The very next day, the sky was shrouded in ominous grey clouds, making yesterday’s fine weather feel like a distant memory.
At slightly past seven in the morning, someone knocked on the door of Kazuya’s room in the boys’ dormitory. He had just finished washing his face and combing his hair, and was in the middle of fastening his tie when he opened the door. There he saw the worried face of the housemother, her red hair shaking to and fro.
“Kujou! I heard something terrible happened to you yesterday. I’m sorry! It’s all my fault for asking that weird favor of you….”
“Not at all. I’d rather ask, were you able to manage with yesterday’s breakfast?”
“…I got yelled at.” She hung her head.
Before she answered, Kazuya held out a bag filled with unfamiliar-looking tiny pink, orange, and yellow pellets for her inspection. The housemother took a sniff.
“It’s candy, but what do you think of it?”
“I guess … it looks tasty?”
“Good. I’ll go with this, then,” Kazuya said, nodding as if relieved over something.
Before closing the door, the housemother peered inside curiously. The normally spotlessly tidy room of an honors student was now cluttered with suitcases that had been dragged out and piled into a heap.
Kujou, what on earth have you been doing…?
She walked away, shaking her head.
Kazuya walked to class, still cradling the bag of candy. Since last night, he had searched every nook and cranny of the luggage he had brought from his home, until finally locating some sweets that looked like something a girl would like, at least in his opinion. Under the cloudy sky, he approached the stately, U-shaped main building. As soon as he entered his classroom, the young aristocrats shied away from him the way they always did. Their eyes darted nervously in his direction, but avoided direct eye contact.
Kazuya ignored them, and searched for the empty seat by the window. Once again, there was no one in Victorique’s seat, and no indication that its intended occupant would be coming to class today.
I knew she wouldn’t be in the classroom…. I guess I have no choice but to go to the library during the lunch break, he said to himself with a nod. But at that very moment…
From the hallway, the voices of two quarreling adults, a man and a woman, grew steadily louder.
“This is unjust!”
“Ha, ha, ha! Today I brought the arrest warrant, just as you asked! A foreign student committing a political killing! That certainly sounds like a recipe for an international incident!”
Kazuya jumped up in alarm. Apparently, Inspector de Blois had arrived sooner than he thought, and this time he came armed with an arrest warrant.
He opened a classroom window, clutching the bag of candy in one hand. Tuning out the clamorous shouts of his classmates, he closed his eyes and jumped from the second story. For someone as serious and strait-laced as Kazuya, it was naturally the first time in his life that he had ever left a classroom through an exit other than the door.
Trembling inwardly, he landed in a somersault atop the lawn in the courtyard.
Adding insult to the injury of his mental turmoil, among the uproar of voices emanating from the classroom overhead he heard overlapping shouts of, “Look!” “The Grim Reaper escaped!”
Kazuya glared at the window indignantly. …Damn it. So they really have been calling me “The Grim Reaper” behind my back!
Kazuya rushed headlong into the library, then frantically ran up the maze-like stairs.
He shakily ascended the staircase, rising higher and higher toward the solemn religious fresco that looked down on him from the distant ceiling. And today, just as before, he spotted something like a golden belt hanging down from between segments of railing. From time to time it swayed invitingly, rustled by a stealthy breeze.
When he had at last reached the conservatory, Kazuya found Victorique sitting in exactly the same position as yesterday, surrounded by plants, listlessly skimming through opened books that lay radiating about her in all directions. He approached her, panting wearily.
Victorique lifted her face from her books, and murmured in a voice filled with boredom, “Oh, you again.” She languorously took a puff from her pipe. “It must be very lonely having no friends, Kujou.”
The sudden insult made Kazuya flinch. “This isn’t the time for one of your jokes,” he said, taking a seat. “Never mind that. Come on, don’t forget what we agreed upon yesterday!”
“…And what was that?”
“You said you would solve the case for me! You were going to tell me the whole story behind the murder!”
Victorique looked up at Kazuya, staring at him blankly. Finally, she gave a grunt, and nodded as if remembering something.
And she promptly held out her tiny hand.
Kazuya sighed, and deposited the bag of candy into her palm. She opened the bag with a surprising degree of eagerness.
“…Munch, munch. What is this?”
“It’s called hina-arare.”
“It has an unusual flavor. Munch, munch…”
She continued chewing.
Then chewed some more.
“…Um, sorry to interrupt, but…”
In the manner of a small animal cutely chomping on its food, Victorique gnawed away at the exotic sweets. Seemingly enchanted by the unusual taste and shape, she grabbed the candies with her tiny hand and rapturously shoved them into her mouth, chewing with gusto.
His nerves on a razor’s edge, Kazuya waited for Victorique to acknowledge his presence again. He was becoming more anxious by the second.
I put all of my hopes on this girl…. But if I really think about it, I know nothing about who she is, or whether she really knows how to solve the case. If it turns out that she made everything up just to get me to bring her some sweets, I don’t know what I’ll do. And there’s already an arrest warrant out for me…
The footsteps of someone walking into the atrium echoed from far below. Kazuya peeked over the railing, and upon seeing a golden-tipped head pointing back at him, quickly jumped back. He heard Inspector de Blois run to the interior of the hall where there was a hydraulic elevator reserved for staff use.
The iron cage emitted a coarse groan, beginning its slow ascent.
Nearly in tears, Kazuya blurted out loudly, “It’ll become an international incident!”
Victorique’s hand, which had been reaching for more candy, stopped in midair. She looked up at Kazuya.
In a trembling voice, he cried out, “My dad is going to kill me! No, more like I’ll be hanged to death instead! Yes, I’m going to die on foreign soil! Although I’d really rather not!”
Victorique’s mouth dropped open, and she stared at Kazuya in amazement for what felt like a very long time.
Then, with an impish smile on her face, she muttered, “…The Grim Reaper is crying.”
Kazuya turned to look at her. “S-stop that!”
“…It was a joke.”
“A joke?! Someone’s life is hanging in the balance, and you’re making a joke?! You ought to know that there are things you should and shouldn’t say– Why are you smiling?! Cut that out! Seriously…”
The more Kazuya earnestly protested, the more the gleeful smile on Victorique’s face widened. “Now, now, just calm down,” she said, sounding positively jubilant.
“Calm down? You think I can calm down in a situation like this? What good will that do me? I ought to start running instead. I feel like running as far as I can, and screaming all the way. Ugh! Ugh!” Each time he moaned, his face grew redder and redder.
The iron cage creaked as it climbed slowly to the top.
Victorique stopped smiling. With a touch of disgust, she said, “Shut up. You are leaving me no choice. I’ll explain things to you now.”
“Hurry, hurry!” Kazuya stamped his foot.
Victorique took a leisurely puff from her pipe. “Now listen carefully. If you want to cut the head off a person riding a motorbike, there is no need to get on the bike, or to even go near it.”
“Because it’s enough for the person on the bike himself to be traveling at a high rate of speed.”
“Ugh! Ugh! … Wait, what do you mean?”
Composure returned to Kazuya’s face. He recovered the poise he normally possessed as an accomplished student, and immediately sat down, maintaining ramrod straight posture as he concentrated on Victorique’s explanation.
She stretched her thin arms out in either direction. “Just think: what would happen if you took a wire or something like that, and hung it out across the path of a motorbike? This is on a road where your target is sure to pass through, and at a time when there won’t be anyone else around. The bike would speed up through this area, and the wire would cut the rider’s head off. The killer could then untie the wire and escape.”
Feeling disoriented, Kazuya stared at Victorique. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and took a deep breath. “I, I see….”
“But still, Victorique, um, as far as any proof goes…”
Victorique calmly took a drag from her pipe. “Most likely, when you walked by at that time of morning when it would usually be deserted, the killer had no choice but to flee upon hearing your scream…. Well, I won’t say it’s completely impossible, you know. There’s still a chance that he could have left without retrieving—”
The iron cage screeched, just inches from the top. There was a moment of ominous silence, then a loud clunk as it locked into place.
The iron gate opened.
Beyond the lush greenery, the inspector with the hairstyle molded into a strange shape stood inside, striking a pose.
When he caught sight of Victorique face to face with Kazuya in the conservatory, his eyes opened wide in shock.
Oh? Kazuya noticed the change in the inspector’s expression. Do these two know each other? He looked over at Victorique. She pretended not to see the inspector, instead firmly shifting her gaze to her books as if she wanted to bury her face in them. Well, that’s interesting…
The inspector, seeming to finally collect his wits, turned to Kazuya. In his hand he gripped a blood-stained spool of wire, and he held it up in Kazuya’s direction, raised one leg, and shouted, “Ha, ha, ha! Here’s your proof!”
His shout reverberated in the quiet garden.
“This was found near the crime scene! It was tied between some nearby trees. Hmm… I’m not quite sure how, but this must be your doing! You’re under arrest, you international murderer, you!”
Kazuya couldn’t help smiling assuredly in response, and he turned to Victorique, saying, “Go ahead, Victorique. Tell the inspector what you figured out.”
She did not respond.
He found her busily chewing the hina-arare, her mouth crammed shut. She looked at him, then shrugged her shoulders as if to say she didn’t feel like talking, and resumed her reading.
Inspector de Blois started to walk toward Kazuya slowly.
Trembling, Kazuya cried out, “It wasn’t me! Listen, inspector!”
Kazuya was forced to argue for his own innocence. But in the middle of his explanation to the inspector, Victorique suddenly began to scrutinize the blood-stained wire from every angle, as if she had regained interest in the proceedings.
The inspector appeared to have tentatively accepted his explanation of how the wire had been used, although it still took quite a bit of time before he agreed to release Kazuya as a suspect. Once the inspector finally relented, Kazuya slumped down to the floor in exhaustion.
Victorique spared him not a moment’s glance. “Gréville,” she said, raising her head abruptly.
The inspector’s cheek twitched. “Wh-what do you want?”
Kazuya observed him carefully, noting his change in expression.
Inspector de Blois’ face had inexplicably stiffened, his expression resembling that of a frightened child. He seemed to be unusually petrified of Victorique—tiny Victorique, engulfed in frills—as if she held some kind of overwhelming power.
In that instant, Kazuya perceived the roles of adult and child switching places, accompanied by an almost palpable ringing sound. It was a startling sight.
The inspector opened his quivering lips. “I, I don’t n-need your help anymore!”
Victorique smiled scornfully. “As you wish.”
“Um, I guess you two know each other?” Kazuya said.
There was no reply from either quarter. Deflated, he said nothing more.
Inspector de Blois squared his shoulders and stepped back into the metal cage of the elevator. The iron-latticed gate closed behind him.
A breeze blew in from the skylights, rustling the fronds of the palm trees.
Victorique’s soft voice broke the stillness. “The real killer is a blond girl. Her fingers are wounded.”
The inspector turned around, a look of surprise on his face. “H-how…?”
“Check the surgical hospitals, Gréville.”
The iron cage dropped below the floor with a clang, and inspector’s dumbfounded face disappeared with the rest of him.
Once the inspector had left the scene, Victorique began to lethargically smoke her pipe once more, seeming to have lost all interest in the world around her. She returned to slowly flipping the pages of her books as if nothing had happened.
Kazuya, finally recovering from his bewilderment, called out to her. “Hey, Victorique.”
“I said, hey. What happened just now?”
Victorique raised her head reluctantly. “…Hmm? Oh, that was the result of my meditation. My overflowing wellspring of wisdom has informed me so.”
She lapsed into silence.
Then, defeated by Kazuya’s persistent gaze, she looked up at him and said peevishly, “Think about it, Kujou. Why would the culprit choose such an elaborate method of killing? There are any number of easier and quicker ways to do it: stabbing, bludgeoning, shooting…”
“It’s because she was afraid of the victim,” Victorique continued, taking another piece of candy. “The killer is a woman, or possibly a child. And the victim was an adult man. The killer was afraid of confronting him directly on her own, so she chose this method of killing him remotely. So it gives me the impression of someone physically much weaker.”
“Then what about the wounds on her fingers?”
“When I inspected the wire, I saw that not only was there blood on the section that cut off the victim’s head, but also small bloodstains on the ends. That was the perpetrator’s blood. It’s probable that the killer inadvertently sliced her fingers when she was setting up and removing the wire.”
From his seated position, Kazuya casually reached out to take some hina-arare for himself. It was ages since he’d last eaten this type of candy, and he savored the familiar flavor.
Then he asked in an even more inquisitive tone, “But how did you get that it was a blond girl?”
“That was from that embarrassing daydream of yours, Kujou.”
Kazuya jumped up with a screech, accidentally swallowing the piece of candy.
But Victorique showed no interest in his agitation. In a voice unchanged in its diffidence, she replied, “You know, humans are creatures who react in response to visual stimuli. Something that happens to enter their field of vision may become the first step of a chain reaction that results in a daydream about a related topic. You understand that, don’t you?”
“I, I suppose…?”
“Now, Kujou. Why would you, in the midst of hurrying to carry out the task that the housemother bestowed upon you, enter this unseemly state of lust, and start imagining such a puerile fantasy?”
Kazuya’s face turned bright red. “You … you don’t have to call it ‘lust’!”
Victorique removed the pipe from her mouth. A thin plume of white smoke wound its way to the ceiling.
Then she put the last fragment into words. “Kujou. When you were walking on that deserted road, you spotted a girl in the corner of your eye. Most likely a cute blond one. You identified the killer without even knowing it, and wove her into your fantasy.”