Syndicate

By Tanya Lilac

Chapter Seven – What's Happened in the Past

10:19, November 27. Maru Cafe, Sendai.

Miyako soon found that life with Suzune was far from routine. The only constant in the first few weeks was that she woke up at six thirty to open the cafe at seven, and went to bed at ten at night after cafe training with Suzune, often completely exhausted. She hadn't even the energy to write in her journal... not that it would have mattered.

"You've got a knack for making coffee," Suzune said, watching her. "Doesn't she, Yuichi-kun?"

The chef stuck his head out of the kitchen, leaning on the window sill and Miyako smiled, colouring obligingly.

"I'm good at following your instructions," Miyako replied, tapping the bottom of the milk jug on the counter before swirling the frothed milk, admiring its silky sheen. The customer, a university student holding onto a heavy stack of books and a laptop with one arm, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. Her hair was unkempt and her fringe in disarray. Miyako placed the plastic lid on the cup and smiled as she handed it to her.

"Studying?"

"Yeah. The library is too noisy-"

"- and it's too distracting to study at home," Miyako finished for her with a chuckle. "I know the story."

"Don't let them pick on you," the girl said, smiling at Suzune. "Suzu-san can be very persistent."

"That's mean! Why would you even say such a thing?" Suzune asked as if injured. "Miya-chan's just too cute; we can't help but tease her!"

"Suzu," Yuichi interjected, "You're an idiot. I'll see you later, Neko-chan."

Neko, still smiling, waved and left the shop.

"You have a lot of regulars," Miyako remarked. They tended to be good sources of gossip.

"Yeah," Suzune said dreamily. "That was how Yuichi-kun and Neko-chan met. I think we had run out of milk and he had to take her order... she couldn't understand a word he was saying at the time, though. She's an exchange student. Her real name is... something else. It's hard to say, so she just tells everyone to call her 'Neko'. She's his girlfriend, too."

Miyako turned to Yuichi for confirmation, but he'd already disappeared to the far side of the kitchen, out of reach. It appeared he didn't want to be quizzed on his relationship.

"Oh really? I didn't..."

"They don't act like a couple, do they? They're sweet like that." Suzune smiled. "I think he wants your attention," she added, looking at a table on Miyako's side of the room, where a young man was sitting alone at a table by the window. He was wearing a casual shirt, jeans, and red sneakers, but something seemed... different about him. Miyako walked over, preparing her notepad and pen.

"Welcome to Maru," she smiled. "What can I get for you today?"

The young man looked up, and his eyes did a quick sweep of her messy bun, floral-print dress and chocolate coloured leather boots. Miyako tried to avoid eye contact, but he successfully held her gaze and she shifted uncomfortably. Normally, if someone was trying to size her up, she'd be doing the same thing. With a gun in her hand.

"The dessert special," he said, slowly. Something was changing in his eyes, but she couldn't quite make it out. Miyako regained her composure and wrote his order down on her notepad.

"And any drinks?"

"A long black," he said, with a disarming smile.

"Okay, so the raspberry cheesecake and a long black. Won't be long," Miyako managed to smile as she returned to the counter, placing the order pad on the table and preparing the grinder. She tore the order off the pad and placed it on the carousel. Yuichi glanced at the order and quickly cut a slice of the cake, placing it on a plate before dusting it with chocolate and placing a daub of whipped cream beside it.

"What's wrong?" Suzune asked, watching her with amusement.

"He kind of... scares me."

"Miya-chan, scared?" Yuichi echoed, sliding the plate over. "That's not very convincing."

Suzune looked over. The man was reading a magazine that had been left at the table and was laughing to himself. She shrugged.

"Looks normal to me."

"He's just... unsettling, is all," Miyako grumbled, and turned on the espresso machine. The coffee escaped in a smooth stream, quickly changing the colour of the water to a rich, dark brown. "Have you seen him before?"

"... Not that I know of. Not recently, at least," Suzune said, picking up the order pad. "Good luck," she smiled, and wandered off onto the other side of the cafe. Miyako sighed and slid the dessert onto a tray along with a fork, and set the cup of coffee next to it, atop a napkin. Steeling herself with a smile, she emerged from behind the counter with her tray and over to the table where the young man was waiting.

He looked up at her approach, and she set the tray down, placing his order in front of him. "Here you go," she smiled. "Raspberry cheesecake and a long black."

He arched an eyebrow at her as if to say, 'do you know who I am?', and she simply gave him a blank look.

"You're new here," he said, with yet another disarming smile. "I'm Saito Kazuma."

It's a pleasure to meet you," Miyako said, uncertain of how to respond. It was like her mind was working in stops and starts... like his manner. "I'm... Inoue Miyako."

"Where are you from?"

"Please, enjoy," she said, ignoring his question and placing the tray flat against her stomach as if to protect herself. Kazuma glanced at his watch and sighed, taking a bill from his wallet and leaving it flat against the table. After a moment, he decided to pin it under a business card and took a sip of his coffee and a generous helping of the cheesecake. "It seems, Inoue-san, that we're out of time. I will return tomorrow."

He closed the magazine and Tenten froze, even as he stood and walked away with a small smirk. Suzune had a love of trashy tabloid magazines – Tenten had always avoided them, simply because they were a waste of time and energy. However, this one made her chest feel a bit numb, and her mouth dried as she read the headlines. 'Hyuuga Neji's scandal! An exclusive with Tanaka Tsukimiya!'

"Kiss and tell, huh?" Suzune said, looking over Miyako's shoulder. "Some girls never learn." The image of the brunette smiled sultrily up at them, and Tenten resisted the urge to claw the cover off. Careful to keep her temper in check, she turned around and picked up plates and cups from a recently vacated table on her way back to the counter, leaving Suzune with the bill and the business card.

An excited squeal brought Miyako's mind back to the cafe. She turned to look at the red-head, who was practically jumping. Suzune all but danced back to the counter, handing the note to Miyako, but clutching the card to her chest.

"No wonder he looked so familiar; it was Kazuma-kun! It's been such a long time, I wonder why he didn't come and say hello..."

"He wasted the cake and coffee, and tipped us for it," Miyako scoffed. "He must come from money."

"Of course," Suzune said, "He's a Saito."

Miyako laughed. "That doesn't mean much!"

"I mean," Suzune said exasperatedly, "he's from one of the eight richest families in Sendai."

The brunette arched an eyebrow. This was definitely something new. No one really paid attention to anyone in Tokyo, unless you had a lot of influence. Having a lot of money was one thing, but power, on the other hand...

"There's the Hyuuga family, and the Saito – they're jewellery makers. Sugimura's family have their own school. Nagayama Hiroki is the sole member of an old, old family, and his girlfriend Watanabe Michiru is an actress. She's not exactly rich because of her family, per se, but she's definitely in the public spotlight now."

Yuichi stuck his head out of the kitchen to contribute to the list. "You're forgetting the Yori, Isaka and Ookuchi families."

"I was getting to them!" She snapped. "Yori Daichi is the nephew of Yori Tsubaki – the CEO of Yori Industries. Isaka Fumiko's family has set up some kind of medical research facility and Ookuchi Shinji is from a family of workaholics and his grandfather set up a few hotel chains in his day, so they're all just rolling in it."

"Well, I kind of think... it's a bit sad," Miyako said. "It feels like they put on a show for everyone else and they're famous because of their parents... and now they're all conveniently friends so the media circus is happy. It's completely-"

Suzune walked away without a word to deal with a customer, and Miyako turned to Yuichi. "Did I say something wrong?"

Yuichi sighed. "She only told you seven of the families." He scratched the side of his head. "I don't know if I should tell you... but the Ichiraku family have a pretty big name around here. Suzu used to be friends with some of them when they were kids."


18:07, November 27. Maru Cafe, Sendai.

Later that night, as she was tidying the cafe, Miyako began to realise that the magazines were all centred on those names – Nagayama and Watanabe were the ultimate power couple in this city; everyone wanted to know what they were up to and who they were friends with. Of course, it didn't seem like a coincidence that their friends were all from one of those eight families. The only missing pieces were the Hyuuga, an Ichiraku and-

"Hey."

Miyako almost dropped the magazines, and the person who had interrupted her chuckled. "You're really absent-minded," Takeshi said, taking the heavy stack from her and placing it on a low coffee table. In her mind, Miyako could hear two voices in her mind say, "You let your guard down."

She shook her head. "I'm just a bit tired, is all."

"Well, it's time for you to be fed." Takeshi straightened and waved at Yuichi. "Oi, Yuichi. How are you?"

The chef grinned and waved back. "Get out of here before Suzu sees you; she'll rip your head off for taking Miya-chan on a date."

Suzune stood up from behind the counter, having finally found the pen she had dropped that morning, and Yuichi hastily turned away, retreating to the furthest corner of the kitchen. Suzune sighed and walked over to the pair.

"Just go," she said, holding out her hand for Miyako's apron. "You've done well today, and it's quiet tonight. Yuichi said Neko-chan's coming by, so I think I'll close early. Use the back door when you come back in, okay?" Miyako took her apron off and handed it to the older woman, and bowed. Suzune smacked her on the top of her head. "I'll have none of that here." She proceeded to punch Takeshi playfully in the stomach, and he keeled over, winded. "And you," she growled at him, "don't you dare take advantage of her."

"Oi, Ichiraku – Why d'you always say that kind of stuff? It's not tr- ow!"

Miyako laughed as they headed towards the front door, and she picked up her coat along the way. It wasn't a date, she reminded herself. If it was, she'd be all nervous and jittery. This was just spending some time with a friend.

A friend who liked to ride a motorbike, and cook her dinner.

"Do you mind?" Takeshi asked, holding out a motorbike helmet when they were finally out of the cafe. "The trip is short, and I drove it here, anyway..."

"I don't mind," Miyako said. She had certainly noticed something since the first time... he had taken her for a ride on his motorbike. Whenever she heard the roar of a bike engine, she was always tempted to look. There were so many motorbikes everywhere, but it never changed the fact that she'd always have to look over her shoulder, just in case.


18:43, November 27. Mamoru Izakaya, Sendai Station.

When the pair arrived safely at the station, they wandered about before returning to Mamoru. Miyako bought another local magazine along the way to keep her occupied, and Takeshi scoffed at the figure on the cover.

"That guy..." he began slowly, as he opened the sliding door, "Suzu's obsessed with him." He let her into the small izakaya before sliding the roller door shut behind them, covering the lights from outside.

She studied Nagayama Hiroki's face in the dim izakaya. He had blonde hair, a narrow nose that seemed a little out of place from being broken, and a full, smiling mouth. However, the most striking thing about him was his eyes – they seemed to pierce the lens of the camera, and there was, of course, no denying that he was incredibly attractive.

"Hn," Miyako said, with a small smile. "I can see why." She took off her shoes and moved towards a bar stool, and Takeshi shook his head.

"Just don't call him, 'Nagayama Hiroki-sama'," he grunted, returning to his place behind the counter. "What do you feel like tonight, Miya-chan?"

Miyako smiled. "Surprise me."

"You're indecisive," he remarked, pausing as he rummaged through cutlery to arch an eyebrow at her.

She shook her head. "No, I just think I'd find out more about you if I left the decision to you. How much you think you know about me, and what kinds of things you like to make."

"If you had to make a decision..."

"I just feel like omelette rice today."

Takeshi laughed. "That's … I haven't made that in a long time."

"So, since I told you what I wanted to eat, what do you want to cook?" Miyako asked, beginning to flip through the magazine. She couldn't shake the sinking feeling in her chest, though. The picture in the cafe -

"Are you okay?"

Miyako dropped her hand – she hadn't realised she'd been gripping the apple pendant Sasuke had given her.

"Yeah... it's just..."

He didn't press for answers, but Miyako decided it was time for a few things to be let out in the open. "Is it okay... for me to talk about myself, at a time like this?" Takeshi didn't reply, and Miyako chuckled. "I guess... it's... I... left someone in Yamanashi," she said finally, closing the magazine. "Someone who was... close to me. It was the best decision and I'd been thinking about it for months, but... I didn't get the chance to. I wasn't strong enough."

"Miyako."

She looked up, and saw only understanding in his eyes. Not pity – and she knew she'd made the right decision in choosing him.

"It's fine. You don't need to tell me. What's happened in the past... stays there." This man didn't belong in spy games, she knew. Everyone in their world held grudges. Just saying that you were even never guaranteed anything. She didn't really have a right bringing him into it, she thought guiltily. However, for the sake of mission, she would do anything.

"Do you really think so?" Miyako asked, leaning against the palm of her hand. "Su... Suzune-san doesn't seem to agree."

Takeshi sighed as he broke an egg into a bowl and whisked it briskly. "No, Suzu... Ichiraku is... she doesn't like to let go of the past."

"What happened...Takeshi-san?" Miyako ran her fingertips over the glossy, black and white cover. "If you don't mind me asking."

He shot her a strange look. "You don't need to bother with that. You're being too polite."

Miyako laughed. "I think that's how things normally work, Takeshi-san."

"Not with me. It's always been like that with my family – with Suzu's family, too – but not with me," Takeshi said, turning on the gas stove. "If I can call you Miya, you can call me Takeshi."

She smiled. "That's fair."

"Anyway, my great grandfather set up a private school in the city," Takeshi began, tossing the garlic about in the pan. "It was very prestigious, and still is. Suzu's family sent her there, and as a Sugimura, I went to the school too. I was three years her senior, so I didn't know her for long... but I fell in with a bad group, you could say." He added the rice to the pan without pause and Miyako watched as he slowly withdrew. "We... at the time, I knew how she felt about me, even three years later when it was her turn to graduate. I was young and foolish, but even so... well, after that, she never spoke to me again. She disappeared, in fact. Left to study overseas, and came back six years ago, set up shop soon after and things haven't really changed since."

"I see," Miyako said. "So you were lovers?"

The line rang with innocence that she knew she didn't really have. It was pure manipulation, but Miyako knew she had no choice. She didn't want to bring him too deep into her investigation, but something told her that Takeshi would be a far more informative contact than Suzune, and somewhat more free with his information, simply because she was a woman. In any case, the pair had been, after all, born into privilege. Crime syndicates died without lifeblood, thriving on fear, power and, most of all, money.

"Not quite," Takeshi said, pouring the egg into a smaller pan. "In any case, for me, that belongs in the past."

"So what about your present?"

Takeshi pulled a bottle of tomato sauce out of the fridge and turned to look at her. "Do you mean... are you asking me if I have a girlfriend?"

"If that's what you think..." Miyako took the bottle of sauce from him as he slid the plate over, and began to drizzle the sauce on top. Takeshi shook his head and began to prepare his own omelette. "Don't wait for me," he said quietly, watching as she finished with the sauce and wiped the nozzle with a tissue. "I'll only be a minute."

"Itadakimasu," she chimed with a smile, and took a generous spoonful of her omelette.

"The answer is no, by the way," Takeshi mumbled, over the sizzle of the pan. "I haven't had anything serious in..." he exhaled loudly. "Who knows how long?"

Miyako stopped for a moment to think. If Suzune was twenty-eight now, Takeshi would be thirty-one. Seven years...

"Hmm?"

She almost dropped her spoon and looked up, blushing. She'd once again let something slip, and it hadn't been intentional. Her game was up for tonight, at least. "It's nothing."

He merely nodded in response, a small smile on his face. Miyako glanced him again, looking away quickly. A relationship wasn't exactly what she needed. Actually, it was the last thing she needed. However, as much as she tried to deny it, she was here to work out who was hiding Lucia in Sendai. In order to do that, she had to use everyone around her to get her information – by any means possible. If manipulating Takeshi was going to get her to the bottom of this mystery sooner, she'd do it. Ruthlessness ran in her veins, and her heart was heavy for it... but it could no longer be helped. She had no choice.

Takeshi finally took a seat beside her, his omelette ready and covered quite liberally in tomato sauce. "How was your day?" he asked, placing a glass of beer in front of her. She'd fallen silent for the past few minutes, taking slow mouthfuls of her meal.

"Ah. Oh, thank you." Miyako took a sip of her drink. "It was the same as always, I guess. This strange person came into the cafe – Suzu said she knew him from school."

"Oh? Who was it?"

"Someone … with a really common last name. She tried to explain who he was, but I can't remember..."

"Saito Kazuma," Takeshi said, chuckling. "He seems really aloof, doesn't he? A cool kind of character?"

"Yeah, I guess so..."

He laughed. "He'll drop the act soon, you'll see. Serial womaniser."

Miyako knew the type. Men who lived for the thrill of the chase – as soon as a challenge was presented, the gloves came off. And then the desperation followed. As soon as any interest was shown, the prey was abandoned, the heady rush of the hunt dissipated.

"Well, it's Friday night – what are you going to do tonight?"

Miyako smiled. "I'm not sure... since Suzu's given me the night off, I might just go to sleep early."

"You're really something, Miya-chan," Takeshi sighed, shaking his head. "You're a young person. You should be out somewhere, drinking yourself stupid with your boyfriend or something..."

Miyako turned to look at him. "Well, I could be doing that now."

Takeshi smiled to himself and shook his head again, taking another spoonful of omelette, and Miyako knew she had him hooked.