“Does that say… Politci… so a politician did her in?”
Ageha was the first to ask. Atami made a bitter face as, “That’s what we thought at first,” he said.
“Because the murdered Mitsui Rin-san was an investigative reporter. Perhaps she had pinned down the corruption of a politician she was after and was erased for it… we had considered the possibility, but when we asked around her office, the possibility was denied.”
Noboribetsu touched the frame of his glasses, correcting their position as he asked.
“Mitsui-san was twenty-four… a novice who’d only been out two years in the field since she left college. She wasn’t left anything important like covering a politician, and just getting together the manuscripts of a few civil cases to broadcast was her job. Meaning no politician would have a motive to kill her.”
“… So then who was the one who came up in your investigations?” Chizuru parted his melon soda straw from his mouth as he asked. “You just said something like the lead suspect had an alibi.”
“Ah, right, right. From how the victim’s phone was carried off, we assumed some inconvenient records must have been left on it. So we rung up the phone company and had a look at Mitsui-san’s call history.
… Then bingo. At around eight last night, the victim made a call to a certain man. The victim- while it’s rare for you young people these days- she had put her contacts down in a hand-written phonebook. Comparing the numbers, we were able to identify the caller.”
“What’s the man’s name?”
As Noboribetsu asked, Atami answered without the slightest smile.
“Souma Poli’s his name.”
“Poli…” Ageha thought over it, “That comes quite close to the dying message. In that case, the leftover ‘tci’ is still a problem.”
“Yeah, our investigative team was real curious about it too, but anyways, putting that aside, we tried to get into contact with Souma. Regardless of this and that, he was the last person to speak with the victim. His name was also closest to the dying message, and there was no doubt he was our top suspect.
We called him, informed him of Mitsui-san’s death, and told him we wished to speak. His tone was a bit hesitant, but he told us he was at home. So Ibusuki and I headed to his apartment in Ibushi City…”
The afternoon of that day, around two…
Atami and his boss Ibusuki took the hour-long car trip from Yumoto City to Ibushi.
During the ride, they heard an interesting report from the investigations team.
“That was a call from police sergeant Nagashima.”
Finishing the call, Ibusuki informed Atami in the driver’s seat. The wind that blew in from the slightly-opened window caused the tips of her short hair- the symbol of her imposing figure- to flutter.
“Two interesting facts came in.”
“Yeah. First, this is info Nagashima’s team managed to dig up, but around ten last night, a witness reported a suspicious man running out from the park. The witness was a salaryman on the way home from work. He witnessed a man from his early to mid-twenties, with quite well-set facial features. Wearing black clothing, he seemed to be terribly panicked as he left the park, and when he saw the witness, he made a pale face before running off.”
“Hmm… so could that have been Souma Poli?”
“The possibility exists. And there’s another fact. This one comes from Sumoto’s team. We got some interesting testimony from one of the victim’s colleagues.”
The colleague’s name was Kyouda Ikuko, the closest woman to the victim at her workplace.
“Kyouda-san spoke in regards to the victim’s romantic affairs, it seems. The victim Mitsui-san was quite a beauty, but it looks like she didn’t have a lover. And around three months ago… around the end of March, a drunk Mitsui-san ended up spilling some info on her love life. Mitsui-san was, ‘Unable to forget the love she had in her high school days, and even now, she couldn’t bring herself to get another boyfriend,’ apparently. What’s more, from what she learned through social media, the boy on her mind got engaged to another woman last year.”
While wondering how that was related to the case at hand, Atami gave a habitual reply. “But,” Ibusuki went on, “Around a week after that, Mitsui-san went out drinking with Kyouda-san again, and she gave the continuation to last week’s episode. ‘I’ve found a lead to make the man I told you about fall.’ She said.”
“Fall, is it… an engaged man?”
Ibusuki spat out a sullen, “Yeah.”
“The victim, Mitsui Rin was apparently of a vindictive nature. With a personality prone to presumption, it was an often occurrence she would sent Kyouda-san into dismay. It’s precisely because she was like that, that she couldn’t help but want to get the man who she’d thought of from her high school days in her hands.”
“Hmm… while there’s a lot I could say, more than anything that sounds like a possible motive.”
“Yeah. Perhaps she continued following the man around regardless of his engagement, and she was killed as a hindrance. By the way, that’s all Kyouda-san was able to hear in regards to this case.”
“… Just now, you said she learned of the man’s engagement through social networking, right? Then wouldn’t it be best we looked into the victim’s account as well?”
“No, the victim didn’t have a profile, she’d just keep a watchful eye… she was what’s commonly referred to as a lurker. As she continued keeping a watch over that man’s account, I’m getting some stalker vibes here… well, that sort of thing doesn’t matter right now.”
“So that problematic person may be the one we’re about to meet, ‘Souma Poli’?”
“That’s right. If Souma was a classmate of the victim. The victim was twenty-four. That’s an age that matches the witness’ report.”
It seemed that was it.
A surprisingly simple case, they thought as Atami urged the car on.
Souma’s apartment in Ibushi hadn’t stood well against the ages.
Leaving the car in the cramped nook of a parking space, Atami and Ibusuki headed for Souma’s room. Looking at the post box, it was on the second floor.
The rusted stairs often grated, and there were a few holes.
“Doesn’t look like he’s living too well.”
Ibusuki said it frankly.
After they rang the bell in front of the room, it took around ten seconds for the owner to come out.
“Pardon our intrusion. We’re the police officers who you spoke to over the phone… You’re Souma Poli-san, right?”
As Atami showed the badge stuck to the front of his police handbook, “Ah, yes,” the man answered in a voice without spirit. A step behind, Atami observed Souma Poli.
A simple white shirt and black shorts, but looks so well-ordered it could be called a mismatch. A soft and clear nose line, and imposing eyebrows, resting on an overall deep-carved face. His light complexion and the beautiful brown of his eyes looked like they’d be popular with women.
If the one Mitsui Rin had attached herself to all the way from high school was a man like this, he found himself accepting it. And the man before his eyes looked to be right around the same age as her.
“May we come in?”
“Yah… I don’t mind.”
The inside of the room was antiquated, unbalanced with Souma’s foreign beauty. The two detectives passed into a narrow room furnished with an unmade bed.
“I’m sorry the bedroom’s the only place I have to seat you,” a bit more cheerful than when he met them at the door, Souma apologized. “I never expected anyone to come into my room under normal circumstance.”
While Ibusuki gave a curt reply of, “It doesn’t matter,” Atami sent his eyes around the room. It wasn’t decorated at all. A low table with a laptop resting on it, and a CD Rack used in place of a bookshelf were the only pieces of furniture.
“Now then, let’s shift right into talking about the case. As I told you before, Mitsui Rin-san was murdered last night. So what I want to know is your relationship with her.”
“Relationship, is it…”
Souma bit his lip. And he seemed to be a lost in deep thought for a moment.
“First, could I ask why you came to question me?”
He returned a question. Ibusuki hit her fingertip against her knee in mild irritation before giving a patient answer. Investigating the call log of the victim’s smartphone, he was the person they had arrived at.
“Is that so…” Souma thought a bit more, “How much do you know about my relationship with her?”
“Honestly, we don’t know a thing. That’s why we’re asking.”
“Ah, my apologies… I first met her around a month ago. The start of April. Inside a train, she called out to me…”
Could he be lying, Atami suspected? Ibusuki was likely thinking the same. If Souma really was the same person as Mitsui’s classmate, then that testimony was clearly a fabrication. And perhaps the only reason he would lie would be if he was the culprit.
Souma spoke intermittently. Almost as if he was making up this scene on the spot.
“It seems she had mistaken me for an acquaintance and called out, but… we really hit it off from there. That is all.”
“Is that so?”
As she replied, Ibusuki’s voice was cold. Atami found it quite hard to believe the words of the man before his eyes. Mistaken on a train, and getting along from there. It was a situation a tad difficult to come across. Too well put together, and reeking of forgery. And in truth, Souma’s eyes were swimming around the room. A sign he was lying.
“Were you in a so-called relationship of man and woman with her?”
“… Well, I’d have no objections to you thinking of us like that.”
“We exchanged numbers on the day we met. Well, from around that weekend… one thing led to another.”
Every single bit of it reeked of falsehood. Would two people who just happened to meet on a train get into that relationship within a week of their meeting? The answer was no.
“… I see. Then about the call you made to her around eight o’clock last night. What was it about?”
“Oh it wasn’t anything serious. Just a bit of idle gossip.”
“Is that so? You didn’t make any promises to meet her later?”
“H-hey. What’s that supposed to mean!?” Souma grew angry, “We didn’t make any such promise! Are you trying to say I’m the culprit? Don’t kid with me.”
“… Then what thoughts do you have upon seeing this?”
Ibusuki swiftly showed the dying message photo to Souma.
“It was left behind by the victim, a so-called dying message… Souma Poli-san. Don’t you think that closely resembles your name?”
Seeing that, Souma opened his eyes wide in surprise. His lip was shaking as he stared at the message in shock. That was clearly a suspicious reaction.
“… No,” he eventually said. “This… isn’t… my name… I’m not Politci.”
“I said it resembles your name, but I never said it was about you. Do you have any idea what it means?”
Souma was silenced. And after thinking a while, he let out a long sigh.
“I do have… an idea.”
“That so. What sort of idea?”
“She… Rin was an investigative reporter,” Souma licked his lip, speaking with difficulty.
“That’s why, um… a Politician… it seems she was following a lead on a certain politician’s corruption. I’m sure that Politician erased her.”
“Oh my,” Ibusuki let out a clearly fed-up voice. “That’s the first I’m hearing of it. At her workplace, I never heard she was given a scoop of such value.”
“No, that’s um… she was pursuing it in secrecy.”
“Is that so.”
Ibusuki’s voice only grew colder.
“I see, a Politician… putting aside why the victim didn’t just leave a clear name, Souma-san. Did you happen to hear that politician’s name from the victim?”
“No, she wouldn’t tell me.”
“Is that so? … The Souma-san. From nine to nine thirty last night, where were you and what were you doing?”
There, Souma’s expression turned bright for the first time. It was as if he’d been waiting for that question. Atami had a bad feeling about this.
“If it’s that time-slot, I was at work.”
“Work?” Ibusuki furrowed her brow. “In what sort of occupation?”
“I serve food and drink… no, that’s misleading, so I’ll just be straight up. I’m what’s known as a host. I was serving women. I guess that sounds about right.”
The skies were looking dubious. Atami put some power into his grip around his notepad, squeezing his pen hard.
“Specifically, from when to when?”
“Umm, my shift was from around eight p.m. to two in the morning. I was in the store the whole time.”
“… The whole time, is it?”
“Yes. I never had an opportunity to leave my seat for anything greater than a restroom break.”
“… Where would that store be located?”
“It isn’t very far from this apartment.”
That translated to the fact it was quite distant from the scene in Yumoto City. A one-hour car ride one way.
“… Is that true?”
Ibusuki unintentionally insisted. Souma Poli’s expression was largely triumphant.
“Yes. You can go to the shop and check it out yourself.”
Atami suspended his story for a moment. Chizuru, Ageha and Noboribetsu had been completely taken in.
“… And there, the direction of the investigation began to take a turn. The possibility came that the lead suspect Souma Poli had an alibi. And after that, Ibusuki and I went to that shop… to confirm his alibi.”
Atami shifted to the latter half.