Psamurai #7

 

Late to the party? Catch up here.

 

We Can’t Dance

 

Ian and Hunter sat on the sidewalk leaning against a car. A hail of gunfire whizzed overhead from across the street. One bullet broke through the car’s windows, raining glass on them. The bullet continued through a glass storefront, taking the head off a mannequin. A store patron who had taken cover behind the mannequin display poked her head up and saw Hunter and Ian. She gave them an irked frown. Hunter shrugged and Ian shook his head.

“She has a point,” Ian said. “What the hell are we doing?”

“Foiling a bank heist, I think.” Hunter replied, shaking the glass out of his hair.  

“That’s how it started. That’s how it always starts. Why are we involving ourselves in bank heists? Simon Vyx says everything is forgiven and we forget about it? We’ve spent the last few months turning bank robberies into warzones. Why aren’t we focusing on Vyx instead of chasing around this imbecilic gang?”

“Cheryl seems to think we need to practice our teamwork.”

“Practice? Like a garage band? This isn’t practice. Practice shouldn’t shut down city blocks,” Ian slouched further against the car. “Practice would also imply eventual improvement. And doesn’t it seem a bit odd that we’re getting away with it?”

“I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth,” Hunter said leaping to his feet to swat back a smoke bomb with his katana. The bomb sailed back across the street and plinked off the glass of the lobby and hit the sidewalk, smoking.

Carl was in the lobby of the bank grappling with several men in tuxedos and fish masks. One was dancing around the perimeter of the scrum holding a rifle, trying to get a clear shot on Carl as he lurched about pulling off the fish masked assailants that clung to him. Another masked gangster came running in from the back carrying a steel case.

“Herring,” he yelled, dropping the case to the floor and unlatching the top. “Scrod finished the gauntlet for the big one.”  

Herring opened the case and inside, nestled in a form-fitting mold, was a metal fist studded with blinking, blue lights and laced with wires. Herring placed the fist over his hand and whistled loud, imitating a boatswain’s call.

“Step aside,” he shouted, brandishing the gauntlet. “Clear out, ya minnows. I got this.”

The swarm of fish masked thugs parted and regrouped, in unison, behind Herring. He put up his hands in a boxer’s guard and began wobbling in a circle around Carl.

“Carl,” Herring nodded.

“Snapper,” Carl nodded back.

“Herring. I’m Herring.”

“Sorry. Both of your masks are red.”

“Carl, over these past months, I’ve come to see us as counterparts, in our respective organizations. My shadow, so to speak. The fact that you don’t even recognize me shows that isn’t reciprocated. I thought I knew my place in this dynamic.”

“I’ve always seen Scrod as my counterpart.”

“Scrod? Really? He built this, you know?”

“That’s why Scrod. What is that thing?”

“Escalation,” Herring said as he struck Carl, sending him flying through the windows of lobby, through the smoke and on through the department store window across the street, devastating another mannequin display. The fish gang raced out to the sidewalk, into the smoke cloud, but were met with the electrical thunks of Sophie’s arrows hitting the ground in front of them. One of her arrows pierced the rear end of a car parked on the street, igniting the gas tank. The car began to blaze.

 

“Another day, another car fire,” Cheryl said, through a scarf wrapped around her face, to Sophie who was firing arrows from the department store roof.

“You started freaking out and it threw me off,” Sophie protested and adjusted the dark blue, venetian, domino mask over her eyes, “And I’m never going to get used to this thing.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t pack the transmitters,” Cheryl barked into her duffle bag and lifted her goggles onto her head.

“I thought I did,” Sophie pulled a gadget out of the bag. “Isn’t this a transmitter?”

“That’s Roland’s electric tuner.”

“Well, I don’t know this shit, you do. Since when is it my job to keep track of your stuff?”

“I was busy making sure Piper and Psamurai knew their parts. Which they clearly didn’t. I need a little help, Priest. I can’t keep this thing floating myself.

“I’d love to help, but asking me to do things I know nothing about isn’t helping your cause, Fan. You’ve got Carl, a mechanic and Piper, an engineer. And you pick me to pack your bag of arcane bullshit?” Sophie leaned over the ledge and fired more arrows into the smoke screen. Another car caught fire.

“It’s not that you hit an occasional car. It’s that you always manage to blow them up.”

“It’s not helping that Psamurai knocked a smoke bomb right into the middle of everything.”

“How did this happen? We clicked so well against Tabula Rasa.”

“Did we? How much of that do you remember? You spent most of the time grooving on a psychic monster. All I remember is everyone lying everywhere and I panicked. I was terrified. It was exhilarating though. This is just annoying.” She looked back over the ledge, the smoke was thinning and none of the fish gang were there to be seen. A white sheet was hanging from what was left of the lobby with red paint scrawling the words ‘GO FISH’.

 

Hunter had gotten good at fleeing the scene. Honing a fine balance of alleys, fire escapes and roof tops for maximum speed at minimum exposure. As long as he could make the initial slip, he was a ghost. However, this time, as he ducked down an alley, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Hello…Psamurai,” the hand’s owner spit the word out like rotten milk.

“Me?” Hunter said. “I’m not a samurai.”

“Yeah, no kidding. You’re a dumb ass, caucasian, stoner who swings a katana like a baseball bat. You probably got it from Bud K, right?”

“Uh,” Hunter turned and saw a pounchy man with a rough beard. His hair was pulled into a top knot that seemed to exaggerate the scowl on his face.

“Right. Might as well swing that garbage like a bat.”

“Who are you?”

“You’ll know if I want you to know.”

“Look I gotta…”

“You wanna know how to wield a katana? Really learn the art you shit on everyday?” he jabbed a business card into Hunter’s chest. “Then come to this address at five tomorrow morning,” he turned and walked away saying over his shoulder, “And when you come, you come clean. No tripping in my dojo.”

 

“Another…interesting and expensive performance by Miss Eller’s Menagerie as they took on the Go Fish Gang for the second time this week,” rattled the voice on the television news, “And the ninth time in the last three months, again leaving a wake of destruction that has people asking ‘why are we letting vigilantes create a worse situation than they claim to prevent and why are isn’t anybody holding them accountable’?”

“Looks like the Go Fish Gang is earning their keep,” Kyle, Vyx’s assistant said, “I have to admit I was skeptical at first.”

Vyx met Kyle’s comment with a smile and vigorous nod, “I figured they wouldn’t be able to resist flying headlong into themed nemesis like a brick wall. They’re crusaders with delusions of grandeur. Very predictable. A few more disasters and they’ll be public enemies one through five. Then I can sweep in as the hero finally putting this nonsense to rest. Won’t hurt in the polls either.”

“Speaking of, the latest Rasmussen and Gallup Polls have you twenty points ahead of the Democrat and twelve in front of the Republican. You’re the best performing independent in a long time.”

“Putting away the Menagerie will seal the deal,” Vyx turned solemn. “Still, I think it’s a shame. I wish they took the out when I gave it to them. Ellers and Roland are talented engineers. They could be doing so much better for themselves.”

 

“Another…interesting and expensive performance by Miss Eller’s Menagerie as they took on the Go Fish Gang for the second time this week,” rattled the voice on the television news, “And the ninth time in the last three months, again leaving a wake of destruction that has people asking ‘why are we letting vigilantes create a worse situation than they claim to prevent and why are isn’t anybody holding them accountable’?”

Cheryl threw a plastic bottle at her monitor, “Stop calling us that. It’s a stupid name.”

“I think it’s cute,” Sophie interjected.

“You would,” Cheryl snapped.

“Jeez, calm down.”

“Engelbert doesn’t get to name us,” she through another bottle at the monitor, then another and another in rapid fire. “And why doesn’t anybody throw their trash away.”

“They’re all yours.”

Cheryl stopped and looked at the pile of bottles she had made, plopped down in her chair and dropped her head to her desk, “We suck at this.”

“We could use some work.”

“How much work? We’ve been at this for months. Roland contradicts everything I say, Hunter can’t remember anything I say, Carl is a bull in a china shop and you’re always making excuses for them.”

“We jumped in the deep end before we learned to tread water. We’ve never done this before. At least on this scale.”

“We found Sophie’s superpower; making excuses.”

“We found Cheryl’s superpower; placing blame.”

“I’m doing everything I can to make this thing work and all you guys can do is trip over each other.”

“I’m the one who said start small; muggers in alleys or car thieves. You’re the one who got fixated on a bunch of goons in masks. Some well equipped goons, I might add. That guy had a glove that punched Carl across the street. You’re expecting much too much from us, Cher.”

Cheryl sighed into her arms, then flopped back into her chair, her head dangling over the back and her palms pressed to her eyes. Sophie pinched a lock of dangling hair and examined it.

“Split ends,” she mumbled. “Now you’re stealing my look?”

Cheryl started giggling, “Do you have any idea when was the last time I got laid? I don’t.”

“When was the last time you got more than three hours sleep?”

“You know I don’t dream when I sleep anymore? It’s just blackness. Deep, yawning blackness. I stand at the edge of it and stare in. Terror starts mounting but I can’t look away. I know without a doubt it’s completely empty. Nothing. Nobody. But my terror rises to dread, rises to some sort of existential, emotional oblivion. I want to scream, but sound would be something. So instead my body silently whimpers and rages. I can’t look away. All I can do hope I can wrench myself awake. That’s when I find out I’ve only been asleep for fifteen minutes.”

Sophie put her hand on Cheryl’s head, pulled it against her belly, “Poor, poor Cheryl,” she chuckled. “You need to take a step back. We all do. We’re going to kill ourselves. Or get somebody killed. You’re going to have to admit that there are some things you’re not ready to handle.”

Cheryl closed her eyes and sighed as Sophie stroked her hair, “Friends with benefits?” she deadpanned.

“Keep dreaming,” Sophie replied.

“Why did you have to say ‘dreaming’?” Cheryl pulled away, dropped her head to the desk and began to mock cry into her arms.

“Shit, sorry. Poor choice of words.”

A cough could be heard in the corner of the room. They looked and saw Ian sitting cross legged on a stack of sacks of mulch.

“How long have you been here?” Cheryl asked, startled.

“I was already here meditating when you came down and started screaming at the news,” Ian replied. “Then you two got into an altercation.”

“And you stayed? You were expecting to see something, weren’t you, you creep?”

“Certainly not. I just couldn’t think of a graceful way to extricate myself,” he rotated a flyer in his hand.“But, since I have your attention I have an idea. An idea you probably won’t like because you never like my ideas…”

“Just give it here,” Cheryl yanked the flyer from Ian’s hand.

The flyer featured an older man, thin and dressed as if he was attending a royal wedding. A streak of white ran down the middle of his jet black hair. He was flanked by a young woman in a white jumpsuit with flared cuffs and an oversized terry cloth bathrobe. A little starburst effect was placed next to feathered golden hair.

“Since we’re having difficulty finding cohesion,” Ian explained.

“Professor Roy Falstaff and Tracy?” Cheryl read, then rolled her eyes back to Ian. “Do you want us to go see a magic show as a team?”

Ian glared back. Cheryl rolled her eyes back to the flyer.

“Life, Leadership, Teamwork,” she read. “Oh, Jesus, Roland, really? Life coaching? You’re supposed to be the smart one. And what does this snake oil salesman charge per trust fall?”

“It’s a free open house weekend. It’s two hours away in Poconos. We’ll get in the Chariot, with the way you drive, we’ll be there in an hour and fifteen. At the very least, we get out of this city. Away from fish masks and Simon Vyx and getting shot at.”

Sophie become overcome with laughter. Head back, mouth open, releasing peals of gleeful, galloping roars.

“I think that is as good an answer as I could have given,” Cheryl said to Ian, handing him the flyer.

“We’re going on vacation together,” Sophie cackled, bent at the waist and wiping her eyes, “I’m sorry…I actually…I think it’s…it’s a great idea….,” she struggled in futility to reign in her laughing, “Sorry, sorry…it’s so absurd,” she erupted anew.

As Cheryl stared at Sophie in her merriment, her expression became more and more drawn. Her eyes lolled toward the ground and she sighed.

“Fine. Fuck it,” she said looking at Ian, “You tell Moe and Curly.”

“Why the change of heart?”

“Why look a gift horse in the mouth?”

“A good leader communicates. Roy Falstaff will tell you that.”

“Fucking Roy Falstaff…okay. Because I should be laughing hysterically with my best friend over absolutely nothing. All I can do is stare.”

 

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