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|Green Man: Paying Rent|
May 14, 2013
The mid day sun shone over downtown Republic City, the air was thick with smog and dust from the endless cars moving up and down the network of roads. On the sidewalk, even more people hustled back and forth to get somewhere they had to be five minutes ago. Among them was Zhi.
Zhi ducked into a quaint shop. The moment he walked inside he could smell salt and fish, bringing back memories of a childhood long gone. He smiled. Good times, he thought.
"Hey! Zhi! Over here!" called the cook behind the counter. Zhi approached, passing two people in hushed conversation, one no older than he, and sat down in front of the wooden counter.
"Hey Teuchi, I'll have the fried chicken-squid with rice please". The cook nodded and began to work the fryer behind him.
"Where you been all day?" asked the cook and owner of the building form over his back.
"Decided to go for an early walk, lasted longer than I thought, " replied Zhi in a dry tone.
Teuchi turned and looked Zhi in the eye unspeaking. The conversation between the two other customers was becoming notably more heated. "Was it the nightmares again?" Teuchi asked. Zhi said nothing, but nodded slowly, looking away from the cook.
Teuchi turned back to the fryer shaking his head. "Bah! You need to see someone about that. Back in my village in the far east we had this medicine man who would be able to fix you in moments he would, all for free. Not here, here all things is money this and money that. You'd think the entire city ran on Yuan". With a flick of his wrist the fryer jerked suddenly sending food in an arc and into a bowl, which Teuchi promptly placed in front of Zhi with a smaller bowel of rice. "Thirty yuan please".
Zhi grimaced slightly, "Add it to my rent, Teuchi". Teuchi paused for a second, his wrist twitched slightly and his eyes bulged a little fighting the urge to bend the bowel into Zhi's face. It looked to Zhi like he wasn't breathing.
Teuchi exhaled loudly. "Fine, but I want it in full by the end of the week, otherwise I must remove you. Sorry, but I have a business to run". He gave Zhi a look that he was certain would portray how deeply sorry he was. To Zhi, it looked like his landlord was trying to hold in gas.
Zhi shot him a smile and ran his hand through his curly hair. "No worries Teuchi, I've got the money all ready and I'll pay you soon I promise."
"Then why don't you pay me now?" To Zhi's credit, his smile barely wavered at this.
"It's all tied up at the moment and it would be super awkward to get it today."
Teuchi shook his head unimpressed and redirected his attention to the two arguing customers who approached the counter to pay their bill.
"I'm telling you Mako, its easy money, just one night's work and we'll pay you enough to keep you and your brother secure for a month," said the taller of the two, while stroking his goatee.
"My final answer is no, Shin. I don't want anything to do with you or ...them any more" replied Mako.
"How're you going to pay for your rent or food then?" Shin gave Mako a slimy smile, the kind of smile Zhi really wanted to hit.
Mako didn't smile back. "Pro-bending. All we need is a good water bender and Bolin and I can earn enough money. Legally." He put heavy emphasis on the last word, as he reached in his pocket to pay the bill. Shin laughed and pulled out a wad of cash.
"Please Mako, it's on me." He thumbed through the cash and pulled out a single 100 Yuan note. "This should cover it, keep the change," he said, handing it to Teuchi, not breaking eye contact with Mako. "Benders like you and I Mako, we need to look out for one another now more than ever".
In a voice like steel Mako retorted, "Not interested, Shin."
"Suit yourself, but if you change your mind, you know where to find me."
With that the two left. Zhi got up, with a smile on his face. He had no money for the rent but the means to earn it had just served its self to him, and he'd be a fool not to take advantage of it.
The two were leaving, going separate ways down the street. Zhi hurried outside and called out to one, "Hey! Wait up!" He turned around to face Zhi.
"Yeah, what do you want?" he asked flatly.
"You told that guy you wanted a bender right? Well, you're looking at the best water bender this town has to offer," Zhi smiled.
"I don't know you, kid," Shin replied, smiling like a snake, "Go away before you get hurt".
Zhi ran his fingers though his hair, this was not going as he'd hoped. "Hey, you can test me however you want. If you want protection from the Equalists, you're looking at the best in town.
Shin stopped smiling, taking a step towards Zhi. "How did you know that?" Zhi noticed people were starting to cross the street to avoid this. It seemed he underestimated Shins reputation.
"Its not exactly hard to work out, they've been marching around declaring everything short of all out war. If I ran a.... business I'd want extra muscle too."
Shin paused. "Alright kid, you made your point, and I like your business sense". He wrote down an address. "Be here at exactly 8pm sharp, you'll be paid your 15000 yuan after the job is done".
"25000 yuan," Zhi said.
"What?" Shin smiled, his eyes wild like he was about to snap. Zhi wasn't smiling.
"25000, 5000 now, and the rest when the job's done. These Equalists are serious, and if you are too, then you won't hold back on the money". Zhi saw rage flicker through Shins face, and he looked past Zhi thinking it over. Then he reached inside his jacket.
"Alright kid, well played. You get your money". He pulled out the wad of Yuan, counted out 5000, and handed it to Zhi with the address. Zhi held onto it but Shin didn't let go right away. "You'd better be there, or I'll personally break both your legs". Zhi smirked and walked away with a hop in his step.
At 7:55pm, Zhi walked up to the Triple Threat Triad headquarters in his black and green outfit. He wore thick leather gloves and his sleeves were long enough that you couldn't see his arms or hands. A water satchel hung from his waist. He walked towards the store, a front for the gang.
"Shady" Shin was there (he had asked about him around town) with three other goons, dressed in colors to reflect their element. Why not just shout out how you'll attack someone? Zhi thought. "Well if it isn't the Kid". It occurred to Zhi that Shin didn't know his name yet. "Glad you decided to finally show up". The four of them walked towards Zhi. "By the way, nice boots, but it looks like you stood in something there". As Zhi looked down at his boots, a whip of water shot towards his face. He deflected it with a quick wave of his arm without looking up. Shin laughed. "Woah, nice moves there kid, you might even be worth the money".
"Where am I stationed?" asked Zhi.
"Right here kiddo. The back is being watched by better people than you. Don't leave until I come back to get you. Got it?" He pointed to the chairs by the door to the restaurant and went through it.
Zhi took a seat in silence. One of the goons, a big guy in green, sat next to him. "Hey there. I'm Five tooth Chen. Earthbender. What's your name?" Zhi turned to Chen. The guy had an honest enough face, if a little simple. Shin would find out soon enough anyway, he thought before responding.
"That's not cool, you need something cool like Two Toed Ping and Ten Finger Lee," he pointed to the other two guys who shot Zhi a wave.
"I'm Ten Finger Lee", the one in blue puffed up his chest. "We run protection circuits downtown".
"You run it?"
Lee deflated slightly, "Well...er..no, we don't, but we're pretty important to it".
There was an awkward silence. Zhi hated these moments. "Well, aren't you going to ask what a kid my age is doing running with such a bad crowd?"
Lee shrugged and pulled the chair up by Chen, Ping followed suit. "Not really. You're, what, 20 something?"
"Yeah, I started about then myself, most of us do. Ping here started when he was 14."
"Yeah, since you didn't know that, I take it you're new to Republic City?"
"Almost three months."
"Orphan or runaway?" Silence followed again, Ping chipped in.
"You don't have to tell us if you don't want to, Zhi. We're all friends here"
"No, no, its fine....I guess you could say both."
They continued to talk throughout the night. They laughed away the hours telling tales of past fights, scruffs, and evading the police. Their chairs had become rearranged into a circle. Before they knew it, a clock tower nearby struck 2 am.
"Wow. They sure are taking their time inside," Chen observed.
"Well when you put all the heads in one room, things go slowly," Lee replied.
"All the heads?" asked Zhi.
"Oh yeah, the triple threats have a few heads. You got Lightening Bolt Zolt at the top, and then Quick Strike Kuruk, and Iron Chen..."
"But a different Chen," interrupted Chen.
"...Yeah, anyway, last night the Equalists sent them each a message saying they were going to get them in their homes, so they came tonight to talk out how to get them."
"I don't like the Equalists. They frighten me," whispered Ping.
"Don't worry Ping, ain't no one messing with the Triple Threats, not while we're here," said Zhi. Ping smiled.
"Thanks kiddo", he shot Lee a look, who nodded. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a purple cloth. Lee handed it to Zhi.
"Here Zhi, this is sort of our mark. Means you're one of us, if anyone goes messing with you, they deal with us. Though you'll need a better name".
Zhi was touched, he liked them too despite the fact they were petty mobsters. Then again, he was used to that kind of people. He carefully folded it and put it into his pocket. As he did so, a thought occurred to him, a very unsettling one. If the Equalists knew that the heads would meet if they were all threatened, then... The rumbling of trucks confirmed his grim suspicions. He got up quickly.
"What is it?" asked Lee getting up slowly, "The car? That's normal, we're in a city".
"Not a single vehicle has gone through this road since I got here, and that sounds like an awful lot of cars".
The other two got up facing the source of the noise. Sure enough several trucks turned the corner into the street. They were black with a red insignia on their hoods. The power suddenly went out, plunging the street into darkness.
"I'll sound the alarm, you guys hold 'em off!" shouted Lee.
Zhi's eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly. The trucks were getting louder, they were close. Flashing lights shot though the night, blinding Zhi and he heard a whizzing noise. A tight rope wrapped around his arms, pinning them to his sides, causing him to fall. He could hear at least two dozen footsteps past him. His vision returned to him and he got up. Several masked figures ran out of the parked trucks and ran at them.
Zhi kicked out, bending water out of his satchel and cutting his retrains. Three Equalists went at him swinging ropes in their hands. With one fluid motion, Zhi shot the water at all three, but they leapt out of the way with ease. One ran at him for a grapple, and Zhi side stepped and brought all three shots of water crashing into his attackers, shooting them back though the restaurant window.
The second and third flung their ropes at him. He leapt sideways, blasting water, missing both as it flew between them. Then it froze and burst outward sending chunks in all directions knocking them both down and out.
Before he could celebrate, he found himself surrounded from all sides. Ping and Chen were on the ground, tied up and unmoving. The only sound was the whizzing of their ropes as they spun them around. Two can play at this, he thought.
He got onto his left hand and spun. His wooden leg and arm both stretched out and stuck them all. Very hard. He landed in a crouched position. All he could see was bodies on the floor. He went up to Chen and Ping. They were out cold. He dragged them inside, beneath a table away from view. He heard some faint shouting from further inside and ran.
He burst into a wide open room. There was a conference table in the middle broken in half. The entire room was a war zone, and he could hear faint noises from a door at the other end. Zhi was about to run towards it, when he noticed an open briefcase filled with Yuans.Might as well get payed now, he thought. He stuffed his pockets with the 20,000 Yuans plus 6,000 more for the extra trouble. He heard a truck start, which he took as his signal to get going.
He ran into the back street where he saw the last truck pull out. He stretched his arm and grabbed onto it then pulled himself on top of it.The truck shot off down onto the main roads, forcing Zhi to hold on for dear life. Then he waited.
He waited until he saw they were headed towards a bridge, the perfect chance. He leaped onto the truck ahead of him and continued jumping. A driver obviously saw him as he could hear their horns blaring. To late for them though; he had reached the leading truck and they were at the bridge.
Using water from the river nearby, he propelled himself into the air ahead of the truck. He spun in the air dragging a 50 ft wave up to the bridge and froze it solid forming a blockade of ice ten feet thick. He slid down the side of the ice block onto the ground. The trucks were slamming on their breaks. He stretched his arms out forming an ice sheet across the entire bridge. They lost all traction and crashed into the blockade and each other. It would have been quite funny if it didn't look so painful.
As Zhi made his exit, he saw a few mobsters climb out of the wreckage dragging others with them. He walked away from the destruction full of joy and pride. Then light shone down onto him and a voice called out to him.
"YOU THERE! STAY WHERE YOU ARE! YOU ARE UNDER ARREST!" Dammit, he thought. He had to act quick. He dug his hand into his pockets and turned his wooden leg into a crutch. This had better work, he thought to himself as the metal benders descended from the blimp and surrounded him.
It was 8 in the morning and Zhi was in a steel interrogation room. The metal benders stripped him down to his undershirt and boxers, and they even took away his crutch and arm. His one good arm was shackled to the metal desk he sat at. Zhi doesn't like shackles. But best of all, the great Lin Beifong had decided to interrogate him herself.
How much did she know? Did the others tell on him? Did he just leave himself weaponless? Well, not weaponless, but she was THE chief of police so he had no hopes of escaping from her. She must have a sixth sense or something, perhaps she can smell guilt. Zhi sniffed, and sweat rolled down his back.
"I'm telling you Ma'am, I had nothing to do with what happened," pleaded Zhi.
"Uh-huh". Lin paced around the room, in and out of Zhi's field of vision. "And what did you say your name was again?"
"Is that so? How distinct" she quipped dryly.
"There are a lot of Lees."
"Are you a water bender Lee?"
"Errr...yes Ma'am, though I'm not very good. How did you know?"
"Oh tiny things, your skin, hair, your eyes, and that there was a giant iceberg in the middle of a bridge not 100 meters from where you were arrested." She sat in front of him, arms crossed face stern and unforgiving.
"You think that was me? I can barely bend a cup of water let alone a river! I was just out taking a walk," Zhi objected, trying to be as genuine as possible.
"And what were you doing "taking a walk" at three in the morning?"
Zhi thought fast. "My uncle Mushi and I had an argument, it got pretty heated and I stormed off, he must be worried to death by now".
Lin's face did something Zhi didn't think was possible. It softened and she sighed, with a flick of her wrist Zhi was free of his shackles.
"You're not a suspect, Lee. You're a witness and the only one we have at that". Zhi breathed a sigh of relief. "And I'm sorry about the third degree, its just if I didn't approach this from all angles I wouldn't be doing my job".
"I understand, Ma'am".
"Now from the top what did you see, exactly?" She leant forward on the desk, her steel eyes not breaking contact with Zhi's. He felt very, very uncomfortable.
"I was taking a stroll like I said, and these trucks shot down the road. They cross the bridge and the next thing I know this huge iceberg thingy shot out of the river and they all crashed into it....was anyone killed?"
Lin shook her head "Luckily no, but the psycho who did this put several in intensive care. Did you see anyone else leaving the scene? Perhaps into the river?
The river, I should have thought of that
"No. It was dark. I didn't notice anyone else"
There was a pause. Lin didn't look away from Zhi's eyes waiting for him to betray something. He looked away nervously, not that he wanted to, but it seemed like something a scared cripple would do.
"Okay, write out your statement here". She passed him a clipboard and pen. "Then you can collect your stuff and go".
Zhi nodded. He hastily wrote out his statement, making sure not to add anything only the "psycho" would know. She watched him the entire time, and it was making him very anxious to leave.
Soon there was a knock on the door, and he was handed a large brown bag. It contained his clothes and wooden arm and crutch.
"Is that everything?" she asked.
"I think so".
"I'll check for you, if you stay here I can arrange a ride to your place".
"No. thank you, if my uncle saw me in police escort he'd have a heart attack," Zhi gave her an awkward smile.
"Okay, fair enough, the exit is down the hall left to the stairs. You can't miss it." She left the room with the door ajar.
Zhi got dressed and placed his arm on the desk. Moving his hand along it, the wood opened to reveal a compartment filled with the money. Zhi smiled and had to resist laughing out loud. He put his arm on, and using the crutch, limped out of the station, his extra shoe dangling off the crutch.
Later that day, as Lin Beifong passed Officer Zhao, she stopped him quickly for a quick discussion about the dozens of new suspects they had acquired. Then it occurred to her:
"By the way Zhao, did you do that inventory for that crippled kid from earlier?"
"What? Oh yeah, yeah I meant to put it on your desk...er, here it is. "One wooden arm, one crutch, one pair of shoes, one jacket, one..."
"Sorry, did you say 'pair of shoes'?" Lin asked, her voice suddenly stern and demanding.
"Yes Ma'am, right here it says one pair of shoes handed back to him and all".
"Why would a cripple need a PAIR OF SHOES?"
"...I don't know Ma'am."
"Dismissed, Officer". She walked off, impossible thoughts racing though her head. But they made perfect sense, it all made sense. Right in front of me, I had him, and I told him where the exit was! She was filled with rage, she punched a wall, her hand going through the rock. She was going to find him, bring him down, and lock him in a cell where he would never see the sun again.
Elsewhere, Zhi was sleeping like a baby, rent payed 3 months in advance with some spare money hidden away. The sun shone though his window and onto his two potted plants. He was starting to enjoy Republic City.
For the collective works of the author, go here.