Chapter 23: the Bargain
Makoto had managed to score the location and security footage by the time the team was on their way out. She was pressing her comms unit into her ear when Chester stopped by her station.
She was silent for a long minute. She wanted to be on the mission with him. Maybe if she hadn’t gotten knocked to the bottom she might have been allowed to go. “I’ll send you directions when you get in the car.”
Chester didn’t answer. He didn’t seem to know how to behave around this new version of Makoto.
Sensing his distress, she softened. “Be careful, Chess.” She whispered at last.
“Makoto,” He responded after a hesitation, and then followed the team out the door.
And then she was alone in the room, with only her computer for company. She wasn’t scared. She wasn’t nervous. Makoto found peace and fulfillment in solitude. In fact, her only grievance to speak of was that she couldn’t risk leaving her post to make herself a cup of green tea.
By the time the team had reached the location, Makoto had already cased the joint. Through her view from the traffic cameras, she watched Chester’s car pull into the closest parking lot.
“Want my advice?” She piped up before they got a chance to get out of the car. Makoto’s eyes flashed around the screen, getting a pretty good idea of the security they’d have to deal with.
There were three men just inside the chain link fence that blocked the team’s entrance. There were two guys behind the front door of the dairy factory that Christina was holed up in.
“Only if it’s beneficial to the mission.” Chester responded.
What else would it pertain to? How to get blood stains out of Kevlar?
That was morbid.
Where did that come from?
“Your best, fastest entrance is to ram the gate and drive through the front door.” Makoto informed him matter-of-factly.
“Mako, I know you’ve never been in the Army, so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and inform you that I have neither the salary nor the insurance to buy a new car.” Chester told her flatly.
Makoto rolled her eyes.
“The worst you’re going to do is scratch your paint.” Uriel scoff.
“You drive a monster truck.” Tadashi added.
“You coddle your monster too much, Chess. Let the beast loose.” Makoto pushed, wondering if she was actually going to be able to talk him into risking the damage of his precious, cherry-red monster truck.
He began to moan in her ear.
She looked over at the cameras. “Get moving, Soldier. Looks like they’re packing up.” There were wooden crates and metal tubs all over the place. A couple of Christina’s soldiers were loading the crates into moving trucks.
Makoto actually heard Chester apologize to his truck before he started the engine again. She watched him back out of his parking space and floor it nose-first through the chain link, plowing right past the three guards.
Makoto heard him whimper as though he’d just used himself as the battering ram.
She almost felt bad.
“Once you get inside, hang a left.” She ordered, chewing on her bottom lip anxiously. It was too easy.
Christina was just sitting there.
It was like she was waiting for them.
“Be careful, guys. I don’t like this.” She warned as they all spilled out of the completely unharmed vehicle and took off down the left hallway.
A few seconds later, Uriel reached forward and grabbed Chester’s sleeve, pulling him to a halt. “Wait, stop.” She hissed, holding a signaling hand out to Tadashi as well.
Both men fell absolutely still.
Makoto sourced the screen, searching painstakingly for whatever had alarmed the ENIGMA agent. “What is it?” She finally demanded.
“Trip wire.” Uriel responded, taking an animated step over an invisible obstacle. The men followed her example, completely and utterly silent.
Makoto didn’t realize that she had been holding her breath until they were safely sprinting down the hallway once again, albeit carefully searching for any other traps that might be set for them.
“When you get to the corner, slow down. She’s in the room that the hallway turns into.” Makoto instructed, noting with alarm that Christina’s men were arming themselves and getting into position around their boss.
Nearing the corner, the team began to slow.
“I’m 98% sure she knows you’re coming. Your welcoming committee strongly resembles a firing squad.” Makoto warned.
The team pressed themselves against the wall, obviously forming a plan to face their enemy head-on. Then Uriel pulled two hand grenades from her belt and passed them to Chester.
He pulled the pins and hurled them into the room where Christina and her men were watching.
The following explosions took out both cameras in that room, so Makoto turned back to the hallway screens in time to see all three of her friends drop to their stomachs as wild, disoriented gunfire was discharged in every direction.
Makoto noted with grim satisfaction that the hostiles all carried fully automatics.
Within three seconds, they’d emptied their magazines.
Chester took that tiny gap of silence to lead his team into the room.
Makoto lost her visibility then, but heard only a few more gun shots and a lot of coughing. She waited with baited breath as moans and outcries of pain filled her ears.
She heard bodies falling and gunfire quieting.
“Guys?” Makoto questioned softly.
She closed her eyes and silently promised herself that if they were dead, she’d run Christina down until the woman had no choice but to accept defeat, and then Makoto would kill herself.
But then a hunched over, staggering body became visible as it stumbled into the hallway. As the smoke cleared slightly, Makoto identified the woman as Christina.
The sight of her kindled Makoto’s anger against her.
“I’m insulted if you thought I was that stupid.” Christina’s hoarse voice rasped through Makoto’s earpiece.
For a second, the field coordinator worried that Christina had killed her friends and commandeered a comms unit.
But then a second voice answered, “Don’t waste your breath.”
Makoto relaxed, heart pounding loudly in her ears. Chester. Chester was alive, at least. Once she was done worrying that she’d have to tell Savannah that her entire team had bit the dust, she went back to watching their surroundings.
It was a good thing she got her head back in the game, too, because she was almost too late in seeing another group of soldiers heading straight for them.
“You’ve got seven armed hostiles coming in on your six.” Makoto told Chester, noting with relief the appearance of Uriel and Tadashi.
Christina leaned against the wall to catch her breath, completely at ease despite the three guns in her face. She was totally fine, of course. Though she had probably been in the middle of the blast, it had done no more than knock the wind out of her.
No sooner did the seven gunmen spill into the hall, surrounding their leader protectively did Uriel toss her rifle to Chester and lunge at the closest hostile.
Makoto watched with admiration as she fought.
By the time Chester had caught the rifle, Uriel’s first victim was already drooling into the carpet. Her style was an interesting one that was extremely satisfying to behold from a distance.
Unlike the work of the Guardian* or Midway**, which generally comprised of fluid, ballerina-level graceful motions of twirling and flipping and wrapping bodies around victims like boa constrictors, Uriel seemed to strongly follow the fight style of the Shadow***, or Agent Stone****.
That, of course, meant using strength as the foremost weapon. Primarily beating her opponents with heavy objects until they succumbed to the damage in one way or another.
It was actually kind of beautiful to witness that kind of power. Uriel Adams possessed so much strength that it only took one quick punch to the face to knock a man out cold.
Makoto especially appreciated when the woman swung her elbow into the fifth guy’s face and knocking him clear through the wall.
Tadashi had the remaining two on the ground in a matter of seconds, leaving the three of them alone with Christina once again.
She stared at them, looking extremely annoyed.
But Makoto’s eyes were fixed on a darkly-clad figure who was leaning nonchalantly against the wall behind everyone. Before she could warn the others, Tadashi was already turning on his heel and placing the man firmly on the other end of his sights. “Who is this guy?” He demanded lowly.
“No idea. Why don’t you ask him?” Makoto returned briskly. But, nonetheless, she tried her best to identify him. His suit, leather, if she were to guess, was completely black. It covered every inch of his body, including his neck and hair. His face was totally concealed by a black mask.
Meanwhile, Chester had gotten close enough to click a shiny pair of handcuffs over Christina’s wrists. The despicable woman was giving her captor the smuggest grin Makoto had ever seen.
“Where’s my plaything?” She asked in a low, almost sing-song voice. “She was so cooperative. I’d love to talk to her.”
“Try again.” Chester snapped. “You go near her again and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
Makoto rolled her eyes in irritation. Yeah, sure, she loved Chester for putting her protection above everything else. But she could do without the being made to look like a helpless infant. Her skin crawled at the darkness in his voice.
“You sure about that?” Christina smirked. “You seem to forget how capable I am of laughing at your weak attempts.” While she spoke slowly, in a lazy, deep-throated hum, there seemed to be no spaces or pauses between her words.
The way she spoke was almost ensnaring.
Makoto hated the way she was interested in how the evil witch spoke. That didn’t stop her, however, from catching the black guy’s slight movement. Makoto focused on him and found that he was holding a couple of hand grenades behind his back.
The field coordinator hastily informed Chester of the explosives and encouraged them to get going.
Uriel turned just in time to see the black guy hold the explosives in front of his face. She moved toward him but he immediately jerked the pins out.
“I’ll say this once.” He warned, his voice deep and scrambled. “Get out.”
Chester seized Christina’s arm and made a run for it, the others behind him. But just as he passed through the doorway, Christina bounced back against an invisible force.
There was nothing in her way.
What just happened?
Tadashi picked her up as he passed, but again she was prevent from leaving. The invisible barrier in the open doorway threw her off Tadashi’s shoulders, but let him through.
That was absurd.
“Chester, what’s happening?” Makoto demanded.
“Stop trying, I can’t get out.” Christina hummed.
“Why not?” Chester snapped. “What’s going on?”
Christina hooked a thumb back toward the black guy. “Grim Reaper here isn’t letting me leave. But, tell you what, if you shoot him, I’ll let your whole team live.”
“Get out of there, Chester.” Makoto said evenly.
Chester stepped back obediently. “Sorry.”
And then they were running.
12 seconds later, an explosion shook the building. Less than a second later it was joined by the second grenade. It didn’t take the team long to clear the building.
Makoto switched to the outdoor cameras, watching Chester stop and turn back to the building as nearly half of it went up in flames.
If they didn’t get Christina, then nothing came of that mission except for a little destruction of enemy property.
When a few long minutes passed and no one exited the factory, Chester reached for the doors again.
“Strapps, we don’t have the manpower to go back in for her.” Uriel argued. “That explosion would have attracted every able body in there and we can’t take them alone.”
Makoto waited silently to hear what they decided, choosing to search the cameras in the meantime. The entire factory staff had indeed arrived at the scene of the explosion, fighting to put out the fire.
The cameras in the room had been destroyed, but she caught sight of the black guy carrying Christina’s limp body out of the building. The time stamp on the footage put it five minutes ago.
They would have been long gone by then.
“Christina’s gone.” She told the team.
“Dead-gone?” Chester asked.
“Not sure. They guy who blew that hallway up hauled her out the back door about six minutes ago.” She responded swiftly, already working on following Grim Reaper’s trail.
“I guess we’re heading in, then.” Chester said resignedly.
Makoto worked in silence, but her thoughts were loud within the walls of her mind. She couldn’t help but wonder who the Grim Reaper was and what he wanted with Christina.
And she wanted to understand how he could both keep her in the room and render her unconscious or dead or whatever she was.
Plus, the way he saved the team but kept Christina suggested that he was fighting specifically with her. Either that, or it was a well thought out escape plan. In that case, they just lost Christina.
When the team returned, they brought the smell of sweat, smoke, and gunmetal with them.
“Well, that was a bust.” Chester commented, pulling up a chair to Makoto’s desk. “You finding anything?” He watched with interested as his friend searched for the Grim Reaper.
“Yeah, it was, except that you cut down a small number of her army.” Makoto responded positively, not pulling her eyes from the screen.
“Uriel was in contact with ENIGMA. They’ve already got a team over at the factory, dealing with everyone and everything that Christina left behind.” Chester told her, pulling his sidearm off of his belt and placing it on her desk.
While some students were allowed to carry on campus, it still raised eyebrows and drew undue attention to private operations.
Makoto was about to ask Chester to bring her green tea when her phone rang. She flipped it open and checked the number, but it was blocked. Thinking it was probably a member of her father’s security, she answered it. “Moshi moshi.”
Chester glanced at her curiously.
“Let me speak to the team leader.” Christina’s lulling voice ordered lowly.
Makoto’s expression settled in a scowl. “Why would I do that?”
“If you don’t, your father and brother will come home to a pile of rubble and a bunch of dead coworkers tomorrow. I don’t think you want that, do you?” The vile woman threatened.
Anger settled in Makoto’s chest as she clutched her cell phone with a death grip. Slowly, with shaking hands, she lowered it from her ear and hit the speaker button and gave Chester a pointed look.
He looked confused for a minute, straightening in his seat.
Finally, when she only continued to stare at him, he cleared his throat and said, “This is Chester Strapps.”
“I have a deal for you, Chester Strapps.” Christina said bringing a dark, hooded look to cross Chester’s face. His entire body tensed up and Makoto felt her desk trembling as he shook with fury.
“I’ll assume for your sake that you’re listening. You give me Makoto Akari and I will let everyone you love live.” Christina continued.
It was Akari Makoto.
“Try again, Christina.” Chester snapped venomously, drawing the attention of Tadashi and Uriel. They crowded around, listening intently.
“Alright, fine. Final offer: I get Makoto, I won’t blow up your school. Do we have a deal?” Christina’s voice oozed smug victory.
Makoto met Chester’s gaze.
Nobody said it had to go Christina’s way.
Anderson’s school was full of capable individuals.
That meant temporarily turning a bunch of kids into an army, but worse things had happened.
Chester nodded to her slowly.
“Where do we meet?” Makoto asked into the phone, not an ounce of hesitation in her voice.
“Four miles out of town—Cook’s Field.” Christina responded swiftly.
“No.” Makoto responded. “The School of Deduction. Parking lot 7. You pick the time.” There was no way she was letting Christina control everything. And she definitely wasn’t meeting an empty field with no one in sight.
Plus, Christina was less likely to go back on her deal if it meant getting her army caught in the explosion.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to—”
“I found you in under a week. If you blow up my school, you can bet on everything you hold dear that I will find you and utterly decimate you and everything you have. And while your army is comprised of a straggling few, I have over 25,000 men at my disposal. Do we have a deal or not?” Makoto uttered evenly.
It was true, too.
Anderson’s Christian School of Deduction had about 7,000 students.
ENIGMA had roughly 6,000 field agents.
Trinity had just under 9,000.
And if she asked nicely, Savannah might get her uncle’s 3,752 field ops at the Department of Ghost Investigation to chip in.
Chester raised an eyebrow at her, impressed.
Who doesn’t use a top-secret server to find out how many people work behind top-secret walls?
Was that illegal?
“That’s cute.” Christina commented. “But I’ll play your game. Parking lot 7, day after tomorrow. 4 AM.” There were a few seconds of silence before she added. “Come alone.”
The line went dead.
Makoto got to her feet and pocketed her phone. She had to take her anger somewhere that it wouldn’t hurt anybody. Her skin burned with the rage she felt against Christina. She didn’t understand why she was so important to the woman.
She couldn’t figure out why it had to be her.
Makoto left the room, reaching for her insulin.
If Christina were after Ronin, couldn’t she just bargain with him and get him to deal with her directly?
The same could be true for Hiroshida or Hybrid, too.
She had just administered the insulin when Tadashi walked past her.
“Come on.” He said to her.
She found herself following him before she realized she had decided to follow him. “Where are we going?” She asked, moving faster to keep up with his long strides.
Her steps faltered as it occurred to her that the mission he had recruited her for was not mandatory. “I can’t. I have to find the Grim Reaper.”
“Chester’s on it.” Tadashi paused and turned back to her. “Grim Reaper?” He raised an eyebrow, watching her with a sharp gaze.
Makoto shrugged. “I thought it was better than ‘that guy dressed in black who blew up half a dairy factory and kidnapped a maniac.’” Her tone was quiet and laced with sarcasm.
Tadashi’s only reaction was to turn on his heel and keep walking. “Come on.” He beckoned again.
Makoto stayed right where she was. “Kido.” She called softly. “Why?”
He turned around again. “You’re angry.”
“You feel frustrated and helpless. I can help you.” That time, he waited for her to follow him reluctantly before moving.
“I don’t understand.” She commented. “Before I...I left, the only words you said to me were sharpened and deadly. Now you want to help me? I don’t get it.”
They rounded a corner and went down a flight of stairs before he spoke. “My behavior toward you was not of my own initiative.”
Finally, when she realized he wasn’t going to explain, she gave him a prodding look. “Gonna elaborate?” What was it with the guys she hung out with? They drop vague comments and expect her to read their minds for more information.
“Yes, actually.” Tadashi answered flatly.
“Then why, exactly, would I go with you?” Makoto snapped angrily.
Tadashi only kept walking, and she begrudgingly followed him.
Morning came and still the Grim Reaper was undiscovered.
Makoto entered the kitchen of Uriel’s tiny apartment with a tired sigh and a bleary glance toward her roommate.
“What time is your dad getting in?” Uriel asked, in the middle of fixing her on breakfast.
That’s why that day was horrible.
She’d known there was something wrong, but she couldn’t remember what.
“4 PM. I’ll have to head back home after school.” Makoto responded, grabbing an apple and biting into it sourly. She wanted nothing more than Jesus’ return that very second.
“You know, if you think you can convince your dad to allow it, you can stay in the apartment. It’s probably safer than living with your family.” Uriel offered. She paused in chopping fruit to give the Japanese woman a concerned frown.
Makoto’s eyes rose slowly, meeting Uriel’s. “You’d let me stay?” If she could talk Hiroshida into it...the whole world would be lifted from her shoulders. The knot in her stomach would release, the pain in her heart would just disappear. And, Uriel was willing to house her for even longer?
The ENIGMA agent scoffed awkwardly. “’Course.” She cleared her throat. “We might even, uh, you know, set you up at ENIGMA after you graduate.” She sat at the table across from her companion, her breakfast in front of her.
Makoto blinked. “Thank you, Adams.” She bowed slightly, mind racing. “But...I’ve kind of got my heart set on being—”
“A detective?” Uriel finished. She shrugged it off. “Sure thing. We’ve got investigators. They work with the police and get involved in civilian affairs. I believe you know Detective Brian Copper. He’s our go-to local officer.” She paused for a minute to chew. Then her face scrunched up in disgust, shaking her head. “And you don’t have to call me Adams. My friends call me Uriel. Or Uri, whatever you want.”
Makoto paused her internal analyses of the new job opportunity and gave Uriel a long look. “It’s disrespectful to refer to a person by their first name until invited.” She may spend most of her time in America—she might even adopt some of their customs and mannerisms—but she couldn’t ignore her Japanese upbringing.
She couldn’t think of a better way to dishonor her mother’s memory than to disregard everything she’d taught her.
Uriel’s eyebrows rose slowly, her expression dry. “That was you being invited.” She stirred her fork around her plate while Makoto finished her apple. Uriel took a long drink of coffee. She met her roommate’s gaze again. “You mean all the times I call you by your first name have been insults?”
Makoto shrugged. “Your culture is different and I know you mean no disrespect.” She slid her arms into her jacket. “If I’m not here when you get back from ENIGMA tonight, I’ll be at my place.”
Uriel acknowledged her words and got up to rinse her dishes.
Makoto paused in reaching for her keys and turned back to the agent. “You are welcome to continue using my given name.” The words sounded foreign and unfamiliar. She’d never spoken them before.
Everyone who used her given name did so because they were American and knew no better—though it’s not like the Japanese didn’t make it easy for them, with the surnames written and spoken before the given names and all.
Either they didn’t know they were being disrespectful or they were family and needed no permission.
Tadashi and everyone else who was familiar with her culture used her surname. She had never felt comfortable with them enough to allow them to call her by her given name.
Uriel’s lips curled upward. She nodded appreciatively. Knowing that she probably felt uncomfortable with how to handle the foreign custom, Makoto took her leave.