Chapter 7: Testimonies and Deduction
Witness: Arthur Sears and Sophia Ulericks. Sixth-year students, president and vice-president of the drama club.
“A transfer student from Iks? That’s pretty unusual.”
“I haven’t seen him in person. Why the sudden curiosity, Nicholas?”
“I wanted to get your advice, actually. The transfer student is a friend of Megmica’s friend, and the newspaper club expects he will become one of our friends in the near future as well. We are planning a welcoming party for him and wanted to surprise him with something connected to his homeland.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“Yeah. It’s not easy for transfer students to make friends.”
“And that is why I am now asking friends and acquaintances about Iks for research purposes. Do you know anything at all, SC Arthur? SC Sophia?”
“Hm…the thing is, I’ve never been to Iks. And I don’t know anyone who has.”
“Me neither. We’d love to help, but…hey, come to think of it, I think Ms. Krantz said she’s been there before.”
“Perfect. I shall ask for her advice when I can. Now, what about this transfer student? Have you heard anything about him?”
“No. Not at all.”
“A little. The girls in our club were chattering about how he’s handsome, smart, and athletic. Someone asked him out already, but he turned her down saying he wasn’t really sure.”
“Oh? Could you elaborate, SC Sophia?”
“I mean, this is all third-hand stuff, but apparently a friend of a club member fell for the guy at first sight. Something about him being really exotic. But she was shot down.”
“So she asked him, ‘do you already like someone?’ If he did, she’d just give up on him.”
“And what did he say?”
“It was kind of weird. Apparently he got all serious and said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know right now. I wish I did’.”
“He does not know his own feelings? Curious.”
“Yeah. The girl was confused too but she took the hint and gave up. That’s about all I know.”
“I see. Thank you for your cooperation. And I apologize for taking up so much of your time.”
“Not at all, Nicholas. We owe the newspaper club.”
“Well, if anything else happens to bother you, do let us know.”
“Hah hah! Sure thing.”
“Actually, there is something that’s been bugging me for a while now.”
“Yes, SC Arthur?”
“Has the newspaper club been using the temp lockers en masse recently?”
“No, I don’t believe so. Is something the matter?”
“Well, they’ve been nearly all occupied for the past two months or so. It’s kind of a bother. Frankly, it’s really making trouble for the club.”
“Has the drama club been using temp lockers?”
“Yeah, for passing on finished props and copies of scripts. You leave the stuff in a temp locker with a lock. Everyone in the club knows the combination, so you can come by at your leisure to drop off or collect something, even on days without meetings.”
“Ingenious! Is this trick exclusive to the drama club?”
“No, practically every club has been doing this for the past few years. If it’s a temp locker with a rotary combination lock, it’s probably being used by a club. We try to keep it hush-hush because temp lockers are supposed to be for individual students, though.”
“I see. Perhaps the newspaper club could also—”
“That might not be a good idea. More importantly, maybe you could publish a paper calling for the school to install more temp lockers!”
Witness: Lena Portman. Sixth-year student, president of the orchestra club.
“Treize Bain? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of him. Who is he?”
“A fourth-year who just transferred in this month, SC Portman.”
“Wouldn’t you know more about a fourth-year than I do, Natalia Steinbeck?”
“Not necessarily. Okay, so if you don’t know Treize, what about Iks? Do you know anything?”
“I have never even visited the country. Is that all? I’m very busy today.”
“But lunch period’s not even close to over.”
“Unlike someone else, I am always occupied with club activities. I have to drop by the music room to collect my sheet music.”
“Huh? Doesn’t the club have a temp locker?”
“Ignorant as ever. Temporary lockers have been in short supply recently. They’re practically useless, with the number that are available now.”
“That’s news to me.”
“Useless, just like a certain someone I don’t have to name.”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about, but she must be a real lazy bum.”
“I’m talking about you! Come out to practice once in a while!”
Witness: Ms. Leni Krantz. Home economics teacher.
“Well, if it isn’t Larry Hepburn.”
“It’s been a while, Ms. Krantz. Thank you for everything last summer.”
“I should be the one thanking you. You did a great job!”
“Thank you, Ms. Krantz. I wanted to ask if it’s true that you’ve been to the Kingdom of Iks? SC Arthur told me about it.”
“About three years ago, yeah. I do enjoy traveling.”
“What’s it like? I was kind of interested in going myself, but I don’t know many people who’ve visited Iks.”
“It’s wonderful! How do I put it? …What do Capital District people like us usually think of when we say ‘mountain country’?”
“I’m not sure. …Steep mountains, heavy snowfall, people living in humble and traditional ways?”
“Exactly. It’s like the quintessential mountain country, straight out of a book.”
“I see. This might be kind of a strange question, but just how traditional are these people? Do they cook over wood-fired stoves, for example?”
“The capital city Kunst and Mushke have gas. Other areas are still on firewood, though. Smaller valleys don’t even get electricity.”
“That’s incredible. Then they must still pass down a lot of traditional arts.”
“Hm. They’re really good at goldsmithing. Like, middle-aged women crafting the most intricate gold jewelry you’ve ever seen like it’s child’s play.”
“What about in terms of combat?”
“Ah, there’s the Hepburn I know. Hunting is important there, so apparently all the men are good with rifles. You’re not considered a man if you can’t fire a gun.”
“I see. What about martial arts?”
“I don’t think I’ve heard anything about that.”
Witness: Stella Whitfield and Margaret Whistler. Third-year students.
“Oh, SC Maxwell. Good afternoon.”
“G-good afternoon, SC Maxwell. It’s b-been a while.”
“Yeah. Hi there.”
“I heard you became engaged to a classmate. Congratulations.”
“Congratulations. I-I think I should go.”
“Huh? A-am I interrupting something? Sorry.”
“Don’t worry, SC Maxwell. Actually, Maggie found someone else and now they’re together. You turning her down turned out to be a good thing.”
“I haven’t thanked you properly yet, have I? I’m so grateful for all your help, SC Maxwell.”
“Oh. No problem.”
“I should get going now.”
“W-wait. I wanted to ask you something.”
“Yes? Linus is doing very well, by the way. Grandfather’s proud of him too.”
“That’s good to hear. But I wanted to ask you about something else. Do you by any chance know anything about Ikstova?”
“The Kingdom of Iks? No, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, I see. Sorry for taking up your time.”
“Is this for the newspaper club?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“I don’t know much about Iks, but something has been a little fishy lately.”
“Actually, I should say something smells nice. Around the temp lockers.”
“I’m really sensitive to scents, and I can smell roses and something citrusy when I walk by the temp lockers.”
“Isn’t that strange? I think it is.”
“See you, SC Maxwell.”
Witness: Lillia Schultz, fourth-year student.
“Hey there, Meg.”
“Hi Lillia. You look happy today.”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Sorry for making you worry the other day.”
“It’s okay. By the way, do you still have a spare lock?”
“For a locker?”
“Yeah. You said you bought two but you’re only using one now, right? Could I borrow the extra?”
“Sorry, I gave it to Kurt.”
“Oh, I see! That’s a shame.”
“Is it for Treize?”
“Yeah. He’s been here for days, but he didn’t even know about the lockers until now! I told him to get a lock at the school store, but apparently they’re always sold out.”
“Oh. They might only stock them at the beginning of the term. Wait, that’s funny. I swear I saw a few at just last month.”
“Mm. Yeah, apparently demand skyrocketed out of nowhere and the store doesn’t have any left.”
* * *
The 18th day. After school at the newspaper club office.
“Hm. So is this all we’ve got?” Jenny asked once everyone had given their reports.
She was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, her underwear nearly showing. But as Jenny always sat in this position and her underwear never did show, the boys sitting across from her were unfazed.
“That’s all we could get,” Larry declared, reaching for a cookie.
The snack of the day was an assorted set of cookies from a rectangular tin. The flavors ranged from chocolate to coffee to black tea and even fruit.
“Hey, the chocolate flavor is mine!” Natalia shot him a glare, fixing her glasses. Larry was frozen. “I came to school today just to have that cookie.”
Larry relented. “Then I guess I’ll try the sugar-coated one,” he said, moving again.
“That’s mine too! I chose the 4th Capital Secondary School to eat that cookie!”
“Then I’ll take apricot.”
“Oh no you don’t! I was born to eat this flavor.”
“I created this world to have that cookie!”
“How much bigger can you get?”
Nick turned away from the argument with his usual elegant smile. “We’ve only just begun, Jenny. I am certain that there is more to this case.”
Meg and Seron did not actively speak up. They chose to sit by and watch.
Natalia, however, did speak—even as she munched on her cookie. “Something’s up, though.”
“Like what, Lia?”
“Still clueless, Inspector Hepburn?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Use that head and deduce stuff, Larry. Most of the testimonies mentioned the temp lockers.”
“Hm? You’re right. But that’s not much of a deduction so much as an observation.” Larry said with a nod.
“It’s decent info,” Jenny agreed, “but nobody ordered an investigation into the lockers.”
“Until this investigation, I had no idea that clubs used the temp lockers,” Seron remarked.
“I have also gotten one more knowledge today,” Meg nodded, “it is low but very convenient, I think.”
“Maybe we should grab one for ourselves too,” said Larry.
“Good call! We’ll keep a second snack stash there for lunch period!”
Finally, it was Nick’s turn.
“Just a moment, everyone! I believe we may be veering off track. At this rate we may end up covering the temp locker case for our next issue.”
But without any additional information on Treize, not even Nick’s attempt at correcting course could help them. Everyone silently continued snacking on cookies.
“Maybe we should just ask the guy up front,” Larry said between munches, “‘we wanna write an article on your secret, so spill your guts’.”
The joke fell flat, but Natalia responded anyway. “Good call. But only if you can get us some truth serum,” she said, popping two cookies into her mouth.
“President, what do you think of the others’ overwhelming enthusiasm?” Nick remarked snidely.
“Not much I can do about it,” Jenny said simply, “until we can actually get some concrete information.”
Nick deflated. “I see. So not even your renowned information network has anything about this transfer student.”
“He only just transferred in. I’m sure we’ll have more info to work with by this time next year.”
Meg said nothing as the others chatted on, but internally she was relieved. With a smile on her face she picked up a cookie. When she met Seron’s gaze she grinned.
Seron shook as he reached for his teacup.
Jenny was still sitting in a precarious position. “Anyway,” she said with a bite out of her cookie, “what gets me is the stuff about the temp lockers. Although I guess that doesn’t have anything to do with our case.”
“You’re sounding more uninterested than usual,” Larry said. “Maybe we should move on and figure out what’s happening with the temp lockers after all. We’ll write an article about it, like there’s some big mystery there. We could say there’s a monster in there or something. We’ve been publishing serious stuff so far, so maybe the club could go back to its roots this time.”
Jenny, who had once approved of any article with a title that ended in a question mark—
—Rejected Larry’s suggestion.
Everyone but Nick—who already knew the answer—turned to Jenny.
“Because I wrote that one early last year. ‘Two-headed talking snake spotted on campus?’.”
Yet again the meeting ended with nothing but teacups and cookie crumbs to show for it.
After everyone’s enthused or incredulous reactions to Jenny’s revelation, no one brought up their next article again.
The topic had moved on to academics and the exams that slowly drew near. Meg talked about the talented new recruits at the chorus club, and Larry and Seron discussed their training regimen. As for Nick—
“I suppose no one here is interested in the thrill of adventure and discovery. Perhaps I should join the history research club,” he sighed loudly. No such club existed at the school.
The sky began to grow red—
“Wow, look at the time. All right, people. That’s it for our little tea party,” Jenny declared, rising as she clapped her hands. Everyone began packing up.
“Can’t wait to get home and get some grub…” Natalia muttered as she put away the day’s empty cookie tin.
“How do you not get fat eating like that?” Asked Larry.
“Probably a sign from the heavens to eat more,” Natalia replied.
After cleaning up the office, the newspaper club walked to the gates together and said goodbye. Seron alone remained on campus and went to the dorms. The others headed home.
Several minutes later, Seron entered his room and changed into his green-and-cream-colored school-issue sweats, and switched to running shoes.
He left the building again and did warm-up exercise as he always did, then began running around the near-deserted campus.
After one lap around the large school premises, he followed the training regimen Larry had set for him.
He sprinted across a stretch of the grounds, hung from the horizontal bars, did sit-ups on the grass, and more. Seron usually repeated the exercises once a day; twice a day if he had time early in the morning.
After working up a good sweat, he drank water from the tap on the grounds and headed back to the dorms.
He hung up his sweats in his room—which was slightly larger than the other rooms thanks to his status as an RA—and changed into a T-shirt and shorts to head to the baths.
The dormitory baths were massive.
The facility could give even a hotel bathhouse a run for its money with the variety of baths—each filled with water of different temperatures—and the number of showers. Students loved the baths as well. A little-known fact was that even non-dormitory students were allowed to use these facilities.
Seron rinsed off the sweat at a shower booth and washed himself. Then he slipped into a warm bath away from anyone else.
As he sat in a daze, determined to soak himself, he spotted another student approaching from his right. But it was hard to tell who he was, as the skylight was open and steam was filling the room.
The boy had short black hair and a toned build, about as defined as Larry—who never missed a day of training—or more. Seron, who had only recently begun to work out, was no match.
“Hey there, Seron,” the boy said, taking a seat next to him.
Seron could finally see his face, though the voice had given it away a little earlier. It was Treize Bain, whom the newspaper club had attempted to investigate.
“Hi. Don’t think I’ve seen you at the baths before.”
Treize nodded. “Yeah. I only just found out that this is when it’s least crowded,” he said, leaning back. Treize sighed with his gaze on the ceiling before turning to Seron. “Thanks.”
Seron was not expecting to hear such a thing. “Huh? For what?”
“For going out of your way to betray your club by warning me about the investigation,” Treize replied nonchalantly. Seron furrowed his brow.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why are you so sure I did something like that?”
“A few reasons,” said Treize, “first, I heard about the investigation from Lillia. She didn’t say who she heard it from, but from the level of detail and from the fact that it’s recent information, I can only conclude it must have been her friend, Strauski. Lillia introduced me to her once, and she’s much quieter than Lillia. Struck me as the type to waver between the newspaper club and her best friend, mulling over the problem on her own.”
“Then someone must have given her the push she needed to tell Lillia. They did this for the sole purpose of making Strauski feel better. Then who could it be but her boyfriend and fellow newspaper club member, Seron Maxwell?”
“You got me. Nice detective work.”
“So that’s why I have a reason to be grateful. Thank you.”
For some time, Seron and Treize sat dazed in the bath without a word.
But Seron looked up at the ceiling and finally broke the silence.
“Actually, it turned out that we didn’t manage to get any information on you. No one has any motivation anymore. I doubt we’ll be doing much more digging after this.”
“That’s good to hear,” Treize chuckled.
Seron cast Treize a glance. “Yeah. Everyone has things they want to hide.”
“Oh? What makes you so sure I have secrets?” Treize asked, surprised.
“Most people would get upset if they found out they were being suspected of something groundless. But you didn’t seem that way at all. In fact, you seem downright relieved.”
“Well, this time you got me. Nice detective work.”
“I can’t imagine what kind of secrets you might have, but I won’t pry. But…”
“Maybe you and Schultz should come visit the newspaper club sometime.”
“That’ll put Meg at ease, and you’ll also be able to clear up any confusion and suspicion with Nicholas Browning, the resident history buff who got us started on this investigation in the first place.”
“Hah hah! I’ll talk to Lillia about it,” Treize chuckled, and added quietly, “school really is a fun place.”
“I gather you didn’t attend secondary school back in Iks?”
“Huh? Oh, no. I lived in a tiny valley in the countryside. I was homeschooled by the old people there.”
“I have to admit, it’s pretty amazing that you’re still managing to keep up with our curriculum,” Seron said.
“Thanks,” Treize nodded, making a point of neglecting to mention the kind of people who were responsible for his education. “But I still have a long way to go, as a student. I didn’t even know how to use a locker until Lillia told me the other day. She was appalled when she saw me carry my stuff around in a suitcase.”
Seron recalled seeing Treize with a suitcase before. Treize continued.
“But when I went to the student support office, they didn’t know my locker number. I looked into it, and it turned out they’d actually completely forgotten to assign me one! One of the teachers made a mistake.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“So I finally managed to get a locker assigned today…” Treize began, but Seron finished his sentence. “But the school store was out of locks?”
“How’d you know?”
“One of the few results of our investigation. Meg says that Schultz told her about it.”
Then Seron briefly went over the testimonies the club had gathered.
He explained that the temp lockers had nearly all been occupied for the past two months, making things difficult for the clubs that used them in secret. That this was probably the reason for the store being sold out of locks. And that there was a pleasant fragrance around the temp locker area.
Beads of sweat formed on Treize’s face as he listened on. He finally spoke.
“You think that’s…maybe…or I guess not. It’s kind of a stretch, but…”
“Hm?” This time, it was Seron’s turn to be confused. “Does the situation ring a bell?”
“I…guess you could say that.”
“Please tell me, if you don’t mind.”
“Hm. Where do I begin? Okay, so the thing with the lockers did remind me of something, but it’s not a pleasant story. Are you all right with that?”
“This was in Ikstova, two years ago. There was…an incident.”
“Someone found a dead baby in a coin locker in the busiest district of Kunst, our capital city.”
“A young woman had given birth in secret, but she didn’t know what to do with the baby and ended up killing it.”
“…And?” Seron urged, looking a little sad. Treize continued plainly.
“The woman thought about how to dispose of the body, and in the end she wrapped it up, put it in a bag, and put the bag in a coin locker.”
“But the smell would give it away soon, wouldn’t it?”
Treize shook his head. “This was in the middle of the winter. It was inside a shopping arcade, but it gets very cold in Ikstova. The locker was practically a freezer.”
“But don’t coin lockers have a limit on how long you can store something? If you keep something there too long, the manager opens it up with a master key to clear it out. The limit is three days here in the Capital District.”
“Yeah,” Treize replied with a nod, “back in Ikstova it’s five days.”
“So the manager found the dead baby?”
“…I get it!”
“Did you figure it out, Seron?”
“She must have taken out the bag at regular intervals and moved it to a different locker.”
“Exactly. The woman was young and worked full-time, so she’d go to the locker on her way to work and move the bag. She told the locker manager that she was actually doing some seedy work on the side and needed to keep her change of clothes in the lockers, and managed to convince him. The baby’s body completely mummified over the winter and didn’t rot when spring, even summer came. The woman spent an entire year desperately paying to switch lockers.”
“So how was she found out?”
“It was kinda ironic, actually,” Treize said with a shrug. “We get a lot of tourists in Ikstova, but a few of them are criminals who’re out to make money. Some of those people decided to break into the coin lockers in the bustling shopping arcade. Swiped the master key while the manager wasn’t looking and swept the lockers clean. Can you imagine what it must have been like, finding the mummified baby in there? The group got arrested afterwards and the dead baby case came to light.”
“I’ve never heard about any of this.”
“Probably cause Ikstova is so far out in the boonies. It was a big deal there. The queen personally gave a statement on the case, and there were big debates about distributing contraception and even about abortion—but that’s kind of going off-track. What I want to say is that people have used lockers to commit crimes.”
Seron wiped the sweat off his face with a towel. Then he got out of the bath and sat on the edge so he wouldn’t get dizzy. Treize followed suit.
The baths were getting crowded, but no one had yet gotten to their area.
Seron understood what Treize was driving at. “In other words, you’re saying that someone might be using the temp lockers for something shady.”
“Yeah,” Treize replied, not looking as grim as Seron, “but maybe not. It’s just a possibility.”
But Seron remained as serious as ever. “The temp lockers suddenly filled up two months ago.”
“Then it can’t be a coincidence, you mean. Someone—or some people—are behind it.”
Seron nodded. “Yeah. It’s hard to believe that there was a sudden spike in temp locker demand for no reason at all.”
“Then we’ll call our culprits ‘them’ for now,” said Treize, “they want to hide something in the lockers, and managed to get a bunch of them to do just that. Just like the woman I told you about.”
“Yeah. And whatever it is they’re trying to hide, it’s something they can’t dare bring home. …What bugs me is the sheer number of lockers they’re using. Do they really have that much of whatever it is?” Seron speculated.
“No, I don’t think so,” Treize replied. “It probably fits into one locker. But if they keep going back to the same locker every time, someone’s bound to notice.”
“I see! The fact that most of them are locked doesn’t mean they’re all storing something.”
“Exactly. They probably keep their items in one or two of the lockers. The rest are just decoys or spares.”
“So they snapped up all those lockers so they could use any of them at any given time. That explains why the temp lockers always seem to be occupied,” said Seron.
“Yeah. It definitely reduces the risk of discovery. And it’ll help them if someone does catch wind of something fishy going on with the lockers. I don’t know who they are, but they’ve really put some thought into this. That makes it even more shady.”
“Right. You’re saying that the amount of precautions they’re taking is making this even more suspicious.”
“Exactly,” Treize nodded. “Suppose the item is something minors aren’t allowed to purchase, like pornography or liquor. Would they really need to go to such pains to hide the stuff? The locks must have cost them a small fortune, and even if you get caught, at worst you’d just get a scolding from the teachers.”
Then Seron spoke. “Then the only thing that justifies so much precaution…is something that might get them arrested.”
“I agree,” said Treize, “my guess is that they’re hiding drugs.”
“Why?” Seron asked, eyes wide.
“D’you mind if we stay in the bath a little longer?” Treize asked, and sank back into the water. “Man, that feels nice. Baths really are the best!” he cheered in a daze.
Seron also sat back in the water, closer to Treize than before.
It might have looked a little strange for two boys to sit almost shoulder-to-shoulder in such a large bath, but Seron did not have time to consider such things.
“What makes you so sure that they’re hiding drugs?”
“I don’t have any proof, but,” Treize said, “you said one of the girls noticed a fragrant smell, right?”
“Women have a keener sense of smell than men. So even if you didn’t smell anything, if the girl said she did, there must be something fragrant there. Someone must be spraying perfume in the lockers.”
“So someone—no, the culprits—”
“Yeah. ‘Them’. And if they’re even spraying perfume there, it means they’re hiding something that gives off an odor. Something illegal that smells…”
“Drugs, definitely.” Seron said, and came to a realization. “Hey, I think I know! The Blue Rose, the Roxchean drug! Apparently it has a really distinctive scent.”
Treize nodded. “Exactly. So they call it ‘Blue Rose’ here. In the south people call it the Capital Drug as a jab.”
Seron exhaled loudly. “If those drugs are being hidden in the temp lockers—”
“Then our culprits have to be students here at the 4th Capital Secondary School.”
“Yeah. Secondary schools are bubbles, in a way. Lots of security that keeps everyone but faculty and students out of the premises. And someone would have noticed by now if a faculty member were regularly using the temp lockers.”
“Then it’s pretty clear what the students are doing,” said Seron.
“Yeah. They’re runners. They’re probably not producing the stuff on campus—it’s not impossible, but unlikely. Because if they were the producers, they’d want to get the drugs out of their hands as soon as possible. They wouldn’t stash it on campus. And it’s even less likely that they’re selling the drugs on the school premises. So the only possibility left is that they’re transporting the drugs for someone else. I doubt that students would be part of a drug cartel, so whoever these people are are probably just cronies. They might not even know what they’re transporting.”
“So they’re runners and custodians at the same time. They must be receiving the drugs somehow outside campus, probably in busy areas in the city, and hiding them in the temp lockers at school. And they—or someone else—pick up the drugs from the lockers on demand and hand them over to someone else.”
“Yeah. But I think we’re dealing with an individual here. The runner doesn’t have anyone else working with them,” Treize said.
“Why? It would be less conspicuous to have multiple people be part of the transportation process.”
“It’s because having more than one person opens up the chance of conflict. What if one person gets scared and decides to sell the others down the river? What if one person starts suspecting the others of being sell-outs? And having just one person on the job makes it easier to take care of them in case something happens. You could write it off as an unfortunate accident.”
“I see. Then this case probably isn’t limited to just our school.”
“No. The same thing must be happening in other secondary schools in the city too. It’s a clever plot, abusing the security of secondary schools for criminal enterprises.”
Seron went silent. So did Treize.
Soon they both climbed out of the bath and strode to the change room. They wiped themselves down, put on their clothes, and guzzled water like no tomorrow.
Then they collapsed on a bench.
“I feel dizzy…” “I feel dizzy…”
The other students stared, astonished, as Seron and Treize continued their conversation with flushed faces.
“That was a nice chat, Seron. Kinda stupid, though.”
“Sure was, Treize. So what were we talking about again?”
“What were we talking about?”
“What was it again?”