Do you want to go to my workplace to confirm my alibi… seeing Souma Poli as he said those words, Ibusuki narrowed her eyes.
As Atami looked on in suspense, eventually, “By all means,” she said.
“Then let’s get right to it…”
As Souma stood, Ibusuki stopped him.
“But before that, I have three questions.”
Souma scowled in annoyance, but without paying that any mind, Ibusuki went on.
First, how old are you?“
“Eh? Me… I’m twenty-four.”
Regaining a bit of her momentum, Ibusuki made a smile.
Come to think of it, the victim Mitsui Rin was also twenty-four. Atami recalled the indications the victim may have been stalking a boy (name unknown) who’d been her classmate in her high school days.
“On to number two. Can you tell me which high school you graduated from?”
Souma made a reluctant face, but some part of his expression even suggested he had seen it coming. Atami looked at the notepad in his hands, confirming that Mitsui had gone to South Yumoto High.
“I… for argument’s sake, I graduated Shimoda Central.”
“What do you mean by argument’s sake?”
“Um, well, it was part-time schooling… a so-called night school.”
Atami and Ibusuki exchanged a look. If that was true, then the man Mitsui Rin was following around (the one with the motive) wasn’t Souma Poli.
“Do you have any documentation here to prove your graduation?”
“Eh? Oh… I do.”
Souma approached the CD rack he’d been using in place of a bookshelf, pulling out a leather-bound document from the rickety fixture.
“This is my diploma.”
What he showed the two detectives was undoubtedly a diploma from Shimoda Central High School. It had the splendid stamp of the principal. His name written neatly in brush as, ‘Souma Poli’.
… Meaning Souma and Mitsui went to different schools. They had clearly confirmed it.
“… Then my third question,” With a face of unrest, Ibusuki stacked on her next question. “Are you engaged?”
He gave a clear and quick answer.
He put both his hands on the table. While there were a few rings jingling on his fingers, Ibusuki noted there was nothing on his left hand’s ring finger.
After that, under Souma’s guidance, Atami and Ibusuki visited the host club… a shop called SPROUT… he worked at.
Around fifteen minutes on foot from Souma’s residence, at two in the afternoon, it wasn’t open for business yet, but Souma led them into the back of the shop regardless.
While Atami had never set foot in such a place before, it didn’t give him a very novel feeling. ‘The lobby’s a bit like a karaoke box’s’ was the extent of the impression he got, and while the fact it wasn’t open yet may have been a large factor, it wasn’t as showy as he had anticipated. Of course, in a suburban city like Ibushi, not limited to host clubs, all the stores had a tendency to be third rate.
Whatever the case, in the depths of that desolate store… the two led to the staff room confronted the club manager. Sprawled on the sofa, puffing a cigarette, hearing Souma jokingly call, “Two police officers coming your way,” he hurriedly corrected his posture.
A thick beard, and the top of his head smeared in pomade, “We’re not doing anything illegal,” the manager answered a question that wasn’t even asked. Ibusuki silenced him, giving a simple explanation that Souma Poli was a suspect, and that she wanted to inquire about his alibi last night.
“Oh, so that’s how it is. Umm, I’m the owner of this club Futakawa Gou.”
“Pleasure… now then, I’d like to ask about Souma-san’s actions between nine and nine thirty last night.”
“Yeah, even if you ask me that… Yesterday, Poli-chan was on call all the way from eight to two in the morning. If you’re asking about an alibi, isn’t it perfect?”
“Is that certain?” Ibusuki drove in the point. “He never once left his seat?”
“No, I can’t say never. He at least took a bathroom break or two.”
“Yeah, two or three times,” said Souma. “We weren’t crowded yesterday, but I was with women for most of the time.”
“Ah, right, right. Hey, officer. Poli-chan, you see, he’s the most popular host in this club. So he’s always, always in great demand from the customers. I really don’t think he had the time to slip out.”
“… Is that so. Then it’s true he never left this store last night?”
“It’s true, it’s true. No doubt about it. See, we’re a host club. So to know who’s popular and whatnot, whenever someone’s specially requested for, we keep a proper record.”
Saying that, Futakawa started looking through a black leather-bound volume on his desk.
“See, Poli-chan was requested twice yesterday. Well, it was a holiday and we didn’t have too many customers, but even that’s a good effort.”
The two officers peered in, and sure enough, there were two time periods listed.
‘20:10 ~ 21:20’
’22:45 ~ 1:45’
The supposed suspect was spotted in Yumoto Park around ten. And it would be an hour there by car. He clearly wouldn’t have made it in time.
Futakawa spoke strongly to Ibusuki before him.
“And I went out on the floor from time to time. When I did, the one sitting at the table was undoubtedly Poli-chan. Even if Poli-chan…”
“Futakawa-san!! Isn’t that enough?”
Souma raised his voice. Manager Futakawa seemed somewhat taken aback, “Alright,” he lost the battle.
“So officer. Now you know my alibi is perfect. Now that you know that, could you let me go already?”
On the drive back to the precinct, an awkward silence drifted between Atami and Ibusuki.
“What could this mean…”
“What could what?”
Ibusuki’s voice harbored rage.
“His alibi’s perfect, and he graduated from a different school…. Could Souma Poli really be innocent? As he said, Mitsui-san was secretly pursuing a lead on a corrupt politician and was silenced for it…”
“Are you an idiot?”
Ibusuki said bluntly.
“Did you really believe that babble? And you didn’t notice Souma’s unnatural actions?”
“When Souma showed us his high school diploma… from that disorderly CD Rack, he pulled it out in one go. And his reaction right before… he was anticipating it. A question about his high school graduation, he knew the police would throw it at him.”
Sure enough, when he was asked the question, reluctant as he seemed, by no means did it look like he found it unexpected. Atami had noticed as well.
“I really doubt he forged the diploma, though I have no doubt something’s been contrived… and while it might run contrary, there’s a possibility the one the victim was following around wasn’t Souma. That would just mean Souma held a different motive towards the victim. In that case, there are still ways to go about it.”
“But his alibi…”
“That’s the problem,” Ibusuki frowned. From Ibushi to Yumoto Park, it’s an hour one way. Two hours around… Looking at the bloodstains and the dying message, it’s unthinkable the victim was stabbed anywhere else… in that case, is he innocent after all?“
“That’s the only way I can see it.”
“But… dammit. Something about his attitude gets to me. If it’s come to that, I’ve no choice but to pull that card.”
When the two arrived at the precinct, it was close to four. And the witness Ibusuki had called out during the drive was waiting in the interrogation room.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Aniwa-san.”
The witness was the one who had seen the supposed culprit flee from Yumoto Park the previous night at ten, a salaryman called Aniwa.
“Don’t mind it. So, um, was there anything strange about what I said?”
Pushing a handkerchief around the front of his skull where the hair was growing thin, Aniwa asked.
“When you saw the suspicious man last night… ” Without taking a seat, Ibusuki put her hands on the table in front of Aniwa, “was it really ten ‘o clock?”
“Yes, there shouldn’t be more than five minutes of discrepancy. I left work at the same time as I always do, and walked from Yumoto station the same way I always do.”
“Then was the man you saw…”
Ibusuki pulled her trump card.
“The man in this photo?”
As she said that, she showed him a picture of Souma Poli.
Of course, she hadn’t gotten Souma’s permission. It was a bare-line investigation close to illegal.
If Aniwa said no here, Ibusuki would completely discard her ‘Souma as the culprit’ theory. But the witness’ reply was immediate.
With enough force he might rise from his chair, Aniwa cried out.
“It’s undoubtedly that man! The suspicious guy who ran from the park!”
Ibusuki and Atami locked eyes.
With this, it was almost certain Souma was the culprit. But because of that, an unreasonably large mystery had come out. The mystery of the same man appearing simultaneously at two distant points.
“… And that’s how it is.”
Having finished his story, Atami reached a hand for the hot coffee he’d ordered.
The time was close to five fifteen.
“We’re almost certain it’s Souma, but… to our regret, his alibi’s too tight.
If the individual witnessed at ten was Souma, then even if he got there in twenty minutes and got back in fifteen, it wouldn’t be enough. I won’t say it’s impossible if he floored it and drove like a raging maniac, but in his occupation where he wouldn’t know when he’d be personally called for, he normally wouldn’t be able to leave the shop for even a minute. On top of the physical wall, there’s also an impossibility of mentality.”
“I’ve thought up a hypothesis.”
Noboribetsu pushed up the bridge of his glasses as he said that. Atami leaned forward.
“Yes. In short, it was a disguise. The suspicious individual sighted at ten was pretending to be Souma Poli.”
Atami raised a voice of disappointment.
“This isn’t a manga, and there’s no way someone could dress themselves up identical to another.”
“But the time was night, and it was dark. It wouldn’t have to be perfect. The witness Aniwa-san saw a man with a similar atmosphere in the picture and thought, ‘perhaps that is him’.”
“That’s quite a stretch. Then who are you saying the culprit is?”
“Who knows? I can’t say that much.”
Noboribetsu said something irresponsible. And after a while of silence, suddenly,
“Did you identify that classmate of hers?” he asked.
“Oh, that?” Atami made a dubious expression, “Our men are at work, but to be honest, we’re not really getting anywhere. In the first place, besides Souma Poli, the victim’s social circle doesn’t contain the slightest shadow of a man. That’s why the investigations team is beginning to doubt the credibility of that classmate story in itself.”
“I see,” Ageha nodded, “If the only male candidate Souma-san went to a different high school, then there’s no helping it.”
“That’s how it is. So? Chizuru-kun, do you have anything?”
“… Hm? Hmm… if you mean about the dying message…”
“Hah,” Noboribetsu scoffed. “You’re still thinking over something like that? You shouldn’t take it so seriously. It may have been a production of the culprit.”
“If the culprit forged it, they’d leave a message identifying a specific someone. But they didn’t. ‘Politci’ was written, but as you know, the victim didn’t have any ties to any politician. If they wanted to put the crime on Souma Poli’s shoulders, they’d just honestly write his name. There was no need to add on the additional tci.”
“… Then what exactly do you think it indicates?”
Ignoring Noboribetsu’s question, Chizuru looked at Atami,
“I want to see a picture of the crime scene.”
“Not just the dying message, I want to see a picture of the body, Atami-san.”
“No, no… that’s a bit.”
“Then could you at least tell me the positioning of the victim’s hand? The hand she used to write the message.”
“… You couldn’t mean…”
Noboribetsu opened his eyes wide.
“You want to say this message had a continuation?”
“Exactly. Rather, there was one. Without a doubt.”
“Ah… come to think of it, the victim’s fingertip was around the center of the ‘i’ in the ‘tci’.”
Atami thought over it as he spoke.
“But there’s no guarantee she was trying to write something more…”
“But there’s a possibility she was.”
Chizuru spoke slowly.
Ageha looked into his eyes.
“Hey, Chizuru… do you know the culprit?”
Everyone was silent.
Chizuru sucked some melon soda through his straw. Once it was empty and the ice tapped against the glass, “Eeeeh!?” everyone cried out as if the magic spell was undone.
“Really? Chizuru! No, are you serious?”
“How absurd, you mean to say you solved it before me?”
“Chizuru-kun! Just who could it be…?”
The pressured detective made a troubled face.
“Calm down, calm down, calm down. You’re in a store.”
“It’s a lie, it’s impossible,” Noboribetsu concluded. “Something like that is… I can’t believe it. Even I don’t yet have the data to pin down the culprit’s name!”
“Neither do I.”
On Chizuru’s words, Atami collapsed.
“Hah? Chizuru-kun. Didn’t you just say you knew the culprit…”
“… I do. But even if I know who and where he is, that’s a bit different from knowing his name.”
“Don’t put on airs. Let’s hear out your theory.”
Noboribetsu urged him on.
“Well, if you don’t know the culprit’s name, I doubt it will be a tale of much value…”
“Perish the thought. At the very least, with this, you can definitely apprehend the culprit. It’s something both you and Atami-san could understand well. This is actually a standard set from times immemorial.”
On Chizuru’s provocative tone, Noboribetsu made a displeased voice.
But Chizuru continued on at his own pace.
“It doesn’t really matter what the culprit’s name is. I mean, the victim Mitsui Rin-san didn’t know who he was either.”