Salsa's on the trail of a local killer, but why has he been shutting Taketo out of his investigation? Taketo wants answers, but he may not like what he learns. (slash!)
"But what am I supposed to do right now?"
"Uh?" Taketo had been awake for a several minutes, but he still wasn't clear on where he was. He had figured out that his head hurt. That the floor under his cheek was cold. That his wrists and ankles were apparently tied up. That someone was in same the room with him, pacing back and forth, back and forth.
"He's waking up. Oh, /wonderful/. Damn it." A spate of coughing. "Should I try hitting him again?"
The ongoing conversation hadn't been very enlightening. But Taketo had also figured out that his participation wasn't desired.
"Come on, come on . . . voice mail? Again?"
Taketo decided he'd try for a view. Light wasn't a very comfortable sensation at all, but he could stand it enough to manage a squint. It was the same man who'd let him into the shop, walking back and forth in front of him, moping his mouth and face and clutching a cell phone.
"Um, mister?" he tried. "Should I know you?"
"Now he's talking, too? Should I gag him or what?" the man wheezed. "I'll try him again."
Taketo sighed. Instead, he looked around to see where he was. It was an empty, rectangular room with gray metal walls and ceiling, and a shiny concrete floor. There were slots on the walls, and racks of some sort on the ceiling, along with a set of yellowish plastic light panels. The slots, he decided might be for sliding in shelves. Across from him was an open doorway; the door, which opened outward, looked rather thick. /Like inside a giant refrigerator/, he thought. He concluded that he might be somewhere in the back of the same shop.
"Answer your damn phone," the man muttered, to himself. "How many messages . . . have I left now? Weren't you supposed to call me . . . right back? So why haven't you?"
Taketo wondered who "you" was. He wondered what was wrong with this guy. He wondered why he didn't seem to care that Taketo could see him clearly.
Then he noticed the large carving knife laying on the floor near the door.
So. Ropes plus knife 'about this long' . . . equals empty apartment across town? he thought nervously. This didn't strike him as a healthy situation to be in. Salsa? he thought, putting in all his effort, I mean it. If you really are somewhere around here, some time soon would be good.
"I give up," the man said, slapping the phone closed and dropping it into his jacket pocket. "I'm just going to go ahead and get started."
Or right now would be better! Taketo thought, watching wide-eyed as the man leaned over and picked up the knife.
Now he was looking over Taketo with an assessing frown. "No, this doesn't work for me," he said, finally.
"Me neither," Taketo agreed, struggling to sit up. "Do I get a vote?"
"I guess I'll knock him out again first. Noisy kid," he said, turning away -- just as the black and tan cannonball struck him squarely in the back, ramming him headfirst into the wall over Taketo.
"Salsa!" Taketo yelled, muffled under the sudden blanket of limp body. "That was great!"
"You're right, I am great," Salsa agreed, seizing the man's jacket in his teeth and him dragging off to the side. "But you are a complete idiot! Taketo, what the hell are you doing here?"
"I was looking for you," Taketo said panting, finally working himself into a sitting position.
"I've been smelling /you/. But I've been watching this place, so how the hell could you have gotten in here without me --?" Salsa began. "Never mind. Figure it out later. Move out so I can get those ropes off."
"Is this an empty butcher's shop?" Taketo said, scooting forward.
"Yeah, it's --" Salsa broke off, staring at him.
"What?" Taketo said, straining at the ropes. What was Salsa looking at? Taketo knew he was red and sweaty and messy and out of breath, but that was understandable, wasn't it?
Salsa sat backward with an awkward thump, in his human form. "Oh shit," he muttered.
"Um, Salsa? What wrong?" Taketo said, licking his lips nervously.
"Stop doing that!" Salsa snapped at him. He grabbed Taketo's shoulder and hauled him roughly forward, reaching for the ropes.
"Doing what?" Taketo said. "I was just sitting here minding my own business and being tied up, and -- Salsa! Hey, that guy's getting up again!"
"Damn it," Salsa said, dropping Taketo's wrists and turning around -- just as Taketo's assailant collapsed face-first on the floor, in a spray of blood.
"Hunh?" Taketo stared. The man's back was a shredded mess. "Salsa, something's --!"
A clear chime rang out, and Salsa slammed down into the floor as well. Taketo winced, shaking his head as the chiming sounds continued, reverberating painfully inside his head. "What . . . is that?" he groaned.
"That," said Shido Katsuragi, stepping through the doorway, "would be /hajuuon/." He held up the tiny silver bell he was ringing, adding, "New and improved."
"Shido," Salsa snarled, desperately trying to lift himself from the floor. "Someone else who knew I'd be in the park," Salsa said. "That woman was sent by you."
"Who else?" Shido replied. "What, aren't you pleased to see me again?"