The sound of the Challenger slamming on its breaks was the cry of tires squealing on smooth pavement, echoed around the hollow concrete skeleton of the parking structure. It became the shriek of a chromed banshee, all summer heat and the stench of gas fumes and the lingering promise of rain that was never going to actually come. The car idled, trim glowing under the fluorescent lights. Down the straight line of a dozen lights meant to reveal everything in the most security-conscious and unflattering detail, was a nondescript Civic that had just rounded the corner.
The Challenger’s engine rumbled, and the whole car crouched in front of the path out like a tiger in front of the only door out of its cage. The Civic crawled to a stop, the sound of its tires crunching over gravel strangely alien in this echo chamber of roars. It edged forward, as timid as prey that had wandered into the predator’s den, knowing full well that it can’t escape but ready to bolt if the unthinkable occurs.
The Challenger flashed its lights. Once. A long pause, and then again. When the Civic did nothing, the Challenger roared one more time and then settled back into its low growl. The passenger side door opened, and out stepped one pointed black boot, shined to a high gloss. Another followed, and out stepped a man in a suit that looked too nice to belong to a car that menacing.
The man stepped past and from the back came another man, this one dressed in a nondescript blue track suit that barely covered his mountainous frame. The car shifted as he moved through it, and visibly sprung up as he crawled out from the back. He towered over the man in the suit, and followed behind him closely like a giant puppy.
“Come on out,” the man in the suit called, reaching up to adjust his slicked back hair with a carefully practiced air of ambivalence. “You’re not leaving until we talk to you, and we’re not going to talk to you until you come out.”
The Civic lingered for a second, and then settled as it was put into park. The driver’s door opened, and from inside climbed what could only be described as a kid. He was in the twilight months of his teens, but he had a gangly youthfulness that seemed out of place with the fear on his face. He climbed out of the car, but stood behind the door as if it would shield him.
“I’ll talk to you, not your dog. Put him back in his kennel,” the kid said, trying hard to sound cool and barely able to contain the cracking of his voice.
The big man stepped forward, but the man in the suit held up a hand to block him and leaned back to speak into his ear. The huge man glared at the kid, but then stepped back and quickly got into the passenger seat of the Challenger, filling it up with his bulk. He stared straight ahead at the kid like he was trying to figure out just how fast he could bound over there and tear him apart.
“All right, Hiroki. It’s just you and me. Now why don’t you come up here and talk to me like a normal person?”
“And have your thugs run me down while you leap out of the way? No, thanks. You come over here where it’s safer.”
“Safer for whom?” The man took a few steps towards Hiroki and the Civic anyway. “You could have a weapon.”
The man smiled, his thin lips splitting like a wound. “I wouldn’t go that far. You can’t be too careful. Never know what kind of monsters lurk in a city like this.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Hiroki answered, trying to look composed even as sweat stood out across the flush of acne on his brow. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen, and small for his age. Even the school jacket he had on seemed too big, swallowing him up in green and yellow. His name was sewn onto the back—SUGOI—but it would be a stretch to guess he got a jacket like that from playing sports.
“At least step away from the door so I know you’re not hiding a shotgun behind there,” the man said. “A show of good faith. I could just have my men come out and cut you down before you could get out of this lot, but I figured I’d give you a chance to parlay first.”
“Sporting,” Hiroki said as he stepped away from the door. His hands were empty, and he took a few steps towards the man. “I don’t think it’s going to change anything, though.”
“Maybe not,” the man said as he took bounding steps down the path towards Hiroki’s car. “But I like you, kid. You’ve got iron in you. I’ve had cops and congressmen take too long a peek at what I do and turn for the hills. You’ve stuck around long enough to not only get caught, but make yourself an actual nuisance. I never would have thought for the life of me that I’d be threatened by a kid.”
“I’m not a normal kid,” Hiroki said, defiant, his Adam’s apple bobbing as if to betray him.
“No, you most certainly are not.” The man stopped several feet in front of Hiroki, and reached into his pocket to pull out a handkerchief, with which he patted his own sweaty face. “You remind me of me, once upon a time. I was just a kid in this city too, wanting things I couldn’t clearly articulate and meddling in things that were too big for me.”
“Yeah? How’d that work out?”
“I got caught, and stood where you’re standing now. I remember it like it was yesterday, sometimes. I had a boat… my father was a fisherman, you see. And I had slowly rowed out in the night to the yacht where Vinny Spicane was holding one of his big regional soirees. I made too much noise, as children are wont to do, and found myself facing a dozen men with machine guns and one very intrigued Spicane. He had been expecting me, because I had been lurking around wondering how I could use the knowledge I had to my benefit.”
“Always a crook,” Hiroki spat.
“Don’t pretend you know everything, kid,” the man said, frowning. “I actually had thought if I could get that information I could sell it to the cops, make some money and wash my hands of the whole ordeal when they shut him down. I just wanted to clean up the drugs in the harbor. A noble goal. You got a noble goal?”
“Keep you from ruining my home. Maybe get some recognition.”
“You want to be a cop?”
“Detective,” Hiroki said. “Freelance.”
The man nodded. “Smarter than I was, at least. Not by much, but smarter. The problem is, son, that detectives don’t really detect anymore. You see, they work for whoever pays the most, and it’s never the guys with the badges or widows spending the insurance on recently deceased husbands. I’ve got whole stacks of cash just waiting for guys like you to show up and make themselves known.”
“I wouldn’t be much of a detective if I looked the other way for some cash.”
“You wouldn’t be much of a hero, you mean. But detectives and heroes ain’t quite the same thing, in my experience. So let me tell you some more about my story. There I was, shitting my pants on the Spicane yacht … that motherfucker was called The Cannoli, if you can believe it. Anyway, I’m on the yacht, guns pointed at me, and Spicane himself comes over and lays one big meaty, greasy hand on my shoulder and says ‘Kid, it’s time you were given a choice.’
“Now I’m not saying that I’m giving you much of a choice, because I knew then like I knew now, that this was a pretty shit deal. But consider it something of a legacy. Passed down from one crook to one child over and over. Hell, look what happened to me: I went and offed that fuck, took over his game, and made sure that we stayed out of the harbor. Maybe someday you’ll get that shot, too. Ain’t never heard of a Japanese mobster in this part of the world, but times do change. Be nice to get a little flavor in among all these guidos and banditos.”
“You’re right about one thing,” Hiroki said as he looked up at the Challenger still idling ahead of him. “This isn’t much of a choice at all.”
“You’re a smart kid, or you wouldn’t even be here. I trust you’ll make the right decision.” The man went to stick out his hand, and took another few steps towards Hiroki.
Hiroki hesitated, and then took another step towards the man. In that moment, right before they shook each other’s hand, something passed between them. To Hiroki that moment would always be described as a knowledge of fate, that here was a brick wall where someone would be ending their entire way of life. In that moment, he decided that it couldn’t be him. What the other man thought was anybody’s guess, though Hiroki at his meanest assumed that he didn’t want to let Hiroki grow up to be as evil as he had once been.
Whatever the reason, the man’s other hand slid into his jacket almost imperceptably and came out fast with a butterfly knife that was already nearly folded open. He reached out to grab Hiroki’s arm and pull him in close, undoubtedly to sink the knife into Hiroki’s ribs. But Hiroki was smart, and far faster than he looked, and his jacket was baggy enough that he was hard to hit within it.
And it wasn’t like he hadn’t come unprepared. He shifted his arm in his sleeve and the tire iron that he had secreted up in the arm of his coat slid into his palm. It wasn’t quite the baseball bat he had in his car, but he didn’t know quite how to hide a bat yet. Besides, it could be used for other things besides. When the knife came for him, the tire iron swung above it, following the path of the knife slash all the way up to its point of origin. Metal collided with the other man’s jaw, and the jaw visibly gave way as the man landed hard on the ground. Blood was pouring out of the open wound that had been his mouth, garbling his already incomprehensible cries of rage and pain. Maybe they were words?
Hiroki didn’t bother to find out, because he already heard the Challenger roar to life. He reached into the window of his Civic and wedged the baseball bat against the gas as the car roared to life and peeled off towards the Challenger. He didn’t have time to make sure it went straight, but all the careful planning of rigging his kamikaze system paid off when the Civic met the Challenger head on as that car leapt in defense of its owner. The crash destroyed the Civic, but the Challenger faired nearly as poorly as the driver’s side crumpled and the Civic tore off half the roof, taking the driver with it. The car then slammed into the nearest concrete pillar, a hollow crumpling that spelled the end for whoever had been in it.
Hiroki was turning back to the man sprawled on the concrete, though, who was currently trying to reach for the knife he had dropped when he fell. Hiroki kicked it away and then stood over the man, brandishing the tire iron. “Let me tell you a new story,” Hiroki said. “One where there is no choice. Because you were never going to give me one, so I made sure that the outcome wasn’t reliant upon you.
“Now, I’m going to do something very unpleasant, and not because I want to. You see, I don’t have a choice. Either I take you out, or you survive and get me back for crossing you not just once, but twice. The kid who not only blew the lid on your organization but also actually hurt you? You couldn’t afford to let me live. So I can’t afford to let you do the same.
“I want to. I really do. Because I don’t just want to be the detective. I want to be the hero. But sometimes that means doing things I find distasteful. Not really an apology, but then, I’m not really sorry.”
With that Hiroki brought the tire iron down against the head of the increasingly frantic body underneath him. Once. Twice. Three times, until the spasming of the limbs had stopped and what he was looking at barely resembled a human being at all. He sighed, crouching down and wiping off the tire iron on the silk shirt where it wasn’t stained through with blood. He then reached into the jacket pocket and pulled out the handkerchief, which he used to wipe off some of the spray that had gotten onto him.
He was taking off the jacket, now ruined with blood stains, when he heard a moan and the heavy thump of something hitting the ground. He turned around and saw that the goon, the mountain that had sat in the passenger seat, had managed against hope to not only escape the wreck of the Challenger, but to seemingly be mostly unharmed outside of a head wound that at the moment was blinding him as he lay there, gasping for air.
“Well, shit,” Hiroki said softly to himself. Killing one person had been hard enough. And now he had to do two? But he couldn’t afford to leave witnesses; not when he was nearly free and clear from this mess. The car wasn’t his. He could burn the jacket. Nobody had to know, outside of this one monster here. Slowly, regretfully, Hiroki slid the blood-stained jacket back on and zipped it up. It wouldn’t do to get blood on the rest of his clothes.
As he walked towards the last survivor, his foot collided with something that skittered across the ground. He walked over to it and looked down. The butterfly knife gleamed in the harsh lights of the parking garage as if winking at him. Hiroki smiled at his good fortune. He wasn’t sure he had the arm strength to swing that tire iron like he had more times. But this? This would be easy. He reached down and picked up the knife, before turning back to the matter at hand.