Night had finally come. The only thing that lit the pitch-black street were the sparse lights that lined the sidewalk, but it was enough. There wasn’t much farther to go.
Wakabayashi, his hands pushed into his pockets and his head lowered, continued to walk through the dim neighborhood. He had just gotten back from Tsubasa’s house--he had wanted to talk to the boy, just for a bit--but his mother said he was out. He couldn’t believe it. Tsubasa had never had a social life before. And had never wanted one, only soccer. He certainly had changed...
“Tsubasa’s become quite the popular guy...” Wakabayashi mused, his eyes never leaving the ground. “He’s probably out with that Souda, or something...” But that was ridiculous. He didn’t seem his type at all!
He had his answer soon enough. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a person walking down the street, coming toward him. A medium-sized, pointy-haired boy carrying a box that looked like it had come from a department store. There was no mistaking it. It was him. “Tsubasa!” Wakabayashi called.
However, Tsubasa didn’t seem to hear him. He just passed right by, apparently lost in thought. Wakabayashi watched, wide-eyed, as the boy disappeared down the street. That box... He recognized that brazen red symbol on the top. It made his head spin. A swastika. The emblem of the Nazi party.
“N..nante koto...” the goalkeeper whispered, feeling his entire body turn into ice. “Tsubasa...what have you done?” Letting out a choked cry, he turned and fled.
Tsubasa had just arrived home and stashed his uniform under a couch when the phone rang. Like his mother had taught him when he was a child, he picked it up right away. “Hello?” he said.
The person on the other end coughed. “Is your refrigerator running?” the caller asked.
Tsubasa’s eyes widened. That voice... It was like hot chocolate on a snowy day. He would never forget the low, comforting voice of his great friend Genzo Wakabayashi! At last! Wakabayashi kun, it’s you! I don’t have to be scared anymore...my great friend is here! “I think so,” the excited boy responded.
“Then you better go and catch it,” the caller said emotionlessly. This was followed by the dial tone.
Tsubasa blinked. He had hung up. Funny...that’s not like Wakabayashi kun at all. He loves talking. Placing the phone back on the hook, he headed for the kitchen. It was late. Maybe dinner was almost ready.
He hadn’t even reached the doorway when the phone rang again. Tsubasa dashed back to the phone and grabbed it on the second ring. “Hello?” he said eagerly.
“This is Pizza Hut,” the caller said.
Tsubasa raised an eyebrow. No. That’s definitely Wakabayashi kun. What in the world is going on? “Wakabaya--” he started to say.
The voice cut him off. “We have ten large pepperoni pizzas ordered this morning in your name.”
N..nani? Wakabayashi kun works for Pizza Hut? “But--” Tsubasa protested.
“We’re leaving them on your doorstep. We want you to pay for them right away. Within the hour.”
“But I didn’t--” Tsubasa stammered.
The voice grew cold. “We know where you live. If you don’t pay for the pizzas within one hour, we’ll blow up your house.” A clicking sound following this confirmed that the caller had, in fact, hung up after saying this.
Weird...definitely weird. Maybe he doesn’t know it’s me? Tsubasa shrugged, putting the phone back on the hook. About three seconds later, it rang again. Tsubasa picked up the receiver. “Is that you, Wakabayashi kun?” he asked.
Apparently, he had caught the caller off guard. “No,” the voice on the other end said hastily. “It’s George.”
“George?” Tsubasa asked incredulously. “George who?”
“George...Jetson,” the caller answered, fumbling for words. Then he hung up.
Tsubasa sighed. He let the phone drop to the floor, not bothering to put it back on the hook. Dinner could wait until tomorrow. He just wanted to go to bed.
“Damn you, Tsubasa! Pick up!” Hearing the dial tone, Wakabayashi slammed down the phone in anger. “Is that how you deal with your friends, Tsubasa? Just leave the phone off the hook and ignore them?!”
He jumped to his feet, nearly foaming at the mouth. “Or are you busy shooting the breeze with your precious Schneider? Maybe planning where to put your first concentration camp?!” With a frustrated cry, Wakabayashi threw himself on the ground and seized the phone. “Damn you, Tsubasa! Pick up!”
Hyuga leaned on the bokken he had been using as a cane, breathing heavily. After he managed to catch his breath, he turned to Wakashimazu. “Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t have any money?” he asked, a bit annoyed.
Wakashimazu didn’t answer. Colored spots were dancing before his eyes.
Takeshi and Sorimachi hopped out of the wheelbarrow, brushing hay off their clothes. “Thanks for the ride!” they chorused.
Wakashimazu responded by making a growling noise.
A few moments later, two no-named players arrived, lugging Kitazume’s ghastly body with them. Naturally, they always traveled with a chaperone. “What should we do with him, Captain?” one of them asked after the old man was dropped rather roughly to the ground.
Hyuga didn’t answer. He gazed up at the moon, his complexion strangely pale in its glow. After a minute or so, he glanced at the blobby form of his trainer. Could the man really pose a threat in this state?
No matter what he did to me, I can’t leave him here to die of exposure. Hyuga lowered his head, pensive. It’s dishonorable. Besides, if I’m kind to the elderly, I’ll go to Paradise when I die! “Put him in his office,” he finally said. “I’ve decided to spare him.”
The no-names complied. Takeshi smiled up at Hyuga, reaching for his arm in a protective manner. “You need to rest, Hyuga san,” he said. “When we get inside, lie down and I’ll get you something warm to drink, okay?”
Hyuga appeared mildly embarrassed, but he smiled. As the rest of his team filed into the building, he noticed that his goalkeeper was lagging behind significantly. “What’s wrong, Wakashimazu?” he asked.
Wakashimazu frowned. “I think I hurt my shoulder.”
Tsubasa was lying on the floor of his room, examining his “present” from S.S. Schneider when his mother entered the room, an odd expression on her face. Quickly, he shoved the box under his bed.
“Tsubasa, how long has the phone been off the hook?” she asked. “Your friend Genzo wants to talk to you. He says he’s been trying to reach you for almost an hour.”
“Really?” Tsubasa jumped up, suddenly very, very happy. “Wakabayashi kun’s on the phone? He wants to talk to me?”
His mother laughed at his enthusiasm. “Yes, Tsubasa! Now pick up the phone and talk to him before he hangs up!”
Tsubasa giggled happily, dashing out of his room and into the living room. He picked up the phone, still laughing. “Hello?” he giggled.
“I’m very sorry,” the caller said.
Wakabayashi kun! It was him! “Don’t be, Wa--” Tsubasa started to say.
The Wakabayashi voice cut him off. “I’m sorry, it was me who called you all those times. I’m not really a pizza delivery boy. I’m an ordinary kid, and those were prank phone calls.”
Tsubasa’s smile faded. What’s he talking about? “Wakabayashi kun...” he faltered.
The Wakabayashi voice trembled. “And I’m not really going to blow up your house...”
“...I’m just going to break your legs.” With that, Wakabayashi hung up.
Genzo Wakabayashi hung up the phone, tears streaming down his flushed face. After a moment’s pause, he picked up the cursed appliance, yanked it out of the wall, and threw it out the window. “Doushite...” He trembled violently, his eyebrows twitching with emotion. “Why...why did you pretend to be my friend, Tsubasa? Why did you lie to me and then run off with the one who destroyed my life? Why?!”
He could remember that hateful day well. The day his beautiful dream of playing with a professional German team was so brutally destroyed. It was a crisp, clear autumn day. The sun was shining brightly. Everything seemed perfect in the world. But it wasn’t just the weather that made the day so special. It was the last practice before a big game between Germany and Italy. Everybody on the German team was excited beyond belief, but none more than Genzo Wakabayashi...
TIME: One year earlier, Cologne.
The team had just gotten in formation to leave the field. Normally, such formalities would never be observed in a mere practice, but this was no ordinary team. This was the team of Karl Heinz Schneider, and nothing short of excellence was accepted at any time!
Wakabayashi watched as Schneider signaled for the rest of the team to move off the field. He was deliriously happy. He never thought it would be so natural to play with such a magnificent team. He had worked his whole life to get this far. He had won. He had won!
As soon as the field had been vacated, Schneider made his way over to the goal and placed himself in front of Wakabayashi. His pale eyes burned with silent emotion. “We won’t be needing you anymore,” he said flatly. Just like that.
Wakabayashi felt like he had been punched in the stomach. He could not be hearing this. “Why, Captain?” he asked. “What are you--”
“You heard me. You’re not playing.” Schneider glowered at him. “I’ve decided to replace you.” With that, he turned and started to walk away.
“Wait!” Wakabayashi cried, dashing forward a few steps. “You can’t do that! Hefner is in the hospital having a tonsillectomy! He can’t substitute for me tomorrow!”
Schneider stopped. “Hefner will do what I tell him to,” was all he said. He resumed walking.
Desperate, Wakabayashi ran after him. He managed to catch up to Schneider before he was off the field. “Tell me why,” he said, his voice rough with grief.
Schneider stopped once again. He turned to face the distraught boy. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he snapped. “Just one.” Wakabayashi was silent. “I am not substituting you out of tomorrow’s game.” Scowling at Wakabayashi’s pleased expression, he continued. “You’re off the team. For good.”
Wakabayashi’s mouth dropped open. He felt as if his heart had been ripped out. It was only the beginning. “Why?” he whispered.
Schneider glared at him. “I will not stand having a goalkeeper who is not a blond studmuffin. You have no place on this team.” He walked away, leaving Wakabayashi alone in his misery.
Wakabayashi fell to his knees and began to weep. He would never forget this day. It was the day the music died.
“I put Kitazume in his chair with a newspaper,” Sorimachi announced, his arms full of white paper bags. “The Chinese food just got here, too.”
“Leave it on the table, okay?” Takeshi was already totally absorbed in the movie on TV. A lavender-haired, middle-aged man was zooming around in a metal monokini.
Sighing loudly, Sorimachi set down the bags and flung himself on the floor next to Takeshi. “So, what happened?” he asked, propping up his chin in his hands.
“Nothing much,” Hyuga informed him rather gloomily. Thanks to Takeshi, he was lying on an undersized couch with a damp washcloth on his forehead. He could honestly say he felt incredibly stupid.
The entire room burst into laughter at the guy in the metal monokini’s spine snapped and he let out a deafening howl. All except Wakashimazu.
As soon as he was able to speak without being thrown back into another round of hysterical laughter, Hyuga turned to face the person beside him. Needless to say, the washcloth fell off. He didn’t retrieve it.
“Wakashimazu...” he began, “what’s wrong? You look under the weather.”
Wakashimazu looked embarrassed. “Oh, it’s nothing,” he answered lamely. “My shoulder hurts a little, that’s all. But don’t worry, it’ll be fine by tomorrow.” He managed a brave smile.
Hyuga’s gaze was sympathetic. “I know what might help.”
Wakashimazu’s eyes widened. “Really? What?”
Hyuga gave him a sly smile. “I know that Kitazume has a tube of pain reliever ointment, in his office. It’s for his arthritis, but it should help. It shouldn’t be too hard to find, since he uses it so much.”
The goalkeeper grinned and stood up. “Thank you, Captain.”
As he was leaving, Takeshi called, “Be careful, Wakashimazu san. I once brushed my teeth with that stuff by accident.”
The tube of Ben-Gay was on Kitazume’s desk. Hyuga was right. The old man must’ve used a lot, because it was almost all gone. Well, there had to be a little left...
Trying to ignore the bandaged person sitting at the desk, Wakashimazu leaned over and took the ointment. Much to his horror, Kitazume moved. He also growled. This was not good...
“I...I’m just borrowing it!!” Wakashimazu said nervously, backing off.
Don’t let him know you’re scared, the goalie reminded himself. Remember, they can smell fear.
However, he could not prepare himself for what happened next. First the plaster body cast encasing Kitazume began to shake. Then it began to crack.
“Wha...what are you doing?!!” Wakashimazu stammering, trembling with ill-concealed fear.
The body cast creaked. Wakashimazu rushed to the door, terrified. “Stop it!” he pleaded.
Kitazume wasn’t listening. With a sudden burst of strength, he broke free of his prison. Chips of plaster flew everywhere, raining on the poor boy like sharp shards of glass. Wakashimazu screamed.
Hyuga was opening a fortune cookie when he heard it. You will expand your cultural horizons, it said. Stupid. They always were. He crumpled up the slip of paper and tossed it over his shoulder. A janitor would pick it up.
And then he heard it.
Takeshi choked on his wonton soup. Sorimachi dropped the now-rewound videotape. Hyuga gasped, horrified.
“Run, Hyuga san!” the voice cried. “Run!!”
However, it was all in vain. He was there, in the room. Kitazume.
His eyes bored into Hyuga’s, blazing, hateful. Hyuga felt his strength draining away, yet he was still locked in a staring contest with the trainer from Hell.
Kitazume adjusted his glasses, clearing his throat. “I don’t want you staying up too late,” he warned. Then he was gone.