Forensic Fantasy VII: Bones

By EagleHeart

“Sometimes, people ask why we’re doing this. Kind of a stupid question, I always thought…but maybe it depends who’s asking it. Or who’s being asked, I guess. I never really know what to say, when people ask things like that. I dunno why I’m doing it, that’s for sure. Well…maybe I do. We’ve got our reasons. We’ve all…done things. Stuff we aren’t proud of. Yeah, even me. Especially me. That’s my reason.”

A misty grey rain fell from the sky, slowing drenching Junon. Rain seeped down the building faces, staining them with dark, moody colours. In a long, wet alley, colder and damper than most, a solitary figure crouched, staring at the ground. A thin wisp of cigarette smoke rose slowly from the burning ember at the end of a cigarette and there was a long, slow intake of breath. A stream of smoke accompanied by a low whistle clouded the alley, illuminated by the narrow beam of flashlight.

“Well,” Reno said finally, trying to sound optimistic, “At least we know he’s dead.”

Rude gave a soft snort. “A two-year-old could tell you he’s dead. We’re doing just a little better. We know he was shot in the back of the head. Other than that…” Rude trailed off and gave a slow sigh. “This is pretty hopeless, Reno.”

Standing up Reno lifted his face slightly his eyes closed, letting the soft rain slowly form droplets that ran down his cheeks and seeped into the deep slashes on his cheekbones, the polluted rainwater making them burn slightly. “Yeah, I know,” he agreed finally. “But…”

Rude shook his head. “Don’t. Don’t even say it.”

“I didn’t say it. Tseng said it. ‘No matter what happens, never give up, because once you give up, you lose.’ I’m a pretty shitty loser, Rude.”

Rude folded his arms. “This isn’t about you. This isn’t a game. And, even if it were, you can’t win a game if you don’t know how to play.”

Reno shrugged, his narrow shoulders lifting for a second, then slumping back down. “I dunno. It…just doesn’t feel right not to do anything. This city’s in a state of total anarchy. I don’t like disorder. Plain and simple, it scares me. I’m used to being in a situation with order and control, crime and punishment. According to everything I know, this ain’t right.”

“This wasn’t personal. It had nothing to do with you. There’s no one out to put a bullet in your skull.”

Lifting his cerulean eyes, Reno met his partner’s gaze with a haunting question in his eyes. “How do you know?”

Rude sighed again. “So what do you want to do?” he asked finally.

“I told you, I dunno.” Reno shrugged again and gave a hollow laugh. “I just wish I knew more about corpses.”

“Reno, I don’t think there’s anything we can do.” Rude turned and started to head out of the alley. “Let’s just head home. Like you said, we don’t know the first thing about cadavers.”

Reno didn’t answer for a few moments, staring at the corpse in front of him. “I think I know someone who does.”


A soft, pink tinged mist washed over Nibelheim, eddying and swirling in slight currents through the town’s streets. Dawn was slowly making its way into the sky and there was no movement in the village’s quiet square. A pair of silhouettes appeared through the mist and entered the town, two of silent shadows.

They crossed the town square slowly, at an almost lackadaisical pace, proceeding slowly up a slight hill to the manor at the top of the crest. Easing open the rusty iron gate with a low creak, the pair headed up the walkway to the door. The mansion was old and forbidding, but a single light glowed in one of the upstairs window, indicating that someone was home.

“Well…here goes,” Reno muttered, reaching out and pulling a chain beside the door. The deep chime of a bell rang within the house and the light in the upper room flickered as someone came to the window. For a few moments, the dark shadow hovered in the window, then vanished.

Tapping his foot for a few minutes, Reno leaned against the doorframe and drummed his fingers on the rough wood. Behind him, Rude cleared his throat and rubbed his nose. Reno was about to reach out and ring the bell again, when the door opened.

“Can I help you?” The man in the doorway inquired, rubbing one hand on the leg of his jeans and holding the door halfway open with the other. Reno noticed that he hadn’t opened the door fully, or even really come out of the house. He leaned outside, about half his body still inside, wearing a plain, unbuttoned silver-blue coloured shirt, a little baggy in the sleeves, and covering a black t-shirt. His long black hair was tied back in a ponytail and his ruby eyes were curious, but cautious at the same time.

Reno held up a long bone that he’d been carrying. “Is this a tibia or a fibula?”

Vincent’s eyebrow arched slightly and gingerly took the bone in both hands. He looked at it blankly for a few seconds, then seemed to snap out of a private trance. “Uh…it’s a femur, actually. Where did you get this?”

“I found it in a dumpster, behind a bar in Junon,” Reno reported promptly. “Just sitting there, looking oh-so-sinister and very human. I don’t know whose it is, I don’t know how it got there, and I don’t know where it came from. All I thought I knew was that somewhere in the city of Junon, some poor sap was missing one of his tibial bones. Now I know that some poor sap is missing one of his femoral bones, which is a bit of a bigger deal than just a measly tibia.”

Vincent squinted at the bone for a few more seconds. “I think it’s female, actually, but that’s just my intuition talking. Two questions. Firstly, what were you doing in a dumpster? Secondly, why do you care that some poor Junon sap is missing a femur?”

“Oh, I’m over the femur. I figured out a long time ago that I’m never gonna know how that wound up in my dumpster. It’s just one of the many little things that continue to haunt my everyday existence. The femur’s pretty mild, compared to some other things. ‘The arm’, for example, was a pretty bad one, but not nearly the same calibre as ‘the head’, which gave me nightmares for weeks. Of course, that’s only parts of bodies. If we want to talk entire corpses, then I have plenty more stories.”

“I get the picture,” Vincent interrupted, still turning the femur over in his hands, a clawed finger of his prosthetic left hand stroking it thoughtfully. “And you brought this to me because…? Did you need femoral closure or something warped like that?”

Reno shrugged. “I don’t know much about corpses. I don’t know anybody who does. The closest person I know to an authority on the subject…”

“Is myself,” Vincent finished, eyeing the two Turks appraisingly for a few minutes. “Come in,” he said finally, turning around and entering the house. He retreated into the darkness, picking up a flickering candle from where he’d set it on a table beside the door and proceeding into the shadowy manor. “Watch where you step,” he cautioned absently, with a curt gesture over his shoulder.

Reno arched an eyebrow and headed deeper into the house, shuddering slightly. “Love what you’ve done with the place,” he commented dryly, ducking instinctively as a bat swooped low overhead.

“Don’t flinch. Bats can detect the pheromones that a human emits when it feels fear and they take it to mean an easy mark. Nemo hasn’t had human blood for a while now and I’d really rather he didn’t reacquire his taste for it.”

Rude gave a grunt and glanced at his partner. Reno could tell, even without seeing the expression in his partner’s eyes that he was having his doubts. “You have bats,” he observed casually.

Vincent pushed open the door to what was presumably a kitchen, though it was hard to tell in the minimal light that broke its way through the grimy windows. “Nemo is just the front hall bat. Selene, Tuomas, and Tallulah live upstairs.”

“And your bats have names.”

“How are you supposed to address someone who doesn’t have a name? Would you like some tea?”

Rude grunted again and if Reno hadn’t known better, he would have thought he’d heard his partner mutter the word “nutcase” under his breath. The taller man moved from the entrance of the room and pulled a chair from the table, sitting down with a huff and a cloud of dust.

There was a creaking groan and the chair suddenly gave way beneath Rude’s approximate eighth of a ton of muscle.

“And don’t sit on the chairs. They break,” Vincent added absently, filling a kettle with water from an old, lime encrusted tap and setting it on the burner of a wood stove in the corner.

Reno winced as he sensed his partner’s growing disapproval. Scuffing the steel-toed tips of his boots on the dusty floor, Reno ran his fingers through his hair and sat down on the table. “So…uh…that femur thing. How d’you know so much about this kind of stuff?”

Vincent shrugged and opened one of the cupboards, the cabinet door coming off in his hand. He dropped it on the floor unconcernedly and set three mugs on the counter. “I hope no one takes sugar or cream, because I don’t have any. I don’t entertain much.”

“That’s pretty obvious.” Rude cleared his throat. “What sort of tea is that?” he asked cautiously. “Hemlock?” he added under his breath, the barest trace of sarcasm in his tone.

“No, it’s snowberry,” Vincent retorted, a slightly acidic note in his voice. “Listen, I can tell you don’t want to be here, but for some reason, you came to me. A few months ago, I would have been more or less obligated to shoot you.”

“Well, we’re much obliged to you for not doing so now,” Reno interrupted hastily. “So…about that femur. How did you know what sort of bone that was?”

“It’s really not hard.” Vincent set the three mugs on the table and absently dropped a teabag in each one. Taking the kettle from the stove he filled each and leaned against the wall. “The femur is distinctive. It’s the longest bone in the human body, extending from the pelvis to the knee. At the end that connects to the knee there are two bony protrusions, the lateral and medial condyles. And then at the top you have the trochanter, which connects to the muscle tissue. Basic anatomy.” As he spoke, he indicated each part of the bone with the tip of a long brass finger, setting the femoris down on the table when he was finished and taking a sip of his tea.

“I’d never have known that,” Reno confessed. “Not in a million years. How did you learn?”

Vincent smiled ominously. “There are a lot of mixed up skeletons in the basement. I was bored a while ago and I decided to put one together. I ended up with two, actually, one male and one female. It’s remarkable what one can do with a lot of time and a textbook or two based solely on endoskeletal construction.”

“How long did that take you?” Reno asked, suppressing a slight shudder.

“A month, maybe two. I have a terribly poor sense of time.” Vincent eyed the Turk quizzically. “You’re asking an awful lot of questions.”

Reno shrugged. “Curious, is all. Where’d you find the time to do that sort of stuff?”

“How much do you know about me?” Vincent countered with a question of his own, with evident purpose behind it.

“Not much. Avalanche member, pretty good with a rifle, mediocre at magic, and some freaky ass transformation abilities Shinra didn’t have many details about. There’re also rumours going around that you spent thirty years in a coffin, you have fangs, drink blood, and that you don’t age.”

“And Reno is so diplomatically treading around the widely held opinion that you’re a vampire. Though that might be because he popularized the idea himself,” Rude added dryly, taking a cautiously appraising sniff of his tea.

Reno flushed slightly. “Go get stuffed,” he muttered sourly.

The barest hint of a smile touched Vincent’s lip. “Common misconceptions,” he said after a few moments. “I only spent about eight years in a coffin, most of the time I don’t have fangs, and I don’t drink blood except on special occasions.”

For a few seconds, Reno tried to divine whether the slight hint of amusement in Vincent’s crimson eyes indicated that he was joking, or that he was pleased at having two victims waltz right into his house and sit down for tea. “Uh…right. But according to Shinran records, your whereabouts were completely unaccounted for…for a time period of thirty years. Where were you for the twenty-two that you spent out of the coffin?”

“I was here, by merit of the fact that I didn’t want myself to get out and kill anybody, and that I’d decided that Hojo would be back one day.”

Rude nodded slowly. “So you spent over two decades sitting in a crumbling old mansion, plotting revenge and waiting for a madman?”

“Well, it’s not like I just sat there,” Vincent answered, sounding annoyed. “There are approximately twenty seven hundred and eighty three books in this house, in the library, the study, and the lab downstairs. I’ve read just about all of them.”

It took a further few moments for Reno to realize his jaw had inadvertently dropped open. He clicked it shut and swallowed. “What in the hell could you learn from all those books?”

“The lab taught me a lot about medicine. Both practically and academically. As morbid as this sounds, I had a lab full of tools and a room full of corpses. You do the math. The books in the study were almost all about law. And the books in the library were pretty much general knowledge and some literature.” Vincent closed his eyes and sighed. “And none of it did me any good when he did come back.”

Sensing that this was a touchy topic, Reno carefully steered the conversation into slightly less dangerous waters. “So let me get this straight. You’ve had…what, about seven years experience and training as a Turk, a further twenty-two years of education about just about every bloody thing on the Planet, and then a brief stint in a terrorist group?”

Vincent shrugged. “That sounds about right. But they prefer the terms ‘rebels’ or ‘activists’. Barret used to say ‘freedom fighters’, but I always thought that was pushing it. It’s just that ‘terrorist’ has a bit of a nasty ring to it.”

“And now you’re just going to sit in your mansion, not aging, not doing anything, until the end of time?” Reno asked, slowly forming a conversation strategy.

“Well, I’m not doing nothing,” Vincent corrected. “I’m only through about eighty-five percent of those books. I’ve just started reading about entomology. I really don’t know much about the subject yet, but it promising to be a fascinating study. Yuffie was actually surprisingly well-versed in entomology,” he added absently. “Certainly better than I am.”

“But you aren’t really applying any of this knowledge?” Reno prompted. “You’re totally qualified as a scientist, but all your gonna do is sit here and read books for the rest of your goddamn eternal life?”

Vincent blinked and his eyes narrowed slightly. “I’ll admit I don’t spend much time with people and I’m not the best at conversation, but I know when someone’s driving at something. What do you want from me?” he asked curtly, sounding a little perturbed at Reno’s accusation.

Reno grinned. “I was wondering when you’d ask. I been doing the job for six years now and I know for a fact that two Turks don’t show up on your doorstep without a reason.”

“And what’s yours?”

Rude coughed. “I just want it understood from the outset that this is all Reno’s idea. I’m just trying to keep an eye on my partner.”

Vincent’s crimson eyes looked slightly intrigued, but still extremely cautious. “Fair enough. What do you want?”

“I want your help,” Reno answered, folding his arms across his chest. “Why did you go with Avalanche?”

“For personal reasons. Vengeance, mostly. What do you care?” Vincent answered guardedly, still sounding suspicious.

Reno shrugged. “I’m just wondering what it’d take to get you to go along with one of my crazy ideas. I’m not quite as insane as Shinra’s psychologists made Cloud out to be, but some of my schemes are still pretty damn harebrained.”

“What’s your idea?” Vincent questioned, curiosity evident in his tone.

“Do you know what borderline anarchy is like?” Reno questioned, shuddering slightly. “The feeling that there’s no one really in control of the population, and if they got stirred up enough, complete and total chaos could ensue? Midgar wasn’t like that.” Reno’s eyes grew distant, a fading memory in his eyes. “Midgar had order. Midgar was quite possibly the greatest city ever built, in terms of political and social structure. It worked because of the segregation of poverty and wealth, not the equalization of everything. The lower plate had perfect anarchy; the upper plate had perfect civilization. In precise balance.”

Vincent shifted slightly from where he’d been standing, leaning against the wall. “I’d tend to disagree with that. No city is perfect. There are always flaws.”

Reno shook his head. “It’s not as simple as that. Yes, Upper Midgar had its problems. However, in its perceived perfection it was flawed, and through those flaws it was truly perfect. I guess you don’t understand what I’m trying to say?” he asked apologetically.

“Explain it. Paradoxes intrigue me,” Vincent admitted. “I’ve never heard this theory.”

Reno smiled dryly. “You can’t find it in a book. Well…I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the perceived concept of a perfect city would be a city with virtually no problems. Complete utopia. But perfection is an absolute and absolutes don’t exist. What Midgar achieved was sort of a abstraction of perfection, brought about by the perpetual correction of perpetually existing problems.”

Vincent nodded slowly, sinking into deeper thought. “I might be starting to understand what you’re getting at. You’re saying that Midgar achieved its status by always having problems to be corrected, which made the people have solid faith in what they thought to be the perfection of their city, when the problems were corrected.”

“Sort of, yeah. There may have been a high crime rate, but it always appeared to be dropping, because the problem never got ahead of the police. Two, three days after a murder, they’d always have caught the guy. One day, if they wanted to boost the public’s opinions. Maybe a week for a serial killer, to make people begin to question the ability of the city, then restore their confidence as soon as they caught the guy.”

“Even that’s flawed,” Vincent observed after a few minutes silence. “No criminal justice system in the world doesn’t have cold cases. There’s always one that gets away. I know for a fact that Midgar has cold cases.”

“But does it?” Reno countered slyly. “This system has always fascinated me and I’ve studied since I first began to understand it. Sure, Midgar has cold cases. And every so often, it takes one out of the freezer, and it gets miraculously solved.”

Vincent’s eyes narrowed. “Wait. The way you’re talking about things so far, you almost make it seem as though the city is deliberately playing out a drama for the people. Leading them through a sort of freakish play on human existence and civilization.”

“Keep going,” Reno encouraged, eyes gleaming. “Follow that line of thinking.”

“The city maintains the illusion of perfection by always giving the citizens what they want,” Vincent said slowly, constructing his idea as he went. “People don’t like problems unless they’re being solved. If problems are constantly being solved, then the people are happy. It’s not just criminal either, is it? Economics, politics, social equity…things like that. Problems of that nature, always being solved…”

“But for problems to always been solved with one hundred percent certainty, they would almost have to be…” Reno prompted.

“Predetermined,” Vincent murmured, comprehension growing deeper and deeper. “Are you saying that Midgar actually created problems for itself to solve?”

Reno nodded triumphantly. “In a manner of speaking, yes. They weren’t true problems, because they came with prefabricated solutions. False problems with true solutions. All of Midgar’s ‘issues’ were illusory, existing only to be solved. You could even go so far as to suggest that the entire political system was pre-structured. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s a distinct possibility.”

Vincent was silent for a few moments, digesting the information. “But crime doesn’t work that way. Even prefab crime. Humans are greedy and self-serving. ‘No servant can serve two masters, for he shall ever hate one and love the other’,” he quoted. “You can’t have a murder who both serves and defies the laws of the city. Human psychology simply doesn’t allow for that kind of loyalty. The first priority in the criminal mind is self-preservation.”

“Exactly!” Reno agreed, grasping the edge of the table and dangling his long legs off the edge. “So the criminal problems are true. Shinra didn’t control the criminal world, but there’s evidence to suggest that the underworld was structured. It’s never been proven how, but there must have been some sort of reverse hierarchy. Anyway, if false problems have true solutions…”

A slight shock and realization dawned in Vincent’s gaze. “Then true problems must have false solutions. If Midgar couldn’t control the source of the problem, they’d have to control how it was solved…which amounts to illusory justice!”

“That’s what I think, at least,” Reno agreed. “Of course, not all the justice was false. It isn’t impossible to find the true solution to a true problem; it’s just a little more difficult than creating a false solution. However, when Midgar couldn’t find true solutions, to cold cases for example, false solutions were all they had to fall back on. So every once in a while, they’d nab a murderer and lo and behold, he’d also have been responsible for the Sector Four serial rapes in ’97.”

“But that could be completely untrue…so they must have manipulated evidence to support their theory?” Vincent questioned. “That is very, very unnerving. I’m thankful Midgar’s been levelled.”

Reno didn’t answer for a few moments. “I’m not,” he said quietly, staring at the floor. “I lived my whole life in Midgar and now it’s been reduced to a pile of rubble. All because of one stupid little pack of terrorists the company couldn’t catch. President Shinra started to let things slide when he began to believe that Mako was more important than preserving what the city had. Problems started to overcome solutions, because he gave one problem complete priority over the others.”

Rude cleared his throat after his long period of silence. “I had never suspected you of thinking this deeply, Reno,” he remarked.

“Yeah, well, you don’t give me enough credit,” Reno retorted. “I miss Midgar.”

“I suppose the loss of one’s home must be hard,” Vincent observed neutrally. “And it’s a fascinating theory that you should write down somewhere, but I fail to see your point. What do you want?”

“There’s nowhere else in the world like Midgar. Junon is a city of almost the same size, but it’s the total opposite. The classes are mixing, there’s crime all over the place, I don’t even like to think about the political system, and everything’s just so unimaginably screwed up…”

“That’s the nature of a true city,” Vincent remarked. “Nowhere’s perfect.”

Reno shook his head. “I know. And I’m not saying I want Junon to be perfect. It just scares me so badly that Junon is so far in the other direction. We’re talking about tens of thousands of people here. A good ninety percent of them are totally innocent, but there’s ten percent that are screwing the city over, because there’s no structure to the justice system.”

“I’m still not sure of your point. Are you talking about spearheading a political crusade to tell Junon that its situation is shit? Because they probably know that already.”

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” Reno answered, standing up and stretching his legs. “I don’t believe in words without action.”

“Which is exactly why we’ve been sitting here talking for the past half hour,” Vincent muttered sarcastically, starting to get impatient. “All right, fine. In your eyes, what’s the greatest problem in Junon right now?”

“Murder,” Reno answered promptly. “And that no one does anything about it. It’s practically become a natural cause of death, like how if you drink too much your liver’s gonna kill you. I think that’s the biggest problem.”

Vincent nodded. “Ok. So it upsets you that a lot of people are getting killed and no one’s doing anything about it. What do you propose as a course of action? Vigilantes? It seems to me that the system of a vigilance committee often amounts to more false justice than even Midgar could dish out.”

Reno started to look slightly agitated in his turn. “You’ve missed my point. Only a small portion of Midgar’s justice was actually false. Yeah, that’s a pretty terrible thing, false justice, but the true stuff was all good!”

“False justice is better than no justice, is what you’re trying to say?”

“No! Well…at least an attempt towards justice is what Junon needs. The police don’t do anything, because they don’t know how…things were different in Midgar…”

“Midgar had the budget to solve crimes,” Vincent countered. “Junon probably doesn’t. Have you got any idea how expensive it is to acquire the equipment to run a criminal lab? There were only two in the world, and now there’s only one.”

Reno blinked. “I was only aware of one to begin with…where’s the other?”

Vincent shrugged. “In the basement.”


“Shit. Holy shit,” Reno murmured, standing in the doorway of the elaborate lab in Shinra Mansion. He’d seen Midgar’s criminal lab before, and he’d known the place had been relatively large. In this lab, only about a thousand feet square, it was as though everything was condensed. He didn’t recognize all the equipment, but he could tell what was essential. “Where the hell did you get all this stuff?”

Vincent shrugged and wandered over to a small machine. “Midgar, mostly. Black Market dealing. I haven’t been completely cut off from the world, but I had to be extremely careful when conducting these dealings. Elaborate procedures, to eliminate contact between the dealers and myself. Too dangerous, most of the time. I…had very poor control over my abilities for a very long time. I suppose eight years in a coffin gave me some time to contain myself. If necessary, more could probably be salvaged from the ruins of Midgar.”

“Right,” Reno agreed absently, examining a machine on one of the tables, looking extremely out of place (as did all the high-tech equipment) in the antiquated lab. “D’you know how to use all this stuff?”

“Most of it, yes. Like I said, I had a lot of time to play with. I don’t know how up to date all of this stuff is, but I know it serves its purpose.”

Reno glanced up. “Could I learn?”

“Anyone could learn,” Vincent answered evenly, meeting Reno’s gaze with a faint spark in his eyes. “Is this your point?”

“Kinda,” Reno admitted, suddenly feeling awkward. “I know, it’s kind of a crazy idea. But I always figured that if I tried hard enough, it could work…”

Vincent nodded, the expression in his eyes thoughtful. “And your next question is ‘are you in?’”

Reno shrugged sheepishly. “I was hoping to lead up to that a little more carefully. After all, we did spend the last little while trying to kill each other, and I really don’t know what you care about Junon.”

Vincent sighed and wandered over to one of the machines, running a hand over it thoughtfully. “I think I’ve lost all ability to carry a grudge. Meaning to say, I’ve expended all my hatred towards a single person and he’s dead now.”

“So what’s the verdict?” Reno asked hopefully, sliding a hand into one of his pockets and crossing his fingers.

Vincent was silent for a long few minutes, looking distant. “Can I bring my bats?” he asked finally, looking up with the tiniest glimmer of a smile in his eyes.


The mayor of Junon was a very sedate man. Which was a difficult thing to achieve; especially when one’s city is crumbling down around one’s ears. An election was coming up soon, but Mayor Cameron Alexander Rodriguez wasn’t unduly concerned. It wasn’t as if there were any other candidates. And besides, it wasn’t as though there weren’t attempts to improve the city’s condition. Certainly, it could never match Costa del Sol in terms of how happy the residents were, or Corel in terms of economics, or a village like Mideel for healthcare, or Icicle Inn for tourism, but, as was Mayor Rodriguez’s new favourite saying, “It’s a hell of a lot better than Midgar!”

Which is perhaps why Mayor Rodriguez conceded to admit three men who had shown up in the city council building one day and demanded to speak to him. His secretary had announced them, then voiced the opinion that she thought they should call security. However, Mayor Rodriguez was rather bored and in the mood to talk to someone interesting. So, with a dramatic sigh, he had bid his secretary to admit the trio.

The first man to enter his office gave the Mayor quite a start and made him begin to question how effective it would have been to call security anyway. The tall, bald man in a dark, tailored suit and with black sunglasses hiding his eyes was built like a brick wall. He looked around the office a few times, then grunted and stepped out of the doorway, sitting down in a chair beside the door, folding his arms across his muscled chest.

The second, an apparent colleague of the first man because of the similarities in their apparel, was decidedly less threatening. He was not nearly as tall, quite skinny, and had long, vibrant red hair that stuck up in all directions and was tied back in a ponytail that draped over his shoulder. His hands were stuffed in the pockets of his slightly wrinkled suit and he slouched a little, eyes darting about the room before coming to rest on the Mayor for a few moments, before flickering around the room again, examining everything.

And the last man to enter was apparently the mildest of the three, dressed in jeans and a loose jacket, long black hair tied back in a ponytail. He was about as tall as the red head, but a little better built. His skin was pale and his features were slightly drawn, giving him a rather weary appearance. There was a definite spark of life in his eyes though, deep wells of crimson that slowly scanned the room, with more caution then his colleague. It was he who spoke first. “You’re the mayor?” he questioned rhetorically, fixing the older man with a serious stare.

Mayor Rodriguez chuckled, a little unnerved at how such a quiet voice could be so penetrating. “That I am, my boy. And you are…?”

“I’m Vincent Valentine. That’s Reno and that’s Rude,” Vincent responded, pointing to the two Turks in turn.

“A pleasure,” the Mayor said, his voice mockingly cordial. “And what brings you gentlemen to my office?”

“Mr. Mayor…I’m certain you know of certain…shortcomings that this city has,” Vincent said carefully. “Now, this is not taken as a reflection on your abilities as a city administrator…”

Reno snorted quietly to himself and started looking at the books on a shelf. There were a lot of familiar titles, and many of them appeared to be about law.

Vincent cast a sharp glance at the redhead, then continued. “But we thought several matters should be brought to your attention.”

“Indeed,” the Mayor drawled, looking highly amused and little concerned. “Such as?”

Reno reached up to pull one of the books from the shelves and made a disgusted noise as he discovered it was just a painted block of wood. He turned around and leaned against the wall, scowling slightly.

Vincent cast another warning look at Reno, and cleared his throat. “Well, we’re mainly concerned with the criminal activity. In the past week, there have probably been about three murders, and nothing’s been done by the city to catch these people.”

“Well, I’m sure our boys in blue are doing the best they can,” Rodriguez said placatingly. “You must understand, as a concerned citizen, that this is a very big city and that the police can’t be everywhere at once.”

“Sir, with all due respect, Midgar was about this size and their criminal justice system ran fluidly. I think it’s probably possible for a forensics lab to be created in this city, which would be able to service the needs of the population adequately. I don’t mean to imply that your police force is inept. It’s just that in the case of many crimes, the police force is simply not up to catching criminals.”

“Uh…huh. And just how much would this ‘lab’ cost?” Rodriguez asked mockingly.

Vincent shrugged. “A quarter of a million Gil would probably be good for a start. Then we’d probably require that amount biannually to build on the foundations.”

“Absolutely not!” Rodriguez said brightly, chuckling to himself. He apparently found the whole situation very amusing.

“Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, your city is falling apart,” Vincent said seriously. “We’re quite willing to try and help you.”

Rodriguez nodded slowly, apparently considering this. He grinned widely. “Well, it’s a hell of a lot better than Midgar!”

“God, you’re an ass!” Reno finally exploded, green eyes flashing. Irritated, he pushed past Vincent and splayed his hands out on the desk, leaning forward. “I mean, shit. How did an idiot like you ever get to be mayor? Are you fucking blind? Or just illiterate? From all the goddamn blocks of wood you keep on your shelves I’d have to assume so. The only people who are happy in this town are the papers, because they feed off human misery. How in the hell can you be in the middle of a cess pool like this and not even notice what’s going on?”

The Mayor’s face purpled slightly. He was obviously unused to backtalk from random strangers. “Young man, do you know whom you’re speaking to?” he asked dangerously.

“Yes! A big fat ass of a man who’s the last person on earth who should be holding the office of mayor!” Reno ran his fingers through his hair, looking agitated. “Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, which is incidentally very little, go take a walk by the waterfront and see if you don’t come back a changed man. There are innocent people being hurt every goddamn day and you don’t do anything about it!”

Mayor Rodriguez’s eyes narrowed and he pressed a button on the underside of his desktop. “I’m quite content with this city’s status,” he said dangerously, glaring at Reno. “And I don’t believe you fully appreciate the condition of the city’s criminal system. Maybe an evening or two in one of the cells across the street would do you some good.”

The door opened and four uniformed security guards entered the room, weapons drawn. “All right everybody. Hands where we can see ‘em,” one of them ordered sternly.

Vincent sighed resignedly and rubbed at his eyes with his right hand, allowing one of the men to handcuff him. Rude stood up and the muscles of his chest bulged slightly as two security guards approached cautiously with a pair of handcuffs. Reno’s green eyes blazed indignantly and he clenched his hands into fists.

“Y’know, one of these days, someone’s gonna slit your fat throat,” he hissed dangerously as one of the security guards snapped a pair of handcuffs around his wrists. “And you’re gonna regret not having us around.”


“I told you we should have left him outside.” Rude’s quiet comment echoed around the empty holding cells of Junon’s Police Station, which was right across from the mayor’s office. The bald man was stretched out, semi-comfortably, on one of the bunks in the bare cell, leafing through a small, battered looking bible.

“Shut up,” Reno muttered, leaning against the corner wall, his hands grasping two of the bars of the cell and staring into the empty cell across the narrow corridor. “Just…shut up.”

Vincent was sitting on the floor in the corner, legs crossed and his elbow on one of his knees, resting his chin in his hand as he kept his gaze fixed on the floor. His left hand absently carved designs and symbols in the dust.

“Well, it’s true,” Rude insisted. “You should’ve just kept your mouth shut. If you’d just held your temper…”

“Shut up!” Reno snapped again, resting his forehead against the vertical iron bars of the cell. “At least I care about what’s going on. You don’t even seem to give a damn,” he accused.

“Who’s to say I care any less than you do? I just have a better hold of my emotions. And maybe I realize that this whole idea is probably hopeless.”

Reno turned around and glared daggers at his partner. “Are you trying to start something here?”

“Both of you, be quiet,” Vincent scolded distantly, still tracing symbols on the floor. “We’ve got another sixteen and a half hours of each other to endure, so let’s try to keep this civil. Reno, you’re too emotional. Rude, you give up too easily. Now, shut up and let me think.”

Sullenly falling silent, Reno continued to stare moodily out of the cell and into the corridor, dead quiet except for the snoring of a recovering drunk in the cell closest to the door. “Y’know, the prisons are probably as empty as this too,” he called over his shoulder.

“No, the prisons are full of the falsely convicted,” Vincent corrected, not looking up from the floor. “But we aren’t concerned with the past.”

“Hmph. Easy for you to say,” Reno muttered, trying hard not to reflect on his own past. “So what do we do now?”

There was a long silence before Vincent looked up, looking a little startled. “What? Oh, you were talking to me? Who says I know what to do?”

“Well, you’ve been bloody sitting there, scribbling on the floor for seven and a half hours. Surely you’ve come up with something.”

Vincent appeared slightly taken aback by this remark and glanced up at the barred window, trying to gauge the depth of darkness outside. “It’s been seven hours? Who told you that?”

You did!”

“I don’t recall saying anything like that…” Vincent murmured to himself, resuming his scratching on the floor. “Did I say that?”

“Yes! You said we had another sixteen and a half hours to go! That works out to us having been here seven and a half hours,” Reno explained patiently, the irritation in his tone showing through.

“Oh. Well, I also told you I have a wretched sense of time. For all I can tell we’ve only been here half an hour.”

Rude looked up from his bible. “One thing about Reno. Can’t keep him in one place for too long, or he starts to go stir crazy.” He cast a glance at his partner, who was rattling the bars of the cell and cursing.

“Duly noted,” Vincent acknowledged, continuing to scratch on the floor. “Reno, maybe you should try and go to bed. See if you can sleep for six hours. Then, if you manage to do that, try to go another six. You can make it a game. I find it’s really quite easy, if you do it in sixes.”

“I don’t want to go to sleep, I don’t want any bloody games, I want to get out of here, now.” Agitatedly, Reno threw his lean frame against the bars and slumped half-heartedly to the floor, looking immensely depressed when they didn’t give way. “Can’t you think of any way for us to get out of here?”

“I haven’t been thinking about getting out of here. I’m perfectly content to serve out this little sentence, and think about more important things. It’s probably a positive thing, think of it that way.”

Reno stared at the dark haired man before him, who still sat, calmly scratching designs and symbols on the floor, completely unperturbed by the fact that he was spending the evening in a cell. “WARDEN!” he suddenly yelled at the top of his lungs. Getting up, he went over to the wall where a small sink and toilet were. Pulling the dingy grey towel that hung beside the sink off the towel bar, he grabbed the flimsy piece of metal and started yanking at it, attempting to pull it loose from the wall.

For a few minutes Reno wrenched and pulled at the flimsy looking bar, not having much luck prying it from the wall.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Rude cautioned, not looking up from the bible as his partner muttered more curses under his breath and grunted with exertion.

Vincent looked up from the floor and watched Reno for a few seconds. “You’re going to get in trouble for that, you know.”

“Don’t…care…” Reno panted, letting go of the bar for a second and tugging his jacket off. Loosening his tie slightly and rolling up his sleeves, he attacked the towel bar with renewed energy.

Rude grunted finally and stood up, grabbing the back of his partner’s jacket with a massive hand and pulling him back. Reaching out with both hands, he jerked the towel bar once and it came loose with a shower of dull grey paint flecks and mortar. Presenting it to Reno, he returned to his bunk and reopened his bible. “Y’know, I’m getting the impression that if you’re in prison, Christ comes to visit you. Or is that only for special cases?”

Vincent watched dispassionately as Reno started slamming the metal bar into the bars of the cell, making a loud banging noise that echoed all the way up and down the corridor. “And what’s Reno, if not a special case?”

“Hey, what’s all the noise in here?” a loud voice boomed down the hall. “Only five minutes to lights out…you boys’d better not be actin’ up.

Reno dropped the towel bar with a clang, dropped to his knees, and started rattling the bars again, as a uniformed officer appeared outside the door of the cell. “Lemme out! Please, for Christ’s sake, lemme out! I’ll never do it again, I swear! I’ll go crazy in here, Warden, I’m tellin’ ya!” Scrambling to his feet again with the towel bar in hand he crossed the room, grabbed the back of Vincent’s collar, and lifted the metal bar above his head menacingly. “Lemme out now, or I’ll brain the vampire!”


“Happy now?”

There was a self-pitying whimper from across the darkened corridor and the mournful clanking of handcuffs that were attached to cell bars.

A flutter of pages and a soft thud, followed by a grunt and a snore indicated that Rude had fallen asleep and for a while the only sounds were his soft snoring and the persistent scratching of metal on concrete. A patch of silver moonlight traveled across the floor at an imperceptible speed, three parallel shadows cast by the bars in the window.

“Vincent?” Reno called softly after a long silence, and there was a slight rustling that indicated he had changed position.


“Will it still work? My idea, I mean. Is it still a possibility?”

Vincent looked up for a few minutes, his crimson gaze seeing through the darkness, to the anxiety in the eyes of the young Turk. “What makes you think it wouldn’t be?”

“W-well…it’s just…I screwed everything up pretty badly, today, didn’t I? If things fall through, it’s gonna be because of me. Rude’s right…if I’d just held my temper…is it like Rude says? Hopeless?”

“That depends what you’re referring to when you say ‘hopeless’. If by hopeless you’re referring to us getting a city grant, setting up a half-decent lab, and recruiting sufficient staff to run this thing, and completely solving Junon’s criminal problems, then, yes, things are looking pretty hopeless.”

“Shit,” Reno sighed forlornly. “I’m sorry about this…”

Vincent shrugged. “I never said it was completely hopeless. It’s just not likely that this operation will begin as a civically funded project.”

“Oh.” Reno was silent for a few moments. “What does that mean?”

“Reno, what sort of shape are your morals in?”


Vincent resumed tracing things on the concrete floor. “Do you believe that morality and legality always coincide?”

Reno didn’t answer immediately, rolling over on his bunk and staring up at the ceiling. “No,” he said finally. “You can break the law and still be morally right.”

“Good. Then I’ll outline our situation, as I understand it. We have all the basic equipment we need to start a lab. I have enough informal training to provide some sort of basis for this idea. You’re eager to learn and Rude is willing to go along with this. Not quite as willing as you, perhaps, but still. We lack a location, we lack the transportation to get the equipment we need from Nibelheim to here, and we lack the capital to acquire either. So what it boils down to is that we’re going to have to start out as a private organization with no money.”

“How’re we gonna get money?” Reno asked, yawning drowsily.

“We’ll figure that out in the morning.”


Junon was bustling in the morning, as people headed off to work and the city started to pulse with life and commerce. A waitress hurried into the restaurant and shrugged off her coat, tying on her apron and clocking in. Slipping right into the routine, she tucked a pencil behind her ear and pulled a notepad from the pocket of her apron. Calling a greeting to the cook, she proceeded to shark around the restaurant, spying an unattended back table and bustling over.

“Good morning and welcome to Mom’s Country Diner!” she said briskly. “May I take your order?”

There was a good deal of paper rustling and various newspapers, maps, diagrams, and sheets of scrap paper with number scribbled all over them were folded and whisked away.

“Uh…sure. Let’s see…” The redhead who had spoken first yawned widely and rubbed his sleepy eyes. “I need coffee. And…I dunno, whatever’s on special. Rude?”

The bald man who the redhead had addressed gave a noncommittal shrug and pushed his sunglasses up his nose. “Coffee. And maybe an omelette or something. Surprise me. Vincent?”


The waitress nodded, scribbling on her notepad. “Ok, so we got two coffees, a tea, one special…how d’you want your eggs, honey? And white, brown, or rye toast?”

“Oh…uh…over easy, I guess. And white toast,” the redhead answered, yawning again and massaging a red area on his wrist, where the skin had chafed and blistered.

“Uh huh…and what about you?” she asked, addressing Rude. “What sort of omelette?”

“Western. And rye toast,” Rude answered, reaching back under the table and pulling out a newspaper.

“Ok, got it. I’ll be back in a minute with your coffee.” The waitress bustled away from the table and vanished behind the counter.

With a moderate amount of rustling the paperwork came out again and covered the table. Rude continued to leaf through the newspaper, calling out coordinates to Reno, who was poring over a map and marking X’s at the designated spots. Every so often, Rude would also call a price to Vincent, who had both a piece of paper and a different newspaper, was marking coordinates on a different section of the map, and was taking down prices and factoring them into calculations, muttering numbers to himself.

“Gentlemen, has it occurred to anyone else what a massive undertaking this is?” Rude asked, flipping to another page of the newspaper.

“Yep,” Reno answered, still scanning the map in front of him. “It’s gonna be a lot of work.”

“Mmm,” Vincent agreed, gaze distant, more focused on his current task. “Do either of you know anything about ‘Continental Shipping’? It seems like a pretty well-represented company and they’ve got reasonable prices…”

“Yeah, sounds good to me…” Reno nodded and rubbed his eyes. “We’ve got a lot of warehouses to look at. And we’re talking some pretty huge price tags. I dunno how the hell we’re gonna get this money.”

Vincent glanced up as the waitress returned to the table with a tray of hot drinks. Shuffling some papers around, he cleared an area of about four inches square and set the teacup the waitress handed him down. He then returned to work.

Reno swallowed about half of his coffee and yawned. “A warehouse might not be the best option. We probably don’t need something quite that huge…maybe a maximum of two thousand square feet.”

“S’cuse me?” the waitress piped up. “Didn’t mean to overhear, but you boys are lookin’ for a warehouse?”

Reno’s drowsy expression vanished and was replaced with a brilliantly charming smile. “We certainly are. D’you know of one…Sadie?” he questioned, glancing briefly at the woman’s nametag.

Sadie nodded, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Sure do. My brother’s been havin’ a hell of a time selling his, down on the wharf. It’s a runty little place, so it’s goin’ cheap…”

“Thank you very much,” Reno said sincerely. “Could we get his address?”

“Sure, hon. He’s down on the waterfront, like I said…” she scribbled an address on her notepad and handed it over. “Now, it ain’t exactly the nicest lookin’ warehouse in the world, but it’ll hold up.”

Reno took the paper and marked the address on the map, smiling brightly again. “Thanks, so much.” Reaching into his pocket he pulled out about fifty gil and pressed it into the woman’s hand. “Really.”

“Any time, darlin’.” Sadie left the table, tucking the money in her pocket and Reno leaned forward eagerly, looking at the address again.

“Now that’s luck! And only a hundred and fifty grand…that’s a steal compared to the other places we’ve looked up,” Reno asserted cheerfully. “Almost makes a night in jail seem worth it.”

Vincent appeared slightly more reticent. “We’re still going to look at a few others. We’ll take that one last. Rude, I’ve got a slightly bigger job for you. Do you have any cash on you or in the bank?”

“A few grand,” Rude shrugged. “What do you want me doing with it?”

“Go to Continental Shipping and contract a truck to go up to Nibelheim and pick up all the stuff from my lab. Make sure you get all the books, too. Oh, and get my bats. They shouldn’t be too hard to catch. I’ll also give you the deed to the house an the address of the guy who’s been trying to buy it off me for the past three years.”

Rude arched an eyebrow. “Seems like a pretty heavy duty assignment. That could take me at least a week. And cost a fair amount.”

“You’ll get it all back out of the value of the mansion. It’s worth a good quarter million. The next little while is going to be a whole lot of really tight budgeting.”


Reno slumped down dejectedly in the back seat of the cab they’d been using to get around the industrial section of Junon. In the past three days, they’d visited over forty warehouses for sale and none of them had met Vincent’s standards, which were apparently very high. Rude had also called with the bad news that the manor had only brought a hundred grand, severely narrowing their options. “What do we do if we don’t find a place?” he questioned tiredly.

“If we don’t find a warehouse?” Vincent looked out the window as the cab cruised down the waterfront, boats bobbing at the pier on the left and dingy, rusting warehouses to the right. “Well, then we’re going to have to look into a commercial building. Which I really don’t want to do, but I’ll take it as an option.” He lowered his voice slightly. “You have to understand that the more discreet we are about this, the better. A lot of what we’re doing is going to have to be illegal, to start off with. So the further we are from the public eye…”

“The less likely it is we’ll be caught,” Reno finished. “This is going to be tricky.”

The cab pulled over in front of another warehouse, outside of which a nervous looking man stood, rubbing a hand over the top of his balding head and wiping his other palm on his grubby coveralls. Reno got out of the cab and stretched, while Vincent handed the driver a carefully calculated fare and circled round the back of the cab.

“G’morning!” Reno called cordially to the man. “This your place? Your sister told us to come here, said you had a good price…”

“Oh! You’re the ones she was talking about…” the man rubbed his hand vigorously against his coveralls and held it out politely. “I’m Earl.”

“Reno.” Shaking the man’s hand, Reno cast his gaze over the face of the warehouse, dwarfed slightly by the two that flanked it. It was very nondescript, no name on the front, windows boarded up. He glanced at Vincent, trying to read his expression, but he couldn’t divine anything.

“How much are you asking for this place?” Vincent asked, hands in his pockets, looking totally unconcerned.

“Oh, a hundred and twenty five grand,” Earl answered, trying and failing to match his client’s casual manner. “She’s a good twenty-five hundred square feet, with a catwalk and old offices on top.”


Vincent continued to pose questions and Reno scuffed his shoes in the dust, used to the routine. He glanced out over the water and saw a ship on the horizon, absently wondering if it might be the one Rude was on. Silently, he prayed they’d have a place to put the contents of Vincent’s lab before their ship came in.

“Could we take a look inside?” Vincent asked finally.

Reno glanced up hopefully. Vincent rarely got as far as asking to see the interior of a warehouse. He’d usually dismissed the place as a possibility in under ten questions.

“S-sure,” Earl agreed, seeming to sense that this was a positive thing. “Just lemme unlock it…”

As the squat man turned to unlock the padlock on the front doors, Vincent turned around and stared out over the choppy ocean. His gaze fell on the ship on the horizon, but his expression didn’t change.

“So?” Reno whispered, pretending to be staring out to sea. “This one’s looking good?”

“It’s sounding like it will be sufficient,” Vincent agreed slowly. “It’s small, for one thing, and that’s to our advantage. Completely bare, though. We’ll need to set up dividers and counters and all manner of things…It’s no substitute for a real lab, that’s for sure.”

“But it’s better than nothing,” Reno asserted, turning around as he heard the sound of the heavy padlock unlocking.

“W-well…here she is…” Earl threw the doors wide and stepped back to let his customers in.

Vincent entered first his ruby eyes narrowing slightly. The interior of the warehouse was dark, too dark to see the far end, and very little light got in through the grimy and boarded up windows. “Could we get some light?”

Reno entered and coughed, gagging slightly. “God, it stinks in here!”

Earl looked embarrassed. “It’s the waterfront. The smell usually isn’t this bad…”

“I vote no,” Reno muttered under his breath, leaning out the door and facing away from the inside of the warehouse.

“Uh…I’ll just get the lights,” Earl offered, flustered. He turned around and heaved upward on the rusty switch. Fluorescent lights hanging from the high ceiling of the warehouse slowly blinked on, illuminating the front of the warehouse first.

Reno jumped and turned around when he heard a sudden yell of horror and a sharp intake of breath from Vincent. At the far end of the warehouse, dangling from the edge of the catwalk with a rope around its neck was a stiffened body, the eyes bugging out of its face and the mouth twisted in a silenced scream.

For a few moments, there was a stunned silence from the owner and Reno suppressed the familiar sick feeling of finding yet another body in Junon.

“We’ll take it,” Vincent said suddenly, red eyes gleaming brightly. “It’s absolutely perfect.”

Earl’s eyes widened. “B-but…there’s a dead guy…I d-don’t even know how he got here…”

“Hey, liability comes with the territory. We take this place, he’s our problem, and you knock twenty-five grand off the price.” Vincent didn’t wait for an answer, climbing nimbly up the ladder and walking quickly down the catwalk.

Earl stammered for a few minutes, then turned to look wild-eyed at Reno, who was more or less as shocked as he was. “I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it!” he insisted, panicked note in his voice. “He wasn’t here when I come t’ check yesterday…I swear, mister, I got no idea…”

“No one’s blaming you,” Reno interrupted quickly. “We’re happy to take the place off your hands. You just keep your mouth shut about this, and there won’t be any trouble. Trust me, Earl, I have experience in this kind of thing.”

Earl nodded slowly, some of the colour returning to his cheeks. “You guys’d do that for me? I don’t even know who you are…”

Reno flashed a charming grin. “And we don’t know who you are.” He winked devilishly. “We never met. This entire transaction took place over the phone, got it?”

“Write him a check and get him out of here!” Vincent called from across the room, leaning over the catwalk and examining the body that dangled from the railing.

“Ah…right,” Reno dug in his pocket and pulled out his checkbook, a little startled at hearing Vincent raise his voice. Hastily writing the check and postdating it for a few days later, Reno tore it from his checkbook and handed it to Earl. “There you go. Here, take an extra hundred and get a cab.”

Still stuttering, Earl accepted the check and shook Reno’s hand firmly. “Th-thanks for this…”

“No problem,” Reno said easily, returning the gesture. “Glad to help you out. You take care of yourself, ok?”

“Wait a minute.” Vincent had come soundlessly back across the catwalk and down the stairs, and caught Earl’s shoulder with his left hand. “Could we get a receipt?”

“A receipt?” Earl echoed blankly. “Uh…sure. Here, just a second…” Digging in his pocket, Earl pulled out a scrap of paper and scrawled a record of the transaction on the back. “That good?”

“Perfect, thank you. Have a nice day,” Vincent responded distantly, taking the receipt in his left hand and wandering over to the back of the warehouse.

Reno opened one of the double doors and ushered Earl outside. “Bye, Earl!” he called cheerfully, waving and slamming the heavy door. Sighing deeply and gagging at the smell again, he slipped his hands in his pockets and looked around the warehouse, slightly bemused. “I toldya it’d be this one in the end!” he called jovially to Vincent, who was crouched beneath the body, examining the dusty floor from a few feet back. “Tough luck about the suicide dude, but at least he knocked the price down.”

Vincent didn’t answer, still staring at the floor intently. “Don’t come any closer,” he murmured, not turning around as Reno approached. “In fact, go up to the catwalk.”

Slightly bewildered, Reno backed off and climbed up the ladder, leaning over the railing and watching Vincent. “What’s up?”

“I think we might have our first murder.”


“Well, I had rather thought you two going to wait for me before starting,” Rude called sarcastically from the entrance of the warehouse, striding across the floor, stopping a few feet from Vincent, who was staring up at the body, and folding his arms across his chest. “Interesting way to store our customers, though. Where’s Reno?”

Vincent started slightly and turned around. “Hmm? Oh…yes, I sent him to do some shopping. We’re going to need a few things.”

Rude grunted. “So who’s our dangling friend?”

Shrugging, Vincent sighed. “I don’t know yet. I’ve been waiting for Reno to get back so we can cut him down and stick him in the fridge in back.”

“We have a fridge,” Rude approved. “Step in the right direction.”

“Can’t have an illegal morgue without a refrigerated chamber.” Vincent rubbed his eyes. “I just wish I had a coroner.”

Rude chuckled. “Well, you seem to have everything else. Your lab is here. Oh, and your bats.”

Vincent looked a little less disheartened and nodded. “All right. We’d better start bringing things in…I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we lack interior walls. So nothing’s going to start until we’re set up properly. And that could take at least a week…and we can’t talk to contractors until we get rid of our dead guy.”

“It’s a step in the right direction…now…we own this place? How much?” Rude questioned.

“A hundred thousand,” Vincent answered shrugging. “Compared to some of the others, we got it cheap, but that’s only because the dead guy knocked of twenty percent.”

Rude nodded. “Not bad. Well…we’d better go start moving boxes. They’re in a truck outside. We have until ten tomorrow morning to get that thing unloaded.”

Vincent paled slightly. “That’s all? I had thought we’d have at least…”

“Yeah, well you thought wrong,” Rude interrupted, glancing at his watch. “And we’re wasting time. Let’s get to work.”

Reluctantly pulling off his jacket, Vincent looked around for somewhere to put it, then dropped it on the floor resignedly. “All right,” he agreed dubiously. “I hope you managed to pack everything with some semblance of order.”

Rude grinned. “Yeah. Order. I was working with teamsters. You’re lucky nothing’s broken.”


At about midnight, after about three hours of serious unpacking, a car pulled up in front of the warehouse and Reno climbed out, stretching and slapping the side of the moving truck outside the warehouse. “Anybody home?” he called cheerfully, climbing onto the tailgate and leaning against the wall.

Rude was sitting on top of a crate in the back of the truck box and looked up from mopping his face with a towel he’d procured somewhere. “Hey,” he said, kicking Vincent, who sat on the truck floor with his eyes closed, leaning back against a stack of boxes, in the ribs. “Your personal shopper is back.”

Vincent started and sat up, rubbing his eyes and looking around blearily. “Huh?”

“Working hard?” Reno called sarcastically. “Come help unpack the car.”

You come help unpack the truck,” Vincent retorted sourly, getting achingly to his feet and stretching.

“The car needs to be back by nine tomorrow morning,” Reno answered, dangling a pair of rental car keys. “D’you know how hard it is to find a cabby who’ll transport a guy carrying nitro-glycerine?”

“Oh, fine,” Vincent agreed sullenly, climbing off the tailgate and wandering over to the car. “Did you get everything?”

“Pretty much,” Reno answered, opening the passenger side door and handing Vincent a cardboard box that rattled slightly. “Those’re all the chemicals you wanted.” He slammed the door and opened the trunk. “And here’s all the ‘miscellaneous stuff’,” he continued, lifting the box out with a grunt. “Where d’you want it?”

“Just inside. We’ve been trying to get the damn truck unpacked. I hadn’t realized how much stuff I have.”

Reno nodded and followed Vincent into the building, mimicking his action and setting the box he carried down on a larger crate. Looking around the warehouse, he noticed that there were a good number of boxes and a small cage, in which four bats were sleeping. “Well, at least a good deal of it is inside,” he remarked optimistically.

“Yeah, that’s something,” Vincent agreed, wandering over to the stack of crates where the cage was sitting. “They’ll like it here,” he observed, speaking half to himself.

Reno shuddered slightly. “How’re you gonna feed those things?” he questioned. “They aren’t…they’re fruit bats or something, right?”

Vincent shook his head, looking almost affronted that Reno would suggest such a thing. “No, they’re pureblood vampires. Of the Desmodus Rotundus strain. The Shinra mansion was probably the only place in the world you could find such a true breed. And don’t call them ‘things’. They’re not so different from regular pets.”

“Isn’t it…kinda creepy that you keep vampire bats for pets?”

Giving Reno a slightly quizzical look, he crouched down slightly and reached the tip of his finger through the tight bars of the cage. The bat nearest made a very soft, high-pitched noise and shuffled along the bar it clung to until it was close enough to nuzzle its furry cheek against Vincent’s finger. “They really aren’t so bad. Just…sort of misunderstood, I guess. Really, this bunch is quite affectionate. Right, Selene?”

Reno stepped back a pace and cocked his head to the side, watching the odd little scene before him. For the briefest few moments, it seemed almost sweet rather than sinister. He had to it admit, despite their leathery wings and pointed incisors, the bats were rather cute. “So how will you feed them? If you let ‘em out they could suck the blood from our friend the corpse,” Reno suggested.

Vincent shook his head, turning his hand slightly so the knuckle was bared to the small bat. She made another high-pitched noise and gently sank her teeth into his flesh. Vincent didn’t flinch, smiling slightly and stroking the creature’s head with a fingertip. “Selene is really quite sweet, for a bat. They only drink warm blood. I have lots to spare. I’ll feed them until we get the windows boarded up so they can hunt for themselves.”

“Uh…hunt…what?” Reno questioned, nervously watching the little bat daintily lapping up bright red blood, and rubbing the back of his neck subconsciously.

“Rats,” Vincent answered simply, drawing his finger away from the cage and waiting for the blood to clot. “This warehouse is simply teeming with them. If I can catch one, I’ll drop him in there and they can get him for themselves.”

Reno paled slightly. “R-rats?” he stammered, glancing fearfully over his shoulder. “I didn’t see any rats when we got here…”

“Of course not. They aren’t used to people yet. After we’ve been here a few days, they’ll start to get bolder and they’ll be everywhere.”

Looking slightly sick, Reno sat down on one of the crates and shuddered. “Great. Just great.”

Vincent gave him an odd look. “Do you have a phobia of rats?”

Flushing slightly, Reno shrugged. “Uh…well…I wouldn’t call it a phobia, per se…they just freak me out a little, y’know?”

“Ah. Well, they’ll be no match for these four.” Vincent touched the wire mesh of the cage affectionately. “Selene’s the smallest, but even she can make quick work of a rat. It’s fascinating to watch, really.”

“Uh…yeah. Whatever.” Swallowing nervously, Reno glanced over his shoulder as he imagined he heard a scuttle in the darkness along the wall. “Let’s…get back to work,” he suggested promptly, a shiver running down his spine.


The dawn that filtered through the cracks in the boards over the windows of the warehouse, and through the patches that were yet untouched by grime had little to no affect on those within. A total of twenty-seven boxes and crates had been moved into the warehouse, the job finishing at about three-thirty in the morning.

If a casual observer were to enter the warehouse, it would appear at first that a small genocide had taken place. Reno, sleeping on a wide board that had been perched precariously between two stacks of crates, was quite apparently dead to the world. Rude had once again fallen asleep in the middle of a book, his cheek pressed against the pages of “1001 Poisonous Herbs and Fungi”, snoring softly. Competing for the title of “most corpselike” were the corpse that hung from the back railing, swaying softly in the morning breeze, and Vincent, stretched out comfortably on his side, with one finger pressed against the mesh cage where his bats were kept, several neat bite marks indicating that the small community of bats had eaten their fill.

Reno woke first, unfortunately, rolling over and falling about five feet off the top of the pile of boxes, to land unceremoniously on the floor with a small cloud of dust and a inordinate amount of cursing.

This in turn, woke Rude, who pushed himself up stiffly, peeling the book off his face and rubbing a hand over the stubble that was growing on his skull. “You all right, Reno?” he called sleepily, getting up and stretching.

There was more muttered cursing and a self-pitying groan as Reno got to his feet and rubbed his eyes, seeming to remember something and looking frantically around the room before relaxing slightly. “Well, I’m not dead,” he answered sullenly.

Rude nodded and bent over Vincent, shaking his shoulder. “Up n’ at ‘em,” he urged, when Vincent’s red eyes blinked open drowsily and he yawned.

“G’morning Mr. Bloodletter,” Reno piped cheerfully, climbing back to the top of the pile of crates he’d claimed as his bed and glancing over at the swaying corpse. “And good morning to you, Cadaveric!”

Vincent rolled his eyes, sitting up and shaking his right hand to get the blood circulation to pick up again. “Shut up, Reno.”

“I’ve given him a name,” Reno informed his comrades innocuously. “I kind of like it. ‘Cadaveric’. It has a nice ring to it, like ‘Maverick’.”

“Yes, you’re very clever,” Rude agreed dryly, sitting back down. Rubbing the back of his neck, he glanced over at the gently swaying body. “So…what’s the game plan for that guy?”

Vincent was silent for a few moments. “All right. Here’s where it starts to get illegal. We aren’t going to report this guy until we’ve processed him. Now…uh…how can I put this…we’re a private organization. An illegal private organization, but a private organization nonetheless. So we’re going to need to get our hands on the city’s records, Midgar’s old criminal database, all sorts of electronic stuff. Are you all right with that, Reno?” he asked seriously, eyeing the redhead.

“Oh, sure! Hell, I’ll even hack the system myself!” Reno offered cheerfully. “Hey, it’s a blow against the city council, right? So I’ll be glad to do it.”

Vincent nodded. “In that case, we need computers. I think three of a fairly high quality should be good for a start. D’you have what you need to get those?”

Reno nodded vigorously and hopped down from the top of the boxes. “Sure! I have to bring the car back anyway…I’ll swing by my place and do a few things, then grab our computers and be right back, ok?”

“Right,” Vincent agreed. “Is it right if Rude and I start to take a look at our dead guy?”

“Sure,” Reno agreed. “I’ve seen more than my share of dead guys, and it just means Rude’ll get a bit of head start in learning about this junk.”

“Fair enough. Now…I just need you to tell me where you put a couple things,” Vincent questioned. “Did you get a decent digital camera?”

“Uh…yup…” Reno rummaged in one of the boxes and pulled out a digital camera, handing it over. “What else?”

“Meat thermometer?”

Reno nodded and pulled out a small metal device. “Quick-read, digital display. Nothing but the best.”

“Hmm…good…latex gloves?”

A strange expression crossed Reno’s features and he nodded slowly, going over and opening the lid of a box, full of smaller boxes of latex gloves. “Uh…yeah. You asked for a lot of these. I’ll tell you right now, you do your own personal shopping. The clerk looked at me real funny. I had to tell her my girlfriend got off on latex…which, actually…one of my old girlfriends did, so no harm no foul.”

Vincent sighed and rolled his eyes. “Right, Reno. All right. If we need anything else, we’ll find it for ourselves. You go get shopping, ok?

“Okey dokey,” Reno agreed brightly, heading out of the warehouse with a slight spring in his step.

“He’s pretty gung-ho about this, isn’t he?” Rude observed, once the warehouse doors had slammed shut and the roar of the car engine indicated that Reno had torn off down the waterfront.

“He’s your partner, you tell me,” Vincent replied, opening one of the boxes and pulling out a single latex glove, tugging it onto his right hand. “Shall we go get started, then?”

“No time like the present,” Rude agreed, taking a pair of gloves for himself and snapping them tightly onto his hands. “How do you propose we start?”

Vincent held up the camera. “Pictures. Of everything near this corpse. Especially the ground beneath him. I’ll leave that to you. I have to figure out how we’re going to get this guy down and what we’re going to do with him once he’s down…”

Rude nodded and got right down to snapping pictures. Vincent watched for a few moments, until it was evident that Rude knew what he was doing. Wandering over to the crates he sat down and leaned back against one of the boxes, thinking.

In about ten minutes, Rude came over and announced he was done. “I’ve got at least fifty photos here. I hope Reno gets a computer with decent harddrive space.”

“I’m sure he will. You got pictures of the knot, right?” Vincent questioned, getting up and climbing up to the catwalk with Rude close behind.

“From three different angles,” Rude confirmed. “I also think I spotted a wallet in his pocket. So we’ve got ID at least.”

Vincent nodded distractedly, stopping when he was inline with the swaying rope. “Good. Do you have a knife on you?”

Rude pulled a pocketknife and handed it over silently. “Here you are. That’s it? You’re just going to cut him down?”

“No. You’re going to pull him up,” Vincent answered, deliberately starting to saw through the rope.

“Shit,” Rude grumbled, bending over and taking hold of the rope as Vincent started to make progress cutting through it. “This is gonna be like two-hundred pounds of dead weight,” he complained, grunting slightly as he pulled up on the rope. “And in a damn hard position to lift. You’re lucky I pump iron.”

Vincent smiled slightly, but didn’t answer, the rope fraying further as he changed position and forced it through the last of the fibers.

Rude gave a sharp grunt as gravity took affect and the body threatened to plummet, but he managed to pull upward and keep it from slipping. “You think you could give me a hand?” he asked through clenched teeth, heaving upward.

“Mmm? Oh, yeah, I suppose.” Taking the rope and pulling upward with a strength that belied his slender build, Vincent helped Rude haul the corpse over the railing and gently set it on the floor. “Let’s move him to the office at the end of this hall. We can take a closer look at him there.”

Rude grunted in response and helped Vincent carry the stiff cadaver down the hall to one of the offices. Carefully, they set him down on top of an old, dust-covered desk. Stepping back as Vincent bent over the body and started to examine him, Rude cleared his throat. “So what do we know?”

“For starters, this wasn’t a suicide,” Vincent informed the bald man. “That much is obvious. Can you tell why?”

Taken slightly aback, Rude shrugged. “Uh…no. If I looked at him, I’d say he’d killed himself.”

Vincent shook his head. “Nope. The nature of it is wrong. He was strangled, and probably in such a manner that making it look like a suicide would be easy, but this definitely wasn’t a suicide.”

“I don’t understand,” Rude confessed, taking off his sunglasses and swapping them for a pair of wire rimmed lenses. “How do you know that?”

“What do you think he did? Typical suicide, he knotted the noose around his neck, tied it off to the railing, then jumped, right? However, that type of death would imply a breakage of the cervical spine, which is what kills someone. There’s no evidence of a break though. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t strangulation that kills a hanging victim; it’s the breaking of the spine. Actually, back in medieval times, when they hung murders and such, it was known to happen that the breakage of the spine wouldn’t kill the person, it would merely paralyse them. Being the extremely accurate source of confirmation that it is, the church then deemed the murder in question deserving of being buried alive for his crime. Sorta like he’d earned it, for not being lucky enough to die when his neck snapped.”

Rude swallowed nervously. “Uh…huh. So…what does the fact that this guy was strangled tell you? Other than that it was a murder?”

“Well, the way we found him was just too convenient. Did you see the footprints, beneath him and to the left? The dust is thick, because this warehouse has been empty for a long while. There are only three sets of footprints within a ten-foot radius. Yours and mine, leading to and away from an area in about a five foot radius of the body, and another set that are very interesting. Small shoes, which created a scuff pattern indicative of someone heaving on the rope and moving backwards as they pulled.”

“Whoa. And we don’t even know who he is yet…” Rude muttered, looking slightly impressed. “I wasn’t sure this whole thing was gonna work, but you really know your stuff.”

Vincent shrugged. “I have twenty-two years of study to my name. You learn things.” Reaching into the dead man’s front pocket, he gingerly withdrew a wallet. “Let’s see who our cadaveric friend is…” Opening the small leather wallet, he peered at the driver’s license and pulled out a business card. “Dr. Nathan Laurence. Hmm. What would a doctor be doing in a warehouse?” he murmured thoughtfully. “More importantly, what sort of doctor carries a business card?”

Rude didn’t answer immediately, unsure whether Vincent was talking to himself or not. “Uh…maybe someone he knows works here?” he suggested cautiously.

“Perhaps. But it’s not good to make judgements now. We don’t have nearly enough information. Devising a theory before there’s evidence leads one to try and make the evidence fit the theory, which is dreadfully bad form.”

“What else can we find out?” Rude asked, holding out a hand for the wallet. “This is a pretty light wallet, for a doctor.”

Vincent nodded, closely examining the dead man’s shirt. “Lipstick…?” he murmured inquisitively. “That’s interesting…very interesting. From the wife, I wonder? Or is our doctor indulging in the pleasures of the extramarital? Get some pictures. Are there many cyprians in Junon, do you know?”

“Uh?” Rude rubbed a hand over his scalp again and snapped a few photos. “Many what?”

“Cyprians. Demimondaines, prostitutes, whores, working girls…can you think of a politer word for hooker?” Vincent asked tartly, turning up the doctor’s collar and running his finger underneath the edge.

“Uh…I really don’t know…Reno would. Much as he hates the place, Reno knows Junon,” Rude answered guardedly. “Or, better yet, Reno knows hookers.”

Vincent looked up, giving Rude a penetrating stare that looked as though it would be succeeded by a question but all he said was, “All right.” Reaching with two fingers around the back of the man’s neck he frowned slightly and pulled out a long, red acrylic fingernail. “Ah…hmm. This is certainly not something one would find on a doctor’s wife.”

“Why not?” Rude questioned, slightly bewildered. “A fingernail is a fingernail, isn’t it? And how do you know he’s married?”

“Wedding ring. This is fake. Cheap, gaudy, self-applied…not something that our doctor’s wife would wear. No, a doctor’s wife could afford a professional manicure. We’re looking for someone of the working class, minimum wage.”

Rude nodded, terribly unsure what to say. “I really don’t think I’m cut out for this sort of work,” he admitted. “Noticing things was always Reno’s skill.”

“Mmm. Well, we’ll figure that out later. If you’re getting bored with the body you can go start organizing my library.”

“Uh…yeah. Yeah, I’ll go get started with that,” Rude agreed. “You…uh…you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. I’ll be another hour or two. If Reno gets back, send him up and I’ll walk him through the process. Oh…and go get me a notepad and a pen. I’m going to have to record my findings.”

Rude nodded, suppressing a slight shudder and deciding he wasn’t cut out to handle corpses.


“Hey!” Reno yelled, upon entering the warehouse to find Rude cataloguing books. “Where’d you guys put Cadaveric? Aww…shit, don’t tell me you got rid of him? I wanted to say my g’byes and stuff…”

Rude sighed and rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses. “No, both the corpses are upstairs.”

“Both?” Reno echoed, confused.

“Dr. Nathan Laurence and Vincent are upstairs,” Rude clarified with a shadow of a smile.

Reno laughed. “Oooh, that was a rim shot, buddy. Heh, and you call me an asshole. So…what’s he doing?”

Rude shrugged. “An informal autopsy. He knows his stuff, Reno. You’re going to be getting a crash course in this subject. He wanted me to send you up when you got back.”

“He wants me?” Reno questioned incredulously. “I don’t know the first thing about corpses! I didn’t figure…I don’t think I’m quite ready for this kinda thing yet…”

“You’d do better than me,” Rude said honestly, shuddering. “This freaks me out a little too much. He’s quite meticulous.”

“Well…I’ll go try,” Reno conceded. “Just take a look, or whatever. Hell…how much can you figure out from a dead body?”

Rude laughed dryly. “A lot. A hell of a lot.”

“Uh…right.” A little nervously, Reno climbed up the staircase to the catwalk and walked past the two empty offices and knocked on the closed door of the third.

“Come in,” Vincent called, voice muffled by the closed door.

Reno took a deep breath and opened the door, slipping inside. “Hey,” he greeted Vincent quietly, hanging back a bit. “You almost done?”

“Ah, you’re back…hmm. Come look at this guy and tell me everything you know about him.”

“I’ll try,” Reno agreed, coming slowly closer and tucking his hands behind his back. He was silent for a few minutes, his eyes roving over the body before him. “Everything I know?”

“Everything you observe is probably more accurate,” Vincent agreed, nodding. “Do you want gloves?”

“Not just yet. I’ll see what I can figure by just looking at what I can see. Y’know, look don’t touch?”

Vincent smiled slightly. “Fair enough. What do you see?”

“Hmm…white guy. About forty or forty-five…Rude told me he was doctor and I can see how he’d come to that conclusion…”

“How did you?” Vincent questioned, his tone belying nothing.

“Me? Oh…well…his tie clip,” Reno explained, pointing to the gold bar that held the man’s tie in place. “It’s got the name of a hospital on it. My sister got something kinda like that…I forget why…like ten years of service or something? Except it wasn’t a tie clip for her…it was like a ring with an inscription.”

“Hmm. Good. Keep going. Did you want gloves yet?”

“Not yet,” Reno repeated, examining the man’s hands. “Wedding ring…and a pretty nice looking watch. So he’s sure not doing too badly. Wife and a kid…”

“A kid?” Vincent questioned. “How do you know that?”

Reno nodded. “A pretty young kid, too. Look at the inside of his pocket…actually, I’ll take the gloves now.”

Vincent wordlessly removed a pair from his pocket and handed them over. He covertly scribbled something on the notepad he had with him and cleared his throat as Reno pulled on the pair of latex gloves.

“Right here…” Reno murmured, reaching into the man’s pocket and peeling a brightly coloured band-aid from the inside. “There. An adult doesn’t wear this kind of band-aid and I don’t see any cuts on this guy’s hands, anyways. So he’s probably got a kid.”

“Or he’s a paediatrician,” Vincent countered.

Reno nodded slowly, his eyes growing a little sad. “I hope he didn’t have kids…” he said quietly, closing his eyes. “Yeah…yeah, he’s probably a paediatrician.” Clearing his throat slightly and shaking his head, Reno gently pulled back the folds of the man’s clothing and withdrew a wallet, opening the billfold. “No cash,” he observed, glancing at the driver’s license. “Nathan Laurence…forty-seven…lives uptown. Nice neighbourhood.”

“Rude said the same thing,” Vincent remarked, watching Reno closely.

“Yeah, well, Rude knows Junon a hell of a lot better than I do,” Reno answered absently, flipping through the contents of the wallet. “Credit card, bank card, business card…he’s a specialist…a paediatric specialist in neonatology. Which means…?”

“In newborns. He specialized in the care of newborn,” Vincent informed his protégé. “Where’s his office located?”

Reno squinted at the card. “Across town from his house. Probably a private clinic, right?”

“Right,” Vincent confirmed. “Anything else in the wallet?”

Carefully withdrawing a last piece of paper, Reno sighed. “Well…no kids, at least. Just him and his wife. She’s a nice looking lady…” Glancing down at the body, Reno tilted his head to the side. “I wonder if she knows…” he murmured absently. “It’s been…what, a day or two? How long before you figure it out? Maybe it’s easier in some cases. If I was gone for a couple days…well…I used to drop off the face of the earth for weeks at a time, when I was younger…but I always used to come back. I wonder if anyone ever worried I was dead…”

Vincent didn’t respond, his gaze cast to the floor. After a long silence, he finally spoke. “I think that’s enough for today. You can look over my report later. Did you get the computers I asked for?”

Reno’s distant expression brightened slightly. “Yup. Sure did. Excellent computers. Three, top of the line notebook laptops, one for each of us. Of course, that’s just until I can figure out how to get better ones. You know, personal computers. These things are just for the interim.”

“Good. Let’s see,” Vincent prompted, ushering Reno out of the office. “How’s it going, Rude?” he called to the bald man, who was surrounded by stacks of books and was making note of their titles in a notebook. “Is that my entire library?”

Rude grunted and nodded. “You need a secretary, I think,” he said sarcastically, laying the clipboard down. “How did Reno do?”

Vincent shrugged and glanced at the redhead, who stuffed his hands in his pockets and grinned awkwardly. “Certainly better than I expected.”

Reno’s grin grew slightly wider, but he tried to make it look as though he were shrugging the praise off. “Ah, whatever. It wasn’t a big deal. Wanna see the computers I picked up?”

Without waiting for an answer, he headed out to the rental car he’d gotten for another day and picked up three, wafer-thin, extremely light laptops. Humming cheerfully to himself he returned to the warehouse and passed them out. “Nice, huh?”

Vincent nodded slowly and flipped his over, eyeing a label on the bottom. “Property of the Junon City Council Building,” he read, looking up at Reno. “How’d you get these?”

Reno grinned again. “For all your towering intellect, you’d think you’d be able to figure that out.”

“What he means to say is that he stole them, of course.” Rude had opened his notebook and was typing on the keyboard. “It’ll take a little bit of doing to wipe all the files from these things,” he observed, browsing through the diminutive computer’s files. “None of it looks dreadfully useful.”

Vincent rolled his eyes and sighed. “I suppose the irony of stealing to solve a murder is rather lost on you?” he asked wryly.

Reno laughed. “Why d’you think I did it, if not for the irony? Well, that, and we’re a little short on cash, but that’s not as important. What do we do now?”

“We’re going down to the police station to report our dead guy.” Vincent looked down at the computer in his lap. “But first you’re going to hide these things. The last thing we need is a cop showing up and discovering a crime ring.”

“Why’re we going down to the station?” Reno questioned directly, prying the lid off a box and gently setting his newly acquired laptop inside. “Can’t we just call them up here?”

“I’ll explain when we get there,” Vincent said shortly, tucking his computer into an inch of space between two crates. “Just trust me.”


Reno clenched and unclenched his fingers on the steering wheel of the sleek rental car, pulling into a parking space beside the police building. “So you’re saying you want me to figure out the frequency of their radios so we can get all the latest on fear and loathing in Cannon City, plant a bug so we can listen in to conversations, and swipe a police officer’s badge to make illegal counterfeits? All after chewing me out about swiping a few measly laptops?” he asked slowly, giving Vincent a narrow-eyed glance. “I don’t get you, man.”

Vincent sighed. “Firstly, I did not ‘chew you out’. I merely explained that it would have been just as easy to do legally. Secondly, this is important. We’re talking about murders here. A police radio gets us news of what’s crucial. A bug in the office gets us more minor information, lesser crimes, maybe details we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. The badges’ll get us access. We need you to do this, Reno…”

“I never said I wouldn’t do it…I just said I don’t get you,” Reno answered evenly, leaning forward and draping his arms over the steering wheel. “Mmm…lemme think. We’re talking three difficult tasks here. Can we drop one? I’m sure I can get the frequency some other way. The bug…now that could be a little difficult, because I don’t know the layout of this office yet. I’m gonna have to figure it out once I’m in there, and that’ll be kinda tricky. The badge presents the most interesting challenge.”

Rude snorted from the backseat. “Typical, Reno. Exaggerating how tough a job’s gonna be. Did you used to do that when you were a Turk, Valentine?”

“Of course not.” Vincent’s stoic features wavered and he smiled to himself for a fleeting second before his expression flickered back to an aloof disdain. “No. We were old school. A job was a job. Except…there was the odd occasion…never mind.”

“What?” Reno pressed, attention captured. “The odd occasion of what?”

Vincent shook his head, turning away to conceal a flash of a smile. “Well…some agents…I never did of course…back then, we used to get paid on a ‘shots fired’ policy. Every bullet was a hundred Gil. A reload was five hundred. If it took you twenty rounds to hit a guy, that was two thousand in the bank. And that isn’t counting reloads. I knew guys who’d go into a fight with six clips, each with a single round in them. Six bullets, six reloads, works out to thirty-six hundred.”

Reno laughed. “Were machine guns allowed?”

“Nope. No automatics. Nothing that couldn’t be fitted with a silencer. That’s how a Turk’s supposed to work.”

Rude chuckled. “What’d you pack?”


“What sorta gun were you packing?” Reno clarified, giving Vincent a shrewd glance. “A professional bastard like you doesn’t carry the standard pistol. Naw, I’d peg you owning a specialty weapon. So what was it? A Colt? Luger?”

Vincent coughed. “I’d been known to carry a single shot derringer,” he admitted. “Just for special jobs. You know, the odd businessman who needed to be silenced, that sort of thing. Once in a while I’d use it for a fire fight.”

Reno laughed. “A derringer. You can’t be serious. You can’t kill a man with a derringer!”

“You can kill anyone with anything if you keep at it long enough. Shoot once, reload, shoot once, reload…I could rack up a grand five times faster than the average Turk.”

Reno smiled, a sort of wry, half grin. “We’ve come quite a ways in the other direction, eh? There used to be a time when I wouldn’t think twice about a dead guy…now…things are different.”

There was a strange silence that somehow seemed to indicate that the feeling was mutual, before Vincent cleared his throat and shook his head. “Times are different. So let’s do this.”

Abruptly dismissing the dark line of thinking, Reno nodded. “Yeah…yeah, I think I know what to do. Just not the police radio. The other two things I can handle. Where’s the bug?”

Vincent reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, round microphone. “It’s a fairly good piece of equipment. It should pick up everything in the room if you put it in the right place.”

Reno nodded and took the device. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve dealt with these things before. Approximate position should be the centre of the room, or as close as I can get.”

“How’re you gonna do this?” Rude asked. “You gonna need help?”

“Naw. I got this one,” Reno declined. “Thanks anyway. I’ll go in and report it myself. You guys wait here.”

Vincent looked slightly hesitant but nodded anyway. “All right. Be careful and don’t get us arrested.”

Flashing a debonair grin, Reno opened his door and stood up smoothly. “Yup. Don’t worry about it, boss. You might wanna get in the driver’s seat. I’ll be back in a minute. No worries.”

Vincent nodded slowly as Reno sauntered up to the police department, hands in his pockets and looking unconcerned. “Why am I so worried about this?” he murmured aloud, leaning back in his seat.

Rude chuckled. “You can trust Reno. His methods can be a little crude, sometimes, but he always gets the job done. It’s usually best just to leave him to his own devices and let him work on his own accord.”

“I suppose you’d know best,” Vincent agreed dubiously, shifting over to sit behind the wheel and drumming his fingers on the moulded rubber edge. About fifteen minutes later, Reno was back, exiting the police station looking extremely smug and absently buttoning up his shirt.

He opened the passenger door and slid into the seat with a grin. “All done. Let’s head back.”

“Where’s the badge?” Vincent asked, holding out his hand. “You did get it didn’t you?”

Reno winked and pulled it out of the pocket of his jacket. “Right here. I said I’d get it, didn’t I? I always get the job done. Remember that.”

Rude snatched the badge neatly from his partner’s fingers and examined it closely. “A woman,” he observed neutrally. “A blonde.”

“What about my bug?” Vincent questioned. “How many officers were in there?”

Reno grinned wolfishly. “Just the one. The rest were on lunch break. Just one, solitary policewoman, sitting at her desk doing the crossword. Looking kinda lonely.”

“So where’s the bug?” Vincent demanded again.

With a lackadaisical shrug, Reno ran his fingers through his hair. “Oh, somewhere between the closet and underneath her desk.”

“I’d wondered why you had lipstick on your collar,” Rude said dryly, handing over the badge. “I thought you didn’t like blondes?”

Assuming a pious expression, Reno rubbed a smudge of lipstick off his cheek. “One must make sacrifices. She got lipstick in a lot of other places too.” He cast a glance at Vincent. “I hope you’re happy. She bit me, you know. On the shoulder. I’ve never met a police chick who didn’t like it rough.”

Vincent sighed. “We’ll be lucky if she doesn’t report you,” he muttered darkly, pulling out of the parking space and easing the car out of the parking lot into traffic.

“Oh, she won’t.” Reno laughed. “She gave me her number.”

Rude grunted. “Typical. So now what?”

Vincent changed lanes and glanced briefly in the rear-view mirror. “Rude, you’re going to wait at the warehouse for the cops to show up and take that body off our hands. Reno and I are going to our guy’s house.”

“Why?” Reno asked, massaging his shoulder. “Cops have sharp teeth,” he muttered to himself.

“We’re going to wait for the police to show up and break the news to his wife. Then, once they’re gone, we’re going to ask her a few questions of our own.”

Rude grinned slightly. “A question for you, Reno…what’d you have done if it’d been a guy in there?”

“One must make sacrifices,” Vincent offered mockingly, before Reno had a chance to answer.


In a quiet suburb in uptown Junon a sleek black sedan sat, parked unobtrusively in the driveway of a plain white house, whose owners were out for the day. Vincent sat in the front seat, leaning back slightly and watching the house across the street with half-closed eyes, partially dozing. “Any news from Rude?” he asked suddenly.

Reno looked up from his laptop, which he’d been busy with for the past two hours. “I had an email from him a little while ago.” Fingers flickering quickly over the keyboard, he opened a window. “He says the police’ve picked up our dead guy and probably taken him to the morgue. They’ll probably send an officer around pretty soon, I’d think. Heh, thank god for wireless internet, eh?”

“Mmm.” Vincent nodded and leaned forward slightly, trying to see around the bend in the quiet lane. “What time was that?”

“Oh…about twenty minutes ago. So…we should be expecting our cops any time now.” With a few more keystrokes, Reno shut his laptop down and folded it up, sliding it neatly under the seat. “We’re gonna need a car at some point in time,” he observed. “This thing is nice, but we can’t do much of anything with it.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Vincent responded calmly, straightening in his seat as a police car came into view. “Here we go…”

The car pulled up in front of the stately house and two officers got up, walking up the driveway. The scene played out in silence, but Reno could imagine the sound of the doorbell ringing, and the confusion of the woman who answered the door. He felt a slight twinge of compassion for the woman as her hands flew to her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. “Are they going to tell her that he killed himself?” he asked, watching the police officers mutter apologies, then walk back down the driveway to their squad car.

Vincent shrugged. “More than likely. To a cop, a guy with a rope around his neck in a warehouse that was due to be condemned committed suicide, plain and simple.”

“But…that’s gotta feel horrible. I mean…hearing from some cop that your husband killed himself and not knowing why or how…especially since it isn’t true,” Reno protested.

“I suspect it’s a pretty terrible thing, yes,” Vincent agreed, watching the squad car pull away from the house and drive down the street. Getting out of the car, he stretched slightly and sighed. “But it makes our job no less difficult.”

Reno climbed out of the back seat and leaned against his door. “So…we just go and talk to this woman? What do we tell her?”

Vincent shrugged and started down the driveway, crossing the quiet street with Reno close behind. “We tell her the truth. We tell her what we know, what we need to know, and what we plan to do about all this. And then we hope that she’ll give us leave to pursue justice.” He walked up the driveway to the small front steps and rang the doorbell.

“What’re we gonna do if she doesn’t answer?” Reno murmured, leaning forward to peer in the window.

“Nothing we can do,” Vincent said simply. “She might not feel like talking to us and we can’t force her.”

Nevertheless, the door opened slowly and a well-dressed woman of about forty stood in the doorway, her eyes red-rimmed and puffy. “Y-yes?” she whispered, practically hiding behind the doorway.

“Mrs. Laurence?” Vincent asked, his tone a lot quieter and the look in his eyes far less haunted.

The woman cleared her throat awkwardly and passed a hand over her eyes. “I am…I mean…yes, that’s me…”

“I’m Vincent Valentine and this is my partner, Reno.” Vincent made a brief gesture over his shoulder at Reno, who lifted his hand in a muted greeting. “We’re here about your husband.”

Mrs. Laurence’s breath caught slightly and she pressed her hand to her mouth again, a few tears trickling down her cheeks. “F-forgive me,” she stammered, regaining partial composure. “It’s just such a shock…”

“We’re very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Laurence,” Vincent answered quietly. “May we come in?”

“Are you with the police?” she asked tremulously. “I…I talked to them already…I don’t want to hear any more…no more. They told me…oh, god…I can’t believe Nate would…would take his own life.”

“Ma’am, we don’t believe he did,” Reno interrupted. “Please, may we come in? We’re not police officers, but we want to try and find out what really happened to your husband.” His voice dropped slightly and took on a gentle coaxing note. “Please, Mrs. Laurence. If what we believe is true, there’s someone in this city who needs to be brought to justice. Anything you can do to help us…” Reno trailed off and his large green eyes met the older woman’s gaze imploringly.

For a few minutes, Mrs. Laurence was silent, her expression distant. “Come in,” she said finally, turning and entering the house. “Just…you can sit down in the kitchen, if you’d like…I’ll make some tea…” she murmured distractedly, leading the pair into the house, into a bright, airy kitchen with white and black chequered tile and beautiful appliances.

Vincent sat down at the kitchen table and covertly took out a notebook and rested it in his lap. Reno didn’t sit down immediately, watching the older woman for a few moments as she started to move around the kitchen, picking up a teapot, her hands trembling visibly. “Here,” Reno offered, moving forward and taking the pot from her. “I can do it. If you could go talk to my partner…?” Setting the delicate china teapot down, he took Mrs. Laurence’s elbow and gently steered her to the kitchen table.

Mrs. Laurence sat down gratefully. “Oh, thank you…I don’t even remember your name,” she admitted awkwardly. “It’s just such a shock…”

“I’m Reno, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” she repeated, touching his hand thankfully. “You can call me Kate. Nate…My husband, Nathan…he always used to.”

Reno nodded. “Right. Well, you just talk to my partner and he’ll have a few questions for you.”

Vincent cleared his throat slightly. “Mrs. Laurence…Kate. When did you last see you husband?”

Kate sniffled and covered her eyes with a hand. “Two days ago…when he left for work. He was fine…he seemed just fine, the same as always…”

“He didn’t seem worried or concerned about anything?” Vincent asked, making a few notes. “Had anything out of the ordinary happened?”

“No…nothing. Everything was the same as always.”

Reno quietly finished making tea and set a cup in front of the older woman, passed one to Vincent, and sat down at the table.

“Thank you,” Kate murmured, not moving to take any tea. “You’re a good boy.”

“Were you worried when he didn’t come home?” Vincent continued.

Kate shook her head. “Sometimes, there are emergencies at the hospital and they call him, since he’s a specialist. He usually doesn’t have enough notice to give me word. I’m used to it. I was a little concerned, after a while…but he’d been gone for long times before so I didn’t worry.”

Nodding, Vincent continued to make notes. “We found him in a warehouse down by the waterfront…can you think of any reason he would have gone down there? To meet someone, maybe?”

“No…Nate hates the waterfront. He doesn’t like the smell and being near the sea makes him nauseous.” She gave a faint laugh. “We went for a cruise, one year…he stayed in his cabin the entire trip, sick as a dog…”

“Mrs. Laurence, did your husband have any enemies? Anyone who would have wanted to hurt him?” Reno asked carefully.

“Absolutely not,” Kate said firmly. “My husband is…was…a wonderful, well-respected member of the community. He was a doctor. He took care of babies, newborns. He’s saved the lives of hundreds of children.”

Vincent’s gaze grew shrewd. “But surely there were those he couldn’t save?” he prompted. “Sometimes, though they do all they can, doctors simply can’t save some of their patients. Would he have been blamed for that?”

Kate looked slightly flustered. “W-well…certainly, there have been cases…but it wasn’t Nate’s fault! He’s a wonderful doctor, he’s never done anything less than he’s capable of!”

“Nonetheless, Mrs. Laurence. It’s a distinct possibility. Could we possibly see his records?” Vincent pressed.

“W-well…I don’t know…” the woman hedged, twisting the tablecloth in her hands.

“Please?” Reno appealed. “Someone killed your husband, Mrs. Laurence, and we can’t let them get away with it. Murder is what’s ruining this town. We want it to stop and we’ll do everything in our power to bring this person to justice. But we need your help. Please.”

Kate met Reno’s earnest eyes and held his gaze steadily for a few moments. “You said you aren’t police?” she said slowly.

“Call us…freelance investigators,” Reno offered. “We aren’t official. Technically, we aren’t even legal.”

Vincent gave the younger man a sharp glance and chewed his lower lip anxiously, keeping silent.

“W-well…then how did you know…?”

“It was our building that they found him in. We were looking for somewhere to set up a criminalistics lab and…well…things just sort of went from there. And we want to help.”


Reno shrugged. “We have our reasons. We want to help Junon, for one. If we can catch this first guy…well, we’ll prove to ourselves that we can do it. We’re starting from nothing here. Which is why your help is so important. Give us a few days and we’ll have enough information for you to hire a lawyer and prosecute whoever did this.”

Kate was silent staring into her teacup and Vincent looked torn between being grateful to his partner and throttling him. “All right,” she said finally. “I’ll do whatever I can to help you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Laurence,” Reno said sincerely. “I’ll just go get my computer so we can back his records up onto my drive. I promise you, we’ll find whoever did this.”


“I really don’t know if you should have done that,” Vincent sighed, once they were back in the car and driving to the waterfront. “You might’ve compromised this entire operation.”

Reno rolled his eyes, taking then off the screen in front of him for a brief second. “I don’t think so. She wants to know what happened, I can tell. And we’ll find out for her. I think we’ll get more help than harm out of this.”

Vincent didn’t answer, sighing again and pulling onto the narrow street that led down to the waterfront. “Gotten anything distinctive from those records yet?”

“Well, I know he was organized. He’s got all the information we’d need here. Names, patient history, everything.”

Shifting uncomfortably, Vincent glanced at the computer screen. “We’re violating some pretty strict laws on doctor-patient confidentiality here.”

Reno shook his head. “Nope. This one I’m sure on. My sister’s a doctor. When a physician dies, his or her records are open to those with the authority.”

“I assert again, we’re breaking some pretty strict laws on doctor-patient confidentiality here,” Vincent repeated, parking the car in the alley beside the warehouse. “We aren’t exactly an ‘authority’.”

“I also have a sister who’s a lawyer,” Reno informed him, closing up his laptop and getting out of the car. “If we get in a jam, she’ll get us out. Protera may not like me much, but I’m family.”

“Just how many sisters do you have?” Vincent questioned, arching an eyebrow.

Reno sighed despondently. “Four. All older than me. Cura, Protera, Esuna, and Regen.”

“You’re the youngest?”

Reno nodded sullenly. “Yeah. My parents wanted five little girls, five years apart, and they wanted to name them all after restorative magics. Forty-one years ago, Cura was born. She’s the Surgeon General, now. World’s most renowned authority on medicine. Then Protera, she’s thirty-six. Criminal lawyer. And then Esuna, who’s a chemical scientist of some sort. She’s thirty-one and working in Gongaga. And then Regen.” Reno paused. “Regen isn’t so bad. She’s twenty-six, only two years older than me. She’s a doctor.”

“You kind of broke the pattern, huh?” Vincent remarked.

“Don’t remind me,” Reno muttered bitterly. “If I’d been a girl, I would’ve been ‘Slowga’. Can you fuckin’ believe that? Slowga.”

“Well, you are a little…”

“Shut up,” Reno interrupted. “A little slow. Yes, I’ve heard it before. My entire bloody life. Cura goes to med-school, Protera goes to law school, Esuna goes to pharmaceutical college, Regen goes to med-school like Cura. And I blow town at sixteen and wind up in Midgar, scratching out a living by slitting people’s throats.”

“Your parents weren’t pleased, I trust?”

Reno shrugged. “They didn’t care. I think I was a bit of a lost cause. Not like I didn’t see my family from time to time. I ran across Regen, once. Fell out of a car on a mission…well…I say ‘fell’. Thrown is probably more accurate, but we aren’t dealing with semantics here. Broke my arm and smashed some ribs. Next thing I know, I’m at the hospital and my big sister’s patching me up.”

“How old were you?” Vincent questioned.

“Oh…maybe nineteen or so. Regen was an intern. I was just a kid. We kept in touch after that. I didn’t mind Regen,” he said thoughtfully.

“Mmm. Well, whatever. We have work to do. You sort through those records. I’m going to try and track down whatever I can about the building’s employees. We’ll cross reference what we have when we’re both done.”


Rude sat in the office at the end of the catwalk, patiently listening to the various conversations that flickered back and forth across a police scanner he’d picked up while Vincent and Reno were out. The office was bare, with only an old desk and a few chairs, but it got almost perfect reception. There was nothing too outstanding yet, but the night was young. There was a sneeze from the doorway and Rude glanced up at his partner. “Tired?”

Reno shrugged and wandered into the bare office, sitting down in a chair with a slender file folder. “A little.”

“You always sneeze when you’re tired,” Rude agreed, leaning back in his chair.

“D’you know how many patients this guy’s had in the past five years? Fifteen hundred and seventy three. Can you imagine that? That’s three hundred people a year…like…almost one a day! It’s gotta be crazy to be a doctor. Turks never deal with more than…I dunno, four people a week? And we never get repeat visits from our patients.”

“Wild,” Rude nodded, taking off his sunglasses and rubbing his eyes. “I wonder how often we’re going to have to be on this thing. The radio, I mean.”

“I dunno,” Reno shrugged again. “Probably a few hours every day. Each.”

Rude grunted. “Well, whatever. Don’t you figure you’d better go talk to our fearless leader about your findings?”

Reno sighed. “Yeah, I suppose. One hundred and thirty seven babies he couldn’t save. All one file, all their parents are potential suspects. I don’t know how he hopes to narrow it down.” Getting up, he stretched. “What’s the time?”

Rude glanced at his watch. “Almost midnight. I’ll probably turn in soon.”

“Yeah, me too. I’ll just go drop these off with Vincent.” Reno waved the file in his hand and sneezed. Blinking, he glanced at his partner. “I do sneeze when I’m tired, don’t I?” Exiting the room and continuing to the second office from the end of the wall, Reno knocked lightly on the door and pushed it open.

Vincent glanced up from his own computer, the glow of the screen casting shadows over his pale features. “Got anything good?” he questioned.

Reno shrugged. “Dunno. Got almost one hundred and fifty people who lost kids at Dr. Laurence’s hands. And they’re all potential suspects, right?” Dropping the folder on the desk, he gave a brief wave over his shoulder as he turned to leave the room. “Have fun.”

“Hold it.” There was a note of stern command in Vincent’s tone that reminded Reno eerily of a drill sergeant he’d had when training. “You aren’t done yet. I turned up the records of half a dozen companies who have occupied this building and their employee lists. There are maybe four hundred names. You have some cross referencing to do.”

“Aww…” Reno groaned. “C’mon. I’m tired…can’t you do it?”

No. You’re doing it, and that’s final.” Vincent’s blood red eyes flickered away from his computer screen his gaze flat and unyielding. “When you start something, you finish it. Tired or not, you’re in gear right now. Eight hours of sleep will kill whatever’s going on in your head. So you sacrifice two hours and cross-reference these lists. Understand?”

“Yeah, yeah…” Reno grumbled scooping up the printout pages from Vincent’s desk. “Since when’re you my boss?”

Vincent’s gaze didn’t waver and his stare remained uncompromising. “Since you came to me and requested my expertise. Now, I’m an easy kind of guy to work for. I don’t keep strict hours, I’m not going to fire you, and I understand that you aren’t nearly as competent as I am, and that you’ll probably stumble through the first few months of ‘training’. I won’t chew you out for that. The rules are simple for staying on my good side. In fact, there’s only one.” The dark haired man’s red eyes focused sharply. “Obey my orders to the letter.”

Now, in this situation, most people would have avoided back talk. Most people who knew Vincent at least. Rude certainly wouldn’t have replied, had he been addressed in this manner. Had Cloud been in the room, it was doubtful he would have voiced a rebuttal, despite unofficially being someone Vincent took orders from. The phrase “took orders from” being used loosely of course. “Submitted to tactical advice and suggestions from” is probably the more accurate phrase. Even someone as brash as Yuffie would have had the sense (though she did have the guts) not to reply. Reno was a different case all together.

“Oh, so I’m taking orders from you now, eh, boss?” Reno arched an eyebrow. “Hmm. Well, this doesn’t seem so different from my old job. Except I’m not getting paid.”

“That’s right. You aren’t.” Vincent, however unused to backtalk he was, seemed unfazed and returned to working on his computer. “You’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart, got it? We’re clear on that?”

Reno’s green eyes narrowed. “And why’re you doing this, boss? The goodness in your heart?”

Vincent raised his eyes a final time. “Reno, my heart was surgically removed when I was twenty-seven and replaced with the heart of a particular strain of semi-possessive demon. The diablos chaotica to be precise. I can show you a picture, if you’d like. Or maybe you’d like to see it firsthand? It’s not an experience many people forget. A once in a lifetime kind of thing. Usually very close to an end of lifetime thing. Am I being too subtle?”

Reno’s mouth went dry and his palms started sweating. He’d never seen a Chaos Demon, but he had a very good imagination and an extremely prevalent sense of self-preservation. “Reading you loud and clear, boss. Diablos Chaotica. Gotcha, boss. No thanks, boss. I’ll hold off on that one. Maybe later. I have some very pressing business to attend to. Cross-referencing forms and that. Ass to the grindstone, you know? See ya, boss.” Reno abruptly vanished from the room.

After a few moments’ silence, Vincent smiled to himself in the darkness, laughing very softly, when he was sure no one would hear.


Six hours, twenty-six minutes, and eleven cups of coffee later, Reno stormed into Vincent’s office, not bothering to knock. His informally titled “boss” was sitting at his desk; in the exact same position Reno had left him, eyes glued to his computer screen. He didn’t appear to have noticed the redhead’s entrance. His hands shook from an over abundance of caffeine in his system and he suppressed a sneeze.

A tad melodramatically, Reno slammed the files down on Vincent’s desk and slumped into the chair in front of the dusty piece of furniture. “There is nothing in those files, boss. Nothing. No matching names. No matching last names. No matching addresses. Dead end.”

Vincent clicked his mouse a few more times and performed a few complex keystrokes before looking up and taking the files. “Oh, come now. I’m sure you just missed something.”

“There was nothing to miss! I went over those records with a fine-toothed comb and there was nothing. Absolute Zero.”

Vincent didn’t answer, his crimson eyes scanning the reports quickly, reading and processing the information at a rate significantly above the average level. “Ah. Now I see,” he murmured. “This doesn’t surprise me.”

“What doesn’t surprise you? That there’s nothing there? That’s because I goddamn told you there was nothing there. Just face it, boss. Your idea went sour and now I’m a caffeine addict. I hope I’ve got a good medical plan.”

“Reno, did you look at ‘place of employment’ when you cross referenced these records?” Vincent questioned.

Reno snorted. “Of course. First thing I did was run a query using this address. What d’you think I am, an amateur?”

“Well, no. I don’t think you’re an amateur. You’ve got some limited experience, I’ll give you that, but you missed something important.”

The caffeine in his system made Reno sit bolt upright, his reflexes on hyper-alert. “I did not! Even after the cross-check, I read all the employment listings! No dice! None of the companies were related to shipping!”

“None of the companies were. One of the employees was. Very directly. And you missed it.”

“B-but…I didn’t…I couldn’t have…I checked and rechecked that thing…” Reno stammered weakly. “I was so sure…”

Vincent nodded understandingly. “The problem, Reno, is that you notice the vital things. The things that will be most important and most incriminating later on. You neglect the little things. ‘The devil’s in the details.’ Have you ever heard that expression?”

Reno shook his head numbly, feeling a disappointed, sinking feeling, coupled with an embarrassment at how sure he’d been. “What’d I miss?” he asked hollowly.

“Does the name ‘Marissa Kent’ mean anything to you?” Vincent countered, answering the question in his typical roundabout way, with more questions.

For a minute, Reno wracked his brain, trying to tie some significance to the name. “No,” he said finally. “It doesn’t. I don’t even remember it from the lists. It is on there though, isn’t it?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes. It’s understandable that you would have missed her. She really doesn’t seem to be anything special. Now, tell me something else. Do you remember the name of the man who sold us this place?”

“Earl,” Reno responded promptly.

“Good. But you don’t know his last name. You didn’t ask for it, right?”

Again, the same sinking feeling. “I…I didn’t think to. You told me to get him out of the building so I did. I figured…well…I deal in keeping things quiet. First name basis only. Which is why I legally got rid of my last name,” Reno explained quietly.

“Understandable. It’s not an uncommon practice, especially among Turks, for one’s nickname to become one’s legal name, though your moniker is hardly common. After I told you to get our friend out of the building, what did I do?”

Reno’s eyes narrowed as he concentrated, calling up the memory. “You asked him for a receipt,” he said slowly. “To get his last name?”

Vincent nodded. “And his fingerprints. Which are now on file, but do us little good. They’re all over the factory anyway. Hazard a guess as to what Earl’s last name is.”

“Kent?” Reno guessed tentatively.

“Correct. The same as our friend Marissa.”

Reno hesitated, uncertain about pointing out flaws. “But…that could just be a coincidence. I didn’t see a wedding ring on Earl’s fingers.” Reno flushed slightly. “I spent a few years picking pockets,” he explained. “Old habits die hard…I’ve got a bit of an eye for watches, jewellery…wallets…”

“A useful trait,” Vincent remarked. “But consider a few more things. They might not necessarily have been married. What about Earl’s sister?”

“Her name was Sadie,” Reno protested.

Vincent chuckled. “Her uniform was also about two sizes too small. It’s easy to get clothing mixed up when it all looks the same. Assume it was Marissa.”

Reno nodded. “All right…keep going, I think I’m starting to follow.”

“Marissa Kent’s name is rather prominent at the top of the list of people whose children Dr. Laurence couldn’t save. So we have motive. She blames him for the death of her baby.”

“How do we prove that?” Reno asked curiously.

Vincent shrugged. “Well…we need her fingerprints. If we can get those and find them elsewhere in the building…maybe on the rope used to hang the guy or the front or back doors, then we might have something steady enough to give to a good lawyer.”

Reno blinked and leaned back in his chair. “A lawyer? Where’re we gonna find a lawyer that’ll take this case?”

“It isn’t up to us. We contact the wife, we see what she thinks. If she wants to hire a lawyer and follow this up, we present the evidence, hope she gets a good lawyer, and watch the case go public.”

“We don’t get to go arrest her?” There was a rather plaintive note about Reno’s tone. “All that work and we don’t even see her get busted?”

“Do you understand that we have no authority?” Vincent countered, his gaze penetrating. “You are not a Turk. You are not a cop. You are not even an official civil servant. At absolute best, we could use the label ‘unofficial private investigator.’ More realistically… ‘law-bending meddler,’ but nobody ever likes labels.”

“We aren’t even going to get any credit?”

“If you’re only in this for the credit, I’ll ask you now to remove yourself from my lab,” Vincent said coldly.

“Well, shit!” Reno protested. “No, I’m not in it ‘just for the credit!’ But how’re we gonna get anything accomplished if no one knows what we’re trying to do?”

Vincent sighed. “We aren’t going to be able to get anything accomplished if people know what we’re up to. Remember when I asked you if legality and morality are parallel concepts? What we’re doing is technically illegal, even if it’s the right thing. So we’re going to have to rely on keeping things internal.”

“I don’t know if I like the way this business works,” Reno grumbled.

“You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. However, at this point in the evening, it would be useful if you went to get some sleep.”

Reno grunted and stretched. “You think?” he asked sarcastically. Yawning, he stood up and rubbed his eyes. “What’re you gonna do?”

Vincent shrugged. “A little more research. I might start building a casefile.”

“Don’t you sleep?” Reno questioned.

“The average human spends about twelve years of their total lifespan sleeping. I’ve had about eight, so far. So I’m quite a ways ahead in the sleep schedule. When I’m tired, I’ll sleep. Until then, I’ll be working. Go to bed.”

“Whatever. Don’t go blind.”


Reno sat quietly at a desk in the upper floor of the warehouse with a scalpel in one hand and an expression of serious concentration. Very delicately, he made a few precise cuts and picked up a pair of tweezers.

“Easy…” he muttered to himself, his fingers shaking slightly as he closed the pincers of the pair of surgical tweezers and lifted his hand slowly. “C’mon, you little bastard, lie flat,” he scolded under his breath.

After a few more adjustments and a couple more cuts with a scalpel, Reno leaned back and squinted at his work. He’d run off several copies of the policewoman’s badge he’d collected and was just working on editing their information to create official looking ID badges for himself and his partners. Carefully, he blew on the thin layer of glue that held Rude’s picture in place on his badge.

Picking up the small rectangle of paper, he dabbed tiny drops of glue into each corner and attached the thin card to a sturdier plastic square. Blowing on that a little bit, Reno picked up a clear piece of laminate, gently laying the card facedown on the sticky surface and covering it with another piece of the clear plastic.

Exhaling slowly, he took a pair of scissors and cut the finished card out, laying it neatly next to its two fellows. Smirking to himself, quite pleased with his finished effort, he scooped the three cards up and went to distribute them to his partners.

It was dusty afternoon and sunlight slanted in through the windows facing the waterfront. Reno meandered out onto the catwalk and wandered down among the pile of boxes and crates, where Rude and Vincent were having coffee. Triumphantly, he set the three cards down on the box they were using as a table and stood back, waiting for praise. “Well?” he prompted, after the expected pat-on-the-back didn’t come.

“Very nice,” Vincent offered, taking his badge and absently examining it. “Not the best photo in the world, but I’m not dreadfully photogenic.”

Reno scowled. “I was half-expecting nothing would show up,” he retorted sourly.

Rude gave an irritated grunt. “You used my full name on here,” he observed disapprovingly. “I hate it when people use my full name.”

“My sincerest apologies, Rudolph Owens, but just ‘Rude’ looks pretty stupid on an ID badge,” Reno answered condescendingly. “I went through a lot of trouble to design these, you know,” he added, still fishing for compliments.

“I knew I should never have told you my name. Worst thing you can share with a person is your name.” Rude squinted at his partner behind his sunglasses. “I’m sure you didn’t use your full name?” he asked shrewdly.

Reno flushed. “Well, yeah. I did. I used my old last name, because I figured it’d look kind of weird if I didn’t have my last name on here.”

“What is your last name?” Rude enquired, curiously. “You’ve never told me.”

“And I don’t plan to,” Reno said stiffly, tucking his ID badge in his front pocket and patting it gently. “No, I’m not letting too many people get their eyes on this.”

Rude scowled. “Why won’t you tell me? I told you mine.”

“Yeah, well, that was your stupid mistake. I’m not telling,” Reno refused blatantly, turning around and folding his arms across his chest in a gesture of dismissal.

Grunting, Rude was standing in two seconds and had wrenched his partner’s arms behind his back, twisting him into a half-nelson. “Do you want me to break your arms?”

Reno scoffed. “Oh, come off it. You aren’t even bloody hurting me.”

Rude compliantly twisted his partner’s arm until he let out a cry of pain and his knees buckled. “How about now? Vincent, would you do me a favor and take his ID card out of his pocket?”

Vincent looked up from a newspaper he’d acquired and reached out, lightly plucking the small square of plastic from Reno’s front pocket and glancing at it disinterestedly. “Hmm.”

“What?” Rude pressed, releasing his partner. “What’s his name?”

“Greymere. Reno Daniel Greymere.”

Reno scowled and snatched the card from Vincent, tucking it into his front pocket. “Yeah? So?”

Rude shrugged. “I always thought you had a reason for keeping your name to yourself. It’s a hell of a lot better than Rudolph.”

“Whatever. What’s the game plan for today?” Reno questioned, pulling up a crate and sitting down in front of the small box that Vincent and Rude were using for a table.

Vincent shook his head. “To be honest, I’m not entirely sure…”

Reno blinked. “What do you mean, ‘you aren’t sure’? You’re the boss. You’re supposed to be the one running this thing. We know who did it, so how do we nab her?”

“First of all, we don’t know who did it. We have a very reasonable theory, but we need proof. Furthermore, we need to find out what legal grounds a lawyer needs to take this case to court. And finally, we need the proper follow-through. Really, we’re quite a ways away from finishing this whole deal up,” Vincent explained patiently.

“So how do we get proof?” Reno pressed.

Vincent shrugged. “Well, we need this woman’s fingerprints, for starters. I’ve got several dozen clear prints from all around this warehouse, but nothing to compare them to.”

“So…we just go and ask her for her fingerprints?” Reno asked dubiously. “Won’t she…like, won’t she catch on?”

“She would if we directly asked her for her fingerprints. Which is why we won’t do that, now will we?” Leaning back and reaching out, Vincent grabbed his jacket from off a pile of crates and tugged it on, standing up and stretching. “Anyone for lunch?”


During the mid-afternoon in a Mom’s Country diner in downtown Junon, traffic was at a low ebb. Between the lunch and dinner hours, there weren’t many patrons except for a few regulars and the odd stranger or two, passing through Junon. The three or four waitresses on duty had no trouble keeping up with the trickle of customers and during lags they sat at the tables, chatting over cups of coffee.

The bell at the entrance rang softly and three patrons entered, making quickly for the counter. One of the waitresses got up from her table and came over to the register, blinking and narrowing her eyes. “Do I know…?” she began slowly.

Reno smiled brightly, taking immediate charge of the conversation. “Yup. You’re the one who got us our warehouse. Actually, we were just stopping by to thank you for the lead. We’re all set up now and things are going brilliantly.”

“Oh.” The young woman paused. “It’s working out for you then?”

Nodding enthusiastically, Reno reached over the counter and shook the woman’s hand. “Really well! Here, come on and we’ll have a cup of coffee or something. Our treat. Please, it’s the least we can do.”

“Well…” the woman said slowly. “Sure, I guess. It’s pretty slow today anyway.”

Reno beamed and followed the waitress to a table; sliding into the booth she escorted them to. “Great, absolutely great.” Rude and Vincent silently sat down on the other side.

“Do you guys want coffee?” the waitress offered. “I just put a fresh pot on…”

“That’d be wonderful, thanks,” Reno answered cheerfully, grinning at his companions as the woman bustled away from the table. “What’d I tell you? This’ll be a piece of cake.”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “Don’t get carried away and blow this,” he warned in a low tone.

Reno grinned again. “No problem, boss, no problem. Just let me do the talking. You two shut up.”

The waitress arrived with coffee and mugs, quickly settling into the booth once the drinks had been poured. “So…I don’t believe I ever got your names?”

“No, actually not. I got yours though…Sadie, right?” Reno glanced at the young woman’s nametag. “Though you seem to be Marissa today.”

The young woman laughed. “Yes, it’s Marissa. Sorry about that, I had on one of the other waitress’s uniforms because mine was stained that day. Who are you guys, anyway?” she asked curiously. “And why were you so eager about that warehouse?”

“I suppose I should get to that, eh?” Reno smiled good-naturedly. “Well, for starters, my name’s Reno. And I’d like to assert again, we can’t thank you enough for hooking us up with that place. Best thing that ever happened to us, since Midgar…”

“What exactly do you three do?” Marissa questioned, sipping her cup of coffee and eyeing Rude appraisingly.

Reno laughed. “Well, that takes a little explaining. Let’s see…well, I’ll start with the star of the show…Marissa, I have the pleasure of introducing Vincenzo Emile DeLorien.”

Vincent started as he realized he was being addressed and stared blankly at Reno.

“He doesn’t speak English,” Reno offered quickly, diverting Marissa’s attention with a smile and a wink. “He’s a freelance, new age, macro-canvas artist from Gongaga. Bit on the quiet side, but man do the suits downtown love his work. In a few years, every office building in Junon is gonna have a DeLorien original in the lobby.”

“Uh…huh,” Marissa nodded dubiously. “And…where do you fit in?”

Reno grinned. “I’m his manager. Vince is the perfect artist, all tortured and shit, but he’s got no head for numbers. Nope. Absolutely hopeless at negotiations and stuff too, not bein’ able to speak the language, let alone talk the talk. So I handle the business end, sell the work, set up shows, work publicity…and make sure he gets his fair cut, of course.”

Vincent stared malevolently across the table at Reno, ruby eyes glinting dangerously, but he didn’t say anything.

Marissa seemed a bit taken aback by the sudden irritation in the dark haired man’s gaze, so Reno laughed and shrugged it off. “Aww, don’t worry about him. That’s just his moody artist look. He gets that way sometimes, looks all psycho and murderous and junk, but he’s harmless really. Usually means he’s thinking up a painting.”

“What about your other friend?” Marissa’s gaze shifted to Rude. “Is he an artist too?”

“Who, Rudy?” Reno laughed. “Naw. He’s a bodyguard. Can’t be too careful. Vin’s a national resource, y’know. And it isn’t like there aren’t artists out there who want a piece of him.”

“I had no idea art was so dangerous,” Marissa murmured.

Reno nodded. “Well, you just gotta know to be careful. Watch your back and all that. Which is why that warehouse is so bloody perfect. He needed an out of the way place to have a studio, where some asshole wouldn’t be chucking pipe bombs in the window and shit. So I figured ‘Hell, why go in for a studio at all?’ I tried to think of something that was totally opposite, but would still have enough room for him to work. And then I thought of a warehouse and the whole thing was just bloody perfect.”

Marissa sipped a bit of her coffee. “So it worked out well for you, then? Why does he need that much space?”

Reno shrugged. “His paintings are always, like, macro. Mega-huge. He did one that was the size of a small bus, once. His work usually takes up a whole wall and he’s always working on a bunch of pieces at once. So he needs a lot of elbow room.”

“Uh…huh. And there weren’t any problems with the warehouse?” Marissa asked carefully.

Reno shot a meaningful glance at Vincent and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Well…actually…and you can’t tell anyone, hon’, ‘cause we’re keeping this in strictest confidence…when we got to the place, some poor bastard had hanged himself there.”

Marissa gasped. “Oh, really? How awful…”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Reno nodded. “Of course, we didn’t want any trouble and the place was just bloody perfect…so we told the owner…your brother, right? Well, we told him to take off and we’d handle the whole deal. So we called the cops and stuff and they came and cut the guy down. No trouble, y’know?”

“Oh good,” Marissa nodded, hesitating. “Did the police say anything?”

Reno shrugged. “Naw. What was there to say? Some poor bastard hanged himself. Not much to tell, really. He was a doctor though, the guy was.”

Marissa squinted. “How d’you know?” she asked suspiciously.

“Uh…oh…well…” Reno coughed and averted his gaze. “Thumbed through his wallet…looking for…you know, ID and stuff. See who the guy was and junk so we could call the police.”


Reno quickly changed the subject. “It wasn’t all bad, actually. Place stank like hell, but Vince got a pretty decent painting out of it. He doesn’t like doctors. Hates ‘em, in fact.”

“Why’s that?” Marissa inquired, looking intrigued and staring hard at Vincent.

“Dunno exactly. Figure he had a pretty nasty run in with a doctor at some point in time though.” Reno snapped his fingers a few inches from Vincent’s nose, breaking eye contact between him and the waitress. “Hey! El Diablo! Show her your arm. C’mon, now, your arm. Shit, man, you know what I’m saying! Your arm, por favor?”

Shooting a venomous glare at Reno, Vincent held out his left hand, which he customarily kept out of sight.

“Oh, how terrible…” Marissa murmured, staring wide-eyed at the cruel looking brass claw and brushing her fingers lightly against the metal.

Reno nodded sympathetically. “Yeah, tell me about it. Gotta wonder what he’d paint like if some jackass hadn’t cut his arm off. Tell her what you called your dead doctor painting, Vince.”

Lifting his eyes when Reno kicked him beneath the table, Vincent met the young woman’s gaze. “Justice,” he said simply, dropping his gaze.

“Yeah, he hates doctors. Pretty creepy ass painting, though.” Reno nodded and glanced at his watch. “Shit. Speaking of which, we’ve got a show in twenty minutes. It’s been great talking to you, Marissa, and thanks again.” Standing up and sliding out of the booth, Reno firmly shook the young woman’s hand. “Could I get a coffee to go, maybe?” he asked casually.

“Sure,” Marissa answered, hastening over to the counter. Taking a paper cup from a stack by the coffee machine, she filled it quickly and slipped a Styrofoam sleeve over it, which proclaimed that the contents of the cup were piping hot. Handing it to Reno and accepting the handful of Gil he gave her, she smiled. “It was nice to meet you guys…and…good luck, Mr. DeLorien. I hope your art does really well.”

Reno grinned and ushered his companions out the door. “Thanks! See ya later!” Reno called cheerfully.

A little ways down the street, once they were out of range of the small diner, Vincent finally spoke. “If you weren’t so damn good with people, that little conversation would have cost you your liver.”

Laughing nervously, Reno flagged down a cab, keeping the coffee cup balanced carefully in one hand, making sure he only touched the Styrofoam guard. “Aww, you don’t mean that.”

Rude chuckled. “Oh, yes. I think he does.”


“All right. Here’s how this is going to work.” Vincent dropped a thin file folder on a particular crate that had been serving as a table. “I think we can wrap this up pretty soon. This is called a ‘case file’. Potentially, it contains all the information needed to convict a suspect.” He picked up the file again and pinched it between his thumb and forefinger. “This one’s pretty lean. So far, it contains photo evidence, fingerprints, and an informal coroner’s report, which can be backed up by the city coroner.”

Reno sat down on one of the crates and scuffed his shoes in the dust that coated the floor. “Does it have enough info?” he questioned hopefully.

Vincent shook his head. “I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. So we need to flesh it out a bit. So far, all we’ve proven is that she’s been in the warehouse and that she was a patient of Dr. Laurence’s. Any half-assed lawyer would be able to shrug those two facts off as perfectly logical coincidences.”

“So what else do we need?” Rude asked, his hands in the pockets of his suit.

“I’m going to see if I can’t lift her prints off the rope used to hang the guy, and if we’re lucky, maybe something we can use for DNA comparison. We also need to find out how she got him in the warehouse.”

Reno nodded. “Sounds like a plan. What do you want me to do?”

“Reno, considering the infinitely deep well of your people skills, you’ll be going talk to this guy’s secretary and find out if Marissa called him the day he was killed, then going to talk to Mrs. Laurence regarding what kind of lawyer she’ll be getting.”

“All right. I’m gone.” Digging a pair of keys from his pocket, Reno made his exit through the front door of the warehouse, the roar of the engine as he took off down the waterfront echoing for a few seconds afterward.

Vincent straightened up the few documents in the small case file and looked up at the other Turk, who stood dutifully awaiting orders. “Rude, you delve into this woman’s record and see if she had any priors or anything.”

Rude nodded. “Gotcha. When do you need the information by?”

Vincent shrugged. “In a few hours. Let’s see if we can’t get this wrapped up by tonight.”


Nathan Laurence’s office was in a nice looking white building with two stories, situated on the main highway in Junon. Reno pulled his car into the parking lot beside the building and climbed out, leaning against the door. Another car pulled up beside him, and a young woman got out, bending over and reaching into the car to remove her child.

Sensing an opportunity, Reno tapped the young woman on the shoulder. “Excuse me, ma’am?”

Whirling around the woman eyed Reno suspiciously. “Who are you?” she demanded, firmly keeping her body between her car and Reno, her hand sliding to her purse. “What do you want?”

“My name’s Reno, ma’am.” He reached into his jacket to retrieve the ID badge he’d made, when the woman’s hand flashed out of her purse, a revolver clutched tightly in her hand, the muzzle pressed against Reno’s ribs.

“Back off,” she cautioned, eyes fixed firmly on Reno. “Back off or I’ll shoot. Get away from me.”

Reno held his hands up, a little startled, but calm in spite of the fact that there was a gun in his stomach. “Ma’am, I don’t mean any harm, really. I’m an investigator with the Junon City Police department. There’s a badge in my front pocket if you’d like to check.”

The young woman’s eyes narrowed and she slowly reached forward, pulling Reno’s jacket open and taking his wallet from the front pocket of his white shirt. Flipping it open, she scrutinized the ID badge, then blushed slowly. Handing it back, she tucked her revolver back in her purse and cleared her throat. “Uh…sorry. I’m terribly sorry. I just…”

“Hey, it’s Junon. Can’t be too careful,” Reno answered easily, accepting his wallet and slipping it back into his front pocket. “Like I was saying, my name’s Reno.”

The young woman smiled shyly and opened the door of her car, bending over and easing the car seat with her baby in it out and bracing it against her hip. “I’m Elissa. I’m very sorry about…about the gun, sir, but I…”

“Naw, no problem. I could actually use your help…” Reno began, closing Elissa’s car door for her.

“With what?”

“I’m certain you’ve heard of the death of Dr. Nathan Laurence?”

One of Elissa’s hands flew to her mouth and she looked startled. “Dr. Laurence? Oh, no, how terrible…I hadn’t heard…”

Reno shook his head. “I’m very sorry I had to be the one to give you the news. He was your doctor then?”

“Yes…well, he was Brandon’s doctor…” Elissa looked fondly into the basket car seat she held against her hip. “We had an appointment with him today…I suppose they didn’t get the opportunity to call and cancel…”

“Something like that, yes…would you be able to help me with something?”

Elissa nodded slowly. “How can I help?”

“I need to get in there and talk with the secretary about Dr. Laurence’s death and the circumstances that surrounded it, to see if I can pick up any information.”

“Well, you’re an investigator. Why don’t you just go in there and ask?” Elissa questioned, tilting her head to the side.

Reno shrugged uncomfortably. “The thing is, I’m a private investigator and I’d really rather no one knew my exact agenda.”

“Ohh, I see…” Elissa nodded. “How can I help?”

“Um…please don’t take this the wrong way, but I notice you’re rather husbandless. Now, I don’t know, maybe he’s out working or something, but if I could…”

“Pretend to be my husband?” Elissa finished with a smile. “If it would help, I certainly don’t mind. I’m not actually married. Brandon’s father is a lowlife creep, who happens to be the reason I carry a gun.”

“Great! Uh, no, that’s not what I mean…not great about your husband, of course, but great that you’ll help me out. Thanks.”

Elissa laughed. “All right. You carry the baby.”

“Whoa, whoa!” Reno held up his hands. “You can’t bump me from husband to father just like that! I haven’t even got a girlfriend at the moment. You’d better carry him.”

“Well, you certainly act like a new father,” Elissa remarked, hefting Brandon’s carrycot and heading for the door of the clinic.

Reno grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “What exactly do I need to know?”

“Our last name is Amerson. The baby is Brandon. He was born on August fifteenth and we’re here to see Dr. Laurence because he has colic.” Elissa lifted the blanket that covered the carrycot in her arms and revealed a sleeping baby with a fine blond fuzz on the top of his head.

“Ah, I see. My mom told me I was a colicky baby. Good that we have something in common. He really looks nothing like me.” Courteously, Reno held the door open for the young woman and followed her up the stairs to the office on the second floor.

“Well, colicky babies are supposed to be intelligent,” Elissa proclaimed. “And you must be, if you got to be an investigator.”

Reno blushed slightly. “My mother never told me that.”

Elissa smiled and pulled open the door of the clinic, entering a sunny waiting room and nodding to the other mothers in the room, some sitting with children on their laps, or rocking baskets beside them. Crossing the room, she went to a relatively unoccupied row of chairs beside the counter and sat down, setting the bassinet beside her and removing the blanket covering it. “Sit down, dear,” she advised placidly, patting the seat beside her.

Reno started slightly and sat down. “Uh…right.”

There was a whimper from within the bassinet as Brandon started to get irritated at the amount of light flooding into his small carrycot. The whimper quickly built to a fully-fledged wail and the other mothers in the room smiled sympathetically.

“Oh, Brandon…” Elissa cooed, undoing the straps about the little baby’s torso and gently withdrawing him from the cradle. “What’s the matter sweetheart? Shh…darling, it’s all right…”

Reno shifted uncomfortably, watching Elissa cuddle the baby close and try to abate his crying. “Uh…does he want a bottle or something?”

Elissa laughed softly and pulled her hair off her shoulders. “You’re the youngest of your family, am I right?”

“So what if I am?” Reno asked, feeling slightly defensive.

“Here, hold Brandon.” Gently, despite the wildly incredulous look that came into the redhead’s eyes, Elissa settled the baby in Reno’s arms and patted his head gently. Then she kissed the baby’s forehead and smiled. “Just hold him for a few minutes.”

A little nervously, Reno leaned back in his chair and tried very hard not to move. Curiously, he took a closer look at the little baby. Brandon fidgeted and stopped crying long enough to discern who was holding him. “Hey, squirt…” Reno said softly. “Don’t cry, buddy.”

Elissa smiled, carefully undoing her blouse. Pulling her shirt open, she tapped Reno on the shoulder and held out her hands for the baby. “Here.”

Reno looked up, then back to the baby, and then did a quick double take, blinking in surprise as Elissa’s nimble fingers undid the hooks on the front of her bra. “Uh…listen, you’re a really sweet girl and I’d like to get to know you better, but this is a little fast, even for me.” Glancing up, he noted the large number of other couples in the room. “And this is neither the time, nor the place.”

Elissa laughed softly and took Brandon from Reno’s arms, draping his blanket over her shoulder and patting the baby’s back. “You’ve never had younger siblings. Have any of your older siblings had children?”

Reno shrugged. “A few. I haven’t seen any of my nieces or nephews.”

“Why not?” Elissa question, rocking the baby in her arms as he nursed.

“I haven’t seen much of my family…extended or otherwise…since I left home.”

Elissa tilted her head to the side. “That’s a shame…how old were you? When you left, I mean.”

“Sixteen or so. All my older sisters had already left home and I sure as hell wasn’t sticking around any longer than I had to. Besides, my parents were always tearing chunks out of each other. I put up with it for four years, then I finally decided I couldn’t handle it anymore.”

“What did you do?” Elissa questioned.

“Blew town. We lived in Gongaga. I wound up in Midgar and scratched out a life for myself.”

“That’s quite a ways for a sixteen year old kid to travel,” Elissa remarked, buttoning up her blouse and folding the blanket. She lifted Brandon and rested the baby’s head against her shoulder, patting his back gently.

Reno winked. “Well, I had a bit of help. One of my sisters was going to school in Midgar and she sent me the cash I needed to come join her.”

“So it all worked out in the end, huh?”

“I guess you could say that. I messed up a few times, got myself in a few tough spots, but, hey, I’m still alive. That’s gotta count for something.”

Elissa laughed again. “You’re very easy to talk to, do you know that?”

Reno shrugged. “No easier than the next guy.”

“No, really. There’s something about you…I don’t know. You seem a lot more open than most people. Sometimes you really have to push to get someone to talk about their past, especially if it’s been a hard one.”

“Well…thanks, I guess.” Reno gave the woman a curious glance. “An eye for an eye?”


“I’ve given you some of the down and dirty on my history, how ‘bout a little about you? The baby might be a good place to start.”

Elissa smiled a bit sadly. “Brandon…was an accident. I love him more than anything, but he wasn’t really supposed to happen. His father took off soon afterward. Brandon may have been an accident, but Dwayne was a mistake.”

“Ah, I see.” Reno nodded. “This guy been bugging you?”

Elissa shrugged. “Once in a while, he shows up and asks for money. Then gets mad if I don’t give it to him. He’s threatened me a bunch, so I picked up the gun. There was a point in time where I might have risked it, but I’m a mother now.”

Reno was about to pursue the matter further, when the receptionist at the front desk called for “Brandon Amerson”, and Elissa stood up. Crossing the room to the reception desk, Elissa smiled. “We’re here to see Dr. Laurence?”

A brief flicker of apology crossed the secretary’s features. “I’m sorry…Dr. Laurence passed away this weekend. Didn’t someone call and cancel?”

“Oh, how dreadful…no, I wasn’t told. How did he die?” Elissa pressed.

The secretary leaned forward, as though this was a secret the rest of the world wasn’t privy to. “Apparently they found him strung up in a warehouse by the waterfront, like he’d hung himself.”

Really,” Elissa breathed, latching onto the piece of gossip. “Suicide? What could possibly have driven him to something like that?”

Shrugging, the receptionist glanced around. “Well…just between you and me, the day he died, there was a call from someone whose name matched up on our register. Melinda Kent or something like that. She was sobbing and carrying on about something, so I directed her call right to Dr. Laurence. He took it and then after he hung up he left. Just picked up in the middle of the day and took off for god knows where. Then over the weekend we get the call he’s been killed.”

“You think this woman had something to do with it?” Reno put in, leaning against the desk. “Why’s that?”

The receptionist looked a little wary of someone intruding upon her gossip, but she shrugged. “I’m just telling what I know. I did a little digging on this woman and it turns out she lost her daughter.”

“Really,” Reno echoed Elissa’s earlier exclamation of surprise. “And you think she…?”

Holding up her hands, the secretary shook her head. “I don’t think anything. I’m just telling what I know. Now, as all future appointments with Dr. Laurence are obviously impossible, would you like me to make you an appointment with one of the other doctors? Dr. Morrow has an opening tomorrow at one, if you could make that…”

Elissa nodded. “That sounds fine, thank you.” Turning around, Elissa returned to her seat and tucked Brandon back in his carrycot, efficiently getting ready to head back out into the city. She was quiet until they got back to the parking lot. “Did you get what you needed?” she asked, as she settled Brandon’s carseat back in the car.

Reno nodded. “I did. Thanks so much for your help. It’s kind of imperative that no one knows I’m poking around about this murder.”

“It was a murder, then?”

“Ah…” Reno hedged. “Did I say murder?”

Elissa shrugged. “You didn’t have to. I could tell by the way you were asking your questions. You think this woman killed him?”

“That’s what we’re being led to believe,” Reno confirmed.

“You’ll probably think I’m an awful person for saying so, but if someone had killed my baby, I’d have done the same,” she confessed quietly.

Reno shifted uncomfortably. “He didn’t kill her baby. He couldn’t save her, there’s a difference. But I see where you’re coming from and I don’t think you’re an awful person. I mean, Brandon’s your kid. A little tiny person who needs you if he’s gonna keep on living. That’s gotta be a really big part of your life.”

Elissa nodded. “Yeah…I’m glad you understand. You’re a nice guy.” She hesitated for a moment, toying with the buttons on her coat. “What you said earlier…about me being a really nice girl and all. I’m staying with my sister, she could watch Brandon if you wanted to go out sometime…”

Hesitating, Reno shook his head. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to, really. Hey, I owe you one. It’d be the least I could do. But…the career I’ve chosen kind of makes things difficult. My schedule isn’t something that can be depended on in any circumstance. Much as I’d love to, I’d hate to have to repeatedly disappoint you by constantly breaking dates.”

“Oh. Well, that’s all right. Just thought I’d ask. You are a really nice guy and I haven’t exactly been batting a thousand lately.”

“Yeah…I’m sorry,” Reno apologized. Digging in his pocket, he pulled out a scrap of paper and scribbled his cell phone number on it. “Here. You ever need anything, you call me, all right? Especially if your ex-boyfriend gives you trouble.”

“Really? You’d do that for me?”

Reno shrugged. “Sure. I owe it to you.” A shrill beeping from his cell phone interrupted the moment and quickly flipped it out and answered. “Yeah, boss?...Sure…Yeah, that sounds about right…I’m getting results too. I’ll swing by and see if I can’t talk to Kate’s lawyer…Right…Ok…all right, bye.” Snapping the phone shut, he dropped it back in his pocket. “I gotta take off.”

Elissa nodded. “Thanks. I’ll see you around. Good luck.”

“Thanks. Keep in touch,” Reno answered, pulling open the door of his car and sliding behind the wheel. Leaning back, he watched the car beside him pull out of the parking space and onto the main highway. With a sigh, he backed his car out and headed in the opposite direction.


“Now this is a case file,” Vincent pronounced triumphantly, leafing through the contents of a plain brown file folder. After taking down the report Reno had filled him in on what he’d learned from the doctor’s office, Vincent had quickly printed a case summary and tucked it into the folder. “I could definitely see an arrest coming from this. And you said Mrs. Laurence seems to have a pretty decent lawyer?”

Reno nodded. “He seemed capable to me. I think he’d be the type who’d follow up on everything we give him.”

“Excellent. Rude, you deliver this file to the address I gave you earlier.”

Rude accepted the file that Vincent passed to him and tucked it into his jacket. “A good old fashioned delivery. Been ages since I did something like this. I’ll be back by sundown.”

Reno stepped aside to let Rude out of the office, then lingered for a while in front of Vincent’s desk. “So…uh…now what?” he questioned, when the Vincent didn’t acknowledge his presence.

“We move on. Go listen to the police radio for a while.”

Reno hesitated. “We don’t do anything else? This is it?”

Vincent shrugged. “It’s in the lawyer’s hands now. If he needs any more help, he’ll be able to reach us. This is how the game works. We only play it so far.”

“Oh. So we don’t find out if this woman is gonna go down for this or not?”

“We may. If the case makes it public. Which it might, as it’s an abnormality for a murder to be investigated in Junon. Watch the news if you’re interested in pursuing the case. It’s out of your hands now.”

“I know that. I just…well…do you think what that woman did was wrong?”

Vincent looked up. “She killed a man.”

“Yeah…but she only did it because she lost her baby. I mean…I’ve killed people for less than that. She was just evening the score, wasn’t she?”

After a few moments, Vincent shook his head. “In the bible it says ‘an eye for an eye’. That’s one of the reasons I’m an atheist, actually. There was a point in time when everything in my life was tantamount to vengeance. An eye for an eye was my mantra. But…what happened to Marissa Kent’s baby was no one’s fault. And yet she killed because of it. Now suppose the good doctor’s wife had gone out and killed Marissa to settle the score. And perhaps Marissa’s brother takes it into his head that it’s justice to go out and murder Mrs. Laurence. You can see that this is a very negative spiral. An eye for an eye and the whole world will be blind.”

“Yeah…I see what you mean, but you gotta feel bad for her. I mean, the woman was a mother.”

“But she still killed someone. He had a life, a family, and a future. She still has all that. He doesn’t. And now there’s a great big gaping hole in the lives of the people he affected. There needs to be some sort of retribution for something like that.”

Reno shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I just feel bad for her. I’m not saying I don’t sympathize with the guy’s family…but…”

Vincent didn’t answer, eyeing the younger man thoughtfully. Finally, he leaned forward and wrote something on a piece of paper. “Here. Go to this address at one tomorrow afternoon. Then maybe you’ll see where I’m coming from.”


Grey rain fell from the skies over Junon, running in small rivulets through the streets that sloped ever so slightly towards the harbour. The rainwater at the western facing port fell in sheets into the dirty brown of the ocean near the docks. Precipitation that falls over Junon is slightly acidic, less so than what used to drench Midgar, but strong enough that a few days of rain would take the paint off a car.

As with all cities in the rain, Junon regressed into muted, washed-out shades of colour, as though they had been rinsed out until only the barest trace of hue remained to distinguish blue from purple or red from orange. Black was deeper somehow, darker as the rain soaked into dark fabrics or made the finish on cars gleam wetly. Rain splattered against the glass windows of a church in a quiet, suburban part of Junon and provided a muted counterpoint to the sombre organ music inside the church.

The church was full. The pews were crowded with people, all in dull blacks or charcoal grays, most with teary red eyes and tearstained cheeks. At the front of the church, a large, oaken coffin stood, lid open, white satin lining gleaming softly.

Reno lingered in the back of the church, feeling awkward and hesitant about entering. He’d expected something of this nature, but he didn’t know if he felt right attending a funeral for someone he had never known. Turning, he started to exit the church, when a light touch on his shoulder stopped him. Looking over his shoulder, he pivoted and faced Mrs. Laurence. “Oh…uh…hello.”

“Hello,” the widow returned the greeting with a sad smile. “I hadn’t expected you would be here.”

“Ah…” Reno flushed slightly. “Well, I wasn’t sure you would…I mean, I wasn’t invited or anything…”

“I’m glad you came.” Kate lowered her eyes and twisted a white handkerchief between her fingers. “After what you and your friends did…to find the truth. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am to know that he didn’t kill himself…and that we were able to put the woman who did this behind bars.”

Reno nodded and patted the older woman’s shoulder. “Just doing our job, ma’am. Thank you for all your support.”

Kate’s smile wavered slightly as a man at the front of the church announced that the service was about to start. “Were you going to stay?”

Glancing down the long aisles and at the packed pews, Reno shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to intrude. Besides, it doesn’t look like there’s too much room…”

“Nate had many friends. I would be honoured if you would stay…you can come sit with the family.”

Reno blinked. “I couldn’t…”

Kate took his hand. “Please. It would mean a lot to me.”

“Well…sure.” Courteously offering the older woman his arm, Reno escorted Kate down the aisle to one of the pews in the front. Several people gave him slightly curious glances, but their attention was quickly diverted to the front as a man in a dark suit and tie stepped up to the lectern.

“Good afternoon. I’m sure you all know me, Nathan’s brother David…” the man paused and cleared his throat. “Kate has asked me to say a few words, before we start the service. I can honestly say I never really expected to be speaking at Nate’s funeral and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Nate was my older brother and he was also my best friend. We grew up together and he taught me everything I know. He touched the lives of everyone here in one way or another. He might have been a college buddy. Or maybe you were a patient of his. I see some people here whose children I know were saved by Nate’s hand. There is no way on earth to repay someone for saving the life of your child. And Nate never asked for repayment. He just lived his life and did his best for everyone…I know I speak for everyone here when I say that we’ll miss you, Nate.”


The rain clouds over Junon parted just after midnight, allowing the moonlight to filter through the smog over the city and bathe everything in silver light. Most of Junon was sleeping, as the tide lapped gently against the concrete shores. Out by the waterfront, where everything was absolutely still and the stars shone brilliantly over the ocean, a solitary figure sat on one of the warehouse rooftops, staring out over the ocean, the moonlight making the waves look like they were capped with molten silver.

“Are you planning to be out here all night?”

Reno looked over his shoulder at Vincent, leaning against the ladder that led from the fire escape to the top of the roof and shrugged. “I dunno. Just…feeling kinda depressed, I suppose.”

“What about?”

“Ah…I dunno. Everything. Why the hell’d you send me to a funeral? It’s gonna take me weeks to get out of a slump like this.”

Vincent chuckled dryly. “It’s all in the attitude. You can be in a foul mood for years if you have the right attitude for it. I personally don’t think you have the determination or the temperament to stay depressed about something for more than a few days.”

Reno sighed. “Your faith in me is inspiring. Really.”

“Our work isn’t about ‘faith’. It’s about truth.”

Reno didn’t answer for a few minutes. “Shit. It just…it feels so small in the whole scheme of things.”

Vincent arched an eyebrow. “You’re feeling ‘small’, so you come up on the roof and stare up at the magnitude of the heavens. Yes. I follow your logic. Existentialism makes me feel better too.”

“I don’t mean me.” Reno gestured around him. “I mean everything. This whole crime-solving thing. I mean…are we really making a difference?”

“Aren’t we?”

“Once in your life, could you please give me a straight answer?” Reno questioned irritably.

“Maybe for your birthday. What’s got you feeling so oppressed?”

Reno scuffed the toes of his shoes on the corrugated roof of the warehouse, looking up across the city as a siren wailed in the distance. “Junon. This city is so…so corrupt. How can we possibly take all that on?”

“Not with that attitude, that’s for sure.”

“Seriously,” Reno answered, staring out over the ocean again. “How are we supposed to get through this?”

Vincent shrugged. “The same way people get through most things—one step at a time. Or, in our case, one murder at a time. We aren’t going to clean up Junon overnight. You have to walk before you can run.”

All That Glitters Is Cold Fanfic Competition
EagleHeart's Fanfiction

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