“How rare for you to want to go out, Chizuru.”
Along the way, Ageha called out to Chizuru. Chizuru sent her a sidelong glance.
“Don’t speak of me as if I’m a NEET.”
“Isn’t NEET your long life aspiration?”
Unable to think of a rebuttal, Chizuru silently pressed on.
Kurokawa Kaede was at the lead, and as they headed for the café in question, the surroundings were gently enveloped by darkness. The time was close to six. That café was apparently nearby Yumoto Station, and there were a number of lively light lining their way.
“Even so, it’s ho…”
As Chizuru grumbled stooped over, Ageha let off a fed-up voice.
“If it’s hot, then ditch the hoodie.”
“If I took it off, I’d end up topless, but if you’re alright with that.”
“That’s not what I meant… I mean just wear a normal shirt.”
“Dressing for the season is too much of a pain.”
“… So extra trouble trumps the heat I see.”
While the two carried out an exhausted conversation, they entered the strip in front of the station, of restaurants banks and convenience stores. Kaede stopped her feet and pointed to the store in front.
“… It’s that one.”
The shop they entered under her lead was called The Chevalier’s Perch, a medieval yet avant-garde name. According to Kaede, it was a chain.
There were counters and tables dispersed throughout the store, and it looked like there were plenty of places to sit. Right now it was reasonably empty, with only a dozen-odd students and businessmen occupying it.
One of the two registers was closed, and the other had two people lined up.
In their wait time, Ageha put together the flow of events.
“So this is how it went. First, Kurokawa-senpai’s classmate Toujou Mashiro-san was abnormally dispirited for around two weeks. Senpai was worried for her when one day… last Sunday… she entered this store and spotted Toujou-san in line for the register.”
“And after Toujou-san finished her purchase, she passed by Kurokawa-senpai who was going to the register… Senpai completed her purchase, and when she headed to the back of the store, Toujou-san was sitting at one of the counter seats. She wholeheartedly began pouring sugar into her cup. Around ten sticks, was it?”
“That’s right. To that point, Mashiro hadn’t noticed me at all, but while I watched over her, she finally realized I was there… it became awkward, and I left the area at once.”
“… Hey, Kurokawa-sanpai.”
Chizuru spoke up.
“Was the drink Toujou-san ordered hot or cold?”
“… Hot. In this store, hot is served in paper cups, while iced drinks are in plastic, so there’s a clear distinction.”
“By the way, what type of drink was it?”
“Type… Hmm, I couldn’t tell. All things of the coffee family have a similar color, and I only saw it for a moment.”
“Is that so. Then how much did she pay?”
“You wouldn’t usually remember something like that.”
Ageha complained, but Kaede clearly stated, “No, I remember.”
“A thousand yen. She paid with two five hundred yen coins, so it left an impression. Since she didn’t pay that sum with a bill, I guess she didn’t have one on her, or so I thought back them. What’s more, she didn’t get any change.”
Chizuru looked up at the menu over the register.
“Besides the drink in question, Toujou-san also ordered a parfait… what sort of parfait was it?”
“A chocolate parfait. When we go out to other shops, she always orders one, so… when I looked at her tray, ‘oh, as I thought’ is what went across my mind.”
“I see. What luck. A chocolate parfait is exactly five hundred yen. Then do you know what size this problematic drink was? They have short, tall and grande.”
“That I know. It was grande. If you’re drinking in-store, they serve short and tall in mugs, while only Grande gets an oversized paper cup… though iced drinks are all served in plastic, it seems.”
“Wow, that’s quite something.”
Looking up at the menu, Ageha raised her voice.
“Looks like that’s it. The drink Mashiro-san was drinking.”
“Yep,” said Chizuru, “There’s only one grande size drink for five hundred yen… the Healthy Soy Latte.”
“But is that really so important?” Kaede seemed to be in doubt. “And was knowing whether it was hot or cold that important? Not that it was relevant to pinning down the price.”
“It was crucial.”
Chizuru gave a short response.
While that was going on, their turn at the register had come. They decided to order all together.
“Then I’ll have a tall café mocha, hot please.”
Kaede ordered first, before sending a glance to Chizuru and Ageha.
“Kirishima-kun, Beppu-san, you’re up. I’ll pay for it, as part of investigation expenses.”
“Is that so? Thanks for that. Then a short café latte, iced.”
Chizuru said it faster than usual. Ageha made a bitter smile, “Why not show some restraint,” she muttered. But despite what she said, she shrewdly placed an order for a, “Tall honey milk latte, iced.”
Kaede stylishly finished the payment electronically going to the side of the register to wait for her drink to come up.
“… Come to think of it, I forgot this space of time.”
Chizuru spoke as if suddenly realizing something. Kaede asked what he meant.
“I mean this time where you wait for your drink after you’ve ordered. When Toujou-san finished paying at the register, she passed right by you, didn’t she?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And even in that space, Toujou-san didn’t notice you at all?”
“Right. I mean look, isn’t this place a blind spot from the register?”
Sure enough, the pickup station was placed in the shadows of the siphons and cupboards, rendering the register invisible.
“… So I finished my business at the register, and when I got here, Mashiro was already in the back of the store. How’s that? Understood?”
Alongside Chizuru’s extended reply, “Thank you for waiting,” came the voice of the barista, briskly handing the three of them their drinks. Just as Kaede had explained, Chizuru and Ageha’s iced drinks came in plastic cups, while only Kaede who had ordered a tall hot drink received a mug.
The three of them headed to the back of the shop.
“That’s the counter seat where Mashiro was sitting.”
That small space in the store’s depths was somewhat ill lit. The counter faced a wall, with five chairs stationed along it.
“Now then, sugar is…”
Chizuru walked over to the supposed shelf.
There, not only sugar, various goods were lain out.
Milk, sweet syrup, disposable stirrers, paper napkins, straws. There were even metal spoons.
“What are those spoons for?”
“What was that, Beppu-san… oh, those are for the people eating parfaits and gelatos. It’s all self-service, spoons included.”
On the shelf next to the self-service station, was a space to return trays and cups. There was also a trashcan to discard used items, and even a drain to pour down unfinished drink.
“… What a convenient corner,” Ageha looked around restlessly, “But I wouldn’t really want to have tea back here. Too many people coming and going, and it’s close to the garbage. I wonder why Mashiro-san chose to sit close to here.”
To Ageha’s question, Kaede gave an unconfident reply.
“As I thought, isn’t it because she didn’t want to be seen by people? Though I don’t know the reason.”
“… I understand it mostly.”
Chizuru casually put his mouth in. A backward glance at Ageha and Kaede taken aback, he nimbly pinched a straw.
Once Ageha took some syrup, the three of them left the area.
“Now the, which seat shall we take?”
“Why not that table?”
On Ageha’s suggestion, the three ended up using a four-person table right next to the store’s entrance.
“By the way, Korokawa-senpai.”
Chizuru stabbed the straw into his cup’s lid as he spoke.
“When you came to the shop, what other customers were there? You talked about housewives bringing their children, but anyone else?”
“Other? … Let’s see, it was relatively crowded, so I don’t remember the details. It did seem the seats were mostly filled.”
“Is that so,” Chizuru sipped some of his café latte, “then where did Mashiro-san take her money out of?”
“The money she paid with. Two five hundred yen coins.”
“U-um… who knows? I think she just normally got them from her wallet… right, wallet. There was a large wallet crammed into her jacket pocket, and I remembered feeling a sense of danger when I wondered if it would fall out or be stolen. The same white long wallet Mashiro always used. But does that have any relevance to her putting in so much sugar?”
“I think it does.”
Chizuru evaded the question by taking some more small sips of his café latte.
Within the silence, the three fervently sucked at their own drinks.
“This one’s tasty,” Ageha spoke to Kaede who’d treated her, “But after I took a sip, I found it was surprisingly sweet, so I didn’t need to put in the syrup.”
“That happens now and then. The drinks at these sorts of places are sometimes made really sweet so they’ll meet with anyone’s tastes.”
Hearing Kaede’s words, Chizuru suddenly stood and drew near the menu display.
Reading the explanation of the Healthy Soy Latte, the following words were stipulated.
‘Low calories, yet you won’t believe this sweetness. Feel satisfaction at the perfect harmony of the depth of the soy beans, and the sweetness of honey. For those who wish for even less calories, order it hot.’
Chizuru nodded and finished off his latte.
As he waited for the two women to finish off their respective drinks, he looked around to confirm the state of the shop.
There were a number of tables and counters around, but the back spot in question was perfectly in a blind spot from the register, and hidden away from everywhere else.
“So that’s why she chose that seat.”
“Eh? What’s that, Chizuru?” Ageha looked confused, “Did you get it? The reason she loaded up with sugar?”
“Mostly… but there’s one last thing I have to confirm. I have to make a call.”
Having left the shop, the three headed to the park on the corner of Yumoto Boulevard- where Chizuru and Ageha always met up- and lowered themselves onto the benches. It had already cone dark around.
“… So Chizuru. Who are you going to call?”
“Yuzu-chan? You know his number?”
“I got it after we put that case in order yesterday.”
“… Kirishima-kun, you solved a case yesterday?”
Learning it for the first time, Kaede seemed surprised. Chizuru gave a vague answer of, yeah, perhaps, as he worked his smart phone.
“Hmm, even so,” Ageha grinned, “To exchange numbers within the day you met him, you two must get along. And when I wasn’t looking, you’ve gone from calling him Tsukioka-kun to Yuzuki.”
Chizuru evaded the ill-natures look.
Hey, Kaede pressed Ageha.
“He’s called Tsukioka Yuzuki, and he’s a first year in the wind ensemble. A really adorable boy.”
“A-adorable…? When he’s a boy?”
“W-well that’s all well and good, but what are you going to ask that kid?”
“The internal affairs of the wind ensemble. And I’m sure that will explain why, ‘Toujou Mashiro-san has been under the weather lately’. The community a high schooler belongs to is a narrow one. If her best friend from the same class Kurokawa-senpai doesn’t know, then the probability her problem came from her club is high.”
The calling tone rang out, and Chizuru put the phone to his ear. Yuzuki answered in no time.
‘Chizuru-senpai! What’s up?’
His voice that could be taken as a girls was awfully lively.
Pushing her ear to the phone from the other side, Ageha made a smile full of implications. Chizuru pulled his body back a bit and continued on with the conversation.
“Um, there was something I wanted to ask you. About the wind instrument ensemble.”
‘The wind ensemble? Are you planning on joining, Chizuru-senpai? You’re more than welcome!’
“Sorry, that’s not it… You have a senior called Toujou Mashiro, don’t you?”
‘Yeah, Toujou-senpai. She’s in charge of sax. Something about her?’
“About her, lately… has she been drawn into any trouble?”
‘… Why do you ask?’
“Well you see, it’s related to a case I’m investigating right now, so I have to find out by all means. I know trouble in her family would be hard to talk about with an outsider. But I promise I won’t leak any secrets.”
Without three seconds of wait, Yuzuki agreed.
‘Chizuru-senpai wouldn’t leak anything so easily. I’ll tell you everything I know.’
“Eh~? What’s with this bond of trust?” Ageha let her lips spread out as she whispered, “They just met the other day and yet… this is dangerous, really.”
With a glare of “quiet, I’m on the phone,” Chizuru gave her a warning.
‘Thr truth is right now, it’s a hot rumor among the girls in the club… about Toujou-senpai’s lost love.’ Kaede, who’d been keeping her ear close to listen, opened her eyes wide.
‘Toujou-senpai was going out with Kuranishi Yuuto-senpai, the only third-year boy in the wind ensemble. But around two weeks ago, Kuranishi-senpai suddenly broke up with her and started going out with Miwa Akko-senpai of the same club. Miwa-senpai and Toujou-senpai were good friends, so… I think it was quite a shock for Toujou-senpai.’
As he spoke on, Yuzuki’s voice sounded miserable.
‘It seems Toujou-senpai is making it so, “She dumped Kuranishi-senpai herself,” when she talks to Miwa-senpai. To make sure no cracks form in their relationship. But I think it’s quite painful on Toujou-senpai… even now. I mean the rumors say she was going out with him since first year. I’m also on sax, but Toujou-senpai suddenly burst into tears during part rehearsal. Kuranishi-senpai and Miwa-senpai are on different parts, so I don’t think they know…’
“Then on the surface, her human relations within the club aren’t breaking down?”
‘On the surface, but… it feels like Toujou-senpai is really holding back, and to be honest, it’s difficult to look at… hey, Chizuru-senpai. I won’t ask why you’re looking into Toujou-senpai, but… please. Could you help her out?’
“… Yeah. I’ll do what’s within my abilities. Thank you, Yuzuki.”
The call ended.
Kaede opened her heavy mouth.
“I didn’t know. That Mashiro had a broken heart… I knew that she was dating someone in her club from her first year, and she got along with that Akko girl. But I’ve never even seen those two before, and I never even considered they had gotten into such a messy relationship now.”
She narrowed her eyebrows in sorrow.
“Really, I… what was I to Mashiro? Is it really alright for me to say we’re best friends? When she was cornered so far, I knew nothing…”
Kaede was at a loss for words.
Ageha couldn’t bring herself to say it, sending a glance to Chizuru.
“Hey, Chizuru. With this, we can explain why Mashiro-san’s been depressed for the past two weeks, but… in the end, why did she put ten sticks of sugar in her coffee? Is it because her heart’s taken a strange turn?”
“No, that’s not it. The reason is terribly simple.”
Chizuru looked down, letting his bangs hand to completely cover his right eye.
Under the street light, his left eye gleamed.
“As long as a single something occurred to you, even an elementary schooler could have solved the mystery.”
And Chizuru started off with a tone as if he was telling a story.
“… Last Sunday was hot as well.”