Fandom: Detective Conan
Disclaimer: I don't own Detective Conan. But I do have homemade hand-puppets for each character...that's normal, right?
Summary: Sequel to A Perfect Act. There's a killer on the loose, with an very odd MO. Helping with the investigation means that Kaito might need to watch his back.
The rain hadn't stopped, and Kaito shivered involuntarily against it. Hopefully this would be a quick trip: get in, get what he needed, and get out. It had taken some serious pleading to get this meeting set up in the first place; he wasn't looking forward to it any more than his informant was. But it had to be done.
After all, this was one of the reasons the higher-ups at the police department had offered him the deal in the first place.
He slipped into the warehouse (the appointed meeting place) unnoticed, and was immediately thankful to be out of the rain. It might not have been much warmer inside, but it was certainly dry and a pleasant respite from the precipitation pounding down on him. A quick glance around revealed a faint light glowing at the far end of the warehouse. He followed it, and found who he was looking for.
"Nice to see you again," he said respectfully. "I do appreciate you meeting with me like this."
His informant was not the sort of man one would want to meet up with in a darkened alley. He looked gruff and dangerous, a man with a criminal record for petty theft, burglary, and other assorted crimes, all comparatively minor. He wasn't the sort who set out to harm others, and in fact had once admitted (under the influence of a little bit of alcohol, of course) that he had a soft spot for kids. It was this man who had put Kaito on the track of the child brothel that had been his first case for the police.
Petty crime was one thing. Harming children was an affront to the underworld's odd honor code.
The man grunted. "Right on time. Figgered you wouldn' keep me waitin'."
The glow that had led Kaito to the meeting spot was coming from a small fire inside a metal bucket. Light and warmth, both very much needed in this place. There were two boxes propped up on either side of the fire. His informant was sitting on one; Kaito took a seat on the other, taking care to keep the brim of his hat down. He was wearing dark clothes and a hat, looking more like a thief now than he did when he was actually out stealing things.
"You said that you saw something related to the murders," Kaito asked quietly.
"I did," the man said. "But I ain't sayin' a word to police. Jus' you."
"I understand," Kaito nodded. "I'll take them your testimony anonymously, like I did before."
"Shouldn' be trustin' ya with this…"
A small smile crossed Kaito's face. "How many times in the past have you given me information?"
"…a few," the man finally seemed to decide on.
"How many times have I breathed a word of your identity, name or otherwise, to police?"
"…heh," the man chuckled, a dark sound. "But this one? This's diff'rent. I don't wan' any cops comin' my way. Not a one, ya hear me?"
Kaito's smile had quickly faded into a suspicious frown. "I understand your reluctance to talk with police, but you seem a bit more adamant about it tonight. You know I won't tell anyone you told me anything. Why so concerned about it?"
The informant leaned forward. "'Cuz one of yer precious cops is th'one who did it."
Kaito's blood ran cold in his veins. "What?"
"I saw 'em," the informant said seriously. "Wasn' 'til I saw the news that I figgered it out. The twin broth'rs. I saw one of 'em come outta the bar. Talkin' on a phone. Guy walked up to 'im, and I swear to God, 'e had a badge. They talk'd for a few, an' the kid walked with the guy aroun' the corner. Didn' see the kid again, but the guy? 'e came back."
"What did he do?" Kaito pressed. His stomach was busy coiling itself into unpleasant knots.
"Sat on a bench acros' the street. Waited. After a bit, 'nother kid came out. Thought t'was the same one, but musta been the broth'r. The guy show'd the badge again. Kid looks real concerned, and off they go, 'round the corner. A few minutes later, cop car pulls outta the parkin' lot."
"A squad car?"
"Damn straight. Saw it there earlier, didn' think much o'it. Figgered 'e was lookin' fer drunks or somethin'. Didn' see the kids again, 'til their faces woun' up all over the news." The informant glanced around. "I don' wan' nothin' to do with it, Shadow. Don' need no dirty cop comin' after me."
Shadow. That was the alias he had given them, and so it was what most of his informants had taken to calling him during these visits. It was trite, but effective. He wore black, kept his face covered, and gave no clues as to his identity. They knew only that he trusted their word and took their anonymous testimony to the police. It was safer that way.
The man's eyes narrowed, looking particularly dangerous in the firelight. "You be careful. Yer a good kid. Don' wan' 'em to get you, too."
Kaito nodded. "I'll be careful. I promise. You watch out for yourself as well. And thank you for this. Thank you very, very much."
Kaito threw down the folder and sat back in his chair. His frustration level had hit a fever pitch, an usual feeling for someone who was usually so calm and laid-back. "I don't know what we're even looking for anymore. The killer didn't leave a shred of evidence behind, not so much as a fingerprint or a strand of hair. There's no connection between the victims at all…and I swear I have all of these case files memorized."
The police had been going about the case diligently, examining every possible aspect of the victims' personal lives. They'd looked into where they were from, where they'd gone to school, their jobs, even what dry cleaners they used. A few of the officers had even tried playing the Six Degrees of Connection game, in search of a way to connect them. But there was no consistent pattern, no real thread linking the murdered men together. The only ones with any sort of definitive collection were, regretfully, the twin brothers whose bodies had been burned in a recreation of the magician Lafayette's final show.
After hours of going over the same notes and same files over and over again, Kaito was at his wits' end. Especially when he had further information and just hadn't quite figured out how to use it yet. He had every intention of having a conversation with Nakamori-keibu later, regarding that little matter.
Judging by the expression Kudo was giving him from the other side of the table, the young detective felt very much the same, but was doing a slightly better job of not throwing things. "I know. But there has to be something we're missing. There's always a pattern, Kuroba, and there's always a hint in there somewhere. Frequently the pattern itself is the hint." Kudo leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table, his chin coming to lean on one hand. "There's one thing about this that really jumps out at me, though…"
"…the lack of evidence, actually," Kudo said, flipping a folder shut. "It's not entirely unheard of for a murderer to leave no trace behind, but…it's not that likely. There's a saying in law enforcement: 'A criminal always leaves something of himself at the scene of the crime, and takes something away with him.' And I have never found that saying to be untrue. There's always a trace, either on the killer or on the scene. But in this case, I'm wondering if the lack of evidence is a clue itself."
Kaito blinked, then got it. "You mean someone who knows exactly how to ensure that they don't leave anything behind. Someone who knows what to look for in terms of cleaning up after themselves." Amazing. Absolutely amazing.
"Exactly. There's even a note on the case-file for the magic shop killing that said the rugs appeared to have been freshly vacuumed, and there was evidence of blood having been cleaned up - not just wiped, but with the appropriate chemicals. That's a serious knowledge of how to clean up," Kudo sighed. "As much as I hate to say it, I think that could point to someone with a background in law enforcement, whether an active member or a past member." He shrugged. "But that's conjecture. There's no concrete proof to support the idea."
"Maybe not concrete proof…but there's circumstantial evidence to support it," Kaito said slowly, thinking carefully about what he was going to say. It amazed him how Kudo could arrive at what Kaito himself knew to be the current conclusion based on only the scantest, loosest of evidence. "Aside from your thought, what about the case-files themselves? It would be a lot easier for someone on the inside to keep the already-obscure pattern hidden, don't you think?"
"…that's a valid point," Kudo conceded. "But it's entirely possible that some random nutjob out there has just been getting lucky."
"Luck may be a lady, Kudo, but she's also quite fickle," Kaito said. "Lucky once or twice, maybe. This many times says experience to me."
"I'm aware of other criminals who've gotten away with various things and not left a shred of evidence behind. Gin and Vodka and their cohorts in the Black Organization come to mind." There was no mistaking the shudder that ran up Kudo's spine at the thought of the men who had sought to kill him and sent him into hiding for so long. Kaito knew the case well, both for personal and professional reasons.
Personally: he liked Kudo as a person and as a rival, and he didn't like seeing anyone get hurt, period.
Professionally: Kudo's Organization and Kaito's Organization had proven to be one and the same, meaning that even after Snake's arrest on the night Kaitou Kid had been shot, it had been Kudo to put a final nail in the Organization's coffin.
Kudo was still speaking. "Kaitou Kid is another one. There's evidence of how he does his tricks, but never really anything that would lead to his identity. I think they know his blood type now, but that's about it."
Kaito couldn't quite keep the chuckle from escaping him. "I think we both need coffee and possibly a snack. Shall we go hit up the break room? Megure-keibu said we could help ourselves if we needed it."
"You know, that actually sounds really good," Kudo nodded and rose to his feet.
It wasn't far from the conference room to the break room, a fact which amused Kaito, for odd reasons. He had visions of officers dragging themselves from boring meetings towards the safe haven of the break room and its altar to coffee. Kaito was also well aware that his imagination was extremely odd and prone to going places where it often shouldn't.
He and Kudo had been working in close contact with the police for several days now; it had been almost two weeks since the discovery of the body that had started this whole thing in the first place. The two young men got along quite well. Both were the children of famous, influential people, and both had carried on in their fathers' footsteps. They were of similar intelligence and shared some interests. It was developing into a fast friendship, something Kaito was alternatively enjoying and eyeing warily.
He genuinely liked the detective. Kudo Shinichi was similar to Hakuba, but with a great deal less arrogance (though Kaito was sure some of that had been knocked out of the detective along with a meter of height and his peace of mind). But he couldn't quite shake the fact that Kudo was still watching him, as though waiting for some indication of why exactly he felt he knew the magician.
So Kaito had to maintain a constant balance between keeping his guard up and acting like a normal person. It was a tightrope walk…but Kuroba Kaito had never been afraid of heights.
There were a few others in the break room when they arrived. Satou Miwako was reading something on the bulletin board on one wall, and three uniformed officers were sitting around the table, drinking coffee and laughing at a joke one of them had apparently just told. They waved as the two young men entered and made room for them to sit with their own coffee cups.
One sip of the coffee told Kaito something new about Kudo Shinichi: the detective had taste buds of steel if he was able to drink the acid in the cup without so much as flinching. A little milk diluted it more to Kaito's taste, and he resumed sipping.
After some fairly boring conversation about the weather (it had been raining a lot lately), a recent baseball game, and something cute one officer's daughter had done the other day, one of the cops turned to Kaito. "So…you're Kuroba Toichi's son, right?"
It took Kaito a moment to place the man's name: Kurosawa. A regular officer, not someone you would probably notice in a crowd. "I am," Kaito nodded.
"I was a fan of your father's, way back in the day," he said, sipping his drink. "Saw him perform live a few times."
"I think I did too, come to think of it," another officer (was his name Suoh? Something like that…a broad man with a large nose) spoke up. "My sister was a huge fan. Dragged me to the show. I couldn't admit to her that I enjoyed it." He chuckled to himself at what was obviously a private joke.
"How goes the murder investigation, boys?" Satou asked; she was leaning on the back of Kaito's chair. "Any luck?"
"Not really. A few theories, but no proof of anything," Kudo said. "I want to make a victim board, if that's all right. Maybe seeing it all spread out will trigger something. It's a long shot, but it might help." There was a beep, and Kudo glanced at his watch. "…but I think it'll have to wait until tomorrow. I have, umm…an appointment." Before anyone could so much as blink, Kudo Shinichi had left the room.
Kaito glanced up at Satou. "And by appointment, he means…?"
"Date," she clarified. "He has a date."
"Oh, he's chasing after the Mouri girl now, right?" Kurosawa said with a smirk. "Boy better be careful."
"Somehow, I think he's more than a match for her," Satou said, and Kaito, knowing what he knew, was forced to agree out loud. He did not, however, mention that he knew there was a betting pool being started by a few officers regarding when Mouri Ran was going to show up with a ring on her finger.
Internally, he had been mulling over the case in his head, and decided that maybe it was time to take a different, decidedly less orthodox approach to solving the Magician Murders, as the media had been so quick to uncreatively dub them once the case had broken.
A very unorthodox approach indeed.
"Kaito, you can't be serious," Aoko's voice was tinny over the phone, but there was no mistaking the concern.
Satisfied that his tie was secure, Kaito moved to shrug into his coat; he was in his secret room and had her on speakerphone. "I have to do it like this, Aoko. I can't just waltz into the police department as myself and say that I just wandered into the bad part of town, spoke with some less than reputable citizens about the murders, and got information out of them. Even if they believed me, I'd have to explain it. So I'm going to put it in the hands of a professional and let him deal with it."
"Kudo Shinichi tried to put you behind bars before, Kaito. If he realizes who you are, or even catches you…Kaito, he doesn't know that you're working for the police." The background noise told Kaito that Aoko was pacing on her end; the mental image made him smile.
"I'm worried about your dad. If he keeps popping up with these quote-unquote 'tips' that prove to be right, sooner or later someone's going to start raising an eyebrow, which we can't allow to happen. Kudo is unofficially the lead detective on this case, so it makes the most sense to give it to him. Plus," Kaito paused in the act of securing his cap to his shoulders. "…I know it doesn't necessarily make sense, but Kudo and I have a sort of…understanding, I guess would be the best way to put it. A gentleman's agreement. He knows that when it's important, he can trust me. And he wants to solve this case. I really believe he'll listen to what I have to say."
"I don't like it," Aoko said after a moment's pause. "I don't like it at all. Why do you have to be such a risk taker?"
Kaito grinned to himself at his small victory, and pulled his hat into place. "It's all part of the job description."
The only indication Shinichi had that anyone else was in the room was a whispered rush of displaced air. He tensed immediately and reached for the reading lamp on the desk. It was heavy enough that it could do damage if there was an intruder in the house. Goodness knew that he'd gotten a bit more paranoid about things in the days since his first encounter with Gin and Vodka.
"Who's there?" he said calmly, loudly, with enough force to indicate he was not afraid.
"At ease, meitantei. I come in peace."
At the sound, much of the tension left Shinichi's body, and he lowered the lamp back to the desk. "I'd appreciate it if you came out into the open and explained yourself. I'm working on a case, and I'm not in the mood to mess around."
Kaitou Kid all but materialized in the middle of the library, arms folded casually across his chest. "You seem a bit stressed, detective."
"That's because I am," Shinichi said shortly. He leaned back against the desk. "So what brings you here tonight, Kid? It can't just be because you wanted the dubious pleasure of my company."
A white scarf appeared in Kid's hand, and he moved said hand enough to make the scarf wave a bit. "Consider this my white flag of truce, Kudo. I come bearing the gift of information, and I think it's something that would be quite relevant to your current case."
Shinichi realized that he wasn't all that surprised by Kid's words. Perhaps it had even occurred to him, in some corner of his mind, that Kaitou Kid would take an interest in this particular mystery. After all, he was the consummate magician. And really, what harm could it do? When he was pursuing the thief, he wouldn't trust the man farther than he could throw him. But at a moment like this, just the two of them discussing a common interest…?
With a short chuckle, Shinichi nodded. "Truce, then. Have a seat."
Shinichi took the big chair, while Kid opted for a seat on the couch. "I do appreciate you listening to what I have to say. This is not a good situation."
"No, it isn't. We've got seven victims total - five cold cases, and the one that just popped up that actually led to the break in the case. That one just hasn't had time to go cold yet. There's every possibility that there might be more out there somewhere that we don’t know about or haven't found yet. And there's not a single goddamn piece of evidence that I can find anywhere," he paused, then smiled dryly. "But somehow, I suspect that I'm telling you a whole bunch of things you already know."
"I've taken the liberty of familiarizing myself with the case. Quite possibly without the knowledge of the law enforcement officials running the investigation," Kid said airily. Then he sobered, the most solemn expression Shinichi had ever seen from the thief. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands open with palms up in an open gesture. "What I bring to you is a recommendation. According to information from a source I will not disclose, you need to turn your investigation inward, Kudo."
It took a moment for Shinichi to realize what he meant. "…you're not saying--"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Your killer is someone within the police department. They know how to hide evidence, or if any evidence was ever actually found, it could easily be lost, destroyed, or misplaced."
"What of this source?"
"I will not tell you who told me. But I trust this person. My source had no reason to lie to me."
"Is this the first time this source has helped you?"
"No, it's not," Kid said.
"I presume that you will not tell me who this source is?"
"If I did, I would never hear from him again," Kid replied. He actually smiled bitterly. "The person in question set in motion the chain of events leading up to the bust of the child brothel a few months ago." He felt safe letting Kudo in on that little secret. It was one of those situations where it really didn't matter how the information came to light. It mattered only that it had come to light, period.
He was proven right when Kudo raised an eyebrow. "An anonymous tip, as I understood it."
"Contrary to popular belief, I am occasionally capable of discretion."
"Color me shocked." The banter ended there as Kudo's expression once again grew grim. "Tell me what you know."
It didn't take too terribly long for Kid to fill the detective in on what he knew. Kudo listened quietly, nodding at appropriate intervals, and stayed silent for a moment after Kid's story had come to an end. The thief didn't press on the matter, though. He could practically hear the gears turning in Kudo's head, and far be it for him to interrupt the master at work.
Finally, Kudo spoke up. "I'll mention it to Megure and Nakamori first thing tomorrow. I presume that this should remain an anonymous tip as well?" When Kid nodded, Kudo shook his head wryly. "I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to explain this away, precisely, but I'll do my best." Now he fixed the thief with a curious look. "I have to ask, though - why are you so interested in this case? It doesn't seem like it's something up your alley."
"Magicians are right up my alley, meitantei," Kid said. "And quite frankly, aside from despising murderers, I find it offensive that someone would drag the magical arts through the mud in such a manner."
To his mild surprise, Kudo laughed. "You're a strange one." The detective rose, and to Kid's further surprise, held out a hand. "I do appreciate it, though. This case isn't an easy one, and so far there's no evidence of the killer or evidence of actual logic behind it. I'll take all the help I can get on this one." He tilted his head to one side. "If you happened to stumble onto any further information…"
"You'll be the first to know, meitantei," Kid said.
Kudo nodded, seemingly believing him. But he kept his head tilted, regarding the thief with an odd look.
"…is there something on my face?" Kid asked lightly after a moment, though he was fighting to keep from outright shivering at the inexplicable feeling of ice in his stomach. What was going through Kudo's head? "Or is there something about you I don't know and there's a different reason you'd like to get me in handcuffs?"
A snort was the response, and Kudo seemed to shake himself out of whatever thought it was that had so held him. Oddly enough, the apparent dismissal didn't make Kid feel any better regarding whatever it was that the detective had been so pondering. Even as he bid Kudo a pleasant evening and made his spectacular poof of an exit from the house, he couldn't quite ditch the feeling that somehow, something in the final moments of their exchange had gone wrong.
Two days later, Kaito was roused from a particularly restless sleep (he had not had nightmares like this since his father's funeral) by the irritating sound of his phone. It sounded far too cheerfully, playing a digital symphony's rendition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. He answered it, still shaking off the remnants of the awful dream, and listened to a very subdued-sounding Kudo Shinichi on the other end of the line.
Another body had been found.
By the time the police car arrived ten minutes later, Kaito was already waiting on the front step. Kurosawa was in the driver's seat - Kaito remembered him as being one of the officers he had become acquainted with during a visit to the break room. The ride to the site was relatively silent, and far too long for the young man's tastes. Kurosawa tried a couple of times to coax Kaito into conversation, but given what he was on his way to witness, idle chit-chat was not high on his list.
The place was crawling with police officers. Kaito bid a quiet thank you to his chauffer, who nodded and wished him luck. He spied Kudo immediately, standing next to Megure. Nakamori was there as well, talking to a uniformed officer a few meters away. Yellow tape fenced off the area that, presumably, held the remains of the unfortunate victim. He joined Kudo and got the basic information on this newest development.
This body had been found out in this open field, at the mercy of the elements, animals, and insects. It had obviously been there a good while, probably earlier than any of their other cases. Advanced decomposition was going to make identification extremely difficult, and it would be impossible to determine a precise cause or time of death, but the medical examiner was confident he could glean some information from the body.
But two things had jumped out at them all right there on the scene, and it was those reasons that had led to Kaito being summoned: the presence of a hunting rifle beside the body, and a bright orange canvas vest, like something that would be worn by construction workers or hunters for greater visibility. It was strange enough to warrant asking their resident expert and consultant if there was anything odd about it.
Kaito stared down at the unfortunate victim (a male, probably in his twenties, the coroner pronounced on the scene, although he wouldn't know much more until he got the remains into autopsy and was able to take a good look). His stomach did an unpleasant turn at the sight of it. Kudo might be accustomed to this sort of thing, but Kaito was not, and his emotions were mixed, between revulsion and anger and no little sadness at the whole thing.
He took everything in quietly, barely noticing when Kudo moved up behind him. "Contrary to what it might seem, this really doesn't get any easier with experience," the detective said, leaving Kaito to wonder (not for the first time) if Kudo was secretly in possession of mind-reading abilities. "I've just learned how to detach from it all and look at it objectively while I'm trying to figure it out. The nausea can come after the murderer is in handcuffs."
Kaito nodded. "The Mormon Wizard."
"Hmm?" Kudo sounded confused.
"Dante, the Mormon Wizard. Magician. Died in Australia in 1899 after being shot. It was a hunting accident." He shrugged, swallowing firmly to shove the nausea back down where it belonged. Now was not the time. "I don't think we can really know for sure, given the…state of things. Doubt we'll get a cause of death, so we don't know one hundred percent if this fits the pattern. But…"
"But it's likely," Kudo nodded. "The Mormon Wizard." He gave the magician a look. "Do all magicians die in such unusual fashions?"
He tried desperately to resist the jibe, but it was practically out of his mouth before he could even attempt to stop himself. "Do all detectives get shrunk down to their seven year old selves?"
Kudo smirked. "Point made."
Seven victims. Six cases. One big fat honking puzzle that seemed to be missing far too many pieces.
And Kaito couldn't help but think that there was one certain magician's death that had yet to be emulated…
The discovery of the body had been a severe blow to everyone's morale, and spirits at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters were at an all-time low, for those involved in the investigation. Even Kaito, master of Poker Face and wearer of a seemingly perpetual smile, was hard-pressed to keep from looking dejected.
Oh, the body they had found was from long ago (probably well over a year in the elements, and they were still working on an identification), and so was from well before they had even been aware of the serial killer. But it felt like they had just let someone else die, and so it felt like a failure. An irrational failure, but a failure nonetheless.
Sitting in the conference room, Kaito watched as Kudo started laying things out on the table in little piles. "For the uninitiated, what exactly are you doing?"
"We've looked at the cases individually, and found absolutely nothing except a set of bad circumstances and even worse timing," Kudo said, throwing a measuring eye to the bulletin board behind him. "I'm hoping that putting everything up in front of me and looking at it as a whole will spark something." He sighed and folded his arms, leaning against the table. "I feel like I'm missing something, Kuroba. Something right in front of me. And I have a feeling I'm going to feel like a total idiot when I realize what that something is."
"Kudo…" Kaito began slowly, not even sure why he was saying this, "…sooner or later, there will be a case you can't solve."
Kudo froze and gave him an unreadable look. "I know," he said finally, after a long pause. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let it be this one. I'm not giving up." He actually managed a small smile, then. "But if you want to see me mess up a case, there's a really easy way to do it."
"Oh?" This was news to Kaito. "What's that?"
"Put my father within five hundred meters of me. Guaranteed I'll screw it up sideways."
That earned a rather undignified snort of surprise from Kaito, which in turn made Kudo's smile grow a bit wider before he returned to the task at hand. "If you're tired, Kuroba, you can go home. No reason for us both to stay up all night."
"Are you sure?" Kaito asked. He felt odd about the idea of leaving now, when Kudo was working so hard. When he'd first gotten involved in this case, he had been a bit leery about getting so publicly involved in something along these lines. There was a big difference between helping from the shadows, invisible and anonymous, and helping out in the light, where everyone could see him. But this case had gotten under his skin for reasons both personal and professional, public and private, and he was going to see the guilty parties brought to justice.
"You look dead on your feet. Maybe you're staying up too late," Kudo said absently.
For a moment, Kaito wondered if there was something more to that statement.
"Anyway, I'm sure one of the officers would give you a lift home if you need one," Kudo went on, starting to pin things up to the boards. The victims' names all went up at the top, a column for each of the ones they had been able to identified. The most recent body would not yet be accounted for on here, not until further information could be gathered on the anonymous victim.
"Someone needs a lift?" Kurosawa had appeared in the doorway, holding a folder, which he passed to Kudo. "This is the file you requested, Kudo-san."
"Thank you. And I think Kuroba needs a ride home," he said.
Kaito gave the officer a weak smile. "I hate to impose."
"Not a problem. I'm off for the night myself. C'mon, off we go," Kurosawa flashed them a thumbs up and disappeared out into the corridor.
"It seems like he's driving me around a lot," Kaito observed as he got to his feet. "Nice guy, though. Anyway, I'll talk to you tomorrow. If you figure anything out, call me, okay?"
"It's a promise," Kudo said. "Goodnight."
Shinichi wasn't entirely certain what he was trying to accomplish by making the victim board at this point. According to Megure, the police had done extensive research into each of the victims as the cases had been brought to light as part of a bigger picture; the only two victims with a connection were the identical twins who made up the only case with more than one victim. The murdered people appeared to have been chosen at random - victims of opportunity and a bad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Still, he was not one to give up unless there was absolutely no other avenue left, and even then it wasn't always guaranteed that he would throw in the towel. If he had, chances were that he probably wouldn't have been able to track down Gin and knock out the legs of the Black Organization. So here he stood as the minutes ticked later and later into the evening, sticking notes and photos up on a board.
He had examined every single case on an individual basis. Now he was going to look at all of it collectively.
With a final press of a thumbtack through a piece of paper and into the corkboard, Shinichi stood back to examine his handiwork. Each case was spread out in front of him alongside the others. All the details and information he had on the victims, the scenes where the victims were found, the conditions of the bodies…
It was sad how a person's death could be so easily reduced to such slips of paper.
He took a step back and leaned against a convenient desk, folding his arms across his chest as he regarded the results of his handiwork. His eyes wandered over each of the photos, one by one, taking in everything and assimilating the details into the enormous filing cabinet that Ran accused him of having in place of a mind (on the days she was willing to admit he had a brain, that is).
…perhaps he was overly tired from this case, but it took him a long moment to realize something that, in hindsight, should have been obvious from the very beginning. He went from one photo to the next, onwards until he reached the final one, and then back again along the row of faces.
Victim number one. Young male, healthy, brown hair, blue eyes.
Victim number two. Young male, healthy, brown hair, blue eyes.
Victim number three…
Victim number four…
Shinichi could have smacked himself in the face with a hardcover copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles. How stupid was he?
"Megure!" he barked, a bit startled to realize how panicked he sounded. But he was panicked, he realized, because there was more than one implication of his belated realization. He should have stuck those photos next to each other far earlier, shouldn't he?
When the portly inspector wandered over with Satou-keiji in tow, Shinichi pointed at the board. "I've found our victim profile."
Megure blinked at the board, confused. "Kudo-kun, there is no relation between the victims."
"Take a good look at them. Every single one of them," he entreated. "Notice anything about the way they look?" He waved an arm towards the pictures. His inner Sherlock took over, and Shinichi was off and running. "The victim profile is as shallow as physical appearance. All of the victims are young males, late teens to mid-twenties. They're all relatively healthy, slender build, with brown hair and blue eyes." He stepped closer to the board, arms refolding across his chest. "Our killer didn't just randomly pick people. He was choosing people who fit a physical profile. Which means that whoever committed these murders is a lot craftier than we initially thought."
"That would take a lot of time," Satou said slowly. "The perp is someone who's not necessarily in a hurry. They're willing to take the time to find someone who looks right, wait for an opportunity, make the grab, get away from the scene, and commit the actual murder." She grimaced. "But if we assume the killer watches the victim suffocate, then maybe that's the reward of sorts?" She visibly shuddered.
Megure spoke up now, thoughtfully. "Perhaps you should watch your back, Kudo-kun. You fit that profile perfectly." He raised a concerned eyebrow at the younger man.
Shinichi blinked at him. Then he looked at the photos. Then he looked back at Megure, and a light bulb visibly went on over his head. "Oh my god, where the hell is my brain tonight?" He dove past the inspector, grappling to grab his cell phone from where he had left it on the desk. His hands were uncharacteristically shaky as he struggled to dial the correct number. But finally he managed, and he pressed the phone to his ear. "Come on, pick up the phone…"
Finally, the recipient picked up, and a now-familiar voice answered, "'lo?"
"Kuroba. Thank god," Shinichi muttered, the curse slipping out involuntarily. "Call me an idiot, but I think I've got the connection between our victims."
He could hear the sound of a car in the background; they must still be en route. "What is it?"
For what seemed like the eightieth time in probably five minutes, Shinichi rattled it all off. He felt like a walking, breathing echo. "Physical appearance. Young males, late teens to mid twenties, slender build, brown hair, blue eyes." He paused, practically hearing the gears turn in Kuroba's head. "Sound like anyone you know?"
"Two someones, actually. You and me," Kuroba said. He sounded almost amused. "In case you missed it, we look alike."
"You also have the added connection of magicians," Shinichi pointed out.
"It just sort of surprises me that someone would go after people based on how they look."
"Ever heard of Ted Bundy?" Shinichi asked.
"The name sounds familiar…"
"American serial killer, wound up being very high-profile. Murdered young dark-haired women because they reminded him of a girlfriend who broke up with him," Shinichi said. "There was another guy who went after brown-haired girls for a similar reason. He actually went after Sonoko."
There was the sound of a car door closing. Kurosawa must have just dropped him off at home, a notion confirmed when Kuroba moved his mouth away from the receiver to say something presumably to the officer before returning his attention to the call. "So you've found the connection. Still leaves the questions of why the bodies are being left to mimic magicians' deaths. But good find, Kudo."
"I don’t know if this will give us any help, but it's something," Shinichi said.
"You think this could lead us to the killer." It was a statement, not a question.
"It gives us a better focus." Shinichi had been slowly moving away from the board, out into a corridor where there was no one to hear his end of the conversation. "Look, I just wanted to let you know that you should be careful, all right? Don't take unnecessary risks." He paused, then added, "After all, I know you're an adrenaline junkie." Then he waited.
There was a pause, just a split second too long and just long enough to indicate surprise. Then Kuroba barked a laugh. "Adrenaline junkie? What gives you that idea?" Shinichi could hear a note of something in the other teen's voice, and wondered if maybe he was right after all. "Anyway, thanks for the warning, Kudo. You keep an eye on yourself as well, and I promise I'll be care--"
A dull thunk.
Kuroba let out a grunt.
And then a louder thud, like something heavy hitting the ground, accompanied by the clatter of plastic against cement.
Shinichi's fingers tightened around his phone. "Kuroba?"
There was no reply.
He tried again, already moving back towards the victim board, where Megure and Satou were still standing and rereading over the information there. "Kuroba, answer me, dammit."
Still no answer. And after another couple of seconds…
Whoever was on the other end of the line hung up.
PS. AN: So. Two weeks is totally the same as four months, amirite? /SHOT L’anyhoodle, here we go, and I suspect someone might want to kill me for non-prank-related reasons this time. There should be two more chapters after this, and then…well, this has decided it wants to be a series. Halp me plz ;o;
Many thanks and many delicious cookies to magicbulletgirl, who sat there and prodded me to finish this chapter. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!