By the time New Year’s Day finally rolled around, I had managed to convince both myself and my parents that we should go to Jennifer Kagemoto’s New Year’s Eve party. My parents were easy. When I got off the phone, I said, “So, Jennifer Kagemoto, the girl who sent the lawyers, is inviting us all to attend a New Year’s Eve party.”
“Wait,” Dad said, “us too?”
“Yeah. As well as us kids.”
“I taught a Kagemoto at Fessenden,” Mom said, worriedly. “Sam was really sweet, but…”
“We don’t have to go,” I said, somewhat glad for an excuse.
Mom shook her head. “Mr. Kagemoto had some weird ideas on what constituted an insult and what was acceptable in dealing with it. It’d probably be best to show up for a little while, then head back.”
“Who is this Mr. Kagemoto?” Charlotte asked. “He seems quite shady.”
“I remember talking to him at a faculty meeting,” Dad said. “He is.”
In the time between the party, we saw a lot of Eliza and Charlotte. Once they were settled into their hotel (we never found out where exactly) they would come just about every day, alternating between the vintage Rolls and the more modern Maybach. They were always escorted by a Chevy Suburban in the rear and a Chevy Impala in the front, both in black. Before Eliza, Charlotte and their chauffer would exit, four men in suits would get out from the Impala and pull security. The chauffer would then open the door for the two girls and hurry them inside the nearest building. Then one of the Suburbans would drive off once the chauffer had confirmed the building secure, with the other remaining behind.
I was very curious about these new bodyguards. However, I could make some guesses. First off, the people in the SUVs were the cavalry. My guess is that if I were to look inside the blacked-out windows, I’d see a bunch of heavily-armed operators. Also, the increased helicopter traffic when Charlotte and Eliza were around? Not an accident.
The question was who the guys were. Unless they were really good at faking Boston accents, like the chauffer was, I doubted that they were British. That meant they were either private security or FBI. I decided to wait until we were back at NIU. If Charlotte told me something and another attack happened, it would be best to avoid suspicion.
Meanwhile, it was hard for Charlotte and Eliza to adjust to life in the US, but only for one fact. “Now,” Charlotte said, addressing me and my family, “in this country, you can fight and die for your country at eighteen…” We were at a local restaurant, The Halfway Café.
“Or sixteen,” I said, “if you have parental permission.”
“Which most parents don’t give out,” Dad said. I remembered when I had turned sixteen. I had been going through a… bad time. I had wanted to get the hell out of school and one of the ways I had seized was the army. In the end, I had gone back to school.
“You can also get a license at sixteen,” Charlotte continued, “and you can use tobacco products at eighteen, as well as move out of the house. However, if someone wishes to sample a local brewery’s seasonal offerings,” at this, she jabbed at the drink, “they have to be twenty-one?”
“Yeah,” Mom said. “It’s kind of stupid, but it’s the law.”
“You’re bleedin’ right it’s stupid,” Eliza said, then muttered something under her breath. She then took a swig of the root beer she had reluctantly ordered.
“Eliza!” Charlotte reprimanded. “Language!”
“I don’t get what the big deal is,” Esther said. “Doesn’t beer taste like cat pee?” She drank her own root beer just as Eliza spat hers out.
After she was done laughing, Eliza pointed at my sister. “You. I like you, mate.”
Like most of their visits, that one turned out well. My parents and my sister liked Eliza’s sense of humor (their introduction to her had been much better than mine, which helped a lot) and were quite impressed with Charlotte’s manners. Plus, the both of them together can be very charming in radically different ways.
When it came time to actually go to Jennifer’s party, they brought out both the Maybach and the Rolls-Royce. They also doubled the number of SUVs and quadrupled the number of sedans and we could hear a couple helicopters overhead. One of the chauffeurs knocked on the door and led Mom, Dad and Esther to the Rolls. After they were in, he led me to the Maybach, opening the rear door.
The windows, especially the rear ones, had been so blacked out that I couldn’t see inside. However, when I got in, I saw that Charlotte, wearing a black dress with a very long skirt and white shrug, was sitting in the back seat and Eliza, wearing a red dress and a white shawl, was on the seat opposite me. Riding shotgun (It was an English car, so it was reversed) was another bodyguard, hand in the glove compartment.
“Wow,” I said, sitting down, “this is the biggest rear seat I have ever sat in.” I turned around to close the door just as the chauffer closed it. “Oh,” I said somewhat surprised. “I guess that is his job.”
“You have quite a lot to get used to,” Charlotte said. “I personally am not a big stickler for protocol, but I find that ‘self-made men’ and certain of the less noble of the nobility tend to be obsessed with it.”
“Like Mr. Kagemoto,” I said, buckling my seatbelt. For once in my life, I didn’t have to reach under the butt of the person in the center seat to buckle myself in.
“I wouldn’t say that,” the bodyguard. “More like ‘psychopath.’ Guy wanted to use us on a hit. Apparently, when we defused the nail bomb he sent us, we ‘destroyed the evidence.’ Lab tech was busted a few weeks later, but by then he had actually contaminated it.”
The radio crackled. “This is Christmas Package,” a gruff, Bostonian voice said. “We’re wrapped and good to go, and our convoy is, too. Comet, Cupid, you guys ready?”
“Sure,” a more Southern accent drawled. “God’s recommending that we take route one.”
I let my curiosity get the better of me. “God?” I asked.
As two of the Impalas and one of the Suburbans drove off, the bodyguard said, “A combination of the FBI, State Department, and various Massachusetts police forces. Even if mercs are guarding you guys, you’re still in their jurisdiction. If you die, it’d be pretty embarrassing.”
“And for you guys, right?”
“Well,” the bodyguard said, “if they did it right under our noses, it’d be embarrassing. If it’s anything like that mess at the airport, we’d probably all die honorably.”
“Comforting.” I said. I then turned to Charlotte and Eliza to ask, “So, is John coming?”
Charlotte shook her head. “Sadly not,” she said sadly, then continued on speculatively, “Though he may have been right not to. Jennifer’s father does not sound like a nice man.”
Our convoy got moving out. Apparently, we were the Shamas and the choppers were named after Maccabees. I had to explain the Hanukah reference to Charlotte and Eliza. As I did, it began to snow. However, the Maybach was still nice and toasty warm.
Eventually, I asked, “So how come the Kagemotos and the Jade Empire are so feared? I don’t think there’re a lot of Asian people living in MA.”
The driver piped up. “Exactly. One of my friends in the FBI says that this was one of the major problems both gangs had to face. The Kagemotos solved it by headhunting people from Japan and buying fancy equipment to make up for the lack of Japanese-Americans. The Jade Empire decided to stop being Triads and branched out from just Chinese-Americans to Asian-Americans. Then, when that wasn’t enough, they started targeting bored suburban kids, poor whites and blacks, and a lot of the recent Brazilian immigrants. Rumor has it, they started as just The Emperor and two of his ‘servants.’ Now, they’re the biggest gang in New England, if you don’t include New York.”
“Good heavens,” Charlotte said, “are they violent?”
“Well,” I said, “you guys remember Cross, right?” Charlotte and Eliza nodded. Michael Castellan, more commonly known as “Cross,” was the son of a New York hitman who was going to NIU to train to enter the family business. “He was kind of surprised at how violent the Kagemotos and the Empire got.”
“Oh my,” Charlotte said. “Do they have a reason to be violent often?”
“Yeah,” the driver said. “They’re both expanding. One of the first Kagemotos said this little gem: ‘If you need something, ask nicely and explain why you need it. If they still don’t give it to you, hurt them in such a way that no one will ever refuse you again.’ Apparently, they need a whole lot.”
“Let me guess,” Eliza said darkly, “they’re also sponsoring some bloody capes.”
“Not that anyone can prove,” the bodyguard said. “Anyway, we’re here.”
“Here” was a large apartment building in the middle of Boston. A line of expensive cars (seriously, one or two were probably worth more than the price of Charlotte’s Maybach and her Rolls-Royce combined) were stopping by the entrance to disgorge their passengers. After a brief conversation and the flashing of invites, the bodyguards got both us and themselves out of the car and a valet got in. Then an Asian man with a dark red tux and a heavy Boston accent led us to an elevator, telling us to go to the top floor. I noticed that the guards made us stand off to the sides, out of the line of fire.
I also got a better look at Eliza and Charlotte. Charlotte’s dress was a halter top and had shiny bits on it accentuating her waist and flat stomach. At first, I thought they were sequins. Nope! They were some sort of clear gem. Her dress’s skirt was long enough so that I couldn’t see what kind of shoes she was wearing. However, seeing as she was taller than Eliza, I was guessing she was wearing higher heels than normal, because Eliza was normally taller than Charlotte.
Speaking of Eliza, her transformation today was quite unexpected. She was wearing her hair down (which showed how long and wavy it was) and make-up, which I had only seen once. As noted before she was also wearing a dress and shiny red heels (which were about an inch or two.) Her dress was a cute pleated, mid-calf length number and her legs were shaven (the shaving part may have been normal, the only time I had seen them was the last time I saw her wear a skirt.) The neckline, which would be borderline conservative for most other girls, was a little on the risqué side for Eliza. Her posture, instead of being alert and assertive, was more nervous and… was she embarrassed?
Either way, looking at them, I kind of felt underdressed. I was wearing a cheap suit that, after several months of exercise, was way too loose on me and a boring black tie. Eh, I thought to myself, why make yourself miserable when you can make others happy?
“Should’ve said this sooner,” I said, “but you two are looking pretty nice tonight.”
Charlotte nodded. “Thank you, Nathan,” she said graciously.
Eliza, blushing a little (or was that the makeup?) muttered, “Thanks.” She then looked up. “This is Char’s kind of thing, not mine.”
As soon as she finished saying that, the doors opened with a ding. The guards got out first, then signaled for us to come out. We were in the middle of a foyer. Two more Asian guys in red tuxes were standing guard. Once we showed them our invitations, they let us into the main apartment.
Much like when I first boarded the Blackmoor-Ward private jet, I was amazed. Underneath all the people, the room itself was a little bigger than a school gym or cafeteria. (Or maybe all the people just made it look smaller.) The difference, however, was the décor. Three of the four walls were glass and looked out onto Boston. The fourth wall had a balcony mounted on it and both levels had hallways leading farther back into the apartment. Bars, serving tables, and various seating areas were scattered throughout the room.
However, they were all obscured by the people. I think there had to be over a hundred, all in the fanciest clothes. There were a few people I recognized, mostly entertainers, but there I recognized a few politicians, including the judge from the Kagemoto trial. I suddenly had an idea how Mark Kagemoto was declared innocent of all charges.
I paused, realizing I had wandered away from Eliza, Charlotte and the bodyguards. Suddenly, I felt very exposed.
The nervousness was validated a few seconds later when two Asian men, one old and slightly overweight, the other only a few years older than me and built like a beanpole came over to me. They were both wearing expensive suits with strange dragon lapel pins made out what appeared to be jade. The younger one seemed friendly enough, but there was something about the way he walked that screamed “danger” to me. I also noticed that he wore expensive sunglasses and instead of a tie, he wore a gold chain with a howling wolf embossed on it. It was like he was trying to advertise he was a gangster… or maybe an aspiring rapper.
The older one was more traditionally dressed, with all his buttons buttoned up and a green tie. He seemed to be subordinate to the younger one and hated every single second. When he looked at me, it was with annoyance masking interest. When he looked at his younger associate, it was with barely disguised contempt.
“So,” the younger one said, a slight Chinese accent, “I am not sure I have seen you around here before?” I paused, not knowing what to say, and the man continued to fill in the gap. “You a gate crasher?” he asked.
“We could turn him,” the older one said, his accent a thick Boston one, “maybe get in good with Mark…”
“Assuming he is a gate crasher,” the younger one said. “The guards seemed to be matching people to photo IDs.” He frowned. “He’d have to be very good at bullshitting to get in.”
“Killer!” I turned around. I saw a tanned guy my age with sandy brown hair coming towards me. I recognized him as Cross instantly.
“Ah,” the younger one said, “you’re talent.”
Cross pushed through the last few people, a beer in his hand. “Killer,” he said, somewhat drunkenly, “what’re you doin’ here, man?”
“I was invited,” I said, holding out my invitation.
“‘Love, Jennifer Kagemoto,’” the young Asian man said, reading my invitation. “Weird. Mine’s from Mark.”
“Yeah, Killer,” Cross said, grabbing my arm, “come with me.”
As I followed him into the crowd, my interrogator called out, “Come on, Mikey! You used to be much more fun!”
“Let me guess,” I said, when we were sufficiently out of earshot, “those guys were Jade Empire?”
“Yeah,” Cross said. For someone whose breath smelled like paint thinner, he seemed remarkably alert. “Let’s just say that it’d look bad if you talked to those guys before talking to your host. Like, really bad.” He took a swig of his beer, and muttered bitterly, “Never shoulda slept with Lang.”
“Yeah,” Cross said. “He’s bi. Or pan. Apparently, there’s a difference.”
He then downed the rest of his beer. “Uh, Cross,” I asked, “how many of those have you had?”
“Two…” he said, then considered it. “Or was it four? Also had, like, a fourth of Scotch… And there was the champagne…” He then looked at me. “Hey, Killer, am I drunk?”
“Yes.” I said. “Yes, Cross, you are very drunk.”
“Huh,” he said. “I must be really drunk, ‘cause I don’t feel drunk.” He paused. “Weird how that works, isn’t it?”
“Yeah…” I said, “can you tell me about Jen? She’s Eliza’s roomie and she kind of helped us out recently. I know a bit about the Kagemotos, like how Mark killed all those people ten or so years ago, I know they’re high-level Yakuza, but I don’t know many details.”
He looked around. When he was satisfied no one was listening, he said, “Have you heard of Hinomoto Oniko?”
“Didn’t she fight the Minutemen a few times?” I asked. “She’s a Jumper, right? Teleports around and stuff.”
Cross nodded. “Guess what her civilian identity is.”
I did a double take. Was Cross saying Jennifer Kagemoto was a legit supervillain, the kind that could escape from the Minutemen completely unharmed and a million dollars richer? Suddenly, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I looked up. We were almost under the balcony. There, looking down at me, an unreadable expression on her face, was Jennifer Kagemoto.
Faking calmness, I slowly turned back to Cross. “Is that common knowledge?”
“No,” he said, “why?”
“Someone was listening.” We both turned to look at the balcony. Jennifer was gone.
“Are you sure there was someone there?” a voice purred innocently. “I don’t see anyone there.” Jennifer Kagemoto was standing right behind us, looking more innocent than a newborn baby. She was dressed in a dark red dress with a long skirt, plunging v-neck, and thin straps. At the bottom, the dark red pattern was broken by what appeared to be blue flames with white centers. It was a stunning effect. One of her opera-gloved hands held a glass of champagne.
“Oh shit,” Cross said, “listen, Jen, I…”
Jen’s innocent look disappeared, replaced by a scowl. Cross shut up. “Cross,” she said, “I’m disappointed. You could have led my guest directly to me instead of filling his heads with stories.” She relaxed, becoming the gracious host again, but there was still an air of menace about her. “Anyway, I’m willing to overlook your accidental slights. Again.” She turned to me. “Now, Nathan, I’d like to talk to you and Eliza.” She leaned in close in order to whisper in my ear, and I could smell her perfume. “Wait a bit, then meet me upstairs.”
She walked off, hips swaying seductively. When she was gone I turned to Cross. Before I could ask him anything he said, “Hey man, I’m high enough on her shit list. You obviously aren’t on it at all. Best thing for you to do would be to disappear.”
I did as he said. I found the stairs pretty quickly. They were down the hall. At the top of them was Ken Watanabe, a bottle of Patrόn in one hand and a bottle of Jack in the other. He smiled at me. “She’ll meet you in there,” he said, pointing to a door nearby.
I walked in to a large bedroom/family room. There was a huge bed with dark red sheets, red carpeting, a black sectional couch in front of a large TV, a dark wooden desk, and an office chair. Eliza was sitting on the couch, looking nervous. When she saw me, she got up.
“Nate,” she said, relief evident, “I’m so glad you’re ‘ere. There’s somethin’ about this room that gives me the bloody creeps.”
As I walked towards her, I noticed it too. The furniture and walls, with their deep reds, were offset a bit by the posters on the walls. They were from a variety of stuff: movies, bands, stuff like that. I suddenly noticed how they seemed to be imitating the room of a stereotypical teenage girl. I wondered why I had thought of it them that way, then realized that the posters were terribly maintained, with some being torn or wrinkled.
“Yeah,” I said, wondering why Jen was putting so much effort in pretending to be a normal teenage girl, “it is.”
“Wonder what our ‘friend’ wants from us,” Eliza said, shivering a bit.
Suddenly, Jennifer appeared right in front of us, leaning on the window, an evil smile playing across her lips. “Eliza,” she purred, “I don’t want much… I just thought I could provide some assistance.” I suddenly realized that this was how Jumpers operated. Unlike in movies, there was no sound, no smoke, no flash of light, they were just there. It was unnerving as hell.
“What kind of assistance?” I asked.
“I can find some things out for you,” Jennifer said, standing up. “For instance, you, Nathan, seem to be having trouble with your employers. I can get to them. They’re cops. One of them will have a price I can afford.” She then turned to Eliza. “And Eliza? I’ve been very interested in the attack on your people. Especially the fact that you were redirected from your original destination which is my turf.”
“Have you been attacked on your turf before?” I asked.
A look of grief and rage passed over Jennifer’s face. It happened so fast I almost missed it. “Yes,” she said with forced, almost robotic calm. Her hands, however, were clenched tightly. “Recently, my brother was killed. Machine-gunned outside his dorm in Berkley. He was shot a hundred and ninety-eight times at point-blank, I believe. He was just about to drive to Boston to see me. I got the news the day you left.”
“That’s awful,” Eliza said sympathetically.
Then I fucked up. “Yeah,” I said, “is there anything we can do?”
I regretted the words immediately. Jennifer smiled. I got the feeling she was genuinely touched. “Well you just did,” she said, walking towards us, “but if you want to do more, at some point, maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now, maybe today if you two are feeling… adventurous, I will ask for your help.” She stopped, directly in front of us. “By that time, I hope that I can prove that this favor you grant me is one I am capable of returning. For that, I’m willing to start today.”
“By exchange of information?” I asked.
“More than that,” Jennifer said.
“But I would prefer to offer more… concrete displays.”
“And in return,” Eliza said suspiciously, “we climb in bed with you, right?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Jennifer said, beaming at Eliza. “I hope you’ll stay here for the fireworks. This room has a much better view.” Jennifer sighed and turned around. “You know, on a night like tonight, it feels like everything you’ve ever wanted is right within your grasp…”