"Vacation. Yes. Vacation. It's like you guys never even heard of the word," I stomped my foot in disgust.
"Well, yeah, Jenny. I've heard of vacations, but I've never heard of... well... taking one other than for healing up after a job gone wrong," said Foo Bi mildly as he cleaned one of his swords.
"The White Ninja takes vacations," quietly noted Rose as she put her .50 caliber sniper rifle back together with deft fingers.
"Thank you, Rose. See?" I said.
"Uhm... but you're no White Ninja, Jen-girl," noted big Jackson, as he just sat and whittled, watching us. He was wrapped around the middle with bandages and still looked a touch singed.
"Well, I'm not vacationing at any posh resort on some tropical island either," I said. "It's uhm... more rural than that, and I've always wanted to see more of the wild American West. Not the silly coastal stuff, but where all the cowboys and Indians used to be and all that land and wilderness and big woods and lots of water ..."
"That does sound pretty good," said Foo Bi thoughtfully as he stropped the edge of his sword until it gleamed.
There was a moment of companionable silence as the tac-team cleaned weapons together after that last quick hard hit on the Buddhist temple that had been filled with munitions. There had been anarchist smugglers trying to get guns into Hong Kong and we'd taken care of them. Part of the taking care was also keeping our mouth shut over the fact that one of the guys smuggling had had tentacles for a head. That was for our bosses to worry about. The Pledged were always ready to do what needed doing.
Well, until one lost ones edge and I hadn't done at all well on the hit. I spent more bullets in the one sortie than anyone and had only put down four mooks and it was only Jackson's quick thinking and sacrifice that had kept me from getting an explosion in the face. He'd taken most of it himself, which is why the singed edges. I was going to be a danger to the team if I kept this up much longer, between the tac-team jobs and taking care of my comatose husband and mourning my lost son, I was feeling a wreck.
I'd already paid the hospital for the next few weeks from our cut on the quick hit. So I was set on taking a vacation and while they were putting up a mild protest, I could tell their hearts weren't in it. They had seen how badly I'd just plain messed up during the hit and I wouldn't have wanted to be depended on right then.
"Okay," Foo Bi flipped back his long braid of hair that marked him for the martial artist he was, "Where are you going?"
"Columbus, Ohio, the heart of the mid-West," I said proudly.
Jackson hit the ground laughing so hard he couldn't breath. That's when I wondered exactly what I was getting myself into.
It was nothing like what I expected when I walked off that plane.
Columbus in the summer was muggy, hot, nearly as humid as at home. The city itself was so small, a few clusters of business buildings and then smaller stuff on all sides. It was nearly ghost town empty after the bustle and noise and thick industrial stench of Hong Kong. Columbus smelled of... well... cows.
Well... I'd wanted rural. It certainly was green.
I rented a car and just started driving around the first day. Flat on the one part, and rolling hills of green and eventually woods and rivers and streams and more land than any Hong Kong street-wise girl would ever have dreamed could exist without concrete. Farms in all directions with acres and acres of nothing but cows or nothing but fields. Eventually out in the hills I found a lake and woods and a small resort on the shore that a lot of the more expensive houses were built around. There was a small bar and golf course and country club that would have been perfect gangster cover back home. So I checked in there and hung out in the bar in the evenings after walking out in the woods for a day and soaking in the peace and finding that, as surprising as it was for me, walking in just a bunch of green stuff was boring, soggy and scary.
Okay, *you* try finding your way in a place where all the trees look the same and one bunch of green stuff looks like all the other bunches of green stuff!
One nice and familiar thing was that after trolling the club for just two nights, I spotted what looked to be a drug king and cronies all around him. I reported him to the Pledged contact that I was given and was duly thanked for the information, though in a tone more bored than dutiful. I asked if there was any work to be done in the area and was put on hold.
A kid played in one of the concrete parks the resort had built out by the lake. I guess they wanted a clean dry spot for their tourists to lie out by the lake. He was not really a kid. Just like Sam he probably would have hated being called a kid. A teenager. Tall, lanky, awkward mostly but he was really, really good on his skateboard, turning nearly everything into the park into a ride and experiment and a daredevil's expression. He wore all the stuff Sam used to love, 'cause it was completely 'slacker' stuff, messy and loose to an extreme. I used to hate that stuff, and suddenly realized how much I missed it.
The contact came back then and said that no, there wasn't anything pressing that needed cleanup in the area but that they would contact me if necessary. I thanked them and hung up.
I watched the kid for a while and was surprised when he finally picked up his skateboard and came into the club house. Slumped and half-shuffling with those ridiculously low and huge shorts, he went into the club house as if it were familiar territory and slumped bonelessly into a chair by an actually fairly good looking man who was dressed rather loudly. The man was both earnest looking and speaking earnestly to Mr. Drug Lord.
I took a table near theirs, looking at the entrance every once in a while as if looking for someone that was going to be meeting me. They ignored me, as everyone does and kept talking.
"It's going to work. It has to," said the earnest one.
"But a Kid's Day at a monster truck rally? Really, Rick, that's not quite your usual audience now is it?" Doubt shone in the deep, polished voice of the lord.
"Nah. Kids love it! Good trucks and bad trucks, and they love all the noise and excitement and Skip here's gonna do an extreeeeeme boarding trick, and all the kids love that kinda stuff," said Rick, doggedly trying to push aside that gnawing doubt. Skip just grunted, and, to me, his body language said he was a little overawed by the polished man but wasn't going to do anything to show that.
"But poetry?" asked the polished one skeptically.
"It's class, man. I'm telling ya, we gotta have some class to bring in all those family types. Get a little education in there as well, and the little wife is always going to want to get in on it. It'll bring folks in by the score. On a weekend, over lunch, they'll be buying out the concession stands, too. It'll be great," Rick finished with every bit of confidence.
"It would be good if you could show a profit," said the polished man quietly.
Rick grinned a quick, nervous grin. "Yeah, Mr. Soong, it would be really good. Thanks for backing this try."
"Sure, Rick. Take care, now, and enjoy your drink. I have a bit of business I must conduct with another associate here, and I hope to see you after your coup." He bowed the bow of a lord to an insect and then walked off with two goons that were more for show than tell in tow. Rick wiped his brow and sighed as the man walked away.
I was watching, unabashedly, and when he started to look my way I consciously decided to meet his eyes and smile. It would be good cover to be with a man in such low esteem with my possible prey. It's always good to be underestimated. And he wasn't bad looking. The boy? I'm afraid my judgement may have been entirely off simply through his presense, but at that moment I rationalized that away. Besides, I'd never really seen a Monster Truck Rally before...
He smiled uncertainly back. I got up and headed towards his table, aware that the boy was looking me over as well as I walked over. He looked away fairly soon. I'm not that preposing on the surface. Just an ordinary looking Chinese woman in slightly more formal wear than most of the people in the clubhouse. Rose had fun picking out my wardrobe because I never really cared about clothing too much, and her rather expensive British taste usually found its way into nearly everything I wore. For all that I'm plain, even Danian, the surprise kill artist who is quiet as a shadow and just about as expressive, smiles back when I smile at him. My husband used to call it the grin that could fell an ox. I haven't had much use for it since he went into a coma, well, other than to lure in those that were on the side of anarchy. The corrupt are so easy to lure with corruption.
"I... I've never seen a Monster Truck Rally before," I blurted out, blushing just a bit. "Do you really run those kinds of things? My... that must be exciting!"
That was enough to get started. My buying dinner for the two was the lynch pin, though and we ended with a time for another date. The next few days were spent in finding out all the behind the scenes details that it takes to run a Monster Truck Rally, how much money flow through there is in such a venture, and I had the time of my life just going with the work and discovering this world that I'd never even known existed before. The evenings were simple, sweet and I mostly just did support for Rick. I'd listen to Rick's every woe and sympathize with him on it, give him great food, and do plenty of small things like massages and backrubs after which he was so exhausted from the day, that he's just drop out like a light. Then I'd sneak out, drive back to my hotel and sleep the sleep of the just.
Occassionally, I'd catch Skip just looking at me. Once I thought I saw a very wide-eyed look when I'd been reaching up to a shelf to get something down. At first I thought it was because the jacket was open and he was just being a teen-aged boy about it. Then I realized that it was because of the silver plated pair of Hi-power Brownings snugged against my kidneys. They were more a part of me than my own skin, as comfortable as my own breath, so it didn't really occur to me until far later.