Actions

Work Header

The Sands of Fate: A Detective Conan Story

Chapter Text

The Sands of Fate: A Detective Conan Story
By Rowena Zahnrei

Prologue
Tatadohama Beach
Shimoda
Shizuoka Prefecture
0647 JST

Soft waves lapped the beach, the wet sand painted gold by the early morning sun. Ryota laughed and staggered out of the surf, dragging his surfboard behind him.

“Hey, Kosuke-kun!” he called to his friend over his shoulder. “Hurry up! That breakfast place I was telling you about opens in ten minutes, and we’ve still got to wash the salt off and change clothes.”

Kosuke stood in the water, clutching his surfboard under his arm and shivering in his worn, hand-me-down wetsuit. Ryota had splurged on a brand new wetsuit just the week before, and Kosuke knew exactly why.

“Give me a break, Ryota-kun,” he said grumpily. “The only reason you’re interested in that place is because that girl you like from physics class works there part time. She's the only reason you seem to be interested in anything lately.”

Ryota’s face was already flushed from surfing in the chilly autumn waves, but at that his color deepened even further. He opened his mouth to retort, but gasped and stumbled backwards instead, nearly tumbling over his surfboard.

“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Kosuke said, sloshing onto the sand beside him. “I was only teasing. I didn’t mean—”

“Kosuke-kun…” Ryota managed to choke out, clutching at his friend’s sleeve. “L-look over there!”

“Over where?”

“There, over there!” Ryota pointed urgently.

Kosuke squinted against the sunlight, moving forward until he could clearly see what had upset his friend so badly.

“Oh my…” He brought a hand to his mouth. “Oh my— It’s…it’s a man. Ryota-kun, I think he’s dead!”

“Drowned?”

“I…I don’t think so...”

Kosuke set his board down and crouched cautiously beside the body. The man lay sprawled on his back right at the tide line, his eyes closed, his mouth open, and his dark business suit already beginning to dry.

“Look at this," he said. "His mouth is completely filled with sand!”

Kosuke leaned in closer, and frowned.

“Wait…I think… Oh... Oh, shit, something’s moving—!”

Both young men screamed in horror as a tiny beach crab crawled out of the sand in the dead man’s mouth and scuttled down into his expensive-looking suit.

Ryota dropped his board and raced up the beach, to where they’d left their clothes.

“Hey, where are you going!” Kosuke shrieked, following after him. “You can’t leave me alone with this dead guy!”

“I gotta find my cell phone!” Ryota shouted back. “We need to call the cops, right now!”

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Part One: Frustrations of a Teenage Detective, Trapped in First Grade!
Teitan Elementary School
Tokyo
1126 JST

Two times one is two.
Two times two is four.
Two times three is six.
Two times four is eight…

My brain seethed with boredom as the rest of the class droned their way through the multiplication table…again… I knew my cover required me to be here, pretending to be just another elementary school student, but this simplistic classwork was such a waste of my time!

I rested my head on my desk and tried to imagine what I’d be doing right now over at Teitan High School…if I still looked like my own teenage self, instead of a little kid. Would I be mixing chemicals in chemistry lab? Giving a presentation on The Tale of Genji or Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Eating lunch with my best friend, Ran Mouri…?

It’s true what they say: you don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I used to take high school for granted – mostly because I had long ago decided to devote my life to becoming Japan’s greatest detective! At sixteen, I was already solving cases that stumped the Tokyo police force. By seventeen, I’d become a legitimate consulting detective. The police came to me when they got stuck, and it was a rare week that didn’t see my name in the papers at least once.

But, where was that famous high school detective now? Trapped in first grade, thanks to a cruel trick of fate that shrank me – seventeen-year-old Shinichi Kudo – down to a seven-year-old pipsqueak: Conan Edogawa. This fate came in the form of an experimental poison, APTX 4869, forcibly administered when I was attacked by a couple of Black Operation agents, codenamed Gin and Vodka.

They’d thought the poison would kill me. They had no idea that pill would shrink my body, but leave my keen detective’s mind intact.

Needless to say, I’ve been tracking those shifty goons ever since, hoping they might lead me to a cure that can restore me to my former self and allow me to resume my own name, my own life…

Until then, I must live undercover, keeping my true identity a secret from everyone but my eccentric neighbor, the absent-minded inventor Hiroshi Agasa. I can’t risk telling anyone else, not even Ran. It’s my deepest fear that, if she were ever to find out that little Conan Edogawa was really Shinichi Kudo, she too would become a target of the Black Operation.

Or worse, a victim.

So, I sit here at this tiny desk, surrounded by little kids, day after day, week after week, forced to relive all the spelling tests and multiplication quizzes I thought I’d put behind me ten years ago!

Luckily, Ran’s father is the retired policeman turned private detective Kogorou Mouri: a bombastic, irresponsible man with a habit of jumping in without thinking things through. His lazy ways make it easy for me to slip in and keep solving those cases that leave Tokyo’s Police Department baffled…with a little help from the gadgets Professor Agasa invents to help me overcome my tiny stature and child’s voice…

In my mind and in my heart, I’m still the great detective I was before I was attacked. But, to keep my cover, I have to let "Uncle" Kogorou have the credit for the cases I close. No longer do people read of the brilliant deductions of teenage prodigy Shinichi Kudo. Now Kogorou Mouri, the “Sleeping Detective,” is the one who makes the papers.

In a way, he’s become another mask to me. Another guise. Another lie…

But, I shouldn’t be too harsh. After all, Ran and her father were kind enough to take me in after my transformation. Believing me to be Professor Agasa’s relative, they’ve allowed this young stranger to share their home, their food, and their lives. In return, I must keep my secret so the Black Organization won’t find my trail…and my friends.

Criminals may think they’re clever, but to commit a crime, and hope to get away with it, they must weave web after web of lies. Wielded with skill, the detective’s tools of evidence and deductive logic cut through those lies, leaving only one truth. Until I find the cure I seek, I remain the living proof of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous axiom: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

...Four times four is sixteen.
Four times five is twenty.
Four times six is twenty-four—

"Conan-chan, sit up straight and join in with the rest of the class!" the teacher scolded.

Reluctantly, I lifted my head from the desk and added my voice to the droning chant.

Four times seven is twenty-eight.

I knew if I didn't get a new case soon, my brain was literally going to melt.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Part Two: Reckless Impulse of a Wounded Ego

I spotted Inspector Megure’s car parked outside Uncle Kogorou’s office on my way home from school that afternoon, and my heart gave a little leap.

The inspector, here – instead of calling Uncle Kogorou to headquarters?

Something must have happened, something big, and if the Tokyo police wanted Uncle Kogorou on the case, I had to get involved. Sooner or later, I knew they’d need my skills – the keen mind of Shinichi Kudo – even if all they saw was first-grader, Conan Edogawa.

I dashed up the street, my mind already racing with possibilities—

But, someone snagged my backpack, stopping me before I could reach the door.

“Hey!” I exclaimed, wiggling and struggling to slip my little arms out of the straps. “What—!”

“Not so fast,” Professor Agasa said, letting go of my bag so I could face him. “I’ve been waiting all day for you to get back from school! There’s something I need to show you.”

“Does it have to be right now?” I protested. “Inspector Megure—”

“That can wait until you’ve seen my new invention,” the old scientist said, clamping a large hand on my small shoulder and guiding me toward the shadows beside a neighbor’s high fence. He dug in his pocket and pulled out—

“A blue bowtie?” I said. “But, you already gave me a—“

“The red bowtie I gave you contains a voice modulator that allows you to mimic the voices of adults, children, and people you record,” the professor said. “But this new, blue bowtie is even better!”

“What does it do?” I asked, starting to get curious.

“This tie does double duty as an air filter and an oxygen mask,” Professor Agasa said proudly. “The mouthpiece is here, at the underside of the center knot. It’ll filter out smoke and most noxious gases. To start the oxygen flowing, tug the bowtie twice. The compressed oxygen will last you up to fifteen minutes.”

“That’s amazing,” I said, and I meant it. “But, what made you think of this?”

“Oh, of course!” the professor said. “You wouldn’t know yet, you’ve been in school all day, but it’s been all over the news! Some hot-shot, high-powered banker was found dead on Tatadohama Beach this morning.”

I frowned.

“Tatadohama…? But, that’s in Shimoda, well outside Tokyo’s jurisdiction. Why would the Tokyo Metropolitan Police be involved with a case like that?”

“Well, the banker was from Tokyo, for one thing,” the professor said. “So, there could be some link. But, I don’t really know why the inspector came here this afternoon. I just knew, with a high profile case like this, you were bound to get yourself involved sooner or later. And, if you’re going to be poking around the beach where a man drowned—”

“Did he drown?” I asked.

“The news report didn’t really go into the cause of death. It was just a lot of speculation, as usual. But, if you want to go find out, don’t let me stop you. I have my own work to do, you know.”

“Thanks, Professor Agasa,” I said, accepting the new bowtie. “And don’t worry, I’ll keep you in the loop.”

The professor smiled.

“You’re a good kid,” he said. “Try to be careful, OK?”

I smiled back, and raced across the street. The professor’s story and his new invention had only made me more curious about what was going on behind Uncle Kogorou’s office door.

I considered sneaking in through the main house, but after getting waylaid by Professor Agasa, I didn’t want to risk running into Ran. The high school got out earlier than the elementary school and, unless she had a karate club meeting, she was usually home before me, waiting in the kitchen to hand me a snack and prod me into doing my homework. I suppose that would have been nice if I really were seven, but for a seventeen-year-old, the whole ‘big-sister / little-brother’ act I had to keep up with her could be pretty hard to swallow sometimes.

Especially since she and I… That is, she and Shinichi Kudo… Well, we’d grown up together…the first time, anyway… She had always been my closest friend and, just before my transformation, there’d been some signs that…that, maybe she…

Perhaps the best thing would be to enter the office through the front door after all.

*******

The office was its usual disaster area. Despite the overhanging stench of cigarette butts and stale tobacco smoke, the room smelled a little like a school cafeteria. Empty cans and bottles, snack bags, and take-out boxes littered the desks and furniture, and the dustbin (and surrounding floor) was piled high with wrappers and moldering fruit.

Shaking my head, I moved further in, where I saw Uncle Kogorou and Inspector Megure leaning over Uncle Kogorou’s laptop while the assistant police inspector, Detective Miwako Satou looked on.

“Oh, Conan-kun!” Detective Satou said as I walked in. “Is school out already? This day really does seem to be getting away from us.”

The impulse to flirt must be mental as much as anything because, tiny as I was, I couldn’t help noticing how hot the young detective woman looked in her lavender suit. I wanted to impress her, my mind already searching for some cool, clever line, but—

She sees you as a little boy, I had to remind myself. So, think! How would a little boy act right now? What would he say?

“Yep!” I chirped, dropping my backpack on the less cluttered end of the couch. “There’s no more school for the whole weekend! What’s going on here? Can I help?”

Officer Satou smiled.

“Your little nephew is so cute,” she said to Uncle Kogorou, speaking right over my head.

I had to stop myself from gritting my teeth. Invisibled again, just like a real little kid…

“Try living with him,” Uncle Kogorou grunted, and crushed his latest cigarette into the overfilled ashtray. “Always poking his nose into everything… And all those endless questions!”

“He’s just curious,” she said, and beckoned me closer. “Maybe someday, he’ll have your job. What do you think, Conan-kun?” she teased. “Would you like to be a private detective, like your uncle? Or, how about a police officer, like me?”

“This is no business for children,” Inspector Megure protested, and I could tell from his gruff attitude that, whatever case had brought him here, it so far had him stumped. “Tell him to go in the house. We’re wasting time.”

I know I’ve been complaining, but there are a few good things that come with being stuck in the form of a child. One of which is the impunity to act out, and ignore an otherwise blatant dismissal.

“Hey, look at that!” I cried, squeezing between the inspector and Uncle Kogorou to examine the crime scene photos Inspector Megure had pulled up on the screen. “That man has sand in his mouth!”

“Get this kid out of here!” the inspector said – just as Ran entered the office, a tray of drinks in her hands.

“Oh, Conan-kun!” she exclaimed, “there you are! I was waiting for you in the house! You know you’re supposed to come straight home after school. It isn’t fair of you to make me worry like that.”

“But I—” I started, but I could tell from the mood in the room that any protest would be pointless. Uncle Kogorou gruffly shooed me off, and Ran practically dragged me into the main house – highlighting what is possibly the most infuriating aspect of looking like a child.

Nobody takes you, your preferences, or your insights, seriously.

And, that feeling of…of infantilization, of helpless, angry frustration…

Well, it can drive even the most logical mind to do something that, in hindsight, might seem rather reckless.

Even, irrational.

As I did…

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

The great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes often complained to his friend and chronicler, Dr. Watson, that the mysteries he solved should not be written as adventures, but as case studies, documenting his scientific approach to detective work. The problem, he thought, was that most people see, but they are not trained to truly observe. Even experienced Scotland Yard policemen, like Inspector Lestrade. They might get a general picture, but they tend to miss, or misinterpret, specific details that, for the detective, would indicate where that picture fits in the larger context of the crime at hand.

I’d only managed to catch a brief glimpse of the crime scene photos on Uncle Kogorou’s laptop before I was so unceremoniously dragged away. But, I’d noted several suspicious details that set my detective’s brain going.

That sand…it stuck in my mind like, well, wet sand. I remembered reading something similar, back before my transformation…a case file that noted traces of sand found in the victim’s lungs…up his nose…

But a vague memory wasn’t enough to run a search, and it certainly wasn’t enough to bring to the Inspector. Or, Uncle Kogorou.

So, after Ran handed me my afterschool snack and sat back down at the kitchen table with a book, I went to the living room, kicked my soccer ball out from the corner, and started juggling it with my legs and knees while I pondered all I’d learned so far, sorting through my observations on a hunt for missing pieces…

Crime scenes are a lot like jigsaw puzzles. Piece together enough clues, and the image of the perpetrator starts to emerge from what may initially seem merely a scattered jumble of colors, patterns, and shapes.

That’s where experience, strategy, and inductive reasoning come into play.

Often a detective will start out with a theory: say, for example, the crime was a burglary; the motive, therefore, was probably to obtain money for some purpose – most likely drugs, or possibly gambling.

Based on this theory, the detective will put together a profile of the probable offender and start looking for likely suspects.

This kind of theory-based reasoning, from the general to the specific, is called ‘deduction.’

The opposite of deductive reasoning is inductive reasoning – moving from the specific to the general, like a puzzle-worker carefully inspecting the shapes and colors of each individual piece to build a coherent image. This approach leaves more room for error but, since I didn’t yet have enough information on this case to form a reasonable theory, this kind of puzzle-worker strategy was my best chance to sniff out a trail that could put me ahead of the game…little kid or no little kid…

I knew the victim was a Tokyo financier, a middle-aged male. He had been found on Tatadohama Beach in the early morning. The crime scene photos showed his mouth filled with wet sand…sand that had been disturbed, most plausibly by some sort of scavenging beach animal. Perhaps a bird or crab.

Such disturbance would indicate the body had been lying on the beach for some time before it was found – an indication supported by the crime scene photos. Though the water level was quite low by the time the police arrived, the photos showed the body sprawled just at the high tide line, the material of his business suit already nearly dry.

The tide must, therefore, have been high when he washed ashore, and in transition when the surfers found the body.

Surfers tend to prefer the tidal swells of a rising tide to an outgoing tide, but tidal ranges shift from location to location, and even an outgoing tide can make promising waves.

That meant it was reasonable to assume the swells caused by the changing tide drew the surfers and, as the tide went out, the lower water level revealed the body.

But, since the body seemed to have been washed ashore, rather than dumped, the beach was probably not the site where the murder took place. If I could get to a computer, trace the water’s changing path, maybe I could find out where the body went into the sea. Pin that down, and I’d be one step closer to finding the actual crime scene – and possibly the murderer!

A surge of excitement filled my heart, and I juggled the ball even higher—

“Conan-kun!” Ran scolded, looming over me like a wrathful spirit. “You know you’re not supposed to play with that ball in the house!”

I jumped despite myself, legitimately startled, and the ball landed and bounced before I could catch it. I glared behind my glasses, but this wasn’t the time for a fight. So, I swallowed my irritation and put on my brightest ‘little boy’ face instead.

“Sorry, Ran-neesan! I was just thinking!”

Ran's stern expression softened.

“Well, why don’t you get started on your homework? Get it done now, and you can play all weekend! Outside, though. Not indoors, where you can break things.”

As if...!

I scowled and started the ball spinning on my finger. I had worked for years to perfect my muscle control, to learn to move with precision and purpose, just like Sherlock Holmes...

But, of course, Ran didn't know that. She didn't know I was her friend, Shinichi. No, she saw only Conan...a little boy, playing with a soccer ball in her father's living room.

Or...did she?

I looked at her face as she watched me with the ball, and for a moment, I could swear she was seeing me, the real me, and my breath caught in my throat.

"Ran...I..."

I caught myself, and the ball, and forced a boyish giggle.

"Oops! Almost dropped it!" I chirped, relieved to have broken the odd tension between us. Yet, that didn't change the fact that with every diversion, every awkward lie, I was putting a divider up between us, and that guilt lingered, making my face burn red. I ducked my head quickly and dashed across the room to the toy bin, desperate to change the subject. "I'll put this ball away! Say, what's that you're reading, Ran-neesan?"

Now, it seemed, it was Ran's turn to blush. My embarrassment turned to curiosity as I watched her hug the book closer, as if trying to hide it from me.

"Oh, nothing," she said. "Just some stupid mystery stories."

A light went on in my head, and I couldn't bite back a grin. So, that explained that odd, intense look she'd given me! Ran wouldn't be reading mystery stories unless she was thinking about her friend, Shinichi. And, seeing me with that soccer ball had just been a further reminder! She didn't doubt my cover after all! But, just to make sure...

"You've been thinking about him again, haven't you," I teased, knowing, if it was true, she'd certainly try to deny it.

"What - no! I...I mean, I don't know who you're talking about," she stammered, blushing right up to her ears.

My smile grew wider.

"Hey, I know that book!" I peeped, pointing at the half-hidden cover. "That's The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! What's your favorite story, Ran-neesan?"

"Well...I haven't exactly finished them all yet," she admitted, then frowned. "Wait, isn't this book a little advanced for a kid your age?"

"Are you kidding?" I scoffed. My first time through elementary school, I'd read every one of the original Sherlock Holmes stories before second grade. Including the novels. "I love Sherlock Holmes mysteries! My favorite one in that book is "The Adventure of the Dancing Men." Have you gotten to that one yet, Ran-neesan?"

"Oh, yes!" she said, and opened the book, flipping to an image of several stick figures posed in different positions. Some of the figures held little flags. "I have to admit, that was a good one. Poor Elsie Cubitt! That awful gangster chased her all the way to England from America! He just couldn't accept she'd already found the love of her life..."

"Yeah, OK," I said, "but what's really interesting about that case is the code! I remember, the first time I ever read that story, I set myself a challenge. I wanted to see if I could crack the code before Sherlock Holmes revealed the answer in the book. Figuring it had to spell out something in English, I looked up the most commonly used English letters, and found out the vowels 'a-e-i-o-u' - especially 'e' - are used most frequently. Since the name 'Elsie' has two 'e's, that's all I needed to crack the code!"

Ran chuckled.

"That just how Sherlock Holmes did it," she said.

"Yeah, after me," I said, and laughed. "Guess great minds really do think alike."

"Shinichi..."

"Yeah, Ran?" I said, and almost choked.

Ran hit me on the back until I could breathe again, then said, "Conan-kun, are you OK? I was just going to say that Shinichi used to do the same thing when we were little: put the book away while he worked to solve the mystery himself, then check to see if that's how the detective figured it out in the story!"

...you remember that...

I smiled, but the awkward guilt was rising like a lump in my throat, and it was getting harder to swallow it back.

"I used to tease him about that," Ran said, her expression growing distant, and a little sad. "But, even then I was proud of him...that he could figure things out so easily, without anyone's help. Well...most things..."

She sighed, and I frowned a little, not quite following her meaning.

"It's too bad Shinichi had to go away just before you came to us, Conan-kun!" she said. "You two are so much alike, it's scary!"

I grimaced, and inched past her, through the door to the kitchen. I needed to get out of there, and this conversation, before my cover really slipped.

"Yeah... Well, I have to go...em..."

"But, Conan-kun," she said. "What about your homework?"

"I'll do it later," I said, already slipping on my sneakers. "Right now, I...uh... I have to, um..."

The doorbell sounded, followed by the eager knocking of several small hands. I knew who it was even before I answered.

"Conan-kun!" Ayumi squealed, standing outside the door with her friends Genta and Mitsuhiko. All three were in my class at school, and all three had essentially pushed their way into my life, fancying themselves to be something of a junior detective club, with big, loud Genta as their nominal leader. They advertised their 'detective skills' at school, inviting kids faced with a mystery (usually a lost notebook, or sometimes a lost pet) to write out their problem and slip it into Genta's locker. And, if they got stuck, as they so often did, they brought the mystery to me.

Sometimes, I found that annoying.

Today, though, I was grateful. Especially when Ran's face brightened.

"Oh, I see!" she said. "Do you four have another mystery to solve?"

"Yes, that's why we need Conan-kun!" Ayumi said.

"You have to come with us to the park," Genta said, practically dragging me outside.

"Bye, Ran-neesan!" I called, and followed the group down the street. Once Ran had closed the door, though, I stopped short.

"OK, what's this all about?" I asked.

"It's the sand in the playground, under the swings," Mitsuhiko said.

"What about it?"

"It's way too high!" Ayumi said.

"Yeah," Genta pushed in. "Used to be I could barely reach the swing on my toes, but today the sand's been piled up so high, the bottom of the swing almost touches it when you sit down!"

It was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes.

"That's hardly a mystery," I said. "The sand under the swings has been eroded away from years of feet scraping on the ground. The park management probably just filled in the holes to make it easier for kids like us to reach them...and safer, if some kid should trip or fall down."

"Awwwww," the kids moaned.

"We were hoping it was a real mystery," Genta said, "like, maybe, someone had buried some secret treasure under the swings, and was trying to cover it up."

"Unlikely," I said, and smirked. "As the doctor said, 'When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.'"

"Huh?"

"What's the sand under the swings have to do with horses?" Genta asked.

"Or zebras?" Ayumi added curiously.

"It just means that the more mundane answer is usually the right one," I said. "Look, you guys, I'm actually kind of busy right now, so—"

"Oooh, Conan-kun, do you have a case?" Ayumi said eagerly.

"Can we help?" Mitsuhiko asked.

"Maybe later, OK," I hedged, not really wanting the three of them hanging around while I tracked down those tidal charts I'd been wanting to check. "In the meantime, why don't you look into that sand mystery. Who knows, maybe you'll find that zebra after all!"

I ran across the street, leaving the Junior Detective League confused, but curious enough to head back to the park...at least, for now. Inspector Megure's car was gone, and I knew it wouldn't do much good going back to Uncle Kogorou, especially after the way I'd just left Ran, so I decided to walk to the library and use the computers there to follow up my lead on the case.

It's pretty rare for me to go out walking on my own in this form. Usually I try to stay within a group. Mostly, because it helps my cover: a kid my size walking alone usually attracts attention. But, also, because I actually rather like being part of a group, having people to talk to and bounce ideas around with.

I wouldn't have gone off on my own today, except I was feeling obstinate and grumpy, and more bitter than usual about my situation. I mean, in just the past half hour, I'd been snubbed by the cops and treated like an infant by a girl who was pining for her best friend - a friend she could never see again as long as I was stuck in this form! My angry frustration was like a roiling sea inside my gut. I felt...I felt I needed to prove myself to myself - prove that I still was the great detective I had been, despite everything that had happened to me. Despite the awful drug that shrank my body, stole my life...my reputation...

I needed to solve this case, and I wanted to do it on my own the way I used to, without any help from anyone. Not Uncle Kogorou, not the police, and certainly not the Detective League.

Just me. Shinichi Kudo...a.k.a. Conan Edogawa.

Irrational? Maybe. Immature? Perhaps. But, that's how I felt as I trudged down the sidewalk, moving stubbornly away from all my friends.

I was pretty deep in my head by the time I got to the busy street a few blocks from the house, and I wasn't really looking at my surroundings. That's why I was so startled when the door to an antique-looking black car opened right in front of me. A strong hand clamped a cloth over my mouth, strong arms pulled me inside...

There was an odd, sharp, medicinal smell...

And everything went black.

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

When I woke up, my head was pounding and I felt like I had to throw up. That foul chemical smell still burned in my nose, my mouth was as dry as an old rag, and the odd sensation of motion told me I was in the car's back seat even before I managed to open my eyes.

The sun's glare made the car's driver little more than a silhouette in a chauffeur's cap. I tried to sit up, to see the guy's face, but my stomach gave a mighty lurch and I let out an involuntary groan.

"Chloroform can have that effect," the chauffeur said unsympathetically. "Just lay back and take some deep breaths. You'll feel better soon."

"Who…" I tried, and swallowed hard a few times.

"All in good time," the chauffeur said. "For now, just breathe. Make a mess and you'll be the one cleaning that leather, not me."

My little body felt sick enough to cry, but I wasn't about to give my kidnapper the satisfaction of knowing he'd rattled me.

"Why are you doing this?" I managed. "What do you want with me?"

"And what makes you think this is about you?"

The chauffeur kept his eyes on the road, signaling before making a sharp left turn.

I groaned again, my entire being weak with nausea.

"Please…can't we stop…just for a minute…" I gasped. "I really…I-I don't…"

"Hold it in just a little longer," the chauffeur said, revving the antique car up a rather steep slope. Another left, then a right along a narrow, winding lane lined with trees, and he stopped short and turned around to look at me.

His features were long, smooth, and eerily blank. As I watched from the back, still ill and reeling, he removed his cap, then raked both hands through his short, black hair…

…and pulled off his face.

*******

I got out of the elegant, black car barely a block from the neighborhood park. My stomach had finally settled but, as I watched the car and its driver vanish back into traffic, my head kept swimming through everything that had happened, and everything that driver had said...

...This plot goes deeper than you know, Silver Bullet. That financier wasn't the first to die. And you can believe he won't be the last...

"Conan-kun! Conan-kun, there you are!"

I gave a start and turned around, a little off balance. The Detective League swarmed up and surrounded me, all three of them talking at once.

"Stop, stop, slow down!" I exclaimed, pressing a hand to my throbbing head. "What's going on?"

"Conan-kun, you have to come see!" Ayumi squeaked, pulling at my other hand.

"Where have you been, anyway?" Mitsuhiko asked. "We tried to call you, then to text you, but you didn't answer!"

"Yeah," Genta pushed in, striding close beside me as if to make certain I didn't pull away. "It's getting dark already. We're gonna have to go home for dinner soon!"

I frowned and pulled my phone from my pocket. Sure enough, it showed two missed calls and three texts.

"Of course…" I realized. "We were in a dead zone. No reception…"

"Here it is! Look, Conan-kun!" Ayumi pointed excitedly. "It's all new, all of it! We actually watched the workers put them in!"

"Huh?" I said, following her pointing finger toward our little playground. "What are you…"

It was clear some recent work had been done. The ditches beneath the swings and at the foot of the old slide had been neatly filled in, the long-broken monkey bars had been replaced with a small, multi-colored jungle gym, and over at the far edge, three new rides stood in a neat row. Three animal-shaped spring rockers: a green duck, an orange tiger…

And a striped zebra.

I stared, then broke out laughing even though, inside, my nerves were all on edge. I glanced at the swings, then at my friends.

"Have you guys been digging up this sand?" I asked, crouching down to inspect their work.

"Of course," Genta said. "The workmen swore there was nothing buried under there, but we wanted to be sure anyway."

I smiled a little and ran the smooth sand through my fingers…

Only to stop, and examine the sand grains more closely.

"This isn't the same as beach sand," I observed, using my index finger to spread the granules across my palm. "The texture is different."

"Well, yeah," Mitsuhiko said. "Beach sand is full of impurities, like bits of seashells and seaweed and volcanic rocks and things like that. Playground sand is usually made of granite so it tends to be softer and finer and much, much cleaner than other kinds of naturally eroded sand."

"Yeah?" Genta challenged. "And you know this because?"

"I read. A lot. And, I talked to the construction guys," Mitsuhiko said, and smirked.

"And, he's right," I said, rolling the fine, rounded granules between my fingers before brushing my hands clean and standing up. "This sand has a much more consistent, homogeneous quality than beach sand."

"So what?" Genta demanded.

"Nothing," I said, and glanced at the sky. The pink clouds were already darkening to purple, and a few stars were starting to twinkle through the twilight. Soon, the streetlights would turn on, and I didn't want Uncle Kogorou to send Ran out looking for me. I planned to sneak out later, so I knew I had to be on good behavior now…or, at least until Uncle Kogorou went to bed.

"You're right, it is getting late," I said. "I have to go home. See you guys later, OK?"

"OK, Conan-kun," Ayumi said. "We just wanted to show you – sometimes a mystery really does lead to a zebra!"

"Yeah, I guess so," I said and tried to smile, but my mind was whirring at top speed and I couldn't quite get the smile to sit right.

Ayumi had no idea how right she was...

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

Part V: Trouble, and the Nosy Detective…

I didn't used to have to sneak out of windows to investigate clues. Back before I became Conan Edogawa, when I was still Shinichi Kudo, I had the run of my own house and could come and go pretty much whenever I wanted. My parents have to travel almost constantly for their work – all the endless touring and publicity that comes with being world-famous for their mystery book series and so on – so they used to let me stay at home during the school year. It was a great life and, with the police department finally beginning to take my detective skills seriously, it had promised to only get better.

Until that fateful night…

The night two goons from the Black Organization, codenamed Gin and Vodka, clocked me over the head and force-fed me an experimental drug they believed would kill me.

Instead, the drug shrank my body, but left my mind intact.

Gin and Vodka may have bungled my murder, but they managed to steal my life just the same.

I have never forgiven them for that.

It was easy enough to sneak out of Ran's house without anyone noticing. Little Conan's bedtime was 'officially' 8:30pm, and most nights it was pretty unusual for Ran or her father to check in on me after 9pm...especially when Ran's dad, the famous "Sleeping Detective," had had a few beers with his dinner...

That meant I had most of the night to pursue my own leads on this case.

My drive to prove myself to myself had not diminished since that afternoon. If anything, getting kidnapped like that had only strengthened my need to solve this mystery on my own, just the way I used to. As I knotted a rope around my writing desk and used it to climb down to the street from my bedroom window, my kidnapper's voice kept turning around and around in my mind:

"This plot goes deeper than you know, Silver Bullet. That financier wasn't the first to die. And you can believe he won't be the last."

"I already suspected as much," I'd said. "I know of another case, from some time ago – another Tokyo business man found with his lungs full of sand. But, why? Who is behind all this?"

"You should know better than to ask me that. We illusionists never reveal our secrets to the uninitiated."

"Well, what can you tell me?"

"Only that the Sands of Fate are never arbitrary. They claim each victim for a reason. Be careful they don't draw you in…"

The streets and trains of Tokyo can be dangerous at night, especially for a little kid on his own. But, I had learned how to hang just close enough to a nearby adult or two to give beat cops and passersby the impression that I was part of a group. I kept that up as I left the subway station and headed into the trendy neighborhood of Shimokitazawa, known locally as "Shimokita."

It wasn't as hectic there as in nearby Shibuya, Tokyo's "Times Square," but it could still be pretty disorienting for someone who didn't know their way around. Shops were cramped and close together and intricate street art colored their gates, made eerie by the late-evening dimness. Crowds of young people clustered in and outside of the many bars and restaurants. Everywhere, musicians, performers, and artists mingled with foreign hipsters, the scent of fried foods and curry filled the air, and the sounds of laughter and live bands poured out of almost every door.

I'd been there before, of course, but I had been a lot taller then, and it had been during the day. At night, bright signs and neon lights highlighted the shadows under the shop awnings and along the narrow alleys, and it took me a few moments to get my bearings.

Still, with all the clues my kidnapper had dropped, I believed I knew what I was looking for.

Illusionists…

Secrets…

The Sands of Fate…

What could it be, but a magic show?

And, where better than Shimokita, one of the closest things Tokyo had to a theater district, to start looking for it?

Many of the bars with live music featured walls and windows plastered with posters advertising local acts, plays and musicals. Sure enough, it was there, at the third bar I passed, that I found the poster that seemed to confirm my theory: a tan-colored ad covered in golden glitter that sparkled as I walked near enough to make out its artistic, English script:

Can You Survive The Sands Of Fate?
Come to the Restored Belasco Theater, and Experience a Magic Show Like No Other
One Week Only!
Seating is Limited

The theater's address and show times were in much smaller, Japanese print. I checked my phone's digital clock, and smiled.

The last show of the night was due to start in just under eight minutes. I quickly looked up a map on my phone and dashed through the crowds, making it into the tiny theater's tiny lobby just as the doors were closing. Fortunately, the girl behind the ticket counter was easily charmed by my 'lost little boy' routine and, before long, I was seated between my 'parents' (two absolute strangers who probably didn't even know each other, let alone me) near the end of the second row, right in front of the stage.

I have to admit, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Magic shows have never really impressed me. After all, when your entire life is dedicated to honing your observation skills and solving mysteries, unpicking a performer's practiced prestidigitation and legerdemain doesn't usually present too much of a challenge.

This particular act seemed pretty standard fare - at first. The featured magician was Vinny Vino, a dapper European man in a tuxedo and tails who spent the first fifteen minutes or so turning silk handkerchiefs into flowers, flowers into doves, and white rabbits into piglets. I was getting pretty bored, and a little worried I might be in the wrong place.

Then, I caught a glimpse of a figure standing under the light of the EXIT sign.

A tall, lanky man with long hair, and a hat pulled low over his face.

"Gin!" I whispered under my breath, my heart pounding with alarm.

I looked back at the stage, where another man – shorter, darker, but no less familiar – was pushing a very large, wheeled, glass container into the middle of the stage.

"And that's: Vodka! What the hell are they up to…?"

"Now, for our featured act, I'd like to introduce a brave volunteer from the audience!" the magician announced, gesturing grandly as a grinning, rather intoxicated-looking businessman trailed Vinny's attractive female assistant toward center stage. "Mr. Kobayashi, are you ready to face The Sands of Fate?"

Mr. Kobayashi smiled and waved, and the audience broke into approving applause.

All, except me.

While the rest of the audience watched, transfixed, as Vodka and Vinny's assistant strapped the unwitting Mr. Kobayashi into some kind of harness, my eyes darted around the small, darkened theater. The old, wooden stage was flanked by two narrow doors that led backstage, and I spotted a small, sliding door that presumably opened to a storage space under the stage. As the magician continued to speak, I scooted to the very edge of my seat, ready to sneak toward the stage or jump up and make a distraction - whatever it took to make sure this "volunteer" wouldn't be the next body the cops found washed up on the beach...

But, before I could move, Mr. Kobayashi was hoisted high into the air. A low rumble preceeded Gin driving a surprisingly large cement mixer right onto the narrow stage. He positioned the machine's spout over the glass box just as Mr. Kobayashi was lowered down into it - then proceeded to pour sand in over him.

The audience gasped and murmered as the sand rose higher and higher around Mr. Kobayashi's struggling form. Within moments, it had reached his chest, then his neck, and anxious cries of "Pull him out!" and "Oh no - no, he'll suffocate!" were getting increasingly louder.

I sat frozen, terribly torn between my need to do something, and the awful knowledge that there was really not much a kid like me could do. I had no way to break that thick glass, and no hope of wresting control of the cement mixer from Gin.

But, the sand in the box was still rising, rising over the top of that poor man's head...

I jumped to my feet and started toward the stage -

Only to stop short at the magician's sudden, terrible shout.

"Basta!" he exclaimed, raising his arms dramatically over his head.

Gin obediently backed the cement mixer back into the shadows, and the engine's rumble died.

"Adesso!" the magician cried, and his female assistant knocked her fist twice against the thick, transparent glass. The front pane lifted about half a foot, and a wave of sand poured out, waterfalling down past the raised wheels where it was, presumably, being collected under the stage.

The opening clearly wasn't wide enough for a man of Mr. Kobayashi's size to squeeze through yet, as the sand emptied from the container, it quickly became obvious that the businessman was no longer there.

And, neither was the harness.

That harness had been connected by strong wire to a complicated rigging system hidden high above the stage. If those wires had been detached at any time during the performance, I was certain I would have spotted it.

Yet, I'd seen nothing. And now, both the harness and Mr. Kobayashi, were gone.

The audience gasped and clapped, but I frowned and edged slowly back toward my seat, just waiting for the other shoe to drop...

The magician's female assistant wheeled the now empty box around the stage, then settled it down in front of the magician. Vinny circled it twice, then commanded: "Apparire!"

A flash of light forced me to blink. When my vision cleared a moment later, a man stood inside the glass box. A man wearing the same rigged up harness, the same (slightly sandy) business suit, the same rimless glasses as Mr. Kobayashi. In fact, in almost every way - height, weight, hair, smile - the man in the box was an exact match for the man who had so recently, and so inexplicably, disappeared.

The audience shot to its collective feet, applauding for all they were worth as the harnessed man was hoisted out of the box and onto the stage, where the magician's assistant helped him out of the harness and down the stage steps to join Mr. Kobayashi's cheering friends. None of them seemed to suspect that anything was wrong.

But, I wasn't satisfied.

I had looked at Mr. Kobayashi's bloodshot eyes, seen his flushed face. That businessman had clearly had a few drinks before heading onto that stage.

The man who had walked off, however, was clear-eyed and sober.

Beyond that, the show wasn't over, and Gin and Vodka were nowhere to be seen.

"They've got him," I muttered to myself, taking advantage of the audience's enthusiasm for the magician's 'trick' to slip unnoticed into the wings of the stage. "That man is either dead or tied up somewhere. And, I am going to find out why."

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

Part VI: Quicksand

The backstage corridor was a surprising bright white lined with narrow doors. Two of the doors stood wide open and none were locked, but I didn't see anyone around. No janitor, no sound or lighting techs, no stage managers or other theater employees—

And no sign of Gin or Vodka.

A bit of quick snooping revealed most of the rooms were for equipment and prop storage, but faded poster remnants, peeling paper stars, and bits of old tape indicated at least three had served as dressing rooms for the various acts that had played here over the years.

As I snuck my way past, the florescent ceiling lights forced me to squint, their flickering reflection on the floor tiles and my glasses making it difficult to make out the details around me. Shielding my eyes, I let my ears lead me toward a much darker, dustier passage - a cluttered storage space marked off by a heavy black curtain. This was the border curtain, I realized, the one that marked the top of the stage where the magician and his assistant were still performing.

I crept carefully past a maze of lines and ropes, dusty lights and unused scenery to peer around the curtain. Behind the bright stage lights, the audience was draped in shadow - rows of half-visible heads, their gleaming eyes transfixed on the magician and his sparkly assistant.

The empty glass box stood on a wheeled base. It was only a few feet in front of me, but trying to reach it would put me in full view of the audience. I spotted the cement mixer off to the right, in the dimness between the forward curtains, and beyond that…

Stairs. A dim, red emergency light revealed a flight of stairs leading to the levels below the stage.

Moving as swiftly and quietly as my little legs could go, I dashed past the ominous cement mixer and down the stairs, absolutely certain I'd found the right trail. In fact, if I'd paused at this point to take a breath and think with my head, it might have crossed my mind to call Professor Agasa, or even Uncle Kogorou, with a tip or two to let them know the heart of a deadly and devious plot was unfolding inside this theater - literally a few steps away. I was wearing the new blue bow tie the professor had given me, but the red voice-changing bow tie was still in my pocket. I could have had some back-up.

…or, at least, a rescue party…

But, my detective's ego was too focused on solving this thing myself to consider the folly of one small child facing two of the Black Organization's top agents all on his own…

"Aniki," came Vodka's low voice. "Where do you plan to dump this one?"

"He was a land developer," Gin's voice answered. "We have a cement mixer. Let's let him rest in his own construction site."

"And his boss at the company?"

I'd dug my camera out of my bag and was trying to find a good observing position behind a stack of old prop boxes, so I couldn't see Gin's face. But I could hear the smile in his voice when he answered.

"Our new plant will take care of him in due time," he said. "After all, that's the genius of this plan. We replace the second-in-command in Japan's top companies with Black Organization agents. Give them time to settle in…convince the board members they're indispensable… Then, when the time is right…"

Gin lifted two fingers, like a gun, and winked at his partner.

"Meet the new boss," he said, and smirked.

"First Japan and then the world," Vodka added.

"Let's not get too cliche," Gin rumbled darkly, and tilted his head, just slightly.

I held my breath, my pulse thrumming so loudly in my ears I almost didn't hear the audience's ovation.

"Sounds like Vino's wrapping things up," Gin said. "Tell him to change and get down here. We'll need his help with the stiff."

I'd been taking pictures all this time, struggling to find an angle where I could get a clear shot of the face of the man they'd killed with that sand tank.

I suppose I thought the audience cheering and chatting and walking up above us would cover any sounds the camera might make.

Maybe, I wasn't really thinking at all.

But, suddenly, I felt a strong hand grab the back of my shirt and lift me high over the boxes I'd been crouched behind.

"What's this?" Gin said, pulling me so close I could smell the stench of stale cigarettes that clung to his clothes and hair. "Where did this child come from!"

"Aniki, he must have been here all this time," Vodka said. "This kid heard everything we said! And look!" He grabbed my camera with a swipe of his big, blunt hand. "He has a camera!"

"I…I just wanted to know how the sand trick was done!" I exclaimed in my best little-boy voice. "I…I didn't—"

"You want sand, kid?" Gin said, his eyes dark pits in his cold, narrow face. "You've got it. Right here."

Gin punched some sort of control button. The box-like trap that had caught the sand the magician had poured away during the trick rose on a sort of elevator. Gin swung me over the metal edge and dropped me into the cold, rough sand even as the box kept rising higher, through a trapdoor in the upper stage and then higher still…

Some analytical part of my brain realized this must be the contraption they used to refill the cement truck for each performance even as the box began to tip. I tried to hang on, to grab the box's sharp, metal edge, but the push of the sand was far too strong. I felt myself falling, the sand that poured into the cement truck getting denser, heavier, as it spilled over and around me…

The sand rose past my knees, my waist. I tried to struggle, to climb, to lean back and kick my legs free, but the weight of the sand was too much for my little kid muscles. I felt the cold sand squeezing my chest, my neck, and I realized…

This was what it felt like to be buried alive…

*******

I don't know exactly how long I spent clawing my way out of that terrifying sand trap, but I did know the cement truck had been moving for quite a while. I kept kicking and clawing even after the truck came to a stop and I felt the sand around me tilting, pouring out into the dark, cool night and taking me along with it…

"What the hell is that?" I heard an accented voice exclaim - most likely Vinny Vino.

"It's that brat kid we caught snooping," Vodka said. "I think he's still alive!"

I heard Gin's low grunt, and the click of something metallic snapping open.

"I'll fix that right now," he said.

To say I felt disoriented would be an understatement. My little body felt bruised, scraped and battered. If I hadn't remembered the professor's blue bow tie doubled as an oxygen mask, being buried alive in all that sand would have surely had suffocated me - just as it had suffocated the unfortunate businessman they'd replaced with one of their disguised agents.

I let the bow tie fall from my mouth and tried to roll away, to climb to my feet. But, my knees felt shaky and useless. My legs and arms were scraped and bleeding and, if not for my teenage pride, I'm pretty sure my little body would have crumpled into tears right there.

Still, when Gin grabbed for me, I dodged and bit his arm.

Hard.

I saw his smile, the cruel glint in his eyes… Something jabbed my leg and I felt a burning sensation rise up through my veins. My muscles cramped, my stomach clenched, and I couldn't hold back a scream. The pain forced me to release my grip and, as I fell back onto the rough, torn-up ground of what looked to be a construction site, I saw Gin turn and walk away, a used syringe in his hand…

I hunched myself into a tight ball, tears streaming from my eyes. My lungs hitched, my legs and fingers spasmed, the pain growing so intense I feared my skin was melting off my bones. But through it all, I kept thinking of Ran...of how worried she would be when she woke up in the morning to find Conan wasn't in his room...of what she might think when she called Shinichi's number looking for help and he didn't answer...

I had to call her...had to say...

"Ran... I...I'm..."

That was my last thought for a very long time...

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

Part VII: Return to Form

The world came back to me in shades and blurs of light. But, even before I opened my eyes, I felt that something was off.

That something had changed…

"Ah! So, you're finally coming around!" came a warm, cheery voice. A voice I recognized…

"Pro…Professor…?"

I coughed and tried to sit up, my head swimming with nausea and disorientation.

"Not so fast!" the professor warned. "You might want to take it slow for now. At least, until you've had some time to acclimate."

"A – acclim—?"

A wave of vertigo overwhelmed me. I groaned and doubled over, fighting to calm my leaping stomach. The afghan blanket that had covered me slid to the floor and I realized I'd been curled up on Professor Agasa's battered old couch, wrapped in one of his oversized bathrobes.

"Here, my boy, drink this." I heard his kindly voice again, and I felt him press a warm, smooth teacup into my hand. I breathed in the soothing fragrance of bittersweet green tea and spicy ginger and took a long, slow sip.

"There, now," he said. "I'll bet you're feeling better already."

The Professor's house had always been a bit of a cluttered mess, with pieces of equipment and the specialized tools he used on his inventions scattered all around. But, as my breathing evened out and my vision began to clear, I realized the busy space seemed smaller and more cramped than usual. Even his familiar couch seemed to have…shrunk…?

Moving slowly, cautiously, I uncurled my legs and set my feet flat on the floor...the floor my toes hadn't been able to reach since my transformation...

"It's not the couch…" I realized, staring in wonder at my legs, my arms, my hands. "It's me…! I-I'm—!"

"Shinichi—"

"Professor!" I exclaimed and jumped to my feet, delighted to be speaking in my own voice, to view the room from my own height. "Professor, I'm me again! How…how did this happen? What did you do?"

The professor regarded me through his glasses, his expression deeply concerned.

"I? But… Oh, dear," he muttered, his gray mustache seeming to intensify his worried frown. "Are you telling me you don't remember what happened last night?"

"Remember…?" I shook my head, struggling to think back…past the woozy haze that still clouded my brain…

But, the professor was still talking, his expression drawn and somber.

"I wish I could take credit for restoring you to your proper form," he said, "but I must confess, it wasn't me. I merely followed the distress signal that was sent out when you activated that blue bowtie I gave you. It led me to a construction site right in the heart of the city, and that's where I found you, unconscious. You were lying on a pile of sand, already in this form. And, you seemed to have torn right through your clothes!"

"What?" I glanced down at the bathrobe, opening it to reveal the tight, tattered remains of Conan's child-sized shirt and short trousers.

"I laid out some fresh clothes for you," the professor said, indicating one of my own familiar suits draped across a chair. A suit I used to wear back when I was the famed high school detective, Shinichi Kudo. Before I'd ever heard of Gin or Vodka, or the experimental poison that had turned me into Conan Edogawa. "I fetched this from your house while you were sleeping. You go ahead and get changed. I'll see if I can find us something to eat."

The old man got up from his chair and took my empty teacup, heading toward the kitchen. I watched him go, my heart quickening as I realized, whatever had happened to me last night, the professor and his inventions had, again, saved my life. Not once, but twice.

"Professor Agasa," I called to him. "Thank you."

"You just get dressed," he called back, already clattering pans and plates. "Once you're feeling more like yourself, I'm sure your memory will start to return. Then, we can both get to work on this mystery."

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

Part VIII: The Secret Code of the Dancing Men

It felt strange walking the streets of Ran's neighborhood wearing my old suit. Hearing the pound of my own stride on the sidewalk, instead of the patter of little kid sneakers. Knowing…

If she called my phone… If she looked out her window…

The curb seemed so much lower now, the ground so much further away, I overstepped and almost tripped as I crossed between a couple of parked cars. Quickly regaining my balance, I jogged to her door and looked up.

Her bedroom window was dark, but that didn't mean much. This early in the morning, Ran would be in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for herself, for her father…and Conan…

I know her routine so well, I could practically picture it. Any moment, she'd head upstairs to knock on Conan's door; tell him to wake up, get dressed, and come down for breakfast. When he didn't show up—

I shook my head and dug into my pocket for a piece of white chalk I'd borrowed from the professor's house. I paused for a moment, my hand hovering just to the right of the doorknob as my mind filled with memories… I remembered the childhood Ran and I had shared together…the triumphs and the mistakes, the laughter… The first time I'd seen her on horseback, her dark hair shining in the sun. The determination that had filled her eyes at her first karate tournament; the grace and skill of her movements…

The warm smile she would show only to me. The one that made her whole face glow…

I sighed and lowered my hand, leaning my back against the edge of the door frame. All this time… There hadn't been a single day since my 'transformation' that I hadn't lied to her, deceived her into serving as Conan's 'big sister', and it wasn't fair to her. To either of us.

But, the danger posed by the Black Organization was too real to ignore – especially now that I was so close to blowing the lid off their murderous sandbox scheme. Gin and Vodka didn't yet know their attempt on my life had failed or what their poison had done to me. I couldn't waste that advantage. But, I couldn't let Ran and her father worry that Conan had gone missing either. There had to be a way to let Ran know that Conan was safe without risking her life too.

An idea sparked in my mind and I looked up, a smile stretching across my face as I pressed the chalk to the door and began to write. Or, rather, draw...

*******

Ran set her family's breakfast dishes on the table and headed for the stairs to call her father and Conan to their meal. She'd barely taken three steps when her phone rang, the ringtone indicating the caller was her best friend Sonoko Suzuki.

"Just a reminder, I've got that doctor's appointment," Sonoko said. "So, in case I don't see you in school, I wanted to confirm our plans are still on for this afternoon!"

"I wouldn't miss it," Ran told her. "Horseback riding, then pastries at the mall. I'll meet you at the park stables right after karate club gets out."

"See you there!" Sonoko said, and hung up. Ran smiled to herself and pocketed her phone, only to hear a knock at the door.

"I sure am popular this morning," she muttered, turning away from the stairs to peer out the window. Strangely, no one seemed to be outside. Frowning, she opened the door and looked around, taking a few steps out onto the sidewalk.

"Hello?" she called. "Did someone knock?"

There was no answer. No sign of movement anywhere.

"Maybe a bird flew into the glass?" she mused, and turned to head back inside.

That's when she noticed the chalk on the door. Three rows of strange symbols, like little stick figures in various poses. Some stood on their heads, some had one or both arms raised, some carried little flags...

"What in all the... Who would...?" she started, and blinked in surprise. "I know these symbols," she realized, and dashed into the living room to dig out the book she'd been reading the day before. "Yes! This is the code of the Dancing Men, from Sherlock Holmes! I wonder... Could Conan have...?"

She grabbed a note pad and pen and carefully copied down the symbols, just as they appeared on the door. Then, she sponged off the chalk and headed inside to decode the message.

Ran

AmHereShinichi

ConanIsOK

I watched through the window, taking care to keep out of sight. Only when I was satisfied she'd correctly solved the puzzle, in English, did I start to slip away, ready to continue my own mission...

The door opened and I jumped back behind a bush, forcing myself to swallow a gasp. I wasn't ready for her to see me - not here, not yet!

Ran stepped out and wrote something in blue chalk on the door, then slipped back inside.

Moving slowly, I rose high enough to cautiously peer through the window, making sure she was busy with breakfast before venturing back into the open to take a look. Her Dancing Men looked much more lively and artistic than mine, but the fact that she'd responded in kind made my chest feel light and my face grow warm.

ComeShinichi! AtMall AfterSchool

Quickly, I wrote my coded reply - WillCome! BigCase WaitForMe - then dashed back between the cars and down the street. My heart was pounding as if I'd run a mile, my face stretched by a big, goofy grin.

Ran wanted to meet with me. After all this time, I was finally going to see her, talk to her -

Not as Conan Edogawa. But, as myself.

To Be Continued…