M.A.F.I.A.

Location Unknown, Midnight

One bullet. He only had one bullet left.

She had six.

And she was still chasing him.

And talking. Damn, she talked a hell of a lot.

She was at it again, as if she knew where she was but didn’t feel like ferreting him out at the moment.

“I had a name once, I think.
I don’t remember it.
I don’t remember by parents, either. I don’t even have any keepsakes from them.
As far as I can think back, the Ishin Shishi was my family. We shared everything, down to the last stolen gumdrop, looked out for each other, and always, always obeyed our elders without question.
They called me Squirt, because I was the smallest.
At least, until they taught me how to use a gun.
I was known as Samui afterward, because showing emotion was the worst mistake you can make while you’re on the job, so I trained myself so that I didn’t even blink when blood splattered onto my face. To many people, I was also Death, because I was often called to do my work. To Daddy, I was his favorite, because I never failed a mission.”

She stopped.

He shook. Did she hear him nearly trip?

“And then The Night happened, and everything changed.”

She stopped again, walking closer this time. Sweat soaked his clothes and dripped in large beads from his face. She passed him.

“After The Night, I knew I couldn’t be part of the Ishin Shishi any more. But if I just upped and disappeared, they’d just find someone to replace me, and the cycle will continue. So instead, I decided to use against them the very skills they imparted onto me. They call me the Shadow Vigilante now, because of what I do to people who commit crimes and get away with them. You’ve heard of that, I’m sure.”

He made a dash for better cover, and she waited for him to get settled before continuing.

“Both of us know that what most people call justice isn’t justice at all. This country’s legal system is laughably good at keeping in jail people who don’t need to be there and turning out people who should never again see the light of day.” She chuckled, a short and terrible sound. “Ironic, isn’t it?”

Damn it, when was she going to shut up? He almost wished that she would kill him now and get it over with.

She seemed to read his mind. “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll get you soon enough. But first, I want you to experience, if only for a bit, what your victims experienced. It’s only appropriate.”

That did it. She was crazy—her insanity total, absolute, and complete—and he wasn’t going to stay around listening to her spout off.

She caught up to him two blocks later.

“Yugo Kawajira, on the charge of rape and assault with a deadly weapon.”

She cocked the gun.

“Guilty.”

Capow downtown area, 1:03 a.m.

Detective Goro Fujita took a deep drag from his cigarette and regarded the rather dead corpse in the one-way alley he was occupying the way one might regard a dead animal. “Bullet to the forehead at point blank range.” He dropped the cigarette to the ground, snuffed it out with his shoe, and lit another one. “The work of the ‘Shadow Vigilante’, no doubt.”

Officer Cho Sawagejou shuddered; even after all these years in the force, the sight of a dead body never ceased to shake him. “Well, at least this saves us some trouble.”

Goro exhaled, sending a cloud of smoke into the air. “Not necessarily.”

Cho wrinkled his nose as the acrid scent of burning tobacco wafted his way. “What do you mean?”

Goro brought the cigarette to his lips again. “This ‘Vigilante’ guy reminds me of someone I knew, and I don’t like that thought.”

Cho zipped up the stark black body bag. “‘Samurai X’?”

Goro shook his head. “He was serious when he quit. Just settled down with some chick nearly half his age, in fact.” He looked out into the night, cigarette hanging from his fingers. “But he wasn’t the only top assassin for the Ishin Shishi.”

Lurker’s Retreat, 1:45 a.m.

Like any respectable (as in mafia-backed) bar, the Retreat offered good wine, easy women, and violent fights.

One thing that was different about the Retreat, though, was that no matter how big the fights escalated, no weapons were ever used. It was the Code of Honor here: any and all unpleasantness involving hard-to-clean blood was not to occur anywhere within the bar. Maddy, the Retreat’s brassy bartender, enforced this with the utmost vigilance. Her unspoken policy was “You Spill It, You Buy It—And Clean Up The Mess With Your Tongue”.

The real reason that Maddy was so successful in keeping the guns, knives, uzis, grenade launchers, and so on and so forth out of the Retreat, though, was The General. The General had been in the “business” so long that no one knew what his real name was any more, but even the slightest mention of “The Big G” was enough to send people packing for a foreign country or making out their last will and testament. Still, despite his frightening efficiency at getting rid of people, the General found it distasteful for his favorite bar to have an aura of death about it. Therefore, all executions, one-on-one duels, and even gun battles took place in the alleys beside and behind the Retreat. In fact, The General’s orders were obeyed with such a degree of thoroughness that “to send such-and-so out back” was a popular euphemism for a gang-related killing even to people who didn’t even know that the General existed.

Tonight, The General was relaxing at his favorite table with his mistress Jessica, but that didn’t stop him from eying the waitresses who served him and his men. The fact that the average age of these girl-women was 17—young enough, in other words, to be The General’s granddaughters—didn’t stop him from imagining more than a few inappropriate fantasies concerning them any more than the presence of Jessica next to him. Jessica, however, pretended not to notice, for her eyes were on some of the men.

The General was not yet in the mood to lose his pants, even if they were always returned to him, along with the rest of his clothes, laundered, pressed, and folded. The General had received news that one of his best men had been killed, and some loon who called himself the “Shadow
Vigilante” was thought to be responsible. This “Shadow Vigilante” had also shown several of his other men out back, men in whom The General had spent considerable time, effort, and resources in order to train them for use. The General was very displeased about such a waste, and even more displeased that someone was making a move on his men. The General’s family had been the dominant and nearly sole controller of Capow for almost a half a century now, and aside from the Ishin Shishi of Tokyo ten years ago, this “Shadow Vigilante” had been the sole person who dared to challenge its rule. The General’s single consolation was that he was still superior to that gaijin Al Capone, who at the moment was not only sought after by a police force he could not buy off, but also pursued by
various other gang-hired “employees”, and in fact was almost killed by some revenge-minded psycho who claimed to be “Hy-de”.

Excuses aside, the “Shadow Vigilante” had to be dealt with. The General was losing credibility—as well as vital business—with some of his best clients, as a result of this rogue gunman who was good at hiding himself between killings. If this latest news got out, assuming that it already hadn’t, the General would find himself in dire straits for sure. And that wouldn’t do at all.

An Abandoned Warehouse Near the Sea, 2:15 a.m.

*BLAM* *BLAM* *BLAM* *BLAM* *BLAM* *BLAM*

Talon waited for the ringing in his ears to clear before checking the target.

Just one of the shots had hit center. Two others were close, but not close enough to be fatal. The rest would have taken down a lesser man, but against the enemy Talon was facing, would have only been shrugged off and ignored like mosquito bites.

And Talon had been training nonstop for ten years.

Every time Talon wanted to give up, though, all he had to do was remember The Night.

The Night. When They came to burn the town he had lived in since he was a boy. People were slaughtered, no, crushed like ants, left and right. Men. Women. Children.

Marc.

Marc had their father’s dark, stormy eyes, their mother’s soft, downy hair, and a giggle that made the worst of the worst days seem bearable. After their parents had died in the famine during year that Marc was 3, sometimes all Talon had to live on was that giggle.

Because of Marc, Talon still dared to dream of a better life, a life where they could be more than two orphans in a ghost town. A life where they could have a home, a real home, and a family they could call their own. A life where Marc could play in real grass to his heart’s content. A life where they didn’t have to worry about what lurked around the next corner.

On The Night, that dream shattered.

On The Night, Death happened.

Death, in the form of a small man with icy gray eyes, who neither flinched nor blinked as Marc begged for the man to spare their lives.

“All must die.”

With that, Death raised his gun, and fired twice.

The first bullet went through Marc’s head, and he died at once.

The second embedded itself into Talon’s lung, and he died slower.

Talon inserted six fresh rounds into his gun and raised it to the target once again.

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