When I reached the party room, I noticed that the food was laid out in a buffet spread.
I could also see waiters dressed in white uniforms. White crosses were attached on the long tables, with Japanese, Chinese and Western food arranged on them. It really looked like a buffet in a hotel.
“Wow, that looks delicious!”
“Let’s eat as much as we can! Holmes, can we start already?”
Holmes-san laughed at our gleaming eyes.
“My grandfather will soon be giving an extremely long address, and then he’ll lead a toast, so please help yourselves after that.”
An extremely long address… We looked at each other after hearing that phrase.
“So it’s a buffet style, huh. I thought it would be different since you ordered from a traditional Japanese restaurant that your family was acquainted with.”
I said while looking around the hall. In response, Holmes-san replied, “Yes, I suppose,” and nodded.
“We thought this style would be best for a party. But still, I was surprised.”
“Eh? What do you mean?”
“We’d just finished the preparations and I was going to call the guests from the exhibition hall, but everyone suddenly entered.”
“But that’s because Manager said, ‘The preparations are done,’ isn’t it?”
“My father said…?”
Holmes-san looked shocked, but at that moment, Owner, who was standing in the middle of the hall, let out a cough. Everyone immediately stopped talking and gave their attention to the geriatric.
“Thank you all so much for coming all the way here to celebrate my kiju.”
With those words, the address started.
As Holmes-san had mentioned, Owner’s address was indeed— incredibly long.
He talked about whether he had been a good successor to the Yagashira family with his efforts.
He expounded on how much he loved works of art.
He even recounted the impact he received when he first came into contact with a Shino tea bowl…
“And now I’m 77 in counted age. I’ve only been able to get this far thanks to the support of my cherished family and comrades, and I say that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you all so much. Cheers!”
With the leading toast finally in place, everyone raised their glasses and shouted, “Cheers!” in relief.
“—It seems that the sensei is healthy, as usual. Actually, I was thinking of having you appear on television again.”
The producer’s words entered my ears.
“Kiyomizu-san, I was in your care, and I might even have caused you some trouble, but I won’t be going on television ever again.”
Owner replied stonily.
“Oh, don’t say that. There’s been talk of remaking ‘Hunt for Heirlooms’.”
“We’re supposed to be having a celebration today, so I don’t wanna shout. Stop talking about work-related issues.”
As I watched that exchange from a distance, I thought, “I see.”
As I thought, the producer from the TV station didn’t come here with pure celebratory feelings.
The business world sure was a tough one.
“Hey, Masamune. Could you two teach me pantomime?”
On the other hand, Akihito-san’s carefree voice from the side of the room somehow made me feel at ease.
Akihito-san had a therapeutic quality about his person, as usual.
“Sure. The first simple step is to make a wall.”
Masataka-san used his hands to give the impression that a wall was in the way, although there wasn’t anything there.
“Come on, I can do that too.”
Akihito-san immediately tried imitating Masataka-san’s action, but failed to give off a convincing image of a wall.
However, Kaori praised him, saying, “Akihito-san, yer great at this too!”
Her “handsome guy filter” had probably activated, causing her to go soft on her evaluation.
“Next, how about making a light object seem heavy?”
This time, Muneyoshi-san whipped out a balloon from his pocket and quickly inflated it.
He then passed it over to Masataka-san, who acted as if he’d just received a bowling ball, and let his shoulder fall.
Between his trembling arms and pained face, it did seem that he was carrying a really heavy object.
Perhaps that was to be expected, but those universally-known professionals were amazing.
“Ah, Akihito-san, please receive this.”
Masataka-san turned to Akihito-san and passed the balloon with what seemed like all his might.
“A-Ahh!” Akihito-san fall on his bottom upon receiving the balloon.
His acting was actually quite real, as if he’d had a bowling ball thrown at him. In a sense, it was an expected reaction, but we all laughed anyway. At that moment—
Crash! The sound of something breaking sounded in the distance.
“…Hey, did you hear something breaking from outside this room?”
“Yup, it sounded like it was from the Exhibition Hall.”
The sound of breaking from the Exhibition Hall…
Did that mean that a work of art there had shattered?
The atmosphere turned chilly in an instant.
However, that sound was apparently only heard by us, for the rest of the guest were still chatting unperturbed.
“Ah, Aoi-chan, you’re still holding the key, right? Shall we go check it out?”
I nodded to Akihito-san’s subdued suggestion, and we quietly headed out of the party room.
The five of us, or me, Akihito-san, Kaori and the two men of Masamune headed to the exhibition hall.
“I-I’ll open the door.”
I hope it was just our imagination, I prayed. Even so, I felt a sense of foreboding as I nervously turned the key and gingerly opened the door.
I scanned the room, but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I heaved a sigh of relief, but—
“Ah, Aoi, over there!”
I turned to look at wherever Kaori was pointing at, and was flabbergasted.
It was Owner’s treasure, of which only a few dozen like it existed in the world.
The seiji from China was on the table— shattered into countless fragments.
Shocked beyond belief, I was unable to speak a word.
The windows had been properly closed. The door had been locked. There had been no one in the room.
But even so, Owner’s treasure… no, this world-class artwork had suddenly disintegrated.
…I can’t believe it.
“A-Aoi-chan, did you really lock the door when you left the room?”
As Akihito-san asked with a pale look on his face, I was hit with a sensation of panic.
“Y-Yes, I, I did p-properly lock the door.”
Since it was such a huge responsibility, I confirmed that it was properly locked. I was sure of that.
“T-Then, how did it break all on its own?”
Kaori mumbled as she looked on, unable to peel her eyes away from the impossibility.
“That was the most expensive seiji, right?”
“Yup, and it was as if someone used a gun to shoot just that one piece…”
“Yeah…” the two-man entertainment group agreed.
“I wonder, was this intentional?”
The producer, Kiyomizu-san, who had been standing behind without any of us noticing, suddenly piped up, causing us to whirl around in surprise.
“Intentional… you mean someone did this on purpose?”
“That can’t be…”
While we were noisily discussing, Yoshie-san showed up.
“—Aoi-chan, what happened?”
“Y-Yoshie-san… that…” I pointed at the shattered seiji.
“!!” Yoshie-san’s eyes opened in surprise as she put a hand on her mouth.
“W-Who broke it! This is terrible!”
She shrieked as she looked around, her face deadly pale.
“N-No one did it. All of us were in the party room, when we heard a breaking sound. The door was securely locked.”
“W-What about the windows, then? Everyone, check if they’re locked!”
Trembling, Yoshie-san hysterically shouted.
We split up to check on the windows.
“All the windows are securely locked, and none of them are broken.”
“In any case, this room is on the first floor, but it’s quite high up compared to ground level, so it’s impossible to sneak in without a ladder,” someone from Masamune said.
Upon hearing those words, Yoshie-san exclaimed, “W-What should we do?” and placed a hand on her forehead.
“F-For now, let’s call Owner.”
I turned my back to exit the room, but Yoshie-san hurriedly grabbed my hand.
“Y-You can’t do that, Aoi-chan! This is too horrible!”
At that moment, Kiyomizu-san chuckled.
“Isn’t that their aim?”
“Whenever sensei invites guests over, he will always boast about his seiji. I think there could be someone here who detests him, and formulated a scheme to destroy the seiji that he treasures the most. This isn’t a locked room murder, so to speak, but this is a case of ‘locked room antique destruction’.”
Kiyomizu-san spoke in a joking manner as a twisted grin appeared on his face.
A case of locked room antique destruction— as the well-broken seiji lay in front of our eyes, we stood stock still, as if frozen to the spot.
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