Conan spent a lot of time eyeballing him. At first Richard let it go, because while it was annoying, it was more or less harmless. Certainly not any weirder than the rest of the shit the kid did. Compared to all that, a little staring was almost expected. Certainly enough random brats stared at him on the train.
The problem was, Conan didn't stare at him like the brats on the train. If Richard had to put his finger on it, it was more like he was a costly experiment Conan was expecting something specific from, and he wasn't delivering very promising results.
Richard tried organizing it all in his head on Tuesday, flipping between female wrestling and the aerobics channel. Somewhere between his fourth beer and his fifth cigarette, he figured out what was bothering him about the situation the most. Not just Conan, but everything.
Case in point: in ten years in PI work, he'd been asked to assist on a grand total of two homicides. Two weeks had passed since Conan had limped through their door and Richard had already stumbled upon four. Four. In two weeks. He wasn't even trying. He'd be getting out of a taxi or walking home from the convenience store or taking Rachel to an event, and suddenly people around him were dead. Usually gruesomely.
He'd solve the case and evening would fall and Conan would be rooting through a pile of empty food cartons to find a pencil or a notepad, and Richard would suddenly realize, wait, this place is a mess. It was no different than it had been the day before, but now he noticed it.
So he'd pick up something here and there, throw some trash away, and then he'd spend the rest of the night feeling resentful because this was his house, he wasn't going to let some freeloader tell him how to run it. He'd been fine. Rachel had been fine.
Conan's arrival seemed to have triggered some ancient celestial sigil in the sky over Beika that read 'Everyone Start Dying Right Fucking Now'. Also, 'Moore, clean your office before you break your neck slipping on an empty chip bag'.
Only one of those things really mattered in the grand scheme of things, so it made sense that the other one kept him up at night.
Eva called the beginning of the third week. "Oh, honey, swell," Richard said. "Here, let me disconnect the phone and get right back to you."
"Trust me, this won't take long." There was some sort of jazz music playing in the background a fax machine grinding in another room. It drove Richard up the wall to hear Eva drawl, which was precisely why she did it. "Unless the famous detective is too swamped in cases to speak to his wife."
"As a matter of fact, I am," Richard said, prying a piece of lint from his toenail with his toothpick. "We professional crime solvers have it rough. Always finding things you common folk misplace."
"Thank goodness we can rely on the illusion of your competence. Is Rachel home?"
"She's out with the brat buying groceries. With my case money, I might add."
"Richard, if this call was meant to extol your accomplishments, it would have ended before it went through," Eva said. "There are three things I need to know and I need you to answer them directly, so sit up, stop playing with your feet, and answer directly, if at all possible."
"Okay, look," Richard said, straightening in his chair, but Eva bulldozed right over him. "I noticed that you withdrew money from our emergency savings account last week. I was calling to confirm your excellent reason for that."
"None of your business," he growled, irritated enough to make trouble for her.
"I'm telling you right now, Richard, if you used that money for gambling or booze, I will cross heaven and hell to make life difficult for you."
"It's just a few doctor's bills, all right? Get off my back. I'm putting more in at the end of the week to top it off."
There was an short pause. When she spoke again, her voice was crisp. "Rachel?"
"For me. Forget about it."
He could picture his wife on the other end, pausing over her stacks of papers, staring intently at the opposite wall as her pen stilled in her hand. Seven years ago she might have asked are you all right, but that was back when it'd been acceptable to be vulnerable with each other. Now they just threw knives until one of them bled out enough to drop the phone. "All right," she said at last, her ire audibly cooled. "Please give me the courtesy of a notice next time. It was an unwelcome surprise to see it on the statement."
"I wanted to know about that little boy who's staying with you. Have you gotten any leads as to where he's from? Has he mentioned his parents at all?"
"No. Says he's related to Agasa, but there's not much family resemblance if you ask me."
"What is his full name again?" He heard papers rustling. A phone rang distantly, barely reaching his ears, but she was apparently ignoring calls at the moment.
"Conan Edogawa. Why? What are you doing?"
"I was just curious."
He knew her well enough to know what 'just curious' meant. Oddly enough, he was okay with it. He wasn't getting any leads investigating the kid – granted, he hadn't been looking all the hard, but still – and Eva had a way of getting everything she wanted, regardless of whether or not it was her business. The best thing to do was to leave it in her lap and see what she could do with it. "Is that all? I've got a show coming on."
"One last order of business." Her voice got closer to the receiver, and he knew once again her attention was on him. "I want to know how Rachel is."
"Rachel?" Richard automatically looked up, as though he could see through the ceiling and into her room. "What about her?"
"She's been at several crime scenes these past couple of weeks. She sounds cheerful enough when I try to talk to her, but I get the sense that she's hiding something. I wanted to know from you, off the record, how you think she's holding up."
"What do you mean, 'holding up'? She's just fine."
"Just fine," Eva repeated. "Richard, she saw bodies. Dead, bloody bodies."
"Yeah, so? She's the daughter of a famous detective, you know. She eats crime scenes for breakfast. She loves it."
"She's a seventeen year-old girl and it's not good for her to be exposed to all of that violence."
"I'm telling you, it's not a big deal. And who knows, she'll probably be seeing more of that stuff, with all the cases I've been getting. Don't worry about her. The girl's tough."
He could hear her sigh over the line. The office phone started ringing again and the sound of shuffling papers resumed. "You know, there's still time to extol my virtues," Richard said. "I've got some time before the show comes on. I'm ready and waiting, if you know what I mean."
"Hmm, you have a point," Eva said. "I'm inspired. Turn on the speaker function. I'd like to shout it to the room."
Richard reached over the desk with his bare toe and toggled it. "Okay," he said, stretching back luxuriously. "Have at it."
The sound of the receiver crashing down on the other end was loud enough to rattle the picture frame on his desk.
Richard spent a full minute trying to hang up the receiver with his foot before giving up and shoving the entire unit to the floor.
The first time he'd solved a case in his sleep, he'd woken up to cheers and congratulatory slaps on the back enthusiastic enough to bruise. Weeks later, he still couldn't pull up the particulars – but then again, cranial trauma could do that to you. Whatever had hit him had taken away the details but none of the glory, so he figured he could live with the inconvenience.
The fourth time he blacked out solving a case (something about a model and… the context escaped him, but there had been an elevator and Rachel had cried a lot) he woke up to Meguire's fingers folded over the pulse in his wrist. There was cold tile under his ass and a fountain somewhere to his right that was creating a confusing static wall of noise.
Richard blinked slowly until objects emerged from the blur. There wasn't any cheering or conversation to cue him into current events, which had become par for the course up until this point. Chances were he screwed up somewhere, but whatever. That was easy to fix. Just close his eyes and let things get solved. "Starting to get a little worried, Moore," Meguire said nonjudgmentally.
"Inspector!" Remembering that he had an audience, Richard rolled his head back to center, waffling between pleasant curiosity and a semi-urgent need to throw up in everybody's lap. "Hey, did I catch the guy? You can be honest."
"The guy," Meguire echoed flatly. His eyes were on his watch as he continued to take Richard's pulse.
"You know. The guy." He began to gesture with his hand, then remembered Meguire had a hold of it. Rachel and Conan were lingering along the sidelines, somewhat out of focus and therefore not relevant. "The bad guy. Did I catch him?"
"The bad – you mean, the woman? The suspect?"
"Yeah, that one. Did I get her?"
There was no movement or response for a handful of seconds. Meguire's hand let go of his wrist, only to slide onto his forehead. "What," Richard said. "I'm not sick."
"You're something." Meguire's mutter was grim. He took up Richard's chin and tilted his head back to study his eyes. "Just trying to figure out if it's sleep-it-off-something or hospital-something."
He saw Rachel blanch. "Quit scaring my kid," Richard said. "Did I catch the suspect or not?"
"You really don't remember."
That was probably a trick question. Was it a question? The inflection on it had sounded off and Meguire was looking like he'd already come to his own conclusion on it anyway. More to the point, Richard really didn't know if what he didn't remember was relevant. Everything seemed to be pretty well wrapped up without him having to get all sentimental about it. "I don't not remember."
Meguire let him go and eased slowly back onto his heels. Richard noticed belatedly that he was twisting his radio around in his free hand with rhythmic, absent-minded dexterity, thumb brushing near the call button with every rotation. "Rachel, you mind taking Conan outside for some air?" Meguire asked abruptly, not turning around.
"Huh?" Rachel started a bit. "Why?"
"Just gotta talk to your old man for a minute."
Richard watched Rachel's eyes slide over to him. The part of him that was cogent thanked god that Eva hadn't found a way to dash-cam their kid, because the expression on Rachel's face just then was about twenty years and three pain-in-the-ass kids too early. "I promise I'm not trying to be rude, Inspector, but I think Dad's really tired," Rachel said hesitantly. "Couldn't he maybe… call in the morning? Or take notes or something to send in?"
"Don't plan to keep him all night, kid," Meguire reassured her. "I'm just after some last-minute details. That and I'm thinking Conan's hung around this crime scene long enough for a little kid. Figure he doesn't really need to hear any more gory details. Do you?"
Rachel was smart as hell but too new on this earth to see through manipulation of that caliber. "No, you're right," she sighed. She dropped to a squat to get to Conan's level. "Come on, Conan, let's go. The adults have to talk."
"What?" The full-force whine in Conan's voice shot straight through Richard's head and manifested as a pain in his ass. "We're leaving? But you were so excited about being a model! Aren't they still gonna do it? You worked so hard!"
"Maybe some other time." Rachel's smile was brave but forced as she stood, offering down a hand for him to take. "Let's go outside, okay? I know of a great little ice-cream place just around the corner from here."
Conan took the proffered hand slowly but looked rightly suspicious. "But you always say no sweets before dinner. And anyway, what if there are bad guys still hanging out outside? I'm too scared to go by myself. We should stay with Uncle and Inspector Meguire."
"Good thinking," Meguire said. "Rachel, Officer Kay's stationed outside. Tell her I told her to escort you there and pick up the tab. Department's treat."
"Really?" Rachel's tired eyes flared in cautious surprise. "That's awfully kind of you, Inspector, but we couldn't possibly—"
"Kay." Meguire spoke into the comm. "Ice-cream run. Situation critical. Civilian lives at stake."
"Roger." The door at the entrance wooshed open and Kay's dark head poked in. She scanned the area until she laid eyes on Rachel and Conan, then motioned with a quick jerk of her thumb. "Got the escape vehicle out front. We're going lights a-blazing."
"I guess we're being rescued, Conan," Rachel laughed. She kept a hold of his hand and tugged him out, but not before she spared Richard a last-minute glance. Kay gave Meguire a thumbs up as the two walked past; soon the door wooshed back shut behind them, cutting off a discussion about fudge or caramel and how it'd be one or the other, Conan, I refuse to peel you off the ceiling from a sugar high.
Meguire and Richard were left alone in the cold silence of the lobby, the unyielding linoleum digging into Richard's tailbone, the studio lights overhead spearing into his eyes.
"What are you on," Meguire said.
"Nothing." He wished this part was over so that maybe he could get in on some fudge too. He could ask Rachel to go out and get some for him later, except she'd received some fairly major psychological trauma today and a good father would probably prioritize that over ice-cream. "I'm fine."
"You're on something. Based on your pulse and the size of your pupils, my money's on some kind of BZD. Now I can take you to the hospital and have them figure it out, or you can spill what it is you took and I can see about getting you some rehab out of the public eye."
Richard had been preparing to sit through Meguire's usual laundry list of boring speeches, like 'you gotta take care of yourself for your daughter's sake' or the 'you're a civilian now so stop running around like a drunk vigilante pain in my ass'. Regulation pupil size was a new one. "But I'm not."
"You and I go back too far for me to let you do this. Just fess up and I'll do what I can to keep it off the books."
"Is this about me solving the case before the department did? Because the great Richard Moore will be more than happy to trade some of the glory for a little financial compensation," the great Richard Moore said. "Or an invitation to the policemen's ball. Do the ladies in the department still wear the skirts, or have they have those—"
"Richard, so help me, if you hand me any more bullshit today I'm going to make you eat it," Meguire snapped. "I was your partner for seven years. The shtick you give to the reporters isn't gonna fly with me. You're so stoned you can't tell an eye in your head from a hole in your ass, now tell me what you took."
Richard stopped short, taken aback by the venom. Meguire waited him out with a flinty, uncompromising gaze, thumb lingering near the call button on his radio. "Oh, I get it," Richard said, anger of his own surging past the pleasant fog. "So I can't possibly solve these on my own without a little help, huh? Is that what you're saying? Are you really so jealous you'll go so far as to accuse me of drug use so you can have an excuse to lock away the competition?"
Meguire's hand went over his eyes for a moment. "That's it, isn't it," Richard said triumphantly. "Fine. If that's the way you're going to play it, then I'll just—"
"Sedatives don't help you solve crimes," Meguire exploded. "Do you try to be this stupid? What do you take me for?"
"What am I supposed to be taking you for?" He felt like he'd stepped into an alternate dimension comprised solely of things that were either trying to kill him or hated him enough to want him dead at least a little. "What is going on right now?"
"This on top of binging is gonna kill you. You're really going to put your family through that to win some kind of cock contest with the department?"
"I'm not trying to do anything except get ice-cream!"
"And if you think for even one goddamn second I'm helping you cover up your addiction just because we were partners—"
"—then I'm going to disappoint you. If you're going to self-destruct, I'm not letting you take Eva's daughter with you."
Rage spiked in him with enough force to chase out the remaining fog. Richard lunged to his feet, dragging Meguire with him up by the lapels. He had maybe two seconds to consider the consequences of assaulting a cop before a sharp swell of dizziness derailed him, making him sway, nearly toppling them both over onto their asses.
Meguire caught him, shoving him back against the wall and pinning him there with about as much gentleness as Richard had been planning to put into his fist. There was a brief scuffle that ended in a tangle of mutual animosity: Richard still bunching Meguire's collar into his fist, Meguire's hand still pinning Richard against the wall.
Stymied, they stood a moment, breathing hard, both tensed to receive blows that never landed.
"You wanna try using your words this time, detective?" Meguire said after the silence had stretched a minute. His voice was dangerously soft.
The rage that'd sustained Richard abruptly evaporated. He let his hand slide from Meguire's collar and leaned his head against the wall, hoping he'd get a chance to throw up on Meguire at least once before he was arrested.
Meguire didn't arrest him. He seemed to be waiting for something else to happen. "I don't know what you want," Richard said, just to get it out there.
"Tell me what this is."
"I'm not on anything."
"I know you're not, damn it," Meguire growled suddenly, voice catching in frustration. "You think that makes this better? At least if it were drugs, that'd be something I could work with. What do I do with this, Dick?"
How the hell was he supposed to know? He solved high-profile murder cases in his sleep now and the only thing he had to show for it was a headache and a daughter who wouldn't share her ice-cream with him. "Your wife called me up after you were on TV," Meguire said. "You know that? Asked me if I knew why you looked like a commuter train skipped the station and rammed itself into your ass instead."
That was actually really funny, but it wasn't a good time to remember all the reasons he'd married his terrible wife. "What did you tell her?"
"That I'd get to the bottom of it," Meguire said. "This is me getting to the bottom of it. If I let you walk out this door today, am I gonna be complicit in whatever the hell this is? Or is this the point where I stop you for your own good and have you thank me later?"
That sounded like the same question. Richard lifted his hand again and scrubbed the grit from his eyes to give himself time to think. "Or is this the point where I decide it's out of my hands, and this fuckery is your new normal, and I agree with the chief that it's time to take you on as a consultant so we can control how much you get underfoot," Meguire said.
Richard stopped scrubbing. He blinked at Meguire, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Meguire didn't seem angry anymore. He seemed existentially tired, as though he'd already predicted the outcome of this conversation and was questioning the life choices that'd brought him here. "Huh?" Richard said.
"Told him it wouldn't do any good – that you're the same pain in the ass no matter whose payroll you're on," Meguire said. "But if this is your new shtick, and you're going to keep bringing these scumbags to justice with or without the department… I'd just as soon it'd be with us."
He was still confused and a little nauseated, but the word 'payroll' perked him up a little. He was familiar with consultants and the services they provided for the Beika police department. Between that case-by-case income and the uptick in revenue from his own agency, he might actually be able to send his daughter to college instead of a sweatshop after she graduated.
Still, he was a smart enough fisherman to know when bait was attached to a hook. "If you think I'm so dead-set on self-destructing, why are you telling me this?"
"Because my rec comes with a promise from you. The next time this happens – and god help me, the next time after that, and after that – you call me matter what county you're in. What country you're in. Before you go splashing around the crime scene, I'm in on it. Even if it's just over the phone."
What?Utterly baffled, Richard tried to drum up some rationale for it and came up empty. Was Meguire worried he'd steal the department's thunder? Beika PD had a decent solving rate on its own without his input. If anything, his cases probably wouldn't even register as a blip in their radar. He'd lost count of the number of mind-numbing afternoons he'd spent taking snapshots of cheating spouses or running background checks over and over again for companies hiring on new staff. He upsold the occupation to Rachel so she'd have something to brag about during Parent Day at school, but for the most part, good solid PI work – the kind of good, solid work that paid the bills and put food on the table – was boring. It was so boring it was nearly criminal.
He decided to test his theory anyway. "Why? So you can make sure I don't upstage the department?"
Meguire said, expression not changing, "So you have at least one person out there in the world who's covering your stupid ass."
… oh. Not sure what to do with that, confused in general by good intentions, Richard closed his mouth and let the silence sit in lieu of embarrassing himself further. "Sure, now you shut up," Meguire muttered. He let Richard go, and Richard had a brief thought for what this was going to look like on the security tapes. "C'mon. Let's rescue the ice-cream shop from Kay before they issue a restraining order against the entire department."
"Do I get a ride home?" Richard asked, because sentimental moments were only as good as the amount of cab fare they saved him. Also his neck was itching and his queasiness told him he might be shelling out for an upholstery cleaning if he had to deal with a bouncy taxi ride.
Meguire didn't stop as the automatic door wooshed open. "No."
Richard called a taxi. By the time they got home, the evening news reporters were salivating over the case and Richard didn't owe anyone a cleaning bill, but neither seemed like particularly good payoffs for his efforts that day. He suffered through a well-intentioned meal and zen'd his way through a religion-shattering headache as he watched his favorite exercise program on mute.
Not wanting her in his face about it, Richard managed to wait all the way until Rachel went to bed that night to throw up in the bathroom. Incidentally, that part was easier to remember than the case.