Orihime in Hiding Chapter 11
Orihime in Hiding- Clay Floor
“You may sit down, Scott.”
Mrs. Auden cast a sparse look over the classroom as Scott took his seat. A low chorus of chuckling went through the male population of the class, the girls blushing. Mrs. Auden rose to her full height of a thin five foot four inches.
“There will be no more limericks disguised as sonnets, ladies and gentlemen. In fact,” she said, tapping her paperback copy of sonnets on the podium Scott had just vacated, “after Mr. Mullins’ attempted venture into the red-light district of poetry, the rest of you may borrow a literary property — a sonnet, a poem, a collection of haikus,” she said, glancing with a smile at Orihime in the second row, “for Monday’s readings. We’ll be finishing up our oral presentations then, and begin Othello on Tuesday.”
Orihime sat back in her desk as Leah leaned across the aisle to her.
“We got out of it,” Leah said, smiling. “You don’t have to read the one you wrote. You can find something else, if you like.”
“Good.” Orihime sighed, looking at her paper. “I really didn’t want to read mine.”
Leah nodded. “I didn’t want to read mine, either.”
Orihime looked down at the words she’d so carefully penned. They weren’t for other ears. Many of them portrayed realizations new even to her.
They’d been there all along, hidden, in the background of her days, out of sight, but never absent. She wasn’t sure why it had become more focused lately. Maybe it the headaches. Maybe they made her center a little closer than usual.
She slowly tore the paper into thin strips as the end of class bell broke. Had she been so concentrated on him for so long she couldn’t see right beside her?
Of course, Ichigo would always have a spot near and dear to her heart, but lately she found her target centering elsewhere.
“Inoue?” Leah said again as they moved down the crowded hall to their lockers. “You okay?”
“Yup. Okay.” Orihime smiled, quickening her pace.
Leah smiled back. “Just checking.”
Renji loitered — yes, loitered, according to the neon-smocked traffic Nazi that had told him to move along earlier — at the large tree across the street from the high school. He’d told her to go back about her business, and she had, but not without a look of promissory comeuppance.
His eyes rested on the black coupe parked beneath the trees at the other side of the main road on the opposite secondary street from the traffic light. It was parked facing the wrong way, and he wondered why the Nazi crossing guard wasn’t berating the motorist.
The last bell of the school day sounded, and the students spilled out of the front and side doors, mingling among the buses and waiting cars of parents. He didn’t like the side door being open. Too accessible.
He watched Orihime and Leah approach, as he had the last few days. Orihime’s jeans and t-shirt were like any other girl’s at the school, her hair clipped back in barrettes, her sweater and shoes typical. Matsumoto had done a good job making her blend in. He looked to the brunette girl at Orihime’s side. Leah usually said her good-bye and headed to the one-way street that met the road heading out of town, but today she didn’t.
Orihime pulled her book bag over her shoulder higher. “Hi!”
“Hi,” Renji returned, glancing at Leah. “Hi.”
They fell in step together on the sidewalk. He looked over at Leah on the other side of Orihime.
“Are those side doors left unlocked all day?” he asked her.
She looked a little surprised by the question. “No, not from outside. Just unlocked from the inside.”
He nodded. “Just wondering.”
She nodded slowly.
“Any problems today?” he asked Orihime.
“What about this Scott guy?”
They reached the corner of the sidewalk where the school street met the busier Brooklyn-Pierport Street.
“I’ll see you Monday,” Leah said to Orihime.
“You work today?” Orihime asked, seeing the other girl turn onto the walk leading further into town.
“Yeah.” Leah’s attention went to Renji. “Bye.”
He paused, looking to the black coupe that had inched its way closer to the corner of the street. He could see a man inside, indiscernible at the distance, but with his gaze fixated on Orihime.
He looked back to Leah. “We’ll walk you there.”
She looked a little taken aback, but smiled. “Okay.”
They turned onto the adjoining sidewalk, and out of the corner of his eye Renji saw the black car make the turn also, slowly creeping up as the light changed. He let Orihime and Leah advance a few steps ahead so he could watch them better. He didn’t hear what they said, but both were nodding, heads a few inches from each other as they looked at a paper Orihime held.
Renji watched the car pull alongside him, looking into it. The man was in his late twenties, with cropped blond hair, the hand at the steering wheel tattooed up the arm to his black t-shirt sleeve, his eyes on the traffic before him. As soon as the car was even with Renji, it turned off suddenly into a side street opposite, moving slowly down the block. Renji caught up with the girls.
He took Orihime’s elbow, making her step quicker. “Don’t cross here,” he said to Leah.
Her green eyes grew bigger. “I wasn’t going to. Oh, I’m working at Manic Groove, not Cake Cottage this afternoon.” She pointed and he had to make an effort not to grab her hand and pull it down.
It didn’t really matter if she pointed or not, he thought. Actually, it would be better. A distraction. Any direction other than where Orihime lived.
“She’s a prep cook,” Orihime said as they turned down the alley behind the row of shops whose fronts lined Main Street.
“You cook there?” he asked Leah, one eye on the black car that had reappeared on the street.
“Not really; just prep stuff and minor cooking. Nothing on the line.” She followed his gaze to the car. “Friends of yours?”
Renji’s eyes shot to hers. “No. Yours?”
“No one I know.” Suspicion crossed her face, and then she nodded to Orihime. “You?”
Orihime shook her head without looking at the car. “Nope.”
Renji watched the car slowly pull up to the main traffic light at the four-corners of town. He ushered Orihime down the alley. They followed Leah past the three shops, to the free-standing restaurant’s block building.
He glanced down the alley partially blocked by pallets and garbage bins, and then looked up at the restaurant’s screened delivery door. “American family casual. What exactly is that?”
Leah paused before the back entrance where the sounds of Nick Gilder’s Hot Child in the City were wafting out. “Family favorites. Spaghetti, burgers, casseroles, sandwiches, pizza on the weekends.”
Orihime gave the door a curious look. “Is that what American casual sounds like?”
Leah giggled. “Oh. That. The owner’s real big on seventies and eighties. It’s all a twenty-four hour loop recording. There’s a Stevie Wonder song at the top of every hour. Kind of a gimmick, but most of the customers like it.”
Renji looked to either end of the alley, but the black car didn’t cross. He watched Leah pull her hair-tie out and reattached it immediately, her eyes on the back door of the restaurant. “What are you doing Sunday?”
Both Orihime and Leah looked to him.
Leah tightened the tie, glancing from him to Orihime and back again. “Me?”
“Yes, you. Why don’t you come with us to the farmers market?”
“Ooh, that’s a good idea,” Orihime said, smiling.
Leah nodded, a small smile reaching her lips. “Okay. Sure.”
Orihime glanced at Renji. “We can pick her up, right?”
“Actually,” Leah said, “I work in the morning. At the Cake Cottage.”
Renji took a quick glimpse down the alley to the street again. No black car. He looked to Leah. “We’ll pick you up there. What time?”
“I’m off at ten.”
He nodded slowly. “We’ll be there at ten.”
“Okay.” Leah hitched her book bag on her shoulder, looking to Orihime. “See you then.”
It was still a fifteen minute walk home and Renji and Orihime started back toward the school. He kept her on the inside of the sidewalk, his attention on the cars passing them.
“I’m glad you invited Leah,” Orihime said, waving to Meg across the street escorting two second graders down the walk.
Renji looked to her. “I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did.”
He frowned. “No, I said …” He thought back on the conversation. “You said it would be a good idea if she came along.”
Orihime smiled, raising an eyebrow. “That was after you had invited her, Renji.”
He watched a black sports car idle by slowly, the driver turning to look at Orihime as he passed. “I did.” He shrugged. “At least we won’t get lost in Pierport.”
When they reached home — a word that was making Renji cringe just a little less — their neighbor, Raider, was hanging over the fence in the yard next door over, smiling, eyes on Orihime’s every move on the sidewalk.
“Hey, neighbor!” he called.
Renji’s hand closed on Orihime’s shoulder as they neared.
Raider, the twenty-something who had tried to borrow a cup of sugar one too many times already, was leaning on what had at one time been a white picket fence. Now it was in need of a paint job, broken in half a dozen places, and sagging in several spots.
“Hi,” Orihime returned, but with less enthusiasm.
Raider, a term Renji had already decided was self-imposed, was outfitted in his usual camouflage fatigues and black skull t-shirt, cigarette burns spotting the hem, the stench of stale smoke permeating him even from the distance of ten feet.
“How’re you liking school, Inoue?”
“None of your business,” Renji snapped, prodding Orihime quicker.
“Hey, just talkin’ man.” Raider rose to his full six feet, grinning at her.
“Beat it,” Renji growled as they turned into their driveway, out of sight from the tall hedges. He unlocked the back door of the house and pushed it open.
“He’s just being friendly,” Orihime said as they went into the kitchen.
“You don’t need friends like that.” Renji looked around the room, then checked the basement door lock. “I’m taking a look around.”
He locked the back door and made his way through the rest of the house. Orihime set her bag on the table and opened the refrigerator’s freezer door to see the stack of dinner entrées. She decided on lasagna.
“All set,” Renji said when he reappeared a moment later. “You can go on up.”
When she was gone he took a closer look at the box she’d set on the counter. Lasagna. It sounded safe.
Had he really invited Leah? He hadn’t meant to. Not really. His concentration had been on the shifty black car that kept passing them on the street.
No matter, he thought. He didn’t mind if Leah accompanied them Sunday. He rather liked the idea, and at the same time reproached himself for caring one way or the other.
He looked at the basil plant in the window sill. It leant a rich smell to the kitchen, and was only half-plucked after the basil chicken rolls Orihime and Leah had made a week ago.
Orihime appeared in the doorway, her usually bright expression clouded. “Take a look out my window,” she said.
He joined her at the upstairs room.
Out the back window of her bedroom was a view of the small yard and garage, and beyond that the chain link fence that butted up to the back neighbor’s yard. Past that was another street at the opposite end of the residential block.
Renji’s eyes moved over the black car creeping slowly down the far street, his view of it only intermittent as it wove in and out of sight among the houses, trees, and fences.
He carefully moved Orihime against the wall to the side of the window where she was out of sight. He dropped the blinds and turned the slats so the room was obscured to anyone caring to look in.
“Is it the same car?” she asked, her eyes searching his.
“It looks like it,” he admitted, watching the car move down the block and out of sight at the corner. He looked to her. “Keep the blinds down and turned, Inoue.”
“I’m going out to look around. Don’t go outside.”
From his vantage point atop the garage Renji could see nearly the entire block, consisting of twelve homes in a large rectangle three deep. It was the last residential block in town, and from the south out it was the beginning of farm fields. He tightened the obi of his shihakuso absently, eyes scanning the later afternoon traffic on the back streets.
There was no sign of the black car — or any black car. A few children were playing in the alleys, a few older boys hanging around at the back of a garage smoking something, young girls skipping rope and chanting near a trampoline in one yard. An average afternoon.
He flash stepped across town, studying the side streets and alleys, pausing to look into the alley behind the Manic Groove. No sign of the black car.
Until he made a second pass through town.
Behind the cafe across the main street from the Cake Cottage the black car moved slowly, purposefully, the man inside making a studious survey of the yards. Renji followed from the house tops, unable to get a clear glimpse of the man’s face.
The car rounded the block and turned out of town, traveling below the slow speed limit, until it was at the village limits.
A sudden burning at Renji’s wrist made him wince. He looked down as the watch’s metal backing seared into his skin. So that’s what happened at the half mile threshold. Hitsugaya hadn’t been too clear on the instructions.
He tolerated the heat until the car was out of sight. As tempted as he was to follow it, he wasn’t sure what was happening to Orihime’s wrist. She, too, may well be getting branded.
It took only a minute to get back to the house, but Renji took his time, cautious of the car doubling back.
It could be anyone, he told himself. Guys looked at girls all the time. Probably some punk watching Orihime. Or Leah.
Both were attractive.
For a moment his mind settled on Leah. Dark green eyes beneath thick lashes, the way they’d settled on him a few times as they walked her to the restaurant, unlike the way most looked at him in the living world. His thoughts drifted farther, to the faint smell of heliotrope surrounding her, the small smile at her lips when —
What the hell am I doing? he thought, disappointed in himself. She’s a human girl.
Damn human body, he thought. That was the problem. Except he wasn’t in human form at the moment.
He changed into human form when he reached their garage and unlocked the back door. Orihime looked to him expectantly as she folded a load of clothes at the table.
“Everything’s fine.” He glanced at the bracelet she wore. “How’s your wrist?”
She looked to each wrist. “Okay. Why?”
Rybak spent Saturday investigating the Morrison High School website. The Freedom of Information Act was a wonderful thing, but it had become less so in the last few years. Schools had become wary of how much student information they listed on the sites now.
He sat in the local cafe, his laptop open before him. He’d learned to use cafes for such chores, especially when he was in the town he was investigating. You never knew when some friendly high school student would wander by and lend a helping hand. Students on the school’s newspaper staff were especially inclined to assist.
But he got no such help that afternoon.
He’d already ordered two of the house specials, four cups of coffee, and two pieces of pie, with no help from the customers who had passed his table.
It was too late in the school year to find Orihime Inoue among the class photos on the website and too early for graduation photos. According to his Employer, there was little chance she’d be enrolled under her real Japanese name.
That she’d be in school was a tentative, but viable option. It was this alternative that made Rybak seek his present course.
Entire class photos were becoming scarcer on school websites due to security issues, but these same schools were often eager to show off their scholarship students, athletes, and the occasional foreign exchange student.
He drank the last of his cold coffee, dark eyes on the laptop screen. There were fourteen Japanese exchange students county-wide. Three were listed by name with photos at a school district he’d already searched, none of which resembled his target.
The other eleven were by name only, including Inoue Sakajawa, Nana Orihime, and Inoue Moriyama. Each was at a different school district.
He wrote down the three names on a napkin and looked at them. Surely she wouldn’t be going under her name or any variation of it.
He waved over the waitress for his final check.
He’d check them all, of course.
Beneath his lightweight jacket was hidden a shoulder holster, the Glock nine millimeter out of sight. He had no intention of using it. Not on his delicate target.
His hard fingers closed the laptop.
Human or no, the semi-automatic should slow down any bodyguard.
It was only a quarterfinals hockey game, but it lasted for two overtimes, and by then Orihime had went up to her bedroom, and Renji was sleeping on the couch in front of the television.
It was just the click of the back door, a half turn of the knob, and the slight noise shouldn’t have waked him, but it did.
Renji sat bolt upright from his slouch on the sofa, attention shooting to the dark kitchen to his right. The TV buzzed lowly, the post game announcers arguing amongst themselves about plays and penalties.
For a fleeting second he wondered if he’d heard anything at all. He stood up, his senses sharpening despite the lazy human factor that plagued him. He glanced at the staircase, hearing nothing from it. He stepped into the kitchen, the only sound coming from the battery operated clock ticking on the wall which read one-thirty-five.
Damn if he hadn’t left the katana on his bed. His eyes rested on the back door, and by the time he realized the deadbolt was drawn in, unlocked, the locked door knob turned an inch, and then the door was kicked in.
A large man burst in, filling the entryway, clad all in black, no mask, and made an immediate lunge.
Renji caught the hand wielding the large bowie knife and grabbed the man’s other arm in a bracing hold that pinned him to the wall. The intruder brought a knee up, right into Renji’s ribs still bruised by the spar with Ikkaku. In that instant his hold loosened only minutely, giving the man a split second chance.
The knife flashed, slashing open Renji’s t-shirt, barely missing most of him, and Renji took the moment to grab the wrist in a hold that sent the man to his knees, dropping the knife. Renji twisted the arm, maneuvering behind the intruder, pulling the arm to his back, hearing the shoulder socket pop. He drove him to the kitchen floor, settling on his back, one knee on his free arm.
“Who are you with?” Renji demanded.
The man’s face was in burning contact on the floor, his eyes wide. It was the first clear look Renji had of the man in the black car from Friday. He pushed his other hand on the back of the man’s head.
“One more time, who do you work for?”
The man made a grunting noise. “Go to hell!”
“Last chance,” Renji said, shoving the arm up farther, hearing the man’s breath escape him at the movement. “Nothing?”
“No one,” the man said, voice labored.
Renji braced his knee harder on the man’s crooked arm and put both hands on his chin and head. With a swift movement he jerked quickly, snapping the man’s neck. The intruder’s head lolled limply.
Renji looked around the floor and found the dropped knife. He took it and pulled the man’s flaccid head up, bringing a string of curses from him. Renji flipped the knife edge up and brought the nine-inch blade across the man’s throat, severing cleanly.
He stood up as the blood oozed onto the white and black checkered floor. He found a pile of dish towels in a drawer and knelt to cushion them under the dying man’s head, absorbing the blood seeping out.
He rose and went to the back door, closing it, locking the still functional deadbolt despite the damaged knob lock. For thirty seconds he watched the life seep out of the man on the floor in the dark, estimating his age in the late twenties. He knelt and felt for a pulse at the severed jugular.
Satisfied the intruder was dead, Renji made his way past the TV still playing the post game show and up the staircase. Orihime’s bedroom was quiet and untouched at the end of the hallway, the door shut. He frowned. She usually left it open a few inches.
He turned the knob, finding it locked. For a tense second he debated, and then gripped the knob, turning it until the lock broke, and then opened the door.
In the filtered light of the moon the room was nearly dark. Then a perfectly executed high kick made contact with Renji’s nose before he had time to block.
Orihime recoiled and balled her fists clutched in front of her, her vague silhouette outlined in the dim moonlight, and sent a roundhouse kick to his chest.
Renji caught her heel before the movement was completed. “Orihime!”
“Shit, girl, would you stop?!” He dropped her foot to put a hand to his nose burning in pain. “Are you all right?”
“Ah, yes, Abarai-san,” she said, slipping into Japanese, bowing deeply. “I’m sorry, but –”
“Stop with the formalities.” He grimaced, glancing around the room. “Shit, Orihime, are you sure you’re okay?”
Renji moved farther into the room, his nose stinging fiercely, looking out the window blinds, which were flipped nearly shut. Nothing stirred in the yard below. No dogs barking, no cats slinking to garbage cans. He looked back to Orihime.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He glanced over her pajamas of silk shorts and matching camisole of indeterminate color in the dark. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry, Renji.” She stepped closer, looking to the slit in his shirt. “Are you hurt?”
“What happened down there?” She went to the closet and fumbled inside for a robe.
“A break-in. Stay here.” He started to leave, but she caught up with him.
“I’m not staying up here on my own, Renji. I’ll go with you.”
He shook his head as they went down the hall to the staircase. “I’ve got to get rid of this guy.”
“I don’t need any help.”
They descended the staircase and headed to the kitchen, but he blocked her from seeing into it. “It’s a mess, Orihime. Just stay out here.”
She put her hands on her hips, making the untied robe open across her. “I’ve been to Soul Society, Renji. I’ve seen my share of blood.”
He nodded in agreement, eyes flicking over her pajamas. “Okay. But tie that thing shut, will you?”
She glanced down at her robe. “Oh. Oops.”
It took half an hour to dig a hole large enough to bury the body six feet deep in the garage’s clay floor. Orihime sat in the nylon lawn chair nearby, her eyes on the corpse that’d been covered by a bed sheet, only a minute bit of blood at one end.
The truck was parked close to the garage door, and Renji had pulled it half shut, open just enough so he could see the back door to the house.
“Orihime,” he said as the flashlight beam wandered away from the hole and to the dead man for the third time. He took a moment to climb out.
She angled the flashlight back to him. “Sorry.”
He set the shovel against the garage wall. The basement of the house had rendered a few needed oddities, such as the chair and shovel, but little else to facilitate a burial.
“I’ll take it,” he said, reaching for the flashlight.
“Who do you think he is?”
“I don’t know. Doubt there’ll be much ID on him.” He knelt beside the corpse with the flashlight and pulled back the sheet. He hadn’t searched the body yet, moving it out of the kitchen as quickly as possible in an effort to save the tile flooring from becoming bloodstained.
He searched the pockets of the man’s black fatigues, finding nothing. The black tee shirt was covered by a pocketed vest, and Renji examined each pocket, finding a stiletto and a smaller tactical knife in two separate compartments. In a vest pocket he found one other item; a small slip of paper with five-digit number written in black ink. It took a moment for him to realize it was Brooklyn’s zip code.
So it wasn’t just home invasion, he thought. He glanced to Orihime sitting in the chair, her legs crossed, the robe covering most of her as she watched him.
“Find anything?” she asked.
Renji stuck the slip of paper in a pocket of his jeans. “No identification.” He looked at the tattoo laced up the man’s right arm. “Live hard die fast” it read in fanciful italics. Well, the man had accomplished that much.
There was no watch on the man’s wrists, but there was a simple metal band on his left. It was flat and seamless, which struck Renji as odd, and too small to fit over the man’s hand. The polished metal was a dull gray, and seemed to hold no significance.
“Nothing,” he told Orihime, moving the light from the body and standing. He handed the flashlight back to her.
Her eyes rested on the rip in his t-shirt. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” Not really. Just barely a scratch, actually, itching more than anything, he thought. He rolled the corpse into the freshly dug hole. Dammit, but the clay had been hard digging. For once he was glad the garage floor wasn’t cement.
It took fifteen minutes to fill in the hole and smooth the dirt over. When they got back into the house Renji spent an additional five minutes searching the place, paying special attention to the windows in Orihime’s room. He couldn’t see Raider’s house from either window, but the neighbor on the other side was visible. They’d never seen those neighbors, but according to the paperwork from Tenth Division, they were an elderly couple who were in Florida for the winter, and hadn’t returned yet.
“All set,” he told Orihime as she stood in the center of the room.
She nodded slowly. “What about the back door?”
“The dead bolt is still usable. I’ll replace the door tomorrow.”
“After the farmers market?”
He groaned. He’d forgotten it was Sunday tomorrow. “I’ll figure something out, Orihime. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay.” She attempted a timid smile. “Thanks, Renji. I’m sorry for kicking you.”
He nodded. “Goodnight.”
He fetched the katana from his room and went back to the kitchen. He took another look at the tile flooring, but didn’t switch on the overhead light. So far the invasion had gone unnoticed by the neighbors, and he wanted to keep it that way. There were no evident stains on the black and white flooring.
He examined the back door, checking the dead bolt. The door would have to be replaced, and perhaps the door frame, too. He’d get a better look at it in the daylight. He pulled one of the kitchen chairs to the door and sat in front of it, resting his back on the damaged door.
Soul Society would need to hear of the encounter. Hitsugaya would want a full report. So would Second Division. He could imagine the paperwork on this assignment.
He turned the katana in his hand, watching the long blade gleam in the moonlight from the window over the sink. His fingers found the slit in his shirt. The shallow cut had barely bled and didn’t need any attention. He made a face, his nose still tender. Orihime’s kick, however, was another story.
So now they had a door to repair, and a burial in the garage.
Five down. Renji sighed. Were there more? How many? And who had given this one Brooklyn’s zip code?
He thought he knew the answer.