IV: Dissolved Girl


"So," Schuldich began conversationally, over the body of Shirahane's personal secretary. "What do you think prompts someone in a position as comfortable as Shirahane to try something so stupid?" He rested his bandaged arm on the dead woman's back, her head twisted round unnaturally to face him.

Crawford shot him a glare as he deftly reloaded his clip. "Same reason they all do. Stupid greed, accompanied by the idea that they will sense the right moment to cut loose." He strode over to the door of the waiting area, firing two quick shots before pulling back. A shot rang past his head, imbedding itself in the smooth granite wall beyond.

Schuldich fired once, dispatching the remaining guard. "I don't know." He thought of the look on her face when she spoke to Matsura, completely unaware she was being watched. "Somehow I don't think that's the reason."

Crawford surveyed the room and motioned for him to follow. "Well, her reasons are of no concern now."

All things considered, Miho Shirahane was surprisingly calm for someone in her position. Having received news of Matsura's death earlier that day, this invasion did not come as wholly unexpected. What did surprise her was the clean economy with which they had cut a swathe through her reinforcements. Slipping past security, they had reveal themselves when they forced their way into her private elevator. When she tried to order the controls shut down, her calls had met with static.

She plucked a stray fibre from the sleeve of her pressed grey Ferré and contemplated the tiny metal switch in her hand. When she heard the news, she had ordered extra security, and activated this only as an afterthought. The option of actually using it had not occurred to her as viable or even necessary. So really, there was nothing to be done now but curse her own carelessness. If anyone had the money to hire the best, it would be Takatori.

They had caught Kanjiro in an unguarded moment. Out for a drive with...his family was it? Miho's fingers curled at the thought. Since when did he go for drives with his family?

Further contemplation was forestalled by the appearance of two men at her door. If it had not been for the sling on the redhead, and the slight staining on the shoes of the other, she would have imagined they were both here on business. She supposed, in a flux of hysteria, that in a way they were. Her voice was more amused than the situation allowed when she asked "So, do you two have appointments?"

"We're here to deliver a message from Takatori-san," Crawford explained with a polite smile, the MP-5 trained squarely on her.

Schuldich broke into a grin at Crawford's subdued flourish, but it quickly drained from his face. Crawford.


She has this room rigged with a bomb.

Crawford's gaze did not shift from Shirahane. "Madame, if you would please raise your hands and step around the table."

Shirahane's face remained impassive as she turned her palm discreetly to flash a rod of silver at them. "I think I shall remain here, and you shall turn and leave the way you came."

Crawford's voice was brittle. "I'm afraid that's not possible."

Her dark eyes glowed with honest mirth. "More's the pity, then."

The gun didn't so much as sway as he silently took her measure.

"You know," Schuldich broke in conversationally, tone dangerously light. "He was leaving for Sweden."

She started, but caught herself and scowled at him coldly. "Why on earth would he do a thing like that?"

"It's true...had his bags packed and everything." Schuldich allowed a flash of relish in his voice. "Even had the codes to your account changed." And then, because he could not resist twisting the knife just a little, "Good thing we got him before he left all the burden of blame on the fall-guy, eh?"

Shirahane stared, flinching slightly when a pair of plane tickets struck the desktop. The name printed on them was unfamiliar. She was about to voice this when a passport followed, the picture next to the name immediately recognizable. Her thumb brushed across the polished top of the detonator conspicuously. The passport sported barely dried bloodstains.

"So," Schuldich's voice was as light as a nail grazing a wound. "At least now you're not operating under false pretenses, eh?"

"You know," her voice was low, a trifle huskier than before. "You know when my father passed on, he told me to keep my hands clean. This company has been in our family for three generations."

"So I'm told. Since 1912, was it?" Crawford's voice carried the level pleasantness of one discussing a business transaction.

"A good machine need only be maintained after all. And I've always adhered to that principle. Kept myself clear of potentially dangerous entanglements." She shook her head ruefully, and Schuldich knew she was no longer talking about the company.

"Entanglements indeed. A shame you did not mind your own principles then." Schuldich noticed Crawford's finger strain on the trigger, though his replies still flowed smoothly.

"It gets very banal, minding those boundaries. It chokes you eventually." She looked up and smiled as though her face would break. "I thought for once I'd make a risky venture."

"Then you understood that risk carries with it repercussions." There was barely-reigned anger in Crawford's voice.

Miho answered with a bleak smile as the shots rang out, pitching her back in her chair.

Crawford stepped forward and pocketed the switch. "Call Nagi and Farfarello. We're done." He exited the room with brisk strides.

When they slipped into the car Nagi shot Schuldich a coolly inquisitive glance, eyes flickering significantly to Crawford. Schuldich couldn't blame the boy for wondering. Their leader evinced no signs of his usual good humor after completing a mission successfully. "What's wrong with you?" he asked, despite having a fairly good idea.

He only got the slight metallic click that preceded the deafening explosion a moment later.

The other two stared for a moment before Farfarello snarled, and Nagi shouted "Drive!" The clattering sound of debris on the roof clinched it. They peeled from the alley at high speed.

Staring back at the chaos, Nagi remarked, "Damn. That took out at least the top five floors."

Schuldich was, for the first time in recent memory, at a loss for words. "That was...excessive." A detached part of him laughed riotously at his saying this.

Crawford merely stared ahead, a hand clutching the seat cover convulsively.

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