P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Nine: Pieces
"Who the hell is Hidaka Ken?"

    Two shades of blue stared each other down over half-finished lunches. Schuldich was sprawled against the back of the booth, fingers laced together behind his head and legs crossed at the knee under the table. Little Naoe Nagi was sitting directly across from him, arms folded on the edge of the table as he leaned forward over his plate. Schuldich's expression was smooth; the Asian kid's was stony. Schuldich fought back the urge to roll his eyes and instead yawned loudly, not bothering to cover his mouth.

    ~Why am I not surprised?~ he mused. He was tempted to just get up and wander outside under the pretense of taking a smoke break, but he figured he might as well just let the brat say whatever he wanted so they wouldn't have to think up another such scenario later. The light haired kid had been acting a little odd ever since they first brought up the mention of having lunch and had happened to have to leave for the bathroom just as Nagi arrived at their table with one of the trays of food. Ken had had the lighter tray and had set it down quickly to follow after him and watch over him, leaving just Nagi and Schuldich behind, and the moment Ken had disappeared from view all concern had leeched out of Nagi's expression and he'd turned a flat look on Schuldich.

    "What do you want?" Schuldich asked, quickly growing bored of being stared at so suspiciously.

    "Ken told us about you two."

    "Shit." Schuldich tilted his head to one side, gazing off into the distance as if thinking this through. "What reaction should I use? Hmm, what would little Ken-sama want here? Shall I be ashamed? Excited? Indifferent? Ahh, the routines are all so tempting. Damn my indecision."

    Nagi did not look at all amused, not by the words or Schuldich's easy drawl. "He said you're just staying for a week," he said. "One week and then you get as far away from him as possible, do you understand? He doesn't need to get mixed up in things like you."

    "You know, you have a knack for understatement," Schuldich observed, considering the boy through hooded eyes. His lips curved into a smirk and he gave a shrug. "I'm only getting paid for a week. Why would I bother staying any longer than that? It's rather rude of you to stick your nose into other people's business, though."

    "Ken's my friend."

    "Oops, oops." Schuldich untangled one hand and held it out towards Nagi, arching thin brows over bright eyes. "This is my possessive routine kicking in. Give it a sec; I haven't used it in a while." He ignored the impatient look Nagi gave him and inspected his fingernails before plucking up his cup. "Don't tell me you're jealous that he picked me."

    "He didn't *pick* you," Nagi started.

    "Shhhh. Details aren't really necessary at this point." Schuldich lifted one finger from his cup to wave it at Nagi and he took a few sips from his drink. Nagi took advantage of his silence to start talking again and Schuldich idly wondered if he could swallow loud enough that he wouldn't be able to hear the other's heated words.

    "Ken is my *friend* and he's had to put up with a lot of shit in his life," Nagi hissed at him, fingers clenching on the edge of the table. His blue eyes were positively snapping with anger and Schuldich moved his cup just so, angling it so that it blocked the other's face while he drank. "The last few years have been horrible for him and I don't need you to be just one more thing that comes along and kicks him when he's down. Do you get me?"

    "Like I said," Schuldich said. "You're very untrusting."

    "I have every reason to be."

    "Chill out, runt." This was starting to get annoying. "If he told you about me, then he told you it's just for a week. One week and then I'm out of here, and by the way, the week started a few days ago. So back the fuck off and stop glaring daggers at me before I lose my appetite."

    Something glinted in Nagi's eyes, but his tone was level when he spoke next. "Whatever you say, Mastermind."

    Schuldich wasn't sure what sort of self control it was that kept him from inhaling his water, but he managed to swallow what was in his mouth and put the cup down with a steady hand. He tilted his head to one side in a question, expression uncomprehending. "I didn't quite catch that. What did you say?"

    Nagi wasn't smiling. "I said, whatever you say, Schuldich. Am I saying that right? I don't speak German."

    "Your pronunciation of it shames the entire German language, but I got tired of correcting people a long time ago." Schuldich felt something in his stomach give a brutal little twist; he eyed his plate to give him time to think but his thoughts were running in a thousand different directions. He hadn't been hearing anything. He knew that. But did he confront the kid about it or just pretend like it meant nothing to him? That had been a very purposeful slip of the tongue but Schuldich had no clue how this child could know such a name.

    ~Crawford, what have we gotten ourselves into this time?~

    His phone rang and Schuldich wondered how he didn't jump; that name out of a stranger's mouth had knotted all of the muscles in his back. He tugged his phone out, flipping the top up to see the number. It said it was an unknown caller but he recognized the numbers as Ran's new phone. "I'm going to take this outside so I can smoke," Schuldich told Nagi, and slid off the booth.

    "It's a bad habit," Nagi said with a light shrug. "My sister always said so."

    "And sister always knows best," was Schuldich's mocking response.

    Nagi answered him with a little smile, and Schuldich noted that it was a little too cold of an expression for a high schooler.

    ~Damn it, damn it, damn it.~

    He left the table, answering his phone on the fifth ring as he pushed open the front door. "Red," he greeted, worming his way through a small crowd of smokers to find a quiet spot half a block down. One hand held the phone to his face and the other was digging a crumpled back of cigarettes out of his pocket. "Someone needs to sit down and tell me what the fuck is going on."

    There was a slight pause on the other end of the line before Ran answered. "The file we gave you should have been enough."

    "Not that," Schuldich said, annoyed. "God damn it, I just…" He stuffed the phone in his pocket and used both hands to light his cigarette. It took four or five drags before he pulled his phone back out and he propped himself against the side of an incense store. "Did you get me what I asked you for?"

    "I have it," was the easy response. "I can bring it to you."

    "Or not," Schuldich sent back, gazing down the street in the direction of the restaurant. "Look, on the list of things to do I need you to get us both new phones and do a search on someone. Crawford has those bitches in the precinct, right? I need them to dig up whatever they can on a little pipsqueak named Naoe Nagi. He's from Saint Mary's Orphanage in Osaka and there should be some data on him at Fukui University."

    "Naoe Nagi," Ran repeated, and Schuldich murmured an assent that he'd heard right. "Why the new phones?"

    "I'm not a very trusting person by nature, Ran," Schuldich said. "This week is doing wonders to justify that. While you're digging around, I want you to do a secondary search on Tsukiyono Omi. I don't know if you'll turn up anything but it's better safe than sorry."

    "Tsukiyono Omi," Ran echoed. "Where do you want me to leave these papers?"

    Schuldich worried on his lower lip with his teeth, scanning the street. "Where are you now?"

    "At the moment, Asakusabashi."

    "Asakusabashi? That's perfect. Stay there. We have some tagalongs today and they want to go to Akihabara next. Get on the Hibiya line when we come by; I'll ring your phone when we catch the train here. I don't want Ken to see you, though."

    "I think you have some things to tell us," Ran observed after a moment.

    "I think this isn't the time or place for it, but get me anything you can on those names. I'm going to give Farfarello a call because if those brats aren't his then we're in for a world of hurt and Crawford can fuck himself if he thinks I'm going to sit right here in the middle of it."

    "Just calm down."

    "I *am* calm," Schuldich sent back, and he ignored the disbelieving snort on the other end of the line. "We're going to have to bump things up a bit. Keep your evening free. If that card gets approved tonight then we've got a lot of work to do. I'll ring you later. Get the phones."

    Ran murmured a response and Schuldich hung up. He eyed his phone for a few moments longer before finally scrolling down to Farfarello's name and hitting the call button. It took three rings before the Irishman picked up, and a bored "What?" greeted him.

    "It's generally a courtesy to warn people that you're sending spies in before actually doing it," Schuldich said. He let go of his cigarette and ground it into the sidewalk with the heel of his shoe. "Who are they, Farfarello?"

    "They're useful," was the easy response, and Schuldich closed his eyes against the rush of relief that they really were Farfarello's people. It made him sick to his stomach that Farfarello was spreading his identity among his ranks, but it was still better than someone else finding out and trying to cause trouble when he was already tangled up with the white-haired demon.

    "They're kids," Schuldich said. "Wow, how useful. You seem to really have a thing for underage people. What are they doing here?"

    "I moved them here for me," Farfarello answered. "Don't tell me you're scared of them."

    "Annoyed, actually."

    "They have their uses, so I'm sure you'll manage to tolerate them for a little while longer."

    "You could only tolerate them because they grew up in Osaka," Schuldich suggested. "Which begs the question of how you discovered them in the first place."

    He could hear the smile in Farfarello's voice and it was not a pleasant smile. "Tsukiyono is Takatori's nephew and Naoe's sister is one of mine. You won't find information on them if you have Crawford dig. There's your courtesy warning of the day. I moved them out of Tokyo to keep people from finding them and they erased everything else themselves. Like I said, useful. Fukui will appreciate having their talents."

    "And then you'll take them back when they know what they're doing," Schuldich murmured, but he wasn't really aware that he was speaking. His mind was reeling under Farfarello's words. Takatori's nephew? What? That kid had died years ago; his whole family had died in a break-in robbery. And Naoe…

    "They're a profitable investment," Farfarello answered, and Schuldich sneered at his phone, remembering hearing the same words regarding Crawford and himself. "Now go back to the table and play nice with them. I think your noodles are getting cold."

    Schuldich's jaws clenched and he made a mental note to smash Nagi's brains in. He'd left that brat alone at the table; no doubt the kid had called in to Farfarello to let him know how things were going. "I'll give him your regards," he managed to get out.

    "Not in front of my tenant, you won't," Farfarello sent back, and he hung up.

    "Ch…" Schuldich snapped his phone closed and gave it a dirty look. It took him another moment before he could slip the phone back into his pocket and he lit himself another cigarette before even considering going back to the restaurant. "What a mess," he declared, watching the traffic as it zipped by. It had been a while since Japan had seemed so small. It was just a speck of an island but it was crammed with so many people that he was often able to forget just how little it was. But look at the mess he was in now, hedged in on all sides.

    ~Funny how the world works,~ he mused. ~Ken bumps into Crawford's car and so Crawford puts me here. Ken just happens to be a tenant to one of Japan's greatest criminal lords. Farfarello, Tot, Takatori's nephew, and Naoe…~ His cigarette slowed as he moved it back towards his mouth. It never made it back to his lips and blue eyes narrowed in thought. ~Funny how the world works,~ he thought again. ~Funny how everything is orchestrated so perfectly. Farfarello gets a hold of Crawford because Ken dents his car and I'm put in place here to deal with it. Because I'm here, these two brats from Osaka get called in on a surprise visit to watch me under the pretense of visiting their friend. They grew up with Ken; they know him. Funny coincidence that Ken just happened to end up in Farfarello's apartments. Yohji found the place for him, didn't he say? And Yohji's on easy terms with Farfarello; supposedly used to date a girl that was tangled up in Farfarello's messes…~

    He could remember Ken's words from the previous day and they did nothing at all to help the growing queasiness in his middle. 'Yohji's girlfriend used to be really close with him and she was always getting into all sorts of trouble. Farfarello was paying her rent and Yohji said he's the reason the police used to take it easy on her, but she's in jail now. Apparently she killed someone, and even Farfarello's scary looks couldn't help her out.'

    And before… 'Yohji, the guy who hired you, is the one who put me up in that apartment and gave me a job at the flower shop. The lady who runs it is the grandmother of a woman he used to be really serious with, so she let him bring me in to help out.'

    He didn't like the picture his mind was slowly trying to put together, and he pulled his phone back out.

    Ran answered before it could ring a second time and Schuldich eyed the cigarette that was burning slowly between two fingers.

    "Change of plan," he said slowly, still trying to work his way through everything falling into place in his head. "Forget the two pipsqueaks; we've got bigger things to worry about. Who is Kudou Yohji? And who the hell is Hidaka Ken, and why has Farfarello been watching him for so long?"


    Tsuchiya Bank.

    It was an impressive building at twenty-seven stories, an imposing black thing sticking up into the skyline of Tokyo city. Schuldich had passed it countless times before in his time in Japan but this was the first time that he'd ever actually walked through its sliding glass doors. Some things were just stupid, and with "Mastermind" having a permanent spot on the underworld's most wanted list, walking into a bank sponsored by a criminal overlord was just one of those such things. Regardless, six twenty-two had him walking across the lobby, decked out in a business suit Ran had had delivered to Ken's apartment. Schuldich had left the athlete and his unwelcome friends back there under the pretense of attending one of the court hearings for Choice Enterprises. He hadn't missed the knowing look in Nagi's eyes.

    He stated his intentions at the front desk and the lady called up to the fourteenth floor to make sure Ichirou Tanaka was ready for him. Upon hearing he was, she motioned him to the elevator and even pushed the button for him. Schuldich inclined his head to her but had nothing else to say, not to her or the elevator lady that was inside the car when it showed up.

    Blue eyes scanned the numbers on the buttons, lingering on the button for the very top floor. That was where Takatori's office was- one of them, anyway. Tsuchiya Bank was just one of Takatori's many establishments, albeit one of the more noticeable ones. He spent his weekday mornings tucked away upstairs going over his money and reallocating funds where he needed them to go, but by now, he'd be long gone and probably getting drunk with unsavory business partners.

    The elevator dinged to let him know they'd arrived and he stepped wordlessly out onto the fourteenth floor. Blue eyes took everything in and it took him just a moment to spot the sign for the stairwell. It was at the other end of the hall by the restrooms, a water fountain, and another set of elevators.


    He was greeted by Ichirou's assistant and allowed himself to be guided into the man's office. Ichirou was head of the division overlooking corporate accounts, or rather, the legal corporate accounts. Everything from the fourteenth floor down was for matters that the public knew about. Everything above that? Well, people guessed and others made excuses, but there wasn't really anything written down somewhere. Schuldich had been less than pleased to find that out, because there were a hell of a lot of stairs between floor fourteen and floor twenty-seven.

    Schuldich had come to Ichirou under the pretense of opening a corporate account for an importing business he would like to establish. Ran had gotten him the papers he needed and the meeting went smoothly, though Schuldich found it extremely boring. Even so, it was a necessary boring meeting and Schuldich played the part of an interested entrepreneur well. In the end he got his papers with their stamps and a promise that his card would arrive in just a few days. There were bows exchanged and Ichirou even shook his hand, recognizing that he was dealing with a foreigner, and Schuldich left.

    He stopped at the assistant's desk to ask after water fountains and was directed down the hall with a smile. He offered her his gratitude and headed that way, following the signs. He pressed the button for the elevator before bending over to get his water and watched the woman through his bangs while he drank. As soon as he saw the elevator light up to indicate its arrival at his floor he ducked into the stairwell. The secretary was busy typing things up and would only dimly remember hearing the elevator ding as it arrived.

    He shut the door silently behind himself and considered the paperwork in his hands, admiring the stamp and memorizing it for later. He lingered over it longer than he should but he wasn't looking forward to climbing the stairs. Leaning out, he could stare up between the flights all the way to the top floor, and it was almost dizzying.

    "Damn," he muttered.

    It was all he could do to hope that no one would step out into the stairwell while he was here, though he could keep his face buried in paperwork so they wouldn't notice his blue eyes. He was dressed in a suit, enough to blend in on first glance, but even his dyed hair was a little too long to just go unnoticed. He took the stairs at a run, making an effort to do it as quietly as he could. The stairwell echoed and while that could work against him, it could also be his only warning that someone else was leaving one of the upper floors.

    It seemed like forever until he reached the very top floor and he held onto the railing, staring down at a floor he couldn't see while his leg muscles screamed at him. He was breathing raggedly and had to fight for a few minutes to bring it back under control before opening the door and letting himself into Takatori's space.

    The place was dark and Schuldich didn't bother to turn anything on. He could see blinking red lights of alarms on the several doors on the hall. Idly he wondered why Takatori needed so many rooms, and he used the scant light coming through heavily shaded windows to find the secretary's desk. While he was curious as to what was inside those rooms, he didn't feel like testing those alarms. He was good, yes, very good, but Takatori had the kind of money that Schuldich couldn't even begin to understand.

    He smiled at the sight of his equipment in the briefcase and began slowly pulling out coils of wire and explosives. He hummed a tune as he laid everything out, covering the entire floor with explosives. He found the clip he needed in one of the inside pockets of the suitcase and stuck it into a socket before twisting the knob on the end, and he checked the dial to make sure it was reading the current before hooking it up to a second black box. He couldn't go through Takatori's doors but he could get under them, and he slipped wires through the thin crack between wood and carpet, using a thin stick to help push them further into the room. The bottles of water were uncapped and he let them spill between the cracks, sending big puddles onto the polished wood floors of the locked rooms. When he was finished he left the briefcase there and took a few steps back to survey the place.

    "Damn, I'm good," he decided, and he reached out to activate the box. The generator came to life with a loud hum and electricity shot through the wires that he'd laid out. The ends were exposed and now they hissed and crackled, twisting against the floor. He smiled as he watched them dance, considering the last plug he had in his hands. It ran from the generator and he carried it over to another socket, ramming it in. Something made a noise behind the wall as he forced electricity into the socket where it didn't want to go and he knew better than to stick around for long. The second it was in he was twisting around and heading for the door, and it was back down the stairs almost too fast to keep his balance.

    He'd made it about four floors before Takatori's offices exploded, and he felt the stairwell groan and shake under the force of it. He had to catch at the railing for balance and almost lost his footing, but he didn't have time to waste. As soon as he knew he wasn't going to fall he forced himself down faster, one hand automatically checking his pocket for the precious papers from his earlier meeting. The fire alarm started wailing as Takatori's things caught on fire and Schuldich knew it would be just a few moments more before people began pouring into the stairwell. First would be the surprise that it was going off and then they'd realize it wasn't a joke, especially with the sprinklers pouring down on them, and Schuldich didn't want to be caught on the upper levels when he had visitors.

    A door slammed open above him and Schuldich abandoned the railing for the wall, keeping out of sight from those that were starting to rush down from above them. He grabbed at his suit jacket, jerking it away from him and then tugging it in close again, catching his hair beneath it to hide it, and then the door he was passing banged open and caught him across the shoulder. He swore viciously at the pain and grabbed at the railing again to keep from falling. His other hand snagged the collar of his shirt and pulled it up to cover his nose and mouth. The person that had hit him was reaching for him but Schuldich didn't turn to acknowledge her, forcing his voice to sound strained and frantic.

    "Fire, fire!" he said. "There's smoke upstairs! It's a fire!"

    She shrieked the word back over her shoulder but he barely heard it as the stairwells became crowded. Only a few floors above the fourteenth cleared out; the others had been empty for hours, working odd times. From the fourteenth down there were only five floors that were still operating and they were already long gone by the time Schuldich and his clump reached the lobby. Schuldich kept his head down as he went outside, coughing loudly into his shirt, and someone grabbed him and helped pull him further away from the door and the crowd to where he could breathe again. He was passed off to another pair of hands and a familiar voice sounded at his ear.

    "Sir! Perhaps you should sit down!"

    Ran. Schuldich nodded without looking up and Ran spoke to the man he'd taken Schuldich from. "I'll take him across the street. Get everyone to back away from the building!"

    Schuldich was turned away and he leaned against Ran. He could hear people crying and one woman was shrieking, but it wasn't until they'd reached the other side of the street that he turned around to survey the damage. Traffic had come to a standstill and people had gotten out of their cars. The street was packed with Tsuchiya Bank's employees. And the bank itself? It looked like a big fat black candle, with the top few floors completely engulfed in a roaring fire.

    He dug the papers out of his pocket and pressed them into Ran's hand. "Ichirou Tanaka," he told the redhead, speaking up to be heard over the noise. Ran just nodded and Schuldich turned away from the destruction, moving through the shell shocked pedestrians to a quieter street. Ran headed off in a separate direction and Schuldich knew he'd see the redhead again the next day.

    Idly he wondered just what sort of credit limit Ichirou's stamp could get them, and the thought made him smile.


    Ken was watching TV when someone began knocking excitedly on his door, and he exchanged curious looks with his friends before pushing himself up to answer it. He twisted the lock out of place and pulled the door open just enough to see who it was, and he offered Yohji a blank look as he opened the door the rest of the way. "Yohji?" he said, wondering at the ecstatic look on his friend's face.

    "She's coming home, Ken!" Yohji said, and he promptly squished Ken in a hug. There were bags dangling off his wrists and whatever was in them dug into Ken's back at the gesture, and Ken winced before returning the hug. "She's coming home!"

    "Asuka?" Ken guessed as he leaned back, because it was really the only person he could think of that could put such a look on Yohji's face.

    ~Over her, huh?~ he thought ruefully, and he offered Yohji a warm smile.

    "Asuka!" Yohji returned, and he turned Ken around by his shoulders and pushed him back into his apartment. The older man followed him in, kicking his shoes to one side and closing the door behind them. The bags clinked in the movement and Ken decided that meant there were bottles there. "She's getting out tomorrow. Shit, man, can you believe it?"

    "Not really, no," Ken admitted. "You said she was in for seven with no parole. How's she getting out?"

    "I don't know and I don't care," Yohji answered. "Come on, let's drink away the night! I have to get started early because I need to be sober when I go pick her up tomorrow, you- ah." Yohji faltered when he caught sight of Ken's guests. The two teenagers had moved to the bedroom doorway and were gazing down the hall at him. Nagi's expression was that smooth look that Ken had told him time and time again not to use on strangers for fear of scaring them off and Omi was wearing a small smile that seemed amused.

    "You have people over already," Yohji observed.

    "Uh, yes. Yohji, this is Naoe Nagi and Tsukiyono Omi, friends from back home in Osaka. Nagi, Omi, this is Kudou Yohji, my coworker. He's the guy that helped me get this place here. I told you about him, didn't I?"

    "Once or twice, yes," Omi said. "We're pleased to meet you, Kudou."

    "Yes," Nagi agreed. "We've heard a lot about you."

    "Ahaha…" Yohji looked towards Ken. "I should leave, I think."

    "No, no," Ken assured him, looking towards his friends. "I mean, this is fantastic news. She means so much to you. Come in and sit down. You guys don't mind, do you?"

    "A friend of Ken's is a friend of ours," Omi answered easily.

    "What he said," Nagi said with a shrug. "Come in. There's enough room for four."

    "Four, eh?" Yohji said, looking towards Ken. "And ah, your other friend, where did he go?"

    "He's busy tonight," Ken answered, motioning for Yohji to precede him down the hall. "I'm not really sure when he's going to be back but that's all right. Farfarello gave him a key, after all. Come on. I'll get us some cups." He let Yohji go on ahead and pulled some glasses down from the shelf above the sink. Omi and Nagi, rather than stepping into the room so Yohji could follow them, had stepped off to either side to make more room between them. Yohji didn't slow as he walked between them but he did look back at Nagi as he went by, and there was a searching look on his face.

    As soon as Yohji had sat, the other two stepped back into the main room, and Omi turned off the television. "Osaka, huh?" Yohji was saying as he emptied his bags.

    "Ever been?" Nagi wanted to know.

    "Never had the chance to, no," Yohji answered. "I heard it's a lot of fun, though."

    "Yes," Omi said, seating himself down off to Yohji's left. "It's a lot of fun. There's so much to do there. If you ever have a chance, please go and see it for yourself."

    "Kudou Yohji," Nagi said, coming to a stop just in front of the older man. He bent at the waist in a deep bow and Ken didn't miss the way he didn't drop his eyes for it. Green and blue caught and held, and Yohji's mouth curved into the faintest of smiles.

    "Yohji," he said. "Please, call me Yohji."

    "Then call me Nagi," Nagi returned, and he sat himself down. Omi looked up as Ken reached the doorway and held his hands up to take some of the cups from him. "So, Yohji. What shall we celebrate tonight?"

    "Fate," Yohji decided, and he filled their glasses. Green eyes slid away from Nagi and focused on Ken, and Ken smiled in an automatic response to the smile on his friend's face. Inwardly he thought the smile was a little strange, and the look in Yohji's eyes a little distant, but then, the man had just found out that the love of his life was being released from prison early. Ken wondered how that had happened, since supposedly Farfarello's power had failed to get her freed. Something about not having the right influence with the right people and needing to find someone else with a stronghold to give it a shove, but Ken hadn't really thought Yohji was serious. After all, she'd killed a guy and was serving the time she'd earned, right? Murderers couldn't just walk free like that. People didn't have that kind of power.

    "To fate," Yohji said again, and he tilted his glass towards Ken. "And the things it brings us, that we may make a far better future with them."

    Nagi just laughed and Omi smiled, and Ken wondered at the way Yohji's eyes lingered on him as he tilted his cup to swallow from it.

    More than that, he wondered why Yohji's words made him think of Schuldich.

Part 10
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