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Chapter 25 – Young Fools Fighting

May 12, 2012

Chapter 25 – “Young Fools Fighting”

February 10, 1974 – Chinatown, New York, New York

Current odds: 100:1

Maya had been snatched right in front of them. It had been in a very backhanded way a boon. The team was falling apart. Eli and Braden were getting on each other’s nerves in all kinds of ways. All they did anymore was argue.

To make matters worse, things between Eli and Maya had cooled considerably. She accused him of becoming obsessed with Roarke. He accused her of getting bored with the whole enterprise, treating it like a fad, a pair of shoes stuck in the back of her closet worn but once, no longer desired because they were not new.

She wasn’t shallow, not really, and she suspected he knew that. But why had the comment hurt so much? Why had it struck so deeply?

And she had a point. If the powers-that-be didn’t care and society at large either wasn’t paying attention or assumed things were being taken care of behind the scenes, even though they clearly were not, what was the point? Was it just a game of wits, a test of Schneider’s intellect against Roarke’s substantial resources and power?

But she knew Braden and Eli would set differences aside to find her. It was just a matter of time.

She pushed those thoughts away and turned to how she had come to be handcuffed to a large, round, steel column in a warehouse. There had been five assailants. Under normal circumstances, that would not have been a problem. She could handle five assailants as easily as two because it was awkward for such a number to coordinate their moves, to stay out of each other’s way, to not unintentionally undermine what another wanted to accomplish in the arena.

These…Chinese? She wasn’t sure. These Asians had been different. They moved as one. They fought as one.

Once she had realized that, she instead tried to surprise the one she thought was their leader by switching fighting styles quickly and gracefully. He had been impressed, that was clear when be smiled at her in appreciation. But he was not at all intimidated by the move. Her attempt to beat them psychologically, to defeat them in the mind, where most battles were won and lost, has been treated with the same seriousness of a toddler showing a parent a crayon drawing brought home from school. Amusement, perhaps with a small amount of respect, did not illicit intimidation and fear as she had hoped.

The five fighters switched styles as well. She did not recognize whatever it was. The angles were confusing, bypassing her trained defense moves easily enough to stun and eventually subdue her altogether. Once they had her handcuffed, tied and then threw a black cloth over her head, they drove to wherever it was they were now. The trip didn’t take long. She guessed she was probably in Chinatown given its proximity to the Village.

The black hood was removed once she had been taken through the warehouse and into the enclosed storage space she currently found herself in. The woman, one of the fighters she had faced, removed the cloth after securing her to the column. The column was hollow but thick. It might as well have been solid and it was welded to a bolted plate on the floor. There was a similar assembly at the ceiling, which she guessed was forty or forty-five feet above her head. She was in an awkward position with hands cuffed to each other hugging what amounted to a thick pole. This position left little room for even a decent kick.

When the woman exited the room. Maya again heard the workers in the main warehouse area speaking in whatever language it was as she had when she had passed through the area, when was blindfolded. She glimpsed some of them before the door closed. They were dressed in white lab or hospital gowns and wearing surgical masks and hairnets. They were sifting through some bins. She saw a dark, reddish, shiny liquid on a hand when one of them pulled something out of the bin. There was blood on the rubber glove the worker was wearing. The object in the hand was likewise a small plastic blob that looked like it contained a white substance.

“Drugs. Great. How can this get any worse?”

She panicked when the door opened and a voice spoke.

“Bitch. Did you think you could hide from me forever?”

She recognized the voice and was immediately filled dread. The face was the same, but his taste in clothing had improved. He was shaven. His hair cut shorter. The shoes alone must have cost a couple hundred. All in all he looked more respectable.

Freddie…

“I’m gonna enjoy this. Knew my luck was taking a turn for the better.”

Freddie the pimp turned drug dealer locked the door behind him. Then he took off his expensive leather jacket and slid the holsters holding both of his pearl-handled .45s and slung both over a chair. He didn’t need them. She was helpless like this.

He slipped off his belt, folded it in half, and slapped the leather against itself. Despite having faced danger many times since she last saw him, she flinched at the sound. There were still too many bad memories associated with it.

***

Jerry, that was his American name, enjoyed his job. You wouldn’t know it if you worked there.

He was mean. He frequently shouted, pushed, punched, insulted, and generally made working there extremely unpleasant. The workers had little choice in the matter. They were not in the US legally, and in fact the Triad had arranged their arrival there, so they were essentially slaves. Jerry knew that and it gave him power.

What was even better was he never had to stick his hands into the chicken to get the product out. Never had to get dirty. That was for the slaves.

He was absolute ruler of the warehouse and he enjoyed every second of it. So it was extremely hurtful to his ego and general mental state when a rusty, broken down schoolbus that had sat in the lot in front of the warehouse for nearly two years came crashing through one of the loading doors. This was not supposed to happen. The bus didn’t even have a motor. Jerry and his pals had stripped and sold the parts. There was nothing left but a yellow and rusty hulk. How was this even possible?

Smoke followed the bus. Lots of it. Cheap Chinese cherry bombs flew in every direction, completely obscuring visibility. The slaves panicked and ran in every direction. Jerry was losing control quickly and he didn’t like it one bit. It suddenly occurred to him that his bosses would probably like it even less.

He drew his .38 special and shouted for the other guards to join him in invesigating the intrusion.

“Jerry? What the—”

“Intruder. There!”

A large shape was partially visible through the smoke. Then something came hurtling out of the clouds.

A plucked, thawing chicken hit Jerry full in the face. The bird struck with such force that it knocked Jerry right off his feet. He hit the concrete and was barely conscious enough to rub the back of his head.

Immediately more chickens flew out. Too many to count, the rest of the security detail were struck in various locations. One took it in the gut and he had the wind knocked out of him. Another found it knocked the weapon out his hand. Some of the drugs fell out and slid around the floor. Soon the concrete was too slick to try to move on without slipping. It was difficult to get a decent shot between the slippery floor, the hurtling poultry, and the smoke.

The Red Fox had slipped by the guards in the confusion nearly unseen. He ran toward the storage room door. He was almost there when a foot attached to a leg seemed to come out of nowhere and tripped him up. He sprawled and slid but did so gracefully.

Eli whirled and got back to his feet. Standing six or seven feet from him was a woman. She was in a fighting stance. It was one he sort of recognized, one that Maya had shown him during one of their wrestling matches (as he had come to think of them).

She glared at him like he owed her money. This was not what he expected. Hitting women had never sat well with him. He wondered if that made him sexist or a gentleman.

He feinted left and spun right. She came in with a kick intended for his face. He caught the blow with a gloved left hand and simultaneously brought the shockstick up with his right, which had been concealed under the cape he wore. He had been trying the cape out recently to better conceal the red costume.

The martial artist jiggled confused for a moment and stared at the device in his hand. He momentarily thought that she might be immune.

Then she fell to the floor marveling at the unusual sensation of not being in control of her own body. The Red Fox stepped over her and tried the storage room door while putting an ear to it. He heard muffled voices. One of them was Maya’s.

Eli removed an object from his pack. It resembled a cross between a Swiss army knife and a gun or a saw. He found the proper pick for the door’s lock and turned it as quietly as he could.

Meanwhile, the guards had rallied and started throwing chickens back at Phoebus. Though they could not hurt him, they figured making the floor slick would even the odds a bit.

Jerry was back up now barking orders. He looked around and reached for his dropped revolver.

Phoebus was running out of birds. He rolled five of the bins at the gunmen, knocking most of them down. Items fell from the shelves above them. Flour and some other kind of grain spilled out on the floor. The place was going to require some serious cleaning and repairs once this was over.

Eli quietly opened the door. He hoped that the noises coming from behind him would cover his entry.

Maya was standing behind a pole, handcuffed around it. She peeked around it, saw Eli in his costume and shouted.

“Look out!”

Eli felt a metal object strike the back of his head. He saw colors for a few seconds and cursed himself for not working some sort of skull protection into the suit.

He heard the safety click off of a gun just behind his right ear. Then Freddie tapped the back of his skull with the barrel to emphasize the point.

“What is this? This ain’t Halloween, dumbass. Happy Valentine’s Day, motherf***er!”

It would have to be quick. It would have to be accurate.

Eli spun quickly flapping the edge of the cape in Freddie’s face. Then he grabbed his arm and aimed the gun and pulled the trigger.

The bullet hit the chair and sent it flying backwards in Maya’s direction. Freddie’s other gun was still in its holster. He had only had time to grab one when the noises started outside the room.

Maya quickly stuck out a leg and stopped the chair from flying by her. It tipped over and she reached down and pulled the holster toward her.

Freddie was on top of Eli now, trying to bang his head on the concrete. Eli grabbed the shockstick with his other hand, but Freddie managed to knock it away.

“Freddie! Let him go! Now!”

She was standing at an angle, peering around the pole and aiming the gun while handcuffed. It was awkward. Making an accurate shot would be difficult.

“F–”

She fired twice. The first one hit him in the shoulder, the second in the calf. Freddie cried out in pain. Eli managed to slip out from underneath him and kick his gun away.

Phoebus and the remaining conscious gunmen were distracted when the several other loading doors opened almost simultaneously. Phoebus turned around. The smoke began to clear quickly out of the place and daylight flooded in. He could see the workers huddled to his left behind some bins and boxes. He could see from their eyes alone peeking out that they were frightened.

Through the middle loading door walked a man followed and flanked by several more. He walked with purpose. He was dressed in a very fine suit and wore sunglasses. This was clearly the boss or at least a boss.

The men who followed the boss in held Tommy guns like Phoebus recalled seeing in the old gangster movies. He wondered if they got the idea from the those old films or if there was a gangster store that sold them on discount.

Though he wasn’t concerned about the bullets himself, there was a very good chance of the workers being hit or…

Eli and Maya came running up. He couldn’t risk her being hit. That would be too much to bear.

The man, clearly Asian, Braden could tell as his eyes adjusted to the light, shouted something he didn’t understand. There was some shuffling behind him.

Jerry ran forward and immediately started making what sounded like excuses and apologies. He got down on his hands and knees and seemed to be begging for his life. In any language, Braden thought, desperation had a similar ring. Jerry tried to reach one of the boss’ shoes to kiss it, but the boss stepped back just out of reach.

The boss snapped one syllable and Jerry immediately got up and ran to the side. Then Maya spoke.

“Sensei…?”

The boss turned and looked at her. He slowly removed his sunglasses. Then, though it looked like his craggy face might break, he smiled.

“Maya!”

The boss walked forward as if he were meeting an old friend at the bus station. They hugged.

“How have you been, Maya? Getting into trouble I see.”

She couldn’t believe it. First Freddie, now her sensei. It was too much.

Roarke… But why go to all this trouble?

She smiled but could not yet speak. It was all too shocking.

“I am sorry, Maya. This is business. I am very sad that you are involved. Very sad indeed.”

“No problem. I’ll take care o’this.”

Freddie was standing behind Maya. He had limped out of the storage room and had the semiauto in his right hand aimed at her. She ignored Freddie and stared into her teacher’s eyes.

“Sensei…You? What about those things you taught me?”

“This is how the world works, Maya. I did not make it this way.”

Eli spoke up. He had been watching all of this with what seemed like disinterest but his mind was charging ahead at 100MPH.

“Do you know, Hurmai Zengshin?”

The boss turned his head sharply. The look on his face was as though Eli had just insulted him.

“How do you know this name? Speak!”

“One should know who one is getting into business with, don’t you think?

The boss looked away and back to Maya.

“I am so sorry, my dear.”

The boss pulled out his gun. Braden started rushing forward. Eli took in a breath to shout ‘no’. Neither was fast enough, however, and the shot echoed through the building.

Freddie stared in disbelief. He lowered his fancy peashooter and a look of disappointment came over his face. Then he looked down at the hole in his shirt near the left breast pocket, the hole that went much deeper than that. As blood began pouring out, he slumped to the ground.

“Please leave, Maya. And do not let our paths cross again.”

Maya stood dumbfounded. Eli grabbed her arm and gave a gentle tug.

“C’mon. Let’s go.”

They walked past Phoebus and into the sun. Braden turned and followed once it was clear that no one would be preventing them leaving.

“What was that?” she asked.

“A very lucky break,” Eli replied a bit coldly.

Eli had gotten the name from Roarke’s computer cards months ago. He had only recently discovered who Zengshin was: a general in the Red Army. The general had been ordered and lead some of the most brutal “cleansing” campaigns in Chinese history in Tibet. The transcript of the United Nations discussion of the alleged atrocities the man had been involved with were vague on the number of dead, but estimates put it unbelievably high. The Chinese government of course denied it all.

It was a dangerous gamble, but Eli could see where it was all going otherwise. He needed to throw the man something to get him to forget about the intrusion and ensuing chaos lest he make an example of everyone present. Maya’s acquaintance seemed more gangster than military. There was a chance he hated men like Zengshin, might have even lost friends or family. Associating with Roarke’s partner Zengshin would be dishonorable and distasteful.

Freddie was dead. Maya was free. Putting an end to the drug trade, though, seemed not the best way to tackle Roarke. There were too many other people involved in that. The money was just too much to even consider stemming its flow.

At least that would be what the three of them would tell themselves later: it was just too big to deal with, the risks outweighed the possibility of success.

Maya touched Braden’s arm, “You thought he was gonna shoot me, eh? Thought you’d run over and be my bulletproof vest?”

She was smiling. Braden was just relieved that they had all gotten out alive, uninjured. He forgot for the moment the dead man, the drugs, the strange interactions…

“What else could I do?” Braden said with what Eli took as his usual fake modesty.

“Well, I was impressed that you wanted to,” she added,

Eli had seen this coming for weeks. He had known before they did. He had recognized the signs, the nonverbal cues before the idea had even registered in their conscious minds. Maya and Braden were in love.

“Let’s see…one dead ex-boyfriend, one’s an international drug smuggler, another is—”

“What is your problem?!?”

She stopped Eli and spun him around to look at him. Despite the mask, she could see the dark circles under his eyes.

“Have you slept at all, Eli?”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Braden jumped in, “Which, if we keep this up, will be real soon.”

“Spoken like a true hero. You know what, hero. You want to impress me? Fly! Fly, Fly back to your podunk watering hole. Fly off! Go on! Just fly the f*** away!”

Eli didn’t wait for the reply. He started waking away at a hurried pace. Maya laid a hand on Braden’s shoulder to stop him from following or shouting a retort.

“He’s in pain. He is definitely not well.”

That was when she decided to put an end to the whole ordeal, to fix things. She would go and negotiate a truce with Roarke herself. It would end peaceably.

***

When Roarke later played the film of what happened inside the warehouse, it was one of the few times he lost his calm demeanor in front of his guests. It wasn’t so much that they had cost him the drug deal, that the Tibetan went elsewhere, though that financial loss had been considerable. It wasn’t even that the house, that is Roarke himself, had lost so much betting against the trio all surviving this encounter, though that was humiliating as well. It was how they did it. And how his guests had laughed at him when he had to pay up.

He had cursed and thrown his cocktail against the wall. He felt an icy chill pass through him after that and had regained composure quickly.

No one laughed at Roarke anymore, not since the Old Man had passed on. That was something he could not forgive. It was time to bring the whole costumed vigilante fad to a decisive halt. That occasion would have to be something special, something to remember.

—–

©2012 Christopher C. Knall

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