"The victim is Uchiyama Setsuko, age 23. She was an editor at Hiiragi Printing.
Around 4:30 PM yesterday, her body was found by her landlord Koike Matsuo and neighbor Murakami Rei, when they came to complain about a stench coming from her apartment.
Forensics have determined the cause of death to be acute blood loss from stabbing. The murder weapon hasn't been found yet, but autopsy results suggest it's most likely a six-inch kitchen knife. The estimated time of death is 10 PM last Friday.
Uchiyama was living alone. But her coworkers confirmed she had left the office early on Friday, at around 5:50, because a friend was coming over to her house.
The police managed to identify the friend: Takemori Haruna, age 22, a waitress at Azumaya Sushi.
Takemori, however, was at a body shop at the time of the murder due to a flat tire. The repairman confirmed she came in at 7:25 and stayed till 10. Takemori had also texted Uchiyama at 8:18 and received a reply, meaning the murder occurred shortly afterwards.
The ones who alerted the police, Koike and Murakami, were also confirmed to have alibis. Koike was playing mah-jong with friends from 6:30 to 12, and Murakami was at a movie theater in Roppongi from 9 to 11.
Fujiwara Yurika, age 23, one of the deceased's coworkers, was heard shouting angrily at Uchiyama during office hours last Wednesday. When the police questioned her, she explained it was because Uchiyama had been posting rumors about her online. Apparently, the victim had a reputation of slandering people on her blog and other net platforms behind their backs.
Fujiwara doesn't have an alibi at the time of the victim's death, but the aforementioned incidence has increased the list of suspects by at least 14.
No signs of forced entry or visible struggle were detected at the crime scene, further heightening the possibility that the assailant was someone Uchiyama knew. Her remaining acquaintances are still-"
"Wait. So you're telling me the apartment's CCTV caught nothing?"
Chihaya shook his head. "There wasn't one installed. The rental office said something about high maintenance fees."
"I see…" Yoko sighed, leaning back in her chair. "And? Just why is Inspector Takamine asking for our help again? He knows this isn't a detective agency, right?"
"Well, we solved last month's case. He thinks we can handle this one too."
"Last month's was a burglary gone wrong. This time it's first-degree murder. Also," she pointed at the case report Chihaya had been reading, "are the police even allowed to leak sensitive info to civilians like this?"
"It's fine. Everything's going on the news tomorrow. And besides, we've already dealt with murder cases before, haven't we?"
"Not a ton, though…"
"Look, the inspector knows we found Hazuki's murderer back in July. Plus the crime scene isn't messed up like last time, so finding evidence should be easier."
"You know what?"
Smiling, Chihaya tossed the report on Yoko's desk.
"I bet we can solve this case right here. Right now. Without leaving this room."
"The report Takamine sent us is well-detailed. And I mean, it's kinda obvious Takemori's the culprit, right?"
"Her alibi's so perfect it's actually fishy," they thought.
"Well, it could've been Fujiwara or someone else, but…"
There's no way someone planning to meet the victim would get a flat tire, create a solid alibi at the repair shop, and then get a reply text from said victim right before her death.
"Way too convenient, if you ask me."
"For now, anyway, let's say Takemori's the culprit. And if we can figure out the murder method, motive, and find evidence, we're all set. What do you say?"
"...Alright, then. If that's all we have to do."
Picking up the report, Yoko began flipping through the pages to the autopsy section.
"And you said the victim died from stabbing?"
"In the left side of her stomach."
"It says there are finger-shaped bruises on her right shoulder too. And the stab wound is...5.17 inches deep?"
In other words, the culprit must've been holding Uchiyama still while stabbing her. It'd be impossible to inflict such a deep wound otherwise, unless they'd charged towards her with the blade, which wouldn't explain the bruises, however.
"Does this report mention-"
"Takamine told me all the current suspects are right handed, except Fujiwara and 3 others. I think it's recorded somewhere near the front..."
"Page 12, found it. Guess that means Fujiwara's off the list, along with...Momose, Tsubashi, and Aosato, right?"
She turned to the "Statements" page and read silently.
"The recorded text conversation between Takemori and the victim as follows:
My tire's flat so I'm gonna be late' (Read)
'Really? That's too bad
You're not hurt are you?'
Takemori told investigators she thought little of it when Uchiyama didn't answer her last text.
Forensics have estimated the time of death to be 9 from this conversation as well as the state of the body."
Meanwhile, Chihaya was scribbling something on the white-board near the back of the room. Yoko looked up.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm drawing Takemori's and the victim's timeline before her death. Uchiyama was definitely alive at 5:50, and CCTVs showed her driving out of the parking lot at around 6."
"Yeah, alone. And it takes about 25 minutes to get from Meishou Publishing to Uchiyama's apartment."
He circled the point labeled 6:15 in red.
"Which means she was definitely killed after this time."
"Wait a minute- Did Takemori say anything about going to Uchiyama's house after 10?"
"About that, I already asked Takamine, but he said she figured Uchiyama was asleep by then, so she just went home without calling her."
"I see. Damn it..." Youko clicked her tongue. "This woman's leaving zero loopholes, isn't she? She's smart, I'll give her that…"
"Well, if her alibi's really fake, it's pretty impressive."
Shaking his head, Chihaya drew another circle around the point labeled 7:25.
"Assuming the text conversation was forged somehow, the actual time of death is somewhere between 6:15 and 7:25."
"Forensics said she died at 10...Maybe she set the A/C really low to slow the decaying?"
"She could've opened the windows too. It's been freezing lately."
"So...using the A/C and the cold weather, she delayed the time of death by 3-4 hours? Then she must've taken the victim's phone with her to the body shop and texted herself at 8:18…Which page are the fingerprint details on?"
"Page 19, 'Crime scene description'."
"Let's see...It says 'no fingerprints besides those of the victim were found on the victim's purse or its contents. This includes her car keys, phone, notepad, hand mirror, pens, wallet, and mascara set. There were also no foreign prints on the doorknobs or windows.'"
"Guess Takemori went back to Uchiyama's place to rub her fingers on the phone after wiping her own prints off. While making sure not to leave any prints on house keys and stuff. She didn't forget to put the keys back in Uchiyama's purse too. Boy was she careful…"
"The report doesn't say anything about a phone password, though?"
"Oh, there is one. But it was so easy to figure out, I don't think it matters."
"You figured it out? What was it?"
"Her birthdate, plus her first name."
"I mean, if even a total stranger like me could figure it out-"
"It's doubly easy for a friend. Not to mention Takemori must have had a ton of chances to try unlocking Uchiyama's phone. She was close enough with Uchiyama to stay over at her place and all."
"By the way, Takemori's hairs were found at the crime scene, but since she said she visited the victim's apartment often, the police let it go."
"Ah well," Yoko shrugged, "It wouldn't count as conclusive evidence anyway. I think we'll get something from the phone, though."
"Even if Takemori was at the body shop, without proof that Uchiyama was still alive while she was there, her alibi would've been shaky."
After all, times of death are at best only estimates, regardless of whether or not the body's been tampered with.
"Her text conversation with Uchiyama is what keeping her out of suspicion. And she'd been holding onto Uchiyama's phone for over 3 hours, if she'd really been at the body shop from 7:25 to 11. There's bound to be something she missed."
"But she's been careful so far."
"When people are extremely nervous, but they're trying just as hard to focus on something at the same time, like the phone in this case, they sometimes forget really obvious details. Such as-" Yoko lifted a finger, "making sure to leave prints on every single key the victim supposedly pressed while typing."
"Are you saying that-"
"Exactly. Remember there were 2 question marks in "Uchiyama's" message? It's easy to forget about punctuation marks if you're in a hurry or feeling tense."
"The police wouldn't examine the phone too thoroughly if no fingerprints other than the victim's were found…And the question mark key was pressed twice, so there's bound to be Uchiyama's prints if she really did send that text."
"Plus, if Takemori left the body in a cold room for hours, the body's natural oil would've dried up considerably by the time she came back. Rigor mortis would've made it difficult for Takemori to move Uchiyama's fingers too. I'm pretty sure there are a few more keys she neglected to print over."
Chihaya grabbed his own phone. "I'll ask Takamine to re-check the fingerprints."
"Hold on- We still haven't figured out the motive."
"Let's think about that later. We need to get the evidence first before it disappears, no?"
"True..." she nodded.
After 30 minutes, the inspector called them back. It turned out Uchiyama's fingerprints really were either abnormally faint or missing from a couple of keys on her phone, including "?" Now all they needed was Takemori's confession, and the case would be closed.
"She won't be able to talk her way out of her fake alibi this time." Chihaya turned towards Yoko, who was quietly scrolling through her phone.
"Hey…Take a look at this." Her face was grim as she showed him the screen.
It was the late victim's blog. The most recent post showed a picture of Takemori and a young man standing together in front of a neon-lit building, as well as a caption.
"Just spotted Haruna walking out of a love-hotel with her BF!Srsly, aren't they embarrassed at all~? She's even wearing a deep-cut blouse in this weather!"
"You're kidding!! That Haruna!?"
"I always thought she's the quiet type!"
"Leaving a Roppongi love-hotel with her BF♡"
"Who knew she had a slutty side?"
"I wonder if they're seeing this post"
"...Oh, I get it now…" Chihaya felt disgusted just from reading the first few comments.
"Well, now we know the motive…The police are probably going to find out soon enough, though."
"And we managed to solve this case without leaving this room, like I said. Good work, us."
"It went quicker than I expected," Yoko admitted. "But really, Chihaya. I don't like dealing with murder cases…"
"You're great at solving them, though."
Digging through dark secrets or filthy gossip was a necessary part of murder investigations a task Yoko didn't enjoy in the least. She'd learned a long time ago not to get too involved in grisly affairs.
"To be honest, I don't like them either. But if we can help the police catch criminals faster, it'll help us too in the long run, no?"
"Even so, the police aren't supposed to reveal case details to outsiders. I hope the inspector won't get in trouble."
"If we keep quiet, he won't."
"At any rate, since we're done, I really need to get working on my manuscript soon," Yoko went back to her desk. "No more cases this week, got it? Let's just leave them to the police like normal people."
"But we're not nor-"
"Oh yes, we're normal, and we shouldn't be playing detective like this."
"Is that what you think?"
"...Guess I can't blame you for not wanting to get involved in this stuff. But your brain's way better than mine, so I think it's kind of a waste?"
"Right now, my manuscript's my only concern. You should get going too, Chihaya." She knew he had another dance session coming up in 50 minutes.
"Fine, fine." Grabbing his jacket, Chihaya headed towards the door. "Don't forget we're meeting up with the others tomorrow."
"10:30, Shinjuku station. I remember."
"Good. See you later then, Yoko."
She waved as he closed the door.