Sense and Sensitivity: Part I - Looking for Trouble in all the Wrong Places
Deborah (Kosagi) Brown
Detective Conan is copyright Aoyama Gosho. I only wish I could come up with so many plots.
Much thanks to Ryo Hoshi, without whose beta-read this fic would have many more comma related errors than it did before. Not to mention a few other problems. Any grammatical errors still existent in the story are probably due to my post-edit edit. (rubs back of head ruefully.)
Where to begin? For that matter, how? So many secrets. So very many secrets. I've always loved finding the answers, finding my way to the truth. I love the looks on everybody's faces when the Great Detective of the West, when Hattori Heiji, has solved yet another case, solved it using the powers of observation and deduction that is my inheritance.
I suppose it starts with Kudo Shinichi. My rival. My friend and my only equal. Hmmm. I suppose I should admit that Kudo may not be my equal, after all. That if one of us is the superior detective, it may well be Kudo. Oh, don't look at me that way. I may admit that, here and now, to you - but I'm damned if I'll ever say so in front of anyone else.
I'm distracting myself. I don't want to think about this. So many things now that I don't want to think about. So many things I don't want to see. Don't want to know. What was it that kid in the movie said? No I'm not going there. Not just yet. Focus, Heiji. Focus on the present. Or, rather, on the recent past.
So, once again, it starts with Kudo Shinichi. Kudo Shinichi, now Edogawa Conan. From 17 year old school boy/amateur detective to very annoyed grade school student in one easy dose. I don't understand it myself, but the point remains. What had once been a near-adult is now a child. A child desperately avoiding attention from those who had meant the poison they gave him to kill. Did they know what that drug of Ai's did? I doubt it. She certainly didn't. It wasn't intended to turn an adult to a child. She told me so herself, even if she's never explained what it was intended for.
Ai. Not long ago I thought she was a child. One of the kids who hung around with Conan, part of the cover he's built for himself to keep others from knowing who he really is. To keep Gin and Vodka from realizing that the interfering nosy teenager they'd left for dead in the amusement park had been transformed into an eight year old child.
You have to admit, it's not a bad idea. It gives Conan – yes, better use that name for him, just in case I'm overheard – it gives Conan a reason for being nosy. He and his friends have formed a club. The Detective Boys. Heh. I bet Ai and Ayumi just love that. But then, Ayumi adores Conan and – in the end – he's the one who solves the cases. Solves them for that old lush Mori too, not to mention trying his little trick on me but that's beside the point.
So there was Ai. Cute, delicate, little girl with a strangely serious look. I'd not met her till recently, but Ran and Kazuha talk about the Detective Boys all the time. Those two girls must think it's cute. So very, very cute. How cute do they think it is when that bunch run into a real murderer? The kids have, too. Conan told me about a few of them. It's strange what people let them get away with. Shinichi always was charismatic. Maybe that's what helps him – even as Conan. I wonder if my own charisma will help me with my problem?
Getting back to which Ai, pretty little blonde child Oh, just let me start from the beginning of that day. Maybe then you'll see why we're in this fix. Why you're here and what I have to do about it.
"But Kazuha," I whined. "It's a holiday. We could go to the beach! Go swimming." I didn't say anything about the possibilities of Kazuha dressed in swimwear. There are some things one just doesn't admit, not when one's the big tough Detective of the West, too hard-boiled to think of things like ogling his childhood friend in a swimsuit. The fact that she fills hers out with style is something I just don't tell her.
"Well," Kazuha replied haughtily. "You knew it was coming up as well as I did. If you'd wanted to do something you should have said so. I've already made a date with Ran and" She waved her finger in front of my nose, "Boys are not allowed. We don't even need you to baby-sit Conan, because he's going to be visiting Professor Agasa for the day."
Okay, so she was right that I shouldn't have expected she'd be available. But she's always available. Bad assumption on my part, and now I was going to pay for it with a long boring day. Not even a murder to make things interesting, I thought. How I wish I hadn't. Maybe some god heard me? What's that old curse? Living in Interesting Times.
In any case, with Kazuha off with Ran, I figured I'd take the early train to Tokyo and see what Conan was up to with the Professor. The old man's a clever fellow and I'd love to get my hands on some of the stuff he makes for Conan. That jet powered skateboard, for instance. Man, would I love to have one of those.
It was Ai who answered the door, blue eyes meeting mine with that same suspicious and distrustful glare that I sometimes get from Kazuha when she doesn't believe a word I'm saying. I didn't know her at the time, but I remembered that the Prof. had a ward.
"Hi there, is Conan and the professor here?" I asked, being as genki as possible. This isn't easy when you're getting That Look turned on you in spades. "er I'm Hattori Heiji a friend of Kudo Shinichi"
"I know who you are. They aren't here. They went out to get some food."
I ought to have realized then that something was odd here immediately. For one thing, Ai didn't talk like a kid. For another, what sort of guardian leaves his ward at home while he goes out? Thirdly, how many grade school kids, even phenomenally smart ones like Ai was supposed to be, talked that way?
My expression must have made her take pity on me. It was a hot day. Sweltering. Perfect day for the beach, but not so great for standing on a porch in searing sunlight. Not even my baseball cap was much protection against the sun. "Come in. They're bringing the food back. You can wait inside."
That puzzled me. Ai had never met me before. "Er not to quibble, but should you be letting total strangers into the Professor's house?"
"Hmph. I saw you at the school play a while back and I know you and Conan are friends." She shrugged and I should have realized then something was weird by her failure to give my best bud any sort of honorific. "It's up to you. Come in or melt in the sun waiting for them to come home."
What could I do? I went in.
The Prof's house was a nice place. I admit to staring around in fascination at all the gadgetry. I noted there were several computers on a bench in one room. One was on and apparently in the process of calculating something because there was a progress bar moving slowly across the middle of the screen. It was just about to the end when I entered.
"I'll get you something to drink. Cola? Tea? Water? I'd suggest the last, myself. Soda is bad for your teeth. Not to mention the bones..."
I blinked at Ai. "Yeah, water's good." I agreed, bemused. She really didn't act like a little girl.
As she left the room I looked at the chair sitting beside the computer. Now that's strange. Too tall for most people. Why in the world Suddenly, I realized it was the girl's seat. Moreover, I had a sudden insight into what she had to be: another victim of the drug that had turned Conan into a child.
Okay, so my insight could be considered a jump to conclusions, but think about it. I'd already figured Conan out. Once you make a leap of logic like that, it's just a short hop to figure out what was up with Ai. Not when she was doing about zilch towards keeping her secret hidden. Come on, I'd have to be deaf, blind and stupid not to have at least a good guess about her.
I considered whether I should say something and – uncharacteristically – decided not to. It bugged Conan that I knew about him. If the girl was another victim, then she might not appreciate my blowing her cover either. Besides, I didn't really want to say anything without solid evidence. Not when putting my foot in my mouth could have put Conan's life in danger. I'm not good with secrets – though now I'm going to have to be – but I knew that much. All right, so I used to give Kudo a hard time by calling him by his real name, but that's easy to cover; just tell anyone asking that he's a small version of the Great Detective of the East. So far it's worked, but I suppose I'd better stop it, now that I have a secret to hide as well.
I didn't bother trying to make small talk with Ai when she returned with my water and then hopped up onto her seat. If I was right, she probably – no, obviously – found it painfully hard to play child to an older person and, since I couldn't confirm my suspicions, I didn't want to tell her it was okay to talk to me like an adult. I picked up a magazine on electronics and flipped idly through the pages. Meanwhile, Ai ignored me, seeming to decide to regard me as a part of the furnishings.
About ten minutes later, the computer beeped and I allowed my eyes to drift up enough to watch the kid. She was peering intently at a page full of addresses and frowning, muttering something very softly under her breath. "Damn," I heard, and had trouble not reacting. She tapped a few buttons, saved a file, then stared into the screen with a look of concentration. Then she glanced at me, suspiciously.
Her expression got even more suspicious when I returned my gaze to my magazine and didn't comment on her behavior. After a moment she jumped down and I suddenly found myself staring into the most intense and direct gaze I'd ever seen aside from Kudo Shinichi's. Well, maybe the Kid as well, but I've never been face-to-face with that not-so-worthy borrower of people's stuff.
Ai's voice was direct, calm and intense. I decided to play it safe. "Know what?"
She only hesitated a moment. Innocence is, apparently, not one of my strong points. "Don't be coy. You know I'm like Kudo. That I used to be an adult until I took a certain drug. Kudo told me you know about him." Her head lifted in a proud way that suggested I'd better not offer pity or even sympathy. "You're smart. He's said so. Smart enough to figure him out without any prior knowledge of the possibility. I can't imagine you being so out of it not to realize that I'm in the same boat."
I nodded slowly, not trusting myself to speak. Damn but she was unnerving. Even knowing there was an adult in that tiny body, it was almost impossible to look into her face and not be disoriented by the dichotomy of her behavior versus her form.
"I need you to come with me. We'll leave a note for the others."
"Huh?" I asked intelligently. "What are you talking about?"
"They're getting ready to close the shop. If we don't move fast, we'll lose them."
I took a deep breath. "Hold on a moment. Who are they and what shop is it that they're closing?"
"Black Organization. One of their laboratories. They're moving it today. This very minute. There's a chance we can get a hold of some samples of what they're working on. More importantly, they may have transferred my data files there." At my raised brow, she sighed. "I was one of them. Once. That's over now. They killed my sister and I quit. But they would have killed me, so I took the APTX 4869 in order to kill myself." She gave me a direct look. "Are you coming? I need someone to act like my big brother so we can get in."
I don't know what possessed me. I should have suggested waiting for Conan and the Professor. I didn't. Maybe I wanted to one one-up him. Kudo Shinichi has always been a thorn in my side, after all. Helping Ai get information that might get him cured would be something to hold over his head. "All right."
The laboratory was in an older building downtown. One of those multi office buildings that get rented by sleazy little outfits. Sort of like Mori-san's place, in fact, if limited to office space only. I glanced at the list of companies, reading through them for the one Ai had said was the one. "Third floor. How do you want to handle things?"
"I'll slip in and take a look around. Then you follow. Tell anyone there that I have to go to the dentist up on the fourth floor and made a run for it." She handed me one of those little badges that Conan and the other kids had. "Here. I'll use this to let you know what's up or if I need help. Make a big fuss. Insist that I have to have come this way." I examined the badge, noting the little buttons and tiny speaker. Agasa's work. Damn, but that man has some wonderful toys. I could have used one of those when I ended up falling off a cliff with Kazuha a while back.
Ai and I went upstairs and she tried the door. Not unexpectedly, it was locked, but I wouldn't be much of a detective if a locked door could stop me. I got it open quickly and quietly. Okay, it took a bit more than the minute I'd claimed it would take, but not by much.
I let Ai go in, though I felt a touch of worry about doing so. I don't have much in the way of parental instincts, but something didn't feel right about letting a little kid go into a dangerous situation all by herself. I forced myself not to say anything. She looked like a little kid, but I knew she wasn't. I'd have to trust her to take care of herself. I sensed that she wouldn't have let me do otherwise.
"There's no one here – it's looking like we might be too late. You may as well come in. You'll look more suspicious standing out in the hall." The tinny little voice came over the badge she'd given me. I took her suggestion immediately, since I was beginning to feel a bit nervous hanging around the way I was. Strange that, but most of my cases have been after a murder. Not the sort of cases that involve breaking and entering into the bad guys' lab to investigate what they're up to. I usually leave that sort of thing to Zenigata or the Shadow, usually.
Inside, the first room was empty and had that echoing feel that a room gets when it's been cleared of its furnishings. I listened, chose the door on the left and looked through. No sign of Ai in the short hallway, so I stepped in and opened each door in turn. More offices, each as empty as Mori's head. As I reached the end of the hall and looked into the room at the end, I frowned. Something seemed off. I started pacing.
A minute later, I'd found it. Nestled between two walls, entrance hidden behind and inside a metal cabinet, was another hallway. I used the badge to call Ai and tell her what I'd found. "It's in the last room off the hallway to the left," I told her. "Do you want to come look?"
"I'll be right there."
Looking into the hall, I shone a light down the darkened passage. There was a single door at the other end. From the looks of things, the owners had used a fortuitous arrangement to set up a secret area in their office space. Ai stepped up then and nodded. "If there's anyone here," she noted, "this is where they'll be. Careful. It may be dangerous."
"Let's go," I said. "I'm curious now." I wonder if Kudo had thought that when he got his butt – and the rest of him – turned back into a bratty kid? Probably. The two of us have more in common than we sometimes like to admit.
The door at the other end of the passage was unlocked and we stepped out into another hallway, this one brighter because of the window at the end. There were two doors, one on each side, and a quick check of the first one revealed an office with a computer. Ai made a little noise, a pleased hum, and headed straight for it. "I'll start here," she said, booting it up. "If you want, look around, make sure we're really the only people here. If you run into anyone, claim the doors were all open and that you're looking for me. Make sure you talk loudly and I'll come out of hiding."
I nodded and left the lady to her pleasures. Computers aren't really my thing in any case.
The next room was a lab, plain and simple in its layout. A single counter at the center with the usual sink arrangement such counters have. More counters encircling the room. Test equipment was obviously being packed away and the only thing running in there was a small refrigerator in one corner and some sort of cage in the other. I stepped around the counter and halted, blinking. The cage was big enough to hold a gorilla – if it didn't want to move around much – and it was occupied. Not, I hasten to add, by a gorilla but by a naked man. He lay curled in a fetal position on the floor, breathing heavily.
I hurried over to the cage and worked my lock-picking magic on it. As I did the man, a wasted wreck from the looks of it, raised his head and looked at me. "Make them go away," he begged in English. A Gaijin. Fortunately, I understand English pretty well. Even speak it better than most, if I do say so myself.
"Them?" I asked in the same language, blinking at the stranger. Rough brown hair, shaggy beard, pale skin and reddened grey eyes that held a lost, terrified expression. "What do you mean?"
"You promised they'd go away soon. That the pills would make them go away forever! Why haven't they? I can see them. All around us. MAKE THEM STOP STARING AT ME!" At that he leapt at me and grabbed me around the throat. We crashed around the room, struggling with each other. He was surprisingly strong, despite his wasted condition, and I finally had no choice but to hit him on the jaw. He dropped to the floor, unconscious.
I leaned against the counter, noticing the mess we'd created. Glass was everywhere, powders and liquids spilled across the floor from where we'd knocked into one of the packing boxes. The refrigerator door was hanging open. It was almost empty except for a small rack of hypodermic needles, all full of something pink. I didn't like the looks of the things. I've never been fond of shots, and those needles looked too damn long and thick. I looked away and straight into the face of a newcomer.
He must have arrived just as I'd knocked the lunatic out. Average height, average weight. Terminally non-descript. His stare from behind thick glasses held a mixture of surprise, insult and alarm. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
I remembered Ai's orders. "I'm looking for my sister," I gasped loudly. "We were going to the dentist up on four and she slipped off. She's got a cavity and she doesn't like the drill." I glanced at the man lying on the floor. He was quite firmly unconscious, for which I was glad. Especially since I didn't like the way this new guy was looking at me. "What the hell's his problem?"
The man's features twitched. "Heh He's not well."
"You're not kidding," I replied, as the newcomer moved through the room. I didn't think he looked too well either. He was pale, twitchy and nervous. Not that I blamed him, if I worked for the Black Organization and had some strange teenager poking around in my hideout I'd have been nervous too. He wasn't armed though and he looked too weak to manage much. "I ah I'd better keep looking for my sister" I moved towards the door as he walked towards me.
"Here, I'll help you." I didn't like the offer and definitely didn't want to accept it. He ignored my protests though, adding, "I don't know how you got in. I was sure I locked the doors. All of them." He glanced at the cage as he approached me, reaching over to put a hand on my shoulder.
I started to dodge, nerves on edge from a combination of factors. His hands had been empty the last I'd seen, and the fact that one now had a knife clenched in a fist registered only just in time. I grabbed his wrist. "What do ya think yer doin'?" I demanded angrily as he twisted in my grip. Once again I was struggling.
The blade narrowly missed my neck and I twisted his wrist in a nerve hold. He was stronger than I'd expected, but I could tell he wasn't my equal. The knife went clattering onto the floor behind us and he broke free, falling backwards into the open refrigerator. I took a deep breath, realizing that I wasn't going to get sense out of him. Either I'd failed to fool him, or he was desperate or paranoid enough that not even my mildly plausible story was good enough for him.
While I wondered what to do, he reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a hypodermic. Wild eyed, he launched himself at me. As I moved my arm to knock him away, I heard a sharp sound from the doorway. He collapsed in on himself, a red stain forming on his chest.
I glanced back at the doorway and stared at Ai. There's no sight quite so unnerving as a tiny delicate little kid holding a pistol with the calm air of concentration of an Olympic-class marksman. A thin trail of smoke rose from the muzzle. Between that, and the fact that it was beginning to dawn on me that she might have saved my life, I was pretty stunned.
"GET BACK!" she shouted and I realized I'd let myself get too distracted by the sight. The guy was mortally injured, but he'd had enough strength to stagger another step towards me and swing the hypodermic straight for my chest. I only had time to turn slightly and take the needle into my arm instead. Something agonizingly cold seared its way into my bicep and I gave a yell as I fell backwards.
As the guy dropped I sat on the floor and stared at the hypodermic sticking into me. "Damn. Goddamn it to hell and back. Shit shit SHIT!" The profanity I was gasping was pretty much automatic. I turned a look on Ai. "Preschool here I come?" I asked weakly, trying to make a joke and failing miserably.
Ai looked at me and I felt a surge of dizziness. She seemed to be glowing slightly. "APTX4869 is a pill," she said coolly, though her expression was tense. I thought I saw fear in her eyes and not a little worry. "I don't know what's going to happen."
"Th that's okay" I managed to gasp. "I think I'm going to find out." Then I fainted.
When I came too, I was lying on the floor of the lab. Several hours had passed, I thought, since the light from the hall and the window outside was dim and darkening quickly. Ai was sitting beside me, eyes watchful, fingers around my wrist, that faint glow around her flickering in and out every so often. "It seemed best to stay here," she said when our eyes met. "I can't move you and your heart rate, while somewhat unsteady, suggested you weren't dying."
I didn't add that there wasn't a lot she could have done if I had been. I took stock of myself instead. I was still my proper age and, while I had a headache that would have killed an elephant, I felt – in general – normal. I turned my head and nearly shrieked. Only force of will allowed me to whisper, "Ai move very quietly. You must not have killed him"
Ai stared at me, followed my gaze. "What are you talking about, Hattori?" Her tone was confused and maybe a bit worried.
I blinked, first at her, then at him. The man, who I would have sworn she'd just killed, was standing at the counter nearby. He had an intent look on his face and he appeared to be holding something up in front of his face. Then I noticed the dark stain against the pallor of his shirt. "He's right there" Something was strange though. He didn't seem aware of us. When he turned and walked over to the refrigerator and acted like he was opening it, I felt a surge of fear. He'd walked right through Ai. Even worse, I saw his body still sprawled on the floor. "Oh my god." Other, fainter, shapes were just visible now. Animals, mostly, but other people The room suddenly felt very crowded. I whimpered.
"Hattori, I think we'd better get out of here. You're hallucinating and if he had friends they may be showing up any minute now. Let's go."
"Wait what about the other guy" I pointed towards the prisoner. He may have attacked me, but from the looks of things I figured he probably had reason. When I saw another image of him crawling around the cage restlessly I knew what Ai was going to say next.
"Dead," Ai said in a tone that suggested she didn't really care. Except she put her hand on my arm to help me up at the same time and I felt a sudden shock of rage and self-hatred pour into me. "Hattori-kun?" What is it? Why is he acting like this? Why did I bring him? Too damned overconfident. LOOK WHAT I'VE DONE! They weren't my thoughts but they burned in my brain like acid, driving thoughts of the dead man out easily.
"N..no Let me go Don't touch me" I could see it. Her past swimming through my head, spinning past my eyes in a kaleidoscope. My entire body shuddered as if I'd taken a massive electrical shock. The things she'd done swirled around my head. The anger at herself and at those who'd convinced her to do it. The sorrow of loss. It hurt. It hurt so much I thought I'd faint just from the pain alone. She let go of my wrist, expression blank. I forced myself to my feet and swayed. "What what's happening to me, Shiho-san?"
Ai gave me a strange and frightened look. "Shiho?" she demanded, eyes wide. "Where did you get that name?"
I shook my head. I didn't know. I just knew I had to get out of there. Away from the man going through his routine, unaware that he was dead. Away from his victims, equally unaware of their ends. Away from the child who wasn't a child and her guilt and self-hatred. Away. I crawled to my feet and ran.
To Be Continued...