Gekkou:Volume 1 Cigarette Tiger
 [Cigarette Tiger]
When I went to school that morning, fighting with my drowsiness, Tsukimori was nowhere to be seen in the classroom.
Of course there was nobody in the class who hadn't noticed her absence.
Usami had been peeking at me since I walked in, probably eager to question me about Tsukimori.
It wasn't like her to be so hesitant. Perhaps she was still mindful of the fact that she had confessed to me the other day.
I could only picture too well how Usami may have writhed and rolled on her bed in heavy regret over her careless confession.
Suddenly, our eyes met. She immediately dropped her gaze, while the exposed part of her ears and her neck turned bright red.
Apparently, I was spot on in my prediction.
I couldn't help smiling while watching the cute behavior she was showing.
"What's wrong, Usami?"
"...Eh! W-What? What? What should be wrong?" she stammered with such vigor that she started up to her feet.
"Isn't there something you want to ask me?"
"N-No! I don't want to ask! Not yet! I need a little more time to prepare myself! I don't want to hear it yet!"
Ah, so that was it.
While sighing in my mind, I helped her calm down by asking warmly, "Don't you want to ask me about Tsukimori?"
"...Aah, that's what you're talking about...," sighed Usami in blatant relief. "Yeah, right, why is she absent today?"
Usami, sitting at her desk right next to mine, cocked her head to and fro like a pygmy marmoset.
"Beats me. But maybe she caught a cold in the rain yesterday?" I replied ambiguously.
Neither Tsukimori nor the police had forbidden me to talk about the disappearance of her mother, but I didn't intend to tell my classmates anything in relation to that matter. I was being considerate of Tsukimori.
I was perfectly aware that it didn't suit my character to sympathize with her, but I couldn't help it because I had seen her in a horribly disheartened state, much worse than I could have ever imagined of her.
Besides, if I told anyone about her mother, I was bound to be grilled by the others about how I knew. Just by picturing what would head my way if my classmates, especially Kamogawa and Usami, got wind of my visit to her home, I felt signs of a headache. This kind of self-protection was also included in the rather ambiguous answer I gave her.
I was tired from the all-nighter I had pulled and from overusing my brains; the least I wanted was any more trouble.
"Maybe I should visit Youko-san...?"
No, as I said, enough of the trouble.
I sighed and asked with a reproving look, "...what about your club?"
Usami looked up at me like a puppy assessing its master's mood.
"Don't even think about skipping," I warned her.
"...Right, I knew you'd say that..."
Usami collapsed on her desk.
"If so, then don't take it into your head in the first place!"
"But I'm worried!"
Usami purged her lips, still lying prostrate on her desk.
"I merely said it might be a cold. We don't know for sure. You can give her a short call if she doesn't come tomorrow either."
As bothersome as it was, it seemed that I had no choice but to contact Tsukimori and inform her of the cold she had caught. Jeez, it's not easy to tell lies.
But my exhaustion was relieved a little by the heartwarming sight of Usami docilely nodding with her soft cheek placed on her desk.
The time at school went by more peacefully than usual.
Tsukimori's absence from the classroom was the cause, which also explained why Kamogawa and his colleagues were quieter than usual.
It had been quite a while since I last had my peace.
Youko Tsukimori had taken a special position in my life since the day I had picked up that sheet. Of course, I am talking of a different kind of "special" than the others.
I, only I, knew about her secret—the murder recipe.
I had been watching her with caution and with the recipe at the back of my mind. I had socialized with her with the utmost care because I suspected she had killed her father.
As a consequence, I had never had much peace with her around me. However, those days were drawing to a close, it seemed.
I touched my left breast pocket.
"...I guess soon it's goodbye to you as well."
I was surprised by the gloomy mutter that escaped my mouth so naturally.
Apparently, the days that revolved around nothing but Tsukimori and the murder recipe had been dearer to me than I had thought.
That was probably the reason for the slight loneliness I was feeling at returning to my previous, peaceful everyday life.
In regards to the various happenings concerning the murder recipe, I had come to a conclusion.
Youko Tsukimori has not killed anyone.
I knew of no one as intelligent and stubborn as her, though measuring someone of such singularity with normal common sense might be starting from a false premise.
However, in my eyes she had been just a normal girl when she behaved like a caring sister at the her father's funeral, and when she stood stone-still before the screen showing her mother's last words, or what I supposed them to be anyway.
Hadn't she said herself that murder was a "foolish and careless method"? As clever as she was — cleverer than anyone else I knew in fact — she would have never — under no circumstances — relied on murder. At least I couldn't explain to myself why she would have done it.
In the end, I could not view her as someone who would kill.
On went the days without Youko Tsukimori.
The first day remained peaceful. On the second day, however, there was already a commotion in the class; everyone feared for Tsukimori's safety.
As expected, their attention was immediately directed at me because I worked at the same café. As planned, I played dumb.
And then what happened? Assumptions brought forth assumptions, which eventually turned into rumors. Thus, Youko Tsukimori's name was omnipresent at school on the third day.
She is in hospital because her cold worsened. She has been kidnapped and is kept confinement. She is in the middle of filming a movie at Hollywood. A prince fell in love with her at first sight and took her to his country to marry her. Such absurd rumors were all over the place. I could only laugh dryly.
Whether she was here or not, she was always in the center of attention. Once more I was shown just how much the girl stood out.
On the fourth day, however, some rumors came in circulation that weren't funny at all.
Tsukimori is helping the police with their search by contacting friends and acquaintances of her mother and by heading to places where she expects her mother to go. Exerting herself to the utmost, even limiting her sleep as much as possible.
The origin of that rumor turned out to be a student who had someone in the police department in his family.
The message spread epidemically. Underpinned by further sources that confirmed her mother's disappearance, the rumor had become fact on the next Monday.
Then, after one week had passed. The long-lasting rain stopped, giving way to a cloudless blue sky.
In the early morning of that day, her mother was found at last.
But as a decedent.
She was found on the slope of a hill that was a stone's throw from the high-class residential area.
On its top, there was a little park which had a view of the entire town. The park was surrounded by a cliff and therefore bounded by a fence, which was, however, old and low enough that an adult could easily climb over it.
Where she had been found implied that she had fallen from that park.
The reasons given for her late discovery were that she hadn't reached the foot of the slope and that she had been concealed by the wildly blooming azaleas that covered the entire side of the hill.
According to the officer who went to confirm the find, he had never seen such a beautiful corpse. The appearance of her mother, decorated by purple flowers, compared to a framed western painting, he stated. He had found himself forgetting that it was a corpse for several moments, probably bemused by the smell of the blooming azaleas.
Imagining that scene made me shiver. I would have loved to witness that moment.
The news of her mother's death spread out at school as a wave of surprise and settled down as great pity for the poor girl Youko Tsukimori who had lost yet another close relative.
I had a normal amount of pity for Tsukimori. She also had my condolences about what happened to her mother.
However, unlike everyone else I wasn't surprised. I had expected the casualty.
Why? Because I had come to the conclusion that her mother had used the murder recipe to kill her father.
There were two reasons.
Firstly, her family environment.
At the funeral I heard that father, mother and daughter had all been amiable and kept on good terms with their neighbors. Moreover, the misery her mother was going through came across extremely well when she was crying before his photograph.
I had imagined the Tsukimoris as a harmonious family with a harmonious relationship between husband and wife.
When I saw her mother's bedroom, however, I couldn't help but entertain doubts.
The fact that Tsukimori wasn't concerned about her parents sleeping separately implied that they weren't quite the harmonious family. But in the first place, it was generally doubtful whether a married couple could be called harmonious while having separate bedrooms.
Grounded on that fact, I framed the hypothesis that their relationship was exactly the opposite of what was generally understood and actually bad. The fact that her father was nowhere to be seen in any photograph in her mother's room was yet another clue that strengthened my hypothesis.
Secondly, and decisively, the author of the murder recipe.
I had been wondering since the very beginning: Why name it "recipe"? Isn't it a "plan"? In terms of content "murder plan" would have been appropriate.
But while I didn't use the word "recipe" very frequently, I figured that a teacher at a cooking school would make quite regular use of it.
When I went to Tsukimori's home because her mother had gone missing, I secretly snarfed a bit of evidence.
Namely a handwritten memo that contained additional explanations to some recipe in a cookbook.
The content was irrelevant. What was important was that it had been handwritten by her mother.
I compared the murder recipe with the memo and they looked exactly the same. The handwriting made it evident that they had been written by the same person.
In other words, the secret behind the incidents around the murder recipe was most likely something along the lines of:
The mother, who was on bad terms with the father, wrote and executed the murder recipe, making her husband the victim of an accident, but was unable to bear the sin and thus ended her own life.
In that case, there was no need to pity her mother. She got what she deserved, coldly speaking. There was no particular emotion in my heart with the exception of a slight cling to the cat-and-mouse game that had ended now.
The murder recipe lost its lustre. My delusions around it had come to a close with the death of her mother.
I supposed that it would end up as a memento deep in one of my drawers and never see the light of day again.
Of course, these were all just assumptions of mine.
I didn't deny that there were several missing pieces which were merely complemented by my own imagination. But I thought that a normal high school student couldn't come any closer to the truth. Above all, I was satisfied with the solution I had worked out.
Therefore, I didn't intend to get Youko Tsukimori's confirmation.
One day I might ask her about this incident, but not now.
I wanted to use this moment to revel in relief.
In relief that she hadn't killed anyone.
Luckily or not, these tranquil days didn't last long.
What brought the change were the words of a police detective whom I had come to know at a recent event.
My first encounter with him goes back to the night when Tsukimori's mother went missing—
—Immediately after I had discovered the message on the screen, I called the police and informed them for Tsukimori, who was standing still in shock.
After thirty minutes during which there was a silence except for the ticking of the clock and the rain, a police car arrived. A uniformed man and a tall, suited man alighted.
"Ah, yes, yes. I see, I see. Yeah, 'could be a suicide note!" uttered the tall cop casually. He had introduced himself as Konan.
I had once experienced the questioning of the police in the past. It was a shoplifting incident in the neighborhood that had happened a few years ago.
That time, two police detectives had payed us a visit. Rather than posing questions, they had chiefly just warned us of the shoplifter who was still on the run.
Those detectives had both been quite nonchalant and had worn trench coats and plain, unremarkable suits, which made them look like office workers. Their atmosphere, however, was clearly different from ordinary citizens. The sharp glances they had flashed from time to time were quite intimidating.
I had understood very well that this was the "authority" of a policeman who was always exposed to utmost danger.
Incidentally, I learned in the news afterward that the shoplifter had been arrested in the midst of questioning.
Forward in time, the man named Konan didn't match my idea of a detective.
His looks suggested that he was in his late twenties. Well, judging by the power relationship between him and the young police officer, he might have been a little older.
Wearing a slender dark blue suit with white stripes, Konan seemed much more like a gaudy gigolo than a detective.
As his frivolous look implied, he chattered constantly, and thus was classified as the kind of human I "disliked" most.
"Oh, now you're a cute one. Are you in the show biz? No? You should enter! You'd beat them all in cuteness! No, no, I mean it! By the way, how old are you, Youko-chan? Seventeen? U-huh... How many sisters do you have? Older ones, mind you. Oh, you don't have any? Not a single one? Really? So you're an only child. What a pity. It's truly a pity. Ah, but right! I bet your mom's hot as well, and still young, right? I see! As I thought! Hey, heard her? We've gotta find that lady!"
Konan kept talking, paying no attention to the police officer on the other sofa who was visibly bashful. I hadn't liked Konan from the word go, but after just a few minutes I "hated" him.
His lack of consideration towards Tsukimori was not even the main problem. I mean, didn't he belong to the police? Was that the appropriate attitude towards a downhearted girl whose mother had just gone missing?
Konan was an incomprehensible and downright disagreeable man.
The young police officer asked us two, three questions about the incident in place of his superior, such as "Did your mother seem bothered by something?" and "Do you know where she might have gone?"
Tsukimori cast down her long eyelashes with a sigh and shook her black hair left and right, "I have no idea."
In a thoughtfully calm voice, the young officer told her, "I'm afraid to say that it is possible that your mother has gone missing due to suicide. We will do everything in our power to find her, but please be prepared for the worst case."
Instead of a reply Tsukimori only nodded weakly.
Her sparse movements and taciturnity gave her a cold yet beautiful touch, almost like a well-crafted doll.
As endlessly tactless as it was, I daydreamed of toying freely with her dollish, fragile, slender nape and her crimson lips that contrasted so beautifully with her white skin. I had already noticed at the funeral of her father that Tsukimori would give off a special tranquil mood akin to the moon at midnight when sorrowful, the look of which could never grow stale for me.
Unable to answer any of the questions and forced to listen to the lengthy speeches of that frivolous man, I was bored and pained, but thanks to a cup of coffee in one hand and the opportunity to fully enjoy the "moon", I managed to have a somewhat worthwhile time.
After a while had passed like that, Konan suddenly asked me, "By the way, you are...?"
I told him my name, concealing my wariness.
"Okay, Nonomiya-kun, we'll give you a ride home. It's already past one in the morning; there's no line you could take anymore, right?" offered Konan.
Tsukimori, right next to me, gave me an emphatic and requesting glance. I wavered at first, but then I came to a decision and bowed before Konan, "Please."
When I left, she whispered reproachfully into my ear, "I didn't want to be alone tonight," and grabbed my uniform weakly.
I feigned ignorance and carefully shook off her fingers.
Of course I didn't feel comfortable leaving her all alone. Of course, my presence wouldn't have changed anything about the situation, but at least I would have been able to be by her side as someone to talk to. It would have definitely been worth it if that had let her forget her grief a little, even if it was just some cheap pity from me.
However, I couldn't bring myself to fire the curiosity of Konan, who was grinning at Tsukimori and me.
To my surprise, Konan followed suit when I sat down on one of the backseats.
Noticing my astonished look, he laughed, "Ah, 'just wanted to have a quick chat with you."
Somehow, I sensed the authority of a detective in his laugh.
During the ride from Tsukimori's home to mine, Konan and I kept on talking. Eighty percent was his words, though.
"You're Youko-chan's boyfriend, aren't you? Eh? You're not? But didn't you go visit her? Listen up, a guy doesn't normally enter the house of a girl at such a late hour unless she's not his girlfriend. Aah, workmates, huh. And classmates too. Uh-huh, uh-huh, so there's nothing going on between you. Well, you must understand that your nice friend and helper was about to get jealous of you and your hot girl! Right? Don't you agree? Hey, look ahead while you're driving! Well, it was me that addressed you, though! Heh!" joked Konan while involving the young police officer who was at the wheel. "Anyway, this is my phone number, my new buddy. Don't hesitate to call; it's my business phone. What I mean by that? Oh, I just wanted to make clear that I'm 'straight'. I may not look like it, but I can't get enough ladies! Mh? I do look like it? People say that to me all the time for some reason. Huh? That's not what you wanted to know? Aah, don't hold back because talking helps the investigation. When we're looking for someone we're grateful for any information we can get. You never know what could be the decisive clue; even if it seems like nothing to you. You might deny that you're dating Youko-chan, but from what I've seen and heard from her, I'm pretty sure you're quite close. So should you remember or find out something concerning Youko-chan or her mother, give me a call."
Afterward, Konan called me on a regular basis.
It might go without saying, but each and every one of those calls was quite long.
Of course, I was extremely annoyed by his long chats and I still disliked him. What made me play his dialog partner, however, was the idea that I might just as well take advantage of him since he tried to do so with me.
In return for telling him all I knew, I wormed the current state of the investigation out of him. That exchange was pretty unbalanced to the disadvantage of Konan, though, because the information I gave him was obvious and widely-known without exception. The question arises, whether he babbled the current state because of his inborn chatter nature or because he considered it minor enough to leak.
At any rate, I always had interest in his calls, whatever the subject.
In spite of my personal opinion of Konan, I was intrigued with the peculiar job of a detective, and his stories suited my hobby of imagining stuff rather well.
At last the matter settled down and Youko Tsukimori was about to return to school and to work.
On the day before, however, a certain male customer appeared at Victoria right before closing time.
"Ah, now I see why you haven't shown interest in girls, Nonomiya," said Mirai-san with her fingers on her chin, staring at a slender, suited man who had taken a seat at a table.
Completing the image, that gigolo-like man was cheerfully waving towards the kitchen — to me.
"I'll deliberately refrain from asking what exactly you were imagining, but allow me to assure you that you are wrong."
"What is he then? A friend? That would be quite the old friend for you."
"No, he is a detective."
"That guy? No matter how you look at it, that's a gigolo if you ask me," she said and became even more doubtful. "So, what misdeed have you committed? Sure, I've always thought you'd wander from the path some day, but—"
"What is it, criminal?"
"I think I need to have a good talk with you one of these days."
"Am I wrong?"
"You are. I had dealings with him, he's called Konan by the way, during the investigation of Tsukimori's mother."
"I see...," she said while furrowing her brow and put a piece of almond chocolate into her mouth.
Probably she was sympathizing with Tsukimori. Now that I think about it, she had been rather quiet during the time Tsukimori wasn't there. Well, the same applies to the manager and Saruwatari-san.
Apparently, Youko Tsukimori had become an indispensable part of the Victoria staff by now.
"So? Why would that detective Konan come to meet you?"
"I have no idea! I want to know that myself."
Then, suddenly, Mirai-san rounded her eyes.
"Uwa! Hey! Nonomiya! That cop just winked at me!"
"He's a player, just as he looks."
"Aah, I wanna pound his face in so badly..."
"Please don't. He's a policeman all the same."
"You should seriously give some more thought to who you hang out with."
I definitely didn't want to get a sermon from her, but to my chagrin she was absolutely right.
When I brought the ordered coffee to Konan, who naturally had no clue of my uneasiness, a torrent of words sprang up.
"Now that's what I call a sharp glance. I felt like some alien bug in her eyes. Gives me a thrill! You may not believe it, but I'm not averse to M and that stuff. I'm a sucker for those, um, dominant women, you know. What's her name? How old is she? Is she already taken? Please, Nonomiya-kun, introduce me to her!" he jabbered while staring at Mirai-san in the kitchen as if he didn't know the word "reserve".
"Have you nothing better to do than lurk here?"
"As if! I don't even get round to going on dates! Ah, but I won't tell you whether there is a girl I can date, youngster."
"I couldn't care less."
"You never change, huh," he sneered and took a sip of his coffee. "Wow!" he smiled happily to himself. "I wish there was a peaceful day once in a while. But even in a small town like this there's always something happening. Thanks to that, business is unfortunately thriving. 24/7."
Konan pulled a funny face and held both his hands before him.
"Then shouldn't you stop loafing around here all the more?" I asked, upon which he put on a bitter mien.
"Do you even have a heart? We policemen are human too, you know? Don't be so rough with us!" he darted me a reproachful look, "One or two cups shouldn't be too much to ask for," he led his cup of coffee to his mouth.
My question was not meant sarcastically. I had asked because I really wondered.
Now that the case of Tsukimori's mother was solved, he should have no reason to see me. As a matter of fact, we hadn't spoken since her mother had been found.
I had told him that Victoria's coffee was delicious, but it was more than unlikely that he came here today of all days just for the coffee.
Then, as if directly answering my doubts, Konan added, "You're free in a few moments, right? Do you have some time for me afterwards? Wanna go to a restaurant at the station for a chat? I'll even treat you to something! But let me warn you: it's not a date. Don't get that wrong!"
Now I understood. It was no coincidence that he came shortly before closing time; he wanted something from me.
I nodded, "Sure."
I had not the slightest idea what he wanted from me, but as I didn't loath the conversations with this unconventional detective, I had no reason to refuse either.
After work I went to the specified restaurant at the station, where Konan promptly discovered me and waved at me.
Since it was a weekend, the shop was crowded with all sorts of people, young and old.
The moment I sat down opposite him, Konan held out the menu card to me.
"Choose whatever you like."
"Okay, what's the most expensive item?"
Pleased with my answer, he laughed heartedly, "I like that heedless side of yours."
"By the way, so what do you want from me?" I asked while flipping through the menu with my finger tips.
"I was wondering if you could answer me some questions about Youko-chan."
Before I knew it, I found myself staring at him.
"Don't scowl at me like that! It's not like I want to steal her from you."
"It's a riddle to me what you mean by that."
"I'll have a smoke," he said while putting a cigarette into his mouth. He adeptly lighted it with a lighter that had the name of some bar printed on it.
Doubts towards him started to arise in me.
"Mmm... do you mind it if I can't give you any detailed reasons?"
"If it's a personal request, I might bring myself to answer you..."
Was there anyone in this restaurant that recognized that he was a police detective?
"Well, Youko-chan's pretty, so I can't say that no personal interest is included, but basically it's work-related."
"Duty of confidentiality?"
"Pretty much, yeah. You know, I have to be careful in my position. So don't be offended if I'm a little unclear."
Konan grinned at me.
When he smiled like that, his eyes always got even sharper than they usually were. That probably happened without his awareness, though.
He exuded a kind of authority, whose contrast with his smiling mouth gave me the shivers. That might have been the sovereignty of someone who was always exposed to utmost danger.
No matter what he looked like, Konan was no doubt a policeman.
"...are you doubting Tsukimori?"
The instant I asked, he wrinkled his brow strongly and took a deep drag.
"...you ask me that straight-out? Being sharp is one thing, but it's a hell of a combination if you've also got some guts. Nonomiya-kun, interested in joining the police some day? You would make a good detective."
"I'm horrible at sports, so I'll decline with thanks."
"Uh-huh. Well, at least don't become a criminal then! If a guy like you sides with them, we policemen are going to have a hard time," he joked and stopped a waitress by raising his hand. "Have something," he urged, so I ordered the most expensive-looking item on the menu: a Chaliapin steak
After confirming the order, the waitress disappeared into the kitchen.
"To get right to the point, I think that in this incident—there is a possibility of murder," stated Konan without any concern.
"...wasn't that supposed to be secret?"
"For appearance's sake, you know. I did fulfill my duty as a policeman, but now it's at my own discretion," he pressed the cigarette against the ashtray, "I never planned on being quiet about it. I haven't known you very long, but I know that you're a clever boy. You would have found out anyway."
"You have a fairly high opinion of me, don't you?"
Konan, grinning slightly, seemed pleased with my suspicious look.
"But it's not idle talk; I'm honest about it. Of course it's also true that I do have an ulterior motive of sorts, specifically that I would like to have you on my side."
On hearing the word "ulterior motive", I immediately recalled our first encounter several days ago. "Ah, 'just wanted to have a quick chat," he had said at the time.
"During the search, you know, I've been nosing around here and there and I arrived at the conclusion that no one is closer to Youko-chan than you at the moment. So I thought you'd be my man if I wanted to know something about her."
It had been a riddle to me: why had Konan sought a conversation with me? Why had he given me detailed information about the progress of the search?
Now that I thought about it, Konan had never been interested in Tsukimori's mother only. From day one he also wanted information about Tsukimori herself from me.
If my guess was right, then from the beginning, Konan had...
"—you've been suspecting that Tsukimori might have killed her mother all along, haven't you?" I asked calmly.
Instead of answering, Konan took a gulp of water from his glass.
The waitress then brought my steak menu. I accepted it, whereas Konan ordered another cup of coffee.
There were many customers in the wide restaurant, but ours was the most outrageous topic for sure. I found myself enjoying that odd situation a little.
After confirming with a sidelong glance that the waitress had gone, Konan finally spoke again, "In the police you have to take any possibility into consideration in any case. So yeah, strictly speaking that potentiality had to be considered since the start."
It was an affirmation, but an unusually passive one—probably because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But it wasn't a denial, either.
Just then, the slumbering murder recipe awoke in my mind.
Did the police perhaps know about it and therefore doubt Tsukimori?
I noticed I had a dry mouth. I seemed to be tense.
"It's not fair to compare them, but the coffee at your place was on a completely different level," said Konan with a sour expression after taking a sip of his coffee.
The window at the corner of my vision showed a bored high school student. Fortunately, I was good at making a poker face.
"...What would be her motive?"
Her motive was the most unclear point if one was to doubt Youko Tsukimori.
She'd had no reason to kill her mother. At least, I couldn't think of one. This was another crucial reason why I concluded that she was innocent.
My question was based on curiosity about what the police had in their hands, but Konan only said bluntly, "No clue. It's quite a mystery, isn't it? I mean, she wasn't on bad terms with her parents or something... it's the reason why I asked for your help, so yeah, pretty much beats me."
From the looks of it, he really had no idea.
What made him doubt Tsukimori, then?
Did that mean that they did know about the recipe, after all? Or had they obtained some kind of proof I didn't know of?
Konan smiled broadly at me when I suddenly kept silent, "Now, don't brood too much about it! It's really just a possibility. Dotting the i's and crossing the t's is my job, you know. So, no offense!"
"None taken," I pulled myself together with a smile, "...I was just wondering why you doubt Tsukimori even though she has no motive."
Maintaining a smile, I moistened my throat with some water.
The question was how well Konan knew Tsukimori.
Konan maintained his smile, too, and said in a confident voice, "It's not normal to lose two family members in such a short time, now is it?"
I couldn't keep myself from agreeing "I see."
"I clearly smell a rat there. Therefore, I have no choice but to take some sort of action, because I'm a member of the police, you know. If it turns out to be just an unhappy coincidence, our work ends right there. So, to sum up, I'm confirming that at the moment!"
I nodded once again, "I see."
I was surprised. No, "bewildered" would be more accurate.
My doubts about Youko Tsukimori were supposed to be cleared. However, Konan's argument made perfect sense to me.
"...have you confronted Tsukimori with that matter?"
"Of course," replied Konan like a shot, "But that seriously falls under the duty of confidentiality, so I can't give you any details. You can easily find out by asking Youko-chan directly, though. At any rate, it's really no big deal. After all, there's nothing to doubt her for, apart from it being unusual to lose both parents in such a short time."
I wasn't taking him at his word, but I was quite sure that the police appeared to have no definite evidence.
"I'm baffled. I hear our police are respected worldwide, but was that a misperception on my part? Neither the eyes of the public nor the mass media will forgive treating an innocent high school girl as a suspect, no matter how humbly you apologize."
It made sense to me now, sure, but I was far from reversing my own conclusion. The reason given was much too weak to treat Tsukimori as a criminal.
"Now, don't pick on me like that! It's true that the police are civil servants, so the pressure on us has been really harsh recently, as you say. We can't make a big deal out of it without irrefutable proof."
He raised his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug, like an American.
"Now, why don't you tell me what you really want from me?"
"Oh? Have you noticed? Not bad, Nonomiya-kun!"
He whistled skillfully without using his fingers.
I, too, hadn't known him very long, but I was well aware of his slyness. I was convinced that he hadn't told me everything yet.
Suddenly, Konan leaned forward, "That's where you come into play! I want you to cooperate with me."
I sneered daringly.
By thinking over our conversation in my head, I finally started to grasp his intention.
"...if someone unrelated to the police observed Tsukimori, it would cause no trouble. Plus, the more intimate that observer is with her, the better. That's why you chose me, right?"
"Seems we speak the same language," said Konan contentedly and tilted his coffee cup. "Besides, you like this kind of work, don't you?"
"I want to be spared from trouble," I said and added, "And please don't arbitrarily decide what I like!" But, truth be told, I actually was interested.
"No use shamming," he laughed confidently.
He had quickly recognized what kind of person I was. Because I had shown interest in the situation of the investigation? Because I had shown interest in him as a detective? Either way, while I hadn't hidden it deliberately, I still had to respect his perspicacity.
"That's pretty much the reason why I singled you out."
"What, specifically, would you have me do?"
I maintained a passive stance. I wanted to wait and see what move he would make next.
"No need to be so wary, really! Basically, I just want you to answer my questions about Youko-chan. I won't exploit you by sending you around or by making you do demanding stuff. Ah, please eat before the steak gets cold. Feel free to order a dessert afterwards."
Konan grinned. He clearly intended to exploit me.
Naturally I had no appetite, but I still put my knife into the steak, which was bound to be cold by now.
"—To tell the truth, it's not by the consensus of the police that I'm here. You could even call it a personal request from me. To be frank, I'm the only one at the station who bears Youko-chan in mind," he suddenly started talking after watching me eat for a while, "Well, it's not surprising, because that suicide kind of lacks peculiarity. If you just assume her motive was grief over losing her husband, it makes sense. We even have several statements that confirm that she was depressed since his death," Konan put on a self-ironic smile. "But what has to be noted is that her suicide note was written on the computer and not by hand. So it's physically possible that it was typed in by someone else who wanted to make the incident out to be suicide. But that's not enough to dig out the case. Keep in mind that many suicide victims don't leave behind a note at all. For another thing, the only fact that makes Youko-chan doubtable is that she's her daughter. It's not like her behavior raised any doubts."
I stopped my fork and knife and looked Konan straight into the eye, "Then I fail to understand why you doubt Tsukimori all the more. I don't want to help you as long as you can't give me a plausible explanation,."
Since learning about the murder recipe I had been observing Tsukimori day in, day out. So what should he, who had only just met Tsukimori, know that I didn't know? What trait of Tsukimori's should he know, which I, the holder of the murder recipe, didn't know?
Of course, if he really knew a side of hers I didn't know, my stance would change as well.
—Because that would be something I definitely needed to know.
With a neutral expression, Konan replied, "Call it a detective's intuition."
I didn't believe my ears. Noticing my bafflement, he hurriedly added, "Ah, was I too blunt? No, but you see, it's not easy to explain it with words! Perhaps you could say, something feels 'wrong' to me?"
"A gut feeling, huh...," I murmured, unconvinced, but his following words caught me entirely by surprise.
"I mean, Youko-chan's perfect, isn't she?"
My heart beat accelerated rapidly.
He had the same impression as I had had many times before.
"I've experienced this sort of incident quite a few times so far, due to my job and all, and let me tell you: to the people concerned it's a real shock to lose their parents if they're about your age. It's a sudden change of their life! Seriously, that's just... cruel. Be it an accident or an incident, I still haven't found out how I should deal with those kids. How hard must it be if they lose both their parents at the same time?" he suddenly put on a severe expression, "Now, how about her? To me, Youko-chan doesn't look at all like a desolate seventeen-year-old who has suffered such a loss. In our conversations she comes across just too faultless! Her perfectness isn't something that can be explained just by saying she had a good grip on herself or that she was behaving mature. Don't you agree?"
—She's so perfect being around her would be suffocating.
Come to think of it, that was my initial impression of her.
"I even happened to think that she would be fine without her parents. That we had nothing to worry about."
Thirsty from talking long in one go, Konan did not take his cup of coffee but the glass of water right next to it and emptied it.
"Sorry for giving you such a baseless reason. But I'm actually quite serious. In our field, it's not at all rare that a slight gut feeling can lead to the truth of an incident."
Looking at Konan, who was keeping up an expression full of confidence—
"Complicated thoughts about these things are no good. Believe it or not, it's simple more often than not. Essentially, unusual things happen around someone who is unusual. Isn't it easy?"
—I thought that the expression "a detective's intuition" might have been quite appropriate.
Apparently, my silence made Konan think I was ill-tempered.
"Did I offend you? Well, naturally I did. After all, I'm asking you to help me confirm my doubts even though you are very intimate with Youko-chan. Now that I think of it, isn't this quite a nasty request?" he said and laughed, "Don't become like me!"
It's not like I was offended. I was merely deep in thought. I was overwhelmed by a great number of thoughts that came up in my head.
—Most likely, he doesn't know about the murder recipe.
That was the only thing I was sure of at the moment. At the same time it was also the most important one.
When I collected myself, I found Konan looking seriously at me.
"Why don't you think of it the other way round? Just think you're helping me to prove that she's innocent. You don't want me to doubt Youko-chan, right?"
It slipped out of my mouth:
"I sure don't want that."
Those words came from the bottom of my heart. It had been me who had doubted Youko Tsukimori up to now. The fact that some cop suddenly appeared and doubted her was repulsive; as if someone was nitpicking about how I played my game.
Apparently, Konan took my answer as affirmation. "Right!" he nodded happily, "Waitress! I'll have another cup of coffee! And add a glass of water to that!"
He drunk up the rest of his nearly empty coffee.
Then I talked to Konan for a whole hour, telling him details about Tsukimori.
I taught him everything I knew, that time also including things like her popularity and competence at work and school. Well, I did keep quiet about things like the confession at the library, but otherwise, for example why she started to work at Victoria or what happened on that night when her mother went missing, I told him everything as detailed as possible.
I had arrived at the conclusion that I couldn't hide anything from that man. Hence, I considered it more fruitful to earn his trust by not holding back any information.
At the end, Konan asked me to contact him if I found out anything and told me that he would also contact me if he wanted me to help him with something, then we parted ways.
Of course I kept quiet about the murder recipe, although it's not like I hadn't considered telling him.
I was convinced enough of his capability as a detective that I didn't allow myself to be deceived by his gigolo-like appearance and behavior. If I gave him that vital spark, the murder recipe, he would no doubt be able to reach a "deep layer" of this incident which I could never reach on my own.
In all objectivity, there would have been no more effective way to fulfill my desire of learning "everything about Youko Tsukimori" than to tell Konan about the murder recipe. However, I couldn't bring myself to do that.
Because the murder recipe was mine.
There was one certain thing I noticed. It was the only and, at the same time, a most important discovery.
Indeed — the murder recipe had not at all lost its lustre after all.
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