I came to a realization. “Uhm, is this perhaps your first time wearing Western clothes?” I asked.
“You don’t have to wear it if you don’t like it.”
Shirayuki raised her head, and I gave a start. Yukihito pushed me from behind out onto the hallway so she could get dressed. After a long while, the door opened. It looked like she had a difficult time putting the dress on. She gazed down at her feet anxiously, fixing her disheveled hair. The way she moved her head looked somewhat childish. The dress dispelled her vicious aura, giving her a gentle image. The simple shades of black and white blended perfectly. As though concerned about how defenseless she looked, Shirayuki glanced at her legs, then at her hands, then at me. Her gaze wandered for a moment before giving up and glaring at me. I was terrified, but at the same time convinced that I did nothing wrong.
My hunch was right. She looked good in the dress.
The atmosphere allowed for no such compliments, so I kept my mouth shut.
Shirayuki remained still for a while, then suddenly turned around. She crouched down and resumed tidying up. But judging from the junk piled up in the hallway, she was barely making any progress. It would only be a waste of time to let her continue.
“Excuse me,” I called as she was cleaning up a dusty record disc. “I’ll handle it from here. Please get some rest.”
“I do not need your help. I will take care of this.”
“I’m not asking you solely for your own sake,” I said. “All this stuff is blocking the hallway, and we don’t want things breaking. For now, I’ll tidy it up a bit so you can use it tonight, so please just rest.”
Bearing the weight of her stare, I drove her out of the room. I looked around. It was more cluttered now, but motivation burned in my chest. This would be a good opportunity to clean out Mayuzumi’s sea of junk. I kept telling her to clean up, but she never listens to me. I got what I wanted.
It was time to throw away all this junk.
Let’s do this. I rolled up my sleeves and looked up. Beyond the pile of clothes, I caught a glimpse of something on the dusty windowpane. A red trail traced a gentle arc in the darkening sky.
Golden orbs looked at me, black pupils gleaming, then turned away.
A red goldfish was swimming in the sky.
My eyes widened. The goldfish flipped and soared high in the air. It wriggled its fins, swimming through the air as if it was water, and vanished. A red goldfish. It seemed to have grown since I last saw it on the street.
“What was that?”
The bad feeling in my gut returned. My legs moved. I headed for the living room. I wanted to share what I just saw to Mayuzumi just in case. As I stepped into the living room, I felt a strange tension in the air. Yuusuke was holding the remote control and staring at the TV. For once, Mayuzumi was also watching. Amid the grim background music, a red text, intended to incite fear, was displayed on the screen.
“Apparently, a victim of a traffic accident had their blood completely drained,” Yuusuke summarized. “The cause of death was a skull fracture caused by a blow to the head. But a subsequent examination revealed their body had no blood in it. The one who hit them had no recollection of what happened. After the accident, they immediately contacted the police.”
It was an odd incident. Who did it and for what purpose? Or perhaps no one did anything, and we had no idea. I glanced at Mayuzumi, wondering if this might not have been the work of a human being, but something supernatural. But she did not say anything.
Instead there was a clattering of teeth.
I turned around to see Yukihito trembling, white as a sheet. Mayuzumi and Yuusuke also glanced at him but didn’t seem to notice. Shirayuki placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Does the incident perhaps ring a bell?” Mayuzumi asked.
Yukihito shook his head wildly. His lips were tightly pursed, refusing to speak. Asking him any more would be a waste of time. Mayuzumi and Yuusuke exchanged glances and stood up.
“Clan head,” Mayuzumi said. “There’s something I forgot to tell you. It’s about a thing you tossed out into the hallway. Do you have a moment?”
Mayuzumi took Shirayuki out into the hallway. Shirayuki, wondering if she broke something, quietly followed.
I sensed trouble.
Yukihito probably felt the same. With the agility of a critter, he tried to follow Shirayuki, but Yuusuke grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back. The door slammed shut. Out of nowhere, Yuusuke kicked Yukihito in the leg. He pushed him to the floor, grabbed his legs, and leapt onto the sofa.
In an instant, Yukihito was hanging upside-down. He squirmed about, too scared to even scream.
“That’s too far, Yuusuke,” I said.
“You’re not butting in this time, Odagiri-san. This is what Mayuzumi-san wants. Now let’s talk. Right now. It’ll make things easier for you.”
Yukihito started sobbing. He was not mentally strong enough to keep an iron will when hung upside-down.
“Sh-Shiramine-sama…” he mumbled.
“The same thing happened… when Shiramine-sama left home. There were a lot of bloodless corpses.”
Yuusuke and I exchanged looks. What did he mean by the same thing? What happened in the Minase household in the past? And who was this Shiramine-sama he was talking about?
Very few people probably left the Minase clan.
Could it be the defector?
If so, why address them so politely?
“I see, I see,” Yuusuke said. “Please, tell us more. Come on! Spill it all out!”
Yuusuke shook Yukihito up and down. Right before I could tell him to stop, the door opened. The timing couldn’t have been worse. She failed to stall her long enough.
Shirayuki’s eyes widened slightly as she regarded us.
In a split-second, her face took on a terrifying expression.
“I don’t know what you were thinking, but harassing my attendant is not something I expected from Lady Mayuzumi’s retainer. I am disappointed. How could you do this?”
It was my first time getting reprimanded through writing. My legs were going numb from sitting on them too long. Also, I wanted to correct the part where I was Mayuzumi’s retainer.
“Are you listening?”
I am. Reading, more like. I felt sorry for Yukihito, but it should be Mayuzumi, who was relaxing on the sofa, sitting next to Yuusuke, not me. But no matter what I said, she would probably try her best to talk her way out of it. I hung my head low, holding back the urge to smoke a cigarette.
Just then, the phone rang. Because I couldn’t move, there was no one to pick it up. Mayuzumi insisted on ignoring it, but it wouldn’t stop ringing. Mayuzumi, finally giving up, jumped down from the sofa and picked up the receiver. She exchanged greetings with someone in a bored tone. Suddenly the call ended. The caller’s flustered voice suggested that she didn’t let them finish.
“What was that about, Mayu-san?” I asked.
“There’s only one reason anyone would call my place. A case. It was from an acquaintance. It wasn’t my cup of tea, so I declined. Why couldn’t they call at a better time?”
So she says, but if a case fascinated her, she would take it, no matter the circumstances. No matter the risks involved. Any client would find her methods to be irrational.
“They wanted me to find a flying goldfish,” Mayuzumi continued as she trotted back to the sofa. “Better if they asked someone else.”
Mayuzumi stopped. She turned around, her skirt flaring, and peered into my face.
“What’s the matter, Odagiri-kun? Does the case ring a bell?”
Ring a bell? I literally just saw a goldfish moments ago. When I told her about the flying goldfish, Mayuzumi frowned.
“Hmm…” She turned back around. The phone rang loudly in response. Her pale fingers picked up the receiver, and she spoke before the caller had time to say anything.
“I’ll take the case,” she said. “As you wish, I’ll come to you. Wait for me there.”
Mayuzumi hung up the phone. I swallowed.
“I thought it wasn’t your cup of tea,” I said warily.
Mayuzumi didn’t say anything. She just smiled.