S I X
Life was like a deck of cards. Ace had seen it no other way. It was a game, filled with risks, hesitation, treachery and strategy. One wrong move, and you were out. That's what he had learned. It would be a lie to say that he hadn't learned it the hard way.
The sickening lights, the shuffling of cards, the sharp clattering of coins being dispensed by machines, the howls of anguish and loss, the cries of triumph and greed, the strong scent of perfumes poisoning the air, merging well with the heavy stench of cigarettes.
He needed a fag - no. What he really needed was to get out of there. If he stayed there any longer, Ace wasn't sure what he was going to do.
He glanced next to him. Toppo had rested a hand on his shoulder. Ace teasingly shrugged it off, smiling weakly. Nevertheless, he was grateful.
Like Ace, Toppo was dressed in a tuxedo. In fact, Toppo's tuxedo strained from the normal with it being made of a sheeny silver fabric. Earlier the boys had agreed to wear plain black suits, but it proved to be impossible for someone like Toppo – the fashion guru of club8. If Ace had the energy, Ace would have mocked him endlessly, but that day he needed to focus (and the fact that he felt a tad bit awkward that Toppo had seen a girl enter his room the previous night).
Accompanied on Ace's other side was Mac, styled in a sharp suit and carrying a leather suitcase. It was only the three of them there. Toppo was there because he had his bottles of peppermint mouth sprays that were in actuality filled with substances that had potential to temporarily blind a person. Mac was there for his special talking ability and compromising skills. One the other hand, Johnny was caring for Kohana while Jacky, Arsenal and Gum were part of the next transition.
There were two reasons why Ace was there. The first was because Arsenal and Jacky couldn't go into the casino without having their weapons being detected – Ace could. Why? Because Ace's weapon were his fists. The second reason was because he had been long acquaintances with gambling. He was named Ace for a reason and there was also a reason why his sister had been named the queen of hearts. Ace's life breathed on games and he was getting sick of being a player.
Casinos were Ace's nightmare, but that was how his life rolled. Life all came down to gambling; it all came down to a simple deck of cards.
"He's over there." Ace heard Mac mutter under his breath. If he hadn't been paying attention, he wouldn't have heard him amongst the noise.
Ace followed Mac's gaze and recognised Yoshida Seiji in an instant. A plump body, balding, expensive suit and Italian leather shoes. A slim lady at one hand and a couple of bodyguards surrounding him.
They all had been studying the man for the past two days. Arsenal searched underground while Mac and Jacky did their research on Yoshida the legal way. From what they had gathered, Yoshida was one of the candidates for the election. A high and in power politician. They all had talked about it. They all knew the risks.
But no matter what answer they'd get, Ai being avenged was stronger. They needed to know why Ai had been killed. They had the right to know and they were already in too deep. They had killed men, yet there was no sense of vindication. Ace needed the truth. He deserved the truth.
When a defeated person left the table, Mac took the opportunity to drag Ace and Toppo with him to the table. Ace would be Yoshida's next opponent. They had decided that.
After a few curt bows from both sides, the cards were dealt. Ace lost the first draw, but it wasn't intentional. Ace wasn't focused. Mac and Toppo didn't know it, but Ace was losing his cool. He felt uncomfortable. It wasn't anxiety, nor was it nervousness. Ace was a professional at any card game and knew all the dirty tricks, but this game was different.
He undid the first button of his buttoned shirt and stared directly at Yoshida in the eye. The man looked back, squarely. Yoshida's eyes were amused and leered at Ace as if he were an amateur by the fact that he was so much younger than the old politician. Ace could feel the old man's ego in volumes. It angered him.
It was then that Ace fought the urge to jump on the table and lunge at the old man. Yoshida. The man that had spoken to his sister. The man was linked to her death. He gritted his teeth. No. Not yet. He needed to beat him out of all his money first. That was the plan. He needed the plan to work for the boys and him to take a step forward.
And that was what Ace did.
“Ace, you're killing him!” Mac praised. In a loud boastful voice, he acted out, “Look, everyone here! My friend's beating Yoshida-sama!”
If only Ace could literally kill Yoshida. Ace smirked at the irony and at the same time caught the lady that Yoshida was with staring at him intensely. Her black hair was long and she wore a dark green dress that displayed a right amount of cleavage. Simple, but beautiful. She didn't surprise Ace. Every powerful man, whether it be a politician or a member from the yakuza, had to have a gorgeous woman at their side.
Like a hawk, he eyed the dealer and memorised the patterns. What wasn't going to come, what cards were to be anticipated. Yoshida was seething and Ace couldn't help but feel intense glee watching the man suffering. It was child's play but Ace knew it inside and out. Gradually all the chips began to tower on his side of the table. With every winning hand, Mac would scream and call him a genius and with every scream Yoshida's face would turn livid.
Even Toppo was cheering by the time all the chips were at their side of the table. The opposing team were wiped clean. Ace piled the chips into Mac's suitcase and once the very last chip was gone from the table, they made their way to the exit according to their plan.
Toppo counted, “Three, two -”
“Would you like a rematch at my condo?”
Ace smirked. The man looked furious. Mac had predicted that Yoshida would ask, and he was right. “Only if you double the money, sir.”
“Do you know who I am?”
“I'm quite aware I know who you are,” Ace said, slyly. The man needed to get off his high horse. “It's more of who you won't be when you lose all your money to me.”
He felt someone step on his foot. Mac's warning. Even Mac knew that Ace had gone too far with the words that escaped from his mouth. Toppo chuckled. It was on. Mac was the king at talking, but Ace was the king at baiting someone for a fight. It was in his nature.
“Fine, fine. I'll double it because I know I can win it back. Just you watch, boy.”
“My eyes are open for the win,” Ace retorted.
“That's the spirit. You won't be the same when you lose.”
Ace assured, “Oh, I never lose.”
Yoshida's place dripped of wealth. The condo was the highest level in the casino and from one glimpse outside Ace could even see the lights gleaming on the surface of outdoor swimming pool. The night view was spectacular. Mac was leering around enviously and Toppo had his eyes on an interesting abstract painting on one of the walls. On the other hand, Ace was reserved. Why? Because Ace could have easily lived the life Yoshida had, but chose not to. The life Yoshida led was artificial – a forged dream.
When dealt with a new set of cards, Ace smirked. Instead of the casino, there they were, seated on a glass square table playing the same poker game minus the security guards. Yoshida's bodyguards and his lady still remained. And, like previously at the casino, Ace was easily winning the chips. An easy game as Ace had anticipated.
“You're cheating.” Yoshida looked disgruntled. Losing in a game twice was a way to crush a person's ego. Too bad Ace didn't care. He'd demolish the man over and over again if he could. Ace was thirsty to see him sweat and struggle.
“That's what most losers say when they're losing,” Ace stated, folding his arms and leaning back against the wooden chair.
“Yes, darling. I'll feed the cat when I get home,” Mac said, completely disregarding the conversation that the rivals were having.
“That's because your idiot of a friend has been distracting us throughout our game!” Yoshida accused. “Is that your technique. Huh?”
Yoshida rudely pointed a finger at Mac who had been on his mobile phone ever since entering the condo. Mac had been speaking gibberish on the phone to his 'wife', but it was in fact was updating the other boys on the situation.
Ace shrugged. “Now don't go blaming it on others.”
“We're back, sir!” a gruff voice announced.
Ace turned around and observed the new company. Three muscular men that looked like they were on steroids, an older man and a tall lanky boy that looked like his own age. They didn't look like people that a politician would associate with. They weren't wearing suits, but rugged clothing. They were most likely in a gang. The type of gang that Ace could have easily spotted in the alleyways of his neighbourhood getting into all sorts of bad business.
“Are you saying you want more felines in our house? That would be a disaster, lovely!” Ace heard Mac yap in the background, but he could sense panic in his tone. “A plain obvious disaster. Five more cats when there are already two here. And yes, I'm not counting the kitten and the dog. Seven! Do you want to kill us? That's absolutely insane, honey.”
“Who are they?” The old man asked. His eyes were on Mac because he had caught the strange conversation Mac was having on the phone.
“A couple of kids who don't know who they're messing with,” Yoshida replied. They all laughed in unison like the joke was funny. Ace was itching to punch the man's face.
On the other hand, the lady was still staring at him. She looked composed and calm, but the way her lips twitched – Ace knew that she was anything but. Ace could feel that something was going to happen. The tension was thick in the air.
When Ace studied the newcomers again, he found himself unable to tear his eyes from the boy that appeared to be his own age. The boy had light brown hair, a tall but slightly lanky build and his eyes were staring directly at Ace with familiarity.
That was when Ace recognised the boy. Uchi.
How his old friend got messed up in the business was beyond his belief, but Ace had to keep cool. If they were to find out that Ace and the boy were old acquaintances, they would kill him.
“I need to take a leak,” Uchi declared.
“Don't need to voice your words out loud, son.”
Uchi nodded, using four fingers to scratch his head as he went too the bathroom. Ace read Uchi's sign. The four men that Uchi had arrived with each had a gun, even the old man.
“Play time's over. Give me back your chips,” Yoshida said, adjusting the collar of suit and flashing a pistol under his blazer.
Ace glowered. “I won fair and square.”
“I don't care if you won. Regardless, they belong to me.”
“And what are you going to do about it?” Ace chuckled.
“If I were you, I'd do what I'm told.”
“That's too bad. You're not me.”
The bulky men started advancing towards him. Ace had his fists ready under the table. Before he was about to lay a punch on one of the men, Mac spoke out, “I know, Hina-chan. But having so many cats in our house would be a disaster. Wait? They're attacking you? You should interfere now!”
Ace saw Toppo grab his sprays from his pocket. He sprayed one in his mouth, feigning an act for the other sprays were anything but mouth freshners.
“When are you going to tell your man to shut the fuck up?” Yoshida screamed, staring daggers at Mac. He grabbed his gun from his holster and pointed it at Mac's head.
Before Ace could reply there was a knock on the door. Yoshida nudged his head at one of the men. “Go see who it is.”
“It's food service, sir.”
“I didn't ask for-”
A man attired in a grey uniform pushed himself inside the condo, pushing a trolley. A black sheet covered the bottom shelf.
“I received an order that you wanted steak, Yoshida-sama. Medium-rare was the order.” The man smiled courteously, flashing his snaggle teeth. Ace smirked. That grin could only belong to Jacky.
“I don't remember ordering anything,” Yoshida snapped. “Get rid of him.”
When the first man approached Jacky, the bulky man tripped. Ace squinted his eyes and noticed a stick poking out from the bottom of the trolley and in a flash, Gum jumped out. The men were surprised and Jacky took that moment to throw the bloody steak at Yoshida's face and whack the gun out of Jacky's grasp.
“Thanks,” Mac muttered.
Jacky pointed his knife at Yoshida, but the old man and another guard threw themselves in front of the politician. “I need more men here pronto,” the old man, Yoshida's accomplice, ordered.
Gum was handling two men on his own, twirling the stick around and attacking every now and again. There were still the lady, Ace and Toppo sitting at the table. Both of the men were aiming their guns at Ace and Toppo. It wouldn't stay like that any longer.
Ace caught Toppo's eye and saw Toppo reach for his freshner. In a second he sprayed a man in the eyes, blinding him temporarily and that was when Ace chose to take his cue.
He flipped the table.
Chips of multiple colours rolled everywhere, and shattered glass scattered the floor. He cracked his knuckles. The last unoccupied man charged towards him, but Ace kicked the gun from his hands and gave him a punch in the face. Ace had always liked fighting. He fought all the time with his brothers, he protected his sister and there was no denying he liked the adrenaline hit. It made his blood warm. He hadn't felt anything since his sister died, and revenge was the only thing that made his blood boil. He had killed with Arsenal's gun, but feeling his fist connect with someone was what he had been sickly craving.
Ace continued to punch the man until he begged for mercy. There was blood. A lot of blood and Ace was laughing when he saw that the man was missing teeth. As he was about to deliver another hit, someone grabbed his hand. He looked up and recognised the skull tattoo.
“Enough, Ace,” Arsenal said. “This is how you do it.”
Arsenal shot the man in the heart. He gasped, dying instantly.
“I could have handled that.”
“No, you would have delayed the process. Even after you were done with him, he would have died in hospital,” Arsenal barked. “Where's the other man? Mac said there are seven.”
Uchi! Ace recalled that he had left for the bathroom.
“I'll take care of it.”
When Ace entered the marble glistening bathroom, immediately finding who he was searching for.
Ace's old childhood friend stood there, arms folded and looking at Ace as if he had seen a ghost. “Hello to you too,” Ace greeted, coldly.
“I thought you were dead,” Uchi said, giving Ace a hug. It was a warm hug, but Ace still had his guard up.
“A pleasant way to welcome a friend when you have a gun pointed at my back,” Ace stated. In a quick movement, Ace pushed Uchi away and elbowed the gun out of Uchi hands. However, Uchi made no move to retrieve back the gun.
“Why are you mixed up in this dirty business, Uchi?” Ace demanded, angrily. “Why didn't you get out of it when you had a chance? Why are you here?”
“It's a little thing called survival. They threatened my family,” Uchi said.
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“I swear on your mother's grave.”
Ace glowered. “Don't bring my family into this. Don't you dare.”
“Why?” Uchi questioned. “Ryo, you know, you still have Ai.”
Ace flinched. He wasn't certain if he had flinched at hearing his real name or the fact that he had brought his sister up. He noted that Uchi hadn't mentioned his father, and Ace respected him for that. He never wanted to be associated to the traitor – the man who abandoned his family.
“How is Ai anyway?”
“She's dead.” Ace cleared his throat. “Your men killed her.”
Uchi's expression changed. “I-what...I'm sorry. I, I didn't know.” His voice was calm but Ace could see tears already clouding his eyes. Ai had also been like a younger sister to Uchi.
“No need to apologise,” Ace said. “I know it's not your fault. You're the type of guy who avoids these things. But, I need a favour. I need to know what this is all about. I need to know what Ai heard to get her murdered that night.”
“I don't know, Ace. I don't know the whole story and I don't fully understand what's happening, but the yakuza has changed ever since they got all close to Yoshida-san. But I can help you, but you might not like the plan.”
Ace took a step towards Uchi. He trusted him.
Gambling was fun.
That was what Ryo had thought when his father taught him the rules and tricks of the trade. It was the only time his father would take Ryo seriously because cards had always been something that his father had been passionate about. Gambling and money.
Gambling took over his father.
The only true memory Ryo had of his mother was that she worked a lot. Three part-time jobs to support their family. She was hardly home. He was always babysitting his sister, Ai. When the debt collectors came, Ryo's father no longer lived with them. He had left them. Ryo was the only one who could protect his mother and baby sister.
That was when he learned boxing. Momentarily, the debt collectors stopped coming. Fighting became his pride.
Albeit Ryo becoming a boxer, he couldn't protect his mother when she died. They told him it was a heart attack, but Ryo knew it wasn't true. Ryo's father had driven his mother to suicide. He had seen the police man hiding the rope behind his back. He had seen the empty beers in her room.
He'd never forgive his father.
That was when Ryo chose to raise Ai by himself. He needed to start fresh.
Foolish as it was, Ryo left home. He was four, he didn't know what he was thinking – all he knew was that he needed Ai to be raised in a safe environment and away from where they lived. All Ryo had was his backpack of food and Ai in his arms.
They stayed at the park for two nights and would seek refuge under the slide during the evening. Ryo would enviously watch the kids play. They had no responsibility. They had nothing to worry about. Ryo was worried about what to do when he ran out of formula milk and the fact that there was only one piece of bread in his backpack.
The third night it rained. Under the slide was not enough shelter for Ryo and his sister. He sniffled, hugging Ai tight against his chest to keep her warm. By the rate they were going, they'd die from pneumonia.
As Ryo stared blankly at the empty raining park he then saw a figure approaching them. He looked like a vampire. White pale skin and dressed in black and holding a transparent umbrella. Ryo didn't know whether to run or to stay, but Ryo chose to stay put. He couldn't risk Ai getting more wet.
“We've seen you for the past two nights staying here. You'll get sick if you're out tonight,” the vampire boy spoke. He squatted next to them, but still managed to hold the umbrella upright. “Our Obachan wants you to stay with us.”
Ryo shook his head, shivering. “I need to look after her.”
“If you both get sick, you're not looking after her,” the boy replied.
The boy did have a point.
“My name's Mac.” The boy held out a hand. Uncertainly, Ryo didn't take the older boy's hand but instead scrambled out from under the slide and stood under the umbrella Mac placed over their heads. The rain rebounded against the plastic.
“Ace,” Ryo lied. If Ai was the queen of hearts, Ryo would be the Ace of spades. His father had told him that the Ace of spades was a powerful card. “And this Ai.”
Mac nodded. “We've got food too. Warm food.”
Holding back his pride, Ryo begged, “Could you take care of us for the night?”
Fighting was Ryo's pride; but his sister was more than that. He needed to protect her.
Wanted to get this done 3 days ago for Ryo's bday. xD
I know, it's been almost a year since I've updated this. Thanks for reading :) It's kind of impossible to juggle work with writing these days, but I desperately wanted to write this chapter tonight and now it's 1am in the morning and I have to get up 5 for a 12 hour shift. Haha. xD Oh well. It was worth it. <3
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