The young man with the green hair walked through the door into the large, white room, Stella closely in tow as usual, allowing the door to swing gently closed behind them.
The room was carpeted and large windows allowed sunlight to illuminate the surroundings while giving them a third story view of the street below.
Against the back wall was a leather sofa and several armchairs, upon which two young men sat.
The youngest of the two, a red haired teenager slouched over on the sofa, a portable video game console in his hands. He barely looked older than fifteen. His fingers clicked at the buttons and the tinny speakers produced the sounds of fast-paced music and gunshots, accompanied by the occasional scream or shout of cheesy action-style dialogue. The teenager was so engrosed in his game that he didn’t even acknowledge the new arrivals. He may not have even noticed them enter.
Across from him, an older boy sat in one of the armchairs, his nose in a paperback book that he held open in one hand. The blond sat with a laid-back posture, one leg crossed over the other. “Took you long enough,” he casually said without looking up from his book.
“Is he here yet?” Shani asked, taking a seat at the vacent end of the sofa. Stella, following suit, sat in the middle, taking her place between Shani and the younger red haired teen.
“No,” replied Orga, the blond boy with the book, “And a good thing, too. You know how much he hates it when people are late, or when they keep him waiting. That reminds me, what are your takings like? Clotho hasn’t been having much luck pushing the new merchandise.”
As if at the mention of his name, the redhead cursed loudly and shut off the game. “The fuck is that bullshit,” he exclaimed.
“If that game’s as bad as your complaining implies, why do you even play it?” Orga asked him.
“Hey, I have to practice my skills.”
“Of all the things to get addicted to, you have to go and choose a video game.”
Clotho rolled his eyes at the blond. “Anyway, it’s not my fault nobody’s buying that bastard’s crazy new drug. How the fuck am I supposed to sell to school kids? They don’t got no money.”
“I’m down this month as well,” Shani admitted.
“I’ll bet. That bastard’s not gonna be happy with you two,” Orga said, “What with Clotho’s lack of progress and you giving away so many freebies.”
“He’s never happy,” Shani retorted, “besides, I have other sources of income. He’ll get his money back, he’ll just have to be patient.”
“Asking Azrael to be patient is like asking Satan to turn down the thermostat in hell,” Orga countered.
At that moment, the man of the hour strolled into the room, bringing an effective end to the conversation.
Gliding into the room, the blond man moved smoothly and suavely. His pale skin matched his stiff white collared shirt, while his eyes matched his baby blue suit. His blonde hair was parted on the left and he wore a self satisfied, smug smirk on his face. His eyes darted over to the sofa and he took a seat in an armchair opposite the four youths, crossing his legs as Orga had done earlier. “hello boys,” he greeted pleasantly.
Orga and Clotho both sat up, the blond snapping shut his book and placing it in his lap.
Contrary to the other two, Shani and Stella didn’t acknowledge Azrael’s entrance. The greenet didn’t shift his posture, though he did dart his eyes to glance in the man’s direction. Stella on the other hand, paid him no mind. She wasn’t technically a part of this meeting anyway. Though the meetings were private, the girl had previously been initiated into their organisation, so her presence was tolerated. She wasn’t likely to tell anyone what she heard, and besides, she went wherever Shani went, following him like a loyal dog.
“So how are we doing this afternoon?” The three exchanged glances, but remained silent. “Did nothing noteworthy happen? Any interesting dreams? No? Well, no matter. Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, lets get down to business.
“I have been looking over your figures for the last month, and…” Azrael paused, thinking over his choice of words carefully. “I am not impressed. business is down and the new product isn’t selling as well as we’d hoped. Not only that, but there seem to be grave inconsistancies between units moved and cash received. There seems to be quite a large sum of money that has simply put, been misplaced.”
The man pulled out a laptop and began flicking through spreadsheets and reports.
“I can’t understand it. It’s almost as if someone here isn’t committed to the team.” There was a long moment of silence, broken only by the sound of keys clicking as Azrael typed. “I say, you’re not trying to fuck me, are you boys?”
The youths before him froze in place, eyes wide at not only the insinuation, but also the graphic metaphor with which it had been delivered.
“I sincerely hope not,” Azrael brazenly continued, “because I can assure you, I most certainly am not a faggot.”
The three young men exchanged glances in silence. The same thought could be felt to run through all three of their minds. This was dangerous.
“Neither are we!” Clotho exclaimed. He almost seemed indignant.
“Good,” Azrael casually replied, not looking up from his monitor. “I should hope not, but that raises a question: Why are we down? Our dealers aren’t selling. People aren’t paying back the money they owe us. Even our racketeering revenue seems to be down, and street gangs are beginning to pop up and run riot in our streets.” He turned to Orga. “I want this situation dealt with. We didn’t wrestle our teritory away from the Yakuza to have it slip into the hands of no class, hoodlum scum.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Orga answered. “I’ll make these wannabe gangsters wish they were never born.”
“See that you do. Things cannot continue like this. I’m trying to run a business here, this isn’t some kind of charity.”
Azrael turned his attention to Clotho. “And what about you? No sales at all this month? What’s wrong,” the blond mocked, a sneer forming on his thin lips. “Are your studies getting in the way of your job? You need to get your priorities straight. I didn’t enroll you in that school for your education.”
“I can’t help it if the kids at school don’t have any money,” the redhead drawled, a defensive edge to his normally sly, high pitched voice. “They’re poor. Their parents are poor. Why else would they send their kids to that shithole excuse for a school?
“Besides, getting stupid people hooked on drugs is Shani’s area of expertise; and shaking them down for money is Orga’s.”
“Then what, prey tell, is yours? Do you have one? Do you even know?” Clotho was silent, breaking eye contact. “Well then, might I suggest you put down the silly games, get off your lazy backside, and go out and earn your keep? you’re the only one here young enough to attend highschool without arousing questions. If you can’t convert the other students into long-term customers, then you are useless to me. That puts your future very much in question.” Scowling, Clotho looked away, saying nothing, instead allowing his eyes to burn holes in the floor below their feet.
Azrael turned toward Shani, missing the glare shot to him by Clotho.
“Shani…” he said, taking an exasperated sigh. “I don’t even know where to begin. What troubles me more? Your total disregard for our shrinking profit margins, or your apparant complete and utter incompetence? I know, I think I’ll start with the the lingering doubts of your loyalty.
“Free samples? Private deals? Secret meetings with our enemies? I know what you’ve been up to. Have no doubts about that. And when did I tell you to begin procuring prostitutes?”
“I saw an opportunity and I went for it. It’s called initiative. You’re getting your cut, so what’s the problem?”
“The problem, is that these little side projects of yours are cutting into the work that you are supposed to be doing. You are going out on your own when you are supposed to be working for me. This initiative of yours is costing me money. That, is the problem.
“How much of the new product have you sold?”
“I’ve been doing handouts in the usual places. I’ve given out forty grams.”
“You know, I get the feeling that if you stopped giving it away for free and began selling it like you’re supposed to, we’d all be a lot richer.”
“If this new shit is as good as you claim,” Shani countered, “They’ll be back for more. They won’t be able to help themselves. It’s called strategy. I’m just giving them a taste to whet their appetites.”
“That’s all well and good, but between your free samples and customers not paying up, I’m feeling a little out of pocket. Surely you can see where I’m coming from.”
“I’ll handle it. Just give me time.”
“hm.” Azrael flipped to another file and shifted his gaze to the other two. “Still, we have nowhere to go but up, except you,” his eyes returned to linger on Shani once more. “you have everything to loose,” the blonde added darkly, shooting the greenet a contemptuous glance that was gone before the greenet could question it. “Ah, I see the illustrious and illusive Ms haw has finally squared her debt,” Azrael noted, changing the subject.
“She paid in full last night,” Shani reported.
“Excellent. I’m glad we didn’t have to resort to hostilities. She’s an old friend of yours, isn’t she?”
“I’ve known her for a few years,” Shani admitted.
“Good. That should make things easier.” At Shani’s bemused expression, Azrael continued. “I hear she’s currently screwing the keyholder to one of our investments downtown, a mister Tolle Koenig. He’s been skipping out on his payments. I need someone down there who can keep an eye on the place, make sure it doesn’t go up in flames, and make sure he has the appropriate insurence.”
“You want me to force Miriallia to shake down her boyfriend for protection money,” Shani summarized.
“I’m putting you in charge of the situation,” Azrael answered. “How you go about it is up to you, so long as he pays up.”
After a brief moment of thought, Shani nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Good. I do so hate when people leave business unattended, which reminds me. There is another young lady from your past that hasn’t been paying her debts. What was her name again?” The blonde opened another file and began scrolling down the page. “Ah yes, a miss Lacus Clyne.”
Shani responded with a blank stare. “The name doesn’t ring a bell.”
“It has been a long time, but she owes us a lot of money. Perhaps this will refresh your memory,” he said, turning the laptop around to show the young men the contents of his display: A large photograph of a teenage girl. Pale skin, long waves of pink hair flowed down to her waist. Periwinkle eyes glistened with innocence. One of the young men gave a sharp whistle at the sight.
“She’s cute,” Clotho commented.
“She’s gorgeous,” Orga corrected.
“I want her,” Clotho continued, the cruel lust in his eyes complimenting his perverse smirk. “She owes us money right? Why don’t we just have her kidnapped?”
“Clotho has a point,” Orga added. “With a face and body like that, she’s gotta have potential. Be it porn or prostitution, she could make us a mint.”
“Ohh, can I have her, can I have her please?” Clotho asked as if he were a child begging his parents for a puppy. “I’ll take good care of her, I promise. I’ll feed her, and pet her, and strip her, and screw her every day.”
“Cute,” Orga dryly remarked.
“If the girl doesn’t pay up, I might just consider that,” Azrael stated.
While the young men passed their vulger banter, the other two stared at the picture in silence. Shani had met this girl before. She was young, desperate, and in serious need of cash, but that was so long ago, he’d completely forgotten about her. “Lacus Clyne…” he hesitated. How could he put this? He’d written the pinkette off long ago. “Lacus has been living off the radar for well over a year now. She may not even be in the city anymore. I wouldn’t know where to look, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“Then you’d better prey for a lucky break. I want this girl found, and I want her brought before me. You have one month, understand?” The blond narrowed his blue eyes. “I suggest you get started.”
Shani stared the blond man down. “Is that a threat?” The others visibly tensed. Nobody had openly challenged Azrael before.
Rather than getting angry, the blond approached, that unnatural smile once more gracing his features. He ruffled Stella’s hair with his hand. The blonde smiled, eyes shut tight while the older man pet her as if she were a puppy. “Your girl has cleaned up quite nicely, hasn’t she? Very pretty, very popular. She’s really bloomed into a beautiful flower over the past few months. But I wonder, maybe she would have been better off where you found her. Perhaps she would make more money if I gave her back to her old pimp.”
“You seem to think that bastard actually paid her for what he did.”
“You misunderstand. When I said she would make more money, I meant for me.”
Shani continued to stare blankly through the blond man. For a long time, he was silent, and when he did finally speak, his voice was a gravily monotone. “Her pimp, if you want to call him that, is a creep who kidnaps underage girls, gets them addicted to drugs, and uses them for illegal porn and snuff films. He barely keeps them alive and then when he has no more use for them, he leaves them to die in the gutter. Stella was only inches from death when I took her in. I’d see all of you dead before I’d see her back in the hands of that bastard.”
“And yet, unless this Lacus can pay us back the money she owes, I see no alternative.”
All through this exchange, Stella stared, her magenta ryes darting between Shani and Azrael.
“Don’t take me for a fool,” the blond continued, “I know exactly who this man is and I must say, I like his style. He gets results, which is more than I can say for the three of you. Listen now, You will bring me lacus Clyne, and I will sell her for the sum she owes me, and if she can’t be found, I’m afraid Stella will have to take her place. Oh, and just to be clear, that is a threat.”
Shani said nothing. His expression was blank, his eyes voids, windows to a black soul that didn’t exist. Stella on the other hand, was a whirlwind of emotion. Though she remained silent, her eyes were wide and fearful. Her breathing was deep, and she inched closer to Shani, leaning into him as though he were her crutch, her support. The only thing standing between her and the blond man’s wicked desires. Stella shied away from Azrael’s cruel smirk, his evil eyes, his vile warning, his promise of horror and death. The blond was a trap door that led to a hell that the girl thought was well behind her, one that could never hurt her again.
“As I said,” Azrael continued, packing up his laptop and getting ready to go. He turned his back on the youths and made for the door, leaving the way he’d come, “you have one month. Make it count. Leave as soon as you’re ready. “
When he had left, the tension in the air seemed to lessen. Clotho and Orga each released pent up sighs and relaxed in their seats.
Shani on the other hand, felt no reprieve from the blond bastard’s absence. He didn’t move, didn’t say a word. Azrael’s days were numbered. He swore, he promised. Some day, and some day soon. One of these days, Shani would fucking kill him.
Slowly, he draped an arm around the panic ridden blonde, holding her close as she trembled against him. Through her hyperventilation, Shani distincly heard the girl utter two words.