After all, you're like our own portable shrine. Sleepy?"
"About as much as your average school class."
"I'm pretty sure Father won't show up tonight anyway. When Krauss nii-san and the rest come back, I'll propose that we might as well let you go."
"...I'll be counting on you."
*knock*knock*. A light knock and the faint sound of china clinking together could be heard.
"We have brought tea."
Shannon and Kanon had come by with a serving cart. The pleasant smell of black tea had the effect of relieving a bit of tension.
"...Hey. Did you hear about it?"
"What are you talking about...?"
"...We didn't hear anything."
"Stop it, Rudolf. There's no reason to tell them."
"...We are furniture, so we have no interest in the family conference."
"I see. That's a wise answer."
"...You have the midnight shift? That must be tough."
"That is our job. We would be happy to receive your orders."
"That may be. It'd probably be even more tiresome to sit around awake doing nothing. When I was still down in the bottom rungs, I once worked as a warehouse keeper. Even if you're just staying awake, it's still pretty tough...! Right after the war, you had robbers all over the place. Plus you couldn't rely on the police back then, so it was a pretty dangerous time...!"
Hideyoshi was particularly proud of how he had started with nothing and built up assets by illegally diverting goods from the American army. Once the subject came up, Hideyoshi tended to get pretty talkative. The relatives who knew this were greatly relieved to see that a perfect sacrifice had come up.
"If you got found out, you were in for it big time! Those Americandy people are scary! Their strength's in another league 'cause of all that beef they eat. If you got caught, it would end with them shooting you or <death by hanging>!"
"Get it? <Death by hanging>! Oh yeah, and then, I figured it out. It's all about the meat! Japanese people've got to eat more meat! And that's when I had a revelation that I needed to start up a business to win over people's stomachs!"
"I, I see... That m, must have been quite a difficult task..."
"Stop it, dear. No matter how much you tell people born after the war, they'll never understand how we suffered back then."
"Oops, looks like my bad habit's jumped out again...! Sorry, sorry! Wahahahahaha!"
"You two should have some tea as well. I think it might be helpful for you to use your own mouth once in a while and learn more about the tea you're brewing."
"...No, we'll be fine. There's no need to be concerned for our sakes..."
"Hang out with us for a bit. Being surrounded by only adults makes me feel like I'm gonna suffocate."
"Hear that? That's an order from Battler-sama, successor to the head! Sit over there and have some tea with us. Then you can talk about recent events, your hobbies, TV shows you're watching and whatever it is that's popular with young folks these days. There's a lot we could learn."
"*giggle*. That's a brilliant idea. Come on, you two sit down too. And why don't you become sacrifices for us now that we crave something to talk about."
"Wahahahahahaha. That's right. I thought it'd be nice to talk to some young kids, but that'll be pretty hard when I'm too old even to go to a cabaret club."
"...How long are you planning on standing around there? Rudolf told you to sit. Sit down. I give you permission as well."
After getting Eva's permission, Shannon and Kanon looked at each other and finally obeyed, nervously. For a while, the two were pounded by questions and became the relatives' playthings...
All of the servants tended to knock in a similar manner, so no one noticed anything strange. However, Shannon and Kanon turned around with surprised looks on their faces.
...The servants here today included the two of them, Genji, Kumasawa, and Gohda. Gohda had the midnight shift at the guesthouse. Kumasawa had gone to bed in a spare room in the guesthouse. They were in here, so Genji was the only person left, but they knew very well that Genji wouldn't knock like that...
"...Who is it? It's not locked. Just come in."
Rudolf didn't recognize the knock either. When he asked 'Who is it?', it became apparent that no one could tell whose knock it was... After that, the same *knock*knock* repeated just once more. Could it be that someone had their hands full... and was asking that the door be opened for them...?
As a slightly odd feeling began to encompass the room, the sound of the large clock in the hall could be heard. It was a sign that October 4th had ended and October 5th had begun...
At this time, Krauss and Natsuhi were a ways off, in a deserted corridor on the second floor...
"Yes... The same move probably won't last us all day tomorrow. If we hesitate any longer, there's a chance that Eva-san and the others will claim that we have Father locked up and call the police. This is... as far as we can go."
"...Battler-kun finding the gold... was totally unexpected. If that hadn't happened, I'd thought of a plan which might have managed to get us through this somehow..."
"...Hmph. This always happens when I bet on something. Something unexpected always happens, and something which should have been an absolute certainty gets all messed up."
"...Let's set it up so that Father's room is empty starting tomorrow morning. Let's plan it out with Genji and have him say that he saw Father heading out into the forest early in the morning."
"I doubt Eva and the others will simply accept such a disappearance..."
BGM: At Death's Door
"If we do such a thing, Eva and the others will doubtless make a fuss that our actions were suspicious. They aren't worried about appearances as long as they can squeeze some money out of us. It might end up in some odd magazine and cause serious damage to the confidence placed in me."
"We can live with damage, right...?! If by any chance Father's secret is discovered, we won't get away with just damage...!!"
"There's nothing wrong with persisting until the last second tomorrow. If we're able to make it through safely, we won't have to lose anything. There's no need to get impatient and use that trump card...!"
"You want to wait until after they start clambering about how we've locked Father up, and then say he's gone missing? That way would invite much more suspicion...!!"
"Calm yourself. You've just been wrapped up in Eva and the others' toxin and have lost your composure. Only two keys exist which can let anyone into that study! And you have both of them right here. That means no one can go inside. That door is of a very special make. No matter what kind of tools they bring out of the storehouse, it won't even budge."
"It isn't a physical problem like that...!"
"Please, don't be hasty, and calm down. In any event, you can pretend to have gotten a fever and stay in bed. In the meantime, I will overcome all of this for you."
"...I can't leave everything to you...! I'll fight until the end too...!"
When Natsuhi could no longer hold back the tears brought on by her fierce emotions, Krauss held her gently. Just how long had it been since the last time she'd felt warmth from her husband's compassion...
She had come to think that her husband could never guess the way she felt. But, when it came to times like this...
"...Let's wait for the very last moment before using our disappearance trump card. It's like a last-resort treasured sword. It's best when it remains in its sheath. The important thing is that you're ready to pull it out at any time, right...?"
"I... understand that..."
"Would you let me handle that trump card? Of course, at the final moment, I will take all of the responsibility. I won't get you and Jessica involved."
"What... do you mean by that...?!"
"When the Ushiromiya family is destroyed, it is enough that I alone am crushed in the rubble. When the typhoon passes, let's make sure we're ready to file for divorce. I will sign the papers and let you hold onto them. I've secretly left some of my assets in your name. If you add on some compensation money, that should be enough for you and Jessica to live on without any hindrances."
"No!! Ushiromiya Natsuhi is the name that should be engraved on my tombstone...! Please let me be with you until the last moment...! Even if it turns out that you are the last head of the Ushiromiya family, please let Natsuhi... be the name of the final head's wife... your wife..."
If either of those weakened, nothing would remain. If they used the trump card of Kinzo's disappearance, they would lose one of these two essential supports. It was like offering your right arm in exchange for your neck being cut. It was probably better than losing your neck, but you still might die from the blood loss, and even on the off-chance that you did survive, you would have to bear a heavy wound that wouldn't heal for the rest of your life... Krauss was prepared even for death...
Natsuhi understood this, buried her face in Krauss's chest, and cried...
Genji's sudden voice made Natsuhi jump back and hurriedly wipe the tears from her eyes. Krauss stood in front of Natsuhi, shielding her.
"Ah, Genji-san. Please don't sneak up on us. Do you have some business?"
"...Yes. My apologies, but I have something to report to Madam."
"To... me...? Dear..."
"I don't mind."
"...What is it?"
"...Well... The truth is, another phone call has come for you, Madam."
At that time, she was surprised by a sudden, eerie sound. It was the large clock in the hall announcing 24:00...
"You don't mean... that man... again...?"
"...Yes. What is to be done?"
"D, did he say what business he had with me?"
"...He would not answer. He kept insisting that he wanted to speak to you directly."
19 years ago. That was just one year before Jessica and Battler were born. In Natsuhi's eyes, the gap between 19 years ago and 18 years ago was immense.
For a long time, she had been unable to fulfill her role of creating a successor for the Ushiromiya family... and had been treated very coldly. But then, she finally gave birth to Jessica... and became able to call herself the Ushiromiya successor's wife with her head held high. So in her eyes, 'Ushiromiya Natsuhi' began 18 years ago. That's why everything before that, including 19 years ago... contained nothing but hateful memories.
And... the last year of that hateful period... is whispering of revenge... from the other end of the phone...
"...What is to be done?"
"Transfer it... to my room. Don't let my husband know."
"...As you wish."
From the very beginning, Genji had guessed that she wouldn't want Krauss hearing about this phone call. That's why he had told Natsuhi covertly...
Natsuhi ordered that he transfer the call, told Krauss that she would turn in for the night, and left at a quick pace... She returned to her room and locked the door. There's nothing peculiar about that. In the Ushiromiya family, hallways are like public roads. There's no special meaning in locking the door when you enter your own room... This is what she told herself.
She took a deep breath, readied herself, and picked up the receiver.
Again, it started with silence. She realized that the person at the other end was trying to irritate her and make her feel uncomfortable, and she got angry...
"Why are you silent...?! I'm hanging up...!"
BGM: Deep Blue Jeer
Again... that unpleasant voice...
"Are you trying to mock me...?! Tell me what you want...!"
"I want to play with you, Mother."
"...Wh, what? What are you talking about?! I have no desire to play with you...!!"
"...You're tired from the family conference, right? Is that chronic headache of yours getting to be a pain...?"
"Th, that's none of your business...!"
Just the fact that he knew her headache was troubling her made a shiver run up her spine...
"You get headaches because your head's all stiff. If you go straight to bed like that, you won't be having nice dreams."
"Haven't I told you that's none of your business?!! I'm hanging up!!"
Natsuhi forcefully yelled that she was hanging up, but in actuality, she couldn't... After all, being at the receiving end of a phone call was much better than the alternative. If she hung up violently, this person might then call someone else...
"Let's play a bit to help you relax. I won't take up much of your time."
"I, I have no intention of playing with you...!"
"...Your name is Natsuhi, Mother. It has the kanji for a season in it. Pretty nice name. However, just because your name is Natsuhi, that doesn't necessarily mean that you like summer. Which season do you really like, Mother...?"
"You think I'll tell you?"
"If you don't, I'll hang up. Is that alright?"
It was clearly a threat. It meant that if she forced him to hang up the phone... anything might happen... Humiliated that she was forced to give in to a threat made by a man whose name she didn't even know, she gave him the answer he wanted...
"B, because it's an easy season to pass the time in...! There's no other reason in particular. Are you satisfied now?!"
"Yeah, I'm satisfied. So, looks like your favorite season really is the same as mine. I like Fall too. Heheheheheheheheheheheheh..."
"...Liar! You just made that up...!"
Surely, this man would have done the same thing no matter which season I said I liked. What is he after?! What's so fun about making me uncomfortable like this...?!
"It's not nice to call someone a liar. I didn't make it up. I already knew that you liked Fall, Mother. I can even prove it to you."
"Yeah. Is there a clock in your room, Mother...?"
"...A clock...? Y, yes, there is, but what's your point...?"
In Natsuhi's room, there was a beautiful antique clock with an intricate design. Krauss had bought it for her as a birthday present long ago.
"...It's 12:07 right now. I'm tired, so please get this farce over with quickly...!"
"Try lifting the clock up."
"...You just don't know when to shut up. Stop resisting every single time I say something. Just shut up and do what I say."
The tone of the man's voice suddenly went low, turning into a threat. It made it clear that he was displeased. At first, this man seemed to have a calm way of speaking, but on the inside, that wasn't the case at all. If she enraged this man even a little more, he would surely show his true nature right away...
"...Are you really that eager to make me hang up? Things are best when I'm talking on the phone with you... I could tell your husband and daughter about what happened 19 years ago any time I want to..."
"I, I don't know what you're talking about, but please don't get my husband and daughter involved...! I'm listening to everything you say...!"
"Then just do what you're told..."
Once again, the man threatened her in a low voice, as though warning her not to interrupt again... My head was filled with the pain from my headache, the sound of my beating heart, and the roar of the sea...
I can't disobey him anymore. As the man had ordered, I lifted up the antique clock...
There lay what appeared to be a single playing card...? Is it the warranty for the clock...? Thinking this, she took it and turned it over...
"Are you... wide awake now?"
"Well, I'll be happy if your headache's gone down a bit. Tell me you're happy, Mother."
"How did you...?! Why?! How?!"
"I want you to tell me you're happy, you murderer. How dare you act like a normal, neat-freak mother. You make me want to vomit. Do you want that to land on your husband and daughter as well? You don't, do you? You want me to keep quiet, don't you? Yeah, I'll keep quiet. See, aren't you happy? Aren't you happy?!"
"Ah, gaaaah, I'm happy... I'm happy...!! So please... stop... Don't burden my husband and daughter...! What is it you want? Money? How much?!"
"I don't want money. My wounds couldn't be healed with any amount of money. But there is a medicine. That's right. It's like a kind of ointment."
Natsuhi had never had anything so hateful said to her in her entire life. So she suspected many times that she must be having some sort of bad dream. However, this definitely wasn't a dream...
"...Y, you couldn't possibly be... on this island right now, are you...?"
"I am. Didn't I promise you? I said I'd be at the family conference."
"That's impossible...! There's no way you could have come during this typhoon...!!"
"That's no problem if I came before the typhoon reached here. And I'm pretty sure this guest called Erika or whatever arrived even during the typhoon."
Her blood froze... Furudo Erika had supposedly been brought here by coincidence... If he knew that name, he would have to be very close by...
"Wh, where... a, are you...?"
"...I won't appear in front of anyone until you introduce me. Don't worry. Oh yeah, it's useless to try and search for me. Your mansion is huge. You even have a phone system in it. And I'm sure you don't want to meet me, right? Or else, do you want to expose me and introduce me to everyone...? Introduce me to Jessica too. Tell her I'm her older brother by one year. Heheheheheheheheheheheheheheh!!"
"S, stop it, stay away from Jessica..."
"I guess I've scared you a bit too much. That's all from me... for tonight. But don't forget. You cannot disobey me. Understand, Mother?"
"I'm going to hang up for the night, but I have an order to be followed up until tomorrow morning."
"Wh, what is that...?"
"And you will turn the lights off right now, get in bed, and sleep. Then you will wake up at your ordinary time. Heheheheheh. It sure is nice to live a healthy life. I really am such a good son, working so hard for the sake of my Mother's body..."
"I, I understand. I'll sleep right now. I won't leave my room, and I won't pick up the phone...! So, let my husband and daughter...!"
"As long as you follow my orders, I'll keep your secret, Mother. Don't disobey me. I'm already very close by to you. I can easily tell whether you've turned your lights off, or whether you're on the phone. If I wished to, I could even kiss your sleeping face."
"I'll keep it! I'll keep my promise!! So stop it, just stop it! Stop iiiiiiiiiiiiiiittt!!"
...As she screamed, Natsuhi took the card she had found under the clock, and crushed it up into a little ball.