P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Eleven: Crumbling Foundations
"Allies help allies move bodies; friends help friends destroy people’s lives."

    Schuldich had enough cash on him to get them into a hotel for a few hours but after that, he resorted to using one of the check cards. After some small debate he used the one he had in Takatori's name, applied for and received by Ran with a copy of the stamp he'd made off a delivery notice. The redhead had given it to him on the train earlier that day and Schuldich figured that breaking it in at an expensive restaurant for dinner was good enough. Besides, a charge to such a place wouldn't raise eyebrows by anyone who might be watching the new account.

    Before dinner he stopped by one of Crawford's stores, offering the clerk at the counter a vague smirk before handing over the check card. The fact that Kase knew who Schuldich happened to be was all that had him accepting a card that had the prime minister hopeful's face on it, and the other man just grinned when he read the name. Ken wondered over the necessity of buying suits and then worried over the price and Schuldich had a hard time of convincing him to just play along. They found what they needed and were gone again, leaving their old clothes behind at the promise that it would be delivered. Ken thought that a strange offer but didn't really question it, and Schuldich ushered him down the sidewalk in the direction of one of Crawford's restaurants.

    Takaoka Kyouko happened to be on shift that evening and she greeted them at the door with warm smiles and a kiss to Schuldich's cheek. "Schuldich," she said warmly. "I didn't expect to see you on this side of town any time soon. Here on business?"

    "A date," Schuldich answered, noting the interest on Ken's face at the obvious familiarity between the two. The expression faded some at Schuldich's easy admittance of their relationship. Schuldich wondered what about it was bothering him and then noted the way Ken tensed slightly as Kyouko turned towards him.

    "Ohh?" she said, and she offered Ken a smile. "I don't recognize you."

    "Hidaka Ken," Ken said quietly, giving her a bow that she returned easily.

    "Ohh," Birman said again, and Schuldich decided that response meant Crawford had told her about his car. Her smile was wider this time.

    Schuldich gestured towards her. "Ken, this is Takaoka Kyouko. We go way back."

    "We go way back" was a lot simpler than explaining that Kyouko was part of the reason behind Crawford's divorce from Kitada Hanae. The woman had a long history with the mess between the pair. Apparently she'd met Hanae in college and they'd kept in close contact afterwards, but their perfect little friendship had gone down the drain when Kyouko had finally met Hanae's foreign husband and had fallen hard. She'd offered the restaurant to Crawford, giving him a cut from her profit and giving him anything she could find out about the rich and influential politicians that frequented her store and bed.

    It had taken a while before Crawford had finally realized that her goo-goo eyes were reserved for him no matter who she parted her legs to, and he'd slowly taken to visiting the restaurant more and more often without Hanae around. Schuldich didn't know if they'd ever done anything, but they had managed to keep Hanae and finding out. He considered them to be lucky; who knew what sort of cat fight Keio University's "Manx" and "Birman" could have gotten into. The fact that Kyouko didn't seem to be at all grieving over the other woman's recent death told him the fight would have been impressive and no holds barred.

    "It's a pleasure to meet you," Ken said.

    "The pleasure is mine," she returned. "A friend of Schuldich's is a friend of mine. Here, let me find you two some seats. Do you have a preference?"

    Schuldich looked towards Ken, who glanced around gave an awkward shake of his head. The other hadn't hesitated before following Schuldich in and it seemed his anxiety was even stronger when faced with the obvious wealth leaking from the very walls of the restaurant. This was not a place for people like him; it was a place for the bigwigs of society to mingle and pat themselves on the back. Neither of them- not the underworld's Mastermind or a questionable flower boy- really had any right to be standing there.

    "Anywhere's good," Schuldich assured her, and she nodded and plucked two menus up before leading them towards one of the back corners. "How's the crowd looking tonight?"

    "Rather rowdy," she answered. "Everyone's in an uproar because of what happened last night. You heard about the accident, I'm sure- that explosion at Tsuchiya Bank?" She gave a small shake of her head and pulled their chairs out for them, bowing as she gestured for them to be seated. "There are a lot of angry people tonight."

    "At least no one got hurt," Ken ventured to say, and murmured thanks as he accepted a menu.

    "Yes," Schuldich drawled. "It kept an outrage from becoming a tragedy, I'm sure. Repairs ought to be expensive."

    "Such a pity," Kyouko returned, not even bothering to sound upset. She gave them another bow and a smile. "I'll have a waiter come to see you in just a moment to get your drink orders."

    Schuldich nodded and she left, and the pair settled down to consider their menus. Ken kept flipping back and forth through his, obviously searching for something, and frowned when he continued to fail. Schuldich finally looked up from his own menu to arch an eyebrow at him. "What are you looking for?" he asked.

    "The drinks," Ken answered. "They're not here."

    Too cute. Schuldich felt his lips quirk into a smirk and Ken glanced up in time to see it. The brunette hesitated, recognizing the mocking edge to the expression, and Schuldich lowered his blue gaze back to the list of food before him. "Drinks aren't on the menu. The waiter that comes by will tell us what they have to offer based on whether or not we prefer alcoholic or non."

    "…Oh." Ken looked down at the menu again before peering at Schuldich. "Do you suppose they have tea here?"

    "I'm sure they do," Schuldich answered, amused, "if that's what you want. This is Japan; you people practically piss green tea." Ken scowled at him and Schuldich gestured towards his menu. "Just worry about the food, for now."

    Ken did as he was told and the waiter was over before they'd even made it partway through a page. Schuldich offered the most expensive wine the place had to offer for the both of them and Ken asked for green tea on the side. It sounded like a disgusting combination to Schuldich and he guessed the other didn't know the wine was intended for them both. He wanted to shake his head at the other's ignorance but managed not to as the waiter headed away.

    Dinner was long, as the two lingered over their meals chatting. Ken was in no hurry to go back and offered up anything he could think of as a conversation topic. He ended up not drinking much of his tea when he found the wine to his liking and they ended up going through two bottles before they left. Ken had a glassy look in his eyes when their plates were finally cleared away and Kyouko came to see how they liked the meal.

    "It was wonderful," Ken told her with a smile. "It was the best food I've ever eaten."

    "You flatter me," she returned, and Schuldig offered her his card.

    "If you would take care of this for us…?" he said, and she reached out to take it from him.

    "Of course," she said, and it wasn't until she was at the register to ring it up that she saw the name on it. He watched her walk away and watched as she began to swipe it through the machine, and he grinned when she dropped it. She scrabbled to pick it up, sending him a quick look over her shoulder, and his grin widened as he turned to finish off his last glass. Ken had followed his gaze and now his eyes were curious as he considered the woman's reaction.

    "Everyone seems surprised by that card," he observed. "What's so special about it?"

    "It's unusual," Schuldich said with a shrug. "It's for a little-heard-of foreign bank and most people tend to think it isn't authentic."

    Ken arched an eyebrow at him, skeptical of the simple explanation considering just how Kyouko had reacted, but Schuldich didn't say anything else. The other woman was back shortly and Schuldich tucked the card into his wallet. Kyouko walked them to the door and wished them a pleasant evening, and they were out onto the sidewalk.

    Their luck ran out just a block over. Omi and Nagi slipped out of nowhere to barricade their path, Nagi's expression stony and Omi's worried. The pale-haired youth stepped forward to meet them, holding out his hands to Ken. "Ken," he said. "We were so worried about you!"

    "Omi," Ken returned, surprised, and reached out to take Omi's hands. "Have you been looking for us? How did you find us?"

    "We've been everywhere," Omi said. "We had to run into you sometime…"

    Behind him Nagi made a sliding motion of his hand, the gesture of a card sliding through a machine. Ken missed it, as he was looking at Omi, but Schuldich caught it. Nagi was looking at the German anyway, and his lips twitched into the faintest of cold smirks before his expression cleared and he stepped forward alongside Omi. The hand that had been raised now went to his hair, brushing his bangs out of his face. Schuldich squished the urge to put a shoe in that face.

    "Are you all right, Ken?" Nagi asked. "You took off out of there."

    "You, ah, you hit Yohji's girlfriend," Omi added.

    Ken tensed at the words and drew his hands back from the other. "She deserved it," he muttered.

    "Ken?" Omi pressed, searching the other's face.

    "I… remember her." Ken looked away from them, settling for looking at Schuldich instead. The German found it amusing that he was safer to look at than the boy's childhood friends. Then again, what sort of friends could they be when they'd been put in place by Farfarello? Everything they'd ever done had been orchestrated by the Irishman, it seemed. Some friends…! "From a long time ago, I remember her…" His fingers moved, turning an invisible object over, and he gave a flick of his thumb up before dragging it down. It took Schuldich just a moment to place the gesture, and he pulled his lighter out of his pocket and pressed it into Ken's hands.

    Ken repeated the gesture, flicking it open and lighting it, and he held it up to eye level. "I remember her," he murmured again. "She was in my house…" He turned it this way and that and his expression was removed, almost cold. The corner of his mouth curled up into the beginnings of a smirk and he glanced over his shoulder, staring at something the others couldn't see, before reaching out to slide the flame against the air. "We had fire alarms," Ken mused. "They never went off. The house was burning down and they never…"

    He trailed off and an uncomfortable silence settled between them. The two kids said nothing, and Omi continued to gaze at Ken with a thoughtful blue gaze. "Maybe you're mistaken…?" he suggested carefully when he thought it was safe to speak again. "This was eight years ago, Ken. She would have been young."

    "She was sixteen," Ken said. "I know I'm remembering right. She looks the exact same now as she did then."

    Schuldich waited to see what sort of smart response Farfarello's two could come up with for such a thing. Silence stretched between them once more before Omi asked gently, "So what do you think you'll do about it? Will you turn her in to the police?"

    Ken gave a shake of his head and a grimace. "I don't think it'd do me any good to try. I mean, look at who's on her side. I don't know if all of the rumors around Farfarello are true, but somehow Asuka's managed to get out of jail when she wasn't supposed to be. But that doesn't mean I can just let it slide, either. She destroyed my home; she destroyed my life."

    "We'll think it through," Omi promised him. "We'll figure something out. She's gone now; Yohji took her away. So come back now, Ken?" the youth urged him. "Come back home and we'll figure something out."

    Ken hesitated for a long moment, fighting some internal battle. At last he nodded, and Omi looped an arm through his to guide him down the sidewalk. Ken reached out for Schuldich with his free hand, catching the German's fingers. Schuldich found the gesture amusing, more so because of the look Nagi sent him for being Ken's source of comfort at a moment like this. He twisted his hand to lace their fingers together and matched strides with the other man as they started down the street.

    There was a train station just a street over and they took the stairs down, buying tickets to get them back to the apartments. Ken didn't look at Farfarello's door as they passed but it was closed anyway, and the four made their way to the ex-athlete's room. There was a bit of shuffling around and awkward conversation before Omi suggested a movie, and while it was obvious that no one was really interested in it, they all agreed and stuck one in anyway.

    Schuldich chose to take advantage of their distraction to start up his laptop, saying nothing about the way Ken was leaning against him. He wanted to lean to one side to let the other fall but his discomfort with the physical contact was easily outweighed by the knowledge that the younger two disapproved- not because he was a man, but because of who he was. But Farfarello himself had told Schuldich he could do what he liked with Ken, so Schuldich would keep pushing and pressing until the Irishman had to eat his words and step in.

    The movie had something to do with vampires and China, but Schuldich didn't pay enough attention to it to figure out more than that. His fingers flew over the keys and he listened to them flutter as he set about working.

    The account they'd opened for Takatori was going to be a test for all of Crawford's people. Years ago, before Schuldich had even met the man, Crawford had had one of his people infiltrate Ryoka Bank. Crawford had wanted someone on the inside to help him manage accounts for his little empire. Honjou Yuushi had started at the bottom and worked his way up through the years, ever-loyal to Crawford's group even as he made sure to make friends in just the right places to get where he needed to be. He'd been the one to process Takatori's card and Schuldich knew Ran would use him again for Ichirou's card. But Yuushi had never been used for a project this large before, and considering who they were messing with, Schuldich knew the man would face certain death if they were caught.

    He set up an online account with the bank, registering his card so he could manage the account online, and pulled his phone out to dial the other's number. He'd had to memorize the number years ago. Like Ran, who was forever changing his phone, Yuushi was someone Crawford could not afford to lose. It meant that his number couldn't be saved anywhere for fear of anyone finding out Crawford's association with the bank, and Schuldich reflected that it was a good stance to take considering the fact that he'd had his phone briefly kidnapped just a few days ago.

    "Ryoka Bank, this is Account Management Section Chief Honjou Yuushi speaking. How may I help you today?"

    "Guess who. I was bored so I thought I would harass you at work," Schuldich said in English, and he earned three quick looks for the foreign language. Nagi's lips pulled in a frown, whereas Omi's expression was smooth and Ken looked interested. Schuldich wondered idly if any of them spoke English and considered it fortunate that Honjou happened to be nearly fluent in the language.

    "Ah, it's just you. I was told to expect a call."

    "Who told you? Our mutual fringe benefits?" Schuldich sent back, lips curving in a taunting smirk even though the other couldn't see it. His free hand moved over the keyboard, fingers tapping out a few command.

    "Last I checked, the benefits were in your name," was the cool response, and Schuldich's smirk widened.

    "You could have just asked him," he pointed out sensibly.

    "Do you have work for me?" Yuushi asked, ignoring that, and Schuldich laughed and lifted his card to where he could see it. The two hadn't been on the best of terms ever since Schuldich had adopted Ran as a temporary lover. He'd done it knowing that Yuushi was harboring feelings for the redhead but it was his fault he'd lost him, seeing as how he'd never done anything about it. He'd been quietly worrying about Ran's reaction and Schuldich had gotten sick of watching it and decided to take what he could. Whether or not Ran was oblivious or just not interested in the crook-turned-banker was anyone's guess. Schuldich had never bothered to ask.

    "I'd like to manage an account," he said. "I want a transfer balance from another bank done for the purpose of freeing up credit for repairs."

    Yuushi murmured an affirmative and Schuldich could hear papers rustling on his end. He asked a few questions about the account and Schuldich gave him what he could, listening to him work. When Yuushi thought he understood what he needed to do, they hung up and Schuldich promptly went on line and charged the credit up to the limit on purchases that were seemingly for fixing Tsuchiya Bank in the wake of the previous night's explosion. Yuushi called back to confirm that there was room on Takatori's other cards at Tsuchiya bank and Schuldich felt something in him relax that the man had succeeded. Yuushi now had the numbers they both needed, and they spent the next hour charging up every single one of Takatori's accounts as far as the credit could go. Schuldich was quietly amazed as just how much money the banks would allow someone like the prime minister hopeful but he had no problems finding ways to tie up the money.

    As soon as that was finished he called Ran to let him know, and the redhead went to deliver a letter to the proper section chief at Tsuchiya Bank to approve paying off all of the credit cards so the accounts would be freed for purchases. It was stamped with Takatori's forged stamp and the man it went to knew nothing about whether or not the accounts had had room on them before; he simply knew that the top floor of his work building had exploded the previous night and they needed to do something about it. A half hour later, Takatori's accounts were cleared, and Schuldich did it all again.

    The hardest task of the evening was actually convincing some of the workers at Tsuchiya Bank to shut down said accounts after they'd been paid off a second time. Schuldich was good enough at mimicking voices that he knew he could get Takatori's tone down right and he was just hoping the fat man wasn't anywhere around his offices. It did mean he had to go out into the hall to make the calls, however, because he didn't want to deal with Ken's questions.

    Ran was preparing letters while Schuldich worked and he fought his way up and down the chain of command. It was easy to plant the seed of fear in them that Tsuchiya Bank was unstable in the wake of the accident; no one on the lower floors knew what sort of work was kept up there. In the end it took seven phone calls and three letters from Ran before they made progress. Schuldich knew they weren't catching everything but it was still enough for now, as he'd spent several hundred million yen in the course of just a few short hours. On top of doodads for the new office floor he charged up seven different electrical contractors to figure out what had gone wrong, filed a lawsuit against the one that had built the apartment, hired fourteen lawyers, and hired six new security guards. He paid most of it in advance. On top of that, Ran filed a request from Takatori's head office to the accounts branch to write a check to a local charity for forty million yen. Whether or not it would process was anyone's guess, but Schuldich was willing to wait and see.

    And in the span of one evening, Honjou Yuushi's six year stint with Ryoka Bank was through. There wasn't enough of a way for him to cover his tracks if Takatori's people came looking to see what was going on. Schuldich knew the man would turn in a resignation letter the first thing the next morning and then Crawford was going to have to find him somewhere else in Japan to disappear. Schuldich wondered if he resented it or if he was looking forward to finding a new place to take over, but it wasn't his place to ask and he didn't think the other would give him an honest answer, anyway.

    He was hanging up from the last call of the day, one made to Crawford, when dinner showed up. Omi and Nagi hadn't eaten yet, apparently. Omi came to the door to answer it and Schuldich followed him into the room from the hallway to plug his phone in to charge.

    "What's so funny?" Ken wanted to know, taking in the smile on Schuldich's face.

    "Not much," Schuldich answered, seating himself heavily beside the other and nibbling a line down his throat. "Just thinking about tomorrow. Tomorrow's going to be a very good day."


    The following day was indeed a good day- for everyone except Takatori Reiji. The man woke up to find himself missing six accounts and almost a billion yen. He could explain away three hundred million of it by the repairs he'd paid for off of his cards, but that didn't explain where the rest of the money went and who had used his 'public' accounts to spend it. To add insult to injury, there was a massive bouquet of flowers waiting on his desk when he arrived, twenty four pristine white roses with a drop of blood on each. Dark crimson ribbons were twirled around the stems and curled down towards his desk and a note was attached to a little plastic pole coming out of the top:

    "Allies help allies move bodies; friends help friends destroy people's lives."

    Suffice it to say, Takatori was very, very pissed before eight a.m. that morning. Rather, he'd been pissed for over twenty-four hours by that point, ever since his important and irreplaceable files at Tsuchiya Bank had gone up in smoke.

    His mood only went from blacker to blackest when his secretary delivered him the newspaper and he saw that he was the front page article. It wasn't because of his bank, no. That had been relegated to page two, apparently; there was a note off to the side.

    No, what was covering all of page one was a picture from a convention the previous year where he'd met several of his political allies. The bold headline beneath the image shouted out "Allies abandon Prime Minister hopeful in his hour of need; feel betrayed".

    He was almost twitching in his anger as he read the article and he was having trouble breathing by the end. His secretary lingered uncertainly in the doorway, a stack of notices in her hands. She knew better than to approach him right now, and at last he gave a mighty roar and swung out with his arm, sweeping the glass vase from his desk. It shattered against his wall in an explosion of glass and water and the roses fell to the ground, landing in a tattered heap.

    "What is this?" he bellowed. "What is this?"

    Apparently someone had been airing dirty laundry from his circle to the press. The reporter was announcing all sorts of details that the group had tried to keep silent, from embezzlement to the sorts of things his allies invested in to the over-inflation of stock. Someone had gone ratting to the press all of the things his group didn't need to be known, and he would have their head for it.

    "Sir," the woman started uncertainly. "There are messages for you from your associates."

    He held out his meaty hand in a demand and she turned them over, retreating as he read them. The font on several was almost illegible in anger, and the tone of others was icy. They were breaking off connections with him and drawing their funding and support away from his party, blaming him for the sudden mess on their hands. Takatori shredded the papers into ragged bits and began yelling for the secretary to fetch his sons, and he kept the tirade up until they appeared.

    "Where are they? Where are those worthless scumbags? You get those cocky-eyed slime-breathing putrescent bags of ooze in here before I tear this entire place apart! Where are they? Where are they, god damn it all?!"

    They arrived just a heartbeat apart, Hirofumi clutching folders and notebooks to his chest and looking a little faint and Masafumi looking like he'd fallen out of bed and wandered to work in the same clothes he'd worn yesterday. Masafumi gave his father a sidelong glance as he stepped into the office, not having a clue what was going on, but Hirofumi slammed the door shut behind them and threw the lock into place.

    "Don't you slam my doors!" Takatori snarled from where he was trying to break a golf club in half. "Who do you think you are, marching in here and slamming my doors? God damn it, who raised you like such a filthy cretin?"

    "Father, these papers-" Hirofumi started. Masafumi made a cutting gesture with his hand to warn Hirofumi to shut up, but it was too late.

    Takatori hurled the golf club at them and it slammed into the wall between them before bouncing off, just barely missing catching Hirofumi in the face on the rebound. "Who put these rumors in the paper?" Takatori demanded. "Who went and talked to the press? Which one of you piles of defecation went squealing to the press?"

    "Father, what are you talking about?" Masafumi demanded, frowning at him, and Hirofumi shoved his clipboards into his hands.

    "Look at this!" Hirofumi urged him, voice high pitched in anxiety. "Look at this! We're dead, do you hear me? We're dead! We've lost our entire ring of allies and our bank accounts dropped by three-quarters last night! We're under attack by someone!"

    Masafumi's frown deepened as he stared at the papers and Takatori wrenched another club free from its case, slamming it on the edge of the desk. The noise made both sons jump and they looked towards him, Hirofumi pale and Masafumi wary. "You find those brainless bitches of yours," Takatori seethed, pointing the club at Masafumi, "and you get them on this. I want to know who did this and I want them skinned before lunch time. Do you hear me? No one makes an ass out of Takatori Reiji! No one dares to sully our name! It is against the laws of all Things That Be and I won't stand for it!"

    "We'll look into it, father," Hirofumi promised, and Masafumi shoved the papers back at his brother.

    "How is this possible?" he demanded of them both. "Who is there that could have gotten to us? What sort of people have we hired if someone can do this," and he stabbed his finger at the clipboards in disgust, "so easily? It must have been something years in the planning, someone on the inside."

    Hirofumi bristled at the insinuation that it was his fault; his branch oversaw the hiring and firing for all of the Takatori empire. "I had everyone thoroughly checked out," he snapped out icily. "Complete background searches. Everyone's been watched; there's no way anyone could turn against us."

    "Well, someone DID," Masafumi pointed out snidely.

    Takatori slammed his club down on his desk again before they could break out into an argument, and a black silence settled over the room. The big man at the desk had just drawn in a breath to speak when there was a knock at the door.

    "Takatori-sama, please excuse me," the secretary spoke up from the other side.

    "Not now," Takatori snarled back.

    "Takatori-sama, please, it is rude of me to interrupt, but please. You have a guest here who is adamant about seeing you. He-" She gave a startled little cry and then the door knob twisted. Hirofumi started to reach for the door, half-thinking to shove it back closed, and then their guest pushed the door open the rest of the way and stood in the doorway to consider the three-person family.

    "Takatori Reiji," the man mused, and he looked over his shoulder at the frail looking secretary. "You are finished here. Take your lunch break. Now."

    She flicked Takatori an anxious look, but Reiji barely registered her. At the door Hirofumi and Masafumi had both taken steps back away from the new arrival, probably an unconscious gesture. Their visitor was a lithe pale-skinned man with white hair and a cool yellow eye. A black patch covered where his left eye used to be and he was dressed from head to toe in an outfit that had been crafted to look like a suit on first glance. It wasn't any business suit Takatori had ever seen on the racks in stores, however; the edges were cut jagged and there were openings on the sleeves to show the glint of metal. Instead of dress shoes he had boots, and a single strap went from one leg to the other near his knees, reminiscent of bondage pants. His hands had black fingerless gloves on them and the fingers were fish net.

    Takatori didn't need to ask to know who he was, and he felt his stomach curl in an anxious mix of outrage and shock.

    "Takatori Reiji," Farfarello mused again, a light drawl. He didn't bother to watch his pronunciation, and his accent colored the name just enough to mutilate it. "I see you did not appreciate the flowers I had delivered for you."

    "Father, who-" Hirofumi started, and Masafumi made a sharp gesture for him to shut up.

    "Get out of here, Maki," Takatori said at last, and the secretary rushed away. Farfarello didn't bother to close the door behind him and instead hooked his boot under the golf club sitting nearest him. A light kick tossed it upwards and he snagged it from the air easily, twirling it between his fingers and considering it.

    "Golf," Farfarello said, stopping the spin and pointing the club at Takatori. "I've never understood what the Japanese found so fascinating about it. It is a boring pursuit, especially compared with the sort of work we like to indulge ourselves in."

    "You did this," Takatori accused him, and it came out a low growl. Farfarello's lips curved into a slow, mocking smile, and Takatori's lips curled over his teeth in a snarl. "Why? What the fuck have I ever done to your foundation, foreigner? You made yourself known here years ago but I never gave you strict boundaries. I let you do as you liked in favor of international mob peace. This is the thanks I get for my lenience?"

    "Your lenience?" Farfarello asked, quirking a brow at him. "This is what you've had coming to you for your greed. Do you know who I am, Takatori Reiji? I am son of the Taoiseach, heir to inheriting the position and ruling Ireland one day if something should happen to my sister. I spent my childhood in Northern Ireland learning the tricks of the trade from the IRA and I had everything there under my thumb before I was fourteen." He gave the golf club another little twirl.

    "I had many business contacts, Reiji," he said, and Takatori felt his back stiffen at the familiar use of his name. "It was profitable to seek out groups overseas to work with. America, the Middle East, China… Japan. Tell me, Reiji, if you remember the Matsumichi family."

    Takatori could feel his expression slowly freezing on his face. Farfarello wasn't waiting for an answer. He lifted his free hand and pointed towards Takatori before sliding his hand through the air to indicate his sons. "One wonders if you ever told your spawn how it is that you managed to get where you are today. I doubt they would care; it is not for the likes of us to cry over a few crushed families. But really, you should have known better. Someone with his outreach and influence had to have allies somewhere outside of Japan."

    "The Matsumichis would have squandered their power."

    "The Matsumichis owned eighty percent of Japan and you couldn't stand the thought that generations of loyalty would make it impossible to break through," Farfarello sent back. "You're lucky that your brother was willing to play along; you were clever in the steps you took to insure the heritance would jump to you. Very clever, really, but you didn't stop to think that not everyone was going to accept this little trade-off of prestige and wealth. My people don't serve you, Takatori. They serve Matsumichi. And when I bring you to your knees, there will be no one left to hold you up. There will be no one left to fight for you."

    "Matsumichi may have been born into the position but I earned it," Takatori bit out. "I've killed enough people and put enough money in the right places. Their loyalty was to the Matsumichi line, yes, but not anymore. They're mine, and they'd rather have someone with vague ties to the ruling right than side with a freakish looking foreigner such as yourself. One rebelling minion that clings desperately to thoughts of bygone days will not be enough to change the crowds' minds."

    "I'm not one rebelling minion," Farfarello pointed out lightly. "I've never been anyone's minion."

    "By nightfall, you'll be dead, so don't worry about the technicalities now." Takatori started to reach for the gun in his desk, but silver flicked and a knife appeared in Farfarello's hands.

    "If you touch that gun, I will put this knife through your throat," Farfarello informed him rather pleasantly. "Look at this; I can see your jugular pulsing from here."

    Hirofumi started to reach for his own weapon and Farfarello tsk-ed. "I suggest you tell him to still, Reiji. I can get you and be out of here before he's drawn his gun and then your empire will be left to be ruled by idiots such as these. Then again, I heard the inheritance passes straight to your daughter. Tough luck for the rest of you, I suppose." He tilted his head towards Hirofumi, expression bland.

    "Hold still, Hirofumi," Takatori bit out, and his eldest son obediently froze. "What do you want, Farfarello?"

    "Just to tell you that you're horrible at cleaning up behind yourself," Farfarello answered, giving his knife an idle twirl. "Just to tell you that your nephew Mamoru is alive and well, and that as soon as your people figure this out, they revert to him. He may be young but he's still the first heir, and too many of your followers came with you because of blood loyalty. Those that would resist changing over will find themselves in a war. I brought all of my people from Ireland with me, Takatori. I will see the rightful ruler on this throne."

    Takatori's fingers clenched into fists. "He's alive," he ground out.

    Farfarello just smiled. "We'll accept your resignation letter by tomorrow evening. If you refuse to hand it over, then we will remove you from your spot forcibly. Come prepared for bloodshed, Takatori. I can taste it already."

    Abruptly the lights went out and the fire sprinklers went on. Takatori grabbed wildly at his gun, ducking a knife he was sure was coming. There were startled yells out in the hall as people tried to figure out what was going on and Masafumi stumbled towards one of the windows, yanking the shades back and throwing the window open to let in some light. It was enough for Takatori to see that Farfarello was gone, and then he began screaming for someone to cut off the water.

Part 12
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