My talkiest chapter yet (at least in my own opinion ^_^)! This one has some character and situational background but it does get to the 'goods'. Thanks to all my beta readers (hugs them all--you guys are great!).
The place was a madhouse when he arrived. Ducking and weaving his way through the seemingly endless miles of yellow tape, Quatre Raberba Winner flashed his badge to the cop nearest the gate who nodded, allowing him passage. The gate rattled as the officer shut it hard, trying to keep back the reporters who were already milling at the scene.
"Damn vultures," the man muttered, glowering out at the flashbulbs and vid cameras.
Quatre nodded, feeling a touch of sympathy for him; crimes scenes were never fun, but the worst job was dealing with reporters. One wrong word either way and you could make the six o'clock news--whether you wanted to or not. And depending on what you said, you might just find yourself behind a desk for the next year handling parking citations. It had all the makings of lose-lose situation.
As he made his way across the grounds, Quatre couldn't help, but notice the sheer number of suits and uniforms moving in and out. It really wasn't all that surprising. After all, Mikhail Tubarov was--had been, a person of some import, a member of the Inner Council for His Majesty, and a Senator. Quatre supposed it was only natural that his death would garner more attention than that of your normal person off the streets, but the realization still chafed.
He tugged at his necktie, wishing he'd taken the time to change before answering the call. The bottom leg of his tux was growing more and more damp with each passing step, the delicate material sticking to his ankles and shins. He sighed. 'I knew I should have thrown an extra pair clothes in the car before I left for Lorena's party.' Well, there was no help for it now.
"Hey, lookin' good, rookie! Taken to dressing for the stiffs now?" one of his fellow officers hollered as several of his buddies snickered.
Quatre flushed, wanting nothing more than to hunch deeper into the folds of his trenchcoat. 'Great,' he groaned inwardly. All he needed was to provide his fellow officers with more ammunition to fire at him, something they delighted in doing partly because he was the squad's rookie and partly because he was a *rich* rookie.
He had joined Preventer a few months back, wanting to do something with his life besides go to parties and listen to the same old people recounting the same old stories over and over again. He had attended the best schools, socialized with the best people, and for what? To rise to a Senatorial position, possibly somewhere in the Ministry? That was his father's dream, not his. The thought of spending his life behind chambers, dealing and double dealing with a bunch of bored, corrupt senators who never got anything accomplished (anything good that was) made him ill. There were so many people out there, people who hadn't had the privileges of his background, who had no protectors where he'd had so many, surely he could do something for those people.
Of course, his father had been coldly furious with him when he'd expressed a desire to join Preventer, the elite security/spy network set up to maintain peace in the Capital. And his derision had stiffened Quatre's reserve and for the first time ever, the son had gone against his father's express wishes. The words exchanged between the two were some that Quatre hoped never to hear again, much less recall. In the end, Lord Winner had given in, but only because Quatre was his only son, the heir to his titles and fortune. Disowning him would mean a scandal and if there was one thing the Winner family steadfastly avoided, it was scandals. So, he had acquiesed in the hopes that his son would come to his senses and give up this nonsense eventually.
Fighting his father had been the toughest thing he'd ever done--up until that point. Joining Preventer had been easy in comparison. Gaining acceptance there... Well, that was another story. To most of his comrades, he was either Lord Winner's son to be treated with kid gloves or he was that 'rich brat who slumming with us until he gets bored and who the hell does he think he is?' Six months with the section and he had yet to make any real headway in changing that attitude. As a result of that, he was very nearly the last cop called to any scene despite Colonel Une's orders that he be treated no differently than any other cop under her.
But Quatre perservered, wishing desperately that there was some way he could prove his worth to his teammates and to his father who wasted no time in calling his son a fool for 'lowering himself by consorting with the rabble.' Things would change, the wheel would turn his way, he just knew it. He couldn't give up. Not after fighting so hard to get here.
He hurried up the steps and into the house, nodding to Lucretia Noin who was questioning a man in the foyer. Noin glanced over the man's head at him and gave him a brief wink though her grim statement didn't waver. Noin was one of the few in the department who hadn't given him a hard time, probably because she had been in his shoes once herself. While her family was nowhere near as wealthy as the Winners, the Noins were a far more established family with an honorable record of past service. And not much else these days, his father would have snidely added.
Following the trail of people, he ended up on the second floor in what had to have been Tubarov's study. Sally Po, the force's forensic coroner, was pulling a sheet over the body when she lifted her head and saw him. Motioning him over, she stood tugging at one glove, her mouth set in a thin, strained line.
"So, what do we have here?" Quatre asked and felt like an idiot as soon as he did. They had a body here, of course. A murder victim. Some detective, he was.
If Sally thought his question inane, she refrained from commenting. "Mikhail Tubarov, male, aged 52. You probably already knew all that though."
He nodded, scratching a few notes down anyway.
"Cause of death due to his head being severed from his body--"
"He was beheaded?!" Quatre glanced at the sheet-covered body, noticing for the first time the covered lump next to it.
"That's what I said," Sally snapped. Then she reached out as if to touch him, stopping short before her bloody gloves could do so. "Sorry, Quatre, it's been a long night and I still have to wheel this guy down to morgue for a post mortem. "
"Don't worry about it," Quatre reassured her, trying to ignore the body at their feet. "Anything else you can tell me?"
"The head shot wasn't the only wound. He appears to have been disembowled, too. And he's not the only one," She added. "There are at least eight other bodies bearing similar injuries."
"No. Don't quote me on this, but I'll bet my examination will come back with the verdict that this was done by a very sharp, pointed object like...Oh say, a sword," she replied sarcastically.
"That ought to narrow down the field," Quatre replied glumly, his hand patting the sword attached to the inner lining of his coat. Everyone wore swords these days, mostly for ceremonial purposes since dueling had been made illegal fifty years ago. Didn't mean that people stopped trying to have them--it just meant that Quatre got to throw anyone caught dueling in jail. "Colonel Une is not going to like this."
"That's an understatement," Sally snorted, pulling her gloves off and waving a few of her attendents over with a gurney. "I don't envy you, Quatre. Or Noin. Or... Say, where is that taciturn partner of yours?"
Both Sally and Quatre started, turning to find Heero Yuy standing behind them and scowling. Heero was always scowling so far as Quatre could tell, so that was nothing new.
Quatre wasn't quite sure what to make of Heero. While he didn't go out of his way to make the Arabian's life miserable as some of the others did, he wasn't overly friendly either. To be honest, he wasn't all that friendly with anyone. According to Sally and Noin, Heero had been like that from day one. He kept to himself and did his job with almost inhuman efficiency, earning citation after citation and not giving a damn about any of the lauds he received. Topping that all off was what Noin called his 'damn fool suicial streak.' It hadn't taken long for Quatre to realize what she meant by that. To Heero, solving a case was a mission and woe be unto anyone who got in his way. In three months time, Quatre had seen him pull some risky stunts all in the name of bringing a perp to justice and had begun to realize just why it was no one was that eager to be Yuy's partner. Quatre had gotten the job because he was the rookie and because no one else wanted to be saddled with Lord Winner's son. And because, as Colonel Une had informed him after one of Yuy's scraps had landed him in the hospital, Heero needed an anchor, someone to watch out for him and bring him out his shell. Quatre hadn't had the heart to tell her that no matter how much he'd like to be of service, he wasn't that person. He wasn't what Heero needed--hell, he wasn't even sure he knew what Heero needed. He just knew he wasn't it. At best, all he could offer was his friendship, his support, and back-up whenever Yuy needed him.
"Well, if it isn't Prince Charming," Sally crossed her arms with a small smirk. "Tough night, Heero?"
"Hnn," Heero glared at her, then at the body pointedly. "Don't you have something you need to take care of?"
Sally mock-swooned. "Your charm never ceases to bowl me over, Yuy," she nudged Quatre. "Honestly, I don't know how you put up with him."
Heero rolled his eyes and Quatre repressed a snicker. Screwing her face up into an imitation of Heero's scowl, she saluted and marched out of the room, her attendents ushering the gurney bearing the corpse in her wake.
Shaking his head, Heero turned to the Arabian with a gleam he understood all too well. "Report."
Heero sat back in his chair, watching as Une loped across the room like a frantic gazelle, her agitation nearly palapable in the tiny room.
"Nine people dead. All of them by a sword," she spoke up at last, her words sudden as she flopped down on one of the desks. "Four days ago, five people dead, a similiar MO. And before that we have at least fifteen other victims with either similiar or matching descriptions. 29 people dead and what do we have to show for it?"
No one answered her; no one dared to. Une's gaze raked over all of them. "This is unacceptable. We're supposed to prevent crimes by catching the perpetrators, something I might add, that is not happening with this case. We don't even have a solid lead. Minister Dermail has been demanding a report from me for the last couple of days and frankly, people, I'm not sure I can continue to stall him. Or that we can continue to keep these crimes quiet and God knows what kind of panic will erupt if the words 'serial' and 'murder' leave this building."
"I think we all know what will happen if that happens. Or if I can't answer Minister Dermail's questions to his satisfaction."
'Preventer will be history,' Heero thought silently in reply. The department served at the sufferance of the Assembly and if they weren't happy... Well, it would take very little for a man like Dermail to pull the plug on them.
"Options?" With that, Une opened the floor.
No one moved. Heero narrowed his eyes, boring holes into the backs of many lowered heads. What was wrong with these people? Didn't they have any sense of purpose? Or mission? Tapping his pencil against his desk, Heero chose not to look at his partner as he volunteered, "There is one thing we could do."
"Mr. Yuy, do go on," Une crossed her arms, throwing a blanket glare over the rest of the room.
"All of our victims have been Senators and or their bodyguards. I suggest if we want to catch our murderer, we make things a little easier for him or her by--what's that statement? Putting all our ducks in a row?"
Heero shrugged. "It's simple enough. Move the potential victims to a place where they can be monitored and secured. All we have to do is wait."
"You want us to use those people as bait?" Winner was scandalised, his fair face splotching with color. "That's--that's--"
"If you have a more viable option, I'm open to hear it," Heero said coolly. "The fact of the matter is, we're chasing our tail. Our facts? We have an assassin here or a serial killer with an expert knowledge of swords and who can slip past guards and kill them with ease. Problem is, most of the upper class carry swords and we can't very well ask them to hand over their weapons or else we risk breaking the bubble of silence Dermail has sworn us to. We can't catch our murderer because we don't know who outside the Senatorial class he's after. So, we can either sit back and wait for he or she to strike again or we can change the rules of the game."
"Interesting, Yuy," Une tapped her mouth, "And how exactly would you suggest we gather all these people together without causing a panic?"
Heero was ready for this question, indeed had anticipated it. "Simplicity itself. Have Dermail call a referendum--the Assembly will be arguing for two to three weeks no matter what issue you bring to fore. And while they're arguing, we can provide security and wait. Sooner or later, I think it's going to be too much for our killer to resist."
"Comments, anyone?" Une asked. When no one took her up on it, she sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I have to agree with Winner, Yuy. I'm not too certain I like the idea of using those people as bait."
Heero frowned, waiting. He hadn't counted on Une being uncomfortable with his idea.
"However, as I can see no other option, I will relay your plan to Duke Dermail. If he agrees, would you be interested in running security for the operation?"
Heero nodded. He had suggested this plan, it was only right that he take responsibility for it.
"Very well. We'll meet here tomorrow morning, 11 a.m. Dismissed," Une barked.
Evidently Dermail had approved of his plan or realized, like Une, that they had no other course open to them. Either way, a few days later, Heero Yuy found himself supervising a mass exodus of several hundred grumbling Senators and their servants from their estates to Preventer's chosen safe house. Safe city was more like it, he thought, surveying his surroundings with critical eye. Aurelia was a relic of an older, more imperial past. The mini-city had once served as the private home and grounds for the King and his family. As royal power had declined and become more subservient to the Assembly, Aurelia had proved to costly to maintain and had been abandoned for smaller quarters in the Senatorial section of the capital. Heero had chosen the site not only because it could house the sheer number of people he was being presented with, but also because it be shut off from the rest of the city, thus keeping him and his people in. And hopefully, if all went well, the murderer, too, should they choose to strike.
"Ah, Mister Yuy, isn't it?"
Heero dragged his eyes from the activity going on in the grounds below him and pivoted around to meet the discerning gaze of a tall, aristocratic man with short reddish brown hair. Kushrenada, Treize, Senator, his mind catalogued him as series of snapshots for future use. He'd heard about Kushrenada--he ran the opposition party to Dermail and his cronies. That was both a plus and a strike in Heero's book. Heero had no great love for Dermail, no one did really. The man was an arrogant, oppressive bastard with far too much money and influence. True, he had put a stop to the violence that had rifed through the Assembly before his ascension to power but that was because he was better at killing than his enemies had been. Although he had never been able to prove anything to the contrary and it likely wouldn't matter if he did, Heero knew Dermail was dirty and just as guilty as their murderer.
Of course, Treize as Dermail's strongest opponent had both the motive and the wealth to try to remove the Minister and his cronies. Suspicion didn't make facts but Heero would be watching Kushrenada nonetheless. Watching him very carefully.
"I just wanted to congratulate you on your efforts, Mr. Yuy," Kushrenada said, his voice as smooth as honey and silk combined. "I know that I will sleep more soundly with you on the case."
"Hnn." Heero was about to dismiss the man without comment, despite Une's orders to 'play nice with the big wigs' when a flicker of movement behind Kushreneda caught his eye. His eyes widened and something closely akin to memory gripped him. Kushrenada raised a forked brow, inclining his head towards whatever had disturbed the Preventer so.
Heero stared at the person approaching them, feeling his dreaming life and reality suddenly collide and mesh. He recognized the smooth, easy gait of the youth walking towards them, each step compact and bespeaking power beyond normal ilk. The way his sword rested at his side, one slender hand never far from it. The hair wasn't red, instead being the lightest faun wound in a long braid falling haplessly over one shoulder.
"Duo," he heard Kushrenada call to the other boy, the older man gesturing him over. "Come and meet Mr. Yuy of Preventer."
The boy raked a hand through his bangs pushing them up to reveal a pair of familiar violet eyes as he fixed on them, a slow grin spreading across his elfin features.
Violet eyes, eyes that had haunted his dreams for weeks but this was no dream.
"...Kenshin..." Heero heard himself whisper in disbelief as a shock of recognition ran up his spine.
****end of Chapter Three