Aya didn’t believe in luck. Or fate or Karma or any of the things men liked to blame the state of their fortunes upon. A man made his own way and his strengths and weaknesses dictated the bends in the path that he walked. His choices did. It had nothing to do with fickle fate. Luck did not come into the equation. There was no such thing as karma. But damned if it didn’t seem like something was conspiring against him now. One thing after another after another. It was his own fault, of course. He was making bad decisions. He was going against protocol, which course was going to come back and bite him on the ass most surely when certain parties found out. Yoji was making him crazy.
If there was such a thing as luck, well, he supposed Yoji’s being alive fell on the good side of the fence. There was no denying, even in his deepest state of frustration over Yoji’s insistent stubbornness, that a live Yoji who couldn’t remember his past, was by far better than a dead one. Of course if one wanted to make the assumption that luck existed and was at play here, then the bad luck accompanying the initial good of Yoji’s discovery, was by far more active and doing quite a good job of tipping the scale in its favor.
Aya glared at Yoji, very much lying the blame at his feet. Yoji lifted a brow, not seeming particularly intimidated. Yoji was not showing the proper degree of wariness for any of this, which was worrisome. A reckless Yoji who knew what he was about was bad enough, but throw in a bit of amnesia blocking his recollection of all the tricks of the very deadly trade he’d been a part of and it was a recipe for disaster. Short of shooting him, Aya was at a loss. The headache which had amazingly enough started to fade, had come back with a vengeance, thanks to his head connecting with the lamp table. Being tackled by Yoji hadn’t helped the state of his sore shoulder. He thought he might have felt a warm trickle of blood soaking its way through fresh bandages. He was not up to an argument that would have tried his endurance under the best of conditions.
“You can stand there and glare at me all day, but its not gonna get you any closer to the rest you need if we’re gonna go back to that club this morning and I’m not going anywhere, so you might as well get used to the idea.”
That particular blend of reason and condescension made Aya half wish he still had gun in hand. As it was, he ground his teeth, trying in vain to come up with a reason for dissension that didn’t smack of simple stubbornness, for Yoji’s assessment of the situation was thoroughly on track. If he didn’t lie down soon of his own accord, his body was going to take matters into its own hands. Which admission led to the sullen realization that maybe having Yoji as backup might work considerably to his benefit, if he planned on continuing to keep the rest of Krytonbrand in the dark.
Yoji righted the chair he’d overturned, giving Aya the room he needed to slip by. He headed for the bathroom without a word, shutting the door and creating a flimsy, but much needed buffer against Yoji and all the unasked for, unwanted, unstoppable things Yoji brought with him. Like memories and emotions and feelings that should have been extinguished years ago, or at the very least dealt with in a fashion that allowed Aya to simply look at the man without butterflies collecting in his stomach and lumps forming in his throat. Yoji was trouble. Yoji had always been trouble, undisciplined and emotional and too seductive by far when he put his mind to it.
Aya uncapped the bottle of pain killers, shook out three more and washed them down with a glass of tap water. He stood there afterwards, leaning over the sink, trying to will away the weariness and the screaming pain behind his eyes. The headache put the dull pain of his shoulder to shame. Yoji’s fault. Absolutely Yoji’s fault.
He took a breath, looking up dourly at his reflection and grimacing at the state of disrepair. There were smears of dirt and blood on his skin. A little bit of matted blood in his hair that he’d missed when he’d unwrapped the bandage Yoji’s nurse had wound around his head. He needed a shower, fresh stitches or no. But not at the moment. He didn’t think he could stand that long without slipping down the side of the stall into the tub. Maybe after the pain killers really started to kick in.
When he’d caught his breath and regathered his reserve, Aya left the sanctuary of the bathroom. Yoji was sitting at the desk, the laptop in front of him, slowly, grimly going through the pictures again. Aya sat down on the side of the bed. Stacked the pillows against the headboard and leaned back, in no wise prepared to let down his guard enough to actually lie down and let himself sleep. Yoji was not a teammate. Yoji had his own agenda and therefore could not be trusted. Yoji made him nervous in a way that he hadn’t been in far too long.
“This is some sick shit.” Yoji said, not turning, calmer on the second look through than he’d been on the first.
“I know.” Aya agreed quietly.
“And I’m betting it’s big business. That there are tons of people out there eating it up.”
“Big business. Big profit. Lots of protection.”
Yoji sighed, running a hand over his face, then back through his hair, tucking jaw length strands behind an ear. “Just sick.” He muttered, clicking past a set of particularly nasty images in fast succession. He was quiet after that, save for the sounds of the occasional key being hit, or the creaking of the chair as he shifted.
For some undeniable reason, it made Aya uneasy, the silence, with nothing to catch his attention so much as the strip of tanned flesh between the top of Yoji’s T-shirt and the gently curved ends of his hair.
“How long have you been here in Kyoto?” he didn’t think he’d asked Yoji that, though his memory of those first hours after he’d woken in the clinic were vague. He recalled anger and shock and loud words. Mostly Yoji’s anger. Mostly Aya’s shock.
Yoji paused, looking up from the laptop and staring at the shadowed wall behind it, performing perhaps a little mental math in his head. “Let’s see, it was early in the year when I left Tokyo – – so maybe seven months. Yeah, around seven months. I think maybe I lived here before for a while. Streets and places are familiar sometimes even though I can’t remember ever being here. Did I?”
“For a while.” Aya answered. That much couldn’t hurt and maybe the little truths would appease Yoji until Aya could figure out if the big ones would do more damage than good. “Why did you leave Tokyo?”
Yoji laughed, but there wasn’t much humor in it. He leaned an elbow on the table, twisting in the chair to look back at Aya. There was regret in his eyes, but it wasn’t the overwhelming sort that he’d worn those last months of Weiß. “Got married. Thought I could make a go at it – – you know, the whole family thing, white collar job, nice little apartment – – it didn’t work out. My fault. Guess I’m just wasn’t cut out to be a salary man.”
“Married?” Aya didn’t know why he was surprised. No reason to be, considering Yoji and his need for human affection and human contact. Of course he’d have found someone and latched on with no stigma of death to keep him from it. No conscience to make him think twice about dragging an innocent into the dark world where he dwelled. So there was no reason for shock and no reason for the pit that seemed to open up below Aya’s gut, perpetrating the sickening sensation of falling falling falling when he thought about the woman that Yoji had loved enough to take vows with.
“Met her at the hospital. We just clicked. Hell, maybe it was the Florence Nightingale effect – – you know, nurses falling for their patients or vice versa. I dunno. It seemed right. I guess it wasn’t. It might have been if not for . . .” he trailed off, mouth tightening in a different sort of pain. He turned around and closed the laptop, shutting away the malicious image on the screen as if whatever he was thinking about didn’t deserve to be in the presence of such evil.
Aya wasn’t sure he wanted to know what musings brought that look to Yoji’s face. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted to know the intimate details of Yoji’s failed marriage.
It was enough that it was failed. That thought crossed his mind without his conscious consent and he flinched at it. Jealousy over Yoji was not an entirely unknown emotion – – he just hadn’t expected it to crop up now, over a woman who’s name he didn’t even know, years after he and Yoji had shared anything resembling a relationship.
“So what’s my family name?” Yoji asked, interrupting Aya’s annoyance with himself.
“My family name. The real one. I knew my first name, when I came too, but not my family one. It played hell with hospital records and whatnot and insurance . . . I’m not even sure how they figured it all out. It wasn’t my top priority at the time. They gave me a new family name. Ikeda. But its not mine. Just something to have on Ids and licensees and so forth. What’s my real one?”
“Kudoh.” Aya said numbly, hardly hearing the last few words out of Yoji’s mouth, thinking instead that the ease in which Yoji had acquired a last name was yet one more nail in Omi’s coffin. There was no way serious strings hadn’t been pulled with the government, with the local authorities with the hospital, and other than Omi, who would have had an interest in seeing Yoji got a new identity, smoothly and quietly.
“Kudoh.” Yoji said it experimentally a few times. “Kudoh Yoji. Yoji Kudoh. Yeah. That fits.” He grinned his approval and Aya blinked, snared by the smile and the pleasure in Yoji’s emerald eyes.
“What’s yours?” Yoji asked and Aya struggled for balance yet again. “The desk clerk said Hoshino, but that’s just a cover, right?”
It wasn’t like Yoji didn’t know somewhere deep inside his psyche, but still it went against Aya’s sense of self-preservation to simply blurt it out. But Yoji still had that half smile on his face, and Yoji was sitting with his arm over the back of the chair, his chin propped on his wrist and he just got past Aya’s defenses in a way that he shouldn’t have been able to . . .
“Fujimiya.” Maybe it wasn’t Yoji at all. Maybe he was just that tired. Maybe he would have slipped up with anyone persistent enough to keep at him.
“Yeah.” Yoji said after a moment of thought. “That fits too. Its good to know, y’know? Kudoh Yoji doesn’t do the behind the desk, office job thing – – that was Ikeda Yoji and he doesn’t exist anymore. Never really did.”
Aya stared, having a little trouble comprehending that, but then maybe that was the weariness as well.
“Once me and Asuka were starting to get serious, her dad got me a job in his company. Data entry. God, but it was boring. Some days I thought my head would explode, or I would and take half the office with me. The same thing day in and day out . . . it got the point where I couldn’t get to the bar fast enough after work. I don’t think she really understood how much it was killing me. Maybe she thought it was her I was escaping. I don’t know. She wouldn’t talk to me about it after a while.”
“Her name was Asuka?” Aya asked, wondering if that too might have planned or if it had been just a coincidence.
“Yeah. With my natural charm and good looks how could she help herself . . . huh?” Yoji ran a hand though his hair again, a little self-conscious perhaps, and went on to speak of a courtship that Aya really didn’t want to hear about, and dealing with the ever present stigma of ‘not knowing’. He wondered if Takatori had had anything to do with that? Wondered if such a thing were possible and decided after a few moment’s debate that anything was feasible given time and the right technology. He really didn’t think though, from what Yoji had said, that that much time had passed, and if it were the case, Omi would have had to involve more people than he’d have wanted, if his aim had been giving Yoji a ‘fresh start’. The amnesia was real then, and whether a result of having a building fall on top of him, or brought on by Yoji’s own mental trauma and denial, or a combination of both, they might never know.
Yoji’s words began to blur into a hazy cacophony of background noise. He really hadn’t planned on it, but sleep happened anyway, the need too strong for stubbornness or caution to avert. Aya’s lashes fluttered shut and he ceased to hear anything at all.
He came awake with a start, groggy, disoriented and lifting an arm in defense of the hand that had been on his shoulder.
“Calm down. Its just me.” Yoji crouched at the edge of the bed, elbow on the mattress, head cocked a little in amusement. He’d showered. That was clear from the dampness of his hair and the brisk smell of the hotel’s strong soap.
“What time is it?” Aya blurted, pushing himself up, ignoring the protest of a shoulder gone stiff and achy while he’d slept. Damn. He hadn’t meant to sleep. He cursed himself for the lapse and glared at Yoji for being witness to it. Yoji stared back, still amused enough at Aya’s befuddled state that Aya itched to do something physical and violent. Or maybe, even more fleetingly – – shameshameshame – – wanted to reach out and touch the freshly scrubbed – – freshly shaved from the look of it – – golden skin of Yoji’s face.
God. This was not going to happen. He would not allow it. He had a job to do. He couldn’t very well do it when half his thoughts were tangled up in the trap that was Yoji.
“Quarter to eight. I let you sleep a little longer than you wanted. You needed it.”
“Damnit.” Aya twisted to look at the bedside clock, to confirm the late hour. “You think this is a game. . .? It doesn’t matter what I need . . . not that you know what that is . . . ”
“Calm down. Its a nightclub. They’re not gonna reopen till night. We’ve got all morning, so chill out. Damn, you wake up cranky. And don’t give me that look – – I didn’t take advantage while you were asleep.”
Aya’s look must have intensified of its own accord, because Yoji backed off, rising and holding up his hands in mock surrender. Aya swung his legs over the side of the bed with a growl and stalked towards the bathroom with every intention of taking a shower of his own.
“Careful of those stitches if you’re gonna get them wet.” Yoji called in after him once he’d slammed the door. Aya fought back the childish urge to make a rude sign at the closed door. He took a breath. Another and got his scattered wits in hand.
He ran the shower as hot as he could stand it, and stood under the spray, letting it loosen his muscles and pinken his skin. He was careful around the scalp wound, wincing more than once as his fingers ventured to near it in attempts to wash three days worth of oil out of his hair. He was just as careful not to let the spray soak the bandage on his shoulder too thoroughly, but it happened regardless and he peeled off wet tape and bloodied pads after he’d stepped out, looking over his shoulder in a patch he cleared with his hand through the fogged bathroom mirror at the neatly stitched wound. Neat stitches or no, the skin was puffed and pink around the edges, but not so bad yet with infection that streaks of red had started to extend out around the wound. He reached around with his good hand and gingerly touched the warm flesh, then pressed a little to see if he might force some of the infection out. A little bit of puss trickled out, yellow and thick and Aya’s eyes teared from the pain of extracting it. He sat on the closed toilet lid and let the heat from the heatlamp in the ceiling help dry him off. The black leather pants from last night were crumpled in the floor next to the tub, damp and dirty. He hadn’t thought to bring fresh clothes in with him, which meant he’d have to venture back out with a towel around his hips to fetch them. Which meant soon, for the longer he stayed in here with the shower not running, the more it would seem like he was hiding and no matter how true such a thing might be, he wasn’t prepared for Yoji’s amusement over the notion.
So he wrapped the largest towel around his hips and stalked back out into the room. The curtains were open, letting in bright morning light, and Yoji was propped on the bed in the place Aya had abandoned, watching the TV with the sound turned down low. He cast a glance Aya’s direction, but refrained from an overlong stare, which soothed Aya’s frayed nerves just a bit.
“Gonna be a cold day and it might rain this afternoon.” Yoji reported.
Aya got out clean, neatly folded clothes from the single drawer he’d appropriated in the small dresser. He hated living out of a suitcase. It went against his sense of order and tidiness, but at the same time, if a quick exit was required, extra time could not be spent on repacking. He hesitated closing the drawer, glancing back at Yoji on the bed, still in his rumpled club clothing from the night before. He caught Yoji’s eyes on him a moment before they flickered away, back towards the television.
“Here.” He tossed a sweater, dark gray and overlarge towards the bed. “Wear this. What you’re wearing makes too much noise. Do something about the buckles on your pants, they don’t need to hear us coming.”
He took his own clothing back into the bathroom and slipped into underwear and comfortable black jeans. He hesitated with the shirt. The wound needed rebandaging. He could struggle with it himself or get Yoji to do it again. It would be stupid not to ask, and yet one more indication of his squeamishness.
With a grimace he gathered up the medical supplies and went back into the room. Yoji had changed into the sweater, which on his longer torso was not so outsized. He was working at securing the loose buckles on his cargo pants and had removed a few of the dangly ones entirely.
“Do you mind . . .?” Aya dumped the supplies on the end of the bed. Yoji shrugged neutrally and Aya sat down and let him work on his shoulder. Yoji didn’t say a thing this time round about the infection, just efficiently placed pads over the bullet hole and taped them into place. It was appreciated. It made Aya feel a little less like he was fighting a battle on two fronts instead of the single one that should have been getting all his attention. He slipped his arm into his shirt. He’d chosen a thick, black, zip up the front number that didn’t involve lifting his arm to pull it on and off over his head. He put on his shoulder holster afterwards, then went to the closet and his suitcase. He keyed the combination and opened it, pulled out the extra gun he’d picked up from his Kryptonbrand contact once reaching Japan and held it out to Yoji.
He might have just tossed a bag full of worms at him for the look Yoji gave it.
“You remember how to use one, I assume?” Aya said dryly, when Yoji continued to stare at the gun, not reaching out to touch it.
“I don’t want it.” Yoji finally looked up at him, a frown line between his brows.
“Then you’re not coming with me.” Aya said shortly, checking first one extra clip, then a second, before closing the suitcase and relocking it. Yoji was gnawing on his bottom lip, looking ill at ease.
“I guarantee you, Yoji, they will be armed.” Aya said. Having to convince Yoji to take a weapon was disconcerting. It only served to reinforce the fact that this Yoji wasn’t exactly the one he remembered. It made the guilt rear up again that he was contributing to his delinquency when he should have been keeping him at arms length and safely away from the sort of the thing that had driven the old Yoji to his eventual destruction.
“There’s probably nobody even there this time of morning. Wasn’t that the whole idea of checking the place out now instead of at night?” Yoji’s voice teetered on the edge of what Aya considered a whine.
“Take the gun.” Aya said. Yoji knew too much to pretend he wasn’t already in too far to back out. He met Yoji’s eyes, cold and deadly serious, every bit of frustration and uncertainty he’d been feeling washed away in the face of mission success. If Yoji wanted in – if he insisted on it against Aya’s warnings, then he damned well wasn’t going to be a hindrance. Yoji flinched a little, eyes flickering away. He reached for the gun, albeit reluctantly and hefted the weight of it in his hand.
“Okay.” He said softly. “But, I’m not shooting anyone.”
Aya sniffed, tossing him one of the extra clips, thinking that as humanitarian as that sentiment was, that once someone started shooting at him, Yoji was very likely to change his mind. But he didn’t say it.
“C’mon.” He said, grabbing a dark coat from its hanger in the closet on the way. Yoji hopped up from the bed, stuffing the gun in his waist band, the lump of it hidden well enough under the sweater.
“Breakfast first.” Yoji said once they were in the lobby, walking through suited businessmen and bustling hotel staff. A group of pretty stewardess waited near the bellhop, chatting amicably, their luggage in a collected lump in their midst. Yoji’s eyes drifted that way, drawn by perfect hair and perfect faces and stayed locked on even as they passed by.
“No,” Aya said shortly. “You’ve already wasted enough of my time this morning.”
“The hell.” Yoji’s attention swung back to him. “I haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday. You expect to go do this on an empty stomach? You need food, too.”
“Don’t tell me what I . . .”
Yoji caught his arm and veered him into the doorway of the hotel cafe, casually determined and unconcerned at the consequences. The hostess was smiling at them before Aya could properly disentangle his arm to jab Yoji somewhere painful.
“Two for breakfast?”
“Yes, please.” Yoji smiled at her, all white teeth and charm. Aya scowled, so she passed her gaze over him and focused on Yoji, asking that they follow her.
“I’m feeling lightheaded, really.” Yoji said when they’d sat down and the hostess had left. “Low bloodsugar.”
“You don’t have low bloodsugar.” Aya sniffed.
“You never did before.” Aya snatched up the menu with a certain degree of petulance, annoyed at himself for bending once again to Yoji’s will with nothing more than token resistance.
Yoji settled back in his seat, a vaguely smug curve to his lips. “And yet one more very personal fact rises to the surface and you said you never cared enough to learn.”
“Fuck off.” If anyone was suffering from a bout of low-blood related anything it wasn’t Yoji. Aya’s head didn’t feel quite as awful as it had yesterday, but it was still off kilter. A little breakfast probably wasn’t a terrible idea. Which Yoji probably guessed, which meant Yoji was ‘handling’ him, which Aya hated. He hated being maneuvered into things he didn’t want to do or didn’t see the need for and Yoji had always been annoyingly good at it. It must have been a natural instinct if he was still doing it.
The bill came and Yoji slid it over in front of Aya with a cheerful smile. “I used the last of my money bribing the desk clerk for your room number. Guess you’re treating.”
Aya felt himself starting to scowl again and stopped it with an effort. He placed the appropriate number of bills on the table and rose. Yoji grabbed the last sticky bun out of the basket on the table and followed, looking sated and pleased with himself and all annoyance aside, Aya rather wished they ran into nothing this morning to drastically change that attitude. But of course if wishes were yen . . .
Aya was in a mood, but it was getting better. Yoji could almost name the exact moment, down the second, when personal frustration and impatience just clicked off and cool professionalism kicked in. When Aya was in mission mode, you didn’t fuck with him . . . the absolute assurance of said judicious insight made Yoji stop for a moment and wonder from what shrouded corner of his memory it had slipped free from. All this time of absolutely nothing and it took two days of Aya to start shaking all sorts of dust from the rafters of his mind.
It was past nine thirty when they reached ShadowDance. Aya had the cab let them out a few blocks away and they walked the rest of the way down dingy sidewalks in need of washing and ugly warehouses that had never seen an aesthetic day since the day if their construction. There were people on the street, going about the morning’s business, and he and Aya were simply two more. ShadowDance was damned unappealing in the light of day. Dirty gray walls, blank and featureless, not even graced by the kiss of fluorescent lighting during the day. The only thing that set it apart from the other warehouses was the canopied entrance on the side facing the main street.
Aya didn’t go for that door, but rather for the delivery entrance at the back. The alley way provided some bit of cover and no pedestrians to see Aya pull out a hand-held electronic device connected to a key card. The stuff of thieves, or spies, Yoji surmised, watching Aya hold the box up to the electronic lock for a moment, then swipe the attached card. The lock blinked green and the door handle gave way under Aya’s hand. He’d pulled it open and was inside before Yoji had the chance to comment on just how easy that break-in had been.
They found themselves in a hallway lined with cardboard boxes and wooden crates. A dim exit sign hung over the doorway. Aya moved down the hall, silent and efficient, but there was something a little strained, a little forced to his movements. As if the effort to exude grace and stealth was exacting a high price. It probably was, considering the state of his shoulder. Aya was a damn fool to ignore it and his blind stubbornness was going to land him flat on his back regardless of his belief in his own invulnerability. Yoji had seen enough serious cases of Sister Hisa’s patients who had ignored what had started out as minor injuries turned sour duo to neglect, to know that a bout of blood poisoning and deep infection was no easy thing to come back from without the proper care. Hell, a week or so of antibiotics might do the trick if Aya could shift his focus just enough to think a little about himself instead of focusing on the mission at hand. Yoji was pragmatic enough to realize, though that bitching at Aya about it a second time would only cause the fool to dig his heels in more firmly in rebellion against any notion of following anyone else’s advice. So he’d kept his mouth shut when he’d bandaged the wound a second time.
There were two more unlocked small storage rooms off the narrow hall, both empty of anything more suspicious than crates of liquor. At the end of the hall was the doorway leading out behind the bar. Aya held up a hand for Yoji to wait, then slid his gun from out of it holster under his jacket before cracking open the door. Yoji grimaced, not particularly comfortable with the drawn weapon, figuring that more than likely anyone they ran into would be janitorial in nature and some poor maintenance man didn’t deserve to get a bullet just for doing his job.
“You’re not gonna shoot first and ask questions later, are you?” Yoji whispered, sidling up to Aya’s side. Aya’s mouth tightened and he cast a quick, annoyed glance back at Yoji, before slipping out into the bar.
It was empty. The lights were off, save for a single set of weak flourescents high up among the beams of the ceiling. The club floor, minus a crowd of leatherclad, writhing people was desolate and plain. Concrete floor, scattered pilings with empty chains hanging from them. Abandoned staging area’s. The cages hung from the ceiling, empty and low to the floor. The tables were pushed close to the wall, and a hose lay leaking water off to the side. The floor was still a little damp from the wash down. God knew what sorts of fluids and debris they had to wash away after each night of entertainment.
Aya only spared a moment for the vast empty space of the club floor, then headed for a thick door off to the side of the bar. There was another electronic lock on this door and he used the same trick he had on the outside one, gaining them entrance in very short order.
This hallway wasn’t used for storage. From the industrial concrete and welded iron of the club, it was like stepping into another world. The floor was set with irregular stone tiles, which bled halfway up the wall before stucco took over. What looked to be hand painted fresco’s adorned the stucco portion of the wall, and recessed lights illuminated the more . . . creative . . . portions of the renderings. The doors that lined this hall were heavy and oak, with crafted iron hinges that lent to the aura of antiquity. The rooms beyond were obviously ‘play rooms’, reserved for members who wished to indulge in private fantasies. There were all manner of ‘toys’ and equipment behind those doors, but nothing worse, when you got right down to it than a body might see in any other BSDM setting. Nothing of the grim, clinical nature that had been evident in what Aya had shown him on the laptop. Everything in those rooms was survivable.
At the end of the hall was another locked door, passed just as easily, and a set of stairs leading down. The hair on the back of Yoji’s neck began to stand up, a vague sense of unease churned in his gut. Darkness and cold washed up those stairs. There was no light switch within easy reach, even if Aya would have allowed it. Aya took a out a pen light instead, and swung it down the flight of metal steps. At the bottom was an open space that the light could not penetrate. Aya started down the stairs, the slight sound of creaking metal circumventing the silence of his movements.
“Jesus.” Yoji muttered, hand instinctively hovering near the gun in his waistband. He hurried down the steps to catch up with Aya, the thump of his feet echoing in his haste.
“Shussh.” Aya warned him quietly and Yoji slowed his pace, taking more care in his steps, clutching the cold handrail with a hand gone suddenly clammy with sweat. There were pipes overhead now, and the soft ting of steam or water moving through them. The air began to stink with the acrid stench of rusting metal. At the bottom of the stairs there was an open space. Not as large as above, but big enough that echo’s abounded. Aya’s pen light passed over a collection of rusting metal pipes against one wall, of some sort of abandoned machinery next to them. This place might have been a catch all for the old equipment that used to operate in this warehouse. The darkness was beginning to make Yoji’s hands twitch in nervousness.
“There’s nobody down here.” He hissed at Aya. “Find a goddamned light switch.”
There was a very soft exhalation of irritation from Aya, but the beam of the penlight crossed over his face, momentarily blinding him as Aya swung it around, searching the wall at the bottom of the steps. There was a light switch. Yoji reached for it and with a hum of protesting ballast’s, a single fluorescent tube haphazardly wired to one of the low ceiling supports flickered on.
The chamber was perhaps half the size of the club overhead, but with a low ceiling and dark cluttered corners. Definitely a junk room, of both old and newer refuse. Yoji could hear the sound of running water and peered curiously through a crumbled portion of the basement wall to what might have been part of the cities active drain or sewage system. Sewage more likely from the smell. He pulled back in distaste, an uncharacteristic squeamishness beginning to set in.
“Okay, its a junk room. Can we get the fuck out of here, now?”
Aya held up a hand, inclining his head towards a metal door hidden in shadow.
Shit. Yoji mouthed the word, rooted to his spot at the foot of the stairs as Aya approached the door. He was spooked and he didn’t entirely understand why. Whether Aya was, was anyone’s guess, Aya hid his emotions too well to see. There was on old fashioned lock on this door, dangling from a metal latch.
“Yoji.” Aya beckoned him over and handed him the penlight to hold, while he knelt, fishing a little leather wallet out of his pocket and pulling out a set of gleaming lockpick tools. He had the lock picked in less than ten seconds, though Yoji detected a tightening of his lips and the slight, uncontrollable tremor of his right hand as he worked the tool. More than a little pain radiating down from the shoulder then, for it to slip past Aya’s iron guard.
“Well, aren’t you useful to have around.” Yoji muttered over his shoulder, figuring if Aya was going to pretend he wasn’t hurting, then Yoji might as well go along with him. Aya glanced up at him, his lips softening a little now that he’d lowered the bad arm. What might have been, at the very outside rim of possibility, slight amusement flickered across his face, gone quickly enough as he rose, using the door knob to pull himself up.
More darkness inside the room, and the faint smell of something more acrid than rusting metal. No noise though. No sound of occupancy, and after a moment, Aya lowered his gun and moved into the room, following the trail of the penlight Yoji still held. There was a dangling chain leading to a light bulb in the ceiling. Aya pulled it and incandescent light filled the small room.
Another play room, but this one held all the rough edges that had been polished off of the ones upstairs. This one went beyond some businessman’s fantasy and into stark, painful reality. The cuffs on the table in the center of the room weren’t padded. Hard metal that would bite into soft flesh. The table itself was metal, perforated with holes, and tilted at an angle that suggested it could swing up vertically as well as lay flat. There was an eye-bolt in the ceiling from which a set of manacles hung and a few others with empty hooks that might be there to suspend God knew what. There was another platform on wheels, crafted out of two by fours bolted together, also with eye-bolts placed in various positions against the wall and beside that a locked chest. The equipment was clean, but there were dried splotches on the floor that might have been something other than oil or dirt. The smell of blood was old, but unmistakable. There was something stale and decadent and repulsive about this room that made Yoji’s skin crawl. In his heart of hearts he knew, this was a killing room. He had the gun in his hand without even realizing he’d pulled it.
“This is it.” Aya said softly, standing at the foot of the table, staring at its gleaming metal surface and the dangling cuffs at head and foot. “He’s been here.”
“Will he be back?” Yoji asked, tearing his eyes away from the contents of the room, the bloody splotches that could very well be the remains of one of the lost kids he’d been searching for. He looked back out into the chamber beyond, towards the stairs leading up, listening for footsteps.
“Unless he knows we’re on to him.” Aya said. “He hasn’t had his big show yet. That’ll be soon. Tonight. Tomorrow night at the latest. He doesn’t stay in one place more than a week before he closes shop.”
Yoji shuddered, casting a look back at Aya under the glare of the incandescent light bulb. The yellow glare of the light made his hair glow orange.
“So . . . what do we do? Just wait for it to happen?”
Aya turned, not answering, eyes scanning the perimeter of the room, then he strode past Yoji and into the chamber beyond, relieving him of the penlight on his way. He went to the crumbled hole in the wall and shined the light through, taking a longer look than Yoji had been inclined to.
“Turn off the light and relock the door.” He said.
“So we’re just gonna leave?” Yoji said, reluctantly pulling the chain and killing the bulb, then replacing the lock on the door and standing with his back to it, a suspiciously little knot of wariness growing in his stomach.
“We’ll come back tonight.” Aya said, sounding very self-assured. A man with a plan.
“I’m not getting back in the club. After the little brawl last night, they’ll remember my face.” Yoji warned.
“More than likely.” Aya agreed. “You won’t be coming in through the front entrance.”
“No . . . ?” Yoji lifted a dubious brow. Aya was starting for the stairs. He flicked the light at the bottom, throwing the chamber into darkness. Only the beam of his penlight illuminated Yoji’s path across the floor. “Then how . . .?”
“Later. I want out of here first.”
At which there was no arguing, and if a man didn’t want to loose the little light supplied by the penlight in Aya’s hand, he’d just as well shut up and follow.
Neither one of them saw the tiny, blinking green light nestled within one cobweb covered corner of the cluttered chamber, nor the faint reflective glare of a glass covered lens fixed monotonously out upon the room. After a while the light flickered off, systems shutting down as the movement that had triggered it to life ceased to be and all returned to darkness.