Yohji should have known there was going to be trouble when the woman he was tailing walked into the bar. He turned up the collar of his trench coat, pulled his hair back into a loose ponytail, and counted to thirty before following her inside. He did a quick scan of the room as he approached the bar. It was crowded and all of the stools were occupied, so he ordered a beer and made a quick circuit of the room, spotting his quarry amidst a group of middle-aged men in suits.
Her expression was quite blank, and she didn't even flinch when one of the men casually brushed his hand across her ass and squeezed. Yohji scowled, narrowing his eyes. Drug courier or not, he despised seeing a woman treated so.
He walked a bit closer, checking out the faces of the men she was with as he passed by, recognizing two from the records Persia had provided. Bingo. He was in the right place, then. After two days of surveillance he was finally getting somewhere, though he saw no sign yet of their target.
He stopped, pretending to study the décor and lighting a cigarette, but the crowd was too noisy for him to make out any of their conversation. He was too conspicuous standing here alone. He needed a discreet place to sit and continue his surveillance. But where …
A couple of young men sitting at a table by the window stood up to leave, and he casually slipped into one of the chairs left in their wake. The waitress, wearing a very skimpy outfit that failed to hide—which in fact seemed to go out of its way to enhance—her ample cleavage, sidled over, frowning at the beer he'd just set on the table in front of him.
"I'm sorry, sir, but tables are for waitress service only," she said, forcing a smile. She was very attractive, her short dark hair cut at a flattering angle, and her speech polite, but she looked tired and harried. Not the most propitious working environment, he supposed, though he imagined the tips were decent enough. Most of the clientele wouldn't be looking at her face, anyway.
Yohji smiled at her over the top of his glasses, lifted his bottle, and downed half his beer. He hadn't actually planned to drink it, and he hid a grimace. It was flat. "Well, it seems I'll need another drink. What would you recommend?"
She eyed him with some speculation but nodded after a moment, the tension in her shoulders easing. "Haven't seen you around here before," she said, picking up the empty glasses from the table and placing them on her tray. A young man in tight black pants and a white button-down shirt came over to quickly wipe the table and exchange the ashtray for a clean one. He paused to look appreciatively at Yohji before nodding to the waitress, taking her tray, and disappearing back into the crowd.
Yohji shrugged, turning his attention back to the waitress and offering his most charming grin. "Just passing by. I got thirsty." He tapped his ashes into the ashtray and took a long drag of his cigarette.
She looked at him with obvious skepticism, but shrugged. "Well, Jun-kun was right about one thing. You're nice to look at, at any rate."
"Oh?" He smiled. "So, what kind of place is this anyway?" he asked, gesturing. "I've walked by but never actually ventured inside before. I might have come in earlier if I knew the waitress was so attractive."
She looked down at her feet, almost shyly, and he took another drag of his cigarette. "Interesting clientele." He looked past her shoulder, focusing on his quarry. Another gentleman had joined the group, but he had his back to Yohji. Well dressed in a pinstriped suit, stocky … the man turned slightly, and he could see the hint of white facial hair on the man's cheek. Yohji narrowed his eyes. Interesting indeed. The man was familiar, but he couldn't quite place him.
The waitress took a step closer, blocking his view, and he turned his attention back to her. "Have you worked here long?"
She shook her head. "Only about six months. But it's the best job I've had in a long time. The owner pays well and the tips are good, so I can't really complain. And sometimes, if I'm fortunate, a handsome young man might even appear." She giggled. "I'll be right back with your drink." She bowed and turned to go.
He raised his eyebrows. Was she flirting with him? "You didn't tell me what you're bringing me."
She paused and looked at him over her shoulder. "It's a surprise," she said, offering him a genuine smile. She had dimples.
Well, that was better, at least. She was definitely flirting with him, and he smiled to himself as he stabbed the butt of his cigarette into the rose logo on the bottom of the ashtray. That might make the time pass more pleasantly. He glanced back over at the woman he was following just as one of the men took her by the wrist and led her away toward a set of metal stairs in the back. The familiar stocky man was gone, and Yohji looked around, but couldn't see him anywhere. It was too crowded.
He turned his attention to the stairs as the two made their way up, half tempted to follow just do something besides sit here all alone with his crappy beer. But he was only here in a surveillance capacity. They needed information, and this was his specialty. None of the others were much good at it; Omi was too young, Aya was far too impatient, and Ken … No. He had the wrong look. They all would have stood out like sore thumbs in a place like this.
The woman had done her part in leading him here, so he wasn't too concerned with her in a professional capacity any longer, though he did feel a twinge of remorse from a more chivalrous perspective. How many cases had he worked where he'd come across beautiful women being abused, used as pawns?
Speaking of beautiful women, he spotted the waitress by a table in the corner. One of the men sitting there reached out a hand and patted her familiarly. He narrowed his eyes and watched her. He couldn't see the men; they were hidden behind the tall back of the booth. She was quite the looker. If he hadn't been working, he would have flirted with her more, but unlike the lecher in the booth, he would never dream of touching her. Not without her permission, of course. Though it would be useful to find out more about the owner of this place … Maybe after she got off work.
No. He had other avenues for that. It was better to keep his distance. Women who got too close to him had a habit of dying young.
He shook his head, dispelling images of Asuka, of Maki. He raised the beer to his lips but stopped when he realized what he was doing. Ugh. He felt a cool breeze on his cheek and inched his chair closer to the open window. The night air was refreshing, helping to dispel the faint aroma of stale beer and testosterone, but he was more interested in finding a way to unobtrusively empty his half-full beer without having to resort to spilling it on the floor.
He casually tipped the bottle and heard a loud, high-pitched yowl. A small grey blur flew through the window, landing in his lap. He jerked back in surprise, and the shivering ball of fluff extended sharp needles into his thigh. "Yow!" He tried to pull it away from his thigh, but the claws only dug in further, refusing to release him. "Hey! These pants are expensive." He looked up quickly, but music had started up, and a dancer had come out onto the small stage across the other side of the bar. Nobody seemed to be paying him any attention.
"Easy there," he said, rubbing his index finger gently over the kitten's head as he carefully extricated its claws from his leg. He picked it up by the scruff of its neck and turned toward the wall. "You're a tiny thing, aren't you? Ah, and female. Just what I need. Another woman."
The kitten was shaking, and he cupped her in his hand, holding her against his chest. She really was tiny, and he glanced at the window. "Quite the acrobat, aren't you?" he said, absently stroking her back. The kitten purred against his chest and he shook his head.
"It seems we have a problem, you see. I'm not into girls under eighteen. It's a rule I have. No good can ever come—"
"Here's your drink," the waitress said, setting down his drink. "Excuse me, I don't mean to pry, but is everything all right? Usually the people come here to watch the show inside."
Yohji quickly tucked the kitten under his shirt, pulled his coat closed to hide its presence, and turned around. "I was just getting some air. It was getting a little warm in here." He flashed her a smile, showing his teeth, then looked down at the drink. His smile faded and he furrowed his brows. The glass was set on a small tray covered with blooming marigold blossoms, and was filled with a green frothy liquid. It mingling scent of marigolds and strong liquor made him dizzy. "Er, what exactly is that?"
She laughed. "You did say I should choose, didn't you?" She bent down, her cleavage as full as the blossoms, and whispered in his ear. "We call it a Lover's Kiss."
He blinked, trying not to stare down the top of her shirt. The kitten was squirming beneath his shirt and had apparently decided his hip and side were as appealing as his thigh. He tensed and jerked as she dug her claws into his side, and the waitress stood up, looking at him with a puzzled expression.
"Er, sorry. If you'll just excuse me for one moment." He wriggled in his seat, nudged the kitten through his coat, and stomped his foot. "My, er, my leg fell asleep. Must be the cold air." He reached through the narrow opening in his coat and further disentangled the kitten, who had moved on to licking his stomach with her small, sandpapery tongue. It tickled something fierce, and he twitched, awkwardly reaching into his pocket for his wallet.
She shook her head, watching him. "You're very strange, but still cute."
"That's a good thing, isn't it? I mean, it keeps things interesting, don't you thi—whoa!" The kitten had taken a sudden interest in his navel. "Right. What do I owe you?" he asked, taking out a 1000 yen note and trying not to squirm too badly.
"Are you sure you're all right?"
"Fine," he said, handing her the money. "Never better."
She shook her head and gestured with her hand. "This one's on the house," she said, winking.
He raised his eyebrows, and she leaned close again.
"My shift is over in two hours. Maybe you can buy me a drink then?"
The kitten was crawling down his thigh, and he shifted his leg to keep her from peeking out through the opening in his coat. He put the money on the waitress' tray.
"Keep it," he said, and smiled, putting his free hand in his lap atop the kitten to keep her still. What a night. He was surrounded by feisty women. Normally he wouldn't complain, but the one in his lap was getting a bit too familiar.
"What's your name?" he asked to distract himself from the kitten's current pursuit. He shifted his legs again.
"Fujiko. Akamatsu Fujiko." She smiled again, showing her dimples. "Enjoy your drink. I'll be back in a bit. Let me know if you like it." She winked at him, tucked her empty tray beneath her arm, and disappeared into the crowd.
The moment she left, he opened his coat and picked up the kitten who'd been kneading at his crotch. "You're a naughty thing, aren't you? More trouble than you're worth, it would seem. Couldn't you see I was busy?"
The kitten mewed at him, and he put her down on the windowsill.
"Go on. I don't have time for you right now. I've got a job to do, and I can't very well do it with you stabbing me and poking around at my dick, now can I?"
She gave him a look and stepped outside the window onto the outer sill, walking along it but not jumping down to the ground. She stopped in front of the next window and watched him through the glass.
"Crazy cat," Yohji muttered, shaking his head. Damn it. He'd gotten too distracted and had lost sight of the mission. He pulled another cigarette from his pack and turned around to look at the cluster of men he'd been watching earlier, but they were no longer there. Another dancer had taken the place of the first, and there was a crowd at least twenty deep around the stage, all men, most middle-aged, and all watching the half-nude dancer on the stage. He squinted in the dim light, scanning the crowd, and scowled. The stairs were empty, too. He'd lost them all, damn it.
He sighed and reached for another cigarette, contemplating the drink. He picked it up and studied the glass. Lover's Kiss, eh? At least he still knew how to do something right. Stupid Kudoh. One day your weakness for women is going to get you killed. But not today. Kanpai, he thought and raised the glass to his lips.
"Mrowrr," he heard, and the grey blur of the kitten leapt back into the window, her claws catching on his arm. He dropped both his drink and his cigarette, pushed back his chair, and shook his arm, but she held on, refusing to be dislodged.
"Stupid cat!" he said. "Are you trying to kill …" He glanced down at the table where the spilled green liquid was burning a furrow into the table. The kitten released her claws and dropped to the floor. Yohji stared after her a moment, then ducked down under the table just as something whizzed by his head and stuck into the wall with a muted thud. He dove under the table and overturned it, crouching behind it, his heart thumping in his chest. Shit!
He glanced up and saw the shuriken sticking out of the wall. "Shit!" He had his wire, as always, but that wasn't going to help against these kinds of weapons. The kitten was beside him again, nudging his hand with her head, and he looked down. There was a smoking green puddle inches from his hand. He jerked it back and started thinking about an exit strategy.
Apparently the kitten was ahead of him on that front. She leapt up onto the window sill and disappeared. Good thinking. He got to his knees and gripped the table by its base. He took a deep breath and jumped to his feet, holding the table in front of him as a shield. It was heavier than he'd anticipated and his arms shook as he backed up until his was at the window. It was a bit narrow, but if he turned sideways …
Something impacted the table with a jolt. It was now or never. He threw the table forward, heard a satisfying grunt, and cartwheeled out the window, jamming his shoulder against the ledge and nearly cracking his head on the pavement as he landed.
Ignoring the pain, he staggered to his feet, scooped up the kitten, and ran down the street, paying no attention to the startled passersby.
He slipped into the shop through the back door, locking it behind him, and headed downstairs. Aya, Ken, and Omi were awake. Omi was at his computer, Aya was brooding in the corner, and Ken was on the sofa, playing a video game. Yohji kicked off his shoes at the bottom of the stairs and dropped onto the sofa, nudging Ken out of his way.
"Hey! I'm trying to play here. What's the big—what the hell happened to you?"
He leaned his head back against the top of the sofa and lit a cigarette, exhaling slowly. "Met a girl. Brought her home."
"You were supposed to be tailing that courier. Did you find anything?" Omi asked.
Yohji shrugged and took another drag.
Aya snorted. "Shit, you didn't sleep with her, did you?"
The kitten mewled and crawled from Yohji's coat pocket. She sniffed the air, seemed to decide that it was okay, then curled up on his chest, purring.
"That's a cat," Aya said, dumbfounded.
"A kitten, actually," Yohji said.
Ken stared at him. "What are you going to do with a kitten? You can barely take care of yourself."
Yohji kicked him with the flat of his foot. "Shut up. We're keeping her."
"We?" Aya said. "I'm not taking care of a kitten. I hate cats."
"You don't mind Momoe-san's cat," Omi said, coming over and stroking the kitten's head. She purred louder and he smiled. "She's cute!"
Aya snorted in disgust. "Whatever. Did you find anything, or did you spend the night picking up strays?"
"Omi," Yohji said. "I need you to send a message to Persia. I want anything he can find about the owner of a bar called 'Sabaku no Bara' in Kabukichō. Also a woman named Akamatsu Fujiko."
Yohji looked in the mirror as he zipped up his favorite bodysuit. He tied his hair back into a tight ponytail and strapped on his watch. The kitten watched from his bed, her green eyes gleaming.
Akamatsu Fujiko had been found that morning floating in the Sumida River after being reported missing for three days. She'd had her throat slit, and there were other signs of physical abuse according to the preliminary report from the coroner. Yohji's face was grim as he took his cloak from his wardrobe and tried not to think about her dimples. Another one to add to the list. But this was no time for remorse. They had a mission to complete.
He donned his cloak, slipped on his shoes, and checked his watch to make sure everything was in order. He paused in the doorway and glanced back at the bed.
"Let's go, Lady Luck. Time to go to work."
The kitten rose on its legs and stretched, yawned widely, and jumped down onto the floor, following him out the door.