Hidden Thorns

Hidden Thorns

Chapter One

By Bottou-chan

Author's Note: I decided to portray a more serious Neon than I usually do. ;o) For the first time in a while, she's not going berserk from being around a certain rasta-braided freak. (Yeah, it was tough, not mentioning him. ^_^) But, due to the nature of her work, this fic is rated R. If you skip Ch. 4, it's just PG or PG-13. Comments?

Kurei slid the photo across the desk's surface. "He's the one we're after," he said, tapping the face of one of the men depicted in it. I picked it up and scrutinized it. While I wasn't expecting an 8x10 glossy portrait, this small photo was rather fuzzy and off-kilter. Not as good as some of the others. The photo had obviously been taken on the sly… it looked like our victim was hard enough to corner, let alone photograph.

I nodded. Ignoring the blur, the face that looked back at me wasn't particularly anything. There was nothing striking about him at all. It was a man of somewhat middle age, of middle height and middle weight, with average features. He didn't look particularly handsome, or cruel, or intelligent, or anything. He was just an ordinary faceless man that you pass on the street without thinking. You can speak to one and not remember your conversation five minutes later; you can watch them melt into a crowd and not give them a second thought.

They were usually like that.

"His name?" I asked, scrutinizing the image.

"Oonishi Eisaku," Kurei answered shortly. "The third son of Oonishi Fujio."

I nodded. While I wasn't as familiar as some others were with the members of the different crime families in Japan, I at least recognized the name. So that was the face that went with it… how boring.

"What does he do?" I inquired. If he looked more intelligent, he might have passed for an accountant.

"He handles the Oonishi interests in gambling, and dabbles a little bit in drugs and prostitution," he replied. "But mostly the casinos… his brothers take care of the other interests."

I finally committed his face to memory, and pocketed the photo. "Is this a hit against him, personally, or is it in general against the Oonishi family?"

"Both," came the terse reply. "Him, specifically, because Mori Kouran hasn't been receiving his cut from the casino interests. It was made more than clear that if he didn't receive his percentage from the gambling operations which infringed on our territory, steps would be taken. For the last six months, the flow has dwindled to practically nothing. He has been given one warning, which he disregarded. Now it is time for steps."

"And his family hasn't encouraged him to cough up?" I asked wryly. Sometimes, people were just stupid. It was easier to pay the money than deal with the trouble. Did they think they were making some sort of statement by refusing to pay? Hardly, unless expressing an interest in a death wish can be counted.

Kurei made an affirmative noise. "Hn."

"He looks easy enough," I remarked. No pun intended. "What should I know about him? Quirks? Likes? Dislikes? Allergies?"

I remembered one nearly-botched assignment early on in my career. My intended target had been severely allergic to my herbal shampoo… it's hard to seduce someone when they're having an adverse reaction to your hair.

Another object came sliding across the table. This was a dossier, in a manila folder. I opened it up. About five pages of typed commentary were paperclipped to the inside. There were two or three blank pages with newspaper clippings pasted on, with passages highlighted, and about seven or eight additional photographs. Amazingly, these were of even poorer quality than the one I had initially seen. The pick of a bad lot, I thought.

"I'll get on it," I promised Kurei, rising from my seat. "I'm assuming we'll make the move Friday night?"