The Phantom Doctor

Chapter 6

The BD Badge

Taiji’s mother faced him and said, “Tai-chan, pull yourself together. You’re dreaming, aren’t you? What do you think you’re holding in your hands? Aren’t those your father’s important documents? You have to return them. It would be unfortunate for all of us if unscrupulous people got their hands on them.”

Alas, the magical powers of the hypnotic trance had turned Taiji into another person entirely. He didn’t look at his mother nor did her words appear to register. He pushed past her and shambled down the hallway.

“Tai-chan. Tai-chan!”

His mother grasped the sleeve of his pajamas. Taiji jerked his arm free. He turned his head and glared at her, a fierce look that sent a shiver down her spine.

Despite being her child, his menacing mien froze her in place. She couldn’t explain how or why, but he appeared nothing like the Taiji she knew. Perhaps when Doctor Hiruta hypnotized Taiji, the Doctor’s spirit possessed him, until even Taiji’s face began to resemble Doctor Hiruta’s eerily intimidating visage.

She hesitated, overwhelmed by dread and dismay. Taiji reached the hallway window, released the latch, and flung open the sash. Acting with a swiftness that seemed hardly human, Taiji leapt into the darkness like a giant bat taking flight, impressing upon his mother an almost palpable sense of horror.

On the verge of swooning, she steeled her spine. Her fierce feelings of apprehension notwithstanding, she sidled up to the window on unsteady legs and peered out at the pitch-black yard.

When she did, she spotted two human silhouettes, one large and one small, racing like a pair of specters from behind the dark foliage of the big tree that loomed over the yard like a hulking giant.

She recognized the smaller of the two shadows as Taiji. She didn’t recognize the larger figure. Of course, she had no way of knowing it was Doctor Hiruta.

Earlier that evening, the Doctor had crept onto the Aikawa estate. With menacing eyes that glowed like phosphorus, he observed the house from the dark grounds outside the window for signs that Taiji had successfully completed his mission.

When Taiji stole the documents, the glint in the Doctor’s eyes grew all the sharper. Intensifying the power of his hypnotic suggestion, he communicated a silent command directing Taiji to run to the window. As soon as Taiji jumped from the window, the Doctor grabbed his hand. Together, they disappeared into the darkness at a high rate of speed, escaping through a previously unlocked back entrance to parts unknown.

With the papers entrusted to Taiji’s father under his control, Doctor Hiruta should have no more need of Taiji. He only had to make good his getaway. However, the Doctor did not let go of Taiji’s hand, and once again hauled him off to places unknown for what remained unfathomable reasons.

In any case, watching these strange events unfold before her left Taiji’s mother almost too startled for words. But she managed to raise a shout and called loudly for help, waking the servants. Soon after that, alerted to the unfolding situation, a handful of their neighbors assembled at the house. Calls were placed to the police, who sent over several officers. It all made for a huge commotion.

From the middle of the night until dawn, the servants, neighbors, and police conducted a thorough search of the house and the surrounding areas. They turned up nothing. Who had taken Taiji away and to where remained anybody’s guess.

The soft earth in the back yard preserved the footprints made by Taiji’s bare feet and those of a grown man wearing shoes. The evidence clearly indicated that Taiji had been abducted. But because Taiji said nothing to his mother about his dreadful encounter with Doctor Hiruta, no one had the first clue who those shoeprints belonged to.

The next day just past noon, as soon as the telegram reached him, Taiji’s father boarded the Kodama Limited Express back to Tokyo. At the same time, the company’s board of directors convened an emergency meeting to discuss the available options for retrieving the valuable trove of documents.

The search for the culprit turned into a major incident overnight. The officials at police headquarters made a big show of mobilizing their officers. That day, the strange story about how Taiji went missing was splashed across the evening editions, with many column inches given to wild speculations about the evil designs of the dreaded spies who must be at work behind the scenes.

As a result, Taiji’s friends at school soon knew all about the events as well.

To say that these unfolding events came as a shock to Taiji’s homeroom teacher and his classmates would be an understatement. As concerned for Taiji’s welfare as they were, among them, Toshio Ono, Taro Saito, and Yoichi Kamimura of the Boy Detectives Club were particularly unnerved.

The Boy Detectives Club was captained by Yoshio Kobayashi, the young assistant of the great private detective, Kogoro Akechi. Ten boys with a love of adventure founded the club together. They included one fifth grader and three first-year middle schoolers. The other six were in the sixth grade. They didn’t all go to the same school. Three other club members currently attended Taiji’s elementary school with him.

Two days later, having called ahead, Taiji’s three classmates dropped by the Aikawa household after school. Taiji’s mother filled them in about Taiji’s curious behavior the night of the theft, the threatening shadows lurking in the yard, and the searches conducted by the police that had thus far turned up no evidence whatsoever.

With all this and now much more on their minds, the boys left through the front gate and walked to the train station shoulder to shoulder, talking softly among themselves about the strange events that had taken place.

Yoichi Kamimura wondered aloud, “What in the world is going on here? There is no way Taiji would do the dirty work for a thief like that. The bad guys must have threatened him. Like, if he didn’t steal those documents, they would kill him.”

“Yeah. It’s simply not possible. But who was that black shadow in the yard? Got to be a spy,” Toshio said with a quizzical tilt of his head.

“I don’t think he’s even Japanese,” Taro offered. “Definitely a foreigner.”

When it came to the subject of spies, the instinctive human response was to imagine that someone not like them must be the guilty party.

Suddenly struck by an idea, Yoichi blurted out, “Hey, guys, what do you say we pay Akechi Sensei a visit? If we talk things over with Yoshio, we’re bound to come up with some good ideas.”

“Yeah,” Taro agreed. “Let’s do it. Yoshio probably wants to see us too.”

“Good plan,” Toshio chimed in.

The Ryudo neighborhood where Detective Akechi had his office was also located in Azabu, so the trip wouldn’t take them long on foot. All the more resolved to put their questions to Yoshio Kobayashi, boss of the Boy Detectives Club, the three quickened their pace.

That was when someone ran up and called out to them. “Just a second. You’re friends of Taiji Aikawa, aren’t you? Members of the Boy Detectives Club, right?”

They came to a sudden stop and turned around. Right behind them was a man in his mid-thirties dressed like a chauffeur. He was wearing a company uniform. The driver’s cap on his head was decorated with a big golden insignia. He spoke with a big smile.

“Yes, that’s right. What can we do for you?”

The driver held up his right hand so they could see what he was holding.

“This is one of your Detectives Club badges, isn’t it?”

A closer look revealed that the item was indeed a Boy Detectives Club BD Badge.

Those of you who have read The Boy Detectives Club will be familiar with the BD Badge. Yoshio Kobayashi came up with the idea for the BD Badge, putting together the first letters from the English words for “boy” and “detective.” The club stamped out metal discs the size of a hundred-yen silver coin and distributed thirty or so to each club member as a kind of calling card.

It made sense for each member of the club to carry a badge on his person. But twenty or thirty? There was a reason for having such quantities on hand. If a member of the club wished to guide another to a particular place, he could drop the badges here and there along the route, relying on the glittering silver discs to mark the way.

In fact, when Yoshio himself was previously kidnapped by the Fiend with Twenty Faces and threatened with water torture, his location was pinpointed thanks to these badges. He was consequently rescued safe and sound. At the sight of this driver—that none of them had seen before—with a BD Badge in his hand, the three of them couldn’t help exchanging knowing glances.

“Yes, that’s one of our badges,” Yoichi stated in a cautious tone. “It has the insignia for our club. How did you get your hands on it?”

The curious driver answered with a disarming smile. “Oh, I picked it up off the ground.”

“You picked it up? Where?”

“Not around here. A bit further away. I’m pretty sure it didn’t fall out of one of your pockets.”

“How far away?”

“It was in Azabu, though I couldn’t tell you the name of the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I’d recognize it if I drove through there.”

“Do you still remember the place where you found it?”

“You know, as it happens, I do. It was in front of this odd western-style house made with red brick.”

Hearing those details, the three boys again exchanged meaningful looks.

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