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One for the Money :Part One: Good Girl

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Karline Roth stepped hurriedly through the noisy, crowded street of Ikebukuro in a last ditched effort to make the bus on time. She was running late for work as per usual during the early hours of the week, with the chilly mid-autumn breeze putting a damper to a previously failed attempt at keeping her hair tied back. After the third time of struggling to slide a headband into her knotted locks, she huffed and decided to neglect it for the moment.


She tossed the plastic piece into her bag and shook back her bangs from her eyes. The odds and ends of her work attire would have to wait until later, at least until Karline left the city limits.


The manager of housekeeping was extremely anxious by the first few hours of her day. The overseer of the hot spring where she worked required her to be at hand very earlier. And Karline, poor sweet Karline, well, she tried very hard to do just that, but the city life wouldn’t allow her a single moment of rest.


She let out a heated sigh and stepped cautiously around clusters of people in her path. No sense of respect. People only have time to stand around and gossip these days.


She observed the rolls of caution tape around the Sunshine 60 building from across the street.


Someone must have jumped, but it smells distinctly of fatty pork fresh off the grill.


“Did you hear the bus was delayed by an hour?”


Karline halted at the mention of it. She fell into a crowd of junior high students and listened patiently for them to continue, taking the time to comb through her matted hair.


A girl in pigtails was the first to reply; a muffled hiss that to Karline sounded rather girly. “What now?” She stomped her healed foot in aggravation.


“Another gang related murder, apparently.” Blue eyes rolled. The girl with pigtails crossed her arms under her chest with a huff. “Go figure.”


“Yeah. It happened just outside the Sunshine 60 building, but the police have closed down the surrounding area for the time being. My father works with the IPS, and I heard from him that it was a mess.” A male student shivered. “At least ten people from that local gang were burned alive. You know the one, the gang with the gold pyramid.”


The YVS. Karline had read about them in the paper. Rumors were that their leader came into wealth at a young age, and practically bought the entire police station out, and most of Ikebukuro, including the infamous Sunshine 60 building. Whether there was any truth to that claim, Karline wasn’t for sure, but now, nearly a handful of them were lying in ashes at the front door of their own asset. Coincidence perhaps, but Karline didn’t think so.


She huffed in aggravation and decided that she had wasted enough time being late. Tamao was going to kill her, quite literally maybe. Karline proceeded toward the subway station. She would have to take the underpass to Saitama Prefecture; an hour from Ikebukuro as opposed to the thirty minute bus drive from the terminal she was supposed to be at.


She walked at a fast pace, nearly there, and rounded the corner to the escalators when she was sideswiped and knocked to the ground with a thump. Her belongings fell from her bag and scattered like cockroaches across the cold, concrete floor.


“Damn it to hell.” Her words spewed from her mouth in standard German, echoing off the walls. Red eyes shot a look of irritation at the tall, muscular man that sideswiped her.


He wore all black and carried a handheld bible in the front pocket of his mantle. His cold, dark eyes stared at her from beneath the brim of his wide, shaded hat. Her body shivered, and her eyes cast downwards. “I’m so sorry.”


“Nothing to be sorry about.” The man smiled to her, nimble fingers scooping her belongings from the pavement. His blank eyes fell to her face, watching her account for the items he collected in his hand. She frowned upon seeing the poor condition of her headband; a silver ornament had broken off, and lie forgotten upon the ground. “My apologies, young miss. If I have broken it, I can pay for you another one.”


“No need to do that.” Karline’s voice was honest, but a hint of sadness easily bled through. The headband was an obvious gift from someone special in her life. It was cheap, but no less unimportant to her. She chucked the broken band into her bag and stood.


Even at her full height, Karline was still several meters shorter than him. She bent her head back and smiled. “I must thank you for helping me out. Most people would have simply walked away.”


“No problem,” he stated. His big hand lifted between them. Karline took it politely. “Luchist Lasso.”


“I’m Karline Roth. It is a pleasure.” For a moment, his thick brows met in the middle. Karline released his hand, and tightened her own. “It’s my name you are troubled by, am I right? I am both German and Japanese.”


Luchist hummed to himself. “I must admit, I am intrigued. Your Japanese is very good, not at all self-taught as mine. I moved to Ikebukuro from Sicily several years ago, but even now I struggle with the language.”


Italy. That would explain the reverend wear. Karline forced a smile and cleared her throat. The question was at the tip of her tongue before she would think it through. “Why move to Japan then? I mean, there has to be a reason for such a long-lasting decision as such.” She wondered if she should apologize, but Luchist merely laughed.


“It is a long story, one not for this moment in time.”


She bobbed her head and whispered a confession. “One in the same, I imagine. I came from Stuttgart by plane two years ago, but I often wonder if it were the right choice.” Red eyes cast downwards in thought. Two years. Has it been that long already?


Luchist’s mellow voice quickly followed, bringing Karline from her thoughts. Her eyes lifted to meet his. “Listen to me, young one. Nothing is under control. What is meant to be always finds a way.” His hand gently found her shoulder and squeezed it.


“Wise words. My mother use to say the same.” Before she died.


Her thoughts were interrupted once again, but by the subway anode announcing the arrival of the train. Karline broke away from the tall man’s reach and began searching her bag for the extra yen to pay for the ticket. She was caught up in conversation that she had merely forgotten, and as luck would have it, Karline had found just enough, but at the expense of having to go without lunch for the day.


“I have to go. Thank you for the talk Luchist, and I do hope we meet again.” Karline gave him a swift, careless bow and took her spot on the escalators. As she went slowly down to the underground terminal, she heard Luchist’s bellowing voice above the crowd.


“We shall, my child, we shall.”
 



Luchist Lasso thought anxiously to himself, taking the stairs to his transitory apartment in the Minami district of Ikebukuro. His mind was set on Karline Roth, young and naïve, but rather charming Miss Roth. She had no idea that he had been watching her. Three long months, and not even a single suspicion. Most certainly naïve. Or maybe the girl had been so focused on her daily life that she merely chose to ignore the tall man. Luchist didn’t seem to think so.


He chortled at the notion of her closing her eyes to his being there. Karline Roth certainly intrigued him, of what reason, he wasn’t sure. Could it be her innocence to true justice? Luchist thought not, but then, what brought her to the attention of his master? Hao would have the answers, and Luchist was eager to know. He pulled his wide-shaded hat from his head, and entered the apartment.


The quiet met his ears. Not a soul is home. He hummed to himself and shed his mantle, leaving it by the door. His shoes soon followed.


With not but a newspaper and his bible between his arms, he stepped into the living room. Not a soul watching the television or greeting him humbly as he passed through. Luchist tried the first bedroom, but out of all the fourteen futons linked side by side across the floor, all where empty. He shut the paper room divider with a sigh, and moved to the third and final room; the bedroom of his master. The middle room as he passed was left wide open, no more than a study space with the gang’s few belonging thrown about, but he took the time to close it before halting at the door at the end of the hall.


“I’ve returned.” His knuckles rapped gently on the frame. Hao’s voice came a second later, allowing him entrance, to which he stumbled on the head of household resting at a low, wooden stand in front of the balcony window. Luchist stopped at the table, sliding between Hao and he the newspaper. “It appears that we have made the front page this time.”


“I had assumed as much.” He ignored the weekly edition and rested his head against his fist. “What of the girl? Have you met with her yet?”


“I met her, yes. She is quite charming,” Luchist admitted, laying down the silver, hewn ornate he had swiped from her. His timid look toward Hao was paid off with a polite smile. Hao was pleased at least, but the tall man being rather on edge, down to the ruthless burnings; a trademark of the Hoshi-gumi that could easily pinpoint Hao as the guilty party. And Luchist being well, overprotective of his master, feared a head on retaliation.


Hao on the other hand appeared to be calm as usual. He fingered the star-shaped jewel with a diverted smile on his face. “You have something on your mind, then I would advise you to speak it.”


Luchist did not hesitate, “The sidewalk lay lined in corpses. As I walked passed, the police seemed to have the situation taken care of, but news spreads fast. The YVS are sure to make a move against us and quickly I assume.” Luchist peered at him from over the table.


Hao was quiet. He struck a match and set the newsprint on fire. “The YVS are certain to come after us now that they know it was I who burned down their investment, but Yosuke is an idiot. He thinks wealth will help him win this war but without power he will have nothing.”


Luchist didn’t miss the wide smile on his face at the remark; Hao was at peace even watching the bright flames consume the paper on his table.


“You seem content.” Choosing his words wisely the former salesman stood and began to quickly clean the smoldering remains from the table top. Shame if the house were to burn down now of times. “Could it be that you are happy about the later of the situation?”


“I got a little ahead of myself, I admit. A turf war with Yosuke is inevitable. I would have had the chance sooner or later of taking over Sunshine station and its add-ons, but I am not at all concerned with that state of affair just yet.” Hao smiled at his words. The ornate flickered in his hand at Luchist like a beacon.


“The girl?” Luchist gave a look of concern. “She is intriguing, but I don’t see a reason to involve her in your affairs at the moment.”


“You catch a mouse only by baiting a trap.” Hao spoke with simple words, but Luchist knew more than enough to believe that he thought it would be easy. Support, Hao needed it. People to follow him, people to fear him. He wanted territory to own; Tokyo beneath his thumb, but to what reason Luchist didn’t know. The priest simply didn’t care either way.


He no longer could contain his smile. “I shall inform the Hana-gumi to make the preparations.”


“No need. I’ll do it myself.” Hao hid the star away and stood; his follower close behind him. Luchist tailed him from the sleeping quarters to the next room, and stood at the opening.


The room was simple: a writing table and some chairs to fill the extra space. A number of bookshelves covered the stark white walls, and in the corner stood a basic single lock safe. Hao rarely made use of the room, other than to keep up with his expenses, though Luchist would concede that he had been more likely to be seen doing the job as opposed to his master. Still, he kept his respect and waited for Hao to return.


Seconds later, he did so, and brought with him a case of what Luchist knew to be Japanese yen. His lips pealed back into a smile. “Such a generous donation.”


Hao handed to Luchist the case. “I’m a tolerant man when need be.” Deep pools of brown seared at him. “Take the money to the inn and I will meet with you after I have finished my business with the Tsuchi-gumi.”


He could no mistake the expression of happiness on his face. “The reason this time?”


“I am just simply happy,” he stated. “I finally have a good reason to visit my little brother.”