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Assorted This and That

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1. if not famous, notorious

"This is the eighteenth time in the space of two years," the lady said. "His modus operandi is always the same. We know he disguises his swords as some sort of longish package - golf clubs, baseball equipment, camera goods, antiques - but the point is that we never catch him. We never see him, he's never caught on tape, it's like he's a ghost. But if the new information we have is correct, this ghost has an additional fifty-seven cases of manslaughter on his record. That's more than the entire Coppola and Genovese Families' kills put together!"

Her hand slammed down on the table but when she looked up, she only met blank stares. Their worried looks never reached their eyes. The so-called Council, the police, nobody listened to her when she said Ghost was a threat. Because they're all in his pocket.

Damn him, she wanted to scream. Damn him and his disappearing ways. Anger burned hot in her when another politician came up to her, trying to soothe her ruffled feathers. The man's superiors watch the two of them, eyes calculating, mouths pursed in consternation. "We know, Signorina, your brother was killed by this man. He left his calling card by his body, the broken body of another turncoat. We know his name, and we will track him." All lies.

Wine slammed into the table harder than necessary. She tilted her head back and drank, but as always even reds took too long to sink into her blood. That was why even after imbibing a half bottle she had her gun out and ready when a man sank into the chair across from her. "Signorina," he said, holding his hands up. "Please calm down. I just thought maybe the wine needed some conversation to go with it. After all, the poor vineyard who grew those grapes probably meant for their wares to be savored."

"Who are you?" There was a slight tremor in her wrist and she clamped down on it.

"A-ah," he said in his smiling, staccato accent. Korean, or Japanese. Chinese liked to drawl, so that was out. "Maybe you were looking for another man. A ghost."

"You're him," she hissed. Her eyes darted to the side. This time was a Tomasino Hilfinger sports bag, bright red and very popular among young people. The man, dressed upscale-casual in a leather jacket and dark jeans, was deadly attractive. Did he see the blood on his hands? Did he dream of his kills? Her brother's last gasping words - what were they?

Her hopes died with the next words. "Oh non, signorina, con rispetto parlando, penso che si sbagli [1]. He is but a cog in the wheel, like I am. I'm the trigger he pulls, the knife in the dark. I'm light and shadow and whatever he needs to be. I listen to him and him alone."

"Is he listening now?"

"Diamine [2]."

"He sent you?"

"I am ever his arms and legs."

"Doesn't he get fat just sitting there all the time."

The stranger had the gall to laugh. "No, you don't understand. Your ghost is always here, with you, behind you. He says your brother's last gasp was your name, signorina. He loved you very much."

"And you killed him!" She shrieked and the gunshot cracked through the air. The stranger dodged, pulling the long samurai sword out of his bag as she kicked the table over and fired some more. His eyes were light gold crescents in an upside-down mirror of his friendly smile, which was still firmly pasted on his face. She fired until there were no more rounds in the revolver and her hands shook to the butt-pouch that she carried with her everywhere -

- it should have been impossible to sink the knife through two finger's width of wood and into her stomach, but he did as if it wasn't there. Over the lip of the table she saw his forehead bob up and down and just as suddenly, the blade was ripped out of her guts, leaving a fresh red scar. Her innards would spill out, she realized. Her knees, buckled before, now refused to move. She choked on the blood that rose and splattered against the hand that pushed away the last barrier between her and the killer, this mano di fantasma [3].

"You will burn," she coughed wetly.

"Hm-mm, I don't believe in your God."

"Doesn't matter. I'll still see you in hell - drag you there myself if I must." Her head was heavy, she tilted it back with the last of her strength. "You cannot run forever."

"I run from no one, especially not him." There was a tenderness in his eyes that spoke strangely of affection, even love in the face of destruction. Tears built in her eyes, from pain or admiration, she didn't know. Death, like Ghost, was unshakeable in his actions.

"Do you know," the voice whispered as her eyelids started to slide shut, "in Japan they say the sharpest, cleanest blade can still cut? Of course it can. But it isn't a matter of clean or sharp, signorina. It's a matter of will, in the end, and my will is stronger than yours."

"I don't care for your -"

"I'll bury you next to him."

A pause. "He has a name it's -"

"I know."

She gasped, organs failing, eyesight blacking out. She was dying, she knew, from a smiling man in a bar. No one had ever done anything for her, she reflected. They had only stared at her when she screamed at them that something was wrong, something was warped. They had been unattached when - didn't they see? They were already caught in a web of their own choosing.

"Pietro, Pietro, his name is Pietro --"

When she was dead he took a body bag from his duffel and bundled her up, then rolled the whole thing in a blanket. People would probably think she was some sort of furniture, a grandfather clock or something. At the door Gokudera, in his politician's disguise, was standing outside, cigarette dangling from one hand and his earpiece still on his ear. He surrendered a towel to wipe of Yamamoto's bloodied hand and then, stubbing out his cigarette, drew his head down for a long kiss. Some tourists passing by tittered at the sight.

"All clear?"

"Crystal, signor consigliere."

Behind them the bartender brought out mop and bucket like he had many times before, and washed the last of her lifestains away.