Part 20: Research And InvestigationPart 20 - Research And Investigation
The following update contains a rather tasteless use of the word 'pedophilia'.
The meeting to discuss the investigation of the "Maruyamachou staking homicide" had already begun, and everyone glared at Ban when he came in late.
Smiling amiably, Ban lowered himself into a seat at one of the tables lined up at the front. The room didn't have the kind of atmosphere where he could say his reason for being late was because he'd gotten the runs and had been cooped up in the bathroom.
The investigation division, already busy with the "Cornelius Tower group suicide case" and the "Shibuya Station college student fetus homicide," were forced to recruit even useless, third-rate assistant inspectors like Ban from the central Tokyo station.
Moreover, since everything had taken place in the area under the Shibuya Police Department's jurisdiction, they were caught in the bizarre situation of having three special investigative headquarters located in the same station.
It was thanks to this that the three investigation teams were forced to take turns using the station's big conference room.
Inspector Matsunaga: "Let's hear your report, Assistant Inspector."
Inspector Matsunaga, Ban's boss and the person responsible for their investigative team all looked at Ban sharply as he addressed him.
Paying him little heed, however, Ban flapped a fan at his face and took a breath.
Inspector Matsunaga: "Assistant Inspector. Assistant Inspector Ban. Are you listening?"
When the newbie sitting next to Ban, who also happened to be his partner Suwa, hissed into his ear, Ban finally realized he was being called on.
"I thought I told you to go on and report to them even if I wasn't there."
"Hop to it."
After Ban elbowed him a little, Suwa let out a short sigh and stood up energetically.
The meeting room stirred. The slackening air underwent an instantaneous transformation.
The Shibuya Station detectives, seated along tables at the back of the room that faced Ban and the others from the central station, began urgently taking notes so as not to miss a moment of Suwa's report.
They were desperate.
After all, with two savage murders having occurred in a single month--though the the group suicide had not yet been conclusively labeled a homicide--it was natural for them to become prepared to stake everything on seizing the perpetrator, even their reputations.
"I'm putting it up on the projector."
A black-and-white film of one of Maruyamachou's narrow, filthy alleyways was reflected there. It was hard to see anything, given it was night, and there were few street lights.
"This was taken from the security camera of a metered parking lot approximately fifty meters from the crime scene."
The coin-operated lot was small, as it had room for only two cars. It had been unjustifiably constructed in the tiny space between buildings.
One could not see the crime scene in the field of the camera's picture. One could not even see the road that crossed in front of it.
The time of recording was neatly displayed in the lower right hand side of the screen. It currently read 21:34.
"As I'm sure you recall, the neighborhood residents testified that the sound of something being hammered continued from a little after 21:00 to around 21:30 hours."
"This film begins at 21:34, or, in other words, immediately after the crime took place."
"The suspicious figure appears for roughly six seconds, starting at 21:34:53. He or she runs from the back to the front of the road that passes by the parking lot."
Due to the poor resolution, a brief shot like that wasn't enough to let anyone determine whether the figure was male or female. However, Ban had already asked the forensics division to analyze this for him.
"It proved impossible to discern his facial features. Since his clothing is fairly distinctive, however, they were able to determine that he's wearing a male student uniform from Suimei Private Academy, located in Shoutou."
"Additionally, if you take a look at his right hand--"
The picture zoomed in on the suspicious figure's right hand. He appeared to be gripping something.
The detectives grew noisy again.
To think that the perpetrator of the staking homicide might be a high schooler.... It was a minor shock to them.
It meant that the mass media's inflammatory catchphrase, "The New Generation Madness," could very well have become reality.
Inspector Matsunaga: "Then is this boy the closest person we have to the criminal?"
"Sure seems so."
Ban rubbed his unshaven chin. It was a habit of his. Whenever he sensed that he'd driven a wrongdoer another step into a corner, it pleased him to make sure of that ever-prickly sensation.
"That's all for now."
Suwa let out a deep breath and settled back down.
Disregarding Suwa's complaints, Ban once again looked at the projector, so as to burn the male high school student's figure into his eyes.
Hesitation born of the fact that I really didn't want to see it still lingered inside me.
It was such a gory and sickening image. Once I looked at it, I wouldn't be able to keep my mind from calling up associated memories of the scene of the staking murder I'd seen in real life.
No, but.... I had to do it, to prove Yua wrong, to guarantee my own safety, and to assert my innocence.
Seira-tan was watching over me, so I'd have to try enduring the guro factor for a little longer....
Mustering my courage, I double-clicked to open the file.
No matter what, it was still foul.... But it wasn't such a big deal compared to the "staking" I had seen in person. And if I thought of it as a composite, I could just barely bring myself to tolerate it.
When he first sent it to me, I'd only taken a fast look before closing it. I hadn't scrutinized its every nook and cranny.
This time, fighting back nausea, I examined the image closely.
I didn't know much about how to tell whether or not an image had been 'shopped, but I figured it'd be okay if I paid attention to things like the direction of the shadows and if anything in the scenery felt off....
One possibility was that it had been created by combining previously taken background photographs with a CG version of the pinned-up corpse.
And the day after "Shogun" sent it to me, the murderer had put the killing method this photo illustrated into action....
Due to the pixellation and the dim lighting of the nailed-up body shown in the photograph, I was only able to make out the stakes and couldn't see much of the body itself.
For starters, it was kind of overdoing it to solely spotlight the body.
Well, I hadn't closely studied the actual crime scene, so I wasn't really in a position to say anything.
In the photo, that demon girl wasn't standing in front of the nailed-in body.
I had been in danger of overlooking it. The photo's graininess and the fact that they were standing in the shadows made them completely dissolve into the background, and you wouldn't stand much of a chance of noticing with just a glance.
This had to be 'shopped, but maybe "the person who made the photo" had accidentally entered the frame when they were taking pictures, and then forgot to erase it when they were manipulating the rest of the photo.
Whatever the case, the figure appeared to have on a Suimei uniform. Which meant it was the demon girl. For she too had worn the Suimei uniform.
Alrighty, let's try using some image editing software to make it easier to see.
"Haa.... Haa.... Eh? Eh? ....Wha, eh? What is this...."
The one photographed there...
No matter how you looked at it, the one photographed there...
Why, why was I there?
It was outlandish. Because I hadn't gone to that place once since September 29th....
This had been 'shopped in, too, no question about it.... I couldn't find the slightest evidence to prove it, but it was obviously a composite! If not, it'd be crazy!
"Do you have precognitive powers?"
Kicking away the one of the empty plastic bottles at my feet, I closed the image editing program.
I opened the jpg file properties to check the date it had been created. And.... I've been shocked.
A single sentence, written in the "Comments" field of the Property window, so as not to stand out. It was that which my eyes became nailed to.
I hit the keyboard, pushed it to the edge of my desk and cradled my head.
"Uuh.... Seira, save me...."
I held back welling tears.
This whole week had been full of one incomprehensible thing after the other. Why was I the only one who had to suffer like this....
If he had gotten his hands on my picture and combined it with this guro image....
"Shogun" had, at the least, either surreptitiously photographed me beforehand, or acquired my picture somewhere or other.
Maybe he had access to.... my personal information....
The back of my neck prickled. It was that "gaze" again.
Terror covered my whole body in gooseflesh, and I longed to go up to the door and make sure it was bolted. But I would lose if I turned around, so I went on stubbornly staring at my monitor.
Unable to settle down, I opened a word processing software and began typing in my thoughts.
Yeah, she couldn't possibly be human.
If so, maybe she could see the future. It'd be a walk in the park for her to transfer a vision of the future into a picture via spirit photography. Nor was there anything wondrous about the fact that she'd carried out that dreadful "staking" all by herself.
She'd used her subordinate, "Shogun," to send me data, since she knew I would coincidentally see her at the crime scene.
I didn't know the reason why. Perhaps to intimidate me. A threat to make me think I'd end up the same way if I told anyone.
An advance warning of her next murder.
A death sentence: "I'll kill you next." If that were really the case....
"Th, there's no way I'd get the upper hand...."
At last she let out a small breath and released her mouse, letting her eyes fall momentarily to a piece of paper placed not far from her hands.
His name fell from her lips. The image of Takumi's back, as he sat alone on one of the benches in Shoutou Park, floated up in her mind. As if to erase it, she soon gave her head a little shake.
At the end of her gaze lay the large stuffed Gero-froggy enshrined atop her bed.
She tilted her head, wondering if she had been imagining things, then got up, walked over to her bed and flopped down on it face-first.
Her mother must have hung them out to dry during the day. Burying her face in their reassuring scent, Yua let her eyes wander absent-mindedly.
Her extremely tidy room revealed her meticulous personality.
Especially the enormous bookshelves, out of place in a mere 8 tatami room, which were lined up with numerous books and had hardly a gap between any of them.
Yua let out another sigh, rolled onto her back, and gazed at the ceiling.
Even now, an explanation of it was displayed on her monitor.