I'm finally inside the Mitsugi institute. It's just me, Dlanor and Satsukawa now; Rokudou returned to the mansion to attend to his many duties.
As I expected, this is a rather small and plain school. There's nothing peculiar about the buildings and overall everything looks rather cheap. There's absolutely no comparison to the place I used to be in when I was still a student. It was a gigantic all female high school meant to provide a perfect education to the daughters of rich and important families. I hated that place, but it was a most refined environment suited for someone like me... Why did I hate it again? I don't really make a habit of remembering trivial facts. What really matters is that the disparity between schools for rich people and commoners is truly appalling.
However, it looks like the principal didn't have problems in finding funds for her own office. It's still a spartan room when it comes to walls, doors, windows and lights, but it's quite a nice desk she has there, and that chair looks pretty comfy and expensive. The bookshelves seem to be a recent investment and they hold quite a number of thick hardcover books. Lastly I think that her personal computer isn't one of the cheapest models either.
Akemi Wakamatsu, the principal, is sitting behind her stylish desk and looks at me with a sort of disapproving expression, as if she was scowling at an undisciplined student. She must be around 40 years old, maybe a little more, but her clothes, hairstyle and make up are telling me much of the efforts she makes to look younger. And I must say she isn't unsuccessful at that, she's a surprisingly good looking woman. A less attentive person would probably think she's still in her mid thirties.
Considering all that, I'm pretty sure that she's still unmarried, and yet it's difficult to believe such a comely and successful woman never was in a relationship. Her bitter attitude is probably the result of several bad experiences with the other sex. I wonder how many tears discolored the black ink of her eyeliner.
But there's someone else in this room who's showing even more hostility. It's Shuuichi Nagaoka, the teacher who answered Oda's calls when he found his friend's corpse. He's standing silently next to the principal. Apparently he thinks that sitting on a chair in front of me would be too much of a welcoming sign, and he has no intentions to show any. I think he must be more or less as old as Wakamatsu, perhaps a little more.
Wakamatsu: "This whole affair is a regrettable incident, and I partly recognize my responsibility in letting it happen. The murder of Hitomi Gotsuji is an unprecedented tragedy for this institute and a stain that will never be washed away. However I have obligations towards all the hundreds students of this school, and they have the right to receive a proper education in a tranquil environment."
Erika: "A tranquil and safe environment, I would add."
She grimaces at my comment and her eyes pierce me with renovated enmity.
Wakamatsu: "We have already lost precious days, classes have finally resumed today. It is my wish that everything returns to normality as fast and quietly as possible. I hope that you understand my concern and that you'll act with discretion while inside the premises of this institute. We have no need for further turmoil and distress."
Satsukawa: "We understand your position, Wakamatsu-san, but shedding light on this murder takes precedence on everything else. Of course we recognize that this is still a school and life needs to go on for the rest of the students, but we cannot prioritize that over the capture of a criminal who's still at large and who might cause further damage in the future if not stopped."
Nagaoka: "What I don't understand, Satsukawa-san, is why a civilian was given the right to meddle in this affair. And I don't understand why the institution, financed by our taxes, that is supposed to deal with such cases isn't enough."
Satsukawa: "The law enforcers cannot deal with every situation without availing themselves of experts. In the end you may consider Erika Furudo an expert who's providing her precious insight to help the investigators in this difficult case."
Nagaoka: "What exactly qualifies this individual as expert? Why did you bring..."
Satsukawa: "I suggest you weight your words carefully, Nagaoka-san. Erika Furudo is working as an external advisor for the MPD, she's under my responsibility and I'm still a policeman. She was given permission to investigate by law enforcers, hindering her would be the same as hindering official investigations. I thought we discussed this matter already and I thought we came to an agreement. There's no need to discuss this any further and it's not up to you to decide how we should do our job."
He's good. He's surprisingly very good. I could have joined this discussion and I could have defended myself fine, but it's more entertaining this way. Beside if it was me, I would have had to resort to lies, but he's seriously believing in what he's saying, so it's a lot better to let him deal with these persons.
Nagaoka is still as disapproving as he was in the beginning, but he can't debate what Satsukawa said, so for now he is staying silent.
Wakamatsu: "Nagaoka-san, I completely share your opinion and I have your same qualms, but we have no choice on the matter, we need to cooperate. That being said, Satsukawa-san, if it'll come to my attention that you caused unnecessary distress to my students, you can rest assured that I'll file a complaint to your superiors."
Satsukawa: "Duly noted, but it won't happen. We have no intention to create unrest anymore than you do."
Oh, Satsukawa, you're so wrong on that. But you're doing a very good job, so please keep it up.
Wakamatsu: "Then... in what way can I be of help to your... investigations?"
Erika: "For now, if you don't mind, I'd like to make a few questions to both of you."
Wakamatsu: "I have no problems with that, provided it's just a few questions. I have business to attend to."
Erika: "Wakamatsu-san, where were you between 6:00 and 6:30 pm on the day of the crime?"
Wakamatsu: "I finished my work early that day, so I had already left school. I was in my car for the most part. I think I must have arrived at home at around 6:25."
Dlanor: "Can anyone confirm it?"
Nagaoka: "Oh, come on! This is ridiculous!"
Wakamatsu: "Am I a suspect, now?"
Erika: "We're just checking every relevant fact. There's no need to feel accused. Please, answer the question."
Wakamatsu: "No. No one can confirm it. But I'm sure you've already checked the recordings of the surveillance camera in front of the school. That should prove that I had already left school before Gotsuji was last seen."
Satsukawa: "That's correct, we've already checked. Wakamatsu-san left school at 5:52 pm."
Erika: "What can you tell me about the occultism club?"
I see my question is causing Wakamatsu to grimace again.
Wakamatsu: "You're getting straight to the most uncomfortable questions... I admit I didn't really supervise the creation of new clubs the way I should have. Two years ago Maaya Teramoto, a first year student at the time, filed a request for the creation of an occultism club. Everything was managed according to our rules, and the teachers didn't imagine it could degenerate in something serious. I have however realized that it was a mistake and I've already decided to disband her club and to enforce stricter rules in the future."
Erika: "Do you think that the occultism club and what was found in the P.E. shed are related?"
Wakamatsu: "I can't say for sure that Teramoto is responsible for that, but there are strong suspicions. Regardless, it became apparent that rumors and beliefs related to Teramoto's activities went out of control in this school. The occultism club had a bad influence on the students of this institute and I believe that directly or indirectly it's at least partly responsible for what happened."
Nagaoka: "I'm of the same opinion and I never approved that club from the beginning."
Erika: "When you say that it had a bad influence on the students of this school, do you mean someone in particular?"
Wakamatsu: "I'm not sure... Nagaoka-san?"
Nagaoka: "I think it wouldn't be an understatement that there are many students that were plagiarized by Teramoto. But unfortunately it's not something that I can prove."
Erika: "Are these students prevalently female?"
Nagaoka: "Yes... yes they all are, as far as I know. But that goes without saying, who else but girls would be interested in that garbage?"
I think Wakamatsu is silently disapproving Nagaoka's last remark.
Erika: "I suppose that you've already talked to that girl about this issue, perhaps you've even summoned her parents?"
Wakamatsu: "Of course we did! That's one of the first thing we took care of."
Erika: "And how did that go?"
Nagaoka and Wakamatsu send quick glances to each other. That alone tells me that it didn't go as they wished for.
Wakamatsu: "Teramoto dismissed every single accusation. She's an incredibly headstrong and shameless young girl. Honestly, I don't know how to deal with her. When we questioned her practices, she accused us of violating the principles of freedom of thoughts and freedom of religion. The fact that her father is a Shinto priest didn't help, we couldn't really count on his support to deny the existence of spirits, curses and demonic possessions."
Erika: "Her father is a Shinto priest? Satsukawa-san, why didn't you tell me that?"
Satsukawa: "Ah... sorry! I didn't think it was important..."
Erika: "Does that mean her family lives in a temple? An old temple perhaps?"
Wakamatsu: "That's correct. Though I'm not sure how old it is."
Nagaoka: "They claim they've been there since the Heian period. I never bothered to validate that, it's not like it is of any relevance."
Erika: "However when someone says 'occultism', it's usually about western beliefs. Is her father really okay with that?"
Nagaoka: "Teramoto has her own peculiar beliefs. She claims to approach the supernatural from an holistic and universalistic perspective. That's a fancy way to say that everything is fine with her as long as it deals with the occult. She has quite the talent for elaborating convincing theories and persuade others of their validity. That's why she has that much influence on other students. Her father doesn't share her particular view, but he still fully supports her dedication to the supernatural."
Erika: "Satsukawa-san, did you inquire about Teramoto's and her club members' whereabouts at the time of the crime?"
Satsukawa: "Naturally. The occultism club's activities on the day of the crime officially ended at 5:00 pm. Teramoto spent a bit more time talking with two of her friends. The three of them left school at 5:15 pm, and by that time everyone in her club was already gone. Teramoto claims she's been hanging with her two friends the whole time until around 19:00 pm when she returned home. They are providing alibis to each other, but we couldn't find anyone else that could confirm their claims."
Wakamatsu: "Maybe you should talk to Teramoto directly. The last period is about to end, we can arrange a meeting."
Erika: "No, not yet. But I wish to talk to Meito Oda."
Wakamatsu turns to Nagaoka with an inquisitive expression.
Wakamatsu: "Is he at school today?"
Nagaoka: "Yes, but I don't think he's in the right state of mind to answer your questions. I think we should let him go home."
Satsukawa: "I suppose it can wait, then..."
Erika: "No. It cannot."
My stern declaration is causing all sorts of amusing reactions. Nagaoka is looking at me with disgust, Wakamatsu with concerned surprise and Satsukawa is thwarted and embarrassed.
The way he says it, it doesn't even sound like a question.
I smile at him mockingly and we begin a sort of staring contest.
Satsukawa presses his thumb and index against his closed eyes for a few seconds and breathes heavily.
Satsukawa: "Okay, in the end it's not like we can force him to stay and answer our questions. Let's just call him and let him decide."
Neither I nor Nagaoka show any reaction to Satsukawa's proposal. We remain focused on our psychological battle.
After a few seconds the principal interrupts the impasse.
Wakamatsu: "Do as he said, Nagaoka."
He waits again a few seconds before answering.
Nagaoka: "I'll be coming with you. I'll supervise your questionings."
Erika: "Fine with me."
Satsukawa: "Great. Is there an empty room we can use to interrogate students?"
Wakamatsu: "There's a meeting room on the second floor. That's what we use when we need to talk to students and their families in private. You can use that."
Nagaoka: "I'll bring you there."
Erika: "Let's go then."
Dlanor: "Thank you for your cooperation, Miss Wakamatsu."
We exit the principal's office without saying any more words. Just a quick bow as good manners dictate and we are off to our destination. Nagaoka is leading the way, he walks a good three meters in front of us, as a yet another sign of his disapproval. We are on the third floor so we need to get down a set of stairs.
Erika: "Nagaoka-san, where's the teachers' room located?"
Nagaoka: "Third floor, same as the principal's office, the student council room and every other room with administrative functions."
We are in front of the meeting room, Nagaoka takes a key from his pocket and unlocks the door.
Once inside I find two black three-seater sofas placed one in front of the other and separated by a glass tea table. At the end of the table opposite from the door, there are two armchairs matching the sofas' design. Further down in the room there's an office desk and two chairs for the guests.