theremedy: (smoker)
[personal profile] theremedy
Past Interlude:
Where in the World's the Forgotten?
(Set two years before the beginning of the past)

It’s raining again. He’s ambivalent about the rain, generally speaking. Nice on a hot summer day, to wash away the grime and sweat of working. Sometimes he even sat on the balcony and let himself get drenched. In fact he likes a nice steady shower now and again. This rain is dribbly horse piss. It starts and it stops. Tumults one second, piddles the next. It’s as if the rain can’t make up it’s damn mind and Smoker’s always been irritated by people like that, weather no exception.
Right now he’s somewhat protected from the stuff, as he straddles his bike under a small copse of thick Douglas Firs in the parking lot of Windmill Grove Middle. It’s a two story affair, white and boring as a brick dropped on the asphalt. The windows were soulless eyes that bored children could stare out of , dreaming of a better life—or at least of going down to the shore and picking up shells off the beach and chucking them in the bay like Smoker had been doing for the last two hours. He found he liked the water.

But that is neither here nor there. He bends his head and lights his cigars before getting off the bike and shucking off his jacket, squeezing the wet out of it. No need to go in there looking like a bedraggled sheep dog. Not that he cared but kids were impressionable and Tashigi’d disapprove. He had her frowning at him in real life without seeing that expression in his head, too.

The squeezing doesn’t do much but he hangs it on a relatively dry branch in a dim hope it’ll help and sits back on the bike sideways, smoking and regarding the school. Nothing special about it. No hidden secrets here. No mysterious donut boxes lying in wait for Smoker to put up. He’s glad in a way. Makes the puzzle the harder— and if Garp had ever seriously considered giving him donut box clues Smoker’d seriously consider giving him a good clip in the jaw.

Windmill Grove High School sits across the street in similar boring block fashion. Smoker walks to the edge of the parking lot and regards it with one hand on his hip. Something is off about it but he can’t think what. He stares at it, trying to squeeze out an answer from the worn brick as he chews on his cigars. Well the landscaping is shorter for one thing. Instead of large firs there are thin scraggly saplings. Something that looks like a black smudge on the white brick but too high up to be put there deliberately. He rolls his cigars to the other side of his mouth. What is that? Ash?

“Sir? Excuse me, sir.” There is the clip clop clipping of annoyed high heels on the asphalt. He grunts in acknowledgment and turns to look. Petite woman. Mousy brown hair. Scar on her finger just above her wedding ring but otherwise unremarkable and slender as a reed. She quails for an instant and then recovers, squaring her shoulders and acquiring a pinch mouthed expression that reminded him of an alley cat gearing up for a fight.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises, sir, you’re disrupting classes,” she says.
He stares at her, not getting it. It sounds like the biggest crock of bullshit he’s heard, but she’s a scrappy lady who believes in what she’s saying so he’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

“How so?”

“Your attire, sir. If you have business here you’ll have to come back after you’ve put on a shirt. Otherwise, please vacate the premises, or I’ll have you vacated.”

A shirt…

All this because of a shirt?

He sighs out a cloud of smoke. He supposes if he were a kid and saw a shirtless cop wandering the halls, he’d leave the class to find out what the hell was going on. Fine then. He’d do it from here.

“I’m Captain Smoker, NGTF.”

She raises her eyebrows at him, obviously not familiar. He doesn’t blame her. It isn’t Reno after all.

“National Gang Task Force.”

“I see,” she says, flatly, looking at him up and down. “Are you supposed to be undercover?”

He gives her a level stare. Cute.

“No. I’m here to check up on one of the students.”

“Do you have proper identification?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Do you have a shirt?”

“No. It’s back in Reno.”

“Come back when you have both.” And she’s already clipping away.

Son of a—

Fine.

He tugs on his jacket, gets on his bike and drives until he sees the nearest pay phone, slipping in two quarters before dialing his office.

“Captain Smoker, sir!” says a strained male voice before he can even open his mouth. Huh. Must be new. He scratches the side of his neck.

“What’s the number for —” the Oregon office he was going to say but once again the new kid bowled him over.

“It’s packed, sir.”

“Packed? What’s packed?”

“The shirt, sir! Sergeant Tashigi said you’d be calling for it, sir!”

“Bullshit.” There is no way. “Stay there.” He lets the phone dangle by its metal cord and checks the small storage space on his bike. There is a shirt. Button down. White. Does he even own a shirt like this? Well, who cares. He drapes his jacket over the seat and tugs on the shirt.

“She says make sure it’s buttoned, sir!” the man says. Damn that woman. What the hell did she spy on him on her free time or something? He looked around, half expecting to see her peeking at him from a store window. So far it seems Tashigiless.

“Tell her thanks,” he says, and hangs up the phone, buttoning the small buttons and remembering again why he prefers not to wear any kind of shirt if he can help it. A man’s chest was meant to be free.
A few minutes later he’s back at the school, heading for the double doors and there’s the woman standing in front of them like a damned guardian angel minus the flaming sword. She still looks ready for a fight but he does have a shirt. Her eyebrows climb. What’s her damn problem now?

“Reno is awfully close these days,” she says.

“My subordinate packed it.”

“Mmhm.” She folds her arms and he feels his face sting. Why the hell is he flustered by this woman? He doesn’t have to explain himself to her. She holds out a narrow hand. “Identification?”
He just keeps himself from rolling his eyes and shows it to her. She takes it from his hand and peers at it for a good minute before handing it back.

“Put out your cigars and take the first door on the left,” she says. Then, eyeing him over her shoulder. “Nowhere else.” Before going in through the doors herself. She has guts. He finds himself more amused than anything. He puts out his cigars, putting them in the tin in his jacket pocket before pushing through. The school like schools everywhere opens up to a labyrinthine set of halls and the familiar smell of pencil shavings and sneaker marks. To his left is a glass windowed office, looking out at the parking lot which explains how she saw him so fast. Observant woman.

He goes into the office, takes the clipboard she unceremoniously thrusts at him and eases himself on a rickety bench which is the only pace to sit besides the small plastic chair meant to hold much smaller butts than his. There is a tow headed kid of indiscriminate gender sitting next to him, with untied shoes and wide eyes. Eleven. Maybe twelve, Smoker would guess.

“Are you a wrestler?” the kid asks and makes him grunt a laugh. That’s new.

“Cop.” More or less.

“Have you killed people?”

“Not today.”

“Woah.”

“Sam, here’s your hall pass,” says Guardian Angel lady. The tow headed kid flops off the bench and snags it. “And don’t run,” she says. But Sam doesn’t seem inclined to run. Instead the kid blinks at Smoker like a dishevled owl until out of the room. Smoker glances at the clipboard, then here’s a tap tap on the glass behind him. He turns and sees the kid’s nose pressed up against the glass as he…or she…makes a face at him. That is until they catch G. Angels’ expression which Smoker can just see in the reflection and skedaddles out of there.

For a moment he considers plying the kid for questions. He doesn’t look to be in Monkey’s grade but maybe knew of him. Not that Smoker’s getting too deeply involved in this. No he’s just looking. That’s all. But what the hell is he looking at? This form requires a lot more information than he has at the moment. It means he’ll have to talk with G. Angel again and he doesn’t expect her to be cooperative.

Damn Garp. This is his fault somehow.

Smoker levers himself off the rickety bench, setting the clipboard on the low counter. A man with a small afro and a tweed coat comes in, shaking off an umbrella and G. Angel takes the clipboard while he’s distracted by the man’s hair.

“Good morning, Guy,” G. Angel says. And then. “Do you want to tell me what game you’re playing at, Robocop?”

The hell is with the nicnkames today? He needs a smoke.

“Listen the kid’s grandfather told me to track him down but all he gave me was his name. Monkey—”

“Mr. .. Smoker is it?” G. Angel says. “You can’t just barge into a school office and expect to get information on one of the students here. Not unless you are a parent, a guardian or have a warrant.”

“Really?” Damn what a pain in the ass.

“Yes, really. Now why don’t you contact your NGST-”

“NGTF”

“-buddies,” she says as if he hasn’t spoken. “And go through the proper channels.”

“I had to put on a shirt for this,” he mutters to himself. There is something fundamentally wrong with this state. Why the hell did Garp send him here if he knew it was going to be this much of a hassle. The woman says something appropriately sarcastic and he acknowledges her wit with a grunt without really hearing what she’d said before heading back out the glass doors. He guesses Tashigi could whip something up but—damn— a warrant… Did they even do shit like that?

“Luffy,” a man’s voice calls out when he’s at the double doors. He half turns and sees tweed ‘fro. Who seems nervous talking to him but Smoker’s used to that. “You…mean Luffy Monkey right? Short? Messy black hair?”

“You know him?” Sounds right to Smoker. Tweed ‘fro shifts his glance to the office and back.

“Do you know a place called The Boxed Sun off Rodding Street?”

“Could find it,” Smoker says.

“Meet me there at 8:30?” Tweed ‘fro says and Smoker acknowledges it with a wave of his hand as he goes out the doors into the damn pebbly rain. Except if it’s raining it’s also outside and that means he can light up, which he does. There’s definitely a mystery here—and he’s damn well going to find out what it is.



The Boxed Sun turns out to be a ramshackle bar just off the beach that has loosely inspired Asian decor along with sushi made to order and an all you can eat clam bar. Smoker is not sure who the hell thought up the idea of an all you can eat clam bar but he’d like to shake their hand. He sips at the beer, slurps out a clam and tosses the shell into the bucket before looking at the clock on the wall that he can’t tell is supposed to be a fox or a rooster. 8:45. Tweed ‘fro is late. But for once, Smoker’s not annoyed. Who can be annoyed when there are so many damn clams?

At 9:10 Tweed ‘fro walks in and then Smoker is annoyed. He’s abandoned his tweed for a striped shirt and biker shorts and Striped shirt biker ‘fro just doesn’t have the same name to it. At least his fro is still the same. The man appears to be looking for him, seeming nervous still. Smoker takes a moment to light his cigars before saying.

“Over here.”

“Hey, there!” the man says, trotting closer and Smoker notices he has short stubby hairy legs. Not the kind of guy who should wear biker shorts but who is he to judge? “Thanks for meeting me here,” the man says, extending a small but callused hand. “You’re Smoker right? I’m Guy Monn. Friends call me Guy.”
Smoker likes Tweed ‘fro better, honestly, but he shakes the guys hand and waves him to a seat. He waits for Guy to get himself situated and get a few clams down his gullet before saying:

“Monkey, Luffy D.”

“Right, Luffy,” says Guy frowning as he pries open a particularly stubborn clam. “I’m guessing he really is missing if you’re looking for him.”

Smoker’s eyebrows climb at the phrasing.

“Really is missing?”

“Well you know in my line of work…:” He grunts. “Be a brother and take a whack at this?”

“Sure.” Smoker takes the clam and slips his pocket knife between the shells.

“In my line of work generally kids stay put. But some of them vanish as mysteriously as they show up. No hanky panky, you know, but parents move, homes move, situations change. Teachers aren’t always privy to that sort of information.”

“When did he disappear?” Smoker asks, handing the open clam back before taking out his little notepad and flipping to a fresh page.

“Thanks. Two months back. I didn’t think much of it since his brother left a month before.”

“Brother?” First he’d heard of a brother. Why didn’t Garp want him to look for his other grandkid?

“Ace, maybe half brother since he went by the name Portgas. Real trouble maker that kid was. Was caught more than once setting fire to things. And if he wasn’t being a pyro he was getting into fights.”

“He went to the high school across the street?” Smoker says, wondering again about that black mark.

“Supposedly,” Guy says dryly. “Of course, I just work at the middle school, but I have friends in the high school and if rumor serves he rarely showed up to class to begin with.”

Smoker makes a note of it, but this Ace kid isn’t priority.

“Tell me about Luffy.”

“Good kid, but a teacher’s nightmare.” Guy slucks back a clam. “High energy— but the kind when he’s low you can’t keep him awake and when he’s high you want to tie him down. It was even suggested he be put on meds but that never materialized.”

“Meds?”

“To keep him focused.”

Huh. He’d never heard of such a thing. He makes a note of that— and only sees the puzzle widening. What does Garp want him to do with this.

“Ask most anyone and they’d say he’s a dumb as a sack of potatoes,” Guy says, leaning back in his chair. “And yeah I don’t think his head is screwed on so straight. He’s not so hot at reading— a little dyslexic I think— but I let him borrow one of those books on tape things since I had it lying around and I’ll be damned if he didn’t get every word of that story. Of course Treasure Island is some pretty heady stuff.”

“Read that book when I was a kid,” Smoker said, scratching his chin. And he’d spent a good thirds of the book wanting to kick Silvers in his good shin.

“Right? Me too. Him, too. Got him started on a pirates kick for a while. He was pretty good at math, too, I heard though it all seemed to tie into meat for some reason.”

“Meat?” He writes that down and stares at it. What the hell is that all about. “Weird kid,” he says, tapping the ashes from his cigars out.

“You’re telling me. What else... what else... let’s see.” He’s struggling with another clam and this time Smoker hands him his knife. “Well he was a good kid, like I said. Pretty affable. Other kids were kind of weirded out by him I think. You know, middle school is hell, they say. He had a small group of freinds but mostly stuck by his brother. But you know?” Guy clicks the knife against the shell. “Now that I think about it he had a weird temper. He got teased a lot, not unexpected really considering he was held back a grade. But none of that bothered him.”

“He got shoved around a few times… well once but that didn’t bother him either. Except this one day he was sleeping outside and Jerome and his little band of bully boys came over from the high school and took this straw hat he’s always carrying around. Put a hole right through it with a pencil” Guy whistled. “I tell you he put the fear of god into them and then some. Five boys. And two of them were on football. He laid them out cold before the principle could pry him off… and I say they’re lucky that Ace kid was already gone by then.”

Straw hat, Smoker writes. What is it with crazy people and straw hats? It reminds him uncomfortably of Roger and he’s not sure if he likes it. The crazy must come from the Garp side of the family, along with the absurd strength…and once again Portgas, Ace was back in the picture. Judging from all he’d heard he agrees with Guy. Portgas would have probably laid them up in the hospital.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” Guy says, leaning forward. Smoker waits for the follow through but sees it’s going to take a while as the man hesitates and then leans back, scratching at his afro.

“Anything can help,” Smoker says in his cop voice. Because anything could help and he hates people not saying what they were going to say just because they thought it was dumb saying it. Even if it is dumb, if you’re going to start something, finish it.

“Well it’s nothing that I can prove— But, okay, look, I started teaching about five years after the Red War and back then there were all these rumors and bogeyman stories of kids being kidnapped to join up uber violent gangs, right in your back yard.”

Smoker grunts. He remembers those stories. He’d been seventeen at the time, still going through the academy, but you heard enough. Rumor had it that the NGTF was founded based on those stories alone so Smoker figures there must have been some truth to them, but now that kind of thing was uncommon as far as he understood.

“Of course things got better. Rumors died down. A new generation is growing up with no idea how bad it used to be. What we had to go through… I spent two whole years pretty much trapped in my apartment, too scared to even risk seeing the sunlight.” Guy sucks on his beer and then leans on the table. Smoker gives him time, nursing his own beer as he looks at the clock across the way. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere but he’s not much given to metaphor so he sucks on his beer and listens t o the soft melodies of Asia inspired music.

After a moment of silence he wonders if Guy has managed to trap himself in a little personal nightmare. It happens, he knows.

“And now?” Smoker says, purposefully jostling the table. Guy looks up, blinks and then his face settles into a grim line.

“I teach seventh grade. It’s where I started teaching and I hope its where I end. Seventh graders aren’t very popular on the gang scene. But the rumors at the high school? Kids are slowly leaking out of the system. Mostly boys. Three of the rougher punks have disappeared right when Ace did. And that’s just this year. An eleventh grader last year left just as mysteriously."

“What about their parents?”

“No parents. Part of the blank generation, you know.”

Blank Generation. He circles that. Parentless kids. Parents lost to violence, gangs, prison, execution. Victims of the Red War.

“And it’s easy. These kids are at risk anyway. No one wants to deal with them so no one checks too closely…and I just thought, they’re running away. Making their own lives… But…” He reaches into the pockets of his bike shorts, which frankly, Smoker is surprised has pockets. “I find this on the high school grounds.” And he slides a piece of folded paper across the table. Smoker unfolds it, shifting so he can see it in a better light.

You don’t need school to get ahead!
Come to the Harbor Cove Kegger to find out how! Food! Games! Beer! Girls! Live Music!

Doesn’t matter what age you are, when you’re here, you’re family.

Mar 18th-23rd

“That’s suspicious as hell,” Smoker says, chewing on his cigars. “ Did you go? Tell the authorities?”

“I did the latter. Even if I wanted to go, I don’t even know where it is. Apparently you have to be in the know and I’m not. It’s just that. It’s all I have but… I can bet more than one of those punks went to something like that. And I bet they never came back. So I think that Ace must have gone to one and Luffy followed. He idolized his brother. Probably the only family he had.”

Smoker grunts. He doesn’t doubt it, but it also doesn’t tell him much. What it does tell him is, if kids really are being suckered into gangs this way—there’s not a whole hell of a lot he can do. NGTF was made to bust up gangs, roust them, keep them from tearing a bloody path. Most of these gangs were made of kids these days. High school and older. Displaced. Unwanted. Jumbled around with childhoods screwed up by the damn war their parents started. But that didn’t excuse them from the crimes they committed. It’s true too that gangs are probably the only family these kids have.

“I wish I could tell you more,” Guy says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m sending my kids off to an even more uncertain future than I left. But I can’t change the future. Still if I have to crawl to save the life of one bright young kid, that’s what I’m going to do.”

“I’ll look into it,” Smoker says, folding up the paper and putting it into his pocket. “But I can’t promise anything.” He could at least try and pry Luffy out of the gang but…fourteen that is getting up there. He’ll try it for Guy’s sake if nothing else. It’s not often a good man feels that he can make a difference in a dire situation.



The sky is a deep blue, stars overhead, weakened by the lights from the strip. Smoker balances his tumbler on his knee and stares at the mountains that make up the skyline. A wind comes up from below, blessedly dry and smelling curiously of wantons and a dog barks in the distance. ‘I’m here,’ the bark says. ‘I’m here.’ Smoker leans his head back and absorbs the night with hooded eyes. He was in Oregon a little over a week, found another suspicious flyer, tracked it down but there was nothing but scorched earth and beer cans. Even if he’d had shown up, those kids weren’t going to tell him anything. He had cop stitched into every sinew of his being and crooks and kids, especially frightened ones, could smell a cop a mile off.

“Looks like a bum deal, huh?” Tashigi says from where she’s sitting opposite him, nursing apple juice in a tumbler. He keeps it here just for her. She comes over intermittently just to talk with him. It’s fraternization but he doesn’t give a damn. No one does in this city. He grunts to say that he heard her and lets out a hiss of smoke between his teeth.

“We’ve got a lot to do right here,” she says. A lot. But just keeping the flood to a trickle…and that didn’t stop it flooding everywhere. A punk kid and a good kid drifting off in another direction. Other punk kids directionless, so mixed up they couldn’t tell their asses from their elbows and couldn’t help but follow the current.

“Why’d you join the force?” he asks her. He never has before. The most he knew was that it was controversial because she’d been young at the time, sixteen years old. But he didn’t give a damn about age. What he cared for was competence and the young woman was more competent than himself sometimes. He admired that about her, really.

“I wanted to make a difference,” she says without much thought and not taking her eyes off the city. But she’s too direct a person to be lying or even know how to well.

“Hell of a way to do it. You could have become a teacher or a rocket scientist.” Though he’s joking about the last. He doesn’t want to see her around combustibles of any kind. Especially given what had happened just last March. She says nothing for a moment but sips at her juice, the ice clinking pleasantly at the glass. It sounds companionable to him and he enjoys it.

“Did you know there were female samurai, sir?” she says. He doesn’t and says as much. Most he knows about samurai is the mascot of the Samurai Sushi place that burned down when he was a kid.
“Most of them were wives who didn’t actually fight but could if the need arose. My grandmother used to tell me about Tomoe Gozen who lived in the Kamakura period. She was fierce and beautiful and fought alongside her husband and was said to be good at it.”

“Are you samurai lineage?” he asks. She finally looks at him with a faint smile he can’t read and shakes her head, resting her tumbler on her knees and watching the juice—or what she could see of it without her glasses.

“We were just laborers. Farmers mostly but I did have a great great great…” she pauses, lifts her eyes up and seems to count with a finger. “…great great Grandfather who was a mad monk.”

He chuffs a laugh.

“That’s a hell of a lot of greats.” He doesn’t even know who his great grandfather is… or was, he guesses, by this point.

“Farmers are a long lived breed, my grandmother says,” Tashigi says. “Anyway, when I was a girl I wanted to be just like Tomoe Gozen. So I took up kendo… but of course you can’t use katana in kendo. It’s all about bokken and safety guards.”

“Sounds boring,” Smoker says tapping out his cigars and knocking back his whiskey.

“Yes, sir. I mean, no sir!” she straightens. “Safety first! Especially when you’re dealing with untrained rookies. But um… really…” She narrows her shoulders a bit like she’s embarrassed. “I saw an advert that said the NGTF was looking for people trained in kendo, specifically for areas with strict gun laws… and I thought here’s my chance! And…well, I guess it didn’t really work out that way, but…”
She straightens again and looks out over Reno.

“I really like our men and I enjoy the work we’re doing. Even if it’s just a little stone dropped in the ocean…”

She’s unsatisfied here, too. He can tell. It’s nothing like making a difference. He knew all the bullshit about a single stone tipping the balance or ripples but that was for other people. He wants to make a splash in this misshapen blot of a world and knock it back into something resembling order. Further he feels like she does, too, which is why they get along so well.

“I guess my initial reasons sounds a little stupid in hindsight,” Tashigi murmurs.

“Who cares how it sounds?” Smoker says. “I joined because I wanted to crack some idiots’ skulls together without being thrown in the cell beside them.”

“I doubt that’s the only reason, Captain,” she says. It isn’t, but it doesn’t make his initial desire any less stupid. But stupid or not doesn’t matter. Because who cares as long as it’s in your heart to do it? And thinking of that….

Smoker lets out a breath, chewing on an unlit cigar and rests his ankle on his opposite leg as he looks up at the stupid moth that’s banging against the overhead light. He reaches behind him and turns the light off, flooding them in the desert night.

There's a decision to be made. Smoker turns it over in his head a few times before coming to terms with the fact that he’s already made the decision. All that was happening now was him cracking it between his teeth like an old bone.

“I’m going to do Garp’s thing…” he says.

“Major Garp’s… oh you mean… looking for his grandson?”
He snorts.

“That’s part of it.” But not all of it. It can’t be. Guy Monn was tied in there, too. His concern about those kids, not even his own. The punk and the good kid. Sounds like a title for some bedtime story. And other kids, maybe. No, no doubt about it. Sucked into gangs… or is it something else? He doesn’t know.

“You’ll have to hold the fort while I’m gone,” he says, hating himself even as he says that hackneyed phrase and tries not to think about siege warfare and battering rams. Well even if it should come to that, they were well prepared, so those bastards could suck it.

“Of course, sir.”

“When I know what the hell it is I’m fighting, I’ll let you know and you can come help if you want.” He dips his head to light his cigars.

“If I…want, sir?”

“If you want,” he repeats. “But whatever you decide, keep that sword of yours sharp.”

She doesn’t say anything for a moment and then:

“Understood, sir.”

And though he can’t see her expression very well in the dark, he’s pretty sure she’s smiling.

As she damn well should be.
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The Remedy

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