Synopsis:  Joel was just a regular ol’ park ranger, minding his own business when Yukihiro, a recently retired assassin for a Tokyo yakuza family, burst through a window and into his life.

Now, he’s trapped quite figuratively in a web of deceit and danger that goes beyond the usual ‘hilarious misunderstanding’ and driven straight to ‘running away for dear life’.

Will Joel survive the adventure? Will Yukihiro ever explain what it’s all about or why Triads want him dead? Or will everyone just be eaten alive by bears?

Previous Chapter: Chapter 6 – Easy Fight Rambling

Index

Next Chapter: Chapter 8 – I’m Waiting For The Man

 

Chapter 7: Caught By The River

Joel was going to kill his younger brother. He was going to strangle Mikey, and drive to an abandoned quarry somewhere, burn his corpse, then scatter the remains. And then he might get some peace and quiet. Funny how that thought kept cropping up today.

In fact, it had been reoccurring since Mikey had gotten him up insanely early this morning. Joel couldn’t figure out why Mikey had been up before one in the afternoon on a holiday day, but the poor kid seemed to be still stressed out about something. He was really jittery and kept twitching about, jumping from subject to subject rapidly when they did actually talk. Joel was trying to be patient with him; it was obvious that something was bugging him, and he was having a hard time bringing up whatever it was that was bugging him with his older brother. It didn’t help that he was inadvertently being so bloody annoying at the same time.

Now, they were sitting having lunch before braving the bitter Canadian cold to continue their Christmas shopping trip. They’d stopped in at an old timey American style diner. It had a proper old fashioned juke box (which was apparently older than their father) that still played the same old blues and Mo-town numbers, and several singing Billy Bass hung on the walls. Basically, because it was filled with good old fashioned stereotypes of the US rather than of Canada, it tended to attract more of a tourist crowd than locals, but it could be relied on for good, greasy French fries and burgers slavered in cheese and ketchup and gherkins. Joel did like his gherkins, and not even as a terrible innuendo – he was probably the only person he knew that actually liked gherkins and didn’t pick them out of burgers gingerly, nor spit them out half masticated in the middle of a good chew.

Nathan had never particularly liked the smell of them on his breath. As far as Joel was concerned, Nathan could stick the gherkins in his pipe and smoke it. After all, he was most definitely not thinking about his ex boyfriend, nope, no way, no sir.

Speaking of gherkins, Mikey had been sitting, staring at his mostly finished lunch, pushing around his own around his plate with his fork, dunking them through globs of French mustard and tomato ketchup in figure of eight shapes. He had been sitting doing this for the past ten minutes solid, and Mikey was definitely one of the masses who had never liked them. From age three, they had been used as projectiles and unexpected presents on the seats of other customers. Joel decided it was time to take charge of the situation and bite the bullet.

“So who do we still have to buy for then?” Joel asked

“Huh? What did you say there?” Mikey blurted, looking all around the diner apart from at his brother.

Joel sighed and began to scour the list. “I said, who have we still got to buy presents for? I’ve still got to get something for Grandpa Moss and Grandma Imelda. I think we’ve more or less got Mom and Dad done. Still need to get something for Aunt Wilhelmina though…”

“A personality transplant would be a good start,” Mikey muttered around his soda straw.

Joel smiled and shook his head. They were getting there.

“A pertinent point, kiddo, but no one really likes to get a ticket for surgery for a Christmas present. We could put some thought into it… Or we could just cop out and get slightly expensive candy,” he said, grinning.

Mikey shrugged: “Whatever man, it’s not like she’d be able to tell the difference anyway. She’ll complain either way, until Mom doses her with bourbon.”

Now was the time to act on this one. Joel looked up from their shared present list, and looked at his younger brother.

“Astute statements on Aunt Wilhelmina’s self-medication aside, what’s going on kiddo? You’ve been acting really weird, and don’t try and palm it off on Mom getting you to check up on me. Something’s wrong. Do you want to tell me what it is already? I’m assuming it’s why we’re both up before lunchtime just before Christmas.”

Mikey squirmed uncomfortably under his older brother’s stare, fiddling with the sleeves of his long t-shirt. He didn’t seem like a confident college student who’d been living away from home. He just seemed so much younger and easily freaked out now.

“Michael, whatever it is, I’m not going to judge you. I’m not going to force you to talk about it or anything, but we can only stay out for so long. So I’m here kid, I’m happy to listen to whatever you have to say,” Joel said. “Was it something that happened at college?”

“Yes… Oh fuck, Joel, this is really embarrassing. I don’t think I can go back there. I’m totally screwed.”

Joel felt tension roll out of his shoulders a little. It couldn’t be that bad if the source was embarrassment. It would be embarrassing for Mikey, but at least it wasn’t life threatening or degree credit threatening. He could work with that.

“Come on, it can’t be that bad. It’s another whole four weeks before you go back to college. Whatever happened, they’ll have forgotten about it by then and moved on to something else, surely,” Joel said, trying to keep his voice light, but not so light Mikey thought he was taking the piss.

Mikey’s right eyebrow shot up.

“Oh yeah? You wanna bet on that?”

Joel shrugged.

“Okay then, I’ll take that bet. I bet it was nowhere near as bad as you think it was and that they’ll have forgotten it completely by next term.”

“It involves this girl I like…”

“Wow, there’s a shocker. What happened then?” To be honest, Joel hadn’t been aware of these updates to his younger brother’s love life, but it was an inevitable part of living so far apart from one another and not talking as much.

“I kind of met a girl at college… Her name’s Melanie and we’re both in the Shorinji Kempo Society.”

“And so…”

“Well, she kept handing my ass to me, but she seemed really nice and all. We went out a couple of times and it was good. Things were going really well, and last week she invited me over to her dorm rooms for the evening… Her roommate was supposed to have gone home early for the holidays, and we were going to have the place to ourselves…”

Joel had been about to congratulate his younger brother on successful maintenance of a romantic liaison, when the grin fell straight of his face.

“Oh god no, I know where this is going…”

Mikey turned bright red.

“Actually you don’t. Can I finish my story already?”

Joel cradled his face with one hand, and made a swishing motion with the other to urge his younger brother along with the tale of woe.

“Okay… So I got round to hers. Watched a couple of films, I think one was some really horrendous chick flick and the other was a horror one… I guess we weren’t really paying attention to them anymore though, we were making out and stuff, things were good…”

“And then you were interrupted?”

Mikey nodded miserably.

“Yeah, it was the damn roommate. Apparently she’d been talking to her boyfriend just before she hit the road back home, and he dumped her annoying ugly ass…”

“Michael!”

“What? It was all her damn fault I had to run across the campus to my dorm in her clothes and got locked out of my own fucking dorm!” Mikey hissed.

“WHAT?” Joel nearly snorted his soda down his lungs.

“Basically Melanie’s dorm is single sex and I kind of wasn’t meant to be there in the first place at all… Her roommate is a complete goody two shoes and she would have totally sold us out to the RA, and Melanie couldn’t get rid of her. So I had to scramble out of there really quickly. Like climb down the drain pipe and grab the first sets of clothes I could find quickly…

“And the first set of clothes I pulled on turned out to be Melanie’s. And I since I couldn’t break into my own dorm room, I had to break into one of my friend’s… He was off of his face, completely baked like a fucking apple pie. He started to run around, fucking screaming that a drag queen was trying to kill him… Stoner moron,” Mikey muttered, turning an interesting shade of red.

Joel was not going to smile. Joel was not going to laugh. Joel was not going to mock his younger brother’s traumatising pain, as amusing as schadenfraude could be.

“Joel? What the fuck, why the hell are you smiling like that? Do you think this is fun, does this amuse you? I’m the Murdering Drag Queen of Jacobsen Hall, damn it, I’LL NEVER LIVE THIS ONE DOWN!” Mikey said, snarling as quietly as he could at his brother, not wanting to attract the attention of any other patrons, a couple of whom were trying to surreptitiously stare and sneak looks at Joel, who was failing to hold in a major fit of the giggles.

“I’m sorry kid… I really am… I promise I won’t tell Mom about your adventures in homicide and high heels,” Joel said, breaking down with quietly hysterical laughter, falling forward onto the table and burying his face in his folded arms.

JOEL THIS IS NOT FUNNY. QUIT LAUGHING MAN, I’M SERIOUS HERE.”

It took a little while but Joel recovered enough to sit up, and not titter every time he saw his brother’s glowering face.

“Okay, okay, I’m cool now, I’m calm. I’m sorry Mikey, but you have to admit… It’s pretty funny if you weren’t there,” Joel said, trying his hardest not to smile. “Seriously, I’m sorry… As embarrassing and memorable as it sounds, it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to drop out of college, come on.”

“You are a real fucking help, Joel, you know that? The whole damn campus thinks I’m some kind of pervert who steals lady clothes and peeps on drug addled idiots. I don’t see how I’m going to live this one down.”

“Funnily enough, I’m surprised you didn’t realise that those clothes weren’t yours BEFORE you ran across your campus to your dorms…”

The front door of the diner tinkled as it swung open, and a burst of cold air swept through the diner. There was a loud thump. Then something clattered to the floor loudly, it sounded like mugs and plates had been dropped

“HOLY CRAP!” a voice screamed.

That pronouncement snapped attention away from Mikey’s freshman year adventures. Both Joel and Mikey craned their necks past their booth to see what the fuss was about. It seemed like all of the diner’s patrons had turned around to have a good stare at whatever it was that had happened.

One of the waitresses stood with her palms upturned and opened, shards of ceramics and a plastic tray at her feet. A few feet away from her, there was a guy in a business suit. He must have been having a heart attack because he was clutching his chest, half kneeling on the floor and wheezing…

“SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULANCE, GET A DOCTOR!”

It sounded like Joel’s voice… He might have only been a park ranger, but he’d been first aid trained, he knew the basics of what to do in a situation like this. At his work place, they were a long way from anywhere safe or with high tech medical equipment, so someone had to know what they were doing. The waitress nodded, and scuttled behind the diner counter and began to dial furiously.

He had already jumped out of his seat and was kneeling beside the man, who had crumpled onto his side on top of a sports bag. Joel’s eyes widened as he realised the real reason why the waitress had shrieked. The right side of his shirt was completely soaked through with blood and torn open. Who had done this? How had he gotten away in that condition? How far had he managed to run? There was a part of Joel that was surprised that the guy had wandered through the Christmas rush without freaking out anyone else or having caused a scene already.

As carefully and delicately as he could, Joel pulled the bag out from under the man and began to place him into the recovery position. Someone shoved a scarf at him – since it was his scarf, it must have been Mikey standing at his shoulder – and he placed it over the wound and put down pressure, trying to stop the bleeding. Joel examined his patient: the guy was dressed fairly well, in a smart suit, or at least it had been a smart suit before the blood and the tearing. His breathing was laboured. He was Asian, and he had longish hair, though he seemed to have quite a strong build. He must have worked out a lot. Now was a creepy time to have realised that though.

Joel glanced back over his shoulder at Mikey: his younger brother appeared to be pretty freaked out but functioning, staring at the bleeding man. It looked like their Christmas shopping would just have to wait a while longer then.

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Previous Chapter: Chapter 6 – Easy Fight Rambling

Index

Next Chapter: Chapter 8 – I’m Waiting For The Man


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