A Casual Exchange of Gunfire

byFive_Eight©

Goro grunted and spilled some whiskey into a tumbler. "I am, in the western parlance, all ears."

"Earlier a baby was stolen from a girl farm. This act allegedly was perpetrated by a ninja. You are a celebrated ninja in Neon Town. The Big Mama knows this. She also knows I am acquainted with you."

"She suspects me?"

I nodded.

"She has hired you to assassinate me." It was not a question.

"She tried to. Since you and I are comrades I had to decline, but I am duty bound to warn an old friend, lest you be taken unaware."

Both Goro and Mr. Lavender smiled widely. Everyone understood each other.

Goro asked me, "In your heart of hearts do you think I am guilty of kidnapping this child?"

With a bit of western inscrutability I replied, "The fact that your wonderful granddaughter is present here this evening must surely be coincidental."

Goro's forehead ridge with lines, as if momentarily puzzled. He downed his Suntory neat and his eyes became hard, unreadable. He placed the tumbler with great care on the sideboard. His eyes lost the hard black obsidian gleam and saddened. "It is no coincidence."

I smiled expansively. "Then surely your exploit will loom large in song and legend."

"Do you not think it is an odd justice? Of course I took the child. Can I allow my daughter's honor to be besmirched? The GGG takes away my only grandchild, dishonoring my family and what am I to do?" He paused before his voice grew in volume, "Am I to sit on my ass and do nothing?"

I said evenly, "I cannot assign blame, Goro-san." I neglected to mention the guards he butchered carrying out the raid.

"Then did you truly seek me out to warn me of impending peril?"

"What do you think, Goro-san?"

"What do I think?" He allowed himself a chuckle, "You enter into this house dressed for combat. You misrepresent the breadth of our friendship. You say you have come here to warn me of the schemes of Westerners. I think you have come here for the child."

"No," I answered, "let the baby remain with her mother."

Too bad, Orsolya. For a man with few scruples I deplore the concept of girl farms, of regulating lives, especially of putting innocent and helpless children to sleep like animals.

The old man who had left the room earlier re-entered with two shirtless Yakuza men. Domino masks covered the tops of their faces but I recognized them. They'd been smoking opium at the bar in the Lotus Blossom an hour ago. Each held a whipsword. Mr. Lavender inched away from me, out of harm's way.

Goro's face reddened, the fingers of his hands stretched wide and trembled with rage. His scream reverberated around the room, "You lie!"

"I tell the truth," I stated calmly in the face of his anger. "About the baby anyway."

"Why then are you here, if not for the infant?"

I almost rolled my eyes. "If I turn down a single contract, the Big Mama will never again hire me. Word will spread, my reputation will suffer. No, I haven't come for the baby; I'm here for your head."

Mr. Lavender thrust a hand into his jacket. He definitely had a firearm so I took him out first with a single shot. The two men with whipswords charged, howling. I busted a 9mm cap in the nearest one's forehead. His body hurtled backward into his partner. The man who let us into the house crawled along the floor in terror. A throwing star thunked into my chest, right above my heart. I never even saw Goro throw it. The flak jacket saved my life; not for the first time.

I hurled myself to one side, splintering some priceless Japanese furniture in the process. As I rolled across the floor I emptied the clip. Throwing stars whirred past me like angry hornets. One of them bit into my left thigh. I ignored the dull wet pain.

The roar of my gun ended abruptly as the slide snapped back on the empty nine. I flung the pistol in front of me with all my strength, hoping to do one of my foes an injury. My ears rang in the sudden silence. I got my feet under me, grasping for the haft of my sword. By the time I got it drawn I could see Mr. Lavender and the Yakuza swordsman I'd hit in the head lying motionless on the floor. Blood still pumped from the latter's wound. The other Yakuza man writhed in a spreading pool of scarlet, alive but beyond caring about me. About anything. No sign of the man in the kimono, he'd probably scuttled out of the room to safety on his hands and knees.

Goro dove out of nowhere however and crashed into me feet first, catching me in the chest, driving me to the ground. All the breath rushed out of me in a nanosecond. He kicked my sword from my hand. The next thing I knew Goro crouched above me, squatting on my chest with his knees by my ears. I struggled in vain to unseat him. He may have been a counterfeit ninja but he was a true martial artist. Too close to spit me on his sword yet unwilling to part with it, he struck at my face repeatedly with his free hand. When his fury passed he would surely crush my skull with the butt end of his sword. My advantage was my head presented a small target.

I thrashed violently to avoid taking a single blow. My forearms maintained freedom of movement so I pounded my fists into Goro's kidneys from behind. He growled in agony but continued to keep me pinned. I felt like I was drowning and hammered his kidneys some more. Almost too late I remembered the stiletto on my belt. I slid it from its sheath with tremendous effort and stabbed it into the small of his back once, twice. Hot oily blood made my hand slippery but I kept jabbing him. Goro's strength ebbed, deserted him like air from a balloon. Finally I succeeded in knocking him to one side. I ripped the sword from his fingers and threw it from me.

We rolled around on the floor for what seemed like an eternity, punching, gouging. He rained blows at my ribs but the plastic plate armor took the brunt of the punishment. He was bleeding to death and I was exhausted. I kicked away from him, dragging air into my lungs. A fallen whipsword swam in my vision. My fingertips brushed the pommel and somehow I clasped the hilt firmly in hand. By the time I gained my feet I saw Goro clawing at Mr. Lavender's clothing, attempting to draw his pistol. He yanked it free and took unsteady aim at me. An instant of insane irony flashed through my mind: a Westerner with a sword opposing a ninja with a gun.

I swung the sword with an animal ferocity. The very end of the long blade bit through the flesh of Goro's neck. His severed head sailed upward in a red mist. It smacked the carpet with a hollow thump, bounced once and rolled crookedly to a stop against one of Mr. Lavender's purple pants legs.

Weaving on my feet I stumbled to the sideboard dragging the bloodied end of the whipsword across the floor. My head spun, sweat and blood dripped from my face. I gasped for air like I'd never get enough. I grabbed the neck of the Suntory bottle and tilted it over my mouth. I swallowed the whiskey like water.

The baby wailed from the back of the house but no one showed their face in the living room. I took another mighty drink and threw up. The whipsword slid from my fingers. I let it lie. Blood coursed down my leg inside my pantsleg; the throwing star still lodged in my thigh. I have no recollection of yanking it free, no memory of cramming my nine back into the shoulder holster or sheathing my Samurai sword.

The eyes in Goro's disembodied head stared into nothingness. I manhandled the sharkskin coat off the corpse of Mr. Lavender to wrap the head up in. I tied the sleeves together into a knot making a convenient handle to carry the terrible wet parcel. At one point I got a glimpse of my face in a mirror on the wall, thought I looked relatively unscathed for a man who'd endured such a savage beating.

The baby cried uncontrollably.

I set the head down on the couch and with drawn sword went through every room of the house to secure the scene. Other than myself the only survivors were the young couple and their baby. Goro's daughter hugged the naked child to her, apparently in the middle of a diaper change when the violence erupted. Her husband jumped in front of her, unarmed, ready to sacrifice himself in defense of wife and child.

I felt ashamed and rammed my sword back into its scabbard. My lips went tight in disgust at myself. Never in my life have I bowed so deeply. I left them there without a word.

As I passed the couch on my way out I picked up the makeshift container with the head. "You clever bastard," I said to it, "you put one over on me. Not that it matters now."

Limping now I went outside, sat down on the porch, put my boots back on. From far away a police siren pierced the night. Maybe they sped here to investigate another casual exchange of gunfire, maybe not. When I opened the gate to the street the Cadillac was gone.

Time to put some distance between the charnel house and me.

I began walking.

The bloody package kept bumping my thigh and I kept cursing it as if Goro was still alive. "You fooled me, but you lost your head doing it, you sly son of a bitch." I wondered who'd taken the baby from Bosom of Joy. Not Goro.

His grandchild was a boy.

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