Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ayaka Part 4

“We need a name.”

Kouma and I were still eating when Ryo said that, completely out of nowhere. This is how our investigation actually began.

Now using the house of the Kouma family as their temporary base, the unnamed, clearly improvised detective team gathered to start working on the unusual case that had directly affected one of their members. Against my personal expectations, Kouma Yon’s bedroom is absurdly normal. Probably as normal as it gets, I’m afraid. There is not even a single thing here worth describing with a shower of adjectives or comparisons to nature forces. This is really plain and disappointing on so many levels.

“A name, you say?” said the unusual girl whose room didn’t reflect her personality in any way.

“Yes, a name.”

Now that’s weird.

“I’m sorry; I am a little bit confused.” My right hand rose to gather their attention. “I am aware that you are a novelist and probably know more about plots than I do but, much to my dismay, my vast experience in the Mystery field taught me that in this particular kind of case the name of the offender is usually the last thing you are going to get.” Pondering that last sentence, I stopped my speech for a while. “Unless, of course, you consider the possibility of having the criminal try running away after the revelation moment, thus making the last scene an action-fueled chase. It is also possible the accused party will try to kill or restrain the detectives in order to keep their dreadful secrets safe, but I suppose this kind of development is not that popular anymore thanks to the boom of crime investigation series. Hopefully we are not dealing with an old-school villain, otherwise one of us will get kidnapped very, very soon.”

As soon as I finished talking I noticed the way Ryo was looking at me, and it didn’t take me a great deal of time to understand that the odds were incredibly high that the face she was making was exactly the same as mine when she started talking about music. Oh, dear. I just remembered that. She was so absolutely perfect at that moment…

Silently we kept on glaring at each other’s faces for a while, burning deep down with unresolved tension in such a powerful way I could not even think of a reason holding back our foreseeable incandescent eruption.

“No, not on my watch.”

And there it was.

Literally between us was a person who remained a strange element in our relationship and had a thing for making me remember how fierce her pinch could be. Her moderately long yet unreasonably sharp baby blue fingernails served as a call of the real world for me and often reminded me that we weren’t gathered for a party. We had a supernatural case to solve and technically no clues to do so.

Certainly it’s not time for us to relax and I probably will remember this in the future even when Kouma Yon finally goes back home, but not for the right reasons. My arms will have become giant, deep purple bruises by then. What a fabulous memento.

It could be worse, right? I mean, it’s not like her fingernails are tainted with my blood or anything. Unfortunately, there is a great chance she is avoiding that only because she just got her nails done. I cannot blame her for that, since baby blue is a fairly decent color and it sure matches the rest of her deceivingly cute look. I just wish she would be more considerate of others (particularly when ‘me’ is an element of that potentially finite group ‘others’), that’s all. It’s not like I am asking a lot, really…

By the time I came back to reality, I noticed Kouma’s concerned look. Maybe it’s because I had stood still for several minutes but most likely it was because the ‘call of the real world’ attack of her pretty claws of absolute doom not only didn’t help, but produced the perfect opposite of the effect she was expecting.

“Hmm...” I looked to Ryo. “I just had another one of those moments, didn’t I?”

Her face had already given me the answer I anticipated, but she insisted on stating it.

“Yes, you did. It was really awkward, but at least now I know you weren’t ignoring me when it happened Sunday. You probably have the same problem with daydreams as that main character from that particularly famous medical television series.”

“You mean that particular show that decided to change a little bit of its formula after a faux-finale at season eight?” Kouma said, suddenly interested. I wasn’t that surprised, considering it’s only natural for a young girl to like pop culture. Not that there is anything truly ‘natural’ about Kouma Yon. “Specifically that one. I really like it.”

“Me too. Back to the topic, I believe Shin-tsu does that kind of thing just because he enjoys being rude to people.”

Ryo shook her head and started twirling her long silky hair.

“Hmm, I find that argument very unlikely to be true. Shin-tsu has always been polite to me, and he does call you by your family name as a sign of respect. Obviously, he could use a few lessons on daily usage of Japanese language, since the quality of his speech alternates between extremely basic textbook-like sentences and complex television references that might sound obscure to the average person. Except for his utterly disturbing, almost complete lack of honorifics, it’s not that bad, anyway.”

Listening to her talking like that made me think that it’s really a big deal.

“It might be just a trait of his personality or a result of living abroad for so long, but I guess he will get better with practice.” She finally took a break after another lecture and then added in a much lower, nearly whispery voice. “Hopefully.”

“What would be your hypothesis, then?”

Ryo had a serious look on her face, and for a moment I thought she was going to tell me that I suffer from an incurable disease or that she was my father. I’m terribly sorry about that particular reference, but I couldn’t help it because it was a lame joke but full of Force.

“He is a hero character in denial. He has everything he needs to be a strong protagonist that could solve the mystery and defeat the bad guys after an epic battle, but never used his powers for the greater good and probably not even for his own good, and that’s why the plot never advances as it should and you can hardly see any character or relationship developments. He is completely stuck at the second act of the story, forever.”

I assume this is the moment where I’m supposed to explain to the reader what they are talking about, considering the following facts: a) my assumptions were right and this is a story; b) there is a reader who is interested and c) he or she is not a writer or a literary critic, therefore probably could not understand that. Obviously this still sounds very unreasonable to me, but in light of the events of my life, one can see that nothing good would come out of getting upset about such things. So, let’s play along for a change.

Many stories use the Three-act Structure, at least enough for your subconscious to have learned it and make you ‘expect’ things from movies you never saw before despite being brand new. Most Hollywood movies are like that, and you cannot blame them: the only reason why a trope becomes a trope in the first place is because it worked fine.

The first act is where the main characters and the setting are established, and it is called ‘the Setup.’ At some point, something bad happens and takes the protagonists out of their comfort zone and makes the story actually start (without conflict, there is no plot). One can say that in my case, I have lived in this particular stage for a surprisingly long time, and this leads us to the second act, ‘the Confrontation.’ Here the protagonists try to fix everything and end up making it worse because they are doing it completely wrong. So far, check.

If only I could find out what I need to change in my attitude to reach the next act.

“That’s an interesting point of view.” Kouma took a pause, and seemed to be seriously pondering it. “So, all the bad things that supposedly happened to him would just be mere unused plot devices?”
“Exactly. But the situation has changed now he that has two sidekicks, so there is a great chance the plot is advancing as we speak.”

“Hold on, I am definitely not okay with that.” Raising her left hand, Kouma stated, “The idea of being a sidekick does not please me at all, so I would like to offer an alternate interpretation to this matter.”

I could feel the levels of tension rising between the two of them, which was probably due to Kouma Yon disagreeing with Shiina Ryo. It’s safe to assume that this kind of thing does not happen often, and for a good reason. They both seem to have taken it personally.

“Please proceed,” said my closest friend after clenching her teeth, her eyebrow clearly wanting to reach the skies.

“From my point of view, we are equal main characters representing the three parts of Freud's model of the psyche. It has been done many times before, and it still sells because it makes a balanced team that people can relate to.”

Several moments of silence followed, and just when I was fully prepared to start a discussion over her Freudian approach to nearly every single thing Ryo spoke, leaving me open-mouthed.

“You know what, that actually fits.” The tension vanished as quickly as it came. “So, you think we’re representations of ego, id and superego?”

“Precisely, except one of us is not playing his role properly.” She glared at me with sheer accusation in her eyes. “That’s right Shin-tsu, I’m talking about you.”

“Wait, what?” The fact that someone finally decided to start talking to me took me by surprise, I admit it. Does that mean it’s my turn to become one of the actors with lines instead of just being an observer whose life is being analyzed and criticized on stage?

“As one could deduce from my statements, two thirds of this team are playing their roles properly. Being a natural stoic, absolutely rational and highly competent, I should be classified as this group’s superego.” She said it like was something to be completely proud of, intentionally forgetting to notice the ‘socially inept,’ ‘apparently emotionless,’ and ‘cynical’. The attribute ‘super’ certainly fits her ego. “Then we have Ryo-chan, who is emotionally mature, balanced and compassionate; a clear example of ego.”

Since I didn’t see a problem with that second statement, I decided to save my rants for the end of her theory presentation.

“I see where you’re going.” Ryo smiled, but not with the lovely innocence I so quickly got used to. “You’re implying Shin-tsu needs to act a little bit more like an id guy instead of having that ego attitude?”

“Exactly.” Kouma seemed completely satisfied. “Sounds very reasonable.”

“I am glad we agree on that.”

Do I need to point out that I wasn’t pleased with that?

“Excuse me, but what are you talking about?”

“Look, it’s not that we don’t like you the way you are…”

“On that matter, speak for yourself.”Kouma Yon abruptly interrupted Ryo’s speech, and the reason behind her actions was so obvious it was almost suspicious.

“Alright; it’s not that I don’t like you the way you are, but I honestly believe that in order to tip the balance you’ll have to be, well… slightly more impulsive.”

“Hedonistic.”

“Whimsical.”

“Overtly lecherous.”

That was the exact point when both Shiina Ryo and I turned to face a clearly embarrassed fashionista whose face desperately tried not to admit it in front of others. It’s safe to say my team had reached a moment that could be only described as ‘awkward.’ Several seconds later, the absence of sound still lingered.

“Just for the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; it’s a valid characteristic of the id.”

Even after she tried fixing it, the nearly solid silence created by Kouma Yon’s reckless words would not go away. I just had to do something about it.

“…could we just move on?” I suggested. “We still have a mystery to solve, after all.”

Suddenly I felt my shoulder being patted, and a mere turning of the head confirmed that Ryo was the source of that friendly gesture. Yeah, like there was a chance Kouma would demonstrate any kind of affection towards me in front of Ryo. Wait a second… she locked arms with me in public yesterday, so I’m not sure of what she is capable of. There is no need to worry, anyway, she was probably just feeling cold. Hopefully.

“Oh, relax. We still have plenty of time, and it might be a good idea to make the mood a little lighter.” My friend gave me one of her signature smiles and it was convincing enough for me to want to feed her milk in a bowl. “I too was a little worried in the beginning, but there’s nothing good that can come out of rushing or despairing over such things. Your mind will probably work better after you spend some time not worrying about your problems, so I want you to treat this stress release moment as a measure to get yourself ready to fully understand the case.”

“I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s clearly not working.” This whole pointless analysis was actually making me more nervous about my current situation. “Your intentions might be good and I am thankful for that, but this is not a common state of affairs for normal people, this is a…”

And then I realized.

I have been thrown into this kind of situation so many times, so it’s very hard for me not to search for patterns instead of proper clues. Surely it feels like I have a built-in mechanism for the unusual, and that’s why I wasn’t immediately able to see through this; it’s something completely different from the things I have fought (or rather ran from) before. The only thing I didn’t have the chance of dealing with.

If you manage to ignore the increasing supernatural elements and the fact every single person that crosses my path always seems to be on the verge of insanity (or much past it, in several cases), and if only you ignore the continuous flow of the plot you will see too.

They are all completely normal, in the end.

After all, they are just teenagers, all of them. Just essentially common youngsters living in a world made of youth with their sad teen issues, being and acting just as weird as their age allows them to because deep down they know that soon will come a time where they won’t have the chance to do so. There is absolutely nothing complex in it, despite their masks and monologues to an audience visible only to themselves.

Therefore, this case can be solved quite easily. It might leave an awfully bad aftertaste in my mouth, especially because when compared to other detective stories and even my own previous ‘cases’ it will certainly look like cheating to everyone, including myself. Like one of those cheap novellas where the bad guy only appears in the last two pages, not being directly related to anyone in the plot and dying soon afterwards. Like a classically trained musician who decides to play in a pop-punk band for a living.

Through this stress-induced catharsis, I may have found a game breaker.

Instead of wasting several days pursuing small or useless clues that would just act as lies-to-children, forcing us to seek for a bigger Truth, I am going to skip the boring parts and go straight to the clever tactical maneuver moment just because I can.

The reason for doing such a trick, you ask? It’s very, very simple: my opponent is also not following the rules. Obviously, in a mystery/crime and punishment story you should expect that at least one person is not following the law. If they were, there is a great chance you wouldn’t have a case from the very beginning. Despite that, my unknown foe broke rules so basic that, in order to be on the same level and achieve victory I must ‘cheat.’

The hidden enemy broke a Father Knox's Commandment, and that action is completely unacceptable to me.

When you see yourself involved in so many cases as I have, you realize that the only way to survive until the next school transfer is to trace patterns and know your tropes. I mean, how are you, a common teenager, supposed to hide from a six-meter-tall one-eyed wild creature if you don’t know when it appears/attacks, or what can you to do make an ancient yet incredibly in-shape mummy dizzy enough for you to escape safely from a pyramid full of traps that at the very least will hold you back for a moment or two? You ought to have information, especially when your life depends on it.

Books were my first choice as sources of information. Despite not being a technology hater like my grandfather (who doesn’t even trusts telephones), there is something about the scent and the feel of paper books that make me calm and relaxed. Believe me, there are not many things that can get me into that state of mind.

Unlike Ryo, who will indiscriminately read any novel of any genre she comes across and then spend a great deal of time writing not unusually sharp reviews and articles about it on the Internet, the only genres of book that interest me (and not for reasons I should be pleased with) are Mystery and Horror. Forensic science articles (which I suppose both Kouma and Reikoku-sensei read in the same fashion as other people would read Sunday newspaper’s comics) were never something I paid too much attention to, especially because I have always assumed that the day I actually needed to get directly to a morgue for a causa mortis analysis it would me my own, and then I wouldn’t have much work to do other than stay there while other people with pointy things opened my body and found an alien baby in my chest.

Or something like that, I am not so sure right now.

Back to the topic, classic mystery novels were the best. Of course, they were usually filled with cheesy and unrealistic dialogue and the solutions got either predictable or impossible after a while, but their cases, murders, and other crimes were decent escapes from an everyday life of, say, murders and other crimes. They provided me methods for solving cases and occasionally an accurate insight into the criminal’s modus operandi. While reading them, I realized that the mysteries of this world are ruled by tropes.

Father Knox's Ten Commandments for the Detective Club were a good set of them, and they show exactly what a good case should avoid in order to actually be a good case. Without abiding by those rules, the stories often end up looking like a mess and making the reader feel cheated and like the author was too lazy to provide a decent ending . Readers don’t like unrealistic novels, even when the genre is Fantasy; if the author fails to suspend disbelief, the story suffers.

Why do those Commandments work in several of the mysteries I came across so far? Simple; they are rules especially designed to make a story believable and the closest to real as it can be. Thus it is obvious that, if properly created, they would also work in real life; otherwise the laws would be pointless because they would fail their only purpose.

So far, the setting was good: a developing town attracts a lot of attention to itself, and high school crime stories are selling well these days. The rules were being respected or subverted decently: the detective did not commit the crime (which would be the most awkward situation ever, unless I had another personality I was not aware of), my Watsons are far from stupid but they certainly do not conceal their thoughts, no poison involved, I’m pretty sure the criminal has been mentioned in the story, no secret passages anywhere to be seen (although that’s probably the point), no visible twins either, I have shared all the clues I have so far and if anyone classifies as the foreigner in this story, that guy would be me. The only accident that happened in this story didn’t help me; instead it brought me the whole mystery and this doesn’t sound like ‘helping’ at all.

Only one Commandment left.

The law my opponent broke was the most important to me, the one I always hoped would be respected in the case: there should be no supernatural or preternatural powers involved. It’s exactly what makes cases believable and honest. Therefore, I now have the right to stop being a nice guy and break the formula.

“Oh.” Kouma’s face was very close to mine, and she was holding a small lit flashlight in front of my eyes. After she realized I was awake she turned it off and kept looking directly at me while talking to Ryo, who was not in my line of sight. “It seems like he is back.”

Footsteps pattered.

“Gosh, you scared us!” I saw my friend running to me from the kitchen, her cell phone in hand. “You haven’t said a single word in seven minutes and just stood there, completely motionless. I was calling the hospital already!”

She was obviously worried and for some reason it made me smile, probably because it’s nice to know that I have people who really care about me.

“By the way, your telephone signal here is really awful.” She added slightly more calm, with the clear lack of common sense people have in those kinds of situations showing.

“Suspend the ambulance, I’m alright. Instead of that, please bring me a kanji dictionary.” I stand up, mostly to prove what I said. “I was just thinking, and I believe I have the answer to the question we were going to spend days working on.”

Kouma merely nodded.

“You take the expression ‘lost in thought’ a little bit too serious, Shin-tsu.”

“Why, have you got an idea?” Ryo said, ignoring Kouma’s unneeded remark.

“An idea, you say? I think I just solved the case.”

Savoring the glorious moment of my epiphany, I mischievously looked at them. Now I know why detectives speak like this: it feels really great and I suggest everyone to try it once in a while. After waiting the proper time to give the final blow, I deliver the mysterious sentence that would close the current part of the show with a fade-out.

“All we have to do is to organize a thematic party.”

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