Lin Takahashi loved her job. For months at a time, she could forget herself and become an architect, an entertainment agent, and now a policewoman trying to take down the very organization which she secretly belonged to. For a woman who as a kid loved to play pretend, her constant assignments were a trip and a half. The considerable perks were nice too.
And she’d be damned if she was going to let some F.B.I. prick take it away from her.
“Hacker, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said. Live the cover, she’d always been told. She could do that—she’d been doing it for the past five years.
“Is that so.” Hacker said, smiling superciliously. Pulling out a manila envelope, he removed from it a series of photographs and set them before her.
It was her. At a glance, Lin recognized herself at various stages of her adult life. Her college graduation. Her vacation/assignment in France. That night with the disgraced late Diet member Megumi Sakai. She, Karai, and that Joshua kid. Her past five years, captured on camera. Also, Hacker’s first mistake. A dedicated F.B.I. agent could have plausibly obtained, at best, a fraction of the pictures she’d been shown. For him to get all of them, he’d have to either be Foot, or something much worse.
Martin Hacker, it seemed, was Illuminati.
* * *
“The Illuminati?” asked an eighteen-year old Lin, as she scoured the Amphi lingerie store for the perfect bra for the night. “As in ‘organization secretly taking over the world via secret conspiracies involving vaccines’? Isn’t that supposed to be us?”
Her companion, Karai Saki, did not seem to find the comment amusing. Then again, that wasn’t exactly rare for her. “The Illuminati are not to be taken lightly, Lin. They are the biggest threat to everything The Foot has worked for.”
Lin sighed. She generally thought of herself a patient girl, but Karai was making her seriously reconsider that stance. No matter what the comment, the ninja princess’ reaction would be the same detached humorlessness. It took a special something to react to her story about that time she’d staged 200-person naked protest with utter disinterest.
Still, she wasn’t about to give up on her newest project. Two months after Karai had first joined Lin’s martial arts training squadron, with a demeanor that suggested a biologist studying a particularly interesting colony of ants, the older girl was still determined to figure out what had made the smart, confident, beautiful—yet maddeningly reticent—sixteen-year-old tick.
Fortunately, her efforts were not without their progress. It had taken three weeks of awkward “conversation”, but she had eventually begun obtaining semi-friendly snippets out of the girl. For her to freely volunteer information like this was a major breakthrough.
Amazingly, Karai wasn’t finished. “My father has gone out to meet with their leaders, you know. Apparently the Foot have killed one of their number, and they are quite cross about it.”
“Is that so?” Lin asked, from beyond the dressing room door, as she tried out garment after garment. Surprising news. If everything she’d heard of the Shredder was true, he was not the type to admit mistakes easily. For him to actually go through the trouble of apologizing…
“You should know, by the way: this is classified information. If you tell anyone about it, I will be forced to eliminate you.” Said with total conviction.
Figures, though Lin. “Well, thanks for giving me a choice on the matter,” she replied, tartly. “Why’d you tell me, then?”
Karai considered her answer. “I am concerned for my father. I had hoped that sharing my worries would ease my discomfort.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” So frustrating. Still, she was glad the ninja princess had decided to confide in her. She might be human after all.
They continued their trek through the store. Before long, Karai suggested Lin buy an expensive-looking turquoise number which, according to its manufactures, would guarantee “fantastic cleavage”, even if it had to perform magic in order to do so. To Lin’s surprise, it fit perfectly.
* * *
A barista brought Hacker’s meal to their table. As she set the items down, Hacker retrieved the various photos. “Let’s not be coy, Miss Lin,” the F.B.I. said, as he began adding sugar to his latte. “We both know you’re not quite what you pretend to be.”
Lin had stopped paying attention, though. Her mind was in a frenzy, trying to come up with a battle plan. First things first, Lin thought: if she wanted to beat Hacker, she needed to take stock of all she knew, all she didn’t know, and all she needed to know. She knew that:
一) Hacker had possession of a series of suggestive pictures—genuine suggestive pictures, at that. However, from what she’d seen, the photos did not go beyond suggestive. They included no evidence of wrongdoing.
二) Hacker obviously planned to blackmail her, and was willing to risk his life in order to do it.
Unfortunately, the list of things she didn’t know or was unsure about was somewhat larger:
一) Did Hacker possess additional, more incriminating, pictures or evidence? If he did, why didn’t he bring them here?
二) Did he know her true affiliation, or did he merely suspect it? He could merely be bluffing, hoping she’d slip up and give him free information.
三) Was he an idiot, or had he actually thought this through?
四) Was he actually Illuminati? She was almost certain he was but she couldn’t afford to be wrong.
五) If so, was he acting on their behalf?
六) If the answer to the previous two items was “yes”, what did it mean? The Illuminati and the Foot had a set of pretty strict rules when it came to inter-conspiracy interaction, set up precisely to prevent this sort of situation. If he was breaking Society protocol on their behalf, then things were about to get dicey.
One thing was clear: until she got more information, slitting the self-satisfied G-Man’s throat and dumping the body was not an option.
“You’re not making any sense,” she finally said, a full five seconds after Hacker had last spoken. “What are these photos supposed to be? Have you been following me?”
“Ah, so it is you in these photos then.” Not quite a question. He looked a bit like he’d achieved an early victory, which suited Lin just fine.
“Some, yeah,” she said, singling the more innocuous ones of the lot. “I don’t see what they have to do with anything.”
“Okay, lets start at the beginning. You’ve kept up with the recent reports about the Foot Clan, yes?”
“Ancient Japanese cabal with secretly taking over the world via secret conspiracies—I have been paying attention, you know.”
“Good,” Hacker said. “Well, it all brought to mind something a friend of mine over at Interpol had told me a while back, about a series of seemingly unrelated crimes over in Japan. Unrelated, except for one thing: in every one of these incidents, a young woman—or rather, young women—had been found to have direct or indirect connections to people involved in each case. Strangely enough, all these women shared several key physical characteristics, and all had the same name: Lin.”
Lin put on her best confused face—this was supposed to be new information, after all. Not a bad story, she considered. Probably bullshit all the way through, but the average person would probably find it plausible enough not to ask awkward questions until it was too late. “And you think I’m related to these incidents. Do you have any proof?”
“Not really, no. Still, one can’t argue that Kessler’s case seems to fit the profile; the similarities would no doubt raise some eyebrows to anyone who became aware of them. A curious and enterprising investigator—Maza, for example—would certainly find it worth looking into.”
“It’d be a waste of time; I didn’t do anything,” Lin said, allowing hint of despair to seep into her demeanor. Koyobashi may have been created to be cool under pressure, but being impassive would merely confirm Hacker’s suspicions.
“That may well be the case—maybe they look into Kessler and find nothing. Then again, a particularly smart investigator—again, Maza—may decide to check in on Lin Koyobashi’s record, and what will they find then? Either way, your job has just become a whole lot harder.”
Lin would have smiled, if her cover had allowed for it. The plan was brilliant, covering his ass from every angle. Unless she was extremely careful, any counter-attack would be as likely to cast suspicion on her.
“Like I said, I believe you’re part of the Foot Clan. I can’t prove it and I won’t try to, but that is what I believe. If my suspicions are true, then it means that you can do something for me—or more specifically, for a group of people I’m associated with.” The dog whistle at the end was too deliberate—he did have proof of everything. The comment made no sense otherwise.
Their little game was winding down. “If your suspicions are true. And if they’re not?”
“Then you are of no use to me and I’ve tragically and accidentally—but with the best of intentions—damaged an innocent cop’s career. You’ll get over it—after all, who ever heard of a public official getting punished in this city?”
And there they were. The game—at least this round—was over. Hacker held the lead, but that was hardly a permanent state of affairs. She’d learned a bit, and she’d kept her options open—not bad for a largely improvised gig.
Hacker produced another manila envelope, which he gave to Lin. It was completely unmarked. “Open that when you’re back home, and read what’s inside immediately. Give me an answer by noon tomorrow, and we’ll be set. If you agree to do this favor for me, I’ll be out of your hair, and you’ll have nothing to worry about. If I hear nothing from you, or you decide to disagree, then I’ll just have share my suspicions with Maza and the rest.
Hacker finished his meal, paid his bill, and then left Lin alone in the coffee shop. As she watched him walk out of sight, she entertained herself by imagining him being killed in various humorous mishaps. She particularly liked the scenario where he was attacked by a squadron of rabid squirrels.
She was hungry. She’d eaten before arriving, and she knew that priority one should probably be to read Hacker’s papers and contact Karai, but the confrontation with the Illuminatus—and she was certain that was what he was, all things considered—had left her peckish. To that purpose, she headed to the counter to order a meal. Everything else could wait.
* * *
Hacker had to admit it; he was impressed. While he hadn’t expected Miss Lin to break down in sobs during their encounter, he’d though he would get far more out of her than he actually did. Pity she worked for the other team, or he’d try to recruit her in a heartbeat. He almost felt sorry for framing her for the Kessler murder—almost.
“Here’s your coffee, ‘lisa,” said Cedric Harris, as he handed over the large (Starbucks would call it “venti”) cup of Miss Carmen’s almost acid-like concoction. “Hope it keeps you awake.”
“Yeah, you and all of Manhattan’s drivers,” Elisa said. Coffee in hand, she stepped outside of the car—no way was she risking the stains—and gratefully began imbibing.
Neither Elisa nor Cedric were regular coffee drinkers. The sudden dependency had come about thanks to the their shift in hours, which had let them with an annoying mix of sleepiness and insomnia. So far, they still hadn’t found the combination of chemicals that would magically transform them into daytime creatures, but they hadn’t give up hope yet.
“I really hope this detail ends soon,” Elisa commented, as she stifled a yawn. “Humans were not meant for daytime living.”
“I don’t know,” said Cedric, his own coffee in hand. I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s nice to be synced with the rest of the world for a change.”
“Yeah?” Elisa said incredulously. “What about Diane?” Cedric’s wife worked night shifts at a hospital, a decision she’d made after she’d first got serious four years ago.
“We’re fine—in fact, I think not being able to see each other is just the jolt our marriage needed. Now it’s just hello, a quick roll in the hay, goodbye. Plus, she really likes that the house is now clean by the time she wakes up,” he said, without a hint of irony. “How about you? You thinking of getting back in the dating game? At least now you’re not limited to the graveyard shift crazies.”
Elisa smiled. “I don’t know—you sure you won’t get jealous?”
“Moi? Never. I’m a generous guy—I know you’re too much of a woman for me to keep for myself. Plus, maybe it’ll stop all the locker room talk about you being a secret lesbian.”
“Well, maybe if you stopped spreading them around…” The conversation was a familiar one, and one that occasionally made her pine for Matt. While Cedric’s ribbing was not malicious—it was more biological imperative than anything—it would occasionally touch some still-open wounds. In addition, it reminded her of the foundation of lies of omission at the center of their relationship; she couldn’t tell him about Goliath without revealing his nature, and she couldn’t do that without raising some obvious—and unanswerable—questions.
A call went up on the police radio—another multiple murder at the docks. Without a word, the two policemen finished their drinks and returned to the streets.