I could tell the kid was trouble from the moment he walked into my office.
It was nearly the end of my posted hours, not counting the long lunch I'd taken, and I typically used the time to think about cleaning up and decide to do it tomorrow. The shadows across my desk got deeper. The neon lights of the fortune teller downstairs lit up, casting an otherworldly green glow throughout the room. Then... the door opened, the bells I'd tied to it (to wake me up from any impromptu naps) jingled, and there he was.
Broad shoulders in a suit cut to fit them, blond hair over the kind of face that made schoolgirls swoon, and a confident stride that clanked with every step. I'd seen enough mods in my day to know what that meant.
"Detective Saitama?" The voice was young, but if he was as modified as I suspected, that didn't mean much.
"Just Saitama's fine, kid."
He gestured at the empty chair in front of my desk. There were technically two, I'd worked hard to find a matching set, but the other one was covered in papers. Coupons and takeout menus mostly.
"May I sit?"
"Go for it."
Out of habit, I put my hand out to calm Rover. He was a weird dog, even considering the circumstances of his adoption, and he didn't like hardly anyone but me and my buddy Mumen. When clients arrived, rare as it was, he would often punctuate their words with growls.
But he was completely silent when the kid sat down. Not so much as a whine. I glanced over to his corner, to see if he was even awake, and saw two of his six eyes open and watching the kid, lazily.
"I'm sorry to arrive without an appointment."
"You're kidding, right?"
"I've been looking for a detective for some time, and I heard you have the skills I need."
Idle flattery. I wasn't a bad dick, by any means, but the only skills I had that any other detective wouldn't were in the realm of punching things. "What's your story, then?"
The kid took a breath, clenching his fists in his lap. He was wearing elaborately decorated cool gray gloves that didn't go with the warm gray pinstripe of his suit. For a second I wondered about that, he looked so put-together otherwise, but then he started talking.
"My name is Genos. I'm nineteen years old, and four years ago, when I was fifteen, I was up late with my father. I had a fever and couldn't sleep, and he was waiting for a business call, so he urged my mother to go to bed and said he could tend to me. I can't remember everything, I was tired and ill, but I believe it was past one in the morning when someone knocked on the door. My father seemed annoyed, but not surprised, and he didn't say anything as he left me on the couch to answer it. I couldn't hear what they said, but it sounded like an adult man. Then-"
My eyes had glazed over around the time the kid mentioned his mother, and he showed no signs of stopping, so I banged a hand on a clean part of my desk and snapped, "Kid! You're not on the clock yet, and I have shit to do! Twenty words or less!"
The kid nodded solemnly, thinking for a moment. "My family was killed in a fire four years ago. I believe it was murder."
"Holy shit." I felt like a jackass. "I'm sorry, forget what I said. Finish your story."
"It's unnecessary, detective. If you choose to take the case, I can give you all the details and evidence I've collected."
It wasn't the kind of case I was used to. Normally I just followed spouses suspected of cheating, or regular folks suspected of faking their injuries for insurance purposes. Okay, there had been a few more complicated ones... Like when that rich nutbar from up on the hill hired me to fire his old bodyguard. Or when the environmentalists were causing trouble and the city paid me under the table to prove they were using terrorist tactics. Or when Donna Fubuki got me to convince that boxer to...
"What do you need me for, anyway? If it was murder, that's a job for the police."
The kid snorted, the first real bit of human emotion he'd shown. I knew what he meant. There were maybe two honest cops in the whole Z City Metro, and even they couldn't fight the system-deep corruption.
"The police in my town made very little effort to investigate. I don't know why, but I have a paper trail leading from my hometown to the gun runners here."
"Gun runners? I thought it was a fire."
The kid shook his head. "My father was shot by the man at the door. I told the police afterward, but I'd been in the hospital for over a month, and I admitted I was sick that night. They didn't believe me."
"Shit, kid, I'm sorry." I didn't want to say it, but the cops could be right. An upset feverish teenager could imagine all kinds of things. And losing family was hard. You wanted to do something, you wanted someone to blame. "Look, I see where you're coming from," better than I'd admit, "but this isn't the kind of case you hire a private detective for. What would I do if I found the truth? I'm not a cop, I can't arrest anyone."
"I want the truth, detective. I want to know who killed my father, and why. Once I know, I'll be satisfied."
He was lying. Of course he was. This stupid kid was going to try and play vigilante, and get himself killed too. I might need the money, but I couldn't write this kid's death order.
But... there was an answer I needed too. "Why me? Really? I'm not the only game in town. I'm not even the only solo game."
By way of answer, the kid put his (expensive, leather) briefcase in his lap and took out a thick brown piece of paper, folded for so long that it had started to crack. He handed it to me over the stack of case files on my desk.
I knew what it was before I opened it. A drawing of myself, years ago, before the stress made my hair fall out, before I stopped caring. The artist made me look a lot more photogenic than I really was, which I'd always suspected was the point of these "artistic" posters. The younger me was wearing trunks and a robe, and was punching in the direction of the "camera" with my teeth gritted, no mouth guard. Ridiculous.
Across the top, in block letters, it said "One Punch Man." At the bottom was a list of my upcoming, at the time, fights. If I remembered right, this was one of the first ones they printed with that stupid nickname.
"Kid, this was a long time ago."
"Not that long. Only three years."
"A lot can happen in three years. A guy can get out of shape, for example."
The kid's eyes roamed over me, making me feel uncomfortably underdressed, despite wearing a vest to hide how wrinkled my shirt was. His gaze was sharp, intense, like all of his actions, like everything he did was one hundred percent serious. But it lingered over my rolled-up sleeves and the way my vest buttons strained across my chest, and when he looked up I could have sworn his tongue darted out of the corner of his mouth for a split second.
"You don't look out of shape," he said, tone just as stoic as it had been this whole time. No more, no less.
I cast wildly for another excuse. "I'm a detective, not muscle-for-hire."
"I know. That's what I need. I've investigated as much as I can on my own. I need someone with skills, training, equipment." I told myself the kid's eyes definitely didn't flicker downward on that last word. "And I need someone who has experience with the kind of people I think this trail leads to."
There wasn't much point in denying the local boxing circuit was under mob control. Fubuki and her goons were small time, but her father ran half the coast.
But this kid was planning on suicide. I'd rather he find somebody dumb enough to take his money, who wouldn't find the answers, than hire me and get in so deep he'd never get out.
Before I could say no, definitively turn him down, Rover whuffled and got to his feet. He plodded sleepily over to the kid and poked his nose at the briefcase.
The kid smiled, suddenly looking like he really was only nineteen. "Is this your pet?"
"Yeah, that's Rover."
"He wants my food," the kid pulled a sandwich out of his briefcase, and Rover immediately sat and started wagging his tail.
"Don't give it to him, he knows better."
"Not even a little?" He looked nearly as hopeful as Rover. And me being a sucker, I gave in.
"Okay, but it's your funeral."
The kid fished some meat from the sandwich and fed it to Rover from his palm, then scratched his ears with both hands while the dog ate it. I just watched, stunned by both how quickly Rover had taken to this guy (he'd accept food from Mumen, but he wouldn't eat from anyone's hand but mine), and the realization that those weren't gloves the kid was wearing, those were his hands. Both hands and at least part of both legs, entirely cybernetic.
I'd been assuming he escaped the fire that took his family, but now...
I swallowed around the guilt rising in my throat. "Look, kid, this job you want... I don't know what to tell you. I can't give you an estimate, or a timetable. I can't promise there's even anything to find here."
One more thing came out of the briefcase, a huge wad of cash, wrapped neatly with a rubber band. He dropped it on my desk with a weighty thud, dislodging some pictures from the Raymond case. "I'll pay all your rent and expenses, plus a standard daily fee, for thirty days. Provided I can come with you during your investigations."
"You drive a hard bargain, kid."
"Genos." I couldn't resent the reminder, since I had, in fact, forgotten his name. I stood up and stuck my hand across the desk for him to shake. The kid did, his hand stiff and chilly. "Welcome to the team, I guess. For the next thirty days."
Rover's tail thumped on the floor as it wagged.
I had dinner with Mumen a couple times a week, to get the lay of the land, and my scheduled dose of human contact. He was a good guy, too good to be a cop, especially in a garbage city like ours. We'd actually gone to school together, though we weren't friends then, and Mumen was quite possibly the only person on the planet who'd mourn when I bought it. Even if that was only because he was too soft-hearted to admit I had it coming.
We met at the usual place, a noodle stand halfway between my office and the police station, notable only for its location and frugality. Mumen was already halfway out of uniform, which meant he was done for the night. He wouldn't take off so much as a shoelace when he was on the job.
"How was your day?" he asked, leaving the "any clients?" part unsaid. I told him anyway.
"Got a weird one. This teenager, says his whole family burned up and wants me to investigate for foul play."
Instantly, the cop in him came out. "When? Who?"
"Years ago, and I dunno. He gave me a stack of stuff to read." I swirled the ice in my glass, wishing I could drink something stronger than tea. This case was going to be rough, no matter what it led to, and even if I drank under normal circumstances, I wouldn't be able to for the next month. "I flipped through it. There's pictures."
Mumen winced sympathetically. "Saitama," he said gently, "this isn't a job for a private investigator."
"That's what I told the kid! But he was insistent. And... intense." The memory of his eyes on me made me glad I'd opted for a cold drink.
"What are you going to do?"
"Poke around. What can I do? I'll see if the method raises any flags, check out the usual suspects. I hate to tell the kid, but I'll have to investigate his dad." I looked sideways at Mumen. "You could always run a quick search for me."
Mumen sighed, picking a couple of noodles out of his bowl and dropping them on the floor for Rover to slurp up. "I can't, Saitama, you know that."
"I know." Offering to pay him, or owe him a favor, would only make him upset. "Will everyone stop feeding my dog?"
"Everyone?" Mumen repeated. He knew how picky Rover was.
"That kid today, Genos, he gave Rover some baloney."
"And he took it?"
"Yeah, Rover loved him." I bent down to scratch Rover above his highest eyes, and he thumped his tail happily. "Yeah, we're talking about you."
"That's significant, don't you think? Given what Rover is."
"He just doesn't like assholes or phonies. And most people are one or the other. Hell, I'm an asshole, but he makes an exception for me because I'm his mom."
"Saitama, if this boy's family really was murdered... What do you think he'll do?"
I shook my head. "I wish I could say I don't know. But I do. He'll try to get revenge. He'll kill them. Or, more likely, get himself killed trying."
"And you took the case anyway?"
I shrugged. "If I didn't, he'd go to someone else, and either waste his money, or find what he's looking for and end up bloody, one way or the other. Besides, Rover liked him. I owe it to him to try and stop him from making a mistake."
Mumen put some money on the counter, only for his meal, but he left a tip for both of us. "Promise me you'll be careful?"
I considered a joke, but Mumen's concern was coming from a good place. "I promise."
It was a late night reading the evidence Genos had compiled the last four years. He was detailed, and thorough, and had nicer handwriting even with those mods than I did. But I could see why the kid needed a professional; he didn't even realize the type of gun he was describing was a typical police service pistol.
Which was a good thing, too, because with that piece of knowledge on top of the fact they'd refused to investigate and brushed aside his concerns, the kid probably would have tried to take out the whole department.
It didn't mean as much as all that, though. It was a typical service pistol because it was sturdy and reliable, it wasn't like only cops carried them. And there could be any number of reasons for the lack of follow up. Maybe the killer covered his tracks just that well. Maybe it was a mob hit, and the police were bought out. Maybe Genos dreamed the whole thing (though with all this detail, it was unlikely).
I put it all back in order as best I could and went to bed around midnight, Rover curled up on my feet. But the pictures haunted me, especially the way the edges were curled. Like they'd been handled a lot, for a long time.
I arrived at the office on time for once, although any time is on time when you're your own boss. The hours posted in the lobby were more like a suggestion as far as I was concerned. I was only a little surprised to find Genos waiting for me in the hall, back straight, briefcase bulging in his hand. He was wearing a different suit today, dark blue, complementing his complexion.
"I guess you were serious about following me while I work."
"Of course I was, detective."
Keys in hand, I raised a finger. "Okay, first things first, you gotta stop calling me 'detective.'"
"Why? You're licensed, aren't you?"
"Yeah, and up to date even, which is a bitch and a half, let me tell you. But if we've gotta go where I think we do, and somebody overhears you calling me that, they're gonna think you mean police detective, and I'm gonna get shot. I'm not getting shot for you, kid."
"I understand, sir," he said. He popped his briefcase as I opened the door and produced a little notebook and golf pencil. To my horror, he wrote down what I'd said, and I spotted my name on the previous page too.
Holy shit this kid was wound tight. I'd never met anyone who needed a good lay so desperately.
I tried to ignore the logical progression of that thought, instead sweeping the remains of past cases off my desk and into my already overstuffed file cabinet
"Have you considered digitizing, sir?" Genos asked, picking up a photo gingerly between finger and thumb.
"I am digitized. Everything's backed up twice over. But for the cases I usually get, physical evidence is best."
"Like this?" He held out the photo, his lips delicately twisted in disdain.
"Oh, the Raymond divorce." I took it and shoved it in with the others. There was a whole film roll of both Raymonds screwing around at the love hotel on Ninth. This particular picture involved Mrs. Raymond and a curvy redhead apparently having an excellent time. "They're idiots but it was a good paycheck. Life tip, Genos: if you're cheating on your spouse, don't hire a private dick to prove your spouse is also cheating. Especially not if you have the same taste in women."
"They both paid you?"
"Mister paid me to follow his wife. Which I did, and found his mistress was cheating too. With the wife. Now you'd think the logical solution is talk things out and agree to share your girlfriend, but no, they started bidding on the pictures. Like I'm running an auction house instead of a detective business. And Missus tried to sneak a virus into my cloud to wipe out everything. That's why you have hard copies, kid. And copies of the hard copies."
Genos was taking notes again. "But you still got paid?"
"Hey, I did the job. And Missus ended up paying me to prove Mister was lying to the girlfriend about his income so she'd sign a pre-nup."
"That sounds... complicated."
"Keep copies of everything, never renege on a deal, Genos. All there is to it." Satisfied with the state of my desk, I dropped into my chair and started laying out the notes Genos had given me last night. "Let's get to work. I want all those details you tried to give me yesterday."
Genos frowned a little. "Would you like me to be concise, sir?"
"Not at all. The more you remember the better. Oh, wait." I leaned my phone against the desk lamp and set it to record. “Okay, go."
Genos took a deep breath. "Four years ago, when I was fifteen..."
It was the dream again, the same one as always. I knew it was a dream because the details were wrong, but I could never quite break out of the script.
"I'm sorry, " Fubuki said, on her way out the door. "I had fun?"
I said nothing, just watched her go. As the locker room door swung shut behind that green dress I liked, a trio of black-clad goons pushed it open again.
(In reality, Fubuki dumped me a few days before the fight, and she'd been wearing black. It was in the locker room though, it wasn't been safe for us to meet at my apartment. If her father's men ever realized she was slumming with a boxer, it wouldn't matter whether I toed the line or not. Not that she told me she was a mob daughter before I got involved with her.)
"That was the best you could do?" the lead goon sneered.
"I let him get a few hits in," I said, unable, even in the dream, to keep the disgust from my voice. "That's what you wanted, right?"
"The people want a fight they can sit down and enjoy. That takes longer than a handful of popcorn!"
"Bring me tougher opponents, then." I hadn't felt a challenge in months. Today's sap, some out-of-towner called Boros, had been the first one to last more than a single punch all season. In the dream, I saw his poster on the wall behind the goons, one eye shadowed, staring down at the viewer, at me.
"If you can't put on a show when you win, then maybe you should start losing."
I felt my blood go cold in my veins. "I followed orders. I did what you asked."
"You followed the letter, but not the spirit, kid." He stepped forward and clapped a hand on my bare shoulder. "We're trying to run a business here. You're bad for it."
"I won't throw fights," I said, my voice as cold as I felt.
"You agreed to that bonus to let Boros hit you easy enough. Think of it as changing careers. You're not an athlete any more, you're an entertainer. They earn more."
"I won't throw fights," I said again. But it was harder, like I was forgetting the words.
"Let me make this easy for you." He snapped his fingers and the other two goons pulled out guns. "You do this, or you quit. Those are the only options where you make it out of this room."
I swallowed the stomach acid rising in my throat. "I quit."
He laughed and patted my cheek. Then stepped back and let one of the goons hit me with his gun. It sent me sprawling, despite the force behind it being half what I could put in.
In the dream, I curled up and let it happen, helpless. In reality, I'd tried to fight back, which of course made it worse. I was stronger than them, but with the two armed with guns, and the head goon pulling out a set of brass knuckles, even I fell to the assault.
For a while I'd been afraid they were going to kill me anyway.
Then things went fuzzy, and the next thing I remembered was a face obscured by the blood in my eyes. "Saitama?"
(In reality, I didn't meet Mumen until he came to take my statement, "I fell," the next day. But in the dream he was always there right after the beating.)
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"I don't know," I said. "This is the only thing I'm good at."
"You're strong enough, you have options."
"I don't know," I said, again. "I don't know."
(I'd repeat it, in the dream, until I woke up. In reality, Mumen had helped me find a bodyguard job, which led to helping my clients with their personal issues, which led to my private eye business.)
"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know."
I woke up with Rover's slobber on my face, a fact more pressing than it would be if he was a normal dog. "Agh! Are you trying to blind me?"
He whuffled for food, and I stumbled to the bathroom to wash my face before I got a rash. It was early, but I didn't want to sleep any more. Probably couldn't if I tried.
I threw on some clothes that were slightly less wrinkled than yesterday's and the heavy trench coat I inherited with the office. It was older than I was, and not even the dry cleaners could get the smell of cigars out, but it was warm and dry. Everything would be dripping with mist until the sun burned it off.
I left Rover behind, to great protest, and walked the gray dawn streets until I could hear sea birds. The address Genus' daughter had passed along wasn't far from the docks, close enough that forklifts were running between the two even at this ungodly hour.
There was a pack of smokes in the trench coat that I tried to forget about. It took three matches to light one, the air was so damp, but once it was lit I stood in an alley and watched the small warehouse until the sun was fully risen.
Just a warehouse. Like any other. Not even a big one. But it was the only lead we had, and if we went more than a day without progress, Genos was likely to get antsy.
"For now," I said. I pushed the egg sandwich a little closer to his side of the desk, and Genos continued to ignore it. "It'll take two or three days to figure out the schedule of that place, and I can't just not sleep for that whole time."
"So... you're trusting me to take half the time?" He brightened up at that, as I knew he would.
"I'll take nights, you take days. I'll be available by phone in case of emergency, and I'll bring you food."
Genos had a few visible bruises from his fight with Sonic, and his right knuckles were bearing tiny scratches on the metal, but his clothes and hair were spotless as ever. I nudged the sandwich closer again, and he finally took it.
"The trouble is finding a place to watch from. I don't have a car, and even if I did there's too much crime down there that we wouldn't be noticed."
"What do we do?" Genos asked around a mouthful of egg and biscuit.
"The good news is I know who owns the building next door. The bad news is we don't see eye-to-eye."
"You know a lot of criminals considering you don't get along with any of them."
"Oh, he's not a criminal. Much worse." I grinned. "He's the mayor."
Mayor Kamen, like Dr. Genus, was impossible to guess the age of. He looked barely old enough to vote, much less run a whole city.
If the office building had been owned by the city, this would be easier. But no, Amai bought the property after it was seized and put up for auction. Nothing in the law against it, apparently, even if he gave the order for the bust in the first place.
"What was it before?" Genos asked, when I told him the story.
"Shipping company I think. Got in trouble for sneaking around check points."
"That's it? Not drugs? Or guns?"
"Nope, just trying to avoid dock fees."
The mayor was far too busy to see a guy like me, and I didn't have the kind of personal history with him that would let me barge in. I'd done a few jobs for him that were kept off the books, but it wasn't like he owed me a favor, or wanted to hire me like Fubuki did.
So instead of making an appointment, I went "off the books" myself and cornered him in a hair salon.
"This is subtle," he said, eyes fixed on his own reflection. "I'm supposed to buy you happen to be visiting a stylist?"
"Thinking about updating my look," I said, ignoring the dig at my hair. "Maybe get my eyebrows threaded."
"Do you even know what that means?"
"I think we both know I do not."
The poor hairdresser was being distracted by Genos, who was actually attractive and stylish enough to be visiting this place, but lacked the social skills to fake flirt. Frankly, I was surprised he'd kept her occupied this long.
"Look, I need a favor."
I flipped through the pictures on my phone until I found the office building. "You own this place. I need the keys for two, three days tops."
"And why should I give you those, exactly?"
"I'll owe you a favor."
"I don't need one."
I hesitated. "We'll pay rent. For one office, for three days." I felt kinda bad promising Genos' money without him, but how much could it be?
Amai fingered his bangs thoughtfully. "I can't give you a contract, mind."
Without asking or shame, he took a pen and tore half a page from the appointment book on the hairdresser's station. I nearly choked on spit at the number he wrote down.
"For only three days?"
"That's per day."
I'd deposited the money Genos gave me upfront, I didn't have much choice with the bills I couldn't negotiate coming up. But if Genos kept paying for meals, I could just barely cover both.
Of course. I swore under my breath. "Fine. I'll have to go to the bank. Where can I meet you?"
"Nowhere, preferably. I'll send someone to your office in two hours."
He settled back in the salon chair and resumed his scrutiny of the mirror. "Pleasure doing business with you, detective."
"I want you to know, I'm not voting for you."
"I think we both know you don't vote."
I went back to the entrance, cleared out for the mayor's privacy, and found Genos smiling and talking with the hairdresser. She was giggling, like he'd said something amazingly witty. I hadn't thought the kid had it in him... but maybe when you looked like that, it took less.
"You done?" I asked, surprised at how sharp my voice sounded.
"Ah, yes sir." Genos took his little bag and gave the hairdresser a last smile before following me out. "How did it go?"
"Fine." I glanced at him. There was something odd. He looked good, of course, he always looked good, but now it was somehow... smoother. "Wait, weren't you- What happened to your bruises?"
"Oh." His ears went pink. "It's makeup. I let that girl demonstrate the concealer on me."
"And you bought some?"
"No, just hair product. I didn't want to buy something I wouldn't use."
I shifted my gaze up to his scalp. His hairstyle had changed, from neatly parted to tousled in a way that made him look charmingly disheveled. I'd always assumed the people who looked like that were just born with it, but maybe it was deliberate?
"I never even used that stuff when I had hair."
I shot a glare at him.
"I have your old boxing posters, remember?"
His ears upgraded to bright red. "Um."
"Never mind." I checked my phone for the time. I had a watch somewhere, but it either needed a new battery or was just broken, and I couldn't afford to find out. "There's time for food before my appointment. I'll introduce you to Mumen."
It had taken most of the day following Mayor Kamen around to get him alone, and I had to stop by the bank and collect Rover from my apartment, so it was well past evening by the time we made it to dinner. The noodle stand was pleasantly warm despite the dreary weather. Genos' hair had deflated on the way, but somehow looked great even drooping in his eyes.
Mumen was still on duty, dressed in his worn-but-spotless uniform, and nursing a sore shoulder that he assumed I wouldn't notice.
"Mumen, Genos. Genos, Mumen."
Mumen gave him a wide friendly smile, which Genos accepted with a nod. "Nice to meet you. You're working with Saitama now?"
"Yes," Genos said, puffing up a little bit with pride.
"But we shouldn't tell you about it," I said quickly. I wasn't sure if we'd broken any laws yet, but we were definitely fixing to.
"Ah, right." Mumen chuckled. "Other topics then. Genos, how do you like Z City?"
"I do," Genos said, to my surprise. "There's so many options for food, and entertainment, and shopping. Nothing like where I grew up."
"What do you do for fun in a small town?" I asked, suddenly curious.
"I... don't really know. I read a lot. Studied."
"No, for fun."
We stared at each other for a moment.
Mumen coughed, and I noticed the chef waiting for our order. Genos left it to me to choose, so I got us a couple of budget bowls. Spending Genos' money so freely wasn't fun any more.
The conversation stayed light while we ate. Mumen and Genos turned out to be pretty similar in temperament, and kept each other engaged in a long debate about detective novels that I'd never heard of. Mumen had to get to work, and I had a huge stack of cash burning a hole in my trench coat pocket, so we didn't stay longer than it took to shove food in our faces.
Rover was pacified by table scraps, the rain had slowed to a drizzle, and the walk back to the office was nice and mellow. The bad dream was almost forgotten, the truth of Genos' father shoved down where I didn't have to think about it.
"You can take off if you want," I told Genos. "I'm just gonna wait for the keys, then go start the stakeout."
"I can help!" Genos insisted. "I can... make coffee."
"You don't drink it, do you even know how?"
"I do! I make it for my grandfather." His face fell. "I hope he isn't too worried about me."
"He's probably driving himself nuts with it," I said, honestly.
Genos' brow furrowed. "You think?"
"He's your grandfather. Of course he's worried. Even if you'd told him where you were going he would be."
"You're right..." Genos looked like a kicked puppy. "I should call him."
"You should," I agreed. It would be for Genos' own good if his grandfather talked him out of all this and got him home. I'd already proposed an answer to the mystery that Genos liked, pursuing it any further wouldn't lead to any more closure.
His own good... That's what the voice on the phone had said a few days ago, urging me to give up the case. Maybe Genos' grandfather hadn't been threatened, just knew enough to know he didn't want to know more. It was no surprise he'd figured out Genos came to me, if Genos really had a bunch of my old boxing posters at home.
"Get a good night's sleep," I told him. "Stakeouts are really boring. You don't want to be tired on top of that."
"I will," Genos promised, and was distracted enough by remembering what a bad grandson he was that he left without further protest.
It was morning when I saw him again, after a night of note-taking and too much coffee and cup noodles. The exchange with the mayor's goon had gone well, so well I wondered how often he sent them on late-night cash exchanges, and I decided to leave Rover at home in case he got overprotective.
I already hadn't slept well the night before, so I have to admit I was in bad shape when Genos came to relieve me. That still wasn't an excuse for how long I stared at him before I managed to form a sentence.
"What... are you wearing?"
Genos glanced down at himself. "My vest and shirt from the bar got ruined, so I bought some new clothes. I thought it would be better to dress casually."
He had jeans on, and a sleeveless hoodie over a v-neck tank top. Revealing that one arm was metal all the way up past his shoulder, while the other was only a little beyond the elbow. I could see scars along his collarbone on the right side, the heavier-modded side, and more importantly, freckles all over.
For the first time since I'd met him, he looked his age. And maybe it was the sleep-deprivation, but I felt like a dirty old man for liking it.
"You look good," I heard myself say.
"Really?" He smiled. "I asked that girl at the salon yesterday for a recommendation. I just wanted something simple, inexpensive."
Oof. Knowing he'd been frugal actually turned me on more. "Yeah. Real good."
I stood up and accepted the bagel sandwich he'd brought, and gestured at my set-up.
"Okay so, you wanna write down everything you see around the building. People coming and going, even the ones that just seem to be stopping by to talk or something. After three days, we'll be able to tell what's a pattern and what's not."
Genos nodded solemnly. "Yes sir, I understand."
"Okay. Uh. You can use the coffeemaker to heat up water for noodles. Bathroom down the hall works. Write down when you take breaks too, just in case you miss something, but don't like, hold it until you hurt yourself."
He nodded again, a little dubious, and I got the feeling he was going to pee in a bottle or something instead.
I shrugged my coat over my shoulders, the pack of cigarettes thumping against my leg. I'd resisted the urge to smoke all night, but only because I knew Genos would be bothered by the smell.
"Call me if you need anything. I mean anything. Don't worry if you're bothering me, I promise you're not."
"Okay..." Once again, I knew he was going to ignore the instruction.
"No matter what you see, don't do anything but take notes, got it? No going to check things out. No closer looks. Just write it down and don't move."
"I've got it, sir."
He seemed sincere this time, so I headed for the door. "Okay, I'm off." I took a bite of bagel and around it absently added, "Be safe, I love you."
I was three steps down the hall when I realized what I'd said, and the memory of the look I'd seen on Genos' face as I turned the corner killed any hope that he hadn't understood me with my mouth full.
I'd known the kid a week and I'd just told him I loved him. And the worst part was, I didn't think I was lying.
At least there was no way he was going to fall asleep on the job now.
We're getting somewhere!
It probably said something about the state of my... whatever-it-was with Genos, but I didn't have any trouble sleeping that day. Even with Rover drooling on, and slowly dissolving, my spare pillow.
I wasn't worried, really, about how Genos felt about me. It was clear he wanted in my pants from that first hungry once-over in my office, and the way he got so huffy over my past with Fubuki only confirmed it. So I knew he liked me. He was earnest enough that I thought he might convince himself he loved me.
No, that wasn't a problem. The problem was, he was too earnest. Too intense. Too young. He felt things so strongly they consumed him.
And I didn't feel anything, some days.
I had the office number set up to forward to my cell phone, but no one called. That wasn't unusual, I got more calls in the evening anyway, and I'd already turned down two cheating spouse cases to keep working with Genos. That was more job offers than normal.
After nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, Rover woke me to go outside, and I started rehearsing what I was going to say to the kid. Obviously I couldn't start a relationship with him. Even if he wasn't too young for me, there were a hundred reasons it was a bad idea.
He was going to hate me once he found out I was hiding the truth about his father, for one.
So by the time I went to relieve him, bringing dinner and the Rover-damaged pillow to make sitting all night easier, I had a speech in my head to let him down easy.
He greeted me by jumping out of the chair and exclaiming "Mr. Saitama!"
"Too loud," I winced. He immediately looked chagrined and checked the window.
"I'm sorry." It was a stage whisper this time. "I was excited to see you." Despite the chastising he was beaming at me, bright as the sun setting over the harbor.
"Listen, uh..." I pressed the takeout box into his hands. "About what I said this morning."
"Yes?" Genos said eagerly.
"I was really tired, and I wasn't really thinking... I guess I treated you like a kid. Thinking of you paternal-like. So, sorry about that."
"Oh." Genos sucked in a breath. "It's... okay."
"Right so. I better get to work."
"Right..." He didn't move. "Right."
"Right!" He blurted, and blushed. He wasn't wearing makeup today, and his pink cheeks looked out of place next to yellow-green bruises.
Genos rushed out past me. I didn't think I heard any sounds of crying, so I pushed the guilt from my mind and sat down by the window.
It was better this way.
The next two days were boring and awkward in turns. If I wasn't on stakeout duty I was sleeping or preparing for my next shift. I only saw Genos when we swapped places, and he'd sputter something and leave as fast as he could.
Finally, after our three days were up, we gathered in my office to go over the notes.
"You're really good at this," I said, flipping through pages of his precise handwriting. "I kinda wish I'd made you take the night shift. My schedule's not nearly so thorough."
"I just wrote everything," Genos muttered. "It was simple."
"Maybe for you, kid."
He winced. "I'm not a kid."
"Ah... Sorry." Looked like it was gonna take more than pretending nothing happened to smooth this over. "Well, uh, good news is it looks like we've got our in. Two out of three nights, the guards stuck to one side of the building for about forty minutes. Could be smoke break, could be laziness, doesn't matter. We can get in."
"What if they don't take a break again? What if it was a fluke?"
"We'll have to be sneakier." I snapped the notebook shut. "Either way, we're doing this tonight."
It was almost four in the morning when the guards had been doing whatever-it-was around the corner, and it was too risky to go check. Me and Genos met up at Kamen's dubiously owned property at one, and watched and waited until then. We hardly spoke, which was for the best since we weren't supposed to still be in here, but was torture anyway.
Genos was wearing the hoodie again. His bruises were gone but there were still healing cuts by his mouth and eye, making him look like a teenage hoodlum. I'd gone casual too, a long-sleeved shirt and dark slacks, and my trilby pulled low to keep my head from catching any light. Rover was with us tonight, since he had party tricks that might come in handy.
Like clockwork, at 3:50, the two ordinary-looking security guards circled around to the opposite side of the building. We waited about ten minutes to be sure they weren't coming back, then got moving.
I knew my way around a security system, but the one on the door was top-of-the-line. "We might have to cross our fingers," I warned Genos.
"Oh, this is the kind my grandfather used to have."
I glanced at him. "'Used to?'"
"It kept going off by accident. I didn't tell him it was from me sneaking out."
I snorted a laugh. "Fake ID, sneaking out, running off to the city. You're a terrible grandson."
To my relief, he smiled. "Want to see how I learned to turn it off?"
"Yes. Yes I do."
I stood back and let him work. Genos popped off one of his fingertips, leaving a thin metal spoke and several little gold connectors. He used the spoke to pry open the security box's cover, disconnected three wires, and connected two. The narrow screen flashed green, and displayed "OK."
"You are full of surprises, kid."
He frowned, and shoved the door so hard the lock broke. "I'm not a kid."
Rover led the way in, his eyes glowing brighter to light our way. It looked like a pretty standard warehouse, wooden crates and metal shipping cans, and a small forklift parked by the loading dock.
"Look for addresses," I told Genos. "And a crowbar."
I sent Rover with him when we split up, using my phone to take pictures of every shipping label I found. There was one crate with a loose lid that I managed to pry open with my bare hands, but I couldn't feel anything but packing peanuts.
We reconnected after a few minutes, too dangerous to stay in here for long.
"Anything?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I took pictures of the addresses, but a lot of them weren't labeled."
"Yeah, same thing I noticed." Rover snuffled at my hand, and gave a brief growl. "What's wrong, boy?"
He sniffed again, and I realized that was the hand I'd used to feel around in the crate.
"Come on, just one."
Tentatively, reluctantly, Rover licked my fingers. He shuddered, and whined some more, and then his fur started to ripple and his body swelled, and when it was over he was at least six inches taller.
"What the fuck," Genos hissed. I think it was the first time I'd heard him swear like that, and I couldn't blame him.
I wiped my hand on my pants. "Rover's party trick. Different drugs do different things to his system. That's stims, pure stuff too."
Rover started to drool, thick ropes of it splattering on the concrete floor, trying to get the drugs out of his body as fast as possible.
"Good boy," I told him, scratching his ears. His tail wagged, but he kept drooling. "We better get out of here. We've got addresses we can investigate, and we know they're moving drugs through here now."
We'd been a little cocky, I knew that, but for some reason I didn't think we'd have more trouble getting in than out. There were voices by the side entrance, and smoke drifting under the door. So it had been a break after all.
But as we got closer to the back entrance, the one we'd broken into, I saw the light flicker like someone had passed in front of it.
"Shit." I held my arm out to stop Genos. "Rover."
Still several inches bigger than normal, and with drool foaming at his mouth, Rover took off running out the door, bashing it open with his head. I heard shouting, and swearing, and as soon as the voices faded I grabbed Genos arm and ran.
Outside, by the light of streetlamps and the brightening sky, we saw figures chasing Rover through the fog. I wasn't worried about him, so I started to drag Genos back to safety, but one of the voices sounded familiar.
"Nothing," I lied. "Let's move."
We ran for about a block, then slowed to a walk, trying to avoid attention. I kept hearing voices shouting here and there, hard to tell whether it was echoes or they'd split up. At least until we turned a corner and Genos shoved me back out of the way.
"You there!" A voice, a familiar voice shouted. "What are you doing out here?"
Genos shoved his hands in his pockets. "Nothing," he said, playing the part of the sullen street punk.
"Well do it somewhere else, there's..." Footsteps, and Genos took a half-step forward to keep me hidden from view. "Do I know you?"
"Shit, are you Mori's kid?"
It took a great amount of effort to stop myself from swearing. So I was right, this was one of Fubuki's dad's goons.
"You... knew my dad?"
"Yeah. Ages ago. Before you were born, probably. We were all real sorry when we heard about what happened."
"Oh... Thank you."
"The boss sent some guys to look into it, but all they could do was take out the trash, you know?"
I heard Genos' breath catch. "Did they find out? Who did it?"
"Not for sure. Hey, is that why you're here in the city?"
"Looking for answers," Genos confirmed. "Thank you. For telling me."
"I know the boss'd give you a job if you need one, kid. Genos, right?"
"Y- Yes. Kuseno Genos. I use my grandfather's name."
"Makes sense. Don't need everyone to know you're related to Machine Gun Mori." The goon chuckled. "Seriously though, not everyone's gonna recognize you, and there's some kind of big rabid dog running around. Better get off the street before you get shot or bit."
"I will. Thank you."
The goon headed off, walking past Genos and in the other direction. If he'd looked back, even once, he would have seen me. But through some miracle he didn't, in fact after a few steps he checked his watch and took off in a jog.
I didn't dare breathe until he was out of sight, and I could tell Genos still wasn't.
"Machine Gun Mori?" he blurted. He turned and glared at me, tears in his eyes. "My father was a hitman?"
"Ah... Yeah. Looks like."
"Did you know about this?"
I glanced around. "We should get off the street."
"Yes, okay? I knew. I've got police reports back at my place and everything."
The tears spilled down his cheeks. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I didn't want to break your heart, Genos." I sighed. "I hoped what happened to your family had nothing to do with your dad's past. If you never needed to know... You deserve to be happy."
"Be ignorant, you mean."
"Will you come on back to my place already! You can yell at me once we're inside."
All the way back, Genos kept muttering and sniffling under his breath. I wasn't sure whether he was going to punch me or burst into tears once we got inside.
It turned out to be the latter.
I hugged him, awkwardly, which he accepted at least. It took some doing before I could pry him off and heat up water for tea.
"Should we just quit?" he asked, miserably, from my floor. I had a couch, but he'd decided on the floor, apparently. "I know what happened now. My father was a mob killer and he got what he deserved."
"Come on." I sat down next to him and offered him a cup, which he ignored. "I didn't know your dad, but the fact that he decided to leave and settle down in a small town says a lot."
Genos sniffed and wiped his nose with a pocket handkerchief he was still carrying, despite dressing down. "You think?"
"And at the very least, your siblings didn't deserve it. I mean. Your mom might have been in on it too. But your brother and sister wouldn't have."
"Y- yeah." He sat up a little straighter. "Yeah. Maybe... maybe it's in my blood."
"That guy said his boss would give me a job. After we find who did it, maybe I'll join them."
"No!" I shouted. "Join the mob? Are you crazy?"
"Maybe. But it's my choice."
"It's a dumb choice! Don't make choices when you're upset, kid!"
"I'm not a kid!" He was shouting now too. "Stop calling me that! Stop pretending you know what's best for me!"
"I-" I couldn't really argue with that. "I'm... sorry."
He pressed the metal heels of his palms into his eyes.
"You... you'd be a good criminal, at least."
"No, really. You got us into that warehouse single-handed. And you kept it together talking to that goon. That must have been hard."
"I felt like I was gonna scream the whole time," he said, quietly.
"But you didn't. You handled that perfect."
Genos looked up at me, with red eyes. "I don't think I want to be a criminal."
"I haven't thought past getting revenge."
"Ah... Not so good." It was the first time he'd admitted to me that was his plan.
"All I've thought about for the last four years, is finding out who killed my family, and killing them." Genos stared down at his hands. "Everything else has just been a front. Putting on an act, for my grandfather, for school. So they wouldn't find out and try to stop me."
Without thinking, I put my arm around him. "Genos..."
"You said I deserve to be happy. I don't think I know how anymore. I only know how to fake it."
It hit a little too close to home. "Haven't you liked being with me?"
His eyes were back on mine. "Yes, but... you don't like me the way I like you. So I have to pretend that doesn't bother me."
I sighed. "I'm sorry, Genos."
"It's okay. I can't force you to want me."
"Not that. I'm sorry I lied before. When I said I meant that 'I love you' like a paternal way."
"You... you didn't?"
I looked him straight in the eyes. "I don't know why, because you're crazy as hell, but I'm falling for you, Genos."
I'd been expecting him to go in for a kiss at that, and I wasn't disappointed. He was damp with tears and sloppy in his eagerness, but it was a hell of a kiss nonetheless. I was close to pushing him down on the floor and taking liberties, when I heard a scratching on the door.
"That's Rover," I murmured.
"Can't he wait?" Genos asked, plaintive.
"Don't worry, I'm not kicking you out after I let him in." I stood, and looked back over my shoulder. "You deserve to feel good once in a while."
His eyes were wide. "You mean..."
"I mean whatever you want, tonight."
Rover scampered in, a little smaller than usual after all the energy he'd expended. He ran to where I'd been sitting next to Genos and started drinking the discarded tea.
Genos was already on his feet. "Sir..."
I held up a finger. "One request."
"Do not call me 'sir' when we're having sex."
Genos bit his lip, but he was smiling. "I'll try... Saitama."
"Good." I cleared my throat, trying to pretend I wasn't flustered. "Now, uh, where were we?"
"You were about to throw me on your bed and fuck me until I can't remember my name."
"That sounds right."