Monday, June 23, 2014
How to Win Friends and Influence Yakuza
Back in the day (the day being sometime in the 1950s), Route 15 had been a quiet little two-lane blacktop that wound into the mountains and eventually brought unwary travelers to the town of Talbot’s Peak, which even in those days had a rep among the monkeys as being a couple bubbles off true. There was a motel down at the foot of the mountain, and Super Stock Car Raceway and its partner, the Rodeo Arena, and an amusement park whose owner must have looked at Disneyland and said, “Feh. I know what kids like.” The owner had been dead wrong, but with little else for miles around the better-than-nothing rule was in full effect.
Then around the mid-60s the interstate came in, and the Talbot’s Peak exit became a happening place. Like the gold rush towns of yesteryear, a whole civilization sprang up beside the on- and off-ramps, heavy on the motels, fast-food joints and gas stations. A bowling alley and movie theater (which later grew to a multiplex) joined in, followed by bars and clubs, all geared to getting those folks whizzing by on the highway to pull over and spend a few bucks.
Somehow the Raceway survived, though these days it relied more on monster trucks and demolition derbies to bring in the paying customers. This being Montana, the rodeo’s continued existence was assured, in spite of the annual PETA protests. Uncle Fuddy’s Funland also lasted through the decades, with occasional updates to bring it into the modern era. A video arcade joined the kiddie rides, skill games, miniature golf and train ride in the 1980s, while the old swimming pool was filled in. You could still get a cherry Sno-Cone there, and the chance to barf your guts out on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Ewan, who’d grown up at the Jersey Shore and its many boardwalk offerings, was not impressed. He wasn’t here to be impressed. He was here to save his mate. Yes, mate. Usually he ignored his wolf half, but this time the big hairy mutt refused to back down. If it meant he got some on a regular basis, then the coyote in him was all for it. With both his natures in full accord, he studied the mini golf.
“Is it just me,” he said to Deuce, “or is that really creepy?”
The mini golf’s theme appeared to be classic horror movies. A ten-foot Frankenstein guarded the entrance to a stone laboratory with several tunnels for golf balls. A Dracula in an unmoving plastic cape lorded over a many-towered castle decorated with rubber bats on the 4th hole. A generic masked maniac with a chainsaw guarded the 13th fairway. Ewan also spotted a witch in the window of a gingerbread house and a dinosaur stomping the hell out of the obstacles surrounding the 5th hole. The creature looked just different enough from Godzilla to avoid a copyright lawsuit.
Deuce also peered around the course, with a frown on his face. “You think the lab’s near here?”
“I think it is here,” Ewan said. He thought, If I was a mad scientist, where would I put my secret entrance?
His narrowed gaze automatically went straight to the building guarded by Frankenstein’s monster. Pretty on-the-nose, but that’s how humans thought.
He started toward it. Then he stopped, and stopped Deuce before the wolf could follow him. “We got company.”
A few bored folks were halfheartedly knocking little colored balls around, but Ewan wasn’t worried about them. His concerns centered on the men seated on benches at various spots around the course. In coloring and ill-fitting clothing they were cut from the same spicy cloth as Silent Sam, but in much better physical shape. A closer squint at the golfers turned up one of their number poking around the fiberglass hazards surrounding the holes. Ewan saw no telltale bulges, but pros wouldn’t advertise their armament anyway.
“Tiger Yakuza,” Deuce muttered. “How do we get past them?”
“We don’t,” Ewan said. He picked the nearest ninja and strode right up to him. “Howdy.”
The man glared at him suspiciously. Now that they were up close and in each other’s personal space, Ewan could smell the tiger on him, just as he was sure the tiger had a healthy dollop of coyote up his nostrils. That would account for his sour scowl. “The name’s Ewan,” he said, and offered his hand. “Zhere Ghan sent me.”
The tiger continued to glare, first at Ewan’s hand, then at Ewan in general. “Yeah, I’m a coyote,” Ewan went on, “which means I’m not an idiot. That’s why I switched over to your side. I’m here to help you get your hands on Dr. Morloxian.” He took a stab in the dark and said, “Is the signal still coming through?”
The tiger’s widening eyes told Ewan he’d hit the bull’s-eye. “You find the entrance yet?” Ewan asked. “Bet you didn’t, or you wouldn’t be sitting around.” He leaned in close for a conspirator’s whisper. “My money’d be on Frankenstein’s lab over there. It has symmetry. Apes love symmetry.”
His new bestie said nothing, but his hand moved in a choppy signal. The ninja poking around Godzilla’s feet abandoned Little Tokyo and cut across the greens to the lab set. They watched him try the door. It didn’t budge. The ninja turned at once toward the towering fiberglass Frankie.
“No,” Ewan said, thinking aloud. “Kids’d hang on those arms. Same for the sconces and the gargoyles. They’d climb all over this stuff. I wonder if—naw. Some teenager at some point would’ve kicked Frank in the jewels. What wouldn’t a kid go near?”
The tiger listened to all this intently, without appearing to. He mumbled something in a foreign language into his lapel. The ninja sniffing around Frank suddenly climbed nimbly up the ten-foot statue, beyond the average kid or teen’s reach, to twist the bolts that jutted from the monster’s neck.
The door to the “lab” swung silently inward.
“Well, I’ll be a son of a hound,” Ewan said. “You boys are good.”
The tiger smiled thinly up at him. Then he rose, still without a word, and sprinted for the lab. From all around the course similar dark, silent men converged on Frankenstein’s lab and ducked through the open door.
Deuce trotted over to Ewan. “What just happened?”
“The Yakuza found the way in,” Ewan said. “There being more of them, I figured we’ll let ‘em run interference for us. We’ll wait here five minutes and then go in. They should have the place in a right proper panic and the mutant werewolves occupied by then.”
Deuce stared at him in awe. “You’re twisted.”
“That’s ‘cause I’m a coyote, son.” Ewan stared at the doorway. It hadn’t been anywhere near five minutes, but he had a special damsel to rescue from distress. In addition to being twisted, coyotes weren’t big on patience. “C’mon. Let’s go be heroes.”