The place is noisy and way too crowded for my tastes.
Satsukawa had promised me he would have explained the details on the way here, and he did. What he didn't warn me about, is that the 'details' included all the bad news he didn't mention at the beginning.
Long story short, the interrogation will take place in the gym, because they could not think of any other place that could fit everyone inside. In addition the school council pressured to be involved because this is also a matter that concerns them and they need to evaluate the situation for possible disciplinary actions. In the end it has been decided that this will be a joint interrogation with both parties involved with representatives from either side. So the real reason Satsukawa was chosen as the one who will run the show, is because he is the main contact between everyone involved, including me. That being said, it's not like they completely entrusted him with such an important operation and left him all by himself. There is an old acquaintance of mine among the crowd. Inspector Oosugi, a fat troglodyte who could fit better among a bunch of yakuza from a Kitano movie.
I have seen two patrol cars parked in front of the school today, so there are a few cops around, and there are probably other guys from the crime investigation section nearby. I guess they think there might be a chance they will catch a big fish today.
Four representatives from the school side will be present. One is Wakamatsu herself, in her expensive suit and fresh from a hair salon. Then there is the ubiquitous Nagaoka. Why is this man so important, I wonder? He isn't Teramoto's homeroom teacher, to my knowledge. It is probably his overzealous nature that caused him to get involved in this whole affair, and he is probably taking avail of the fact that the victim has been his student for two years. I bet he even submitted a formal request to be here today.
There is then another teacher that I know nothing about, but the last one at least has a reason to be here. She is Nakamura, and I have just learned she is the one in charge of the occultism club.
Right now they are divided among small groups and they are discussing the particulars of the big event that is just about to take place. In the meantime other personnel is setting up the place, seats and desks and so on, with Wakamatsu occasionally giving them instructions. It almost seems as if they are preparing for an important meeting with the press rather than with a bunch of students involved in a crime.
At first it seemed a good idea to question all the girls at the same time, but after seeing this, I am not so sure anymore. I almost regret that they didn't choose to interrogate them separately one by one. However Satsukawa explained to me that this is more of a formal preliminary meeting than anything, this is mainly to assess the general situation. More in depth interrogations will follow, once we will know more about the abandoned shed and the meetings that must have taken place there. It also appears that there have been discussions regarding the summoning of Teramoto, but in the end it was decided that whether she was present or not, little would have changed about her intimidation factor. According to Nagaoka, showing her in front of people with higher authority will make the other students understand who actually commands in this school, that way he hopes to lower her influence. We will see soon if his predictions are correct. Even then as the most probable ringleader, Teramoto is a key element to understand the truth behind that P.E. shed.
I am really curious to see what that girl will do. She is about to be checkmated, but it's not like she didn't have the time to prepare a counter move, she had plenty. Now it is time for her to show what she is made of, now it is time for her to show what kind of excuse she came up with to deny her involvement. I wonder if she will claim that someone is trying to frame her. In the end we didn't find much about her, just a few hairs that could have been placed there by anyone. But the point is that she does not know that this is all that we have. Can she really be that confident that she didn't leave any fingerprints? At any rate, no matter the strategy, if she decides to escape, she will be hunted and in the end she will be cornered.
I like hunting games, and I am really looking forward to this. If everything goes as I wish, she will weasel out her way through the direct attacks of Satsukawa and the rest. And then, once she will think to be on a safe path, she will find the unexpected me in front of her, and whatever choice she will take to avoid me, she will just end up in one of my traps.
Please, do not disappoint me, Teramoto! Try to escape as much as you can, do not let them catch you easily! I want to have a lot of fun with you today!
I care very little about the other girls, I have been given a list with all of their names, but there isn't really anyone that I know anything about excluding Teramoto. Yuu Azuma, Junko Andou, Sumomo Takamiya, their names aren't there, even though I'm pretty sure they must have been in that shed too. I can only guess that they periodically clean the place, and all traces of those who have been there only once or a just few times in the past were erased.
Waiting for all of these boring 'preparations' is taking its toll on me, I need to find something to keep my mind occupied with. Oosugi is all alone in a corner, it seems like he is more than happy to leave the public relations to Satsukawa. Since he is an old acquaintance, it would be rude not to greet him properly after all this time. I decide to approach him, even if I am pretty sure he would be a lot happier if I didn't.
Erika: "Good morning, Oosugi-san, what a delightful surprise to see you again. Oh, it's been a long time, I see you've changed... did you gain another few kilos? *giggle* *giggle*"
Oosugi's only answer is a guttural and cavernous grunt, and that's all that he gives me before walking away. What an uncivilized brute!
Erika: "My my, Oosugi-san, don't go and smoke another pack of cigarettes again. It's bad for your lungs!"
I am pretty sure he heard me, but he will not give me the satisfaction to even show that he listens to my words.
Meanwhile Satsukawa just finished to talk to the three teachers and he is now looking for me. He comes with a smile, but I perceive worry in his eyes.
Satsukawa: "We're almost done. I've told you already what your role is in this, but let me double check if you understood everything."
Erika: "I've understood everything perfectly. The principal Wakamatsu will talk first, she'll explain to the girls why we summoned them, and she'll prepare them for the interrogation. Then you'll take over, and you'll re-explain the situation from a pure investigative perspective. From that point onward you'll make the questions and everyone else should keep their mouths shut unless there are really important things they need to say or ask."
Satsukawa: "Right, and by 'everyone else' I mean everyone including you."
Erika: "I got it, Satsukawa-san, do you think that I'm stupid?"
Satsukawa: "No, but I think you could pretend you didn't understand and then blame me for not explaining everything clearly."
Erika: "I'd never use such a cheap excuse."
Satsukawa: "Yeah, but you're not denying that you could use a better excuse."
Satsukawa: "No funny business, Erika. Not this time."
Erika: "Of course, Satsukawa-san, I understand how important it is for you to make a good impression on your superior."
Satsukawa: "What? No that's... okay that's also a reason, but what of it? Is it wrong if I want to show them that I can make you work for the team for once?"
Erika: "In other words you want to prove that you can deal with me, even if they all think it's just a waste of time to even try. They've assigned you to this task, so I guess it's a matter of pride for you."
Satsukawa: "That's not exactly a matter of pride, Erika, it's more a matter of wanting to fulfill my role as best as I can."
Erika: "It's all right, you've already convinced me by the time you made me realize that those people expect you to fail."
Satsukawa: "Ah, perfect! I'm glad to hear you don't want me to lose face in front of them!"
Erika: "It's more like I want them to be proven wrong."
Satsukawa: "Well... either way it's fine..."
Erika: "You're worrying for nothing, Satsukawa-san. In the first place it isn't really wise nor elegant to play an ace from the very beginning. It's better to leave it for last or for a very critical situation. I've never had any intention to carelessly make my move before the appropriate time."
Satsukawa: "That's a relief, I'm only a bit worried about what you consider an 'appropriate' time now..."
Erika: "At any rate, if I was granted a seat among the rest of you, it means that you expect me to participate sooner or later."
Satsukawa: "The important part is that if I sign you to stop, you must stop."
Erika: "It really depends if that's an intelligent thing to do."
Satsukawa sighs dejectedly.
Satsukawa: "I can only hope this won't go too much out of control... By the way, Dlanor is not allowed to talk, okay?"
Erika: "Understood, Dlanor will just stay put in a corner and look pretty."
Erika: "It's all right Dlanor, that's what you do best, stay put and look pretty! *giggle* *giggle*"
A man standing near the gym's entrance attracts Satsukawa's attention by making a signal with his hand. Satsukawa nods back to communicate he received the message.
Satsukawa: "They're bringing them here, we should all take our seats and prepare to meet them."
Erika: "As you command, great chief."
He shakes his head, but I think he is satisfied enough with my answers.
I sit on the place that I was assigned to, next to Satsukawa; he wants to keep me close, apparently.
Oosugi comes back and takes the farthest seat on the opposite side. Nagaoka is next to him, then Wakamatsu. The other teachers take place on my left.
Seventeen chairs have been arranged in a semi-circle in front of us. Teramoto cannot hope to hide behind her lackeys, wherever she decides to sit, we will still have a direct visual of her.
I hear the sound of several people walking incoming from outside. A few seconds later a procession of seventeen female students passes through the doors and silently walks toward us.
I attentively examine their faces. I have always entertained myself with the idea that I could understand who Teramoto is simply by looking at her, now I have the chance to test whether I really can or not. My eyes jump from face to face, back and forth, again and again. I quickly exclude those that are apparently too young, the choice is now limited to five or six. Not that one, the other next to her isn't either, she is... there! I have found her! Teramoto is that girl, I am sure of it!
She is somewhat different from what I used to imagine her. Long and perfectly straight hair, conspicuous black glasses, a mole near her left eye. She is neither too tall nor too short, neither beautiful nor ugly, in the end her look is pretty average. However there is something in her eyes that reveals her true identity, a fiery stare that you rarely see in a person. Among all these intimidated and ashamed girls it stands out even more. Unlike the rest, the one that I recognized as Teramoto has yet to lower her eyes to the ground.
For a while the only sounds that can be heard are those caused by the several girls as they walk and stop in front of their seats.
Wakamatsu stands up and clears her throat, it's her turn.
Wakamatsu: "You are finally all assembled. The circumstances that led you here today are cause of a serious concern for this school, and I'm sure all of you understand the gravity of this situation. Six days ago Hitomi Gotsuji ceased to exist; she was a student of the Mitsugi institute, just like you. Her corpse was found bereft of life in a place not far from here, a place that we have reasons to believe you know well. Before saying anything else, I want you to understand that you're not accused of anything yet. All the people attending this meeting have been assembled for a specific purpose: to assess the situation concerning the abandoned P.E. shed and to evaluate related responsibilities. I have little knowledge of what that place has become and what purpose it served, and it is my wish that you will help us in our endeavor to find the truth. In fact I expect from all of you your full cooperation. Whatever happened, whatever the reasons, it's time to tell us all that you know. Do not be afraid to talk, the teachers and I are very worried about all of you, we're not your enemies, we're your allies, and we wish to help you. You must find the courage to take the hand we're lending, if someone is threatening you, if someone is causing you harm in any way, please let us know. We are here, we care, and we will protect you. And if you did something wrong, if you did something you're ashamed of, you mustn't be afraid to confess. We will help you in making up for it and in returning to the right path. This is your chance to do the right thing."
Well, what can I say? She isn't half bad. I think she pressed all the right buttons so far. She became the principal of this school at a relatively young age, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that she knows how to talk to people.
There is a factor that is really working against Teramoto today. Many of these girls are first year students, and that probably means she didn't have the time to get them under her complete control, or, to borrow Takamiya's words, to make them 'understand the situation'. They do not know yet what she is capable of and what it means to make her their enemy. They must have heard rumors, enough to keep them under check for a while, but I doubt rumors are enough to silence them now that we have reached this point. So it only depends on what they have experienced inside the shed and how much impressionable they are.
Wakamatsu: "Satsukawa-san from the crime investigation section is here to preside this meeting. He is trying to shed light on the circumstances that led to Gotsuji's demise, and he believes that it is of extreme importance to learn from you anything that you know about the place where she was found. For the sake of your missing schoolmate and her family, answer to all of our questions without omitting a single fact."
She makes a pause and her eyes move from side to side checking that all the students understood her words and the situation they find themselves in.
Wakamatsu: "That is all I have to say before ceding the lead to Satsukawa-san. You may sit down."