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Chapter Nine: What is Fragging and Why Did You Do It To A Middle Schooler?

“Isn’t this kind of offensive?” I asked.

“What?” Cathect said, eating fried rice. The four of us hung out in our apartment, and something about it felt so real. Like, Cathect was sitting there in his really stupid costume, Hellfire was sitting there in a clean jacket, and Blue was finally hanging out with us.

Plus, I finally had a viable costume. I’d called Metahuman Affairs and gotten them to install a homing beacon on my suit. Also, I’d talked to Marquez and she told me I could throw out the bondage suit. This was gonna be great. I was so ready to kick butt.

“Eating Chinese food. We’re sitting here, eating Chinese food, while trying to figure out how to take down a ninja clan. Doesn’t that seem a little bit offensive?”

“Do you think ninjas are Chinese?” Cathect asked.

“What? Well, like…”

“They’re not,” Cathect said. “They’re Japanese.”

“How long have you been going after these guys?” Hellfire asked. He slurped his noodles.

“Only a week,” Blue said.

“How much you know about them?” Hellfire asked.

“Not much,” she said. “Except that they’re deadly.”

“All the good bad guys are,” Hellfire said. He looked over at Cathect, who gave him a thumbs up.

“From what I can tell, they’re involved with drugs, assassinations, robbery, blackmail, arson, and racketeering.”

“Somehow they missed the biggest crime of all,” Cathect said.

Blue looked at him, expectantly.

“Jaywalking,” he said.

She rolled her eyes, then turned back towards Hellfire. “These guys are real dangerous.”

“How many?” Hellfire said.

“How many of them are there?” Blue said. “It’s hard to tell, but I think there’s only six of them, including the one we took down.”

“Six?” Cathect asked. “I thought this was a clan we were talking about.”

“It is,” Blue said. “It’s a small-ish clan.”

“No, no, no,” Cathect said. “You’ve got it all wrong. Clans are big. Clans are like a big family.”

“A six-person family isn’t small,” Blue said.

“No, but it’s not that big either,” Cathect said. “A clan isn’t normal. A clan is ungodly. Octomom gave birth to a clan. The Brady Bunch, they were a clan. But these guys? Small, tight knit group. A sextet, if you will.”

“I won’t,” I said, smirking. Cathect stopped for a moment, then laughed when he realized I was imitating him.

“Clan, sextet, whatever,” Blue said.

“They’re a small team, and we have to put a stop to them.”

“How?” I asked. “The three of us could barely take one of these guys down. How are we supposed to stop them when we’re outnumbered?”

“Well, it’ll help if we’re all together when we try taking them down,” Blue said, shooting Cathect a look.

“I’m sorry,” Cathect said. “I’ll never sleep again. Will that make you happy?”

“That’s still four against five,” I said.

“I don’t like the idea of dying?”

“You’ll also have your suit this time,” Blue said.

“Yeah,” I said. “But ninjas.”

— — —

The four of us walked into Aunt Tang’s. As we did, I couldn’t help but think of those ninjas. Were they going to kill us? Were they killy stabby ninjas or were they more hitty knock-out-y ninjas? Wasn’t I too young to die? I mean legally I was an adult and obviously you’re never actually too young to die but I still felt like–

The restaurant host was a ninja. Blue walked up to him and said, “Table for four.”

The ninja nodded his head. He reached behind him for the stack of plates and picked up four. A second ninja, whose back was facing us, walked in-between some of the restaurant tables. The host ninja took a plate and threw it at the waiter ninja, like it was a frisbee. The waiter ninja turned around just in time to catch the plate. The host ninja threw the three other dishes, one at a time. The waiter ninja caught them all.

“Follow him,” the host ninja said, pointing at the waiter ninja.

We did. The four of us followed the ninja to our table. We sat down, and no one really said anything.

Finally, the ninja broke the silence, “Anything I can get for you while you’re figuring out your order?”

“Water,” Blue said.

“Water,” Hellfire said.

“Water,” I said.

“Coke,” Cathect said. He raised his eyebrows for a moment, giving the waiter a wink.

The ninja nodded his head. Then he threw a smoke bomb on the ground.

“You’re kidding,” I said out loud.

Blue glared at me, but I didn’t even care. I mean really. A smoke bomb? How on earth was a smoke bomb necessary?

“We’ll figure out the truth soon,” Cathect whispered.

“What do you mean?” I whispered back.

“I asked for Coke.”

“Yeah. So?”

“So if they bring me back Coca-Cola, we know they’re not selling drugs here. But if they bring me back cocaine–”

“Oh my god,” I said. “You’re the worst thing that ever happened to the human race.”

“Which means you think Hitler wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened,” Cathect said “Which means you’re even more terrible than I am, which makes you worse than Hitler.”

“What’s the deal with these guys?” Hellfire asked. “Restaurant ninja criminals? It doesn’t add up.”

“It doesn’t,” Blue said. “I don’t know what we’re missing.”

“Maybe,” Cathect said. “Just maybe, I should buy some weed from these guys. You know, see how they operate. See if they sell the good stuff.”

“Do we know what drugs they sell?” Hellfire asked.

“They’re drug dealers,” Cathect said. “They have to sell weed. Weed is the perfect product. It goes with everything.”

“You should’ve worn your costume,” I said.

“That goes without saying,” he said.

“I should always be wearing my costume.”

“I feel like these ninjas are really racist,” I said.

“Why?” Blue asked.

“They’re ninjas throwing plates like they were throwing stars and making their exits with smoke bombs. They’re huge stereotypes.”

“Asian people can’t be racist against Asian people,” Cathect said. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Something’s fishy,” I said.

“I don’t care how stereotypical these guys are,” Blue said. “All I care about is stopping them.”

“We’ll stop them,” Hellfire said. “Crime is traffic and we’re the stop sign.” He glanced over at Cathect, expectantly. Cathect shook his head, giving the quip a thumbs-down.

“What?” Blue asked.

“If we want to stop these guys, it’s best to try and figure them out,” I said. “The thing is, there’s no way they’re actually like this. They’re playing into dumb racist stereotypes. The question is, why–”

“Why what?” our ninja waiter asked. I twitched for a second, startled.

“Whyyyyyy,” I said, drawing out of the word while I tried to think of an innocent question, “is fried rice so tasty? I mean, really. It’s just rice and vegetables. I don’t like vegetables, but I like them when they’re in fried rice. And I’m not a huge fan of white rice, but if you fry rice I can’t get enough. Sorry I jumped. It’s just that you scared me. It’s like you snuck up on us or something.”

“Like a ninja,” Cathect muttered. I tried to ignore him.

“Fried rice is tasty because it’s fried and its rice,” the ninja said. “The frying brings out the true spirit of the rice, making it tasty.”

“Yeah, could I get sweet and sour chicken with some fried rice, then?”

“White girl,” Cathect muttered, pretending to cough. I kicked him under the table.

The waiter took the rest of our orders. One smoke bomb later, it was just the four of us.

“He snuck up on us,” Cathect said. “He’s obviously not a stereotype. He’s a real, legit ninja.”

“Being sneaky doesn’t make someone a ninja. A lot of people can sneak up on people.”

“What does make someone a ninja?” Blue asked.

“I don’t know?” I said. “Training and stuff.”

“Aha!” Cathect said, pointing his finger at me. “You assume there are things that make ninjas ninjas, but you don’t actually know anything about ninjas! Heck, for all you know, I could be a ninja.”

“You’re not a ninja,” Hellfire said.

Blue cracked a smile. “Definitely not a ninja.”

“How do you know?” Cathect asked.

“You’re clumsy, loud, and draw way too much attention to yourself,” Blue said. “A disco ball would make a better ninja than you.”

“That hurts,” Cathect said, holding his hand to his chest and pretending that he’d been wounded. “That really hurts. Did you know that in my somewhat sordid youth, I was an accomplished shoplifter? Why, I must have pilfered hundreds of dollars worth of Twix bars. Not all at once, of course!”

“So what you’re saying,” Blue said, “is that you’re a criminal.”

“I wouldn’t say criminal,” Cathect said. “Criminal is such a mean word. How about ‘mastermind,’ or maybe even ‘ninja’?”

“How about douchebag?” I said.

“Here’s your food,” the ninja waiter said, sneaking up on us again, this time while balancing four different plates. He set them down one after the other. Thinking about it, that was really fast. Were these guys really good, or were they just microwaving stuff in the back?

When he finished, Cathect looked at him and asked, “Hey, my friends and I recently lost someone close to us and we were wondering. Do you know where we could get some heroin?”

I fake laughed. “Oh, my friend is such a kidster.”

“No, really,” Cathect said. “We’re looking for heroin.”

“We love strong female characters!” I exclaimed. “Wasn’t The Hunger Games such a good movie?”

“Heroin with no e,” Cathect said. “We want drugs.”

“Sounds like your friend doesn’t want any,” the ninja waiter said, gesturing at me.

“She’s skittish,” he said. “Her first time. She said I shouldn’t ask someone I didn’t know. But I said I knew you. Or at least, I know your reputation.”

The ninja waiter stared Cathect down, watching him for a little while. I’ve gotta give credit to Cathect, he stood up under the pressure.

After a few seconds, the ninja waiter said, “Follow me.” He turned around and walked towards the kitchen. We got out of the booths and followed him. Walking past all the table, I realized something pretty weird. There wasn’t anyone else here. It was just the wait staff and us. That didn’t necessarily mean much. It was three in the afternoon, so it wasn’t exactly a busy time for restaurants. And really, the food could’ve just been bad.

I still couldn’t help but wonder. Was this just a front for something? Was it even a real restaurant?

We walked through the kitchen door. I looked at Blue, who patted my back. It felt like she was offering an olive branch, like everything was normal again. The ninja waiter led us through the kitchen, past three cooks who were standing around talking. They were all in ninja outfits, so I couldn’t tell too much about them.

What I could tell was kind of horrifying. Like, one was wearing a fedora. With a ninja outfit? I don’t know why.

Another one held a steak knife in his hands, playing with it. I watched him throw it in the air and catch it a couple times. Then he balanced it on his finger. As he did all that, he said, “Yeah, I fragged the little shit good. That should teach him to play Call of Duty before he’s entered Middle School.”

“Real cool, bro,” the third one said. “Real cool.”

In a way, the third one was the most and least intimidating of all. On the plus side, he wasn’t wearing a friggin’ fedora or twirling a knife in his hand. But he was resting his hands on one of the kitchen stove, leaning against the currently burning stove. I figured he must not have been able to feel the pain.

The third cook caught me looking and stared back. I looked away and scurried out of the kitchen door, following everyone else into an alleyway.

Just before I left the kitchen, I noticed that there was a microwave with the door open. It was still just a little hot, like it’d just been used.

When I got outside, I noticed that Hellfire looked ready for a fight, tense. His hands were in the pockets of his leather jacket, and I finally understood why he felt the need to wear it all the time. It looked super cool. Cathect was playing the stereotypical druggie, which I don’t think was very hard for him. That said, he’d sniffed like eight times on the walk from the table to the alleyway outside the kitchen. We get it. You’re pretending you snort cocaine. Move on.

“You done any before?” the ninja waiter asked, looking at Blue.

“No,” she said.

“How about you?” he asked, looking at Hellfire.

Hellfire didn’t answer for a couple seconds. I swear I held my breath until Hellfire said, “Once or twice.”

“You liked it?” the ninja waiter asked.

“Yeah,” Hellfire said.

I tried making eye contact with him, to see whether or not he was telling the truth. But he didn’t notice me. His eyes were planted firmly on the ground. He didn’t look so ready for a fight anymore. Or maybe he was even more ready to fight. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell with demon vigilantes sometimes.

The kitchen door opened. The three ninja cooks from before popped out.

“We’re doing business right now,” the ninja waiter said.

“Really?” the fedora wearing ninja asked. “I didn’t think these guys had it in them.”

“Look like shit-eating pussies to me,” the knife-wielding ninja said. (By the way, ew.)

“We’re buying,” Cathect said. He took out his wallet and flashed two Benjamins. “I’m good for it.”

“I don’t know,” the fedora ninja said. “Something doesn’t smell right. The girls are obviously new.”

“First time for everything,” Blue said.

“Not everything,” the fedora ninja said. “There are some things people won’t ever do. Some things they don’t want to do.”

“Can we just get the fucking heroin already?” I asked, my voice cracking when I swore.

The three ninja cooks laughed at that.

“Looks like we’ve got a fucking bad-ass,” the knife-wielding ninja said.

“What could a little thing like you want with heroin?”

“I want to–” my thoughts trailed off. Shit. What did people take heroin for, anyway? I mean wasn’t it obviously a bad idea? Who thought heroin was a good idea? Who shot themselves up and said, ‘Man, this is going to push my life in the direction that I want it to go’?’

I said, “I want to forget.”

“Forget what?” the knife-wielding ninja asked, getting closer, getting in my personal space.

“A lot of things.”

“A lot of things?” he said, using his knife to place a strand of hair behind my ear.

“I want to forget who I am,” I said.

The knife-wielding ninja laughed backing off and gave me room to breathe. “These guys are legit. Give ‘em the stuff, Brad.”

The ninja waiter did, taking out a vial of heroin. The ninja waiter tossed it at Hellfire, who caught it.

Still though, Brad? The ninja waiter’s name was Brad? These ninjas were stupid white people? I mean, I should’ve known. The problem was always white people.

“Now take it,” the knife-wielding ninja said, looking at me. “Do you guys have needles with you?”

“You want me to take it?” I asked. “In front of you?”

“That won’t be a problem,” the knife-wielding ninja said. “Will it?”

“No,” I said. “Of course not. Though you know, there’s something I should probably tell you.” I curled my fist up just like Blue had taught me to. I swung the punch and hit the knife-wielding ninja right in the jaw.

“I’m afraid of needles,” I said.

They knocked me out before I could call for my suit, or even throw a second punch.

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