“Yeah,” Dusk told him, “we actually started playing together in high school. Of course, that was before we met the others. Our first live show was the school talent show Senior year. We played some Descendents and Op Ivy, but afterward, we decided we wanted to start a band for real. The others drifted away, but after graduation, we met Twyla and Vaughn, who introduced us to the sound of 2-Tone Skamen,” which Dusk explained was the inspiration for their more jazz/improv approach to ska, “and the rest just fell into place like a good round of Tetris.”
The whole conversation, along with Dan’s remarks on how much they had been forced to improvise in this world, put Shades in mind of Nowheresville’s resident ska enthusiast, Vince, and his insane patience for inane projects. Especially one evening, in Sandy’s basement, when he first joined the band, and Becky commented on his backpack. Though they had been vaguely acquainted throughout high school, it wasn’t until Shades noticed that he wore the same backpack— claimed to have since middle school— and just how bad it was falling apart.
“And he was fixing it up with duct tape?” Dusk asked. “So what else is new?”
“No, nothing so mundane as that,” Shades assured them, “he was replacing it with duct tape. Said it was ‘just the prototype’ and at the time I wasn’t even sure he was serious. Sure enough, though he was just using it as a pattern, later he showed up with a backpack made entirely out of duct tape.”
“That’s nuts!” Dan laughed.
“Becky said that, too, but all he said was, ‘Well, if I need a new pocket for something, I just make a new one. If I don’t want it anymore, I can just cut it out and patch it up with more duct tape.’ That, and he said he was really fond of the ‘Space Age’ look.”
“You had some interesting friends, Shades,” Dusk remarked.
“Wouldn’t have ’em any other way!” Shades replied. “Then or now. Of course, by his Senior year, Vince was the Wizard of Duct Tape, in tune with the tape, envisioning new patterns in a matter of seconds…”
Shades trailed off, getting that peculiar sensation of alarms going off in the back of his head, which he had come to dread, as it was always followed by something troublesome.
Scanning the area, he spotted a young man with almost towhead blond hair step out into the dining section. Found his attention drawn to this unusual new arrival as he made his way across the floor, wondered why this person inspired such unease with his mere presence. After all, he not only appeared to be unarmed, but walked with a more casual confidence he had come to associate with people who excelled at unarmed combat, as if he had no need for a weapon…
“So, Shades,” Dan nudged him, “I have only one question about this zany scheme of yours: where would I find that much duct tape in this world? It’s not like there’s an S-Mart just down the street or somethin’.”
“Huh? What?” Shades snapped back to the conversation at hand. “Oh. Right. Guess you do have a point there.”
“What’s up?” Dusk asked, gesturing toward the newcomer. “You know that guy or somethin’?”
“No, it’s just…” Sometimes I know trouble when I see it…
Towhead, meanwhile, made his way over to the table where Rod, Twyla and Brian were relaxing before they set up for tonight’s show. Not noticing him at all, Brian got up and headed in the direction of the restroom. In his absence, the newcomer seated himself in his place, interposing himself between Twyla and Rod.
“Hey, babe,” he leaned toward her, “this seat taken?”
“Uh, yeah,” Rod informed his back. “That’s Brian’s seat.”
“I don’t see his name on it,” he retorted, not even turning around, “so I guess it’s my seat now.”
“Excuse me?” Twyla’s tone sliding from incredulous to exasperated. “We’re trying to have a conversation here.”
“So talk to me already. What do you want to talk about?” he asked her. “The name’s Danjo. What’s yours?”
“Don’t tell me you’re goin’ out with this scrub?” Danjo remarked, dismissing Rod with an offhand gesture. “Try runnin’ with Danjo, and we’ll show ya a good time!”
“Can’t you take a hint?” Rod muttered, getting up and standing over him. “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“What?” Danjo spared him a sidelong glance, “Can’t she speak for herself?”
“Yes, she can,” Twyla snapped, “and she’s telling you to go bother somebody else.”
“You heard her,” Rod told him. “You’ve got until Brian comes back to his seat—”
“Or you’ll what?” Danjo finally craned his head to acknowledge Rod. “I have it on good authority there are no laws on this island.”
“Damn straight,” Rod replied, “and that means there’s no law against us throwin’ you out on your ass.”
“Don’t go there,” Danjo warned him.
“Rod,” Twyla started to get up, “let’s just go…”
“No,” Rod insisted, reaching for the back of Danjo’s chair, “we’re not giving up our table to this asshole—”
From his seated position, Danjo snapped his foot up with jarring reach, kicking Rod in the face, sending him staggering back against an unoccupied table.
“You want trouble, you got trouble!”
“Rod!” Twyla reached out and slapped him.
Danjo backhanded her—
Only to be kicked from behind.
“Not cool.” Shades stepped in.
“How the hell did you do that?” Danjo demanded as he turned around to face him.
“In spite of my appearance, people tell me I can be easy to overlook.” Though he had sometimes managed it in desperation (especially at his last job at DepartMart), it was only after training with Ma’Quiver that he finally started to figure out how to ‘mute his presence’ deliberately. “Still, I’m not half as sneaky as Justin when he wants to be.”
“So, you want some trouble, too, do ya, prettyboy?”
“No, not really,” Shades sighed, “but why do I get the feeling you’re not gonna give me a choice? I mean, I could buy you a drink and we could—”
“You don’t know how much trouble!” Danjo sneered.
—just call it even… Shades finished in his head as he put up his dukes.
Just in time to feel that by-now familiar something shift as Danjo flickered and vanished.
And Shades just barely dodged in time.
“No way…” he breathed, trying to figure out what he was up against here. He already had the impression this Danjo was no slouch at hand-to-hand, but Shanshou-kan…
“That confirms it…” Danjo muttered. “Only someone who’s fought against Shanshou-kan would have any chance of stopping that. Alright, where is he?”
“Where is who?” Shades asked guardedly, not liking where this was going.
“Hmm…” Shades cocked his head. “You’re too young to be this Lazlo I’ve heard about…”
“Don’t you ever mention that name around me again.”
And Danjo launched back in, and all Shades could do was try to keep up. Once again, it hit him, a spark in the back of his mind. In one of those split-second flashes of thought, too fast to form words, barley enough to form pictures— the speed of ideas, perhaps the only thing proven to exceed the speed of light— but his feet just couldn’t keep up.
Though Ma’Quiver’s training helped him hold out at first, Shades quickly found himself being driven back, up against a table.
“Your luck just ran out, punk!” Danjo snarled at him. “Now where is he!?”
“Hey Danjo!” one of his companions hollered as he ran onto the floor, “What’s goin’ on?”
“Brad—” Danjo began.
While Shades used his moment of distraction to roll back over the tabletop, out of Danjo’s reach, just before he could kick it over.
“Nice move!” Twyla called out.
“You bastard!” Dan shouted, snatching up a chair and charging Danjo. “Leave my friends—”
But failed to notice the one called Graham coming from the other direction, who tripped Dan and shoved him, sending him crashing into another table.
“Anybody who messes with our team,” Dusk stepped up, “answers to me!”
“These the ones you’re lookin’ for?” Graham asked Danjo.
“No, but close enough,” Danjo answered. “They’re gonna tell us where he is, even if we have to beat it out’ve ’em!”
“What the hell are you people doing!?” Bruno, the bouncer, demanded as he stomped outside. “You get out of our club right now!”
“Make me,” Danjo smirked.
“This be my favorite waterin’ hole!” Rude Bones’ declaration punctuated by his breaking a beer bottle on the table next to him. “One of ’em anywise.”
“It takes a lot of concentration to use that technique.” Shades stepped over next to Rod, glad to have Bruno as an ally this time. “Roulette, I’ll back you up, just like the old days.”
“Roulette?” Twyla muttered. “But that’s what he named his guitar…”
“Hell, more like I used to back you up, man.” Rod could still see it; Shades wasn’t a kid anymore, but there was no mistaking the defiance in his stance. Even against ridiculous odds, he was as fiercely loyal to his friends as he remembered, and he kept half-expecting to see the battle-fire ignite, even here in the waking world.
Twyla raised an eyebrow at that last remark.
Then Rod gave Shades the V, hoping it would stick.
By now, any casual visitors at Bankshot had scattered to the edges of the floor, if not fled the club entirely in the face of this tense impending showdown.
“Wait! What are you doing!?” DJ cried as he scrambled outside. “Please stop dis!”
He may as well have rung a ringside bell, as everyone involved took his interruption as their cue to start.
Rude Bones lunged at Brad, slashing at him with his broken bottle, while Dusk hung back. Bruno advanced on Graham, who held his ground. Danjo, meanwhile, seemed to catch on to Shades’ plan right off, appearing to almost move in two directions at once as he kicked both of them, then turning and focusing on Shades.
All DJ could do was watch in helpless horror as Bankshot’s outdoor dining area and dance floor descended into chaos as a chair-swinging, table-smashing brawl ensued.
Though quick and nimble from a lifetime of fisticuffs, Rude Bones was still past his prime, and all putting just one scratch on this Brad earned the old pirate was a flying chair that bowled him over. Dusk tried throwing a couple bottles at him behind his back, but Brad saw them out of the corner of his eye and dodged both. Even as Dusk reached for a chair, Brad rushed in, hammering him with a barrage of punches and kicks.
At the same time, Bruno tried to grapple with Graham, looking to subdue him so he could help restrain the others, but Graham managed to slip out of his chokehold, and stomp his shin. Slowing him down enough to retreat a short way, snatching up one of the torch poles DJ had lit up not long ago. Armed with fire on a stick, he twirled and brandished it, jabbing at Bruno as he frantically tried to evade, finally landing a direct hit, square in the chest.
Lighting and burning away a good chunk of his shirt as he dropped and rolled, screaming.
Shades, meanwhile, quickly discovered that Danjo wasn’t playing around anymore, fending off fewer and fewer hits until Danjo nailed him with a low-flying punch, right in the solar plexus. As he stumbled back, coughing and gasping for air, he caught a brief glimpse of the others’ plights, dismayed at how alarmingly fast everything turned against them. Then Danjo kicked him, knocking him on his ass hard enough to see stars, his new hat fluttering to the floor nearby.
Rod tried to chair Danjo while his back was turned, but was horrified long enough to see his opponent vanish right before he was dragged back by his shirt collar and slammed onto a table.
As Rod struggled to get back up, Brad stepped in, twisting his arm until he felt like his wrist would snap.
“Ha! What a bunch of pussies!” Brad laughed. “It looks like you were right about this dump!”
“Yeah,” Danjo replied, “but why are you using such a weak hold on him?”
“It’s not like this wimp can break out,” Brad snorted, “but is this more what you had in mind?”
Rod winced as Brad twisted his arm around a different way.
“No, more like this.” Danjo reached over, elbowing Rod in the face, adjusting Brad’s grip until Rod was doubled over, feeling every joint from his fingers to his shoulders strained to their limit.
“I see!” Graham lit up as he sauntered over.
Twyla looked on in abject horror, imagining her bandmate seeing his guitar career flashing before his eyes, his hand bent at such a painful-looking angle.
“Now,” Danjo leaned down close to him, “you’re going to tell me where that chickenshit Dominik Ma’Quiver’s hiding, or I’m going to break your fingers.”
“Why don’t you try fighting someone who can fight back?” a voice demanded from across the floor.