Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chapter Eleven: Punches Are Thrown; or, How To Offend As Many Groups As Possible In One Chapter

"Where are we takin' him again?"

"Ah tol you, Zeb - ya always forget stuff, so we don't tell ya shit no more."

"Right. Forgot. Sorry, Jeb."

"T'ain't nothing, Zeb. Yor the strongest one we got, so yor pretty valuable to us. Just not in the thinkin' department."

"Shore. I git it."

They were carrying me along the street. I was bound, but not well, and blindfolded. I could still hear the street traffic, though. Then I stopped moving and was lifted up. I heard a door opening and then I was placed somewhat roughly in what I assumed was the back of a van. The carpeting smelled of pork rinds.

I heard the engine start, and then we were in motion. My abductors kept talking.

"Why did Gareth want this guy again?"

"Sumthin' to do with a book. I don't ask questions except how much will they pay."

"Shore, shore. Good idea, I reckon. But this guy don't look like no spy."

"Ain't that the point o' spies, Huck? They don't look like spies, now do they?"

"Shee-it, yor right, Jeb. Thass why Mama always liked you best. Yor the smart one."

"Mama din't like me best, Huck. I was just too big for her to smack. You 'n' Nash were always the runts of the litter."

"Yeah. Reckon yor right, Jeb. Reckon yor right ..."

They were quiet for the remainder of the ride. It was a long drive, over thirty minutes, and I lost track of the turns we made. I had no idea where we were when we finally stopped. I was dragged out of the van and carried for a short distance. Then I was thrown into a chair and tied to it, again inexpertly. I knew if I could somehow get these guys talking - which didn't seem that difficult - I could easily get out of my bonds.

They pulled off my blindfold. I was in a darkened room with only one window, which was covered by a heavy black drapery. A single light behind me somewhere gave off a dull yellow haze. My abductors were standing in front of me. The one I assumed was Jeb was in front, regarding me calmly. He wore a baseball cap with a tractor company's name on it, and his flannel shirt was red-and-white checkered. He had a scruffy beard and a droopy left eye. He was carrying nunchuks. The rest of the group was arrayed behind him, looking angrily at me.

"Okay, boy," Jeb said. "We was paid good money to git information from you, and we're gonna git it. Easy way or hard way. Shit, you know the drill. I reckon you've seen enough movies."

I smiled. I didn't know who these guys were or which of my enemies had hired them, but as soon as I got out of my ropes, I knew I could easily escape them. I worked them against the back of the chair a little. They gave slightly.

"Why you smiling, boy?" Jeb said. "We may look like shit, but we're feared on three continents. You ain't gettin' out of this with that pretty face intact. Unless you give us what we want."

"Who the hell are you, anyway?" I said, trying to get him angry. "What's the deal here? You're wearing shitty clothes and carrying exotic weapons. What's the deal?"

One of the group stepped forward and hissed, "Shut it, asshole! We're the Redneck Ninjas, and proud of it. So you just shut it!"

I chuckled. "The Redneck Ninjas? What the hell is up with that?"

The head "ninja" pushed his friend back. "It's okay, Kyle. He's just ignorant. We're only famous in the right places, you know."

I wanted them to talk. "No, I'm curious. Tell you what: you tell me all about your ninja thing, and I'll tell you what you want to know. I don't even know what you want to know, but I'll tell you. I promise. Deal?"

Another member of the group said, "Sounds fair, Jeb. Wot about it?"

Jeb pulled out a pocket watch and checked it. "We got time, boys. So, Shaw, what do you want to know?"

"Redneck Ninjas? What's that all about?"

Jeb scratched his stubble. "Well, me 'n' my brothers and friends used to read a lot of comic books and watch a lot of television. Growing up in Rhubarb Corner, Alabama, we didn't have a lot to do, git it? I mean, it ain't exactly Noo York, you know?"

"Okay. Comic books and movies. Got it."

"Well the folks at the teevee station put on a lot of movies on late at night that came from the Orient. Kung fu movies 'n' shit, right? And all them comics we was reading, well they all had these dudes in them who wore black 'n' kicked ass with nunchuks 'n' throwing stars 'n' shit. So we was watching those movies 'n' reading those comics 'n' we figgered -"

"We can do that?" I cut in. I had two fingers free.

"Shit yeah. Why the hell not?"

"Yeah," said one, whose voice I recognized. It was Zeb. "Why the hell not? Those gooks can fight real good!"

Jeb turned slightly. "Zeb, you know that's not a nice word to use."

"Shit, Jeb, sorry. Slants, I mean."

"Japanese, Zeb."




"Japanese, Zeb. Or Asian."

"Aww right. Shit."

"So," said Jeb, turning back to me, "we studied. Yes, Mr. Big City Man, we can study if we like the thing we're studying. We studied kung fu 'n' judo 'n' all that shit, and Ma sent me 'n' Zeb to the Orient -"

"You mean Asia?"

He slapped me across the face. I expected it, so I was ready for it. I just wanted him to keep bragging, so I figured I'd goad him a little. I had three fingers free.

"She sent me 'n' Zeb to Asia," he said, drawing out the last word, "'n' we studied with Master Choi, who had lost a foot 'n' six fingers during the War - Zeb kidded him about it once ... once! - but was still the biggest ass kicking slope you'll ever see ... Shit, I mean Asian," he said as his posse snickered. "Anyway, Master Choi made us sweep his floors, but then he taught us everything, even the Dynamite Three-Toed Sloth Claw. You use that on your enemy's ankle and his heart explodes. Like dynamite."

"Yes, I got that. So you formed your group?"

"We come home to Alabama and tell the rest of our brothers - that's Huck there, 'n' Silent Sam - plus our best friends Kyle, Butch, and Ezekiel all about Master Choi's secrets. We fix up our van 'n' hit the road, like those kids with the dog."

"What kids ...?"

"You know, Fred 'n' Velma 'n' them. And that pot-smoking dog o' theirs. Anyway, we tell Mama we gots to make our fortune, so we gots to leave Rhubarb Corner. We go to Noo York 'n' set up shop. Soon we were making money like Butch's pappy used to cook up shine out in the woods while servicin' them sheep. Easy, that is."

"You're assassins, I guess."

"Shit, boy, you ain't too bright, are you? We're top assassins. We took on the Five Fists of Fargo - and won. The Argyle Sockers tried to git us - we took them out, too. Remember when President Koombaiyah visited the Alex a few years back and ended up with a sai in his throat? That was Silent Sam - deadly with the sai. And that actor fella - what was his name -?"

"Cliff Westtree, Jeb."

"Thanks, Zeb. Yeah, when he was makin' all that noise about running for gov'nor and helpin' out big business down there in California, who do you think put that tapioca in his paella, knowing he was deathly allergic to tapioca? We was hired by some big environmental group that was worried he would kill off the condor or sumthin'. Don't much care about no condors, but the money was good."

"You guys are impressive. I'm starting to wonder if I'm too small-time for you."

"A big super-spy like you? This is our biggest score yet! If we can find out from you where the book yor selling to the Cubans is, we can retire. You don't just take shit from Uncle Sam and 'spect to sell it like that, boy."

When they had mentioned earlier that I was a spy, I wondered what they had been told. Not a bad thing to tell these guys, I guess - the way they were acting around me, they must have been super-patriots or something.

Jeb leaned in more closely. "Tell you the truth, Shaw, I'da done this job for free. Traitors like you make me puke." He spat the last word so I got a face-full of spittle.

"Well, that's real interesting, Jeb. But I got three reasons why you're going to be disappointed today."

"No shit?" He glanced back at his posse, chuckling. Then he turned back to me. "Why's that?"

"First, I'm not selling the book to the Cubans. Your employer lied to you. They just don't want to pay fair market value for it. Second, whoever tied me did a poor job of it. While you've been here squawking, I've been untying myself." I reached up suddenly and bashed both his temples with my fists. He fell back, yowling in pain. I jumped up and took a defensive position as the six others helped him up and took out their weapons.

"Third," I said, my lips curling into a smile, "you may have studied with Master Choi, but I studied with Master Choi's sensei, Master Hana - he insisted we call him Benny - and Master Hana told me everything he knew, but he certainly didn't tell Master Choi! You may know the Dynamite Three-Toed Sloth Claw, but I know the Cascading Waterfall of Death, the Seven Place Setting Defense, and the Bones of the Wanton Empress Attack!" I leapt at them. Jeb went down quickly under a roundhouse kick. I knew he'd be back. I chopped Zeb in the neck and twirled him around, breaking his wrist in the process. I'll give him credit - he didn't make a sound. I flipped him over and knocked him unconscious by thumbing a pressure point in his neck. It took only two seconds, but that allowed Silent Sam and Huck to pummel me briefly before I whirled away, grabbed the chair to which I had been tied, and spun around, smashing it over Huck's head. He staggered back into Butch and Ezekiel. I held onto one chair leg and jammed it into Silent Sam's stomach. He doubled over and I brought the leg down on the back of his neck and he crumpled. Jeb was getting up, and I judged that he was most dangerous of the group. I kicked him in the groin before he was completely standing, and that sent him down again. Turning, I faced Huck, Butch, Ezekiel, and Kyle. I wasn't sure which to take first. I waited for a second, then dropped to my knees, rocked forward slightly, and launched myself at them. They weren't expecting such a frontal attack, and I had a very temporary advantage. I bowled them over, rolled, and spun back around, tripping Butch with my right foot and then bringing it up to crack Huck in the knee. He, unlike his brother, screamed - I had broken his kneecap. He went down in a heap. In one motion, I brought my hand down on Butch's throat. He went limp. Ezekiel had nunchuks out and one end cracked me across the temple. I picked up another chair leg and hurled it at him. It caught him in the throat and he stumbled back. I was on him before he could move, knocking him unconscious as well. I whirled on Kyle, who had backed up and was standing next to Jeb, who had gotten to his feet. Jeb started to speak, but Kyle roared and lunged at me. I parried him like a matador and chopped him across the neck with the chair leg, and he went down. I turned to face Jeb. He was grimacing, but his grimace hooked upward into a smile.

"What's so funny?" I said, panting slightly. Adrenaline was blazing through me.

"Shit, Shaw, if I knowed you was such a great fuckin' ninja, I might have prepared better! We was misled."

"Yes you were. I feel bad for you boys - like I said, I have no intention of selling the book to the Cubans. I'm all about good old-fashioned capitalism, and your bosses didn't want to bid on it. Now, before I kick your ass back to Alabama - who's Gareth, and where can I find him?"

He chuckled. "I ain't that stupid, Shaw. We don't give up our employers, even if they lie to us. We'll just go and settle with him on our own. Sorry, but you're gonna have to kick my ass back to Alabama." He smiled for real this time, and took a fighting stance.

"Well, Jeb," I said, taking my own stance, "that's what I'm gonna do." And I did.


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