Chapter 21:

"Deep Fried Frenz"


A sea breeze with a hint of salt wafts over the dark warehouses and cranes of the Minami Port District down in San-Machi. It can get quite humid here, especially in summer, but the current mid-autumn heat wave is a dry one, and the sea cools down everything anyway.

The Lads - formally known as Hantei Squadron 8 - and I perch atop a roof situated a block or two away from the target warehouse. Just as we arrived, we noticed a wounded Haruki, his black pompadour jutting from his head like a ship’s ram, slinking down the street and back inside the warehouse. He looked pretty banged-up; it’s not the first time I’ve seen him this way. The scent of the sea also carries with it a sense of nostalgia alongside the salt; Haruki and I used to get into scraps with the Red Knife street gang here back in the day. Late at night, we rumbled with them on the docks, and there were quite a few fights that ended up with me in the water. But we won more than we lost, and Haruki and I felt like we could take on the world. But then we hit high school and I cleaned up while Haruki sank further into delinquency. It’s a shame.

Yoshino Yosuke was once one of those Red Knives I used to beat up. He sits next to me, idly toying with an arrow, since he’s armed with a cold fusion bow. He’s tall and thin, his hair dyed as gold as the sun.

“I think the cashier at WcDonalds had the hots for me,” he mumbles out, his mouth full of burger. He swallows with a big gulp and shrugs. “Did you see the way she asked me do you want any fries with this?”

“It’s normal for a cashier to be polite,” the stoic Shirakawa Kabun answers. He’s the most level-headed of the group, and if he didn’t wear those thin glasses of his, we'd trust him with the highest responsibility for tonight - keeping an eye on the target warehouse with binoculars. “Perhaps even slightly flirtatious. You bought those fries after that, didn’t you?”

“Such a cynic,” Yosuke replies with a nonchalant expression. “A world of romance with a ~sprinkle~ of magic is much better than one of cutthroat capitalism.”

I ignore Yosuke’s complaints as I steal a big handful of fries. “Our world is all of the above combined.”

Seagulls call to one another down at the docks. The fourth member of our group, the one with the binoculars, has been quiet this whole time.

“See anything?” I ask.

Gokiburi doesn’t answer. At certain angles, his brown hair looks almost rust-colored. He’s small and scrawny, with numerous bandages covering up the small scratches and bumps he accumulates in his everyday life.

“See anything?” I repeat.

When he doesn’t answer a second time, I give him a slight rap of the knuckles on the side of the head. That draws his attention; with a blink, he lowers the binoculars.

“Sorry, boss. I was thinking about my wife.”

The three of us stare at him. It takes Gokiburi a moment, then a rust-color blush spreads across his face.

Yosuke raises a finger. “Ah, so your dreamy romance with Fuumi has made progress!”

Shirakawa shakes his head. “He hasn’t even talked to her.”

Gokiburi frowns. “I can speak for myself.” When we all look at him expectantly, he sighs and bows his head. “I haven’t even talked to her.”

Yosuke slides an arm over his shoulders. “Gokiburi, my friend, romance is easy! You’re in the same homeroom for the culture festival. In such an atmosphere, romance is bound to happen. You’re putting on a play, and it’s Romeo and Juliet, no less! The ultimate tale of romance.”

“And tragedy,” Shirakawa points out. He sighs when Yosuke just blinks at him. “Romeo and Juliet both die.”

Yosuke raises an eyebrow. “Really? I don’t believe it.”

Shirakawa breaks down the entire story, but I don’t want to hear any further spoilers, so I join Gokiburi in spying on the warehouse entrance. The metal door marks the warehouse entrance, with a flickering light attracting flies right above it. While we wait, I can't help but ponder. Fuumi's a very kind girl; Gokiburi's heart picked wisely. Is Nakashima just as kind? Or am I loving a shadow? 

Fortunately, my doubtful thoughts are interrupted when a small car pulls up alongside the warehouse before Shirakawa can spoil Much Ado About Nothing. I motion for the Lads to quiet down.

A few men step out of the truck. One of them, the apparent leader, motions for the rest of his team to stay put while he approaches the metal door to the warehouse. He wears a brown coat over his lanky frame with an obnoxious little goatee hanging across his chin. You just KNOW this kid is a college sophomore. In any case, after some back and forth, the Senko allow the sophomore inside.

With Naka-sorry, Sakura giving us a detailed layout of the warehouse earlier today, we already have the battle plan in mind. Yosuke and I will make our way across the rooftops and then swing inside the warehouse through the windows, while Shirakawa and Gokiburi will bust their way in through the back wall. The element of surprise, the cold fusion weapons, and sheer badassery should lead us to victory.

But before we can move, Gokiburi pivots the binoculars down the street. “Boss, someone’s coming.”

A little moped scooters toward the warehouse, the engine making those little particular putt-putt moped noises that seem out of place in this atmosphere of late-night crime and grime and gun-running by the docks. A few of the Reds loiter around the truck, smoking cigarettes. When the moped approaches, they give each other incredulous looks.

The moped stops in front of the truck. A big Red lumbers toward the driver.

“Turn around, pal. This street’s closed off.”

The driver removes their helmet, revealing-

“A woman,” Yosuke exhales. The driver looks to be about our age, with dark crimson hair and piercing blue eyes that remind me of winter.

“Nakayoshi sent me,” the driver informs them. I don’t know who this Nakayoshi is, nor can I tell if she’s telling the truth or just bluffing. “I am not here to interfere with your deal. I am merely here to retrieve a gemstone for her.”

The Reds don’t look convinced. The big one opens his jacket, revealing a golden sickle hidden inside. “You best get out of here.”

The driver glances at the weapon, seemingly unimpressed. Her monotone voice doesn’t skip a beat as she says, “Demokraticheskiy Tsentralizm.

The eyes of the Reds take on a scarlet hue. As if in a trance, they all kneel before her, bowing their heads.

“What’d she say?” I ask the group’s resident genius. Down below, the driver knocks on the metal door to the warehouse.

“Democratic centralism,” Shirakawa answers. “A matter may be discussed and debated, but once a decision is made, everyone is bound to follow it.” He rubs his chin. “But I’m speaking of an organizational principle. Big picture. What the girl down there did is more akin to some sort of mind control spell.”

“~magic~,” Yosuke whispers breathlessly, pulling absent-mindedly at the string of his bow.

“Or perhaps cold fusion,” I mutter, since they both practically seem to be the same thing nowadays.

Hair-Trigger Haruki opens the door with a wide grin on his face.

“My name is Yamashiro Yuki,” the driver introduces herself. “Unfortunately-”

I’ve seen enough. I rise to my feet, katana on my hip. “Alright, team, let’s head out-”

There’s a flash of color from inside the warehouse, followed by a scream, followed by the most tragic phrase known to man.


Steward McOy