The time was twelve forty five.
“This is bad,” officer Atami bit his lip. “It’s almost been an hour since the kidnapper called.”
“That’s right. So I have to hear what happened.”
Chizuru looked at the faces of everyone involved.
“First off, when and where were Sorachi Aoi-san’s whereabouts last confirmed?”
“About that, I know it.”
Aoi’s aunt… Momota Ai raised her hand.
“The last one to see her was probably me. Yesterday around nine p.m., at the university… as I said before, I’m a lecturer at Yumoyo Music College.”
Ai tapper her finger against the sofa’s armrest as she tried to recall.
“She was a vocal major, so as an instrumentalist, I didn’t teach her, but… I ran into her in the corridor by chance. We’re aunt and niece and we get along fine. She said she was going to go home. That was at nine.”
“I see,” Chizuru gave a light nod, “So she left Yumoto Music College at nine. From there, it’s around ten minutes to Yumoto Station on foot. And from Yumoto Station she took a train to Shimoda. The walk from Shimoda station to this house would be around five to ten minutes. As long as she didn’t take any detours, from the college to Yumoto Station, and from Shimoda Station to her house, she would have to have been abducted on one of those routes.”
“Would that really be any basis for figuring out Aoi’s location?”
Speaking as if there wasn’t a second to waste, Sorachi Akari spoke rubbing her hands together.
“I mean, isn’t that right? If she was taken off by car, there’s no way of knowing where she’d be.”
“Of course, that’s true. But we don’t know what information will prove useful to…”
Chizuru was more impatient than usual as he turned the gears of his mind.
But all his effort was rendered meaningless before a single call.
A ringing suddenly sounded out. Everyone stopped their movement at once to look at the phone. Atami exchanged a glance with Kisuke, and once the officer nodded, Kisuke reached a hand for the receiver.
Holding the receiver in his shaking hand, Kisuke let out the same deep and calm voice as before.
‘HEY THERE. IS THAT VOICE SORACHI KISUKE-SAN, PERHAPS?’
Were they sucking on helium gas or something? It was a high and shrill, repulsing voice… without any explanation, it was evident the call was from the kidnapper.
‘SORACHI AOI IS DEAD.’
Those words came so suddenly, everyone was left speechless.
A moment where it seemed as if time had stopped.
“What… was that?”
Kisuke finally let out his voice, but the culprit carried on in a cold tone.
‘THIS IS YOUR PENALTY FOR CALLING OUT A POLICE OFFICER LIKE ATAMI TO DECIEVE ME. HER BODY IS BEHIND YUMOTO MUSIC COLLEGE, IN THE COPSE. GOOD BYE.’
The phone line was cut.
“Hey… oy! Wait! Oy!”
Booop, booop, once an intermittent dial tone began to sound out, Akari covered her face.
“Nooooo! This can’t be! It can’t… Aoiiiii!!”
“Akari, calm down!”
As Akari began thrashing out, Momota Ai held her down.
Calledout by Ai, the paralyzed Kisuke lended his power to hold Akari down.
“I-it can’t… Aoi is?”
Atami was in dismay, holding his mouth as he opened his eyes wide.
“No, that can’t… because of me…”
“Atami-san, calm down.”
Chizuru calmly placed a hand on the detective’s shoulder.
“More importantly, right now… we have to hurry to the scene.”
“R-right. Now that it’s come to this, I’ll call in support… no.”
Atami stood and ran off.
“The prefectural police station. Yumoto’s police station. The time they’ll take to mobilize… no matter what I calculate, it’ll be fastest if I went there by car!”
Atami and Chizuru leapt out of the Sorachi House.
“… I’m sorry, Chizuru-kun.”
While waiting for a light, Atami rapidly spoke. His thought still pending, Chizuru gave a late reply of, for what?
“I had you come all the way here, yet it ended up like this… dammit, why did that culprit wait close to an hour before calling again? I’ve never heard of a kidnapper who went out of his way to tell us the location…”
“Perhaps there was meaning to it. There’s quite a big gap between appearance and truth in this case.”
“What do you mean? You want to say there’s something behind it?”
“I don’t get it. I’ll admit there are a number of points I can’t agree with, but why can you say it with certainty? What evidence specifically led you to think something was strange?”
“The light’s green,” Chizuru dodged the question. “Anyways, for now, we have to confirm her condition.”
Behind Yumoto Music College, there definitely was a grove of trees. The ground wasn’t paved, and the car shook greatly. They went as far as they could before Atami stopped the car.
“Chizuru-kun, don’t get too far from me. The culprit may launch a surprise attack.”
The two pushed through the grass as they entered the dense three.
But no matter how far they went, it was just trees and trees. There was no scenery that sparked any interest.
When they had walked for around five minutes, Atami struck up a conversation with Chizuru.
“You were quite enthusiastic today. If I had to say, I didn’t think you were the active type.”
Chizuru laughed in self-deprecation.
“I’m the opposite of that.”
“That’s just how you look… really, I’m sorry for dragging you in.”
“No, but the culprit did just as he wished, and moved along his criminal plan unknown to any… I don’t want it to come to that. It’s really a bad feeling to be outwitted.”
“What do you mean?”
Atami stopped his feet.
“The culprit cut the phone in a frenzy because a detective like me answered it. Wasn’t my unforeseen appearance something the culprit wasn’t expecting…?”
“Of course it wasn’t… More importantly, Atami-san, what’s that building.”
“Muh, what could it be.”
And old fashioned prefabricated house lay in the distance.
“Let’s go and see.
As they approached, it only looked even more weathered out. Its window of broken glass were boarded up with wood.
“Do you think Aoi’s inside here?”
“… I wonder. We won’t know until we go in.”
Chizuru opened the front door. Atami was horrified.
“O-oy, Chizuru-kun! What are you going to do if the culprit is there…”
“… He’s not. She’s not, but…”
Peering in, he seemed taken aback.
Atami who peered in after him, ended up raising a scream.
The concrete floor was filthy and covered in dust. A single woman was collapsed face-up.
Was the blanket draped over her something to block the blood spurt? And at her chest, the hilt of a kitchen knife stuck out.