* 50 *

At a glance, everything seemed to be coming together. Almost too well, even.

Tokiwa went to a bar with Tsugumi and stayed there for an hour. After taking her to at the bus stop, he started walking for the train station. That part was his usual routine.
But that day, he took a strange route to the station. He purposefully walked places with few people, went down pitch black residential areas, shopping districts, and alleys.
It was like he was following a self-imposed rule that he had to turn at every corner he felt like turning. Unable to guess his destination, tailing him took a lot of effort.
Maybe he feels like walking alone, I thought. We all have those nights, don't we?

The air was cold as metal, and the stars shone piercingly.
The lights leaking out of houses seemed unusually lovely that winter night. It was even better with a bit of alcohol.

Finally, the time arrived. Tokiwa was headed for a bridge.

I had done a scrupulous investigation of the town, and I knew there were no places more suited for pushing someone to their death than that bridge.
The railing barely went higher than knee-level. It was easily high enough off the ground for the fall to kill him, but even if it miraculously didn't, being dropped into the river in frigid December would give him hypothermia and kill him with a heart attack.
By coming to such a place drunk, he was practically telling me to kill him.

I suddenly thought that if I let this chance pass, there would be none to follow. I don't know why, but I felt like this fourth one would absolutely be the last.
Yes, there would be times when not everything was in order, but if I couldn't do anything even in this ideal situation, there was no chance I'd be able to in a less ideal one.
I have to finish this here, I told myself.

Tokiwa slowly walked to around the middle of the bridge. I closed the distance between us, keeping my footsteps quiet.
With all this thin snow piled up, it could even be that people would think he slipped, I considered.
Yes, I was oddly calm. Even now, I was able to think about these things as if it wasn't even real.
My body still didn't particularly recognize that I was about to kill a man.

It was when I was only a couple meters away, and thought I could just run up and push him.
Tokiwa suddenly stopped - I had no time to guess why - and sat on the railing, as if to peer down at the river.
Then he turned around and offered me his hand.
Like he had known I was there all along.
"Hey, you sit down too," he said, directing next to him.

Many thoughts ran through my head.
How long ago had he noticed me? How far?
Did he know my intent? If he did, why was he making himself so defenseless?
Did he want to talk to me? If he did, why did it need to be here?
If he knew I was tailing him from the start, then did he take those empty paths to reliably guide me along? But what was the point of that?
Maybe he had only noticed me in the past few minutes - if that were so, did it disrupt my plans?
Did he mean to confuse me and take the chance to run away? No, that hardly seemed effective - he should have just run in that case.

I thought all this in a matter of seconds, and unsure of what to do now, I sat next to him like he told me to.
Even then I could have easily pushed Tokiwa to his death. Perhaps I didn't because I was just too surprised by, or rather curious about, his actions.
In that sense, I played right into his strategy.

Chapter 51

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