VOLUME 7 – THE LOCATION OF THE SPIRIT file 02: witch ()
After parking the car, Ishii took deep breaths.
He was near the Tamo River at one corner of the residential street, in front of the <Kinoshita Surgery: Maternity and Gynaecology Department >.
A flat-roofed three-storey building with white walls – it stood uncannily in the darkness.
The first time Ishii came here was about half a year ago, during his first case with Gotou. During that case, the owner of this hospital was arrested, so it was now empty.
All the windows were covered by curtains, and weeds grew at the entrance. The sign with the name of the hospital was written in dirty undistinguishable letters.
It was completely abandoned.
Ishii thought Nanase Miyuki was hiding in this building.
‘Why do you think she’s here?’ asked Miyagawa.
’There are materials she could use here to treat herself without being spotted. Those are the requirements.’
’But there are other abandoned hospitals.’
Just as Miyagawa said, there were other abandoned hospitals too, if those were the only requirements. However, if they became too old, the materials couldn’t be used for treatment. Furthermore –
’The man with two red eyes was involved in the case with Doctor Kinoshita. Though she didn’t appear in the foreground, Nanase Miyuki was probably involved as well... so she must know about this place.’
That was why Ishii thought that Nanase Miyuki would use <Kinoshita Surgery: Maternity and Gynaecology Department> as her hideout.
’Why do you think she’d choose a place she knows?’
’I used geographic profiling.’
’Profiling, eh? How complicated.’
Miyagawa smiled wryly.
’That isn’t the case. Profiling is just thinking from the standpoint of the criminal.’
’Though people look as if they are behaving erratically, they unconsciously limit their actions.’
Miyagawa cocked his head.
’Yes. Concealment means hiding yourself. People unconsciously choose some place they think is safer.’
’So places you don’t know are unsafe.’
’There are exceptions, but this is not an escape but concealment. Furthermore, she is injured. There is a high risk to hiding in a place you don’t know.’
’Well, instead of thinking about it, we’ll find out if we go in.’
As Miyagawa said that, he got off the car.
Ishii took the torch and got off the car.
– Nanase Miyuki might be here.
Now, fear welled within him and his feet froze. However, he had suggested this himself. He couldn’t run now.
Unlike Ishii, Miyagawa spoke as lightly as if they were heading out for a stroll and walked briskly. Ishii gulped and started walking as well.
They stood in front of the glass entrance.
Then, Miyagawa smashed the glass, put his hand in and unlocked the door.
That was the person who taught Gotou for you. His methods were forceful.
Ishii went into the building, hiding behind Miyagawa’s back.
Ishii lit the torch. Though they were small, there was a reception and waiting room and a cavernous corridor beyond them.
– I’m really frightened.
Ishii wanted to cling to something, so he stuck to Miyagawa’s back.
’That’s creepy. Back off.’
Miyagawa pushed Ishii away.
’I’ll look at the examination room. You check the delivery room,’ said Miyagawa, sounding exasperated. Then he opened the door and went into the examination room.
– I’m going alone?
Ishii wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers and gripped the torch tightly. He felt like his heart would leap out of his throat.
The delivery room was at the end of the corridor.
Ishii walked a step at a time.
’It’s OK. It’s OK.’
Ishii said that to himself as he pushed open the door to the delivery room.
Then, the smell of disinfectant assaulted his nose. Without thinking, he covered his nose and mouth with his hand.
On the dusty metal cart, there were medicine and medical tools, and there was a bed in the middle of the room.
Ishii immediately noticed something was strange.
There were bandages at his feet. He turned the torch towards them and realised they were bloody.
’It’s still fresh...’
When Ishii spoke up, he saw something move in the corner of his eye.
It was too late when he noticed.
Something leapt out of the darkness and attacked Ishii.
Ishii couldn’t even scream.
’Hello!’ said Haruka, opening the door to the soba restaurant.
They dropped by after seeing Masato off.
It was thirty minutes by car from Nagano city. It was a soba restaurant for tourists, the middle of five at the bottom of Togakushi mountain.
It had a long history – a wooden shop with a thatch roof. White walls that stood out even from the road. It had a wide parking lot. Besides the table for eight inside the shop, there were two tatami rooms. There was also an inn, though it was simple and at a bit of a distance.
To be frank, it was Haruka’s home.
’Sorry, we’re already closed...’
Haruka’s mother, Keiko, came out of the kitchen in an apron.
’Oh, it’s you, Haruka,’ replied Keiko, sounding a bit disappointed.
’Couldn’t you be a bit more surprised?’
Haruka pouted, but Keiko didn’t care. She didn’t respond to anything. That was her personality.
’My body wouldn’t be able to bear it if I was surprised by everything you did.’
’It’s not like I do anything that surprising.’
’Really now. Didn’t you come home crying about how “Yakumo-kun disappeared” the other time?’
– She couldn’t say anything to that.
’I wasn’t crying.’
’Oh really,’ said Keiko mischievously.
Haruka wanted to retort, but she couldn’t just keep talking like this.
’Hey, friends came with me, but could I ask them in?’
Haruka didn’t wait for Keiko’s answer. She opened the sliding door and showed Yakumo and Gotou in.
’Sorry to bother.’
Gotou passed through the curtain first.
’Oh my, you’re Nao-chan’s...’
Keiko clapped her hands together before Haruka could introduce him.
Haruka had thought they hadn’t met before, but now that she thought about it, they’d met at Isshin’s funeral.
’Oh, is this your home, Haruka-chan?’ said Gotou, looking at Keiko.
’I didn’t say?’
’Didn’t hear anything about it.’
’If you’re going in, please hurry up. You’re in the way,’ interrupted Yakumo, sounding displeased.
’You’re so fussy,’ complained Gotou, but he stepped inside the shop to let Yakumo in.
’Oh, Yakumo-kun too!’
Though Keiko didn’t have much of a response to her daughter’s return home, when she saw Yakumo, she was so pleased it looked like she’d leap up.
Yakumo greeted her with his usual expression.
’What is it? Why are you all here?’
Keiko was as excited as if she had met old friends ago.
’A lot happened.’
’Oh, did you decide when to have your marriage?’
’What? Don’t play dumb.’
Haruka refused to be dragged along by Keiko’s excitement.
’Anyway, I’m starved.’
Gotou interrupted the parent-child banter.
’We came all this way because you said you’d let us eat something.’
Yakumo made a follow-up comment.
It seemed like neither of them knew the word restraint.
’Sorry. This was so sudden. The part-time worker’s already gone home, so it’ll just be whatever we have on hand.’
’I don’t mind.’
’No problem here.’
After Yakumo and Gotou replied, Keiko urged them to sit – ’Would the tatami room be all right?’ – and they went to the tatami room.
The three of them sat at a long table.
Haruka hadn’t thought she’d be here at home with Yakumo and Gotou. It was strange.
’Anyway, I’ll get a beer,’ said Gotou the moment he sat down, without looking at the menu.
’You can’t drive if you drink, right?’ interrupted Yakumo.
’We can just sleep in the car.’
’A sleeping bag and a car seat aren’t that different, right?’
’How about this?’ interrupted Keiko. She had a hand at her waist with a triumphant expression. Haruka had a somewhat bad feelings.
’You can just stay here,’ said Keiko, eyes sparkling.
Ignoring Haruka’s surprise, Gotou slapped his knee. ’That’d be great.’
’We don’t have many hands since it’s the off season, so we won’t be able to do much for you.’
’Anywhere’s fine as long as I can sleep. Yakumo, let’s stay here tonight.’
Gotou hit Yakumo’s shoulder to ask for his agreement.
For just a moment, Haruka’s eyes met Yakumo’s. Even though it wasn’t like they would be sleeping together, Haruka’s face suddenly grew hot and she looked down at the tatami without thinking.
’If it isn’t any trouble,’ said Yakumo, running a hand through his hair.
’OK! It’s decided then.’
After saying that, Keiko took a bottle of beer out of the fridge and placed it on the table along with glasses for all of them.
Gotou opened the bottle immediately and started pouring beer into each glass.
For some reason, Yakumo was looking at the amber-coloured liquid filling his glass unpleasantly.
’Yakumo-kun, you can’t drink?’
He glared at her.
With Keiko, Gotou called out and they clinked their glasses for form’s sake.
Yakumo stuck took one sip, like he was lapping it out of the glass, and then he stuck out his tongue again, scowling. It looked like he really couldn’t drink.
– That’s a bit cute.
When Keiko asked for their orders, Gotou just said, ’We’ll leave it to you.’
’Leave it to me then,’ said Keiko. She finished drinking her glass of beer and then went into the kitchen.
Haruka couldn’t hear clearly, but there was talking in the kitchen. Keiko was probably talking with Haruka’s father, Kazuhiro.
’This your parents’ shop, Haruka-chan?’ asked Gotou, pouring himself a second glass of beer.
’Yes. Though there are also a number of part-time workers.’
’Is your dad the cook?’
’My father’s fairly famous. He’s even been in some gourmet magazines.’
’Oh? We should greet him. Since we’ll be staying for a night.’
’I’ll introduce you afterwards.’
When Haruka finished speaking, there was a loud cracking sound of something breaking in the kitchen.
To read the uncut version, go to 𝒃𝒆𝒅𝒏𝒐𝒗𝙚𝙡.𝙘𝙤𝒎.
Haruka turned around to see Kazuhiro fly out of the kitchen with a red face.
He had a small frame with his hair trimmed short, but his eyebrows and the corners of his eyes were low on his face, so he looked a bit unreliable. He was normally gentle – Haruka couldn’t remember him ever being angry.
Now, Kazuhiro’s cheeks were twitching and he was gritting his teeth as he glared.
’D-Dad, I’m home.’
Haruka called out to him, but Kazuhiro didn’t appear to hear. He alternated his glare between Yakumo and Gotou.
’Which one’s Yakumo?’ asked Kazuhiro in a low voice.
Haruka looked at the kitchen and saw Keiko peering out from inside as she stifled her laughter.
Ignoring Haruka, who was troubled for a response, Yakumo pointed at Gotou with a disinterested expression.
Kazuhiro approached Gotou.
Gotou cocked his head in confusion.
’Somebody like you.’
’What’s good about this unattractive middle-aged man?’
Kazuhiro looked at Haruka.
There appeared to be a crazy misunderstanding.
’That’s not it. Yakumo’s that one.’
Gotou seemed to realise what had happened and pointed at Yakumo.
With the speed of a beast hunting prey, Kazuhiro looked to Yakumo, but Yakumo just looked with disinterest at the soba refining process written on the back of the menu.
’He treats Haruka-chan like a slave. If you don’t do something soon, it’ll be a problem,’ Gotou continued with a large grin as he fanned the fire.
Kazuhiro’s eyes went so wide they looked like they would fall out.
Kazuhiro was serious, but because of that, he didn’t understand jokes. He believed everything he was told.
’All right, all right. Calm down a bit, dear.’
Keiko, perhaps satisfied by the teasing she’d done, took Kazuhiro’s arm and pulled him back into the kitchen.
– This is the worst.
Haruka lay on the table, exhausted.
’Why is your father picking a fight with me?’ complained Yakumo, his chin in his hands.
’Because you’re toying with his unmarried daughter.’
Gotou’s shoulders were shaking in laughter.
’What are you talking about?’
’Don’t act like you don’t understand.’
Even Yakumo was angry now.
There was no point continuing this conversation.
’Hey. What are we going to do next?’
Haruka sat up straight and changed the topic.
’Ah, that’s right. Let’s clean this up fast,’ agreed Gotou, placing his glass on the table.
’I’m also curious about where that girl has disappeared to.’
Yakumo had looked tired, but his gaze suddenly became serious.
’Is that girl OK?’
Yakumo replied to Gotou’s question.
’How do you know?’
’Earlier, we discussed being spirited away.’
’This is my theory, but I think that such incidents are caused by ghosts.’
’What do you mean?’
Gotou’s face twisted in confusion.
’Tengu and demons only exist in humans’ imaginations. Things that do not exist cannot make somebody disappear.’
’Right,’ replied Gotou with a belch.
’However, people really do disappear without any notice – in that sense, people are spirited away. Then why do they disappear?’
’They were in some sort of accident.’
Haruka said the first thing that came to mind. Then, Yakumo glared at her.
’I’m not talking about accidents right now.’
You don’t have to say it that way – Yakumo was unusually displeased, perhaps because of what just happened earlier.
’So why do they disappear?’
Gotou went back on topic.
As Yakumo said that, Kazuhiro brought bowls for the three of them on a wooden tray.
Kazuhiro wasn’t good with words so he rarely left the kitchen, leaving the customers to Keiko. So what was happening now –
Kazuhiro placed the bowls in front of them silently.
He didn’t forget to glare at Yakumo when he left.
Gotou stuck his chopsticks into the bowl.
’You don’t know? It’s sobagaki.’
Gotou cocked his head.
Though it was famous in Nagano as local cuisine, it wasn’t common in Tokyo restaurants – perhaps there were many people he didn’t know about it.
’Buckwheat flour is kneaded into a mochi-like state. It’s delicious.’
Its appearance and colour was similar to a rock, but its fluffy texture and the way the aroma of buckwheat spread through your mouth was amazing.
’Oh! This goes well with the beer.’
As Gotou ate, he expressed his pleasure.
It made Haruka happy to hear her home cooking praised. 𝚋𝚎𝚍ｎ𝚘ｖ𝚎𝚕.𝚗𝚎𝚝
Come to think of it, Haruka hadn’t eaten sobagaki at home much recently either. After murmuring ’Let’s eat’ in her heart, she picked up her chopsticks. Kazuhiro’s sobagaki was softer than the other stores’. That feeling filled her mouth.
– This taste. It’s Dad’s.
’Is this really sobagaki? It just looks like a rock to me,’ said Yakumo, ruining the atmosphere.
– Honestly. This contrary guy.
’If you’re going to say that, you don’t have to eat.’
Yakumo showed the inside of his bowl.
There was a plop as a rock rolled in his bowl.
Haruka couldn’t believe it. Yakumo’s bowl had a real rock in it.
Haruka let out an angry yell.
Ishii fell backwards.
The black shadow that came flying at him was human. The person sat on top of Ishii and swung something.
A sharp pain ran through his left shoulder.
It appeared he had been stabbed by something.
He looked to see a surgical scalpel. It had stabbed the top of his shoulder. Blood was coming out, dyeing his shirt.
’Ishii-san, it’s been a while.’
He heard a voice in his ear.
Though it had a bewitching echo to it, there was something incredibly dark eddying in it. It was a voice he could never forget.
– Nanase Miyuki.
’You can scream if it hurts.’
Nanase Miyuki brought herself close to Ishii’s face.
The left half of her was covered in burns. There was no trace of her graceful self.
Miyuki twisted the scalpel in Ishii’s shoulder, gouging the wound. A pain incomparable to the one earlier ran through his shoulder.
Ishii bore with the pain.
If I scream now, it’ll be her win – that was how he felt.
’Why not call for help? Chief Miyagawa might come.’
She knew that Miyagawa was here.
For her to be so composed – a bad feeling spread within Ishii.
’From that world.’
Miyuki’s eyes had a cold light.
Miyagawa was killed – Ishii couldn’t accept what Miyuki said.
’Even though I thought you were just useless, you sniffed this place out. You’re unexpectedly troublesome.’
’Would you die already?’
The terror in Ishii suddenly grew. She wasn’t joking. If she said she would kill him, she really would.
Miyuki pulled the scalpel out of Ishii’s shoulder.
Then, an electrifying pain ran through it, and he twisted his face without thinking.
’Farewell,’ said Miyuki, raising the bloody scalpel.
– No. No. No. I don’t want to die yet!
Within Ishii, stronger than fear, a tenacity for life took root. Compelled by that feeling, Ishii suddenly grabbed Miyuki’s left arm.
Then, Miyuki screamed and let go of Ishii.
Ishii stood up reflexively.
Miyuki held her left arm as she knelt on the floor and glared at Ishii. Then, Ishii remembered what Higashino had said.
She broke her arm in the accident –
Ishii’s action of the moment had luckily hit her weak point. However, though he had saved his life, that was only temporary. He would be killed unless he got out of this situation.
While pressing the injury in his left shoulder, he confronted Miyuki.
– What do I do?
He tried to work his brain, but his fear was getting in the way. A cold sweat ran down his back and his knees were shaking.
While he couldn’t think of anything, Miyuki slowly got up. Her right hand held the scalpel. He would be killedl ike this.
He tried to run, but his legs wouldn’t move.
– Move, move, move.
He hit his knees, but it was no good. Miyuki slowly walked towards him and raised the scalpel.
– It’s too late.
The moment he thought that, the door opened and Miyagawa ran in.
Miyagawa was bleeding from his forehead. Miyuki had probably hit him.
There was the sound of something cracking.
Ishii looked to see that Miyuki had broken the glass in the window and was about to climb out.
– I have to follow her.
Ishii thought that for a moment before his knees buckled underneath him. His nervousness had fled him.
’You kept your life then.’
Ishii looked over to see Miyagawa had sat down as well.
It was just as Miyagawa said. It was a good thing she fled –
Ishii heaved a sigh of relief.
After eating, Gotou went to the separate two-storey building.
He went in through the entrance to see a counter. He got a key there and was taken to the room at the very back of the first floor.
It was a Japanese room of ten tatami in size with a table, fridge and television.
Haruka’s family mainly worked at the soba shop but it had a Japanese inn as well. It seemed that there were quite a number of soba shops with inns for tourists in the Togakushi area.
That was why Keiko could easily tell two men who suddenly came by to stay.
A yukata was prepared for him. Though there was no hot spring, there was a cypress bath, so Gotou submerged himself in it. When he came back, two futon had been laid out.
– Good preparation.
When Gotou opened the fridge, there was a row of beer cans. This was good preparation too.
With no reservation, Gotou opened a can of bear and took a gulp.
It really was different drinking right out of the bath. The cold beer flowed through his warmed body, spreading to every part of him.
After taking a breath, he took out his mobile phone. Ishii had called an incredible number of times, but it was probably nothing, so he ignored Ishii and called home.
Atsuko picked up at the first ring.
<Will you be late tonight?>
Atsuko, who didn’t know the situation, sounded relaxed through the phone.
’I don’t think I’ll be back.’
’I’m in Nagano now.’
Even Atsuko sounded surprised.
Gotou quickly explained what had happened up until now. When Atsuko said <I see>, it sounded disappointed to Gotou, but it was probably just his imagination.
’So how’s Nao?’ said Gotou, changing the subject. Atsuko’s mood changed in an instant.
<She’s already asleep. She loves the teddy bear she got for her birthday present. She even brought it to the bath. It was quite the problem.’
Yakumo and Haruka had bought it for Nao’s birthday.
’She likes it that much?’
<She says it looks like you.>
Gotou snorted without thinking.
Come to think of it, when Nao drew a picture of Gotou bear, it looked just like a bear.
He’d asked, ’Am I a bear?’ Then they laughed together.
<Will you be back by tomorrow?>
’I don’t know. It might be a bit tough.’
They didn’t know anything about this case yet. It didn’t seem like there would be a sudden breakthrough. After coming this far, Gotou planned on sticking with them the whole way.
Gotou felt hot at Atsuko’s words.
Am I blushing – no. Just the alcohol.
Just as Gotou hung up, the door to the room opened, and Haruka showed up in room wear.
She had probably just got out of the bath. Her hair was a bit damp.
’Oh? Where’s Yakumo-kun?’ asked Haruka, looking around the room.
’Still in the bath.’
’It’s been a while, hasn’t it?’
’He’s always used the school showers. He’s probably relaxing in the tub.’
’He’ll probably be back soon though?’
’Then I’ll wait.’
Haruka sat on the tatami.
’Your dad was pretty angry,’ said Gotou, handing Haruka a can of beer.
’Honestly. That was just too much.’
Haruka pouted, seeming displeased.
It seemed like she was rather unhappy about her father’s trying to make Yakumo eat a rock. It wasn’t like Gotou didn’t understand how Haruka felt. But –
’I understand how your dad feels.’
No matter the situation, his daughter, who lived far away, had suddenly brought back a man. There was no way he wouldn’t be angry.
’I didn’t think I’d hear that from you, Gotou-san.’
’I wouldn’t have understood before. But...’
’Is it Nao-chan?’
’Even I’ve started to feel like a parent.’
Though it had only been a short time, Nao’s presence had brought a drastic change to the Gotou couple. He felt like this was what it meant to become a parent.
’Would you be angry if Nao-chan brought back a boyfriend?’
’I’d smack him down!’ yelled Gotou, becoming serious without intending to.
’You wouldn’t accept him?’
’I don’t care. I feel bad for your dad too, Haruka-chan. Since it’s Yakumo of all people.’
’What dissatisfies you about me?’
With bad timing, Yakumo opened the door and came in.
Since Yakumo had pale skin, his cheeks were flushed more than usual after coming out of the bath. His hair was also straight, unlike its usual bedhead.
’Please think about me, since I have to use the same bath and sleep in the same room as you of all people, Gotou-san.’
In his yukata, Yakumo casually dried off his hair with a towel and sat cross-legged on the futon.
’If you don’t want to be with me, why not sleep with Haruka-chan?’ said Gotou, knowing Yakumo would be angry.
Just as expected, Yakumo sent Gotou an incredible glare.
Meanwhile, Haruka went red to her eyes and dropped her gaze to the tatami.
’We aren’t in a situation where you can tell jokes that aren’t funny,’ said Yakumo, looking annoyed as he put the towel he used to dry his hair around his neck.
’All right, all right. So what are we going to do?’
Gotou finished drinking his beer, crushed the empty can and left it on the table.
’Continuing where I left off earlier, but I think that the spiriting away incident is related to the ghost Masato saw.’
When Yakumo said that, Haruka recalled the spirit photo Masato had shown them.
The black shadow by the rock that was a shrine –
’So a ghost made the person disappear?’
’Gotou-san, you’re an idiot,’ said Yakumo, exasperated.
’That’s what you said, right?’
’I didn’t say anything like that. I just said that a ghost was involved.’
’How is it involved?’ interrupted Haruka.
Yakumo’s eyes narrowed.
’Possession – so a ghost took over her body?’ asked Gotou to check.
’Correct. It is likely that a ghost possessed that girl and led her to leave home with her own feet and disappear.’
’Similar. I think that most cases of spiriting away happen like this.’
Gotou felt like he understood.
He’d seen people possessed by ghosts before. They did things they wouldn’t normally do and even lost consciousness temporarily.
Looking at it like this, it was just like being spirited away.
If the girl called Yumiko was currently in this situation, her illogical actions made sense.
But then Haruka had a question.
’Hey. Is Yumiko-chan all right?’
’I can’t say anything at this stage. Furthermore, I am also concerned about her weakening body.’
Yakumo’s shoulders fell, as if he was exhausted, and he looked up at the ceiling.
’What do you mean?’
’Exactly what I said. She’s been possessed by a ghost and walking around without drinking or eating.’
’Three or four days,’ Gotou continued.
Since she disappeared yesterday, today would be the second. They couldn’t relax.
’Hey. Let’s go look for her.’
Haruka leant forward unconsciously.
’The local police and firefighters will search. Furthermore, if we move around in the forest at night, we’ll be the ones who disappear.’
Even though Yakumo said that disinterestedly, his expression was hard.
It was just as Yakumo said.
Even if they did the same thing as the police and firefighters were doing, they wouldn’t be much help. They would just have to find Yumiko using the methods only they could use. But –
’What should we do?’
’First, we find out what the ghost Masato saw was – we need to make that clear,’ said Yakumo quietly.
Ishii cried out without thinking.
Though the emergency officers treated his wound, the disinfectant stung more than he thought it would.
But feeling pain was a part of living.
The moment Nanase Miyuki attacked him, the reason Ishii could move his body, frozen from fear, was because of his tenacity for life.
Ishii looked up in pain at the <Kinoshita Surgery: Maternity and Gynaecology Department> building.
It was surrounded by police cars and lit up by outdoor lights. Detectives and forensic officers were running amok.
The quietness from earlier had disappeared.
’You all right?’
Miyagawa walked towards him with a gauze bandage wrapped around his head.
’Yes, somehow... Thank you very much. It would have become a situation if you had not been there, Chief Miyagawa.’
Ishii bowed his head.
Even though Miyagawa had been injured then, he ran into the room to save Ishii. Otherwise, Ishii might have died.
’That doesn’t warrant thanks.’
’If only Detective Gotou were here now...’
Ishii hadn’t meant to say it, but it slipped out of his mouth.
For Ishii, Gotou was a pillar. Having him there made it possible for Ishii to advance.
’Still can’t contact him?’
Miyagawa sent him a sharp glaze.
’I can’t. I’ve called him a number of times, but...’
Ishii had just called him earlier, but the phone just kept ringing and Gotou didn’t answer. He was worried that something had happened to him.
However, it looked like Miyagawa had a different impression.
’Just forget about that idiot.’
’Ishii. You rely too much on Gotou.’
It was absolutely right. I have to act on my own – is what he thought, but when it came to the crunch, he froze.
’You’re doing great even without Gotou.’
’I have no confidence...’
Ishii had just dropped his gaze to his feet when a forensics officer ran over with a dreadful expression.
’There’s something I would like you to look at...’
’Got it. Ishii, let’s go.’
’Ah, yes sir.’
Called by Miyagawa, Ishii followed the forensics officer through the <Kinoshita Surgery: Maternity and Gynaecology Department> entrance.
For a moment, Ishii prepared himself, but he didn’t feel frightened because the lights were on and it was full of detectives.
They went down the corridor to the delivery room where Miyuki had attacked him.
Unlike earlier, the whole room was lit up.
Medicine and medical tools were scattered across the floor which was splattered with blood. It was probably from the mess earlier.
’Please look at this.’
The forensics officer stood in front of the cold storage in the corner of the room. It was probably for medicine that needed to be refrigerated.
’May I open it?’
The officer looked at Miyagawa and Ishii.
Ishii felt strangely nervous because of the way the officer was acting. Ishii took a deep breath to calm himself down.
Miyagawa sent the officer a signal with his eyes and the officer opened the cold storage door.
Ishii jumped back with a scream without thinking.
He couldn’t believe what he’d seen. It wasn’t possible –
’The hell is that?’
Even Miyagawa was surprised, looking inside the cold storage with a bitter expression.
Ishii wiped the sweat off his forehead and looked inside the cold storage again.
He groaned quietly. There was no mistaking what he was looking at.
In the cold storage, there was a glass cylinder. Inside it was a human head –
The next morning, Haruka waited for Yakumo and Gotou in front of the car in the parking lot.
They had decided to change their investigation direction after eating breakfast.
However, even though their appointment time was past, neither Gotou nor Yakumo had showed up. Haruka was just thinking about going to their room to pick them up when Yakumo walked towards her with an incredibly sleepy expression.
His hair was such a mess that she wanted to ask how he had slept.
’You’re late,’ complained Haruka as she waited for Yakumo to arrive.
However, Yakumo didn’t look like he felt guilty.
’It isn’t my fault. Gotou-san’s snoring was so loud I couldn’t sleep.’
’That’s quite a mouth you’ve got. The way you sleep is even worse,’ interrupted Gotou, coming after Yakumo.
’It makes sense for me to turn about in my sleep when your snoring is so loud.’
’You just keep going on, brat.’
’Anyway, what are we going to do?’ interrupted Haruka.
It would have been fine to let them continue if they were on holiday, but they had to search for Yumiko, who had gone missing.
’We talked last night about how a ghost might be possessing the girl who’s gone missing,’ said Yakumo, running a hand through his hair.
’First, we need to determine what that ghost is and why its goal in wandering.’
’What do you mean by goal?’
When Haruka asked that, Yakumo let out an exasperated sigh.
’I’ve said this before, haven’t I? Ghosts were originally human.’
That was Yakumo’s theory.
Ghosts weren’t some new form of creature or demon. They were like a cluster of the emotions of people who died – that was why there was feeling there.
’It shouldn’t be wandering recklessly – there should be a goal in its actions. If we make that clear, we should be able to find it.’
’I see.’ agreed Gotou.
Haruka understood that much, but the problem was –
’How do we make that clear?’
’I’m going to explain that now.’
Yakumo glared at him.
Haruka felt like he was displeased with her for getting ahead of him, so she said, ’Sorry,’ looking at the floor.
’We will split up from here on. First, you and Masato will look into whether any murders and disappearances have occurred in the Togakushi and Kinasa region.’
Then they could probably determine who the ghost possession Yumiko was.
She didn’t mind investigating, but she didn’t know how.
’Just get Makoto-san to introduce you to some local newspaper reporter.’
’Ah, right,’ said Haruka.
A newspaper reporter probably knew that sort of information. Makoto, a newspaper reporter in Tokyo, could introduce them to a local one. But –
’Wouldn’t it be quicker for Gotou-san to go to the local police?’
’Don’t be stupid,’ Gotou replied immediately.
’I’m in the Metropolitan Police Department. IF I sniff around in the Nagano jurisdiction, there’ll be a lot of fuss.’
’Police are serious about their own turf.’
Gotou shook his head, like he thought it annoying.
’It sounds rather troublesome.’
“Well, that’s how it is. So what are we going to do?’ Gotou asked Yakumo disgruntledly.
’Gotou-san and I will go there once more.’
As Yakumo said that, his eyes looked somewhat sad.
’Hey, tell me if you understand something.’
As Gotou drove, he looked at Yakumo in the passenger seat.
Though he looked like he was just gazing out the window, Yakumo’s heads must have been filled with circling thoughts.
’What are you talking about?’ replied Yakumo was a yawn.
No matter how he tried to look expressionless, Gotou could tell, since he’d known him for so long. Yakumo was hiding something.
’Don’t play the fool. We’re going there again ’cause you have some hunch, right?’
When Gotou said that, Yakumo laughed self-derisively.
’That’s rather sharp for you, Gotou-san.’
’You said one thing too much.’
’I know the name of the place,’ replied Gotou peevishly.
A number of years ago, it had combined with three other villages to join Nagano city, but before that, it had been called Kinasa. It was a small village in the north of Nagano prefecture by the source of the Susobana River.
’That isn’t it. There’s a special place here.’
’Momijigari? Sounds like a school trip.’
’As usual, you have a pathetic imagination.’
’Shut up. Don’t circle the subject and just get to the point.’
Gotou’s irritation was obvious.
Yakumo glanced at Gotou and then started explaining with incredible reluctance.
’There once was a couple who couldn’t have children, so they made an offering to the demon king and received a baby girl. Her name was Kureha. It is said that she had unusual spiritual power ever since she was born.’
Though the conversation had taken an unexpected turn, it was perfect for killing some time before they got there, so Gotou urged Yakumo to continue.
’After time passed, Kureha grew to be a beautiful woman, so her name was changed to Momiji and she went to Kyoto. There, she caught the eye of an influential person at the time named Minamoto no Tsunemoto and she gained his favour.’
’Sounds like smooth sailing.’
’It wasn’t. After a while, an unknown sickness spread through the imperial court.’
’Yes. A priest was called from Mount Hiei to determine the cause of the sickness. He said that the cause of the sickness was Momiji’s curse, so she was chased out of Kyoto.’
’Was it really Momiji’s curse?’
When Gotou asked that, Yakumo sent him a hateful glance.
’I don’t know. Anyway, after being chased out of Kyoto, she reached a settlement called Minase and she lived quietly there for a while.’
For a while – which meant there was more to this story.
’Then what happened?’
’One day, she suddenly changed and led a group to attack villages.
’Like mountain bandits?’
’Well, something like that. People started to call her a witch, or a demon woman.’
’Yes. This story travelled to Kyoto, and Minamoto no Tsukemoto despatched Taira no Koremichi to subdue the witch. However, he couldn’t do anything against her witchcraft. One day, an old priest appeared in Koremichi’s dream and gave him a demon-killing sword. He sliced off Momiji’s head with that sword and killed her.’
’Sliced off her head, eh...’
’Ever since then, the area was called the place the demon left – Kinasa.’
Gotou understood Yakumo’s summary. But –
’You saying that witch was the ghost Masato saw?’
’Of course not.’
Yakumo looked at Gotou coldly.
’Hah? That’s what you were talking about, right?’
’What was I talking about?’
’The story about the witch.’
’Who said that it was related? In the first place, this Momiji legend is over a thousand years old.’
It was true that Yakumo hadn’t said it was related. He had just suddenly talked about it.
’Then why did you talk about it?’
’To kill time.’
– This brat!
Gotou thought about yelling, but he decided against it. Even that would just be killing time for Yakumo.
Gotou didn’t know what Yakumo was hiding, but there was no point talking now.
He’d understand soon enough –
Ishii entered the <Unsolved Cases Special Investigation Room>.
He had undergone treatment at the hospital, so he arrived a bit late, but Gotou still wasn’t there.
As he sighed and sat down, a jolt of pain ran through his left shoulder.
It was where he had been stabbed the night before. Though the injury hadn’t been that deep, it had required four stitches.
He didn’t like the situation with Nanase Miyuki, but he was more concerned about Gotou. Ishii decided to try calling him once more. Just as he took out his mobile phone, the door opened.
Makoto came into the room.
Makoto rushed towards him.
’Eh, ah, Makoto-san...’
’Are you all right?’
’Yes, my shoulder is just slightly injured.’
’I’m so glad.’
Ishii smiled wryly while pressing a hand against his wound. Makoto sighed in relief.
It seemed she had been worried for him.
’I was surprised. When I heard that you were injured, Ishii-san...’
’Is that so?’
’She escaped then.’
Makoto’s expression suddenly turned serious.
Even she, a newspaper reporter, had heard about Nanase Miyuki’s escape.
There was no point hiding it now. Ishii nodded.
’Is that why Detective Gotou is in Nagano?’ Makoto said quietly, bringing her face close to Ishii’s.
– Gotou? Nagano?
Though Makoto was calm, Ishii didn’t understand what she was talking about.
’What did you say just now?’
’I asked whether Detective Gotou is in Nagano for the Nanase Miyuki case.’
’W-w-what are you talking about now? Detective Gotou in Nagano...’
Ishii was so agitated he stood up, knocking his forehead into Makoto’s.
Makoto cowered, holding her forehead.
Ishii hurriedly apologised. Makoto smiled back as she rubbed her forehead.
’I’m fine. More importantly, you didn’t know?’
’I didn’t. Actually, I’ve been troubled since I haven’t been able to contact Detective Gotou since yesterday.’
’Really? Actually, Haruka-chan called me this morning.’
Ishii was even more confused.
’Yes. She wanted me to introduce her to a reporter in Nagano prefecture for a case no matter what. I don’t know the details, but it seems Detective Gotou and Yakumo-kun are there with her too...’
Ishii finally understood.
Yakumo and Haruka had probably brought some trouble to Gotou, so he’d gone to Nagano.
As long as he was fine, it was OK.
’Anyway, about the Nanase Miyuki matter...’
Interrupting Makoto as she tried to get back on topic, the door opened forcefully and Miyagawa ran in with a red face.
He still had a bandage around his head.
’Gotou’s still out?’ said Miyagawa, looking around the room.
Though Ishii stood up, he didn’t know what to say next.
He knew where Gotou was from what Makoto said just now, but it was an absence from work without permission. He wouldn’t be let off the hook easily if he told Miyagawa that.
Miyagawa seemed to sense the situation even without Ishii saying anything, as he said that while clicking his tongue.
Ishii just stood there in fear.
’Ishii, we’re going, even if it’s just you.’
’Ah, yes sir.’
’Goodbye then,’ Ishii said to Makoto with a bow. Then, he left the room with Miyagawa.
’What happened?’ he asked as they walked.
’There’s something I want you to see.’
’W-what is it?’
’You’ll know when you see it.’
Miyagawa’s careless words felt unlucky to Ishii.
’Couldn’t sleep?’ said Haruka to Masato, sitting beside her.
Just like yesterday, they were sitting at a table in the coffee shop inside Nagano Station.
Though he said that, Masato’s eyes were puffy and his face was pale too.
– This child is still blaming himself.
It was obvious to Haruka. IT was the same with the last case. He blamed himself more than necessary and shut up inside himself.
’It’s not your fault, Masato-kun.’
Masato shook his head.
’It is my fault. Because I ran away. Tomoya-kun said that too...’
Masato’s neck stiffened along with his body.
The boy called Tomoya had been with Masato when Yumiko disappeared.
Though Haruka hadn’t met him to talk, she felt like Tomoya’s words had a different meaning.
The boy called Tomoya was probably blaming himself too, but he couldn’t accept that so he turned his anger towards Masato.
’It’s fine,’ said Haruka, hugging Masato’s shoulders.
’Er... Ozawa-san, correct?’
A tall man greeted her. He looked to be in his thirties. He wore a casual outfit of red-framed glasses and a jacket with jeans. Though he had a beard around his mouth, it was trimmed neatly.
When Haruka said the name she’d heard from Haruka, he replied with an incredibly happy expression, ’Yes.’
’I’m sorry to have you come all this way.’
Haruka stood up and bowed her head. Masato did the same.
’It’s a request from Hijikata. I don’t mind at all.’
Yoshii waved his hand, sat down opposite them and ordered a coffee.
’Did you know Makoto-san from before?’ asked Haruka.
’Actually, she was a year under me in university.’
’Since she was pretty quiet, I didn’t know if she’d do OK in a newspaper agency, but it seems like she’s just fine.’
After saying that, Yoshii laughed aloud.
It appeared he was somebody who said things straight out. Though Haruka had been a bit on guard, she felt more at ease now.
’Well, to get to the point, you want to hear about incidents around Kinasa and Togakushi, right?’
After a pause, Yoshii brought up the topic at hand as he sipped his coffee.
’Ignoring crimes like theft, there was just one incident...’
Yoshii took a folder out of his bag and spread it open on the table. It was a copy of a newspaper article.
The title on the front was <Brutally murdered corpses found at Sunahachiyama!>.
Sunahachiyama was the mountain separating Kinasa and Togakushi, and it was where the witch that came up in the Momijigari legend was said to be. It was known for having a cavern of demons.
The date on the newspaper was more than twenty years ago –
The words brutally murdered stood out, piercing Haruka’s heart.
After taking a deep breath, Haruka continued to read past the title.
<Brutally murdered corpses of two men were found at a cottage. The two had gone missing two days ago. The local firefighters had been searching for them –>
Perhaps the brutally murdered corpses were the ghosts possessing Yumiko. That was what Haruka thought, but two men had been killed.
It seemed like it wasn’t that simple.
Yoshii started explaining as he flipped through a notebook.
’It happened around Togakushi and Kinasa. It was a pretty big incident.’
’Are there no other cases?’
’There aren’t. They’re small villages,’ said Yoshii, lighting a cigarette.
’What happened with this case?’ asked Haruka, curious.
’The article after that is in the file too.’
’Thank you very much.’
’The culprit for the incident wasn’t actually caught,’ said Yoshii, blowing out cigarette smoke towards the ceiling.
’Yeah. The statute of limitations is already up. And...’
Here, Yoshii paused and leaned forward before speaking in a lower tone.
’It’s clear that this wasn’t some casual crime like robbery.’
’Why is that?’
’The corpses were stabbed all over with a knife.’
’Stabbed all over...’
Haruka gulped unconsciously.
’Plus, there were scrapes and bruises too. The police said there might have been torture.’
Haruka murmured that in her heart.
She felt her shoulders grow heavy.
’Why would they do that?’
’Who knows? The culprit wasn’t caught.’
Haruka looked to her side and saw that Masato was very pale.
It had been more awful than she had imagined it would be. She shouldn’t keep Masato here.
’Masato-kun, want to wait outside?’
Masato shook his head.
Though he was afraid, he probably wanted to find Yumiko more. Haruka decided to continue talking.’
’What sort of people were the victims?’
’A local officer of the village and the landowner’s son. Both of them were men.’
’Why would that happen?’
’Though I investigated around...’
Yoshii smiled, like he’d been waiting, and put his cigarette out in the ashtray.
’What is it?’
’This is just a rumour, but at the time, people wondered if it was a curse.’
’There’s no such thing as a curse.’
Masato was the one who said that. He leant forward, looking at Yoshii challengingly.
The word <curse> has a special meaning to Masato. In an incident he was involved in before, the word <curse> had thrown Masato about, making him suffer.
’That’s right. There’s no such thing as a curse,’ said Haruka, agreeing with Masato.
For a moment, Yoshii leant back, seeming surprised, but then he fixed the collar of his jacket and continued.
’Well, putting aside whether there are curses or not – there’s a reason why there was a fuss about that.’
’Do you know about Momijigari?’
’The legend of the witch?’
Yoshii nodded, seeming satisfied.
Anybody from the region would know the Momijigari legend. It was known even in Noh theatre and performed every year.
’My dad used to be a reporter too and I heard from him, but forty-five years ago, there was some turmoil with the witch in Kinasa.’
’Eh, but wasn’t that more than a thousand years ago...’
’Well, it’d be more correct to say it was similar.’
’One day, a young man was brought into the clinic in Kinasa. He’d been healthy the day before, but after he died right after he was brought in.
At this point, nothing connected the story to Momijigari.
’That clinic had been reputable before, but after that, it was said that this was the curse of the lady there. She was called a witch and people wanted to chase her out of the village.’
’Then what happened?’
’I don’t know.’
Haruka had thought Yoshii knew the circumstances from the way he was talking about it, so she felt let down.
’That clinic isn’t around anymore.’
’Is that so?’
’The person who egged the villagers on to chase the witch out was the victim of this case.’
Yoshii tapped the file on the table.
A jolt went through Haruka’s spine. The same thing seemed to happen to Masato. His eyes were wide open.
– That’s why it was called a curse.
If what Yoshii said was true, it wouldn’t be strange for there to be a rumour like that.
’If you want to find out about the case in more detail, I’ll introduce you to somebody who knows about it.’
’I would appreciate it,’ said Haruka, leaning forward.
After getting off the car, Gotou put his hands at his waist, looked up at the sky and stretched.
Normally, he just drove through shopping and residential districts. He wasn’t used to driving winding mountain roads. It was more exhausting than he’d thought it would be.
’It’s unbecoming, so please don’t make strange noises.’
Yakumo got off the car with a yawn.
– This brat.
’You drive back then. You have a licence, right?’
’I’ve decided not to drive ever since the incident with the tunnel.’
– Ah, that.
Strangely, Gotou understood.
Ignoring Gotou, Yakumo headed towards the lone cedar tree, walking through the white skunk cabbage.
Even as Gotou grumbled, he followed Yakumo’s back.
’Why’s such a huge cedar tree here anyway?’ asked Gotou, looking up at the cedar tree once more.
In a marshy area of white skunk cabbage, there was just one cedar tree and the rock at its roots. It was elegant but also unnatural.
’I talked about the story of Momijigari earlier,’ said Yakumo.
’I said this was a shrine last night too.’
A shrine was like an altar. Where something was enshrined.
’This is probably where the head of the witch in the story about Momijigari was buried.’
Though Gotou was surprised, at the same time, he understood. So that was why this was a shrine.
Gotou didn’t know whether the legend of Momijigari was true or not, but the people at the time might’ve put a large stone here and grew a cedar tree to keep her here.
There was no way for Gotou to know the truth now though.
’Gotou-san, if you have the time to space out, please help.’
Yakumo had his hand at his waist and looked incredibly resentful.
’Help with what?’
’To move this.’
Yakumo pointed at the statue by the rock.
Moving his body was Gotou’s strength. After taking off his jacket and placing it on the rock, he rolled up his sleeves and moved the stone statue as Yakumo directed.
It took some effort since it was heavier than expected, but Gotou managed somehow.
’Next, please dig here.’
Yakumo pointed at the place where the statue had been.
’You’ll find out if you dig.’
’You the Hanasaka Jiisan?’
’If you have the time to tell boring jokes, please just do it already.’
– As usual, the guy never stops talking.
While expressing his dissatisfaction in his heart, Gotou took a nearby tree branch and started digging.
Since the ground was wet, the earth was soft and easy to dig. Gotou wiped his sweat with his shirt and silently continued his work.
Suddenly, he noticed that he couldn’t see Yakumo anymore.
When Gotou stood up and looked around, he spotted Yakumo talking on his phone a little ways away.
Gotou thought about complaining, but he decided against it. It was probably news from Haruka.
After breathing out, Gotou started digging the earth again.
’Are you done?’
After a while, Yakumo came back.
’You help too.’
’I don’t want to. My hands will get dirty.’
– This brat!
Gotou swallowed his rising anger.
’How’s the situation with Haruka?’
’It seems there was a murder case twenty years ago.’
’Then the person in that photo...’
’The truth isn’t as simple as you are, Gotou-san.’
– This guy just keeps on going.
’What do you mean?’
’The people killed were a local officer and the landowner’s son. Both were men.’
The person in the photo was a woman. It didn’t match up. Even though Gotou knew the situation now, Yakumo could have put it more nicely.
Gotou let out a breath and returned to digging the earth.
After digging about eighty centimetres, he hit something hard.
He put down the branch and brushed away the dirt to find something round and pale. Gotou realised what it was immediately.
There was no doubt about it. It was a skull.
’I dug up something unbelievable.’
Gotou stood up and wiped the sweat off his forehead.
’Gotou-san, please hurry up and call the police.’
A police officer too, Gotou was about to say, but he stopped.
This was Nagano prefecture. This wasn’t Gotou’s jurisdiction. He’d need to contact the local police.
– Honestly. What a pain.
Miyagawa led Ishii to the general hospital where Hata was.
After entering the room in the basement, Hata welcomed them with a creepy demonic giggle.
The room was desolate, with just a desk and cabinets lining the room.
Hata, the coroner, was a strange man whose interests lined up with his work.
Ishii even thought that Hata himself would be arrested if he took just one step out of line.
’So, Hata-san. Is what you said true?’
Miyagawa brought up the topic at hand.
’It’d be better to see for yourself.’
Hata got up and left the room.
Miyagawa went right after him. Since Ishii didn’t understand the situation, he didn’t have any idea about what these two were doing.
Though he was confused, Ishii followed the two of them out of the room.
He thought that they would be going far, but it seemed he was wrong. Hata opened the door to the room beside his and went inside with Miyagawa.
Ishii entered the room as well. It was an autopsy room –
Ishii scrunched up his nose at the strange medical smell.
There was a stainless steel bed in the middle of the room with carts covered with various tools scattered around it.
The wall at the very back had doors that probably