Yohji pushed open the door of the small bar and grill close by the local university; it was named 'The Snack J.' It had a cheery, young, late afternoon crowd. The girl he'd tracked down, however, looked glum. She was leaning over a stack of ledgers while chewing on a pencil. He glanced around to notice she was the only one behind the bar, but three other people in aprons mixed with the customers and waited on them.
He flashed a bright smile as he walked up the other side of the bar and leaned on it. She looked up, and Yohji also noticed, she had the most gorgeous green eyes he'd seen. There was a little vanity in that attraction. Those eyes, not entirely Japanese, kept him stunned from using his opening line. Her eyes narrowed in confusion, but she asked, “Aren't you Omi's older brother?”
Yohji wasn't surprised by the assumption. “My name is Yohji Kudou. Omi and I aren't related. We just work at the same florists' shop. I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd drop in and have a beer. Jun, isn't it?”
“Yes. Coming right up,” she said. Yohji could tell she was stifling irritation at being yanked away from the books on the bar. He glanced at them while she was at the tap. It was a tangle that would bring an accountant to tears. List of cities, cargo, and money littered the pages.
“It looks like you have a mess on your hands,” Yohji said when Jun brought the frothy mug over, hoping to strike up a conversation.
“Oh! This? A friend of mine is having issues with his business.”
“Your boyfriend?” Yohji probed.
“No,” she snapped a little too quickly. “Ken is just a friend.”
Yohji glimpsed the hint of a stormy expression, but Jun quickly pushed it aside. Something was there in that response, but it was too vague to home in on. Yohji smirked and said, “Yeah, we won't let the Ken we work with anywhere near our ledgers. He's a disaster with this stuff, too.”
“Oh,” she said softly and started to drift back into the books.
“So were you doing anything this Friday? You could show me some of the hot spots in town.”
Her head snapped up, she looked sincerely surprised. Her mouth opened, but then she suddenly looked down to the bulky watch on her wrist.
“Sorry! I have to go! I have a meeting I forgot about,” she said, snatching the ledgers off the bar and jamming them in a box. She waved at one of the waitresses and said, “I've got to run out. You may have to shut down tonight, Keiko.” The girl nodded and went back to waiting on customers. Jun raced from behind the counter, but turned to Yohji. “Listen, the beer is on the house. I'm sorry, but I'm really too busy right now. Thank you, though.”
He smirked as she bolted out the door; Yohji took a large swig of beer and leaned over the counter. Utoland City was certainly peaking his interest.
Ken sat on one side of the sofa. He glanced to the other side and repressed the urge to chide Jinpei for slouching. Jun was already stalking over to the youngest team member. He glanced over his shoulder to see Joe was grim and tight lipped. The Sicilian was leaning against the wall by the door, as was his habitual spot. Ryu lumbered in and flopped down in a chair across from Ken.
He was a little surprised to see irritation on Ryu's broad face when Jun started to nag Jinpei. Normally, the Owl was always so laid back and didn't get critical of Jun's older sister routine. Jinpei's face clenched in ill concealed anger, as she ordered, “Sit up already! I hope you have most of your homework done already.”
Ryu leaned forward and said, “Aw, give the kid a break, Jun.”
“I'm not a kid,” Jinpei snapped at Ryu. That took Ken back some. Ryu looked surprised, but to his credit, the rotund man nodded and sat back.
Ken was grateful when Nambu came in, disallowing any further personal conversation. Nambu, judging by his disproving glance at Jinpei, had overheard it.
“Last night there was an incident at the Katagari Sanitarium,” Nambu said with no preamble. “The building was destroyed.”
Ken felt a slight jolt, but it was Ryu who asked, “Donald?”
“Donald Wade wasn't found. He was the only one unaccounted for when the ruins were searched,” Nambu announced flatly. “There is reason to believe he's at large. There were two orderlies who were found... mutilated. Killed viciously.”
“What happened?” Ken asked, pushing away his off guard feeling.
“The building was destroyed. Somehow. There were no traces of explosives. Somehow the building was crumpled. Also, there was this.” Nambu typed on his computer and brought up the projector. “This was the only video footage recovered.”
A disorienting star scene appeared on a screen across the room. It had vivid indigo, black, and amethyst. Ken felt a sense of vertigo, something he rarely experienced. He looked towards Nambu.
“What does it mean, Doctor?”
“We think it was fed into the security cameras from the telephone tandem about twenty minutes before the building collapsed. That's all our initial forensics found. It appears someone took Donald from the sanitarium for some purpose. What bothers me was the two mutilated orderlies found at the scene. They were certainly murdered before the building collapsed. I would hate to think...”
“No! Donald is a lot of things, but he wouldn't murder,” Ken snapped.
“We can't rule out anything,” Joe's low voice insisted. Ken leaped to his feet and turned to Joe; the Condor was still grim. “He's capable of anything. Besides, he's had six years of nothing to do, but think.”
Ken was about to dispute Joe, but Nambu said, “Joe is right. Donald has refused my visits over the last two years. He was... or is... very bitter over the events that lead to his incarceration. We can't rule out anything. Right now, I want each of you to be on high alert. That's in your personal lives as well. He knows too much, and could pass that along to anyone he may encounter. I'm going to send you to the sanatorium to see if you can't find a lead to his whereabouts. Try to find who engineered Donald's escape; he had to have help. I have a feeling they were no amateurs.”
Ken took in the rest of the scant details from a folder Nambu handed him. During Ken's reading, he got a sense of regret from Nambu. The man kept insisting he should have maintained contact with Donald, and he should have made Ken and the others visit, in spite of Donald's request. Ken left the meeting aggravated that the situation with Donald wouldn't go away.
When they left Doctor Nambu's office Ken glanced at Jinpei and couldn't resist the comparison. Jinpei slouched against the wall with a hostile expression. It was the same expression Donald used to wear at sixteen, right before he defected to Galactor. Jinpei's attitude was growing just as dark and rebellious, too.
He had mentioned it to Joe during a couple of their all night bull sessions, but his stoic, best friend took in the information without any feedback. Ken feared Joe and the others were going to start drawing the same comparisons as they hunted for the first G-4. It all came back to Ken identifying with Nambu's sense of failure towards Donald. Ken started wondering if he, too, was failing Jinpei in the same ways.
Ken shook his head, squared his shoulders, and ordered, “Jun and Jinpei will go with me to the asylum. Joe and Ryu, go investigate....”
“His mother passed away two years ago,” Joe said softly. “It was the last time I've seen him.”
“What?” Ken snapped and glared at Joe. “You never told me you'd seen Donald!”
“It was out of respect for his mother,” Joe shot back. “Nambu let him attend the funeral. We were the only three there. He didn't want me there, but he didn't have a say in the matter. It was the only time I've seen him since we caught him.”
“Fine then! The British Conciliate. He may try to flee Utoland Island and go to his home country. Try to track down anywhere he may go hide.” Ken ordered. Mothers were always a touchy subject with Joe, so Ken let it drop... for now. “And! Everyone, watch your back. Donald may not have his bird-style any more, but he knows a lot about us.”
“There's really not much he knows about our current team's status,” Jun pointed out.
“He's still a genius. Besides, we don't know who broke him out, or for what purpose. The people, or person who engineered it, have to be dangerous. I still can't imagine Donald turning into a killer,” Ken insisted. “Whoever they are... that's who we need to worry about.”
Schuldig stretched his arms towards the celling and flashed Crawford a sly smile. The American clairvoyant was pacing back and forth; he pushed his glasses higher on his nose when they slipped. Schuldig didn't have to bother with his telepathy to read Crawford.
Crawford shot him a caustic glare and nodded at the unspoken words, :This isn't to your liking, Brad.: Schuldig snickered and flopped on the sofa of Schwarz's new base of operations, an elegant skyscraper hotel suite. Takatori had rented the whole top floor of the posh Utoland Garden's International Hotel to launch his political campaign on Utoland Island. Crawford, however, gathered all of Schwarz in one suite. “What about Takatori?”
“This whole situation will weaken his bid for Prime Minister... if he's found out.”
“That's not what we want,” Schuldig said.
“It's all too soon for our plans. But this Count Egobossler... His goals are too similar to ours. This whole deal with capturing the Double Zero Cyborgs can be problematic. I'm afraid we'll have to bring in Schreient. ”
“Not those filthy whores!” Schuldig snapped, but knew better than to second guess Crawford, not ever. Brad was the best clairvoyant Rosenkreutz ever got their filthy hands on. He was never wrong in the direction he took Schwarz.
Schwarz's goal was simple and elegant, create chaos in the world so a place could be created for psychics to rule. Schuldig appreciated Brad Crawford's plans. World wide destruction appealed to the German, but if there was another origination trying to achieve the same thing, that certainly could lead to a problem. Crawford was right to be concerned. And to that end, Schreient could prove to be good fodder.
“Yes, and we'll play nice with the ladies,” Crawford said, suddenly getting a crafty smile. “Until the cyborgs are gone, and we get Takatori elected to higher office.”
“How about...” Schuldig said before he let out a small chuckle covered his concern. “...and how he'll feels about that one girl...”
“What about me?” Nagi spat out as he strolled into the sitting room. The emaciated teenager’s arms were crossed, his eyes hardened as usual.
“You know, you should stick to our kind,” Schuldig said, waving his hand in the air as a casual gesture. Schuldig wished the boy would get more jaded towards the girl assassin of Schreient.
“I love Tot,” Nagi snapped.
“Suit yourself...” Schuldig chanted with a superior tone, but Nagi grew mollified. He was used to Schuldig's teasing.
Nagi gave a glance and a brief nod to Crawford. “The ISO has been investigating our work.”
“Good, but we'll leave that up to the Black Ghost organization. However, keep watch on what's going on with them. I want to know everything,” Crawford said.
“So what else, Brad. There is something else on your mind,” Schuldig whispered after Nagi stalked off towards his tasks.
Crawford nodded with a furrowed brow. “The baby cyborg, 001. He's one of us. He belongs with us, working with Schwarz to create chaos. We need to keep an eye towards bring him into our fold.”
Schuldig smiled again and nodded. “Don't worry. I'm sure we can recruit him.”
“Of course. His story is much like any one of ours. He is certainly Schwarz, whether he knows it or not yet.”
“That's one skilled hacker. I may have something though,” Jinpei reported, turning away from the telephony tandem. He glared up at Ken in the dim moonlight.
The moon was just now rising in the sky, giving Jinpei hope he could get home in time to chat online with Julie Leslie. Thursday nights were his only chance at getting time with his long-distance girlfriend, currently in France. Her parents were out, and she'd sneak some time on the computer. The European diplomats didn't exactly approve of Jinpei, after he started getting into trouble, and they thought Julie was too young to be serious about any one boy, especially one half the world away.
“Did you find anything?” Jinpei finally asked, hoping to push Julie out of his mind so he could concentrate better.
“This. I was beside the orderlies' station,” Ken said, lofting a thin blade in the air he found in the ruble. Jinpei couldn't see Ken's expression behind his blue visor, but his leader's voice was dour. “I'm guessing it'll match the wounds found on the orderlies. Hopefully, there are fingerprints or something we can use to find the killers.”
Jinpei repressed his tart remark and turned to Jun as she appeared from the shadows. “There are no traces of explosives whatsoever. It's like a giant mecha smashed the building into the ground.”
“Something like that would have shown up on an ISO satellite,” Ken pointed out. “We'll go back and figure out what we have here. You two need to see if satellite did pick up anything.”
Jinpei sighed and followed Ken and Jun; that meant he'd miss Julie tonight. He'd have to see about sending her an email message.
They were totally silent all the way back to the ISO building, which suited Jinpei's moodiness just fine. He was irritated with both the Eagle and the Swan, but it wasn't entirely for their uptight behavior towards him lately. It was their uptight behavior towards each other that irritated him to no end.
He was still holding out hope they'd reconcile and start dating again. It only discouraged him to see how brusque they were with one another during this investigation. Jinpei decided he need to step up his plans to get them back together; he just wanted to see Jun happy again. And get her off his back so he could have some more freedom.
“There is reason to believe Takatori is setting up operations here,” Manx said, shifting folders from one arm to the other. She looked around at the four assassins, who were all still giving her the cold shoulder. She suppressed her exasperation and glared at the group in the dim light. “Kritiker wants you to check their operations by breaking into the campaign headquarters. We need to gather more information.”
“Crashers' work,” Aya sneered.
“Weiss' work is whatever Kritiker needs you to do! Besides, with an ex-detective on your team, it shouldn't take you long,” she snapped. She turned to look at Yohji. He let out an exaggerated sigh and nodded.
“I got it covered. Shouldn't be a big deal,” he said.
“Good. We just haven't had time to set up our field agents in a good position. Just do re-con, but don't tip our hand. Any information about corporations that Takatori is influencing would be a good start. Who is secretly contributing to his campaign? We need to know.” After a long, awkward pause, she asked, “Any questions?” Again the silent treatment. She glanced over to Ken, his head was lowered so she couldn't rightly see his expression. This wasn't the first time she'd had trouble with Ken and his idealism. She hoped it would settle soon.
She murmured her farewells and left the flower shop. She was shocked to notice Omi chasing after her. He forced a smile and said, “Things will get better. Ken is pretty forgiving. It's just the move on top of the trouble he got into is still pretty hard. He feels guilty.”
Manx knew all this, and she felt for Ken, but she hardened herself, as was necessary for this job. “It's your job to assess Ken over the next month. Honestly. If he's slipping up, he must go. You'd be putting Yohji and Aya into danger, not to mention Kritiker's interest. Stay focused Omi and don't let your friendship get in the way.”
Omi's lips tightened. He nodded, a dark tension flooded his wide, blue eyes. A stab of guilt hit Manx as he turned and went back to the flower shop. She turned back to the street and walked towards the police station, wondering if Omi could manage this conflict. He was so young to lead. Sometimes she wonder if he were too young.
“What are you doing up, Jet?” Chang asked as the redhead stumbled in groggily.
“Couldn't sleep. Albert is tossing and turning. Nothing like a cold, metal fist slammed into your nose to just ruin sack time. Got any leftovers?” Jet said, yanking open the refrigerator.
“Top shelf, help yourself,” Chang said, pouring two cups of tea. Jet flopped down at the table with cold lo mien. GB came in and strained his bathrobe. “Here you go. You better drink quick since your surgery is tomorrow morning.”
“Surgery?” Jet asked.
Chang glanced over at GB, the same look of trepidation was on GB's face. GB forced a smile and waved his hand in the air. “Oh you know, a little nip and tuck. No concern.”
Jet's face steadily grew dark. “You're having it removed, aren't you?” he finally exploded.
“Now it's nothing to get aggravated over,” GB said.
“Yes, GB's situation is different than Albert's. You can't push Albert into making a decision he's not ready to make,” Chang babbled, not wishing to rehash the same argument, yet again.
“He needs to have that self-detonation device removed! Especially, since GB's doing it! That means he can have it done, too! He's just being a bastard! I'm sick of it! He won't respect my opinion!” Jet flung the lo mien on the floor and ran out of the kitchen.
Minutes later, Chang could hear the explosive argument coming from upstairs. He and GB exchanged rolled eyes. GB said, “Great! This one will last for hours!”
“I know. Jet just feels like Albert is living in the past, living a suicidal life. He wants Albert to make a commitment by having the self-detonation device taken out of his chest. Just like you're doing.”
GB sighed and shook his head. “It seems like they're getting worse, their spats and all. Bloody hell, no sex is worth all that.”
“I know.” Chang finished his tea. They both started when they heard rapid footsteps towards the front door. Chang could hear Albert shouting after Jet and the slam of the front door. Minutes later, Junior and Pyunma joined them for some tea since their sleep was now ruined as well.
To be continued.