It’s a pleasure to meet you, she said.
Meaning—her memories had been reset again. While Kujirai had no way of knowing the forgetful detective’s specific rule or regulations behind her forgetting, the eyes of someone looking at someone for the first time in their life were something he could pick up on instinct.
He had tried to reset his thoughts through devoting himself to swimming but—this forgetful detective was able to do it simply by forgetting. Is there anything I can win at? He insulted himself.
Though it seemed Officer Hijiori wasn’t with her…
“Could I have a bit of your time?”
As Kyouko-san asked with a smile, he felt a sense of déjà vu—this was almost the exact opposite of the café from two days prior. She was wearing a cute one piece, but had she invited him wearing something with higher exposure, he felt he might immediately accept. Albeit, a former competitive swimmer like Kujirai wasn’t that impulsive.
“I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of training at the moment.”
“Oh? Don’t’ be so cold. Weren’t you just about wrapping up? You’ve been swimming for quite a long while…”
A long while, had she been watching?
Kujirai played dumb, “I’m just taking an interval,” he said and returned to the pool.
“I can wait until you’ve done another fifty laps.”
Of course, there was no way he could do another fifty—going beyond indirect to the point of blatant rejection, Kujirai pulled down his goggled and kicked the wall of the pool.
It happened at that moment.
Splash, Kyouko-san jumped into the lane one over—An active action one wouldn’t expect from her gentle appearance.
In the first place, the very fact she dropped by the fool made it feel like she got the drop on him—her movements were all terribly speedy, or rather, she was quick to react.
“… If you suddenly jump in without preparing yourself, you can induce a heart attack,”
Giving a warning as an instructor was the most Kujirai could do.
“Ahaha. A heart attack, is it—so it’s like an electric shock?”
“No need to worry. I’ve already done my warmup—hey, Kujirai-san.”
Equipping the swimming cap and goggles she had hung on the shoulder string of her swimsuit, Kyouko-san went on.
“How about we have a little competition? Fifty meters, freestyle. If I reach the goal first, you’ll have to spare me just five minutes or your time.”
“… You’re a forceful one. Are you one of those aggressive types?”
“I’m a detective type.”
If you just started out with that—he did think, but hindsight was twenty-twenty and it was already too late.
“Then if I win, Kyouko-san, will you go on a date with me?”
“I don’t mind. I do like dates.”
Kyouko-san readily accepted Kujirai’s inciting words.
With that reply, there was no turning back.
“Then it’s a match.”
Kyouko turned forward and prepared herself.
Judging by that action alone, she wasn’t a complete amateur… perhaps she could swim faster than the average man. Of course, Kujirai didn’t believe she could swim faster than a former professional.
Be that as it may, there was no way she made such a reckless challenge with no hopes of victory… she said she watched him swim a while, so did she think he was tired out?
Well of course, he was swimming without calculation so he couldn’t go at full power, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have another fifty meters left in him.
Kyouko gave the signal herself and kicked the wall—with no prior notice, she had arbitrarily made her start but he didn’t’ mind giving her a bit of a handicap.
Following behind, Kujirai took in a deep breath, and kicked—with the same crawl as before, he began to swim.
He didn’t think anything as he swam.
But he felt.
It was somewhat irregular, but he couldn’t help but feel it had been a truly long time since he competed with someone like this—and he began to detest himself for enjoying it. In his active days, he had frequently gone up against Unagi just like this. He didn’t know what he was supposed to feel about that.
There was no mistaking the sole fact he would never be able to swim with him again—but as he swam on, he stopped feeling that as well.
When he popped his head out o the water to take a breath, he looked at the lane over. He must have passed her long ago—but Kyouko-san was nowhere to be seen.
It was only an instant and he was wearing goggles, so perhaps he simply didn’t see her, but she wasn’t there swimming on the second breath either.
Don’t tell me, she drowned? Did she force her body to win the race and get a leg cramp—or was it really heart attack?
“… Kyo- Kyouko-san!?”
Kujirai halted his crawl to get his face out of the water. He looked around—where had she sunk?
He had to save her fast… this pool was a deep one, and her feet most likely wouldn’t reach the bottom at her height. What was the lifeguard doing?
Kujirai had flown into a panic, and Kyouko-san had for all intents and purposes sunk to the bottom of the pool. To be more precise, she had dived there. Dived, and swam.
She appeared from the water with that cry—as she touched the wall of the course. Still in the center of the lane he’d been standing, Kujirai could only watch as it happened.
With such a great difference between them, he had lost…
“No… it’s against the rules to go underwater in freestyle.”
“What a peculiar rule. If you wanted to swim faster, more nimbly, it would be more appropriate to sink your entire body under the water’s surface and dive, and yet, to think it would be forbidden by the rules… don’t you find that inefficient.”
Kyouko-san said without any shame—seeing how she did whatever it took to win, it was on the contrary, even a little heroic, yet at the same time terribly idiotic.
And sure enough, as she said, the fastest way to swim was underwater—following the rules to always keep one portion of your body above water would just increase resistance.
Taking off her swim cap and refastening it in her shoulder string, wiping off her white hair that had taken on a silverfish hue with a towel, “I assume it’s because swimming is an event meant to draw a crowd—if all the competitors crawled along the bottom of the pool, you wouldn’t be able to cheer for them, and there would be no excitement,”
Kyouko-san said—the conversation took place on a poolside bench. Kujjirai made his resolve to sit beside her. To be able to sit next to a beauty in a swimsuit was truly an honored event. If not a crowd, it had at least drawn him.
“Not limited to swimming, I’ve thought the same about track and field events as well. Running in circles, crossing complicated courses, that’s quite a bit of loss, isn’t it? If you truly wanted to see who’s fastest, then even if it is forty two point one nine five kilometers, just like the hundred meter dash, it should be measured in a straight line course.”
“… Preparing a course like that is impossible. Humans are only able to do what they can in the scope they’ve been given.”
“You’re right about that… oh, that’s actually quite nice.”
He wondered what was nice, but that conversation was already over. Kyouko-san pointed at Kujirai’s head—his soaked hair. While it was still wet, he had a short cut that didn’t even need a towel.
“I always wanted to try cutting my hair really short once in my life, but I can never make the resolve… if I woke up one morning, and my hair was suddenly so short, tomorrow’s me would be terribly surprised and jolly about it.”
“… I’m sure any hairstyle would work. If it was on you, Kyouko-san.”
“You sure know how to compliment,”
While that part about any hairstyle suiting her was Kujirai’s complete honest impression, he also honestly felt her silver glistening hair was strangely sexy. The gap with her innocent expression caused her heart to skip a beat.
Kyouko-san draped the towel she used to wipe her hair over her shoulders.
“Well, unlike you and Unagi-san, I don’t swim so frequently, so it doesn’t matter. I haven’t smelled so much chlorine in a while.”
“Chlorine… I’ve gotten quite used to the smell, but as a woman, are you worried it might damage your hair?”
“I’m not really bothered by it. I don’t think you can damage my hair any further.”
She said quite indifferently.
Was that a delicate matter or not? He couldn’t decide so he decided to ignore it. It was hard to imagine any link between white hair and forgetting.
“So, Kujirai-san. May I begin the conversation? You did promise you would give me five minutes of your time.”
“Yeah… I’ll keep the promise.”
He said, taking note of the minute hand of the clock by the poolside. It was normally used as a reference for swim time—now it would serve a separate function.
“But can I ask one thing before that?”
“I don’t mind. What could it be?”
“I’m sure you’ve already forgotten, but when I first met you, there was a book you recommended me. A short story called ‘Sentenced to Conversion’ by an author called Sunaga Hirubee…”
“Oh, I’d surely recommend that one. It’s a lovely story I’ve read far too many times—did you read it?”
“Just the one.”
“I’m glad. Even between readers, it isn’t often you actually get someone to read a book you recommend.”
Is that how it works? Certainly, Kujirai had largely read the short story just to back his own alibi…
“And now that you’ve read it, how was it?”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to ask about. The villain is reformed… he’s made to reform, and when I thought that was the end, it kept going.”
It was, how to put it, a terrible punchline.
More surreal than bad.
After that, the once-villain Samaritan would trust people only to be scammed, save people only to shoulder their debt, get alone only to be betrayed; with his own sense of values grounded in virtue, he despairs at the discrepancy with the world, at the end his heart and body in tatters, he dies a dog’s death.
The sentence to conversion was, in short, that sort of sentence—by reforming a villain, he was sentenced to go through all the tragedy of a man of virtue.
A sentence far crueler than death.
… He thought it was an outrageous story. Upon reading it, just what sort of lesson was the reader supposed to take?
“Having a vile criminal go through something terrible is something I can understand in a book on morality, but in this one, the point is we’re supposed to accept the premise that it’s a virtuous man having all the terrible things done to him. The basis of the punishment is to make the villain go through hell by turning him into a good man… that one just doesn’t sit well with me.”
Just what am I supposed to feel?
It just didn’t sit right—that’s why, now that he had the opportunity, he wanted to try asking Kyouko-san.
Though he missed his timing at midday…
“You’re surprisingly, oh, I don’t mean this in any bad way, but you’re too earnest, Kujirai-san.”
Kyouko-san said with a peculiar laugh— when she reacted like that, it felt as if he had said something that terribly missed the mark. Was talking about that now missing the mark as well?
“No, I’m just not accustomed to reading. Mystery novels especially. That’s why I didn’t know how I was supposed to take a story like that.”
“People who are accustomed to reading can wander off on similar detours as well. I’m no exception—but Kujirai-san. To read a book and then see what moral lesson to take, what to learn, how to use it later in life, you don’t have to set yourself up like that. We’re not in Japanese class.”
Kyouko-san stuck up one finger towards Kujirai. While that was a gesture like a Japanese teacher, actually mentioning that was a statement unbecoming his profession.
“Well now, there’s someone out there with some crazy ideas. That’s all you’ve got to think when you close the book.”
“Then let’s start the mystery solving. Don’t worry, I’ll properly end it in five minutes—rationally and quickly.”
“Kujirai-san, two days ago at three in the afternoon, you spoke with a certain woman at a café terrace—the two of you enjoyed tea together, and enjoyed your time for a little under an hour.”
A certain woman, what a strangely roundabout way to put it—she was the forgetful detective, but even if she forgot every day, he didn’t understand why she had to go so far to express it at someone else’s business.
“And miraculously, it was at that very same time that your once-rival Unagi-san is estimated to have died—meaning you have an alibi.”
“That’s great. I’m glad to hear that.”
He replied for what it was worth. Did he come off as sarcastic?
Kyouko-san’s alibi testimony was practically invalid, making it so he might as well not have a proof of absence from the scene… did they take testimony from the barista or some other customer?
“But for your alibi to match up so perfectly feels a little too contrived for coincidence. As someone who had discord with the victim, and the first person to stumble upon the body—”
“Don’t you think there are just some coincidences out there? Like the miracle of me meeting you?”
Just as a test run, he tried that evasive line but, “Certainly, there might be. But there might not be as well.” He was evaded in turn.
“Whatever the case, when someone has an alibi, it is a detective’s nature to want to crumble it—the more perfect that alibi is, the more I feel like taking it down.”
“Now that’s quite a nature…”
More than a nature, it was an occupation.
If he knew he would be getting involved with this sort of character, Kujirai likely would never have tried to make a perfect alibi—of course, it was he who dragged such a character into the case, so he had no one to complain to.
Though the reason Kyouko-san continued speaking as if Kujirai had a perfect alibi remained a mystery…
“And so? Did you destroy my alibi?”
“In this instance, there are a number of ways to think about it. First, your alibi at three in the afternoon was a falsehood. Second, the time of death is wrong.”
“… Well that sounds logical.”
More all-encompassing than logical, really.
To crush every conceivable possibility one at a time—detective was a far plainer job than Kujirai had anticipated.
“So which one is it?”
“It’s neither. That approach will not be able to crumble your alibi. So there, a final possibility arrises—meaning, if your proof of absence is real, and the time of death is real, I can only think that Unagi-san lost his life to what one might call a remote timer.”
Normally, he wouldn’t have any problem if she thought the culprit was someone apart from him, but… a remote timer?
“Are we getting high tech here?”
“That’s how yesterday’s me described it… but that aside… there was a timer mechanism in that bathroom, and when that mechanism was set off you were somewhere else making an alibi. That’s one way I can destroy your alibi—more than destroy, I would be rendering it meaningless.”
“Do you really want to make me out as the culprit that badly? Rather than pursuing that possibility, I think it would be far faster to search for another suspect.”
He tried saying cynically, but Kyouko-san didn’t seem hurt in the slightest.
“I have nothing against you not being the culprit. And just because you don’t have an alibi, that doesn’t mean you’re the culprit.”
When she said that with a smile, it was hard to refute any further.
One of the reasons Kujirai found it hard to read mystery novels was because he couldn’t understand why someone who committed a crime would obediently listen to a detective’s reasoning, but once he was actually standing in that position, it was surprisingly charming. To have his own actions analyzed and critiqued.
And so, from his own side, “So what was the remote timer” he urged Kyouko-san on.
“Are you saying I built up a Rube Goldberg and set it up to drop the dryer in the bath at the designated time? And I became the first person on the scene in order to collect that device?”
Not only did he urge her, he tried leading her astray, but the detective didn’t hop on board.
“No, I highly doubt that. The more complex the mechanism is, the more evidence will remain. Even if it were to create an alibi, it’s not clever to increase material evidence towards that means—though I do think that’s roughly the reason you became the first on the body. Otherwise, there would be no reason for you to go out of your way to discover the corpse.”
A simpler mechanism is best, Kyouko-san said.
“Since I said remote timer, it looks like you imagined some convoluted trick, but it didn’t need any unnecessary tools. The dryer that took Unagi-san’s life. That was enough.”
“… Did the dryer have a timer function? Hair dryers these days come with all sorts of bells and whistles. Though I don’t use them, so I’m not too knowledgeable.”
“Right, that might be the case for a man with short hair like you—and Unagi-san too, of course. Did Unagi-san usually use a dryer, by the way?”
“Who knows… unlike me, he was a dandy dude who liked putting on airs, so perhaps he did.”
As Kujirai shrugged his shoulder to play it off “The murder weapon dryer had no timer function,” Kyouko-san replied with a straight face.
“Rather, it wasn’t necessary. The dryer just had to have the highest output as possible.”
“Then another mechanism would be needed after all. Something to drop the dryer in the water when three in the afternoon came around—”
“It was unnecessary,” Kyouko-san emphasized. “No need for setup, or even for it to fall into the tub. The reason being, the dryer was in the bathtub from the start.”
“The bathtub, from the start? Hey now, what are you saying… if a high output dryer hit the bathwater, it would spark at that very instant. I can’t see a trick.”
“At first, I considered the possibility of pure water.”
Kyouko-san said as she pointed at the pool.
“The water in the pool is mixed with chlorine, right? Pure water is the opposite—meaning water with no impurities mixed in. Water in that state despite being molecular H2O does not conduct any electricity. If the water in the bath was pure water, even with the dryer in it, it wouldn’t spark.”
“… Then the dryer was on in the bathwater the whole time?”
“Not all of it. Once the pure water lost its pure state, at that instant it would quite likely spark.”
“Meaning… it would be the sort of timer you were talking about. Are you saying I predicted the state change of pure water? That someone without any scientific knowledge like me could predict it would pass current in an hour?”
“No, no, that’s not what I’m saying at all… I’m just trying to bring up how I was considering quite an idiotic possibility at first. Even a detective couldn’t read the state change of pure water through passage of time—I’m sure what the bathtub filled with was just bath water.”
“Rather, couldn’t it be that it didn’t have any water to begin with?”
After presenting a completely absurd hypothesis, she cut into the main issue—it seemed that was the forgetful detective’s way of doing things.
“The dryer was simply dangling in an empty bathtub. After that, the bath’s faucet was turned on—not completely, just a little. And bit by bit, the bathtub filled with water—the moment the rising water touched the dangling dryer,”