"Crawford is sure about the timeline of this?" Mamoru asked.
"And you can be polite?"
"You'd be surprised," Nagi said, dryly amused.
"Let's get this over with."
The hotel was exquisite, traditional in style, tastefully decorated - and filled with O-Ren's people. Mamoru smiled at her politely as she rose to greet him, taking the small, elegant steps her kimono made necessary. Behind her, her teenage bodyguard stood watchfully, meteor hammer in hands.
"What a beautiful day it is," O-Ren said. "Your gardens must be lovely in spring."
"They're very peaceful," he said, smiling. "You must come to see them some time."
"Sofie will have tea brought for us," she said, leading him back to where she'd sat, and settling once more on the tatami. "Tell me more about your gardens."
Mamoru knelt opposite her, still smiling. He could see he'd have to go through more of this than he was interested in. She was as bad as Grandfather. He drank the tea, and talked of meaningless things until he could see she was annoyed he wasn't the first to tire of the game.
"Why did you want to see me?" she asked abruptly, her accent no longer as refined.
"One of your associates acquired something that belongs to a friend of mine," he said, putting his cup aside. "I would like you to give it to me."
"I rarely give anything to anyone," she said. "What item?"
"I don't think that belongs to your friend," she smiled. "Such a nice, normal man. Why does he need a sword?"
"He's holding it for a mutual friend. It was stolen from his house after his wife took it to be valued for insurance purposes."
"How awful," she said, her eyes widening. "You can't mean that respectable people dealing with antiques may be in touch with criminal elements?"
Her people hid their smiles. Her bodyguard laughed outright. Mamoru kept a polite expression on his face and waited.
"I like swords," she said at last. "Why should I give it to you? What can you give me? A man who comes to me with only one guard is either so generous no one would harm him, or a beggar. Which are you?"
"I know you want to control the Tokyo yakuza," he said. "I know you'll make your move soon. Give me the sword, and I won't oppose you."
Her guard stepped forward. Nagi didn't move, his presence still and quiet behind Mamoru. O-Ren made a little gesture and the girl inched back.
"Why would you oppose me? Kritiker prefers to hunt more unusual people, doesn't it? Those whom the law cannot touch? We're too . . . ordinary for you."
"You're not ordinary," he said, looking in her eyes. "Kritiker won't oppose you. I'll look the other way when you act, if you don't act against me. Let the police deal with your commercial interests if they can, it's nothing to me."
She was silent a long moment, then, "He must be a good friend."
"Yes," Mamoru said simply.
She raised a finger and one of her people left the room, returning at last with a cloth-wrapped bundle. He unwrapped it and presented it, bowing, to O-Ren. Mamoru kept his face still as she slid the scabbard back a little, glad he was here and not Aya. Behind him he felt the slightest pressure on his shoulder, Nagi silently telling him he was ready if this should become a fight. O-Ren slid the scabbard closed once more and held the sword out on her palms, bowing. Mamoru bowed, taking it. What he wouldn't give to just stand and walk out, he thought, but that would be to lose the game. He turned a little, and Nagi took the precise step forward needed, bowed, and took it from him.
"We must have more tea again soon," O-Ren said cheerfully. "Perhaps I will see your gardens, and we can talk there."
"I look forward to it," Mamoru said.
They bowed to each other, and rose.
"Mamoru-sama," she murmured, bowing in farewell.
"O-Ren-sama," he said politely, bowing deeper than anyone like her deserved.
Her people bowed. Nagi bowed. The only one who didn't was the girl behind O-Ren, who sneered at the courtesy, as if she for one didn't see the point in pretence. Mamoru wondered how amusing Nagi found that.
He didn't let the mask slip till they were safely in the car and on the road. He couldn't leave the sword with Yohji, he thought, nor could he safely keep it himself. It was almost certain that some of O-Ren's people would see it as a matter of pride to return it to their mistress. He couldn't risk any of his people. Ken was talking about going abroad – he could take it, Mamoru decided. He'd get it to Aya somehow.
"Crawford's sure?" he asked again.
"Yes," Nagi said. "There's no need to worry."
Mamoru leaned back and closed his eyes. O-Ren's past was coming closer. She'd be dead within the month.
No one who mattered would ever know Kritiker had dealt with a dark beast for a sentimental reason.