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The Young Royals of Deduction

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It's July 5th, 2015, and I'm waiting in a photographer's office, the only room in his studio that's available during his morning session with another company.  This will be a relevant point later, but my early arrival and the sparse environs have left me with little to do but go over my notes, both on the upcoming interview and the contracts arranged for it.  More specifically, I check that my list of questions meet the contract requirements, even though I, my editors, and the magazine's Legal department have all done so repeatedly over the past week.

There are a perhaps unsurprising number of restrictions stipulated in the contracts: "unsurprising", in that all involved are under eighteen, and more than one have been kidnapped and injured on separate occasions in the line of duty; but the uncertainty of "perhaps" is in that most of them were suggested by Edogawa Conan, the youngest -- by far -- of the four prodigies I'm about to meet.

Some of these stipulations follow:
- Questions must be addressed to all four participants.  No singling anyone out.
- Questions about open cases are banned.
- Any information about friends, family, and acquaintances -- with the exception of Edogawa's famous Sleeping Kogoro, and one person whose inclusion in this article is negotiated after the fact -- must have all identifiers removed for their protection.
- No adult material, since Edogawa is seven after all.
- I must accept "no" and "I'd rather not talk about it" as answers.

And, most bemusingly:
- The answers to a particular type of question must be superimposed on a photograph of fish.

This last one, inexplicably, was requested by Hakuba Saguru, the eldest and most experienced of the four at relations with the fourth estate.

Soon enough, and several minutes early as well, the thunderous footsteps and voices of several young people in the hall herald their arrival.  An assistant bows them into the office, and I get my first look at the four children taking the investigative world by storm.

Hakuba Saguru, known as the Wolf of Europe to the media there, is the youngest of the three foremost Kid experts in the world (though Edogawa Conan is often considered an unofficial fourth).  He turns out to be a tall, composed young man with tea-blond hair and shoulders that look even broader in person than they do on television.  At the moment, he's dressed in an exquisitely seasonal summerweight linen suit of light gray, with a crisp white shirt and matcha-green tie.  The tie brings out a hint of the same color in his eyes, which are a rare shade of light brown I will later be informed is called "hazel".

Hattori Heiji is far more casual in his dress, with a smirk that's equally so as he banters with Hakuba-san.  Dark-complexioned and dark-haired, the Detective of the West wears jeans as often as possible, and in deference to the weather he's wearing a loose mesh sports jersey: Hanshin Tigers, "of course", which doesn't at all match his trademark Sax baseball cap.

I confess, upon seeing Sera Masumi -- of no overseas repute, which I'll discover is a matter more of location than the prodigious skill she's displayed since returning to Japan -- I do a double take.  There isn't a single sign that she's a girl, not even when she removes her bucket hat to reveal a head of dark, beachy waves and an adorable snaggletoothed grin.  The grin only widens when she looks at me, and later on she'll demonstrate how complete the illusion is by breaking it with only a slight shift in stance.  "Body language," she informs me in her low voice, sharp and amused.  "I normally only move like this when I'm wearing my school uniform, because of the skirt.  But it's annoying to keep that up," she adds, unspooling into masculinity once more.

And last but not least (except in stature) is the focus of their attention, the only one they all have a prior acquaintance with: Edogawa Conan.  The boy, to my shock, is tiny.  I will change my mind radically later, but one of my first thoughts upon seeing the child is that Mouri Kogoro must be completely irresponsible, training such a small thing to investigate crime.  Surely someone who can't be picked up and held at arm's length in one hand would have a better chance against the criminal element.

As I said, I will be singing a completely different tune by the end of the afternoon.

We exchange pleasantries, and sit down to refreshments prior to the photo shoot.  Edogawa-kun hoards the lemon cookies; Hakuba-san pours tea into milk and foregoes the sugar entirely.  Hattori-san and Sera-san turn out to have near-identical tastes, both managing to scoop up portions of cracker mix without wasabi peas, though Sera-san puts double sugar in her tea and Hattori-san takes it black.

"America," Sera-san explains wryly.  "Even the bread tastes like cake.  Though Edogawa-san managed to escape without the sugar addiction, didn't you?" she asks, getting a grin and a pointed little chomp of lemon cookie out of the child.  If that's escaping the addiction, I marvel that the country leaves any sugar for the rest of the planet.

How about we start with what got you started as detectives?

H. Saguru: Sherlock Holmes books.
H. Heiji: Practically tripped over a body on a class ski trip in middle school.
E. Conan: (Frowning at the older boys.)  I moved in with Kogoro-jisan, and the very first night we rescued a little girl who'd been kidnapped.  We actually met in the taxi on the way to the case, Kogoro-jisan and me.  But I was fastest and got to Ojou-chan first, and then Neechan beat up the bad guy, and I realized... I realized that he would've hurt us both, and Ojou-chan was so scared... and I can't let that happen to anyone.  Not ever.
S. Masumi: Well, that's us having to give serious answers now.
HS: (Sighs.)  If one must include the first case in one's answer... most of mine is still under a non-disclosure contract.  Suffice to say I had a junior high math assignment that led me to discover discrepancies in a set of accounts.  Sheer outrage can carry one quite far into the work before recognizing it as a calling.
HH: I really did get mixed up with a murder on a class ski trip.  Got to the end of it and found out that solving a case, beating a perp, it's really a rush.  ... Kind of ashamed to say it, but I didn't get the responsible half of the justice part smacked into my head til years later.
SM: My brothers and I used to play games based on the news, and thought exercises he got in books, and mystery novels.  (Which brother got the exercises?)  Oh, my oldest. When they left for college, we still played, over the phone and internet, and eventually I was solving cases based on what I could find out from the news and from running into them.  I guess I just never really stopped.

You mostly answered this with the previous question, but why detective work?

HS: It turned out to be an interest where I had both talent and a drive to improve.  Tangible results and the need to put in effort held more appeal in my youth than the drudgery of consistent high grades.  An innate sense of justice was beneficial as well.
HH: Mine's going to sound like crap next to his, but yeah, sense of justice, work that isn't boring, results that feel a lot more worthwhile than a grade, and I like the competition.
EC: I'm doing something that matters.
SM: We all are.  As for me, I just can't really picture myself doing anything else.

What's your biggest challenge as a detective?

HS: I suppose it's that I'm not particularly skilled with interpersonal relations and psychology.  Motive can be difficult to ascertain; it's why I used to check by asking my famous question.
HH: Sometimes, my dad.  He'll get a bug in his ear about not letting me "play at crime scenes" and order the officers to block me.  Also, Hakuba-san's problem is actually being too picky and slow.  He'd rather preserve evidence than make sure the victim's beyond saving.
HS: You're too reckless.  It was patently obvious from the lack of copious bloodflow that taking thirty seconds to consider other ways past the lock would make no difference.
EC: Both of you cut it out.  We get it, you work opposite ways.  (He turns back to me, pouting.)  My problem's being seven.
SM: Mine is more of a past tense thing.  You have to be a real idiot to try to be a teen detective in America.  Between the gun control laws being a joke, nobody bothering to be creative when they can use bullets, the police being trigger-happy paranoid racists, and the fact that if you try to be proactive and point out clues on the scene you'll get hauled in as a suspect... it's a real challenge keeping your mouth shut and temper reigned in.  (Did that ever happen?  Getting hauled in, I mean.)  Yeah, that's how I figured out that trying to help was a dumb idea.

That sounds like a story.  Do all of you have similar embarrassing moments?

(They all groan and make faces.)
HS: I would have to say my fifth case, in its entirety.  I was barely thirteen at the time, had absolutely no reputation outside the few Interpol agents I'd already assisted, and there was an international convention in Paris that they suspected money was being laundered through.  Unfortunately, none of their available agents had the appropriate appearance to infiltrate, and I have a passably androgynous face to the European eye.  (Hakuba looks disgusted.)  I spent an entire week dressed in different hideous junior bridesmaid dresses, with libidinous adult men pretending not to realize I was underage.
HH: You win.  (Later, he finishes the answer under pointed reminders from the other three.)  Ugh, all right, all right, you know the thing in movies where some idiot decided a factory full of open vats of hot chemicals under catwalks was a great idea?  It was blue candy coloring and my shoelace came untied while I was chasing this guy.  I was in the hospital for three days, and looked like a lightly simmered Smurf for another couple weeks after that.
HS: You win.
EC: Mine was my first case against Kid!  He disguised himself as my Neechan, then when I cornered him he said he'd stolen her dress for real, and I believed him so he got away while I was trying to bring her clothes back.
SM: It wasn't so much an embarrassment as an outrage, up until I had to call my oldest brother from jail to come bail me out.  He skipped classes, drove five hours to get me, and had to rip the entire station a new one to get the charges reduced from "interfering with an investigation" to a $500 fine.  (Editor's note: $500 is approximately ¥60500 as of publication.)  I hate having to be rescued, and I especially hate that he refused to let me pay him back.

As long as we're talking about guilt, maybe we can lighten this a little.  What are some of your guilty pleasures?

EC: What's a guilty pleasure?  Why would you feel guilty about something nice?
SM: (Starts laughing.)
HS: It's not so much that it's a nice thing, as that it's a nice thing that society tells you isn't allowed, like having cookies for dinner.
HH: Or sending riddles to the cops about stealing stuff.
SM: Or switching my cup with Hattori-kun's when no one's looking.
EC: I don't know what you mean, Sera-neechan!

Once the playful scuffle dies down and everyone's tea has been restored to its proper owner, we continue.

Earlier, Hakuba-san mentioned his famous question.  I've also heard that Edogawa-kun has a catchphrase, though I've not heard what it is.  Do you all have them?

HH: Nope.
EC: I don't have a catchphrase, do I?
SM: You do.  It's that "only one truth" thing you mutter all the time, didn't you realize?
EC: No...
SM: It's like your Card Captor Sakura spell!  Everything will be all right!
EC: It is not!
HS: Let's try not to murder the furnishings again, shall we?

How do you stay in shape for investigations?

HS: I believe we're all athletes of some stripe or other?  (Gets nods.)  It's not specifically for investigations or staying in shape, but I enjoy fencing and judo.
HH: Kendo champ.
EC: I like soccer!  And I skateboard a lot.
SM: I was way into jeet koon do when I was a kid, but I haven't had time to join a dojo here.

Is that what you do for fun, then?

HS: Fencing and judo?  Yes, but I also like mystery novels and occasional movies, violin, and I've been studying magic tricks to bolster my professional life.
HH: Mystery shows, dirt biking, watching baseball and soccer, and I like going out to eat.
EC: You like going out to eat takoyaki.  You're going to turn into an octopus soon, Heiji-nii.  I like games and camping and movies and going places with my friends and with Neechan!  Except for shopping and girl talk.  (He makes a disgusted little face.)
SM: (Laughing at Edogawa.)  I like the girl talk, but I can do without the shopping.  And like Hattori-san, I like motorcycles.  (She grins and glances at Hattori.)  We should race sometime.   I also play shogi, and I like martial arts movies, the really campy Hollywood blockbuster ones.

You've all chased Kid at least once.  Is that fun?

HS: It's somewhat like being shanghai'd into a funhouse, only with more property damage and less consent.
HH: Way more property damage.  I wrecked my bike chasing the jerk.
EC: I think it's fun!  Especially when I manage to make him panic.  (How do you make Kaitou Kid panic?)  Well... I fell off a building once and he didn't know I had a parachute.
SM: I only did a heist once, and I don't really see the appeal.  But he impersonated me and, unlike with Conan's Neechan, actually did steal my clothes, so I probably didn't get the full experience.
EC: His face was hilarious when he realized you were about to kick him in it.
SM: (Grinning.)  It was, wasn't it.

What's the best part of being a detective?

All, in unison: Catching the culprit.
EC: It doesn't ever make anything better, but usually, catching the guy means no one else is going to get hurt.

You're all a bit "the odd man out" at crime scenes, aren't you?  Is that difficult?  

HS: I've become resigned to it.  Here, I'm half-gaijin; there, I'm half-Jap.  I've had people in Europe try to get me to translate Chinese and Korean, and that's just the racism they don't actually mean as a hostility.   
HH: It's not so fun for me, either, though nowhere near as bad obviously.  If I'm in Kansai, people think I'm riding Otan's reputation.  If I'm not, people sit there waiting for the punchline like they think I'm a manzai routine.
EC: For me, nobody listens until a grown-up tells them to.
SM: I'm going to go out on a limb and deduce that question was written assuming I look much more like a girl than I do.  (Much to my embarrassment, this is correct.)  I've had clients grump about "oh no I thought I was going to get to ogle a cute girl when I hired you", and double takes when I'm out in my uniform, but it's pretty much no different being a girl detective than a girl everywhere else in my life.

What's the greatest piece of advice anyone's ever given you?  

HS: That it's my job to deduce motive, as well as the methods and culprit.  I rather abandoned my famous question after that, as it seemed too much like demanding half my work be presented to me upon a silver platter.
HH: ... Another detective told me once, the like one time we really met, that driving a murderer to suicide makes you no better than a killer yourself.  It's really easy to lose sight of that in the rush of catching who did it, that you're driving someone who's already desperate enough to kill into a mindless panic.  If it's bad enough, you're not winning the case... you're racing to catch him before he kills himself.
EC: (Somber.)  I learned that from Niichan, too.
SM: Follow the evidence.  Pretty sure my oldest brother was quoting tv there, but this is a calling where you can't cling to your first or favorite theory when something new contradicts it.  People's lives are on the line.

If you had any advice for someone thinking about amateur detecting, what would it be?

HS: Don't.
HH: Wow, way to hypocrite.
EC: He's right, though.  The way the question is makes it sound like a game, when it's not.  You don't just "think about" amateur detecting and decide to do it.  You end up in the middle of a case, seeing clues that no one else has noticed or put together right, and then you explain it to the grown-ups and police and hope they listen.
HS: (Nods.)  And that the culprit doesn't notice and hurt you before you can tell them.
HH: Okay, yeah, point.
SM: (Looks at me seriously.)  It's pretty dangerous.  We've all been shot at least once.
HH: Still worth it, to save innocent people.

Midway through all this, Sera-san is regaling me with a tale of learning to drive a motorcycle from an amateur stunt driver in the wilds of rural America, supplemented by Edogawa-kun talking about riding with his mother (an experience which sounds, frankly, far more terrifying), when the interview is interrupted by a scream.  All four are halfway out the door before the echoes fade, the glimpse I catch of their faces reminding me of nothing less than wolves catching a scent.

I am about to see the Young Royals of Deduction in action.

By the time I reach the gruesome scene, the Young Royals have the crime scene cordoned off and the police are on their way.  Hakuba and Hattori are rounding up the building staff, ushering them to wait in the dead end of the hallway outside the main studio.  I find Sera and Edogawa inside, where the victim is hanging off to one side of the large room.  Sera has Edogawa up on one shoulder, the two of them examining a tangle of electrical wires caught around the woman's neck.

The body is that of 46-year-old fashion designer Tayama Hanashi, whose upcoming winter collection was the subject of the earlier photo shoot.  I ask if the incident is accidental, a slip from the catwalk above where several lights are now pulled cockeyed, and get two sharp looks over hunters' grins.  The wires are almost perfectly tangled to be an accident, Sera informs me, but only almost.  A true accident would have caught more and different parts of her body, and there would be marks where the wiring slid before catching.

Edogawa points out the lack of fallen objects on the floor below the body.  Then he hops off Sera's shoulder to show me the bottoms of the designer's Louboutins, the sleek red soles of which are scuffed notably matte under the ball of the foot, and lack any sort of slippery substance.  Since their heels are also undamaged, he adds, she couldn't have slipped or tripped on anything, including the grating of the catwalk.

I nod and take my notes, but quickly enough I'm too unnerved by the body to remain, and I skitter out into the hall with my knees shaking.

Hakuba asks if I'm all right.  I very much am not.

As I regain my composure amid the shouts and sobs of the civilians -- I lack any better word, after my brush with such callous, casual death -- Hattori returns with three burly individuals, two men and a woman who smell faintly of fresh cigarette smoke.

"That's the last of them," he says, ushering them in with the others with a jerk of his chin.  "The set designers.  They all went for a smoke when Tayama-san kicked them out, and spent the whole time griping with each other about her."

"We can't entirely rule out that they're covering for or conspiring with each other," Hakuba returns mildly, getting fresh protests from the three, "but we can certainly put them at the bottom of the list of suspects."

Hattori agrees far too easily, then calls Sera and Edogawa out, and they begin with taking names and occupations from the crowd.

Besides our photographer and the assistant who brought our tea, there are three models, two hairdressers and two makeup artists, two florists, two personal assistants, and an electrician who handles the set lighting and is therefore my top suspect.

Since the set designers have already claimed to be complaining about the victim, it's easy for the four children to extract grudges from the remainder of the crowd.  All of them agree, Tayama Hanashi was difficult to work with: an exacting woman, prone to taking over other people's work to meet her creative visions, despite their greater expertise.  The photographer and his personal assistant add that she often demanded outdoor sessions, and would cancel and reschedule for perfect weather, which was damaging the photographer's reputation.  In fact, today's session was one such, and they'd hoped to hurry through hers and delay ours by claiming technical difficulties, rather than cancel on us.

The florists, models, and hair and makeup artists all add that this sort of behavior was nothing unusual for their clients, and so they held no particular grudge against Tayama.  One of them, a sloe-eyed model, is actually sobbing in devestation, and it's Edogawa who pounces on the discrepancy first.

With a certain artless innocence, his open expression completely belying the fact that he was poking a dead body with a handkerchief-covered hand just minutes ago, the boy asks questions that border and then cross the line of rude for anyone actually above the age of reason.  Hakuba chastises him for the few that do, but lightly, and Hattori and Sera seem oblivious.  The questions seem to do the trick, though, as within five minutes the crying model is being berated by another, and more truths come out: the crying model was in love with the victim, though it was unrequited, and her angry co-worker has a sister whose health was ruined due to the costume Tayama created for a movie.  Both are the strongest motives yet, and now I'm at a loss for who the culprit could be.

The confusion doesn't seem to affect any of the young detectives.  They continue to prod at timing and alibis, the exact times when people went to the toilet or into a dressing cubicle to change, with Hakuba pressing pens and paper on all of them to write it down "for convenience", and it's not until Edogawa returns with a box full of gloves and a sketchbook that I even realize he wandered off.

The gloves belong to the fashion collection, and one pair was used to keep fingerprints and DNA off the wiring.  The sketchbook, I think with little hope, surely must be childish whim, that Edogawa saw colorful pictures and wanted to look at them.  I rather expect him to be humored charmingly when he adds it to the stack of paperwork, under the pages written by the suspects and Hakuba's notebook full of shorthand, and for a little bit he does seem to be.  The book lies ignored as Hattori and Sera grab pens, marking corrections in the margins of the suspects' writings: inconsistencies and outright lies that don't match what they heard said, while Hakuba and Edogawa cross-reference pages in low murmurs that I can't hear.  The resulting timeline has several gaps of opportunity in it, crosshatched boxes only minutes long and labeled with one to three suspects each.  

I will later be told that they usually don't operate like this, but with all four of them present Hakuba's experience in meticulous paperwork and mass cooperation has won out.  His next and perhaps greatest contribution to the case comes with the sketchbook, though, and his art expertise.  The light growing in their eyes as they page slowly through it, Hakuba pointing at tiny details, makes me want to demand a lawyer, and I'm not even guilty.

Once they've reached the last used page, and Hakuba has given his expert opinion that the writing and artwork were done by the same hand, Edogawa insists that they "not have a repeat of last time" and point out the name of their chosen culprit before making the accusation.  I can't see which name they pick from the list, but all four have chosen the same one.  "The only one without a stated problem with the victim," Hattori says between bared teeth.  "And therefore, the most suspicious," Sera agrees.

Tayama's assistant proudly, furiously admits her guilt within three sentences, as soon as Edogawa accuses the victim of plagiarizing from her.

To be honest, I'm surprised she held out so long.

After all's said and done, the police arrive and take Tayama's body and killer away.  The detective in charge gives the Young Royals a tired, unsurprised look, then waves them off to give statements, Edogawa chatting casually with one of his subordinates.

I'm the one who actually protests using the main studio after Forensics is done with it, and, to the photography staff's visible relief, the Young Royals humor me.  As they take the shots and discuss costuming -- sometimes vehemently, a united front defending Sera from the objectified femininity she dislikes -- I begin mentally composing my article.

My first impressions were of a composed young man, an irreverently casual one, an androgynous girl in a terrible vest and tank top, and a boy too tiny to be at all effective.  Now I realize, after having watched their commanding performance, that the Young Royals are indeed the lordly heirs of a new age: one of justice and intelligence, one that needs brilliant strategists cutting swathes through crime rather than armies, inspired by such shining stars as their fathers, their brothers, and that most insightful mentor: Mouri Kogoro.