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Hitting On All Sixes

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"That's it. Time to punch out, Strife." Zack waved a hand over his shoulder, laughing as he brushed off his partner's sputtering protest. "Don't care. We'll finish up that paperwork tomorrow. I mean, it's not like it's going anywhere, is it?" He offered his very best grin as he lowered his voice and perched on the edge of Cloud's desk. "Sides, I heard about this place beneath the plate—"


The voice made Zack jump to his feet and glance toward the door, doing his best to look as though he hadn't been attempting to convince his rookie partner to join him for a very illegal drink. "Commissioner." He crossed the room, well aware that one did not make Commissioner Lazard repeat himself more than once. "What can I do for you?"

The Commissioner handed him a scrap of paper. "Reactor 05? Looks like there was foul play. Go." And with that, he disappeared back into his office, leaving Zack rubbing his fingers lightly over the paper. He sighed, and then he walked back by his desk, wrinkling his nose.

"Well, we're not punching out yet," he announced, and he grabbed his jacket. He scarcely noticed that Cloud didn't argue this time, instead immediately grabbing his own jacket and following Zack out of the precinct.

"Where are we going?"

Zack handed him the paper before they reached the car, and by the time the engine was running, Cloud whistled lowly. "The explosion was a bomb? I thought the first responders said it was an accident."

"Apparently a certain Mr. Tuesti seems to think otherwise." Zack shrugged as they pulled into the road, sirens blaring. He didn't like to deal with traffic any more than necessary, and while this wasn't necessarily an emergency, he didn't want to wait any longer than he had to. "Not too sure what to think of that."

"Reeve Tuesti?" Cloud glanced back up at Zack, frowning. "He designed the city."

Zack didn't take his eyes off of the road. At the speeds he liked to drive at, it wasn't safe. "Yeah? I thought Shinra designed it."

There was a flash of movement— Cloud had waved his hand. "Yeah, but Tuesti was the lead engineer. He also reworked the reactor designs and ... I think he did something else. The rail system maybe."

"Huh. Why haven't I heard of him?" Zack was filing away the information for later, certain that eventually, it would come in handy. After all, someone who had managed that many major projects should have had far more spotlight. "Is he still with Shinra?"

Cloud shook his head. "No. He's the Mayor's assistant or... something. He apparently doesn't like the press. He let Shinra take most of the public credit."

"Smart move," Zack decided. "After all, Tuesti is a Wutaian name, isn't it? No one would have wanted to live in a city designed by a Wutaian."

"The war was years ago, Zack."

"Well, sure. It wouldn't be quite as big of a deal now, but... There's still plenty of anti-Wutaian sentiment."

Cloud remained quiet, apparently still digesting that fact, until they reached the reactor. It was huge, dominating its section of the plate. The smoke still billowing out of it was blanketing the countryside, leaving a dark fog over the area. Zack headed toward the largest white tent bearing the Shinra logo, certain that the president would be in it.

"You the detectives?" A lanky redhead was waiting for them at the tent flap, smoking a cigarette that he absently flicked to the ground when he saw them. At Zack's nod, he glanced them both over. "Mr. Shinra'll see you in just a minute. He's speakin' to the press."

There was a certain lack of ... something in the way he spoke. Some sense of derision that laced every move he made. His blue suit, although clearly one of the nicer ones, was sloppy, jacket open and tie hanging loosely around his neck. Zack frowned.

"Is he inside?" He didn't wait for confirmation, just slipped past the redhead and into the tent. Cloud sputtered an apology before following, and Zack heard another match strike.

The tent was packed close to over flowing: every paper in the city desperate to get the best angle on the reactor accident. Rufus Shinra was standing in front of them, calm and polished as ever as he spoke, occasionally reaching up to move a strand of light hair that seemed determined to fall in front of his eyes. At his side, a Wutaian stood, and he was decidedly less polished.

He looked as though he hadn't slept, and he tended to jump just a little whenever the press spoke to him directly. Surprise that they had noticed him perhaps. But when his eyes met Zack's, there was something soothing about him, something reassuring. Zack wondered if he needed to get more sleep.

"And let me reassure everyone that this was an isolated incident. There is nothing unstable about the reactors." Shinra smiled, and the flash of too-white teeth was a little unnerving. He looked like a shark. Zack smiled to himself, and there was a burst of flashes from the cameras. Apparently, they weren't as put-off by it.

"Mr. Shinra! Is it true then that you've assumed the presidency of Shinra Electric?"

"Yes; yes, it is. I will do my best to live up to my father's legacy."

Zack's eyes narrowed as he watched Shinra say that, watched the way the blond's mouth tightened. He almost spat out the word 'legacy'. Interesting.

There was a tug on his arm, and Zack glanced back toward Cloud. Cloud raised an eyebrow, and Zack waved for him to settle down. There were undercurrents here that Zack wasn't quite ready to disturb yet. He looked back to the reporters.

"Mr. Tuesti!"

The Wutaian, finally beginning to get used to the press, didn't jump this time. He lifted his head and smiled faintly. "Yes?"

"You're temporary mayor now, aren't you? Since Mayor Domino was killed in the blast?"

Tuesti swallowed thickly, and then he nodded. "That's right. I will take over until we can hold an election."

"Which we will be aiding in," Shinra interjected. "We want to hold a new election as soon as possible." He glanced at Tuesti, who smiled, and then he added, "We plan on supporting Mr. Tuesti in his campaign for mayor, after all." There was a fresh flurry of activity, but all Zack could see was Tuesti's face.

There was a brief, but complete look of horror on it, and then he pasted a smile on and nodded, doing his best not to make waves. Shinra let the reporters talk a few more minutes, and then he gently swept them out of the tent with, "Gentlemen, I'm afraid we will have to pick this up another time. Lots of work to finish here."

Slowly, the reporters left the tent, until Zack, Cloud, Rufus Shinra and Tuesti were the only ones inside. There was a faint movement in the back of the tent near Tuesti, and Zack realized that no, there was one more person in the tent with them. He was a huge beast of a man, and while the redhead had looked sloppy and thrown together, he wore his suit quite well, pressed and buttoned.

Shinra glanced over at Zack and Cloud, and he held out a hand. "The detectives, I presume?"

"Yes, sir," Zack replied, offering a smile. "I'm Detective Fair; this is Detective Strife." Cloud was just beside him, and Zack could hear the notepad flipping open. There was a slight scratching as Cloud made sure the pencil was sharp enough to take his notes. Zack pushed his hands into his pockets. "I hear there was some evidence of foul play?"

Rufus Shinra studied Zack for a moment, but before he could speak, Tuesti had cleared his throat. He pointed toward a piece of the debris hidden under a sheet. "The power core has evidence of an incendiary device." He crossed the room and pulled the sheet off, and for just a moment, Zack was speechless.

The thing— the power core— was beautiful, even with the black smudges smeared across it. It still pulsed, a rhythm that Zack had felt when standing near any of the reactors. It was the rhythm that the entire plate ran by. He hesitated, but Tuesti was touching the core without gloves, so Zack let himself indulge by tracing his fingertips over the blue mass.

It tingled under his skin, and he thought that the pulsing picked up just a fraction before it settled back into its normal rhythm. He bit his bottom lip before he forced himself to look back up at Tuesti. "So, the reactor was stable before the explosion?"

Tuesti nodded quickly. "Of course. I double checked the reactor flow this—" He stopped suddenly and cast a look toward Shinra, who had a small smile playing over his mouth.

Zack looked between them. "What?"

"He isn't supposed to have access to the reactors any more, since he's not an employee," Shinra said finally, amusement on his face. "But of course, anyone who is working in them recognizes him, and no one would tell him that he can't walk through it."

Zack glanced back toward Tuesti, and he narrowed his eyes as he realized that there was a faint blush on the Wutaian's face. "Mr. Tuesti?" He spoke softly, prompting. He could hear the slightest scratching as Cloud took his notes.

"He's right. I'm not supposed to go in there any more."

"Why did you leave Shinra Electric?" Zack looked back at the core before he motioned for Cloud to come closer. "Sketch that pattern," he murmured to Cloud lowly.

"Is that relevant?" Rufus Shinra took a step closer, folding his arms over his chest. Zack didn't bother to respond to him, just raised an eyebrow at Tuesti. There was a moment of silence, and then Tuesti shrugged.

"Difference of opinion, is all. It wasn't anything... No one was upset by it, if that's what you're thinking." Tuesti looked back at Shinra though, and Zack wondered if that was actually the truth. "I mean, there were some offers to come back, but... I don't think most of them were serious."

Zack nodded slowly. "Why weren't you at the party?" He was pretty sure that the question made Shinra tense, because suddenly Rufus Shinra was walking across the tent, moving papers and reactor blueprints and who knew what else. "I mean, it was in your honor, wasn't it? Being the lead designer." Cloud made a low noise behind his back, and Zack suppressed a grin. Cloud would learn, eventually, that one used whatever information one had, no matter how recently learned.

"There was an emergency in the Junon reactor," Tuesti explained with a sigh. "Mr. Shinra asked for my assistance in resolving the problem, and by the time we were done..." He trailed off, sighed, and rubbed at his forehead. "We returned right away, of course. Something like this—"

"Of course. Was this... Mr. Shinra senior?"

"No, detective. It was me." Shinra looked up, offering one of his political smiles, that smooth facade that showed very little. "I had received the report and while I was going to go ahead and go... I thought it best if I could get the most quality assistance."

"Even with the party for his accomplishments?"

Shinra leaned forward on the table just a little, and Zack straightened up. He didn't let himself back down, didn't let Rufus Shinra throw his weight around the way he was used to doing. If they were going to have Midgar's finest investigating this event, then they were going to be properly investigated, no matter what Shinra thought of it.

"Even with the party."

Zack smiled again, making certain that this one was as bland as possible. "So, was there anyone here who actually saw the explosion? You and Mr. Tuesti arrived afterward, didn't you?"

Rufus made a jerking motion with his hand, and the giant in the back of the room stepped forward. He sighed as he pushed his sunglasses back up more on his nose.

"I was here, as was a Miss Scarlet Hinton."

Zack swallowed and tilted his head back just a little to look up at the man in the dark suit. "And you are?"

"Rude, sir."

Zack nodded slowly, and he blew out a breath. "Well, we will need to ask you some questions then."

Rude nodded slowly at them, and Zack glanced over at Shinra and Tuesti. They had retreated to the table, and he could hear Tuesti speaking lowly about the search and rescue plans. His eyes narrowed, straining to see more about their body language, to try to piece them together, even as he asked, "What exactly did you see happen?"

"I was at the train station. Miss Hinton was waiting on the train. There was an explosion."

Zack glanced back toward the man and raised an eyebrow. "That's it? It just... exploded?"

Rude folded his hands in front of himself. Ex-military, Zack decided after he watched Rude shift until he was apparently more comfortable. "That's all I saw," he confirmed.

"Can we speak to Miss Hinton? Is she still here?" Cloud's voice was surprisingly welcome in the middle of the questions, and Zack reached over to take the notepad from him. Cloud's eyes widened momentarily, then he shoved his hands into his pockets, a perfect imitation of Zack's own lazy confidence.

Zack had to admit, Cloud looked natural doing it.

There was a rustle as Rude left the tent to search for their Miss Scarlet Hinton, and Zack looked back over the notes on the pad. He attention was on Shinra and Tuesti though, because suddenly, they were speaking about something that Zack was fairly certain had nothing to do with search and rescue.

Their voices rose sharply when Tuesti hissed, "How can you be so calm?" And Shinra shushed him before murmuring something else. Zack frowned.

Of the two, he would have put his money on Shinra. The man was entirely too relaxed for having just lost his father, lost the entire board of the company. Instead, he was standing there, not seeming to be concerned at all as he spoke with Tuesti, calmed him. Zack glanced up just as Shinra's hand lifted to touch Tuesti's elbow, and from the way Tuesti quickly dropped his arm, Zack suspected there had to be something else going on.

He bit his bottom lip.

Then Miss Hinton was brought in, and Zack felt everyone in the tent draw a collective breath. Her blond hair was mussed, clearly from having been so close to the blast, and she was quite pale and shaken, but even then, she was surprisingly lovely. Her body was encased in what had to be the most revealing red dress that Zack had ever seen on a woman.

"M-Miss Scarlet Hinton?" Cloud stammered her name, and for once, Zack didn't think he would have done much better.

She offered them a small smile, clutching a portfolio in one hand. Rude took that from her and placed it on the table near Shinra. She patted her hair, and then she smiled again, clearly more ready to deal with being questioned. "Please, call me Scarlet."

"Ah... Scarlet. Can you tell me what happened?" Cloud rocked a little on his heels, still staring, and Zack, amused, went ahead and made a note of her name. He underlined it.

"Of course. I mean, I don't remember much, but... I was done at the party. It was a little bit of a bore without Mr. Tuesti there." She glanced past Zack and waved a little. A touch of red lit Tuesti's face before he waved back. "But what can you do? So, I was waiting on the train when the reactor blew. I don't remember seeing much."

"You were in the party before hand though?"


Cloud hesitated, and then he asked, "Do you remember anything unusual about the party? Anything ... out of place?"

She considered the question. "I... I'm afraid I wouldn't know if anything was out of place, detective. I'd never been in a reactor before." She sighed. "I mean, besides the smell, but I thought that it was some guy's cologne or something."

"What smell?" Tuesti's head had lifted at those words, and Zack raised an eyebrow.

"It was... sharp. It almost smelled like... copper." She made a face. "I remember thinking it smelled a bit like blood." Tuesti shook his head.

"Were they drinking?"

She hesitated before she nodded. She quickly glanced back at Cloud and Zack. "I didn't have any," she assured them.

Zack waved a hand at her, dismissing it, and he looked over at Tuesti. "What is it?"

"I... I put a chemical compound in the outer shell of the power core. If it was breached, it would have released a distinctive smell in the air, designed to warn the engineers of a crack. But she shouldn't have been able to smell it from where the party was being held. Everyone in that party should have recognized the smell, but if they were drinking..."

Zack raised an eyebrow. "Could it stick to someone? Their clothes?"

Tuesti nodded. "Of course. It's almost impossible to get it out of fabric."

He jotted a note down in the pad and nodded slowly. "Good. Maybe we can locate our bomber that way." He inclined his head and smiled. "Thank you for your assistance. If you could give your contact information to Detective Strife here, we would be grateful."

He headed for the front of the tent after tossing the notepad and pencil back to Cloud. His hand stopped just as he started to open it, and he looked back at Shinra. "You'll be around, won't you? In case I have more questions."

Shinra smiled back, political and bland. "Of course."

They made it back to the car before Cloud turned to look at Zack. He had that expression that he got whenever he thought Zack was out of line or just outright insane. Zack wondered if he could light a cigarette without it being too obvious that he wasn't looking forward to this discussion. Finally, he decided against it and instead, he cranked the car.

Cloud flipped through the notepad, and he finally said, "What are you thinking?"

"I don't know yet," Zack said honestly, and he sighed as he pulled the car back onto the road. "But what do you think the odds are that there was an emergency in Junon that required both the Vice President of Shinra Electric and the mayor's assistant? On the same night as a party in the assistant's honor, no less."

There was a pause as Cloud considered it. "Not to mention Mr. Tuesti would have been probably the one person who would have recognized the scent no matter what," he said slowly, and Zack clapped a hand on the side of the wheel.

"Exactly! And now everyone is dead, and did you see Rufus Shinra looking shaken up about it? No. Tuesti did at least look pale when he talked about the reactor, but Rufus? The bastard stood there, cool as you like. As though we were discussing the weather." Zack sighed. "He should have been in there for that party. We need to know how often he goes out to the reactors in emergencies."

Cloud fidgeted for a minute. "But we'll be stepping on toes like this, Zack," he finally said, and Zack blew out a breath, knowing full well that Cloud was right.

"We'll have to be clever," Zack finally said. "Smart. We can't let anyone know who we're really looking into, Cloud." He glanced over just for a heartbeat at his partner, who nodded. His eyes darted back to the road. Cloud always went along with him, no matter how outlandish.

It was Zack's favorite thing about him.

"You want to check his finances then?" Cloud was making a note in the pad, and Zack nodded slowly.

"If you can do it without raising red flags, that would be handy," Zack replied. "The last thing we need is someone shutting us down."

"Do you think Rufus did it? Sabotaged one of his own reactors?"

Zack frowned a little at the road, and then he rolled his shoulders in some semblance of a shrug. "To kill his old man and take over the company? I think he's capable. At the very least, he's capable of paying someone else to do it." He remembered the quick jerk of Tuesti's arm away from Rufus's touch, and then he added, "And putting Tuesti as mayor gives him someone he can control."

Cloud inclined his head in agreement. "There's definitely something going on there," he said. "Something that no one said anything about."

Zack chuckled. "I don't think they'd have told us if there really was something going on. Looks suspicious if Shinra really is planning on funding Tuesti's campaign."

A faint blush lit Cloud's face, but he nodded sharply as he thumbed through the notes. "Right. Well, in any case, I'll take the finances, but what are you going to do?"

His fingers drummed along the wheel for just a minute before he smiled. "I'm going to talk to Tuesti alone," he decided.

Cloud glanced up at him, and he shook his head slowly. "You're insane," he announced, and Zack laughed again, wondering vaguely if Cloud wasn't right.