{chapter three}

Reven didn't really know what he was doing. Well, he did in a way, because he'd always been good at surveillance. Several years in the alleys of the city, either following or avoiding various people, chased after by pimps, picking pockets, whatever. It had made him fast and skilful and sneaky. So he knew what he was doing, just not why. The guys had been angry when he just took off, and he suspected they'd be straight on to Hellman to complain, but he could give a fuck right now. Barely before the visitor had left the grounds, he zipped on a jacket, borrowed the nearest bike he could find from the several that were garaged at the house, and went after him. The gates were still open from allowing the assassin out, and Reven just drove on through. He kept up a wicked pace, but Reven kept up easily. He enjoyed the night wind in his hair and the throbbing power between his knees - it had been a while since he'd ridden anywhere. He'd never had machines like this to play with before he joined Hellman. And he felt good - at no time did the assassin turn round, or register he was being followed. Who would dare, after all?

When the bike in front of him pulled into a narrow alley, Reven drew his own machine up around a nearby corner. He slipped off the seat, stretching his legs. They still ached from his manhandling on the roof. He walked casually past the end of the alley, but a quick glance down there yielded nothing. The man had gone! He cursed to himself, wondering why he'd thought it would be easy to follow a man who made a shadow look obtrusive? Shit, he'd been naive! He turned abruptly and slipped down the alley himself. He'd had a sixth sense about the man before - maybe he would again. He wanted to know more about him - wanted to get closer. Maybe he could find where he lived - where he worked.

Maybe, he thought, ruefully, maybe I'm insane. Or harboring some kind of death wish...

Inoue took a seat in the 24-hour cafe and leaned back in the thin wire chair so that it was balancing on two legs. He rested one ankle on the table casually and one arm draped over the back of the chair as he sat silently and stopped moving. The other patrons in the cafe immediately stood and left, and the old man inside glanced up from his place at the bar, opening one eye to see who was making the ruckus this time.

When he saw the curls of raging red hair he scoffed and went back to cleaning the glass in his hands. "They run without knowing you, Red," the bartender muttered, putting the glass away and reaching for another one as his mouth pulled into the slightest wrinkly smile. That man in the wire chair had killed off the local tyrant that was demanding money from the small vendors and sucking them dry, running them to the ground. He'd been days from forcing to declare bankruptcy when Red had shown up as the bartender was being shaken down for another payment-- Red slit the man's throat, calm as a summer day, and carried the body out. Not a word otherwise.

He'd never forget Red-- and he'd never toss the man out of his cafe no matter how many people he scared off during his rare visits.

When the kid scurried out of the alley and looked around nervously, Inoue reached into his holster and drew out three throwing knives. With the flick of a wrist, he sent one flying-- it whisked past the kid's ear and sunk into the parking sign behind him. Inoue watched as a small trickle of blood gathered then ran down the boy's ear as they made eye contact.


Reven never saw the knife - he only heard the whistle of the blade and saw the slightest movement out of the corner of his eye. He'd barely blinked when it passed him and embedded itself in the sign, mere inches from his head. He could feel the warm blood in its wake - he turned as slowly as he could manage, to face the direction it had come. He looked straight into the midnight eyes.

For a moment, they both stared. It was like back at Hellman's - but very different. Reven thought he could see the glint of another knife by the man's hand, though he sat almost lazily, as if he had a million more important things to do than spend time on a kid whose surveillance was several steps worse than clumsy.

Reven gritted his teeth and took a step forward, towards the entrance to the cafe. Nothing else moved. He took another step and stood in the doorway. "You could have killed me," he said softly. "You ought to be careful where you put those knives. Public Health will be on to you." He ignored the flicker in the man's eyes - assumed it was anger, or disdain. Shut your mouth! he told himself furiously, but he was beyond sense now. His legs moved almost of their own accord, and he took another step to the table itself. "I'll have what you're having," he said clearly, but this time he could hear the quiver in his voice. He was as close now to the assassin as the night he tumbled up against his legs, making an ass of himself and escaping death - yet again! - by the skin of his teeth. But this time the man was looking straight at him, his face uncovered and his hair around his neck like a silk scarf, and he, Reven, was never more vulnerable.

He put a hand out to the table - he met the man's eyes as boldly as he could.

The bartender hobbled over to their table. "Oh, oh! A guest tonight, Red! I'll go and get another drink," he said warmly, as he placed a large frosted glass on the table. "Just a moment, Raven. I'll be right back." He hobbled back into the cafe to mix up a new drink as Inoue reached for his glass and put it to his lips, drinking the chilled liquid slowly and without breaking eye contact with the boy.

He ignored the idle blabber; he was busy evaluating this kid. Inoue doubted now that Hellman had sent him; the man couldn't be that fucking stupid. The kid was, though. "Death wish," he said slowly in his deep, velvety voice, though the tone was placid, almost sedated. He took another sip as the bartender came back with another tall glass, but this one he held with a cloth and set down gently.

"Raven looks like he appreciates sweet things, and lots of caffeine," the old man nodded with a chuckle. "But for you, Red, I put extra lemon and no sugar; it's disappointing when you don't touch the drinks I serve you but-- trial and error! That's how we all learn!" He laughed and hobbled away again, either oblivious or ignoring the fact that Inoue was still holding up two knives in his hand in plain view, glinting in the moonlight the same way the illumination from the cafe highlighted every muscle on his body thanks to the black bodysuit.

Reven realized he hadn't been breathing. He gulped in air like a drowning man and slid himself into the chair opposite. He saw the knives out of the corner of his eye - but it was the assassin's face he was riveted to. He started to reach for the drink, but was afraid his hands were shaking, and held them back on his lap. The blood on his ear had stopped flowing and was a warm sticky feeling against his cheek.

"So what happens now?" he said, his voice still soft, though the bartender obviously knew and tolerated the assassin here. "I knew you at once, even if Hellman didn't. You killed his nephew. You nearly killed me. I can tell you that I won't be saying anything to anyone about it - but maybe you won't believe me." He realized he had no idea what he wanted to do or say to this man, now he had him in front of him. "I followed you here." Fuck, he thought, talk about stating the obvious!

He leant forward slightly and touched a fingertip to one of the knife blades. Even without pressure, it peeled the skin slightly apart, allowing a drop of blood to well up and stain its shining hunger. Reven sighed deeply, and lifted his eyes again to the assassin's.

"Who are you?" he asked, simply. "Tell me what it's all about."

Right, as though Inoue was going to be answering that question any time soon. He sipped his drink again and put both knives on the table, making them clink on the glass.

Daring the kid to touch them again.

Fuck if the old man in this place didn't know how to make a good drink; Inoue still couldn't match the sourness and potency of whatever this was on his own. He had to nurse the drink rather than drink it all at once because of the extreme sourness-- which, granted, he liked--but he had the sneaking suspicion that the man made the drink that way on purpose so Inoue had to stay longer.

Not that he was complaining.

He took another sip of the drink and put the glass down as well. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you right now; right knife through left ventricle, slow and painful," Inoue retorted calmly.

He was talking to him! Yeah, he talked about killing him, but he wasn't doing that right now, he was just talking. Reven felt a glimmer of strength returning to his veins. He'd heard nothing more than a grunt from the man before - nor had Hellman. Nor Lucas, before he died, bled out on the hotel bedroom floor like a slaughtered calf.

Reven wondered why the assassin didn't talk more often - his voice was rich; powerful.


He plucked up the courage to take a sip from his own drink, and found it warm and sweet. He gazed back into the cool eyes and calmed his breathing. "It'll make a hell of a mess," he said. "And I'll make as much noise as I can, before I go, I'll wail like a stuck pig all through the neighborhood. And after they have to clear it up, there'll be one less place you can come and drink, and I'm guessing you don't have an outrageous social life otherwise." Yet again, he marveled at the crap that came out of his mouth, but it seemed to fascinate the assassin, who was watching him with unblinking eyes. "And also, of course, you'll never know what snippets of useful information I might have brought you."
He took another drink - he leant back in his chair like he was relaxing at a quiet evening drink with friends, at the end of a hard day's work. And he gave a small smile.

Inoue calmly picked up one of the knives and touched the tip of it to the boy's lower lip. "Through the roof of the mouth, into the brain. Instantaneous death. Better?" he asked in the same passive voice, as though he could be reading the multiplication table. "If you're useful, make yourself so, before I cease your breath."

He remained perfectly still; trained, ready, muscles taut.

And secretly hoping the kid tried to go for the other knife, so Inoue had reason to follow through on his threat and make the death clean and silent-- not a drop of blood would make it to the frosted glass tabletop.

Reven froze. His heart picked up the alarming speed again. His mouth dried. He couldn't even think a curse, let alone speak it. He stared back at the assassin, eyes dilating. For a hysterical moment, he wondered if he could speak without slicing his own lip and provoking the man's fatal response. I know aboud da ben on da list," he mumbled, terrified of moving his lower lip too much. I sound like some kind of Italian mafia boss... he groaned inside. He tried so hard to keep his challenge to the assassin - he was damned afraid of showing fear to him. "Can tell ya 'ere they are. 'Ere they'll be." His voice rasped in the back of his throat. He knew such a lot, he just hoped he had the breath left to tell the guy before he sliced him up. "Led be tell ya. Gotta be sub helb, eh?"

Inoue waited, and listened. He gauged the boy's expression and body language-- he was telling the truth. So be it. That didn't mean Inoue wanted his help, did it?

Drawing the knife back slowly, he put it down by its sister and drew his hand back, picking up his glass instead and drinking slowly. "I should kill you right now, but I'll let you talk." He drank calmly and resumed leaning back, closing his eyes.

The bartender smirked to himself as he cleaned the glass in his hands, watching them out of the corner of his eye. "Red plays hardball," he murmured to himself with a small laugh. "Wonder if Raven can take the hard knocks and still stand tall?"

Reven felt the imprint on the plumpness of his lip, as the knife drew back. He had an overwhelming desire to lick it back to life, but resisted it. He'd been given his warning, right?

"Thanks," he croaked, and swallowed to regain his voice. "Seriously, I know a lot about most of the guys on that list of Hellman's. I didn't always work for him - I know plenty of people in the market place, from all other places, and a lot of them take jobs with those men. I meet these people, they're happy to tell me what's going down at their place, like I was one of them." It was true - he seemed to have kept friendships from his time on the street, and made new ones, even with kids who worked for Hellman's rivals. The staff ran their own parallel organization - their own network. Everyone knew someone who was connected. Reven had always found it useful - and sometimes fun - to mix where he could. Plenty of the other kids were attracted to him, too - he never had a shortage of offers. He could fuck happily wherever he went - or at the very least, call on some favors in return for past services. "I can find out their whereabouts," he said, quietly. He watched the assassin very carefully, though he saw no flicker of interest in his dark eyes. "I know the layout of some of the houses - know unusual ways into the place. Know some of the more - weird - habits of those guys."

He thought he saw the assassin's eyes clouding over with boredom, and his words started to tumble out in panic. "So you don't need all that, I suppose, you can find your own ways in, you can find your own intelligence! But there were a hell of a lot of them on that list - wouldn't it be some help, to have information in advance, perhaps to have someone cover one place when you've got to be some place other?" He could hear his voice rising, and he unconsciously leant forward again towards the red-haired man. "You can kill me any time you like, I know. But maybe you have some use for me first. You gonna give me that chance?"

"No," Inoue said quite frankly. He finished his drink and put the glass down, then picked up his knives. "But neither can I let you wander freely, staining my reputation."

He stood and sheathed the knives, then reached out, grabbing Reven by the throat and lifting him to a stand. Releasing the throat, he took hold of the back of the kid's head and pushed him forward, walking ahead of Inoue. Kill him now, kill him later, one way or another he dies, right?

The redhead pushed his annoying company into the alley he'd parked his bike in, and forced him down on his knees. Walking around to the front of him, Inoue narrowed his eyes and looked down at the boy.

"Now," he said slowly, darkly, "You die."

[end chapter three]