Chapter 26:

Sabotage Sideshow

BLOODY BAT ROMEO


The same morning Romeo's party had set out for Thorn Whip Kagiya's hideout, Meru had received a chilling phone call. He fought with himself, but his thoughts still led him to the box hidden beneath his bed, and slowly, he removed the lid. The glint of his old dagger meets his gaze, still sharp after all this time. He steeled himself; he'd made up his mind.Bookmark here

It took him a bit of digging and piecing together the information he'd heard from Romeo, but it didn't take him long to pinpoint Cutter Knife Matsuri’s hideout: a park on the east side of the city. Rumor had it that Matsuri and his followers claimed the park for themselves, and they spent their days lazing around, smoking, and squatting around magazines. Today is no different.Bookmark here

Matsuri doesn't look like a delinquent. He sits atop of the monkey bars, a lollipop in his mouth and hunched over his phone as he plays some game. He has glasses, and his hair is a natural, dark brown. All the delinquents here act with bravado, but, around Matsuri, they seem demure; almost terrified.Bookmark here

Cutter Knife Matsuri had earned his place within the Summer Fireworks through sheer intimidation, and it showed. Bookmark here

One by one, starting from a far corner of the park, Matsuri's thugs disappear. There are no screams, no sounds, so it takes a while for someone to finally notice. It’s only after there’s only a handful of them left that the thugs closest to Matsuri begin to wonder where the rest went.Bookmark here

“H-Hey, boss…”Bookmark here

Matsuri lifts his gaze to look at the delinquent addressing him.Bookmark here

“Didn’t I tell you not to interrupt me when I’m playing?”Bookmark here

“S-Sorry, boss…” The thug shifts uncomfortably, as if trying to find the right words. “It’s just that… um… there’s like, twenty of us missing…”Bookmark here

“Huh…?”Bookmark here

Matsuri straightens up and looks around, then blinks in disbelief at the scene in front of him: where there were thirty of his followers, now there’s only eight. Bookmark here

“What the…!?” He jumps down the monkey bars and puts his phone back in his pocket. “Where the hell did everyone go!?”Bookmark here

The thug starts twiddling his thumbs awkwardly.Bookmark here

“I dunno, boss… We were lookin’ at a magazine, then suddenly no one was there…”Bookmark here

What? That’s ridiculous! There’s no way they all just left without anyone—”Bookmark here

“Don’t move.”Bookmark here

Matsuri suddenly feels the cold blade of Meru’s dagger near his neck. Bookmark here

The remaining thugs startle to their feet, instantly on edge.. Matsuri puts his hands up, a cold drop of sweat rolling down his forehead.Bookmark here

“...Who…?”Bookmark here

“Good seeing you again, Matsuri.”Bookmark here

Matsuri gasps, his lips and his hands trembling.Bookmark here

“...S-Silent Step Meru? ...How? ...You disappeared so long ago.”Bookmark here

Meru shrugs and smiles without moving his dagger away. Bookmark here

“I came back from the dead just for you, Cutter Knife Matsuri. Aren’t you happy to see me again?”Bookmark here

Matsuri falls quiet. A couple of his followers pull out their makeshift weapons, but they fail to escape Meru's notice. The moment he presses his dagger closer to Matsuri’s throat, they all stand down.Bookmark here

Matsuri sighs.Bookmark here

“What... happened to you, Meru? After you joined the Makai gang, you changed so much I couldn't recognize you… and the next thing I know, you were gone without a trace? What was that all about? ”Bookmark here

“...It’s... a long story, Matsuri,” Meru answers quietly. “Besides... didn't our friendship end long before that? When you joined the Kappore gang?”Bookmark here

“That was different, I—”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t come here to reminisce about our childhood. I actually came here to get rid of you and your little group.”Bookmark here

Matsuri scoffs.Bookmark here

“...Hah. I knew it. You’re still his attack dog, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

Meru remains quiet, but Matsuri is convinced he knows the answer. He sighs.Bookmark here

“Listen, Meru. I’m glad you’re alive. I told you I’d help you if you ever needed it, but if my help is just going to further entrench you in the Makai gang, I refuse.”Bookmark here

“...I don’t think you’re in any position to refuse, Matsuri.”Bookmark here

“Yeah? Then why don’t you slit my throat right now?”Bookmark here

“...........”Bookmark here

“Boss,” one of the thugs interjects as he takes a bold step forward, “give us the go-ahead and we’ll all take this guy down for ya!” Bookmark here

Matsuri shakes his head. The thug steps back, gritting his teeth in frustration.Bookmark here

“I don't condone whatever you're doing if you're doing it for that man, Meru. But if you believe you're happier doing this, then... I'll help you.”Bookmark here

Meru blinks, surprised. Matsuri turns his head to look at Meru, smiling.Bookmark here

“So, what do you need?”Bookmark here

“...I need your cutter knife.”Bookmark here

“Done.”Bookmark here

Boss!?” The thugs suddenly become frantic. Matsuri ignores them, and Meru finally lowers his dagger. Bookmark here

Matsuri turns around to face Meru, then takes out a bright orange cutter knife from his pocket, offering it to him.Bookmark here

“...I don’t know what you got yourself into, Meru. But if this will help you get out of it, then here you go.”Bookmark here

Meru meets Matsuri's smile with a blank expression, unreadable and stoic as he takes the knife. Matsuri laughs.Bookmark here

“Haha. You still do that, huh? You always make that face when you don’t want people to know what you’re thinking.”Bookmark here

“Uh—”Bookmark here

Meru’s caught by surprise by Matsuri’s insight, frowning.Bookmark here

“...I don’t like that you can still read me so easily.”Bookmark here

Matsuri crosses his arms, grinning.Bookmark here

“It's your fault for befriending me when we were brats.”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

“If you’re looking for Endo, you won’t find him in there.”Bookmark here

Oue’s voice startles Franz, who'd just gripped the handle of Endo’s hospital room, yet another bouquet of flowers in tow. He turns around to find Oue filling out paperwork on the counter in the middle of the hall, the bandages on his head gone.Bookmark here

“...Oue. Did you just get discharged?”Bookmark here

Oue nods. “I did. Actually, I’m glad I ran into you, Franz.”Bookmark here

Franz looks at him and frowns.Bookmark here

“What do you want? After your little masochistic display the other day, I’m not sure I’d like to get too involved with you. Besides, you’re a delinquent, as well.”Bookmark here

Oue puts the pen down and turns to look at him.Bookmark here

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. What do you think of Endo now that you know the kind of person he was in the past? I know he seemed mortified after finding out what kind of things he did as the Kappore leader, but him being a delinquent… that’s soooo scary, isn’t it?”Bookmark here

Franz listens to him quietly, then flips his hair.Bookmark here

“It is. Even though he seemed remorseful after his memories came back, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a brutish thug!”Bookmark here

“Oh, I agree completely,” Oue leans back on the counter. “That’s why I couldn’t help but worry about you after you told me you were engaged to his sister. Imagine! The poor thing has no idea the kind of person her brother is… or the kind of person her boyfriend is.”Bookmark here

Franz does a double-take.Bookmark here

“Excuse me? Boyfriend?Bookmark here

“Oh, is Romeo not her boyfriend?” Oue covers his mouth with his hand dramatically. “I’m sorry, I just assumed, since I always see them together, laughing, going out on dates, drinking from the same milkshake with different straws… I don’t know, I simply thought you two had a very... loose relationship...”Bookmark here

The flower stems crack audibly under Franz’s grip as he wrings them with all his might.Bookmark here

What did you say!?Bookmark here

“I’m sooo sorry, Franz! I know it’s none of my business… buuut since we’re on the topic already, yes, that Romeo, known on the streets as Bloody Bat Romeo, isn’t just after her heart, as you so purely suspected— he’s actually planning on stealing her away from you and dragging her down into the dark world of street violence!”Bookmark here

“I knew it! I knew it! I hated him instantly! I could tell from the moment we locked eyes that he had perverse intentions for my Yuri! That scoundrel!Bookmark here

Oue nods with a fake look of concern.Bookmark here

“I knooow, right? I’m as appalled as you are, Franz. Bloody Bat Romeo, trying to sway an innocent girl with lies and deceit… It just doesn’t seem right to me. If only someone out there would do something about it…”Bookmark here

Franz snaps the bouquet in half, and a rain of loose petals scatters to the ground.Bookmark here

“That’s it. I am taking her back with me! I am making arrangements to get her out of this dangerous city as soon as possible! Ohh, when she finds out about the kind of people she's gotten herself involved with!”Bookmark here

Oue smiles as things carefully fall into place, but then it hits him: if Franz lets Yuri know Romeo is a delinquent too soon and she ends up fearing and avoiding him, Romeo will have no more reason to take out the Summer Fireworks for the Makai gang. As things stood now, Oue has no idea how much progress Romeo has made, if any at all.Bookmark here

“Now, now,” Oue steps closer and pats Franz’s shoulder— rather, he makes the motion to pat his shoulder, but doesn’t really touch him. “Yuri doesn’t need to find out her brother and Romeo are delinquents. Not while she’s still here, anyway. It would devastate her! ...I assume, not knowing anything about her.”Bookmark here

“...Rrgh… I suppose…”Bookmark here

“Listen, Franz. You’re clearly the better choice for her. Anyone would think so, yes? So why don’t you leave Romeo and Endo to me? You go get your white horse ready to sweep your princess off her feet, yeah?”Bookmark here

Franz paces about, biting his thumb. Bookmark here

“...Fine. You’re right. I don’t trust you, but everything you've said makes perfect sense.” Bookmark here

He straightens up and finally looks at what’s left of the bouquet in his hand, hissing. Bookmark here

“I shall take my leave, now. I have plenty to discuss with my maid.”Bookmark here

“Farewell, Franz! Good luck!”Bookmark here

Oue waves him goodbye and waits until Franz has left down the elevator. When he’s sure he’s gone, he takes out his phone and dials a number, then waits until the other side picks up.Bookmark here

“...Good day. Is it done yet?”Bookmark here

From the other side of the line, Meru’s voice answers after a long pause.Bookmark here

“........Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Wonderful! I knew you were the right man for the job. Our boss will be quite pleased to know how efficient you still are!”Bookmark here

“.......This is low, even for you, Oue. Why would Amon want to sabotage a mission he gave out himself?”Bookmark here

“That’s none of your business. And, speaking of which, taking out Cutter Knife Matsuri was only the first half of your mission. The real fun is yet to come.”Bookmark here


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