Iron Blossom, Flowering Guilt - Chapter 5 - EmissaryOrca - 龍が如く | Ryuu ga Gotoku (2024)

Chapter Text

Akane is waiting at the orphanage gates. Her yellow shirt and white jeans flare bright with early sunshine, hair tied neat at the nape of her neck. She waves as children no higher than her waist run up to greet Tomi’s van, all staring and chattering as Ichi and Jo clamber free. Already has words lined up and ready. “Good morning! I’m glad you’re safe.” She spies Ichi first and walks over with a swift embrace, chin leaning on his shoulder. “Did your flight go well? I hope you weren’t caught in a squall on your way over.”

“Oh, heh. I wouldn’t know.” Ichi eases from the hug. “Slept all the way through, but you can ask the captain.”

“Of course,” and she smiles. The joy pushing wrinkles in her dimples curdles as her gaze moves down his side. Her squint deepens into confusion. “Is that a baseball bat?”

“Oh, it’s, uh… We swung by Julie’s for supplies.”

Her brows shoot straight up her forehead. “‘Supplies’?”

A red-haired child steps forth around Akane’s figure. “Who do you play for? I’ve always wanted to play for the Mets but that means having to fly to New York and meet them when all my friends are here…” She goes quiet when she sees Ichi staring with mouth agape. “Uh, sorry. Too much? I just really like baseball.”

Ichi looks back to Jo with eyes flashing. Help, he’s mouthing.

And as well as he should, with English seemingly her most fluent language. Truth be told it’s been years since he’s had a use for the signs and syllables now assaulting them—her enthusiasm is of a different caliber entirely. His prior contacts could withstand no comparison. “She thinks you play sports for a living.”

“Man, I wish,” he mumbles. “I’ve heard athletes here make it big.”

If at all. For his part Sawashiro bows from the waist before taking Akane’s offered handshake: right hand to right hand. “I take it you still have room for one more.”

“Of course, Sawashiro-san.” Her voice is warm as he remembers from his hospital bed. She holds his hand as she did a month before, fingers light over calluses long since made numb. At the touch she adds a bow. “Palekana welcomes you to Hawaiʻi. If you have anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable feel free to let us know.”

At the sight of her gesture Jo’s stomach drops. Bumps raise on skin beneath his sweater. The bow he too remembers from decades ago, even then surrounded by children peering from various windows and open doors at this sudden foreigner intruding on an otherwise normal afternoon. Her eyes are hidden so she can’t see the sweat porous around his eyepatch but surely she catches the twitch that runs down his fingers, the shiver cast over his knuckles. Quick as he notices his own weakness he withdraws his hand. She can wonder or assume but no more, he would be the final say. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“Hey, Akane, Dana needs…” From inside the entryway the new voice pauses. “Wait, are those the friends you were talking about?”

She turns to yell. “Yes, from Japan.”

“And me,” waves Tomi further back.

“Oh, but you’re here basically every day, Tomi,” crows the man unseen. “Sounds like these other guys don’t come by all that often. Who are our honored guests?”

“An old acquaintance, and my… son, Ichiban.”

To Jo’s left Ichi straightens; yet again the eyes of the children fixate on him, this time shifted to his mass of hair and the crawfish nestled within. “Heh. Guess I am.”

“Wait, Kasuga-san?” Now the figure steps into the doorway: sharing Akane’s wardrobe, his hair cut short to his scalp. His open-toed sandals clap closer. “Oh, aloha! It’s great to see you again!”

Ichi’s smile widens. “Kalon! Long time no chat! How’re things?”

After his bow—shorter than Akane’s, Jo can tell—Kalon sighs through his nose and crosses his arms. “The restructuring’s been slow going. Some of us caught that last Tatara stream: blew Bryce’s charade wide open.” He pauses, shakes his head. “It’s… still a shock. We believed in Nele’s will through him, but if the state of the underground disposal site was anything to go by…”

“That’s one of our tasks now: local governments want us to help redistribution efforts, so we can send materials where they can be safely discarded.” Akane props the gates and beckons the party through. Ichi goes first. “A lot of Bryce’s deals weren’t exactly… legal, so we haven’t been too successful finding the original traffickers. Most of their middlemen have simply disappeared. Sorting out sanctions and courting international law hasn’t left us much time to consolidate. Radioactive waste isn’t exactly a common good you can just send along and be done with, and the longer we keep it on Nele Island the more it’ll seep into the island itself.”

“On the bright side,” Tomi chimes as he scrambles along, “Chi-chan’s family has offered to cover any shipping costs with their own fleet. Next time we see her we need to thank her, but so far she’s been busy with Fujinomiya business.” He pulls his brows sharp. “I just hope her parents haven’t coerced her into anything again.”

“Me, too.” Ichi faces Kalon as the group passes beneath a breadfruit tree, fronds and fruit bunched emerald against the morning breeze. “So things could be better…”

“But don’t mistake our complaints for ingratitude,” adds Kalon in haste. “Who knows what would have happened to Palekana’s name and people without you, Kasuga. I’m sure the worst was yet to come.” Another bow. “The organization owes you a great debt.”

He scratches his hair; a blush overcomes his cheeks. “I, yeah, uh… Thanks, but I don’t need special treatment or anything. I’m just glad I was here to help. I can’t imagine everyone left was stoked about Bryce’s sentence.”

Akane inclines her head to Ichi’s ear, voice low. “You’re safe here, but please don’t go looking for trouble. It’s been chaos: the Barracudas, the Gangzhe, and Bryce’s Palekana followers all lost a large portion of leadership in the last month. We’ve seen an increase in murders and assaults, attacks on civilians at night… The city’s been scrambling to ‘clean up’, if only to promote further tourism for the summer, but they’re fighting back. I can’t guarantee the local groups will treat us kindly.”

“Yeah, of course.” Ichi’s grin has faded. “I’ll be careful.”

Out of discussion range Jo loosens a sigh. Cut off one head…

“Hey, mister,” the Mets girl from before pipes up from around Akane, facing Ichi. “You’ve got a crawfish in your hair.”

“Ohh, hey, I do. I’m glad you know she’s a crawfish.” Ichi scratches the back of Nancy’s carapace running his fingernail over her X-shaped scar. She clacks her pincers reaching for his thumb but closing only halfway around flesh. “She’s pretty playful but I don’t think she likes when strangers touch her.”

She nods. “That’s okay. I’m like that sometimes too.” Jo senses a bump at his right hip and glances down: the girl has moved to his blind side, staring up and squinting hazel eyes so her freckles pinch closer together. From her height Jo guesses her to be no older than twelve. “Where’d you get the eyepatch?”

He tears attention away for a moment and sees a gaggle of three more children watching. “Workplace accident,” he covers.

“What kind of workplace? Do you work with construction equipment? Maybe you… fell on a pencil?” The child is relentless. “Are you a pirate?”

He has to laugh softly. Showing no teeth, of course. “Of a sort.”

“Violet,” chides Kalon, “how ‘bout we give them some space? Help your friends with the garden?”

She huffs. “The garden can wait. We barely get visitors anyway.”

“They’ll be here a few more days,” and Kalon ushers her by the shoulders toward a different gate, this one leading around the side of the main complex. “Right now I think the others’re planting carrots and eggplants!”

“Fine,” she mutters. Violet unlatches the lock herself and sidles through, not before turning back to Jo and throwing him a wave enthused from the shoulder. “Guess I’m swabbing the deck…!”

Frozen where he stands Jo fails to wave back. She fades from view behind the corner, hair messy in its curls.

“Sorry about that,” Kalon says. “She’s a very open, honest kid. She can come off a bit strong at times. In your face, and all.”

He’s quiet, tongue latched to the roof of his mouth. Watching the ghost of where she stood mere seconds ago, the nape of his neck tingling. If he squints the echo is a shadow and he remembers the young master’s silhouette all over again. “It’s fine.”

“So,” Ichi pipes, “what’s the plan for today? If I remember correctly we’re just catching up with folks, going around town?”

Akane nods. She leads them through the orphanage halls, pictures and Palekana’s symbols lining the path. Through open windows the morning sun breathes between palm fronds where white blossoms scatter into the courtyard. Jo squints—children pace and prance through a well-kept lawn. Dirt patches line the garden; some of the younger kids cup their hands around sprouts newly planted while others are ferrying watering cans from the nearest hose. “Try heading down to Kau Wela Market first, across from the shopping center. Dana told me… Last time you were in town you were a great help. Why don’t you start there?”

“Sure. And, uh, is Lani available?”

She shakes her head. “Not today. She’s part of a neighborhood meeting to discuss local matters; it’s at noon. Maybe next time.”

Tomi grumbles. “Let’s hope the Barracudas don’t show.”

“Not to take the wind from your sails, but it’s very likely they will.” Now she and Kalon turn a left corner into a room filled end to end with an oaken conference table. Jo has to take a moment to admire the marbling, the striations aged and finished on a quality product. She strides toward the furthest end and pulls up a chair. Kalon walks to a collection of paper cups toward the back. “Coffee or tea, anyone?”

Ichi and company follow suit. He finds his seat, crosses his arms on the table. “I’m all right. Is that the only thing on the agenda today?”

“Well, I’m sure some would appreciate your extended stay. Hang out around the stalls and provide additional… security.” Kalon meanwhile is pouring himself a small tea sampling. Steam wafts up and past the outer walls. “While you scout there I’ll have other volunteers patrolling elsewhere. That way we’ll get a better picture of what’s happening across the city at the same time.”

Sawashiro eases gently onto his seat and perches his cane horizontal across his lap. “So whatever they need, we’ll do?”

“Just about. They already know to expect us.” She crosses gazes with him. “I hope that’s all right with you.”

A novelty, he had to admit: being asked for his preferences. Tomizawa had tried the other night, now Akane wanted to know. All courtesy though in his mind he had always assumed an ulterior motive behind such gestures, or that he was meant to answer with whatever seemed most convenient to the opposite party. He can only nod.

“Then I need to update Dana. Let her and Lani know what the itinerary is.” Kalon sips the remainder of his drink, Adam’s apple bobbing, and crumples the cup. He throws the trash long; it sails across the room and collides with the bottom of the bin. “Nice.”

Akane laughs. Her eyes narrow with her dimples, cheeks full. “Out of curiosity, does anyone want breakfast?”

X x X x X x X

By the time they arrive at the stalls in Anaconda Harbor Park the sun has shifted directly overhead. Joggers passing by his left Sawashiro takes in the assortment of wares displayed: blue awnings line the pathway and keep fruit away from the worst of the afternoon’s heat. Lemons and passionfruit sit stacked in organized wicker baskets, sliced and dried mangoes hang from racks in unmarked resealable bags. So far he sees few customers—whether that’s because of the lack of tourists at lunchtime or the previously mentioned Barracuda attacks he’s yet to parse.

Aloha!” Ichi is the first to approach a stall, this one decorated with clear plastic cases filled with cookies and various other baked goods. He coughs, tries his hand at Japanese. “How has business been?”

The owner turns with bangles shining. “Oh, good,” and she bows in her white dress ruffled. “A couple of families with kids swung by, bought plenty.” Fluent, then. She turns to Tomi and winks moving to English in seamless fashion. Her accent softens. “Great to see you again, sweetie. Care for a muffin?”

Tomi’s cheeks flash red. “N-No thank you, Kala. Maybe next time?”

“Well, don’t be shy. Pastries aren’t gonna eat themselves.”

Jo steps in. Tasks to complete: they have little time for niceties or ploys at vulnerability. “We’re here on behalf of Palekana. Other shopkeepers in the area have reported Barracuda intervention…?”

“Hmm.” As she digs in a lower shelf she moves her eyes to Sawashiro starting at his shoes and scanning up to his hairline, pausing just briefly at his right eyebrow. “I’ve never seen you before.” Her hand flicks at Ichi. “Though your son looks familiar.”

“Huh?!” Ichi splutters. “Uh, well, y’see—”

“Come to think, weren’t you on the news a few weeks ago? Something to do with the Bryce mix-up?” She laughs at Ichi’s wide eyes then. “But maybe I’m just confusing you for my neighbor. You and Alan both have the same jawline.”

But the crawfish isn’t a dead giveaway? Jo tries again. Take the moment in stride. “Have any of the local street punks been giving you trouble?”

“Always, every week, like clockwork.” Pulling a curl of brown hair from her brow she huffs and slides a cookie half-dipped in chocolate onto her wooden cutting board. Knifes the dessert with a sudden vitriol; Tomi flinches just slightly. Crumbs and almond halves scatter. “It’s almost like they have nothing better to do. If they don’t want our wares it’s our money. Little sh*ts’re probably upselling somewhere in District Five.”

“Maybe they just like cookies?” Tomi volunteers.

Kala stops still and pivots. “Really?”

He shrugs. “It’s not good they’re stealing from you, but why shouldn’t folks in District Five get cookies?”

“Not what I meant.” She sighs and sets the knife down when the cookie has been split into thirds, scrapes the blade clean with a towel. “I wouldn’t hold the Barracudas to such a standard. They’re not saints. Money’s their main concern and when they see a demand for goods they take advantage. If my cookies were… f*cking radioactive they wouldn’t care long as their networks still wanted ‘em. Same with produce. They have no quality control. It’s whatever keeps the market flowing. And every member’s gotta cut themselves a piece.”

Jo wasn’t here to debate cookie supply chains and the logistics of scalping local goods. “Do you by any chance know where they frequent?”

She raises an eyebrow. Jo thinks he can see the faintest edge of a smile. “Wanna pay ‘em a visit? I heard Palekana was restructuring but this is definitely a different kind of initiative.” She reaches into a container for wax tissues and sets about packaging the cookie thirds. “Heard one of ‘em talk about annoying the fishermen at the spot on Riverside Walk. Guess it’s a little hobby of theirs.”

“Then that’s our next stop,” says Ichi, and his voice deepens. “We’ll get your money back, Kala.”

“Don’t be a hero,” she mutters. “They’ve always been wild cards but lately something about ‘em… You keep your head.” She glances at Ichi’s bat slung behind his shoulder where the handle droops to his hip. Next her gaze returns to Sawashiro, his cane’s palm rest snug in his left hand. “Though something tells me Palekana sent you boys for a reason. Should I keep this to myself, or…”

Tomi clicks his tongue against clenched teeth. “Yeah, uh, sure.”

“Say no more.” And Kala reaches across her stall brandishing samples. “Before you go—fresh batch, made ‘em this morning. Don’t want you dying on an empty stomach.”

“With the way our luck goes they’ll gut us anyway,” but Tomi takes his third nonetheless, Ichi and Jo accepting theirs after. He unwraps tissue and sniffs at his before drawing back with eyes crestfallen. “Wish I’d gotten the one with more chocolate though.”

“You’re such a baby,” she groans. “Come back alive and I’ll buy you the whole damn factory if you want chocolate so bad.”

A crunch: Ichi has dug into his. Specks of almond and buttery crumbs line his lips. He blinks at the first bite and grins wide the next. “Holy sh*t. You’re a goddamn miracle worker.”

Kala laughs from her chest. “Damn straight.”

“Every time,” sighs Tomi. Likewise he’s already halfway through his piece. “Every time you do something new to your recipe and refuse to tell me what it is…! It’s the butter, isn’t it?”

“Who knows?” She crosses her arms. “I don’t just hand out family recipes. It’s bad for business.”

“Oh, c’mon. Share the love, why don’t’cha?”

“Well, now we have to come back in one piece. So we can get more cookies, and Tomi can figure out your secret.” Ichi adjusts his bag; the bat bounces. He tosses the wax paper in a bin nearby. “Who’s up for more walking?”

Sawashiro bites down a sigh or interjection; the words have yet to process behind his tongue. He hasn’t gotten the chance to eat his sample, either, so he takes the smallest nibble. Though he wouldn’t call it burnt by any metric the texture is more brittle than he expects and heaped with far too many almonds for his liking, yet the surface melts behind his teeth and leaves only the faintest aftertaste of roasted coconut—sweet yet earthy.

As Ichi and Tomi continue onward Jo lags behind yet again. Makes sure Kala has turned her attention away to a different customer before he splits his third in half. He saves one side in its wrapper. A stray dove on the path meets his gaze and accepts the other with bobbing thanks, its first target the almond slices pulled and prodded. Divide and conquer, as is the way.

Torn at every possible angle by a demanding beak the cookie falls apart. The pigeon devours every crumb and morsel left behind, head bobbing violent while it pecks away unable to tell pebbles from food residue.

Jo keeps walking.

X x X x X x X

“Looks like this is the spot,” says Ichi.

Jo has to admit his instincts appear accurate: the Palekana man towering over a punk half his size, fist extended, is a sight enough to confirm his suspicions. The fisherman cowering behind his savior with bucket hat in hand, his left eye framed purple, spots Ichi and the others rounding the street corner and points toward the bridge north. With his assailant distracted momentarily the Barracuda scrambles away slinking into the flow of pedestrians moving south toward Harbor Street, his opposition distracted. “Good timing,” the man huffs. He wipes his palms on his pants and the fabric comes away bloody. “I have a feeling that won’t be the only one today.”

Tomi nods at the fisherman. He too walks off, whole in body. “Kala said the ones who stole her goods would be here. Do you think that was the guy?”

“Hard to say now.” He crosses his arms, yellow shirt bristling against muscle tight to sinew. Blood has crusted atop his bottom lip leaking from a gash beneath his nostrils. “Should’ve gotten here a little earlier, then you could’ve asked him personally.”

“Ahh, well. With any luck, we’ll get another chance.” Ichi hefts his bat over one shoulder. “Could try asking around, see if people have seen any sort of suspicious characters or stolen goods.”

“Yeah, luck,” sighs Tomi. “Feeling real lucky today…”

“If it’s any consolation, I’m here. Kalon said you guys might need the backup. Don’t want to get complacent even with the small fry.” Readily the musclebound man offers a hand; veins and tendon run the length of his arm to his Palekana shirt sleeve, bare skin tattooed in a maze of black patterning snaking zig-zags and knotted whorls of ink. “Adam’s the name.”

“Good to meet you.” Ichi takes it and locks his arm. Adam’s ponytail and silver bangle shake with the motion. “Are you from the orphanage?”

“Just recently assigned there, yeah. I knew Kalon from our early days.” At this his eyes narrow emerald strips. His glance flickers to the waterfront. “Needed a place to be after Bryce. I wasn’t picked for any initiation rituals, I’ll say that much. Guess Nele has her ways.” He takes a moment, spares another glance after separating. “You have a crawfish in your hair.”

“It’s her second favorite spot.” Ichi is the first to cross the street; Tomi and Jo follow, Adam sauntering next. He finds an offshoot from the walkway and peeks around a yellow dumpster, even bending down to examine beneath. Why any Barracuda or criminal grunt would spend their free time squeezed under a bin Jo wasn’t sure. If his methods worked… “No one here. I know there’s a fishing spot on Sakura Street; maybe we’ll swing by after th—”

“Hey, you, asshole with the crab!”

Ichi turns and narrows his eyes: joggers part for a group of five strangers shoulder to shoulder. One walking at the rightmost shoots a pair of shoppers a glare sneering; they pull their eyes away and speed up. To the left tiptoes the grunt Adam was last seen terrorizing, back with a bloody nose. In the center walks the shortest among them, his necklace shining gold bouncing atop his collarbone. Rings of assorted metals armor his knuckles, eight in all. “Here comes the cavalry,” he mutters.

“You look familiar,” the one in front snaps in Japanese. Jo sees his knuckles clench white; he smiles thin as his voice drops with the recognition. “Yeah, you do, don’t you? You got our boy Dwight eaten by sharks and left us to clean up the mess! Almost didn’t recognize you without the sh*tty hairdo…!”

“Oh, you think so?” Ichi straightens and keeps eye contact. “Get your eyes checked: Bryce was the one playing God and dragging everybody into his problems. You want someone to blame, blame him.”

However factual the statement, the leader shrugs still smiling. “Thought we were here just to get back at the meathead, turns out we’re eating good today!”

Behind Jo their contact exhales heavy. “They won’t listen. Hope you’re ready for a brawl.”

“You know you’re playing with fire,” Tomi pants to the Barracudas in English. He wipes his spectacles free of perspiration. “I suggest you turn and run, unless you can tell us the info we need.”

His thick brows settle. “This isn’t a negotiation, sh*thead.”

“Then don’t you have some other two-bit morons or punks to harass? Punch closer to your weight and all?”

“Now you’ve done it.” While Jo watches the punks have arranged themselves in a loose huddle, no doubt intentionally blocking the way back to Anaconda Boulevard proper. One has a switchblade extended, his buzzcut friend brandishes a crowbar from beneath his poncho. The leader, his hood pulled up to obscure his eyes, cracks his left knuckles while his right claws an iron pipe from the trash pile nearby. “You f*ckers think the Barracudas’ll let you walk? Should’ve never come back, idiots!”

Bearing down his anger Buzzcut lunges forward, wound up for a swing. He’s broadcasting the attack years ahead; it’s a simple enough matter for Sawashiro to pivot as the weapon flashes past. His cane twirls, the palm rest smacks the man in his lower back. Not a crippling or lethal blow but he sputters and staggers forward carried by prior momentum into a nearby bench before whirling with the backswing. This Jo parries away, lets his hand fall to the bottom of the cane and hooks the man’s knee in. With a yelp Buzzcut flips to land on his hands and knees while his crowbar is flung meters down the sidewalk.

A rush of air at his blind side; Jo on instinct raises his arm bent, elbow protecting his ear as he feels a tug in his sleeve before the sting of cold steel. Warmth coats his upper wrist hugging his hand. From his guard he flicks out to create distance, flexes with his left fingers and his cane cracks down on a stable body. He hears a shriek, metal clatters from sight: Switchblade dances back unsteady, grips his triceps where the shoulder joint has caved from the socket.

Jo sees his opening but he takes his time on the approach. This time the enemy has a lankier build. Can’t be no more than twenty. Typically now the punk would take one full look at his opposition, turn tail and flee into obscurity. Scumbag kids and bullies—hopped into street fights and chaos because they were bored (this much he understood well). But even the youngest and stupidest knew when a killer had found his mark. “Having second thoughts?”

He’s opening his mouth for a whimper in reply when an aluminum-alloy bat swings from the side, collides with his diaphragm and pushes him into the concrete wall behind him. Hoodie flipped back his neck jerks with the impact where he lands in a heap next to a dumpster, groaning, both arms tight to his abdomen.

Ichi jumps in. He props his bat over his shoulder and pumps a fist. “Let’s keep it up, guys! Get your head in the game!”

Right, of course. Just a game for him, letting others get their swings in first. He kicks Buzzcut’s weapon further into the brush with his good leg; the thug crawls away with neck bowed and scrambles up on his feet once he faces the walking path. Reprieve granted they watch him gather for a sprint and disappear from view. “Stay on your toes, then.”

“Sure thing, captain.” He’s smiling, too. Glances behind at Adam catching a mohawked Barracuda in a rear-naked choke. “Y’know, it feels weird to be fighting alongside Bryce’s old goons. Guess not all of them were misled.”

“Seems to be that way.”

“Uh, sir? You’re staring.”

“Shut up and focus, Ichi.” But his smile gives Jo pause. Enthralled with the heat of battle, just like his old man.

Tomi screeches to the left; his wrench pulls away red, winds up once more and his opponent crumples on his back. The Barracuda beneath him has both palms outstretched. Tattooed arms coated in splotches purple and raised he winces as Tomi slams the wrench into the cement beside the man’s ear, snaps over the yell pitched an octave higher. “Dwight literally threw you guys to the sharks and you still wanna pick a fight in his name? What are you, stupid?! Where’s your pride?”

The words tumble. “We—I didn’t know, just that Yamai’s group was expecting visitors from the orphanage and we needed to intercept—”

“Yamai?!” Tomi splutters. “You expect me to believe that? He’s in jail!” To accentuate his point he swings again, and again clanging steel he narrowly misses the Barracuda’s right temple. “Throwing big names around as an excuse to pick a fight… You’re lucky we’re in a good mood today!”

“But it’s true; we were told to—”

“Y-You say one word and it’s your ass!” Switchblade croaks from the ground. “Don’t tell these guys sh*t!”

Sawashiro whirls and meets Switchblade’s glare. He falters, peels his own eyes away. Jo’s English stutters but the broken bones and bloodied cane have presumably gotten the point across. “Not your call to make.”

“Then f*cking kill me,” he spits, red gums peeled back in a smile. Laughter crawls from his lungs. Perhaps he believes no one would suspect a gangster backed into a corner of having another weapon or alternate means of harm. Jo keeps his distance, cane held loose, shoulder low. “Too much of a bitch, old man? You afraid of me?”

“Sir,” warns Ichi. “He’s—careful…”

Jo walks to the nearby trash heap; as he goes he ensures Switchblade is still watching. He needs the right size: small and aerodynamic enough to be a mobile force, dense enough to cause lasting damage. No Barracuda upstart is getting the jump on him again. Not when he still has one eye.

“That’s right,” crows Switchblade. Right eye visible through the missing chunk in his sunglasses he raises his voice so it bounces across either side of the alley. Crawls his way to standing using the wall as support. “Run away. Can’t do sh*t about us; we’ve run this town and always will! Once our boss hears about this you’re all f*cking de—”

His arm extended Sawashiro flings the rock in the air with his cane before swinging around and batting it toward Switchblade. The crack against his collarbone confirms his aim as the punk howls and bends double, once again pushed against concrete. Jo sprints best he can towards his opponent, limping as he goes to prod the man’s upper ribs pinning him upright. “Take your own advice, keep this to yourself. Your boss won’t tolerate weaklings but I’m sure you’ll come up with an excuse.”

“Sh—augh!” He grips the cane and pushes it away; Jo remains where he stands, his hold resolute. “F-f*ck. Okay, okay, I’m sorry…! I won’t tell anyone!”

“And if you harass those shops down by Kau Wela one more time,” Ichi steps in, “we’ll hear about it. Get those folks their money back.”

“Or what, asshole?”

Jo flicks the cane tip up and bashes the bottom of Switchblade’s jaw. He stifles a string of profanities and clutches skin already starting to harden with his good arm. Not very bright to consequence, this one. “Wrong answer.”

“f*ckin’ hell, fine!” Shrugging Jo aside with what strength he can muster the Barracuda tumbles away from the wall, still coughing and limping along. One shoulder droops lower. “I’ll do it, just… The money’s not here; it’s back at—”

Always with the damn excuses. “Then go get it!”

Switchblade winces at Sawashiro’s words. His lips pursed he scrambles for balance and stumbles away from the scene, his weapon discarded and still shining red where it lays. The last of his footsteps fade into silence, melding with the water beneath the bridge.

Tomi sighs. “What an a-hole.”

Jo stands in isolation. Today the cause of his post-fight exhaustion differs: his back teeters, the bend in his knee feels a degree sharper than he’s accustomed to. He leans on his cane to examine his sleeve where the cut has sliced away a portion of his sweater, wrapping around his forearm. As he peers closer the knife had merely grazed his inner wrist avoiding both the radial and ulnar arteries. A quiet disaster averted.

“Oh, captain, you’re bleeding!” Ichi hustles over and slings his bat away. He’s reaching for his bag, unzipping a side pocket—he retrieves a cotton ball and approaches. “I don’t have anything to clean it on me but I want to make sure nothing’s stuck inside before we bandage it up.”

“Don’t bother,” and Jo swats his hand away forceful enough to knock the cotton swab from his grip. “It’s a clean cut but it missed the veins. I’ll live.”

“But—”

“I don’t need it.” Already the blood has congealed partway. Just one more scar to add to the count. “We need to leave before the police arrive.”

Ichi is frowning with lips downturned. Jo has seen that expression before, through the decades, albeit with more simmering anger beneath. A lifetime ago, it seems, when the years had not yet begun to wear him down and a decades-long prison sentence seemed an idea outlandish even for his imaginative mind. His throat caves. His reprimand runs out of air. “Sorry, sir.”

Tomi brushes his knees free of grime. He pinches the bridge of his nose, pushes his glasses further up his face. “But all that sh*t about Yamai and their boss… Every day it’s something new. What’s really going on here? Are we actually supposed to be meeting them?”

“Ask later,” says Adam. He wipes his lip clean and drags away red fingers; these he scrubs on his yellow shirt. “The orphanage is just northwest of us but we don’t want to attract attention, so I’m headed south and cutting through the mall. Keep your heads down. With any luck Kala and the others’ll let us know when they get their money back.”

“Again with the damn luck.” Tomi spits over the railing and into the water, sniffs and kneads at a lump forming around his temple as he begins a jog. “Sure as hell hope it doesn’t run out.”

“Ah, chin up, Tomi,” says Ichi scrambling. “We’ve done this kinda thing before.”

“Yeah, like that makes us immune to dying?” He sighs and lunges up the stairs toward oncoming cars, flailing in his sandals. Onlookers gawk and gasp at the crowd of men darting across foot traffic. “Get it together! First thing when I get home I’m taking a nap.”

“Okay, here’s good,” Adam huffs at the entrance to the Street proper. He stops to gather his breath bent double. “We’ll split. I go north and you folks can take your time: call in whenever. If you have another stop to make for us…”

Ichi waves him off. “Great working with you today, Adam! We’ll talk to you soon.”

“And here I was hoping we’d be heading back by now,” mutters Tomi. He turns to watch Adam sprint through and find his footing on an escalator, skipping every other step and shouldering his way past tourists occupying the entire width. Bags scatter, shoppers cry out. “Was thinking I’d nurse this bruise for a while.”

“And miss the chance for more free samples?” Here Ichi cracks his knuckles. “We’ve barely begun.”

He’s a child. Always craving the adventure, Sawashiro thinks. “Looking for a level up?”

Ichi chuckles. “Right you are, sir.”

But he has to admit, running fast as his lame leg could take him with Ichi and Tomi leading the charge: the rhythm of the day could be worse.

Iron Blossom, Flowering Guilt - Chapter 5 - EmissaryOrca - 龍が如く | Ryuu ga Gotoku (2024)

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