It was around one o'clock in the morning when Jack finally decided, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the people trailing him were not going to let up or come forward until he made it easy for them. Which in his experience could mean one of two things: either the conversation they wanted to have with you was real
private, or they didn't want anyone else around to hear the gunshots. He'd already figured out that they were professionals - he couldn't lose them through the Friday night crowds outside the Wall Market - and that at least one of them was from Midgar and the rest had been here a while. They picked their way through the alleys and the twisted sheet metal shacks and the ruins of the old city with the speed and skill of any kid raised there, and they did it without letting him get a good look at them or even falling behind. Jack knew the slums as well as anybody around, and someone behind him knew them almost as well as he did. There had to be at least two; one to watch him from either side.
There was more than one reason to wander around the slums as much as he had: if they were doing it because Luca had managed to off some of their buddies in the club a couple of hours ago, it was the best way to find out who they were. The members of any gang on the streets were going to have territory that was off-limits to them, as a rule. Where they wouldn't
follow Jack would tell him more than where they would. But from the looks of things there wasn't anywhere they weren't going to be a step behind him; one of the first lessons Jack'd give any new recruit was that - aside from the Turks - there was only one
type of people that could go through the slums wherever they pleased. Even the Don's men wouldn't be tresspassing where they weren't wanted.
And that made him wonder if this had less to do with Luca and more to do with him
. If that was the case, though, there were better ways of going about it - besides, wasn't anybody that knew
Jack was going to be down here tonight, nobody but Luca and maybe Baldur. Didn't make any sense to him, unless this was tied to what happened in Kalm, and somehow it seemed way
too early for that.
The roaming block party Jack had been following for the past little while in Sector 5 - if these guys were willing to tail him all night, the least he could do was have some fun while they were at it - was starting to break up; a winter storm was coming, the kind that could freeze drinks and kill the mood, and everbody could hear it in the way the wind whistled through the gaps in the walls out side the lower city. Storms were pretty common in the winter in Midgar - Jack had heard somewhere that they picked up off the ocean and swept across the barren plains around the city now because there was nothing to get in the way, breaking on the mountains across from Junon. Sometimes they were strong enough to penetrate right up to the central pillar and rattle the buildings around it like they were going to break apart. Tells you a lot about man and nature, his mother used to say, that this would happen even in the biggest city in the world. Years later Jack had the chance to see one from the top floors of the Shinra tower, and Heidigger had gone on about the aerodynamic outer shell and how you could barely hear
the storm from in here, let alone feel it - tells you a lot about man and nature, he'd said. To Jack, who'd seen both worlds, it just said a lot about man. Still, down here it was enough to send everyone packing and that meant Jack had to make a choice: either stay in the center of the crowd and let it take him safely to the station and the upper city but having nothing more than a few vague details to report about this, or stick around and find out what was going on.
Now that they had to stay close to him or lose him in the press of people, Jack figured he just might be able to get a better look to help him decide if the second option was likely to get him killed. He kept his eyes straight forward and slipped his cell phone out of his jacket, switching it to video mode and keeping it mostly in his sleeve at his side. He let the timer run down after a couple of sweeps of the crowd behind him, then ducked into a bar to get a good look at the shots he'd taken.
It wasn't exactly the finest piece of film ever captured by man, but it was enough to pick out the member of the crowd who were facing the wrong direction, didn't quite have the right posture, didn't fit in, and zoom in on them. It was too blurry to tell much aside from that they were well-dressed - in the slums, that meant clothes that were fairly new and fairly clean - and armed. A cross section of the weapon confirmed his ealier suspicions; a well-made semi-auto machine pistol, not the kind of thing you would own if you didn't have the money, or if you didn't know how to use one. Looked familiar somehow, though - did Shinra make those? Or did they used to, back when weapons production was all they did?
Jack didn't know. He should
probably know, and it irked him, but the truth was that Jack didn't care much for guns. No where near as useful or deadly as they were made out to be, not unless you were carrying some military-issue fully automatic doomsday machine that was bigger than a man's torso and almost as heavy, with steel-tipped rounds that would wake everyone within miles if you ever fired it. With most of the tiny little handguns to popular in the city these days, you'd be better off picking up a big rock and throwing it at someone - more accurate and probably do more damage besides. But no, people loved
guns, because guns made you invincible - or at least you felt like it - on top of making you stupid and lazy, at least in Jack's experience. Even people like Drake and Zhi, who should know better, loved their guns - though admittedly Drake preferred magnums, the kind that would turn someone's head to soup and had recoil that would break the wrists of someone not used to it, and Zhi used military pistols, like the kind his persistent friends were packing.
Jack never carried one unless the assignment required it. It wasn't like people hadn't been pretty damn good at killing each other before guns were invented - even when they were given a target, getting into a fire fight meant they'd botched it somehow, something they should have avoided with a little imagination
. For some people, Jack supposed, it was like a rite of passage and the first weapon they'd ever owned and the only thing they could imagine killing someone with, but the first time anyone had pressed a gun into his hand and told him it was for protection - he was 13, then - it only drove home just how useless
it would be if anyone ever did decide to just walk by and shoot him. Or grab him from behind and break his neck. Vincent Valentine, the now almost legendary corporate assassin and one of the first Turks, had a few things to say about guns in his Rules of Engagement
- a manifesto on urban combat that still circulated around the Shinra offices and most Turks could quote by heart - all which Jack agreed with.
1) Silencers, don't.
Or 'nothing sounds like silenced gunfire quite like silenced gunfire'. Turks used them sometimes, but hopefully with the understanding that just because a weapon is silenced doesn't mean someone won't hear
it. And know exactly what it is.
2) Suppressive fire, isn't.
Or 'suppressive fire works both ways'. If you use covering fire your opponent can use it back, and then neither of you is getting anywhere in a hurry.
3) He who shoots first, wins.
If you're close enough for your weapon to be useable - which for handguns meant almost close enough to punch the guy, in Jack's experience, unless you were like Drake or Luca and spent all your free time at the firing range - the first person to get a shot off is almost always also the last
person to get a shot off.
It wasn't just the weapons themselves, it was the whole culture
of guns that bothered Jack. They possessed the magical ability to turn grown men into a bunch of giggling schoolgirls showing off the latest gadgets on their cell phones - but whatever he might feel about them, he wasn't carrying one now and his tails were, and he couldn't for the life
of him figure out where he knew those from...
But Drake had said one of the rookies was a weapons' specialist or something like that, hadn't he? Jack made it a point never to forget a name once he'd learned it - bad for business, otherwise - and he could sure use the input now. The crowd was almost gone now; if he was going to stay he'd need backup, but if they saw more Turks they'd probably take off - he was going to need to time this real well. Had to make contact, a potentially fatal proposition, before the others arrived but not too
long before. He switched functions to text and sent off a quick message to Baldur. He was gambling that she was still up, because Luca was almost certainly still out of it, and that she knew Hadrian's contacts better than he did.
Jack grabbed a drink and ducked out of the bar, no longer trying to lose them, and headed past the Sector 5 station. He had a location in mind for this little encounter - according to the Rules
being able to choose the terrain was as good as superior firepower, if not better, most times. He didn't worry about Baldur being able to find him. Drake would hire anyone who didn't have the street sense to know they could ask just about anybody for a couple gil where a Turk
To the north of the Sector 5 station was the burnt-out shell of an old elementary school, built back in the days when the mayors of Midgar still talked about 'reclaiming the slums' in their election campaigns. When a new mayor came into office with his eyes on the money about the plate and not much else, the funding dried up and the thing was left abandoned. By mutual agreement - not to mention common sense - the blocks around the stations were nobody's territory, so the building was left to whoever wanted it.
Jack could remember it before the fire, almost a decade ago now. Remember his mother telling him to never, never
go near that place as a kid. Hell, most adults knew better than go near it, especially at night. He'd been inside it a couple times when he was older, and nothing convinced him more that his mother was right.
When the leader of the Prowler's two kids went missing, a boy and a girl of six and seven if he remembered right, last seen around the place, the people of the slums finally decided to do something about it. He enlisted the help of the Cromwells from Sector Four and they descended on the place and tore it apart, then set it on fire with makeshift Molotovs and gasoline when they were satisfied they'd killed everyone inside. Of course, anyone who used it for business had gotten word of it hours before and taken the night off, so the two gangs got pretty much just the people they'd intended to.
Everything that could burn, had burned, leaving only a maze of rusted metal framework for walls and grates on the floors and ceiling. It would probably fall apart entirely someday, but Jack hoped that day was still a while off. His dress shoes clanged loudly on the corroded steel as he went directly to a room at the back. It was pretty dark in here - only the faintest rays of light from the shops outside and the tracks around the station made it all the way through the ruins. Just enough to make out a few objects in the pitch blackness of the basement below the grate: a woman's shoe on a broken metal desk, a child's doll caught up in copper electrical wires.
On the streets they said you could hear the voices of the two kids here sometimes, at night. All Jack heard was the distinctive clatter of hard-soled shoes on steel and the howling wind. Another reason he'd chosen this place - they'd have to be ninjas from Wutai to walk softly enough in here that he couldn't hear them, and now he knew there were three of them and not two. If there were any more waiting outside, they'd be too far away to be useful if the guns came out. Tipping over his drink from the bar, he splashed the liquid over the grate in front of the only entrance and up to the back of the room.
He'd searched through the place some time after the fire, to see if anything could be salvaged, and they were right where he remembered them - a group of mostly melted old tires, rolled in by someone who wanted to smoke the place out before it went up in flames. Jack stepped cautiously up unto the black rubber, reaching into his coat. A knife in one hand, a swift bolt in the sleeve of the other, held out over the wet grate. It might mean everything, might mean nothing - especially if Baldur and Hadrian didn't show up in time.
The footsteps stopped, and a voice from the darkness brought memories of the twisted corpses in Kalm flooding back. Jack swallowed, hard. "Funny one of Shinra's dogs would pick this kind of place to die. Fitting, isn't it?"