Stuck On You, ch. 2
They didn't even make it as far as Yokohama before trouble hit, in the form of one patrolman who was alert enough to catch the alarm tones of his radar when a white Subaru clocked twenty miles well over the posted speed limit. Pleased by the prospect of making his arrest quota and possibly earning a commendation from his superior, the officer flashed on his lights and sounded a siren as he chased down the offender.
"Aren't you going to pull over?" Akabane asked when Ban, instead of dropping his speed, pressed his foot harder on the gas.
"Ryuu Mouen says we have a deadline. I don't think he intends for us to stop and have tea and cookies with the cops, do you?" Ban said, keeping an eye on the lights steadily gaining on his rear. "At least it's only one cherries-and-blueberries, and on a motorcycle at that. I can lose him."
"He's closing in. He might call for backup if you persist," Akabane said. "Just pull over and let him write his ticket, and then we can be on our way."
"Nothing doing! Have you seen what those bastards charge for an impound? I've stretched that limit for the month, thank you very much."
"Well, if you would exercise some prudence and listen to Ginji-kun when he tells you not to park in the wrong spaces, perhaps you wouldn't have to part with so much money on a regular basis."
"When I want your worthless opinion I'll ask for it," Ban snapped. "Mouen said he knows where we are. I'm not risking my neck for a stupid traffic ticket that I'm not going to pay for anyway."
The policeman drew closer. They could see his tinted visor in the rearview mirrors. "You do realize that you're only making it harder on yourself in the long run," Akabane said. "A criminal record is not so easily erased, unless, of course, you happen to be on good terms with Makubex-kun. He could probably expunge your slate if you ask him nicely – for a fee, I'm sure. Possibly one larger than that of your impending ticket. Either way, you'll have to give up your hard-earned money if you wish to continue enjoying your freedom." He shrugged. "It's your choice as to which of the two evils is least satisfactory to you."
Ban cursed softly. Makubex wasn't above calling in favors when he felt like it. And Ban liked going into Mugenjou even less than he did a jail cell. But jail in this case wouldn't have served any better, and if he were taken too far from Akabane...
"All right, but I do the talking. You just shut up and look pretty," Ban ordered, as he took his foot off the gas and let the car coast into slower gear. "Just pray that Mouen doesn't get an itchy trigger finger!"
They pulled over. The cop was still on his cycle, behind them, preparing to read the official riot act. "Come on, come on, speed racer," Ban hissed. "Let's get this over with."
"He's probably checking the plates to see if we're wanted for anything. Like murder," Akabane said cheerfully.
"Shut up. I'm thinking. We have to make sure he doesn't get suspicious." He poked Akabane. "Lose the hat."
Akabane's eyebrow did a caterpillar bend, its slender line inching up. He'd put his hat back on after Ban had allowed him to stay in the car. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. Off with it. Cops don't like not being able to see who they're dealing with. You hide under that umbrella, it's gonna make him suspicious."
"I doubt that. Your delay in pulling over is what will have him most interested," Akabane said. "He's going to ask you why you didn't immediately slow down when he put his lights on. You were speeding, after all."
"Oh, like you're such a paragon of law-abiding citizenry, Sir Jackal of Homicide," Ban retorted. "Take that stupid hat off before I rip it off myself."
Akabane clutched his favorite adornment with one hand, glaring at him. "I most certainly will not. And you had best think twice about performing any action you may not live to regret."
"Yeah? I'm terrified," Ban drawled. His hand shot out to snatch the offensive headcovering away, but before his fingers could close over the brim, movement in the mirrors caught his notice. "Shit! He's coming over. Take it off, Jackal!"
"Do it!" Ban hissed.
Akabane remained firm. "Forget it."
"You irritating son of a - " But that was all Ban could get out before a fist was rapping on his window. He pasted a tight smile on his lips and rolled down the window, his eyes shooting poison arrows at Akabane that warned him to behave. "Hey, officer, what can I do you for?"
The cop didn't smile back. "Sir, you were running twenty over the posted signs. Why didn't you slow down and pull over when I flashed my lights at you?"
I told you so, Akabane mouthed discreetly at Ban.
"Well, officer, you're right, I was going too fast and you got me," Ban said as ingratiatingly as he knew how. "But I have a good reason, I swear. See, my friend here - " he nudged Akabane's shoulder - "his wife is having a baby in Nagoya, and we just got word that she's gone into labor, so I promised my pal I'd get him to the hospital in time to see his firstborn enter the world."
Ban smiled at the guy, willing him to accept the story, issue the ticket (or, preferably, a warning instead) and go on his way. But fate wasn't giving them the hook-slip so easily.
The cop's pen hovered over his notepad. "Oh, really? Which hospital are you going to?"
Ban looked at Akabane, but when the transporter stayed silent, it fell to him to provide the details. "Ah – the main one, you know." He fished in his head for a plausible-sounding name. "Shibukawa Central."
The pen descended onto the notepad. "Hmm. My sister lives in Nagoya. I don't remember her ever mentioning that hospital before."
"It's a new one, I think they just built it," Ban said. His jaw was aching from the strain of forced pleasantry.
"Mm. Boy or girl?"
"Your friend's wife. Is she having a boy or a girl?"
Again Ban looked to Akabane; again the other man said nothing. "She's keeping it a surprise," Ban mumbled, turning back to the cop with an increasingly nervous grin. "Um, so...what do you say?"
The pen scratched across the paper and the cop tore off a section, handing it to him without a blink. "Penalty for each section of the limit that you went over, and two extra for not pulling over right away. You can pay that at our downtown office within sixty days before we issue a warrant after you." He tipped his helmet at Akabane. "Good luck to your wife." To Ban, he said, "Drive carefully, sir, and have a nice day."
"And you thought my hat was going to be the problem," Akabane chuckled for Ban's ears as soon as the cop had gone back to his bike. He waggled a gloved fingertip. "Tsk, tsk."
"You moron." Ban glared at him, crumpling the citation in his fist. "You could have said something! Instead you just sat there like a big lump of coal!"
"I thought that you wanted me to stay quiet," Akabane said. "Weren't those your exact words to me right before we stopped? 'Shut up and look pretty, Jackal.'" His lips formed a sensuous pout. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to act more polite if you wish to ensure my cooperation."
"You stow away in my car and I should be more polite?" Ban's jaw spasmed as he sought words vile enough to convey to Akabane exactly what the transporter ought to do with himself and a rusted chainsaw.
He thought he'd formed a suitably grotesque reply when fresh movement in the rearview mirror stopped him. The cop was coming back.
"Oh great, now what does he want?" Ban pasted on his best die-in-a-fire-now smile and waited.
"Sir, were you aware that you have a broken taillight?" the cop told him.
"What?" That jerk Mouen, he'd said he'd had the car looked over.
"Right rear taillight," the cop said. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to issue you another citation for that. It's a safety hazard."
"Sure, why not. Pile it on with the rest of my shit sandwich," Ban muttered, no longer caring whether the guy heard him or not.
In the next moment, however, he wished his brain-to-mouth filter had been engaged, because something in his tone must've triggered the cop's suspicion. He peered over the tops of his sunglasses at the two men inside the Subaru and studied them as he handed over the second ticket. "Hey. Don't I know you?" he said, upon catching a glimpse of Akabane's face beneath the big black hat.
Ban had to hand it to him, Jackal didn't flinch. "I travel to Nagoya on business quite frequently. Perhaps you've seen me around town," Akabane said smoothly.
"Yeah? What business are you in?"
"Acquisition and transport."
The cop nodded slowly, digesting this. "I'm sure you two fellows won't mind if I ask to see some ID," he said after a minute. "Just a formality, you understand."
"Not at all," Akabane said, reaching into the breast pocket of his coat and withdrawing a sleek black wallet, from which he extracted a card and passed it over. Ban grudgingly did the same, hauling out his tattered wallet and fishing from a well-worn slip his own ID.
The cop looked at the cards, then at them. "Excuse me a moment. This'll only take a second."
"What do you wanna bet he comes back and asks for our star signs next?" Ban grumbled quietly while the cop returned once more to his motorcycle. He spotted Akabane undoing his seat belt and reaching for the passenger door handle. "What are you doing? Sit down!"
Akabane paused with one hand on the handle. He gave Ban a censorious look. "In about ten seconds he's going to run those IDs on his computer and pull up your history of unpaid fines. Including, I believe, the citation you were issued in Yokohama three months ago for failing to appear in court on petty charge for damages to a parking meter, a measure which has doubtless earned a warrant on your name." Akabane shook his finger at Ban. "You really ought to be more careful about what you post on your Facebook, Midou-kun. Why, anyone with a working knowledge of search engines could turn up all sorts of interesting tidbits about you."
"You Googled me?" Bloody freak. Ban hosed him with a glare. "What do you think you're gonna do now?"
"Correct the problem before we are detained needlessly, of course." Akabane opened the door and started to step out.
"You idiot!" Ban grabbed his arm and yanked him back into the seat. "You go out there and make trouble, he's gonna start shooting at us!"
Akabane suppressed an impatient sigh. "Do you want me to help, or not?" he snapped.
"I want you to cut me some slack here. Is that too much to ask?" Ban shot back.
Akabane frowned. "I'll take that as a yes. But I'll thank you not to complain about my methods in the meantime when it happens to be your mess that I'm cleaning up after," the transporter finished archly as he pushed the door open and slid from the seat in one fluid motion.
Ban started to yell at him, demand he elaborate on that sinister statement, when motion in the mirrors flashed. The cop had noticed their row and had gone into alert, drawing his pistol from its holster and preparing to bark out an order. "Oh shit - "
Instinct propelled him to duck down and avoid the shot that was coming, but black shadow swirled behind the cop in the next eye-blink, and then the guy was falling, dropping face down like a cold stone. The unfired gun hitting the pavement was the only sound that echoed.
"You stupid maniac! What've you done!"
Akabane ignored the insult and made several more swipes of his hand. The motorcycle collapsed into a pile of rubbish. He traipsed back to the car and got inside, rebuckling his belt without a second glance backward at the mayhem he'd just completed.
Ban stared at him.
Akabane looked up, his face the perfect picture of innocence. "Well? What are you waiting for?"
"You just whacked a cop, for crissakes!"
Akabane shrugged. "He was going to shoot at me."
"Because you were getting out of the car!"
"Would you rather have gone to jail and been blown up because we were booked in separate cells?" Akabane reached up and straightened his hat. "Let's go."
Ban stomped the gas and the car veered back onto the road in a scream of stinking rubber. "I can't believe you just did that! You psycho! Cops keep cameras for roadside stops, they can identify us on the tape - "
" - If they were to find it," Akabane interjected calmly, holding up a small piece of equipment that had been concealed in his hand until now. "I took the liberty of removing the pertinent data. And I retrieved our respective identifications as well," he added, flicking into view from between the fingers of his other hand the cards he and Ban had given the cop. "Goodness, how on earth do you think I've managed to do so well for myself as a transporter without critical attention to detail?"
"Devil's luck," Ban growled through clenched teeth. "Give it!" He snapped his fingers for his ID.
"Ah, ah. What do we say when we want something?"
Ban's hand shot out and gripped an alabaster throat, squeezing just shy of the snapping point. "Fork it over, asshole!"
Akabane blinked, but relinquished the card. When Ban let go of his neck he replaced his own in his wallet. "You could do with some anger management courses, if you don't mind my saying so," the Jackal said stiffly, straightening the shirt collar and tie that Ban had just mussed.
"Manage this." Ban pointed a middle finger at Akabane. "God. I can't believe you killed that guy over a stupid traffic ticket!"
"A ticket that was your doing in the first place," Akabane tartly reminded him. "And who says I killed him? You're awfully quick to assume the worst of me when I've given you no reason to. Have you forgotten so soon about our mutual client's coercion?"
Ban took his eyes off the road and the group of traffic he was trying to weave through, processing what Jackal had just said. "But – the bike – the cop, you just nailed him - "
Akabane lifted a white-clad hand and slanted it, gently tapping the side of what could have been a vicious judo chop to the back of Ban's neck. "Pressure point. Strike hard enough and the victim instantly loses consciousness for a short while. He'll live, he'll just awaken with a nasty headache when he regains his faculties. By then we shall be well away from this area." Akabane gave him a curious look. "Really, Midou-kun, I do have some respect for the law."
Maybe when it suits you, Ban thought, eyeing the other man warily. Jackal could be so mercurial in his moods. "How'd you disable the bike?"
"A few properly applied manipulations at strategic construction points. Maguruma taught me how to do it in case it becomes necessary to dissuade pursuers on the runs that we make."
"Hn. Wouldn't have figured you'd take lessons from No-Brakes. He lets his quarry live."
"Not always." At the scowl Ban gave him, Akabane continued. "Well, you know how protective he is of his vehicles..."
"He doesn't get off on killing like you do."
"No," Akabane agreed, and here his face took on a sly conspiratorial cast as he leaned slightly closer to Ban, as if they were old chums sharing playful secrets. "But Gouzou has been known to...severely educate...those who do not respect his rules of the road."
Akabane settled back in his seat, posing primly with hands folded neatly on his lap. "A word of advice, Midou-kun. If he ever asks you if you'd like to see his vintage 1963 Ferrari sports convertible, for heaven's sake, do not, I repeat, do not so much as breathe a whisper upon it."
Ban snorted. "Why, big man'll burst into tears if I mess up his precious toy?"
"No, you will." Akabane leaned even closer to him and murmured his next words. "Once, I was eating an ice cream cone while standing next to the thing watching him polish it. He saw me and said, 'Jackal, so help me Zeus, if you get that crap on my car you're cleaning it up yourself.' I was only joking with him, and I said, 'Oh really, Gouzou?' I pretended to tip my cone and act as though a bit of vanilla would have dripped off, but the ice cream was too soft and the entire scoop fell and splattered the side of the car."
Ban rolled his eyes. "Bet that pissed him off."
Akabane arched a brow. "He made me suck up all the mess...with my nose."
The transporter sat back, nodding in all seriousness at Ban's disbelieving glare.
"The deadly Jackal being cowed by a taxicab pusher? You have knives, for crying out loud!"
"It's true. Ask him sometime, he'll tell you." Akabane pouted again. "He laughs when he gets to the part where he planted my face in the tire."
Ban let out a coarse laugh of his own. "You freaks never cease to shock the hell outta me," he muttered, turning his gaze back to the road.
"I've never experienced an ice cream headache like that in my whole life, and I hope never again to," Akabane said.
"And I thought Ginji could be a childish twit."
"Speaking of childed things, what sort of cheap excuse was that for you to give to our would-be arresting officer?" Akabane huffed quietly. "Having a baby, indeed. That's the oldest lie in the book for speeding. How utterly unimaginative for a man with the renowned Evil Eye!"
"At least I was thinking, trying to cover our asses," Ban growled. "You just sat there all tall dark and creepy. I told you that damn hat raised his watch!"
"You wish me to speak up? Very well, then," Akabane said sweetly. "The next time we are pulled over because of your erratic driving, I shall tell the police that I am the notorious killer Doctor Jackal, and you are my intimate accomplice." He smirked.
Ban knew he'd do it too, just to be a bastard. He bared fangs at Akabane. "Never mind!"
That grating little chuckle, the one that always made his hair stand up on end and his nerves twitch a jitterbug. "Oh, do lighten up, Midou-kun. We're just having some fun. Aren't we? Hmm? Aren't we?"
Well, one of them was. But it sure wasn't him, Ban thought sourly. "Thank whatever benevolence exists that you haven't reproduced," he mumbled to himself. Now there was some serious Jagan material...!
Jackal heard him and chose to needle the subject further. "Actually, sometimes when I watch Ginji-kun, I think about what it might be like to have children. It would be a different change of pace," he mused aloud. "A son might be nice. I could teach him the ropes of transporting." A feline smile curved those slim lips suddenly. "But I think I would like to have a little girl first, so that when she comes of age, I can have the pleasure of eviscerating every degenerate male that tries to ask her out on a date."
Ban bit his lip and counted silently to ten before replying. "Do me a favor? Keep your twisted filial plans to yourself!" he ordered amidst another of Akabane's demented giggles, as they sped on towards the waning daylight of Nagoya.
The inn they stopped at for the night was thankfully sparse in activity. Ban checked the travel itinerary Ryuu Mouen had given him and confirmed that this place was on their list. He hoped fervently that the joint had hot showers and full refrigerators. His back ached almost as much as his stomach did and he wanted most right now to fill his face, clean up and sleep, not necessarily in that order.
"Mouen bother to stuff any of our luggage in the car?" he asked Akabane.
"Mm. I'm afraid not."
They'd have to make do with the same clothes. Maybe the place had a laundromat. "Let's go. I'm starving." Ban pointed a finger at Akabane as they got out of the car. "Remember. Stay close." He tapped his bracelet for emphasis.
"And here I thought all this time that you just enjoyed my company that much," Akabane drawled. But he fell into step behind Ban.
They checked in at the front desk and got their room key. Ban chose to ignore the knowing look the teenaged clerk sent in his direction when he asked for a single suite rate and concentrated instead on keeping Akabane in line. "No phone calls. I don't want to rouse Mouen before I'm ready," he said in a low voice as they padded along the corridor leading to their room. "You want to use their laundromat?"
"I should think my things will suffice another day before requiring laundering."
Ban decided his clothes could wait too, it'd save money that way. "Fine. Now look, we get in there and we stay put the rest of the night. No wandering."
"I'm not a canine, thank you, so you may cease ordering me about," Akabane sniffed over his shoulder while Ban fumbled with the key in the door lock. "Here, you're doing that wrong. You need to twist the handle right after you insert the key."
"I know what I'm doing," Ban snarled. Still, the door wouldn't budge. He jammed the card key into the slot and tried again. The light remained red instead of flashing green. He swore softly.
"Oh, for bloody blue blazes - " Akabane's patience dwindled with each of Ban's failed attempts to open the door, and he finally pushed the other man out of his way and snatched the card key. "It goes like this."
He swiped the card key through the slot device while pushing on the handle at the same time. The lock clicked apart and the door swung open. "See how easy that was? You make everything more complicated than it needs to be, I swear."
Ban grabbed the card key back and shoved it into his pants pocket, muttering epithets involving Akabane and a cement mixer under his breath as he stalked past the transporter and flicked on a light switch – and stopped up short when he saw their room.
It was a simple enough dwelling. It had a miniature refrigerator, a television set, lamps, bathroom, and chairs. And, of course, a bed.
"Is something wrong, Midou-kun?"
A bed. One. Single. Bed. With two pillows.