Chapter 17:

"Let Me Go Home, Whiskey"


“Oh boy, did we lick those Germans good!” Sake Sakemoto cries out over the roars of our motorcycles. She’s sitting on the back of Sharktooth Shigemoto’s bike, arms around his stomach. “I thought Germans would be a lot tougher. In the videos I watch, they usually got wieners the size of schnitzels!”

Our convoy hits an on-ramp for one of Shikishima’s elevated highways. It loops around San-Machi, with exits on both sides offering possible paths to the second layer of Ni-Machi. We stick to the third layer, because bike gangs are just part and parcel of life here. Cops don’t bother chasing us no more. ‘Course, not a whole lot of rumbles between delinquent gangs nowadays ever since everybody joined up with the Hiroi-kai.

I grit my teeth as I drive my bike. We used to drive around and fight around and fuck around all day and night. But now we have rules and assignments. Senko can’t beat up on anybody else with the Hiroi-kai. Instead, we gotta guard a warehouse full of guns. It’s boring as hell! I just want to beat up the delinquents from down the road, steal their money, then lose it all at the arcade afterwards.

The Senko joined up with the Hiroi-kai because they promised us power. Riches beyond our imagination. Shikishima itself! It’s been months, but not so much as a single yen has come our way yet (if you don’t include the 4,600,000 yen wired to us by the Hiroi-kai two weeks ago that we used to buy our new bikes).

Gumball, her arms wrapped around me as she sits on the back of my bike, gently rubs my stomach. She’s good at guessing when I’m pissed off, maybe because I’m pissed off most of the time.

We hit our off-ramp and exit the highway. The long warehouses and cranes of the port district shield us from the wind we felt on the highway, but I can still smell the salt on the sea-breeze. We head toward the weapons depot we guard, ignoring Shigemoto and Sake’s requests to stop for WcDonalds (we have food at the depot for crying out loud), ignoring Ichiki the Itch’s request to stop and take a leak (I told him to go at the malt shop before we left).

Some narrow streets not too far from the docks force us to slow down, and that's when it happens. We see something utterly odd in the gutter ahead, so our convoy comes to a halt. The five of us slip off our bikes and stand in the middle of the road. Off to the side of the road, just a few meters away, lies a mangled corpse.

I can just barely make the corpse out as belonging to a woman, one not much older than us. The devastation dealt to her body appears to be the result of a point-blank explosion - one of her legs was blown clear away, while most of her innards now decorate the wooden wall of the abandoned warehouse behind her. The crimson blood splattered across her body is the same shade as her hair. Her clothes, what’s left of them anyway, are colored a vibrant pink.

The five of us glance at each other.

“I didn’t see anything,” Ichiki the Itch decides. He hops back on his bike and drives off.

Sake vomits, making Shigemoto vomit, making her vomit again.

Gumball leans into me, her shoulder and arm feeling warm. She only does that when she’s nervous.

My mouth feels dry. Then something strange happens.

We stole the blue amulet that one of those German tourists wore, of course. It looks pretty rad, so I’m wearing it as we speak. The small amulet is made out of some sort of blue metal, with just enough space for a gemstone in the middle. That metal, as I gaze at the corpse, lets out an indigo glow.

Gumball gasps at the light. She's standing quite next to me, but that gasp seems light-years away. Something stirs within me, like I want to drive my motorcycle around and around Shikishima forever, never slowing down, like I would never need to slow down.

Driven by this feeling, I take a tentative step, then a much stronger one, towards the corpse. When I kneel down next to it, I expect to smell the stench of decomposition, but the body must still be fresh. Both of her arms, though run ragged with thousands of cuts, are still attached to her body. One of her hands rests between blades of grass growing through asphalt. In that hand, she holds a jade-colored gemstone.

It’s the perfect size for the amulet.

I hesitate, but I want to drive that motorcycle as fast as possible.

I retrieve the jade gemstone from her hand. It feels…just right, sitting in my hand.

Then I fall back on my ass in surprise. The corpse’s chest starts to rise and fall - it was never a corpse at all. This girl is still alive. The one remaining eye in its socket slowly peers over at me.

We get the fuck out of there and haul ass all the way back to the weapons warehouse. When we arrive, before I can really examine the amulet and gemstone, I punch Ichiki in the face because he ordered WcDonalds using our limited funds in an attempt to impress Sake enough into sleeping with him.

The next day, I skip school again, as all of us except for Gumball usually do. It’s only two days until the culture festival, but I don’t give a crap about a haunted house or whatever my homeroom’s doing. I haven’t been there in a while, anyway. I'm still on the class roster, but not for long, and that suits me just fine, because check it! I’m Hair-Trigger Haruki, the man with the German amulet and jade gemstone around his check.

I guess the jade must be German as well, since it fits the amulet like a glove. The power of German engineering.

I haven’t been able to make the amulet glow again - it must’ve run out of batteries. I thought the jade might’ve been one of those lithium battery things, but even though it fits just right in the amulet, no blue lights have appeared. I thought maybe it was just out of juice, and tasked Sake with looking up how to recharge a battery. She said our computer had something called Internet connectivity issues. I don’t know what those mean, and putting my fist through the screen didn’t solve them. My first theory - that this must be some sort of mining flashlight worn on your chest - must’ve been wrong.

When I get angry, I hit the gym we set up in the warehouse. And good lord did I hit the gym. I did a full body workout without hitting a sweat. New PRs in bench press, overheard press, even the squat, and squats fucking suck. I hit our punching bad so hard that the chain connecting it to the stand broke entirely. When it fell on tiny Sake, pinning her to the ground, I planted a foot on the bag and crossed my arms. Sake might’ve been squirming or gasping for breath or something, but I didn’t notice, because I had Sharktooth Shigemoto and Ichiki the Itch adorn my shoulders with a black cape and set up an industrial fan next to me, respectively. My cape billowed in the breeze while I leaned on my raised foot and stared off in triumph.

My second theory - that this was some sort of German airborne steroid device - was proven true. Not only did I feel like I could take on the world - I felt like the world was my birthright.

That’s why it pisses me off so much when things don’t go right. The world isn’t fair, and that’s the worst part about it all. I’ve seen Gumball put in so much effort - she’s good at school and hits the gym even more than I do. She works so hard to succeed, so it’s not fair that Mizutami Sumiko can knock her on her ass just like that.

Mizutami Sumiko. How I hate her, ‘cuz Gumball’s worked too hard to get her teeth kicked in by someone like Sumiko, someone who thinks she’s better than us. We’re all the same! We all grew up in San-Machi, and we all have absent parents in our lives. She’s not better than us by any means, but because she thinks she’s the smartest in the room, she looks down on us.

That’s that way everybody looks at us. At me. I can’t stand the lack of respect. When Sumiko answered Gumball's challenge letter by defeating her at the empty San-Machi Mall lot, I sat on that chair with boiling blood. I guess that’s why I pulled a switchblade on her afterwards. But damn that Bandit King Ren, who showed up in the nick of time, and only stayed long enough to remind me not to screw anything up at the deal tonight.

When we get back to the warehouse, I’m in a sour mood. Gumball wants to talk, but I’m pissed off, so Sake consoles her while I sit alone in what was once the office for the warehouse foreman, back before this was a weapons depot for smugglers. We got a deal tonight - some Reds are gonna come by and buy a bunch of pistols, so I’m gazing at one right now, a slick Japanese one called the Taifu x04.

When we left to watch Gumball fight Sumiko, I stored the amulet and jade in my safe. I retrieve them now and place them on the desk in the foreman’s office, next to the gun. I stare at the jade; its murky green color combined with the vibrancy of my reflection intrigues me for a long while.

You want respect, my murky reflection in the jade tells me. You want the power to right the wrongs that have plagued you and your friends your whole life.

I nod and grin. I think this is what they call emotional intelligence - being able to tell yourself what exactly upsets you.

See? I’m as emotionally intelligent as anybody on the upper layers, but just because I’m born in San-Machi, I’m treated like trash!

You should prove your strength, the reflection suggests, shadows swirling in the green.

Good idea, I tell myself. I’m such a genius. But then I frown.

How, I ask myself.

Put somebody at your mercy, my reflection says. People won’t respect you as a man, so you must become more. You must make them see you…as a god.

I already feel like a god - that’s the power of hitting a PR. In fact, I hit three today, so I feel like three gods in one.

Wait, three gods in one?

I’m God Himself!

The reflection nods and nods. You are indeed God, it says. God controls life and death. By putting someone at your mercy, by controlling their life on a knife’s edge, you are carrying out God’s will. Your will. They’ll have to respect you then.

I laugh with my reflection, but then I frown. Wait, I tell myself. I gotta handle this deal with the Reds tonight. And Ren’s warned me about drawing attention to myself.

Ren’s not God, is he?

He isn’t, even though he acts like one.

Only you’re God, my reflection reassures me. Don’t be afraid of a mere Bandit King.

Right, right. But I guess I better start somewhere small. I mean, it took God five days to come up with the concept of birds and shit.

Somewhere that won’t draw any attention…somewhere close enough for me to get back in time for the deal…

I rub my chin alongside my reflection.

The Nishi-Dori Konbini!

I hide the gun in my jacket, place the amulet around my neck, and leave the warehouse. The rest of Senko, too focused on Gumball, don’t even notice my departure. With the fresh air and sea-breeze on me, I feel right at home. 

I gaze down at my reflection once more. Thanks, buddy.

Don’t mention it, the jade itself answers. 

Steward McOy