December 11, 1973 – Drydock doesn’t sound great either when you think about it

“What is this place?”  

Blue continued with his “visual scans” which is what normal people call looking around “It’s a drydock.”

I pointed “But there’s water right there.”

“A drydock is where you take a ship out of the water to work on it, you still need a channel of water to get the ship to the place, how else are you going to move a ship?  A wetdock is where the ship is still in the water while you do maintenance.”  

“Wetdock, I hate that word.  Sounds gross.  Where is everyone?”

“It’s shut down right now because the workers are on strike.”

“Workers have rights in Madripoor?”

“No, that’s why they’re on strike.  Well that’s not exactly true, some of them do.  Or at least they try to have them.  I know for a fact that there’s a union of exotic entertainers.”

I shook my head “Of course there is.” I looked around for the fiftieth time “Why did you choose this place?”

“This way Martialla can be lurking in the water.  She’s our ace in the hole.”

“She’s an acehole alright.”

I tensed up when a man came walking into the place wearing a ridiculous duster and a cowboy hat – what year does he think this is – but Blue met him with a handshake and they exchanged words in some language I didn’t understand.  Mr. Longcoat looked at me with mild curiosity and then took up a position at me side across from Blue.  

“Who’s this guy?”  

“This is that bulletproof man I was telling you about.”

“I thought he only did stuff like this for money.”

“He does.”

“But we don’t have any money.”

Blue’s tongue flicked out guilty “We have a little money.”

I gave him a sidelong look “Why is he dressed like that?  Is he a cowboy?”

“He’s from down south, I guess they dress like that down there.”

I turned to out new friend “¿Dónde está tu caballo vaquero?”

He look at me uncomprehendingly and then said something to Blue again, who turned to me “He doesn’t speak Spanish.”  

“I thought you said . . .”

My train of thought was interrupted when three more fellows sauntered into the place – they weren’t dressed like cowboys but they walked like they were.  I didn’t notice it at first, but I’ve come to realize that there’s definitely a preference for long hair amongst the criminals of Madripoor – the local ones anyway.  I think it’s a status symbol some kind.  One guy had a double pistol holster rig thing set up inside his suitcoat, it’s rare to see a bad guy with a holster – they seem to like the gun in the pants method.  I guess this guy didn’t want to shoot his dick off.  One of his friends had a shotgun and the other guy had a god damned sword.  A sword!  Who does that?  What they didn’t have with them was Maggie.

I noticed that shotgun was smoking an Embassy Gold “Hey, can I have one of those?”

Holsters responded in English “He doesn’t speak French.”

“Would you mind asking him if I can bum a smoke?” He stared at me, stone-faced “Okay, straight to business then, I don’t see Maggie so is she around the corner in a van or something?  How is this going to work?” 

He sneered “How it works is you give us the formula and once we know it works we release our prisoner.”

Blue glared down at him “That wasn’t what we agreed on.”

I sighed and grabbed holsters by the front of his suit and tossed him into the water.  The cowboy stepped in front of me as shotgun tried to give me both barrels – and as promised the cowboy proved to  indeed be bulletproof.  The wandering swordsman came forward with a vicious slash that Blue caught on his forearm, drawing a tiny line of blood across his scales, and then hammered the attacker to the ground with a fist – which drew all kinds of blood.  I stepped around the cowboy and hurled the now discarded shotgun at the rapidly fleeing third man – clocking him in the back of the head and sending him hurtling ass over teakettle.  A moment later Martialla dragged the leader out of the water and across the floor by us.  It looked like something had taken a bite out of his face.

“What happened?”

She waved vaguely “Barnacle, they’re really sharp.”

“Ouch.” I knelt down by the sopping went man “Do we have to do the whole thing where we threaten you and then you say you’ll never talk and then we break your foot and you say if you tell us you’ll die and then we say if you don’t tell us you’re going to die or can we skip all that?”

A new voice responded “I think we can skip that.” 

I turned to see my old friend Mr. Smiles walking towards us.  Instead of a tan leisure suit he was wearing some kind of cornflower blue number that I think was a Kareeba suit, wasn’t quite like anything I had seen before.  

“Long time no see, you never call, you never write.  Makes a girl feel unappreciated.”

He smiled his punchable smile “We were always nearby, I’m sure you could feel us watching over you.”

“That must be why things always go so well for me.  So what?  These dorks were just your stalking horse and the Shadow Lords actually have Maggie?  Is that the game?”

He nodded “An oversimplification but correct for this negotiation.”

“What are we negotiating?  Haven’t you guys given up on me by now?  I can’t be worth all this trouble to you.”

“Indeed you are not.  It seems we were sold a bill of sale for goods that didn’t live up to what we were promised.  You’re very strong but there’s no chance if you winning the tournament.”

“Jesus, that’s what this has all been about?  That fucking tournament?  Why do you care so much about it?”

“That doesn’t concern you.  The fact is that we paid for a champion and you’re what we got.  You owe us someone capable of winning.  Give us someone who can do that and we shall return Margaret to you.”

“Why didn’t you give me that choice with Elvis?  Why did you have to kill him?”  

“He was warned.  He chose his fate.”

The Lords in Shadow

The Shadow Lords have their origin in the 1937 invasion of China by the Empire of Japan.  The Japanese Imperial Army brought coastal China under their control and they were followed by the yakuza as closely as lightening after a storm.  All the local criminal groups either fled or were killed.   

One of the survivors of this purge was a member of the Green Gang called Fat Yuan.  Rumors say that he was half Japanese, the son of a powerful oyabun and his Chinese mistress.   As the story goes, he was able to survive and escape the extermination of the Green Gang due to his superhuman abilities and inside information about the activities of those that sought his death.   

Fat Yuan fled south before the oncoming Imperial tide and began studying at the monastery of Four Winds outside of Vientiane.  When Fat Yuan and his followers stole the mystical shadowknives protected by the masters of the Four Winds, it instigated bloody infighting that saw the destruction of the Four Winds sect and the deaths of the teachers Howling Over Thunder and Crimson Mask.   

Lacking the resources to challenge the Yakuza directly, Fat Yuan and his followers traveled the Indonesian Archipelago, Polynesia, and Australia each recruiting their own followers – creating many small gangs that would eventually coalesce into the Shadow Lords.  Their ranks were swelled by other Chinese gangsters who had survived the purge, but included a diverse cross section of criminals from across the region.  This loose collection of criminal enterprises began to establish their own small spheres of influence in the Madripoor underworld. 

The Shadow Lords are essentially cults of personality formed around a specific individual.  As such, they usually disintegrate if that leader is killed or removed from power.  Experienced members will break off from their parent gangs to establish their own independent outfits with the approval of their former leader.  The Shadow Lords are not overseen by a central authority like the Mafia or similar groups.

Despite this lack of top down leadership, conflict between Shadow Lords is rare, unlike the mob wars between Yakuza clans, Mafia families, or Triads. 

In contrast to those other organized crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are small, consisting of fewer than thirty sworn members.  Those members control front gangs, larger networks of criminal associations on the street. Due to the necessity of protecting themselves from larger rivals, the members never inform the operatives on the street that they are actually in the employment of the Shadow Lords.  

When a group becomes too big and attracts the attention of their enemies, it fragments into two or three smaller groups.  By splitting up and recruiting, they evolve and change their face and shape, keeping a low profile.   

In essence, the Shadow Lords are a confederacy of criminal outfits that share the same goals.  Each leader has their own culture, their own separate hierarchy, and what motivates them may be different, but they all help each other survive while they strike at the Yakuza.  Due to their single-minded obsession with hurting the Yakuza, the Shadow Lords have not grown as fast as they could. 

The Shadow Lords use every resource possible and are willing to take greater risks than rival syndicates.  Compared to the larger crime syndicates, the Shadow Lords are far more likely to cooperate with outsiders.  Besides their comfort with magical artifacts, this manifests by the Shadow Lords being one of the few organized crime groups that actively recruits “superhumans”, which are not welcome in more traditional enterprises.   

September 27, 1973 – Nothing to do with all your strength

I haven’t slept well lately.  I’ve been rattled since that incident with the ships colliding.  If you have super strength, aren’t you supposed to be able to rescue people?  Some boats did come out and pull people out of the water.  But not all of them.  Over the next few mornings, bodies would wash up on the shore with pieces missing.  Sharks, people said. 

Working on the docks has helped me know my new limits better.  I can lift a ton without exerting myself too much. I mean that literally.  I picked up a 900 kilo crate and raced against a forklift.  I can’t knock down buildings like Angel can, or could before she died anyway, but I’m pretty damn strong.  I tried to go to some bars to hustle people by lifting heavy stuff but there must be enough NBH’s around here that hardly anyone falls for that. 

I never get tired either.  Not physically tired I mean, I still need to sleep.  But I can work as hard as I want all day and feel fresh as a daisy.  If I didn’t hate running, I bet I could run at full speed forever.  This makes me one hell of a stevedore for whatever that’s worth.  Not much in terms of wages definitely.  Bad news is that I can now out-drink several frat houses combined all by myself.  The other day I drank a quart of Jack Daniels and I didn’t feel anything. 

More items on the downside, my GOD, I am hungry all the time.  I found a place that has grilled fish and fried chicken and I feel like I spend all the money I make there.  When they see me coming they look at me like a fisherman who’s hooked a tiger shark – both fear and excitement.  Is it unworldly of me that I was surprised they have fried chicken here?  Worse than the hunger though is that my head is constantly pounding.  If I drink enough coffee and smoke enough, I can get it down to the level of a moderate hang-over but it never goes away completely.  Never. 

There’s nothing like a continuous unrelenting headache to make you want to seek revenge.  I’m definitely going to find this Duke Eaglevane person and rip his guts out.  I don’t care if he’s the baddest man on the planet.  I’ll see how immortal he is. 

Working on the docks for fish money isn’t going to make that happen.  I’ve been here almost a month now and that’s a month too long.  The “good” news is that I’m out of a job anyway.  A couple days ago, I saw Omar and another guy arguing.  When I asked him what it was about, he wouldn’t say at first but I got it out of him.  The other man, Tuah I think he’s called, wanted Omar to translate for him to talk to me about some kind of pit fighting.  Omar didn’t like that. 

Two days after that, Omar didn’t show up for work.  When I went to his house, his wife at first refused to let me speak to him – she had come to my place once to scream at me because she thought we were having an affair – but I smooth talked my way past her.  Omar said that Tuah had told the Shadow Lords where I was and he didn’t want to get caught in the middle.  I was pissed that he didn’t give me a heads up, but I guess he has his own problems to worry about. 

Then this morning a woman showed up at my door before sunrise to warn me not to go to work.  She was a friend of Elvis’ and she said that I shouldn’t go back to work.  She looked like a local, I mean to the area, hardly anyone seems to be local to Madripoor, but she had a US accent and she said her name was Mary.  Madripoor is a crossroads and a lot of people here seem like they’re at a crossroads too.  I think that makes sense. 

She hovered in the doorway while I started making coffee “The Shadow Lords are onto me huh?”

She nodded “Yes.  You should probably move out of this place too.”

I gestured at the nothing I had acquired “And give up all this?  I’m getting real tired of these shadow men.”

“Shadow Lords, the shadowmen are something else.”

I laughed mirthlessly “Of course they are.  You seem like a smart girl, how do I get these guys off my back?”

“Do you have a lot of money or drugs to give them?” I shook my head “Then no, I can’t think of anything.”

I swung my empty coffee cup for emphasis “I’m super strong, can’t I beat them all up or something and then they’ll leave me alone?”

She thought about it for a moment “Does being strong protect you from bullets?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then no, probably you can’t.”

September 6th, 1973 – Elvis against the Shadowmen

Smiley suddenly dropped his ill-fitting suit of friendliness “We didn’t do anything to you.  You Americans are the ones who make monsters.  I have other appointments and I’m tired of asking nicely.  You work for us.  Now come along.”

He grabbed my wrist and without thinking about it, I reacted by shoving him.  Seemed like I barely touched him, but he went ass over teakettle off the stool like he got hit with a wrecking ball.  I jumped to my feet more out of surprise than anything, and one of his dark suited goons had a pistol aimed at me.  The others had their hands on their weapons as well but didn’t show them.  The smooth talker was on the ground wheezing like he was having an asthma attack so I spoke to the fellow with a gun in my face.

“What’s your plan?  If you shoot me in the face I don’t think you’re going to be bringing me in for what your boss wants.  You’re in a tough spot here buddy.”

“He can’t understand you, he doesn’t speak English.”

The new voice was a smallish fellow with mussed hair that looked like he had just woken up, possibly from sleeping in the street, although he was dressed fashionably enough.  He had thick sideburns that put his scraggy chin whiskers to shame.  Everyone else on the street had cleared out when Smiles and his friends turned, but this fellow had come towards the commotion. The wheezing man on the ground finally managed to catch his breath enough to speak.

“This doesn’t concern you Elvis.”

I raised an eyebrow “Elvis?”

He half shrugged “It’s more of a nickname.”  He turned to the man in the tan suit who was finally getting up with the aid of two of his lackeys “This is my street, everything that happens here concerns me.”

Tan suit reached into his pocket and came out with not a gun, or even a knife, but a dagger.  What’s the difference between a knife and a dagger?  I don’t know, but this was a dagger for sure.  It didn’t look like something any army man would have, it looked like something out of a Hercules movie, it had symbols etched into it and everything.

Elvis sighed at the sight of the blade “Look man I’m hung over, do we really need do go through this again right now?  You don’t have enough guys here to take me, do we have to go through the motions?  Do we want to see me snatch this guy’s gun away and then kick this guy here in the throat and beat all your asses?  We know how this is going to end, do we need to do it again?”

The dagger-wielder looked mildly surprised “You’re willing to cross us for this white girl?  This isn’t like before, this time it means war Elvis.”

Elvis looked unhappy “This is my street.”

Tan suit put his dagger away and waved for his men to back off “So be it.”

Elvis watched them walk away for a moment and then sighed again and sat down at the counter, reaching over and grabbing some weird little round glass bottle which he popped the top off with his thumb and took a drink.

“So, ah, who were those nice gentlemen?’

The glance at me and grunted “Those were some of the Shadow Lords.”

I scowled “Shadow Lords?  What kind of name is that?  Have I wandered into a Dick Tracy adventure?”

“When you’re an international criminal syndicate it doesn’t pay to be subtle.  Shadow Lords probably sounds better in Pilipino.”

“How do you say it in Pilipino?”

He frowned “How should I know?  Do I look Pilipino to you?

“Uh . . . . . no?”

He chuckled “Good answer.”