A LOAN SHARK'S TALE
A/N: Set in Betray Me Not universe and take place long after Worth (any missing information here can be found there). Written for The Review Lounge, Too Fall 2015 Green Room. The challenge is The Not-So-Dark Side Challenge.
For fandom-blind readers, Brandon is the series protagonist, but with grey morality (formerly a street thug, a loan shark, and a mob hitman). The characters' morality in Gungrave series is mostly grey except the women, whose morality is white.
All disclaimers apply.
Coat on and his artificial leg attached, he was ready to go to work. Wintertime was never a holiday; unlike his fellow loan sharks, Brandon always felt that frigid air was energizing, not sedating. Microbes wouldn't bother his flesh in such weather.
It's a blessing, he always thought. The income helps fund my life support and eases Millennion's burden.
Walking past the steel bench on which Mika sat with a comic book in her hands, he smiled and waved a hand. However, Mika's crumpled face turned his smile into a slight downturn of his lips and stopped him in his tracks.
"Do you really have to work everyday?" she asked. "It's holiday."
Brandon replied with a nod. He really didn't have to work, but if he had the opportunity to help Millennion, why would he let the chance escape?
"Um..." Head bowed, Mika looked to her right. "If you don't mind, can you take a day off?"
Brandon blinked in response.
"It often feels lonely here." She hugged her knees. "I wonder if y-you can either stay at home today or t-take me with you."
Sadly, Brandon would never have a positive answer for that. If Brandon stayed with her, Millennion would earn no additional income. On the other hand, if he took Mika to work, he would put her life at stake. He was a loan shark; his job involved hunting down recalcitrant clients and teaching them a proper lesson whenever necessary. If his angry customers ever found out about Mika and what she was to him, they sure would harm her to get their revenge done.
Brandon sauntered towards Mika and placed a hand on her head. Raking a finger through her hair, he said gently, "I can't."
Mika looked up, revealing a faint smile on her face. "Okay then. I'll be waiting."
After giving her a thumbs-up and a reassuring nod, Brandon walked towards the trailer's exit.
"Working again, Sir?" Arnold spun the car key and brought a roar out of the van's engine. "I think you should spend some time with Miss Mika. She is having a school holiday, isn't she?"
"Her holiday won't be fun, you know? Imagine a girl staying by herself inside an old trailer... Well, there are Millennion guardsmen around, but they aren't like you. None of them makes a good daddy. If something happens, none of them can comfort Miss Mika as well as you do."
Brandon looked down. "I'll never make a good 'daddy' if I can't repay Millennion. Mika may not be the boss right now because of her age, but this organization still belongs to her. The organization pays my costly medical expense; in other words, I am just a burden to her."
"You needn't worry too much. Do you know where the organization gets its money from?" He took a deep breath. "From all of us, including you. You've worked hard before winter, so it's okay."
Brandon only replied with silence. Funny how he could feel both happy and sad at the same time. While he had actually done something good to Millennion, he still felt like he would only burden his family. Even if he worked everyday, he would only give Millennion a net profit of sixty million yules per week. That wasn't even half of his weekly medical expense.
"Well, at least, you'll only work until 1PM, right? I thought you'd be receiving your renewal therapy in the afternoon."
With a constant whirring sound, the scene slowly changed from a parking basement into a snowy concrete jungle.
As the van sped along the shoveled driveway, Brandon looked around, searching for a three-story building with a signboard standing beside its doorless entrance. So far, no buildings looked like that; the only similarities they sometimes shared with his office were the amount of stories.
After about an hour of observing, Brandon finally caught the sight of the wanted building. Snow had covered almost the entirety of the signboard beside the entrance, though, leaving only the word 'moneylender' on the plank.
"Here we are." Arnold silenced the van with a twist of the car key. Opening the door and stepping out of the vehicle, he said, "I'll be sitting at a nearby coffee shop. Give me a shout when you need me."
Brandon nodded as he opened the car door and walked out. He immediately headed towards the dimly-lit passage beyond the building's entrance. Once he reached the staircase that led right to the loan sharks' office, he grabbed the metallic railing firmly. By striking the step with his good foot before pulling up his prosthetic leg to move forward, slowly but surely, he managed to reach top. There, he took out his key from his pants pocket and unlocked the door.
Although the wall paint was peeling off and the wooden floor was creaky, the office had no garbage. Without Brandon's colleagues around, nobody would litter the room with pizza boxes and burger wraps.
Brandon walked towards his desk and opened the window behind it. Cold wind blew steadily into the room, bringing about a smile on his face as it freshened his muscles. After enjoying the winter breeze for a moment, he sauntered towards the drawer beside the water dispenser and took a logbook out of it.
He returned to his seat and opened the thick book. A scan through the neat table told him that he had six irresponsible clients; three of which were living close to each other. Their debts were due today, but none of them had shown up to pay. At this, Brandon took a notepad out of the desk's drawer and picked up a pen from the pencil cup at the edge of the table. The six customers who ended up on his to-visit list should beware.
After copying the clients' names, debts, and addresses into the notepad, Brandon looked at the wall clock. 9PM. He still had about forty-five minutes to wait for a new client.
Twenty minutes had passed, but nobody had come to lend some money. Was it because of wintertime and everybody would rather sleep than go out? Or perhaps, not enough advertising out there? Brandon suspected that the latter had something to do with the lack of clients. Snow had probably concealed the ads, or maybe people had removed them.
Brandon opened the desk drawer and took a box out of it. The large case contained what he needed to promote the moneylender service: a batch of posters, a pair of scissors, and a roll of duct tape. He put the container on the table, and after closing the drawer, he stood up to shut the window.
With the notepad and a pen in his coat pocket and the advertising kit in his hand, he walked towards the exit door. He would stick the ads along the way to his customers' residences.
The advertising needed more time to go well. Brandon's targets lived not too far from his office, so he only had the chance to paste the posters on three lamp posts and a mailbox. However, for now, maybe he could forget about that problem. His visits would usually yield a gross profit of several million yules per house.
Standing still, he matched the house number with the ones on his notes. He grinned slightly at the result of his work; two out of his three targets in this area were neighbors.
After returning his notepad to his coat pocket, he walked towards the leftmost two-story house and knocked on the door softly. Earning no answer, so Brandon made no move. But soon, he figured out that nobody was inside, a reason why the door was still shut even after a minute.
He decided to kick the door down with his healthy leg. Stepping into the house, he saw nobody. What an annoying client. But Brandon didn't care; he would simply nab something valuable from the residence and leave a memo. This had always worked better than his colleagues' way: scribbling the wall with threats.
He looked around, searching for a valuable object. An LCD TV on the desk further in front of him caught his attention. It usually worth about six million yules, and its flat screen enabled him to lift it with his only arm. It's also equal to the amount of debt this client has.
Upon approaching the desk, he took out his notepad and flipped the page with a flick of his thumb. He placed it on the table before fishing a pen out of his coat pocket.
"TV taken to pay off your debt." He wrote on the blank page and tore the paper off with his teeth. After putting the piece of note on the table and returning the notepad to his coat pocket, he yanked the cable out of the outlet and wrapped his arm around the TV screen. With the flat electronic device in his embrace, he trod the fallen door casually and left the house.
Brandon put the TV in the van and returned to the block of houses. This time, he visited the neighboring residence. Door knocked, and soon, a toothless, wizened bald man with a walking stick greeted him with a cane to his head.
"You scoundrel!" He smacked Brandon's head again and again. "I'll beat you up if you don't leave ASAP!"
If the old man had delivered such concussions to one of Brandon's colleagues, maybe he would've sent the unlucky loan shark to a hospital. Unfortunately, this was Brandon, a reanimated corpse with the strength of an ox. Glancing at the incoming blow, Brandon simply grabbed the cane. Grip tightened, and the shaft soon snapped in half. Throwing the wreckage away, he stared at the grandpa. "Pay up."
"You insolent kids raised the interest rate without my permission." He folded his arms and scowled at Brandon. "I won't pay!"
What an irritating old man, but Brandon wouldn't hit a senior citizen. He merely shoved the grandpa aside and stepped into the house, looking for valuables. A mini fridge seemed difficult to carry, and so was a CRT TV. Brandon couldn't possibly maintain the balance of the large box-shaped object with just one hand.
Despite the grandpa's protests and curses, Brandon walked around the room to continue his survey. However, he could only loot a radio, which should worth about eight-hundred thousand yules. This would leave the grandpa with a debt of approximately five million yules. Well, something is better than nothing, Brandon thought. I'll continue searching after putting this in the van.
So he walked towards the desk on which the radio lay. But as he reached out his hand to grab the handle, he heard a bickering between a gruff and a creaky voice.
"You're that rascal's friend? Get the hell outta here!"
"You'd better shut up unless you want a hole in your brain."
Brandon gasped and turned at once. No, you mustn't hurt a senior citizen unless he or she hurts you first! With Arnold holding the grandpa at gunpoint, the old man now shivered, his hands raised. Brandon quickly ran towards Arnold and snatched his pistol.
Reacting to Brandon's glare, Arnold muttered, "This old man was pretty rebellious, Sir. He didn't want to let me in, although I just wanted to tell you something important." His eyelids drooped. "Boss called me. He said that there was an accident at Millennion's parking basement. A car hit your trailer very hard. I think you'd better-"
Mika! She's in the trailer! Eye widening, Brandon stormed out of the house. "Drive me home!"
Arnold followed him. "Right away!"
As Brandon ran, he could hear a laughter followed with a: "Take that!"
The van swerved several times as it dashed along the street and barely avoided two car crashes on the way home. However, Brandon didn't mind. They had to be fast.
Once the van arrived at Millennion's parking basement, Brandon opened the car door and stepped out before the vehicle even stopped moving. He fell flat on his face as a result, but the ear-piercing wail of a siren immediately pushed him back to his feet and enabled him to rush towards the crash site. A wrecked car, an ambulance, and a tow truck stood among a group of Millennion guardsmen, fueling Brandon's anxiety. He somehow fell again, but adrenaline made him resume his run in an instant.
Amidst the crowd and the panic-inducing vehicles, however, the trailer lay unscathed save for the dented double door. Beside it, Mika stood with Dr. William, sobbing into the doctor's chest whilst hugging him.
Walking towards them with a tearful smile, Brandon called out, "Mika."
William looked at him for a moment before telling Mika, "Look who's back, Miss."
Mika turned and at the sight of Brandon, she ran to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Brandon! You're back!"
Brandon placed a hand on her head and nodded. He wished he still had his other arm, so that he could hug her as well.
"When the car hit the trailer, the lights went out. It was dark and a little creepy inside, so I thought I would go outside." She buried her tear-stained face into Brandon's abdomen. "But then, I couldn't open the door! I was trapped in the trailer for so long! I was so scared!"
"Everything is fine now," Brandon whispered, stroking her head. "I've come home, too."
"Huh?" Mika looked up. "You mean, you aren't working anymore today? Aren't you supposed to work until 1PM?"
"Your well-being is more important, isn't it?"
She hugged him tighter. "Thank you, Brandon. Thank you. I'm so glad to have you as my family."
Brandon responded with a broad smile. He wouldn't work everyday again for the remainder of the winter holiday, but at least, he now knew that not easing Millennion's burden would still make him a good 'daddy'.
1. For fandom-blind readers: Mika is the posthumous child of Millennion's founder.
2. It seems like laws don't exist in Gungrave universe (or maybe money talks), which is why this was initially planned to be written for The Wacky Laws Challenge at The Review Lounge, Too Fall 2015 Green Room.
3. The loan sharks' office is inspired by episode 5, in which there are lots of rubbish in the workroom.
4. Since this is set long after Worth, I may be working on a couple of fics to fill the large gap.