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An Affair in Nagano

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The first time I met Kudo Shinichi in Nagano, I thought it was ironic. My colleague Amari-san was a fan of his, but she wasn’t there. We were in front of Amari-san’s apartment, where the lock had been picked and the door was open. I met Kudo Shinichi there because his biggest fan in Nagano had gone missing.

I’d waited on Amari-san’s doorstep for over an hour because the police didn’t take me seriously. When I’d called in the crime, I had to convince the dispatcher this was an emergency. A colleague of mine wasn’t answering her phone. I’d stopped by her apartment to check on her, and the place had been broken into. That had to be enough, but the police were dragging their feet. They sent two officers to search the apartment with flashlights and batons. They made me wait there, in front of the apartment building. “Why did you come?” they asked. “When did you try messaging her?” “What’s your relationship with her?” All of that—the same questions—over and over, as if they were hoping my answers would change.

I didn’t think they would take any real action until some plainclothes detectives arrived—with their guest, Kudo Shinichi.

Compared to how he looks on television, Kudo-kun isn’t particularly tall. He isn’t short, but he isn’t an imposing or commanding figure, either. What struck me on seeing him that day was his energy: he was animated and lively, wasting no time chatting up one of the detectives. Even though he was just coming off a broken engagement, Kudo-kun was regarded as an eligible and attractive bachelor, and the policewoman seemed friendly toward him. Only when they came up the walkway to Amari-san’s apartment did Kudo-kun and the woman stop talking to each other.

“Miyano-san,” she said, “My name is Yamato. I’m an inspector with the prefectural police.” She showed me her badge and began introducing her colleagues. “These are my detectives—Aoba and Tendo. And this is an associate of ours, the private investigator—”

“Kudo Shinichi,” I said, and I offered my hand. “What brings you to Nagano so suddenly, Detective?”

Kudo-kun narrowed his eyes—not at all a charming look like the one he’d had just a few moments before—and he shook my hand like it would tear his arm off. “I’ve been hired to look into this. Professor Noto sent me.”

Professor Noto was our advisor—Amari-san’s and mine. I hadn’t thought she would call in such a famous detective so quickly. She must’ve thought Amari-san would like it—being rescued by her own idol—but I didn’t see the appeal. The Kudo Shinichi standing in front of me seemed grouchy and irritated about something. He was already peering around me, trying to get a look at the door and the contents of the apartment inside. I’d never understood why Amari-san became a fan of his.

“Miyano-san,” said the inspector, “could you tell us what happened?”

Kudo-kun’s attention snapped back on to me, and already I understood why criminals waver at the sight of him. His gaze was intense and scrutinizing. Still, when it came to Amari-san’s disappearance, I had nothing to hide. I’d been working in the lab all day. Amari-san usually sat in the cubicle next to mine, but that day, I hadn’t seen her. Professor Noto had told me Amari-san would be out with a doctor’s appointment.

“All day?” asked Kudo-kun, jotting down something on a small notepad.

That’s what I’d been told. I did think it was strange. I didn’t understand why a doctor’s appointment would take all day, but Amari-san had checkups like those regularly. I’d thought that Amari-san would work from home, but I hadn’t seen her online in the lab’s messaging system. She must’ve been out the whole day.

One of the detectives asked if we spoke frequently. “Almost every day,” I told him. We’d decided to bake something together for a party that weekend. That’s why I’d expected to hear from her.

“A friend of yours?” Kudo-kun said, sounding surprised. “How long have you been friends?”

I looked to the inspector. “That’s not really relevant, is it?”

“How long have you been friends?” she asked, echoing Kudo-kun, who looked pleased with himself.

Amari-san and I had been friends for two years, ever since she entered the Ph.D. program for biochemistry at Shinshu University. She’d come in with a master’s degree. I hadn’t, so while I’d been in the program for four years already, we were really at the same level, and we treated each other as such. She tried calling me Shiho-sempai for a while, but I wouldn’t have that. We had similar levels of experience, and she was easy to get along with. She loved nothing more than to make discoveries or tell stories about her favorite detective in all of Japan.

“If someone had asked me for an autograph, I would’ve happily obliged,” Kudo-kun said.

“She never would’ve dared,” I explained. “She was too shy to write you.”

Again he shot me a look through those narrowed, irritated eyes, but he didn’t say anything more about it, and we moved on. “Let’s walk through how Miyano-san found the scene, hm?” he suggested.

I told Kudo-kun, Inspector Yamato, and the other detectives exactly what I’d told the responding officers already. I’d had a bad feeling about Amari-san. It wasn’t like her to take so long to respond. When I was done at the lab for the day, I’d taken the train to Obuse Station. I’d been to Amari-san’s apartment several times, so I already knew the way.

“How many times?” asked Kudo-kun.

I couldn’t remember, and it wasn’t relevant. Less than ten times, if that made him feel better.

When I’d arrived at Amari-san’s apartment, I’d tried calling her again and knocked on her door. I’d taken a look around and noticed tool marks on Amari-san’s doorknob.

“You thought to look for that?” asked one of Yamato’s detectives, skeptical.

I did think to look for that. Was that strange? None of them would say so, but the inspector’s people did think it was worth writing down. They seemed even more interested to hear that the door was open and that I’d touched the doorknob with my own hands. They shouldn’t have worried. I’d put on gloves for the rest of my time inside Amari-san’s apartment. My fingerprints couldn’t have contaminated the scene.

“I’m sure Amari-san is familiar with good procedure,” Kudo-kun said.

She was, and I led the four of us inside. Amari-san’s apartment was tidy, in spite of the situation. There was no further sign of foul play.

“What about the alarm?” asked Inspector Yamato. “Did it go off when you came inside?”

It hadn’t, and I hadn’t touched it, either. The police thought that suspicious, and they had a crime scene technician dust the alarm controls for fingerprints. Inspector Yamato’s men spread out to search the kitchen and living room area. They were cautious, trying not to touch anything until they were sure it was relevant. Kudo-kun was the opposite: he thoroughly violated Amari-san’s privacy. He rifled through kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator, noting that Amari-san kept a week’s supply of yogurt at all times. Did I know about it? Yes, I did. She almost always brought a cup of yogurt with her to the lab.

“You keep a close eye on her, don’t you?” he observed.

The great detective was being so undignified; what a far cry from his popular image! Amari-san would’ve been shocked. To think that someone so universally known had been so misunderstood! The great detective “Kudo Shinichi” was a character, an image that had been crafted for a specific purpose. After a brief period out of the limelight while finishing high school, he’d come back to the national stage in full force. His family had marketed him with hats and posters and all kinds of merchandise. They made him into a phenomenon.

A small fraction of that phenomenon was on display in Amari-san’s bedroom. Kudo-kun admired one of Amari-san’s posters of him, in which he’d dressed up like Sherlock Holmes. He asked if he should sign something for her, but I told him he had to find her first, and hopefully Amari-san wouldn’t die of embarrassment, knowing that Kudo Shinichi had investigated her closet and dresser. She might’ve considered it an honor, but I wasn’t going to make that decision for her. If I were the one who’d disappeared, I wouldn’t want someone like Kudo Shinichi going after every unturned stone in my life.

I asked Kudo-kun and the police to stick to what seemed obviously related to the case, but Kudo-kun waved a hand dismissively. “Someone’s broken into this apartment, and we don’t yet know why. They gained entry and disabled the alarm, but look around—nothing appears to have been taken. No clothes are obviously missing from the closet. The dresser is disorganized, but if something’s been taken, it’s not much. There are no voids in the refrigerator. Why would someone break into your colleague’s apartment, then?”

I didn’t have an answer for that. Amari-san was a good student. She didn’t have a boyfriend. She was doing well in her research. Short of a disgruntled competitor, there was no reason I knew of that anyone would want to harm her.

“She’s perfect, then,” Kudo-kun concluded with a smirk. “You’re not jealous of her, are you? If you are, we’d have to consider you a suspect.”

Why Amari-san thought that man worthy of her time, attention, and money I could hardly understand. Maybe it’s hard to imagine unless you could see it happening right in front of your face. If you’ve seen the news reports from cases this famous detective had solved, you’d have watched this smooth-talking young man calmly and thoroughly dismantle every excuse, every false alibi, and every misdirection, but in person, he delighted in sticking his nose into everyone’s business. How would he like it if everyone he ran into pried into his affairs? He’d been famously tight-lipped after the end of his engagement, even while reporters hounded him for details. Of course, they were no match for him. They couldn’t corner him the way he would corner a suspect. How unfair it was that someone so determined to keep his personal life private would be so adept at uncovering people’s secrets.

Kudo-kun managed to pull that off with Amari-san, too. While rummaging through the washroom, he went through Amari-san’s medicine cabinet and found a bottle of trazodone pills alongside a booklet of past prescriptions. Kudo-kun allowed one of the inspector’s men to flip through the booklet, reading off a list of medications while Kudo-kun jotted them down. When the detective was through, Kudo-kun went to me, already with a theory in mind. “What is Amari-san like?” he asked.

She was enthusiastic and passionate for research. She fawned over his exploits the way someone might speak of a puppy. She was impeccably kind but stringent when it came to behaving fairly. She made friends easily. Everyone in the lab liked her.

Kudo-kun showed Inspector Yamato the list of medications, and they exchanged a knowing glance. “Does she sleep a lot or a little?” asked the inspector.

She was enthusiastic in attitude, but sometimes she would come in a little sleepy. She’d dismiss it as staying up late reading about her favorite detective or doing work from home. I never thought it was a problem before that moment.

That confirmed their suspicions. Kudo-kun handed over a copy of the list to the inspector, who wanted to know everything about who prescribed the medications and when. While they were busy, I took the opportunity to look something up:

Trazodone is a type of organic compound used as an antidepressant, said the article, as well as having secondary effects against insomnia.

I put my phone away and looked around the apartment with new eyes. I saw clean carpets and walls with a smooth coat of paint. Going back into the main room, I caught a smudge on the countertop beneath the microwave. It all looked so ordinary.

I looked to Kudo Shinichi then, but he wasn’t looking back at me. He had that intense gaze that showed he was still trying to merge what he’d found into a coherent picture of Amari-san’s life and who would try to harm her. What did he think, from what I’d told him and what he’d found, about who Amari-san was? Knowing his famous insight, I wondered just how much he’d realized about her, in a half-hour of investigating her apartment, that I hadn’t discovered in two years.