Monday, January 26, 2009

Hard Labor

As y'all know, my blog "disappeared" several weeks ago. Just in time for my second blogoversary.

Well, still ain't heard nothin' from the Google geeks, so it looks like I gotta replace my missing blog manually. Hard labor and all that stuff. At least I'm not in England, where labor has an extra u. Yeah that's me, always lookin' for the silver lining.
Skully looks for the gold and platinum (basically anything of value) linings.
Me? I'm happy with silver. It keeps me in grog, most the time, and really, what else do I need?

So, anyhow...I'll probably just concentrate on the good ones. I'm not gonna start out hot n' heavy though, since I'm in the middle of a story that you, my dozen or so loyal fans (the Real Dirty Dozen that's really not dirty)(better yet, the change gang, ha ha!), have demanded. Afterall, I do have a heart. Honest! :^)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Noirtistic License

Act 4: Naked Cajones

We entered the mansion and I wondered why the gates were open before we arrived.
There must be some tracking device or ID system like they have on planes, I thought.
Perhaps an IFF transmitter. Identification friend or foe. Heh. How ironic. To the Yakuza Yukio was a friend, but he and his organization are the foes of everything decent. Especially law and order.

Hmmm. That must be it. A simple GPS would be too risky. This information might come in handy. I'll hafta keep an eye out for some kinda control room. It would be manned, of course, and most likely guarded. Hell, what am I sayin'? I bet this entire compound is crawlin' with security and security devices. No doubt there are several ways to escape as well, if necessary.

Damn! Marble floors? Yukio, for once had understated his standing in the Yakuza.
He was grinning ear to ear as he noted my surprise at the wealth he had obtained...stolen, I reminded myself, in one sense or another, although thievery was the least of Yukio's crimes, of that I was certain.

"Wow, Yukio, I'm impressed!" I said, smiling. And I was impressed. Even though I hated Yukio. Not because of his wealth but because he was so damn evil.

"Wait until you see the rest of it," Yukio replied, obviously proud of his wealth and the power he wielded. "But first, I'm going to insist you get cleaned up and rested. Akira!"

"Hai!" Akira replied. "At your service, Master," he bowed.

Where in the hell did he come from? I wondered. I must need rest, because I was sure he wasn't there a second ago.

"Show our honored guest Mack to our finest guest room and get the doctor to attend to his wounds. We can't have those cuts getting infected. Then get him some decent clothes to wear, and anything else he wants," Yukio ordered. "I'll see you later tonight after you have rested," he continued.

"Thanks Yukio," I replied. Asshole, I thought.

"If you'll please follow me, sir," Akira said.

Annie and I followed Akira up the first stairwell we came to. At the top of the curved starwell we continued straight, took the first right and followed the long hallway to the end. I could see the Pacific ocean through the hallway window, maybe 60 feet below, lapping at a stretch of beach.
Akira opened the door on our left and we entered a gigantic bedroom, bigger than any honeymoon suites I had ever seen.

"May I ask your sizes sir?" Akira asked.

"Huh?" I replied, still lookin' around.

"For your clothes, and shoes," Akira said.

"Oh right," I said. I gave him the information he needed, near as I could recall. It had been awhile since I wore a suit. "Thanks, Akira," I continued, as Akira finished writing everything down. He seemed somewhat shocked that I had bothered to thank him, let alone use his name, to which he flashed a quick smile, bowed, and left, closing the door.

"Oh, before I forget, feel free to call for anything you want, sir. We have chefs if you are hungry. There's an intercom system by the bed. Whatever you need, we are at your service," Akira said, closing the door.

Where is Annie? I wondered looking around. I had lost track of her while I was talkin' to Akira. I continued walking past the king sized bed. Is that cedar? I sniffed. Sure smelled good. I finally saw a bathroom further ahead, and a door that was closed to my left, what looked like three large closet doors, and windows to my right with another great view of the ocean below. There was also a terrace that overlooked the beach. There was also four chairs, a large screen TV, and a mini bar.

I continued into the bathroom, passing three sinks, a few toilets, two urinals, and a huge tub as well as a seperate shower with several nozzles all over the place. Not just from above, but from the sides. Cool! I thought. But I was puzzled, because I still couldn't see Annie anywhere. She had to have taken that other door, I concluded. While I was there I decided to take a leak and wash up. There were plenty of towels and even some various housecoats and robes.
Is that silk? Oh man! I thought, feeling the material.

I got undressed and entered the shower area, playin' with all the knobs and gadgets. Soon there was a cloud of steam as I washed the blood and grime off. I wonder what a water massage is? Whoa! That's neat! What does this do?
Eventually, I got tired of playing with the shower controls, and shut it off. I quickly dried off, and threw on a silk robe. I had never had anything silk to wear before, so this was new to me. Amazing! I thought. I gotta get me one of these.

I went to the sink and opened the mirrored cabinent. There was some straight razors, electric razors, toothbrushes, aspirin, and all sorts of stuff in there. I popped four aspirin while I was there.

"Excuse me, sir," I heard a woman say.

I quickly turn to my left taking a defensive stance instinctively. I didn't hear anyone come in, but I was in the shower.

A Japanese woman stood there, tryin' to hide her smile.

"I'm sorry, I'm doctor Sato. You may call me Hana if you like," she said, bowing.

"Um...hi," I said, staring at her. She is stunningly beautiful, I thought. And she looked no older than 20, maybe 25. Good grief! I'm old enough to be her father. "Oh, I'm Mack," I said, bowing back. It was hard to believe she was a doctor.

"Pleased to meet you Mack. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. How are you feeling?" She asked.

"Um, I'm okay,, Hana. The cuts are superficial, but the top one is starting to seep a bit. Might need a few bandaids, I guess," I said.

"Okay, I'll wait outside until you are finished," she said, turning around to leave.

Geez, I thought, quickly averting my gaze. I ain't never seen a doctor that looked that beautiful. I brushed my teeth, and decided to forgo shaving until later.

I entered the bedroom and the doc arose from a chair she was sitting in.

"Please, if you would lay on the bed, Mack..." she motioned.

"Yes...right," I replied, lying on my back.

Hana checked my heart with her stethoscope, checked my blood pressure, and felt my pulse.

"Where are the cuts?" Hana asked.

"My chest, and abdomen," I said.

At that moment, the door I hadn't explored opened and Annie entered the room, her hair still damp, also wearing a silk robe, although I thought she looked much better in it that I did.

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I disturbing you?" Annie asked, visibly shaken, before turning around and leaving.

"Wait!" I said, this is Hana," I said.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I'm so embarassed. I'm Annie," Annie said sheepishly, walking over to meet Hana.

"Not at all, Annie, I understand. So you are both..." Hanna trailed off.

"No, we aren't...that is, I mean..." Annie tried to explain.

"It's a long story," I said, chuckling. Hanna looked at us both, obviously confused.

"Okay, now let's see those cuts," Hanna said, shaking her head.

I sat up and began to take my robe off, before I realized I didn't have underwear.

"Uh...please excuse me for one moment," I said, getting up. I could feel my face getting red. How do I get some underwear? I wondered. Without them knowing? They were both watching me. Great.

I went back into the bathroom and looked around. I couldn't wear the underwear I came in with, because it had blood on it. Well, I could wear it, but it would look kinda stupid, I thought. I finally came to the conclusion there was no easy way out of this dilemma.

"Okay look," I said, walking back out into the bedroom, my um, underwear has blood on it," I said sheepishly.

"You're bleeding down there?" Hana said, alarmed. "It's okay, I'm a doctor."

"No, I'm not..." I began.

"Oh my God! You better lie down!" Annie said, tryin' to help me back to the bed. "I had no idea you were injured there. I'm so sorry I left you alone, Mack!"

"No, you don't understand," I said, sitting on the bed. "I'm not injured down there. However, my shorts do have blood on them...from my chest and abdomen."

And again, they both looked at me...puzzled expressions on their faces.

Good God! Did I hafta spell it out? I thought, in horror.

"Okay, okay, look...I need new underwear before I take my robe off," I said looking down at the floor.

I heard a click, "Hello? We need some new mens underwear up here," Annie said.

"Excuse me?" A voice said from the intercom.

Oh God...this is really gettin' outta hand, I thought, covering my eyes with my hands. Why not just broadcast it on the evening news? There might be someone who hasn't heard yet.

"Are you okay?" Hanna asked.

"What, are you frickin' retarded or something?" Annie said into the intercom. "I'!"

"All of you?" The voice asked. I heard snickering in the background.

"Listen you! Don't be a moron! Only Mack needs men's underwear!" Annie shouted, exasperated.

"I got a headache," I mumbled.

"What did you say, Mack? I couldn't hear you. Here, lay down, let me check your eyes," Hana said, pushing me down. She was surprisingly strong for her size!

"I said..." I began, before seeing a blinding light in my right eye. "Ahh!" I exclaimed, shutting my eyes.

"Did that hurt?" Hanna asked.

"Boxers or briefs?" The intercom asked. Again, I could have sworn I heard snickering in the background.

"Yes, that did hurt," I replied to the doc.

"Do you wear boxers or briefs Mack?" Annie asked. Both Annie and Hana were intently awaiting my reply.

"Boxers," I said, in a barely audible whisper.

"Is there a particular reason why? Are they more comfortable?" Annie asked.

"Boxers!" I said a bit louder.

"Alright, alright, don't get your..." Annie said, smiling. "Boxers!" She said into the intercom.

"Mack, I know this light hurts but let me check your eyes, okay? It will just take a few seconds," Hana said.

I nodded as she quickly checked my eyes. Damn! That burns, I thought.

"What size?" The voice on the intercom asked.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Hanna asked.

"I don't know, I'm blind," I said.

"Mack what size..." Annie began.

"34!" I said, rubbing my eyes.

"You can't see?" Hana asked.

"Not after you blinded me," I replied. "My vision will return, won't it?" I asked, melodramatically.

"Mack, listen, you may have a concussion. Did anything hit your head?" Hanna asked.

"34!" Annie said into the intercom.

"No, but I was drugged," I said. "Oh wait, I may have bumped the back of my head on the deck when I..." I continued, leaving the rest unsaid.

"Any particular colors?" The voice on the intercom asked.

"I see. Is your vision clearing," Hanna asked.

"Yeah, I only see spots now," I replied.

"Listen you clown, just get white, okay? And make it snappy!" Annie ordered.

"How many fingers?" Hanna asked.

"Three," I said.

"Good, now how many?" She asked.

"Four," I replied. She asked me more questions, such as the date, who the President was, day of the week, and the time.

"I think you may have a mild concussion, Mack. You should be okay, but let me know immediately if you feel dizzy, nauseated, or have any other symptoms. You shoulds be fine after some rest. Do you know what you were drugged with?" Hanna asked.

"No idea," I replied.

"Okay. I would feel a lot better getting you into a hospital for more tests, but like I said, any symptoms, let me know. Now let's look at those cuts," Hanna said.

"Well I, um, need some underwear," I replied. Hasn't she been listening? I wondered.

"I am not going to wait for those idiots to go shopping and return," Hanna said. "I am a doctor."

"Yes, I know, but..." I began to say.

"Annie, help me get this off of him," Hanna said.

"Okay," Annie giggled.

"Now wait a minute..." I started to say as they wrestled my robe off. But Hanna didn't take it completely off. She placed it below my second cut. I wasn't sure if anyone saw anything, because I had closed my eyes.

"See that wasn't so hard now was it?" Hanna asked, smiling and examining my cuts.
"Ooh, this top one will require quite a few stitches! The bottom one too if you don't want a very visible scar."

"Just stitch the top one doc, please," I said.

"Alright, but I have to clean them out first after giving you a few shots to numb the area. You are going to feel a sting....and another," Hanna said. Before long she had numbed my entire upper chest.

"Will you give me a hand, Annie?" Hanna asked, then she whispered something in Annie's ear. Annie nodded. What is that about, I wondered.

"Just relax, Mack. Really, you don't have to worry," Annie said, sitting by me on the bed. "You are so tense!" She continued, rubbing my temples. I closed my eyes. It was as if I could feel all the tension leavin' my body and mind as soon as Annie touched me. I felt myself drifting off and I didn't fight it as I fell, or rather sank into a deep sleep.

For the first time since my family had been murdered I didn't dream at all, or at least I didn't recall dreaming. No nightmares, no waking up in a cold sweat. But I did recall a sense of rest, as if I was concious but not fully aware, in a blissful state of suspended animation. The feeling had become alien to me.

And then I heard "Kane!"

It was dark when I awoke. I couldn't help but notice I was under the covers. How did that happen? I was also naked. Man, I must've been really out of it. I felt a bandage over my chest. And then I felt a hand! A very soft, delicate hand. Snuggled up beside me was...Annie? It smelled like her, but it was too dark to see her. Holy cow! She was also naked!

It began to rain, slowly at first, and then into a steady downpour. I could hear the wind picking up.

"Kane! He's not..." I heard, from outside, before the wind caught the words and tore them asunder.

Kane is here? What the hell is goin' on? I wondered. I strained to hear more, but no other words became audible.

As if on cue, Annie whimpered in her sleep and held me tighter. I instinctively put my left arm around her, to console and protect her, and she calmed down. I wondered what had caused that to happen. There was still so much I didn't know about her. I hadn't intended for us to sleep together, especially not naked, but I didn't wanna wake her. That would be rude. Since when did I worry about bein' rude, beyond basic stranger manners, that is?

Was I growin' soft or was she makin' me that way? I suppose there was no denyin' I cared about her on some level, or I wouldn't have bothered to stay here. Or maybe I just wanna see her get a fair shake, get her sister back, and then what? Kill Yukio or bring him to justice? How far was I gonna take this?

As I pondered all these questions, and many more besides, it occurred to me that Yukio had "given" Annie to me so that I would care for her. Sort of as an insurance policy, and he could use her for leverage and also her sister. I had to start gettin' some answers, one way or another.

The steady torrent of rain lulled me back to sleep, but this time I dreamed.

"No, you are doing it all wrong, Mack. Like this, see?" Master Toshiro said, showing me how to hold the bamboo sword.

I followed Masters example.

"Whack!" Master whacked me on the back with his bamboo sword. He didn't hit me hard, but it sure got my attention!

"Watch your feet. You are trying too hard. Don't think so much. Clear your mind and let your Chi flow," Master said. "Again."

After four or five more whacks I had finally managed to satisfy Master Toshiro.

"Yes! Very good, Mack! Remember this lesson and you'll remember how to let your Chi flow," Master said, smiling.

After class, and everyone had left Master asked me to walk with him.

"Do you practice religion, Mack?" Master asked.

"Well, no, Master. I don't go to church or nothin'," I replied.

"Do you believe in God?" Master asked.

"Yes, I guess so," I said, uncomfortably.

"You guess? You don't know?" Master asked.

"Yes, I do, Master. But I don't think God, or whoever made this universe, cares about me or even knows that I exist. If He does, I'm listening. I just haven't heard anything, you know?" I replied.

"You don't see Him because He is everywhere and inside of you. Don't quit seeking, Mack. Ask, and you will hear and you will know," Master said.
"Truth is worth the persistence and the patience, yes?"

"What religion do you practice, Master?" I asked after nodding.

"Ho! I can't tell you that. Not until you know," Master said, laughing.

"But how will I know?" I asked.

"Because you will know it is true, Mack. It is inside of you but you haven't recognized it for what it is yet. Once you know, keep seeking to know and you will keep knowing," Master said.

"The truth is inside of me?" I asked, tryin' to understand.

"Do you know right from wrong and good from evil?" Master asked. I nodded. "That is because the truth lives within you. Now do you see?"

I pondered for awhile as we walked before answering, "yes. I do see Master. So how we know God?"

"Absolutely," Master said, laughing. Absolutely! Absolutely!! Absolutely!!!

Master Toshiro stopped and I did too. He turned to stare at me and was suddenly much older! He grabbed my shoulders with an unbreakable grip! "Mack! The sword!"

I awoke with a psychic jolt! Master alive!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

JWM's World Famous Blog

JWM has got the bloggin' bug, and that's a good thing for the RaccoonOsphere!
JWM, as anyone who reads One Cosmos knows gets across some serious slack in his own unique way.
Motivational and inspirational slack without any glibness. Straight to the heart slack without the Jesus willies (that world famous term coined by JWM his self) but with cool Jesus.

In other words, interesting and compelling bloggin' with that unique twist that JWM is famous for!

That's why JWM's blog is world famous, and that's why I'll be readin' it. :^)

Welcome aboard, John!

BTW, the link to JWM's World Famous Blog is on my side bar. Go ahead! Grab you a grog while you're there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More Kung Fu Noir

Act 3: Blood Don't Lie

"Master, forgive me for prying into your business, but why do you put up with Yukio's disrespect?" I asked.

Master Toshiro looked down and shook his head. Then he looked at me, his wizened eyes showing sadness.

"Mack...this is not to ever be repeated, you understand?" Master said.

"Yes, Master. Of course," I replied.

"Yukio's father saved my life many years ago, so I owe him. His only request is to train his son. Perhaps Yukio will learn more than just Kendo one day. That is my fervent prayer. You must understand, Mack, this is a matter of honor," Master said.

"Yes, Master," I replied, bowing. "May I ask how Yukio's father saved you?"

"Yes, you may," Master said, smiling.

I waited and finally, I caught on. I smiled back.

"How were you saved, and by what, Master?" I asked.

"We were both so young, Kane and I. We were such good friends then. Kane knew my mother was Chinese, but he kept it secret. Somehow, a local gang had found out, and they decided they didn't want my kind in their neighborhood of Tokyo. They ambushed me one night, as I was going to the dojo. There were eleven of them. I managed to take out five of them, but their numbers were too great for me at that time, and the other six were giving me a severe beating. And they weren't going to be satisfied with that. As they continued to beat me they started talking about where to dispose of my body. I was too hurt, and weak to fight back at this point. One of them, the leader drew a long knife and I knew my time had come," Master said, his eyes glazed over.

"They were that prejudiced?" I asked, incredulously. "Bastards!"

Master chuckled. "Yes, they were bastards. Very vicious and hateful young hoodlums. But the majority of Japanese and Chinese had the same prejudice which is why I kept it secret. My mother, bless her heart, would rarely leave the house, and when she did, she always pretended to be our maid. Father would get furious, but mother convinced him to go along, for my sake," Master said, smiling as he remembered his parents.

"She was a lovely woman and a perfect mother. It's no wonder father fell in love with her on a business trip to Hong Kong. They married a month later and I was born eight months after that. I never saw two people who loved each other more," Master continued, wistfully.

I wondered how the gang found out Masters secret. Could Kane have told, perhaps in a careless moment? It was hard to picture Yukio's father as a friend of Master Toshiro. He seemed so cold, like Yukio whenever I had seen him. What had changed him?

"As they were about to slit my throat, Kane arrived, and he defeated the remaining gang members. He...he cut the leaders throat with the same knife the leader was going to use on me. I tried to protest, but I couldn't speak. Indeed, I was barely concious. Kane gently lifted me and ran to get me help. I never spoke of Kane killing the gang leader, because he had saved my life. I was 16 at the time, and Kane was 17. He stayed by my hospital bed for days, caring for me," Master said.

"Kane did that?" I asked, surprised.

"Hai. But Kane had changed. He became more distant. A few months later he joined a gang and tried to get me to join but I refused. I saw him rarely after that. I was surprised to see him here in San Diego, that day he arrived at my dojo. He asked me to train Yukio, and how could I say no? I owe him my life. But I think I will regret training Yukio. And Kane...he is working for the Yakuza. He keeps asking me to join," Master said, laughing bitterly.

"Yakuza! Criminals! They are like the mafia, Mack. Very bad. I wish it were not so," Master said, shaking his head. "Promise me Mack...promise me you'll never join criminals," Master said, looking into my soul with his penetrating eyes.

"I promise, Master," I said, bowing.

Ninja Lackey stopped his advance, as I laughed. His eyes grew wide and then confused. He looked back at Yukio, unsure what to do.

"Kill him you fool!" Yukio shouted.

Ninja Lackey advanced once more and I smiled. He obviously thought I had lost my marbles. Good. I just stood there. No stance and just smiling. The ninja closed to within five feet, and slowed down even more. I looked up squinting my eyes and ninja Lackey also looked up to see what I was looking at, which was nothing.

"Kill him! Can't you see he's f*cking with you?" Yukio boomed. "I'm getting bored. I want to see some blood. Is that too much to ask? F*cking moron!"

Sh*t. I had hoped Yukio would stay out of it. Wasn't the fact I was handcuffed enough? So much for tricking mr. Lackey, I thought. Looks like I hafta go with plan B.

Ninja slashed horizontally, and tentatively. I didn't move, since he needed a few more feet to make contact. Ninja inched forward, and slashed again. Closer, but not close enough. I simply stood there with a blank look on my face. Plan B was to catch him by surprise.

Ninja quickly took the last few steps and slashed again. I barely moved back in time, but he stll made contact. Damn it! His sword cut through my shirt and sliced into my chest...about a quarter inch. Blood flowed freely, soaking my shirt. Annie screamed. Shut up! I thought, focusing on ninja. Great. He was faster than I anticipated. My heart was beating like a jackhammer! Too f*uckin' close!

"Ha ha ha!" Yukio cackled. "Oh yes! Now that's entertainment!"

Okay. Maybe I better go with plan C, I thought. Damn, this guy is good!

Ninja advanced again, and once again, he slashed me, this time on my abdomen. A superficial slash but there seemed to be lots of blood. I tried to remember there is always more blood than it looks like. Unless a major artery is severed. Pleasant thought, that. Yukio laughed again and I charged ninja Lackey grabbing his sword arm. His eyes grew wide at my unexpected move. I kept my feet moving like a running back, driving him back as he struggled to break free. I gripped his arm with all my might and brought my knee up connecting with his gut, but unfortunately, it was a glancing blow.

Ninja hit me with his left, hard, stunning me, but I wouldn't release his sword arm.
He tried to get the sword with his left hand and I fell backwards, kicking at the same time to add momentum to my judo move. Ninja Lackey, in accordance with the laws of physics, or maybe it was gravity, one of the two, and perhaps both, had to follow, and I executed an almost text book judo throw with my legs, trying to maintain my grip on his sword arm, but I couldn't. It was sweaty, so he slipped out of my grip, and Ninja Lackey landed...hard, on his back. I could hear him gasping for breath after an initial "oof!". I quickly got up and kicked him in the head as hard and as furiously as I could.

"God damn you! Stupid mother...!" He somehow was able to make a wild swing at my legs with his sword and I jumped, avoiding it. I jumped again, landing on his neck and I twisted with all the strength I could muster. "F*cker!"

"Snap!" I had broken his neck. He went limp but his eyes still showed some life and fear incarnate. I could hear him gasping for breath, as he tried to plead with his eyes.

"Well done!" Yukio said, approaching and clapping. "seems like I underestimated you, Mack. My employer will be pleased." Yukio drew his sword in a flash and nonchalantly plunged it into ninja Lackey's heart as if he was performing some mindless chore.
"So hard to get good help these days," Yukio said. "I do hope he provided a bit of a challenge at any rate."

I could hear Annie sobbing quietly. I wish she wouldn't have looked, but I had no choice.

"Thanks Yukio," I replied. "Now...can I get these off?" I asked, smiling.

"Soon. Soon. As soon as I find the key. F*ck! I think he has it," Yukio said, after checking his own pockets. "Damnit! Where is it? Sh*t! I can't find it! What the f*ck? I'll be back in a minute. Let me check the car. I can't believe this sh*t! I told him to get the key. Stupid asshole!" Yukio said, kicking the dead lackey. "I bet you'll listen now, won't you? Dumbf*ck!"

After kicking the hapless lackey for awhile, Yukio said, "now where were we? Oh yeah, the key. I'll check the car. Back in a flash,"

"Okay, Yukio," I said. This guy has serious anger issues, I thought.

Yukio left snd I looked at Annie. She had stopped crying and was looking down at the floor.

"Annie, I'm sorry you had to see that," I said.

Annie looked up at me and ran towards me, throwing her arms around me. I almost fell backwards but soon regained my balance.

"Mack!" She whispered. Then she kissed me again. "You're hurt!"

"It looks worse than it is," I said. But it still hurts, I didn't say. My legs buckled and Annie struggled to hold me up.

"You are hurt! Here, sit down, slowly. Oh God! There's so much blood!" Annie exclaimed.

"Just...a bit woozy," I said, tryin' to smile. "Just gotta rest a minute." I shook my head to clear the cobwebs. Must be all the adrenaline combined with drug after-effects combined with blood loss, I thought.

I worked on slowing my breathing. The slower my heart rate the slower I would bleed and faster my blood would clot up. Gotta...stay awake.

"Did you see? Yukio killed him in cold blood!" Annie exclaimed, pressing on my wounds in an attempt to slow the bleeding.

"No. He was already dead. I killed him," I said. "He would've aphyxiated. Yukio just put him out of his misery." And kicked him a lot after he was dead in a psychotic rage, I thought.

"You had no choice," she said. "And besides, you don't know that for certain."

Actually, I did but I didn't see a point in arguing. Annie was right, I had no choice, but I still felt bad about it. It was such a useless waste of life and for what? I seethed at Yukio, but I had to control my feelings.

"Look, no matter what, don't piss Yukio off," I said. "I'm gonna hafta convince him he can trust me so don't freak out, okay? Okay? C'mon now, I'm in no shape for another fight right now."

"O-okay," Annie said, looking down, obviously not happy. Neither was I, but I realized I had to act as if I were Yukio's friend now, or at least willing partner.
That wasn't gonna be easy. Yukio was paranoid under normal circumstances, and worse, he was unpredictable. "Good girl," I said, kissing her on the forehead.

Yukio returned with a handcuff key and released me. "Here's your gun," Yukio said, handing me my .45. I seriously considered blowing him away, but there was two reasons not to. If I killed Yukio I would never know who his boss was, and I had no idea if Yukio had disabled my gun by taking a crucial part out. Like maybe the spring. That would make sense, because I doubted Yukio trusted me that much. And if I tried to shoot him or take him into custody and the gun was inoperable, he would kill me on the spot.

"I also brought some saki. Let's drink to our new partnership," he said, sitting down and pouring a cup of saki which he handed to me. "Afterall, the better you make me look, the more I get paid. And like I said, you'll get more money than you've ever imagined. It's a win-win situation, right? We...are going to be rich. Well, you are going to be rich, I'm going to be richer! Ha ha ha ha!"

"Partners," I said, smiling and raising my cup and clinking it against Yukio's, before draining it. Like I said, psychotic. But the saki was good, and it wasn't long before I was feeling considerably better, which made it easier to laugh at Yukio's stupid jokes. Or him personally, to be more accurate.

His idea of funny was recounting the pathetic lackeys, victims and even a few bosses he had murdered through the years to get where he was today. What astonished me was his total lack of remorse and disdain for all those murders and those who he had crippled. Nothing had better get in this psycho's way, and those who didn't still better hope he was feeling halfway non-homicidal.

But listening to Yukio drone on and on...and on, I knew he was also very cunning and shrewd. He was careful not to kill or cripple unless he saw a clear opportunity...most of the time. Those times he didn't was the times he had killed the bosses directly above him. And he made took pride in the elaborate lies he told his new bosses along the way. He didn't hafta tell me, although he did, that he was a member of the Yakuza. The Japanese mafia, American southwest division I presumed.

"Awww, we are out of saki! You know, Mack, I always knew you were just putting Toshiro on with all that noble talk of justice and sh*t, ha ha ha! You were brutal with that idiot you fought tonight! A man after my own heart, ha ha! Almost as cunning as me. I told my boss you would be a great asset. Yes, when you told your boss to go to hell at the department, I laughed my ass off, hee hee! You would be surprised the connections we have, not to mention the places we got bugged." Yukio said, very pleased.

He was drunker than I was or he certainly wouldn't be so damn stupid as to tell me all this. More than a few times I had to stop myself from at least attempting to kill this evil son of a bitch! One good thing about all his bragging...he didn't consider to ask me questions, which meant I didn't hafta lie much, or concoct a story on the spot. A story and lies I would hafta remember verbatim.

"Well, I guess we should go then. Why don't you drive, bitch?" Yukio said, throwing her his car keys to Annie. "And remember, if you get pulled over for anything, you will die a painful death, you understand?"

"Yes," Annie said, not looking up. Good girl, I thought. She was catching on.

"Where to sir?" Annie asked after we got in the car.

"Just drive. I'll tell you when to turn and where," Yukio said.

After we got going I could see we were near Mission Beach. "Take I-5 North into La Jolla," Yukio said. "Wait until you see my mansion. It rocks!"

"I bet it does," I said. "Say, I was wondering, Yukio, have you seen Toshiro recently?"

I purposely left off Master, because I didn't want Yukio to know I still respected and loved our sensei. It was harder than i thought.

"You mean you don't know?" Yukio asked, looking at me. "Huh. I guess you don't. He's dead."

"What?! How?" I asked, dumbfounded, fighting not to look too shaken.

"I don't know the details but I heard it was a jealous husband with a shotgun. Ha ha ha! Can you believe it? The mighty Toshiro killed by a fat man with a gun? I really was surprised myself. Seems Toshiro was getting some action on the side and he picked the wrong woman. Ha ha ha! He always had a weakness for redheads," Yukio said, laughing.

I did believe Master had a weakness for redheads but I didn't believe he was killed that easily.

"When was this?" I asked.

"Let's see...around the time your family was carved up, I think. Oh. I'm sorry, that was terribly ill-mannered of me. Look, we're pals, right? I tell you what, I'll give you Annie. Yeah, she's all yours. Consider her my first gift to you. Thing is, you can't let her leave or I'll have to kill her, okay? She knows too much. Don't worry, if you get tired of her I'll send more whores your way. Just give me the word, and whatever you want. Personally, I don't know how any man can stay with just one woman. Especially after they start bitching and nagging. That's when it's time to sever the relationship...sever! Get it? ha ha ha!" Yukio said, laughing.

"Um, thanks Yukio," I said, wondering if it was possible to wanna kill him more.

"Don't menton it! You take care of me and I take care of you. I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends," Yukio said, smiling.

Oh brother. I am so gonna enjoy killin' this asshole! Forgive me Master, I silently prayed. I'm gonna hafta break my promise.
Me workin' for the Yakuza...I still couldn't believe Master Toshiro was dead.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kung Fu Noir: Because You Demanded It!

Act 2: Friendly Betrayal

As I awoke I noticed two things: my head felt like an interstate highway, with semi's drivin' over it during rush hour. The results of the drug that was used to put me outta commission, a hangover or both.
And my head was lying on something warm and soft.

I opened my eyes and saw I was laying on Annie's lap. She was sniffing, no doubt from crying, by the red surrounding her eyes and nose. I struggled to get up but that was a mistake. I immediately felt dizzy, disoriented and nauseas.

"Oh! Mack! Your awake! Thank God! Are you alright?" She asked, hugging me in her excitement.

"My's killin' me," I muttered, muffled by her ample breasts. Those are real, I thought. I found I couldn't move my arms. Wha? Oh. My hands were handcuffed behind me.

"Does this help?" Annie asked, finally releasing her hug and massaging my temples.

Yes it did. My symptoms soon subsided, as Annie moved her hands to massage my face, neck and scalp. Oh man! That is so good! I thought, closing my eyes again.

"Thanks," I said, getting lost in the magical touch of her hands. I could get used to this.

"I was so worried about you, Mack. I thought...I thought they..," she trailed off, quietly sobbing.

"Hey, I'm fine. Um, don't worry about it," I said, tryin' to console her. "How long have I been out?" I asked.

"Four hours," she said, sniffling again and wiping her eyes on her dress sleeves.

Who was behind this? I wondered. And why keep me alive? For that matter, why allow Annie to stay with me? There was something familiar about that second ninja, but I couldn't place what it was. The eyes? Yeah, the eyes. I knew him, but his identity taunted me at the edge of my memory.

"I gotta hanky in my left rear pocket," I said. "Unless they took it."

Annie groped my rear pocket which seemed...oddly...sensual. "Not there. Maybe this one?" She asked, reaching into my front left pocket. Whoa! I tried to control myself but I was way past any chance of that happening.
"Mack!" She exclaimed, smiling. "Are you happy to see me or what?" She giggled.

I could feel my face turning red. "Uh...did you find the hanky?" I asked, tryin' to change the subject.

"Yes I did, and a lot more!" She said, giving me a demure look that almost drove me crazy. It didn't help that she hadn't removed her hand.

"Ahem!" I said, clearing my throat. "Yes...well, um, there you go," I said, reluctantly breaking eye contact.

Annie slowly removed her hand, and I earnestly wished the circumstances were different. Unfortunately, escape was the first priority, and we might not have much time. Not to mention I still couldn't get rid of the guilt I felt. As if my wife's spirit were watching my every move.

"Annie, fill me in, what happened?" I asked as she finished blowing her nose.

"Don't look at me, I'm blowing my nose!" She exclaimed.

What? Why was she worried about that? She looked fine. Probably the sexiest nose blowing I ever saw. Nevertheless, I looked away. Maybe she needs to dig out a few boogers, I thought.

"Okay," she said. "After you lost conciousness the guy who threw the dart at you told me to shut up and cooperate and I would be fine. Another ninja guy came in and they dragged you out into, I think a black cadilac. They told me to come along and watch me, so I did. They put the handcuffs on you, took you gun and searched you and told me to get in, and closed the door. Then they drove us here. They carried you out and..."

"Wait. What happened to the other ninja? The one I kicked?" I asked.

"I don't know. The guy who threw the dart at you? He seems to be in charge. Anyway, he went back in your office for maybe a minute, then he came out, looked around, closed the door and got in the car. He and the driver looked at each other and the lead ninja just shook his head no and the other guy nodded. I thought the less I said the better, so I didn't ask," Annie said.

Smart girl, I thought. Sounds like they offed the gimpy ninja. He was a liability. Maybe they framed me in the process. It wouldn't make sense just to leave gimpy there alive.

"How long did they drive?" I asked.

"I don't know. Maybe thirty to fortyfive minutes. They blindfolded me, so I have no idea where we are. The outside looks like a warehouse, but they didn't give me time to look around after taking the blindfold off. After dropping you off they left, locking the door. I didn't search the place yet. I wanted to watch you. Your breathing ws so shallow for awhile there, Mack," she said, concern etching her face.

"Oh, and they left this," she continued, picking up a canteen and a few granola bars. "Are you thirsty?"

"Yeah," I said, looking around. It was a small warehouse, as warehouses go. And it was completely empty. I could smell the sea, so we weren't far from the coast. I couldn't hear a thing outside, though. Only one overhead light was on. The cracks around the door looked to be dark, so it was probably early morning, before sunrise.

Annie cradeled my head in one arm and helped me sit up a bit to take a drink. I tasted it before swallowing and it seemed safe. Besides, I thought, they could've easily killed me if they wanted to, so it why poison me? Still, I was cautious and only drank a few swallows. I advised Annie to do the same. No telling when they would be back. They could be right outside the door for all I knew. Speaking of which, the door looked to be made of heavy steel. Even if I did get free, there was no way I would break that.

I could feel Annie start to shiver. "Are you cold?" I asked.

"Getting that way," she replied. "I forgot my coat."

"Well, we might have to share body heat," I said, smiling.

"You devil you!" Annie exclaimed, laughing.

Unfortunately, the ninjas decided to return at that moment. I heard the door lock click and in they came, quickly shutting it.
One ninja stayed by the door and the other walked over to Annie and I, with his mask still on.
I could feel Annie tense up. "Easy," I whispered.

"Well well, finally woke up eh? Took you long enough," Ninja leader said.

That voice! I know that voice! I struggled to remember. I know this guy!

"I'm disappointed in you Mack. Is your memory in as bad a shape as you are?" He asked. "I thought you would have at least a little fight in you earlier. You have really let yourself go."

"Take these cuffs off and I'll be glad to put up more of a fight," I said. I was pissed. Mostly because he was right. I might be in decent shape compared to most athletes, but I wasn't in great shape like I used to be, before...

"Ha ha ha!" He laughed but in a cold, humorless way. "I would love to, believe me. But duty beckons. Business before pleasure you know."

"Yes quite," I said, sarcastically.

Ninja leaders eyes narrowed and grew colder, if that were possible. Just for a split second the hate was palpable, and I was the object of that hate. But just as quick his eyes returned to that cold neutral look.

Now I remembered! "Hello Neuman," I deadpanned.

He took off his mask and smiled. His right hand hovered over the handle of his ninja-to short sword. Uh oh. Maybe I went too far with that one, I thought.
I had trained with Yukio under Master Toshiro. I started calling him Neuman because his laugh and general demeanor reminded me of the character Neuman on the comedy Seinfeld. The name stuck, and Yukio didn't have much of a sense of humor. It didn't look like it had improved any since I last saw him five years ago.

"Very funny, Mack," he said, his hand relaxing. "You know, we could be friends, you and I. We can be friends now. My employer wants the use of your talents and he pays much better than any job you ever had. I suggest you take him up on his generous offer," Yukio said straining to sound congenial.

I almost told him a creative use of his offer, but I decided to play it cool. Besides, I had Annie to think about. This sounded like one of those offers you can't refuse...without major consequences.

"Why did you attack me if you planned on hiring me?" I asked.

"It was a test. I wanted to see if you could do the job," Yukio said. "I didn't mean any offense when I said you had let yourself go. You have. However, by taking out my hireling you did show potential, and I would hate to see that potential wasted."

Somehow I doubted that, but I did believe Yukio's boss was interested in hiring me.
As my mind continued to clear something else began to nag me. Why hadn't Annie mentioned her friend?

"Was it just a test by you or did you have help?" I asked.

"So...ha ha ha! I was wondering if you would ever ask that question. Yes, you could say Annie was part of the test. Have your senses grown so dull? Ha ha ha! Married life weakened you more than the bottle I see. So many conflicted emotions, yes? Annie put out the bait and you bit, hook and all. Too bad Toshiro wasn't here to see that, ha ha ha!" Yukio said with a florish.

?! Yes, of course. I had been a fool. I felt a flash of anger at just how obvious I had been played and betrayed.

"Mack, I..." Annie began.

"Save it for the next fool," I said curtly.

"No! You don't understand!" She exclaimed.

"I understand enough," I replied, struggling to sit up. Annie tried to help support me. "Damn it! Get you hands off me!" I ordered.

Annie flinched as if I had struck her, and immediately I felt like a cad. But she betrayed me, I reasoned. Why should I feel bad? Regardless, I did, but I didn't let it show.

Clap! Clap! Clap! "Bravo! What a stellar performance!" Yukio said, applauding, and obviously enjoying himself. "Well done, Annie."

"Stop it! Stop it you bastard!" Annie shouted, standing up. She slapped Yukio, hard, and he caught her arms.

"You little bitch!" He shouted, smacking her and knocking her to the ground. When she tried to get up he kicked her in the ass, laughing again, and she collasped in a heap face down.

Despite the hurt and anger I felt at Annie's betrayal this really pissed me off. Son of a bitch must pay! I thought, seething.

"Look, are you gonna tell me the job offer or not?" I said, getting Yukios attention off Annie. I had to hand it to her, she had guts.

"So you are interested. Good." Yukio looked put out that I had spoiled his fun but I had his attention, however reluctant. "But first, I'm still not entirely convinced you can do the job, so let's have some fun, yes? We are going to leave, and, for old times sake, I'll be more than generous and give you ten minutes."

"Ten minutes for what?" I replied. Geez, get to the point already.

"Before my friend here comes to kill you," Yukio said, smiling and gesturing to the ninja guarding the door.

"What about these cuffs?" I asked.

"What about them? If you can't stop him with them on, you aren't fit for the job my employer wants done. I do look forward to the fight so do put on a good show, okay?" Yukio said, motioning to his ninja and leaving.

"Swell. Don't do me no favors", I muttered. I laid down flat on my back bent my legs, and went to work.

Annie quietly got up and watched, intrigued. I managed to stretch my handcuffed hands out just enough to clear my feet and get them in front of me. I had an ace to play, but I decided to hold back on that just in case. The element of surprise could make all the difference and I saw no reason to show all of my cards now. Of course, I might regret that decision if Yukio's ninja is well trained, I thought.

"I'm sorry, Mack," Annie said. I tried to ignore her and stretch my other cramped muscles.

"They have my sister! They threatened to kill her! Don't you see?!" She shouted. He said they wouldn't hurt you. Please...forgive me," she said, getting on her knees, her voice fading to a whisper.

If she was tellin' the truth, then I couldn't blame her. If. It still stung that she was acting the whole time though. Live and learn I guess.

"You don't hafta apologize Annie," I said, continuing to stretch. "I had no idea he was holding your sister. I'll do what I can to get her freed, and to get you out of here, but listen, don't piss Yukio off, alright? He's a psycho and I don't wanna see you get hurt again. Just let me do the talkin'."

"Oh thank you, Mack!" She said, smiling now. She hurried over and threw her arms around me.

"Look, you don't hafta act anymore, Annie. I already said I would do what I can, so knock off the huggy stuff, capisce?" I said, relieved and irritated at the same time.

"What? I'll have you know this is real, mister! This," she said, hugging me closer and looking at me with her deep brown eyes "is NOT acting!" Then she kissed me.

What the? I want to believe her. It would be so easy. But I held back. Trust hadta be earned, no matter how much my body thought otherwise. Besides, I couldn't think clearly when she was kissin' me.

"Annie," I said, coming up for breath. "I really need to prepare myself right now and this ain't helpin'."

"Prepare yourself for a little fight?" She asked. "You can take him, right?"

"I don't think you understand," I replied. "This won't be just a fight. Most likely, knowin' Yukio, this will be to the death."

"What? No! You've been drugged, and, and your handcuffed and..."

"Howabout some water?" I asked, smilin' grimly.

"Yes, of course, here it is," she said handing me the canteen. "Can it? I mean, have you ever killed a man before?"

I didn't answer, drinking deeply from the canteen. "Whatever happens, you stay out of it, okay? If you interfere, Yukio will kill you, I'm sure of it."

"I'm not afraid of him..." she began.

"Then stay out of it for your sister," I said.

"Okay Mack," Annie said. But you're gonna win, I just know it!" And with that she gave me one more kiss. A long one.

Well, if I die, at least I'll die happier than I was, I thought. Even if she is acting. Sure didn't feel like it though.

The ten minutes flew by and Yukio returned with his ninja. "Kill him," Yukio ordered, leaning back against the wall.

The ninja unsheathed his sword and advanced.

"That's not fair! Mack doesn't have a sword!" Annie protested.

"Ha ha ha ha!" Yukio laughed. "Fair is no fun you whore. Now shut up! Open your mouth again and I'll silence you for good."

Yukio is a freakin' psycho! I thought. I hoped Annie would listen to him. I couldn't afford any distractions. Damn! This guy knows his stuff, I thought, watching the ninja approach. I worked at calming myself and breathing deeply. Timing would be crucial. I tried to appear as relaxed and nonchalant as possible. What I felt was a big knot in my gut. Sure hope this works.

"Ha ha ha!" I laughed out loud when ninja lackey was about fifteen feet away.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Kung Fu Noir: More Noir For Less

Act 1: The Mystery Lies

I put my feet up on the old all-purpose Navy desk and poured myself another glass of whiskey, straight up. Canadian Mist. Not top of the line but it will do, I thought, taking a swig.

I had procured the desk when became a P.I.. A friend of mine, a Chief, who I served with when I was in the Navy asked me if I wanted it, since he was getting a new one. It was kinda beat up but still functional and sturdy as hell.
Thanks Chief, I thought, taking another swig and saluting.

I damn near decided to stay in, but I got a sweet job offer from another old Navy friend who worked at San Diego PD. The pay was much better. Especially when I made detective and Lieutenant. Plus, I got to be home every night or day, depending on my hours. Sure, I pulled OT sometimes, but I was still home far more than I was in the Navy.

Home...damn! I emptied my glass and refilled it. I glanced at my watch. Huh. 2015 already, and on a friday night? What am I doin' here? I asked myself. Aw sh*t, what difference does it make? I stifled my thoughts 'cause they were goin' into restricted territory. I took another drink to help the stifling.

The door to my tiny office opened and I instinctively reached for my Colt .45.
National City, a suburb of San Diego wasn't the best of neighborhoods but it was the only place I could afford an office. There were gangs in the area but they usually left me alone. Sometimes they liked to spray grafitti on my door though. Punks.

But it wasn't a punk walkin' through my door, it was a dame. I eased my gat back into my hip holster. The desk was high enough where the dame couldn't see it.
Damn, she's high class, I thought, tryin' to put my eyes back into my head.
Hubba hubba. She was dressed in a fine red dress with matchin' high heels. Her hair was jet black and her deep brown eyes drew me in. Sho nuff, she was a knockout!
The necklace and earrings she wore were probably worth more than I made in two years.

"Are you the private dick?" She asked in a sultry voice, with a brilliant smile, walkin' slowly towards me, her hips swayin', hypnotizin' me. And she was packin', if you know what I mean. Not much concealed there, I thought.

Gotta snap outta it! I thought. But God was she striking! I realized my mouth was hangin' open and nothin' was comin' out. I cleared my throat.

"Um, hi," I said. "Yeah, I'm Mack," I continued, scramblin' to get my feet off the desk and stand up. I set my whiskey down and extended my hand. She took it and I felt a shock go through me. Her fingers, her soft and silky. It seemed like she held my hand in hers for a long time, and I wasn't about to complain. Her eyes held my gaze, and I just stood there in awe. I was disappointed when she finally let go of my hand.

"I'm Annie," she whispered. Such a sweet voice. I wanted her to keep talkin'.

"Oh! Sorry, let me get you a chair," I said, grabbin one of the metal, Navy folding chairs and unfolding it. "Wait, why don't you sit in my chair, it's more comfortable," I said, gesturing.

"Thank you," she breathed. Her perfume was subtle but intoxicating. Of course, I was nearly intoxicated as it was, but still, it took all the self control I had not to follow her.

Then it hit me. I was actin' like a damn fool! What the hell is wrong with me? I wondered, as I sat on the steel chair. This wasn't like me to fall for some dame I didn't know. Must be the whiskey, I thought. Yeah. That's it. I looked down and saw my ring and felt ashamed. No, don't go there!

I pulled out my cigs and offered one to the dame. "Thank you, yes," she said in that seductive voice.
I lit her cigarette and she looked at me the entire time. Readin' me like I was readin' her. But I was wary now. The ring woke me up.

I lit my smoke and grabbed my whiskey. "Want a drink?" I offered. "Unfortunately, this is all I got, but it ain't bad."

"No thanks," she replied. I gotta drive and one drink of that will make me tipsy," she said, giggling.

"Wait, your car is outside?" I asked.

"Yes, I parked on the curb," she replied with a puzzled look.

I got up and walked to the door, opened it and looked. Under the dim, dirty yellow streetlamp light I saw a red porsche. Sweet! I thought. I swept the area with my eyes but didn't see nobody.

"Look, you might have noticed this ain't a low crime area," I said, glancing back at the dame. "I'm gonna hafta keep a close eye on your wheels, 'cause believe me, there's plenty of scum around here who will jack it in a heartbeat."

"Okay. Thank you," she said.

"But it is friday night, and most everyone is cruisin' the main drag or partyin' somewhere. I'll keep checkin' every few minutes just to make sure though," I said, walkin' back to the chair and sittin' down.

Why in tarnation was this rich dame comin' to see me? I mulled, drinkin' down a long slug of my whiskey.
I looked across my desk at the dame and she smiled her sexy smile again. Why was she smilin' so much?

" can I help you?" I asked, takin' a drag off my smoke.

"Well, I need your services to find a...friend," she said.

"Have you gone to the cops?" I asked.

"No, she hasn't been missing long enough. But I know something is wrong," she said, frowning.

"What's her name and when did she go missing?" I asked.

"Gloria Stanton. She went missing this morning. She was supposed to meet me for breakfast and a game of tennis." Annie said. "She always calls if she can't make it, and only then when she has an appointment. But she didn't call me and hasn't answered any of my calls."

"Is she married?" I asked.

"Yes. I talked to her husband, Andrew, and he thinks I'm over reacting, that cad! He says she went shopping and to visit her mother, but when I called her mother there was no answer! I'm not over reacting! I just know there's something terribly wrong! Will you help me?" Annie asked, reachin' across the desk and touching my arm. "Please?" She whispered.

"Of course," I replied. "I'll need Gloria's address, phone number, and any info on friends she has. Also, what kind of car she drives, places she likes to hang out at, and any possible enemies she might have. That should do to begin with."

Annie answered all of my questions, but I couldn't shake the feelin' she wasn't tellin' me everything.

"Why did you decide to hire me?" I asked, looking out the door again to check on her porsche.

"I heard you are one of the best," Annie said, smilin'.

"Who did you hear that from?" I asked, starin' at her intently.

"Oh, I don't remember off hand. It was at a party. May I ask you something personal?" She asked.

"Sure," I replied.

"Are you married?" She asked, lookin' at my wedding ring.

I took a deep breath and tried to reply but nothin' came out. I turned and looked out the door again.

"I'm sorry," Annie said. "It's none of my business."

"No, I..," but again, I couldn't finish sayin' it. I didn't wanna think it. I took another long draught of whiskey and drained my glass. I walked back to my desk and refilled it.

Annie got up and walked over, putting her hand on my shoulder.

"Don't!" I exclaimed, pulling away. "Just...don't."

"I'm...I'm sorry," Annie replied. "I just want to help. Ohh I wish I had never asked that. I really am sorry. Please forgive me, Mack."

She looked so forlorn. I felt like an ass. "Annie, I...she's dead." I finally managed to say without choking up too bad.

"Oh Mack, I had no idea! I'm so sorry. Can I...can I please hug you?" Annie asked, grabbing me and holding me tightly.

This time I didn't resist. Annie held me and I held her, as tears flowed from my eyes and I silently cried. I felt so ashamed and yet, oddly, relieved.

"It's okay, Mack," Annie whispered in my ear. We hugged for a long time and, reluctantly, I slowly let her go. Then she looked into my red eyes...and kissed me.
At first I was shocked as questions raced through my mind. Warning signs were everywhere and alarms were goin' off left n' right. But I kissed her back, desperately, clinging to hope and fighting to hold off despair and...guilt.
I thought of that horrible day three years ago...

"I gotta see them!" I yelled, pushing through the two cops tryin' to hold me back.

"'s bad. Real bad," my partner, Jim said, blockin' my way. "Don't do this to yourself, my friend," Jim continued, putting his hand on my shoulder.

"Jim, I gotta see for myself. Please. Don't...stand in my way."

Jims face was full of anguish. I saw tears in his eyes. A rare sight.

"Okay. I won't try to stop you, but...this is a crime scene." Jim said solemnly.

I rushed into our house and stopped a few feet into our living room. My mind struggled tremendously to make sense of what I saw.

There on the floor was my wife, son and daughter. Blood was everywhere, and there were large pools under each of them. They pieces. Sheer horror!

My God! I stood there, trembling. No! "Nooo!" I boomed. No. This can't be. "I must be dreamin'...tell me I'm dreamin'..."

I felt Jim's big hands on my shoulders. "Mack...I'm so sorry my friend," his voice cracked.

"Who? Why? How?" I asked.

"I don't know, Mack, but we'll get them, I promise you," Jim said.

As I looked in shock I realized that the weapon used to murder my family was a sword.
Maybe more than one but it was the same type of sword. A very sharp sword. Maybe a katana or tachi, or perhaps a tsurugi. I was sure it was a Japanese sword, because the cuts were so clean. The cuts...

"It's my fault. I should've been here," I whispered.

"No! There was nothing you could've done, Mack, you were working. There's no way you could've known. This isn't your fault!" Jim said, moving in front of me.
"Don't blame yourself, Mack. C'mon, I've arranged for a ride to my place. Go there. Sarah will take care of you while I...find the bastard who did this."

"You gotta let me in on this case Jim. This is my family!" I boomed. Jim was senior to me, and had been on the force for nearly twenty years. He hated desk work and he was a phenominal detective, so that's what he did. He was so good, no one tried to push him into taking admin. jobs. I had learned so much from him.

"That's why you can't be on this case, Mack. I'm sorry, my hands are tied. The Captain will never let you on this case. Please, Mack...go to my house. I'll keep you informed, I promise," Jim said.

I took a long look at my family and let my breath out. My loves were dead. Murdered.
I would never feel love or joy again. I felt so empty inside. And I felt somethin' else...a burnin' desire for revenge. Justice.

"Alright Jim. I'll go. You let me know when..." I said, trembling again.

"You got it, Mack, of course I will," Jim said, guiding me out of our house.

I was numb on the ride to Jim's house. When we arrived the driver turned around.
" condolences sir."

"Mack," I said. "Just call me Mack."

"Yes sir," he said. The other cop just bowed his head. They are good guys, I thought.

"Thanks guys," I said, walkin' up the steps to Jim's house.

Sarah was already at the door, her eyes so red and watery.
"Mack..." she said, hugging me. "Oh mack."

"Thanks Sarah, for takin' me in," I replied.

"Don't be silly, you're family," she said, holdin' me. Sarah always had felt like a mom or big sister to me. "Now, what can I get you?" She asked, leadin' me into the kitchen.

"I could use a drink," I said. "Got any whiskey?"

"We sure do Mack. How about some Chivas Regal?" Sarah replied.

We sat in silence for awhile while I drank. I didn't know what to say and I'm sure Sarah felt the same way, or maybe she was giving me some space.

"Sarah? What am I supposed to do?" I asked, tears streaming down my face.

"Mack...stay with us. We have an extra room. Keep busy working, and remember, Jim and I are always here for you, dear," Sarah replied, coming over to hug me again.

I tried. Oh how I tried. I worked as much as I could and when I wasn't workin' I drank. I drank because...I couldn't handle the nightmares. I despised sleep and fought it tooth and nail.

It got worse when Jim couldn't find any leads. None of my neighbors had seen or heard anything, and CSI could find no trace of the killers. I was sure there were at least two, but it was only a gut feeling.

"Jim, could it be Yakuza?" I asked one day.

"I don't know, Mack. It's possible. The killer, or killers, knew what they were doing. If only I could get a break. Why did they do it? What was their motive?" Jim answered.

Jim looked so haggard. For months he had put everything into this case. If he couldn't solve it no one could. I felt so helpless, and I felt bad that Jim was pushing himself so hard.

"Jim...I know you're doin' your best," I said. "But don't push yourself so hard."

"Mack, I'll rest when I find the butchers who did this. And I'll tell you now, I dearly hope they resist arrest," Jim said, his eyes narrowing.

Jim thought there was more than one also. I wracked my brain tryin' to figure out why the Yakuza, the Japanese mob would put a hit on my family, or if not them, lone swordsmen. One thing I knew, the killers knew kendo. I knew this because I had been training in the same art. Bushido, the way of the warrior, and kendo, the way of the sword.

Master Toshiro had made me memorize the purpose of kendo:

To mold the mind and body.
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor.
To associate with others with sincerity.
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
This will make one be able:
To love his/her country and society.
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

Perhaps Master could help. I hadn't been to see him since the day...

I drove to his house, a small, humble abode, with about five acres of property in the desert, east of San Diego.
I knocked but there was no answer. I looked around, thinking Master might be outside somewhere.

Odd, there were weeds. Master never permitted weeds to grow anywhere near his house. I sensed that Master wasn't here. I did a quick search and tried to look into the house where the curtains weren't drawn but there was no sign of him.

I called Jim on my cell phone. "Jim? I can't find Master Toshiro. Can you see if anyone has reported him missing?" I asked.

"Wilco, Mack. I'll get back to you," Jim replied.

Half an hour later Jim called back. "No. No reports, Mack."

"I'm gonna break in, Jim," I said. "He could be hurt."

"I didn't catch that, Mack, you're breaking up," Jim said.

I tried to find a window that was unlocked but no dice. I wrapped my jacket around my arm and broke the living room window. Just enough to unlock it from the inside.
I lifted it up and crawled in, after clearing the glass.

I searched the entire house but there was no sign of Master Toshiro.

I did notice dust on everything, which was another sign that Master hadn't been here for quite some time. Where could he have gone? I wondered. I searched for clues.

In the den, inside his desk I found an expired plane ticket to Hong Kong. What? October 13th? But that was...! No! I couldn't believe that Master Toshiro was involved in my families murders. That was...impossible. But where was he?

I continued to search his desk but found nothing. I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the desk, hoping to find a secret compartment or something. What's that? There was a phone number written on the bottom of the desk top. What's that doin' there?

I tried the number. "Hello?" A man answered.

"Yes, may I speak with Toshiro?" I asked.

"...Who is this?" The man replied.

"This is Hiroshi, his brother," I lied.

"How did you get this number?" The man asked.

Crap! C'mon, give me somethin'. "Toshiro gave it to me," I replied. "Is he there?"

"N-no. There is no one here by that name," the man said.

"Okay, sorry to bother you," I said, clenching my teeth. I called Jim back.
"Jim, this is Mack. Can you trace a call I made to it's source? Here's the number."

"I'll see what I can do," Jim replied. "Any idea why I'm doing this?"

"Just a hunch. I'm tryin' to find Toshiro and I found this number. Thanks, Jim," I said. I didn't tell Jim about the air ticket. I knew Master Toshiro wouldn't way. And if Jim thought there was any connection to the murder of my family he would stop me in my tracks.

I searched some more but I found nothing. My cell rang. "Yeah?"

"The address is blocked, Mack, but it's in the general area of Clairemont Mesa. An Upscale neighborhood. If you can keep him on the phone for a few minutes we can run a trace," Jim said.

"Okay, I'll be there in an hour or so and we can give it a try," I said. "But this has to be on the QT."

"No problem. But you better fill me in," Jim said.

"Right now it's just all hunches, Jim. I'd rather not speculate at this point."

"Okay, that's good enough for me. I'll call in a favor," Jim said.

"Thanks Jim," I said.

I tried to make sense of Master Toshiro's disappearance. Was he in trouble? Why didn't he call me? I wondered.

I drove as fast as I could but it was lunch time and highway 8 was packed.
I reflected on all the new events. I had to be careful. I didn't wanna get Jim in trouble. I wasn't too concerned about myself. It was imperative I find who killed my family and find Master Toshiro.

As we kissed a question somehow made it to what was left of my mind. Why is Annie kissin' me? Isn't she concerned about her friend? Oh crap. Talk about ruinin' the moment. Why couldn't I think of that after...

I pulled away from Annie, reluctantly. "Annie, I..."

"Shhh, it's okay," Annie said, kissing me again. It got pretty hot and heavy and our passion ruled the moment. The questions could wait, I thought. But my senses kept warning me and wouldn't shut up.

I felt a draft behind me and I spun around quickly. There was a man dressed in black. A ninja? He hit me with a glancing blow but it wasn't enough to put me down.
I countered with a side kick to his left knee and I heard a loud crack! Followed by the ninja's scream. That hadta hurt, I thought.

I pulled the mask off the ninja but didn't recognize him. "Who sent you?" I asked. "Why did you attack me?"

"I want a lawyer," the ninja said, gasping in pain.

"And I...want answers," I said. "I better put some pressure on that knee. It's bleedin'," I said, pressing down on his injured knee.

The ninja screamed again. "Mack!" Annie cried.

"Stay out of this Annie," I replied. "I aim to get some answers."
"Who sent you?"

"I-I don't know. Really!" Ninja said, crying.

"Why did you attack me?" I asked.

"I was p-paid to knock you out and b-bring you to the warehouse," ninja said. "I d-don't know why. Please! Call an ambulance!"

"What warehouse?" I asked. "Where is it?"

I felt another rush of air and turned towards the door. I felt the sting of a dart in my neck before I could react, followed by a flash of blinding light, then everything went slowly dark. I couldn't move as I fell to the floor. Annie screamed.
I hate ninjas! Damn! Was my last thought as I lost conciousness.