Part I: The Cat, Who Was Last to Arrive
Division 1 had been called in over an hour ago to take over, as soon as the local police had reported in about the details of the case. Megure had been gruffly displeased to find that Mouri was already in the area, staying at a nearby hotel in order to have easy access to the foreign film festival sponsored by the Suzuki Corporation.
When Ran had asked if he’d like to come along, with Sonoko grumbling in the background, he’d agreed just for the sake of having something to do this weekend with his brain besides hunt stag beetles with the Detective Boys. But, well, trapped in this body, Shinichi isn’t really able to gain entry to the movies he’d actually want to see, and he’s never been the kind of guy that enjoys the more social aspects of these events, like seeing famous actors or mingling with big-shots in the industry, even though they all seem to be overly interested in him, for some reason.
Shinichi had gotten bored after the first four hours, and he’d been relieved when Mouri had caught wind of this kerfuffle on the news, and even more relieved when Mouri, the complete and utter lech, had jumped at the chance to involve himself in a case involving a beautiful, popular model.
Scarlette Shinamoto, Western enough to prefer her first name preceding her surname, was found dead a little past seven-thirty in the evening on Friday, October the 10th, by the late middle-aged maid at the extravagant French neoclassic modeled mansion of Scarlette’s wealthy aviation magnate boyfriend, Takeuchi Makoto. The maid came across her body in the ballroom, stabbed seven times in the chest and stomach with an unidentified murder weapon that the police preliminarily suspect was a knife.
"Ah, well, there were multiple stab wounds," Takagi says, squinting down at his little black notebook. "None of them hit her heart, but two nicked her lungs. The on-scene examiner thinks she probably died from blood loss, and when the medical examiner’s report comes in, we’ll have more information…"
Shinichi lets the rest of Takagi’s report wash over him as he considers.
There’s already an obvious suspect, of course. The two high-profile lovers, Shinamoto and Takeuchi, have been on the outs for months according to half the major gossip magazines littering Ran's room, and head over heels for each other according to the rest of them, and there's blood on the clothes that Takeuchi was photographed wearing by paparazzi just a week ago, found by police balled up in the back of his guest room closet.
Mouri’s already looking around the scene with his usual short-sighted determination to prove his initial, off-the-cuff suspicion correct. Shinichi fingers his dart-watch, wondering if it might be worth it just to put Mouri to sleep so that he can do his investigating in quiet.
"The security system here is state-of-the-art," continues Takagi, "and no one unexpected has been spotted coming or going from the mansion in days by the cameras, or the paid guards."
Or, amends Shinichi internally, the tabloid journalists, who have been faithfully camped out nearby since the couple's public fight at a popular Shibuya night club four days prior, hoping to get a sound bite they could use as the couple went about their business.
Nothing. The only people in this mansion have been Takeuchi, the maid, and the victim herself, and Shinichi can admit that all the evidence in this essentially ‘locked mansion’ murder points in one direction, but...
Shinichi coughs, shaking his whole body, but he manages to stifle the noise of it before anyone notices. They’ve all been on a cold watch for him for weeks. Even Heiji’s getting in on the act all the way from Osaka.
"Open and shut case," Mouri bellows loudly, as if trying to yell over Shinichi's doubt and his coughing. "Obviously a crime of passion!" He laughs obnoxiously. "You don't even have to be the great ‘Sleeping Kogorou’ to see that the boyfriend is the killer! Ahahahahaha!"
Mouri Kogorou is, despite the positive qualities Shinichi has discovered buried in the man over the years, something of an idiot.
Shinichi plucks at the collar of his sweater vest, and wishes he'd brought his jacket. Autumn has set in fiercely over the past couple of days, and though it’s only early October, he can already feel winter creeping up on him.
Back when he'd been sixteen, a cool night like this wouldn't have bothered him at all; He’d often gone running out after a murder sans coat in the middle of a snowstorm.
And this ballroom is unexpectedly chilly, after the comfortable temperature in the front of the mansion. It’s cooler than should be accounted for by the marble floors and high ceilings, but Shinichi has no idea how you’d get a draft in only one room of a mansion like this, when none of the walls face the outside, and it’s not like no one has invented insulation.
"Uncle, isn’t it too early to say that?" Shinichi asks. "We don’t have a lot of clues, yet."
Kogorou crosses his arms and peers down at Shinichi with an air of superiority. "Look, brat, sometimes you have to trust in older, more experienced detectives to see things that regular, everyday people miss. Like guilt."
Shinichi feels an eye-twitch coming on, and he masks it by rubbing at his face.
"He does have the motive," Satou says reluctantly, tapping her lower lip thoughtfully with a freshly manicured finger. "I read three days ago that she might have been cheating on him with Clifford Groves!"
"The director?" Takagi asks, as Shinichi crouches down to run his finger along the body outline tape. The victim had been curled into the fetal position, according to Megure, who'd grudgingly briefed Mouri when they'd arrived on scene. They’d both refused to let Shinichi see the photos, but Takagi hadn’t put up too much fuss when Shinichi had inquired after them a few minutes later, when both the older men were out of earshot.
"Yes, from the new Gomera movie," Satou says. "He's a total playboy according to the tabloids; always having affairs with his leading actresses. Not that Takeuchi's much better, to be honest. Scarlette was just the most recent in a chain of model girlfriends. They have been together over a year, though…" She blushes when everyone turns to look at her, before she holds up a fist. "What? I can’t read a magazine?"
"Of- of course you can," Takagi quickly reassures her, his cheeks flushing, and Shinichi hides his smile behind his palm as he continues scanning for anything out of place. "We were just, um, impressed! By how well read you are, that’s all!"
"The suspect and the victim also, apparently, had a pretty volatile relationship in general, though Takeuchi-san denies it," Inspector Megure agrees. "Mouri is probably right, in light of what we currently know. The victim, Scarlette Shinamoto, was most likely stabbed here, and then Takeuchi ran into a guest room to change clothes and wash before returning to his own, so that when the police searched his room, they'd find nothing. He probably didn't count on anyone searching those dusty unused guest rooms for evidence."
Only, in the brief glimpse Shinichi’d gotten of Takeuchi, the man had been wearing a rumpled suit, looking for all the world like he’d slept in the thing, and he’s not the sort of man that’s ever anything less than put together. If he’d changed and showered, why would his suit be such a mess? Not to mention his bed-head. It doesn’t add up, so they must be missing something.
The familiar thrill of a challenge rushes through him, and he adjusts his glasses, reflexively pushing them up the bridge of his nose. This really is a much more interesting end to the day, Shinichi decides, as he surveys the rest of the ballroom with fresh determination, repressing another cough.
"Ah-re-re?" Shinichi raises his voice, and the words reverberate through the room. He looks at Takagi. "It’s really loud in here, don’t you think? If someone fought in here, you’d hear all of it, right?"
"Conan’s right about that." Takagi scratches his neck, face scrunched up in puzzlement. "If it was a crime of passion, like Mouri said, something in the heat of the moment, it wouldn't be premeditated, right?" He sighs. "Even if it was premeditated, this doesn’t make sense. Why would they fight in here, if it’s so loud? There are so many rooms in this house, without acoustics like this. Someone being stabbed is bound to make some noise."
"The maid didn't mention hearing screaming, either," Satou says. "Kanami-san claims to have taken a nap from six to seven, after dinner, feeling unusually exhausted. Takeuchi claims the same, but..."
"Naturally he's lying!" Mouri rubs his mustache, a pompous puff to his chest. "After stabbing the gorgeous Miss Scarlette, he was probably overcome with remorse at what he'd stolen from the people of Japan!" The expression he makes is nauseating, and usually reserved for thinking about that actress he’s obsessed with, Okino Youko. Shinichi rolls his eyes, wishing Ran would hurry back so she can run interference.
Suddenly sleepy, and unable to fight it? That sounds like… "I usually only get sleepy really suddenly when Ran-nee-chan gives me medicine."
Megure frowns, looking both at and through Shinichi… "Medicine?" He picks up his phone. "Chiba," he says, after a few rings, before Chiba can even answer. "You took blood samples from both Kanami and Takeuchi, right? I need you to run those for sedatives and the like."
Shinichi inwardly smirks with satisfaction.
"What about the card, sir?" Takagi asks. "The typed one?"
That gets Shinichi’s attention immediately. "What card?" he asks, immediately crowding Takagi. "No one mentioned a card, Detective Takagi!"
"It might have just been on Shinamoto-san’s person, since she had a photo-shoot earlier today." Takagi holds up a plastic bag with a white index card inside, not unlike the ones KID uses for heists. The paper is thicker, however, and the words are typed in a sans serif font in English. LIGHTS OUT, it reads. There’s no blood anywhere on the card.
Lights out… Lights out… Lights out? What, Shinichi ponders, could that mean?
"Probably from a fan," says Mouri, with pseudo-sagacity. "Fans give all sorts of strange things to celebrities!"
Still considering things, Shinichi pushes up again on his Conan-glasses, before refocusing on the body outline on the floor and its immediate surroundings. It's marble, this floor, and there is no rug, just runners going up along both sides of the room.
There's something off about this crime scene. A body, stabbed seven times and curled into a ball. Thin streaks of blood inside the outline from the corpse. A white marble floor. No screams in a room where screams would echo through the house. Where was...?
"Hey, Uncle," Shinichi asks, pitching his voice higher, into the childlike cadence he's perfected for situations just like this. Both Megure and Satou immediately look down at him, as Mouri rambles on and on about all the creepy fan-letters Okino Youko must get. Shinichi tugs hard on Mouri's trench coat sleeve until he looks down, disgruntled.
"What is it, brat?" Mouri jerks his arm away from Shinichi. "The adults are talking."
Oi, oi, Shinichi mentally scolds the man. You’re not talking about anything useful. At least Shinichi is too big to be picked up by the back of his shirt whenever he gets too close to things, these days, thanks to an unexpected growth spurt in the spring.
"Where's the blood?" He blinks up innocently at Mouri, whose face contorts with confusion. "If the body was stabbed here, wouldn't there be a lot more blood?"
"Takeuchi probably wiped it up," Mouri says. "Trying to clean up his mess."
"Why, though?" Shinichi turns at the unexpected input to find Ran has returned from the hallway, where she'd gone to field a call from an irritated Sonoko, who’d stayed at the festival to ogle some actor she’s infatuated with these days. She's slipping her cell phone back into her purse as she walks toward them. "If he was going to pretend to have been asleep when it happened, why would he bother to clean up the blood?" Ran’s eyebrows furrow in thought as she speaks.
"And how?" Satou crosses her arms. "The body was still warm when we got to it, so there wouldn’t have been time for that."
"Maybe Takeuchi is a vampire," Takagi stage-whispers to Shinichi, bending down so he’s face to face with him, and Shinichi laughs. "And he drank the blood. What do you think, Conan-kun?"
"Don't let Ran-nee-chan hear you say that," Shinichi replies, also whispering, fiddling with the neck strap of his bowtie. "She's afraid of the supernatural." He snickers, remembering how Ran and Kazuha had freaked out at the Torakura mansion almost a year ago, when they'd actually believed the old lord was an honest-to-God vampire and had made obscene amounts of garlic-filled gyoza to ward him off.
"So am I," Takagi confesses. "Aren't you, Conan-kun?"
"I'm not afraid of anything!" Shinichi grins at Takagi, who grins back. "But, hey, Detective Takagi, I was thinking, what if this isn't the crime scene?"
Satou seems to have come to the same conclusion. "We've already searched the whole maze-like place top to bottom," she muses aloud, "and found nothing but the blood-stained clothes."
"Maze-like?" Ran’s expression is thoughtful, her full lips drawn into a pout as she looks longingly at the doors, clearly wanting to explore the house. Shinichi would like that, too, but he knows he won’t be able to get up the stairs with the vigilant set of private guards requesting police identification for access to the upper level or anywhere past the main hallway through the front of the mansion. "That’s a strange way to design a house."
"It’s like a giant funhouse," Satou explains, sheepish. "None of the turns lead where you expect them to, and several people on the forensics team got lost upstairs and it took an hour for Kanami-san to find them."
"What about the murder weapon?" Shinichi asks, suddenly, and Megure frowns.
"Still no luck. We were hoping to get Takeuchi to tell us the whereabouts of it when we wrung out his confession, but..."
"He’s still claiming he didn’t do it," Satou finishes. "And we still can’t prove he did; everything is circumstantial."
Walking away from the gathered detectives, and over to the runners, Shinichi keeps his steps slow, scanning for evidence. Nothing really catches his eye save for the brass plaques, measuring thirty centimeters across and twenty vertically, around the walls about a meter up from the floor, with engraved designs on them. The one closest to him is a snake. Did the decorator of this room like snakes? There are no other snake-like decorations on the walls when he looks around, though. The next plaque down is a dragon, and Shinichi wrinkles his nose. Eccentric, but probably not related to the case.
When he turns back, the bright light from the overhead chandeliers, designed to show off expensive jewelry, makes the marble floors gleam. Narrowing his eyes, he tilts his head sideways, noticing the uneven shine. It extends far beyond the body, and Shinichi suddenly realizes why the killer might have wanted the body to be here, after all.
Activating his glasses, he zooms in on the floor to find that there is, indeed, a strange residue on the marble, and streak marks from being cleaned. Already cleaned? But not well. So what’s the point? "Hmm…"
"What are you doing, Conan-kun?" Ran asks, and Shinichi looks up to see her and Takagi watching him curiously. "Is there something on the floor?"
"Well," Shinichi hesitates, unsure how to couch his suggestion in a question, "shouldn’t we do a luminol reaction test to see if any blood has been wiped up? Like when the police found the blood in that bathroom stall during the Goth-Loli case."
Shinichi’s instincts tell him that the missing blood will be the key. In Watson’s first meeting with Sherlock Holmes, in a laboratory at St. Bartholomew’s, Holmes stressed the importance of latent bloodstains as evidence. Of course, back in Sherlock’s time, it was harder to find blood residue, if someone had tried to make it go away. Now, though…
Iron, he thinks, grimly, always gets left behind, even if one uses bleach. The killer would have to scrub the same area three or four times to get rid of what lingers. This killer hadn’t had that kind of time, and, if the card is the clue Shinichi thinks it is, didn’t have that objective, either. If the detectives follow his lead, they'll definitely find something.
"Luminol," says Takagi, slowly, before he beams at Shinichi. "That’ll let us know whether or not this really was where the murder happened!"
"Can’t the luminol stuff be sprayed all over the floor, not just in one place?" Shinichi offers up his most guileless expression, and Satou, who is once more paying attention to him, gives him a searching look. Sometimes, Shinichi is sure that she knows there is more to Edogawa Conan than there should be, but people, he’s noticed, only see what they want to see. Satou wants to see a smart but normal boy when she looks at him, so she does, even when her gut tells her differently. Everyone does, for the most part, and Shinichi hates that it’s exactly what he needs them to do, because it’s so damn frustrating when people look directly at you and still can’t see you.
"Why do you think we need to do that?" Satou asks, grim but not seeming inclined to disagree. "Wouldn’t we just need to spray it around the body?"
Shinichi shrugs, rubbing at his cowlick as he leans closer to Ran. She smells nice, like sunflowers and summer, and momentarily, his stomach clenches, wanting to be big enough to throw an arm around her shoulders and pull her in even closer.
He never will be again, most likely, even if he’s reluctant to admit that even to himself.
"Ah," Shinichi laughs nervously, shaking that thought away, "it’s just, if the body was dragged, we could see which direction it came from? Or even if Shinamoto was carried into the room, shouldn’t drops fall?"
"You always have such good ideas, Conan." Takagi gives him a lopsided smile. "Maybe I should give you my job, eh?" It's clearly a joke, and Shinichi giggles in response, just like he's supposed to.
"I just read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories," Shinichi replies, averting his eyes from Takagi and instead taking in the railing that winds around the second floor of the ballroom, allowing guests to look down to the main floor. From up there, Shinichi bets you can see the entire thing. "I guess I have a pretty good memory for his awesome methods!"
"You also live with the famous ‘Sleeping Kogorou’." Takagi jams his hands into his pocket. "You've probably learned a lot just by observing a master at work."
"Conan has always been observant." Ran ruffles Shinichi’s hair. "Smart, too."
Shinichi scratches anxiously at his cheek. "Eh, it's not really—"
"Conan's teachers want to move him up to middle school even though he’s eight," Ran tells them, which causes both detectives to look down at him with wide eyes. "And they keep encouraging Dad to get his IQ tested."
"He’s not my kid," Mouri mumbles. "His parents can come back from wherever if they want to do all that. I do enough putting up with the freeloader!"
"Dad!" Ran side-eyes him, and he backs down sheepishly in the face of her wrath. "Don’t talk about Conan like that!"
Satou’s smile reaches her eyes as she gestures across the room to an officer with a walkie-talkie. "Do you still want to be a detective when you grow up?"
"Absolutely," Shinichi replies, something terrible rising up from his belly to try and choke him. I already am a detective, he thinks, forcing a smile. "Just like you guys!"
Ran's adoring grin does nothing to push down whatever is clawing its way up his throat. "You'll be great at it," she tells him quietly, as the other officer reacts to Satou's summons. "Like Shinichi was. Is."
Her eyes dim, and Shinichi... No,Conan, looks away. Lately, every time she mentions his name she loses a little bit more of that light in her eyes, and that chills him more than the autumn ever could. "Ran-nee-chan?"
"Ah, it’s nothing, Conan-kun. Don’t mind me!" She waves her hand, the distant expression disappearing from her eyes. "Let’s just think about the case, okay? We have to help Dad solve it."
Nodding, Shinichi looks away from her.
He still remembers the way she’d cried, in that restaurant over two years ago, sitting alone with an empty seat across from her. Shinichi had only been able to look up to her through Conan’s eyes and ask her to wait for him with Conan’s mouth, and at the time, he’d thought that was an all right promise to make.
It had been worse when he’d taken his last temporary antidote two months ago, just to see her, and told her that he’d probably never be coming back. She’d let him cup her cheek, and tell her he loved her and that he was sorry. He’d kissed her, at the corner of her mouth and let her hair slip through his fingers, and he’d wished, more than anything, that he could go back in time, to that day at Tropical Land, and stay with Ran instead of running headfirst into a trap that took everything from him in a matter of moments. He’d caught escaping tears at the corners of her eye with his thumb, even as the first painful pangs of transformation had begun.
Ran had waited until he’d left to sob, and Shinichi, a child once more thanks to an antidote that becomes less effective and more dangerous every time he takes it, had sat outside her door, arms wrapped around his legs, and wished he could do something to make it better, easier, as his own heart broke along with hers.
"What do you need, Detective Satou?" the beckoned police officer queries, jolting Shinichi from his darker musings, and Satou gestures to the entire ballroom floor.
"I need you to get at least five people from outside, and get another couple of forensics kits. Then spray the floor down with luminol and turn off the lights. All of you take a section, the glow won’t last long."
"Yes sir," the officer replies. "The whole floor, sir?"
Satou gives Shinichi another considering stare, and Shinichi stares back. "The whole thing," she confirms. "This little guy usually knows what he’s talking about."
When, five minutes later, the lights go out in Takeuchi Minato’s white marble floored ballroom, even Shinichi gasps, peering down from the balcony above, his wrist clenched in Ran’s hand as he takes in, stunned, what the luminol has revealed.
Because, even though Shinichi had suspected that the white marble floor was important, that something had been there, he would have never expected that Scarlette Shinamoto’s curled body had been positioned to fill in the monocle of the famous Kaitou KID caricature, painted in blood before the floor was wiped clean.
"Lights out," Shinichi whispers, under his breath, as Ran’s grip on his wrist tightens.
"No DNA?" Hattori Heiji asks, his voice too loud over the phone. "What kinda craziness is that?"
"Oi, Hattori, you don’t have to yell," Shinichi says, coughing wetly and then nervously checking the bathroom door. If anyone comes in, he’ll have to hang up. It's nearing two in the morning, and he's lucky Ran has been too distracted to notice the time. "Detective Chiba called twenty minutes ago to tell us that everything came back clean but the clothes with the blood on them, which did test positive for having been worn, at some point, by Takeuchi. He doesn’t deny having worn the clothes, but he said he thought he put them in the laundry already. But at the actual scene? Nothing but Scarlette Shinamoto’s DNA on anything in the entire ballroom."
"That's actually freakier, considering you found her in Takeuchi's house," Heiji says, thoughtfully. "You'd think there'd be some kinda hair or skin or something since she's been living with the guy."
"Exactly," replies Shinichi, coughing again. "There is no such thing as a clean contact between two objects."
"That a Sherlock Holmes quote I’ve forgotten or something?" Shinichi can hear the laugh in Heiji's voice, and smiles. "You’re a geek, Kudou. Sounds like you have a cold again, too. Or is it the same one?"
"I don’t have a cold." He wipes at his mouth, and cringes when it comes away wet with blood. The weather is making it worse than usual. "Edmund Loquard, actually. He’s probably the real father of modern forensics. He once confirmed a man had strangled his girlfriend by the remnants of her cosmetic powder under his fingernails."
He turns on the tap and rinses his hand, then sits on the edge of the sink, his short legs dangling so far from the floor. It's even colder in the bathroom than it had been in the ballroom.
"That’s cute. So what else is weird?"
Shinichi shifts his weight. "It turns out Takeuchi and the maid's blood both came back positive for Temazapam, along with Shinamoto’s."
"The sleeping drug?" Heiji hums thoughtfully. "So both of them were being honest when they said they were taking a nap. It was a forced one."
"Yes," confirms Shinichi. "Better still, neither of the suspects nor the victim had a prescription for it."
"So you got no suspects, no murder weapon, no blood, no DNA, and a dead model." Heiji sounds almost jealous. "You got your work cut out for you, Kudou."
"There's one more thing," Shinichi says, blood running cold at just the memory of what they’d found with the luminol. "Scarlette was found positioned curled up on the marble floor of the ballroom."
"You said that already."
"I thought it was odd, when I first saw it," Shinichi continues. "Why a white marble floor? Then I noticed the residue. There was no smell of bleach, but there were the remnants of some kind of mild cleaning solution that had left a floor that was probably usually gleaming with a film on it. There was a card, too, that said LIGHTS OUT. So I nudged Satou and Takagi toward luminol."
"To see if there'd been spilled blood. Good thinking. But why not bleach? Surely a rich guy with fancy white floors has got some bleach ‘round there somewhere."
"Because," Shinichi says, licking his lips and tasting blood, "whoever the murderer was chose that big white ballroom so they could leave a message." Heiji swears, and Shinichi once again tugs at his collar, cold inside and out. "Hattori, it was the Kaitou KID caricature, painted in blood. Whoever did this wanted us to find it with luminol."
"That's creepy as fuck," mutters Heiji. "You don't think—"
"No," Shinichi interjects quickly, "I don't think KID had anything to do with it. I think it was a message for KID."
KID is a lot of things: flamboyant, reckless, incorrigibly flirtatious, clever. But Shinichi knows what KID isn’t, too, and something like this isn’t just out of KID’s prior behavior, it doesn’t fit his personality, either. He can’t see the guy who holds heists to rescue trapped puppies and refuses to use a real gun on a fellow human being turning, out of nowhere, to murder.
KID is one of the things that Shinichi trusts, in this new life of his. He trusts KID not to do harm while he’s playing around, and he trusts KID to be inherently good, even when he’s stealing and lying and cheating like hell at the little games he plays with Shinichi and the Division 3 officers.
Over the past couple of years, they’ve definitely formed a rivalry of sorts, but Shinichi thinks it looks more like an tentative alliance than anything adversarial, especially considering all the extra effort they’ve put into guarding each other’s backs despite Shinichi’s mild distaste for some of KID’s more outrageous antics.
KID has saved Shinichi’s life more than once, and last November, deep in the basement of the Beika City Building archives, KID had saved Shinichi’s life from a gunman, putting himself at risk of injury or capture to keep Shinichi from harm.
So KID is… an enigma, but not one that stresses Shinichi out. The fact that someone wants to lure KID in, to maybe hurt him, lights a fire in Shinichi to solve this case before this murderer gets what they want.
"Yeah, that KID’s a pretty decent guy, I guess, if you’re not talking about all the stealing and stuff. He’s just weird."
Shinichi closes his eyes and sighs. "His heart is in the right place, mostly."
"The fact that his face is involved is gonna be a shitshow when this business winds up on the news. Even down here in Osaka, KID’s got some notoriety, you know?"
"He apparently has some overseas fans, too, so Osaka isn’t much of a stretch." Shinichi had already figured on that. With more than thirty officers on scene, the relative fame of the victim, and the paparazzi circling beyond the front gate like piranhas, it is without question that what had been revealed in the dark of the ballroom will wind up on the morning news tomorrow, under one lurid headline or another. "But what," Shinichi asks, "would a murderer want with a thief famous for his non-violent ways, practical jokes, and no-gain heists?"
"Hell," Heiji says, dragging the word out, "if I was you, Kudou, I'd get to looking for a gem connected to this case."
"A gem?" Shinichi considers that for a moment, turning the idea over in his head as he switches his phone to the other ear so he can scratch at his neck. Does the killer want Kaitou KID to steal a gem for them? Did they know the old Kaitou KID and bear a grudge for some reason, for a gem already stolen? KID always gives back the jewels he steals, though. "I'll see if I can have that checked out."
"Yeah, that's the first thing I'd do. Wish I could come down to help you, but I'm a third year now. College entrance exam stuff is crushing my free time."
Shinichi should be preparing for entrance exams, too. Instead, he spends these autumn days among his classmates at his old elementary school: making Halloween cards, or doing simple long division, or sitting in English class being taught how to introduce himself in a language he's been learning for over ten years. (Hello, my name is Edogawa Conan, and I am eight years old.)
He swallows, wishing it were possible that these miserable thoughts were weights he could set down and not pick up again until he’d prepared himself for the strain.
There are noises outside the bathroom, and Shinichi looks toward the sudden flutter of activity. After a moment, Shinichi identifies the sleepy voices of Takagi and Mouri, probably searching for the wayward child under Mouri’s protection. "Look, Hattori, I have to go. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"
"Keep me updated, yeah?"
Shinichi agrees hurriedly before terminating the call, just as a knock sounds on the bathroom door.
"Conan-kun?" Takagi calls, and Shinichi takes a deep breath, wiping at the corners of his mouth and rubbing at his eyes. "Are you in here, Conan?"
"Yes, Detective Takagi?" He jumps down from the sink and opens the door.
"There you are," Takagi says, smiling down at him. He looks exhausted. "Miss Mouri is looking everywhere for you."
"Really?" Shinichi innocently tilts his head. "But I've been right here, playing games on my phone." He shows Takagi the screen, where a jewel-matching game flashes brightly. "This game is really popular at school these days."
"Is it?" Takagi squints at the screen, his eyes crossing comically. "I think Shiratori likes to play this one! He probably picked it up from your old teacher, Kobayashi-sensei."
"Actually, I was just thinking..." He looks down at the game to hide his face. "Since I was playing this game, it reminded me that Kaitou KID is a jewel thief."
"Right," Takagi says slowly, putting his hand between Shinichi's shoulder blades to usher him toward the front of the mansion, where Ran presumably awaits. "So?"
"Sooooo, doesn't that mean there should be a jewel, if someone wants his attention?"
Takagi stills, and Shinichi smiles up at him innocently until he wanly smiles back. "That's... very true, Conan." He scratches his cheek, where the faint growth of stubble indicates just how long a day it's been for the poor detective. "I'll… inform Inspector Megure." He pats Shinichi on the head. "Any more clues for us professionals?"
"Not yet," Shinichi replies cheerfully, and Takagi chuckles, leading onward toward the front of the mansion.
They arrive at the entrance, and Ran immediately grabs Shinichi’s hand, a human shackle to keep him at her side. Her skin is so soft at the palm, despite the calluses she’s built up on her knuckles from breaking boards in karate practice. Shinichi has always liked that about Ran. The contradiction of her superior fighting skills and the inherent gentleness of her heart that makes those skills her last resort. She’s like her hands; strong and soft all at once.
"Conan-kun, you have to stop wandering off! You're getting too old for this!" Ran huffs, her bangs blowing up from her forehead with the force of the exhalation. "Especially when you haven’t been feeling well!"
Personally, Shinichi thinks they should have figured out by now that he’s not purposelessly roaming crime scenes, but only Takagi really refrains from chastising him over the matter. "Sorry, Nee-chan, I just wanted to play on my phone and be out of the way of the police."
Ran sighs. "I suppose that's a good excuse," she says, eyeing him suspiciously. "It's about time for us to head back to the hotel, now. It's way past your bedtime, young man. Plus, Dad's been asked to help out on the case, and if you want to go along like you usually do, we'll have to get you up early tomorrow. I hope Dad figures this out quickly! Sonoko's going to be really furious if I can't meet up with her for that movie tomorrow, after she went through all that trouble to get tickets!"
"I’m sure you’ll be able to go, but if you can’t, she'll understand. After all, it involves her KID-sama, right?"
"You've got a point, there," Ran says, with affectionate exasperation. "Oh, that Sonoko. Maybe I shouldn’t mention KID unless I have to." She shakes her head, and tugs lightly on Shinichi's hand. "Come on, Conan, Dad's waiting for us outside in the taxi. You know how impatient he can get."
Shinichi is pretty sure Mouri is already asleep, head lolled back while he dreams about idols or beer or some combination of the two, but he nods anyway, earning one of Ran's gentle grins. As they walk out to the taxi, Shinichi turns to look at the mansion behind him, unable to dismiss the image of that twisted, haunting version of KID’s signature.
What does this all have to do with you, Kaitou KID? Shinichi wonders, as he slides in to the back seat of the vehicle next to a snoring Mouri, who barely flinches when Shinichi accidentally elbows him. How are you connected to Scarlette Shinamoto?
Shinichi wakes in the morning to Ran’s gentle prodding. "Wake up, Conan-kun," she whispers, words gobbled up by Mouri’s dead-raising snores in the adjacent bed. "You should use the bathroom first, before Dad starts to stumble around in his morning comedy routine."
Ran’s breath smells like mint, and that has Shinichi opening his eyes to look at her. She’s still sleep-mussed, her hair a mess and her pajamas rumpled.
Some things never change, and the way Ran looks in the morning is one of them. When they were kids, they’d always had sleepovers at Shinichi’s, away from the Mouri parents’ messy, angry separation proceedings, playing hide and seek in the Kudou mansion until far too late at night. They’d fall asleep in the library under thick blankets that had been intended for fort-making, and Ran would wake him up in the morning looking as though she’d survived a tornado, teeth already brushed and eyes as bright as the morning sun.
Sometimes, it’s these simple, routine moments, subtly changed, that really underscore everything Shinichi has lost.
"Morning already?" His voice is a croak, and his head throbs. It feels like it’s only been minutes since he crawled into bed, not the hours that must have passed between him closing his eyes and opening them again.
"Yep," Ran answers cheerfully, pulling back his covers after brushing his hair out of his face. "Detective Satou will be here in thirty minutes to get you and Dad, so if you want to tag along and play investigator, you’d better get ready." She wags her finger. "I know you especially love getting involved when it’s Kaitou KID."
"Okay, okay, Nee-chan, I’m up," he says, running a hand through his hair and yawning as he sits up, his legs hanging over the side of the bed. His toes almost touch the ground. Growing, he thinks vaguely. I’m growing.
He fights a wave of dizziness as he stands, his stomach rolling, and he takes a moment to hold on to the edge of the bed until the world stops spinning. The sting of bile in his throat is swiftly becoming familiar, even though this symptom comes and goes, along with the others. He presses a hand to his belly.
"Conan-kun? Are you all right?" Ran’s hand steadies him, resting warmly between his shoulders. "Do you feel sick again?"
"No," Shinichi lies, tasting blood at the back of his mouth. "I’m fine!"
"You’ve been getting dizzy more often. Don’t think I haven’t noticed!" Her hand moves up to the back of his neck. "Should I take you to a doctor?"
"No, no." Shinichi forces himself to grin at her. "Definitely not! Look, it’s already gone!" He steps away from the bed and her comforting hand, and another wave of dizziness rushes him, but he hides it long enough to shuffle into the bathroom.
When the door closes he stoops over the toilet to retch, watching in misery as a thin ribbon of blood and spit swirl together in the toilet bowl. This hasn’t happened in weeks, the blood, but maybe with the lack of sleep, Shinichi’s pushing his body further than he should.
The possibility that there would be other consequences to turning back the clock on your body has always existed, Kudou, Haibara’d told him, as she’d taken his blood pressure, guilt and worry covered by her dry and unapproachable bedside manner, and Shinichi had stared down at his uncovered knees, unable to even try to meet her eyes.
The rap of Ran’s knuckles on the door pulls him back to his feet. He flushes the toilet and opens the door to retrieve the stool the hotel had left for him, dragging it in front of the sink so he can reach the faucet. Ran follows him in this time, retrieving her hairbrush from her toiletries bag and sidling up next to him. She’s more than two heads taller than he is, still, but with the stool, his head reaches her shoulder. She ruffles his hair mischievously as he squirts toothpaste onto the Masked Yaiba toothbrush Genta had given him for traveling on his made-up birthday last year.
Ran watches him as he brushes, making him slightly self-conscious. "What?" he asks, his mouth full of foam, and Ran shakes her head, as if clearing a haze.
"It’s nothing." She nibbles on her lower lip, and Shinichi…
Sherlock Holmes once told Watson, "you see, but you do not observe". Sherlock had said it as though it were something disappointing, but occasionally, Shinichi envies the ability to look at the world as a forest, instead of noting the differences between each and every tree. As bad as he is with dealing with emotions, Shinichi always picks them out, reading every nuance without making a conscious decision to do so. Especially, he knows, when it comes to Ran, whose face, after years and years of shared moments and memories, has become a book Shinichi can quote by heart better than anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote.
"You look sad again," Shinichi says, without thinking, and Ran blinks at him, her eyelashes fluttering with surprise. Then her lips quirk in a smile that does nothing to make her look any happier.
"You brush your teeth the same way Shinichi did when we were small," she says, finally. "Methodically, starting with the back teeth and working your way forward. He always used to lecture me about it. About how it was efficient."
"It is." Shinichi stops brushing to meet Ran’s gaze in the mirror, and she quickly breaks it, moving to sit on the closed lid of the toilet. "Why does that make you sad?"
"Because I don’t know when I’ll ever see Shinichi again," Ran replies, "so it feels a little… Not nostalgic, but maybe like my heart is too heavy."
Her words, delivered with an unavoidable ring of melancholy, are a punch to the stomach, and Shinichi hurries to distract himself by brushing his front teeth, scrubbing at his gums with more force than he should as he tries to rid his mouth of acid.
"I keep thinking," Ran continues, "that he’ll definitely be back, and all that stuff he said, about how he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to..." She sighs. "That it was all something he made up to keep me safe. Shinichi can be like that, you know?" She laughs, a miserable, empty sound. "But he said goodbye so seriously that I can’t help but believe him."
Shinichi turns on the faucet to drown out the pitter-patter of his anxious heart. He hates lying to her. He’s here, right here, but if she knew, if he told her, she would be in even more danger. He knows her, better than he knows almost anyone else in the world besides himself, and she would let it slip one day, to Sonoko or to Kazuha, or worse, to Mouri, and then… they’d be targets, these people Shinichi loves. Then these past two years, of Shinichi slowly losing bits and pieces of himself to this child he’s become, would have all been for nothing.
"The truth is," Ran says, running her brush through her hair as Shinichi rinses the toothpaste from his mouth, blood from his gums swirling down the drain with the white foam, "that I’d always secretly imagined that Shinichi and I would get married."
Shinichi turns to look at her, his heart hammering in a chest that’s too small, his arms not long enough to wrap around her shoulders.
"And now…" Her eyes gain shadows. Those had never been there, before Tropical Land, and all that came after. "I don’t know, it’s probably not…" She purses her lips. "Shinichi is my best friend, and I know that he cares about me. I always just assumed we would end up together. We did everything together as kids. Shinichi was just like you when he was a kid, Conan-kun. You remind me of him so much, all the time."
"People always tell me we’re a lot alike," Shinichi mumbles as he cleans his toothbrush, rubbing his thumb across the bristles. "That’s probably why."
"We never had any secrets from each other, back then," Ran continues, looking up at the ceiling. "Now I have no idea where he is, or what he’s doing. I’d like to think that’s because of this one important case, but something tells me that Shinichi is doing something more than that. That he’s involved in something so dangerous he’s afraid to be near me."
"I thought, for a while, that you were Shinichi." She looks at him, but he doesn’t think she’s really seeing him. "You keep secrets, too. It’s like I recognized him in you." She laughs. "But that’s… It’s not possible, right? And Shinichi wouldn’t lie to me like that. He wouldn’t do that to me, would he?"
It hurts enough that Shinichi has to clench his teeth against it. He feels helpless, not sure what to say, especially when he knows that Shinichi would, is, lying to her, every day and every night, and has been for over two years. Every conversation he has with her is more lies than truth, and it’s all so twisted up now that Shinichi can’t always remember which parts are the lies, anymore.
"I don’t know," Shinichi says. "I am sure, though, that if he did, it would only be because he was sure it was the right thing to do."
"The right thing for who?" Ran slams her brush down on the edge of the sink as Shinichi gathers water in his cupped palms. "That idiot shouldn’t be making any decisions for me."
Shinichi splashes his face, once, then twice, before turning to Ran, who is still staring down at the tiled floor like the answers are written in the grout. "I shouldn’t even be asking you about this, should I? I always forget you’re only eight."
Eight. He stares at her, and sees Ran, the girl he loves, and Ran-nee-chan, his big sister, and little Ran, the girl he protected from ghosts when they were small. She is all these things to Shinichi, but to Ran, he’s two separate people, with two separate roles in her life, and right now, he can only fulfill one of them.
"Shinichi-nii-san telling you he can’t come back must have been very hard for him," Shinichi says. His heartbeat is erratic, and he’s feeling dizzy again. "He confessed to you in London, right? So telling the girl he loves that he can’t come back to her must have been one of the hardest things he’s ever done." He grips the edge of the sink. "Ran-nee-chan, you might think it’s selfish, but I think Shinichi-nii-san just wants what’s best for you, even if that means you not waiting for him anymore."
Ran’s head jerks up, her startled eyes finding Shinichi’s. She produces a wobbly grin as tears leak from her eyes, and Shinichi swallows harshly before responding with one of his own.
"You’re too smart for your age, Conan-kun." She combs her fingers through his hair, and Shinichi closes his eyes to relish the touch, briefly, before he swats her hand away. "Somehow, though, just telling you what’s worrying me makes me feel better."
"That’s what little brothers are for," he murmurs, words thick and horrible on his tongue, pushing his glasses onto his face and then staring at himself in the mirror. Edogawa Conan stares back. "We can’t just be annoying all the time."
Ran stands behind him, wrapping her arms around him and pressing a kiss to the crown of his head. "I don’t know what I’d have done these past few years without you," she says, and then, more quietly: "It’s like I can’t remember what things were like before you came." Then she presses a second kiss, and drops her arms, leaving him in the bathroom to finish getting ready.
Shinichi looks into the mirror. A child with eyes far too old stares back. There are spots of color high in his cheeks. He looks tired and sick. He is.
He puts his fingers up to the glass, touching the image of his nose. "Was I selfish, asking her to wait?" His reflection doesn’t answer. "Or am I selfish now, not giving her the choice?"
There won’t be a cure, though, without a miracle. Shinichi is fairly certain of that, even with all of Haibara’s forced optimism, covering her frustration and anger at yet another failed antidote. Time, even turned ten years back, is not limitless.
Maybe he’ll never tell Ran, that Conan is Shinichi and that Shinichi is Conan. Conan’ll just… go home, back from wherever he came from, and Ran will never know that Shinichi has been watching over her from this close, and that, when he leaves, it’ll be an irreversible departure.
Shinichi remains in the bathroom until he’s sure his face won’t say anything he doesn’t want it to; until frustration stops crawling up his insides like a desperate drowning spider scrambling for dry land, and pushes his oversized, lens-less glasses up until they sit exactly right.
Then, he viciously bends his thoughts toward the case as he exits the bathroom to get dressed for the day, knowing that the best he can do is take things one day at a time.
Takeuchi Minato is a tall, handsome man with fantastic taste in suits. Sitting across from the police on a sofa in one of his three reception rooms, though, he just looks tired and harried, slumped back against the cushions of his Marie Antoinette French Classic sofa as the hand holding his coffee cup shakes slightly. "I still can't believe she's dead," he says, voice unsteady. He’s unshaven, and his hair is messy, even if it’s cut well enough that it’s fallen into place sufficiently for him to look groomed at first glance.
There's sincere grief in his eyes, and Shinichi hadn't been expecting that. Maybe he's spent too long looking for the guilt in people. It's nice to think that, occasionally, people will defy his expectations in a positive way.
That's something that's been happening more, since Shinichi became Conan, even though he sees just as many murders. It's possible, Shinichi concedes mentally, that before, he'd been too sure, too arrogant, to notice much beyond his own cleverness, and that it’s only because he’s forced to rely more on others that he can acknowledge their worth.
Inspector Megure clears his throat, staring at Takeuchi. "It was well known that you and the victim had a public altercation earlier in the week," he says, finally. "Why was that?"
"She'd been acting strange," Takeuchi answers. "Leaving at odd hours, and disappearing for days at a time. It wasn't like her. I thought she was cheating on me, you know? When I confronted her about it, though, in Shinjuku a few days ago, she said that wasn't it at all, and that she loved me. So..." He sets his coffee cup down on the table. "I've never been serious about a woman before Scarlette. I know what the gossip columns said, but that stuff was never true. We had something special, wonderful… I wanted..." He shudders. "I wanted to marry her, and I was pretty sure she knew that."
The maid, Kanami-san, Shinichi mentally corrects, enters the room, then, with a pot of fresh coffee. She refills everyone’s cups, and Shinichi takes a moment to note the way she avoids everyone’s eyes as she pours, her mouth drawn. Her hair is graying around the temples.
"You never found out where she was going?" Satou, standing behind the Inspector, asks, as Shinichi moves around the table to get a better view of Takeuchi's body language. He's pretty sure the man is innocent, but it can't hurt to play it safe.
"I'd been planning on hiring a private detective." Takeuchi shrugs, something listless in the motion as he averts his gaze. "Maybe I should have done it sooner. Maybe then..." His eyes are glassy, and out of sympathy, Shinichi studies the bookshelf instead of his face. It’s mostly filled with books about planes. Shinichi wonders if Takeuchi is an enthusiast, or perhaps the books were inherited with the house.
"Did Scarlette have any enemies?" Mouri, who is sitting next to Megure, asks. "Or rivals who would want her dead?"
"Scarlette had a lot of rivals," Takeuchi says. "How could she not? Her rise to popularity was meteoric, and add that to her mixed-race parentage? You know how old-fashioned some people can be. Not as much with young people, these days, but it’s still there."
Satou nods along like none of this is news while Megure makes a note on his pad.
"I can't imagine anyone would want her dead, though." Takeuchi runs a hand through his hair. "Scarlette was nice to everyone she met, and her keigo was above reproach, especially considering she was born and raised in America. She was always so polite, and in her free time, she mostly does…did volunteer work." He chokes on the past tense.
"Only a few more questions," Satou says, "and then we'll leave you to your mourning."
"I'm sure you're aware that the murderer drew the Kaitou KID caricature in blood on the floor of your ballroom," the Inspector says, after a moment's pause. "Was Scarlette connected, in any way, to any famous jewelry or gemstones?"
"No," Takeuchi says. "Actually she was approached for a contract with Kawakita Satomi, and she turned it down flat. She said she didn't have any interest in being connected with jewelry lines. I think she was more into old watches and stuff than any modern jewelry, anyway." Shinichi sucked his lower lip into his mouth and chewed it softly as he watched realization creep onto Takeuchi's face. "She did have a pendant she never took off, though, even in bed."
"A pendant?" Shinichi asks, causing Takeuchi to turn and look at him. "She wasn't wearing it when we found her."
"Then the murderer stole it," Takeuchi says. "She wore it everywhere, except when she was modeling. In the shower, to sleep, everywhere. She called it 'Lady Red', for some reason."
"Why is that weird?" Shinichi asks, and Takeuchi frowns.
"Because the stone was purple," he replies, holding up his hand to make a circle with his index finger and thumb. "About this big, and the color of an amethyst. I’d show you a picture, but I keep all my photos in my room, since I don’t carry a wallet with me. It messes up the line of my trousers, you know, and Scarlette…" He laughs, a choked sound. "She always liked that my name alone was enough to pay for things, or that I had tabs at all the best restaurants."
"Interesting," Shinichi mutters, pulling out his phone to look up pictures of Scarlette Shinamoto. He scrolls through until he finds a clear shot, and then shows it to Takeuchi. "Is this it?"
"Yes," Takeuchi confirms. "That's it. Lady Red." His hand clench into fists. "There's no way she wasn't wearing it."
"It doesn't look very valuable," Satou says, leaning down to look over Shinichi's shoulder. "It must have sentimental value."
"I don't know," Takeuchi admits. "I asked, but she never told me." He looks away. "I never liked how many secrets she kept, but…"
"How often do you use the ballroom?" Shinichi asks, to keep the man focused, careful to keep from sounding too demanding. "I noticed the floor was smooth, but there was nothing to protect it."
"My grandfather used the ballroom all the time," Takeuchi says, looking over at Shinichi. His eyes move at different speeds. A lazy eye? Shinichi hadn’t noticed before, since Takeuchi usually turns his whole head when he addresses someone, perhaps for that very reason. "I usually throw parties outside in the gardens, or have my friends over for billiards, so… Those are still the floors my grandfather had put in when he rebuilt this place. This mansion was constructed around a house built in the 1860s, heavily based on a French castle he fell in love with when he was young. The floor plans he worked from are still upstairs in my office, even if I can make neither head nor tail of them. I keep them for the nostalgic value, since I also have digitized ones on file with my attorney."
"Could you have a copy of the digital plans sent to the police station?" Satou asks, and Takeuchi nods.
"Of course, anything." He toys with his cufflinks, not nervous but at a loss for what to do with his trembling hands, and Shinichi types up an update in code for Heiji, to send to him via text.
He uses romaji to write everything out in a modified version of one of Poe’s ciphers, a mono-alphabetic substitution code, because he and Heiji had argued about a recent research paper on that very subject just last month. Shinichi doesn’t think Edogawa Conan’s phone is being tracked by anyone dangerous who matters, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and Heiji is good with codes; better than anyone else Shinichi talks to, at least, with the exception of KID.
"Do you even know who Kaitou KID is, mister?" Shinichi asks, on a whim.
Takeuchi nods enthusiastically. "Actually, I’ve been known to follow his heists. I think he’s an interesting guy. Flashy, which is something I can identify with." His smile is real, if somewhat weak. "I always wanted to put up a jewel for exhibition that would catch his eye, but so far no luck. I guess my jewelry isn’t exciting enough."
"So you’re a fan," says Mouri, flatly, and Megure writes that down in his notebook as Takeuchi winces.
"I guess you could say that." He rubs a hand on his cheek, and winces as he encounters the stubble. "I appreciate a good salesman, in my line of work."
Shinichi barely represses a chuckle at that. What would KID think about being compared to a salesman? He’d probably hate it, which means Shinichi will try it out some time, to antagonize him.
"I think those are all the questions we have," Megure is saying when Shinichi hits send on his text, and he’s standing up, Mouri echoing him immediately.
Satou bows, thanking him for his time in a soft, considerate tone she saves for strangers. "If you think of anything else, let us know."
"Absolutely," Takeuchi says. He walks them to the front of the house.
Shinichi lags a few steps behind, looking around in a way he hadn't gotten to last night. It's tasteful and modern everywhere toward the front of the mansion, unlike the old-money extravagance to the rear, where the ballroom is. And even these front-most rooms are confusing, with the way the hallway changes width and direction.
"If the guy is a fan of Kaitou KID, who’s to say he didn’t set this all up to kill two birds with one stone?" Mouri is saying to Megure, when Shinichi catches up. Megure appears to be only half paying attention. "Kill his girlfriend and get the attention of the thief that has ignored him in the past! It’s the perfect motive, and it explains why the KID caricature was at the crime scene!"
Shinichi rolls his eyes.
"Why don’t you fall asleep and solve it, then, Mouri?" Megure says under his breath. "Since the things you say when you’re awake are always so useless."
Outside the gate, paparazzi swarm. They yell through the bars, asking about Scarlette, about Takeuchi, about KID. Inspector Megure gives a simple "No comment", before ducking into the front squad car, along with Satou.
Before he and Mouri join Takagi in the second car, Shinichi surveys the crowd. Amongst the clamoring journalists and fans, there's one woman who is just staring at the mansion, a distant look on her face. He only has a few seconds to catalogue her face, taking note of her eyes, the absolutely unusual color of them, before she's swallowed up by hungry spectators, and he loses track of her completely.
Shinichi is left to his own devices in the afternoon, after begging off seeing that predictable action flick showing at three that Sonoko is determined to watch. Ran seems excited though, and after their conversation earlier, he’s glad to see her go, wanting time to organize his own feelings without being under her watchful and sometimes too observant gaze.
He’d put everything aside, this morning, but now at a dead end on the case, he has nothing to drag him away from the tightness in his chest that he knows is about Ran and the mess that he’s left of Kudou Shinichi’s life that he’ll never get to fix.
"Are you sure you want to stay here by yourself?" Ran asks.
"Yes," Shinichi reassures her, "I’ll be fine, Nee-chan! I’m going to take a nap and play games on my phone." He grins at her, and returns it, reflexively straightening his collar.
"Don't get into trouble," she warns him sternly as she prepares to leave their hotel room. She's beautiful, dolled up in a pretty dress with subtle make-up, and Shinichi can only remember when she was twelve and wore lipstick for the first time, smudging it outside her lip-line and getting it on her teeth when she smiled.
Sonoko is in the hall, rant about incompetent police and her "wronged KID-sama" beginning before Ran’s even got her shoes all the way on. "Can you believe that some newscasters were even suggesting KID-sama might have had something to do with the murder!" Then louder. "Even worse, some people think KID was secretly dating Scarlette, and Takeuchi killed her out of jealousy!"
Shinichi winces at the shrillness of her voice, but at the same time, he knows Sonoko is the best person to cheer Ran up when she’s down. The girl might get on Shinichi’s nerves, but she’s one of Ran’s best friends, and Shinichi knows she’ll always be there for Ran when Shinichi can’t be. Like now.
Stop moping, he chides himself. What good will it do?
"The police don’t think that at all," Ran replies, laughing slightly. "Why would it be worse if KID were dating her?"
"Because that would mean KID-sama’s type is tall, glamorous models!" Sonoko wails, and Ran’s reply is lost to him, her voice fading as she exits, her red scarf covering her mouth.
Shinichi presses his face into his cupped hands after Ran closes the door, flopping back on the bed and closing his eyes. He has the beginnings of a migraine, constant and obnoxious behind his left temple, and this case isn’t making enough sense to distract him. He has no suspects, a very tentative motive, and a nonsensical crime scene—who killed the model, and why?
"I can’t make bricks without clay," he mutters to himself, then shakes his head. "Not even the amazing Holmes could solve this entire case with so little in the way of clues."
He tosses and turns on the bed, wanting to change his perspective on the case, but no matter how he approaches it, he still doesn’t know how the ballroom crime scene was staged, or how a body that’s been stabbed seven distinct times can wind up posed so neatly, when there isn’t a secondary scene, or a separate location. The police had searched the whole house and hadn’t found any traces of blood, including in the bathrooms, which is where Shinichi would have checked first.
Wanting to clear his head, he decides on a walk, getting up and grabbing a jacket, slipping the hotel keycard into his pocket. Mouri is still down at the local precinct, where Inspector Megure has set up camp with his team, and he’s no doubt making a nuisance of himself with harebrained theories and no evidence to back them up.
Shinichi could head there, but… If anything important happens, he's sure he'll hear about it: from Satou or Takagi or even Mouri, as long as he asks the right questions. Realistically, though, he doubts they'll make any breakthroughs on the case until someone (probably Shinichi) figures out how the killer got in and out of Takeuchi's gated property, or what another possible motive might have been for Scarlette Shinamoto’s death.
Besides, when they’ve wrapped up for the day, Mouri will probably head out for drinks, meaning Shinichi is being given the rare gift of alone time, and he doesn’t have to worry about being back here, cobbling together a happy face, until Ran is due home in five hours or so.
Out on the street, with his hands stuffed into his coat pockets and the wind whipping at his face, Shinichi runs through the case one more time, as the tall buildings of the area funnel the wind.
First, Scarlette Shinamoto is killed between six and seven in the evening, most likely at an unknown location. She is then moved to the ballroom, where her blood is used to draw a cartoon of infamous gem-thief Kaitou KID, in a gruesome mockery of his calling card, and the pendant she always wears is missing from her person. All of this occurs while her lover and the longtime maid are asleep on small doses of Temazapam, enough to only keep them asleep for around an hour to an hour and a half, leaving them unable to commit the deed.
How, then, did the killer get on the property? Where was the actual murder committed? And what did this killer want with KID? If they wanted that gem, what would they need KID for, when they already had it?
He tilts his head back to look up at the sky. It’s overcast today, gray clouds encroaching on yesterday’s clear blue, the sun hidden away and giving the air a distinct chill. It won’t rain, not today, but the washed out look of the world matches what’s happening inside his head.
His stomach rolls. He’d passed on breakfast today, but he hadn’t been able to do the same with lunch. If Ran suspects that he doesn’t feel well, she’ll lock him up tight and dote on him, and while that’s not always a terrible thing, he’s got his hooks into this case and he won’t rest until he solves it. Not just for the victim’s sake, but also for Kaitou KID’s. He’d almost gotten blown up by the Black Organization while disguised as a grown up Haibara, after all, and even he knows the trade of letting KID go after that terrible Sera disguise was not a fair one.
Shinichi doesn’t know how long he’s been walking when he feels a shift in the atmosphere, the hair on his arms standing up and letting him know he’s being watched. He looks around with fresh awareness, but catches no one obvious. Glancing at the street signs, he takes careful note of his location. He hasn’t made too many turns, and he’s only ten minutes or so from the hotel with shortcuts, or, if he keeps going forward, fifteen from the police station.
Assuring himself that it’s only his imagination, he starts walking again. He’s unable to stop his paranoid glances, though, casting his gaze from left to right in a sweeping search. Ayumi would make fun of him, if she were here. She’s moved past the fawning stage and straight into the pigtail pulling with her crush, even if Shinichi doesn’t exactly have pigtails.
He hunches at a strong burst of wind that’s partially blocked as someone falls into step beside him, and Shinichi looks up to see the woman from earlier, at the mansion gate, with the unusual colored eyes. She has a white-knuckled grip on her purse with her left hand, and her face is tense with stress.
She’s been looking for him, then. "I saw you earlier," he says, and she visibly startles.
"Did you?" She shakes her head. "I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve always been preternaturally observant."
Always? Shinichi thinks, taking a closer look at the woman, wondering if he’s met her before, or if she’s just seen him in the papers. Her eyes. He knows them, somehow.
"You seem nervous," Shinichi says, after his careful perusal offers no other stirrings of recognition. "Is there some reason you wanted to talk with an elementary school student instead of the police?" He fingers his dart-watch, prepared to tranquilize her and run, if this turns out to be some kind of kidnapping attempt. "Do you have information you can’t go to the law about?"
"It wasn’t me, Meitantei," she says, breathy and quick, and Shinichi blinks. "I’ve barely even heard of this Scarlette Shinamoto outside of the news report this morning, and I don’t get involved with murders."
"KID?" Shinichi snorts, shoulders relaxing. "You’re going to give me a heart attack one of these days."
"Isn’t that my line, twerp?" It’s not KID’s real voice, but it’s KID’s taunting cadence, half- purring the words. "Usually it’s you surprising me, right?"
"What about that time with the stun-gun?" Shinichi’s headache had lingered for days.
"Ahh, but you got your revenge for that, didn’t you, little detective?" KID winces at the memory. It’s strange on the sweet, round face he’s donning.
But oh yes, Shinichi had gotten him good, with a soccer ball right to the back of the head and that index card identifying him to the other police. Some of his best work on a KID heist yet, honestly.
"I think you might be smirking," KID says, bending at the waist to look more closely at Shinichi’s face. "How vicious you are, when I have done so much for—"
"Anyway," Shinichi interrupts, "I know you weren’t involved in the murder, and so do the police." He squints at KID. "We know you’re not a bad person, even if you are a goddamn pain in the ass. Inspector Nakamori even called Division 1 to make sure we knew you wouldn’t have hurt someone, and that you were probably being targeted." He huffs. "As if I didn’t know that from the beginning. After all, the signature was a copy of the one you used when you left your second notice about returning the forged Ryoma artifacts for the Phantom Lady."
"I’m glad you have such faith in me." KID’s tone is laced with… relief? Did he actually think Shinichi would suspect him of murder, even after all the times he’s purposely let KID slip through his fingers? "I’m also flattered that you’ve memorized my caricatures, Tantei-kun~"
"Shut up. I memorize everything, asshole." Still, he’s flushing at the attention. KID’s so good at that, too. Making Shinichi blush, with frustration or embarrassment or triumph or whatever else, with just a couple of words and a certain tilt to his full mouth. "Don’t start thinking you’re special."
"Oh, I wouldn’t dare!" KID laughs, but it’s short, and lacks the usual air of whimsy that Shinichi associates with him. Everything about KID today, actually, is slightly off, now that Shinichi thinks about it. His reactions seem forced, and Shinichi wonders, not for the first time, how much KID is really like the grinning mask he wears to his heists. "Even if the mere suggestion turned you a delightful shade of pink."
"Like those heels?" Shinichi pointedly looks at KID’s shoes.
"Like a tomato," corrects KID. "Although it’s more pomegranate season now, isn’t it?"
"That’s not all you wanted, is it? To tell me you weren’t involved?" He licks his lips, and regrets it, the wind making them sting.
KID catches his own lower lip with his teeth. "Does my favorite critic have any idea why a murderer wants to get my attention with a dead model, then?"
"Since when am I your favorite?" Shinichi had thought perhaps Hakuba had that dubious honor, but maybe the other detective was too rigid a thinker for KID’s tastes despite his devotion to the cause. Also, Shinichi had noticed that Hakuba wasn’t as quick with dodging cards fired point blank from the card gun, so it might, at this point, be a ranking of how hard they make him work for his wins. In that case, Shinichi is the clear frontrunner.
"You’re different from the other detectives, for me." KID’s eyelids shutter. "Your motives are different."
"You want to defeat me in a match of wits, and that’s more important to you than bringing me to justice for my crimes." He flutters his eyelashes. "That’s the type of gentleman’s game I’m interested in playing, even if you play it too violently for my tastes."
"A battle between two minds." KID slides the hand not at his purse down the front of his jacket, pressing out wrinkles. His skirt flits and twirls around his knees as they walk. "Two gentlemanly minds."
"You squeezed Ran’s ass. That’s not very gentlemanly, thief."
"Well, I admit to getting a certain pleasure out of pissing people off." KID giggles, sounding disconcertingly like Sonoko. "I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to rile you up."
"Or you’re a pervert, plain and simple." Shinichi rounds a corner, and KID catches up easily with his longer legs. His smooth longer legs, hairless under sheer stockings. Shinichi isn’t going to think about that.
"It’s always a pleasure bantering with you, little guy, but you haven’t answered my question." The wind blows soft brown curls across a face that likely is nothing like KID’s real one. Even so, the anxiousness there, in his mouth and eyes and the curl of his fingers, though almost imperceptible, is genuine, and it gives Shinichi pause. "Have you figured out what all this has to do with me?"
"Honestly, I was hoping you could tell me," Shinichi replies.
"No ideas at all?"
Shinichi hesitates. "It might be related to 'Lady Red'."
"What's that? A pet? A strip club?" KID cranes his head down to look at Shinichi more carefully. "Should little kids even know about strip clubs? Don’t glare at me like that, Tantei-kun, it’s a valid question."
Shinichi glares at him anyway. "Oi, oi, it’s a gemstone." He lowers his voice so he won’t be overheard. "One that Scarlette wore as a pendant on a necklace and never took off. Detective Satou didn’t think it looked very valuable, and we still don't know why it’s called 'Lady Red' when it isn’t red."
"It isn’t red?" The click of KID’s pink high heels against the sidewalk stutters, and when Shinichi cranes his neck up to look, KID has stopped completely and is staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face. "Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure, Meitantei?"
"Yes," Shinichi says, confused. "It’s a soft purple. If you look online, she’s wearing it in most of her pictures." KID starts to walk again, and Shinichi keeps an eye on him as they pass a busy cosmetics store, so that he doesn’t lose the thief in the crowd. "I don’t get it. Why would she name a purple stone ‘Lady Red’?"
KID sighs, a heavy, shuddering thing, and Shinichi stares at KID outright. KID’s pretty eyes are wide and bright with excitement as they fix on his own feet, and Shinichi doesn't know why he keeps noticing the color and shape of those eyes, when they’re probably just part of KID’s disguise-of-the-day.
"It's called ‘Lady Red’, even though it isn't red," KID repeats to himself, and his voice cracks.
Shinichi presses his lips into a thin line."You know something," he says, and KID’s lips curl down in a surprisingly honest expression of doubt.
"I..." That lower lip, caught again by his teeth. Is that a tell? Shinichi never thought KID would have one. "Maybe. I can't talk about it here, though."
"It could be about the stone, then. Hattori was right." KID flinches, and Shinichi doesn't know that he's ever seen KID look this... off-balance. "That’s a motive. So tell me, Kaitou KID, what would a notorious jewel thief need with a cheap-looking gem?"
"Not everything is that straightforward." KID tugs down on his blouse. "It's not about any kind of monetary value."
"That's obvious," Shinichi says, exasperated, moving closer to KID. People walk around them on both sides, put out with their pace, but Shinichi pays them no mind, keeping his gaze firmly settled on KID. "You give them back, so you clearly aren’t concerned with the bottom line. Your heists must serve a different purpose; I’ve thought so for years, even if no one else seems to have picked up on it."
"I only need one jewel." KID laughs lightly, with a tinge of self-deprecation that catches Shinichi off-guard. "So I return the ones that aren’t what I want."
Mind whirling, Shinichi watches KID twist a long strand of hair around his finger. "You’re searching for something specific." KID’s lips twist, and Shinichi sighs.
There isn’t much in common, among KID’s stone choices, save for the fact that they usually are all old… Gems with a history, Shinichi thinks, with myths and legends surrounding them.
So, KID is looking for something specific, but, maybe, he doesn’t know what it looks like, only what it doesn’t look like. After all, why else would he return the gems he works so hard to steal? And if he's looking for something specific, it’s probably unique, meaning…
"You’re cute when you think too hard, Tantei-kun~," KID lightly grazes his hand through Shinichi’s hair, but Shinichi won’t be distracted, this time, following his thoughts to a natural conclusion.
"You're not the only one looking," he says aloud, with certainty, and KID gives him a sardonic grin. "You use the heists to flush them out! To get information!"
"You don't miss much, do you?" He starts walking again, and Shinichi hurries to walk alongside him. "Scary~! That's probably why you’re such a tough audience."
"You don’t know enough about them to track them down outside of the context of heists yet, so you drag them out into the open, and force them to tangle with you on your own terms."
"And if I, with my tricks and illusions, do the stealing, people are much less likely to be harmed." He taps his chin thoughtfully, and Shinichi almost raises an eyebrow at the pastel pink manicure. "Well, save for Inspector Nakamori’s pride; I do my best to harm that on a regular basis." He winks.
"You’re a flashy target, in all that white," Shinichi says. "You know you’re nuts, right? One good shot—" The City Building archives. Shinichi doesn’t finish the sentence.
KID is staring up at the sky, much like Shinichi had earlier, and seems not to have a reply.
Shinichi runs his tongue across the roof of his mouth. "So do you think the message at Takeuchi's mansion was a warning for you, or a challenge?"
They stop at a crosswalk, and KID exhales heavily, his bangs falling into his eyes and blocking them from scrutiny.
"I don't know yet," KID says. "This isn’t the style of the people I usually deal with. I do know that if this stone is what I think it is, then you need to look into Scarlette Shinamoto and then figure out how she got it."
"You suspect a fake identity, then," Shinichi says, crinkling his nose. "That's such an easy thing to construct, if you know how."
At the very least, researching Scarlette will expand their suspect list. At most, it’ll uncover the next layer of this case, or break it wide open.
"Is that so?" KID stares down at him curiously for a moment, the weight of his gaze heavy enough to make Shinichi hold his breath, before KID relents and looks away. Shinichi attributes KID’s circumspectness to KID understanding the importance, the necessity, of secrets, in a way no one else in his daily life aside from Haibara really can. "Hmm."
"It’s nothing." He pulls out a phone, black and nondescript, and checks the time. "This is where we part company, little detective."
They’re almost back to Shinichi’s hotel. He wonders if KID knows that, and wouldn’t be remotely surprised if he did. He knows a lot of details about Shinichi’s personal life and daily habits that he shouldn’t.
It should bother him more.
KID gives Shinichi a jaunty little wave, fingers wriggling playfully. It’s a careless and easy gesture, when KID, despite all his jokes and casual conversation, has been nothing but anxious throughout this conversation. It doesn’t sit right with Shinichi at all.
He reaches out and grabs KID’s wrist before he can walk away. KID’s skin is surprisingly warm and soft, silky under his fingertips. Shinichi can feel the unsteady beat of KID’s pulse where his fingertips press into the vein.
"KID, be careful." He feels slightly embarrassed at how grave his voice sounds, but... He thinks again of the blood on the ballroom floor, a macabre invitation. "Just... Don't be as reckless as you usually are." Don't get hurt.
Astonished, KID gapes at him. "I..." Closing his mouth, he smiles. It's an authentic smile, Shinichi thinks. Lovely. It might even be KID’s real smile, which he’s never gotten the chance to see before. It makes his mouth go dry, and he swallows at how warm it makes him feel. "Don’t make that face. You're much too old for your age, little detective."
"Not really," Shinichi replies, dryly. "It’s more the opposite."
KID's smile disappears behind the more familiar smirk. "I suppose that’s fair enough." He frees his wrist from the loose grip of Shinichi's small hand, cradling it like Shinichi has burned him with his hold. "You don't need to worry about me, Meitantei. I’m a magician of the highest caliber. I can’t be caught by amateurs."
"This is clearly not an amateur."
"Everyone is an amateur when compared with me." KID’s eyelids lower to half-mast.
Shinichi smiles at his lofty tone. "I expect you to tell me what you know about ‘Lady Red’ later."
"Hmm, maybe I will," KID says. "If you're lucky~"
The crossing light turns to ‘walk’, and as Shinichi steps into the crowd of people moving toward the hotel, Kaitou KID disappears, as if he were never there, with only the tingling of Shinichi’s palm as evidence that he’d just been close enough to touch.
It isn’t until he’s back in their room that he realizes he not only has another lead to pursue, but also that he feels much better than he’d felt before he’d gone out in the first place. The warmth of that smile lingers in his chest.
Well, KID is a magician, and for all that Shinichi claims not to be affected by it, KID does have a tendency to surprise him.
"What do you want, Edogawa?" Haibara snaps, answering on the third ring when Shinichi calls her three hours later.
"Ah-re-re," Shinichi responds, surprised, lying back on the bed, sprawling out, limbs extended like a starfish. "Are you watching the Big Osaka game or something? Is Higo on TV, so you wanna push me off the phone?"
"You’re interrupting my dramas." That vein in her forehead is probably throbbing, which makes Shinichi snicker. "So tell me what you want." Then she pauses. "Are you—Is everything all right? Did you have to take one of the pills I gave you?"
They’re blue. Haibara had given them to him a month after he’d started feeling sick. "Emergencies only," she’d said. "You can’t take these for long, or they’ll stop working."
"I’m fine. I haven’t taken one yet." He rubs at his eyes, swallowing down the still lingering nausea. "I need help with a case. I didn’t bring my laptop with me, since I didn’t know if there’d be free wi-fi, and I need to do some snooping into identities."
"You’re bad at it anyway. Just give me the name." Demanding, as usual, but the concern is gone from the edges of her tone. "I don’t have all day, Meitantei."
Over the past couple of years, Shinichi has come to regard Haibara as one of his closest friends, but there’s no denying that she can be difficult to get along with sometimes. He doesn’t mind. He’s hard to get along with, too. Or, well, he used to be, before. He thinks he’s better at patience, nowadays. It’s part and parcel of losing all his authority and needing to work with people who constantly condescend to him, as well as the slow wearing away of his rougher edges by the kids he hangs out with most of the time.
"Scarlette Shinamoto," Shinichi says, rubbing at his nose with his free hand. It’s still warming back up, tips of his toes stinging from his walk. Shinichi isn’t looking forward to winter this year if it’s already this cold. "The dead model on the news."
"The case linked with Kaitou KID?" Haibara suddenly sounds intrigued. He can picture the look on her face: wolfish. "You think she was famous under a false name?"
"Well, KID does." Shinichi stops to listen as he hears steps in the hallway. He’ll have to change the way he’s speaking if it’s Ran. "If it is a false identity, it’ll have to have been a really thorough one, considering how well known she’s gotten this year." The steps continue past their door. Ran and Sonoko are probably having dinner. Shinichi walks over to the table at the edge of the room and turns on the coffee maker.
"Oh, KID, is it? You’ve already talked to him?" Her voice lilts. Shinichi can feel the mocking amusement that always colors her expression when it comes to his interactions with KID. "He really knows how you think," she always tells him. "I find that hilarious."
He stares belligerently at the ceiling. "He found me," he says. "He was really concerned, even if he was trying to act like the same pain in the ass as usual. I did learn that Scarlette Shinamoto might have been in possession of a gem that KID is familiar with, though, so that might be the point of connection."
He can hear Haibara’s nails pause their tapping on the professor’s computer desk, before the sound of rapid typing begins again. "Her official profile says she was born in the United States, to an American mother and a Japanese father. According to her immigration files, she maintained dual citizenship until, at twenty, she chose to give up her American citizenship in accordance with Japanese law."
"That aligns with what I overheard from Takagi and Satou, and with what Takeuchi said when we interviewed him."
"She graduated high school in the U.S., too, before moving to Tokyo to begin her modeling career." Haibara’s frantic typing ceases.
"That’s all you can find?" He massages his temples. I thought there would be something more.
"If I were an amateur," Haibara say, smugly, and then she laughs. "I’m running her through a facial recognition program, to see if I can catch her on digital yearbook photos, or—"
"Or what?" No reply. "Or what, Haibara? Answer me!"
"Or," says Haibara, almost at a whisper, "law enforcement records."
"Hold on," she chokes out. "I need to cross-reference Scarlette Shinamoto’s DNA recovered from the scene with what I’ve found…"
"Why do you sound so strange?" Shinichi demands, and Haibara clears her throat. "It can’t be that bad."
"You know better than to say things like that with luck like yours, Meitantei. Check your mail," she snaps back. "I’m sending you something."
Shinichi yanks his phone away from his ear when it vibrates, and quickly switches to speaker-phone before he inputs his mail passcode, watching as Haibara’s message pops up. The first thing he sees is an aged photo of the victim, her hair a dark brown instead of red, and wearing some kind of prison uniform. "She was a criminal? What did—"
"Kudou," Haibara interrupts, her voice deadly serious, and Shinichi notes the change in terms of address, "keep scrolling."
Genevieve Maisonrouge. Half- French, half-Japanese, incarcerated for armed robbery, fraud. Escaped from police custody in Belgium before sentencing. They’re pretty heavy charges, but nothing that means she should have been murdered. Nothing so bad it would make Haibara, who has seen the very worst of Them, nervous. "What am I looking for?"
"Dates," Haibara answers. "Look at the dates, Kudou."
"Born in 1945," he reads, mostly to himself, "arrested in 1963." Then he thinks about that, runs through it again, and shock flashes through his body, like he’s been doused in cold water. "Haibara, are you sure?"
"Of course I’m sure," she snaps. "I’m using the FBI access codes you got from Jodie to dig through the International Crimes Database!"
"This is impossible." Shinichi sits up, his glasses falling from his face to rest in his lap. "She’d be sixty, Haibara, and there’s no way the woman whose murder we’re investigating was a day over twenty-five."
"Just like there’s no way you and I are a day over eight, right?" Shinichi’s heart clenches. "When you mentioned a secret identity, I never thought it would be something like this."
"Do you think she’s another victim of APTX 4869?" Shinichi asks. "Could she be…"
"This is far more than ten years, Kudou. This woman, who should be sixty and in jail somewhere in Belgium, was found dead, more than forty years younger than that, in Tokyo. She’d even been working as a model, so unlikely was the chance that anyone would connect her to her former identity. I don’t think this has anything to do with the apoptoxin I was working on. I think this is something else."
"The list of possible motives just got a whole lot longer," Shinichi says, "and while we might be able to use the police to figure out the rest of the ‘hows’, I’m going to have to work on the ‘whys’ without them."
"You can always ask your friend Kaitou KID." Haibara says. She seems to have regained her mental feet, her voice back to that laconic sarcasm Shinichi despises.
"He’s not my friend. We help each other out occasionally. Allies, maybe. In the loosest sense of the world." Shinichi narrows his eyes. "I will be getting him to tell me what he knows about ‘Lady Red’, though."
Haibara is quiet on the other end of the line. "Hey, Kudou."
"Yes?" Shinichi toys with the curled cuff of his sock, stretching the weave of it between his fingers. His mind is still racing, like a car careening along a dangerous mountain road, every turn a chance for him to get distracted, or lose control completely.
"If this is related to them, don’t get involved without thinking it through." She’s solemn, the way she always is, when it comes to the crows. "I know you like to rush into things, the same way that Osakan detective does, since you two are birds of a feather, but don’t give yourself up."
"I won’t," Shinichi promises. "I’ll play it safe, Haibara. On the other hand, I won’t let KID get hurt if there’s anything I can do about it, and I won’t miss the opportunity to find out more if it arises."
"I’m holding you to that."
"I know. See what else you can find out about the victim? I’d appreciate anything you can dig up."
"I’ll send you anything that I come across," she says shortly, ending the call without saying goodbye.
Shinichi scrolls back up to Genevieve Maisonrouge’s picture again, taking in the grainy quality of the photo, taken pre-digital cameras and the way her eyes have that same piercing look that’s made her a favorite of Japanese fashion mags.
"Who are you?" he asks the picture, before flipping back to his recent internet searches and pulling up a photo of the victim’s missing pendant. "And what are you?" Despite the seriousness of the case, Shinichi feels a spark of excitement deep in his gut, warring with the plaguing nausea.
The thrill of the case, after all, is why Shinichi became a detective in the first place: he loves mysteries, and more importantly, he loves solving them, watching them unravel before him as easily as they ever did for Sherlock Holmes.
The door beeps, and then swings open, a harried Ran peeping around it, one hand curled around the frame with the keycard trapped between her first two fingers. "Conan-kun, hurry up!"
Shinichi looks out the window before returning his gaze to Ran. Night has fallen, and he doesn’t know where Ran wants to go that she’d need or want Conan to go with her. "Why are we hurrying?"
"Dad asked me to bring him some dinner down to the local precinct, and I thought you might want to come along."
Shinichi grins. "I’ve never been there!" He slides forward on the bed so that he can slip down to the floor without jumping.
"Plus," Ran says, cheeks pink from the wind and smile soft and sweet, "I thought you might be interested in meeting Scarlette Shinamoto’s mother."
Shinichi freezes, looking up at Ran so intensely she steps back, dropping her hold on the keycard.
"That’s what Satou said," Ran replies, squatting down to pick up the keycard she’d dropped. "What, did you think she wouldn’t have one?"
"It’s not that," Shinichi says, putting on his shoes and grabbing his jacket from where it lies on top of his open overnight bag. As he shrugs it on, he’s relieved when there’s no dizziness for the first time all day. "Let’s go, let’s go! Aren’t we in a hurry, Nee-chan?"
Ran holds out her hand to him, and he takes it, letting her lace their fingers together. It doesn’t mean anything, when Shinichi is Conan, and that’s all right, isn’t it? He’s still with Ran.
She’s humming as they walk, a smile playing at her lips. "You’re in a good mood," Shinichi observes, and Ran blushes.
"Oh, really?" She’s looking at shops, trying to choose a place for take-out. "I guess I am."
"Did something good happen?" It’s her eyes, Shinichi thinks, more than the lightness of her steps or the humming. Ran’s eyes are clear, when the last time they spoke, they’d been clouded with doubt.
"Nothing much." She tugs on his hand as they pass a bento shop, pushing open the door. The smell of pickled radishes and ginger wafts out the door and envelops them as they step inside. "Did you know Hondou-san was back in town?"
Ran taps her chin as she surveys the choices, trying to pick one for Mouri, undoubtedly. "Yep! He’s transferring permanently to Teitan."
"Oh," Shinichi says, looking down at the plastic models of the different choices, hating the clawing in his chest. "And that makes you happy?"
"Well, it’s a small thing," Ran says, after a long moment, "but when we bumped into him, we invited him to watch the movie with us. Halfway through the movie, someone screamed. I looked left, thinking he’d be halfway out of his seat already, running toward the sound, but he just looked back at me." She laughs. "It turns out there was a spider in concessions. Funny, right?"
"I don’t get it," Shinchi says, looking up at Ran with both hands in his pockets, as she continues perusing the menu.
"It was just… nice to see the whole movie, for once." She shakes her head. "Don’t worry about it, Conan-kun. How about a number 4? Will that be okay?"
He nods slowly, and after she orders for them, Ran starts humming again.
Scarlette Shinamoto’s mother is obviously a fake. Oh, she might really be American, and she might very well be someone’s mother, but that, he thinks, is where the truths of her introduction end.
Shinichi wishes he had a cup of something warm that isn’t the dishwater that passes as coffee at most police stations. He settles for a massive can of orange juice and an envious look at the takeout coffee Satou is holding, instead.
"Mrs. Shinamoto?" Megure says. "Whenever you’re ready, we have just a few questions." He speaks Japanese slowly and clearly, in simple grammar, presumably out of courtesy.
The woman sitting before Inspector Megure’s requisitioned desk, legs crossed at the ankle and designer handbag settled comfortably in her lap, is in her late thirties or early forties, with long blond hair that curls down to the small of her back and expensive sunglasses that have Mouri salivating. "I flew in to Tokyo on a direct flight as soon as I heard," she says, her voice thick with tears. "I just got off the plane less than two hours ago. I had to find out what had really happened to my beloved Scarlette."
"I’ll bet you did," Shinichi mumbles to himself, looking up at the mysterious woman who cannot possibly be Scarlette Shinamoto’s mother. After all, Scarlette Shinamoto’s DNA matched perfectly with a woman named Genevieve Maisonrouge, who, despite her appearance, was seventy years old. And while it was possible that her mother possessed whatever secret to avoiding aging the victim had so obviously had, the fact remained that while Genevieve Maisonrouge was haafu, it was her mother who’d been Japanese, and her father who’d been a French National who’d found Genevieve’s mother during the war. No doubt switching the identity of the non-Japanese parent was made to help protect the lie.
With all that taken into account, it’s obvious this woman is a fake. What Shinichi does not know is her motive for talking to police, when it would have been fine for this particular character to have never crossed the Pacific.
"Excuse me, ma’am," Shinichi says, fixing a boyish smile onto his face. "Did Takeuchi-san call you?"
"No, he didn’t." She looks down at him with a smile that curls up the corners of her lips but does not change her eyes, cold as ice. "I’ve never met him. He wasn’t a serious boyfriend, you could probably tell that from the papers."
"That’s funny," Shinichi replies, as innocently as he can when he’s a shark with his prey already neatly between his teeth, "considering that Takeuchi-san was planning on proposing to Shinamoto-san. Apparently they were pretty serious."
"What kind of man in a serious relationship actually hires a private detective to spy on his love? They save that stuff for the movies, or for relationships going down the drain, don’t you think?"
"How did you know about the private detective?" Shinichi hides a triumphant grin when she flinches.
"Yes," Megure says, stroking his mustache. "How did you know about that? Takeuchi only mentioned he’d been planning to hire a private detective, not that he had."
"Scarlette told me, of course!" The woman waves a hand, and then dramatically covers her eyes. "My darling girl told me she’d found the business card of a private-eye in Takeuchi-san’s wallet when he’d left it on the table one night, and that she’d noticed someone following her."
"Oh, I see." Megure takes note of that, and Shinichi glares at the woman, now completely certain that this woman had not talked to Scarlette Shinamoto in a substantial amount of time, if she’d ever met her at all. "Can you think of anyone who would want to kill her?"
"No, of course not." The woman’s hair falls forward, shiny and soft, across her shoulder. "My poor baby, so polite, so sweet."
The crocodile tears are giving Shinichi a headache. The imposter isn’t any more tolerable making those noises than Haibara.
"Not even anyone in America?" Shinichi makes sure the woman can see him smirking at her when she turns her gaze to him again. "I mean, since she spent most of her life there, it would make sense that she’d have met more people back in the United States, right? That means friends and enemies. You said you still live in Seattle, where Scarlette grew up, right?"
"I know you never met her, but if you had, you’d know Scarlette wasn’t the type of girl that made enemies easily. Besides, what would those people be doing in Japan?"
Shinichi pulls out his phone, discreetly pulling up a search, and when he finds what he’s looking for, he grins.
"Say," Satou says, cradling her cup of coffee in both hands, "you wouldn’t happen to know anything about that pendant she always wore, would you?"
"’Lady Red’?" The woman’s eyes gleam, and Shinichi feels his hackles rise. "She’s always had it. I can’t recall when she got it."
"It doesn’t look very expensive," Satou continues. "I just wondered if it had sentimental value, and if so, why it was the only thing the murderer took, and why they left a message for Kaitou KID, the famous jewel thief, if there wasn’t anything special about it."
"I couldn’t tell you," the woman demurs. She uncrosses her legs and then crosses them again. "Do you have any more questions, officers? I just got off an international flight, and while I want to be as cooperative as possible, I’m tired and I’d like time to mourn."
"Of course," Satou sets down her coffee. "We’ll call you if we need to ask any more questions, Shinamoto-san. I think you gave us your number?"
"Yes," she says. "Thank you." She casts a look down at Shinichi as she stands. "I might get lost trying to find my way out of the station. Do you think this helpful little boy could show me the way?"
"Sure!" Shinichi chirps, and the woman’s eyes glint again.
"Behave, and come right back, Conan-kun," Satou says, and Shinichi nods enthusiastically.
"No problem!" He lets the woman take his hand and lead him out into the hallway.
"What are you doing here, Vermouth?" Shinichi says, as soon as they’re out of earshot.
"Now, now, Silver Bullet," she replies. "I just came to check on the investigation."
"Why would you need to do that?" Shinichi narrows his eyes at her, taking in the lazy smile that doesn’t fit the face Vermouth is wearing today. Certainly, it’s not the face of a grieving mother. "Don’t you know all about it, already?"
"Hmm," Vermouth raises both eyebrows, "not really. I am a bit curious, since KID is involved, but right now, it’s only an idle curiosity. Let’s call it me keeping an eye on something potentially problematic for me."
"You didn’t say us." Shinichi runs a hand through his hair. "You only said me."
"I did, didn’t I?" She tosses her hair over her shoulder. "Imagine that." She doesn’t break character as they move toward the front of the station. "How did you know it was me? I’m curious."
"I wasn’t sure at first," he says. "I just knew you weren’t Scarlette Shinamoto’s real mother." He holds up one hand and starts raising fingers. "One, you aren’t old enough."
"So you found even that," she murmurs. "You’re dangerous, aren’t you?"
"Two, you lied when you told us how you knew about the private detective. Takeuchi-san doesn’t carry a wallet, because he thinks they ruin the line of his suit. Scarlette was smug about his name having buying power, which, if you’d talked to her about Takeuchi-san, you would know. Or, at least, you wouldn’t have thought he carried anything in his wallet, since he makes a point of not doing that."
"I should have gone with the namecard case," she says. "But that’s so old-fashioned, these days, right?"
"Maybe," Shinichi says. "But there’s also the fact that Takeuchi claims he’d only considered hiring a detective, not that he actually had hired one."
"Oh," she said, "well, that’s not true at all." She offers him a tiny, sharp smile. "The dear bereaved boyfriend had definitely already employed a detective." She flicks her gaze forward again, face crumpling as they pass Takagi by the vending machine. He gives her a sympathetic nod before turning back to agonize over ice coffee choices for Megure. "Is that all?"
"No," Shinichi says. "The last thing was actually the first thing you said. You said you flew in on a direct flight as soon as you heard, and that your plane had landed less than two hours ago. But there haven’t been any arrivals of direct flights from Seattle into Narita since this morning, and you don’t have any luggage."
"Clever, clever," she says. "You really are another silver bullet."
"You aren’t usually this clumsy with your disguise work." Dropping her hand, he thinks quickly before firing off another of his questions. "Why is KID being involved intriguing to you?" Shinichi can tell his time to interrogate is running short. They’re nearing the front lobby, and he already knows he’ll be forced to let Vermouth walk away from this charade or risk some kind of greater consequence.
"Let us just say that if you’re the silver bullet, he’s the gilded metal cross." Her eyes fall half-lidded. "Don’t think it’s sentimental."
"Is anything sentimental with you?" Shinichi asks. "Or are you heartless?"
"If I were heartless, would you and Sherry still be alive?"
"You must have a plan for us," he says. "You always have a plan."
"It’s a secret," she tells him, leaning down to ruffle his hair.
Her sweet perfume wafts over him, and makes him cough. He presses the back of his hand to his mouth, and when he feels the stickiness of blood, he doesn’t lower it for her to see. No weaknesses, not in front of Vermouth. "Because secrets are what make a woman, a woman?"
"Exactly," she purrs. Then she’s gone, out the door of the precinct and out onto the street, once again out of his grasp and leaving too many unanswered questions. Shinichi is sure of two things, though: that the chance of Black Organization involvement is now too great to ignore, and that Takeuchi, with all his genuine grief, had lied to the police.
Shinichi’s throat burns, but it’s easy enough to ignore as he goes into the bathroom to wash his hands before returning to the officers to see what they made of Vermouth’s disguise.
You asshole, Heiji texts him, later, when he, Ran and Mouri have returned to their hotel. It took me three hours to decipher your message. And then another hour to wrap my head around all of it!
Getting rusty in your old age, Hattori? replies Shinichi, plugging his phone in to charge for the night. He can feel a low-grade fever settling in, and he needs to get under the covers before Ran catches him shivering.
You’re getting rusty in your young age, Kudou, if a murder scene is unreadable to you.
Maybe it’s magic, Shinichi texts, ignoring Heiji’s return text as he snuggles under the blankets.
Shinichi opens his eyes to a shadowy room, feeling watched. Mouri is snoring, and Ran is slumbering quietly in bed next to him, her hair splayed out across the pillow under Shinichi’s arm and her hand pressed flat on her bare stomach.
His head aches, and so does his chest, each breath spreading a burn between his ribs that makes it hard for him to force himself to take his next inhale. He wants to go immediately back to sleep, and hope he wakes up in the morning feeling better, but the weight of someone’s eyes is much too heavy upon his consciousness to ignore.
He looks around blearily, trying to clear the sleep from his eyes. He knows to trust his instincts on this, blinking as he adjusts to the darkness, and sitting up carefully so that he doesn’t wake Ran, clutching at his chest as his organs slush around until they resettle into a new position. When the world stills around him, Shinichi sighs in relief, and pushes a hand through his hair. He doesn’t bother with his glasses, running a hand over his face as he untwists the covers from around his legs, and then he climbs down from the bed, tucking the freed sheets in around Ran so she doesn’t get cold.
There’s only one window in the room, and Shinichi tiptoes past Mouri so that he can peek outside. Sidling up against the window ledge, hands spread out flat across it to support his weight, he leans to press his face to the glass when something crinkles under his hand. Almost falling backward in surprise, he lifts his palm to find an index card, white and unlined, with nothing more on it aside from an arrow pointing up and a tiny doodle of Conan, oversized spectacles and all.
Exhaling the breath he hadn’t known he was holding, Shinichi then scowls down at the index card. An arrow pointing up probably means the roof. Moving back to his and Ran’s side of the room, Shinichi pulls on his jacket, sticking the index card into the pocket before pulling on socks and his white trainers. His pajama pants are a little short, leaving a gap of skin at the ankle, but hopefully it’s not so cold that it’ll be bad that he’s not bothering to get dressed. Haibara would give him hell for the choice, but she’s not here, and it’s not like it’ll make much of a difference in the long run.
He takes the stairs to the top floor, slowly and carefully, hand gripping the banister. No one can see him, so he doesn’t have to pretend that his lungs aren’t burning or that the upward motion doesn’t make him feel like he’s on a ship at sea during a storm. He’d have taken the elevator, but he’d noticed, when they first got there, that there are cameras in the elevators and not in the stairwells. It’s better to take advantage of that, and ascend the six flights to the roof without being seen by anyone who might be curious about an eight year old wandering around late at night.
If anything happens, the camera footage will reveal he went into the stairwell, but he can always lie and say he’d gone into the stairwell to think and had lost track of time. He’s gotten into the habit of disappearing for longer periods of time when they’re home, too, lately, so Ran will probably buy it. Mouri won’t even care, and no one else here knows him well enough to say whether it’s in or out of character.
He snorts to himself as he approaches the last level. He’s getting better and better at building these layered lies. Shinichi, the old Shinichi, had never been much good as a liar, despite how good he is at seeing through them. Conan, on the other hand, is nothing but a creation of progressively more complicated untruths.
The door leading out to the roof is locked, but from the inside, so it’s a matter of stretching up high enough to turn the deadbolt. Arm extended as high as it will go, he manages to push at the bottom of it, and listens with satisfaction as the tumbler clicks.
Not only is it cold, Shinichi notes, as he pushes the door open, but it’s also blustery. The wind nips at his cheeks and ears, and he flinches at the unexpected discomfort.
KID is sitting on the edge of a ventilation duct, his elbows pressed into his knees and his face cradled in his gloved hands. His cape flows outward behind him, dramatically spread by the wind, as he smiles that enigmatic smile that’s always made Shinichi want to punch him.
He looks like a superhero or something, and Shinichi criticizes himself for even making an association like that when the subject is Kaitou KID.
"So those glasses of yours are just for show?" KID drawls conversationally, like he hasn’t called Shinichi out in the middle of the night after somehow breaking into his hotel room without disturbing any of the three people in it. "I always wondered, you know."
"The last thing I need is another stalker," Shinichi says, after he’s carefully closed the roof access door behind him, fighting against the wind’s attempts to blow it wide open. "You’re a creep. Can’t you just call when you want to talk, like a normal person?"
"Ah, but wouldn’t it be creepier if I knew your personal phone number?" KID’s voice floats easily across the roof to him, as if he were standing much closer, and Shinichi wonders how he does it. Ventriloquism? KID’s talent with his voice is, to Shinichi, by far the greatest of the jewel thief’s abilities, especially in light of the fact that Shinichi can’t even carry a tune at karaoke. "What do you mean, another stalker?"
"Since when have you cared about being creepy? You’ve stolen Ran’s underwear and worn it for a disguise. After that, a phone number illicitly acquired is nothing."
"Those were replicas, little detective. Didn’t you know? I’m an excellent tailor."
"You’re an excellent creep," Shinichi says. "Which is why I doubt that you don’t have my number." KID has used his phone more than once, most recently on the Bell Tree Express, and he’d be shocked if KID hadn’t taken the obvious opportunity to snoop. Let alone the file Megure keeps on Edogawa Conan at the police station that he thinks no one knows about. KID could even call from a payphone or a burner, and Shinichi would be none-the-wiser about KID’s own number.
"You’re avoiding my second question." KID frowns, then covers it with a winsome smile that Shinichi hears more than sees, up here in the dark. "Your number may or may not be something I’ve picked up looking through your personal things. This is all theoretical, of course, and I admit to nothing."
"Theoretical, huh?" Shinichi shrugs, as another burst of wind rattles through the metal guardrail circling the roof. His next words blow white puffs of steam into the air. "I’m here, so what do you want?"
"To know what you found out about Scarlette Shinamoto," KID replies easily. "I know you’ll have found something by now."
Shinichi considers. KID had given him the tip in the first place, and maybe KID will know what to make of it. "Your tip panned out."
"I thought it might."
"Her real name is Genevieve Maisonrouge. She’s from Belgium, but her Dad was a French national. Her mother was born and raised in Yokohama."
"So the Mama-chan at the police station today was a fake?" KID asks, and Shinichi shuffles his way across the roof, closer to KID, aiming not to trip over his laces by dragging his feet.
KID allows his approach. Why wouldn’t he? It’s not like Shinichi hasn’t been closer, and Kaitou KID’s a master at hiding his identity, even when he’s wearing a disguise that shouldn’t hide much at all. "You bugged the police station?"
"Mouri’s phone," KID corrects. "Bugging a police station is nearly impossible, with the constant security sweeps. It’s much easier to temporarily bug an officer." With the way KID’s grin turns predatory, Shinichi has no doubt that by ‘an officer’ KID usually means Nakamori. It’s odd, but Shinichi gets the impression KID likes Nakamori, which is something for later thought. "It’s only a temporary way to listen in, but still, a better use of my time."
Shinichi would really like to know how KID makes it sound so reasonable.
"And yes," Shinichi says. "I… knew she was a fake at the time, but I didn’t get too much information out of her, since she was so cagey." Despite Vermouth’s interest in KID, Shinichi doubts KID knows anything about the men in black. It’s better, then, not to tell him anything, since it seems like he’s in deep enough trouble already. The less he knows about them, the better. "That’s not the interesting part, though."
"I shudder to think what you do find interesting, if a pretend mother isn’t it." He sits up, straightening his back, and his fingers tap against the metal under him in a steady, soothing, staccato rhythm.
"This is going to sound ridiculous," warns Shinichi, and KID’s finger pauses, before the tapping begins anew, in a faster rhythm this time.
"I love ridiculous things, detective. You could even say they’re my specialty!"
"Scarlette Shinamoto, or Genevieve Maisonrouge, was born in 1945, right after the end of World War II."
KID breathes in, then whistles, long and low. Out of the edge of his peripheral vision, Shinichi sees the rustling of bird wings. Probably KID’s trained pets. Shinichi has noticed that he uses doves for several of his tricks.
"That does sound ridiculous, Meitantei. So tell me why you, of all people, believe it’s true."
"We used an FBI network login to match the DNA from the IC cold-case database, after we pinged her with facial recognition, when fingerprint searches came up with nothing."
"FBI network login? You’ve got some seriously good connections for a little guy, don’t you? Scary, Scary~" He sounds fascinated, and Shinichi feels a rush of heat going straight up to his face at the fondness he hears mixed into it. Why in the world would KID be fond of him? "What did she do to end up in the database?"
"Armed robbery and fraud, along with a few other minor charges. She escaped from prison back in the early 1960s. I’ve got H—I’ve got someone looking into the situation, but so far I don’t know where she’s been between then and her reappearance as a model in Tokyo."
KID’s fingers are still tapping, and Shinichi shoves his hands into his coat pockets, knuckles nudging KID’s crumpled index card note. "So the Scarlette Shinamoto who died ~tragically young~ was really, what, a woman in her seventies?"
Shinichi puffs his cheeks up with air, clenching his hands in his pockets. "I know it’s farfetched, but—"
"It definitely is," KID says, "but there are clearly known ways to shave years off one’s age." He turns his head pointedly to face Shinichi, and his last words come out as a whisper. "Aren’t there, Edogawa Conan?"
Shinichi frowns, and then stares down at his feet. He hadn’t bothered with the laces of his trainers. He won’t be able to kick anything, with his shoes so loose like this. He’s also not wearing his belt, or his watch, or his glasses, even though he’d known he was coming up here to meet Kaitou KID from the moment he saw that little doodle.
Earlier, he’d thought to himself that he trusted Kaitou KID not to do harm. He wonders if, subconsciously, he’s always trusted Kaitou KID far more than that. It’s unbelievable, he thinks, that he might trust KID further than as someone who won’t let him fall from a building, when he doesn’t know KID’s real name or what he looks like or any of his personal details. Perhaps, though, that can be attributed more to the fact that all those personal details are secondary to the fact that Kaitou KID has gone out of his way to help keep Shinichi and the people he loves from harm, even when there was nothing in it for him.
KID is a criminal, but he’s not a villain, and…After all the clues and hints Shinichi has left scattered like accidental breadcrumbs, KID has finally asked the question. Should Shinichi answer it?
"At first," KID says, breaking the silence that has fallen between them, "I thought you were the most precocious six year old I’d ever met. Finding out you were connected to another, much older, child prodigy, Kudou Shinichi, cleared things up some, but then it turns out that you’re a stranger to everyone in Shinichi’s life save for the old professor who lives next door. That struck me as strange."
"Who have you even been talking to?" Shinichi complains. "Or do you have bugs in my home?"
"A magician never reveals their tricks," KID says, reaching out and gently grabbing Shinichi’s arm, to pull him closer. "Especially to nosey detectives."
Shinichi had never noticed that the thread at the seams of KID’s gloves was sky blue before, an even, hand-done cross-stitch that would be hard to repair, but added visual interest to what had at first seemed an average pair of white gloves. "You’re the one being nosey."
"I thought a lot about your name," continues KID, as if Shinichi had never spoken. "It’s obviously an alias. Why does a little kid need to live under an alias? Why are you staying at Mouri’s? Those are the kinds of things I wondered about."
"And?" Shinichi asks, and is glad his voice comes out steadier than he feels. "Your conclusions?"
"The second part was obvious. Mouri Kogorou is a detective. Detectives get access to cases."
He stops, and waits for Shinichi to interject, but Shinichi continues to watch him, insides quivering.
"The first part, though, was giving me trouble. Was my Tantei-kun in witness protection? If he was, who was he hiding from? Could it be those people on the Bell Tree Express, who wanted to kill that woman I was disguised as?"
"Those people think I’m dead already," Shinichi replies, thinking quickly. KID would see through an outright lie, but parts of the truth… Shinichi could give him that, and trust it to go no further. "A… man tried to murder me with an experimental drug when I saw something I shouldn’t have. I was poisoned, and I managed to survive, when there was only a fraction of a percent of a chance that I could. I should be dead already."
KID is still, now, like a portrait, oil painted whites and sky blues against a black evening sky, the moon big and gold-tinged behind him. For the first time since they met, on that rooftop across from the Beika Museum, Shinichi feels like Kaitou KID is looking at him like he’s something new and rare.
"You don’t have to confirm anything if you don’t feel comfortable, but… You really are much older than eight, right?"
"Yes," Shinichi says, after an obvious hesitation. "Yes, I am."
"It’s a relief to know you’re older than you look, Meitantei. It’s no fun dealing with eight-year-olds that can outsmart me."
"I don’t do it often, since you’re so damn slippery." Shinichi’s pajamas aren’t enough to fight the wind-chill. He should have changed clothes, after all. He’s also getting dizzy again, and that, he’d prefer KID not to see. "Every once in a while, though."
"You’re more of a challenge than most," admits KID. "And the only detective I’d ever consider working with, whether you’re eight or eighty."
"I’m a teenager. Or I was, should’ve been." Ran, brushing her hair with shimmering, glassy eyes, not wanting to be protected when all Shinichi knows how to do is protect her. The professor and Haibara, who are only hidden because they aren’t connected to the missing and presumed dead Heisei Holmes. He has to keep them safe. "Not eight, or eighty."
"You’re a real hassle on my heists, either way."
"Did you know it would be like that, the first time you saw me?"
KID laughs delightedly, pulling his hand back to clap, and Shinichi hadn’t realized KID’s hand had remained on Shinichi’s arm until it was gone, taking warmth with it.
"Doesn’t that depend on which first time we’re talking about?" His laughter cuts off, abruptly. "So now you’re a teenager trapped in a little kid’s body, and you’re here staying with the Mouri family while you try to figure out how to get back to normal?"
"What makes you think getting back to normal is my first priority?" Shinichi asks, and KID slides a thumb down the lapel of his suit jacket.
"I’ve watched you, you know," he replies. "To me it’s obvious that you don’t feel like you belong in the place you’re currently stuck."
"Being myself right now might be too dangerous." KID’s head tilts inquisitively. "This face, this body… It’s my white suit and cape, to speak metaphorically."
"You get more intriguing all the time, little critic. Comparing yourself to me? Maybe you aren’t one-hundred per cent boring."
"Oh?" Shinichi bemusedly scratches at the back of his head. "You never thought I was one-hundred per cent boring, anyway. That’s why you always get over the top when I show up at your heists."
"Pot calling the kettle black, aren’t you?"
"I only wear white," KID replies loftily. "It’s all right that you’re arrogant. All detectives are, especially the good ones." His mouth thins, and without seeing his eyes, Shinichi knows his gaze is piercing. "But I also want to show you real magic, Tantei-kun. My father once told me it was the challenge of a magician to turn one’s greatest critics into one’s greatest fans." His lips twitch, then. "I want the Heisei Sherlock Holmes to be one of my fans."
Shinichi’s breath hitches.
"I’m right, aren’t I? That’s who you are, isn’t it?"
"That depends," Shinichi replies, stomach all the way up in his throat. "On whether or not you’re willing to keep a secret." If anyone can understand what it’s like, to carry two identities and want to keep them both, it’s KID, isn’t it?
"I’m very good with secrets," says KID. "Another of my specialties." He looks up, at the sky, revealing a long stretch of pale throat. "I’m not sure why you’re giving me your biggest one."
Shinichi isn’t wearing his watch, or his belt. He doesn’t have his glasses, and he hasn’t tied his shoes. He’d come up to see KID with nothing to protect himself, because he knew he didn’t need to protect himself.
That’s trust, even if Shinichi doesn’t know why or how. "Who says it’s my biggest one?"
KID laughs. "Meitantei, you definitely are anything but boring." He immediately drops his gaze again to focus on Shinichi intently. Shinichi wishes he could make out more of KID’s face, just to see the expression on it. "So, would you prefer me to call you Kudou Shinichi, then?"
"Stick with Tantei-kun." Shinichi’s heartbeat is pounding to the same tempo Kaitou KID had set earlier with his fingers against metal. "I’ve gotten used to it."
"Hmm," KID says. "Don’t big detectives in little bodies need a special name?"
"Then use Meitantei. You know that it’s…" Shinichi puts on hand on KID’s knee, and KID flinches, almost imperceptibly, but then forces himself not to recoil, easing as quickly as he’d tensed. "You can’t tell anyone that I’m alive. Not just for my safety, but for yours."
"That’s twice today you’ve been worried about me~" KID covers Shinichi’s hand with his own. "And you’re telling me your secrets. Have you decided to fall in love with me?"
"You’re an ass." Shinichi snatches his hand back. "I don’t want you to die because of me."
"I hear you," KID says. "Your warning has been duly noted. Now, back on topic. Could the trick that’s essentially hiding you in plain sight have helped Genevieve Maisonrouge?"
"No," says Shinichi. "The science, the poison, that resulted in this," he gestures to himself, with a wry grin, "is new. Genevieve Maisonrouge turned back her clock before it was even invented." He looks up at the moon. It’s full, and too close and bright. "What happened to me cannot possibly be what has happened to her." The image of her curled up, punctured body is vivid in his mind. "How did she end up…?"
"I think," says KID, carefully, not smirking or smug or any of his more familiar expressions, "that what happened to her wasn’t science at all."
"What else could it be?"
"Magic." The monocle charm glints.
"You aren’t talking about the execution of the murder, are you?" Shinichi closes the final distance between himself and KID, wondering if now, he’ll move away. He doesn’t. "I don’t believe in magic."
"Of course you don’t," KID retorts. "You’re a detective, and detectives have no imagination. There could be real magic in this world, and while I don’t know if it was responsible for her death, I do think it was responsible for her life." He stops, licking his lips. "Or, rather, her immortality."
"Immortality?" Shinichi’s tongue feels too thick in his mouth as he sits down next to KID. "And I was worried you’d think what I was saying was too outlandish. I should have known better."
The rooftop is cold against the undersides of his thighs, the chill seeping through his thin cotton pants to his skin. He shivers. KID chuckles, and then drapes his cape so that it hangs across Shinichi’s shoulders. It’s heavier than Shinichi had expected, and the silk lining skims across the material of his jacket before he catches a handful of it in his fist to keep it in place. It’s warm, and it smells of jasmine. KID, Shinichi thinks, smells like jasmine.
"Don’t freeze, my miniaturized detective," KID whispers, right into his ear. His breath tickles, but not in a bad way. It’s a warm puff across Shinichi’s cheek and neck, and it sends a different kind of shiver through him. He doesn’t know if it’s good or bad, only that it’s new. "You’re feverish."
"I’m not." He quickly checks his pulse. Still shallow. He should have told Haibara earlier, but he didn’t want her stressing when she’s too far away to help him anyway. "What did you bring me out here for?"
"I have a story for you, in exchange for what you shared about yourself earlier." KID tightens his cloak around him. "If you’re really all right."
Warmth skitters its way through him, down into his chest and all along his right side where KID sits, seemingly unperturbed by the proximity. Shinichi hasn’t been this close to him since that airship business, but at that time, KID had smelled like smoke and oil and too much cosmetic powder, and Shinichi had been too busy trying to stay alive to notice all the wiry muscle and the slide of thin, high-grade wool he’s noticing now.
"A story about what? About you?" He looks up, and KID is looking back. With the moon just behind him, he’s more shadow than face, but Shinichi can make out the shape of his mouth, his lips fuller than Shinichi’s and slightly wider. If they’re even his real lips, and not yet another layer to the disguise. "Or about immortality?"
"About Kaitou KID," KID corrects, leaning in, "but more importantly, about a gemstone named Pandora." He licks his teeth. "Which I think might have been our missing ‘Lady Red’." He breathes out, and it looks like the smoke from a cheap cigarette. KID’s lips are probably the real ones, not some disguise, because they’re wind-chapped and dry. "So yes, about me, and about immortality. Two for two."
"It’s only two in the morning," Shinichi replies. "We’ve got four hours before Ran wakes up and comes looking for me."
"Ah, ah, Meitantei, you’ve been out here twenty minutes already. We’ve only got three hours and forty minutes."
"Will your story take longer than that to tell?"
"Well it does cover at least twenty years," KID replies. "It could take awhile. Maybe I’ll just tell you about ‘Lady Red’ tonight, since cute little boys need their sleep."
"Don’t treat me like a child when you know I’m not one, KID."
"Oh, oh, oh, does that mean I should treat you like an adult, then?"
Shinichi can feel himself blushing at KID’s tone, and forces himself to ignore the teasing. KID’s just being his usual self, after all. Shinichi usually doesn’t get the brunt of this side of the phantom thief. "Weirdo."
"Are you embarrassed?"
"Anything you feel comfortable telling me about ‘Lady Red’ will help me find this killer," Shinichi growls, pulling more of the cape around him and scooting slightly closer to KID, until the space between them feels like it’s touching him, too, thick and solid and full of anticipation.
"You really want to protect me, don’t you?" KID produces a thoughtful hum. "You’re scared of this killer. You aren’t usually scared. Who is it?"
"I won’t let Them hurt you." He won’t give KID a name to research, or an alias. He wants KID nowhere near them, regardless of Vermouth’s blatant interest. "So tell me your story about immortality, Kaitou KID."
"You hurt me all the time, little bastard," he teases, but his body is stiff. Shinichi understands. He, too, is used to keeping so much to himself that the telling starts to become more difficult than anything else. "With those super sneakers and that loathsome soccer ball."
"Yes," he agrees, "but I’m only playing a… A gentleman’s game, you called it?"
"I thought you disagreed about my qualifications as a gentleman." A fraction of the tension in his shoulders loosens.
"Well, you did offer me your coat, sort of." Shinichi rubs his thumb across pale blue silk as he pulls the cape higher to shield his ear. "That is fairly gentlemanly."
KID chuckles. "It’s so rare to see you crack a joke."
"My life is in pieces and I solve murder cases," Shinichi replies, closing his eyes. "There isn’t usually much to joke about, KID."
"Touché," whispers KID. "Sometimes the jokes make it easier, though."
"Spoken from experience?" Shinichi avoids looking at KID. He’d only see his jaw, from this angle, but it feels… polite, to look away, especially when KID sounds so… distant, and lost.
They aren’t friends, he and KID, but they certainly aren’t enemies. Not when Shinichi, unfathomably, has handed Kaitou KID confirmation of his secret identity. He can practically feel Haibara laughing mockingly at him back in Beika. He narrows his eyes at the thought, and curses her in his head, even though that action would only make her laugh harder.
"The first Kaitou KID was active before I was born," KID says, after a few stagnant moments. "He was an amazing magician. He started teaching me to do tricks as soon as I could pick up a spoon. Simple vanishing illusions, or making things appear from nowhere with sleight-of-hand. How to open tough locks and pick pockets and choose the audience member most likely to play along the right way with your act."
His arm brushes Shinichi’s, and Shinichi doesn’t pull away from it, letting KID lean into him. He focuses on the soft ups and downs of KID’s voice, to distract himself from the need to cough, and the shivers he’ll no longer be able to blame on the cold. Hearing KID sound so nostalgic is strange, but Shinichi finds that he likes the way KID’s voice wraps around words and pulls at each end, stretching out the vowels even as he smothers the consonants.
"I looked up to him. I admired him more than anyone else in my life. I promised him, when I was six or something, that one day I’d put on a magnificent show in theaters as big as he did. Then a couple of years later, he suddenly… died."
"Ten years ago?" Shinichi asks, remembering the newspaper articles Agasa had pulled up. "It was ten years ago that Kaitou 1412 disappeared."
"Yeah." KID takes the hand further from Shinichi and brings it up to toy with the charm hanging from his monocle. "Two and a half years ago, I found out that the former Kaitou KID hadn’t just died: he was murdered." He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. "Not for stealing, but for refusing to steal."
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you think I steal?" The question is airy, but there’s intent behind it.
It definitely isn’t an idle question, so Shinichi treats it like a case, going over the facts. He doesn’t know who KID is, but he knows KID. KID, who breaks into museum exhibits to catch forgers. KID, who revealed himself to five children in order to keep an eye on them, keep them safe, when he could have been in and out before any of them were the wiser. KID, who gives gems back and says "it’s not the one I’m looking for."
KID, who once pushed Shinichi out of the way of a bullet that would probably have killed Shinichi then and there, long after he could have made his escape.
"Because you’re searching for something." Shinichi narrows his eyes. "It’s not for money, or profit, or because someone else wants you to." The fine wool of KID’s white, impractical suit, so contradictory to KID’s phantom moniker, tickles his bare wrist. Shinichi had once told KID he understood the purpose of the white suit; to attract the eyes of the audience so they wouldn’t see him when he dressed all in black. To gain attention and hold it when he needed it to perform his illusions. "Because you want to flush out others looking for the same thing. That’s why you have those flashy heists."
"Bingo~" KID tips his hat. "I don’t know exactly why the first Kaitou KID pulled heists. I can think of many reasons, and I think, in the end, a good argument could be made that it was for the thrill."
"You’re no stranger to that," Shinichi points out, and KID laughs. "I bet you’re just as tasteless in your everyday life as you are when you’re stealing things."
"It takes a certain kinda guy to wear this hat, don’t you think?" He twists the chain of his charm around his index finger. "What Kaitou KID does not do is steal on demand, for bad people. He doesn’t keep the gems he steals, and he doesn’t want anyone to be in danger. All those tenets would have been violated, if the first KID had taken an unnamed organization’s request in hand."
‘An unnamed organization’ leaves Shinichi stunned, and he hides his expression by looking down at his knees. "That request… was to steal a certain gem, wasn’t it?"
"It’s a doublet called ‘Pandora’. If the gem is held up under the Volley Comet during the full moon, it will cry tears of immortality."
"Tears of immortality?"
"Anyone who drinks them will live forever," KID says. "Or so the myth goes."
"There hasn’t been a Volley Comet in…" Shinichi calculates. "Something like 9000 years? Scientists don’t even think it exists anymore."
"Yeah," KID says. "I think the legend might be slightly off; there must be more to it, or the people who killed my—predecessor wouldn’t have been so anxious to get their hands on it."
An organization killed the first KID, Shinichi thinks, and Vermouth is interested in him. Could it be… He shivers. That… bears some thinking about. But when one eliminates the impossible, what remains must be the truth, right?
"So you think it’s inside Scarlette’s inexplicably lavender ‘Lady Red’ that your mysterious ‘Pandora’ is hiding?"
"Might be," says KID. His monocle glints as he lifts his chin. "After all the gems I’ve stolen, it would be funny if it was this one." The clover charm swings. "You’re shivering again, Meitantei. You’ll get sick if you stay out here too long in those thin pajamas of yours."
"You’re pretty warm," Shinichi replies, before pressing his lips together in mortification. He must be more tired than he’d thought, if he was saying things like that. "The clear air will help me think, anyway. We might have a motive, now. If only the actual murder made more sense. It’s basically like a locked room mystery."
"You’re assuming that the ballroom only has two entrances," KID says, tapping Shinichi on the nose with a gloved finger. "Haven’t we danced enough under the moonlight for you to know you need to look a little harder?"
"I…" Shinichi blinks. The floor had been seamless, hadn’t it? And the digital blueprints hadn’t shown anything suspicious, but what if… "The runners."
"There’s that mind of yours at work," KID says. "Smart is the new sexy." He smirks, and then, in a single fluid motion, puffs out of existence, reappearing on the other side of the roof, balanced somewhat precariously on the guardrail. His cape, dramatic as always, glows in the moonlight, and the rest of him is cast into shadow save for the bright red-orange of his tie. "I’ll have to stop the story here for tonight, it seems."
"Wait, where are you going?" Shinichi curls his hands into fists. "There’s so much more—" There’s so much more he hasn’t gotten to ask, yet, about KID’s organization, or about Pandora. About KID himself. "I thought you had twenty years’ worth of story to tell me?"
"It looks like your leading lady is awake early," KID replies, bowing, an exaggerated swoop of his arm cutting across his stomach. "So until we meet again, my darling detective."
Then he tilts backwards, falling over the building’s edge, and Shinichi wraps his arms around himself as the cold KID had chased away starts to seep back into him. He takes a deep breath of autumn night air, and catches the lingering scent of jasmine.
"Conan-kun!" Ran yells, leaning out the roof access door. "You can’t go running around late at night! It’s dangerous, and you need your sleep!"
"Sorry, Ran-nee-chan!" Shinichi replies, turning back to where the thief had disappeared, still feeling the phantom weight of his cape. "I had a nightmare, and I just wanted to think, and thought up here I would be out of yours and Uncle’s way!"
"You’re such a thoughtful boy, when you’re not stumbling across murders or disappearing at crime scenes," says Ran, after he’s trotted over to her, and let her close them back into the heated hotel building, all her anger evaporating as she smiles at him. "Come back to bed now, though, okay? And when you have nightmares, you should tell me about them."
"It was something silly," Shinichi says. "Nothing to worry about."
"I feel like you need worrying about," Ran says, under her breath, and Shinichi reaches out and takes her warm hand with his cold one. "So I worry."
"I wish you wouldn’t," he says, and squeezes. "But thanks, Ran-nee-chan."
That night, Shinichi has trouble falling back asleep. Every time he manages, he remembers the smell of smoke and gunpowder, and the weight of KID on top of him, asking furiously over and over again if he’s all right, if he’s been shot.
When he finally gives up, opening his eyes with finality, Ran and Mouri are still asleep, and Shinichi has to take deep breaths to keep himself from shaking.
He doesn’t know why a nightmare about dying would keep him awake. After all, it isn’t like it’s any different from Shinichi’s current reality.
Shinichi stands on his tiptoes to ring the doorbell, his scarf slipping from around his shoulders as he stretches upward to reach. Had he really been this short the first time he was eight?
As the chime echoes, he adjusts the mask covering his face. He’d thrown up blood twice this morning, luckily before Ran had awoken, but he hadn’t managed to hide his wet coughs from her as he’d gotten dressed. She’d told him to stay put before she’d left with Sonoko to meet up again with Hondou for another film, but Shinichi had only waited five minutes after she left before calling up Takagi and asking him to bring him back to the Takeuchi mansion.
"Are you sure this is important, Conan-kun?" Takagi asks, and Shinichi nods enthusiastically. "If you’re sick, you should stay in bed."
"Yes, really important!" Shinichi rolls back and forth from the balls of his feet to the heels as they wait. "I had an interesting idea last night, and I really think it will help!"
"Well, when I listen to you, it always works out, so…" He chuckles. "I’ll listen to you this time as well."
The maid answers the door. "Ah, Detective Takagi!" She hurriedly ushers them inside, casting furtive glances out at the paparazzi that still loiter outside. They’d driven through a number of them to get up to the mansion in the first place. "What brings you back here?"
"Is Takeuchi-san here?" Takagi asks, after she’s closed the door. "As we told the guard at the gate, we have a few more questions for him."
"Yes, he’s upstairs in his office." She points up at a winding staircase. "I’ll show you up, since it’s so easy to get lost."
They follow the maid to the staircase. As they begin to ascend, Shinichi notices that the police tape is still up in front of the ballroom, even though the doors are closed now. "He hasn’t taken the tape down?"
"No," the maid (Kanami, he remembers, from the initial interview transcriptions he’d swiped from Mouri) says. "Takeuchi-san said the police still might need to investigate there, and he never uses that part of the house, anyway. His grandfather did, but neither he nor Miss Scarlette ever really went back there. Only the ballroom and the old library are back there."
"Old library?" Shinichi asks. "Does that mean there’s a new library?"
Kanami laughs. "Oh, yes, Takeuchi-san had a new library built as soon as he inherited the house."
"Why?" Takagi asks, as they reach the top of the stairs. "I don’t remember searching an old library at all."
"Oh, it’s impossible to get into from anywhere in the house, as it is now," says Kanami, and she looks left, toward what Shinichi presumes is Takeuchi’s office. "The truth is, Takeuchi-san has always thought that the old library was haunted. So he had it boarded up and shut away from the house. There’s even a plaster wall blocking it off, plaster ordered specially from Paris to match the rest of the walls. It’s as though it never existed."
"Haunted?" Takagi says, waving both hands. "Why would he think that?"
"Apparently there were always weird squeaking noises from the library at night, and as a child, Takeuchi-san was terrified that there were ghosts. His grandfather used to say things like "a big mansion needs a few ghosts", but the first thing Takeuchi-san did when he inherited this place was shut it away. I’ve worked here for the Takeuchi family for thirty years, you know, and I never saw a single ghost, but you know how kids are."
"Wow, you’ve worked here longer than Takeuchi-san has been alive!"
She smiles. "I have," she says. "I started working for his grandfather when I was very young. I took care of him when he was just a baby!" She rounds a corner, leading to a long red-painted hallway, with dark wood floors. "This way."
"This mansion really is like a maze," complains Takagi, and Kanami laughs.
"Old man Takeuchi loved that about this place. He was very fond of mazes and puzzles." The maid stops in front of a door with an embossed plaque reading ‘TAKEUCHI’ in romaji.
"Interesting," Takagi says, as Kanami raps on the door with her knuckles.
"Sir, Detective Takagi is here to see you." She covers her mouth with one hand. "Along with a little assistant."
"I’m shadowing Detective Takagi for a school project!" Shinichi lies with a wide smile, and Takagi just shakes his head.
"Yeah, a school project." Takagi rubs at his forehead, but there’s more resignation than irritation in the motion.
"Come in, come in." Takeuchi sits at an expensive mahogany desk, in a high backed red leather chair. He’s hanging up his cell when they enter, eyes closed and face, this time, clean-shaven. His suit is a dark brown, and sitting behind that desk, he looks strong and capable, if still utterly exhausted. "What brings you here, detective?"
"A couple of questions, that’s all," says Takagi, who, after adjusting his own, much less well-fitting suit with an air of self-consciousness, pulls out his notebook. "And we…" He looks down at Shinichi and grimaces, "I wanted another peek at the crime scene, so it was worth coming over."
"Ask about anything you need to," says Takeuchi, leaning forward until his elbows hit the desk. "I am at your disposal. I want to find the person who killed Scarlette more than anyone."
"Okay, then." Takagi clears his throat. "Shinamoto-san’s mother flew into Tokyo yesterday evening, and she said that Shinamoto-san was aware you had hired a private detective."
"Scarlette said she wasn’t on speaking terms with her mother," replies Takeuchi immediately. "They’d fought when Scarlette decided to move to Japan to pursue acting and modeling, and haven’t spoken since." He looks up. "Also, I never hired a detective. I interviewed one guy, but I never got back to him."
Shinichi, out of the corner of his eye, catches Kanami shifting her weight. "What was the detective’s name?"
"Ah, I can’t even remember," Takeuchi says. "It was something foreign, though. Louis, maybe? Kanami, do you remember?"
"Not at all, sir," Kanami replies, and Shinichi would have missed the slight waver in her voice if he hadn’t been looking for it. "He didn’t stay long."
"It just didn’t feel right," says Takeuchi. "I mean, Scarlette was sneaking around but that didn’t mean what she was doing was necessarily bad. I decided to trust my gut, in the end, since I wanted to marry her. I would have to learn to trust her eventually, right? Besides, I knew she wasn’t with me for my money, since she was already independently wealthy."
"Does modeling make that much?" Takagi asks thoughtfully, as Shinichi unobtrusively makes his way to the other side of the lavish office. More books about flight line the shelves on either side of a plush leather sofa, with old-fashioned arms that give the entire office the feel of a smoking room in an old black and white Sherlock film. Two neatly framed pictures are hanging above the back of the sofa, and upon closer inspection, they aren’t pictures at all, but diagrams; old ones, with ink that is closer to gray than black now, on yellowing rice paper.
"She had a huge inheritance from her father’s family, apparently." Takeuchi’s phone rings again, and he sighs, before pressing the silence button on the side with his thumb.
"A-re-re, Takeuchi-san, are these the original floor plans for the mansion?" Shinichi crawls up onto the sofa to get closer.
"Right," says Takeuchi, standing up from his desk to come stand next to Takagi. "I had them professionally digitized for insurance purposes. Goodness knows I couldn’t read these, anyway. They look nice as a decoration, at least."
The plans were done in thick black India ink, the then elegant lines drawn with straight-edges and fountain pens, showing the original foundations of the house and the original layout, along with the extensive modications to be made to turn it from a house into something closer to a castle. In the corner, faded out, are a series of notes, along with a faded, blurred signature that pings at his memory, but he can’t quite make it out.
KID’s words come back to him. "Haven’t we danced enough under the moonlight for you to know you need to look a little harder?" He pictures KID’s smug grin and sneers.
"I’m looking, you dumb thief," he says under his breath. "I’m looking."
"Conan-kun?" Takagi asks from behind him.
"It’s nothing, nothing." Shinichi leans in, staring at the area of the mansion where the ballroom and the old library were. There is an ‘X’ drawn in ink on the ballroom floor. "Say, what do you think this ‘X’ mark is?"
"It’s just the center, right?" Takeuchi rubs at his hair, and his phone, sitting there on the edge of his desk, rings again. "I should get that."
"What’s wrong?" Takagi is leaning next to him now, narrowing his eyes at the blueprints.
"That mark isn’t in the center. It’s off to the side, isn’t it?" Shinichi sucks his lower lip into his mouth, and pushes up his glasses. "Actually, Detective Takagi, if you look at that mark, isn’t that exactly…"
"Where Scarlette Shinamoto’s body was found," Takagi says grimly. "Right in the center of KID’s monocle."
"And look," Shinichi continues. "There’s a second ‘X’ mark in the room behind it, and a third outside the gate. What could that mean?"
"You probably already have some idea," Takagi scratches at his cheek. "We should go check it out then, shouldn’t we?" He frowns at Shinichi. "One day, Conan-kun…" He stops. "One day I’m going to ask how you know so much."
"Hahaha," Shinichi looks away to cover his expression, eyes skimming past Kanami, who watches him like a hawk from where she still loiters in the doorway. Takeuchi’s voice is soft from over at his desk, and Shinichi hears him speaking lowly about Scarlette’s legacy or something. A charity?
Shinichi clears that thought away and returns focus to Takagi. "Maybe one day I’ll tell you." Most of the time, he thinks Takagi already knows, anyway. He won’t forget Takagi’s expression, as they waited together in Tokyo Tower for that bomb to go off.
"Hopefully by then I’ll have convinced myself I’m not imagining things," Takagi mumbles. "It’s a good thing you have so many social studies projects you can complete with the police, I guess."
"Yup," Shinichi says, sharing a little of his real smile with Takagi before he forces it back behind his mask.
Takeuchi is hanging up the phone, a pinched look on his face. "Sorry about that, Detective. I took time off work to mourn, but I’m very hands on with my company; I’m involved with the business side and the design side, so they can’t get much done without me. I’m lucky I have Kanami-san to run things around here." He smiles at the maid, who still lingers in the office doorway. She blushes, and waves her hands.
"No, no, it’s nothing," Kanami says. "I’ve always been happy to work here for you."
"She’s my savior," Takeuchi admits. "She even buys birthday presents for my coworkers for me, since I don’t bother with carrying a wallet and I’m terrible at picking things like that."
"Wow," Shinichi says, giving the maid another once over. "It’s like you’re the real lady of the house."
"No," says Kanami. "That was definitely Shinamoto-san. She was very particular, especially about foods and drinks, since she had to watch her calorie intake. I think she was just very interested in details of all kinds, though. She even insisted on a particular guest bedroom—Old Man Takeuchi called it the Swan Room."
"Did you have any more questions for me?" Takeuchi asks. "I need to head into work."
"Actually, would it be okay if we took another look at your ballroom now? We have a lead we’d like to follow up on."
"No one has been in there at all," says Takeuchi. "Take your time investigating, and Kanami-san will let you out when you’re finished."
"Thank you," Takagi says. "We won’t be long, I hope."
Kanami leads them back through the winding halls to the stairway, quiet and pensive. Shinichi watches her back, noting the stiff shoulders and the way she pulls anxiously at her navy-colored skirt. He also watches the way she checks the paintings hanging from the wall as they walk, turning down new corridors at certain paintings with purpose.
"Kanami-san," Shinichi asks, as they descend the same twisting staircase back down to the main floor, "do you use the paintings to help you find your way through the halls?"
"Yes, little boy," she says, unexplained stiffness easing from her spine. "If you turn at the paintings with swans in them, it will lead you back to the main staircase."
"And the paintings with pine trees lead to Takeuchi-san’s office, right?"
"You’re awfully sharp, aren’t you?" Kanami asks curiously, when they reach the bottom of the stairs. "How did you know?"
"Ahahaha, it was just a lucky guess," Shinichi replies quickly. "Are there codes like that in all the paintings around the mansion?"
"There sure are," Kanami confirms. "Only Takeuchi-san and I know them all, though Shinamoto-san knew a few. The rest of them are definitely written down somewhere in the old library, but since no one can access that place…"
"Takeuchi-san didn’t leave the books in there, did he?" Shinichi is appalled at the very idea, and Kanami laughs at him as she leads him to the taped off ballroom entrance.
"No, no," Kanami reassures him. "Are you a book lover, Conan-kun? Don’t worry, he just didn’t need the old filing system anymore when he relocated the collection. Everything’s done with computers, these days." She comes to a stop in front of the ballroom doors. Shinichi hadn’t seen them closed, before, but now he can see the juunishi, the twelve zodiac animals, carved into the gorgeous stained wood doors. Each symbol was amazingly rendered in the wood by someone with a deft hand, and Shinichi wishes he were taller, just so that he could run his fingers along the grooves. "I’ll leave you here. I’m afraid this room will terrify me for some time to come."
"Understandable," Takagi says, and pushes open the doors, holding them open so Shinichi can slip in ahead of him.
Across the ballroom floor, the caricature of KID has been marked with tape, showing its location even without the luminol’s short-term effects. Shinichi immediately makes his way over to where the body was found, inside the circle of KID’s monocle, and starts poking around.
"What are we looking for, Conan-kun?" Takagi asks, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops. "The 'X' would have been here, right?"
"Yes, but..." Squatting down, Shinichi drags his fingers across the marble, finding no gaps. "I think it was actually a little further toward the side, now that I can see it again."
Takagi walks toward the runners. "Here?"
Furrowing his eyebrows, Shinichi once again takes in the room. His eyes land on the plaques that decorate the walls, and he walks over to one, reaching up to touch it. The brass is pounded in relief to show the shape of a tiger. "A tiger?" A tiger, a snake, and a dragon.
What do they have in common? Mythology, of course—Chinese, Japanese, Korean… Hadn’t he just seen the same symbols? The door had been decorated with… ah, astrology! Juunishi. "Of course."
"Of course, what?"
"It's the twelve animals of the kanshi!" Shinichi moves down to the next one. "Like the image on the door. Each brass plaque is a different animal." He points across the room. "Detective Takagi, can you check the other side?"
"Sure, but what's so interesting about that? Is it really strange that there would be zodiac images here?"
"Well, no," Shinichi says. "Except the oddities in the layout remind me of something I've seen before. Considering this mansion was constructed around a house built in the 1860s…"
"Takeuchi did say that." Takagi crosses the ballroom again, stepping over the taped lines until he's closer to Shinichi again. "What’s the significance?"
"This room," Shinichi replies, with deep satisfaction, pushing up his glasses and then crossing his arms, "is part of a Kichiemon puzzle."
"Eh?!" Takagi gasps.
"Samizu Kichiemon," Shinichi explains. "He was a doll-maker in the Bakumatsu Era who loved creating puzzles. Suzuki-san collects his different puzzles. He used one to guard the Kirin’s horn, and the safe in his house is the Iron Tanuki."
"And you think there’s a trick to this room that was designed by him?"
"I do." Shinichi drags his hand along the wall until he runs his fingers over a blank spot where there should be a brass plaque like the others. "See how there are twelve, evenly-spaced plaques along the wall, about a meter up from the floor?"
"I see them," Takagi says, walking over to one. "Here's the horse."
"Each one is a different animal of the zodiac," Shinichi explains. "And they’re equidistant all around the room except for right here, where there should be a brass plaque but there isn’t."
"But what would go there? Is there an animal missing?" Takagi asks. He moves along the wall in the opposite direction from Shinichi, stopping in front of the sheep. "It seems like they’re all here."
"None are missing." Shinichi smiles. "There are twelve animals, exactly as there should be. But this layout, the space between the plaques... It's made to accommodate thirteen. There's no way that a mansion so carefully and lovingly designed would include a mistake like that. It has to be purposeful."
"It could just be… space left for a buffet table?" Takagi doesn’t sound too sure of that, and Shinichi smiles at him brightly. "Or something? Ahh, I sound like Detective Mouri, but before he does that sleeping thing, don’t I?"
"It’s not that, Detective Takagi!" He feels around with his fingers, pressing at the wooden panelling, tapping and knocking and listening for changes in the sound. "This was a ballroom made for dancing. Isn't that why Takeuchi-san doesn't use it?"
"Then what should be there?" Takagi’s tone is inquisitive, not challenging. Shinichi values that about Takagi—he sometimes treats Shinichi like a child, but he never thinks children aren’t worth listening to. He’s often willing to hear Shinichi out when no one else will spare the time, and with Takagi, Shinichi bothers less with the pseudo-child act and can focus more on solving the mystery.
The list of people he can be himself around is so short, and Shinichi is grateful for every addition to it.
Shinichi finally hears the wood press and snap under his fingers, loosening and rotating around to reveal a panel in tarnished brass, two thick wheels with tiny hiragana etched into them in black. "That's the puzzle."
"Amazing," Takagi says. "How did you know that was there?"
"There are always multiple components and layers to Kichiemon puzzles. First, you have to find the puzzle, then you have to figure out the answer, and finally, you have to deduce how to input it."
Shinichi toys with the wheel, spinning it entirely around, but hearing no clicks or other noises that indicate how to select the hiragana. There is a small arrow, to the left, and he bets that's where you have to line up the hiragana.
He looks up to find Takagi staring at him. "Or something like that...Haha…" He swallows as the brief play of childishness does nothing to alleviate the weight of Takagi's stare.
"There are forty-seven hiragana on each of the first two wheels," Shinichi says. "And there are five kanji on the last wheel... the five elements you can be born under." Running his thumb over that last wheel, he tries to think. "So we're looking for a two part answer, and the clue is this room."
"There are…" Takagi starts to do the math, but then frowns. "Well, a lot of possible combinations."
"But there’s only one right one," Shinichi confidently replies. "The wrong one will probably hurt, so we should be careful."
"What do you mean, hurt?" Takagi bends down to look at the revealed puzzle.
"The Iron Tanuki sliced out with a butcher knife if you turned the knob too far; almost chopped my nose off. Then it popped out a banner that said ‘You Lose!' Even KID was surprised, and he's great at these."
"How comforting," is Takagi's nervous reply, as he immediately backs up and away from Shinichi, leaving him alone in front of the panel, fiddling with the brass wheels. "Are you sure you should be that close to it?"
"It's fine, Detective Takagi! Don’t worry," Shinichi says, his mind turning over the clues he already has. "Twelve animals, all represented, and an empty space."
A thirteenth animal. Shinichi laughs, and it echoes in the big empty ballroom.
Frowning, Takagi ruffles the hair at the back of his neck. "What's so funny?"
"All of the animals are here, except for the cat, who the mouse tricked and convinced to show up to the party a day late." Shinichi puts his hand on the first metal wheel and starts to spin it, stopping when he gets to the 'ne'. "And neko has two syllables." He rotates the 'ko' into place, before contemplating the kanji. The five elements. Each element is assigned based on the auspices of that particular year. "Hmm."
"Do you know which element?" Takagi is watching Shinichi's hands carefully, but Shinichi hardly pays him any attention as he thinks it out. It wouldn't be the current year, and he doesn't know which year it was when this puzzle was made. He doubts it's Takeuchi's birthdate, as Kichiemon's puzzles are always slightly narcissistic, like when he'd made the abacus in the false-floored warehouse spell out his name in kanji...
His name! Samizu. Shinichi immediately slides the final wheel to the kanji for water. "Samizu Kichiemon. The kanji for ‘Samizu’ are 'three' and 'water'. That would be one unhappy cat." Then he spreads his hand across all three wheels and presses, clicking the wheels into place. At first, there's silence, but then a loud rumble sounds beneath them, and a low whining hum fills the air. "What’s that?" Takagi looks behind him as though he’ll be able to see through the wall.
"Takeuchi-san’s library ghosts." Takagi’s eyes widen. "And if I’m not mistaken, how our killer got into and out of the ballroom without leaving a trail of blood."
The floor of the ballroom shifts underfoot, and Shinichi and Takagi both move to stand with their backs against the wall as the floor beneath the runner rug closest to them sinks down to reveal a staircase.
"A secret passage!" Bewildered, Takagi tugs at the neck of his tie, loosening it.
"I thought it was suspicious," Shinichi says, pulling on the runner until it’s trapped against the wall by his and Takagi’s heels, the expensive rug crumpled up with barely a thought to damage, "that there were runners up the sides of the room and nothing in the center. But it was to cover up an unevenness in the floor that couldn’t be explained away by wear and tear, not when the floors are so resilient. Takeuchi-san never noticed because he never redecorated in here."
"So where do these stairs lead?"
"My guess is inside the old library. Do you want out find out?" Shinichi tests the first step carefully, and it holds. "Or do you think there might be vampires?"
The look Takagi gives him this time borders on wry. "Haha."
Shinichi grins back at him, unrepentant. "It should be safe, but maybe call forensics?"
"Let me go first," Takagi says after quickly sending a message. He digs in his pocket and pulls out his keyring, from which hangs a miniature flashlight. Shinichi presses the button on the side of his watch, giving them two beams to shine down into the dark tunnel. "Unusually smart and observant you might be for an eight year old, but I’m still the officer on this case."
Between the two of them, there’s enough light to make out the dusty tunnel in front of them, and Shinichi kneels down to examine the floor. "Fresh footprints and blood," he says quietly.
Takagi gulps audibly. "Should we keep going, or should we wait?"
"A little further," Shinichi presses. "Just to make sure we’ve figured it out."
They continue down the tunnel for another ten meters, until they encounter another set of stairs. Going up, Takagi pushes at the roof with both hands, frowning when it doesn’t open. "Conan-kun, is there a latch or something? Can you see anything?"
Activating the night vision on his glasses, Shinichi casts around looking for a mechanism to control the door. Just next to Takagi’s feet, he sees a copy of the brass rat symbol in the ballroom. "Step on the mouse," he says. "The mouse tricked the cat, after all. The cat should get its revenge."
Takagi scoots sideways until his weight is on the brass rat, and above them, louder whines, more chilling than the ones they heard before, reverberate through the tunnel, as a trap door lifts above their heads. "I think you were right about Takeuchi’s haunted library," Takagi says, before scrambling up into the dark room.
They fumble around for a light switch, choking on dust and thick, uncirculated air. Shinichi can also taste copper at the back of his tongue, so similar to what has greeted him the past few mornings, and he knows what that means. "Detective Takagi," he says, "you might want to step carefully. I smell blood."
Takagi, moving glacier-like alongside the wall, locates the switch, and the overhead lights flicker before turning on. As the room floods with light, the bloodstained wooden floors come into view, and even Shinichi is shocked by the gruesome scene in the abandoned two-story library.
"I should have waited for backup," Takagi says faintly. "You shouldn’t be seeing something like this at your age, Conan. I’m sorry."
"I…" The blood is splattered across the walls on the first floor, and on the half-empty shelves in a thin spray, and handprints around the size of Scarlette Shinamoto’s hands have been left in a dragging pattern toward the stairs to the second floor, as though she’d struggled to get away only to be stabbed again. "What’s that behind you?"
"A bucket," Takagi says, pulling on a pair of plastic gloves and dropping into a squat, tilting the vessel sideways to look inside. "And a paintbrush."
"The killer collected the blood for his ballroom artwork after Shinamoto-san was dead and could no longer fight."
"Would there have been enough blood left to draw the caricature?" Takagi, his face ashen, looks around at the library in dismay. "The average human body contains 4.7 liters of blood, but it seems like most of it is on the floor and walls."
Shinichi moves closer to Takagi, walking around the patches of dried blood until he stands next to the police officer. "Ano sa," he says, taking in the stain left on the inside of the bucket, with its fading color as it gets higher, until it’s a shadow near the rim, "only if he used only blood. But if he diluted it with water…"
"It would be easier to clean up, too. To wash the floors and hide the message."
"Precisely." Shinichi steps back, still watching where he puts his feet. "Now, where is it?"
"Where is what?" Takagi sounds ill, and Shinichi isn’t feeling too great himself. He considers himself a veteran of crime scenes, but with the library having been boarded up so long, the scent of blood, dried and drying, is a thick, cloying cloud that makes it hard to breathe, and he’s already been struggling with nausea and dizziness this morning. "The murder weapon?"
"No. The killer probably took that with him. What we’re looking for is the card catalogue for this old library."
"But the books are gone," Takagi says. "What good would it do us, anyway?"
"Kanami-san told us." Shinichi eyes the shelves, looking for a filing cabinet like the one he’d seen at the Beika library when he was a little kid. They’d computerized the whole thing by the time he was ten, but he remembers his father teaching him Dewey-Decimal system after Shinichi bothering him one too many times to find something in the family library. "She said that Takeuchi-san had left the previous filing system here, in the old library, and hinted that all the mansion’s secret directions were in here."
Shinichi’s eyes alight on a dark gray metal cabinet in the back of the room, with labels on each door representing ranges of hiragana. "The killer clearly figured out how to get in here. After that, finding their way around the rest of the mansion, even if it were a maze, would be a piece of cake, right?" He crosses the room, until he’s in front of the cabinet. He takes out his handkerchief and wraps it around his index finger, then drags it along the top of the cabinet, standing on tiptoes so he can reach the surface. Examining his cloth-covered finger, he smiles triumphantly. "No dust here. We could check for fingerprints, but I doubt we’ll find any."
"Then why are you smiling?"
"Because what I’m looking for is definitely here. We’ll figure out exactly how this murder was done." Shoving his handkerchief back in his jacket pocket, Shinichi sucks on his lower lip. "But where would it be filed?"
"Maybe it has to do with the cat thing," ventures Takagi, and Shinichi looks up at him. He’s still a bit gray around the edges, but he’s thinking again, and Shinichi takes his comment under consideration.
"Maybe," Shinichi agrees, then begins to more carefully examine the card catalogue cabinet. "But instead of one card, what if we’re looking for many?"
"It seems to me that there would be a card for each room in the mansion, the old rooms as well as the new ones built off the maze hallways, mixed up among all of the books. If there weren’t, only a few of these drawers would have been disturbed." He ghosts his fingers along the closed drawers, stopping at one that’s slightly ajar. "Deciphering the whole code will take some time."
"Wouldn’t it have taken the killer time, too?"
"Not if they’d asked Kanami-san the right questions." Shinichi pulls his handkerchief back out and uses it to yank open the partially closed drawer, labeled ‘ha/ba’. "Or if they’d had more than one opportunity to learn the layout of the mansion. But we don’t need to figure out every part of this maze-like place. We only need to figure out how this murder was committed."
"So our culprit killed Shinamoto, used her blood to paint the ballroom and then cleaned it, so the evidence would only be revealed under a luminol reagent test. Then they moved Shinamoto’s body to the ballroom, all using the secret underground tunnel. What else would our murderer need to know?"
"The kitchen," Shinichi says. "And Shinamoto-san’s bedroom."
"The kitchen?" Takagi pulls at the knot of his tie with a hooked index finger. "To drug the food, I guess. Why Shinamoto-san’s bedroom?"
"The drugs in the food would make everyone who ate sleepy, so naturally they’d retire to bed. It was then that the killer struck, taking the passed out Shinamoto from her room and bringing her here, to the old library. No acoustics to worry about, and thanks to the walls Takeuchi put up to block out the weird sounds of Kichiemon’s old passageways, no one would even think to look here."
Shinichi uses the handkerchief to thumb through the cards, stopping when he comes across one with a bent corner. "The only problem was, whatever food the killer drugged in the kitchen, Shinamoto-san, with her weird diet, didn’t eat enough of it, and she woke up before our killer could finish the job. She struggled, and for some reason, the killer ended up stabbing her over and over again. Maybe they were angry, or seven is a propitious number, who knows?"
"What about the bloody clothes?"
"Probably found them in Shinamoto-san’s bedroom," Shinichi says. "After all, she and Takeuchi were, ah, thinking of marriage, so it’s not really that unlikely he’s left clothes behind in her room—"
"Conan!" Takagi is positively scandalized, and Shinichi sheepishly turns back to the card he’s pulled out of the index. Hakuchou, or ‘swan’. At the bottom edge of the index card are the words ’white painted frame’.
"Ahahaha, I mean, um, maybe she had taken them from the laundry by mistake… or something…." Laughing with embarrassment, he hands Takagi the card. "Shinamoto-san stayed in the Swan Room, right?"
"Right," Takagi says, looking between the card and Shinichi, amazed. "So after the murder, and the paint job, he left the card clue and stashed the clothes in the first bedroom he found."
"There’s probably another way off the grounds, too," continues Shinichi. "Remember the third ‘X’ outside the gates on the blueprints?"
"The first two were places to go up from underground, so you think the last one is, as well. So all the killer would have to do, after depositing the bloody clothes and potentially framing Takeuchi-san, is leave the mansion."
"That way, they could have taken the murder weapon with them, and no one would have seen them on any of the external security cameras." Shinichi holds out his hand, and Takagi hands him back the card. "A perfect crime."
"With Takeuchi-san being publicly interested in KID, only Kaitou KID himself would have paid attention to the caricature, and the real murderer would have disappeared. The only reason we figured all this out is because I happened to be familiar with Samizu Kichiemon."
"Well, we have a crime scene, now, and know how the murder was committed, but we still don’t have a suspect."
"We do, though." Shinichi sets the card down on top of the cabinet. He still wants to figure out the other cards, but it can wait. He sighs, then wipes dust from his jacket and then pulls off his glasses to clean the lenses. "The private detective."
"Huh?" Takagi looks down at him, bewildered. "But didn’t Takeuchi-san deny that he’d hired one, even when we asked again today?"
"I don’t think he did the hiring at all," Shinichi answers, pushing his glasses back onto his face. "I think the private detective business was handled the same way everything else in this household is handled—by Kanami-san. I think she made a bad hire, and we’ll probably need a sketch artist to figure out who he is, or at least get an idea of what he looks like."
Takagi stares at Shinichi for a long moment, his eyebrows knitted together and his mouth drawn in a thin, thoughtful line. Then he breaks the gaze, pulls out his phone, and hits something on speed-dial.
"Inspector Megure? It’s Takagi. We’ve found the actual crime scene and figured out how Shinamoto-san was killed." There’s shouting on the other end of the line, but Shinichi, for once, can’t make out the distinct words. "And sir? We’re going to need to bring Kanami-san down to the precinct for questioning, and have her sit down with a sketch artist."
Takagi hangs up the phone after a few more words from Megure, and sighs, alternating between Shinichi and the phone and finally settling on his companion. "Why do you think we’re going to need a sketch artist?"
"Because whatever name this private-eye was using, it probably wasn’t his real one," Shinichi says. "After all, if you got the job just to kill someone, you wouldn’t give your real name, right? Especially if your client wasn’t going to run a background check."
"If you’re this good now," Takagi says, running a hand through his hair, "what are you going to be like when you’re thirty?"
"I just want to be good enough that no one will ever be able to get away with murder in front of me again," Shinichi replies, and if Takagi gives him a worried look, Shinichi definitely does not notice it.
Twenty minutes after backup comes, Ran arrives at the mansion in a taxi, with Sonoko in tow. "Conan! I thought I told you to stay home! You never listen!" She scoops him up off the ground and hugs him. "Detective Takagi says it was really horrible, what you guys found in there!"
Satou climbs out of the driver’s seat of her police car, where she’s been fielding calls since she’d pulled up, walking around the back of the vehicle and up the driveway. "Conan-kun, you’ve helped us out again, it seems."
"I really like Kichiemon puzzles!" Shinichi replies cheerfully. "I was really excited to get to solve one!"
Bending forward, Satou gives him a hard look. "You figured out the rest of it, too. Wataru—" She pauses. "Takagi already told me you put it all together by yourself and dragged him along for the ride." She sighs. "As usual. Are you all right, though? Takagi still seems pretty shaken from that crime scene."
"I’m fine," he answers. "I mean, it was pretty bad, but… I guess we see so many murders…"
"Elementary school students need better hobbies," Sonoko says, as Ran relinquishes her fierce grip on him. "You’re gonna turn out like that jerk Shinichi, if you’re not careful!"
"Sonoko!" Ran scolds, "Shinichi is not a jerk!"
"He is," Sonoko says. "He’s just a jerk you like!" She glares down at Shinichi. "You’re brat enough already, so don’t end up being like that guy, you hear me?"
Shinichi glares at her. "Better than ending up like you," he mumbles, as Satou puts her hands on her hips, watching as Takagi escorts Kanami-san out of the mansion towards them.
"Well," Satou says, interrupting before Sonoko can get really fired up, "it’s thanks to Conan’s detective work that we have a fresh lead on this case, so maybe it’s a good thing he has a little in common with the famous Kudou." She tucks a strand of her short hair behind her ear. "We still don’t know what the deal is with the Kaitou KID picture, but when we nab this guy maybe we can get him to spill his guts."
"If anyone can, it’s you, Detective Satou!" Shinichi says, grinning up at her, and she grins back.
"You bet," she replies, and then starts walking toward Takagi’s car to unlock the back door for Kanami-san.
Ran grabs Shinichi’s hand, and holds on too tight for comfort. He’s worried her again, then. He sighs. Even as Conan, Shinichi brings Ran nothing but stress.
"We should get going," Ran says. "We’ve got to check out of the hotel by noon, and Dad is supposed to meet a client back at his office by four. The police can handle the rest of this case."
"Detective Satou!" Shinichi calls out, thinking quickly, as Ran leads him toward the taxi. When she looks over at him, he gives her an earnest half-smile. "When the sketch is finished, can you send it to me? It’s just that I saw a lot of people outside the gate when the murder was reported, and maybe the killer was one of them."
Satou’s mouth stretches thin and grim, and she sighs, resigned, even as she nods. "I’ll have it forwarded to Mouri-san," she agrees, and Shinichi beams at her as Ran shoves him into the back of the taxi.
"Then Kanami-san admitted to hiring the detective, and sat with a sketch artist," Shinichi says, legs swinging as he sits on a gray swivel chair in the professor’s house, set up for research at the circular table. "She was worried about Takeuchi-san, since she’s known him all his life, and she wanted to make sure the girl he was going to marry didn’t have anything shady going on."
"Then she gave him too many details about the layout of the mansion, trying to help?"
"Yes," confirms Shinichi. "Only it turns out that the private-eye she ended up choosing was someone with his own agenda. She also recalled that he went by the name Louis Redhouse, but that’s turned out, as expected, to be a false name. So all we know about the guy is what he might look like, that he’s in his mid-twenties, that he stole a seemingly worthless jewel, and that he wanted to, in some way, contact or implicate Kaitou KID." He growls. "Oh, and that Vermouth is interested in the case, or KID, or something."
Shinichi looks again at the sketch, maximized on his laptop, as Heiji hums on the other end of the line. "This case gets more and more interesting. Wish I could head over to Tokyo to solve it for you with my superior detective skills, but—"
"In your dreams, Hattori," Shinichi replies, before covering the mouthpiece on the phone so he can shake with a cough. "Anyway, until we find this guy, we won’t know for sure if the gem he’s stolen is…" Hesitating, Shinichi runs his tongue over his teeth. KID had told him about Pandora, but he’s not sure he’s allowed to tell anyone else, so it’s better to talk around it. "Something of any significance to KID, or Them."
"With Vermouth sniffing around, there’s bound to be some connection to Them," Heiji says. "You just tread carefully, Kudou. You’re always about to get yourself blown to smithereens when you mess with those syndicate types."
"I’ll be cautious, I swear." Shinichi exhales heavily, ignoring how much it hurts his chest. "After all, now Ran’s watching my every move like a hawk, so it’s not like I can get into too much trouble. Coming over to the professor’s house today has been the first time I’ve had to myself in forty-eight hours. I’m almost glad I have school tomorrow."
"Nee-chan’s that worried about you, then?"
"Takagi told her the crime scene was particularly gory, and she keeps looking at me like I’m going to fall apart over it."
"You’re supposed to be eight, Kudou, not eighteen. You should be falling apart over it."
"I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of bodies, even if I’m only counting what I’ve witnessed as Conan. I think it was just the smell that upset Takagi, honestly, since the scene itself wasn’t actually any worse than some of the other stuff we’ve come across."
"You sound so casual about it."
"I’m not," Shinichi protests. "I just don’t see the point in getting worked up about things like that, when I need all my faculties to see the things that other people miss."
Shinichi doesn’t have nightmares about scenes like that, anyway. Shinichi’s nightmares always play out as slow-motion replays of his close-calls. Of times he hasn’t been fast enough, or clever enough, and had to be saved by someone else. Handprints in blood in a stuffy room is someone Shinichi can’t save, because they’re already dead. Not someone who might die because of him.
That’s what really scares Shinichi, even if he’ll never say so aloud.
There are footsteps on the stairs, and Shinichi looks up to see Haibara descending. She walks past him and into the kitchen as Heiji scoffs on the other end of the line. "So what are you going to do now?"
"I don’t know," Shinichi says, watching Haibara return from the kitchen with a glass of water. As she passes him this time, she stops, and Shinichi looks down at her to see her staring up at his laptop in shock. "Haibara?"
"I know that face," she says, and Heiji gasps, static-y through the speaker, as Shinichi spins on his chair to look at her fully. She hands him her glass and pulls herself up onto the swivel-chair next to him, dragging his laptop in front of her. Shinichi sets her glass on the table and switches to speakerphone mode. "In fact, I just saw it, two days ago. Without the mustache, but…"
"Where?" Shinichi asks, as Haibara’s fingers fly across the keys, pulling up the FBI’s database faster than Shinichi can finish the word.
Genevieve Maisonrouge’s name pops up, followed by her picture, but Haibara just clicks through, pulling up a second profile. "He doesn’t have much of an alias. Not a stretch to get from Louis Maisonrouge to—" Then she pulls up a basic translation site on Glegle, typing in Maison Rouge as two words, and Shinichi’s eyes focus in on what the translator spits out.
"Louis Redhouse. Literally ‘Red House’," Shinichi says, and Heiji snorts. "Genevieve Maisonrouge’s brother, and partner in crime."
"Creative guy," he says. "Like no one woulda figured out it’s him, like that?"
"We nearly didn’t," Shinichi points out. "It didn’t even occur to me, because I don’t speak French."
"Besides," Haibara says, "Louis Maisonrouge died in prison twenty-six years ago, according to the FBI’s profile. It’s not like he’d have popped up on a wanted list, even if someone had been looking."
"So either that information is wrong, and he’s alive, or it’s someone in disguise as him," Heiji says. "Which one do you think it is, Kudou?"
"I’m not sure, Hattori, but if he was her brother, why would he kill her?" Shinichi runs his hand through his hair. "There are so many missing details that this case doesn’t make sense. Why would someone go through all this trouble to get KID’s attention?"
"I was wondering about that," Heiji says. "It looks to me like the killer was trying to get everyone’s attention, not just KID’s, and the bizarre murder of a famous person while calling out another famous person is a surefire way to get lots of news coverage."
"News coverage," Shinichi repeats. "Too many motives."
"One thing is for sure, though," says Haibara, pushing Shinichi’s laptop back to him. "Whatever kept Genevieve Maisonrouge so youthful was keeping her brother just as young."
Shinichi stares at the picture of Louis Maisonrouge, with his dark, serious eyes and strong cheekbones, and thinks: Where do I go from here?
"Hey, Kudou, one other thing before I let you go," says Heiji. "Did you ever figure out who the lady was meeting up with and calling?"
"When you first started talking about this case, you mentioned Takeuchi wanted to hire a private eye because Shinamoto-san was acting weird and stuff. So did you ever figure out what had her on edge before her death?"
Shinichi gapes at the phone sitting innocuously on his lap. "Hattori?"
"It’s just a detail that’s been bugging me, that’s all. It might not be important, but there might be a motive hidden in that."
"Looks like one point is going into the ‘Detective of the West’ column," murmurs Haibara, as Shinichi continues to gape. "If you can get me the phone records, I’ll do the hard part, Meitantei."
"R-right," Shinichi says. "Hattori, I need to make a few calls." He’ll have to use Mouri’s voice, and the phone over at the agency, if he wants to get any real information.
"Did I get one over on you, Kudou?"
"You may have just helped me break open this case," Shinichi replies, and hangs up before Heiji can gloat about it.