Ch 42

V 1.0

A/N 1: This chapter contains scenes of torture, disturbing themes and imagery and memories of a suicide bombing. Reader discretion is advised.

Pussycat Club,
Patong Beach,
Phuket Province, Thailand,
Early July

Just after midnight
(day after pirate attack)

The techno bass was pounding like a sprinter's heartbeat after a race. Even 25 meters away from the open-walled club, Keitaro could feel the beat through his feet standing on the loose packed sand of the beach. The young ronin was not really a fan of techno music, but it was a lot better than yet another rendition of the pop song "One Night In Bangkok", which he could swear he had heard played an even dozen times as they searched for their quarry.

Nikolai's plane landed at Phuket International Airport just after eight in the evening the night before. After taxiing to Terminal 2 along with the domestic and charter flights, the Russian parked the dual prop cargo plane at the far end of the flight line. This did not keep an airport police car from approaching them, presumably to shake them down for a bribe, but once Keitaro jumped down from the passenger door and glared (and projected some ki) through his dark glasses at the suddenly heavily perspiring airport cop, the car suddenly did a U-turn and drove away. Nikolai had gotten a good chuckle out of it as he pulled out a mobile phone to call for transport.

Ten minutes later a battered blue minivan pulled up alongside the plane. By this point Keitaro, Gaz, and Nikolai had reached an agreement as to where to start. Given the contacts the burly Russian had in the tourist town, they knew that Pavel Gregorovich Popov was the owner and manager of three different clubs in Phuket, along with an import/export business. The Pussycat Club was a tourist trap on the beach fifteen kilometers from Phuket proper, the Baltic Club was a gentleman's drinking club in the touristy part of town, while the last club did not have a name, even though it was fairly well know by certain people; it catered to people with 'unusual interests'. Keitaro was not encouraged by the thought that they would have to go to three different clubs as well a business office to search for Popov, but Nikolai reassured him that during the tourist season Popov spent most of his time at the beach club, especially on the weekends.

Standing under the shadow of a palm tree, Keitaro could see the man he was looking for. The man looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, tall with thinning blond hair, slightly heavy build and even in these tropical climes had a pale sickly look about him. Dressed in a white long sleeve shirt and white slacks, the man looked like every other European expatriate in Southeast Asia, down to the shifty eyed look on his face.

"Toad to Ronin, it looks like our fish is ready to leave." Jerry, one of Nikolai's shooters, was positioned at the rear of the club, his accented voice coming through Keitaro's earpiece. Right now it was just the two of them at the club, Gaz having been dropped off at Popov's office. A black-bag job expert, the Brit was very experienced in sneaking into and out of places where he was not supposed to be, and finding documents and hiding places they were kept in. He even had a couple of portable hard drives loaded with brute force hacking programs to break into computers and download their contents. But for now Jerry and Keitaro were set to do a grab and bag on their target, who had just finished tallying up the receipts for the night and was talking to an apparent assistant manager, all while absently caressing the butt of a obviously not very happy young waitress.

Even though this club mostly catered to tourists, it offered more than just booze and dancing; all the hostesses and go-go dancers wore numbered tags the size of a softball at their waist. Keitaro had been watching the routine for the last couple hours; a tourist would approach the assistant manager and tell him the number of the girl he was interested in, the manager would summon the girl, who all had varying degrees of enthusiasm, and the pair would walk through a shadowed doorway with a bead curtain. About fifteen minutes later the tourist would walk back through the door to the dance floor, usually with a dopey grin on their face, and the girl would return and go back to work again after slipping the manager some cash. When the girls were not with customers they were usually smoking, trying to get the various tourists to buy them overpriced drinks or dancing on stage. It was not a strip club per se; there was no real nudity and most of the girls were dressed in either skimpy outfits or bikinis with sarongs. However, there was no mistaking why most of the men were there, and to Keitaro's surprise, some young women as well. Even as he watched, he could see college-aged girls engaging in drinking contests with their boyfriends, or in one spectacular case, a visibly drunk blonde girl in a bikini top and cut off jean shorts dirty dancing and tongue kissing a go-go dancer on top of the bar to the cheers of all nearby men.

"Copy that. The fish is starting to move toward the rear." Keitaro watched as their target gave a not so gentle smack on the rear of the girl he had been groping to send her on the way before picking up what was presumably the money bag and tucking it into a leather satchel that he had slung on his shoulder. Popov then turned and walked through the doorway to the kitchen, presumably to exit the side door to where his Mercedes coupe was parked.

"Toad in place." In this case, Jerry was crouched behind some trash containers located a fair distance behind Popov's parked car. Normally, the parking area was well lit, but the Russian had used some thrown stones to break a light or two, leaving part of the area in shadows – not the area next to the door and the car, as that would have set off any mental alarms Popov would have. However, there were enough shadows to be able to move covertly.

"Moving." Keitaro started to walk around the corner of the club, immediately attracting the attention of the target. To not get Popov too suspicious, the young ronin had his hands in his slacks pockets and was walking with both his head bowed and his feet shuffling against the crushed shell paving material, his face not pointed toward their target, but still tracking him out of the corner of his eye. Not that it worked very well; Popov was still focused on him, his right hand inside his satchel. Time for Part B of the distraction.

Pulling his hands out of his pockets, Keitaro dropped a handful of pocket change from the hand shielded from Popov's view. Cursing softly in English, the ronin carefully dropped to one knee and started picking up the various coins. The target relaxed slightly but was still focused on him, which was why he did not notice Jerry coming up behind him until the burly Russian wrapped his arm around his neck and started to choke him out. Popov struggled fiercely, clawing at Jerry's jacket sleeve, but after about fifteen seconds the target went limp.

By this time, Keitaro had grabbed the rest of the coins and quickly moved to the side of the two men. It was not until he checked the target's pulse and found it strong and steady that he finally spoke. "Good job there, Toad."

The Russian merc snorted. "Hope so, bossman. It embarrassing to accidently kill target. Don't get paid then." Nikolai had raised an eyebrow when Gaz and Seta had informed him that Keitaro was in charge of the operation in Phuket, but otherwise ran with it. The two other Russian contractors had not said anything since their boss was ok with such a young man being in charge. However the Russians had started calling the young Japanese 'boss', which made him slightly uncomfortable, since damn near everyone was twice as old as he was. Seta was the closest in age to Keitaro, and that was still a fifteen year difference. "Good thing we not have to use Plan B or C to take fish down."

Keitaro nodded in agreement as the two contractors began to drag Popov to their minivan. As risky as it was to choke someone into unconsciousness, using a woolen sock partially filled with wet sand as a soft club to the head, or an auto-injector loaded with morphine to knock someone out was even more so. Opening the back doors, Keitaro watched as Jerry pulled the unconscious man into the vehicle, then quickly used duct tape to secure Popov's hands and feet, then placed a strip across his eyes. After rolling the target onto his side, he finally handed the auto-injector to the younger man. "If he wake up and start fighting, poke him in side with knife and tell him to shut up. If still fight stick him with this. If police pull us over, stick him and come up to front seat, we will need your police ID to get us out." The Russian merc had been amused to see Keitaro pass himself off as a member of the dreaded national police… up until the point where the ronin directed ki and glared at him. After shaking the chill off, Jerry did not say anything more about the matter, although a slight smirk still stayed on his face.

Looking down at their captive, Keitaro was suddenly struck by a question. "Why didn't you gag him if you want to stay quiet?"

"People who are gagged have bad habit of throwing up. If mouth blocked, vomit goes into lungs, prisoner suffocates. Better to leave mouth and nose open." Jerry pulled a dirty tarp over Popov, leaving his head and one shoulder and upper arm visible. "If need to knock out, stick him in upper arm. If police stop us, stick him and cover him completely." The Russian started to move toward the driver seat. "Keep eyes on face and jaw, if start moving, let me know, means he waking up." Sliding into the seat, he started the engine as Keitaro slid down the side of the vehicle, sitting cross-legged close to Popov's face. With a clunk of gears shifting, the minivan drove out of the parking area, leaving little sign they had been there.

Tam's Auto Repair
Outskirts of Phuket,
Phuket Province, Thailand,
Early July

early morning
(day after pirate attack)

"We have a problem, boss. Two problems, actually."

Keitaro looked up from the material he was going through. While Nikolai and one of his shooters had been getting their prisoner ready for interrogation, the younger man had been going through the leather bag he had taken off of him. There was not much of immediate interest. After being cautioned by the Russian pilot, Keitaro had dumped the bag on a table top and while wearing latex gloves carefully inspected the contents. Money and ID was in one pile, written materials (in Cyrilic and another non-English Western language) in the form of loose papers and a notebook in another. A switchblade knife and a Walther .380 pistol were off to the side, and a mobile phone sat next to it. That left some small zip-lock baggies of leafy green plant matter and dirty white powder along with some cigarette rolling papers in the middle of the table. It did not take much imagination to realize the baggies contained illegal drugs, but this was the first time Keitaro had actually seen such things, and was idly examining the packets.

"What is it, Jerry?" asked Keitaro, look over toward the contractor. While Nikolai was a half a head taller and ten kilos heavier than the younger man, Jerry (a code name for this mission) had them both beat, standing at 190 cm and weighing close to 110 kilos (6 ft 2 in, 240 lbs), very little of it fat. The oldest of their group in his mid fifties, Jerry had longish spiky white hair, sun-reddened skin, and a network of thin scars on his face and arms, with the two most prominent forming what looked to be red tear tracks from his eyes down his cheeks. Wearing a dark blue and white sleeveless telynaska over faded black cargo pants, he looked like Yuri's mean grandfather.

"We are not going to be able to question this trash like we planned." Jerry gestured toward the prisoner, who was now bound to a chair, wearing only boxer shorts with both eyes and ears covered, still unconscious after a half dose of morphine. "I need to show you something."

Walking over to the captive, Keitaro noticed something that he had not seen before; there various tattoos on Popov's body. They had been concealed by the long sleeve shirt he had been wearing, but now he could see a mermaid tattoo on his left chest, along with a rose with thorns on his right. Moving around beside the chair, the Urashima could see the arms were bound together to the chair arms with duct tape, but the tattoos on the forearms were still visible. There was what looked be a young girl in a knee-length dress on his left arm and the letters 'SLON' in Western Gothic script on the right.

"I got a good look at his hands when I was binding him," Jerry said in a faint Russian accent. "He has ten dots tattooed across his knuckles, and five dots in a square design between his right thumb and forefinger. The joints of his fingers are swollen and his fingernails are all malformed. This man," Here Jerry paused for a moment, disgust apparent in his voice, "has spent time in Russian prisons, probably ten years or so. The rose means he started young and became of age in prison, and the mermaid means he was convicted of child molestation." Keitaro became very still, and Jerry looked at him curiously before resuming. "The SLON tattoo stands for 'Solovetsky Camps of Special Assignment', camps of strict regime, and can also mean 'Only Misfortunes From An Early Age' and is probably another sign of an early criminal career. The girl tattooed in his arm is probably the kind of girl he is interested in."

After a few moments of silence Keitaro spoke. "That girl on his arm looks to be a preteen." Jerry nodded but did not say anything. "What is the significance of the fingers?

"When the old Soviet police investigated what was considered heinous crimes, like child molestation, they were not gentle." Jerry explained. "The police probably broke his fingers and ripped out his fingernails during interrogation. For this trash to go through that and then survive ten years in prison as a child molester means he is no pushover. We are not going to be able to get intel out of him without drastic measures."

"How drastic?" Keitaro's voice was flat.

"Horror show drastic. Loud, bloody, messy, like smashing fingers with a hammer, genital or dental torture. Or we have to use borderline lethal methods, like electricity or waterboarding. Problem is twofold, we are not set up for something like that here, and getting rid of the body takes some planning," Jerry finished saying with a straight face.

Keitaro nodded but did not say anything for a few moments, visibly thinking. Looking at Popov, he was struck by a thought and after a few seconds turned back to Jerry. "This man uses drugs, correct?"

"Probably. Both recreationally and for his hands," replied Jerry.

"Some of the packets in his bag contained white powder. That means it's probably heroin, something like that?" Keitaro inquired.

"Yes, or China White, synthetic heroin. Doubt this type would use much cocaine. I didn't see any needle tracks on the arms, did you find any hypodermics or other drug paraphernalia?" Jerry asked.

"No, but I did find packets of what looks like marijuana and some cigarette rolling papers. Heroin can be smoked, yes?"

"Mixed with marijuana, sure. Have to be careful not to use high potency heroin, it can cause an overdose." Jerry answered.

"How much longer will our guest be unconscious?" asked Keitaro, looking down at the captive.

"With the dose he was given, maybe another hour. Sue can give him Narcan or epinephrine to wake him up if need be," replied Jerry. Sue was the medic that Nikolai had brought along with Jerry. A statuesque Russian that looked to be in her early 30's, she was only a few centimeters shorter than Jerry, with blonde hair worn in dual long pigtails that reached below her shoulders. She was probably an unconscious chi user given her extraordinary strength; she had picked up an embarrassed Seta bridal style from his bed in the clinic to move to a gurney. Of course the other reason Seta may have been embarrassed may have Sue's other outstanding feature; the woman had the biggest breasts Keitaro had ever seen, at least in real life, probably a Western G-cup. When Sue had picked Seta up from the bed his face was pushed into the side of one of her breasts, which had caused all the other men present in the room to crack up laughing. Of course the fact that Sue was dressed in a tight low cut green v-top over tight black combat pants did not help the situation either.

Keitaro looked off to the side for a few moments before speaking again. "Would Sue have a problem assisting us with the interrogation? I mean really assisting, as in doing things that might hurt or kill?"

Jerry opened his mouth to speak, but closed it and visibly thought for a moment before finally talking. "Normally, I would say yes, but Sue did volunteer work in refugee camps with victims of rape and molestation. She *really* hates those types, so if I tell her that this trash is one of those, she'll help out. The problem might be that she overreacts, she might wind up pulling off his fingers or castrating him."

"Well, it's something to consider. Go ahead and talk to her, feel her out about her actively assisting. We still have time until Gaz gets back, it won't start until then. And by feel out, I mean figurative, not literal. I don't want to be a man down because Sue hit you again." Keitaro was referring to Jerry and Sue's pseudo-romantic relationship. Even though Sue would loudly and vocally deny it, anyone who observed the two would realize that they cared deeply for each other. The problem was that Jerry was something of a letch, and not shy about the innuendo. Keitaro had seen Sue punch Jerry after a risqué suggestion and literally get blown off his feet, only for the older man to pop up off the floor a moment later. The young ronin would not want to be on the receiving end of one of those punches, but Jerry would laugh them off. "I'll keep watch, you go ahead and talk to her now." Sue was with Seta in another room, double checking his wounds to make sure they were not reopened. Jerry nodded and walked away, leaving Keitaro thoughtfully looking at their unconscious prisoner.

"You sure you want to do this, mate? There is a good chance that this is going to kill him." It was a sign of how disconcerted Gaz was that he had called Keitaro 'mate', which he had stopped doing when Keitaro was put in charge.

"Is there any other way to get intel out of this man?" Keitaro replied, his eyes fixing on the older man's. The two men were alone with the prisoner, with Nikolai and Jerry currently keeping Sue company as she watched over Seta, who was dozing from the meds she had given him.

"No. Not with what I found." Gaz had arrived thirty minutes prior, his face as pale as Keitaro had ever seen it. After he had told the group what he had found, it was easy to understand why.

Gaz was able to disarm Popov's security system at his house without any trouble. Searching his office took only ten minutes to find the hidden safe below the foot rug under the desk, where the Briton was able to find a stack of business ledgers, some computer USB drives, and a bag containing a sizable amount of gold bullion coins of mixed national origin. There were approximately two hundred one ounce coins in that bag, and with gold selling for about US $1200 an ounce, that made the value of the coins about $250,000. But that was not what had shaken the older man.

Plugging one of the USB drives on the sterile laptop he had brought along, Gaz cracked the password protection in thirty seconds, only to almost immediately regret it. The drive had about two thousand images on it, all of them pictures of various Asian children, both boys and girls, being sexually assaulted and raped by different men, some of the children as young as five years old. Checking the metadata of the image files, Gaz found that the images had been generated at differing times up to five years before, with the names and financial details of the men involved appended to the files, assumedly for blackmail purposes. The three other drives showed more of the same, with some pictures being ten years old. The pictures had been taken at different locations, but there was one extensive file folder where an arm was occasionally seen with a tattoo of a young girl in a short dress.

"You know that we are going to have to kill this man after we're done?" asked Gaz, concern apparent in his voice.

"I've killed in cold blood before. Even if it was not for Sarah, justice demands this." Keitaro replied. Looking over at Popov, who was blindfolded and strapped down at the shoulders, waist and ankles to a board with his feet higher than his head and connected to a mini heart monitor machine, he ordered, "Go ahead and wake him up." The merc nodded and snapped an ammonia ampoule under Popov's nose, who began to stir, his head moving back and forth for a few moments before his entire body stiffened and went still. Any attempt to pretend he was still unconscious was belied by the now rapidly beeping machine measuring his heart rate, which had jumped from 60 beats per minute to almost double that.

"Good evening, Gospodin Popov." Gaz said in an even voice, affecting a slight Russian accent. It had been decided beforehand that only one person would speak, in order to not confuse the prisoner. "We have some questions, it would behoove you to answer them truthfully, otherwise things will become… unpleasant."

"Who are you? What do you want?" Popov's head was jerking around now, but he stayed securely bound to the board.

"We know that you are in the procuring business, young children, to be exact. We also know that you supply children for sex tourists here in Thailand, and take pictures of these activities for both sale on the internet and for blackmail purposes. We wish to take possession of these photos." Gaz's voice stayed steady.

"You're wrong! I am just a businessman! I don't have anything to do with such things!" Even as Popov denied this, his heart-rate kept increasing, and was now at 160 bpm.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Gospodin. We both know that is not true. The tattoos on your body say as much. A mermaid and that young girl?" Gaz clicked his tongue. "Plus the fact that you are the owner of establishments that at the very least are fronts for prostitution. You are lying to us, and therefore must suffer the consequences." Gaz nodded toward Keitaro, who slammed a folded over sheet of clear plastic wrap over Popov's face. Gaz then uncrimped the rubber hose he was holding and started pouring water over the Russian's head.

Popov immediately tried to suck in a breath as the sensation of water was felt on his face, but the plastic sheet cut off his access to air. He tried to scream and thrashed in place, but the water kept pouring for about ten seconds before Gaz moved the hose away and Keitaro took off the plastic. Gaz let the man gasp and pant for a few moments before speaking again.

"Everytime you lie, you will suffer the consequences. Eventually you will answer me, the only question is how long it will take. And for your information, in my experience the longest time someone has resisting this method is thirty five seconds in one use, or five minutes with multiple uses. Let's see how long you last before you break." Here Gaz leaned down so his face was close to the head of the still panting, not quite panicking Russian "And you will break," Gaz murmured into his ear before straightening and nodding at Keitaro, who pressed the plastic over the captive's face before the Briton started pouring water on top of it again. Apparently Popov was able to get a good breath of air before he went under, as he gave a muffled cry of terror and panic.

In the end, it only took four minutes for Popov to start talking. But it took another ten minutes before what he said was able to be confirmed to be true. It was one of the benefits of having raided Popov's office before the interrogation. At first the captive Russian tried to throw them off the trail by giving them the location of a secondary safe, one that held altered business ledgers and some cash, although not in the same amounts as had been found in the mother lode safe. Since Gaz had found the secondary safe during the search of the office, he knew that Popov was lying and took immediate action. Pouring water directly on his face for twenty seconds without the plastic sheet and then hitting the captive on the stomach with his fist to make him throw up the water he had ingested, Gaz then rinsed his face off with the hose to clear it of the vomitus, the Russian sputtering and coughing with great force. Once he was sure the captive had cleared his airway and was breathing relatively clearly, Gaz bent down and whispered "You're still lying to me, Gospodin," before motioning for a stone-faced Keitaro to apply the plastic sheet again. However, instead of the ten to fifteen seconds stints they have been doing before, they keep the plastic and water on for a full thirty seconds before removing them.

It took only two repetitions of this before Popov stopped screaming and instead began sobbing. Recognizing that the captive had finally broken, the plastic was removed and the questioning resumed. That took twenty minutes, resulting in copious note-taking and several tangents before they were able to get to Popov's latest acquisitions and their whereabouts, as they were trying to conceal their interest to prevent Popov from giving them bad info.

Gaz and Keitaro had hoped that Sarah was still in Phuket, but apparently that was not the case. The young ronin had grit his teeth but otherwise kept quiet when he heard that Sarah had already been shipped out of town, luckily still untouched. It was when they heard where the young American girl had been shipped to that Gaz lost it.

Grabbing the hose, Gaz shoved it in Popov's mouth, water flooding out of the instantly struggling man's mouth and nose. A shocked Keitaro immediately pushed Gaz away from the captive, leaving him to hack and wheeze, while the ronin struggled to hold the furious British merc back. Thankfully, Gaz was not attacking Keitaro to get away, so he was able to hold him in a bear-hug until the Brit calmed down some.

Approaching the still coughing captive, Gaz growled that if for any reason he though Popov was lying to him he would break out the truck battery and jumper cables. The Russian captive frantically swore that he was telling the truth and the interrogation continued.

Twenty minutes later, Gaz was leaning against the workbench, his head down and his eyes closed, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Keitaro was looking at him with worry written across his otherwise emotionless face. Popov was unconscious on the board, having been injected with morphine once Gaz and Keitaro had determined they had gotten all the information available from him.

"How bad is this place that Popov talked about? I've heard you refer to Roanapur before, but you did not go into great detail." Gaz and Yuri had mentioned the Thai seaside town in some of their conversations, but only that it was infested with criminals, which was not that unusual in Southeast Asia.

Gaz took a deep breath before looking up, a haunted look in his eyes. "It's pretty bad. It's about as far as you can get from Bangkok on the west side of the country, and it is close to the Cambodian border. It was originally a Japanese resupply and repair base that was carved out of the jungle near a decent harbor from the Pacific War, but when they bugged out near the end of the war the criminals moved in. The Thais set up government offices there, but it was like most other coastal towns until the Vietnam War. At the beginning it was mostly drug smuggling and gun running, both on land and sea, but after the war piracy took off like a rocket. Nowadays the bosses of the four biggest criminal groups run the place, the government officials aren't puppets, they're figureheads. Any criminal activity you want think of you can find it there. Drugs, guns, stolen merchandise, forced labor trafficking, organ trafficking. You have enough money, you can buy it there or arrange to do so." Gaz was looking straight at Keitaro, but you could see in his eyes that he was a million miles away in his memories. "The worst is the sex trafficking, there is literally nothing you can't buy. Women, young girls, young boys, infants… And you can use them however you want, as long as you have the money. It's a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah."

"Infants?" Keitaro had gone very still.

"Not for sex purposes, not often I think. What they do use them for is drug smuggling. Sometimes they hide packets of drugs in their clothes and diapers, that kind of thing, but the worst thing I ever heard of was a drug ring out of Burma into Thailand. They would suffocate a newborn infant, replace it's insides with packets of drugs, and then they would be carried through border crossings as though they were asleep in their mother's arms." Gaz eyed Keitaro as the younger man went dead pale but otherwise stayed still. "They also sell them to people who can't legally adopt otherwise."

Keitaro stared past Gaz for a long moment before his eyes cut back to him. "How much of the intel you got about Sarah is you think is good?"

Gaz shrugged. "It's fairly decent, actually. We have a name, a nationality, a possible criminal affiliation. Physical description, a last known location. Back in the day my group could do quite a bit with that."

Keitaro nodded. "Have you ever been to Roanapur yourself?"

"Yeah, back when I first joined Sport And Social. There was a Chinese triad group out of Hong Kong that was setting up a drug smuggling line through Roanapur to the UK using refugees after the '97 turnover to the PRC. They sent us in because the Thai cops didn't cooperate with us for shit, and the triad had former HK spec op cops as gunmen. We managed to bust up the ring, but it was a bloody mess. Damn near all of us were hit in that op, and we lost two men. It was actually the worst I had been hurt in the service until I was hit in Russia."

"When you were hit in the chest and wound up losing your lung?" asked Keitaro. Gaz had mentioned the wounds that had resulted in him being medically retired from the British Army, but had never gone into much detail about it.

"Yeah. Almost bled to death, spent three months in the hospital, given a handshake and a kick out the door. Plus side is that I watched Zakhaev get the back of his head blown off after he shot me. Almost makes up for losing the lung." Gaz smiled faintly at the memory.

"Imran Zakhaev?" Keitaro asked in some disbelief. The infamous Russian Ultranationalist had almost won the Russian Civil War, and there was some talk that he had been trafficking in stolen nuclear weapons. His death had occurred under mysterious circumstances, but one thing that Keitaro clearly remembered was the pictures of the dead warlord's head flashed across the world by triumphant Loyalist troops, after a quick and messy reconstruction. He had heard that the body had wound up being buried in an unmarked grave after a thermite grenade was tossed in and reduced it to metal slag and blackened ash. The Ultranationalist movement collapsed after his death and that of his son Victor, and was completely destroyed after the death of his second-in-command Vladimir Makarov.

"Zakhaev? Who's that?" Gaz smiled slightly, but it faded after a moment. "Mate, I hate to say this, but Roanapur is almost too much to take on. Our op in there involved a full SAS troop of 15 men and we still got shot up. Even with the money we have from Seta and what I grabbed from Popov, we can't afford to hire that many men, even if we can find shooters that are willing to risk it. There's only two types of people in Roanapur, bad guys and people who turn a blind eye to them. Everyone else gets killed."

Keitaro sighed and looked down for a moment before raising his head again. "Your op was a raid in force, right?"

"Yeah, we sent in a three man scout team, and the rest were afloat on an Aussie frigate near the Philippines." Gaz replied. "They got in close to the town the day before the raid and were dropped in the water by helo about ten miles out with zodiacs boats. They snuck into the harbor and linked up with the recce element, then raided the dock warehouse the drug ring was in. The problem was that once the shooting started all the different groups on the dock joined together to fight against us once they realized we were military, who they considered their common enemy. Instead of going up against twenty triad gunmen, we wound up against a couple *hundred* gunmen total. We got trapped in the warehouse, and the only way we were able to get out was to use explosives to blow a hole in the floor and drop through in into the water below, then swim like hell. We had rigged the rest of our C4 to take out the warehouse after we bugged out and it got blown into matchsticks, so the zodiacs were able to grab us out of the water and haul ass back to our pickup point."

"But you were able to operate in Roanapur in a small group, yes?" queried Keitaro.

Gaz nodded. "It was tricky, we had to pretend we were guns for hire looking for work. It was one of the most stressful weeks I had ever spent outside of actual combat. It even beat the time I spent in Selection, there I was fairly sure I wasn't going to die at any given moment."

"Do you think you can do it again?" Keitaro's gaze were fixed on Gaz again, and given that he was not wearing his tinted glasses, his bloodstained eyes made him look even more disconcerting.

"You're seriously considering going into that god-forsaken city?" Gaz asked incredulously. "Haven't you been listening to what I've been saying? A full troop of trained counter-terror operators got shot to pieces just raiding the place. And we had solid intel on what we were after. We would have to go in and ask around, something people take a really dim view of, and get someone out who may very well be gone beyond our ability to track… or dead. Are you listening to what you are saying?"

Gaz watched as Keitaro blinked slowly, then the look in his eyes intensified, almost to the point where his eyes were glowing. After a few moments of silence the younger man finally spoke.

"I made a promise, Gaz. Two of them actually. I keep my promises, one way or the other." Keitaro kept staring at Gaz, to the point where the veteran merc was starting to feel uncomfortable, if not nervous. "All you have to do is get me into Roanapur and help me look for Sarah. If it gets too dangerous there, you can leave and I will continue on my own. Just get me close to Sarah, that's all I ask."

Frozen as he watched the young ronin calmly stare at him, Gaz abruptly realized where he had seen that look before. Many years before he had been on an op in Afghanistan where his team was at a forward operating base preparing for a raid against insurgent forces. One morning he had been close to the gate of the base when he had seen a young boy dressed in tribal clothes, about 12 years old or so, walking toward the guards. He was not visibly armed, he was not carrying anything, but the kid had a calm blank look on his face that sent chills though his bones even in the sweltering heat.

The guards on the gate realized something was wrong when the kid did not respond to shouted commands to stop in English and Pashtun and kept walking toward the base. Even as the guards ducked behind sandbags walls and other guards on the nearby tower started to draw a bead on him with a light machine gun, the boy stopped, looked over toward Gaz and smiled gently before raising his hand toward him, which was holding an object with a wire leading from it and up his shirtsleeve. Realizing what was about to happen, Gaz dove for the ground, and even over the shouts of the guards, could hear the young boy say in a calm even voice Allahu Akbar before triggering the explosive vest under his shirt.

Even to this day Gaz could remember the smell of dirt, and explosives and blood as pieces of the boy landed all around him. No soldiers were hurt or killed that day, but Gaz could never forget the look on the boy's face, a look that he was seeing again on the young man in front of him. It was the look of someone who did not fear death, but was only intent on one thing – destruction.

"You're going to do this with or without me, aren't you?" Gaz finally broke the silence. Watching as Keitaro nodded, the older man continued. "I'll help you, but I want you to make *me* a promise."

"Depends. What is it?" Keitaro looked slightly curious.

"You are not going out there deliberately looking for death. I want you to promise me that you will do your upmost to get out of this alive." Gaz watched as he considered this for a moment.

"I can promise that I do what I can to survive this. But if it comes down to making sure I fulfill my promise about Sarah or about myself, Sarah has the priority. Is that acceptable?" Keitaro asked mildly. Seeing the reluctance on Gaz's face, he continued. "If not, I can ask either Nikolai or Jerry to assist me in this."

Gaz closed his eyes as though in pain. While Nikolai *probably* would not help Keitaro if Gaz asked him to, Jerry was more mercenary. Not to say that the older Russian would betray the young Japanese man or not do a good job, but he would be less motivated than Gaz to protect his friend.

"That is acceptable. Now promise me, Keitaro." Gaz opened his eyes and watched as the younger man looked him straight in the eye.

"I promise I will do what I can to survive this mission to rescue Sarah, so long as it does not interfere with either promise I have already made about her." Keitaro took a deep breath and let it out before continuing. "On my honor."

Suddenly feeling older than he had any right to, Gaz looked away from Keitaro toward their unconscious prisoner. Seeing where his attention was, the ronin turned in that direction as well. "We're done with Popov, yes? There is nothing left to get out of him?"

"We're done with him." Gaz watched as Keitaro picked up two objects from the table beside him and then walk over to the bound man, standing even with Popov's waist, Gaz joining him on the opposite side.

"You sure you want to do this? I can do it instead." Gaz watched as Keitaro set the two morphine auto-injectors to full dosage before putting one down and holding another at the ready.

"Those who give the order should also be able to swing the sword." Keitaro replied. Looking at his older companion's face, he saw the Briton give a short nod.

Moving the auto-injector to Popov's thigh, Keitaro stuck the needle in close to the femoral artery and vein and activated it, injecting the full 20 mg of morphine. A few moments later he repeated his actions with the second auto-injector on the opposite leg. Given that Popov have received a full dose of morphine twenty minutes before, these two additional injections should be enough to push him over the lethality threshold. If not, they still had two more full injectors to use, but it turned out not to be necessary.

Watching as Popov's breathing started to slow, they could also hear the beeping of the heart monitor slow as well. After about five minutes the slow beeps turned into the characteristic steady tone indicating heart failure. Upon hearing the tone, Gaz softly said, "And may the gates of Hell swing wide open for you, Pavel Gregorovich," before reaching over to turn off the monitor, leaving the room silent.

A/N 2 – Another day, another update. Only this one is three and a half months after my last one. I feel so ashamed. Plus the fact that I have not gotten to the point where I want to be – at the end of the arc, so that I can go back to the Hinata-sou. I keep winding up with more backstory in the chapters than I plan, or at least more detail than I originally plan, since most of this stuff I come up with as I go along.

Part of the reason I want to go back to the Sou is because of how dark this part of the story is. What makes it worse is that most of these dark details are not fictional. The drug smuggling, the suicide bombing, the sex trafficking are all based on real life incidents. Maybe I should get the carnival sign comedian John Larroquette had up on his old show and post it as the story cover image – This Is A Dark Ride.

Eh. There is only one more talk-y scene to go, then the Viking funeral, and then an omake involving Yuri before it's back to the semi-serious comedy part of the story. Because seriously, how can you have Mutsumi around and not have comedy?

As some of the readers may have noticed, I had a couple of cameo characters in this chapter. Anime fans will recognize them from their descriptions, as I had to slightly change their names and their nationalities to make them fit the story. A cookie to those that can figure it out. Another cookie for whoever figures out where the 'order/sword' line came from. Credit for the 'not fear death – intent on destruction' line goes to Tenhawk, a writer of excellent BtVS stories.

I went to Anime Expo again this year, and once again I commissioned a couple of drawings for this story. One of them came out rather well, and I was planning on using it as the cover picture for the story… only FFN wouldn't let upload it. *sigh* I finally got it to work though. *yatta!* The drawing is of Miyuki, Keitaro and Natsumi and is titled 'The Trio'. Feedback please! I've got cookies! *grin*

As always, I have kept updating my TvTropes page for this story. There are spoilers hidden through if you are interested in that kind of thing.

Thanks again to AZ MII for his help with this story.

Winners for last chapter for the most readers in a non-English primary language country is the Philippines and Poland, with the runner-ups being Indonesia and Mexico. Most unusual is Slovakia, where *one* person read all 41 chapters in one shot.

As of 0130 20Jul2015 this story has 218k words, 655 Reviews, 590k Views, 57 C2 Listings, 1226 Favorites Listings *yatta!* and 1018 Alert Listings (yatta again!). Next milestone to pass – 1000 Reviews!

Thanks again to all my readers. *peace sign*