Chapter 20: Center of the World (7)
They soaked in the bath until they were ready to get out, cooled off in the room, and dozed until evening.
“I should get going for dinner.” Ushio was lying down next to Kei and started to get up. “Since I’m here with a group, they’re strict with the meal times.”
“What did the other guys do today?”
“Fishing and biking around the ravine. I told them that I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t go.”
Thinking how Ushio stayed behind by himself waiting for him instead of going out with his friends, Kei finally felt awful for imposing on him. He really didn’t know why he had to come when Ushio had probably looked forward to this trip.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ushio said lightly, reading Kei’s expression. “I did plenty of fishing, even caught myself a big one.”
“Are you talking about me?”
“Well, you did splash and flounder about like a deflowered maiden.”1
“Shut up and go!”
Kei was having dinner brought up to his room, and he didn’t want the attendant finding them together either. He really couldn’t relax when he was outside. Kei followed Ushio to the door, and Ushio pulled him in for a hug at the entryway. They exchanged a long kiss.
“…I’ll come again later at night.”
“Around what time?”
“I don’t think it’ll be too late. Everyone should be exhausted from going out all day, and they’ll probably fall down drunk in no time.”
Ushio then brushed his lips against Kei’s ear and whispered, “So wait for me.”
“It feels a little like a secret rendezvous. I kinda like it.”
Kei had thought the same thing, but he was too embarrassed to say it out loud. Instead, he pushed Ushio out the door.
After about an hour, the attendant arrived to lay out a gorgeous spread of dishes, an amount of food far too much for Kei to finish by himself, and an autograph sheet and pen were offered to him like it was a part of the meal service. Kei refused the offer of a personal server as he sat down at the low table to sample all of the dishes. Due to an unexpected bout of exercise, he had become quite hungry, and he had to admit that it wasn’t so bad spending an evening flipping through the shows on prime time as he indulged in an extravagant meal.
Kei finished his dinner for one, and after the attendant came to clean up the table, he sat down in an armchair by the window to finally take in the view. However, it was dark outside, and unlike Tokyo, there were no traces of artificial lighting. If he concentrated hard enough, he could make out the silhouettes of mountains against the starry night sky. It was a moonless night. The trip was extremely costly, but Kei thought that it was well worth it in the end. He was able to enjoy a nice soak in the bath, eat a delicious meal, laze around doing nothing, and forget all about work.
Kei sat back to sink deeply into the armchair and closed his eyes, when all of a sudden, a loud boom came from the outside. It sounded far away, and Kei thought that it was thunder at first. He frantically righted himself up to turn around and examined the view outside. There was a red light that wasn’t there before, and it illuminated the grove of trees near a bridge upstream of the river. A cloud of black smoke drifted up towards the sky.
Was it a fire? Kei hopped out of the chair as he pondered what had happened. He might as well see with his own eyes what it was.
Just as Kei tried to run out the door, he nearly ran into Ushio, who had arrived right at that moment.
“What’s wrong?” Ushio asked with a serious expression, noticing Kei’s unusual state.
“Didn’t you hear the loud noise just now?”
“The one that sounded like a firework?”
“Yeah. Something’s burning nearby.”
That was all Kei knew at the moment, and he dashed down to the lobby with Ushio trailing after him. He asked the front desk to call 119, and then he recognized the attendant standing in front of the gift shop.
He approached her and said, “Excuse me.”
“Oh! Thank you very much for earlier.”
“Oh, it’s all right, but more importantly, I’d like to ask if I may rent two bicycles right now?”
“Um, but the bicycle rentals are only permitted during the day…”
“I’m in a terrible hurry, so please make an exception. I promise to return them as soon as we’re done.”
Kei made his request staring directly into her eyes, and she immediately went to retrieve two tagged keys for them. Kei thanked her, and they hurried quietly to the bicycle rack outside.
“What are you going to do once you get there?”
“I don’t know.”
Maybe Kei was a little poisoned from reporting on the scenes so much lately, but he couldn’t sit around and do nothing. The slope wasn’t too difficult to handle, and after a 10-minute ride, they could see the source of the fire. There was a clearing in the trees with a gate, and beyond it was a large building covered in flames.
Kei parked his bicycle on the side of the path and went around asking the scattered crowd of onlookers what the building was. Out of the many responses of Not sure and Sorry, I’m just a visitor, he hit upon one of the locals: a middle-aged man from the neighborhood.
“It’s an inn. Pretty old, and it’s been under renovations since spring.”
“Was there anyone inside?”
“There shouldn’t be at night. There was a time when people snuck in as ‘urban explorers,’ but it died down once access to the building became stricter. See how there’s even barbed wire on the gate?”
“Do you have any idea how the fire could have started?”
“Hmmm, I wonder if it could be the main bath area? This whole area draws water up underground from the hot springs.”
Kei froze in fear as the word “gas” crossed his mind. He hadn’t smelled anything suspicious, but there was the possibility that he could have been desensitized to it.
“When you say hot springs, did you smell any sulfur…?”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about catastrophic gas leaks. It’s only naturally occurring gas. Otherwise, I’d be too scared to even approach this place.”
“I see. Thank you very much. Will you be staying to observe for a while? If so, may I ask to speak with you again after about 5 minutes?”
“Thank you, I’ll be right back.”
Kei didn’t wait for the man to respond as he headed back to where Ushio was standing and handed him his personal cell phone.
“Film some footage and email it to Shitara-san. I have the show’s email address saved on it. Oh, yeah, a 15-second version and a 30-second version would be good. You don’t have to be exact with the timing.”
It was a little past 9 pm, and there was the possibility that they could break into The News after 10 pm with a report. Ushio seemed to have guessed what Kei was thinking and asked, “Is it really okay for me to film it?”
“You’re a pro after all. But you won’t get any credit or commission for it, just some small text in the corner that says ‘Viewer submitted video.’”
Under the network stipulations, there could be a small 5,000 yen2 reward. And Asazou goods thrown in.
“…Okay then.” Ushio nodded. “I’ll go find a good spot to take it.” He started to run off but immediately turned and came back.
“I think you really do love your job.”
“I don’t love it,” Kei answered. “…I don’t love it, but I have to do my job anyway. Because we wouldn’t be us if I didn’t do this. That’s all there is to it. I’ll see you later.”
Kei said his piece, turned around, and called Shitara on his work cell phone.
“There was an explosion at a hot springs inn? And now it’s on fire? In Nagano?”
“Yes. There doesn’t appear to be anyone inside, but there is the possibility of the fire spreading to the forest.”
“Hold on just a sec—… Sorry, yeah, there’s an alert from the fire department that came in. Apparently, they’re sending a helicopter.”
“I’m currently obtaining footage for an insert, which I’ll send over when it’s done. I also plan to obtain a reaction from a local.”
“All right. I’d really like to break in at the top of the show with live coverage from the scenes… Is it really far from the city? I wonder if I should put in a request with Asahi Nagano.”
“I think that they should arrive a little after the broadcast starts. The fire department and police cars should start arriving here too.”
“Got it. I’ll call if I have any updates for you.”
Kei returned to the man from earlier, and under the condition that his face wouldn’t be shown, recorded an interview on his cell phone and sent it over to the show. The image quality was a little rough, but it was impressive how videos taken on the latest cell phones could look on TV. Kei obtained the name of the inn, searched for a phone number to call on its website, but received no answer.
As Kei followed up on various tasks, several fire trucks pulled up to the gate, forming a single-file line. After destroying the lock, firefighters entered the site and carried in their fire hoses. The fire suddenly grew fiercer, creating a large, unexpected commotion, and the wind was heated as it blew over people’s faces. It seemed like a beam had burned and collapsed, because there was the sound of a loud wooden crack similar to a tree snapping. Yellow police tape was put up all around the area.
Kei took notes on his email, sending them off in rapid succession, thinking they could help the script writers, when Shitara called.
“There’s a team heading to your location as we speak. They should arrive pretty soon.”
“There was already a team in the area planning to film live coverage of a nearby morning market for the local morning show. They’re equipped with LiveU field units.”
It was a portable live broadcast system that operated on the cellular networks. The equipment fit into a backpack that connected directly to the camera, and with it, there was no need to send a large broadcast van.
“Once they arrive, we need to test the connection with the production control room. It’s cutting it close. Hmm, I don’t know if we’ll make it in time, but let’s give it a try anyway.”
Kei didn’t have the chance to ask for the names of the crew members, but following a line of police cars was a taxi that had started to pull over. Kei headed over, thinking that it could be the team.
“Quit dragging your feet and pay the damn guy already! Why the hell did you wait until we stopped to pull out your wallet!? …Ask for the damn receipt, stupid! Hey, open up the trunk!!”
Kei had an extremely bad feeling about the team after hearing that voice. A man exited the front passenger door, caught sight of Kei, and frowned.
“Huh? Kid, what the hell are you doing here?”
“My name is Kunieda.”
What the hell are you doing here? That’s my line. …Oh, he did mention something about going around the affiliate stations, I guess.
Kei’s willpower dropped for a split-second, but since he already understood Nishikido’s skill and personality, it would be far easier to deal with him than a camera operator whom he had never worked with before. After briefly explaining the situation, Nishikido commented, “Heh, you must be attracting incidents. You know how there are guys who keep reporting from accidents or crime scenes, and then incidents seem to follow them wherever they go? They’ll be on vacation and something will happen, or they’ll run into something while they’re out doing errands.”
I don’t want to live a life like Conan-kun, thanks.3
“Did you hear any details about the live broadcast from Shitara-san?”
“Any details? The guy called me up out of the blue and ordered us to head out without saying anything else. I was about to head to the baths too, damn him.”
Kei ignored the grumbling and looked over at the crew. It was a small team built for a mobile LiveU operation, intending to cover soft news for a morning show. There were a total of 4 people: Nishikido on camera, lights, sound, and a young man who was probably an AD.
“Excuse me, but…” Kei turned to Nishikido, wanting to settle their game plan as soon as possible in order to make the broadcast in time. “Where is the reporter and field director?”
They needed someone who could speak in front of the camera and someone who could listen to the broadcast and give the team instructions. There was no getting around these two prerequisites.
“They’re not here,” Nishikido answered.
“We planned to have a local beauty queen be the reporter for our coverage tomorrow. She’s not trained for the news, so there’s no sense in bringing her with us. As for the field director, his wife is in labor and he headed back to the city earlier in the evening. He got down on his knees and cried, sobbing how it’s a difficult delivery and that he’d be back by 4 am in time for the broadcast. How were we supposed to say no to that?”
That’s true, but…
“…I suppose that means we won’t be able to cover this live.”
“That’s what I tried to explain, but Shitara kept yammering in my ear to go, go, go!!”
That was when Ushio returned from his filming.
“Are you in the middle of a meeting? Whoa, this is my first time seeing a LiveU unit. Would you mind letting me take a look at it after you’re done? Will the cellular connection be stable enough?” Ushio was completely undaunted as he addressed Nishikido, who looked like one of those wrathful guardian statues adorning the gates of old Buddhist temples.4
Don’t try to talk to him, his ugly might rub off on you.
“Well, we’re still pretty close to the city. I think it’s scarier to broadcast directly to Tokyo than to use the cell networks… Uh, who the hell are you?”
“He’s a personal acquaintance of mine. He’s been helping me gather footage to use for the video insert.”
Oh, right. We have another person here.
Ushio should be able to help with the broadcast. Kei pointed at the nervous-looking young man who was fidgeting and looking around. He asked, “Is this AD an employee of Nagano Asahi?”
Kei thought that the guy looked completely useless, but he guessed that the guy’s position at the network was why they needed to bring him along.
“Yeah, that’s Narayama.” Nishikido sighed as he made a face. “On paper, he’s an announcer just like you.”
“What do you mean by on paper?”
“He’s a new hire, but apparently on his first live assignment, there was a big screw up. The order of the scripts for the video footage got mixed up somehow. Yeah, it was the production staff’s fault, but he couldn’t recover from it and froze up in front of the camera. They quickly went to commercial, but it apparently traumatized him enough that he can’t say a word when the cameras are live. The station decided to train him up to be a director and sent him along as an AD.”
Worthless idiot—can’t speak on camera, can’t direct. Ugh.
Kei started to regret this entire endeavor. He was on vacation, and he just wanted to hand off the information and leave the team to handle all the work.
Dammit, this job brings me nothing but trouble, headaches, and last-minute emergencies.
“What do you want to do? Tell us now if you plan abandoning the entire idea.”
“We’re doing this,” Kei declared. “We can have a back-and-forth with the studio. The reporter will be the announcer here, and I will be the field director.”
“I’ve reported from the scenes more than enough to understand how the process works. It’s more practical to have me do it than a new hire.”
“And I’d say it’s not practical to have him talk in front of the camera. It’ll be broadcast all over the country live. You’re probably used to it, but it’s terrifying for everyone else. And you want him to just talk with the studio?”
“I think it poses a lower risk than having him read off a script by himself. Asou-san can help cover for him.”
It was a do-or-die situation, and yet Nishikido looked like he was relishing in the pressure.
Kei approached Narayama and asked, “Please give me your full name.”
Narayama was fairly good-looking, having been hired as an announcer, but there was something about him that made him look indecisive or unreliable. Kei supposed that most recent college graduates would be similar.
“Your name will be displayed on a banner graphic during the coverage. I need to tell the control room so they can prepare it.”
“We don’t have much time, so please be quick about it. Hmm, so it’s Takahiro?” Kei read the name off of the employee ID badge hanging from a lanyard on the guy’s neck.
“I’m sure that you heard us talking about it just now, but I’m putting you in front of the camera, Narayama-kun.”
“I can’t do it.”
Bastard, you can talk back to me now, huh?
“Don’t worry, I’ll support you right by the camera, and we’ll prepare the wording for you in advance. You just have to watch my cue cards and read.”
“I can’t do it.”
I’m smiling so warmly at you, so who the hell are you to refuse me?
“Even if you can’t do it, do it anyway. It’s your job.”
Kei had to put together a live report with this motley crew that was thrown together at the last minute; he didn’t have time to deal with the guy’s psychological problems. He had Nishikido link up to Asahi TV, checked to see if they could have a back-and-forth, and discussed the contents of the questions and answers. In the meantime, Ushio tried to calm Narayama down and encourage him.
“It’ll be fine. There’s soccer on today, and no one’s really watching the news.”
“But that’s not the problem…”
“Tsuzuki-san.” Kei handed Ushio the cell phone used for communicating with the control room. “Please use this to keep in contact with the control room and update me continuously on their status. Once our coverage starts, I’ll be wearing an earpiece to listen to the sound of the broadcast feed while issuing instructions to Narayama-kun. I will need you to keep track of the time and announce how many seconds we have remaining. Please stand next to the camera and relay in detail all of the important information to the team.”
“Hey! You people are in the way. What do you think you’re doing over there?”
A police officer was heading their way, waving his hands around him to try to chase them off. With all of his live coverage experience, Kei could read the behavior of police officers and firefighters whenever they approached—whether they wanted the team to move because they were physically blocking something important, or whether they just found the team annoying and wanted them gone. Apparently, the officer was the latter.
Kei stopped Nishikido from stepping out in front of the officer. He bowed his head graciously and said, “Good evening, thank you very much for your hard work tonight.”
Having a degree of name recognition was useful for a time like this.
“I’m Kunieda from Asahi TV. We are covering this incident as part of our news coverage for our viewers. We haven’t stepped beyond the police tape; we’re not blocking access to anything that the firefighters require; and I don’t believe we have broken any rules. However, if we are causing any specific inconvenience, please tell us exactly what we’ve done wrong and we will correct it right away.”
“Well, I’m not sure…”
The officer was unable to come up with an argument as Kei stared him down. The officer muttered complaints under his breath as he retreated from the team.
“Looks like you know how to handle things.”
“When we were on location together for the food poisoning story, you purposely chewed out that store employee so that I didn’t have to face him, didn’t you?”
“What about it?” Nishikido looked like the incident barely crossed his mind. “It’s our job to put ourselves out there and protect the presenters from any interference. In return, you repay us by delivering in front of the camera. Hey!! Isn’t that right, Narayama!?”
Narayama shrank away with a shriek as Nishikido suddenly raised his voice to yell at him.
“A senior colleague from the flagship station just stuck his neck out to protect you, ya know!? Accept your damn fate. If you fold with your tail between your legs, how are you supposed to call yourself a man?”
Even so, live reporting was more difficult than they had let on, and it wasn’t something that people could power through on guts alone. They didn’t have an on-air monitor they could use to check how they looked on TV, and they only had this one shot at it. If they were to go by Shitara’s words to keep the viewers in the forefront while making their show, Kei would be a far better choice to stand in front of the camera. Asou was there to support him, and even without a field director, they could make it work.
But if they didn’t take drastic measures now to force Narayama to stand in front of the camera, he would probably never be an announcer again. Maybe he could still make it on radio, but he would be labeled a failure as a TV announcer. Not that it mattered one bit to Kei if Narayama decided to give up this profession. He had never met the guy before, and he was under no obligation to help him.
But didn’t you become an announcer because this was what you had wanted? Didn’t you work your ass off to achieve this? Are you really okay with running away, crying that you can’t do this?
Various thoughts ran through Kei’s head as he grabbed a sketchbook and marker from the equipment bag and started furiously scribbling out a script for the report. Beads of sweat rolled down his neck.
“We have 5 minutes until we’re live,” Ushio announced as he listened to the call connected to the control room. At the same time, Kei’s work cell phone started to ring. He thought that it was Shitara when he answered, but it was Asou.
“Spare me. I’m not having a back-and-forth with an amateur.”
The first thing out of Asou’s mouth was a strike declaration that would put all their efforts to waste. Kei was speechless for a moment, but then he gathered himself and argued, “He is not an amateur. He has had all the proper training as an announcer.”
“But he’s never broken on the air before, has he? He might as well be an amateur. Let him have his playtime on the local news. You can’t be sane if you’re thinking of putting him at the top of a show that’s airing across the country. You think you can treat my show like a practice dummy?”
“I will tell him everything that he needs to do his job.”
“I don’t understand your insistence for the guy. If it’s going to be such a hassle, stand in front of the camera yourself. At any rate, I’m not saying a word.”
“Asou-san, please give us your cooperation,” Kei urged, but there was only a bitter laugh over the phone that sounded more cold than bitter.
“This isn’t like you, Kunieda. What are you getting worked up for? This story may be fairly large, but it isn’t even in the Tokyo area. Nor has there been any casualties associated with this fire. It might look dramatic on TV, but I don’t think it’s a story worth breaking in with live coverage and risking a broadcast mistake.”
Asou was completely right. The entire time Kei had been thinking about calling the whole report off, especially if it meant he could avoid burning himself over it.
But… I just… I need to…
As Kei searched for the words to say but failing, suddenly his cell phone was snatched from his hand.
“Hey, Asou! Acting like a selfish bastard again? You never change, do you!?”
“Wait, Nishikido-san, that’s—”
“…Kunieda’s saying he wants to do this, so just let him do it.”
It was the first time that Nishikido had called Kei by his name. But Kei was more astonished by the words that he had wanted to do this.
That’s right. I want to try to do this. Even if it feels like things could go wrong in a million different ways, I want to do this live report. I want to make it successful.
Nishikido returned the cell phone, and Kei brought it back against his ear.
“Kunieda, what magic trick was that?”
“Nishikido-san. He never listens to anyone younger than him. You should have seen his personality.”
“I don’t think I did anything in particular…”
“Well, whatever. At our venerable elder’s request, I’ll agree to this live report of yours. If anything happens, it’s on your head as the field director. We’ll talk after you get back from your vacation.”
Accepting Asou’s all-out threat, Kei knew that it was only postponing the crisis that he faced, but at least he was able to get past this point. He turned to Nishikido to thank him.
“Thank you very much for covering for me.”
“I hate that bastard. He already went around with a big enough head, and now it’s so big the studio can barely contain it. …There are always bastards like him around.”
For a split-second, his eyes looked distant.
“Two minutes remaining.”
It was Ushio announcing the time. Kei put in his earpiece and approached Narayama, who was standing and looking stiff as a board.
“Are you all right?”
“I can’t do this.”
Narayama repeated his words with his face as pale as a ghost. The shakiness of the voice interspersed with the detergent commercial playing over Kei’s earpiece. If only the memories of failure could be dissolved with the power of enzymes, but it couldn’t be so easy. Things didn’t work that way—Narayama would have to wash everything clean by his own hands.
“I really can’t…”
Kei understood his feelings. He was in his position once before. If Ushio wasn’t there for him, he wouldn’t have been able to fight. But right now, it wasn’t the time to make him understand this point.
“Can you tell me why you wanted to become an announcer?”
“Didn’t you want to become one?”
“I did,” Narayama answered in a thin voice.
“One minute thirty seconds remaining.”
“I couldn’t get hired at any of the flagship or sub-flagship stations, but my friend did… He mocked me for getting into Nagano Asahi, but when I first received my offer, I was really happy about it…”
“I see.” Kei nodded and reached out to cover the pin mic attached to Narayama’s collar so that his voice wouldn’t reach the control room. “I don’t understand a damn thing about your experience.”
Oh, crap, I let that “damn” slip out. Oh, well, whatever.
Kei put on his best condescending expression.
“One minute remaining.”
“I was hired even though it never crossed my mind to be an announcer. They asked me nicely, so I accepted their offer. I can’t comprehend feeling happy at settling for a rundown local station.” The other side of Narayama’s collar was folded under, so Kei magnanimously fixed it for him. “Do you feel humiliated? Angry?”
“30 seconds remaining! Hey, it’s coming up fast!”
Kei glared at the eyes frozen in fear and lowered his voice to a level where only Narayama could hear him. “If you feel humiliated, then show me what you can do.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’re someone who truly loves your job, then show me the difference between me and you.”
Kei retreated directly below the camera and squatted with a stopwatch in one hand and the sketchbook in the other. He set the stopwatch and held open the sketchbook to issue his cues.
“—10 seconds until the title screen.”
This was the first time Kei ever had to take the count. He yelled loudly to the crew, “We’re standing by!”
His shout was a show of determination to himself. He had no other choice but to do it, so this was what he would do. This was what he wanted, so he just had to do it.
“Nine, eight, seven, six, five seconds to go.”
Kei spread open his fingers and folded them down one by one. Four, three, two, one.
Over his earpiece was the sound of the familiar opening music. After the title screen, there was the sound of Asou’s voice from the studio.
“After Asou-san finishes his comment, they’re coming to us,” Ushio reported.
“Good evening. This is The News. Tonight, we’re reporting a fire at a hot springs facility within Nagano Prefecture. The fire is still burning as we speak. We currently have Announcer Narayama from Nagano Asashi standing by at the scene. Narayama-san.”
Kei held up his cue card that read, We’re live!
Narayama didn’t respond to Asou’s call and remained stock still. Kei flipped to the page that read, Give a brief acknowledgement, as he tapped on it with his marker and mouthed, Speak, to try to give him instructions.
“Narayama-san, can you please tell us what the scene at the fire is like?”
“Narayama-kun, acknowledge him. Look at the cue cards.”
But it seemed like he didn’t hear Kei’s words at all. His frozen eyes could only stare into Nishikido’s camera. He was completely paralyzed.
“Narayama-san, can you hear me?”
Asou repeated his call and waited three seconds.
“I’m very sorry, it appears we may be having technical difficulties with the connection.”
Shit, this wasn’t good.
“How about we show you the view of the fire from the helicopter?”
It’s over, Kei thought. They’re cutting us off. I might be done too after I get back.
That was when Ushio yelled angrily from behind him. “Damn idiot!! Don’t you have something to say!? You’re an announcer for fuck’s sake! Say something! Don’t you dare cause an embarrassment to Kunieda Kei’s name!!”
Uh, if the mic picked your voice up, you’d be the broadcast mistake. What are you trying to do by pressuring him even more?
It was summer, but chills and sweat ran down Kei’s back.
However, Narayama suddenly started to speak, like he was given a signal to shake free from his hypnotized state.
“There is a large commotion in this quiet hot springs town. Right now, I am in front of the inn where the site of the fire is burning. There is the smell of smoke and embers in the air, and although you can’t see it very well in this darkness, there is a column of black smoke rising into the sky. There are currently six fire trucks present at the site, desperately trying to fight the fire so that it doesn’t spread to the neighboring mountains.”
There were times that his voice shook, but it was a clear and distinct voice. He had properly understood Kei’s cues as well.
“Do you know if anyone has been hurt at the site?”
Asou treated the hiccup as if nothing had happened and continued with his questioning.
“Not at this time. According to a neighbor, the site has been under renovations since spring. It is fortunate that the building is mostly empty. There is speculation that the fire may have started in the boiler room where water is drawn up from the underground springs.”
“It looks like quite a raging fire from what I can see. How does it compare to when it was burning earlier?”
“Yes, it’s quite fierce. I only arrived at the scene about 30 minutes ago, and the fire appears slightly calmer than it was before.”
Ushio reported, “They’re wrapping up the report and returning to the studio.”
“Narayama-san, thank you very much for your report.”
It’s done. Thank god.
Just as Kei went to take a deep breath, he saw a person beyond the yellow barricade tape who wasn’t a police officer nor a firefighter.
“Nishikido-san! Zoom in over there with the camera!”
As Kei pointed with his finger, he yelled to Ushio, “Don’t let them drop us yet! There’s a person inside!”
“Okay to stay live!”
Shortly after Ushio’s brief confirmation, Kei heard Asou say, “It appears that we have new information coming in.”
Good, we’re still live.
However, there were no written directives on cue cards that Kei could give to Narayama. He truly had to report what he saw and experienced. Just on the verge of relief, Narayama was once again gripped in anxiety, his face frozen like a Noh mask in panic.
Kei quietly prompted him. “Narayama-kun, start speaking. Just say whatever it is that you see. It will be fine, your words will reach the viewers.”
We’re trying so hard to reach the viewers, so don’t worry, it will reach them. So keep speaking until it does. That is our job as announcers.
“Beyond the police tape, there appears to be a person on the site of the building. Presently, a firefighter is supporting this person and walking over to the ambulance. There is one, no two people that have been found at the site, both of them men. Currently, we have no information about their ages or the reason why they were at the site.”
Kei raised his hand slightly above his head and squeezed it into a fist, the signal to stop talking.
“An ambulance is passing by. Let the viewers listen to the sirens for a while. Nishikido-san, please focus on the ambulance for now.”
“Tsuzuki-san, please ask the control room to prepare the video inserts. I’d like to show the viewers scenes of the fire one more time. Please transition from Narayama-kun’s face with a wipe.”
As the sounds of the ambulance sirens faded away, Ushio signaled the start of the video insert.
“After Asou-san finishes speaking, this time we’re truly wrapping up here!”
“We’ve just reported three victims, all male, saved from the scene of an explosion and fire accident at a hot springs facility in Nagano Prefecture. They were all able to walk over to the ambulance, but we have no further information about them at this time.”
Asou succinctly summarized the live report, sounding cool and composed despite receiving additional breaking updates to the situation, smoothing over the chaos of the on-scene reporting as he wove an illusion of perfectly still calm. He had a presence that imparted not even the slightest hint of imperfection—it was no wonder his head could fill the entire studio.
“We will update this breaking story if any new information comes in. In our next story…”
“We’re back to the studio. Our coverage is over.”
At Kei’s words, Nishikido smoothly lowered his camera and Narayama slumped down onto the ground.
“It’s over… I did it… Thank you…”
Moron, you call that a report? It was barely five minutes on camera, and your eyes were all over the place, your voice kept shaking, and you sped through all the lines. I’ll give you 20 points. That’s out of 20,000 points, got it?
However, Narayama was crying to himself, and so Kei only told him, “Thank you for your hard work,” and turned to answer a call from Shitara.
“Good work. I was a little nervous at the beginning and the end, but it turned out pretty well.”
“I’m very sorry for the trouble.”
“No, no, I should be sorry for interrupting your vacation. You can tell everyone it’s okay to leave. Nagano Asahi can handle everything else from here.”
“I will, thank you very much.”
Kei thanked Nishikido and the rest of the crew and turned to look at Ushio. “…Shall we go back?”
“Yeah,” Ushio answered, smiling brightly at Kei.
Ahhh, it’s over, Kei finally realized, but it wasn’t a bad feeling.
It was a strange night after all that had happened, but now everything was finally settled.
Just as they were returning to the spot where they had parked their bikes, Kei slipped on a patch of loose soil and tumbled to the ground. There was a sound like blunt metal ringing, coming from the impact of his head.