Atami loaded Chizuru into his car, and hurried to the scene.
Chizuru was to stay on standby until the police investigation made headway.
“My house is right inside Yumoto City, so if you could just drop me somewhere on the way to the Music College.”
Was what Chizuru had to say. Since Atami couldn’t quite take him to the scene, he had no objections. Anyways, he needed to cover up the fact he got Chizuru involved in the case. He also insisted to his uncle Sorachi Kisuke not to tell the police anything about the crime solving pro they called in. If they learned they’d arbitrarily dragged in an outsider, it would bring trouble to his work henceforth. In his daze, Kisuke agreed without thinking too hard about it.
“… Hey, Chizuru-kun.”
Inside the car, Atami struck up a conversation with Chizuru.
“What is it?”
“Do you still suspect the people of the Sorachi house?”
“You don’t know when to give up. Ibusuki-san called to say they found a culprit who committed suicide.”
“You can’t jump to conclusions.”
Atami breathed out a sigh.
“I’ve tried thinking over it for a while not, but the culprit being inside Aoi’s family is becoming increasingly implausible. You say the kidnapping was in order to kill Aoi, and that the motive was her life insurance, but that’s impossible. Physically impossible, I mean.”
“And how’s that?”
“I mean, isn’t it true? If your logic is right, then the culprit would have to be one of the Sorachi couple. But both times the Sorachi couple received a call from the kidnapper, I was with them. On the second time, you were there too. There’s no way they could have been the caller.”
“I was definitely there to hear the second call. But the culprit spoke quite one-sidedly before cutting the line. Someone could have called with a cellphone in their pocket, and played a recorded message… or something like that, you see it occasionally in cop dramas.”
“That’s out of the question.”
As they turned onto Yumoto Boulevard, a red light came to block their way. Atami slowly applied pressure to the brakes.
“On the first call, in order to prove to us Aoi was still alive, they let her speak into the receiver. And we were able to carry out a conversation more or less.”
“… Could I have a listen to it? You recorded the call, didn’t you?”
Atami handed his smart phone to Chizuru. Starting up the voice memo app, he opened up the data in question. It started at Kisuke’s voice as he answered the phone.
‘… HEY THERE. YOU’RE SORACHI KISUKE-SAN, RIGHT? THE ONE WHO ABDUCTED SORACHI AOI WAS ME.’
A voice like a frog croaking its lungs out. Chizuru could tell it was the same one he heard in the second call.
‘S-so you’re…’ Sorachi Kisuke’s thick voice was shaking in rage. ‘Give Aoi back!’
‘DON’T WORRY, DON’T WORRY. MORE IMPORTANTLY, DID YOU PROPERLY CALL YOUR NEPHEW OVER?’
‘Y-yeah… but wait a second. Let me hear Aoi’s voice, I’m begging you!’
‘… WELL, WELL, WELL, NOW THERE’S A GOOD PARENT. WHY NOT.’
Zzhkkh, there was a little bit of noise mixed in, and after a while, the voice of a young woman leaked through.
As all fell to dead silence, that thin voice alone flowed in. Kisuke sprung in.
‘That’s you, right daddy… daddy, I’m sorry. I was…’
‘You don’t have to apologize, Aoi! More importantly, are you hurt? I’ll bring the money over at once.’
Khh, zsh, some more noise. Sorachi Aoi’s voice was cut off, and the frog spoke once more.
‘ISN’T THAT ENOUGH? ANYWAYS, THE MONEY. I’LL GIVE MY ORDERS TO THE ONE WHO’LL HAND THE MONEY OVER, SO GET YOUR NEPHEW ON THE LINE!’
This time it was Atami’s voice at the receiver.
‘H-hello. I’m Sorachi Kisuke’s nephew Atami.’
The frog’s voice suddenly sounded displeased.
‘QUIT JOKING AROUND!’ The frog roared. “ATAMI ITARU IS A DETECTIVE. WHO DO YOU TAKE ME FOR? I PROPERLY DID MY RESEARCH! I DIDN’T MEAN THAT NEPHEW! THERE SHOULD BE A LIMIT TO MAKING FUN OF SOMEONE!”
And click, the phone was slammed down. After that, booop, booop, only the usual dial tone was left to lonesomely ring through.
During the call, because only that sticking voice resounded throughout, that BGM could only invoked dread in the hearts of those gathered.
As if measuring the timing, the light turned green, and Atami accelerated his car.
“… Is how it went.”
“I understand well. I see, that was quite interesting.”
Chizuru gazed out the window in thought.
“Not only Uncle Kisuke-san, I also held a conversation with the culprit. It definitely couldn’t have been a recording. Or are you going to make me out as an accomplice?”
“That doesn’t sound bad.”
Said Chizuru in a voice that could either be joking or serious.
“Well, even if I didn’t lend thought to such a thing, if there was a culprit apart from the Sorachis, that would make matters much easier.”
“It couldn’t be you suspect Momota Ai-san as well?”
“Why do you think so?”
“Because when it comes to people involved in this incident, she’s the only other one. But she’s innocent. It’s true she wasn’t at the Sorachi house during the first call… but she was properly there the second time. And more than anything, she doesn’t have a motive. She’s not a person of the house, so even if her older sister Akari came into some insurance money, it would be irrelevant to her.”
“Do you really think those three are the only ones involved?”
“Are there any others?”
“What are you talki… oh, right there. There.”
Chizuru motioned for him to pull over. Atami stopped the car, gazing blankly at the apartment complex Chizuru pointed out.
“… Something wrong?”
As Chizuru got down from the car, he stared fixatedly at Atami.
“N-no… I was just musing that the chief detective lived in quite a plebian place.”
“I don’t get what you’re saying.”
“I mean Chizuru-kun, you’re the son of the head of the criminal affairs department, Kirishima Kankurou, aren’t you?”
“I am, but I never said a word about living with him. In the first place, I was disinherited.”
“Hah? What does that…”
“Thank you for dropping me off.”
The passenger seat door was quietly sealed by Chizuru’s sluggish motions. It wasn’t closed properly.
“You’re late, Atami.”
Clared at by his superior Ibusuki, Atami scratched his head. She was so scary he averted his eyes, but Ibusuki clicked her tongue and ordered him to look over.
“You’ll get your lecture later. More importantly, have a look at the body.”
The copse behind Yumoto Music College. Even further in than the prefabricated house where Aoi was found in serious condition, a light motor vehicle was parked. If you entered it head-on, a car wouldn’t make it this far. The individual who rode it probably came in from the other side.
Thinkign over such a thing, Atami looked into the car.
The body of a young man still in his early twenties sat quietly in the driver’s seat.
Brown-dyed hair, and flashy piercings. An open black jacket, perhaps they were called ripped jeans, but there were holes in his pants. A youth whose appearance made one think he was living a rambunctious lifestyle. But it was a face Atami had never seen before.
His eyes turned to the passenger seat. There was a charcoal brazier with its coals burnt out. Come to think of it, the inside of the car was still smoky. In the cup holder on the driver’s side was a bottle of mineral water, and at his feet was a spilled-over prescription bottle leaking what was presumably sleeping pills.
Ibusuki grabbed the nape of Atami’s jacket, pulling him out of the car.
“All I wanted was for you to look at the victim’s face. The face is enough. So does he look familiar?”
“N-no… not at all.”
“I see. Well, I thought as much. The truth is, after I called you up, we found the man’s wallet among the things in his trunk… Shirahama-san.”
At Ibusuki’s call, the forensics investigator Shirahama Yayoi let her braided hair swat as she ran over.
On Ibusuki’s orders, she took out the wallet in question. It was a leather one, too expensive-looking for a student to carry around. Yayoi probed through it and took out a single card.
“This is… a student ID for Yumoto Music College!?”
“That’s how it is. Meaning this kidnapper… Murasaki Kinichirou’s his name, it seems… he was a student in the same class as Sorachi Aoi. And…”
As Ibusuki jerked her chin, Yayoi immediately dived into the wallet’s inner pocket, and showed it to Atami.
A photo booth sticker of Sorachi Aoi with Murasaki Kinichirou was stuck onto it.
“Good grief, he had some nerve to stick such a thing onto a ridiculously expensive brand name wallet.”
Ibusuki looked at it with clear disdain. Atami was flustered.
“Then, then this man was Aoi’s boyfriend…?”
“It wouldn’t be strange if he was. If Sorachi Aoi had a personality where she’d take such a photo with someone she wasn’t in a relationship with, then that’s a different story, though.”
“No, she was a calm, quiet girl… so on the contrary, it’s difficult to imagine her with this slightly-flashy-looking man.”
“There’s no way I would know such a thing. Well when it comes to students, the earnest, level-headed women are often taken up in the whims of hopeless men, after all. Looks like Sorachi Aoi didn’t make the right choice.”
Ibusuki sent an overly harsh glance at the youth who’d already passed to the other side.
“Well, if they were lovers, it would be easy for him to hear out her family’s situation, so it wouldn’t be strange if Murasaki set up such a base scheme. We’ve found a few pieces of evidence pointing to his crime.”
As Atami repeated, Ibusuki casually nodded and explained.
“First, from Murasaki’s car, we found a cell phone. Looking at its call record, it had made calls to the Sorachi residence at the problematic times in question. To add onto that, there was a can of helium gas in the back seat. They’ve gone out of fashion now, but back in the day, you could often find them at party stores. Even now, if you went to a large discount store, you’d be able to get your hands on one easily enough.”
“I see, so he sucked it to change his voice.”
The moment Atami seemed satisfied, “Yo,” came a voice, and the investigators turned their eyes towards the individual who appeared from beyond the trees.
One look at him, and Ibusuki’s face grimaced. The one who came was the coroner, Shuzenji Shuuichirou.
Long hair tied at the back of his head, a bit of unshaven stubble growing on his face, Shuzenji was placed in a category of, handsome enough, but he looked to be a tad behind the times.
“What’s with the geh, Detective Ibusuki. I just came to do my job.”
Sending a teasing glance at Ibusuki, he walked his way towards the car, and peered into the driver’s seat. After finishing his prayers, this time he properly looked at Ibusuki.
“In the first place, you should send notice to the autopsy teem in a timely fashion. The vital information carved into a body is lost hour by hour. A corpse is a living being.”
Saying some incomprehensible things, he went into his examination.
“Tsk,” Ibusuki turned away in an ill temper and walked off. “Atami, we’re going.”
“Eh? What about investigating the crime scene?”
“We’ve already looked into everything we could. If the remaining investigators uncover anything important, I’ll be contacted. For now, let’s see, let’s go to Yumoto General Hospital, and confirm the victim’s condition as we hear out those involved. Now hurry up. We’re using my car. It’s over there.”
But I also came by car… he wanted to refute, but right now wasn’t a time where Atami could disobey here. In the first place, not long ago, he had let a dangerous criminal escape in the middle of arrest, and was placed on grunt work as a penalty. To add onto that, this time he had delayed contacting his coworkers in a kidnapping incident. His standing within the prefectural police department was the absolute worst.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of Ibusuki’s car, Atami realized the reason she was in such a bad mood. Come to think of it, talks of Ibusuki once going out with Shuzenji were famous at the precinct.
… But even so, you don’t have to take it out on me.
Holding in a sigh, Atami left his own car behind, and started up Ibusuki’s.