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Riddle in Reverse

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Dressed in Kaitou Corbeau’s tuxedo, Kuroba Chikage hurried down the service corridor.  The heist was scheduled to begin in a half-hour, and she needed to get into position soon—besides, while she’d rigged the cameras on this area to loop, police patrols were an ever-present risk.

However, even as alert as she was, she missed the presence of another person approaching until he was in her line of sight—which meant that she was also in his.  Frowning, she pulled a smoke bomb and a handful of feathers from a pocket in her jacket—

“Kuroba Chikage-san,” said the approaching figure, and all thoughts of disappearing vanished as thoroughly as she’d meant to.

“I’m sorry, but who are you talking about?” she asked politely, in a voice so much like her late husbands’ that even Kudou Yuusaku or another close friend might have trouble recognizing her as someone other than her husband himself.  She’d learned well, from him.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not in the mood for games, ma’am,” said the other figure—at a closer range, revealed to be a teenage, half-Japanese blond that Chikage recognized from both the news and her son’s stories—Hakuba Saguru, the Task Force’s high school detective.

“Perhaps another time,” he offered.  “For now, I would know your intentions.”

“A phantom thief steals, and returns, but they do not offer gifts, especially not when the asker is so blunt in their demands,” Chikage replied.

“Again, I have no desire to play games,” Hakuba said.  “Now, tell me: What do you hope to accomplish by wearing your husband’s face to challenge your son?”

“I wear no one’s face but my own,” Chikage said plainly—and it was true enough, as Corbeau was her own creation and it was Corbeau’s face, not Toichi’s, she wore at the moment.

“You lie well, but I know better than to believe you,” Hakuba said, in what could either be an attempt of flattery or a completely accidental compliment—she knew from her son that the boy’s social competence varied wildly.

“I have places to be,” Chikage said, imperious.  “Cease your questions; either make your attempt at arresting me or get out of my way.”

“You misunderstand my intentions entirely, ma’am,” Hakuba said.  “I am not here to arrest you.  I am here to know your reasons for challenging KID.”

Intrigued despite herself by how accurate her son’s description of Hakuba’s one-track mind was, she asked, “And what would you do with that information, if I told you?”

“I would decide whether to allow the heist to proceed as you planned it,” Hakuba stated plainly.  “Should I find your reasons good, I will continue to the announced location and mention this meeting to no one.  Should I find them lacking, I will call for reinforcements and force you to make a hasty escape.   I would then continue doing the same thing at every heist you set up until you returned to America in frustration.”

Chikage was too insulted to delay her outrage with another denial.  “What gives you the right to decide whether my reasons for holding a heist are legitimate?”

Hakuba cocked his head to the side.  “I’m affiliated with the police,” he said simply.

“Then just call for reinforcements,” Chikage challenged.  “You know that I was asking a different question.”

“True enough,” Hakuba said.  “I’ll reply with a question, then.  What gives you the right to return from the States and interfere with his work, just when things have started to settle down?”

Chikage’s first instinct was to respond, “I’m his mother,” but she couldn’t incriminate herself that way.  After a brief pause, she answered, “Why should you care?  You’re one of the detectives on his case.  ‘Interference’ just makes him easier to catch.”  She put some bite into the last word.

He doesn’t seem to feel it, though—and how, exactly, did a Holmes-obsessed high-school detective gain a Poker Face that equaled her son’s and approached hers?—taking her reply stone-faced before offering his own retort with a grin that she couldn’t decipher.

“Your son is quite aware that I have an interest in him,” he said.  “I’m afraid I’ve led him to misinterpret the nature of that interest, for my own ends.  I want the best outcome possible for him.  However, just as KID is not a straightforward thief, a straightforward method such as offering him consistent support outright or performing the tasks he sets himself for him could backfire.  My current situation allows me to be in a position where I can know when he needs intervention, and then intervene in the way that is most likely to aid him.”

“I am not Kaitou KID’s father, and I really have no idea where you’ve gotten that idea,” Chikage dismissed. 

“Perhaps it’s the resemblance?” Hakuba rejoined, a bit of a barb to the retort.  “Now, tell me, Kuroba-san, why did you pick Kuroba Toichi’s face for Corbeau, and why are you here?”

“While I do happen to resemble the great magician Kuroba Toichi, it’s mere coincidence.”

Hakuba sighed softly.  “Kaitou Corbeau, then, if you insist.  Why are you here?”

He won’t stop asking, will he?  Chikage thought.  And nothing I say will remove his suspicion that it’s me.  How is he so certain, anyhow?  This entire situation is suspicious…But it can’t hurt that much, to tell him my reasons, as long as I keep them vague.

“I am here to test him,” Chikage said. “Whether KID is returned or replaced by a protégé, the individual wearing the top hat must be up to a certain standards or else the reputations of all phantom thieves will be harmed.”

“That wasn’t a lie,” Hakuba said slowly.  “There were some omissions, but you were being honest.  That’s all you are?  You’re a bloody test?” His voice hardened with every word.

Then, he took a breath and shouted, voice echoing down the corridor, “I FOUND CORBEAU!”

Chikage ran for the nearest exit, hoping the police hadn’t already gotten there—she was more than capable of outmaneuvering them, of course, but it was difficult and she’d prefer not to.  At this rate, she really would be late for the heist.

This Hakuba kid was clearly more dangerous than he looked.

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After three straight heists of trying and failing to outmaneuver a boy who her son had been outfoxing—often by the skin of his teeth, yes, but outfoxing nonetheless—for months, Chikage was well and truly suspicious.  Either the newspapers, Nakamori, and Jii had all missed Kaito becoming the literal incarnation of Arsene Lupin, but only when Hakuba was present, or Hakuba was holding back when it came to chasing Kaito.

She was disinclined to take his claims of “wanting the best for her son” at face value—why, then, did he chase KID?—but she didn’t have another explanation.  Yet.  If she wanted to keep her son safe, or succeed as Corbeau, it was becoming increasingly clear that figuring out exactly who Hakuba Saguru was would be essential.

First, of course, she checked his records.  The Tokyo Police were rife with infiltrators from Jackal’s organization, and many of them could, quite honestly, say that they wanted KID to succeed—if only because they wanted the fruits of his labor for themselves.  His oddly protective behavior seemed strange for someone from that organization, but she couldn’t dismiss the theory based on that.

There were other possibilities, as well—a rival thief, perhaps, or a warlock of Koizumi’s ilk—but the organization member theory was the most troubling and the most easily supported.

It was still only a moment’s work to hack into the Tokyo MPD’s database and pull his records.   She printed them to review in greater detail, but paid the most attention to the clerk who’d signed off on his police consultant authorization.  One of the nighttime clerks, Ookuri, had also held that position when Toichi had been KID—and he’d been with the organization that wore black then, as well.  If Hakuba’s records were signed by him, it was much more likely that he was affiliated with Them than if his records was signed by another clerk.  Chikage and Toichi had kept a list of dirty officers as well—if any of their signatures appeared on the document along with Ookuri’s, he was certainly dirty.

She scanned the document.  A day clerk she didn’t recognize, Momoyama, had signed off on the records, and all of the other signatures on the document were either Nakamori’s or those of other high-ranked officers connected to the Task Force.  It wasn’t proof that he was clean, but it was at least proof that if he wasn't, he was smart enough to know how to hide it.  Which she already knew, since, in a way, she already knew he was dirty—after all, he had let a phantom thief run free, when it was ordinarily his job to catch them.

But, nothing she saw indicated a connection with Jackal’s group.  Satisfied, she moved on to his personal records.  They were real, but incomplete—nothing connected to the name Hakuba Saguru went back farther than three years—ah, an adoption.  Interesting.  And the previous records were sealed.  Closed adoptions for teenagers were fairly unusual, especially since his birth parents weren’t listed on the document and hadn’t signed it, either.

It was a much more interesting history that she had anticipated, and she wondered if her son was aware of it.  She supposed if he was, he was probably being polite about it, dear boy that he was.  She’d raised him a bit too well, perhaps.

But, the sealed records allowed for a great variety of pasts.  Jackal’s organization was known to raise sleeper agents.  This Hakuba Saguru…he would need to be watched, and researched further.  Best to start talking to people he knew.  Not the ones who would alert him—the casual acquaintances first, perhaps.

She’d wanted to meet Koizumi Akako, at any rate.

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How is a raven like a writing-desk? No answer.

—Lewis Carroll