“The chance to switch out the pot was on the day Ushijijma-san visited our house.”
As he spoke, Yuzuki seemed nervous, and regardless of whether the air conditioning was functional, his pale face dripped sweat. He flapped his white shirt to send some air to his skin. Chizuru averted his eyes. But even his eyes away, he had a feeling the boy across the table was letting off a good scent for some reason or another.
“Ushijima-san first called a month and a week ago.”
“That’s quite precise.”
“It just happened to be the day Kondou-san came for his maintenance. Me, my brother, Wakamatsu-san, and Sazanami-san- the four of us were sipping tea in the living room when Kondou-san came over… and it was right around that time that a call came from Ushijima-san. She wanted to, ‘Borrow one of our art pieces’. Apparently, she had already got permission from our parents overseas. As I recall, she wanted it for an exhibition on some potter at the Yumoto Modern Art Museum. Ah, by the way, the vase she borrowed was a different vase.”
“I see… the day Kondou-san came means that was the last day it was confirmed there was nothing strange with the vase.”
“That’s correct. So three weeks later… that would be two weeks ago… Ushijima-san came over. It was evening, a weekday. My brother unlocked the storage around twenty minutes before she came. We had to ventilate the place. That day was partly-cloudy without any wind, so even if we left the door open, it didn’t seem like it would have any bad effects on the art pieces.”
“I see. So for those twenty minutes, the storage was…”
“Unoccupied. Besides me and my brother, Wakamatsu-san was at the house. So it would be possible for her to have committed the offense.”
“That so. Anyways, Ushijima-san came over.”
“Yes, once she arrived, we guided her straight from the gate to the storage. You can get there from outdoors. The reason she suddenly wanted to go to the storage was because, ‘It seems that storehouse is filled with all sorts of rare articles, so I’d like to see it by all means,’ she said. She was looking around on her own for around ten minutes. So as not to rush her, my brother and I were waiting outside.”
Meaning that moment was Ushijima’s chance.
“Yeah, yeah. And then?”
“And then Ushijima-san entered the main house from the main entrance and had some of Wakamatsu-san’s tea in the living room. It was around then that Sazanami-san came. He doesn’t have a key, so he has to ring up the intercom. Right around when Ushijima-san said, ’I’m glad I got to see so many rare articles,’ he dropped by the living room for a moment and gave his greetings, before going off for his regular work to prune the garden. Sazanami-san works at his own pace.”
“At that time, the storage was still…”
“It was still open. Ah, but not to the outside. Our wall’s too tall to climb over, and we have a contract with a security company, so even if you get over, a buzzer will sound. Unless you ring the bell at the gate, or use a key, it’s definitely impossible to enter the premise. So that’s why we let our guard down and left the storage open…”
“When was the storage locked up?”
“Um, after a document was signed with Ushijima-san in the living room. After that, my brother, Ushijima-san and I went over to the storage, we surrendered the vase to her… I’ve said it a few times now, but it was a different vase than the one that was swapped out… and with it in her hands, Ushijima-san went home. At that time we were watching all the way, and our business ended in three minutes, so it would be impossible to switch it out there.
By the way, after Ushijima-san saw the storehouse, Wakamatsu-san was with us in the living room the whole time, so any further swaps would be impossible.”
In his head, Chizuru put all the information he’d gained in order.
There, he could see a single path.
“… Meaning before Ushijima-san came, Wakamatsu-san could have swapped it. Once Ushijima-san was here, she could swap it in the ten minutes she looked around the storehouse. And Sazanami-san who came later could have swapped it. It’s those three choices.”
“Then I’ll ask you six questions.”
Chizuru opened his right hand, and tapped the index finger of his left against it. He put tension onto Yuzuki’s girly face.
“One. When Ushijima-san entered the storage, what sort of bag did she have? Meaning, would she be able to conceal a vase?”
“Yes. From the start, she had come to borrow a different vase, so she had a duralumin case for transport purposes. I was there at the end when she got the vase she was looking for, but I didn’t look inside her suitcase.”
“I see. Then two. The vases inside the storage, are they all locked up individually?”
“No, they’re out in the open. Otherwise, no one would have been able to swap them out.”
“Quite right. Then three. Did Ushijima-san know Kondou-san came over every month to maintain the artwork?”
“? … Yes. To an extent that when she first called, she even asked permission from Kondou-san who was on the site. The fact that ‘A specialist comes to look after the pottery at regular intervals,’ is something Ushijima-san should know.”
“Then question number four. When are your parents scheduled to return from overseas?”
“Uuh…? U-um… for now, they won’t be returning at all in the next year, I heard. Their official assignment will take another three years.”
“Question five. Who knew that fact?”
“Of course me and my brother. Also Wakamatsu-san and Sazanami-san. Kondou-san knew as well.”
“… OK. Then final question. It’s a terrible question, but with this I’ll know everything, so please forgive me. To put it bluntly, do you think there’s any possibility your brother Tsukioka Kansuke-san is the culprit?”
Yuzuki’s feminine eyebrows drew closer in worry.
“… Hmm, I really don’t think so Nii-cha… My brother doesn’t have a motive. He’s not troubled for money, and he hasn’t fought with my parents at all lately.”
“I see, thank you. I know the culprit.”
“Ah, is that so. Hooray, as expected of Chizuru-senpa… eh?”
Yuzuki’s wide eyes opened even wider as he looked at Chizuru’s face in shock.
“Eh? Eh? Y-you know the culprit… is that true?”
“Yeah. I told you I’d solve it in an instant, didn’t I? I didn’t even have to see the scene.”
“No, but I mean… from just talking to me? Then who is the culprit?”
“That would be…”
At that moment, the living room door opened, and a single individual came in.
A face chizuru hadn’t seen before. Faint white hair, and round scholarly glasses, an old man of stout build. Regardless of the day’s heat, he wore a deep green sweater. From his age, he was likely the conservator Kondou.
“Oh, Yusuki. Is that person your friend?”
In a gentle voice that seemed overly good natured, the elder asked.
“Yes. Chizuru-senpai, this person is Kondou-san… Kondou-san, thank you for your work. Are you done with the storehouse?”
“Just finished up now. So I was looking around for Kansuke-san, but do you know where he is?”
“Yeah, he’s talking with the person from the insurance company in the receptions room. Do you need something?”
“Well the key to the storage, you see. It’s wide open right now. We’ve got to lock it tight to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again. But Kansuke-san left with the key…”
“Ah, nii-chan can be an airhead when it comes to these sorts of things… then should I go get him?”
“Yeah. Well, it’s just getting the key, so I doubt it will be any trouble to that insurance company person.”
So Yuzuki followed Kondou, and Chizuru left the room as well. Yuzuki knocked at the receptions room beside the living room. But there was no response.
“I’m coming in, nii-chan… huh?”
At the room’s sofa set, the form of Tsukioka KKansuka and Kuragano of the insurance company were nowhere to be found.
“Where could they have gone.”
As if to overlap with Yuzuki’s mutter.
A scream resounded out. The three looked into one another’s faces.
“T-that scream was…?”
Old Kondou shrunk his body in fear, looking around nervously.
“I don’t know,” worried Yuzuki, man of the house, “That sounded like a man’s voice, but… could it be nii-chan!? Hey, Chizuru-senpai, what do we do?”
Yuzuki impatiently pulled at the sleeve of Chizuru’s hoodie. Chizuru was also perturbed by the sudden occurrence.
“The voice echoed… couldn’t it have come from the storage?”
Yuzuki started pulling the sleeve more forcefully.
As they raced ahead, there were some signs the old man Kondou was frantically trying to keep up. To be honest, Chizuru didn’t want to burst into a sprint, but there was a time and place for that.
Following Yuzuki, he raced down the path that ran a straight line from the entranceway. To where Chizuru had just used a restroom, they took a left and ran some more. Behind, they could hear the sound of a number of doors opening. Everyone had noticed the noise. At the end of their sprint was a sliding door that led outside. Opening it, Chizuru found the passage he’d seen before that connected to the storage. A distance of around thirty meters was quickly closed by swift feet.
The closed door of the storage was wide open. It wasn’t locked.
A pool of blood spread along the ground. The shattered fragments of a vase.
In its center, that collapsed small body belonged to Sazanami the gardener.
Yuzuki cried out and rushed over. Chizuru also kneeled by Sazanami’s side and took his pulse.
“He has a pulse… looks like he hit his head. We have to call an ambulance. Do you have a cellphone on you?”
Yuzuki was flustered to a pitiable extent, tears building up in his eyes. His shaking hands produced a smart phone from his pocket and operated it. But from his panic, he ended up dropping it in the blood.
“Don’t worry. I’ll do it.”
Lifting up Yuzuki’s phone from the blood, Chizuru opened the emergency dialer, and inputted 119.
“… Yes, it’s an emergency. The location is Yumoto City…”
With a backward glance at the teary Yuzuki watching over him, Chizuru followed the emergency personnel’s orders to give Sazanami first aid to the greatest extent possible.
By the time Chizuru urged them to send someone at once and ended the call, Kondou, Wakamatsu and Kansuke rushed in from the connecting passage.
“Whose scream was that?”
“Yuzuki! Chizuru-kun! What is going on!?”
Three mouths asked. Chizuru spoke faster than usual… than his usual… “Sazanami-san the gardener is bleeding from the head, and has collapsed. I’ve taken emergency measures by the responder’s instructions, so we should just have two people watch over him until they come. Also, Wakamatsu-san. in case someone needs to vomit, do you have a plastic bag or something?”
When the dazed housekeeper’s name was called, she suddenly stiffened her body, neglecting to give a reply as she ran off.
“Um… what’s this ruckus?”
Passing Wakamatsu by, Ushijima the curator walked down the passage to the storehouse. This time, Kansuke explained the situation.
“… That can’t be! In this storehouse?”
“Aah!” Kondou-san cried as he peered in. “A pot has been broken!? As I recall, that one was made in nineteen fifty five by the great…”
“Eeh? No way!”
“Kondou-san, Ushijima-san!” Yuzuki turned severe, “Right now, rather than some pot, isn’t Sazanami’san’s condition more drastic!? We have to look over him.”
“… Yuzuki, Chizuru-kun.”
Kansuke gazed at the two.
“You’re both covered in blood. Go change.”
Yuzuki and Chizuru looked at once another. As they kneeled to treat the gardener and make a call, they had gotten his blood all over them.
“Now leave this place to us.”
Pushing their backs, Kansuke sent them towards the bath. The bath was right at the end of the passage, you could get there by walking along the veranda. Without returning to the inside of the main building, by following the deck to the left side of the sliding door, they certainly did find themselves at the bath. Standing in front of the bathroom, Chizuru looked back in the direction of the storehouse. But it wasn’t visible from where they stood.
They entered the building through the glass door.
Once they were alone in the dressing room, Yuzuki lowered his head to Chizuru.
“Thank you for back there. Since I was so flustered you had to follow through for me.”
Chizuru waved his hand as if it were nothing.
“Anyone would be surprised, normally. For me, well, it’s my second time.”
“Ah, that’s right. Even so, that was scary. My heart is still racing.”
To shake off his fright, Yuzuki discarded his bloodstained shirt. His pale chest exposed, Chizuru was troubled over where to look as he took of his own bloody hoody. Why are you so flustered? Yuzuki is a boy, Yuzuki is a boy, he reminded himself.
… It was a good thing Ageha wasn’t there. In various ways.
That thought in his heart, Chizuru threw off his hoodie.