Allowing a civilian like Kyouko-san into the crime scene required a separate series of permissions, so it was afternoon by the time they arrived. Mustering up some courage, Hijiori did try inviting her out for lunch but, “We’re short on time at the moment,” she softly declined—it was a fact that the forgetful detective who was as a matter of fact incapable of investigating for more than a day hadn’t the time for a leisurely meal. Hey munching on sweet bread side by side in the police car is quaint enough.
“For the residents of an athlete aiming for the Olympics, how should I put it… it’s a normal apartment complex. You said he was famous, so I thought his residence was somewhere with firmer security.”
“It may have been different if he actually won a gold at the Olympics, but… athlete in itself isn’t as lucrative of an occupation as it seems.”
Of course, it was a living environment that couldn’t even be compared to the dilapidated two-story complex where Kujirai lived, but… the place seemed considerably removed from the victim’s degree of fame and income.
“There’s no automatic lock, no security camera at the door… while there’s a camera in the elevator, you just have to use the stairs to avoid it… Unagi-san’s room is on the seventh floor, right?”
“Yes, Room 702.”
“Then even I could climb that high.”
Steadily conducting an on-site inspection before visiting the scene, the two finally arrived before Room 702. The police investigation was already over, so the place wasn’t deemed off limits. There was no one on watch. With the key borrowed from the management company, Hijiori opened the front door.
“Unagi-san lived alone, right? It seems he’s borrowed quite the large room for a single person. He’d be better off living in a studio apartment in some building with better facilities.”
Kyouko-san noted, upon observing the number of doors visible from the entranceway. That was the same question Hijiori himself held the first time he visited the room.
“He was quite the sociable fellow, and it seems he got a large room so he could call friends and juniors over… apparently the suspect Kujirai used to come quite often. That’s why he had a spare key.”
“Just by the sound of it, Kujirai-san might not be the only one with a key… you said he was the top suspect, but do you not have a second or third option?”
“Not at the moment… in that sense, you could say Kujirai-san might be our sole suspect.”
Which meant if his alibi was real, they would be in a troublesome situation without anyone to suspect.
“Considering the disappearance of money, the possibility of a passing burglar can’t be eliminated, but there are no traces of forced entry, so—there aren’t any broken windows, and the bathroom didn’t have a window to begin with.”
“But if it was an accident, the missing money would be strange.”
“Can’t say for sure. It wasn’t a precious metal, it was just cold hard cash. It’s possible the man just used it up himself.”
“Meaning the chances of accidental death still exist—now then,”
Kyouko-san said as she opened the door to the bathroom. Going right along to sliding open the bathing area’s folding door, she took a look inside—while she didn’t step in with her socks, as always, her flowing motions carried no wasted movements. Hijiori almost wished he had called in his subordinates so they could learn a thing or two.
“The bathing area is quite… wide. Both the shower and the tub…”
She said as she turned and looked at the nearest plug by the sink. She seemed to be measuring the distance by eye.
“A dryer cord isn’t generally that long, I would think… it’s quite a precarious distance. Whether anything plugged into the sink outlet could reach the tub.”
“It did reach, just barely.”
“Well I’m sure it did, but there really is no way to say it was particularly convenient… I doubt he could have been in such a rush to dry his hair that he would let himself feel so restricted—as long as he wasn’t a considerable optimist, he would have at least considered the possibility of the cord overreaching and dropping the dryer out of his hand.”
“Then you’re saying it couldn’t have been an accident?”
“Who can say… but I do think the cord’s length is just as unreliable if it were to be used as a tool for murder.”
It’s a bit pushing it to make it look like an accident, so could there be some necessity to using the dryer? Kyouko-san said, while removing her socks. Mere socks they may be, but the way she pulled them off was strangely sensual, causing the officer to inadvertently avert his eyes—by the time he got another look, she was already gone. She was surveying the bathroom with her bare feet.
She entered the bathtub without hesitation. As it hadn’t been filled, she didn’t get wet from that, but the resolution behind each and every action she took was given far too eagerly. Albeit, she looked like she was attempting to assume the same posture as the victim.
“Kyouko-san, do you have a theory?”
“No, not at the moment. I just thought I’d try out whatever came to mind.”
She stretched out her legs and tried touching the faucet—for someone of her small build, it was a modular tub that would let her bathe stretched out all she wanted. Well, as a place someone had died not too long ago, I have no choice but to call her sensitivities to stretch out far too brazen… even a veteran officer like Hijiori would be reluctant if he was ordered to do it.
With her arms folded, she stood. And maintaining a difficult look on her face, she returned to the dressing area.
“Did you figure anything out?”
“While there are some things that have been answered, there are even more questions than before.”
After those cryptic words, Kyouko-san took the next hour searching Unagi’s 2LDK flat from corner to corner. The police had already gone through the place once, so she didn’t come up with any new evidence, but Kyouko-san didn’t seem particularly disappointed with her labor.
“As you said, there are no signs of anyone infiltrating through the windows… but this is quite a well-kept room. Quite tidied up for a man living alone… or could it be the police put things in order during the search?”
“No, we don’t offer such a thorough service…”
He hadn’t been too conscious of it up to the moment she mentioned it, but sure enough, Unagi’s residence was prim and tidy. Rather than a detective’s, perhaps this was a woman’s viewpoint—though it was difficult to say that was relevant to the case.
“I don’t know either. But maybe it wasn’t Unagi-san, but the culprit who cleaned up.”
“W-why would they do that?”
“If we knew that, we wouldn’t need a detective.”
With a warm smile, Kyouko-san sat herself down on the living room sofa. She carried herself gracefully as if it were her own room. Standing on his own wouldn’t accomplish anything, so Officer Hijiori say across.
“I didn’t find any notable evidence, but if you’ll let me speak off of pure impression,” Kyouko-san chose that timing to speak up, “Kujirai-san is guilty. Even subtracting the fact he was the first person on the scene, it’s far too suspicious.”
“Is that so… for example, it what regards?”
“He rung the intercom a number of times, and thinking it was strange there was no response, he went in with his spare key—that one’s, well, sure, why not. For now, we’ll put aside the question of why he carried the spare key around. But when the crime was reported and the police visited this room, you said Kujirai-san first took a peep through the door, and then undid the door chain after that… would your normally lock the chain in someone else’s house?”
“Rather, he wouldn’t have locked the door in the first place—if there was a reason to lock it, then what could it be?”
“…Because he didn’t want to be obstructed? Or because Kujirai-san was doing something in the room he felt guilty about—is that what it was? He was cleaning up after his work…”
“I can’t think he had enough time to clean up the room as a whole, but… perhaps he could at least work some magic on the bathroom. To get rid of traces of murder, perhaps.”
Though it’s just a hypothesis, Kyouko-san remarked.
Sure enough, if at the present point they asked Kujirai why he fastened the door chain and he replied, ‘I just felt like it,’ there would be no means to pursue the matter further.
No matter ow many small questions and contradictions you piled up like in a mystery novel, the phrase ‘I just felt like it’ generally resolved most things in reality—that was something that didn’t need a detective. That’s why detectives had to pin down far more fundamental questions and contradictions.
“And no matter how suspicious he may be—no, despite how suspicious he may be, it is the basis of law that suspicious cannot be punished. If we’re basing this on guilty until proven innocent, then even if my impression is guilty, as long as there is no physical evidence, I must conclude that Kujirai-san is innocent.”
“Eh? Huh? Could it be that I’ve just forgotten, and the rationality and principal of law has changed just like the tax?”
“Oh no, perish the thought. Or at least, not that much.”
But, and this was unbecoming of a police officer—but, with all the time he spent on the force, if that hadn’t been a rationality and a principal, instead nothing more than a front, there would have been fewer times he found himself despairing at the world.
As a detective who, in a sense, operated in a domain even grayer than the police, he admired Kyouko-san who could say it so innocently—perhaps it was something only someone who, no matter how they despaired, would simply forget it could say.
It could be said that the forgetful detective unerringly embodied, ‘hate the sin, not the sinner.’
“I apologize that I keep bringing up hypotheticals but, Officer. If Kujirai-san’s alibi was established, where would you be around now? Meaning, if I weren’t the forgetful detective, and I could properly testify to his alibi.”
“In that case…”
It truly was a hypothetical, and not a talk Officer Hijiori could do anything about on his own, but even so, going by his own experience, he could express his view on the matter.
“He would quite likely be removed from the list of suspects. As long as his absence from the crime scene is proven, no matter how thick the suspicions are, he cannot be indicted—and there won’t be an arrest warrant. Naturally, the one who testified to his alibi… meaning you would turn into Kujirai-san’s accomplice, and we would have to conduct a careful investigation on whether or not you would give false testimony to cover for him…”
But in the case there was no reason to cover—even if he knew it was pointless, Hijiori had looked into it just in case, and had completely failed to find any connection between Okitegami Kyouko and the suspect Kujirai that went back further than the day before last. They really had met then for the first time, although even if that wasn’t true, she’s have forgotten.
“And if you’re wondering what I’d be doing around now, I’d quite likely be searching for a separate culprit.”
Hmm, upon hearing that, Kyouko-san folded her arms in thought—there was no way she actually felt responsibility at the fact the suspicions around a single suspect would clear had she been able to give testimony.
From Officer Hijiori’s point of view, at this point, he couldn’t help but feel something contrived about the alibi that had failed to be established—of course, in that regard as well, he couldn’t punish a suspicion. Whether it was a rationality or a front or anything else.
But there, “Then how about we go apologize to Kujirai-san, who couldn’t be removed from the list because of me,” Kyouko-san came out with.
With—absolutely no apologetics showing on her face, she gave what was simply a mischievous grin.
In regards to the fact it had completely thrown off the police investigation and pushed it into a dead end, it was hard to say Kujirai’s fabricated Alibi was a complete failure, but quite naturally, one would be hard pressed to say he was living with peace of mind.
There was no way he could have anticipated that the person he chose to testify for him wouldn’t remember it in the slightest—there weren’t any means to anticipate that the occupation ‘Forgetful Detective’ even existed in the world, so he didn’t even have any way to reflect on himself.
Good grief, the world sure is vast.
Considering how he hadn’t been arrested, his alibi hadn’t gone as far as to be disproven… but even if it still held water, as long as it was incomplete, his prospects of the future were slim. He had thought that, as long as the alibi was complete, no matter how suspicious he was, it would end as a suspicion…
As a change of pace, the day before, he had ordered whatever book she was reading over the net had it delivered within the day, and read it late into the night. Rather than a change of pace, perhaps he wanted to prove to himself that he really did meet that white-haired girl and talk to her two days prior—forget mystery novels, Kujirai wasn’t accustomed to reading in general, so one short story was the most he could manage.
It was the one she had read that day, that she had called interesting and recommended to him, Sunaga Hirubee’s ‘Sentenced to Conversion’.
And quite a bizarre story it was.
The contents were greatly estranged from the image of mystery he had gleaned from the few mystery novels, drams and movies he had processed—While it was yet another field he lacked expertise in, so he couldn’t say anything for certain, he got to thinking it was more of a sci-fi or fantasy story than a mystery.
Once upon a time, there was a heinous criminal—a true scoundrel, a natural-born villain. Not only every offense listed in the six codes of law, rumor had it he had committed every crime in the world.
The time had come for him to finally pay the piper.
He was arrested, prosecuted, and definitively guilty. He would naturally be punished with the greatest penalty the law had to offer— all those against the death sentence, and those who advocated for human rights, they all had no choice but to assent to his execution.
All besides one.
That person was a renowned psychologist, a surgeon, and a judge, a man who went by the name of Sorimine, and he declared that no matter how vile a villain, they should not be put to an end through the noose. If one had to be killed because they were a criminal, then they just had to not be a criminal any more—he said.
You just have to reform them.
Naturally, the villain was a villain to the core, and not the sort of man who would reform, but the reform Sorimine referred to was something a little different. You simply have to ‘reshape the heart’, he thought.
Suppressing the world’s objections that he should just be killed this instant without all the tedium, Sorimine conducted the surgery.
And the villain was reborn.
He understood the feelings of others, believed in others, worked for others, allied himself with the honest, took the side of the weak, never hurt a soul, and was modest and kind—he was reborn as a man of virtue.
And the released villain, now a Samaritan—
Just as he had recalled the contents of the short story to that point, he heard a knock on his apartment’s door and the voice of a woman.
It was an easy-going voice, so he couldn’t help but carelessly open the door unwary, but awaiting him in the corridor were the scary-faced Officer Hijiori, and the white-haired Kyouko-san he couldn’t forget even if he was forgotten.
He had to put his all into hiding his fluster… no, don’t panic. Today those, umm, two subordinates who were still new at this weren’t there. It didn’t seem they had come with an arrest w aren’t to take him in.
More so, the fact that a key person in Kujirai’s alibi, Kyouko-san, had come along meant it couldn’t be such a pessimistic development—even if she’d forgotten, was she brought along on the off chance she might recall upon seeing his face? In that case, there was no need to be cold-hearted. To confirm his identity, he was far better off treating her with due courtesy.
“Officer, and… Kyouko-san, right? Do you have some business with me? A new development in the case?”
“No, we’re still hard at work investigating… how is it?”
Officer Hijiori asked Kyouko-san—was this an identification after all?
“Yeaaah, looks like I really can’t recall… I’m Okitegami Kyouko. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Kyouko-san said, lowering her head.
It had kinda seemed like bad joke up to that point. Until he had confronted her face to face, Kujirai couldn’t believe it, but it did seem she really had forgotten the events of that day.
As if he were the sort of boring man who wasn’t worth remembering, it made him ashamed to his heart, but that probably wasn’t it—the forgetful detective’s memory reset every day.
Please seduce me from scratch—should he have placed more weight on those words she gave at their parting? Should he have asked her what she meant? There’s no way he could have figured it out back then.
“The name’s Kujirai Ruka… it’s not our first meeting, but it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Kujirai-san. Is there any mistaking the fact that the woman you talked to around three the day before yesterday was this person?”
“Yes, there is no doubt about it.”
Kujirai answered as Officer Hijiori made doubly sure—well, Kujirai’s one-sided memories wouldn’t establish an alibi, but there was no way anyone would mistake such a peculiar woman.
“Kyouko-san, you really don’t remember me?”
While he tried asking, for argument’s sake, “Nope, not in the slightest,” she refuted it stronger than necessary. “I’m sorry, Kujirai-san. I wish I was able to back up your alibi, but—oh, could you let me in?”
“Please. It’s cold outside.”
“Oh, sure… I don’t mind.”
She asked quite naturally, so he accepted just as naturally, but asking to be let in because of the cold, come to think of it, was quite a brazen request. What’s more, not only Kyouko-san, he ended up letting the police officer Hijiori in with her—that was a clear blunder.
It wasn’t as if he had any suspicious articles in his room, so he didn’t particularly mind, but he was beginning to realize that his pace was thrown off whenever this white-haired woman was around.
Rather than evading as slippery as an eel—it felt as if slippery as an eel, she was stepping around him. That was, in essence how she stepped in, anyway…
“Officer, would you like some coffee? Kyouko-san, you take your black, right?”
He casually mixed in the episode of their meeting two days prior as he procured some drinks—something must have been off as, during that whole time, Kyouko-san restlessly surveyed the inside of the room.
“But that was a surprise. To think you were a detective.”
“Did I not say so? Two days ago me?”
“The first I’m hearing of it. Aah, but you did say something about conducting inquiries…”
“Yes. I mainly conduct inquiries. I’m a detective, you see.”
While he got the feeling she was being purposely misleading, the idea she was taking surveys was definitely Kujirai jumping to conclusions. Detective… based on that conversation the day before last, Kyouko-san definitely did seem to like mystery novels, so could it be she got the job out of fondness for the great detectives? In that case, she might be around the age where the gap between real and fictional detectives started getting to her.
Though she didn’t seem bothered in the slightest…
Forgetful detective, eh.
“Kujirai-san, there are a few things I’d like to ask you. Could I go ahead?”
Once he had reached the low table with three drinks, the one who declared that to Kujirai wasn’t Officer Hijiori but Kyouko-san.
“Mn… yeah, sure.”
Once again, he carelessly accepted all too easily.
He hadn’t let his guard down, but she had exquisite timing with each question.
“Could you explain the situation behind your discovery of the late Unagi-san’s remains in detail?”
“I’ve already done that… to that officer.”
“In detail. Word for word, not missing a single detail.”
While he wasn’t up for it, he couldn’t think up an appropriate reason to refuse—if he didn’t want to show any more openings, it made it even harder to refuse her demand.
Kujirai- mostly honestly- described to the two the situation surrounding his discovery of the body. Perhaps it would disrupt the investigation even further, he thought as he explained more than what was demanded of him, not skipping a detail. Of course, he covered up the important point… but surely they didn’t notice. They had no way of noticing.
“I see. To discover your dear friend has passed must be a terrible experience. You have my sympathies.”
Kyouko-san said. While Kujirai was talking, she intently watched him all the way—as if rather than the contents of the story, she was paying more attention to the way he said it—and yet her impression at the end was something terribly mundane.
“Yeah, I was really nervous when I thought I’d see him again after so long…”
“When it was such a long-awaited reunion, you called out to me for tea right before that?”
I’m really sorry for getting in the way—Kyouko-san said in a blank, innocent tone. Kujirai was startled. Even if he was making an alibi, that part was pushing it, even he thought so—it was inevitable, or rather, a choice between two evils, but for a young man such as himself to cut off a conversation with a young woman like Kyouko-san to see Unagi was…
Normally, he would have flaked out on a promise with a male friend to continue talking to Kyouko-san—not to mention Unagi wasn’t even a friend anymore.
Even so, as long as he had a perfect alibi, he convinced himself that problems with his own M.O. wouldn’t make for conspicuous flaws, but now with his alibi incomplete, nothing but the problems remained.
In the first place, at the point he called out to her as she read a book at the café, he would have been perfectly fine if she turned him down—if he incessantly latched onto a woman enjoying her coffee alone, it would leave an impression on her and the people around her, but contrary to his expectations, she conceded the seat all too easily, and the conversation bounded, so instead of a silver lining on a dark cloud, perhaps it was more of a dark lining on a white one.
“Oh no, don’t worry about it. It’s my fault for finding you so captivating I simply couldn’t help but strike up conversation. Though when the conversation grew lively, I really grew pale when I finally remembered my promise with Unagi.”
It was a bit painful, but he could only press on with that excuse. He had calculated that she wouldn’t feel bad if he called her captivating, but Kyouko-san just smiled and ignored that part of it.
“But if instead of talking to me, you hurried to Unagi’s apartment, you might have been able to prevent his accidental death.”
“Nah, I wouldn’t have made it in time. I heard he dropped the dryer right around the time I first talked to you.”
With Kyouko-san’s use of the term accidental death, he matched the story by reflex, but Officer Hijiori beside her made a grim expression. When the officer silently stationed himself with that scary face of his, it made Kujirai imagine all sorts of things on his own. Was this that ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine he’d heard about—no, Kyouko-san wasn’t a cop… but she showered him with questions just like one.
“How long has it been since you last visited Unagi-san’s apartment?”
“I couldn’t tell you… it’s been years. So long ago I can’t remember. Is that important?”
“I’m just trying to crush every small question one at a time—it greatly hurts my heart that I was unable to testify for your alibi, so I thought I would try to clear up the suspicions placed on you.”
“I’m a detective who specializes in inquiries, so if I could at least contribute the best I can.”
He would have been happy had that been the case, but at this point, no matter what beauty was saying it, Kujirai wasn’t feeling gracious enough to take those words at face value. More than that, her questions for a while now had done nothing but solidify the suspicions on him.
“But phones, right… it’s got to be cellphones these days.”
He tried to measure out what she meant, but apparently, when she was surveying the room, she was confirming whether or not he had a landline. Perhaps she had already done the same at Unagi’s house.
“When you rung the intercom a few times at the promised time, you found it strange he didn’t answer and used a spare key to go in— correct?”
What about it? He was a bout to say when he swallowed his words—if he kept trying to probe into the meaning behind the questions, it would only make him more suspicious.
“Before you entered Unagi-san’s room, why didn’t you put in a call to Unagi-san’s phone?”
Crap, he thought, but whether that reached his expression or not—he hurriedly smoothed it over with, “Oh, you’re right. It totally slipped my mind”. As a matter of fact, entering Unagi’s room without calling wasn’t particularly strange for someone who owned a spare key. It was just the way she posed the question that made it practically seem like a decisive mistake.
If he was going to press the intercom button a few times when no one was looking, then even if he knew no one would answer, he should have called too… but that’s all it was. Nothing more than something that honestly slipped his mind.
“Well, in the end, by that time, old Unagi was already dead.”
“That’s right. In the bathroom—however, Kujirai-san. What I really must ask is, how were you able to find Unagi-san’s body?”
“…? How was I able to find it…? Err, I don’t get what that means.”
That one he really didn’t know. It’s not like Unagi’s body was hidden in the ceiling or under the floorboards—he was in the bath, there wasn’t even a lid on it. Even a five-year-old could spot that.
“No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about. Don’t humble yourself—I mean, normally, when searching for someone in an apartment, barely anyone searches the bathroom first. They’d normally check the living or dining room.”
His gaze flitted to Officer Hijiori for a moment. The day before last, when he was first questioned, he had testified so—meaning, he said that as soon as he entered the room with the spare key, he immediately discovered the body in the bathroom. While he had determined he shouldn’t tell any unnecessary lies… should he pretend to remember that he just didn’t say it, and before the bathroom he checked the other rooms?
You might say there’s no way to forget something like that, but there was, right before his eyes, the forgetful detective who couldn’t back up his alibi. It might have some persuasive power.
Still, even if he did say he investigated the living or dining room, that would lead to a peculiar development where his fingerprints wouldn’t be found in either room—what a bog.
“Oh, it was just kinda happened. He didn’t answer the door so I thought, hey, couldn’t he be taking a bath or something? I had a hunch. In the past, when we still got a long, it had happened a few times… you can call him absentminded or slovenly, but he’s the sorta guy that falls sound asleep in the bath.”
It was true that he was the sort who fell asleep in the bath. The fact it had happened a few times before was a lie. But well, with how long ago that was, it would be hard for anyone to determine the authenticity of that claim.
“It was just coincidence that I checked the bathroom first, I doubt it will serve as any reference.”
“It is the closest door to the entrance, after all.”
“Yeah, there’s that.”
“Was it also often that Unagi-san took baths in the evening?”
“Well let’s see. After exercising, he would hop int the bath without showering… I’m pretty sure he’d rather relax than clean up.”
“I see, I see.”
Sure she had accepted his explanation, Kujirai almost pat his chest in relief. Yet, “But in that case, it’s even more curious,” Kyouko-san swiftly leaned her body in.
“I mean, going off that train of thought, I get the feeling searching the bathroom’s the first thing you’d give up on.”
What did she mean? Was she trying to say calling out to someone in the bath was rude?
Perhaps if he was dealing with a woman, but when it was a man, and they were men the both of them, that retort was quite a stretch.
“No, no, what are you talking about, Kujirai-san? I mean, by that point, Unagi-san had dropped the dryer into the bath and been electrocuted to death.”
“Y-yes, I know that now.”
“Meaning—by that point in time, the room’s breaker was tripped.”
Even after she had said that much, it didn’t hit home with Kujirai. So what if the breaker was tripped? Even if she brought that up, it wasn’t particularly surprising to him. As a matter of fact, the electricity in the bathroom was off—off?
“… If the bathroom lights are off, you wouldn’t usually conclude there’s someone inside.”
Officer Hijiori solemnly said—from what could be picked up from his reaction, he had just reached that realization himself.
“That bathroom didn’t have any windows—if you’re bathing without the lights, it’ll be pitch black.”
“If it were me, even if I did suspect he was in the bath, at the moment I opened the dressing room door, I’d decide ‘he’s not here’. Even if I did search the bathroom after that, it would be after looking at the living and dining room—and yet, you’re saying you investigated the bathing area beyond that and discovered Unagi-san, so you must boast a marvelous power of deduction. If it were me, then the moment I saw the pitch black hallway, I might have gone home.”
“Y-you don’t have to praise me like that, you’re making me blush.”
Her cynicism was palpable, but he could only answer as such and play it off with a laugh. Calm down, it’s not like she’s brought up some physically impossible contradiction, thought he. It’s because he knew there was a corpse that he investigated the bathroom—she couldn’t prove that.
“Maybe I heard old Unagi pleading for help. Maybe he guided me…”
He tried taking the conversation in a spiritual direction but, “Though you couldn’t help him in the end,” Kyouko-san simply, dryly cut that down.
“Aah, maybe you saw the cord? The dryer cord leading from the sink to the bath. And you got suspicious?”
Her theory sent out almost like a lifeboat almost made him hop right aboard, but both the changing area with the sink and the corridor were pitch black. Could he insist he saw the dryer’s cord in that situation?
Of course, he did see it, so he should say that he saw it. Even if it was pitch black, that didn’t mean it was perfect darkness. But even if that was the case, perhaps he could only make it out because he knew it was there beforehand—in that case, if he said he saw it here, that slip-up might prove fatal. Kujirai cautiously answered, “I don’t really know.”
“Is that so. By the way, what did you do after you found Unagi-san’s remains?”
“… Why of course, I immediately reported it. On my cellphone…”
“A-and then what?”
“Ah, no, it’s fine if you didn’t do anything—it is perfectly possible to lock and chain the door without any real reason.”
She said with an unperturbed smile—while her words seemed to carry some profound meaning, Kujirai couldn’t make out what that meaning was. He didn’t know, but it was clear as day that continuing this conversation was bad.
It wasn’t as if escaping here would change anything, but whatever the case, he had to break up the flow he’d been caught in.
“… I’m sorry, officer.”
Kujirai ignored Kyouko-san to turn to Officer Hijiori.
“I have to go to the pool tonight, so I’d like to start packing up…”
“The pool… for your job?”
“No, I wish that were the case, but I can’t neglect my training…”
It wasn’t anything as exaggerated as training, but it was true he had plans to go swimming at the gym.
“Is that so? Then I apologize for keeping you so long.”
Kyouko-san stood—and to Officer Hijiori who still seemed to have something to ask, “Then let’s be off, officer,” she said.
With a gentle smile, she turned to Kujirai.
“Pardon us, Kujirai-san. I’m glad I got to speak with you. I’ll definitely prove your innocence, so rest at ease—as long as you’re innocent.”
“… Thank you. I’ll be counting on you.”
I may have entrusted my alibi to quite an outrageous person—Kujirai-san thought for the first time.
Upon leaving Kujirai’s apartment, Officer Hijiori and Kyouko-san directed their feet towards an electronics retailer—it was in order to purchase a dryer. Kyouko-san insisted she wanted to buy the exact same model as what had killed the victim, to confirm its length on-site. Officer Hijiori simply tagged along.
The way she grew somewhat unhinged at the novelty of the latest appliances was a refreshing sight to the officer, but (When her most recent knowledge was never updated, a visit to an electronics store was practically a visit to the future), whatever the case, when shopping was over and they had returned to Unagi’s apartment, it was right around five in the afternoon.
Five in the afternoon—meaning the time Kujirai came upon Unagi’s body two days prior. It wasn’t as if they were aiming for that time, but it was most convenient to confirm the situation.
Entering the room, making for the bathroom with all the lights off—as Kyouko-san told Kujirai, it was pitch black. Having seen that, no one would think anyone was bathing inside.
“Hijiori-san. Please pass me the dryer.
He took it out of the paper bag and undid the packaging. While he had tentatively kept the receipt, whether or not it fell under expenses was as of yet a mystery.
“Here. Do be careful.”
“I appreciate the sentiment. But a dryer on its own can’t be too dangerous… The bath’s all dried up, anyway.”
Kyouko-san said as she plugged the cord into the sink outlet and carried the dryer with her. Just like that, she softly placed it into the bathtub.
As expected, the cord just barely reached, but it didn’t make it to the bottom of the tub—it precariously dangled over the side.
“Is this scene the same one you saw on the day in question.”
“Yes… but by the look of things, the cord is going to lose to the weight of the dryer and unplug itself.”
“When the tub’s full, buoyancy will do its work, so I don’t think that’s a problem… but even if it reaches the bath, trying to dry your hair here is a tad… perhaps the shower area, but inside the bathtub is a tad pushing it—in the first place,”
With a tug, Kyouko-san yanked up the dangling dryer. She flipped the switch—a heated gale picked up, swaying her hair.
She assailed her own head with the dryer’s breeze from all directions—as it wasn’t wet to begin with, her white locks flashily hovered around.
After doing that a while, she slowly turned off the switch and returned to the changing area. For a while he had held his silence, but of course, Officer Hijiori couldn’t grasp the meaning behind that action, “What were you doing? Testing the dryer’s output?” he thought he should ask in jest.
“Why yes, that’s exactly what I was doing,” she replied with a nonchalant face. “Dryers these days sure have a high performance. It surprised me there.”
“… Umm, Kyouko-san. I get that you’re impressed with the advancement of technology, but look at the time…”
Officer Hijiori pointed at the watch on his wrist. While it was never good to rush, the forgetful detective had a time limit. Okitegami Kyouko whose memories were reset every day, it was impossible for her to investigate any case for greater than a one-day period. It was currently past five. It was too early to panic, but neither was it a time to play around.
“No, in short… officer, do you need this dryer?”
“? Ah, if you want to take that back with you after the investigation, then—”
“That’s not what I meant. I’m asking whether you need this much functionality to dry your hair.”
“That I do not.”
He tried to be tactful but missed the mark—to play off his embarrassment, “I’m perfectly happy with a cheaper one myself,” he answered the question. Of course, even that response was putting on airs to an extent, and when he did wash his hair, Officer Hijiori let it dry naturally instead of using a dryer, more often than not. While he might say things for appearance’s sake, he wasn’t one to care about appearances.
“Yes, even at my hair length, you wouldn’t need this output—I’m thinking this is meant for women with long hair.”
Kyouko-san’s white hair was bob cut at her shoulders. When even that hairstyle didn’t need it, would an athlete, what’s more, a swimmer like Unagi have any use?
From what he could recall from his corpse in the bath, it wasn’t a buzz cut, but his hair was considerably short. He had, in some way or another, accepted the pairing of bathroom and dryer as natural, but—there were people in the world who didn’t need a dryer at all.
If the need did arise, could he perhaps dry off with a thick bath towel?
“… Mn? Which means, what exactly does that mean?”
“I’m just considering possibilities. Of course, even if his hair was short, there are surely times he’d use a dryer, and perhaps there are oddballs out there who would use a dryer in the bathtub—but if, just like that, it is alright to take such outlying possibilities into consideration, then perhaps it is possible that the dryer that killed him did not belong to Unagi-san—right?”
“… You’re saying it’s a murder weapon carried in by the culprit? That because it was brought in for the express purpose of murder, they chose the highest possible output?”
That would make it material evidence. It wasn’t that Unagi’s personal belonging that happened to be there was used, it was the culprit’s personal possession—even if that wasn’t the case, if the culprit prepared it in advance…
Officer Hijiori was exhilarated, they had finally come upon a thin thread that might lead to the culprit. But the one who discovered it, Kyouko-san herself didn’t seem too merry about the whole thing.
“W… what’s wrong? Can’t we trace Kujirai-san’s recent movements to look into any traces of him buying a hair dryer…?”
That would be a door-to-door campaign, so it would no longer be an investigation that could end in a few days, but it could be said the forgetful detective had more than enough work already.
“Oh no, you see, how should I put it, I’m troubled over how I should express this feeling. Unagi-san used a dryer in the bath, and carelessly dropped the dryer, electrocuting himself—isn’t that the story the culprit was trying to depict?”
“The questionable points of this story are: the fact that someone exists who would use a dryer in the bathtub—something even a small child would know is dangerous, the fact that the dryer’s cord is a little too short to use in the bath, and as I just brought up, the fact that Unagi-san, at the very least, probably did not need a dryer with an output this high—correct?”
“Yes. If you want to sum it up, that sounds about right.”
That’s why it’s suspicious.
The fact that the case that at first looked like an accident started to be seen as a murder wasn’t simply because the person who found the body was suspicious.
“But, hear me out. Even if someone—it doesn’t have to be Kujirai-san, I’m trying to say that means that someone used the dryer as a murder weapon to kill Unagi-san.”
“Yes. That’s what I’m thinking right now.”
“But that does not resolve a single one of the questions I just posed.”
“……? Well yeah.”
Well yeah, of course, he was about to retort when he arrived at that not-so-surprising fact. If the culprit intended to make this look like an accident on the part of the victim, they likely would have noticed those problems far before Kyouko-san, far before Officer Hijiori and resolved them accordingly.
“Are we wrong in the premise that this was supposed to look like an accident? Perhaps they only realized the cord length after arriving at the scene… and they didn’t have an extension cord. One might have come up if they searched the living room, but there was the risk Unagi-san might get out of the bath while they searched…”
“If they didn’t intend to make it look like an accident, they would have brought the dryer back with them… as demonstrated, it would become material evidence otherwise. But if there was an attempt to make it look like an accident, it would be strange to bring in a dryer the victim didn’t usually use to begin with. Whether you look at it as an accident or a murder, it doesn’t resolve any of the questions or contradictions surrounding Unagi-san’s death.”
“… But it’s certain that Kujirai-san is suspicious, right?”
“That is correct.”
Kyouko-san declared that one without any hesitation.
“The actions he took as the first on the scene can be summed up in the word shady—you could say that upon actually hearing him out, my suspicions have only grown deeper. While we glossed it over, his movements in this flat were quite clearly the movements of someone who knew Unagi-san was dead in the bathroom… and now that it’s come to this, that matter with his alibi seems far too deliberate, or rather sly.”
“If hypothetically, I weren’t the forgetful detective and his alibi was proven—is what I’m talking about. The time of death and the time he talked to me match up perfectly, don’t you think that’s too convenient?”
While ‘the first person to find the body is suspicious’ hadn’t reached the realm of unwritten law, ‘it is suspicious to have an alibi that’s too perfect’ was definitely an ironclad rule of detective novels.
“Meaning Kujirai-san talked to you in order to intentionally fabricate an alibi. Is that what you’re saying.”
“It does make sense to think of it that way. More sense than it being coincidence.”
“But if you look at it that way, then in the end, Kujirai-san’s alibi is pretty much established. That would be the same as accepting that at the estimated time of death, he was somewhere else talking to you.”
“Yes. So there has to be some sort of trick, some scheme with the bathroom and the dryer, is how I see it…”
“A trick? Come to think of it, you did say something like that.”
“Using the trick I’m thinking might be pushing it a bit, but it does explain why the murder weapon had to be a dryer… in short, I’m hypothesizing a timer.”
Kyouko-san nodded and explained her reasoning.
“Kujirai-san visited this apartment around noon on the day of the incident and knocked Unagi-san out through some means. Perhaps he used violence, perhaps he used drugs. He stripped him and put him in the bath. And putting a timer extension on the dryer, he left the place. He got a few stations away, got to the main street—and at three o’ clock when the timer would activate, he made an unshakable alibi. If possible, someone who he was meeting for the first time, someone with a unique look that would be easy to find at a later date… for example, a young woman whose hair is all white. Choosing a time at his discretion, he’d wrap up the conversation and return here—in order to become the first on the scene. After confirming Unagi-san’s died as planned, he reported it to the police and got rid of the timer before they could arrive. How does that sound?”
“… I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
It would explain why the first person on the body, Kujirai, had the door chain up when Officer Hijiori arrived.
“There’s plenty of things wrong with it. From what I saw in the data, Unagi-san’s body didn’t have any physical injuries or any traces of sleeping drugs—even if you take away that viewpoint, there’s no way to deny the possibility he might wake up while the culprit is away from the scene. A remote timer is far too uncertain as a means to kill.”
“… Y-you do have a point.”
“And what even is a remote timer?”
Hey, don’t ask me, thought Hijiori. The idea hadn’t even existed in his head before Kyouko-san presented it.
“If there’s anything that can be salvaged from that nonsense deduction, it’s the single point of the necessity of the dryer as the murder weapon. If the dryer’s used as the weapon, then the breaker is sure to trip with Unagi-san’s death, the definitive moment preserved on the time-shift machine among other devices—it’s the perfect killing method to fabricate an alibi.”
“That is a train of thought we haven’t had yet, but… if that’s the way we’re going, it feels more like we’re moving backward than forward.”
To accept the existence of alibi fabrication and alibi tricks as a premise would paradoxically mean they would have to accept the premise of the suspect Kujirai’s alibi being real—it did nothing but distance them from the resolution.
“What seemed like a simple accident gets more convoluted the more you think about it. At this rate, just what sort of new twists will this case show tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow… is it?”
“Ah, no, my apologies.”
Kyouko-san only has today—it was bad manners to talk about tomorrow. However, without lending an eye to the officer’s apology, she slowly began moving. She proceeded down the corridor, opening the door to the bedroom.
“I’m going to sleep.”
“I’m just going to take a bit of a nap. Officer Hijiori, please wake me up in an hour.”