To greater or lesser extent, detectives are generally those moved by curiosity. That was not something limited to the great detectives of literary works… while they undertook background checks and looked into extramarital affairs- the so-called realistic work of detectives- it was certain that the ‘desire to know’ hidden and concealed information was the origin point of their professional interest. You’re hearing that from me: someone who’s accompanied along on countless cases; I’ve even been on the verge of sitting on the electric chair, and that’s precisely why I’ve seen so many detectives, detectives of all sort from every angle imaginable. I have no doubt in my words… but if in order to prove this pet theory, you ask I purposely hold a keen predator’s eye to search out the exception, then the head of the Okitegami Detective Agency, Okitegami Kyouko would be the first to come to mind.
Of course, Kyouko-san was a single living human being, and she had her own interests and hobbies… It’s difficult to think she was serving as a detective completely without the desire to learn things or the want to unravel the unknown. Those sorts of feelings are human nature. However, even if she exhibited her curiosity, even if she realized the truth of the matter, the hidden side of a case, a concealed truth… at night when she hits the bed and sleeps, she’ll have lost it all by the next day.
In a sense that she perfectly protected a detective’s occupational ethics and duty of confidentiality, Kyouko-san was more suited to be a detective than anyone… but that was only so when looked at from the bleachers, and I wonder what Kyouko-san herself things of the role she’s been placed in.
Stocking up on new information, learning what one never knew before should be a pleasant feeling to anyone, but if she was simply to forget it by the next day, was she compelled to feel how meaningless it all was?
In last time’s Million Exchange, she read all the works of the manga artist Satoi Aritsugu to resolve the case, also gaining information on the cloud, but she had already completely forgotten them… in such a state, how Kyouko-san maintained the motivation to continue on in her trade was beyond me.
What thoughts went through her head as she did her detective work… in the first place, was there any thought, any emotion to it? If she said there was no such thing, then forget curiosity, Kyouko-san might not even be able to come to like anything.
That reasoning on my part was extremely heartrending for me.
By all means, let me thank you for your help in Satoi-sensei’s case. When Kondou-san offered such a strong invite to dinner, it would be a lie to say the foolish giant didn’t hold any excessive expectations… by which I mean to say, I had still yet to find my next workplace. This is what they mean when they say poverty dulls the wit, and cutting through my severance package, I continued a life of unemployment.
While Kondou-san consulted with me on Satoi-sensei’s case, somehow bringing it to a hazy conclusion, in the first place, back then, I was unable to beg for his help in searching for a job. In the end, after that, I didn’t want to get in Kondou-san’s way as he gained control of the situation, so I refrained from making any requests from my side, but as expected of a capable man. Surely he had figured it out without me saying anything this time around, meaning his ‘thanks’ was of course, in regards to my next place of employment. I arbitrarily convinced myself, dressing in business casual as I made for the high-class restaurant I would never be able to enter alone.
But when I was led to a private room, contrary to my expectations, Kondou-san softly asked, “Yakusuke. Do you now the novelist called Sunaga Hirubee?” Last time around, due to my own indolence, I didn’t know of the artist Satoi Aritsugu that Kondou-san was charged with but, no, I doubt even the unaware wouldn’t know the name Sunaga Hirubee.
“Good grief, you take me lightly, Kondou-san. When it comes to Sunaga-sensei, that’s a name you can’t avoid passing through if you even so much as casually touch upon the world of Japanese literary canon. A maestro among maestros, the mainstay of Japanese mystery. I’ve read his works, and so have my parents. Perhaps even my grandparents have gotten a taste of his work. If you go to a bookstore’s mystery corner and grab ten books at random, I’m sure around half of them will have his name on them.”
“Fufufu, now that’s going overboard, but that metaphor does capture the essence.”
Kondou-san gave a joyful nod. Of course, his reaction probably came from the fact the Sakusousha company he worked for put out Sunaga-sensei’s works as well…come to think of it, before becoming editor-and-chief of a manga magazine, I remember Kondou-san was in the novel section, so perhaps he’s even met the author before.
“Wait… you don’t mean to tell me a threat came to Sunaga-sensei’s place this time, do you? Please say it’s something different. I came because you said you wanted to give your thanks.”
I exchanged some light banter… of course, if it was a request from Kondou-san, then without a second of doubt, I would naturally accept it. In the first place, when it came to last time’s threat call, the one who resolved it was Kyouko-san and I was just the intermediary… I’m sure Kondou-san has already paid her the appropriate amount (As she only had that day, Kyouko-san’s generally took immediate payments), from the start, he had no obligation to give me anything. In the first place, if we’re talking about debts and tabs, my debt to him is far greater. I probably won’t be able to repay it for the rest of my life.
“No, no, settle down, young Yakusuke. No matter how much a bloodthirsty vortex the publishing industry might be, we don’t get those peculiar incidents so often… the authors and editors all generally spend boring everyday lives without trouble. Not everyone’s like you, after all.”
“Oh my, you went and said it. There’s no way I can argue with that. But in that case, what’s up with Sunaga-sensei?”
Was Sunaga-sensei recruiting a housekeeper or something? Was that how it was? That one wasn’t a metaphor or anything, he was an old author who worked from my grandparents’ generation, so perhaps he needed people around to look after him… or so I held such a selfish, convenient expectation, but as if seeing through my foolish forecast,
“Sunaga-sensei is still in considerably good health, and if given the chance, he’ll go at his work with much more vigor than any of our young hands.”
Now that really was something to congratulate him for, but in that case, the business I was called for became increasingly unclear… though Kondou-san seemed to be somewhat enjoying my bewilderment.
“One of my contemporaries, a man called Konaka is currently in charge of him, and just the other day, Sunaga finished up the latest of his lengthy mystery novels.”
“That’s splendid. Send him my regards.”
“Now about that. How should I put it, a novelist is an occupation quite easy to retire from. It’s a job one does on their own without being bound to an organization or personal relations, ‘quit at your high point,’ it’s one of the few titles that allows you to give up when on the rise. That alone makes me thankful as a publisher that we have a life-serving author like Sunaga-sensei on our side… but that’s only to a certain degree. Even as he puts on years, Sunaga-sensei’s is someone whose playful heart hasn’t changed.”
“Playful heart, eh.”
“You could call it curiosity, but… he won’t immediately hand the books he’s completed over to the publishers. Instead, he does what I take as testing his supervising editor.”
“Testing… what’s this, it has a bit of a gentle ring to it.”
“Yes and no, a bit of good fun. The product of a playful heart. You could call it a game, perhaps… and I’ve challenged that game once before. I’ve never directly been in charge of him, but one of my senior editors dragged me along. Instead of a manuscript, he was handed what looked like a treasure map, ‘If you call yourself the editor of a mystery author, then why don’t you find the manuscript I’ve hidden somewhere?’ is what he said.”
“Hmm, what a strange person.”
He worked so hard to write it, so he could just hand it over to make sure it became a book quicker. It’s not like the thought didn’t cross my mind, but, well, I guess you could call that way of doing things mystery author-esque. A treasure hunt… a standard game for mystery maniacs.
“It’s gone beyond where you can call him strange. If the editor in charge can’t find the script with all the hints he’s been given, it’s happened before that the manuscript flowed over to a different publishing company.”
“T-that’s no joke.”
“He doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore, but back in his golden years, there was practically a competition between publishers. Reserving amusement parks and baseball stadiums…”
“How extravagant. But I can’t help but feel the times.”
“The grandest one I know of was when he rented out a casino hall overseas. The various editors in charge of him from different publishing companies competed and scrambled over the total five hundred pages hidden around the hall… since a book couldn’t be made if even one of them was missing, the publishers waged those writing sheets in place of chips, deciding the bout with roulette and cards.”
It sounded interesting if I heard it as someone else’s business, but if it was done in the modern era where freezing information was difficult, it sounded like the sort of event that would become a major problem… as he watched in enjoyment as the publishers went this way and that, competing for his manuscript, he must have considerably bad taste, but from what I could see of Kondou-san’s expression when he spoke about Sunaga-sensei, ‘There’s no helping that guy, he really is a bother’, was what I read, and perhaps he was the type of author beloved by his editors. A good-natured old man who loved his spot of mischief, perhaps. If you’ll let an unemployed guy who’s suspected and hated for everything have his say, I can only be envious. But if you called it an innate difference in virtue, that was the end of the story.
“Then you’re telling me another nuisance treasure hunt is going on for the novel he just finished writing?”
“That’s right. As you’d expect, he’s not so flashy at his age, but it’s been arranged to take place at Sunaga-sensei’s villa… Konaka’s holding his head.”
Just the word villa was plenty luxurious but, well, when you boil it down, it’s a happening from a different world than the one I live in… I couldn’t see any signs of my employment being decided, but that contemporary Konaka aside, it didn’t sound like this story was troubling Kondou-san himself, so I detached myself from it and listened to the story. The tale suddenly changed… Sunaga-sensei’s new work was suddenly connected to Kondou-san’s gratitude.
“So anyways. In that manuscript search game, he accepted the use of helpers. So Yakusuke. Do you want to go to Sunaga-sensei’s villa with Okitegami-san?”
I was surprised to hear Kyouko-san suddenly come up.
What, is that it? He wants to request the manuscript search to Kyouko-san?
“No, I can’t do that, Kondou-san. I was wondering what you were going to say, but even if it’s a request from you, that’s not happening. Kyouko-san is definitely a detective… a great detective, so treasure hunts and lost item searches are her specialty, but it’s precisely because she’s a professional. We can’t have her take part in a game geared towards amateurs.”
“Hmhmm, Yakusuke, you’ve got quite a mouth on you. To call the man who supported the mystery novel world for close to half a century an amateur.”
Come to think of it, my statement was on a level it wouldn’t be strange to criticize, but Kondou-san’s mood actually improved… as if to say he was expecting this response from me. However, as I couldn’t tell his true intent, I had no choice but to dance on the palm of his hand.
“O-of course Sunaga-sensei is no amateur… I can’t think the manuscript’s hiding place is anywhere easy.”
“Far from it, it’s considerably difficult. When it comes to thinking up puzzles and tricks, a mystery author is a much greater professional than a detective.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’d true. But the problem is the fact it’s a game. There are various types of detectives and a considerable number of them who don’t care if it’s a game or quiz as long as they can solve the mystery… However, Kyouko-san is an occupational detective, a person who makes it clear she solves mysteries as a business. No matter how appealing the mystery before her eyes, she doesn’t deduce for fun, and she won’t work for free… she might hike up her prices, but she never lowers them. If I tell her to solve a game, she might take it as an insult. She might take the very fact I made the request as disrespect.”
No, it’s not like I’ve particularly heard out Kyouko-san’s policy as a detective… but after accompanying her on a large number of cases, I had a general idea. A pro doesn’t sell their craft short.
“The fact Sunaga-sensei doesn’t hand over his manuscript so easily, having his editors carry out such an eccentric ritual might be for the same reason… well, whatever the case, I can’t think that Kyouko-san will take up such a job.”
“Perhaps if it’s a job. But how about if it’s not?”
“Mn? What was that? Even if you tell me it’s not a job or something like that… you’re saying some especially cryptic things today, Kondou-san. If it’s not a job, that’s even more reason for her not to come. She’s far more firm with money than her appearance or behavior may suggest, you fully realized that as well, didn’t you?”
“You’re slow on the uptake, Yakusuke. I’ll say it again and again, but certainly, Sunaga-sensei’s manuscript search is just a game. The pastime of some influential author… I said it might slip away to a different company if we didn’t find it, but this time’s a rare case. Until the editor finds it, Sunaga-sensei will continue to give hints, and if he can’t find it no matter what, ‘I actually have a consolation prize’ he said he would prepare a different manuscript for us. If a professional detective showed up, it would actually put a damper on his spirits.”
“In that case…”
“In that case, Yakusuke.”
Thus spake Kondou-san.
“I’m inviting you out for a date with Okitegami-san.”
“I’ll go, I’ll go, I’m totally going! I’ll climb the highest mountain to get there! The Okitegami Detective Agency will be temporarily closed that day! You listen here, you definitely can’t invite someone else in my place!”
… I gained an OK much stronger than I expected.
No, the scene had yet to change. On Kondou-san’s strong demand, I simply dialed up Kyouko-san on the spot… Even if you called us friends across age and position, it’s at times like these that his former position as my boss becomes clear.
I called a detective.
I phoned in the Okitegami Detective Agency.
It was already the dead of the night, and at the start of the call, a Kyouko-san who’d forgotten me as per usual was in a clear, ‘Our business hours for the day are over’ mode, and once she figured out I was calling for something of a game, she was just about to enter ‘I must politely decline’ mode after all, but under Kondou-san’s instruction, I brought up Sunaga Hirubee only to hear her reactions take a complete turnabout.
In a high spirited voice I had never heard before, Kyouko-san bit on, hook, line, and sinker.
“Yes. Sunday a week from now. I’ve already written it on my arm. So you can’t take it back. Even if I forget it, I’ll remember it every morning. Indeed, to think I can confirm such a wonderful schedule every morning, this is the best! … Umm, Kakushidate Yakusuke-san, was it? I’ll be counting on you that day.”
When Kyouko-san wasn’t supposed to take any prior reservations, I somehow got an appointment in a week’s time… it felt like I was dreaming, or rather, it was all hazy and lacking in a sense of reality, or rather, is it really alright for such a thing to come to pass? I couldn’t believe it.
“Well then, Kakushidate-san, a good night to you!”
“Y-yes… good night, Kyouko-san.”
I couldn’t quite hold a long phone call in a restaurant, so without knowing what was going on, the line cut off… no, of course, I was much happier than I’d be if she refused, but was it supposed to be this easy to invite Kyouko-san on a date?
Under Kondou-san’s strong urgings, and the carefree thought that, ‘even if she rejects me, Kyouko-san will have forgotten by tomorrow,’ I got ahead of myself and did it, but…
“W-what is the meaning of this, Kondou-san? You’re acting like you knew this would happen from the start…”
“I had a general idea. Okitegami-san’s a huge Sunaga-sensei fan. All his core readers know of his ‘manuscript searches’ themselves, and there’s no way a fan of her level would let go of an opportunity to get involved with his manuscript before its publishing.”
“I-is that so…”
His answer was a bit of a let-down. Well, from Kyouko-san’s point of view, I was a self-proclaimed good customer of unknown identity, so there’s no way she said yes because I was the one asking, but… I see, so this is what Kondou-san meant by thanks, a little late, I was finally coming to understand.
“But Kondou-san, I’m surprised you knew Kyouko-san was such a zealous Sunaga-sensei fan. I practically live in the detective industry and even I didn’t know that.”
“Mn? Ah, that’s, well, publishers have a good information network, see…”
Why did he prevaricate there? Perhaps this information came from a source none to easy to talk about… and that considered, it felt best not to stick my head into it. It was none of my concern where he got his information.
As it became clear in Satoi-sense’s case as well, to Kyouko-san who was missing at least a few years’ worth of memory, her ‘favorite author’ would have to be one from a past generation, so the fact that Sunaga-sensei was still an active author worked in my favor.
No, though Kondou-san’s the one who set the table.
“And who knows? If Okitegami-san does find the manuscript, it’ll help out Sakusousha. Having Okitegami-san play around is half part of my job. I’m just doing my normal duties.”
Sure enough, looking at it the other way, dragging Kyouko-san in as a form of entertainment meant that Sakusousha wouldn’t have to pay her work fee, so Kondou-san might just be an exceedingly proficient addition to his company… a profitable talent as a friend as well.
“And it’s clear as day you’ve got a thing for Okitegami-san.”
“I-I don’t got anything towards her. Oy, oy, no need to be suspicious, Kondou-san. I’ve got enough unjust suspicion to deal with as it is. Take this time, for instance. I just played along and invite her as a form of gratitude for all the times she’s helped me out.”
“Is it really unjust? After you left, Satoi-sensei got into a heated discussion on the topic.”
Seriously… I’ve known Kondou-san a long time, so I get why he’d say it, but even Satoi-sensei? Do I really act that suspicious when I’m around Kyouko-san… in that case, that’s something to think about. Calling Kyouko-san to crime scenes might just be increasing the suspicions directed at me. I’d like to think Satoi-sensei just has sharp eyes as a creator.
“No, no, Kondou-san. As you might presume, at the very least, I don’t hate her, but that person is much too far from my reach… I can’t imagine anything coming from it.”
If I was in middle or high school, I might have thought differently, but I was already twenty-five. While unemployed, I was a splendid adult. Just a little too old to move on the impulse of admiration alone. I couldn’t help but put it all to addition and subtraction to calculate what was to come. Whether we suited one another, I put my feelings on the scale to come out with an answer.
“I wonder. I actually think you suit her quite a bit. Someone who gets dragged into cases, and someone who solves them.”
“If it’s as client and detective, we’re a match made in heaven. That’s how the market works, and I’m satisfied with that relationship… but I’ll happily accept your consideration this time around. Thank you, Kondou-san. But please, keep it to just this once.”
I tried to play cool as I answered, but inside, my giddiness didn’t fall any short from Kyouko-san’s. It was too work-related to call a date, lacking in any passion, and I did somewhat feel guilty that I was deceiving Kyouko-san… but, however.
However, I should just call it my curse; what was just a silly game, nothing more than an event born from an old man’s playful heart would end up rolling in an unexpected direction… oblivious to all that, I spent a merry sleepless week.
Thinking back, it wasn’t limited to Kyouko-san, I had a deep fellowship with many a great detective, but when it came to how his or her private life was, my thoughts had never been driven that far—but of course, it was a blind point, and if I had to say, I had no need to say at all. A detective was one who peered into another’s private life, one on the prying side, and rarely even in novels do we get a close-up on a detective’s private life.
Seeing them, him or her, as a sort of mechanism in place to resolve a case, I honestly admit it never bothered me how they usually lived their lives… well, in my case, whenever I called them in, I had some sort of false suspicion on me, and it completely wasn’t the time for that.
But no matter how proficient, how high in demand a great detective was, it’s not like they were me, and I doubt they were chased around by trouble on a daily basis… difficult cases didn’t happen so often. They’re sure to have days where they waste their time and days they complain about their boredom with considerable frequency. No, even on a day where they’re worked to death by a sealed-room murder, once they return home, I’m sure they flip on the TV or read a book… From the time they get up to the time they go to bed, there’s no person who’s a detective with no space in between. They’ve got to have things they like, and perhaps even a family who lives with them.
While Kondou-san incited me into inviting Kyouko-san on a date, come to think of it, there’s no guarantee Kyouko-san doesn’t have a significant other… I was so full of myself I didn’t know a single thing about Kyouko-san.
… Of course, if I brought that to the table, Kyouko-san knew far less about me, and given the thought process of ‘A man I don’t know invited me over the phone so I’m going to play at the villa of an author I like,’ I could say she was somewhat careless as an adult woman… when away from a case, was that how great detectives were?
“Ah. Good day, you must be Kakushidate-san. It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m Okitegami Kyouko. You have my gratitude for today.”
A week later, in front of the station we arranged to meet, I ran into Kyouko-san… ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ she said. I hadn’t seen her since Satoi-sensei’s case, and to her, this was our first meeting.
Thick-soled sneakers and denim shorts. A half-sleeve shirt dress, an orange vest, and if I had to say, a considerable amount of exposed skin. Was the reason her fashion seemed looser than usual because she prioritized easy-to-move-in clothing for the event? Or was it because she was here on private business, not as the head of a detective agency? From how she didn’t conceal the skin on her arms or legs, I got the feeling it was the latter, but…
“Yes. Likewise, it’s a pleasure to be of your acquaintance. I’ve already bought the tickets, so let’s head for the platform.”
After we both lowered our heads in greeting, the sense this was a date had already disappeared, but, well, that was a load off my mind. Even if Kyouko-san had no intentions of going on a date, that was fine in itself.
“Kakushidate-san, do you like Sunaga-sensei’s works?”
Kyouko-san happily asked… to answer her question honestly, it was hard to say I was a good reader of Sunaga works. I definitely knew the name, and there was a time in my life I read him with glee, but looking at numbers alone, I doubt I’ve read more than ten of his books… but. I didn’t have enough integrity to be honest to the fan before my eyes so, “Yes,” I nodded.
“Is that so. Well then today must be a good day for you too. It truly is the best. Sunaga-sensei’s unpublished work. If we find it, you think they’ll let us read it through?”
“I-I wonder… I mean, it hasn’t been published yet, so I think it’ll be difficult to get a read. In that case, you could ask for his autograph.”
I tried matching the flow, but to that, “What are you talking about? Don’t you know Sunaga-sensei hates being asked for autographs more than anything?” came Kyouko-san’s surprised response.
“Be careful you don’t say something so rude, even by mistake.”
She really gave it to me… at the moment my standing was no longer as her client, Kyouko-san lost her mercy. So this is how she acts in private… then I’d be better off keeping my mouth shut in regards to Sunaga-sensei. I wouldn’t want to say something unnecessary and show my real colors.
Thus, even after we boarded the express train, there were absolutely no conversations to speak of, but Kyouko-san didn’t seem to mind it. She was simply cheerful… Perhaps to prepare or review, she read a Sunaga-sensei paperback in the seat beside mine. It was titled ‘The Brother’s Exchange Rate’… a novel that didn’t let me predict any of its contents from the title. Perhaps she was rereading and perhaps not. Of all else, I’ve always gotten the feeling a person who reads a book when they’re with someone else must have a strong heart… but in the first place, unlike Kondou-san, I’m not good at tasteful conversation, and perhaps gazing at Kyouko-san like that was satisfaction enough.
But when we were around halfway to Sunaga-sensei’s villa, the situation took a sudden change… even if I say that, it wasn’t as if the train crashed of anything so dynamic, the only event that happened was the call that came to my phone.
It was from Kondou-san.
“Pardon me,” I said and stood from my seat. Moving from the car to the coupling, I slid my finger across the touch panel to undo the lock and receive the call.
“Yakusuke. Sorry, are you already on the train?”
“Yeah. Did something happen?”
Kondou-san had gone ahead with his colleague, Sunaga-sensei’s editor Konaka, arriving at the villa the previous day. They were scheduled to come meet us at the closest station today, but… perhaps another job came in, and he called to say they would be late. They were busy people, or rather, to Kondou-san, what he was doing right now was outside his duties, so it was possible. But even so, I had prepared a map beforehand, so in the worst-case scenario, we could make it to the villa on our own.
But that wasn’t it… it wasn’t nearly so soft.
“Big trouble. Last night, Sunaga-sensei passed away.”
“No, don’t misunderstand. This isn’t a murder case… he wasn’t killed, and it wasn’t an accident. Last night, his heart failed on him while he was asleep, there is absolutely nothing to point to this being an incident, it was a peaceful death, I hear.”
From the relief I felt on those words, my way of thought had been splendidly poisoned by trouble… I don’t know his specific age, but Sunaga-sensei was supposed to be considerably old, so these things happen. But since I heard he was in good health, having just finished up a manuscript, I never even considered falling into this situation.
“Yeah, that’s why the manuscript has become a posthumous work…”
He hadn’t sorted through his feelings yet, Kondou-san kept meek… I know this is shameful for me as an adult man, but I don’t know how to send my condolences at a time like this. Even if I was by no means a devoted fan, I did feel sorry that one of the great authors supporting up Japan’s literary world had passed, making it difficult to spin my words.
“So Yakusuke. About today’s schedule.”
“Y-yeah, I understand completely, Kondou-san. Of course the manuscript hunt is discontinued. Now’s not the time for that. Umm… I wouldn’t want to be in the way, so we can turn back now.”
I had no close relationship to the deceased, so surely paying a visit now would be strange. Kyouko-san’s short pants were out of the question, and I wasn’t any better off. I was on an outing with the literary woman I admired, wearing a considerably festive outfit that fell no short of her own… there should be a limit to being dressed poorly for the occasion. Unfortunately, we could only return for the day. Get off at the next station… ah, but what should I say to Kyouko-san?
“No, wait a second. It would be troubling if you returned. We need Okitegami-san’s power.”
“Eh? What do you mean by that? Didn’t you just say there was no chance it was an incident? In that case, there’s no place for a detective to step in.”
And even less space for a side character like me. Or so I thought, but,
“And I also said this. The manuscript he wrote would become Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous work… but as luck would have it, the only one who knew the whereabouts of that work was Sunaga-sensei.”
“Right, he personally hid it somewhere in his villa without anyone’s cooperation… meaning Sunaga Hirubee’s last work is nowhere to be found at the present moment.”
I swallowed my breath at what that would mean. No, when someone had just died, did a single novel really matter? Or so what compromises a large portion of the world might say, and it’s not like I didn’t understand where they were coming from. But even so, if you’ll let me voice my opinion… Having Sunaga-sensei’s final work be buried up without ever going into the world is something that should never come to be. By my unreserved opinion, with an author in Sunaga-sensei’s class, losing a posthumous manuscript was a much more serious matter than losing his written will.
I think that when I can’t even call myself an idealistic fan, so I can imagine what the publishers Kondou-san and the editor in charge Konaka-san are thinking… perhaps they even think not making a book of that manuscript as a criminal offense.
“You already searched?”
“Yeah, though just lightly. But at the moment, it has yet to be found… to be honest, I don’t even know where to start.”
Kondou-san was so sharp his colleagues called him the razer, but to his discredit, mysteries were outside his area of expertise… still, if a specialist called Konaka-san was working with him and it still wasn’t found, then it can’t have been hidden anywhere simple.
Normally, until the editor found the manuscript, Sunaga-sensei would continue giving out hints, but now that Sunaga-sensei was gone, we couldn’t hope for any more hints.
They could only find it with their own power.
No, even if it wasn’t their own power, the use of helpers was accepted.
“So that’s why you need Kyouko-san?”
“Yep. That’s why we need her. I do feel sorry for ruining your long-awaited date, but now that it’s come to this, I’d like to make a formal job request to Okitegami-san. I’ll definitely compensate you for this, and of course, I’ll pay Okitegami-san’s usual fee so… could you break it to her? Tell her we need to find Sunaga Hirubee’s last manuscript.”
Got it, leave it to me… I was on the verge of talking big, but just barely managed to swallow down that boast.
No, it’s not like I wasn’t confident I could do it.
If I told her Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous manuscript was going to be lost at this rate, then a die-hard fan like Kyouko-san would surely take up the request in a word or two… and with the detective skills I placed my trust in, I do think she’d be able to find it wherever it was concealed in the villa. So when it came to that point, I had no hesitation to serve as the intermediary… however.
“Kondou-san. About my compensation, there is just one thing I’d like you to do for me now.”
“Mn? What I s it? You don’t have to put it like that, I’ll gladly hear out most requests from you.”
“It can just be for today.”
“Would you be able to cover up the fact of Sunaga-sensei’s passing from Kyouko-san?”
“Meaning have Okitegami-san search for the manuscript as per the scheduled game? No, I’m not so sure about that…”
It went without saying that Kondou-san showed indecision at my exorbitant request.
“Even if we shelve the ethical problem for the time being, it would pain my heart to trick her into working under the impression it’s all a game. That’s on a different level from letting her have fun with her work… and taking a step back, is there really a need to tell such a lie?”
“Don’t misunderstand me, Kondou-san. I’m not saying it because I want to continue my date with Kyouko-san…”
Though I can’t guarantee I had absolutely no such intent… still, at the very least, my strongest motive was something else. I’m sure the strongest was still my desire not to disappoint Kyouko-san as she was so cheerfully looking forward to our arrival at the villa… even if it’s information she would learn before long, I didn’t want today’s Kyouko-san to hear of the death of an author she was a huge fan of.
It would be too cruel of a rise and fall.
I wasn’t confident I could get it across in a gentle way.
“Whatever the case, the very fact she’ll be looking for the manuscript won’t change. Even if Kyouko-san searches with the thought she’s taking part in an event, it shouldn’t be any inconvenience to Sakusousha.”
“But once she realizes she’s been lied to afterward, it will only increase her…”
Stopping in mid-sentence, it seems Kondou-san realized along the way. That’s right… Kyouko-san only had today. No matter what feelings she does what with today, once tomorrow comes, she’ll have forgotten it all.
That’s precisely why I had to.
If she was going to forget… that’s precisely why, at the very least, I wanted her to spend one day of fun. Even if it didn’t remain as a good memory, I wanted her to spend a good day. Perhaps these were overbearing arbitrary feelings, but… still, I couldn’t contain them. I never really thought of a Kyouko-san who wasn’t a detective, but in her life, I wanted to create at least one more non-detective day for her… It was exceedingly none of my business, but that’s how I came to see it.
“… I couldn’t tell you whether that’s the right course of action or not, but certainly to Sakusousha, as long as the posthumous manuscript is found, we will be able to offer some recompense to all the work Sunaga-sensei has done for us… well, even if I call it recompense, in the end, when we’re just trying to sell Sunaga-sensei’s last work, you might be the more upright one. Got it, I’ll take responsibility and arrange so that word of Sunaga-sensei’s death doesn’t get to Okitegami-san.”
“Thank you. I owe you one, Kondou-san.”
“But just for today. Come tomorrow, it’s unavoidable that it’ll be all over the news.”
“I think that will be fine. If it’s Kyouko-san, she’ll find the manuscript within the day and put an end to the event.”
“You sound confident.”
Kondou-san gave a strained laugh. Sure enough, when I wasn’t referring to myself, it was comical for me to give such a strong guarantee… especially when Kyouko-san was by no means the best detective I knew. She wasn’t even operating as a detective today… but regardless. This is something different from trust… then what was the right word for it?
“But Yakusuke. That leaves just one problem.”
“What is it, Kondou-san.”
“If we’re having her participate in the manuscript search as nothing more than a game, I’ll only be able to pay your travel fees. Even when it’s a real job… this is an accounting problem that won’t simply be resolved by Okitegami-san forgetting it.”
“Ah, in regards to that point, I do have a suggestion.”
I said. All while the face of Kyouko-san- more cheerful than I had ever seen her- surfaced in my head.
“If Kyouko-san finds the manuscript, let her be the first one to read it… that should be more a reward than anything.”
What we were handed upon our arrival was a rough sketch of the villa. On the back side it what seemed to be Sunaga-sensei’s own handwriting, four hints were spelled out.
‘1. The manuscript for this work can be read out in approximately 120 minutes.’
‘2. It is hidden in a delicate place. Please search with the utmost care.’
‘3. Instead of searching for what is there, try searching for what is not.’
… The fourth hint was erased with white correction tape. Was it revoked? As I questioned it, Kyouko-san held the map-side up to the light to read what had been whited out.
“It says, ‘You might need a pencil’… might, this is quite a vague hint. Is that why it was erased? Hmm…”
As she thought to herself Kyouko-san handed the map over to me. It seems she had already memorized its contents—sure enough, it wasn’t a particularly large villa; there weren’t many rooms so with Kyouko-san’s (one-day) memory, one look might have been plenty to grasp it… that wasn’t the case for me. I looked over it a few times.
There were four main rooms… the dining room, study, media room, and bedroom. Additionally, a bathroom, shower and kitchen… but as the hidden item was a manuscript, we probably didn’t have to worry about places with running water. If it got wet, it would be ruined… no, looking at the warning in hint ‘2’, perhaps there was no guarantee. He might have purposely hidden it in a dangerous place… I had never personally met Sunaga-sensei, so I had no way to measure out what sort of ‘playful heart’ the author had.
… Once I had finished my call with Kondou-san, I returned to my seat on the train car, and informed Kyouko-san that Sunaga-sensei had urgent business to attend to, so he wouldn’t be present during the manuscript search. I thought that alone might put her down, but it wasn’t to the level I expected, more so, “Then we’ll have to find the manuscript without any additional hints,” Kyouko-san seemed motivated all of a sudden.
Come to think of it, she didn’t want a signature, and perhaps Kyouko-san was the sort of reader who placed more weight on the work than the author… in that case, what I had arbitrarily decided in, the right to be the first to read Sunaga-sensei’s unpublished manuscript might be an exceedingly appropriate reward.
After that, Kondou-san came to the station to get us, taking us to Sunaga-sensei’s villa by car… there was no one at the villa. The late Sunaga-sensei’s remains had been taken to the hospital by the villa’s caretaker, and his editor Konaka… meaning the three of us had come to an empty manor that had lost its master. Naturally, I’m sure Kondou-san had arranged it that way to make it easier for Kyouko-san to search for ‘fun’.
“If you drag it on too long, his bereaved family that directly made for the hospital might return here… so you really don’t have any time, Yakusuke.”
I lent my ear to Kondou-san’s whisper… I don’t think a time limit would be that much of a hindrance to the fastest detective Kyouko-san, but…
“Well, staying here and thinking won’t get us far. It’s a game, so brooding around with a long face is boring. For now, let’s get moving, Kakushidate-san. We’ll split up and start with a rough search of the villa.”
Kyouko-san proposed… she seemed like she was having fun. She was completely in a playful mood. Seeing her innocent smile, “I get how you feel, just a bit,” Kondou-san said.
“Okitegami-san’s expression is completely different from when she’s in the maelstrom of a case.”
“Yeah… though it’s still a deceit.”
But today’s Kyouko-san’s vivaciousness was enough to write off that feeling of guilt. If the unpublished manuscript (actually posthumous work) was found and she got the right to be the first reader as a present, then as Kondou-san said, her tensions might rise even further… well, being able to read it even before the editor might be an unexpected joy to a zealous reader.
“Then the rest is up to you. Break a leg,” Kondou-san told me, entrusting me the key as he parted from the villa… he didn’t declare it, but he was naturally going to the hospital… and like that, the game began.
There was only one map, so I was to carry it with me… Kyouko-san would start from the first floor, me from the second. On the second floor were the study and media room. It might have been a weak basis beyond simple, but if it was a manuscript we were searching for, I decided to start my search from the study.
The first step in and I was already surprised.
The solemn bookshelves that towered over all four sides, the tightly-packed contents… it didn’t give off the image of a study, but it wasn’t inhuman enough to call an archive. Therefore, I thought a library was the best way to put it. So this much material was needed to write a novel… I thought, but on a closer inspection of the large quantity of books crammed in, while there were lexicons and technical books, photo albums as well, a large majority of them were just reading material.
It did seem Sunaga-sensei was quite a reader himself… but just how much time would it take to finish all the books in this room?
A lifetime, perhaps…
The thought made me a little sentimental.
The books lining the room weren’t simple indexes… they were the record of a single author, a single person’s life. They say that knowing one’s reading list means to know what sort of person they were, but… these shelves were too awe-inspiring for the likes of a youngster like me to touch on a moment’s notice.
Of course, I couldn’t just stand around.
If the books he read were his record, the ones he wrote were as well… I won’t deny that making Kyouko-san happy was my top priority, but that didn’t mean to say I didn’t feel something similar to a sense of duty to find Sunaga-sensei’s last work. Even if it wasn’t to the same level as Kondou-san’s, I properly possessed it.
Still, with so many books, if I wanted to investigate them one by one, then just looking around the shelves would bring an end to the day… I just needed some suggestion that would lead to a deduction. And it was there that I noticed one of the bookshelves, a single shelf placed beside the large work-desk was lined with nothing but Sunaga-sensei’s writings.
First prints and paperbacks, reprints, collector’s editions, and cheap mainstream hardcovers, among the different book formats there were some doubles so I couldn’t say it conclusively, but it was overwhelming for him to be able to fill a towering bookshelf with nothing but his own works… and I once more felt the life Sunaga-sensei lived.
… Was it possible that he had the manuscript bound so he could mix it in with the others?
It was something anyone could hit upon, but with those shallow thoughts, I started my investigation from the bookshelf… however, by that search, the fundamental truth finally came to my head that we had no idea ‘what state’ the manuscript hidden in the villa was in.
An author who’s been… who had been writing for a long time, I somewhat got the impression of a handwritten manuscript… even if it wasn’t, I had expected it to be in paper form, but that was no more than a preconceived notion, and there was no guarantee that would be the case. Rather, wasn’t the probability it wasn’t higher?
As truth would have it, there was a laptop PC on the desk of the study. This was a villa, and I doubt Sunaga-sensei used it to write up his manuscript, but… just like with the Sarashina Research institute a while back, perhaps he preserved his novel’s data on an SD card and hid it somewhere. Even if it wasn’t SD, it could be a USB or CD-ROM; possibly as in Satoi-sensei’s case, it was considerable that only the password to a cloud account the file was uploaded on was written down somewhere in the villa.
It was thoughtless of me, I should’ve confirmed that with Kondou-san… if I made a call to him now, I might be able to find out what form his past manuscripts were hidden in, but now that the game had begun, I got the feeling that asking him now would be unfair. If it really came down to it, it might become unavoidable, but preserving that level of difficulty might just let Kyouko-san feel the treasure-hunt to be more worthwhile.
I reached out my hand and pulled out a single volume… The Great Detective Meiko’s Case Log, by Sunaga Hirubee.
It was the first volume of Sunaga-sensei’s mystery series directed at children, and I’d read it in elementary school… rather, a majority of Sunaga-sensei’s books I’ve read came from the Great Detective Meiko Series. The illustrations and short paragraphs made it juvenile by all accounts, but thinking back on its contents, it was such a satire of the mystery genre I couldn’t even imagine it was geared towards children. On one hand, I guess I could say it was fitting of Sunaga-sensei after he’d written so many mysteries dealing with the social issues of his time, or rather… my nostalgia was similar to the embarrassment I’d feel after looking at a photo from my childhood.
What I had forgotten. What I’d remembered. I see, so while learning new information and going through new experiences is pleasant, at the same time, the act of recalling forgotten knowledge and experiences is also just as… comforting.
… This is yet another topic I have to be careful not to turn towards Kyouko-san, who can’t recall any memories she’s lost. It was definitely a feeling she couldn’t sympathize with.
Come to think of it, just how many of these lines of Sunaga-sensei books did Kyouko-san remember? New releases after a certain point would be forgotten even if she read them, but…
“Kakushidate-san, have you found anything?”
It was right at that moment a voice called from behind… it was Kyouko-san. As expected of the fastest detective, she had swiftly finished her search of the first floor and risen to the second. Looking at it the other way, the fact she had come up meant she hadn’t discovered anything on the first floor… but, the number of books was overwhelming, and as a dullard who hadn’t even begun his full-blown investigations, I could only cringe.
“Wah! What a wonderful room! It totally says Sunaga-sensei!”
Her eyes sparkling like a teenage girl (without ever turning those eyes to a confused me), Kyouko-san turned in a circle to survey the study.
“I’d love to live here!”
“T… though if an earthquake came, it would be the worst place to be”
I tried my hardest to join in on the conversation, but as if I’d poured water on her passions, she gave me a look as if to say, ‘What boorish things could this oversized oaf be saying’.
“It’s my lifelong ambition to die buried up by books.”
She said. It was something I could only hear because her tensions were high, the playful joke of a literary woman.
“Ah, when I say lifelong ambition, I don’t mean it like that.”
She bashfully explained… how cute.
Well, if the shelves really did fall over, and she was dying under the books, I doubt she would say it… luckily, Sunaga-sensei peacefully breathed his last breath in his bedroom.
“At present, I haven’t found anything.”
Getting back on track, I gave a report.
“Eh? Is that so? That’s a surprise…”
Kyouko-san perplexedly tilted her head.
“If it was anywhere, I thought it would be with you…”
I tried deciphering the meaning of those words for a moment, but I can only presume in the desire to look through every nook and cranny of her beloved Sunaga-sensei’s villa, she had purposely chosen to start her search from the place it was least likely to be (i.e. the first floor).
Well, sure enough, if the manuscript is found, then that’s when the game ends… I guess a wide-coverage playstyle starting with eliminating the impossible was a valid strategy, but it was definitely a detour work-mode Kyouko-san would never take. In this one day, I had seen quite a bit of a side of Kyouko-san I had never known about. Thinking of the value of Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous manuscript, I shouldn’t be saying something so carefree, but I really must be thankful to Kondou-san.
To Kyouko-san, me not finding any clues would conveniently extend the game time, “Then let me join you,” she lined up next to me.
“There are loads of titles I don’t know. But I really don’t have the time to read through them…”
Looking at the lines of Sunaga-sensei’s works, Kyouko-san spoke in disappointment… trying to be considerate in my phrasing, “I haven’t even read half of them, but… Kyouko-san, to about where have you read?” I posed the question. The actual number I’d read didn’t even come close to half.
“Well let’s see– whoops.”
On the verge of saying it, Kyouko-san shut her mouth.
“Ah, that was close, we can’t be having that. I don’t remember any books beyond a certain point, so if I tell you that, you’ll be able to figure out when I started losing my memory, or at least as far as I remember. That’s a trade secret.”
“I-is that so. I’m sorry for asking such a strange question.”
I hurriedly apologized… I wasn’t particularly trying to probe.
“Aha, I don’t mind it, today I’m on private business. If you want an answer within the scope I’m free to speak upon, I guess I’ve read at least half.”
“Oh? So you have?”
That was a bit surprising… since I heard she was a die-hard fan, it wouldn’t be strange if she said she read them all up to a ‘certain’ point, but her answer was too vague.
“At the point I got hooked, there were already quite a few books that were difficult to find. It all comes down to the era… but I’m happy to hear that Sunaga-sensei is still contributing as vigorously as I remember. Just looking at how many new books he’s put out.”
Sunaga-sensei wasn’t contributing anymore.
He was called to heaven for a quiet rest.
I was the one who decided to cover the information up; I couldn’t give a strange reaction lest the truth be revealed, but that being the case, keeping silent would be unnatural so, “S-still… I wonder how Sunaga-sensei was able to write so many books,” I said something extremely boorish once more.
“After putting out so many hits, at some point along the way, I’ve done enough, I don’t have to write anymore. If it were me, I’m sure I’d get to thinking it.”
As expected, she gave me a suspicious look.
No, perhaps I should call it a surprise… even more than her cheerful smile, for Kyouko-san who placed weight on confronting people as a working member of society, this was a face I could only see in private.
“What are you talking about, Kakushidate-san? It’s only natural for an author to keep writing books.”
“No, um, what I’m trying to say is… after earning so much he wouldn’t have to work another day in his life to put food on the table, wouldn’t he lose his professional motivation… I spoke with Kondou-san about it the other day, but being a writer is apparently a job that’s easy to retire from…”
Even as I abruptly apologized, I regretted that I’d poured oil on the flames… perhaps she drew the conclusion I was a fool who measured the artistic merits of authorship by monetary value alone. But Kyouko-san was someone who boasted a firm sense for money one might say went too far, so without any anger,
“Well, it’s true there are authors like that out there… once they’ve run out of things they want to write, once they no longer need to write, perhaps it’s simply time to put down the pen.”
She gave a level answer.
“Of course, it’s not like all of Sunaga-sensei’s works were hits or anything.”
“Is that so?”
Come to think of it, she did just say there were a number of books that were difficult to obtain… the talk was now going towards how he worked without much expectations. I felt like I had exposed my own shallow despicableness.
At present, I was unemployed, so I couldn’t help but think of such things… in that sense (And this was also a common worry, but), while I was searching for Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous manuscript with Kyouko-san, I had paid no heed to the trouble this might cause to his bereaved family who’d inherit his assets.
“Come to think of it, was Sunaga-sensei married?”
“… Kakushidate-san, I see you don’t know the first thing about Sunaga-sensei.”
It was finally about time for her to be fed up with me.
It was honestly unexpected on my part for her to look at me with those eyes.
“He was not. Sunaga-sensei is a man of his work. He keeps up an image as if his whole being was devoted to mystery novels, and I quite respect that part of him.”
Which means the one who’ll inherit his belongings will be a sibling or something of the sort. No, thinking of the current average life expectancy, his parent might even still be alive.
“B-but it’s possible you’ve just forgotten, and he had been married quite recently.”
While it was faint, given his age, the possibility was there… and if such a thing happened, there might be quite a quarrel over his inheritance.
“Sunaga-sensei alone would never partake in such a thing.”
Kyouko-san strongly declared. Rather than a detective’s deduction, it practically sounded like a young teenage girl’s conviction that an idol can’t have a boyfriend, but…
“… Oh. Could it be that you’re married, Kakushidate-san? In that case, I apologize, I got a bit emotional there. I wasn’t trying to deny the idea of a married life in itself.”
“N-no. I’m single.”
“Oh, is that so. Then pardon my rudeness… I guess it would’ve been rude either way. Ehehe. Do you have any such plans.”
“Nothing in particular…”
“But at your age, it’s about time for the person you’re dating to place such expectations on you. They must already trust you considerably. Otherwise they’d be angry at you for going on a trip with someone like me on your day off.”
“I don’t have anyone I’m going out with…”
I felt like a culprit cornered into a confession.
Or rather, as I thought, Kyouko-san did not recognize this as a date after all… though it couldn’t be helped, given the way I invited her.
“What’s this, I see you’re a man of your work as well. How wonderful.”
“A-and what about you, Kyouko-san?”
A man of my work? I’m currently unemployed.
But it’s not like I returned the question to cover up my lack of employment… whether Kyouko-san had a significant other or not, I’d wanted to ask it for a while.
If Kyouko-san did have a sweetheart, then this date Kondou-san set up would be a complete farce… if I asked it out of the blue, it might come off as sexual harassment, but if I simply turned back what was asked of me, then surely it was safe. And so I brandished a nonexistent courage.
“I’m also a woman of my work. I don’t have any plan of starting a household in this lifetime.”
Kyouko-san indifferently answered.
“I mean, even if I fall in love with someone, I’ll soon forget all about it.”
“Now then, about Sunaga-sensei’s manuscript, let’s stop thinking about all the unnecessary stuff and apply Occam’s Razor. If it was digitalized and stored on an IC chip, it would be possible to hide in any small gap in the walls or ceiling, but I don’t think Sunaga-sensei would do something like that. The reason being this is a game, and the person who set it up was a mystery author. The answer should be a hiding place that makes you slap your knee and say, ‘so that’s where it was!’. If at the end of the game, the player told him, ‘there’s no way we’d find it in a place like that,’ it would be a major buzzkill of an ending.”
Kyouko-san suddenly entered detective mode… even if it was her day off, perhaps she thought an ‘unknown man’ was conversing too familiarly with her so she switched over.
I can’t deny her change was a relief to me. Kyouko-san’s private life… forget that, it seems I had intruded on her personal space, and that gave me a greater sense of guilt than making her thing work was a game.
If I reported that fecklessness, I’m sure Kondou-san would scold me. With such measly resolve, I never should have invited Kyouko-san out for a date, he would say… but at this very moment, I could only go along with her talk.
“Then the manuscript… should we assume it’s been put down on paper? Though I don’t know what medium Sunaga-sensei generally used to write.”
“Sunaga’s writing uses the olden style of fountain pen and writing paper…”
Kyouko-san informed me of a tidbit I didn’t know about… but after that, she of course corrected herself as she took a glance at the laptop on the desk.
“… But I’m sure after penning it down, he could easily digitize it, and as long as it’s in a form us readers will be satisfied with, there is no guarantee it has to remain in a paper state. Meaning in the end, reaching the answer through his hints seems like the shortest route.”
After purposely taking a detour, Kyouko-san brazenly said such a thing… hearing that, I took out the map in my pocket and checked out the four hints once more.
‘1. The manuscript for this work can be read out in approximately 120 minutes.’
‘2. It is hidden in a delicate place. Please search with the utmost care.’
‘3. Instead of searching for what is there, try searching for what is not.’
If the fourth hint was supposed to be erased, that leaves us with three… or does it? If you’ll let me unravel my personal opinion, they weren’t coded or anything, meaning we should take them as hints pure and simple…
“One hundred and twenty minutes, but even if he says it’s a quantity you can read in two hours, the number of pages that can be read in two hours varies from person to person. If it were me, around a hundred pages of paperback…”
Though it also depended on the layout, and if it was one hundred pages by book, then converting that to handwritten would give one fifty pages, perhaps? If it was on written paper, it would have a moderate thickness… it wouldn’t be that easy to hide.
“On the contrary, if it’s been digitized, then giving us the length as a hint would be irrelevant, wouldn’t it Kyouko-san? Meaning if hint 1 deals with the quantity of manuscript papers, then the likelihood it’s been hidden in paper format is high… by the way, Kyouko-san, how much would you be able to read in two hours?”
“With two whole hours, I can read through most books.”
As if to demonstrate, Kyouko-san pulled a single book titled, ‘The Golden Rule of Theft’ from the shelf and started reading through it… sure enough, on the journey here, Kyouko-san did finish a book from start to finish after all. It seems the fastest detective was also a speedy reader. Speed reading… is apparently a special technique different from reading, so I don’t think that’s it, but the speed one could read a book greatly varied from person to person.
But even so, it was possible to set some extremities.
It wasn’t a short story of fifty pages, and it couldn’t be a long epic spanning a thousand. We had to search for a book with a sensible thickness.
“Hah. Well, you could interpret it like that… I guess.”
Kyouko-san conceded… she was somewhat restless, but did she have some objection? I managed to gain some tentative endorsement so I started considering hint number 2.
“When he said a delicate place, what do you think he meant? At first, I thought that might mean someplace with circulating water.”
“Yes, but if you consider how this is simply an expression of his playful heart as an author, I get the feeling hiding it in a bathroom, kitchen, bath or washbasin would be just a bit too dangerous.”
“Isn’t that precisely why it would be a surprise?”
“Let’s say for example you were his editor, Kakushidate-san. Would you hold a favorable impression of an author who preserved his manuscript in a toilet’s tank?”
That was an intuitive problem I had little to say to… but as long as he was an author, I definitely do think he would treat his own manuscript with care. The manuscript search should be a ‘treasure’ hunt for the one hiding it as well. Even more so, considering the original target of the game was the editor.
Then what could delicate mean… if he meant mentally, then was it the bedroom? Among all private spaces, it should normally be the hardest to let other people enter, so you could call it a ‘delicate’room.
But as long as Kyouko-san investigated and concluded it wasn’t there, the first floor rooms… perhaps it’s alright if I think it’s not in the dining and bedroom. Even if it was there, it would be beyond my power to find it. There’s no way I could find something Kyouko-san couldn’t…
“Hint 3 is practically like saying nothing at all. ‘Instead of searching for what is there, try searching for what is not’… To me, it just seems like the grand principle of a treasure hunt. Even the fourth hint covered up with corrective tape looks more useful.”
“You might… need a pencil. Was it? But from what I saw on the first floor, and this study as well, there wasn’t a single normal pencil to be found. Nothing but mechanical pencils.”
Kyouko-san crossed her arms.
Perhaps Kyouko-san already had some sort of theory, or so I had my hopes, but it seems she hadn’t reached that stage yet… As expected of a treasured mystery author. Just because she’s a great detective, I see he didn’t hit her with a trick she could instantly see through. Of course, there was a difference in intent between an actual criminal case and a fabricated game, but… is it like how a seasoned chess player can’t always win against a computer opponent?
In that case, this is a little troublesome. To this point, I had moved forcefully under the premise that Kyouko-san would definitely find the manuscript, and I had never anticipated a pattern where she couldn’t find it at all
I had asked so much from Kondou-san, so in that case, I’d have no choice but to take responsibility, and call the most proficient detective registered in my phone, a true omnipotent detective with a hundred percent crime resolution rate… I wasn’t up for that.
“Now this is troublesome.”
So said Kyouko-san.
“It doesn’t seem to be in this study… and if it’s not in the dining, the bedroom, the stury, or the media room, then by process of elimination, we will have no option but to search the bathroom and kitchen.”
“Eh? No, Kyouko-san, I haven’t searched the media room yet.”
Kyouko-san raised her face.
She seemed fundamentally surprised… it seems Kyouko-san had come under the misunderstanding I had already finished searching the media room, conducting my search on the study afterwards.
How should I put it, she thinks too highly of me. Well, since she had managed to investigate two rooms on the first floor before climbing the stairs, naturally, by the time she found me in the study, I must have finished searching at least one room; perhaps it was an appropriate assumption… unfortunately, I wasn’t that skillful. If she thinks everyone’s speedy, she’s way off. I hadn’t laid a single hand on the media room yet.
“What are you even doing, Kakushidate-san… why did you put off the most suspicious place of all…”
When Kyouko-san purposely took a detour to enjoy searching the villa through and through, I don’t remember doing anything to warrant her chastising me so… but the most suspicious place of all? The media room? No matter how you look at it, the study is the more suspicious place to hide a manuscript, or rather, I thought it the most fitting place…
“Then off we go… if you line up just these four hints, Sunaga-sensei was clearly indicating the media room. I could tell that from the start.”
Kyouko-san said as she left the study without waiting for my reaction- I frantically gave chase. It was difficult to say I’d seen my fill of the study, but… for some reason, it seemed like Kyouko-san had been hurrying for a while now. No, this was different from hurrying. From my eyes, that was the usual Kyouko-san: the fastest detective, Okitegami Kyouko.
A professional detective by trade.
But to Kyouko-san, today was a vacation, and one she should use to play… was there some change to her mental state? I get the feeling the most appropriate conclusion was that she had finally had enough of my stupidity, but… that was simply too sad.
By the time I caught up to Kyouko-san, the fastest detective was already searching around. Her flow was so lacking in waste that even if I wanted to help, I wouldn’t know where to start. More so, if my large build beyond my own control treads into the room, I would be in the way. I stood at attention in the doorway, only able to watch over her.
No, even without the just cause of not getting in her way, I’m sure I’d hesitate for more than a moment to enter the room… That was simply how polished of a media room it was.
It was a masterpiece in a different sense from the study. State-of-the-art playback devices, and soundproofing, it was entirely a music studio—I should’ve guessed from the fact a media room was built into a villa, but was music appreciation Sunaga-sensei’s hobby? I’m sure it would be comfortable to listen to music from the sofa stationed in the center of the room… his hard side was akin to stone, and his soft side was just as fulfilled.
If the books crammed into the bookshelves lining the circumference of his study were the record of his readership, then the racks that filled up the room walls had to be his music record… records, cassette tapes, CDs, MDs, they were all systematically shelved in rows. A large music box and jukebox, even what looked like karaoke equipment was lying around, so rather than a simple media room, I would call it a music museum. Did Sunaga-sensei have a collector side to him, I wonder?
If the situation wasn’t what it was, even an uncultured man like me would love to hear a tune through his system, perhaps I might have even thought to listen to some uncharacteristic classical music. But, simply, at that very moment, no matter how tidy he kept things, the ‘plentiful stock’ was only a hindrance to a search.
Still, why did Kyouko-san place more weight on this room than the study… even If I think back on it, as long as the hidden item is a manuscript, I can’t think my thought it was concealed in the study could be too off the mark.
“Ah… no, could it be…”
Or so it hit me.
“Did he dictate… his work?”
Ever since the spread of word processing, you rarely ever hear about it, but among old authors, it was a known writing method… to speak out the contents of the novel, record it, and have a specialist print it out.
While Sunaga-sensei used a fountain pen and paper, from the length of his career, I highly doubt he never learned the technique to dictate… so was it possible he recorded his own voice to a storage medium and preserved it somewhere in this room?
“Then the one hundred twenty minutes wasn’t about us readers reading it, it was about the author speaking out the novel in his head…”
“No, I doubt that.”
So short and to the point, Kyouko-san denied my train of thought… crawling on all fours across the carpeted floor, without even turning to me, she inspected a rack. Her short pants helped to give that pose an innate nature that drew the layman’s eye.
“If he dictated an entire novel, it couldn’t simply be contained in one hundred and twenty minutes. In that timeframe, the most he could read out would be a novella.”
“… You’re right. Then… but, if for example, he just recorded the ID and password for a cloud account, then couldn’t it be possible?”
“Cloud? Is something up with the weather?”
Kyouko-san did turn to me at that one. As she turned to face me on all fours, it just made it unreasonably sexier, but averting my eyes made me feel even more indecent, so I feigned composure, remember the last case… I was about to say, but today’s Kyouko-san didn’t know the last case, and she had no way to know.
So I gave just a simple explanation in regards to the cloud.
“I doubt that’s it either. In that case, as a matter of fact, the contents of the manuscript would be ‘outside’ the villa… that goes against the rules of the game. I can’t accept it.”
“I see… but is there really an answer you’ll accept? I’m not trying to grumble, but I really think we have too few hints after all.”
“No, we have too many. That Sunaga-sensei, since he was dealing with his editor instead of the readers, perhaps he held back. In this case, having fewer hints would make for a better challenge.”
Kyouko-san turned her eyes back to the rack, searching as she spoke. Since that’s where she was searching, then rather than the playback equipment, I do think she was paying more attention to the recordings after all, but… what was Kyouko-san’s current goal? For some reason, it seems she quit beating around the bush…
“But in truth, Kakushidate-san, you brought up a good approach.”
That gentle yet blunt approach truly belonged to detective-mode Kyouko-san. Not as Okitegami Kyouko the individual, but as the head of the Okitegami Detective Agency, Okitegami Kyouko.
“This is exceedingly regrettable. Even without my cooperation, if you continued to search on your own, you’d probably find it eventually.”
“I-I see… I really don’t think so. In the first place, I’m still doubtful whether the manuscript is even there in the first–”
“Yep, here it is.”
And there, Kyouko-san interrupted me… taking a certain something from the rack, she held it out to me.
A certain something.
And a surprising something indeed.
It was a cassette tape.
A cassette tape that was kept on the rack.
To start off, it had been quite a long time since a cassette tape itself entered my eyes, but unlike records, cassette tapes are still apparently serving active duty, so they shouldn’t be too rare.
If I recall correctly, the proper term is compact cassette. But whatever the official name is, I couldn’t understand the reason she would pull one out.
There was no label stuck over the case or the cassette itself; why had Kyouko-san taken out an unbranded cassette here… when I heard her say, ‘here it is’, I had grown excited, thinking she had surely found Sunaga-sensei’s manuscript, but was she referring to something else? Like finding a hint to its hiding place, or perhaps spotting something rare that was completely irrelevant? Is that what she meant.
“And that’s the end of the game. Good work everyone.”
She stood… the way she smiled belonged to a detective who had finished solving a mystery.
“Wa… wait a second, Kyouko-san. Even if you take out an incomprehensible tape and declare game set match, I can’t accept it. I can’t reciprocate your ‘good work’. Please properly explain it. And prove it.”
“It will be difficult to prove here.”
As I mouthed a side character’s lines, Kyouko-san showed some unexpected modesty. But of course, “Though just explaining would be easy,” she continued on like a lead role.
“For example… the fourth hint was erased, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right. But what about it? A cassette tape and pencil don’t have any relationship.”
“The fact that the wording wasn’t erased with white-out but correction tape was one hint. Correction tape. Its inside structure is the same as a cassette’s, and they’re both tape.”
“Oh… t-that’s right.”
Now that she mentions it… but unless she said that, I wouldn’t think of connecting a cassette tape with correction tape. Even if they were similar, I wouldn’t say they bore a resemblance. That didn’t change the fact it was weak as a hint.
“The ‘You might need a pencil’ part erased by the correction tape was also a hint. With cassette tapes, look.”
Taking it out of its case, Kyouko-san pointed at the two open holes in the center of the cassette.
“When you want to adjust the time on the tape, you stick a pencil in that hole and turn it, don’t you… round and round.”
Even if she explained it, it wasn’t sitting right. Perhaps that custom used to exist, but even if you didn’t have a pencil, I’m sure you could use a pinky… or so I thought, but if you told me that was precisely why the hint was erased in the first place, I could accept it.
“Then Kyouko-san, is it because you saw that the fourth hint indicated a cassette tape that you appraised this media room as the most suspicious?”
“No way. Just associating that sentence and the use of correction tape to a cassette tape would be a stretch for me. I just used hint number four as the coating for my reasoning… and it goes without saying the number one hint was hint number one.”
“Even if you declare it goes without saying… I won’t understand unless you go and say it.”
“Look, it’s written right here, isn’t it?”
Kyouko-san showed me the ‘120’ directly printed onto the unlabeled cassette tape. Those numbers meant that the tape could record one hundred twenty minutes of music…
“Eh? You can’t tell me that’s all. Because there was a hint that said you could finish reading in one twenty minutes, you chose a 120 tape…”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Kyouko-san nodded with an innocent face.
“The reason I was looking all over the rack was to see if there was any other cassette tape capable of recording one hundred and twenty minutes. But the tapes on this shelf are nothing but 45, 60, and 90-minute cassettes, and there was only one 120 minute one. By the way, CDs and MDs do not have one twenty minute variants in the first place. That’s why I was able to identify this cassette tape as the manuscript we are looking for.”
What’s up with Kyouko-san? I succumbed to my anxiety… just a moment ago, Kyouko-san was the one who said it was impossible to record the contents of a single novel in one hundred and twenty minutes. It can’t be that she’s forgotten it? Kyouko-san’s memory is reset every time she goes to sleep… on the other hand, up to the moment she goes to bed, she’s supposed to boast a memory greater than the average person, but could it be her symptoms are worsening? In that case, this isn’t the time for deductions or treasure hunts, I have to get her to the hospital ASAP…
“K-Kyouko-san… please get a grip. Didn’t you say it yourself it would be impossible to dictate?”
“Yes, I said it. It was not dictated.”
As I said it to confirm, Kyouko-san assented… good, so it seems she hasn’t lost her memory.
“No matter how fast one speaks, recording one novel’s worth in one twenty minutes would be impossible… their tongue would wear out too.”
“But on the other hand… you don’t have to. Why do it when a cassette tape can already store a whole novel?”
Just as I rejoiced that Kyouko-san hadn’t lost her memory, the fact only served to increase my confusion. Storing neither a reading of the novel, nor a password… and yet how was she saying that cassette tape was Sunaga-sensei’s manuscript?
“Well let’s see. Then in exchange for teaching me new information on the cloud, Kakushidate-san, let me teach you an old tidbit of knowledge. These sort of cassette tapes, you know, they can store digital data as well.”
“When you really boil it down, it’s a magnetic tape. It depends on the product, but with a 120 minute tape, it should be possible to store approximately five hundred kilobytes… with five hundred kilobytes of text data, that should total just around enough for a lengthy novel.”
As she explained it like that, I recalled… I couldn’t determine where I obtained that knowledge, but whatever the case, it was a pleasant feeling to recall it.
More than a quarter of a century ago, computers could run programs by reading them off of cassette tapes, I heard… while at this point, they were completely treated as a music-recording device, if you trace them to their origins, then just like compact discs and USB memory, and even the cloud, they’re a data storage media all the same.
Hint number 2’s ‘delicate place’ must have been referring to that… while you didn’t have to be so cautious when listening to music, when you look at them as a data storage medium, cassette tapes are much too frail. They’re a magnetic strip after all… fragile items that get damaged simply by every read.
“… So hint number 1 was code to say when reading it, meaning for a computer to read the data, it will take one hundred twenty minutes?”
“Since it doesn’t have to do with sound, there’s no way it actually takes one twenty minutes to read, but it looks like you’ve got the gist of it.”
“T-then what does hint number 3 mean?”
“Search for what isn’t there. I think that means that a device capable of reading this tape- a so-called data recorder- is not inside the villa. That is why I said I would be unable to prove it… well, if he left an antique computer able to read cassette tapes around, it would be a dead giveaway.”
That was certainly true.
When he was a handwriting author, the fact a laptop was placed on his study desk might have been an indirect message from Sunaga-sensei… and in fact, upon seeing it, I gained the notion the manuscript might have been digitized. The fact he wrote out 120 minutes instead of two hours might have been the biggest hint… if it was just simple data, a compact disk would be able to store it, so to specify the answer was a cassette tape, he emphasized the number.
But to think he stored the manuscript on a cassette tape, it was too far beyond my expectations… what’s more, it was certainly an answer I could accept. Once I knew the answer, I could only nod at Kyouko-san’s protest that he had given too many hints. It was too blatant. For Kyouko-san, just looking at hint number 1 and the fact there was a media room on the map was enough to arrive at the answer.
I felt like I could hear Sunaga-sensei’s grand laugh… no, I don’t know if Sunaga-sensei was the sort to give a grand laugh, but whatever the case, when I had missed the mark and loitered around the study, I had a strong sense I’d been bamboozled by a great author. Likely seeing through my shame at my own ignorance, Kyouko-san tried cheering me up.
“Well, my memory is renewed at a certain point. I’m sure I had the advantage in dragging up old information about cassette tapes.”
She said… and of course, that was true, but it wasn’t as if Kyouko-san lived through an era where cassette tapes were used as a data storage medium in real time.
I really should praise Kyouko-san’s disposition as a detective here… or so I thought, but Kyouko-san wasn’t omnipotent after all. Perhaps relieved she had finished the job, at the end of the end, she made an unthinkable mistake. Putting the cassette tape back in its case and handing it to me.
“Yes, and I leave the rest to you, Kakushidate-san. This is Sunaga-sensei’s unpublished manuscript you’ve been searching for… with the time it will take to print out, I doubt I’ll receive instant payment, but you’d better honor your promise to let me be the first one to read it, okay? I don’t think they’re in production anymore, but if with a publisher’s connection, they should be able to find at least one data recorder. And even if they don’t track one down, if they look through what Sunaga-sensei left behind, they should be able to find what was used to produce this record in the first place…”
I accepted it… and found myself in shock.
“What he… left behind?”
Kyouko-san covered her mouth.
But it was already too late.
“You… you noticed? Kyouko-san. The fact that Sunaga-sensei passed–”
Kyouko-san awkwardly averted her eyes in silence… but with her reaction and her lack of questions for me, she was giving way too many hints.
Another day, at a café near Sakusousha, I met up with Kondou-san… in order to accept Sunaga Hirubee’s final manuscript he had printed out. Delivering the manuscript to Kyouko-san would be my role… I’m sure he was suspicious at my terrible reaction when he gave me another excuse to see Kyouko-san, as Kondou-san cross-examined me and- as a result- I had no choice but to speak about the disaster I had kept my lips sealed on.
“Then Yakusuke. Does that mean Okitegami-san saw through your lie from the start?”
“No, she noticed along the way, apparently. That’s why she suddenly entered detective mode… rather, she dropped her roundabout all-encompassing playstyle and started taking the game seriously.”
Realizing the manuscript she was currently searching for would be Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous work, the serious level changed within Kyouko-san in regards to the game- and once that happened, it was over in no time. Let me say I saw the work of a professional. And in contrast, I was generously an amateur at best.
“When I spoke with Kyouko-san about Sunaga-sensei in the study, it seems I referred to him in the past tense a number of times without realizing it… apparently, that’s when it hit her. When she was searching through the bedroom where Sunaga-sensei passed, perhaps she sensed something was off as well. And even if that wasn’t the case, before the game started, she might have thought something was suspicious of my and your behavior, but looking at the result…”
“I see… well, don’t be so down, Yakusuke. It’s not like it’s your fault. Deceiving a great detective is something fundamentally impossible for anyone out there.”
“Sorry to turn down your words of consolation, but Kondou-san, that’s not the point I’m embarrassed about. It’s not the fact I told a childish lie… after she noticed Sunaga-sensei’s death, the way Kyouko-san continued pretending to be deceived by my lie is so embarrassing I don’t know what to do with myself.”
When I thought I was being considerate, she took me into consideration.
It was an outrageous shameful display.
It must have been quite the shock to learn of the death of an author she was a huge fan of, but not showing it on the surface in the slightest, playing oblivious, Kyouko-san continued the game… instead of being considerate, she was completely justified to be enraged at me for deceiving her.
… But I could no longer apologize for it.
A few days had passed, the memories of that day reset, and my deceit had, within Kyouko-san’s head, never happened at all… even this manuscript, to Kyouko-san, she wouldn’t really know the reason she was accepting it, so it might just become a mysterious surprise present.
Kyouko-san’s memories were far more delicate than a magnetic strip.
No… should I say easier to delete.
Because even this discord doesn’t even exist within her.
“Can’t you be honestly happy that Okitegami-san tried to look out for you? I’m sure she was just happy to receive your concern. Just think of it as accepting her return gift.”
“That’s one way to look at it, but… this is too awkward.”
Though I was just one-sidedly holding onto this awkwardness…
If possible, I wanted to finish my business with this unpublished manuscript through the mail.
“… But this is troubling. If you’re like that, then it’s a bit difficult to make a request. I guess I’ll give up for today, we can do it some other time.”
“? What is it, Kondou-san? Did you have something you wanted me to do besides delivering this manuscript? In that case, don’t be so distant. Don’t worry about my spirit, ask whatever you want to infinity. It’s possible that might just clear up my head.”
“No, because you see, this is also something that involves Kyouko-san, so… I thought I would have you make a request to her while you were delivering this manuscript.”
“Yeah. This time, it’s without any exaggeration, a job for a detective. It’s about Sunaga-sensei, whose funeral was held the other day… truth be told, a suspicious point has come up in regards to his death.”
(Are you Free, Kyouko-san– Case Forgotten)