A Detective Conan fanfic

by Bill K.

Detective Conan and all related characters are © 2004 by Gosho Aoyama and Shogakukan, Inc, and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is © 2004 by Bill K.

For those only familiar with the English dub, "Case Closed":

Shinichi Kudo-Jimmy Kudo

Ran Mouri-Rachel Moore

Kogoro Mouri-Richard Moore Inspector

Jyuzou Megure-Inspector Meguire

Genta Kojima-George

Mitsuhiko Tsubuaray-Mitch

Ayumi Yoshida-Amy

Sonoko SuzukiSerena -

The phone rang in the Mouri Detective Agency offices. Since Kogoro was too hung over to answer it, Ran put her books down and walked over to the desk. Sighing, she picked up the phone.

"Mouri Detective Agency," she answered in her soft, lovely voice. "Hello, Ran," came the voice on the phone. She instantly recognized it as Inspector Megure. "Is your father available - - or is he drunk again?"

Ran was grateful the inspector couldn't see her grimace with embarrassment. Conan could, though, and smothered a grin. Knowing Ran's reactions by heart, he knew she must have gotten an embarrassing question about her father.

"Um, I wouldn't call it 'drunk' per se, Inspector," Ran alibied weakly. "He's - - resting."

"That's one word for it," Conan thought. "A better word might be comatose."

"Well wake him up," growled Megure. "I need his help."

Just then Kogoro shifted in his chair. With his feet propped up on his desk, that sent the chair out of balance. It toppled backwards, spilling the great detective onto the floor on his back, amid an anxious squeal from Ran and snickers from Conan. Jarred from his sleep,
Kogoro looked up at his daughter, dazed.

"Um, phone, Dad," Ran offered lamely. "It's Inspector Megure."

"Mouri?" the gruff policeman rumbled. "I need your advice on a case that's frankly got me bothered. Think you could drop by the station this afternoon. I want to get a fresh vision on this - - see if there's something I'm missing." He added sarcastically. "That is if you can pull yourself away from the 'important case' you're working on now."

"I'd be delighted to drop by, Inspector," Kogoro replied, puffing out his chest. "I always love helping the police when a case has them baffled."

"Thanks, Mouri," scowled the inspector. "You're a prince."

"The inspector has a case he wants you to look over?" Conan said, trying to angle invitations for himself and Ran.

"He does," Kogoro said, scowling at Conan. "I suppose you want to tag along?"

"Sure! Wouldn't that be nice, Ran-nee-chan?"

"I'm sure it would be, Conan-kun," Ran replied apologetically. "But I've got classes today and I can't spare the time. But you can go with Dad by yourself."

"And why would I want him tagging along?" Kogoro asked. "I only tolerate him when you're there to ride herd."

"Because I can't take him to school with me," Ran scowled, her eyelids at a menacing half-mast, "and if you don't take him, you'll have to hire a sitter, big spender."

Kogoro sighed in disgust.

"Come on, kid, let's go," he grumbled. "But stay out of my way or I'll have Megure lock you up and throw away the key."

"Careful you don't show too much love and affection," Conan thought as he followed Kogoro out the door. "You'll ruin your reputation."

"These are the facts as we currently know them," Inspector Megure began. He was sitting at his desk, Kogoro sitting across from him while Conan stood off to the side. A manila folder was open, displaying pictures from the crime scene and transcripts of witness testimony. "Reika Hasegawa, nineteen, found dead in her apartment on 11 March at 2:52 p.m. Coroner's official cause of death asphyxiation by strangulation. Approximate time of death 12:30 to one p.m."

"Hmm, she looked like she was pretty before somebody worked her over," Kogoro commented. He was looking at crime scene photos of the body. Conan surreptitiously looked at them from behind him. "Suspects?"

"Two," Megure replied. "Kazuhiro Hime, twenty - - he was going out with the victim,
had been for several months. He was seen visiting the apartment at about one p.m. The other person there was Masayuki Tadano, nineteen, a classmate of hers at the university. He was seen at her door about 12:45 p.m."

"This Kazuhiro Hime," Kogoro posed. "He wouldn't be any relation to Tadakeshi Hime, the billionaire electronics mogul, would he?"

"His son, as a matter of fact," Megure answered. "And don't think I haven't had THAT FACT impressed into my skull by Hime-san and his son. Hime-san wants my badge just for even considering his precious son is a suspect."

"What do the two suspects have to say for themselves?" Kogoro asked. Megure handed him the transcripts.

"Tadano claims he visited the victim to return her notes from a class that he'd borrowed. He said she was depressed about something and he tried to cheer her up. Then Hime busted in,
accused Tadano and Hasegawa of cheating on him. Tadano was knocked unconscious in a struggle with Hime and claims he woke up behind a dumpster behind the apartment building. That's where officers found him."

"Did he have any bruises or marks indicating he had been in a fight?" Conan chirped up.

"Several," Megure replied, handing over a mug shot of Tadano. There were scratches and bruising on the youth's face and his hair and clothing were rumpled. "He'd been in a struggle with someone, that's for sure."

"What's Hime's story?" asked Kogoro.

"He claims when he arrived, he heard screams and a struggle. He burst in and found Tadano had strangled Hasegawa while trying to rape her. Hime chased Tadano down the back stairs of the building, but lost him. Confused and in shock, he went home and was advised by his father not to say anything for fear of bad publicity."

"What a warm human being," Conan thought. "A woman is killed and all he can think of is bad publicity."

"Was she sexually assaulted?" Kogoro asked.

"Clothing is intact and there's no indication of penetration," Megure reported. "Doesn't mean Tadano didn't try, though."

"Did the other man have any marks on him?" Conan asked. Kogoro did a slow burn.

"None," Megure said. "We even checked his hands for abrasions, since Tadano claimed Hime assaulted him. Nothing. All the physical evidence points to Tadano killing the girl during an attempted sexual assault. We've even got two witnesses who swear they heard two men running down the back stairwell about one in the afternoon - - right about when the murder took place. They barely know each other, so there's little chance of collusion. It looks open and shut."

"Just what I was thinking," Kogoro replied. "I don't see the problem."

"The problem is it doesn't feel right," scowled Megure. "If you'd met these two birds,
you'd know what I mean. Tadano has a spotless record. Never been in trouble with the law. Straight 'A' student in business economics. Soft spoken, polite, mannerly - - he's the type of kid you dream your daughter would fall in love with."

"Yeah, instead of smart-ass know-it-all amateur detectives," groused Kogoro. Conan shot him an acid glare.

"Hime, on the other hand, is a spoiled party rat with a colossal ego and a violent temper. He's had four dust-ups with the law in the last two years, including two for battery, all smoothed over by his father's money. And he knows it, so he's got an attitude." Megure sighed. "Maybe my objectivity has been colored by the fact that I very strongly dislike both this smart-ass little punk and his arrogant father. That's why I need another opinion, Mouri. I don't want to send the wrong man up - - but I don't want to let the wrong man go, either."

"OK, I'll talk to them both," Kogoro shrugged. "While you call Hime back in, I'll go down to the lock-up and talk to Tadano." Kogoro got up and headed for the door. Before Conan could follow him, though, Kogoro turned back to Inspector Megure. "Um, could you look after HIM for a while? I don't think the lock-up is any place for a kid."

"Sure, Mouri," huffed Megure.

Sighing in frustration, Conan climbed up on a chair and began sifting through the crime scene photos.

"From the looks of the bruising, the killer was right handed," Conan thought. "The clothes are twisted, consistent with a struggle. Nothing else here that points to one or the other story being true."

He picked up the mug shot of Tadano.

"Scratches on his face would indicate a struggle with a woman rather than a man," he pondered. "And one big bruise on his jaw. That would indicate a punch, perhaps from a man - -
although it doesn't rule out a woman. I've seen Ran in action!"

Looking closer, Conan noticed something about the bruise on Tadano's jaw. Quickly he retrieved the photo of the victim's face.

"Inspector," Conan asked suddenly. "Did Hime-san ride a motorcycle?"

"Yes," Megure replied. "In fact, one of his dust-ups was for reckless operation of a motorcycle and fleeing police. But how did you know that?"

"Oh, um," Conan began, "well, you described him as sort of rebellious. Don't all rebels ride motorcycles?"

Satisfied, Megure went back to calling the Hime residence. Conan sat back in the chair.

"It's not proof yet," Conan thought, "but it's pointed me in the right direction."

The elder Hime put down the phone. His dour look caught his son's attention.

"What's up, Pop?" young Hime snickered. "Lose another million in the stock market?"

"That was the police," the elder Hime scowled. "They want you back in for more questioning."

"Hey, they got nothing!" Kaz sneered. "I'm not afraid!"

"You're not very bright, either!"

"That fat Megure already tried to break me once! Bring him on!"

"Megure has called in a specialist," Hime glared. "Kogoro Mouri."

"That detective that's on TV all the time?" Kaz replied, his bravado shrinking. "You think he could find something?"

"Actually, I think he could help cement the case for your innocence," Hime smiled a predatory smile. He reached for his phone. "I just have to make a call first."

Ran turned and waved back to Sonoko as she skipped down the steps of school. Her book-bag was draped over her shoulder and her skirt blew up in the faint breeze. Though the weather was warming, it was still March and the breeze was cooler than she liked. Ran was suddenly thankful for the sweater vest that came with her school's uniform. There would be a break period in a month and Ran could use it. Being a surrogate mother to both Conan and her dad didn't always leave her time to study and this final was a crucial one. But she felt confident in her ability to handle it.

And so did Conan. For some strange reason, that made her feel good.

"Guess I'm growing attached to him," she smiled. "He's like the little brother I never had."

Checking traffic, Ran looked to see if she could make it across the street without going to the corner. That would save her about a minute and give her that much more time to catch the commuter train home. To her annoyance, traffic was too heavy to try it. Then she felt a man jostle her from behind.

"Hey, watch it!" Ran started to protest.

Then she felt the gun in her back.

"Get into the car," the man said softly. "Don't cause a disturbance."

Swallowing with a suddenly dry throat, Ran looked around. A dark four-door Toyota was up by the curb just off to their right. Her assailant was herding her toward it. Ran glanced around for some other alternative, but all she could see as her options were to comply or be shot. Reluctantly she opened the door and slid inside the back seat of the Toyota, her assailant right behind her. As the car sped off, the man beside her shoved Ran's head to the seat.

"Hey!" she barked. The gun dug into her back again.

"Quiet!" he snapped. "Hands behind your back!"

This was getting worse every moment. With no other option, Ran complied. She heard tape pull from a roll and felt its sticky embrace wrap around her wrists several times, pinning her hands palm to palm. Another strip pulled away and roughly slapped over her lips, sealing her mouth shut.

Her captor was leaning over her, smoothing the tape down. That gave Ran the opening she'd been hoping for. Whipping her head back, she felt the top of her skull make contact with her assailant's nose. As he howled in pain, Ran shot her elbows back and connected with his ribs. It wasn't as hard a blow as she'd hoped, but it gave her a chance. Focusing her energy as she had been trained to do, Ran let loose with a kick that burst the back driver's side door open. But before she could lunge out the door, a thick forearm hooked across her throat and pulled Ran down to the floorboard.

"Wildcat, huh?"her assailant roared. He planted a knee between Ran's shoulder blades,
painfully pinning her to the floor. "This'll fix you!"

Capturing Ran's flailing legs, the man pinned them together and taped her ankles. Ran fought and squirmed beneath him, but he had a weight and leverage advantage on her. Bending her legs back, the man wound tape around her ankles two more times, then extended the tape to her wrists. One pass around her wrists followed, then he wound the tape roll around the strip between her wrists and ankles to reinforce it.

"Mmmmmph!" Ran squealed as she was painfully bent back.

Finally he got up from atop Ran and sat back on the back seat. Ran tried to get up, but wedged in the tight space as she was and hogtied, it was an unsuccessful effort.

"You finally got her?" the driver asked sarcastically.

"Just drive," spat the man in back, dabbing at the blood coming from his nose.

Inspector Megure escorted Kogoro and Conan out of the interrogation room. He didn't want to speak to them in front of Hime Senior, Hime Junior or the attorney Hime Senior had brought with them. Out in the hall he turned to Kogoro.

"Well Mouri?" he asked. "What do you think?"

"I think you're right in not liking either one of those arrogant S.O.B.'s," Kogoro frowned.

"At least he figured that out by himself," Conan grinned smugly to himself. "I wonder if he noticed the motorcycle gloves Junior was playing with? The open circles around the knuckles are a perfect match for the bruising pattern on both the victim and on Tadano. I wouldn't be surprised to find trace skin or blood samples of one or both of them still on the leather." He looked up at Kogoro. The man seemed nervous and edgy, like he was being pinned down to something and didn't want to be. "Oh well, if it looks like Kogoro is about to make the wrong conclusion, I can always nudge him in the right direction."

"I didn't need you to tell me that," scowled Megure. "Should I continue investigating or charge Tadano?"

Kogoro's brow knit. Conan immediately noticed it, as well as the rigid posture and the way he stared straight ahead instead of looking Megure in the eye. Alarms started going off in the boy's head.

"Charge Tadano," Kogoro replied with obvious distaste.

"You're sure?" Megure asked. He noticed Kogoro's behavior, too.

"I can't see any evidence that implicates Hime."

"But what about the bruises . . ." Conan began. Kogoro angrily whirled on him.

"DROP IT, BRAT!" he raged. "There is NO EVIDENCE linking Hime to this case!" With that, he stalked off down the hall. Conan and Megure stared after him, stunned.

"OK, Kogoro," Conan thought, flipping open his watch to take aim at the man. "I guess it's time for another one of your famous sleeping deductions."

But at the last moment, Conan hesitated. This wasn't Kogoro being his usual pompous,
stubborn self. Something else was at work here. Kogoro turned down another hall and Conan went after him.

He found Kogoro in an isolated area of the precinct by a window. His cell phone was out and he was listening to someone speak. Conan crept up silently, trying to hear anything Kogoro said.

"OK, I did what you said," Kogoro said bitterly. "Now let Ran go."

"Ran?" Conan gasped silently. "Is that why Kogoro said there was no evidence? Does someone have Ran hostage?"

"The trial could be months away!" Kogoro spat into the phone. "I won't change my story! Listen, you . . .!"

Kogoro pulled the phone from his ear, indicating he'd been hung up on. Angrily he shoved the phone back into his jacket. He turned to leave - - and spotted Conan staring at him dumbfounded.

"How much did you hear?" Kogoro demanded.

"Did someone kidnap Ran?" Conan asked fearfully, as if vocalizing the very thought would make the worst come true. Kogoro glared at him, gnashing his teeth in frustration.

"Why else do you think I said that?" he asked. "That little punk is not only guilty, he's proud of it. It was all I could do to keep from smashing his face into the table in there." Kogoro sagged against the window. "I got a call before he came in. They've got Ran."


"They didn't leave a name. But I'm sure old man Hime pays their salaries. They said if I ever wanted to see Ran alive again, I had to implicate Tadano."

"And you did it?"

"Tadano doesn't mean anything to me! Ran does!" snapped Kogoro. "Tadano's just some poor stiff who was in the wrong place at the wrong time! What was I supposed to do, let Ran die for him?"

Conan didn't reply. Given the same circumstances, he wasn't sure he'd make a different choice. Then Kogoro seized him by the shoulders.

"Now you don't tell ANYBODY about this, got me?" Kogoro told him emphatically. "If anyone finds out, especially Megure, then Ran is DEAD! So keep your mouth shut!"

"Y-You're going to look for her, aren't you?" Conan asked.

"Of course I am," Kogoro said. "You think I'm going to trust that Hime bastard to give me back my daughter safe and sound? I wasn't born yesterday. People like Ran don't mean a thing to people like him. The only thing that matters to him is his son. Well, the only thing that matters to me is my daughter. And if he's hurt her, he's going to find out just how dirty Kogoro Mouri can play."

Kogoro got up and headed for the door.

"Sorry I can't run you home, kid," he tossed over his shoulder. "I've got work to do."

"That's OK, Kogoro," Conan thought with a steely gaze. "I've got work to do, too. Looks like this is going to be a bigger mystery to solve than I first thought."

Ran's head sagged back against the wooden post. Part of the reason was fatigue, but an equal part was frustration. She was lonely and afraid and despite all of her efforts so far she wasn't any closer to freedom.

Her kidnappers had driven her to a garage. She hadn't seen where but it was a long way from school, in a vaguely east/southeast direction. Remembering something Shinichi had once told her about estimating location while blind, she guessed that she was in the economically depressed thirty-third district.

Once inside the garage, the two men roughly hauled her out of the back seat. They didn't cover their faces and Ran got a good look at both. One was a laborer type with a bowling ball head shaved of hair save for some black stubble. He was stout and gruff, nearly forty and,
to Ran's thinking, perhaps someone who had fallen on hard times during the recent bust in the Japanese economy. The other man was younger, about thirty-five. He was slick and confident,
almost arrogant in his toughness. He was a former school tough, probably a failed Yakuza tough and, at thirty-five, at a crossroads in his life that he didn't know how to handle and hid behind a tough guy exterior. The dried blood under his nose gave Ran a moment of satisfaction.

Then she remembered that it probably wasn't a good idea that she'd seen their faces.

Still, the wisdom of Shinichi Kudo kept intruding on her thoughts, drowning out the terror she already felt. Ran looked around, memorizing her surroundings. It had been a small auto garage once. Now it was empty, bereft of everything but a few fixtures the previous tenant didn't feel worth taking. The room was old and dusty, dank and stale from disuse. The floor had the occasional spot of long dried grease or oil, but was otherwise old cement. There were three doors in the room and a large bay door to shuttle cars in and out. One door led to the outside. A second led to a shadowed, seedy office. The third was padlocked.

With a hand under each arm, the men dragged her across the floor and up to the smaller back room. Ran squirmed in their grip, but it was a futile effort. The padlock was opened and the hasp pulled away. Behind the door was an empty store room with a wooden post near the back and empty bins that probably once stored auto parts. Ran was dragged into the room and backed up against the post.

The tape was cut from around Ran's wrists. Immediately the laborer grabbed her arms and bent them behind the post, a four-by-twelve with peeling gray paint. Ran's wrists were bound together palm to palm with thin cotton cord that cut painfully into her skin. Ran squealed through her gag, but was ignored. When the cords were cinched and knotted, the pair repeated the process on her elbows. This drew her arms further behind the post and her back pressed against the unyielding wood.

"I wouldn't have tied you up so tight if you hadn't given me so much grief," the tough sneered at Ran.

Ran responded by bracing her arms and back against the post and lashing out with her still taped legs. The tough barely avoided her kick, then seized her around the calves. While Ran struggled to pull free, he cut the tape away and rebound her ankles with rope, taking extra delight to pull the cord until it dug into Ran's skin. Then he put her feet on the floor and anchored the rope around the base of the post twice before tying it off.

"MMMMMMPH!" Ran snarled impotently, pulling against her bindings.

"Quiet down!" the tough growled, jabbing his finger into Ran's chest. "You're going to be here for a while, Honey! Now as long as you cooperate and your dad cooperates, you might just get out of this in one piece!"

Ran stopped struggling. How was her father involved in this? Was she being held hostage to force him to do something? A sick dread swept through her body.

"But you keep giving me trouble and I'm going to lose my temper," he continued. For emphasis, he pressed his body up against hers. There was no place for Ran to go, no way to move away from him and the intrusion was very intimidating. Though she tried to put up a brave front, Ran felt very vulnerable.

Then the two men turned and went out the door. The door closed behind them, plunging Ran into a dimly lit gloom. She heard the lock click back into place on the hasp. Desperately she flung herself against her bonds, straining to break or pull loose. After a while, though, she realized the futility of her actions.

Ran's head sagged back against the wooden post. Part of the reason was fatigue, but an equal part was frustration. She was lonely and afraid and despite all of her efforts so far she wasn't any closer to freedom.

Sneaking into Inspector Megure's office, Conan used his phone to dial up the city records division. Using his bowtie vocal mimicry device to imitate Megure's voice, Conan called the records division up and demanded a listing of all property in the city owned by Tadakeshi Hime personally and by all known companies and subsidiaries to be e-mailed to his computer. Next he called the city tax division and demanded a listing of all on-going businesses in the city subject to tax assessment. Finally he called the police records division and demanded a list of all known felons with kidnapping priors. Then he sat back and examined Kaz Hime's record again.

He didn't have long. Inspector Megure entered the office unexpectedly.

"What are you doing here, Conan?" Megure asked.

"Um, Mouri-san had to leave and couldn't take me home," Conan alibied. "I couldn't find you, so I waited here."

"Need a lift, huh?" Megure smiled as he sat down at his desk. "I'll run you home. Give me a few minutes." He snorted. "That Mouri - - I can't figure him sometimes. How's a guy who's so brilliant be such a jerk? It's almost like he's two people."

"How about that?" Conan smirked as he aimed his watch. A dart shot out and hit Megure. The inspector slumped over. Conan just had time to scurry behind the chair before a records clerk entered.

"Put it on the desk," Conan said in Megure's voice. "Thanks."

After the clerk left, Conan hopped up on Megure's lap. He brought up the inspector's e-
mail program. The file from the tax division was there, but nothing yet from the records division. Conan turned his attention to the mug files.

"Tokyo's a pretty big haystack to find a single needle in," he thought as he leafed through the files, "especially with so little evidence to go on. I wish I'd been there to get a look at the kidnappers, or even the area she was abducted from. I might have seen something significant. All I can go by now is what little I have."

He glanced at the computer screen. Still no message.

"I know they didn't have much time to plan for this, so she's probably being held in a place Hime has control of or in a place controlled by someone he trusts. That would indicate a property he owns, most likely, but something remote or abandoned to reduce the possibility of Ran being spotted. And it would have to be something that couldn't be directly linked to him. It would have to be a commercial or industrial site because there are so few abandoned residences because of the Japanese housing shortage. It would only be a residence if it belonged to the kidnapper himself."

Conan studied the first file, looking for something that would make him a suspect.

"But how would he get Ran in and out without being spotted? There are so few remote places in Tokyo - - if she's still in Tokyo. If she's not, this is going to be a lot harder. No, they haven't had time to transport her out of the city. She's in Tokyo."

Looking over the mug files, Conan separated them into piles by whether they were likely suspects or not. Occasionally he would glance at the mail program, waiting for a particular message. By the time he had fifteen possible suspects, the e-mail appeared.

"Great!" Conan thought, opening the file. "I'll just cross-reference this with the tax file,
eliminating all properties owned by Hime that have on-going businesses in them. What's left should be possible hideouts where the kidnappers are keeping Ran."

Seconds later a list popped up with fifteen different properties in Tokyo that were currently unoccupied. All were either storefronts, warehouses, industrial sites or other empty commercial properties. Conan scowled.

"The recession has been harder on Hime's interests than I thought," the boy mused. "There's no way I could search all of these properties in time. If they plan to hold Ran's safety over Kogoro long-term, they'll probably want to move her out of the city to avoid detection. I've got to narrow this list down before they can do that. Think, Shinichi."

Suddenly Conan's eyes popped with inspiration.

"The phone!" he thought. "The kidnappers were in contact with Kogoro by phone! And old man Hime has to be relaying instructions to them by phone, too! It's all happened too quickly for a meeting! All I have to do is obtain Hime's phone records and match them to the properties on this . . . !"

Conan stopped and frowned.

"Wait," he thought. "If they're in an empty commercial site, there won't be working phones there. The kidnapper must be using a cell phone - - and cell phones aren't tied to particular properties."

Conan thought some more. Then he reached for Megure's rolodex.

"Still, it's a lead," Conan thought. "It might not lead me to where Ran is, but it'll lead me to who took her. Once I know that, it might just lead me to where he's got her."

Finding the number of Megure's contact at the phone company, Conan dialed the number and requested the phone records of all numbers listed to Tadakeshi Hime, cellular and land line,
for the last 24 hours. So used to dealing with Megure, the man assumed a subpoena was coming and e-mailed the records of all calls and the person listed on that number. The moment they arrived, Conan looked them over. His eyes locked on one name.

"Masayuki Honda!" he whispered, rifling through the mug files he'd set aside. "Here it is! Five arrests, two convictions for battery and kidnapping - - he's been out on parole for three years and currently works for Rising Sun Realty as a property manager." Conan quickly went back to the tax records. "Rising Sun is one of Hime's holdings. Something tells me Honda does more than just manage properties."

Returning to his list of empty properties, Conan scanned the list, looking at the addresses in particular.

"This empty auto garage is the nearest property to Ran's school," Conan saw. Quickly he went on the internet and pulled up the Rising Sun Realty page, consulting their virtual listings. The garage was one of the listings. "Seems like the most likely place to look. I'd better get going! There's no telling how long it'll take them to decide to move Ran!"

Conan pushed off of Megure's lap, taking the Honda file with him. A few minutes later,
Megure began to stir. He sat up in his chair and surveyed his desk and computer.

"Now where in the Hell did this mess come from?" the inspector wondered aloud.

Ran heaved a sigh of frustration and continued to try to squirm out of the coils holding her wrists behind the wooden post. All sense of time was lost to her. She didn't know how long she'd been in this cramped storage closet. It had been a while, because her arms and shoulders ached and her wrists were painfully chafed. The empty feeling in her stomach made her think it had been at least a few hours.

She was fighting the fear that had been steadily seeping into her. The darkness and her helplessness helped the fear, though - - fear of death, fear of never being free again, fear of the agony her father was going through right now. And Conan - - poor little Conan must be distraught. And then there was Shinichi - - how would he take it? With every passing moment,
the fear grew stronger within her, making her desperate, robbing her of rational thought, turning her more and more into an animal bent on only one thing: escape! Ran could feel her heart hammering in her chest and her bound limbs tremble.

A sound pierced the silent gloom of her prison. Ran froze, voices in the back of her brain whispering that time was up, that she'd run out of chances to escape. The door opened, revealing the older, stockier of her kidnappers. He held a bowl of rice in his hand. Gruffly he approached the captive girl and brought his hand up to the tape over her mouth.

"Don't scream or you go hungry," he warned her. Cautiously he pulled the tape back from Ran's mouth. She kept silent, but the scowl on her face told him she wasn't happy.

"How long are you going to keep me here?" Ran demanded - - quietly.

"As long as we're told to," he replied. The man dipped the spoon into the rice - - a spoon was easier in this case than chopsticks - - and held it up to Ran's mouth.

"Why are you holding me?" Ran continued, ignoring the rice. "What does it have to do with my father?"

"Shut up and eat," the man growled.

"Why? Am I going to be captive that long?"

"Could be."

"You can't keep me here! It's not right!"

"Eat or go hungry! Just stop wasting my time!"

"Wasting your time? You kidnap me, tie me up in this filthy garage, use me to blackmail my father . . .!"

"Shut up and eat!" the man snapped.

Ran's response was to bite the knuckle below the man's thumb. Spoon and bowl crashed to the floor as the man jerked his hand away. His response was to backhand Ran. The sudden blow stunned the girl momentarily.

The sound of tape pulling away from a roll pierced Ran's momentary haze. Before she could react, she felt the strip stretch across her mouth and press down, sealing it. The girl let out a muffled howl of frustration as a thick hand smoothed the tape down. Once free of the hand, she shook in impotent fury, quaking with rage in the confines of her bonds.

Without a word, the stocky man turned and exited the storage room. The door slammed shut and the telltale sound of the lock reinserting into the hasp echoed in the silent darkness. Ran gave another furious tug against the ropes holding her, then sagged against the post.

"Brilliant, Ran," she thought, panting as she tried to get enough air through her nose. "Exactly what did that accomplish?"

The silence of the room and the throb of her wrists and elbows were her only reply.

Outside the room, the man massaged his thumb in pain. Risking a look, he grimaced. The bite marks were deep - - her incisors had even managed to pierce the skin. Scowling, the man glanced venomously back at the storage closet. Maybe this wasn't worth the money after all. Sure, times were tough and Yuki paid well, but maybe he'd let the money and his desperation blind him to what he was doing. Now the victim was fighting back - - maybe that was a sign to get out while he could.

"No," he muttered to himself. "This should all be over in a few hours. Then I'll get my money and get back to being a respectable person again."

He heard the door and turned nervously. However, it was only Yuki.

"What's the matter?" Yuki smirked. "Get too close to the wildcat?"

"She bit me!" grumbled the man. "I was just trying to feed her and she bit me!"

"Let her go hungry," Yuki snickered. "That'll take some of the bite out of her."

"You contact the man?"


"Well why did it take so long? You've been gone a while!"

"Had to set something up first. Besides it was hard. Damn cell phone kept cutting out. Maybe I need new batteries or something."

"Never mind that. How soon until we turn her loose?"

"Not for a while yet," Yuki replied, surprised by the line of questioning.

"A while yet? I thought we were just going to grab her for a few hours! You said . . .!"

"I didn't say anything of the kind!" snapped Yuki. "We're holding her as long as we have to - - and that looks like it's going to be a few months at least."


"Yeah, so we're going to have to move her - - now." He glanced at his partner. "You got a problem with that?"

"Yeah, I got a big problem with that! I didn't sign on for this! I thought this was going to be a quick snatch, a quick ransom and get on with my life! I didn't think we'd be stuck with her for months! Isn't the guy going to pay?"

"You don't worry about that part," Yuki said, glaring. "You just do what you're told."

"No," the man replied defiantly, shaking his head. "No, I'm out of it. You babysit her yourself! I'm done!" He turned and headed for the door. "You can pay me the rest of my money when you get it - - and don't try to cheat me!"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Yuki said in a low, dangerous tone. He watched his partner every step of the way as he pulled a pistol from his belt.

Ran jumped as much as her bonds would allow when the shot echoed through the empty garage. She listened intently, chest heaving and eyes glassy from shock. There was the faint sound of footsteps in the garage. Did they belong to the man with the gun? Who was he? Who was shot? Did they know about her? She thought for a moment about trying to attract their attention, but stopped. What if they decided to kill her if they found her? She couldn't fight back, not tied up the way she was. But if they left, she'd be all alone in this abandoned garage. No one might find her. She would starve to death.

"MMMMM!" Ran finally called out, yelling as much as her gag would allow. "Mmmm mnnngh!"

The footsteps came closer. The new person had heard her. He was coming. Ran found herself trembling, her breath shallow. Was being heard a good thing? She'd know in a moment. The lock scraped against the hasp. The door opened.

And her other kidnapper was framed in the low light of the doorway. Ran sagged dejectedly.

"Expecting someone else?" Yuki asked. "Come on, babe. We're leaving."

The cord came free from around her elbows. It gave Ran a glimmer of hope. Was her ordeal nearing an end? The cords around her wrists began to loosen and Ran could hardly contain herself. Then she felt the muzzle of a gun dig into the back of her head.

"Down on your knees," Yuki told her calmly. "Put your hands behind your back and lock your fingers." He grabbed a fist full of her black hair for emphasis. "And don't give me any problems, wildcat. Your Dad just has to think you're alive. You don't actually have to be."

Faced with no other choice, Ran did as she was told. Once her fingers interlocked, a loop of rope closed around her wrists. The gun withdrew, to her relief, but the rope wound around and between her wrists until they were held tight. He repeated the procedure, much to her painful regret, on her elbows, drawing them to the center of her back. Yuki then hoisted Ran up in his arms and carried her out into the garage. The Toyoto was still parked in the garage. Nearby was the body of the other kidnapper. Ran froze in alarm.

Then Ran noticed the trunk hood was up. She began furiously squirming in her captor's arms.

"Damn it, I told you not to give me any trouble!" Yuki snarled, struggling to hold the thrashing girl in his arms and walk across the garage floor.

He got within a few steps of the car, then suddenly pitched forward. Ran spilled from his arms and flew squealing, landing hard on the concrete floor near the car. Yuki pitched forward face first onto the floor near her. As Ran tried to recover her wits, Yuki looked behind him. His mortally wounded partner had his hand locked around Yuki's ankle. The dying man glared venomously at the felon.

"Damn, you're too stupid to know when to die!" Yuki spat.

He lashed out with his foot, striking the other man squarely in the face. The burly man shook it off and kept his grip on his ex-partner's foot. Three more blows with Yuki's free foot finally broke the grip. Yuki pulled himself up and retrieved the gun that had fallen on the floor. Turning back to the other man, he thought for a moment about shooting him again. Thinking better of it, he turned away and searched for Ran. Ran was doggedly squirming toward the door in a desperate bid to escape.

"No you don't!" he said, pinning the girl down. Ran struggled to escape his grasp, but he managed to scoop her up again. Despite her efforts, he carried her over and dumped her into the trunk of the Toyota.

"MMMMM!" Ran pleaded, looking up at him fearfully. "MMMMM NNNNGH!"

"Just relax and enjoy the trip, wildcat," Yuki smiled. "I'm a lot safer with you in there."

Closing the trunk onto the pleading captive, Yuki raised the auto-bay door of the garage. He started the Toyota and pulled out onto the drive, then closed the bay door behind him. With a quick scan to see if anyone had seen him, Yuki climbed in, pulled the Toyota out onto the deserted street and drove away.

Seven minutes later a cab pulled up. Out of the cab stepped Conan Edogawa.

"You sure you want me to let you off here, son?" the cab driver asked. "This is a pretty bad neighborhood." Conan looked around. All around them were closed up storefronts and lots with weeds growing.

"Yes, this is the place," Conan replied. "Wait for me."

"You're kidding?" the cabbie replied, an eyebrow raised.

"Come on!" Conan howled. "I'll make it worth your while!"

"I doubt you've got that much," the cabbie said.

Conan thought. "Well I'm pretty good friends with Inspector Megure of the Tokyo Police. And he could drown you in traffic citations if he wanted to. So it'd be in your best interests to wait."

"Sure," the cabbie sneered. "You know a Tokyo cop. What are you, ten?"

"Remember where you picked me up?" Conan said. He folded his arms behind his head and turned his back to the man. "If you want to gamble that I'm making up stories, go ahead. I guest it all depends on how lucky you feel."

The cabbie scowled. "How long?"

"Fifteen minutes, tops!" Conan said, running up to the garage. "And if you hear gunfire, call the police!"

Conan pressed up against the door next to the auto-bay door and pressed his ear to it. No sound could be heard. He checked the seam between the door and the frame, but no light could be seen. Cautiously he turned the knob. It was unlocked. If this was a trap, he could be walking into a hail of bullets. Conan dismissed that thought - - Ran might not have the time to wait for further investigation. The evidence said no one was waiting for him. He carefully pushed the door open.

The room was dark, but not dark enough to hide the body laying on the floor. Conan resisted the urge to run and examine it. Instead he carefully surveyed the entire area of the abandoned garage. There was nothing to indicate anyone was alive here, including Ran. A tight constriction seized Conan's chest. Was he too late? Had they moved her - - or had they killed her?

Satisfied there was no danger to him, Conan scampered in. He turned a light switch and the lights came on - - curious for an empty building with no tenant. A cursory examination of the body told Conan that he was dead, probably of the gunshot wound in his back. More would have to wait for later. A scan of the garage for possible hiding places led him immediately to the storage bin at the back of the garage. He found a padlock hanging in the loop of an open hasp - - again curious for an empty garage, but not for one being used as a hideout. Opening the door, he found a spilled bowl of rice on the floor. In the rice was an indentation.

"Looks like it could have been made by a knee," Conan thought, "probably female from the size of it. And these scuff marks on the wood are consistent with rope rubbing against the paint. This is probably where they had Ran tied up. Which means they've moved her - - I'm too late. Damn!"

A wave of emotion swept over Conan. The thought of never seeing Ran again, never touching her - - why couldn't he have told her the truth? All that time with her, wasted. But the feelings of loss were pushed aside. He'd find her, no matter where she was.

"I'm supposed to be such a hotshot sleuth," Conan muttered. "It's about time I started living up to my reputation."

Walking back out to the main area of the garage, Conan took in all the details of the room. He immediately noticed the tire impressions left in the dust on the floor. Kneeling down,
he examined them more closely.

"Tire treads are consistent with a late model Toyota," Conan murmured. His examination continued. "Footsteps leading from both the driver's side and the passenger's, but there's a heavier concentration on the driver's side and two different sizes, one a woman's." He glanced at the shoes on the body. "That's the prints from the driver's side. So, two kidnappers and Ran arrive. She gets hustled into the storage bin and tied up. Partners have a falling out and passenger kills driver, then retrieves Ran."

Conan knelt next to the body.

"Still warm, so he died recently." Conan noticed the footprints between the treads in the rear. "Ran gets stuffed in the trunk, then passenger leaves. I must have missed him by no more than ten minutes! But where did he go?"

Crouching by the dead man, Conan examined every inch of him.

"Scuff mark on his hand," Conan mused. "Looks like shoe polish. He didn't die immediately - - tried to grab the shooter as he left with Ran." Conan noticed the bruising on his face. "Shooter must have kicked him to get loose - - several times it looks like." His eyes narrowed. "What's this?"

Carefully Conan plucked a small flower petal from under the dead man's left eye. He examined it carefully.

"A plum blossom? How does a plum blossom get here? There aren't any plum trees in this area. The way it's crushed, it must have been on the bottom of the shooter's shoe. Now where would he get a plum blossom on the bottom of his shoe in the city? A botanical garden? But why would he be there? Not to contact his employer - - he was doing that by cell phone. Was he meeting another contact or some friend or . . .?"

Conan's eyes grew wide. Quickly he pulled the file on Masayuki Honda from his jacket. He thumbed through the first page eagerly.

"Mito, of course!" Conan exclaimed. "Mito is practically inundated with plum trees! The Kairakuen Botanical Park has close to three thousand of them! March is when they bloom!
And Honda is from Mito originally! He's still got family there!"

Sprinting outside, Conan found the faint remnants of the tire tracks on the drive and followed them out to the street. As the cabbie watched him curiously, Conan found that just as the tracks began to dissipate, they turned northeast - - towards Mito. Conan sprinted up to the cab.

"Where to now, junior?" the cab driver asked.

"Can you take me to Mito?" Conan asked.

"Not without asking your parents first, sonny," the cabbie replied. Conan scowled. Damn this accursed body!

"OK then, the train station! And hurry!"

Just when Ran thought she was going to go into convulsions and die from being enclosed in the trunk of her captor's car, the car stopped. The girl struggled to get hold of her fear. Being frantic with fear wouldn't do anything to get her out of this situation. She'd watched her father and Shinichi too many times not to know that. It was what her martial arts instructor always told her. Even Conan was abnormally cool in these situations. It made sense.

But in the actual situation, it was really hard to do.

"We must be at his new hideout," Ran thought as she strained to hear footsteps coming toward the trunk and not walking away. She didn't know what she'd do if she heard them walk away. "It was a long enough drive - - we must be out of Tokyo."

Ran fought to control her trembling and smooth out her breathing.

"Keep your head!" she pleaded with herself. "You can't depend on anyone else finding you now! You're out of Tokyo! No one will know where to look for you!"

Then a thought came to her, unbidden and unwelcome.

"Shinichi would know," she thought and felt her eyes watering. "Oh, Shinichi, wherever you are, please find me!"

The trunk lid opened. Ran expected a sudden flood of light and squinted. It wasn't necessary. Nightfall had come.

Her captor bent down and hooked his arms under her legs and around her back. He hoisted her into his arms. Ran didn't resist. Fear of being left in the trunk kept her still.

"Amazing what an hour in a car trunk will do to a wildcat," the man taunted. Ran ignored him. Instead she concentrated on her surroundings.

They headed for a small two-story house in a dark residential neighborhood. Ran studied it and the surroundings. She didn't recognize anything. For all she knew, they could be in Yokohama, Osaka or the middle of the USA.

The interior of the house was completely unfurnished. They walked past an empty living room and headed down a staircase into a cellar. The claustrophobic nature of the cellar so soon after the ride in the trunk made Ran begin to squirm. The cellar was far more furnished than the upper part of the house. There was a table with some chairs, a television and a radio, a miniature refrigerator and a mat for sleeping. Ran wondered if this had been used as a hideout before.

Wasting no time with pleasantries, Honda sat Ran down on a hardback wooden chair. She was secured to the chair with rope around the waist, anchoring her to the chair back. Her thighs were bound to the seat and her ankles tied to the left chair leg. Ran sighed in frustration through her gag. Her body ached already from enduring being bound for so long - - now it was even worse.

"Just sit tight while I get some groceries," Honda said gruffly.

"Mmmmmph!" Ran pleaded through her gag, fearing being left alone.

"Yell your head off," Honda smirked. "Nobody's going to hear you through those walls and that gag."

"MMMMMMPH!" Ran called after him as he started up the steps. When she heard his footsteps disappear out of the house, the girl slumped back on the chair.

"Now what?" she thought. "Shinichi - - Dad - - Conan, am I ever going to see you again?"

To keep from crying, Ran began looking at her bindings for weaknesses.

While on the train, Conan realized that his size and lack of funds would be a serious handicap to his investigation at a time when handicaps might mean Ran's life. His first move after disembarking in Mito was to call Dr. Agasa. If nothing else, Agasa could provide funds and transportation, two things Conan lacked. At most, he could be a sounding board for ideas.

Thirty minutes later, Agasa drove up in his antique 1962 Mitsubishi.

"Doc, when are you going to junk this thing?" Conan asked as he climbed in.

"Don't judge it by the appearance," Agasa admonished. "It may look odd, but inside it runs better than anything on the road today. Too many people judge just by what's on the outside. Of course, that's why your secret is still safe, eh?"

The car lurched forward.

"One of these days I've got to install automatic transmission," Agasa clucked. Conan gave him the evil eye.

While waiting for Agasa, Conan had researched as much as he could using the phone book. He determined that Rising Sun Realty had a branch in Mito. He also tracked down Masayuki Honda's surviving family member in town - - his mother, Koyomi. Using a map he'd bought with the last of his own funds, Conan guided Agasa and the pair drove to Koyomi Honda's home.

The woman who answered the door was fifty-five going on a hundred. She was bent,
aged, prematurely gray and had the telltale tired listless eyes of someone who had long ago been defeated by life and, rather than striving toward a goal, was content to subsist another day. Conan eased behind Dr. Agasa as she opened the door to surreptitiously study her.

"Excuse me," Agasa said, bowing politely to the unimpressed woman. "I'm looking for Masayuki Honda. Would you happen to . . .?"

"No, I don't know where he is," the woman sighed, clearly familiar with the question. "I haven't seen the little bastard in ten years."

"Then I take it you're not close?" Agasa asked.

"The last time I saw my son was when he broke my jaw and stole ten thousand yen out of my purse," Koyomi scowled bitterly. "If the gods are listening to me, then he's dead and his ashes lie cursed."

She was about to close the door when Conan suddenly stepped forward.

"When he was last in the city, ma'am," Conan asked excitedly, "was he living here?"

"He was living with me, yeah. He was 'between jobs'."

"In this house?"

"No. I've moved three times since then," Koyomi replied. "Gets harder and harder to afford the rent."

"What house was it?" Conan asked. "Where he robbed you, I mean?"

"What do you care?" the woman asked, suspiciously eyeing Conan. "What is this?"

"What house was it? Please!"

"What's in it for me?" Koyomi asked.

"Madam, someone's life may be at stake," protested Dr. Agasa.

"So? Nobody else cares about me, so I've got to. What's in it for me?"

Conan thought a moment.

"Do you want to be the key piece of evidence that helps shoot down his plans and lands him in jail?" Conan asked.. "You could really knock his legs out from under him by helping us."

Koyomi thought that over for a moment. Then she smiled wickedly.

In the car, Agasa turned to Conan. Conan sat on the passenger side seat, tapping on Dr.
Agasa's laptop, which the scientist conveniently forgot was still in his car.

"That was an interesting judgment of her personal motivation, Shinichi," Agasa commented. "Your playing on her desire for revenge got us the answer you were looking for. I must confess I don't understand why you were so interested."

"It's simple, Doc," Conan replied, his concentration focused on a list of properties he was scanning on a website. "Honda needs a place to keep Ran that he knows is secure, but he hasn't had time to rent anything. He also needs to be familiar with the property so he won't be surprised by anything from the neighborhood or the neighbors. If he operated in Mito regularly,
he could have several safe houses set up, but he operates primarily in Tokyo now. Therefore, if he was taking Ran to Mito to hide her, and since he's on the outs with his family, he'd need a place he was familiar with. A previous dwelling would be the best choice."

"But how can you be sure he took her to Mito?" Agasa countered.

"His arrest record is located in both Mito and Tokyo," Conan told him, "but no other place. How likely is a career criminal such as Honda to stay out of trouble if he's in a place for any length of time? This indicates he's primarily familiar with Tokyo and Mito. Then there's the plum blossom I found, making Mito the most likely destination. It's also a short commute from Tokyo, giving him the proximity to act if his employer orders it."

"That doesn't mean he's holed up in the house of his youth," Agasa protested.

"No, but it's the most likely place to start looking," Conan said, "provided one thing checks out. If someone is living there now, I'll have to start from scratch." Almost immediately Conan stopped and jabbed his finger at the screen. "And there's my confirmation!"

Agasa looked at the screen. Amid property listings for Rising Sun Realty was the address of Masayuki Honda's last known address in Mito.

"You make it seem so simple," Agasa shook his head as he engaged the '62 Mitsubishi.

"It is simple, Doc," Conan leaned back proudly. "You just have to know how."

Then the car lurched forward, spilling Conan's glasses into his lap.
Kogoro sat back in the chair in his dark, lonely office and sipped his can of beer. He told himself the beer helped him think.

It also helped him forget. He had torn Tokyo apart looking for Ran, using every tactic of detection he knew to find some lead to where she was. And for all his work, Ran was still gone and he was left with an empty office. He knew old man Hime was behind it - - that much was obvious. But he couldn't connect Hime to anyone who might know where Ran was or who took her.

"By now they've moved her out of the city," he murmured to himself, swirling the beer in the can, "if they're smart. She could be anywhere - - anywhere."

In a fit of rage, Kogoro flung the beer can across the room.

A while later - - it could have been moments, minutes or more - - Kogoro heard the door to the office open. He glanced up and found Inspector Megure standing before him.

"You don't look too happy, Mouri," the inspector commented. "Something leave a bad taste in your mouth - - besides that cheap beer you always swill?"

"Aside from the fact that life sucks?" Kogoro replied bitterly. "Nothing in particular." When Megure didn't go away immediately, Kogoro leaned back in his chair and scowled. "Did you need my great brain for another 'unsolvable mystery'?"

"Yeah," Megure said. "I've got a guy who suddenly becomes nervous and edgy right after he takes a phone call, then makes a charge I just can't bring myself to believe."

"If it's about that Tadano kid . . .," Kogoro began.

"There's more. I find out somebody's been using my office computer to call up tax and property records for Hime owned businesses, and property listings for a Rising Sun Realty. I've also got phone records for Hime's phones."

"Really?" Kogoro asked, sitting up in his chair. Suddenly he was interested.

"Here's the capper. We got a report of a stiff in a garage in the east end. There's evidence of three other people, one of them female - - and she may have been held there involuntarily. The stiff is Matsunori Kida, ex-construction worker with Nippon General Construction - - a Hime subsidiary. The property is currently owned by Rising Sun Realty - -
another Hime subsidiary. Now I may not be as smart as that Kudo kid, but I can add two and two."

Kogoro's response was to leap out of his chair and race for the door. Megure watched him the entire way.

"Where's Ran, Mouri?" Megure asked.

"Um, she's - - out," Kogoro replied, pausing at the door. "At the movies."

"And Conan?"

"The brat's with her. I've got to go. Lock up, will you?"

The door slammed behind Kogoro. Megure watched it slam, his jaw clenched.

"I'll do that, Mouri," he murmured. "And thanks for confirming my suspicions."
"Shinichi, this isn't the job for someone your age," Dr. Agasa warned as Conan exited the car. They hadn't been parked more than five seconds, down the street from the address Conan had found. "At least someone of your physical age," Agasa hastily added.

"You want to come with me?" Conan asked, eyeing the house the entire time.

"No. It isn't a job for someone MY age, either. I'd prefer we call in the police."

"Not until I know if Ran is in there, how she's being held and how much potential danger she's in," Conan told him. "Honda has set this up as a safe house. It means he could have some sort of surveillance equipment set up."

"I thought you said he hadn't had time to set up a safe house here," Agasa queried.

"He was in the process. You can tell by the price on the house's listing. The asking price is four times what the house is worth, particularly in a lower class neighborhood like this. That's to scare off any potential buyers. This way he's got a safe house with the perfect cover. Who'd expect anyone to be living in an empty house that's for sale? And if someone does spot him, he can say he's just there to maintain the place for Rising Sun, who he's an employee of."

"Remarkable," Agasa shook his head.

"I just don't know how far along he was in setting this up when the job of kidnapping Ran came along. And anyway, if the police go barging in there, he could put a bullet in her and get away through a pre-existing escape route." Conan shook his head. "I can't risk it, Doc."

"Everything you say makes perfect sense," Agasa told him. "And still I'm afraid. Be careful, Shinichi."

"I'm always careful, Doc," Conan smiled confidently.

"Yes, that's why you're the size you are now."

Conan swallowed once, then turned his attention to the house. Being a child on the outside, he had no trouble ambling over inconspicuously - - kids did it all the time. As he stood outside the gate of the property, his eyes looked things over.

"No surveillance that I can see," Conan thought. "It's worth the chance."

Deftly slipping through the wrought iron bars of the gate, Conan scampered up to the house and pressed up against the side. He still could see no surveillance or security equipment. Using the darkness as a shield, he shinnied up the side of the house and peered in the first floor window. An empty room was all he saw.

"It wouldn't make sense to hold her in a first floor room and not block the windows,"
Conan thought. "If she's here, she's either on the second floor or in the cellar. That'll mean going in."

Feeling his heart hammer in his chest the entire time, Conan eased around to the back door. The door was locked, but picking a lock was child's play to someone of his experience. Swiftly the door opened and Conan peered in. There was no sign of life in the kitchen. Cautiously the boy crept in, his five senses alive for any sign of movement. It almost became hard for him to hear because the blood was pounding so loudly in his ears. Willing his breathing to calm, Conan made it to the door to the cellar. He silently opened it, ready for anything that might jump out at him. When nothing did, he ventured down the stairs.

Walking on the sides of the boards rather than the middle, as the sides were less likely to creak beneath his weight, Conan stole down the staircase at a cautious, deliberate pace. If Ran's abductor was still here, as Conan fully expected him to be, he had Conan at a disadvantage and Conan knew it. Surprise was his only weapon. If he could sneak up on the kidnapper and hit him with a dart from his watch, he could triumph.

But it was a big if. Just the same, Conan had his watch face up and the watch ready to fire.

As he got closer to the cellar, Conan could see light coming from under the door at the bottom of the stairs. There was no need to search upstairs now. He knew he was right. Pausing at the bottom of the steps, Conan pressed his ear up against the door, trying to gauge how many people were there. He heard an occasional grunt - - possibly Ran struggling if she were tied up.

"I don't hear anything else," Conan thought. "Is the kidnapper gone? Is he asleep? Or is he just not making any noise that I can hear?" Pondering the question, Conan couldn't find an answer from the data he had. "I'll have to risk it. This may be my only chance!"

The knob silently turned. The door eased opened. Conan peered in through the crack between the door and the frame. There was Ran, tied to a chair and slumped forward in despair. Conan's heart leaped and he had to restrain himself long enough to check the rest of the room he could see. When he detected nothing, he eased the door open further.

"MMMMMPH!" Ran cried through her gag when she spotted Conan in the doorway. Immediately he motioned for her to be quiet. Peering around the room, ready for an attack at any time, Conan didn't enter until he was satisfied they were alone. Once satisfied, he ran over to Ran and pulled the tape from her mouth.

"Conan-kun!" she gasped, on the verge of tears, as Conan ran behind her and began undoing the ropes around her wrists. "What are you doing here? Is Dad with you?"

"No," Conan replied.

"Then how did you find me?"

"Um," Conan stammered, "D-Dr. Agasa is with me. He kind of put things together and figured out where you were. He's, um, outside." Conan parted the ropes around Ran's arms and torso. "I kind of snuck in here without him. Don't be mad?"

"Mad?" Ran asked, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing until Conan felt his cheeks burn. "I've never been happier to see anyone in my life! Now just let me untie my legs,"
and Ran released him to do so. "We have to get out of here, Conan-kun! That man is dangerous!"

So intent on Ran's fumbling fingers clawing at the knots around her ankles, Conan didn't sense the appearance of a third person in the room.

"Hold it!" they both heard Honda exclaim. Ran froze, sick and disheartened. Conan was seized with a moment of terror, but forced it down. "Now what do we have here? Turn around,

Before turning, Conan surreptitiously put his hand to the firing trigger on his watch. He could get one shot off before Honda realized the threat. It didn't matter where he hit Honda - -
Dr. Agasa's sleep drug was that powerful. He just had to hit him. Trying to steady his nerves,
Conan turned around - - and shot.

But Honda's reflexes were better than Conan anticipated. Spotting the projectile at the last moment, Honda threw up his gun hand involuntarily to ward it off. The dart struck the pistol along the barrel and glanced harmlessly away. Conan felt ill. He'd gambled and lost. Quickly he glanced around for something to kick with his augmented shoes, knowing all the time he'd never make it.

However he hadn't counted on Ran's reflexes, either. Ran's bare leg brushed Conan's sleeve as she thrust past him. It seemed to happen in slow motion. Ran planted her left leg as Honda brought the pistol back down to bear on her. Her right leg swept up in a powerful motion. Her heel impacted with Honda's jaw, sending his shot wide and knocking him to the floor. He barely had time to impact with the floor before Ran was on top of him, straddling his hips and delivering five quick hammer blows to his chest and solar plexus. Honda's eyes just had time to bulge, then rolled back into his head. He slumped beneath her and Ran relaxed..

Conan was about to gasp in amazement. Then he noticed Ran's shoulders begin to shudder. He didn't need to be a detective to know what had happened.

"Don't cry, Ran-nee-chan," Conan said, easing over to her and putting a hand on her shoulder. "It's over. You're safe now."

Ran turned, snatched Conan up in her arms and clung to him like a life line.
On one side of the table was Hime Junior, Hime Senior, and the attorney they'd retained. Each man stared across the table. Junior was smug and confident, the attorney stony and silent,
while Senior smoldered with rage and desperation. He was smart enough to know that being called back into the station wasn't a good sign. Nor was what he saw across the table from him.

Inspector Megure sat across from them, leafing through a file folder, trying to seem superior and yet unconcerned - - and not quite succeeding. Still he played his role to the end. Next to him was Kogoro Mouri, arms folded over his chest. He returned Hime Senior's vengeful glare with one of his own. Two Tokyo police officers stood on either side of the table at Megure's insistence, ready to intercede if emotions got out of hand.

By the door, trying to be inconspicuous as possible, was Conan. He'd eased in unannounced to watch the proceedings. Before hand he'd dropped hints about the motorcycle gloves to both Kogoro and Megure. If neither was swift enough to pick up on them, he was there to steer them in the right direction.

"Inspector Megure, there are laws against harassment," Hime Senior muttered angrily. "You have a suspect, pointed out by your own 'vaunted consultant' . . ."

"Some new information has come to light," Megure replied, shooting Hime a glance that told him to shut up. "We've discovered a pattern of bruising on Tadano-san that is consistent with marks on the victim." Megure looked directly at Hime Junior with a withering stare. "We'd like to test those gloves for evidence."

Junior instantly pulled the gloves back, reacting just as Conan - - and, surprisingly,
Kogoro - - speculated he would. It was a long shot. By this time, any blood or skin tissue that might have been on the gloves was probably gone, any DNA evidence contaminated. But Hime Junior might be stupid enough and arrogant enough to be goaded by them into confessing.

"Pity the lawyer is here," Conan thought.

"What do you hope to glean from the gloves?" the attorney demanded. "And you'd better have more probable cause than some bruising patterns!"

"I think the bruising pattern is enough to get a court order, if I have to," Megure responded. "But since Hime-san is completely innocent in this, he shouldn't have any objection to turning them over."

"Get your court order first," the attorney replied.

"Fine. But the gloves stay here," Megure countered. "Protective custody - - just in case anyone had a possible wild notion of tampering with . . ."

"All right, I did it!" Hime Junior bellowed, lurching belligerently out of his seat. "But I had reason!"

"Shut up!" hissed his father angrily.

"She was cheating on me! Me, Kaz Hime, and with that nobody from her college! Nobody does that to me! I'm a Hime, damn it!"

"Well, I think that qualifies as probable cause," Megure said, allowing himself a smile of triumph. "Kazuhiro Hime, I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Reika Hasegawa. Other charges may follow." At a nod from Megure, the two officers seized Hime Junior and cuffed him.

"This is an outrage, Inspector!" Hime Senior bellowed, jumping up from his seat. "I'll have your job for this!"

He started for the door, but suddenly found himself blocked. Looking up into the bloodshot, malevolent eyes of Kogoro Mouri, he stopped, taken aback. Kogoro didn't have to say anything. Hime knew the jig was up. But Kogoro told him anyway, just to see the look on his face.

"My daughter's safe, Hime," Kogoro said, just low enough for Hime to hear, though Conan caught just enough of it. "Your errand boy told us everything. He didn't want to go down alone."

Hime Senior sagged back into his seat. He heard his son being angrily led off and felt his life begin to crumble before his eyes. In an instant he no longer seemed like a powerful man. He just seemed old.

"Tadakeshi Hime," Megure began, "I am officially charging you with conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Other charges may follow."

"I-I had to protect him," Hime whispered, in shock. "It doesn't matter what he's done. He's my boy. He's the most important thing in the world to me."

Hime saw two hands fold around the arms of his chair. He looked up into the still dark,
malevolent gaze of Kogoro Mouri.

"And my daughter's the most important thing in the world to me," Kogoro said. "So rot in Hell."
"So it was all because of jealousy?" Ran asked.

She was in the middle of a trio walking in the general direction of the Mouri Detective Agency office. Sonoko stood protectively on one side and Conan was on the other. She'd finally convinced her father to let her out of his sight, but only because Megure needed him to finish the details securing Tadano-san's release. Conan looked up at her. Ran seemed morose. He worried that her time as a captive was sinking in past the initial shock. He worried that the trauma was going to have a long-term effect on her once bright personality, stealing away from him that sweet, energetic, caring, wonderful girl that he - - well - - loved.

There, he'd admitted it.

"Some guys don't handle rejection very well," Sonoko sympathized. "Believe me, I know."

"Actually," Conan began tentatively, "as I understand it, Tadano-san and Hasegawa-san weren't, um, boyfriend and girlfriend. I overheard Tadano-san say he was just there giving her some notes from a philosophy class they shared at the university." They walked on. "Hime-san just jumped to the wrong conclusion."

"Well, if there's any justice, he'll get his," Ran scowled. Then her features really clouded over. "And his father will get his."

"Amen," nodded Sonoko. "I wonder if they could bring back public whippings?"

"And the witnesses?" Ran posed. "The ones who said that other guy did it?"

"After some pressure from the inspector, they both confessed that Hime-sama paid them to lie," Conan told them.

"How can someone put money over what's right?" Ran wondered aloud.

"Depends on the amount," Sonoko replied. Ran shot her a dirty look. "Hey, you've never had any so you don't know!"

As they turned a corner, the trio ran into an unexpected acquaintance.

"Dr. Agasa!" Ran gasped joyously. She leaped up and hugged the portly scientist, kissing him lovingly on the cheek.

"Ran-chan!" he replied, happily surprised. "I'm so glad to see you out and about so soon after that dreadful business." He eased the girl away with hands on her waist. "You are dealing with it, aren't you?"

"Well," Ran shrugged self-consciously, "I'll probably be looking over my shoulder for a while, especially at school. But I'll be OK." Her smile cranked up again. "And Conan tells me I owe it all to you! Thank you for finding me!"

"Erm, well," Agasa sputtered after Ran kissed him again. "I, um, Conan is being quite modest. I assure you it was a joint effort in tracking you down. Young Conan contributed just as much to finding you as I did - - perhaps more. Who can say?"

"Conan-kun," Ran beamed, kneeling down beside Conan. "I should have known."

Ran caught the boy before he could get away and enveloped him in a grateful bear hug. Sonoko twittered in amusement when she spotted the crimson coloring Conan's cheeks.

"Look at him blush," she smiled. "Don't fight it, kid. In a few years you'll be dreaming about her doing that to you."

"Actually," Conan thought, relaxing to enjoy the embrace, "I dream about it now."