PARALYZER

Part 10


      Sometimes, shapeshifters had all the fun.

      As a rule, Schuldig didn't envy other people's talents. That didn't mean he couldn't admire the stunts they could pull. He woke up early on Monday just so he could see Kwan off. The team's shapeshifter looked ghoulish as he changed forms. Dark brown skin gave way to the paler shades of Asian genetics and his face twisted into someone else's entirely. Schuldig recognized the end product only because he'd seen Schwarz's files, but it looked pretty convincing to him. Crawford had the final say on it, though, and he made minor adjustments. Kwan tweaked himself effortlessly.

      You're fast, Schuldig observed. Kwan shot him an irritated look, reading that as a slight. Schuldig wasn't sure how he'd gotten to that conclusion. He toyed with the idea of shooting the man somewhere vital but kept that disgust out of his mental voice. The last shifter I worked with was much slower.

      Obviously he didn't know what he was doing.

      Likely,
Schuldig agreed.

      Kwan eyed him suspiciously, then dismissed him in favor of Crawford. Schuldig let it slide for now. Kwan was likely going to be touch and go for months. Schuldig could be patient when he had to be. The end result would be worth the aggravation. Between now and then, there were jobs to keep him entertained- like this one. This week was going to be a learning experience for him.

      All psychics started out in Demolitions, which did exactly that: catastrophic strikes carried out in one fierce hit. Infiltrations, which had become Schuldig's specialty, required them to devote months to the same project. They worked their way into organizations and governments from the ground up and, by changing the way people thought and worked, left a lasting impact. Subterfuge, which was Schwarz's territory, was a mix of both divisions.

      Their project with Takatori Reiji was something Schuldig thought should have been left to an Infiltrations team. The force Subterfuge used so willingly would get the job done faster, true. It would have taken Schuldig's team years to get their people in all the right places to where they could sway the vote their way. Schuldig still thought it was a bad pick. Empaths and telepaths could get politicians to vote how they wanted, but they couldn't tell a nation to be happy about the choice. That was important. They were making a prime minister, after all.

      This little job would prove to be amusing, at least. Crawford had scheduled three days for it: three days to completely destroy a man, his reputation, and his company. Schuldig thought it was a beautiful way to start the week.

      It was too easy to hear the car through the house's paper-thin walls. Schuldig flicked a thought that way. Nicole was back with their guest. The car doors slammed and the front door opened a few seconds later. Shoes clattered against the step. Nicole was giggling like a schoolgirl and the businessman with her grumbled rough promises against her shirt. She was the first through the doorway and she pulled Kurogawa Wataru after her.

      She let go of him as soon as they were in the room, which was just as well, because he ground to a halt so fast he would have tripped over his own feet. Nicole lost her playful demeanor in an instant.

      "Security's down," she said, going to stand against the wall at Schuldig's side. "Tremelle is on schedule."

      Crawford nodded in acceptance. Kurogawa looked stupidly between them. His stare inevitably returned to Kwan, who was his perfect double. It took him a couple seconds to recover. The shock disappeared behind a stony fašade and he drew himself up as straight as he could. He fixed his rumpled clothes with a couple jerks at his suit jacket.

      "What is going on here?" he demanded of his look-alike.

      "What is going on here?" Kwan echoed. He tilted his head to one side, silently analyzing the difference between his voice and Kurogawa's, and took a moment to rework his vocal chords. When he thought he had it, he repeated, "What is going on here?"

      A muscle in Kurogawa's cheek twitched at the show. He flicked a hard look between Schuldig and Crawford, ignoring Nicole entirely when there were men present. He opted to try Crawford. Schuldig didn't mind being passed over. He had work to do and took advantage of Kurogawa's distraction to raid his mind. "Who are you? Where am I?"

      "Good morning, Mr. Kurogawa," Crawford said. "I am obligated to inform you that you have become unnecessary."

      "Unnecessary." Kurogawa's face turned an interesting shade of purple as he choked on that assessment. "Who do you think you are?"

      "We are Schwarz," Crawford answered. "The fact that that means nothing to you is simply a sign of your insignificance. Take a seat. We have made a few changes to your weekly schedule that do not require your presence. You are, of course, invited to watch your company fold. We will bring a television in here if you wish."

      "You- you insolent-" Kurogawa sputtered. "You have no idea who you are fooling with. You have no idea what I could do to you. You do not want to cross me."

      Crawford was the epitome of unimpressed. He didn't even bother to answer that threat but looked over at Kwan. "Go."

      Kwan started for the door and Kurogawa was stupid enough to give ground in front of him. It was just a step, but people like them fed off the smallest flinches. Kwan held his hand out to Kurogawa in a demand. "Your keys."

      The look on Kurogawa's face was evidence that he was about to give a nasty response, but Kwan wasn't willing to indulge him. His hand clenched into a fist and he punched Kurogawa in the mouth hard enough to take teeth out. The man went stumbling backwards and crashed into the doorframe, doubled over with his hands over his mouth. Kwan pulled his wallet and car keys out of his jacket pocket and kept going. Kurogawa grabbed after him, only to freeze when Crawford shifted. Crawford ignored him, more interested in the cell phone he'd pulled out of his pocket.

      Schuldig didn't even try to stop the vicious smile that twitched its way across his mouth. Kurogawa heard his quiet laugh and twisted to fix him with an acid look. Schuldig sank his telepathy into Kurogawa's mind like fangs into fruit and pointed at the ground.

      "Why don't you do what the boss says and sit down?" Schuldig asked. "Now." The man's legs buckled beneath him and he hit the ground hard. Schuldig tuned Crawford out and went to stand by Kurogawa. He leaned over and got right in the older man's face. "Don't even try me," he said before the man could take a swing at him. "Sit still and stay quiet."

      "Parlor trick," Nicole told Schuldig. "It's nothing I can't do."

      "The difference between us is crucial," Schuldig answered without looking away from Kurogawa's angry face. Kurogawa's face was turning red again as he struggled to speak. "You could try to force him to stay here, sure. You could make him desperately want to stay, could make him terribly afraid to step outside this room. But a man with a strong enough constitution will break through your veils without a problem."

      "Excuse me?"

      "Do you really want me to repeat that? Sounds like it was too hard to swallow the first time through." He cocked his fingers like a gun and pressed it to Kurogawa's temple. "I can't make someone want to do something," he admitted. "I don't really care what he wants, though. If I tell him to do something, he can't ignore me. Period."

      "Cocky son of a bitch."

      "I've worked with empaths before," Schuldig said. "I know what I'm talking about." He turned his hand to point and Kurogawa instinctively followed the gesture. "Crawl over there and stay until we tell you that you can leave. You are not going to leave this room without express permission from one of us. You will not speak without being spoken to. Now go." The man shook as he struggled to disobey. "I said get crawling, peon."

      Kurogawa's hands slowly lowered from his mouth and he started crawling. He fought it the whole way, but he couldn't stop himself. He shuffled all the way to the spot Schuldig had indicated and sat quietly there.

      Schuldig straightened and turned on Nicole. She looked highly offended. Schuldig quirked an eyebrow at her. She stuck her finger right in his face. "Don't belittle me, telepath."

      "You started it," he pointed out with a shrug. "You want me to prove it?" She started to look at Kurogawa, but he snapped his fingers in front of her face to get her attention back. "Try and keep me here," Schuldig told her. "You can't."

      She bristled at that easy accusation and flicked a look past him at Crawford. "We're not supposed to use our talents on each other."

      Crawford flicked his fingers in dismissal, more interested in his phone call. It was up to Crawford to get most of the pieces in play. Nagi was taking Schuldig and Farfarello with him tomorrow to meet the most important backers of this escapade. Between now and then, Crawford had a lot of calls to make.

      Nicole turned on Schuldig and offered him an icy smile. He offered her a wicked smile in return. He'd played this game with Marianna before. He knew it wouldn't make this easier, but he knew he could win.

      "Fine," she said. "Try to leave this room."

      Her gift hit him like a sledgehammer, eating its way through the shields he'd loosened for her. He felt it sink in his veins like something heavy and toxic and followed the jerk of her chin to look at the door. Just the thought of leaving triggered a gnawing fear that started at his stomach and slowly worked its way up into his throat. Schuldig gave himself a couple seconds to work through it, focusing on his breathing, and took the first step. Nicole's gift twitched tighter until his heart was pounding in his chest.

      His body wanted to panic. It couldn't believe he was even looking at the door and it tried desperately to shut down on him. If he left this room-

      Irrational, Schuldig told himself.

      He refused to let that fear destroy his mind. That was the difference between empaths and telepaths; the former were so driven by emotions, whereas telepaths were taught to be rational and logical. They were forced to think everything through, to study every nuance of every thought, to never let emotions blind the hard thoughts beneath them.

      The most terrible thing I could have done, I've already done. He glanced over his shoulder and considered Crawford for a moment. He thought about Crawford's promise to walk away from Estet and Rosenkreuz. Whatever was on the other side of this door had nothing on that. How could anything else be terrible when he was taking a chance on the ultimate betrayal?

      He turned forward to stare at the doorway. If this was natural fear, it would be fading beneath firm resolve. Nicole's gift meant it stayed high enough to be almost crippling. The 'almost' made all the difference in the world, and Schuldig strode through the doorway into the hall.

      Her gift vanished the second both feet were in the hallway. The ceiling creaked as Ly Ly came to investigate, woken up by the spike of such a fierce emotion. Schuldig turned to face Nicole, who had moved into the doorway to eye him.

      He half-expected her to be angry at being shown up, but there was a calculating look in her eyes and a small frown tugging at her lips. I think you're going to explain that, she said.

      Does 'I told you so' sum it up?

      Crawford,
she said, sounding annoyed by his purposeful misinterpretation. And how you can use him to center yourself like that.

      I know you don't actually think you'll get an honest response to that.

      You hate him.

      I thought you figured that out the first day.

      How can you want to fuck someone you hate?

      Men are very simple-minded creatures, Nicole.


      She propped her shoulder against the doorframe and stared him down. Schuldig was pretty sure she had something else to say, but he missed it. His gift was already following his gaze and flicking past her to Crawford's mental dead zone. The precognitive was in-between calls and watching Schuldig. His expression was as unreadable as his mind, but the sheer weight of his power against Schuldig's told Schuldig he'd caught Crawford's complete attention.

      Nicole looked back and forth between them, noting Schuldig's distraction immediately. Before she could say anything, Ly Ly made it to the base of the stairs. "Nicole?" she asked.

      "Trying to determine boast from fact," Nicole said. "He won this round, but I might have figured out round two."

      "Do not meddle where you do not belong," Crawford said, already focused on his phone once more. Nicole grimaced in something like irritated disappointment but didn't argue.

      "It's a little early to be arguing superiority," Ly Ly said, grumpy over being woken up.

      "It wasn't about superiority," Schuldig said, dragging his stare away from Crawford. "We were simply exploring the differences between our powers."

      "Do it at a later hour in the day," Ly Ly warned them.

      "Maybe you should post a list of convenient times on the fridge for us to sort through," Schuldig suggested, glancing at his watch. It was time for him to leave, so he ignored the sour look Ly Ly sent him and headed for the door. He toed into his shoes and let himself out without another look back.

      He made the language school staff uncomfortable when he tested into the upper intermediate course. He didn't care if they were happy; he only cared that they were efficient and useful. He kept his beginner's courses for kanji and spent what was left of the morning on business Japanese.

      He left at noon and stopped on the way for something to eat. When he made it back to the house, he found Kurogawa hadn't budged from his spot. It was questionable whether that was due more to Schuldig's interference this morning or the fact that Farfarello was crouching a few feet in front of him. The Irishman had a knife out and he was trailing the blade along his lower lip. Schuldig sprawled against the doorframe and did a quick mental check of the house. Nagi was upstairs with Crawford and Schuldig considered the child's muddled mind. He'd absorbed Japanese, but Nagi's mind was still a meaningless hum to him. He'd figured it was the language barrier before. Now he knew better, and he idly wondered if Crawford could make any sense of that mess.

      The empaths were gone, off to do the next set of work. A mental glance next door showed a good half of the team was missing. Schuldig was annoyed at being left out, but he squished that restlessness. He would get to play tomorrow.

      "Having fun?" Schuldig asked.

      Farfarello didn't answer. His thoughts didn't even stutter but continued to flow around visions of blood and gruesome death. Schuldig looped it over to Kurogawa's mind and smiled when the businessman started quaking. Schuldig severed the connection a few seconds later and went upstairs to his room.

      Crawford's door was closed, as usual, but it opened as soon as Schuldig reached the landing. Nagi let himself out and slid Crawford's door shut behind him. They reached Schuldig's doorway at the same and paused there, waiting to see which one would move first.

      "Naoe," Schuldig said.

      "Schuldig," was the return acknowledgment. "I am leaving now."

      It sounded like a veiled order. Schuldig was vaguely amused. "Don't let me stop you," he drawled.

      Nagi took that literally, as Schuldig half-expected he would, and used his gift to move Schuldig. It was a simple up-and-down and he planted Schuldig two steps off to the side. He continued on his way without another word and went downstairs without a look back. Schuldig watched him go, mulling over the boy's eternally unchanging expression.

      I can't understand him, he sent at Crawford. It prickled a bit to admit it, but he needed Crawford to understand his limitations. If Crawford could understand Nagi and started assuming Schuldig could as well, it could affect the way Crawford planned partnerships and jobs.

      That will not be an issue.

      Nagi's footsteps didn't slow, but his voice carried up the stairs easily as he spoke to Farfarello: "We are leaving."

      Schuldig knew Farfarello followed only because he heard the scuff of two pairs of shoes at the front door, and then they were gone and the telepaths were alone. Schuldig ignored the funny twist in his gut such a realization caused and carefully closed his bedroom door. "He's a bit young to be your general," he said aloud.

      "Do not question my decisions."

      "The others don't," Schuldig said. "Question him," he clarified a moment later. He crossed the room to sit on his futon. He set his Japanese books in his lap and idly wondered how he was supposed to concentrate when Crawford was next door and the nosey empaths were on the other side of the city. He bapped the heel of his palm against his forehead in annoyance and started rummaging through his books. "I've never seen Rosenkreuz graduates give ground to a child before, at least not willingly. If they were doing it on your orders, they'd still grumble about it mentally."

      Crawford, predictably, did not bother to explain what had earned Nagi his high ranking in the group. Schuldig made a rude gesture at his door.

      He flipped open his folder, ready to pull out his notes from the morning, and paused when he saw the comic stuck in the back pocket. His first thought was that he should practice his strokes instead, and he wryly noted that this was a different sort of stroke. After a moment he pulled the comic free and studied the cover.

      He dug around for his kanji dictionary and propped his shoulder blades against the wall. Curiosity quickly dulled in favor of frustration. He had to look up almost every other symbol on the page and it was time-consuming flipping back and forth through his dictionary. Some languages were easy to pick up thanks to his telepathy, since the spellings of the words matched up with the sounds his gift could latch onto. Others were a terrible chore when their alphabets were nowhere close.

      After an hour he grew bored of his slow progress and flipped pages to the more interesting panels. There were infinitely fewer speech bubbles here, so he got through them a lot quicker. The only problem was that he kept stopping to eye the pictures of the two entangled men. He shifted a little to ease the discomfort in his pants and went back to the beginning of the scene to test his retention.

      You are supposed to be studying.

      Funny how a cold voice like that could make him hot all over, but imagining the printed dialogue twisted by Crawford's voice put a buzz in his veins. Schuldig tilted his head further back against the wall. He let the comic fall to one side and slid his hand down his abdomen to his pants. Fingers wrapped around the half-formed hardness there and he let out a ragged pant he knew Crawford had to hear.

      I am, he answered. Practical applications of kanji, or something. Why, am I distracting you?

      You are distracting yourself.


      Schuldig's mouth twitched into a lazy smile. Are you ordering me to stop?

      I have paperwork for you,
Crawford said. If you're not going to study, then come look at what you will be dealing with tomorrow.

      Schuldig forcibly relaxed his grip and let his hand fall away. He pushed himself to his feet and padded over to Crawford's door. Separated by two layers of paper, they might as well be in the same room, but it still felt intrusive to push the door open. He drummed his fingers on the paper first and waited until Crawford gave him permission to enter. He half-expected the other man to make him wait, but Crawford's response came immediately.

      Schuldig eased the door open and sent a curious look around. He'd only seen Crawford's door open when Crawford was in the doorway to block the view. He'd expected Crawford's room to be as pristine and meticulous as Crawford's appearance. It was, sort of. Rather, it was the epitome of organized chaos. The man had two desks that were covered with shelves and folders, and four filing cabinets lined the walls. His futon was up and out of the way so he could get to the back wall. A board hung on the wall, covered in itineraries and pictures. Lines connected the pictures to each other and numbered notes would help Crawford the corresponding files.

      That was where Crawford was now, was standing by the back wall with a clipboard in hand. Schuldig stepped inside and closed the door behind him unthinkingly. It didn't seem like a bad idea until he'd done it, and then it was too late.

      He stuffed his hands in his pockets and went to stand at Crawford's side. Crawford didn't say anything else immediately, so Schuldig busied himself looking over the paperwork tacked up in front of him. Most of it was in Japanese, but bits and pieces were in German. He read what little he could and tried to guess at what the rest of it meant.

      Crawford handed him the clipboard when he was finished with it. It was all in handwritten German, so Schuldig had no problems reading it. He studied the pictures of the yakuza boss they would be meeting with tomorrow.

      "Nagi will do most of the talking," Crawford said, rearranging a couple files on his wall. "Motsunagi would rather deal with someone his age than trade with a foreigner. You are simply there to make the job easier, as this is not something he will want to commit to. He has no reason to trust Schwarz and knows we could destroy him with this."

      "Sounds simple," Schuldig noted, flipping the page to memorize the pictures on the other side. "Sounds boring. I can't see why Farfarello would volunteer to come along."

      "Farfarello is amused by simple things."

      "Must be why he likes me so much."

      "If you were simple, you would have no place here. Farfarello is going for Motsunagi, not for you. He finds the yakuza interesting." Crawford tapped the clipboard. "Close the deal. We cannot proceed without their funding."

      "Of course," Schuldig agreed easily.

      "The paperwork is yours. The clipboard is mine. Leave it on the desk."

      Schuldig did as he was told and carried the papers to his room. He settled himself on his futon again and looked from the paperwork to the comic to his books. At length he sighed and sprawled out with his workbook. He and Crawford had nothing else to say to each other that day.

      *

      They met Motsunagi's people in a public place, since neither Schwarz nor Motsunagi was willing to bring the other into their territory. Lunch was a good time for negotiations, as it meant no one went to bed with unresolved, heavy matters weighing on his mind. It also meant there was time left in the business day to make one's move if necessary. Schuldig had to miss part of his morning classes, but he doubted it'd make much of a difference. Besides, this would count as practice, since everyone present was bound to be using formal Japanese. The only reason Schuldig would be able to follow along was because their thoughts were going to be more casual.

      Farfarello and Nagi met Schuldig in Kichijoji Station and they took the express train to Shinjuku. Nagi had taken care of arrangements yesterday, so they already knew which restaurant to head to. Schuldig didn't know his way around, so he was content to trail behind the other two. The restaurant they'd chosen was on the fifteenth floor of one of the skyscrapers, so they took the elevator up in silence.

      They were early for the ten o'clock meeting, but so were Motsunagi's representatives, and the yakuza had made sure to arrive first. The four didn't stand at Schwarz's approach. Nagi didn't slow, not even to offer respectful greetings. He sat down across from the men and let Schuldig and Farfarello settle at his sides. The gangsters had already met Nagi and Farfarello before, so their attention went straight to Schuldig.

      "He is new," one said.

      "He came highly recommended," Nagi answered.

      That was it, at least until they made it past the appetizers to the main course. Schuldig took advantage of the lull to investigate the minds in front of him. Motsunagi himself hadn't bothered to show up, but he'd sent along his second son and one of his advisors. The other two were heavy hitters. They were muscular, but Schuldig knew just by looking at them that they had nothing on Farfarello.

      He started with the advisor and quietly, slowly started dulling the distrust the man felt towards someone with Schuldig's appearance. The man's view on Schwarz was mildly interesting. The gangsters had only dealt with Schwarz a couple times, but they had benefited greatly from each previous deal. Profits didn't automatically generate trust, however. The only loyalty these men believed in was that to their own association and the people within it. They didn't know anything about the psychic gifts most of the team wielded and weren't entirely sure which side they were playing on. All they really knew was that Schwarz demanded great things and then delivered greater in return.

      Nagi waited until they had all been served their main dishes and then started on the proposal. He made it sound elementary, as if he wasn't asking the yakuza to stomach upfront costs in the millions. Kwan was set to open Kurogawa's company shares on the stock market for the first time. Kurogawa was big in the news and had been pressured for years to get into politics. The shares would sell like hot cakes and Schuldig fully expected the price to sky rocket by the end of the day. Schwarz wanted the Motsunagis to buy the lion's share. They were to hold on to it through the end of the day, then pour it back into the market by closing time.

      That last bit was the most important, since Kurogawa's company was going to crash tomorrow. Crawford's contacts were set to murmur intentions on buying up everything they could, when in reality they wouldn't buy much of anything at all. Kurogawa's allies and his company itself would do everything it could to ensure the stocks stayed with people they trusted, which meant they'd be buying high-price shares back from the Motsunagis and making the gangsters filthy rich. They'd also be in the perfect position to collapse.

      Needless to say, the Motsunagis were not impressed by the plan. It was a lot to risk, putting that much money out there, especially when Schwarz made it clear that the price would plummet tomorrow. Nagi didn't bother to explain what the catalyst would be. That wasn't any of their business.

      When Schuldig thought he'd gotten the advisor starting thinking about it, really thinking about it, he switched to the son. He walked Motsunagi Jr. through the math of what his association stood to gain.

      It took two hours. Schuldig was okay with that because it should have taken longer. They should have stepped aside and talked to the head of the group. The son had the authority to make decisions for his father, but something like this, they should have consulted with him on. It would have been a loss of face for the son to step aside and make a call during lunch itself, but they could have walked away and taken time to think about it. They knew their decision was important; they could have made Schwarz wait.

      Close the deal, Crawford had said. Crawford had worked with the Mostunagis enough that he knew the agreement would fall through the second they walked away from the table. If the son and his advisor had the chance to walk away and think about how much money was at stake, there was no way they'd put it in a favorable light.

      Schuldig did his best to create a sense of urgency, reminding them how little time there was to pick sides. There were others Schwarz could turn to, and the money any of the other associations would make off of a deal like this could cripple the Motsunagis' hold in this region.

      Schwarz knew they'd won when Jr. glanced at the advisor. The son had more power, but the advisor knew what his father would and would not approve of. The grizzled old man tilted his head to defer the decision to the son.

      "You ask for too much," the son said, turning on Nagi, "but it is too interesting of a proposition to turn down. We will purchase the shares and sell them again. But Schwarz? You will not like what will happen to you if we get caught in the crash."

      "Everything will happen as we have assured you it will," Nagi answered. "We appreciate your cooperation."

      With that, he neatly set aside his plate and stood. Schuldig and Farfarello followed him to his feet and they left. Schuldig waited until the elevator doors had closed before sliding Farfarello a sideways look.

      "That was boring," he said, "and I actually had something to do. Was it really that fascinating to sit there and listen to them argue numbers?"

      Farfarello offered him a creepy smile and said nothing. Schuldig let it drop and followed his teammates onto the train. They ignored each other the whole ride back and walked the ten minutes from the station to their houses. Instead of returning to their own quarters, Farfarello and Nagi went with Schuldig into the mental psis' house.

      Someone had already set up a television in the living room for Kurogawa to watch. The man was already looking to be in bad shape, as he hadn't had anything to eat since the night before Nicole had lured him here. Schuldig thought they might have remembered to give him a couple sips of water last night. He'd only been allowed up a couple times to use the restroom, as they didn't want him having an accident on their floor. He glared hatred at the three as they entered the room and Schuldig offered him a lazy smile in return.

      Crawford was busy organizing files in one of the chairs, so the three scattered around the rest of the furniture to watch and wait. At one, Kurogawa's shares hit the market, and Schuldig watched the bidding war begin. They were the fastest-selling shares on the board today and it didn't take long for the price to spike. There was a fight going on where no one else could see, as the Motsunagis and Kurogawa's allies battled to get their hands on the most shares.

      Schuldig collected his notebooks from upstairs before settling beside Farfarello again. He let the screen track the sales and focused on practicing his strokes. When the market closed for the day, the price of Kurogawa's shares had almost tripled. Crawford noted the ending price and turned the television off.

      All in all, things were looking good for Kurogawa's company.

      Until Kwan killed Kurogawa's wife and children Wednesday morning, anyway.

      The official police report hit the news at nine o'clock and announced a citywide manhunt for Kurogawa, who had seemingly disappeared. The businessman watched in horror as the chief of police, Takatori Reiji's brother, Takatori Shuuichi, described the details of the murder. Along the bottom of the screen was a scrolling notice about Kurogawa's stock crashing.

      "Oh, what a pity," Nicole said, sounding completely unsympathetic. All of Schwarz was gathered to watch the spectacle, but Schuldig didn't know what was more entertaining: the news, or the look on Kurogawa's face as he watched his entire life explode on-screen. "Now what are you going to do, genius?"

      He couldn't answer her with Schuldig's coding still in him, but Schuldig wasn't convinced he heard her, anyway.

      "Get rid of him," Crawford said.

      "Get in the car," Schuldig told Kurogawa, and he stiffly got to his feet. Ly Ly followed after him. Crawford left the TV on and collected reports for his official file.

      Ly Ly was gone for only twenty minutes, just long enough to drive Kurogawa to the station and watch him jump. She choked him with despair and horror and depression until he didn't see another way out. Express trains came through Mitaka all the time; it was too easy for her to get Kurogawa to step in front of one of them.

      She was back at the house a couple minutes before the suicide hit the news. Crawford waited until the breaking headlines interrupted everything else, then turned the television off.

      "Now," he said, ensuring he had their attention. "Next."


Part 11
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