"You're on the job, Maia, and that's that." Rena wasn't even looking at the girls as she issued her edict.
Maia's face fell with an audible "awww."
Gloria's teeth clenched and her face screwed up. A hand on the top of Maia's head was the only warning she had as Gloria asked in a dangerous tone, "What? You don't want to work with me?"
"Um... it's not that, it's just that... well... isn't this more the type of thing that Gloria does on her own?"
Gloria's face crinkled in thought for a moment, then she glared at Rena, "Hey, yeah, this is totally my kind of thing! Why are you sending Miss Forgetful here?"
Rena's face showed no signs of acknowledging the debate in front of her; still her tone was casual as she looked up through her hair at Gloria. "Hmm... I guess this is your sort of thing, we've been asked to collect some debts on the south end of town. You're great at collecting debts, aren't you Gloria?"
"That's right, I'm great at it! I never let a deadbeat off!" Gloria thrust a fist into the air, flexing her bicep pridefully, completely taken with her own skill.
"Oh yes, you always get all the money from those scumbags, don't you?" Rena began to smirk.
"Yup! No one’s better than me!"
"And you only skim 10 percent off the top, that's not much!"
"Exactly! Maybe 12 percent sometimes, but that's not much at..." Gloria's jaw stopped working and her eyes crept over toward Rena, sweat on her brow.
Rena's wolf-smile was chilling, "Would you prefer it if Yu helped you?"
Gloria was already halfway down the hall dragging Maia by the neck of her dress, her voice fading as they left the building. "Come on Amnesia-Girl, those debts aren't gonna collect themselves you know! Stop slacking off and let’s get to work!"
Gloria tapped her foot impatiently as Maia tapped lightly on the door for the third time. "Um Hello? Mr. Sakiyoshi? The landlord says you're home sir, please open the door!"
"Time's up," Gloria yelled, her boot going through the door handle as her gun fired a quick burst at the lock. "We're coming in deadbeat so figure out where your wallet is and get ready to empty it out for us."
Gloria charged into the room, her gun sweeping the scene before finding it devoid of traps. Maia's protests were muted under the noise Gloria made kicking over chairs and firing her gun into corners. The man in question huddled behind an overturned table trying not to be shot. His tremulous voice went out, desperately trying to surrender over the din. Gloria picked up on the slight noise and four well placed gun shots later was kicking the man in the back of the head, yelling something vaguely similar to a demand for all of his money.
Maia knelt down in front of the still berated debtor, a wide smile on her face as Gloria's kick fueled tirade continued unabated. "You really should make a payment sir. Your landlord says that you're eight months overdue on your rent."
"Fine, fine! I'll pay something," Mr. Sakiyoshi cried desperately. Gloria stopped kicking him for a few moments as he groped around for his wallet. Finally free of the furious assault, the man looked forlornly into his wallet. "I guess that my only daughter’s birthday will just have to wait. I mean, the surgery wasn't that hard, and she'll learn to walk again... eventually..." A single eye came up to meet Maia's. The two souls searched each other, tears still leaking slowly from the man's twitching eye. Maia's receptive, innocent face brought hope to the poor soul; the tears flowed more freely as his head came up slowly, only to be crushed back into the floor under a furious boot.
"I didn't ask for your life story, deadbeat! Just hand over the cash!" Gloria fired three shots around the shrieking head of the man under her boot, gritting her teeth with impatience.
"Ha ha ha and ha! Rena said I couldn't take any money off the top, she never said anything about taking some extras from the site! I'm so smart!" Gloria hefted her sack over her back, calling to Maia to follow along.
"Umm... Gloria, I don't... I don't think that Rena wants you doing that either!" Maia tagged slightly behind Gloria, hands behind her back as she nervously tried to reign in her exuberant partner.
"Oh shut up!" Gloria retorted, "I'm obeying her rules, so don't you dare say anything!"
"But... if you were really obeying the rules I wouldn't need to stay quiet abou-eeep!" Maia shrieked, her reasoning cut short by the gun under her chin.
"I said don't say anything." Gloria grunted, bringing her face to within inches of Maia's. "Because I said so."
"Good!" Gloria's moods were always mercurial and her sunny disposition as she looked forward to the pawn shop was palpable. "How many more of these bastards do we have to collect on?"
Maia checked her list, "Just one more, looks like. A mister Joey Farchild. He's only two streets over."
“All right, then, let’s get this over with, the pawn shop closes at 7!”
The two made their way down the street, Maia nervously and Gloria humming to herself. The home in question was a fourth floor apartment in a fairly well appointed little building. It actually looked pretty well cleaned compared to the rest of the neighborhood. Maia had given up trying to persuade Gloria to take things calmly, and simply watched embarrassedly as Gloria pounded on the door with all her force.
“Joey! Joey you sad sack’a crap, open up! You’ve got until the count of three! You hear me?! One! Two!” Gloria kicked open the door on two. Less as a surprise tactic, per se, than simply a lack of patience. Leveling her gun into the room, Gloria found her barrel pointing directly into the face of an elderly gentleman with one hand reaching out towards where his door handle would have been one kick earlier. His eyes wide with fear, he could only barely stammer out a “Welcome?” before Gloria had pushed him into a back wall at the end of a gun.
“Money old man, now!” Gloria shouted
“Umm... hello Mr. Farchild,” Maia started, her head poking up from the side of Gloria’s gun. “We’re here from Nereid’s Kamchatka branch on behalf of your landlord. She’d like to get your rent, please.”
“Yeah, yeah, fork over the loot grampa!” Gloria was fuming, looking around she could barely see anything worth reselling. The one room apartment boasted sparse furnishings at best and a few beat up dishes.
“Oh my, my, my.” The old man seemed to have forgotten about the gun in his face, moving away from Gloria and towards the kitchen. “That time of the month already eh? I guess it’s time to dip into my treasure once more. Reminds me of my boy, Meiven, he was always coming by here trying to get some for one thing or another. Have you met my boy? He’s a great worker, so big and strong. He used to wrestle in school a bit, won the city-championship once. I remember this AUGH!”
Gloria cut the rant short with a swift fist to the back of the man‘s head. “Nobody asked about your stupid son old man, just get to the damn treasure already!”
The old man continued walking to the cabinet, actually laughing a bit at Gloria’s antics. “Oh yes, you’re just like my Meiven!” An old wrinkled hand reached slowly for a certain cupboard, slowly creeping towards its destination with the certainty of the seasons. “Always horsin' around he is. I remember the time he got into a tiff with the local gang of hoodlums, 17 strong they were, but he AUGH!” He was still only halfway there by the time Gloria shoved him aside.
“Come on you wrinkly iceberg! Gimme the goods!” Pulling at the knob on the cupboard, Gloria tugged back with all her strength, but the door stayed latched.
“Ha, ha! There's a little trick to that latch; always has been. Only my boy could get it on the first shot. He’s so clever! You see you have to...”
“Oh I’ve got a trick, all right.” Gloria hopped back, her gun drawn. Three bullets later, Gloria was head-deep into the cupboard, head swishing from side to side. “THERE’S NOTHING IN HERE YOU JERK!”
The old man’s amused eyes widened in shock, “What do you mean? My treasure’s always been right in there!”
“I mean exactly what I said you wrinkly old bastard! Now hand over that treasure!”
The old man pushed past Gloria, sticking his own head into the cabinet. “NO! My precious treasure, oh my most valuable possessions! Who would steal them! Who?!”
By now Gloria had become far past annoyed with the old man, “All right, enough with the scam old man, just hand over your money.”
Joey’s eyes filled with tears as he looked back towards the two young ladies. “You don’t understand! My treasures are the only things of value I have! I part with a bit of it every month for the landlady. Oh who would steal my priceless treasure?!”
“Yeah right, gramps, you really expect us to believe a story like that?” Gloria asked dismissively, picking her ear absent-mindedly.
“I don’t know Gloria, he seems pretty genuinely distressed. Don’t you think this nice old man might actually be missing his treasure?” Maia’s head flit back and forth between the old man and Gloria, concern plain on her face.
Gloria looked contemplative a moment, “Hmm... you really think so?" She looked between Maia and the old man, settling on the old man. "How about it gramps, did you really lose some kind of treasure?”
The old man looked like he was close to sobbing, “Of course I’m serious! Oh Meiven, why aren’t you here? You’d know what to do!” The old man was talking to himself now, “Maybe I can get him to come over. He did solve that mystery in the dark water. I mean he's the only one who could have figured out the source of all those octopus...oof!”
Gloria's knuckles rested much more gently on the old man's head this time. “Shut up about your boy for one second old man! If you really lost your treasure, we’ll get it back!” Gloria was trying to put on her charms, what little she had. “We’re with Nereids don’t ya know. We can get anything done for you! “
“Really miss?! Oh I knew you were just like my boy! You’ll solve this case in no-time, won’t you? Just like the time my son...”
“I SAID SHUT UP ABOUT YOUR BOY ALL READY!”
Maia intervened before Gloria could hit the man again, arms thrown wildly around Gloria’s waist. “Do you have any idea who could have done this? Or any clues as to the thief’s identity?” she asked through the struggle.
The old man thought for a second. “Hmmm... Wait, I’ve got it! The cleaning lady was just here! She only left a half an hour ago! She must have taken my treasure!”
“Oh, what company was she from? Which way do you think she went?” Maia asked quickly
“I’m pretty sure she does a lot of the buildings around here, she’s probably still in the neighborhood. Just look for the cleaning van, I bet you’ll find my treasure there!”
Gloria was already on her way to the door, yelling “Well what are we waiting for! There can’t be that many cleaning people in a neighborhood like this!”
The neighborhood wasn’t especially large and as run down as it was it didn’t take long for the girls to canvas the locals, asking about a cleaning van. A few questions and gun-frightened citizens later Gloria was sprinting down a back alley, Maia barely in tow. Coming out onto a side street, the two spotted a van labeled “Tatsuya’s Carpet Service” that everyone had been talking about. Signaling for quiet, Gloria snuck up to the backside of the van. She could hear someone tinkering at the front of the van. Pointing Maia to the opposite side, Gloria decided for the dramatic route and scrambled to the top of the vehicle. The two snuck up on the driver’s seat quietly. Just as the engine roared on Maia leapt out, her gun drawn and yelling “Freeze!” The female driver, in a simple janitorial outfit, looked at Maia like a startled deer. Just then, Gloria got to the front, yelling through the top, “Get out of the truck or I’ll shoot you out of it, you piece of trash!” The driver shrieked, her foot slamming down onto the gas pedal. The van took off with a roar veering around corners with its hover unit barely keeping it off the ground.
“Stop! STOP I SAID!” Gloria shouted, firing her gun wildly at the cabin, trying desperately to hold on. Maia ran fruitlessly after the van for a few steps before sighing. She went back for the bike the girls had taken to the district in the first place. Meanwhile Gloria clung to the top of a van speeding like it was being chased by the devil. Her shooting wasn’t making the driver slow down and that was the end of her ideas. The van was heading along a sea side park, the ocean on one side and trees on the other. Gloria continued to shout at the top of her lungs on top of the van, while the driver continued to shout at the top of her lungs inside the cabin. The two screamed down the lane voices a panicked chorus. The driver veered from side to side, trying to shake the unwanted passenger. Seeing the low hanging trees, the driver swerved into them, causing Gloria to be pelted with branches.
“Ackpth! Why won’t you sto~op?!” Gloria shrieked, shooting wildly at the cabin and the trees in front of her, trying to minimize the amount of tree branches she was eating. All of sudden, the van listed to the other side of the road, the shrieking from inside of the cabin silenced. The van scraped and sparked along the guard rail, but its speed finally began to cut back. Seizing her opportunity, Gloria leaned over the side of the van. Shooting out one of the windows and slipping into the cab, she sat on top of the driver’s slack, unmoving body. Her foot slammed on the brakes, bringing the van to a stop.
“Ha ha ha and HA! You thought you could get away from the Great Gloria? You never stood a chance you scum!” Gloria shook the driver of the van, who'd barely awakened from her recent escapade.
“Gloria, stop! She already fainted once while you were chasing her! Leave her be for a moment!” Maia put her hands on Gloria’s shoulders, trying to get her to stop shaking the suspect. She, Gloria and the old man were all standing outside the apartment building trying to ascertain what exactly had happened. Gloria dropped the woman on the pavement with a harrumph, crossing her arms, satisfied that she had thoroughly defeated her foe.
The woman looked around with a confused glaze on her eyes, “What’s going on? Who are you people?”
“You took my treasure, you harlot! If only my boy was here!” the old man yelled, shaking his fist at the woman.
“I took what? What are you talking abou... Dad?” The woman looked straight at Joey, the look of confusion compounding in her eyes.
“DA~D?!” Gloria and Maia’s twin shouts of disbelief from either side of the old man’s head went ignored as he scratched his chin while looking at the woman, as though trying to decide if he knew her.
“Dad, what are you talking about your treasure? I was just there cleaning your carpets for you, what are you talking about?”
“Mr. Farchild, What’s she talking about? I thought you had a son.” Gloria seemed almost as confused as the woman they’d chased.
“Oh dammit Dad! Are you going on about that again?” the woman screeched at the old man in exasperation.
“What do you mean? My son Meiven is the greatest!” The old man looked shiftily aside.
The woman on the ground sighed, looking at the two girls. “Sorry. My name is Maiyun Farchild. This stupid old man is my father, much as he’ll never admit it.” The two girls looked between the two others, noting a slight family resemblance. The old man still looked shiftily aside. Maiyun continued, “Unfortunately, my old man’s memory is starting to go. And, well, he always wanted a boy for a child. Mom could never give him one and I guess in his old age he’s trying to make up for it.” Maiyun looked crestfallen for a few moments watching her father.
“So... he doesn’t have a son at all?” Maia asked, curiously, “He seemed so sure...”
“Nope, just me and my two sisters. Sorry if he confused you.”
Joey looked back at Maiyun, his ire rising again. “Hey! Don’t change the subject! What’d you do with my treasure?”
“OH YEAH!” Gloria remembered, “Hand over the cash girly! Your old man’s late on rent and he says you’ve got his stuff! So, fork it up! Let’s go, let’s go!”
Maiyun pondered for a moment, then thumping a fist into her open palm she exclaimed “Oh wait! I know. Dad, you idiot! You said I could share with my work-mates!” The woman went to the back of the van, unlocking and lifting the door. Shifting her way into the back, the girls watched her climb past carpet cleaners and other industrial equipment. Finally she let out a small triumphant cry and clambered back out of the van. “Here’s your 'treasure', Dad,” she said, proferring an old large pickle jar with ‘Koracken’ printed on the front.
“My treasure!” the old man cried out.
“Correction! My treasure, you old fart! “ Gloria grabbed the jar before the old man could get to it, “Ha! Come to mama, my sweet treasure!” She ripped the lid off the jar, and plunged her hand inside. A look of disgust came over her face, her nose crinkling. She pulled her hand out slowly, looking angrily at the small reddish fruit in her hand. “Is this... Is this umeboshi?” she grated out.
“My treasure!” the old man yelled, snatching the jar away from a stunned Gloria.
“You mean to tell me...” Gloria started her hand trembling, “that I did all of that... FOR SOME PICKLED PLUMS?!” Her gun was out and pointed directly at the old man's oblivious head while he cradled the delicacy to his chest. If not for a well-timed tackle from Maia, the trigger probably would have been pulled.
“Dad, why didn’t you tell me you didn’t want me to take them? “ Maiyun asked as the two girls fought in the background. Gloria begged Maia to let her kill the old man; Maia tried in vain to get Gloria to calm down.
“Bah, you probably took ‘em without permission. It’s not something my Meiven would do!”
“Dad! Stop it. You know there’s no Meiven. You’re probably just confusing my name again. It’s Mai-yun, not Mei-ven!”
It was about then that a loud voice rang out over all the noise, “What’s going on out here? Quiet down you troublemakers!” The voice came from a short, round, older woman looking down at the lot of them with disdain, a rolling pin in one hand smacking down onto the other hand.
“I’m sorry ma’am; we’re just trying to collect on Mr. Farchild's rent, as you requested....” Maia tried to explain while holding Gloria down, Gloria trying desperately to get up and beat the stuffing out of the old man.
“Is that true, Joey?” the woman asked the old man, one eyebrow raised.
“Don’t worry, landlady! I’ve got your payment right here!” So saying, the old man reached into the jar and pulled out four plums and handed them over to the stout woman. “As promised. Right on time, I hope! They’re not as good as my boy makes, but he once pickled an entire AUGH!” This time it was his daughter’s fist that had stymied the old man’s rant.
“You’re a few days late, Joey,” the landlady said in a conciliatory tone, “but I’ll overlook it this time. Okay, you take care now.”
“WHA~AT?!” Gloria exploded up from the ground, throwing Maia off of her bodily. “What do you mean 'you accept'? You mean to tell me we were up here trying to collect plums this whole time?” Gloria fumed at the lady, stomping over noisily. Maia picked herself up and came over to the landlady as well.
A sheepish hand behind her head, the landlady chuckled a bit before answering, “Sorry I’ve just got such a sweet spot for Joey’s pickled plums! He always gets them just right!”
“But... but, Landlady,” Maia began, “If he was only a couple of days late, why did you need to call in Nereids to collect? He seems like he pays his rent without too much trouble, so why call us in?”
The landlady’s eyes shifted away, looking distinctly uncomfortable. The old man was occupied with his daughter as she chastised him for making up stories again. She continued to drill him on the names and gender of his children as the landlady spoke up. “Has he told you one of the stories about his son? The guy won’t shut up about it. It takes me hours to get my umeboshi... I guess I was just a little sick of it.”
The two girls stared slack jawed at the landlady for a few moments before shrieking another twin “WHA~AT?!”
Back at the office things were calm once more. Gloria shot a warning look at Maia as they delivered their report. “Everything gathered, no problems Rena.”
“Mmmhmm. This all looks in order. Anything else to report? Maia?” Rena watched the junior Nereids member carefully.
“Umm... no. No I guess not...” Maia stammered out, not meeting anyone’s eyes.
“Good enough, I guess,” Rena sighed, already planning to take a cut of Gloria’s pawn shop sales. Turning to the next Nereid at the table, Rena asked, “What about you Shizuka. Have you finished restoring that collector’s bike yet?”
“Oh, it’s coming along great Rena!”
“And you’re sure this will make a good profit for us?” Rena asked doubtfully.
“Oh definitely Rena, look at this!” Shizuka turned her computer screen over towards Rena, showing off a number of collector’s auctions. “These items all go for real big resale,” Shizuka explained as she scrolled down the page. An NC-1701D engine, an old automatic soda vending machine, a Koracken pickle jar, a vintage Mammo Suit and even a few antique firearms flashed by on the screen. “See the huge prices all these items are getting? If I can get this thing fixed up we’ll make a ton of profit!”
Rena grunted noncommittally and went back to filing paperwork as Yu and Gloria began to fight over who whose turn it was to buy lunch.