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Whispers in the Bamboo Grove

5

Chapter 5: Unseen Threads

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Detectives Kaito Watanabe and Aiko Tanaka emerged from the dark stairwell into the dimly lit hallway of the old apartment building. The corridor stretched ahead of them, its cracked walls and peeling paint whispering tales of long-forgotten lives.


At the far end of the hallway, a door stood ajar. Every few seconds, the flash of a camera pierced the gloom, sending bursts of light spilling into the corridor.


Kaito slipped into his coat pocket to retrieve a pair of rubber gloves. As he pulled them on, he noticed a yellow recycling bin outside the open door. It was neatly organized, filled with stacks of old newspapers and magazines tied with string. The odd tidiness stood in contrast to the disarray he expected inside.


The apartment was a claustrophobic warren of clutter.

Dusty lamps cast weak, yellow light over a room filled with the detritus of a life lived in isolation.


Aiko's flashlight beam played across the scene, illuminating the chaos—piles of old magazines, stacks of worn-out books, and a sagging couch covered in a mountain of mismatched pillows.


On a low table, a few crumpled magazines lay among a mess of papers. The two small televisions flickered with static, their screens silent. The room felt like its occupant had retreated from the world long ago.


The two then entered the kitchen.


The room was tiny, barely enough space for the two of them to move without bumping into the clutter.


The countertops were a disaster zone, covered in dirty pots and pans, stained with the remnants of meals long past. Food scraps and crumbs littered the surfaces, attracting a small army of cockroaches.


Aiko wrinkled her nose at the smell—an overpowering mix of spoiled food and decay.


"This place is a biohazard," she muttered.


Kaito nodded, his attention drawn to a small, round table at the center of the room. It was covered in dirty paper plates, each holding remnants of half-eaten food—sandwiches, fried rice, and bits of sushi.


Slumped in a chair at the table was the body of a man, his face buried in a plate of noodles.


"Looks like he was having a feast," Kaito observed quietly.

Aiko scowled. "Why are we even here? Guy looks like he dropped dead of a heart attack."


Kaito's flashlight flicked to the man's feet. He knelt, spotting something at the pants cuff. A bit of rope peeked out. Using a pen, he revealed a rope tied tight around a swollen, purple ankle.


"Probably not," Aiko muttered, stepping closer.


Kaito gestured for her to look. She crouched, shining her light under the chair. The man's hands were bound in his lap, more rope.


"Still," she reasoned, "could be self-inflicted. Insurance fraud, maybe."


Kaito wasn't listening. His focus was on the back of the man's head, his eyes narrowing. He lifted the hair with his pen, revealing a series of small, round bruises.


Aiko rambled on about a case she'd seen.


"Quiet," Kaito snapped, cutting her off.


Aiko recoiled. "Oh, pardon me," she said sarcastically, moving away.


Kaito's eyes narrowed as he studied the man's bloated form. His skin was pale and mottled, and his limbs were bound to the chair with thick ropes.


"He didn’t tie himself up. This was staged."


Kaito knelt beside the table, his flashlight revealing more details. The man’s wrists were chafed and bruised from the ropes, and his swollen hands were folded in his lap, bound together tightly.


"There’s no sign of a struggle. Whoever did this had control over him."


As Kaito examined the body, his flashlight caught a glint of something under the table. He leaned in, lifting the edge of the stained tablecloth to reveal a metal bucket filled with a viscous, dark liquid.


"What’s that?" Aiko asked.


Kaito grimaced as he peered into the bucket. "It’s vomit. He was eating so much he couldn’t keep it down."


Aiko backed away, the look of revulsion clear on her face.

"Was the killer trying to make a point. But why?"


Before Kaito could respond, there was a knock at the door. 


They both turned to see Doctor Hiroshi Kuroda, the medical examiner, standing in the doorway. He carried a black bag and wore an expression of weary determination.


"Sorry to interrupt. What have we got here?"


Kaito straightened up, nodding towards the body.


"We need to understand how he died. We think he was forced to eat until..."


Kuroda cut him off with a grim nod. "Until his body gave out. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, though not often. Let’s get him on the slab and see what we can find."


**Later That Day**


Detective Kaito Watanabe and Aiko Tanaka drove in silence through the busy streets of Tokyo.


The city bustled around them, a blur of neon signs, rushing pedestrians, and endless streams of traffic.


Kaito focused on the road, navigating the labyrinthine streets with ease. Aiko, seated beside him, stared out the window, lost in thought.


Breaking the silence, Aiko turned to Kaito.


"You’ve read my case files, right? Seen what I’ve handled?"

Kaito shook his head slightly, keeping his eyes forward. "No, I haven’t had the chance."


Aiko sighed, her fingers drumming nervously on the car door.


"I’ve worked hard to get here. Beat work, patrols, the whole lot. I’ve earned my stripes."


Kaito nodded, glancing at her briefly before returning his attention to the road.


"Good. You’ll need all that experience here."


"Look, I’m just trying to say that I’m not a rookie. I know what I’m doing. You don't need to  Susshh me during the job"


"I understand. But we need to maintain the integrity of our investigations."


"I just don’t want to be sidelined. All I ask is that you keep me in the loop."


Kaito nodded thoughtfully.


"We’ll be working closely on this case. You’ll know everything you need to. But remember, sometimes you have to trust the process and focus on the bigger picture."


"Okay, I can do that."


---


The autopsy room was cold and sterile, the stark white tiles and gleaming stainless steel giving it an almost clinical detachment from the brutal realities it often hosted.


The faint hum of ventilation and the soft clinking of surgical tools provided a subdued backdrop to the scene unfolding within.


Doctor Hiroshi Kuroda stood over the body of the obese man from the apartment. Kaito and Aiko watched from the side.


Kuroda looked up, acknowledging their presence with a nod.


"He’s been dead for several hours. There’s no indication that poison was involved."


"What do you think killed him, then?"


Kuroda gestured to the man’s abdomen, now laid open to reveal the extent of the internal damage.


"Take a look here. His stomach is massively distended. He consumed an incredible amount of food."


Kaito leaned in, peering at the exposed organs. "Could he have eaten until his stomach ruptured?"


Kuroda nodded, pointing to the torn sections of the stomach lining.


"Not quite ruptured, but close. He suffered significant internal bleeding as a result. There’s evidence of trauma from the excessive consumption."


"So, he literally ate himself to death?"


Kuroda’s expression was grim.


"Yes, but there’s more. Look at the bruising around his neck and head. It suggests he was restrained and possibly forced to eat."


Kaito’s eyes narrowed as he examined the small, circular bruises on the back of the man’s neck.


"These marks—they’re consistent. Could they have been caused by a weapon, or maybe a gun barrel?"


Kuroda considered this, nodding slowly.


"It’s possible. If someone pressed a gun to his head repeatedly, it could leave these kinds of marks."


Kuroda moved to a table cluttered with various jars and instruments. He picked up a jar containing small, blue plastic fragments and handed it to Kaito.


"We found these in his stomach as well. They’re plastic, but their origin is unclear."


Kaito held the jar up to the light.


"Plastic? What could it mean?"


Aiko took the jar from him, examining it closely.


"Maybe it’s related to something he was forced to eat. Or it could be a clue left by whoever did this."


"We need to analyze these fragments and trace their source. They might be the key to understanding why this happened."


"This case is unusual." Dr. Kuroda said


Kaito and Aiko exchanged a knowing look.

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