Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha
TO CATCH A THIEF
Chapter 2: Punishment
Inuyasha stared at the jewel in his daughter's hand. Now what do I do? I have to return it. He grimaced. But that pompous windbag will probably accuse me of stealing it. I need to think of something.
"Dinnertime, Inuyasha," Kagome called from the kitchen. "Could you bring Kohana to the table?"
Inuyasha snapped out of his shocked state. "Be right there, Kagome," he answered.
"Dinner!" Kohana cried gleefully. She scrambled to her feet, clutching the jewel tightly in her chubby fist. "Give sparkly to Mommy!"
"Wait!" Inuyasha grabbed his startled child, yanking her off her feet. Her face twisted into the expression that usually came before crying.
He set her down on her feet and turned her to look at him. "You can't give it to Mommy right now, baby," he explained. "It's not Mommy's birthday yet and we want it to be a surprise."
Kohana looked doubtful. She glanced at the jewel in her hand and then up at her daddy's anxious face. "Okay, Daddy."
Inuyasha heaved a sigh of relief. The only tricky part was convincing Kohana that maybe he should be the one to hold it. He bribed her outrageously with her favorite treats before she reluctantly let him tuck it into his pocket for safekeeping.
He didn't think Kagome noticed anything when they joined the rest of the family at the dinner table. For once, he blessed Shiro's incessant chatter. Shiro monopolized the entire dinnertime conversation with a play-by-play report of the soccer tryouts.
"--and he didn't know what hit him!" Shiro exclaimed, pantomiming the soccer ball whizzing past the surprised goalie. "Just like you taught me, right Dad? Dad?"
"Huh?" Inuyasha looked up from the macaroni and cheese he was nervously demolishing. "Right!"
"Have you been listening to anything Shiro has been saying?" Kagome demanded in exasperation.
"Sure I have!" He smiled at Shiro. "Way to go, son! I bet you'll be the best player on the entire team."
"That's right!" Shiro boasted. "Shippou said that I was just lucky, but he's jealous 'cause Coach Jinenji is making me the starting center 'stead of him. He's going to play forward. Coach said that's 'cause Shippou's fast. You'd hardly believe Shippou's in the third grade. He's smaller than some of the first graders! But he is fast! Shippou said--"
Inuyasha tuned out again, ignoring Kagome's slightly worried look. His mind ran around in circles, trying to devise a plan. He would have to find some way of returning the jewel as soon as possible. The longer it was in his possession, the more chance that he would get caught with it.
"Kohana got a surprise!" Kohana sang out, banging her spoon on her highchair. Inuyasha had insisted that she was too old for a highchair. Kagome countered with saying that a highchair was the only way Kohana would stay in one place through the entire meal. She had a point.
Kagome smiled. "Did you get a surprise when you went shopping with Daddy?"
"Uh-huh." Kohana nodded her head vigorously and tipped her bowl onto the floor. Sachi, with the ease born of long practice, avoided the falling bowl and immediately started cleaning up the spilled food. "For your birfday, Mommy! Wanna see!"
Inuyasha snapped out of his preoccupied state. "No!" At Kagome's startled look, he hastened to amend, "It's not Mommy's birthday yet, baby. And besides we need to wrap it."
"You two are so sweet." Kagome stood up slowly and started stacking bowls together. "I can't wait to see it."
Inuyasha stood up, too. "Shiro, why don't you help your mother clear the table. I need to make a phone call. Come on, Kohana, you can help me."
Before Kohana could say another word, he went over to lift her out of the highchair, stepping on Sachi's tail in the process. Sachi yelped. Apologizing and clutching his daughter in his arms, Inuyasha backed out of the room. Kagome and Shiro stared after them as if he had gone crazy.
He didn't put Kohana down until he reached the relative sanctuary of his office. With two small children constantly underfoot, Inuyasha finally had to build a place that was off limits to the family. It was the only way he could ever get anything done on the rare occasions he brought work home.
Kohana's eyes widened. She wasn't allowed in the office. Her eyes landed on the shiny computer on the desk. The green light was on and it hummed contentedly. "Kohana wants to push the buttons!"
"Fine," Inuyasha replied distractedly. "Just be quiet while Daddy makes a quick phone call." He lifted the receiver and punched in a series of numbers. Please let a certain pervert be the one to answer the phone.
Miroku answered on the third ring.
"Miroku, can you meet me at the shopping center in ten minutes? I'll explain when we get there. Yes, it's an emergency! I don't care if Sango's feeling playful, this is more important! And make sure you dress in dark clothing."
Inuyasha slammed the receiver down. Kohana looked up from the pile of paper on the floor. Pushing buttons was fun! And one of the buttons made paper come out of another machine. Each piece contained a few lines of gibberish. The rest was blank.
Inuyasha rolled his eyes and sighed. No time now. He'd clean it up when they got back. He squatted down to look Kohana in the eye. "I need to go back to the shopping center, baby. It's a surprise, so don't tell anybody."
"A surprise!" Kohana giggled. "Kohana likes surprises! Want to come!"
No telling what Kohana would blab to Kagome if he left her behind. Better to bring her along. He held out his arms. "Of course you can come. Let's go, baby."
Inuyasha freed Kohana from her car seat, his fingers fumbling with the straps. It had taken all the ingenuity his distracted brain could come up with to get out of the house. Vaguely, he had mentioned going to the store to pick up some ice cream. Kagome's eyes had lit up.
Shiro had wanted to come. Inuyasha thanked every god he could think of for homework. Shiro had a ton and he hadn't done any yet. Kagome agreed that he should probably stay home this time.
Cautiously, he glanced around the empty parking lot. He had parked as far away from SJ Jewelers as possible. All police activity seemed to be centered around the jewelry store. Nobody took notice of them. Stay calm. Stay cool.
"What are we doing here?"
"Aaaaah! Don't shoot!" He spun around, babbling excuses. "She's only a baby! She didn't mean it!"
"What are talking about, Inuyasha?" Miroku regarded his friend warily, his irritation fading to be replaced with concern. "What's so important that you had to drag me away from the loving arms of my wife? When Sango's in the mood… hoo boy!"
Inuyasha scanned the parking lot. Holding Kohana with one arm, he grabbed Miroku and hauled him to someplace less out-in-the-open. Once in the shadow of a building, he released his friend and took another quick look around.
"You're awfully jumpy tonight," Miroku commented.
Setting Kohana on the ground, Inuyasha reached in and pulled something from his pocket. "Recognize this?"
Miroku stared at the round marble in Inuyasha's hand. "That looks like the Shikon no Tama." His eyes widened as his brain processed what he had just said. "What are you doing with that? Did you know that every cop in the city is going to be looking for that? Whatever possessed you to steal it?"
"I did not steal it!" Inuyasha retorted, closing his fingers around the jewel.
"Possession is nine-tenths of the law, Inuyasha."
"I did not steal it! It was an accident!"
"Kohana got sparkly for Mommy's birfday."
Both men stopped arguing to look at the little girl. Kohana grinned and stuck her thumb in her mouth.
"Kohana stole the Shikon no Tama?" Miroku exclaimed.
"It was an accident," Inuyasha repeated.
"I guess you're never too young to start your very own rap sheet."
Inuyasha got a panicked look on his face. "What am I going to do? How will I explain this to Kagome? Kohana's too young to be fingerprinted!"
"Calm down, Inuyasha," Miroku ordered. "We'll just have to return it without getting caught. I'm assuming that's why you invited me on your little criminal expedition?"
"Right." Inuyasha nodded his head sharply. "You need to keep an eye on Kohana and create a distraction. I'll put the Shikon no Tama back."
"Why do I have to create the distraction?" Miroku whined. "And why is Kohana here, anyway? You weren't thinking of using her as a shield, were you? 'Cause that's sick even for you."
Inuyasha gave him an irritated look. "Of course not. I couldn't leave her home. Have you known a three-year-old yet who could keep he mouth shut when she has a secret? I couldn't have her blabbing to Kagome."
"Now," Inuyasha settled into serious business mode, "I'm going to get as close to SJ Jewelers as I can without being spotted. Give me fifteen minutes. Then I want you to create a distraction."
"What kind of distraction?" Miroku interrupted.
"I don't care. Just make sure it is loud enough to distract most of the cops. When they're all busy elsewhere, I'll break into the store and return the Shikon no Tama."
"Sounds like a plan," Miroku commented cheerfully. "And I'll be sure to tell Kohana and Shiro what a wonderful father you were while you rot in jail."
"Are you going to help me or not?" Inuyasha demanded. "There's still time to chicken out and go home. Of course, I will then be forced to confess that you were my accomplice and the brains behind the whole operation."
Miroku held up his hands in surrender. "All right. No need to get personal. Just go get into position. Kohana and I will have a super distraction ready. Right, sweetie?"
Kohana beamed. "Kohana help Uncle Miroku! Fun!"
Inuyasha thought of several things he could say, but settled for, "Just be careful."
The next fifteen minutes were a nightmare. Inuyasha froze every time somebody coughed. Three cops were standing around looking bored. The pudgy storeowner alternated between hovering and arguing with another cop, who appeared to be the one in charge.
Inuyasha counted the seconds and fidgeted. What was taking Miroku so long?
A muffled boom came from the direction of the parking lot. The apathetic cops straightened up and peered in that direction. A few crisp orders sent one of them trotting away. Another boom sounded from a different location. Another cop moved to investigate, leaving just one to guard the front door.
It was much easier to get close now. Inuyasha slipped from shadow to shadow until he reached the building. The pudgy storeowner was hopping from foot to foot and wringing his hands. Somebody was trying to calm him down, but not having much success.
He studied the building. There was no way he could just walk in the front door. Too many lights and too many people. Maybe there was another way in.
"What are we going to do?"
"Gaah!" Inuyasha jumped and pressed a hand to his heart. "What are you trying to do, Miroku? Give me a heart attack?"
Kohana giggled. "Uncle Miroku and Kohana make big booms!"
Miroku grinned evilly. "It's amazing the kinds of things you can make with common store-bought ingredients."
Inuyasha regarded him suspiciously. "What did you--? Never mind, I don't want to know."
"All right. So, what's the game plan?"
"Let me think," Inuyasha muttered distractedly. "Not that way. We could always--No, too many people. How about--? Stupid. Maybe if I could fly. Tunnel under the building, perhaps? Yeah, right! All I'd need would be several sticks of dynamite and a shovel." He looked up and his eyes widened. "That's perfect! Hey, Miroku, give me a boost, will you?"
"What are you thinking about?" Miroku followed Inuyasha's gaze, but couldn't see what might have interested him. "Is there a convenient window somewhere?"
"Even better." Inuyasha grinned and pointed. "A ventilation shaft."
Getting to the shaft proved more difficult than it looked. Miroku got down on his hands and knees to provide a standing platform for Inuyasha. No matter how much Inuyasha stretched, his hands didn't come anywhere near his goal.
With a bit of huffing and puffing, and some remarkable acrobatics from two slightly out of shape men, Inuyasha was able to stand on Miroku's shoulders. He could almost touch the edges of the shaft.
"Come on, Miroku," Inuyasha demanded, "we can't give up now."
"Easy for you to say," Miroku wheezed. "You're not the one with permanent shoe marks on your shoulders. Maybe you should just throw the marble at the cops and run. They'd have what they want and we could go home."
Kohana giggled. "Daddy and Uncle Miroku are funny." A small cat slinking through the shadows caught her attention and she lost interest in what the adults were doing. "Kitty!" She toddled towards the small animal.
"Ah ha!" Inuyasha's gaze fell on a sturdy trash can nearby. "Help me with this, Miroku. The sooner we return the Shikon no Tama, the sooner you can go back to playing demon slayer and the naughty demon with Sango."
Miroku sighed, but helped his friend wrestle the trash can into position.
"Hold still, Miroku," Inuyasha ordered. He balanced on top of Miroku who was balanced precariously on top of the trash can.
"What about security?" Miroku hissed.
"Who would be dumb enough to put a security camera in a ventilation shaft?" Inuyasha scoffed.
"Only someone stupid enough to break into an expensive jewelry store by crawling through a ventilation shaft," Miroku muttered under his breath.
Inuyasha ignored him, being too busy using his penknife to pry open the ventilation cover. Luck must favor idiots, because no alarms were sounding.
Inuyasha braced his arms on the lip of the opening and hoisted himself inside. One flailing foot caught Miroku in the face. He and the trash can fell to the ground with a loud clatter.
The cat streaked past Kohana with a startled yowl.
"What was that?" an anxious voice demanded.
"Just a cat," someone else responded.
"Shouldn't we go check it out?" the first cop asked.
"We were ordered to stay here. The chief is touchy enough, having to deal with that idiot who lost the jewel as it is. You can investigate if you want, but I value my job a lot more than that."
Inuyasha let out the breath he had been holding when he realized that nobody was going to investigate the crash. He patted his pocket to make sure the Shikon no Tama was still secure and started crawling through the shaft.
"Ouch!" He swore as he banged his head on the top of the shaft for the third time. Then he cursed silently as the close confines magnified his voice. When would this nightmare end? Kagome must be getting worried by now.
His ruminations were cut short when he reached the other end of the ventilation shaft and found himself looking down on the empty display case. There weren't too many people inside. Inuyasha wasn't surprised to recognize the pudgy storeowner, who was arguing with someone. Two others were meticulously examining every surface in the store.
"What do you mean, 'you haven't found anything'?" the man screamed.
"Calm down, sir," the man responded. He radiated authority and Inuyasha figured this must be the man in charge of the investigation. "We have not collected enough data to forward a theory yet. Is there anything that you might have neglected to tell us?"
The storeowner fairly swelled with rage. "You think that I would withhold evidence! I will suffer the most if that jewel is not recovered quickly. I can only stall the owners of the Miko Museum for so long! I'll be ruined!"
Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "Idiot." It was a wonder nothing of value had been stolen before this. He went back to scanning the store floor. He might be able to sneak past the moron, but not a highly trained police detective. There was no way to get close enough.
With a slight amount of contorting, he managed to extract the jewel from his pocket. Maybe Miroku's idea wasn't as bad as he thought at first. If he could throw it at them and get the heck out of there, his problems would be over.
Grinning, Inuyasha tried to slip the jewel through the slats. Very quickly, the grin faded. The darn thing wouldn't fit! Now what?
He watched the two men finish examining the area and go to speak with their chief. Their voices were too low for him to make out more than a word or two. With a brief nod, they left the room. Now only two people were left.
Inuyasha fidgeted. He couldn't go home, not after coming this far! The police chief stared with unnerving intensity at the ventilation shaft.
"Where does that go?" he asked abruptly, pointing at Inuyasha's hiding place.
"It's just a ventilation shaft," the pudgy storeowner replied brusquely. "The only place it goes is to the outside."
"A man might be able to fit up there." The chief frowned and then started walking purposefully towards it. "I should check to see if it has been tampered with."
"Didn't you already check that?" The storeowner asked, irritation plain in his voice.
"This is my investigation and I'm checking it again."
Inuyasha froze. His heart started pounding and he broke out in a cold sweat. He started to wiggle backwards. His foot clanged gently off the side of the shaft. Immediately he stopped moving, praying that nobody heard that.
The chief had lowered his eyes in order to walk around a display case. But the next time he looked up…
Inuyasha was a sitting duck.
From outside could be heard a familiar wail. A harried-looking police officer hurried through the door.
The chief turned away from the ventilation shaft and the hidden Inuyasha. "What's going on out there?"
"There's a little girl, sir. She appears to be all alone. We haven't been able to find out where her parents are. She screams if anybody gets too close."
A little girl? Inuyasha's heart started pounding again, but for another reason. That had to be Kohana! What did Miroku think he was doing? He was supposed to be keeping an eye on her.
"Talk to her! Calm her down!"
"How, sir? She just keeps screaming."
The police chief muttered something and strode towards the doors. The storeowner wailed and wrung his hands, scurrying after them and demanding that they return to finish the job they had been hired to do.
Inuyasha scowled at the grate over the ventilation shaft. So close and yet so far. He'd better go rescue Kohana and beat his best friend to a pulp. Frustrated, he balled up his fist and struck the grate. With a clatter, it popped loose and crashed to the floor.
What do you know? Inuyasha stared for a long time. Then a smile stretched his lips.
Squirming forward just enough to get one arm free, he took careful aim. The Shikon no Tama bounced off the edge of the display case and rolled under a chair.
Kohana's wails were growing a little ragged, but still she screamed. Where was Miroku? Wasn't he supposed to be keeping an eye on her? Inuyasha frowned and began to back out the way he came in.
Suddenly he froze. What if something had happened? Kohana could be hurt or scared! Surely Miroku should have found her by now.
Inuyasha banged his head hard on the roof of the shaft. Swearing, he forced himself to slow down. The last thing he needed to do was get stuck.
Had the ventilation shaft gotten longer? He didn't remember it taking this long to crawl through it. Kohana wasn't crying anymore. Panicked, he speeded up.
His feet slipped and he found himself clinging to the opening of the shaft. Out already? What a relief? He scrambled for a toehold, but his tired arms refused to support him anymore.
Luckily, the overturned trash can was still there to break his fall.
"Owww," Inuyasha mumbled, climbing to his feet. "Don't worry, baby, Daddy's coming." He staggered towards the sound of Kohana's hiccupping sobs.
"Thank you so much for finding my daughter."
Wait a minute. That sounded like Miroku. Miroku doesn't have a daughter.
"No problem," the police chief replied. "You're lucky that nothing happened to her. This area is off-limits, so you two had better get home."
"Thank you again. Say goodbye to the nice man, Kohana."
Inuyasha could see them now. Miroku was holding Kohana and backing away from the small knot of police officers.
"Bye-bye!" Kohana waved vigorously, clutching a bright red lollipop in her hand. "Kohana loves Daddy! Daddy takes could care of Kohana!"
Miroku had reached the shadows where Inuyasha waited, though he had yet to notice his friend. He bounced the toddler gently in his arms.
"Don't overdo it, sweetie," he cautioned.
Kohana grinned at him. "Kohana good actor! Right, Uncle Miroku?" She peered over Miroku's shoulder and squealed. "Hi, Daddy! Kohana was surprise! The people in funny clothes surprised to see Kohana!"
Miroku swallowed visibly and turned around. "Um, hi, Inuyasha. Did you return the Shikon no Tama?"
Inuyasha scowled. "Yes, I did. Why are you using my daughter as a distraction? I thought she was hurt!"
"Never mind. Let's just get out of here before something goes wrong."
Inuyasha and Miroku jogged quickly back to the parking lot. Inuyasha filled Miroku in on his little adventure. The Shikon no Tama would be found before long and the whole mess could be forgotten.
"Are you afraid that the police will still come after you?" Miroku asked. "I mean, your fingerprints are all over that jewel."
Inuyasha winced. "Too late to worry about that now. I'll just have to hope that they will be so relieved to find it, that they won't think to dust it for prints."
Miroku glanced at his watch. "Wow, it's late! I should get home. Sango is going to wonder what happened to me. See you later, Inuyasha! Bye-bye, Kohana!"
"Bye-bye, Uncle Miroku!"
Inuyasha settled Kohana into her car seat, before climbing behind the wheel. He looked back at his daughter, happily sucking on her treat.
"Listen to me, baby," he began, "let's not tell your mommy what we did tonight. It can be our secret."
Kohana looked thoughtful. "Is a secret like a surprise?"
"Sort of. But you can't tell anybody. Okay?"
Kohana grinned, sticky red syrup outlining her mouth. "Okay, Daddy! It's a secret!"
Inuyasha sighed and pulled out of the parking lot. At this time of night, there were few cars on the road and they were home in no time.
"We're home!" he sang out as soon as he walked in the door carrying a drowsing Kohana. His smile faded as he saw Kagome standing in the hallway, wearing pajamas and a robe. She didn't look happy.
"Where were you two? I've been worried sick! It's not that far to the store!" She looked more closely at him and her expression turned suspicious. "What happened to your clothes? They're filthy!"
"We had a bit of a mishap," Inuyasha hastened to explain. "You see--we ran into Miroku, and, well--time sort of got away from us. He, um, helped me return something. And... well... it was kind of in an awkward place."
Kagome's frown lightened a trifle. "So, that's where he went. Sango called looking for him." Her gaze landed on her sticky, sleepy daughter. "You shouldn't have kept Kohana out this late! She should have been in bed a long time ago!" She took the child from her husband.
Inuyasha sighed in relief and headed for the kitchen. He needed something to soothe his nerves. It had been a long day.
Inuyasha froze. "Yes, dear?"
"Where's the ice cream?"
Food for thought: Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.