Taylor lay underneath her motorcycle, a small allen wrench in hand. Her brakes had seemed a bit off lately and she was attempting to fix the problem. Her twin sister Sarah was lounging on the garage couch, flipping through a a bird owners magazine. A radio played quietly in the background.
"Hey, could you give me the specs again?" she called, turning the wrench firmly.
Sarah sighed softly and got off the couch. She turned to the multitude of manuals and blueprints spread across half the garage's wall-length projects table.
"You want European or American standard?"
Taylor hissed slightly as thick smelly blue fluid dripped onto her cheek. "Make it European. American won't cut it for the races this week."
Sarah frowned at that as her eyes quickly absorbed lines of tiny print. "I thought Dad said absolutely not. You're still on probation from the last time."
Taylor rolled her eyes. "A li'l scratch like that? He didn't even pay for it! I did!"
"No, you didn't. Melissa did." Sarah neglected to mention that sliding fifty feet on after-light-rain-oil-slick concrete after a vicious shove from a less scrupulous rider that had resulted in the bike being nearly totaled and Taylor walking funny for weeks, would hardly be considered a lil scratch. It was a rather touchy subject for the whole family.
Taylor slid out from under the bike on her trolley to glare at her sister. "Out of my funds."
"Yeah, but her and Veronika manage the money that Mr. Cooper gives us. And don't change the subject. Dad still said no and I am so not covering for you this time." She found the info and quickly read it off.
"Some sister you are," Taylor mumbled to herself, measuring the brake fluid carefully. She poured it in and looked up to see Sarah glaring at her. Sometimes it slipped her mind how annoying it was to have a family who all read lips. The hurt in those liquid brown eyes made her heart twinge in her chest. But she wouldn't apologize. If Sarah lived to act, Taylor lived to race...and there was nothing they could do to change that.
"Brace yourselves." They whipped their heads to see Lidia finish coming down the stairs, an irritated expression on her face. Then again, she almost always looked irritated.
"What's up?" Sarah asked.
Lidia deigned not to answer and instead pointed at the stairs. They heard the fuss before they figured it out.
"-THE MOST RIDICULOUS, SHAMEFUL, ABSOLUTELY WANTON DISPLAY OF DISCOURTESY IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!"
Taylor and Sarah both winced. Melissa was on a rampage. Lidia flopped down on the couch and began disinterestedly flipping through a tween gossip magazine. The door at the top of the stairs slammed as two people trotted down to the garage.
"It vas very funny, Meh-lissah. I do noht see the problem," Veronika said as she descended the stairs, blue-green eyes pratically dancing in amusement. Melissa followed half a step behind was fuming, face white with suppressed rage making her freckles stand out that much more.
"AND YOU!" She pointed at Lidia, who looked at her evenly, no sign of fear in her sharp emerald eyes. "YOU!" Melissa marched over to Lidia, leaning down until they were practically nose to nose. "I know, this was your idea! I just know it!" She hissed.
Lidia rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
"Dat is a good point," Veronika said, grabbing one of the overstuffed chairs.
"SHE DIDN'T EVEN SAY ANYTHING!" Melissa exploded, whirling around to glare at Veronika. "AND DON'T YOU EVEN TRY TO SAY THAT SHE DID! I HAVE PROOF THIS TIME!"
Lidia's face suddenly went white behind her and others looked on interestedly. Melissa whirled around to begin ranting at Lidia in rapid-fire Russian.
"So, mind tellin' me what's got her gears grindin'?" Taylor walked slowly over to Veronika, trying to remain inconspicuous to the miniature whirlwind of rage in front of them.
"You haf blue on your cheek." Veronika wiped at her own in imitation.
Sarah handed Taylor a rag absently. "I haven't seen her this mad since the French Embassy Incident. What'd Lidia do?"
"Frohm vat I understand, Mehlissa is upset because of the rahder fetching flowers she was given dis morning," Veronika said nonchalantly, focusing curiously on Lidia's shrinking and uncomfortable figure.
Finally it seemed as if she was beginning to wind down. Melissa demanded something of Lidia which made Veronika choke and sputter out something in shock. Melissa turned to glare at her and they began their own rapid fire exchange.
Sarah and Taylor exchanged a weary look. "Think we should invest in some lessons?" Taylor asked glumly, not even attempting to follow along. She pulled her red-brown hair into slightly neater ponytail.
"Probably,"Sarah said, "Looks like Lidia really did do it this time. She hasn't glared, rolled her eyes, or done that funny little hum thing-y."
Veronika shook her head in disbelief- or maybe amazement- and leaned back in her chair, content to have Melissa continue ranting. Sarah took the opportunity to plop down in front of her, giving her a puppy-dog look. Veronika chuckled and sat back up.
"Sit up straight," she commanded and Sarah happily complied. She began neatly and gently braiding Sarah's thick auburn curls. She glanced over at Taylor, who had returned to looking through one of the manuals. "So, I see you haf decided to enter the races dis veek. Haf you told Mehlissah?"
"Told me what?" Melissa snapped sharply apparently done berating Lidia. She paced over to the far side of the room, still irritated but slightly calmer. "That Taylor has once again flown in the face of reason and decided to put her life in mortal peril for the sake of avenging her wronged reputation in a highly dangerous, underground - and might I add- incredibly illegal motorcycle race this weekend at 11 pm? Why, no, I don't think she did." Melissa leveled a sharp glare at Taylor, grey eyes icy with disappointment. "And can you imagine my surprise when I received an email from the scum who run the race with one of your alliases on it? Luckily for you, I managed to delete your name off the list."
Taylor gasped, a sharp stab of betrayal ripping through her chest. She opened her mouth to start screaming at her -
"OH, don't even start with me!" Melissa spat. She twisted her wavy red hair back into a bun, clipping it in place. "It just might have escaped your notice, considering you were travelling at upwards of 90 miles per hour when it happened, but that little love-tap was actually meant to kill you, you stupid girl." Everyone froze. Melissa smirked, crossing her arms. "Well, now that I've got your attention."
She walked over to the projects table, grabbing a remote off of it. She pushed a few buttons and a flat screen TV appeared where the huge poster of Elvis had been. Documents and files were spread across the screen. Lidia stopped trying to immesh herself into the couch cushions and walked over to stand next to her, an interested and intense expression on her normally bored face. Veronika continued her interrupted braiding, tugging on it to remind Sarah not to move.
"You managed to get under the thin skin of the resident drug lord of our beloved inner-city and even better! He's courting with one of the local Triad operations." Her cheeriness was undermined by the incredibly irritated look on her face.
"Damned Asians," Melissa grumbled to herself, "never know when when to quit."
"But, moving on!" A sour, sick looking ratman appeared on the screen, next to a Jackie Chan wannabe and a slick looking, mean street-walker with blue streaked hair, who looked like something straight off the roughest streets in Tokyo.
"On your left, Din Jei Wan. Ratface here is the one in charge of these splendid little races our beloved idiot is so very fond of." She paused to glare at Taylor again. "He reports to our next charming specimen, Jei Xian Wan, inner-city drug lord and thorn in Customs' side. He's been the most successful drugs runner we've had in quite awhile and unfortunately it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon." She paused to glare at the screen. "We've had forty overdoses in the past two months because of this bastard." Veronika raised an eyebrow at that. Melissa was not overly fond of cussing. Though given the subject was drugs, it wasn't too hard to imagine why.
"What's he deal?" Lidia asked, speaking for the second time that day.
"He's an alphabet dealer, ladies, although he specializes in opium and heroin." Veronika gave a small 'tch' of disgust. Alphabet meant that they sold anything and everything they could get their hands on, which made them very difficult to track down.
"And who's the candy-head?" Sarah asked, standing up now that her hair was done, Veronika doing the same.
"Now that is where it gets interesting. Taylor here might know him as Blue Helmet, and yes that is his racing alias. Very creative, isn't it?" They all shared a snicker. "Ratface here isn't exactly keen on real names as I'm sure Taylor could tell you."
"Would you stop that! I'm sorry, okay?" Taylor protested, throwing a rag at her in exasperation. Melissa caught it neatly and continued, a slight smirk playing about her lips.
"But his actual name is Toshiro Watakari. Quite a character, even by our standards." Lidia and Veronika shared a look, as did Taylor and Sarah.
"Oh?" Veronika prompted.
A list of qualifications popped up on the screen and Sarah gave a low whistle. "Born in Japan, specialist in armed and unarmed combat- no surprise there-, three counts of aggravated assault in the last month, formerly of the Australian Special forces...what is this guy?"
"A jack-of-all-trades. You need a job done and for the right price, he just might do it. He's not like our typical mercenaries, he only does what he wants. Somehow he's come by a lot of money, legally too." She frowned deeply muttering to herself, "Believe me, that was the first thing I checked."
"So he's an adrenalin junkie," Lidia said, looking at the screen still.
"Precisely." Melissa pulled up a few video clips. "Here's the footage I managed to capture off our local traffic camera's. Whoever Wan decided to hire for his tech support is just plain lousy. They had so many gaps in their security it could've doubled as a cheese grater." Sarah gave a giggle at that, Taylor grinned and Veronika's lips twitched as Lidia rolled her eyes.
They watched through a montage of clips as a two modified bikes crossed an intersection. The one in the lead was Taylor's red Toyota followed closely by an electric blue Yamaha. As the two bikes raced through, both whipping left to follow the course the group saw the blue rider wrench his bike to a dangerously low angle, whipping his right leg up to kick at her and allow the tailend of his bike to bump Taylor without crushing it. They saw him pull out of the drifted turn and zip off down the course. They saw Taylor fight to dodge him and then regain control of her bike but to no avail. She spun out and flew off to slide about fifty feet, her bike sliding in the opposite direction.
The collective silence of the room wasn't broken for a few minutes. Sarah gripped her sister's hand tightly as Veronika clasped her shoulder. Lidia looked slightly green and Melissa's resigned face didn't help much. Melissa broke the silence first.
"But that's precisely why I think it's time we took a closer look at why Mr. Watakari is here."
There was a second stunned silence for the evening as everyone looked at her in disbelief. Veronika was the first to recover.
"Vat exactly ahre you prohpohsing?" she asked slowly, locking eyes with Melissa.
"If Watakari had meant to kill Taylor he would have. Watch this."
A new video clip popped up. It was from a cell phone and had horrible quality. It was a rather blurry view of Taylor's bike, with excited commentary in a foreign language. The tone was excited, with pauses and commentary from another voice in the same language. Then someone else appeared on the screen by her bike, someone in black and white street clothes. They lingered by her bike a bit and the two voices' tones began to change. The first one shouted something and cut it short as an unmistakeable electric blue leather suit appeared on the screen and scared the other person away.
"Thank you for your assistance. You may go." The brilliantly clear English broke through the fuzzy audio and the video stopped.
"I don't get it," Taylor said looking at Sarah who shrugged.
"Vat language vas that?" Veronika asked, toying with a small piece of her platinum blonde hair, braiding and rebraiding it.
"Spanish?" Sarah ventured.
Melissa grinned. "Close, but not quite."
Lidia raised an eyebrow impatiently.
"It's Portuguese, but that is not the truly important part. It's what our darling Mr. Kimawari said. 'Thank you for your assistance'? It got me to thinking. Why on earth would he be thanking them? All they did was compliment the bikes and get the attention of the mystery person hanging around your bike...wasn't it? And then it hit me. I was not looking close enough."
The screen files rearranged themselves again, some disappearing others popping up in ther place. Now there was a series of still frames, like parts of a photo shoot. It showed a skinny black teen with something clenched in his left hand. The next picture showed him crouched next to Taylor's bike, putting something on it. The next pic showed Kimawari grabbing the teen. The teen was gone in the next but Kimawari was crouched where he had been.
"I had to fight the system to give me this much. Whoever decided to go back and try to wipe the footage clearly knew what they were doing, which I must admit, is highly suspicious. I'm very much inclined to think that someone not hired by Ratface went back and attempted to erase it completely. But after abour four hours of doctoring, we have the following series of stills."
"Zoom in on what wannabe gangsta's got in his hand," Sarah commanded.
Veronika frowned. "That looks like a patch," she muttered, tilting her head for a better look.
"Oh my god," Taylor breathed, "he saved my life! That's a homemade incendiary patch complete with cellphone relay and roughly 200 grams of C4!"
Melissa grinned smugly. "Precisely what I thought."
Lidia hummed softly to herself. "He's being handled," she stated.
Melissa shrugged. "Perhaps, but that certainly doesn't tell us by whom, for what purpose or what the end game objective is. I'm proposing we find out."
Veronika smirked. "He looks like he vould be an excellent contact. I agree vith Melissa. It is time ve found out vhy Kimawari's here. However, I feel it vould be in our best interest to handle this-"
"Discreetly?" Sarah suggested. Veronika nodded sharply in confirmation.
"One problem, y'all." Taylor broke into their happy plotting. "The souless ginger over there took me outta the race! How're we suppposed ta get close to him if I can't race?"
Melissa scowled at her. "Souless ginger, indeed! If we were to assess status based on appearance, then you would be a member of the Blue Man group!" She stuck her tongue out at her.
"Enough," Veronika warned.
"Hmmph. Before I was so rudely insulted, I was going to say that although I may have taken Taylor's alias off, I put her in the race again as Grace Wilson's twin sister. Identical twin, might I add," Melissa tossed her head and pointedly looked in a different direction than Taylor. "I thought we would agree to see if he would become a contact so I went ahead and finished your registration."
Taylor's cheeks flushed with a strange mixture of rage and thanks. She turned away uncomfortably.
"Uh, we got one more problem, guys," Sarah said, looking at all of them. "There's no way Dad's gonna go for this. He's practically forbidden Taylor from ever going racing again."
Lidia snorted and held up her cellphone. Melissa glared at Lidia unhappily and Sarah and Taylor's faces split into identical grins. However, now it was Veronika's turn to frown.
"Perhaps, it is just me, but I vish to know how you are invovled in all of this," she said pointedly to Melissa frowning.
Melissa raised an eyebrow at her. "I find it curious as to how only now, once we've decided upon everything, do you think to question the situation."
Veronika's scowl deepened. Melissa flicked her fingers at her playfully.
"San Diego contacted me with a job a few months back. Said I might be interested in making a few dollars on the side and getting some information on the new slime in town. I accepted and now manage quite a bit of the cities betting for an exorbitant fee, of course."
"Of course," Veronika echoed dryly.
"Garuanteed payment and no chance to be openly cheated, every swindler's dream." She gave the room a wry expression. "What? You thought they'd let teenagers legally manage thousands of dollars?" She scoffed.
"I thought San Diego was outta comission," Sarah said, suspicion lacing her voice.
Melissa shrugged nonchalantly. "Mr. Cooper has them run the odd job every once in a while. San Diego seems to have a fondness for me, is all."
Now everyone was glaring at her. San Diego was code for a team of contacts in California. They had been officially retired by the girls after a nasty incident with international shipping that Melissa had played a large part in. They had all just barely made it out of there alive and Melissa had refused point blank to tell them anything on why she had decided to go rogue during their time there. Everyone had their suspicions but no one had been able to verify them yet. Now this wasn't to say that they trusted her any less, but it did mean that something major was going on and they weren't being clued in. There's nothing a well-trained agent hates more than to be kept in the dark.
"Enough," Lidia said. "What's your plan?"
Melissa stiffened slightly. "I'm not talking to you at the moment. But in case anyone else was wondering, here's what I had in mind..."
TO BE CONTINUED