The Tangled Web

The Tangled Web

Chapter One

By Bottou-chan

A/N: In honor of Chris' birthday, which was the 16th. :o)

It was a weekend like any other weekend in the Botanic Garden. Set in the midst of a gray concrete jungle was a mass of lush green vegetation. Trees' branches stretched skyward, casting rippling shadows on the sandstone paths. Flowers bloomed profusely from every conceivable bush, stalk, and bed. Koi swam lazily in their ponds, swarming only when someone approached the edge of the pool with a small cup of purchased carp food vended from a machine cleverly disguised as a traditional roadside shrine.

In this idyllic setting, a handful of couples meandered, enjoying the scenery… and each other's presence.

One of these couples stood near a fountain surrounded by roses. The red-haired feminine half of the couple was gently touching the velvety-soft petals of the flowers. The black-haired rasta-braided masculine half of the couple was watching the fountain play and trying very hard not to tell the feminine half what it made him think of.

So he mentioned the other thought which was currently being entertained in his brain.

"Oi, Neon-han, I think I'm dizzy from too much oxygen in this place."

"You could have stayed outside in the Osakan smog," replied Neon in a clipped tone. The soft nature-loving expression on her face disappeared and was replaced by something that suggested that perhaps she had a few thorns of her own.

"So harsh," remarked Joker, and although his tone was sympathetic that such a lovely woman was marred by such unkind thoughts, his hardly-suppressed smirk suggested that he could care less. "You know that I would deprive myself of my usual dose of smog, just to spend a precious moment with you."

It was their game, and he knew it.

"Perhaps the lack of oxygen had an adverse affect on your brain after all," suggested Neon dryly.

"Perhaps an overdose of Rosa villosa has impaired your ability to recognize the most perfect specimen of Osakan manliness in the world," suggested Joker, puffing his chest up with pride.

"What about him?" Neon jerked her head in indication of a young man standing on a bridge nearby, watching the koi as they swam under, and speaking on his cell phone.

Joker scrutinized the man. "He's not from Osaka," he said distastefully. "Not with his hair like that— and not dressing like that, he's not."

Neon looked at him again. There was nothing wrong with his hair or clothes… but to keep from appearing ignorant, she refrained from asking. After all, it wouldn't do to encourage a show of superiority from her comrade.

Instead, she turned the other way. "Come on. Let's go this way."

******

Her voice trailed off abruptly when she saw it. His feet were protruding from behind a large Acer palmatum, clad in gray argyle socks and black patent leather shoes. Neon stood motionless as Joker knelt down swiftly.

"He's dead," Joker diagnosed after a quick check. Neon felt urged to make an irrelevant comment regarding Star Trek, but then decided against it.

The difference between her and Joker was that she knew how to keep her Comments to herself. Well, * one * of the differences, anyways; there were several, but that was the one that came to mind at the moment---

"Who is he?" asked Neon, not looking. By no means was she afraid of looking at a dead man… she had seen more than her fair share of them, and more often than not, she was the Cause of such a state of being… but rather, she was on the lookout in case anyone caught Joker in such a compromising position.

Joker patted the man's pockets. "No wallet," he proclaimed in a low voice.

"Cause?"

Joker wrinkled his nose. "How about five bullet holes in his chest?" he suggested. "That is, unless, someone's been slowly poisoning his Cream of Wheat for the last eight months, and disguised the poisoning by shooting him."

"This is kind of public for this kind of occurrence to take place," remarked Neon, ignoring the lapse into facetiousness. "Recognize him?"

Joker shook his head and rose to his feet, brushing the dirt from his knees. "Not offhand," he said. "But I suppose we ought to be good citizens and report this to the authorities."

"Why don't we just leave and not get involved? It might get messy," suggested Neon. It wouldn't do to draw extra unwanted attention to themselves.

Joker dismissed her fears with a derogatory noise. "It would be more suspicious if we left," he remarked in a low voice. A couple had turned a corner and were now walking down the path directly towards them.

Neon rolled her eyes. The last thing she wanted to do was get involved… but there seemed to be no way around it. Without missing a beat, she hurried forward in tripping little steps, the fastest stride her high heels allowed her to run.

The couple looked at her in alarm.

Neon burst into hysterics. "He's — he's — he's — he's dead," she sobbed, burying her face in her hands. With a trembling finger, she pointed at the enormous bush behind which the body lay.

The man's eyebrows raised. He made a gesture that indicated his girlfriend should stay behind and try to help console the weeping Neon. With his manliest stride, he made his way over to where Joker stood, punching numbers into his cell phone, dialing the emergency number.

He knew the number to call for homicide. He'd never dialed it himself before, but it was always a handy thing to know.

The second man surveyed the body solemnly as Joker muttered into the phone like a dutiful citizen. Then he snapped it shut and pocketed it.

"He's dead," the newcomer remarked, taking care not to touch it.

"Yeah," agreed Joker. "He's dead."

A short silence.

"Shame, huh."

"Yeah. Shame."

They stood there, their hands in their pockets, trying to look nonchalant and masculine as they warned others away from the site.