AN: A quick one that I threw together on a whim. I like to think of it as Kara no Kyōkai recovering from a hangover while watching Chinatown. I also wanted to see what would happen if I proofread more than once. I'm going to keep doing that, I think. This was just for fun, so if you find the ride bumpy, just get off, you'll probably be better for it.
Edit 4/10/13: Some people have requested that I keep going with these, so there will be more. However, I feel every story or "case" should be it's own separate entity, so I'll name them HSS: Insert Story Name Here from now on. And because of this, I've decided to rename this one. The second story, in case you want to read more before the third goes up, is called Where Shadows Run From Themselves (just like that) and is already up on this site.
The Things We Do
It was a dark and stormy night.
What a pain in the ass.
I was stopped on the sidewalk, staring in disbelief at my now damp cigarette. One lone raindrop had somehow managed to slip in between the awnings I had been walking under, landing perfectly on the cherry. I fumbled for a new one and my matches, managing to hold my curses behind my teeth. A great feat, but it didn't impress anyone, including myself. Once re-lit, I made sure to cup my hand around my last smoke as I walked. I was never in the best of moods at any time, but nicotine deprivation coupled with another meeting with Miss Tohsaka always produced something that tasted sour and watered down. It still managed to get me dizzy, though. I was going to need to be on my best behavior if I was going to land this job, or at the very least land on my feet. I hadn't had any work in a month, and I had bills to pay. I might not have been able to smile, but I at least needed to prove my competence. It was going to be an uphill battle, especially after they saw I had stumbled out of my apartment without an umbrella and still hungover.
London had never looked cheery to me, even less so in that rain, but at least the thunder and lighting added a bit of life to it. That section of town especially needed every drop it could get. The recession had hit them hard; it was only nine o'clock, but only a few people had the gall to light their homes.
Rin Tohsaka stood outside the dingy hotel, clad in a red overcoat, with her black hair tucked into it to keep it dry. Under the coat was a red dress shirt, completely closed, with a red jeweled brooch peeking out from under the collar. A long dusky red skirt hugged her hips, and you could see black stockinged ankles and brown leather loafered feet sticking out the bottom. She reminded me of the little red flag matadors wave in front of tired bulls. I wondered if there were any gray bulls in the world. In my dismal and nearly all gray ensemble, I sure as hell felt like one.
She had been staring down at a pocket-watch, and the average passerby would think her trendy, but I knew better. We all had cell phones, but high-tech for her was that pocket-watch. She snapped it closed and looked up, catching me in her sour look and crossing her arms. She spoke tartly, "You're late." She tended to speak in short sentences, being that I hadn't been the only one who had pointed out that her English wasn't as good as she originally thought.
"Car's in the shop." I spoke in short sentences because I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible, and because people made fun of my American accent. "Hopefully, if this goes well, I'll have it back."
"You could have taken a bus or something."
I blew smoke out my nose, and I thought of bulls again. "You ever take a bus, Toh-skah?"
She just shook her head and huffed. I had mispronounced it again. Oh well. She turned to the glass double doors leading to the lobby, not bothering to hold them open for me. Whatever, I never considered myself a delicate flower, anyway.
Once inside, though, she flowed across the lobby with grace, carrying herself perfectly straight and elegant, like she was going to meet the Queen. I realized at that moment we were being watched. No other reason for her to put on her polite school-girl act. I had to admit, it was a damn good one. It worked a number on me when I first met her, and it worked for the man with the croaky voice at the front desk. She got our destination from him, and after a few steps we were both packed in a tiny elevator with slimy walls.
We reached our floor and rendezvous without incident. She rapped on the door, and a man in a double breasted black suit opened it. He beamed at Tohsaka and I, and waved us in, "I was beginning to worry you wouldn't show." The smile never left his face. He gave it out easily, like mints or tooth-picks at a restaurant.
Tohsaka spoke, "The storm kept us."
"Ah, it is coming down rather hard tonight," the suit said, and motioned to some chairs in the middle of the room. It was a decent room for the dump it was nestled in. We all sat facing each other.
The suit turned to me, "Now, mister, uh..."
"Michael Christian," I said. "Just call me Mikey."
The suit seemed a bit uneasy, "I think I will keep to Mr. Christian, if you don't mind."
Tohsaka gave me a look, and I said I didn't mind at all.
"Wonderful," the suit said. "Now, I understand that you already know this is a very sensitive situation and proposal."
"And that it would be very appreciated if you didn't say a thing to anyone."
"Something like this would scare away business, not attract it. And let's not talk about my perceived mental health."
"Very good," the suit leaned back and clasped his hands together in his lap. "You've helped Miss Tohsaka in the past, correct?"
"Here and there."
"How did you two find one another?"
I cut Tohsaka off, "She needed a private investigator to tail someone for her, and apparently my reputation was good enough to reach and appeal to her."
The suit cast Tohsaka a bewildered look, and she looked at her lap, faintly blushing. The suit said, "That seems very risky, does it not?"
I decided to be a nice guy, for once, "Things got out of hand because of me. I guess I turned out to be as good as my reputation, and dug a little further than what was expected."
Tohsaka kneaded her hands in her lap.
The suit turned back to me, "Yes, very good, indeed. You managed to take down that madman all by yourself?"
"No-one's bullet proof."
The suit laughed, "Very much so, sir, very much so. It would appear that you are quite the shot."
"Yeah, I guess." I paused for a beat. "I've never been too keen on shooting anyone, really, so I rarely carry. It's also too much trouble with the police. I have my business to think about."
"Yes, the police can be very troublesome," the suit said, and closed his eyes for a moment.
From then on I didn't like him. I thought about the money.
The suit's eyes fluttered open, "It is quite pleasing to hear how humble you are, as well as restrained. What you accomplished was no great feat. You must be a very dangerous foe, maybe one of the most in this circle." He smiled again.
I reflected on that. One time, I had cornered a guy for Tohsaka in a derelict building. He turned to me with a sick smile smeared all over his face, and just started bleeding out of his stomach. He pulled up his shirt as I just stood there like an idiot, showing a gash that had started to tear across him on its own accord. It got so wide and so deep that his torso toppled over backwards, hanging on by only a few strips of skin. Inside his body was nothing but a black void, and then suddenly three enormous snake-like monsters sprung out of it, with no eyes but plenty of sharp teeth, reminding me of the Hydra. The legs started to take steps towards me, the heads started to snap at me, and the torso was dragged behind. The man pointed at me, giving me a leer and a raspy laugh all the while. It was only dumb luck that Tohsaka heard me screaming.
That friggin' thing still followed me in my dreams. No amount of petty flattery was going to stop that.
The suit kept going, "While we usually don't allow people from the 'outside' into our business, we consider you a special case. According to Miss Tohsaka, you are more than capable on helping us with this, given your expertise and ability to blend in. As I said, the police can be so very troublesome."
"As long as it's not illegal, I'm game."
The suit looked aghast, with look being the opportune word, "I wouldn't even think of asking you to break the law. The Association operates mainly through secrecy, and keeping itself in check. We do not wish to make waves, so to speak."
"Uh-huh." I wondered if he had ever seen anyone crawl around on the ceiling with a four foot tongue that had a mouth of its own.
The suit cracked his knuckles, "Alright then, now that we have that out of the way, let's dive right in." He leaned forward, and Tohsaka leaned forward. I wondered if I could smoke in there, then remembered I was out. The suit got serious, "A few days ago, we got word that a magus in this city had either come across or created an object that was immensely powerful. So powerful, in fact, given the nature of the magus in question, we immediately sent agents there to acquire it. This man," he said with a pained smile, "had never been known to be very stable."
Tohsaka flashed her eyes at the suit, "It was Geiss, wasn't it?"
The suit nodded gravely, "Yes, yes it was. What worried us was that he tried to hide it, whatever it was. Unfortunately, when our agents arrived, they found that Geiss's home had been burglarized, and he was dead."
"What?!" Tohsaka snapped. "Who killed him?"
"We don't know, but due to the nature of the robbery, it looked like some local hoods."
Tohsaka leaned back with her arms crossed, "That's completely ridiculous. There is no way some hooligans could get past a magus's defenses and then kill him."
The suit shrugged, "Geiss was very old..."
Tohsaka wasn't having it, and I didn't blame her. She tried to speak, "But even still..."
"Look," the suit said coarsely. "There were signs of a struggle, and other 'normal' valuables were taken. There were defenses on the premises, but I'll tell you now that was not Geiss's workshop. The setup was very rushed, it only rang several bells that he had linked to it."
Tohsaka looked confused, "That's not like him at all."
"It is," the suit said, "when you take into account that the flat was a recent purchase. The man was on the run, in hiding, and evidence suggests that he had been doing so for quite a while. As I said, Geiss was very old, very debilitated. He probably exhausted himself working on that simple boundary field, then turned in. That night was the break in."
"That's still very coincidental," I said. "Also, why kill him? Did Geiss happen to get any of the house-breakers?"
"Possibly," the suit said. "There was a large splatter of blood that wasn't Geiss's, that may have been one of the burglars at one point."
"Very like Geiss," Tohsaka muttered.
"Regardless, the object in question was taken by whoever did Geiss in. As I said before, Mr. Christian, your profession and relations with, let's say 'non-Associates,' make you an ideal candidate for this, does it not?"
I ignored him, "Why was Geiss running?"
The suit shrugged, "It was probably from us. We've had several 'incidents,' you see."
"Don't you usually not care what anyone does?"
"Not when people start missing en masse," Tohsaka grunted. "Geiss always had a problem with 'moderation.'"
"Ah." I rubbed my temples. I still didn't buy it, and I had a sneaking feeling neither did Tohsaka, but I thought about the money for the hundredth time. She probably thought of what was left of her career. I'd had too many drunken nights with her banging on about on how much she loved her friggin' sister. Neither one of us really had much choice in the matter. I spoke, "So, we get the thing back, and turn it in?"
"Miss Tohsaka will turn it in and hopefully handle it, but yes, you are very much correct."
"Goodie. Also, what does this thing do?"
"We haven't the slightest idea, and that's why we want it."
Spoken like a true magus. I managed to keep my hands from my temples, "Well, I guess I'll keep my eyes open." Tohsaka and I started to rise, but the suit raised a hand, "You two will be able to handle this with the utmost care, correct?"
"Yes," I said.
"Are you sure?" the suit asked.
"Very sure?" The serious face was back.
I smirked at it. "Verily."
Tohsaka grabbed me by the arm and ushered me out.