Two Dozen and One Ninjas
A minor bit of turbulence startled Meredith from a sound sleep and only his sharp reflexes prevented a glass of La Romanée Conti from spilling on the 400 thread count Egyptian cotton duvet. André could be very considerate, but Meredith would have to speak to him about leaving expensive wine forgotten on a drop down tray.
And he would definitely have to ask why the wine had been left with him. Perhaps a gift? A nice little aperitif if they planned to have their in-flight meal soon? Only André could explain why he did anything.
Sipping the wine Meredith looked about. André’s seat revealed no André, only his book which he never seemed to finish reading, Et Apres by Russo or was this a different book?
A flight attendant approached him with the stylish First Class bag sporting a selection of DR Harris products. “May I get you anything, Mr. Pike?”
“Thank you, I have this.” He indicated the glass of wine still in his hand. “Would you happen to know the whereabouts of my partner?”
She glanced at the empty seat and smiled pleasantly. “M. Couteau is, I believe, in the washroom.”
Meredith went to another washroom, changed out of the incredibly comfortable pyjamas provided by the airline and used the toiletries [there was nothing like flying First Class], returned to his seat, and looked over the options for breakfast. Deciding to put off breakfast selection until André joined him, he picked up André’s paperback and began to read. Several chapters and a refill of coffee later he realized André had still not returned.
Meredith looked toward the washrooms and wondered what André could be doing all this time. Had he decided to join the Mile High Club on his own and was having difficulties? The thought brought a smile. That would be amusing, but not like André at all. Probably André had slipped out of the washroom at some point and gone to the lower classes to spread his joy or sneak them better food.
He returned to reading his book knowing André was safe and sound on the plane somewhere.
“Ah, you like my book? I think it’s very interesting. Most of his are entertaining.” André plucked his book from Meredith’s hand and plopped into his seat.
“Where have you been?”
André waved a hand in the air. “Around. Exploring.”
“Enjoy yourself did you?” He handed the breakfast menu to André and took a good hard look at him. André wore a black turtleneck, black jeans, black shoes, and a black knit cap which smashed his hair down in a halo of dark curls. “In your explorations were you attacked by a bunch of Beatniks or Mimes?”
“No. Is preparation.”
Meredith nodded. “Preparation. Obviously. How could I not know that? Preparation for what, mon lapin?”
“Of course. Ninjas.” He smiled at the Flight Attendant who stopped and tried very hard not to stare or laugh at André. One did not laugh at a person who paid that much for a seat on a plane. Meredith and André gave her their breakfast orders and once she left the conversation continued. “What Ninjas, André?”
“The ones wait for me in the airport.” André found his place in the book after carefully marking Meredith’s with a slip of paper. “They are clever. Well, ninjas are not so clever. They are skillfull. But Evil Masterminds are clever and I think they know the hustle and bustle of the airport is a perfect place to abduct me.”
No wonder André had left the glass of wine. He knew Meredith would need it and he did. He drank all of it before proceeding. “Why are ninjas going to abduct you in the airport?”
“Were you not listening to me, Old Man? Do you need hearing aids? We’ll get you the digital ones. They are more discreet and less likely to ring.” André placed his hand flat against Meredith’s cheek. “I just told you that the airport is a perfect place. It’s busy. It’s chaotic. I am easily lost in a crowd.”
“Yes, darling, I heard that. I don’t need the hearing aids. Why would ninjas want to abduct you at all?” Meredith removed André’s hand and kissed his palm, smooth and warm and smelling faintly of almonds.
“I ask myself this. Merci.” He beamed at the Flight Attendant who set their breakfast trays in front of them. “Always am asking, why is the ninjas try to get and take me to their lairs. I have no answer other than they are so to be still upset of the North Dakota incident.”
“Ah, yes, well, North Dakota. Of course.” Meredith added a touch of cream to his coffee, stirred, set down his spoon, and slapped André across the back of his head sending the knit cap flying.
André retrieved his cap and refused to speak until after their breakfast.
“Now that you have recovered your senses…” He sniffed. “I am always being abducted, because of you and your clandestine employment. Tchut! Do not interrupt me, monsieur. I listen to you. I am not saying they are going to abduct me. I am saying the airport is an ideal place to do so. I learned this from you. Think ahead. Plan. Be aware. Although you never seem to believe me when I warn you I’m going to be abducted.”
“André, I apologize deeply and you have no idea how much I regret not believing you about that woman at the resort. I honestly had no idea and this trip really was planned as a nice holiday. Not part of some secret job.”
“That what you say.” André’s spoon rattled against his mug as he mixed more cream into his hot chocolate.
“It was just a holiday.”
“The next trip you may plan and then I’ll be free of these accusations. So, please, now explain why you’re dressed like that.”
“Is disguise. When I see Ninjas and I have seen so many they can hardly be sneaking up on me- I am practically ninja by association- I am to pull down cap, put on gloves and be one of them. They no get me this time.”
Meredith could only shake his head. Usually he preferred André to speak in French, but what he had just said would sound idiotic in any language.
* * *
Customs had been handled at the layover in Heathrow. They arrived in Terminal 2a without incident. No ninja attacks or any other types of incidents beyond a tourist scuffing Meredith’s shoe with his oversized carry-on bag.
“I’m going to the-“ Meredith pointed towards the restroom. “Will you be all right on your own?”
André scanned the people milling about. “I think I will be all right.” He tapped his head, shifting the knit cap. “I am prepared.”
“Yes. Prepared. Don’t wander off then. I’ll be right back.” He squeezed the back of André’s neck, kissed him lightly, and went to the washroom.
Being suspicious, not by nature, but by necessity, Meredith eased open the restroom door and looked around before fully entering. He strolled about, opening the stall doors with the green unoccupied indicator, and noting only one in use.
Quickly and quietly he went about his business and was washing his hands when in the mirror he saw the stall door open a few inches and a pair of dark almond shaped eyes rimmed in black kohl peering out at him. As soon as they made eye contact the door flew open, slamming against the wall, and the man, dressed entirely in black ran at Meredith.
Meredith grabbed a bottle of almond oil from his First Class Bag, tore off the cap and flung it in the path of the smudgy eyed man. The man’s tabi boots were meant for silence and stealth, not traction on an oil slick floor, and the moment his split-toe soles hit the oil puddle he began to slide, arms pin wheeling madly, tanto flying from his gloved fingers. Meredith stoppered the sink with the cap from the crystal eye gel, turned on the water, and caught the spinning man beneath his arms. “Careful now. Wouldn’t want to fall and crack our head open.” He shoved the man’s head into the water. “Terribly messy and janitorial has enough to contend with.”
He held the ninja’s head under the water for ninety seconds before pulling him up. “What are you here for?”
“To kill you.”
Meredith pushed the faucet lever to hot and returned the ninja’s head to the water for another ninety seconds. “Next question. Who sent you?”
“They’re always called The Master. Will you be more specific?”
“The Master sent me. I am loyal to the Master. I will never betray the Mas-“ His words turned to bubbles in the water.
When the thrashing stopped, Meredith drug the ninja to the rear stall, closed the door, and stepped back into the terminal. Seeing a slender shape clad in black standing near the windows he headed in that direction, stopping when he blinked and the figure was gone. He blinked several more times, occasionally catching a glimmer of a figure in black, only to have them disappear. None of them were André. In fact André was nowhere in sight. Meredith headed toward a security guard doubtful even the surveillance video would show André’s abduction by ninjas. But he needed to rule out the possibility of anything else happening to André, even the likelihood André had run off by himself to make Meredith think someone had come after him and his ridiculous costume was not in vain.
* * *
André’s disguise had worked exactly as planned. And yet, it did not.
When he spotted the first ninja which was easy for him having had experience with them and a highly alert sense of paranoia, he had ducked into a crowd, pulled down his cap and mask, then slipped away and pressed himself into a dark corner.
It worked so well another ninja even appeared beside him to ask had he seen “the little one”. A few minutes later as he tried to creep away another ninja appeared as if by magic to inform him their mission was scrapped. The blonde agent was with security and the little one had given them the slip. Ready to say he was not so little compared to them, many of whom were smaller, he was swept away in a tide of dark shadow, whisked into one of several black SUVs [could they be more obvious] and now found himself standing in a row of ninjas being railed at by “The Master” for incompetence.
He felt slightly bad for the ninjas. Here they were, getting reprimanded for failing in both their missions [destroy Meredith or kidnap André] when they had actually achieved one of them. He wasn’t about to do them any favors such as pull off his mask and announce they had him in their midst. It seemed no matter what he did, one way or another, they had gotten him. At least this way he wasn’t bound and gagged [they always gagged him and he wondered why] and having to listen to diabolical plans in detail which would just be repeated when Meredith arrived to save him.
The life of an attractive partner to a great secret agent certainly had its drawbacks.
* * *
Locating the latest Evil Mastermind to ruin a vacation, or in this case the return from a vacation ruined by another Evil Mastermind, proved a simple task. Surveillance videos revealed a blur of black shadow darting towards a fleet of black SUVs which were easy enough to trace to a Quonset hut outside of Paris. Infiltrating it was a quick matter involving a blowtorch purchased at a kitchen supply shop along the way.
As he peeled back the metal panel and stepped inside, dozens of fabric covered faces turned to him while a man dressed all in purple and gold jumped up from his throne-like chair.
“You can’t just walk in here like that,” The Master screeched.
“Should I have skipped?”
“That’s not what I mean!”
Meredith reached toward his neck intending to straighten his tie which was something he typically did at this moment to show he was more concerned with his appearance than any possible threats, but realized he wore his comfortable travel clothes which did not include tie or even a button front shirt. He hooked a finger in the collar of his cozy lightweight sweater and looked about him counting twenty five ninjas and the latest Ninja Master to call himself the Master. “Do you mean coming in through the wall? I really didn’t think anyone would answer if I knocked on the door.”
He strode across the room to a position directly opposite and scanned the ninjas lined up in five V formations consisting of 5 ninjas each. “Care to explain to me what you were doing in the airport?”
“I sent out two dozen and one ninjas to defeat you. You may have given them the slip in the airport and as did your companion, but I have twenty four and one ninjas, each highly skilled in their art to destroy you now.”
“Is there a reason you can’t simply say twenty-five? Ah forget that. Don’t explain. You all have quite peculiar idiosyncrasies. Goes with the job profile I suppose.” Twenty five ninjas were sent for him and twenty five were here now. The mathematics hardly seemed possible considering he had left one thoroughly unable to destroy him with his highly skilled art. Which must mean… He groaned. André’s ninja disguise had worked too well. He began scanning the V formations. “What I wish to know is why do you want to kill me? I don’t even know you. I’ve never heard of you. I’d certainly remember you if we’d met before especially if you always dressed so tackily. So please, before you give your minions orders to silently kill me screaming or other nonsense, elaborate as to why I must die.”
“You must die because you are the only person who stands between me and my takeover of Paris.”
Already he had eliminated over half the ninjas based on their footwear, several more because of height and build. “Honestly, I really think the government, police force, military, vigilantes, terrorist groups, and a few tourists taking it all for a lark might stop you. I mean to say that I am the only person standing in your way, well, that’s really giving me much too much credit.”
“You own a restaurant. Your lover’s family owns many restaurants, and my takeover begins at the heart of Paris. With the cuisine!”
“Hm? That’s all you have to say is hm?”
“Don’t you even want to hear my plan?”
“If you insist.” Let the madman ramble. Meredith had five ninjas now all in turtlenecks, black jeans, black shoes, and different face coverings but all involved a black knit cap. If only he’d taken note of what shoes André had worn he could be done with this and still make it home in time to pick up their dog Anouk from André’s parents.
Meredith walked closer to the group of ninjas with the most turtleneck wearers or a certain height and slender build all while the Master droned on and on about his utterly ridiculous plan to infiltrate all of Paris’ restaurants, put some kind of psychoactive or hypnotic concoction in the food and take over the minds of Parisians. Then one of the ninjas, who was most definitely not André because of his deep set nearly black eyes and, Meredith thought, the black makeup around his eyes was a little too much like manliner, gave Meredith the once-over and winked at him.
A black loafer smacked the manliner wearing ninja in the side of his head.
Meredith ran to his right, the direction from which the shoe had come, grabbed the ninja wearing only one shoe, and shoved André behind him.
“Kill them my ninjas!” The Master pointed at Meredith and André as if there were any question who they should be attacking.
An assortment of throwing stars, shurikens, bokkens, metal whips and other weapons appeared in the hands of the two dozen ninjas.
“Where were they hiding those?” André who was clutching Meredith’s shoulders in his black-gloved hands whispered.
“I’d rather not know the answer to that question.” Meredith snatched a throwing knife from the nearest ninja and threw it towards the Master who only had time to whimper something that might have been ‘my eye’ before falling back into his throne-like chair.
The ninjas turned en masse from Meredith to their master. A questioning grumble went through them when the chair collapsed.
“What the hell are we supposed to do now?” One of them asked no one in particular.
“I suggest a little sight-seeing. If you’re short on time I recommend the Sacré-Coeur. The view is gorgeous and if you’ve the extra time there’s the Au Lapin Agile for a little cabaret.” Meredith pulled the mask and cap from André’s head. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, mon lapin agile and I are going home.”