That’s the last thing I had thought after the Escalade’s hatch opened. Lydia and Andrew threw the person face-first onto the pavement. The man landed face-first. As he lay face-first on the floor, I noticed that his legs were splayed at odd angles and the twist ties that bound his wrists were not only tight enough to cut off circulation, but they were also too tight for the old “dislocate your thumb and slip out” trick. I knew because both thumbs were broken, as well as both hands.
“Not so tough now, huh, bitch?” Andrew asked.
“Fuck you, monkey!” the man in the hood said in Japanese-accented English. I winced. I didn’t want to see what Andrew would do when pushed too far. “You think I’m scared of some scum American street sweepers failed to pick up?”
Instead, the woman with the burned face stepped in. Brutally, she ripped off his mask. Judging by the way he yelled and the marks on his face, some of his cuts had begun to scab up and mesh with the bag. Leaning in close, the woman said quietly, “Now this brings…”
She was interrupted by the man smashing his head into her face. Her sunglasses were knocked askew and she laughed. “Ha ha… this really does bring back memories!” She grabbed the man by the shoulder and squeezed. “Maybe you already figured it out by the accent, but I was an enforcer here.”
I suddenly realized what was going to happen. Not only was it going to be immoral, but it was going to be loud and it was going to be a freaking beacon for the cops. The problem was I didn’t want to undermine Jen. I didn’t understand the power dynamics at play. If I seemed to give orders, it could end up with Jen’s subordinates getting ideas or Jen shooting me to prevent the former.
I looked to Jen. She was staring at a point directly behind our captive, as if someone was there, trying to convince her of something. She frowned, obviously torn about something.
Meanwhile, her subordinate with the burned face continued her monologue. I swear, it was something she had rehearsed. “The first thing I always had to do with deadbeats,” she said, “was teach them respect.” As soon as she said “respect,” her hand burst into flames. The man screamed.
That snapped Jen out of it. “Kaori!” she said. “This isn’t the time or the place.” Kaori nodded sullenly. She turned to address the rest of her team. “Knock him out and put him back in the car. We need to get moving now.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lydia said. She drew a tazer from a holster and shot the man in the back with it. He grunted and convulsed, then slumped down. Andrew drew a Glock, then he and Lydia both pistol-whipped the man in the head several times for good measure. Meanwhile everyone else piled into the Escalade. Luckily, there were eight seats in the monster. John and I sat in the rear on either side of Mayu.
“So,” I asked Mayu, “what the hell happened when we were away?” While I asked the question, I noticed Jen was busy texting someone from the row in front of us.
“Oh,” Mayu said, “the Defenders showed up.” I noticed she didn’t seem to be taking that too hard. “The Defenders seemed to have thought that they could use the same trick twice. I did not see how Kaori and Hiromasa restrained them. We just found them on the air vent at the top of the building.”
“What happened to the others?” John asked nervously.
From the front of the car, the burly man I assumed to be Hiromasa chuckled. “We made them disappear,” he said.
Doing my best not to shudder, I reached for my phone. Then remembered I had thrown it out a car window. I needed to tell John and Mayu what we were in the car with. John, seeing as he was from New Hampshire, probably had guessed already. Mayu, however might not have picked up how deep we were in.
Kaori and Hirosama Murakami had been indicted a little after I had started High School. They had been taken into custody after a member of the Minutemen, Massachusetts’s local hero group, had managed to temporarily unmask a female Fire Elemental working for the Kagemotos named Tatsu and get a picture of her face with his body cam. Then he had leaked it to the newspapers and police.
It was quickly determined that the person in the picture was Kaori Murakami, a woman who officially was a bodyguard to Mark Kagemoto. Her husband and fellow bodyguard, Hirosama Murakami was one of Kaori’s most vocal defenders… at least until a writer at the Globe pointed out that he was of similar build to another supervillain called Dokustsu. Then, probably under the advice of his lawyer, he shut up. Then the rumors came out that before he came to the US, he had been responsible for strange disappearances and his wife had been a particularly aggressive debt collector.
For a while, it looked like the Kagemotos were going to lose Tatsu and Dokustsu, two of their heaviest hitters. Then there were accusations that the image had been faked. The camera somehow went missing, and the leader of the Minutemen kicked out the member who had taken the picture. A few years later, it was reported that the member had gone missing. The Murakamis were somehow never indicted.
I looked at John. He seemed to realize the situation we were in, too. Mayu, meanwhile, just seemed her normally bubbly self. Then again, she had seemed her normally bubbly self while watching our prisoner get tased and pistol-whipped. It was obviously just an act, but I had no clue what was underneath.
Andrew probably was also wondering what had happened. “So, uh, Mayu, right?” He asked.
“You done this before?” he asked nervously, “I mean, I know Nate and John have done stuff like this before and… and I’ve known a lot of people in this business, but I’ve never seen anyone react like you, y’know?”
“Oh no,” Mayu said. “This is all quite new to me.” I doubted that. She was the last person to survive in a pocket dimension of assassins, the rest had been either murdered or had committed suicide. She must have sensed that people weren’t buying it, because she added, “I have spent a lot of time training for this. It is a shame that…” she paused, hand on her mouth, “…that the people who trained me wanted me to do something different then what I signed up for.”
I nodded. I knew what that was like. When I found out that the international Parahuman investigation agency UNIX had sent me to NIU just for me to die, I had become rightly pissed off. I had felt abandoned and betrayed. I also became a huge asshole and a danger to myself and others.
I was distracted by John saying, “Hey… do the seats seem kind of hard to you?”
I paused. John was right. The seats were harder than you would expect a luxury car to be. I wiggled my butt around and found that most of it was soft in some places. In other places, it was hard. The shape seemed familiar. Suddenly, it clicked. Oh shit, I thought.
“Oh yes,” Jen said. “That reminds me, I still think we should make the meet.”
“Please, please, please,” I begged, “tell me you aren’t gun running as well.”
“No,” Jen said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Why would I, an upstanding citizen with no need for extra cash stoop to gun running?”
“Well,” John said while Mayu giggled, “she did say she wasn’t smuggling in guns.” I just glared at him. “Hey,” he said, “when I’m negative about everything, things still go wrong. I’d rather be positive.”
The car drove on in silence for quite a while. Eventually, we came to a farm. The car pulled onto the dirt road and parked behind some tall stalks of corn or wheat. Outside, the sun was starting to come up. “Everyone,” Jen said, “get the product out and ready for display. We have time, so also please remove our friend from the trunk as well. I would like to change into something a little more… imposing.”
“And… where is the product?” I asked.
“Just cut into the seats,” Kaori said.
John and I followed her directions. It didn’t take long for me to see the dust cases and ammo tins. The extremely familiar dust cases and ammo tins. “Jennifer,” I said, my voice dangerous, “how the fuck did you get these?”
“Not from you.” Jen said. “Really, Nathan, haven’t you heard of the Second Amendment?”
“Are they a special type of gun?” Mayu asked.
“Yes.” I said. “I made them.” There, in the back seat alone, were at least six Maccabee assault rifles, six Ballpeen SMGs, and twelve Uilon Mangchi pistols, plus several tins of ammo. “I also specifically set up distribution so that civilians couldn’t get them.”
“I thought Kagemoto-sama was a criminal,” Mayu said.
“She should have gotten them in the same way as a civilian,” I said. “In other words, she shouldn’t have been even able to put down an offer.”
“Normally,” Jen said, “you’d be right. However, the Boston and New York police accidentally over-ordered your weapons and ammo. I took them off their hands. It was quite the steal.” She laughed at her own joke.
“Any reason I should help you sell them?” I asked Jen.
“Our next safe house kind of depends on selling them.”
I let out a growl of frustration and slammed my fist down on a Maccabee dust case. There was a tense silence. Finally, I said, “Fine. Fine. Let’s just get this over with.” I also made a mental note to do an investigation into the BPD and NYPD when I got out of this.
In the meantime, I helped everyone unload the car of all the contraband. In the end, we had around six Maccabee rifles, eighteen Ballpeen SMGs, twenty-four Uilon Mangchis, and a decent amount of ammo. Plus, our friends seemed to have gotten out their own weapons. The Murakamis didn’t seem to have any weapons, but Hirosama was carrying a black case. Lydia and Andrew both had Glocks and tasers holstered underneath their jackets. Lydia had also taken the grease gun from Jen.
When the product was all unloaded, Lydia and Andrew opened up the rear of the car and threw out our prisoner. We watched him groan a bit for a while. Finally, Andrew asked, “Yo, you guys think she wants this asshole conscious?”
John and I shrugged. Hirosama said, “It is not our job to guess what she wants. Do nothing except watch him.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said, “he’s just faking it.” His wrists were now bleeding and the zip tie was slightly frayed. “Apparently, this fucker found a sharp surface.”
The man opened his eyes to shoot me a dirty look as he got to his knees. I noticed that his eyes were different sizes. He said something in Japanese that I doubted was respectful. Even though my Japanese was terrible, I could tell that he was slurring his speech. He then spit at me. A spray of blood and a tooth landed halfway between us. I have to admit, I was impressed. Here he was, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Parahumans and armed thugs, wearing only his underwear, with both hands literally tied behind his back, and a concussion, yet he was still resisting.
Then the car door opened. Jen had changed from her street clothes into a dark red jumpsuit with bits styled to suggest or imitate Japanese samurai armor. A smooth, solid white mask with horns dangled from her hand. Our captive saw her and smiled.
“You know,” he said evily, “I think I met your brother.”
Jen just stared at him, her expression unreadable. Our captive continued. “The coward ran away when he saw us coming. When he died, he cried like a little girl.”
“Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about Brian?” Jen asked, squatting down so she was at eye-level with our captive. I was suddenly struck by how tired she sounded. No anger, no sadistic glee, just a bone-deep weariness.
“Just that I thought he was such a woman that I decided to shoot him in the balls,” our captive said.
“You know,” Jennifer said, “I think you have an understanding of what is going to happen next, right?” Our captive nodded defiantly. Jen sighed and began counting. “So there were my four jailors… the six, right?” She looked at John and me for confirmation. “The six who met us outside the apartment… and however many my bodyguards killed back at the hotel…”
“What are you counting?” our prisoner asked.
“The number of your friends who died,” Jen said, “because you killed the wrong Kagemoto.”
“What do you mean?” Our prisoner was suddenly suspicious. “Surely you want the fortress? You want to reclaim your…”
“Dude,” I said. “I was at your fortress. I talked to some people who maintain it. Not even your elders want it.”
“But…” he said, “the Kagemotos…”
“Haven’t given a solitary shit about it since my father killed grandpa,” Jen said, still in that tired voice. “Hell, Brian didn’t even want the empire we did have.” She smiled bitterly. “That’s why my father tricked you into killing him.” She suddenly made a sound halfway between a chuckle and a sob. “I honestly was hoping I could tell you how badly you’d been manipulated and you’d help me kill my dad, but things somehow got fucked and…”
She stood up, took a moment to console herself, and said, “My brother would want me to let you live. Failing that, he’d like to me to at least shoot you somewhere you’d die instantly.” She stood up, a look of genuine anguish on her face. “I’m sorry I can’t give you either of those things. Hirosama?”
“Wait, what are you…?” Our captive began to ask, but before he could, he began to sink into the ground. He tried to scream or beg, but dirt filled his mouth before he could finish a syllable. In less than a second, there was nothing left of him or any trace he had ever been there.