Title: Investigative - Part Two
Pairing: Nadda. No one. Nope.
Warnings: Shadiness abounds!
Summary: Ulquiorra hungers for the story of a mysterious run away.
Author's Notes: I actually thinking about Renji's streetrat past in cannon when I came up with the whole hustler concept, and how it would apply in this world without turning him into a straight out thug. I think in this particular environment, he had to rely a little more on brains than on brawn. Though I've no doubt that he could, and does, hold his own in a fight.
Under a brilliant blue sky obscured by towers of glass and concrete, tourists milled along the sidewalks of the city. Children darted underfoot before the calls of frazzled parents, and residents of the town plied their trades.
Sunlight brought the river of activity to life all around Ulquiorra as he calmly strode down the sidewalk. It had only taken a few questions to the overly friendly waitress working at the café he’d planted himself to the identity of this ‘Renji’ young Ishida had spoken of. He could tell easily enough that the sharp young man had irritated the young woman; so of course, her tongue was a little looser than it may have been, otherwise.
Further, she had mentioned two others who would occasionally join the regular group of four. When he’d inquired further, however, her lively eyes widened slightly and she rushed on to take his order. For the rest of his meal, she only returned once to see if he needed anything else, before dropping the check on his table, and rushing off to the kitchen, as if afraid of letting anything else slip.
Instead of pressing further, he simply took this as evidence that he was on the right trail, and gladly followed up on the information she had given him. While he could not obtain the names of the duo she spoke of, he was able to learn one was a male full of intensity, one was female filled with regal strength. Both were too young for rigors of adulthood, but too old for the play of childhood. While the boy was of little interest, the mysterious dark-haired girl sounded just like who he was looking for.
It took even less effort to ascertain the last name of the street denizen he now hunted.
True to the brunette’s words, Abarai was indeed very easy to spot. Vibrant red hair stood out boldly in its bunch at the back of a strong, tattooed neck. The bright blue bandanna and clothing did little to help him blend into the crowd. It did, however, strike the collected man as odd that this obviously flamboyant man would conceal what looked like equally flashy tattoos the way he did. In his experience, most men brave enough to attack fashion and have their own questionable tastes win were more apt to show off their body art than hide it under gaudy fabric.
The reporter paused a few steps behind the small knot of people partially blocking foot-traffic, and observed the scene with a critical eye.
“Keep your eyes on the lady,” a rakish grin captured the attention of women and some men alike. Long fingered hands, tempting in their strength and skill, shuffled three cards over a pitted and scarred folding table which stood between the rangy red-head and the blushing blond woman who tracked the cards with deep blue eyes.
Ulquiorra had seen this particular set up many times and was not particularly surprised when more money went to the red-head than to the tourists.
It always started with a small group plying their luck against the fascinating skater. From there, women were lured by his edgy smile, rangy physique and teasing peeks of tattoos, while a number of men were lured by the women, then sucked in by the skater’s distinctive charisma. They were all soothed on the instinctive level when they saw people just like them already playing, and winning.
Of course, what the vacationers didn’t know was that the original group were already friends of the dealer, and as soon as a large enough crowd gathered, the sweet faced, dark-haired boy would fade into the background to employ his light-fingered skill on unwary people carrying just a little too much cash for their own good.
His brown-haired cohort, a boisterous young man with an open, infectious smile, helped keep attention on the game with the help of a striking, chocolate skinned woman. She tugged at the back of his memory until he realized she had been on the stage of the bar where he had first picked up this particular lead.
It was a startlingly well run little operation, based off of an age old technique, but colored with the group’s unique hue. It was one that simply begged to be broken.
Those thoughts in mind, the silent reporter joined the edge of the small crowd. He caught the dealer’s eyes flickering to him, but simply allowed the brief, suspicious gaze to pass.
“Aw,” the red-head intoned when the blond girl chose an ace instead of the queen. In a flash, the twenty she’d lain down was gone, and a long-fingered hand came up to brush distractingly against the blushing cheek. “Better luck next time.” The low voice had taken a deeper, seductive lilt to it.
Ulquiorra managed not to roll his eyes at the ripple of giggles that voice brought on from the girl’s friends.
“Might I try my luck?” his low, confident voice rose over the tittering females. Smoothly, he stepped forward – away from ghostly fingers probing his jacket pocket.
Narrowed eyes flickered over to him. There was the barest flash of distrust before it was replaced with the former cheerfully challenging guise. “Sure! Anyone can give it a shot. Wager is twenty dollars.”
The odd man out took the girl’s vacated place and mutely set a fifty down on the table.
The barest hint of tension tightened the dealer’s jaw as he matched it with two twenties and a ten without argument.
Sometimes money trumped instinct. The pale man knew he didn’t fit the profile his fellow players did, but he also knew that the only way to make street life a little less unbearable was through the powerful dollar.
That strain drained quickly from sharp features, and again the smile grew easy. “You know how the game works, right?” Renji flashed the two black aces and the Queen of Hearts. “Catch the lady, and win both shares.”
Ulquiorra simply nodded.
The dealer’s hands swapped cards at random. When the rapid blur of motion stopped, he spread his hands. “Now, where’s the Queen?”
A slender digit pointed at the center card.
The colorful man smoothly lifted it to reveal the ace of clubs. “Too bad. Now…” That rakish smile was again flashed, but the umber eyes held a note of veiled urgency.
Before the cards could disappear after the cash, Ulquiorra quietly placed two more fifties on the table. “Once more.”
Renji paused at his card gathering, and idly shuffled the three. “Are you sure?” Although the question may well have been a curse, a tattooed brow lofted at the doubled bet.
Wordlessly, the green-eyed man nodded, but captured eye contact with ruthless intent.
A deceptive smile hid the dealer’s true frown as he lay out the winnings from the last round. “Your funeral.” Again, strong hands blurred over the table before again coming to a stop. This time, the umber gaze was sharp with challenge. “Which card?”
The hushed crowd leaned in slightly, the pressure in the air holding them in place. Even the slender pick pocket had paused in his work to watch.
A pale finger pointed.
The ace of spades made itself apparent.
“Wrong again, pal. Sorry.” Again, the money vanished as he gathered the cards. He was about to collapse the table when two one-hundred dollar bills found their way to the surface. The brightly clad man stared at the somber customer like he’d suddenly sprouted a tail and wings. “Third time’s the charm, eh?”
Silence accompanied the reporter’s cold nod.
Not bothering to hide the scowl this time, Renji set the winnings from the last game down on his side of the table. Four hundred dollars total - not a good amount of money to have in the open for long. For the third time, cards flashed over the worn surface before they finally came to a rest. Wordlessly, large hands spread in a bid for a card to be selected.
This time, Ulquiorra turned the card himself.
The Queen of hearts gazed soullessly into the sky.
“Tell me, Renji Abarai,” pale hands pressed lightly into the table on either side of the game as Ulquiorra leaned forward – mere inches away from the startled skater. “Where is the girl?”