Disclaimer- Detective Conan is not mine. Lou's Place and all its employees are; I pay their not-inconsiderable salaries. This fanfic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for references to violence and spiritual thoughts. Follows after my story "Refuge," and is not in continuity with any of my other works.
THEODICY: defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil - Merriam-Webster Dictionary
It was an odd place for a door, Conan couldn't help but think, even as he shot through it. Or maybe not for a door, but at least for that type of door. The dead end of an alley was a place you found service entrances, back entrances, nondescript and undecorated panels of metal and matte paint, with rusting padlocks or in wealthier areas, combination pads. Not weathered wooden portals that looked as if they belonged on the front of a house somewhere. Under normal circumstances, he'd have been suspicious, would have hesitated. But Gin and Vodka weren't far behind him, and while he'd moved too quickly for them to have seen him as more than a flicker, letting himself be trapped would be hazardous to his health.
He'd expected a storeroom, or an office, or at least an unadorned corridor leading behind the storefronts that should have been on the other side. Instead… he stood in a room that seemed rather larger than the space that should have contained it, filled with a dim golden glow from various lamps, tables and chairs arrayed in front of a small stage to his left, where a jazz quartet was softly playing a tune he didn't know. Booths lined the wall across from him, and to his right was a large bar with stools lined up on all three sides.
Behind him, the door thunked closed with a sound that seemed comforting, rather than final. The air was warm, and full of smells that made his stomach perk up and remind him that he'd been running on nothing but coffee for several hours. So… a restaurant of some kind, maybe? Or a pub? Or a jazz club, maybe, though it seemed more a blend of all of those. It was mostly empty right now, and while a few eyes had turned at his entrance, no one seemed surprised or upset to see a child there. Which meant that it probably wasn't someplace that sold liquor as a primary product.
Well, if he kept standing in the doorway, he was going to draw attention. There wasn't much crowd to blend into, but the light was low enough… Squaring his shoulders, he headed for one of the booths closest to the stage. The shadows were thick enough here that if Gin and Vodka looked in, they might miss him. It was worth a shot.
The booths and table were the same blond hardwood as the paneling on the walls, and upholstered with a soft red fabric that was probably a nightmare to keep clean. But there weren't any stains or cigarette burns on the cushions, and Conan snuggled into the seat, letting himself relax and breathe for the first time since he'd seen the black Porsche on his way home.
Thank goodness he'd already parted ways with the Shonen Tantei for the day, including Haibara. He'd been alone when he'd seen the vehicle, and had actually spent several seconds in debate with himself before going to investigate. Hattori occasionally accused him of lacking a sense of self-preservation- and wasn't that a case of the pot to the kettle- but he wasn't really reckless. Not anymore. It was just… if they were there, someone was probably slated to die. Maybe he could interfere, maybe he couldn't. But at the very least, he'd had to try.
Except that they'd somehow sensed him watching, and he'd been forced to flee into the tangled maze of shops that made up Beika's shopping district. Even for Tokyo, Beika was a labyrinth, and he'd managed to gain just enough speed to duck in here, wherever here was. Now he just had to wait and hope they passed him by.
"Hey there, hon, what can I get you?"
Conan looked up in startlement. That was English, brassy with the tones of a Bronx native. Then he got a look at the waitress beside the booth and flat-out boggled.
She was definitely a gaijin, blonde and green-eyed, with her curls piled up on her head in a beehive. Pink lipstick perfectly matched her uniform dress, which he'd bet also perfectly matched the wad of gum she was chewing with enthusiasm. He bet she knew how to snap it, too. The tag on the breast pocket of the dress read "Lammy." She looked like she'd stepped out of an American theme diner, which the rest of this place was not.
Shaking himself, Conan smiled. "Um… Bossy in a bowl, dog biscuits in the alley, draw one in the dark?" He couldn't help himself, he just couldn't.
The woman laughed, loud, open, and cheerful. "Sure thing, kiddo. I'll be back in a few." Tossing him a grin, she turned and headed back towards the bar, and the door he assumed led to the kitchens.
That's odd, he mused, watching her go. Green leggings don't exactly go very well with that pink dress. Then his hindbrain reached forward and smacked him, and he took a second look.
Those weren't leggings. In fact, they weren't legs. The waitress wasn't walking, she was slithering… because below her skirt was a long tail like that of a snake.
Conan's mouth dried as his gaze slowly drifted over to the jazz quartet. The saxophonist had wings, each easily the length of her body, with white feathers that he'd somehow dismissed as a cloak or shirt on first glance. As for the drummer… what he'd thought were her dreadlocks were actually small snakes, which seemed to be keeping time with the song's beat.
Guess that explains the dark glasses, he thought, squelching the rising edge of hysteria. Don't want to be turning your audience into stone, after all.
Forcing himself to keep his breathing even, he scanned the rest of the room. Most of the patrons looked human, at least from a distance, but he was pretty sure he could see dragonfly wings shimmering in one back corner, and there was a puddle around the feet of the handsome man at the table closest to the stage.
"Don't get many of your kind in here," a male voice commented, breaking into his reverie. Conan looked up to find the bartender standing there, holding a tray with Conan's order on it. "Mind if I sit down?"
Conan shrugged. "Suit yourself," he replied, amazed at how casual his tone was. "What do you mean, my kind?"
The man grinned, setting the tray in front of Conan as he slid onto the other side of the booth. "Me-tantei."
The man's Japanese was perfectly tonal, with a Tokyo accent, but he looked so Western that it took a second for the pronunciation to register. Conan's eyes narrowed.
"Was that a pun?"
A grin. "Very good. Name's Lou, this is my place. Notice-me-not just wore off, huh?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. What do you mean, 'Detective with eyes?' What the hell's a notice-me-not? And would somebody actually name a lamia 'Lammy?' Did her parents hate her?"
Lou laughed. "Nah, but a series of hisses at different pitches is really hard to put on a nametag, and Lammy says we mammals just mess it up anyway."
"Wait, she's not a mammal?" Conan frowned, remembering the waitress's definite figure. "Then… how…"
"I don't know, and you don't wanna go there, kid," was the reply. "Though for you, I guess that's easier said than done. People mainly see what they want to see, not necessarily what's there. Meitantei, well, they see what's there, but they have to push to do it. Guys like you… you don't have to push. Am I right?"
Ouch. Yeah, he was. It was one of those things that drove Ran crazy, even though she understood it enough to be able to put up with him, when not many else could. Hattori, Hakuba-kun, even Occhan when he was trying, they were good detectives. But they could turn it off sometimes, or at least just down. He couldn't.
"As a matter of fact," Lou continued, "even with a push, you keep seeing. That's what a notice-me-not is, it just slips things in under that file of 'not important, nothing special.'"
"'You see, but you do not observe,'" Conan quoted, amused. "I guess that… makes some sense." Picking up his spoon, he dug into his beef stew. It was excellent.
The table was quiet for a moment, as Conan addressed himself to his meal and his coffee. Then Lou shifted. "So, what brings you in here, kiddo?"
Conan gave him an innocent look. "I was just looking for somewhere to have lunch, oniichan."
"And if I buy that, you'll sell me Tokyo Tower cheap, right? This place is special. You don't find the door unless you're having a very bad day, generally."
"And why is that?"
Lou's eyes seemed to lose a little focus. "Because bad days get a little easier to face when you're warm and fed and safe, ne? And, in some cases, when there's a little something extra in the coffee, but you're underage. And what better place to go and talk about things that you don't want anybody know than a bar that isn't there the next day?"
"So you're some sort of confessor?" Conan asked, dipping a cracker into his stew.
A chuckle. "I'm kind of an expert in confessions, but not that kind. More the kind you deal with."
Conan frowned. "So… when you say 'bad day…'"
"We have an extensive vegetarian menu," came the wry response.
Vegetarian? … Oh. Conan couldn't help but wince. He'd had a few cases where he couldn't eat meat for a while. It wasn't usually a problem, since Ran's budget meant most of their protein was soy anyway, but…
"So it's sort of like a cop bar."
"Kinda, yeah. Except it's not just for law enforcement. It's really for anybody who keeps fighting the good fight even when they're going underwater."
"Why do you do it?"
The man sighed reflectively. "I'm retired now, but… that used to be my job, too. I know what people do to each other, and what seeing it every does to you." He smiled slightly.
"I was never the bad guy. Whatever the stories tell you."
Lou. Oh, no way. But… he was three feet shorter than he should be, sitting in a bar he'd swear up and down wasn't there the day before, and listening to a medusa and a… winged person go to town on a pretty good cover of "Rhapsody in Blue." At this point, his definition of impossible was going to need some work.
Conan chuckled. "More like a prosecuting attorney, ne?" He thought he remembered reading something about that, years ago.
"So… why do they do it? It's wasteful and it's stupid and it's just… it never makes anything BETTER. Why do they do it?"
The bartender sighed. "I wish I knew. Yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Cain and Abel. People have been trying to figure it out since they first started picking up rocks. One guy makes fire to cook his food, one guy makes fire to cook his enemies. There's nature and nurture and choices and influences, but the root cause? We don't know. Nobody knows. I'm not even sure the big guy knows, if he even really exists. Nobody knows that either."
"You don't? I thought your job…"
"You're a detective, right? When you've got a client, that's your employer. But when you just stumble over a crime when you're out for the day, who's your boss? Who do you work for? Why do you do it?"
Conan nodded slowly. "Because it's who I am. Because it has to be done. Nobody said to me, 'do this,' but…"
Lou saluted him with a mug of coffee that Conan was damn sure he hadn't had a moment before. "So, we do what we can, where we can, when we can. And it's never quite enough, but…"
"It's something." Conan raised his own mug in acknowledgement.
A soft slithering noise heralded Lammy's approach to the table, carrying a plate.
"Here ya go, hon," the waitress smiled, no longer trying to hide the fangs. "Dessert's on the house. Eve with a lid."
Conan looked at the slice of apple pie, then smirked at his table-mate. "Haibara says it's supposed to be a pomegranate."
Lou snorted. "I'm not cleaning up that kind of mess."
Yeah, the aftermath of a pomegranate DID kinda look like some ax-murders he'd seen. Taking the plate from Lammy, he picked up his fork and took a bite.
Juicy and sweet, with just a hint of sourness to come. That's how knowledge always was, after all.