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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Volume 5 Chapter 7

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Warnings: Descriptions of domestic violence, child abuse, and physical & sexual abuse.

Top of the Seventh Inning

"A clown?"

When Enokida replied back in question, Shigematsu had nodded with a serious expression. "Yes, a clown. You know, someone who has their face painted white and has a red false nose."

"……You're kidding with me, right?"

The murder cases with the men being hung upside down kept bothering Enokida. Who had asked him for information? What was his objective? Why did he kill people in that manner? Enokida wanted to know those unsolved questions.

Noticing that the police had gotten numerous information on the cases, Enokida had called Shigematsu to find out more. They met at a mentaiko restaurant in west Nakasu. There were posters signed by baseball players put up at the entrance of the restaurant.

They ordered two of the specialty cuisine, mentaiju. It was a specialty which had mentaiko neatly placed over rice and seaweed packed into a stacking box.

Shigematsu told him everything about the culprit in exchange for a free meal. According to him, the police had already figured out the man's identity and that he was dressed as a clown. Enokida had thought it was a joke, but Shigematsu was serious. Since there was a killer who wore a Niwaka mask around, it was not that strange for a serial killer dressed as a clown to exist either.

"A portion of us call him the psycho clown – the second coming of Gacy."

"Gacy as in John Wayne Gacy?"

John Wayne Gacy – alias the Killer Clown – was a famous American serial killer who killed thirty-three boys between the ages of nine and twelve. Gacy would visit welfare facilities dressed up as the clown Pogo and engaged in volunteer events for children while murdering young boys.

"Yeah, that Gacy." Shigematsu nodded, grabbing the mentaiko with his chopsticks. "This psycho killer had apparently kidnapped a child before. So there were rumors going around wondering if he was a pedophile who loved to kill."

A clown, and a murderer with a preference for children. So that was why some had called him the second coming of Gacy.

"So does this psycho clown dress like one to lure children?"

"No," Shigematsu shook his head. "He's a real clown. He was originally a traveling street performer and traveled around overseas in an RV with his father. He was trained to do street performance by him. His father had sent him to America to learn the craft and had him join a traveling circus."

"You know a lot about him."

"I heard all of this from someone well-informed about him."

There was something else Enokida wanted to ask. "So even though you know all this, why are the police letting the psycho clown be?"

Shigematsu shrugged at that. "The higher ups want him loose. He accomplishes something that we can't."

"……And what's that?"

"All the guys this clown targets are people better off being killed off."

The psycho killer had been murdering several people from gangs at this point. "But his latest targets were regular citizens, right?"

"Besides her abusive behavior, Mari Aikawa had also coerced her daughter to shoplift. She had always blamed her daughter for doing it on her own. The second person he killed, Ryouji Aoyama, was a pedophile. He assaulted his step-son. The boy was traumatized and unable to indict him. He was put through speech therapy and counselling, but his condition has made no improvements. Unless they are taken away from their parents as soon as possible, they would all turn out for the worse. But as the parents are the source of the problem, we can’t let them be. The children would be without protection no matter how much time passes otherwise."

"I see." Enokida understood their aim. "They plan to clean up the social pathology by letting that mad man take care of them."

So the police would let the serial killer do as he pleased. Once his role had finished, the psycho clown would be of no more use to them and be arrested then.

"However," there was one thing that still bothered him. "Why is that clown killing yakuza members and abusive people? Was he tasked to do it by someone?"

"No, he's doing it on his own." Shigematsu stated. "He's a murderer, but he's not a hitman."

"So he's volunteering to kill the social evils in the world? He must have a lot of time on his hands."

"The reason for his actions was due to his childhood……But I suggest asking questions to the person who knows about him directly."

Shigematsu said, taking out a business card. It was for a psychiatrist who worked in a hospital somewhere in the city. He must be the 'well-informed' person Shigematsu had mentioned.

"A psychiatrist?"

"Yeah," Shigematsu nodded. "He was the doctor who examined the psycho clown."

Misaki had spent the night on the sofa in the room of her captor and was relieved to see another day when she woke up the following morning. So far she had managed to survive one day.

"Good morning,"

The clown stood right next to her. He was topless and his hair was wet. Although he must have taken a shower, his stage makeup was still firmly applied to his face.

The clown smiled while drying his hair with a towel. With the edges of his bright red mouth curved up in a broad smile, Misaki felt shivers run down her spine. She felt like today was going to be unpleasant with that face being the first thing she saw in the morning.

"……Good morning." Misaki replied as she sat up.

She had somewhat gotten used to seeing this unsettling man. He may be insane, but he was not completely inadequate to converse with. If she was friendly towards him, he would treat her the same. For now anyway.

When the clown turned his back to Misaki, she saw horrific scars that contrasted his clean yet stiff body. There were numerous old scars carved into his back. They looked painful.

"Hey," Misaki unintentionally spoke up. "How did you get those scars?"

"Scars?" He tilted his head in confusion as he put on his red shirt.

"On your back."

When she pointed to them, the clown nodded in understanding. "Those were from dad."

Dad – he was hurt by his father?

"So you really were……abused then."

"Méqué did."

"Méqué?"

The clown pointed to his own face and repeated what he said, "Méqué."

"Your name is Méqué?"

He nodded. He then sat down on the stool and told her. "Dad always hit that one."

He must be referring to his other personality when he mentioned 'that one.' He was the frightened personality she encountered the night before.

"So Méqué helped that one and would be hit in that one's place."

"……You substituted for him."

That was familiar to Misaki. When she was abused by her step-father, she would occasionally space out. It felt as though she was dreaming and she was not fully herself in those moments.

The doctors had said it was a form of dissociative disorder, and it was an experience anyone could experience, so that in itself was alright. But if the symptoms had persisted, perhaps there was the chance she herself could have formed another personality as well.

But it was thanks to Jiro that that did not happen. Ever since she began to live with him, those moments of dissociation lessened.

Misaki had Jiro. But Méqué did not have anyone. As such, his condition had gotten worse. Misaki could not help but feel sorry for him.

"You've been going through all this by yourself, haven't you?"

Méqué had taken the abuse in his other personality's place. He sacrificed himself in order to protect the main personality. He must have suffered greatly for it.

Méqué had told her that he wanted her to become friends with that one. He must have convinced himself that the other one wanted a friend.

But that had to be his own wish.

"I think you need a friend, Méqué."

When Misaki said that, his expression had changed. His eyes grew wide in shock, and he looked over to her. "How did you know Méqué wanted a friend?"

Of course I could figure that out. After all, you're the same as me.

"I'll become your friend."

If she could get close to him, then she may be able to get out of here. Misaki felt sympathy towards Méqué while thinking that calculatingly to herself; a man who was raised in a similar environment as her.

"You will?"

"Not 'you.' It's Misaki."

"Misaki," Méqué had repeated in a small voice.

"I have scars on my back too. My step-dad made them, so we match." When she smiled at him, Méqué's eyes had widened. "We are?"

"Yeah," Misaki nodded. "The butt of a lit cigarette was pressed against me. It was super hot and it hurt a lot and……I was so scared."

Méqué's hand reached out to her. She had tensed for a moment, unsure what he would do, but he just placed his hand on Misaki's head.

"There's nothing to be scared of."

He told her while he patted her head.

She did not expect that.

He's actually quite nice.

"……Hey, Méqué." Despite being kind hearted, she wondered why he did what he does. "Why do you kill people?"

The man Shigematsu referred him to was a doctor working at a psychiatric hospital in Fukuoka City. Shigematsu had already made preparations for Enokida to meet him. Enokida dropped by the hospital after working hours and was brought to the person in question right away. The man was waiting in the director's office. The middle-aged man, around fifty years-old, had white strands mixed into his hair, making him look appropriate in the white garments he wore.

"I still remember him very well."

Once Enokida sat down in the guest's chair and asked him about the clown, the psychiatrist began to talk at length about the man.

"He was institutionalized once his father passed away, since he had no other relatives. However, he was admitted to a short-term therapy facility for emotionally disturbed children instead of an orphanage. I was working at that facility at that time."

A short-term therapy facility for emotionally disturbed children. It was a daycare center where children who needed treatment for the psychological scars inflicted on them were admitted to.

"So he had a mental issue then?"

The psychiatrist nodded at Enokida's frank question. "He had a form of dissociative identity disorder."

By dissociative identity disorder, he meant multiple personality disorder.

"We persistently had him go through multiple counseling sessions and managed to get a glimpse into the darkness in his mind. He had another personality that existed inside of him."

"They say a child forms another personality as a means to protect themselves from some sort of pain."

"Yes, indeed. He had been abused by his father for a long period of time."

"His father was a traveling performer, correct?" That was what Shigematsu had told him.

"It was a unique occupation. The boy was harshly trained to learn the craft by his father at a young age. If he didn't do good enough, he would receive various forms of punishment. He would get struck by a whip or get his meals taken away from him. Apparently, he was once stripped naked and locked out of the RV all night while it was snowing. His father always had spoke ill of him, telling him he was a failure. He would force him to practice while verbally abusing him by calling him worthless, trash, and someone who couldn't do anything."

The clown had received psychological abuse to damage his mind in addition to the physical abuse he received. For a child, those days must have been hell.

"If he failed to perform a trick right, his father would hang him upside down as punishment. If he messed up with juggling once, he would be hung for ten minutes. If he messed five times, he would hang for fifty minutes."

When Enokida heard the doctor mention 'being hung upside down,' he instantly made the connection.

All the bodies in the murder cases done by the clown were hung upside down. "Were his legs tied together with rope and he was hung by a pillar? With his hands dangling downward?"

"Exactly that. There were even times he had been whipped while suspended upside down like that."

"……So that's it." Enokida smirked. "That's why he hangs them that way."

Put simply, it was punishment for them – a punishment for those who did something wrong. The clown gave them the same punishment his father had done to him.

"He had mentally reached one day when he was receiving the usual abuse from his father. He desperately convinced himself that it wasn't him being treated that way. This resulted in him creating a new personality. Something more familiar to him – the personality of a clown."

The doctor paused for a few moments before resuming again.

"That personality called himself Méqué. Méqué took the abuse from his father in the place of his main personality. Whenever his father lashed out at him, his main personality would retreat inside himself and Méqué would take his place. His original personality was much more fearful of the outside world and was extremely reclusive. And so the time he spent outside was reversed. Méqué was meant to be a stand-in personality, but he would be in control for almost the entire day. When he came under our care, he even referred to himself as Méqué as well, at the time."

"I see."

Enokida nodded. He understood why Shigematsu avoided giving him the explanation when he saw him. An amateur could not talk about someone's complex history like this nor would it be easy to talk about it over a meal.

"Méqué was always smiling and hummed tunes frequently during his stay in the institution. When we asked him what tune he was humming to was, he told us it was an aria. His father had apparently taken him to see an opera once, and ever since then he had been humming the song he heard there."

To him, that may have been his most precious memory he had with his father.

"Sometimes children who were abused tend to go into fits of anger or lash out at other children. But Méqué did not do that. He was always quiet and peaceful. Sometimes he would stand quietly in a corner of the room with a light smile on his face, and other times he would put on a show with the performing techniques he learned from his father when there were other people around. Everyone was happy to see Méqué perform. The other children who were also abused smiled happily as well. And Méqué was happy doing it."

From what Enokida had heard so far of him, Méqué sounded like a friendly young man. He did not sound like some psycho clown. "Was there any change in him then? Any indication for his violent behavior?"

The doctor fell silent. He must have been thinking back on older memories.

"There was one extremely rare case when he blew up in anger. There was a child who wasn't listening to others, and when he lashed out at the other kids Méqué got furious. He struck the child and strangled him. By the time the employees jumped in to stop him, he had calmed down and returned to his usual self. I guess a good way to describe him is that he had a strong sense of what was right. He often mentioned, 'I want to make a world where all the children can live smiling.'"

The doctor gave a small sigh.

"Méqué appeared to have recovered. He left the institute when he was eighteen. Even though he was mentally young, it was not like his IQ was low. He was a sharp kid. He must have pretended to have recovered and deceived us. Still, the chance of a child with split personality disorder to become a criminal is small. When I heard he was killing people, I was shocked but also not too surprised he would do that."

Enokida was still not out of questions. "Why do you think Méqué was after people connected with drugs?"

He still did not understand why the psycho clown killed the drug dealer and the yakuza men.

However, the doctor seemed to have an idea why. "I assume he was carrying out his mission."

"……His mission?"

"It is said there are various types of psychopathic serial killers. If there were people who committed murder for pleasure, there were also those who went around killing people obsessed in their disillusions. And among all of those people, there are also those who believe it is their mission to kill people. Méqué is that type."

What the doctor said suddenly reminded Enokida of something. There was a policeman who killed several drug dealers in America long ago. The police officer had apparently believed that public order was poor due to the spread of drugs. As a result, he killed dealers with his own hand, believing it was his mission as a police officer to protect the city and its people.

Méqué was doing the same thing.

"He gave himself the mission to eliminate abuse from the world. His father was a drug addict. He must have thought the cause of his parent abusing him was because of the drugs."

"In other words, he believed he could accomplish his mission by getting rid of drug rings?"

In terms of murder motivations, his was extremely pure and too simple.

Méqué the Clown despised abuse more than anyone. He hated the senseless and ruthless violence parents do to their children that took away their smiles.

"But Méqué realized that wouldn't do and changed his target."

Enokida knew what it was. "He started killing the abusive parents themselves."

"Exactly. They say there is a link to abuse. Statistics show that 30 to 40 percent of people who were abused as children grow up to abuse their own children when they become adults."

Méqué was trying to cut that link. And that was why he had asked Enokida for information earlier. He hung the bodies upside down as punishment just like he was put through when he was younger. He scrawled on their faces for others to identify his victims and himself. And there was a reason behind his actions.

Enokida was finally able to picture the psycho clown wrapped in darkness from the doctor who formerly examined him.

"……They say you can't choose your parents," after leaving the hospital, Enokida whispered to himself with a small smile. "But that man is still better than those guys."

Jiro awoke on a pure white bed and shot up, recalling the events from the previous day. He had been treated by Saeki and fell unconscious afterwards.

"How do you feel?"

Saeki peered over, examining his face. Jiro hastily asked. "Saeki-chan, what time is it?"

"Don't move so quickly," Saeki glanced at his watch after remonstrating Jiro from trying to stand up. "It's past four right now."

"Four in the morning?"

"No, in the evening."

Shoot.

More than half a day had passed. Even though he sustained injury, he could not help but be annoyed at himself for falling asleep.

"I have to go home!"

Jiro was worried about Misaki.

He brushed off Saeki's attempt to stop him and rushed out of the clinic.

No matter how many times he called, Misaki did not pick up. He had a bad feeling about this. Upon arriving back to their apartment, Jiro quietly opened to door, weary.

He heard mewing. It was their cat. His full name was Cromartie. He was a black cat they picked up after a job and brought him home. They had to move to a property that allowed pets to keep him.

For a weary cat to show itself defenseless probably meant their home was safe. Jiro did not see any traces of someone infiltrating. He was relieved for the present moment.

"Kuro-chan, I'm home."

Kuro nestled up against his feet when he stepped inside. He followed him around persistently. He behaved like this when he was hungry.

"Did Misaki not give you food?"

HIs food dish was empty. Once Jiro gave him cat food, Kuro began to munch on it.

"Hey, Misaki."

Jiro called her name, but there was no response.

Misaki was nowhere to be found. There was just a letter left on the table instead.

'I'm leaving home. Please don't look for me.'

That was written on the white paper. It was Misaki's handwriting.

Leaving home?

"……This isn't real." Jiro covered his hand over his mouth in shock.

His breathing quickened.

He immediately looked back on the GPS log on Misaki's cell phone. Her cell phone was equipped with a security function for children, allowing Jiro to find her location from an application on his device.

According to the log, Misaki had headed towards the Chikushi exit at Hakata Station after she left home last night. She went to Banba's office. The log cut off after she left from there. The GPS was turned off then.

There was hard knocking on the office door.

"……Who the hell is it? They're loud." Lin could not hear the television. He was trying to watch a drama and scowled in annoyance. "Hey, someone's here."

"I hear ya. I'm comin'." Banba stood up from the sofa and went to open the door.

The one who had been knocking was Jiro.

"Huh? Jiro? What's the matter?" Banba's eyes widened when he saw his right arm. "No wait, what happened to your arm?!"

Jiro's right arm was wrapped in bandages in a triangular shape so he could not move it.

"What the hell happened?" Lin also walked over to the door.

"I had a bit of mishap on a job," Jiro replied. He was worked up as though hasty about something. He skipped over the details and changed the topic immediately. "There's something more important than that. Misaki has gone missing."

"Eh? Misaki is?"

"When I got home, she wasn't there. I saw she was near here when I looked through the GPS log, but it cut off shortly after that……"

"In any case," Banba prompted him to come inside. "Please, come in."

Once Jiro sat down on the reception chair, Banba told him everything that happened yesterday.

"Misaki did in fact come here yesterday. Said she ran away from home."

He then told him she left not long after she arrived. He had called her, and she told him she was heading home.

But Misaki did not go home. Maybe she had lied and went somewhere else instead. And she turned off her cell phone so she could not be tracked.

"So that's what happened. This isn't good." Jiro frowned worriedly. "Even though I thought I shouldn't let her get involved……"

"I'm sorry, Jiro." Lin spoke up. "If I didn't provoke her, she wouldn't have ran away from here."

After hearing the details of last night from Lin, Jiro shook his head.

"……No, it was my fault. I didn't know I was pressuring her so much that she would run away from home."

Regardless, they had to find Misaki. That informant may know something. Banba tried to call him. However-

"……He's not picking up." No matter how many times he called him, Enokida did not pick up. It seemed his cell phone was turned off.

They tried contacting the other Tonkotsu Nine, but not a single person knew where Misaki was.

"What do we do?"

"The fastest way is to get in touch with Enokidchan……"

But he would not answer his phone. Yet they could not just wait around for him either.

"Let's look for him." Banba suggested.

Misaki felt like she met someone who truly understood her for the first time in her life. Although it may be licking each other's own wounds, Misaki considered Méqué to be a vital existence to her. He was someone who had went through a similar experience as she did, someone who had been abused by his father. Because of that, she was able to tell him everything. She told him all the things her step-father did to her, everything she could not tell Jiro or the doctor. She was even able to tell Méqué a secret she kept hidden until now – of how her step-father occasionally touched her body, rubbing her genitals. She never spoke of it before, but she was able to reveal it to Méqué. She felt like a weight was lifted off her chest once she let everything out.

Likewise, Méqué told Misaki everything that happened to him. Everything with his father, the abuse, learning street performance, and growing up in an institution. And lastly he talked about his murders. He explained his tragic past all while keeping his usual creepy smile on his face. Misaki realized Méqué would smile when he was sad too.

They had talked for hours, and before they noticed it, it was already evening. No matter how much they could keep talking, they could not stay in this room forever. Jiro must be looking for her by now too.

"Méqué," Misaki told him. "I have to go home soon. Everyone is probably worried about me."

"You want to go home?"

Méqué's complexion had changed. His smile disappeared from his face, and his sharp gaze shot right at her.

Misaki felt a chill run down her spine. She realized he could kill her. She felt like she could not tell him she wanted to go home again.

Misaki shook her head quickly. "That's not it."

"You mean it?"

"I mean it." She could not upset Méqué. She forced a smile and nodded.

With her cell phone turned off, she could not contact anyone to save her. The door was locked, so she could not force her way outside.

But she may be able to have Méqué open the door and let her outside.

"But I'm tired of being here in this room. Let's hang out somewhere else?"

"Hang out somewhere?"

She had an idea. "Méqué, let's go to the Houjouya."

She had to get outside somehow.

Méqué cocked his head at Misaki's suggestion. "Hoh-joh-yah?"

He doesn't know of Houjouya?

"It's a festival. It's packed with people and it's a lot of fun. There's a ton of shops too."

Méqué's eyes lit up. "Sounds fun."

One more push.

"Let's go there, Méqué. Together."

After Méqué thought over it for a few moments, he stood up.

"Okay, let's go."

Misaki frowned. "……You're going to go dressed like that?"

Houjouya was one of Hakata's three major festivals in the year where people show their affection for all life and appreciate the fruitful fall season. That was what Jiro had told her before. From September twelfth to the eighteenth, street stalls would be set up on the road leading to Hakozaki Shrine, and the place would be bustling in activity from morning until night to the very last day.

Méqué drove his RV all the way to Hakozaki and parked at an open parking space. They then got out and walked over to the event. When they got to the event, they got excited by what they found: yakitori, fried potatoes, hot dogs, and crepes. There was also cotton candy, toffee apples, and familiar treats like umegaemochi and specialties like glasswork's Hakata Champon. They even saw foreigners selling tacos, kebabs, and Dondurma. There was more than just food too. People were enjoying themselves catching goldfish, koi carp, eels, and crayfish as well.

"……This is Houjouya?"

Méqué said, glancing around the area. He wore his usual gaudy outfit, but he put on a mask to hide his face.

"Yep. Doesn't it look fun?" Misaki was relieved that they managed to get outside.

"Looks fun." Méqué nodded in agreement. He seemed to have taken a liking to the event.

They proceeded down the narrow road lined with street stalls until they took a right and saw an ostentatious sign. It was a haunted house. There were children who were coming out of it sobbing.

A haunted house? Maybe I could use this, Misaki considered.

"Méqué, there's a haunted house."

Misaki pointed to the sign.

Misaki thought they could go in the haunted house together and she could possibly break away from Méqué in the dark to get home.

"Hey, let's go in that haunted house. It looks fun."

She tried her best to persuade him, but Méqué stubbornly refused. "……No."

"Why?"

"Ghosts are scary."

Méqué looked at the female ghost's scary face that was on the board and shook.

Misaki accidentally voiced her true thoughts seeing him behave like that. "……You're more frightening."

Bottom of the Seventh Inning

"Oh? Looks like you still have free time, Sarucchi."

On the basement level of the darts bar Lady Madonna, someone had called out to a man when he slouched back in a booth. There was only one man who would call him Sarucchi.

"……What do ya got, Nao?"

Saruwatari replied to him still facing forward without turning to check the other's face.

Nitta sat down across from him. "I found an interesting job for you since you were off."

"An interesting job?" Saruwatari leaned forward. "You serious?"

"Totally am." Nitta gave him his usual dubious smile. "Your target is a hitman in Fukuoka. Just like you wanted."

"……A hitman in Fukuoka?" A certain man's face appeared in his mind. He leaned forward even more, intrigued. "Is it that stupid face guy?"

At that, Nitta smirked with a profound expression.

Saruwatari took a monorail to get to JR Kokura Station and then got on the limited express sonic train to Fukuoka, arriving to JR Hakata Station in a short amount of time. He met with his client at a coffee shop located near the station. Saruwatari entered the small shop and waited for his client to arrive while drinking his cola. He had heard the client was a young leader of a gang, but the man who walked in looked like any ordinary person. He had an air of a section manager for a general corporation.

Saruwatari addressed the man as he sat down across from him. "You're Sanjou from the Mutagawa Group? You don't look like a yakuza."

"I'm told that often." The other man returned a wry smile.

Sanjou looked at his as though evaluating him. "I told a mediator I know that I needed the most skilled hitman out there and was introduced to you."

Saruwatari's reputation had apparently reached as far as the next city over. It was not a bad feeling for him.

"I was told that while you were a well known hitman in Kitakyushu and were skilled, you could be difficult to handle at times."

And it seemed his bad reputation had reached there too.

When Saruwatari remained silent, Sanjou smiled. "Well, that doesn't matter to me. As long as you do your job, I won't have any complaints."

"Alright then. So? Who should I kill?"

When Saruwatari cut to the main topic, Sanjou gave him a halfhearted answer. "We don't really know who he is either."

Saruwatari frowned, perplexed.

"From what I heard from my subordinate, the man seemed to be a clown."

"A clown?" Saruwatari tutted hearing that. "……It wasn't that stupid mask guy."

Sanjou explained the details. Earlier there was a group that was attacked during a business trade, and it could happen again. And the person behind those incidents was thought to be the man dressed as a clown, who had also attacked the Mutagawa Group the day before.

The Mutagawa Group was preparing to carry out an important business trade late tonight. They did not want any interruptions.

"So you want me to be your bodyguard?"

"Yes. You'll accompany us during the trade and kill anyone who shows up. It's a simple job, right?"

Saruwatari huffed in annoyance. It was going to be too easy. It did not matter who his opponent would be.

"Please come to this location tonight at ten. It's our group's warehouse. My subordinates will be waiting there for you."

Sanjou told him, handing him a scrap of paper with the address written on it.

Saruwatari would meet Sanjou's subordinates at the warehouse and get in the truck with their merchandise on it with them. Once they met up, they would head to the port. He would stand on watch for any enemy attacks while they transferred their smuggled goods. If an enemy tried to attack them, he would have to make a counterattack.

That was his client's request.

They got the call from Sanjou when Kase's car arrived at Hakozaki.

'We got a hitman, so meet up at the warehouse.' Sanjou instructed them.

"Understood."

'How is your end?'

Ishihara jerked when he was asked that. A cold sweat formed on his skin.

"Everything's going perfectly."

He lied. He did not report to Sanjou that one of the children died. They disposed of the body secretly.

"I'll contact you again later."

Ishihara hung up and got out of the car. They were a bit ways off from the event, but fortunately they had found an open parking space. They then headed to the event on foot.

"There's a lot of people here."

Kase stated while looking around the area.

"This is the last day of the event."

Houjouya, being one of the main three festivals in Hakata, had people packed on the main road heading to the Hakozaki Shrine where it the event was held at. Street stalls were set up along both sides of the road, illuminated by the street lamps. Since it was a weekday evening there were a lot of elderly people and few children, causing the kids that were present to stand out more. For them to capture one, Ishihara figured the best time was when school was out and it was turning from the evening into night, which would be about now.

"We just have to find any child that looks like they're lost. Do what I instructed after that."

Kase nodded at Ishihara's order. "Understood."

They split up to search for any children they could snatch.

After walking around for a bit, Ishihara spotted a boy who looked like he was in the lowest grade in elementary school. He seemed to have strayed from his parents and was wandering around, hunched over, while wiping tears from his face.

"Hey."

When Ishihara called out to him, the child stopped and looked up at him.

"Where's your mom?"

The child tilted his head, confused. So he was really lost.

"Let's go look for her."

The child nodded, gripping his outstretched hand tightly. They looked like a parent and child beside each other to other's perspective. No one would be suspicious of him.

As to not let the child's actual parents spot them, Ishihara took the child to the nearest vehicle.

He had the child breath in a drug in a blind spot to put him to sleep. Once the strength left the child's body, he picked up his small frame. Ishihara returned to the parking space while pretending to carry his son who had fallen asleep from exhaustion. He purchased cotton candy to act as camouflage. He held a light blue bag with an anime character on it in his right hand and carried the child in his left, making no one even consider him to be a yakuza who had came here to abduct a child.

Once he got back to the car, he placed the boy into the back seat, fastening his seat belt. It had been an hour since they got here.

After a few minutes, he got a call. Thinking it was Sanjou, Ishihara felt a chill run through him. He looked at the screen and sighed. It was Kase. "What is it?"

'Where are you right now?'

"I'm in the car."

'Eh?' Kase exclaimed. 'You already got one? I'll hurry over.'

Kase stated and hung up.

An hour later, Kase appeared at the parking space, carrying a child.

"I'm sorry for being late."

Kase had kidnapped a short-haired girl.

"I hardly found any children walking by themselves."

He placed the sleeping child in the back seat like the other one and fastened the seat belt. Kase got into the driver's seat and started the car.

Now that they secured these two, they had six children in total. They had the amount they needed. However, that did not wipe away Ishihara's anxiety.

Ishihara pondered to himself. What would happen if another child dies? What if one of the children died from illness during transport? What if an accident happened and they would become useless as merchandise?

More concerns came to his mind the more he thought about it. The additional reasons for uneasiness gnawed at his mind. Maybe six was not enough. Ishihara glanced outside. At some point the sun had set, and the area around them had turned dark.

Abruptly, something had caught his eye, and he raised his voice.

"Hey, stop."

Kase did as he ordered and pulled over onto the side of the road.

"What is it?"

"Look," Ishihara pointed outside the window with his chin. "There's a kid."

A young girl around elementary school age was walking down the dark street by herself. She was the perfect prey for them to snatch up.

"This is perfect." Ishihara smirked. "Let's knab her."

"Eh?" Kase voiced in surprise. "But didn't we already catch the two we needed?"

"And what will we do if another dies? We'll be put on the spot if we don't have enough."

They should have another one. Just in case.

Translation Notes:

There are some details I don’t think will be fully understood unless you are somewhat familiar with Japanese society and their social issues and/or laws. I brought up the issues of domestic violence and foster homes in Japan in the last section, but here are the main important details from again to better clarify what Shigematsu meant by the children not being completely safe unless the parents were completely out of the picture even if they were removed from them.
“Even in cases of serious, documented abuse it is very difficult to forcibly sever parental rights. (……) The state can remove children and place them in orphanages, but if the biological parents find out where they are they can just walk in and drag them home. In some cases parents have laid in wait near school gates and abducted their children as they leave. Because the legal custody has not been severed there is little anyone can do.”

And if you find anything odd about Méqué’s care in the psychiatric institute, bear in mind mental health not only has a negative stigma to the general populace in Japan but treatment and care is generally poor too. mentioned:
“One key problem is the, "megadose culture in psychiatric care." Patients are kept sedated with massive doses of psychiatric drugs to pacify them, a situation partially due to chronic understaffing. According to these experts, this antediluvian approach fails to help these "quiet patients" and is symptomatic of wider problems.”
This isn’t even limited to prescriptions; in general the more quiet patients get less care and attention. Also, I’ve seen a fair amount of news stories about mentally unstable people being discharged to commit crimes not long after their release over the years. And even excluding the few who did commit crimes upon their release, many of them still have trouble adjusting back to normal life more than other countries. On a lot of levels, Japan is very ill-equipped with handling people who need psychiatric care despite attempts being made to improve it.

And finally, with the cat’s full name being Cromartie (which is a name of a football player by the way), his shortened name should be “Cro,” but I kept it with Kuro because it’s a pun. Kuro (black) is a common cat name in Japan. It’s like calling a cat “blackie.” Cromartie is read as kuromati (クロマティ).

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