“S-Sazanami-san is the culprit who swapped out the vase!?”
Yuzuki dropped his finished popsicle stick.
“No way, I mean he was the one attacked today, wasn’t he? By the culprit who swapped out the vase.”
“No, truth is Sazanami-san was going to swap out another vase today.”
As Yuzuki leaned down to pick up his stick, Chizuru looked over his pale nape as he explained.
“… For now, should we go back?”
“Ah, you’re right.”
The two stood from the bench, discarding their popsicle trash in the bin in front of the store, and walked down the night path.
“So what does that mean? For Sazanami-san to be the culprit.”
“Among the items scattered around the storehouse was a cellphone that had dropped from Sazanam-san’s bag. It likely fell when he got into a fight with the one who attacked him.”
“R-really? I didn’t notice it… but what about it?”
“Why had such a thing fallen? Meaning the problem I’m raising is, ‘Why was Sazanami-san’s bag open?’ You catch my drift?”
“Ah! … That’s true. Be it zipper or something else, for the contents of a bag to fall out, the bag has to be open.”
“On top of that, why wasn’t his bag on him? Why was it left on the floor? The conclusion that leads to is that Sazanami-san had placed his bag on the storage floor, and was either trying to put in or take something out of it.”
“… Right. Meaning he was trying to change out the vase for a fake.”
“Exactly. But there he was questioned by a third party who entered the room. In his panic, Sazanami-san tried to silence whoever came in and attacked them. Or perhaps he tried to run but was blocked. Anyways, it devolved to a quarrel, and in the end, Sazanami-san was the one who lost the fight. Unluckily, he hit his head against a corner of the table.”
“… Meaning this was an accident?”
“That’s how it looks.”
Chizuru and Yuzuki walked alongside one another for a while in silence.
Whenever they passed beneath the street lights, their uneven shadows would intersect. Yuzuki abruptly peered into Chizuru’s face.
“… Then who was it? The person who ended up injuring Sazanami-san? You already know, don’t you?”
“Yeah. We have decisive evidence… and, the one who made that evidence was you, Yuzuki.”
Yuzuki opened his round eyes in surprise.
“That was an accident…?”
Ushijima Miho gave a mutter mixed with a sigh.
“I still have my questions.”
Kuragano’s face was half-in-doubt. He swung his finger towards Atami.
“In the first place, has it been confirmed that gardener Sazanami was the culprit?”
“What might you mean by that?”
Atami nervously turned to Kuragano.
“It’s true Sazanami may be the only individual who could have swapped the vase out after Madam Ushijima looked around the storage. But you can’t forget Ushijima went back to the storage after that to borrow the vase she came for. She couldn’t have noticed it then?”
“Ah, come to think of it, that’s right.”
The lady in question spoke up.
“… Well then, Ushijima-san. After returning to the storage, did you carefully look at any of the other art pieces?”
“No, I didn’t do that. When I visited the storage a second time, my only goal was to borrow the vase.”
Atami met eyes with everyone gathered as he mouthed the logic he’d memorized.
“These vases, unless you carefully pay attention to every part of them, they’re hard to tell apart… Kondou-san demonstrated that not a moment ago.”
Kondou gave a firm nod.
“Unless you look knowing what you’re looking for, a piece’s authenticity isn’t distinct. To rephrase that, making a piece that one would think of as the real thing at first glance is the reason counterfeits exist.”
“Well you may be right about that.”
Kuragano still hung onto the point.
“Whether Ushijima-san would actually notice or not, what becomes a problem here is the, ‘risk that Ushijima-san would notice’… quite a subjective thing indeed. Yet it’s this point we’ve used to narrow down the suspects.”
“But if you at it subjectively, you can’t deny Sazanami-san is the most suspicious.” Atami spoke paradoxically, “When he entered the living room that day, Ushijima-san was giving her opinion on the items in the storage. It wouldn’t even be strange if he misunderstood she had already completed her business in the storehouse.”
“That’s true… but if he thought Madam Ushijima had finished her business in the storehouse, wouldn’t he think the storehouse would be closed and give up on the crime?”
“He had been watching vigilantly for his opportunity to commit it for half a year. To him, it wouldn’t be strange if he bet on the possibility of the storehouse being unlocked, approaching the place to check it out. From the start, Kansuke-san was a person who’d often forget to lock up, after all.”
The one to answer wasn’t Kansuke himself, but Kondou.
“Today too, when I was working on the pieces in the storehouse, it’s because Kansuke-kun walked off with the key that we ended up with time where the place was left wide open.”
“I must apologize for that.”
Kansuke scratched his short hair, “That might be true.”
“Your younger brother Yuzuki said, you ‘can be an airhead when it comes to these sorts of things,’… by the way, Kuragano-san?”
“Why don’t you want to make Sazanami-san out as the culprit?”
“If Sazanami-san is the culprit behind the theft, then the logic that the thief attacked him would no longer stand. In that case, since you were removed for being the only one who couldn’t commit the theft, you would become a suspect in Sazanami-san’s injury… isn’t that why?”
“W-what are you talking about, Officer Atami!? Oy, that’s just plain rude! You’re making it sound as if I’m the culprit here.”
“That’s right. The one who spotted Sazanami-san when he was swapping out a vase in the storage, and injured him in the ensuing quarrel… Kuragano Ryou-san, it was you, wasn’t it?”
Everyone raised a ruckus.
Kansuke cried out, “Really!?”
Detective Ibusuki raised a high, “Haaah?”
Wakamatsu sitting beside Kuragano pulled her body back.
“O-oy, quit joking around!”
Kuragano kicked his chair back as he stood.
“I’m not joking. During your meeting with Kansuke-san, you went to the restroom. I have reason to assume you probably were actually in the bathroom, but after that you headed for the storehouse. Even if it was your first time in the house, that storehouse was visible from the moment you stepped on the premise, so I think you knew the general direction. Your goal in checking out the storehouse was to conduct a simple investigation, right? During your questioning, you said you suspected insurance fraud.”
“You’re imagining things!”
“And right after entering the storage, you witnessed Sazanami-san trying to swap out a vase, and got into a tussle with him. When you pushed him away, he hit his head on a corner. At that moment, the vase dropped and shattered… perhaps the scream raised at the scream wasn’t Sazanami-san’s, but yours.”
“Quit it with your accusations. That’s all nothing but conjecture! I kinda get how you got to Sazanami as the thief. But in regards to this incident, even if it wasn’t me, everyone here is a suspect. That’s right. Don’t treat someone as a culprit without any evidence. Doesn’t this go against your compliance as a police officer?”
“He’s got a point, Atami.”
Ibusuki furrowed her brow, “Do you have some evidence?”
“Yes, I do. The fact that Chizuru and Yuzuki-kun rushed to the scene at once.”
“… And what of it?”
Kuragano glared at Atami.
“That passage from the main building is thirty meters. The moment it goes outside, the path runs in a straight line… after the culprit heard the scream, where did he run? Whatever the case, he couldn’t come back the way he came. Meaning he would have to hide in the shadows somewhere.”
“And how does that tie in to me?”
“You’re the only one who didn’t show his face when everyone gathered in the storehouse, weren’t you?”
The first ones to race over were Chizuru and Yuzuki. Then following behind were Kansuke, Kondou, Wakamatsu. And as Wakamatsu went back to get the necessary treatment tools, she passed by Ushijima-san coming from the main house…
“Sure enough, Kuragano-san alone wasn’t there.”
Kansuke gave a large nod.
“Don’t screw with me. I said I was in the bathroom. And I saw those young boys, Chizuru and Yuzuki running down the passage. I’m sure I said that.”
“Right, well, since you knew the passage was visible from the bathroom, I think it’s true you went. But that was before Sazanami-san was injured.”
“Stop interpreting things however’s convenient for you!”
“No, this is a fact. I mean, you never saw Chizuru-kun and Yuzuki-kun run up to the storehouse.”
“Don’t be stupid. If I didn’t see, then how did I guess it right?”
“… After you wounded Sazanami-san, you heard the footsteps racing over. The lone storehouse in a vast yard. The only place you had to hide was under the walkway.”
Ibusuki parroted the words.
“Yes, under. Did you notice when we entered the premise? The passage connects to one of the verandas, with space underneath. So Kuragano-san heard the footsteps when the Chizuru Yuzuki pair raced over. With their steps and voices he was able to guess right that they were the first to rush to the scene.”
“That’s a terrible accusation as always. If I was hidden under the passage, what did I do after that?”
“The passage merges with the veranda of the main house. You crept all the way down, so the people above wouldn’t see you. Around the bathing area, you climbed up to the veranda, and mixed in with the rest.”
“I see, that is a possibility. So what’s your evidence?”
“At first, you called Tsukioka Yuzuki a girl. You had mistaken his gender.”
“What basis is that!? You can objectively see that young boy’s looks are overly feminine and misleading, can’t you? I do feel sorry to him for misunderstanding, but that does not a culprit make.”
“That’s right. As a matter of fact, both Ibusuki-san and I mistook his gender when we first saw him. But that was because he was in a hoodie and jeans.”
“… I don’t get what you’re trying to say.”
“Ah!” Kansuke let out a loud voice. “That’s right, that’s exactly right. If Kuragano-san saw Yuzuki running down the passage, he’d definitely not mistake his gender!”
Kuragano’s face stiffened.
“Ah… come to think of it.”
Kondou, Ushijima and Wakamatsu signaled their agreement. Kuragano turned his face nervously.
“What are you all talking about?”
Kansuke glared sternly at Kuragano.
“You told a lie. The reason being at the time, Yuzuki was wearing his school uniform.”
“Yuzuki was wearing his school uniform. What’s more, someone wearing the exact same uniform… someone you could tell as a boy at a glance… Chizuru-kun was right beside him. So that would mean you didn’t see Yuzuki at the time. You were only listening to the sounds after all.”
“B-but I get the feeling he was in a hoodie.”
“That’s because he got blood on him nursing Sazanami-san. He was told to go change with Chizuru-kun.”
Receiving Kansuke’s explanation, Atami supplemented it.
“… Of course, if Kuragano-san had mistaken Yuzuki-kun’s gender, then he’d think it strange for the two of them to head for the bath together. But if Kuragano-san was still hidden under the veranda at that point, there’s no helping the outside who didn’t know what was where in the house to not feel anything off.”
Instantly bathed in everyone’s eyes, Kuragano unsteadily drew back and ran into the wall. Crestfallen, he fell to his knees, and covered his face with both hands.
“… I didn’t intend to injure him… but he leapt at me, so I suddenly… when I thought of the payment our company would have to put out, it irritated me so much, that perhaps I couldn’t hold back…”
Ibusuki mercilessly hoisted up Kuragano’s apologizing arm.
“Is it legitimate self-defense, excessive force, or an accident… I don’t know the charge, but first we’ll be hearing out your story at the station. I won’t handcuff you. Just come with us.”
Ibusuki looked at Atami, before awkwardly averting her eyes.
Having finished talking, with nowhere to sit, he remained standing when his phone started to ring.
“Yes, it’s Atami. Yes… yes. I see. Thank you.”
Taking his phone from his ear, he turned to Kuragano and Ibusuki.
“Sazanami-san’s operation was a success. There is no need to worry.”
“I see. I feel sorry for doing this to him just after he was injured, but we have to stick an officer on him… giver the order.”
And finishing his call, Atami helped Ibusuki to support Kuragano up.
While that was going on, Chizuru and Yuzuki were standing in the room before anyone had realized it.
“Looks like the case has been resolved.”
Chizuru spoke as if it was someone else’s business, a peaceful smile on his face.
That night, during a break in Kuragano’s questioning at the prefectural police headquarters, Atami gave Chizuru a call.
‘Is it Atami-san? Good work back there.’
After calling around ten times, Chizuru finally answer. In that smoking room, there were a number of other officers, so Atami spoke in a soft voice.
“Hello, Chizuru-kun… yeah, well, while it was more forceful than anything, for now it’s a good thing we’ve apprehended the culprit. So how much do I have to pay this time?”
‘Let’s see. Fifty thousand yen should be fine.’
“Oy! That’s no different than before.”
‘What are you talking about? The culprits were Sazanami-san and Kuragano-san. You caught two people, you know. So in essence, I’m giving you a half-off sale.’
“Wait a second. It hasn’t even been a week since that last case. It will be a bit rough to hand over another fifty thousand. Don’t overestimate the salary of a public servant in his twenties!”
He ended up emphasizing something he wasn’t proud of at all.
‘Then you can pay in installments.’
“Do you have a heart?”
‘Society is a cruel mistress.’
“You haven’t even gone out into society yet…”
Rather than angry, Atami was fed up, having lost the mind to give a further rebuttal.
“Okay, then it’ll be in installments.”
“I’ll tell you my account number.”
Atamy scribbled the number in his police notebook and hung up. But Chizuru called back.
‘… Did Ibusuki-san suspect anything?’
“She’s extremely suspicious. She thinks my head suddenly cleared up.”
‘I’m sure she does. Well, I just can’t wait to see what happens next case. Right, right, did she count multiple culprits for this case?’
“Hmm? Oh, you’re talking about my penalty. Well, Ibusuki showed some sympathy, and she properly counted it as two.”
‘Meaning you have to catch another seven. I’ll be waiting for your call.’
Atami had to get a word in.
“I’m not going to turn to the devil again.”
‘… That’s not how I see it.’
Fufu, leaving an ominous laugh, Chizuru hung up the phone.
Right, it was impossible.
Atami knew it somewhere in his heart.
He felt some madness in that boy’s deductive abilities. As if a normal officer wouldn’t be able to match blades, a repulsive level of insight.
He wouls surely rely on him again. Atami felt it somewhere within him.