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The Case of the Missing Detective

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A/N: I started this fanfic way back in 2001, and abandoned it pretty quick when I realized just how much of the Detective Conan mythos had yet to be revealed, and how little I knew about the Black Org. This was long before Viz acquired the English translation rights, and the only way to get the anime was on fansubbed VHS. Manga scans were rare, translations were spotty. I had 34 volumes of manga, a remedial understanding of Japanese, and all I could do was look at the pretty pictures and try to figure out what was going on. I despaired of ever knowing enough about the series to comfortably write the fic my plot bunny wanted.

Well, almost 12 years later, access to the anime and manga has improved in amazing ways, even if my Japanese language skills have not. I'm back in the fandom and the original plot bunny that infested my brain is back as well, new and improved. This is the re-write. A lot of the original content is here, but there are a few new scenes that foreshadow what is to come. So for all of you who reviewed and followed the original fic, thanks. This is for you.

The Case of the Missing Detective

File 01: An Old Murder Comes to Light

15 years ago

Souichiro was no fool. As he, along with several other doctors and technicians, sifted through the burned out remains of the lab, looking for some sign of paperwork or digital data that hadn't been destroyed, he knew without a shadow of doubt who was responsible.

Hell's Angel and Mad Scientist both claimed the lab fire was an accident. But it was no accident, any more than their deaths a day later were accidents, regardless of what Tequila said.

He glanced over at the doorway where Vermouth stood, arms crossed, watching his progress. If the look of cold satisfaction on her face was any indication, he could hazard a guess on who had enacted the Organization's retribution on the two traitors. He also knew that she would never again set foot in this lab or any other - not of her own free will, at least.

He pried open a charred computer tower, metal flaking off in his gloved hands, and looked inside, hardly daring to hope. And just as well. There was nothing salvageable. The motherboard was a melted, green blob interspersed with wiring, and he could smell the lighter fluid that had been poured directly onto the still-smoking hard drive.

All their research on the amazing miracle drug nicknamed "Silver Bullet" was ash.

They would have to start over, practically from scratch.

Fortunately, he knew just where to begin.

Present day

For the fifth time that evening, Ran sighed heavily over the remains of her ice cream. The incessant, distracted tap of her spoon against her empty bowl echoed through the small dining area of the Mouri residence.


Startled from her preoccupation, Ran looked across the dinner table to where Conan knelt. The young boy had paused in licking the chocolate syrup off of his spoon and was eyeing her curiously. "What's wrong?" he asked. "You keep sighing."

Ran blinked, and forced a rather guilty smile. "N... nothing! I'm just thinking, that's all."

Conan frowned skeptically, a messy circle of sticky chocolate-stained vanilla framing his pursed mouth. Ran suppressed the sudden urge to lean over and wipe his face clean with her napkin.

"Thinking about what?" he asked. He was looking at her with that familiar, intense look - the one that seemed to pierce right through her, and see right into her soul.

She shrugged, and looked down at her fingernails as if they had suddenly become very interesting. "Just... things," she said, hedging.

"What things?" Conan persisted innocently, his eyes wide and inquisitive behind his huge glasses.

Ran sighed again, frustrated that Conan wouldn't let the subject drop. What could she tell him? That he had caught her while she was in the midst of once again entertaining the ridiculous fantasy that he was actually Shinichi? That she was once again hoping against all rational explanation that the brilliant high-school detective, the seventeen-year old young man that she had practically grown up with, had somehow been turned into this grade-schooler sitting across the table from her?

It was impossible. The stuff of cheap, cheesy science fiction. It was completely stupid for her to keep feeling this way, and she knew it.

But... sometimes it was better than believing that Shinichi had just abandoned her for this never-ending case he seemed to be pursuing.

The only problem was, she had proof that her suspicions were false. All too-convenient proof. Whenever she expressed her suspicions out loud, inevitably something would happen to shake her faith in her growing certainty. A phone call from Shinichi with Conan in the room. Even seeing Conan and Shinichi in the same room with her own eyes. How many months had passed since Shinichi had returned to her, disguised as the Black Knight at the school play? Conan and Shinichi had been in the same room then.

Except that Conan had been wearing a hospital mask, because he had a cold, and he hadn't acted at all like himself the entire time Shinichi was around...

And Shinichi had only been around for a little over a day, during which Ran had felt the brief joy of thinking that he had finally come back to her, to stay. But then he was gone again, without even saying goodbye, just like the first time. He was gone without a trace, leaving her heartbroken and alone at the restaurant where they were having dinner; where he had promised to tell her something very important.

Not important enough for him to keep from running off again, apparently...

But then who should show up at the restaurant out of the blue, but Conan. Conan, no longer wearing a hospital mask. Conan, acting like himself again... and looking almost as heartbroken as she felt. Conan, bearing the news that once again Shinichi had to leave. Conan, desperately pleading with her to wait for him. For Shinichi...

And she couldn't help but wonder.

There were so many times when she looked at Conan, and all she could see was Shinichi. Those times when she would look into the young 7-year-old face, beyond the too-large glasses, and see the same old eyes that she had grown up with her whole life. Eyes, bright blue, and sparkling with a fierce intelligence far beyond his apparent tender years.

Like now. Sitting across the table from her, with half of his dessert on his face making him look even more like a little kid... even so, his penetrating, questioning gaze held her, refusing to let her go until she answered.

These were the times when her impossible suspicions actually felt more real and tangible than any evidence or logic presented to the contrary. These were the times she wanted to reach out, take Conan by his shoulders, look him in the eye, and say, "I know that you are really Shinichi. Why won't you tell me the truth? Why won't you tell me what happened to you?" And, most importantly, "Why can't you come back to me?"

Because she felt for certain that he would come back - as himself, and not the diminutive child before her - if only he could.

But she couldn't ask Conan those things. Because she had asked before, and every single time she came close to even voicing her suspicions, a new piece of evidence would crop up, proving her wrong. Too-convenient evidence, always showing up at the perfect moment, proving to her once again that her belief that Conan and Shinichi were one and the same was nothing but pure foolishness.

Why, then, did the evidence feel so wrong to her, and this... this impossibility feel so right?

"Ran-neechan..." Conan's frown had softened to concern at her continued silence.

She straightened and laughed self-consciously, brushing her hair away from her face. "Hey, what's with that look? I told you, I'm just thinking."

Conan didn't buy her act for one moment, and she could tell. "Well..." he said quietly. "You must have been thinking about something really sad."

The sadness in his own voice surprised her; it seemed to echo the exact feelings of her heart. Ran looked at Conan, then, and saw only Shinichi in the depths of his eyes.

She held the boy's gaze for a long, lonely moment. If I tell you that I'm thinking about Shinichi, she thought. If I tell you how badly I'm missing him right now... I'll get a phone call from him tonight. Shinichi will call and tell me that he's still working hard on a difficult case, but that he wanted to talk to me and cheer me up. And when I ask him how he knew I was feeling down, he'll say he just had a feeling...

"Why..." Conan paused, almost as if he was afraid to ask the question. "Why are you sad, Ran-neechan?"

A small, melancholy smile turned up the corner of Ran's mouth. "If I seem sad," she lied, "it's only because of the math test I have tomorrow." Conan blinked, looking at her with obvious skepticism, so she widened her smile, and shrugged carelessly. "And I was just thinking about how badly I'm going to do on it, because I'm sitting here eating ice cream with you instead of studying."

"Oh." Conan didn't sound very convinced, but he smiled a little anyway. "Well, then, what are you waiting for? I guess you'd better go study."

Ran nodded, relieved that she had successfully diverted Conan away from her true train of thought. Stretching her arms above her head, she yawned dramatically. "You're right. If I sit around moping about it, I'll never get anything done." She stood and gathered up the dishes from the table, taking Conan's empty bowl right out from under his nose.

He squawked in protest. "Oi! I wasn't finished with that."

Raising an eyebrow at him, she plucked the spoon from his hand to add to her pile, eliciting yet another indignant squawk from the boy. "There's nothing left on your spoon," she said, "and I'm not going to let you lick the bowl clean, if that's what you wanted."

Conan pouted, sticking out his lower lip, and Ran laughed in spite of herself. The illusion of Shinichi was shattered, leaving only a petulant little boy in his place, and she didn't know if that made her feel better, or worse.

"So," she said, brushing those thoughts aside as she put the dishes into the sink to wash later. "Do you have any homework?"

Conan shrugged, quickly recovering from his momentary sulk. "No," he said, standing up and wandering over to the television. He always liked to watch the news around this time, to see if any new mysterious crimes had been committed in the Tokyo area. "I finished everything at school today."

Ran shook her head knowingly. Conan never brought home any homework. But then, how hard could the 1st grade be to a high school genius?

Argh, there I go again, she thought irritably. If she wanted to improve her mood at all, she had to stop thinking like that.

"Well then," she said, "I'll be in my room studying if you need anything."

Conan was already absorbed in watching the news. "Okay," he said distractedly.

And so, forcing all thoughts of Conan and Shinichi from her mind, Ran turned and walked down the hall to her room. Maybe, if she was lucky, she could gather her turbulent thoughts enough to focus on her school work. She actually did have a math test tomorrow, after all.

Sitting in front of the TV, Conan watched Ran walk down the hall out of the corner of his eye. Only after he saw her safely disappear into her room, and heard the click of her door closing, did he groan and slump forward forlornly, resting his forehead in his hands.

"I don't know how much longer I can take this," he whispered.

It was agony, being so close to Ran, and yet not being able to tell her who he really was. To know how she felt about him, and how he felt about her... To be so close, and yet so infinitely separate. It was driving him crazy.

Normally he could handle the stress of his unusual condition. Conan found that he was usually able to distract himself from his miserable and annoying plight by tagging along with Mouri on his cases, and solving the mysteries that were so often beyond the man's abilities. But Ran's father hadn't had a new case in over a week, and the dry spell in work had given Conan far too much time to dwell on his own problems.

Being stuck in a 7-year-old body, and living with his girlfriend and her father being one of the biggest...

He wanted to tell Ran the truth. He couldn't help but think of the time he had tried to tell her, the very first time Haibara had given him the antidote to the APTX-4869 drug that had reduced him to this permanent state of childhood. With the experimental antidote, he had finally, for the first time in months, been restored to his true 17-year-old self. Finally, he could be with Ran, not as Conan, but as Shinichi.

He didn't know it at the time, but the antidote was only temporary. Haibara had told him that there was a possibility that it was unstable, but he had ignored her, too caught up in the euphoria of being back to his normal self. And then, thinking that he had all the time in the world, he had wasted the precious moments he had in his own true form by solving a murder at a restaurant - the very restaurant to which he had taken Ran out on a date, all so that he could tell her the truth. He had left Ran at the dining table, running after someone else's scream - a mystery that was just begging to be solved - telling her that he would be right back.

When he returned, he was going to tell her. Everything. About the Black Organization that had poisoned him, leaving him for dead. About how the poison, rather than killing him, had instead reversed the cell growth in his body, literally turning back the time on his physical clock, and shrinking him back into childhood. He was going to tell her about how he was forced to hide in plain sight in his child body, for fear that if the Black Organization found out he was alive, they would come and kill him and anyone who was close to him. And he was going to tell Ran about how he couldn't tell her any of this before, because he was afraid of putting her life at risk, and he felt he couldn't protect her properly with his child body...

But most important of all, he was going to tell her the truth of how he felt about her.

He solved the murder mystery as usual, but by then, his time was up. To his surprise and horror, as he was detailing the last of the evidence to Inspector Megure, the bone-melting agony of the change came upon him. Not long after, he found himself in the men's room of the restaurant, shrinking back into Conan before he had the chance to return; before he had a chance to see Ran again; before he had the chance tell her anything...

Thinking about the lost opportunity, Conan could only hold his head in his hands, the ache of unshed tears burning behind his eyes, and wish he had done things differently.

Why did I have to go off and solve that murder? I could have left it to the police. Inspector Megure and Detective Takagi were both there, they could have handled it. Maybe they could have handled it... Well, surely they would have figured it out eventually...

Why? Why didn't I just stay with Ran?

That was the problem with hindsight, he thought. When it came to crime, and murders, and the mysteries of human deceit, he was a master at uncovering the truth. When it came to himself, and his own personal relationships, he was as blind as a bat. What he wouldn't give to have that precious time with Ran again.

Well, it was too late now. He was back in the same stupid situation he had been in before, only now it was worse, because he had tasted, if only for a few hours, the freedom of being himself again... and being himself, with Ran. Something he had taken horribly for granted before his unwilling transformation.

He sighed, taking off his father's glasses, and rubbing his eyes with a small fist. One thing was certain - dwelling on his mistakes was not going to make him feel better any time soon.

Loosening the red bow tie around his neck, he looked down at the voice synthesizer that Agasa had hidden within the material, and double-checked to make sure the settings were calibrated for his... Shinichi's voice. In a half hour or so, he would pretend to go to bed, then slip out and go to the phone booth a few blocks away. And then he would call Ran, and speak to her with Shinichi's voice, and hopefully make her feel better. After the scene at dinner, it didn't take a great detective to figure out why she was feeling so unhappy, after all.

He knew exactly how she felt.

Besides, talking to her like that over the phone with his own voice was the closest he could get to feeling normal these days.

After checking his watch to plan what time he would fake getting tired, he settled back onto a cushion, and let his attention wander back to the evening news on the television.

Human interest story on northern fishing villages... boring. Prime minister discussing the economy... Conan began idly flipping channels with the remote. Boring... boring... sheesh, when did Tokyo suddenly become so crime-free? he wondered irritably.

His musings were interrupted by a knock on the door. Grateful for the distraction from the lack-luster news, he answered, only to find himself looking up in surprise at Inspector Megure and Detective Takagi.

Looking up... that was one thing he'd always hated. Until his growth spurt in junior high, he had always been one of the shortest kids in his class. He had been so glad to literally outgrow that period of his life, and now he was right back to being the littlest of the little again. His annoyance at being so short, however, was dwarfed by the sudden surge of hope he gained at seeing the inspector. If the man was here to see Mouri, that might mean that there was a case for him to work on again.

"Megure-keibu, Takagi-keiji," Conan said, unable to conceal his genuine delight at seeing them. "Come in! Mouri-ojiisan isn't here - he's out playing Mahjong - but he should be back any minute, and you're welcome to wait..."

"Actually, Conan-kun..." Megure said hesitantly, and Conan blinked. The man's countenance was unusually grave. Takagi, standing behind him, looked similarly upset. Conan immediately sobered, realizing that the inspector was here for something much more serious than simply asking help on a case.

"What is it?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

The inspector cleared his throat. "Is Ran-san here? We need to talk to her about a rather unusual matter that has just recently come to light."

Conan didn't like the sound of that at all. But at least it didn't sound like an emergency. "She's studying," he said. "I'll go get her." He ran down the hall to her room and knocked on the door.

"Come in, Conan-kun."

Conan opened the door a crack and peeked in to see Ran sitting at her desk, pouring over her math book. She looked up at him and smiled. "Did you need something?"

Conan swallowed. "Megure-keibu and Takagi-keiji are here. They want to talk to you."

Ran blinked in surprise. "Me? I wonder what for." She pushed herself up from her chair, and followed Conan down the hall to the living area, where the policemen were waiting.

When she saw their expressions, her face turned gray with sudden dread. "What's wrong?" she said. "My father, is he-"

Megure held up his hand. "No, no," he assured her. "Mouri-kun is just fine, as far as we know. Conan just told us that he was out." He and Takagi exchanged a tense look, which did not go unnoticed by Conan or Ran. "We're actually here on a rather strange business..."

Ran nodded, her relief over her father's safety apparent, but her eyes still reflecting worry over the policemen's anxious manner. "Please," she said, gesturing to the living room couches. "Sit down." When they were settled, she looked at Megure apprehensively. "What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?"

Megure reached up and tugged on his thick moustache uncomfortably. "Well, it's like this, Ran-san. Ah, how should I begin?" He sighed heavily, before looking up to meet her eyes. "Do you remember several months ago, last spring, when you were at the amusement park on the night of the roller coaster murder?"

Conan stiffened as an icy wind of fear blew right through his soul, chilling him to the bone. That night... that was the night of...

He looked up at Ran, to see her looking right back at him, her eyes wide in her pale face. "Yes," she said, glancing back at the inspector. "Yes, of course I remember."

"You were there with Kudo Shinichi, correct?"

"Y... yes."

"And did he walk you home that night?"

Ran's face became, if possible, even more white. "No... no, he... he saw something suspicious in the shadows, and ran off after it, asking me to walk home by myself, and that was the last time I..." She broke off and swallowed hard. "Megure-keibu, tell me, what is this all about?" She glanced at Conan again for a brief moment, fear and uncertainty written across her features. "Has... has something happened to Shinichi?"

The inspector closed his eyes. "That is what we're trying to figure out, actually. You see..." He looked up and regarded her gravely. "A few hours ago, we received an anonymous call from a man who claims that, on that very night..."

Conan felt his heart beating in his throat, thudding loudly in his ears as he heard the inspector speak.

"... he murdered Kudo Shinichi, the high-school detective."

Ran stared numbly at Megure. She was silent for a long moment, her face pale and incredulous, as if she was waiting for the man to tell her that it was all some sort of joke. When he merely returned her gaze solemnly, waiting for her reaction, she forced a tremulous smile.

"That... That's impossible," she said, and noticed, to her dismay, that her voice was thin and shaky, with a tinge of hysteria lurking at the edges. "Shinichi... he's not... He can't be. Right, Conan-kun?"

She glanced down at the boy for reassurance, and blinked as she saw the look of pure, thunderstruck horror on his face as he stared at Megure. He acted as if he hadn't even heard her.

"Conan-kun?" she whispered.

"Ran-san..." Takagi shifted awkwardly in his seat. "I realize this sounds strange, but-"

Ran turned on him fiercely. "It's not strange, it's impossible," she repeated, looking at the young officer, sudden anger filling her. "I mean... I've talked to him since then. I've seen him! Months ago, when he showed up at my high school play. And then he went to school the next day, and everyone at school saw him, and he took me out to dinner that night at the rooftop restaurant..." Ran's eyes widened with realization as she looked at Takagi. "And you both were there, because of the murder." She turned accusing eyes on Megure, who was looking slightly flustered in the face of her vehemence. "You were there at the restaurant that night, and you told me, the next time I saw you, that Shinichi had helped you solve the case. You saw him that night! So how can you say that he was murdered last spring?"

Inspector Megure pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped his wide brow. "Ran-san, please. We are both on the same side here."

But Ran would not be mollified. "How can you say that, when you're taking this... this sick prank seriously? You know as well as I do that Shinichi isn't dead!"

"Ran-san," said Megure, "that is why we are here. That day when we all saw him, you spent the most time with him, correct?"

Ran blinked, taken off guard. "That's right," she said. So they admitted that they had seen Shinichi as well, and yet they were still concerned over this anonymous tip?

"Out of anyone, you probably know Kudo-kun best, don't you?" asked Takagi.

She felt confused at all the twists the conversation was taking. "Well... yes. I know... I mean, we grew up together..." She trailed off, uncertain as to where they were heading with his new line of questioning.

Megure leaned forward and regarded her intently. "What we need to know is this. And I'm sorry, Ran-san, but it is a difficult question." He sighed heavily. "Are you certain that the person you saw and spent time with... Are you absolutely certain that he was Shinichi-kun?"

Ran felt her mouth go dry.

Absolutely certain?

The night of the roller coaster murder... she remembered it clearly. She remembered how Shinichi had run off after a shadowy figure at the edges of the amusement park; how she had tried to chase after him, but her shoelace had snapped, and he had waved her off cheerfully, saying that he would see her soon.

But, as she watched him disappear into the darkness, she had felt the worst premonition; a feeling in the deepest parts of her soul that she would never see him again.

But she had seen him, for one brief day... and then he had disappeared again.

He called her on the phone, of course, but simply hearing his voice over a phone line... There was always something detached and surreal about their conversations. He seemed like his usual self, but whenever she would press him to come see her, he would be evasive and make excuses.

And then there were her suspicions about Conan.

She felt so confused, as if the world had just stopped making sense on that night last spring when Shinichi first disappeared. How could she be absolutely certain of anything anymore?

She looked over at Conan again. The boy was pale and silent, looking up at her with wide, anxious eyes. Shinichi's eyes.

At that moment, she didn't know what to believe.

"What are you saying?" she whispered, her gaze not leaving Conan's.

Megure reached up to tug on his moustache in an unconscious gesture of anxiety. "So... you aren't certain that he was Shinichi-kun?"

"I didn't say that." Ran tore her gaze away from Conan, and looked up at the inspector, suddenly feeling incredibly weary. "But you obviously have some reason to believe that he wasn't Shinichi. Why? How is that possible? What did this 'anonymous tipster' say to you?"

Takagi bit his lip. "Ran-san, if you would just-"

"No!" she said, frustration and fear and anger sharpening her voice. "I'm not answering your question. You come to me, telling me that there is the possibility that Shinichi is dead - that he's been dead since last spring. You say that the person that I thought was Shinichi all this time actually isn't. Until you give me a good reason to believe that this isn't anything more than a prank, I have nothing more to say to you."

And next to her, she heard Conan's small, agonized whisper. "Ran..."

Megure sighed. "I apologize, Ran-san. I realize that this is very hard, and that we have been unfair. You must understand, we are just as upset about this situation as you are."

"I seriously doubt that," Ran said.

Megure blinked. "Um... yes. Again, sorry."

"Megure-keibu," said Conan, and everyone looked at him. The boy's expression was tense and serious, and Ran thought she saw the barest glimmer of fear in his eyes. "Please. What did the tipster say?"

Megure sighed heavily. "He said that on the night of the roller coaster murder last spring, he led Kudo Shinichi away from his girlfriend by acting suspiciously, then lured him to an isolated area behind some buildings near the entrance of the park. He then... smashed Kudo over the head with a metal rod, knocking him unconscious, after which the man claims to have force-fed him poison, just to make his death sure."

Ran swallowed back a cry of anguish. She looked at Conan, and saw his blue eyes burning intensely behind his glasses.

"But if that's true," said Conan quietly, "then why was a body never recovered?"

"The man claims that he waited until the police left the area, then hid the body in the trunk of his car," said Takagi, looking at Conan. "He said that he drove to the mountains and buried the body in the woods."

"Did he say why he killed him?" Conan's voice was carefully neutral.

Ran looked at Conan, aghast. He was acting as if it was possible. As if he accepted that Shinichi had really been murdered that night.

"He claims that it was revenge," said Megure, "but for what, he wouldn't say. He would only say that, when he first... committed the act, he didn't want to get caught, but that since then, he had heard rumors that Shinichi-kun was still around, and so he decided to come out and make the truth known."

Conan blinked. "And what truth is that, exactly?"

Megure pinched the bridge of his nose, and glanced at Takagi wearily. "Takagi-kun? You took the call."

Takagi blinked, taken aback momentarily, and he looked back and forth between Conan and Ran. "Um... Well... as we said, he claims that he murdered Kudo Shinichi. And that Shinichi's father, Kudo Yusaku, is trying to cover up the murder so that he can conduct his own investigation without involving the police. He claims that any contact we might have had with Shinichi-kun since then has actually been with an impersonator that Kudo-san hired as part of his cover-up."

Both Conan and Ran's eyes widened in shock. "What?!" Conan exclaimed.

"Wait just a moment!" Ran looked back and forth between the two officers incredulously. "Let me see if I have this straight. You're trying to tell me that all this time, since last spring... all the phone calls... the... the date at the restaurant... It was some complete stranger?"

Inspector Megure shook his head wearily. "That's only what the man claims. We don't have any evidence that it's true."

"Well, it's not true," Ran said. "I know Shinichi, and I think I know the difference between an impersonator and my friend I've known since childhood!" She felt relieved and triumphant. "That settles it, then. This is nothing more than a stupid prank!"

Megure regarded her intently. "That is what I would believe as well, if I did not know Kudo Yusaku."

Ran blinked. She glanced at Conan for reassurance, but the boy was sitting, silent and stunned. Suddenly uncertain again, she turned to Megure. "What do you mean?"

"Before Kudo left the country a few years ago to work on his mystery novels, he would sometimes help us with cases, in much the same way Shinichi-kun did later. However, he was much lower-profile than Shinichi-kun. He often worked anonymously, and sometimes would even work under cover without informing us of his plans or intentions." Megure shook his head. "And, unfortunately, this scenario doesn't strike me as outside the realm of possibility. If Shinichi-kun has been murdered, it is possible that Kudo-kun set this up as a means of luring out the culprit and bringing him to justice himself. And with Yukiko-san being so prominent in the film industry, and with her skill in disguise, it's not like the two of them don't have the connections and ability to hire and train a convincing impersonator of their own son."

Ran felt the blood drain from her face. It was true, she realized. Shinichi's parents knew him well enough to teach an impersonator exactly how to speak, how to act... But why deceive her as well? Why not tell her the truth? How did having an impersonator call her, talk to her, fool her into believing that Shinichi was still alive... How did that do anything to catch the killer?

"So you can see now," Megure continued, looking at Ran seriously, "why I needed to talk to you. If this tip is just a prank - and I pray that it is - it was still perpetrated by someone who knows what you and Shinichi-kun were doing that night at the amusement park last spring, and he also knows of Kudo Yusaku, and his investigating techniques. Even if he didn't kill Shinichi-kun as he claims, he apparently harbors a great deal of animosity for the Kudo family, and could very well be a threat. It may even be that the reason Shinichi-kun has been so scarce, ever since that night, is that he is in hiding."

"I see," Ran said. "Or... or it could be that..." Her voice shook, and she trailed off, unable to complete the thought.

But Megure nodded, regarding her with sympathy. "Yes. It could be that the anonymous tipster is telling the truth. The details he gave us... it was enough to convince me that something is going on."

"But..." Tears were gathering in the corners of Ran's eyes. "But... no. We saw him. Shinichi can't be dead, we saw him..."

"Which is why I ask you again," Megure said, tugging at his moustache in distress. "That day a few months ago, when Shinichi-kun returned... are you absolutely certain that it was him?"

"I... I don't..." Ran clenched her hands into fists on her lap. In her peripheral vision, she could see Conan watching her, his young face tight with anguish.

And suddenly, a cold realization swept through her. "Shinichi said... that he needed to tell me something very important," she whispered. "I was hoping that he might want to tell me that he..." She stopped, and shuddered, gulping back a sob. "But... if it was actually an impersonator hired by Kudo-san, maybe... maybe he wanted to tell me about what happened to Shinichi... and maybe he changed his mind, and that's why he left the restaurant after the murder without seeing me..."

"Ran... neechan," Conan said, and there was a tinge of desperation in his voice. "You don't know that. You're jumping to conclusions."

"Am I?" She looked down at him, tears slipping down her cheeks. "Then why else would Shinichi leave me like that, without even a goodbye? Why else would he avoid me for so long? Tell me! What else could he possibly be doing?"

Tell me, Conan, she pleaded silently, as she looked into his eyes. Give me a reason to believe that the tipster is lying. Give me a reason to believe that Shinichi is still alive, and not months dead, lying buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the mountains...

"He's..." Conan swallowed miserably, shaken by the sight of her tears. "...on a case," he finished weakly.

And she laughed bitterly. "What case?" she cried, pounding her fists on her lap. "He's been on this so-called case for months! No mystery could confound him for that long! What am I supposed to believe, then? That he's really dead, and that his father has led me, and everyone else to believe that he's alive just so that he can catch the killer himself?"

Conan looked into her tear stained face. "No," he whispered.

"Then what?" she asked him softly, her voice hitching with grief. "I don't want to believe it, but at least it's an explanation that doesn't sound completely... impossible..." And she slumped forward, sobbing into her hands.

Conan sat transfixed for a terrible moment, staring at Ran's weeping form, immobilized by his own fear and misery. Then, slowly, he stood and went to her side and knelt next to her. "Ran-neechan," he whispered brokenly.

He wanted to take her in his arms and say, It's me, Ran. I'm not dead, I'm right here, I'm with you, please, please don't cry.

But he couldn't. Because Megure and Takagi were sitting right there, in awkward, resigned silence.

And because someone, somehow, knew his secret.

The Black Organization. They knew he was alive. And they were trying to find him.