Pak Tsz Sin of the Kan Yi Fan Triad, the Walking Dude
, Babe. Chang Wai-San.
There's a scene straight out of a John Woo film in this chapter. Remember, rule of cool. Put those Reality Shades away.
I realize some/all of the slang used here may not have been in use in the early/mid-nineties or even used by the same people, but 1. I wasn't there at the time and 2.I'm not getting paid for this anyway and I can't be arsed to look up everything for historical accuracy. If you are a college professor of slang and reading incorrect slang gives you aneurysms or somesuch, I apologize in advance.
Much thanks to passerby Anonymous(es? Anonymii?) and Anonymous Stem for putting forth herculean effort to make the double spread with Caroline and Jake look good.
Color Pages, Dramatis Personae, and Prologue
Chapter 3 (1/2)
Chapter 3 (2/2)
Chapter 5, Epilogue, and Afterword
Rock, once known as Okajima Rokuro, realized once again that the Lagoon Company's current job was quite possibly the worst it'd ever taken.
It wasn't rare for the Black Lagoon to transport guests. They were transporters, getaway drivers, and—depending on the pay—pirates. If you wanted a fast, nimble ship to ply the waters of the Malacca Strait, then you turned to the Lagoon Company.
Still, it wasn't like they could offer all their guests service with a smile. After all, the chances of a passenger who might find themselves aboard the Lagoon being anyone close to a good person was nearly zero. Quite the opposite, in fact. There were times when they found themselves saddled with people who, it seemed, would be hard pressed to find themselves welcome anywhere.
Case in point, their current customer.
Illuminated only by the dim light of the stars, the man sitting on the deck silently looked out at the roiling night ocean. He looked like a sea wraith, of the sort one would find in the ghost stories told by sailors.
His long blond hair looked as if many years had passed since anyone had dared take a pair of scissors to it, and the profile of his face was sallow and sickly, as though someone had only halfheartedly bothered to stretch his skin across his skull. At first glance, his ancient—no, corpselike—appearance made it hard to accurately estimate his age.
It seemed that the man didn't notice Rock approaching, for he remained where he was, gazing out at the black depths like a man possessed.
"Excuse me? Mr. Stan?"
The man turned his head slowly, like a broken machine, to look in Rock's direction... Was he really looking? His eyes were so empty it was hard to tell. They were like twin caves; nothing could be seen inside them. Rock felt a chill pass through his body. It was like talking to a dead man.
"Mmm. Yes, I understand."
The man's voice, completely bereft of both will and spirit, served only to prove that he was not a corpse, nothing more.
No, perhaps not even that. There were those on this earth who walked and talked like the living, yet they were still dead inside.
It had only been about two years since Rock had thrown himself headlong into the underworld, but he could already tell that much. He could already tell just what sort of person the man standing in front of him was.
Stan slowly got to his feet, and Rock clearly saw him surreptitiously nudge some trash into the sea as he rose.
An empty ampule, and a wadded ball of cotton.
Stan's eyes, blacker than the night sea and filled only with empty darkness, were those of a heroin junkie.
Dutch and Benny were unable to hide their disgust as Rock came back to the bridge, Stan in tow. They too, it seemed, thought that this job was the worst one in quite a while.
Nobody liked to deal with the sort of people who'd burned out half their brains with overdoses of dopamine, and Stan was obviously a textbook example of a serious heroin addict.
From his place behind Stan, Rock silently tapped his wrist. Our guest's just finished doping up. Dutch and Benny noticed the gesture, and the disquiet on their faces only deepened.
"We're tracking the ship you were talking about on radar, but it doesn't seem to have deviated off course yet," Benny said, drawing a mark on the map, showing their path. He was a slim, nerdy looking type who appeared to be about as far from a man of the sea as it was possible to be. But his skills were beyond reproach, and underestimating him based on his appearance would prove to be a mistake.
"If they keep going like they are now, they'll cross paths with us in about twenty minutes or so. Just according to schedule, in other words."
"Okay then, let's go over the scenario one last time... Mr. Stan, there's been no change of plans, right?" Dutch asked, taking over where Benny left off. The huge black man, bald and powerfully built, was the captain of the ship and also the leader of Rock's group. Normally a calm and reserved sort who kept his emotions hidden behind his Rayban shades, it was extremely rare for him to show such blatant disgust.
But Stan, his gaze still unfocused, only nodded slowly.
"...Look, are you sure? A hundred percent?"
Dutch pressed for confirmation, his voice lowering dangerously, but Stan just replied with a hazy smile.
"Why are you so worried, captain? All that we want is for you to pass in front of the boat, and leave us in its path in a rubber raft before you are noticed. Then you can stay back, delaying them with some choicely worded threats. While they are distracted, we will approach from their blind spot and take over the ship. I do not see how much simpler this plan could be."
"Easier than squeezing out a fart, no doubt. But you see, Mr. Stan, I've got to admit I have my doubts you even know how to clench the muscles in your own ass."
It seemed that Dutch had decided to use this opportunity to express his misgivings without reserve. Rock couldn't blame him. For some reason, the heroin junkie standing before them had been picked by their client to lead a team of no less than a dozen pirates.
Stan, seemingly unphased in the face of Dutch's harsh words—or perhaps no longer able to understand the meaning behind them—only shrugged.
"...Mr. Stan. 10 minutes. That's how long we're gonna be your bait. If you can't take over the boat by then, we're hauling ass out of here. You can't get back here with what you want before time's up, same deal. I'm not waiting a second longer. You know that, right?"
"Of course. That is all we expect from you... Now, I must ask you to call my friends in the hold. I will be waiting on deck."
Stan nodded casually and staggered out of the bridge, looking as though a stiff breeze would be enough to knock him over. Silence fell over the men left staring after him.
At length, Benny shook his head as he looked at Dutch.
"...I still think it's in our best interests to turn around and head back to Roanapur as soon as they're on their raft."
"No can do, since we've taken their advance pay. If we want to turn tail and run, they have to make some sort of mistake that endangers the whole mission first."
"Not like that's going to be all that unlikely, you know."
Benny glanced at the hatch that led outside to the deck, and then tossed his head in the direction of the hold.
"Their leader's like that, and the other eleven aren't much better. I'd say those idiots wouldn't know a mission from an orgy. I don't want to get caught up in someone else's fuckups."
Dutch didn't seem to be too confident in Stan's chances of taking over the target with his motley band either, because he only crossed his arms and sighed instead of refuting Benny's opinion.
"...I agree with Benny, Dutch," Rock said, unable to keep to the sidelines as he usually did regarding jobs this time.
"I know we have a reputation to keep up, but there's no guarantee we won't fail spectacularly while trying to help those guys. And they're all outsiders who've got no connection to Roanapur, aren't they? Who'd blame us for leaving the-"
"Rumors have a way of crossing the seas, Rock. Roanapur's not the only place we do business, you know."
Even though he'd just shot down Rock's suggestion, Dutch still looked disgruntled, scratching idly at his beard.
"...It was a gamble to take on a job from a client we didn't know anything about in the first place. You two didn't say anything back then, either. Give it up."
...Granted, the members of the Lagoon Company had been extraordinarily desperate when they took the job.
Transporting contraband to Pangkal Pinang on their previous job had been all well and good, but having the people who gave them the stuff and those slated to receive it all go down in a police sting just before delivery... hadn't. The Lagoon's crew members were forced to dump all their cargo overboard before the trail led the authorities right to their doorstep. They shook off the police, but their moods as they pulled into Bangka Island with not a penny to show for their efforts were black indeed-especially true in Revy's case, as she was on her period. To complicate matters yet more, they managed to get caught up in a firefight at the tavern where they went to drown their sorrows. Dutch, forced to pay for the bullet-riddled walls and counter, was so angry that he fell murderously silent until the morning after.
That was when they'd met their client. A beautiful woman with fiery red hair, "Jane"—a fake name if there ever was one—had been a complete unknown. They'd never seen her before, and she approached them without going through an intermediary first. But she gave them an advance that was more than sufficient to cover that shaky start, and they all agreed that a little risk was probably better than returning to Roanapur empty-handed with their tails between their legs.
Their biggest mistake had been accepting the advance money before being introduced to the actual operation team. They hadn't taken Jane's assurance that she'd gathered only professionals at face value, but they'd thought, at least, that she was reasonably certain of the job being a success, judging from the hefty sum she'd given them. Never in their wildest dreams had they imagined the team would be such a collection of ragtag misfits.
The dozen who came aboard the Lagoon were, quite simply, beyond the imagination. If their junkie leader had been the only problem, then the Lagoon's crew wouldn't have been so pessimistic. But the stark reality staring them in the eyes—that the remaining eleven made Stan the druggie look almost normal—was what made the atmosphere on the bridge so bleak.
"Anyway. It's too late for tears of regret now, no matter what kind of fucked up shit they decide to do. Be prepared for the worst, and remember to keep our own interests first and foremost... Now, Rock. Be a gentleman and fetch our guests below."
Rock held up his hands, surprise coloring his expression.
Benny, quick on the uptake as ever, nimbly darted into the communications room and ostentatiously began to examine the machines there, a studied look of innocence on his face. He knew, like everyone else on the bridge, just how unlucky the one chosen to go down to the hold would be. It meant, after all, that the wretched soul would be facing Revy's wrath, after she'd been stuck in a room with the eleven other team members and forced to watch over them for over an hour straight.
"You're the only man for the task, Rock," Dutch said serenely, taking the helm.
"Considering how Revy must be feeling right now, I can't think of anyone else who can handle her... Mmm. Well... Good luck."
"Don't dump the responsibility on me!"
Revy realized once again that this was quite possibly the worst fucking job they'd ever taken.
She lit up yet another Lucky Strike and glanced inside the crinkled pack. Only one left. Once she finished smoking that, she'd be at her limit. She didn't think she could take any more.
The Black Lagoon's hold was far too small to comfortably host eleven people.
And if such cramped conditions were to be accompanied for over an hour by the voice of a woman clearly out of her goddamn mind, it wouldn't take someone with Revy's dangerous temper to decide that enough was enough.
"...So in the end, Admiral Guzman of Panama was so entranced by my ancestor's strategic genius in taking two forts with a force of just four hundred men that he sent a letter saying, 'Please send me a weapon that can tell me of your might.' Of course my ancestor, being a gentleman, courteously received the messenger and gave him one of his prized pistols, with a handful of bullets as well. 'Keep these safe for a year. I'll be coming to take them back myself,' he said! Can you believe it?! How awesome! My ancestor was soooo awesome!"
Her wavy blond hair and ample chest bouncing haphazardly about, the Caucasian women kept on babbling, her squawking tones rising far above what anyone would consider an indoor voice.
Her name was Caroline Morgan.
Her blouse was adorned with an abundance of frills, and gold buttons flashed on the tailcoat she wore. With an actual honest-to-God tricorne complete with feather atop her head and an antique cutlass waving about in one hand to complete her ridiculous getup, she'd been recounting heroic 17th century pirate tales for the better part of an hour, looking for all the world like an actor at some school arts festival's play.
"Hmm. That's pretty tight. Those Caribbean pirates were some pretty bad mothafuckas, yo!"
The woman in the pirate costume thrust her chest out proudly. Probably an F cup, maybe even a G. Yeah, those were certainly tits to be proud of.
"Of course! And that's why I've kept up the tradition as the descendant of such a distinguished bloodline! To hell with patrol planes and AEGIS frigates! True warriors of the sea can prove their mettle with only a trusty cutlass and a flintlock at their sides!"
...And what made the whole scene even more of a goddamn farce was that eight of the remaining ten team members in the hold were dressed up much the same—wearing quilted vests and belts, with bandannas and eyepatches sitting on their heads. They looked like extras from a swashbuckling attraction at some theme park. It seemed that Caroline was their leader, but none of the other "pirates" seemed particularly inclined to support her in her exuberance. From their expressions, it was clear weren't really given to the same quirks as Caroline, and were just wearing the tawdry rags in accordance to their leader's perverse whims. At least, judging from the UZIs and Kalashnikovs they held, they seemed more determined than their captain to do their job seriously.
"...But hey, Caroline, was it? You really the descendant of the buccaneer Henry Morgan? Got anything to prove it?"
The only man who was deigning to converse with the pirate captain, affably encouraging her, didn't seem to be part of her band. But he, too, was decked out in a strange getup—though granted, not one that any trick-or-treater would likely choose to terrorize the night. VonZipper shades hid his eyes, while a New Era cap adorned his head. He wore a Phat Farm parka and shorts, which together with his Nike Air Max sneakers served to make him practically a poster boy for the hip hop gangsta style… Which wouldn't have looked too out of place in some club on the West Coast, but stuck out like a sore thumb in Indonesia. Of course, Caroline didn't seem bothered by it at all, thrilled as she was at finally finding someone willing to listen to her babble.
"Yo ho ho! I'm glad you asked. Now, look at this saber here! If you look closely, on the saber guard, you can see my ancestor's name carved right here!"
"Hmmm... But yo, if this's really Henry Morgan's sword, ain't it supposed to be hung up in some museum or somethin'? Izzit okay for you to swing this thing around?"
"It's fine! This blade wants to be bathed in the raging waves and hot blood! I'm sure my ancestor would approve!"
Just listening to her lilting voice would be enough to make anyone hard of hearing. Revy wished she could close her eyes and cover her ears - see no evil, hear no evil - but most unfortunately, she'd been charged with keeping watch over the source of all this cacophonous depravity. Honestly, there was no telling what these people would get up to if someone didn't keep them in line. Revy knew that a bunch of monkeys in a zoo would probably be more behaved than this lot.
Naturally, Revy had taken to completely ignoring Caroline and everything she said the moment they set sail. Caroline, who mistook Revy for a normal crew member, had immediately demanded that she bring them some rum and hoist a Jolly Roger on the head of the boat. Revy had merely replied with a glare that could melt steel and Caroline, concluding that she couldn't speak English, had stopped pestering her with absurd requests.
If not for that half-baked excuse for a rapper, Caroline would've shut up after that, damn it... Revy realized belatedly that the cigarette she held had turned into one long stick of ash while she was brooding. She muttered darkly under her breath and lit up her last one. Once she was done with that, she'd have no choice but to crib one from someone else. But she didn't want to talk to anyone in the hold if she could help it.
"So tell me, girl, whatcha doin' here? The piratin’ biz not too good back home?"
"...Well, we attacked drug runners three times in a row, can you believe it? I mean, you can't tell them apart just by looking at them, right? But those cartel scoundrels didn't see it that way! Honestly! They were really out for blood. So I thought, the Caribbean's not the only place for pirating in the ocean, and maybe it'd be better to do some buccaneering elsewhere while the cartel calmed down."
"Ouch, babe... Musta sucked, yo."
"I know, right?! And, I mean, about the coastal guard! If they want to take down smugglers so badly, why don't they issue us letters of marque and let us be privateers, huh? Didn't those numbskulls pay any attention in history class? Allying with pirates is the most basic step to increasing a country's naval power!"
Revy could feel a migraine coming on just from listening. Fucktards, every single fucking one of them.
How long was that rapper going to keep chatting up the pirate bitch, anyway? Was he one of those sad fucks who got hard just talking to busty women?
She just wished someone would tell Caroline to shut the fuck up and quit yapping. Maybe it'd lead to an argument - or better yet, a fight. Then Revy could step in to "mediate," and if she ended up shooting one or two of them in the confusion, well, she was sure Dutch wouldn't mind too much.
But actually, there was one member of the team besides the happy fake rapper who wasn't a member of the pirate bitch's crew. And he was the only one in the hold who Revy fervently hoped wouldn't start anything.
He hadn't said a word since he got on. His silence didn't bother anyone, and in that aspect he certainly knew how to behave himself, but his very existence itself was so alien that nobody in the hold could ignore him, and his presence served as a subtle sort of pressure that bore down on everyone in the room.
He looked like one of those, but nobody wanted to come out and ask him about it. Not Revy, not the rapper, not the pirates, nobody. The hulking man, as big as a bear, was garbed from head to toe in solid black clothes that looked to be of Japanese make, his entire head except for his eyes covered in an ebon facemask. He sat cross-legged on the floor.
Was he a ninja? Well, he might very well be.
Of course, the blue eyes looking out from behind the facemask, and the blond hair sticking out over his forehead, weren't even worth mentioning.
Anyway, nobody in the hold could find it in themselves to ask him, "Hey, are you a ninja?" That was a relief.
After all, if he actually nodded and replied, "Yes, I am indeed a ninja," then everyone would realize in an instant that they had a one hundred percent certified mental patient on their hands who'd somehow wormed his way onto the team.
That was why every soul in the hold had silently resolved, without consulting each other beforehand, to "pretend" they didn't notice the huge man in the black mask.
Everyone had their own preferences in regards to fashion, right? There were people dressed up as Caribbean goddamn pirates here, for fuck's sake. They couldn't begrudge a raving Sho Kosugi fan his quirks.
"So anyway, baby, what's a lady like you doing takin' a job like this? What happened to your own ship?"
The fake rapper's question was surprisingly sensible, and Caroline suddenly looked down and blanched.
"Well, the helmsman came down with syphilis. And since nobody else knew how to take the helm, we left the ship in the first mate’s care at a port in Macao."
"Wait... No one else knew how to steer? Ain'tcha a pirate? Family biz, ain't it?"
"The steersmanship techniques passed down through the generations in the Morgan clan only work on ships that actually have sails! What's with all this radar and GPS stuff?! I wish everything would just go back to the good old days."
"...But can't ya just hire someone else?"
"You have no idea how hard it is finding a helmsman who actually knows how to speak English around here, really. And when we actually found one, he refused for some reason."
"Yeah well, I guess he couldn't take the strict dress code, yo."
It looked like the rapper was finally at his limit, too, judging from the mocking tone in his voice, but Caroline didn't seem to notice.
"I wonder why. It's not like I'm asking for much, and I told him I'd pay double what everyone else does."
"Heheh. Generous one, ain'tcha?"
"Of course. You shouldn't underestimate the financial power of the Morgan family!"
The rapper shot Revy a quick glance that was loaded with meaning. Her instincts suddenly told her that something was up.
"So hey, then maybe you can just buy this boat, yo? These guys can understand English, an’ I think they'd be okay in a fight."
It was obvious he wasn't serious in the slightest, but Caroline clapped her hands together delightedly.
"Great idea! I mean, this boat isn't the best, but I guess with a Jolly Roger mounted on it, it'd do in a pinch. And I can just fire the Chinese woman since she doesn't understand English!"
It looked like Caroline truly believed that Revy didn't speak the language.
But the rapper, it seemed, thought differently, because he turned to Revy and asked her, "Whaddya think, babe? Our cap'n here's made her decision, I think. A pirate’s life for me, eh?"
...That was it. She couldn't take any more.
"Shut the fuck up already. You sorry fucks wanna get a Razzie like Geena Davis?" 1)
Caroline flinched at Revy's sudden and violent outburst, but the rapper, having expected it, seemed to take it in stride.
"So you can speak English after all. Shame to keep quiet with a sexy voice like that."
Revy's gaze turned positively glacial at his familiarity. Was he putting the moves on her now that he was bored with the pirate bitch?
"Lemme tell ya here an' now. My job on this boat is to take anyone who acts funny and feed 'em a few bullets, got it? You don't start shit, and I won't have to end it. Now, if you really wanna keep on yappin' like a fuckin' poodle, then do it with the crazy bitch over there an' not me."
"...Huh? What, what was that?! How dare you!"
The rapper ignored Caroline, who was puffing up more and more with embarrassment and angry confusion, instead giving Revy a long, appreciative once-over. His gaze lingered particularly on her sides—to be precise, on the pair of custom holsters and the guns they held.
"Hey, hey, I didn't mean nothin'. I just noticed your guns a while ago. Ain't every day you see a 9mm Beretta longslide, and two of 'em at that. I like that kinda thing, see."
"Then go jack off with a copy of Guns & Ammo. Bathroom's over there."
"Aww, don't be like that. C'mon, lemme see 'em. I'll let you see mine."
Revy fell silent, temporarily stunned at the rapper's audacity. He was asking to see her guns like some grade schooler talking about trading cards. They were weapons that could kill a man with just a few pounds of pressure on the triggers, not toys.
"...Fuck off already, dipshit."
"I'm Jake, but you can call me UC," the rapper said, ignoring Revy's scathing glare. He grinned...
...and drew a gun from his clothes.
A sudden chill ran down Revy's spine.
"So? Whaddya think? Mine ain't bad, yeah?"
If one were to describe Jake's gun in a word, it would be "stupid." The chrome silver slide immediately caught one's attention and drew it to the weapon, there were so many modifications stuck on it that it almost looked like a pistol meant for competition shooting, and there was even what looked like a laser sight mounted on a plastic frame.
To a professional, such a heavily modified gun was the height of idiocy. When life and death were on the line, all that mattered was, "Can it shoot bullets and kill someone?" Arguing about a couple millimeters difference in firing spread or the feel of the grip were luxuries that only amateurs with gun hobbies could afford.
If she were to rate the owner based solely on his gun, Revy would have put Jake on the same level of utter idiocy as Caroline. But...
"Now if you ask me, I gotta say that .45-caliber is the best. 9mm, the recoil just ain't there, y'know? The base here is a Colt, but there ain't a single piece of the original left. See, if you look right here..."
The glare that Revy shot Jake as he launched into a proud explanation of his weapon was infinitely cold and sharp. Her entire body was coiled and ready like a spring, the same as it would be on a battlefield where a second's hesitation could mean the difference between life and death.
Revy was an experienced gunslinger. She could tell when a person was about to draw their weapon just from the movement of their eyes, the tension in their movements. She read their intent through all of these things, and that was what allowed her to draw first and strike first.
Even if he hadn't drawn with intent to kill, Revy had had no intention of letting him even lay a finger on his gun as long as he was on the boat. They were nowhere near familiar enough with each other for her to allow something like that. She'd been prepared to make him realize that, and make him pay for the lesson with his life if need be.
But... Jake had drawn his gun so casually, even faster than Revy.
She hadn't let down her guard. Sure, she'd underestimated him, but she wasn't so stupid as to miss something as potentially fatal as him reaching for his gun.
To the casual observer, Jake seemed like a simple idiot who couldn't read the mood as he continued boasting about his beloved gun. Revy alone realized just what he'd done.
He'd taken Revy off guard. He'd read Revy's breathing, her posture, everything about her, and then chosen the exact time she'd find it hardest to react. And then, smoothly and naturally, he'd drawn his gun, so casually he might as well have been stretching to yawn. The point was the nonchalant way he'd done it... This man's gun was even more familiar in his hand than his own cock. It was, to use a tired expression, almost like the gun was a part of his hand.
"Ah... that gun... Wait, omygawd! It's the UC Custom!"
Caroline, who'd been staring strangely at Jake's gun, suddenly let out a startled squawk.
"Wait wait wait, are you, are you the J? Ultimate Cool J?!"
"...Heheh, you're embarrassin' me. Never thought I'd meet a fan here."
"You have no idea! I check your site every day! ...Wait! Oh god! Are you going to write about this in Deadly Biz, too? Are you going to write about me?!"
"That's up to you, babe."
Jake flashed Caroline a perfunctory grin as she hopped wildly about the hold, squealing with glee, and turned to look at Revy.
"Now, lemme have a look at your gun, Miss Two Hand."
There was a taunt hidden behind his flirting that only Revy could understand. I drew first, he was saying. If I was serious, you'd be dead right now.
Revy spit out her half-smoked cigarette onto the floor. It had been her precious last smoke, but now it just irritated her, like a scrap of food stuck between her teeth.
"...Fine, I'll let you see it," Revy said, her voice a low breathy whisper that promised murder.
Jake didn't even have time to flinch in surprise as the cold, hard muzzle of a 9mm pistol suddenly appeared pressed against his forehead.
If Jake's draw had been the carefully calculated strike of a snake, Revy's draw could only be described as a bolt of lightning. To Jake, caught completely off guard, it must have seemed like a magic trick. Her fingertips had twitched just once, and the handgun had suddenly disappeared from inside her holster and reappeared in her gloved hand.
Jake had indeed drawn before Revy, but he hadn't pointed his gun at her. A taunt disguised as foolishness had been all he could manage. But Revy had drawn her gun fully prepared to kill. Even if he attempted to bring his weapon to bear now, Revy's finger would pull the trigger of her Sword Cutlass before he could do more than twitch. The hunter had become the hunted.
"He, hey! What do you think you're doing..."
Caroline's voice trailed off as though she was being strangled. The murderous intent radiating from Revy had dropped the room’s temperature below zero.
"Don't put your life on the line for a joke, dipshit."
Any thoughts of the job they had coming up had already vanished from Revy's mind. Such complicated processes no longer had any place in her brain, which was now running purely on instinct. She wasn't the sort to laugh at unfunny jokes. That was all.
"A life ain't worth shit around here. But hey, no regrets, right? You were the one who bet it in the first place. And I'll be taking that bet, rapper boy."
"It's Jake, babe. UC Jake," he said calmly, as though a loaded gun wasn't set to his head. He reached slowly and carefully into his pocket with his left hand and drew forth a business card.
"If you go to the URL on this card..."
Revy didn't bother to finish listening; she struck away the card before her eyes with her free hand. But someone else stooped down to pick it up.
"Uh... Sorry to interrupt, but..."
Rock cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling his clothes sticking to his body from the sweat. In a way, he'd chosen the worst possible time to enter the hold, just moments before a bloodbath took place.
"We're almost there. Maybe you two can talk this over later?"
The situation was obviously past the point of peaceful negotiation, but Revy wordlessly withdrew her Cutlass and took a step back. The atmosphere slowly climbed back above freezing, and everyone let out breaths they only just realized they'd been holding.
"Come on now, let's all go up on deck. Mr. Stan's waiting. Let's go."
Rock hurriedly shooed everyone out before things could get any worse. Caroline shot Revy a hateful glare as she left, and Jake, perhaps still not realizing just how close he'd come to death, leered suggestively at her before stepping out after the pirate captain.
"...To be honest, I wasn't expecting you to step down so easily," Rock said frankly after the last member had left, leaving the two of them alone. He reached for his breast pocket as he spoke, removing a cigarette from the pack there and handing it over to Revy. It wasn't a conscious attempt to placate her, just something as natural between them as breathing.
As for Revy, she took the cigarette as casually as Rock had offered it and lit up. Now that she thought about it, she'd started calming down like she'd already taken a drag the moment she saw Rock's face.
"I didn't back down because I felt like it. But I thought if I was gonna shoot him anyway, I'd rather do it in a place I don't have to clean up the goddamn bloodstains myself."
Revy exhaled slowly, her cold eyes looking up emptily at the smoke... as though there was a future there that only she could see.
"I'm gonna end up killing that motherfucker. I know it."
A definite air of relief settled over the Lagoon as the assault team left on a pair of Zodiac rafts, even though the actual operation itself hadn't actually begun.
The rubber boats were soon engulfed in the darkness between the waves, becoming invisible to the naked eye. Meanwhile, the warning lamps of their target, the Zaltzman, were already shining over the horizon. The Zaltzman was an oil tanker, not a freighter, and though it did indeed transport oil, it also served a second purpose, that of supporting the captain's side job. That side job mostly consisted of petty smuggling, often involving works of art. Their target this time was one such work, small enough that it would be easily transportable on the Lagoon.
Soon the Lagoon and the two rubber boats would position themselves loosely in the Zaltzman's path, and once it approached, the Lagoon would serve as a distraction to make it stop. As long as they didn't get horribly unlucky and a patrol boat didn't turn up, the Lagoon's 3,600 horsepower Packard engine, a detuned piece of equipment originally meant for aircraft use, wouldn't need to stress itself.
"A junkie, a rapper, and Blackbeard's pirate crew. I didn't know we were supposed to be filming a goddamn talent show here," Dutch muttered, taking a drag on the American Spirit clamped between his lips.
"There was a ninja too, Dutch," Benny added reluctantly from beside him.
"Ah, the ninja... Yeah. You're right. A fucking ninja."
It was clear Dutch didn't want to remember it, but the man's presence had been just too incredible to forget.
"Come to think of it... He wasn't carrying a gun, was he? I only saw a sword on him when he was getting on the boat."
"Beats me. You think he might have been concealing a bunch of weapons somewhere? You know... maybe some shuriken, or a blowpipe."
"...Hey, Rock. There a lot of folks like that where you grew up, I take it?"
From his expression, the question had been the last thing Rock wanted to hear, but unfortunately Dutch wasn't so kind as to consider his feelings.
"Sorry to disappoint," he said, "but the wonders of the Orient sold out back home a long time ago. If you want to hear about ninjas, you might be better off asking the turtles in the U.S."
The three of them had relaxed enough to joke around, but Revy stood alone, unsmiling, methodically cleaning her Cutlass. Dutch and Benny knew her well enough to surmise the reason for her anger, and they’d wordlessly agreed to leave her alone.
Rock had been the only one to see the commotion in the hold, and even he didn't know exactly how it'd come to that point. Still, he knew that Revy wasn't brooding simply because she'd gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.
Right now, the Lagoon's gunner, infamous for her hair-trigger temper, was ready to fire. There was no room in her for joking. Her two eyes were for aiming, and her finger existed only to pull the trigger as she waited for the crucial moment. She was like a beast of prey that had caught scent of an intruder in its territory.
Rock didn't make a habit of wishing misfortune on others, but just this once he could only pray that Jake wouldn't make it back to the Lagoon. The next time he and Revy saw each other, blood would be shed. And since the situation had already gone so far that only one person could possibly walk away from their meeting, it was only natural for him to prefer that the one who wasn't Revy exited the stage. Even if the entire operation itself went straight to hell and they were forced to withdraw without the rest of their compensation, he thought now that it would be such a small price to pay.
"...Hmm? What's this?" Benny muttered to himself suddenly, looking at the radar.
"What's wrong, Benny boy?"
"There's a blip on the radar, coming in from two o'clock. Judging from the speed, I'd say it's... a helicopter, maybe? Whatever it is, it's heading right for us."
Rock had grabbed the binoculars and started heading out on deck before Dutch even finished calling his name. He could see the searchlight of some sort of aircraft in the direction Benny had specified, and soon the beating noise of rotors made itself known over the roar of the sea wind.
"It's not a patrol copter from the Thai navy, is it?"
"No, I don't think so. It actually looks like a civilian helicopter..."
The crew waited, tense with anticipation, but the chopper soon passed over the Lagoon and continued on its way, seemingly without noticing their presence.
It was headed straight for the Zaltzman.
"Huh? Wait... Its blip just overlapped with the Zaltzman's. I think it's landed."
Dutch was already on the two-way radio, calling the assault team.
"This is the Lagoon. Mister Stan, do you copy."
"Loud and clear. What is it, Lagoon?"
"You've probably noticed it, but you have guests from the sky. Not part of the plan, is it?"
But Stan's voice coming over the radio didn't shake at all.
"It does not matter. Everything is going according to schedule. Do not worry about it."
"What do you mean? Explain."
"The object our client wants was never on this boat. It just arrived on the helicopter, just as planned. Now we are ready to attack."
Dutch's brow creased dangerously.
"...That’s news to me."
"It should have no effect on your role in this plan. Now, please proceed in distracting the Zaltzman."
Dutch, overtaken by a sudden feeling of doom, couldn't erase the frown on his face even after the line went dead.
"...Something's wrong about this job."
The Zaltzman's silhouette loomed high over Rock, like a huge waterfall in the darkness.
Fifty thousand tons wasn't all that big for an ocean-going oil tanker, but compared to a PT boat like the Lagoon it was still like comparing an elephant to a mouse.
Of course, it wasn't like they were going to fight the boat head on - even a small collision could spell disaster for both sides, considering that the tanker was shipping crude oil. The Zaltzman's size meant that it would be slow to turn, making it easy to stop. Another point in their favor. Still, even taking all of that into consideration, the massive wall of steel that filled Rock's entire field of vision was an intimidating sight.
The Black Lagoon's crew sometimes had to force other ships to stop as part of a job, and without fail the poor schmuck who had to make the demands with just a loudspeaker clenched in one hand was Rock.
"Ah... Testing... testing... Umm... Attention, to the fine crew of the Zaltzman..."
Before finding a new life on the lawless seas, Rock had been a normal business man named Okajima Rokuro working at a large Japanese firm. Granted, "normal" had been a relative term—in reality, he'd been something of an elite, assigned to procure materials from overseas. He was fluent in four languages, specializing particularly in business talk. It was only natural for such an individual to take care of negotiations... At least, that was the excuse that Dutch gave every time he passed over the loudspeaker, but to Rock it just felt like he was going through some sort of rookie hazing ritual.
"Uhh... I know this seems a bit sudden, but, umm... Well, you see, we'd very much appreciate it if you stopped for a bit..."
Of course, the number of jobs where his smooth talking had brought the conflict to a bloodless end didn't even number one in ten. Normally, Revy would lose her patience and her RPG launcher would end negotiations with a flat bark, followed swiftly by a fiery explosion, leaving things as though Rock had never said anything in the first place. And worse, Dutch had decided that the price for any grenades Revy happened to fire would come out of Rock's pay in an effort to make him work harder.
"Err... If you don't follow our demands, well, I'm very sorry to say this, but I must regretfully inform you that we will have no choice but to make you stop by any means necessary..."
Still, this time the weight on Rock's shoulders wasn't quite as heavy as usual. There was no Revy at his side, snickering ominously as she got her RPG launcher ready to fire.
While the Lagoon served to distract the Zaltzman from the front, Stan and his team were surely approaching on their rubber rafts. One of them would sneak on board using a grappling hook and then lower an emergency ladder for the rest to climb up.
It was a plan that could only succeed because it was night, and their target was a large ship. The Lagoon didn't need to make the ship stop through their own power, and so there were no plans for Revy to take up her anti-tank weaponry. If all went according to the scenario, Rock's threats would never amount to anything more than empty bluffing.
"They saying anything?" Dutch asked Benny offhandedly as he watched Rock hard at work through the bridge's windows.
"...Hmmm. Nothing yet. This is giving me a bad feeling."
It seemed that Benny was starting to feel suspicious as well. More and more worrisome aspects made themselves known the more they thought about it. The overly generous advance pay, the ridiculous team they'd been given, the deliberately hidden information...
"Hey, Dutch... Do you think that maybe the trouble we got into in Pangkal Pinang was just the beginning, and we're in for more bad luck?"
"Don't say things like that, Benny boy. You'll jinx us."
Dutch was just lighting up another American Spirit when it happened. Something that none of them could have predicted.
The Zaltzman's speakers came on, a light metallic squeal fading away to be replaced by the smooth, dignified voice of a man. His dulcet tones rang out over the night sea at full volume.
"Ah... hello? Am I correct in presuming that the familiar voice making a commotion in front of our ship belongs to none other than a member of our fine friends from Roanapur, the crew of the Black Lagoon?"
Upon hearing that unmistakable voice, Dutch dropped his just-lit cigarette, cursing in surprise. The same shock swept over Benny, Revy, and even Rock, who was still out on the deck.
"Wha... Mr. Chang?!"
"Working hard is all well and good, but I can't say that I approve of you trying to hijack a tanker that belongs to the Triad. Well, I suppose that if you didn't know who owned this ship, we can simply chalk it up to bad luck. Move out of the way, and all will be forgiven."
Chang Wai-San was a powerful mafia boss of Roanapur, the Lagoon Company's base of operations, and head of one of the four great organizations that held power over the entire city, the Triad. He was one of Dutch's regular patrons, and someone who they'd never dare think of crossing, even in their wildest dreams.
They couldn't begin to imagine why Chang, who by all rights should have been relaxing in a penthouse on Palkana Street, was on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but they had no time to leisurely speculate on the circumstances. Whatever had led to these events happening, the fact of the matter was that they'd just helped an armed assault team make their way onto a ship occupied by Mr. Chang.
Dutch blanched as he realized the seriousness of the situation and bolted into the radio room, snatching the mic from Benny's hand.
"Captain, do you copy! If Mr. Chang's there, get him on the line right now! This is a fucking emergency, dammit!"
Leaving his body in the care of the sea winds, Stan focused his attention on the voice of Chang Wai-San coming from the speakers.
He stood at the top of the Zaltzman's forward mast, positioned so that he could take in the vast deck and the bridge all at once. The rest of the team, as well, had climbed up from their Zodiac rafts and moved into their pre-ordained positions.
Judging from what Chang had just said, it seemed he was acquainted with the crew of the Black Lagoon. He hadn't heard that from his client, and the development represented a serious threat to the success of the mission, but it was too late to turn back now.
No, he had to turn this into an opportunity.
Stan knelt, bringing the night vision scope he'd prepared in advance for his Dragunov sniper rifle to his eye, and cushioned the gun against his shoulder. The ambient light gathered and magnified to turn the world bright green, letting him see the faint outlines of the people on the bridge. The poor resolution of the night vision scope wouldn't allow him to properly distinguish faces. But having heard Chang's voice come from the speakers, it was a safe bet to say that the figure holding the mic was none other than the man himself.
The shape of the stock was familiar to his hands. Just the feeling of the hard matter in his hands, on his shoulder, blew away the hazy fog of drugs in Stan's mind like a spring breeze, leaving it clear and sharp... Yes. This feeling would never betray him. It would never leave him. It let the corpselike man do the only thing he could do anymore—snipe.
About a hundred and sixty meters to the target. That in itself was far from difficult, but the fierce sea wind was blowing at least ten meters per second. Most snipers would have chosen to give up, but Stan was different. The wind was not his enemy. He felt it, knew its every aspect, had always held it close as an ally. Stan could read the wind, not through some complicated theory or hard-won technique, but simply through sheer natural talent. It was thanks to that talent that he'd managed to survive in the hellish desert. His fearsome skill had earned him the nickname Shaitane, a name voiced by his enemies in hushed whispers... 2)
The quiet pull of the trigger. The thunderous shot. The recoil against his shoulder. The shock lighting his brain afire. His sight flashing, inverted for just a second by the muzzle flash. The darkness of night turning into blinding light, the salt smell of the sea into the dry scent of the desert...
He'd had pride, once, when he was there. He'd felt terror grip his heart. He'd had a mission to fight for, dignity to uphold, and comrades at his side to share the burden and make the fight worth fighting.
They were the last remnants of the time when his life still had meaning. The flashback of those long gone times shook Stan to the core.
...He fired rapidly, methodically dropping the silhouettes in the bridge one by one. One shot every two seconds, six shots total. Out of those, four had been kills. Unfortunately, he'd missed the most important first shot. The target had suddenly thrown himself flat just as Stan pulled the trigger, as though he'd felt the crosshairs on his body. He must possess incredible instincts, honed by countless life-or-death battles.
Stan was unperturbed, continuing his search for targets with his scope's sights while whispering into the ear-mounted microphone hanging next to his mouth.
"All team members, assault the bridge. I will take out everyone I see in the windows facing the deck. Try to force the enemy into my sights, and don't stand there yourselves."
"Loud and clear."
Stan held his Dragunov in a perfect firing stance, sensing the state of the sea behind him by hearing alone. The sound of the approaching engine would be the torpedo boat they'd used to get here. He wondered briefly how the Lagoon Company would react to the situation.
He raised the radio that was tuned to the frequency he'd agreed on with the Lagoon's crew, different from the one he used to contact his own team members.
"Lagoon, I did not ask for your support. Stay where you are until we are finished."
...No reply. It seemed they'd decided to cut ties with the assault team. It didn't matter that the Lagoon had chosen local ties rather than the job at hand; such a development had been well within his expectations. Dismissing them from his mind without a further thought, Stan contacted his own team.
"Attention, team. The Lagoon Company has allied with our enemies. Going with Plan B."
"Gotcha. But I got something to ask you."
It was a simple command, but Jake, who should have already been inside the bridge, apparently felt it necessary to butt in.
"Don't stop the Lagoon guys if it looks like they're gonna come up on board, yo. Especially the chick with two guns. That bitch is mine."
Stan frowned. His sights were already set on the silhouette that had just scaled the emergency ladder hanging from the tanker's side and begun running toward the bridge with nary a sideways glance. It was definitely the Lagoon's female gunslinger, making her way up from the boat as it docked next to the tanker.
It was obvious she was headed there to protect Chang. It would have been common sense to snipe her there and then, but Stan deliberately threw away his chance for a killshot. His haphazardly composed team was composed of people who didn't know each other, didn't trust each other. At times like this it was sometimes better to cater to others' whims than make the efficient choice and risk a falling out with the mission's success on the line.
"Roger. The woman is already heading your way. I will leave her to you, Jake."
"Aight, sweet, bro. Glad I got a leader who knows how to listen."
"Next... Falcon, it's your turn. As we discussed earlier."
"...As you will, so shall it be done."
Confirming that his last subordinate had heard his orders, Stan put down his Dragunov for the moment and raised the flare gun he'd prepared beforehand above his head, firing a signal shot into the sky.
Now his other allies waiting elsewhere would know that there had been a change in plans.
"Yo ho ho! Tremble with fear and say yer prayers, ye bilgeswabs! The Tortuga Pirates are here!" Caroline shouted as she made her way into the ship, dancing about as she waved her saber wildly through the air. She looked like she was having the time of her life. Her huge breasts swung ponderously about, making it yet harder to pass by her in the narrow hallway. 3)
Jake sighed, noticing how the men behind Caroline were clearly having trouble making their way past their captain. It seemed that choosing to squeeze his way past her before she could barge in had been the right choice after all.
Stan's shots had already alerted the crew to the presence of intruders, and the warning sirens were belting out a raucous cacophony that echoed through the ship. They could hear the shouts of the tanker's confused crew, but the way sound rang through the complicated hallways made it impossible to judge where they might actually be.
...Suddenly, the door in front of Jake slammed open and a swarthy Arab ran through. He must have been a crew member who panicked upon hearing the sirens and decided to make a run for it. Unfortunately, he'd happened to choose a route that sent him running straight into the intruders themselves, and his face twisted with terror as he realized his situation.
Caroline's eyes shone as she caught sight of her first hapless target and stepped forward aggressively.
"Avast, ye scurvy scallywag! Tell us where the treasure is if ye value yer life! We already know ye be a’smugglin’ priceless works of art!"
Even as the man fumbled for words, hopelessly confused, Jake slowly pressed his gun to his belly and mercilessly pulled the trigger. A robust bang echoed through the hall, and an added note of panic mingled into the confused shouts of the crew.
"Wait a second! What're you doing?!" Caroline screeched, her good-natured roguishness suddenly vanishing and giving way to shock.
"Wha, what the hell, J?! You just killed an unarmed man in cold blood! You should have asked him where the treasure was first!"
"The hell would he know? Wasn't no treasure on this ship in the first place, babe," Jake replied calmly, giving the limp corpse at his feet a kick for good measure. The blood that had rushed to Caroline's face as she flushed with anger drained just as quickly, leaving her comically pale.
"I mean, there was never any art on this ship. The treasure here ain't some shitty painting. It's something more exciting an' worth taking."
He'd just killed a man, but Jake's laughter was flippant and nonchalant as ever. He continued talking to the team, giving them their new mission as though he was telling a particularly amusing joke.
"Our real target here is Chang Wai-San, an officer in the Triad. Nothin' complicated about it. Shoot first, ask questions later. Just don't shoot 'em in the face. Gotta check an' make sure we got the right guy, know what I'm sayin'?"
This was news to Caroline, who'd been just as clueless as the crew of the Lagoon as to her team's real objective. There was no way she'd have accepted had she known. She'd thought that her mission would be a noble excursion in the name of traditional pirating, not an assassination.
"You, you can't be serious! That's just senseless killing! Look here! Real pirates stick to a set of gentlemanly rules even when they're wielding vio—"
Jake didn't bother giving the Morgan pirate clan's distinguished scion a chance to finish. He simply sighed, raised his UC Custom, and fired. Caroline died instantly as the bullet struck right between her eyes, her face still frozen in an expression of anger, her lecture forever unfinished.
His voice became a roar as he turned to face the suddenly pale pirate crew, dominating them before they could get a hold of themselves.
"Now it's time to make a decision, bros! You gonna turn an' run cos you think you still gotta do what this dead bitch woulda wanted, or you gonna go with me and walk away from this rich? C'mon, what'll it be, huh?!"
The men looked awkwardly back and forth, at Jake as he laid out his ultimatum, and then at the corpse of their former employer, who had been a bit strange in the head but still exceedingly generous with her pay. Still, there wasn’t a man among them who hadn't felt embarrassed at being forced to dress up as a pirate.
"...How much you paying?" one pirate asked, ripping off his eyepatch and tricorne with a distinct air of satisfaction.
"Five grand just for taking the job. Four times that for the lucky boy who takes out Chang."
The former pirates, now killers, looked at each other and nodded, grinning and snickering like hyenas. Jake smirked at their pragmatism and held a moment of silence for the laughably unpopular pirate captain... Half a second, to be exact.
"Aight, now that that's done... get down!"
The barrel of Jake's UC Custom shot up as he shouted, and the killers instinctively crouched without even knowing what was going on.
Jake's .45-caliber ACP bullet roared over their heads and buried itself in the corner of the corridor they'd just come down, sparks flying everywhere. Revy, who'd just rounded the corner and had been moments away from opening fire with both Cutlasses, was forced to spring back behind cover.
Revy snarled to herself and stuck one Cutlass around the corner, firing blind down the hall. The killers, realizing they were sitting ducks, hurried further down the corridor as Jake covered them with fire from his UC Custom.
"C'mon, Two Hand! Let's boogie, baby!"
Revy just snorted at Jake's arrogance and shouted back, "A dumbfuck like you would look better dancin' cheek to cheek with a drowned body, asshole... I'll send you sinkin' right now so you can look for a partner!"
"Honestly, Dutch. There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes. I thought you were sharper than this."
Chang Wai-San's voice over the radio was utterly calm, devoid of even the slightest hint of anger. But Dutch was in no position to reply with light conversation.
"I don't know what to say, Mr. Chang. I sent Revy over just now. She'll clean up everything."
"My, that's certainly a relief. I suppose we can just sit tight in the bridge for now?"
"Yeah, if you could do that I'd be really grateful."
On the outside it looked like Chang was being cold, but in reality it was quite the display of generosity. By letting Revy put herself in danger's way alone without endangering Triad members, he was giving the Lagoon Company a chance to regain some of their good name.
"Though to be honest, I'd rather you took care of the sniper who's stationed himself at the head of the ship... I might sound calm right now, but even as we speak, I'm actually lying flat on the floor. I must look like an idiot."
"...Just stay there a little bit longer. I know this sounds stupid, but the team we carried over there is made up of amateurs. They won't be a problem for Revy."
"Well, we'll see."
The line went dead and Dutch let out a huge sigh.
Upon learning just who the tanker's owner really was, the Lagoon Company had unanimously agreed to void the contract they'd accepted in Pangkal Pinang.
"Mother fuck... We got played for fools."
Still, there was no changing the fact that they'd set themselves, no matter how briefly, against the Triad. One mistake now would put the Lagoon Company in severe trouble.
"Well, I guess we just have to believe in Revy now," Benny said. "It's not like she'll have any problems against that bunch of junkie-led idiots... I think. Probably."
Benny's calm seemed like it was the product of resignation rather than belief in Revy's skills.
"...But you know, I wonder if they thought we'd just keep helping them after we learned we were up against the Triad. Or did they think they'd be able to keep us in the dark until the end?"
If the Lagoon chose to leave them, the assault team would be stranded in the middle of the ocean even if they succeeded in subduing the oil tanker's crew... Though, considering their actions up to the present, it was entirely possible that they hadn't actually bothered thinking that far ahead.
"Dutch, that flare we saw from the forward mast still bothers me. Do you think they have some sort of boat ready to make a getaway without our help?" Rock asked.
Dutch nodded and said, "...Yeah, I see where you’re coming from. Rock, arm the torpedoes. Benny, keep an eye on the radar."
The two headed out, Rock to the deck and Benny to the communications room. Dutch took the helm, grasping the steering gear in his hands, ready to get the Lagoon moving if a naval battle broke out.
Benny glanced at Dutch, and suddenly saw from the corner of his eye a black figure detach itself from the shadows in the corner and dart across the room.
"Dutch! Behind you!"
Dutch's survival instincts had him throwing himself out of his seat without even bothering to look around. His quick reactions ended up saving his life. A pure white blade, engraved with jagged lightning-like designs, sliced keenly through the air where Dutch's head had been just a moment before.
Sprawled flat on his ass, Dutch could only look up disbelievingly at the black shadow standing before him. The man standing there was decked out in ninja garb, looking like he'd come straight out of some bad comedy movie. But after nearly losing his head to an actual sword, Dutch somehow couldn't find it in himself to laugh.
He couldn't even begin to fathom where the man had come from in the first place. The only answer that made sense was that he'd hidden himself away somewhere in the cabin, but Dutch had clearly seen him board the rubber rafts with the rest of the assault team with his own eyes.
Still, it was no time to be sitting around gaping with surprise. Dutch shuffled frantically backwards, drawing his trusty Smith & Wesson M29 from its holster. Being a large man, Dutch had no trouble wielding the magnum revolver, which was capable of taking down large beasts of prey.
But before he could bring the barrel up to aim, the ninja removed something from inside his uniform and threw it to the floor. Instantly, a thick wall of choking smoke spread throughout the bridge, making it impossible to see anything.
Dutch swore vehemently, but he wasn't stupid enough to wade into a close-quarters fight with his sight shut down. He scrambled to his feet and set his back to the wall, keeping his magnum ready as he carefully withdrew.
He didn't know how it had happened, but it was clear that the assault team on the Zaltzman hadn't forgotten to leave sabotager on the Lagoon. The question was, what was the ninja after... Dutch immediately realized the answer, but by then it was already too late. A quick series of sharp crunches came from the direction of the steering device, which was still blocked off by a wall of smoke.
The enemy hadn't been after Dutch, but the machinery Dutch had been controlling. With the steering gear broken, the Lagoon had lost, at least temporarily, the ability to move about freely. The crew would have no choice but to sit and count the stars until repairs were made.
"Son of a bitch!"
Dutch fired three shots into the smoke, relying mostly on instinct. But there was no way he could hit a target he couldn't see.
"What's going oaack?!"
Rock's voice, coming from the hatch that led to the deck, suddenly became a surprised squawk, followed immediately by a small thud as though he'd fallen over. No, Rock hadn't fallen over. He'd been pushed.
The bridge was still choked with smoke, but Dutch knew his own ship's layout like the back of his hand. He ran through the room without pausing, making his way to the hatch leading outside. Rock was still sitting on the deck, looking confused.
"Dutch?! So-so-something just ran by me! Something black!"
"Where'd he go?!"
Dutch lowered his center of balance, holding the magnum in both hands as he searched the deck. The ninja had to have hidden somewhere after running out of the bridge. Perhaps he was even thinking of ambushing them again.
"Benny! Get me all the grenades you can carry from the armory! Move it!" Dutch shouted over his shoulder, moving slowly over the deck with his back to the bridge wall. Rock followed clumsily behind. He was a liability, but it wasn't like Dutch could leave him alone—Rock had no combat training whatsoever, and letting him fend for himself would be no different from killing him outright.
"Hey, Dutch. Was that thing just now... a ninja?"
"Don't ask. If I reply seriously I think I'm gonna lose whatever dignity I have left," Dutch muttered, then suddenly perked up as he remembered the low-budget films that had been popular years ago.
"You know, in the movies, if there's a Japanese guy in the cast and something like this happens, it always turns out that he was a ninja in disguise, too. Well, Rock?"
"...Dutch, I'm begging you. Don't expect things like that from me."
Dutch kept on his toes even as he joked around with Rock, and so he didn't miss the sudden flash of motion in the corner of his eye.
"There you are!"
The barrel of his magnum tracked a black shadow as it darted out from behind the torpedo tubes, sprinting toward the gunwale. A huge splash soon followed. It seemed the enemy was planning on making his escape by sea.
Dutch leaped over immediately and emptied his gun into the ripples, but the inky depths made it impossible to tell if he'd hit anything.
Just then, Benny dashed out from the deck, panting with exertion, carrying in both hands a box marked with the ever-trusty warning "EXPLOSIVE".
"Dutch, I got the grenades!"
"Give me those!"
Dutch thrust both hands inside the wooden crate, coming up with a grenade in each hand. Pulling both pins at once with his teeth, he lobbed them into the ocean around where the ninja had jumped in. Another two soon followed. In total, four grenades disappeared into the sea at five second intervals, detonating in the water and creating huge geysers.
The terrible shock caused by underwater explosions couldn't be compared to midair shock waves by any stretch of the imagination. There was no way anyone could have escaped the force of four concussions of such magnitude by swimming in such a short amount of time.
"...Rock, shine the light over there."
Rock focused the bridge-mounted searchlight on the surface where the last ripples from the explosion were just fading away. In the strong light they could clearly see the water stained crimson, a tattered scrap of black cloth tossed about on the waves like a rag.
The barrel of Dutch's magnum was still smoking as he shoved it decisively back in its holster. But the words that came from his mouth had little to do with exultation despite his victory. The smoke had finally cleared, revealing the completely destroyed console inside the bridge.
"...Goddammit. I can't tell whether these people are stupid or professionals. Someone tell me!"
"I'd say we're the stupid ones, since we're the ones getting our asses handed to us," Benny remarked markedly, but Dutch didn't even have the energy to get angry at him.
"And that fucker just now! The hell did he come from?! I know I saw him get on the raft and leave just a while ago!"
"He must've swum back here after the Zodiacs left, I guess. Then he hid himself away somewhere inside..."
"...You're telling me he did all that and the four of us didn't notice a thing? Huh? Tell me, Rock!"
Rock looked up helplessly at the night sky, Why me? written all over his face.
"Well, uh... Ninja do have this skill that they use to move undetected through the water..."
"Hmph. I see. So this sort of thing must be common knowledge in Japan, huh."
"Wha, what? No, it's not! Of course not!"
""Hey, both of you. Quiet down a little. Can't you hear something?" Benny said, and Dutch and Rock shut up and listened. Indeed, there was an unmistakable sound coming from the west, that of a cruiser-level engine moving through the sea.
Rock turned the searchlight in the sound's direction and sure enough, in the very farthest reaches of the light they could see the faint silhouette of a moderately sized cruiser churning up the waves.
"Shit, like I thought... Those fuckers had a boat ready to take our place."
"Dutch, how about the Gepárd rifle?"
The Lagoon had a Hungarian Gepárd anti-materiel rifle on board, ready for use in case of emergencies. But after staring hard at the cruiser as it passed by far away, Dutch could only shake his head irritably.
"It's a moving target that's far away, in the middle of the night. Nobody but Revy could make the shot."
Their weapons expert still hadn't returned from the tanker. It seemed the world was conspiring against them at every turn.
"Benny, get a clear picture of that ship, at least. We'll make them pay sooner or later."
Benny headed back inside to get the camera equipment. Dutch and Rock were left gazing up at the tanker jutting up from the sea beside them, consternation clear on their faces.
"...If Revy got all of them, then that ship'd have to go back empty-handed," Dutch mused.
The faint sound of distant gunfire drifted down to them from the tanker, unendingly.
The killers in the Zaltzman somehow found themselves in a standoff.
That wasn't to say that the two opposing forces were evenly matched. In fact, it might have been more accurate to say that the fight was one-sided. The troop of men armed with submachine guns was being subdued by one woman wielding a pair of pistols.
Instead of advancing through the ship up to the bridge, Jake's team had been forced to retreat again and again, finally herded all the way back into the engine room.
Dutch's expectations hadn't been misplaced, and neither had Chang's trust. Once she was in full killing machine mode, "Two Hand" Revy became a wrathful angel of death, come straight from the Book of Revelations. Unable to stand against her despite the fact that they held a clear advantage both in numbers and firepower, the nine men had already lost two of their number. Granted, their utter lack of cohesion due to the loss of their leader acted as a definite handicap, as did the narrow hallways that kept them from using numbers to their advantage. But even taking that into consideration, Revy's skill was leaps and bounds above theirs.
Though they'd made their way into the engine room, where the complicated tangle of metal would let them set up ambushes and pincer attacks, they were unable to make their way past Revy. That was why the situation could be described as a standoff.
Considering he was in charge of a team that was getting trounced soundly by a single woman, Jake wasn't the slightest bit perturbed. Rather, he found himself enjoying his current circumstances so much, he wished he could give up on his original mission of assassinating Chang.
That two-handed gunslinger... her friends called her "Revy," right?
He'd known she was something special the moment he laid eyes on her. The very air about her had told him she was dangerous; it was the kind of atmosphere that only hung about experienced gunslingers. Jake trusted his instincts.
And damn, those spunky almond eyes. The tribal tattoo on her right shoulder, taunting him. The daringly cut denim pants—pretty much hot pants, actually—that led the eye to her unashamedly bared thighs... he couldn't resist her. She had more than enough talent to be a character. Jake supposed that in a way, he'd been wandering the streets of the underworld all this time, trekking across half the world, just to find a woman like her.
There was just one feature on his beloved UC Custom that didn't have to do with enhancing its deadliness—the small lens fixed just underneath the barrel. At first glance it looked like a laser sight, but in reality it was a compact CCD camera. Besides his work as a killer, Jake had a side job that he'd taken up for both fun and profit, and the movies recorded by his tiny camera were a crucial part of that business.
His camera had already captured many titillating snapshots of the female gunslinger as she wielded her guns akimbo. He might have the opportunity to get even better pictures if the fighting got fiercer. To be honest, he couldn't care less how many of Caroline's former team happened to die in the firefight. Jake just wanted to keep enjoying the dizzying dance of bullets.
On the other hand, Revy was unable to shake off the vague sense of foreboding that hung over her, though she'd more than held her own against nine to one odds.
The two Cutlasses she held were keener than her eyes, more sensitive than her lips—they were her fangs, so natural in her hands that one could almost believe she'd been born holding them. That was how she felt the clear sense of wrongness in the struggles of her prey as she bit down... She couldn't feel the anxiety unique to the hunted emanating from beyond the barrels of her guns.
She had no evidence to support her feeling, but Revy could still instinctively sense Jake's flippant playfulness. There was nothing that sickened her more, but she knew that losing her temper and taking the fight to Jake would only be playing straight into his hands.
"Hey, Two Hand! Whassup, babe? You ain't comin' at us no more! You tired or sumthin'? Up past your bedtime? Want me to tuck you in?! You want your mommy?!"
She could hear the mocking voice from beyond the metal jungle, but the echoing cry of the diesel engines in the small room made it impossible to tell just where it was coming from. Jake knew it just as well as she did, of course, which was why he'd felt safe taunting her. If she lost it now and ran out after him, the others lying in wait were sure to ambush her.
"You're really pushing it, you son of a bitch..."
The engine room with its complex system of twists and turns was actually ideal for a single fighter to take out multiple enemies using guerrilla tactics. But Revy found such strategies annoying—creeping around carefully while nervously glancing every which way just wasn't for her. Even sitting still like she was now, waiting for her enemy to make a move, irritated her more and more with every passing second. She wanted to just set the goddamn room on fire or something and barbecue all the assholes alive. Come to think of it, just sinking the fucking boat would be a sure way to send them to the bottom of the sea. It would be a sight to match the Titanic. Damn, the idea was sounding better and better the more she thought about it. Revy was so agitated that she'd already forgotten just why she was fighting against Jake's team.
The sudden scent of expensive cigarette smoke cutting through the oily air served as an abrupt reminder that brought Revy back to reality, making her remember in an instant just who was in charge of the Zaltzman.
"...What're you doing sitting down on the job, Two Hand? It really doesn't suit you, you know. I didn't think that meditating was your style."
Everyone's gazes locked onto the unknown man as he walked casually down the hallway to stand beside Revy, his shoes echoing crisply on the metal floor. Vintage teardrop sunglasses hid his eyes from view, and his hair had been brushed back immaculately and held in place with pomade. His pure white muffler and inky black trench coat fluttered slightly, the colors forming a perfect balance of yin and yang. Everything about him radiated style and panache. Who could have predicted that he would show himself? He was none other than the Kan Yi Fan Triad's Pak Tsz Sin, the man known as the Walking Dude... Chang Wai-San himself. 4)
"Wha... Sir! What're you doin' here?" Revy stammered, caught off guard and guiltily realizing she'd been seriously considering sinking the boat. Chang merely blew out a leisurely stream of smoke.
"Well, you know. I promised Dutch that I'd keep my people from getting hurt..."
He paused for a moment and shrugged languidly.
"So I thought to myself, there wouldn't be a problem if a guy who wouldn't get hurt anyway decided to go out for a little stroll, right?"
The easy, exuberant grin on his face belied the audacity in his words. That endearing aspect had earned him the nickname of "Babe"—though it seemed that Chang himself disliked the moniker.
Chang's reasoning was so flawed it wasn't even worth taking seriously, but Revy immediately accepted it as the truth. Of course, Chang was generous enough to give Dutch the opportunity to save some face. But there was no way the blood flowing through his veins was so cold that he could stand by and watch after having to suffer the indignity of crawling on the floor to avoid a baptism of bullets.
Before Chang the mafia boss came Chang the man. To him, it was only natural to step forth onto the battlefield himself, even if he had to leave his underlings behind to do it. Though he was probably the most important person on board and was in fact Jake's target—something that Revy had no way of knowing—there was one solid, universal truth that transcended all such petty concerns: there was no way on God's green earth that the bullets of trash like Jake and his cronies would ever hit Mr. Chang.
"Now, Revy. Don't let me down. If you're having trouble getting this party started, just ask for the song you want," Chang said lazily, drawing his guns from the twin holsters at his back. He held a pair of Beretta M76s decorated with custom grips—double pistols, just like Revy. They were named Tin Dai Shuang Long. 5)
"...Heheh. Got it, sir," Revy said, shaking her head in admiration as she stood up. That fucker Jake could stand to take a few lessons from Chang. This was how you asked a lady out.
"This won't even be a challenge if you’re with me. Let's take 'em all out."
The two of them walked out from cover and into plain view, standing tall, not stooping disgracefully.
The excited killers, not ones to miss such a golden opportunity, eagerly sprang out from behind their cover, bringing their SMGs to bear. But the two cool stares and the four handguns behind them didn't miss a single movement.
Nobody could take the stage as the Cutlasses and the Tin Dai began their earsplitting quartet, snapping out a skillful beat that sent three of the killers immediately crashing to the ground in a wild spray of blood.
Jake could only watch, his eyes wide with shock. When Chang first appeared, he'd almost laughed aloud at his good fortune. But that had been because his client had told him that Chang Wai-San was nothing but an antique has-been, his once-vaunted skills having rusted away to nothing after he took an administrative position in the Triad.
Reality hit him hard, like a slap to the face. If his client thought the man walking into the room was a has-been, he didn't want to know what she thought a real gunman was. In his eyes, Chang was closer to a supernatural phenomenon than a human being. Revy alone had been skilled enough, but with a monster like that as her partner, his chances of defeating her in a straight fight had just plummeted to zero.
He had no choice but to go back to square one. Attempting to turn the tide here would be nothing short of suicide. Staring death in the face, Jake's mind kicked into high gear.
"...Stan, we're in deep shit, yo. They got the ace an' jack of spades together now. We need to beat it," he said hurriedly over the radio, and heard a soft sigh of disappointment from the other side.
"So be it. Signal the retreat. Our ship is already here. I will cover you as you flee."
With the decision made, there was no need to tarry in the killzone the engine room had become. He didn't like cutting his date with Revy short, but there'd be more chances as long as he made it out alive.
"...Everybody make a run for it! Fall back for now! Get the hell outta here!!"
Revy and Chang had advanced into the middle of the room, leaving the corridor leading outside wide open. They spun around immediately as Jake and the three remaining survivors bolted for the exit, and the fire from their guns claimed yet another victim. Still, the rest made it around the corner, heading back through the hallways toward the deck outside.
Revy threw back her head and laughed, finally relaxing as she watched her enemies flee like cowards.
"Hah, those dumbfucks. The hell do they think they're gonna run?"
But Chang, having heard concerning news from Dutch beforehand, wasn't so optimistic.
"I heard that they have another boat ready, and they broke the Lagoon's steering gear. We can't let them reach the deck. If they make it there, they might actually get away."
The amusement vanished from Revy's eyes like a dream, replaced with pure murderous intent.
"Those shits just won't lay down an' fuckin' die! Dammit! I'm gonna kill every last one of those motherfuckers!"
Her face set in a bloodthirsty rictus, Revy bolted down the hallway in hot pursuit. Chang could only sigh as he watched her go.
I think that really flipped her switch.
He couldn't just let her go, though, and so he had no choice but to follow.
"Revy, don't run out on deck! There's a sniper on the front mast—"
"So what?! Bring it on!"
The hatch leading outside was already wide open—Jake's team probably hadn't had the time to close it behind them as they fled. And just as Chang had feared, Revy leaped straight through the open doorway without care. The next instant, the roar of Stan's Dragunov split the night as though it had been waiting for her.
The 7.62mm Russian-made bullet missed by a hair, just barely brushing past Revy's shoulder and leaving a friction burn in its wake. The dark and the strong sidewind had no doubt acted as significant handicaps, but pure dumb luck had been a far greater factor in saving Revy's life. Her body immediately sensing imminent danger, Revy threw herself flat against some nearby plumbing, instinctively putting herself out of the sniper's line of sight.
She peeked out from behind her cover and saw Jake and the two other survivors running toward the emergency ladder like bats out of hell. It was on the side opposite to where the Lagoon was docked. The getaway ship that Chang had mentioned was probably already ready and waiting.
If she attempted to lean out and shoot Jake, the sniper on the mast was sure to get in her way. She had to get rid of him first, but the distance was far too great to take him on with a mere pistol.
"...See, what did I tell you? Listen to me and you'll live longer, I guarantee it," Chang said teasingly, finally coming up from behind Revy. She didn't know where he'd gotten it, but he held a G3 assault rifle with a night vision scope attached to it in his hands.
"I'll cover you while you run out and take care of those three. Not too much to ask, right?"
"Of course not!"
Chang nodded and poked his head out of the hatch. The next instant, almost like Stan had predicted Chang's movements, a bullet flashed through the darkness and forced Chang back behind cover before he had a chance to bring his rifle to bear.
Chang shrugged sheepishly toward Revy. He was unharmed, but the G3's plastic foregrip had been shattered, rendering the gun useless.
"...All right, so much for that plan. We'd need an artillery team if we wanted to flush out the guy on the mast."
"You’ve gotta be shittin’ me..."
The enemy's sniping skills were out of this world. Even Revy, who'd been nearly out of her mind with rage, was forced to calm down.
It was actually pretty preposterous, if one thought about it. The sea wind blowing across the deck was so strong that a man walking against it would have to lean into the gale, but Stan had unhesitatingly sent bullets screaming through those air currents and pinned them down.
She couldn't think of anyone in the band of costume parade failures who might possibly possess such skills. Digging into her memory, she recalled that most of the people in the hold had been armed with assault rifles and SMGs. There hadn't been a single sniper rifle in sight.
The only one with an unknown weapon... yeah, their leader, Stan or something. He'd been holding a rifle case as he got onto the rubber raft. And he'd had a clunky piece of equipment strapped to his back as well.
...You're telling me that he's the sniper up there on the mast? That junkie? A sniper? Fuck no.
Revy could only watch as Jake's team disappeared over the side, gritting her teeth. But they still had a chance. The sniper keeping Chang and Revy under lockdown would have to move down from the mast to the ladder in order to escape as well, and to do so he'd have no choice but to enter their range.
That was going to be their opportunity. The sniper would have no chance in close quarters against Chang and Revy together. If he really was Stan, capturing him alive would give them an even greater edge. The assault team had been sloppily put together, but nevertheless Stan had been appointed as their leader—he'd know just who was behind this ridiculous plan.
At length, the sound of an unfamiliar boat's engine revving up came from beside the tanker. Sure enough, there'd been a getaway boat waiting at the bottom of the ladder. But the noise was too loud to be anything but... Revy's eyes widened. Were they actually leaving? With only Jake and the other two in tow?
The engine's roar faded away into the distance. She couldn't see it with her eyes, but Revy could tell from the sound alone that the getaway ship was leaving.
"The fuck... They just left the sniper behind!"
Just how messed up were these fuckers? They'd left the sniper at the mercy of their enemies, even as he covered his allies’ escape to the last moment.
"...Well, it looks like that's it for the fellow up on the mast," Chang said from his place behind the bridge's entry hatch, a note of pity entering his voice.
"No matter how good he might be, he can't be Charles Whitman up there forever. We'll take care of him somehow or other."
"You got a smoke grenade or somethin', sir? If you can just keep him from seeing me for a second, I can run up there and get him."
"Don't rush things and do something you might not be able to regret later, Revy. I understand you must be annoyed, hunkered down there, but-"
Chang suddenly trailed off, staring up at the forward mast.
"...What is he doing?"
Her curiosity piqued by the wonder in Chang's voice, Revy peeked out cautiously and followed his gaze upwards. They could see the sniper get up from his kneeling stance behind the railing. It was hard to believe, but it was the junkie.
And Revy finally realized what the equipment Stan had had on his back as he boarded the raft was.
From the very beginning, Stan had known that things might come to this worst case scenario—that he might have to cover his allies' retreat until they reached the emergency ladder and made their escape. He'd already told his team members what to do in case that happened, and he'd also explained how he'd get away once they were clear.
Jake and the others hadn't abandoned Stan, per se. Stan himself had merely decided that he could make good on his escape alone, since the wind blowing on deck was more than strong enough for him to do so.
The top of the mast, where he was, was maybe 40 meters above the ocean's surface. The view was dizzying from such a height, but it was actually too low for Stan's purposes. The parachute he carried was made to be used at more than ten times that height. If he were to jump from where he was, he'd have to rely on the sidewind, like a parasailor.
Stan stood on the edge of the railing, felt the direction of the wind one last time, and pulled the ripcord on his parachute with nary a moment's hesitation.
The chute spilled out of the pack and spread limply out into the open air, instead of shooting upwards like it would have had he been in free fall. Still, the canopy caught the wind soon enough and snapped upward, dragging on the rigging line.
Finally realizing what Stan was planning, the two gunslingers looking up from the bridge began to move. But Stan was faster, snapping off a series of quick shots in the standing position to keep them locked down. He couldn't aim anymore and the chances of them taking a random bullet were close to zero, but once he took off he wouldn't be able to fire at all. He had to keep them at bay until the very moment he leaped, in order to prevent them from shooting him out of the air.
The chute, filled with the wind, freed Stan's body from the confines of gravity. Stan rolled off the mast and began to move roughly through the air as though a invisible giant had grabbed him in its hand.
Immediately, he locked the Dragunov into place on his back and grabbed the control strings in both hands, controlling the canopy. The getaway ship that Jake and the others had boarded was already heading downwind as they'd previously agreed. The distance was... iffy, but he thought it should work. The real problem was going to be landing precisely on the narrow cruiser's deck.
Don't forget the training you endured... Stan reminded himself, coolly guiding the chute. Remember the skies of your past battles, how you entrusted yourself to the winds. If you are still a warrior, if you still deserve to live... your body will remember everything.
Silently, following the cruiser's blinking signal lights, Stan sank into the black sea.
The parachute was already out of pistol range by the time Chang and Revy made it to the head of the ship. Unwilling to let Stan escape without at least making an effort, Revy squeezed off three shots at the retreating figure, but the gunshots disappeared into the darkness of the sea without a trace.
Far away, the parachute canopy rose up into the sky as though it had lost whatever was dragging it down, then fell back down into the waves, swept to the side by the winds. The cut-away handles had been pulled... which meant that the parachuter had landed safely on target.
The enemy cruiser's signal lights went out as well. They had no way to see where Stan's team was running anymore.
"...Fuckin' fuck! You shitheads! I'll kill you all, you sorry little cunts! That's a motherfuckin' promise!"
Revy's angry shouts were swallowed by the depths of the night, leaving nothing behind, not even an echo.
1): Actress who starred in the pirate movie and monumental flop Cutthroat Island, which actually didn't get a Golden Raspberry Award - it was only nominated for one.
2): Arabic for "devil."
3): Tortuga is an island that's part of Haiti, infamous in the 17th century for being a base of operations for Caribbean pirates.
4): Pak Tsz Sin (which I erroneously translated as Bak Ji Shin back in volume 8 - sorry about that!) is an administrative position that sits together with the Hung Kwan and Cho Hai on the third tier of the Triad power structure, below the Shan Chu (head) and Heung Chu/Sin Fung (vice heads). Or so I've gathered from the minuscule amount of research I've done.
The Kan Yi Fan (金義潘) is not, to the best of my knowledge, an actual Triad organization. It seems to be a fairly major establishment, though, considering it controls the Chinese base of power in Roanapur over both the Sun Yee On and the 14K - real-life organizations with over 20,000 members worldwide, each. For more speculation (much of it confused and disjointed and incoherent) regarding the Kan Yi Fan, read here.
5): 天帝双龍 (Heavenly Emperor Twin Dragon).
Chapter 1 End