On the drive from the site to Yumoto General Hospital.
Having just come in the opposite direction, Atami was beginning to wonder if he ever had to go to the scene at all. But looking at his superior crossing her arms in blatant displeasure over in the passenger seat, he wasn’t quite able to say it aloud.
Perhaps by the aid of Golden Week, Yumoto Boulevard was more crowded than ever before. As he waited for the line of cars to advance, Atami could no longer bear the silence, and opened his mouth.
“But that culprit… Murasaki Kinichirou-kun, was it? Why do you think he committed suicide?”
“It’s as clear as day, isn’t it?” Ibusuki said in a crabby voice. “On top of kidnapping, he ended up committing murder. It was his feeling of guilt. Of course, Sorachi Aoi isn’t dead, but since her heart was pierced and she was bleeding buckets, there’s no blaming him for thinking he’d killed her.”
“That’s right. But even so, there are a number of strange points about…”
Ibusuki turned her face towards the driver’s seat, lording over her subordinate.
“You need to cut it out already. After taking so much arbitrary action, don’t stick your mouth into our investigation. Have some awareness that you’ve been taken off this case.”
It really was as she said, so without any room for debate, Atami closed his mouth. Right, that he was accompanying her to the hospital wasn’t as an investigator, it was just as a person related to the case.
Right as the light turned green, Ibusuki’s phone rang. She answered it.
The throaty voice of a low-ranking investigator, Officer Nagashima. His large voice could be heard across even if it wasn’t set to speakerphone. Perhaps Ibusuki’s phone settings had the volume up high.
What is it, Ibusuki gave a curt reply.
“Did you find anything out?”
‘There’s been just one development. I was investigating the scene where Sorachi Aoi was stabbed, and we’ve found a smart phone that likely belongs to her.’
“Give me more details on its location.”
‘Yes, umm. In a small handwashing station in a corner of that prefabricated hut. The drainage was clocked up, and there was dirty water left pooled in the sink… it had sunk into that.’
“I see. Which means it’s out of commission?”
‘So it seems. It was likely broken so her location couldn’t be tracked by GPS.’
“Most likely… tell me the phone’s make and color. Any straps on it?”
‘Yes, it’s blue in color…’
Officer Nagashima identified its model and as he said, ‘It didn’t have any straps. That is all.’ Atami tilted his head.
“No other developments?” asked Ibusuki. After hearing an affirmative from Nagashima, good work, she said and hung up.
“… What’s wrong?”
Ibusuki took a sidelong glance at Atami’s doubtful face.
“No, I saw Aoi’s phone not too long ago, but… I’m pretty sure it had a strap.”
“A strap with the logo of an insurance company. Aoi’s aunt Momota Ai-san’s husband is in the sales department of an insurance company, so she got it for free.”
Ibusuki thought a moment, “When was that?” she asked.
“When I saw the strap? Uum, about a month ago, I think.”
“I see. And it’s gone now…”
Ibusuki was lost in thought a bit, but breathing out a sigh, she stiffened her expression.
“Well, with a month gone by, she could’ve taken it off all the same. Girls these days, they constantly change out their cellphone cases, and dangle loads of straps from them after all.”
“Aoi wasn’t really that sort of girl…”
Atami did find it strange, but said, “You’re thinking too hard,” and didn’t offer him any help on the matter.
“I doubt it’s relevant to the case. How would you tie a kidnapping to a missing strap?”
They didn’t seem to be related. “I’m sorry, it doesn’t seem relevant,” Atami said, and shut his mouth.
Once the two detectives reached the fourth floor of Yumoto General Hospital- the floor with the emergency surgery room- Momota Ai noticed them and ran over.
Ai called him by his first name, and pulled his hand.
“Come over. Aoi’s operation was a success.”
Ibusuki and Atami exchanged a glance and ran forward.
In front of the operating room, Akari cried tears of joy while Kisuke pat her on the back. Kisuke’s eyes were a little red as well, as he incessantly offered his thanks to the doctor standing nearby.
“I’m Ibusuki of the police force… how is the patient’s condition?”
Presenting her badge and police notebook, Ibusuki said it briskly. Knowing Aoi was related to an incident, the doctor’s face tensed up.
“The surgery was a success. She’s fine now. I think she’ll soon be in a state where she can talk, but she’s still delirious, so I’ll have to observe her condition before I can tell you if a meeting is possible or not.”
“Thank you… well, she was stabbed in the heart. There’s no need to rush things.”
At Ibusuki’s words, the doctor gave a large nod.
“She really was in danger. Her discovery, the ambulance, and her arrival at the hospital. If any one of them was just a little later, perhaps she wouldn’t have come through. The operation wasn’t an easy one.”
As he said that, the doctor took off his hat, and removed his mask. There were large beads of sweat suspended on his face.
“But when she was discovered, she hadn’t lost too much body heat thanks to the blanket draped over her. It was our saving grace.”
“Oh, I see.”
Atami agreed. The blanket draped over Aoi was probably what the culprit used to avoid getting any blood onto themselves. How ironic it must be, for it to have held off her death.
“… Now then, while we wait for her recovery… there are some things I’d like to talk about with you all.”
Ibusuki looked at the Sorachi couple and Ai. And then, she sent a suspicious look towards the middle-aged man sitting a little ways away.
“That’s my husband Tokihito. He happened to be working in the area, so I had him come over.”
Ai gave an explanation. Hearing he worked for an insurance company, Ibusuki made an understanding face and said, “Then I’ll have you come along as well.”
Allowed to use the hospital’s meeting room, Atami, Ibusuki, the Sorachis and the Momotas sat around a table.
Having gotten the rough flow of it all from Atami, Ibusuki wanted to get further details from those involved.
“To summarize, Momota Ai-san. You only visited the Sorachi House by chance… is that how it is?”
“In order to bring the new insurance plan my husband had made to my sister. Well I myself am not related to any insurance company, but my husband was busy, and I happened to be free today.”
The one who said that, Momota Tokihito was a middle-aged man of intrepid features. Wearing a black suit, he looked overly serious.
“Because I had to go to Yumoto City today.”
“Then that would be towards the scene.”
On Ibusuki’s words, Tokihiti’s well-shaped eyebrows drew closer.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve no ulterior motives… by the way, are insurance plans things that swap around so frequently?”
“No, our monthly premium was becoming a little difficult to manage.”
Kisuke said in a strained voice.
“We’ve had a few things going on these days, , and we’re not financially stable.”
Atami instantly understood what he meant. The compensation payments for the foreign substance mix-up that happened at his factory. On top of that, the loss in business that came from it. The finances of the Sorachi house were in distress.
“Reviewing our live insurance policy was the main point of my request.”
“Aoi’s still young, so I wanted to change her to a lighter plan. Hers was always a bit lower than ours… let’s see, it was still set to pay out around twenty million yen, though.”
“Oy, oy, Akari,” Kisuke rebuked her in his calm, deep voice. “You don’t have to talk about that sort of thing now. Aoi is safe, she’s alive.”
Akari was taken aback, “Ah… that’s right,” she said. Realizing she’d said wuite a sinister thing, she awkwardly lowered her gaze.
“… Now then, let’s get onto the main topic.”
Ibusuki hit her hands together.
“Do you know of a young man called Murasaki Kinichirou?”
Kisuke, Akari, and Ai’s expressions turned stiff.
“Why… do you know about him?”
Sorachi Kisuke asked the contrary.
“So you do know about him?”Ibusuki asked obstinately. Kisuke gave a frantic nod.
“Kisuke-san, Akari-san, Momota Ai-san. Is it alrigt I assume the three of you know him?”
The three looked amongst themselves and nodded. When Ibusuki looked at Tokihiti, No clue, he tilted his head.
“Then please tell me how you came to know of him.”
“That man was in a relationship with Aoi.”
Akari spat out the words. By her tone, Atami could tell she held a terrible impression of Murasaki.
“It seems they started going out in the spring of last year, but around two to three months ago, they broke up.”
“You’re quite knowledgeable,” Ibusuki narrowed her eyes, “Did you talk about this sort of thing with Aoi-san often?”
“No. But around one month ago, Aoi consulted with me. Saying she was being followed around by her ex-boyfriend.”
“So he’s one of those so-called stalkers?”
“… Perhaps. It seems our daughter was the one who dumped him. Their personalities didn’t fit with one another. But to the end, he didn’t want to break up, and he’d strike up conversation all throughout the college, calling her persistently, it seems. Aoi was truly troubled, and even if she refused, he wouldn’t listen. So it was the first time she ever consulted with me.”
“And I heard of the matter from my wife.”
Said Kisuke. Ai carried on from there.
“My sister consulted with me on the matter. If as a lecturer, there was anything I could do about it. But honestly, I didn’t have anything to do with him. We were both in instruments, he specialized in flute, while I taught the strings… that’s how it is, so there wasn’t much I could do.”
“Gug?” Atami tilted his head. “As I recall, Aoi was in vocals, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah, she was in the same circle as him. The theater circle,” said Akari. “But he was just too persistent, so around three weeks ago, Aoi ended up quitting the circle.”
“… I see. Meaning he still felt ambivalent emotions towards Aoi-san.”
As a sign of her understanding, Ibusuki hit her finger against the desk.
Ai’s eyebrows narrowed in confusion, “Um,” she started out.
“What does this mean? Why is he becoming a problem now? Hey, it couldn’t be…”
“It very well could. It’s quite likely that he was the culprit who kidnapped and wounded Aoi-san.”
Akari cried out. Beside her, Kisuke was staring in wonder.
“Was that a surprise? But you see, the culprit was strangely knowledgeable on the affairs of the Sorachi House. If they were in a lover’s relationship, he would have easily been able to draw that information from Aoi-san. Or could it be you have any other close person who might have plotted a kidnapping?”
“Quit it, we don’t have anyone like that.”
Akari let out a pitiful groan. Really? Ibusuki’s eyes sought confirmation. As a dubious air descended on everyone gathered, “Maybe…” Ai came out.
“Sure enough, if it’s a boyfriend Aoi dumped… maybe his grudge led him to do such a terrible thing.”
“I’m honestly an outsider to this case.”
Tokihito uncomfortably licked his lips as he said it.
“I don’t really get it, but the fact the police suspect that… Murasaki-san? The fact you suspect him means you must have some evidence, right?”
Ibusuki gave a large nod to Tokihito’s perceptiveness.
“In the trees a little away from where Aoi-san was stabbed, he was discovered as a corpse. He made his car airtight, and suffocated himself in it. In the car, we found a phone and some helium gas… the one that changes your voice. The phone had a call log to the Sorachi House. At the problematic times the kidnapper called…”
Everyone in the room exchanged looks.
“No, what a vile and unforgivable young man, Kisuke put out a graver voice than usual.”
“When I think of how Aoi is alive, and he’s the one who died, I feel something pitiful for him.”
“No, it’s only natural.”
Akari was angry.
“The people who do bad things die, while the innocent are saved. It’s a matter of course.”
“Well whatever the case, you’ve already found the culprit, have you?”
At let out a relieved sigh.
“We’ve all much to think about, but all that’s left is to pray for Aoi’s recovery.”
The moment she said that, as if measuring the timing, a knock came at the door. A separate doctor tha the surgeon from before came in.
“Aoi-san regained consciousness around ten minutes ago, and she’s under careful examination. It seems she’ll soon be in a state where she can speak. You’ll probably be able to meet her in about an hour.”
On the doctor’s words, those concerned raised cries of joy.
Atami was relieved to the depths of his heart, but he couldn’t stop observing the behavior of the people before his eyes. The ‘criminal in the family theory’ Chizuru had spoke of was stuck in his head, and if hadn’t leaft.
Even when their alibies were perfect.
Even when to them, Aoi was surely a treasured existence.
Atami couldn’t bear it anymore as he stood.
Going out to the terrace where phones were allowed, Atami gave Chizuru an update.
Of course, he had no obligation, but all information that had come out worked in favor of Murasaki Kinichirou’s guilt, and he wanted to hear Chizuru himself say he’d given up on the criminal in the family theory. Or perhaps because he’d involved him himself this time around, he at least had an obligation to reduce the stress of the boy in a position where he couldn’t gain any information, so he decided on his own.
“… That’s how it is, so in all probability, the culprit is Murasaki Kinichorou.”
One-sidedly finishing his talk, Atami made a silence to wait for a rebuttal.
Across the phone, he had a feeling Chizuru was smiling.
‘What sort of strap was it?’
“Eh? What do you mean?”
He couldn’t grasp the intent behind Chizuru’s words.In his own room, Chizuru spoke in an awfully laid-back manner, and Atami was impatient to return to the meeting foom.
‘I’m talking about the strap that went missing from Aoi-san’s phone.’
“Oh, that? Um… it had the logo of an insurance company, and it had a metallic charm on it that jingled around. By the way, the insurance company is the one Ai-san’s husband Tokihito-san works for… you saw him before, didn’t you… it’s a free gift he got from the company.”
As Chizuru remained silent on the line, “What about it?” Atami asked him.
‘I see, how interesting. Then try asking Aoi-san about it. When she took it off.’
“Eh? Is it that important? I’m sure putting on and taking off a strap is at the owner’s discretion.”
‘That’s right. But perhaps you’ll find her saying this… it vanished when I wasn’t looking.’
“What? How can you tell?”
‘Hmm… let’s just say that if this plan was plotted by the person I’m thinking of, it will inevitably come to that, plain and simple.’
“W-wait a second! You mean to say you know the culprit?”
‘For argument’s sake, I have a hunch. But I don’t have any evidence, you see… if you tell me about your talk with Aoi-san, I’m sure some evidence will come out.’
“Evidence, eh? But she’s sure to have seen the culprit, so even if Murasaki is innocent, I don’t think there’s any space for you to work your logic.”
As he said it cynically, Chizuru let out a strange laugh.
“Oy, what was that?”
‘No, well anyways, listen to what Aoi-san has to say. She probably doesn’t know the culprit. Aoi-san hasn’t once seen the culprit’s face.’
And why do you know that, he wanted to say, but Chizuru arbitrarily said, ‘Then please call me again,’ and hung up.
Atami didn’t know what was going on, breaking into a squat on the spot.
The winds that had calmed down around noon were starting to blow again.