“How’s the victim’s condition?”
At Inspector Ibusuki’s enquiry, Assistant Inspector Atami hastily flipped through his notebook.
“Still unconscious. He suffered terrible laceration on his head.”
“Right… oy, Atami!”
“Your feet! You’re stepping on pottery fragments.”
“Uwah! You’re right, I’m sorry.”
Inspector Ibusuki’s sculpture-like face grimaced, “Good grief, just how many times do you plan on doing this…” she leaked a small voice. From there, she turned a circle to look around the storage.
Having received a report of an incident resulting in injury, the two had come as part of the investigations team. Upon stepping onto the scene, the first things to confuse them were the pottery fragments scattered around, and looking around the storehouse as a whole, the large loads of ancient artworks to fill the space took them by surprise. According to the house’s resident who guided them there- Tsukioka Kansuke- the owner of the house, his parents, worked with old pieces of art.
The forensics member with her hair in braids… Shirahama Yayoi called over to Ibusuki.
“Could I gather up these pottery fragments already? We’ve already finished photographing the area.”
Ibusuki gave a light nod.
“Yes, your right. That will make it much easier for us to move. I’ll leave it to you.”
“Also, besides that, we still have to dust for prints, so… you’ll have to wait about another twenty minutes for the complete investigation of this storehouse.”
“Understood. In that timeframe, we’ll hear out the suspects… Oy, quit spacing out, Atami. We’re going.”
Driven away with a low voice, Atami went forth almost as if tumbling over. Able to gallantly pull off a suit and trousers, Ibusuki’s almond eyes looked as if they could intimidate anyone with a glance. While a young woman, if mishandled, she could be several times scarier than any middle-aged male boss around. No, she was already plenty scary, and Atami spat out a sigh in his heart.
The detectives left the forensics team behind and exited the storage. Passing across the outdoor passage on the way back inside, Ibusuki and Atami were stopped in their tracks by a single voice.
“… You’re not going to investigate that passageway?”
They stiffened. Atami felt a bad premonition at that familiar voice as he turned to see a familiar face.
Long bangs to lightly cover his right eye, and the drowsy double-eyelid that peeked out from beneath. That eye that watched the two detectives belonged to Kirishima Chizuru.
Atami let out a befuddled cry. And with unsteady steps back, he collided into Ibusuki. Ibusuki irritatedly moved him to one side, leaning his body against one of the roof support pillars on the walkway’s edge before wandering over to Chizuru. She was the one of higher stature, so it ended up as her looking down over him.
With an over-sized hoodie slovenly leapt open in the front, he sent the female detective a faint smile. Ibusuki looked at him, a wrinkle gracing her brow.
“… What are you doing, Kirishima Chizuru?”
“What I’m… at what level do you want to ask that question? If it’s at an elementary school level, I’d answer ‘I’m breathing’.”
Angered at his answer to belittle his opponent, she drew closer with momentum just short of grasping him.
“You know that’s not the answer I want! Why are you at the house that because a scene of a crime!?”
“Is it so strange for an upperclassman to be at the house of his junior?”
Chizuru pointed his finger a bit to the side.
There was a person there. From their small stature, they had been perfectly concealed in Chisuru’s shadow.
“I came here at the invitation of this house’s resident, Tsukioka Yuzuki, I did.”
“… He did.”
To signal the affirmative, Yuzuki repeated after him.
Mildly flustered, Ibusuki looked over Yuzuki from head to toe. A white hoodie that matched Chizuru’s and baggy jeans, Yusuki looked ticklish under Ibusuki’s gaze.
“Looks like you’re with a different one than you were with last time.”
“Are you talking about Ageha? She should be in cram school right around now.”
“I see… hmm, despite your appearance, looks like you’re lacking in integrity.”
Ibusuki waved her chin towards Yuzuki. Yuzuki gave a few confused blinks. The ends of his eyelashes- so long they might make sound in the motion- quivered. It seems he was afraid of the detective.
“So this kid is your girlfriend. Hmph, good grief, you high schoolers these days.”
“It seems you are under a large misunderstanding, Chizuru lightly poked Yuzuki’s upper arm, “This is a boy.”
Ibusuki locked eyes with Atami. From there, she looked over Yuzuki once more with tremendous force.
“… That’s not a very funny joke.”
“Chizuru-kun, even if you’re trying to play it off, I don’t think that was enough of an excuse.”
On Ibusuki and Atami’s words, Yuzuki spoke apologetically.
“… No, I’m a boy,” he said.
The two detectives looked at one another again.
“I can’t believe that…”
Ibusuki looked Yuzuki over again. “It’s true,” Yuzuki tried to emphazise.
“More importantly, Officer Ibusuki,” Chizuru pointed at the passage, “You sure you don’t have to investigate that?”
“Perhaps there’s an important lead lying around. On this passageway.”
Ibusuki clicked her tongue.
“You don’t have any qualifications to stick your moth into our investigation. Even if you’re the the chief of our criminal affairs department’s son… rather, why are the two of you here? I recall Tsukioka saying he’d gather all relevant personnel in the living room.”
“Oh, we slipped out of that,” Chizuru said calmly, “because I’m sure we’ll be useful.”
“I see, that’s quite something.”
Ibusuki’s eyebrows twitched, “But how unfortunate. There’s nothing for you to assist in… now! Let’s all go to the living room.”
She walked towards the door in indignation, speaking with her back to the three.
“… It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re our chief’s son or not. Based on how things go, I’ll take you into police custody if I have to.”
“I’m well aware.”
Ibusuki irritably entered the building alone, leaving with loud footsteps.
“… Chizuru-kun,” Atami tiredly scratched his hair, “Please don’t get Ibusuki-san too angry. It’ll shift over to me.”
“Do the two of you know each other?”
To Yuzuki’s question, Chizuru nodded, ‘Ja’.
“From that previous incident… more importantly, Officer Atami. Let’s get back quickly.”
“Ah! That’s right. You have a point! Anyways, Chizuru-kun, please don’t do anything unnecessary.”
“I won’t. And there’s no point in doing it anyways. I already know the culprit.”
While he was on the verge of returning inside, Atami slipped and fell.
“What!? That’s fast, Chizuru-kun! Isn’t that way too fast!?”
Yuzuki was also making a bewildered face, nodding ‘oh I see,’ in assent.
“You did say you knew the culprit behind the swapping of the vase.”
Unable to grasp the situation, Atami’s eyes were spinning.
Taking a sidelong glance at him, Chizuru spoke in a tone full of implications.
“… But even if I say I know the culprit, I don’t have anything decisive yet. Some absolute evidence that could silence their excuses. So there’s something I want you to cooperate with me on, Officer Atami.”
“W-what is it? Am I supposed to be your gofer?”
“Does that really sound so bad? Whatever the case, until you catch another nine culprits, you’ll be Ibusuki-san’s gofer anyways.”
“Did you really have to go there…”
“Are you listening, Officer Atami? What I want you to do is really simple. It’s…”
After hearing the gist of the theft incident from Tsukioka Kansuke in the receptions room, Officer Ibusuki entered the living room. There, those involved with the case were already assembled.
Apart from Officer Atami, Kirishima Chizuru and Tsukioka Yuzuki who had reached beforehand, the remaining four were members she was seeing for the first time.
From Kansuke’s descriptions of their ages, she had a general idea of who was who.
The apron-wearing woman in her forties was the housekeeper Wakamatsu Megumi.
The older man in the deep-green sweater was the conservator Kondou Bunji.
The young woman with the round glasses and fluffy hair was the curator of the Yumoto Museum of Modern Art, Ushijima Miho.
And the middle-aged man with silver-rimmed glasses was likely the insurance investigator Kuragano Ryou.
“I’ve kept you waiting.”
As Ibusuki offered a light apology, the first to call over was Kondou. He was huddled to make his small, aged body even smaller, anxiously tampering with the sleeves of hos clothing.
“How’s Sazanami-san’s condition?”
“I can’t say anything about that point,” said Ibusuki in a frank tone, “But it seems he’s in quite a dangerous condition… for now, we must do whatever we’re capable of. Meaning whatever we can do to lead this case to its resolution.”
With those words, Ibusuki linked her hands over the table.
“First let’s put in order the events of this incident. It all started with the swapping of a vase in this house. The situation is one where I can only think the culprit is among those gathered here.”
“I’d ask you keep the records a bit more precise,” Kuragano refuted. “I only moved once the vase had already been taken from the storehouse. The only reason I came here today was from my position as a single investigator. So shouldn’t I be omitted from that?”
His overbearing tone irritated Ibusuki.
“Well anyways, just hear me out. So the culprit is among us… let’s just proceed the story under that assumption. This time’s attack of the gardener Sazanami Tarou was clearly related to the swapping of the vase. There are two reasons I can say this… the broken vase strewn across the storehouse floor. And on the warehouse desk, the other vase placed away from where it would usually be on display…”
“What do you mean by that?”
Ushijima raised her hand, and gave a reserved question.
Ibusuki didn’t answer is, instead going on, “… After the victim was found, hos many among you approached the body?”
“Me and Yuzuki approached it,” Chizuru replied without looking at Ibusuki. “We discovered the body, and called for an ambulance.”
“… Anyone else?”
Ibusuki forcefully took her eyes off of Bhisuru as she asked.
Kansuke raised his hand, “After Chizuru and Yuzuki left the storage, I looked after Sazanami-san. And after Wakamatsu-san returned with a plastic bag and some wet towels, and we watched over him together.”
Wakamatsu nodded the affirmative.
“I see. Then it’s just you four… no, what I wanted to ask was whether Kondou-san or Ushijima-san approached the crime scene.”
“W-what’s with that!?”
His face losing its color, Kondou stood, “You mean to say either me or Ushijima-san is the culprit!?”
Ushijima’s eyebrows wilted in sorrow.
“Calm down, that’s not what I meant.” Ibusuki raised both her hands to sooth them.
“What’s important is whether our two experts were able to get a good look at the ceramic fragments scattered around the scene… is what I wanted to know.”
“I don’t get it,” Kuragano cut himself in, “The point of your question. Just what are you trying to suggest?”
“To speak from conclusions, either the broken vase at the scene, or the one moved from its place is thought to be fake… meaning another switching of pieces was about to take place.”
Everyone in the living room raised a stir. To be more precise, Chizuru alone kept nodding saying, yeah, yeah, I know.
“That’s right, Ushijima-san. In this house, two weeks ago, an expensive vase was switched out for a cheap imposter by somebody’s hand.”
“Two weeks ago? You mean when I came by!? I’m not the culprit.”
“Calm down for now… anyways, another swapping of vases was to take place today. That’s how it is. Meaning…”
“Meaning what you want to say,”Kuragano swiped up her words, “Is that the criminal made a second appearance, and snuck into the storehouse. And they tried to replace one of the vases. But the gardener Sazanami noticed them, so the bandit silenced his mouth… is that what this is?”
“That’s how it is. Probably… so Kondou-san and Ushijima-san, with your positions as conservator and curator, I thought you would be knowledgeable on vases, to an extent. If either of you had looked upon the scene, I thought you’d be able to say which one was real.”
The experienced appraiser Kondou vexingly scratched his light white hair.
“No, I did take a glimpse at the scene, but I only saw the broken vase… it was dark and I’m nearsighted, and more than anything, it was broken. It would be difficult to call it a vase at all. Unless I looked at it as a whole, I don’t think I’d be able to tell it apart.”
Ushijima-san nodded agreement at Kondou’s words.
“… I see. Then I’ll have the forensics team bring the vase and fragments in, so let’s have you see which one is real.”
Sending Atami running, she had him bring Shirahama the forensics investigaror back with him.
“I’m sorry, Shirahama-san. When you still have things to investigate.”
“Oh, don’t mind it, I had just finished up. I was almost about to make my way here anyways.”
Shirahama smiled, “… So why did you want me to bring the vase?”
“Ah!” Kondou looked at the vase in Shirahama’s hands and cried out. “T-that vase! Put it on the table a moment and let me get a better look.”
Kondou and Ushijima leaned in towards the table, staring intently at the vase.
“… It’s real.”
“That it is.”
The ttwo experts nodded amongst themselves. Ibusuki shook her chin towards Shirahama, haaving her place the plastic bag of fragments on the table.
“… This is…”
After staring it a while, Kondou’s drive was gone. Lockign eyes with Ushijima, “… This is a sham.”
“… Okay, that’s one matter resolved.”
Ibusuki put her hands together.
“The broken one is a counterfeit, and the real one was safe…”
“This vase doesn’t have much blood on it.”
Yumoto looked at the vase fragments in wonder.
“If he was hit by this, I mean.”
“No, this wasn’t what hit him.”
Atami added in a remark.
“The victim Sazanami-san’s head was smacked hard against a corner of the display case. There was a bloodstain found on it. I’m sure he got into a tussle with the culprit. The small bits of blood on the vase must have come after he collapsed and his blood was flowing.”
“… Anyways!” Ibusuki declared. “As this house has a contract with a security company, entry from the outside wouldn’t be permitted. So the culprit is definitely in this room.”
“… T-that can’t be…”
Ushijima looked as if she would cry.
“According to Tsukioka Kansuke, when the incident took place and he heard a scream, leaving a few out a majority of you were moving independently… so we must make clear everyone’s movements at the time of the crime. Please cooperate with police questioning. First, well let’s see. I heard a bit from you already, so let’s start with Tsukioka Kansuke.”
“Oy, we’re going Atami!”
Right before he left the room, Atami locked eyes with Chizuru. Chizuru made an undaunted smile.
What he had requested in the passageway.
… What I want from you… during questioning, I want you to make it so I can hear the contents as well.
To Chizuru’s words, Atami offered a sudden rebuttal.
… Don’t be stupid! There’s no way I could let information leak so easily.
… But if I hear the testimony of the suspects, I can definitely find my evidence. I mean, I already know the culprit.
Atami insisted, then tell me who it is already, but Chizuru declined saying couldn’t quite do that yet.
Since it had come to that, there was only one thing Atami could do. Earnestly hear Chizuru out. In that last incident, he had gained assurance of his deduction prowess.
Entering the receptions room, Ibusuki and Atami sat across from Tsukioka Kansuke.
Once the questioning began, Atami operated his cellphone in his pocket, and made a call to Chizuru.