Uzumaki ~ Detective Chronicles


Chapter Six: Case Two - A Lost Friend


Outside Uzumaki Naruto's Apartment Building, Morning (Five Hours Missing)


The storm from the previous night had ended, and with the bright light of dawn piercing through the remnants of the dark night, one could find Detective Uzumaki preparing to do what he does best - investigate.

The first rays of sunlight streaked through the dark sky, the silent heralds of the rising sun. As Detective Uzumaki stepped out of his apartment building, the light from the sun just peeking over the horizon made the rain drenched streets glisten. Reiko's father had left Naruto's apartment at the detective's insistence that he get some sleep. There was nothing he could do for Reiko now but pray. "I will find her and bring her home Murakami-san. I promise on my life, and I never go back on my word!" Naruto had proclaimed, his blue eyes glinting with steely resolve and determination. The old man could only nod numbly, placing his faith and trust in the blonde detective.

Naruto's first instinct, as Reiko's surrogate nii-chan, was to search the crime scene immediately, a sentiment shared by the elder Murakami. However, his sensibilities as a detective overcame his primary emotions, granting him the clarity of mind that made him such a fantastic investigator. Naruto knew that if he went to the crime scene during the storm, he was sure to miss or compromise evidence that could potentially save Reiko-chan. The risk was too high, so he spent the time waiting for the storm to cease interviewing Reiko's father, trying to find out if there was anyone who he thought might have kidnapped his daughter, or might be involved in any way.

The blonde detective had been given a very small suspect list, but it was a start. But first he had to process the crime scene.

Glancing at the gleaming wet road and pavement, Naruto knew that finding footprints and tire tracks weren't an option; the storm from the previous night would have compromised the evidence. Likewise, any other indicators of a crime such as blood spatters (he hoped there were none) and trace evidence like mud from the kidnappers shoes would have long since washed away.

Deciding to reenact the crime, he stepped onto the road. Murakami-san said he had seen a car turn around the corner to his left. Assuming that was the kidnappers' vehicle, Naruto moved a few meters to his right, standing in the middle of the street. Nervously glancing around in case Hinata-chan turned up in that death trap she called a car, he began to walk up the street towards the front door of his apartment building.

During the interview, Naruto had been informed that Reiko's friend's house was down the street perpendicular to the entrance to the apartment building. In his mind's eye, he could see the storm of the night before, with the rain pouring down in sheets, lit up occasionally by flashes of lightning tearing through the dark clouds in the sky. He watched as Reiko darted up the street, only visible between the pools of light cast by the streetlights overhead.

The mental projection of Reiko made the final dash across the street, arriving safely under the small wooden awning above the door. 'Now, the door would have been locked, the landlord locks the door at ten thirty sharp every day. So Reiko would have reached for her keys, meanwhile, the mystery car would have pulled up behind her to make it easier to load her in.'

Naruto stepped forward, standing roughly in the spot where the car would have been idling, waiting for...

'Waiting for someone to knock her out,' he mused, spotting a plank of wood lying to the side of the doorway. He watched as the unknown assailant snuck up behind the unsuspecting girl and delivered a sharp blow to the back of her head. The keys she had been holding slipped from her hand and fell to the ground, a dazed Reiko following them soon after. Naruto reached into his pocket and pulled out an evidence bag containing the keys and the still soggy orange fox keychain Murakami-san had found. He placed the bag gently on the cement, where he guessed they may have fallen.

Naruto stepped onto the pavement, a few feet away from the doorway and sat down on his haunches, observing the mental vision of the kidnapper as they picked up the prone girl and tossed her into the back of the car. The car sped off into the night, the back tires kicking up a spray of water as they spun wildly, trying to find purchase on the slippery Tarmac. The vehicle disappeared around the corner, just as Murakami-san poked his head out of the doorway, eyes widening in horror as he spotted the keys on the ground.

Naruto blinked a few times to bring his attention back to the present. The retreating form of Murakami's mental counterpart vanished halfway up the stairs, and as Naruto turned around, the intense deluge of rain faded away, like an artist erasing the storm from a giant canvass. So now he had a mental picture of what happened, next he had to find evidence to back it up. Pulling out a small digital camera, he set about taking photos of the scene, taking close up pictures of the discarded plank and the position of the keys and their proximity to the doorway. Ideally, it would have been best if Murakami had left the keys where they were, but as the man was a very loving and devoted father, Naruto couldn't blame him for panicking and acting irrationally.

The Uzumaki's keen ears picked up the all too familiar sound of an engine working at full power, accompanied by the squeal of brakes as they strained to slow down a certain silver hatchback traveling at maximum speed.

He edged away from the curb as Hinata skidded to a halt right in front of the doorway. Through the window, Naruto could see Hinata as she leant back in her chair, chest heaving as adrenaline coursed through her system. As she calmed down, she became aware of Naruto smiling and waving at her; she blushed and waved back shyly before quickly exiting her vehicle.

"Good morning Naruto-kun," she said softly, smiling at him as she reached into the back seat of her car for their crime scene kit.

"Morning Hinata-chan!" replied Naruto brightly, before assuming his professional detective demeanor. "Today, we have a case that is of the utmost importance, and failure is not an option." He stared straight into her pale lavender eyes; the seriousness in his own eyes a visual indicator to the estranged Hyuga heiress that this case was personal.

"I'll need you to promise me something. No matter how tough the case gets, or how distressing it may get, promise that you will keep me from getting too personally involved. Keep an eye on me and make sure I don't do anything too rash."

Hinata stood to attention and responded affirmatively, without a trace of her stutter. "Yes Naruto-kun! I promise. What happened?"

"Do you remember Murakami Reiko, who you met yesterday?"

"Yes, we met her in the hallway the previous evening didn't we?"

"Right. She's been kidnapped." Hinata's eyes widened in horror. She could see now why Naruto had made her promise to keep him in line. Naruto was very protective of his friends, especially those he considered to be his precious people. So far, he had lost Sasuke, who had been like a brother to him, Ayame, who had been a strange elder sister/ not-so-secret crush of sorts, and now Reiko, a person who was like his younger sister. Hinata knew that the bond between siblings was a powerful thing; up until their mother died and their father turned violent, Hinata and Hanabi had been very close. Hinata had always looked out for her sister to the best of her abilities, until Hyuga Hiashi started to take more interest in Hanabi's abilities, slowly grooming her to be the next heir while distancing her from Hinata.

Cases where young children were involved were always difficult, but this one was worse as it was too close to home. Going to crime scenes and interviewing strangers regularly made one think that those crimes would never happen to the people they care about. The reality of it was that anyone could be a victim of a crime.

'And now one of Naruto-kun's precious people is in danger. We will definitely find Reiko, for Naruto-kun's sake.' Hinata stepped forward and hugged him gently. He in turn wrapped his arms around her waist and laid his chin on top of her head. They stayed like that for a little while; as Naruto drew comfort from Hinata's embrace, she stood up on tiptoe and whispered in his ear. "I promise that we'll find her Naruto-kun, and I'll be right by your side until the end, now and forever."

Now and forever.

Naruto simply smiled a sad smile; there was nothing he could say to express the depth of his gratitude. As he hugged Hinata closer to him, her final words echoed in his mind, resonating with a voice from his past. When Sayu had spoken those words fifteen years ago, it had been the most beautiful thing anyone could have said to the lonely blonde. Even now, despite all the good things in Naruto's life, those words, spoken by a true friend, still made him indescribably happy and grateful. He couldn't find the words to express it, the only thing he could do was to spend the rest of his life repaying Hinata for her friendship and loyalty with his own.


7th Precinct Headquarters, Morning


Officer Haruno Sakura of the 7th Precinct was not happy. In fact, she had been in the worst of moods since the previous morning. She strode angrily through the courtyard, the front door of the precinct solely in her sights. The other officers standing around wisely kept their distance; they had all learned the hard way to leave her alone when Officer Haruno was like this. Many winced when Sakura glared at them as she walked by, feeling the phantom pain of her 100m punch as strongly as when they had first experienced it.

The electronic doors barely slid open in time to allow the furious pinkette access to the interior of the building. Allowing her feet to guide her to her desk, her mind wandered back to the conversation she'd had the day before that put her in such a foul mood.

"Hello?"

"Uh, hey Sakura-chan."

Sakura smiled and stretched languidly on her couch, setting her book down on the cushion next to her. "Hey Naruto! Are you calling about our catch up? I'm free no-"

"Sorry Sakura-chan but I won't be able to hang out with you today… For quite a while actually."

"O-Oh, I see. Is something wrong?"

"No, no, nothing's wrong! Ah, I've got other commitments to attend to today, so I'll have to postpone our catch up."

Sakura sighed disappointedly. She had been looking forward to spending the day with Naruto; because of their jobs, they didn't get to see each other as much as they would have liked. "That's OK Naruto, I understand. Do you know when you'll be finished with your work?"

There was a rather uncomfortable pause. "Um, sometime next month?"

"..." Sakura was speechless. Not only was he blowing her off, he had told her that he wouldn't see her for a month! Had she done something wrong? Was he avoiding her? She thought back over the previous two weeks. She was sure that the last time she'd seen him, they had been on their usual good terms. What prompted this sudden change in tune?

"Sakura-chan? Are you still there?"

"... Yeah I'm here."

He sounded sheepish now and she could picture him scratching the back of his head as he normally did when he was embarrassed. "Hey, I'm sorry. It's been getting quite busy lately, the paperwork has stacked up and something urgent came out of the blue... Listen, I'll make it up to you. Next month, we'll spend the whole day together and you can choose what we do."

She smiled exasperatedly. "Sure Naruto."

His voice was slowly becoming more ecstatic over the communicator. "And I'll treat you to dinner at the finest restaurant in the city, Ichira-"

"No ramen," she said with a smirk. She could see his disappointed look clearly in her mind; luckily he wasn't there to make those irresistible puppy dog eyes of his. "I want you to take me out to a proper dinner Uzumaki Naruto."

"Sakura-chan..." he whined in a mock childish fashion, reminding her of their days together as kids at the Police Academy. An unbidden smile formed on her lips as she remembered the many times he'd begged her to go out on a date with him. She ran her fingers through her hair, pushing the bubble gum pink locks out of her eyes. What had happened to those days?

Sakura's attention was brought back to the present as the familiar sound of Naruto's laughter emitted from the tiny speaker. "Sure thing Sakura-chan! I'm looking forward to it."

"Me too," the sound of a car horn blared in the background. "Is that Hinata?"

"Not exactly... Anyway I have to go. It was nice chatting with you Sakura-chan!"

"Y-Yeah. I guess I'll see you in a month?"

"Definitely! It's a promise!"

Sakura shook her head and chuckled. "Naruto, you make too many promises, you won't be able to keep them all."

"Of course I will! I never go back on my word!" the sound of a car horn blared again, more urgently. "I need to go. See you later Sakura-chan!" he hung up before she could reply.

"Bye Naruto..." Sakura mumbled to the now silent communicator. She slowly lowered the device from her ear, placing it on top of her book before slumping back on the couch. She remained like that for a long period of time, until the phone rang sometime later, causing her to jump.

"Hello?"

"Sakura-san, its Hinata."

"Hey Hinata, what's wrong?"

"I just got a text message from Naruto-kun. He's spending the day with Takami Sayu!"

"What!"

Sakura slumped down at her desk, laying her head down on the new case file waiting to be read. Her blue officers' hat slid off her head and onto the surface of the table, right next to a hitherto unnoticed mug of freshly made vanilla latte.

What was that vile snake... That Takami woman doing with Naruto? Surely he wouldn't have allowed himself to be manipulated would he? He was the best detective around; there was no question about it but... Since they were childhood friends, maybe he was giving her the benefit of the doubt. And Naruto always sticks by his friends, no matter what...

Her face twisted into an expression of pure anger as she remembered that she, one of Naruto's closest friends, had been blown off for Takami Sayu, the head of the criminal underworld. Something was going on here, and she'd be damned if she didn't look into it further. For Hinata's sake as well as her own, of course.

"Shannaro!" she said, raising her fist. From her face down position on the surface of the table, her muffled yell was loud enough to attract the attention of all the officers in the room. They glanced around confusedly at each other. She normally said her catch phrase after making a grandiose speech about no criminal getting away while she was on the case. Did they miss something?

The other occupants of the room jumped as Sakura's raised fist slammed down onto the desktop, right in the space that her steaming mug of latte had occupied moments before. A small crater had been pounded into the desk, small cracks spider-webbing their way out from the point of impact.

"Oi Sakura, this desk is your fifth one, and I don't think Yasuki Fumito will replace it if you break it." a lazy voice drawled. Sakura's head slowly rose up from the desktop, her jade green eyes glaring holes in Officer Nara Shikamaru, who took no notice. Instead, he calmly placed the mug he had rescued in the nick of time neatly into the crater she had made and tugged the new case file out from under her arms.

"It's a drag but we've got a new case. Apparently, there was an explosion earlier this morning at a storage warehouse in the Historical District. Authorities at the scene suspect foul play."

Sakura closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. When her eyes opened, they shone with her usual vigor and determination. She had to shelve the Naruto issue for now, there were crimes to solve. She stood up straight, attaching her communicator to her belt and replacing her officers' hat on her head.

"Let's go, Shikamaru."


Hikaru Storage Facility, Morning


"Good morning, Kyobayashi Hitomi reporting live from the Hikaru Storage Facility, outside a still burning Storage Warehouse Four."

The smartly dressed woman shifted slightly, silently prompting the camera-man to film a close up of the burning warehouse behind her. Somewhere in the distance, police sirens could be heard, accompanied by the slower siren of the fire services. Flipping her perfectly styled hair over one shoulder, she continued.

"Locals in the area have stated that an explosion was heard from within the warehouse nearly half an hour ago. Prior to the explosion, several individuals had been spotted inside the building, evident from the lights spotted in various windows." she leaned forward towards the camera, almost conspiratorially. "It is unknown if the group of people started the fire but it is strongly suspected. Firefighters and backup police officers have only just arrived on scene."

Officer Haruno's squad car glided to a smooth stop in front of a pile of wreckage. As the two officers of the law stepped out of the vehicle, they were almost run over by a speeding fire truck, its sirens blaring loudly as it screamed by. The bright red vehicle continued through the burning piles of wreckage to the source - a massive, still flaming, burnt out shell of a building. Flames licked the brick walls of the blackened structure, and as they watched, the corrugated iron roof collapsed, falling into the flaming depths of the once proudly standing warehouse. Glowing embers from the burning building flew in all directions, scattering on to the nearby warehouses, the squad cars of the police officers on scene and the firemen as they worked to put out the inferno.

As Officer Haruno began to make her way towards the police officers on scene, a very familiar woman in a two piece beige suit blocked her way. She sighed 'Here we go...'

"Hello Officer Haruno, do you have any information concerning the warehouse bombing? Any insights you'd like to share with our audience?" she smiled brightly, holding her microphone up to Sakura's mouth.

"No comment." replied Sakura dismissively, trying to dodge around the reporter. Kyobayashi wasn't deterred, subtly shifting to block Sakura's escape.

"Will Detective Uzumaki be collaborating with your team on this investigation as well?" Sakura froze, the Naruto issue she'd had earlier that morning resurfacing in her mind. Kyobayashi grinned, she could sense she'd hit a weak spot. "He was the one who caught the Senbon Murderer, despite the official Police Press Release stating that the case was solved by the 7th Precinct. Isn't that right Officer Haruno?"

Sakura closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, calmingly. Her eyes opened, and she responded in the diplomatic, evasive way taught in the Academy specifically for nosy reporters. "You read the Police Report, so you know how that case was solved. As for Detective Uzumaki's future involvement, that all depends on him."

"But-"

"Detective Uzumaki is a Private Detective. Emphasis on 'Private'. I cannot confirm or deny his involvement with any case due to his own terms and conditions. If you want to find out, you would be better off asking him instead of badgering me. As far as the general public is concerned, he did not have any involvement with the Senbon Murderer case."

"It has been proven multiple times by myself and other reporters that Detective Uzumaki and his partner Hyuga Hinata were involved with several high profile police cases, and in each instance, all were solved when the police investigators had hit a dead end. So are you saying that he had no-"

"I have a crime scene to investigate, Kyobayashi-san. Good day." with that abrupt reply, the now thoroughly irritated officer swept passed the reporter and her film crew, making her way over to a very amused Shikamaru. As he opened his mouth to make a no doubt smart ass comment, Sakura raised her fist, a vein twitching on her temple.

"Say one word and your next stop will be the 7th Precinct Mortuary." Shikamaru closed his mouth and nodded, smirking as he did so.


Unknown Location, Late Morning


In a dark room with cement walls, a cold concrete floor and a single barred window near the roof, an unconscious little girl was propped up against a wall, covered by a rough blanket. She was dressed in a simple black t-shirt with a red swirl on the front and brown shorts. She had sneakers on her feet but they had no laces. The left side of her face was swollen, a large graze over her left cheekbone crusted over with dried blood. More blood could be found on the back of her head, a rusty brown trail that wound its way down her neck and into the collar of her t-shirt.

She stirred, wincing as she rejoined the world of the conscious. Her neck cracked painfully as she straightened up from the uncomfortable position she had been in. Her head was pounding as she pulled the blanket up to her chin, trying to retain as much body heat as she could. The room was freezing, and the blanket was barely long enough to cover her small frame.

The little girl's mouth was dry, and as the throbbing in her head became more intense, she cast her eyes around the room, searching from something, anything to distract herself. The room she was in was a cement cube with only two perforations in its rough grey surface: a small barred window and a heavy metal door.

Her teeth began to chatter, but it wasn't due to the cold. She pulled the blanket around her body as tightly as she could manage, her face scrunching up as tears filled her eyes. She yelped when a bolt of pain shot up the left side of her face. Her tears were flowing freely now, stinging her various cuts and abrasions as they slid down her jaw and dripped from her chin.

Not even knowing what time or day it was, let alone where she was, Murakami Reiko slowly slid sideways until she was lying on the floor on her side, curled up in a ball. Despair weighed heavily on her heart as she realized she was truly alone. She had been snatched away from her Daddy and Naruto-nii-chan and she was terrified. She lay there on the floor, sobbing quietly until she fell into the dark, numbing embrace of sleep.


Kureiji Drive, Late Morning (Six Hours Missing)


Naruto-kun...

A faint voice was calling to the blonde detective. He was in dark place, seemingly trapped. But he was not afraid. That voice was familiar. He knew it from somewhere; he just couldn't quite place where he'd heard it.

'Naruto-kun...'

The voice was slowly becoming louder. As Naruto waited in that dark place, he felt some sort of movement. Somehow, the strange, dark world in which he was the only inhabitant began to move... No wait, it was he who was moving. He was being gently rocked back and forth by some unknown force. As the constant motion began to intensify, so did the volume of the disembodied voice.

"Naruto-kun! Please wake up!" Naruto's eyes slowly opened, and he winced as a combination of bright light and a sharp throb on the side of his head nearly sent him back to the dark world.

His vision was doubled and blurred; it took several blinks refocus his vision on the street he could see through the windshield. Windshield? Had he been in a car accident? A soft hand gently clasped his cheek, turning his face towards a mortified Hinata. She had tears in her eyes as she began to apologize profusely.

"I'm so sorry Naruto-kun, please forgive me!" he sat up slowly in his seat and looked around. The car seemed intact... The car. Dear Kami, he was in Hinata's car. As he rubbed the sore side of his head, the throbbing lessened, and he turned to Hinata with a dazed smile.

"Why are you sorry? Did I fall asleep?" he didn't think it was possible when he was too busy fearing for his and other people's lives. Maybe he was getting used to Hinata's driving. Though that didn't explain why his head was hurting.

Hinata was blushing while scratching the back of her head in a sheepish, Naruto-esque fashion. "While we were driving, I took a sharp turn at the last corner and you hit your head on the window. I didn't notice until we stopped but you were knocked out cold for nearly fifteen minutes. I'm so sorry, I-"

She was silenced when Naruto placed a finger on her lips. He gave a wide grin and patted the top of her head. "It's okay, I feel fine! Just answer one question for me."

"Y-Yes?"

"Who am I? And come to think of it, who are you?" Hinata's eyes widened in shock and she covered her face with her hands as she began to cry.

"Oh Kami what have I done?" she sobbed. "How could-" she was cut off when Naruto gave her one of his surprise hugs. She glanced up at his cheeky grin and, as realization slowly came over her, managed to put on a weak accusatory face. "Y-You were kidding? You didn't forget me?"

He chuckled. "How could I forget a cute girl like you? Of course I was just messing with you! Anyway, we've got a suspect to interview, let's go!" with that, he opened the door and ducked out of the car, swaying slightly as a wave of lightheadedness overcame him. 'Must have hit that window a lot harder than I thought... Better not make a big deal out of it though or Hinata-chan will worry.'

Hinata kept a close eye on him as she locked her car and hurried over to him. He still looked a bit dazed, and as he began to cross the street, she gently grabbed his arm and pulled him back. He shot her a puzzled look. "What?"

"The house is on this side of the street Naruto-kun."


Hattori Kohana's Home, Late Morning (Six Hours Missing)


"Can I help you?" The detective duo were standing outside the home of Murakami-san's ex-wife Hattori (her maiden name) Kohana. After much convincing, Naruto finally persuaded Hinata to not rush him off to the hospital. As they stood on the door step, Hinata was interrupted in her final attempt to convince him to see a doctor by the opening of the front door.

A woman with a face eerily similar to Reiko's addressed them, prompting the pair to quickly assume their 'professional' detective demeanors. Naruto spoke up first. "Are you Hattori Kohana?"

"Yes."

"Were you previously married to Murakami-?"

"Yes," she replied abruptly, her eyes narrowing. "What is this about? Who are you people?"

"I am Detective Uzumaki, and this is my assistant Hyuga Hinata. I'm afraid we have to inform you that your daughter, Murakami Reiko, is missing, presumed kidnapped."

"..." she glanced suspiciously between the two of them for a moment before replying. "Are you serious?"

Naruto studied her face intently. "...Yes, she was reported missing six hours ago." she suddenly collapsed, landing seated upright on the doormat. She covered her eyes with her hand and tears began to seep out from between her fingers.

Naruto was quick to help her back onto her feet. "Ma'am, I realize this is a difficult time, but is it all right if we ask you some questions?"

"S-Sure. T-The living room is t-through there." she motioned towards an opening halfway down the corridor. While Naruto supported Hattori as they made their way to the living room, he made note of the number of rooms in the house. It was a small place, so he worked on the assumption that there were single rooms behind the doors in the corridor.

There were four normal sized doors and one thin wooden door. Assuming the smaller door was a storage closet, he began to work through possible options. One room would be her bedroom and another could be a guest room. One of the doors was slightly ajar, and he could see a small patch of white tiles through the small crack, meaning there was one bathroom. That left one room unaccounted for. The final door was at the very end of the hallway, facing the front door. He mentally stored the information to add to his notebook later.

They stepped into her living room, which was about the same length as the corridor they had just left. It was small but cozy, with an arm chair and a couch arranged around a television set against the wall. The back wall was made of floor to ceiling glass, with two sliding doors held open to allow the cool morning breeze into the house. As Naruto led Hattori along to the chairs, he glanced briefly into the small garden which was mostly filled with flower beds holding beautiful blossoms of varying hues. Hinata, who had been hovering behind her partner and their suspect, helped the tearful woman into an arm chair. As Hattori reached for a box of tissues, Naruto began to speak, mindful of her current state of mind.

"Do you mind if we take a seat?" when she nodded, Naruto sat down on the couch next to her chair and pulled out his orange notebook.

"I'll go make some tea." said Hinata, motioning to the adjoining kitchen. Naruto nodded once before turning his attention back on Hattori Kohana.

"Now, Hattori-san, I'm going to ask you some questions about your daughter. Is that alright?"

She sniffled and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue before nodding. "So, when was the last time you saw your daughter?" she glanced up at him with watery eyes, and when he smiled encouragingly at her, nodded once and glanced down and to her right.

'Hmm, down and to the right. That indicates that she is having an internal dialog. What is she mentally discussing?'

"I last saw her, uh, roughly two weeks ago." her eyes had moved to the left before sliding over to the right as she spoke.

'Interesting, what could that mean?' thought Naruto as he studied her face closely. Hattori gave him an odd feeling; a gut instinct told him that something wasn't right.

"I see. Did she seem worried, or did she confide in you about any problems she may have had at school?"

"No she seemed fine. Reiko-chan wouldn't confide in me anyway." tears began to well up in her eyes once more.

"Is that so? If you don't mind me asking, why wouldn't she come to you? Most daughters identify with their mothers a lot better than with their fathers."

"My ex-husband and I have been locked in a custody battle since our divorce. Since he had a steady job and a decent income, it was decided that Reiko-chan would stay with him until the Family Court settled the matter."

"Why did you and Murakami-san get divorced?"

"I don't see how that is relevant to the kidnap of my daughter."

"I'm sorry but we need information like this as it may be a clue towards the kidnappers motive." she glanced at him with suspicion but answered regardless.

"... We got divorced because he was an alcoholic. After our marriage he showed his true colours: a sake-soaked drunk who you would never see without a bottle in hand. He spent all his earnings on that accursed drink and wouldn't let me get a job to pay the bills because it 'went against his manly pride'. What a joke." she ended viciously, in a spiteful tone that contrasted sharply with her previous sad demeanor.

Hinata chose that moment to walk in with a tray bearing a steaming teapot and three glasses. She sat down next to Naruto, setting the tray down on the small table in front of them. Naruto took it upon himself to serve the tea and soon the small living room was silent except for the sounds of sipping and the scratching of Naruto's pen on his notebook. Hinata noticed that his fingers lingered on Hattori's when he handed her the cup.

"What do you do for a living Hattori-san?" Hinata asked as she gently set her cup down on a coaster.

"I... I am a secretary. I work in an office in the Business District."

"One last question. Where were you between the hours of three and four o'clock this morning?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask? Do you suspect me in the kidnapping of my own daughter?"

Naruto held up his hands in a placating manner, an easy smile on his lips. "Relax Ma'am, it's just a routine question so that we know where to place you on our timeline. It helps to give us a better idea of how the crime took place."

She nodded, seemingly satisfied. "I was at home. Asleep. And before you ask, no, there is no one who can vouch for me." As Naruto scribbled in his notebook, Hinata had to admire his people skills. He knew how deal with people without giving them a straight answer; he hadn't actually answered her question, just settled her concerns. It seems he suspected Reiko-chan's mother to a degree.

'This is what separates us as detectives. The gap in skill between us is too great.' she sighed, masking her dejection with a smile as Naruto glanced at her. He indicated wordlessly that it was time to go. She nodded in response and stood up, taking the tea tray with her as she returned to the kitchen. The sound of water hitting the sink burbled in the background as Naruto thanked Hattori for her time and promised that he would find her daughter.

As Hinata returned to the living room, they bowed respectfully to their host, who stood up a moment too late to bow in return. "We'll see ourselves out Hattori-san. Thank you for your time."

Hattori Kohana nodded silently before resuming her seat on the arm chair. As they left, she picked up a framed photo of Reiko from the small table and stared at it as tears once again began to trace their way down her cheeks. Naruto quickly stole a glance at the photo as he entered the corridor; it was a picture of a five year old Reiko on a swing set. He narrowed his eyes and began to observe the other photos hanging on the corridor walls.

"Hinata," he whispered, calling the pale lavender eyed girl back to him. "Do you notice anything about these photos?"

She too glanced around, looking for the pattern he had found. "Um, none of them contain Murakami-san?"

"Yes, that's true but also to be expected. Look closer, I know you'll find it."

She once again set her eyes upon the photos, determined to find the link between them. She glanced at several where Reiko and her mother were together and several where Reiko was alone. What was it? What did Naruto see? What was...?

"Reiko is very young in all of these photos." she replied. Naruto grinned widely.

"Yep, all of these photos were taken up until she was around five. She recently celebrated her tenth birthday. Why wouldn't her mother, who claims to have seen her two weeks ago, not have any recent photos of her daughter?"

"She's hiding something isn't she?"

"That what I thought too. Now all we have to do is uncover it."


Murakami Reiko's Apartment, Afternoon (Eight Hours Missing)


Murakami sat slumped in his favorite arm chair. This was the chair in which he and Reiko would spend countless hours reading books or watching television together. It was just big enough for the two of them to sit side by side. It was a bit of squeeze but neither of them minded. Now though, it felt too big and empty without Reiko by his side.

Reiko was his whole life. She was the sole reason he carried on living when his wife left him. He had loved his wife very much, but it wasn't a shared sentiment. When his wife had left, only Reiko, the only light in his life, had kept him from falling into darkness.

Murakami had been sitting in that chair since Naruto had politely suggested that he go home and rest before he left to examine the crime scene. He had been very kind and understanding, and Murakami could understand why Reiko saw him as an elder brother. Naruto had this quality about him, some kind of aura that made you trust him, to place your bets on him because you knew he would succeed. He was kind and patient, and sat with Murakami during the long hours of the storm, assuaging his doubts and fears.

The old man stood up slowly, reluctant to leave the special place he and his daughter shared. But he hadn't eaten anything all day, and he doubted he would be much help to the investigation if he starved himself to death.

He shuffled over to the fridge, each step a reluctant effort. As the door swung open and the cool air washed over him, his eyes settled on a bottle of premium sake, nestled against the door. His right hand twitched; it had been many years since he'd tasted the stuff. When Reiko was born, Murakami, upon holding his daughter for the first time, felt this undeniable urge to protect his helpless baby girl with his life. He began to take steps to ensure he would always be there for her.

He swore to never again touch alcohol as long as he lived; as a former addict, he knew one sip was dangerous. He went to various meetings and therapists, used self-help books and found himself a stable job. And from then on, life was good, up until the point when his wife left him. But during those dark times he had Reiko, and he remembered the promise he had made to always keep her safe and that drive kept him going.

But now his motivation was gone, and as much as he didn't want to think about it, there was a chance that she would never come back. Naruto had said it takes up to twenty-four hours for kidnappers to send a ransom note, but for some reason, Murakami didn't think this was an ordinary kidnapping. He was an average citizen, with an average job that provided an average pay. In short, he wasn't the first choice a smart kidnapper would make when deciding on who to demand money from.

Naruto seemed to have realized this as well, but he was determined to keep Murakami's hopes up. "I will find her and bring her home Murakami-san. I promise on my life, and I never go back on my word!" Murakami had faith in Naruto; he knew there was weight behind his boldly spoken words. But still...

He reached down and wrapped his fingers around the neck of the sake bottle. It fit in his hand as comfortably as if it was personally made for him. He had found the bottle on his door step a few mornings ago. While he had been strongly persuaded by his better judgement to throw it away immediately, he remembered that this had been his favorite brand and reluctantly conceded that it would be a waste of good sake to just throw it away.

He made up his mind to give it away, but he didn't know many people and didn't trust himself enough to carry it work and present it as a gift to one of his colleagues. He had offered it to Naruto, who had blatantly refused, and then explained how he had learned through the example of someone named 'Ero-sensei' that no good could come from that drink. 'Smart kid.' he thought, a grim smile on his lips.

He held the bottle up the light, watching the bubbles gently float upwards through the translucent liquid, tinted gold by the smooth glass. It had been ten years since he'd last tasted sake. Slowly, as if unsure of himself, he made his way over to the sink, where two clean glasses, one tall and one short, sat waiting in the draining board, twinkling invitingly in the afternoon sun.