Reno bounded up the stairs, two at a time, and pushed open the door to the deserted apartment, only to stare directly into the barrel of a Glock.
Peter Madsen slowly put his gun away. “What the hell are you doing here? I could have shot you.
Reno grinned. He knew Peter found him to be the most annoying, most flamboyant operative ever to work for the Committee, and he did his best to live up to it. He brushed an invisible speck of lint off his leather jacket and kept his sunglasses firmly in place in the darkened room.
“I trust your instincts,” he said, closing the door behind him and strolling into the apartment. His pointy leather cowboy boots echoed on the parquet flooring.
“How do you ever sneak up on anyone when you’re so damned noisy?” Peter said.
Reno gave him his most annoying smile. There was nothing he liked better than to irritate the Ice Man. “I manage,” he said. “I thought you might need a little help.”
“When I need help I’ll ask for it.”
Reno shrugged. “Just trying to do my duty, boss. Isobel’s really gone, hasn’t she?”
“Yes.” Peter glowered at him. “And don’t call me boss. It’s not my idea you’re here.”
“Not mine either. You think she went with Killian?”
“I expect so.”
“I hope so,” Peter said.
“Why? So you can take over running the Committee?” Reno wandered over to the window to look out into the wet winter afternoon.
“Hardly. I’m passing this off to the first person qualified.”
Peter shrugged. “Because this kind of life demands too high a price. Isobel earned the right to get out of it.”
Reno snorted. “You don’t seem the sentimental kind to me.”
“And you’re such a great judge of character?”
Reno merely smiled his cat-like smile. “So explain to this to me,” he said in his deliberate English. “Why are we still in hiding? Why have my cousin and his wife disappeared somewhere in Japan? Thomason is dead – any contracts he put out should be cancelled, and the Russian mercenaries should have lost interest. Mercenaries don’t work without money, and their source of income has dried up.”
“Maybe they haven’t heard. Maybe they’ve moved on to other things, but our intel is spotty. Either way, I’m not about to take a chance. We’ve lost too many operatives to risk it. Besides, I’m rather fond of your cousin.”
“So am I. I also think he could hold his own against half a dozen retired Russian operatives.”
“Probably. But we’re not going to find out. They stay hidden until we know it’s safe. You got that?”
Reno didn’t respond, changing the subject instead. “How is Mahmoud doing?”
“Fine,” Peter said gloomily. “I’m supposed to bring home a Playstation Three. The kid’s a ruthless, souless assassin, so Genevieve’s plan is to get him blowing up virtual heads instead of real ones. No thanks to you.”
Reno laughed, the heartless little bugger. “I’ll give you a list of games.”
“Christ,” Peter grumbled.
Reno looked around him. “So why don’t we move the offices in here? There’s plenty of room. Or even better, why don’t I move in?”
“For the same reason we’re out of Kensington. It’s been compromised, and so has this place. The house in Golders Green will be fine for the time being.”
Reno made a rude noise.
“You don’t like it, you can come out to Wiltshire and stay with us,” Peter said.
Reno could imagine just how much he’d like that, and he was almost tempted to accept the invitation, just to annoy him. But then he’d have to put with Genevieve’s mothering, and at twenty-seven he had no more need of a mother than he’d had at seven. He did very well on his own.
There was a muffled sound, and Peter yanked out his PDA, staring at the screen. “Shit,” he said. He looked at Reno, who was doing a piss-poor job of hiding his curiosity. “We’ve got trouble.”
If it wasn’t the first time Peter had come up with the word “we” it was close to it. “What’s up?”
“It’s your cousin.”
Reno froze, dead serious now. “You said they were safe.”
“They are. Even I don’t know where they’ve gone. That’s the problem. Taka’s sister-in-law Jilly decided to make a surprise visit. So while Taka and Summer are somewhere safe, hiding out, the girl could be walking straight into danger. And I don’t have anyone to send in …”
“I’m going.” Reno’s voice was flat, implacable.
“You can’t. You were kicked out Japan for the time being …”
“My family kicked me out, not the government. I can go back any time. The Toussaints are back on their mountain, half your operatives are dead or missing. I’m your only real choice.”
“Are you asking my permission?” Peter said.
“Fuck, no. I’m going. You can send someone else but they’ll just get in my way.”
“I don’t have anyone else to send and you know it. I still haven’t heard what happened to MacGowan.”
Reno nodded. “So it’s up to me. How long ago did Summer’s sister leave?”
“They’re not quite sure.” He took a long look at Reno. “I think Taka wanted to be very sure you didn’t get anywhere near his wife’s sister.”
“Taka wants a lot of things. He thinks he knows best. Right now he’s gone, and there’s no one else. You try to stop me and I’ll kill you.”
“I doubt it,” Peter said. “And I don’t think you want to waste time trying. I’ll see to transport for you. Not that I approve, but trying to stop you will take too much time. I’ll send backup as soon as I figure out who’s left alive.”
“I don’t need backup.”
“I’ll send backup,” Peter said. But Reno was already gone. Out into the winter night, into the cold city and the nearest airport, back to the land of his ancestors, whether his grandfather approved of his return or not. He wasn’t going to let anything happen to his cousin’s sister-in-law. He wasn’t going to let anything happen to the tall, shy looking teenager he’d seen only once and should have forgotten all about.
He was going to find Jilly and send her back where she belonged before she got hurt.
And then he could forget all about her once more.
The jet lag shouldn’t come as a surprise to Jilly – she’d seen Lost in Translation too many times. She’d staggered off the airplane in a sleepless daze, and it was sheer luck she’d made her circuitous way from Narita airport into Tokyo and into one of the cute green cabs. She handed the address to the driver, then sat back, closing her eyes.
Where the hell were Summer and Taka? She’d left half a dozen messages on Summer’s cell phone and heard zip in return. If she’d had any sense she never would have gotten on the plane to Tokyo until she heard back from them, but right now she wasn’t in the mood to be sensible. She was running, running to her big sister who’d hug her and tell her everything would be fine.
And in the meantime she’d finally managed to get her butt to Japan. She had all the practical reasons – she hadn’t seen her sister in three months, there was an extraordinary exhibit of Heian era pottery at the state museum, and if she was thinking of switching her doctoral studies in archeology from Mesopotamia to early Japan then an almost pitch-perfect (according to the reports) exhibit of Heian life was a necessary part of her studies. It didn’t matter that the exhibit would be there for years – she hadn’t discussed the change with her advisers and the sooner she made the decision the better.
So Japan, now, was a necessity. If it happened to coincide with the occurrence of the worst one-night stand in the history of the universe then that was merely coincidental. She needed her sister, she needed her now. And there were a dozen other reasons she had no intention of thinking about right now.
It was growing dark, the bright neon flowers lighting up the city, but she was too impatient to admire anything. She just needed to get someplace and stay put for a while. She needed her sister’s calm wisdom, and she needed to sleep, she needed to figure out what she was going to do. About everything.
It took the cab forever, and by the time the driver pulled to a stop she’d almost fallen asleep.
“Arigato gozaimasu,” she said, shoving half her yen into his white-gloved hand. She scrambled out of the taxi, dragging her backpack with her, and looked up at the one storey building.
The taxi hadn’t moved. A moment later the driver emerged, a troubled expression on his face. “No one appears to be home, miss. Perhaps I should take you to one of the hotels in the city?” Except he spoke in Japanese, and clearly had no hope of her understanding.
But she’d been working toward this from the moment she met her Japanese brother-in-law. And his mysterious cousin. “I’ll be fine. My sister knows I’m coming, and I have a key.” Which was a lie on both counts, but she had no doubt she’d find a way in.
The taxi driver politely hid his surprise, either at her command of the language or her godawful accent, and returned to his cab, relieved to have done his duty to the hapless gaijin. He took off into the darkened street, leaving Jilly alone to make her way into her sister’s walled fortress.
She checked the iron gate, just in case they’d left it unlocked, but it held firm. She sighed. Climbing, it is. She headed around the side of the building, hoping for a tree or a trellis or something to give her a leg up. Not on Taka’s watch – there’d be little chance to break in when your brother-in-law was some kind of uber-spy cum gangster.
The residential street was dark and deserted. If she’d thought of it in time she could have gotten the taxi driver to give her a boost over the wall. He probably would have – he’d tried so hard to be helpful.
There were trees inside the compound, just out of reach. “Okay,” she said under her breath. “I can handle this.” She pulled her belt free from her jeans, refastened it into a loop and tossed it toward the branch.
On the third try it caught, and she was able to drag it down far enough to hold onto. Tossing her knapsack over the wall, she followed, using the tree branch to scale the boundary, dropping over onto the other side, feeling ridiculously proud of herself. Ninja Warrior, here I come.
She half expected sirens and bright lights, but the tiny house was dark. Summer and Taka picked a rotten time to go on vacation, she thought, grabbing her bag and shoving her belt inside it as she walked through the tiny, winter-dead garden. The house was so small it would fit inside her mother’s bedroom suite, but Liane was nothing if not pampered, and given Tokyo real estate this was probably considered palatial.
The last thing she wanted to do was break a window, but the inner door was unlocked. She kicked off her shoes and went in. Alice through the looking glass, she thought.
Where the hell was Summer?