“I have taken custody of your one million yen. If you ever want to see it again, prepare a hundred million yen.”
If you ever receive a phone call like that, you’d surely think it was a prank call rather than a threat. It goes without saying there’s no way such an unfair trade could ever be established. One hundred million yen naturally holds one hundred times the value of one million yen, and no matter what inflation or deflation is to come, that relation will never be overturned. Each person has their own way of thinking about money and for every person who laughs off one yen, there’s another who’ll shed tears for it. For every person who thinks one million yen a fortune, there’s surely another who sees it as a paltry sum… but no matter what wild, fantastic train of thought ones hitches a ride on, there should be no human in the world who would see one million yen as more valuable than one hundred million yen. Just who in the world would ever pay one hundred million yen to reclaim a million yen?
And yet, unable to hang up on the prank call that came in, ‘she’ took it at complete face value and tried to pay the asking price of one hundred million yen. The fact a person able to move a sum so high left and right truly existed was a shock to me, but while a child’s kidnapping is one thing, I couldn’t believe there could be a real individual who would answer such an unequal transaction… luckily, the matter was resolved before the mismatched payment could be made, it all ended without issue, but when I think of how that deal truly could have come to fruition, that ‘Million Deal’ really is a case that sends shivers down my spine. The malice that underlay that bizarre phone threat that could even be taken as a farce, and the irony of the truth that lay beneath the case, even thinking back on it now, it really was the type that makes you quiver. If you’ll let me drop my prudence, it’s only at times like these that I find myself jealous of Kyouko-san, who can completely forget any case she’s involved in, never thinking back on it for an eternity to come.
To be completely honest, the call from Kondou-san came right around the time I thought I should meet him again. Even if I say that, I had just been fired from the Sarashina research institute and was in the midst of the difficulties of job hunting… I might call it a silver lining on the dark cloud that I was paid a severance payment far greater than what the short time I worked there was worth. While I considered it hush money for keeping quiet about the scandal, whatever the case, I wouldn’t be truly troubled with money for a while to come. Despite that, in my case, I could never be too careless. Someday, quite likely in the near future when I’m dragged into another incident, it would be no joke if my wallet were empty next I was in need of a detective. Among the detectives I know, there’s a master who says, ‘I don’t need a reward; as long as I can solve a captivating mystery, that’s all I need,’ but occasionally that master is forced to shoulder some exceedingly large problems because of his personality, and meeting him is usually a large expenditure in itself. From the point of view of the petty bourgeois like myself who just want to live a peaceful day by day, a business-like businessman who operates on the simple-to-understand trade of money- the detectives who offer their own deductive prowess as their stock-in-trade- are the ones most desirable for requests.
Therefore, when I had the leisure, I would have to find employment- I was thinking of consulting with Kondou-san before long. As an old hand working for the first rate Sakusousha publishing company, Kondou-san knew his way around. To this point, he’s introduced me to my workplaces a number of times.
If you trace it back to the start, Kondou-san was originally my boss when I worked part-time at Sakusousha; I’ve known him ever since. He was the exception, or rather, the same thing happened as per usual: a bit of an incident in the editorial department (perhaps too large to write off as such) and as always as per usual, the eyes of suspicion fell upon me. The only one to take a stance against the company, the one who advocated for me was Kondou-san.
While everyone doubted me any evidence, Kondou-san trusted me without any evidence… of course, just gaining a single ally wasn’t enough to purge the doubts cast on the body, but in the time that Kondou-san bought me, I was able to call in a detective. Looking at the result, I ended up quitting Sakusousha after that, but it was thanks to the detective that I was able to clear up the suspicion, and that opportunity was thanks to Kondou-san.
Despite that, Kondou-san seemed to feel a strong sense of responsibility towards my forced retirement, looking out for me henceforth… with my incident-prone constitution, I can’t say I have many friends, however, in my humble opinion, I think I’ve been able to hold a relationship of equals with Kondou-san that surpasses age and station. To answer the man’s chivalrous spirit, I wanted to quickly lay my feet on the earth, I needed to furnish this body with a stable lifestyle… but, as a truth would have it, my state of affairs is as you are aware.
I didn’t want to expose the disgrace so I had yet to tell him, but it’s possible my firing from the Sarashina Research Institute reached Kondou-san’s ears by some other means… and that’s why he took the first step to contact me.
But the tone I felt from across the phone wasn’t the sort to pep me up by inviting me out for a drink- our promised meeting was at a café at noon, and as I sat across from him for the first in some time, he looked a bit exhausted. I knew the work of an editor was severe but regardless of that, he’s usually energetic enough, or so was my image of Kondou-san.
“I’m sorry for calling you out all of a sudden, Yakusuke. Today I came for you to laugh at this pitiful man who has no choice but to cling to our friendship.”
Kondou-san started out. His somewhat theatrical tone was the same as ever, giving me a bit of relief, but the contents he spoke at were nowhere near ordinary. From what I can remember, there hasn’t been a single instance where Kondou-san has relied on me. Forget that, even now, up to a moment ago, I even thought I would have him help me find a job. He made it sound like the complete reverse. So while I grew worried, it also made me a bit happy.
“Good grief, you really have it all sorted out, Kondou-san. Not only have you offered me so much of your help, you’ve even properly created an opportunity for me to return the favor. Tell me what you need, I’ll do as much as I can.”
“Thank you. It’s satisfying just to hear you say that, enough I might just call it a day now, but that’s not going to work. I really am troubled. You could even say I don’t know what’s going on. So Yakusuke, I want to borrow your wisdom.”
“My wisdom? If you’re fine with what I’ve got, then sure, but is that going to be of any use at all?”
“Let’s call it your experience. You’re not normal, er, rather, you’ve experienced numerous bizarre incidents, haven’t you?”
“Yes. That’s one of the few things I can brag about. Though I’m not proud of it at all.”
“No, today alone, you can brag all you want. By all means, tell the tales of your exploits. This all comes down to the incident I’m confronting at this moment… I’m not sure if you could call it an incident, but there’s a happening troubling me, and it’s equipped with an eccentricity that won’t fall short. If you’ve anything similar to speak of, I’d quite like to hear all you’ve got.”
Hmm, I nodded. I wanted to become Kondou-san’s power from the depths of my heart- as a practical problem I was worried whether I could do it or not, whether my power was up to par, but if that’s how it was going to be, there might be something I’m capable of.
“I told you before about how I’m stationed in the manga editorial department, right?”
“Yeah, I heard. I’ll never forget anything you’ve told me.”
But ‘stationed’ was a somewhat humble way to put it, and ‘directing’ would be more accurate… Kondou-san’s current title was editor-in-chief of a manga magazine that showed leading sales figures in all of Japan. Even for someone who doesn’t really read manga like me, there’s no way I could comprehend how amazing it was to reach such a position while still in his thirties.
“But Kondou-san, if you’re worried a manga artist isn’t turning in manuscripts by the deadline, I don’t think I can help you. Unfortunately, I’m not one to live by the clock either. I was always chased around by the shadow of summer break homework- that one alone wasn’t a false accusation.”
“I won’t say I don’t have those sorts of troubles, but that’s within the scope of my official duties. Yakusuke, do you know the manga artist called Satoi Aritsugu?”
“Satoi Aritsugu. I think I’ve at least heard the name.”
Even if I said that, I wasn’t hitting on anything certain. Sensing that, Kondou-san offered an explanation.
“One of the poster authors of our magazine. A so-called best seller… while I say our magazine, in this day and age, even if you look at the industry as a whole, there aren’t too many authors whose comic sales can reach figures in the millions per issue.”
“Really? I often hear the advertisement ‘Over a million sold’ on everything.”
“That’s because people don’t go out of their way to stick an ‘over a million sold’ seal on everything. The fact you hear it so often is just how powerful it is as a sales pitch.”
“Hmm, I see. It’s because it’s rare that I see it everywhere… how deep. Then if you tell me the title of his work, I might know it.”
But even as I said that, the title of the work Kondou-san told me didn’t ring any bells either. Clueless to the end am I… is it only natural that I don’t pass my interviews?
“All you have to understand is that they’re the gem of the industry. Even if I add a -sensei to their name, they’re still in their early twenties, younger than you.”
“I see… the fact they’re a gem at that age must be something. A so-called genius, eh?”
“All manga artists are geniuses.”
Kondou-san said naturally as if it was the simple truth.
“Of all else, they’re the people who’ve had their childhood dreams come true. There aren’t any people who compromise and become manga artists because they can’t help it… they truly become the person they wanted to be. Even for me, when I turned in the entry sheet for Sakusousha, it’s not like I thought I wanted to be an editor by any means.”
“Sure enough… that sort of occupation might be surprisingly rare.”
It might not be a definite rule, but actually becoming something in the list of top 10 things elementary schoolers want to grow up to be must happen at a considerably low probability. Far from it, I can’t even keep a job I don’t want for long.
“Of course, in the sense they don’t know setbacks, you could say she’s an odd one… having her face such hardship after achieving her dreams would be too cruel a reward. Adjusting their world sense in that field is the job of us editors. What I want to consult with you this time, in short, is connected to the industry, but… it all started when Satoi-sensei suffered loss in a robbery.”
“A robbery? They were robbed?”
“I don’t want the fact I brought this to you to be taken as a slight against our friendship… Yakusuke, I beg that you don’t make this consultation public. Manga artistry is a popular business, I’d quite like to avoid a scandal.”
“I know that, of course. Let’s see, a popular manga artist was victim to a burglary, that really would become a top scoop.”
Even if that’s how the world worked, I doubt an author would wish for the world to be astir over something apart from their work.
“So what was stolen? A complete manuscript, or a notebook of ideas…”
Comparing it with the numerous experience, or rather, the various criminals I was made out to be, I tried probing further.
“No, what was stolen was money.”
He said… that answer was a slight letdown. My disappointment was grounded in my sense of curiosity, it seems I was hoping for an incident more scandalous and perhaps I should do some serious soul-searching, but if money was stolen, it didn’t reach the realm of the bizarre, it was a common occurrence in the world. I had no place to comment as an authority on the subject.
“It happened just the other day… Satoi-sensei faced a theft of one million yen.”
“A million yen, hmm.”
Of course, that’s a considerable sum, but as we’d just discussed selling a hundred volumes, my sense of numbers was out of whack, I had run out of surprise, and I simply ended up nodding. To try following up, I continued on with a question.
“Not just around one million yen, was it exactly a million? Whichever it is, I don’t think that’s the sort of sum that should be left around the house.”
“The crime didn’t occur at her house but her workplace. A bundle of one million yen concealed in her workplace refrigerator was stolen, it seems.”
“Refrigerator… of all places, they had to hide it in the most easy-to-spot location.”
The first place any cat burglar checks for valuables is apparently the refrigerator, I thought that was common sense at this point, but… I see, certainly, a manga artist might not be too knowledgeable on worldly affairs. I’m sure actually keeping money under the mattress would make it harder to find. I won’t go as far as to say they reaped what they sowed, but it was much to crude of a way to handle a sum of one million yen.
“You’re right. In that regard, I also gave her a stern lecture, but… it seems nothing else was stolen after all. Though if that’s all there was to it, I wouldn’t go as far as to plague you, Yakusuke.”
“Which means the story continues,”
“Rather than continue, this is the main part. Honestly, to Satoi-sensei, a million yen is within the range of a minor miscalculation on her forms. If that was all that was taken, I doubt she’d even take it to the police. The opportunity cost of having her time taken up by on-site investigations and having her workplace temporarily unusable would be far higher.”
“… Is manga artist really that lucrative of a business?”
“More than lucrative. If you make it.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Less than lucrative. That aside, before Satoi-sensei noticed the theft, she received a single phone call… directly to her cell phone. The call went as follows. ‘I have taken custody of your one million yen. If you ever want to see it again, prepare a hundred million yen’.”
For a moment I thought I misheard. Or perhaps in the talks up to now, I had carelessly failed to pick up on some piece of vital information.
“My apologies, Kondou-san. Can you please say that one more time? It sounded to me like you just said, ‘If you ever want to see your million yen again, prepare a hundred million yen’.”
“I don’t have to repeat it, the reason being that’s exactly what I said. Of all things, the owner of the phone demanded one hundred million yen in exchange for the stolen million. Meaning this is not a case of theft, you can call it a case of abduction and threat… how about that? Now isn’t that strange?”
It truly was. It was so strange I suddenly didn’t know what to say. The monetary sum was so high, perhaps some things weren’t hitting me but even if I scaled down the ration to something I could deal with, that was still demanding a ten-thousand-yen bill in exchange for my hundred yen coin, was it not. Just how would such a transaction be established?
“In that case, rather than the stolen million, the fact someone who sent such a cryptic threat was able to infiltrate Satoi-sensei’s workplace and leave proof seems more creepy. Of course, that’s only if we assume the thief and the threatener are the same individual…”
As the person being consulted with, I tried saying something decent to probe out the possibilities. It was imitation deduction. It’s not completely impossible for a different party who knew of the theft to make a prank call in bad taste… but if Satoi-sensei personally didn’t notice the theft until the call came in, it’s a faint line of reasoning.
“I know it’s painful to not be able to use one’s workplace but Kondou-san, I really think you should just contact the police. It’s possible this is the work of a stalker after all… if you want, I can introduce some trustworthy members of our noble police force.”
With my history of suspicion, I did have quite a few acquaintances within the organization. A majority of them treated me as suspects, so it’s hard to say we got along… but it’s not like I don’t know a few who’d listen.
“No, I appreciate the offer but I can’t do that. By which I mean, the threat had a continuation. ‘You will transfer one hundred million yen to the account I’m about to spell out. Once I confirm the deposit, the million yen I have taken custody of shall be returned in the mail’… and, ‘In the case you contact the police, your million yen will never return to you again’.”
“…? No, that’s all part of kidnapping 101 but… are you really saying that’s why you won’t turn to the police?”
“That’s right. Looks like you get it, Yakusuke.”
“Quit teasing me, Kondou-san. You’re making it sound as if you plan on following along with the culprit’s underhanded- rather comical- treats. Don’t tell me you’re going to pay one hundred million yen to regain a million.”
“I’m not the one who said it, this is Satoi-sensei we’re talking about. And that’s precisely it.”
Kondou-san spoke with a grim face. From his tone, it didn’t seem like he personally accepted that deal.
“Of course, I tried to stop her, but she’s an obstinate one. I’ll definitely pay it, whether it be a hundred or two hundred million, I’ll pay it, no matter what happens, I’ll get the stolen million yen back, Satoi-sensei said and wouldn’t hear anything else. It’s lucky the threat came in late evening when the banks were closed. Otherwise, Satoi-sensei would’ve ran straight over and made the transfer.”
“I see… she sounds like the victim of bank fraud…”
They were words that amazed me, but they didn’t seem to be a joke. When it’s gone that far, it can’t just be written off as a ‘manga artist’s worldview’… rather than strange, it was crazy.
“Today’s Saturday, so she can’t make a transfer until the business week starts. But once Monday comes around, no one will be able to stop the torrent… no matter who tries what, Satoi-sensei will transfer one hundred million yen to the designated account.”
“That account’s probably a fake one… if this sounds like a crude question, please blame my lack of virtue but Kondou-san, is one hundred million yen a small sum for a bestselling manga artist?”
“It’s a sum that won’t fail to move an author who sells in the millions… in Satoi-sensei’s case, the income from mixed media is also something to consider. At the very least, I know she’s got accounts with considerable balances spread across various banks. However, no matter the case, I doubt anyone in the world thinks of one hundred million yen as a small sum. Meaning, what was stolen was a million yen with enough value Satoi-sensei would be willing to pay such a sum to regain it. There’s no doubt there’s some circumstance behind it.”
Circumstance. A circumstance that could prioritize one million yen over a hundred million… if it was a gem or a painting, I might be able to see it. Such assets are rare and hard to come by. It’s thinkable they might have a value far exceeding their price tag to their owner. The market value doesn’t always equal its sentimental value… I’m sure there are people out there who’d pay one hundred million yen for a million-yen ring. Based on the case, it might be something they’re willing to offer over two hundred million for. Like a memento from a parent, or a present from a loved one, those sensitive cases are plenty possible.
But whether you lay it up or on its side, a wad of a million yen is just a wad of a million yen… no matter what sense of value one holds from what culture sphere or what upbringing, it’s a hundredth of a wad of one hundred million yen, and a hundredth nothing more. This isn’t a problem of economics it’s a matter of simple arithmetic.
“What did the individual have to say on the matter? Meaning Satoi-sensei personally.”
“Of course I did ask, and I got an incomprehensible mutter that didn’t constitute an answer. For argument’s sake, it seems there is some reason to it, though it’s ever-changing and definitely not something I can agree with. But after pressing too hard, she told me she was free to do what she wanted with her own money, and I couldn’t say anything too strong about that. I wouldn’t want to blame the victim and make her cry.”
She’s not a child, I thought, but Kondou-san’s expression was serious- it may be true a genius who had their dreams come true without setback might not be able to shake off their youth so perhaps that wasn’t an exaggeration.
“That’s why I came to you for help in escaping this predicament, Yakusuke. What pattern can you think of where someone might pay one hundred million yen for one million? In the vortex of trouble you’ve stepped through, were there any incidents of this sort?”
Kondou-san who I was greatly indebted to was finally relying on me, and yet I had no choice to give an ungrateful, disappointing response… meaning I’ve never experienced such a thing, was all I could answer. While I’ve had various allegations cast on me I’ve never been accused of something as crazy as ‘abducting’ one million yen and asking for one hundred million in return.
“I see… well, this is Satoi-sensei’s personal problem so that sounds about right. It’s something only Satoi-sensei will understand. You can’t peer into the head of a genius. I’m sorry, Yakusuke. Asking such a strange thing.”
“Please don’t apologize, Kondou-san. You’re hurting my heart… but if you put it like that, isn’t there at least one person out there apart from Satoi-sensei who does understand the situation?”
“? And who would that be, Yakusuku? I don’t have the slightest idea.”
“Naturally… the abductor, the threatener. The culprit clearly stole the million yen at Satoi-sensei’s workplace upon knowing the situation. That’s why they can demand one hundred million as equivalent exchange.”
And if you look at it from the other way, that sounds like something we can use to narrow down the culprit… but it didn’t seem like Satoi-sensei desired such a thing. To the end, what she wanted was the return of the stolen million yen to her hands. She’s willing to pay one or even two hundred million for it, making it all the more dreadful.
“No, if Satoi-sensei’s fine with it, I wouldn’t mind if we contrived one to two hundred million yen from the editorial department’s budget. Having something like this stagnate Satoi-sensei’s work would be a greater loss to our company and the manga industry as a whole… it has enough qualification to be a necessary expense.”
To write off one hundred million yen of necessary expense, how sturdy. When I think of how much preferential treatment a genius receives, I’m driven by an ungrounded jealousy. Well, there’s no way the culprit would prepare a receipt and it would be realistically difficult to include such a transaction as a necessary expense but when Kondou-san says it, it has a hint of authenticity to it… he’s an old hand who’s made various ‘impossibles’ become reality.
“But Kondou-san, isn’t this all based on a guarantee the million yen will be safely returned at all?”
“Yeah. I paid one hundred million yen, but I never got one million yen back. That’s the most likely future I can anticipate.”
“Right… it’s like falling victim to a double-fold scam. The culprit has no reason to mail the million yen as promised. I can’t think such a faithful fellow would commit a crime in the first place… let alone return it, in the worst case, they might just make their next demand. Fork over an additional hundred million, or so. Your manga artist might be wrung out for eternity…”
“It goes without saying that Satoi-sensei is free to do whatever she wants with the money she worked for and earned, but as an editor, having the readers- the children’s allowance flow towards a criminal isn’t a state of affairs I can welcome.”
“What is it, Yakusuke. You look like you’ve hit on something. Could it be you remembered something? The sort of incident where one million yen was exchanged for a hundred million?”
“No, no matter how I turn my memory over, I’ve never experienced such an unfathomable incident… but it’s not that I remembered something, there’s something that struck me. Perhaps my humble service really will be of help to you.”
“Just listening to my story like this is already plenty helpful, Yakusuke. Are you saying you can do something more for this pitiful man long out of ideas?”
“If you’re pitiful, then I’ve no choice but to help without question. That aside, this vile threatener only said not to contact the police, right? In that case, Kondou-san,”
“… Let me call a detective.”
To be perfectly honest, in my consultation with Kondou-san, upon hearing the details of a case that would force anyone into confusion, I did not want to call Kyouko-san. Not because of the bizarreness of the incident, it was none other than the fact that Kondou-san would be her direct client that made up the greatest reason for my reluctance… even from the eyes of a man like me, Kondou-san’s a dandy great find, I always end up admiring each motion of his elegant conduct and on top of all that, his personality was one I couldn’t see fault in. From the eyes of someone without anything like me, he was brilliant enough to avert my eyes, inside and outside, he was the very picture of a ‘good man’. In this case as well, I could tell he wasn’t worried about the money, he came to me because he was worried from his heart about the manga artist. You might think of me as an arrogant, petty man but I couldn’t deny that I didn’t want to introduce such a cool bachelor to Kyouko-san.
But come to think of it, that absurd fear was simply my reading too deep… the reason being, no matter how cool of a bachelor she meets, once Kyouko-san sleeps and wakes, she’ll have forgotten all about that charming suitor. Whether it be work-related or not, without carrying over any memories, she starts the next day with a clean slate.
Kyouko-san only had today.
Wonderful meetings and fated encounters, even miraculous coincidences, by the next day they might as well have never happened at all… Just as she doesn’t remember me when I’ve ‘met’ her more than a few times, no matter how favorable of an impression he imparts on her, Kondou-san will be forgotten by tomorrow morning. And he won’t be remembered again.
In that case, this wasn’t the time for petty jealousy.
We needed to resolve this before the banks opened on Monday, and to avoid a scandal, we needed to solve this in as much secrecy as possible. Taking those points into account, from my lines of detectives, I had to nominate Kyouko-san… the fastest detective.
And the forgetful detective. Okitegami Kyouko.
That being the case, on Sunday afternoon, I decided I’d be intruding on the manga artist Satoi Aritsugu’s workplace. Naturally, Kondou-san would be in attendance as well. This would be my first opportunity to meet a manga artist and as luck would have it, Satoi-sensei was a woman. When drawing shonen manga, it’s apparently quite common for women to take on male-sounding pen names… I guess it just goes to show the number of readers who would look down upon a woman’s work isn’t insignificant.
“Male authors who draw shojo manga are looked down on even more you know. The world sees her as a male author, so please take care in not disclosing this matter to the public. To your detective as… no, that goes without saying.”
“Yeah. She’s the forgetful detective, after all.”
I said as I offered my greetings to Satoi-sensei. Given my impression from her male-sounding name, I found her to be much smaller than I expected; she looked to be a pleasant woman… rather than woman, a girl. A plain T-Shirt and a baggy cotton skirt, it was hard to tell whether those were her work clothes or loungewear. While she had just entered her twenties, but she could pass as a teenage student. She didn’t look like the sort of person who could mobilize one hundred million yen.
But I’m sure she was the one who couldn’t see me as a reliable man in this sort of situation, she didn’t return my greeting, simply sending me a suspicious glare. While I’d like to say it was a look I was used to, it really wasn’t something one could grow accustomed to. To flee from those eyes, I,
“W-what a tidy workplace. My apologies, but I always imagined a manga artist’s studio to be more jumbled.”
I tried some flattery.
But in all honesty, flattery or not, it was a clean room. Satoi-sensei used one room of an apartment complex as her workplace, but rather than a manga artist’s studio, with all the high spec computers lined up, I would think it was the office of some IT corporation.
In olden days, a manga artist’s initial investment was small, a paper and ink were enough to persevere. It was called a position where it was easy to take the first step, but if production now required this much equipment, perhaps such notions are a dream of the past… far from it, a beginner would need to get into a mountain of debt. I’m sure this is the ‘less than lucrative’ Kondou-san was talking about.
“Satoi-sensei does digital submissions after all. It’s easier that way for me as well. Where are your assistants today?”
To Kondou-san’s question, “I had them take the day off. Right now, the manuscript is the least of my problems,” Satoi-sensei gave a short reply in a small voice.
I’m sure the manuscript being of such little importance was an ache to editor-in-chief Kondou-san but as expected of such a dignified man, “I see. Then we’d best resolve this quickly,” was all he said. The relationship between editor and manga artist varies case by case, but judging by their exchange, it looked like a broadminded father and a daughter in puberty.
The pubescent daughter noisily spoke.
“And I’m saying… I’ll just go to the bank tomorrow. All I did was ask if you’d accompany me at the time and yet… and yet you made such a big deal out of it.”
“Don’t worry about it. Kakushidate-kun here used to work at Sakusousha and he’s the man I place the most trust in. You don’t have to worry about any information leaking out.”
“I see… but great detective? We’re not in a manga or anything.”
Those words from a manga artist were a slight to all great detectives, but just as we were discussing such a thing, Kyouko-san made her appearance… I thought the address would be a bit hard to find, but she splendidly arrived at the promised time.
A monotone one-piece dress with a nice silhouette, a thin belt wrapper around her waist. The color of the stole she words over it was red. I learned the reason for the lack of exposed skin in her fashion just the other day- I wonder if there’s a map to this address or the meeting time somewhere on her body.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I am the head of the Okitegami Detective Agency, Okitegami Kyouko.”
Said Kyouko-san with a deep bow of her head. She leaned too far forward, and it somewhat looked like she was just bending over.
“Ah… yes. I’m Kondou Fumifusa of the Sakusousha company. I’ll be in your care.”
Hurriedly standing, Kondou-san took out his business card… I wonder what it is, this wasn’t like him. His usual refined conduct felt a little disturbed. Even if he was surprised by Kyouko-san’s white hair, he’s not supposed to be the sort to drag on a strange first impression.
“Satoi Aritsugu. It’s a pleasure.”
While she didn’t bring a business card, Satoi-sensei’s modest greeting seemed the calmer of the two… of course, Satoi-sensei was who she was, and despite what she said, she seemed to show some interest towards an individual in a trade she would rarely come in touch with in her everyday life. Her attitude was clearly different then it was with me… even in the midst of a bizarre incident, that curiosity was as expected a manga artist.
Kyouko-san finished greeting the two and then looked at me… why was she staring at me like that? For a moment I failed to grasp it, but I soon understood. Kyouko-san was waiting for me to introduce myself. Right, from her eyes, just like Kondou-san and Satoi-sensei, I was a new face. No matter how we meet, it’s a first encounter.
“I-I’m the one who called you this morning, Kakushidate Yakusuke. I’ve been in your care a number of times…”
“Oh, is that so.”
Came Kyouko-san’s half-hearted reply. The ‘been in your care a number of times’ part didn’t leave any impression… certainly, even if she heard something like that, Kyouko-san could only return an insincere smile. While I often fled from criticism this body didn’t remember deserving, if I received gratitude for a debt I didn’t remember, I would only be confused.
“Then as time is limited, let’s get right to work. Please tell me the specifics.”
At our first reunion since Sarashina, naturally she didn’t show any particular emotion as she briskly entered detective work… through that lonely feeling, I convinced myself it couldn’t be helped.
Well, as this wasn’t a situation where I was suspected as the culprit, I could sit with Kyouko-san comparatively calmly, so perhaps I should be satisfied with that. It was such a meager happiness to be satisfied with, but… I knew how small my container was.
Just as everyone had taken a seat, Satoi-sensei nervously spoke up.
“Kondou-san arbitrarily proceeded things on his own but… um, detective. I don’t particularly wish to capture the culprit. I simply… want to regain what was stolen…”
It’s not like I didn’t have my prejudices- picturing a best-selling author as overbearing and selfish- and from how she abided such an incomprehensible threat, I did have some anxieties about Satoi-sensei’s character, but her courteous tone towards Kyouko-san made me realize her sociability was much higher than my own. It seems the way she was half-ignoring me for a while now was largely due to my own nature.
“Don’t worry. I would never do anything running counter to my client’s will. If you wish to regain what was stolen, I shall regain it within the day.”
Of course, Kyouko-san’s calm yet confident statement couldn’t go without the added note.
“And I’ll forget it by tomorrow.”
No matter how peculiar the incident’s details were, the story itself wasn’t so complicated, so the talk ended in no time. While Kondou-san repeated the same story he told me, without interrupting, Kyouko-san intently listened in, responding correctly to the verbal cues provided… I hoped Satoi-sensei might chime in to explain further details, but she remained despondent, her mouth firmly shut throughout the time Kondou-san spoke. I could only wish this time would end soon… but that silent pressure wouldn’t get through to Kyouko-san.
For better or worse, she went at her own pace.
“I see, I’ve grasped the gist of things.”
Not particularly surprised at the exorbitant demand of one hundred million yen for one million, Kyouko-san finished listening in and smiled… Even if I had already informed her of the details in my prior phone call, her bearing was baffling.
And there Kyouko-san called out to Satoi-sensei, who’d been maintaining the silence. With a wary posture, “What is it?” she responded.
“Upon receiving the job request from Kakushidate-san, I took the liberty of reading the twelve published volumes of your comic. It was very interesting. I truly couldn’t put a single book down, and at the scene where Albred passed away, I shed tears as I flipped the pages. To think that under that emotional battle, such a history mystery would unravel itself, I really felt like I was on the edge of my seat as I read.”
“Ah… I-I see. Is that so. Thank you… it’s an honor to hear that from a detective…”
Satoi-sensei awkwardly responded. No matter how high her guard was, when she was dealing with a reader, I doubt she could continue to take on such a brusque attitude. Of course, I’m sure that was Kyouko-san’s intent in reading it, but as Kyouko-san only ever had today, the Okitegami Detective Agency she headed only took same-day reservations, so I was only able to make the request this morning… It’s not like much time had passed since then, and being able to read twelve volumes of manga in that time period is a fearsome show of professional duty. While I was involved since yesterday, I haven’t even touched Satoi-sensei’s work yet…
“I never knew shonen manga these days have such complicated settings and subplots. It was quite hard to take in at once. That part was also appealing, but I really overlooked it. While this might be a rude thing to say, I’m surprised such a tortuous story doesn’t tangle you up.”
“W-well, I’m the author after all… if I make a mistake, we wouldn’t get anywhere.”
Satoi-sensei bashfully shied away. While I wondered what sort of shonen manga from what era Kyouko-san was comparing it to, she spoke with a bright smile.
“If it were me, I would forget it in no time, but do you have an idea book or setting reference?” she asked.
“For argument’s sake, I have one, but… I can’t quite show it to anyone.”
As Kyouko-san leaned her body forward, Satoi-sensei spoke as if to take the high ground… I have to admit, for social courtesy, Kyouko-san was treading in too far. She might strengthen Satoi-sensei’s guard that was finally starting to slacken. Kyouko-san needed to find out why Satoi-sensei would trade the one hundred million yen for a million, so I’m sure she was just probing for a handhold to break the ice, but…
“Ahaha. I could never ask something so shameless… by the way, based on the fact I don’t see anyone else from the editorial department here, is Kondou-san the one in charge of you?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’ve been looking after her since her debut. I do think it’s about time one of the young’uns takes over, but… she’s a precious artist, and I’d have to choose someone up to the task.”
It didn’t feel particularly unnatural to me, but perhaps this editor-in-chief being directly in charge of an artist was an exceptional case within Sakusousha. No matter how well her work sold, if she got preferential treatment, it wouldn’t be a good example to the other artists. The fact that Kyouko-san seemed to be looking me differently since she came to this workplace (for a first meeting at least) might be because she thought I was the editor in charge of Satoi-sensei… though I really doubt that has anything to do with this case.
“I see, I see. Well then…”
The idle gossip (?) over, Kyouko-san started up.
“I’d like to get some things straight. As I’ve promised, I will do everything in my power to bring a resolution to this incident, but in this case, by what sort of resolution should I be aiming for?”
Why was she asking something so obvious so late in the game? I wanted to ask, but come to think of it, that part was still hazy. Rather, that point was still being contested between Kondou-san and Satoi-sensei… and until that was made clear, Kyouko-san wouldn’t be able to put in an earnest effort.
By a circumstance only known to herself, Satoi-sensei would pay anything to get her million yen back… Kondou-san, did he perhaps want to figure out what that circumstance might be? Additionally, it’s possible he wished the detestable person threatening the author he was charged with to face the judgment of the law.
“Detective. If I can pay money to get my stolen million yen back, then that’s all I can ask for. I do not care who the culprit is.”
As expected, Satoi-sensei said such a thing.
“Certainly, if we can’t rely on the analytic power of the police force, it might be difficult to identify the culprit. I’m not sure if it’s because people often come and go, but I had a brief look-through and I can’t say the security on this studio is very high.”
It seems Kyouko-san confirmed it while listening to Kondou-san’s story… no, from her phrasing, I’m sure she already confirmed the apartment’s outside and perimeter. How shrewd; her work ethic always takes me by surprise.
“But there’s no guarantee the million yen will be returned once you pay the hundred million. The culprit might get full of themself and make a further demand… it seems that is what Kondou-san fears, but what say you, Satoi-san?”
“… We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, detective. Unnecessarily agitating the culprit into having them spend the one million yen is far scarier to me… I’m cowering as we speak. Calling in a detective because they said not to bring in the police sounds like pure sophistry to me.”
“Perhaps. By the way, I’d like to ask for argument’s sake, but did the voice you heard over the phone ring any bells?”
While she kept relatively quiet, the way she criticized the fact we called in a detective made me feel awkward for proposing it, but Kyouko-san nonchalantly changed the subject. Her venom extracted by that brazen attitude, Satoi-sensei as well,
“No. That was a voice I was hearing for the first time. The number was withheld… I don’t have any idea who the culprit could be.”
She answered the question.
“Could you tell me the precise time you received the phone call?”
“Umm, late evening on Friday…”
“My apologies, but could you please give me the precise time from your phone record? The human memory isn’t always so reliable.”
Thinking her own memory power was in doubt, Satoi-sensei’s mood took a blow, but perhaps unable to bring a memory-related objection to the forgetful detective whose memory reset every day, she sullenly took out her cell phone and handed it to Kyouko-san… her phone was the newest model of smartphone, and I grew a bit worried whether Kyouko-san would be able to operate it with her un-updating memory, but as expected of her adaptability, she operated the touch screen just fine. Well, perhaps this was more of an episode to show the high operability of the modern phone… it didn’t seem to be password-locked; Kyouko-san instantly reached the call log. A majority of the entries read ‘Kondou-san’, but there was one entry from ‘Number Withheld’ that had come in Friday- two days prior- at 18:15.
Seeing that, Kyouko-san seemed to gain some conviction, giving a smile.
“… I-is something strange?”
“My apologies, that smile was uncalled for.”
With those words, Kyouko-san returned the cell phone. And, “Then you don’t mind if the request is to regain the stolen million yen, do you? We’ll keep the necessary expenses within one hundred million, if possible,” she said.
“I don’t care if it takes a billion yen.”
Satoi-sensei said something outrageous… even Kondou-san’s voice grew rough, “Don’t say something so stupid!” he scolded her. Satoi-sensei drew back her body, reflexively returning Kondou-san’s glare… good grief, they really were like parent and child. Though no matter how childish her behavior was, as long as Satoi-sensei was over twenty, she was beyond the age where she could be his daughter…
Kondou-san turned back to Kyouko-san.
“The editorial department shall take up your payment. If you’ll resolve this matter, I don’t mind what expenses you use… is what I’d like to say, but Sakusousha is a single corporation, so I’d like to ask for a realistic figure.”
“Worry not. I only said one hundred million to show it would be cheaper to leave it to me by comparison, and I don’t really think it will cost that much. But necessary expenses and payment to me as a detective are separate articles… so would it be okay for us to change locations and have a discussion?”
Kondou-san tilted his head. I felt much the same. Expenses being different from payment, well that was expected, but was there really a need to change location? I thought, but now that it had been stated Sakusousha would cover her payment, maybe Kyouko-san thought it was best not to involve Satoi-sensei in those negotiations.
Well, if it’s money she earned, in the end, it really is up to Satoi-sensei how she uses it, but if it’s money the company uses for her sake, it would only become a burden on her mind. Looking at the bigger picture, the company’s money was also a profit born from the sale of her works, but she wasn’t defiant enough to insist such a thing.
“Understood, Okitegami-san. If that’s the case, then… let’s go, Yakusuke.”
And it was there as we briskly left the studio that Satoi-sensei called Kyouko-san to a halt. Just what could she want to say, stopping who was- from her eyes- practically a plague agitating the situation?
“You… you’re not going to ask? Why I’m trying to pay an exorbitant amount to reclaim one million yen?”
“Eh? Oh, I don’t need to ask that.”
Kyouko-san stopped her feet, answering bluntly. With only one day of life, each and every second was a valuable asset to her, so to Kyouko-san, it would be no more than a waste of to go through the wasted effort of asking what Satoi-sensei probably wouldn’t tell us anyways… Or so I thought, but the reason Kyouko-san didn’t toss over the question was something completely different.
“I mean, the reason is clearer than day. Yes, no matter what anyone says, I also believe that million yen is worth more than one hundred million. I won’t do you any harm, please just leave it to this detective.”
At the very least, we were able to find out that even Satoi-sensei considered a trade of one hundred million for a million to be extraordinary, a relief for both me and Kondou-san, but… as Kyouko-san spoke actually spoke to the contrary, I had no choice but to be shocked.
Unable to pursue the intent of that statement then and there, we left Satoi-sensei behind and changed our base of operations form her studio to a meeting room in the Sakusousha main building. As it was Sunday, the building was bare… whether a corporate office was suited to mystery solving aside, there was no need to clear the area, and it was a definite fit for secret talks.
“Do you often scold Satoi-san like that?”
Right after taking her seat, Kyouko-san said such a thing… Kondou-san seemed somewhat taken aback but, “No, I’m sorry I showed you such a pitiful sight,” he defended himself.
“I just can’t seem to shake off my conceit from being the one to see her through her debut… this is no good at all. I shouldn’t treat a hit artist like she’s a newbie forever.”
“Did you by any chance harshly reprimand Satoi-san for hiding her money in the refrigerator as well?”
“? Yes, well… that was too careless of her… even if I wasn’t in charge of her, I’d have scolded her there. But where are you taking this?”
“No, I just wanted to confirm something.”
Without saying much, Kyouko-san simply drank the coffee put out… Did she want to get the talks of money in order before she moved on to the in-depth reasoning? It seems he agreed that was sound enough as, “Well then, Okitegami-san,” Kondou-san got right to the point.
“About your payment… of course, given the strange nature of the case we’re discussing, I’m prepared to pay more than the estimate I heard from Kakushidate-kun. It’s just, as you heard before, if you deviate too far from a realistic figure…”
“Oh? Ah, right, a talk about money was just an excuse to get out of there, and I’m fine if you just pay my normal fee. To be perfectly honest, it’s actually the opposite. I’m currently fighting with my conscience about whether or not I can even take money for such a simple and obvious case.”
Kyouko-san interrupted Kondou-san to say such a thing, putting me in a daze… she wasn’t joking. If this mysterious happening was ‘simple and obvious,’ then I’d like to get back all the numerous job payments I’ve made to Kyouko-san in full.
“I don’t remember it so I won’t pay it back.”
She plainly declined. Unexpected from her somewhat lax appearance, Kyouko-san was surprisingly firm with money. But given that, for Kyouko-san to wonder whether she could take money for it… just what could the truth of this case be?
“T-then Sakusousha will be paying your normal fee… in which case, I apologize for hurrying you on, but may I hear how you intend to regain Satoi-sensei’s million yen?”
Kondou-san definitely seemed to hurry… before that, I wanted to ask why Kyouko-san had to make an excuse to get us out of there. Was there a reason it would be bad for Satoi-sensei to be in attendance.
“Yes, I’ll hold nothing back. Satoi-sensei said there was no need to track down the culprit, but as long as there’s no guarantee the million yen will come back after she makes the payment, identifying the perpetrator really is the shortest route to getting her money back.”
“I’m sure that’s the case… but if we can’t take this to the police, it will be difficult to pin the culprit down. You said it yourself, Okitegami-san. Or could that also have been some form of misdirection.”
“It’s true I thought pinning the culprit down would be difficult at the time… but now that we’ve reached this point, there’s no need. I did not want Satoi-sensei to hear my reasoning in regards to that, which is why I had us change locations.”
I didn’t even have to ask for Kyouko-san to answer my doubts… or perhaps she sensed I wanted to ask. As expected of a great detective, she excels in reading the niceties of the human heart… or so I received a deep impression, but her words that followed lacked any such consideration.
“The culprit who stole the million yen, and who made the threatening call is likely one of the assistants Satoi-sensei employs. Please look into it starting from the one who’s worked with her longest. The 18:15 call on her Friday’s phone history… even if they deleted it from their own call log, I doubt they’d go out of their way to make an alibi.”
“… You doubt her assistants? When you say to look into them in order, it just sounds like you’re telling me to try suspecting them one by one.”
Without any preface, Kyouko-san abruptly cut into the ‘reasoning she didn’t want Satoi-sensei to hear’, ushering in a somewhat dubious rebuttal from Kondou-san. He was clearly displeased.
“If that’s your reasoning, I don’t need a professional to tell me that… to raise suspicions among friends? Whenever something happens, just suspecting the person closest is no different than what people do to Kakushidate-kun.”
Kyouko-san looked at me in mild surprise. I see, ‘today’s Kyouko-san’ doesn’t know about the fact I draw false allegations easily.
“At the very least, I am still a part of the detective industry. I wouldn’t cast suspicion on someone over such shallow reasoning… I have a satisfactory reason to doubt the assistants.”
“In regards to that, I do think it would be impossible to satisfy me on that point.”
Kondou-san wouldn’t unhand his weapon. Well, the fact they’re Satoi-sensei’s assistants would most likely mean they were people Kondou-san introduced to her, so it’s natural for him to see it that way. I couldn’t take Kyouko-san’s side in that one either- as long as there were no traces of a break-in from the outside, it was the natural line of reasoning to doubt people from the workplace, but until any definite evidence came out, such suspicions should be held back.
“In the first place, if one of the assistants was the culprit, she would be able to identify the voice from the phone.”
“Yes, that’s also one of the hints… though I can’t say it’s one hundred percent accurate. Still, in order to regain the stolen million yen, if possible, before any truly decisive evidence comes out, I’d like to resolve things peacefully…”
In regards to Kondou-san’s high-handed display, Kyouko-san spoke to soothe him. Thinking it would be bad to anger her client, she added more.
“That’s why I removed Satoi-san from the equation. Whatever the case, could you hear me out? If I’m not able to convince you, do with me what you will.”
If an assistant really was the culprit, then this was definitely a deduction Satoi-sensei shouldn’t hear… if the matter was cleaned up before the evidence came out, before it became public, Satoi-sensei might be able to regain her million yen with the culprit still obscured from her view. If we make a deal for the million yen’s return in exchange for not bringing them to the authorities… that was a deal with some validity behind it.
“… I’ll hear what you’ve got, if nothing else.”
The fact Kondou-san said that, was it to save face for his friend who introduced him to her, or because he had something to think of Kyouko-san’s self-confidence.
“Of course, not only will you identify the culprit, you’ll also explain why Satoi-sensei would exchange one hundred million yen for one million, won’t you?”
“Yes. Or rather, those two points are deeply connected…”
And the mystery-solving commenced. From my and Kondou-san’s eyes, it was a strange and curious case, but to Kyouko-san, she was solving something simple and obvious.
“When I heard the details of the case over the phone, naturally I was confused as well. I couldn’t see Satoi-san’s motive for accepting the trade in the slightest. Therefore, I tried considering the conditions under which she would accept the offer. I thought over it as I read Satoi-sensei’s works.”
She was speaking so fast I barely noticed it, but she was describing a scene of a detective reading manga as they deduced a case… what sort of armchair detective is that? Of course, as Kyouko-san’s time was limited, she had no choice but to multitask.
“No matter how you count it, a million yen is a million yen… it can never become one hundred million. Or so one is compelled to think, but if that million yen was a ‘special’ million yen, perhaps that isn’t necessarily so. More so, without a hand lain on the expensive computers, with only the million yen stolen, I must think that million yen holds a special meaning. While I was reading volume two, I hit on the possibility the banknotes might have been used in a crime. For example, a portion of a fortune stolen in an old bank robbery or so… meaning, if that million yen went into circulation, bill by bill, her past crime would come to light, that sort of pattern.”
“Y-you’re saying Satoi-sensei took part in a bank robbery!?”
As Kondou-san’s countenance change and his hips rose, “I’m just talking possibilities, possibilities,” Kyouko-san evaded.
“Of course, no matter how I looked at it, that was nonsense… I immediately discarded the notion. There’s no way she would conceal such dangerous evidence in her refrigerator, and even if she did, she wouldn’t consult with you about it.”
“I ask that you quit with these hypotheticals in bad taste, Okitegami-san. At the present time, as the editor in charge of Satoi-san, no as a single man, I am exhibiting a considerable level of mental fortitude. If you would keep that in mind.”
“Don’t worry, I have some confidence in my memory… within the day of course. Also, as absurd as that hypothetical may be, it enriched me with two suggestions, and I had no choice but to present it… by the way, just for reference, what do you two think of it? In order to exchange one million yen for one hundred million, what other possibilities can you think of? I highly doubt you haven’t thought of a single hypothesis.”
“… It’s a million yen to remember, that’s what she said herself. Something about it being the first royalty she received after becoming a manga artist.”
To Kondou-san’s answer, “I also took that possibility into consideration as I read volume three… but do you really think that’s it?” Kyouko-san drew close. Kondou-san shook his head. Well, it’s not like it didn’t just barely serve as a reason, but that didn’t mean someone would pay one hundred million for it.
“If it were some gemstone, a memento of a parent or a gift from a lover, even something she always kept by her side, then I could accept it. But it has neither been inherited nor gifted, and I don’t think she treasures the money itself that much.”
Kyouko-san softly spoke. I had thought of it as well… that fact her thoughts overlapped with mine brought some mild joy, but I’m sure that’s as far as the overlap went.
“Yes. With that in mind, I started thinking along the line that one million yen was just a code, and it was really something else that was stolen… like a pet named Million or something. But if that was the case, she would say it outright. There would be no reason to hide it. I also considered this possibility. What was important wasn’t the million yen itself, but perhaps a photograph or letter wedged between the bills…”
“Hmm, that is an interesting theory, and I can imagine her saying something like that. Though it’s something we’ll find out after we get it back.”
“Come to think of it, Okitegami-san, when you confirmed whether Satoi-sensei had idea notes or not… Could it be that the future developments for Satoi-sensei’s works were written on the banknotes? If that was the case, they would be valued far over one million yen, but…”
“Even if they failed to realize it was currency, I doubt there’s anyone out there who would use a ten thousand yen note as a memo sheet. Even if you subtracted the monetary value, there’s barely any space to write… Kakushidate-san, what do you think?”
As Kyouko-san turned the wind in my direction, I decided to express the two ideas I’d been keeping warm. What I had thought up along the way, my reasoning on the case.
“If it’s a ‘special’ one million yen, then how about we consider a case where the serial number is ‘special’? I’ve heard that bills with all-matching numbers have a premium value. If Satoi-sensei was a collector of such bills, then…”
“Yakusuke, that’s the first thing I thought up. Sure enough, if the serial’s numbers were all-matching, then those bills would hold a high value among collectors. But that’s at most a few times their normal value. They’re never worth one hundred times that… even if all one hundred of the ten thousand yen notes were all-matching, it wouldn’t even reach ten million.”
I-is that how it works?
“Also, I’ve never heard anything about Satoi-sensei being a collector.”
I couldn’t say a word. Rather than my reasoning being off, it was a bigger shock that the idea I had saved was the first thing Kondou-san thought up and rejected. When my thought process overlapped in this case, it was more embarrassing than pleasant. Naturally, Kyouko-san must have already gotten there long ago (whatever volume she was reading at the time) and rejected it, or so I thought, “But that’s a good approach, Kakushidate-san,” she offered me some undeserved praise.
“Going by serial numbers really is a good approach.”
“Eh? A-are you sure?”
“That was precisely the suggestion I got from that absurd hypothetical… in the case the stolen million yen was a portion of the notes stolen during a bank heist, then why would the crime come to light if they were used? That’s because ‘The serial numbers would be rejected’. All money definitely holds equivalent value, but there isn’t a single identical banknote in the world… no two bills are alike.”
Kyouko-san said something that came so naturally when you thought about it. Even if the vague term of million yen was thrown around, there were no two identical million yens out there… no matter the million yen, when it came to how each individual bill that made it was different, it definitely did sound like some sort of hint, but even if that was the case, you could say it didn’t mean a thing. Even if each individual person was their own special snowflake, it’s the same as the urge to say so what. As long as they weren’t matching numbers or special code, no one would pay any attention to something like the serial numbers.
“Precisely, which is why I must raise the second suggestion. The first was the matter of serial numbers, and the second was you, Kondou-san.”
“… Is there something about me?”
Kondou-san warily put himself on guard for what she would have to say, but Kyouko-san spoke in a contrasting smile.
“Think back… if a million yen connected to a crime was stolen, I highly doubt she would consult with you about it, is what I said. But, then, even if that isn’t the case, there was no real reason for her to consult with you, was there? If she didn’t want to talk about the reason for her to follow along with the threats, then in the first place, Satoi-san simply shouldn’t have brought the matter to Kondou-san. If she refrained, a detective like me would never have butt in. If she was told not to bring it to the police, and she thought bringing it to a detective was foul play, then consulting with her editor should be just as dubious.”
“… But Kyouko-san, in regards to that, before you arrived at the studio, Satoi-sensei did lightly touch up on it. She said she wanted him to accompany her to the bank on Monday.”
If she wanted to transfer one hundred million yen, that procedure would be impossible to do by ATM… but that didn’t mean she would fare well if they persistently enquired into her circumstance at the teller window. With how it was set up, it would look as if she was falling victim to bank fraud… when I thought of that exchange that would surely be tedious, I feel it wouldn’t be strange to want to cling to a reliable editor.
“Yes, I thought it would be something like that. She didn’t look like one all too wise in the ways of the world after all. Well, look at it the other way, and I get the impression Satoi-sensei never particularly intended to hide her circumstance from Kondou-san. However… when Kondou-san harshly scolded her for carelessly hiding her money in the refrigerator, it became hard for her to tell him the rest of the story.”
Because she thought he would get even angrier, said Kyouko-san… staying silent because he would be angry, would she really do something so childish, I thought, but given the impression Satoi-sensei gave off and thinking back to her relationship with Kondou-san, it did sound possible. The desire ‘not to make him angry’ might be one a genius holds more strongly than a normal person.
“But all that aside, don’t you think that sounds just a little strange?”
“Eh? What part about it? If you’re looking for something strange, from the very start I thought you wouldn’t find a case stranger than this one, but…”
“If it was sum impossible for an ATM, but a transfer would make her feel guilty at the window, then she could have just taken care of it online.
Perhaps determining it was impossible for me to draw out the real answer, Kyouko-san stated the answer without putting on any airs… online banking. That’s right. Come to think of it, that’s exactly right… if she wanted to make the transfer without a second to lose, then she simply had to use the service open twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. She wouldn’t have to confront anyone, and the transfer limit was generally higher than on ATMs… since Satoi-sensei had her assets spread across multiple accounts on multiple banks, it shouldn’t be too hard for her to transfer a sum total of one hundred million yen to the designated account. With all the formalities, the transfer itself would likely take place on Monday all the same, but if Satoi-sensei went that route, she wouldn’t have to be bothered by the teller, meaning she wouldn’t have to consult with Kondou-san.
I have my personal worries about dealing with money online, so I’ve barely ever used online banking… but as a modern-day youth who submits all her manuscripts digitally, it would be difficult to think Satoi-sensei carried on that old world sense. The cell phone she used was the latest smartphone… wouldn’t she be able to use that to complete the process nice and simple?
“Okitegami-san, is the fact she didn’t use online banking of that great importance? And never once have you connected this talk to the reason you suspect Satoi-sensei’s assistants.”
“It will connect itself very soon, no need to worry. But what’s important is not the reason she ‘didn’t’ use online banking, but the reason she ‘couldn’t’ use it… Why do you think she couldn’t use it?”
Unlike the previous one, that question only had one answer I could think of. A case where one couldn’t use an online service whether they wanted to or not, that would have to be…
“She must have forgotten her password, right… ah.”
I noticed right after it came out of my mouth. Password. A password, you say? A password she must never forget. But there are times it could be forgotten. Even if one wasn’t Kyouko-san. Then would one take a memo so they wouldn’t forget it? Normally, that would be the case. But in all actuality, making a memo of one’s password was a double-edged sword. While it prepares one for when they forget, it’s possible to lose the memo note, and the paper might enter someone else’s eyes. Even if the memo is coded, you might forget the code the next time around. There would be no end to the cycle of hesitation and indecision. But, in that case, meaning… it couldn’t be.
“You don’t mean to say Satoi-sensei… set a bill’s serial number as her password?”
“I’ve heard people who easily lose their umbrella might buy one worth tens of thousands of yen as a countermeasure so they learn to treasure it, but… it’s the same way of thought. To make sure you don’t lose the key, make the key itself a valuable… of course, it goes back to back with the danger of the key itself being stolen.”
Trying to say something to Kyouko-san but unable to say anything, Kondou-san was at a loss for words. I didn’t know Satoi-sensei well enough to talk about her so, but perhaps Kondou-sensei realized with her personality she might actually do something like that.
The serial number on a bill is a blind spot, and seeing how it’s a random arrangement of numbers and letters, it’s a password exceedingly difficult to identify… first off, it would be impossible to get right by chance. If that was truly the case, the value of those bills was more than several times, several tens of times over… no matter what estimate I drew for the savings of a million-unit best-selling author like Satoi-sensei, there was no way it fell short of one million yen, and I doubted it fell short of one hundred million yen either. She said she could pay one billion from her own mouth. If it was to recover that password… no? Wait a second. In that case, would there really be a need to go out of her way paying such a fortune to reclaim the passwords? Certainly, she would be unable to complete online transactions but couldn’t she just directly contact the banks and have her accounts frozen?
“I’m sure that’s the case when it comes to online banking. They’ll strongly push a one time password on her and it’ll be over in a jiffy. But that is no more than one out of a hundred… what if- at most- one hundred individual passwords were stolen?”
Passwords apart from her online banking? Her mobile phone didn’t seem to be password locked… but take for example her computer login? As a digital submission artist, not being able to use her computer would be fatal. Or perhaps on the private side, a password for games… even a game account, once you’re hooked, it’s no longer a game. For credit card and online shopping passwords, those go without saying… and also.
“… And also her cloud account.”
Kondou-san held his head in his arms as he spoke.
“If the idea notes for Satoi-sensei’s works are preserved there… then I’m sure she would do anything to regain the password. Even if it meant paying one billion yen.”
“I apologize or rather… I know I’m not one to speak, but it doesn’t seem Satoi-san has a very good memory. She kept calling me ‘detective’ to the end, after all… I imagine the reason her phone isn’t locked is because she would be troubled once she forgot it. Her overreaction when I turned talks towards her idea references was the deciding factor in my deduction. Gave me the feeling she didn’t want anyone to touch on that point.”
I was under the impression that exchange was a social courtesy to get her to lower her guard, but it seems at that point, Kyouko-san was already swiftly probing into various things. No, if I wanted to bring that up, as Kyouko-san only had today, I can’t think she had any background knowledge on the cloud or online banking so I must conclude she did her research in advance… at a considerably early point, it seems Kyouko-san had already set up her theory… while reading manga. Then that’s why she called the truth simple and obvious.
“Her house may be another story, but the reason she kept one million yen lying around her workplace was a mystery. Yet if there was a necessity to keep it at her studio, then my conjecture was that perhaps the million yen- or realistically, a portion of it- was used in her work.”
Strictly speaking, if they have different colorations, it’s possible for some serial numbers to have the same sequence, and I don’t think ever serial code on each of the hundred bills corresponded to a password; I surmise less than half, around a fourth were critical, and the rest were fakes, camouflage. With those scarce numbers, if she linked each to an alphabet letter in her head, then even if her memory was on the worse side, she wouldn’t end up jumbled with multiple passwords.
“Then the reason you suspect her assistant… what’s more, starting with the ones who’ve worked with her longest is because they’re the ones with the highest probability of witnessing her confirming the bills in the refrigerator before accessing her cloud account… is it? Meaning, not only knowing the hiding place of the bills, to know the reason those bills were ‘special’ it would have to be an individual working at the same studio…”
“That’s also true, but.”
Kyouko-san spoke unconcernedly.
“I got the impression the culprit was convinced Satoi-sensei would pay one hundred million yen for that million… not a completed manuscript, only an idea before it even became a work. The only ones who could discern such value from it… the only ones who could understand the true value of an idea would have to be the comrades who worked alongside her.”
Hearing that, Kondou-san shut his mouth. I couldn’t tell how he took the basis of Kyouko-san’s reasoning… ‘Doubt them precisely because they’re comrades who understand the value of work’, in the end, that line of thought was one paper-thin margin away from recklessly suspecting friends, but if that’s how he put it, then his own position from where he respected the creativity of authors was also just that close to her reasoning. The only difference lay in that Kondou-san was an editor, and Kyouko-san was a detective.
“B-but… Kyouko-san. Didn’t you also say full of confidence that you thought the stolen million yen was worth more than one hundred million? It’s not like you ever worked alongside Satoi-sensei…”
I said in desperation. Unable to endure a scene where my great benefactor Kondou-san was simply talked down to, it was like I was going against my other great benefactor Kyouko-san… but it wasn’t such a foolish question, and in truth, Kyouko-san smiled and gave an instant response.
“Why of course. I’m no novelist, but… I know the value of a memory and the fear of losing it better than anyone. I can’t be certain but I’m sure I realize it every day.”
What happened afterward was little more than a diversion to pass the time… even if I say that, barring redundancy, there is barely anything to add on this time around… but even so, I must write a number of things for future reference.
The person who stole one million yen from Satoi-sensei’s studio refrigerator and later made the threatening call to her phone was, as Kyouko-san deduced, one of the assistants… Kondou-san conducted his own investigation, pinning them down in a mere few hours. If I had to say, this resolution was one for Kondou-san’s proficiency to shine through, but… that person was a veteran assistant who used to serve as chief. The past tense of the ‘used to serve’ part carried with it some fetters and gloom but in the end, a detailed elucidation of their motive was never carried out.
It was settled peacefully, or perhaps.
I won’t blame you for it… that sort of thing.
Of course, even Kyouko-san wasn’t an omnipotent detective and there were some parts of her theory that missed the mark. The fact that Satoi-sensei was unable to identify the culprit from their tone of voice in the call; it seems Kyouko-san had attributed it to Satoi-sensei’s terrible memory… which meant Satoi-sensei’s inability to even remember her assistant’s voices, her carelessness in a bad sense, and the lack of consideration she held for her surroundings precisely because she was a genius may have played a role in their motive to carry out the offense, she surmised, but that deduction was a complete miss.
Or rather, Satoi-sensei’s testimony there was false, and the truth of the matter was that at the point she received the call, she already had a very good idea who the culprit was. I’ve only casually picked these facts up in hearsay and I’m still rather hazy on them, but it seems a part of her wanted to cover for the culprit. But perhaps between her and the culprit, she had some knowledge of why they’d do it in the first place, or she remembered something relevant… without any evidence, I doubt she could say something too uncertain, and perhaps you could call it the work of the creator or the carelessness of a genius, but to Satoi-sensei, rather than who the culprit was, the important part was whether she could reclaim her password or not. Clients tell lies… it was just as Kyouko-san said. Of course, in this case, Satoi-sensei wasn’t the client, strictly speaking.
By the way, in her internet passwords, for her established ‘Secret Recovery Questions’, Satoi-sensei would arbitrarily enter digits at random… never saving passwords, she would enter them anew every time, and perhaps not preparing for if she ever forgot them was also a form of security, but as this incident happened among those close to her, perhaps I should say that decision was correct.
The culprit quietly left Satoi-sensei’s studio, they would never get any work with Sakusousha again, but that was the extent of their punishment… in exchange for that multifaceted settlement, as one would expect, Satoi-sensei’s million yen was returned. It seems the culprit said, ‘It was just a bit of fun, I intended to return both the million and hundred million’, but I wonder. That one’s just a bit too suspicious… though it’s not good to suspect someone without any evidence.
“But it really is mysterious. Setting banknote serial numbers as passwords, since it’s come to this result, you could call it careless, but at least it’s still smarter than hiding money in the refrigerator. And since he said that, I don’t think he’s going to scold her too much for it… but if she just honestly confessed it to Kondou-san at the start, it wouldn’t have become this convoluted.”
Leaving the conclusion to Kondou-san, after leaving the Sakusousha building with Kyouko-san, I ended up muttering such a thing… I didn’t ask it with any expectations of a response, but Kyouko-san,
“Satoi-san is probably in love with Kondou-san. While I said that in front of Kondou-san, rather than not wanting to make him angry, she was probably just embarrassed. Perhaps she didn’t want him to see her as an idiot and feel disappointed.”
“W-what are you deducing that from, Kyouko-san?”
“It’s not at a level I can call a deduction, just intuition… a woman’s intuition. If you don’t want me to put it like that, perhaps the impression they gave off? When it comes to these sorts of things, I’ve never been wrong.”
“Well, Kondou-san is a wonderful person after all. If the culprit is a woman, that might be related to their motive… just kidding.”
I saw Kondou-san and Satoi-sensei’s relationship as father and daughter, but perhaps Kyouko-san’s impression was more accurate. At the very least, age-wise… Kondou-san’s still a bachelor, anyways. No, what Kyouko-san spoke of was simply from Satoi-sensei’s perspective, and she hadn’t touched on Kondou-san’s feelings. Whatever the case, by how she was using a woman’s intuition instead of a detective’s intuition, it had a strange persuasiveness to it, but it was dangerous to take without a grain of salt. Never being wrong was just her self-evaluation, and even if she was wrong, she’d just forget… looking back on it, apart from the restricted call from the culprit, a majority of her call log was filled with Kondou-san, so perhaps that was the basis she set her theory on… but I also get the feeling that was only the natural result if she carried out her work normally, and Kyouko-san was just digging too deep into it. When Kyouko-san gave a smile back then, it was simply because her phone not being password-locked gave some backing to her deduction. Surely. But…
But in my failure as a narrator, while I did think this topic was vital in uncovering the mystery, I did not want to dig any further… When Kyouko-san called Kondou-san a ‘wonderful person’, I don’t know how serious she was, but whatever the case, I didn’t want to talk to her about Kondou-san.
Therefore, that’s the end of that… is what I’d like to say, but there is still one thing I need to touch on. What I heard from Kondou-san once everything was gone and done with. Vague as it was, the matter was settled, and without taking any breaks in print, Satoi-sensei continued to draw her manga… that was well and good but at the end, Kondou-san said,
“Hey, Yakusuke. Has Okitegami-san ever spent time overseas? She resembles a certain person I met while working at Sakusousha’s foreign distribution branch, but…”
He asked me. The reason Kondou-san seemed so surprised when he first met Kyouko-san was by no means because of her white hair, he said it was because she was identical to an old friend. Disturbed as I was, I had only met Kyouko-san two years prior, and after answering I didn’t know what happened before that,
“I see. No, I’m sure it’s just my imagination. It’s just an accidental resemblance. I see no reason for that person to be running a detective business in Japan… what’s more, her personality is completely different. She wasn’t such a- and I don’t mean anything when I say this- such a shameless person. I’ve said something unnecessary, just forget about it.”
Kondou-san brought it to a close, and the talk was over… but even if he told me that, there was no way I could forget.
From my point of view, Kyouko-san had been in the detective industry from the moment I first met her, helping me out whenever I was in trouble. She was Okitegami Kyouko of the Okitegami Detective Agency… but a Kyouko-san before she lost her memory, before she continued losing her memory surely existed at some time or place. Even if that ‘someone’ Kondou-san met was an accidental resemblance, a Kyouko-san who wasn’t Kyouko-san, ‘Yesterday’s Kyouko-san’ definitely existed sometime, somewhere. That alone is absolute.
And for the first time, on that day, I grew conscious of such an obvious fact.
Kyouko-san has a lost setting… it might be overseas, and it might be somewhere else entirely. All that is certain is that no matter what key is used, no matter what price is paid, that setting can never be regained, and shall never return to Kyouko-san’s side. My thoughts driven by that past, I came to realize once more. Without any exaggeration, Kyouko-san… truly only ever had today.
(Let me Introduce Myself Kyouko-san– Case Forgotten)