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It was a quiet night. Through the dirty glass I could see the signs of active nightlife in the distance. A sea of lights flooded downtown, separated from me by the dark void of the lake. I took a drag from my cigarette, the taste of cheap tobacco scraping my lungs with an acidic gentleness. I exhaled, watching as the smoke lazily wafted and, aided by the dull current produced by the equally dull ceiling fan, made its way out through an open window. Not particularly wanting to let myself get too lost in thought, I took another drag and cursed the coarse product.

A knock on the door disturbed me from my pathetic nightly ritual.

I wasted no time in dismissing it, “We're closed for the night.”

Normally that would be the end of that. Customer comes back in the morning for their petty problem and we square away a deal so that they get what they want and I get just enough money to keep on smoking bad tobacco and drinking piss water. The stars must have been aligned in an inauspicious way that night. My peace and quiet was not to be.

The doorknob turned and the door opened. I took the cigarette from my mouth and swiveled the chair around towards my desk and the door. There was a scowl on my face, “Like I said,” I growled, “we're closed for the night.”

It must have been lady fortune, or perhaps the devil, who had sent her here. I couldn't make up my mind. I had been ready to launch into an abusive torrent of venom towards the interloper but just the sight of her made my mouth check itself. Long, long legs that seemed to go on for miles and a delicate dress that was both modest and oddly provocative at the same time. Not to mention a neckline that was as well defined as that of a classical beauty. Her hair was golden and silky, draping elegantly behind to her back and her face was blessed with full lips and long, sensuous eyelashes. She was trouble alright, a dynamite broad like her was always nothing but trouble. Every part of me wanted to get away, send her off and have nothing to do with her. Call it a sixth sense, a gut feeling from being so many years in my line of work.

My internal conflict was brief, but long enough to let the luscious babe get a few decisive words in, “I need help and you're the only one who can help me.”

I had heard that one all too many times. Meant someone was going to get hurt. Must likely me. She might have been a dame with a breathy voice, but I still gave her the usual go-around, “Plenty of private eyes in town, ma'am. I'm currently not taking any requests.”

The woman seemed undaunted by my reply, save for a small pout on her lips that was altogether too suggestive. The way she looked at me casted aspersions on her character. Judging from her vibrant red lipstick and fine-looking makeup it was clear that she was no working girl. Or was at least high-class. Then again, the big rocks on her fingers and on her ears looked legit. Either she had at least one excellent daddy or the girl was born into money. People born into money seldom displayed enough gorgeous skin to kill a healthy man, like she did.

“I heard you were the finest investigator in town, once a star detective even.”

“I don't know who you heard that from, but that's all ancient history,” I added with some scorn, “Would the best PI in town have his office above a derelict warehouse by the old docks?”

“Appearances aren't everything,” The woman smiled, flashing her pearly whites briefly, “I heard you were a surly burn-out but I get the feeling that's just not the case.”

“Yeah, yeah sister, save the flattery for someone who gives a wooden nickel. I'm no Pinkerton.”

“Would you please just hear me out? I promise to leave you alone if you're not interested.”

“Fine, could never say no to a damsel in distress,” I sighed, putting out my cigarette in my ash-filled ashtray.

She nodded and closed the door behind her, taking a seat at the chair I tilted my head at. She opened up her handbag, her gloved hands producing a small golden case from the interior. The case contained a series of cards. She asked, “Do you know who I am, Mr. Hall?”

“No idea toots,” I replied coyly despite having more than just an inkling who she was. The magazine-cover face was more than a hint but what clinched it was the monogram on the golden case:


She handed over the card for me to look at. I took it and confirmed my suspicions. She introduced herself, “My name is Yukari Yakumo, heiress to the Yakumo industrial group.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” I played it cool. There was no telling why the richest woman in Gensokyo would be soliciting my services. There was definitely nothing normal about the situation, “In case you did not see the sign on the door I'm Maxwell Hall, Private Eye.”

“Of course,” The woman flashed an enigmatic smile as she removed a glove and extended a hand. The temptation to take it and kiss it was great but I knew better than to play into a high stakes game blind so I instead just gave her a handshake. She took it well, looking like she was pleased with my reaction.

“Forgive me for being blunt, but what does the most powerful woman in Gensokyo want with me? I'm a washed-out detective and a nobody.”

“Beneath that cynicism and scathing self-derision is a very capable man, I've been told. Your directness is fine with me and, if you'll forgive me I'd like to be just as frank. I may be powerful but there are places where I can't reach into because it would be improper. That's why I need third parties to root around where I can't go.”

“I assume that those third parties are handsomely rewarded?”

“The reward is enough to ensure that they have enough bad smokes and horrible whiskey for a long time to come.”

“You're a twisted lady, you certainly don't pull any punches,” I laughed, “So what can this third party do for you?”

“As you may know, about a month ago my husband died of a congenital health issue.” Her face showed no real unease when saying those words. I was studying her carefully, trying to size her up but all I could say was that she had a damn good poker face. Only a suggestive smile on those red lips of hers would occasionally break the collected attitude she projected.

“Might have seen it in the paper, I don't generally care about that sort of thing,” I shrugged, being cautious and seeing if she would reveal information that wasn't in every tabloid and broadsheet. “My condolences all the same.”

“No need, we weren't close,” She said coldly, “It was a marriage of convenience, arranged by our parents. We were together less than half a year and he was ill most of the time.”

She was cold. I wasn't sure if she was just trying to earn my interest by being honest or if she just really didn't care what others thought of her. Either way I wanted to hear more. Acting like a busy man I asked, “Where do I come in?”

“I want you to retrieve something that was stolen from me. It was stolen shortly after my husband's death and is a family heirloom.”

“Sounds like a job for the police, not me.”

“I can't go to the police,” She explained, “If it were to get out that this heirloom was missing there would be an uproar at the company. You see, it's tradition that the president be confirmed before the board while presenting this symbol. My husband was the president and I am next in line. I cannot assume my responsibilities for real without it.”

“Why take a risk with an outsider? Who is to say I won't sell you out to a rival?”

“Because I trust you know how richly you'll be rewarded by me if all of this is kept hush-hush,” She winked, stating the conclusion I had already reached. As far as I was concerned I would be compensated much better if I stayed true. She had the resources to back up her claim and I knew it.

“I take it I can't just walk away from this either?” I asked a stupid question, trying to fool myself that I could just go back to my quiet meaningless evening if I refused. Of course that was just a wishful delusion.

“I have to minimize my risks, so if you don't help me I'll have to make sure you're too busy to hurt me.”

“I bet an audit or a reopening of a certain old investigation on me would do the trick,” I smiled bitterly. Her blackmail was effective. I would not get into trouble ultimately but it would keep me in and out of the courthouse for at least a few weeks.

“You are as sharp as I was told, looks like we have an understanding then.”

“Of course we do, is there a deadline?”

“I must have the statue back by the end of the month.”

“Right, before you next board meeting. Anything else you can tell me?”

“It'll all in this dossier I had my trusted secretary prepare. I've even noted some persons of interest you might want to check out,” She handed me a manila envelope. “I'm afraid we cannot have any direct contact from now on and if we were ever to meet on the street I could not acknowledge knowing you.”

“Of course. Nonetheless, how do I keep you posted of updates?”



“Pardon, I meant to say refresh yourself at a bar called the Rainbow Dream, another trusted subordinate frequents the place every night and has my ear. You'll be able to recognize each other due to a prearranged greeting I've taken care of writing up.”

She got up, no doubt intended to leave me alone to digest my new assignment. “Later Mr. Hall.”

“It's Max,” I corrected her, “Just Max.”

“Very well.” She nodded her head with some finality before disappearing through the door and into the night. Moments later I heard the sound of a vehicle pulling away in the night.

I lit up another cigarette, mindful of the sweet smell of perfume that had displaced the usual musk. That women had squeezed me and it felt like trouble would be at every corner from now on. I took a quick puff and then knocked back the little rye that remained in my glass. The cheap stuff always put up a struggle on its way down.

I undid the clasp on the dossier and spread out the typewritten documents before me. I had documents to read and an investigation to begin.

The object was something that seemed to be rather mundane. It was no crazy multi-armed snake god or other absurd idol but was just a lucky animal of sorts. A common cat. Made of onyx but was small enough to be portable. This family symbol would become a black cat of ill-omen if it was used against the family's interests. I could understand why she would want to use every resource necessary to make sure it didn't come to that. I let the feeling of unease I felt die away as I engrossed myself in the information.

The suspect list was large. Her persons of interest included everyone from fellow board members to alleged underworld bosses. Many of the names were altogether too familiar, like Don 'Baby Carrot' Inaba and a few ambitious capos – even a relatively new arrival only known as “Tails”. Motives ranged from the classic blackmail to the more complicated power plays. In the case of the few other industrialists mentioned, Yakumo's loss would be their gain and the mobsters were like rabid dogs going at a juicy ham – they were going to gnaw anything down without hesitating. I had my pick of the top or the bottom of society as a starting point for my investigation.

What bothered me the most was motive. Blackmail was the obvious motive but there had been no attempt at contact since the theft. I poured over the details of the actual robbery, noting that the statue was taken from a vault in one of the mountain villas. It was a place that was remote, well guarded and unknown to the general public. More importantly, the significance of the statue was not obvious to everyone. Even if they weren't directly responsible for the theft, someone on the board or close to it must have blabbed about the importance of ceremony and tradition.

Before long I was putting out another cigarette and grabbing my coat from the rack. There was only so much I could learn from mere documents. It was time to do some legwork and see which leads would stick and which would turn out to be dead ends. My deadline was far away but my gut told me that the sooner I got to the bottom of things, the better. I took the notebook I used to jot down thoughts on the documents and stuck it in the trench coat's pocket. The original documents were put under lock and key in my office safe, somewhere where I hoped they would be secure.

Making sure the office door was neatly looked behind me, I put on my hat and walked down the stairs and into the night. A chilly breeze bit into my cheeks as I walked down the derelict docks and towards civilization.

The first place to start was right near the docks, by the old industrial sector which had since been converted to cheap tenements and housing for the less prosperous. I strolled on by to the local orphanage – an old monastery that had long since fallen into disuse – and looked around for a familiar face. There weren't that many people on these streets at night and the few that were around tended to be a very private type of individual solely focused on business.

I found a street urchin by the corner of the old, cavernous building. “Get your boss, I want a few words,” I wasted no time. I slipped a dime into the kid's hand, hoping to ensure a swift resolution.

Lucky for me, I picked well. The kid didn't argue and slipped into the bushes and likely into the old monastery. The official policy of the orphanage was to have lights out rather early in the evening but most of the older charges found it very easy to break the rules. It was no surprise to see these kids wandering around the streets after dark, doing whatever they pleased with no supervision. No one cared and the trouble they got into was usually laughably minor. They were no gangsters and if one of them was caught by a foot patrol, they'd just get a scolding and an empty warning.

They were tolerated by all parties in the city and therefore had a unique strength that even the law couldn't count upon: they could be anywhere in the city and they would not look out of place, blending in with the crowds or messing about in alleyways.

The boss of the ragtag group of orphans was a snot-nosed punk I was well acquainted with. She came out from the orphanage with the same stupid grin as always, arms crossed with the infantile defiance towards any figure of authority that only someone who hasn't been really exposed to the world could have.

“Long time no see Maxy,” Her tone matched her arrogant body language. Par for the course.

“How have you been, you scamp?” I raised my hand casually in greeting.

“Same old, taking care of business. I have a lot of responsibilities watching out for everyone. What brings you to my part of town?”

“I need a favor,” I was direct, “I want you to tell me if you've heard any rumors lately or seen any suspicious movements from the main players in town.”

“Sure thing Maxy, but it'll cost ya.”

“Hey you brat, as I recall you owe me one for springing your three buddies out of the can.”

“Tch, they're not my buddies,” She did not look happy to be reminded of that incident, “They're troublesome youngsters that don't know their own place.”

“All the same, fair's fair. I really need this one. If you haven't heard anything yet it's alright, so long as you tell me if you do hear something.”

“Fine, fine, I'll help you. For old times' sake. Promise me just one thing though.”

“Yeah, what?”

“That you'll come visit big sis sometime soon. She's all alone and could use a little company. It helps that she thinks you're a decent person instead of the crooked bastard that I know you are.”

“How very thoughtful of you Cirno,” I chuckled, “I never pegged you the type to be concerned about us old-timers.”

“Don't get me wrong,” She scowled, “She cooks for us and washes our clothes, it's only natural to feel a little grateful.”

“Right, right. You've got yourself a deal.”

“I haven't heard anything lately but I'll let it be known that it'll pay off to keep our ears to the ground. I'll come to your office if I find anything out.”

“Alright thanks kid,” I put a cigarette to my mouth and lit up, glad that I had secured one channel of possible information. In saying goodbye, I gruffly fondled her hair, vaguely remembering just how much she detested being treated in such a patronizing manner. I didn't really care and let my mind wander. My footsteps echoed on the hard pavement as I walked onwards to my next destination.


[] Called in favored at the precinct to get access to profiles
[] Went off the the most happening joint in town for information
[x] Went off the the most happening joint in town for information

I really dig such stories. That noir feeling, makes me want to watch Casablanca or Dick tracy. You made it really classic, just what i wanted to see and which puts a smile on my face.
[Z] Called in favored at the precinct to get access to profiles

Calling in favors at the police station might bite us in the ass but any information we gain could help us narrow down our suspects.
[X] Went off the the most happening joint in town for information.

Given some of the specific blackmail items that were mentioned, I'm pretty sure we don't want to talk to the cops unless we absolutely have to.


>“Of course. Nonetheless, how do I keep you posted of updates?”



Cracked me right up.
[X] Went off the the most happening joint in town for information.

It was a chuckler all right.
[x] Called in favored at the precinct to get access to profiles.
[X] Called in favored at the precinct to get access to profiles

Works for me~!
There's something I need to clarify: For the most part the votes in the story do not dictate thinking patterns or justify actions but instead are there to establish how the investigation plays out. In this sense, this story is far more linear than the average fare on the site. There may be rare opportunities to affect the protagonist directly sprinkled here and there but it will always be within the context of the world view that he has. Alternatively, if I decide to screw with pacing and insert filler/fluff that sort of choice may pop up. Not likely though.

In case you don't understand exactly what you mean I'll posit the following example: There will never be a choice for Max to confide to the police nor will he do so under ordinary circumstances because it goes against his best interests and is just not what a PI does.

In any case if that's still not clear I hope you'll come to understand what I mean as the story goes along.

As a addendum, it'd be really nice to be extremely popular and well-liked and what have you but number of votes isn't everything to me. In fact, I'm happy with just a few people who are getting into things. That's why I warn that I will completely disregard votes like >>37043 in the future because I find it hard to swallow that someone who can read 3000 words without getting bored has nothing to say about what he just read or what he hopes will happen next.
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>even a relatively new arrival only known as “Tails”

[x] Went off the the most happening joint in town for information

No fan for Yukari? That's unusual
[x] Called in favored at the precinct to get access to profiles.

I grinned very wide.

I'm lovin' it. The references are golden. I got a full picture of how this went down. Well, except for one thing. What kind of hat does our MC wear? I need to know. It was brushed over like it didn't matter, but I'm curious. Edit: typo
The station was as full of movement as expected from a city that never quite seemed to sleep or turn off the lights. I liked to think that it didn't quite trust itself in the dark and went to bed with one eye open. Patrol cars entered and exited the garage like clockwork, bringing fresh eyes out to the streets and reclaiming the tired like clockwork. Twin lions flanked the main steps, making the old multi-storied stone building seem like an imposing citadel. During day all sorts of people climbed the polished stone steps and entered through the impressively massive cathedral-like double doors to tend to their business with the police. At night, however, only officers in plainclothes coming to or from a shift could be seen as well as the occasional pickpocket or drunk brought in by a patrolman.

I was more than intimately acquainted with the sight of it all and certainly did not feel the same awe most people did when climbing the steps for the first time. I enjoyed the sound my hard-soled shoes made on the stone as I walked on in to the reception area. Almost made me pine for my old standard issue boots. Or my standard-issue revolver. It may have been just a .38 with no frills but it felt more at home in my hand than the P08 I had to bring in from abroad under the pretext that it was a collector's piece. It sat in a holster under my coat at all times but I only would use it if there was no other choice. Gun laws had really tightened since the Inaba syndicate had come along and the only way to get a piece legally was from out of country and only if you got the approval of the commissioner. Real hard time was in store for anyone who used a weapon in anything but strict self-defense. How times had changed.

The reception are was the same smoky hall I remembered. It was a large circular space with remarkable acoustics – the space extended all the way to the third storey and each floor had a little surrounding balcony that overlooked the area. A bored-looking boy in blue sat behind a circular enclosing desk by a door leading to the operational parts of the station. On the opposite side was a hallway leading to the subterranean jail and just by it was a large bench where the freshest catch would be handcuffed to until they were processed by the system. The bench was full that night and a few officers stood closely drinking coffee and watched in case someone tried something stupid. By the looks of it, the haul was mostly a few ladies of the night and lushes, nothing too unusual. At least things there never changed.

The on-duty receptionist was spacing out when I came up to him.

“Yeah? What do you want?” The bored uniform finally acknowledged me when I waved my hand in front of his face.

“Looking to talk to a detective,” I said.

“You can't unless it's for some official business,” He raised an eyebrow as if expecting the answer, “Are you on official business?”

“No, but that's alright. Just call in and say that Max Hall is here to see them and they'll let me through.”

“Can't do that, chief. Come back in the morning and maybe we can add you to the visitor list for some other day.”

I stared the kid down. He looked as bored and detached as the average paper-pusher but one thing caught my eye almost immediately. His badge was impeccable, not even a hint of wear nor dust.

“Listen here kid,” I donned the most condescending voice possible, “I know it's hard for a nobody like you to understand but there's more to being a cop than acting smug and wearing the uniform. I'm sure you're completely overwhelmed by the glamorous lifestyle of a career officer on your third day on the job but get it into that thick little head of yours that it's in your best interests to play ball. You're just a insignificant cog so don't act like you own the place.”

“...how dare you,” The kid glared with outrage in his eyes, “I think your smart mouth could use some time in the slammer for threatening a police office.”

I was about to school his smarmy ass with another verbal put-down when one of the nearby officers decided to intervene. I recognized her as Corporal Inubashiri. She had a wide grin on her face, likely due to her eavesdropping.

“Take it easy, junior,” She chided the rookie, “We're here to protect and serve, not get served. You can let this guy through,”

“Isn't that an anachronism?” I murmured to no one in particular. No one seemed to care.

“He's just a civilian-! I can't just let any Tom, Dick or Harry waltz in and waste our time with-”

“He's old guard, used to be one of us,” She sighed, “I know you only reached puberty last week but surely you remember the mayor giving the key to the city to a pair of detectives a few years back? He's the 'Hall' as in 'Hall and Hakurei, police heroes of Gensokyo'.”

“Um, well,” He looked at Cpl. Inubashiri and then at me, not entirely believing her story. I shrugged as if the situation didn't concern me. He crumpled forward, as if saying that it was too much trouble to argue further, “You can proceed.”

“Good sport,” Inubashiri patted him on the back and escorted me past the door.

We talked for a little while as we walked past offices and stairs. It seemed like she had just finished a foot patrol and was about to change when she recognized me and decided to watch for a bit before talking to me.

“His father is district comptroller or some nonsense,” She explained, “Real wet behind the ears, chief didn't want him but had to take him. So he gave him a desk job, figured that no great harm could come from it.”

“He probably won't last a year here,” I chuckled, “Thanks for getting me through. Hall and Hakurei are ancient history, it's embarrassing to be reminded of that.”

“No problem, you know that you and the LT were legends around here. Any one of us would have done the same. It's only been five years since-” She paused as we climbed the stairs, “Sorry, shouldn't have brought that up.”

“It's alright,” I shrugged, “It's been long enough. Can't have people walking on eggshells around me for the rest of my life.”

“If you say so.”

I stopped and look right at her. She hadn't changed at all since I last saw her. Normally she would wear a toothy little grin when with a colleague, often enough raising everyone's spirits in the process. She was a lively little thing and loyal like you couldn't believe. Keen eyes and a real nose for crime. She had the city record for most criminal apprehensions while on foot patrol. Though looking at her then I felt a little sorry. She was honest with her feelings - her eyes were sad and I found myself imaging that her ears drooped in remorse. I gave her a smile,

“Really, don't worry about it. I wouldn't lie. We're too close for old history like that to interfere.”

She seemed to perk up. I left her on the third floor, by the detective offices. We promised to get a drink sometime and catch up.

The third floor was basically one large hallway that lead from the stairs to the archives. Along either side were doors that lead to conference rooms and office areas. Some luckier detectives got offices with windows and curtains, usually the senior detective and a few others. I made my way towards the archive, looking for a particular office. I found it about halfway down the corridor. Light leaked through the closed blinds.

I knocked and waited.

“Yeah, come in,” A familiar voice yelled through the wooden door.

I turned the knob and went in. At first glance, the space reminded me of my own office. It was a messy hole full of stacks of papers and dossiers. Thick cigar smoke blanketed the scene. A small electric fan on a messy desk did a pointless job of moving about the air. A lone figure slunk in a large leather chair, one hand holding a lit cigar and the other the receiver of a phone.

“Send O'Mally and his partner out there tomorrow...” She was engrossed in the conversation, not bothering to look up at the new arrival. I quietly observed her, “Yeah, yeah, no I'll go down to the motor pool and tell Kawashiro about the new patrol car delivery tomorrow. Right... yuh... listen,” Irritation crept into her voice, “No, just shut up for a moment. You're not listening to me. Shut up. Ok. Good, here's what you do: recheck the logs and then crosscheck with the roster to see who was on duty. If you get a hit let me know. That's all you have to do. It's not a damned card, it's a rifle. It couldn't have just disappeared. If you still can't find it, I'll tell the chief that you've once again screwed up inventory. It'll be your ass, not mine.”

She hung up after that, with a look of dissatisfaction on her face, “Morons, the lot of them.”

“A good sergeant knows how to keep her subordinates in line,” I quipped dryly. That got her attention.

“And what the hell do you know?” Suddenly remembering that there was someone else in the room, she shot me a venomous glance. Recognition crept into her face as I grinned, “Ah! It's you!”

“Long time no see,” I greeted casually, “Glad to see that you're still the same foul-mouthed cop I remember.”

“And you're the same annoying know-it-all,” She chortled, “Just when I thought I had enough problems, you show up. What is it? Are the end days upon us?”

“I'm hurt. And here I thought it would be nice to drop in on an old friend. See how far she's come along as the supervising sergeant. Detectives are hard to handle, sarge.”

“Tell me about it, I don't know whether or not to kick you out of my office or give you a hug,” She sighed.

“I'm not a detective anymore, Sgt. Kirisame,” I reminded her as I made myself at home. I took off my hat and sat down in an empty seat in front of her.

“I forget sometimes,” She teased, “You have the same horrible taste in clothes as always. The trench coat may be a functional thing, but haven't you heard that fedoras are what is in right now? No one wears that thing except across the pond.”

“It'll make a comeback,” I ran by fingers across the felt and to the downwards angled front brim. “Besides, it's made of rabbit hair felt, it's a lucky item.”

“To me it looks like an ugly dark grey mess.”

“Criticism of my attire notwithstanding, I came here because I need a favor.”

“Straight to the point as usual,” She took a puff from her cigar, “I'm really busy so I can't help you.”

“You know I wouldn't bother you if I didn't need to,” I stated truthfully enough, “But I've got this new case and I need some files on potential suspects.”

I listed the names of the people I was interested in. There was obviously going to be no information on people without a record so I only really expected to get the files on known criminals and felons.

“Let me guess – you can't tell me why you need this information?”


“No dice then. I can't just give civilians access to police records. The chief would have my badge.”

“Dammit, I'm not kidding around. You know how it is, if I don't have all the information possible then some no-good punk might get the slip on me. And thanks to your friend the commissioner an honest joe like me can't defend himself without there being serious consequences.”

“Look, I'm sympathetic, but the fact of the matter is that I can't grant you access to the record room or the archives without it raising a whole bunch of red flags. I've got a million problems here Max,” She drummed her fingers across the edge of her desk, “You heard me on the phone earlier, no one can do anything without me holding their hand. Got a missing firearm from the armory for crying out loud! The officers that are supposed to on top of this type of thing are too busy kissing up to the commissioner to do their jobs.”

“I understand,” I could see that pressing her would not do me any favors. She was under a lot of stress and I didn't want to jeopardize our relationship. I put my hat back on and prepared to leave, “Nice seeing you again, hope you can sort things out.”

“Wait-” She stopped me at the door, catching me off guard by hugging me from behind, “I've missed you Max, missed you so much. Forgive me, I'm just really focused on the job right now but I wish we could talk for a bit longer.”

She felt so small on my back, her presence nowhere near the imposing tough-as-nails sergeant I was used to seeing. Gradually, she loosened her grip and let go. I turned to face her and gave her a smile, “It's alright, we'll have a chance to talk some other time. You always gave it your all, so I understand.”

A soft sigh escaped her lips. Her gaze shifted away from me and to the side before back to looking straight at me. She stood on her tiptoes and raised her face, and with her hand she nudged my face closer. Our lips met. It was a quick maneuver and it caught me off guard. She held me in place for a few moments before letting go any backing away, “Come by my place later tonight, when I'm off duty. I can't get you in the record room but I can take the files home if I claim to be working on a case.”

I nodded, “I'll be there.”

As if choreographed, the phone rang with impeccable timing. Marisa gave me a look that said that she had to take it and sat back down at her desk. I left her office, the sound of her barking directives following me out. Her voice wouldn't last long at that rate.

Before leaving the station, I decided to see if there wasn't any other stop I could make.

[] 5th Floor – Captain's office
[] 2nd Floor – Dispatch section
[x] 2nd Floor – Dispatch section

We might be able to catch some news on the goings on about town here.
[X] 2nd Floor – Dispatch section

Reports in real time may help!
[x] 5th Floor – Captain's office.

Functionality aside, I want to see who else is holed up in this station. It sounds like there is plenty of colorful history here.
[] 5th Floor – Captain's office

Betcha it's where the other half of "Hall and Hakurei" got to. Being this much of a Reimufag will be the death of me, I swear.
I have a bad feeling about what happened to Reimu...

[X] 5th Floor – Captain's office
[x] 5th Floor – Captain's office

>Patrol cars entered and exited the garage like clockwork, bringing fresh eyes out to the streets and reclaiming the tired like clockwork. Twin lions flanked the main steps, making the old multi-storied stone building seem like an imposing citadel.

This is why i am reading.

I did not expect Marisa, but that role fits her good. Already looking forward to spend the evening with her and just reminiscing about the past.

In the meantime, it should not hurt to look around the station more and meet up with old friends.
[X] 5th Floor – Captain's office

Mother of god. This just keeps getting better and better. The characters, the tone, the flow - I love it all.
[Z] 2nd Floor – Dispatch section

eavesdropping on police activity and knowing where they are could give an advantage later.
The upper floors were, in a word, abandoned. The various lawyers, experts and technicians that complemented the police force all had very specific working hours. On the fifth floor, in particular, there was but a single sign of life. Music, soft and penetrating echoed through the dark hall from a door left ajar. Prokofiev – I recognized. Only had heard one person ever listening to his works before. I was not an expert but unique details like that stuck to my mind like a pin of information.

I didn't bother to knock. The open-door, everyone is welcome policy of the captain did not require such formality.

The room was well-lit and spacious. It was likely the biggest office in the precinct, shelves packed with books and walls covered with awards and art abounded. A sofa and a few chairs surrounded a small table on one side of the space, often used for informal meetings and discussions. The back was dominated by the massive mahogany desk and the large semicircle window beyond that overlooked the street. Everything was impeccable; The floor was polished stone and the wooden surfaces well-maintained with varnish. Needless to say, there was no clutter – no case files, documents and paperwork littering the area.

My intrusion was immediately noticed. The captain, whose eyes looked closed and held in one hand a glass, gestured silently offering me a drink. I nodded and watched as she put down her own glass and reached for the bottle of expensive-looking scotch on her desk. She poured two fingers' worth in an empty glass and silently left it on the edge of her desk. I gladly took the thick crystal and gave it a sip. It was a world of difference from the rye I could afford.

We each remained silent for a while, listening to the piece reach its energetic climax before ending on a soft and dignified repetition. The captain smiled to herself at the songs end, opening her eyes and reaching for the nearby phonograph. She turned the device off and turned those deep green eyes right at me.

“Come to beg for your job back?” She asked the outrageous in her usual manner.

“Not when I see the captain has still got everything under control like this,” I fired back, “I heard you've done such a good job that there's no need to promote you further.”

“Oh, but they have promoted me,” She replied with disinterest, swirling the contents of her glass softly, “I'm responsible for more than just my precinct now and was given a small pay raise to compensate my work. It's all of the work and responsibility but none of the benefits or prestige of a higher rank.”

“A more cynical man might say that you sound awfully bitter about that.”

“My life is the force,” She answered diplomatically, “As long as I can keep the city safe, I don't mind what title they give me. I am staying in late because I want to, not because I need to.”

“Hm, the captain is the captain after all, it seems.”

“What an infantile conclusion, Hall. An individual with your keen mind ought to be a little more careful with what he says,” The captain chastised in her usual detached way.

“Next thing you know you'll be saying that I'm a loose cannon and liable to make a mess of everything, captain.”

“I hear your business is not doing so well,” She changed the subject.

“I still get work,” I replied cautiously. It was always difficult to read what her real intentions were. I trusted her but we lived in separate worlds. That was something I could not forget even if this conversation was identical to the ones we had back in the day.

“Do you now?” She smiled, “It's alright then. I just couldn't bear the thought of you wasting away with cheap smokes and booze in a tiny little office in a forgotten part of town.”

“I love you captain,” I felt like laughing. The woman was a master.

“Please Hall, dispense with the formalities. You're a civilian now. You remind me of Kochiya. When I went to visit her last week at the hospital she was all formal and even tried to salute me. There's nothing more important in this life than knowing how to separate work and pleasure.”

As if suggesting that she was all pleasure at the moment, she drank the last of her scotch and reclined a little in her seat.

“Sanae is in the hospital?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Maternity leave, I thought you knew.”

“Good for her,” I mumbled. I recalled that it had been about a year and a half since she got married. The wedding was great, so I was told. My invitation went unused. Being there would have just been more trouble for me.

“Didn't figure her for your type, that explains a lot,” Her words were cold.

“Hardly, but you already knew that Mima,” I winked at her.

“Careful, I think I'm about to swoon.”

We both let out a small sardonic laugh.

Mima offered me a refill. I accepted and sat down. She was a model chief in many ways, insightful and incisive but diplomatic. Her next question did not come as a surprise, “I take it you've been bothering Sgt. Kirisame again? I understand that you need your contacts here to do your job but please don't let if make doing our jobs harder.”

“I know what it's like to be under the same pressure you guys are under, so trust me when I say that I won't rock the boat too much,” I assured her.

“Good. I would offer my help but it would be unsightly for the captain of this precinct to help some two-bit PI just because they have a history.”

“Glad we understand each other, “ There was no spite in my words. I understood reality quite well.

We spent a little while catching up. That meant a lot of drinking and little talking. It was just the way things worked between us. At some point the conversation shifted to the subject of firearms and I was asked to show her my pistol.

“Must have cost a pretty penny,” She remarked, playing with the magazine, “These nines are probably a little difficult to come by, given that most of the ammo sold is for our thirty-eights. I've always been a fan of semis and wish we could introduce them to the force. But you know how the higher-ups are. If it isn't broke, don't fix it.”

“Truth be told, it was all I could get with my limited resources. I'm not sold on it. I don't think the jointed arm is the best solution.”

“Well,” She replaced the magazine and handed over the gun, “I hope that it'll keep you safe regardless. I'd have to show up to your funeral since you used to be my subordinate and it's always a pain to endure mass.”

“Maybe I should leave it in my will that I don't want a funeral.”

“That would be nice,” She nodded coldly.

“It was nice to see you concerned about me but I think I should be leaving now. It's late and there's still something I have to do,” I excused myself.

Mima didn't seem to mind, looking quite content to finally turn the phonograph on again. The city was in safe hands with a dedicated officer like her. I found myself smirking as I left her office.

It was around midnight when I left he station. It was much quieter on the streets, activity died down drastically. There wasn't much for the average citizen to do late at night by the station and city hall, the bars and entertainment were all near the waterfront. I stopped by big granite steps in front of city hall. I lit up while looking at the statue of the first mayor our city had, her blank stony stare looking out to the city beyond. There was no one in the area so I just calmly sat down on a step and pulled my coat tight around me.

A second cigarette followed the first. I was killing time, having decided that it was no use to entangle myself in anything potentially mess that night. I had a promise to keep later. There wasn't anything for a law-abiding citizen like myself to do late at night. Not alone anyways. I thought about returning to my office but decided that it would just be a waste of time. There was nothing to learn there.

Oddly enough it seemed like my pace was a little off. Had to let the reality of it all sink in. It might potentially serve as a break in otherwise a very intense evening. Maybe I needed to fill myself up a little before proceeding. I needed to...

[] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home
[] ...grab a bite to eat by myself while I thought about other loose threads
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As useless as that was investigation-wise, I think I'm glad that choice won.

[x] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home

If we're given even a little leeway I'm nearly sure this mission will go nowhere. Skirt chasers to the end, I suppose.
>I'd have to show up to your funeral since you used to be my subordinate and it's always a pain to endure mass

I love her already. It is good to know that he still has so many friends at the police. Whenever it is possible, it might be a good idea to meet Mima once again.

[x] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home

I really don't want to be late on meeting her. If he goes somewhere else something is bound to happen that keeps him from going.
[X] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home.

Can't hurt to be some sort of gentleman about it.
[x] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home
Yeah, totally worth it.

[x] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home

Sounds like she missed him heartily. Might as well take care of her.
[x] ...wait for Marisa to finish her shift and walk her home

I have a sneaking suspicion that if Yukari's secretary is Ran, it might have been an inside job ("Tails" as an alias could only mean a few things other than Ran)

As for now, some time with Marisa wouldn't hurt.
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Half a packet of cigarettes later I was ready to leave. Hieda's blank marble stare seemed to follow me as I walked back towards the station. It seemed like it might rain, the sky way pitch black and the night starless. I parked up against a stationary police cruiser and watched the front door patiently. A few tired-looking officers came out of the station, evidently having recently finished their shifts. There was nothing to say late at night and it looked like each one of them wanted to get home as quickly as humanly possible. They didn't even say goodbye to one another.

“I'm here to escort the princess,” I announced as soon as I caught a glance of golden hair leaving through the doors. A shady-looking fellow like me was about the last thing a princess would want around her, but there were no spectators to around to judge.

“Like a dog on a bone, eh Max?” She grinned, “I guess this is exactly the kind of situation that can be described as chomping at the bit.”

“It's not like that,” I mumbled with a cigarette still in my mouth, “There was no other leads I could follow tonight.”

“A little honesty won't compromise your cool and aloof facade,” She shook her head. I said nothing else, knowing that it would just sound like an excuse. She didn't mind what the truth really was by the looks of it, more than happy to have my company no matter the reason. It was easy to forget that she was a highly-competent member of the police force. The girl in front of me was the same energetic kid I had first met years ago.

I started walking, inviting her silently to come along. We walked side by side for a while, neither one of us saying a word. I offered her a smoke and she accepted. In the distance a siren echoed. A patrol probably detaining someone for something minor. It didn't concern us.

Marisa's home was a modest apartment block about twenty minutes by foot from the station. The crisp night air made the stroll enjoyable.

“Say, aren't you cold?” I asked, having noted that she was wearing only a light coat.

“It's fine, it's only a short walk anyways,” She replied. I watched as a light breeze blew through her hair and made it trail a pace behind her.

“What happened to the fashionable fedora?” I teased.

“Misplaced it.”

“I guess I can add 'scatterbrain' to the words I'd use to describe you now.”

“Ah well, as long as 'marvelous' and 'stunning' are still in there I don't mind,” She shook her head, as if to say that there was just no helping me. She wouldn't be wrong about that. There really was no helping me. That's why I was doing what I was doing despite it all.

We arrived at her place and she invited me up. It was as tidy as her office, to put it kindly. The one-bedroom apartment had only the bare minimum of space for all the other things people took for granted. I knew how tough space could be, having lived in my office for the best part of two years but her mess was on a completely different level. It didn't look like there was a clean dish or piece of clothing anywhere in the apartment. I dared not ask what she was living off of since I knew that the answer would not be pleasant.

“Make yourself at home,” She indicated amicably as she checked a stack of mail. I took off my coat and hat, hanging it up by the door. She piped in, “I'll make us a cup of coffee.”

“No need.”

“Well, I'll still have a cup. I got the files you wanted, got a strange look when I was signing them out.”

“Probably because you're such a hard worker. It's a good thing.”

“Yeah, well, wouldn't want the boss to find out about it, she'll stick me with more assignments.”

I didn't tell her that there was a high probability that the captain already knew about her help. I assured her, “I don't think she'll go that far.”

“I'm going to draw up a bath, I'm tired as hell, just make yourself at home alright?” She disappeared into the bathroom. Moments later she added, “Wait I already said that, so never mind.”

I shook my head and went to the half of the entry hall that doubled as a kitchen. I found her stash of ground up coffee beans and added them to a filter and set some water to boil. 'Scatterbrain' was firmly etched in my mind as a valid adjective.

As the water started to heat up I turned my attention to the documents she got for me. They were on the small table she had in a corner. Several profiles were neatly arranged in four folders. Each one had the name of the person written on an adhesive tab on the side. I made a comparison to the names in the papers given to me by Yakumo.

Tewi 'Baby Carrot' Inaba
Reisen Udongein Inaba aka “Legs”
Remilia Scarlet

The last name was the odd man out. I had given Marisa as many persons of interest as I could remember but only expected results on those who had run afoul of the law. As far as I knew Ms. Scarlet was a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist who often went to charity events and balls. Had ties to city hall too. Press loved her and would run stories just about every week regarding her charitable works. Kissing babies, opening hospital wards, the kind of stuff that made her a saint in the eyes of some. She was not someone who would warrant police attention.

I opened her file first.

I laughed.

She was arrested once for joining a march a striking union held, out of solidarity for her own workers. The interesting part is that that union represented one of the Yakumo group's subsidiaries. There was a high possibility that there was bad blood between her and the Yakumo dynasty. Still, I was careful not to discard the possibility that she wouldn't want to ruin her competitors. Goodie two-shows appearance be damned. Despite her extraordinary wealth she came to Gensokyo with nothing more than a few fancy titles and the clothes on her back. Her cutthroat business practices and shady deals got her where she was. That's the way all of these magnates made their fortunes. The Yakumo, Scarlet and the Hinanawi families all used the same tactics. I was there as an officer during the big strikes. Corrupt unions with ties to the mob and corrupt industrialists with personal enforcers. Neither side was clean.

There was nothing new in the other files. Tails was a complete unknown, the only reason the force even acknowledged that there was a new player was because of how jumpy the enforcers had been getting. Legs didn't have the stones to do anything by herself and everyone knew that. Owed her position and influence due to nepotism. Lastly the head of the Inaba syndicate still was smart and laid low. The only new thing in her file was that it was suspected that a pier in the new docks had recently come under her influence. There might be a warehouse owned by her there as well.

The fact that Komeiji cartel was completely clean came as a bit of a surprise. They had been around for a little over three years and had managed to keep most of their capos completely clean was impressive. They moved in too late to make money head over fist like the Inaba Syndicate had smuggling white lightning during prohibition. Their focus seemed to be more on the entertainment side of things. The Golden Hind, a 'bathhouse' run by known associate of the cartel one Utsuho Reiuji is an example of such an establishment. No matter how many times its been raided nothing illegal has been found. They also operate several legitimate clubs downtown, some of them highly popular. There was nothing hinting that they had anything to do with the theft. My gut told me that it probably wasn't that clear-cut.

I lit up a cigarette and checked on the coffee. I ran the hot water through the filter and prepared two cups. I left a cup on the counter and went back to the documents. There really wasn't anything very useful. I wasn't about to go poking around an alleged mob warehouse just because it was all I had to go on. The coffee was bitter.

“Oh, thank you for making me a cup,” Marisa emerged from the bathroom with a towel tightly wrapped around herself.

“I don't think that there that many dames in the world who would come out of the bath looking like that. Not in front of a man anyways.”

“Are you telling me that I should feel embarrassed?” She smiled, “Or are you telling me that you can hardly restrain yourself?”

“It's been a long day,” I shook my head, not wanting to play along.

“Fine,” She sat down next to me, “So did anything there help?”

“Maybe, too soon to tell. I learned something unexpected so that's something.”

“I don't know what you're up to Max, but these are big players in town. Be careful,” She placed her moist fingers on my shoulder.

“Don't you worry about me, I can handle myself.”

“I just...” She went quiet for a moment. I knew exactly why. Neither of us wanted to say anything more. I took her hand off my shoulder and held it in my own.

I said softly, “Worrying this much isn't like you. What will be, will be.”

“...Yes. I know,” She got closer to me, the damp towel pressing up against my side. I could smell the scent of soap on her. Her face came close to my ear and she whispered, “Say, won't you spend the night?”


“At least just for tonight I'd like to forget and to pretend...”

Her lips sought mine and I did not deny her. I was beyond trying to pretend but I indulged her all the same. The documents lay forgotten and the coffee grew cold. We both focused our attentions elsewhere.

In the dark of the of the pre-dawn hours I smoked a cigarette while feeling the warmth of her arms draped over my chest. Her head was resting contently on my shoulder and I could feel her soft breath tickling my bare flesh. I was unable to turn myself off as quickly as she could and I envied her for it. I stroked her hair softly with a hand not certain if I meant it to be a gesture of affection or because it kept me away from darker thoughts. I put out the cigarette and tried to relax. Sleep found me eventually.

When I awoke, she was gone. A note by the bedside made me smile,

“Gone to work,

Make me your bride.

No rush. I can wait.

I'm a dreamer.



I grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading back to the office. It might have been a little rich but there was nothing quite like eggs benedict to start the day. It was around lunchtime anyways so it wouldn't hurt to have something filling. I read the paper as I ate and noted a story of interest in the lifestyle section. A large charity event was set for the following evening, to be held right at city hall. All the bigwigs would be there, including the mayor and all of the heads of the prominent businesses.

As I left the diner there was some sort of commotion between a patron and a waitress but I didn't have time to concern myself with the problems of others. It was all too common for a new girl to mess up an order for regulars and it didn't seem like a big deal. I had to say, the waitress didn't luck very

The office was as I left it. No new bills luckily. I had my afternoon clear. I needed to decide where the brunt of my investigation would be focused for the moment.

It would be better to:

[] Find out a little more about the connections in high society
[] Look for signs of underworld involvement
>I had to say, the waitress didn't luck very

[X] Look for signs of underworld involvement.
Let's not focus all our efforts on one angle just yet.
Supposed to read:
>The waitress didn't look very used to the job nor being put on the spot.

Blame last minute edits for accidentally the whole thing.
[X] Look for signs of underworld involvement.
Second and last time I'll say this: I will not count a vote like that. Either take a minute or don't bother to vote at all. There's a lot in every update and if you can't think of anything to say then frankly I don't want you here.

Don't be an idiot. Take the votes you get, seriously.
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The guy takes the time to read your story and vote and that's how you treat him? Way to be a giant douche.
Thanks for your insightful opinion. Now stop shitting up my thread please. I'm not forcing you to read or participate in this.
[x] Find out a little more about the connections in high society.

The Remilia Scarlet lead might be something. Hard to say since it's this early.

On another note, what an interesting city. I wonder if the Hinanawi family works into this.
[x] Find out a little more about the connections in high society

I'm quite certain that only people of a higher social class would have knowledge of this stolen heirloom.
[X] Look for signs of underworld involvement.

I figure that even if the underworld folks don't have it, they may be able to point us to someone who might. The real problem comes when we stumble upon the person/group that has it as they'd be like to try to silence Max.
It is pretty clear now why Marisa is living so shitty now. Waiting for him all this time. I hope this will not influence on who he chooses in the future.

>Ms. Scarlet was a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist who often went to charity events and balls

Oh yes, this will be grand. Impressing Remilia on her home-turf.

The world is pretty lively, so many options on how to take this on.
Tewi seems to be on top of the criminal underworld with Komeiji following close by. Here is to hoping that he won't tip off that power balance. Legs seems like an errand boy, so there might be a chance to get some infos. But it would be more interesting to go for a drink at the The Golden Hind.

If he is to stumble into the underworld he needs some kind of backup soon enough. The police won't be there to help him out much if any.

[x] Find out a little more about the connections in high society.

I wonder if this world has any movie industry, like MGM.
"Shady" PIs usually have some underworld contacts at their disposal and perhaps be able to reach a line with some sort of faction.
Something about that last update makes me feel this story is gonna have a bittersweet ending at best. Call it a gut feeling.

[x] Find out a little more about the connections in high society.
No, But you are forcing people to vote the way that you like, or else there votes dont count, It's just being a bitch.

[X] Look for signs of underworld involvement.
I meant to have an update ready earlier but I lost the track of time. Sorry. I can't state when it'll be done other than it'll be done soon enough.

It boils down to: My story, my rules. If you don't like it, too bad. I've taken the time to explain in >>37046 my position before. I like to believe that people here can handle honesty, even if it's a bit brutal. With the way things work on this website I would sooner get scorn from random people than actual readers who get into what I write. Earlier posts in this thread more than confirm that.

No matter what my merits as a storyteller may be it is unlikely that I'll ever get a large number or readers. That's fine. I will happily settle instead for a few that show any signs of intelligence. I write for the people who like my writing. So yeah, I'll say it again: if you can read thousands of words and not get bored the very least you can do is invest a minute fraction of the time and effort I put in. I try my best so why shouldn't I ask others to do the bare minimum? It's not like I ask for deconstructions or in-depth analysis.

That's the last I'll say about the subject. Really now, if you want to complain about me or the inherent injustice of the world, take it to /blue/. I hope you'll understand my point and bother to participate properly in the future.
Is a token comment for the sole purpose of having the vote 'count' really better than nothing?
To him it is.It his story..if he only wants to count votes whose time stamps are prime numbers that his choice.
Yes. Even if it's a throwaway line like "Marisa is awesome" or "x needs to focus less on romance" it may serve to inspire others to state their own opinions or persuade others to their cause. With nothing, it's just nothing. When dealing with a bunch of faceless people on the internet you need to take baby steps first for them to open up. The idea is to ultimately encourage ideas and discussion or even criticism. Might not be effective but, hey, it's something.

When you look at the most popular stories on this site, what impact does a whole bunch of identical votes have on making people think about the story? On getting people to challenge each other? Very little. Look at the votes in this story thus far, they don't have token comments for the most part. Now you can either give the story a chance and involve yourself at least a little or you can choose not to and go vote in any other number of stories on this site. I'm betting on the latter personally, our community is more than happy to not try at all to begin with.

And now please don't derail things any further.
I stared out through my window before leaving the office. The lake was no less dark and mysterious in daylight. No fishermen had trawled its expense for a generation now, the fish stock long since depleted by the growing city population. Save for its use as a means of transportation alongside the many canals, hardly anyone bothered with it. To add to the uselessness of the lake, the city had built a large aqueduct to the mountains and consumed fresh spring water instead. Its sole purpose these days was pretty much as a marker of the city limits.

From where I looked out, the city looked completely still and dead. It didn't help that the overcast sky made everything look dull and dreary. There was no telling which buildings were lit up at night from a distance. The only reminders that humans inhabited the area were the sounds I could hear. The faint hum of traffic and the occasional horn blown. That was an ever-present phenomenon no matter where you were.

I wasn't about to wax philosophical. I had work to do.

After getting changed and taking care of things at the office I headed out towards city hall. Downtown was different in daylight. There were throngs of people going to and fro, shopping, working or otherwise living. Cars and city buses filled the streets and police officers had to occasionally step in and direct especially heavy traffic. Life was normal. No theft, no murder, no anything. Out of sight, out of mind. Who cared if there was a shootout on the other side of town? It was the other side of town.

Hieda greeted me with the same stony expression as the previous evening. Except now she had friends and citizens congregating around her – civil servants on break, lawyers meeting colleagues and average joes heading on in for whatever business they might have had that day. I moved past the groups and into the building proper.

The building was designed like a large monument. It was as if an ancient temple had been transplanted to the modern city. Tall alabaster columns reached up to support a massive sloped roof. The main entranceway was a large open space with several receptionists and seats available for those who were waiting for their turn.

There was nothing to do but to queue up. I had no business with any of the important staffers yet so I couldn't just waltz in and expect an audience. I lit up a cigarette, looking at the people around me. Men and women of all ages were present. My first instinct was to try to look for anyone who stood out of the crowd. It was a habit from my police days. Back when prohibition was around a cop had to watch his back since the mob often sent messages in the form of a hail of automatic gunfire. A lot of good men were crippled or worse.

I made direct eye contact with her. I couldn't look away.

It was a powerful, deep and captivating gaze. She was looking right at me. Her shoulder-length hair, cocky smirk and cool twinkle in her eyes made her a tantalizing mystery. I didn't know who she was and I got the feeling that she didn't know who I was but it was clear that we both were interested in each other. That flash of insight lasted briefly as the queue moved up.

The receptionist's level voice returned me to reality.

I focused on why I had come to city hall, “I'd like to request information regarding the headquarters of a few local corporations.”

I was instructed to go down to the relevant department to make my inquiry. I was a little surprised I wasn't just told to go look at a telephone directory.

“My, you're stunning,” The woman from earlier was waiting for me by the corridor entrance.

“Have we met? I'm usually good with faces,” I said as I gave her an look over. It wasn't just the intensity in her eyes, that deep well of certainty, that was unusual. Her dress was simple, almost manly in its cut and presentation but her appearance had very feminine undertones nonetheless. The red fabric was like a burning life force, complimenting her every look and ever move quite well.

“I believe my whole life has been leading up to this moment,” She sounded very pleased. Just like I was scrutinizing her, she was inspecting me, “Those proportions, the casual way you hold that cigarette in your lips, the unshaven stubble... and your manner of standing! I just want to eat you up here and now.”

“I have to get going now,” I decided to not waste any more time with her. Something felt very off about her. My gut told me that she wasn't dangerous but that I shouldn't stick around too long either.

“No!” She wailed, “Not yet! Stay a moment longer... I know, share a smoke with a lady, I haven't even introduced myself yet.”

I reached into my coat and opened my cigarette box and offered her one. I didn't want her to make a scene. I wasn't incognito but I didn't want to draw more attention to myself either.

“Thank you, you beautiful man,” She leaned in close for me to light her cigarette, “My name is Kazami. Call me Yuuka if you like. And I'd like to ask a favor of you.”

“Name's Max Hall,” I introduced myself, wary of her intentions.

“Ah, 'Max'! How superlative. A name fit for a king,” A potent fire raged in her eyes. She explained what she wanted from me, “I'm an artist and I want to use you as a model.”

“I'm not interested, I have plenty to do as it is.”

“No, no you don't understand, you're perfect for this concept I've had in mind. It would be a triumph of aesthetics, a masterpiece of plaster and color. You have the most exquisite and perfect features.”

“Sister, I said I'm not interested.”

“I understand,” She winked, “A perfect subject like yourself wouldn't be so easy to capture, I cannot expect immediate victory.”

She reached into her pocket, I reflectively reached into my coat. On her end, she produced a small card and presented it to me, “Here is my business card. Do call no matter the time. Or simply drop on in, I won't mind.,.”

I took the card, relaxing my grip from the holster. She backed off right after that, humming happily to herself and waving goodbye. I had no idea what had just happened.

I looked at the card,

“Sunflower Studios”

I connected the dots. I had just met one of Gensokyo's biggest celebrities, a true genius according to some. Her works of art fetched vast sums at auction and was popular with the ruling elites. Her personality was always described as 'eccentric' in the papers but I never would have imagined it meant she behaved like that. Her intensity was overwhelming.

I didn't forget my main objective. I headed down to the right office and requested addresses to corporate headquarters. Being a competent disassembler was important in my line of work and I had no trouble bluffing that I was an investor keen on getting to personally know the faces behind the stocks I owned. Public servants aren't very concerned about the little things, like if an investor would dress himself as sloppily as I did. Good news for me. I got what I needed and left.

Still had time before the end of business hours. I decided to do some more legwork, personally looking into one of these places. Question was, which company to look into first.

[] Yakumo main office
[] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD
[X] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

With each update I keep flip-flopping between liking the characterization of the various Touhous or the city itself more. I mean Yuuka as the eccentric artist that, undoubtedly, goes to lengths to make sure each piece is just right? A perfect fit. I just wonder if Max will get the chance to see what happens when someone mistreats one of her works.
Though I know you already said not to derail things, I just have to say this: If someone votes, they vote. If someone add's detail, they add detail. It's still a vote at the end of the day. If a tie gets broken because one person didnt put in any detail, you're going to get shitstorms, but I'm sure you already know this. I myself dont want to get any further into this.

[x] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

On the topic of not-so-sour things, these kinds of stories have really held a pretty big place in 'some of the best shit of all time'. Your Yuuka weirdly fits, and it seems like something I could expect from canon Yuuka.
All I can say is that you just have to trust me. I won't be a dick for the sake of being a dick. If ever there's a contentious option with a lot of back and forth I'd gladly give people time to hash it out. If there was 'just a vote', I'd ask nicely for another vote or would wait to see if someone had a change of heart. Sorry, but it's not that I don't appreciate the fact that someone supposedly took the time to read at all it's just that I'm writing for the people that are bothering to really get involved. And, well, I might break a tie with a coinflip if there's like an impasse for days. In any case I'll always be honest and always be transparent. If it seems like I'm a prick it's because I think it's better to have a clear understanding with my audience. Less problems down the road.

...I should also stop replying. It's a serious lack of self-discipline on my part. But I can't help but worry and hope for a healthy writer/reader relationship.

You don't have to stop replying, just make sure you don't go overboard. Replying every now and then is fine, such as answering a question about the story to clear something up.

[X] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

So, you're going by the PC-98 version of Yuka for apperance then?
[x] Yakumo main office

I'd rather get some of the company gossip out of the way as I'm sure some of the hearsay in the office might provide some clues.
[x] Yakumo main office

We really need to see the place for our own. There is a reasonable possibility that there was insider involvement.
>Sunflower Studios
Crazy Yuuka, not in murder crazy, but in normal crazy is something new.

[x] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

Time to get into high society. I would like to go straight to the underworld but some things just have more priority.
[x] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

If there's insider involvement I just have the feeling we'd have a larger chance of finding that evidence on the opposing side. Plus comeon now, it's Remi.
[X] Yakumo main office

If the solution is something other than "Ran Yakumo is 'Tails', and she stole the Maltese Chen so she could grab the Yakumo group for herself instead of letting it fall to Yukari" I will eat my hat.

I do not say this because it's what I expect, but because I really want an excuse to put mustard on one of my spare hats and watch my chief freak out.
[X] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

Given "Tails" is an unknown newcomer, I was figuring Mamizou.
I don't know. It could be that Tanuki character from 12 Desires.

[x] Scarlet and Scarlet LTD

That was the best take on Yuuka I've seen yet. I'm interested in how the Scarlet sisters are characterized.
>12 desires
What, Is 13 not good enough for you? Dick.
But she only has A tail, not tails. Having some someone in legitimate business with a very secret underworld alias isn't unheard of.
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It would have taken too long for me to walk to my destination. I took the bus and, when I got as close as I could I reluctantly hailed a cab. The Scarlets had chosen a remote location for their headquarters, by the lake but on the opposite shore from where my office was located. It was a mostly residential area, with large estates proudly displaying their wealth and status with high walls and obscuring gardens. Trees became the dominant feature in whichever direction I looked out. It was hard to tell if I was in a city or simply delving deep into the woods.

It all made sense when I arrived at the corporate headquarters.

The tall, imposing red brick wall and heavy cast-iron gate ended the road and separated the estate from the rest of the city. A large sign was prominently on one of the walls,

“Scarlet and Scarlet LTD – Main Division”

I paid the driver the fare and slipped him a little extra so that he would stick around. A small door on the left side of the wall provided an alternative to opening the main gates. I rang the bell and waited.

The door opened and a woman dressed in some sort of uniformed popped out. I had never seen anything quite like it. She looked like a cross between a respectable secretary and live-in maid. The apron on front was more decorative than practical and she exposed more skin than expected from a gal with an honest job. It was perhaps something to be expected from certain types of gentleman's clubs.

“Welcome to Scarlet and Scarlet Limited, how may I be of assistance?” The girl bowed almost mechanically.

“I write for Tycoon Quarterly and was wondering if maybe I could be allowed to speak to a representative,” I fed her my cover story with no hesitation, I kept my thoughts about her and her appearance hidden from my face, “We are featuring some of our most successful local businesses and would just love to have someone from your impressive company give us an interview. It would make a remarkable piece for our readers.”

I may have said too much. I was no good at playing someone outgoing and energetic. If the girl found my story suspicious, she did not indicate it outwardly. She wore a polite smile and nodded, “Very well sir, I cannot promise anything but if you'll just come with me I'll see if there's anyone available to speak to you.”

I did as instructed and followed her in. The property was huge. The main road wound to the left and to an imposing edifice. It was made of red stone and could have easily fit most of a city block within. A much smaller building lay closer to the walls and at the end of the footpath we were on. Unlike every other construction, the smaller building was a mild tan and only contained a single floor. It was architecturally different, with cleaner and more rounded lines, more in harmony with its surroundings.

Rows of hedges formed a large maze-like pattern of greenery just opposite the main building. Closer to me there were just trees and simple grassy spots occasionally decorated with a sculptor in the middle. The sculptors themselves were all thematically the same – angels, cherubs and other heavenly symbols. The messengers of god were all men, all well muscled and idealized and unvaryingly completely nude. They were different than the works found in the city museum, much more... vulgar and lacking real artistic merit. Not to my tastes.

Our destination was the smaller building, which turned out to be a rather simple wooden structure. If not for the coat of paint it could be mistaken for a rustic cabin or lodge of sorts.

The girl indicated a seat in the small reception area and politely told me to wait. She disappeared into the building. Someone else returned for me.

“Good afternoon sir, I've been told you wish to write an article on our company?” A woman in an even stranger dress asked me. She wore an oriental dress, the kind that showed off her thighs whenever she took a step.

“Yes, I'm with Tycoon Quarterly, my name is Jeff Markham,” I extended my hand, “We would love to do an article on the people who lead your company. The captains of industry are always fascinating for our readers.”

She took my hand, giving me a firm and polite handshake, “Mr. Markham, we here at Scarlet and Scarlet would love to tell the world a little bit more about ourselves and the imaginative people who lead us. I am the head of public relations.”

The woman took me back to her office with an earnest look on her face. She was quite the looker too. Her smile was perfectly in harmony with her fair skin and long red hair. Despite the unusual manner of dress, she was probably the friendliest corporate employee I had ever met.

“Tea? Coffee?” She offered both as we sat down in her office. I declined politely, more interested in what I could learn from her.

“Before we being, I'm afraid that I didn't quite catch your name,” I opened up a small notebook and prepared to take down a few notes.

“How terribly rude of me,” She bowed deeply, like she was apologizing for something serious, “My name is Meiling Hong.”

“Alright then, Ms. Hong-”

“Meiling will do just fine,” She sat down in her chair with a bright smile, “Our company policy is that we're all one big family, so there's no need to be formal around these parts.”

“I understand, Meiling,” I forced a smile, acting like what I thought was an outgoing reporter. I started small, leaving the more interesting questions for later, “Please tell me a little about yourself before we go on.”

“There's not much to say,” She replied modestly, “I owe my career to the Scarlet family and I am grateful for the opportunities given to me. They've built this company from the ground up and helped out many people on their way.”

“I see, so you've been with them since the beginning?”

“You could say that. Though I wasn't always public relations manager,” She smiled fondly, “I got my start as a simple security guard for an exciting startup venture. All I knew was that they had a tradition and a vision and I stuck by it.”

“Oh?” I picked up on what she really meant, “So you're saying that the Scarlet family wasn't always as well off?”

“Ah... I just meant that they had not created the corporate apparatus you see in its current state today, sir.”

“A rags to riches story isn't half bad.”

“I wouldn't quite call it that,” Her smile was a little strained. I could tell she was uneasy about being completely candid. There was no point in pressing her further at that moment, so I let her worm her way out of it, “Our robust growth has been due in no small part to the visionary outlook of our founder and CEO.”

“Of course you're referring to Ms. Remilia Scarlet, correct?”

“Yes, that's right. She came to Gensokyo with a vision of how things have been and in the years since she's built one of the most robust and dynamic businesses in history.”

“Her story is fascinating,” I kept up my poker face as best I could, “Our readers would love to know a little more about her. What is her approach to business?”

“She knows where to invest and when to invest. Moreover, she has an eye for human resources – everyone in our little family is a treasured member that has lead to our success and growth.”

“And what of her business plans? Is she the meticulous type, analyzing everything carefully and thoroughly or does she act more o instinct?”

“I would be remiss to say that she doesn't employ both cunning and instinct to varying measures,” Meiling stated diplomatically. Not bad, I found myself thinking.

“Well, that may be,” I tried to use tone to my advantage, “you would describe her as an ambitious woman all the same?”

“Expansion into new markets and progress to a better future are our goals.”

“Is there any chance I could get to speak with Ms. Remilia?”

“I'm afraid not,” She apologized, “Our CEO has a very demanding schedule and has a strict policy of not talking about business to the press. That's what I'm paid for.”

“That's reasonable enough,” I feigned sympathy, “all brilliant minds are too busy creating. I don't suppose that there's any chance that a senior manager or partner might consider giving me a few minutes of their time?”

“That would be impossible, sir.”

“It's my job to ask, there's no need to be sorry,” I tried to act nice.

The Scarlets ran a tight ship. It was hard to stowaway and join them for the duration of the journey. All I could get from the cordial Meiling was a few names. Besides the CEO there were a handful of other important postings, including chief accountant and head of research. Both trusted employees that had been around since the very beginning. There were no hints as to how the enormous fortune was amassed either. 'Genius' was the summation of the fragmented answer I got from the interview. No specifics, no mention of the other corporations in town and definitely not a word about the politicking that happened behind closed doors.

In short, were I really a reporter, I would be forced to write a story about a series of miracles wrought from the supposed talent of a single woman. Her words and axioms were unclear but the results spoke for themselves. A massive compound complete with dozens if not hundreds of employees/attendants and a mansion that was truly gargantuan.

“Thank you for your time,” I concluded while hiding my bitterness. There was nothing more that the woman could tell me. She was either a great liar and disassembler or was out of the loop almost entirely. Those were the only conclusions that made sense. And I doubted it was the former. Her warmth and candidness seemed natural enough. She really did not seem to have anything to hide. Or anything that she wanted to hide. The company line was all that she knew and she toted that proudly and loudly.

I was given her card in case I needed to make any follow-up questions later. I thanked her again and found myself escorted out by her to the entrance. It was the limit of my investigation for the moment. There was no excuse to get me privileged information about the Scarlet enterprise. My bluff had reached a dead end.

The ride back to town was long. It began to rain. The grey clouds unleashed all they had at once; A real deluge quickly squashed any fantasies I may have had for getting much work done for the night. A lack of motor transportation meant I had to walk everywhere – something which I was not eager to do.

[] There was nothing to do but rest up before an important day
[] The weather was worth braving for a nightcap and a pointless meeting
>They were different than the works found in the city museum, much more... vulgar and lacking real artistic merit
What a strange taste Remilia has. Maybe she thinks she is on par with god?

Some things Meiling said sound learned. The whole thing sounds more like a criminal organisation than a company. Once with the family - always with the family. Like a Triad maybe.

[x] The weather was worth braving for a nightcap and a pointless meeting

Allright, Yuuka time, why not.
The guy had a bad feeling, but I feel that Yuuka's offer isn't unrelated to all this.

[x] The weather was worth braving for a nightcap and a pointless meeting
[x] The weather was worth braving for a nightcap and a pointless meeting

I'd like to say that this is because Yuuka could provide us with connections in high society. (I assume that a guy like us has his own underworld connections).

But this is mainly because I'm interested in this Yuuka
This is the type of thing that a reader should point out but since that doesn't seem likely to happen I'll spoon feed this once: It is presumptuous to think that there will be liquor at an art studio that may or may not be open in the evening. There is plenty more to damn assumptions made but that will suffice.

The choices will likely not be plain in the future either but the consequences of them are heavily hinted at in the text, as is the general direction of the investigation. This is part of the reason I insist on comments, so people can discuss this sort of thing before/during voting.
[x] The weather was worth braving for a nightcap and a pointless meeting

I don't have a clue who we're meeting, but it's either Marisa, Momiji, Mima (unlikely) or someone new. Either way, any of the outcomes are desirable as far as I'm concerned. Betting on (and hoping for) Marisa, personally.

Yet again, a useless action from the investigation angle, but to be completely honest, as long as we're getting all these wonderful character scenes I couldn't care less.
I'll remind you that the other choice is also pointless from an investigation angle. Yet it's still there. Rain, alcohol and pointless meetings have their own price after all. And that price comes at a cost of something else. I'll stop now, since it may seem I'm endorsing something personally which isn't the case at all. This is likely annoying. I just really like playing the devil's advocate and if this weren't my own story I would go completely wild, trust me.
>Yet it's still there. Rain, alcohol and pointless meetings have their own price after all.
Yes, that is what I meant. Maybe 'counter-productive' would have been a better word than 'useless'.
>“Pardon, I meant to say refresh yourself at a bar called the Rainbow Dream, another trusted subordinate frequents the place every night and has my ear. You'll be able to recognize each other due to a prearranged greeting I've taken care of writing up.”

I really am an idiot for not seeing/remembering this.
[x] There was nothing to do but rest up before an important day.

Rest up, he needs to be on his a-game in case he gets a break in the case.
Of there's no more votes/revisions within the next hour or two I'll get to writing. Otherwise I'll never be able to update.
Hours came and went while waiting but I won't be writing. Tired and I don't feel like it right now. There goes my pacing, I guess.
For some reason I am dr iven to wonder if Miss Scarlet has the nickname "vampire" because she's bisexual.

You're thinking of Carmilla and no that's an absolutely terrible reason to suggest that.
Feeling rather sick, so no promises for an update today either. If I feel better later it might be a possibility.

The hell are you talking about? If you're going to bump the thread at least have the decency to make it related to this story. There's plenty to say about the choices, the characters and the plot.

The hot topic right now is "why are you being a prick."
Good news! Despite not feeling well I managed to get something written down. This means that after work and a nap I should be able to nail the rest. Hopefully we'll be able to keep a regular pattern again.

Just being unambiguous and direct. Could be nicer, yeah, and I could blame any manner of serious things going on in my life right now for not choosing more diplomatic words but that's a cop out. Inane posts are just that. It feels bad when a story thread is bumped when it's not an update, vote or discussion. Feels a bit inconsiderate to the other authors even.

Feeling better?
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Rain fell incessantly as if wanting to slake the thirst of a parched ground. Figures huddled in greatcoats or under umbrellas scurried in a hurry, often darting from the cover of one building's awning to another. Traffic was heavy, congestion a natural result. The heavy raindrops impacted strongly on windshields, bludgeoning visibility to a pitiful state. The dark clouds made the evening seem older than it was. Without a timepiece it was impossible to guess other than it might have been deep in the night and not merely early to mid evening as it actually was.

I did not waste time taking a cab. Money was something dear to me and I had no intention to waste it frivolously by letting the meter run while immobile. Water poured over the brim of my hat as I walked and ran down my coat in coalescing streams. I regretted the fact that my shoes were not entirely waterproofed and that I did not have an umbrella on me.

Going around large puddles and the rapid streams of water at every crosswalk was time consuming. By the time I arrived, it was really mid-evening. I took my wet hat and coat off, entrusting them to the coat checker. I took my ticket stub and looked around, noting the piano music playing behind closed doors.

The main room was a large space with variable topography. On one side a large bar ran across the length of the room, polished wood counter and padded stools in front of the vast array of bottles and glasses in stock. Several men quietly sat there, nursing a drink and occasionally asking for another from the barkeep. The middle had a few tables arranged in typical cabaret style, in a depressed area (relative to the rest of the room), with a simple wooden stage at the back next to another door. A piano was neatly tucked into the corner by the stage. A few patrons sat at the table, enjoying a meal and drink. Lastly, a few private booths lined the other side of the room, the lighting dimmer and more discrete. The few figures that sat there seemed eager to mind their own business, talking to their companions in hushed voices.

All in all it was an elegant piano bar. The music reflected that, the tempo slow and the notes gentle. The pianist played with no rush, no worries on her face. As a whole, ambiance was one of relaxation, as if this was a shelter from the torrential rains and reality that lay beyond the entrance.

I made my way to the bar.

“What will it be?” A young girl with short hair asked. Despite her youthful looks she exuded an aura of professionalism, a quiet dignity and assertiveness with her work. Perhaps it was only her boyish haircut that made it seem that way. Gender identity was a non-issue with taciturn individuals.

“Scotch, straight up. Stirred.”

The girl nodded and diligently poured my drink in with ice and stirred. She strained and poured into a thick glass.

“Thanks,” I said, reaffirming my initial impression about her work ethic. I took slow sip, turning around in my stool to observe the rest of the room. The place was anything but packed, likely on account of the rain. From what I had heard it was quite the popular establishment normally. Not in the same sense as other, livelier establishments but it was popular among people who wanted to be somewhere discrete and welcoming for a few hours. My type was not a usual sight, I assumed. Perhaps only when meeting someone for business. My type was more at home in a far seedier bar, drowning sorrows and looking for jobs for petty change.

I almost missed the burning sensation in my throat. More decent alcohol was not a luxury I could afford. Things that went down too smoothly, like the drink I had, were not to be trusted. Accepting everything at face value led to getting hurt, it lead to losing important things.

“Say,” I turned to the bartender, she likely thought I wanted to order something, “when does the show start?”

“A few minutes,” She replied plainly, adding with little emotion in her voice, “our star act is on tonight.”

“Lucky me,” I finished off the whiskey. Not wanting to annoy the other patrons just yet, I asked the reserved barkeep, “What kind of act is it?”

“You'll see,” She looked towards the stage. The pianist had stopped playing and was drinking water, likely taking a break. She rested his glass momentarily on the top of the grand piano whilst shuffling around her sheet music.

“Seems like she's popular,” I noted dryly, observing how nearly every patron was stealing the occasional glance at the stage. No doubt there was a mood of anticipation in the room.

“She's... popular,” The barkeep agreed with some difficulty. It wasn't unusual that she knew the star – and probably even had some sort of relationship with her judging from her reaction.

It wasn't my place to pry. Not without cause. I instead ordered another drink. The lights dimmed and a murmur went through the room like a wave. A spotlight fixated on a spot on stage.

As she came into the light, her dress glistened, the smooth and shiny black fabric dazzling spectators. An aura of bewitching beauty was created by her every step and her wholesome little smile. As glamorous and provocative as her entrance and gait was there was something pure about her, something which was quite at odds with the length of her dress and the décolletage. Unpretentious jewelry contrasted with her loud and eye-catching cocktail dress; A simple silver pendant around her neck as well as two earrings inlaid with some minor brilliant gem. The lipstick she wore was likewise not too flamboyant nor too expensive-looking. The fleshy red was something muted, something conservative - a sensible choice for a sensible middle-class girl it told me. Her light-colored hair was done up in a bun held into place by elegant lacquered chopsticks.

Her eyes scanned the dark room, lit with a sparkling inner light that promised boundless energy. It was, in short, part of the usual arsenal of a practiced performer. I didn't know what to expect. The mixed messages she sent were not just limited to her character. She could break out into an aria or into something burlesque and I would not be surprised at either.

The pianist started back up. Slow, melancholic notes filled the air. I watched the girl. She closed her eyes, waiting for her moment,

I don't dream anymore, I don't smoke anymore,
I don't even have a history anymore,
I am dirty without you,
I am ugly without you,
I am like an orphan forgotten by all

Performances like these were always popular. I drank more as I kept my attention fully on her. Singing of loves lost, of times gone by, that sort of sentiment was always popular no matter the style or audience. As she thundered the powerful chorus, she draped herself on the grand piano, her back finding support on the the great instrument's top. It was a brief but powerful action, one which projected the illusion of a vulnerable woman, one who perhaps was singing a heartfelt song.

Like to a rock,
Like to a sin,
I am anchored onto you.
I am tired, I am exhausted,
Of pretending to be happy when they are here

When she finished there was a momentary silence. As if the audience were stunned. They remembered how to applaud soon enough and the room was filled with cheers. She smiled, looking grateful and took her leave of the stage with a polite bow. Two new musicians arrived right after and, along with the pianist started playing jazz music. The girl on the trumpet wasn't half bad, I thought.

“I can see why she's the star attraction,” I observed dryly to the bartender, “She certainly has a stage presence.”

“She's probably the only reason we've managed to do so well,” The bartender admitted with little humor in her voice, “People come to see her.”

“Maybe I will too,” I joked. At least I tried to convince myself I was joking. The idea of drowning my sorrows with a good atmosphere was very tempting. The only drawback that I could see was the rapid emptying of my bank account. Business for me was never certain.

As I was about to ask the bartender more about the singer, a voice cut in, “Ah, I see you've made a new friend there Youmu, about time.”

“He's just a patron,” The bartender corrected.

“Narrow-minded as always,” The voice chided.

I looked at the newcomer with interest. She sat in the barstool next to mine, exuding an air of complete familiarity. Like a long-time neighbor. Her dress was simple to the extent of being plain. A unremarkable little black dress only notable for how subtle and understated it was.

She gave the barkeep a simple order, “Youmu, I'll have the usual and please get another of whatever he's having for our dear patron please.”

“Thank you kindly,” I wasn't about to turn down a free drink. Especially if it was an opening for more conversation. I inquired, “By any chance do you work here?”

“Oh? What makes you ask that?” The woman smiled, her eyes lighting up with a playful glint. Her features were fair and noble, what most people would associate with being from a good family. Her hair was longer than the barkeeps, around shoulder-length and far more feminine in its appearance. It looked well cared for, contrasting the slightly unkempt look of the other girl.

“The assertiveness with which you carry yourself,” I explained. It was more than that but that was the most obvious point to bring up.

“My, you must be a detective or something, how observant,” The woman smiled as if she already knew all about me. It was probably meant to be charming and disarming but I had a well-developed sense of paranoia when it came to my identity. I didn't want to jump to conclusions but I thought I knew who she was. “Relax,” She said as if sensing my thoughts, “I indeed work here. I, in fact, own the place. Say, how did you like the singer earlier?”

The sudden subject change forced me to think about it again. “She was captivating, almost hauntingly so. She definitely has a lot of talent.”

“Thank you,” She nodded, “That was me, you know.”

“I had a feeling,” I said. The thought had crossed my mind but I had prevented myself from jumping to conclusions.

“Oh, really now?” She sounded a little disappointed, “Without the makeup, in different clothes and with my hair down I usually look completely different.”

“Perhaps. But you don't feel different,” I told her. I explained, “There's something beyond clothes and fashion that makes a person who they are. It's their walk, their smile, some might say aura. When you spend a lot of time observing people you notice that there's an underlying spirit that is always there. It's almost impossible to hide for prolonged periods of time.”

“A professional's eye is different,” She concluded. Seeing how I automatically tensed up a little, she added, “your reactions are also different. An observant patron one moment and a man ready for anything the next.”

“Are you playing with me, darling?”

“Not at all, that's the kind of thing a flapper would do and I absolutely disapprove of that.” She introduced herself with a familiar little code phrase, “I'm Yuyuko, owner of the [i[Rainbow Dream[/i]. Wouldn't you say that Gensokyo is a breadbasket full of queer and colorful folk?”

“Yes,” I replied as was expected, “It is the home of foppish and puissant mice. I'm Max.”

“I knew that from the moment you came in. I know all of my regulars and I've been expecting you.”

“I expected a patron not the owner to be the contact,” I spoke softly.

“So would most people. I have a history with her, which is why she chose me. She needs people outside of her current life.”

“I can understand that, so is there somewhere more private where we can speak?”

She led me through a door behind the bar and into the staff-only section. We sat down in a small lounge with a sofa and a few chairs, the dirty dishes piled on a nearby table indication that this was a staff break room of sorts.

“There was something else,” I said before we began.

“Something else?”

“The pendant around your neck, the silver butterfly,” I indicated, “you also wore it on stage. It was a dead giveaway.”

She giggled, “Oh my, what an amusing man you are. I'm starting to understand why she chose you for this.”

“I've never crossed paths with her before, it's unlikely she knew what I was like.”

“Acting coy in front of a lady? I won't pass judgment on your skills or intelligence so I ask that you please refrain from doing so with me in turn,” She chastised in a playful manner.

“Very well, I apologize, so how exactly does this work?”

“You tell me what you've found out and I pass it on, “ She stated, “Alternatively, you ask me for assistance with something and I see what I can do. I am your go-to person when it comes with dealing with her, simply put.”

“I don't have anything to report at this time, I'm still doing a lot of legwork. Casting a wide net, seeing what gets caught. If anything,” I told her in no uncertain terms, “She should not expect any reports from me. When the time is right she'll know what she has to know.”

“What a frightening professional,” She smiled, not at all fazed, “Such intensity.”

“No less than your singing.”

“A flatterer too,” She laughed, “How charming.”

“A silver tongue is necessary in my line of work. People reveal more when they're off-guard or disarmed.”

“Well, well, I could say more about that tongue of yours but I'm afraid it would be a tad uncouth.”

“As long as we understand each other,” I smiled.

“So is there anything I can do for you? Anything you need from her?”

[] “I'll be seeing her soon, tell her to wear something saucy.”
[] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”
[x] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”

I usually have a favorite character or two by now but I find myself loving every single one as they're introduced. It's kind of refreshing, really.
[x] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”

Youmu as a bartender. Yuyuko as a pianist/singer. They might have a thing going on. This story is awesome in many unsuspecting ways.
I'm beginning to doubt Aya appearing as a journalist in this AU. Cab driver, maybe?

I wonder if pursuing Yuyuko will net us Youmu...
I think Aya will be a prostitute, imo. That or some sort of really-low job.

[x] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”
>“Thank you,” She nodded, “That was me, you know.”
Who would have thought.
Seems to me that Yuyuko is our handler in this story. Ory maybe some kind of help or hintgiver for the lazy/stupid among us.

[x] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”
[x] It is such a bleak evening, stay a bit longer and talk to Yuyuko. Ask her what she thinks about the case and try to find out more about Yukari.

Seeing as those two are connected, it might be a good idea to have a check on what Yukari is up to too. Better not limit the investigation on only the bad guys.

If possible i would like to stay here longer and talk to her about Yukari and her opinion on the case. But i don't know if that is already included in that vote. If it is, ignore it.
No way, she delivers pizza. The fastest in the city.

[x] “I'll be seeing her soon, tell her to wear something saucy.”

Interesting parallels here. I'm really enjoying these fresh, new characterizations.
[x] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”

I think it's too soon to request a meeting with Yukari again or not make a remark about what Yukari should wear... though it is a nice mental image.
Since this came up in IRC I feel it's fair to give everyone the same answer: This story is not about romance nor relationships nor slice-of-life. You shouldn't treat it that way. If you pick choices that lead away from, say, Yukari or the underworld you should not expect to be able to pursue those avenues at the drop of a hat. Things do not happen all of a sudden and once you make your bed you must lie in it. Besides obvious filler choices like this (honestly didn't feel like doing 5000 words for just 5-6 votes so I decided to break it up with a bit of fanservice) the objective is getting to the bottom of things. The story will get there one way or the other, whether or not you make the 'best' or just plain consistent choices. In short I want you to be content with what you choose but then again not end up wondering why, for example, bandwagoning for the SDM does not reveal pertinent information about Yukari's business dealings. Like I said this story is relatively linear but I won't be holding your hand every step of the way. What happens, happens. This is precisely why I have insisted on discussion, so you are all at least satisfied with what happens down the road.

I'm flattered with the praise for the characters but they are secondary to plot. I thought things like Marisa underscored that, showing just how not critical that sort of thing was for Max's ultimate objective. Do not expect everyone to show up nor for everyone to have an important role if you don't focus on one particular avenue of inquiry.

I've said my piece. Hopefully I was as direct as could be. I don't plan this to drag on beyond the initial premise very much, so don't assume that this will go for 20+ threads. It'll be as long as it needs to be for a satisfactory resolution, whether the truth is learned or not is up to you.
[x] “Open a tab for me, I might be coming to see you sing more often.”

Alright, this is a lie, but he's a flatterer so that's okay.
Nice characters, but I think it's time to get the show on the road. No more screwing around.
And we know that. Just because the IRC can get retarded doesnt mean we are, or at least everyone aside from /th/.
Good that you know. But from years of writing and being on the site I can tell you that it's never a bad thing to clarify and explain even if it seems obvious. Less trouble down the road. The bottom line is that the readers aren't psychic and neither am I (my lack of omniscience is partially why I hope for comments - it helps to know what the audience is thinking and it helps you to figure out what your peers think).
I just picked up this story tonight, and I've really enjoyed it so far. Thank you for writing this.
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Daylight was no less harsh than the night had been. Darkness, rain and cold had been supplanted by uncomfortable brightness and a sultry atmosphere. I winced as I opened both blinds and windows. Each ray of light bore through my eyes and into my skull, adding to my general discomfort. I muttered a curse, half relieved that a refreshing breeze had found its way into my office.

I checked my wristwatch. It was too late. For the second time in as many days I had completely lost use of the morning. Tired, I flopped into my chair, in no rush to get dressed. The shirt I had worn the day before was crumpled in a corner alongside my trousers. I barely managed to get them off before I fell into a deep sleep. The predawn hour was somewhat to blame for that but it was mostly the copious amounts of booze – responsible for the headache as well – which completely threw convention out of the window. I was glad I didn't track mud or rainwater into the office until I realized that my shoes were nowhere to be seen.

Instead of searching I got up and went to the adjacent bathroom. I washed my face and put my mouth under the tap to drink fresh city juice. I avoided looking into the mirror, afraid that I looked as bad as I felt. I smiled to myself as I looked into a drawer for something prepackaged to use as breakfast. I recalled her words,

“I think I could fall for a gruff-looking charmer like you. A man with a silver tongue and a bit of a messy stubble has a certain powerful charm as far as I'm concerned” She had said after we spent some time making small talk over drinks. An affectionate little smile had formed on her lips – wholesome but not entirely wholesome, much like she seemed to be. Perhaps that was just the drink talking. It was foolish pride on my part but there wasn't a man alive who wouldn't enjoy having the attention of a beautiful woman. She had taken the suggestion of opening a tab seriously, although she insisted on treating me to everything while she kept me company.

She didn't know how I usually was. I couldn't blame her for making the mistake of believing me likable. There was reason to believe that I didn't know how she really was. She was clearly intelligent and good at acting, as her different attitudes showed. Not to mention a talented canary. Besides, she was a go-between, an intermediary who had the confidence of one of Gensokyo's most powerful individuals. Underestimating her or anyone else related to everything would be an amateur mistake. Perhaps I would become a regular, I concluded, after the whole mess blew over.

I waited for my head to settle by looking through the newspaper. Counter-intuitive, yes, but it hurt more trying not to think. There was a shootout at a dive on the eastern side of the city, a place near the Inaba territory. A couple of goons got into an argument apparently and tempers flared. I was reminded of an incident about three or so years before, when a Inaba enforcer plugged some wet sock full of lead over a box. The department didn't know what to make of it, the box was apparently not important, the only thing important about it was the fact that it seemed to change color after a while, when forgotten about in the evidence room. It was stolen from the lockup when being transferred elsewhere. Just one of this rotten apple's many mysteries. It wasn't my job to worry about it anymore, unless I got paid to.

It was a while before I got out the door. As a gumshoe with few customers I could leave and not expect anyone to come by looking for me. I found my shoes wet and muddied right outside the door. I had no choice to wear another pair. They had to be decent since appearances were important.

It wasn't a very long walk for me. My destination was also lakeside, one of the old warehouses and shipping halls that had been converted into lofts and studios. There was no sign outside nor bell to ring so I just trusted the information on the card I had. A freight elevator took me to the top floor.

The pungent smell of paint told me I was in the right place. As did the half-finished projects that littered the entrance. Missing appendages, half-painted canvas and the like were all prominent. The rough condition they were in suggested that perhaps they were more failures than abandoned by whim. I let myself into the studio and called out.

There was no reply.

My hopes were pinned on squarely on the studio, having failed to find any other way forward. I debated whether or not I should intrude past the entrance and into one of the adjoining halls. I thumbed my cigarette case, hoping that I hadn't just completely wasted my time. I had limited my approach to the case in a very deliberate manner. Focus was key and a PI had to trust his gut and not spread himself too thin.

I called out again while going deeper into the studio. I found myself in a small room with a large single-glass window that overlooked the lakeside. Curtains were drawn to either side of it. The clear day allowed even the far end of the lake to be seen from there. It was a view superior to the partially-obstructed one in my office. A large bed and a medium-sized trunk were all the furniture in there. The bed was unmade, sheets were strewn about alongside a pair of overalls.

I was about to look elsewhere when a door on the side of the room opened. A woman naked - save for a loosely-fastened robe - stood there, looking at me with an uncertain look.

“My apologies,” I quickly reacted, stepping back towards the door and looking away, “I was just looking for someone and didn't mean to just barge in.”

Instead of talking, the woman moved. Quickly towards me, that is. She caught me by surprise as she flung herself on me, her arms wrapping around my neck.

“My muse!” She exclaimed with absolute rapture. The impact made me stagger a little. I put my arms around her and lifted a little to prevent her from bringing my crashing down on her. “Oh! I knew you'd come!” She squealed blissfully, her face buried on my shoulder. Her robe draped loosely and threatened to slip off her shoulders and come off. As I held her I tried to prevent that from happening.

“I'm not sure this is appropriate,” I played it cool, trying to get her off me. I looked down at her and saw that her front side was entirely exposed to me. It was, in fact, pressing up against me.

“Max, darling, there's no need to be so cold,” She let go of my neck and I let her down. Those intense large eyes looked at me a little disappointed, her pout seductively alluring.

“Forgive me. I'm a bit shy,” I said wryly. “And I didn't recognize you at first Ms. Kazami.”

She shook her head, her wet hair waving around fluidly. She objected, “Nononono, that's baloney. Call me Yuuka, darling. There should be no formality between an artist and her muse. You and I share a close and intimate bond, let's not erect artificial barriers.”

“Very well then Yuuka, sorry about that.”

“Ah~” She smiled brightly, her face coming close to mine. I felt her warm and gentle breath on my face as she ran a hand through my hair, “you're truly delicious, you know.”

I was unsure of what she would do next. It was hard to predict her reactions and harder still to act in turn. She backed away, chatting about how truly happy she was that I was there. There was no embarrassment at the fact that her robe was open and she was completely exposed to my scrutiny. Her figure was beautiful, something which had been completely hidden by the clothes she wore the day before. She was rather better sculpted than the half-finished statues in the foyer and her skin looked healthy and fair. Voluptuous but not exaggeratedly so, I decided on the rest. My clothes were moist from where she had pressed up against me and the marks left behind hinted at her exact dimensions. I thought of the name of the studio and how she resembled the namesake in a way. Bright, eye-pleasing and resilient.

She did not ask me to leave as she got dressed. On the contrary, she asked me a few questions while rummaging through her trunk for clothes. They were for the most part pleasantries of sort. 'How do you like my studio?', 'Beautiful day, right?' and the like.

There was one thing she asked which was important; “Have you thought about my request?”

“I have and that is part of the reason I am here today,” I answered.

“Wonderful!” She giggled happily as she selected a loose-fitting white workman's shirt and a rather utilitarian undergarment. The shirt was much too large for her and reached her knees. With it looking like some sort of short jumper, she did not bother to put on a bottom.

She ushered me into another room where offered me a seat on a couch. It was her workroom by the looks of it. Raw materials lined the shelves and a large central space allowed for different mediums to be worked on comfortably. Paints, brushes, hacks and even a blowtorch were some of the tools that lay scattered around.

When she returned she brought with her two champagne flutes. “Have a mimosa with me,” She handed one to me smiling happily.

“Hair of the dog,” I muttered, clinking my glass against hers.

“I hadn't expected to see you here so soon,” She said. Oddly enough a bit of a flush colored her cheeks. It was too soon for it to have been the alcohol. “You're perfect,” She said affectedly, looking at my body with the bashfulness of a schoolgirl.

“About that,” Part of me was curious to see where she was going with her behavior but I had to conform to a schedule, “I need a favor from you.”

“Oh course, my precious!” She perked right up, looking as effervescent as our drinks, “Just say the word and I'll do anything for my muse. Do you want more hooch?”

“I'm good, dollface,” I first asked her something important,”Are you aware of the charity event at city hall tonight?”

“Yep. A lot of pills going to be there and I've been invited.”

“That answers my second question,” I smiled, “I'd like you to take me with you as your guest.”

A broad grin spread across her face. “Darling!” She exploded joyously, “That's a wonderful idea! I can show you off to all those dull hags and show them what true living art looks like. I just want to ravish you right now for being so brilliant.”

“Perhaps after a few more mimosas,” I chuckled. That was far easier than I expected. She didn't even ask me why I was interested. I couldn't quite decide what to make of her – a bit of a loon or an inspired goddess. Both possibilities made me smile.

By the third refill she was freely doing with me as she pleased. She ran her hand across my chest, commenting, “You're plenty rugged. Such bold and determined lines and charming features.” She stopped by one of my big scars as if by instinct and asked quite bluntly, “Is this perfect Imperfection here related to the thing in your holster?”

“How observant of you,” It was a terrifyingly accurate assumption. A bullet wound from the end of my career on the force. It was something I didn't want to remember. I wondered if it showed on my face. I explained, “I got hit in a shootout, I was the only one lucky that night.”

“A symbol of fate then, how marvelous,” Nothing fazed her.

“You've got great perception, noticing over my clothes. What's more, noticing my gun.”

“I'm an artist, darling,” She laughed, “I observe the world and take every single detail. I then pick and choose what I want in my art in order to express something.”

“And so what would I represent if you did a piece on me?”

“I'm not sure yet,” She sighed, “But I am sure it would be grandiose. Perhaps my magnum opus. What do you think it would represent?”

“I have no idea. I've never been well-versed in the arts,” I told her, keeping the more cynical answer unsaid. That I thought I was not worth much was not something she needed to know.

“Well, we should find out together then.”

“Are you going to make a sculpture of me?” I asked.

“Likely,” She said, “But first I would like to draw and paint you a bit. Since a sculpture is so time consuming I want to make sure I capture your essence first in other media. A failure of a sketch is much more preferable to a failure of a sculpture. Though with art it's always hard to tell until one actually starts.”

“How long does the process take?”

“As long as it needs to,” She smiled. “I forgot to mention, I also like working with plaster so I may ask you to indulge me once or twice.”

“I have work to do and can't spend most of my day modeling,” I warned her,

“I understand how harsh reality can be and I will not hold it against you, darling. I just want you to allow me to take a glimpse at your soul every now and then, do what you feel is comfortable. To force a muse is simply just uncouth.”

“We have an understanding then,” I nodded.

She was my way into a world I was unfamiliar with. As informal as she might have been, the people I would meet would be very formal. A lot of them were persons of interest in my investigation. My personal feelings and odd sympathy towards here did not matter, but her feelings mattered a lot if I wanted to make the best of the situation. She was an independent factor and potential ally.

[] I wished to ask her about her fans and patrons
[] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better
[x] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better
I can't think of why she can't answer our questions about her fans and patrons while she's drawing, is this a placeholder?
Well, If I have to choose, I guess we should get on her good side, for now.
[x] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better.

I sense she'd like this better than asking right away about her fans and such. Though having a naked Yuuka be interested may be good or bad, but never unpleasant for the most part.
>Max, darling, there's no need to be so cold
Another reason why i don't like her.

[x] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better

Testing waters, etc.
[x] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better

This is a way we can build trust. We're able to get underground connections on our own, Yuuka is our best chance of getting upperclass connections.
[x] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better

I'm okay with this yuuka.
Okay, so this is either the most amazing coincidence in the world or there's something we don't know about going on. You don't actually believe this famous artist randomly picked out some guy that just happens to be investigating something for a famous entrepreneur(or something) to be her 'muse', right? I mean, I guess it's possible, but really improbable.
I can't even begin to guess at her motives or affiliations, but we better take advantage of the situation while it lasts.

[x] I wished to ask her about her fans and patrons
Yuuka is quite probably a psycho bitch under this disguise.

I say keep on her good side whilst nobody knows we are alone with her.
[x] I wished to ask her about her fans and patrons

As much as I love this Yuuka, this whole thing could be an act. I'm willing to bet she is definitely connected to this whole ordeal. We'll have to strike a balance, indulge her curiosity while simultaneously combing her information.
Are you guys trying apply LOGIC to artists? Artists are generally prone to being kooky and having their own way of doing things and Max may very well fit the aesthetic Yuuka was looking for.
That's the same as there's no such thing as a businessman who isnt 100% serious.
A detective who blindly trusts everyone isn't going to be alive much longer.
[X] I thought it best to let her start drawing and get to know one another better.

If Yuuka is involved in this mess, letting her know we suspect anything would be an exceptionally bad idea.
The response to my volunteering was predictable. A happy burst of energy and life from her and an almost instantaneous springing into action. She had me sit still on the couch as she went and fetched a drawing pad and a few pencils. A chair was brought in and placed across from me. She sat there and crossed her legs, looking pensive.

“I want to first see if I can't just draw you as you are, I'm a bit nervous I'll admit. I don't want to go wild just yet,” She got a blank page and smiled.

“Should I just sit still? This is my first time posing for someone.” That was if being a filler at a lineup didn't count.

“I don't mind if you move a little, just try not to change the pose that much, it'll make it harder.”

She got to work. Her gaze was almost always on me, the pencil moving by itself as she seemed to absorb every detail of me. Occasionally she would look at the paper and then back at me and make some alterations. I could tell that her lines were confident. Despite her stated nervousness it didn't seem like she had any trouble at all drawing me.

“How long have you been an artist?” I asked, a little bored of simply staying quiet.

“All my life,” She answered, “Been creating things since I was a little girl.”

“That's some passion then,” I said honestly. “Don't you ever get a little bored?”

“Sometimes I'll get fed up with something I'm working on, but never with being able to paint the world in rainbow colors and do what I want.”

“Have you been formally trained? I don't recall there being an art school in Gensokyo, you're pretty high profile these days.”

“No, never gone to art school,” She furrowed her brow slightly as she corrected something on her sketch. She took her time and paced herself.

“I bet you could open one if you wanted, there would be plenty of students applying.”

“Not interested, I only do this for myself, I don't care about what others think.”

“You're a fascinating woman, and I don't give out praise lightly,” I chuckled, “You caught my eye the moment I saw you too, you know. That takes presence since I normally have my mind set on other things.”

“Oh Max...” She giggled, “My muse is trying to steal my heart, not knowing that it already belonged to him to begin with.”

I continued to ask her questions about her background. No relatives, no real roots in the city either. She was discovered by a local businessman with an eye for art a while ago by complete accident and since then she's been a celebrity in those kinds of circles. She, amusingly enough, claimed to have no favorite color,

“I enjoy the rainbow in all its glory,” She told me, “Each color by itself is worthless, dull and repetitive but when arranged in that bouquet of light it becomes something marvelous and unique.”

Other questions, such as her favorite food and drink got very similar and imaginative answers. She was the complete opposite of dull and grey. Life itself was more exciting when viewed through her eyes. It came close to making me feel bad about my deep cynicism. Close but no cigar; My entrenched beliefs would not suddenly change overnight even if I lost my mind.

Her drawing was finished quickly. She refused to show it to me, claiming that it was something of a dry run for the real thing. I was moved from the couch, to somewhere with better natural light. I sat on a small stool in her bedroom, near the large window. I took off my coat and rolled up my sleeves as per her request.

“Now, aren't you a little curious about me?” I asked, “I've been asking questions about you for close to an hour now. Don't you at least want to know why?”

“I am extremely curious about you,” Yuuka confessed as she began to draw.

“I can't tell you every detail about my life, but I can tell you some things,” I warned her.

“Not that,” She shook her head, “I don't want to hear about that. I don't care.”

“You... don't care about my life?” I was confused.

“I care about you, not what your past is or what your job is. That is why I am drawing you, to find out what it is about you that makes you an excellent subject. That spark of yours, that light, cannot be explained to me in words and that's why I need to try to capture your essence through my art. That's when I will know you and it'll tell me more than what your favorite color is.”

“I see.”

I could not make a rational argument against that. I wasn't sure if she really meant it. How could she? It was nonsense masquerading as something creative and artistic. A person could get to know someone else through their words, their deeds and their past. Where someone has been tells you where they'll likely be and how they got where they are now. People could change but they carried the baggage of their whole lives with them until the day they died. You are who you are because of experience, not because of something romantic and innate that could only be found through art. The spark that drew me to her was something of curiosity, likely years of observing people made my mind think that she had a quality that would interest me. To declare that it was something irrational and that I couldn't pinpoint through knowledge was ridiculous.

The bottom line was that there was no telling if she was really on the level. It was entirely possible I had honestly met someone completely beyond my own existence. I doubted it. The difference between people was not so great and a few basic motivations is what made the world go around.

I stayed quiet for the rest of the session, lost in my own thoughts.

It was getting dark when she was finally satisfied with her different drawings. At the least, she recognized that she had things to accomplish. Her pencil and paper were put away and she once again began to rummage through her chest.

“One must occasionally play the part of the fool for those who spend coin on one's whim and folly,” She explained in reply to an unasked question. She sat and stretched her leg out, placing a rolled up stocking on the tip of her foot. She pulled up the white silk expertly, wrapping her leg in the smooth material and fastening it with a sky blue lace garter. The other leg followed promptly. There was one advantage to dressing up for others according to her. She place a small hip flask between the stocking and garter, holding it fastened in a secret place, “Chances are that it will get dull, and chances are that they won't care to carry anything appropriate for the pain.”

“A purse wouldn't be better?” I asked sardonically.

“I never did like holding a pocketbook or the like for extended periods, I use my hands to express myself.”

She would have said something if I had looked away, so I continued to watch her get dressed against my better judgment. Her sense of style was bold and direct, much like she was. Nothing risqué, that exposed her neckline or her shoulders. It was the antithesis of that. An ankle-length skirt and simple white blouse covered by a somewhat boyish-looking vest. Red and plaid. At least she bothered on putting on a simple brassiere underneath it, a departure from our afternoon together. It was a far cry from the bustiers and more subdued clothes the others were sure to be wearing.

“Well then darling, isn't it about time you got spruced up as well?” She smiled the smile of an angelic devil.

We walked up the steps of city hall, arms locked as befitting as a proper gentleman. A small crowd of reporters stood outside the main entrance, being kept in order by a few uniformed officers. I looked down, hoping that the dinner jacket and the different hat would prevent them from identifying me. Yuuka's energetic wave to the reporters and general aloofness focused all attention on her. I had my picture taken but no questions were asked. I felt naked without my trench coat.

It was like being a rookie at the station all over again. No one knew me and I had to follow Yuuka around like a faithful little puppy, for fear I get lost among the many crowds of well-dressed (and wealthy) donors and dignitaries.

“You're acting a little shy, darling,” Yuuka couldn't help but notice my apprehension, “It doesn't fit a bold and distinguished man like yourself.”

“I told you I was shy,” I shrugged.

“Want to drink a bit from my flask? Soothe your nerves?”

“It's fine, I'll get the hang of it.”

And that was the truth. A PI wasn't worth much if he couldn't blend in with a crowd. Whether or not that crowd was wearing expensive jewelry and fine clothes was inconsequential. I was as well-equipped as they were. I didn't ask where she got the clothes from but I could tell that they were of excellent quality. Even overlooking the fact that they were a size or two too large and didn't fit my waist well I knew that I looked sharp. I just had to believe I belonged.

“Oh darling...” Yuuka's voice trailed off dreamily.

“What's the matter?”

“You look so masculine just now, I'm in simple awe.”

“You and me both,” I smiled.

I took in the scene fully. The grand hall of city hall had been cleared of desks and benches and replaced with small tables and seats lining the walls that allowed weary guests to sit. People were distributed in small groups, mingling, all throughout the hall. Waiters bussed trays of drinks and hors d'oeuvres to these groups, some taking empty glasses on their return trips. A large space at the far end of the hall had been cleared, where the large bronze station-like clock was, and a small stage stood there. No doubt that would be where the mayor would give a speech later on. By the looks of it some of the largest names in the city were in attendance. I recognized several faces from the broadsheets.

“Mistress Yuuka!” A voice called out to us. A woman wearing A long, flowing white dress a slight fringe along the sleeves appeared with a glass of wine in hand.

“Hello,” Yuuka replied cordially, “You're the steward of the Hinanawi if I'm not mistaken, correct? I'm sorry but I seem to have forgotten your name.”

“Quite alright, I don't believe we've formally been introduced. I usually am a silent presence. Iku Nagae, a pleasure,” The woman smiled and extended her hand.

“Pleasure's all mine,” She took the woman's hand with a smile. I was given a brief introduction, “This is my companion, Max. He's helping me out with my projects.”

A polite nod came from the woman. It was directed at me. I wasn't important to the conversation and so just stayed silent and listened.

“I wanted to just thank you for your latest piece. We were quite happy to receive it a few days ago, the mistress was quite happy.”

“My pleasure,” Yuuka thanked her, “I'm just flattered that you enjoy my art so much. Getting that many commissions in a single year was quite the challenge.”

“One you fulfilled remarkably.”

I kept scanning the room while they talked. A very familiar face was standing and talking casually to a small group off by the far end of the room. A more modest dress than the last time I saw her, it was still no less stunning. For what it lacked in leg exposure and figure enhancement it made up with frill and design. It was understated and feminine, projecting the would-be president in a very respectable light. Anyone would sooner mistake her for a simple belle than the most powerful woman in Gensokyo.

“Very bored?”

“I'm keeping myself entertained,” I replied. The Nagae woman was gone.

“How fortunate, the tedium is killing me,” Yuuka gave an exaggerated sigh. She knew how to behave but it was not amusing for her. She spotted someone off in the distance and, with some apprehension, confided in me, “The woman from before, her patron is a complete spoiled little brat. I think the only reason she buys my art is so her trust will think her a qualified-enough heiress. There's another woman here with whom I most definitely have to meet. Over there, by the table to the right,”

Her chin pointed subtly to the person.

A short woman in a red outfit stood, speaking loudly to a small group of people. She seemed to be having a good time, laughing by herself while a significantly more dour-looking tall woman stood by her, silently on call. “Do you mean the gaudy-looking woman over there?”

“Ehehe, that's the one,” Yuuka confirmed it, “She throws around her money in this city thinking it will buy her status and class. It might do the former but I think the latter is impossible for her. She's my biggest customer, snapping up my pieces as they come out.”

There was someone who fit the bill of a wealthy, but tasteless, patron and socialite. At least according to the few tabloids I read at diners. If the rumors were true, she had a solid-gold statue of herself in her waiting room, as well as a collection of marble busts. Narcissistic to the bone and too rich to simply be ignored by the more snobbish peers of society. A tolerated but not exactly welcome face. I wondered if anyone she had ever met in this town had ever been honest to her. Probably not. Being honest with a baroness of industry was not a wise course of action.

“Come with me as I say hello, I promise it won't hurt too much,” Yuuka winked at me. I could tell that it would test my resolve.

“...I told Sakuya here that I would not suffer another spoonful of that salmon rubbish and that either she was to get me beluga next time or she would be out of a job, You have to be serious about your caviar,” The prig laughed as if making a great joke. She turned to the taller woman and asked, “Isn't that right?”

“That's correct, mistress,” The woman said quietly.

“Ms. Scarlet, it's been a while,” Yuuka cut in before the short woman could launch herself into another self-centered anecdote.

“Ah, yes, wonderful. It's always great to see a genius!” Ms. Scarlet nodded emphatically as she gave Yuuka a handshake, “I can't wait to see your next piece, I'll no doubt enjoy adding it to my collection.”

“I'm afraid that you may have to wait a while,” Yuuka informed her, “My next project is a private venture, something I want to do for myself.”

“How disappointing, but I suppose that's the way of master artists, seeking to better themselves. It's us, the collectors that must suffer for it,” She laughed coarsely, “Can you at least share what it is you plan to be working on, or is that a big secret?”

“Nothing like that,” I tensed up as I knew what was coming. Yuuka continued, “I found the perfect model and I'm asking him to do a series of potentially astounding pieces. He is my escort tonight.”

“How do you do-” I stretched out my hand but found that it was ignored. It looked like I was beneath the dignity of the wealthy industrialist. I saw an almost imperceptible smile on the taller woman's face, as if sympathizing with my plight. I withdrew my hand and pretended I never said anything. I was mere eye candy at best.

The advantage to being seen as a mere companion was that I could slip away for a while and not raise eyebrows. Low expectations lead to low visibility. The best thing to do, under the circumstances, was to...

[] Stick by Yuuka for a while longer
[] Meet Yukari socially
[] Sort through the average small talk for rumors
I am not sure that listening to their conversation will produce any meanwhile results. Remilia looks way up too high to see below.

Sticking with Yuuka and in hopes of getting in their conversation or try your luck with Yukari.

[x] Meet Yukari socially
Has been a while since we last saw her.
[X] Stick by Yuuka for a while longer

Let's keep our head down. Goal One is to be recognized as someone less important than we are, so as to avoid drawing unwanted bullets.

Attention. Unwanted attention.
[X] Stick by Yuuka for a while longer
-[x]Quietly ask her opinion on Yukari.

I agree we should stick with Yuuka, if only due to the risk of any reporters lurking about. Trying leave and talk to Yukari now may invite more scandal than it'd be worth. I may be stepping over the line with the write in bit, but I figure it'd get us some insight and possibly steer Yuuka over as to perhaps create a scenario. One that would allow some sharing of information.

But I must say, Yuuka's commentary on Remilia is certainly scathing. I don't see a connection between this and the case yet.
No attachments or write-ins unless I ask for them please. If there is something that you want to add or wish to see, comment about it. I read all the posts. If appropriate and it doesn't derail things I will likely include it - especially if it seems that multiple people agree and share your feelings. Dissent and debate about something like that also works. Yet another argument for not having 'just' votes, I guess.

I aim to write and update at least once a day if I'm physically able to. I can't really do that if there's only been something like 3 votes in the past 20 or so hours though. I know I'm not the best writer nor do I have the most compelling story and however much I wish people would read and give this a try I know it won't happen but it would be nice to have a stable headcount at least.
[x] Sort through the average small talk for rumors

If we don't get to work soon, Yukari will fall like a thunderbolt on our ass, and it ain't gonna be pretty.
I don't see any benefit that can be gained from either staying around with Yuuka now or going to talk with Yukari, so:

[x] Sort through the average small talk for rumors

Maybe we can glean some interesting information.
I waited two days and I guess this is all there is and I have to live with it. I'm mostly busy today and the day after but I'll try to have something out. Grappling with motivation might be more of an issue than I first assumed, funny how fun feel-good projects can accomplish just the opposite. But enough of that, if anything changes I'll keep the handful of you posted.
I'm in the middle of exams, right now so haven't really had any time.
>updates soonish
good news.
File 132384479236.png - (21.83KB, 240x320 , sometimes the urge to work in puru is too much.png) [iqdb]
As with any social event, smaller groupings of people divided the room. The socialites and men and women of influence all had their webs of contacts and acquaintances. Their power and reach was measured by both the number of sycophants surrounding them (as was the case with the more influential politicians and industrialists) and what percentage of those present went out of their way to greet them and pay their regards. A veritable throng surrounded what was certainly a debonair widow and the most influential woman in town. Smaller, but significant, congregations were gathered around Yuuka and the boor as well as a few others. In addition, there were always those small groups that kept to themselves, cliques within cliques. The latter category was often not socially important enough to fit in with the established scene but were still relevant enough to invite to a good soiree.

I melted away into the mass of people, concerning myself less with the lout and her antics and more with the general mass of peoples. Waiters and busboys ferried drinks and canapes to and from the entertained patrons, working like graceful bees in a hive of activity. It would be worth talking to a few of them after hours. They were in the presence of important people and would overhear gossip that could be useful.

Inelegant as it was, I dedicated myself to doing little more than eavesdropping. The basics to blending in were simple enough – stand with a drink in hand at the periphery of one of the conversational circles or tables and occasionally smile and nod. A cynical but certainly tried and true method of surviving an evening surrounded by people who don't care for anyone outside of their own social bubbles. Though my somewhat rough appearance – despite some gussying up at Yuuka's hands – made me stick out a little, no one really cared that I loomed and hovered. Self-involvement and snobbery had its upside for detectives.

Nothing of immediate value turned up. Some patrician was entering her prized tulips in the upcoming flower exhibition and was the favorite to win first prize. They would not be as beautiful as the daisies grown by the flower shop girl on 7th and 22nd. A few whispered semi-scandals of no import were also being discussed. My opinion was simple: What a man does with his cane and his second wife (and/or mistress as some more outraged ladies pointed out) behind closed doors was no one's business. Especially if both parties seem to be, as they said, “reveling in their libertine lifestyle”.

It wasn't long before I noticed someone else doing the same as me.

The conspicuous nature of the eavesdropping was almost too painful to watch. As was the violation of the cardinal rule of indirect information gathering: Nudge the conversation into a useful direction if necessary, but never grab the helm to steer it. The result of this violation was a selection of very cross-looking country club types whose eyes spit out the most haughty look of disapproval imaginable. In short, the intruder was marginalized and any attempts to get information from the group was going to backfire. There was only a few more minutes of semi-toleration left before they put the interloper in place.

“Come with me,” I took the clueless dolt's hand and retreated from the group, avoiding the gazes that tried to follow. The sudden decision was a logical one – any attention on unfamiliar faces would make my work much more difficult.

“What's the big idea?!” The significance of my actions were not obvious.

“Shut up,” I commanded, adding, “Don't cause a scene.”

“I have a right to be here, I have an invitation-”

“I'm not going to kick you out, shut up already and just come with me.”

I looked at the idiot straight in the eyes, showing that I meant business. Luckily it seemed like my message got through. All struggle ceased and I was followed obediently. We went to an abandoned table off to a corner of the event, where few people at the bottom of the pecking order were trying to pretend they were at all relevant.

“What were you thinking!?” I berated the fool with controlled volume, “You were doing a great job at earning the scorn of everyone and getting yourself kicked out.”

A stunned silence followed.

“Well? Answer me.”

“Ah... I'm sorry,” The reply was bordering on tears. I realized something important. I was talking to girl. The short hair and rather masculine (and rather informal) clothes she wore had thrown me off at first. There was no mistaking it on closer look. Softer features that matched the softer reply confirmed her sex.

“I don't care for excuses, what are you doing here and what do you hope to accomplish?” I saw her as a competitor at best, a hindrance at worst, “Asking posh old birds about their married lives is hardly the norm for an aspiring socialite.”

Not to mention that her clothes were more like a delivery boy's, a white shirt and generic black trousers complete with a flat cap.

Maybe my forceful tone had shaken her, she gave me a straight answer, “I'm just an aspiring journalist, all I wanted was a little inside information that I could give to my editor. I wanted to be taken seriously.”

I shook my head. Great. That was all I needed, a bumbling would-be ink reporter making a mess of a great opportunity. It was outrageous at how close she had come to making a scene. Just her dress was enough to trigger alarm bells.

“I take it that invitation you were talking about doesn't exist. You sneaked in.”

“How did you know?” She asked, confirming the theory. An amateur mistake. She was easier to read than an open book.

“It's obvious,” I did not feel like humoring her, “My recommendation is that you split before you cause more trouble.”

“I can't, I really have to get a story for my paper. Without me sales are going to continue to fall and the Bunbunmaru will fold.”

“You're with that awful rag?” I sneered. It was the worst type of tabloid. No facts, pure sensationalist drivel. It thrived on the events of the bad part of town; Murder, prostitution and fabricated scandals were its mainstay. As I recalled, it also occasionally ran pulps in serial form. The content matter was the same as the headlines. The thought that people would read drivel like that was almost too depressing to internalize. Life was not murder, intrigue and dames.

“We have nearly as hundred years of history as Gensokyo's premier source of alternative facts.” She 'corrected' me.

“In other words, made up information.”

“Reporters like me tirelessly scour the city for stories that strike a chord with the public and we-”

“Spare me the sales pitch. I don't care. I'd rather trust Baby Carrot to tell me where she keeps her salad than any of the so-called facts you present in your waste of paper and ink.”

“Who are you anyways?” She asked with some irritation, getting over her earlier state of mind quite easily.

“Don't reporters usually introduce themselves first?”

“Right. I'm Aya Shameimaru, soon to be main correspondent of the [i[Bunbunmaru Express[/i].”

“I'll make sure to avoid you in the future. Now if you'll excuse me,” I turned to leave, “Try not to draw too much attention to yourself. It's bad for business.”

“Wait, you didn't tell me your name-” She frowned.

“I don't talk to reporters,” I stated with a smirk, waving casually goodbye as I walked away. Reporters got in my way and the less I had to do with them, the better.

Yuuka was looking for me, scanning the crowd with a look of impatience. When she spotted me she rushed over to me and grabbed my arm.

“Oh darling, where did you go?” She asked, “I've been looking for you.”

“It looked like you were having fun so I went off on my own for a little bit.”

“How cruel,” She sighed, “I had to face the endless prattle of that girl by myself for the longest time. Not only that but then a few other pills showed up, including the big cheese Yakumo.”

“Sorry, I won't leave your side again, sounds like you had a horrible time.”

“Glad to hear it,” She happily nuzzled my shoulder, holding my arm tight. Our relationship seemed like master-pet, with sometimes alternating roles.

“Have you talked to everyone that you had to talk to?”

“Why do you ask? So eager to go back to my place, you dog you?” She winked, giving an unambiguous interpretation to her words.”

“I'm just a bit stuck on what to do next.”

“That's easy, darling,” She smiled, not at all fazed by the fact that many eyes were upon us. We were an entertaining source of gossip without a doubt. Yuuka told me what she really had in mind, “I promised to meet with the Hinanawi steward again outside before the party was over, “She lowered her voice, “apparently there was something sensitive she wished to talk to me about. The walls have ears, if you catch my drift.”

I nodded. The prospect of learning sensitive information was enticing. If I tagged along I reckoned that Yuuka would not exclude me. She had not tried to keep anything from me thus far and I did not believe she would try to hide whatever it was. However, the customary speech by the mayor was due to begin any moment and the results of the charity would be announced – there was plenty to be learned from that. Balance of power was not solely determined by money and connections, but also by deeds and patronage. That was precisely why it had been unbelievably lucky to meet and befriend Yuuka. Suspiciously so even but there was no proof of that besides my ever-deteriorating sense of trust.

[] Going with Yuuka was for the best
[] Staying for the speech was more informative

Why would you sage an update?

Also, I haven't read your story, but I'm going to go ahead and vote for;

[X] Going with Yuuka was for the best.

Because, in all honesty, how could it not be?
[x] Going with Yuuka was for the best

It'd be better to befriend Yuuka some more and see what really goes on in her head. I'm sure the information of the speech will be heard all over town in the coming days.
[x] Going with Yuuka was for the best

Well, going with her will prove to be more informative in the long run i think. And maybe fun in a strange way. Not sure if i wish to listen to a boring speech at the moment.
[x] Going with Yuuka was for the best

If only because we have to keep an eye on Yuuka.

We can also get information from Aya on the mayors speech.
Minor punctuation nitpick:

>>Suspiciously so, even, but there was no proof of that besides my ever-deteriorating sense of trust.

But me being a grammar nut aside, it's good to have you back, sir.

[X] Going with Yuuka was for the best.

Even if Yuuka's attentions are a little too convenient, being able to pass as an eccentric but celebrated artist's beau opens up all kinds of opportunities to bullshit our way out of suspicion.
>Also, I haven't read your story, but I'm going to go ahead and vote for
Please don't do that. Though I would kill for love more votes I only want them from people who actually read the story. Otherwise there's no point to voting.
New reader here, must say I am quite taken with the story so far. Definitely going to keep an eye on the latest developments. Also, was the color changing box you mentioned a reference to MiG?

[X] Going with Yuuka was for the best
I love you. Not only have you made me forget that there's only been a (read rest of sentence in the voice of a petulant child) lame unanimity and overall lack of votes but you've given me hope for the future. And that means that I can kick myself into work again. Thanks for that.
[x] Going with Yuuka was for the best.

Disregard this vote if I'm too late.

This Yuuka is like catnip for me. Let's hope it doesn't come back to haunt us later.

I dunno...seven votes is pretty good these days.
I count 4 + 1 that took several more days until I made that first post. To be perfectly frank writing thousands of words for 4 votes is not gratifying, so I at least try to wait for 5 or for compelling reasons to forgo the waiting. Yeah, the quality over quantity train of thought. The harsh truth is that it all comes down to my motivation (after scheduling and other pesky real life issues). Give me a reason to write a lot and I will, happily.

Also I'm usually not very self-confident about the stuff I write but I genuinely feel that people are missing out by not reading this. But that's another issue entirely.
Yuuka was delighted. She smiled that carefree smile of hers as we made our timely exit, arms linked. Even though she came on really strong, almost as strong as the unforgettable taste of the trench water that we drank to keep awake, there was something about her attitude that was nonetheless refreshing. Infectious even. No matter how hard a heart might seem, there's still soft spots left here and there. I could not bring myself to rebuke her even a little, playing the part of the hapless fool with consenting dispassion. The only imposition I made was to make sure she stayed on my right side, freeing my left for a quick draw if necessary.

I tugged at the collar of my coat, making sure that my neck was covered. The coat check had folded creased it more than I would have liked. The woman waited for us at the bottom of the steps, standing aloof with her own coat still in her hands. I tried to separate from Yuuka politely but she clamped firmly on my arm. Her eyes were as bright and undecipherable as ever. It felt like I could get a real high just by staring at them.

“It's good that you came,” The woman remarked stoically. Her gaze fell upon me, asking the obvious and silent question. I played dumb and did not say anything. I was not about to do the talking. It was not my place.

Yuuka answered casually, “I don't keep secrets from those I'm close to.”

The woman nodded, looking not at all convinced. She seemed remarkably different in the glow of a streetlamp. Her earlier energy and politeness had fizzled away, replaced by a dour look that could only mean business. There could be no doubt that whatever her titular position in her organization, she was someone who was accustomed to getting things done. And, more importantly, someone who was accustomed to rolling up her sleeves if need be.

“It's cold,” Yuuka griped with the eloquence of a spoiled child. She stole a meaningful glance towards me, “I'd rather spend this time of night warm in bed under a nice blanket.”

“I'll get right to it then,” The woman lodged no further protest, “The matter that I wanted to talk to you about is simple: We of the Hinanawi Consortium wish to secure your talents for future works permanently. An exclusivity contract. We'll provide a number of jobs of at least an agreed minimum value each every year and for your part you will not sell your works to any other groups or persons.”


The answer was as brusque as it was definitive. No hesitation at all.

“There are a lot of details to work out and we would like you to think it over before giving your final answer,” The woman seemed to have expected it and continued, unfazed, “We are prepared to give you a generous advance as well as a bonus for signing on.”

“No. A million times no.”

“I'm sure you'll find our terms generous once-”

“-I don't care about the money,” Yuuka interrupted, “I am a free artist. I do what I want, when I want, for whomever I want.” Her grip on my arm tightened. I was living proof of just how free her spirit was.

“The offer will stand for a while. Could I at least commission a piece for our anniversary?”

“I'll think about it,” Yuuka said with disinterest.

“Just any old thing will do, it's just to commemorate our founding next week. A ready-made piece would suit as fine. So long as no similar deal takes place with any other entities. In the case of a conflict of scheduling, we will double the price offered by any competitors.”

“And I'm sure the lovely people at Yakumo Industries will treble it,” She sighed, not at all amused. The petty bickering over symbolism between these companies seemed to be constant. Enough to irritate her, I realized her. She was caught in the middle as an artist. She worked for anyone and had outrageous demands thrust upon her all the time. A pat on the back would not be enough of an acknowledgment for her fortitude.

“In any case, come see us soon, there's been a special request from my charge and I'm afraid only you could help.””

I deduced she meant the scion of the Hinanawi family. The young girl who was remarkably good at keeping out of the public eye. Rumors surrounded her and her eccentricities but I did not read tabloid garbage enough to know just how vicious they were. The truth was always much tamer.

“I'll think about it.”

Further negotiation proved to be impossible that night.

The woman's face went pale as my heartbeat quickened. In just an instant the dull conversation out in the cold became something else. A loud ripple of human voice burst from City Hall and onto the quiet streets. It was followed by smaller waves of different pitch and magnitude but of similar content. I shot off a look at Yuuka; She seemed to read my mind and let go of my arm. My past may have been unknown to her but she somehow still understood what I had to do. Her expression was for the first time absolutely grave. No trace of her usual joviality could be found. She knew as well as I did that something happened at the party that should not have happened. Something was terribly wrong.

I told her silently with my eyes that I would be back soon and dashed off. I ran quickly. The cacophony was not the product of cheerful revelry. Air forced itself in and out of my lungs as my heart beat faster. A familiar rush filled my head. An old wound in my side throbbed sympathetically. My hand reached for the bulge under my coat and formal wear. With little effort I clambered up the steps and towards the source of panicked yells and horrified screams.


If this were a novel this would be the end of a chapter. I'm breaking it up because the rest needs polishing/writing and I'm too tired to do it right now. And I'm posting this both for dramatic tension and to prove that I'm not all talk when it comes to writing.

If self-gratification is your only motivation for writing, you probably shouldn't be writing.

You're acting like the teenagers over on Fanfiction.net, begging readers for reviews.
Looks like we possibly made the wrong choice.

Aya seems like the inexperienced girl who will get herself killed, but will be trustworthy until then.
Rest to follow soon in coming hours. Hold on to your hats.

>Looks like we possibly made the wrong choice.
Since this story is not a video game with a save/load feature nor will I likely ever write another run of it there is no 'wrong' choice. At least for events that you have no influence over whatsoever. It would be unfair, dickish even for you to account for the unpredictable at all times. However, this does not mean that there aren't choices that won't be more, or less, beneficial to unraveling the mystery or that will take you in radically different directions and offer otherwise different perspective. I'm not trying to trip anyone over but this is, again, part of the reason why I think comments are beneficial. It allows you to see why others think a choice or a course of action is for the best and maybe allow you to see things in a different light. The choices are there for a reason and since I will probably very rarely ask for write-ins, they are all valid actions that make sense.

Also poor Aya. You're writing her off as a dynamic character just like that. Surely she deserves a break?

>If self-gratification is your only motivation for writing, you probably shouldn't be writing.
As opposed to making a living off my writing or getting prestigious awards for it? Listen, I'll always be honest since I think my audience deserves nothing less than that.I know that that can be tedious for a casual onlooker but I like to think of it as a sign of respect towards the readers. Making clear where we stand. Without drudging up lengthy posts made in the past on the subject matter, I'll explain it concisely: I write because it's interesting to do a CYOA and because it's fun. Like any other hobby ever. I love storytelling and part of that charm, for me, is holding a captive audience. Were this a tabletop game this would mean having players roleplay instead of rollplay. I may possess some modicum of creativity and writing is an outlet of that but without fun there's liable to be greater incentive for me to do something else. I don't expect that anyone reads anything on this site because they hate entertainment. I'd wager they read because it's interesting and fun. Turns out that it goes both ways, funny huh?

I can't say I'm that great but I have a clear idea of what I'm doing, why I'm doing it and where I intend to take it.
A single officer remained outside the entrance, shiftless and unsure of himself. He did not say anything as I darted past him. Green for sure. Other officers and security bumbled about like headless cocks in the entry hall, neither engaging the panicked mob nor thrusting incisively into the source of the commotion. They could not tell me anything.

I paused for a fraction of a moment and took in the scene. The lights were dimmed or otherwise off. It was hard to tell who was where and where the room ended or began. A table nearby was upturned and a waiter had a chestful of spilled drinks from when his tray had been upset. Faces in the immediate vicinity all displayed traits of animal-like panic in their expressions. Like a herd of frightened grazers. Like the city's finest, they were too dumbstruck to stampede towards the exit. I did not fully unholster my pistol, conscious that a firearm would only increase panic.

I penetrated into the crowd, seeking out the source of the trouble. The deeper I pushed into the mass of bodies the quieter it became. Eventually I came upon the source of the silence. Well-kept dames and fops alike all shared the same look of fish-like blankness, lips pursed and eyes staring out at nothing. I gripped my piece tightly, ready to draw if necessary.

A thin circle enclosed a space around four people. I recognized three of the people in there almost immediately. The blowhard and her attendant as well the very center of the party. Across from them was a ragged-looking boy in a waiter's outfit that was a size too large. His cap hid his eyes from the angle I was looking but I could still see how his arms were stretched forward, holding an old service revolver with both hands.

The blood on Yukari's gown confirmed the obvious. The boy had somehow fired the gun at her, despite his small and fragile frame. I hesitated to just out and shoot the kid. The room was packed with people and at this range penetration was a given. I instead broke through the ranks, slowly easing up towards his back.

The kid trembled. It wasn't clear out of rage or fear. He kept the sights trained at Yukari, but did not fire out of concern for the actions of the woman at her side. The attendant had also been injured, a wound in her shoulder seeping blood on her uniform but her eyes remained active and threatening. Her hand was pointed as if to reach for something in her clothes but did not for fear of the gunman's reaction. I didn't care what the boor was doing but was afraid that she might aggravate the gunman with an ill-conceived remark.

I didn't have much time to act.

“You goddamned bitch!” The kid screamed, having lost hold of all his senses. The hysterical pitch indicated that reason would not work. Yukari did not care that she was antagonizing the gunman by standing tall and with a steely demeanor. The lack of emotion in her eyes probably would make the kid do something stupid soon enough. I tried to get to where I needed to be to stop it all.

Another shot rang out before I was ready.

Screams rang out like a disharmony of bells and polluted the already anxious hall with a burst of real panic. In an instant the servant had position herself in an intercepting trajectory. She crashed onto the floor, snub compact sprawled just out of her reach. She tried to get up but the strength left her shoulder and she collapsed as her face blanched.

The gunman's breath was ragged and he seemed to have lost all restraint.

I pounced, damning the odds.

Bodies collided and another shot rand out. My fists smashed firmly into flesh and the violent struggle made time seemingly slow down. In what was just a matter of seconds it was all decided. My knee pinned the head of the gunman as my hands tried to keep him from wriggling free.

It was like the whole world was waiting for me to act before everyone returned to acting how they should. People flocked around the fallen servant and the stoic Yukari, quite happy to place themselves into the thick of it now that the immediate danger was over. A lanky police office materialized and handcuffed the gunman, freeing me from the tiring position. Another, shorter officer, came up to me and asked me questions. I told him to forget me and to take the woman who was shot to the hospital on the double. The greenness in that one was altogether painfully evident as he took the order and even saluted me before turning to help the wounded servant.

I took inventory of myself. I was not hurt. I checked quickly but carefully, making sure that the adrenaline was not masking any injuries. The third shot had been towards the ceiling, as I knocked the gunman's arms upward. I had ripped a seam in my formal wear, but that didn't matter.

Somehow someone brought out a stretcher to carry the wounded girl. She was carried through the room, her mistress for once looking human and vulnerable. I pushed through to see Yukari. She was calmly smiling, gently reassuring her legion of devotees that all was well. The blood on her dress was not hers, as it turned out, but it of the poor dutiful servant who had offered her body up as a shield.

I smoked a cigarette after I finished talking to the officers who came pouring from the station. They took my account of the events for the record and let me go, none so much caring about my well-being so much as the well-being of the industrialists. It was the way of the world. Any attempt to get information about what went on was met by blatant refusal.

“The ongoing investigation is a matter of great sensitivity.” - key words for a department trying to cover its ass for its negligence.

Yuuka was waiting for me outside, looking happy to see that I was in one piece. She did not explode on me with her usual energy. I would have been too tired for that and she somehow sensed it. Instead, she approached and gently hugged me. Her face drew close to mine, eyes full of that mysterious and inexhaustible affection. Her lips came to rest on my cheek. A warm moist sensation momentarily accompanied her motion. She let go of me and whispered, “Even your blood is sweet.”

I was dumbfounded for a moment. Then I realized that I had sustained a scratch to my face without even noticing it. I smiled sardonically and said, “It tries to escape me from time to time.”

At her behest we walked back to her studio. After the night's incident I wasn't about to turn her down. The streets were, naturally, safe enough but I did not want to leave anything else to chance. I could not turn down a nightcap either and found myself drinking rye on the rocks as the artist gently massaged my shoulders.

I wasn't entirely comfortable, but could not muster the spunk to oppose her. I was her precious model and she would spare no effort to make sure I was in top condition. In the end that meant that I accepted to spend a night on her couch.

“If you want to lay with me, it's not a problem,” She had suggested unabashedly. I had rejected her, half out of a sense of impropriety and half out of simple fatigue. I was out like a candle quickly enough. I had not even bothered to change.

There were four kinds of situations that produced that sort of deep, dreamless sleep. The first two were related to adrenaline and exhaustion, combat and the unending vigilance between combat. Another was the result of being unlucky in combat and the plaything of the medical profession. Lastly, it could be caused by what I had no doubt turned down that night in the bed.

The formal wear was ditched for the shirt I wore the day before when I woke up. It was still morning and the sun invaded the studio from the open and unobstructed windows. Yuuka was asleep in her bed, a look of tranquility that told me it would have been a crime against artistic beauty to wake her up. The patterns formed by her long, shapely legs and the tousled linen would possibly enthrall art critics with the subtext it provided to the theme.

I washed my face, ridding myself of the useless thoughts that had come up first thing in the morning. Part of me wanted to forget my job and simply make breakfast and enjoy a day off. That part of me was usually mercilessly subdued by the diligent drive that had kept me going all through these years.

The station looked like an upset hornet's nest. Squad cars and patrolmen existed and entered at an astounding rate. All to cover for the impotence and incompetence. I was able to walk right in. No one stopped me at the front desk and no officer seemed to pay me mind. An unshaven and somewhat dirty-looking man in a long, figure-hiding trench coat and hat. I could have had a tommy gun and a dozen drums with me for all they cared.

I climbed the stairs and caught my target completely unawares, looking over a pile of documents in frustration.

“Sgt. Kirisame, where is that report I asked for!" I'll have your badge if it's not ready!” I slammed the door behind me.

“Sir!” She bolted from her seat, snapping to attention perfectly. She answered, “I'll have it right away sir!”

The ruse lasted for about five seconds. Five seconds of incredible satisfaction for me.

“You son of a bitch!” She bellowed, “I ought to carve into your ugly mug with my pen to show you what respect is!” It was the nicest of the things she had to say about me just then.

I took it like a man, shrugging most of the way and telling to get a hold of herself. When she drew her gun on me, I had to remind her that murder was illegal. “Not if anyone finds out,” She grumbled as she holstered her piece.

“So, gorgeous,” I said flippantly, “ Could you help me out a bit? I want to know more about what happened last night.”

“You and every reporter in the city,” She dismissed my request.

“Oh come on, at least tell me who the kid was. For old time's sake?”

“That crap has a statue of limitations,” She warned. Yet she still told me something I didn't know, “The kid had no ID on her. Used a fake name to get the job. 'Wriggle', what kind of name is that anyways? Sounds like a bug.”

“Crap, the boss must be riding you hard because of that.” The cap the kid had worn had made her seem like a scrawny guy. Maybe that was the point. Trying to look tough.

“Tell me about it, I'll be busted down to regular beat again if we don't get more. She won't talk either, she's just sitting in the cell quietly.”

“No motive then?”

“I wouldn't tell you, They'd have my stripes in a jiffy.”

“Come on baby doll, I was there you know. I stopped the kid.”

“I know,” She frowned.

“What? I just did what I had to do.”

“It's not that..” She looked away, “I was one of the first ranking officers on scene last night.”

“Oh? How come I didn't see you?”

“You were busy,” She said with some vexation.

“That was just a friend who was helping me out,” I said the bare minimum necessary.

“Your face needed close attention by the looks of it,” She added disapprovingly.

I was almost afraid to tell her the real reason I had shown up, to talk to the kid in lockup.

[] I had to bypass her and go to the captain
[] Some sort of explanation was in order, even if it cost me the opportunity
>>38622 here
The world is mine, and I love you. The world can be yours if you love me too.
Anons need a bit more love.

This is probably my favorite of the stories I'm currently reading already.
[X] I had to bypass her and go to the captain.
I don't think she is going to accept an explanation from us right now.
[x] I had to bypass her and go to the captain

Alright, let's get down to business. This was the only lead to come out of the party and we need to jump on it.

There is nothing to confirm any relationship between Yuuka and Wriggle, but this does increase my suspicions.

[x] I had to bypass her and go to the captain
Wriggle will probably end up dead otherwise
[x] Some sort of explanation was in order, even if it cost me the opportunity
I know that this may not be the 'right' choice but losing a good friend and a valuable contact is worth the risk.

Also, yeah, instant favorite story, etc
[x] Some sort of explanation was in order, even if it cost me the opportunity.

I think it'd be better to explain to Marisa before she gets a wrong idea and to perhaps keep her somewhat friendly as opposed to trying to do things behind her back.

Boy, you just like making Wriggle a villainish figure don't you?
Hardly. Wriggle is probably my favorite member of the 9 Squad. Since I have roles/motivations/notes written for most characters they all just play the part that they can.

I sometimes wish I could just vote in my stories. I have this horrible affliction which compels me to play the devil's advocate or, at least, find a good angle of attack. I won't write/call this for about half a day, plus or minus rest and schedule. Choose your path carefully so you don't regret it.
[X] Some sort of explanation was in order, even if it cost me the opportunity.

Man up, etc. No point in letting it stew.
[X] Some sort of explanation was in order, even if it cost me the opportunity.

We should be maintaining our usable police contacts as best we can, and the best way to do that is by not holding out on them.
>“Sir!” She bolted from her seat, snapping to attention perfectly. She answered, “I'll have it right away sir!”
hahahaha, that was well worth it.

[x] Some sort of explanation was in order, even if it cost me the opportunity

I don't think it would be fair to go over her head. After all that happened.
“I have half a mind to simply go to the captain. Hard to deal with you when you're in a mood.”

Marisa rolled her eyes, “If you really wanted to, you would have gone already. You can't fool me, we have history.”

She was right about that. For better or for worse our paths had crossed early on in life. Got all tangled up too sometimes. Only two things had ever been able to separate the mess for a while. But hadn't come to talk about old times and I hadn't meant to talk about her with Marisa.

I scratched my neck, feeling the gruff hair growth of the past day. There was no point to trying to pull wool over her eyes. As she said, we had history. I simply told her what I felt I had to, “I'm working closely to someone for this case I have. She's completely... unconventional but appears to be on the level. I'm accepting it for as long as I have to. There's no point in antagonizing her.”

“Seems to me like the big bad detective is trying to cover for the fact that he's got a weak spot for strange women.”

“If it weren't for that, I wouldn't be so fond of you,” I joked. A little too soon. Her eyes betrayed no friendliness.

“I get that it's none of my business how you do your job but I'm worried that you've just stopped caring how you live,” She sighed. Words of wisdom but I couldn't admit that to her. It wasn't pride, it was a matter of practicality. She was an important source of information and help and I did not want to interfere any more than was necessary. At least for the moment. The thought of facing the wrath of the city's most powerful woman was not a pleasant one.

Bourbon would have been nice. Something to forget that I was neck-deep in what a VO would dramatically announce as “trouble”. I struggled to keep my hand from going to my cigarette case. That would scream what I was thinking to Marisa. Little habits like that are what any detective worth his salt looks for when trying to get information from someone. Betrays the mental state. It certainly helped if you knew the suspect.

“Well? Not going to say anything?” Marisa asked with impatience.

“Not sure what to tell you,” I replied. It was hard gathering my thoughts without a refreshing puff of smoke in my mouth but I managed to whack so order to things. I told her dryly, “I'm in the middle of something with very high stakes for a lot of people. The shooting last night was most likely related to what I'm looking into.”

“Damned idiot,” Marisa slumped into her chair angrily, “If you need money you can always come to me.”

“It's not about the money,” I said as I shook my head. I was about to tell her a big lie, one that I sometimes would have desperately liked to believe myself, “Getting into trouble and solving cases is what keeps me alive. You don't get it – it's making a difference a way I never could as a cop. Fixing lives instead of simply working with the leftovers that the gods of death and vice leave us.”

A devil was firmly perched on my shoulder. There was nothing that she could say that would not be a fundamentally emotional argument. Something like self-loathing was for someone less committed than me. I simply sealed the deal, coolly adding, “I have my own path for better or worse.”

She sat in contemplative silence, the icy daggers keeping her pinned to her chair. I took no pleasure in covering my tracks, it was just something that needed to be done. I owed her too much to entangle her in my own web of perdition.

All the same, it was not to end there;

“I can at least tell you that I'll keep my wits about me like I always do. If there's anything that I'm good at,” I paused and deliberately placed my hand on the old wound in my chest, “...it's surviving.”

She knew exactly what I meant by that. I trusted her to. And just like that, by pressing the magical combination of buttons she was able to at least forget some of her anxiety. I was a real dog. A negative feeling should never be replaced by an even older one, even if the latter is coated in nostalgia and deformed by the passage of time. People mistake that for some sort of validation.

“...Just save the rest of the speech, won't you?” She sighed. That was her first step towards normalcy.

“I did tell you that I wanted to be an actor when we were kids, right?”

“Doctor, actually, to take care of her.”

“Yeah, but it turned out that was just a phase so instead I became a good-for-nothing,” I smiled.

“That you did,” She smiled back, a touch bitterly.

“Sooo....” I started, “this good-for-nothing would like to know if...”

“Answer is still no Max, can't let you near the perp. Whatever her motivation, she could still be facing the chair for murder. That is, if that woman dies. Besides, it's a sensitive topic for our fair citizens. Especially those who contribute generously to campaigns. So it's orders from the mayor, fancy that.”

“Hieda, huh...?” I let my voice trail a bit. I'd never met the woman. Her mother, once. In that citation ceremony. She was dead and machine politics ensured the political dynasty remained unbroken. It didn't matter that they plucked her right out of a certain famous young ladies' academy to run her for mayor. It would have been worth something to have seen her at the event. She must have been in the middle of her speech when the gunman opened fire.

“That's how it is.”

“Think the captain can help? I was going to see her anyways.”

“Probably not, she's real busy today. Press conference, reports and reviewing our competence. Loads of fun. You'd probably be waiting a long time if you tried.”

“Commissioner must be breathing down her neck as well,” I added. If I went to see her I could probably catch her for a moment but it probably was no sure thing that she'd indulge me. Not a risk I felt like taking anymore.

“The screws have been put to my thumbs,” She griped.

“I can take a hint,” I shrugged while twisting her meaning, “I'll leave already.”

“Ah, are you sure? What's five more minutes if you're going to the gallows anyways?”

“Sorry dear, I have a job to do. Not only are the screws on, but they've just been tightened a notch.”

I left with a smile. She sighed, not satisfied at how the encounter went. I knew that's what she felt because I felt it as well. Hard keeping secrets from people you know well. Things at the station were liable to get even more hectic in the coming hours.

Something unusual caught my eye. Across the street from the station, just off to the side of the district courthouse a woman stood, apparently waiting for someone. Other people came and went from the courthouse and some others waited like she did. But unlike them, I could tell that she was just pretending to wait.

I walked by casually, on the opposite side of the street.

Well dressed, like a court stenographer. At least similar enough to the ones who occasionally entered and left the building. Red hair, done up in a sobering manner that was at odds with the soft-looking face and attractive features. I did not imagine it was usual for her. Could have passed for a lawyer if not for the modest, but decent, outfit. She held a rather masculine leather briefcase with feigned absentmindedness. In addition, there was a casual air about her that was at odds with the people that passed by. Those two were the things that drew me to her. Her smile just did not sit right with me. Too innocent.

Our eyes made contact for a fleeting instant. She seemed to acknowledge me with a playful wink before disinteresting herself. She began to talk to a passing lawyer as if that was who she was waiting for and followed him into the building.

Nothing else about the area aroused interest. With her gone, I simply moved on. I liked to limit myself to just one odd but stunningly beautiful woman per investigation. Not to mention she had nothing to do with anything.

I wanted to stop by the office, to at least shave but that would mean losing precious time. Things were moving forward whether I liked it or not.

I decided that the best use of my time was to:

[] Track down the owner of the Rainbow Dream for another perspective
[] Visit the wounded servant at the hospital with Yuuka
>Not to mention she had nothing to do with anything.

I doubt that, an incidental woman fake-waiting isn't doing such for no good reason.

[x] Visit the wounded servant at the hospital with Yuuka

It'd be the humane thing to do, and she might have insight on what happened. Even if not, such a gesture may earn us points down the road.
[x] Track down the owner of the Rainbow Dream for another perspective.

We need leads. I'm not really sure what else to say.
[x] Track down the owner of the Rainbow Dream for another perspective
There's always the nice choice and the "right" choice it seems. Let's pick the other one for a change
Was the red haired lady Meiling?

[x] Track down the owner of the Rainbow Dream for another perspective.

I very much doubt we would find out anything from the wounded servant who is probably Ran.
He certainly has his charme more going than in the beginning of the story. And we seem to be going more away from the noir and into another direction.
>Was the red haired lady Meiling?
No. Remember, he knows her and would have said so.

[x] Track down the owner of the Rainbow Dream for another perspective

Even if we have limited time, i would like to get the another perspective view going. Someone else might have that one piece of insight that you are missing which might give you the full picture of the puzzle.
It might have been Koakuma.

That may be assuming too much in many ways.

Yeah, I'm leaning towards Koakuma. This could possibly mean that Scarlet was somehow involved. Hard to say though, it could also be a PC-98 character.
A series of factors both external and internal have kept me from writing. Nothing for at least the next half day. Go ahead and vote guy(s?) who maybe hasn't voted yet. Or not and we'll continue to just barely coast along with time.

Yet again: the choices are not inherently better or worse, more humane or not. They simply lead to different paths. They are the summation of possibilities considered by the main character according to his motivation. Even if/when there are more 'filler' or non-essential choices they will all be of the same level importance ie: get chocolates or roses or look for known associates or go to places frequented but never chocolates or looking for known associates. I can't stress that enough. Which is why it bothers me a little to see people dismiss the choices out of hand without applying a little critical thinking. Deduction, never induction (though the latter is fun when talking about the big picture, but I digress).

Read carefully. No one unknown is being referred to in either choice. Furthermore, the objective of each one is plain. Try to look at it from the perspective of the protagonist. Why would he go either place? What of value can be gained?

I'm not trying to make the choices cryptic and I make sure to suggest implications beforehand in-text. I dunno, but it sometimes hurts to watch a little. Personally I think that a soliloquy at the end of each update just ruins the atmosphere. But maybe I'm wrong and you really are trying and you do need a bit more rope. If we had more numbers the probability of there being more people voicing their minds would go up but instead I am forced to encourage you to try to speak up a little more. No one will bite and I think the readers are the best arbitrators of all.
38622 here, I'll explain my choice from Max's pov.

The wounded servant took a bullet for Yukari. We can infer that this servant is highly loyal, and therefore unlikely to leak information.
We do not know this servant and thus we cannot assume that they know that we are working for Yukari.

A loyal servant is unlikely to spill their masters secrets to a stranger.

Yuyuko is our established contact with Yukari. The fact that Yuyuko has being trusted as the contact suggests that she is in Yukari's inner circle. She has a reasonable chance of knowing of people who may wish Yukari dead and is also possibly willing to tell us.
That all makes perfect sense. But you're wrong about one fundamental fact about the servant. I suggest you re-read the shooting scene, especially the ending of it as well as the first party scene, the one before the choice that introduced Aya. Maybe I didn't make it obvious enough in the shooting scene and that's my fault but I think you'll see what I'm talking about if you re-examine them. The story is/will be full of details like that and that's why I despair a little when no one picks up on it. Or at least spends a minute writing up something useful for themselves and others.

Also, it's weird that the little discussion that is had is not bumped. Makes it seem like off-topic banter or that the story isn't as active as it is. I normally don't bother because status reports and the off-topic commentaries do not warrant notice. This, however, does if only for the vain hope that people will read something that's not an update and maybe reassess why they've gone with what they did.
I think I get it now.
The attendant is Sakuya.

In which case I'm torn because whilst Sakuya is unlikely to know (or if she knows, tell) Max why someone would shoot Yukari, having a friendly relationship with Sakuya would be useful.

Given the nature of the stolen heirloom and this shooting attempt, the obvious conclusion would be that whoever possesses the heirloom wishes to take control of Yakumo Industrial Group.

Yuyuko is more likely to be able to give Max a list of suspects, so I'll stick with my original vote.
Good job. You're still missing one little detail however, which I admit takes a little (of that horrible) inductive reasoning. I very much doubt that a critical case in the hospital can talk much. Or that intermediaries of others cannot sometimes just be mouthpieces.

I doubt most people will bother to think about that or to vote/re-vote and justify in light of that. Mostly because I think the attitude thus far has been 'fire and forget'. But well, a man can dream. I can spend the day delaying the inevitable disappointment.
My thinking of going to the hospital was mainly a show of good will and concern, which may pay off down the line in various ways. Plus it'd be good PR for Yuuka.
[x] Track down the owner of the Rainbow Dream for another perspective.
I was originally just going to adopt a wait and see approach in regards to what to do, but I didn't think it through all the way. Let's go talk to Yuyuko.

Thread Watcher x