T/N: Spoilers regarding Izaya in Volume 13.
Anyone who had stayed in the city for a fair amount of time would be familiar with this rumour.
Those who commuted daily to the commercial district near the train station would know it was not just a rumour.
Guard rails ripped from the pavement.
Broken road signs.
Crushed vending machines.
These disconcerting parts and pieces, when sighted, could only be the result of a single human being.
He was a man whose most notable features were the bartender uniform he wore regularly, and his striking blond-dyed hair and sunglasses.
He worked a job of collecting overdue debts from the customers of telekura, online dating sites, cabaret clubs and the like, and was commonly seen in Ikebukuro’s commercial district, especially around Sunshine Street and 60-Storey Street.
If that were all, he would be no more than a man who worked a somewhat grey-area job; yet there was no question that he was the best-matched for the title of ’Strongest’ in Ikebukuro, childish as the term was.
If one were to cite the rumours surrounding Heiwajima Shizuo, there would be too many to count:
They said he swung a vending machine around with one hand.
They said he ripped a guard rail off the pavement with one hand.
They said he sawed through a car using a road sign.
They said he stood up just fine even after being hit by a garbage truck.
They said he had lifted a refrigerator when he was in elementary school.
They said he had once tamed a tiger.
They said he liked vanilla milkshakes.
They said he had acquired a Russian assassin as a lackey.
They said a knife could not stab further than one millimeter into him.
They said a bullet failed to pierce his muscle.
They said he liked cream anmitsu.
They said he had once destroyed a building.
They said he chased some bosozoku away swinging a streetlight around.
They said he was hit with a metal pipe and the pipe was the one dented.
They said only a ballpoint pen from Nebula could pierce his muscle.
They said he had kicked a car around like a football.
They said he gripped a lump of coal so tight the pressure turned it into diamond.
They said he liked creme caramel.
They said apparently the prominent actor Hanejima Yuuhei was his younger brother.
They said he threw a person higher than a building.
They said he liked pancakes with a lot of syrup.
They said he just liked sweet things.
There was no way to tell which of these rumours were true and which were exaggerated, but they were legends anyone who knew of Shizuo could imagine to be true.
Some theorised that the abrupt cease of action from the serial slasher that had once plunged Ikebukuro into the pit of terror was due to Shizuo retaliating when he was attacked.
There were videos of him actually throwing vending machines and waving streetlights around on the internet, but most who had not seen it in real life would simply comment that those were well-done graphics.
It was true that he was the older brother of the popular actor Hanejima Yuhei, but even if there was video proof, perhaps it would be too easy to think something so unbelievable was faked by the TV station.
But even amongst rumours like these, as of late something had caught particular interest and was surfacing in gossip.
They said Heiwajima Shizuo was a friend of the Headless Rider.
This was not a baseless rumour tying the two together simply due to their common status as urban legends.
Heiwajima Shizuo had been witnessed going around with the Headless Rider countless times.
Like seeing a famous football player and a famous baseball player laughing together on the street, to those who knew the stories surrounding each of them, these fellow legends’ bond was a shocking image carved into memory.
And now that the Headless Rider had vanished from the city –
A turning point made its way to this other ‘living legend’.
Evening. A certain parlour in Ikebukuro.
It was a fruit parlour in a department store in Ikebukuro.
Many of the customers were female, but there were also male customers who seemed to have just ended work.
Amongst them were two who did not appear to be salarymen.
One was a man in a bartender’s uniform, eating a gorgeous parfait with mangoes sliced into rosettes; the other was a man with dreadlocks, having a panini with seasonal vegetables on the side.
“So, you said you wanted a qualification?”
The man with dreadlocks – Tanaka Tom – replied, as the hand he was eating the panini with came to a rest.
Following, the man in the bartender uniform – Heiwajima Shizuo – continued on the topic.
“Yeah; Tom-san, you have many qualifications, right? Like, what…”
“Ahhh… I have… First would be the estate agent cert, and then, well, I only got up to the 2nd grade for both, but there’s the Kanji and English proficiency tests. And then there’s the one for land surveying, journalism, and I’ve the 3rd grade for the clerical skills test…”
Tom continued listing numerous qualifications, as Shizuo looked on him respectfully.
“Wow… That’s amazing.”
They had just completed their work quota for the day; the sun had already set outside.
Normally they would return to the office to report and then go on their separate ways, but Shizuo had said he had something to discuss, and seeing as they were peckish they had ended up in this store.
“Nah, it’s nothing – I just thought getting some qualifications might save me from going jobless… If it weren’t for this job I might have gotten more.”
“Are there any useful ones I might be able to get?”
“That’s sudden of you. Are you thinking of changing jobs?”
As Shizuo had never before said anything about this, Tom asked out of confusion.
“Ah, no; I’m satisfied with this job, and I’m not thinking of changing… But I mean. I just kind of want to be strong at something that can give me confidence, or something…”
Heiwajima Shizuo possessed monstrous strength and durability beyond human limits.
His superior Tom knew this as well as anyone else.
But he did not say, ‘Isn’t that superstrength of yours more than enough?’
Because he knew there was no way Shizuo himself would have any liking for such a violent strength.
“Mm, I see. It’s not like our company’s very legal, either, so it wouldn’t be surprising for it to just up and vanish someday.”
There Tom began to run through some ideas in his head.
“Hmm… There are plenty of qualifications to go for, but a lot of them require job experience… Wait a minute.”
Tom took out his smartphone and began to browse for information on the internet.
“There are quite some qualifications you can go for on your own – jewellery coordinator, park warden, all sorts… Oh, there’s even a test for world heritage?”
“I’m not very familiar with world heritage…”
“Well, it’s normal to start off getting a qualification by thinking you want to do something. Do you have anything you want to do outside of your current job?”
Tom asked this frankly, and Shizuo thought for a moment before he replied.
“If I had a clear idea it would narrow things down a bit, wouldn’t it? But I still can’t see anything I want to do in the future.”
“Then let’s not talk about the present; how about when you were a kid?”
“At a time like this it’s important to go back to your roots too, you know. Surely when you were a kid you had one or two dreams for the future.”
As Tom said this to him, Shizuo began to think once more.
–A dream – my dream?
–Right, I had something like that.
After thinking for a few more seconds, Shizuo remembered what he had written for his elementary school graduation anthology.
“Yeah… Right, that was it.”
“Did you remember?”
Shizuo, reminiscing, nodded fiercely as he replied.
“I think I wanted to be a detective.”
Whether it suited Shizuo was complicated to think of.
That it was a dream from elementary school suggested that Shizuo’s aspiration had not been the investigation of extramarital affairs and such real life detectives did, but rather the job of detectives in movies and comics.
But even fictional detectives had all sorts.
Those who used logical reasoning to track down murderers or other criminals – the brainy type.
And those who did their job dutifully and collected evidence, fighting off the occasional attack from the enemy – the fighter type.
There were also hybrid types like Sherlock Holmes; no matter that he had brought up detectives – there was no singular image things could be narrowed down to.
If it were a fighter-type detective like in a movie, there would be no occupation more befitting of Shizuo, but sadly enough they were not living in a world of movies. Tom could not imagine a Shizuo that went around carrying out duties like doing background checks and patting people down.
–It would be interesting if he had a brainy-type companion…
–The brainy type, huh.
Tom ran through all of the people he knew who seemed smart.
As he did so, a certain informant’s face came to mind, and he quickly erased the image.
–…No way, that’s the one guy that just can’t do.
–I can’t even picture them standing next to one another peacefully.
–They’re not at a level where they can be foils to each other like in a movie; more like one where just seeing each other’s face has them trying to kill one another…
–Speaking of which, that guy’s really vanished from the city.
While Tom was thinking such things, Shizuo, as if having come to terms with things on his own, began to nod.
“Yeah… I see – that’s it, Tom-san. Staying with this job for so long, somehow, it might be because it’s like the image of the detective I wanted to be as a kid.”
At this, Tom thought back on Shizuo and the job they had done up till now.
Searching for people who had disappeared while holding onto a debt, occasionally battling with debtors who turned on them and attacked.
As he remembered this cycle of events, Tom smiled bitterly and shook his head.
“I don’t need to be reminded again of just how hazardous this job is…”
30 minutes later. Ikebukuro West Gate Park.
As the two were on their way back to report at the office, Tom spoke up again.
“It’s quite rare to hear you talk about things like that.”
Shizuo, with an expression quieter than usual, replied.
“I mean… I was thinking that it’s about time for me to change, too…”
“It must have been Raira Academy’s entrance ceremony today. I saw lots of new students, with this shine in their eye.”
“Yeah, there were a lot of them in uniform today.”
Tom said this, looking around the park.
Of course, there were very few in uniform here at this time of day, but there were plenty of young people gathered in the park.
There were all kinds from the honest sort to those who with the air they gave off could only be delinquents, but unlike a few years ago when colour gangs were still rampant, now there was no trace of them at all.
Shizuo gazed at this scene himself, and said, emotionally:
“Now the flea is gone I feel like the city’s really quietened down. When I think of how it’s been like this for more than a year, somehow I feel like I need to up my game, too…”
“Yeah. Those twins are still as noisy as always, though.”
“Well, they being themselves isn’t causing trouble for anyone.”
Just as they said this, they spotted one half of the twins they were speaking of.
“Oh, speak of the devil. The other younger one’s still at Rakuei Gym?”
Tom said this, and looked towards the girl in question, Orihara Kururi –
Something was odd.
A group of delinquents were gathered in front of her and looked liked they were up to no good; rather than flirting, it looked more like they were trying to force her to follow them.
“Hey, I thought there were less idiots like that around recently.”
Ignoring Tom, who said this wearily, Shizuo was already walking towards them.
“Ah, wait, Shizuo…”
“That’s why I’m saying, come couple up with all of us.”
“We’re celebrating for our senpai who just got out of jail, see? A party’s not complete without a pretty girl, right?”
“You look exactly like our senpai’s type.”
The punks said this as they surrounded Kururi.
Kururi heaved a small sigh, and although her voice was soft, she expressed herself firmly.
I’d rather not
“As I said, you can’t say no.”
“We could force you into a car and hurt you or we could enjoy ourselves together – you know the better deal for you, right? Right?”
Behind them was a man with his back to them, sitting on a post.
He was probably their ‘senpai’ who had just got out of jail.
At this point, another man’s voice addressed them.
“Oi, stop it.”
“Huh? What’s wrong with you. Where’d a bartender come from?”
They glared with plain disgust at the man in the bartender suit who had suddenly appeared.
“I know this girl. Won’t you let her off?”
The delinquents, whose threatening glares had failed them, acted rashly in their anger.
“Being the hero isn’t cool, idiot.”
One of them doused the man in the bartender suit with the plastic bottle in his hand.
And with that everyone surrounding them understood that these punks were not local.
Because if they were anyone staying in Ikebukuro, they would have known just how dangerous an act that had been.
The orange juice dripping from the plastic bottle soaked through the hair and clothes of the man who had come between them.
At the sight of this, Kururi quietly shrunk back, and the man with dreadlocks who had been watching from a distance, after frowning, put his hands together with pity in his eyes.
Still unaware of what they had done, one of the delinquents cried out to the senpai who had just returned from prison behind them.
“Horada-san! Horada-san! We can deal this shitty bastard one, can’t we!”
And then, the man named Horada stood slowly, and spoke.
“Ah, it can’t be helped, I don’t wanna go back in right after coming out. Just break his arms and legs, don’t do anything fatal…”
At that point Horada turned towards them, and saw the face of the man standing there.
At the same time, time stopped for him completely.
Horada was gaping, his face pale as a sheet.
Right after the delinquents called out to him –
The man in the bartender suit gripped one of their faces in his hand with a crack.
“Hey… Did you know?”
“?! ?! ?!”
At the sudden restriction and pain, the delinquent flailed his limbs about.
It was as if a giant vise was clamping down on his face.
To the delinquents, who still failed to understand what was happening, the man in the bartender suit said:
“Humans… die easily, you know… It’s possible that, by the shock of being splashed from a plastic bottle, someone would suffer myocardial infarction and die, right?”
“Y, you! Hey, what the hell are you doing!”
The other delinquents began to tug at the man, but as though he was a giant tree with roots dug into the ground, he was immoveable.
“In other words, you just tried to kill me, didn’t you…?”
“Th, this guy, what’s he saying…”
The panicking delinquents looked towards Horada as one –
His legs were shaking, and trembling violently, he tried to escape.
“H… H… Heiwajima…”
Behind him rang out the roar of the man in the bartender suit, Heiwajima Shizuo.
“In other words… Even if I kill you you can’t say a thing, haaaaaaargh!”
Then the delinquent whose face was in his hand was thrown hard, and sent flying into Horada’s back.
Seeing the tragic scene that followed, Tom sighed and murmured to himself.
“Well, if it were him from the past, he would’ve beaten them up the moment Kururi was involved…”
As he looked on at the delinquents getting beaten up one by one, and the man who had come out of prison trying to crawl away, Tom shrugged and continued.
“Maybe he’s grown, just a little.”