DISCLAIMER: I do not own Detective Conan or any of its characters and concepts! They all belong to the genius of Gosho Aoyama. Except for Yuuichi--he's mine! ^_^ No touchie!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
|Isn't anyone trying to find me?
Won't somebody come take me home?
It's a damn cold night,
Trying to figure out this life.
Won't you take me by the hand?
Take me somewhere new;
I don't know who you are, but I--
I'm with you.
I'm with you.
Part 3: Somewhere New
The place they drove to was in a part of the city Yuuichi didn't recognize at all. They went past streets and stores and eventually industrial businesses and storage lots--places he didn't know, not even from times he'd gone with Jiichan on his jobs. It worried Yuuichi to be in such unfamiliar territory--but not too much. He knew that if he had to run away and get home, he could find a police box. Or he could look at a map, or find a bus stop or a train station.
Niichan had taught him that, in case he ever got lost and couldn't find a police box. He could read street signs, and he could read maps, and if he could find the street he was on and then find Beika, he knew he could even walk home if he had to.
The only pity was that his three-year-old mind, intelligent as it was, did not realize that walking home from the other side of the city would be very different from walking home from Beika Park.
The car pulled through an open chain-link gate, into a seemingly-endless maze amidst many warehouse-like buildings. After winding about between the structures until Yuuichi was certain they were indeed lost, the car finally stopped in front of a small office building attached to one of the warehouses.
It was only a couple stories tall, dwarfed by the large warehouse beside it, and the windows were all boarded up. As the driver stopped the car and the occupants began to disembark, Yuuichi stayed close to Haibara Ai's side and stared about at his surroundings. Even with the bright noon sun, the empty warehouse lot seemed haunting and lonely.
He started to realize how far from home he was. He started to wonder if he could get home from here, if he had to run away.
He started to wonder if Kaachan would be able to find him.
"It's okay," Ai told him, taking his hand and leading him along after Akai. "You'll be safe here, Yuuichi-kun. Safer than anywhere else right now."
"Home's safe," Yuuichi replied in a small voice.
"Not right now," Ai stated. Then she spoke again, half to herself. "That's the first place they'll look..."
Akai-san unlocked the front door of the office building, letting them inside. He lingered to close and lock it again behind them as they stepped in.
The inside looked a lot more alive than the outside. Yuuichi looked around, and could tell that there were people here. More than just Haibara-san and her driver-man Akai, too. There wasn't much dust around the empty space of the first floor, hanging in the air around the blank cubicle frames. There were many faint footprints on the concrete floor, lots of different shoes. And there were trash bags sitting near the door filled with wadded-up napkins and various kinds of takeout meals--not rotten yet. Less than a few days old.
So when Ai led him up the stairs at the back of the offices, Yuuichi was not surprised when he heard many people's voices. As they came around the stairwell corner, Yuuichi realized that this was where Haibara-san and her friends were staying.
Here in the upstairs, the lights were on, making it bright even with the windows all closed off. There were a lot of people, at least a dozen, arrayed about the tables, chairs, and even the cots set up in one corner. Most of them looked up when the trio entered the room, calling out greetings as Ai led Yuuichi over to the central work area.
There was a lot of stuff jammed into the main room of this little office building's second floor. The tables were the collapsible sort and looked to have been brought in by these people; a couple of them set up nearer to the far wall were jammed with all the trappings of the complex computer being operated by a young man with every-which-way hair.
Another table was stacked with high-tech equipment and recording devices, where an older man with headphones turned dials and flipped switches and took notes on whatever he was hearing. The remaining tables were covered with either papers and files or with more takeout litter similar to what was in the trash bags downstairs.
The men who worked here wore very strange clothing; some of them even in long-sleeved shirts and many-pocketed vests and oddly-baggy pants that reminded him of things he'd seen in movies. They all stood to meet Ai, except for the two busy with the computer and the headphones, and clustered up to stand almost in salute.
Amidst their rather noisy greetings, Ai raised a hand for silence--and to Yuuichi's surprise, all these grown men grew very quiet to listen to the young girl.
"Gentlemen, phase one of our rather hurriedly-constructed plan was successful," she announced evenly into the silence. "The target is in our custody, and we can now proceed to phase two."
The men started to murmur again, their eyes turning down to Yuuichi standing at Ai's side. One of them actually leaned down to peer at the boy, almost incredulous.
"He's even tinier in person," the man commented, scratching his head.
Ai smiled wryly. "His size is hardly relevant, Tsuji-kun."
"Haibara-kun," called the older man with the headphones, his hair peppered with gray and his moustache thick and bushy in a way that reminded Yuuichi of Inspector Megure. "I've got things to report."
"Back to your duties," Ai told the gathered men. "We'll be taking action soon."
Once more, Yuuichi was led by the hand, this time to the headphone-man's desk. Akai still followed them, still not saying anything at all.
"What do you have for me, Yakamoto-san?" Ai asked, coming to the side of the table.
"Pretty much what we expected," Yakamoto replied. "The schools hollered back and forth to each other, then called the Agency and now the Agency's phone has contacted the Tokyo Police."
Ai nodded. "A bit quicker than I thought, but no surprise. Edogawa-kun must've hustled Mouri-chan along a little."
"Iori-kun is keeping an eye on Mouri-san, says she went home and hasn't moved yet," Yakamoto went on, looking a bit irked. "But I've had two calls from Ken-kun saying he lost Edogawa at a major pedestrian crossing and can't pick him up again. Swears he just vanished. Little bugger must've ditched Ken and gone underground..."
"Ken obviously let his target's appearance deceive him. But Edogawa-kun's on alert now," Ai explained quietly. "And he can't tell our men from theirs. Ken won't find him again, I can guarantee it. In fact, tell him to come back and set up with our perimeter. There's a chance we might have been tracked, and until I get Yuuichi-kun to my lab and take care of things, we can't move."
"In fact," Ai went on, glancing back at some of the others. "Tsuji--take two with you and join Tetsuya on the perimeter also. Nothing gets in until we go."
"Hai!" the man responded smartly, turning to do as he was bid.
Wide-eyed, Yuuichi watched and listened, beginning to comprehend. It seemed like these men were almost soldiers, even though they didn't wear true uniforms. They were here in secret, and they had something to do with his Niichan...
Curious, he leaned around Ai to look at the monitor in front of Yakamoto-san. "Hey, that's my address!" he piped suddenly, indignantly, startling Yakamoto, and Akai. "How come it says you listened to six calls at my house today? You're not supposed to listen to other people's telephones!"
Yakamoto blinked, his moustache twitching in surprise. "Shit--he can read? He can't be old enough to read..."
"I can too read!" Yuuichi protested, brows furrowing. "I know what it says!"
"And he understands what he sees on the screen," Akai commented quietly, regarding the child with unreadable dark eyes. "Enough to know that we're tapping the Agency's phones..."
Ai only smiled faintly, unsurprised. "He is his father's son," she said simply, by way of explanation. "And for his father's sake, I've got to get him to my lab and start working. Akai--can you run things out here?"
"Good. Yuuichi-kun? Come along..." She led the wide-eyed three-year-old away toward the door to the back, as all the men watched them go, murmuring softly with incredulous gazes.
He'd known he was being followed the moment he set foot outside the school grounds. He'd felt the man's eyes on him like a tangible sensation--just like he always knew when someone dangerous was watching him. And it hadn't taken him long to spot his shadow--a man wearing a dark jacket and sunglasses in this pleasant weather rather stood out, and Edogawa Conan was not the naive young boy he appeared to be.
It had taken him less than half an hour to ditch the man at a busy crosswalk intersection. Once he was clear, and certain he had no other stragglers, he began to search for Yuuichi.
If that woman--that fake Jodie-sensei...if she didn't have him, where could he be?
He's too smart to just wander off chasing butterflies, Conan thought to himself, trying to be logical as he hurried from street to street, heading toward the arcade--a place he knew that Yuuichi knew he and Genta-tachi went often. He knows better than to leave the school grounds without me or Ran...unless...one of the older kids talked him into something? Or...he thought he had to do something important...he can be stubborn like that...
The clerk at the arcade's front desk had not seen any small blue-eyed preschoolers today, and a quick perusal revealed that Yuuichi had not slipped by under her radar. Checking the arcade off his list, Conan lit out for the next location on his zig-zag path toward the Mouri Detective Agency--the ice cream parlor.
He knows not to go with strangers...not willingly anyway... The thought of Yuuichi being taken unwillingly made his heart pound even harder. Already overwrought from his running, the fear-induced tightness in his chest was almost painful, stealing his breath away.
Yuuichi was not at the ice cream parlor. And no one there had seen him, either. His next destination was Beika Park, but the idea that the boy had been kidnapped began to seem more and more like a reality. It couldn't happen to Yuuichi--it couldn't...he's too smart to let it happen...
I know better than that...shit, how many missing children do they post on the six o'clock news? And how many of them turn up later dead...?
Sometimes his accurate memory and vivid mind worked against him. He'd seen far too many crime scenes in his lifetime--both lifetimes--involving bodies discovered somewhere, dumped by their killers. And some of them had been children.
The images that flashed through his mind--those of a ragged, forlorn little body lying somewhere all pale and lifeless, empty blue eyes staring dully at the sky--only made his chest tighten even more, until he could hardly breathe at all.
No...no...I have to find him...I can't lose him, God, I just can't lose him...
Gritting his teeth in an attempt to bite back the panic, Conan ran faster.
Ran was wringing her hands, pacing up and down across her father's office, completely unable to sit still for even a moment. Her fear for Yuuichi's sake--and for Conan-kun, who had still not returned--kept her in nervous motion, like a worried mother bird.
Her father had left shortly before the call came in from the school, and she hadn't any way of contacting him until he came back from whatever top-secret birthday preparations he and her mother had arranged. His absence was like one more piece of her foundation crumbled away.
At Kogoro's desk, Inspector Megure and Officer Takagi used the Agency telephone to contact their headquarters to give a report. Their squadcar was parked out front, with the radio in it, but they didn't need to bother with it when Megure knew the back-line number to the station.
"...yes...yes, missing child," Megure spoke into the phone, his voice terse but unhurried. "That's right, I'm with the mother now. ... Mouri Ran...the missing child is Mouri Yuuichi...small boy, three years old, dark hair, blue eyes--can't miss 'em--and wearing a light T-shirt, denim overalls, and red tennis shoes. ... Yes, well, I'm not sure there's any foul play, not yet--he does wander off from time to time, according to Ran-kun...but all the same, best to err on the side of caution. ... Yes. Yes...thank you. Megure out."
When the phone was hung up, Ran nearly leaped to Megure's side. "Inspector?"
"I've let them know about the situation," Megure told her, his lack of alarm helping a great deal. "And they'll send out a bulletin so our boys will know to keep an eye out for him. Hopefully, this is just Yuuichi-kun wandering off by himself again, and he'll either end up back home or we'll find him again quickly."
"I hope so..." Ran's knuckles were white, so tight she clenched her hands. "And Conan-kun's still out looking for him..."
Takagi smiled, stepping up to touch Ran comfortingly on the shoulder. "With that little tantei on the job, it's as good as done," he said reassuringly. "Conan-kun's a good kid--I wouldn't worry about him at all."
Ran managed a faint smile, grateful. "Thank you, Takagi-keiji...I really appreciate you both coming out here on what might just be a false alarm."
"If a child is missing, it's never a false alarm," Megure told her, patting her on her other arm. "Now...I think Takagi-kun and I will go patrol around Beika a bit, see if we can't spot Yuuichi-kun trying to make his way home and got lost. Call HQ if anything happens here, and they'll contact us right away."
"Alright." Ran nodded quickly, glad to have a way to get ahold of the Inspector. "Thank you so much...and good luck."
She saw both of them out, and stood at the bottom of the stairs to watch the squadcar pull away, disappearing down the street. She stayed there for long moments, looking up and down the sidewalk, praying desperately in her heart that she would see her son's dark-haired little head bobbing through the pedestrian traffic, rushing in her direction.
"Yuuichi..." she whispered, throat tight with worry.
"Ran-neechan...!" A breathless, familiar voice called her name, startling her around.
"Conan-kun!" She stared at the panting, disheveled boy, who had screeched to a halt a couple meters from her and was leaning against the Agency wall, winded. "Oh--Conan-kun, are you alright?"
"Fine..." he gasped, waving her concerned hands away. "You call Megure?"
She nodded. "They just left--they went out to look for him..."
"I couldn't find him..." The boy gritted his teeth. "I went all over Beika...but I couldn't find him anywhere..."
There was a powerful spark of fear and frustration in Conan's eyes, so strong it almost surprised her. It shouldn't have, since she knew how much he cared for Yuuichi, but his eyes--blue eyes, just like Yuu-chan's--were dark with barely-restrained emotion.
He pushed up from the wall, beginning to recover his breath. "Gonna get my skateboard and go looking for him again," he stated, brushing past her to pause on the stairs. "You should stay here, in case he comes back or if anyone calls."
"But--Conan-kun, you--!" She was too late--he'd already dashed up to the office to fetch his skateboard, disappearing for a few moments within to find it.
He rushed out the door again, taking the stairs two at a time as he hopped down, board under his arm. He stopped at her side for but a moment, looking up at her with eyes so deep that for a second she was taken aback.
"I will find him. I promise you, Ran-neechan--I won't let anything happen to him."
She could hardly find the breath to reply. "Conan-kun..."
But he was already gone, pushing off on his skateboard in a whirl of dust and wind, streaking off down the sidewalk in a blur that vanished from her sight before she got her breath back.
Once again, she was left alone. Her hands tight and white-knuckled again, she stared after Conan for a few moments, once again wishing she could just see her Yuu-chan running home to her.
Then, with a hard swallow and a small sound that was almost a sob, she whirled to hurry into the office to wait anxiously by the telephone.
~~to be continued~~