OOC: The author does not matter. The work does.
This has always been a mantra of mine, so I don't intend to talk about my writing hiatus. The important thing is that I've decided to resume writing - and yes, for those of you who care, that means Emperor of Zero.
Still, this is another side-project I have been interested in some time. It's going to be much shorter than Emperor is, though possibly even darker, but it's something for when I feel like writing small stretches at a time.
Thank you for reading.
"Hey, hey, Suzuki, did you hear, did you hear? Take a look at today's fortune!"
"What, what is it?"
"Look what it says in your horoscope today! 'Love and romance will go very well.' Do you think-"
"Daisuke may confess to me today! Ohmygodohmygodohmygoooooddddddd! That would be just so, awesome, you know!"
In the city of Mitikihara, a gaggle of shrieking schoolgirls gathered around a magazine, reading their fortunes. Who would do well on the upcoming test, who would get a new boyfriend, what their parents would get them for their birthday. They prattled on and on without sense.
"Well. So what are you all looking at now?"
The girls turned to look at another classmate. She was short, and her blue twintails served to make her look even more childlike. A few of the girls murmured amongst themselves about the arrival of the visitor.
"Good morning, Erika!" One said. "How are you doing today?"
Erika did not even nod in acknowledgment of the greeting. Instead, her eyes fixated on the magazine.
"Like I said, what are you looking at?"
"It's just the latest magazine." Another piped up brightly. "I know it's totally different from those mystery books you always read, but hey, Erika, you want to know something good!"
"Someone's going to confess to Suzuki today! It'll probably be Daisuke, too! Oh, I'm so jealous I'm so jealous, Suzuki! Isn't it going to be great, Erika-"
The girl stopped upon noticing the look on Erika's face. Erika was smiling. But instead of a smile grateful to hear of Suzuki's good fortune, it was a mocking, pitying smile, one which was currently doing a very bad job at holding back her laughter.
"Is something wrong, Erika?"
The tone of the girl's question had grown colder, but Erika seemed to take no notice. Finally, her smile cracked as she let out a peal of derisive laughter.
"BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA! Really? Are you all a bunch of children? How could you believe as utterly simple and stupid as a horoscope?"
The girls glowered at Erika's laughter.
"How dare you!" One of them cried. "You shouldn't be mocking us, Erika! These fortunes are true!"
"Oh really, Sonoda?" Erika snickered. "Go ahead, then. I guess you looked at your fortune yesterday, right? So, what was it? Don't tell me you forgot!"
"I-I…Hold on a moment!" Sonoda said. She pulled out her phone and clicked a few buttons.
"There, you see? Read it for yourself!"
Erika took the phone and looked for yourself.
"If you are vigilant, you will find something that you have been missing for a while. And? How does that prove anything?"
"Well, the fact is that I lost one of my favorite lipsticks a long time ago! But later when I got home from school, Mom made me clean the bathroom because I came home late last Saturday. And while that totally sucked, I found the lipstick when I was cleaning up. If that fortune telling wasn't referring to me, then just what was it referring to?"
Sonoda nodded in triumph, but then she looked at Erika. Once again, that sardonic grin had appeared on her face.
"Couldn't that fortune have referred to that reporter yesterday?" She asked.
Erika gave a long, slow sigh and shook her head.
"Don't you ever read the news? And I mean the real news, not your stupid gossip. There was a company which had been suspected of illegally dumping chemicals in the nearby bay, but no one could prove a thing. But then a reporter went undercover and found real proof."
"Yeah?" Sonoda asked. "What's your point?"
"Of course I have to explain it in this detail." Erika shrugged. "That's the detective's job. But that reporter found something, right? I could not find my keys walking home yesterday, but after being vigilant, I found in another pocket. People find things all the time. What makes you so special?"
"Well, it fit with me!"
"Only because you interpreted it fit you. But what makes you so special, Sonoda? There's 12 horoscope signs, right? And there's more than 6 billion people in this world. So, are you telling me that one sign can tell me what 500 million people are going to do? God, you'd have to be an utter moron to be so silly to believe that!"
Sonoda spluttered at Erika's statement, but had nothing more to say. But while Erika nodded with self-righteous pride over her victory, she looked at the group of girls. None seemed particularly impressed with her logical deductions. On the contrary, they glowered at her.
"Geez, what did you come over here for, to ruin our fun?" One finally said. "You're such a child, Erika. No wonder your boyfriend dumped you."
For the first time during this conversation, Erika seemed taken aback.
"W-what did you say?"
"Hey, hey, did you hear?" Sonoda interjected. "I heard that one time when they were still dating, he walked back home, and Miss Detective here followed him all the way! Like, she was hiding behind lampposts, under cardboard boxes, and acting like some crazy stalker!"
"Oh, really? Well, she must not be that good a detective. Someone saw her doing that, after all."
"It-it wasn't like that!" Erika cried.
"Wasn't like that?" A girl said. "Then what was it like? So you did follow your boyfriend all the way home?"
"Hey, what's the matter? You're the one who talks about the importance of the truth all the time! How you should always tell the truth, no matter what. So, what's the matter? Where's your truth now?"
Far from the confident girl who had lectured the girls about horoscopes, Erika visibly steamed as they giggled amongst one another. But then their homeroom teacher walked in.
"Alright, get to your seats."
With the teacher's words, Erika began to walk to her desk. But then she stopped right next to Suzuki.
"I'm sorry, Suzuki."
The other girl looked up at Erika in confusion. Erika wasn't the sort to apologize for making a scene like that, and-
"Daisuke's already dating Noda."
Suzuki stared at the front. A gloomy, plain long-haired girl with thick glasses sat at the front, her nose buried in a book.
"The detective always tells the truth."
And with those words, Furudo Erika practically skipped straight to her desk.
The day droned on, with one lesson after another. When the lunch break came, Erika ate alone, her nose buried in her latest mystery novel. Finally, as the sun began to set, the last bell for the day rang. Erika packed her bag and prepared to leave.
Her teacher abruptly called out to her. With a slight grumble, Erika made her way over to the front desk.
"I have a favor I would like to ask of you, Furudo. I'm sure you know that Tomoe was absent today."
Erika looked over at an empty space. A desk was supposed to be there, but one of her classmates, Tomoe Mami, had not been there for a few days. Now that Erika thought about it, even she, the detective who knew more about everyone's private lives than the biggest gossips, did not know a whole lot about Tomoe. She seemed nice enough, but then again, hadn't she thought that once about her boyfriend? You never could tell what people really were like deep down.
"Is she sick, teacher?"
"Well, the problem is that she never called in sick if she was. I tried to call her house today, but no one picked up. I know you live close to her apartment, so could you stop by, make sure she's alright, and give her the assignments for today?"
Erika thought about it. It definitely was a pain. But then, she had plenty of time. She used to hang around the theater club, back before well….her boyfriend ended up cheating on her for that senior, but now she no longer participated in any club. And besides, as small as it was, it was a mystery. She had grown bored with how all detective stories seemed the same these days, but a city as prosperous as Mitikihara just did not have enough crime for an enterprising detective like herself. God, how she wished she had grown up in the past – perhaps the 1980s.
"Sure." She finally shrugged. "I'll take them. Could you give me her address?"
Shortly afterwards, Erika left the classroom, Tomoe's address and assignments in her bag. As she walked down the hall, she saw the same girls she had been arguing with this morning clustered together. They were the only people she had talked to all day today.
"Well, hello there, Miss Detective!"
"Suzuki." Erika coolly answered. "What do you want?"
"What do I want? Nothing from you, Miss Detective. I don't need you spoiling everything like you always do. But you're on your way to see Mami, right?"
"What about it?"
"She suits you." Suzuki smirked. "Even a loner like you is a complete social butterfly compared to Mami. I tried to be nice to her at the beginning of the year, invited her to the best clothing stores, the restaurants, but she always refuses. No matter what!"
"Well, she does live by herself." Another girl said. "She must be busy trying to take care of herself and going to school."
"I'm not inconsiderate! I'm not suggesting that she hangs out every day!" Suzuki snapped. "But once a week, maybe once every two weeks? I mean, Tomoe's loaded! A friend of mine told me that she went to her apartment once a long time ago, and said that it was a place fit for a rich family, much less one girl! She can surely afford to go out every now and then, but nooooo, she rejects me every. single. time! She probably thinks that she's too good for us, even though I know she doesn't have a boyfriend, just like Miss Detective here."
"Did you stop me just to gossip about Tomoe Mami?" Erika asked.
"No, not at all. I just meant to tell you to enjoy herself."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, why don't you use that detective brain of yours?" Suzuki tapped a finger against her chin. "Mami has a lot of money, but she has no parents, and she seems to have no time to hang out with anyone. I heard that she was seen once roaming around late at night in some pretty sketchy places. And on top of that, she's got no boyfriend even though every guy in our year would love to date her and those cows of hers. Now, what conclusions do you draw from that, Miss Detective?"
Furudo just glowered, and Suzuki smirked.
"Hey, you just lost her boyfriend after all, Erika. Maybe stopping by Tomoe will be the best way to…blow off some steam."
The rest of the girls shrieked in delight, and Suzuki bent double laughing at her own joke. Even Erika blushed a tiny bit, but then she noticed something stuck in Suzuki's pocket.
"So, what's the letter?"
Suzuki's grin grew even wider, and with a proud flourish, she whipped the letter out.
"You're not such a great detective, you know. You boasted so much about how those horoscopes don't mean anything. Well, guess what! When I came back to my desk after your little rant, I found a letter inside! Someone wants to meet me, behind the gym at 5:30! It's a confession, it's from Daisuke, it has to be! And my fortune told me that 'love and romance will go very well today!'"
Suzuki shrieked in delight and danced around for a bit, waving the letter in her hand. But then Erika marched up to her and snatched it right out of her hands.
"H-hey, wait a moment, what are you doing!"
Suzuki reached to grab the letter back. Before she could make a move, Erika then gave it back to her.
"You are a total love-struck moron, Suzuki. This is from Tsuruta."
"Tsuruta wrote this." Erika repeated. "It's his handwriting. And he's the kind of guy who would use a stupid phrase like 'I hope we can be happy together for all eternity.'"
"N-no!" One of the girls cried. "Tsuruta? He must be 300 pounds, and he smells like a wet dog rolled into a pigpen. It has to be Daisuke, Suzuki! And there's no way he's dating someone as plain and ugly as Noda, I'm telling you the truth!"
A glint shone in Erika's eyes, and for once, the girls in front of her fell silent.
"I am a detective, ladies. And a detective is one who finds the truth. The whole truth, no matter what. No matter how insane the truth is, no matter how ridiculous or impossible it is, I, Furudo Erika, will be the one to discover it. And I will be the one to endure the truth! No matter how impossible it is, or how much it may hurt me.
You people don't know anything about what truth is. That's why you will not admit that it's Tsuruta waiting for you behind that gym, Suzuki. But go, get over there. It's nearly 5:30. We will see whose truth is true, and whose truth is false. Yours, where Daisuke is waiting for you. And mine, where Tsuruta is."
With a final huff, without waiting for a final remonstrance or some last insult by the girls, Erika set off to Tomoe Mami's apartment.
A half hour later, Erika arrived. She raised her knuckles to the door of Tomoe's apartment and knocked.
There was no response.
She did it again.
A less determined student might have just left Tomoe's assignments behind the door and gone home, content to know that she had done her duty. But Erika didn't care at all about the assignments. The prospect of a mystery, as small as it was, was why she had consented to her teacher's request in the first place, and she was not going to let something like an unopened door stop her. Especially, she realized as she jiggled with the handle, an unlocked door.
As Erika let herself inside, she looked around. The light came on the minute she entered, and Suzuki was right for once. The apartment was as large as she had claimed. Yet while Erika had never been inside before, her instinct immediately told her the truth.
Tomoe Mami was not inside this apartment.
Still, a detective had to make absolutely sure. "First things first", Erika murmured to herself as she rummaged in her bag, before she pulled out…
A roll of duct tape.
It was possible, she reasoned, that someone, whether Tomoe or a mysterious person X, was hiding from her in this apartment and would try to slip out while she was distracted searching. But her detective novels had taught Erika the importance of the closed room puzzle. She tore off a strip of duct tape and stuck it on the door. If anyone tried to slip out, the strip would fall off, and Erika would know that someone had been hiding.
Confident in herself, she began her search. She would leave the living room for last; while it was the largest room and was filled with furniture, there was none of the sorts where a human being could hide.
As she went through room after room, she inwardly confirmed the facts within her head.
Tomoe Mami was not in the bathroom.
Tomoe Mami was not in her bedroom.
Tomoe Mami was not in the guest bedroom.
Tomoe Mami was not in the kitchen.
Tomoe Mami was not in the storage room.
Tomoe Mami was not in this apartment.
Perhaps there was the possibility of some secret passage, but Erika dismissed the thought instantly. There was no reason to deal with such an absurd possibility. Tomoe Mami was not here. Furthermore, there was absolutely no signs of a struggle. Tomoe certainly kept everything neat and tidy, though some dishes had been left in the sink. There was no blood, no violence whatsoever. If a crime had occurred, this was not the crime scene.
Just to make things sure, Erika headed back to the entrance and checked Tomoe Mami's shoes. Obviously, she didn't know how many pairs of shoes Tomoe actually owned. But even then, she noticed two things that were odd.
First, there seemed to be a pair of shoes missing in between two other pairs. This made it all the more likely that Tomoe had indeed left the apartment, never to return. Second, one of the pairs of shoes was squished. Judging from the shape of the squished shoe, it was made when someone had entered Tomoe Mami's apartment.
It could have just been Mami, of course. But Tomoe was clearly devoted to ensuring her apartment was clean and elegant. Would she really have just done something like that? Furthermore, the fact that the shoe had not reverted into its normal shape meant that the person who had done it had been inside very, very recently, likely less than 24 hours ago. Did someone enter after Mami had left the apartment for the last time? Sure, the shoe wasn't much evidence. But if Erika was correct, it did prove something. Tomoe Mami wasn't as alone as Suzuki thought she was.
"Simply by this shoe, this level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika. What do you think, everyone?"
Erika murmured her old catchphrase to herself, but she knew she was not done.
Was Suzuki correct, Erika mused? Had she left her apartment, plying the oldest of professions, before she met an unexpected grisly end? It was certainly possible. But only possible at this point, there was no way to tell for certain. How Erika wished that there was some way, some way to make absolutely sure of the truth. Of course, there never was, as her boyfriend had proven. He had whispered lovely words too, only to cheat on him with that theater senior.
Evidence. Evidence was all that mattered.
With those thoughts in mind, she began to search the living room for clues. It did not take long. There was plenty of chairs and sofas, but there was only one table, a glass triangular table which one was supposed to kneel by. A half-drunk cup of tea rested on the table. That was odd. Given how clean Tomoe's apartment was, Erika did not peg her to be the type to leave half-consumed cups and plates lying around.
Had someone come in here while she was drinking? Unlikely. There was no sign of a struggle, and while perhaps someone could have taken her by surprise, there was no way they could have with the living room by the entrance.
But what was more interesting was a notebook on the table. There were two books, stacked on top of each other. Erika quickly flipped through the book on the bottom, but it was of no real interest to her. It was a book about tea sets, which given the numerous tea sets in the apartment seemed normal enough. But the notebook on the top was highly interesting. It was filled with drawings, with a few notes here and there. Erika paused to look at the drawings on the last page. There were three girls, all wearing frilly dresses of some kind. Erika didn't recognize two of the girls, but the first girl on the page…
"That's Tomoe Mami."
She then looked at the few notes which had been scribbled on the page and checked their handwriting. Fortunately for Erika, Tomoe Mami had left a grocery list on the refrigerator. The presence of such a list was also a clue which indicated that Mami had not intended to leave this apartment for good, but the handwriting was more important. Erika compared the grocery list's handwriting with the notebook. They were not the same. At all. The notebook's writing was much more childish.
This notebook was crucial evidence. Suzuki had told Erika. Tomoe was a loner. Tomoe never invited friends. But someone (a girl most likely, given the drawings) had left a notebook that was not Tomoe's extremely recently, and had possibly been the one who had stepped on Tomoe's shoe while she entered. At minimum, this girl was likely the last one to see Tomoe Mami alive, and there was of course the possibility that she knew exactly what had happened to her. Given that it was on top of the tea set book as well as the fact that Mami's apartment was unlocked, it could even have been after Mami left this apartment for the last time.
Erika flipped through the notebook again for more evidence, and then stopped. Inside the cover, a name had been scribbled in the same childish handwriting of the rest of the notebook.