It was a day when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. I left Saitama and returned to Tokyo for the first time in several months.
Instead of my home in Meguro-ku, where I had settled several years ago, I drove to my office, which I hadn’t visited for a long time.
“How long has it been since I last came here…?”
I looked up from the window of my car at the soon-to-be-demolished building and gave my orders.
I pulled over to the shoulder of the road, turned on the hazard lights, and got out.
I had been out of politics for a long time, but the time for my return was near.
Naoe, the fixer who has been lurking in the shadows of Kijima, was now over 80 years old and had been suffering from a serious illness. He was back in politics, ostensibly cured of his illness, but in reality, his life was hanging on by a thread.
The proof was in the sabotage of the White Room and the relentless pressure from Naoe's side on his supporters in the shadows. He decided that he had to get rid of me before his own life was extinguished.
It was a blow to have the White Room temporarily suspended, but I changed my mind, thinking that it would give me just enough time to prepare for a comeback from the situation.
“I'm getting old, same goes for Naoe.”
Soon my battle for political office will begin again.
The signs and premonitions… Kamogawa, whom I had not seen since that day when I talked with Naoe at the ryotei, showed up at my doorstep as if to congratulate me.
“It's been a long time, Ayanokouji-sensei. I didn't expect you to come all the way here to pick me up.”
“Don't worry about it. How's it going over there?”
We had been talking on the phone, but in recent years, my face-to-face contact with him had become even rarer than with Sakayanagi. I had to be careful not to do anything that would get me caught in Naoe's watchful eye.
“Thanks to you, I’m doing well. Is everything alright with you too, Sensei?”
“You’re the one who should be called 'sensei' since you keep getting elected.”
When I jokingly mentioned this, Kamogawa replied with a very serious face.
“It’s true that you’re not a politician now, but you’ve brought in many wealthy people and head the White Room, a well-known educational institution. The rumors never cease.”
I've certainly survived the hard times.
Although I was exiled from the political world, I’ve now taken in many business people from the White Room, and have taken a path that I couldn't have imagined as my own fortune.
Although my title as a politician no longer existed, more people called me “Sensei” than ever before.
“I hear in the White Room that your son is quite brilliant.”
“Is it ironic? I've been on the radar so much that I had to shut it down temporarily.”
Kamogawa laughed bitterly, but he still had the same look in his eyes as before.
No, he seemed to have grown up once or twice more than before.
“I think you already know that. As you can already tell, Naoe-sensei is pulling the strings behind the scenes. I don't think he's going to reveal the White Room to the public since he’ll get himself burnt too, but he’s starting to use all kinds of methods to try to get rid of it.”
“If this wasn't his idea, they would’ve shut it down by now. He seems to be making it very difficult for them in that respect. What's his next move?”
“I don't know at the moment. I’ve managed to hang on to the Naoe-sensei faction, but I used to work beside you, Ayanokouji-sensei, so he doesn't trust me.”
It would be difficult to get past Naoe's defenses even if I tried to force Kamogawa to probe.
Rather, it is more essential to keep him concealed inside the faction.
“It's just that... his health seems to have been deteriorating a lot lately.”
Kamogawa muttered in a hushed voice beside me.
“It's a little bit frustrating that I can't bury him with my own hands, but I guess it's best to let the disease bury him.”
That's why Naoe is an opponent in the political world who doesn't show any openings that you could take advantage of.
And given his age, he’ll be in the spotlight very soon.
“Finally, your return is coming soon, isn't it?”
“Yes. But even if he disappears, it won't make it any easier for me to get to the top of the political world. No, in fact, it will be far more difficult than before.”
I thought Naoe-sensei was one of the biggest names in politics, but I believe President Kijima, who’s keeping control of politics well, will be even bigger than that.
If he continued in this fashion, he’d soon break the record for the longest tenure in office.
He’s still in his sixties. Kijima's era will continue for another 10 to 20 years. As a young man, I myself am steadily getting older.
This will be my last chance to make a move.
“That's why I'm going to make sure I'm in the right place at the right time.”
A temporary pause in the White Room.
Whether it’ll be six months or five years, there’s no telling how long it’ll last, but the last thing I want is for it to be publicized. But it would be a relief to know that Naoe's side is on the same page.
He’s surely plotting and scheming to somehow bury the matter in the dark.
The car arrived and Tabuchi opened the back seat door.
Kamogawa slowly climbed into the passenger seat.
“Tabuchi, what about the arrangements?”
“As planned, the children will be supervised and managed by a temporary orphanage.”
“And your son—are you sure about this?”
“I'm not going to give him preferential treatment just because he's my son. But at least as long as he's the best of the best in the White Room, he's entitled to it, to the point it makes me hesitate, but in another sense, that's also meaningful.”
We drove to our destination and waited for Kiyotaka to leave the clinic.
“Even so, it's a counseling clinic… did something happen to Kiyotaka-kun?”
“No. I sent him there because there was someone who really wanted to meet Kiyotaka. It's a request from a man who has a considerable amount of money invested in the White Room, so I had no choice.”
“They want to see him, huh?”
“It's shallow. They think that's a way to close the wound, but they don't realize that it's counterproductive.”
Ishida, who came out of the clinic first, joined me.
“When was the last time you saw Kiyotaka?”
“Well, it's been about five or six years since I last saw your son. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he’s grown up.”
“...Are you looking forward to it?”
Ishida, who had just gotten on board, stared at Kamogawa with a suspicious look on his face.
“What? Did I say something strange?
“That thing is a monster. It's not something you should look at with such a carefree mind.”
“A monster? That's your son, sir. You shouldn't have said that…”
“Ishida is one of the ones who’s been watching over Kiyotaka since the moment he was born.”
He was allowed to put it any way he liked.
He was more qualified than I, who was only related to Kiyotaka by blood.
He had been trained to such a degree of perfection that it was almost unimaginable for him to be a young boy about to enter the third year of junior high. However, there were many things that were missing in return.
This was probably one of the reasons why Ishida calls him a monster.
Kamogawa frowned at Ishida's lack of restraint and looked out the window.