The Testimonial of Okitegami Kyouko Chapter 3: Kyouko-san Advises

 

1

 

Where a detective goes, an incident follows.

This was something of a law in the world of detective novels, so it was occasionally teased ‘you should never travel with a detective,’ but in this instance, my way of thinking changed.

I see, given that was their livelihood, a detective’s encounter rate with crime was undoubtedly far higher than the average person, statistically speaking; but if you tried to correlate that with them causing those tragic accidents and incidents, that was surely not the case. Far from it, a detective was capable of preventing a tragedy that would otherwise have occurred—they’re capable of counteracting the trouble they encounter.

Kyouko-san taught me so.

From my heart, I was glad she was there with me—I doubt I’d ever be able to deal with this time’s circumstances on my own. Unable to think of the measures to save Wakui’s life, the blood loss would already conclude him as deceased, and flustered in a feverish haste, I might have remained their unmoving on the spot.

Being able to encounter numerous incidents meant she could cope with that many incidents—at the very least, Okitegami Kyouko was that sort of detective. She splendidly saved a victim.

Perhaps that would mean she saved the culprit as well—but that aside, I was greatly repentant on that point, and even if I wished to learn from her example, was ‘The culprit is in our midst’ not just a tad too far?

Atelier House.

A peculiar tower complex where every resident was a painters’ egg.

A building whose very existence was questionable, but it was simply too soon to conclude the culprit was within it. Fastest detective she may be, but what basis did she have for that conclusion? Before I could ask that, the forgetful detective had slickly, quickly begun to move—continually grasping her speed was no easy feat, but I wasn’t going to take my eyes off of her again.

The culprit is in our midst.

She returned to the building she had made the declaration to—and I followed behind.

 


 

 

2

 

While return she did, Atelier House had an auto lock, and there was a proper procedure she needed to go through to infiltrate—meaning, just as before, Kyouko-san used me as a stepping stool to climb over the parking lot fence and enter the structure.

However, I confuted that jumping over it was way too tomboyish, so I stuck my hands into the fence, letting her climb up my back like a ladder.

“I really do envy those with larger bodies. It’s nothing but tight turns for me.”

Kyouko-san said such a thing, but I personally wanted some better maneuverability myself—even if this hulking build had enough energy to spare, if I couldn’t move it, it was of no use at all.

And to the complex basement we went—where a blood stain spread ominously across the floor.

When I thought of how someone I knew was collapsed there only a moment ago, my heart felt like it was being strangled. He had a bad mouth, I couldn’t say he left a good impression—he was the person who created the reason I was fired… up to this moment, I was in a confused panic, but now that I could calm down a bit, I felt crushed by the scale of the incident that occurred.

As a guard, and as a person.

Despite that, it seemed I was the only one growing so sentimental, Kyouko-san had promptly gone into an on-site investigation.

Thrusting her hands all over as if it weren’t already enough, flipping things, making a mess—that state of affairs really was more of a burglar than a detective.

“U-um, Kyouko-san.”

“Yes?”

Continuing her search without turning around, Kyouko-san responded—she wasn’t just swift, it seemed she could multitask. Certainly, when rescuing old Wakui, she was performing two or three tasks at once.

In that case, holding conversation with a giant as she investigated a scene might be right in her ballpark—emotionally, I’d have liked it if she at least looked at me, but there’s a time and place for everything.

“Are you sure it’s alright to scatter everything like that? Umm… when an incident occurs, I’ve heard it’s vital to preserve the scene.”

That wasn’t something anyone taught me as a guard, it was just knowledge from cop shows, but I think it’s classified as general knowledge.

On my question, Kyouko-san pulled her hands out of the wall-side shelf, raising them up high—when I wasn’t looking, she had put on gloves.

She either carried them around with her, or one-sidedly borrowed a pair of work gloves from the atelier (they looked like work gloves, so for the fashionable Kyouko-san, the probability of the latter was higher), but for the time being, it seems she was saying there was no danger of fingerprints.

“I remember how it was scattered, so I can return it to normal later. Whatever the case, right now, speed is the priority.”

We don’t have any time, Kyouko-san said— she remembers how it was scattered, she threw it out to casually, but that was an intense line.

Yet even if I were to trust Kyouko-san on that point—in the first place, that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t whether or not she could return it to normal afterward, I was trying to say Kyouko-san had no reason to investigate the basement like that.

With saving a life, yeah, that was an emergency so I could consider it natural no matter what she did, but after that was a different story—the investigation of the incident should be left to the police.

Kyouko-san’s speed, meaning her momentum had dragged me into the mix, but what we had to do now was preserve the crime scene to the best of our abilities until the police arrived, and definitely not turn all the room’s drawers inside out…

“The police aren’t coming, you know?”

Kyouko-san said.

“I mean, I didn’t report it.”

“I see, is that so. I guess that works out then… what?”

Of course it doesn’t. She didn’t report? I mean…

“What do you mean you didn’t report it?”

“No mystery about it, I said… what. I. Meant. There we go.”

She wasn’t answering rhythmically, at that time, she was meeting some difficulties in her work—rather than having difficulties, she was taking care of difficult work just fine.

Of all things, she was picking a locked drawer—opening drawers was one thing, but when she started opening up closed locks, she was finally just a thief.

She had tread into a domain where, as her compatriot, I had to stop her for real—I raced over; it was too late.

Kyouko-san succeeded in her picking, took out a clearly important-looking file from inside, and had already opened it at her chest.

“This is seriously bad, Kyouko-san—”

I spoke belatedly.

“— And why didn’t you file a report? Did you forget?”

That was hard to imagine. After such perfect lifesaving measures… while carefully contacting the fire brigade, for her to forget to report it to the police, there was no way such forgetfulness could come to pass. It was quite clear Kyouko-san intentionally didn’t report it—

“Though that’ll only buy us some time.”

Kyouko-san finished reading the file, and reached for the next document. Even if she was speed reading, that was way too fast—she was probably just skimming off just the main points; but skimming off art-related documents she was surely not an expert of was still considerably extraordinary.

“The wound in his stomach was clearly a stab wound, and the painting knife was left in… when the treatment is over, naturally, the hospital will direct the proper report to the police. With a hopeful estimate, that buys us half a day’s worth of time—in that space, I want to investigate as much as possible.”

“… But Kyouko-san. Shouldn’t you leave the investigation to the specialists?”

“I am a specialist.”

I’m a detective, after all, Kyouko-san said.

I mean yeah, a detective’s also an investigation specialist, but even if that were the case, she didn’t have the authority to investigate this one. That was likely precisely why she bought time without reporting… but the problem was why she went that far.

It was certain what she was doing now would get her told off later… played poorly, and it wouldn’t just be a scolding, it was a deed that would grant her legal retribution.

Tentatively, as the one who found the body, and as a coworker of me, Wakui’s bodyguard, perhaps this was an extension of the duties she was supposed to conduct anyways… even so, intentionally not reporting was in error of being the first responder, and at the present point, Kyouko-san had yet to be directly hired by old Wakui.

Meaning, when no one even asked her—she hadn’t received a request, she had arbitrarily begun investigating the case. That was nothing praiseworthy…

What’s more, something felt off. Among the detectives who appeared in novels, there were some who immersed themselves so much in a case they surpassed the boundaries of the law, and those with nothing but solving the mystery as their objective who wouldn’t seek police cooperation—but that was only permitted in the world of fiction.

Hypothetically, if such a detective existed in reality, I couldn’t see Kyouko-san as the type—it’s not as if I knew her for too long, but if I had to say, I thought she had a high professional sense, with her ethics properly in order.

To distance the police here and investigate on her own, solving the case of her own accord and get the achievements—I couldn’t think she held such petty notions either.

In the first place, this case didn’t’ look like such an appealing mystery to me—A break-in burglar stabbed the man he happened to run into, got cold feet and ran. Couldn’t this just be one of those tragedies that unfortunately plague the world? At a glance, there didn’t seem anything missing from the basement, but if it were a burglar who ran in fear, it wouldn’t be strange if they ran without taking anything.

There were no whimsical mysteries to pull at the instinctual heartstrings of a detective—if I had to say, the old man who suddenly destroyed a piece displayed at the museum with his staff was far more mysterious.

Yet why did Kyouko not stop at just saving his life, instead going as far as to throw off the police to embark on her own investigation? Even if that culprit lived at Atelier House, that didn’t mean—

“R-right, Kyouko-san. Can I ask you one question?”

“I do believe you’ve been doing nothing but asking questions for a while now, but… please, do go ahead.”

“Why is the culprit in our midst?”

She declared it so naturally I felt overwhelmed, and I felt a considerable amount of persuasiveness, but come to think of it, there wasn’t a single bit of evidence pointing it to be so.

Because the weapons stabbed in his abdomen was a painting knife, the painters are suspicious: not only was that not evidence, it wasn’t even a basis—painting knives could be sold anywhere, and if you want to bring that up, there just as well could have been one in this room as well. The culprit used a painting knife in arm’s reach to impulsively stab him, that was actually a reasonable expectation.

For argument’s sake, if you expand the term, this apartment complex was a locked room, then you could call the residents with keys would could come and go through the auto-lock most suspicious, but just as Kyouko-san and I were able to infiltrate, it was hard to call the security of this complex solid by any stretch of the imagination.

… If I really had to say it, then the ones with the deepest suspicions as candidates to the crime, rather than the residents of Atelier House, were the intruders, me and Kyouko-san. Even I knew to doubt the first to come upon the body. It was the A B Cs of mystery…

“Take it easy, Oyagiri-san. I didn’t make a dramatic show of, ‘the culprit is in our midst’ under such shallow reasoning…”

“I see…”

Shallow, when she called it shallow, she made me feel a tad downhearted for actually considering it, but this wasn’t the time to be shocked.

“Have a look. At the place Wakui-san collapsed.”

“Where he collapsed?”

I turned at her call—to the blood stain still reflecting a vivid fluorescent light. I felt I would reflexively avert my eyes. Was it because I couldn’t look right at it, that I overlooked something?

“… If you’re not feeling well, I don’t mind if you take a rest somewhere.’

Perhaps sensing my mentality, Kyouko-san spoke mindfully—I appreciated the sentiment, but if I went all groggy while Kyouko-san was hard at work, just how shameful would that be for a professional security guard? At present, I’d failed in my professional duties twice in a row, and was already considerably deplorable, but—I couldn’t show any further unsightliness.

“I’m fine.”

I put on a strong front.

“You don’t have to force yourself, okay? In my case, no matter what gruesome crime scene I see, I know I’ll just forget it tomorrow, so on the contrary, you can say I don’t have to worry about it—no matter the incident, I can never be traumatized.”

I see, now that she mentioned it, that did seem like quite an advantage for a detective… but turning that around, no matter how many crime scenes she experienced, she could never grow accustomed to bloodshed. That she was the forgetful detective could never be the sole reason she remained firm—despite her fluffy air, she was fundamentally strong at the core.

I wasn’t irritated to compete with her, but I really had to learn—that was what I thought.

“But Kyouko-san. I can’t see anything strange about the spot Wakui-san collapsed…”

“Are you sure you’re not mistaken?”

“… Yes. I don’t think I’m mistaken.”

I lost some confidence when she insisted it, but from what I could see, there was nothing but a tragic trace of blood—just from the present state, it was a scene that made it possible to think someone had just spilled paint over the area.

“Is that so? I think so too.”

Kyouko-san answered like it was a trick question—then what, I thought and turned back to Kyouko-san. At present, she had a binder open, with her eyes focused on that—I thought she had already reached for another, but I recognized it at the same one as before.

“There’s nothing strange about it—that’s why it’s so peculiar.”

“? What does that…”

“He didn’t leave any dying message, did he?”

Kyouko-san said.

“A dying message… is it?”

I hesitated to answer—as I recall, it was a mystery novel term. A message left at the time of death—something the victim leaves at the scene to signal out the one who harmed them… was that it?

“Yes, that’s it. You’re quite knowledgeable. We can’t make any guarantees, but for now, Wakui-san’s life has been prolonged, so to be more precise, it might be a near-dying message but—at the place Wakui-san fell, there was no message left behind. Don’t you find that strange?”

“Strange, well… no, I wouldn’t think so.”

Knowing she was looking for a different answer, I still answered honestly.

“I mean, even if he wanted to leave a message, if he didn’t have a pen or pencil, he had no way to leave it…”

“Certainly, he may not have had the stamina left to get a pen, pencil or brush… but he didn’t have the need, did he? He had all the necessary told with him to leave a message, he didn’t even have to get up.”

“Necessary tools… because Wakui-san is a professional, he must carry writing materials around regularly, is that your train of thought?”

That may have been the case, but even if he was a professional Wakui was a framer, not a painter—whether he regularly carried around writing utensils, as someone who had met him before, I couldn’t say for sure.

“I would also find it difficult to conclude so. If he was going out, it might be a different story, but I’d question even a painter carrying a brush around the house.”

“As I thought… then…”

“But without making such high-level judgments, if he just wanted to write a message, it would be simple enough—with blood and a finger.”

The blood was flowing ceaselessly from the wound, and his finger wasn’t severed after all—Kyouko-san said something repulsing. No, while it was repulsing, for dying messages, that was certainly the standard—blood letters left on the scene. But while I thought old Wakui’s blood was like a pool of paint spilled on the scene, I didn’t even consider him actually using it as paint—I should curse my own lack of imagination.

But while discerning what was left in blood letters was something even an amateur could do, discerning something from the lack of blood letters was something even a detective couldn’t.

“He had the change, he had the means, yet he didn’t leave anything to signal out the culprit—what do you think of this, Oyagiri-san?”

“D-don’t ask me…”

It was hard for me to think of it as any particular problem—just because they had the time and means, a dying message wasn’t something just anyone could leave. Even if the wound wasn’t one that would kill him on the spot, it still should have been considerably painful… I think that could have been the last thing on Wakui’s mind.

“Yes, if you put it like that, there’s all there is to it—but what if that wasn’t the case. As a test, try thinking of another possibility.”

“Another possibility…”

It was kinda turning into a thinking game.

It was also somewhat imprudent to give a quiz on the scene of an actual crime. Without putting on airs, she could just say it, I looked at Kyouko-san half-condemning, but she remained trained on the cinder—what’s this?

Not only was the binder the same, it was open on the same page I saw before—though I couldn’t see what was written from my angle (and I doubt I could understand even if I saw it), but was there anything there that would halt Kyouko-san’s speed?

Is that why she could no longer multitask with my obscurity—in that case, it wasn’t very praiseworthy to demand the effort of a detailed explanation from her here. What’s more, after I decided to learn from her, I couldn’t just remain pampered, I couldn’t just abandon thought—so I thought.

When he had the time, he had the means, a reason he wouldn’t leave the culprit’s name or appearance on the spot—or perhaps a reason he couldn’t.

“Because he didn’t know who it was that stabbed him… perhaps?”

“Yes, in that case, he had no way of leaving a message—even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t know who specifically to call out.”

Kyouko-san said, but her eyes didn’t leave the binder—she stared fixedly at the same page. No, she reread it over and over again—when she had such confidence in her short-term memory, that should have been an excessively illogical action, but likely knowing full well of that, Kyouko-san busily raced her eyes as she answered me.

“However, while that would hold up if he was stabbed or hit from behind, Wakui-san was stabbed in the stomach. I don’t think there’s any mistake in assuming he was stabbed from the front—it’s hard to think he didn’t see the culprit.”

“Right… ah, but is there a possibility they were wearing a mask? He didn’t know who it was.”

To adopt the line of reasoning he ran into a burglar, it was possible enough—though I did feel something off about a burglar who prepared a mask beforehand, but not a weapon.

“No. If we suppose the culprit was a professional burglar, then it’s strange that they left the painting knife at the scene, without confirming Wakui-san’s death—of course, while it’s strange, it’s not impossible. And that’s also something you can say, and that’s all there is to it—but I can think of one more case that couldn’t be written off so easily.”

“Can’t be—written off?”

“That Wakui-san clearly identified who the culprit was, yet despite that, didn’t leave any message.”

With a click, Kyouko-san shut the binder. Her spirits were low—rather than closing the page because she reached an answer, hers was a gloomy face that gave off the sense she had given up for the time being. And it was because she gave up, that she put a strenuous effort into checking answer with me—

“A case where he had the change, he had the means, the message he should leave was clear—meaning, the culprit was an acquaintance of Wakui-san, and Wakui-san is covering for them.”

“C… covering? He is?”

“Yes. Which means—”

Kyouko-san moved as she explained. At first, I wondered where she was going, but it seems she was heading for the door in the back of the basement, the one that continued to old Wakui’s living quarters—She had revived her free multitask mode.

His workplace was one thing, but was sticking a hand in his home going too far—no, the present situation was already considerably too far, but Kyouko-san showed no signs of shying back, “which means,” she continued on.

“The culprit who stabbed Wakui-san was the sort of individual Wakui-san would stick up for. For example, a family, a close friend—or perhaps a painters’ egg whose talents he recognized.”

“! Don’t tell me that’s—”

That’s the truth of ‘the culprit is in our midst’? The culprit wasn’t just an acquaintance… because it was a painter whose future he placed his hopes on, Wakui didn’t want to identify him or her as the culprit—of course, it was a forced train of thought, and somewhat absurd.

To cover for the person who stabbed you was normally hard to imagine—but the conditions he was stabbed under were already plenty abnormal. With a large wound in his abdomen, in his chaotic thoughts, perhaps a human could all of a sudden make such a decision.

Then surely she had just raised an easy-to-understand example, and by no means had Kyouko deduced that solely on the presence of a dying message—while it was thinkable that Wakui was still conscious at first, he himself didn’t report it to the police or fire brigade.

There was no doubt that could help form a basis he was covering for the culprit—normally, it could be concluded he couldn’t move from the pain and was unable to, and even now, that possibility seemed to be far higher.

Thinking too hard, deducing too far.

But being well aware of that, Kyouko-san purposely discarded the notion, and focused her attention on a low possibility—the reason being.

“The reason being, that in itself is the message Wakui-san left. I want to cover for the culprit, I don’t want the culprit to be identified, I don’t want the culprit to be punished—that is the message that Wakui-san left us.”

“……”

“Of course, he’s wrong. Whatever the details, for someone who stabbed someone to be forgiven without retribution is, at the very least, not recognized under the constitution of our country—even so, I must place great weight on the message an aging old man put his life in danger to leave. So, at the very least,”

Before the mess of a police investigation comes in, we’ll identify the culprit—and urge them to turn themselves in.

Okitegami Kyouko made a determined declaration.

 


 

 

3

 

 

The time limit was- at most- half a day.

It couldn’t be called long—what’s more, as things stood, that was a generous estimate, and it was amply possible that the police received a report from the hospital, and barged in at this very moment. While it wasn’t as if there was nothing Kyouko-san said that I could sympathize with, I couldn’t think it very realistic at all.

Even if Kyouko-san was the fastest detective, normally in investigating these cases, wouldn’t you need a few days at the very least—no, well, if it demanded multiple days, before being the fastest, she was the forgetful detective, so that was impossible from the get-go.

In the end, In the end, receiving old Wakui’s dying message- scratch that- near dying message, and inheriting what could possibly be his will, it looked like it would be quite difficult for Kyouko-san, an individual with no organizational power, but the woman in question didn’t seem ruffled.

“Don’t worry, Oyagiri-san. It’ll be alright– even if it was a provisional contract through oral promise, an employment relationship was established between you and Wakui-san. Unfortunately, you were unable to protect Wakui-san, but if you succeed in identifying the culprit and having them turn themselves in, I foresee it being plenty possible for you to cheat… negotiate the job payment from Wakui-san.”

She said. Not that anyone here was worried about working for free. What’s more, for a moment, she used quite an improper word there—it was almost like a high-pressure sale, and a right mess.

That being the case, it’s not like I could just say it was futile because we wouldn’t make it in time anyway, leaving Kyouko-san behind in Atelier House and taking my leave—I didn’t know what her plan was after the basement investigation was over, but I could only assist her to the best of my abilities.

Possible or impossible aside, there was no doubt I resonated with Kyouko-san’s behavioral principle of succeeding old Wakui’s will. It wasn’t like I would be able to do much… a match of endurance aside, mental labor was out of my expertise. Whatever the case—it was thus impossible to determine when the bells would ring; a case investigation with a time limit had begun.

Naturally, when that happened, I thought Kyouko-san would move to her next action non-stop, but,

“Well then, Oyagiri-san, please wait here a moment. Before we get into a full-blown investigation, I’ll go take a shower.”

She said something so carefree my ears might come off, and of all things, she entered the bathroom in the inner living space. When the place she headed was a bathroom, there was no possible way I could chase her—it was a surprise that the searches to that point hadn’t been ‘full-blown’, but she was going to take a shower in this situation? No, admittedly, recalling her intense movements while saving old Wakui, perhaps she did sweat up a storm, but—this race against time was no place for a bath, even an amateur in investigations like me could tell.

Just how did Kyouko-san plan to explain herself if the police arrived at this very moment—as a detective, she might be able to stand her ground, but I couldn’t think anyone would be able to provide any logical explanation as to why they were taking a shower in the victim’s room.

In the first place, the notion of washing away one’s sweat in the bathroom of a complete stranger who she’d never even spoken to before was considerably shameless, and similarly, taking a shower in the midst of acting alongside a complete stranger such as myself was an act that made me doubt my nerves. This wasn’t at the level of being flippant.

In regards to a lady’s personal grooming, there are some things that are difficult to stick one’s mouth into—but whatever the case, left with nothing to do, all I could do was loiter around old Wakui’s basement workplace, nervously imitating an investigation.

What’s more, it was after Kyouko-san had finished without oversight, so I couldn’t find any new lead or piece of evidence—in the first place, it wasn’t as if Kyouko-san even found anything while making a mess of the whole room.

I didn’t have the tools for a scientific investigation, nor the know-how for a formal one; there was, of course, a limit to the information that could be obtained with the naked eye, and—as things stood, my deductions hadn’t progressed.

If there was anything it had to be then… that binder she had open when she explained how she concluded the ‘culprit is in our midst’. When her on-site investigation had gone on at a pace I couldn’t follow with my eyes, only once did she slam down on the brakes… what was that?

In that regard, Kyouko-san didn’t tell me anything. Perhaps there was some vital clue in there—a lead to reach the culprit who stabbed old Wakui. The culprit was a resident of Atelier House, that’s why Wakui covered for them—Kyouko-san’s reasoning, now that I was here, calmly thinking about it on my own, while it wasn’t an impossible route by any means, it still had to be quite forced.

Even if I recognized that old Wakui was covering for someone, as Kyouko-san had said with confidence, that subject could be family or friend—to conclude them the culprit despite that was no joke to the irrelevant-in-most-cases residents of Atelier House.

Was there some basis apart from that—no, there probably wasn’t. Kyouko-san wasn’t a god or anything—and it was precisely because she was no god, she did only what she could. Perhaps she had decided so.

Whatever she could—as best she could do it.

In the case the culprit wasn’t a resident of Atelier House, they would be out of Kyouko-san’s range, there would be no choice but to leave it to the police. Although, if the one Wakui wanted to protect was an Atelier House resident, at that time—

If hypothetically, it went as Kyouko-san deduced, and the culprit lived here, in that case, what would the motive of the crime be? Why would an art-aspiring resident receiving financial support from Wakui stab a painting knife into him, their so-called benefactor—it was simple if I was it as a burglar after his money, but in this case, the motive was a complete unknown.

Talk about paying back the favor.

While I didn’t know what the culprit intended, stabbing old Wakui, he was injured in such a way, it wouldn’t be strange in the slightest if he died had Kyouko-san not found him, and even now, we couldn’t get our hopes up. At the point they left an old man in that state and fled, it was inevitable I assumed they intended for him to die—what sort of circumstance would have them want to kill someone they’re so greatly indebted to? … Was I being too rational?

This wasn’t a detective novel, and it could be at-times impossible to decipher everything logically—in reality it was, well, possible to impulsively harm someone who’s taken great care of you. And calling Wakui the grand benefactor of the residents, what is this feeling, come to think of it, I was unilaterally taking his side—He was also an individual of fierce temperament, the sort who would fly into a rage and destroy a work of art. While living in the art world making frames, he was the one to impulsively destroy art and frames.

It was hard to think he didn’t incur and grudges with that personality—to take that to the extreme, old Wakui could have been the one to smack the culprit, and the culprit fought back, that line of legitimate self-defense was plausible. Albeit, there were no traces of a struggle at the scene… but considering his possibility, at least I thought it was plenty possible.

If like at the museum, he let his emotions rule for a brief moment, and that was the result of him getting into a fight with someone, I could see a scenario where the victim would cover for the assailant—and while I was putting together my own reasoning,

“Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Kyouko-san returned to the work-site.

Thinking she really did keep me waiting, I turned towards the voice and winced back—no, my heart didn’t race at Kyouko-san out of the bath, it wasn’t something so glossy.

I wondered who had just appeared.

Of all things, Kyouko-san’s characteristic white hair had been dyed brown—what’s more, the clothes she wore had changed entirely.

Up to a moment ago, she was in a somewhat-loose skirt, yet now, she was in a pair of slender pants and a jacket, she had changed into formal—on closer inspection, the pink blouse under the jacket was the same, but by pairing it with that jacket, the impression it gave off had magically changed.

Did she change in accordance with the job?

Even if that was the case, I found it hard to believe she had such an unwieldy change of clothes prepared… and the clothes aside, what about her hair? Why did she turn that white hair a light brown—while it completely changed her impression, was it supposed to mean something? Did she wash away her white dye in the shower?

“Oh, this?”

Kyouko-san touched her hair.

“I dyed it. Rather, I borrowed the shower room so I could dye it.”

“That’s why—”

So that was—her intent. No matter how I looked at it, entering the bath at this time was irrational, but I see, she did have a goal. But that didn’t get rid of the fundamental question of why.

In the first place, where did she even find brown hair dye?

“No, it’s not as if I was carrying something like that around with me, I just substituted a paint that was lying around.”

“That’s paint?”

Are her follicles alright? The base was white so she could color it as vividly as a canvas, but looking at it from a hair-care point of view, I felt considerably anxious.

But it seems that was just my presumption as an amateur and, “It’s alright,” Kyouko-san declared.

“They sometimes call paints pigment, don’t they? Originally, paints were an ornamental coloring made to rub on your face—there’s no way something that’s fine to rub on your face would be no good for your hair, right?”

“Oh really—”

(TL: This doesn’t really work in English, but the Japanese word for pigment consists of the Kanji 顔料, face material. It’s for faces.)

Well, there were different types of paint, so it couldn’t be unconditional, but naturally, Kyouko-san must have picked out a harmless paint.

“Then what about the clothes? Were you keeping a change somewhere? Or is that also borrowed?”

“Borrowed, I guess you could call it borrowed…”

Kyouko-san hesitated for a bit. What could I be, I wondered, but hearing her next words, the reason became clear.

“Yes, the truth is, I took apart some of Wakui-san’s clothes in a closet in the back room, and sewed and fit them. A so-called hand-made haute couture.”

I see, that makes things awkward. Borrowing paint was understandable, but arbitrarily cutting up his clothes was too far—a closer look showed the jacket’s lining to be strangely Japanese-textured. She must have made it out of his work clothes.

I thought she was taking a long, comfortable bath to wash away the sweat, but to think she put together a full set of clothes… putting together a stretcher and assembling apparel, this was almost like a high-level home ec class.

Isn’t this person’s hand-crafting power way too high? I’m beginning to believe that rather than detective, there’s a job out there she’s far more suited to.

“Oh no, I just threw it together, they’re improvised clothes after all. It might look well crafter at a glance, but it’s pretty much like papier mache, and where you can’t see, the inner stitching and such is quite arbitrary. If I move to flashily, it is fated to fall apart. In that sense, wearing it makes my heart race.”

“But… why did you do that? Dying your hair and changing clothes… that’s practically a disguise.”

“It is a disguise.”

Kyouko-san stuck up a finger.

“We have no time after all—no time to gradually make our way by filling in the outer moat. From here on, I think I’ll go around asking the residents of Atelier House.”

“You’re going to ask all of them?”

“Yes, direct negotiations.”

Well, that was proper—more legitimate than I thought.

Perhaps she was just fast, and the actions she took weren’t all too strange—what was so fast it seemed strange was fundamentally detective work by the cook. Since she determined the residents were the suspects, naturally, her next action was to hear out the circumstances from them.

“But you haven’t narrowed down the suspects, have you? Pointing out, ‘You are the culprit’ is one thing, but if you go around asking, ‘are you the culprit?’ I don’t think you’ll find anyone who honestly says ‘yes, I am’…”

In that case, Kyouko-san wouldn’t even have to do anything for them to turn themselves in.

“Yes. And so, instead of as a detective, I shall take on a different title, and go around hearing their stories- that white hair is a tad too conspicuous for the job.”

I see, in the case one of the residents knew of the ‘forgetful detective,’ they might identify Kyouko-san from her characteristic white hair—to take that even further, there was even a possibility that among the residents of Atelier House was a previous client of the Okitegami Detective Agency. In that case, Kyouko-san would be the one who couldn’t tell—she’d have forgotten them.

In that case, even if she feigned her standing, she’d be seen through too easily—that white hair was better off kept hidden.

The formal wear was because she planned to impersonate that sort of occupation, huh… was she taking some form of public survey or something?

“If I can hear them out five minutes each, it should be enough. We should be able to pay a visit to every room in five hours at most—though if the culprit is identified before that, naturally, I’ve nothing left to say.”

“T-that may be true… but are you okay with that?”

“Yes? About what?”

As she blankly asked back, my words piled for a moment, but I simply had to confirm it.

“I kinda got the feeling that your white hair, was to you, your identity as a detective, or rather… something like your flagship as a detective. Are you okay with haphazardly coloring it out like that, what’s more with paint… I was just wondering.”

I thought so at first, but come so far, I found it hard to believe it was just fashion.

There had to be some circumstances behind her white hair—but boldly she wore it without an attempt to hide it away, without wearing a hat, she showed it off to the world, surely her principles were embedded into it, so I thought.

“You say some silly things, Oyagiri-san.”

Kyouko-san said with a truly amused laugh.

The identity, the flagship.

“The true show of a detective can’t lie in anything apart from solving crimes.”

Hearing that—in my heart, I quietly revoked a previous statement. There was no job in the world she was more suited for than detective.

 


 

 

4

 

 

We’re saved, I honestly thought. It struck me when we climbed aboveground from the basement atelier and found we could use the elevator—This was a thirty-two-floor tower apartment complex, after all

If we were to visit every residence, that along would be a great amount of labor, and if you added climbing the stairs to that, it would be nothing to scoff at—confident as I was in my stamina from my occupation, even I’d find it harsh. Kyouko-wan was tougher than she looked, but her build was slender, there wasn’t much to say about that—at the time, with an innocent look, “Well then, let’s get going,” she set out on the stairs.

When Kyouko-san made the move, I couldn’t whine myself; I made my own resolve and followed behind her, but once we’d gotten a floor up from the basement,

“Pardon me,”

Kyouko-san opened the door to the elevator hall. She never waited for my opinion before taking action, and she wouldn’t explain anything either, not only was she speedy, she took arbitrary action skipping over the process, so when her route suddenly bent, I asked after the fact to find out she, ‘heard a sound,’ apparently. My mind was already on the second floor and beyond that, and I was devoted to climbing stairs so I didn’t hear it, but Kyouko-san’s antenna was perpetually directed in every direction.

Beyond the door were two men in workers’ clothing—with stepladders and such, they held large parcels, their preparations to leave already over, as they were already set to depart from the complex.

“I’m a resident of this complex but, pardon me, is the elevator working now?”

Kyouko-san struck up conversation with them. She was brazenly lying from her very first word, and listening to her from the side, for an instant, oh, so Kyouko-san lives here, I was in danger of accepting it.

What’s more, my mind taken by the lie, it was hard to pick it up, but the way she asked was clever—instead of asking the workers, ‘what are you doing,’ she asked ‘is the elevator working,’ a question quite a few steps down the road.

It was a casual fine play, or rather, from the moment she lied she was a resident, it would be unnatural for her not to know about any work being done inside, and would give rise to a contradiction—the greatest necessity of a liar wasn’t the ability to skillfully lie, it was the ability to never forget a lie told.

The forgetful detective Kyouko-san, while only restricted to the span of a day, held an exceedingly high capacity in that ability, it seems.

“Yes. The inspection’s over. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

One of them said.

“I see, no thank you.”

“Oh no, this is our job.”

“By the way, from when were you working on it again? I think you started earlier than scheduled.”

“? No? Just as scheduled, we’ve been here since nine in the morning.”

“Is that so—it must have been my mistake. I apologize for holding you up here.”

Kyouko-san lowered her brown-dyed head.

“Oh not at all, well then if you’ll excuse us,” with some sociable greetings, they left—apparently, the elevator was unusable due to a scheduled inspection completely unrelated to the incident. The apartment I lived in was two floors, and it didn’t have anything as extravagant as an elevator installed, but I see, it was a mechanism that couldn’t risk the one-in-a-million chance of an accident, so it would need that sort of maintenance every few months. If the only elevator was unusable thanks to regular maintenance, during that time, the residents on the upper floors really had their work cut out for them but, well, it was only a few hours.

Whatever the case, with the elevator in working order, it looked like we could avoid the climbing that came with visiting every residence, and I was relieved.

“That’s a relief, Kyouko-san.”

I said,

“Hmmm,”

Though Kyouko-san was curiously tilting her head—her eyes chased the two leaving men as she tapered her lips. In a way, she looked disappointed that the stair climbing she had decided to challenge herself with had been called off, but I didn’t want to believe that could be the case.

Still, then what could she be thinking about? As I was unable to keep up with her thought speed, “What’s wrong, Kyouko-san?” I honestly asked.

“Eh? Oh, no, my apologies. I was just considering the possibility that those people were the culprits.”

“I-I see, is that so.”

She answered in a maybe sort of tone, so there wasn’t much weight on the words themselves, but after she questioned them like that, and carried such a friendly, good-natured conversation, casting doubt on them was surely not a light act.

If you called her faithful to her station as a detective, perhaps—but with how calmly she lied, this person was definitely not as ditzy as her appearance and conduct might suggest. Not restricting her suspicious to the complex’s residents, her shrewdness in properly looking at outsiders with doubt might be something to praise…

But as one acting alongside her, it did make me anxious—she smiled and spoke so kindly to me, but in my heart, I ended up wondering if she was actually doubting me as well. In truth, having just met old Wakui, the possibility of us arguing over my employment terms wasn’t unimaginable—naturally, I should be under suspicion. Taking it back even further, I was sacked from my previous workplace thanks to Wakui—one might say I have a motive. That hazy something within me had cleared as I consulted with Kyouko-san, but if that wasn’t the case, even if I didn’t embrace murderous intent, there was a chance I might stop by this Atelier House to launch a complaint at old Wakui.

… Perhaps that’s what it really meant when they say one shouldn’t travel with a detective—not because the incidents break out, but because you’re also suspect in them.

“But that doesn’t seem likely—if we’re just talking about possibilities, of course, it’s possible, but if someone disguised as an inspection worker to murder him, then I highly doubt they would forget to hand up an ‘inspection in progress’ sign.”

And Wakui-san wouldn’t have any reason to cover for them—Kyouko-san removed her eyes from the automatic auto-lock door, walking over to the elevator that had cleared inspection.

Come to think of it, if it was being inspected, then they could at least put up a sign—it was a plausible careless mistake, but if someone disguised and deliberately carried out this plan, it was reasonable to assume there was no way they would make such an oversight.

It was crude, as far as deductions went, but that was probably Kyouko-san’s technique as a detective. Placing speed over accuracy, the verification could be carried out after she reached her conclusion—imprecise, yet rational and efficient. Of course, that was a rational and efficiency built over Kyouko-san’s speed as a premise—from my point of view, that was a crude deduction in and of itself.

At the same time, I felt relieved. Even if Kyouko-san suspected me, I could be taken off the suspect list for the same reasons—old Wakui had no reason to stick up for me.

“Oyagiri-san? If you don’t get on fast, the door’s going to close.”

On her urgings, I hurriedly boarded the elevator compartment—Kyouko-san didn’t hold the open button for me, so if I was late, perhaps she intended to leave me to my own devices.

“Hup.”

She stretched out quite a bit and pressed the button for the top floor—button ‘32’.

Oh? Just from what I’d heard, I thought she was going to make her rounds starting from the second floor, but—was there a change of plans?

Top down or bottom up, if she was seeing them all anyway, there really wasn’t much of a difference.

“Oh no, I just thought of something… and because of that starting from the top and starting from the bottom are no longer the same.”

“? I see…?”

She said that which I couldn’t understand. But when she spoke incomprehensibly like that, I was kinda starting to understand those were the times when her mind was working on that, and that alone. IT was the same when she was looking at the binder in the basement—come to think of it, that binder, wat even was it in the end? I was so taken aback by Kyouko-san’s transformation I forgot to ask—even if I did, she might not answer.

But a confined elevator was an awkward space to be, and seeking a conversation to fill a few dozen seconds, I turned the talk towards it.

“What sort of documents were in that binder? You seemed to be paying it quite a bit of attention…”

“Oh, that? Yes, well—I wouldn’t say it’s that important.”

Kyouko-san’s response was expectedly tepid and vague. Hmm, she hesitated some as, “Oyagiri-san, what do you think about it?” she asked back.

“How… about what?”

“The culprit’s motives. In my inspection of the site, rather than searching for physical evidence, that was what I was placing emphasis on.”

Motive. My heart skipped a beat; that had been exactly what I was thinking about. Of course, it did seem Kyouko-san had begun considering it far before that—not that I was going to be surprised by her speed at this point.

“We are short on time, you see. I was wondering if there was any way we could identify the culprit from a motive perspective—in that case, what comes to mind is the job Wakui-san was about to embark upon.”

“Yeah, I’d say so too.”

Or so I agreed, but come to think of it, I’d completely forgotten. Wakui called me to Atelier House to guard the frame making he would set out on as his final project. With an incident happening at this timing, it was only natural to assume it had some relation—in that case, it made me sink further and further down.

My failure to protect old Wakui went without saying, but I couldn’t even protect the opportunity to see his final work with these eyes—even if his life was locked in place, when he’d suffered such a large injury, there was no guarantee he’d be able to work as he had before. He would require a considerable hospitalization period, and there might be some lingering effects…

Thinking about that got me down, and at the very least, I felt like carrying out his will—and Kyouko-san must have reached that point ages ago. Even if she pressed forward with hopes of a reward, she was a detective by trade who didn’t move on a sense of justice or curiosity, and the fact she was moving on the fly was more than I could hope for.

Or perhaps from the start, Kyouko-san san sympathized indirectly with Wakui’s character she had heard from me—while they were different in form, they each waged their all on their own occupation.

That she changed her clothes, dyed her hair, and pretended to be someone else as she investigated, it really did give off the feel she had deviated from the proper path. That wasn’t much different from old Wakui who felt his trade had been insulted and caused a ruckus at the museum.

Birds of a feather, perhaps not, but there were some things in those that work, that only fellow workers could understand—thinking over that, and turning it over in my hands, I thought it truly unfortunate I never got to see Kyouko-san and old Wakui’s discussion.

In the future, sometime, someplace, I can only hope the chance arises…

“If hypothetically, that final job was the trigger for this incident—in that case, the Atelier House residents’ involvement with the case should be obvious.”

“Oh… of course.”

When she used the word obvious, I was pressed for a response with no room for mistake. But where speed was a higher priority than caution, I started out with an answer. You could say it was similar to giving up on misplaced thought. I spoke what came to mind without much deliberation.

“It was the… contents of his final job, his final frame, after all. Someone living in Atelier House… is supposedly painting that painting at this very moment.”

“Yes, precisely.”

Kyouko-san nodded.

“Which leads to two possibilities. First, the possibility that the culprit is that very resident painting the painting. Second, the possibility that the culprit is a resident who is not painting that painting.”

“……?”

Mn? No, without brandishing that train of thought, wasn’t she just saying what went without saying? Either A, or everything not contained within A, was all it was. I couldn’t think that narrowed the possibilities at all.

“Oh no, it’s actually a considerably important point. Meaning an argument broke out with the person painting the picture about its completion… and it devolved into that is one possibility— otherwise, a resident dissatisfied that the honorable Wakui didn’t choose them for his final work and dropped down to the basement to talk with him directly, and one thing led to another, is the other possibility. These two are completely different, and based on which it is, the approach I should take will change.”

“Hmmm… well, when you put it like that.”

Sure enough, the former could restrict the suspect to a single person, but the later only decreased the suspect pool by one, which couldn’t be called very productive. But impression-wise, I felt the latter was higher—as Wakui maintained secrecy in regards to his final work, he applied a camouflage to make it difficult to figure out who was painting that picture.

Applying camouflage might make it sound like he used some advanced technique of his traded, or carried out some high-level risk management, but all he really did was have a great many residents paint fake pictures.

I couldn’t even imagine how an artist tasked at painting a pointless painting that wouldn’t be used would feel, but if they were put up to it, I doubt they’d be able to maintain their motivation, and perhaps their anger and resentment at old Wakui would build up.

“Naturally, there’s an entirely different possibility as well. Even if we narrow down the suspects to the residents of Atelier House, it is possible that the motive is completely irrelevant to the painting or Wakui-san’s job. But even if that is the case, there is meaning to be had in identifying the individual he appointed to create the painting. There should be information only he or she is aware of.”

“… And was that what was written in that binder’s documents?”

I surmised that must have been the reason she stopped on it, but, “No, it was not detailed,” Kyouko-san shook her head.

“Unfortunately, I searched that word space and residential space high and low, but I was unable to identify any of the residents Wakui-san appointed, fakes included.”

“I see… that sounds about right.”

He had kept so secretive about his final job, I doubt he would leave any written records detailing the individual he selected. Even if he did record it, it was more than possible the culprit collected and made off with it as they fled—they may have promptly gotten rid of any information that identified them. In that case, it was possible the culprit would be the former… meaning the individual old Wakui entrusted the grand task to. Though the fact the one drawing the real picture didn’t even know it was real was the bottleneck of that theory…

“Huh? But Kyouko-san, in that case, why were you staring at that binder so intently?”

“This is a phrase I don’t really want to use as a detective, but—I didn’t really get it.”

“…?”

“You might say I found myself confused upon coming into contact with information completely different from what I was looking for… no, I’ll tell you about it later.”

Just as Kyouko-san finished up with that, the elevator arrived at the top floor, and the door opened. A hallway far vaster than I had anticipated opened up before my eyes.

“For now, let’s start by making rounds—collect as much information as possible. I’ll change my title around a bit depending on who we’re dealing with so, Oyagiri-san, just do your best to play along.”

“My best, eh… yes, understood.”

I was a clumsy soul, so it would be troublesome if I was requested a lie on Kyouko-san’s level, but if it was just playing along, it might work out—generally speaking, I could just stand behind Kyouko-san as she argued her case, casting a silent pressure on whoever she was talking to. Reluctant as I am to admit it, I’m quite good at letting off an intimidating air with the size of my body.

Brazenly walking to the depths of the hall, Kyouko-san pushed the intercom button without hesitation.

“Oyagiri-san, a step to the right please.”

I wondered what she meant at first, but it seemed she was contriving to put my large build outside the range of the fisheye lens. Certainly, while it was a complex with an auto lock, for there to be a direct visit on each individual room would, in itself flare up the suspicious of those inside—laying down pressure before the door had even be opened might have them pretend to be out.

On the contrary, if all they could see through the lens was a single small-built lovable brown-haired woman, there was a higher likelihood they would lower their guard and open the door—in that case, perhaps that was the purpose of the disguise.

Sometime later,

“Who is it?”

Without going through the intercom, a response came directly across the door—the resident had undoubtedly taken in Kyouko-san’s form through the fisheye lens.

Whether mindful of their eyes or not, Kyouko-san held up a writing pad she must have swiped at some point from the basement room as a prop in one hand and smiled.

“Pardon my visit, I’m with city hall.”

She greeted them.

Naturally, she was no civil worker, nor has she come from any official channel.

 


 

 

5

 

A visit to every resident of the complex. Where just imagining it made me feel fed up, just mentioning it made me reluctant, such plain, honest work. It was like busy work, or rather, as work goes, it was honestly considerably labor intensive.

I mean yeah, unlike detective novels, a majority of real detective work consisted of these sort of investigation and listening duties, requiring a great deal of patience—it couldn’t be carried out with a straight face like a machine, how Kyouko-san adapted herself to every encounter really wasn’t normal.

To speak from conclusions, there was nothing to end the visit to every door along the way, it finished in just under four hours—I estimated around five, so my plans were just compressed a bit.

Of course, there were people who were out, and those who were (probably) pretending to be out—but we managed to meet the larger majority of over fifty residents.

We met and heard what they had to say. I’ll say this, it was a job that could only be done with Kyouko-san’s character—of course, the fact we were unable to end it along the way came as a set with a futility that we didn’t gain much information.

Perhaps I should be thankful just that the police didn’t barge into the complex from a police report in the middle of investigations… we were hiding our identities and the incident itself to question, so perhaps there was a restriction on the questions we could pose.

What we heard from each resident was their relation to old Wakui, and about his ‘work’ these days—then about their personal life habits, Kyouko-san was able to nonchalantly draw out information, yet you could say we barely gained anything.

At most, that old Wakui had a considerably pure reputation among the residents—to think, without knowing the one in question was at present wandering the boundary of life and death at the hospital, those residents would unveil such language and vilification without reserve or consideration to Kyouko-san, someone they were seeing for the first time.

He was supposed to be their patron, and someone they were indebted to, but should I say surprisingly, or should I say I saw it coming, he was quite hated by his tenants—that being the case, just form what I’d heard from the side, it was hard to think that was connected to murderous intent.

I can’t say what Kyouko-san thought about their words, but as one who looked after them, and someone they shared a house with, it was foul language that came with a sense of closeness—I’m sure there was that side to it as well.

I may be repeating myself, but while one may surmise a motive, when you get down to it, there’s no way one could understand anyone’s inner workings—it’s between family, friends, lovers than quarrels are easiest to break out. If they got along poorly enough for the seeds of murder to sprout, then they were never within arm’s reach, they were growing apart, such people—when you boil it down, no matter the relationship, one could say a case was likely could happen, and another could say it was not.

But if one were to ask if those four hours were wasted, that wasn’t the case.

Even if one’s innermost thoughts remain unclear, simple pros, cons, and interests there are such definite difficult-to-shift entities. In that regard, including those who were out, pretending to be out, and those we couldn’t have a decent conversation with regardless, it was clear not a single resident of Atelier House stood to gain from murdering old Wakui—more so, a majority of them novice artists, they would generally be at a massive loss.

That wasn’t simply because they would lose support from an influential person. While this Atelier House held the appearance of a towering apartment building, it apparently was not registered as a housing complex.

One of the residents told us.

On paper, this place was treated as Wakui’s personal residence. In short, that would make every resident living here a freeloader with no right of residence.

If it were a housing complex, a lease contract would have been exchanged, and even if the owner of the complex were to change, even if there was a problem in paying rent, at the very least, they’d be able to live there a while longer, but in the case old Wakui died, and the complex’s owner changed, they would be promptly driven right out—even if we were in a recession, it was a generally prosperous country we lived in, albeit even if they didn’t end up on the streets, they would be placed in quite a painful position.

Losing Wakui their patron wouldn’t set them back to zero, it would put them into the negatives—was there any resident here who would really ignore that logic to harm their landlord? Would they really grow so emotional that such profit and loss calculations stopped working—Kyouko-san’s ‘the culprit is in our midst’ theory, upon making our rounds, suddenly grew dubious.

“You mustn’t jump to conclusions, Oyagiri-san. They could also see it like this—say they’re a resident who chose to give up on their talent, and was to soon have their support cut off, if they were going to be driven out regardless, the decided to bet it all and resort to violence in the end, bringing about such a tragedy. How does that sound?”

Kyouko-san said—it was certainly possible. Rather than betting it all, that was practically desperation, but… if we surmise they wanted to clear up their resentment at the end, that would make it easier to reach our current predicament.

In that case, the following deductions would be simple. We just had to make another round, and identify a resident who was about to be cut off—even if it was just on the level of gossip between floormates, identifying candidates shouldn’t prove too difficult.

“Of course, in that case, would Wakui-san really cover for a resident he was about to cut off? That births a new question.”

Kyouko-san turned over the deduction she made herself—it did seem that was one of her specialty shows of round-robin reasoning. Through we already spent too much time to go through every possible theory.

“And of course, there’s also the possibility of complicity, isn’t there? Two, maybe even more people tried to kill Wakui-san…”

“It’s possible. But the residents are all rivals, and as long as they were urged into a competition, it’s hard to think it would be easy to form a complicit relationship on the level of conspiring.”

“Competition… is it.”

Right, even if they had to mingle to an extent, living in the same complex, as they were peers holding the same title, they couldn’t grow any closer than necessary—or rather, in the first place, there were signs old Wakui measured it out so they wouldn’t get along too well.

The way he stuck up camouflage for his final job was the same—with no one knowing who was real and who was a fake, a certain seed of paranoia would sprout. This was something one of the residents we heard out (anxiously) spoke of, but old Wakui apparently preached the harm of fellow artists getting together at every opportunity. There is nothing that degrades art further than artists colluding—apparently.

While those words were harsh, I could see what he was getting at—rather, it was a single possible outlook. If aspiring artist gathered to simply form a group of friends or support circle, that would undoubtedly differ from the Atelier House old Wakui had in mind.

Though was it excessive to purposely produce an environment where they’d hate one another… to add to that, in each house visit, we could see through the gaps the residents’ living conditions. To an outsider like me, I thought them severely limited.

Among those interviewed were friendly and sociable ones and, perhaps feeling an intimacy with the visitor Kyouko-san (though never with me), quite a few of them let her into their room, but while the rooms’ make itself was luxurious, their state was specialized to paint pictures, it was a space for that alone.

Put simply, excluding the minimum necessary essentials for life, only art supplies were left around the room—old Wakui’s support seemed to be limited to art matters in the strictest possible sense. He would always oblige requests like I’m out of paint, or I need a brush, but his support for food and clothing expenses were drops in a bucket.

When he was told it would be used to paint, he bought bread, when he was told it would be used as a motif, he bought fruit, there were residents with episodes that brought tears to my eyes—old-fashioned episodes I couldn’t think would come from any human living in a high-rise complex.

To add onto that, pets were prohibited, living with family was prohibited, letting friends or lovers stay over was prohibited, It had rules set down like a strict student dorm.

No hunger or cold, if you ignored the luxuries, it didn’t lack any freedoms, but if you lived here, taking any action apart from ‘painting paintings’ was quite difficult—considering how Atelier House was old Wakui’s private residence, there was a time I held an impression of a salon where artists gathered to hold an exhibition, but hearing of the real conditions from the one in question, I was even leaning towards calling it a forced labor institution.

Of course, it wasn’t as if there was any quota, and in the case their paintings sold, he wouldn’t even take a commission, the artist would simply receive the money, so calling it forced labor might be going so far—but if one spent too long under these living conditions, there was no doubt in my mind it would place a burden on the heart.

At the very least, looking at it from the perspective of a welfare program, it was wholly inadequate—the outside might be splendid, but the contents weren’t fit for life. No, there were kitchens and bathrooms, so perhaps only the blessed could say it wasn’t fit for life, but still, it was undeniable that rather than living, it was a space where art was placed on a higher plane.

With that rose another possibility, that mentally cornered, no longer able to discern what was what, and unable to distinguish profit or loss, a resident might have murdered with no motive at all—so the only ‘definitive’ thing that became clear after the visits was perhaps that the residents of Atelier House were generally not living in any decent environment.

To be honest, I didn’t get it.

When Kyouko-san deduced that old Wakui was covering for the culprit, I felt like she had seen his aptitude as a landlord, but in his management of Atelier House, that sweetness and calmness was nowhere to be found. More so, it was terribly cruel—with such reverence to the artistic attributes, the human attributes were sacrificed.

“Do you mean you can’t tell if Wakui-san is a good person or not?”

Kyouko-san asked, seeing through my hesitation; I could only nod—it kinda made me feel embarrassed I had tried to classify him under an infantile black and white scale of good person and bad person, but it was an honest point I couldn’t cover up.

“How should I put it… I ended up wondering if you really had to put in so much effort to succeed his will—if this situation was brought about by him reaping what he sowed.”

“You’re kind, you know that, Oygiri-san. I’d call you a good person.”

Kyouko-san gave a peculiar laugh.

“Then why not try thinking about it like this? If you don’t know if Wakui-san is a good person or bad person, for now, why don’t we continue investigating until we know for sure? If he is a bad person, you can just stop then—but if we stop now, in the case Wakui-san is a good person, there’s no way to turn back.”

That was definitely one way to look at it. That so-called ‘better to regret doing than to regret never having done,’—I didn’t like the words too much, but to Kyouko-san, the forgetful detective, that strategy was exceedingly effective and applicable.

Regret or not, once tomorrow came around, Kyouko-san would forget everything she did today—do it or not, there were no regrets. Then she just had to do what she had to.

Even if the result had it all end in vain, that was fine in itself—If it went well and she forgot, it was quite much the same. Because she couldn’t regret, she could bravely challenge things at full speed—thinking about it normally, only having a day’s worth of memory looked like nothing more than a huge demerit in the detective agency, but the more I thought about it, the more of an advantage it was to her.

Of course, there were surely things she could do precisely because of who she was—there was no guarantee anyone could do the same.

… And, no matter what job she accomplished, just as there was no regret, there was no achievement or worth in doing it—I wonder how that balance was settled in Kyouko-san.

“Kyouko-san, err… what do you think at the moment?”

“Meaning? About whether Wakui-san is a good or bad person?”

“There’s that too… but about the environment of Atelier House itself. I can’t really tell if this environment is a good thing or not—”

“That’s the difficult part. I personally think leaving myself to this environment would be too tiresome, and I’d have to take a pass, but for one with artistic inclinations, it is unknown how they would think. Everyone, despite what they said, didn’t seem to have the slightest intentions of leaving this place—perhaps to an aspiring artist, this place is a heaven, and also a hell.”

Once you station yourself here, you can never get a break even if you want to, Kyouko-san put it together. Putting it all together, for anyone aspiring to be an artist, being able to receive unlimited support undoubtedly made this a dream-like environment—there was also no doubt the environment itself was making them spoiled.

“Good or bad, vice or virtue, it depends on the person experiencing them—I would say? It’s like appraising a painting.”

Having long since forgotten the happenings of that day, Kyouko-san might have said it without any particular intentions, but those nonchalant words had me recall how the same picture’s value could change between two hundred million and two million. That appraisal—that pricing was Kyouko-san’s personal opinion, and once again, I priced the smashed painting at zero yen.

Yet back then, perhaps I was the one who was truly being appraised—insisting he would judge everything with his own eyes, with his question, old Wakui surmised the human known as Oyagiri Mamoru.

Someone who tried to see value in me, eh? Someone who tried to know my worth—if that was the underlying reason behind my hiring, then that was similarly the reason Kyouko-san was here. As a result, that decision was the one that saved his life, but…

How to see old Wakui, and how to see this Atelier House—I couldn’t determine what decision I’d reach after that, but perhaps that conclusion would paradoxically manifest my values, my value as a person.

“And also, Oyagiri-san.”

Kyouko-san said.

“For a while now, you’ve been speaking as if those visits were a wasted effort, but that wasn’t the case at all—don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the two large gains we made?”

“Umm…”

When she urged me, I see, sure enough, it wasn’t like the investigation ended with nothing at all.

There were two special mentions. It’s just, I couldn’t determine whether to call them large gains or not—especially when one of them was just a trouble that put the progress of our investigation in danger. For the other, not only did it complicate our outlook on the case, it was hard to say it got us any closer to a resolution.

“That’s not true. Try remembering, Oyagiri-san.”

When the forgetful detective was telling me to remember, there’s wasn’t much else to do—I reflected on them one at a time. Right, that one happened not long after the investigation ha begun… on the thirtieth floor if I recall correctly—

 


 

 

6

 

“That’s a lie.”

He immediately told Kyouko-san, when she went the standard route of introducing herself as a city official. Right, among the over-fifty residents of Atelier House, only a single person saw through Kyouko-san’s false self-introduction.

It was on the thirtieth floor, meaning not even near halfway from when we started, and I find it difficult to describe the panic I felt at the time—though upon including every floor thereafter, he was the only one to see through Kyouko-san’s lie.

No, well, granted, it was just a bit pushing it to list that as his achievement—the reason being, he was acquainted with the man who was originally just supposed to put down pressure from behind Kyouko-san. If he knew my identity, then it was understandable that he doubted my compatriot Kyouko-san’s introduction—if a former museum security guard about to be employed by old Wakui accompanied a worked from city hall, anyone would find it unnatural.

Meaning, the him I’m talking about—the resident of that room was a certain young Hakui. Right, an oversight on my part.

I should’ve properly informed Kyouko-san there was someone who knew me among the residents—if she knew, she might have put up proper countermeasures in advance, but even a detective couldn’t act against what they didn’t know.

“Huh? What’s with your hair? Did you dye it with paint?”

Hakui said, crudely pointing at Kyouko-san’s head—once he knew something was off, naturally, a paint specialist would notice the improvised browning.

“Yes, that’s right. Isn’t it pretty?”

When her disguise was seen through, I thought she might get into a panic, but Kyouko-san nonchalantly replied. She didn’t seem moved in the slightest.

I see, I noticed. Just because her lie of coming from city hall was seen through, that didn’t mean the fact she was a detective, and the incident in the basement had come to light—at that very moment, to Hakui-kun, her identity was shrouded in mystery.

Then there was no need to rush and confess everything—no need to tumble on your own, or so Kyouko-san was firmly dealing with this pinch. In that case, as the least bit of assistance I could offer,

“Hey, it’s been a while, Hakui-kun.”

Alongside his name, I emphasized he knew who I was—while it didn’t come out casually at all, I thought Kyouko-san should know why he was able to see through it.

“A while? We just met yesterday, old timer—”

He said dubiously. His attitude as impertinent as ever.

“What? Did you already start working? Then is this lady over here—your girlfriend or somethin’?”

“Yes, something like that.”

Containing my hurried attempt to deny it, Kyouko-san ambiguously affirmed the notion—while I didn’t know her end game, as long as she said that, I couldn’t disturb her pace any further.

“Hmmmm…?”

After staring fixedly at Kyouko-san a while, Hakui-kun looked to me.

“So why did your girlfriend lie to knock at my door? Are you trying to draw some information from me?”

I just got back from a museum, could you just let me rest—he said, raising his guar.

If he went to a museum, I guess that meant he was studying paintings again, like when he first met me. When he said he’d pretty much finished copying the ones he was after, yesterday and then today, looks like he’s still got his work cut out for him—don’t tell me he’s on new game plus.

“Yes, to tell you the truth,”

Kyouko-san said with a smile. Just because she was dealing with a child, her attitude didn’t seem to have changed—in the door-to-door visits up to then, she generally took the same attitude.

Granted, putting aside him seeing through her lie, at the point he lived at Atelier House, she probably presumed he wasn’t just any young boy.

“Wakui-san put in a request. We’re in the middle of investigating how work’s going for the residents of Atelier House. I apologize for telling a lie, I’m sorry.”

Kyoko-san lowered her brown head, but in essence, she was apologizing for her lie with a lie. I kinda get the feeling if I operate with this person for too long, I’m going to develop trust issues—but that lie didn’t work on Hakui-kun either.

“That’s also a lie.”

He definitively declared. I had erased my presence to the best of my abilities, so that one was just him purely deducing a lie—even so, not flustered in the slightest, Kyouko-san simply raised her head.

“Oh? What makes you think so?”

She said, and he unraveled his basis.

“There’s no way teacher would care about how our work’s going. All that person cares about is the results we put out—though it’d be a different story if he was observin’ if anyone was slackin’ off.”

“Hmm. Then that’s the lie I should have gone with.”

Kyouko-san didn’t shy back. While she was smiling, she was definitely a bad influence to this child.

Hakui-kun seemed let down by that joking attitude, “Who the hell are you?” he threatened. Though his age chipped whatever intensity the threat might have…

“Who knows? Who do you think I am? I’m the one who wants to know my identity the most.”

That evasive phrasing sounded like it was meant to rile Hakui-kun even further, but—surprisingly, that may have been her honest answer. As the forgetful detective with no memories beyond today, there was no greater mystery than her own identity—her own past.

“Come to think of it, on the way back, I passed by ‘n ambulance—don’t tell me, did something happen to teacher?”

“!”

With that suddenly pointed out, I froze up—perhaps Kyouko-san would have succeeded in warding it off, but it looked like my reaction alone was enough for Hakui-kun.

“Tsk…”

Clicking his tongue, Hakui-kun turned his back to us.

“So that’s what’s up—I always thought it would happen one of these days.”

“N-no, what are you talking about, Hakui-kun? Wakui-san isn’t particularly—”

“Don’t hide it.”

His back still turned, he spoke.

“If you plan on hiding it, why don’t I invite a few other residents in the area, so we can all pay a visit to the basement?”

I shut my mouth. If he did that, all of Kyouko-san’s schemes would collapse—a huge ruckus was unavoidable, and even if that wasn’t the case, if they saw the bloodstains in the basement, surely someone would immediately report it to the police. Kyouko-san’s intent was the identify the culprit before the case went public, we couldn’t have Hakui-kun do anything at this stage.

I panicked, but,

“We don’t plan on hiding anything. If it pleases you, I’ll properly speak on the matter—but the entranceway is not the best place for such matter, won’t you let us into your room?”

Kyouko-san literally stuck her nose in.

When she was found out and the lie was practically exposed, she didn’t intend to slow the investigation, forget that, she brazenly used it to push her way into the boy’s room—her heart was way too strong.

“OK. Get in.”

Hakui-kun said, before walking right off into the room—Kyouko-san followed behind, and with nothing else to do, I trailed her back. In the process of visiting every apartment in Atelier House, there were a few others who invited her in—as I’ve said before, but even among them, Hakui-kun’s room was strange.

A child was living alone, so you could call the mess inevitable, but without much exaggeration, there was absolutely nothing that wasn’t a painting too. The trash cramping up the floor space, nothing but crumpled up balls of paper, broken pencils, old art magazine—it was a room that made me anxious at whether or not he was properly eating.

“Make somewhere to sit on your own.”

Said Hakui, lowering himself into a seat before an easel—despite his invitation, this was a room I didn’t feel like sitting in. With barely anywhere to step, it was a chaos I didn’t want my shoes mixed up in if I could avoid it.

“……”

After intently observing the room, Kyouko-san reached a hand towards the floor—I thought she intended to clear away things to make a place to sit, but instead, she began separating garbage. It seems she had arbitrarily begun cleaning the room—is she supposed to be his mother or something?

Her dexterity was impressive when she was inspecting the basement room, but it seems she was good at keeping things tidy to begin with—or perhaps mysophobic.

Fitting of a boy his age, Hakui-kun grimaced at having his room cleaned up, but after he had said, ‘Make somewhere to sit on your own,’ he was unable to stop that action. At most,

“It’s almost like Des Glaneuses.”

He spouted some incomprehensible insult—certainly, as she slouched over the clean the room, Kyouko-san’s form was quite like that painting even I knew about.

“So? What’s going on? What happened to teacher? Down from illness—don’t even go there, in that case, you wouldn’t go around lying and investigatin’ would ya?”

Hakui-kun spoke with detective-like deductive reasoning. As someone who saw his sketchbook at the museum, I knew I couldn’t make light of him for being a child, but was an artist’s sensitivities really something so sharp?

Kyouko-san said she wasn’t going to hide anything, and as things stood, even if she did, perhaps Hakui-kun would perceive it again.

“The owner of this Atelier House, Wakui Kazuhisa-san, was stabbed by someone with a knife.”

Perhaps thinking the same, Kyouko-san clearly started out with that—though her cleaning hands didn’t stop.

Even if he half-expected it, it must have been quite a shock, Hakui-kun was silent—no matter how you cut it, that was too honest, or rather, was that phrasing not lacking in tact?

“… Is he dead?”

Eventually, quietly, Hakui-kun asked.

“In critical condition. He was brought to the hospital senseless, and is in the midst of an emergency operation—”

As if she was more absorbed in the cleaning, Kyouko-san answered in a curt tone—I felt an off sense at those expressions.

Critical condition. Senseless. Emergency operation.

They were all quite shocking, strong words—while they were definitely the truth, he’s alive for now, he’s being treated right now, there were other ways to put it. Of course, that didn’t mean anything would come of softening it—but if Kyouko-san purposely chose to say it strongly here, that was quite a brutal strategy.

By purposely expressing Wakui’s state as blatantly as possible, cornering Hakui-kun’s mental state, contriving to make it easier to draw out information, from a third person perspective, it looked transparent—just exciting someone to put them in an abnormal state would make it easier to leak information in and of itself.

Even if that wasn’t a strategy to take against a child, turning it around, that just showed that Kyouko-san was serious, and she didn’t think of him as a child. Just how much of it was intentional? Regardless, I couldn’t determine how effective the strategy turned out, but Hakui-kun remained silent a while.

“Lady.”

He called out to Kyouko-san. Lady; the way he called someone he was seeing for the first time was quite overly familiar—I did think, but come to think of it, Kyouko-san had yet to tell him her name. In the visits up to then, she had used a fake name (If she called herself Okitegami Kyouko, there was the slim chance someone would recognize it as the name of a detective), but Hakui-kun had penetrated the falsehood before she even reached that point.

“You just said you wanted to know your identity, didn’t you?”

“? I sure did. Something wrong?”

“No…”

Hakui reached and took the sketchbook left hanging against the easel and opened to a new page. He held up the pencil he had kept in his hand the entire time.

“If you’re up to it, I could try capturing’ that identity of yours… could you model for me?”

“Model… is it?”

Hearing that, she raised her face—with her multitasking, her cleaning still hadn’t stopped, but Hakui-kun’s statement had caught her interest.

To tell the truth, up to that point—and beyond as well—when visiting, quite a few Atelier House residents had brought up similar proposals. Whether their artistic creative urges were stimulated, or they simply thought Kyouko-san was cute, or perhaps as an aspiring artist, it was something of social courtesy, but what I’m trying to say was that Hakui-kun wasn’t the only one to try drawing Kyouko-san.

It’s just the way he said it was unique. Capturing her identity— of all things.

All requests of that sort had been softly, yet immediately declined, but perhaps the reason Hakui-kun was the only one whose request she showed interest towards lay in his phrasing.

“Just a rough sketch, it’ll be one in no time. I won’t hold you up… one minute.”

As he said that, Hakui-kun’s pencil was already racing around his sketchbook. Those movements closely resembled the day I first met him at the museum—he had finished forging a painting on display before I could stop him, those speedy pencil strokes.

No, he was even faster than back then—he was at his fastest to depict the fastest detective, with that in mind, what a tasteful scene. Why Hakui-kun suddenly tried to draw Kyouko-san was something I didn’t understand, but with his mind cornered by those strong words, perhaps drawing was a sort of ritual to regain his composure.

Or perhaps Kyouko-san was simply appealing as a model—and he was just curious.

“If you let me draw you, I don’t mind tellin’ ya what you want to hear.”

“But you’re already drawing… what do you think I want to hear?”

“Don’t play dumb. You’re tryin’ to find the residents involved in teacher’s final work, aren’t you?”

With one eye closed, using his pencil to measure out the distance to Kyouko-san (?) Hakui-kun spoke.

“Don’t know the reason, but you and that old timer are searchin’ for the culprit… I heard ambulance sirens but never heard no police. You haven’t reported it… am I right?”

“Oh I wonder.”

“I’m tellin’ you, don’t play dumb… if anyone had a motive to stab him, it would have to do with ‘is final work, it’s easy enough to guess.”

By the way, I’m completely irrelevant to that, he added on—I already heard that yesterday. Forget the real painting, he wasn’t even told to paint one of the disguise paintings—at the time, I felt like the high level of Atelier House had been hammered in.

“Do I have to take a pose?”

Said Kyouko-san. She gave implicit consent to the modeling—“If you want to, you can pose however you want—if you really want, I don’t mind if you take off your clothes,” Hakui-kun jokingly chimed in,

“I’m great at nude sketches.”

“Oh my, this child says some mature things.”

Kyouko-san giggled.

“I wouldn’t mind stripping but, well, I’ll give up on that for now—we don’t have the time, and I’ve got some circumstances preventing me from stripping down.”

A reason not to strip? That was a strangely roundabout way to put it.

“Just like this, if you will. Don’t tell me you’re to stop at a rough sketch are you? If you think—you can capture my identity.”

“Hmph.”

With a scoff, Hakui-kun faced his sketchbook—with the drawing time that had suddenly begun, I felt like I’d been left to the wayside. For some reason, in what seemed like an exchange between geniuses, there was no space for a pleb such as myself to enter.

Did these two humans of superior talent connect with one another—or were they in conflict, a space hard to approach was birthed between them, and I could only wince.

“You said you always thought this would happen someday—has there been any similar trouble before? Between Wakui-san and the residents?”

“Trouble’s day in and day out. Nothing but fights between me and teacher… you know how teacher is, and the folks living in Atelier House are, generally a bit off. There’s a lot of collisions… but if ya ask if it was enough to stab the guy, naturally, I’d have to say no.”

“I see. Then do you have any idea why it came to that this time?”

“Gots to be because he went too far.”

Hakui-kun said without stopping his pencil.

“Being partial to a single resident, having them craft up a painting, that’s all well and good—but making loads of fake paintings to hide it was going too far. Treat aspiring artists like that, and there’s no way it’ll end well. Mass production is what an artist hates most. There’s no way teacher didn’t know that—”

Hakui-kun explained with a cynical air—it also felt like he was saying there was no room to sympathize with old Wakui. While just like Kyouko-san, he thought the motive of the crime lay in trouble surrounding his final work—because they were close, perhaps I felt the idea more keenly when it came from his lips.

However, following Hakui-kun’s logic, the culprit would have to have been a painter put up to painting a fake—one of the residents made to paint. It was a reasonable thought, but in that case, it would become difficult to identify the culprit—the fakes made to conceal the real painting would become fakes to conceal the culprit.

“Do you really have to think so hard about it? If the police investigate, they’ll identify the culprit in no time. Then that’s a wrap.”

“Then there won’t be any meaning. What I want is for the culprit to turn themselves in.”

Kyouko-san said—bluntly.

“If you’re the culprit, I’d very much like it if you told me now.”

“… Are ya suspectin’ me? I already told ya. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even put up to paintin’ a fake. If I hated teacher for that, that’s what ya would call not knowin’ where I stand.”

“I see.”

“So, now about who was involved with the final painting… as promised, I’ll tell ya all I know. I don’t know all ‘f them, and obviously, I don’t know who was the real one.”

Said Hakui-kun, before bringing up a few names and room numbers—that was the first time we gained any concrete information, so I hurriedly tried to note it down, but Kyouko-san stopped me. I wondered why, but, oh, I see, that was the Forgetful Detective’s regulation—to cleanly forget everything at a later date, whether it be handwritten or digital, leaving any records was taboo.

She could only memorize it in her head.

While it may work for her, remembering all the names and numbers I heard was impossible for me; I could only leave it all to Kyouko-san. How pathetic—if that’s how it was, I really was just standing here.

“I see, that should prove useful… however, Hakui-kun.”

After she’d finished hearing them all out—by the time I noticed it, the area around her had been completely tied up. It wasn’t as if she actually took out the trash, so the number of items hadn’t decreased in itself, but there wasn’t even any use comparing the room’s floor space to how it was when we entered—when she arranged it to this extent, I wondered if Hakui-kun would actually be able to tell what was where anymore.

“There was actually something else I wanted to hear… will you be able to answer that question as well?”

“Huh?”

For a moment, Hakui-kun’s hands stopped.

“There’s somethin’ else…? What is it, my alibi or somethin’? Proof I wasn’t at the scene? I said it before, but up to a moment ago, I was at the museum.”

“Ahaha. Unfortunately, we have no idea when exactly the crime took place. Alibi? You’re reading too many mystery novels.”

What was to come of a detective saying that? Whatever the case, Hakui-kun’s stagnant hands once again began moving with the speed of a hawk. “Never read one in my life,” he said.

“So what is it you want to ask?”

“Well, thinking I might be able to figure out who was drawing the real picture, I had a look through the documents in Wakui-san’s room.”

Rather than having a look through, more precisely, she arbitrarily stole a look. She said it as if she got permission and filled out the proper paperwork—her ability to implicitly lie was also soaring, it seems.

Quite likely half-figuring that, “And so?” the young boy urged her on—more than his conversation with Kyouko-san, he looked to be prioritizing drawing his picture.

“Did you learn anything?”

“No, I didn’t learn anything. It does seem he made so as not to leave records. If I searched harder, I might be able to find some sort of information, but—”

“Don’t think that’ll work out. He was a wary old man, in that area. Wary, ‘r maybe devout—from how he didn’t even tell the person paintin’ the real one, and how he hired that old timer only in his final job, can’t ya tell?”

Certainly, running contrary to his broad-minded bearing, there was no doubt he was a dainty, discrete person—his tendency to anger, turn it around, and you can take it as delicate to boot.

“Yes. However, instead, and I’m not sure if I should say this, but I noticed something strange.”

“Something strange?”

“Yes. The papers were filed in a certain binder—it was a photocopy of a purchase order.”

Kyouko-san said.

The binder documents… that matter we discussed in the elevator. The sold document that stopped Kyouko-san in her tracks—its identity was a purchase order?

“It seems Wakui-san was a detailed, or perhaps—a methodical person. He bound his purchase orders chronologically, and what caught my eye was the latest entry—I presume it was meant for the final project he would start on, an order for the materials and ingredients to make the frame. Though it seems it hasn’t been delivered yet—”

“… What of it? Yeah, of course he’d be methodical. Even if he’s a frame maker who can raise the price of a painting, he’s no magician, ‘s not like he makes a frame from zero. It’s only natural he’d need materials.”

“Yes. I understand that—but, it’s too much.”

“What?”

“The quantity of material he ordered is too much. Wakui-san ordered so much it can’t eve be explained away by spares and surplus—I can’t think that the culmination of a framer, the last job of his life consisted of only a single frame.”

That’s the part I don’t get, Kyouko-san raised her face—by stopping her cleaning hands, and looking straight at Hakui-kun, she changed from her multitask to her single focus mode.

Similar to how she fixated on the binder.

At the time, it looked like Kyouko-san was reading the same document over and over again, but it looks like she wasn’t just reading it, she was mentally calculating out the quantity of material ordered…

It was like a single question had thawed, but then the question she presented was a plausible one.

“… Ain’t that also just a camouflage? If he just ordered exactly what he needed, it’d get out what sort of frame he was making—by purposely ordering unneeded ingredients and meaningless materials, maybe he was tryin’ to make it so even the company he ordered from would be ambiguous on what he was plannin’ on makin’. Teacher has the financial power, you can already tell by the size of Atelier House, this mansion he built on a whim, right?”

“Yes, of course. Of course, I thought so too, and naturally, I’m sure he included that in his intentions—but even subtracting that, it’s still too much. An order of that degree wouldn’t even fit in that basement room.”

That definitely is startling.

Kyouko-san, who was placing things so orderly as she tidied, as if deliberately forming a wooden mosaic, was the one saying it, so if she predicted it ‘wouldn’t fit in that basement room,’ it was probably alright to trust her.

On top of having financial leisure, he was the one who actually did have Atelier House’s residents paint numerous camouflage paintings, so it was hard to think he would consider anything ‘a waste’—but even ignoring that, ordering so much material it would hinder his movement in the workplace surpassed the bounds of camouflage.

It was only normal to think he had a separate goal—what’s more, that was the main goal.

At first, it seems Hakui-kun classified her question as, ‘nothing special, just the usual teacher,’ but when she pushed it that hard, even he felt something was off. In desperation,

“… Then wasn’t it an orderin’ error? Like he carelessly was off by a digit when he ended up placing the order…”

He voiced his theory. While it was a plain theory, that would be the realistic deduction—I couldn’t find another answer either. On a stage as grand as his final job, I wondered if he really would make such a boneheaded slip-up, but to not know what mistake you’ll make on what field is human.

It wasn’t good to blame it on his age, but old Wakui was at a year where it wouldn’t be strange for him to make a careless mistake—that’s precisely why he resolved to retire as a framer.

“I don’t think that’s the case. The quantities were far too detailed to be off by a digit—they were clearly indicated down to the one’s place, so there is no mistaking the numbers were intentional.”

“……”

After silently thinking,

“Then what do you think, lady?”

In the end, unable to think up any other ideas, he returned the question to Kyouko-san.

“This is also just a hypothesis, but—”

Kyouko-san took the pose she was told she didn’t have to take. Just because she was done cleaning, even if she took a pose not, it wasn’t as if Hakui-kun could change his composition… and as an amateur, I couldn’t tell in the slightest what sort of pose that was supposed to be.

I got the feeling I’d seen it somewhere before, but… that pose she took back at the café? No, that’s not it—and Kyouko-san doesn’t have any memories of that day.

Keeping that mysterious stance, Kyouko-san continued on.

“—The orders were all real, is that not a possibility?”

“…? All of them? What do you mean? He intends to use all the materials he ordered? Just how big would that make it?”

“I’m not talking about the frame materials, I’m talking about the orders he issued to the residents of Atelier House—perhaps he intended to make a frame for every single one of them…”

“There’s no way that’s true!”

He yelled. Hakui-kun—reflexively, and emotionally.

His emotions exploded much like old Wakui, when he rampaged at the museum—therefore, I thought he might have a go at Kyouko-san, so I immediately took a stance, but luckily, Hakui-kun quickly returned to his senses.

“A-ah.”

He awkwardly faced his sketchbook. With a grinding sound, he moved his pencil even more intensely than before—as I thought, the act of ‘painting pictures’ was something of a mental therapy for him.

“Sorry, I raised my voice…”

He apologized in a faint murmur.

While he didn’t take on an apologetic attitude, when it came to Kyouko-san, who’d just been screamed at, she didn’t even stir from her bizarre pose.

“Oh no, I don’t mind it at all.”

She answered at ease.

From the smile she made, I couldn’t read her mind in the slightest.

“But, if you could, would you please tell me your basis of saying ‘there’s no way that’s true’?”

“……”

“Personally, I think it’s a relatively proper deduction—while placing the orders saying they were camouflage, they were all actually real. Instead of evaluating only a single resident of Atelier House, he evaluated a great many of them—doesn’t that sound like Wakui-san?”

Kyouko-san had never met Wakui, so that final portion was arbitrarily tacked on, but along the way, I grew to accept it a bit. Right, just because it was his final job that didn’t mean it was limited to a single piece—wasn’t it possible he planned on making multiple frames? His camouflage was in itself a camouflage, and he actually ordered a great many real pieces from the residents of Atelier House—

Was that malicious spirit like old Wakui, was it not?

“That ain’t him.”

Hakui-kun said.

“Atelier House is a place for competition—there’s no way teacher would ever think up somethin’ like ‘let’s all get along and cross the finish line together’. And—”

“And?”

“… I get it, if he wanted to choose one person, one picture, I could see it, but if he was thinkin’ to make frames for so many paintings,”

There’s no way I wouldn’t be chosen.

Still directed at his sketchbook, yet with a strong tone, Hakui-kun asserted—I see, so those thoughts were linked to his previous outburst. While a young boy, while still a beginner painters’ egg, he still had a firm clasp on his pride—if we were to accept Kyouko-san’s theory, then the fact he wasn’t even entrusted a fake would weigh on him even heavier.

No, if he wasn’t entrusted a fake, he could maintain his pride by saying he never wanted to paint a fake in the first place—but if the ration was actually one to one, it would be an unbearable disgrace for an artist.

This wasn’t an entrance exam, so I’m not sure if art could be measured with rations, but…

“Hypothetically,”

Kyouko-san pressed him further—her posing hadn’t changed, so she still maintained a somewhat foolish atmosphere, but her tone was the epitome of seriousness.

“If something like that happened—would you hold murderous intent towards Wakui-san, who didn’t choose you?”

“I would.”

An extreme answer for an extreme question.

“I think I’d want to kill him… anyone would.”

He violently declared before clapping his sketchbook shut with comparatively delicate hands—The pencil that barely had any lead left was left on the easel.

“Oh. Have you finished drawing? Then let me have a look—at my identity.”

“Unfortunately, it’s still unfinished… no way I could capture it in a minute, who you are. After I calm down a bit, I’ll finish it up, so come for it later.”

Like that, Hakui-kun rather blatantly drove Kyouko-san out—I couldn’t blame him. Kyouko-san’s questions had gone beyond what was permissible in a detective’s questioning—even ignoring the fact she was dealing with a child, she was at a level that would need a warrant.

Before the crime was reported, it wouldn’t be strange if Kyouko-san herself was reported—from Kyouko-san’s point of view, this conversation had already largely gone over the planned one minute.

It seemed she decided it was time to pull out.

“Well then, I’ll drop by eventually. I can’t wait to see it completed.”

She undid her mysterious pose. While she surprisingly really did sound like she was looking forward to it, she was far too good at lying. I couldn’t tell her intentions.

Anyhow, Hakui-kun seemed fed up with her words, but even so, as a painters’ egg, before he drove her out, he couldn’t stand but to ask.

“Lady, what sort of pose was that?”

He tossed the question to Kyouko-san. I held the same impression, and, “I get the feeling I’ve seen it somewhere before, but…” I added on.

“Oh, this?”

Kyouko-san took the pose again. It was identical down to the finer details, just like shame memory alloy—that power of reproduction didn’t bring to mind a forgetful detective.

“As you can clearly see, it’s Milo’s Venus.”

“Milo’s… ah.”

Hakui-kun let out a plainly surprised voice—while it didn’t reach my voice, I also recalled upon the mention. It was hard to make out with the arms, but the turn of the torso and tilt of the neck really did belong to the Milo de Venus. That statue that was world famous by no exaggeration—

So this time a statue was the right answer… come to think of it, for her to personally impersonate Venus, while she looked so unassuming, Kyouko-san was quite the brazen one.

“… If you’ve got arms, it ain’t Venus anymore.”

Hakui-kun said, but, “You think so?” Kyouko-san spoke maintaining the pose.

“One side says Milo’s Venus is beautiful because she lost both arms, but—don’t you think that’s quite a selfish argument? Now that they’re gone, that’s all they can say, but I’m sure the maker would have liked someone to evaluate the statue in its completed form—Hakui-kun, you wouldn’t be happy if an unfinished, or broken, or failed painting was evaluated, would you?”

Upon hearing that, Hakui-kun—couldn’t answer.

 


 

 

7

 

In the process of visiting every room in Atelier House, of the two noteworthy events, the first was our encounter and e change with young Hakui—it was my fault Kyouko-san’s false premise was seen through, but looking at the result, she succeeded in her questioning, and with no choice but to touch up on the case, we were able to speak on deep matter we couldn’t discuss elsewhere, so while the root of the problem still remained, you could say it wasn’t a serious error.

Yet the mystery of the binder she revealed there still had no answer—even as we went around hearing out Atelier House residents after that, we never reached any conclusion. The ‘they were all real’ theory Kyouko-san proposed was plausible, as things stood, but as we listened to the stories—the insults directed at Wakui from the residents, I couldn’t think of him as the sort of old man who would set up such a mischievous surprise.

It was more natural to think the large order served a different purpose—as Kyouko-san had done, at the present time, we could only place that question on the shelf.

And so, let me reflect on the other noteworthy event—it happened in the late game of our rounds around Atelier House. Despite our trouble with Hakui-kun at an early stage, by that time, I had grown accustomed to walking around and visiting the unfamiliar painters’ eggs in turn—but there, Kyouko-san and I made an unexpected discovery.

Come to think of it, I postponed talking about it, but in Kyouko-san’s visits to the rooms of Atelier House, why instead of bottom up, she changed to encompass it from top to bottom was something I immediately understood without her having to explain it—once you understood it, it was blatantly obvious, and this might become a depiction of my own dullness, but considering how we were asking around every resident in this high-rise building, using an elevator was truly inefficient.

With the inspection over, I was relieved to find out we wouldn’t have to heave ourselves up and down the stairs—but using an elevator to move just one floor was, to be blunt, a waste of time. Even more so if there was only one elevator—when time was of the essence, we had no time to wait for the elevator’s arrival all carefree.

In that case, the question of why the assault on Atelier House began from the top instead of the bottom, in short was a decision between climbing up floor by floor and taking the elevator down at the end, or starting by riding the elevator to the top, and taking the stairs down floor by floor—naturally, with stamina in mind, it was only natural for one to choose descending over climbing.

Her choice to start from the top floor was unlucky in that we encountered Hakui-kun—who lived near the top—quite early, but whichever way it went, it was only a matter of sooner or later—say we were to put some rest between floors, but climbing thirty flights of stairs would still be harsh.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that it was terribly reasonable for Kyouko-san to ride the elevator to the top floor. If the elevator coincidentally happened to be on the floor, it might be fine to use it, but Kyoukos-san didn’t have to the time to confirm the elevator’s present location each and every time, so we didn’t even try it.

That being the case, we used the emergency stairs to move between every floor in the building, sparing the roof—but in regards to that, if you’d let me give my opinion, as a former security guard, I felt there was something off about this complex’s interior.

When I cam by on Wakui-san’s invitation the day before, I confirmed a surveillance camera in the entrance way with the auto lock, so he was tentatively keeping secure—or so I thought, but once I was actually inside, there wasn’t any such security system stationed on any ceilings.

As a modern housing complex, I had no choice but to say his awareness was low—if I had been shown this first, then I’d be able to see where he was coming from when he told me he needed a security guard for his final work.

However, as we had heard from one of the residents, this building wasn’t legally a housing complex, but a private residence—whether wide-angle cameras were installed on the ceiling or not was all for Wakui to decide. In that case, how should I see the absence of cameras?

… In the case of stores and such, maintaining security cameras was surprisingly tiresome, and a considerable expense—to contain unneeded expenditures, it was plausible to reduce the number of cameras. You don’t see a burglar every day, is the thought process.

With only one elevator in a thirty-two-story high-rise complex, and even that elevator didn’t have buttons on both sides; for an owner, the aging old Wakui could be a bit lacking in the spirit of removing obstacles, and I couldn’t think of this place as one built taking ease of living and convenience into consideration, so perhaps the absence of cameras was an extension of that.

But there were other ways of thinking about it—cases where the one in charge wanted to keep the shop’s insides a black box, purposely not recording any footage. Meaning, a situation where illegal extreme labor was being carried out inside—the footage would be left as evidence of their own crime, so the thought process was to avoid any form of records.

Unless I asked a specialist, I couldn’t determine where Atelier House stood legally—but if it did have a side similar to forced labor, then perhaps leaving as few reels as possible was the landlord’s deliberate intent, I ended up suspecting.

Of course, this was an address where only those aspiring to be artists lived, so to preserve the ‘trade secrets’ of the creators, there were no security cameras stationed inside, maybe I should take it simply—

Well, no matter his intentions, or lack thereof, say he was just cutting costs, but what was certain, at the very least, was that when the police barged in later, identifying the culprit who stabbed Wakui from police footage would prove to be quite difficult—in visiting all houses, that alone was the most I could say using my life experience.

When we got to that area, Kyouko-san was an investigation professional after all—and from here on, I’ll be mentioning the second noteworthy event—unrelated to hearing out Atelier House’s residents, we did make one discovery. You could call it the only clue-like clue we found since detective work began—it happened around the middle of our visits.

When we had finished going around the eighteenth floor and were about to move on to the seventeenth—generally one to seize the initiative, Kyouko-san would take the lead, but in accordance with general manners, only when descending the stairs, I would stand in front of her. It was there,

“Stay!”

Kyouko-san curtly declared—a command like that surprised me, but as a result, my body froze up, and I succeeded in stopping; all’s well that end’s well.

“What is it, Kyouko-san?”

“My apologies. Please pull back that half-raised foot—”

Kyouko-san said, circumventing me, as she lowered herself onto the landing—no, the word lowered was too tepid, like a middle school student, she leapt down the stairs.

She’s way too hoyden—I didn’t have time to think before she turned around, crouched down, and drew her face close to the step I was about to step down on. Making sure I didn’t tread my giant shoe on her face, I went back a step just in case—but rather than that, “Oyagiri-san, come look at this,” Kyouko-san invited me in.

“Right here.”

“…?”

I leaned down over the stairs, looked at the spot Kyouko-san pointed out—and noticed

A small, red ‘circle’ that was there.

It was so small I might overlook it, but as if someone spilled red paint when going up or down the stairs—no, could it be that wasn’t paint…?

“Is it… blood?”

“I can’t say for certain. But the possibility exists.”

Kyouko-san said as she moved herself, looking—inspecting the bloodstain (?) from various angles.

“Judging by the color, it’s not an old one—of course, supposing that’s blood and not paint.”

“……”

“Well, we’re in Atelier House after all. I can’t deny the possibility someone spilled paint while they were moving—but in the case this really is blood, there are two possibilities that come to mind. One, that this is Wakui-san’s blood—the other, that this blood has no relation to the incident.”

She was surprisingly collected. I almost latched onto it as a new clue, but certainly, it was a bloodstain where so many people lived, and as we had no means to conduct a blood test, it was effectively impossible for us to identify who it belonged to.

“Is it unthinkable this was the culprit’s blood? Perhaps they got into a scuffle with Wakui-san, and at the time, the culprit was injured as well…”

“I can’t refute that, but from what I could see of the crime scene, I can’t think they such an intense scuffle—if the culprit was bleeding, I thought the blood spots would have been spread a little wider across the scene.”

Kyouko-san staid as she stood. It seems she resigned, any further inspection was meaningless—she was quick to decide that.

“However, this is sufficient to set up an estimate that the culprit used these stairs—meaning, when committing the offense, they were bathed in the blood spurt, and some of it dripped here.”

“Well… rather than set up, that’s the easiest to imagine.”

While I did immediately connect this spot to Wakui-san’s blood, in essence, it was a little hard to imagine an old man stabbed in the abdomen came all the way here, left a blood stain, and returned underground. If I tried a pseudo-Kyouko-san round robin deduction, perhaps this was the real crime scene, and he simply descended the stairs, but with his abdomen pierced so deep, I didn’t think that was possible.

“The elevator was in under inspection and unusable, after all. Is it possible the culprit used these stairs to return to their room?”

I said as a flash hit me—no, a flash was an exaggeration. That was also something obvious, and I simply obviously noticed it—but if after the crime, the culprit used these stairs to go to their room, the fact a trace was here would inevitably mean the culprit’s room was on the eighteenth floor or higher. Otherwise, there would be no reason a bloodstain would remain around the landing from the seventeenth to eighteenth floor—in which case, this was a large find.

If it wasn’t all thirty-two floors, but only eighteen to thirty-two, a simple calculation whittled the possible suspects by more than half—but,

“Yes, in the case this blood belongs to Wakui-san, it might be fine to think of it like that.”

In contrast to my excitement, Kyouko-san played it calm.

“But even if this isn’t blood, the possibility it is irrelevant blood is considerably high, so it is too early to make any conclusions.”

“… You’re right.”

To tell the truth, at the time, I had a light hope by narrowing the suspects, we could cut out the process of visiting floors seventeen to two, but even with Kyouko-san’s priority on speed, it seems she wouldn’t be that dishonest.

“Of course, none of the people we’ve heard out to this point seemed to be injured, but—well, there’s no way of knowing what’s under their clothes.”

“……”

“And another thing, there is a possibility this is the culprit’s diversionary camouflage.”

“Diversionary camouflage…? So you mean the culprit really does live below the seventeenth floor, but they purposely climbed here, and purposely left a bloodstain…? To make it seem like the culprit was a resident of floor eighteen and up?”

“Yes, that is what I mean.”

… Is that possible?

If you thought it out that far, the round-robin deductions would never end… and while the sharp-sighted Kyouko-san found it, just as I almost carelessly tread on it, first off, if you used the stairs normally, you wouldn’t notice such a small blood spot… it was too plain for diversionary measures. If she wanted to call it that, wouldn’t they have at least left some blood a bit more conspicuously?

“Yes, I think so too—the line of this being a diversionary measure is faint. But perhaps it was meant to have us think precisely that—to not make it look diversionary is the first rule of diversions.”

With those words, Kyouko-san moved to the side of the landing—it seemed like she was making a path for me to go down first, as we had done to that point.

At the same time, it indicated there was no change in her policy to hear out the residents seventeen and down as she had done before—well, apart from confirming the suspects’ identities, we were also probing out who was painting the real picture old Wakui would adorn with his final frame, so whatever the case, the questioning would continue…

Yet be that as it may, while it may have been a misunderstanding, with my tensions momentarily cut by the notion we wouldn’t have to go around anymore, as a result, the residents after that came with an even greater sense of wasted effort—

 


 

 

8

 

— Which brings us to where we are now.

A whole day spend searching and stopping by every residence in Atelier House, for a third time, we returned to the basement room—we had spent around four hours walking without rest, and tired out, regardless of what was going on, I ill-manneredly sprawled myself out in an open floor space of the workroom.

Kyouko-san was unbelievably tough for her physique, and while she couldn’t conceal the colors of fatigue, she of course didn’t do something so unruly, nor did she rest. The first thing she did upon arriving at the basement space was wash off her hair in the sink fastened to the workroom wall.

I guess the brown hair was no longer needed with the questioning over—if speed along was stressed, perhaps it wouldn’t matter if her hair color remained brown, but thinking about it normally, having your hair uniformly plastered in paint must be unbearably uncomfortable. Something that would throw off her concentration—and spending her break time washing her head should serve as a good change of pace.

That she used the sink meant she had determined there wasn’t enough time for another shower—right, while the police had yet to arrive, more than five hours had already transpired since the investigation commenced.

By Kyouko-san’s estimate, the time limit was at most half a day—even that ‘at-most’ wasn’t long to go.

Additionally, the fact the police hadn’t rushed into Atelier House yet wasn’t simply something to rejoice in. It meant the hospital old Wakui was carted off to hadn’t reported it to the police yet—perhaps that meant Wakui’s emergency operation was still ongoing.

If anything happened to old Wakui, it would be hard to explain what Kyouko-san was even conducting detective work for—to add onto that, a detective by trade, if Kyouko-san lost Wakui, she’d lost a client, and wouldn’t make a single yen… the investigation’s progress none too favorable, the situation was reaching a dead end.

“… You don’t have to change clothes?”

Unable to rest forever, I raised my upper body to ask Kyouko-san,

“Yes, well, even if I wanted to, when I was making these pants, I took apart the clothes I was wearing and used them as material.”

Kyouko-san answered, having finished washing up her hair—I see. How should I put it, by that point, I wasn’t going to be surprised, but she did something that couldn’t be undone, or perhaps, acted without proper foresight.

That being the case, those handmade clothes suit her well, so that wasn’t anything major—of course, I’m someone who for the longest time thought a cashmere muffler was just a muffler that cost a lot more cash, so even if I thought it fit her, that was no guarantee.

“Phew. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Wiping her head with a towel, Kyouko-san returned—her hair had splendidly returned to all white. While she said that wasn’t an identity or her flagship, that look really was more Kyouko-san-esque—it made me think that was Okitegami Kyouko.

“I wasn’t really waiting—I’m the one who should apologize for being of no use. Forget that, I’ve just been dragging your feet…”

I wasn’t being humble, I spoke from my heart as I stood—even if there was nothing I could do upon standing, when Kyouko-san hadn’t taken a seat, I couldn’t just lie on the floor.

“Drag my feet? Oh, if you’re talking about how Hakui-kun noticed the lie, don’t worry about it—as a result, we managed to hear what he had to say. That was far better than if we hadn’t heard him out.”

“Hmm…”

I was happy to hear her so generous, but I felt guilty she was just being considerate. In the first place, I was the one who dragged Kyouko-san into Atelier House, somehow or another, I wanted to be useful in a more proper way…

But nothing begins with getting down. I forcefully shifted my mood that felt like it would keep sinking without end if I let it be.

“What are we going to do now?”

I asked Kyouko-san.

“Carrying out the questioning didn’t really yield any progress, but… or did you figure something out? Any suspicious individuals among the ones you interviewed…”

“Unfortunately, I was unable to identify the culprit. Furthermore, I was unable to tell who painted the real painting he would decorate with his final frame—however.”

Kyouko-san placed her towel to the side and spoke.

“For now, if we compare everyone’s stories, while what’s real, and what’s a disguise is unclear, I think we’ve managed to identify every resident Wakui-san told to paint a picture.”

“O-oh really.”

I was generally supposed to be around listening to the same stories as Kyouko-san, but it was impossible for me to memorize the information we gained from every resident, and to compare them in my head on top of that was an even greater impossibility. I’d already pretty much forgotten the names Hakui-kun went to the trouble of naming.

“… Then that also means we’ve also identified the residents like Hakui-kun, who weren’t even asked to produce a fake, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. You could find them through subtraction. What about it?”

“Well, how should I put it…”

Even if I had forgotten the finer details, there were words in Hakui-kun’s story I definitely couldn’t forget—even if Kyouko-san provoked him, and those inflammatory words were likely a tit for tat.

I think I’d want to kill him—he admitted so.

“Oh, dear Oyagiri-san, don’t tell me you’re still bothered by what Hakui-kun said? Dear me, you shouldn’t take those too heavily. They’re the words of a child, you know.”

And who’s the one who provoked a child to that degree, I wanted to say, but I held it in—well, if Kyouko-san didn’t suspect Hakui-kun for those words, then so be it. We were just slightly acquainted, and it wasn’t as if we were friends, or that we got along, yet still, thinking over how a child like that could have caused such an incident wasn’t a great feeling to have. Even if the fact he was a Resident of Atelier House meant he was one of the suspects…

“But Hakui-kun’s ‘I think I’d want to kill him’ only holds true in the case that every Atelier House resident Wakui placed a request with is painting the real deal—there were a considerable number of people painting those ‘real’ pictures, weren’t there?”

“Yes, you’re right. I’m forced to say as things stand, the possibility isn’t low by any means.”

Kyouko-san ruffled up her white hair into a mess as she spoke—I thought that might be body language to show her distress, but it seems she was simply confirming how her hair was drying. With people able to think out more than two actions at once, it was difficult to probe out their thoughts from their actions. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out Kyouko-san purposely never concentrated her thoughts and actions on one thing, setting multitasking as a basis so no one could see through to her real intentions. Albeit, this time she seemed to just be worried about her drenched hair…

“So it’s… not low.”

“If the materials Wakui-san ordered are just to make a single frame, it is clearly excessive; that is a fact… something even an amateur could understand.”

Kyouko-san said so, but an amateur probably couldn’t tell. While I had a look at the same documents, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it… this theory only came to be with Kyouko-san’s intellect.

“If it was his last job, he would want to do his best possible job as a framer—however, it’s art we’re dealing with, a form of culture. Best is one word, but it takes on various forms. To equate it to paintings, the best landscape and the best abstract are completely different, aren’t they?”

“Well yeah, that’s right…”

To take that even further, landscapes could be broken down by technique, and in the first place, whether they considered it the best would depend on the values of the beholder—thinking about it like that, one might say there was an infinite supply of bests.

“To make frames of all sorts of bests, he ordered paintings of various types from the residents of Atelier House—as a matter of fact, the residents who were asked to paint pictures by Wakui-san all depicted different sizes and motifs.”

Come to think of it, she was right.

Camouflage or real aside—unlike a school art period, it wasn’t as if everyone was painting the same picture, the paintings old Wakui ordered were truly rich in variation.

Among the residents, those with whom Kyouko-san could make a case hard enough they would secretly show her their half-finished pictures were in no few numbers—they all looked completely different. Just because I worked at a museum a bit, I don’t intend to brag that I have a good eye, but… even so, it would be a different story if they all looked the same, but with how different they looked, they really had to be different.

In that case, was Kyouko-san’s theory gaining a layer of reality?

“Let’s say Wakui-san planned something like that; that would mean the suspects would only be limited to a few.”

“Eh? Just a few…? What do you mean by a few?”

“Oh, if all the residents ordered to make a painting were real, that would make the ones like Hakui-kun who didn’t even receive a request the suspects—truth be told, there are only a few of them.”

That was the logical result, and I’m sure she was right—even if we didn’t take Hakui-kun too seriously, if an adult were placed in his position, their disgrace and rage would undoubtedly be intolerable.

Naturally, in order to embrace that rage, the condition would be that that unselected resident had to know what sort of plan old Wakui was advancing in secret… To be blunt, Kyouko-san, do you think the culprit is among those people?

I intended to muster quite a bit of courage, but once it had come out of my mouth, perhaps it was just a dishonest question. What I didn’t want to think, I was making Kyouko-san think in my stead. However Kyouko-san didn’t seem to feel burdened at all in answering, “Whether I think it or not aside, I’m sure it is very possible,” she said.

“By the way, I must mention one more thing—of those few names, the only one who lives above the eighteenth floor is the resident of the thirtieth floor, Hakui-kun.”

“!”

“Of course, that won’t serve as any evidence. We don’t have any evidence to indicate the identity of that slight trace of blood.”

Kyouko-san took the lead. Thanks to that, the shock I received was suppressed at about half, but half was plenty impactful at that.

“On the contrary, one might conclude it was impossible for a child to carry out the crime, and that’s precisely why that blood stain must have no relation to the incident; that’s one way of thinking of it.”

“… No,”

Said I—I wasn’t there to console Kyouko-san.

“I don’t plan on denying the real murderous intent everyone holds sometime as a child.”

“I’d think not.”

Kyouko-san turned her hand.

“The times one cannot control their wild murderous intent comes not with the ability to enact it, by the time they gain that ability, they are able to control those urges that stir them. Perhaps that is what it means to grow—if we see Hakui-kun as the culprit, the reason Wakui-san’s life could be saved brings about a sort of inevitability, does it not?”

“? What inevitability would that be…”

Oh, so even if he stabbed him in a flight of rage, the one he stabbed was his landlord he called teacher, and he immediately returned to his senses—is that what she meant? In that case, it might be the same with any other resident. While they spoke spitefully of him, as long as they were artists, in some fundamental place, they all respected the legendary framer Wakui.

“Oh no, there’s that as well, but—it’s just, even if I won’t go as far as to say we should doubt him, there is another reason we can’t exclude Hakui-kun apart from him being a child.”

“Another… specifically what?”

“To sum it up, he’s too perceptive.”

Kyouko-san said, pinching at her own hair.

“If it was just perceiving that my brown hair was paint, you could call that a pertinent observation… but deducing something had happened to Wakui-san just from our visit and passing by an ambulance was going a little too far.”

“… Really…”

Are you one to talk—I felt like saying, but precisely because Kyouko-san was saying it, perhaps those instincts really couldn’t be explained logically. Those weren’t just deductions that put detectives to shame, it was precisely because he knew about the incident in the basement beforehand, that he could act like he perceived it—was that what she wanted to say?

Then why did he know? When at that point, the fact Wakui was stabbed was something only Kyouko-san, I and the real culprit should know—

“If you’re looking for suspicious behavior, the way he suddenly began drawing was suspect—when we had come to question it, don’t you think he could have been focusing his mind to hide his unrest?”

“……”

I interpreted it as him drawing to hide his unrest at the fact Wakui was stabbed, but—you definitely could look at it that way. While it was a malicious outlook, it wasn’t as if there was any necessity to purposely take a kind outlook with him… so this is what it means to be at a loss for words.

And yet—I thought.

If back then, the murderous rage he cried out with was the real article, then up to that point—that means until Kyouko-san provoked him, he had yet to reach the possibility that all the residents who received an order from Wakui-san were real.

“Perhaps we simply hit the nail on the head? With the core of his motive brushed against, maybe his rage was resuscitated—”

“Resuscitated—rage.”

“I did save Wakui-san’s life, after all—perhaps he held a rage that wouldn’t be satisfied with killing him all over again. Well then, Oyagiri-san. How about it? In the case we supposed Hakui-kun was the culprit, does anything contradict? Why don’t you try thinking about that?”

“Yes… I’ll try thinking.”

When Kyouko-san told me to think like that, it was when she was thinking about something else; I had learnt that through experience. Supposing Hakui-kun was the culprit made me feel something was off, and while it did pain my heart, it was a thought experiment there was some worth in carrying out.

If I simulate Hakui-kun as the culprit… right, I don’t have to set the motive. While I can’t determine the reason, whatever the case, let’s say he stabbed the person he calls Teacher.

Old Wakui falls to the floor—his head clears, he gets scared, after that, Hakui-kun flees from the basement room.

To his own room… by the stairs.

That’s right, it appears like he used the stairs—I mean, what singled him out was the bloodstain between the seventeenth and eighteenth floors, so if instead used the elevator, things start getting strange.

Yet his residence was on the thirtieth floor. I didn’t have to say that was a considerably high one.

Climbing so many stairs was practically penance—it was the same even for an adult man like me, not to mention a common ten-year-old buy like Hakui-kun.

Why did he use the stairs instead of the elevator? Well of course, that’s because the elevator was unusable. Under inspection—perhaps he was able to use it to come down, but at the very least, that would mean, he didn’t use it to climb up.

Bathed in the blood spurt, he may have exercised the utmost caution, but only a single drop of that blood dripped onto the stairs—it was a small trace of evidence only Kyouko-san could notice, so perhaps he didn’t notice either? If he did, he would’ve wiped it…

So, after that, in his room, he changed out of his blood-soaked clothes, and took a shower… perhaps?

We met him not long after we began going around, and even if I can’t determine what sort of suspicious Kyouko-san held towards him at that point, if she suspected him for being ‘too perceptive’, then the reason she casually cleared up Hakui-kun’s when no one asked might have been her searching for physical evidence. Though I doubt he’d just leave a bloody shirt or the towel he used to wipe off just lying there—I was amazed to see there really was meaning in all of Kyouko-san’s actions.

What looked like a hit-or-miss method of just start moving and see what happens, actually held a strategy in each move—in any case, I was beat. I tried simulating it, but didn’t see any contradictions—in that case, what was that off feeling of mine?

Was I simply displaying a selfish mindset of not wanting someone I know to be the culprit?

… Perhaps I also thought it would be a waste.

Those talents he showed me at the museum.

Able to depict such a picture with a single pencil, to think the news of him would turn to him being the culprit of a criminal case—but perhaps it was precisely because he felt the same way, that old Wakui didn’t leave any blood letters, and took a step to cover for the culprit.

Covering for the culprit was an action others might find hard to understand, but if we say it could be possible for a talent he was supporting—and even among them, the culprit was a tender child with a future, so wasn’t that surprisingly plausible.

“Realistically speaking, with Hakui-kun, stabbing someone won’t have him tried under criminal law. The meaning behind the victim not leaving a dying message may have been a desire for the culprit not to be caught, and if someone who couldn’t be punished anyways was the culprit, the point of leaving a message fades—therefore, he did not leave a message. You can look at it like that.”

What Kyouko-san said was right on the money, but when it rationally went so far, I started feeling down. Despite her smiles and the gentle air around here, this person was a detective through and through.

In contrast, how emotional was I being?

In that regard, I’d like to think it wasn’t a legal matter, Wakui didn’t want that talent of Hakui-kun’s to go wasted—but if there were no camouflage paintings in his orders to Atelier House’s residents, and all of them were real, that would mean Hakui-kun’s ranking was considerably low. Meaning old Wakui didn’t evaluate Hakui-kun too highly—and while that might become Hakui-kun’s motive to kill, at the same time, wouldn’t that also mean old Wakui would have no reason to cover for him? No, wait a second. You don’t even have to make it that complicated.

That’s right, it totally slipped my mind, Hakui-kun just said it a moment ago—like when he met me today morning, Hakui-kun had gone out to draw pictures at a museum.

Saying alibis were the product of reading too many detective novels, Kyouko-san had let the evidence for that one slip by… however, if we managed to narrow down the time of the crime, then proving he wasn’t there would hold a definite meaning. If Hakui-kun was the culprit, the basis behind that, the bloodstain would lead us to believe he used the stairs. He used the stairs because the elevator was under inspection and unusable.

And Kyouko-san had confirmed it with the two workers—the elevator was unusable from nine in the morning, up to around one in the afternoon, when we met them in the elevator hall.

Right, even if we couldn’t identify the exact time old Wakui was stabbed, the time the elevator couldn’t be used was clear—if Hakui-kun’s claim he was at the museum in the morning was true, that would mean he had an alibi: an alibi that was easy enough to confirm. When he left and came back, he would have been captured on the ceiling security camera near the door, and unlike Atelier House, from a crime-prevention point of view, the museum would definitely have security cameras—if they captured him, that would be a tried and true alibi. Not even that, if he wasn’t captured due to odd angles, he hadn’t gone there to appreciate the pieces. A child copying like that in the middle of a museum would leave quite an impression. Just as I had, perhaps a guard singled him out—of course, while there was no alibi I nor Kyouko-san could confirm here and now, behind his violent attitude, Hakui-kun seemed smart enough, and it was hard to think he’d tell a lie that could be proved wrong so easily.

That was the contradiction.

I don’t plan on saying a contradiction I had to think so hard to reach was my off-feeling, but—wait, don’t panic. Perhaps Kyouko-san had a different outlook.

I cautiously sought the detectives verdict—indeed,

“Yes, generally speaking, I think that’s exactly right.”

Kyouko-san approved.

“That’s why I told you. They’re just the words of a child.”

“……”

Rather than approved, it seems she had long since finished thinking over that one—come to think of it, when we were riding the elevator to the top floor, she seemed to be absentmindedly thinking over something.

Perhaps at that time, having found out the elevator was not working due to inspection, she was checking what influence that would bring to the crime—instead of using the elevator, we went down the stairs not only because it was faster, but because if the elevator was being worked on during the crime, and the culprit used the stairs, there might be some clue somewhere in the emergency stairwell—maybe?

In that case, no wonder she didn’t take a second look at the elevator. Then perhaps finding that blood spot was by no means a coincidence, from the start, her she was consciously searching out those traces—she was constantly a step or two ahead of me.

… Anyhow, I was relieved. What was there to be relieved about? I just set up some suspicious on my own… but decreasing the suspects by one, small was it was, was undoubtedly progress.

“And Kyouko-san, there are similarly quite a few residents with alibis, aren’t there?”

I didn’t remember the details, but when she was asking around, she also questioned the residents on their lifestyles—while it sounded like meaningless gossip, wasn’t she actually confirming their alibis? She said Hakui-kun was reading too many mystery novels, but she actually had a firm grasp on that side, I see.

But unfortunately, it seems the results were none too favorable.

“It was morning, after all. As none of them are salaried workers, they were generally sleeping until close to noon, apparently—those zealous in their studies like Hakui-kun were actually the small minority.”

“I that so… it would be quicker if we could just ask Wakui-san what really happened.”

I said—my tone naturally grew tired.

“At the very least, I hope his surgery is going well…”

“The way you’re saying it, you make it sound like our reasoning isn’t going well.”

Kyouko-san said, a blank look on her face, “Let’s leave that one to the doctor. We’ll just do what we can,” she continued. Do what we can—with all we have.

“And even if Wakui-san safely recovers, he won’t tell you the culprit’s name. Wakui-san is covering for the one who stabbed him, after all.”

“Yeah… that’s right.”

If Kyouko-san’s interpretation of his lack of message hit the mark, Wakui-san would probably continue his silence after recovery—he might even say he stabbed himself in a work-related accident.

“Yes, he might. But I doubt that one will pass. A look at the wound and they can at least figure out if he stabbed himself or not.”

“… Even so, I think the culprit will still be on the edge. Wondering if Wakui-kun will spill the beans when he recovers.”

“That depends on how the culprit recognizes the present situation. Do they think Wakui-san is alive, or that he’s dead? Do they think the incident has been discovered, or has it yet to come to light—no one left the apartment complex when the ambulance arrived, but did they manage to connect the sound of sirens to the incident, or did they let the sirens pass as the sounds of daily life—there are various conceivable patterns.”

“At the present time, the only resident Atelier House with a clear recognition of the crime is Hakui-kun, right?”

“Strictly speaking, the only one who managed to recognize that we recognized the crime was Hakui-kun.”

Kyouko-san expressed it more strictly, or rather precisely.

“The culprit who stabbed Wakui-san, naturally, has to be aware of the incident, but they wouldn’t mention that themselves—if I was able to dig in deeper with everyone’s questioning, I might have been able to probe that out, but for that sake, we would have to divulge some information from our side, and there is a danger the situation would go out of control.”

“Yeaaah.”

I naturally found myself groaning.

My hands were full just simulating Hakui-kun alone; if on top of that, we began hypothesizing the culprit’s current mental state, I was right about to burst. While she called it round-robin deduction and reductio ad absurdum, processing various forms of information simultaneously was a difficult task for me. Those logic puzzles that had one encompass every pattern at once were poison to my brain—I was even driven by an impulse to toss it all out.

“A logic puzzle… is it? Classic mystery novels are occasionally referred to as puzzlers.”

Upon receiving my words, Kyouko-san started to motion. She began dragging a thin board of wood leaned against the side of the workplace—it was probably a drawing board for working outside: the aged paint stains spread out uniformly, transforming it in itself to a single abstract piece.

A marbled pattern perhaps… though you didn’t have to be Hakui-kun to simply consider it ‘filthy’. Could it be, since I said logic puzzle, she planned to use that as a backboard to map out our current state on paper?

Certainly, while it might be hard to make sense of thoughts in your head, if you write out the data on paper, something might come into sight—but that couldn’t be so. The forgetful detective Kyouko-san would never write down information.

When she could do practically everything in her head, was there even any point in going to the troubles of writing it out—then what did she plan on doing with that board she salvaged?

Before I could ask, she had already acted—with what was stationed near the entrance of the basement room, that large-scale power saw.

Just as I noticed her push in the plug, Kyouko-san turned it on and began carving up the board. She didn’t shy back in the slightest from the intense sound the machine let out, skillfully and nimbly moving the board, turning it into a jumbled pile of parts in no time—honestly, it looked so dangerous I couldn’t stand to watch; yet, be that as it may, if I raised my voice or tried to stop her by fore, it would be even more dangerous— in the end, unable to get close, I had no choice but to watch over her work.

“This power saw is more precisely a jigsaw… instead of a logic puzzle, if we tried solving it as a jigsaw, where would that get us?”

With the twenty-odd parts of the disassembled board in hand, Kyouko-san returned to the center of the room—instead of parts, would that make them pieces?

Brushing off the sawdust on her clothes, “Are you aware of the rules behind solving a puzzle?” She asked me.

“Ymm… you start from the border, don’t you?”

“Yes. From the, border—because one side of the piece will be a straight line, the border pieces are easy to pick out. First, you place the border’s four corner pieces and put it together in sequence. That is the first stage.”

As she said that, Kyouko-san divided the board pieces between the ‘border’ and ‘other’.

“The second stage is to separate pieces by color. Of course, I won’t say it’s a rule, but generally, neighboring pieces tend to have similar colors. And the third stage is piece shape, you look at how each one is arranged—finally, it becomes round-robin, but the interesting part is that the further you go, the simpler it becomes to advance the puzzle.”

The number of pieces goes down, see, she said, as in the order she mentioned, Kyouko-san completed the puzzle. It was a puzzle she made herself, and there weren’t too many pieces, so perhaps it was obvious she completed it so easily, but admittedly, her hands still did quick work.

“Do you see? No matter how complicated a pule looks, if you properly go through the process, you’ll be able to complete it eventually. Just because you get stuck, please don’t turn back on your progress.”

“……”

It did seem she was trying to console me again—that alone was pathetic, yet that my own inadequacies had Kyouko-san waste her time was even more pathetic.

“… But, if even so, the puzzle can’t be completed, what are you supposed to do? With this many pieces, you might be able to work it out round-robin, but what if it were a more difficult puzzle?”

“There are three things that came make a puzzle difficult. Perhaps there are simply too many pieces—like a thousand, two thousand, ten thousand. Another possibility is a puzzle you can’t separate by color—have you ever seen them before? Those puzzles where every piece is pure white. Astronauts do them in training.”

“Hmm, I see… what’s the final one?”

“A puzzle without enough pieces.”

In that case, there’s no way to complete it, she said, lifting one piece up from the improvised puzzle lining the ground.

“If you don’t have enough pieces, the puzzle will never be complete—what makes it even more unpleasant, is the fact you can’t notice an absence of pieces until the puzzle is considerably close to completion. If the final piece is missing, you’ll taste a great sense of wasted effort.”

I was familiar with that one. Sadly, the more pieces the puzzle had, the more prone it was to happening. When you boiled it down, I was at that moment working on a puzzle where I had no idea what the finished product looked like, with not nearly enough pieces—even the pieces I had were too much for me.

“But that’s nothing to feel down about, Oyagiri-san. There was never any need for us to complete the puzzle—even when lacking in pieces, as long as we can build it far enough to predict the completed picture, that is enough.”

That explanation was definitely one way to look at it.

Without any rights to investigate, Kyouko-san couldn’t help but have restrictions placed on her, but taking it the other way, precisely because we didn’t have investigations right, grasping solid evidence and the full details of the case weren’t being asked of us. Even a deduction eighty percent filled in could let us speak directly with the suspect—and urge them to turn themself in.

“If you just want an idea of the full picture, then the proper method of making the border might just be a detour. Even if you make just the border, if the center is left empty, there’s no way you could anticipate what it will look like—it might just be quicker to make it form the center.”

All the way thinking I was saying some unreasonable things, I imitated Kyouko-san, picking up pieces, leaving only the outside border.

“Ahaha. I’m sure it’ll be difficult to make a puzzle from the center. Difficult for me even. Be it a detour or not, you’ve still got to make the border—though if you’re lacking the pieces to make the border, it’s going to drop your motivation for the rest.”

“Yeah. But to anticipate the completed picture in our current state would be like looking at just Wakui-san’s frame, and predicting the painting it was meant to border, isn’t it?”

A puzzle was like a painting, and when it was completed, it could go in a frame, so I tried equating it to old Wakui—that really was the only meaning I put into it, I wasn’t thinking too deeply.

No, if I wasn’t thinking too deeply, Kyouko-san was the same—the way she suddenly used the jigsaw to make a puzzle didn’t have any particular meaning, just by tying the word puzzle I happened to say, the board she saw at the side of the workspace, and the power saw with a clear presence in the basement, she thought she would be able to make a puzzle, so she tried making one. I had no doubt that’s all there was to it.

Without fearing wasted efforts, she would do everything within her capabilities, it was nothing more than a part of her normal conduct—however.

“Yay!”

Kyouko-san suddenly latched onto me. It was quite a strong hug, a hugging method that made me feel like my entire body was being compressed in a fervent embrace. In my surprise, I reflexively dropped the puzzle pieces in my hand.

“K-Kyouko-san!? What’s wrong!?”

“Nice work, Oyagiri-san.”

She said, and when I thought she had separated from me, she gripped my hand—lacking any restraint, she shook it up and down.

“Thanks to you, I’ve got it.”

“G-got it…? Got what?”

To that point, whatever happened, she had quite often taken erratic actions, so I had readied my heart to not be surprised no matter what she did next—so when she suddenly started making a puzzle with makeshift tools, I hid my confusion, and accepted it as collectedly as I could—but I never thought she would embrace me, so there was nothing I could do when I was thrown into a fluster.

“D-don’t tell me the culprit?”

“No, I don’t know anything about the culprit yet.”

Kyouko-san easily denied it—then what?

“However, I understand why, when it came to his final job, Wakui-san didn’t have Hakui-kun paint a picture.”

“……?”

“You were wondering, weren’t you? In the midst of cleaning his room, I had a look here and there, and I do think Hakui-kun’s artistic ability is considerably high, even from a layman’s perspective—at a level where a fake painting of course, it wouldn’t be strange if he was asked to paint the real one. At the very least, in Atelier House, it’s very hard to believe you’d find him ranked closer to the bottom.”

So she was putting the room in order while probing out Hakui-kun’s artistic abilities; that’s a stable concurrent throughput, but I did share that opinion. His didn’t fall short of the paintings the residents showed us in our visits by any considerable margin—though it was because I was a layman, that I thought I was being led by surface-level traits.

“So you mean… not in regards to the culprit of this case, you’ve solved the mystery behind Wakui-san’s final frame? The large order of materials you were worried about… it really wasn’t a mistake?”

“Yes. Nor was it camouflage to conceal what he would really be using—he may have meant for some of it to be so, but that was only secondary. And the theory everyone was real was also wrong.”

“! Really?”

In that case, the suspicions against Hakui-kun would run even thinner—it would mean the reaction he gave on Kyouko-san’s provocation would have been build on a theory with a mistaken premise.

But in that case, that would put us back at the plate on who the real one was—and the meaning behind the mass order?

“And I’m saying I figured it out—all thanks to you.”

“Thanks to me?”

“The idea of ‘thinking just with the border’ had never struck me. Right… The painting can’t come to be with the frame alone—however, we can calculate back from it. Just by looking at the frame, it is possible to deduce what sort of painting would have gone in it. Yay!”

In her continuing high spirits, she demanded a high five, and I did oblige, but—our hands did make a nice hand slapping against one another, but—but was it really possible to deduce that?

Just by looking at the frame, hitting on the picture inside it felt like more of a psychic power than deductive reasoning—when I’m the one who became a hint, I didn’t really want to say it, but I highly doubted she was capable of such a thing.

“Oh really? But sometimes, you decide whether or not to buy a book at the bookstore just by the cover, right? You can say the same for a CD album’s cover art—it’s one of those hopeful buys.”

“I mean, it happens.”

“We’re not talking about a mass-produced frame, this is a frame provided by a framer—an appearance designed for the sake of its contents would inevitably point out its contents, wouldn’t it?”

When she put it like that, I could somewhat see it—but in this case, the problem was that the frame in question wasn’t even finished yet.

To estimate the sort of frame Wakui would make from the materials, and on top of that, picture what sort of painting would be worthy to contain in it. If she succeeded in picturing that, she just had to identify a resident Wakui placed an order with who had a similar picture—and he or she would be the real artist.

Logically, it made sense, but that was impossible to implement—a framer with a skill level equal to Wakui’s, perhaps, but Kyouko-san was, to the end, a detective. Her artistic sense shouldn’t exceed the realm of a spectator—

“Yes. You’re right. I might not be able to definitively declare it—but I still have to verify, don’t I?”

Kyouko-san looked at her wristwatch.

When her detective work had been a race against time, come to think of it, this was the first time she ever distinctly looked at a clock—yet now akin to measuring her lap time.

“Yes. It should be done around now; my identity.”

“? What is… my identity?”

“Remember, the painting we had Hakui-kun draw up. I became a model, did I not?”

“Aah! That’s right.”

“No matter how scrupulous he was, it should be done by now—and while I go get it, there are a few things I’ll have to go confirm with him.”

“I see… understood, we should get going then.”

I hadn’t the slightest idea what inspiration the words I happened to say served as a trigger for, but it was certain that staying here wouldn’t better the situation—if Kyouko-san’s flash was on the mark, then at the very least, our current stalemate would end. If we were able to identify the resident painting the real picture…

And while I knew it wasn’t the time, I was also curious how Hakui-kun drew Kyouko-san.

But, “No, Oyagiri-san, you stay where you are, I have something else I need you to do,” Kyouko-san held up one hand to stop me as I was to naturally accompany her Naturally, that hand wasn’t asking for a high five anymore— huh?

“The deadline is approaching, after all. Let’s split up—I want you to check the books on that bookshelf one by one.”

Kyouko-san pointed out what wasn’t on the level of a bookshelf, a two-row rack placed in the corner of the workplace. It was line with large books, presumably art-related references.

“You can just do it roughly, try and see if there’s anything strange stuck between any of the pages.”

“What sort of thing…?”

“I can’t say yet. If you’ll just perform a check with your own senses, no preconceptions—I’ll help out as soon as I’m back from Hakui-kun’s room, but please get as far as you can.”

When she told me to use my own senses, I felt like I was being tested, but Kyouko-san who could do anything on her own was leaving it to me, so it had to be something even I could do—rather, what was I supposed to do if I couldn’t even check if something was sandwiched between book pages?

I was more worried whether it was alright for Kyouko-san and Hakui-kun to meet alone—last time they were together, I felt an explosive presence a number of times. There’s no telling what chemical reaction would occur when genius and genius meets… though, Kyouko-san was right in saying there was barely any time remaining.

“… How long will you be?”

I asked Kyouko-san—I wanted a standard so I could race over in the million to one chance some trouble broke out.

“Since I’m at it, I think I’ll be climbing the stairs up to the thirtieth floor, so it might take a bit—but I’ll definitely be back within thirty minutes.”

The stairs to the thirtieth floor? Since she’s at what? I thought, but I immediately hit on it—Kyouko-san was trying to trace the culprit’s moves.

If the blood on the stairs had some relation to the case, that would mean the culprit climbed the stairs to their room—she was testing to see if there was anything to be gained in tracing those actions.

When the mystery behind Wakui’s final job was on the verge of being solved, she didn’t forget investigation the crime, Kyouko-san was a woman of action brimming with endless vitality…

“Well then, see you later. Best regards.”

Before I could dispute it, Kyouko-san had already moved—in no time at all, she was gone from the basement. I was about to tell her going with that white hair would surprise Hakui-kun, but I didn’t make it in time. She was definitely quick to move, but she was also simply quick on her feet.

Well, she didn’t have the time to dye it again, and her false identity was already exposed to Hakui-kun, so it probably wouldn’t become a problem.

With the pure-white Kyouko-san, and Hakui-kun who only painted in black—they seemed so contrastive, but there had to be some common ground. Perhaps having geniuses meet wouldn’t result in the sort of trouble I was worried about—more importantly, I needed to solemnly prioritize the job I was tasked with.

As instructed, I went over to the two-shelf rack, and started by taking out all the books in it.

If it was just a book, I probably didn’t have to worry about fingerprints… come to think of it, I recalled Kyouko-san had properly looked through that rack in her noon inspection of the crime scene—but was there ‘something’ she overlooked?

I didn’t know if I could find ‘something’ that Kyouko-san overlooked, but I had to give it a try—Putting the books on their side, I got to flipping pages starting at the top.

Like that, I worked myself up for the challenge, but reading through every book—no, I didn’t have to read them, for most, I was just flipping the pages—it didn’t take that much time. It’s just, it didn’t come with any sense of achievement that I was accomplishing a job I’d been entrusted—because in the end, there wasn’t any ‘strange’ looking ‘something’ stuck between any of the pages.

I was told to look without any preconceptions, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe Kyouko-san was looking for normal bookmarks or pamphlets—just in case, I removed the covers, and checked if there was anything stuck there, but to no avail.

I felt disappointed—I thought I might be able to lessen Kyouko-san burden if only in the slightest, but the way things were going, it looked like Kyouko-san would have to do another check once she was back. At the very least, to make it easy for her, I thought I’d arrange the books by size.

My hands stopped on a single magazine.

It wasn’t as if anything peculiar about it—when I was flipping through the magazine pages not too long ago, there had been a special feature that had caught my eye.

It was a special on Atelier House, none other than where I was, and it contained interviews with old Wakui, and a few of the residents—rather than Wakui preserving a back issue, it felt more like the article just coincidentally happened to be in it. I only had limited information on it, but as expected, this Atelier House was a relatively famous facility in the industry.

To a layman such as myself, it looked even odd and abnormal, but in a place it was naturally supposed to exist, it was considered only natural—for those in the know.

Strangely, when I looked at what was written in the article, that shady feeling I’d been getting seemed to clear away—of course, it wasn’t as if s feature in this sort of magazine would detail it down to its true nature.

It’s just, while I didn’t properly read it, I inputted it in my head as new information, the idea behind old Wakui building Atelier House was introduced in the article, and I found it intriguing.

To repay the world of painting, like service—he had told me, but even if that was his first objective, it seems he had some personal circumstance as well.

Perhaps I should call it the troubles of his youth… according to the article, there was a time Wakui set out to be a painter, but something led him to give up on that path, and he became a frame maker. As a result, he achieved greatness as a framer, and I think that was for the best, but, he didn’t want any youngsters to taste the same setbacks—he didn’t want them to give up on their dreams just because the ‘environment wasn’t in order’.

With that in mind, old Wakui built Atelier House.

… It was an interview, it was unknown how much of it was true, but it was easier to understand than just simple repayment. The reason the support was specialized only for painting—the sort of stoicism that filled Atelier House as a whole was based in Wakui’s past setbacks.

To entrust youngsters with a dream—when you described it like that, the nuance did change, and I couldn’t unconditionally say that was a good thing—even more so than before, I didn’t know what to think of Wakui’s personality. Was he a good person or bad person?

Perhaps those expressions were nothing more than a label—a label, or maybe—the outside border.

Nothing more than a frame to decorate a person. Just as the same action can make a good or bad person of someone, depending on the nuance—

“……”

Even so.

I noticed Kyouko-san was late to return—while I was running through some worthless thoughts, thirty minutes had gone by long ago.

While I certainly had some panic in me from wasting our already scarce time, but through that, I was still worried that Kyouko-san hadn’t returned from her journey to Hakui-kun’s place. She may have used the stairs, but if she just received the piece, and confirmed a few details, it wouldn’t be strange if she was back long ago—she said she would definitely be back in thirty minutes… just as I thought, did some trouble break out?

Kyouko-san was an easygoing person, but Hakui-kun did seem to have a short fuse.

It wasn’t long before I made my resolve to make for the thirtieth floor. It was far to belated to call the fastest, but come so far, perhaps I was finally learning from Kyouko-san’s line of flow.

But I learned a bit too much. When I thought about it calmly, if I wanted to go get her, I could have just used the elevator, but tugged at by what Kyouko-san said, I ended up choosing the route of reaching the thirtieth floor by stairs. I may have just been being stubborn. When Kyouko-san climbed thirty flights, I felt a competitiveness that wouldn’t let me take the easy way out—Kyouko-san said she’d go up on the stairs, but she never said she was taking them down (we’d already gone down them once anyway), so if I headed to the stairs, I might miss Kyouko-san coming down by elevators.

Along the way, I thought I might at least leave a message in the basement in case we missed one another, but if I purposely returned to the basement for that, I would lose sight of what I was doing in the first place—I was fine simply climbing.

No matter how my competitive spirit blazed on that point, while I fell short of Kyouko-san, if I were to find a clue towards resolving the case on my climb, it would be indubitably rosy—I thought over such things as I tapped my feet against every other step, but unfortunately, I couldn’t spot anything so conveniently.

There was no way someone as simple as me could multitask, climbing stairs in a hurry, while simultaneously looking for clues—then like in trail running, should I just make a run for the thirtieth floor all at once? That was definitely something Kyouko-san couldn’t do, and only I was capable of—it happened when I made my resolve.

Floor-wise, I guess I had reached around the tenth.

From right above me—came a large sound.

“!?”

I reflexively looked in the direction of the sound, but all that entered my eyes was the bottom of the stairway leading to the eleventh floor, and it wasn’t as if anything had happened to it—an emergency stairwell was, in a sense, an irregular atrium, and even if it was right above me, there was no way of knowing what floor it happened on.

The sound didn’t come once, it repeated a few times, a short gap between each. A consecutive banging—my intuition told me it was the sound of ‘something falling down stairs’. The sort of sound you hear when you carelessly drop a somewhat large parcel you’re carrying.

Thinking normally, it was reasonable to assume a resident using the emergency stairwell carrying a canvas or modal statue’s hand slipped—then I should change my plan.

During the visits, I had met face to face with a majority of Atelier House’s residents—the one who spoke with them directly was Kyouko-san, so perhaps I left a light impression, but for the ‘investigator from city hall’ letting off pressure from behind Kyouko-san to still be loitering around the complex’s emergency stairs might come off as unnatural. Kyouko-san might be able to pull it off with an innocent look, but I was the sort who shoed it on his face, so there was nothing better than avoiding a meeting

But… thought I. While it was the sound of ‘something falling down the stairs,’ it could simultaneously be the sound of ‘someone falling down the stairs’, I instinctively thought. It wasn’t a hand that slipped but a foot.

“Kuh…!”

I couldn’t confirm which from where I was, but if it was the latter, they may require assistance. I was definitely reading too far into a flashy sound, and even If someone had slipped, there was no guarantee they were injured—there were other things I had to do, and really no need for me to surge in.

Before the logic had settled, my body had moved—I reflexively raced up the stairs, fast as I could.

There was nothing else I could do, once the worst possible scenario crossed my mind. Good grief, I was completely taking after Kyouko-san. I ended up hoping I could take action like that person. Not that imitating her today would suddenly make me like her.

But as I ran up, those chilled feelings disappeared—that’s right, I was just running up some stairs. There was nothing to be lost. If that alone could eliminate the worst possible scenario, it was a cheap buy. And if mothering happened, I could be relieved that nothing happened, couldn’t I? It wasn’t as if I was trying to do anything I was incapable of—I was just doing what I could. What I could, to the best I could do it.

What awaited me around ten floors up, as I picked up speed and climbed, was something greater than the worst possible situation—not greater, should I say worse?

Whatever the case, the scene hadn’t crossed my imagination—that sort of scenario.

“K—Kyouko-san!?”

In the landing between the seventeenth and eighteenth floor of Atelier House—the forgetful detective, Okitegami Kyouko had collapsed.

 


 

 

9

 

She was in a state that had me troubled where to look.

The pants she had been wearing were pulled down, putting her ribbon-adorned laced panties on full display—no, pulled down wasn’t the proper term, it was more accurate to say her pants were broken.

The handmade western-style outfit she made on the spot for a disguise—come to think of it, she did way it might come apart if she moved too vigorously. Apparently, the seams tore apart while she was falling down the stairs.

“……!”

Whatever happened, I rushed over to Kyouko-san. Pulling off my coat, I draped it over her lower body as I squatted down beside her.

Her eyes were closed, she seemed unconscious—but when I touched her neck I could feel a heat and a pulse. When I brought my ear close, I heard normal breathing. That’s good, it looks like we avoided the worst of the worst of the truly worst scenario.

I arranged her into a comfortable posture—while I couldn’t be as nimble as Kyouko-san, as someone who worked at a security company, I at least had the general process hammered into my head. While the landing couldn’t be called vast, Kyouko-san had a smaller build after all, and I managed to lay out her legs. For a pillow, I bunched up the scattered fragments of broken pants, and put them to new use—I had learned by example, or rather, I would never say something of this degree could achieve Kyouko-san levels of DIY.

She had no external wounds or bleeding, no fractures I could glean just by looking—then there was nothing more I could do. More than that, I was better off not doing anything more. Judging by the sound, it did seem she had fallen quite showily, and if I moved her here without proper planning, there was a low chance of causing brain hemorrhaging. Her breath was calm, and just by appearances, one might think she was just asleep; I didn’t think it was anything major…

“……”

But I didn’t have time to rest, I looked at the upper level from the landing. At the end of the stairs: the door leading to Atelier House’s eighteenth floor. Did Kyouko-san fall from around there—no.

She didn’t fall.

Even if it was only for half a day, I had acted alongside Kyouko-san—I knew she would let her feet slip up, by any stretch of the imagination. Able to work on multiple tasks at once, one might think of her as a detective liable to distractions but—on the contrary, as she was capable of doing so much at once, even in the midst of doing something, she would never neglect to watch where she stepped.

Right.

Back then, I thought of the sound from an upper floor as ‘something falling down stairs’ or otherwise ‘someone falling down stairs’—even that was amply reading too deeply into it, yet if I were Kyouko-san, I’m sure my thoughts would have been a step ahead.

Namely, the sound of ‘someone being pushed down stairs’ – looking at Kyouko-san’s current state, that wasn’t in any way reading too deeply, It was the natural and proper train of thought.

In the first place, I shouldn’t have let Kyouko-san go off on her own. No matter what she said, instead of splitting up, I should have accompanied her. I mean, if her reasoning was correct, there was someone in Atelier House who had just stabbed someone.

What a blunder.

Was it because I had the preconception of Wakui trying to cover for them, that some part of me ended up thinking the culprit was a ‘good person’—as if they were harmless?

Thinking about it normally, they stabbed someone—what’s more, in a way where they would die if left be, where even now we couldn’t be certain. Just how dangerous would it be to chase that person around? In my foolishness, I hadn’t thought about it at all.

To identify the culprit, and urge them to turn themselves in.

While Kyouko-san’s actions upon receiving Wakui’s message may have been clad in a shroud of nobility, she had completely ignored the risk—confronting the culprit who brought about the crime face-to-face, thinking nothing would happen was a tad too optimistic.

Say the culprit was among those we interviewed when we were going around—even if they didn’t outright say it like Hakui-kun, what if someone apart from Hakui-kun had seen through her lie?

It wouldn’t be the least bit strange if that resident moved to inflict harm onto Kyouko-san, who was snooping around the incident. If they were under the impression they killed Wakui, one murder’s the same as two, they might end up with some outrageous leap of logic—it was neither a rational or efficient decision, yet taking that action was what it meant to be human.

I really had nothing more to say than that I was stupid.

Not having investigatory rights simultaneously meant if something happened, we didn’t have the means to protect ourselves—In such a position, conducting detective work that no one asked for, even if Kyouko-san was pushed down the stairs by someone, perhaps it could be said she got what was coming for her.

Perhaps there was no space to sympathize with her.

But I felt nothing but anger towards the culprit—she tried urging them to turn themselves in before the police got involved, and this is where it left her.

I didn’t know what details were behind the culprit stabbing Wakui, and at the present point, their motive was unknown—in that regards, perhaps I wasn’t standing where I could say anything. Whether an outsider to Atelier House like me had the qualifications to stick his mouth here and there was uncertain. But at the very least, there was no was the culprit of this case had any good reason to inflict harm unto Kyouko-san.

I wouldn’t forgive them, I thought.

While it might go against old Wakui’s will, and Kyouko-san’s will as well, since it had come to that, I couldn’t persist with soft ideals of covering for them or persuading them.

I immediately called 110, I phoned up the police—who cases of attempted murder. While Kyouko-san and I might get scolded severely for arbitrarily investigating, this wasn’t a scene to hesitate.

If we ere considering possibilities, it wasn’t like there was absolutely no chance Kyouko-san slipped, and even if she was pushed, perhaps there was no guarantee that was by the hand of this time’s culprit—but if I didn’t report it, the culprit might get away from Atelier House.

When it came to that, whatever the case, covert detective work would become impossible—while it seemed there was some of the time limit remaining, this was the time to give up.

I took out my phone—no, I tried to, but I couldn’t find it in my pant pocket. Ah, did I end up leaving it in the basement?

No, that’s wrong, I put it in the pocket of the coat I draped over Kyouko-san.

Noticing that, I reached my hand towards it—and it was precisely at that timing,

“……”

Kyouko-san quietly opened her eyes.

“Uu… uwah.”

I hurriedly pulled back my hand. No way I would let her misunderstand I was trying to do something indecent while she was unconscious—while I failed to retrieve the phone, anyways, if Kyouko-san was up, that was cause for celebration.

“Kyouko-san, are you alright! Ah, you don’t have to force yourself up, you’re better off staying in that position.”

If she got up like that, my coat would fall off, or so I wouldn’t say, but following my orders, Kyouko-san viciously raced her eyes around as she remained sprawled out over the landing. She seemed pained to recognize the current situation, rather, expectedly confused—I wouldn’t blame her, being thrust down the stairs, just remembering it would be a terrible fright.

No, wait?

Could it be when Kyouko-san was pushed, she saw the perpetrator?

Thinking about it time-wise, on the way back from dropping by Hakui-kun, for some reason she chose to go down by the stairs instead of the elevator, so it would be normal to assume she was pushed on the back—but if she tumbled down the stairs, perhaps her posture did change, and she fell face-up. Right before she clacked out, there was a high probability she saw who did it to her—in that case, we could solve the case here and now.

Exposing herself to danger, Kyouko-san had grasped the means to resolve it—that in my head,

“Kyouko-san, do you remember who did you in?”

I enthusiastically asked. One-sidedly concluding she remembered would be overeager, but still lying down, Kyouko-san shook her head and said this.

“Well about that, I don’t even remember who you’re supposed to be…”

 


 

10

 

Kyouko-san only has today.

The forgetful detective who forgets yesterday come tomorrow—but I had terribly misunderstood the implications behind that. Perhaps I should simply say Kyouko-san’s explanation was lacking… but come to think of it, she can say today and tomorrow all she wants, but the human brain wasn’t made for such a mechanical system as resetting precisely at midnight every day.

One’s internal clock doesn’t necessarily align with the rotation of the earth.

In that case, what specified ‘today’—apparently, it was quite simply defined as, ‘when I wake up’.

Meaning Kyouko loses her memory when she falls asleep.

That wasn’t limited to pure sleep, if she fainted or swooned, lost consciousness in any way, that was included in its scope.

I had always thought it a crazy tale, but rather than memories disappearing every day, it was much easier to intuitively understand it was sleep and awakening that reset her memory—rather, I had no choice but to accept it.

Because that was precisely how it was spelled out on her own arm in her handwriting, there was no way to doubt it. ‘I am Okitegami Kyouko. A detective. My memory resets each time I fall asleep’—it was written in thick magic marker over the white skin she rolled up her sleeve to.

Kyouko-san recognized it as her own handwriting.

For the forgetful detective who didn’t take notes, perhaps that could be called her sold memorandum—while I wouldn’t say she would have stripped had that not been there, when Hakui-kun jokingly requested a nude sketch, the ‘reason not to strip’ she mentioned must have been these words across her bare skin.

Thanks to this minimum precaution, she at least wouldn’t lose sight of who she was—therefore, naturally, even if Kyouko-san saw the face of whoever pushed her, she wouldn’t remember.

Not only that, when I had worked with her for half a day, I had disappeared—she ended up forgetting why she was in this apartment complex in the first place.

Our relationship had once again rewound to a first meeting, and of course, she had absolutely no memory of the case of Wakui being stabbed.

The visit to each room in Atelier House, and the very nature of the place had been wiped, and that flash of inspiration, the idea about the framer Wakui Kazuhisa’s final job—was of course, forgotten.

Every last little thing about the case was lost.

Half a day of detective work had returned to nonexistence—this was an undeniable fact I couldn’t help but feel discouraged at. At the very least, I should have heard out her estimate one who it was painting the real picture—the thought occupied my mind, and I also wondered if this had been for the best.

Whatever the case, Kyouko-san had regained consciousness, and it seemed apart from lost memory, she didn’t have any major injuries. In that case, I could call it convenient she forgot about the case, and my apologies to old Wakui, but this really was the time to pull back.

“Let’s go to the hospital, Kyouko-san—you don’t seem to hurt, but you should get a proper examination just in case.”

“I see—you’re right.”

Kyouko-san answered, still somewhat spaced out. While she had completely forgotten who I was, she had with her natural perceptiveness figured I I came to her aid when she fell down the stairs, and she wasn’t any more wary than necessary towards an unfamiliar man.

“Umm, Oyagiri-san… was it? May I continue to borrow your coat? These torn up pants don’t look like they’ll be of any use… please let me wrap it around my waist.”

“Oh, sure. Go right ahead, you can have it.”

I wasn’t in my right mind, I ended up giving a half-thought-out answer.

“But I think there’s a phone in my pocket, so if you could just return that? I’ll call an ambulance.”

“I think you’re making too big of a deal out of this…”

Kyouko-san said as she pulled my phone out of the coat and handed it over. Was she showing weakness at having been saved? She was acting somewhat obedient—as meek as a lamb.

We went down from the landing to the seventeenth floor and walked out into the hall—naturally, I intended to take the elevator to the first floor. She looked curiously around the Atelier House halls she had seen once before, following behind me to board the elevator compartment.

When she wasn’t working, she was kinda just a spacy person… well, if she rushing around like that in her private life, I doubt I’d even be able to take her to the hospital.

“… Mn.”

I considered doing the multitasking I had picked up form Kyouko-san on the job, and thought to call an ambulance as we moved, but the elevator had no reception.

Right, not just an ambulance, I intended to call the police too—it’s just, should I do that after seeing Kyouko-san off to the hospital?

If I divulged the existence of the case for her, there was no guarantee Kyouko-san wouldn’t start rushing around again—at present, it seemed she wasn’t thinking too deeply on why she was here, but some trigger could make her notice she was here on a job, and I couldn’t foresee what would come next.

Before that happened, I wanted to shove her into an ambulance—when it didn’t seem major, I wanted to call one for that reason as well.

Yet as we stepped out into the first-floor elevator hall, once again, I was unable to dial 119—by which I mean, I ran right into a face I recognized?

None other than Hakui-kun was there, waiting for the elevator—he was an Atelier House resident, so naturally it was possible to meet him like this, but how troublesome, I thought.

Kyouko-san had just met him a moment ago—I had nothing against the kid, but if he and Kyouko-san talked again, the existence of the case might come to light (to her).

No, wait a second, there was no guarantee Kyouko-san got to meet Hakui-kun when she dropped by. Since we happened upon him on the first floor, that meant Hakui-kun was outside to this point—the museum again? Anyways, he went out somewhere to draw, and there was a possibility Kyouko-san knocked while he was out.

In that case, this would be the first time Hakui-kun witnessed her white hair—but he didn’t seem surprised. As I thought, he must have met Kyouko-san at the room, and he just went out for a bit now? If he wanted to go out drawing, he didn’t have a sketchbook or pencil…

“Oh, what a cute kid. Is he a friend of yours, Oyagiri-san? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Kyouko-san spoke optimistically and lowered her head.

Even if she acted like she liked kids at this point… perhaps that was the case when off the job, but if possible, I’d prefer it if she didn’t say anything that would complicate things.

“Old-timer.”

Luckily, Kyouko-san’s words were ignored—Hakui-kun pointed at the cellphone I n my hand.

“Can I borrow that phone?”

“Yes… I don’t see why not. Who are you calling?”

“Police.”

Said Hakui-kun.

In an unchildlike terribly unintonated tone.

“The police…? Why?”

“You’re really asking that?”

There, Hakui-kun turned towards Kyouko-san for the first time—he turned to the white-haired detective. After staring at her fixedly a few seconds—he quietly spoke.

“’Cuz I’m the one who stabbed teacher.”

 


 

 

11

 

A sudden development was bringing the case to its resolution—though I understood far too little to consider it so. A backward glance at me as I was taken by a vortex of confusion, Hakui-kun used my phone and really did call the police. He briefly gave his name, gave his residence, and said he stabbed someone—and lightly tossing back my phone, he passed by my side as he entered the elevator. By that point,

“H-Hakui-kun—”

I finally managed to call out to him.

“W-why—”

“Could you leave me alone? You can read all the details in tomorrow’s morning paper. I’m sure it’ll have at least half true.”

The conversation apparently over, Kyouko-san turned to Kyouko-san, “Ah…” he almost said something but, “Nah, it’s nothin’” he finished up.

“Bye-bye, Kyouko-san.”

And like that, he pushed the close button.

“……”

Incredulous to whatever was going on, I thought I couldn’t just let him go I tried pressing the up button to stop the elevator, but my arm was grasped—it was Kyouko-san.

She shook her head, “Let him go,” she said.

“But—”

“If you want an explanation, I can give it—Oyagiri Mamoru-san.”

When she called me that, I knew something was off. What was it? That’s right, since helping out Kyouko-san on the stairs, I had yet to fully introduce myself—I only gave her my surname Oyagiri. Of course, I was in my normal clothes today, and I wasn’t wearing any nametag. Yet did Kyouko-san just bring up my first name Mamoru? Wasn’t she supposed to have forgotten about it?

While that was going on, the elevator climbed—no matter how I mashed the button now, I wouldn’t be able to halt it.

“Come this way.”

Kyouko-san walked towards the emergency stairwell—still in confusion, I followed her back—there wasn’t the time for a leisurely chat at the crime scene.

“Five minutes is enough—I’ll exhibit my fastest puzzle solving, so rest assured.”

Kyouko-san nonchalantly said and climbed down the stairs—her footing was firm and steady. Walk a hundred years, and I couldn’t see those feet slipping—more so, she spoke in a tone as if she clearly remembered what was in the basement. Unable to hold my silence, just as I entered the workspace,

“Kyouko-san, don’t tell me… you haven’t forgotten about this time’s incident?”

I asked.

“Yes. I remember it quite clearly.”

“B-but how can that be? Doesn’t the forgetful detective’s memories reset upon sleep…”

“Yes. That part wasn’t’ a lie. There’s no way I would deceive you, Oyagiri-san—it’s simply that at the time, I did not fall unconscious”

I was merely pretending to be unconscious. That’s why I didn’t forget.

Kyouko-san boldly declared it—but no matter how brazenly she said that, wouldn’t that still mean she was deceiving me… good god, after seeing her lie to Atelier House’s residents so many times, I was even wary of it, but I completely fell hook line and sinker.

But why would she tell such a lie, what’s more, to me?

“Then… do you also know who pushed you down? Was it perhaps Hakui-kun…?”

“I wasn’t pushed—That was me falling on my own. Because I fell on my own, I got away without being knocked out.”

“……?”

That was a bizarre phrasing that made it hard to swallow, but at the very least, the implication didn’t seem to be that she carelessly slipped—though it didn’t change my incomprehension. What exactly happened in the mere thirty minutes since Kyouko-san left me in this basement room to operate independently?

“I’m telling you, I’ll properly explain. No need to rush—no need to do anything really; now that Hakui-kun’s confessed, the case is already resolved.”

“I-I see… but,”

I turned an eye to the rack in the corner of the room. Beside it, the books I’d pulled out were piled up.

“What about those? I haven’t found anything between the pages yet.”

“Oh, that’s perfectly fine. If you actually found something, I’d be startled out of my wits. That was an excuse to let me take separate action from you.”

While she easily admitted it, did that not mean she put me up to busy work? When she said she’d split the work and rooted me to the basement… she used that time to speak face to face with Hakui-kun? I’ll admit, going over something Kyouko-san had already gone over once before did seem like double the effort from the start, but…

“I wanted to go see Hakui-kun alone no matter what—by the way, I was short on time, so I took the elevator up.”

“I-I see…”

If this was supposed to be an explanation, she was doing a good job keeping everything shrouded in mystery. I was left on the receiving end of confusion.

“So, in essence…? Back then, you didn’t go up to question Hakui-kun in order to confirm some things regarding Wakui-san’s final job, you went to meet him so you could urge him to confess?”

“Mnn. Well, that’s right. Though I haven’t gotten into the specifics.”

“… But as I recall, Kyouko-san, you said at that point you still didn’t know who the culprit was.”

“I lied.”

Oh, so she lied

I was even developing a form of admiration for that undaunted attitude that wouldn’t shy back from anything—of course, tired out from all the lies, and with one of them, namely her playing unconscious, seriously getting me worried, I had quite a bit I wanted to say, but more than that, I wanted to know how she figured out Hakui-kun was the culprit.

“Then from when—at what pointed did you suspect Hakui-kun?”

In mystery novels, that was a pretty standard question to toss at the detective—in most cases, the detective would answer, ‘from the moment I met him,’ but the fastest detective preceded even that.

“From the moment I saw Wakui-san collapsed here.”

“W… what?”

Wouldn’t that mean from the moment she learned of the incident—in the course of such prompt lifesaving measures, Kyouko-san had already finished her deductions? The investigation after that was all just her checking her answers?

That was—way too fast.

She hadn’t even met Hakui-kun yet.

“Yes, strictly speaking, it wasn’t as if I knew Hakui-kun was the culprit yet—but from the very onset, I suspected a child like him might have done it.”

“Why’s that?”

“The location of the wound.”

Kyouko-san pointed at her lower abdomen. At present, it was wrapped in my coat and hard to make out, but I could recall old Wakui was stabbed somewhere around there.

“The entry point was too low. If an adult was stabbing an adult, the wound would have quite likely been off another ten centimeters up.”

“……”

Now that she mentioned it, it really was nothing at all, she was right—a difference in height.

Just as the blade’s angle could make out if someone stabbed themselves, from the wound, one might be able to determine the height of the assailant—and in her emergency measures, Kyouko-san surely analyzed the wound.

“That’s also why we were able to resuscitate Wakui-san. With the height difference, stabbing the heart was impossible.”

“Was that the— certain inevitability you mentioned?”

To add onto that, as Hakui usually used nothing but a pencil as his drawing tool, he likely couldn’t properly grip the painting knife that was just lying around. Perhaps that was also an inevitability.

“If they had a scuffled and the painting knife was stabbed in, it wouldn’t be strange no matter where it was stabbed, but that didn’t seem to be the case—so at that point, I estimated that the culprit was a child, or otherwise an individual of diminutive stature.”

I see. Come to think of it, in her visits around Atelier House, when she confronted Hakui-kun, I placed my attention solely on the fact he saw through her lies… but I should also have taken note Kyouko-san wasn’t in the least bit surprised to find a child living in Atelier House. At that point, she had already foreseen a child in the apartment complex.

“That’s why, when I was questioning him, I tried a few things. To shake him up, one might say.”

“… Like delivering Wakui-san’s condition in an intentionally negative light?”

“Yes. And calling the weapon a knife, waiting for him to slip up and say painting knife… but that didn’t quite work out, or rather, he didn’t fall for it.”

So it seems she was doing that—I thought it was just intel gathering, but the battle between detective and culprit had already begun.

“Whatever the case, when the visits were all over, I knew Hakui-kun was the only child living in Atelier House and had him pretty much pinned down as the culprit. At the very least, the other residents seemed to be taller than me.”

It seems she was using herself as a measuring stick—no wonder she was so fixated on meeting them in person. Are you going to tell her every action had meaning… but if that was the case, wouldn’t it be alright if she told me at an earlier stage?

“There’s no way I could tell you. I didn’t particularly wish to show off my puzzle solving abilities, to the end, I simply took over Wakui-san’s will… in that case, when the time came that Hakui-kun finally considered turning himself in, there couldn’t be anyone who knew of his crime. Otherwise, he wouldn’t truly be turning himself in—neither you, nor me.”

“……?”

Mnn? What did that mean? He wouldn’t be turning himself in?

“And I’m saying… for example, if I solidified the evidence, cornered the culprit with airtight reasoning, and told them to please turn themselves in, that would, as a matter of fact, be like threatening them with no other alternative, would it not? Unless the culprit turned themselves in under their own free will, it wouldn’t make for succeeding Wakui-san’s will.”

Well yeah—idealistically, perhaps, but such a thing was in itself effectively impossible. Someone who would turn themselves in of their own free will would turn themselves in even if she didn’t do anything at all—no, not that, it’s because the culprit fled from the scene that Kyouko-san had to set out as a detective—detective.

The forgetful detective.

Aah—that’s right.

That’s why Kyouko-san pretended to pass out and forget her memory. I don’t know the details, but… when Kyouko-san confronted him a second time, she met Hakui-kun as the forgetful detective. She exposed her white hair, and on top of indicating who she was, she created an excuse to call him to the emergency stairs and delivered her deduction—on top of that, she probably pretended to slip before his eyes and fell down the stairs.

She lost her memory. She pretended to.

When she met him in the first-floor elevator hall, she deliberately emphasized her ‘pleasure to meet you’—she played a first meeting. She made Hakui-kun believe upon pointing out his crime, she forgot about it.

By doing so, she granted him the option of turning herself in. On top of driving him into a corner, she afforded him a way out.

A confession of his own free will—

“Fufu. My pants tearing up was unbearably embarrassing, or should I say beyond my calculations, but—I knew you’d come around to help when thirty minutes had gone by.”

Though Hakui-kun temporarily fled at the sound of you rushing up the stairs—Kyouko-san said, but what is it, I ended up wondering if even that much was part of her plan. Thought I think beyond calculations wasn’t enough to write off her pants falling apart.

Even if she wasn’t reaping what she sowed, this had to be some comeuppance for all the lies.

“What did you plan on doing if you really did lose your memory…”

“That would be perfectly fine. With Hakui-kun in mind, that way would have been better… but Oyagiri-san, I couldn’t quite let things end without offering you an explanation.”

“……”

“That being the case, I’m reluctant to admit its true there was a mystery I couldn’t solve to the end— it took the name of Wakui-san’s final job as a framer. As long as it was clear how that was related to the motive, I could not neglect it—so I really am thankful, Oyagiri-san. It’s thanks to you that the mystery was solved.”

“I-Is that so…”

With all the lies she told, I wasn’t going to believe anything she said anymore—or so I felt, but not too surprisingly, when she said she really was thankful, it honestly made me happy.

I feared this person, with her smiling, virtuous face, was an outrageous vixen. Yet more than the ability to lie, more than the ability to never forget a lie she had told, perhaps her ability to be forgiven for telling a lie was most worthy of mention.

“Come to think of it, you were probing out the motive the whole time.”

I was sure she was trying to whittle down the possible suspects through motive, but instead of that, as a card to urge the culprit towards turning themselves in, she wanted a firm grasp of their motive for the offense.

In her pursuit of speed, she never neglected the fundamental portions—so that was the fastest detective.

But in the case her thanks for me weren’t a lie, when I was the one who gave the hint, I pathetically didn’t have any clue as to what sort of frame old Wakui was making.

In my fixation on that point, I had yet to accept Hakui-kun as the culprit. Even if I conceded he was—I mean,

“That’s right, what about his alibi?”

“Alibi?”

“Remember… we just talked about it here. A blood spot was left on the stairs, so the culprit must have carried out the crime while the elevator was under inspection… in that case, it would be impossible for Hakui to have done it when he was out at the museum… was that bloodstain irrelevant? Or could it be he lied about going to the museum?”

“Going to the museum was apparently true. It’s probably alright to consider the drop of blood as having fallen when Hakui-kun was climbing the stairs—maybe we just haven’t found them, and a search will turn up even more.”

“Then…”

“As I wanted Hakui-kun to turn himself in, when we were speaking here, I didn’t want you to doubt him too much, so I didn’t quite deny it… but his alibi doesn’t hold up. You simply have to consider that the crime took place before the elevator was under inspection.”

Forget not quite denying it, I get the feeling she assertively affirmed it, but that aside, I didn’t get how the alibi didn’t hold up. If the elevator wasn’t undergoing maintenance, would a resident of the thirtieth floor, Hakui-kun really use the stairs?

“Oh no, there’s no guarantee. Even if the elevator is moving, the stairs are still readily available.”

“Well yeah…”

Those aiming to be healthy and other such people might choose the stairs over the elevator or escalator—it’s not like the stairs were ever sealed off. But I didn’t really see Hakui-kun as the health-crazed sort…

“Yes. But if he had no use but to use the stairs, he’d use them, wouldn’t he?”

“Hmm… well yeah, I mean if he had no choice.”

“The height difference.”

Kyouko-san said.

“You look like you’ve had a large build since you were a child, so it might not have hit you… but there are times a child might be unable to press the top buttons of a high-rise elevator.”

“Ah.”

No, I started growing in high school, so I got what she was saying—It was a hackneyed complex I’d rather not assertively go on about, but based on the model, an elevator’s button might be stationed outside the reach of a child.

As a matter of fact, Kyouko-san had to reach out for the button to go to the top floor—there was no way a child like Hakui-kun could reach it. Additionally, considering his impertinent attitude, he wouldn’t seek out help.

… But what if, hypothetically, the highest button he could barely reach was somewhere around the seventeenth floor? Wouldn’t he take the elevator to the seventeenth—and climb the stairs from there?

When he said he wanted to be left alone and returned to his room, was Hakui-kun going through that process right now? In that case, it wouldn’t be strange to find blood there.

This apartment complex never focused on removing obstacles, it seemed difficult for the elderly Wakui to live here—or so I thought, but by no means was it kind on a child either.

I guess it was inevitable if you wanted to call him that. Letting a kid around ten live in Atelier House was probably something old Wakui never anticipated—

“Then… you’re saying the crime happened before nine o’clock? When Hakui-kun went to the museum after that… was it to create an alibi?”

“No, according to him, he didn’t have any alibi forging intentions. He was panicking, and just went out to run away… if you’re distressed, draw a picture, that’s the kid’s mindset, as I feared.”

What was I supposed to think having heard that? Should I be happy Hakui-kun didn’t try to make up a makeshift alibi—what should I think of a kid who even at a time like that could only draw pictures?

“I used that spot of blood as a pretense to call him to the emergency stairwell—but my real intent was what came after, to have myself fall down the stairs—it seems he never noticed blood had dripped, after all.”

If the police actually got involved, forget half a day, this is a case they would have worked out in three hours, Kyouko-san carelessly threw out.

But if she was really up to it, Kyouko-san managed to solve the case three seconds after seeing the wound—and didn’t choose that route. Not only that, when I started doubting Hakui-kun, she nonchalantly sealed off that route, and in the end, even led me to arbitrarily imagining up an alibi that could never come to be.

With every means available to her, she tried to have the culprit give themselves in—if I pointed it out, she probably wouldn’t admit it, but just maybe she tried to so not just because Wakui tried to cover for them, but also because the culprit was a child? Kyouko-san had no mercy for children.

When confronting Hakui-kun one on one, I’m sure she didn’t hold back—she cornered him with an adult’s wiles. But, even so, to the end, she fixated on having him recognize his own crime.

Rather than catching him, she fixated on having him reflect—I don’t know how many detectives there are in the world, but I’m sure Kyouko-san was the only one who would do that… Albeit, it was something she could never do if she wasn’t the forgetful detective.

“I already said it, but he’s at an age the law can’t judge. Considering how Wakui-san was covering for him, even if he was caught, he might get off with no punishment at all—in that case, it all comes down to what Hakui-kun himself things about what he’s done.”

Sure enough… in hindsight, all that happened was a child who did something wrong got scared and ran away, but with nowhere to go, he ended up coming back—no, Kyouko-san contained the case as that.

“… In the end, what was the motive? Why did Hakui-kun stab Wakui-san?”

It wouldn’t be strange if a scuffle broke out between the two. Birds of a feather, or rather, they both shared a nature easy to fly into a passion—but even so, there had to be some sort of trigger. That’s what Kyouko-san must have been mindful as well—was it tied into old Wakui’s last job after all?

“Yes. He told me himself. Rather, it was just as he told the both of us—reaching the conclusion that Wakui-san’s painting orders to Atelier House’s residents weren’t fakes but all real, he went to talk to him directly. I reached the notion from the material orders, but it seems the thought struck Hakui-kun as he spoke to the residents painting the pictures. Well, I’m sure he saw there were far too many residents who received an order.”

“……”

When I passed by him the day before, come to think of it, he did seem to suspect that ordering fakes was ‘not like him’—in that case, by that point, his suspicions were considerably solidified. Knowing the project was entering the final stages of hiring a security guard, he finally sprung to action—something like that.

No matter the situation, the boy could only draw.

To that boy—to be among the very few who weren’t chosen was a humiliation of a great degree.

To be blunt, it was a feeling I couldn’t understand. Sure, it may be humiliating, but realistically speaking, was that reason to hurt someone—it wasn’t as if he was being denied in his entirety.

… Was he being denied in his entirety?

To Hakui-kun, perhaps.

“Wakui-san should have properly explained it—of course, it’s Hakui-kun’s fault for snapping, but Wakui-san is also responsible.”

“Is that… as his patron?”

“Well there’s that too—but he should have properly told him. Being secretive is good and all, but there should be a limit to such things.”

“……?”

Should have just told him… she might say, but if she told him, wouldn’t that just hasten the strife? No matter how cruel or harsh, the facts were simply facts—mn?

But didn’t Kyouko-san distinctly reject the theory they were all real? Was that also a lie to take me in—but it was by gaining the answer to that question, Kyouko-san determined she had all the cards she needed to negotiate, and left me in this room to face Hakui.

“Yes. Looking at the result, the sort of thing Wakui-kun’s final job would entail did not directly tie in to the motive—if I had to say, the motive was Hakui-kun’s misunderstanding, but reaching the truth of the matter was by no means a wasted effort. If I didn’t inform him of that truth, I’m sure Hakui-kun wouldn’t have decided to turn himself in—he couldn’t have.”

Sure enough, if the anger of being removed from the many real paintings was the motive, and that’s all there was to it, Kyouko-san would have had all the components on her first confrontation. I was lacking the viewpoint that a misunderstanding could become a motive too.

But if the story ended there, Hakui-kun wouldn’t reflect—he couldn’t reflect. It would end as a simple competition of obstinacy between himself and old Wakui… there would be no space for Kyouko-san to intervene. But if that motive was wrenched in a misunderstanding—then pointing out that misunderstanding might free up Hakui-kun’s coagulated heart.

“But… what sort of misunderstanding was it? What did wakui-san have in mind when he ordered such a large quantity of materials and a large number of paintings?”

I asked, worrying about the time.

Now that Hakui-kun had called the police himself, there was no further need to mind the time limit, but more than four minutes had gone by since the puzzle solving began, and it was right time for the police car he called to roll in. As the first people to discover the body, there were many circumstances we’d have to explain, and once they came in, I’d lose the situation to speak with Kyouko-san.

The fastest and forgetful detective. It was her fate to constantly be on the run from time.

Then at the very least, I had to hear out that truth—what sort of job was old Wakui going to have me protect? The last job of a legendary framer’s life…

“All of the paintings couldn’t have been real, right… then that would mean a single someone would be chosen. Could it be that was actually Hakui-kun, or something like that?”

While I didn’t know if that was consistent with what she had said to that point, I suggested that hypothesis. Meaning, that right now, every single resident who received an order was fake…

“That would make for quite a moving tale, but it would make far too sad of a misunderstanding. As long as Hakui-kun didn’t receive an order for a painting, that possibility does not exist.”

“Then… as we thought from the start, a single one of them was real, and the other residents were asked to, made to paint camouflage paintings?”

If she could prove that, it might offer some consolation—though when you boil it down, it didn’t change the fact he was left to the wayside, and in the strictest sense, I got the feeling it was difficult to call a misunderstanding.

I didn’t get it. Just how did Kyouko-wan untangle Hakui-kun’s heart?

Just cornering them with reasoning, the culprit of the case might confess, but they wouldn’t turn themselves in—anyone could say ‘I did it’. Just what did she have to do to make him accept ‘I was in the wrong’?

“And I’m telling you you’re the one who told me the answer—the notion to calculate back from the frame.”

“No, you say that… but I really don’t that’s as easy as you make it sound. When it would be difficult just to imagine what sort of frame a framer would make from that mass quantity of materials, whatever sort of painting he planned to contain in that frame is…”

“Hm? Ah, no, you don’t have to think that hard, you know? This is just a simple analysis from the material quantity.”

“Huh…?”

Quantity? The large order of materials… no, that would put me back at the starting line. This all started from Kyouko-san questioning that the order was too large…

If Wakui-san planned to use every material he had prepared, or at least a majority of them, that would bring us to Hakui-kun’s hard-to-accept conclusion that every one of them was real.

“It’s not that each painting was real.”

Kyouko-san repeated for emphasis.

“However—every painting was real.”

“……? I’m not really getting what you’re saying…”

My apologies I couldn’t return an adequate reaction for the great detective’s long-awaited deductions, but that’s how I honestly felt.

“In short, you’re saying Wakui-san intended to use up the materials, correct? It’s because he ordered a great many paintings, he intended to make a great many frames, so he ordered a great many materials…”

“Not quite. For those great many paintings, he was trying to make only a single frame—a sizable frame that would hold a great many paintings. A huge frame that would use up a majority of a great many materials.”

“A g-giant—frame?”

“And I’m saying—it’s a puzzle.”

Kyouko-san dropped her gaze to the floor as she spoke—where the pieces of Kyouko-san’s handmade board puzzle were scattered about.

“The sizes of the paintings Wakui-san ordered from the residents was greatly diverse—if you lined them all up like a tangram, I believe they’ll make a tidy rectangle. Regarding that as a single canvas—Wakui-san was going to provide a frame for it.”

“……!”

So that’s why each individual one wasn’t real, but every one made up the real. Gathering so many paintings, only together did they complete a single painting…

A joint project between the residents of Atelier House—was the sort of painting old Wakui schemed to make. If Atelier House itself could be thought of as a single one of his works, then there was no scale more worthy for his final job—the culmination of his life.

That also solved the mystery of why he chose the paintings of his painters’ eggs instead of some famed expert’s work for the final frame of his life—more so, I could even believe old Wakui erected Atelier House ten years ago for that sole purpose. It fit him far better than returning the favor, a service spirit, or perhaps a hobby.

Lining up every painting he ordered, he would build a painting like a puzzle.

Sure enough, if that would the case, it would use up a large quantity of materials—what’s more, the secret wouldn’t come out. It was a divided work… even the ones painting them wouldn’t know what portion of the completed painting they were making.

But for a giant frame… he did say he was starting on his largest job, but I never thought he meant it literally. In that case, it would also lift the veil on the inevitability of old Wakui hiring me—making a piece on that scale would be impossible in that basement room. Kyouko-san anticipated not even the materials would fit in there—in that case, he would have to rent out some separate warehouse.

That’s why his real request wasn’t guarding inside Atelier House, but guarding him on the move—to add to that, since I visibly looked like I had stamina, perhaps he intended for me to help out in odd jobs or so.

“B-but… as with the sizes, the types of paintings everyone was painting were all over the place, weren’t they? If you lined them up, would they really make a piece? It’s all mismatched, or mixed up… I get the feeling it’ll turn out as just a miscellaneous display.”

“Do you know about mosaic art? It’s often done with photographs, but… by separating a great many pictures by color, it’s a technique to make a single completely different picture… I think Wakui-san was trying to do something similar…”

“Lining photographs to make a different photo…”

It wasn’t really hitting home, but come to think of it, I’d seen it somewhere before. Though instead of photos, I get the feeling it was made using anime screencaps… the point was, the general color of each picture was taken as a dot, and by lining them up with intent, a single picture would appear.

A color-divided—puzzle.

Kyouko-san might have rooted me to the basement just to buy time, but in a magazine on that rack, I touched on the information that old Wakui once set out to be a painter.

To one who had once given up on the painter’s path, this may have been his final act of defiance—using paintings themselves as the material, he was trying to make a single giant piece.

That concept, and that scale. That vindictiveness impressed me. Though with my admiration, I also felt fed-up. He was too out there I couldn’t keep up—to the residents of Atelier House dragged into it, it was honestly a right brother.

While I could accept it at once, the way he kept it a secret from Atelier House’s residents as he schemed wasn’t too praiseworthy… but, well, rather than painting a fake, making a piece was an improvement.

A joint project among the residents of Atelier House.

If that would decorate the path to old Wakui’s departure, then the residents might… no, wait?

That didn’t change the fact Hakui-kun was left out. Hakui-kun, and the other few residents who didn’t receive an order.

More so, was that not in itself a humiliation—not allowed to participate in the joint project and left out of the group, to Hakui-kun who respected old Wakui as his teacher, as I thought—just maybe that would be even harder to forgive.

Even if you told him old Wakui’s true intention, wouldn’t Hakui-kun just turn more obstinate—

“That’s not true at all. He immediately accepted it—he was- in his own way- quite ashamed of jumping to conclusions.”

“R-really? I’m pretty sure ten’s around the age where one hates being left out the most—”

“Ten or not, he’s an artist, after all.”

Kyouko-san shrugged her shoulders.

“It was the same when he had me model—see, whenever Hakui-kun paints, he only uses black.”

“Yes, that’s right… when I first met him, he said something about colors being disgusting and filthy…”

While the words were on my lips, I belatedly noticed—and “Yes, that’s how it is,” Kyouko-san nodded.

“Wakui-san had no plans to used black in the work he was trying to depict—it seems the other residents who didn’t receive an order generally had similar circumstance.”

When painting a painting, there were colors that occurred with low frequency, and those that weren’t used at all—it wasn’t a matter of ability, but a matter of color.

With a backward glance to Kyouko-san, I recalled how old Wakui put Hakui-kun up to drawing that marbled view of earth. Even that ended up in monochrome—but would it be reading too deeply if I saw his orders as trying to get Hakui-kun to paint other colors up to the very last moment?

“As I recall… black is quite unmanageable when painting a picture. It kills the other colors, and strictly speaking, they say it’s a color that doesn’t exist in the natural world…”

But that didn’t mean he could match the other colors solely to compensate for it—if he forced it, it would end up as a single dead pixel. If Hakui-kun truly set out to be a painter, this was truly a truth he could have nothing to say against.

“That’s right. And so, I offered him some advice.”

“Advice?”

“Yes. He seemed oh so surprised, and depressed at what Wakui-san had schemed… my apologies, thought up, so before I slipped myself, I went just a little beyond a detective’s reach and gave an amateur’s advice. ‘In that case, why don’t you work with the other residents who weren’t chosen for the final stroke, you can just sign it ‘Atelier House’ can’t you?’ I told him—if it’s a signature, I’m sure black won’t be a problem.”

“……”

I see, that statement did go beyond a detective’s reach—but Hakui-kun resolved to turn himself in, not because of the truth or the puzzle solving, but perhaps because of that amateur advice.

With that boy who called the speckled marbling disgusting—mixing in with all other sorts of colors, would something change?

The moment I thought that, I heard the sirens.

The police car sirens—and the sign time was up.

“Now then,”

Kyouko-san said.

“How about we take a page out of Hakui-kun’s book and apologize to the good coppers? Let’s say we’re sorry we went and investigated without reporting, and didn’t accomplish anything. They’re going to scold us plenty until we cry.”

“… You’re right.”

Now then, the detective would say once everyone was gathered—but this detective didn’t gather anyone, what’s more, after all the puzzle solving was over, the now then finally came.

Sure enough, as an adult, the real trial was soon to come.

 


 

 

Additional  Notes

 

And half a year went by. Even if I wasn’t the forgetful detective, it was a time that might make me forget various things, but it was then that a call came to my home—it was a number registered in my phone book, and the screen displayed ‘Okitegami Detective Agency’.

It’s a strange tale. I hadn’t met Kyouko-san since then—since we were firmly wrung out by the police—and it goes without saying she must have completely forgotten about me alongside the case.

As expected, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m called Okitegami Kyouko,” she said—before continuing on.

“If it suits you, could you make your way to my office later today—I have something important to talk about that can’t be settled over the phone.”

“…?”

What could it be, I could only doubt, but, well, in the end, it wasn’t as if my next employment had been decided any time after that, and I had plenty of time on my hands, so without thinking too hard, got it, I replied.

It would be a lie to say I wasn’t happy to be able to see Kyouko-san after so long—but she had forgotten about me, so I highly doubted she was asking me out on a date.

If Kyouko-san remembered the incident at Atelier House, then it may have been an invitation to see the special new exhibit at the museum I once worked at, showcasing the groundbreaking new piece of the framer Wakui Kazuhisa and all the residents of Atelier House, but when it came to the forgetful detective, there was no way—well, I did get an invitation from Hakui-kun, so I planned to see it on my own at a later date. Though honestly, it was a place I’d been sacked from, so it was exceedingly hard to go alone… unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone close enough to go to the museum with.

I guess the reason the exhibition was at that museum was the least apology old Wakui could give for causing such a ruckus—thanks to that, it was awkward for me to venture, but if that old man had such admirable emotions, I should really endure it.

After his discharge, the frame he made for rehab was provided to the artist whose work he smashed with his staff that day, after all.

… While old Wakui safely recovered without any significant lingering effects, I heard he would’ve been in danger had he been found just a little later—to add to that, Kyouko-san’s measures were as appropriate as a doctor’s. That’s precisely why, no matter how angry they got at us, the ‘playing detective’ we got up without reporting was eventually written off.

It’s just, altogether forgetting that harsh rebuke, in that regard, Kyouko-san really is underhanded. Naturally, Hakui-kun didn’t get off that easily for stabbing Wakui-san, but a he turned himself in, he was deeply reflecting on it—and he was a close friend of the victim Wakui, he just barely got off with probation.

The reflection wasn’t just for the stabber, but the stabee as well; when his rehab was over, and he was to once again challenge his final work, I hear old Wakui spoke to every resident of Atelier House—while some were angry, seeing how they managed to reach the piece’s completion, they must have come to some agreement in the end.

In that case, I can decide my evaluation of old Wakui and Atelier House upon seeing the piece—whether there was an artist among them or not, the answer would undoubtedly be put on display. Along with whatever sort of signature was written in with Hakui-kun’s terrible handwriting. My curiosity was bottomless.

With that on my mind, I arrived at the Okitegami Detective Agency—I was surprised at first glance. She said it was a personal office, so I had kinda imagined a single room in a multi-tenant building, but it was of all things a standalone structure.

A brand-new three-story building—while it didn’t quite reach old Wakui’s Atelier House, Kyouko-san possessed such a building on her own.

She must be outrageously rich.

And yet, she’s so fixated on money… no, in the end, it seems she didn’t get a reward in the Atelier House case. The date had changed before old Wakui regained consciousness, so she had to give in as the forgetful detective.

But when I recalled her form, her entire body regretting the fact she had done work, more down than when the police were shouting at her, I burst into laughter—if she wasn’t that greedy, perhaps she’d never have been able to set up this building.

Whatever the case, entering that building—evidently the Okitegami Detective Agency—and admiring all the latest security systems, I passed into the spacious parlor on the second floor and reunited with Kyouko-san for the first time in half a year.

While it was a reunion to me, it was a first encounter to her.

A blouse with a large embroidered design, a tight leather skirt, tights and heels, her fashion was somewhat flashy, but peculiarly, when Kyouko-san wore it, it gave off a soft impression.

She looked somewhat female-boss-ish and fit the building well enough.

As I’d heard, there were no other employees, and Kyouko-san personally brewed two cups of coffee, lining them up on the table between the sofas. She spoke.

“Welcome, Oyagiri-san. I have called you here for no other reason than this—I’ll get right to the point. The truth is, I want to employ you.”

“Huh?”

Her straight-to-the-point was so straight to the point, I didn’t get what was being said. With an intrigued smile at my fluster,

“Yes, when you work as a detective, you often invite in the resentment of other—so I do take great care with my security.”

She said.

Well, she wasn’t just any detective—even if someone resented her, she’d forget it, so the risk was more than double the norm. It seemed that might be precisely why the security of this building was so firm…

“Yes. But if you leave risk management solely to the machines, it leaves something to be desired… I’ve been thinking day after day I should leave it to someone I can trust.”

“Day after day?”

Did she mean think, forget and repeat…?

“I knew it was discourteous, but I did some digging into you. I heard that at present, you are searching for a job in security.”

Said Kyouko-san.

Investigating—a detective’s main occupation, I guess.

It was a little embarrassing that she knew of my unemployment—if you’ll let me make an excuse, my messy resignation from the museum was still resounding.

It was a small industry in these parts.

That job guarding old Wakui’s frame making was left in purgatory, now that the need for secrecy towards the residents had disappeared… in that sense, Kyouko-san’s invitation was not only a lifeboat, but a lifesaver to the drowned, a spider’s thread dangling from the heavens.

“I’m sure you’re aware, but I am a detective with a bit of a unique characteristic… I think Il be asking for somewhat complicated employment conditions, but for that portion, I’ll splurge on your salary.”

The salary portion came from a miser’s mouth, so I didn’t place any trust in them, but I was thankful to be able to get the sort of job I was looking for. Yet…

“While I appreciate the sentiment, Kyouko-san, I am not capable of doing this job.”

“Oh? Is that so?”

“Yes… my apologies, but I am not confident I’ll be able to protect you… while I’m sure you’ve forgotten, there has been a time before where I failed to protect you.”

Strictly speaking, Kyouko-san fell down the stairs at the own, what’s more, she just pretended to be unconscious, so it was quite hard to say it was a failing on my part… but even subtracting that, I couldn’t think I was worthy enough to guard Kyouko-san.

It was simply too heavy of a burden.

She was uninhibited, uninhibited such that there was no telling what she’d do if you took your eyes off of her, and with her speed, I couldn’t think I could protect her—what’s more, she was a talent it was inexcusable not to protect.

“Hmmm?”

Kyouko-san tilted her head.

“But the person who recommended you to me didn’t seem to think so.”

“……? A recommendation? Someone recommended me?”

Come to think of it, I had yet to hear why Kyouko-san called me when she was supposed to have forgotten about me.

“Who could have recommended the likes of me?”

“Why I did.”

Kyouko-san took out a piece of paper and placed it on the table. On it, in her familiar penmanship, it was written.

‘As the head of security of the Okitegami Building, I nominate Oyagiri Mamoru.’

“When I got it in my head to hire a guard, I found this letter left behind. It looks like I set it up so I’d find it when I decided to do so. I don’t know what sort of case we experienced together or how it went, nor do I have any intention to pry into the matter—but you seem to have gained quite a bit of my trust.”

From that day’s me.

Kyouko-san said.

“A testimonial from Okitegami Kyouko—to me, there is no greater guarantee. Won’t you consider thinking over it again? The offer will always be on the table.”

I lost my words, feeling like curling my body up—the excessive words were one thing, but when I was evaluated so, I felt embarrassed for speaking so ill of myself.

A message the forgetful detective presumably wrote after the case, before her memories reset—would I be able to turn it down? Wasn’t answering that trust the most I could do—

My mood taking an unsettled, uncomfortable turn, to escape from the gaze of Kyouko-san, who stared straight at me, I turned my eyes to the interior of the parlor. There wasn’t anything particularly strange, it was a room emphasizing white that could be called fitting of Kyouko-san, but—there, my eyes suddenly stopped at the painting on the wall.

Not in a frame, what looked like a sketchbook page stuck on with masking tape—drawn out in the deep black lines of a pencil, a white cat.

“Oh, that picture? I must have received it from someone somewhere… isn’t it cute? I’m hoping it’ll have some value by the time I forget about it.”

“… I’m sure it will.”

Tomorrow’s genius drew out today’s genius, so I’m sure it’ll remain as a show of his past—or so I didn’t say. If Kyouko-san really thought it was valuable, I doubt she would stick it up with masking tape—so instead,

“It’s quite a nice picture.”

I curtly agreed.

“Black and white—the way it’s so hard to pin down is especially nice.”

“Right?”

Kyouko-san spoke happily as if she had personally been praised.

After running around so much for the Atelier House case, the forgetful detective seemed vexed from the depths of her heart that she ended up working for free, but—looks like she did gain something.

There’s no telling when a turning point in life will come about—but always moving so eagerly within that, perhaps someone like Kyouko-san was like an agile white cat, made to be rewarded no matter where she fell.

“So, Oyagiri-san. What will you do? If you can’t decide, I don’t mind if we start with a trial period. Though I’m afraid I’ll have to keep your salary during that period at half.”

When she said the offer was always on the table, she really was rushing me—well, Kyouko-san only has today, so it was only natural she demanded a speedy decision. And a half-price trial period was quite a nasty deal in the industry.

Good grief… it looks like it’s going to be quite a hassle, working with this person.

If it was inexcusable not to protect her, I just had to protect her myself.

“… Can I give just one condition?”

Turning back to face front, I spoke.

“Oh my. Are you fine with just one? In that case, go right ahead. I’ll do what’s within my capabilities.”

“Well then,”

I started out.

“Please go to the museum with me. There’s a painting I want you to see by all means.”

The last work of the framer Wakui.

I couldn’t wait to see just what price Kyouko-san would appraise it at.

 


 

 

Postscript

 

Distinguishing right from wrong isn’t as clear as one might think, and an ought-to-do right to someone may become an unforgivable evil to another, while the reverse is just as common. Well, it would be scarier to think absolute ethics exist, but I’m not talking about anything as grandiose as the duality of all things, just the right and wrong aren’t dependent on how you take them, or anything instinctual, they simply depend on a posteriori teaching. The point is, humans think what they’re taught is right is right, and what they’re taught is evil is evil, perhaps. A step out of the group, organization, or social sphere you’re a part of, and things move under completely different values, and what you always thought was common sense might not get across to a comical extent. To always adhere to your convictions, or to never change your motives, you hear it and it sounds upstanding enough, and I think it’s the proper way a person should be, but if you adhere where those convictions won’t hold, and fail to change where those motives are held in disdain, you really won’t find much praise for that. When you think it’s difficult for the outside to enter a closed space, there are times where it might actually be the outsides that are closed off, and perhaps between in and out, right and wrong can too easily be flipped on their head. When someone tells you ‘hey, you’re wrong,’ you’d think the one saying it is wrong, while on the other hand, when someone who you think is wrong tells you ‘you’re in the right,’ you just feel conflicted. That being the case, overturning the sense of values you’ve been brought up to hold is never easy. If you develop a tendency to regularly look at things from the other side, when it comes down to it, I think you’ll be able to go on without confusion, but I wonder.

This is the second series of the Forgetful Detective series. A series depicting the service of the head of the Okitegami Detective Agency, Okitegami Kyouko-san. That being the case, Kyouko-san’s memories are reset every volume, so go ahead and start reading from this volume if you want (I always wanted to say that line). Just what sort of person, what sort of detective is Kyouko-san? It’s hard to say even I as the author have a complete grasp of it, but, well, I think it would be nice if that was clarified as I wrote on. But if I run out of things to depict for the character, the series is up, so I want her to always be shrouded in mystery. This time was a long, overarching case, but I want to keep it so short story, mid-length story, anything goes with Kyouko-san. And like that, came The Testimonial of Okitegami Kyouko-san.

My thanks to VOFAN-san, for drawing such wonderful cover to match the contents. I think I’ll be on my fastest to write the third volume, so I’m in your capable hands. To everyone in the third publishing department, please stick with me forever.

About Yoraikun

A college student who really should be doing something more productive with his time. Also, he can read a bit of Japanese.
This entry was posted in Okitegami Kyouko and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Testimonial of Okitegami Kyouko Chapter 3: Kyouko-san Advises

  1. Yoraikun says:

    It’s… it’s done… please point out any typos, I’ll make a PDF once that’s all worked out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • brottoy says:

      Oh! Does this mean the second volume is completed? Amazing! Thanks for the hard work.

      About the typo part though, I found some but as I read it part by part, I forgot where they were. Reading the whole volume is a bit… difficult, at least for now. Sorry I couldn’t be of any help at all, even though I want to support your great works for the bottom of my heart.

      Like

  2. ThisGuy says:

    Hey Yorai, thank you so much for getting this up!

    Like

  3. DrnD'Aanerr says:

    Thanks for the volume 2, Yoraikun…

    Like

  4. tidurlagi says:

    Thx for the volume. A little though for me to follow, had to scroll up a couple times. But it is a great read. Curious about next volume, what will the author write next

    Like

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