Deceptive Appearances

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Veld

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by nekojita

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Veld shoved his gloved hands into the deep pockets of his dark grey overcoat and fought the urge to have a cigarette. He didn’t want to attract any attention to himself, not when he was alone in the slums without any of his Turks aware of his location… and definitely not when he was currently spying on his own people.

He knew his Turks, had hand-picked all of them and supervised their training and careers. He made it his job to know all of their faults as well as their abilities, and oftentimes employed both. So upon receiving notice of two reports that described the crime scenes of former targets as being ransacked for anything of value, he wanted answers. The Turks were not above stealing when ordered to do so, or making a murder appear as something other what it really was, but that was not the case in the two incidents. So either someone was messing with the scene after his Turks had left, or his people were doing things that they weren’t supposed to do.

The fact that there had been different Turks assigned to both missions made him believe the former was happening, but he couldn’t take the chance that it was the latter. He hadn’t even told Tseng about the incidents, unwilling to draw any attention to the matter. If there were Turks who had decided to ‘supplement’ their income in such an unsavory manner, Veld would deal with it on his own. His department already had a bad enough of an image thanks to the work they were forced to handle; he would not allow greed or a lack of discipline to sully their name any more.

Connor and Will were supposed to arrive at any minute to handle the case of someone who unwisely thought that he could turn an opportune moment of catching the President of ShinRa in a rather… sensitive situation into his benefit. Since they were involved in one of the missions brought to Veld’s attention, he had purposely assigned them this one in hopes of finding out what was happening. Dressed in an overlarge grey, dingy coat with an equally battered hat shoved onto his head, he waited in the remains of a bus shelter, seeming to be nothing more than an old man trying to get out of the bitterly cold wind. He didn’t have to pretend very much to be cold, even though he’d had the forethought to tuck several heat packs into his clothes. In the half an hour that he’d waited, a couple of people had joined him in the shelter, all but one eventually moving on. His current companion was an elderly woman who apparently hadn’t bathed in several days.

When the Turks finally arrived, they made no effort to hide themselves. Since they were supposed to make an example of their target, that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Veld watched as they parked the shiny, black sedan and slowly entered the decrepit apartment building. Almost everyone hanging out at the bus shelter and around the building decided that they had something better to do all of a sudden, including the old woman.

While he debated moving to another location, he noticed that he was no longer alone. A gangly figure, wrapped in what appeared to be a thick winter coat, slowly approached the sedan. The coat’s hood was pulled up too far for Veld to see the person’s face; he only caught a peek of pale skin and the glowing end of a cigarette. The person paused by the car and deliberately flicked ash over the windshield before creeping into the apartment.

Years of experience made Veld pay attention to the thin person, either a young man or woman judging by height and weight. He carefully watched the door and noticed that the person didn’t pause by any of the mailboxes on his or her way inside. Nor did the person have any keys out, ready to unlock a door. That didn’t mean too much, all in all, but it hinted that the person might not be returning home. Veld had learned to notice such things in his work.

Twenty minutes later, Connor and Will left the building, their faces impassive and eyes hidden by their sunglasses. They seemed unconcerned as they made their way to the car, and Veld carefully noted that they didn’t seem to be carrying anything. He didn’t leave after they got in the car and drove away, instead braving the cold for a while longer to see if his suspicions paid off or not. Ever since the Turks had arrived at the apartment building, no one had entered or left it other than them and the person with the hooded coat.

That person was also the only one to leave after the Turks, the thick coat now appearing thicker – or wrapped around something more substantial than the thin body of its owner. The person was also carrying a gym bag now and sauntered down the street as if without a care in the world. Judging from the way the person walked, Veld had the impression that he was watching another man. He continued to look after him until the stranger quickly slipped off down a side street.

Veld was grateful that it seemed his Turks were innocent of the thefts, and was left with an intriguing mystery.

*******

Thankfully, the day wasn’t as cold as it had been the last time Veld had been down in the slums, although it was raining. He’d ‘borrowed’ a rather battered car from three Sectors away and sipped coffee that he’d poured into an empty bottle of cheap whiskey. The bottle was half empty before Delia and Thomas arrived at the warehouse, and he hunched down in the torn seat to observe them over the dashboard. Once they entered the warehouse, he began to search for the thin young man he’d spotted before. He had begun to think that the kid wouldn’t show; judging from how the sound of gunfire had ended, Delia and Thomas were finishing up inside. If he hadn’t been searching for the kid, he would have missed seeing the slender figure come to a halt at the end of the block not very far from his car and then merge into the shadows. The jacket was the same, though the hood wasn’t pulled as forward this time. Veld noticed wet red hair plastered to a narrow, pale face and fought the urge to sit up more so he could better see the kid. There was no sight of him when the Turks left the warehouse, Delia gripping her upper left arm as if it was injured.

They’d barely left before the kid entered the warehouse, a metal rod in his left hand as an improvised weapon. Sipping his cold coffee, Veld patiently waited for another glimpse of his target. He’d finished the coffee and had slipped an unlit cigarette between his lips before the kid finally emerged. This time his patience was rewarded when the kid stood in the doorway, the hood of the coat pushed back to his shoulders to reveal raggedly cut crimson hair. The kid couldn’t be more than fourteen or fifteen years old, and Veld caught sight of red marks on his face before he jerked the hood over his head and looked about. This time he held a box in his right arm, from which he grabbed the iron rod he’d been holding when he entered the warehouse.

Sitting up slightly to better see the kid, Veld went still when his target glanced in his direction. The kid didn’t seem surprised or worried, just shifted the box to a better position before he began to walk. He approached the car, constantly looking about, and turned left as if to head down the alleyway. While Veld debated if he should follow the kid or not, the kid’s left arm lashed out and something crashed into the car’s cracked windshield. Veld threw his arms over his face to protect it from broken glass, and by the time he lowered them to look for the kid, of course he was gone. The metal rod lay on the car’s hood, having been thrown with enough force to break a small hole in the window but not enough to shatter the entire windshield.

Veld was certain of three things; the kid was damn fast, was observant, and wasn’t that strong. He also had to be pretty damn smart to figure out when the Turks were in the area and use their activities to allow himself access to places to rob. Veld was definitely intrigued by the kid and decided it was time to get more answers.

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Veld could tell by the way that Angel’s eyes widened with surprise that the snitch hadn’t expected to issue his report directly to him. "Should I try the soup today?" he asked with some amusement as he unbuttoned his grey coat and waved to the waitress.

"Nah, it’s mostly water. Just stick to the coffee, that’s my advice," Angel murmured, so Veld ordered a cup of coffee from the young woman. He and Angel were quiet until she returned with the drink and left them in peace once more.

"Been a while since I’ve seen you in person; usually you send the Wutian or the bald guy," Angel said while Veld added some cream to his coffee.

"Some things I prefer to handle myself. Did you find him?" Veld asked, aware that he had a meeting with the President in less than two hours. Perhaps he should have sent Tseng or Rude to collect the information, but he preferred to handle the matter of new recruits himself – especially this one. If the kid proved unsuitable, then he’d have to be eliminated before he embarrassed the Turks.

Angel grunted and slid a plastic case that contained a data disc across the table. "You’ve given me harder jobs – but not by much. Tracked down the brat based on physical appearance alone, basically." He stared at Veld for a moment. "Not often you have me chase after a kid."

Veld didn’t deign to offer up an explanation. Angel was someone he hired on an occasional basis, a young man unfit for the Turks because of various addictions yet intelligent enough to know better than to talk about the assignments given to him. "What is your impression of the boy?" he asked, curious to get a feel for the kid before he returned to work and read through the files.

"He’d make a cute girl, and might dress up like one if you pay him enough." Angel shrugged and leaned against the back of the booth. "’Inventive’ and ‘trouble’ are what mostly come to mind."

"That sounds promising." Pulling out his cell phone, Veld punched in the code that would authorize a payment to one of Angel’s many accounts. When the man’s cell phone beeped a moment later, Veld took another sip of coffee and placed a couple of gil on the table. "If you believe that this is good coffee, I think your taste buds have officially died," he told Angel as he stood up.

Angel flipped close his phone and waved in goodbye. "I didn’t say it was good, just that it’s better than the soup."

Tucking the disc into the inside pocket of his dark blue suit coat, Veld left the quiet café, eager to return to his office for both a decent cup of coffee and a chance to see what Angel had found out for him.

*******

Unable to have a chance to devote some attention to the disc until later that evening, Veld sat behind his desk and opened the information files on his personal computer. He was a bit surprised by the lack of data at first, until he began to read what Angel had discovered in the past week.

The kid’s name was Reno, no last name. If Veld was a superstitious man he’d take that as a sign that the kid was meant for the Turks, who gave up their family names upon being accepted into the organization. That was one of the first changes he’d made upon taking control of the Turks, to strengthen the feeling that they only had each other to rely upon.

He’d been right about the kid’s age and wished that Angel had been able to provide more physical information on Reno; that was something that could wait, though. What mattered was if the kid had the temperament to be a Turk, and they would work on the physique later. Veld was willing to bet that they’d have to do their best to get the kid to gain some weight, but upon seeing the footage that Angel had gotten of Reno when the kid wasn’t wearing his coat, he didn’t think it would matter too much. The kid would never be that big; he was built like a runner with those long legs. He certainly was fast enough, consider how he appeared to vanish and that Veld had barely seen him throw the pipe.

The footage was from some bar; Angel must have discovered where the kid hung out at and bugged the place. Reno was definitely too young to drink yet didn’t seem to have a problem getting served. Veld watched the edited footage of Reno drinking a couple of beers until interrupted by some guy who seemed to want to engage the kid’s ‘services’. Oh yes, Reno was definitely very fast, as well as utterly vicious in his refusal.

Reno’s reaction was interesting, considering that he had the reputation of being willing to sell sex upon occasion. The Turks didn’t need a prostitute in their ranks… but the ability to do whatever was necessary to survive was an admirable trait, in Veld’s opinion. That was, as long as betraying trust wasn’t an option.

From what Angel had been able to find out, Reno had no ties, not even to his mother who had kicked him out onto the streets over four years ago. He’d managed to stay clear of any gangs, which was quite an impressive feat. Veld looked back at the fuzzy image of Reno’s face and noticed the red tattoos on the kid’s cheeks. Visible tattoos like those were heavily frowned upon, especially in the criminal subculture. They would make a criminal too easily identified since they were difficult to hide. The gangs that did require their members to be tattooed made sure that the markings could be hidden beneath clothes. Between those red lines and that bright hair, Reno definitely stood out. Something could be done about the hair, so Veld was willing to bet that the tattoos were Reno’s way of declaring himself as unsuitable for a gang.

Yet despite his unusual appearance, the kid managed to get away with quite a lot. Then again, who wanted to admit that they’d had the shit kicked out of them by a brat who barely weighed 50 kilos? Reno was also smart enough to not leave any evidence behind – Angel had checked out one of the robbery scenes and hadn’t found any trace of Reno there, even though Veld had watched him enter and leave the place.

So, the kid was smart, fast, inventive and most definitely ‘trouble’, as Angel had said. He was also one hell of a loner, preferring to tough it out without any help from others. More importantly, Reno was able to make it on his own, judging from the fact that he was still alive and not associated with a gang or pimp.

Carefully going over the file, Veld decided he could accept Reno’s young age and lack of formal education. While the Turks rarely accepted candidates under the age of eighteen, they were allowed to recruit someone as young as fifteen, the same as SOLDIER. Reno still had a couple of months to go, not that Veld was very concerned about the matter.

The more he read, the more Veld was determined to give the kid a try. He was duly impressed by someone having both the smarts and the balls to rob a place after Turks finished their business there, and felt that such inventive thinking would benefit his organization. He wanted someone unpredictable, someone who could think outside the norm and could handle the difficult tasks that often fell to the Turks.

Most importantly, he wanted someone strictly loyal to the Turks – not ShinRa, the Turks. He wanted someone who wouldn’t give a damn about power and image and politics, someone who would be routinely dismissed as a threat. Someone who would be overlooked, who the President or Hojo wouldn’t see as worth their time. Someone who Veld could depend upon to do whatever he said, no matter how unsavory the task or unreasonable the command.

Veld had learned a lot of things over the years. He could recognize the personality traits that identified someone he could rely upon, someone who he could trust and be trusted by in return. He’d carefully selected his Turks in the last few years, and with the exception of Tseng and a few others, he was well aware that he could only ask so much of his people before they were torn between their loyalty to him and to ShinRa Electrical Company.

He was utterly loyal to the company… he just understood that the current president was not the embodiment of ShinRa. When that man was dead and gone, the company would live on. That was what Veld focused upon, seeing ShinRa to that point. Much of his work was geared to the future; fighting to keep Heidegger from taking over the Turks, assigning Tseng to watch over Rufus, slowly weeding out the unsuitable Turks and replacing them with new recruits. When the time came for a change in leadership, ShinRa’s new president would not see the Turks as expendable assets, would not consider the company as his means of power to be abused at his whim.

Reno was one of the best candidates that Veld had come across in months. Fearless, smart, adaptive and young. The latter was very important as Veld needed to forge as many connections between Rufus and the Turks as possible. Reno was only a couple of years older than Rufus; hopefully the two young men would be able to form some sort of relationship based on their similar ages.

The more that Veld read about the kid, the more convinced he was that Reno had the potential to be a Turk. Give him a safe home, some responsibility, an outlet for his independent and violent streaks, and the trust would come. It wasn’t so much that Reno wasn’t able to trust, but had never been given the opportunity to do so, Veld was willing to bet. The kid was like a stray animal, forced to fend for himself. Prove to him that someone was willing to look after him yet not force him into a cage, and Reno would prove to be loyal.

Opening a new document, Veld began to plan on the best way to bring the kid into the Turks. It wouldn’t be as simple as just offering Reno a job – the kid had too much pride and was so far able to manage on his own. Reno also wasn’t the type to join anything if he didn’t have to. So Veld would just engineer a situation where the kid didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. He pondered the best way to go about reining the kid in somewhat before he stumbled on a rather brilliant idea. It was clear that Reno considered selling himself as a matter of last resort. What if the kid was brought to the attention of a pimp powerful enough to force him into full-time prostitution? Veld even had the perfect candidate in mind; it was fitting to use Don Corneo, considering how much grief the bastard caused Veld in the last few years.

He prepared a new list of orders for Angel, one that would bring Reno to the attention of Don Corneo and keep him under observation as well. Veld wouldn’t instigate a more thorough, proper investigation into Reno’s past until he was ready to pull the kid in for good. No, leave that for a few more months, until Reno was old enough to be a Turk. During that time, Veld would make sure that the kid really did have what it took.

He had to be careful since if Reno ever found out how he’d been manipulated, it would ruin any trust between them. He wouldn’t even inform Tseng about the kid until Reno was recruited into the Turks. As tired as he was, Veld smiled and chuckled in amusement. There was no doubt in his mind that the President and Hojo would object to the newest Turk, then not pay Reno any mind. That was what he counted on. While those two focused on SOLDIER, Veld and his Turks would be quietly in the background, ready to support Rufus whenever he was ready to take over the company. He was perfectly willing to do whatever it took to bring that about.

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