Lo! Death has reared herself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest...
No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently--
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free--
Up domes-- up spires-- up kingly halls--
Up fanes-- up Babylon-like walls--
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculpted ivy and stone flowers--
Up many and many a marvelous shrine
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.
Theresa was awakened by a gentle tapping on her shoulder. She stirred slightly in the padded chair.
"Miss Morraine, your transaction is ready. The bank president will see you now."
Theresa opened her eyes to see a fresh faced, thoroughly scrubbed young man standing over her. She squinted and read his brass nameplate: Tom.
"Hullo Tom. Have I been asleep long?" Reluctantly, she got up. The faux leather chair made squeaking noises like it was sorry to see her go.
"You were here before I started my shift, but I'd guess, maybe, four or five hours?" he offered helpfully, "If you'll just follow me." He led her toward the back offices.
Five hours... It was longer than she was hoping for, but less time than she was expecting. The pair came to a door, which he opened for her. "Right inside."
The bank president was overweight and balding, but surprisingly energetic. He pumped her hand firmly before offering her a chair and sitting down himself.
"You must have urgent business, so I won't keep you long. Just some final papers to sign."
Theresa nodded eagerly, trying and failing not to grin like an idiot.
Mr. Theresa-hadn't-read-the-name-on-the-door-before-coming-in placed a large briefcase on the desktop and opened it for her examination. "You're more than welcome to count it, if you like. I can certainly make the time for you."
"Nah, I'm sure it's all there. I've never had any problems with this place."
The man looked genuinely pleased at the comment. He slid a paper and pen across the desk, "Very well, when you're satisfied you have the full amount, if you'll just sign this receipt..." There was the sound of violent scratching and he found the form back in front of him before he had quite finished talking. He looked down at the dotted line and saw in large, curvy letters:
Theresa A. Morraine
And that was that. He reached over to give her another enthusiastic handshake. "Naturally, we are always sad to lose such an excellent customer."
Odd, Theresa thought, he certainly doesn't seem all that sad. Of course, that was probably because of the massive cut they were taking from her assets as a withdrawal fee. She stopped to turn that thought over in her head a moment. Her assets. Theresa's grin now threatened to split her face.
"I certainly hope you will keep us in mind for your future banking needs," he concluded as he followed her to the door.
"I certainly will. It's been a pleasure doing business with you." Indeed it has. The briefcase was heavy. And it was full of her assets.
"If you wish, we can, as a courtesy, arrange for secure transportation to your place of business."
"Oh, that won't be necessary. I have my own arrangements."
"Of course, of course. Well then, I wish you a very pleasant day."
"It's looking better every minute."
Theresa stepped out of the bank's main doors and blinked for a moment in the bright sun. Then she slung the briefcase over her shoulder and all but swaggered down the sidewalk. Filthy. Stinking. Rich. She thought to herself. I am such a bad girl for this.
Noticing something, Theresa slowed down and stopped. Leaning against a building not a block ahead and looking directly at her, was Kenneth van Ellison.
"Oh dear," that was probably serious trouble, "and I thought I was just going to get shot today." Still, no turning back now. Theresa's hand snaked behind her to the small of her back and around the handle of her knife. She started walking again, a bit slower, while she tried to think up some really good lies.
Kenneth was her older brother's best friend and business partner. And one of the very few people who could really get under her skin. He'd been around for as long as she could remember. To the best of Theresa's knowledge, he had no family, no past and no great willingness to explain himself. He was also far too pretty to be real. Theresa could never decide whether she thought he was a synthetic, a genetic upgrade, or just the product of good old-fashioned cosmetic surgery. Regardless, his face wasn't natural and with his long, blond hair, he could pass for a woman if he didn't always wear the same perfectly cut grey suits.
"And just where do you think you're going?" he asked as she approached.
"Oh, hey Ken. I was just, y'know, out for a walk." Idiot!
He looked at her intently over the silver rims of his glasses. "Really? What a coincidence. So was I," he pushed himself off the wall. "Won't you walk with me for a bit?"
"Ummmm." I-have-a-plane-to-catch. I-have-a-plane-to-catch. I-have-a-plane-to-catch. If I'm seen walking around Hong Kong today, I am going to die. "Sure."
"How nice. Let's head," he paused as if trying to remember something, "east. The winds are blowing oddly today."
Theresa followed him without bothering to ask what he meant. He wouldn't have told her anyway. They walked for several minutes together in silence. Her nervousness at being caught was slowly replaced by curiosity at what exactly his angle was.
"Cigarette?" he offered. Theresa looked over to see him extending an expensive looking cigarette case to her.
"Hey, thanks!" She lit up and began to puff. All thoughts of being hunted by dangerous men were now far out of her mind. Kenneth had excellent taste in smokes. They were smooth and sweet and he stubbornly refused to tell her where he got them. Even little secrets would simply not be wheedled out of him.
Theresa took another puff and then considered the cigarette: It was long, thin and feminine looking. Just like everything about Kenneth, actually. His hands were long, thin and feminine. His legs and body were long, thin and feminine. His face was long, thin and feminine, for God's sake. Ditto his hair. She stole a look at his crotch and wondered for a moment. Well... why not?
"It's none of your concern." How the hell did he do that?
Several more minutes passed without comment. Theresa found herself getting edgy again.
"I'll be going back soon," he spoke up unexpectedly, "is this a long walk that you're going on?"
"Yeah. I think so. I won't be back 'til late." Real late, she mentally added.
Kenneth sighed, "I figured as much." A minute passed in silence as he stared at the briefcase that Theresa was currently whitening her knuckles on, "You really have no scruples at all, do you?"
"Scruples... scruples... isn't that some kind of candy?" Theresa looked thoughtful, "Little chalky, crunchy discs; they come in rolls?"
"I believe you are thinking of Necco Wafers." Kenneth took a drag.
"Oh yeah! I used to love those! I haven't had them in years. Do they still even sell them? I never see them anymore."
"There will always be Necco Wafers. They just get harder and harder to find," he stopped walking and looked around briefly. "Let's sit a moment."
The two of them found chairs at an outdoor cafˇ. Kenneth waved the waiter away before refocusing his attention on her. "So, do you want to tell me what happened last night?"
Theresa helped herself to another one of his cigarettes, "Why? You already know, don't you? You know everything, after all."
Kenneth nodded completely without irony, "I was just curious if you had any interesting embellishments. They found Xia Liang's body this morning. It's not going to take them long to figure out who's responsible. Exactly why did you feel the need to stab her death with a pair of scissors?"
"I wanted to see what would happen."
Kenneth nodded seriously as though Theresa had given him a perfectly reasonable answer. "Well, most of the time when you stab someone, they scream and bleed and die."
Theresa shrugged, "That's what happened last time. I wanted to see what would happen this time."
"What happened this time?"
"The same thing."
"I think you've gotten yourself in over your head this time. Have you given any thought to what you're going to do now?" His tone was the same as if he was asking what she was ordering for lunch.
"Go west, maybe. Go into business for myself."
"You really have no idea, do you? No plans, no equipment, no useful contacts outside of Hong Kong?"
She grinned and shook her head, "Okay, you got me. My bust. I'm sure everything will work out, though. It always does."
"Your optimism is stronger than your sanity." Kenneth reached into his wallet and withdraw a slip of paper, "Then allow me to make a suggestion: On your way to wherever you're going, make a stop in Mega Tokyo. Call this number. She'll be able to assist you in getting whatever you think you'll need. And take this." He produced an ordinary looking flip style cellular phone. "I've taken the liberty of having it billed to your credit card. It's been tweaked by a friend of mine. Attempts to trace the signal will reveal that the caller is somewhere in Iceland. It should come in handy." Kenneth stopped and a smile played around the corners of his mouth, "Unless, of course, you're planning on going to Iceland."
"You sweetheart!" Theresa bounced up and gave him a fierce squeeze, "How can I ever thank you?"
Still sitting rather stiffly with her arms around him, Kenneth glared at her, "Don't come back."
"Okay, okay, I'm already gone," she gave him a peck on the cheek, "and tell big brother I'm sorry." Theresa dashed off before he could say anything else.
Kenneth sat alone at the cafˇ for a few minutes. He ordered an iced tea and checked his watch. He also looked completely unsurprised when Theresa ran back up to the table and without a word, snatched the briefcase from where she'd left it sitting next to her chair before tearing off again.
Once she was out of sight for a second time, Kenneth took out his own phone and dialed.
"Hello... Oh, I'm fine. How's business? That's good to hear... Really? Anyway, I'm afraid this isn't a social call; I need a favor... No, no, nothing like that. I just want to see if you can fit someone into your busy schedule for me... Probably tomorrow... That would be wonderful. Thank you very much... No, that's all. Another time, maybe... Goodbye."
He placed the phone on the table and steepled his fingers. That had actually been the easy part. Now he needed a way to gently tell his best friend that his younger sister, who he loved more than anything, had both run away and cleaned them out in the same day.
In front of the small, but well maintained building that housed the Wu Long School of Kung Fu, Yao Wu Long stood with a broom in his hands, watching Theresa walk up the path. She stopped a good ten feet away, folded her hands and gave a curt bow.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't my worst student. Don't give me that 'Master' crap. Class was at seven o'clock this morning."
She met his withering gaze with her usual excessive smile. "There's a seven o'clock 'in the morning' now? Preposterous." He waved the broom at her threateningly and she backed up, "Hey, hey, hey, I'm just kidding. Something came up. I've got to skip town. I won't be able to come around here anymore. I just came to say good-bye."
"You'll excuse me while I dance for joy. The thought of you no longer being able to corrupt my daughter brings happiness to an old man's heart."
"Oh come on," Theresa tried to sound hurt while still grinning like a crocodile, "I can't have been all that bad."
"You skipped lessons frequently, disrupted the other students when you could be bothered to come, never applied yourself and anything you did learn, you corrupted. You are a complete failure."
"So how come you never threw me out?"
"I was gouging you on the cost for lessons. Having you enrolled allowed me to teach a few underprivileged kids who actually gave a damn."
For a second, her expression was unreadable, "You sneaky. Old. Bastard!" Theresa was laughing now and sounding quite sincere at it. "Seriously, is Lu Wu here?"
"I sent her on some errands this morning. After class. The class that she taught for me because she thought you might actually show up. She won't be back until this evening."
Theresa looked sad for the first time. "Oh. Damn. It looks like I'm going to miss her then. I can't hang around that long," she kicked an errant rock. "Actually, I've got to leave right this instant if I want to make my flight. Tell her I came by, won't you? Oh!" Her hand shot out and grabbed his wrist as she pulled out a pen, "Give her this; it's my new phone number," Theresa quickly inked it onto his palm. "Okay, I've really, really got to go now!"
She was gone before he could think of any fresh insults. Yao grumbled as he put the broom away and went back inside. As he walked through his living room, he glanced over at his daughter, Lu Wu Long, sprawled across the sofa with a book. She looked up when she heard him come in, "Hey Dad. What's up?"
He smiled easily, "I just thought I'd start dinner early. Any preferences?" He walked by and into the kitchen.
"Not really. Hey, were you talking to someone outside?"
Yao turned on the faucet in the kitchen sink and began to lather up his hands, "Religious proselytizer. Something about the world was coming to an end. I tried to be polite, but he just ended up talking my ear off."
He heard laughter coming from the other room, "You're just too nice sometimes, Dad."
"Indeed," Yao considered his freshly scrubbed hand. She had managed to grab it before he could react. And he hadn't even noticed she had gotten that close. Maybe he was getting old. Or maybe she wasn't a complete failure. He put the matter out of his mind and began to slice vegetables. Mercifully, the girl wasn't his problem anymore.
Theresa stepped off the transorbital in Mega Tokyo and took her first breath of free air. Free air smelled curiously recycled, she decided. She skipped the baggage claim since all she had was the briefcase she'd carried on and the clothes on her back.
She'd been in Mega Tokyo twice before; on both occasions, she'd only managed to get stupidly drunk, but she had a vague idea of what she was looking for. Her appointment wasn't until 5:00 and she had until then to do what a freshly affluent young woman does: buy new clothes.
Theresa strode out of the terminal and hailed a cab. She remembered being impressed with the quality of Japanese taxis and was not disappointed. The interior was very clean and smelled nice. The driver wore an immaculate uniform and spotless white gloves. Theresa settled into the back seat, pulled out a cigarette and held it up questioningly. The driver glanced back and nodded. Theresa lit up for the first time in three whole hours. She puffed for a bit without saying anything; the driver offered no complaint and did not drop the meter. Very nice indeed. Finally, she pointed forward and said, "Take me to the really expensive stores."
Nabiki Tendo drummed her fingers impatiently on the table and checked her watch as she watched the young woman approach her booth. Eight and one-half minutes late.
"Sorry, I'm late," Theresa explained breathlessly as she sat down. The inverted crosses dangling from her ears swayed back and forth hypnotically, "I had to get all of my things to a hotel."
Nabiki made a dismissive noise and fixed her with a glare that she might have noticed if she'd been paying attention. "Let's get right to business then. What, exactly, would you have me do for you?"
"I'll need some guns. Plenty of guns. A few pistols, a shotgun or two... a rifle, nothing too unusual. Except for this one," Theresa made a small notation on her datapad and handed it to the fixer.
Nabiki glanced over the list. "This shouldn't be a problem. What else?"
"I also need some pretty extensive cyberware."
Nabiki frowned. "Cyberware is a very vague term, Miss Morraine. Did you have anything in particular in mind?"
Theresa took the datapad back and brought up a new list before handing it over again. "I want all of this, oh, and I'll need a competent cyberdoctor to install it all."
This time, Nabiki did a double take as she read over the specifications. She looked intently at the other woman. Taking great effort not to sound condescending, "Do you have any idea how expensive this is going to be?"
Abruptly, Theresa's grin faded. "You mean you can't get it?" she asked in a worried tone.
"Of course I can get it." Nabiki's tone and expression were icy. For someone of her status, the question was downright insulting, "I just wanted you to be aware that I am a professional and I do not appreciate having my time wasted."
Theresa's vacuous smile had already returned. "Oh, good," she said with a happy little sigh, "I didn't know of anyone else who could help me if you couldn't." She hummed cheerfully to herself and began tracing the wood grain on the chair with her fingertips.
Ever mindful of her professional composure, Nabiki sighed inwardly. The girl was obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed. "Is that all?"
"Huh? Oh yeah. That's it."
Nabiki rapidly scribbled a number on a slip of paper and slid it across the table. "When you have the money, deposit it into this account. We'll work from there."
"Oh, that won't be necessary." Theresa slung her briefcase onto the table. "I brought cash." There was a snap as Theresa opened the clasps and turned it to face the fixer.
"You... brought... cash?" Nabiki stared at the neatly arranged rows of bills. This time, her sigh was audible; Theresa still didn't notice. "Tell me, is that the same briefcase you've been carrying around the city with you all day?"
"Uh-huh. Why?" Theresa nodded, setting her earrings in motion again.
"No reason. Just curious. Well, it would appear that our business is concluded. I'll contact you in several days with the details."
"No problemo; talk to you later." Theresa gave the other woman a ridiculously girly wave and immediately got up and began to make her way to the door, still smiling incessantly.
Nabiki's eyes followed her until she left. Once the girl was gone, she flipped open her phone and hit an autodial key. "Hello, Kitten? No, I'm still at the restaurant. Could you come over her right away? I'm going to need an escort." She paused, "No, no trouble. I'll explain later."
Several minutes later her phone rang. Slightly curious, she answered.
"Oh, hello Kenneth."
"Did you see her?"
"Yes, she just left."
"Sorry to send her your way. I didn't want to foist her on you, but you seemed the best choice at the time. I hope she didn't cause you any trouble."
"Not especially. A little on the odd side, but I've had far less cooperative customers. Her money's as green as anyone else's, really."
"Well, it wasn't exactly her money. She made an 'unauthorized withdrawal' right before she left."
Nabiki took a long, careful look at the briefcase in front of her. "And you just let her leave?" she asked incredulously.
"All of the alternatives were even less appealing. Kether would never have forgiven me if I'd let the Triad get her. Besides, if she uses it to get herself killed, it will be the best money I ever spent."
"My, how cold you can be."
"I just like to consider myself pragmatic. I'm sure you, of all people, would understand."
Kenneth could hear her smile over the phone.
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