“All I’m saying is you could attempt to be nicer to him.” Alec clung to the side of the lap pool and let the water carry his body.
Toshi was across the room, doing his best to ignore the continuing lecture as he finished his morning run. “Alec.”
“I mean, come on, he’s been here for two weeks and you’ve said maybe a dozen words to him.”
“A dozen would be generous.” He mumbled and kept his focus on his pace and not on his best friend.
“Would it kill you to be a little more civil? He’s a good man.”
“Is he good at his job?”
“He’s already worked through two years of back logged information, profiled twenty four serious threats and filed a report agreeing with you that the man that attacked you last month was working alone. Yeah, he’s good at his job.”
“That’s all that matters. You and father got what you wanted, I don’t have to like it.”
“Has he been such an intrusion?”
Toshi ran on. He couldn’t really debate the other man’s presence, like all things, Alec had done his job amazingly well. The newest member of their staff was quiet, kept to himself and was rarely ever seen. He worked and than retired to his rooms. The changes he’d installed to the penthouse and building security were logical and efficient. Toshi could find nothing concrete to complain about other than the fact that another one of his few luxuries, his privacy, had again eroded away.
“No, he’s caused little fuss.”
“But you’re still going to treat him like he doesn’t exist.”
Toshi hit the off button and stopped the treadmill. “What? What do you want from me? He’s here, I’ve agreed to everything you’ve wanted. You aren’t going to guilt me into being nice to him.” He snapped before heading out the door, disappointed that the well balanced hinges in the apartment didn’t allow for them to be slammed.
Alec released the side of the pool and turned up the current. Toshi only got snippy when he was loosing a fight. It was a good sign.
It was more a sense of movement, not something Mick actually saw, that made him glance up from his computer screen. It was late, Alec had left his office hours before but like most nights Mick couldn’t swear just when Toshi had finally left his desk. The man was as silent as a cat and twice as good at fading out of sight. It would have been eerie if Mick wasn’t used to the way I/S naturally moved.
But now he looked up and there, hovering in the half opened door way, was Toshi. It startled him and Mick found himself sitting a little straighter in his chair. Shadows fell on the other’s face and made viewing his expression impossible. The moment lingered, neither man certain enough to speak.
“Can I help you?” Mick finally asked.
Again a long breath of silence stood in the empty apartment.
“You shouldn’t work so late.”
“I just want to make sure everything is secure before tomorrow.”
“It’s just a bank meeting.” There was a slight rustle of fabric where Toshi shifted his weight. “Don’t work too late.” He warned again before fading away from the doorway.
Mick sat in silent distraction, the bank’s blueprints now forgotten. Two weeks with virtually no contact with the man he was supposed to protect and now this. Was Toshi getting used to his presence? Was he uneasy about venturing out tomorrow? Mick didn’t know enough about the other man to even begin to guess at his motivations. Mysteries and mysterious people required further investigation, further consideration, Mick didn’t like being left guessing.
The next morning Mick found himself standing by the door, waiting. He was too well disciplined to do much more than stand and wait but his level of annoyance was rising. It took a force of will to not glance to his watch or shift his weight from foot to foot as the moments slipped away. The only concession he granted himself was a slight readjustment of the suit he wore. It was brand new and cost more than he had been spending on rent a month. Over all, he couldn’t complain about the money spent. He’d be expected to look respectable to accompany Toshi-san on his outings and he’d have to compromise and not sacrifice mobility for style. The suit was worth every penny for how well it fit and still allowed him to do his job.
“I should have warned you.” Alec began as he joined Mick at the door, worn leather satchel and sunglasses in his hands. “Toshi-san is always at least ten minutes late when he has to go out on these errands.”
“That surprises me, he doesn’t seem the sort.”
“Well, he’s not, but when his father sends him out like this he digs his heels in just enough to annoy the people he’s meeting. It’s a touch passive aggressive but who can blame him?”
“I don’t understand.”
Alec only smiled sadly. “The bank manager hates I/S. So, naturally, Mr. Ranvier sends Toshi-san to do his negotiations and to review their paperwork.”
“So he stalls, I see.”
Alec only shrugged and joined in the waiting, only now, Mick didn’t look ready to fidget his way back to his office.
It was almost another five minutes before Toshi finally came down the steps to leave. His face was expressionless but the too large eyes missed nothing and something around his mouth hardened at the sudden reminder of his new bodyguard.
The suit he wore was flawless but Alec still brushed a little lint from the lapel as he handed over the satchel and sunglasses. Toshi shooed at Alec and the entire scene had a look of almost a ritual to Mick.
“The morning figures?”
“Arrived a half hour ago. I’ll have them sorted and on your desk before you get back.” Alec stepped back a little. “Constance Barrington sent another invitation to her upcoming dinner party. It’s a week from Wednesday.”
“Why are you even asking me?” The large blue eyes swung to and studied his assistant.
“Amanda Sentz will be there.”
“I didn’t know she was in town.” The briefest look of interest crossed Toshi’s face, a glimpsed shadow of concern before he drew a breath. “Even she isn’t worth enduring one more of Constance’s dinner parties.”
“Should I see if she’s free to come by for tea?”
Again the glimpse of interest that quickly faded. “If she was interested in seeing me, she would have let me know she was going to be back in town. This meeting shouldn’t take too long, we’ll be back shortly.”
Mick followed Toshi from the apartment and in silence rode down the elevator. He was very careful to stand slightly behind his employer and to follow him, trying very hard to simply disappear. It left him little to do besides stare at the fall of that impossibly shiny black hair and try to remember where he’d heard the name Amanda Sentz before.
The driver was waiting in the secure parking garage. Mick had reviewed his file. One thing he’d been surprised by was the total care Alec had given to hiring employees at all levels. Mick really did try to find flaws or faults with any of the staff but not only were each highly skilled, they all seemed extraordinarily loyal.
They rode in silence. With traffic they arrived at the bank twenty minutes late but Toshi made no effort to hurry. Mick had never been to the downtown, main branch of the First Merger Finance Savings and Loan but it was appropriately impressive for such a grand old banking firm. The more modern offices were located in larger cities but due to Ranvier’s part ownership and his location, top ranking bank officials were kept on hand locally to personally answer any questions that might arise.
A pretty and charming young woman greeted them at the door. “Good afternoon, Mr. Ranvier, I,” her words simply died as soon as Toshi removed his sunglasses. “My, my name is Angela Torres, if you would please follow me to my office?” Her enthusiasm had faded in her surprise.
If Toshi took offense, he gave no outward sign of it. “Ms. Torres, you must be new to this branch. Please inform Mr. Marsh that I’ll be awaiting him in the conference room.” He ignored her and started toward a room off to the side of the main branch lobby. It was glassed in but the blinds inside were pulled shut.
“But,” The young banker stuttered and moved on her heels to follow. “Mr. Ranvier, Mr. Marsh was pressed for time. He left the office five minutes ago.”
Toshi stopped. By now most of the patrons in the branch had notice him to varying degrees of interest and repulsion. Some outright stared, either at the I/S that moved so freely in their world or because they knew or guessed who he was, it made Mick twitchy.
Toshi ignored them all. He focused on the well dressed woman and literally pinned her in place with a glance. “That, Ms. Torres, would be an unfortunate happenstance. I’ve been approached by four other banking institutions in the last month alone. The only reason we remain here, with you, is because my father is a nostalgic man. His faith in people is a touch old fashioned, I doubt he would be amused to hear our meeting was canceled because Mr. Marsh had more important things to attend to.”
Toshi kept his eyes locked on the now frightened woman a moment longer before sliding them to where Mick stood. “How much time is in my schedule?”
Mick thought quickly. He knew Toshi’s schedule down to the moment but that wasn’t what he was being asked. “I may be able to juggle a few things to free up, say, a half hour to wait.”
The slightest of smiles cracked Toshi’s face but faded before he turned back to the woman. “There, I have a half hour. If Mr. Marsh doesn’t remember his priorities and appear for this meeting, the nature of our relationship may be forced to change. Now, please excuse me, Ms. Torres but I will wait in the conference room.”
She followed after them, snapping her fingers at one of the secretaries as she hurried by. When the two men reached the conference room she paused in the door way. “Can I bring you anything while you wait?”
“Nothing but privacy and you have twenty nine minutes. I suggest you find your boss.” Toshi answered as he sailed into the conference room, leaving Mick to shut the door behind them and directly on Ms. Torres’ face.
The words surprised Mick. “You’re welcome.”
“I hate these people.” Toshi sighed, tossing satchel and sunglasses onto the table as he settled into one of the chairs. He absently rubbed at a spot between his eyes where a headache was forming. “So what do you think the odds are of Mr. Marsh showing up in a half hour?”
Mick shrugged. “Better than average. I’d bet he’s in the building.”
“That’d be my guess. Offensive little man. When he finally does turn up, watch when I try to shake his hand. It’s something I always find amusing.”
It took nearly twenty minutes before Mick spotted a man approaching the conference room. Mr. Marsh was pushing sixty with thinning white hair and a sour look. It was obvious his opinions of I/S were dated and steeped in rumors and stories instead of facts.
“Mr. Ranvier.” Mr. Marsh’s eyes glanced at everything but the man he was addressing and glanced to Mick unhappily.
Toshi waited just a half a moment too long to be polite before rising when the banker came into the room. “Mr. Marsh, I’m pleased you were able to be located.”
Toshi offered his hand. Mick watched as the man recoiled slightly, paused, looked disturbed before forcing himself to accept the offered handshake. Toshi’s expression never changed but Mick had to hide his bitter grin. Mr. Marsh unconsciously wiped his hand along the side of his pants as soon as the contact was broken.
“I’m sorry for the miscommunication earlier. I was under the impression that our meeting had been canceled.” Mr. Marsh had enough ingrained manners to wave vaguely to the seat Toshi had already begun to take before settling himself down across the table.
“I’m certain it was just a misunderstanding. Fortunately, I’m a little more forgiving of such situations than my father.” Toshi began to unbuckle his satchel. “Now, about these quarterly reports, I’ve noticed a few things I wanted to discuss with you.”
“This should be done in private, don’t you think?” Mr. Marsh glanced to where Mick stood silent by the wall.
“This is private. Now, about these figures,”
The unmistakable pop of a gunshot echoed from the main lobby. Following in it’s heels came screams and a great deal of shouting. Mick was instantly at the windows, back pressed to the wall and glancing out behind the blinds without disturbing them. The gun he’d been wearing in the comfortable shoulder holster was out and in his hand. When he glanced back into the room, Mr. Marsh was on his feet but Toshi hadn’t moved.
“I see at least five, masked, armed most likely just a robbery.”
“Just a robbery!” Mr. Marsh sputtered and pushed past Mick.
Mr. Marsh ignored him and threw open the conference room door. The noise flooded in, a few more gunshots cracked in high pitched threat over the din of human fear. The door swung shut behind Mr. Marsh but Mick watched as the armed men quickly snagged the officer and pulled him aside.
Mick moved quickly to where Toshi sat and started pulling at the tie he wore. “You need to get this off, the jacket too.”
“Trust me!” The tie was sliding freely now and Mick quickly shoved it into the satchel, hurrying to re-latch the buckles. He grabbed the jacket from Toshi and threw it into the far corner. “Roll up your sleeves.”
Confused, Toshi obeyed but pulled away as Mick quickly moved to unbutton the top three buttons of his shirt. “What’re you doing?”
“Trust me.” An I/S simply didn’t revel the hollow of their throats unless they were of a very specific sort. “Hurry, roll up your sleeves.” Some of the chaos outside was settling down.
The panic outside their room meant less to Toshi than the hands so close to his throat. He studied Mick for a moment, weighed what he’d learned of the man and knew what he was suggesting. With a quick nod he glanced down and began to roll up his sleeves. He was willing to play along until a hurried hand at his collar accidentally allowed fingertips to graze over the bare skin at the hollow of his throat.
Mick glanced up at Toshi’s hissed intake of breath and the sudden way his body stiffened. The half breed’s breath was now coming in quick, short gasps and when those cold, wide eyes met his own the pupils contracted, dilated, and contracted again. The hollow of the throat was a sensitive spot on most humans, on an I/S it was triple the sensation.
“Sorry.” He managed to force out and swore he wasn’t going to blush. He reached up to the far too controlled hair and ran his hands through it. Tossing the long shower of black forward to tumble over Toshi’s shoulders in a far more casual way. It softened and helped hide his face. “Now, can you act like a, well like…”
“Like an addict?”
Mick did blush now. “Yeah, sorry.”
“I think I can manage that.”
The door kicked in behind them, catching Mick with a hand still fussing at Toshi’s hair and only further adding into their illusion. An armed man stormed in, shouting for them to get down and Mick used the hand he already had on Toshi to force the other to the ground.
“Down, down get on the ground now!”
Mick took in the semi-automatic gun and the plain mask the man wore and than looked beyond it to the thin way the skin of the man’s wrists were stretched over bone. Desperate times lead to desperate attempts to make things better, it made the men more dangerous but also more likely to be reasoned with.
“Alright, alright, we’re down just don’t hurt us.” He protectively kept one arm over Toshi.
“Move now! Get out there and join the others, move!”
“Don’t hurt us, just don’t hurt us.” Mick whined back and pulled Toshi along.
“Keep your hands out, move!”
Mick pulled them along but instead of moving to the line of customers and employees huddled under the teller counter, he moved them to the counter in the center. The island was used by customers to fill out paperwork but it was separate, allowed him to watch the entire room and had the most direct route to the door. Under the far counter, Ms. Torres knelt, tears streaking down her face and her hands red with blood. She had the head of the security guard in her lap. The elderly man was unconscious, bleeding but Mick was pretty sure he was still alive.
The group of six had split off. Three of them kept an eye on the front, three were behind the counter. From what Mick could see and hear, they had a young teller and were making her fill bags, if everything went well, they’d leave in moments.
“What’s taking so long?” The man nearest Mick shouted.
“Boss man says he can’t get into the safe.” A voice behind the teller counter shouted.
“He’s lying. Hey! Hey Boss man! You want us to start shooting people? Huh? Choice is yours boss man!”
Beside him Toshi squirmed where he knelt but he managed to turn his head slightly. “Marsh.” He whispered but the name carried his contempt of the man and his certainty that the man would rather see them all shot than allow the robbers into his safe.
Mick didn’t care about the bank, didn’t care if everyone in the room including himself, were shot, so long as Toshi walked out unharmed. So when the only person who’s safety he was concerned with arched his back and tossed his head back against the counter, moaned slightly and ran his hands through his hair he knew it was going to be trouble. Obviously, Toshi wasn’t going to accept that his safety was the only important thing.
It didn’t take too long until the nearest robber noticed not only that one hostage squirming but that the hostage was I/S. He came over and kicked at Mick, ignoring Toshi’s increasingly obvious display. “What’s his problem?”
Mick glanced up and forced a knowing grin. “He shines to adrenaline. Something like this will keep him shiny for days.”
“Make him settle down!”
“I don’t think you want me doing, that, here. You know how they get.” He paused and looked the thief over. “Well, maybe you don’t.”
Toshi’s stray hand ran across the hollow of his throat and he licked his lips. “He doesn’t know, daddy.”
Mick about died. He prayed the robber was to distracted to notice how red he was starting to blush or if he noticed he’d chalk it up to the flush of fear and desire. He was very grateful he’d placed them out of direct sight to the entire room because there was no way he’d be able to explain Toshi’s behavior as anything other than what it appeared.
Only it was an act, the reserved, quiet, dignified man he’d seen for weeks was only acting. He wasn’t really the creature of sexual fantasy that most shine addicts were but the performance was flawless. Mick had to force the blood flow back to his brain to try to figure out what Toshi was looking for. He was fishing for something beyond merely not being recognized.
Toshi’s head languidly rolled to the side, exposing the long column of his neck to the robber. “Let me show him, daddy?”
Now it was cold fear that settled in his stomach and drove any sense of lust away. It was risky but from the snatches of conversation he’d been hearing at least two of the three behind the counter had gone down to the safe. He wasn’t sure he could stop three but the odds were better than four.
“You think he’s interested in you?”
Toshi’s hand snaked out and wrapped around the robber’s leg. The man was breathing hard now, not even paying attention to the world around him. “Oh, my yes. Please, daddy?”
The robber snapped his eyes to Mick and took in the suit he was wearing. “You own him?”
Mick shrugged. “I just rent him. If he wants to play with you, I won’t stop him. Trust me, after this I’ll be lucky to stop for meals for a week. You’re sure you want to play now, baby?”
Toshi turned his head fully away from the robber and while his voice stayed the drifting, dreamy tones of an addict, his expression and eyes were dead serious. “Trust me, daddy, let me play with one or two of them.”
He nodded. “Okay, baby, but be careful. They’re in a hurry.” Mick glanced up to the robber. “I’d take a friend with you, he can be a bit, aggressive, when he’s like this.”
The robber paused and glanced around nervously before reaching down to snatch Toshi’s arm and scoop him up. He rose to his feet with boneless grace and languid care, letting his hair fall and cover his eyes. The robber whistled out sharply. “J.C.!”
“What?” One of the thieves from behind the counter called back.
“Awww, can’t you two stay focused.” A third whined.
“Shut up!” The one holding Toshi shouted back. “If you two can’t watch them you shouldn’t be here. Come on, J.C.!”
Mick watched as the two men dragged Toshi off to the conference room. Toshi didn’t fight the pull on his arm but he had the distracted, unaware gait of one drunk or senseless. Or of an I/S high on shine and than fed the emotion that supercharged their addiction, it was a good performance.
It was also not something any bodyguard should have allowed. The clock was ticking now, there was only a moment before harm really could come to Toshi and then he’d have failed. Mick reached under his jacket to the small pouch clipped to the back of his belt. By practice and feel he unsnapped it and fished out the slender tube hidden on the top.
There weren’t any laws preventing him from owning such a weapon but ownership was limited. The cylinders had to be custom built and custom loaded each time they were discharged. It was too highly skilled and to costly for the general population and police force to have. Mick had a hobby of such weapons and he had the skill to recharge the tube without sending it back to the manufacturer.
He kept low and crouched along the island wall. The robber out in front keeping his gun trained so lazily on the room at large was a dozen paces away from him. The man kept glancing from his partner still filling bags to the closed conference room door. His distraction allowed Mick to point the tube at the man’s lower leg. With a wicked grin he pushed the button, there was a slight hissing of compressed air and the small needle dart flew the few feet and imbedded itself into the man’s leg.
“What the hell?” The man yelped.
“What’s wrong?” His partner answered, roughly pulling on the woman that still was empting drawers of cash.
“Something bit me! I, Christ that burns! Something bit me!” The man reached to rub at the sore spot on his leg. His eyes rolled up and he collapsed to the ground, out cold.
Mick dropped the tube into his pocket and slid forward. He pressed himself into the line of other hostages huddled back from the now unconscious man. They recoiled almost as much from him as they did from the body in front of them.
“Billy! Billy you alright man? Shit!” There was a shuffling behind the counter. “Keep filling those bags and don’t try anything stupid or I’ll blow your head off!”
Mick waited, coiled up on the balls of his feet and counted the seconds off in his head. It’d been over a minute since the door to the conference room had shut, he was running out of time. The second robber came within sight, his attention focused on his unconscious friend. Mick waited, watching, until the man started to kneel to check to see if his friend was alive.
There was little the second man could do, half kneeling and off balance, when Mick surged up from his feet. Mick’s fist swung out and caught the man hard on his face. The mask splintered and the cheap plastic sliced like blades into Mick’s hand but the blow was strong enough to knock the man down. There was no time for thought, Mick drew the handgun he wore from it’s holster and cracked the butt down on the man’s head. The robber groaned and than went slack and as limp as his friend.
Mick’s gun disappeared back into it’s holster and from the pouch at his waist he pulled out a slender stick wrapped in plastic. He tore the plastic away and the hard rod inside instantly went soft and flexible at the contact with the air.
“You, and you,” he nodded to two men kneeling near by. “Help get that wounded man out of here. The rest of you get out of here, as quietly and quickly as you can. Call the police if you haven’t already.” He stretched the rod to it’s full length and lined up the men’s wrists. A bondable cuff wasn’t made to restrain more than a single person but it could be stretched to wrap around four wrists instead of two. The soft material wrapped around a hand from each man and when he pressed the ends back along the length of the rod it sealed itself together. Within moments, the rod hardened and was as secure as metal. Mick checked the fit, it was too tight but it would have to do.
Mick glanced up and no one had moved. The girl from behind the counter stood holding the bag of cash. “Get going! Go, now!”
That got them moving and as he turned to the conference room they were quickly rushing to the door. The two men he’d asked were carrying the wounded security guard between them and the bloodied Ms. Torres followed. It was almost two minutes since the conference room door had shut.
There was no time for subtle methods. Mick drew his gun and rushed the door. With a firm kick he smashed his way inside, frightened of what he might find. A body crashed into the wall beside the door and slumped to the floor. Toshi stood near the table, his leg just now lowering back from the kick he’d delivered to the last of the two men in the room. He soothed his hair to have it fall down his back again and looked unaffected as ever.
“I guess Alec was right when he said you could take care of yourself.”
Toshi shrugged. “Well, their sort aren’t difficult. It’s almost too easy. We should tie them up.”
Mick was already dragging the two men closer together to bind their wrists as well. “You should get your jacket back on and get out of here.”
“Do I even want to know where you’ve had those b-cuffs hidden?”
Mick grinned. “I only carry three of them. Get moving.”
“You’re going after the other two?”
“Marsh seems like the sort to get himself killed on principle.” He paused and glanced up. “Do you want me to let them shoot him?”
For a moment, Toshi almost agreed. “No, not really.”
“Good, now move. The police should be on their way.”
“I can hear the sirens.”
“Get going.” He didn’t wait to see if Toshi listened, half knowing he wasn’t going to. “At least stay in here out of sight.”
He drew his gun again and moved with long practiced ease down across the lobby to behind the counter. There he scooped down and picked up the three forgotten bags of money and a handful of change from one of the open drawers. The bags he slung over his shoulder and the change stayed tightly clutched in his fist.
The blueprints of the bank were sharp in his mind and he had a good idea of where they’d dragged Marsh off to. The safe was down the hall and to the right. If they were smart they’d have one man guarding that right hand turn and the other with Marsh getting the safe open. Mick crept down the hallway as quietly as he could manage but the voices bouncing up from the end would have covered far more noise than he made.
“I know the deposits are still in there, old man, open it up! Is it worth dying for? You want us to shoot someone in front of you? Do you really want their blood all over you?” There was a meaty dull crack and the whimpering sound of muffled pain.
“Careful, Jake, don’t hit him so hard.” A voice near the corner bend called out.
Mick slowed down and pressed himself to the wall. When he was within a few feet he let one of the coins in his hand roll past the corner, than a second one and a third.
“What the hell?” He heard the man whisper out.
Mick rolled another coin but he was watching the corner and watching how the man that turned it was watching the rolling coin. His mask was pushed up but he didn’t see the remaining handful of coins that got tossed in his face. The robber reacted on instinct, throwing his hands up at the coins suddenly all around him and stumbling backwards. Mick hit him, hard. First in the solar plexus with enough force to woosh out the breath from the man’s lungs and than again to the face. The man went down, hard, and Mick risked cracking another skull open and the quickly delivered blow knocked the man out cold. The b-cuffs went on smoothly and easily with only one person. Mick put away his gun.
“He can’t answer you right now.”
“Christ! I’ve got a hostage, I’ll shoot him, get back!”
“Look, I’m not a cop, and I don’t work for the bank. Okay?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Doesn’t matter, I’m nobody. Your friends are out of commission and the police will be here very shortly. I’ve got a deal for you. I’m tossing something your way, it’s not going to hurt you, okay?”
Mick side armed one of the bags of money around the corner. “I’ve two more here. How about this, I come around the corner, I’ll have my hands out to the side. Option one is you can shoot me and go to death row for killing me. Or, option two, you can hand over the old man to me, take that bag and the two others here at my feet and walk out of here. I know it’s not the haul you wanted today but you won’t have to split it six ways. It’s enough money to disappear with. No one’s been killed yet, you can still walk away. What do you say?”
“I don’t know!”
“Time’s running out, Jake. I can hear the sirens. What will it be?”
“Okay! Okay, come around the corner and don’t try anything funny.”
Mick held his hands out from his body and up near his head. “Why would I try anything? I don’t care about the money.” He moved slowly around the corner, waiting for the bullet to slam out and hit him. “I hate banks, I’d love to see you get away with this, but you need to let the old man go and get moving.”
He was fully in sight now and Marsh sat on the ground, his face bloody and most likely his nose broken. The man holding onto his upper arm with one hand and a gun with the other had his mask up as well. It didn’t surprise Mick that the man was his own age or younger. Sweat was running down his face and his eyes were wide, the man was scared and it was written all over his face.
“There now, see, I don’t want to hurt you. Let the old man go, take the bag, take the others and hurry or the police will catch you.”
The hand that gripped Marsh’s upper arm tightened then suddenly let go. Mick held very still as the man moved to pick up the bag of money. He wasn’t sure either himself or Marsh even breathed as the bag was snatched and tossed over a shoulder. The robber was around the corner in a flash, there was a rustle of fabric as the other bags were grabbed up. The last Mick heard was a snuffled sigh of relief as the man disappeared down the hallway.
He moved instantly to where Marsh knelt. “Are you alright?”
Marsh nodded. “Fine, fine, thank you so much, he was going to kill me. Thank you!”
Mick shook off the man. “Stay here and don’t thank me, thank Mr. Ranvier, he’s the one that wanted me to act.” He wished he’d been able to stay to enjoy the look of unhappy acceptance in the man’s eyes but he had one more bank robber to stop.
He rounded the corner with his gun drawn, willing to shoot the last man in the leg if he needed to but when he reached the lobby, the last of the robbers was tumbled into an untidy heap on the floor. Toshi leaned calmly against the teller’s counter, rolling his sleeves back down, the collar of his shirt re-buttoned. On the counter behind him were his sunglasses, jacket and satchel.
“I knew you wouldn’t listen.”
Toshi just smiled and shrugged. “Police are here.”
And as if he’d announced them, they stormed through the front doors. There was shouting again for them to get down and show their hands. Police dressed in black assault uniforms and carrying rifles, three times more deadly than the smaller guns the robbers had held, circled them. Mick lost sight of Toshi as three of them grabbed his arms and wrestled him forcefully flat onto the cool marble floor.
“That’s, Mr. Toshi Ranvier, I’m his body guard. He’s not to be harmed.” Mick shouted out hoping the inborn aversion to I/S would prevent them from throwing Toshi to the ground as well.
“My wallet, gentleman is in my back pocket. With my ID you’ll find my card from the Containment Committee.” Toshi ignored the rough hands that stole his wallet away. “The man you have pinned is my body guard. He’s armed, his identification is also on him.”
Long moments passed of angry shouting and uncertainty but soon the truth was straightened out. Mick was seated at one of the teller’s desks and had a paramedic tending the cuts on his hands that he hadn’t felt until the whole thing was over. Toshi was seated on the other side of the room, denying all involvement and Marsh had been taken to the hospital.
“That’s your story, you want us to believe you did all this, McKale?”
Mick shrugged. “It’s the truth as I told you, Baker.” It had to be one of the officers he’d served with and one that hadn’t liked him even a small bit. “We were in the conference room when they came in. I asked Mr. Ranvier to remove his jacket and tie and appear to be connected to me in an effort to disguise who he was. I was afraid if the robbers knew his identity the situation would be worse. The ploy worked, they didn’t pay him any attention as anything other than another I/S junkie whore. It worked a bit too well as two of them took him off to a private room. That allowed me to overcome the two out here, then the two in the conference room and finally the two down the hall. Mr. Ranvier had nothing to do with this other than letting them remove him to the conference room and potential harm.”
“Yeah, right, well, we’ve some more question about the details. You don’t mind going to the station with us do you?”
Mick glanced to Toshi who sat ignoring the questions being given to him, the aloof rich boy act was back. “Sure, what ever you want. Mr. Ranvier’s driver is outside. I’ll go with you if you see to it he’s returned to his car and have a marked unit follow them back home.”
Baker snorted in mild disgust. “Sure, whatever.”
ed in the casual jeans and t-shirt he almost never wore, hefted the last of the carefully taped and labeled boxes into the back of his older, well maintained car. Andy knew the casual clothes had been purchased in college, at his urging, and the man wearing them now had filled out a bit more since than. The simple act of loading the car was nearly indecent given how tightly the cloth clung to the other man.
Mick, as always, was unaware of the image he was providing. It made Andy smile to himself and force out the raw honest truth that it wasn’t simple charity that had him and their room mates wanting the other man to stick around. Two years younger than the rest of them, not yet twenty seven, with dark auburn hair that shone like a copper penny in the sun, fair skin with freckles so small across his nose as to almost be invisible, topped off with expressive hazel eyes and classic features that lit up when he smiled, Mick was hot enough to stop traffic. That was, if he didn’t dress twice his age and take everything so seriously.
“Mick,” Andy was dressed in casual clothes too, a pink cotton school girl skirt, pink fuzzy slippers and a black t-shirt with the word ‘Bitchy’ emblazoned across it in gold glitter. “Don’t leave us.” He waited until the younger man glanced over his shoulder to twirl one of his pigtails around his finger, fully aware of how he looked.
All it earned him was a thin, small grin, not the full thousand watt smile such clothes and silly behavior normally gained. “Andy, we all agreed when we moved in together. If one of us couldn’t make rent, they’d move out.”
“Well, yeah, but we did that to protect you from us lazy ass artist types. None of us expected you to follow that. Come on, you’ll have another job in a couple of weeks, we can cover for you. With Samson’s newest fling kicking in his share we don’t even really need yours, we talked about it. Stay.” Truth was, they could only float Mick for a month or two. It was a gamble but that’s what friends did.
“I know full well none of you can afford that. Things happen, that’s life.” He shut the car door with a little too much force.
“Then stay, we can get you work down at Hardy’s. You know you can bartend again. Swallow your pride and stay.” Andy moved closer to where his friend leaned against his car, he could see the internal battle between desire to stay and responsibility.
“I didn’t go to college to be a bartender forever.”
“Well, you didn’t become a cop to be kicked around by bigoted assholes either but shit happens, sweetheart. Now, open that door and let me help you carry those boxes back upstairs.”
Mick reached across the distance between them and slid a hand to the back of his friend’s neck, swooping in to place a quick kiss on the so far unpainted lips. “And let you break a nail? Never. Thanks for trying, Andy, I do appreciate it.”
“Where will you go? The housing market right now isn’t exactly grand. I’m not going to stand by and let my best friend be homeless, or, worse, sleep in one of those awful flophouses.”
That made Mick laugh, but the smile was still missing. “I have enough mothers, Andy.”
“Well, if any of them actually mothered you then maybe I wouldn’t need to. I’m serious. Where do you think you’ll go?”
Mick just shrugged. “I’ll be fine. If things get too bad I’ll go home for a bit.”
“Great, like that makes me feel any better.”
“I’ve got to go, Andy.”
“Shit, you’re a brat.” He tried pouting, but that didn’t work either. “You’ll have your phone on? I’ll worry if I call and you don’t answer.”
“And you’ll come by, and still be our friend?”
Andy sighed and studied the too-serious face for any signs of an opening. When all he found was quiet and unhappy resolve, he knew he’d lost. “I still say you’re an unforgivable brat, but I hate good byes, so.” He leaned forward and stole another kiss before quickly hurrying back inside the building. Nine AM, before breakfast, and already he felt like the day was ruined.
Mick stayed where he was, leaning against his car, and rubbed at his eyes. “Do you have something to say to me, or do you just like listening in to private conversations for fun?” He asked without looking up, feeling the other man’s eyes still on him.
The man that had hovered a good distance away but still well within easy earshot, jumped a little, startled, and the paper he’d been pretending to read crinkled in his hands. It was the first real look Mick had gotten of the fellow, and he was surprised at the age. The man had to have been close to his own age or a few years older. His sandy blonde hair was cut short in the back and left to fall in messy strands of stylized perfection around the top. It was a highly trendy style with their age group. Tall, close to six feet, and lean without being underfed, the man was attractive in a plain, over look-able way. It was the suit he was wearing that caught the most attention – far too well cut to be anything anyone in the neighborhood could afford. Far too well made to be anything most anyone could afford, let alone a twenty something kid.
The blond was only startled for a moment, his composure returning quickly as he folded the paper over and tucked it under an arm. With an air of unconscious habit, he straightened his suit jacket and reached down to snag the handle of a well made, but well worn, hard sided leather brief case.
“A.R. McKale?” The blonde asked as he approached.
“If you had any question as to who I was, you wouldn’t have been hovering over there.” Mick stayed where he was, leaned against his car.
A smile lit up the strangers face, warming his eyes. “Very true, my name is Alec Orwick. It wasn’t my intention to spy on you, but I didn’t wish to interrupt.”
“What can I do for you, Mr. Orwick.” He didn’t let the smile and open, disarming face work on him.
“I was wondering if I might have a moment of your time. Buy you a cup of coffee?”
“I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told your fellow members of the press, I don’t have anything to say that anyone wants to hear.”
The bright smile flashed again. “I’m not a reporter, please, just a few moments?”
Mick had always trusted his instincts and the young man across from him wasn’t setting any of them off. He tossed his head down the street. “There’s a coffee shop down on the corner. I’ve a little time.”
“Wonderful, thank you so much.”
They walked in silence down the street. The neighborhood was anchored by three shops: the local grocer, the local bar and the local coffee shop. The rest of the stores, pawn shops, small retail storefronts and the like, were all extras. It was those three that held the neighborhood together. It was to those three that just about everyone eventually found a connection and crowd to gossip with. The only reason Mick had any connection to any of the three centers of gossip and community was because Andy and Samson had coffee monkeys on their backs.
The take out counter was busy but the tables were almost empty, too far from the college to support a lingering student crowd in the morning. Mick led them to a back corner, one empty of other customers and far away from the bustle of the counter. Before either of them could settle in, one of the waitresses had slipped over to meet them.
“Aw, Mick, I’m glad you stopped in.” She leaned in and placed a kiss on the side of his face. “We’ve all been worried you’d leave without stopping by.”
“Hey, Jinny. Shouldn’t you be helping with the rush?”
She waved it off. “Boss lady can’t fire herself. Can I get you your normal?” She eyed the stranger in his too-nice suit. “And something for your friend?”
“Regular’s fine for me. Whatever he wants, he’s buying.”
“Just a coffee, thank you.” Alec offered up to the waitress but he was watching Mick settle into a chair across from him.
“Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Orwick?”
“Mr. McKale, I’m Mr. Toshi Hoshimoto Ranvier’s personal assistant. Are you aware of Mr. Ranvier?”
The casually dropped name wasn’t where Mick thought the conversation might have gone. “Who isn’t aware of him? The half human, half incubus illegitimate son and only child of Luke Henri Ranvier, the richest man in the world.”
“There’s some debate as to whether or not Luke Henri Ranvier is the richest man in the world but essentially, yes, what you say is true.” Alec’s words stopped at the movement from the counter.
Mick hopped to his feet and hurried over to where Jinny was carrying two coffees and a small plate with a blueberry muffin. “Thanks.”
“I’ve got it.” She protested, but he always helped. “He’s cute, but fellows dressed like that…” her lowered voice died off, leaving the warning unspoken.
“It‘s okay, Jinny, thanks.” He ignored her little disbelieving “tsk” as she turned back to the counter. “So,” he settled back down and watched as the blonde added sugar to his coffee. “You work for Toshi Ranvier.”
“Yes, as I’m sure you can imagine, his position as heir and only child to such a wealthy man makes him quite a public figure. Add in his mixed heritage, and, well, the press hounds him. He receives numerous threats to his life every day. Up until this point, all they’ve been is threats.
“Several weeks ago, someone attempted to shoot Mr. Ranvier. They missed, but not by much.”
“There wasn’t anything in the papers about it.”
“No, and there won’t be. It’s been kept quiet. The police have been slow to investigate. Honestly, they’ve done nothing, and it’s my belief that they wouldn’t be too upset if the shooter succeeds next time. Mr. Ranvier’s father is rightfully concerned- he maintains a security force of almost two dozen and has long been unhappy that his son refuses such measures.”
Mick stopped toying with the muffin, leaving the increasingly smaller crumbs alone. “So what is it you want from me?”
“They’ve reached a compromise. Mr. Ranvier’s father will settle for a smaller security force, if carefully selected. The standards he set were high. Add in the difficulties of finding someone sympathetic to Mr. Ranvier’s mixed bloodlines, understanding of his intensely private ways and willing to work with his reluctance for any security measures, finding suitable candidates has been difficult. I’ve been making inquires for weeks, and there’s only been a few names that appear over and over again. Yours is one of the few.”
Mick sipped his coffee. “You haven’t heard. I got bounced off the force.”
That only made Alec smile again. “You underestimate my skills at research. There’s very little I don’t know about you. I know that you’re an Inky. I know that you started college at fifteen, graduated top of your class with degrees in both psychology and criminal science. I know that the federal government attempted to recruit you, but you entered the police academy instead. Graduated the top of your class there as well, started working on your master’s degree, dropped out when you made detective a year and a half ago. I’ve studied your case histories; filled with accommodations. I’ve spoken to the citizens you’ve interviewed, especially those in the I/S community. I’m fully aware that the charges brought against you were completely unfounded and used as a means to remove you. What I don’t know is why you refused to fight those charges.”
“You’ve done your homework but I’m not an Inky.”
The smile returned, hiding the bright interest. “Forgive me, raised in an Inky Commune. Both have the desired effect, which is, you’re a little more understanding of other people’s difference than the average person in security or law enforcement. I also know enough about you to know you respect directness. I’ve been charged with hiring the security force to keep Mr. Ranvier safe, and you are my top choice. You’re smart, well educated, and have a tremendous record.”
“So? There are plenty of others better qualified than me. I’ve never worked personal security before.”
“True. Mr. McKale, this isn’t just about who can analyze threats. Mr. Ranvier does wear an inhibitor, but like most I/S, he misses little. Someone equally qualified but even slightly uneasy around him will be noticed. He’s resentful of having to add on a security force – it’ll be counterproductive if he’s unable to trust them.”
“How large of a team are you putting together?”
“Well, that depends. If you refuse I’ll be hiring three others. If you accept my offer, it’ll just be you.”
Mick laughed. “You’re crazy.”
“No, please, hear me out.” He brushed his so far untouched coffee aside and set his briefcase on the table. The latches popped open, and he began to pull papers out. “My proposition to you is this.” A paper slid across the table. “This is the salary range. There is room for negotiation.”
Mick nearly swallowed his coffee wrong, but Alec ignored him and kept going.
A second paper followed the first. “A list of standard benefits Mr. Ranvier offers his employees.” More papers joined the stack. “You’ll have an expense account, of course, and will be reimbursed for anything you require. Additionally, you’ll be provided an apartment that interconnects with Mr. Ranvier’s penthouse in Darsell Plaza. It’s not very large, but it has a private entrance – it’s the twin of my set of rooms. You’ll have access to the in-house staff, of which you may avail yourself. You’ll have a private office to work from as well.
“If you refuse, I’ll hire two on call bodyguards and one analyst. It won’t work as well, but it should keep him alive.”
“I was right. You are insane. The low-end salary numbers are twice what I was making.”
“Mr. Ranvier is a very good employer.”
“Then to add all the rest in? Just what kind of duties would be required?”
“You’d be expected to sort the threats we receive and file out the crackpots from anything serious. It’d be your job to check security at any event he attends, to see to it that it’s adequate and to make it adequate if it isn’t. You’d be required to escort him when he goes out, which isn’t often. Additionally, you’d be expected to investigate any serious threats. There’ll be bonuses if your investigations lead to arrests. Primarily, it’ll be your job to keep him safe.”
Another paper slid across the table. “You’ll be asked to sign a confidentiality contract; it’s a standard form that all personal employees must agree to. Also, as a member of his house-hold,” a thick stack of papers joined the pile, “you’ll be under a sideline jurisdiction of the Containment Committee.”
That raised Mick’s eyebrows. “How so? I thought they had no authority over humans?”
“True, but because Mr. Ranvier technically has access to the private apartments that interconnect with his own, they can be searched. I’ve worked and lived with Mr. Ranvier for six years. In that time they’ve searched my rooms twice. Generally, they just check the land line records to make sure Mr. Ranvier hasn’t accessed them and, at most, they do a walk through. I’ve been blood tested a few times as well. It’s annoying, but it’s acceptable.”
“I’ve never had an interest in private security.”
“I’m aware of that, which is why I’ll say one thing formally and a second informally. The first is this: the original contract of employment is for thirty days. At the end of the thirty days you can walk away. If we both agree to renew the contract, it can be dissolved with three weeks notice by either party at any time. If something occurs, I might be able to have a system in place to replace you before that three weeks, but it’s taken me almost three weeks to get to this conversation, so I want to give myself the same amount of time again.” The employment contract appeared from the briefcase and joined the stack.
“The second thing is this; Mr. Ranvier is almost a shut-in. He rarely goes out, rarely has company in. Most of the events he is forced to attend are very secure already. He’s capable of taking care of himself. Yes, we receive a fair number of threats, but most are empty. You’ll have time to work on any side project you might want to. I know for a fact that Mr. Ranvier will fully support any private investigations you might wish to pursue.” The brief case snapped shut.
“All I’m asking, Mr. McKale, is to give us the thirty days.” He dropped a twenty dollar bill on the table, twice or more the total for the drinks and muffin that sat uneaten, and handed over a crisp business card. “Read over the paper work, think about it, then call me. That’s my private line. I can always be reached there. If I don’t hear from you by two o‘clock, I’m contacting the other three. I want this resolved today.” Alec scooped up his case and paper. “Thank you for hearing me out, Mr. McKale. I look forward to your call.”
Alec slipped out of the coffee shop and didn’t look back. Anyone else would have been fooled by the carefully guarded expression Mr. McKale wore, but Alec had picked up a few things living with Toshi for so many years. There was very little other humans could hide from him. He saw McKale’s shock at the entire offer, but he also saw the curiosity and the interest in those hidden hazel eyes. There was a reason why he needed to come down and meet with this man personally, and it had worked out beautifully. There was no way McKale wouldn’t be calling; it was only a matter of when.
Mick sat with his picked apart muffin, cold coffee, and small mountain of paperwork for a good ten minutes after Alec Orwick had left. The Ranvier Corporation owned most of the city in one way or another and it was controlled by it’s iron willed CEO totally. Everything he’d ever heard about Luke Henri Ranvier made it clear he wasn’t a man to cross but little was said about his son. Mick never followed gossip but Andy and Samson did and the only things other than the man’s parentage that Mick knew was that his father was ferociously protective of him. The opportunity to work for the family that had, debatably, more power than the government was tremendous. It wasn’t an offer to take lightly and the answer to accept or refuse would lie in the stack of legal papers before him.
“Want me to heat that up for you?” Jinny asked, she was close enough that it made Mick jump slightly. He’d been so lost in thought that he hadn’t heard her approach.
“Thanks, and Jinny, can I borrow a pen and some paper?”
“Of course love.” The twenty dollar bill disappeared as she gathered up the cold cups of coffee.
At ten of ten, Alec’s phone range. “Yes?”
“I’m in, at least for the thirty days.”
A thousand pound weight suddenly lifted from Alec’s shoulders. “Good, from what I saw of your car you’re already packed up. Do you know how to reach Darsell Plaza?”
“Use the East Hansel Street entrance to the parking garage, the attendant will be expecting you.”
“And, Mr. McKale, thank you for agreeing.” Alec only half listened to the automatic ‘you’re welcome’ Mick mumbled before hanging up. His attention had been drawn to the slight sign of movement near his open office door. He hung the phone up and turned back to the papers on his desk. “It‘s taken care of.”
“Wonderful.” The less than enthusiastic reply came from the edge of the doorway. There was a rustle of fabric but by the time Alec glanced up all that he could see of his employer was a swish of long black hair.
Alec grinned to himself, quite pleased and returned to the morning reports.
Darsell Plaza was considered by most in the city as a sign of hope for the future and a symbol of the chaos of the past. One of the makers of the virus that so ravaged the world was Darsel Pharmaceuticals and anything bearing the name quickly became a target. It didn’t matter that the Plaza that so closely shared names was owned by a former transportation baron and hadn’t been anything more than apartments and office space for decades, the building had been stormed.
The old news footage had captured a very medieval mob scene. Angry people, many of them ill, burning and looting as they went, striking out at the only symbol they could find. They hadn’t managed to tear the building down, but they did manage to damage it beyond easy repair. And so it sat, empty, hollow, like the city around it, as the years slipped away.
Mick had been a small child when the Containment Camp that had been established on the outskirts of their town had been opened up. It was Ranvier Industries that had won the contracts to privatize so many of the Camp’s day to day functions. That hadn’t surprised anyone; what had was that Luke Henri Ranvier had moved his corporate headquarters to their small city.
It brought a fresh influx of money and jobs, not enough to fully reverse the effects of the depression that had lingered since the plague years, but enough to really brighten things. Things were still too costly, money was still too tight, but there was money now and people were buying things again. Jobs were scarce but there were more jobs to be found.
When Ranvier had purchased the barren Darsell Plaza in the downtown district people had laughed. When he tore it down a disconnected sense of cleansing swept the city. Mick had been six when they’d broken ground to re-build. He was almost twelve when they’d finished. It was the tallest building in the city, not a huge boast given Darsell only had forty stories, but it still dominated the sky line. Modern, secure, it was reborn clean and fresh, a physical promise to the better days Ranvier Industries were slowing bringing about.
Then, Luke Henri Ranvier had announced the buildings name would remain the same. A small museum and gift shop was opened in the lobby documenting the original building’s destruction. As he so often did, Ranvier had soothed and comforted with one hand while slapping on a harsh reminder and forced responsibility with the other. The community accepted it, but they didn’t like it. To make matters worse, the building was kept private. Several of the apartments were occupied by high ranking Ranvier employees but none of the office spaces were directly used by Ranvier Industries, as if he’d been afraid to trust his company to the city’s unstable temper.
It was a building that represented a world that Mick didn’t belong in. He’d watched it be torn down and recreated, a massive mirror for the city around him but he was outside both changes. He had never imagined he’d visit Darsell, let alone planning to move in.
The attendant at the parking garage directed him to the private section and Mick rolled past him. He followed the directions to a second series of gates, this time not secured with an attendant but rather with locked keypads and cameras watching everything. The gate swung open at his approach, confirming that someone, somewhere was actually paying attention.
The cars inside the secured area were far nicer than the old heap Mick had, but the section he’d been directed to was oddly deserted. A nice, well maintained motorcycle sat by itself in one the spaces. Built into the wall was a locked door that Mick was willing to bet had a nice set of tools behind it. A single, non descript, black car sat in another space, the kind of car that came with a driver. Neither bike nor car looked like they received much use but both looked well maintained.
Nearby was an elevator and standing in front of it was Alec Orwick and a half dozen men in work clothes. Mick pulled into one of the spaces close to them and turned off car. He gathered the legal papers from the seat beside him before he popped the car door open.
“Mr. McKale, I’m pleased to see you again. If you don’t mind, these gentlemen will take your boxes upstairs. I’ll see to it that by this afternoon you have access codes for the gates, locks and elevators.” Alec couldn’t help grinning, and he offered his hand in welcome.
Mick glanced at the car where the workmen were quickly loading the numerous boxes onto hand carts. It made his belongings look small and few. “It’s Mick, no one calls me anything but Mick.” He accepted the hand. “I figured the thirty days couldn’t do any harm and I’ve time on my hands. Your papers.”
Alec accepted them and led them to the elevator, the workmen were obviously lingering so as not to take the same elevator up with them. “Fine, Mick it is, then please, call me Alec. Let me show you your rooms and than we’ll see if we can find Toshi-san to introduce you.”
Alec glanced over the papers once the doors of the elevator shut. “I’m surprised you called so soon. I would have thought you’d have wanted a lawyer to review these.”
“What questions I had, I ran past my brother.”
“Your brother’s a lawyer?”
Mick nodded. “Two of my sisters and one of my brothers. I’m surprised you didn’t see that in the background check.”
“Well, your family is extensive. If I’d followed up on every member I’d still be researching.”
“True. Some times even I forget what they all do.”
“Another advantage to being an only child.” Alec’s grin widened and the doors opened saving Mick from replying.
Alec stepped out and held the door. “This is the private entrance to our floor.” He pointed down the hallway. “That’s my apartment door and over here is yours. I almost never come in this way.” There wasn’t a lock, but a keypad and he quickly moved to tap in the code. The door clicked and opened. Inside he flipped on the lights and stepped aside. “It’s furnished but you have a redecoration budget if you’d like to change it. Just let me know, anything you want removed can easily be tossed into storage.”
Mick walked into a living room that opened directly to a kitchen. The single room was larger than half of the apartment he’d shared with two, sometimes three or four others. The furniture was neutral, well made, but with no personality. The kitchen was cutting edge and functional. It was too much space for one person.
“In here,” Alec moved toward one of the two other doors in the large main room. “Is the bedroom.”
Mick followed to a bedroom almost as large as the main room, set with a huge bed, a closet bigger than a bedroom should have been and a small work station off to the corner.
“Bathroom’s in here. Only real downside to these apartments is that they have no windows, they’re internal rooms but you really don’t notice it too much.”
Mick kept his mouth shut over the bathroom, set with separate shower from the soaking bath tub, large mirror and counter. The entire apartment was finished in blues, tans and gold, making it pleasant but impersonal.
“Who stayed here before?”
“No one, it was meant to be a guest quarters but it’s never been used.” Alec hurried out to the main living room as the first of the handcarts of boxes was arriving. “That door there leads to Mr. Ranvier’s main living space. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
Mick paused, uncertain about following. “I should wait, I’m not really dressed to meet my new boss.” He’d forgotten the old clothes he’d been wearing until the newness, the crispness of the apartment reminded him.
“Nonsense. Come on, let me show you around.”
Alec opened the door that lead to the main living area. “Most days, my door stays unlocked. There’s little worry of either Toshi-san or myself entering your rooms without permission. This is the main living space.”
Mick followed him into what would have been an upscale, if normal, living room. The furniture had an extra touch of style that only items of expense carried but otherwise looked soft, comfortable and lived in. The large panel television attached to one wall would have been impressive to most anyone else but Mick had grown up around technology addicts and was used to seeing such things. There was next to nothing personal about the space. No newspapers or magazines lay scattered about the end tables, no photos hung on the wall, there were no mementos sitting on the bookcases. The closest thing to personal were the dozens of books that lined the shelves along the wall.
The space was split in two and like in his own rooms the kitchen opened directly to the living space, an informal arrangement Mick was surprised to find repeated. The kitchen seemed smaller than it should have been for the grandness of the room, scaled down and again, informal.
The room was dominated by the outer wall. Floor to ceiling the wall was a sheet of windows. Tinted but without blinds, they stood forty stories up and gazed out over the city below them. It was an awesome sight and seemed out of place with the casualness of the room it encased.
“Wait until the sun goes down, the view is astounding.” Alec nodded to the windows before pointing to a third door on the same wall as the one that held the doorways to their apartments. “Toshi-san had that suite turned into a mini-gym. It’s not extensive but it serves our needs. I talked him into a lap pool last year. Door on the other side leads to Toshi-san’s rooms. Stairs there lead down to the offices and public space.”
Mick followed Alec to the well disguised, but oddly unadorned, spiral stairwell. It occurred to him that the entire collection of rooms had an almost minimalist approach to things and the stairs continued the trend. Just styled enough to be less than Spartan but a far cry from ornate.
The stairs turned them down to a repeat of the living space above. Only this time the furnishings were classically elegant and far less comfortable. The colors went from tans and soft earth tones to rich, deep blues and greens accented in dark woods. Chairs and sofas clustered together in convenient conversational groups, highlighting the still impressive view out the wall of windows. A formal dining room with a large dark wood table so highly polished it shined sat behind half closed French doors.
“There’s a second kitchen back behind the dining room. In theory this is where Toshi-san does his formal entertaining. That’s Toshi-san’s office. My office is the front half of his.” Alec pointed to the closed door. He’d left it open when he’d gone down to meet Mick. “This here will be your office.”
Alec led them to the door closer to the one that lead out into the main hallway and opened it. “Again, if you want to redecorate feel free. I took the liberty of setting it up. We’ve been using it mostly for storage.”
The room wasn’t large but it was certainly more space then he needed. There was a small round table off to one side with several generic office chairs around it. A wide, dark wood desk was set so the person using it would face the door, file cabinets were placed within easy reach. A tv screen was again mounted to the wall and a computer workstation was set up. The colors and style reflected the same general, classic rich tones and styles of the bottom floor.
“It should work fine. Thank you.”
“I’ve filed the mail we’ve received by date. I’m sure you’ll work out your own system from there.”
“How does the mail work? Do you receive it all or is it sorted?”
“The building mail room sorts and scans for obvious threats. Then we receive it in two stacks, those on the list of personal contacts and those not.”
“I’d like to receive the second stack directly.”
“Of course. I…” Alec had developed a sense of where his employer was. It was almost essential given how quietly Toshi moved around. “Well, it looks like you’ll get to meet sooner than later. Toshi-san?” He barely heard the suppressed sigh and the quiet footsteps moving from office to kitchen froze.
Mick turned surprised that anyone was behind them. His hearing was excellent but there’d been nothing to give the other man away. He was standing between the offices and the dining room. In one hand he held a stone ware mug obviously heading to find a refill of whatever had been inside, the other, curled into a loose fist. Mick could see little of the man he’d now be expected to keep alive expect a waist length curtain of black hair so glossy it reflected the light. He quickly noted the simple dress pants and casual button down shirt both finely made but the man’s feet were clothed in tabi socks.
“Behave.” Alec warned in a voice too soft for Mick to hear but knew Toshi would catch the very softly whispered warning. “Mr. McKale, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Toshi Ranvier.“ It was a force of will not to grin and darken Toshi’s mood further. His friend was so glum looking at having been caught slipping like a thief for another mug of tea that he nearly laughed. “Toshi-san, this is Mr. A.R. McKale, the security agent I spoke to you about.”
Mick kept his hands at his side and bowed to nearly thirty degrees. “Hajimemashite.”
Toshi found himself bowing back on instinct. Caught off guard and surprised, some of his unhappiness at the entire situation was put on hold. “Ohayo gozaimasu. You aren’t Japanese.”
“No, my command of the language is limited too, sir.” Mick stood from his bow and it was only from long exposure to the I/S community that kept any visible sign of how startled he was from his face.
Mick wasn’t sure if he was expecting a half breed to simply look more human or less but there was little doubt that the I/S heritage was dominant in the man before him. The eyes were far too large, nearly double the size of a standard humans and they carried the extreme colors of an I/S. Toshi’s eyes were clear, sky blue, nearly crystal and combined with the larger than human size it was the feature that dominated his face. The shape had just the hint of an Asian form, coming to a slight almond point which only accented the color and size. His skin was golden but several shades too light to be purely Asian. He was a handsome man, strong featured and exotic. Not tall but neither short, Mick guessed they were of a similar height.
The oddest thing was his hair. While it may have become trendy for many in the I/S community to dye their hair in shades of dark brown and even black, their eyelashes and eye brows still showed their natural colors. Toshi’s hair wasn’t a dye job. The midnight black length of his hair matched his eyebrows and eyelashes and was the only outward sign of his mixed blood. He was a stunning man. Powerful, graceful and Mick found himself startled by the sheer presence of the half breed. Mick was suddenly very grateful that he knew the other wore an inhibitor so his very uneasy thoughts wouldn’t cloud the first impression he presented.
“Well,” Toshi glanced from Alec to the far younger than he’d expected security officer. “It was nice meeting you. Now, you’re fired, go away.” He caught Alec’s harsh look as he turned away to continue to the kitchen for more tea. The amusement he found in Alec’s reaction to his rebellion was almost going to be worth the lecture it was sure to produce.
“Don’t listen to him, he can’t fire you.” Alec forced out when Toshi had cleared the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen. He turned to face their new recruit, expecting to find uncertainty, worry or even anger on his face but found only the same unreadable distance the other man wore so easily.
Mick drew another slow, easy breath and deliberately forced himself to relax. “I thought he was my employer.”
“Well, he is but I run his household. Technically, you work for me because other wise we’d never be able to hire anyone. Toshi would fire them all on the spot. Why don’t you go back upstairs and get settled in?” He forced the warm smile back on his face and had little doubt the other man saw through it.
“Sure.” Mick wandered back to the stairs. “This is going to be fun.” He mumbled to himself as he made his way out of sight.