Web小説 「.hack//bullet」


   She's waiting for her child by the entrance to his school. She presses play on the Walkman, even though it's the year 2023. The pink CD spins, and she stares deep into it. The text on it disappears and forms a circle. Her son should be coming out by the time the song is over. It's a brief moment of respite before she becomes a mother again. None of the other parents seem to pick up their kids, but she enjoys the walk. It's important to let your child taste independence, say the other mothers on the block, but she can't help but spoil him. It's not like she's a perfect housewife, either. The place is always messy and more often than not she simply has to let the school feed Noboru because of deadlines.
   That's the next thing that she thinks about as the CD spins. She was never a single song kind of woman--always the whole album all the way through. Thus, no need for anything other than a Walkman. She rarely left the house longer than the length of an album by herself anyway, and the analog nature of the Walkman brought her some comfort. Another era, easier times, the click and shut of the device as she could feel the motor turn the disc. Even the older disks that had some skips in them, the physicality of it felt tangible.
   Yes, she did not want to think about it, but they existed. Death, taxes, and deadlines. The publisher had told her they could push it back no longer. The cover of the novel for the Japanese market had been decided and its advertising had come into circulation. She would take the subway only to be greeted by the deadline on some hanging advertisement. The next in some lame series from the States about teenage superheroes. It read almost like manga, so it was easy enough--novels paid more than comics, that's for sure. But it was that exact passing interest that made it so difficult for her to write the damn thing. And the album kept spinning.
   The bell rings, and Noboru eventually comes from the front gate. It's a miracle he's not bullied for being picked up by his mom every day, but she has a certain aura to her that might scare other kids away. As he begins to tell her about his day, a man stops them.
    He's shabby-looking, hair in a ponytail, and a pained look on his face. He hands her a card.
   "A detective?"
   "Well, something like that."
   "I'm sorry, but I have to take my child home. Can you come by another time?"
   "This is kind of time sensitive, ma'am."
   "So is this," she says, pointing at Noboru. "Are you sure?
   "I'm positive. Perhaps if we could go to a nearby cafe, or...?"
   "I really can't. I'm sorry that you came all this way."
   He pauses. "Hey, kid, do you want a snack?" He procures a lollipop from his pocket and hands it to Noboru.
   "Please don't do that again."
   "This is about your husband, ma'am."

   Ryuuji sat across from the woman he had just haphazardly assailed from her son's school. He had been studying her for some time, and had gotten a good idea of her routine. Contact lenses on, the suit ill-fitting--the kind you buy at some wholesale store when you're 18 and looking for a job out of high school. Shifting around nervously in his seat. She notices and starts talking.
   "If you don't mind me asking, what's this about my husband?"
   "I'm not sure if I can explain it well enough yet."
   "Is there anything I can do to help?"
   "Well, you can begin by explaining his situation to me."
   "His situation?"
   "As I understand it your husband has been legally missing for many years. There's new evidence that suggests this may have been the result of foul play. I have been hired by a third party to investigate this matter."
    The woman glanced again at the card. He had laminated it at a local net cafe earlier that day, and hoped that he hadn't let any spelling mistakes slip by.
   "And this third party--what do they care about my husband for?"
   "I'm not at liberty to say. However the nature of their investigation is because something similar may have happened to their own spouse. An instance of foul play and then a disappearance under similar circumstances. Any information at all from the time he disappeared would be useful."
   She shifted in her seat and decided she would play along. It wasn't everyday a detective came to ask her questions, and she figured it would be an interesting exercise in concocting as many believable lies as possible.
   "Well, he always liked to drink."
   "Oh, yes. It was unusual to see him come home without an empty bottle in his hand. Oh, and the gambling. That bastard... he threw away our life savings on rigged baccarat tables in Kabukicho. I always told him not to, but he never listened. At least he never hit me. And he was very good in bed, so I never divorced him. Just my luck then that he disappeared right after that, or maybe not?" The child next to her was too young to understand the adult topics of conversation and continued to sip at his melon soda.
   Ryuuji could tell he was being played with, but he had no choice but to work with what he had.
   "If I may, ma’am, this doesn't quite match the information on file..."
   "Oh? But I don't think you had any information on file, and that's why you bothered me in the middle of the street and insisted we come here and sit in the corner table where no one can hear us. Or perhaps you have some ulterior motive?"
   "Hmm. How old is your child?"
    She bit her lip. Of course, Noboru had been conceived after her husband had supposedly disappeared.
   An impasse. They sat in silence for a short while and studied each other's faces. There's something to those eyes, both thought in unison. Sinking deeper and deeper until they discover a special something that signals trust--or, at least, a mutual understanding. Kids pass by the window and Noboru looks outside to see if they're his friends. Ryuuji decides to speak first.
   "Alright. There is no client. This is something I'm investigating on my own. I really am a private eye of sorts, though."
   "I appreciate the honesty."
   Ryuuji explained everything about Kaya--the symptoms, the incident, the beta test. He had read through the files so many times emotions no longer interrupted his report. It was like he was dictating a document, mechanically pronouncing each word with clarity so he would not have to repeat himself.
   "And I have reason to believe your husband is in the same position. Legally, it seems, the man named Kazushi Watarai no longer exists--or, rather, he has disappeared from the Japanese sea of information."
   "Then I'll be a little more honest with you, Mr. Detective. How about it?"
   He nodded.
   "Okay." She looked out the window. "Okay," she said again, as if to calm herself. It had been a long time since she had spoke about Watarai to someone else. "But not here. You should come speak to him yourself."
   "He's here?"
   "He's close."
   "Do you mind if we drive?"
    "It's right nearby."
   "I mind if we drive."
   "Then let's drive."
    They got up to leave, and Noboru complained he wasn't able to finish his soda. Ryuuji produced another lollipop for him and he quieted down.
   "By the way, Mr. Detective."
   "You used the wrong kanji for 'private investigator.'"

next ch.62: BLACK TREE