Chapter 36: A Clear and Present Danger
After having relieved himself, Rei checked his appearance in the mirror.
For today, his outfit consisted of a white, hooded leather jacket, and jeans, with a red bandanna wrapped around his neck that he could use as a face mask if necessary. Mancini and Pinocchio had chosen similar outfits for themselves, too. From what they said, the intent was to masquerade as members of a gang or otherwise some organized crime group, the better to discourage other people to come too close.
The place wasn't bad, either, thought Rei as the faucet automatically rinsed his hands as he placed them under it. They'd chosen to have lunch here at Café Momotaro, where the food was good and the prices weren't too high. In fact, according to Pinocchio, this particular establishment held a special meaning to them, given that this was where Daniel treated them to either lunch or dinner, usually once every one or two months.
That wasn't very surprising, not really; after all, Daniel had already established himself in Rei's eyes as someone who could be very generous when so inclined. While he could be a jackass at times, neither could it be argued that he cared very much for every one of his men. Indeed, such generosity on his part was one of the reasons Daniel Cross was quite obviously respected and beloved by his team.
What Rei did find interesting, though, was the fact that the head chef at this place had once been was one of their own: a guy named Yukishiro, who according to Mancini was equally adept at combat and reconnaissance work. And, quite obviously, the guy must have had more than his fair share of talent in the kitchen as well, if his status as head chef of a restaurant like this was any indication.
"Hell," Mancini said suddenly, looking up briefly from his chicken curry as Rei rejoined them, "All of Daniel's treats are like that, actually. No matter how good the food, we've all learned to keep our ears peeled for any particularly juicy bit of information as well. You understand what I mean, don't you, Rei?"
Indeed, he did. Rei didn't need Daniel's training for him to know that all kinds of people frequented bars and restaurants, and that trips to such establishments could double as veritable learning experiences provided that one opened himself to them. He could literally sit in a coffee shop with a paperback book or a laptop computer in front of him, while at the same time snatching bits and pieces of ongoing conversations around him.
Nor, for that matter, was he ignorant of the asset posed by having good listening skills. Indeed, Rei's listening skills were among the many talents that had so far been seeing him through his college career despite his disinclination to take down notes. Some might have called it eavesdropping, but then, there was no such thing as a bad skill – only a bad use for it.
"Are you enjoying the food?"
The voice, new and unfamiliar, made Rei look up. It was a lean, handsome young man in a crisp, white business suit, with dark eyes and high cheekbones that gave him the appearance of some kind of ninja assassin. Looking at him, Rei guessed that this was the guy Mancini and Pinocchio had been telling him about: Yukishiro, master chef and sometime member of Daniel's band of merry men.
"Oh, hi, Weasel!" Pinocchio called brightly at the sight of the new arrival, cheeky grin on his face as their old comrade joined them. "Why don't you join us? You're not too busy to sit down with old friends, I hope?"
The man in white obliged, an embarrassed look on his face as he took the seat beside the blond-haired youth. "I see you're still the same as ever, Pinocchio – or, rather, Giuliano Conti," he corrected himself, noticeably smirking at the reproachful look on Pinocchio's face.
"And, please, don't give me that look. I was just returning the favor. I did ask you repeatedly not to call me by that nickname, you know."
Before Pinocchio could answer, though, the bell rang as the door swung open again. And as it did, a girl with dark eyes and long, dark hair with orange highlights walked in, followed by another girl, whose brown eyes and petite frame gave off the image of vulnerability.
Looking at them, Rei thought the two girls looked familiar; uncomfortably so, in fact. The first of them was someone he used to call 'mother' in another life, and whose slaps across the face had once been the only thing that could keep him in line. As for the other one, she was someone who had once been saved from a sticky situation by a girl he considered as a surrogate older sister.
"Rei, this is Yukishiro, Café Momotaro's head chef and our old friend," offered Mancini to Rei even as his two comrades continued to laugh good-naturedly beside him. He remained unaware of the recent unwelcome development, a friendly grin on his face as he added: "Itachi Yukishiro, who, however much he might not like it, also happens to be known to some by the callsign 'Weasel'. Anyway-"
"Not now, Matt, something's come up," Rei cut him off hurriedly, getting to his feet before turning his attention to Yukishiro. "It's an honor to meet you, sir. We can't stay, though – Daniel's orders, he-"
Rei was cut off himself as Yukishiro silenced him with the wave of a hand, nodding in understanding as he did so.
"No worries, I understand perfectly," he smiled knowingly at the youth. "I take it those girls over there are your friends, then?"
"Yeah," Rei answered, sneaking a glance at Shana, who was giving orders to the waitress 'com who had chosen to attend to them both. Thankfully she hadn't seemed to notice him yet, but he had no intention of risking it now. As Daniel said, he'd already come so far in the training; Rei knew that it wouldn't do for him to allow himself to get distracted now.
"Would you mind if we left through the back door? Daniel's given me orders, said I'm not allowed to make any form of contact with friends or family while we're off for the day."
"Right. I understand." Yukishiro stood up now, as did Mancini and Pinocchio. "Believe it or not, Daniel trained me the same way, too."
Rei paid marginal attention to Yukishiro as he talked of his own experience during his time as one of Daniel's trainees, having instead chosen that moment to sneak a second, surreptitious glance at Shana. He had mixed feelings about Daniel's rule, to say the least. On one hand, he understood full well the necessity of an Assassin being able to deceive and hide from those closest to him, knowing that he might need to do so in order to ensure their safety. At the same time, though, he couldn't stop himself from feeling at least a little guilty as he did so.
And even though he had learned, if only out of necessity, to block out his guilt at having lied to Freya back there, it continued to haunt him in his moments alone.
"Alright, then," said Yukishiro suddenly, recalling Rei to his surroundings. "Follow me, the back door's in the kitchen."
The four comrades wasted no time getting up and leaving their table, Rei noticeably pulling up his hood on the way out. Unable to help himself, however, he chanced yet another look at Nanako and Shana just before closing the door behind them.
And when his and Shana's eyes met, Rei hastily looked away, praying hard as he did so that she hadn't recognized him.
Unfortunately for Rei, however, she did.
Both of them did.
It had happened so fast; she was busy chatting with Nanako about recent movies they felt like watching, or about artists whose albums they felt like getting in the near future – typical teenage talk, in other words. It was then, too, that they briefly locked eyes, just as she was telling off one of her girls for a perceived slight, and as he was pulling up his hood. However briefly though their eyes had met, that moment was enough for Shana to recognize just who it was she had seen.
"Shana," Nanako hissed, nudging the other girl's arm gently with her elbow. "Isn't that-?"
"Yeah, I know," she whispered in reply. And as she did so, Shana couldn't help but feel simultaneously awed and irked at the fact that Rei's new friends seemed to be acquainted with the manager of this place. Indeed, 'acquainted' was putting it loosely, given that they even seemed to be on a first-name basis with each other. If nothing else, it meant that that guy, Daniel Cross, had was very well-connected indeed – which would make it hard to nail the jackass for what they did to her friend.
After about a minute, the manager came back. Now's my chance.
Shana raised her hand, while at the same time trying to catch the manager's eye.
"Yes, what is it?" he said, coming over to their table after having seen her. "I'm Itachi Yukishiro, manager of this restaurant. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Why, yes, as a matter of fact, there is," said Shana politely, but with the same intimidating air that had allowed her to keep Rei in line all those times.
"That guy you were chatting with earlier was a friend of mine. You wouldn't mind telling me where he was headed, would you?"
Yukishiro's face remained carefully cordial, but it was the way he shifted that told Shana all she needed to know. Even so, he was somehow able to recover, giving her a charming smile as he answered her question. "I'm really sorry, miss, but I can't do that. It's true that they're my friends, but it's still their business what they do and where they go-"
"Please don't give me that," Shana replied, voice shaking as she injected as much force into her tone as she could. "I know you know, and I know who all of you work for."
Yukishiro was taken aback at the words coming from the mouth of the girl in front of him. "I'm afraid I don't understand, miss. Have I somehow upset you?" Privately, he understood just why that kid Rei wanted to avoid this girl. The moment he returned to them, they'd surely tear him limb from limb, in addition to what their little angel had in store for him.
"Don't give me your bullshit!" Shana finally lost her temper, eyes flashing as she suddenly stood up to glare at the man in white. "I know that you've all been training him into a killer. I also know for a fact that that guy Daniel manipulated him into running off to join you, so drop it already! Tell us where they've gone!"
"And I wouldn't try anything funny if I were you," added Nanako, the uncharacteristic assertiveness on her part surprising the girl with her. "My father's a high ranking member of a certain gentlemen's club, and they don't like foreigners messing around in their territory. Abstergo or not, Templar or not – what, you think we didn't know? – even you guys probably wouldn't want to cross him. Even if you survived it, there's no way any of you would make it out unscathed."
Outwardly, Yukishiro kept his cool. As he stared at the two girls, though, part of him wanted to laugh at the threats they had made against them. Of course they kept tabs on what went on in this city, including the activities that went on in certain sectors; indeed, he was certain that his clientele included members of those gentlemen's clubs the smaller girl had mentioned. More importantly, Daniel and the others had survived worse; whatever threat came their way, it was unlikely be beyond their ability to deal with.
On the other hand, he knew perfectly well what their little angel was capable of. Sometimes, he thought, it was preferable to let your opponent have a small victory, if only to avoid having to suffer an even more crushing loss later on.
"…Very well, then. Ammy?"
At his words, the persocom waitress who had attended to them earlier came out of the kitchen, taking her place right beside him. "Yes, master?"
"Could you contact Tsuki for me?"
Yukishiro retreated into his mind as Ammy acknowledged his request.
Amaterasu and Tsukiyomi – Ammy and Tsuki for short – were Yukishiro's persocoms, who assisted him in his daily tasks. When they weren't acting as waitresses for the restaurant, they were his personal assistants and bodyguards – and friends, as well, to the extent that one could be friends with a persocom. At times, too, the two could also be counted on to warm him up on those cold nights alone. And so, for today, Daniel had asked him to have one of them tail Rei and company, the better to keep them safe.
"Tsuki says they're still in the vicinity, and that they're safe so far," Ammy informed him in a few seconds, visibly hesitating as she did so. "But…"
"She says someone else is following them, too. A redheaded woman, in a black dress."
Yukishiro watched the two girls take their leave, leaving behind an extremely generous tip as they did so. He'd just have to text Daniel – and, for that matter, Mancini and Pinocchio – about what happened.
Even as he did so, however, Itachi Yukishiro couldn't help but shake the feeling of a clear and present danger, one that would soon make itself known.
Whatever it was, something big was about to go down. One way or another, things would never be the same after today.
In Chateau Solange's conference room, Daniel Cross frowned as the phone suddenly rang.
"Hello?" he asked tentatively. He was in the middle of his investigation on Reina, and he didn't like what he discovered. And given how this phone call had distracted him from his task, he wasn't in a very good mood as he brought the phone to his ear. Indeed, it was all he could do to keep the irritation from making itself obvious in his tone of voice.
"…Daniel." The voice of Dr. Warren Vidic greeted him.
"I have to say, Daniel…"
"I'm very disappointed in you."
"Clear out of Chateau Solange. And I do mean right now."
"You'd better appreciate this, Daniel. It's the last favor I'll ever do for you."
Then the line went dead.