“Queen to D2. I believe the game is mine, Lucy-chan.”
“Nuh uh! Your queen is a sitting duck for my king!” said the precocious nine-year old, as she excitedly knocked over the piece.
“Yes, but you forgot about my rook, just biding his time, until I could do this….” Sakura slid the tower down the board and gently knocked over Lucy’s king. “Checkmate.”
“No fair! You cheated! You knew I couldn’t resist taking your queen!”
“It’s not cheating, it’s strategy. It’s called a queen’s sacrifice. Sometimes you have to give up your best piece to win the match.”
“That’s no fun, Saku-san. Who would want to give up the queen? She’s the best!”
“Very true, very true. But enough chess talk for tonight, it’s way past your bedtime. Your mom would freak if she knew you were still up.”
“Ok, but next time, I get an extra game?”
“It’s a deal.”
Sakura Perry tucked her young charge in, and then headed out to the living room, nearly tripping over her bag.
“Ugh, every time!”
Sakura leaned the bag back against the couch. It was full of things she needed to do – a backlog of school work that had somehow materialized already – and also full of things she wanted to do – a certain brown paper package resting on the bottom. She turned on the TV and starting flipping mindlessly through the channels. The ambassador and his wife would not be home for another hour. That left her plenty of time to rehearse tonight’s task in her mind.
The leather mask was not comfortable, but it would have to do. The real thing was on its way from Kyoto – a snarling steel masterpiece an old friend had helped her find. “Next time, I’ll pay for express shipping,” she thought. The goalie mask she donned tonight was well past its prime, but Sakura had made a few minor additions that gave it a certain je nais se quoi. As she looked back at the masked figure in her bathroom mirror, her pulse started to quicken.
“Ok, here goes nothing.”
Sakura climbed down her fire escape and landed with a graceful thud on the sidewalk. Luckily, her armor had almost completely absorbed the force, although calling it “armor” was being polite. Sakura had spent the last 13 months collecting any piece of military-grade Kevlar she could scrounge up and the result was a black Lululemon tank top and pants with some strategic enhancements. She hoped it would be enough.
As Sakura walked slowly away from her building, she glanced at the bank clock across the street. 2:14 AM. The drop was scheduled for 2:30.
“I’m going to be late.”
She broke out into a sprint, wishing now more than ever that the Academy had focused more on cardio. The streets were all but deserted this time of night, but Sakura did not want to attract any attention. She figured a sprinting, masked figure wearing steel knuckles would still manage to attract the notice of any Red Hook residents that were still awake.
A rusted sign labeled “PIER” greeted her several minutes later. There were many piers in Red Hook, but somehow this one had escaped the recent gentrification. Still, the owner felt the need to post a security guard 24/7. Sakura had found a back way in, but as she approached, she saw the guard was noticeably absent.
“Well, that makes my job a little easier,” she thought as she walked through the unguarded gate.
Her targets would most likely be near the water, but the pier fittingly featured a abandoned warehouse that provided excellent cover. She climbed up a couple of boxes she had stacked in advance earlier in the week and darted across the rooftop.
The full moon bounced off the water and Sakura could make out three figures.
“That’s odd,” she thought. “There should only be two.”
She had no time to dwell on this latest development, as a faint humming sound signaled the approach of a small motor boat. As it docked, she could see one of the figures on the pier motion to the another one, who pushed the third figure forward onto his knees. The moonlight reflected off something metal on the third figure’s jacket. It was the missing guard.
Sakura had not anticipated a hostage. She contemplated aborting, but decided to wait and see how things played out.
A short man stepped out of the boat and walked towards the assembled parties.
“Gentleman, I came for the envelope, nothing more. What is this extra baggage you have brought me?” said the short man in Japanese.
“A cop, shateigashira. He was posing as the security guard.”
“Hmm. As you can see, I have no room on my boat. Let us make good use of the river.”
The two other men nodded and reached to their sides.
Sakura readied her kaiken. She was glad that it was not the new moon.
The first blade hit true, landing in the back of the neck of her closer target. The man lurched backward. Before he could hit the ground, Sakura loosed her second kaiken. This time, she was not so lucky. The second man had turned toward her and the dagger nipped the edge of his cheek as it sailed past.
“Damn, I was hoping for more even odds.”
She took a few steps back, then bolted toward the edge of the warehouse roof.
The short man looked back just in time to see the solitary red petal on her white mask. Sakura hit the ground in a roll, and, wasting no time, retrieved her first kaiken and found a similar spot for it in the other goon. It was then that she got a glimpse of the guard’s face.
It was her brother.
She didn’t have time to react, as the short man’s bullet lodged itself in her back. She fell forward.
When she awoke later in the hospital, her mask was gone.