It’s an unbearably dull Tuesday at Takanawa station, time moving forward at the slowest possible crawl as Shinichi checks the wall clock for the fourteenth time in the past fourteen minutes.
The early afternoon sun burns his eyes as he shuffles through the last of the paperwork relating to the minor repeat-shoplifting case he and his mentor-partner, Nakahara, had handled yesterday at a local convenience store.
Nothing interesting, of course—just a twenty-something ronin stuck in the unfortunate limbo of uncertainty between high school and college, with sticky fingers and a petty grudge against the store manager who’d refused to hire him for part-time work on account of his ‘bad attitude’.
Shinichi quietly suspects the manager’s real reason for passing on a new employee had more to do with the likelihood of the shoplifter being his illegitimate child. It had seemed the obvious conclusion, from the similarities in their bone structure and facial features, as well as the congenital, autosomal dominant Blatt Distichiasis giving both the manager and the shoplifter a full second layer of eyelashes on their lower lids. It’s a rare condition, and even rarer in people of Japanese descent. Shinichi had read several articles about it during a Wikipedia spiral during his third year of university, procrastinating on writing a paper for his advanced genetics course.
There had also been the more mundane behavioral cues. The manager’s wife had been distinctly angry throughout the entirety of questioning, mostly at the manager, and the downward curl of her mouth every time she’d looked at the shoplifter had made Shinichi mentally lick his fingertip and mark down a deciding point in favor of his theory.
Not any theory about this particular case matters, in the end. The store manager has declined to press charges, and the shoplifter had slunk off with a tiny temporary detention footnote on his criminal record. Beyond that, Nakahara has proven, over the past few months, that he has little interest in Shinichi’s deductions, especially on the small cases they’ve been assigned since Shinichi joined the department. There’s no culprit to be found, and no need for all of the things Shinichi can’t help but notice. All that remains is filling out the paperwork, and he’ll be able to set the case aside to be filed away.
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. Shinichi does more office drudgery than ‘detectiving’, these days. One thing he’s learned since he’d begun working officially for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is that ‘official and complete documentation’ is tragically high on the list of priorities, just above ‘solving actual crimes’ and far below ‘paying attention to officer hierarchies at all times’. He’d been woefully unequipped for all the politics and ritualism. He still is. It’s a hard pill to swallow, even after years as Edogawa Conan, finding himself again in a position where no one has to listen to him—where no one wants to.
Plus, as the lowest ranking detective on the force, Shinichi is left to handle the majority of the grunt work—especially the boring miscellaneous paperwork.
Usually the paperwork is no big deal. It’s just like all the assignments Shinichi had completed in his first year of high school, his memory for detail making the regurgitation of minute details an absolute breeze. But today, Shinichi’s exhausted, a headache humming behind his eyes and his throat raspy and dry. He’d stayed up far too late last night reading his father’s latest novel, and, caught up in the Night Baron’s most recent escapades, he’d neglected to get more than three hours of sleep. Now, he’s paying for it—the text is swimming on the page, kanji and kana blurry and indistinguishable from each other. The constant ringing of the station’s internal-line phones isn’t helping his frazzled concentration or his minor headache.
Shinichi used to be a pro at brushing off all-nighters. He used to be a pro at all sorts of things, and though it’s been three years since his miraculous return to being Kudou Shinichi, he still struggles to accept the physical limitations that had been the cost of his transformation.
“You can’t have expected there to be no consequences,” Haibara had said, her small, child-sized hand wrapped around his forearm as she drew a blood sample. There had been a sadness in her eyes, along with a heavy guilt, and Shinichi had looked away from it, eyes on the far side of Professor Agasa’s laboratory, where a partially built drone, still in pieces, covered the metal workbenches. “You spent years in a body too small. You’re more fragile, now, so take care of yourself, Kudou-kun.”
With a sigh, Shinichi picks up his coffee mug to take a sip, then stares down at the dry, stained bottom with distant dismay, remembering that he’d finished it off nearly an hour ago, right before he’d spent an hour teaching Chief Inspector Kinoshita how to access the new station-wide digital database for the fourth time this week.
Setting the empty mug back down, he interlaces his fingers and stretches his arms up above his head. His back cracks satisfyingly, relieving some of the lingering tension, with the added bonus of restoring a little of his lost alertness.
He pushes his rolling chair back from his desk, already casting a look in the direction of the coffee pot on the opposite side of the station, behind Shinozaki’s desk. He’ll start with a fresh cup of coffee, then finish up the mind-numbing paperwork. It’s only a few hours until he can escape the station and head home for a nap, since his new Tuesday shift runs from four in the morning to four in the afternoon.
At least he’s not on the graveyard shift, anymore. That had been a particularly cruel bit of hazing, in Shinichi’s opinion. His natural inclination toward being nocturnal had been the only thing saving him from an absolutely miserable three months. That, and living completely alone, without anyone to disturb with his comings and goings from the empty mansion.
He should get an apartment, but someone has to watch over his parents’ home, and with Akai having long returned to his real name and real life in the United States, it’s all Shinichi can do to keep the dust from piling up in every room that isn’t his bedroom or the library. Ran used to help, but… Well, Ran doesn’t come over, anymore. Another way Shinichi’s life has changed irrevocably.
Before Shinichi can rise and implement his simple coffee-paperwork-nap plan, though, Detective Nakahara emerges from the Chief Inspector’s office with a pronounced swagger, crossing the main station floor with purpose, headed directly for Shinichi. He’s holding a thin manila file folder in his hand as he comes to a stop right in front of Shinichi’s desk.
Shinichi absently notes that the knuckles on the first three fingers of Nakahara’s right hand are bruised, though they’d been fine this morning when he’d first arrived, exactly on time for his shift, pushing the station doors open with his elbow as he held a cup of expensive flavored coffee from the shop two blocks away. Nakahara’s smartwatch has a new scratch on it, too.
Shinichi narrows his eyes. “Did you need something, Detective Nakahara?” He takes care to be polite, since Nakahara tends to bristle at the slightest hint of impatience from him. The last thing Shinichi needs is for their relationship, tense and uncomfortable from the very beginning, to get any worse.
Nakahara rolls his eyes anyway, sucking his teeth, then tosses the file across Shinichi’s desk. The papers spill out and knock into Shinichi’s empty mug. “Got a case for you, Rookie. A real thriller.”
“For us, you mean?” Shinchi hooks a finger into the knot of his navy blue tie and tugs it a little looser. He rolls his chair forward again, until the toes of his dress shoes tap the metal of the frontside of the desk. “We are partners for three more months.”
Nakahara frowns in annoyance. “It’s your lucky day, Detective Kudou,” he says. “Chief Inspector Kinoshita thinks you’ll be able to handle it. There are officers already securing the scene so you can just head on over.”
“Isn’t that against protocol?” Shinichi replies mildly, pushing the stray papers back inside the folder before opening it, giving the contents a quick scan. It’s a basic stolen property report, clearly filled in by Officer Matsui. Shinichi recognizes her handwriting, because he’d memorized the handwriting of everyone who works the front phone lines as a precaution, and Matsui never lifts her pen when she writes strings of hiragana, an obvious tell that she’d studied brush calligraphy at some point, probably as a high school extracurricular or something. “A lost ring?”
“Not lost,” Nakahara replies, like Shinichi is stupid. “Stolen, Kudou. And it’s worth big money, so...”
“So, it’s felony theft.” Shinichi flips through the generic report. At first glance, it’s the type of banal forced-entry apartment burglary that Shinichi has solved dozens of times before. The victim is Gotou Haruko, a single woman in her fifties who lives on the third floor, with no pets and a lot of expensive collectibles. Shinichi’s eyes narrow, pausing on one line of the report. “The burglar only took the ring?”
That doesn’t make sense. There are no photos of the crime scene, yet, but Shinichi can easily imagine the type of home this woman lives in. There are indubitably hundreds of other small collectables that would have been just as easy to grab as that ring.
A targeted theft, then. That could end up being a little fun. Shinichi’s already running through possibilities, categorizing them by likelihood and eliminating some of them immediately from contention.
It’ll never be like KID’s heists used to be, but that’s all right. Shinichi thinks he’d hate anyone who tried to replace Kaitou KID, who’d been an ally and a rival in equal measure, and might have, someday, become a friend, if he hadn’t…
Shinichi closes his eyes, clears his thoughts, and tries not to think about watching the blood spread out under KID’s body in a terrifying pool.
“Not like he didn’t get his effort’s worth with just the ring.” Nakahara says, breaking Shinichi’s train of thought, his impatience clear in his voice. “Regardless of the burglar’s intelligence, felonies fall under the jurisdiction of the Criminal Investigation Bureau. And who better for a simple case like this than our newest detective?” Nakahara’s mouth curves when Shinichi looks up to stare at him. “Surely the famous Kudou Shinichi can handle things on his own? Beika’s Chief Inspector Megure didn’t mention you would need hand-holding in his glowing employment recommendation.”
Shinichi ignores Nakahara’s sarcasm and removes the paperclip holding a pulled insurance photo to the report, lifting it closer to his face to get a better look at the ring. The diamond is large, nearly the same circumference of a fifty-yen coin and oval cut, with excellent clarity. It’s set in an old-fashioned, ostentatiously engraved white-gold, surrounded by smaller diamond chips. A popular design to flaunt wealth in the early eighties during Tokyo’s economic bubble, but it fell rapidly out of favor in the early nineties when the stock market tumbled.
An expensive prize for the burglar, certainly, but still only one of many to be found in the victim’s apartment. Interesting, Shinichi thinks, setting the photograph down to return his attention to Nakahara, who is clenching and unclenching his bruised hand.
“I’ll call the victim and let her know I’m heading over to see her,” Shinichi says. He closes the folder and stands up from his desk, then uses his key to unlock the bottom drawer, where he keeps his assigned weapon. He shrugs into the shoulder holster, fastening it with the ease of long practice, and then grabs his suit jacket from the back of his chair, sliding his arms into the sleeves. After tucking his weapon away, safety on, he picks up his keys. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Work hard, Rookie. A prodigy like you should be able to solve this in no time, right?” Nakahara kicks lightly at the edge of Shinichi’s desk in emphasis, then walks to his own desk, sitting down in front of his still-open laptop without giving Shinichi a second glance.
Shinozaki, hovering by the coffee machine, sends Shinichi a sympathetic look as he pours the last of the pot into his mug. Shinichi shrugs in response, offering the older detective a crooked smile before pushing his rolling chair under his desk to get it out of the way and turning on the call forwarding for his personal phone extension.
So much for the end of Shinichi’s shift, but a case is a case, and the lure of a case without Nakahara for the first time since he joined the force makes the overtime worth it. He can wrap this up and hopefully be home by dark.
Spinning his heavy keyring around the index finger of his free hand, Shinichi exits out through the open door of the second floor detective offices, taking the narrow stairs two-by-two down to the station lobby. He waves to the officer on duty at the entrance desk, who must have relieved Matsui at some point in the past hour, and then pushes out into the brisk March afternoon.
The wind is strong, and it stings Shinichi’s eyes as he scans the moderately busy street. It’s after lunch, but before the local elementary students are released from school, so there’s a lull in pedestrian traffic, only a few people out and about, most with their jackets zipped or buttoned to fight the fierce breeze. Shinichi follows suit, closing his suit jacket at his waist for a little extra warmth.
His personal car, an electric blue 2020 Acura NSX, is parked across the street from the Takanawa police station. The parking spaces directly in front of the building, under the overhanging concrete eave, are reserved for high-ranking members of the police force.
“That car is too flashy for a police detective, anyway,” he hears in Haibara’s voice, and it’s true enough, so with a sigh and a longing glance, Shinichi instead circles the building to where his assigned force-commissioned vehicle is parked.
He slides easily into the driver’s side of the much more nondescript Toyota Camry, at least ten years older than Shinichi and somehow still running. He tosses the case-folder and his phone into the passenger seat and fastens his seatbelt, automatically wrinkling his nose when the smell of Nakahara’s cigarettes wafts up from the fabric seats, impossible to ignore.
His phone vibrates against the thick cardstock of the folder, and Shinichi picks it up, noting the three missed calls: Two from his mother, and one from Heiji. Nothing from Ran, even though he’d texted her a short, succinct “Happy Birthday” at six o’clock this morning.
The silence from Ran, the girl who has always been his best friend, and who was, for a while, his girlfriend, too, is another aspect of Shinichi’s return to his normal body that he isn’t used to, yet. Every time he gets a text message, he expects it to be her, and it never is. Their text message history over the past three years is a paltry collection of twenty messages from Shinichi, and only one from Ran.
He isn’t even sure her number is the same, and he won’t put any of his other friends in the position of having to answer, so he never asks.
It’s not like he’s lonely. Not really, anyway.
Shinichi quickly types Gotou Haruko’s address into his phone’s map application and tosses his phone back on top of the folder in the passenger seat. Casting one last look at the imposing brick of the police station, Shinichi shifts out of park and into first gear, pulling out onto the road. He allows the GPS to guide him, despite knowing at least three ways to get to his destination; there’s been roadwork on two of the main streets in that direction, and he doesn’t want to get stuck navigating detours when the digital map updates to take things like that into account.
Even with the road lanes lost to construction, it barely takes ten minutes to get to the victim’s apartment building. She lives a short walk away from the Sony-Takanawa office, in an upscale apartment building with eleven floors, all with burnished steel and plexiglass balconies that face out toward the main street. Shinichi notes the safety ladders as he skirts around the squad car parked in the no-parking zone in front of the main doors.
He shows his Metropolitan Police badge to the doorman, who takes the ID card hanging from a lanyard around his neck and swipes it along the right side of an access keypad. Shinichi still marvels at how easy it is, to pull out his identification and gain immediate access, without subterfuge or a convenient excuse. It’s a benefit he hadn’t allowed to factor into his decision to pursue a career with the official police, but it’s one he’ll never take for granted after those long years spent in the body of an elementary school kid who’d had to beg and connive his way into hundreds of crime scenes.
The sleek, modern security keypad—a model released last year from RG’s expanding building security line—blinks green three times before the locks click. A cheerful musical chime plays as the automatic doors slide open to allow Shinichi entrance, smooth and silent in contrast to the noisy locking system.
“You’ll need to talk to the guard for access any of the upper floors,” the doorman says, releasing his key card to fall back against the simple navy blue of his uniform jacket. “The elevators require a resident access PIN, but the desk guard can override the lock with a general security code.”
Double-security, then. Not an unusual feature in upscale buildings, but it does make the entire burglary all the more difficult. How did the burglar even get upstairs, let alone into Gotou’s apartment? They’d need a key-card and multiple passcodes, and that means...
Shinichi nods distractedly in thanks before stepping inside the air-conditioned lobby. His shoes are loud as he walks across the expensive marble floors toward the security desk, taking note of the potted Rothschild’s orchids and paintings that decorate the large room. There are two restrooms, separated by binary gender, on the far left side, and the desk stretches across the right side of the room, directly across from the two side-by-side elevators.
There is only a single guard on duty, dressed similarly to the guard at the front door, in a navy blue high-collared jacket cuffed at the wrist. She’s wearing a wristwatch with a metal band in the same pale metal as the watch face, and it catches the light as she pushes a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Are you with the police?” she asks, looking Shinichi up and down as he comes to a stop in front of the desk. There are two monitors tilted toward her, displaying CCTV footage from what looks to be sixteen unique cameras positioned in every residential hallway, as well as garbage disposal rooms on five of the floors. The door of the second apartment on the right side of the hall from the elevator access is open, and despite the small size of the camera, Shinichi can just make out the stripe of crime scene tape to discourage contamination. Good. “There have been so many police here today.”
Shinichi’s not sure two uniformed officers and a single detective count as so many police, but he does spend six days a week surrounded by them, so perhaps it’s his own metric for police presence that is skewed.
“I’m Detective Kudou.” His badge is still in his hand, so he holds it up, letting the leather case flip open to display his full identification. “I need to go upstairs...” His eyes drop to her nametag. “Kino-san.”
“Of course.” Kino blinks too many times in quick succession, but Shinichi doesn’t notice any of the usual signs of dry eyes—no redness, no irritation. “It’s no problem, especially to help the police. It’s a hassle that we can’t just buzz visitors through with the new security system.”
“The RG system?” Shinichi asks.
“We got it three months ago,” Kino replies. “I have to walk back and forth to let anyone without a PIN or an override code use the elevators.” She rises from her seat and circles around the long edge of the desk after a last perfunctory look at the CCTV cameras. She’s wearing the same plain black low-heeled pumps that Detective Satou regularly wears, utilitarian and probably more comfortable than the shoes Sonoko’d taken to wearing, the last few times Shinichi’d had the misfortune of running into her on campus, when they’d both still been attending Tokyo University. He’d looked a lot at her feet to avoid meeting her gaze.
Shinichi trails Kino over to the elevators, where another RG keypad sits between them, currently lit up red for denied access. She types in an access code, 33698, without once looking in Shinichi’s direction to see if he’s watching, and then calls the elevator down by pressing the oversized ‘up’ arrow. “All yours, Detective Kudou.” She lingers uncomfortably on the long vowel in his name. “Gotou-san,” and Shinichi notes the slight distaste in her tone, “is in Apartment—”
“303. I know.” Shinichi says, already stepping into the elevator. “Thank you, Kino-san.”
“My pleasure, Detective!” She offers him an unnecessarily wide smile, and Shinichi, finally accepting that she’s being flirtatious, vaguely tries to return the gesture. He’s never quite managed to corral his social graces into something normal. His smiles have always been reserved for moments when he’s smug about figuring something out, or relieved not to be dead. They’re not for placating the people who demand too much of his attention when he’s trying to get things done.
Shinichi is self-aware enough to know that probably makes him a jerk. At least he’s less self-absorbed than he was when he was seventeen. He quickly pushes the button to accelerate the closing of the elevator doors, escaping her stare.
The inside of the elevator is filled with mirrors, and it’s mostly clean except for the dog hair clinging to the far corners—slightly curled, and Shinichi bets it’s either a miniature or a toy poodle who’s a frequent passenger. There’s no music, and when he looks up, there are no scratches on the escape hatch.
He makes a mental note to check the other elevator on the way down, but it’s far more likely that the burglar used the outside escape access to leave the building, considering how tight internal security is. He needs to take a closer look to see if they might have been used to come up, as well, but his cursory glance at the front of the building when he’d arrived had shown the fire-escape to be closed off behind a high concrete wall with a key-card lock and its own side entrance guard, just as difficult to access save for the lack of an elevator.
It’s a puzzle, and Shinichi’s first impression of this case back at the station, that it wouldn’t be nearly as dry as Nakahara hoped it would be, is proving true. It’s no Kichiemon puzzle, but at least it’s making him use his brain. He’s been worried the paperwork might have started the atrophying process.
He emerges from the elevator a few seconds later on the third floor, across from a window that offers a great view of the street below and the Sony Building. The hall is oddly minty-scented: it’s different than the sterile, bleach-like smell of the cleaner used everywhere else in the building, but there is carpet, so perhaps there’s a product in the vacuums that leaves behind a pungent smell of mint.
Aggravated voices pour out from the open door of Apartment 303. Shinichi recognizes Officer Tsukimoto’s low baritone immediately, but not the irritation obvious in his tone. Tsukimoto is cool-headed, and Shinichi’s learned over the past few months to rely on his calm presence at crime scenes. It would take a lot of annoyance to disturb Tsukimoto’s implacability, Shinichi thinks, and in preparation, he braces himself as he comes to a stop outside the taped-off apartment.
The door is clearly damaged, and Shinichi examines it in surprise. The expensive mahogany-wood finish over the steel inner door is cracked in a pattern consistent with being kicked with a man’s boot. Shinichi estimates that he wears around a size twenty-eight, judging by the cracking pattern.
It doesn’t make sense. A home invader couldn’t break down a steel door, even if they were big enough. Is it a red herring? Something the burglar had done to throw off the police? He wonders if the CCTV picked anything up. It’s not like the doorway is in a blind spot.
Shinichi pulls on his white gloves, and then ducks under the tape to enter. Nose wrinkling at the nauseatingly overwhelming scent of mint, Shinichi wrinkles his nose and takes in the tableau: Tsukimoto and his partner, Fukunaga, are both dusting for fingerprints on the various available surfaces of the apartment, as a woman who can only be Gotou hovers behind them, hissing like an angry house cat every time someone touches anything at all.
She looks up when Shinichi clears his throat, and out of the corner of his eye, Shinichi takes in Tsukimoto’s look of sheer relief at his arrival with some surprise, as well as not a small amount of trepidation.
“Gotou-san,” Shinichi says, with a short, perfunctory bow, “I’m Detective Kudou, with the Takanawa police.”
“About time,” she snaps. “A real detective should have been here hours ago!”
Shinichi blinks at her, nonplussed, and casts a look around the apartment. It’s full of exactly what he’d thought he’d find—countless expensive artifacts, from paintings to vases to statues, all looking easy to carry and yet virtually undisturbed. There are mint-scented air fresheners in every visible outlet, and all of them are recently changed, the scent-bulbs full. “I’m here now,” he replies, and then licks his lips. “When did you notice your ring was missing?”
“When I came home to my door like that!” There’s a slight tremor in her hands. A smoker, probably, considering the lines around her mouth, the thin sheen of sweat on her forehead, and her strung-out behavior. Typical withdrawal symptoms. It would explain the air-fresheners, too. Likes to smoke, but is ashamed of it? Shinichi considers the lack of ashtrays. Hiding the habit from a loved one, perhaps.
“And that was a little after eleven this morning?” Shinichi asks, keeping his voice calm. “Correct?”
“That’s right! And that this happened right after all the hullabaloo of putting in that new-fangled security system outside!” Gotou scoffs. “There’s CCTV, and passcodes everywhere, like I’m checking myself into prison every time I come home, and still this!”
“You live alone, right, ma’am?” Shinichi’s eyes drop to the open shoe cabinet. There are several sets of men’s shoes. Size twenty-six. Not the shoes that kicked in the door. “So there were no witnesses besides, presumably, Kino-san downstairs. We’ll check the CCTV next.”
“My son stays with me quite often, but I’ve been here alone all week. My vile neighbor across the hall claims he’s been home the entire day, but when the officers asked him, he told them he hadn’t heard a damn thing! He’s probably lying, since he still thinks I tried to poison his dog, and was picking a fight about it last night.”
Gotou is probably the least liked neighbor in the building, judging by her own admissions as well as Shinichi’s memory of Kino’s sour expression when she’d mentioned Gotou downstairs. That means plenty of people keep an eye on her apartment, but none of them are doing it in order to help her keep track of irregularities. That’ll make it hard to get reliable witnesses interested in more than gossip.
And, Shinichi thinks, remembering the hair in the elevator, it might explain the door. “We can rule out the front door damage as related,” he says aloud.
“What are you talking about?” Gotou demands. “It’s destroyed!”
Humming thoughtfully, Shinichi walks across the living room straight toward the balcony. “It’s a reinforced steel door with PIN-access. No one could have forced their way in without either knowledge of the PIN or a blowtorch. There’s no way the blowtorch wouldn’t have set off the fire alarm.” He beckons Tsukimoto to join him, then points to the balcony doors. “Can you come dust for fingerprints here?” When Tsukimoto nods, Shinichi returns his attention to Gotou, whose lips are pursed unpleasantly. She’s curling and uncurling her fingers, and he notices she isn’t wearing any rings at all. “How long passed between you realizing your place had been burglarized and discovering the only missing item was your ring?”
“It can’t have been more than ten minutes!” Gotou wipes her hands on the soft material of her lavender skirt as she watches Tsukimoto examine the balcony doors. Fukunaga continues her surface sweeps, and collects the occasional fingerprint, but judging by her unimpressed frown, they’re just Gotou’s. “I went to my jewelry box immediately to look for it once I realized none of my paintings or statues had been taken.”
At that, Shinichi tilts his head at her consideringly, and winces when the motion coincides with an inhale. The mint burns the inside of his nose. “So you suspected someone might want your ring,” he says, and at her flinch, he knows he’s right. “Is there something special about it?”
“My late husband gave it to me. When we first got married. I had it appraised again last month, at a jewelry store that recently started offering precious gem appraisals. It’s an antique, and the appraiser told me I should keep it in a safe!”
Shinichi runs his tongue along his teeth, a suspicion starting to take tentative shape. “Appraised…” The balcony door handles are clear of fingerprints, so Shinichi feels comfortable walking past Tsukimoto to open the doors out to the balcony and fire-escape stairs. Cool wind rushes into the comfortable apartment, and it clears out some of the overwhelming mint smell, leaving behind the faintest smell of ash that’s sunk into the wood floors. “What made you want to take it in, Gotou-san? Were you considering selling it?”
“Of course not!” Gotou replies. “I was updating my will! I took all my jewelry to get appraised.” She buffs her nails on her skirt. “When I got the flier advertising vintage sales and appraisals I decided that now was as good a time as any.”
Turning that over in his thoughts, Shinichi absently tests the railing. It’s sturdy enough that it could take a grown man’s weight. He then moves over to the fire escape stairs. Gotou’s stairs are pulled up by an expensive lever system controlled by an electronic pad, and when Shinichi inputs the command to lower them on the smart-home device, they make a loud creaking noise. They couldn’t have been lowered without attracting too much notice, eliminating that avenue.
He returns his attention to the sturdy balcony rail. He finds himself looking for signs of KID’s grappling hook, but that’s pointless. KID would have done something flashy, even if a single ugly stolen jewel despite a vast array of expensive items was just his style. Shinichi needs to stop thinking about KID every time he investigates a stolen gemstone. “Was the ring the only diamond piece in your collection?”
“I’ve always preferred amethysts.” Gotou smooths her hair, like Shinichi was attempting to insult her for not owning the equivalent of her weight in hideous diamond accoutrements. “The appraiser was particularly interested in that ring, though, which is how I knew it was valuable.”
“And that’s why you immediately thought to look for it, in the safe the appraiser had advised you to keep it in.” Shinichi drops down to his knees on the cool concrete of the balcony floor, examining the lower parts of the steel safety rail and searching for signs of it having held a suspended weight. There are none. It looks untouched, as does the outer wall, and the ground below. “Was anything else touched?”
Gotou scowls. “Not that I could tell, as I already told these officers!” Her voice has gone shrill. “Just the safe in my bedroom!”
Shinichi looks up from his fruitless inspection of the railing. “Was the safe damaged?”
“Not at all,” Gotou replies. She straightens the collar of her pastel blouse. “I’ll show you, if you’d like, Detective Kudou.”
She takes Shinichi into her bedroom, where the bed is neatly made, and moves immediately to an expensive painting, the only one in the room.
It’s an original, done in watercolors, in a popular seventeenth century Chinese style that had migrated to Japan alongside trends in calligraphy and silkscreening. Pushing the painting aside, she reveals a built-in safe. It has another of the high-end RG security pads.
“Was this installed recently, too?”
“The entire building was upgraded just a few months ago,” Fukunaga says. “I talked to the desk guard downstairs.”
“Kino?” When Fukunaga nods, Shinichi makes a thoughtful noise. “She mentioned that they’ve all had to get used to the new system.”
“The safes were upgraded at the same time,” replies Gotou. “Did it malfunction? How could this have happened?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Shinichi says. “Systems like these are usually connected to a backup generator, so even a power outage won’t take them offline.” He leans closer to examine the security pad and runs his fingers along the bottom, the material of his gloves catching on the dip. “There’s a built-in card override.”
“What does that mean?” Fukunaga asks, shuffling a little closer.
Tsukimoto clears his throat from the door to get Shinichi’s attention. “We’ve finished the fingerprint search, Detective. There were only two sets of fingerprints in the apartment.” He holds up a bag with card stock-preserved fingerprints waiting to be scanned officially. “I can tell you already that one set is Gotou-san’s.”
“The other set will probably be my son’s,” Gotou says. “He visits once a week to help me take care of my plants.”
“No housekeeper?” Shinichi asks. “No one else with access?”
“I don’t need a housekeeper.” Gotou-san straightens her blouse again, and Shinichi takes in her meticulous appearance. “Even maintenance has to request entrance to our actual apartments, and I like it that way. There’s no need to invite strangers into my home.” She lifts her chin, daring him to disagree.
Shinichi doesn’t. Privacy matters, and after years of hiding, from his friends and the Black Org alike, he’s come to value having places to go that no one else can reach.
It’s part of why he’s never hired anyone to help out at the mansion. There is too much of Shinichi’s secret life as Conan there to take the chance of anything being picked up by the wrong person.
And it’s his parents’ house, so there’s bound to be weird stuff hidden everywhere. He can only imagine what kind of research materials for his novels his father has stashed around the place. Shinichi had once found a set of rusted ritual knives in the hall closet, with a red substance that probably wasn’t blood on the edges of them. He’s found it simpler not to question things like that.
He casts another glance around the room. It really doesn’t look like anything else has been disturbed. “Are the valuables safes in the same place in every apartment in this building?”
“I can find out,” Tsukimoto says.
“Does that matter?” Gotou asks. “It’s my ring that’s been stolen, not anyone else’s!”
“It matters,” Shinichi says, the facts all coming together at once, forming a clear image in his head. “I thought this was an isolated crime, but it actually sounds like something a little more systematic.” He holds up a finger. “The fliers prompting residents to get their jewelry appraised, and the appraiser telling you exactly where to keep it after they’d ascertained its value.”
He holds up another two fingers. “The fact that there isn’t any sign of forced entry beyond the pointless defacement of the front door, and that none of the obvious escape routes a burglar was bound to try were used: No marks in the elevator, no scaling marks on the balcony. The fire escape is so loud it would have roused the entire building, and it’s light outside so no one could have gotten past the CCTV cameras without being noticed.”
Shinichi puts up his fourth finger, and taps all his gloved fingertips on the RG security pad. “All our burglar would need is an RG security override card and Kino-san’s PIN.”
Fukunaga frowns. “How would they get that?”
Shinichi smirks. “It’s 33698.” He pushes the painting back in front of the safe. “Kino-san isn’t very careful when she types it in. I’m sure plenty of people have seen her code, if they had any interest in it.” He gestures to the safe. “And if the safe is in the same place in every apartment, the burglar didn’t even have to look for it. There’s probably a building blueprint available online through the permit office.”
He takes off one of his gloves, and runs a hand through his hair, talking aloud mostly to himself. “I need to check with Kino-san if anyone from RG came today to inspect anything. I’ll look into any similar crimes in recently updated buildings back at the station, and then I’ll drop by the jewelry store where you got the appraisal done.” He wrinkles his nose. “I might as well check on that other thing, too, just to tie up the loose ends.”
Fukunaga looks amazed despite herself, her brown eyes wide.
“Other thing?” Tsukimoto is offering Shinichi an evaluating look.
Shinichi summons up a crooked smile for him. “With the mint,” he says, and Tsukimoto frowns.
“If the burglar didn’t break in, what happened to my door!” Gotou’s dismay is written in the outraged tilt of her eyebrows.
“Your neighbor,” replies Shinichi. “The one with the dog. Is he about 185 centimeters tall, and likes to wear boots?” It’s just a guess, but at Gotou’s shocked expression, it’s probably close enough to right. “That’s the mint. It’s unrelated to the robbery, Gotou-san. When you changed your air fresheners yesterday to cover the smell of cigarette smoke, some of the fluid from the old cartridges spilled on the hall carpet as you were taking them to the trash chute, which is why the hall smells so minty. That fluid is poisonous to most animals and people if ingested, but a dog that gets taken out for walks is the most likely to lick it up it in a building like this.” He pulls out his mobile phone, already moving on as everyone stares at him. “What was the name of the jewelry shop you got your ring appraised at, Gotou-san?”
After he’s typed the name, ‘Yuutaka Jewels’, into his map application and then saves it as a pin, Shinichi bows slightly to Gotou and promises to be in touch from the station about her ring. Fukunaga continues to gape at Shinichi as he exits the bedroom and heads back toward the front door.
Tsukimoto stops him as he goes to duck under the caution tape again. “Do you need anything else from the apartment?”
“No,” Shinichi says. “Our burglar is smarter than I thought, and they won’t have left evidence here if they didn’t even really have to break in.”
Tsukimoto squints. “So you’re saying Gotou-san never would have been the wiser if her neighbor hadn’t taken out his anger on her door.”
“One of the flaws of a system like the new RG one is that despite a two-point check system, human error is still a big issue, and tech-maintenance needs to have a backdoor in to mop up mistakes.” He holds up his Sony phone. “If I damage this, I can send it to one of the hundreds of forensic repair shops in Tokyo, and they can access the data on it through a built-in backdoor to get all my photos and text messages and voicemails off the server cloud.” He raps his knuckles against the RG keypad by the door. “This the same thing on a larger scale, even if it’s a much smaller backdoor. A key that can override security on an entire building can’t be easy to obtain.”
Tsukimoto stares at him for a long moment.
“You know,” he says, “when you first arrived to join the force here, everyone was whispering about you. The cocky high school kid who used to solve crimes on the news until he disappeared. The rookie detective who wasn’t even going to put in time as a regular officer thanks to a fast-track from Beika’s Chief Inspector. Everyone knew it was blatant favoritism.” He tilts his head. “It wasn’t, though, was it? You came in, looked around for five minutes, and figured out the motive and the means without even having to ask many questions. The thing with the dog?” Tsukimoto chuckles. “You’d have been wasted as beat patrol, Detective Kudou.”
Shinichi’s lips part with surprise. It’s the first time, since he’d started at Takanawa, that anyone has praised him instead of trying to hammer him back down, or ‘put him in his place’.
“I’ve always been good at solving mysteries,” he says, finally, after a few uncomfortable seconds where he considers fifty answers and discards just as many. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without officers like you and Fukunaga doing the leg-work, though.”
Tsukimoto smiles at him. “We’ll wrap up here and release the scene. Should we talk to Kino-san, as well?”
Remember her flirtatious eyes, Shinichi quickly agrees. “Verify with Kino and the front door guard if anyone wearing an RG uniform stopped by this morning, and then ask if she was the only desk guard on shift today. Also we need to know if different desk guards have different override codes, and if the security system logs whose cards and PINs are used during the day, to see if we can narrow down what card and PIN our burglar used to access the front door and the elevator.” He slips his phone into his pocket. “Could you text me with what you find out?”
“Sure,” Tsukimoto says, and then he hesitates. “I notice you’re here without Nakahara.”
“He thought I’d find a case like this demeaning,” Shinichi says. “But I don’t.”
“But you don’t,” Tsukimoto repeats, something thoughtful in the curve of his mouth. “I’ll be in touch, Detective Kudou.”
“Thank you,” Shinichi replies, heading out into the significantly less mint-scented hallways and back toward the elevators.
Shinichi offers the most minimal goodbye to Kino-san behind the desk on his way out of the building, and hurries toward his car. He’s so tired, but he’s got two leads that need following up on. He’ll hit the jewelry store first, and then he can pick up any relevant-looking case files from the station and comb through them tonight to see if there are any other links between the cases.
At least crawling through cold-cases is a slightly more productive kind of paperwork.
He unlocks the driver’s side of the Toyota Camry and climbs in, his brain already back at the station, anticipating the key words he’ll use to search through the file database. A lot of the smaller cases haven’t even been inputted into the digital system yet. Shinichi might have to go through the file cabinets by hand, taking a page out of his father’s Night Baron novels from the nineties.
He starts the GPS on his phone, and then starts the Camry, leaving Gotou’s building behind as the sun starts to sink in the sky, the last vestiges of the spring daylight spilling golden into the streets as he drives out to meet the expressway.
The jewelry store where Gotou had gotten her ring appraised, ‘Yuutaka’, is a thirty minute drive made longer by early rush-period traffic. By the time Shinichi arrives, it’s nearing eight in the evening, four hours after he should have gotten off duty.
He avoids the parking garage, instead finding a miraculous street-parking spot a couple of blocks over, and walks, hands in his pockets as he braces himself against the evening chill. The wind is fiercer than it had been earlier this afternoon, and Shinichi’s not dressed for it. He’s always cold, these days. He’s trying to get better about keeping a warmer sweater in the car, just in case, but he has to wear the suit when he’s conducting official police business, and his black winter wool coat is too bulky for the season.
Shinichi hunches his shoulders as he walks down the street full of storefronts. Most of them are dark, save for the restaurants, and by the time he makes it to the address indicated by his map application, he’s not surprised to find the storefront already closed for the evening, lights out and doors locked, metal screens pulled down over the windows and bars across the glass doors.
He takes in what he can see of the store. The sign is understated and classy, and the whole place is larger than Shinichi had anticipated. Directly above it, advertised on the second story, is what seems to be an accounting firm, and it’s sandwiched between a clothing boutique and a high-end sushi restaurant. There’s nothing of particular note about the neighborhood, and so Shinichi’ll have to chalk this up to a wasted trip.
His heavy sigh of frustration turns the air in front of him a hazy white with the heat of his breath. He can come back in the morning, maybe, depending on what time Nakahara comes in. Shinichi’s Wednesday shift doesn’t start until eleven, so he can take the train up here before work and shave a solid thirty minutes off his travel time.
He carries on down the block anyway, planning to circle back around to his car. As he walks, though, he notices a black SUV, an Infiniti QX50, a 2019 model, out of the corner of his eye. It’s driving slow, the way police patrol cars do when they’re on the lookout, and it’s strange enough that Shinichi gives the neighborhood another questioning glance.
Another restaurant, a luxury tuxedo shop, a high-end handbag store. Not the kind of area Shinichi would think needed some kind of watch. He shoves his hands into his pockets, along with his phone, and adds an extra block to his walk before he turns around, and he can feel the moment the atmosphere shifts, the quiet, upscale neighborhood gaining a tinge of danger.
The individual hairs on the back of Shinichi’s arms rise from more than the windchill as he notices none of the shops on the street this far down are closed. Karaoke bars, massage parlors, unlabeled businesses with noisy crowds inside… He hadn’t realized that he was so close to a yakuza territory.
His stomach twists, because he doesn’t have any business here, and he pointedly turns around, letting the SUV continue on its slow path without Shinichi walking alongside it.
Turning down a side street, Shinichi pops into a convenience store and grabs a couple of ready-made onigiri wrapped in clear plastic to quiet the low growl of his stomach, and then circles back to his car. The streetlight, that had been well lit when he’d climbed out of his car twenty minutes ago, seems dimmer, the vehicle cast in shadow.
He manually unlocks the Camry and collapses into his seat after taking off his jacket, locking the door and sitting there in the darkness of the car for a few minutes and thinking.
A jewelry store only a block or two away from a clearly yakuza-affiliated district, a missing diamond ring.
As if on cue, his phone vibrates against his thigh, and Shinichi pulls it out of his pocket to see a text message from Tsukimoto. CCTV footage of man in RG uniform coming into the building this morning a little after 10AM the text reads. Send the footage to your department e-mail?
Texting back a quick confirmation, Shinichi rearranges his plans. He’ll still head back to the station tonight to conduct a cursory search of the database, but he’ll save the physical file scanning for tomorrow.
He sticks the key into the ignition and turns the key harshly to start the Camry up. In response, the car makes a low, lurching noise, dragging Shinichi out of his own head and into the present. “No, come on you old clunker, now’s not the time for this!” he mutters, but the Camry doesn’t listen to him, continuing to wheeze, until he turns the key again to shut it off.
He starts it again, and gets the same result: a strange, ominous noise from the engine that doesn’t sound anything like the noise the Camry usually makes when it starts.
Leaning forward, Shinichi rests his head against the worn steering wheel. It just isn’t his day, he thinks, already knowing at this time of night it’ll be at least an hour’s wait for a tow, more likely two, and it’ll be nearing eleven in the evening by the time he gets back to the station.
Annoyed, Shinichi opens the glove box to search for the emergency services numbers that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police use for their official vehicles. He takes a moment to close his eyes and breathe out his frustration after he checks the time; it’s almost nine in the evening, he’d only gotten three hours of sleep at most last night, and he’s been up since before the sun rose this morning. He doesn’t have time for car trouble.
There’s the low purr of an engine coming to a stop beside his car, and Shinichi opens his eyes when someone knocks lightly on the passenger-side window. He opens his eyes to see the silhouette of a man wearing a white motorcycle helmet and a black leather jacket, long legs in white trousers bracketing either side of his motorbike.
Shinichi rolls down his window as the man takes off his helmet to reveal a mop of messy brown hair and a ready grin. The grin falters slightly as he takes in Shinichi’s face, and Shinichi raises both eyebrows in question.
“Can I help you?” Shinichi asks.
The man stares at him, and then shakes his head, messy hair shaking with it. “Car trouble, Detective?” The way his lips curl around the word ‘detective’ strikes Shinichi as strange, eerily familiar, and Shinichi almost has to physically shake the feeling away before he can reply.
“Engine’s making a weird noise,” Shinichi says, and then his thoughts catch up with alacrity, his muscles tensing all at once. “What makes you think I’m a detective?”
“Police tags on your car,” the man replies, grin growing wider. “Plus this is a Camry from the nineties. No one drives those but police, these days, and regular officers drive patrol cars.” He leans forward a little, gloved hands circling his helmet and lowering it slightly to his handlebars for extra balance. “Far from undercover, if you know what you’re looking for.”
The cloud cover shifts, revealing the gorgeous full moon, and the light catches the man just right, surrounding him in a pearly glow and putting his face in shadow. “And you know what you’re looking for?”
Shinichi lifts up his phone. “I’m about to call for a tow truck,” he says, and then he leans back with a sigh. “I’m sure it’ll be hours before I get the ride.”
The man hums thoughtfully, and his lips curl down. He has a mouth like a cat, Shinichi decides, before shoving the observation down. “This isn’t the place to loiter after dark in a police vehicle.” He looks back over his shoulder, toward where Shinichi had walked from. The noise level from the bars is picking up. “I’ve got an extra helmet. Why don’t you let me give you a ride.” His voice is lilting, an implicit tease in his cadence, and he smiles again, making a single dimple appear in his left cheek. “At least to the train station. I promise to obey the rules of the road and everything, since you’re a law-man and all that.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Shinichi replies. “I can just…” His words trail off as the black Infiniti turns the corner and starts a slow roll in their direction. They both take note of it, and the man’s smile shrinks, dimple disappearing.
His voice is still light when he turns back to Shinichi, but his eyes are serious. “I kinda wanna insist,” he says. “It’s late. As a good Samaritan, I can’t leave a helpless detective out in the cold~!”
At the reminder of the evening chill, Shinichi shivers. Then he hesitates, glancing back at the SUV and then down at his unresponsive car. He’s tired, and normally he’d be more suspicious, but the man’s strange familiarity has Shinichi wanting to follow his gut.
With a last look at the man’s frame, lean and lithe, Shinichi decides that between the five kilos he has on him and his service weapon, he’s probably not going to get murdered. He sighs, and opens the car door, stepping back out into the night. He shrugs on his jacket, and doesn’t button it this time. Then he grabs his phone, pushing it back into his pocket, and his case folder. “To the train station. I can’t have you taking me all the way back to Takanawa.”
“The police building?” the man asks, as Shinichi circles the car. He’s already settling his helmet back on, but he immediately pushes up his visor, giving Shinichi a clear view of those startling eyes of his, and, up close, a smattering of pale freckles across his nose and mouth. “It’s not really out of my way. I’m headed to Ekoda so it would only add fifteen minutes.”
“If…” Haibara is going to laugh at him forever if this turns out to be a trap or a set-up. She always thinks Shinichi offers the benefit of the doubt more often than he should, when it’s only his own safety at stake. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
The man digs in his side satchel, and produces a second helmet, red and undecorated. “Hope you don’t mind Team Red Bull colors.”
“I don’t mind anything F1,” Shinichi replies, holding the folder up with a question. The man takes it and slips it into his side bag without a second glance. A point in his favor. “You’re into cars?”
“Not really,” the man replies. “I’m into driving fast, though.” He’s already revving his motorcycle engine, and it thrums to life as Shinichi puts on the helmet and gingerly climbs onto the bike behind him. It’s shockingly intimate, bringing his chest into contact with the back of a stranger. “I’ll behave, though, Detective. Promise.” He laughs, and Shinichi can feel it, the vibrations moving against the thin material of his jacket and dress shirt. “You’ll have to wrap your arms around my waist. I swear not to insist that you make an honest man out of me if you get too close.”
Shinichi, for some reason, feels himself blush, and he’s happy the helmet and the dark is there to disguise it. He carefully circles the man’s waist. “That’s my gun,” he says, bluntly, when the man flinches from the pressure of a hard object. “Service handgun. Safety is on, don’t worry.”
“And here I thought you were just happy to meet me, Detective~!” The flirtatious lilt, blatantly a tactic to diffuse tension for both of them, makes Shinichi roll his eyes. It does relax him, though. Shinichi’s never been the type to make jokes when things are complicated, and now it makes him think of KID. Too many things make him think of KID.
Get a hold of yourself, Shinichi, he thinks. It’s been years, and you weren’t even friends, really.
Only maybe they were. Shinichi figures someone who died working with him side-by-side at least deserves to be called a friend.
Shinichi exhales. “It’s Kudou.” He clutches loosely at the leather of the man’s jacket. It’s buttery soft in his hands, old and well-loved. Shinichi braces himself, and takes in the smell of oil and rubbing alcohol that clings to the man’s clothes and skin. Underneath is something sharper, spicier, but Shinichi can’t identify it. “My name, I mean. And stop flirting with me.”
He expects the man to reply with his own name in courtesy, but instead the man stiffens for a long moment, before he releases a short, clipped laugh. “Hold on tight, then, Detective Kudou,” he replies, and before Shinichi can cast one last look back at the Camry, the man is taking off, deftly navigating the motorbike down the street in the direction of the expressway headed east.
It’s even colder as they race down the road in the open air, barely obeying the speed limit. The man seems to run hot, though, his body warm against Shinichi’s front side, and the outsides of his thighs are warm where they press to the insides of Shinichi’s knees.
Shinichi’s mystery-driver is adept at handling the motorbike, too. It’s a smoother ride than he’s ever had with Sera or Heiji, who both swing the bike around instead of moving with it. The way he changes gears with such a casual ease speaks to years of experience, too, his thin fingers nudging the gearshift every time they change lanes, weaving around cars moving slower to maintain their steady, swift pace.
It takes them less than thirty minutes to get to Takanawa, and the man slows the motorbike after he pulls off the expressway, lifting his visor and allowing Shinichi to guide him the rest of the way to the station via the back roads.
Shinichi has them pull to a stop next to his Acura instead of at the police overhang, not wanting to deal with the gossip about him arriving as a passenger on a motorbike should anyone be lingering in the precinct front lobby.
“Stop here, that’s my car,” he says, and the man gives a low whistle.
“The ‘96 Camry’s gotta be a real let-down when you drive that every day,” he says, as Shinichi takes off his helmet. The man turns off his bike, and then holds out his hands to take the helmet, tucking it under his arm before reaching into his side bag and pulling out the manila folder with Shinichi’s case file. “That baby this year’s model?”
Shinichi runs a proprietary hand along the tail of the car. “Yep,” he says. “Present to myself for making detective.” He watches the man tuck the extra helmet away with the facility of habit. He must, Shinichi thinks, give a lot of rides. “Thanks for the lift…”
Through the open visor, Shinichi can see the man’s eyebrows rise on his forehead, before he smiles for the first time with teeth. They’re a little crooked, and his bicuspids are sharp. “Kuroba,” the man says. “And it was no problem, Detective.”
That little punch of familiarity hits Shinichi again, and he wonders if he’s met Kuroba before. Shinichi’s not used to his memory flaking out on him like this. He remembers every person he’s ever met with any seriousness, and the outcome of every case he’s ever solved. He doesn’t remember Kuroba, but something about him is pulling at Shinichi anyway.
He turns away from Kuroba as he’s attacked by another shiver, and opens up the trunk of his car to retrieve a thick scarf, wrapping it around his neck. When he turns back, Kuroba has dropped the visor on his helmet, and lifted one foot back onto the step, ready to take off. Shinichi feels an acute pang of disappointment. There’s a mystery here, he thinks, and his chance to solve it is nearing its end. “I appreciate it, Kuroba. Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to repay the favor.”
“Maybe one day you will~,” Kuroba replies.
He turns on the bike, and he’s about to take off, when Shinichi takes a step forward. “Wait,” he says, his instincts pulling sharply at him, and Kuroba stops, dropping his feet back down to the asphalt. “Do you… Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I know it’s not far back to Ekoda, but…”
Kuroba turns off his engine, and reaches up to take off his white helmet. His eyes are luminous in the dark, a blue so dark it looks purple. “Detective, are you asking me on a date?”
Shinichi gapes at him, startled, and then scowls. “That’s not why I’m asking.”
“Why are you asking, then?” Kuroba’s lower lip is chapped, and Shinichi’s surprised that he’s standing close enough to Kuroba to see it. It’s different, face to face, than it had been perched behind him on the bike.
Because I feel like I should know you, Shinichi thinks, but he strengthens his scowl. “Because I want to buy you a cup of coffee,” he replies, dryly, adjusting the scarf around his neck. “Yes or no, Kuroba-san?”
Kuroba lifts his arm, pulling his jacket back to reveal a watch. It’s old, with a traditional clock-face, on a brown leather band that’s worn with age. “It’s late,” he says, and Shinichi sees a faint hint of disappointment in the twist of Kuroba’s wide mouth. “A raincheck?”
“How are you going to collect on it?” Shinichi rocks back and forth, from heel to toe, trying to generate a little more warmth in his body.
“A detective at Takanawa station, last name Kudou? How ever would I manage to look you up?” He runs a hand through his messy hair, pushing it back from his forehead, revealing pale, smooth skin and a thin, jagged scar that stretches from his right eyebrow to his temple. “I’ll drop by to see you some time, how’s that sound?”
“It sounds creepy,” Shinichi replies, and Kuroba barks out a louder laugh. It echoes in the quiet night. “I could just give you my number.”
“You’d do that?” Kurona seems surprised. Then he deliberately leans into Shinichi’s space, and fixes the collar of his shirt. “Don’t take all the fun out of it, Detective Kudou. I’ll find you eventually.”
“You’re making it sound even creepier,” Shinichi replies.
“Then I guess I shouldn’t tell you it already feels like fate that we’ve run into each other tonight?” Kuroba smiles, with too many teeth. “Because it does. Me, finding you tonight. A little like fate.”
“What makes you say that?”
“It’s a full moon,” says Kuroba. “Auspicious for me.” He offers Shinichi a sloppy salute. “Catch you later, then, Detective Kudou.” He settles his helmet back into place, and closes his visor again.
Then he’s off, zooming down the street until he takes a hard left and disappears from Shinichi’s sight, and leaves him alone standing beside his car on the quiet Tuesday night.
Strangely, Shinichi’s warmer than he’s been all night. Like a chance meeting with a stranger has filled up a tiny portion of the persistent gaping hole in his chest he’s been planning to harbor forever.
Only two of them were in his jurisdiction, but at least five of them were under the purview of the Beika headquarters, and so that’s seven buildings for Shinichi to investigate; if he can link them to a security update, he might be able to group the crimes together, and start to cobble together a suspect list.
His phone rings as he pulls up right behind the Camry. It’s undisturbed from yesterday, and in the light of day the strange trepidation that had dogged his steps seems silly. He’d called it in this morning, and the towing company had estimated they’d be around to pick it up sometime between nine-thirty and ten in the morning, coinciding perfectly with Shinichi’s plan to ask a few questions at ‘Yuutaka’.
“Kudou Shinichi,” he says, answering the call without checking the caller as he powers off his car and unfastens his seatbelt. It retracts soundlessly back into the seat. Shinichi loves his car.
“‘Sup, Kudou?” Heiji says, and Shinichi grins as he opens his car door. “You busy right now?”
“Got a new case?” Shinichi adjusts his tie, the same one he was wearing yesterday. The only things he’s changed are his undershirt, socks, and underwear. “Need a second opinion?”
“Nah,” Heiji replies, and Shinichi can hear the bustle of a crowd. “Calling to check on your schedule and shit.”
“It’s your schedule I’m worried about,” Shinichi says. “I thought you had a blanket policy about not dealing with murders before noon.” It’s early for Heiji to be awake. Shinichi’s well aware of Heiji’s tendency to work evening shifts, and unlike Shinichi, he’s well-liked at his station, the officers there used to him being underfoot, so they tend to shunt him onto the shifts he prefers.
Shinichi thinks it might have been like that for him if he’d kept growing up as Conan and eventually gone to work at Beika station. As it is, though, trying to nudge Kudou Shinichi’s public reputation even a little closer to the person he’d become over the years he spent as Conan is a Herculean task, and Shinichi doesn’t have the luxury of doing it around officers he’s known forever.
“I don’t.” Heiji laughs. “Kazuha and I are coming up to Tokyo to watch a kendou tournament next month, and I was hoping you had some time for me.”
“I might,” Shinichi replies, joking, as he holds the phone between his shoulder and his cheek to free up his hands, and collects a pile of manila folders he’d pulled early this morning relating to his digital database finds. “Depends on how much you’re interested in jewel thieves.”
Heiji goes quiet. “You mean like Kaitou KID?”
“No,” Shinichi days, and the smile slips from his face. “You know that’s not...”
“I know we don’t talk about it, but you’re still real fucked up over it, aren’t you? Seeing him go out like that.”
“Of course I am. How could I not be, Hattori? If I’d been a little faster, if I’d been in this body, I could have…” Shinichi had seen KID get shot, seen him fall from a building, had heard his bones shatter as he hit the ground. He had seen all the blood left behind, even if the police had never found his body.
Even if KID’s alive, Shinichi had seen the end of Kaitou KID the acrobatic phantom thief, and he sees it constantly in his nightmares, along with all the other deaths he can lay directly at the doorstep of the Black Org.
Most of them might be gone, but they’d left Shinichi with so many open wounds that he’s still waiting for them to heal. He’s not sure if they ever will.
“Yeah,” Heiji says. “I guess I can’t blame you, Kudou.”
Shinichi changes the subject, firmly locking that final memory of KID back in the box of things he tries not to think about, along with Ran’s face when she’d told him she might never be able to trust him again, and the letter Ayumi wrote two months after Edogawa Conan had disappeared without a trace, allowing Kudou Shinichi to return to his life. “Anyway, by jewel thieves, I meant something less... It’s some kind of home invader ring who steal diamonds.”
“Only diamonds?” Heiji asks, allowing Shinichi to steer the conversation away from difficult things. “Or are diamonds just the majority?”
Shinichi pulls up his mental catalogue of the cases. “I’m pretty sure all of them involved diamonds.”
“I think so, too,” Shinichi says. “And half these reports? The jewels turned up again. Handed in to the police station, or rediscovered in the owners’ homes.”
“Huh.” Shinichi imagines Heiji turning his hat sideways in thought. “Yeah, I reckon I could get interested. Can’t believe they finally gave you a real case, to be honest. Nakahara sounds like a premium asshole.”
“I stumbled into it.” Looking both ways, Shinichi crosses the street. “It was a simple burglary, but then I discovered what might be a systematic M.O.” He skirts the cluster of people waiting outside a breakfast café, and walks alongside the shops. They’re all open, now, doors open and inviting. “The burglar had an RG Security official access card, and was able to walk right into the building, in full view of the CCTV, enter the apartment, and then use the keycard to access the safe. It was an unrelated incident that even alerted the victim that the ring had been stolen. Otherwise, she never would have found out.”
“Hell of a backdoor,” Heiji says, and then follows it up with a swear. “I bet those kind of key-cards are in limited supply. You call RG yet?”
“I’m going to investigate the other crime scenes, first, even the ones considered closed cases because the jewels showed up again, and see what kinds of security systems are involved. If they’re RG, then when I give them a call, I’ll have a lot more leverage.”
“Gotta say, this ‘adult-with-a-badge’ gig ain’t so bad when it comes to solving crimes,” Heiji says with a laugh. “We can just call companies up and ask for information all official and stuff. It’s a far cry from sneaking into crime scenes to poke around when time was of the essence.”
“Speak for yourself.” Shinichi snorts. “Haven’t had much opportunity yet.”
“Again, because Nakahara’s a premium asshole. It’s gotta be driving him nuts that his solved case record is so much higher since he partnered up with you.”
It does. He’s always more antagonistic after Shinichi easily lays out a case, even simple, small-fry stuff.
But eighty percent of the people Shinichi works with are antagonistic. It’s nothing new.
“It’s not just him,” Shinichi says. “An officer I’ve been working with a lot told me that pretty much everyone at the station’s been thinking I’m a favoritism hire who hasn’t paid his dues.”
“They have no idea the kind of dues you’ve paid.” Heiji sounds grim. “Anyway, Kudou, I gotta go. I’m doing a little work myself this morning. I’ll get back to you on times. We can crash at your place, right?”
Shinichi adds dusting two of the eight guest rooms to his to-do list as he comes to a stop outside ‘Yuutaka’. “I’m sure I’ve got a closet each for you and your girlfriend to sleep in separately, as I’m sure Kazuha-san’s father would prefer.”
“Yeah, yeah, Kudou, I’m sure you’ll throw your best bud and his girl in closets.” He clears his throat. “Kazuha’s got plans to hang out with Mouri-chan while we’re in Tokyo.”
Shinichi swallows. “What’s that got to do with me?”
“You’re still not talking to her?”
“She’s not talking to me,” Shinichi corrects. “And it’s… It’s fine. That’s the way it is now. I tried to keep her safe, and instead I made her feel like she wasn’t important enough to know the truth.” He breathes out. “Chat with you again soon, Hattori.”
He ends the call, then slides his phone back into his pocket before pushing his way into the jewelry store. There’s a woman behind the counter, and she smiles at him.
“Welcome to ‘Yuutaka’,” she says, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear, revealing two piercings. Neither of her earrings is a diamond. “Can I help you, sir?”
Shinichi produces his badge. “I need to ask about some recent appraisals done here,” he replies, and her eyes widen in surprise.
“We have two professionals on staff qualified to do gem appraisals,” she informs him, as he looks around the store. “A junior and a senior gemologist. Do you know who did the evaluation?”
“No,” Shinichi replies. “I just know it was done here, about three weeks ago, give or take?”
She nods, and picks up the desk phone. “One moment please.”
As she waits for her call to patch through, Shinichi surveys the store. It’s upscale, decorated in soothing, pale colors, and he can see a customer like Gotou-san being very comfortable within the confines of the opulent showroom.
His attention returns to the front desk when whomever the saleswoman has called on the phone answers. “Ah, yes, sorry to bother you, Kaito-kun, but there’s a police officer here who’d like to know about a few appraisals done a couple of weeks ago.” She pauses to listen, then says: “I’ll bring him back, then?”
When she ends the call, she looks up at him with another smile. “One of our gemologists is here, and he has time to speak with you. He’s back in the authentication labs. I’ll take you.”
“Thank you,” Shinichi says, and he follows her to a locked door. She pulls out a set of keys to unlock it, revealing a long hallway with several doors leading off it, all with individual keypad locks. They aren’t, he’s amused to note, the new RG security keypads.
She knocks heavily on the third door on the left, and after a few moments’ wait, the access pad flashes green, allowing access. “You can go in,” she says. “He’s working on authenticating a new shipment of wedding bands we got in yesterday, so he’ll be at his desk.”
Shinichi pushes open the door and walks in, immediately spotting the lanky figure at the back of the room, wearing a similar uniform to the woman out front—white trousers, a lavender vest, and, when he spins around in his rolling chair, a matching lavender tie over his white dress shirt. His shirt-sleeves are rolled up, revealing strong forearms laced with faded scars and freckles.
Shinichi recognizes him immediately.
Kuroba is different, off the back of his motorbike. All the soft, mysterious lines of him have been transformed, and the moonlit glow in his dark purple eyes has been replaced with the sharp glint of the room’s sterile fluorescents.
His mouth has fallen open in genuine surprise, and Shinichi can’t read all of the micro-expressions that cross Kuroba’s face in that short instant, but Kuroba eventually settles on a sort of pleased smugness that Shinichi can’t for the life of him figure out a reason for.
With an arched brow, Kuroba sets down an inspection glass and gives Shinichi his full attention. “So we meet again, Detective.” He looks up at Shinichi through his thick lashes. “And so soon? I guess it really is fate.”
“You weren’t expecting me?” Shinichi asks, genuinely curious. He’s not sure what made Kuroba stop for him or give him a ride, but Shinichi has plenty of suspicion about this jewelry store, and he’s more than willing to believe Kuroba was feeling him out, even if he hadn’t gotten that impression last night. “I don’t believe in fate, or in destiny, really.”
“But I do. The whole Stoic philosophical approach, right?” Kuroba waves a hand dismissively. “Anyway, it really is surprising to see you here today, Detective. I had no idea you were out here last night to visit the store.”
He smiles, a crooked curve of his wide mouth, and Shinichi takes a good look at him, because features that had been obscured in the dark are now clear. Kuroba has an intrinsic friendliness of his face; for all that his lips are thin and his nose is sharp, the soft laugh lines at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth give Kuroba a softness that Shinichi should definitely be more hesitant to trust.
“I must have just missed closing time, then, if you hadn’t made your way home yet.” Shinichi sighs. “And I lean Epicurean, on the subject of fate. Human actions are voluntary, as long as they’re rational.”
“You only missed closing by about half an hour. I had just clocked out last night when I came upon my new favorite damsel-in-distress.” He indolently lazes back into his chair. “Offering cute boys rides is one of my many vices.”
“Having vices isn’t very Stoic of you.”
“I guess I’d better switch to something a little more modern and follow Carl Jung instead,” says Kuroba. “Either way, I was…” He shakes his head, his hair echoing the movement. “It’s funny, but I was thinking about someone I used to know who loved to solve mysteries, and then there you were, Detective Kudou. And now, here you are again.”
Shinichi isn’t sure what to make of that.
Scanning his face, Shinichi decides Kuroba’s telling the truth, or something close enough to it. His eyes drop to the sloppy knot of Kuroba’s tie, and then flit to his name tag. Kuroba Kaito, it reads, Gem Expert. “So you’re a gemologist.”
“At least during the day.” Kuroba wipes his palms on the front of his slacks, pulling one leg up into his chair with all the casual disdain for propriety of a high schooler. “And you’re the youngest full-rank detective on the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force, right, Kudou Shinichi?”
Shinichi hadn’t mentioned his first name last night. “You looked me up, then.” He tightens his hold on the manila folders stacked in his hands, the sturdy cardstock digging into his palms. “Creepy.”
“Did you really think I wouldn’t? We’ve practically snuggled. I had a right to look up your name.” Kuroba’s single dimple is deep when he grins charmingly at Shinichi. “I do have a raincheck I’d eventually like to cash in. It’s best to know exactly who owes you, I’ve found.” The way he says ‘owe’ rings as familiar as the way he says ‘detective’, and Shinichi squints at Kuroba, as though his smiling face will give up his secrets. “Especially when they’re handsome.”
“We didn’t… That wasn’t snuggling,” Shinichi replies, irritated, refusing to acknowledge the ‘handsome’ part of the statement as he approaches Kuroba’s workspace. The blatant suggestion in Kuroba’s tone has left him slightly off-balance, and from the amused twinkle in Kuroba’s eyes, Shinichi gets the impression that leaving him off-balance is quite possibly the point. “I’m here in a professional capacity.”
“I suppose I can save my flirtation for later, when I’m collecting on my raincheck.” Kuroba leans back in his chair as Shinichi closes the distance between them, and doesn’t bother standing up as would be polite. “Or are you just not interested in being flirted with at all?”
Kuroba’s workspace is cluttered, covered with magnifying glasses of varying strengths, cleaning rags, and stacks and stacks of plastic spiral-bound reference booklets. There are two black velvet cases stacked just behind his spotlight, and a third open one, filled with delicate gold wedding bands with embedded stones open, only one removed from the long line groove in the velvet.
“Generally,” Shinichi says, tearing his eyes away from the desk to look at Kuroba again, “I don’t like being flirted with.” He sets the manila case folders down on an empty metal table across from Kuroba’s space, then starts to search through them for the picture of Gotou’s ostentatious diamond ring, setting the folders aside one-by-one.
“That’s generally. So what about specifically?” Kuroba asks, making Shinichi’s fingers still at the edges of the folders. He pushes his chair away from his desk, and spins to slide up under the table Shinichi’s just commandeered, his left shoulder brushing Shinichi’s right thigh as he peers at the folders curiously.
“What?” Shinichi can’t help but steal another glance at Kuroba. From this angle, he can see the slope of Kuroba’s nose. It’s been broken at least twice, but healed mostly straight. He also notices that peeking just above the collar of Kuroba’s dress shirt in the back is the top of a thick, ropey scar, just alongside the bump at the top of his spine. A lumbar spinal fusion? A disk repair? “Specifically?”
“How do you feel about me, specifically? Flirting with you, I mean. Any opposition on principle?”
Shinichi can feel heat rushing up his neck to settle in his cheeks and ears, and the other man looks infinitely pleased to have drawn out the reaction before Shinichi tears his gaze away from him.
“I—” Shinichi quickly drops his gaze back to the folders, his shoulders tensing. “I feel that it’s not appropriate when I’m here on police business.”
“Police business is so boring,” Kuroba says. “I’d probably prefer circus business.”
Shinichi frowns, unimpressed. “Are you the junior or senior gemologist here?”
“Junior.” Kuroba makes his chair spin back and forth, using the toe of his white dress shoe as a brake. He’s childlike in his mannerisms, fidgeting in the chair like sitting still is an insurmountable task. “I started working here right after I graduated from Sophia six months ago. I’m at GIA’s Tokyo campus right now, finishing up my advanced gemology certifications.”
GIA, the Gemological Institute of America, is one of the two biggest gemology apprenticeship programs in the world. It’s incredibly selective, and Shinichi’s impressions of ‘Yuutaka’ as an extremely upscale business are all but confirmed, proximity to a yakuza neighborhood notwithstanding. And Kuroba’s timeline would place him as having started with GIA nearly two years ago, making him... “So that makes you, what, twenty-two?”
“Does that matter? Is this a first date?” He waits for Shinichi’s irritated eye roll before he corrects him. “Twenty-four. I took some time off after my second year of university.” He holds up his arms, drawing attention to the scars there. He doesn’t mention the one on his back. “Car accident. Had to go to rehabilitation.”
He shrugs it off like it’s nothing, but he’s sitting so close to Shinichi that when his muscles all tense up, Shinichi can feel it. It’s like a blaring siren in a silent room. Impossible to miss. “Must have been serious, to set you back two years.”
“I’m fine, now, obviously,” Kuroba continues, tone both lofty and warning Shinichi away from pursuing that thread of conversation. “The doctors were concerned I’d lose my hand-eye coordination, but…” He spins his chair again, to face Shinichi, and holds his hands out, palms up. Two uncut sapphires appear between the index and middle fingers of both hands, making Shinichi’s breath catch. Kuroba flips his hands back over, and the sapphires become emeralds. “It’s coming back, slowly but surely. It’s not like being a gemstone expert is the most physically demanding of occupations, anyway.”
“That would probably depend on several other factors,” Shinichi replies, without thinking about it, the words pulled from him without his permission. His tongue is thick, and he wishes he still had a pair of glasses to hide behind.
It’s not… It can’t be.
“Oh?” When Kuroba flips his hands again, the emeralds become sapphires again, and then, with a final flip, rubies. Kuroba’s nails are painted a soft pink, filed into perfect ovals. It makes his long, thin fingers look even longer. “And what factors are those?”
The thick black riding gloves yesterday hadn’t done Kuroba’s hands justice. Shinichi wonders how they would look in white gloves, and the tiny errant thought has him going still, the whisper of possibility sending goosebumps down the outsides of his arms.
“I can imagine several employment opportunities for an expert on gems that would require a great deal of physical prowess,” Shinichi says, deliberately.
Kuroba’s expression sharpens, and then he hums, amused. Shinichi’s stomach twists itself into knots. “Is that so, Detective?” He closes his hands, and the stones disappear.
“Especially if I take into account the sleight of hand.” Shinichi’s heart is rabbit-fast in his chest as he resumes thumbing through manila case folders until he reaches Gotou’s burglary report, second from the bottom. He opens it to pull out the insurance photos of her diamond ring, and spreads them out on the metal table. “Did you do this appraisal, Kuroba-san?”
“No, I didn’t personally appraise this ring, but I remember when she brought it in.” Kuroba’s lips turn down, slightly, and the concentration in his eyes is a stark contrast to the intentionally cultivated looseness of his body.
“When was that?”
“Three weeks ago or so? Something like that. Ugly thing, isn’t it?” He studies the photo. “I remember the woman, too. Rich, dressed like she’d never considered wearing a color that she hadn’t previously seen in a Manet painting, seemed completely unaware that her dead husband had bought this monstrosity for her to make up for the size of his dick.” Kuroba tapped a long finger on the photograph showcasing the main diamond. “The diamonds are African, obviously, probably from Angola, considering the year and the maker of the actual ring. It’s a Kuroiwa, and he had no qualms about using conflict diamonds. The setting is obviously a trend from—”
“The late eighties,” Shinichi finishes, nodding. “Maybe the early nineties. That’s the extent of my knowledge on the subject, though.”
“I think you know a lot, about a lot of different things,” Kuroba replies, a smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth. “I’ve heard you referred to as the Heisei Holmes, after all.” He clicks his nails against the metal table. “But in my opinion…” He trails off, and it’s so purposeful, his pause, that Shinichi feels anticipation crawling up his esophagus, clawing at the back of his throat. “Keep in mind that I’m more a fan of thieves than detectives, but so far, Detective, you strike me more as an… Edogawa Ranpo character than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s protagonist.” There’s no emphasis on Edogawa, but it punches Shinichi in the gut anyway. “After all, Sherlock Holmes had no knowledge of philosophy, right? And you have a barely hidden disdain for the Stoics.”
Kuroba’s voice is… The way he curls his tongue around vowels has suspicion hardening into certainty. Familiar to Shinichi, but with a face Shinichi’s never seen before.
Even his name, Shinichi thinks, is a play on words. Kuroba… Clover. He wonders if it’s a real one, or another alias, like Doito
“I’m not bad with literature, either,” Shinichi says. “I can’t box at all.” He shrugs. “I’d prefer to be known as nothing but myself, these days. There’s already a famous detective Kogoro, anyway.” And a group of Detective Boys. He picks up the closest photo, and notes, absently, that his hand is shaking. “What else can you tell me about this ring?”
“Besides the fact that economic boom jewelry was a dark time in our nation’s fashion history?” Kuroba says, sighing melodramatically. His voice is light and airy, but his eyes are still serious. “Without the ring here, I can’t tell you all that much that wouldn’t already be on the appraisal report. I’m sure we have that on file. What do you actually need to know for your investigation?”
“This ring was stolen.” Shinichi gathers the pictures, returning them to the manila envelope. “I wanted to ask if there was anything particularly important about the diamonds, but if you didn’t do the appraisal…”
“Stolen.” Kuroba’s eyebrows furrow, then relax. There’s a flicker of resignation. “I see.”
“You don’t sound shocked to hear that.” Shinichi watches Kuroba’s face carefully, lingering on his eyes, which darken as he continues to stare at the photos of the ring.
“There aren’t very many reasons the police would come here to ask questions about jewelry we’d appraised,” replies Kuroba. “Even easier to deduce if you’re aware that Kudou Shinichi investigates felonies.” His mouth twitches, bringing back his dimple. He’s lying, for the first time today: By omission, probably, but it’s still a lie. Shinichi slides one hand into his pocket, and clenches it into a fist while it’s out of sight. “The senior gemologist is on vacation. As I didn’t personally examine this piece, I can’t tell you very much, Detective.”
“What about any of these?” Shinichi opens each of the eleven case files, spreading them out on the table, and Kuroba looks from picture to picture, his lips pressing into a thin line.
“I appraised this one.” Kuroba stands from his seat for the first time to point at the second file, and this close, Shinichi notices he’s a few centimeters taller, and that along with oil and rubbing alcohol, he also smells of a citrusy shampoo. “And these two.” The tenth and eleventh files. “They were all genuine diamonds of extremely high quality- superior color and clarity. This one…” He indicates the last file. “One of the most spectacular princess-cut diamonds I’ve ever seen, and I’ve…” seen a lot of gemstones, Shinichi completes automatically in his head. “The carat weight was unreal.” He exhales heavily, casting his gaze up to the corner of the room. “All stolen?”
“All allegedly stolen,” Shinichi confirms, following Kuroba’s gaze to find a CCTV camera. “Some of them have been recovered, though, or ended up just having been put in a different place than the owner had thought they’d left it.”
“That must have been a relief,” Kuroba replies, but it’s dry, knowing, like he’s reached the same conclusion as Shinichi.
Stolen, then returned, with the owner none the wiser.
Kuroba’s looking at each piece of jewelry quickly but thoroughly, memorizing them, and instinct tells Shinichi that if he were to close all of the folders right now, Kuroba would be able to describe the mentioned pieces of jewelry in precise detail without mistake. “Is there anything else I can help you with today, Detective? If not, I should get back to work, fate or no fate.”
Shinichi purses his lips. “Well,” he says, “I’d like to see if you can look through your appraisal histories and find the pieces you don’t personally recognize. I plan to ask the owners of the missing items, as well, but verification always helps.”
“Some of them may have been appraised elsewhere,” Kuroba says, and his gaze flits back to the camera before meeting Shinichi’s. There’s sound on the CCTV, then. What Shinichi isn’t sure about is why Kuroba is informing him about it. “‘Yuutaka’ has only recently started doing appraisal work as more than a side-courtesy.”
“Around six months ago, would you say?” Shinichi asks, remembering Kuroba’s claim that he’d come to work here approximately half a year ago.
“Oh, longer than that,” Kuroba replies, not looking away from Shinichi. “Almost a year, I think.” He runs his tongue along his teeth, drawing attention to his sharp canines. “I’ve got to finish with these rings before lunch, so off you go, Detective~!”
Shinichi gathers his folders, pulling the stack of them against his chest. “Thank you for your time, Kuroba-san. I’ll be in touch if I need to know anything further.”
Kuroba blinks at him, and then lowers his eyelids again to half-mast, obscuring the bright color of his eyes with the thick spread of his dark lashes.
Mascara again. It suits him, Shinichi thinks, before he can remind himself that there’s a difference between noticing something and having an opinion about it.
“I’ll be in touch if I think of anything else, as well.” Kuroba quirks a grin, and holds up one of the name cards Shinichi keeps in his wallet, pinched between his thumb and first finger, reminiscent of the way he’d made those sapphires change, disappear, even with his sleeves rolled up and nowhere to hide them. “Got your phone number right here, Detective.”
Surprised, Shinichi grabs for his wallet, but it’s right where he left it, even the rubber band he keeps around it to ensure it stays closed hasn’t moved. “You…” That kind of skill… That’s the most familiar thing about Kuroba, isn’t it? Shinichi knows that skill, and his heart is in his throat. “Are you…”
Breaking bones. So much blood. Shinichi, trapped in a small body, unable to do anything at all to help.
All the words he wants to say are stilled behind his teeth by the presence of the CCTV, and knows this isn’t the time or the place to start asking those kinds of questions, even if Kuroba had intentionally laid the clues out for him to gather.
Because he had. In his own way, Kuroba is shouting the truth right into Shinichi’s ear.
“I’ll let you know when’s good for coffee,” Kuroba says, quietly, and he snaps his fingers, the name card disappearing, replaced by a small, single white tulip, just out of season. “Until fate has us meeting again by moonlight, Kudou Shinichi.” He offers him the flower, and numbly, Shinichi takes it.
It’s not a rose, but it’s enough.
Shinichi, winded, nods and lets himself out.
Back in his own car, Shinichi watches the towing company slide the Camry up onto their tow truck as he forces himself to skim through his e-mail messages, ignoring the tulip sitting on top of the stack of case folders in his passenger seat.
Only a few of them are worthy of genuine responses: two from Professor Agasa, letting him know that he’s made a few improvements to Shinichi’s new prescription reading glasses, and one from his dad, asking Shinichi’s opinion on the new Night Baron novel he’d lost sleep reading a couple of days ago. He’s answering one of the professor’s when his phone vibrates.
It’s a text from an unknown number. coffee on saturday night? It’s casual, written like Shinichi is an old friend instead of a new acquaintance, and Shinichi’s thumb hesitates over the keyboard.
Work until eleven that night, Shinichi finally replies, before saving the number to his phone with a symbol instead of a name. The day after?
i’m not the busiest boy on sundays, so i can stay up past my bedtime if genius detectives can~ 😜
Shinichi stares down at the text, uncertain. Kuroba is… Shinichi thinks about the intelligence behind his eyes, and the easy way he’d handled the motorbike. He thinks about the way Kuroba had purposefully showed off his sleight of hand for Shinichi, daring him to make something of it, and that peek of a scar that ran along Kuroba’s spine.
Sure, he replies. Meet me at my station?
i’m not a huge fan of police stations, just so you know, detective. try not to make bringing me there a habit 🙁
Swallowing, Shinichi closes out of the text thread, and scrolls through his contacts until he finds Haibara. Did you go to school today?
I’m a dutiful junior high student, comes her swift response. Of course I did. What do you want, Kudou-kun?
I need you to research someone for me.
You’re a police officer now, despite my best efforts to steer you away from the force. You don’t need me to look up suspects. You can use official channels.
Shinichi bites his lip. He’s not a suspect.
Haibara’s response is swift. I’m not doing any more background checks on your dates.
Shinichi’s only been on three dates in the past five years, all with the same woman, and in his defense, the woman had turned out to be a serial killer when he’d had Haibara look into her time abroad when too many details weren’t adding up. Shinichi’s not sure why she still holds it against him.
I don’t want to put any flags on him in the system, Shinichi continues, pretending like he hasn’t received the previous text.
What, no denial about it being a date?
It’s not, Shinichi replies immediately. His name is Kuroba Kaito. He says he was in a car crash about four years ago.
But you don’t believe him. Shinichi waits for Haibara to continue. And yet, you don’t want to flag him in the system.
Dextrous hands. Warmth. The smell of oil and lemon and rubbing alcohol. The way the word ’tantei’ rolled off Kuroba’s tongue like a taunt. It’s been years, and maybe Shinichi’s being silly to think Kaitou KID would fall into his lap like this after all this time assuming he’d never see him again, but Kuroba is trying to tell him something.
Might be nothing, he types. Worth checking out, though.
In exchange, you owe me and the kids lunch this weekend, Haibara replies. Additionally, I want a full explanation.
Yeah, okay, Shinichi answers, before setting his phone aside and following the tow truck in the direction of the expressway.
“Where did you find him?” she asks, as soon as he’s within earshot.
Shinichi sits down next to her, leaving a good third of a meter between them, out of elbow-reach, which is how teenage-bodied Haibara has taken to reprimanding him.
“He found me. The car accident?”
“Completely real on paper,” Haibara tells him. “There’s a crushed car, a hit-and-run report filed with the Ekoda police, and a paper trail of physical rehabilitation and medical insurance payouts that match perfectly, date-wise.”
“But?” Shinichi asks, because there’s always a ‘but’. “Don’t tell me he’s a serial killer.”
“You know he isn’t,” Haibara says. “Kuroba Kaito, twenty-four, son of Kuroba Toichi.”
“The famous magician?”
“One and the same. He has an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Sophia University, and he’s currently—”
“An advanced gemology student at GIA, I know.” Shinichi hunches forward, his eyes on the street. “He gave me a tulip, today. Made it appear out of nowhere. Made sapphires appear out of nowhere, too, with a level of sleight of hand I’ve only ever seen from one person before.” He exhales. “He’s got a scar on his spine that looks like a rope, and scars that stretch up his forearms… And his voice is…”
“It’s him,” Haibara says. “You already knew it was him, before you asked me to look him up.”
“I wasn’t sure if it was his real identity, or yet another alias. I wasn’t sure…” He swallows. “I didn’t want to be wrong.”
Haibara studies him, and Shinichi doesn’t need to look at her to feel the weight of her gaze. “You’ve always been strange about Kaitou KID. You’ve treated him differently from every other criminal you’ve encountered since the beginning, and he helped, several times, in fending off the Black Org, in the end. You thought he’d died for it.”
“I saw him die for it,” Shinichi replies. He closes his eyes, and thinks back to their encounter last night. “He recognized me, last night, but he didn’t… It wasn’t obvious, really. This morning was different. He referenced Edogawa Ranpo as an opening salvo.”
Haibara taps her foot against the stone. “So, he decided to let you know who he is sometime between yesterday and today. Why?”
Kuroba’s sharp glance at the camera. The way he’d been sparing in his responses about his appraisal work, and had been so utterly unsurprised by Shinichi’s assertion that a diamond ring had been stolen.
“He wants my help,” Shinichi replies, opening his eyes in realization. “He’s telling me because he wants to involve me in whatever he’s up to.”
“And what,” Haibara asks, archly, “is he up to, Kudou-kun?”
“Well,” Shinichi says, “felony theft, at the very least.”
Haibara huffs a dry laugh. “Nothing new, then,” she says, and leans all the way left until she’s close enough to stab him with her elbow. “Don’t die.”
“Not planning on it,” replies Shinichi, before he shivers from the evening chill.
Shinichi doesn’t look up from where he’s sifting through a few files from last October that haven’t been digitized yet for the last address and says: “Just a few follow-ups on that case you gave me yesterday.”
“Follow-ups?” Nakahara is glaring when Shinichi puts his pen down and meets his gaze. “That case was a stupid theft case, and it was probably the woman’s son.” He briefly averts his gaze, and Shinichi bites down on the urge to snap “you’re lying.”
Because he is. His flushed neck, tight jaw, and his eyes darting off as he speaks are just more checkmarks on Fryling’s list of developmental-behavioral tells indicating falsehood.
“It wasn’t,” Shinichi replies, finally. “He’s out of town on business, and has an alibi. She also dotes on him, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have reported it stolen at all if he’d been the one to take it.”
“Unless she wanted the insurance money,” blusters Nakahara. The tightness in his jaw is developing into a tick. “We’ve been getting a lot of these cases, lately. But as soon as we get involved, the missing jewelry shows up again. It’s clearly a play for money.”
“I’m pretty sure it isn’t.” Shinichi picks up his car keys. “I can confirm already that a significant number of these pieces were all appraised at the same jewelry shop. I’m going to go and check on the security systems at these apartment buildings, too.”
“You really think you’re clever, don’t you?” Nakahara says, and there’s the quickest flash of fury in his eyes. It makes Shinichi want to take a step back, but he stifles the urge. “Are you trying to turn this little nothing case into some big conspiracy to inflate that ego of yours, Kudou?”
“No,” Shinichi says, rubbing at his face to hide his frustration. He knows Nakahara wants him to be incompetent, wants him to roll over on this case in the same way he has on several others, once he’d determined there was no harm in things remaining publicly unsolved. But dropping a case like this to soothe Nakahara’s pride isn’t in the cards. That’s not who Shinichi is, and if Nakahara didn’t want him to crack this case, he shouldn’t have given it to him. “I’m trying to find a missing ring, which ended up being a smaller part of something larger. I’m just doing my job, Detective Nakahara. That’s all.”
Nakahara sneers at him. “Enjoy your wild goose chase, Kudou, but not on police time. There’s been a death at the subway station. Maybe a suicide.” Nakahara jingles a set of keys in front of him. Another Camry, it looks like. “I’ve registered us for a new car while ours is in the shop. Let’s go, Rookie. I get off at five today.”
Shinichi unlocks his desk drawer, and pulls out his weapon and holster.
Shirokane-Takanawa station is busy even at three o’clock, people bustling in and out of the station. He trails a step behind Nakahara as they descend down the steps and into the station proper, skirting the ticket machines and showing their badges to the guard at the turnstiles, who buzzes them through.
There’s a throng of people clustered by the subway tracks, where caution tape has roped off a large area. The train arrival sign is blinking out of service, the last previous train frozen at ‘2:01PM’, like a grim announcement of time of death.
“I hate jumpers,” Shinichi overhears one man saying as he ducks under the tape. “I have a meeting in thirty minutes, and the trains are always slow when they’re single-tracking.”
Shinichi expects there to be a local officer or two from the nearby police box waiting for them, and it’s a shock, instead, to see a full team team already swarming the scene, and Detective Takagi standing there at the edge of the platform, his tiny inherited notebook out as he talks to a woman with a tear-streaked face, clutching her handbag.
“And you didn’t see anything else?” Takagi is asking, as Shinichi and Nakahara approach. “Nothing else you’d categorize as suspicious?”
“No,” the woman says, tucking a long strand of dark hair behind her ear. “He was nervous, but I thought he was just… I don’t know, running late. He kept fiddling with something in his pocket, but… It didn’t seem important. He did have a black eye, though. I thought that was strange.”
“Was there anything else strange?”
“Not really.” She makes a horrified sob. “One minute he was standing next to me, waiting for the train, and the next…” She shoots a look down at the tracks, and Shinichi follows her gaze, wincing at the splattered human remains. It’s disgusting, and Shinichi is glad not to be one of the hazard suit-wearing forensic specialists picking up pieces of the man from the tracks. “It was awful!”
“Thank you for your time, ma’am,” Takagi says, producing one of his cards. “If you think of anything else, give me a call.”
“Of course, Detective,” she replies, tucking the card into her handbag and taking a large step back before heading toward the edge of the caution-taped area.
“Detective Takagi,” Shinichi says, respectfully, nodding as Takagi turns to greet them. He seems surprised to see Shinichi, and blinks a couple of times to clear his vision before offering him a grim smile.
“Kudou-kun,” he says, “long time no see. Have you heard from—”
“This is a Takanawa case,” Nakahara says, gruffly, interrupting Takagi. “You’re from Beika. What are you doing here?”
Not expecting the aggression, Takagi’s gaze shifts to Nakahara in surprise. “I was in the area tracking a lead from a missing person case.” He tucks his notebook away inside his suit jacket, and then casts his gaze down at the track. “I suppose he’s not missing anymore.”
Nakahara grunts in acknowledgement, and then marches off to interrogate the two officers from their jurisdiction who’d called the case in to their station, leaving Shinichi and Takagi standing alone.
“Anything interesting?” Shinichi asks, to break the slightly awkward silence.
Takagi hooks his finger in his tie and loosens it slightly. “Yeah, and I could certainly use your eyes on this. The Detective Boys would have wrapped this case up already, probably.” He clears his throat. “Although, maybe not without Conan-kun.”
Shinichi licks his lips. They’ve never really acknowledged that particular Kudou-Shinichi-and-Edogawa-Conan-have-the-same-fingerprints elephant, and this probably isn’t the time. “Have you already identified the guy?” He waves an arm toward the tracks.
“There’s not much left to identify, but from what we can see from the security footage, it was definitely Hagiwara Shouto.”
“Who was a missing person,” Shinichi prompts.
Takagi coughs, uncomfortably. “Yes, we’ve been looking for him for months now. We found the bodies of his wife and daughter in his home last September, and they were… weird. We thought he might be a burgeoning serial killer, especially because the markings matched a few other mysterious deaths over the past few months, but it could be a copycat.” Takagi shakes his head, like he wants to clear the image from his mind. “Many of his important effects were missing from the home, too.”
“Wallet, car keys, mobile phone…” Shinichi nods. “So, Occam’s Razor, he murdered them and made a run for it?”
“It was a possibility,” Takagi says. “The most likely scenario, at least. Only, some of the things missing were strange. All of his work uniforms, and his briefcase were missing, too, and yet he hasn’t been into work at all since he disappeared.”
“Work uniforms?” Shinichi narrows his eyes at Takagi, and, with a sigh, pulls out his evidence gloves, slipping his hands into them before crossing the platform to where forensics has set up collection to grab a set of plastic shoe-covers. “What kind of work did Hagiwara-san do?”
“He was an engineer,” Takagi says, trailing behind him. “A system specialist.”
Shinichi takes a deep breath. “Let me guess,” he says. “He worked for RG.”
Takagi gapes at him. “How did you…” Then his expression firms. “You know something about this case, Kudou-kun?”
“Maybe,” Shinichi replies, before he jumps down from the platform into the well of the tracks, ignoring the ache in his knees. He glares in Nakahara’s direction, watching his mentor bark reprimands at the local officers, and shakes his head. “I’ll drop by Beika Station tonight to talk about it, if you’re going to be on duty.”
“I will be,” Takagi replies. “The amount of paperwork waiting for me on this case…”
“You mean it doesn’t get better?” Shinichi asks, only a little ashamed that there’s a whine in his voice. “I thought I was being hazed.”
“It does,” Takagi says. “I just don’t have a partner right now. Since Satou and I got married, we’re not allowed to do field work together. Regulation. So all the paperwork for my cases falls to me until Inspector Megure assigns me a new long-term partner.” He follows Shinichi from the edge of the platform. “What are you looking for?”
Shinichi pulls out his phone and turns on the flashlight. “The witness you were talking to said he was fiddling with something in his pocket. Even if just a piece of whatever it was survived, it might be an important clue as to what Hagiwara-san was up to, these past few months.”
“But you have an idea already,” Takagi says. He doesn’t even sound impatient, just calm and steady, like he knows Shinichi will get to the point eventually.
“I do,” Shinichi replies. “I’ve been working on a case.” He scans the darkest corners of the tracks, looking for glints of light. “Jewel theft. I want to see if you have any cases at Beika that match the parameters.”
“Should be in the new digital database. We finished inputting everything last month. Inspector Megure hired it out.”
“I don’t have full access yet.” Shinichi shoots Takagi a sharp grin. “I’m a rookie, remember?”
“If they’re treating you like a rookie,” Takagi says, “then they didn’t take Inspector Megure’s letter of recommendation seriously.” He scratches the back of his head. “I, uh, proofread it for him. It was pretty glowing.”
“Yeah?” Something catches the light, and Shinichi immediately squats down to get a better look. The smell is disgusting, and he swallows back bile as he leans in, lifting the flashlight higher to change the angle of the light.
And there, glinting out from underneath a nauseating sliver of human skin and tissue, is Gotou-san’s ring.
He reaches out, and Takagi drops to his knees on the platform, trying to see what Shinichi’s looking at. “Did you find what you were looking for, Kudou-kun?”
“I need an evidence bag,” Shinichi replies, nudging the flesh aside with his pinky and picking up the ring. It’s covered in blood. “One of yours.”
“You want it to go back to my station, not yours?”
“Yes. I’ll take a look at it when I get off work.”
Takagi frowns at him. “That’s fine,” he says, and then, after a long moment: “Things are that bad at your station?”
“They’re not,” Shinichi says, and accepts the offered evidence bag, dropping the ring inside and sealing it up. It’s right on time, too, as Nakahara is coming back over.
“Beika police are taking over on this case,” he says, clearly angry about it. “They have prior claim. Let’s head back to the station and leave them to it.”
“I’m coming,” Shinichi replies. He walks all the way down to the access ladder and climbs back up to the platform, taking off his evidence gloves and tossing them into the trash, then removing his boot-covers.
“What,” Nakahara says snidely, as they walk back to the car, “no protest that you can solve the mystery better than anyone else can, Rookie?”
“Detective Takagi is an extremely competent investigator,” Shinichi replies, and then, because Nakahara doesn’t know anything about him, he lies: “I don’t need to stick my nose into cases that aren’t mine.”
“Good,” Nakahara says, lighting up a cigarette as he turns on the car, filling the air with smoke that sits thick in Shinichi’s weak lungs.
He flashes his badge to Officer Yumi, who’s manning the desk, and she smiles at him distantly, without any recognition, and waves him by.
Detective Chiba’s desk is closest to the door, and he looks up and squints at Shinichi with vague recognition. “Detective Kudou?”
Shinichi swallows. “It’s Chiba, right?” When Chiba nods, Shinichi continues. “I’m here to see Detective Takagi. We’ve got a case overlap.”
“He and Detective Satou went to pick up dinner. They should be back any second now.” Chiba returns to whatever he was doing, because for him, Shinichi is barely more than a stranger, even if they’d worked together briefly during the giant sting operation to take down the last dregs of the Black Org.
“That’s great,” replies Shinichi, and he heads toward Takagi’s desk, close to the entrance of Megure’s private office, since there’s nothing more to say. He leans back against the desk, crossing his legs at the ankles, and pulls out his phone. There’s a missed call from Haibara, and a text message that just says: Call me immediately, Kudou.
He furrows his eyebrows. At Beika HQ, he replies, and then, after a moment’s consideration, types a second message. You found him.
I’m not going to text you about this, Haibara replies, which is answer enough.
Shinichi runs a hand through his hair. I’ll drop by to see you on my way home.
Haibara doesn’t answer, which means approval, and Shinichi tucks his phone away again as he hears voices coming down the hall. Takagi enters the room, first, carrying far too many bags of takeaway food, with Satou close behind him, carrying several bags of her own. Bringing up the rear, with the last of the late night shift’s dinner, is Mouri Ran, her long hair swinging as she laughs and jokes with Satou.
She’s beautiful, as always, and Shinichi drinks her in, re-learning her smile and taking in the bits of her that have changed, as well as all the bits that haven’t.
Her smile falls from her face the moment she sees him, and Satou puts a hand on her shoulder. “Ran-chan, everything okay?”
“Yes, absolutely, sorry, I just thought of something.” Ran says, and then she deliberately looks away from Shinichi, setting her load of takeaway down on the office’s big center table.
Satou and Takagi both notice him, then, and Satou looks back and forth between Shinichi and Ran while Takagi offers him a smile. “Kudou-kun, I wasn’t sure when you were coming! Let me just take Inspector Megure his dinner and then you can catch me up.”
“Sure,” Shinichi says, with a half-grin, and watches Takagi walk away.
Satou looks like she wants to say something, but then the phone at her desk rings, and she glowers at it briefly before resignedly going to answer it.
Shinichi doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything. He just stands there, useless, all the confidence that used to come so easily to him absent in the face of his first, estranged love.
“I wasn’t planning on staying,” Ran says, eventually, meeting his gaze again. “I’ve got to get home and make dinner.” She wraps her arms around herself, and Shinichi knows she’s about to leave. He doesn’t want that. Not yet.
“Ran, don’t—” he says, before he catches himself.
“You don’t get to ask me to stay, Shinichi,” she says quietly, not wanting anyone else to hear her. Her expression is tight, more sad than angry.
“Sorry, I…” He gestures to Takagi. “I wasn’t planning to run into anyone. I came to see Detective Takagi about a case I’m working on. I won’t be here long, so you don’t have to leave on my account.”
Ran looks him up and down, taking in his police uniform, and the gun holstered at his shoulder under his unbuttoned suit jacket. “I wasn’t planning on staying,” she repeats, and, after a brief hesitation, she adds: “I thought you’d end up being a private investigator, not an officer.” She frowns. “A detective.”
“I considered it,” he replies, shrugging. “I think your dad’s cornered the market on flashy private eyes, though.” He knows it’s the wrong thing to say the moment the words leave his mouth, and he winces, looking away. “I just meant… He’s doing well. I thought I might be able to make a difference, working for the police instead.”
She frowns, but her eyes soften. “Solving a lot of cases?”
“Haven’t worked many, yet.” He scratches at his cheek, and feels the faint hint of stubble. “I graduated from the police academy not too long ago. I’m stationed at Takanawa.”
She nods, and starts to turn away. But then she stops, and looks over her shoulder. “You’ve been seeing the kids,” she says. “Mitsuhiko-kun, Genta-kun, Ayumi-chan and Ai-chan.” Her lips tremble. “Kudou Shinichi sees them.”
“They’re my friends,” Shinichi replies, quietly. “Why wouldn’t I see them?”
“Friends aren’t people you lie to for years,” says Ran, and with that parting shot, she’s walking out of the office, Satou’s eyes watching her as she goes.
Takagi emerges from Megure’s office with one less bag, and he bends over his keyboard, accessing Beika’s police database. “Here’s everything I have on Hagiwara,” he says. “What makes you so interested in him? And why did you send this”—he gestures to the bloody ring, safe in an evidence bag—“with me?”
“I’m still within my first year of service,” Shinichi replies, scanning the available information. Hagiwara Shouto, fifty-six years old, employed by RG for the past twenty years as a system engineer and maintenance specialist. Exactly, Shinichi thinks, the kind of person who would have an override card. “I’m not supposed to take cases alone yet, but my partner handed off an assignment to me to handle by myself. I think he assumed it was a simple burglary. A busy work case to take me off his hands for a little while.” He frowns. “When he found out I was still working on it, he wasn’t happy.”
“You think there’s a reason for that?” Takagi looks at his screen.
“I’m not sure,” Shinichi hedges. “This is the ring that was reported stolen yesterday, from a building updated with the latest RG security system, directly from an RG locked safe, with no signs of forced entry.”
“And you just found the ring in the possession of a dead RG system engineer wanted for two murders.”
“That’s not all,” Shinichi replies, and pulls out a now-crumpled list of addresses. “There’s been a spate of similar crimes: jewelry stolen, no sign of forced entry. Sometimes it’s shown up again, the owners deciding they misplaced it, or a good Samaritan turning the piece in to the local police box. I made a few calls before I left work, and it turns out all of them are using the new RG system.” Shinichi takes command of Takagi’s mouse, clicking through to view the crime scene photos from the murder of Hagiwara’s wife and child. They’re gruesome, but Shinichi can’t smell anything from photographs, which makes it ninety percent better than the train station earlier this afternoon. “Furthermore, at least four of them were appraised at the same jewelry store, after fliers were passed out door to door advertising their services in RG-secured buildings.”
“You think it’s a scheme,” Takagi says, “and that Hagiwara was a part of it.”
“I don’t think he killed his wife and child, either.” Shinichi stares at the corpses on screen, taking in the way Hagiwara Kyoko, the wife, had been bludgeoned to death before her body had been spread out and mutilated. Her body had been spread-eagled, like the Vitruvian man, and marks had been carved into her stomach. “Look at this head-wound.” Shinichi points to the angle. “She was hit from behind, but the damage is to the lower side of her skull. That indicates the attacker was shorter than her, and Hagiwara-san had a good twenty centimeters on her in height.” He switches to the picture of the teenage daughter, positioned just as her mother had been. “Look at these bruises on her wrist. They’re from human hands, but…” Shinichi scrolls down several pages. “You can see, from this family photo, that Hagiwara-san had huge hands. These finger marks on his daughter belong to someone smaller.”
“I hadn’t noticed, what with all the weird ritual marks,” Takagi says. “So that means they were killed by someone short?”
“And probably a woman,” Shinichi adds. “The fingernail marks. Men usually cut their nails shorter.” He swallows. “I’d look back into those other murders you mentioned earlier, and see if you can’t find some kind of connecting thread between them.”
Takagi stares at him. “I believe you,” he says, simply, and it’s such a relief that Shinichi slumps. “So how big do you think this is, Kudou-kun?” He taps his chin. “It doesn’t seem like they’d make a lot of profit, stealing jewels one by one, and the murders...”
“Diamonds,” Shinichi says. “Antique diamonds. That’s the angle I’m looking into first.” He looks away from the laptop and down at the ring. “I think they’re stealing a lot more of them than I’ve discovered. After all, Gotou-san’s ring was only discovered missing at all because one of her neighbors defaced her door.”
“Stealing a diamond and then giving it back doesn’t make sense,” Takagi says. “You say some of them turned up again, but this isn’t Kaitou KID we’re dealing with. What did the thieves gain from taking it and then returning it?”
Shinichi stares at the ring, thinking. What is the goal? It isn’t like they can resell a ring they don’t keep, and the diamonds are still there, so it’s not like… Shinichi’s eyes widen. “It’s the diamonds,” he says. “They gain authentic, antique diamonds that’ll pass any evaluation overseas.” He pulls out his phone. This isn’t Kaitou KID we’re dealing with, Takagi had said, and he’s right, but maybe... “I need to call an expert.”
Shinichi pulls up his contacts. The first one is represented by nothing but a four-leaf clover. “The biggest expert I know, I think.” He selects the number, and lets the phone ring.
“Hello, Detective,” Kuroba says. “Can’t say I was expecting you this time either?”
“Are you still at work?” Shinichi asks, and he hears Kuroba’s breath hitch on the other end of the line.
“No,” he says. “I’m at dinner with a friend of mine.” Shinichi hears a woman’s voice in the background, with a sharp “Kaito, who are you talking to?”, and he presses the phone closer to his ear. “You’re a day early. Is this a personal call or a professional one?”
“Professional,” Shinichi replies. “Are you in Ekoda right now? I…” He runs his tongue along his teeth. “I have something I’d like you to take a look at the Beika police station, if you can.”
“Our relationship isn’t going to go well if you keep taking me to police stations, Detective Kudou. It’s kinky, but not my particular kink.” He hears a sharp, reprimanding “Kaito!”, and Kuroba laughs, husky on the line.
It’s him. Shinichi doesn’t need to talk to Haibara to be sure, anymore. He doesn’t think he needed to in the first place.
“Liar,” Shinichi replies, and then blushes, thankful Kuroba won’t see it. “I think… I think you’ll be interested in taking a look at this, if I’m right.”
“You’re usually right, aren’t you?” Kuroba asks, and it’s a question, but at the same time, it isn’t. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you,” Shinichi says, ending the call before Kuroba can say anything else. At Takagi’s searching look, Shinichi clears his throat. “Kuroba-san is a gemologist. He’ll be able to look at the diamond and give us a professional opinion.”
Takagi nods, and then circles his desk, walking over to the center table and grabbing a plastic dinner container. Inside is a hamburger steak and rice, both covered in a thick brown gravy. “You don’t mind if I eat, do you?”
“Not at all,” Shinichi says, and navigates his way to the coffee machine, starting it up to brew a fresh pot before heading to the front to alert Officer Yumi that Kuroba would be coming in to speak with him and Takagi.
Kuroba arrives in exactly fifteen minutes, sauntering into the office still wearing his work uniform—the same crisp white trousers and lavender vest, his tie neat and his hair a disaster.
He grins as he approaches Shinichi, his hands in his pockets, his eyes taking in the exact details of the room, evaluating exits and measuring floor-space. “Here I am, as requested,” he says, when his eyes finally land on Shinichi again. “What can I do for my favorite handsome detective?”
Takagi chokes on his last bite of hamburger steak, and Shinichi rubs at his face. “I don’t like to be flirted with when I’m working,” he reminds Kuroba.
Kuroba laughs. “You’re always working when I see you,” he replies. “You’ll ruin all my fun.”
“Kudou-kun?” Takagi asks. “Is this the expert?”
Kuroba’s eyes shift to Takagi. There it is, a flicker of recognition, before it’s stifled, replaced by a wide grin. “I’m Kuroba Kaito,” he says, his gaze sliding back to Shinichi. “What have you got?”
“We found that ring,” Shinichi says, and he picks up the evidence bag, holding it out to Kuroba.
Kuroba takes it, grimacing at the blood inside the bag before he cups the actual ring in his palm, pushing the extra bag out of the way to examine the stones. “Did you find this on a body?”
“What’s left of one,” Shinichi replies. Kuroba winces. “Is it what I’m thinking?”
Kuroba digs in his pocket and pulls out his key ring. He has a pocket knife and a bottle opener amongst a collection of at least twelve keys, but he picks out a slim black square, sliding up on it with his thumb to reveal a miniature magnifying glass.
“Scratches on the setting, lack of luster in the stone… It’s cubic zirconia.” He looks back up at Shinichi. “A fake diamond. The real one’s been removed and replaced.”
“And how much do you want to bet,” Shinichi replies, “that all of the jewelry that was ‘found’ has cubic zirconia in place of their antique diamonds?”
Takagi makes an understanding noise as Kuroba shakes his head. “I don’t take losing bets, Detective,” he says. His eyebrows are still crushed together. “And that bet? Is definitely a loser.”
“You’ve suspected that’s what was happening, right?” Shinichi reclaims the bag with the ring. “You weren’t able to discuss it with me this morning, because in your lab, you’re being watched. Sound and video on the CCTV.”
“You never miss much, do you, Kudou Shinichi?” Kuroba buffs his nails against the silk front of his vest.
“Were you planning to talk to me about this on Saturday when we went out for coffee?” Shinichi asks, and Takagi’s noise this time is slightly strangled.
“Not at all,” Kuroba replies. “After all, I can’t flirt with you when you’re doing your job.” He winks, and Shinichi, flushing with embarrassment, almost drops the ring.
“Is that all you needed me for?”
“That’s all, but I’ll walk you out.” He sets the bag back down on the table, and looks back at Takagi. “I’m going to verify that the other diamonds that were returned were fake, and…” He presses his lips into a thin line. “And see which detectives and officers were involved with the previous burglaries.”
“I’m going to reopen the murders of Hagiwara’s wife and daughter, and look at the list of alternative suspects. See if I can figure out why they were killed and then carved up like that.” Takagi gives Shinichi a long look of consideration. “I’ll be in touch, Kudou-kun.”
“Thanks, Detective Takagi,” Shinichi says quietly, and he follows Kuroba out of the station and into the cold.
Kuroba’s bike is parked across the street, right behind Shinichi’s car, but instead of walking toward it, Kuroba reaches out and snags the arm of Shinichi’s jacket. “This way,” he says, leading Shinichi down the block, in the direction of Poirot and the Mouri Detective Agency.
He stops long before they get there, though, just behind the Beika Memorial Hospital, and tugs down a set of fire escape stairs.
“Where are you taking me, exactly?” Shinichi asks. “You’re not exactly inspiring confidence.”
“These lead to the roof of the children’s library.” Kuroba looks at him, and the moon glimmers in his hair and illuminates his eyes. His mouth is pink and soft in the almost night. “You don’t need me to inspire confidence. You can take care of yourself. I want to talk to you somewhere where there aren’t any cameras, for once.”
“There’s always my home,” Shinichi says.
Kuroba laughs. “Taking me home with you is a third date activity, Detective. You haven’t even taken me on our first one, yet.”
“Make sure you keep your weight on your heels,” Kuroba says, still laughing, his teeth white as the moon in the dark. “Otherwise it makes a racket, on the way up. Not a marvel of engineering, these stairs.”
The moon has started to wane, only three-quarters visible in the sky above them as Kuroba pulls him across the roof, leading him to the railing. He sits down with his back to it, though, instead of looking out over it. His left leg is stretched out in front of him, and Shinichi has noticed he doesn’t bend it much. It’s a problem with the knee, possibly, or a connecting tendon.
No one makes it out completely unscathed from being shot and tumbling off a building.
“Does being up this high scare you, now?” Shinichi asks, sitting down next to him, close enough that their pinkies brush. It sends a shiver through him.
“Not really,” Kuroba says, not missing a beat. “An object in motion remains in motion, Newton’s First Law. I was the object, falling was the motion. I’m…” He closes his eyes. “It’s the ground I’m afraid of. That’s the part that hurt.” He opens his eyes again. “One of the last things I saw, as I fell, were your scared eyes, Edogawa Conan.”
“I had nightmares for months,” Shinichi replies, quietly. “I’m…” He looks up at the moon. “I’m so glad you’re alive. It’s been years, but I never stopped remembering…”
“I’m honored,” Kuroba teases. “You barely knew me.”
“I knew your character.” Shinichi edged his hand just a little closer, reassured by the hint of a touch. “I knew that you’d gone out of your way to save me, and that Gin put a bullet in you to keep you from doing it again.”
“You made it without me, though. I saw it on the news. A major underground organization brought down by an unnamed civilian detective.” Kuroba chuckles. “Knew it was you.” His laugh trails off. “No idea how you got big again, though. Or how you got small in the first place.”
“Not even close, Detective.” He lifts his right hand, closes it into a fist, and when he opens it, there’s a giant diamond in his palm. “You had the smart girl look me up, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Shinichi replies.
“She’s scary.” Kuroba spins the diamond on the tip of his finger. It swallows the moonlight. “She find out anything interesting?”
“How did you stage the car crash?”
Kuroba tosses the diamond in the air, and catches it when it falls level with his hand. Newton’s First Law. “I didn’t. My assistant did. I wasn’t in the position to make any decisions for a long while there.” He stares down at his hand, opening it to reveal the diamond again. “I’m sorry, for what it’s worth. That you had to see that.”
They sit without speaking for a few minutes, and Shinichi watches Kuroba sing under his breath and do trick after trick with the diamond, marvelling at the dexterity of his hands.
“How long have you been tracking the diamond thefts?” Shinichi says, breaking the silence.
“About seven months. I traced the appraisals back to ‘Yuutaka’ and applied for a job there to keep an eye on things. There’s... “ Kuroba frowns. “It’s not an efficient sort of crime to do large scale, and I was curious. Besides, you know how I feel about jewelry fraud. I couldn’t leave it alone, once I realized it was happening.”
“Why didn’t you play whistleblower and call in the police? Stage a heist?”
“I don’t do heists anymore,” Kuroba replies, and maybe Shinichi is imagining the bitterness in his tone. Maybe he isn’t. “As for the police… Why did you send that ring to Beika instead of taking it back to your own station? It’s not so easy to separate enemy from ally, sometimes.”
Shinichi bites his lip, then lets it slide free of his teeth, wet skin stinging in cool air. “You have me,” he says.
At that, Kuroba shoots him a sly look. “I do, don’t I?” He smiles. “When I saw you sitting in that stalled car, I really did think it was fate. Or just like old times, right?” He offers Shinichi the diamond. “This is a sample of the cubic zirconia. Your forensic lab should hopefully be able to source the maker. If not, let your smart girl give it a try.”
“I will,” Shinichi says, pocketing the diamond. “Anything else?”
“Not tonight,” Kuroba answers. He stands up, and then he offers Shinichi his hand.
Shinichi takes it, letting Kuroba lift him with strength that shouldn’t be surprising. Then he turns and looks out on Beika, the city starting to fall asleep.
“I think there might be more going on here than meets the eye,” Shinichi says, when Kuroba finally leans on the rail next to him, only slightly tense. “Murders. We can compare case notes over coffee tomorrow.”
“No we can’t,” Kuroba replies, and then he’s drifting into Shinichi’s personal space, smelling like lemon and oil and rubbing alcohol. “Because you’re not doing anything professional when you have coffee with me, and I’m going to flirt with you.”
Shinichi’s heart skips a beat, the way it used to when Ran smiled at him just right, and that surprises him, too. Kuroba, KID, is always surprising him. “Why?”
“Because it’s pretty rare that there’s anyone who knows this much about who I am,” Kuroba says, and his shoulder bumps Shinichi’s lightly. “And because dating’s a good cover for meeting up whenever we want.”
“Dating,” Shinichi repeats, nonplussed, but when he turns to look at Kuroba, he’s gone, no evidence of his presence remaining save for the heavy fake diamond in Shinichi’s pocket and the warmth in his cheeks.
A glance at his bedside clock says it’s six in the morning, and Shinichi groans as he untangles himself from his sheet to pad over to his desk, where he plugged his phone in to charge last night just after midnight.
“Kudou Shinichi speaking,” he mumbles, stifling a yawn.
“It’s Takagi,” says the voice on the other end of the line. “Sorry to call so early, Kudou-kun, but I thought you’d like to know what I’ve found so far.”
Shinichi blinks a few times to clear his eyes, and unplugs his phone so he can carry it with him down the stairs to the kitchen. “Yes, thank you, Detective Takagi. I’m listening.”
“Toxicology came back on Hagiwara-san, and forensics found a slow-acting poison in his blood.”
Shinichi turns on the kitchen light, flooding the still-dark room with fluorescent light. He crosses around the large island until he gets to the coffee pot, and turns it on. “Meaning he was already halfway to dead, when he fell onto the tracks and into the path of a speeding train?”
“The poison was in such a high concentration, forensics is surprised he was still walking steadily.”
“Maybe he wasn’t,” Shinichi replies, pulling the canister of ground coffee down from the cabinet above the refrigerator, along with the box of fresh filters. “That witness you were talking to—she said he seemed nervous, or anxious, right? The symptoms of an anxiety attack could easily be confused with the nervous system response to a poison that’s elevating the heart rate. Shiny skin, twitching muscles… A casual observer isn’t going to think a man’s been poisoned when common sense can easily land on ‘nervous about something’.”
“That’s true,” Takagi agrees. “I told you I was going to reopen the investigation into Hagiwara-san’s family, as well, didn’t I?”
Shinichi measures out enough coffee to make three cups, pouring it into the top of the machine after he’s fitted a filter inside. “Did you find anything?”
“No new information about those two murders in particular, but I did look through the system for anything that might be similar, since we were no longer considering them an isolated case, and came up with a few hits.” His voice sounds grim. “The markings, the positioning— There were matches, from five years ago, seven years ago, ten years ago. They were all years apart, and in different places, and all of them were solved cases, so it never occurred to anyone to match them up, and the investigator that worked on the last case no longer works in Beika.”
“How many?” Shinichi asks, adding filtered water to the pot from the pitcher he keeps full on the counter.
“Eight,” is Takagi’s reply. “With six different convicted murderers. Every single case was closed, evidence corroborating the story.”
Shinichi watches the coffee-maker hum to life, the drip starting to fill the glass pot. “Guilty pleas?”
“Only in two out of the six convictions. The other four maintained their innocence.”
“Past tense,” Shinichi says. “There’s no one left alive to question?”
“The last remaining was a man your age, about twenty-four. He killed his older brother. He died in prison about two years ago. Of—”
“A heart attack,” Shinichi says. “Right?”
Takagi makes a short sound of shock. “How did you know?”
“A slow acting poison. Fits the M.O. Frame someone for the murder, then kill them to cement the lie.” The coffee machine continues to burble. “The difference with Hagiwara-san is that they used him to rob countless buildings, first. How did they convince him to do that?”
“Blackmail?” Takagi offers.
“What could they possibly have on him that’s worse than murder? He’d already lost his family, his reputation, and the ability to use his identity.” Shinichi watches as the coffee filter finishes churning, the final drips topping off the pot. He pulls down a mug and sets it on the counter, before filling it to the brim. “Usually there are only two things can make people act so strongly against their own self-interest.” He takes a sip of his piping hot coffee, and it burns the inside of his mouth. “Love and religion.”
“Religion…” Takagi says, and his thoughtful tone makes Shinichi set his coffee mug down.
“Was there something related to religion, Detective Takagi?”
“It’s probably nothing,” Takagi says, “but the last convicted murderer, the twenty-four year old that died from a heart attack… His name was Hada. His sister defended him publicly and tried to appeal his conviction for three years before he passed away. She claimed he was innocent, and that the real murderer of their brother was probably some cult he’d gotten peripherally involved in.”
“A cult…?” Shinichi frowns. “Like Aum Shinrikyo?”
“I’m not sure,” Takagi answers. “I can look into it, if you think it’s important.”
“Is Hagiwara-san’s house… It’s been months, but has his house been emptied, yet?”
“No, because Hagiwara-san wasn’t ever tried and convicted of a crime, the property still belonged to him until yesterday. It’s been boarded off, as far as I know, and the bodies were removed, but other than that, it should still be untouched.”
“Excellent,” Shinichi says. “Do you have some time later this week to go and have a look around?”
“We can go tomorrow,” Takagi says immediately. “I can also find a recent address for Hada’s sister, as well. You think the cult matters?”
“I think when people die in ritualistic killings, and there’s a cult even peripherally involved, it’s worth investigating.”
“I agree,” Takagi says. “I’ll meet you here tomorrow around nine, then, Kudou-kun?”
“That’s perfect, Detective Takagi.” Shinichi picks up his coffee, and takes another bracing sip. “Thank you, for calling me.”
“Of course,” Takagi replies. “Your insight has always been valuable.”
“By the way,” Shinichi asks, “who was the lead investigator on Hada-san’s case?”
Takagi makes a short, curious sound. “Let me look it up,” he says, followed by the clicking of keys. “Seems to be Kinoshita Haruo.” He pauses. “Currently the Chief Inspector of the Takanawa branch of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.”
“Ultimately, the person who assigned me this case,” Shinichi says quietly, and Takagi lets that sit there between them, uncommented upon.
When he’s hung up with Takagi, Shinichi sits down at his kitchen island to finish his coffee, turning over the facts of the case.
On a whim, he goes and gets his laptop, and sends an encoded message to Akai Shuichi, whom he hasn’t spoken to in over three months. Any new cults i should know about popping up in Japan? It’s early evening in the United States, so he doesn’t anticipate a reply any time soon; Akai usually checks his personal e-mail in the morning, judging by the list of response e-mails he’s gotten from the man over the past couple of years, stacked in chronological order in his filtered inbox.
That afternoon, still reeling, Shinichi delivers on his promise to Haibara to get lunch with her and the Detective Boys.
It’s not a hardship. Shinichi doesn’t know why he always puts it off, beyond the guilt of knowing that the friend they’re all still mourning the loss of, that they still talk about like he might appear again at any moment, is sitting right here at the table with them, and they’ll never ever know it.
“Friends aren’t people you lie to for years,” Ran had said, and maybe it shouldn’t be this way. But for Shinichi, whose life, until recently, has been too dangerous to spill secrets, this is the only way he knows.
Edogawa Conan was taken into witness protection, and he asked his cousin Shinichi to look out for his friends. Shinichi does the best he can to fill the gap he himself had left behind.
He takes a long sip of his orange juice, and tunes back in to the conversation happening around him when Haibara kicks his ankle hard enough to leave a bruise.
“Then we figured out who had taken the old man’s hedgecutter!” Mitsuhiko concludes proudly, and Shinichi smiles at him, and then at Ayumi and Genta.
“I’m glad you guys were able to figure it out without calling me,” Shinichi tells them. “I’m sorry I wasn’t around to help out.”
“Ai-chan says you’re super busy on an important case,” Ayumi says. “You look really tired, too, Shinichi-nii-chan!”
“I am,” Shinichi admits. “Detective Takagi and I had to talk about work early this morning.” Cult murders, stolen diamonds… He can’t figure out what the point of connection is. There has to be one, but there’s a missing clue, and Shinichi’s got too many leads to follow up on to know when he’ll find it.
“Being a police officer sure sounds tough,” says Genta, breaking Shinichi from his circling thoughts. He has rice stuck to his mouth from taking large bites. “But you get to solve lots of mysteries!”
“I do,” Shinichi replies. “You’d like the case I’m working on now. It’s diamond thieves.” He stops himself from adding “and cult murders”, because he’s an adult and these are pre-teens, even if they’d seen a lot of scary things as kids hanging out with Shinichi as Conan. Now that he’s an adult, he can see how messed up that was, that he let them stumble along behind him into crimes way too macabre for real seven year olds to witness.
Haibara hears that he’s leaving something out, though, and cuts him a sharp glare that demands full disclosure, and he dips his chin in acknowledgment.
Ayumi, missing the exchange between himself and Haibara completely, pouts thoughtfully. Her hair has gotten long, and she’s started wearing it like Kazuha, tied back with a ribbon. “What do they want them for? To sell them, or to keep them?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Shinichi replies. “But I did figure out how they were stealing them. And I sort of know the ‘who’, at least part of it. The ‘why’ is the biggest question, and once I know that, then I’ll be able to stop them.”
“Like you stopped those evil people who threatened Ran-nee-chan?” Mitsuhiko asks. “The ones in all black that you and Conan-kun rescued her from!”
“Like that, sure.” Shinichi takes another sip of his orange juice, focusing on the sweet taste. “It’s weird, though. Usually the motive is one of the easier parts, and the method takes a while.”
This should be simpler. It’s a fact that diamonds are expensive, and that antique diamonds from a specific region of the world at a specific time would be coveted by a subsection of people. But as Sherlock Holmes once said, “there is nothing so deceptive as an obvious fact,” and Shinichi knows, from the method the diamonds are being taken, that there’s something far more happening right in front of them than a few stolen diamonds for monetary profit.
“You’ll figure it out,” Genta says, with absolute confidence. “You’re the only detective Conan-kun ever asked for help, and Conan-kun could solve any case he found!”
Shinichi grins. “I will figure it out, don’t worry.”
He takes the kids for ice cream after they leave the restaurant, buying five cones from the street vendor, all of them requesting chocolate and vanilla swirl except for Haibara, who gets red bean and green tea.
“You’re not actually all that great at being undercover,” Shinichi tells her, as they walk side-by-side down the street, the other three kids ahead of them, just out of earshot, as they argue over a soccer game. “Your taste-buds are late-twenties, too, just like your sense of fashion.”
“A seven year old who couldn’t stop solving murder mysteries doesn’t get to lecture me on being undercover.” She arches an eyebrow. “Speaking of murders…”
“Ritual murders. Possibly a cult.”
“How does that connect to your diamond thefts?”
“So far? Only one overlap: Hagiwara Shouto’s wife and daughter were killed then ritualistically disfigured, and he was framed for the murder. I found the ring from the burglary case I was working on that led me to KID along with what was left of him on the train tracks after he jumped onto them, and the stones had been replaced with cubic zirconia.”
“No such thing as coincidences?”
“There are. A coincidence broke this case wide open for me, after all. But this? It’s not a coincidence. Hagiwara-san had been using his RG backdoor access pass to gain entry to buildings and safes for months. His family was killed partway through it, and he left his job and life but kept doing the burglaries.”
“Replacing the stones with cubic zirconia and then returning them means they’ve been trying to stay under the radar,” Haibara muses. “That means there are probably a lot of switches that never even got noticed.”
“With regards to the cubic zirconia…” Shinichi opens up his satchel, pulling out a soft cotton bag with the false diamond Kuroba had given him last night and handing it to her. “I’ve got another project for you.”
“Sounds like you’re going to owe me lunch again,” Haibara replies, taking the bag. “What is it?”
“Someone’s stealing antique diamonds and replacing them with cubic zirconia.” Shinichi shrugs. “That’s a sample of the cubic zirconia, and I need to know anything about it that you and Professor Agasa can tell me.”
“The case your phantom thief wanted help with, I presume?”
Shinichi purses his lips. “It’s my case, too. Nakahara tossed it to me without expecting me to get very much from the crime scene, I presume.”
“His mistake,” Haibara says. “You were out of the spotlight for years, but a reputation like the one you had doesn’t come out of nowhere.” She frowns. “That’s not to say I don’t prefer you like this.” At his quizzical look, she rolls her eyes. “You’ve changed, Kudou. The jerk you were before has nothing on who you’ve become. You had to learn how to rely on people, stuck in the shape of Edogawa Conan. It’s made you a better person. Everyone thinks so.”
“Some people preferred me before,” Shinichi says, quietly.
“That isn’t true,” says Haibara. “Mouri Ran hasn’t gotten to know this you, yet. She’s strong, but she hasn’t seen... “ She trails off. “Even now, she doesn’t understand the sort of terror the Black Org inspired in us. How easily they were able to take our whole lives. All she knows is that the person she trusted most in the world lied to her for years while living in her space, watching her. You made her question herself countless times, and made her doubt her own instincts and judgement. She’s not wrong to hate that, Kudou-kun. ”
“I know she isn’t.” Shinichi shoves his hands in his pockets, and tries to match his breathing to the slap of his bag against his thigh.
“That said, she doesn’t have your perspective, either. I’m not sure I would have made a different choice, with regards to her, were I the one in your shoes.”
“That’s probably why we’ve always gotten along,” Shinichi says, watching Haibara tuck the fake diamond from Kuroba into her fashionable handbag, hiding it from view.
His phone interrupts them, making a horrible howling wolf noise that garners the attention of several people on the street before he can hurriedly turn it off.
“What in the world was that?” Haibara asks, but Shinichi knows without looking that at some point during their conversation yesterday, Kuroba had gotten hands on his phone.
change in venue requested for our date, my handsome detective, reads the text.
Haibara looks over at his screen, and her eyebrows do a slow upward climb as she reads the message. “Hmm,” she says, smile tugging at her lips, “I see.” She flits her gaze up to him. “Speaking of people who think like you. What’s this about a date?”
“No, it’s…” He sighs, already deleting the customized alert. “This is just how he talks.”
“How he talks to you,” Haibara corrects. “The rest of us just got the minimum interaction amidst all the crime-fighting and case-solving and occasional heist-foiling. The flirtation thing has always just been you and KID.”
Why did you change my text message alert? Shinichi replies. Where did you have in mind?
the blue parrot. He’s sent along a pin dropped in the map application to give Shinichi the location. i only changed it for texts from me, detective, don’t worry~ 🙁
Shinichi has been to the Blue Parrot before, as Conan, sitting alongside Mouri as he drank far too much beer. Fine on the location, he agrees. Not fine on the alert noise.
i live to be exciting.
“You know, you still haven’t denied that it’s an actual date,” Haibara tells him, as he puts his phone away without answering Kuroba’s last message. “To me or him.”
“Would it matter if I did?” Shinichi asks, zipping and unzipping his hooded sweatshirt, the repetitive action helping to drown out the semi-accusation in his head.
“Might give you a fighting chance at pretending you’re not going to become a massive cliché with your detective-thief romance.”
Shinichi scowls at her. “We’re working on a case together.”
“Sounds like your version of foreplay,” Haibara says.
“Aren’t you coming?” Genta calls out, already halfway through his ice cream cone, drops of chocolate all down the front of his white T-shirt. “You’re both walking so slow!”
“Kudou-nii-san and I were talking about the Macademy Awards,” Haibara calls back. “You know how much he loves to talk about the dresses.”
Stars appear in Ayumi’s eyes, and Shinichi sighs. “You’re evil,” he mumbles to Haibara, and she laughs as Ayumi comes bounding back to link her arm through Shinichi’s, already chattering about shoes.
“So why this place?” Shinichi asks, sliding into the seat next to Kuroba at the bar. Their elbows bump as someone cracks the racked balls on the billiard table behind them, and Kuroba flinches slightly at the sound. “We could have gone for sushi, or something, if you didn’t want coffee.” Kuroba wrinkles his nose in disgust, and Shinichi huffs. “Or, I don’t know, Italian’s always good.”
“It’s home,” Kuroba says. “I’ve been coming here since long before I was old enough to drink. My dad was part owner here until he died.”
“Kuroba Toichi,” Shinichi says. “Magician.”
“The best magician in the world. What do you want?”
“I don’t really drink.” Shinichi picks up the menu and picks out a beer anyway, ordering it from the old man behind the bar before returning his attention to Kuroba. “My mother studied under him. Disguise.”
“Is that so?” Kuroba takes another long drag of his drink, and Shinichi can already see the beginnings of an alcohol flush on his cheeks.
“So did Vermouth,” Shinichi adds, as the old man slides Shinichi’s beer towards him, the thick glass stein already white with condensation, the head of the beer frothing just over the lip. He levels the drink with his finger, then brings the skimmed foam up to his mouth to taste. Bitter and hoppy. It’s the sort of stuff Mouri drank, drinks still, probably, that leaves his breath smelling harsh. “From the Black Org.”
“She saved me,” Kuroba says, drumming his fingers on the table. “I don’t know how. She did something to me, and whatever it was, it left me in stable enough condition to survive my trip to the hospital.”
“Hopefully doing more good than bad.” Kuroba pushes his empty drink away from himself. “Jii-san, another, please!”
The old man shakes his head despairingly, but starts to mix another drink in the same sort of glass. Shinichi watches him expertly eyeball the liquor amounts without a shot glass, speaking of long-practice.
“I don’t think I could have imagined this,” Shinichi says. “Me and you, sitting at a bar.” He looks around, taking in the well-worn jukebox, the seventies-style windows, and the way the shelves behind the bar, filled with liquors, are attached using thick iron nails that were customary in the twenty years following World War II, while Japan struggled with debt and rebuilding.
“A bar’s a good place for a first date. Better than sushi, at any rate. Though, I must admit, I wasn’t expecting the conversation to get so heavy. People don’t usually lead with my dead father.” Kuroba grins to lessen the sting. “You must not go on a lot of dates.”
“I don’t.” Shinichi runs a hand through his hair. “I’m not the dating type. The first date I went on since I was seventeen, the woman turned out to be a serial killer, wanted for murder in three countries.”
Kuroba lets out a low whistle. “Wow,” he says. “Do you often confuse your murder attraction and your sexual attraction?”
“I don’t suffer from hybristophilia, no,” Shinichi dryly replies. “My problem is attracting murders, not being attracted to murderers. It’s more likely that I tend to prefer people who will survive my lifestyle.”
“You mean corpses dropping from the sky.” Kuroba laughs. “Can’t say it wouldn’t be a downside to our potential relationship, Detective, but I’ve always had a thing for danger.”
“Especially now,” Kuroba replies, spreading his legs until his knee is resting against Shinichi’s thigh. “After all, nothing’s more dangerous than my favorite detective.”
Shinichi curls forward, sucking a sip of his beer from the edge of the glass. “Am I your favorite?”
“You always have been,” admits Kuroba, before a mischievous twinkle appears in his eyes. “I can’t lie, Kudou Shinichi, and say I don’t prefer you being my size for once. Matching wits with someone who barely reached my knees was giving me a complex.”
“How did you even know it was me?” Shinichi asks. “How did you know Edogawa Conan was actually Kudou Shinichi?”
Kuroba uses his straw to stir his drink, making the ice clink against the sides of the glass. “I’m a magician. I’m used to seeing what lies beyond what can be seen with the naked eye. It’s a gift.” He wiggles his eyebrows. “Maybe I’m clairvoyant. You shouldn’t rule anything out, Detective. The world is full of mysteries.”
Shinichi rubs his thumb along a ridge by the handle of his glass. “Mysteries can always be solved.” He gives Kuroba a look out of the corner of his eye. “You might have made a decent detective, you realize.”
“I’m not sure I’d look good in a black suit—white’s really my color.” Kuroba tilts his head, his hair falling across his forehead, his lips curled in a taunt. “You never seemed to mind that I chose to wear it.”
“It was fun,” Shinichi explains, after thinking about it. “Amidst all the murder and sadness and misery of those years, playing with you, solving your clues… It was the only time I got to have fun, and know that the stakes wouldn’t cost anyone their life.”
Kuroba’s lips part, revealing a flash of pink tongue, and his eyes are bright with pleasure. “Oh,” he says, but then his expression goes a little wicked. “Now that you’re all grown up again, Detective, we can have a whole different kind of fun.” His knee presses more firmly into Shinichi’s thigh. “Only on the third date, though, remember.”
“I thought that was about coming to my house,” says Shinichi, and when Kuroba continues to look at him, suggestive smile pulling even wider on his face, Shinichi blushes. “You’re impossible.”
Kuroba’s grin transforms, becoming softer and amused. “I’m unlikely,” he corrects, smug and self-satisfied at knocking Shinichi off-balance. “Rare, certainly.” He winks again, and something sloshes in Shinichi’s gut, faint and unrecognizable, but hot. “Impossible is a whole different kettle of fish.”
“I just got the impression that you don’t like fish,” Shinchi says, swallowing. The curl of Kuroba’s lips is magnetic, and Shinichi has to look away from him, down at his beer. It’s still just as full as it had been when he first ordered it, and as it warms, less condensation forms on the stein. “You don’t like fish, and you don’t like police.”
“So observant.” Kuroba hums. It’s low, and it sends a shiver down Shinichi’s spine. “Tell me, Detective Kudou, what else have you noticed about me?”
Shinichi’s noticed a lot: he’s noticed that Kuroba Kaito has another faint scar to the left of his mouth, and freckles dotting across his chest where he’s undone the top two buttons of his shirt. His lips are chapped. His eyelashes are long and dark.
Kuroba flinches at the loud noises he can’t anticipate, and he favors his right leg like there’s something wrong with the left one. He talks and talks and talks, but the words are just a smokescreen, preventing the listener from paying too much attention to all the things he isn’t saying.
He’s fascinating, and mysterious. Shinichi’s never met a mystery that he doesn’t want to solve.
“You’re ambidextrous,” Shinichi says, instead of any of that, and curls his hands more securely around his beer stein.
Kuroba throws his head back and laughs.
Two hours later, Kuroba’s had several more drinks. He lists into Shinichi’s side, his cheek warm against Shinichi’s shoulder. “Are you going to walk me home, Detective?”
Shinichi, who had never finished his first beer, gives into temptation and pokes Kuroba’s cheek. The skin is soft, and Shinichi has to resist the urge to cup his hand around the curve of Kuroba’s neck, letting the heel of his palm rest against his pulse. Kuroba Kaito is Kaitou KID, and he’s alive, and he’s drooling slightly on Shinichi’s jacket. It’s surreal, and Shinichi can’t claim honestly that he minds it. “Do you want me to?”
“Yes,” Kuroba says, “but not yet.” He blinks up at Shinichi, slow and deliberate. “I don’t date a lot, either, Detective.”
Shinichi’s heart skips a beat. “Okay,” he says.
Kuroba chews on an already-swollen bottom lip. “I have a lot of scars.” He nuzzles in closer, draping most of his weight on Shinichi now, and Shinichi struggles to keep his balance as he re-adjusts his position on the bar stool. “I mean, on the inside, not on the outside.” He pauses. “On the outside, too, but… That’s not what I mean.”
“I get it,” Shinichi says. He’s never been good about discussing feelings, and Kuroba’s only half-lucid, so Shinichi’s not even sure it’s worth the effort to try.
“You do,” Kuroba says. “You’re the only one who can.”
“Yeah,” Shinichi replies. “I need to work with you on the case, soon.” He clears his throat anxiously. “But talking like this is good too.”
“Are you offering to take me on another date, Kudou?” Kuroba teases, and when Shinichi doesn’t immediately reply, words stuck in his throat, Kuroba straightens up to look at him. “You are.”
“If that’s what you really want from me,” Shinichi says, looking down at the bar table instead of Kuroba’s face.
“It’s one of the many things I want from you,” Kuroba replies. “I have off from work on Monday, if you’ve got time to go and look at the other jewelry and verify that it’s fake.”
“Sounds good,” Shinichi says, and he hesitantly lets his hand settle on the small of Kuroba’s back, testing it out.
Kuroba’s warm, which is a good thing, since Shinichi’s constantly struggling with feeling a little too cold.
He knows what a crush is. He’d nurtured one on Ran for years as he fell in love with her, and he’s felt flickerings of attraction to other people over the years, in more insubstantial, fleeting ways.
This thing with Kuroba, though… It takes time for Shinichi to decide he likes someone, and even longer for him to appreciate them in the ways required for it to develop into something romantic instead of platonic. Shinichi’s known Kuroba Kaito for less than a week, and yesterday he’d found himself looking at his mouth and wondering what it would taste like, despite being in the middle of a case that’s looking more and more likely to have a massive death count, full of the sorts of nuances Shinichi likes best.
Then again, Shinichi thinks, covering his face with both hands, Kuroba Kaito is also Kaitou KID, and Shinichi has known him for almost eight years, and had spent a good portion of three of them thinking the phantom thief was dead.
When Akai, Shinichi, and Jodie had finally been able to set up a sting to catch Rum, Shinichi hadn’t considered that Kaitou KID’s personal goals might overlap with Shinichi’s own—that there might be something drawing him into the Black Org as more than backup on a Mystery Train to help Haibara escape capture.
He’d mentioned Pandora, and a man named Snake, from a splinter faction of the Black Org, and he’d shown up just in time to swoop Shinichi, still in the body of Edogawa Conan, out of the clutches of Vodka, who’d almost managed to kill him. Shinichi had pushed his head into KID’s stomach and held on as KID pulled them both up to the top of a high office building by grappling hook as police swarmed the downstairs levels, arresting anyone in their path.
Shinichi had known they weren’t safe; had known it wasn’t over, but he hadn’t been expecting Gin to be waiting at the top, to fire a bullet right into KID’s chest, sending him back over the edge, unable to move or catch himself as he plummeted to the street below.
Shinichi had watched the entire thing. Had heard the crunch of KID’s bones, seen the blood spread and spread and spread, had seen KID’s body go completely still, before he’d forced himself to look back at Gin.
Gin had turned the gun on him, already, eyes manic, and fired, hitting Shinichi in the shoulder, but he’d been tackled to the ground by Akai Shuichi before he’d been able to get off another shot, and police and FBI both had rushed out onto the roof, securing Gin’s capture.
“They didn’t find his body,” Jodie had told him later, when he woke up in the hospital, arm in a sling. “Maybe he—”
“He has an assistant,” Shinichi’d said, hollowly. “They protected his identity until the end.”
He’d mourned KID, in his own way. KID had been an ally, maybe a friend. KID had been an intellectual equal, and Shinichi counted every single one of those he met as a treasure, even when they flirted with the other side of the law and his girlfriend. KID had been someone he could count on to do the right thing, no matter how inconvenient, and KID had been someone with a strong moral compass that more closely aligned with Shinichi’s own than most people he knew.
KID had been important, even if he’d never known KID’s real name.
Now, Shinichi thinks, he does know. He knows Kuroba Kaito drinks fruity cocktails and studied chemistry at university and does sleight of hand to keep himself from fidgeting when he has conversations. He knows Kuroba Kaito has eyes so vivid they must have consumed at least one star, and that his lips are pink in the moonlight. He knows Kuroba Kaito isn’t afraid of heights, flirts as easily as he breathes, and still wants to make the world a better place, one act of duplicity at a time.
Taking all that into consideration, maybe it’s no surprise at all the Shinichi wants to kiss him. Shinichi’s never explicitly considered a man romantically, but he’s also never dismissed it, either. People are interesting, and Shinichi has always loved being challenged, being poked into working harder, and no one has ever managed to do it at low stakes like Kaitou KID, who is Kuroba Kaito, who is one of the most interesting people Shinichi has ever met.
Shinichi looks back at the text message from Kuroba. wednesday???? it still reads.
Shinichi closes his eyes. Inhales, exhales. What time? he types back, before he peels himself out of bed to go take a shower and prepare to meet Detective Takagi at nine.
On his way out of the house, he checks his e-mail and has a reply from Akai. Details? I can name five off the top of my head, but narrow it down.
Takagi looks like he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in days when Shinichi finds him leaning against his Nissan Tiida Latio, head tilted back like he wants to test if he’ll actually go blind if he looks directly into the sun.
“The macula takes the most UV damage,” Shinichi says. “It’s at the center of your retina. If it burns, you’ll see black and grey spots at the center of your vision instead of sharp detail.”
Takagi tilts his head back down. “Don’t worry, Kudou-kun, my eyes were closed.”
Shinichi shrugs. “Did you tell Hada-san’s sister we were coming?”
“I spoke with her a half an hour ago. She’s perfectly glad to have us drop by her apartment.”
“Sounds good,” Shinichi says, circling the car so that he can duck into the passenger seat.
It’s a twenty minute drive to Hada Yuriko’s home, and Shinichi fills the time catching Takagi up to date completely on everything he knows so far about both ends of the case. Takagi’s hands are tense on the wheel by the time he parks on the street across from Hada’s building, his face set in determined lines. “Let’s find out everything we can,” he says, unfastening his seatbelt, easily trusting everything Shinichi’s told him as fact or solid conjecture, not once telling Shinichi he’s over-estimating his ability to make good inferences.
It’s everything Shinichi would have wanted from Nakahara. Sometimes, Shinichi thinks any partner he’d have been assigned would have been measured against Takagi anyway, since Shinichi has always worked best with him, when push comes to shove.
They approach the front entrance to Hada’s apartment building, and the first thing Shinichi notices is that it has an RG security system. “How many places have installed this already,” he says, and Takagi’s expression darkens.
“Too many,” he replies. “Miwako and I have it in our building, too. When it was first installed, I thought it would be safer. We worried a lot about Miwako’s mother being alone with the baby, since we’re both police officers and sometimes people hold grudges, but when the RG system arrived, we both took a collective breath.” Takagi shakes his head. “Not so much, now. If one group of criminals has this back door, the potential of another having it too is higher.”
Shinichi nods. “Once we apprehend the masterminds of this case, the corruption unit is going to have to investigate RG.”
They use the intercom option to speak to the desk guard inside, introducing themselves as police to be buzzed in. They both sign in at the register, before heading to the elevators, where the desk guard trails after them to input an access code, covering it with her hand.
Hada Yuriko lives on the eighth floor of the building, and Takagi leads Shinichi down the hall to the apartment all the way at the end. He knocks, and waits. After there’s no sound from inside, he knocks again. “Hada-san? It’s Detective Takagi from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Are you there?” He knocks one more time, and frowns. “She said she’d be here all day.”
Shinichi’s stomach lurches with a strong sense of dread. “Try the door,” he says, and his tone makes Takagi burst into action, testing the knob and finding it turns in his hand, the door swinging open with a slight push.
Inside, the living room is painted with blood, splashed against the walls like a Pollock painting and drenching the rug that covers the synthetic hardwoods at the center of the floor. Hada Yuriko, or what’s left of her, is stretched out, arms and legs spread, on the floor, her throat slit and her body disfigured, unintelligible symbols carved into her naked belly, arms and thighs.
Takagi gags, taking an automatic step back, but Shinichi takes off his shoes, leaving him in his clean socks, and pulls out his evidence gloves from the back pocket of his suit trousers, tiptoeing carefully around the blood until he’s circled around her body.
He bends over and holds a hand about ten centimeters from her nose and mouth, checking for blood just in case, but he can tell by the slight congealing around the wound that she’s been dead for at least an hour. “Call it in, Detective Takagi,” Shinichi says, looking up to meet Takagi’s eyes.
Takagi nods, leaving the apartment and going into the hallway, and Shinichi scans the rest of her body. She’s not naked, but her skirt and shirt are both rucked up, her breast and genitals covered by the fabric but a lot of her skin bared and marked. Her hand is at a weird position, curved almost like a claw, and it’s the only part of her that hasn’t been meticulously positioned. She wasn’t moved from this spot, Shinichi decides, judging by the lack of drag marks, and the way blood was splashed around afterwards. She’d been killed here, and as she bled out, she was positioned here in the same manner as the other victims.
But maybe, Shinichi thinks, examining her curled hand, she hadn’t been quite dead when he’d moved her, and her hand…
She’s pointing at something, he decides, and follows the line of her finger to a stationery desk at the far corner of the room.
Careful not to disturb any evidence, Shinichi skirts an upended flower pot as well as a scattered cluster of dirt from it as he approaches the desk. There’s nothing on the surface, and, when he opens the drawers, they’ve been cleaned out, too, the locks on both of them broken.
Pressing his lips together, Shinichi raps his knuckles against the bottom of the drawer, and allows himself a tiny triumphant smirk as he finds a false bottom. Pulling it up and out, he finds a series of notebooks.
Opening the top one, he finds pasted in newspaper clippings about the other ritual murders, as well as a bunch of articles about how the evidence against Hada’s brother hadn’t added up. Turning the pages, he scans the contents of the writing, along with annotations Hada had written in the margins; she’d been doing an investigation of her own.
The second notebook, though, isn’t about the ritualized murders. Instead, it’s filled with information about moon phases, and about auspicious times for sacrifices in different spiritual belief systems. Scanning the third and fourth pages, Shinichi finally turns to the fifth to find the phrase ALWAYS THE GIBBOUS written in thick black Sharpie next to a list of dates.
Shinichi stares at those dates, and they spread out on a mental timeline, dating back eleven years until last September, when Hagiwara’s wife and daughter had been killed.
Always the gibbous. Shinichi sets the notebooks down and pulls out his phone, slipping off one of his gloves so that he can use the touch screen. “Today’s moon phase,” he types, and when the result appears, he has to close his eyes.
It’s the waning gibbous moon.
“Did you find something?” Takagi asks, gently. Shinichi opens his eyes again so that he can meet Takagi’s gaze.
“It’s definitely a cult, or a set of fanatics,” he says. “Hada-san was killed by someone taller than her, throat cut from behind and held up until she’d almost stopped bleeding, before she was laid down on the floor and moved into position. But the ritual marks are the same, and…” He holds up the notebook. “Hada had made a list of all the murders and matched them up to either the waxing or waning gibbous moon.” He swallows. “All the waxing moon murders were men, and all the waning moon murders were…” He gestures to Hada, but the movement of his arm encompasses all the women and children killed over the past ten years.
“How have they gone under the radar so long?” Takagi asks. “This is… It’s revolting!”
“There’s only one way they could have gone under the radar,” Shinichi replies, thinking about Hada’s brother’s case, and about how the lead investigator had been Inspector Kinoshita. He thinks about Nakahara telling him to stop working on the case, even after he’d spitefully given it to him, thinking there was nothing to find. “They had inside help.”
“There’s always been a high amount of spiritual interest in the moon,” Haibara says absently, clicking away faster than Shinichi can see at her keyboard. She has a text chat open with Akai on her second computer, and she switches back and forth periodically to reply to his questions. “Akai-san has no idea what kind of cult this might be.”
“What about the connection with the diamonds?” Shinichi asks. “Does he have any ideas about that?”
“That sounds like something you should ask your pet jewel expert,” Haibara replies.
“You know a jewel expert?” Heiji asks. “Shit, give me his number, I’ve been dealing with a couple of weird jewelry thefts down here, too.”
“Diamonds?” Shinichi asks, snapping his gaze over to Heiji.
“Nah, just some mundane stuff, two pieces stolen from this stuffy old guy who likes watches from the eighteen-hundreds.” Heiji’s face stretches in a bored frown. “I already know his nephew took ‘em, but I need to hammer down the resale value so that I can prove the recent influx of cash in the nephew’s account ain’t from making good bets at the horse races.”
Shinichi laughs, despite the anxiety sitting heavy in his stomach. “Well, I can ask him if you want,” he hedges, and Haibara shoots him an interested look at Shinichi’s hesitance to spill Kuroba’s identity.
“Missy’s right, though. Gem expert’s the way to go if you’re trying to figure out something about gems.”
“He already told me what he knew about them,” Shinichi replies.
“Yeah, but that was before you found out all this moon stuff. He might have more to tell you, now, with extra information.” Heiji’s eyes narrow. “You gotta reason you don’t want to call him?”
Shinichi blushes. “Uh,” he says, and Haibara’s mouth twitches. “No, not really. I’ll have to hang up with you to do that, though, Hattori.”
“Yeah, yeah, I can see you’re avoiding shit again. Good luck with the case. Don’t get killed, you hear me, Kudou?”
“Loud and clear, Hattori,” Shinichi replies, ending the call before navigating to Kuroba’s contact information and hitting the voice call icon.
Kuroba picks up after two rings, his voice low and rough as it spills out of the speaker to fill the room. “Good morning, Detective.”
“You’re on speaker,” Shinichi hurries to inform him. “And it’s Sunday night.”
“Business, not pleasure, then,” Kuroba says, and Shinichi can hear the rustling of sheets, and the sound of Kuroba stretching. “What do you have for me?”
“The moon,” Shinichi says. “Do you know anything about gems and the moon?”
“You mean besides Pandora?” Kuroba cracks his knuckles audibly, and he hisses out a breath as he stands. That left knee again, and the real reason, Shinichi suspects, that KID has not made a return to the national stage for his next great show. “Can you be more specific?”
“The stolen diamonds,” Shinichi replies, waiting for Kuroba’s brain to wake up. “Whatever person or group of people masterminding the thefts of them has been committing ritual sacrifice murders based on the moon phases.”
“Are you at home, Detective?”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Kuroba promises.
“What happened to not coming home with me until the third date?” Shinichi replies, and then he remembers Haibara a second too late to stop himself. She looks deeply amused, and he scrunches his eyes closed to avoid her gaze.
Kuroba laughs. “Exceptions can be made for business,” he says, and ends the call.
Haibara waits a few seconds before she speaks. “You’re very lucky you hung up on Hattori before you made that call.”
“How much is your silence going to cost me?”
“Prada’s just released their spring handbags for retail,” she says. “I want one in pink.”
Kuroba doesn’t ring the doorbell. He just… appears on the right side of the loveseat in the living room between one second and the next, dressed comfortably in a pair of soft, worn jeans and a soccer jersey, holding a book in his lap. Even Haibara’s surprised by how quietly he appeared, her typing pausing briefly as she looks up to take him in, scanning him up and down.
“You know, you used to look a lot more like Kudou-kun, in face and in build,” she says, before returning her attention to the screen. “You’d never be able to convince anyone now without a lot more makeup and prosthetics.”
“I wouldn’t need to be the detective anymore, anyway. I’ve gone clean.” He smiles winsomely at her, even though she’s not looking at him at all. “I’m a law-abiding citizen of Tokyo these days.” He lifts up both hands in supplication. “You believe me, don’t you, Smart Girl?”
“I don’t care,” Haibara replies, as Shinichi circles her to take the book Kuroba is holding out to him. It’s in English, and down the spine is written Practices of Moon Magic in bold Helvetica typeface.
“I got this book when I was still searching for Pandora,” Kuroba tells him. “And when you asked your question, I thought immediately of Chapter 5, which had a lot to do with focal objects, and objects of luck. Not exactly what I was interested in back then, but it comes in handy now.”
Shinichi’s already opening the book, skimming through the text quickly, eyes scanning diagrams and pictures to get to the point Kuroba wants to make.
“Page 103, I think,” Kuroba adds. “African diamonds.”
Shinichi pauses. “Specifically?”
“Remember, I told you that Japan traded heavily in conflict diamonds during the nineteen-eighties, as part of their expansion as an economic power before the bubble burst.”
“I remember. And all the jewelry stolen was from the eighties and early nineties.”
“And the diamonds were from Africa,” Kuroba replies. “The ring… That diamond was from Angora, most likely, which is where most diamonds from that era were from. There’s a quality to the compressed carbon…” He trails off, and then waves a hand, as if to underscore that the details are extraneous. “They’re identifiable.” Kuroba’s fingers run along the inside seam of his jeans, teasing at the stitching, and Shinichi’s eyes follow them. “There’s a lot of folklore in that book about the magical resonance of African diamonds. Perhaps they’re stealing specific pieces of jewelry because it’s a lot harder now to find those kinds of diamonds in Japan, and they need those kind, and no other. It would explain the targeted thefts, and the methodology.”
“Appraisal, confirmation, theft, replacement,” Shinichi agrees. “It makes perfect sense.” Shinichi smiles at Kuroba, who smiles back at him broadly. “Are you sure you don’t want to be a detective, Kuroba?”
“Positive,” Kuroba answers, his eyelids lowering, until Shinichi can only see the smallest fraction of his bright eyes. “Let’s stick to the status quo. I’ll help you out occasionally, but you can do the heavy lifting.”
“That’s—” Shinichi starts, but then Haibara interrupts.
“We found them,” she says. “Akai-san used FBI resources to help narrow things down, and then I hacked into the Secret Police database to see if there was anything to cross-reference.”
“And you found them?”
“There are a few mentions of a sort of…” Haibara twists her mouth at the lack of specificity available, “emerging religion? Becoming popular amongst members of several yakuza families. Moon Shamanism, symbolized by a dragon with eyes in the shape of the gibbous moon.” She frowns. “It’s structured a lot like Scientology, apparently, only it’s a lot more violent. It’s very much invitation-only.”
“Sounds more like a secret society than a religion,” Kuroba says, as Shinichi sits down next to him, fingers still pressed to a diagram in the open book. He accidentally sits too close, and they’re pressed together shoulder to knee, Kuroba’s warmth melting away the chill that’s been stubbornly clinging to him all day. “Especially if they’re killing people and then posing the bodies.”
“Did I tell you about that?”
“Not exactly,” Kuroba says. “I heard you talking to your older detective buddy about it.”
“Did you bug my house?” Shinichi asks him.
Kuroba abandons the seam of his jeans to rest a hand on Shinichi’s thigh. “Hmm, who knows~”
“That’s so creepy,” Shinichi tells him, but he doesn’t make Kuroba move his hand. He wonders what that says about him.
Haibara looks like she has an opinion about what that says about him, judging by the unimpressed look on her face. “The Secret Police estimate that there are at least two thousand active members in Tokyo alone,” she says. “And that there’s some kind of… membership test that allows access to higher levels of doctrine.”
“A membership test like… murdering someone? Or a membership test like giving a whole bunch of money?” Kuroba asks.
“How would I know that?” Haibara snaps. “It doesn’t seem like the Secret Police have anyone inside the cult, despite the numerous NOCs they have embedded in the yakuza proper.”
“So we’re moving forward without much intel,” Shinichi says. “How did Hada-san find out so much? How did she break open the door on this when not even the Secret Police did?”
Haibara squints at him, and then turns back to her computer.
Kuroba sucks his teeth. “Who’s Hada?”
“So you don’t have a bug in Takagi’s car, then? Or on me specifically?” At Kuroba’s irritated expression, Shinichi rests his hand on top of Kuroba’s, trapping it between his palm and thigh. “Hada-san is the woman we found murdered this morning, and her brother was killed in prison after being possibly falsely imprisoned for killing their brother.”
“Their brother…” Kuroba leans further into Shinichi, and this close, Shinichi can see the little pieces of sleep crust at the corners of his eyes. He doesn’t have on any mascara tonight, but his eyelashes are still so full and dark. “I know we haven’t figured out who the actual murderers are, precisely, but what about the victims? How are they selecting people to kill?”
“Men on the waxing gibbous, women and children on the waning.”
Kuroba nods. “But why those men? Why those women? Hada-san was presumably chosen because she knew too much, but what about the rest of them? Hagiwara-san’s wife and daughter? Why two in one night?”
Shinichi bites his lip, following Kuroba’s train of thought. He drops his gaze to the book, and the diagram he’s been staring at. Empowering stones, it reads. “Are they linked to the stolen diamonds, somehow? Could they be killing the same number of people as the number of stolen stones?”
“Blood sacrifice,” Kuroba says, with a shudder. He leans harder into Shinichi. “That’s creepy.”
“And maybe the type of victim has to do with both the moon phase and what the stone is intended to be used for,” Shinichi continues to muse aloud. “But why those victims? Is there something they all have in common?”
He gets up from the loveseat, running upstairs to his room to get his laptop before coming just as quickly back down, falling right back into his spot next to Kuroba, this time choosing the lack of distance deliberately.
He clicks open all the victim profiles Takagi had sent to him, lining them up along his screen so he can look at them side by side. It only takes four profiles before he spots it. “April,” he says, and Kuroba produces a startled noise. “They were born in April.”
“The diamond month,” Haibara says. “And I think I’ve got more connections. I’ve found a yakuza affiliation for every single one of the victims, narrowed to two-degrees of separation.”
Kuroba frowns. “That’s… They just happened to know someone in the yakuza? That’s so... cruel.”
“The thing about being a detective,” Shinichi says, “is that we often see the worst of people. It makes it seem like the world is a more awful place than it actually is.”
“And that’s why you liked my heists,” Kuroba says, slowly. “Because you didn’t have to see the worst of anyone to enjoy the thrill of the chase.”
“Exactly,” Shinichi replies, and he grins at Kuroba for the first time. Kuroba’s breath hitches, and he licks his lips as he stares at Shinichi, his eyes going slightly darker.
“Well,” Haibara says, loudly, “I have school tomorrow like a dutiful first year junior high student, and I don’t want to see anything above my Eirin film rating so I’m going to head home.”
“Do you need me to walk you?” Shinichi asks, pulling away from Kuroba to help her pack her computers up with the ease of having done it hundreds of times, after hundreds of investigations.
“Not necessary,” she says, standing in front of him with a bag on each shoulder. She comes up to his chest now, and he’s starting to see hints of the nineteen year old she’d been long ago. “I’m only going next door.”
She walks out of the house, shouldering the weight of her computers without any trouble, and Shinichi locks the door behind her before returning to the living room, where Kuroba is looking at the pictures hung on the wall of Shinichi and his parents.
“You look close with your parents,” he says. He’s keeping most of his weight on his right leg, disguising it by jutting his hip out. It’s a good play, but Shinichi has always been able to see through KID’s disguises. “I never saw them around when you were still little, so I didn’t think they were a big part of your life.”
“I think we’re close, in our own way. They’re busy. Left me on my own a lot when I was growing up, but I was never much like other kids. I didn’t need their constant presence to be sure they were looking out for me, and they were always around when I really needed them.”
“Same with my mom,” Kuroba says. “She travels a lot for work, but… If I need her, I know she’ll come.” He looks away from a photo of Shinichi and Ran, back when they were still in junior high themselves, and looks at Shinichi. “You know what we have to do to catch them, right?”
“Set a trap,” Shinichi replies. “Lay out a nice piece of bait, and then wait to see if it gets bitten.” He thinks. “You want to look through my family vault to see if there’s any jewelry that fits the briefing?” He taps his chin. “Suzuki might, too, if I can convince him to play along.”
“You’re planning to let a phantom thief into your family vault? I thought you had more common sense than that.”
I’m considering letting you into my heart, Shinichi thinks, feeling like his self-preservation has always woefully overestimated. Shinichi walks into as much danger as he can, with both his eyes open and his arms spread wide, over and over and over again. It’s more surprising when he looks both ways before crossing the street than it is when he runs directly into a burning building, or leaps in front of a firing gun.
“I’ll take my chances,” he says, instead of all that. Kuroba looks like he understands all the things Shinichi hasn’t voiced, and maybe that’s the most attractive thing about Kuroba out of all his other virtues.
He settles a hand on Kuroba’s shoulder, and Kuroba smiles, dimple appearing thanks to the crooked angle of it.
“We can dig through your family treasure tomorrow,” Kuroba says. “I should head home. I have work tomorrow.”
“Or you could stay,” Shinichi replies. When Kuroba smile turns into a taunting grin, Shinichi shakes his head. “It’s a big house. There are plenty of spaces to sleep.”
“Make me some coffee in the morning,” Kuroba says, light, airy, “and I’ll consider it.”
Shinichi wakes up the hours later on the floor in the expansive Kudou library, surrounded by books about Hungarian architecture from during the early modern period that his father had used for reference while writing a Night Baron novel nearly a decade ago, still wrung out from an argument with Kuroba about the use of color in interior painting after the Reformation.
Kuroba is still asleep next to him, breathing easy, chest rising up and down with the steadiness of a metronome. His face is caught in a frown instead of a smile, and Shinichi watches him for a moment, still flabbergasted to find himself here, when only a week ago he still felt a little hollow. A little alone.
He likes it. He wants more nights bickering over pointless historical anecdotes after solving crimes, and maybe more mornings like this, waking up in a library with an ache in his back and a friend he can trust next to him. It’s good. It’s not what he thought he wanted, but Shinichi doesn’t always know what’s best, when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
He gets up to go put on coffee.
He’s pouring himself the first cup when Kuroba comes wandering in, yawning wide and stretching his arms up above his head, revealing a toned stomach laced with several thin, silvery scars. He’s carrying Shinichi’s phone.
“You got a text message,” Kuroba informs him, sitting down at the kitchen island and sliding Shinichi’s phone to him across the table.
Shinichi pours Kuroba a cup of coffee in a Tokyo University mug, and pushes it halfway across the island before picking up his phone.
It’s from Tsukimoto. Not sure if you’re aware, but Nakahara’s been keeping track of your whereabouts. The new car he registered for you both has a location tracker.
Shinichi blinks down at the message several times.
“Something bad?” Kuroba asks.
“My mentor-partner at the station’s been keeping tabs on me. One of the officers I’m on better terms with just texted me to let me know that the new Camry has a tracking device in it.”
Thank you, Shinichi writes back, unsure what else to say. I appreciate the heads up.
“Well, it would be hypocritical of me to find that unethical, probably, but I’m not a police officer.” Kuroba takes a sip of his coffee, and makes a satisfied hum. “I doubt his intentions match up with mine.”
“And what are your intentions?” Shinichi asks, taking his own sip.
“I’ll let you figure that one out, since you’re a detective and all that. What are you going to do about the car?”
“I’ve been looking for reasons not to drive it. I’m thankful to finally have a valid one.”
“I could take the engine apart, if you’d like,” Kuroba tells him. “Pull out a plug it’ll take a repairman an eternity to find, and maybe buy you twenty-four hours or so off the partner-grid.”
“You’re a menace,” Shinichi says, genuinely considering Kuroba’s suggestion.
“One of my best qualities,” Kuroba agrees. “What say you, Detective? Wanna steal something from your parents, break your company car, and then finish planning a trap to catch some warlock-wannabe serial killers with more moon problems than a werewolf before dinner?”
“If it weren’t professional time,” Shinichi replies, “that would be my ideal second date.”
Shinichi nods, setting aside the case notes he’s putting together for a straightforward revenge killing he and Nakahara had taken care of that morning. Shinichi had been careful not to say too much, listening to Nakahara aggressively interview the three witnesses as he trailed behind Tsukimoto to look at the evidence.
It had ended up being open and shut—all three witnesses saw the murder take place, right in the lobby of the Grand Prince Hotel, and the motive was a squabble over the last will and testament of both the victim and the suspect’s grandfather, who’d left the majority of his large estate to his favorite granddaughter, while the other granddaughter was left almost nothing, despite having borne the majority of the burden in taking care of him in his twilight years.
Kinoshita’s office is the same as ever. The Chief Inspector is sitting behind his computer, typing slowly with two fingers into the database as Shinichi sits down in the seat in front of his desk.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
Looking over at Shinichi, Kinoshita frowns. “I received phone calls from several civilians that you’ve been going to the homes of closed theft cases and requesting to see the items they’d reported stolen.”
Shinichi grits his teeth. “Yes, sir. I had a suspicion about all those cases being related, and I wanted to see for myself.”
“Nakahara tells me you’ve been spending a lot of your time at work ‘seeing for yourself’,” Kinoshita replies. “Now, Kudou-kun, I remember being a young detective myself, and wanting to see a conspiracy in every little thing. Sometimes, a spade is just a spade.” He steeples his fingers, and Shinichi’s eyes fall immediately to the large ring on the middle finger of his right hand. It’s white-gold, and though the diamonds set into it are small, there are many of them. Shinichi’s never seen him wearing it before. Kinoshita doesn’t even wear his wedding ring. “There’s no shame in investigating simple robberies.”
Another piece falls into place. “I know, sir.” Shinichi leans back in the chair. “I was just doing due diligence.”
“I know you’re used to being treated like you’re special,” Kinoshita says. “But you’re the lowest detective in the hierarchy here. You should still be an officer, and it was against my preference that you were promoted directly to detective. Stop wasting time, and do what Detective Nakahara asks of you.”
Shinichi intentionally forces himself not to look at the ring. “I understand, Chief Inspector. I’ll put the case down as closed, since the ring was recovered by the Beika branch.”
“That’s good,” Kinoshita says, and smiles slightly. “I knew you wouldn’t want to cause trouble for anyone.”
Shinichi leaves about twenty minutes later, taking the time to purposefully take all the case files he’d pulled back to the filing room, tucking them away where he got them from. It’s all for show, of course, since Haibara had already made digital copies, but...
Kinoshita gives him a condescendingly pleased look when Shinichi heads toward the storage room with the manila folders neatly closed. Nakahara watches him leave, as well, and when Shinichi comes back empty-handed, there’s a barely banked rage in his expression that leaves Shinichi more chilled than the excessive air-conditioning or today’s unfortunately brisk wind.
Shinichi takes his own car, his precious baby, to Beika station to see Detective Takagi, and fill him in on what they’d pieced together the previous night, after Kuroba’s left for work. He glosses over the tracking device in his car, and his suspicions about Kinoshita, but he can see Takagi’s apprehension about them anyway. Still, Takagi doesn’t tell him he’s wrong, or that it’s impossible, and Shinichi’s thankful once again to know police detectives like Takagi, Satou and Chiba.
Takagi takes notes in his tiny pad as Shinichi speaks, and when Shinichi’s finished summing everything up, he sets down his pen and sighs. “We can’t use an officer for the trap, if there are police involved. They’ll know immediately.”
“I figured,” Shinichi says. “Kuroba and I found a suitable diamond—one of my mother’s necklaces that she received as a gift from Kelzberg when she won Best Actress back in ninety-four.”
“And who do you want to take it in to get appraised?” Takagi asks. “It has to be someone who lives in a high-end building, with the latest RG security system running, right? Someone who would have seen a flier.”
“There’s only one good option.”
“Suzuki Sonoko,” Takagi agrees. “She recently moved out of her parents’ house, right?”
“And into a building very similar to the one Gotou-san lives in. Built from the same plans. It was bound to be one of the buildings that received a notice.” Shinichi snorts. “You’ll have to talk to her, though. We’re not… We don’t get along.”
“Because of your fallout with Mouri Ran, right?” Takagi’s face is serious.
“It started long before that. Sonoko and I have never actually gotten along. We put up with each other for Ran’s sake, but there’s been no love lost.”
Takagi sighs. “All right, I’ll speak to her tonight. She can maybe make an appointment today to get the necklace appraised over the weekend.”
“And I’ll ask Kuroba to take the day off, so we’re certain the other appraiser gets to take a long look at the necklace, and pass on what he needs to.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Takagi says, sighing heavily. “The sooner we can get this wrapped up the better.”
“It feels like it’s a bit early in whatever this is to give you a key,” Shinichi says, deciding he doesn’t mind.
“Suzuki Sonoko agreed to play bait for our diamond thieves,” Kuroba replies, tapping the earbud in his left ear. “I have never needed a key for any home in my entire life.”
“You say that with pride,” Shinichi remarks mildly, opening the refrigerator and pulling out leftover takeaway, and two sets of chopsticks. “Do I need to heat this up?”
“Only heathens reheat tonkatsu and tempura,” Kuroba replies, accepting the second pair of chopsticks. “The crust gets soggy.” He takes a piece of tempura fried shrimp as soon as Shinichi sets it between them on the table. With his mouth full, he asks: “What do you mean by ‘whatever this is’?”
“I told you before. I don’t have any sort of experience in this.” Shinchi takes a piece of tonkatsu. “And we’re… we’re not normal. We can’t follow the numbered steps from a Nachi Shingo romance movie and think it’ll apply.” He pushes the piece of meat into his mouth.
“Maybe we just can’t follow them in order,” Kuroba replies. He sets the shrimp tail on the empty container lid, wet with condensation from Shinichi’s refrigerator. “I guess for ‘normal’ people, solving yakuza human sacrifice murders is like, step thirty-eight?”
Shinichi laughs. “Something like that,” he agrees.
“Listen,” Kuroba says, “I know we’re skipping a ton of in-between stuff, but I already know the important things about you, and you already know the important things about me. I don’t see the point in sitting across from you in a restaurant and asking you what your favorite color is, when we can put a surveillance device on Suzuki Sonoko and figure out how to stop a cult from killing people.”
Shinichi considers that from every angle, turning it in his mind and finding it solid every place he pokes at it. “We’ll see,” he says. He sets his chopsticks down, and splays his palm on Kuroba’s chest, right atop his heart. Kurobasu heartbeat quickens. “We just met as our real selves. There’s no rush, because I’m in the right body now, and you’re still alive. We have time to figure it out.”
“Still alive,” Kuroba agrees, with a tiny, pleased smile.
Shinichi drops his hand, and grabs a piece of tempura eggplant.
“Her appointment with Genma-san, the senior gemologist at ‘Yuutaka’, is at eleven in the morning next Monday,” Kuroba says, casually. “Also, her boyfriend apparently walks around the apartment naked. She’s complaining about it to someone named Masumi on the phone.”
“That’s Sera-san. You thought she was a boy and undressed her in the bathroom so you could wear her clothes, once, remember?” Shinichi rolls his eyes at Kuroba’s exaggerated shudder of fear. “You’re such a creep.”
“You don’t seem to mind,” Kuroba says, and it feels, to Shinichi, already, like it’s an old, meaningless argument that neither of them will ever win. “Takeaway counts as a second date.”
“Does it?” Shinichi asks.
Kuroba steals a piece of tonkatsu. “Step six, possibly. I don’t watch a lot of rom-coms.”
There’s a package of rice flour on the top shelf, too high for Ran to reach, and without thinking, Shinichi walks up behind her and grabs it, pulling it down. “Here,” he says.
She blinks up at him, startled, and Shinichi looks away from her to Ayumi, who grins at him. “Shinichi-nii-san!”
“Hey,” he says. “What are you guys up to?”
“We’re making Conan-kun’s favorite curry,” Ayumi says.
Shinichi puts his hands in his pockets. “It’s my favorite, too,” he says, and sneaks a look at Ran, who has pasted a smile on her face even as she flinches. “I should…”
A warm hand at the small of his back steadies him. “Time to go, Detective,” Kuroba says. “I have about fifteen things I hate about that book you told me to read and I have work early tomorrow, so let’s get to yelling about it.”
Ran’s expression shifts, her expression growing curious as she notes the position of Kuroba’s hand, possessive and intimate. Shinichi flushes, avoiding her eyes and settling on Ayumi. “Enjoy the curry for me,” he tells her. “I really miss the taste of it.”
He lets Kuroba guide him toward the checkout, and Shinichi buys his three packages of coffee beans with cash at the automatic teller. They walk outside in silence.
“My best friend doesn’t talk to me much either,” Kuroba says. “The lies. I didn’t want to put her in the position of having to lie for me, so I lied to her.” He looks at Shinichi, and smiles. “I get it.”
“You do,” Shinichi agrees, softly, as Kuroba lets his hand fall from Shinichi’s back.
“Shinichi!” Shinichi looks over his shoulder to see Ran standing there outside the grocer, three bags hanging from her hands and a worried shape to her mouth, her hair blowing in the wind. “Sonoko said you were working on a case with Detective Takagi!”
He stares at her in surprise. “Yes,” he says.
“Be careful, then,” she says. “You’ve… you’ve been safe for a while, so try to keep it that way!”
Her care, so unexpected after so long and yet so very Ran, is comforting. “I’ll try,” he tells her, and, not wanting to push his luck, turns the corner, Kuroba right beside him.
“She’ll come around, seems like,” Kuroba says, and he hesitates. “Then you could date her, instead.”
“No,” Shinichi replies, and he finds that he means it. He wouldn’t have, three years ago. He maybe wouldn’t have three months ago. He means it now, though. “No, I couldn’t. Not ever again.” He smiles at Kuroba. “Ran’s strong, and brave, but…”
“But she doesn’t burn with it,” Shinichi says. “It’s not…”
Kuroba studies him, eyes overbright. “Yeah,” he says. “Not everyone’s destined to be an object constantly in motion.”
“I bugged, like, half the staff,” Kuroba tells him. “And also Nakahara, because I’m petty.”
“I think I could grow to like you,” Haibara says, already loading Kuroba’s tracking software onto her computer. “Well, there’s a single location they all keep going to. It’s near ‘Yuutaka’, on the seedier side of the neighborhood.”
“In yakuza territory,” Shinichi says. “It makes sense.”
“It does,” Kuroba says. “Where is it, Smart Girl?”
“An abandoned warehouse behind a karaoke bar,” Haibara says, pulling up a street-mapping application that utilizes traffic monitoring software to image the streets. She zooms in on the warehouse, bringing its foreboding exterior into focus. “Charming.”
“You take me to so many nice places, Detective,” Kuroba teases, and Shinichi laughs. “We should go check it out. Tell your Detective Takagi where we’ll be, and we can scope it out. Maybe it’s a temporary hideout, instead of something permanent.”
“Sure,” Shinichi says. “We should take your bike. It’ll be easier to hide.”
“You don’t need an excuse to give me a hug,” Kuroba replies. “And we should take the train, so we don’t have a vehicle at all. My co-workers know my bike, and your car has never blended in a day of its short existence.”
“It’s too flashy for a detective,” Haibara says, sounding exactly like she does in Shinichi’s head, and Shinichi shrugs.
“We should go now.” He looks at Haibara. “You think Professor Agasa will pick us up in a pinch?”
“Doesn’t he always?” Haibara looks over at him. “Put trackers on yourselves, too. I’ll keep an eye on you. If you stay stationary for more than an hour, I’ll assume you’ve been captured and call in the fire department, since the police are touch-and-go.”
Shinichi nods his gratitude, and he and Kuroba leave the house, walking the short distance to the train station. “This is probably going to backfire,” Kuroba says, when they’re on the eastbound train. “If there are too many of them, we’ll be in real danger of getting killed.”
“We’ve got Takagi on standby, and Haibara watching us,” Shinichi says. “It’s not completely reckless.” He shrugs. “You don’t have to come with me.”
“Now, now, Detective, when have I ever thought a plan was too reckless?” He leans into Shinichi’s space, too close for public, earning a disapproving stare from a man in a business suit. Kuroba, undaunted, leans just a little closer. “Am I bothering you?”
“No,” Shinichi says. “What’s the oil smell?”
Kuroba squints at him. “What do you mean?”
“The lemon is your soap, and the rubbing alcohol is from cleaning the magnifying lenses you use at work,” Shinichi explains. “I noticed you had one-time-use glass cleaning wipes on your workbench. I haven’t figured out what the smell of oil is from, though.”
“What kind of oil?” Kuroba asks him, but a smile plays about his lips, which Shinichi is coming to learn means Kuroba knows exactly what the smell is, and he wants Shinichi to deduce it.
Shinichi looks Kuroba up and down. He’s wearing another red jersey, this time for some European team, even though Shinichi knows Kuroba has no interest in professional sports of any kind, and a pair of plain trousers, with no bulges or bumps to distract from the fall of them.
But hadn’t his KID suit been the same? All well-tailored straight lines, disguising the myriad of tools and tricks at KID’s fingertips?
“I’ll figure it out,” Shinichi warns him, as the train announces their stop.
Shinichi lets Kuroba lead them through the streets. In the nicer part of the neighborhood, with normal stores and dull street lights, Kuroba walks with his shoulders back, his hands in his pockets and his eyes facing forward, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Shinichi does his best to mimic the posture, and Kuroba’s subtle looks in his direction, free of correction, tell him he’s doing enough.
As the stores change, though, Kuroba takes to slinking through the darkest parts of the street, avoiding the pools of light around the street lamps and weaving through tight alleyways, stepping over cats and dodging over-full recycling bins filled with beer and sake bottles. Shinichi’s feet stick to the floor, and he feels his heart speed up any time they pass someone.
“Pretend you don’t notice anyone else,” Kuroba tells him, “and they’ll pay you the same courtesy.”
The warehouse, when they find it, is an eyesore in an already grungy and declining neighborhood. The walls are stripped in several places down to the brick, and it smells like liquor and piss as they approach the decaying iron fence.
“I prefer when evil works from a penthouse,” Kuroba whispers, as he circles the property, testing automatically for the weakest spot in the fence. “It’s less—” He stops, words cutting off, eyes going wide, and then there’s a hand around Shinichi’s face, pressing a cloth over his nose and mouth.
Chloroform, he thinks, and then he exhales, and the world slips away from him.
“What position is that?” Shinichi croaks out, his words slurring. His throat is dry, and he can taste the chloroform at the back of his strangely thick tongue. He can’t panic. Panic is the enemy of planning.
“The position of losing your brilliant mind from the police force because you couldn’t follow orders,” Kinoshita replies. “I told you to stop chasing this.”
“You had to have known it was all too suspicious,” Shinichi manages to say, trying to shift his weight. His legs and arms are numb. “Did you inject me with something?” He’s still slurring.
“A weak muscle relaxant,” Kinoshita says. He’s the only one talking, but several of the other occupants of the room are leaning casually against the destroyed walls, casually watching, and Shinichi gets the impression that here, Kinoshita is not in charge, exactly. “The full moon is tomorrow, and so the sacrifice will have to happen tonight, while we’re still in waxing gibbous.”
“I was born in May,” Shinichi says, “not April.” He looks around. They’re still in the warehouse. It’s old, decrepit, and cool wind is blowing in through the holes in the walls and ceiling. There’s dark brown stains on the floor, and Shinichi has the dark suspicion that it’s old blood.
There’s something warm at his back, holding him upright. When he tries to straighten, ropes pull at his wrist, and the warmth groans, with Kuroba’s voice, and Shinichi swallows, and tries to gesture at Kuroba with his eyes. “I don’t know his birthday, but I doubt it’s in April. That would have come up. We’re not sacrifice material.”
“You did do your research, didn’t you?” Kinoshita smiles, and strokes the facial hair along his jaw. His ring glints in the moonlight. “You were almost right.”
Shinichi closes his eyes, and tries to organize what he’s already seen, ignoring the pulsing discomfort of his chloroform hangover. Five men, dressed in suit bottoms and dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up, all tattooed, all armed. Two women, in similar attire.
And there are footsteps approaching, too. Another man, with a gait that Shinichi has heard before, heavy soled dress shoes louder on concrete than the linoleum at the station. Nakahara.
“The lunisolar calendar, then,” Shinichi says, eventually, when there’s nothing else he knows to add to his mental threat level evaluation of the room. “High diamond Tang symbolism.”
He is starting to feel his toes, and sooner than expected. He might get sick easier now, and only run shorter distances, and ache in every joint when he does too much, but his body has learned to eat through toxins impossibly fast. After the apoptoxin, Shinichi’s body doesn’t even respect anaesthesia.
“Excellent deduction, Detective Kudou.” Kinoshita kicks his calf lightly, as a test, and Shinichi suppresses his muscle reflexes to give the impression that they’re still completely dead. “As expected of you.”
“You’re very condescending,” Shinichi tells him, opening his eyes again as Nakahara steps right into Shinichi’s line of sight.
He’s holding Shinichi’s phone and service weapon, as well as Kuroba’s phone and a circular ring full of different shaped lockpicks.
Kinoshita laughs. “You might not have noticed, Kudou, but so are you.”
“Sometimes,” Shinichi agrees, “but I don’t do it to people who are smarter than I am.”
Kinoshita’s smile stiffens. Shinichi waits for retaliation, but Kinoshita just shakes his head. “Check the bindings. There’s a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it.”
“I knew you were going to be trouble,” Nakahara murmurs, roughly jerking on the nylon rope tying Kuroba and Shinichi together at the wrists, before doing the same to the rope at his ankles. “Knew you’d never be able to mind your own business.”
“I’m a detective,” Shinichi replies. “A good one. Minding my own business isn’t part of the job description.” Kuroba shifts again behind him, and Shinichi can feel the change in his breathing as he comes awake. Kuroba doesn’t give the game away, though, and keeps pretending to be unconscious. “You won’t be able to get away with this. I’ve told too many people where I planned to be tonight.”
“But only one of them is a detective. If Takagi cares about his wife and child, he’ll keep things to himself.” Shinichi’s throat feels tight with worry, and he shoves it down. It won’t help him now. “Sit tight, Kudou. You’re a special sacrifice. You’ll be empowering the stone of someone that matters, one of the top yakuza bosses in Tokyo. It’s an honor.”
Shinichi scoffs, and makes sure his words still sound thick and slurred as he replies, despite feeling returning to his tongue. “You’re a police detective, and you’re killing people for magic powers you aren’t even sure are real?” He narrows his eyes. “You’re an embarrassment.”
“Of course moon magic is real,” Kinoshita shouts, and there’s a manic gleam in his eye. “It’s always been real.”
Shinichi glances past him, to Nakahara, who is looking at Kinoshita with disdain until he notices he’s the focus of Shinichi’s attention, and his mouth splits into a vicious grin.
Kinoshita’s phone rings, and he steps back from Shinichi and lifts it to his ear, accepting the call. “Just dealing with a rat infestation at the warehouse. I’ll be right there,” he says, after listening for almost a minute. He ends the call immediately, and gestures to Nakahara, as well as two of the suited men. “Watch them?”
“My pleasure,” Nakahara says, and Kinoshita, along with the rest of the people in the room, circle the defunct power generator and leave them alone. Three is manageable, Shinichi thinks. Maybe.
“Still big?” Kuroba replies, in much crisper English, and Shinichi leans his head back as Nakahara walks around the two yakuza guys to answer a phone call out of earshot.
“I’m good,” Shinichi says. No one is paying attention to them, for all that Nakahara had agreed to watch them. Probably because they think they’re both still unable to move. “How are you doing with the muscle relaxant?”
“I’m unaffected. I’ve been building up a tolerance to most kinds of numbing agents since I was nine. It just makes sense, when I play with them so much.”
“My body processes it really fast,” Shinichi says. “I can feel most of my extremities.”
“Nice touch continuing to slur.” Kuroba shifts his hands slightly. “I’ll have myself free in just a minute, and then you can work on your ankles.”
“The smartest move would be to run,” Shinichi says, “but I’m not sure we can.”
“I’ve got two smoke grenades. They were really bad at searching. All they got was my phone.”
“And a set of lockpicks.”
“My spare lockpicks,” Kuroba corrects. “My good set is still with me. That means they have no idea who I am, or what I’m capable of.”
Shinichi bites down on a smile as Nakahara returns. “How much longer?”
“Not much,” Kuroba says, “so we’ll have to—” He’s interrupted by a low beeping noise coming from the inside of Shinichi’s pants at the ankle. It’s soon echoed by one coming from Kuroba’s shirt sleeve.
“What’s that!” Nakahara shouts, crossing the room in large steps, at an almost jog. “What did you do!”
“I guess we’ve been stationary more than an hour,” Shinichi muses, and Kuroba slips his hands free, rolling sideways and handing Shinichi a switch-knife to cut off the rope at his ankles.
“Sounds like the Fire Department is on its way,” Kuroba adds, and then, as Nakahara and the two yakuza thugs draw their weapons, he sets off a smoke grenade, filling the room with a whimsical lavender smoke.
Shinichi grabs Kuroba by the wrist and takes off running across the warehouse in the direction Kinoshita had left from, hoping it leads to an exit. Behind them he can hear shouting, and one of the yakuza guys has already made it clear of the smoke, charging after them. Shinichi grabs a loose pipe that sags along the wall, and swings it in a semicircle, crashing into the guy at the knees and sending him sprawling to the floor before he drops the pipe and catching up to Kuroba as he turns a sharp corner, coming up on huge double doors.
“Don’t let Kudou get away!” Shinichi hears Nakahara snap, and Shinichi pushes out through the doors, Kuroba right beside him.
There’s nothing loose to use as a barricade, and Kuroba is slowing, face in a rictus of pain as his left knee buckles. “Not so good at running, these days,” Kuroba says, as Shinichi grabs him by the upper arm and pulls him onward, around a piece of falling fence and further, out onto the street right as Nakahara pushes through the double doors after them, firing a bullet that embeds itself into a crumbling brick wall less than a third of a meter from Shinichi’s head.
They run past the karaoke bar, past two gambling dens, dodging people left and right as Nakahara and the two thugs with him give chase.
“We need to get away from potential backup for them,” Kuroba says, his voice tight with pain, and Shinichi redirects them, no longer concerned about dodging light, in the direction of the small park that backs the nicer end of the neighborhood.
They’re not moving fast enough, between Shinichi’s chloroform headache and Kuroba’s leg, but they make it to the park, and Shinichi pushes Kuroba into the bushes and dives in after him just as the sky opens up and rain begins to pour.
They roll out onto the overgrown grass, and Shinichi pulls Kuroba up roughly, intent on continuing to run. He can still hear Nakahara shouting, and when he casts a look back, Nakahara has gained two more helpers.
Fire department sirens are already blaring from several streets away as the rain drenches Shinichi, making it harder to see, water falling into his eyes faster than he can blink it away.
Kuroba is even slower behind him now, his left leg almost dragging behind him as Shinichi leads them deeper into a community park, grabbing Kuroba’s arm and tugging him away from view from the entrance, and away from the eyes of casual observers on the street.
He yanks Kuroba in close behind a cluster of trees as he hears the creaking of the gate, Kuroba’s heaving breaths hot and shuddering against Shinichi’s throat as they wait.
“Where are you, Rookie?” Shinichi hears Nakahara snarl. “Stop hiding! You had your chance to hide! You couldn’t help but show off, and now you’ve made a huge mess of everything!”
Shinichi doesn’t have his service weapon, or any of his tools from the professor. All he has is his thin cardigan, his jeans, and a perfectly normal pair of shoes, no electric power included. He’s helpless, and thanks to a body that will never fully recover, he can’t count on overpowering Nakahara, either.
He tries to think as Kuroba drops his forehead to Shinichi’s shoulder, lips dragging across Shinichi’s collarbone. He needs a plan.
“You’re not here by yourself, you know,” Kuroba manages, pain still audible in his voice. “I might not be as limber as I used to be, but I’m still the escape artist, between the two of us.”
Then Kuroba is stepping back, putting a little space between them and offering Shinichi a crooked grin, and Shinichi comes to the startling realization that he’s not the one of them most likely to have a trick up his sleeve. “Kuroba?”
“Two against five is good odds,” Kuroba tells him, his voice almost drowned out by the rain. “Especially if one is playing distraction.”
Shinichi nods immediate acceptance, and spins out from behind the trees alone, moving into Nakahara’s line of sight, standing sideways to make himself a smaller target. He remembers that third of a meter. Shinichi wouldn’t have missed. Nakahara’s not as good a shot.
“There you are,” Nakahara says. “I told Kinoshita from the beginning that we needed to get rid of you, you know. That we should arrange an accident. That’s why we gave you the case at all.”
“You didn’t expect me to learn anything?”
“How did you even come so quickly to the right conclusions?” Nakahara pushes his hair out of his face, his gun wavering. “Sure, you had a reputation, but it wasn’t until I saw you in action that I realized how big a liability you were going to be. With you at Takanawa station, you were going to be watching us. It was a problem. I put you on the case, and figured you’d stumble onto the yakuza yourself before you got anywhere, and they’d clean up the mess for us.”
Shinichi frowns. “Why did you… Why are you working with the yakuza anyway? You’re… You’re not like Kinoshita.”
“I don’t have some sob story or divine devotion to a cause, if that’s what you’re asking,” replies Nakahara. “I’m a so-so detective, and I’ll never be more than that. But I can stick around and take my guaranteed promotions like anyone else can, and eventually I’ll be useful enough to the yakuza that I’ll make more money than you can imagine.”
“Money,” Shinichi says, grimly. “That’s your only motive? It’d be more interesting if you were a zealot, like the rest of them.”
“Nope,” Nakahara says. “Just plain old-fashioned greedy.” He clicks the safety off on his gun, and Shinichi notices that Nakahara is wearing a pair of white evidence gloves. “It’s such a shame that you’re going to be shot with your own weapon, Kudou. Ballistics and fingerprints are going to come up empty if anyone tries to look into the death of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s most promising new recruit.”
“Nah, Shinichi and I are tired of almost dying,” says Kuroba’s voice, from behind Nakahara, and Nakahara starts to spin around, only to have the gun shot right out of his hand, a single, steel-edged playing card embedding itself in the muddy ground. “We’re past that phase in our relationship, now.”
“The oil smell,” Shinichi says, bemused, and Kuroba grins at him, shooting another card at the gun, sending it skidding across the grass until it lands at Shinichi’s feet. Carefully, Shinichi picks it up, and points it at Nakahara. “I don’t even want to know where you had that hidden. You get the rest of them?”
“Knocked them out and tied them up back at the entrance to the park,” Kuroba replies. “Hid them behind some bushes until we can get a few officers you trust to take them in.”
“Cards?” Nakahara asks, holding both his hands up as Shinichi keeps his gun trained on him. “Isn’t that the signature of…” He gapes at Kuroba, who has walked around in a wide circle to stand next to Shinichi. “Are you…” He grins. “Let me go or I’ll tell everyone that I—”
Kuroba cackles, snapping his fingers, and the playing cards disappear. “The thing is,” he says, “I’m retired, and no one has heard from me in years.”
“Besides, after all the head trauma, no one’s going to believe you,” Shinichi says, taking three broad steps toward Nakahara and bringing the butt of his service gun down on the top of Nakahara’s head, sending him crumpling to the ground unconscious.
Kuroba doesn’t waste any time, hog-tying Nakahara up with a long strip of nylon from who knows where, and then fishing through his pockets until he finds Nakahara’s phone.
“We’re both going to catch pneumonia,” Kuroba says, when Shinichi turns back to him, clicking the safety on his gun before sliding it into the back of his trousers. Kuroba’s shivering, and pain is written all over his face as he limps closer to Shinichi again, holding out Nakahara’s phone. “Your life is ridiculous, Detective.”
“We’ve only been on two dates,” Shinichi replies, his own breathing still harsh as the rain continues to pound down on him. He drops to his knees, exhausted, holding Nakahara’s phone tightly as he opens the messaging app, typing quickly and sending their location to Takagi and Tsukimoto after adding their numbers from memory. “It’s not too late to back out on all this, if it’s too much.”
“Are you kidding me?” Kuroba drops to his knees right in front of Shinichi, cringing at the jarring pain to his leg, and reaches out to rest his hands on Shinichi’s shoulders. “Retirement was getting so boring. And we have a cult to bring down.”
“Boring,” Shinichi says, trying to sound judgemental. The thing is, though, Shinichi agrees with Kuroba. He’s always loved this; being right in the thick of things, risking his neck and taking every dare. His life is ridiculous, but most days, lately, that’s by design, not happenstance.
Whatever this is, between them, has been tested by fire and brimstone long before this.
Shinichi’s almost certain that somehow, they’re going to work, he and Kuroba Kaito.
“Absolutely boring,” Kuroba replies, and then he’s hugging Shinichi, drawing him in close enough that he can feel Kuroba’s laughing puffs of air on his cold skin, and feel his heart wildly beating against Shinichi’s own. “I think, considering who we are, getting kidnapped and tied together in a warehouse is our third date, anyway.”
Kuroba presses his lips to Shinichi’s neck, kissing his racing pulse right below the curve of Shinichi’s jaw. “Now you’re getting it, Detective,” he says, and Shinichi pulls back just far enough to cup Kuroba’s cheek, and draw him in for a kiss.
Kuroba kisses him back eagerly, sliding his tongue along the seam of Shinichi’s lips, demanding access, and Shinichi, unsure, parts for him, allows Kuroba to slip his tongue into Shinichi’s mouth and explore the backs of his teeth.
When Shinichi pulls away, gasping, he relishes the look on Kuroba’s face—he’s slick-skinned and rosy and smiling from ear to ear. There’s a ringing noise in his head, though, and Shinichi knows that sign. “Sorry, but I’m going to pass out now.”
“How romantic,” Kuroba murmurs, and Shinichi’s pretty sure he catches him as he falls forward into him, the world going dark.
Detective Takagi is dozing in the chair by his bed, but he jolts awake when Shinichi shifts himself higher in an attempt to sit up. “Kudou-kun!”
“Detective Takagi?” His voice is hoarse and barely audible.
“Don’t strain yourself,” Takagi says, pushing Shinichi carefully back down in the bed. “I just wanted to talk to you about what’s happened.”
“Kinoshita was involved, too,” Shinichi says. “He left the warehouse, but Kuroba-san heard them talking about using his power to make the case go cold.”
“He was taken into custody that same night. It’s all over the Tokyo news. There’s going to be a massive investigation into what happened at Takanawa station, and their ties with the yakuza.”
“Was my name linked to the story?” Shinichi asks, and at Takagi’s tight nod, Shinichi sighs. “Like things weren’t tense enough at work.”
“About that,” Takagi says. “Chief Inspector Megure was very disheartened at the reports of how things were going at Takanawa. He and the new acting Chief Inspector at Takanawa, Shinozaki, decided it might not be a good fit for you in the wake of all this.”
Shinichi licks his lips. “Am I… being fired?” He had, after all, broken protocol. He’d investigated his superiors on his own time, using his badge to get information about a case he’d technically been taken off of. At least, he thinks, there’s the Mouri Kogoro route, if it comes to that.
“Well, in a normal situation, that would be the result,” Takagi says. “But you did expose high level police corruption, and…” He hesitates. “And I need a regular partner, still.”
Shinichi’s heart leaps into his throat. “At Beika,” he says, not quite believing his luck.
“It might take you a while to win over Satou,” Takagi warns. “My wife thinks you broke Mouri-chan’s heart.” He gets to his feet. “I’ll let you get some more rest, Kudou-kun. I’ll come back by tomorrow with the transfer paperwork, or, if they release you, you can come right down to the station.”
“Thank you, Detective Takagi,” Shinichi says. “I couldn’t have solved this case without you.”
Takagi stops in the doorway, and smiles at Shinichi cautiously. “Then it’s just like old times,” he says, and when Shinichi nods in confirmation, his eyes go wide, before he nods back, and exits the room.
Shinichi barely has a moment to adjust his blankets before there’s a knock at the edge of his door.
It’s Ran, holding an entire bowl full of sliced apples. “Your parents are coming,” she says. “They’ll be here in about five hours, give or take.”
“Oh no,” Shinichi says, already knowing his mother is going to be outrageous about this.
“You haven’t been in the hospital for a while,” Ran says, setting the apples down on his tray, and putting handmade cards from Mitsuhiko, Genta, and Ayumi along the windowsill, where he can look at them perfectly from the comfort of his hospital bed. “You could have died. I thought I told you to be careful! You never listen to me, Shinichi!”
“It wasn’t that dangerous, this time. It’s nothing like…” He shrugs, ignoring the sting as the IV in his arm pulls. “These were ordinary criminals. Connected, sure, but ordinary.”
“But that Black Org… They weren’t ordinary.”
“They weren’t,” Shinichi replies. “Not even close to it.”
Ran’s face is tight, unsure, and Shinichi’s always going to be a little in love with how open she is, and how her expressions are billboards for her emotions. Ran is someone Shinichi has never had to figure out, because she’s never held anything back. He admires it about her, as much as it terrifies him. “Ordinary or not, you almost died, Shinichi. Again.”
“Sorry,” he says, plucking at the blanket.
“When Detective Takagi told me you were here, all I could think was ‘what if that idiot dies before I figure out how to forgive him’!”
“You’re going to forgive me?” Shinichi asks. “It’s been… It’s been years.”
“I don’t know,” Ran says. “Sonoko thinks I shouldn’t. But… We’ve known each other our whole lives, Shinichi, and I’ve never known you to do anything drastic that wasn’t coming from the right place.” She crunches up handfuls of her pale yellow skirt in her fists. “What you did… I’m always second-guessing people now. I can’t even trust children, because Conan-kun… You, that was you, were a child. Do you know how scary that is?”
“I was left to die at an amusement park by an organization of people so powerful that they were in the government, in the police. Doing what I did… that was to keep you safe. I won’t regret it, Ran. They never touched you, and they would have if they’d seen me with you again.”
She nods, and for the first time in a long time, she presses her fingertips to the back of his hand, and smiles. “I’ll talk to you soon, Shinichi,” she says, and then she’s gone, leaving him alone in his hospital room.
He rests his head against his pillow, and stares up at the white tiled ceiling for a few minutes, before he reaches for his phone. The screen is cracked, and there’s water damage at one corner, but it works. He texts an ‘I’m fine,’ to Heiji and Haibara, not bothering to read their numerous messages to him first.
Like hell you are, Heiji writes back immediately. What’s this I hear about you having a boyfriend, by the way, huh?! Why’d I hear about him from Haibara? I’ll be expecting to meet him when I’m in Tokyo, Kudou!
Shinichi imagines Heiji meeting Kuroba, two huge personalities clashing, and the image makes him laugh. He loves it. He can’t wait.
He opens a new message to Kuroba. Still alive?
i’m three doors down from you, Kuroba’s message reads. i hate hospitals. want me to get rid of my friends and come over so we can make a break for it?
of course i do, Shinichi replies, already getting out of bed so he can find his jeans.
it’s a date~ 🙁 reads Kuroba’s final reply, and Shinichi, though his lungs ache, laughs aloud.