In hindsight, I’ve never pressed the stop button on the bus. Even when approaching the stop I wanted to get down on, each time I would wait for someone else to hold out their hand. And as that went on, I would start to wonder whether I really wanted to get off at all; could it be I needed someone to give me a push on the back- to press that button for me? I could no longer tell.
Without moving assertively, moving actively, simply waiting for a someone to make their move… I wished to be swept up in the flow. It’s just a stop button we’re talking about here, laugh as you will, but that just may be the event that best represents the reality of my life. For the bus stop of someone like me who can only ever take standard actions, to start off with, I was never the only one who needed to get off, so that fact has never troubled me. But in the case that no other person pressed the stop button, I would be unable to get off at the bus stop I wanted, sent enroot towards the next station.
There’s no way that could be, if the situation came to that, then surely anyone would press the button themselves—it was easy to say, but why do you think one is able to do what they usually don’t only in a state of emergency?
In everything that mattered, I was always like that.
I never moved by myself… I was a stationary person of reaction.
If you called me the type to get dragged in, of course I was. It was because I never moved on my own that I had no choice but to be dragged in.
This matter was the same… if Kondou-san never pushed me, I doubt I would ever invite Kyouko-san out for a date. And as a penalty, it became awkward between me and her… what’s more, a one-side awkwardness, where I thought I wouldn’t want to meet Kyouko-san for a long while; even so, once again on a job Kondou-san requested, I had boarded the bus to make a delivery. Fundamentally, I’ve gotten to thinking my own will isn’t a first-class article.
“Hold it right there, Kondou-san. I don’t think that job’s very suited for Kyouko-san… I don’t mean it in a bad way, but you’re better off having me call a different detective.”
Of course, for argument’s sake, I tried making an escape route like that, but,
“I want to ask Okitegami-san.”
Or so Kondou-san remained firm.
“Why’s that? I mean, Kyouko-san definitely showed an all-around grand performance in Satoi-sensei’s case, and I know you might have a high evaluation of her, but Kyouko-san isn’t top-class among the detectives I can introduce you by any means. I won’t say she’s mediocre, but there’s no doubt she’s a considerably unconventional. If there really is something suspicious about Sunaga-sensei’s death, there should be a more appropriate detective–”
“And I think Kyouko-san is the appropriate choice… because she is Sunaga-sensei’s fan.”
I couldn’t immediately discern his intent, but when he asserted it so strongly, I thought that might be true. Especially when considering how Sunaga-sensei was a mystery author. This might be a form of prejudice, but from the eyes of a professional detective, a crime… a mystery novel was a fabrication through and through. ‘Real detective work, real incidents are never that interesting’ they’d believe, to a greater or lesser extent, some part of them looking on in disdain. While a classic masterwork was one thing, when he or she looked at a modern mystery novel from the side—perhaps I should call it a distinction that came directly from the detective occupation, but just as Kondou-san said, there weren’t too many detectives like Kyouko-san out there who could remain honest fans of mystery authors like Sunaga-sensei.
And so he ended up persuading me and as I made for Kyouko-san’s detective agency the next day, I was left wondering if that really was a good enough reason to make the request to Kyouko-san.
Precisely because she was Sunaga-sensei’s fan, wasn’t that reason not to request this case to her… even for policemen, they don’t leave the investigation to officers whose friends or family are involved in the case. Kyouko-san was put in such high spirits just by going to Sunaga-sensei’s villa. In a case involving Sunaga-sensei’s death, she might not be able to investigate with a level head… though I’d like to think that’s impossible for a professional.
As I went through those long-winded and meaningless thoughts, someone pushed the stop button for me… I held the envelope containing the unpublished, posthumous manuscript of Sunaga Hirubee to my chest as I stood from my seat and got off the bus.
The Okitegami Detective Agency is the three-story building. The entire complex is entirely the house and office where Kyouko-san lives and works. It is located in an office district towering with skyscrapers so it looks cozily compact, but if you removed the background and thought of it as a single individual’s personal office, buying an entire building was a conspicuously large-scale endeavor. Additionally, in its stability, it could be called a collection of state-of-the-art security systems, and among all the buildings in this office district, the Okitegami building was the most secure and exclusive.
So stands to reason.
A detective is one who brazenly steps into others’ secrets, others’ private lives, others’ hidden circumstance, bluntly cutting them down in their wake… They can invite unjust resentment, and there are surely times the resentment is not unjustified at all. It is an occupation constantly living back to back with danger… Kyouko-san once said, ‘Laying hands on the detective is against the rules’, but looking at the practical problem, it isn’t by any means rare a detective themselves becomes the victim of a case.
I doubt Kyouko-san was unaware of such a thing… that’s precisely why this much security was necessary.
Especially in Kyouko-san’s case, with an absolute observance of confidentiality as her selling point, she would cleanly forget any subject she was charged with by the next day, so she had no way of knowing how she was hated, making her completely unable to keep vigilant. Her gimmick as a detective was directly connected to risk, and as everything in life has its ups and downs, whether she was doing well for herself or not was something I couldn’t quite say.
Therefore, the office that formed the headquarters of the Okitegami Detective Agency was bestowed with more security than necessary— the building was thought to have been planned out by the Kyouko-san of someday who got the notion in her head. Her security updated constantly, day by day, practically like an anti-virus software… of course, while I speak as if I know all about it, this would only make for the third time I set foot in the Okitegami building.
When making a job request to Kyouko-san, in most cases, I was asking for salvation from the crime scene, so I rarely ever turned my feet towards the office itself… as Kyouko-san’s other gimmick was as the ‘fastest detective’, perhaps it wasn’t just me.
Whatever the case, it would be troublesome if I carelessly set foot on the premise and got bound like the first time, so I cautiously pressed the intercom button.
Came Kyouko-san’s voice. The Okitegami Detective Agency didn’t have any employees… Kyouko-san handled receptions as well. “My name is Kakushidate Yakusuke. I spoke with you over the phone,” I named myself.
“Understood. Please go ahead and enter.”
Alongside Kyouko-san’s voice, the door opened… it seems I succeeded in identifying myself. But it was too early to feel relieved. After that, until I could finally reach the receptions room, there were more checks than an international airport waiting for me.
If Kyouko-san ever became the victim of an incident within this building, I doubt there would never be a more difficult sealed-room murder to solve, or so I thought a thought as if I couldn’t distinguish reality and fiction as I entered the building.
After one hour, I was finally able to have an audience with the great detective, Okitegami Kyouko-san– meaning, I was let into the reception room on the second floor, and allowed to lower myself into the sofa for clients.
While Kyouko-san brewed coffee in the adjoined kitchen, I inspected the reception room I hadn’t been in for a while… but the fact it hadn’t changed in the slightest honestly gave it an inorganic impression.
If you say there’s no way it could ever change, you’d be right.
That room interior that emphasized the color white only contained the bare minimum furnishings. It looked extremely easy to clean. While the digital manga artist Satoi-sensei’s workplace was also kept considerably tidy, this reception room was prone to be labeled tastelessly dreary. Well, there were plenty of rooms in the building, so perhaps a few of them were used as storehouses, and she simply didn’t want to place anything unnecessary in the reception room she let clients into, but…
“Here. I hope it’s to your tastes.”
Kyouko-san left the coffee cup on the table… and sat across from me. Looking at her bright smile now, after seeing her so happy the other day… by comparison, I could now tell this was a complete business smile.
Rather than more intimate, it was a smile that made me feel a wall between us.
If I was going to have to feel it like this, I would rather not have known her private smile at all, I ended up thinking, but this alone wasn’t something I could do away with… unlike Kyouko-san, I was unable to forget.
What’s more, it became like that in the end, and to start with, I know I shouldn’t refer to the day of Sunaga-sensei’s death like this, but at the very least on that day, there is no doubt in my mind the train to the villa with Kyouko-san was an enjoyable journey… I don’t think I want to forget that.
… Obvious as it may be, Kyouko-san’s clothing wasn’t the same merry, dynamic garb as the other day, she was in a calm work mode… a green flared skirt, and a pure-white blouse, there was a scarf wrapped around her neck. Since I saw her easy-going fashion the other day, it looked even more modest than usual.
The coffee she put out wasn’t accompanied by sugar or milk… in the Okitegami Detective Agency, coffee must always be loaded with bitterness and acidity, the sort of black coffee that keeps you right up. Once I took a sip, Kyouko-san reached a hand towards her personal cup.
“Well then, Kakushidate-san. About the job…”
“Ah, no, Kyouko-san. Before that, I’d like you to have this.”
I held out the envelope I’d been embracing.
“It’s a reward for… a previous job. While I do think you’ve forgotten, it was a somewhat irregular job, and the agreement was to pay you in goods, umm… it also ties in with this time’s job.,,”
Unable to explain well, and nervous to boot, I wound up in great dismay… well, there was no way I could say, ‘I went on a date with you the other day’, and if I covered that part up, the rest couldn’t help but become vague.
Kyouko-san gave an indifferent response. She held much too little interest in the jobs her past self took on… Though you could also say that was right for a detective.
“It’s Sunaga Hirubee’s unpublished manuscript. At the same time, his posthumous work.”
That was something I had to say without beating around the bush. Unless I started out with that, the talk wouldn’t get anywhere. And hearing that, “Buhah,” Kyouko-san spat the coffee in her mouth.
… That was a greater reaction that I expected. My timing was terrible there. That wasn’t the sort of thing to bring up just as she elegantly touched the coffee cup to her lips.
“M… my apologies. Please wait here a moment.”
Kyouko-san covered her mouth as she stood from her seat, disappearing behind a door in the back of the office… five minutes later, she returned, having changed out of her coffee-stained clothing. I learned something new. It does seem that door in the back is her private room. A lightly-knit turtleneck that closely fit her top half, a denim long skirt below… come to think of it, I’ve never seen Kyouko-san wear the same clothes twice. Does this person have an infinite stream of clothing?
“I’ve kept you waiting. Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous manuscript, is it?”
Kyouko-san abruptly entered the main issue. When I thought that might be her hiding her embarrassment, it did look cute.
“I learned of Sunaga Hirubee-sensei’s passing when I watched the morning news, but… what series of events has led to me receiving that manuscript?”
Her interests had suddenly risen.
That being the case, Sunaga-sensei’s death was already famous news… one of the hottest topics society was making a ruckus over, so it seems she already had a grasp of it. Not having to explain that part was, honestly, a huge help. No matter the situation, being hit with the death of a beloved author head on would have to be a shock… hearing it from a distance through the news would make it easier to accept.
At the very least, easier than learning it at the person in question’s villa.
“You said this is a reward for a job I accepted before, but might I ask what that job entailed?”
“Yes, feel free. Otherwise, we won’t be getting anywhere… but before that, please take the envelope, or I won’t be able to put a close on the previous job.”
The fact I emphasized it was a job probably wasn’t directed at Kyouko-san. Perhaps I was telling myself. Whatever the case, I had no intent to tell her that was a game, let alone a date.
“Yes… to think I would receive Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous manuscript, you did god’s work, past me.”
Her business smile crumbled, her face lighting up as she accepted the envelope… holding the manuscript tightly to her chest. If possible, I’d love to be that manuscript. But regardless…
“U-um, it’s not in his own handwriting, mind you. Also, you only get the right to be the first to read it, and I think it will be properly published afterward…”
I couldn’t refrain from giving that remark. Whatever the case, I didn’t want Kyouko-san to get too elated before the fall.
“Oh, is that so?”
Perhaps let-down, Kyouko-san showed some somewhat despondent colors, but that didn’t mean she was going to let go of the manuscript she embraced.
“Of course, whether it can be safely be published or not depends on your work in the next job…”
“Understood. Please leave it to me.”
Kyouko-san said such a thing without hearing out the details… it seemed the relation to Sunaga-sensei’s publication had raised her motivation. Though as she was still ‘on the job, she didn’t get as hyper as the other day.
“I’ll cooperate to the best of my ability—and forget about it by tomorrow.”
Kyouko-san said… her words held no ulterior meaning.
Kyouko-san would forget… all about me, without a trace left behind.
In order to resolve a case, precise information was life or death… but when it came to making the job request to Kyouko-san, it was unavoidable that I had to change a few of the details when I told her about the manuscript search. I couldn’t tell her exactly what happened to make her feel awkward– and even I wouldn’t purposely gouge out my own wounds.
Clients tell lies.
I’m reluctant to admit it was just as Kyouko-san said.
I conveyed the truth hidden in the cassette tape as-is, explaining that she accepted Sunaga-sensei’s death, undertaking the posthumous manuscript search and finding it as a ‘job’ through and through. Meaning, from beginning to end, it was a ‘job’, and she was there for work and nothing more. Once I had finished,
Kyouko-san tilted her head.
“Something feels off about that story, but… well, it’s already over… let’s leave it at that.”
She’s sharp. It seems she had somehow or another sensed that I was lying… well, I’m the sort of guy whose actions are always suspect, so even if I told her the truth, perhaps she would have doubted it anyway.
“Anyways, as a reward for discovering Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous manuscript, I’m receiving a printout of it… that part is fine. But if the next job is linked to it, then that means the case wasn’t closed with a happily ever after, right? Did something happened?”
Perhaps because Sunaga-sensei was involved, Kyouko-san willfully leaned her body forward as she asked… looking at her like this, perhaps Kondou-san really did make the right choice to ask Kyouko-san because she was Sunaga-sensei’s fan.
“At first, Sunaga-sensei’s passing was thought to be by natural causes, but it seems a suspicious point has come out in his death. The possibility of criminality, should I say…”
“Possibility of criminality? Hmm…”
The color of Kyouko-san’s eye changed. She reacted to the word criminality, was this the nature of a great detective- or it could just be her professional sense.
“Then let’s hear it. You’re telling me that…”
“No, nothing has been concluded, and we want you to investigate into that aspect as well, but… it’s possible that Sunaga-sensei’s death was a suicide.”
Taking Kyouko-san’s enthusiasm towards Sunaga-sensei into considerations, I had my misgivings whether I should take care in my phrasing, but perhaps I succeeded in saying it gently as Kyouko-san maintained the silence. I carefully continued on.
“By which I mean to say, Sunaga-sensei usually employed the use of sleeping pills, but his autopsy showed he took more than he could handle that night…”
Kyouko-san furrowed her stately brow.
“When it was thought there was no criminality, they performed an autopsy… did they? Not just an inspection… I see. I’m surprised they gave permission for an autopsy. Meaning, before the autopsy was performed, there must have been someone who held suspicions towards Sunaga-sensei’s death… but let’s put that off for now. A while ago, I heard Sunaga-sensei’s death was due to heart failure, and you say that was evidently due to an overdose of sleeping pills?”
“I can’t say for sure, but it may have been a contributing factor. We’re still at that vague point. Even if he was healthy, once humans stack up enough years, it’s only natural they start taking medication, after all… and even if he took too many sleeping pills, it hasn’t been concluded that it was a great enough amount to directly lead to his death. He was on in years, so perhaps we should just look at this as a heart failure with no criminality to it… that being the case, it’s undeniable that he did take too much medication.”
“And if you want me to include that in my investigation, you mean… you want me to determine whether or not Sunaga-sensei committed suicide? That’s… to be blunt, I think it will be difficult. If we were standing there on the day in question, it might be another story, but some days have passed since Sunaga-sensei’s death, and I doubt a detective can do anything more than the police and the hospital.”
It was a realistic response… how Kyouko-sanesque.
“Yes, I think so too. But in the case that Sunaga-sensei really did commit suicide, it will make for an even bigger ruckus… though there’s nothing we can do if it’s true.”
“So you want… me to find proof it wasn’t a suicide?”
Kyouko-san took the lead and spoke.
“Evidence supporting it wasn’t a suicide… I think that will be difficult as well. No, I’m sure it will be even more difficult than proving it was a suicide.”
“Please think that we’re making the request full aware of those details… what’s more, what Sakusousha wants to request of you is an approach from a different angle from the police and hospital. It’s that manuscript.”
I pointed at Sunaga Hirubee’s manuscript still in Kyouko-san’s embrace.
“As you are aware, Sunaga-sensei died very shortly after finishing his manuscript… so in the case his death was not a natural death but suicide, then there might be some indication in his last work.”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it? Hmm… so as I gained the right to read it first, you want me to read and solve it… this doesn’t look like it will be a very fun read.”
Kyouko-san spoke as if to confirm it
“Naturally, he didn’t leave a will, did he.”
She asked. I nodded.
“Yes… neither a will nor testament, so his bereaved family is feuding a bit over the distribution of his estate…”
Oh, was that unnecessary information? But it did seem there was no such thing as unnecessary information to a detective and,
“So that might be precisely why the family is digging deeper into Sunaga-sensei’s death.”
“Perhaps- forget suicide- there may be suspicions of murder… a possibility that a certain someone intentionally overdosed Sunaga-sensei with sleeping pills.”
As if to evade my advance as I leaned my body forward, Kyouko-san shrugged her shoulders, “But if that’s the case, it’s lacking.” She said.
“Lacking? Oh… are you talking about money? Yes, deciphering signs of suicide from a manuscript is definitely a peculiar request, and it’s quite plausible for you to say that. I think Sakusousha will hear you out in that regard, so you needn’t be reserved, feel free to demand more than your usual fee–”
I spoke the lines of a competent proxy, but,
“That’s not what I meant.”
Kyouko-san shook her head.
“I’ve forgotten what sort of association we’ve had to this point, but Kakushidate-san, just how greedy of a detective do you think I am… you’re wrong. I’m not asking for that much. If this posthumous manuscript is a form of will for Sunaga-sensei, then even if I read it, I won’t be able to decipher a reason for his death. That’s what I’m trying to say. I’m sure I’ll have to read the other works leading up to his writing of this novel.”
“B-by the other novels, do you mean…”
His posthumous manuscript was his will. Phrasing it like that did seem fitting of a novelist who had carved out a single generation, but just referring to his other novels in one breath… I recalled the numerous writings that filled an entire bookshelf of his study.
“Kakushidate-san, will you be able to put in an order for every work by Sunaga-sensei?”
“I think it’s possible.”
Faltering from Kyouko-san’s zeal, I nodded… it was a reflexive promise without due consideration, but if I put in a word to Kondou-san, It should be possible to find even the difficult-to-obtain books and the books out of print. In the worst case scenario, I’ll just have to go around the libraries and used book shops. But when I thought of the sheer massive number of books…
“B-but… Kyouko-san. Even if you exclude the books you’ve read and remember, that will make for a considerable amount. I don’t see it as an amount you can finish up in a day.”
“I won’t exclude the books I’ve read or the ones I remember. The books I couldn’t read because they ran out of print, and the series I avoided because they weren’t to my tastes go without saying. The books I’ve forgotten and the books I remember, I should reread them all without cutting corners. Even if I can’t read them in a day, if I’m going to do it, I should be thorough with it.”
As she said that, as if to psyche herself up, she hit both her cheeks.
“And to be thorough… an all-nighter it is.”
Immediately after leaving the Okitegami Detective Agency, I put in a call to assemble all of Sunaga Hirubee’s work.
“Got it. I’ll arrange so they’re all gathered by tomorrow.”
Kondou-sn replied in two sentences.
“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be hard, but I’m counting on you. At this point, there will be some books that are hard to obtain.”
“You saw most of them already gathered at his villa, right?”
“Oh, I see. There was that. It’ll be a hassle to transport… but in that case, we’ll be able to get them at a moment’s notice.”
Of course, Kyouko-san might have some dissatisfaction with the obligation to return them that arrangement birthed. I doubt the thought never crossed her mind to use this opportunity to collect all the Sunaga works she didn’t have (Kyouko-san did listen to my story, so the notion of carrying them from the villa surely struck her).
“My apologies, Kondou-san. Troubling you like this.”
“No, no, I’m the one who made an unreasonable request from the start. Yakusuke, so what you’re telling me is that Okitegami-san accepted the request, right?”
“That’s right. It’s a bit of a surprise… she generally doesn’t take up requests that span multiple days. It really goes to show Kyouko-san’s Sunaga-sensei’s fan.”
“Well, Okitegami-san set out to become a detective after reading Sunaga-sensei’s works after all.”
“Eh? Is that true?”
“Ah… no, I just thought that might be the case. She’s simply that die-hard of a fan, I’m sure that’s how it is.”
“? … Hmm.”
He was acting a bit strange, but before I could pursue anything, “So what’s that Okitegami-san doing right now anyway?” Kondou-san pressed the conversation forward.
“If I push it, I think I’ll be able to assemble all of Sunaga-sensei’s works by the end of the day, but…”
“But even if you manage, it’ll be night, right? In that case, she’ll quickly tire out… if she falls asleep even once, Kyouko-san will forget the contents of all the books she’s read. So in order to lengthen her active hours to the limit, she’s going to have a sound sleep tonight, and start working from tomorrow morning.”
Meaning at present, for the sake of tomorrow’s work, Kyouko-san had entered a state of rest and relaxation. The plan was to have her charge up plenty by tomorrow morning and have her start work from there.
“I see. But Yakusuke, if she’s going to read every writing by Sunaga-sensei, I do think that’ll be a considerably harsh amount… it was completely beyond my expectations for Okitegami-san to take on such an approach, but will it really be possible?”
“Yeah. I said so too. But she said she had her own idea about that.”
“An idea? And what’s that?”
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me. In order to uphold duty of confidentiality, it’s a secret until the day in question, she said.”
“Hmm… well, that’s the Okitegami Detective Agency’s selling point, so even if you’re a client, it’s only natural she wouldn’t speak on the details until her work day. But, and this is just the thought of an amateur, but if you don’t hear out her idea, won’t Kyouko-san be the one forgetting it?”
“No, it seems the plan itself’s been written on her arm, so I think it’ll be fine… She probably wrote that idea somewhere on her body so she could hit the sack, right?”
“I see. Even if she’s the forgetful detective, she’s got her loopholes.”
“By the way, this is something Kyouko-san told me to ask, but Kondou-san. What do you think?”
“Mn? About what?”
“Do you think Sunaga-sensei’s death was a suicide or not. No, I mean to say, in the hypothetical case Sunaga-sensei did commit Suicide, Kyouko-san was worried whether it was really alright if she identified it. To be blunt, she might come out with a conclusion that doesn’t meet your expectations. It might bring disgrace to Sunaga-sensei’s name- she said.”
“… If you’ll let me say what’s nothing more than my personal opinion, even if that’s true, it’s something unavoidable. The current vague situation is the worst we could ask for.”
“Also, to an author, suicide isn’t as disgraceful of an ending as you might think. Of course, it depends on the motive and situation… and that’s precisely why, if that motive can be deciphered from his final manuscript, then no matter what comes of it, I want to request it to Okitegami-san.”
“Got it. Then I’ll tell Kyouko-san that tomorrow.”
With those words, I ended the call… but I wasn’t as comprehensive as I made myself sound. Suicide wasn’t a disgrace to an author, Kondou-san’s opinion simply seemed too extreme to me. Sure if you undid the strands of history, there were numerous authors who offed themselves, but I couldn’t help but wonder what era he was referring to. Perhaps Kondou-san could say that because he was an editor, but from a reader’s point of view, they were all tragedies to lament- never something to be aspired for or praised by any means.
Whatever truth lay behind Sunaga-sensei’s death, there was no way it would be alright for him to have a sense of values that affirmed suicide… but without any material to deny the possibility, that’s precisely why Kyouko-san would need to spot it from within all Sunaga-sensei’s works, and his posthumous manuscript.
Eighty-two full-length novels, seventeen short story collections, all giving a total of ninety-nine books… those were the complete works of the novelist Sunaga Hirubee. Strictly speaking, there were other transcribed lectures and essay collections, a few fan books as well, but those were to be excluded this time around… the movie and manga adaptations as well as other mixed media contents, even if he was involved in the screenplay, were similarly excluded. This was, to the end, restricted to the ‘novels’ penned by Sunaga-sensei… and regardless, it lay at this number.
We had collected only the versions closest to their original manuscripts, and they wouldn’t fit neatly into a single cardboard box… even if the ration of hardcovers was high, it was overwhelming. Even if you thought of his career that ran close to fifty years, this was a considerable number. In the recent years that have shifted away from serious reading, those who wouldn’t even read ninety-nine books over their entire lifetime aren’t few in number, and yet, to read them all without a wink of sleep, I couldn’t think Kyouko-san was in a sane state of mind.
Worthy of note was the point all his works were original text- they never passed through a magazine. The aesthetic that his novels should always stand on their own was something he persisted in from his debut. Well, I’m sure novelists who take on that stance aren’t rare in and of themselves, but over forty-five years, ninety-nine books, it was fearsome that stance never crumbled.
Said Kyouko-san as she stacked the envelope I handed her yesterday over the load of books hauled into her reception room.
That’s right, Sunaga-sensei’s posthumous work. The final volume… ninety-nine books plus one. Meaning… one hundred works.
While it might have been a coincidence, that was quite a tidy number.
“Who knows… it might not be a coincidence, Kakushidate-san. It might be that by writing his hundredth work, he determined he had finished his greatest dream as a writer, cutting off what remained of his life with his own–”
“Really? Is that a possibility?”
“I doubt it.”
She all-to-easily revoked her hypothesis.
“If all one hundred books were full-length novels, perhaps. But even if all the short stories were written to be published in book format, he’s got seventeen collections of them… if that was his criteria for suicide, I’m sure that once one hundred volumes were fully published and printed without exaggeration… that would be the time he’d choose.”
“I see… then how about this? If he committed suicide right after writing that manuscript, his last work, then is it possible he wrote the true masterpiece he had been pursuing for many years, thus finally achieving his greatest dream?”
I don’t mean to say whether I know Sunaga-sensei was pursuing some ‘true masterpiece’ over ‘many years’, but if that was the case, I thought we could finish up with Kyouko-san only reading one work, making me bring forth an exceedingly selfish theory, but, “No, I highly doubt that one,” Kyouko-san denied it as well… what’s more, it was a somewhat scornful denial.
“Sunaga-sensei wasn’t that sort of artistic author. Rather than prolific, he was the sort to overproduce literature. I really, really don’t see him seeking out the supreme.”
Based on how one took it, her evaluation might sound like vilification, but Kyouko-san’s tone sounded like criticism coming precisely from the fact she was a fan.
“What’s more, I forgot to say it, but after I woke up in the morning, while I was waiting for your arrival, I wanted to use my time as efficiently as possible, so I went and read this final piece. To be honest, I can’t think it was an ultimate completion great enough to exchange his life for.”
“Oh? Is that so?”
“I enjoyed it, of course, but it feels off for me to use words like ultimate or masterpiece to describe it… as far as I can remember, I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to what he writes next. It was the same feeling I always got from reading Sunaga Hirubee.”
I see- that destroys a few of my premises. Whether it’s ultimate or not aside, while I had gotten the feeling the writing of that novel was related to Sunaga-sensei’s death, before I realized it, I was already wondering… could it be irrelevant?
“Yes. From what I can see from its contents, I don’t think there was any reason that would cause Sunaga-sensei to commit suicide…. But still, this is- to the end- an impression based on my criterion. I’m sure yesterday’s me would have said it as well, but I won’t be able to give any decent conclusion just by reading this book. After I read these gathered ninety-nine volumes and reread this posthumous manuscript, it might change the way I see it.”
Kyouko-san looked down over all of Sunaga-sensei’s work.
“Let’s start off with roughly lining them in order… as accurately as possible, I want to read them in the order they were published. That alone will take considerable time, but looking at the inside covers should…”
“Ah, that one’s alright. Kondou-san already took care of it. He said I might need it and handed me this list.”
I took the paper I’d been entrusted from my pocket… he was able to produce something like this in a night, so that person’s no ordinary man himself.
“I see. This is quite something. I’m thankful for his consideration. Please give that Kondou-san my regards.”
When she had already met him twice, she made it sound awfully like someone else’s business, I thought, but to ‘Today’s Kyouko-san’, the capable man called Kondou Fumifusa was a name she first heard from me at this moment. Even so, he still earns her admiration just like that. As expected of Kondou-san.
“What’s more, it’s easy to understand. The number next to the release date must be Sunaga-sensei’s career, right? From his first year to his forty-fifth… couldn’t this be used as-is for the collection of Sunaga-sensei’s complete works that’s sure to come out soon? There’s barely anything to add… if anything… it would be this final piece.”
“Should I add it on? What’s the title?”
“It hasn’t been given one yet. Sunaga-sensei was the type to decide on the title at the very end. In some cases, it was left blank until the moment before publication… perhaps he intended it to be that way this time around as well.”
In that case, the thought he went to the other world in satisfaction after completing his final work is growing less and less likely… in that case, at the very least, he’d decide on a title before he died.
“He had a strong fixation on names… is that what it meant?”
“There’s also a theory he simply sucked at naming things. If I were to have to name this posthumous manuscript, I would call it, ‘The Cob of the Corn’, perhaps?”
“I see… ‘The Cob of the Corn’, is it?”
I hadn’t read it, so I was unable to evaluate whether or not that was a fitting name… but just as I was told, I added it onto the list. Though I couldn’t help but leave the publication date blank.
“Then I’ll be taking my leave. I left my contact information, so once you’ve finished reading everything, if there’s anything you figure out, feel free to contact me at any time.”
Thinking it was about time to go home, I stood from my seat, but there, Kyouko-san spoke up,
“Eh? T-that would be troublesome.”
She hurriedly called me to a stop.
“Didn’t you hear anything from me yesterday?”
“Ah, I see. Oh me, I must have stayed silent to uphold a duty of confidentiality. My apologies. Anyways, Kakushidate-san, please take a seat for now. Would you like another cup of coffee?”
“Then I don’t mind if I do…”
What is this? Well, I had no reason to decline the coffee Kyouko-san brewed (I’d enjoy it more if it wasn’t served straight) and I didn’t have any reason to hurry home (I was unemployed), but if I stayed too long, I worried that with each passing moment, I’d be robbing Kyouko-san of her valuable work time. Thinking of how she was going to be pulling consecutive all-nighters after this, Kyouko-san surely had to set about reading as soon as possible, but…
“The truth is, there’s something I’d like your cooperation with.”
After preparing two peoples’ worth of coffee, Kyouko-san turned to me.
“Oh… yes, well, if it’s something I’m capable of.”
From how I accepted without listening to the contents just because it was Kyouko-san’s request, I really can’t say anything against Kyouko-san, who took up the job the moment she heard Sunaga-sensei’s name.
“From here on, until I finish reading these hundred books, I can’t have a single wink of sleep, but as you can see, I am but a single human being, and I might not be able to win against my somnolence. Even if just once, one moment I fall asleep, I will forget all my reading to that point… such is the sorrow of the forgetful detective.”
“Yes… that’s right.”
But I’m sure she was well aware of that beforehand. Kyouko-san surely knew that when she accepted this job I definitely couldn’t call suited for the Okitegami Detective agency… but come to think of it, she did say she had an idea, didn’t she?
“Yes. A perfectly conceived idea to the letter.”
Kyouko-san stroked her stomach.
“And even the to the letter part is to the letter… when I woke up today morning, it was written around here. ‘If you get sleepy, have Kakushidate Yakusuke-san (Giant) wake you’.”
“Eh? You want me to wake you…”
“It’s a straight-forward sentence, and its meaning is clear. It means I simply have to have Kakushidate-san keep a constant watch over me so I don’t fall asleep, or so it seems yesterday’s me thought- will you take it up?”
It was a light shock to find out Kyouko-san thought of me as a giant, but more than that, I was happy to have her rely on me like that. But keeping watch to make sure a person pulling all-nighters didn’t fall asleep meant that I would have to likewise, stay by her, rather than just watch, and pull all-nighters myself. But at that moment, my head hadn’t got around to thinking that far through.
“Of course, if you’ll assist me, I’ll pay you for your time, and even if I say that, I don’t think it’ll take too many days. I might have already told you, but I’ve already read about half of them at least once.”
What’s this, so I even get a salary for it. It’s not like I’ll be reading the books, and a job where I just had to watch over a working Kyouko-san from the side was more than a currently-unemployed job-hunting man could ask for.
“If you say you can’t, of course, I won’t force you. In that case, I can put in a request to that Kondou-san who you spoke of a while ago and…”
“Understood. You have my cooperation. No, please let me cooperate. If Sunaga-sensei did indeed commit suicide, I want to know the reason.”
Around eighty percent of that statement was a lie, but that didn’t mean I could speak out my real intent that gazing at a working Kyouko-san and getting money for it was the best job in the world, and that I didn’t want to concede that unanticipated job to Kondou-san… What’s more, if a smooth-sailing bigshot author suddenly chose death without any portent, my desire to know the reason did take up at least twenty percent of me. That much was true. When I’m someone who’s got doubts thrown at me, false accusations thrown at me, who gets fired left and right, and who’s three steps away from being thrown out onto the street, and even I didn’t want to die…
If after reading all of Sunaga-sensei’s works, Kyouko-san doesn’t figure anything out after all, if she reaches the conclusion his death was by natural causes, that may be for the best… Whatever the case, now that I was involved, I wanted to see it through.
“Is that so. So you’ll take up the offer That’s a huge help, how joyous. Then my apologies, you’ll require a contract of employment, so I’m sure you won’t mind if we write up a written oath.”
“Ah, yes. That’s right, I’ll need to take up a duty of confidentiality as well, after all. But I never even imagined it would come down to this, so I didn’t bring my seal with me.”
“It doesn’t have to be anything so official, just your signature is enough. We just have to make it clear that I employed you by my own will.”
After handing over the thick magic marker she had fetched from her desk when she went to get coffee, Kyouko-san rolled up the sleeve of her right arm.
“So won’t you write down your vows over here?”
I, Kakushidate Yakusuke, swear that, as a temporary hire of the Okitegami Detectivie Agency, I will continue rousing my boss, Okitegami Kyouko.
A job of constantly watching Kyouko-san work was wonderful, or so I leapt on without any deep thought or analysis, but come to think of it, as a person who continued being dragged into cases as a mere side character, it was the grand promotion I could never imagine.
Miraculously, through the contract written on Kyouko-san’s wring arm, it came to be realized… that I was her right-hand man. Right, the first job I got since I was fired from the Sarashina Research Institute was ‘Great Detective’s Assistant’ of all things.
A so-called Watson role.
Great detective is an occupation only for those beloved by the god of crime, so looking at it that way, the Watson role was the highest rank a standard person could achieve… I couldn’t help but rejoice.
Of course, it was only limited to this case, and once the truth of Sunaga-sensei’s death came to light, my employment contract would finish, and I’d yet again revert to Side Character A (No, perhaps B or C?), but… well, I shouldn’t think too hard about the future to ruin my current mood.
To start with, I should concentrate on what’s before my eyes.
It’s the same with every job out there.
That being the case, I concentrated on my job of staring at Kyouko-san as she sat and read before my eyes… Kyouko-san wouldn’t lend me an eye as she promptly started from Sunaga Hirubee’s debut work.
Sunaga Hirubee’s ‘Murder at the River’s Depths’.
A novel released forty-five years ago… the title and design were both products of the time, and it felt like an overly-serious, orthodox mystery novel. I was most accustomed to Sunaga-sensei’s face as a young adult author with ‘The Great Detective Meiko’s Case Log’ as his representative work, so I didn’t really know his literary style on that side… rather, Sunaga-sensei published way too much, and honestly, the likes of me couldn’t hope to grasp the expanse of his writing style.
“Right. The first few years from his debut, until he got on track, it seems his writings were centered around this sort of strict mystery novel. This might be a bad way to put it, but I think it would be accurate to say he rode the mainstream wave of the time through his debut.”
Hearing that, I confirmed with the list Kondou-san drafted up… I see, judging from the titles, it was nothing but those sorts of works.
“He was thirty at his debut… was he? Not too early or too late for an author to get going.”
“Yes. However, it seems Sunaga-sensei himself thought that thirty was too young to write an orthodox mystery, so he concealed his age at the time of his debut. I get the feeling that thought process itself is too youthful, but, well, no matter how old Sunaga Hirubee gets, he had to have made his debut somewhere, and he had to be young at some point.”
“Could it be like how Satoi-sensei operates under a male name because she writes shonen Manga?”
“I do not know who this Satoi-sensei is, but I presume it is something like that.”
Without stopping the hands turning the pages, Kyouko-san answered my question. I had my misgivings about talking to her in the midst of her reading, but she said she would actually be better off if I did. She had only started reading, but for the sake of when the night wore on and she grew sleepy, she wanted to grow accustomed to conversing with me… an awkward conversation at that point would only increase her drowsiness.
“I see. So it’s because he didn’t want to look young that he chose such a strange, antiquated penname.”
“Sunaga Hirubee is his real name.”
“Eh? With that str… peculiar name, I was sure it was a pen name. hmm…”
Well, it’s not like my parents gave me a name that let me say too much on the matter.
“So which of Sunaga-sensei’s works was the first one you read?”
“It might sound cliché, but it was ‘Writhing God’.”
I couldn’t tell whether that response was cliché or not… but that title was one I knew. I hadn’t read it, but I recall it was adapted into a serial drama with a popular actor playing the lead role… it got a movie as well.
“Right. I saw the movie first. Let me be honest, I can’t deny I felt like I was just going with the trend when I picked up the book, but I got myself hooked. After that, as if to become an expert on the subject, I laid hands on every Sunaga-sensei work I could get my hands on.”
Fufu, Kyouko-san smiled.
Recalling a past… it was to Kyouko-san a valuable ‘past’ she was able to recall.
“W-why do you like Sunaga-sensei’s works that much? I think it’s considerably rare for a detective by occupation to have a liking for mystery novels… truth be told, that’s partly why Kondou-san decided to request this job to you.”
Far from it, Kondou-san even said Kyouko-san set out to be a detective after reading Sunaga-sensei’s works… in that case, you could call him the author who decided Kyouko-san’s life.
But- and I say this fully accepting Sunaga-sensei as a great mystery author- Sunaga Hirubee wasn’t supposed to be that sort of novelist. For better or worse, take it how you will, but he was an author who focused on entertainment, and not the sort society saw as one to contemplate the meaning of life or influence someone’s future. He was also uninvolved with any literary competition. Even if his name might become the name of an award, he never won one himself… that sort of author.
“The reason I love Sunaga-sensei’s works is clear. It’s because Sunaga-sensei is always facing life head-on.”
“Of course, he has his basis as a mystery author, so people die left and right. But those lives are never tossed aside or treated roughly… that writing style of his is what charmed a teenage me.”
Even if she spoke fervently on the matter, I didn’t get that impression at all, so I wasn’t able to nod along. An impression of a book differs from person to person. The ‘Great Detective Meiko’ series I enjoyed was for a younger audience, and its cases didn’t involve anyone dying, but that was precisely why they struck so close to home. Disregarding me, Kyouko-san continued on.
“That’s why I think it’s strange. After placing such weight on the value of life, no matter the reason, I can’t think that Sunaga-sensei would choose suicide.”
Hearing that, I contrarily grew anxious… Kondou-san requested for Kyouko-san because she was Sunaga-sensei’s fan, but as I listened to her manner of speech, my fears that she might be unsuited for looking into Sunaga-sensei’s death were resurfacing.
Because she was a fan, her investigation was grounded in the preconceived notion that it was unbelievable for Sunaga-sensei to commit suicide… though it probably didn’t go that far. However, reading one hundred books like this was something only a fan could do. Perhaps I shouldn’t read too deeply into it?
I’ve experienced it before as well, but if your love towards a work is too deep, you might read it in an outrageous way from time to time… perhaps perceiving what was on my mind, Kyouko-san spoke up.
“For example, as far as I know, in his writing career, Sunaga-sensei has taken around two different breaks from writing each spanning a few years.”
She said. Hearing that, I looked at the list for reference… sure enough, from the twenty-first to twenty-third, and twenty-seventh to thirtieth year of his career, he didn’t publish a single new work. Why would that be, I wonder.
“Of course, during that time, his past publications were still being printed, and his works were adapted to different media, so he didn’t give off the impression he had stopped working… afterward, Sunaga-sensei did talk about it in one of his essays. The first break was his mother, and the second was his father.”
“So he was in mourning… is that what it means?”
“Yes, so it seems. Or perhaps he was too shocked to move his pen.”
I had to tilt my head at a working adult who had been at his career for over twenty years unable to do his job from the death of a family member… of course, it would be a shock, but wasn’t dragging it out three years a bit much? If that’s why it meant to ‘Face life head-on’, this really went beyond the norm.
“At the very least,”
Kyouko-san continued on.
“From what I can recall from the scope of the novels I’ve read, there hasn’t been a single person who committed suicide in any of Sunaga-sensei’s works.”
“What… not a single one?”
“Yes. Not one. No side characters, no characters who don’t appear whose existences are only implied… it’s almost as if Sunaga-sensei was avoiding the notion of suicide itself.”
At those words, I thought.
Was the really true? Just as the ‘Great Detective Meiko’ series avoided death, I can understand why he’d want to avoid using some words and notions, but… in all his works, without exception?
“Of course, strictly speaking, there are some exceptions. The names of historic individuals who committed suicide do occasionally come up in the flow of conversation… but in that case as well, he wouldn’t touch on the fact those individuals killed themselves.”
“That’s, how should I put it…”
Just a coincidence… wasn’t enough to write it off.
Based on the author, it’s possible such coincidences might occur, but despite the wide breadth of Sunaga-sensei’s works, he was fundamentally a mystery author… for a mystery author to continue writing without using the word ‘suicide’, was it really possible? Wouldn’t it be just as difficult as a sci-fi author going his entire life without using the word science? A murder made to look like a suicide, a suicide set up to look like a murder… without using any such tricks, could one really continue to write mystery novels for forty-five years…
“Ah, no, it’s still too early to make any conclusions. I’m just saying it never came out in what I can remember of the novels I read. I’m reading all Sunaga-sensei’s works to look into that as well.”
“If it’s his recent works, they’ve been digitized, so if we ask Kondou-san, I think he’ll be able to do a word search.”
“Self-destruct, hang oneself, take the leap, seppuku, slit wrists. There are countless ways one can express suicide… I have no choice but to search for the nuance with my own eyes. Additionally, I’m not reading all these books just to search for vocabulary. If I had to say, that’s of secondary importance.”
“I-is that so??”
From what I could hear, that would make for quite decisive proof that Sunaga-sensei’s death wasn’t a suicide… but if that’s all she was doing, I get the feeling she would’ve told me yesterday.
“Yes. I mean if I set up a hypothesis of, ‘That’s why Sunaga-sensei didn’t commit suicide’ from that fact, then from that same exact information, one could say, ‘Sunaga-sensei held suicide in such high esteem he wouldn’t use the term so easily’- it would be possible to read it either way.”
Once she said it, I got the feeling it was true… it was a paradox of mystery, or rather, anything could simultaneously become evidence to prove two opposite theories. No, what Kyouko-san was currently trying to decipher was why that couldn’t be the case, but… it sends shivers down my spine when I think of if she read one hundred books, and it all turned out to be a wasted effort… Could it be Kyouko-san had some sort of conviction?
“By the way, the Sunaga-sensei work I liked best was the ‘Great Detective Meiko’ series that starts with ‘Great Detective Meiko’s Case Log’.”
Kyouko-san likely arbitrarily said it to change the flow of the conversation, but I unintentionally gave a grand reaction… of all things, it had to be the sole Sunaga-sensei series I read every volume of, that Kyouko-san loved? And she was saying that after giving quite a strict evaluation to the posthumous manuscript, so I was enveloped in a delight as if I had found a comrade of similar taste… no, it’s not like my love of ‘Meiko’ was particularly higher than the norm, but…
“Yes. Contrarily, the ones I can’t stand are his sensual books like ‘Conceits of Courting’ and ‘The Absconding of my Brother’, and his grotesque, ‘The Chest is Above the Stomach’… but I’ll be using this opportunity to give them a read.”
As she said that, Kyouko-san clicked the first book, ‘Murder at the River’s Depths’ shut.
“Ah, are you taking a break? Yeah, no matter how you look at it, I talked way too much. My apologies.”
“No, don’t mind it. Thanks to you, I actually made some good progress, and I’ve just finished reading the first book.”
I was surprised… not even an hour had passed since she started reading. While she tried being tactful, saying it was ‘thanks to me’, surely her pace itself had fallen as she read while conversing with me. At this rate, wouldn’t she be able to read one hundred volumes surprisingly quickly?
“Ah, it would be troublesome if you place such expectations on me. This ‘Murder at the River’s Depths’ is a book I read countless times before, so I was able to maintain top speed on this reread… I doubt it will go that way for books I haven’t read, and books whose contents I’ve forgotten.”
And even if she could remember them, I’m sure there were books that left light impressions… Kyouko-san turned her eyes to the mountain of books.
“In that case, Kakushidate-san, it’s alright if you sleep on that sofa while you still can. This is going to be a long trek… it’s fine if I’m the only one losing sleep.”
That was definitely logical, but I wasn’t shameless enough to sleep right in front of Kyouko-san when she held the resolve to pull all-nighters… Kyouko-san picked up the second book.
Ninety-nine books remained… the great detective’s battle had only just begun.
Come to think of it, if this was simply a coincidence, and yet, Sunaga-sensei’s death was a suicide, the fact he chose sleeping pills to go must be some grand irony… I didn’t even have to recall the Sarashina Research Institute to know that sleeping pills were something of Kyouko-san’s natural enemy.
Sunaga-sensei died in his sleep, and Kyouko would spend many a sleepless night investigating it; it was a little too well-put-together to stem from pure chance… and as I was coincidentally impudently chosen to sit through it, I couldn’t deny I felt out of place, but at most as a witness, I would see it through.
That being the case, it was true the battle had entered its second half, and these were simply the rude thoughts going through the head of someone was still intently staring at Kyouko-san, who had yet to grow sleepy… Keeping Kyouko-san in my field of vision as she went at the second book, I tried conducting some light calculations. In all actuality, just how long would it take to finish reading one hundred books?
Even if she had already read around half of the books, considering how her pace would probably drop with time… if she takes around two hours to read a book on average, then two hundred hours? No, no, in that case, it will be over a week before she finishes reading… there’s no way a human could stay up that long. That’s not at the level where motivation and guts can make up for it. In the worst case, it’s insomnia on the level that could kill someone… as far as I know, Kyouko-san’s consecutive all-nighter record is three nights. She prepared for this from yesterday, and perhaps it’s alright if I think she won’t have too many problems today.
It’s just, back then, she had become considerably unsteady on her feet last time, and I think her mind was growing hazy around the end… even if it takes three syllables to say all-nighter, most people get in a small wink of sleep when they pull one off, but Kyouko-san couldn’t permit such a thing. In such a state, can a human continue to read a book? The time it took to read the first book, “Murder at the River’s Depths” was approximately thirty minutes… perhaps the match depends on how long she can keep up that pace for the books she’s read before. But it’s precisely in the last spurt where her drowsiness has reached her peak that she’ll run into a boss rush of new releases she’s never read before (or perhaps forgotten). This absolute structure was way too unsuited for Kyouko-san.
To read them in the order they were written was crucial, and the books had to be read in that order. While Kyouko-san said that, taking efficiency into account, wouldn’t it be better to read them starting with the posthumous manuscript (tentatively The Cob of the Corn) and working backward from there… or perhaps whittle it down to only the unread (unremembered) books and rely on memory for the rest? No, I didn’t even have to put such thoughts to words. Kyouko-san herself should know that better than anyone else… on top of that knowledge, she knows that she should read every work in order, so I shouldn’t stick my mouth in her decision.
I can only watch over her.
… It was an assumption that didn’t hold much meaning, but if I were to try comprehending one hundred books, I would surely read them by series. With that in mind, I tried reorganizing the list. In his life as an author, Sunaga-sensei undertook numerous series, but… specifically how many series did he write? I thought I’d try asking Kyouko-san, there were surely series that started running after Kyouko-san lost a grasp of them, so I decided to count on my own. It wasn’t just to kill time, in order to make best use of my free time, doing that sort of task might end up helping out Kyouko-san’s work. Just watching her work from the side couldn’t be called Watson’s job… there were some things that couldn’t be discerned from the titles alone, so I checked the blurbs of each novel for reference every time.
The result was as follows.
1. ‘Drug Detective’: 2・3・4・6・8
2. ‘Nameless Reasoning’: 5・7・9・10
3. ‘The Aging Assistant Inspector’: 11・12・13・14・16・19
4. ‘Courting’: 15・17・24・30・31
5. ‘Professor Dissector’: 18・23・27・28・29
6. ‘Demon Brigade’: 34・27・40
7. ‘Sealed Room Specialist’: 35・36・43
8. ‘Phantasmal Travel Log’: 34・37・40
9. ‘Class 6-6’: 35・36・43
10. ‘Koiwai’s Detective Story’: 38・39・42・44・46・54・55・58
11. ‘The Idiom Detective’: 41・45・47
12. ‘Judge Sorine’: 49・52・53
13. ‘Euthanastic Detective S’: 50・59
14. ‘Shitsune Kurenai’: 56・60・61
15. ‘Kiryuu’s Priesthood’: 57・70・71・77
16. ‘Great Detective Meiko’: 62・63・64・65・67・68・69
17. ‘Star Doctor’: 72・74・81
18. ‘The Clock Store’: 73・82・96
19. ‘Retired Officer’: 75・76・78・80・83・94
20. ‘Cellphone Detective’: 84・85・92・93・97
21. ‘The Thief of Blue’: 86・87・88・99
22. ‘Approximate Brothers’: 89・90・91・95・98
… Separating them into groups made it clear that a majority of the ninety-nine volumes were part of a series.
Carrying twenty-two series over his life, that’s quite something… what’s more, each one of those series was already completed, making it truly fearsome.
This might be one of the reasons Sunaga-sensei is accepted as both a mainstream and first-rate author.
Without abandoning any series half-way, he would spend as many years as it took to complete them… as long as he had a single reader, it was a writer’s duty to finish their writing, that was Sunaga-sensei’s pride as an author, apparently. Contrarily, no matter how popular a series was, he wouldn’t prolong it, ending them in an average of five novels; something that also might be a source of pride. Even the series were written in a way that they could be picked up at any volume, they were popular with men and women of all ages, and the way he continued running a straight line all his life was a tale I had to nod at.
… But while Sunaga-sensei’s impression as a mystery author was strongest, looking at it like this, there were numerous works that weren’t so. The sensual series Kyouko-san wasn’t good with, and the grotesque, some works geared towards lighthearted nonsense… it seems he had fantasy works, and belles-lettres as well.
Meaning he was more varied than prolific.
But even so, the man who produced that world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t actually call himself a mystery author, he proclaimed himself to be a sci-fi fantasy writer with his ‘Lost World’ as his representative piece… looking at his work comprehensibly then even if just by transitive property, there’s no doubt Sunaga-sensei is a recognized mystery author.
“…Mn? Kyouko-san, I think I might have just noticed something incredible.”
“Yes? What is it?”
The way Kyouko-san lifted her face from her book, rather than being curious as to what I had noticed, it seems she was more suspicious of my overly motivated theatrical tone, and her eyes were just a little doubtful. I cleared my throat to calm myself, “I tried separating Sunaga-sensei’s works by series to analyze them, but…” I continued on.
“It seems Sunaga-sensei hasn’t started any new series these past few years. Forget starting anything, he’s been finishing up his long-running series one after the next. This is almost as if he’s trying to put an end to his life as an–”
“Ah. That. I heard someone say that on the morning news. But that’s something only an amateur Sunaga-sensei fan would say.”
Without hearing my discovery to the end, Kyouko-san returned her gaze to the page. An amateur fan… what sort of expression is that?
“That phenomenon is nothing rare. In that past, there have been a number of similar periods where numerous series ended, and each time, his fans would grow concerned.”
Hearing that, I took another look at the list. Sure enough, Sunaga-sensei simply wrote so many books that it wasn’t conspicuous, but the times when all his running series ended at once happened twice before… this wasn’t the first.
And after those were over, he started up new series as if it was natural.
What happens twice will happen again.
It seems my grand discovery was common sense among his fans.
“Does that mean his posthumous manuscript was the first volume of a new series?”
“No, ‘The Cob of the Corn’ was a standalone.”
“Standalone…? Oh, you mean it was completed in and of itself without being included in any series?”
While they were few in number, in Sunaga-sensei’s long career, he had written those sorts of books as well… for example, his debut work ‘Murder at the River’s Depths’ was like that, and after that, the ‘The Victim of Mine Eye’ was a standalone as well. A few others scattered around… apart from his famous debut piece, they were all titles I had never heard of until I looked at the list.
“Right. Among his fans, all his standalones besides ‘Murder at the River’s Depths’ are seen as light palate cleansers. Not palate cleansers for the reader, but cleansers for the author… Perhaps sometimes Sunaga-sensei gets in the mood to write a novel without regards to readership or sales, they say.”
“A palate cleanser… is it…”
“Perhaps I should call it a rest for his pen.”
If that’s how it is, it kinda sounds heroic… to spell it out, even during his rests, he was writing novels… once it’s gone that far, I can only think he was possessed by something. Even if there was no suicide, couldn’t that absurd writing style have been shortening his lifespan? In my school days, the class prodigy studied on their break between studying and studying, but from Sunaga-sensei’s career, I felt something similar, something that even exceeded that.
And I held that same sort of awe for Kyouko-san in my sight… I couldn’t help but sense it from the great detective who would try reading one hundred books without a wink of sleep.
“… Kyouko-san, why did you want to become a detective?”
I tried asking… no, Kondou-san said Kyouko-san set out to become a detective after reading Sunaga-sensei’s work, but it wasn’t as if I wanted to confirm the truth of the matter. It really is just a whim, I asked with the flow.
I couldn’t no longer bear the nervousness of this tête-à-tête with Kyouko-san, and even as a hired assistant, it was a somewhat intrusive question. To cover for myself, “See, I’m in the middle of job hunting right now…” I added on.
“So I’m extremely thankful that you’re offering me work, but… I was just thinking of what I should do to live after this. No matter what work I do, it just doesn’t feel right for me. What work am I going to do for my life? I’ve always puzzled over it.”
Kyouko-san gave a half-hearted response. I mean, if a large-framed assistant she thinks of as a giant suddenly brought forth these life consultations, I doubt she would know how to answer. Especially to ‘today’s Kyouko-san’, I was just a side character she dragged in, and she didn’t even know I was facing a scarcity of employment.
As truth would have it, “I don’t know your situation…” Kyouko-san gave as a preface before,
“But the reason I became a detective,”
Even if hypothetically, the reason she set out to be a detective was intertwined with Sunaga-sensei’s works, there was no way she would tell someone (she thinks) she just met today something so fundamental to the basis of the forgetful detective. I was sure it was because detective was the occupation she could best use her special trait of resetting every day… I had expected such an obvious answer in return, but those expectations were turned on their head.
“Does not exist.”
I didn’t even have to take Sunaga Hirubee’s forty-five years as a reference to say there was no easy job in the world… even so, man must work if he wants to eat. Nay, at some point long ago, Sunaga-sensei surely saved enough so he could eat without working any more, but even so, he continued to work… then no matter what pains I go through, no matter how things don’t go my way, perhaps there is meaning in work itself.
But having experienced various work[places, having been fired from various workplaces, that wasn’t something I could agree with so easily… and to make sure a working Kyouko-san didn’t fall asleep, I had been given a dream-like job of keeping constant watch of her reading form, but even that had its dark side after all. No, that ‘after all’ was a sort of labor and toil the likes of which I had never experienced before.
It didn’t take very long for me to recognize that watching Kyouko-san and making sure she didn’t fall asleep meant that I couldn’t sleep as well (I realized that by the first night), but this watch duty held a problem that made such things seem inconsequential.
That problem started become plainly blatant from the second night onwards, when Kyouko-san’s reading efficiency was beginning to fall… as it was a trade secret, I couldn’t determine how much of Sunaga-sensei’s work Kyouko-remembered, or forgot, what she had read and what she hadn’t, but as the number of books she read exceeded fifty, the speed at which she turned the pages evidently declined.
The thing is, I couldn’t determine whether or not that was simply because she entered the realm of books she didn’t remember… rather, that couldn’t be the case. The fiftieth and fifty-first books were published before Kyouko-san was born… if she said she didn’t remember them, then I doubt she would even remember Sunaga Hirubee’s name either. But her pace was collapsing down… the reason was clear, and at that point, Kyouko-san was beginning to show a considerably thick shade of fatigue.
“It’s more tiring… than I imagined, this reading thing. Ahaha…”
At that time, Kyouko-san still had the leisure to laugh, but I secretly got a bad premonition… it didn’t take long for that premonition to hit the mark. Thinking back, when I wondered what I would do if I grew sleepy before Kyouko-san, that was truly a self-centered thought. There was no way that a man who wasn’t doing anything, simply staring at Kyouko-san would ever reach their limit before someone who constantly concentrated on reading the books.
There’s no use in a fool like me obfuscating the problem forever, so to put it bluntly, approximately seventy-two hours from the start of this reading marathon… Kyouko-san’s smile disappeared.
To say the unvarnished truth, she was in a terrible mood.
Around the point right after her first all-nighter, both our tensions contrarily rose, and conversations sprung around on matters besides Sunaga-sensei as well (Come to think of it, that time was the peak of this job’s enjoyment), but those conversations she said were to keep her awake, from the third day onwards, had practically disappeared… “Do your best,” even if I sent some words of encouragement, “I’m doing my best. Does it look like I’m not?” I would get some thorny words in return.
“Then I’ll do the very best that I possibly can. Because a certain someone insists.”
… Of course, that naturally led to silence. But even if I didn’t talk, for example, I simply stood to use the restroom, “Please walk quieter, I can’t concentrate. Don’t get in my way.” I ended up inviting in her curse.
Right, without understanding the essence of the job left to me, I had frivolously rejoiced over it… the job I only understood up to, ‘I want you to accompany me on my all-nighters’, ended up being, ‘endlessly rouse a person at their physical limit’. It wasn’t limited to Kyouko-san, there was no one out there whose mood would improve with drowsiness, and all the same, there was no one out there whose spirits would rise if they were shaken while sleepy.
Which means, my role wasn’t that of a watchman.
I was the torturer, so to speak.
This was by no means an exaggerated metaphor, as known to the world at large, ‘not letting someone sleep’ was one of the most effective means of torture out there.
If Kyouko-san was on the verge of nodding off, I would call out at my discretion, at times making a loud thump to impede her sleep… the first time, “Thank you, Kakushidate-san. That was a life-saver,” it was a deed she thanked me for, but along the way, it changed nature to her simply glaring at me with reproachful eyes.
Brewing coffee, and preparing food heaped with spices to provide a strong stimulation was my job as well… If it was to keep Kyouko-san awake, then if my hands were free, I would heartlessly use every means at my disposal. Of course, it was more of a tragedy for the one who had to eat it, but… continually torturing the girl I admired, harassing her, being hated, detested, despised by her… I had never experienced a job this hellish in my life. No matter what charges were placed on me, it never made me this nauseous.
Of course, this was something Kyouko-san herself wished for, proposed and planned out. Kyouko-san had surely resolved for it the very moment she took up this job… I was the one lacking in resolve. I didn’t write my oath on Kyouko-san’s right arm with such intentions. When she was usually so cheerful and good natures, to make her hate me like this… no, even so, if that’s all there was to it, I would still be able to endure. The real problem was that I was starting to hate Kyouko-san.
With her physical and emotional state at their very limit, I knew in my head I shouldn’t take all her speech and conduct at face value, but even as I worked just as she told me, when she continued taking on such a thorny attitude, the inside of my heart couldn’t stay serene. Unfortunately, Kakushidate Yakusuke wasn’t a young man of such angelic nature.
She had saved me from peril time and again, I’d been in her care so many times, no matter how much I thanked her, it wouldn’t be enough, and yet, for my feeling towards her to become so defiant, it was so painful it just became sad… no, to be honest, I didn’t have the leisure to feel pained.
It’s just, Kyouko-san’s irritated attitude irritated me.
Could a lack of sleep truly steal a human’s sanity to such an extent… to think I would find Kyouko-san detestable. As a result, the air of the Okitegami Detective Agency’s reception room had become terribly awkward, and extremely difficult to endure… While I had experienced an awkwardness at Sunaga-sensei’s villa the other day, this was a mood that didn’t even warrant comparison.
On that small trip, I was happy to see a private side of Kyouko-san I had never seen before, but… I could call this environment the exact opposite. Seeing a side I didn’t even want to see, holding feelings I never wanted to hold. I had to keep watching on as Kyouko-san was cornered by her work, and off all things, pushing her even further into a corner and ruining her was my role. Even if she said she wanted a break, there was no way she could say it… breaks weren’t permitted to the forgetful detective Kyouko-san. The only rest she could get came after the case was resolved.
If I wasn’t a side character but Watson, I could work alongside Kyouko-san as her partner, but unfortunately, it didn’t seem like I could fulfill that role… even if I wanted to, this was the most I could do. From the start, this was a job unfit of a man like me.
“Kakushidate-san. My coffee cup is empty. You really are inconsiderate.”
The usual Kyouko-san would never say that last sentence, but as I was also dangerously sleepy, there was no means for me to refute, and as she demanded, I silently prepared a refill.
“Kakushidate-san. Could you pinch me a bit?”
As I returned from the kitchen with a cup brimming with coffee, wiping her face with a wet hand-towel, Kyouko-san made a demand in a low voice… with my drowsiness, for a moment, I couldn’t understand her meaning.
“The waves of sleepiness are quite nearing the limit. Please give my cheek a strong pinch.”
If it was to keep her up, I thought the arm or the back of her hand might be better, but I couldn’t damage the hands she used to read the books.
“Please hurry up. If aye dyon’t overcome this sleepinyess, all my work will be wastyed…”
Her voice was indeed on the verge of repose… she was slurring her words, and once her pronunciation went down the drain, it really was about time. I didn’t have time to hesitate. But. Still. My resistance to pinching a woman’s face was strong after all. But Kyouko0sam,
“I also wish to punish myself for taking on such an arrogyant and insolent attitude tyowards you, when you’re just trying to hyelp. Please.”
She strengthened her request… and continued on as if to pressure me.
“Have you forgotten what you wrote on your employment contryact?”
When she said that much, I couldn’t decline. In the first place, without any real resolve, without thinking it would come to this, it’s my fault for writing up a contract like that. After readying myself, I grabbed one of Kyouko‘s cheeks in each hand
“Yesh. Nyau prease sthay like thish a whiau.”
As a result, not only was she throwing in random ys, she was no failing to pronounce almost everything else. But it seems this was more effective than I thought, and ever since I started pinching Kyouko-san’s cheek, the pace of her reading marathon slightly recovered.
Because she would get used to it if I continued pinching the same place, I changed the location of the fold, her nose, eyebrows and eyelids, to summarize, I continued touching parts of Kyouko-san’s face… well, having your face touched might just be unpleasant, so I’m sure it would have an effect as a wake-up call, but it didn’t resolve the problem that Kyouko-san hated me. More so, it was only earnestly worsening it… but at that time, with the desire to end this job as soon as possible, if it would make Kyouko-san’s reading steady, then that was fine. I thought such negligent thoughts.
But this wakeup only remained effective until Kyouko-san’s waking time exceeded one hundred hours. From there on came the fourth knight… as far as I knew, the fourth night onwards was uncharted territory for Kyouko-san, and to be honest I ended up falling asleep a number of times. I nodded off still pinching Kyouko-san’s cheeks, so when I collapsed over her, I ended up slamming her into the coffee table, and as a result, both of our drowsiness was blown away, a lucky punch, surely, but naturally, that good luck wouldn’t continue forever.
Kyouko-san was so weary on the fifth day I couldn’t bear to look at her… “Let’s stop this already, Kyouko-san,” I finally had no choice but to say.
“This job was impossible from the start. Even if you read books in that state, the contents won’t enter your head… I’ll put in a word to Kondou-san.”
“Wai cyan’t… abwandon ith.”
She was speaking through pinched cheeks, but even if I released these hands, I got an inkling her articulation would be just as bad.
“A job… I’ve accepted… to the end…”
I’ll carry it through, said Kyouko-san.
Those words alone were so strong I couldn’t imagine she had remained awake over a hundred hours… but at that point, her hands turning the pages were barely moving.
I turned my eyes to the few books remaining of the mountain… my consciousness was also rather empty, so it was difficult to count them, but around… ten books remaining? Blowing through one hundred hours (or was it more) and reading this much was quite a feat… but, in her state, she wouldn’t be able to finish another book, no, another line.
I don’t get it.
Just what could it be that’s giving Kyouko-san so much willpower? When she said the reason she became a detective ‘doesn’t exist’… like this, it’s almost as if she’s one of those eccentric great detectives who devote their entire being solely towards solving mysteries. If you took away Kyouko-san’s keywords of ‘forgetful’ and ‘fastest’, I was sure Kyouko-san was the common-sense type, but…
“I-in the first place, just reading them isn’t enough, Kyouko-san. You have to read them and do deductions on top of that… you head isn’t even turning anymore, is it?”
“Hyow… wude. Aye… dnyahyaba theowy.”
Dnyahyaba? Wait which is it? Was that I do have a theory, or I do not have a theory? From the context, I assume she does, but I’m dubious whether or not I have the aptitude to read context in my state.
“Dyon’t worrya ‘bout it, just shyut up and pinch my cheeks lyike aye told you to… pwease don’t stick your mouth where it dyousen’t belown…”
Kyouko stood as she said… the sofa invited in drowsiness, so from a while back, Kyouko-san got to kneeling on the floor. It seems she had lost the feeling in her legs, so teetering like a newly born deer, she started walking off in some direction.
“Kyouko-san, where are you going?”
“I’m going to go take a shower… come to think of it, I haven’t washed my body for more thanya whole day. For me to stay with a man so long without so much as changing, hyow imyodesth…”
In that case, I was practically on the same conditions, but perhaps a woman would care more about that sort of thing. A splash of water should open her eyes, and I had no reason to stop her… even if a break was impossible, a refresh was necessary.
“Please prepare dinner by the time I get back…? Dinner? Midnyight snack? Breakfast? … Well, whatever it is, ‘slong as its edible. Use the kitchen however you want… did I already tell you that? … the back room is my bedroom, you definyitely can’t go there, okay?”
“I see… understood.”
My head wasn’t turning either so I simply nodded, but in hindsight, Kyouko-san said something unnecessary there… she shouldn’t have touched on the room in the back. Even if they aren’t told, an adult with discretion wouldn’t arbitrarily rummage through someone’s office, sometimes even dreading what they might find. By cautioning, she only drew more attention to it.
It was an un-Kyouko-san-like mistake, but Kyouko-san on her fifth day was much too sleepy for me to label it as one… that being the case, while hearing that did make me curious, I wasn’t a man of such burning curiosity that I would peer in, and to be honest, I didn’t have the energy.
I simply went to the kitchen as told, readily preparing two peoples’ worth of food… the food in the ingredients in the refrigerator were about to run out, so I would have to find the timing to go out to buy them.
It was dangerous to go out and leave Kyouko-san alone (she might fall asleep in that timeframe), so when the time came, we’d both have to get our appearances in relative order to go out shopping together…
Rather, in my condition, I wasn’t confident how much longer I could handle a knife and fire… then preparing some ready-made meals beforehand would be… no, if that’s how it’s going to be, wouldn’t takeout be fine? Guess that’s not happening, when I think of how high the building’s security is, the amount of effort it would take to pick up takeout would be… with such things going through my head at length, I finished up some dinner or midnight snack or breakfast or whatever.
At first I had set out for an ‘Extreme spicy finish that can snap anyone awake’, but there was no longer such a need… because my delirious flavoring was already becoming crazy enough.
There for a moment, my consciousness cut off.
Wrong, it wasn’t a moment… after I carried the plates to the table, as I sat on the sofa to stretch out my body that was grating all over the place, it seems I fell asleep again.
What’s more, it wasn’t just a moment or two, of all things, the hour hand of the clock had advanced a while ninety degrees… I leapt up. Unlike Kyouko-san, I had fallen asleep a few times, but three hours wasn’t enough to shake off four nights of lost sleep, and in my panic, it wasn’t the time for such thoughts.
If Kyouko-san had fallen asleep while I was out, then all her effort to that point would be for nothing, and it wasn’t just Kyouko-san’s effort. All the time I’d persevered through the hatred of the woman I was fond of would dissolve into sea foam as well. There was no way I wouldn’t panic… but, across the table, I couldn’t hear the sound of Kyouko-san’s sleepers’ breath.
I pat my chest in relief… before long an even greater panic thrust me into motion. Sleepers’ breath or not, she wasn’t across the table to begin with.
Where did she go? My memories wouldn’t connect up a moment’s notice… had she gone out somewhere? No, she hadn’t laid a hand on the food on the table… and it didn’t seem her reading had made any progress.
I stood… of course, it was dangerous to come to a conclusion with all the information laid out before me. I could think up too many possibilities for what happened while I was asleep… but in this situation, I could only think up the worst possible possibility.
Leaving the reception room, I made for the bathroom on the third floor of the building. Kyouko-san left saying she would take a shower three hours ago, and it was the place she hadn’t returned from.
I opened the door without knocking. It would be a disaster if it was my misunderstanding, but in the first place, a normal person doesn’t stay in the shower for three hours… if within that, Kyouko-san was still there, then I would already call it a disaster, or a situation that wasn’t normal. My bad premonition hit spot on… Kyouko-san was collapsed. Naked she lay over the tiles, without even trying to avoid the cold water coming out the shower head, she let it bathe her body. Perhaps she thought that would be best to wake her up, as she chose not hot water but cold for her shower… the color of her skin was beyond pale, it had become ghastly.
But Kyouko-san had no consciousness. She was in a deep, deep… sleep.
I bitterly cried out… as far as my voice would go, I called for a detective. There was no response.
(Pardon me Kyouko-san — Case Forgotten)