It had only been a mere ten minutes since Officer Atami had arrived, but in that space, the number of customers had gone down considerably. At present, close to nine thirty at Softboiled Land, apart from Chizuru and his two companions, there were only three guests in the shop.
“… Well.” Ordering a long-overdue cup of hot coffee, Atami looked at Chizuru. “Then could I hear you out? Your deductions.”
“There was one liar among the three suspects, right?”
Ageha stepped in. She pointed at one of the pictures.
“Could it be that Hijikata science teacher?”
Why? Asked Chizuru in a tone where his emotions couldn’t be read.
“In regards to the bullying problem, it’s all well and good he consulted with the year head, but tomorrow’s a week end. Would anyone really go out of their way to phone in such an issue before break? Wouldn’t it just be a burden on them all the way?”
“Sure enough, you could think of it like that, but you couldn’t say it’s definitely impossible. Perhaps he wanted to do whatever he could about it before everyone went on break.
… The reason I said impossible wasn’t a question of mentality, someone clearly told a lie that contradicts reality.”
“Okay, got it,” said Atami, shaking off his drowsiness, “Anyways, let’s hear out your reasoning.”
Chizuru tilted his head a bit, and made a sage-like expression.
“… First, look at this.”
From his blazer pocket, Chizuru pulled out the victim’s driver’s licence.
“Yeah, yeah, thanks for that. Um, let’s see. Shinozaki Kouichi, registered driver. Address… wait, this is the victim’s! Where? When?”
“At the vacant lot that became the crime scene, before the people from the district rushed over.”
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing, Chizuru-kun! That’s no good! No good at all!!”
“Ah, those are some nice screams. Atami-san’s a bottom after all.”
“Eh? What? Bottom? I’m sorry, Beppu-san, I didn’t quite catch that.”
“You don’t need to catch anything, officer Atami. More importantly, let’s get back on topic.”
Ageha muttered and Atami inquired, and Chizuru silenced the lot of them. The same pattern that had been repeating for a while now developed once more.
“Now officer, it won’t be too late to scold me after you’ve captured the true culprit. So about that driver’s license, it was in the victim’s wallet. What do you think about that?”
“Eh? Well, there’s nothing strange about it. A license is often used as a form of identification, so it’s standard to put it in your wallet.”
“That’s precisely right. But there’s also a large group that keep theirs in the glove boy or in the folds of the sun visor. It’s an obligation to have your license on you while driving, so they do it to make sure they never forget.”
“Um… what exactly are you trying to say?”
“Let’s get the three testimonies in order, shall we. About the reason why the suspects called the victim.”
Ignoring Atami’s question, Chizuru went on at his own pace.
“Art teacher Nakameguro, ‘Invited the victim out for a drink’. Music teacher Mine, ‘Asked to use the victim’s car for the wind ensemble competition tomorrow’. Science teacher Hijikata, ‘reported and consulted with the head of year over a bullying problem in the class he was charged with’… one of these things is not like the others. Which one could it be.”
“… Could it be the music teacher Mine?”
“Why do you say so, Ageha?”
“No, you’ve been pushing the driver’s license point for a while now, so I just chose the one related to that.”
A bitter smile on his mouth, Chizuru said, “That’s quite a meta reason, but correct.”
Atami cried out an, ‘Eeh?’
“What part of that testimony was strange? The victim was the assistant advisor of the wind ensemble, so it’s only natural she ask he use his car for transport.”
“Asking isn’t strange. But Mine Rikako also said this: ‘Shinozaki agreed in an instant, and the call was over in no time.’ That one’s a lie.”
“No, there wasn’t anything strange about it.”
“No, there was everything strange about it. When a person who’s put in his broken-down car for repairs is asked to drive it out early tomorrow morning, there’s no way he would say yes.”
“… His car’s in for repairs?”
Atami raised his tone in confusion.
“How could you know something like that?”
“Let’s get back to the driver’s license. If the victim was the sort who usually kept his license in his car, then if he went out of his way to put it in his wallet, it’s thinkable that his car is in for repairs, right?”
“You can’t call that sound reasoning,” Atami abruptly let out a fed-up tone. “That’s just a stretched-out assumption. You can’t deny that the victim may have been someone who usually carried his license around in his wallet. I mean, those sorts of people aren’t rare in any sense of the word.”
“Yes. That’s why the license itself is only support evidence. My real reasons are the two points I’m about to raise.”
As if to make a V, Chizuru held up two of his right hand’s fingers.
“Proof number one. The victim was caught on camera at the ticket barrier of Yumoto Station.”
“…? How is that connected to a broken car?”
“If the victim had a car he could drive, why didn’t he go to the vacant lot crime scene by car? Why did he have to take the train three stations and then walk?”
“It’s true there’s quite a bit of distance between the station and the lot, so you’d normally use a car… maybe he tried to use his car, but he just happened to be out of gas…?”
“Now listen here, Officer Atami. By his neighbor’s testimony, the victim made straight for the station after leaving the house. If he just happened to be out of gas, he’d have to notice that after first stopping by the parking lot.”
“Yeah, then maybe he noticed his low tank the last time he’d driven it?”
“Does having low gas mean you can’t move your car at all?”
“No, no, that’s not what I mean,” Atami sounded somewhat impatient, “He would have to be just a few steps from empty.”
“In that case,” Chizuru leisurely smiled, “the victim would have used his car after all. The reason being, the victim had a promise to keep with Mine tomorrow morning… he had to use his car. In order to shorten whatever business he’d have to go through that morning, going out the previous day to put gas would be the natural response. Of course, if the car was in a must more serious state than an empty tank, there’s no way he would instantly agree to Mine’s request.”
“… You’re right. Come to think of it, Nakameguro did say he was the type who didn’t talk about himself much in the workplace. The victim commuted to work on foot, so it wouldn’t be strange if his colleague Mine didn’t know it was in for repairs.”
“Right, and the cincher is the call from the car manufacturer… makers can often be tasked with repairs as well. I’m sure that was a call to say his repairs had been completed. Ah, by the way,” Chizuru sensed Atami’s intent to refute, “don’t tell me he said yes to Mine because he received that call. To review matters, his departure would be in the early morning tomorrow. For someone who would have to go to the plant to pick up his car, I doubt he would ‘instantly agree’. And that call came in after Mine’s.
Taking all these facts into account, her call was to summon the victim to that vacant lot, and there’s no doubt she told a lie in order to cover it up. Correct me if I’m wrong Ageha, but in the first place, ‘Do you really put off a job as important as arranging transport for instruments to the day before the competition?’ I think there’s a problem of mentality there.”
Once Chizuru finished his spiel, as if all tuckered out, he sipped his melon soda. “I see,” said Ageha, her words intermingled with a sigh.
“Sure enough, you’ve given me reason to suspect Mine’s request to borrow his car was a lie. Perhaps you’re right. But unless you provide an explanation for that dying message, you can’t quite call her the culprit.”
“Of course, I know that too.”
“Oh, how do you figure?” Ageha tilted her head, “I mean Mine Rikako’s initials are
R. M. right? I don’t see any room for a X there. Other than that, she’s a music teacher, and the advisor of the wind ensemble…”
“You don’t have to think so hard. That X was decisively that woman’s name.”
“… What?” Atami seemed bewildered, “How does X become Mine Rikako?”
“You listening, Officer Atami? Then look over here.”
Chizuru took out a pen, and wrote a, ‘X’ on the napkin with motions slow enough to irritate Atami.
“The victim stabbed in the back had to write the culprit’s name in the small space of life he had left. As short as possible, as simple as he knew. But Mine Rikako is just a bit too long.”
“Then couldn’t he have shortened it?”
“He could have, but to the social studies teacher Shinozaki, a different method had come to mind… Shorter than anything he could have shortened it to, something that would plainly illustrate the culprit’s name. But even with that, he was unable to add the last two linse before he drew his last breath.”
And at the bottom of the ‘X’, he drew a short perpendicular dash at the top of each line . Both Ageha and Atami let out cries of realization.
Just as they had seen in their geography textbooks, it was the map symbol for a mine.
A little passed seven the following morning, as Chizuru waited by the ticket gate of Yumoto Station, Atami arrived. Within the morning rush, he who looked as if a shoddy suit would suit him had the makings of an average salaryman perfectly fit to enter the gates and go off to work.
“I’ve kept you waiting. Well now Mine Rikako confessed to the crime. Her motive was the victim Shinozaki-san using his position as a superior to conduct terrible displays of sexual harassment. What’s more, he even took obscene photos that left no room for misunderstanding, forcing her into a relationship, and with no choice left she killed him. To call him out to the vacant lot, she had made use of those feelings from the victim. Well, it’s hard to forgive the deceased, but a murder is a murder. She’s currently being interrogated by Ibusuki-san. Ah, I was able to skillfully play off your pilfering of the license.”
“I’ll be in your care.”
Giving a somewhat mistaken thanks, Chizuru’s listless remained focused on the envelope in Atami’s right hand. The envelope containing a fresh fifty thousand yen withdrawn from his account.
Atami let out a sigh.
“A promise is a promise. To be honest, the fact the victim’s car was sent in for repairs was uncovered by the police force before the end of the day. But, well, solving the dying message is your achievement, and it’s all thanks to you that the merits went to me.”
Chizuru took the envelope, leaking the words, “It’s a good thing you’re so honest,” from his mouth.
“This boy really is impertinent!”
Atami rubbed his knuckle against Chizuru’s head. The trouble-hating Chizuru let out an, “Ow. Ow. Ow,” in a monotone that made one doubt whether he was in pain or just plain tired.
The one who raised a cry of delight as they left the ticket gate was, to the surprise of none, Ageha. Her face collapsed into a smile as if melting away as she made for the two.
“So early in the morning! Entangled with one another so early in the morning!! You have my deepest thanks!”
“Now, Officer Atami, get back to work already.”
“Eh? What’s with you two? You’re giving me the cold shoulder all of a sudden, Chizuru.”
“It’s for your own sake.”
Shrugging his shoulders in continued incomprehension, he left a few words of, ‘See ya,’ as he left the two.
“Ah, do you need my contact information, Officer Atami?”
As Atami turned his back, Chizuru called to stop him.
His body stopping in his tracks, he turned around awkwardly.
“What are you talking about? I’m never going to ask for this sort of thing again. So I don’t need your contact information. Thank you, and good bye.”
As if to run away, he disappeared into the crowd. Seeing off his back, Chizuru’s lips curled into a smile.
“… You won’t be able to make it alone.”
His mutterings were almost like those of a child who’d found a new toy, thought Ageha.
(TL: Okay, so in the original text, Mine Rikako’s name was Kuwabata Rikako. The dying message was that he was trying to write: , which is the Japanese map symbol for a mulberry field, literally pronounced Kuwabata. I do apologize if this translation has made the case seem dumber than the original. Really. BTW, the symbol for a mine is )