Waking up in his bed, Kirishima Chizuru looked at the radio clock next to his pillow. It was right around midday.
The wind raised a ferocious roar as it rattled the glass of the windows.
He rolled over under the covers. His hand reached for the half-read book on his bedside. It was a translated novel of a genre called nouveau roman. He had read around half the previous night, before drowsiness assaulted and suspended him. Recalling the story up to now, he opened to the page he’d dogeared.
“Are you awake?”
Opening the door without any presence, Chizuru’s guardian stood in the door. She wore casual clothes consisting of a knit top that exposed her shoulders and jeans, with one of her hands still on the doorknob. From the backlight of the hall, she had a somewhat sublime impression to her. As Chizuru raised the top half of his body, she treaded into the room. As she did, her chestnut hair that hung to the tips of her shoulders, and her frameless glasses that almost looked as if she wasn’t wearing them came into clearer focus.
“Um… good morning.”
For now, he gave his greetings, but she… Kirishima Hibari glared intently at him as she cynically said, “It’s not morning anymore, but good morning.”
“What’s wrong, Hibari-san? Are you in a bad mood?”
“When I have a sloth who I have to go wake up at midday living under the same roof, of course it would put me in a bad mood.”
“Eh… I was just sleeping, and I wasn’t causing you any trouble, was I?”
“It’s the sleep part that’s the problem!”
She flew into a rage, climbing onto Chizuru’s bed, and forcefully pulled open the curtains on the other side. The sunlight streamed in.
“Aaaah… my eyes. My eyes.”
“Are you a vampire? Or a certain colonel?”
“No I mean, if you suddenly open it up, it’s going to be bright…”
Chizuru swept his bangs to cover his eye, but seeing that, Hibari only seemed increasingly fed up.
“Hiding only your right eye, you’re getting to look like a young fighting game champion. Why not get it cut?”
“As always, you say some difficult things. Just like my friends at school… but I don’t need a haircut. Seems like a pain.”
“In the first place, Hibari-san. We’re in the middle of golden week. It’s May fourth. The green…”
Cutting off Chizuru’s grand speech, Hibari raised a cry as if it were the end of the world.
“GW…? What’s that. What’s that… My editor told me my deadline’s May Seventh… Huh, could it be I don’t have any vacation? I don’t?”
“Oh, deadlines… But you always go past your deadlines, don’t you?”
“Don’t say it! Just the other day, because I’ve been breaking them so often, Pandora Books cut all ties with me…”
“What a hard world we live in. By the way, what’s your new work?”
“It’s a school work. One day, the protagonist is suddenly informed of his destiny as a descendent of the demon lord, and a beautiful girl lesser demon is assigned to train him up. So that lesser demon starts living together with him. She transfers over to the MC’s school, and stands up against the well-to-do student council president and the tsundere head of the discipline committee, as the main character solves one case after the next.”
“Did the main character’s parents acknowledge this beautiful girl lesser demon’s support?”
“They’re away overseas the parents I mean. He lived together with his carefree little sister.”
“Hibari-san, didn’t you write something quite similar last time?”
“T-there’s no helping it! Taking my target audience of male middle-to-high school students into consideration, no matter how I go about it, it turns out like this! Even in mystery novels, someone has to die every time, so it’s pretty much the same, isn’t it!”
As Chizuru fazed out, his phone suddenly rang.
That phone resting on the study desk he barely ever used vibraded over his piled stack of books.
“Hibari-san, get it.”
“Walk there yourself.”
With a grumble Hibari tossed the smart phone over to Chizuru. Chizuru slowly caught it and looked at the screen. The display showed it was from Officer Atami of the prefectural police.
Chizuru’s mouth spread into a smile.
To this point, Chizuru had resolved cases, and sold Atami the truth twice… he hadn’t told his aunt Hibari about it yet. She didn’t know the person calling him, and exercising some tact, she left the room.
And as Chizuru calmly held the phone against his ear, Atami’s voice came through.
Chizuru was taken aback by his tone. That voice the crossed the phone line was one at hits wit’s ends.
‘Hello!? Is this Chizuru? I’m begging you! Get over here quickly.’
“Atami-san…?” Chizuru ended up straightening his back, “What’s wrong? Is it a case?”
‘That’s right, a kidnapping. My little cousin was kidnapped, but… anyways, I want you to get over here. If you don’t hurry, she’ll be killed!’
Chizuru leapt from the house without eating breakfast. Hibari observed him going at 1.5 times his normal speed, perceiving he had some urgent business to attend to. Even at 1.5, he was still slower than a standard human, so Hibari swiftly pushed him out the door. The wind that had been blowing against the house so terribly had died down.
Atami urged Chizuru to go to the nearest station from his house… Yumoto Station, and take the train three stops to Shimoda station. As time was of the essence, he emailed an outline of the case to read on the train.
Jumping onboard the train, Chizuru lowered himself onto the edge of an open seat, opening up the mail. It spelled out the following.
Time is of the essence, so I’ll make it short. My younger cousin Sorachi Aoi was kidnapped, and is on the verge of being killed.
I first got involved with the case this morning, when a call came to my phone. It was around nine. The called was my uncle- my mother’s younger brother- Sorachi Kisuke-san. He pleaded that I come over.
When I arrived at the Sorachi residence near Shimoda station, Uncle Kisuke-san and his wife Akari-san were waiting for me. And they told me this.
“Our daughter Aoi was kidnapped.”
It happened like this, apparently.
Aoi is currently twenty one, in a college of music. While she went to school as usual, she didn’t come home that evening. But as a college student, there would surely be times when she’d come home late, the Sorachi couple thought, so they went to sleep without waiting for her return… then the next morning, surprisingly enough, Aoi still hadn’t returned. When they looked in the mailbox, a letter had come. The letter said:
‘I have your daughter Sorachi Aoi. If you want her back, prepare ten million yen. We will have Sorachi Kisuke’s nephew carry out the delivery, so make sure to call him over. If you contact the police, Sorachi Aoi’s life is forfeit. I’ll contact you again midday.’
When they said not to contact the police specifying, ‘Sorachi Kisuke’s nephew’ would mean designating a detective like me, and you must think it strange. There was actually a reason behind it.
The truth is, Uncle Kisuke-san has another nephew. My older cousin Sorachi Takurou. It’s likely the culprit intended for Takurou to be the one handing the ransom over. But as luck would have it, he’s currently on a vacation overseas. So after mulling over his worries, Uncle Kisuke called me, a detective, over
Even when I had a grasp on the situation, my uncle pleaded that I didn’t call over my fellow officers.
And he successfully managed to gather ten million yen before midday.
We prayed as we waited for a call from the culprit. And precisely at noon, a call came through. Uncle Kisuke answered the phone. He didn’t have caller ID, so at the very least, we wanted a recording, so we put the phone on speaker, and I recorded it on my smart phone.
After my uncle exchanged a few words with the culprit, they let us hear Aoi’s voice. There’s no doubt Aoi was alive at noon. But after that the culprit told me to speak. To be more precise, ‘Sorachi Kisuke’s nephew, the ransom handler,’ is who he asked for.
When I answered the phone, the culprit suddenly flew into a rage. This voice isn’t Sorachi Takurou’s, he said. So I said, ‘That’s right, I’m Kisuke’s nephew Atami Itaru.’ I gave an honest answer. When I did, the culprit screamed, ‘Quit joking around, Atami is a detective. I did my research,’ and cut the line.
It was truly unreasonable, but we were dealing with a kidnapper, an unreasonable person from the start. The way things were going, the culprit was probably going to kill Aoi. So I asserted that I’d call my fellow officers, but Akari-san wouldn’t allow it. In her panic, she had lost the ability to make a rational decision. The culprit would surely call again. If I called the officers, it would just be adding fuel to the fire…
Out of options, I suggested giving you a call. A professional at solving crimes, able to pass off as a young boy in appearance. Well, don’t pay that part any mind. In that case, even if the culprit was keeping lookout, it would likely be fine, the Sorachi spouses decided, and agreed to it.
Anyways, just get over quickly. My cousin’s going to be killed.
What I want to request is for you to identify where she’s being held. I trust you. That you’ll do it faster than anyone. I’ll properly pay.
He did a good job typing up such a long email in the short space from noon, Chizuru was impressed. Perhaps humans showed their true power when driven into a corner.
Next stop: Shimoda, Shimoda, the announcement came in. Chizuru stood from his seat.
Identify the holding facility. His first official request. But it wouldn’t be a problem… Chiziru estimated.
There was already something off with Atami’s mail. What’s more, three points. And Chizuru’s thoughts began to turn on the meaning behind those three points.
He knew the path from Shimoda Station by the map attacked to the mail. He walked down a tidy residential district to reach his destination. A two story house of modern construction, if you wanted to call it ordinary, it was an ordinary residence. In the front yard, flowers of various colors were planted. Chizuru climbed up the porch, and rung the doorbell.
The one to answer was Atami.
After a relieved look spread across his face, he remembered the gravity of his situation, hurriedly dragging Chizuru into the building. And he locked the door behind him.
“Calm down, Atami-san. I don’t think the culprit is actually watching.”
“There’s no way of telling that!” He turned serious. “Do you have any evidence for that?”
“More or less.”
Chizuru gave a nonchalant response as he looked over the house’s interior. The only impression he got from it was a standard house you could find anywhere. “Regardless,” said Atami as he pulled Chizuru into the door to the side of the entranceway. It seemed to be a living room.
There were three people already occupying it. They sat around a sofa arranged for meeting purposes.
Wearing a worn-out polo shirt, the white-streaked middle-aged man was, from his gage likely Sorachi Kisuhe. And the middle-aged woman crying her eyes out beside him was undoubtedly Sorachi Akari.
The other one… sitting across from the Sorachi couple, in a suit with her hair packed tightly in a bun, a woman with a well-featured face, but she was an unknown existence to Chizuru. She looked a few times younger than Akari.
“You’re… the crime-solving pro?”
The woman who was likely Sorachi Akari timidly said it as she stared seriously at Chizuru’s face.
“I heard you looked young for twenty seven, but… aren’t you a bit too young?”
It seems he had been proclaimed ten years older than reality would tell. Chizuru sighed and sent a glance to Atami. There was no helping it, his eyes gave the excuse.
“But his crime-solving history alone speaks for itself,” Atami emphasized. “And it’s because of his appearance that we called him in the first place. If he was an adult… no, I mean, if he clearly looked like an adult, the culprit on lookout would suspect something… ah, right, he’s…”
“I’m called Kirishima,” Chizuru put some effort into making his voice deeper. “I’m an associate professor at Yumoto University’s school of Sociology. In regards to the criminology of kidnappings, I believe I could give some expert advice.”
It was Atami’s turn to send him a tired glance. You’ve got some nerve to let a lie flow smoothly off your lips, his eyes said.
“Is that so, then it’s a pleasure to meet you…”
In a masculine, deep bass, Sorahi Kisuke spoke.
“Truly, when I think of how the criminal’s evil hand may be closing in on Aoi as we speak… we have to put an end to this.”
“Yes, I’ll support you in that endeavor.”
Chizuru said it clearly. And he sent a glance to the woman with her hair tied in a bun.
“She’s Momota Ai-san.”
“She came to the house after we got a call from the culprit. She’s Akari-san’s younger sister, meaning, from Aoi’s point of view, she’s her aunt.”
She spoke in brisk tone.
“I’m a lecturer at Yumoto Music College that Aoi attended. I happened to come to this house by chance, when I heard of Aoi’s incident.”
“I couldn’t keep silent on it.”
Kisuke offered a supplementary explanation.
“Ai-san came with insurance-related papers, but it seems she met with Aoi yesterday, so to get as many leads as possible, I stopped her and told her about the case. The culprit seems to have done some detailed research into us, so even if we let Ai-san into the house, I doubt they’d mistake her for a police officer.”
“Insurance, was it?” Chizuru sounded doubtful, “When you’re a music teacher?”
“Yes, my husband works at an insurance company. Kisuke-san and my sister have various insurance policies with thme, so…”
“Ai!” Sorachi Akari stepped in. “That sort of trifling thing doesn’t matter right now. What’s important is where Aoi is! That’s why we had Kirishima-san come over!”
But even as he said that, Chizuru had already linked that ‘trifling’ information to what was already in his head. He couldn’t help but think this kidnapping incident was pointing towards a fixed vector.
“I got a rough outlook of the case from Officer Atami’s email. There, I have a few things I’d like you to fill me in on. This is all to ascertain Aoi-san’s location…”
Chisuru spoke at length, looking at everyone’s faces. There was no guarantee everyone here would tell the truth.