I greeted the important figures I needed to talk to in a hurry.
As a result, I succeeded in speaking with several presidents since Amasawa and in getting new loans.
We had not reached our unofficial goal yet, but I'd say we were off to a good start.
The party had been going on for about an hour.
Here I decided to take a short break for the first time.
My jaw was feeling a little tired from all the talking.
But I didn’t waste any time even when standing still.
It was important to keep an eye on the atmosphere and always be on the lookout for signs of life.
As I approached to get a glass of wine from a servant, I felt a slight shock at my feet.
A child that was running in my direction bumped into me and ran off without a word of apology.
I wondered where he was going in such a hurry and noticed him at the corner of the hall.
It seemed that there were several children clustered around there.
Most of the parents knew each other from various parties, so it was no surprise that all the children taken to the party were connected to each other.
Although the children were somewhat separated from the parents, their high-pitched voices often echoed through the room, especially when they screamed.
More and more screams piled up. There was no way of stopping a group like this after it formed.
I approached to warn them, but I realized that they weren’t playing with each other.
They were all boys, including the kid who rushed to the scene. Three of the five boys were surrounding another child, yelling at him and accusing him of something. The remaining one watched from a distance, but there was no fear in his expression. I stopped because I was afraid that the children might’ve noticed me listening in on their situation if I got any closer.
The children all seemed to be around the same age as Kiyotaka. I have no contact with ordinary children, so it was interesting to compare them with the children in the White Room.
When I slowly approached the children, I could see that they weren’t talking in a friendly manner.
Most children don’t know when and where the right time to fight is and easily start conflicts.
Usually over unimportant things.
“Did you really ever get Kazuya's autograph?”
The kid who rushed to the scene seemed to be the leader of the group, and he approached the group with his friends and family in tow.
“...Yes, I did.”
He replied while averting his gaze.
At first glance, it didn’t seem like he was telling the truth.
“That's a lie. When I met Kazuya, he said he doesn't usually sign autographs.”
“Really... I'm sure he does…”
“Where did you get him to sign it?”
“He came to my house.”
“He came to your house? What? That's a lie. Kazuya told me that I was the first kid he signed an autograph for outside of the venue.”
“He really did do it. He signed a soccer ball for me...!”
The conversation seemed to be discussing whether or not they had ever gotten an autograph from a Japanese soccer player named Kazuya who plays overseas.
The three of them, including the leader, were suspicious of one timid-looking child.
The suspected child’s suspicious behavior must’ve been felt by the rest of the boys.
It seems that a cheap lie told for the sake of bragging led him into a tight corner.
“Then let's take a majority vote on whether we think he's lying or not.”
Immediately, the three children raised their hands in unison as they laughed.
The boy who had been watching the conversation didn’t raise his hand, so of course he was asked for his stance on the matter.
“Which side are you on, Ryuuji?”
The leader of the group, a kid who called the others by their first names, asked for his opinion.
“...I don't care. I don't need to pick a side.”
“What do you mean you don't care? I'm asking you if you also think he’s lying?”
“If I'm being objective, I think you're lying. You'd better apologize as soon as possible.”
The child called Ryuuji decided that the other boy was lying and urged him to apologize. The difference in the number of people in the group made it less advantageous for one to cover for him.
It’s true that the best thing to do would be to apologize right then and there, but that isn’t that easy for human beings.
“I'm not lying...”
Ryuuji sighed in exasperation at the child's stubborn refusal to admit that it was a lie.
“Why don't you forgive him already? It's obvious he's lying, so there's no need to go on with this any longer.”
“What? I'm going to ask my father to shut down your parents' company if you keep acting like a big shot, okay?”
He flaunted his parents' power as if it was his own and acted like a king…
“Nogi-kun, if you make fun of me, you'll get in real trouble.”
Nogi? The Nogi Pharmaceuticals, huh?
They’re one of the most powerful and accomplished of all the wealthy individuals who were attending here today.
It was a ridiculous claim, but it’s true that his father has some power.
He seems to have failed miserably in his children’s education.
“Then how can you be satisfied? What do you want from Fuji?”
The three of them—Ryuuji, Fuji, and Nogi—were acquainted with each other’s groups.
(TL Note: groups is written with the loanword グループ but it seems to refer to the companies their parents own.)
“Get on your knees, get on your knees. I'll forgive you if you get on your knees and tell me you're sorry for lying.”
That was really cliché. I don't think President Nogi’s the kind of person who would normally force people to get down on their knees, but it was understandable for a child to say something like this.
“As I said, I didn’t do such a thing as telling a lie.”
“Then show me proof. If you can't give me proof or refuse to get down on your knees, I'll beat you up.”
Growing increasingly frustrated, Nogi licked his lips in frustration.
“You'd better get down on your knees as soon as possible.”
Ryuuji kept his attitude, encouraging him to apologize, but Fuji shook his head from side to side.
He continued to insist that he got the autograph, even though he was in tears.
It seems the time had come.
I couldn’t let this go on any longer, even if it was just an elongated children's quarrel.
If the situation turned bloody, President Nogi's name would be tarnished.
But the situation seemed to have suddenly changed.
“Fuji isn’t lying. At least, I think so.”
With the conclusion thought to have already been decided, a sixth child appeared.
All four of them, including the passive Ryuuji, had already decided that he was lying.
The appearance of the one who insisted that he wasn’t lying, of course, ended that mood.
“What's wrong with you? Whoever you are, you're defending this guy?”
“Do you think there's any advantage for Fuji to keep lying in the face of you strong-looking guys?”
The kid insisted that it was strange for him to be stubborn.
“I don't know whether or not he's your friend, but you’re just trying to cover for him, aren’t you? You're a liar.”
“I'm not covering for him for no reason. I just thought it was true.”
The child stood in front of the three of them with a nonchalant attitude.
“I'm sorry, Fuji. I got stuck while talking to Dad.”
A child called Ishigami gently caressed the arm of the crying child and faced Nogi and the others.
But here was where the savior was unexpectedly confronted.
“I'm sorry, Ishigami, but I think Fuji is lying.”
“What makes you think he's lying?”
“There’s no evidence to prove that he’s lying, but there’s no proof that he’s telling the truth either. In that case, we can only judge him by his attitude.”
“Judging by his attitude? I don't think it’s possible to make an impartial judgment when you’re surrounded by people like this and forced to half-heartedly admit to a lie. You're just making decisions based on the flow of the situation.”
“But Nogi said that Kazuya doesn't usually sign autographs. He said he was the first.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, that's right. That's what Kazuya said when he signed it for me, you idiot.”
“But you don't have any proof that what you say is true, do you?”
“What? Look at this! Here's a picture of me and Kazuya!”
Nogi showed the screen of his cell phone.
“And? This was taken two months ago. Couldn’t Fuji have gotten his autograph after that? And since you have the photo, it must be true that you got him to sign it, but it's not the same as proving that he doesn't usually sign things, right? Weren’t you lying because you wanted to boast that you were given special treatment?”
He confronted him with the proof, but it seems that gave him the opportunity to take advantage of Nogi.
“I didn't lie! I'm gonna kick your ass!”
“Stop it, Ishigami. Why are you making such a nonsensical objection? The other day, you didn't even argue when you got into it with a guy in your grade at cram school. Just apologize and things will go peacefully.”
“I only did that because I was the only one involved. If you get angry every time someone of a lower level says something, you'll have a hard time. But if your friend’s in trouble, that's a different story.”
The content of this conversation, at various times, showed that Ishigami was a very talented child.
That's probably why this Ryuuji kid bit back.
“What does your father do? He's better than us, isn't he?”
Of course, it was none of my business, but President Ishigami isn’t the president of a big company.
“Parental power has nothing to do with it. What about your own ability?”
But in terms of his children's education and talent, he’s a cut above the rest.
They either carry very good genes or were the results of their education.
“I'll beat you up!”
Nogi breathed, swinging his right arm in a broad gesture.
“Wait a minute.”
Ishigami, who was about to be hit by Nogi, interrupted.
You’d think that he’d apologize in fear, but that wasn’t the case.
“When you hit someone, you should grab them by the chest first so they can't run away. If you miss your strike, you might fall down and end up not looking very cool, right?”
The boy froze, his fists clenched.
“I'm not proud of it, but I've never been in a fight. However, I can at least run away from you, which means we'll end up running around here screaming at each other. You know that the more significant your father is, the more shame you're gonna bring to his name. Am I right?”
The party room was filled with laughter and elegant music was loudly playing.
Though, when a child shouts, it’s inevitable that he would be noticed.
“Listen, if you're going to strike me, you'd better grab this area with your left hand first. That's how they do it on TV and in dramas when they hit people.”
Nogi followed his lead and grabbed the collar of his neck with his left hand.
The remaining children surrounded Ishigami so that he couldn’t escape.
“I'll give you what you want!”
Nogi, at close range, threatened Ishigami.
Then he raised his fist again.
“Now you can't escape!”
“And neither can you!”
Immediately after saying this, Ishigami grabbed the arms that were grabbing him with both hands.
He grabbed his face and didn't let go of his hands.
Then he turned his attention to an adult in the distance.
He glanced at me for a moment, but then he looked away and called out to another adult.
“Please help me! Somebody help me!!”
The adults turned around at the earnest shout and looked at Ishigami, who was grabbed by the collar and surrounded by three kids who were about to beat him up. It was irrelevant whether they were right or wrong.
The only thing that came to mind was a scene of a group of kids who was outnumbering another, ready to commit violence.
Nogi's name was powerful, but of course, it had no other place than in the ramblings of children now.
“What are you doing?!”
Nogi and the others ran away as if they were rabbits. The three remaining were Fuji, Ryuuji, and Ishigami, who were all in tears.
“Kanzaki-kun… you could’ve done something about those guys.”
“...I hate trouble. And beating them up wasn’t going to fix it.”
“I didn't say you should hit them. I'm saying you should’ve let them talk it out. I understand that it's easier to just let it go, but by not doing anything, there’s a possibility that it will become even more troublesome, especially with someone who tries to wield parental power.”
“But he was lying, wasn't he?”
Ryuuji asked for the truth.
Ishigami didn’t need to respond to the question. Fuji's expression revealed the answer.
“There are times when I want to keep lying,” he said.
“I don't understand... It's a lie with no merit.”
“If Fuji had been a friend of yours, Kanzaki-kun, would you have helped him? Or would you still abandon him as well?”
“At least I would help my dear friend if he was in trouble. No matter what it takes.”
Compared to the childish, or rather, age-appropriate children, Ryuuji and Ishigami seemed to be able to make relatively calm judgments. However, their way of thinking was different.
Ishigami seems to have done better on this occasion, but it’s also true that he actually crossed a dangerous bridge.
If Fuji had admitted to lying and apologized, as Ryuuji said, Nogi and the others might’ve forgiven him earlier. Of course, he must be prepared to be laughed at.
“Ayanokouji-sensei… I apologize for the delay.”
I was just about to finish observing the children when Sakayanagi came walking toward me, slightly out of breath.
“You came, Sakayanagi?”
“Of course I came. Even though we may have started to go in different directions, my respect for you has not changed.”
With that, I gently shook hands with Sakayanagi, whom I haven’t seen for a long time.
The welcoming party began as the adults started to move about, and there was movement on the children's side as well.
“Good evening, Kanzaki-kun.”
“You just arrived, Sakayanagi?”
“Hello. Sorry, I already have to get going, Kanzaki-kun. I'll see you at cram school.
“You have a rather grim look on your face, what’s wrong?”
Ryuuji answered that he was fine and walked away as if to escape from the situation.
“Your daughter has grown a lot in the little time I've been away from you, hasn't she?”
“As a parent, I'm often bewildered by her many precocious ways,” he said.
Although she seems to be intelligent, she seems to have a long history of dealing with the disease—her birth handicap.
At one point, I invited him to enroll her into the White Room, but he was right to turn me down.
The facility requires, at a minimum, that you be above average in all aspects.
“I know it's a problem for you in your position to be too close to me, but I really appreciate you coming.”
“Thank you, Ayanokouji-sensei.”
Smiling happily, Sakayanagi took his daughter to greet the others.
I walked over to the boy, Ishigami, who was looking at me from a distance.
“What do you want from me?”
“The same goes to you. You've been looking at me. What did you want with me?”
I didn't think he had the time to look around in that situation.
“I have something I want to ask. Why didn't you call out to me when you asked for help from an adult?”
“I was aware that you heard Fuji’s call for help from early on, but you remained silent. I couldn’t guarantee that you’d be on my side.”
There was no denying that if I had turned away while offering a helping hand, the child could’ve been beaten up in the meantime. So, at that stage, with less than a few seconds to go before he would’ve been beaten up, Ishigami selected an adult who would surely help Fuji.
“Hey, Kyou! I hope you’re not giving any trouble to Ayanokouji-sensei!”
With a panicked voice, the chairman of the Ishigami Group appeared.
“I thought you were an exceedingly smart child. You’re the son of Chairman Ishigami, aren't you?”
Gorou Ishigami, who was over 60 years old, was still the chairman of the Ishigami Group, yet his power remained strong. He had no children with his ex-wife… Was he a child conceived from another wife whom he married after his bereavement?
“Go eat your dinner over there.”
Bowing lightly, Chairman Ishigami's son left.
“I hope our Kyou didn't give you any trouble, did he?”
“I've been rather impressed with him.”
“That's fine, but since he's old enough to be… my grandson, I'm not too happy about it.”
It's understandable that he's so fond of him.
But what I appreciated most was his calmness.
“You seem to have given him a good upbringing.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He was far superior to me in terms of position, but his manner was soft and polite.
If he grows up properly, the Ishigami group will be succeeded by that child, and a solid generational transition will be possible.
The only concern is his age.
He will take over in his early twenties at the earliest. If he’s going to proceed with caution, he would have to be over 30 years old. By then, President Ishigami would be over 90 years old.
“You’re planning to return to politics at some point, aren't you, President Ishigami?”
“Of course I intend to.”
“Then, will you have your son by your side someday?”
“My son… by my side?”
He thought I was joking but he couldn't see any deception in my expression.
“Yes. He seems to be interested in politics. As a parent, I try to understand my son’s feelings as much as I can since he doesn't usually pay much attention to things.”
He smiled, wrinkling his cheeks as he said that he was more than happy for him to follow in his footsteps.
“If he wants to go into politics when he grows up, then I will welcome him.”
They were just a few comments, but I could see a glimpse of talent in the kid.
Whether or not he’s suited for politics is another matter entirely, though.