We are in front of the building that we were told to go to. This is the place where the do-it-yourself club members perform their activities. This is their workshop, or as Oda called it: this is the "lab".
I can hear strange noises coming from inside, noises of people working with hammers, electric drills and other metal tools. A pungent smell of paint, solvents and other strange chemicals tingles my nostrils.
I open the door wide, without knocking, causing everyone inside to freeze on the spot and to turn their heads toward me.
Erika: "Excuse me for intruding, is this the do-it-yourself club?"
The question is certainly absolutely pointless, the answer is self-evident once you look at the surroundings, but it is a way to start a conversation like any other.
One of the students, probably the president, leaves his station and approaches me. He seems to be a bit distrustful and confused.
Club President: "Yes, this is the do-it-yourself club, can I help you with something?"
Satsukawa: "I'm Keiji Satsukawa from the criminal investigation section, we'd like to make you a few questions."
Erika: "And I'm Erika Furudo, the great detective, pleased to meet you."
Club President: "P-pleased to meet you..."
Erika: "This is a pretty interesting place. Mind if I take a look around?"
Club President: "Uh... sure, there isn't any problem..."
I start moving slowly around the room checking the various tools and the hardware scattered around.
The club members seem to be intimidated by my presence and only pretend to get back to their works. All except one. There is one among them that barely stopped when I made my irruption, and now she doesn't even give signs that she is aware of my presence.
Erika: "I'm positively surprised, this place is very well equipped, looks like a true professional workshop."
Club President: "I'm... very proud of this place. The school provides some basic funds, but we also make money out of our work. We offer repair services to the families living in this ward, and everything that we gain is spent on tools and materials for the club. In a few years it became like this."
Erika: "This must be a pretty popular club."
Club President: "Well... sort of..."
Erika: "No point in being modest. Anyway, I don't seem to see Meito Oda among you."
Club President: "Ah... I see... Well, Oda didn't really came to the club since that day..."
Erika: "What can you tell me about him?"
Club President: "Uh, Oda? Well, he's one of our most talented members, that's for sure. He's very dedicated."
Erika: "I see... hmmm, and what would this tool be exactly?"
Club President: "It's an electrical separator connector."
Erika: "Regarding Oda, what else can you tell me about him?"
Club President: "Hmmm... it's not like we're really friends or anything."
Erika: "I never assumed so."
Club President: "Well... he's a bit grumpy... you know, the kind of guy who always seems to be in his bad day. He he..."
Erika: "He doesn't socialize much with the other members?"
Club President: "Uh, Oda? It's not like he's really introverted, I think... But he's pretty serious when he works and he's a bit... unapproachable. Some of us think he's a bit scary, he's quite a big guy and we heard he gets in fights frequently."
Club President: "Ah, I don't mean that in a bad way... maybe just a bit..."
Erika: "What's this?"
Club President: "That's a nibbler."
Erika: "You haven't met Oda at all on the day of the crime?"
Club President: "No, he didn't come here. I heard he's been punished."
Erika: "You didn't see him fighting with Baba?"
Club President: "Ah, no, I wasn't there. It looks that half the school was though, I heard the stories..."
Erika: "What the rumors are?"
Club President: "The only rumors I heard is that Baba was up to no good as usual, and that he's been confronted by Azuma from the female basket club. All the girls in my class were talking about her..."
Erika: "And how did Oda enter in the picture?"
Club President: "I'm not sure... I only heard that he and Baba got in a scuffle soon after that."
Erika: "So you don't know why Oda attacked Baba?"
Club President: "I don't really care, it's not like it matters. Those two are always at each other's throat."
Erika: "Oh, what's this interesting instrument?"
Club President: "That's a micrometer."
Erika: "Do you really need something like this?"
Club President: "No... but it's cool to have it..."
Erika: "I see. Then you and Oda never talked that much?"
Club President: "Well no, not really. We talk a lot about club stuff. This isn't just a place where we work, this is a place where we learn. Everyone has something to teach to and learn from others. Naturally the new members must be followed closely in the beginning. But even they after a while can develop interesting ideas on how to perform certain works."
Erika: "I suppose that Oda, being one of your most dedicated members, has a lot to teach."
Club President: "Well, sure... but he learns too."
Erika: "Who's the most skilled here?"
Club President: "Ah, that'd be me!"
Club President: "No... okay, if I really had to pick one... I'd say Andou..."
Erika: "Junko Andou?"
Club President: "Wha... yeah... you know her?"
She must have heard me calling her name, but she didn't react at all. What an interesting person.
Erika: "This doesn't seem to be the place where you'd expect to find a girl."
Club President: "Ha ha ha... indeed! But it's not like we have ban on women or something. In fact we're very proud of our Andou."
He gets a little closer and adds whispering.
Club President: "She's an oddball, but she's fine... I think..."
Erika: "Thank you, I think I'll have a little chat with her now, if you don't mind."
Club President: "Uh... oh! Yes... sure! Please..."
I leave this awkward guy to his own uncertainties and move closer to the real reason I came to this place. Even when I am barely two steps away from her, she keeps working on her project, seemingly without noticing me.
I seriously doubt she isn't aware of my presence, I guess it is more like she doesn't want to notice me. The club president warned me that she is a weirdo. I can tell at first glance that she really is. Something is very strange about this girl. To say it with a few words, she really seems to live on a different planet.
Erika: "Hello, Andou, my name is Erika Furudo, I'm investigating the case concerning the death of Hitomi Gotsuji. I'd like to have a few words with you."
I wait a few seconds for an answer, but I get none, not even a reaction. She is still focused on her work. This is a lot worse than I thought.
Erika: "You don't mind if I ask you a few questions, right?"
Nothing. There's no connection.
Junko: "I heard you."
Well, at least I have confirmed that she can understand and speak my language. She isn't really bothering looking at me or stopping tinkering with her project. Come to think of it, what exactly is she working on? I decide to ask.
Erika: "That's quite an interesting thing you're doing, do you mind explaining what it is?"
Finally, she stops.
Junko: "It's an old stereo. I repaired it. I'm adding a remote control."
Erika: "Eeeh? You can do things like that?"
At least now she is facing my general direction, I am not sure what exactly she is looking at though.
Erika: "Is working on electronics the only thing you can do?"
She shakes her head.
Junko: "I can do anything. Mechanical improvements too."
I can only see half of her face, a bang is covering the other half. Doesn't that hinder her?
Erika: "Nice tool belt, by the way."
What is she looking at?
Erika: "So you don't just limit yourself to repair stuff, you like to improve them."
Erika: "What do you..."
I stop, and I finally realize. She is looking at Dlanor, straight into her eyes. This is amazing, did she just recognize a kindred soul in another equally silent character? Oh well, this could be pretty interesting. I guess I will let Dlanor handle her then. I don't need to say aloud what I think to my faithful companion, we can understand each others without words.
Dlanor: "Miss Andou, do you recognize what Miss Erika is holding in her hand?"
You are way too direct, Dlanor. Anyway at this point it doesn't matter, I bring what I am holding closer to Andou's face so she can see it clearly.
Junko: "... Screw."
Dlanor: "Miss Erika just took it from one of the boxes there."
Dlanor: "Is this the kind of screws you normally use for appliances?"
She shakes her head.
Junko: "Too big."
Dlanor: "What is this commonly used for?"
Junko: "Furniture. Carpentry."
Dlanor: "Is this the kind of screws you would use to fit a lock on a door?"
Erika: "Would you mind answering Dlanor's question, Andou? *giggle*"
Dlanor: "Do you know how to do that kind of works too?"
Dlanor: "Would you also be able to install a latch on a door, if asked?"
The room is now completely silent. Everyone is watching us, holding their breath.
Junko: "I can do it."
Dlanor: "Did you ever do that before?"
Not the answer I was expecting, but this is fun. Let us play a bit more with her.
Dlanor: "Do you know who Miss Maaya Teramoto is?"
Dlanor: "Did she ever approach you?"
She nods again.
Dlanor: "What did she ask?"
Junko: "Talking. Occult."
Dlanor: "Are you and Miss Teramoto in good terms?"
Junko: "I don't believe. I told her."
Erika: "Ha ha ha! How did she take that?"
Junko: "... Not good."
Dlanor: "Did Miss Teramoto or one of her friends bother you?"
Dlanor: "Were you commissioned a work from Miss Teramoto or from any of her friends?"
Silence again. She is practically frozen on the spot, like a statue. It is very difficult to guess what is going on on her mind. We wait for her answer and after a few seconds she shakes her head.
Dlanor: "Did you ever work on the abandoned P.E. storage's door?"
She shakes her head.
Dlanor: "Were you the one that installed the latch on that door?"
Again, she silently denies it.
Dlanor: "Are you aware that the screws used to install that latch are identical to the one Miss Erika is holding in her hand?"
I wonder what Satsukawa is thinking at this moment. He didn't dare to say a thing for the whole time, but I can tell he wasn't really expecting this conversation.
Andou doesn't seem like she wants to answer or comment the last question.
Dlanor: "Are you aware of the method they used to open and close the latch from outside?"
She flinched! It was almost an imperceptible movement, but she flinched!
Oh, you didn't really expect that we would know that much, right, Andou?
Still, this girl is amazing. She isn't sweating, she isn't making any nervous movements, she is almost impossible to read. She isn't even alive, she is like a robot! But how much would I pay if I could just check how fast her little heart is beating at this very moment! What would I give, if I could tear that small chest open and see it with my own eyes!
Junko: "I don't know."
Erika: "A smart girl like you. How disappointing! *giggle* *giggle*"
Dlanor: "Did you know the victim? Did you know Miss Hitomi Gotsuji?"
She shakes her head.
Dlanor: "You must know Mister Oda. Did you never see him with the victim?"
Junko: "I've seen her. Never talked."
Erika: "What do you think about Oda? He's your senpai, right?"
I am getting tired of this girl, it is really a pain to make her talk. She is not worth my time anyway, I have already learned what I wanted.
Erika: "Let's go, Dlanor, we're done here."
Dlanor: "As you wish, Miss Erika."
Erika: "Ah, everyone, sorry for this interruption. You can feel free to return to your works, we'll be leaving now."
Satsukawa is strangely silent. It seems he is considering carefully everything that was said during the recent conversation. He just follows me without saying a word, I guess he is probably holding his questions until we are alone. But right when we are just about to leave, something reaches my ears and freezes me on the spot. It was barely perceptible, but I am sure I heard Andou's voice.
I turn around and I notice she is facing my general direction. She is not exactly looking at me, but I suppose that given her character that's the best she can do.
Erika: "Did you say something, Andou?"
Junko: "Oda... is a liar."
I can't help but smile impishly. What kind of dirty story is there behind that affirmation? I want to know more, I want to know what kind of grudge this strange girl is holding against Oda. A liar, she said. It could have several different implications. Does that mean that Oda isn't telling the truth about something important? If so, everything that he told me could require an attentive reanalysis from my part. But unless he is a very good actor, I can't really see that guy willingly lying. Then there could be a completely different explanation, such as in the case he didn't even realize he lied. Didn't I know someone exactly like that? And hasn't he been called a liar... too? Uh...
Satsukawa: "...Erika? Erika?!"
Satsukawa: "What's wrong?"
Erika: "Is something the matter?"
Satsukawa: "You spaced out... and you became pale all of a sudden."
Erika: "I was just reflecting. Did I really space out?"
Andou is no longer facing me, she is back in her own world, completely isolated from everyone and everything else. She has no eyes but for her project now.
Satsukawa: "Hmmm, what do you want to do?"
I take another uncertain glance at Andou. Bah, I guess I have lost my chance at this point, but it is all right. She is not going anywhere.
Erika: "Let's go, Satsukawa-san, we have much to do still."
He shrugs and smiles at me.
Satsukawa: "As you wish... Erika."