Zaregoto - Volume 2 Chapter 7[Updated at: 2021-11-03 21:45:25]
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 0 1
“Akiharu-kun was just murdered.”
“Ah, that’s, wow . . .” he said curiously as if impressed.
“That’s the third person, huh? Pretty hot stuff, whoever this
is. When’d it happen?”
“I don’t know when he was killed, but they just found the
body now. So the murder must have been between Wednesday
afternoon and this morning."
“Hmm. That’s quite the masterpiece. Three strangulations
in just ten days. That’s crazy. Ah, but I guess I can’t say stuff
like that. So what about the killer? Whodunnit?”
Zerozaki asked as if it was the most trivial matter in the
I sputtered angrily. The killer? You mean the one who
killed Emoto Tomoe who killed Aoii Mikoko, who attacked
me in Kamogawa Park, and now has killed Usami Akiharu?”
“Who else would I mean?”
“It should be obvious.” I declared the name with such rigidity
that even I was taken aback. “Obviously it was Atemiya
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You actually know, don’t you?
It’s not often that I get complimented on my personality even
now, but back in the days when those around me still referred
to me as a young boy, I suppose I had an abnormally unpleasant
personality. To be sure, there was a time when I thought
myself highly intelligent and gifted, when I was in love with
myself and naturally looked down on those around me. I
believed I knew things nobody else knew, I had noticed things
nobody else had noticed, and as the years rolled by, I grew
That probably explains it.
If I was posed with a puzzling question and couldn’t soon
find the answer, I would get antsy. That was how capable I
thought I was, and it was also true that after managing to wipe
all my doubts away simply by thinking about them, I always
felt like I had accomplished something remarkable. Like I had
However, as I was discovering the answers to a series of
difficult questions that emerged—no, after I finished answering
all of them—I found that I was left with a void.
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Everybody else was just going on enjoying their lives
without having to do such things. They were living happily
without ever having to come up with these answers, or even
questions, for that matter.
They laughed, they cried, at times they got angry.
I thought this was because they were ignorant.
I thought they were all just naively frolicking about in a
minefield. I thought that one day they would come to curse
their own foolishness.
When they stepped on a mine and everything was over,
then they’d regret it.
But I was wrong.
I was just some lonely kid living in a world I had made for
myself, inventing questions and answering them just to make
myself feel better. I seriously thought I could just use theories
to compensate for real-life experiences, and I thought that if I
wanted, even I could be happy.
I was being a boy incorrectly.
Nevertheless, the world didn’t come to an end.
The game went on.
Even thought I was already so behind that there wasn’t
even a smidgen of a chance of victory, my life went on. There
was a period where I considered ending it myself, and in fact I
did try to do so, but I even failed at that.
In reality, maybe I wasn’t even an onlooker: I was a loser.
I was just a sad, pathetic loser.
And so at some point, I stopped being able to actively
pursue answers to my questions. It wasn’t that I became passive,
it was that I became apathetic toward the questions.
Answers have no real point.
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They’re vague and ambiguous and unsound, and things are
fine that way. In fact, they’re better.
Causing real change is a role that should be left up to the
true “chosen ones,” outstanding individuals like that scarlet
Mankind’s Greatest, and the Blue Savant, and it was never my
It was no job for a common loser. For the comic sidekick.
Being oblivious to the mines, even if you stepped on
one—now that was the way to live.
Even if you knew about the mines but pretended you
didn’t, sooner or later you would really forget about them.
That’s what I believe, even if people say you’re incurable at
that point, that it’s just some proposal for compromise, that
you’re only pretending to be a human being.
That’s what I thought, as I looked into the mirror at the
me who hadn’t lost.
Wasn’t it simple?
If I hadn’t been a loser, I would’ve just been a failure.
If being a homicidal monster was the alternative, being a
loser was fine.
I’m sure he felt the same way.
If being a loser was the alternative, being a homicidal
monster was fine.
Both statements were nonsense.
They were nonsense, and they were masterpieces.
And that was fine. That was enough.
Everything was fine the way it was.
The girl who asked me if I ever felt like damaged goods.
The girl who said she liked me. The boy who prophesied that
he would be the next to die. And you, who called me clueless.
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It may not be my role to change things, but ending the
nonsense I’m responsible for starting is up to me indeed.
Let’s stick to tradition and put a clean end to this.
I jammed the stiletto knife Zerozaki had loaned me into the
keyhole and jiggled it around. In about a minute, I heard the
sound of the bolt unlatching. I gripped the knob and gave it a
pull. The chain was up, so the door only moved a few centimeters.
I hesitated for but a moment. I swung the knife in the gap
and broke the chain off. The links were more brittle than I
expected, and they scattered everywhere, one even hitting me
in the face. I didn’t care. The door released from its bondage, I
pulled it open and entered the room.
The spectacle inside was enough to leave me speechless.
The wallpaper was torn up, with shards of shattered dishes
strewn about on the floor. I thought it might be dangerous to
remove my shoes, and although I knew it was rude, I entered
the room with them still on. Proceeding deeper into the room,
the decor only got worse. It was pure destruction. There probably
wasn’t a single item in the whole room that remained in
its original condition, no matter how small or large. Literally
everything had been demolished. Clothes torn to confetti and
tossed around the room. Broken furniture. Ripped-up books.
A shattered television screen. A smashed computer. The
filthy, stained carpet. A mirror cracked from the center in an
outward wave. An overturned wastebasket. Shards of lightbulbs
scattered across the floor. A hamster torn limb from
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 0 7
limb. A pillow with the insides on the outside. Vegetables
torn to ruin, to the point that they lost all meaning. An overturned
refrigerator. The air conditioner with a giant dent in
the middle. A tea table scrawled with disturbing graffiti. A
cracked fish tank and nearby dead tropical fish. Writing
utensils split in two without a single usable one remaining. A
clock that no longer worked. A shredded-up calendar. A
strangled teddy bear.
“What are you doing?”
Her, crouched by the window, staring this way with
Without a doubt, the most broken thing in this room was
none other than her.
Only that dreadful gaze, piercing through me like a dagger.
Her hair, that long, brown sauvage, had been diced up into
Looking a little closer I saw that remnants of that hair were
strewn around the room. I never believed that hair was a girl’s
life, as they say, but there was something terrifying about this
all the same.
This was completely her domain. A barrier barely maintaining
balance, threatening to break down any minute.
There were curses in the air, and all of them were directed
towards me. Muimi-chan’s death glare wasn’t the only thing
piercing through me. Everything in this thoroughly destroyed
room was sending ill will, enmity, hostility, and malice directly
It felt like the world itself had become my enemy.
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“You know, I’d appreciate if you didn’t glare at me like
“Shut up,” she said in a deep voice. “Why did you come
here? How dare you?”
“Relax. I’m not here to save you or anything. I’m not that
good a guy, and I’m no protagonist.”
I used my right foot to clear a path in the debris on the
floor and sat down across from Muimi-chan. I noticed her destroyed
cell phone on the floor next to me.
“Aha. I see. So that’s why Sasaki-san couldn’t get a hold of
you. She might come here directly at some point. I guess you
can’t just sit around here.”
“Why did you come here?”
“Basically I’ve already figured it out,” I said with deliberate
plainness. Of course there was the fact that it wouldn’t have
been very wise to upset her emotions at a time like this, but
this was also just about the only voice I could muster in my
current state. “I guess you could say my imagination did most
of the work. But there are some things I still can’t figure out
no matter how I think about them. I wonder if you’d be
willing to tell me.”
“. . .”
“I’ll take your silence as a yes.” I paused for a moment.
“I’ve got things figured out as far as the part where you attacked
me. But why did you kill Akiharu-kun? That’s what I
don’t understand. There was no reason for you to kill him.”
“Ha. Hahahahahahaha,” she suddenly started cackling
maniacally. It was the most expressionless laughter I’d ever
heard. Heartless. It was nothing more than a conveyance of
her insanity. She shot me another glare. “Look at those
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“You must be stupid setting foot in here with wounds like
those. Nobody’s gonna come to your rescue here. Or is your
knight in shining armor waiting outside the room?”
“No, nothing like that. That guy’s showing up the other
night was just a coincidence to begin with. Don’t worry about
him,” I said, recalling the precious night’s events. I touched
my thumb and the gauze on my face. Of course my shoulders
and jaw were still far from fully recovered. I was in no state to
be meeting someone face-to-face.
“At first I wasn’t sure enough to come to a conclusion on
the subject. That person in black was wearing a knit ski mask,
so they couldn’t have had long hair. So I thought it must not
be you, but now that I see you’ve cut your hair, I’m convinced.
I don’t suppose that was why you cut it, was it?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Figures. I shrugged.
“You’re just a more cautious guy than I expected. You
cover your tracks. And I couldn’t attack you in your apartment
because it’s such a run-down dump with paper-thin
“Ahh. The perfect environment, huh?”
I tried my best to imitate Aikawa-san’s cynical tone, but I
couldn’t really pull it off.
“But using Mikoko-chan’s name to lure me out was a big
no-no. Not a very clean method.”
“Don’t you ever say that name.” She shot me the devil’s
glare. “You have no right.”
“I don’t want to talk to you, but I’ll ask you one thing.
Why’d you reject Mikoko?”
“I wasn’t really rejecting her . . .”
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“Why!?” She slammed her arm into the wall as hard as she
could. The entire room shook under the impact of that
merciless fist. I sensed no concern on her behalf regarding the
well-being of my body. It wasn’t like she had hit me, but it
sent a shiver up my back.
Even the homicidal monster was more pleasant company
than this destructor.
“Why? Why couldn’t you reciprocate her emotions? It’s
not like it was a lot to ask. Why couldn’t you do something
that simple? Why was that the only thing you couldn’t do?”
“I asked my question fist. I’d like an answer. I’ll ask again,
as many times as it takes. Why’d you kill Akiharu-kun? There
was no reason for that. Everything else is clear, but that one
thing is still completely hazy. I said this before, but I know
why you attacked me. You had your reasons. I can understand
that. But why did you go kill Akiharu-kun from there?”
“If I answer, you’ll answer my question?”
Even then, she continued glaring at me for a while.
Several minutes later . . .
“It’s simple,” she said. “It felt like the natural thing to do.”
“Natural, huh?” I said as I tried to read her expression. “But
Akiharu-kun was your friend, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, he was a friend. I liked him. Just not to the point
that I would never strangle him to death.”
There wasn’t a single hint of a lie in her words or in her
“Being friends is no reason not to kill someone. It’s just a
simple matter of order of priorities.” She spoke honestly, from
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I narrowed my eyes at her, but gave a slow nod. Priorities.
Friends. Order. Friends. I chewed on each of her words for a
while in my head. I searched for the right words with which
“Or do you mean to tell me you would absolutely never
kill a friend? No matter what the reason, you would never do
“Anybody I might kill, I don’t consider a friend.”
“Well, that’s just fucking splendid,” she scoffed. “What a
hypocrite. Why couldn’t you have shared a little bit of that
phony virtue with Mikoko? It’s your turn to answer.”
I repeated what I wanted to say three times in my head
before putting it to my lips.
“Probably because I didn’t like her.”
I thought she was sure to lunge at me and start pummeling
me, but she didn’t even move. She just sat and glared at me.
“Oh,” she said softly. “I guess you’re not just some clueless
jerk. You’re downright cruel.”
“And if I am?”
“I told you before, didn’t I? I’m certain I told you. If you
hurt Mikoko-chan, I’ll never forgive you.”
I narrowed my eyes at her as she seemed ready to explode
any minute. I gave another shrug. “So what about you, then? I
can’t comprehend it. I understand the philosophy behind your
actions, but I don’t know if you can say it was really for
“I told you not to say that name. Don’t talk about Mikoko
like you know her! You don’t know shit!” Muimi-chan said.
“I know her. I know everything about her. We’ve been together
since elementary school. I know her better than I know
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myself. If there’s one thing I don’t know, it’s how she fell for a
cruel bastard like you.”
“That’s simple,” I responded without hesitation. Having
already figured it out, it seemed all too obvious to me. “It was
a misconception. An illusion. A deception. A simple error. A
miscalculation. An assumption. Just some darling young girl in
love with being in love. She probably just wasn’t a very good
judge of character.”
“Are you done?”
Her rage was already beyond disguising. She was ready to
detonate any time now. This was probably about as far as
we’d get with just words.
“Actually no, there’s one more thing. It’s a promise I made
to Mikoko-chan, so I’d better uphold to it, Muimi-chan.”
My final question.
Can you forgive you own—
“Can you forgive your own existence as a murderer?”
“What’s to forgive?!” She had cracked at last. “I haven’t
done anything wrong! Nothing! There’s nothing wrong with
what I did for Mikokodel! I’m the one who cares about her
the most! I’m not looking for criticism from someone like you!
It was all for Mikokodel! I’ll do anything for her! I would kill
or die without a second thought!”
For justice. For faith. For truth.
To save another. For the sake of a friend.
“I cared about Mikoko-chan, unlike you! You don’t care
about anyone, you don’t consider anyone else, you just go on
living without a care in the world, don’t you?! You can’t do a
single thing for anyone! You’re just damaged goods! You don’t
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have a single human emotion inside of you! So you shut your
Because it was for somebody else’s sake.
Without hesitation, without deliberation.
Without a hint of uncertainty.
Without even regretting it.
Without ever feeling shame or reflecting on her actions.
“If only you hadn’t showed up! Then Tomoe and Mikoko
and Akiharu and I would still all be living happily! If it weren’t
for you! We all got along so well! Since elementary school and
high school, and even in college! As soon as you appeared we
all went to shit!”
Because they were an annoyance.
Because they got in the way. Because they were a hassle.
Because they were bothersome.
Because they irritate. Because they’re unstable. Because
“It was all for Mikoko! She’s mine, and I’m hers! We’re
best friends! I would kill my own parents for her, and she
would kill even you for me!”
Because it was for someone important.
She would kill anyone.
She would kill any number of people.
Herself or anyone else.
Even a best friend.
“I’m not wrong! I’m right! That’s why I’ll do it again and
again! Even if I could go back in time, I would do the same
things over again! Mikoko forgives me!”
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With no excessive force.
Without going further than intended.
As simply as taking a breath.
Like a prowler and like a monster.
Like damaged goods and like a human failure.
“I . . . I forgive myself!” She screamed as she stomped a
foot down on the debris-ridden floor.
As I watched her, my eyes were no doubt extremely calm.
“Are you done?”
She shot me a glare. I didn’t care.
“That’s enough, then. Please, shut up. Your voice is offensive
to the ears and your presence offensive to the eyes. So
you do whatever you want to do and say whatever you want
to say. Great. Does that satisfy you? You’re completely broken.
“Exactly what have you done for Mikoko-chan’s sake?
You’re just putting the blame on her, aren’t you?”
“Like you know a damned thing.”
I could see that she was struggling to stop herself from
lunging forward. If I hadn’t brought up Mikoko’s name, surely
she would have.
Right now, Aoii Mikoko was the only thing keeping
“Well . . .” she said in a low voice like a growl from the
depths of Hell. “What about you?! You don’t feel the least bit
responsible for her death?! Answer me!”
“No, I don’t. Not at all. Those who die just die.”
“. . . .”
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I could see her turning pale. Her mind was already past the
point of enraged. Nevertheless, I made no attempt to cut my
speech short. I just continued on, spouting words like a
“I’m not so arrogant that I’d attempt to interfere with
people’s lives. People should take responsibility for their own
actions. You’re no exception.”
“What’s your problem? How can you think like that? How
can you have such a disgusting outlook? You’re nuts. You’re
“I just don’t approve of people clinging to others to the
point that they swallow them up. I’m annoyed by people who
live life saying ‘Oh, I did it for this person, I did it for this
person, like that’s supposed to grant them full pardon for
whatever they do.”
It was like I was looking at myself. “I once said you and
Tomoe were similar, but allow me to correct myself,” Muimichan
said as if cursing the devil himself. “Tomoe was the
embodiment of an inferiority complex, keeping herself distant
from everyone, but you . . . you’re just plain hostile.”
“Hahh . . .” I let out a deliberate sigh. I couldn’t argue with
her, nor did I feel like doing so. What I wanted to do was say,
“You just realized that?” Things that are similar but not the
same are, in the end, different. It was as simple as that.
“Well, whatever. Do what you want. We’re just two people
with nothing to do with each other. I don’t have any interest
in getting your way, but . . . killing Akiharu-kun was a
bad move, Muimi-chan. They’ll be coming to arrest you soon
enough. I doubt that’s what Mikoko-chan wanted.”
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“I couldn’t care less about the law. So I’ll be arrested. I bet
I will. But there’s still some time before that. Plenty of time to
make you suffer. To kill you.”
Muimi-chan got onto one knee, putting herself at eye level
with me. A knife she had apparently been pointing at me for
some time now reflected a ray of light and caught my eye. It
was the very knife the attacker in black had used that night.
The one that had grazed past my carotid artery.
“Nothing’s gonna get in the way this time.”
“What’s going to happen when you kill me?”
“Like I care. Talk all you want, but the time has come to
take responsibility for hurting Mikoko.”
“. . . . .”
Oh. I get it.
So even you’ve missed the point here. You’ve been going
on and on about how you did it all for Mikoko-chan, it was all
for Mikoko-chan, it was all for Mikoko-chan, but that’s just an
excuse. A plea. An attempt to defend yourself.
Your actions are spurred by simple jealousy toward me,
ordinary remorse for what happened to Mikoko-chan, and
your own boring sense of guilt. That’s all.
“Your nonsense is good, Muimi-chan,” I said without even
giving heed to the knife in her hand. “So are we going to pick
up where we left off last time? You’re going to beat me and
beat me and hurt me and hurt me and make me experience
pain and suffering, and then kill me off?”
“You don’t say.”
I clutched my right index finger in my left hand.
“So, for example, you might break my fingers, like this?” I
forced the finger backward, snapping the bone.
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There was a sound like a tree branch snapping off.
Muimi-chan’s face froze in shock.
An overwhelming, maddening pain ran through my hand,
but I didn’t even flinch as I flashed my broken finger in
I had nothing to say that.
“You’re not, are you? Why would you be satisfied with
that? That’s not nearly enough to cheer you up. You’ve hated
me and hated me and hated me, so there’s no way you’re
satisfied yet. Because if it’s for Mikoko-chan, morals, laws, and
common sense don’t mean a thing.”
It was the first time I had ever seen her shaking from
I didn’t care about this either.
“I guess the middle finger is next?” I said, clutching my
It was as if I were a doll.
That’s why I had no nerves.
That’s why I had no heart.
That’s why I could just snap my own bones.
“Ring finger next?”
I bent my ring finger the wrong way.
“And finally, the pinky?”
I twisted my pinky around in an impossible direction.
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“Well, my right hand’s completely destroyed. I won’t be
able to defend myself very well now either.”
“Ah . . . ah . . . ah.” The blood was rushing to her face. This
wasn’t just fear, but panic. The fundamental sense of horrified
anxiety one feels toward something beyond his or her own
comprehension. This was a fatal wound of an emotion, far
more gripping than anger.
“Shall we continue to the left hand?”
I pointed the four fingers on my left hand toward the floor.
From there, I threw all of my body’s weight onto my left arm.
Crack crack crack crack.
It was a satisfying quartet of sounds.
“Why don’t we twist ’em around a bit more?”
Crunch. Crunch crunch crunch.
“Now let’s see if I can still applaud things—“
“Wh . . . what the hell are you doing?!” she screamed.
Tossing the knife aside, she grabbed my wrist. “You . . . you’re
crazy! What is this?! What are you doing?!”
“I was just saving you the trouble of doing what you were
going to do anyway. It’s no different than if you have done it
yourself. Or, by your logic, if Mikoko-chan had done it herself.
I held my hideously gnarled fingers up before Muimichan’s
eyes. She reflexively looked away, suggesting that even
in her current mental state, she couldn’t bear to look at
something so disturbing.
“D . . . doesn’t that hurt?!”
“Meh,” I said casually. “No big deal. Not to me, anyway.
No matter how much I get tortured or beaten, I don’t feel a
thing. You could even kill me if you wanted. Do whatever.
But to me, death would be nothing more than a release.”
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“What are you—”
“I’m so damn sick of everything. Of living, of the people
around me, the people not around me, all of the various
intentions that make up this world and all the ones that don’t,
of you, of Mikoko-chan, and of course of myself. It’s all just a
damned headache. I’m the one who’s disgusted here. Living
only brings pain. I see no value in this place. Frankly, I don’t
give a rat’s ass if the world gets wiped out tomorrow or if I’m
wiped out today. In fact, I’d be glad. So killing me would be
pointless. I wouldn’t have minded of you killed me the other
. . . . !
“Still, I’m sure killing me will put your mind at ease. But it
won’t amount to revenge or justice or loyalty to a friend. It’s
just self-relief. Nothing more than a distraction from the
truth. You’ll cheer up, but that’s all. Causing me pain will
clear away your jealousy, making me suffer will help you forget
your remorse, and killing me will wipe away your guilt,
but that’s all you’ll be doing.”
“You’re wrong!” She clutched her head and shook it back
and forth like a madwoman. “You’re wrong! You’re wrong!
You’re wrong! Don’t turn this around! You’re so full of shit! I
did everything for her, and y—”
“Well then, go ahead and kill me. Kill me with your own
hands. The world will just go on.”
Just for yourself.
Without saying it’s for anyone else.
No excuses, no pleas, no defenses.
Just kill me by your own will.
Commit your profitless crime.
“Rrrrrrrrr . . . aaaaaaahaahhhhh!”
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She picked up the knife. With a spiteful, demonic glare,
she chewed down on her lip as if choking back a curse, and
grabbed me by the neck, With her other hand, she dug the
edge of the blade one layer of skin deep into my neck, right
along that carotid artery.
And she hesitated and waited and deliberated and contemplated.
And she stayed that way.
. . . . .
I closed my eyes and left it up to time.
But I soon got tired of this as well.
“I wonder what went wrong,” I said, casually brushing her
hand aside and distancing myself from the knife. I stood up
and watched Muimi-chan huddled on the floor groaning for
awhile, then gave my back a good stretch.
“When did people stop being able to do things just for
It was always out of some sense of duty or sense of justice.
Out of some feeling of fellowship or friendship.
“Don’t you think it’s all just nonsense?”
Muimi-chan gave no reply. I wasn’t sure if I should have
been asking the question in the first place. I hadn’t done anything
for anyone else, much less for myself. I had never done
anything for anyone.
“So what?” Muimi-chan said, as if looking for some savior.
“What could I possibly do for Mikoko? What should I have
done for her? What should I do?”
Don’t ask me that.
That just leads to a dead end.
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Thinking you can do something for others is nothing more
than a happy delusion. But once you realize it’s only a delusion,
as you have now, there’s no place left to go. Just like
Tomo-chan and I, you’ve got no place left to go. What’s ahead
of you now isn’t even despair, but a pitch-black void.
It’s a dead end.
But I had no intention of telling her things we both already
knew. Even if she didn’t know, I wasn’t about to go out of my
way to tell her.
“To be honest,” I said, turning my back to her, “I came here
hoping you’d kill me. I could have you do that. You wanted to
kill me and I wanted to be killed. Seemed like a match made
in Heaven. So I thought I’d come get it over with already. But
I’ve changed my mind. I won’t be killed by someone like you.”
“Then . . .” she said, staring at the floor. I turned toward
the entrance of the room in order to avoid eye contact.
Like a stressed-out strand of yarn torn to shreds, she
choked out a sentence muddled together with tears and
“Then kill me now.”
“Not my business. Die yourself,” I replied, and didn’t look
back. I had no desire to.
“Yo. Is it over?”
As I exited Muimi-chan’s apartment, Zerozaki, leaning
against a telephone pole, waved a hand and called out to me. I
kept walking oast him without stopping.
“Yeah, it’s over,” I said.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 2
“I’ll be damned,” he said, catching up to me and matching
his pace to mine. “Whoa! What the hell happened to your
hands?! Am I crazy, or did the number of broken bones multiply
“Yup, it did.”
“She broke them? Holy cow, man, Atemiya’s like that
Nenbutsu no Tetsu guy! That’s some risky business.”
“Nah, I broke them myself. All of them.”
“Are you crazy? Come to think of it, you did say you were
the one who broke your thumb, too, huh? Are you a
masochist? Are you a freaking masochist? Doesn’t that hurt?
Do you not feel pain? Have you had a lobotomy?”
“It hurts like shit. It hurts so much I can’t even faint. I
might cry. I’m actually headed for the hospital right now.
We’re near Nishijin Hospital, right? . . . I’m not really a
masochist, no. The situation just called for a little shock
treatment, that’s all.”
“You know, broken bones don’t always go back to normal.
You may never play baseball again.”
“No worries. If it comes to that, I’ll just play soccer.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said in awe. “So how’d it
“Well, now it’s just a matter of sweeping up the mess.
That’s Sasaki-san and Kazuhito-san’s field. I’m sure they’ll be
thorough about it. Muimi-chan will be arrested, all the facts
come to light, and that’ll be that.”
That is, if Muimi-chan maintained her sanity for that long.
That is, if she was even still alive.
Zerozaki folded his hands behinds his head with a disappointed
expression. “Aw, man. That’s not dramatic at all.
Couldn’t it at least have been a little romantic?” he said.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 3
“What can you do? This is reality.”
“Mmm. I guess. Say, man. Do you have parents and stuff?”
Zerozaki had suddenly posed a completely unrelated
question, but I had a feeling he would ask something like that,
so I wasn’t surprised.
“Yeah, I do. In Kobe. I think they’re still alive and kicking.”
“Huh. So are you grateful to them and stuff?”
“I mean, how do you feel toward them?”
“About bringing you into this world, dammit.”
“What about you, Zerozaki? I guess I probably don’t even
have to ask, do I?”
“Answer should be obvious.”
“Yeah, it is.”
For an instant, we shared a glance.
“I’m sorry . . .”
“For being born.”
“Huh. I guess it was not Akutagawa after all,” Zerozaki
“I like Mushanokôji best.” I didn’t laugh.
“How do you feel about Kikuchi Kan? I’m kind of a big
“I don’t read him. In fact, I don’t really like reading.”
“Oh yeah, you said that, didn’t you? . . . Huh.” For some
reason, he gave a convinced nod. “By the way, how’s about
giving me my knife back? I don’t have a whole lot of that
“Oh, this thing? Listen, Zerozaki. I don’t suppose you’d be
willing to give this to me, huh? It’s really handy. You can just
unlock doors without using anything high-tech.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 4
“Those things are expensive, jerk. Can you pay me one
million five hundred thousand yen right now?”
“Geez, why’s a little steak knife like this so expensive?”
“Cram it. So what’s it gonna be?”
“How about I pay you one hundred and fifty in annual
“You know, we probably won’t actually meet again.”
With no other alternative, I reluctantly gave him back the
knife. He took it by the handle, spun it around, and closed it
back inside his vest. Evidently he had knives placed all over his
body. I wonder what would happen if he ever fell.
“Well, maybe it doesn’t matter, but there’s still some
things that bother me. How’s about answering a few questions?”
“It seems to me that when Emoto and that Aoii chick were
killed, Atemiya had a solid alibi both times. She was at
karaoke the first time and with her the sister the second time.
Isn’t that right? I don’t know about Usami and you, but how
could she have killed those two girls? And it seems like you
realized Atemiya was the killer as soon as that detective called
about Usami being killed. And you already seemed to know
she was the one who attacked you in Kamogawa Park, too.
How the hell did you know it was her? When did you realize
“Hmm. It’s kind of hard to explain.”
Zerozaki scratched his head at me. “What do you mean?
Like it was just intuition or something? Oh, or was it because
all the other people involved were dead, so it had to be
Atemiya by default? Who are you, Kindaichi?”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 5
“No. But do I have to explain? I might get argumentative.”
“Hey. I don’t mind. Come on, you made me tell you all
about my prowling exploits. Whatever happened to give and
take? Come on, leave me with a good memory.”
“What are you, dying?”
“I might. Some red creature’s been chasing after me.”
Indeed, it was entirely plausible. It was even possible that
Aikawa-san would appear before us right this instant. Considering
the facts, Zerozaki’s life was like a candlelight flickering
in the wind right about now.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. . . . Okay, so how far back
should I go?” I said.
“From the beginning, of course. How’d you know Atemiya
was the one who killed Emoto, Aoii, and Usami, and attacked
“See, there’s your first mistake,” I said. “Muimi-chan didn’t
kill Tomo-chan or Mikoko-chan. She had alibis, so that should
“Wha?” he said, his jaw dropping.
“She killed Akiharu-kun. And she assaulted me. That’s all
she did. Oh yeah, and I don’t suppose she’ll be getting her
apartment deposit back, but that’s it.”
“Hold on,” he said, spinning around in front of me and
grabbing me by the shoulders. He was grinning, but not
smiling. “Just a few hours ago, you were going on and on with
all that confidence and that matter-of-fact tone about how
‘she killed Emoto Tomoe,’ and ‘she killed Aoii Mikoko,’ and
‘she attacked me in Kamogawa park,’ and ‘she killed Usami
Akiharu,’ and ‘it was obviously Atemiya Muimi,’ were you
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 6
“Indeed,” I answered plainly. “But you see, the thing about
that is I was just telling a confident, matter-of-fact lie. Time
was of the essence, so I just kind of glossed over the facts. It’s
actually a little more complicated than that.”
“Hang on. So what the hell have I been doing for the past
few hours, wondering, ‘How in the world did Atemiya manage
to kill those two? What a puzzling brain-teaser!’?”
“I told you. I’m a liar.”
“I’m going to kill you,” he muttered sinisterly, and returned
to my side. I took a step away from him. “Err, all right. Let me
rephrase the question, then. So who did kill Emoto? If it
wasn’t Atemiya, who was it?”
“Aoii Mikoko.” I answered with her name alone. Zerozaki
wasn’t surprised to the point of vocalizing it. Perhaps he’d half
been expecting it. But he furrowed his brow at me, crinkling
his facial tattoo.
“So then who killed Aoii Mikoko? Don’t tell me you’re the
punch line. . . .”
“Nope. That was just a suicide.”
“Suicide?” This time he was clearly surprised. “Aoii killed
“Yup. That explains why nobody showed up on the surveillance
cameras, right? Of course it does; there was no
‘killer.’ Anyway, so Mikoko-chan committed suicide, which
made Muimi-chan go bananas and kill Akiharu-kun and try to
kill me. But I didn’t want to be killed, so I broke my hand
instead. There you have it. QED.”
“You’re using that phrase wrong,” he retorted, then
clutched his head in thought. “Hang on, hang on. Explain this
to me step-by-step. You can’t just give me a big, crazy
summary like that up front.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 7
“Fine, I’ll explain it right. Errr, okay, so you understand
that Mikoko-chan killed Tomo-chan, right? Okay so far?”
“Yeah. No, wait, not okay. Aren’t you the one who
vouched for Aoii’s alibi? Or your neighbor, rather? Don’t tell
me you and Aoii were in cahoots.”
“No. Why are you so suspicious of me? What happened
was I was thoroughly tricked that night, and only that night.
Miiko-san too. Well, she wasn’t tricked, exactly, she just
“What are you talking about?”
“Try thinking about it yourself. Tomo-chan was killed by
Mikoko-chan. If you know that, there are only so many
“Ahh,” he said ponderously. “So you left Emoto’s apartment
together, right? Then you got a call from Emoto when
you were around Nishiôji Nakadachiuri. You walked back to
your apartment together, and then you left her with your
neighbor, Asano-san. Then the next morning Aoii woke up
early, went to your room, then went to Emoto’s place. . . .
Oh, is that it? When she was supposedly ‘discovering’ Emoto’s
body, she was actually killing her?”
“Not likely. That conflicts with the established time of
death. So it must have been at night.”
“So she snuck out of Asano-san’s apartment?”
“Couldn’t be. Miiko-san is highly sensitive to noise. She
would’ve been caught. And Miiko-san had no reason to cover
“Then what was it, some kind of remote-control trick?
Then again, this was a strangling, not some sealed-room
“So there’s only one possible answer left,” I said.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 8
“What? Does it have something to do with that ‘x over y’
“Nope. You don’t need to worry about that. It’s like a side
order of fries. Just set it aside.”
“Come one, just tell me already. You sure know how to
beat around the bush.”
“It’s simple. There was no point at which Mikoko-chan
could have interacted with Tomo-chan once we left her apartment.
Which means she must have killed her before we left.”
“Huh? What does that mean?” Zerozaki said. “If that’s the
case then all pretenses all crumble. Emoto was killed between
the time she called you and three a.m., right?”
“Suppose,” I said, “that that call hadn’t occurred. Then
couldn’t Mikoko-chan have killed her?”
“No, it’s still impossible. You left the apartment together.”
“Aha. We left together, but not at the exact same time.
There was a slight lag. I mean incredibly slight. But I left the
room before Mikoko-chan did. As I was leaving, I had to put
on my shoes, right? At that time, naturally I wasn’t facing the
inside of the room. In other words, I wasn’t facing Mikokochan
and Tomo-chan’s direction. I was looking at my
shoelaces.” I raised a foot to show him. “What’s more, there
was a door between the hallway and main room. I couldn’t see
what they were doing in there.”
“Wait a minute. There must have been a scream or some
kind of noise. Even if it was happening behind you, there’s no
way you wouldn’t have noticed someone being killed.”
“If it was a stabbing or a beating, maybe. But a person can’t
scream when they’re being strangled. There were noises, but I
never would’ve guessed it was the sound of someone being
killed. I thought Mikoko-chan had tripped or something.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 2 9
“Ahh.” Zerozaki began rubbing his temples. If you tried
hard enough, you could see a slight resemblance to Nose
Keiko. But you had to really try.
“Wait. It doesn’t take you ten to twenty minutes just to tie
your shoes, does it? Supposing what you’re saying is true, even
if Aoii did strangle Emoto, she wouldn’t have died that fast.
People can live for up to ten minutes without breathing.”
“Zerozaki, could it be that you’re just misunderstanding
the situation because you’re a knife expert? Strangle victims
don’t all necessarily die from suffocation. They can also die
from lack of blood flow to the brain. You just have to pull
upward, like this. If you manage to cut off the carotid artery,
it takes less than a minute. If you’re good, it only takes a
couple dozen seconds.”
“Really. So after that, Mikoko-chan opened the door,
looking completely innocent, and came out into the entrance.
At that time, she was blocking my view inside, so I couldn’t
see anything. Then we left Tomo-chan’s room together and
exited the building.”
“Yeah, that all adds up . . .” he said, still seeming dissatisfied.
“But that’s all assuming you hadn’t gotten that phone
call, right? But in reality, Emoto did call you. That means she
was still alive after you left the building. Don’t tell me she
came back to life for an instant.”
“You keep making nonsensical predictions. Of course that’s
not it. Tomo-chan died instantly. It’s simpler than that. Really
simple. If you just think about it, you’ll figure it out. The call
was for me, but it wasn’t on my phone, right?”
“Right . . . it was Aoii’s, wasn’t it? But wasn’t that because
she didn’t know your number?”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 0
“Well, let’s go back to the basics for a second here. What is
the advantage of a cell phone to begin with? It’s that it lets
you make a call from anywhere, is it not? That call didn’t
necessarily come from Tomo-chan’s apartment. And on top of
that, phones don’t let you see the caller’s face, right?”
“So you’re saying Aoii had an accomplice? And the accomplice
used Emoto’s phone to pose as her?”
“No, there wasn’t an accomplice. I’m pretty sure this was a
spontaneous crime to begin with. The murder weapon seems
to indicate that as well.”
“You mean the thin cloth?”
“Yeah. Most likely, it was the ribbon from the present
Akiharu-kun gave to Tomo-chan. A ribbon would be fairly
well cut out for strangling someone. It’s flexible and fits to
your skin. It works even better than rope. But anyway, considering
the murder weapon was just something that happened
to be there, not something that had be prepared, it’s
hard to think this was a premeditated crime.”
“Then who made that phone call?”
“Mikoko-chan didn’t need an accomplice. She placed the
call herself,” I said. “She just had to have Tomo-chan’s phone
in her pocket, and then call her own phone on speed dial. Of
course there was nobody talking on the other end, but she just
pretended it was a call from Tomo-chan. And then she passed
the phone to me.”
“But when you were on the phone, didn’t you speak with
somebody? Wasn’t she trying to tell you something she had
“Yeah, but that was Mikoko-chan. At that time, I was
walking a step ahead of her. It was the same thing that happened
at the apartment. I didn’t realize that Mikoko-chan was
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 1
right behind me whispering into Tomo-chan’s phone. By the
time I turned back around, she had already slipped it back into
The method of murder and the method of creating an alibi.
Both had been extremely risky, without question. If I had just
turned my head around on a whim, the whole jig would’ve
been up. But if you thought about it, the chances of that
happening were fairly low. The risk was big, but the chance of
success was extremely high. If you weighed things in terms of
value, it was certainly a risk worth taking.
“Anyway, so that gave her an alibi. Then the next day, she
went to Tomo-chan’s place, returned the phone, and called
the police. Usually they say you shouldn’t trust the one who
discovers the body first, but she already had an alibi, and she
had probably hidden the murder weapon in her own apartment
or something before going back to Tomo-chan’s.”
Of course, Mikoko-chan was the only one who knew all of
the minute details, so you’d have to pay her a visit to get the
full story. And that sure wasn’t happening. But that was the
basic gist of it. I might not have had every single fact right, but
it all sounded more or less reasonable.
Mikoko-chan had probably written that “x over y” formula
down at the time she “discovered” the body. The previous
night, she had neither the time nor the notion to do such a
“Well, that definitely makes Aoii sound like the killer. But
it’s still just a possibility, right? I mean, you don’t have any
proof, do you?”
“Well, no. That’s true. Strictly speaking, there’s no proof.
To be sure, it could’ve just been some burglar.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 2
“There must be something. Some sort of peculiarity or
“At any rate, that explains the Tomo-chan incident. Got
any other questions?”
“Yeah,” Zerozaki said with a frustrated expression. He
looked like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the
right words. “Nah, forget it,” he said. “Okay, then on to the
Aoii incident. Why was it a suicide? Even the police said they
thought it was a homicide, right?”
“Well, that gets to be kind of a long story, but her motive
for suicide should be obvious, right? After she killed Tomochan,
her conscience got the best of her.”
“Murderers have a conscience?”
“Not everyone’s like you, you know,” I said jokingly.
“That’s what was written in her suicide note, anyway.”
“Ah. I guess if it was in her suicide note, that pretty much
settles it. It at least proves that Aoii chose death on her own. I
sure don’t understand it though. Suicide, that is. I guess there
are all sorts of killers in this world. But if she was going to do
that, she should’ve just not killed Emoto in the first place. . . .
Hey wait, hold on a sec”
“What do you mean, ‘suicide note’?”
“In other words, an essay of sorts that one writes before
committing suicide in order to leave something behind in this
world. Not to be confused with the will and testament.”
“Thank you, Detective Columbo,” he said, simultaneously
kicking me in the hand. Naturally, this was excruciatingly
painful since all of my fingers were broken.
“What’re you doing? What if my bones don’t set properly
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 3
“Play soccer. So what\'s up with this suicide note? This is
the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Yeah. You see, before that. . . well, think about it. Didn’t
it seem strange in the first place?”
“Didn’t what seem strange?”
“What do you think?”
It was the very thing Sasaki-san had pointed out.
“Look at me.”
Me, a loser of a human being who had broken long ago.
Who didn’t have a single nerve remaining intact. Who desired
death more than anything else.
“Do you really think I would get so sick just from seeing
the strangled corpse of somebody I knew?”
“Ah. So you mean, you felt so sick because it wasn’t a
murder, but a suicide?”
“No. A corpse is a corpse, whether it was a suicide or
He said nothing.
“When I arrived at Mikoko-chan’s place, I pushed the
button on the intercom. There was no reply. Realizing, based
on various experiences, that this was probably a bad sign, I
hurried into her room. And what did I see? The dead body of
Mikoko-chan, who had strangled herself, lying on the bed.”
Strangled to death.
This was why Tomo-chan had been strangled from behind
and Mikoko-chan from the front.
“She strangled herself? Is that even possible?”
“It’s actually a fairly common suicide method. Of course,
in Mikoko-chan’s case, it wasn’t her arteries that were cut off,
it was her windpipe. It\'s an extremely agonizing way to go.
Your face gets all bloated with blood. It ain’t pretty.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 4
You had to be pretty damned determined to choose a
death like that.
As for Aoii Mikoko\'s determination . . .
“So by the bed there was a suicide note. Addressed to me.
It had a lot to say. It talked about how she had killed Tomochan,
and what she wanted me to do from there.”
“What she wanted you to do?”
“She didn’t want people to think it was a suicide. She
didn’t mind dying, but she didn’t want people to think she
was the horrible person who had killed Tomo-chan.”
“I’m not following you here. Say it straight, man.”
“What I mean is, she asked me to get rid of all the evidence.
The neckstrap she had stolen from the scene of the
murder, and then of course the suicide note itself as well as
the ribbon, which would have given itself away as the weapon
with which she had killed both Tomo-chan and herself. And
there were some other things as well.”
“Ahh, I get it.” Zerozaki slowly nodded and looked up at
the sky. “Yeah, it’s starting to click. So you did what she
asked. Come to think of it, something did seem strange. I
noticed it myself. Something about the time was off. You left
your place at eleven o’clock, arrived at Aoii’s place within ten
minutes, the cops arrived within another ten minutes, and you
arrived at the police station within yet another ten minutes, at
which point it was exactly twelve o’clock. That leaves thirty
minutes unaccounted for. Were you doing something during
those thirty minutes?”
“Yeah. But obviously I didn’t leave Mikoko-chan’s room, or
the surveillance camera would\'ve caught me, and obviously I
had to have reported it to the police. So what do you think I
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 5
“And you said you were frisked as you were leaving the
apartment, right? Hmm . . . then, could it be . . . oh, man . . .
did you eat everything?”
Yup, I nodded.
Anyone could’ve guessed by this point.
And this was Zerozaki Hitoshiki, no less.
“You ate it all?”
“Yup. It was delicious,” I answered casually. “People who
do that are traditionally known as ‘stuffers.’ But that’s not
important. At any rate, I can’t eat what I can’t digest, so I had
to suppress the urge to vomit as I called the police. I was planning
to hold it in until I got home, but I couldn’t make it, and
I ended up hurling in the police station.”
“You ate the goddamn evidence . . .” Zerozaki said in awe.
“The ribbon, too? Do you realize you ate something that killed
two people? That’s insanity, man.”
“Yeah, no doubt. I never said I was sane.”
“But why did you go along with Aoii’s request? You
could’ve just ignored it, and you wouldn’t have had to cross
such a rickety-ass bridge, metaphorically speaking.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I was brooding over some things myself.
You could call it a form of redemption,” I said, breaking
eye contact with Zerozaki. “Anyway, that sums up the death
of Aoii Mikoko. She killed herself. In reality, the story should
have ended here, but . . .”
“But the incidents kept occurring, contrary to expectations,
“Yup,” I sighed. “That . . . that really was a surprise.”
“So what about Atemiya, then? Why\'d she kill Usami?”
“Well, that has to be left up to speculation. I wasn’t involved
in that incident at all. But I’ve got a theory that seems
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 6
to hold water. It’s just your regular, everyday murder case,” I
said. “Muimi-chan probably thought something was fishy
about Mikoko-chan’s death in the first place. In fact, let’s assume
that Mikoko-chan talked to her herself about killing
Tomo-chan, and that Muimi-chan subsequently realized that
Mikoko-chan’s death was a suicide.”
“So what did she do?”
For the sake of someone else.
Not for herself.
“What could she do for Mikoko-chan? Zerozaki, what
would you have done?”
“Nothing. Aoii was already dead.”
Even for someone who was still alive, Zerozaki wouldn’t
have done a thing. Nor would I. It was that simple.
“But Muimi-chan tried to do two things. The first one was
revenge. The second was to protect Mikoko-chan.”
“By revenge, you mean killing you? Well, I guess you kind
of rejected Aoii, after all. Makes sense. Isn’t that exactly what
I said? That Aoii had the hots for you?”
“Don’t act like a bigshot about it. Even I realized that.”
“You mean you knew and you were just ignoring it? Man,
then you have no right to complain about almost being killed.
But what do you mean she was trying to ‘protect’ her? How
did killing Usami add up to protecting Aoii?”
“It’s just like what I did. Muimi-chan was trying to guard
Mikoko-chan’s honor. If a third murder occurred, nobody
would suspect that the second victim—Mikoko-chan—was
actually the one who had killed Tomo-chan, that she had
killed a close friend.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 7
“Okay, fair enough. But why Usami? She could’ve just
killed anybody. She didn’t have to kill her own friend.”
“No. She killed him because he was a friend. If the third
victim had been someone completely unrelated to Tomoechan
and Mikoko-chan, the police might not even consider it a
‘third incident,’ so to speak. So the most likely candidate for
the next victim was either Usami Akiharu or myself. And I
know what you’re thinking, Zerozaki. Why didn’t she just kill
me, then? Indeed. But I mean it when I say my apartment is
ancient. There’s no harder place to kill a person.”
With walls that thin, even the sound of walking down the
hall could be heard from the rooms. Sneaking in, having a
scuffle, and killing a person in my apartment were all impossibilities.
“So Usami was the next best thing? But even if Aoii was
Atemiya’s close friend, Usami was a friend too, right? How
could she do that?”
“I had the same doubts myself. Not to mention that Tomochan
was Muimi-chan’s friend as well. I couldn’t figure out
why Muimi-chan would forgive the person who had killed
her. So I asked her. And this was what she said: It was a
matter of \'order of priorities.’ Basically what that means is that
to Muimi-chan, the already deceased Mikoko-chan was worth
even more than Akiharu-kun, who was still alive, or Tomochan,
who had been Mikoko-chan’s victim.”
“That\'s terrible. Usami got screwed more than anyone.”
Akiharu-kun had prophesied that he would be next, and
claimed he could die happily. Just how much of the truth had
he figured out? This was a mystery to me. Was it too romantic
to suppose Akiharu-kun had discovered the truth in its
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 8
entirety and still let Muimi-chan kill him? If that truly was the
case, then Usami Akiharu was the only respectable one in this
whole series of events.
Namely, because he had fully accepted his friends for who
“Say . . .” Zerozaki stood there in deep thought like a Rodin
sculpture for a while, then uncrossed his arms and looked up
at me. “I understand the logic and all, but I’ve got the same
doubts I had with Aoii. This is all based on the pretense that
Atemiya really did kill him, right?
“Aoii left a suicide note behind, so that’s one thing. But in
Atemiya\'s case, you’ve just got to be some master speculator
like Kindaichi or something. You figured it all out just from
that one phone call, without even seeing any evidence. Either
you just figured Atemiya and you were the only ones left so it
had to be her, or I don’t know what the hell you did.”
“Do you have some problem with Yokomizo?”
I couldn’t help but sense some hostility in Zerozaki’s numerous
references to Kindaichi. Nevertheless, he simply shook
“Nah, not really,” he answered. “But the book jackets are
always too scary so I only watch the TV dramas. I don’t really
like him or hate him, to be honest.”
“So is that all it is?”
“No. Think back. Remember what I asked Sasaki-san?”
“Ah, right. Whether that \'x over y\' mark was there, right?
And? I thought you said that wasn’t important.”
“The meaning of the mark is irrelevant. It was nothing
more than random symbols at that point. It only meant something
in the case of Tomo-chan’s death. But the fact that the
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 3 9
same mark was found at the site of Akiharu-kun’s death
suggests something very odd.”
“That ‘x over y\' mark found at each crime scene was a secret.
It was known only to the police. Sasaki-san didn’t even
mention it at first. The only other people who could’ve known
about it were you and me, since we broke into the crime
scene, and anyone I happened to ask, \'What do you suppose
x over y means?’.”
Namely Aikawa-san, Mikoko-chan, and Muimi-chan.
“There must have been other people who knew about it.
People working on the case and such.”
“Indeed. There were plenty of people who knew. But
Muimi-chan was the only one who thought it was a ‘dying
“Ahh, because the police thought it was the killer’s doing.
“In Akiharu-kun’s case, Sasaki-san reported that evidence
suggested the victim had written the message himself. Why
only this time? Most likely because the killer coerced her
victim into writing it before killing him, in an effort to emphasize
that this was the ‘third incident.’ ”
“And she wouldn’t have had that idea in the first place if
she hadn’t thought the mark was a dying message, huh? So
Atemiya didn’t know what \'x over y’ meant?”
If she had known the mark\'s meaning, she probably
wouldn’t have used it that way.
“And that was enough for you to figure out that Atemiya
was the killer?”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 0
“Well, of course it was partially speculation. I kind of
figured she seemed the most likely to do such a thing. Even I
was impressed by her loyalty to Mikoko-chan.”
“No you weren’t,” he laughed. “Man, I’m not trusting a
thing you say anymore. You’re not just a passive observer;
you’re a freaking liar.”
“I believe I told you that.”
“Don’t flaunt your faults.”
“Yeah, I know I shouldn’t,” I said casually. “Anyway, it
looks like you don’t have any other questions. Can we close
the books on this case?”
“Not a very grand finale, but . . . hahhh, how do you say it?
Hearing the whole story laid out like that makes it seem like
such . . .”
“No, nonsense,” he said, as if he had just heard the most
disappointing joke of all time.
I felt pretty much like that myself.
It was something terribly grotesque, terribly warped, terribly
vile. It was like a joke, a comical anecdote, an unsightly,
In the end, there was no way to stop thinking, no matter
how much you willed yourself not to. Your brain would keep
Who and what were in the wrong? That was probably simple
enough in and of itself. It was an issue anyone could comprehend,
upon which everyone could reach a unanimous
agreement, for which everyone would feel sympathy. Something
close to us all.
That was what made it so unpleasant.
I don’t know.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 1
If only I could have abandoned everything. How nice that
“Well, without prying too deep,” Zerozaki said, looking off
the other way with utter disinterest. “I don’t figure you\'ll give
me a straight answer anyway. But . . . eh, forget it.”
“What? You’re awfully quick to give up.”
“Well, I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve, but will you tell
me one thing, oh babbler of nonsense?”
“What is it, my dear homicidal monster?”
“What are your thoughts?”
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
“I mean, how do you feel about the fact that three people
have just died around you?” he said, suddenly growing much
more interested. He was like a little boy, happily looking at his
own reflection in a mirror. “You had people killing friends,
killing themselves, killing for their friends, being killed for
friends, and as a bonus, you were almost killed. So how do
you feel about all that?”
. . . . .
It was a straight question that I doubt I could have delivered
I tried to fold my arms and make like I was thinking in
order to buy some time, but my broken fingers wouldn’t even
“Zerozaki, here\'s how I feel about this string of incidents.”
“Okay, let’s have it.”
“I talked a little too much this time. My throat hurts
almost as much as my fingers.”
. . . . .
Zerozaki froze. His face twitched for an instant before he
exploded into laughter.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 2
“Gahahahahaha! I’ll bet it does,” he said. “In other words,
you don’t even care if your friends die, right?”
“No, even a guy like me undergoes some shock at the death
of a friend. It’s just that these people hadn’t become friends
Of the lot of them, I was closest with Emoto Tomoe, and
surely that closeness was to blame for why she was the most
I couldn’t respond to Aoii Mikoko’s affection with affection,
and Atemiya Muimi’s aggressive displays of emotion
were totally foreign to me.
Likewise, Usami Akiharu’s graciousness was something I
“You live a crippled life,” Zerozaki said.
“Yes you do. You restrict yourself.”
“Better than having others restrict me. What exactly do
you think it means to be free, Zerozaki? Does freedom to you
mean killing people?”
“Ahh, my idea of freedom, eh?” he said with a strange
snicker. “Well, to be honest, I hate that damn word. I despise
it. It gives me goose bumps.”
“Yeah, I don’t like it either.”
“It’s a cheap word in Japan, huh? People just throw it
around in any context. They use it like an excuse. You know,
like ‘Don’t I at least have the freedom to dye my own hair?’
What a load of crap. But I pretty much just do what I want,
whether you call it freedom or not. To hell with being restricted,
whether it’s by yourself or others.”
“Fair enough.” I sighed and nodded. “Then I guess if I
hadn’t restrained myself, I would’ve been like you.”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 3
“Does that mean if I had restrained myself, I would’ve been
How wholly unappealing.
“I think I’ll pass on that.”
“Yeah, that’s a big no thank you.”
Zerozaki laughed, and I didn’t laugh.
As our pointless chatter went on, at some point the hospital
appeared before us. Apparently we had been conversing
at a standstill for some time now. I hadn’t noticed at all. At
this point, I really had been talking too much.
From there, we continued talking about things that had
nothing to do with the murders. Things that had nothing to do
with anything besides us. For probably two whole hours.
Ridiculous things that would serve no purpose in life. Things
that would bring neither help nor harm to the world.
Some topics he would bring up.
Some topics I would bring up.
If you had three wishes, what would you wish for? If you
found a hundred million yen, how would you spend it? Which
is more beautiful, an isosceles triangle or an equilateral?
Which is bigger, a kilometer or a kilogram? Would you rather
belong to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or the
Rosicrucian Order? Is it possible to have a 115-by-l 15 block
magic square? What the hell is Eighty-eight Othello, anyhow?
We conversed like two good friends.
But Zerozaki was no friend of mine, and I was no friend of
his. We may as well have been talking to ourselves. It was all
meaningless, worthless small talk. I thought it neither
enjoyable nor unenjoyable. It was an act of reflection on how
I’d lived these past nineteen years. A reflection of light.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 4
It was a wholly inconceivable chunk of time, but sure
enough, the hands of that magical clock slowly made their
way to zero.
“Well, that puts my doubts to rest,” he then said. “I guess
this is farewell.”
“Yeah.” I agreed with no resistance.
“Nice killing time with ya,” Zerozaki said, lifting his rear
end off the banister he had been sitting on. “Say,” he said, giving
me a sideways glance. “You planning on staying in Kyoto
“Hard to say. I’m kind of a wanderer, really. I reckon I’ll be
here as long as I’m in college, but you never know when I
might drop out.”
“Gotcha. Well, then what\'s a place you don’t think you’ll
ever go in your whole life?”
“Hmm . . . I doubt I\'ll ever go to the North or South Pole,
among others,” I said, giving a stock answer after a moment’s
thought. “The one place I definitely don’t want to go to is
Texas in America. Especially Houston. I’d rather break every
damn bone in my body than go back there.”
“Huh.” He nodded. “I guess I’ll go there, then.”
“Can you speak English?”
“I went to junior high school. Besides, a knife gets through
where words don’t. Of course,” he said caustically, “your knife
I shrugged at his biting comment. “Well, I guess we won’t
“Fine by me. I don’t really like seeing you anyway.”
“Yeah, true enough.”
It was probably true. I wouldn’t have any desire to see him,
nor him to see me. It was nothing more than an impossible
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 5
chance meeting to begin with, so such was the logical
In the end, I posed one final question. I pulled out the
deepest, darkest fragment of my being and took a good look at
“Tell me, Zerozaki.”
“Is there someone you love?”
“Hell no, man. Does it look like there is? Incidentally, I
hate myself the most. Or maybe you. Why do you ask?”
“I’ve got someone.”
He looked just a bit surprised, but then gave a gloating
sneer. “I asked you before and you said, ‘Ehh, I don’t really
know,’ you jerkoff.”
“Yeah, I was lying.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I guess that’s the difference between
you and me.”
“Yeah, guess so.”
“I guess you’d better keep on living, then. Don’t become
“Same to you.”
He turned his back on me and began walking toward
Imadegawa Street. I turned my back on him and began walking
toward the hospital reception.
Neither of us said a word, but I’m sure we were thinking
the same thing.
“Now then . . .”
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 6
To me, this marked the end of the story. But even if a
world or two had crumbled down on the other side of the
mirror, I could think of at least two people who had no intention
of letting things end this way, and there was something
depressing about that.
Maybe this too was a form of divine retribution.
“That’s all this damn life is, eh, Human Failure?”
So muttered the “Damaged Goods.”
I was speaking to myself.
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 8
With all of my fingers besides the left thumb placed in braces,
the doctor told me they would take about two weeks to heal
to a point of not interfering with my daily life, as long as I
went easy on them. The following day, I headed for
Kunagisa’s condominium in Shirosaki, the highest-class residential
area of Kyoto. I thought it would be nice to show up
looking cool on the Vespa I had inherited from Mikoko-chan,
but the finger braces wouldn’t allow it, so I gave up. It seemed
I would have to wait a bit longer before I could enjoy that
sweet feeling of going for a spin.
The braces proved to be more of an inconvenience than I
had initially expected. At first, I figured, “Oh, so my fingers
won’t be able to bend as much for a while, big deal,” but
within the first night alone, I realized that this was going to
place a considerable strain on my daily life. Even getting
dressed had become a big chore. I realized that this was going
to cause me to become even more of a burden to Miiko-san
next door, and this launched the beginning of a very pessimistic
And so it was that my mode of transportation this day was
my own two feet. Three hours was a bit intense for someone
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 4 9
suffering from injuries, and I could’ve just as easily taken a bus
or taxi, but considering the high cost of the medical bills for
my finger treatment, I had decided to save my money instead.
“But she is going to be there, right?”
Muttering such things to myself all the while. I eventually
arrived in front of Kunagisa’s condo. It was a posh, brick
building that looked more like a fortress than a condo. The
thirty-first and thirty-second floors both belonged to Kunagisa.
I passed through the gazes of a number of rocklike security
guards sitting firm as rocks in the entrance (they knew my face
by now) and headed for the elevator lobby. The elevator was
already on the first floor before I even pushed the call button.
I went ahead and pushed it, opening the doors, and went
inside. I used a key to open the button case, exposing the buttons
for floors thirty-one and thirty-two, and pressed the one
The sensation of gravity gone awry continued for a whole
I exited the elevator once it stopped and approached the
steel door straight ahead of me. As vastly superior as this place
was to my own, it still lacked an intercom. Kunagisa almost
never received any visitors, so there was no need.
I opened the lock with a key and fingerprint scan, and entered
“Tomooo, it’s meee. I’m in your plaaace,” I called out as I
walked down the hallway (although I didn’t feel right calling it
just a “hallway.” The staircase alone was bigger than my entire
place). On the thirty-first floor below, most of the walls had
been knocked down to make space for a ridiculously enormous
computer, whereas the thirty-second floor was more like
ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 0
a maze, making it easy for me with my poor memory to get
mixed up. Now where was that girl?
I realized I should have called her ahead of time, but my
fingers were in no condition to be operating a telephone. My
left thumb was still functioning normally, of course, so I could
have done it with enough effort, but I was in no mood to
exert that effort.
“Tomo, where are you?” I continued walking down the hall
as I called out again. I began to see bizarre cords and cables of
various unknown varieties tangled along the floor. Of course I
had set foot in this place any number of times by now, but for
a guy like me who didn’t know the first thing about mechanical
or electronic engineering, this place was still like a magical
kingdom. If I wasn’t careful, I could easily trip on something
and fall, so I made sure to take caution as I proceeded.
“Tomo, it’s me. You’re somewhere on here, right?”
“Yo, I’m over here, thisaway, thisaway.”
The responding voice didn’t belong to Kunagisa.
As expected, it was a red voice.
Not that voices have colors.
“Actually I thought you might not be here . . .”
Is life ever that easy?
I continued walking in the direction of the voice until at
last arriving in an empty room about ten mats wide. In this
disgustingly big mansion of a condo, there were rooms even
Kunagisa Tomo couldn’t find a use for. Of course I supposed
it was also just a matter of time.
Then again, I guess you need rooms like that if you’re
going to have guests over.
“Yo. Long time no see.”
Inside the room, Aikawa-san and . . .