The Spiders' headquarters in York New is a building that used to serve as public housing. When the new mayor took over, the former administration's projects were scrapped. The building was boarded up and the tenants relocated to the rural areas. The government was going to demolish it and turn the area into a commercial district but the stock market crashed. Without any forthcoming investments, the site was abandoned and remained unoccupied for over a decade until the Ryodan leased it under the name of a fake Yoruba-based corporation.
The benefit was that Ryodan members had individual rooms to themselves. Shalnark and Kuroro drew up plans to make it functional so they had running water, electricity and Internet connection – Shalnark insisted on having the latter two so he can do his research.
Machi retired to her room after a meeting with the others. There was a thin mattress on one corner and some clothes were strewn across the floor. A piece of glass hung on one wall to serve as a mirror.
Kuroro, Shalnark and Pakunoda arrived an hour after Fay was found dead. Nobunaga detained the woman he had been talking to – she was one of the Triad's new keepers. Machi relayed the events to other Ryodan members and they scoured the grounds until morning for any signs of the Telescope or the person who stole it. All the guests, acrobats and servers were subject to hours-long questioning by the Triad, something the Spiders managed to evade. Hisoka was nowhere to be found.
So far the job was airtight – whoever was behind it planned the whole thing carefully and left no apparent traces. Even Shalnark was stumped for the first time. He theorized that it can only be an inside job; it was too clean. Or it was carried out by someone with a stealthy nen ability. He was hunched over his laptop, going over names of guests, doing a background check on the catering services company and examining the blueprint of the mansion. The venue had no CCTV cameras.
Hisoka arrived at headquarters around noon minus the metallic cape and with his hair in great disarray. He entered through the back door in a nonchalant manner, sat on a stoll and put his feet up on the kitchen table. When Machi picked up on his aura, she went downstairs to speak with him. He regarded her with a big smile.
"It's noon. Where were you last night? We were ringing your phone."
"I met a pretty young lady to take home."
Or something else?
When Machi gave him an icy glare, he changed his story.
"I was detained by those goons for interrogation. It was terrible. They really roughed me up so we had a big fight."
"Kuroro wants to speak with you. He's reading upstairs."
"Are you upset, Machi?"
She left the room without another look at him. Playing back last night's events, she figured he must have disappeared when she got distracted by Fay's entrance. What he was up to during those moments until his appearance at headquarters was still unaccounted for. She entertained ideas. If he ever killed Fay, it shouldn't be a problem – the Ryodan wanted nothing to do with the man, though he could have been a good source of information. If he took the Telescope then her job should be easier, since he's a Spider. So what bothered her, exactly?
The second premise depended on Hisoka's willingness to share the Telescope, of course, and it presumed that he was being honest with the group. Intuition told her he wasn't.
"Death threats weren't new to Fay. He led the mutiny. A long list of suspects range from loyal supporters of the former godfather, whom Fay had murdered, to rival organizations that want to send a strong message by killing off the new leader."
Shalnark scanned the room to see if everyone was paying attention. Then he continued. "I'd rule out the idea of rival organizations assassinating him. Though it's not entirely impossible, it would mean war – something that crime syndicates can't afford right now. The international police is becoming more aggressive and organized crime groups would be better off showing them a united front."
"That leaves us with the old godfather's supporters; only a few of them attended the event to keep up appearances. The others have distanced themselves from the Triad, though of course, they could have easily hired someone to do it. A clever nen ability, like a specialization or manipulation type, can also allow any one of them to kill him from a distance. We need to figure out who did it. It's apparent that the person who killed him also has the Telescope."
So is the tipster one of the former godfather's supporters? That's one good reason to sell out the Triad. Machi stared blankly at the notes Shalnark gave her. She looked at Hisoka, who look bored and miserable. He held her gaze and flashed her the ace of hearts.
"That's something I still don't get. Why do we want this Telescope so bad? How much is it worth?" Nobunaga asked as he polished his katana. These were the most brilliant questions Hisoka heard since the mission started. He noticed that Ryodan members rarely asked Kuroro to justify missions; they'd question the method from time to time, but never the rationale. They were such good little troopers. There was something almost drone-like about them.
Kuroro spoke up. "In the market, the cylinder won't sell for anything. In fact, only a junk shop would accept it. But it's a key within a key. Once we figure out the right combinations, it can access the Triad's main vault and numerous financial accounts. The cylinder's value is also more symbolic than anything; for the Triad and the feuding crime groups, anyone who wields it is perceived to possess wisdom and power."
"Right." Shalnark became more enthusiastic. "And as you already know, the cylinder can have up to thousands of combinations. It was designed by a famous mathematician using old numeric rules and principles. If you can crack its code, you can crack pretty much anything . As legend goes, deciphering the cylinder helps you discover the fundamentals that all codes and patterns follow. That's if you get it right."
"Imagine what that means for us. We'd be able to hack any system or open any bank vault. It's a good alternative if we can't use force, which is the case with the main vault. If you use force or some means other than the Telescope, it will self-destruct. This last detail is something we got out of our hostage."
"Besides" Shalnark snickered "We could use the money to buy a private jet. I'm sick of flying commercial."
"Missed me, Beth?" Nobunaga entered a windowless room to bring the hostage some food. Pakunoda followed behind him. They had new questions to ask.
The woman was in her thirties with mousy brown hair and a thin build. She had a nervous air about her and had a habit of biting her nails. Tonight she seemed resigned to her situation and did nothing to resist her captors. As she modestly ate the food they served her, Pakunoda put a hand on the woman's right shoulder.
She could ask any question and extract the answer from a person's memory. While science already knows the capacity of a healthy person's short-term memory, long-term memories were still a mystery. No one knows just how much memory a person can store in a lifetime – the human mind, in Pakunoda's opinion, was still the most fascinating vault in the world.
Her ability worked in two ways: she could ask definite questions, which conjured specific memories. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, conjured a torrent of memories that could help her understand a person, her motives and actions. It sometimes made her feel guilty that she could take a shortcut to getting to know somebody; so years ago, she decided on principle to never use it on comrades and friends. Kuroro, however, was the only person who didn't mind subjecting himself to her ability in a casual manner. He hid nothing from her and her complete knowledge of him made it difficult for her to be objective in the work they did together.
Pakunoda asked Beth both kinds of questions. The first one gave her a surprising yet reasonable answer. The second gave her insight into the woman's life, her long career as a mathematician and her family's connections with organized crime.
Pakunoda saw an opulent home, most likely in uptown York New. The blue roses printed on the wallpaper were so vivid that they almost made up for the house's seeming emptiness. In the bedroom, there was a girl of about five or four. She was wearing a chiffon dress, the type girls would wear to church. She was scribbling on the wall with a red crayon. At first, Pakunoda thought was drawing tiny butterflies. Upon closer look, she saw that they were numbers and formulas.
All she wanted was solve numerical problems for the rest of her life, grow old unmarried and childless, holed up in a room working on her maths. That plan never materialized because her family took note of her genius and obliged her to work for the Triad.
Influence can take you farther than intelligence ever will.
After what seemed like hours, she snapped back to the present time. Open-ended questions always drained her. Nobunaga gave her a concerned look; he knew it was time to take leave of their guest. While she was busy sifting through Beth's memories, he tried to put the hostage at ease with light chatter and jokes. He could mollify a raging bull, but he was aware that his efforts did little to remedy Beth's apprehension. Which was too bad because he did like her. She seemed like a simple yet sensible woman. He might bargain with the Spiders for her after the mission was done.
"Alright, I guess that's it for now. See? That wasn't so scary." He flashed her his biggest smile. "We'll see you tomorrow."
When they shut the door, Beth estimated that she had been there for 12 hours, 27 minutes and 39.6 seconds. That had been her only meal for the day and she must have consumed approximately 112 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of sugar and 10 grams of protein. That would be enough to fuel her for another 10 hours, if she didn't expend much energy, after which she'd grow hungry again. She hoped Nobunaga liked her enough to bring her breakfast the following morning. She should be more responsive to his conversation next time.
She could only shrug at her present situation. The woman who sleeps with dogs gets fleas. To pass the time, she made mental calculations of the room's dimensions, and based on those figures, made estimates of the entire building's dimensions.