Zaregoto - Volume 2 Chapter 7

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“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



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

become somebody.

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.


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.


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.



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


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

cursing eyes.

Without a doubt, the most broken thing in this room was

none other than her.


No reply.

Only that dreadful gaze, piercing through me like a dagger.

Her hair, that long, brown sauvage, had been diced up into

something hideous.

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

at me.

It felt like the world itself had become my enemy.


“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



“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.”

“Hey, thanks.”

“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 . . .”


“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?”

“I promise.”

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

the heart.


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

to respond.

“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

Mikoko-chan’s sake.”

“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


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.

She killed.

“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


have a single human emotion inside of you! So you shut your

goddamn mouth!”

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.

She killed.

“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

they’re revolting.

She killed.

“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.

Dozens. Hundreds.

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!”


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.

She killed.

“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.


“Ruined? Me?”

“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

Muimi-chan together.

“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.”

“. . . .”


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

not human.”

“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.”


“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?”

“That’s right.”

“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.


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

Muimi-chan’s face.


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.”

“Rrr. Rrrr.”

She trembled.

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

middle finger.

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.



“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.”


“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

night, either.”

. . . . !

“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!”


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

themselves, Muimi-chan?”

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.


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.


“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

by nine?”

“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.


“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 what?”

“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.”


“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.”

“Ah, right.”

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?”

Zerozaki said.

“Sure. What?”

“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?”


“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

be obvious.”

“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



“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.”


“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

didn’t notice.”

“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

for Mikoko-chan.”

“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.


“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.”


“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?”


“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


right behind me whispering into Tomo-chan’s phone. By the

time I turned back around, she had already slipped it back into

her pocket.”

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.”


“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”

“Huh? What?”

“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



“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.”


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

was doing?”


“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


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.”


“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.”

“Maybe so.”

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


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

they were.

“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

his head.

“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


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

message.’ ”

“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?”

“Probably not.”

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?”


“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 . . .”

“A masterpiece?”

“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,

unbearable figure.

In the end, there was no way to stop thinking, no matter

how much you willed yourself not to. Your brain would keep

thinking automatically.

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.


If only I could have abandoned everything. How nice that

would’ve been.

“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

allow that.

“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.


“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.

“Not really.”

“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.”


“Does that mean if I had restrained myself, I would’ve been

like you?”

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.

Zerozaki Hitoshiki.


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

probably wouldn’t.”

I shrugged at his biting comment. “Well, I guess we won’t

meet again.”

“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


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

it head-on.

“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

like me.”

“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 . . .”


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.


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


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

for thirty-two.

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

the room.

“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


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 . . .