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[Fiction] Rain Dog, Part III


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ronin checked his watch obsessively. It was 14:46:23 Eastern Standard Time, exactly.

With a sigh of resignation, he forced one sandaled foot before the other in a march across the reflective-marble floor of the immense, 5th avenue office building and approached a man who at the moment appeared to be deeply engaged in conversation with the young, adroit, well-dressed young gentleman who seemed to eye him with a kind of awesome regard.

ronin approached and tapped the man on his shoulder. Pivoting on the heel of a well-worn wingtip, he spun around with a gentleman's grace, the smile of an ambassador on his face. He wore a button-down shirt -- no tie -- that was unbuttoned at the top two buttons and suspenders that held up suspiciously soiled slacks. His long sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, exposing coarse, bushy blankets of hair covering vascular, thick forearms.

The man thrust forth his bronze left hand in a gesture of welcome. "Can I help you, sir?"

The shrouded figure gulped, but not noticeably. He already began to question whether or not this was a good idea. He extended a hand and shook the man's hand, vigorously. "Mr. Mercer, I presume?"

Mercer smiled broadly, a genuine interest shining in his eyes. "Max Mercer, sir, at your service. And to whom am I speaking?"

ronin clenched. He wasn't prepared to go through with this. He couldn't do it. He wasn't sure. If he was right, it might mean the end of his own life. If he was wrong, things might be damaged irreparably.

It wasn't worth risking.

"I'm...my name is..." he choked in reply, drawing his hand away from Max's.

And then, without really even thinking about it or knowing why he did it, he drew back his hand a hair's breadth, lurched it forward...

...and sucker-punched Max Mercer in the chin.

Max reeled, more out of surprise than actual pain. Furious, confused, and not altogether unamused, Max regained his bearing and shot back "You dirty, backbiting cur!", clenching his own hammerlike fists in preparation for the imminent pummeling that was to follow. His crimson-haired confederate looked on, at once surprised, excited and disappointed, as he had already noticed that the man who threw the punch had vanished with as little fanfare as he arrived.

ronin was back in his hotel room in Nairobi, flipping through local channels on the room's television and rubbing his fist absently. It wasn't until a few moments came and went that it occurred to him that punching Max hurt.

He spent the rest of the day feeling troubled by this.

It wasn't until three days later, while traveling through Brasilia, that he heard a knock on the door of the bathroom he was occupying. "Uno momento, por favor", he droned and began to wash his hands.

When at last he opened the door, there stood Max Mercer, dressed considerably better than he was when last they had met and looking considerably more grizzled, more serious. Even older.

Before he could think -- or before he allowed himself to think -- Max drew back and socked him in the mouth, and likely not as hard as he could have. "Jerk", Max spat before turning and walking into the assembled crowd outside, blending and disappearing almost as quickly as he entered.

ronin smiled briefly, and realized that his lip had been bloodied.

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