|The Cask of Amontillado
Author: The Silversage PM
The quest for amontillado has never been a safe one. And those who seek it have a tendency to go missing. A '16 Suspects' spinoff. This one was just for fun. Happy Halloween!Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Suspense - Words: 12,401 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 2 - Published: 10-31-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6439723
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: not mine. Anime-verse & OVA-verse.
Summary: The quest for amontillado has never been a safe one. And those who seek it have a tendency to go missing. A '16 Suspects' spinoff. This one was just for fun. Happy Halloween!
I do it all because I'm evil, And I do it all for free, Your tears are all the pay I'll ever need. -Voltaire
"Wow, we get ta stay here for a week?!"
Kazuha and Ran stared up at the sprawling three-storied mansion. "Mm-hmm. Shinichi's parents said we could have free reign of the house if we tidied the place up," Ran said in a distracted voice digging through her purse for the set of keys Kudo Yukiko had mailed her.
"Amazing! I think I really like this boyfriend of yours," Kazuha giggled twirling around in the azalea blossoms littering the sidewalk up to the villa before racing for the door.
"Mou, he's not my boyfriend!" Ran shouted after her before giving chase.
"You rich… bastard…," Heiji huffed from the top of the stairs at the start of the sidewalk. He dumped the mountain of pink and purple suitcases in favor of his new carrying approach, dragging them by their shoulder straps. "I… thought… this was a… villa. Not… a damn… hotel. And it… had to be… at the top… of a hill. And why aren't you helping me?!" he yelled, turning on the small child behind him.
"But Heiji-niichan, I'm just a kid. I can't carry stuff that heavy," Conan chirped brightly with all the innocence he could muster and fairly skipped past him after the girls with his backpack doing little to weigh him down.
"Just you wait, Kudo. First thing I'm doin' is tossing you into that river," Heiji muttered while he re-adjusted his grip on the bags and started dragging again. "After…I can breathe…again."
The Cask of Amontillado
Kazuha followed Ran around to the vast backyard of the Kudo's summer villa. "This is so amazing. Kudo-kun used to bring ya out here?" She leaned against the low stone wall overlooking the river. The gentle breeze made the larch trees bordering the river sway their leaf-laden branches in a rustling whisper around them and they watched the loose leaves flutter down to the water. "How romantic," Kazuha sighed leaning her cheek in a hand, reaching out the other in a vain attempt to catch some of the falling leaves the wind pulled just past her reach.
"Kazuha-chan, we were in junior high and his parents were here," Ran sighed, joining Kazuha at the wall and dropping her burning face into her folded arms.
Kazuha grinned at Ran's mad blush but stayed quiet, letting her friend bring her complexion back under control. She turned around, leaning against the smooth stone of the wall and studying the three-story western-style mansion with its overgrowth of vines climbing high on the walls. Through a window on the second floor she caught sight of Heiji moving around on the landing above the stairs. She hid a grin realizing he was still struggling with the mound of luggage she had dumped on him and looked away before Ran noticed where her attention had fallen. Her eyes fell on the wall of green and white at the edge of the grassy lawn. "Hey, is that garden part of Kudo-kun's house?" she pointed at a line of full blooming rose bushes.
"No, that garden is part of the neighbor's property," Ran smiled, relieved to no longer be teased. "I've never met them, though. Whoever lives there, they usually aren't here in the summer." She gave Kazuha a mischievous grin, "Would you like to see their rose garden? Shinichi taught me how to unlock their gate last time we were here."
"Sure, I bet it's beautiful with everything blooming right now," Kazuha smiled following Ran to the garden. "And what exactly were you and Kudo-kun doin' sneakin' into people's gardens?" Ran winced realizing she had led the conversation back to the last place she wanted.
"Oi, Kudo, what are those two doin'?" Heiji asked looking out the second floor window.
Conan dropped the pink suitcase he'd been bullied into carrying and joined Heiji at the window, hoisting himself up by the windowsill letting his legs dangle above the ground. Ran was currently leading Kazuha into a wildly overgrown set of bushes that he recalled hid an old gate with a rusted out lock. "They're sneaking into the neighbor's garden," he answered with a fond smile, watching Ran disappear into the overgrowth of white roses.
"Oh?" Heiji mused watching him closely with a smug grin. "Have any good memories of that garden?"
"M-Moron," Conan stuttered with a fierce blush dropping down from the window and rushing back to the bag nearly half his size and what felt like twice his weight with renewed interest.
Heiji dropped the subject but smirked to himself watching his small friend studiously ignore him before turning back to the window. He watched Kazuha until she disappeared into the maze of tall bushes. He shifted his gaze across the river to the mansions dotting the hill that climbed up the river valley. "Kudo, isn't that the villa of that rich detective at the top of the hill over there?"
Conan gave up his valiant struggle with Ran's bag gratefully and returned to the window. "Yes, it is," he murmured in surprise, "I never realized he lived so close. There's a lot of cars parked there." He hoisted himself back up on the windowsill for a better vantage point. "That red car means Sato-keiji and Takagi-keiji are there."
"And that looks like a squad car parked behind 'em," Heiji grinned from his much higher view. He exchanged a sharp grin with Conan. "We should go say 'hi,' its only polite." The two charged down the stairs leaving the suitcases littering the hall and staircase.
"Ran-chan, wait for me," Kazuha called out loudly having gotten separated from Ran in the labyrinth of roses and currently had no idea in which direction the gate was. "Ran-chan!" She stubbornly pushed on despite knowing full well she was only going to get herself more lost. She rounded a corner and found herself in a clearing with an ornate wrought iron table set with a wine bottle and half-full long-stemmed wine glass. A thin man around her father's age stood near a rose bush with a pair of garden shears carefully pruning overgrown branches. He paused with a start when he noticed her, nearly dropping his shears.
"Kazuha-chan! There you are. I couldn't find you any…" Ran stopped behind Kazuha with a gasp when she realized they weren't alone in the garden.
"My goodness, my roses have finally attracted the celestial maidens down from the heavens." The man gave them both a charming smile.
"I'm so sorry. We didn't know there was anyone here. …Um… I mean… it was wrong of us to trespass in your garden," Ran gushed in embarrassment with an apologetic bow, her face burning at the thought of having been caught sneaking onto private grounds.
"Not to worry, my dear. I would never refuse the company of such fine young ladies. Though I'm sure I would have known if I had such pretty neighbors," he said turning back to his rose bushes and cutting errant branches.
Both girls blushed under the compliments. "Um, we're from next door at the Kudo villa," Kazuha offered shyly, stepping back to Ran's side and catching onto her shirt sleeve.
The man paused; bringing his shears up and tapping them against his lips while he thought over Kazuha's words. "Ah, the house owned by that writer fellow. I had no idea he had such lovely daughters."
"Oh no, we're friends of his son's," Ran spoke up quickly.
"Ah, then he must be one lucky boy to be surrounded by such beauties." Kazuha and Ran flushed brightly although Kazuha recovered enough to enjoy Ran's embarrassment. "My name is Takemoto Fujiwara," he smiled at them gently and swept a graceful arm to the table. "Please feel free to join me. Could I offer either of you a glass of wine, I'm quite proud of my collection."
"Oh, no thank you. We're underage," Ran replied, taking a seat at the small round table alongside Kazuha. "And again, I'm very sorry we trespassed Takemoto-san."
"Not at all, my dear," Takemoto laughed. "I'm used to having to search for company. It's not every day company comes to me." He clipped two full white roses and presented Ran a rose with a gallant bow. "Feel free to trespass in my garden whenever you like," he said with a gallant bow and wink to Kazuha offering the second rose. The two girls accepted the flowers amid bright flushes and flustered embarrassed smiles at the compliments.
"Oi! Kazuha! What are you doing in here, aho!" Heiji called crossly following Conan into the clearing. "Don't you know better than to intrude on people's houses without being invited?!" Conan felt an eyebrow twitch and couldn't quite stop himself from giving the Osakan a muted glare. Heiji grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet. "Come on, were going."
"Heiji! You're being rude, aho!" Kazuha argued while she tried to jerk her arm free. She aimed a low kick at his shins that Heiji sidestepped with the ease of long practice. Takemoto's eyebrow rose at the exchange of insults from the quarreling couple.
"Says the aho who's breaking and entering," Heiji answered turning on his heel and hauling her after him back the way he came. "Sorry for bothering you, Ossan," he tossed over his shoulder without looking back.
"Rather fiery, aren't they," Takemoto mused after them quietly watching Heiji yank Kazuha after him and around a corner, hiding them from view while their arguing voices faded away.
"Umm, thank you for having us," Ran added with a hasty bow. "I'm sure Hattori-kun and Kazuha-chan didn't mean to be rude," she said in a quick rush while she was torn between apologizing for her friends' rude exit and running after them.
"Not to worry, young lady. There's nothing wrong with a young lady being spirited. In fact, I find it interesting," he replied with a smooth smile. Ran gave a final bow before running after her friends. Takemoto gave the three an appraising look before returning to his rose bushes. He never noticed the small boy watching him closely from the garden path.
"What's your problem, Heiji?!" Kazuha griped still trying to pull her wrist from his iron hold. "Ya made me leave my rose behind!"
"You have no business acceptin' flowers from someone old enough to be your dad," Heiji retorted angrily.
"Just how long were you watching us?" Kazuha grumbled.
"Aho! He was hitting on you! He's gotta be more than twice as old as you!" Heiji bit back, his volume sliding back to full yelling.
"He was just being nice to us, aho!" Kazuha yelled back. She gave up on trying to pull her wrist free and settled into being towed in a full pout.
"Yeah, well… he's creepy," was Heiji's intelligent reply. "And I don't want you hanging out over there," he ordered firmly.
"You are impossible to have a conversation with!" Kazuha fumed angrily, glaring holes in the side of Heiji's head from her position being strong-armed alongside of him. The two walked along in silence until curiosity won out over anger. "So where are we going anyway?"
"We're heading to these guys' detective friend's villa. There's something going on over there," Heiji muttered accompanying his statement with a sweep of his arm to the subdued couple walking behind them with light blushes from listening to their not-so private conversation. Heiji's eyes widened, realizing just what their conversation must sound like to the reluctant eavesdroppers. He faced forward before they could see his face he just knew was burning red despite his dark complexion.
"It just figures, we're barely here an hour and you're already tryin' ta find a case to solve," Kazuha muttered under her breath, "Couldn't you have just told us where ya were going? Why did you have ta drag us along?"
Heiji clenched his jaw and kept walking, determined not to answer. He could hardly tell her that had been the original reason he and Kudo went looking for the two girls. He hunched his shoulders forward, stubbornly refusing to look back either, hearing the childishly high voice snickering behind him in response to Kazuha's question. 'Shut up, Kudo.'
"Takagi-keiji," Ran called cheerfully. She ran ahead of her two sulking friends to greet the young detective.
Takagi jumped at the sudden voice and the four were witness to an impressive impromptu juggling act as Takagi saved a mountain of suitcases from spilling across the vast driveway. "R-Ran-san, Conan-kun, what are you doing here?" he exclaimed once he resumed his grip on the luggage he was pulling out of the car trunk.
"We're staying at Shinichi-niichan's villa," Conan chirped happily, weaving through the patrol cars and private vehicles crowding the grounds of Shiratori's estate. "There's a lot of cars here. Are you on a big case?" Conan looked up at him with all the bright innocence he could muster.
"Ah, we're here working on a series of missing person cases," he replied, loading his shoulders with suitcase straps and his hands with suitcases. He stared at the car in confusion, eyeing the still open trunk. "Umm… Ran-san? Could you get the trunk for me?" he asked with an embarrassed dusting of red over his nose.
"Of course," Ran answered following after Conan, tracing his path through the cars, and moving to the back of Sato's car.
"Hey, they didn't stick you with gopher duty while they solve the case without ya, right?" Heiji asked on Ran's heels to the detective and lifting a couple of bags from Takagi's shoulders.
Takagi sighed dejectedly, "You think so too, huh?"
"Takagi-kun! Are you still out here!" The group looked up as Sato all but slammed the front double set of doors behind her. "What's taking you so long? I need you in there!"
"S-Sato-san, is everything okay?" Takagi asked with trepidation hearing the edge on her voice. It wasn't often that Sato got mad and the few times she had been, he'd been very grateful it hadn't been with him… a trend he intended to keep.
"I am not dealing with those idiots anymore!" she huffed angrily, stalking up to her victim for her frustrated anger. "We've been here for two hours already and they're still arguing over jurisdiction!" Her eyes widened when she noticed Takagi's company for the first time. "Ah! Ran-chan, and Hattori-kun, and Kazuha-san, was it? Is Conan-kun here?"
Heiji gave a cocky smirk realizing Sato couldn't see the tiny boy with all the cars in the way. "He's down here," he laughed, grabbing Conan by the scruff of his jacket like a small cat and hoisting him into the air. Conan crossed his arms and scowled at his ill treatment from his position four feet off the ground.
"Perfect!" She reached forward and snatched the boy out of Heiji's grip, catching him under his arms and pulling the boy against her so she could wrap a steadying arm around him. Conan flushed in embarrassment from his new spot on Sato's hip and tried to keep his hands away from anything inappropriate while still keeping his balance. "We'll solve this ourselves!" she announced to her still frozen partner, eyeing her warily after her quick mood change. She turned on her heel and marched back towards the house. Conan squeaked as her sudden turn forced him to fling his arms around her neck or fall. Ran and Kazuha followed behind, giggling at Conan's 'cute' reaction while Heiji laughed unabashedly. "Hurry up, Takagi-kun!"
Inside Shiratori's enclosed formal dining room, the half dozen group of men arguing in ever increasing volume never noticed the slight figure slip in through the door, or the stack of folders disappear over the edge of the table. The same figure silently slipped back out the door, no one the wiser.
"Did you get them?" Sato asked in a stage whisper from her hiding spot behind a corner in the hallway. Conan handed her the stack of case files which she happily took with greedy eyes, holding them tight against her chest. With one last sneak of a look at the doors in case anyone there had noticed the pilfered files were missing and come looking, she pushed herself up from her crouch and started back down the hallway.
"Should we be doing this? Won't we get in trouble?" Takagi fretted trailing after Sato.
"What are you talking about, Takagi. We didn't take anything, and who could be angry with that?" Sato pointed at the child walking alongside them who on cue adopted a look of such wide-eyed innocence he fairly twinkled. Takagi sighed in defeat knowing full well what the boy could get away with with that look. "By the way Conan-kun, a deal's a deal." Sato held out her hand, slightly cupped to the child. Conan shook it accepting the cash trade-off from Sato's palm.
"Pleasure doing business with you, Sato-keiji," he replied with a shark-like grin, pocketing 5,000 yen.
"Sato-san, what are you teaching him?" Takagi exclaimed following them down the carpeted stairs to Shiratori's basement wine cellar.
"Hattori-kun, we got them," Sato announced happily to where a very tense Heiji was sitting on the floor near the entrance, eyeing the wine bottles warily. She dropped the folder stack in Heiji's lap before he could bother standing from his secluded spot against the wall with as much distance as he could manage from all the glass.
"Are ya sure we couldn't do this somewhere else?" Heiji asked glancing around the room at the multitude of expensive wine bottles.
"Nonsense, Hattori-kun. No one will bother us in here," Sato answered breezily, sweeping past him to where the girls were standing and handing Ran a folded map. "Can you find a place to pin this?" she asked, handing her a few thumb tucks she had scrounged upstairs. "Takagi-kun, catch them up, ok?" she called over a shoulder.
"A-Ah. Right," Takagi answered back, settling himself down on the floor next to Heiji. "This summer, eight women between the ages of 16 and 22 have gone missing while vacationing here in Karuizawa." He took the folders from Heiji and opened each to the victim's photo and spread them on the floor for Heiji and Conan to see. "Five from Tokyo, two from Gunma, and one from Chiba. So far, none of them have been heard from or found. The earliest went missing almost four months ago. There've been two searches of the area so far, but no traces were found, and no bodies."
Heiji and Conan studied the pictures. "All these girls are a similar type," Heiji mused. "Brown hair, medium length and none of them have brown-eyes. A serial kidnapper?"
"No, this is a serial murderer," Conan corrected, speed-reading through the nearest folder. "Holding onto victims for too long only increases the chances of escape or getting caught and it would hardly be easy keeping multiple victims around. I think the murderer is wealthy enough to have a large estate or at least a lot of land. You're looking for someone with the means to hide multiple bodies probably on their own property so as not to get caught. Karuizawa has too many tourists hiking or enjoying the outdoors because of the good weather in the summer. If he was dumping or burying these girls in the parks or mountains or even the rivers, someone would have found something by now. He's smart; he only preys on tourists because they won't be missed right away. He's probably local if he can recognize who's a tourist or he draws them into conversation." He reached for his fifth folder, "These girls are going missing regularly, about once per two weeks. He's compulsive. Looks like another girl should probably go missing in the next day or so according to his timeline. You have a collector." He looked up and blinked in surprise to find everyone staring at him… except for Heiji who was hiding behind a folder 'reading', to hide his spreading grin. 'Oops.' He tried to catch Heiji's eyes in a frantic plea for help.
"That's amazing, Conan-kun! You got all that from reading the case files?" Sato praised. "See, I told you they could help." She braced her hands on Takagi's shoulders and leaned over him to give him a smug smile.
"Sato-san, if it's really one of the wealthier land owners, investigating will get pretty sensitive. There's a lot of powerful people who live here or have villas," Takagi replied leaning back against her legs to look up at her.
"It's a place to start. We can narrow our focus to those with enough land to hide so many victims and corroborate their alibis for when these girls were in town. We need a map with property lines," Sato said with an excited glimmer in her eyes now that they had a lead to work on.
Kazuha joined Ran leaning against the premium vintage wine rack, giving up her spying perch from one of the aisles near the group now that they were down to the more boring details of planning their next move. She followed Ran's eyes and fond smile to Takagi and Sato. "You look happy for them," she sighed softly.
Ran gave a quiet giggle. "I think it's cute when they're sweet like that. Conan-kun and I have been rooting for Takagi-keiji for a while," she confessed. They watched Sato help haul Takagi back to his feet.
"Ran-neechan, we're going to go look for a map," Conan called, hanging in the doorway after the two detectives and Heiji had walked out.
"Alright, Conan-kun. We'll wait here," Ran answered with a smile watching him leave, running after the adults to catch up.
"Don't ya ever worry that maybe Conan-kun is too young ta be involved in these cases?" Kazuha asked after the others had gone.
"I used to," Ran mused, "but I don't think I could keep him away from a mystery any more than I could Shinichi or you could Heiji-kun."
"I don't know. There's just something kind of cold about the way he can talk about people dying so easily," Kazuha replied worriedly. Ran shifted her gaze to her friend's tense expression and gave a warm smile.
"Let's go for a walk. We'll leave them here to solve mysteries and go shopping," Ran said in a bright voice, pushing off the wine rack and determined to pull Kazuha into some fun.
Kazuha brightened at the happy thought of new shoes. "Ok, lets go," she answered back happily. She pushed off the rack and froze when she felt the strap of her sundress snagged on the mouth of a wine bottle. She winced already knowing what had to be coming and sure enough, a loud crash sent brown glass and wine across the marble floor. 'Oh no!' "What did I just break?" she asked Ran in a strangled voice.
Ran dropped her hands from where she had clapped them across her mouth. "Don't move Kazuha-chan, you're wearing sandals. I'm going to get a broom and some towels." Without another word, she dashed out the door, running for the women's restroom across from the wine room.
Alone in the room, Kazuha crouched down and winced feeling the glass that had fallen across her toes bite into skin. She reached for a large piece of glass held together by the wine label. "Amontirado? Please let me be able ta afford to replace this before Shiratori-keibu finds out," she muttered staring down at the label yellowed by age. She straightened abruptly hearing the restroom door slam.
Ran came running back with hand towels from the restroom, a broom, and a dustpan. "Hold on a minute, Kazuha-chan." She cleared a space on the floor and unbuckled the straps of Kazuha's shoes. She brushed Kazuha's feet free of glass and left Kazuha barefoot in her glass free island. "Ah! Kazuha-chan, I told you not to move when I left. Your feet are bleeding," Ran said with a light reprimand in her voice seeing the fresh spots of red on the sandals. Kazuha stood shivering on the cold marble while Ran shook the glass from her shoes. Ran handed the shoes back and pressed a towel into her hands. "Help me clean this up before the others come back," she whispered with a quick look to the door.
"Umm… Ran-chan… we need to go tell Shiratori-keibu I broke his wine," Kazuha said in a subdued voice, "Why are ya trying to cover this up?"
"We might still have a chance if we can find another one before anyone finds out," Ran reasoned with a calm confidence Kazuha certainly didn't share. "Don't worry, Kazuha-chan. We'll fix this," Ran told her with an encouraging smile.
"Thanks, Ran-chan," Kazuha replied with a ghost of a smile, daring to hope that they could find some way to replace the rare wine. "You're a great friend." Ran gave her conspiratorial wink and Kazuha bent to cleanup the spilt wine with renewed energy.
"Think anyone saw us leave?" Kazuha asked with a nervous glance to the windows of Shiratori's villa facing the street.
Ran shut the front door quietly behind her. "I think we're okay." She grabbed Kazuha's hand and ran through the forest of cars until the massive garage was between them and the main house. "Do you remember how to get back to Shinichi's villa from here?" she asked in a hushed voice despite the fact they were alone outside.
"Yeah, I do. Why?" Kazuha asked in curiosity watching Ran work a key out of her key ring.
"In the kitchen, there's a door past the pantry. Shinichi's father stores his wines there. I want you to go check if they have one we can use. Besides, you need to go bandage your feet. I'm going to go check in town since I know where the stores are. We'll meet back here at seven." Ran said with finality, pressing the key into Kazuha's hand.
"Okay, but what if we can't find it?" Kazuha asked with much less confidence now that she was facing the prospect of searching alone.
"Not a problem," Ran smiled, "If we can't find it, I'll call Sonoko."
Kazuha stopped herself from slamming the door and settled for a frustrated growl at the world in general, leaning against the front door. The Kudos most definitely did not have any amonti-whatever it was called. "May as well head back," she sighed to herself.
"Ah! Kazuha-chan, was it? You're not with your friends?" a voice called from the right. Kazuha looked up to see the gentleman they met in the garden earlier waving her over from his front yard.
"Oh, Takemoto-san, umm… I'm sorry about leaving so rudely before," she called back, walking across the Kudo's front lawn and up to the ornate brick wall of Takemoto's estate. "Heiji was just being an idiot like usual." She stopped at Takemoto's front gate and took a peek into his massive front yard full of topiary and meticulously groomed flowerbeds.
"Please, do come in," Takemoto smiled from the flowerbed of lavender nearest the gate. "I'll clip you some fresh flowers to replace that rose from earlier."
"I'm sorry, I'm sort of in the middle of a jam. I need ta head back," Kazuha apologized, looking down at her watch and glancing back down the road she had come. It was nearly time to meet back up with Ran.
"I'm sorry to hear that, dear. Is there anything I can do to help?" Takemoto asked picking himself up from the ground and dusting off his pants. "Or would you like to talk about it?" He reached out to open his gate and coax a still fretful Kazuha inside.
Kazuha paused just long enough to read the man's expression of concern before her story came tumbling out. "When we were at a friend of Ran-chan's house, Shiratori-keibu, I broke a bottle of wine in his wine cellar," Kazuha said in a soft voice, worrying at the omamori necklace string at her neck. "And now Ran-chan is trying to help me find another bottle of the stuff but I don't think we're going to find any." Takemoto joined her at the gate leaning on the top of the wall. "And I think it's probably going to be expensive to replace because it was from his special collection." By now, Kazuha had done a fair job of discouraging herself.
Takemoto placed a comforting hand on her bowed head. "You could always try asking me for help. We are neighbors after all, and I happen to know my way around fine wines myself," he said gently to the miserable girl.
"Really? Well… if it wouldn't be too much trouble, I was hopin', maybe, ya'd have a bottle of this so I could replace it before he finds out I broke it," Kazuha forced out in a tiny voice holding out a broken piece of curved glass with a faded label. She didn't dare lift her eyes from the ground. "Please help me, I don't know who else to ask."
Takemoto eyed her sharply with a considering gaze before taking the proffered label and studying it. "A Gonzalez Byass Amontillado, solera 1973," he mumbled in deep thought. He broke out in a warm smile and gently took hold of her hand. It took a moment or two before Kazuha hesitantly met his gaze. "I'll do you one better, my dear," he smiled patting her hand, "I can give you a much finer vintage than your detective friend could ever dream of finding but in return, I think it would be for the best if you told him you broke his bottle and offered one of mine in apology. I guarantee he will forgive you when he sees what I pick out for you."
Kazuha jerked up and gripped the older man's upper arms excitedly, "You'll help me! Really!"
"Of course. How could I not help such a sweet young girl in her hour of need," he smiled and tucked her hand in the crook of his arm. "Come, we'll find you the finest sherry in my wine cellar."
Kazuha smiled for the first time since the damned wine bottle had broken and allowed herself to be ushered inside the mansion. She was nearly ready to call Ran-chan then and there to call off their search for the errant wine, 'But a bird in the hand and all that… I'll call her when I've got that wine in my hands,' she decided.
"Right this way." Takemoto let go of her arm to open a heavy wooden door and gestured for her to enter with a gallant sweep of his arm. Kazuha allowed herself to be led through and down a set of richly plush carpeted stairs into a basement wine cellar. Kazuha could dimly make out many small rounded shines in the deep darkness.
"You have your wine cellar in your basement? So this is kinda like Shiratori-keibu's set-up," she mused walking into the darkness cautiously.
"Oh, I assure you, your friend has nothing like my family's wine vaults. This estate was built over a natural cavern system and thanks to my great grandfather's passion for collecting wine, which I, quite happily, have inherited, it has been converted into the perfect crypt for storing wine." Takemoto snapped on the lights and the room was bathed in a soft warm yellow glow of a half dozen incandescent lights in a high ceiling. Kazuha spun in a slow circle on the dark wooden floor and took in the many dozens of aisles of solid wooden shelves taller than her with only cork tipped thin glass lips visible in the rows of wooden cubby holes. The room was easily three times the size of Shiratori's wine cellar.
"This place is huge," Kazuha wondered aloud trailing after Takemoto through the maze of shelves.
"I'm glad I've impressed you," Takemoto smiled over his shoulder, "but these are just my common labels. My special collection is kept in the crypt." He moved to a wooden podium with a heavy ledger and turned on a small desk light before pouring through the pages. Kazuha peeked over his shoulder… only to look away as the multitude of foreign languages make her dizzy.
"Here we are," Takemoto smiled, "An Osborne Palo Cortado I picked up in Jerez eight months ago. I have several bottles so you can take as many as you like."
"I thought the one I broke was an… A-mon-ti-ra-do?" Kazuha puzzled.
"Palo Cortado is Amontillado, the rarest kind in fact. And this one is from a better manufacturer, my opinion of course, and an older solera than that 1973 bottle you broke. This collection is from 1907. In my opinion you did this Shiratori fellow a favor." Takemoto huffed to himself.
Kazuha followed past his finger down the row on the ledger to the column marked 'price.' Her mouth fell open as she tried to process how much 437,783 yen really was. "I can't accept somethin' this expensive."
"Nonsense, dear. Good wine is meant to be drunk, and with good company," he told her firmly, cutting off any further excuses she could have made. He shut the desk light off and started down the aisle deeper into the cellar. "Follow me. We have a bit of a walk to go." Kazuha trailed behind Takemoto through more aisles to an old wooden door with ancient iron fixtures. The last section of wine racks in this aisle held long thick sticks instead of wine bottles. Takemoto pulled one out and lit the cloth wrapped end with his lighter. He caught Kazuha's curious gaze.
"Why a torch and not flashlights, right?" Kazuha nodded as he opened the heavy door. She shivered and wrinkled her nose when a blast of freezing stale air rushed out. The light from the torch danced violent shadows around the dark aisle. "This croft is both old and deep, my dear. It is also rarely opened. Oxygen levels are often very low in here and natural gases can get very high. If our flame tries to expire on us, we will have to abandon our quest for your wine replacement and leave immediately. Using modern flashlights, we would never know there was any danger to us until we both passed out," he said in light warning while he led the way through the door into a stone stairwell and Kazuha jumped when the heavy door slammed shut behind her. She couldn't quite stop her hand from latching onto Takemoto's jacket. "I'm sorry, do you have problems with dark places?" he asked politely.
Kazuha might… might… have been slightly irritated at the laugh in his voice if the narrow corridor disappearing into pitch black darkness didn't look like every single one of the slasher/monster/ghost movies she swore to Heiji she hadn't watched. "Umm… Takemoto-san? This place isn't haunted, is it?"
"Well… I honestly can't say," he laughed. "It may very well be." Kazuha cringed closer. "Do watch your step, these stones are a bit uneven and some are loose. Actually, it might have been safer if I had you wait upstairs."
"It's all right. I'll be fine." Kazuha insisted. She forced herself to let go of his jacket and wrapped her arms around herself, feeling the start of goosebumps running down her arms. "Is it getting' colder?" she asked softly, hearing her voice echo eerily in the narrow tunnel.
"Yes, I'm afraid. The deeper we go, the colder it will get," Takemoto said, "The bottom level stays at a constant 12C. Perfect for storing rare wines. As nice as the room upstairs is, those wines will eventually turn to vinegar. My most valuable collections require the special conditions that can only be found down here." He stopped and turned around with a serious expression. "Are you quite certain you want to go down with me? Now that I think about it, your clothes are not well suited to these temperatures," he said eyeing her thin spaghetti string sundress and sandals.
"I said I'll be fine," Kazuha insisted stubbornly. "It's only right that I go get this wine myself, I'm the one who broke it."
"Very well," Takemoto returned with a lingering smile and resumed their downward climb. The stairs seemed to go on forever in a gentle spiral with pitch-black darkness ahead of the torchlight and behind them. It almost felt as if they weren't going anywhere at all. Kazuha felt slightly embarrassed that only a few minutes into the climb had her all but panting for breath. "Should we take a break?" Takemoto asked.
"No, I'm alright. Just not used to the elevation," Kazuha mumbled with a bright blush until he finally looked away and back to their downward path. The wall to their right disappeared suddenly as the stairs straightened flush against the wall and she steered clear of the non-railed drop off. The ground floor was still too far off to see through the darkness but Kazuha gaped at the multitude of chains hanging from the ceiling.
Takemoto followed her gaze. "It's quite likely that some of my ancestors may have had some unsavory habits in this crypt," he mused aloud. Kazuha shivered and it had little to do with the biting cold. She gave a last look at the chains before they had descended too far down the stairs for the torchlight to reach the ceiling. "We can see the bottom now," he said and pointed over the edge of the stairs to where Kazuha could barely make out wooden wine racks and neatly stacked wooden barrels, a grayish-blue in the distant light that barely reached them. Her heavy gasps came out in white puffs in the cold air. She nearly bumped into him when he suddenly slowed his pace to crawl. "Give me your hand, Kazuha-san. From here on we must be extra careful. We're very near if not directly under the river and these stone steps can be quite slick."
Kazuha obediently allowed herself to be led down by his strong grip. The lower they went, the more visible the great room at the bottom of the steps became. The room was filled with low wooden racks and each aisle had been aligned to end in low stone arches that opened to either hallways or alcoves, she couldn't be sure in the dim light. However, many of the arches had been bricked over and recently judging by the bags of cement and neatly stacked mound of bricks in the center of the room. She stared at the bricks for a moment while Takemoto lit a few nearby torches in ancient metal sconces. There was something about the hardware that gave her the feeling she was missing something. Before the thought could finish solidifying they had finally reached the bottom. She was led to a nearby aisle where Takemoto handed her the torch. "Please hold the light for me, dear. These bottles must be handled with care so I should do this myself."
"Okay," Kazuha agreed, accepting the torch stick, being forced to adjust her grip once she felt the full weight of the torch. She carefully held the heavy torch to the side so as not to accidentally burn either of them. Takemoto gently lifted a dusty bottle from the rack and blew the dust off the label… right into Kazuha's unsuspecting face. Kazuha backed away instinctively as a fit of sneezing that dissolved into heavy coughing overtook her.
"Oh my, I do apologize," Takemoto apologized setting the wine down and pulling a handkerchief from his jacket pocket along with a silver decanter he opened and poured some of the liquid over the fabric. "Hold still. I'll get that off you."
Kazuha held still while he brought the handkerchief close to her face, brushing the dust from her nose. There was the faintest trace of a perfumed scent to it that smelled almost familiar. 'Wait a minute. This smells almost… like… chlor-…' Takemoto's arm snaked around her waist, caching her as she slumped gracelessly downwards, the torch slipping out of her loose grip to the ground.
"They're not in here," Heiji muttered from the relative safety of the wine cellar doorway. Conan snorted at his timid behavior and waltzed passed him into the cellar. "Hey!" Heiji tried to catch the back of Conan's jacket but a year of evading Kogoro's bops to the head made for a hard to catch seven-year-old and Heiji found himself stumbling into the room. He straightened a little too quickly and jerked away from the wine shelves. Conan spared him a look of eyebrow-raised amusement before continuing down the aisles.
"Sato-keiji said they were in here so they must have been until recently," Conan muttered until he noticed the oak storage unit above his head. He stared at Shiratori's rare wine storage rack closely, something felt off. "There's only four bottles here… Hattori, weren't there five when we were in here earlier? A bottle's missing."
"It wasn't me!" Heiji shot back quickly, looking up sharply from his careful creep along the hall as far from any glass products as possible.
"I know, I've been next to you this whole time," Conan retorted, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards at the Osakan's knee-jerk reaction.
Heiji was sure the brat chose that moment to crawl on the floor, 'inspecting' he said, so he wouldn't see him laughing. "Ya know, we could just call 'em," Heiji muttered sending an annoyed glare in the kid's direction where he was neatly hidden behind wine racks and pulled his cell from a pocket and selected a number. "Ya act like the girls are up to something."
"You could help me look around," Conan groused back, lying on the floor on his stomach to look under the wooden racks.
"Not a chance. This room hates me," Heiji muttered. Conan gave him a glare from the floor before going back to checking under the nearby wine racks. "Aho! Pick up your phone! You better not be ignoring my call!" Heiji half-yelled into his phone.
Conan halted his search to watch Heiji rant at Kazuha's voicemail. "Try Ran's number," he suggested when Heiji finally hung up.
"Fine," he muttered scrolling through his address book and calling the new number. Heiji listened for a few seconds before hanging up. "Went straight to voicemail. Her phone might be dead."
"Try Touyama-san again," Conan called back, turning back to his search and onto his stomach to look under the next wine rack. His eyes widened when he saw a faint reflection of light under the shelf. He reached under and pulled out a shiny piece of brown glass. "They probably went looking for a replacement for this," he said aloud holding up the glass piece for Heiji to see.
Heiji snapped his cell phone shut after reaching nothing but voicemail for the third time staring at the glass shard in Conan's hand. "Hey, Kudo," Heiji said softly, turning a serious gaze to the diminutive detective, "Ever have one of those really bad gut feelings?"
Conan returned his gaze with a heavy stare of his own. He tightened his fist around the shard of glass in his hand. "Let's go, Hattori." Heiji nodded and nearly ran for the door with Conan running just behind him.
'My arms hurt,' was Kazuha's first thought in a rather muddled sense that tried to call itself consciousness. A little concentration centered the pain in her shoulders and wrists. Her entire body felt heavy and lethargic and her eyelids felt weighed down almost too difficult to lift. An experimental twitch of her fingers was an immediate mistake when the painful pricks of a thousand pins and needles started traveling from her fingertips and down her arms towards her elbows. Her eyes flew open and she gasped in pain… or tried to. She nearly choked when her attempted intake of breath was blocked by the cloth tightly gagging her mouth. Kazuha gathered her shaky legs under her more out of instinct to relieve the pain in her arms than any conscious realization that she had been hanging from her wrists for who knows how long. A wet sounding 'clunk' focused her sluggish attention to the three-foot high line of fresh brickwork rising a good two feet away from her across the mouth of one of the stone archways she had seen earlier.
"Waking up I see. Well that didn't last nearly as long as the others," a familiar cold voice stated.
Kazuha stared at the fuzzy mass of color past the bricks while her eyes protested the adjustment of near to far. Takemoto put down his cement trowel and pulled loose one of the lit torches bordering the archway, tossing it between her feet and the brick wall. The gag muffled her shriek as she tried to scramble away from the flames only to be stopped by the manacles holding her wrists tightly to the wall. "Take care not to put that torch out. It'll soon be your only light," Takemoto grinned sadistically from his side of the wall. "You know you really should do something about your naivety… too late now I suppose. But I do thank you for contributing to my collection. You'll be my last addition for the season seeing as summer is nearly over."
Kazuha glared at him, too angry with the man and herself to be properly frightened yet. She yanked violently at the metal manacles holding her arms back from tearing the man apart. Takemoto chuckled to himself as he went back to laying fresh bricks on the wall while Kazuha did her best to growl every insult and curse word she could think of despite the gag preventing them from being understandable. If it weren't for the torch flames, she would have tried kicking him.
"I do so love the feisty ones," he grinned wickedly, "They never start screaming until just before they run out of light."
She held her glare on him. There was no way she was going to give him the satisfaction of seeing her scared. 'Heiji will find me,' she told herself, willing herself to calm down. 'Just stay calm and make sure you can stay alive until you're found.' She looked past her captor to the closed arch at the end of the aisle across from her knowing all too well now what was behind the wall.
The layers of brick were now to her shoulders and Takemoto seemed to have skipped a brick and begun his next layer leaving a gap in the previous layer. The inklings of a plan sprouted in the back of her mind and she focused her vision down at the torch so as not to give away her rebellious thoughts. 'Don't look up. Make him think you gave up.' Her entire plan would depend on him leaving as soon as possible. If he stayed too long to see if she tried anything, her idea would certainly fail. The wall was high enough now that most of the heat from the torch was staying trapped in the archway alcove. The smoke was still escaping but once the last brick was placed, she would be fighting the clock to push the brick back out before the torch smoke suffocated her while the flames ate away the last of the oxygen. The current layer was now high enough to hide her face and she focused her gaze on the hole. 'I can do this. Everything will be just fine.' The last layer of bricks at the keystone of the arch slid in place.
"Well, my dear, it's time for me to say goodbye to you," Takemoto laughed darkly, "It's been a pleasure." He slid the last brick into its slot, hammering it into place with the back of his trowel.
Instantly the smoke started collecting in the alcove. Kazuha held her breath and counted to herself. She hadn't expected the adrenaline surge of panic when the last brick was placed and she fought the temptation to act immediately focusing her attention on slowing her panicked need for more air. If she was heard trying to escape before he was back upstairs, he'd make sure she couldn't try again.
By the time she had counted two minutes, she was fighting to keep from coughing; and by the time she had counted five she was starting to feel dizzy. 'Now or never.' Kazuha braced her back against the wall behind her. She put a foot against the bricks and pushed her weight into her back and shoulders. Confident in her balance she lifted her other foot against the wall. Her wrists started screaming the minute all her weight was being supported by them but she stubbornly started climbing her legs up to the last brick. The rising heat from the considerably dimmer torch scalded her bare legs and the higher she went, the more her restraints bit into her wrists but she bit into her gag and kept climbing until she could dig the low heels of her sandals into the hardened clay of the right brick.
'Please don't be dry!' she pleaded silently.
With an agonized scream that made her dizzy, she pushed into the brick and felt the left side of it slide a centimeter. She readjusted her feet and tried again. The right side slid this time before getting stuck. Kazuha was starting to see black spots in front of her eyes and the dizziness was beginning to make her feel giddy, gasping in the thinning air. The flames flickered softly under her legs.
'Come on, just a little more…'
She braced herself for one last push and this time the brick realigned itself and started moving easily out of its slot. The torch flickered one last time and stilled into subdued orange embers just as the brick hit the stone floor in a booming echo and Kazuha's legs slid boneless down the wall. She gasped for breath in the thin air. It felt like she was falling only there was no stop at the end.
'stay awake, stay awake, stay… awa…'
Heiji and Conan nearly collided with Ran on the narrow bridge that spanned the river between the Kudo and Shiratori villas. Heiji grabbed Ran's arm to steady her, "'Neechan, where's Kazuha? Was she with you?"
"What's going on?" Ran asked slightly overwhelmed, "We were just… umm… running a few err-…"
"Ran-neechan, we already know about the broken wine," Conan interrupted, "Where did Kazuha-neechan go? She won't answer her phone."
"I sent her back to the villa. Her feet were cut by the glass. Do you think she might be in trouble?" Ran fretted, looking across the river to the sprawling mansion.
"'Neechan." Heiji gave her the slightest of shakes to bring her focus back, "Go back to Shiratori-keibu's place and get them to come help us look. We'll start looking at Kudo's." Heiji didn't wait long enough for her answer, taking off running again.
"And turn your phone on," Conan added before running after Heiji.
"Kazuha! Answer me, you aho!" Heiji ran through the first floor of the villa opening every door from bathrooms to closets. He could vaguely hear Conan doing the same upstairs. With every empty room he felt a growing sense of dread. 'Where are you, Kazuha?' He stopped in the kitchen and stared out the window across the lawn to the rose garden labyrinth. He ran for the front door. "Kudo! I'm heading next door! Maybe that guy saw where she went!" he shouted up the stairs.
"Hattori, wait! I'm coming with you," Conan called after him. Heiji waited just long enough to see Conan reach the top of the stairs before heading out the door. Conan caught up with him halfway across the Takemoto estate's front garden. Heiji pounded on the door and leaned on the frame to catch his breath. "Are you okay?" Conan asked joining him.
"Not used… to this… thin air," Heiji gasped out before pounding on the door again. The door opened just when he was about to knock for a third time. The older gentleman flinched at the raised fist in his face.
"Can I help you?" Takemoto asked the two boys on his front stoop with a cross glare. Heiji glared back at the inhospitable tone in his voice.
"Sorry to intrude, but have you seen our friend Kazuha-neechan," Conan asked in full innocent child mode, stepping in front of Heiji.
"One of the young ladies who was here this morning? I saw her earlier when I was gardening a few hours ago," Takemoto supplied smoothly, Conan narrowed his eyes at the man watching him closely. "She asked directions to reach town."
"Thanks, Ossan," Heiji replied grudgingly and turned to leave.
Down at his knee's level, Conan focused his gaze on an odd shine he had caught, glinting in the carpet, and stepped side to side trying to catch the light and find it again. Spying the shine once more, he darted after the light.
"What's this shiny thing stuck in the carpet?" came Conan's voice from behind Takemoto. Takemoto paled realizing the tiny child had slipped inside the house without him noticing.
Heiji froze and spun on his heels, back at the door in a flash. He gripped the doorframe tightly when he focused on what Conan was holding… a small piece of brown glass. He met Conan's sharp gaze and for one of the few times in his life, he was too choked up to say anything as his focus narrowed onto the tiny piece of glass in Conan's fingers. His stomach clenched and he felt like he was falling… but he wasn't falling, he was spinning around and his arm was catching the forty-something man by the throat and pinning him against the front door. Conan was calling his name but he honestly couldn't say if it was in surprise or anger… and he really didn't care. "Where. Is. She?!" he ground out.
Takemoto pulled uselessly at the arm holding him against the door, the hand closed tight at his neck. "Afraid… I don't… recall," he answered in a light gasp under the increasing pressure of Heiji's grip on his throat. He had a hint of smirk about him despite his current position.
Heiji was pulling back his fist when Takemoto slumped in his hold and he was forced to let go with the sudden added weight. He turned a savage glare on Conan who was snapping his watch closed. "Kudo!"
"Knock it off, Hattori!" Conan snapped at him angrily. "Finding Kazuha is more important than your damn temper! Even if I agree."
Heiji's eyes widened in realization of what he had nearly done, looking away from Conan's chastising glare to the prone body of the man on the floor. He bent over double griping his knees and drew in several deep steadying breaths, trying to force the angry energy from his body. "You're right… I'm sorry Kudo, you're right." He straightened somewhat shakily and looked around the large foyer. "I'll start looking upstairs, you take this floor. I really don't think I can handle being on the same floor as this bastard right now."
"Fair enough," Conan answered, watching him closely. "I'll call Takagi-keiji to bring everyone."
"Kudo, thanks," he waited just long enough for Conan to give him a nod and started up the stairs. He looked back once at the top of the stairs in time to see Conan give the unconscious man a vicious kick in the side while dialing his cell phone. He cracked a shaky smile before starting his search.
Conan opened a heavy door to find himself staring down a set of carpeted stairs when his cell rang. He stared at the screen long enough to confirm what he already knew. "Hattori?"
"Kudo, I'm almost done with the third floor. Have ya found anything?" came the detective's tense voice, thick with worry.
"Nothing yet, but I just found the basement," Conan replied. He squinted and tilted his head at an odd glint in the carpet. "Hold on."
"What's going Kudo? Did ya find something?"
Conan dropped onto the carpet and studied the strange powder reflecting in the dim light over the staircase. "Hattori, there's glass dust in the carpet."
"…I'm on my way."
Conan snapped the cell shut and ran down the stairs. The only door at the bottom led him to a cavernous dark wine cellar. Turning on the switch shone dim yellow light into the shadowy aisles of bookcases. He ran along the wall looking down every aisle. "Kazuha-neechan!" He pulled out his phone again and dialed her number listening for any sound at all in the quiet dim room while he ran down the corridor checking each aisle. The last aisle was empty but had another ominous looking heavy door, too heavy for a seven-year-old's strength. It took the use of his suspenders to pry the door open. He shivered in the blast of cold air and stared in surprise at the ancient stone stairs. A snap of his wrist light and he ran headlong down the stairs in the reckless manner only children can manage.
Conan was forced to slow down when the stairs became slick with moisture. The curling corridor had opened into a vast high-ceiling stone room with dusty racks of wine and numerous wine barrels, but what caught his eye was the pile of hardware tools and stacked bricks in the center of the room. In a surge of wide-eyed panic he swung the light around and spotted the neatly bricked up arches in the shadows… many, many arches, surrounding him around the edge of the massive room. "Kazuha-neechan!" he gasped, covering his mouth as the color fell from his face leaving him dizzy. His legs buckled under him and he fell to his knees on the bitingly cold floor. There was little chance oxygen would have lasted long once the archways were shut up and Kazuha had been missing for several hours by now.
He felt sick.
Inside one of the walls, Kazuha had been waiting… desperately… for rescue, and there was surely no way she could have survived long. They were too late… much too late. He sat on the cold stone gasping in short steadying breaths, willing the wave of nausea to pass. He froze when the light of his watch caught the stone staircase. He had left the door in the wine cellar open; it was only a matter of time before Heiji followed him down the crypt stairs. With his stomach clenched in tight knots, he forced himself back to his feet, casting a wild look around at the closed archways.
He opened his phone one last time and re-dialed, the least he could do was find out which arch she was in… before Hattori had to do it himself. Conan closed his eyes and cocked his head forward; waiting for whatever faint sound he could hear through the brick walls. He snapped his eyes open when the 'zzzzzzt, zzzzzzt' sound of a phone on vibrate echoed loudly off the high stone walls. He ran close to the wall that met the high end of the stairs, the first closed arch he saw, and started running the perimeter of the room listening closely. A quick search for the sound source led him to an arch with a single brick missing, a good four and a half feet off the ground. The brick in question lay on the floor, shattered. "Kazuha-neechan, you're brilliant!" Conan gasped aloud staring up at the dark opening in the wall with a giddy grin. He sighed in relief resting his forehead against the cold wall.
"Kudo! Are you down here?" Heiji's voice drifted down the stairs.
"Hattori! I found her!" Conan yelled back. He ran for the brick pile and loaded himself with an armful. He could hear Heiji running down the stairs while he started lining up the bricks on their narrow end in front of the arch.
"Where? Where is she?" Heiji demanded racing up to him after negotiating the slick stairs as quickly as possible. Conan pointed to the wall without looking up from his domino line up. Heiji paled, frozen in place staring at the brick wall for a few precious seconds before rushing past Conan to the arch. "Kazuha! Kazuha, can you hear me?!" he yelled pounding on the wall before he remembered the thin keychain flashlight in his hand. He shone the narrow beam into the open hole left by the missing brick. Inside, dust and what looked like whorls of smoke floated in the air, illuminated by the light, and something reflecting a dim shine with lines of striation he realized after a moment must be hair. "Kazuha! Kazuha, look at me!" he called desperately through the hole, begging… pleading… for some sign of life from the figure inside.
"Move, Hattori!" Conan commanded. Heiji barely had time to move aside before a brick sailed past him at super-accelerated speed and hit the wall with enough force to disintegrate on contact. Thin cracks spider-webbed along the mortar joints from the point of impact. Another brick struck the same spot and the wall cracked loudly, dark thick lines racing from the point of impact, a full clean break.
"No more, Kudo!" Heiji warned standing between Conan and the wall, "The next one might go through the wall and hit her!" Conan nodded and spun his shoe back down. Heiji reached a hand into the open brick slot and pulled. A wedge of wall cracked further and sent rivulets of powdered gravel to the floor. Heiji readjusted his grip, bracing a foot against the wall and tried again. This time the broken section peeled away opening over a fourth of the wall. Heiji coughed in the smoky, dusty air escaping and Conan directed his flashlight beam into the hole where Kazuha hung limply from her wrists against the back wall.
"Kazuha!" Heiji climbed into the hole and wrapped an arm around her waist lifting her weight off her arms. The gag he pulled down to hang around her neck and he crouched down as best he could in the narrow space to put his ear to her heart.
Conan balanced on tip-toe against the lower half of the broken wall. "Is she okay?" he asked in a tight anxious voice.
Heiji nodded silently, his sudden relief robbing him of whatever energy had been sustaining him leaving him to sink down to his knees in the narrow space with his head buried against stomach, his arms wrapped tight around her waist. "Yeah… she's alive," he managed to gasp in a small voice. He hugged her tightly and let out a shaky breath, "She's okay."
Conan nodded once and set his watch on the wall. "I'll find something to break her loose." He purposely ignored his set of kicking bricks and went back to the main pile in the center of the room under the dim light his watch cast in the vast room to give Heiji some privacy.
Heiji lifted his gaze to Kazuha's pale face above him and he gently brushed her bangs away from her face. "Kazuha? Are you awake?"
Kazuha cracked her eyes open a slit. "Hard… to breathe…" Her breath was coming in shallow gasps. She opened her eyes wider, struggling to focus on his face.
"I know. We'll take you to the hospital as soon as we get you out of here," Heiji promised softly, studying her with open worry.
"Heiji… are you… crying?" Kazuha asked softly in a weak voice, her dark green eyes finally managing to catch his. Heiji brought a hand to his cheeks and stared in dull dumbfounded shock when it came away wet.
Conan chose that moment to come up behind him. "Heiji-niichan, here," Conan said quietly handing him a brick. "Are you okay, Kazuha-neechan?" he asked carefully, looking up to her weak gaze. Heiji reached up to smash the lock on the manacles holding her.
Kazuha managed to crack a weak smile for the small boy. "I'll be fine… Conan-kun." The lock broke on the second hit and Kazuha gasped as the manacles dropped their hold on her wrists, her legs too weak to catch herself, and would have crumpled to the floor without Heiji supporting her, a strong arm wrapped tight around her waist. The gasp started her coughing and she curled over Heiji's arm until he caught her with his other arm, abandoning his brick to fall useless to the ground and turning her against his chest where she clung to Heiji weakly until the fit passed, her hands grabbing weak fistfuls of his shirt while she slumped against him.
Heiji secured his grip around her back and dropped down to slip an arm behind her legs, lifting and carrying her out of her prison. "Let's get you out of here. I'm sure 'Neechan's worried," he told her softly, watching Conan back up to give them room. He paused when she didn't answer. "Kazuha?"
"She's out," Conan told him gently before he could panic. "Let her sleep."
Heiji nodded in exhaustion carrying her away from her prison with Conan walking next to them, lighting their way with his watch, to the stone staircase where he slumped against the wall by the stairs. Conan planted himself on the first step, setting his watch a few steps higher, and lay down across it. "I vote we wait for the police here. It'll be too dangerous to carry her up the wet steps," he sighed quietly watching Heiji's absent stare into the room, swallowed by the darkness save their small halo of light at the foot of the stairs.
Heiji nodded distractedly and arranged Kazuha more comfortably in his lap. He buried his fingers in her tangled ponytail and pressed her chilled body against his chest. He could feel every shuddering breath Kazuha took. "We almost didn't make it in time."
It came out as a statement, but Conan understood. "It was almost bad," he agreed cautiously, watching Heiji's empty stare carefully, "but she bought us the time." A scramble of muffled voices above them alerted them of the police's arrival.
"…Kudo… I wanted to hurt that guy… maybe even kill him. I've never been that angry before… or… terrified." Heiji admitted hesitantly. "If you hadn't stopped me… I probably would have done something really stupid," he admitted quietly.
Conan studied his hunched position silently. "I probably would have reacted the same way," he replied finally in a soft voice of his own, "if it had been Ran." He settled back onto his step and listened to the footsteps echoing through the stone. They sat in silence for a moment until Conan spoke up again. "Don't let go of her Hattori. Don't ever lose her again. Not many people get second chances."
Heiji turned his head and caught Conan's… no, Kudo's stern gaze and any of his usual retorts he may have been about to make when lectured about his relationship with Kazuha withered. Before he could think of anything to say, they were flooded by high-intensity police flashlights and wide-eyed, innocent child Conan was back and directing Shiratori and Takagi their way. EMT's approached him carrying a bright yellow backboard and he caught sight of Conan leading Takagi by the hand to the brick and cement pile in the center of the room and gesturing to the many bricked over stone archways. He caught Conan's eyes for a moment and was given a shooing motion. Heiji nodded back in gratitude and followed the EMTs carrying Kazuha up the stairs leaving Conan to handle all explanations.
A careful run on the slick stairs and he caught up with Kazuha. Her limbs were strapped down tightly but he was still able to take hold of her hand. He grinned for the first time in hours when she squeezed his hand back. Kazuha met his eyes with her own exhausted sleep-darkened gaze, and smiled back at him.
'Stay with me?' she mouthed to him.
"Yeah, sure," he grinned back squeezing her hand, "I'm not going anywhere, aho." Kazuha smiled gratefully and drifted back to sleep listening to his footsteps walking next to her.
5,000 yen = 62 dollars
437,783 yen = 5,340 dollars (the price of a palo cortado I found online)
Episodes Referenced: OVA2 – 16 Suspects
Amontillado- n. pl –dos (Sp): a medium dry sherry
Amontillado is a sherry. (shudder) I did not know that. Now I get the joke Poe.
"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me"—
"Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."
Karuizawa, Nagano stands at an elevation of between 8,425 ft (Mt Asama) and 2,620 ft. By comparison, Denver the 'Mile-High City' has an elevation of 5,280 ft. Osaka is practically sea-level thus the troubles Heiji and Kazuha had exerting themselves in the thin mountain air. I figured since Kudo/Conan and Ran had spent more time in Karuizawa than the two Osakans, they were more used to the elevation difference.
I know having Kazuha's phone get service from the bottom of the crypt was a stretch. But my cell (AT&T) got service with no problem inside a bunker built to withstand the radiation of a cold war nuclear strike so I file it under plausible.
I wrote this a year ago, or rather the bare skeleton of this and missed Halloween so it went on a shelf and I kinda forgot about it. Fallout distracted me. But I finally finished it and wound up making it twice as long. I'd say this was driven by my desire to bury someone alive, but that would be creepy ;) Luv ya, Poe. (…and… sorry Kazuha) Mwa Ha Ha! \m/ \ _ / \m/ Happy Halloween Everyone!
Fine wines should be stored at 55F or between 10-15C and should be protected from light, vibration, and the cork should be kept moist so they require a certain level of humidity in their storage. (Encyclopedia Britanica, 2010 Vol.12)
Sherry comes from the province of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. And amontillado is made from Palamino grapes. Its taste comes from flor, a mildew-like yeast on the skin of the grapes which gives it a nutty flavor. It's aged in a solera system where wines of many vintages are blended in a process that matures newer wines and freshens older wines maintaining historical continuity of types. (Encyclopedia Britanica, 2010, Vol.10) Kind of like how sourdough bakeries instill all their batches with a bit of an older dough, passing down the same yeast culture from batch to batch through the years to maintain their signature taste, a solera system does the same with sherry.
A solera has three to eight tiers of barrels with the oldest on the bottom. A date on the sherry bottle or label refers to the year the solera for that sherry began.
Sherry comes in different types depending on what level in the solera system you take it from. From driest to sweetest they follow: fino, manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso, cream, and Pedro Ximenez. A palo cortado is a rare type of amontillado that loses its flor blending fino and oloroso in its taste. It only occurs naturally in 1-2 percent of grape pressings.