Atami went back inside, heading to the bathroom before returning to the meeting room.
All the while, his thoughts raced over the case, but he couldn’t reach any answer that seemed to fit the bill.
“As I thought, it’s because everyone had an alibi…”
Right, on top of their being no plausible suspects apart from the Sorachi couple and Momota Ai, the problem was the perfection of their alibis. There wasn’t any room for doubt.
“But Chizuru-kun’s never been wrong before…”
Atami agonized over it.no matter who he made out as the culprit, it never ended well. He felt as if he was challenging an abstruse puzzle.
As he groaned and left the bathroom, he saw Ibusuki return from the terrace. She had passed right by him as he went in to use her phone.
“Ah… looks like you’re working hard.”
Meeting eyes with his superior, he ended up giving an absent-minded greeting. Ibusuki silently stared back at him. Things were growing awkward, and just as Atami was about to head for the meeting rrom, “Wait,” Ibusuki stopped him.
“Do you think Murasaki Kenichirou is the culprit?”
On the sudden question, Atami hesitated. And knowing the investigation team’s findings pointed towards Murasaki as the culprit, he flattered the notion by saying, “That does seem to be the case”
But Ibusuki scoffed.
“Don’t lie to me. From your tone all the way to this hospital, you have suspicions there’s something lying beneath this incident.”
So she noticed after all. Well to tell the truth, the one with suspicions wasn’t Atami but Chizuru, but he couldn’t quite be upfront about it, so Atami stayed silend.
“Of course, I noticed the strange points about this case as well.”
Ibusuki put a hand to her hip, standing as if to emphasie her long lefs as she spoke.
“How unreasonable the culprit’s demands were, and how we were intentionally led to the scene of Aoi’s injury. Among various other things.”
“That’s right! It’s plain bizarre.”
When he didn’t even suspect it himself, he agreed in Chizuru’s stead.
“However,” Ibusuki said it flatly. “Murasaki was undoubtedly the culprit behind this case.”
“W-why can you say that?”
“Just now, the follow on the investigation has reported three major findings.
First, Murasaki’s time of death. It was sometime from twelve thirty to one… meaning, right after he called to report Aoi’s murder, Mirasaki died himself. At the time, all those concerned with the case were gathered at the Sorachi House nearby Shimoda Station. There wasn’t any time for anyone to stab Aoi or kill Murasaki.”
“W-why did you know I was suspecting those involved?”
Atami asked in surprise. But Ibusuki looked at him with cold eyes, “I can tell something like that from your attitude. Back at the meeting room, you were observing them the whole time,” she said. It seems he couldn’t fool her eyes.
“Second,” Ibusuki continued on, “They analyzed the culprit’s letter delivered to the Sorachi House. By looking into any place with a plausible connection to Murasaki, they were able to tell which printer it was printed from.”
“So… what printer was it?”
“A printer in Yumoto Music College’s study room. Of course, it was a free space within the college, so it’s not like an outside couldn’t sneak in, but the risk of infiltrating would be way too high. I don’t think we’re mistaken to assume the culprit had relations to the university… and of course, as a student, Murasaki has those relations.”
“Then what’s the third?”
“The third? … They conducted a search on the apartment where Murasaki lived. There, the investigation team found that all the data on his personal computer was cleanly erased.”
“Yeah, it was factory reset.”
Atami tilted his head. Erased data didn’t quite connect to the case?
“Are you listening? Here, we can come to a single interpretation,” Ibusuki wagged her long finger as she explained. “In short, Murasaki’s objective wasn’t the ransom money, he wanted to murder Sorachi Aoi from the start.”
“Is it really that surprising? But you see, Murasaki was always at Sorachi Aoi’s side, constantly following her around. If his twisted expression of love is what brought about this incident, then the probability he was never after the money to begin with is high.”
“Even if that’s the case, what meaning does the computer data have?”
“A bird fouls not the nest it leaves behind, they say.”
Ibusuki raised an eyebrow. “Meaning from the start, Murasaki Kinichirou planned to die if he fulfilled his objective. His objective of killing Sorachi Aoi… in other words, this was a forced double suicide.”
“W-what was that!?”
“It’s not impossible. Well, the reason he went out of his way to dress it as a kidnapping is still a mystery, but… tormenting Aoi’s family; perhaps the act held such sadistic implications. And if he was resolved to die from the start, that would give a reason as to why he went out of his way to give Aoi’s location.”
“If Aoi’s location was known, naturally the police would search the area. If they did, then naturally his own remains would be found… if he kept quiet about Aoi’s containment facility, they wouldn’t find his own dead body. Murasaki called in a desire to avoid that. The form of your own decaying body isn’t one you’d quite want to show off to others, is it?”
Hearing Ibusuki’s explanation, Atami felt it had quite a bit of persuasive power to it. There were a few parts that seemed to be pushing it, but she had prepared an answer to most of the points he’d been questioning.
As Atami felt himself leaking a sigh of admiration, a doctor raced over. The doctor who had dropped by the meeting room just before.
“Detective, so this is where you were. That’s good. Sorachi Aoi has reached a state where she can answer questions. In a few minutes, you’ll be able to talk to her.”
Connected to numerous tubes, Sorachi Aoi’s long-eyelashed eyes were thinly opened, looking towards the two detectives. Of the two sitting near her ved, she first looked at Atami.
“Aoi, are you alright?”
Like older brother and sister, the two called each other’s names.
“I’m sure you were scared. But you’re fine now. Anyways, there’s nothing left for you to worry about.”
Aoi nodded, perplexed at Atami’s strong words, “Yes… but what…” she said.
Ibusuki hit her hands together. When getting a situation in order, or to draw attention, it was her habit.
“I’m Atami’s superior, Ibusuki. Anyways, let’s explain the situation.”
Starting with the threatening letter delivered to the Sorachi House, the call with the kidnapper, finding Aoi, finding Murasaki’s remains, the things pointing to him as the culprit… Ibusuki told her approximately everything.
Looking at the clock, Atami sighed in admiration once more. For such a load of information, Ibusuki had managed to convey it in ninety seconds. What’s more, precisely, and in a way easy to understand and follow.
Having finished listening to Ibusuki’s story, Aoi quietly closed her eyes. Was she tired, Atami suspected, but tears fell from both Aoi’s eyes.
“Is that so… Murasaki-kun was the culprit… and he’s dead.”
“Is it a shock?”
On Atami’s question, Aoi shook her head on the bed.
“I don’t know. I don’t get it. I don’t get him anymore.”
“There’s no helping it.”
Ibusuki spoke in a troubled tone, but Atami saw her opening and closing her fist on her lap. That was the sign she was growing impatient.
“W-well then… Aoi, could you please tell us what happened?”
Atami sent some preemptive help. Aoi blinked her tear-covered eyes a few times.
“Yes, I’ll talk.”
She got her breath in order. Perhaps her injuries still hurt as her eyebrow lightly twitched as she moved.
“… Is today May fifth?”
“I see, then it happened yesterday… Yesterday, on my way home from Yumoto Music College… it was around nine. I talked with my aunt Ai-san a bit, left the college, and headed over to Yumoto station. But it was night and dark… as I was passing through a deserted parking lot, a cloth was suddenly pushed over my mouth from behind… I think I lost consciousness.”
“So you were forced to sniff chemicall… and then?”
Atami urged her on. Aoi’s eyes narrowed.
“And then… next time I woke, I was blindfolded. I didn’t know whether it was day or night, and I was scared. My arms and legs were tight up, and I could tell I was lying on some dusty concrete. My mouth was shut with packaging tape or something. But I couldn’t tell anything else… I don’t know how many minutes, how many hours passed, but I was lying in the same place all that time…”
Aoi finished by closing her eyes. Painfully, she continued with them shut.
“However long I was there, I suddenly heard a sown… and a while later, I heard a voice. A repulsing voice like a frog, and it seems they were talking with my father. Did you call for your nephew? they asked. And… it seems they pushed the receiver up against me. ‘say something, it’s your old man’ they said, and peeled off the tape. Since I was blindfolded, I didn’t know what was going on.”
She sucked in a deep breath of air. Perhaps her breathing was pained.
After around ten seconds she started back up.
I said something in a daze… the receiver was taken away, and my mouth was blocked up again. I heard an angry scream from the culprit… then it went quiet again. I remained lying down afraid… around ten to twenty minutes later, anyways, after a while passed, there was a warm sensation all over my body. Like a blanket or something was put over me. And then, it felt as if a hot stick was shoved into my chest… it really hurt, and my consciousness drifted away… that was all.”
Once Aoi ended her story, she coughed a bit and grimaced.
Ibusuki nodded, I see.
“The blanket was likely to prevent the culprit from getting any blood on himself… meaning from start to finish, you were bound and unable to do anything. The only time you ever talked was on the phone.”
“I’m sure it was hard on you… did you ever see the culprit?”
“I didn’t. Now once…”
Ibusuki scratched her hair.
“Is that so…”
“Um, is Murasaki-kun really the culprit? There’s no mistake?”
“That does seem to be the case.”
Hearing Ibusuki’s unemotional words, Aoi took a long sigh.
“Is that… so… I still can’t believe it.”
“Give it some time. You’ve just been through something terrible.”
When Ibusuki was about to ask her next questions, the doctor entered the room. “It’s about time,” he said. Ibusuki bit her lip in irritation but, there’s no helping it, she shrugged her shoulders and stood.
“I’m sorry for having you speak so much not long after your surgery. After you’ve calmed down, I’ll ask you for some more details.”
“Yes. Thank you… Itaru-kun, I’m sorry for doing this when you’re supposed to be off duty. It seems I’ve dragged you in.”
“No, don’t worry about me. Rather, did I tell you I would be off duty?
“I heard it when we went out for tea the other day. Me, you and father, the three of us.”
“Ah, that’s right.”
With a look of, hey, you’re coming too, Ibusuki sent Atami off. Atami stood, and noticed he had forgotten to ask an important thing.
On Atami’s cry, Aoi looked blankly.
“That strap from the insurance company, you had it on your phone, didn’t you? We found your phone at the scene, but it wasn’t on it anymore. When did you take it off?”
Aoi’s made a confused face. “Eh…” she tilted her head with it still on the pillow.
And after thinking a while, she answered.
“Did I take it off… I can’t remember. Perhaps it vanished when I wasn’t looking.”
When the meeting was over and they had left the room, Ibusuki scowled at Atami.
“Oy, what was that last question? I’ve said it a number of times, but right now, you’re not on the investigation. To the end, you’re here as someone to calm Sorachi Aoi, and a detective she’ll listen to.”
“I know that, I’m sorry. I’ve said something unnecessary.”
After Atami meekly lowered his head, he hit Ibusuki with a question he couldn’t help but ask.
“More importantly, there’s something I’m curious about.”
“… What is it this time?”
“Aoi’s mouth and eyes were sealed, and her limbs were bound, right? But when we found her, Aoi didn’t have any of that on her. What could that mean?”
Ibusuki’s lips bent as if to say, oh that.
“We found all the tools that were used to bind her. They were all collected together in a corner of the house where she was stabbed. I thought you knew since you were the first one to find the body, but it seems you overlooked it in your panic. Um, to be more precise… There was a cloth likely used to cover her eyes… perhaps she felt it on her eyelashes… and three used strips of packing tape. They were likely used on the mouth, hands and legs.”
“Meaning after the culprit stabbed Aoi, he took them all off… why would he do that?”
“Who knows? As her lover, he felt it was too pitiful to let her die in such an unsightly state, so at the very least he’d let her remains keep their charm, perhaps?”
If they were to take that consideration, rather than Murasaki, who apparently hated her, wouldn’t that be something her family would do… the thought unintentionally crossed Atami’s mind.
Ibusuki turned her back to end the conversation.
“Don’t aimlessly rummage through this case. I’m returning to headquarters. For now, just keep a low profile.”
Leaving those words behind, she gallantly walked off towards the elevator hall.
Atami scratched his head and walked to the terrace.
Taking out his phone, he hesitated a bit. After opening and closing his contacts a few times, he carried on internal conflict for around three minutes before half-recklessly giving Chizuru a call.
After a few rings, Chizuru picked up.
‘Atami-san. So how was it? And findings?’
“Good grief, it was just as you said. That Aoi never saw the culprit, and about the strap. Hey, I give up already. Just what’s going on with this case? I can’t tell what’s what anymore.”
After a bit of silence, ‘well let’s see, then for now, you should go to the scene again,’ he said.
“The scene?” Atami ended up repeating. “Is there something there?”
‘Perhaps, we’re just speaking hypotheticals here. You might just find a large piece of evidence.’
‘That’s right. Decisive evidence the culprit would definitely never be able to evade.’
“… I see. Very well.”
Atami said in desperation. Whatever will be will be.
‘Okay. You’re at the hospital right now, right? For now, could you come get me?’
“Got it… ah.”
Atami remembered he had left his car at the scene.
Once he informed Chizuru of that fact, he murcillessly said,
‘Then call a taxi.’
“Eh, no… the hospital is walking distance from your house. It’ll only take twenty minutes tops.”
‘I don’t want to talk all the way from my house to the scene.’
His reason was way too unreasonable.
“Good grief… got it. Then wait, I’ll come get you.”
When it came to Ibusuki, and when it came to Chizuru. Atami lamented his own terrible treatment as he hung up.
Telling those involved he had a reason he had to leave no matter what, Atami exited the hospital.
He had the taxi he called over take him to the complex where Chizuru lived.
Atami got off the taxi momentarily, calling Chizuru down by phone. After around five minutes, he appeared form the entrance. In a white hoodie, as if he’d only just woken up, he rubbed his double-edged-eyelidded eyes as he walked towards Atami.
“You could have waited outside.”
The time spent waiting was charged extra, containing his real intent, Atami grumbled, only for Chizuru to say, “The wind’s strong, so that’s impossible,” and overly arbitrary thing.
Boarding the taxi, on the way to the Yumoto Music College, Atami asked Chizuru.
“Hey, do you really know who the culprit is?”
“Of course I do… more importantly, did you learn anything else?”
He had no obligation to talk. No obligation, but…
“The truth is, there are some new things the police learned in their investigation.”
As if being manipulated, Atami spoke lengths on it. The evidence that reinforced Murasaki as the suspect, and Ibusuki’s forced double suicide hypothesis, alongside Aoi’s testimony.
After he’d heard it all, Chizuru gave a hum. As if to say it was all as he’d predicted.
“There was quite an interesting point in Aoi-san’s testimony.”
“You think? Even when she never saw the culprit’s face?
“Yes… well, if you base it all on that, then the force double suicide hypothesis becomes exceedingly difficult to believe. If Murasaki was resolved to die from the start, there was no need to make sure Aoi-san never saw his face.”
“Ah, sure enough.”
“It’s a bit forced for a forced double suicide.”
“That joke was also forced.”
As they exchanged quite an imprudent stream of banter, the taxi arrived at the copse in question. Atami had it return.
“Now then… shall we go?”
Atami and Chizuru walked off. From here, it was around five minutes to the prefabricated house where Aoi was found.
Once they’d walked around three, Chizuru complained.
“Walking is tiring, Atami-san.”
“That was fast! You’re young, so keep at it.”
Does this guy really know the culprit…? Suspected Atami as he pulled Chizuru towards the house.
It seems the investigations team had already finished searching the crime scene and withdrawn. While there was one officer left on watch, Atami was able to use his position as a prefectural detective, and show his police notebook to silence them.
Regardless of the lookout policeman’s curious stare, Chizuru set foot into the prefab. It’s dusty, jumbled state hadn’t changed, but there were plastic sheets and chairs placed all around.
“This is a bit late, but who exactly does this building belong to?”
“It’s hard to say who,” Atami answered Chizuru’s question. “All the land in the area should have been purchased by Yumoto Music College, but this prefab itself was likely left behind by its previous owner.”
“Hmm. So it was the perfect location to confine the victim of a kidnapping.”
From the wind, the musty prefab hut’s entirety let out a rattling sound. One of the storm shutters on the verge of falling off let off a thud every time it hit against the walls.
Chizuru closed his eyes slowly getting used to the sound. From there, as if receiving enlightenment, he crawled across the ground, and gazed at the floor where Aoi was stabbed.The concrete floor was darkened by the bloodstains that stuck to it.
“Oy, Chizuru-kun. Don’t mess up the crime scene too much.”
“… Is there no doubt it was here? Where Aoi-san was stabbed?”
“Hah? What are you talking about?”
Atami was shocked, he looked at Chizuru on his knees.
“You saw it too, didn’t you? She was lying down right there.”
“Not that, I mean, is it possible her body was moved after she was stabbed? That was my intent.”
“That’s impossible,” Atami instantly replied. “We can tell from the bloodstain. There are no traces of her being dragged or moved, and from the amount of blood that flowed, it’s certain she was stabbed there.”
“… Is that so.”
Chizuru stood, brushing off the dust stuck to his jeans.
“Then let’s go.”
“Eh? Was that enough? You really know who the culprit is?”
“Yes, I know.”
Chizuru said it casually, but Atami still couldn’t believe.
“You really, really know? And it isn’t Murasaki?”
“That’s right. He’s in essence a scapegoat… in short, he was simply used as a substitute for the culprit. Which means he was murdered.”
“And you mean to say you know who killed him, and who almost killed Aoi.”
Chizuru went silent for a moment, before replying, “That’s what it would mean.”
“Who was it?”
“Discussing it here won’t lead to anything,” Chizuru said bluntly. “More importantly, are all the relevant personnel still at the hospital?”
“Y-yeah… Uncle Kisuke-san and Akari-san, Momota Ai-san, and her husband Tokihito-san. They’re all there.”
“That’s convenient. Then shall we go to the hospital?”
“To do what?”
“Corner the culprit.”
Chizuru looked at Atami sharply. Atami faltered at that look; it almost felt as if his body had frozen over.