Kino Makoto, P.I.

By Desslok



Author's Note: This story was inspired by "Crystal Tokyo, California" by Shanejayell. That story made me want to do my own "genre" piece using the SM characters (which I make no pretense to owning, thank you). Enjoy! 


I knew she was trouble the minute she stepped into my office. I'd seen chicks with balls before, but never on their head. It's always dark when danger comes a-calling, especially at the Crossroads, but the moonlight made her eyes sparkle blue. That might not have done it, but the crackle of the yen notes she shoved across my desk sealed the deal. Seems she'd lost something quite precious to her, a fancy little trinket known as the Silver Imperium Crystal. "Lost and Found" was never my shtick, but I'm a sucker for a dame in distress. Or dat dress, but that's another story... The name's Makoto, Kino Makoto, private eye.

"So, doll, what's your name?" I asked her. She was a pretty young thing, even with the oddball 'do, but not my type. Blondes don't do it for me, though I'm sure a certain blonde songbird down at the Crystal Palace would, if I ever gave her the chance.

"Tsukino Usagi," she answered. Her voice trembled like the last leaf of autumn during a windstorm. I could tell she'd never been down to this part of town before. While I'm not a sucker for blondes, I am for innocence and she had it in spades.

"Ok, I'm in. Tell me a little bit about this Crystal, like where you last saw it." I pulled a green notebook out of my desk and waited. She sang me a song of sorrow and woe unlike any I'd heard before, and trust me, I've heard them all. The crystal was more of a diamond and she'd kept it in a little brooch she always wore on her chest. Well, almost always. She swore she'd never let it out of her sight, so it must be an inside job. I flipped the page and asked for names. Even when they know it's one of their own, they never want to believe it, so I didn't ask for suspects, just 'information sources.'

Source #1 was a guy, which certainly didn't come as a surprise. Tall drink of water named Chiba, some egghead student at Local U. She laid it on thick about their 'shared destiny', but I omitted that part from my record. My notebook isn't zoned for Bullshit. I didn't ask, but when a sweetheart like this is plucked, it's usually not too hard to guess who won the prize. Clearly, Chiba had access to her chest, and the jewelry that lived there.

With a high-strung, high-maintenance piece of work like this, I wasn't too surprised to hear that the second name belonged to a sister. Usagi was an open book, in large print, so it wasn't too tough to read between the lines. She didn't like her sister and especially didn't like her sister nosing around her man. I got a description. Pink hair shouldn't be too tough to pick out in a crowd. I prefer blue, myself. Little Rini seemed to have a taste for the finer things in life, particularly those things Usagi had. Family squabbles are never pleasant and the warning flags were flying on this one.

That was all she had, and it wasn't much. The kid didn't get out much, I guess. I took her number and told her I'd give her a call when I found something out. I didn't see her to the door cause the bar was on the other end of the office. Doc had made me swear off the stuff. She fed me a lot of mumbo jumbo about coping skills and letting go of the past. Well, when my old partner had left, he'd left more than an empty desk. Doc finally convinced me that I couldn't fill the space with booze, so I'd moved on. I opened up the box that sat where the bottles used to live and pulled out a pastry. Cooking was a lot messier than drinking when you started, but a hell of a lot cleaner at the end of the night. Truth is, I'd have taken up banjo playing if Doc had suggested it, but that's neither here nor there. At least everyone I saw didn't remind me of my old "sempai" anymore.

Licking the sugar from my fingers, I tried to come up with an angle. Something as hot as this Silver Imperium Crystal couldn't just be pawned. There weren't a lot of fences out there who could handle a unique item like that. When it came to high-class merchandise, there was only one place to start. Looks like I'd be dropping in on a certain redhead.


The Crossroads isn't a nice place during the day and only a fool takes a stroll there at night. Fortunately, I never stroll, I stride. Me and the demons who haunt the night got an arrangement. They don't waste their time on me and I don't kick the crap out of them for sport. So, it was a bit of a surprise when I realized I was being followed. He was good, whoever he was, but I own these streets. I also know you can't do a good tail alone, especially at night, so I amused myself by seeing how long it would take me to spot the partner. I didn't get much amusement, but when do I? Most of the other dames on the street were working for a living. I guess you could say that I was too, but it'd be a damn shame to lose your teeth like that. It wasn't hard to spot this one. You'll recall that I have a thing for blue hair, though on this one, it was too much of a good thing.

It had been a while since I'd blown off some steam, so I took a shortcut into an alley and waited in the middle. Sure enough, a couple ticks later and there was one at each end. We were like a trouble sandwich and the bread was about to get soggy. Blue waltzed in to my right and stopped. I guess talking smack is a man's job. The golden-haired guy came up from the left.

"If you're smart, you'll drop this case and forget you ever heard about the Silver Imperium Crystal," he said. Something about his voice didn't ring true, but I couldn't place it.

"No one ever accused me of being smart, pal," I told him, leaning back against the wall. The way Blue hung back, it was clear they both thought Goldie could take me.

"I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to."

"Go ahead and try," I told him. "I could use a good laugh."

"The streets aren't safe for a woman," he warned me as he moved closer. For some reason, Blue thought this was a big funny and started laughing into her hand.

He was close enough. The time for talk was done. Strangely enough, he knew it as well. He didn't say another word. Most guys would have been talking through the entire beating. I'd been playing it calm, so I decided to throw him off balance. I charged, shoulder-first and clipped him. Something else strange. He dodged it, at least partly. I'll give the bastard his due, he was quick, maybe quicker than me. Of course, that gave it away. I've fought lots of guys and 'wrestled' lots of women and I know the difference. Maybe that's why I cut it short. We traded a few blows and blocks, neither of us connecting with anything solid. I could tell she was just as surprised as I was that we were so evenly matched. She was smart, too. She stopped at the same time I did.

"You've got a cut," she said, tossing me a handkerchief.

"So, does this mean we're friends?" I asked, taking it and dabbing at the scratch I'd gotten on my hand.

"No," she replied tersely, moving to meet Blue at the other end. "We'll meet again. When we do, don't get in our way." And they were gone.

It didn't take a genius to realize that they must have tailed my client. Obviously, there was more to this case than met the eye. Without further ado, I hightailed it over to Naru's.


It's a shame to hit a guy with glasses, but I don't like brainiacs who try to rub your nose in it. Doc never did that and no one was smarter than her. No one looked better in a lab coat either, but you don't need to worry about that. I managed to rein in my baser instincts, settling for a rough shove instead of a solid jab to Umino's googly-eyed puss.

"I'll ask you again, where's your boss?"

He must have been half as smart as he claimed, because he started talking. "She's not here. I'm only here because I had to finish up this paperwork." He pointed to some sort of ledger with a bunch of numbers on it. What the hell a looker like Naru saw in a square like Umino I'll never get, but at least he made himself useful keeping her books. Of course, his best work went into the books that no taxman ever saw.

I moved around the desk, keeping him in his chair with a firm hand on his shoulder. "So, any new acquisitions you'd care to describe to me, like say a diamond in a small heart-shaped brooch?"

The sweat on his forehead gave him away, but it took a few more threats before he coughed up the goods.

"I swear, it never came in here, but yeah, I've heard of it. Someone big asked Naru to find a buyer for something like that," Umino squealed.

"Did she find one?" I twisted my fingers a bit into his collarbone to encourage him to communicate freely.

"Not yet," he cried out, "but...but there's a lot of interest out there. That's a very popular item. Some high class broad overseas wants it real bad... name of Beryl."

"I don't care who wants it," I pointed out. "I care who has it. So, who has it?"

"I don't know," he lied. I hate it when people lie to me, especially when it means I have to strain myself to fix it. I clenched my hand a little tighter.

"Ok, ok! Don't tell Naru I told you, but it's that new syndicate, the Death Busters."

"The only promise I'm making to you is to leave you with use of this arm if you keep talking. What the hell kind of name is 'Death Busters' for a syndicate?" I let up a little. Playing 'good cop/bad cop' by yourself is ok, but I'd rather have been playing with someone else. Yeah, I'm obsessed. Deal with it. If you'd ever seen her reading a book with the light playing in her hair and twinkling on her glasses, you'd be obsessed too. God, I used the word 'twinkle'... I've got it bad.

"I didn't name them!" Umino insisted. "And I don't know anything more about them, but they have your crystal and they're eager to sell."

I let him go. Bean counters like him didn't know crap about what was going on. Naru must be slipping to let him know as much as he did, but who can understand the nature of pillow talk. I tossed him a twenty as I hit the door. "Thanks, pal. Buy yourself a milkshake."

So, a new syndicate and they already had what I was after. I wondered if Blue and Goldie from the alley were part of it. Nah, they didn't seem the type. Goldie was tough, but not stupid like most of the hired goons these syndicates hired. If I was going to go up against some big time players, I needed more information. Fortunately, it was the right time of night for this kind of research.

I pulled my coat closer and set out for a local dive called the Silver Moon Cafe. It was all-night jazz club and there were a couple of beatniks who just about lived there. Real hep cats name of Luna and Artie. Wacky names for an odd couple. She was a short brunette with a taste for sugar and starry nights. He was an old whitehair with a thing for blondes. Somehow they made it work, I guess, since they had a daughter, but you could never tell if they were together or not. None of that mattered to me, though. I wanted information and they had their ears close the ground.

------------------ "No, no, I don't know nothing about no Silver Empire Crystal," Artie wailed. As I'd expected, I'd found them both at their usual table. I didn't know where they got their information, but that was ok since I didn't really care. "Now the Death Busters, yeah, I'm hip to their scene."

Luna rolled her eyes. She never laid the hipster jive on as thick at Artie did. He liked to call her 'uptight', but I preferred the term 'sane'. "They're an old operation from back East," she informed me. "A weird group. The guy who started it all back in '90 was big into Egyptian crap. Bought all sorts of illegal stuff smuggled out from the tombs there. Everyone called him the Pharaoh and the name has stuck. Not sure who the current Pharaoh is, but I can tell you that they're bad news." "Yeah, yeah, I'm hip, I'm hip," Artie added in his annoying way. "HQ tells me that the Pharaoh's planning on moving out our way soon, so he sent his patsy out here to smooth the waters like. Some square called 'the Professor'."

HQ. Initials, I guess. I didn't ask and they didn't tell. Luna took the ball of string and kept unraveling.

"The Professor has a daughter, real hot little thing. Likes to dress in black and spends a lot of time down at the Crystal Palace watching the shows," Luna told me as I plunked down another ten-spot to cover their next round of drinks. Being on the wagon sure spared the old expense account, but I'd be sure to charge Blondie a little extra. If nothing else, I owed someone a clean handkerchief, and I don't like to be in debt to anyone.

The Crystal Palace used to be a class joint, but now it was mostly 'burlesque'. Ever since Serena, the old owner, had taken off, the place had gone downhill fast. I gave it a year before either the cops shut it down or it went all-nude. There were still a couple girls there who kept their clothes on, but only cause they had the pipes to pull it off. I got a description of the Professor's daughter and headed out. Dawn was oozing over the horizon like ketchup out of a glass bottle. The folks I needed to see would be getting to bed soon and I could tell I'd be in for a long night, so I hoofed it back to the office. There's a Murphy bed in the back room and it's served me well enough over the years. It doesn't squeak with just one in it and I'd had a lot of quiet nights lately, but that was a problem for another day.


I woke to the sound of shattering glass. I added the cost of a new window to Blondie's bill and picked up the brick. Cliches disappoint me, so I didn't expect much from the note that was attached. The usual crap about leaving well enough alone, knowing what was good for me, blah blah blah. Anyone as slick as the two I'd seen last night would never stoop to something so lame, so I knew the Death Busters had been tipped off. Things were getting serious, so I went to the closet and pulled out an old friend. Yeah, I'd prefer to have a petite young doctor pressed to my side, but in this case, the old leather holster would do just fine. I slid her out and gave her a once-over. "Supreme Thunder" had saved my ass too many times to count. I didn't like carrying a piece, but when I had to, I was damn glad it was this one. The two of us headed out into the night.

Normally, I'd whip up something for myself in the kitchen. It saved money and sometimes I'd take the leftovers to Doc's place. Tonight, though, I grabbed a quickie at the greasy spoon down the street and made for the Palace. It was all closed up this early, but I knew the ones I wanted to see would be there, so I headed around back. A couple minutes later, I was in the dressing room they shared, trying not to let them get to me. While they wouldn't flaunt it on stage, backstage was another matter. Mina especially liked to get me going, but Rei was little better.

"So Makoto," the blonde said breathily from her makeup chair, "to what do we owe the pleasure."

I kept my eyes on Mina's as she watched me in the mirror, trying not to let them drift down too often. Even though she wasn't my type, she was hard to resist, especially sitting there topless. Fortunately for me, Rei wrapped herself in a bathrobe and headed out for the shower down the hall. One was hard enough, but both would have been impossible. She winked at Mina before she left and the blonde's answering laugh made me feel like a fly in a web.

"I'm looking for information about a girl," I said, trying to keep it business-like.

Mina and Rei had a thing, but I'd heard that neither of them were too possessive. Rumor had it that Rei had someone on the side, some rich thing from across town. Rei wasn't the problem at the moment. It had been awhile and Mina's unspoken offers were tempting, but I was holding out for someone else and besides, I was on a job.

"What kind of girl?" Mina asked in a suggestive tone. Damn if her voice wasn't like silk. "A professional of some sort, perhaps?"

Damn city had millions of people in it, but the Crossroads was like an old village. Everyone knew everything. I ignored her and plugged away.

"Young, brunette, a fan of yours," I filled in the rest of the description I'd gotten from Luna. "Oh, Hotaru!" she replied. "I wouldn't mess with her, my sweet. Her daddy is bad news and, besides, she's got a girlfriend already."

"Girlfriend?" I asked.

"Yeah, a sweet young thing barely old enough to get into this place. I think Rei knows her, or knows her sister," Mina smirked and gave me a knowing, naughty look.

I could make out the light at the end of this tunnel and knew it was moving forward, but I strove on. "What's her name?"

"Rini," Mina supplied. "Pink hair, ponytails, lots of money. Not my type, of course. You know I prefer the strong, silent type." She eyed me up, but I ignored her flirting. Things had just gotten interesting. Just then, Rei came back in, dripping wet in her bathrobe, drying her hair with a big white towel.

"Rei, Makoto wants to know about Rini," Mina informed her partner. "Don't you know her sister, Usagi?" Mina laughed when Rei blushed. I didn't think either had a blush left in them, but I guess I was wrong.

Rei must have felt like she had something to make up to Mina. "Well, Makoto, if I give you her address, what will you do for me, or, more accurately, what will you do for Mina here?"

I stood up and smirked at them both. "I'm sure there's nothing I could do for Mina that you can't handle yourself. I've already got the address, thanks. Ladies, break a leg tonight." I bowed and left quickly.


I could blame Mina and Rei for getting me all worked up. It had been a long time after all and while I was making progress, waiting for things to come together with Doc was getting tough. Anyway, their fault or mine, you can't blame me for being a bit distracted on the way across town. That's why they got the jump on me.

One thing I gotta say for the Death Busters, they sure hire good looking goons. Now, my tastes go a different way, but even I could tell these guys were hot, the kind who will rip a girl's heart out and eat it for breakfast.

I don't like dwelling on asskickings, unless I'm the one doing the kicking, so I'll keep it short. They got the drop on me in an alley and kept it non-lethal. I didn't get a chance to pull my weapon, but wouldn't have anyway. I know the difference between a message and an assassination and this was the former. I've got blood on my hands, but none of it undeserved.

Things might have been uglier if help hadn't arrived from an unexpected source. I looked up from the ground and through the bodies standing over me, I could make out two figures at the end of the alley. 'Damn, I'm going to owe her two handkerchiefs,' I thought. Goldie had a long knife and Blue was carrying a violin case. They knew what that meant as much as I did, though to tell the truth, the girl wouldn't have looked all that out of place in an orchestra somewhere. The goons took a hike and I'm proud to say that I managed to stand up on my own before my new friends got to me.

"We warned you," Blue told me while her friend checked me over.

"Don't bother. A busted rib or two, some bruises, nothing serious," I informed her. I'd been in enough scraps to know how to judge damage to my body. "Name's Makoto and I think I owe you. I like to know the names of people I'm indebted to."

Blue grinned, "I'm Michiru and this is Haruka." Goldie...Haruka just grunted. "The Death Busters are big time and you don't have the resources to take them on," Michiru continued. "You should just leave it to us."

"So, you're up against them too," I stated. "Enemy of my enemy and all that, right?"

Haruka snorted, "No, I don't think so. I told you not to get in our way. We just happened to be passing by. Don't count on us to save your ass again."

"I don't count on anyone saving me," I retorted hotly. "And a little beatdown doesn't scare me off of a case. If you don't want to work with me, than stay the hell out of my way."

With a sarcastic laugh, Haruka turned, gathering Michiru to her side. They strolled off without another word. I couldn't decide whether to hate them or admire them, so I just left it. A sharp pain in my side reminded me that I needed to make a quick detour.


Maybe the reason I have so much trouble making headway with Doc Mizuno is that most of the time when I see her, she's stitching me up. Can't imagine it's too attractive a thought to give your heart to someone who gets in as much trouble as I do. One of the things I loved about her though was that she never gave me any crap. She rarely even asked how it happened.

"There, those bandages will keep things in place while they heal," she told me as she pulled my shirt down.

She was a real professional but reading faces is part of my job description. I know when someone likes what they see and I knew Doc had no complaints about examining my chest. It was one of the things that gave me hope.

"Thanks Doc!" I said, proud of the way I kept my voice clear of all the things going on in my fool head.

"I wish you'd call me Ami," she said quietly. It was like she'd taken classes in how to win me over because there was no way I could resist her when she got all serious and caring on me.

"Ok...Ami. What do I owe you?"

"I'll put it on your tab," she answered with a smile. It was a running joke. She'd never billed me. We'd met way back after I'd helped her out on a case. She wanted an ID on someone using her name falsely, a real loser named Mercurious. It had been an easy case so I hadn't charged her for it. I had ulterior motives, of course. In any case, she'd never charged me for her care ever since. Sure, ever since I first saw her I'd been attracted to her, but all of that TLC over the years really sealed the deal. Smart, loving, caring, with gentle soft hands that made my skin tremble; how could I not love her?

"Maybe I could pay off some of that tab by taking you out to dinner?" I suggested. This was new. Tough as nails on the streets, weak as a kitten under the eyes of this incredible creature, that was me. One of the kicks must have jarred something loose in my brain, or maybe I was tired of getting a good night's sleep.

Ami blushed, which would have finished me off if I hadn't been cooked clean through for so long already. "I'd like that," she answered. Suddenly, those bandages seemed a little too tight as I could feel my heart beating like a bongo drum back at the Silver Moon.

"You know, Doc... I mean Ami," I went on, long past the point of rational avoidance, "I've been thinking... about you and I."

She put a finger to my lips. It took every ounce of self-control I had not to kiss it right there. "I have too, but you're on a case, I can tell," she said. "Do what you need to do, and when you're done, we'll go to dinner and you can tell me what you've been thinking."

Screw the fee from that rich blonde. Who needed any additional incentive to finish a case? Not me, in any case. I decided that my client could afford a cab ride, so I hailed a taxi and rode in style to her place. It was time to have a chat with Little Sister.


I should have known they'd have a butler. Usagi's hands had been too soft. She'd probably never strained them doing anything tougher than lifting things off of the silver platter in front of her. His name was Sammy and I didn't know him, but I was a little out of my league in this neck of the woods. He showed me to the drawing room. I can't figure out why they call it a 'drawing room'. There weren't any crayons in there, I can tell you that.

While I was waiting for the grand entrance, I scoped the place out. Lots of books, nice furniture, money every way you looked. They'd gone all out, even down to the mantle over the fireplace. Pictures showed my client draped on the arm of a tall dark-haired guy that must have been Chiba. Some of the pics had a third wheel sticking out, too. She could have been a photocopy of Usagi, but someone hit the "Reduce" button and replaced the yellow ink with pink. Even in 2D, I could make out the mischief in her eyes, but the pictures didn't do her any justice.

"You wanted to see me," she announced from the doorway. Little Sister was all grown up now. I could see where Mina had thought her a yard or two on the wrong side of jailbait, but her expression gave her away. She was a lot older than she looked, at least where it counted. I resisted the urge to hit a knee and bow my head, but the fact that the thought even occurred to me should clue you in. This girl screamed 'princess'. She glided over to a chair and benignly gestured for me to sit. Cute.

I spun the chair and straddled it, not giving a damn about her look of disdain. I was on her turf, but I was running this show and her Louis XIV could kiss my ass. "My name's Kino, Kino Makoto, and I want to ask you a few questions."

"Well Ms. Kino, why should I answer any of your questions?" she asked me. She was finding it hard to look down her nose at me, mostly because I had to be a foot taller than her, but the kid gave it her best shot.

"Fine." I grinned and she lost a little of that regal bearing. "I already know the answers anyway, I just wanted to give you a chance to come clean."

"I don't know what you're talking about!" she huffed. She did, though. Anyone with an innocent soul would have had me booted by now. Of course, I'd only ever met one person with an innocent soul and she was nowhere near this place. I'd give you a dime if you could guess who, but I don't make sucker bets.

"A couple days ago, you snuck into your sister's room, probably while she was sneaking out with her 'special friend', and took something that didn't belong to you," I began. She looked nervous. I went on. "You'd gotten yourself involved with a dangerous piece of work from the wrong side of the tracks, an angsty chick name of Tomoe Hotaru. You wanted to impress her, or maybe she was blackmailing you, or maybe you just wanted to screw your sister, since you couldn't screw her boyfriend. Whatever the reason, you gave it to your girlfriend and she gave it to her old man and it's my job to get it back."

"She did not!" Rini yelled, jumping up from her chair. I'll give the kid some credit, she didn't waste any time denying the obvious. "She would never have given it to him. He's horrible to her, tries to keep her locked up."

I looked her over again. Righteous rage looked good on her. The kid had spunk and I felt a little sorry for her. I could imagine how crappy it must have been growing up with an older sister always destined to be prettier, luckier, and more popular. She'd made her move and the only thing that had tripped her up had been her sister's dumb luck in hiring me. It occurred to me that I hadn't thought to ask why Usagi had brought me the case, but I'd deal with that later.

"I think someone's been yanking your chain, princess," I told her. "Word on the street is that the Professor is looking to sell the Crystal. Seems he needs a cash influx of sizeable proportion."

"But, she wouldn't...." Rini gasped. More points for her; she stopped to think about it. "He must have taken it from her. You don't know what they're like. She's practically a prisoner in her own home. I'm her only friend."

I raised an eyebrow and she blushed. The kid was cute when she blushed, but she had nothing on the master. I'd been spoiled by greatness. I'm glad Doc doesn't charge for house calls, cause I'd have to pay a fortune for as many times as she popped into my head.

"There's nothing wrong with..." she began, but I lifted a hand to stop her. I wasn't in the mood for morality tales, particularly when I already knew the ending.

"Save it, princess," I said. "You seem like a good kid and your sister just wants the rock back. You did something naughty. I like that in a kid. Now, are you going to help me put it right?"

She nodded, relief and fear battling across her features. She had some backbone, too. Maybe I'd underestimated the gene pool a bit.

"Ok, here's how it's going to go down..." and I filled her in. Her eyes widened at the right times so I knew she had no illusions about the danger she could face. She took it like a woman, though. Tough kid. I liked her.


The Infinity Room was a posh club on the south end of the Crossroads. It was new and I'd never been there. "Posh" isn't one of the things I'm looking for in a nightclub usually. As expected, the usual assortment of pretty boy goons lined the area, some obvious, some not so obvious. I noted their locations before we got in. We might be leaving in a hurry. Or in bodybags, but no point in swimming in the half-empty side of the glass.

I was surprised to see that they had female bouncers, five lovely young things with pretty dresses and dangerous expressions. "Don't let those witches bother you," Rini whispered as we approached.

The shortest one blocked the way. "Not like you to bring a guest, Miss Tsukino. Is she on the list?"

"She's with me, Mimet, she doesn't need to be on any list. We're here for dinner. I hear you serve lovely 'swordfish.'"

Inwardly, I groaned. 'Swordfish' is always the damn password. Must be some sort of cosmic joke. Mimet let us by. I couldn't tell if she was checking out my rack or my piece, but either way, she stared holes in me as I walked past.

Inside, the Infinity Room was everything that the Crystal Palace used to be: class, style, elegance. It didn't have the same charm, though. Lots of metal and flash, a real modern decor that seemed to suck the soul right out of a person. After I got over the initial shock of unbridled decadence, I decided I didn't like it there. I prefer my decadence bridled, with me holding the reins.

Rini got a lot of nods and smiles, so she was clearly a regular here. No seats, but no waiting either. Over by the stage there was a table marked "Reserved", at least until we got there. They took the sign and left Rini and I. She ordered a kind of drink I'd never heard of, a Pink Sugar Heart Attack. Those damn fruity drinks, they'll get you every time. I ordered seltzer water. I've always liked bubbles, though I've never known exactly why.

A big band played up on the stage, but my attention was focused on the action in the room. Lots of big wigs, wheelers and dealers, dames dressed to the nines and guys looking to score in every sense of the word. Off in the distance, against the back wall, I saw a couple of familiar faces sitting with a new one. Haruka and Michiru had a friend it appeared, an exotic bird with long black hair, even longer than Rei's. She had the kind of face that seems familiar but you can never quite place. Rini caught my eyes and followed them over.

"That's Setsuna. Isn't she beautiful? She used to be my tutor when I was little," the kid explained. "We're good friends still." She paused, puzzling over something, but before she could continue, a shadow passed over the table.

Looking up, I saw her. She was gorgeous. Shoulder length black hair, violet eyes, pale skin, wearing that kind of black cocktail dress that every woman alive would kill to own. Hotaru. She looked pissed and even I could guess why.

"Good evening, Miss Tsukino," she said quietly, in a voice that cut like a stiletto through warm flesh. "I see you've brought a guest."

The kid had a lot of practice jerking people's chains. She leaned up against me, draping herself over my arm like a mink stole. "Good evening, Hotaru."

I nodded to Hotaru, figuring I'd let the kid have her fun for a couple minutes. "Care to join us?" I asked innocently.

She slid into the booth like a sword into a well-oiled scabbard. I watched her and felt guilty and not just because I was helping her lover get her goat. 'You know I love you, Doc, but damn, I'm still human!' I thought to myself.

"I love you in that dress," Rini said in a tone that implied the opposite. She loved her out of that dress.

"Thanks," Hotaru replied, dripping insincerity like venom. "So, who's your new friend?"

"This is Makoto." Rini wiggled away enough that it might have been possible to squeeze a piece of paper between us. Maybe. "She's helping me out with something."

"Is she now?" Hotaru turned to me and flashed a smile that made my knees weak. Good thing I was sitting down. "Maybe when she's done with you, she could help me out with some things, too."

I'd had enough. Tomoe's daughter was easy on the eyes, but their lovers' spat was grating on my nerves. "Ok kids, time to put your toys away." I shifted away from Rini's grasp, grunting as my ribs bounced against the back of the booth.

"Normally, I'd let you guys have your fun, but I'm on a case. Tomoe, Tsukino loves you and only you and is hurt because she thinks you gave away the present she gave you. Tsukino, Tomoe loves you and only you and is hurt because she thinks you're going to leave her when you find out that she lost your present.

"Now, cut the bullshit and tell me what happened, kid. It doesn't take a detective to figure out how you two feel about each other; it's written all over your faces. You'd never have given that bauble away, so how did you lose it? It's my job to get it back and I plan on doing so. Tonight."

Hotaru and Rini gawked at me like I was from Jupiter or something. Sensitive angst-ridden kids like this weren't used to being clubbed over the head with reality and it took them a while to recover. Hotaru dropped her eyes and Rini instinctively shifted over to her side, laying an arm protectively over her shoulders.

"My father, he found it in my room," Hotaru told us quietly, "He said it was just the thing he needed. I said it was mine, but he threatened me. He said he'd never let me see you again, that there'd be other jewelry, but if I gave him this, we'd be set for life. I told him no, but he took it anyway." She raised her eyes, now filled with tears. "Oh Rini, I'm so sorry!"

I turned away. A touching love scene between these two was the last thing I wanted to see. I scanned the room again and nearly pissed myself. What the hell was _she_ doing here?

"Who is your new friend, daughter?"

A new voice jolted me back to the table. He stood there with a nasty smile in a white tuxedo and strange antique glasses. The Professor. It was time to put things into high gear.

"Name's Kino, Professor," I said, standing up slowly. "You've got something that doesn't belong to you. Why don't you give it back to me and we can get along with our lives, nice and peaceful like."

"You mean this?" he asked with a confident smile. He reached into his vest pocket and my hand twitched toward the inside of my jacket. Raising an amused eyebrow at my reaction, he very slowly pulled out a small box. Flipping the top, he revealed the McGuffin I'd been chasing, the Silver Imperium Crystal.

"That's right. Now, I'm sure you've just been keeping it safe until it could be returned to its proper owner, so why don't you just set it on the table and step away." I kept my hand inside my jacket and waited.

He laughed at me. I really hate that. "Silly girl," he lectured. I really hate that, too. "I have no intention of giving it back to anyone. It is mine and there is nothing you can do about it." He gestured to either side and I could see his goon squads moving in. The clientele of this place must have been pretty savvy, because the place was starting to empty out.

"Stop right there, Professor Tomoe!"

I looked toward the voice and laughed. I knew she wasn't one of the syndicates, but I'd never have figured Haruka for law enforcement. She held out an "External Security" badge and a gun. Michiru and Setsuna flanked her, their own weapons drawn.

"You are under arrest for possession of stolen goods and whatever else I can pin on you!" Haruka said commandingly.

The goons paused, but the Professor just laughed. Rini broke the silence.

"Setsuna!" the kid yelled, her pink braids in a fury. "You're the one who suggested I give the crystal to Hotaru. It was all a set-up!"

"It was all for a higher purpose, little lady" the lanky brunette purred. "You'll understand one day."

Suddenly, the Professor seized the opportunity presented by Rini's distraction. Quicker than I'd ever have suspected an egghead could move, he darted a hand out and grabbed his daughter, pulling her in front of himself.

"I don't think you'll shoot an innocent girl, Tenoh. Such a shame. So many years you and your little 'friends' have been after us and now all for naught. Was this really the best you could do?"

Haruka's hand never wavered, the gun kept unerringly pointed at Tomoe's head. I wondered what she'd do. I wondered what I would do. Before I could figure it out, I noticed something hovering in the shadows behind the three feds.

"Michiru, behind you!" I yelled, but it was too late. She must have been some sort of ninja, because she moved like the night. The tall woman had a chokehold on Michiru and a gun pressed to her temple before anyone else could react.

"Excellent work, Kaori," the Professor called out. "Now Tenoh, I wasn't sure whether or not you'd try a shot, even with my little shield here." He shook Hotaru a little. What a bastard to sell his own soul like that. The Professor rambled on. "But I know that you won't risk anything with your precious partner's life."

It pained me to see the looks that passed between Michiru and Haruka. They were partners, in every sense of the word, and I was sure that they'd talked about this kind of thing before. It was one thing to say you'd make the ultimate sacrifice for duty, but it was another thing to actually do it. I decided it was time to pay Haruka back. The Professor was a smart guy, but he'd made one fatal mistake. He'd forgotten about me.

Before Haruka could do anything, I grabbed Rini and shoved her hard at the Professor and Hotaru. The three of them went down with a crash. Time slowed down as the Crystal skittered across the floor and Rini rolled over to shield Hotaru with her own body. The goons moved forward and someone screamed, but I had my opening. Supreme Thunder roared and the Professor's nice white tux was ruined forever. Blood stains are a bitch to get out.

The world raced back to full speed. Kaori screamed in despair and Michiru didn't wait for another chance. She dropped straight down just as the butt of Haruka's gun came down on Kaori's head. Setsuna's sawed off shotgun was keeping the goons at bay as I checked on the kids.

"Are you two all right?" I asked. Hotaru ignored me and moved over to her dead father.

"I loved you, daddy, once," she said quietly. "You never should have gotten involved with them. You were never the same since then, since momma died. We'd have made out ok on our own, daddy, but you took the easy way." She lifted his glasses from the ground and closed his eyes.

Rini went to comfort her and I went to get the Crystal. Imagine my surprise when it wasn't there.

"Looking for this?" He must have been a cool piece of work to move right through all of that chaos unnoticed. He was tall, taller even than Usagi's boyfriend, and he wore all black, except for a silly white hat. It made him look like a cartoon character.

"The Pharaoh, I presume," I said dryly. Supreme Thunder rested loose in my hand, still warm. "You've got a lot of nerve, pal, seeing as we hold all the cards."

"Do you?" he asked. His confidence sucked away some of mine. He knew something I didn't, and I hate that, too. "You see, we've done our research. You can have Tomoe, or what's left of him, but I'm taking this and you won't do a thing to stop me."

"What makes you say that?" I asked. In the absence of a plan, it was always a good idea to keep them talking. Out of the corner of my eye, I took in the situation. Rini and Hotaru were huddled together by the booth. The three Externals were in a Mexican standoff with Tomoe's goons and those 5 witches. That left me and him. He had the Crystal and a lot of attitude. I had Supreme Thunder and a burning desire to be done with this damn case. Smart money was on me.

I waited for the "but", since there's always a "but. I didn't have to wait long. He gestured and the curtain at the back of the stage lifted. It was like something out of an old comic book.

A figure was tied up to the wall, like one of those circus dames they throw knives at. Knives weren't the problem, though, the bomb was. I couldn't see it too well from here, but given this guy's obvious lack of originality, I could guess that there was a timer on it clicking steadily down to zero.

"You've got to be kidding," I said. "You've been watching too many movies, pal."

"Maybe, but sometimes the classics are best," he chuckled. "I think you know our friend over there, Kino Makoto. In fact, you just spent some time with her this afternoon. You shouldn't leave your prized possessions out in the open where anyone can find them, especially when you know you're being followed."

"You wouldn't dare!" I said, even though I knew he would, and had. Now, the gloves were off.

"It seems you have a choice," he went on in his best supervillian voice. "You can try to stop me from walking out of here with the crystal, or you can rush over there to try to save your friend. You don't strike me as the technical type, but...."

Whatever his final insult would have been was lost forever in the roar of a gun. He screamed like a little boy and collapsed as the blood from what used to be his knee splattered my clothes.

"That's my crystal, Pharaoh, and I'm taking it back! I'm Tsukino Usagi and I have just punished you!" Usagi announced. I couldn't believe she was still here. Her white dress looked entirely clean, even as she lowered the smoking gun to her side. Her boyfriend, looking sharp in a black tuxedo, moved forward, collected the Crystal, and handed it to her.

Explanations would have to wait. Ami was in danger and nothing else mattered. I dashed over to the wall and started prying at the bonds there. It didn't look like they'd roughed her up too much, but she was out cold. The blue bruise on the side of her head didn't match her hair at all. A quick look down showed little time on the clock. I probably should have done something with the bomb, but only she existed and I had to be as close to her as possible. It's tough to untie ropes with tears in your eyes, though. "Please someone help me!" I cried out. Who'd have guessed it, me crying out for help. I guess that's just what Ami does to me.

Help arrived from an unexpected source. Hotaru dashed forward, closer and faster than the rest. "There's been enough destruction," she said as she picked up the bomb and ran out the back door.

"Hotaru!" Rini shouted, but her attempt to go after her friend was cut short by one of the witches, who was making her own escape attempt. As the two of them tried to get untangled, sounds began to invade the room, sirens and plenty of them.

Without another word, Usagi pocketed the crystal and ran out of the building. As she hit the doorway, a loud explosion shook the air, but she kept going.

"HOTARU!" Rini screamed.

Finally, I got Ami down. I collapsed to the floor, holding her in my arms. If I hadn't been busy doing that, who knows what I might have done to the Pharaoh. He was well in hand, however, as the three External agents put a collar on him. The cops outside rounded up most of the goons and all but one of the witches.

Before Rini could get to the door, a figure emerged from the cloud of dust that the explosion had kicked up. It was Usagi, carrying Hotaru. Rini raced forward and helped her sister lay the unconscious girl down. "She'll be all right, Rini," Usagi told her sister in a comforting voice. "She tossed it into a vacant lot, but when it went off, a rock flew up."

Haruka approached gingerly, still stinging from the brawl with the goons. "She'll have to come with us, you understand."

Rini might have exploded, but Setsuna was there to lay a calming hand on her shoulder. "Given what we've seen today, I'm sure we'll return her to you very soon, little lady. We'll get her the care she needs, ask her some questions, and then send her back to you."

I felt a soft hand on my own shoulder and knew it must be Michiru. "We can take your friend to the hospital, too," she offered.

Wrapping my arms even more tightly around Ami, I shook my head. "I'll take care of her. It's the least I can do. Now, do you three want to explain just what the hell went on here tonight?"

Setsuna sighed and pulled a chair over, dusting it off neatly before sitting down. "We've been after the Pharaoh for years now, but we've never been able to pin anything on him. So, recently we decided to go after his underlings. We knew that the Death Busters had a thing for nice jewels, talismans, that sort of thing, so we decided to set a trap." She looked down at Rini with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry that it went off like it did, little lady. I had hoped that by keeping you in the dark, I'd keep you out of trouble. We had assumed that your sister would go to the police. Then, we'd have enough to get a warrant on him. Even though we'd never make anything stick with just the Crystal, we figured if we could get into his warehouse and his labs, we could dig up something that would stick."

"But she didn't go to the police," I pointed out. "She came to me."

"That was unexpected," Haruka admitted. "You were a wild card, so we needed to keep an eye on you. You caught us following you. Not many do." I could see the admiration in her eyes and it made my heart swell.

"So, we decided to let things play out, to see what you found out," Michiru continued. "You'd make a great agent, Makoto. Any interest in joining External?"

I laughed, "My home is here, in the inner city." Cradling Ami in my arms, I knew that really my home was here, with her. "I've got one last question, then," I added, turning to my client and her beau. "What the hell are you doing here and packing heat no less!"

Now that the heat of battle had cooled down, all of the calm serenity and confidence that she'd demonstrated had faded away. She giggled, "I knew it was Rini that had taken the Crystal and I could guess why she'd done it. She and I are a lot alike and it's something I might have done in her place, to win my Mamoru." She gazed adoringly at Chiba, who was apparently the strong, silent type Mina loved so much. "I didn't want to get her into trouble with the police, but I wanted my crystal back, so I needed a private eye."

"But why me?" I asked, though I had a strong suspicion.

Her blush confirmed it. Good thing that her boyfriend didn't see it, or she'd have been in for some tough questions later. "A ...friend... of mine told me about you. She said you were the best PI in the city. As for tonight, well, this is the nicest new club in town and it's our anniversary, isn't it sweetie?" She looked over at Chiba who nodded and smiled at her. She went on, "He got me this!" She brandished the gun, making everyone duck as the point made a circle of every head in the room.

"It's not safe for a woman on the streets these days," Chiba explained, placing his hand on hers and pointing the gun safely at the floor. "I had no idea she'd be such a good shot."

"Good shot?" Usagi asked in confusion, "I just wanted to scare him, not shoot him in the back, or the knee, or whatever."

As they began to squabble, I stopped paying attention. So it was all Rei's fault. Looking down at the young woman in my arms, I realized I'd have to thank her, and Mina too for putting me on the right path, intentionally or not. Gently, I brushed Ami's hair out of her eyes. Suddenly, she trembled and her eyes opened wearily.

"Mako, is that you? Are you all right?" she asked. The love and concern in her voice started the waterworks. I turned my head so my tears would splash onto her face.

"I'm fine, Ami, and you will be, too. Everything is going to be just fine." They left us alone at that point. Good friends do things like that.

Back to YFFH