Part 107: The Future 12 Years Later
"The groupies were getting annoying, so I thought I'd give them the slip."
Ange and an old gentleman wearing an expensive suit were alone in a massive, modern conference room. All of the newest machines for presentations were installed there, but they didn't upset its refined and composed atmosphere, and that alone was enough to make the business-like theme of the room abundantly clear. However, that didn't matter at all to Ange. She carelessly sat on a high-class chair that executives making a salary of several ten million yen probably sat in, looking aloof from the world.
"It's because I knew they were remodeling on a lower floor and had a safety net out."
To think that she'd shot through several layers of safety netting for the remodeling project, been caught in a multi-colored banner adorning the atrium and slipped off, only to be softly caught by a final banner, land on the ground without a scratch, and then briskly leave that place... It put Hong Kong movies to shame.
"Whether you knew there was a net or not, this is a 200-meter tall super-skyscraper we're talking about, right? If things hadn't gone as you planned, there'd be a mess to deal with now."
"...I figured that if I died, then I'd be dead and that would be that, more or less. Well, still, I was testing my luck a bit. Call it youthful zeal."
As though saying that she'd had enough of that topic, Ange shrugged coldly. Seeing that, the old gentleman, who was looking at the world below through a crack in the blinds, cackled.
"So, you were testing your luck, is that it...? My, my, you truly are Kinzo-san's grandchild. The nerve to trust your life to chance. The Chairman was also a woman who could stake her life on a bet like it was nothing, so maybe this really is the Ushiromiya blood at work. You really will make it big in the future. Please, let me be blunt. Why not give up this running away from home act and return to the Sumadera family?"
"I heard that Mom had a bad relationship with her family. I don't want to go to the house of people I first met at a funeral."
They're an old family from Kyoto, and compared to Mom's frank attitude, unbelievably strict. The only Sumadera I'd been on good terms with was Grandpa, who was living apart from his family under the guise of retirement. Mom kept in touch with him too, but she avoided the rest of the family completely, almost hostilely so. So when I went out to play with the Sumadera family, it was always Grandpa's house I visited.
When I was young, I didn't really understand it, but I hear that Grandpa was in an extremely weak position, as a man who'd moved into his wife's family register, and his relationship with Grandma was also bad. You might even say that Grandma hated him and confined him to the house. It isn't hard to imagine that, because she had a soft spot for Grandpa alone, Mom was also hated by the Sumaderas. Since I was her daughter, they probably hated me quite a bit too. And yet, they appeared for the first time at Mom's funeral, shamelessly going on about how big I'd gotten, like they could actually act like family after all this time...
When Aunt Eva died, I would inherit all the wealth of the Ushiromiya family. If that wasn't what they were after, there's no way they would've been able to say such disgusting words.
"This isn't self-abandonment. I'm just taking a carefree stroll now that that annoying Aunt Eva has finally kicked the bucket. Everyone else is just making too big a deal out of it."
Of course, everyone's after the vast Ushiromiya wealth I bear. They must think that becoming my guardian means they'll be able to do as they please with that wealth. Just how many people have tried to get close to me, acting like they want to be a substitute parent?
"If you ever find that you're hurting, please talk with me if it will help, okay? After all, I think of you as my own grandchild, Ange-chan."
"...Haah. I'll say <no, thank you> for now. More importantly, let's return to what we were talking about."
"I myself know nothing. Everything is wrapped in darkness, you see."
This old gentleman was one of those leaders who had been entrusted with the business group Eva had built up after she passed away. The one he called Chairman was the former Chairman, Ushiromiya Eva. His company once had friendly ties with Hideyoshi's business, and he'd had a close relationship with both Hideyoshi and Eva. For that reason, when Eva lost Hideyoshi, he became the only person to whom Eva might have let her true intentions slip.
Whenever Eva's heart was torn by the loss of her family, whenever she took it out on Ange, he had acted as a buffer between the two, so although Ange didn't trust him, she found him a very easy person to question...
"That crime was... no, that accident. If I call it a crime, I'll get in trouble. I had the same questions about it as the public and the talk shows."
"...At the time of the accident, why was Aunt Eva in a place 2 kilometers away from the mansion, all alone? And on the night of a storm."
"...So, to fairly determine a successor from among the four siblings, he made this game-like test called the riddle of the epitaph...?"
"Ostensibly, yes. Kinzo-san probably planned to make Eva-san the Successor from the beginning. He wanted to withdraw his own rule that the eldest son be the Successor, and instead of Krauss-san, leave the family to the extremely diligent and brilliant Eva-san. The new rule about giving the inheritance to the one who solved the epitaph... was probably nothing more than a farce to snatch the position of Successor away from Krauss-san."
"What do you mean... by farce?"
"There was no need for anyone to solve that epitaph. Once it had been displayed for an appropriate amount of time, Kinzo-san could just call Eva-san, whom he truly wanted to succeed him, and give her the answer. In other words, that itself would provide proof of her succession to the Headship."
"...This isn't something they've brought up on the talk shows, is it?"
"Well, once you bring up the succession of the Headship, conspiracy theories tend to rise to the surface. I'm no fool myself. I won't go out of my way to say things that could invite misunderstandings, you see?"
This was his theory. At that time, the Ushiromiya Family Head, Kinzo, whose remaining life was announced to be short, was troubled by the problem of who was to succeed him. Normally, the Successor would be fixed as the oldest son, Krauss, whom Kinzo had chosen himself. But in his later years, Kinzo began to think that Eva would make a more fitting Family Head. However, Kinzo, who was stubborn even against himself, was stymied by the title of Successor that he'd already given to Krauss, and he'd searched for an official stance by which he could skip over Krauss and select Eva as his successor.
The primary successor was still Krauss, but there was a new rule, saying that if someone appeared who could solve the riddle, they would be chosen as the Successor to the Headship. Then, on what would probably be his final family conference, Kinzo told Eva the answer to that riddle himself. In short, it was the same as proclaiming that Eva herself was the Successor.
"...And because Aunt Eva arrived at the hidden mansion one step ahead, she escaped harm in that accident, you say? Maybe Aunt Eva just killed everyone and made it look like an accident, so she could steal all of the wealth for herself, and maybe that's why only she escaped unharmed."
"Well, that's what the papers are shouting about. However, I believe Eva-san. I'd say there are several points that justify trusting her."
"That ring of the Ushiromiya Family Head, which is on your finger now, Ange-chan. That ring is the only one of its kind in the world, which Kinzo-san had made specially. And the artisan who made it acknowledges that the object on your finger is, without a doubt, that ring."
That ring, with the heft of gold and the one-winged seal on it, had a diamond arranged on a pedestal, and felt both sturdy and reminiscent of the dark hobbies of the rich. Kinzo had worn that on his finger without removing it even for a moment. This man was saying that the fact Eva had it proved that Kinzo had acknowledged her as the Successor.
"...Although there's the possibility that she murdered Grandfather in order to steal that ring. Then Aunt Eva, using some kind of trick, massacred everyone and made it look like an accident."
"Ah, yes. It seems the papers were saying something about her massacring everyone, with keeping all the wealth to herself as a goal. True, Eva-san was a person capable of holding back nothing when she was determined to accomplish something. Or, she may have committed murder just once in her life... if a chance for keeping all the Ushiromiya family wealth for herself presented itself. However, I don't think that happened."
"So, what's the second point that justifies your trust in her?"
"Eva-san's family. Hideyoshi-san and George-kun. ...It might be difficult for you to believe all of a sudden, Ange-chan, but Eva-san was a person who treasured family greatly."
But I did understand vaguely. Aunt Eva certainly had been a person who highly treasured her family. After all, the root of her twisted personality had been nothing more than the sadness of losing her beloved husband and son. After getting hit with her angry outbursts as she tried to distract herself from that pain, I have no feelings of sympathy at all, but it's not like I can't imagine how the incredible shock of losing her whole family must've changed her character.
"...You're saying there's no way Aunt Eva, who loved her family, would throw away her husband and her son?"
"That's right. Even if Eva-san really was the culprit and massacred the entire family, making it look like an accident, she most certainly would have spared her husband and her son. She would quibble that, by coincidence, only her family had been in the hidden mansion. If Hideyoshi-san and George-kun had been safe, even I would probably suspect Eva-san. I truly cannot imagine that Eva-san's wailing at Hideyoshi-san's funeral was an act."
"...Sounds like both points so far are just circumstantial evidence. That isn't the same as physically proving Aunt Eva's innocence."
"Hahahaha. If you say that, then you're stuck right away. Eva-san was the only survivor. And she says that this is the truth."
"But no one can prove her innocence."
"Yes, that's right. And no one can prove that she committed a crime either."
"And the final point that justifies trusting her... is the police. After all, it was such a flashy crime. The police were being pushed forward by a public in an uproar over conspiracy theories, so they must have investigated Eva-san thoroughly."
Furthermore, at the time, Hideyoshi's company had been right in the middle of a takeover struggle, and in order to buy off the big stockholders, she'd wanted a large sum of cash. It shouldn't be too hard to find a motive there.
But as a matter of fact, there had been nothing at all that implicated Eva as she went to the family conference. Nothing unnatural was found on her that could've been used to brutally murder her family and make it look like an accident. The servants who escaped harm by being off-duty on that day also stated that they hadn't seen anything strange regarding anyone related to the event, Eva included. Putting all of that together, it could only be concluded that Ushiromiya Eva had headed to Rokkenjima for a normal family conference, without any change, and had encountered an accident...
"...That just means that the police couldn't find evidence that it was a crime, right?"
"There's nothing I can say to counter that. It becomes a Devil's Proof. To expose it as her crime, you would simply need to find evidence. But what could you possibly find to prove her innocence? It's impossible to prove a negative fact."
"...Did Aunt Eva commit a crime, or did she not...? Because we can't find any materials that'll let us say for sure, the truth will remain a mystery... That's what you're saying, right?"
"...That's it. Phrased in a manner you would prefer, that's what it amounts to. It was impossible even for Eva-san to prove her own innocence. On that island, an unfortunate accident occurred. And Eva-san survived by chance. And we don't know any more than that! In short, it all comes down to whether you believe the story of the only survivor, Eva-san, or not. I believed. The ring and her praiseworthy love for her family. And the tears she shed at the funeral. Taking all of that into consideration, I decided to believe her story."
"...But I don't believe. If she wanted to steal the ring, there were probably many ways for her to do it, and no one knows if her relationship with her family really was that good. No one can prove that tears at a funeral are real. Anyway, I hated Aunt Eva from the very beginning. So I don't even want to believe her."
"Hahahaha... How does one view the truth of the crime? You and I are on completely opposing sides. Even though the information we are given is exactly the same, we interpret it in completely different ways. This happens often in politics and business. The exact same enterprise will always be assessed in multiple, differing ways. Do you know why?"
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
"If a person you like gives to the poor, you respect them for it, right? But if someone you hate starts donating, you fiercely protest that it's a publicity stunt or that they're handing out favors. No matter what they do or don't do, you thank them if you have love and criticize them if you don't. That's how the world works."
"Can Aunt Eva be trusted, or can't she...? You're saying that's all that really matters?"
"Those who suspect her will probably take anything she does or doesn't do and truly see it as something unnatural. And it works in reverse. As for me, I think that, barring certain extreme cases, truth might not exist in this world at all. No, even if truth does exist, whether you believe it or not is determined by whether you have love or not. Can you really call truth without certainty truth? Even if Eva-san had been able to show physical proof that she had an alibi, would you have been able to believe it?"
...I hate Aunt Eva, so I'll probably deny any information beneficial to her...and interpret any neutral information in a negative way. In other words, the truth is already decided inside me. So just what in the world is this 'truth' that I'm still searching for, unsatisfied...?
"That's how it is. So, no matter what you hear from me, since you still suspect Eva-san after all this time, nothing will change. At the very least, even if you were to grasp a piece of hitherto unknown information, I don't think you'd be able to reach the truth the way you are now."
"After all, no matter what kind of new information or proof you find, Ange-chan, it won't change your stance that Eva-san is the culprit, right? So it's pointless to investigate anything more. Because the truth inside of you is already decided."
"However... If you stop assuming that to be the truth, if you wish to struggle further towards the deeper, real truth, there is a single way. I believe I already mentioned it, but do you know what it is?"
"...Is it... love? I don't really know what you mean."
"Right now, you're considering this under the assumption that Eva-san is the culprit. But that's no different than looking at something with a single eye. With one eye, no matter how much you squint, you cannot see an object in three dimensions, right? That's why we have another eye. And of course, it's in a different position from the first eye."
"...You're telling me to look at things based on the supposition that Aunt Eva isn't the culprit, or else, that it was a real accident...?"
"Yes, yes, that's correct. When thinking about anything, you should always try to look at it from different perspectives. If you don't, you won't understand anything about what is real. It's the same with newspapers. You can't see anything from the single viewpoint of a writer who wrote an article in a single newspaper. Sometimes you can only process information composedly and in three dimensions when you read multiple newspapers."
Maybe he thought it interesting that such a flashy phrase would pop out of his mouth. For a while, he laughed, looking pleased. At the same time, he was telling me that he'd said everything he knew... and that it was about time to leave. I understood that and got to my feet.
"I do understand your feelings, Ange-chan. You should do as you like for a while, until you're satisfied. You were six years old at the time. I understand how you must feel after losing your family before you could even understand what that meant... and how you must still be unable to sort out your heart."
"You may learn the truth, and you may not. Eva-san may be the culprit, and she may be a victim. I pray that you find the 'truth' you believe in, Ange-chan. A journey at such a young age may prove to be a valuable experience."
"Thank you very much... I'm truly sorry to be such a bother when you're so busy, Okonogi-san."
"No trouble, no trouble. What are you going to do now?"
"Well, whatever works. I've made appointments with several specialists and people related to the crime, and I plan to go visit them."
"I see. I hope you find an answer you can accept."
At that time, company president Okonogi's secretary came in, handing him a memo over his shoulder. He read it, then looked between it and my face.
"...Ange-chan, my apologies that this comes right after telling you to try going on a journey, but I have some information you should lend an ear to. It looks like you're in a bit of a nasty fix right now."
"People after my money? This is why money's stupid."
"Yes, but if you sell off all of the wealth, trying to donate the whole sum to the public welfare, you'll make the eyes pop out of those people optimistic about their chances with your fortune."
"Oh, the Sumadera family? Those guys act so proud, like they're my guards or something."
They probably want to, as Aunt Eva often threatened in the past, cut off my arms and legs, throw me in a warehouse, and suck the Ushiromiya family's wealth dry.
"Apparently, a messenger from the Sumadera family is coming here. They're saying to hand you over... no, no, that they want to protect you."
"A messenger, you say?"
"It's your aunt. Kyrie-san's younger sister. I believe she told me earlier that she thinks of you as a little sister."
"She's gotta be joking. At least call me a granddaughter, you old hag."
"Judging from the context, it seems they have no wish to listen to your desires. I have a car waiting in the parking lot two stories underground. Go."
"...The Sumadera family is telling you to hand me over. Is it really okay to let me go?"
"You will definitely become something big in the future, Ange-chan. Let us call this a favor to be repaid upon your success. Go, quickly...!"
After bowing silently and deeply, Ange left that place at a dash. After watching her leave, the female secretary straightened her glasses and whispered.
"We did stall her, more than enough. If they still don't make it in time, that's their own fault. I told Ange-chan to run for it. I informed the Sumaderas that Ange-chan would be coming. Whether she's caught or not, I will not be blamed."
"...Everything in this world... is love, you see... Don't worry, she'll escape. After all, that child's capable of leaping off a building to shake pursuers."
Okonogi looked down again through a crack in the blinds, muttering 'Nope, definitely couldn't do it...'
She got off the elevator, but on the third floor.
A taxi in the second level of the basement? That's so neat and clean that I don't like it. It's probably better to refuse for now. But my enemies aren't fools either. They're probably waiting in the first floor lobby, as well as the underground parking lot. It's such a massive building. Instead of getting anxious and escaping outside, maybe it's better to stay inside and wait it out.
No, that's useless. If they get their hands on a security room in a modern building like this, I'll have nowhere to run to. This entire building is like a massive dead end. The third floor is the business floor. A young girl like me will clearly stick out.
It'd be perfect if that staircase was an outside one. I found the door to the emergency exit. After opening that heavy door, I found the outside staircase I'd hoped for.
I bumped into a man who looked like an employee skipping work and smoking a cigarette. After glaring at me, he quickly crushed out his cigarette and went away. It looked like there was no one below. If I'm gonna escape, now's my only chance...!
Judging by the sound of tires, it seemed they had several other allies, and that one of them had come here to block this path.
"...Not bad, Aunt Kasumi. To think you'd even send a car to pick up your little sister when she's trying to get out through the emergency exit."
*bam*bam*! The doors of the car were forcefully opened and three black-suited men jumped out, looking up at the emergency staircase. Crap, our eyes met.
"12, target found. Northwest side emergency stairs, third floor, send support."
"Ange-sama! Try not to move from there! Forgive our roughness...!!"
The three of them began to clamor up the emergency exit. They've already announced that they plan to be rough. This is pretty bad. As long as I don't stop breathing, they've probably been ordered to grab me no matter what, even if they've gotta rip out one of my arms.
*clank*clank*clank*clank*!! Their heavy, wild footsteps became a helix and began to rise from the lower floors, getting closer...!
In the entrance lobby of the building, a woman with seven black-suited guards behind her advanced at a leisurely pace. Seeing this ostentatious entrance, the security guards for the building ran up to them, asking if they had an appointment.
"M-My apologies... At our company, guests are to take a securi-"
"Back down, plebian. I came because I was called by your president. Call Okonogi Tetsurou here. To think he would call me here and then not welcome me... How typical of Tokyo people..."
With his secretary behind him, Okonogi dashingly appeared from the elevator. Even though both of them wore bold smiles, they were wrapped in a tension reminiscent of the smell of gunpowder...
"...Where is Ange? I came to greet that adorable daughter of my big sister's."
"Strict observance of time is our motto here at the Ushiromiya group. The former Chairman herself said that those who can't keep time can't keep contracts."
"...You call me all the way to Tokyo, and this is all you have to show for it? You let her go, didn't you."
"Please, she escaped from us. We did stall her for quite some time, but unsurprisingly, she did eventually smell a rat. Of course, this wouldn't have been a problem at all if you had arrived on time, Sumadera-san. Ah, these provicials and their loose concept of time. Wahhahahahahahahaha!"
"...What was that...? What did you say to me...?"
You couldn't sense any of Kyrie's open frankness in Kasumi's face. She wore the arrogance of the ancient Sumadera family towards the ruined Ushiromiya family, as well as pride, because she didn't want anyone to notice that her family was declining so much that they couldn't ignore the Ushiromiya family's wealth. Even at a glance, it was easy to understand why Ange hated her aunt so deeply... She couldn't stand even a slight insult, and though she still smiled, her eyebrow twitched.
At that time, the black-suited man behind Kasumi whispered to her.