"Shinichi...!" Agasa was still whispering, not attracting the attention of Sohei. "Are you ... turning...?!"
Shinichi couldn't help but to laugh, confusing Agasa and making Haibara look at him like he was going insane. "Oh, Professor, you make it sound like I am becoming a zombie ... did you watch the low budget horror night on television by chance...?"
"Kudo-kun, really now, this is serious," Haibara said. "We need to get you out of here."
"No." Shinichi pushed himself off the wall. "If we leave now, we lose our best chance to get information on Eisuke Hondou's father. Eisuke is a threat to the entire Kir operation of the FBI, the best chance of hurting the Black Organization that we have at the moment. We need to get this photo...!"
"Shinichi, you're pushing yourself too hard..." Agasa wanted to put one hand on Shinichi's shoulder, but he jerked away from his old friend's reach.
"Maybe, but there is no other way," Shinichi said. "I can't afford to go easy now!" He walked over to Sohei. 'If I don't succeed, I might lose my chance to get my life back,' Shinichi thought while walking, even though his body started to feel slightly numb. 'If I don't get my life back, I will be limited to the future of Conan Edogawa, but I want to live the future of Shinichi Kudo ... my real future, a future where I don't have to hide, don't have to pretend, a future with Ran! This time it was only Kogoro, but what if it really is one of the men in black next time...? No, this can't go on. I need ... this ... picture...!'
He reached Sohei and said to him: "Nishigun-san, can we call your friends now?"
"She is my ex-girlfriend, yeah?!" Sohei hissed at Shinichi, but his expression softened immediately. "Sorry, bit of a sore spot of mine, that one ... yeah, we can we call them."
'The way he looks at me ... worry, pity ... he sees that condition is worsening, it must be getting quite obvious now...' Shinichi thought, as Sohei did another double take at Shinichi before dialing the first number, of his ex-girlfriend Saori, also known as his sore spot apparently.
"Hello, Saori?" Sohei asked into the phone after a little wait. He had sat down at his desk. Haibara was standing on a chair next to him to listen to the conversation, as did Shinichi, without the chair of course. Although his height wasn't a problem anymore, his legs still felt shaky and his joints began to feel like lead, so he rested one of his arm on this chairback for additional support. "No, it's nothing special. I ... I just wanted to know how you are ... what did you today...?"
'Real subtle...' Shinichi thought, thought he lacked the energy for heartfelt exasperation.
"Huh?! Why should I my ex about something like that?" Saori replied.
"T-that's true..." Sohei scratched the back of his head.
"Well, if you want to know, I was just shopping for clothes and stuff today. And in a few minutes I'm going to go on a date with my new boyfriend!" Saori said.
"H-how ... nice for you..." Sohei's grip around the phone tightened a bit.
"Right? We're going to one of these cool new Italian restaurants! You need to eat properly as well, Sohei, not always those disgusting pre-cooked dishes!"
"And you need to take a bath regularly, yeah?"
"Anyway, my boyfriend is about to arrive, so I'm gonna hang up. Don't call again, okay?"
"Yeah, okay, I'm sorry, Saori..."
Meanwhile, Haibara noticed something on the chair. She knelt down to feel the covering of the chair, attracting Shinichi's attention as well. "It's ... wet?" Haibara whispered before she looked up to Shinichi. "Also sweat?"
Sohei had already dialed the next number, of his colleague Tago, not noticing the little exchange between the detective and the scientist. "What? You wanna know what I was doing today?" Tago asked from the other side of the phone. "I didn't take a step outside and worked on my tank, that's what I did! It's not long until the competition after all!"
"I see. So? Happy with your work, Tago?" Sohei asked.
"You betcha! I even got the rust perfectly!"
"Ah, I'm looking forward to see that! You have become even better recently!"
"Oh, before I forget, please finish your soldiers until tomorrow! I need to check if they fit with my tank!"
"Until tomorrow?!" Sohei exclaimed.
"Yeah! And please paint them as well. I don't have much time starting from the day after tomorrow," Tago explained.
"Are you for real now?! Am I supposed to pull an all-nighter here? I also need to do so much laundry and all..."
"Well, then do your laundry after waking up," Tago proposed. "It's pretty late already, your neighbors won't appreciate the sounds of your washing machine and the drier! I ... I could come over early tomorrow and do it for you while you are still sleeping, how does that sound?"
"Oh, thanks man, that sounds good. Yeah, let's do it like that!" Sohei said, when the doorbell rang. "Oh, there is someone at the door..."
"Alright, cool, see you tomorrow, dude!" Tago said and hung up. Sohei stood up and walked over to the intercom. It was a delivery man with a package for Sohei, as Shinichi could see on the screen of the intercom. Sohei told him to come up to his apartment and opened the front door for the guy.
'Wait a minute...' Shinichi thought. 'I can see the delivery man perfectly from standing here at the desk with Nishigun-san's computer ... and the screen on the intercom already showed the man standing at the front door after he used the doorbell and not just when Nishigun-san pressed the reply button ... that means, when the Professor rang the doorbell as Nishigun-san surprised us ... the intruder, sitting here at the desk saw us and Nishigun-san...? In that case, escape would've been impossible without running into us ... unless ...'
Shinichi turned his head away from Sohei and the front door and looked at Haibara. "Hey, Haibara, could you ... could you check the slippers at the front door for me...? See if some of them are wet or warm or both..."
Haibara looked at him and it seemed like she already had an Why don't you do it yourself?! on her lips, but apparently his condition was already looking worse enough for her to say nothing instead and she just nodded. Sohei opened his apartment door for the delivery man, signed a paper quickly and took the package from the man sporting a uniform that said Cheetah Delivery Service on it, appropriately with a running cheetah as their logo. After Sohei had closed the door and walked back to the desk, Haibara hopped down from her chair and walked past him, starting to check the slippers.
Sohei put the package down on the ground besides the desk and sat down again, proceeding to call his other colleague, Furusho. After another little moment of waiting for Furusho to pick up the phone, Sohei asked him what he did today, as he had already done two times now. "What?! You've caught a cold and spend the entire day in bed?!" Sohei exclaimed after Furusho had ended his tale. "Hey, Furusho, is it really nothing serious?!"
"Well, it might be a particular nasty virus, maybe," Furusho said, "but I'll survive. I'd advise you to tidy and clean up your apartment again sometime. Your's is just as much of a mess as mine and bacteria and viruses really thrive in such an environment! Speaking of viruses, you should update your antivirus software as well."
"Ah, you're right, I've of some nasty viruses going around online as well at the moment..." Sohei said.
"Quite. Imagine the photos of our work disappearing from our blog all of a sudden and then they are suddenly irreversibly deleted from our computers as well! Stuff of nightmares, man, I tell you..."
"Ah, you can shoot the photos again..."
"A DIORAMA IS ALIVE, YOU FOOL! IT HAS DIFFERENT MOODS AND FEELINGS FROM ONE DAY TO ANOTHER! YOU CAN'T TAKE A DIFFERENT PHOTO AND EXPECT THE SAME LOOK!" Furusho screamed at Sohei, a decision he regretted immediately, as he had a coughing fit right after finishing the sentence.
"Yeah, yeah, I got it," Sohei said to appease his friend. "And you're always taking awesome photos, I won't let them get deleted by some virus. Anyway, sleep well and cure your cold completely, you hear? See ya!" Sohei hung up and breathed a sigh of relief.
Shinichi looked over to Haibara, who inspected two more slippers before she turned around to him and shook her head. "Another question, Nishigun-san: do you know how many slippers you have?" Shinichi asked.
"No idea," Sohei replied. "Every time I complete a diorama I always call over my buddies and colleagues, we chink the glasses and party hard in honor of my newest masterpiece. I only know that I bought a lot of slippers, a whole lot, but not how many exactly."
'So he wouldn't notice if two of them were missing now ... and since none of those at the front door are warm or wet ... and escape was impossible ... the stories of the three persons having a key for the apartment...' Shinichi thought. 'I need a bit more information...'
Shinichi sat down on the edge of the chair that Haibara had used to listen in on the first two phone calls, careful not to sit down on any wet spots on the covering. "Nishigun-san, one last thing: what kind of people are those three persons?"
"Huh, we already went over that," Sohei said. "My ex-girlfriend and my colleagues is what they are!"
Shinichi wanted to shake his head, but he felt it was a better idea not to. "No, I meant like, how do they look, are they especially fat or thin, tall or small or are they average, that sort of profile stuff."
Sohei scratched his chin. "Well, Saori is about 1,50 meters tall, but a bit overweight for that. Tago is slender and smaller, even smaller than Saori! And Furusho is tall and thin, about 1,80 meters I think."
Shinichi shifted in his seating position. 'We searched through every place in this apartment. The closets are not big enough to hide a person, the balcony is empty and one couldn't have fled from there without somebody down in the streets calling the police, the toilet is empty ... rather small and overweight Saori, talking about restaurants and baths and that Nishigun-san shouldn't call anymore ... slender and small Tago, talking about work and laundry ... tall and thin Furusho, talking about being sick and that Sohei should clean up the apartment and antivirus software...' A cold shiver of realization ran down his spine. 'Wait a minute ... that's it!' Shinichi started to laugh quietly, but it was still loud enough for the others to hear.
"Huh, what's so funny?!" Sohei almost yelled.
"Many things," Shinichi said and looked him straight in the eyes. "I know now that the intruder must've been one of your friends, I know who of the three it was and here's the kicker: I know that this person is still inside this apartment."
"R-really?!" Haibara exclaimed in disbelief.
"Here ... inside?!" Agasa exclaimed.
Sohei grinned. "Now it's getting interesting! If you're saying that one of my three friends with access to the apartment in hiding somewhere in here, then you better pull them out quickly and show them to me, so that I know if you're right or not!
Shinichi grinned as well. "Sure! But will you promise me something? Once the intruder is caught, will you show us the photo of that former regular of your grandfather before calling the police? Once the cops are here, they'll sure confiscate the stolen album including the photo and it'll take a long time before we can take a look at it!"
"Okay, deal," Sohei said. "How do you figure that the intruder is still inside."
"The sweat, again," Shinichi said. "The chair Ai-chan used to listen to your phone calls has some sweat stains at the back as well, which means the intruder used the chair for boosting purposes as well, causing sweat stains with the feet." He ignored the glare Haibara threw at him for using Ai-chan.
"But just because the sweat isn't dry yet, doesn't mean that the intruder still has to be inside here..."
"Wrong, because I had Ai-chan," another glare, "inspect the slippers on the floor. None of them are wet or warm, which they should've been since the intruder wore some. There are no footprints or shoe marks on the floor, so the intruder must've worn slippers as well. And since none of noticed that the slippers we are wearing were already warm or wet, something that one cannot not notice..."
"Maybe the intruder wiped the footprints away," Sohei argued. "You know, a bit of professionality during a break-in?"
"Then, why didn't the intruder wipe away the droplets of sweat from the floor as well? They would've roughly been around the same place as the footprints after all." Shinichi remained sitting on the edge, but he leaned his back against the chairback. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to tell you the rest without interruptions, so that we can sort this out faster. Alright, how did the culprit knew you were coming home earlier and had the time to hide? The culprit stood on the chair in front of the shelf or was sitting at the computer, but in any case, he would've seen us coming via the intercom. It displays the feed from the camera at the front door as soon as the doorbell button is pushed. We did exactly that just as you were approaching from behind for your little joke, Nishigun-san. From either position, you can see the screen of the intercom well enough to see us four at the front door, giving the intruder an advance warning. Which also means that escaping without running into us was impossible given the layout of the hallways of this building. So the only remaining option was hiding in here. Now, who is the culprit?" Shinichi cleared his throat. Usually he would've presented the deduction in a more dramatic manner, without sitting in the chair and feeling like he was dying inside (and outside for that matter), but he at least wanted the dramatic effect of a throat clear before telling them the answer. "Your friend Tago, he is the intruder."
"What?! Tago?!" Sohei yelled.
"Yes." Shinichi nodded.
"But ... okay, why ... how...?" Sohei stumbled over his words.
"That was enough interrupting for the revelation of the culprit, thank you very much," Shinichi said, silencing Sohei. "First of all, Tago is smaller than 1,50 meters, so he would require to stand on this chair to reach a photo album so high on the shelf. Secondly, Tago gave himself away in your phone call. Since we didn't hear the voice of any of your friends two times during the calls, that means the intruder is hiding somewhere where he can't hear our voices and where we can't hear his. However, this also means that the culprit wouldn't know when it was safe to come out, like when you went to bed and went out to go somewhere for the evening and since you always leave the lights on, the intruder can't determine anything on that either. Furusho advised you to clean your apartment. Not a good idea if he was hiding somewhere in here. Saori told you to eat some proper food and to take regular baths; giving you suggestions to eat in a restaurant somewhere or to visit a bathhouse ... not a good idea if she can't check whether or not you were already gone to one of those places. Tago said you shouldn't do your laundry at this time of the day to not disturb your neighbors and told you to pull an all-nighter. Now, that sounds counter-productive as well, making you stay up for a long time, but it was necessary considering the place he is hiding in, since you are always keeping the door of the balcony open during and after work, even when you leave the house."
"Wa-wa-wait?! You mean he is on the balcony?!" Sohei exclaimed.
"I see," Haibara said. "He wanted you to open the door to escape, since you've closed it after our inspection earlier."
"B-but ... when we checked earlier, he wasn't there...!" Sohei insisted.
"Well, he wasn't where we could see him. Tago is small and he told you not to do the laundry, so his hiding place could be..."
Sohei's eyes widened. "Don't tell me...! He is in the drier?!" He turned around and ran outside onto the balcony. Shinichi could faintly hear the drier being opened in the distance and then Sohei screaming: "TAGO?!"
After that, he heard shuffeling and steps towards.
"I wonder if the innards of that drier was roomier than the inside of a coin locker..." Haibara murmured with a smirk.
It wouldn't matter if the inside was roomier, since Nishigun-san's friend is an adult and I was a kid at the time, so any additional space that the inside of that drier would have over the coin locker in that subway station is taken up by the additional body mass of this Tago guy, was the response that came to Shinichi's mind, but he saved himself the breath and instead just said: "Bite me..."
He turned his head and saw Sohei and his friend Tago walk through the work room/bedroom/media room of the apartment. "Additionally, what I also wanted to mention before you stormed off," Shinichi explained as the two of them walked through the sliding door, "Tago said in your phone call that he wanted to come over early tomorrow to do your laundry for you, so he would have an excuse if you caught him sneaking out early in the morning, plus his stature is the only one that matches with hiding in the drier and needing to stand on a chair to reach the album and so on and so on..." Shinichi made some waving gestures with his hands. "Would you mind explaining your friend why you did this? Make it quick, please..."
Tago looked from Shinichi to Agasa and Haibara to Shinichi again and then to Sohei, his face ridden with guilt. "Sohei, I'm ... I'm so sorry! I didn't mean any harm!" Tago exclaimed and fell to his knees before Sohei. "I didn't touch anything except the photos! Please forgive me!"
"So you did delete the data on my computer?" Sohei asked.
"Y-yes ... b-but don't worry! I made back-ups of all photos!" Tago explained. "After I had deleted the problematic photos, I wanted to copy the rest back onto your computer, I swear! And I just wanted to take out the same photos from the album and then put it back to the shelf as well!"
"What kind of photos?! I don't have any that would be problematic, especially not to you..."
"It was about the model that I showed you recently ... the one of the German tank from World War II, the Panzerkampfwagen IV, Modell H..."
"Huh?! That tank model was awesome! All of the others were applauding you for your work, they said you were finally showing your full potential!"
Tago clenched his fists. "The thing is, the tank model wasn't made by me! I bought it while I was on a business trip overseas. I ... I wanted to use it as a template to help me with building my own model of that tank ... just for fun, I put my nameplate on it and showed it to you guys, but you all bought it immediately, made photos and you even said that you would put them on your blog to show it to the wider model building community. So I had to get rid of the photos before you put them on the internet, but you came way earlier today even though you usually go the gym after work on Wednesdays ... so I quickly hid inside the drier..."
"You idiot!" Sohei yelled. "We play along with your little joke and you take it so incredible seriously!"
"We knew the tank model wasn't built by you! We just pretended to be fooled until you told us the truth!" Sohei said.
'Just like Ran until I fooled her again at the play...' Shinichi thought. 'And now I've got to think about all the nice things I did with my fake mother on my fake trip to tell her once I turn back ... one thing that I would've saved myself from had I just confessed it ... along with other confessions...' He rubbed his eyes. 'What am I even thinking right now, I need to speed this little pointless incident up...' Shinichi grabbed the arm of Agasa and when the professor looked down to him, Shinichi nodded in the direction of Sohei and Tago.
"What, really? That's so mean!" Tago exclaimed.
"Y-you were mean!" Sohei huffed. "You lied to us for a joke in the first place!"
"Uhmm ... ahem!" Professor Agasa cleared his throat to gain the attention of the two model builders. "Can we see the photo now? I don't think it will be necessary to call the police in this case, right?"
"Right, right, of course not," Sohei said and turned back to Tago. "You. You help us find the picture to make up for the trouble."
"Sure," Tago hastily said and opened the photo album. "Which photo are you guys looking for?"
"The one of the regular that my grandfather got along with really well," Sohei explained.
"Ahh, the one who often came there with his son?" Tago asked.
Shinichi tilted his head. "You ... know him ... as well?"
"Yeah, Sohei and I went to the same university in Osaka," Tago said. "So we regularly went to the restaurant of Sohei's grandfather together. We were introduced to that customer, Sohei's grandfather called him the best regular ever. He was doing scuba diving, right?"
Sohei scratched his chin. "Really? Didn't you say he was part of the Maritime Self-Defense Force?"
Shinichi raised an eyebrow. "Did that man ... tell you his occupation?"
"No, but when I was recollecting some loose change I had dropped, one coin fell near his table and when I picked it up he said: It's time for me to finally dive deeper," Tago explained. "When I was a child, I was always building models of tanks and battleships, so I thought he was talking a submarine of the navy, but when I asked Sohei's grandfather, he told me that the man was just a normal employee. That's why I figured he must've been talking about scuba diving with his colleagues..."
"Colleagues...?" Shinichi interjected.
"Yeah, they were with him at that day instead of his son," Tago said. "Three or four men, all foreigners and all dressed in black."
'What?!' Shinichi thought. 'A group of men dressed in black. Don't tell me...'
"Sounds like they were talking some dangerous diving, because they all looked so serious and told him things like good luck and no pain, no gain over and over again..." Tago flipped through another page and his expression changed. "Ah, this is it, right? The child must've pressed the shutter when he was looking into the lens."
Sohei looked over his shoulder and took the photo out. "Yeah, right, this is it. I was really surprised when I developed the photos back then."
"H-hey..." Shinichi meekly said. His voice was shaky. "Say, that man ... was really just an employee..."
"Yeah, well, my grandpa said that he was an employee who worked for the Company," Sohei explained and handed Shinichi the picture. Depicted was mostly the face and hand of a little child, blurred and out of focus. Even without expecting to see him on the picture, Shinichi would've recognized this child to be Eisuke Hondou immediately. More interesting however was the background, which was consequently not blurry and showed a man dressed in black, with wavy hair, bags under his eyes and wrinkels along his nose and at the corners of his mouth.
"Company? What kind of company?" Agasa asked.
Sohei shrugged. "Beats me."
'Company ... Company...' Shinichi's thoughts raced. 'Don't tell me...' He felt the photo slip out of his fingers, he didn't have the strength to hold it anymore. His vision blurred a bit and he felt himself falling to the side, unable to keep his composure and remain seated. The ground was coming closer to his face rapidly, but Agasa reacted quick enough and prevented Shinichi from landing on the floor. Instead, the professor help him to get up standing, even though the older man had to sustain the high school detective, wrapping one arm around Shinichi's hip while one of Shinichi's arms rested on the shoulders of his old friend.
"S-should we call an ambulance?!" Tago nervously asked.
"No, no, that's fine, we'll drive him to a hospital ourselves," Agasa hastily said. "Probably just dehydration or something..." Agasa help Shinichi to walk, although he was almost completely pulling him along, as Shinichi felt his heart skipping a beat and his legs were completely numb. From the corner of his eye, Shinichi could see Haibara picking up the photo of Eisuke's father and putting it into her pocket before following them. Sohei accompanied them to the front door and wished Shinichi a fast recovery, before the professor carried him over to the beetle and seated him on the back row of the car. Shinichi leaned back against the cushions and held on to the seat as tightly as he could, which wasn't much anymore. Haibara took the passenger seat in the front and Agasa started the engine and drove towards his home.
His vision wasn't getting any better and his whole body felt like it was melting. "I'm ... I'm going to die..."
"Idiot!" Haibara yelled. "Don't say stupid things, you're just turning back, it just feels like you're going to die, but you're not actually..."
"But ... this time ... it feels ... different ... more intense ... and my body never went ... this numb before ... I feel ... this is ... I need..." Shinichi fumbled around his pockets and pulled out his phone. "Ran ... I need to call ... Ran ... and tell her ... I need to..." Before he could do anything with the phone, it fell out of his hand and bounced off the back seat into the legroom. "Is ... this ... it?" He couldn't keep his composure anymore again. Shinichi felt himself sliding to the side and again he saw his face rapidly approaching something, the cushions this time. However, this time he wasn't caught, but he didn't feel any impact either. His mind had already gone blank before his head had hit the seat.
Haibara looked at him lying on the rear bench seat. "Kudo-kun?! Kudo-kun, say something!" Haibara's eyes widened. "Kudo-kun! Kudo-kun?! Kudo-kun...?"
~~~ The END. For now. ~~~
~~~ To be continued in Clash of Shinichi and Black - Meitantei Shinichi, Part II ~~~