Story I – Part 02

Translator: Kell

I stopped the tape and rewound it. The air-conditioned room in the apartment was heavenly compared to the outside. Mayuzumi was sitting on the sofa. For some reason, she was wearing a white coat over her gothic lolita outfit, with a name plate pinned to her chest.

Mayuzumi Azaka.

“What do you think, Mayu-san?” I asked. “Also, please buy a digital voice recorder already. No one uses tape recorders nowadays. I don’t want to spend my own money to buy blank tapes either.”

“Quite pleasant, don’t you think? The voice, the story… It’s all so morbid.”

Ignored me, huh? I looked at her with half-lidded eyes. Mayuzumi picked up her cup—whether she noticed my look or not, I had no idea—chugged the hot chocolate down, and poured a second cup from the pot. A rich, sweet aroma filled the air.

“Can you please stop that?” I said. “Besides, can we even call this a case? I think she’s just delusional.”

“Delusional, huh? I suppose you can call her that. But I think it’s a little different. There’s something wrong with the way she thinks.” She drank the second cup, and poured in a third. Sweetness drifted in the room. “When it comes to preferences, the one that is most likely to cause conflict is food, Odagiri-kun. Difference in taste can easily create a rift between relationships. I understand. You want me to stop consuming sweets because you don’t like them. But if I don’t drink chocolate, I’ll die. Accommodating my needs is what a good guy does.”

I’m afraid I’m a cynic.

I kept the thought to myself, and gave in.

“Okay, I understand,” I said. “So what exactly is wrong with the way she thinks?”

“I can’t tell you just yet. You’ll have to wait a while longer.”

“Okay. I saw that one coming anyway. I take it we’re accepting the case?”

“I suppose. You’re a brilliant man, Odagiri-kun. You always do exactly what I want you to do. The problem is, you don’t know the merits of being confined.”

Nor do I want to. Breathing a sigh, I stood up. Mayuzumi pressed the play switch on the tape recorder, and the sweet voice of a woman began issuing from the device.

Because I love her. That’s why I have to kill her.

Listening to the disturbing content, Mayuzumi smiled. “Retro is a good thing. Inconvenience ensures  variety.” A twisted grin formed on her lips. “I wonder which is better, discomfort or monotony?”

Mayuzumi was no longer looking at me. She lay down with her coat still on.

“I like monotony, though,” I mumbled, then left the room.

The moment I walked out the door, the light of summer and the stark silence struck my ears.

Nago City, Aichi Prefecture. The apartment building was located in a corner of a large city with a population of over two million. Although it stood in a corner of a high-end neighborhood, there were no tenants except for one. On the fifth floor, in the only occupied unit, there was a curious plate on display.

Mayuzumi Psychic Detective Agency.

If I wasn’t working here myself, I’d point at the sign and laugh.

Mayuzumi Azaka. A fourteen-year-old detective and my boss. She had never actually received any legitimate case. It was always the dubious tales, which considering the sign on the wall, was understandable. Mayuzumi was not even an official private detective. She had not submitted any notification as one. It was not surprising, then, that she did not receive any cases. In fact, it would be strange for her to get one.

But for some reason, she would occassionally receive cases. And all of them, like this one, was downright bizarre.

Find my sister who can’t die so I can kill her.

Just remembering what she asked gave me a severe headache.

I cursed myself once again for having to work for Mayuzumi. I leaned back on the soft train seat and heaved a deep sigh. In the distant past, my path was far away from hers. If nothing had happened to me, I would have gone to college. Suddenly, I felt my vision turning dark. Feeling nauseous, I held my mouth. I shouldn’t be thinking about it. I shook my head and pulled myself together. I should make this the last time I ponder something I could not change.

Holding back my stomach from churning, I closed my eyes. I took another subway line to my destination. It would have been quicker to take a taxi, but I had to pay for my own transportation. Since I was being paid peanuts, extravagance was my enemy. After wasting time, I arrived at the designated house. There was an awful stench in the air. I spotted a woman with long hair in a dress waving her hand.

A pure white dress. An outfit I’d only seen in movies and paintings.

As I approached the woman, she gave an immaculate smile. Her lovely, pale skin gave her an air of madness. As I bowed in response, I grew more cautious. A woman as pretentious as my boss, Mayuzumi, should not be trusted. I learned that the hard way.

“I apologize,” I said. “The discussion with my boss dragged on longer than expected. I hope you didn’t wait that long.”

“No. You’re right on time,” she replied. “Thank you for taking my case. If you hadn’t accepted it, I don’t know what I would have done.” Her eyes misted up.

I recalled the woman’s profile in my head.

Yamashita Kazue, twenty-five years old. Her parents died in a traffic accident five years ago. She lives with her sister. She currently runs a flower arrangement shop, which she inherited from her parents. Her older sister was working for a major insurance company, but committed suicide by jumping off a building a month ago. However, before her death was confirmed, she disappeared from the hospital. She says that the internal organs in the recent string of cases belong to her sister. She had asked us to find her sister so she could kill her for good.

When I called her and told her we were taking the case, she was delighted and insisted I came to her house. She said she wanted to show me pictures.

I glanced behind Kazue and gulped. Dozens of garbage bags were piled up by the entrance. Liquified trash was leaking out from where ravens had poked them. Food scraps decay fast under the summer sun. Apparently, this was the source of the stench. In the garden, weeds had grown up to waist height. It was hard to believe that someone lived here. It was as if they had completely neglected themselves.

Perhaps the shock of her sister’s suicide—or her attempt to commit one, at least—somehow caused her mind to malfunction.

I cast her a sidelong glance, and she smiled. There was not a trace of madness in her expression.

It was distorted because of its flawlessness.

“Please, come on in,” she said.

“Th-Thank you.”

Unashamed of her dilapidated home, Kazue ambled ahead, her slender feet stepping all over the trash. Her white sandals were getting stained, but she didn’t care, and pulled open the door.

“I’m sorry about the mess.”

A stale stench assailed my nose. I looked down and saw countless pairs of shoes filling the doorway. As someone who always rearranged the shoes that Mayuzumi tossed about, I wanted to tidy it all up. But I held back the urge and stepped forward.

Suddenly, I felt a gaze coming from behind me. I spun, but there was no one there. After looking around for a while, I entered the house. Then I realized something.

There were two pairs of each kind of shoe. It was as though two people bought the exact same thing.

“This way.”

Kazue moved like an apparition, and I followed her. She led me to a room that was in a better state than the kitchen I glimpsed on the way. It was probably her living quarters—which is why I felt a chill, as if countless insects were crawling all over my body.

Pictures of a smiling woman filled the walls, a woman with a very similar face to Kazue. Unlike the morbidly pale Kazue, the woman’s smile was bright, and her skin had a healthy tan to it. She bore a resemblance to Kazue, yet looked clearly different. There were pictures even on the floor. It felt like looking at a kaleidoscope made of photographs of faces.

“Please take a seat.” Kazue pointed at two cushions on the floor.

Sitting on them meant sitting on her sister’s face. I wondered if I could really do that.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No. None at all.” Reluctantly, I sat down, and so did Kazue.

She folded her pale legs and took a proper seat. “Thank you very much for taking on this case,” she said.

“No, thank you for coming to us. I’m not sure if we can help you, but we will do our best.”

Again Kazue gave a perfect smile. Everything she said and did seemed surreal. It was like she was hiding something underneath a thin layer of skin.

It got on my nerves.

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