There was an explosion of white powder as the medicine ball burst apart, but Grimm was already sailing upwards in a rolling leap that took him to a new level raised above the others. Another pair of counters lit up and he repeated the exercise he had gone through in the first arena, though the level he was on was much smaller and the cannons that surrounded him were much closer.
He was looking winded, but he continued to fend off every attack, though he missed one throw at the moving targets. The second counter read '10' to start with, while the first counter still registered sixty seconds. Grimm barely managed to hit his tenth target before the first counter reached zero. There was another loud buzz when he hit the tenth target, and a bo staff was raised out of an enclosure on the platform floor.
Grimm leaped and seized it, just as the cannons redoubled the pace of their firing. Tennis balls sped at him from every angle, and his staff became a spinning rotor as he blocked and parried with fluid precision, sending every shot flying back before they could reach him.
'Woah.' Monique said again, and Kim was unable to stop herself from saying it along with her. Kim stared in grudging admiration of a technique that seemed nearly flawless. Through her own training, she recognized that Grimm's skill must have been honed by this training yard to a razor's edge.
She looked down at her own hands and recalled the numerous duels she had fought against Grimm, and how frustrated she had felt because it seemed that despite her best efforts, she could never break through his defenses. As she watched him block a dizzying volley of attacks from the tennis ball cannons, she began to have a greater understanding of why that was. If Grimm trained this hard, every day, then her own attacks must have seemed to him as if they were coming in slow motion.
A third counter had ticked down from thirty seconds once the super-barrage had begun. By the time it hit zero, the platform around Grimm was rolling with tennis balls. But at last it hit zero and a gong sounded. The cannons stopped firing and began sinking slowly back into their housings and hatches. The tennis balls were all rolling into the rain gutters which now seemed to be collecting them similar to pins in a bowling alley. Grimm kicked a few towards the gutters as the training yard continued to shut down. Finally he looked towards the starting point of the training yard where the loudspeaker was set up next to a concrete changing room.
'Say it....' Grimm called out.
The loudspeaker sparked and Lynn's or Mim's voice sounded across the training yard in a resentful grumble. 'Your kung-fu is better....' and as the last cannon sank out of sight, it said, '...jerk.' Grimm smirked and gave his staff another twirl before heading into the changing room.
'Uh, we came out here to see him.' said Monique. 'We gonna wait while he showers or whatever?'
Kim was shaken out of her reflection by Monique's voice. She felt suddenly that she didn't want to give Grimm the satisfaction of knowing they had been watching his performance. 'Let's go, I'm so not waiting for him.' she said, and she turned back towards the path leading to the house.
Part VIII: Breaking Bread
It was later in the evening and the sun was going down. Wade sat uncomfortably at a long dinner table made of black marble that was so spotless he was afraid to touch it. He enjoyed quality Japanese cooking, and the dinner laid on the table in front of him looked excellent, but he was afraid to really tuck into it like he wanted to.
Mr. and Mrs. Omo-sa were dressed as if they were attending a formal banquet with heads of state - or maybe it was just how they were used to dressing while they dined. Jade was dressed very uncharacteristically in a beautiful kimono, though she looked very uncomfortable in it.
The only sounds were the gentle clinking of utensils on the flatware, and the occasional sound of a glass being raised and set down. Wade tried desperately to silence any sound of lips smacking or gulping from his throat as he ate and drank. It made eating the meal seem like trying to navigate through a room of sleeping lions.
He wasn't sure if he should try making small talk, so he remained silent, hoping that Mr. or Mrs. Omo-sa would prompt him in some way. The servants brought in new courses and removed other plates with silent precision. At last, after fortune cookies had been brought in, Jade spoke up.
'Oh jeez dad!' she said, slamming down her cookie and breaking it into crumbs. She held aloft the slip of paper which had been inside it. 'Obeying your parents is the only way to be truly happy'? Could you possibly be any more subtle?'
'I do not control the fortune cookies, daughter.' said Mr. Omo-sa dismissively. 'However, that does sound like very good advice...' He extracted his own fortune slip and looked over it with a smile. 'Ah - A strong parent is a benefit to the whole world! Very true - very true indeed!'
Now morbidly curious, Wade split open his own cookie and fished a slip of paper from inside it. Looking down, he read the words, A strong adversary may lead you to even greater strength. 'Uh, I think I got Kim's cookie...' he said awkwardly.
'Ah yes, the famous Possible-chan.' said Mr. Omo-sa, as if he had been waiting for a cue. 'As an accomplished man of business, I have followed the careers of many other successful businessmen - including the honorable Nakasumi. Is it true that you were the one who took control of his automated toy manufacturing line after that mad scientist transformed it into a giant robot?'
'Yes,' Wade answered. 'Though it was a little more complicated than that....'
'Such modesty!' Mr. Omo-sa said loudly, his voice seeming to bounce off every marble wall. 'To perform so admirably in the midst of such chaos is the mark of true greatness! Tell me, what clues led you to guess the right password?'
Wade hesitated, thinking that he now knew one of the reasons for Mr. Omo-sa's hospitality. Wade saw he had allowed himself to be maneuvered into a position where he might have shared such clues, or divulged the password itself. He didn't know exactly what kind of business Mr. Omo-sa ran, but he was probably a competitor to Nakasumi. And as a competitor, he would certainly be interested in hearing Mr. Nakasumi's secrets. Even older passwords could be used to some advantage.
'There were... a number of things I tried.' he answered cagily. 'In the end I just got lucky.'
Jade sniffed. 'Yeah, that sounds about right.' she said under her breath.
'Again, such modesty!' said Mr. Omo-sa, though his smile seemed a bit more rigid. 'But there is no need for it here, Load-san. If I understand my daughter rightly, you could be here for several days. I assure you I will never rest until I have heard the full tale of your courageous actions.'
'That sounds.... awesome.' Wade said, feeling a bead of sweat on his forehead.
When dinner was finally over, Wade felt as worn out as if he had been interrogated by Dementor. He had dodged several questions, but he knew that Mr. Omo-sa wasn't fooled and that he would try again later.
As he and Jade finally left the table, Mr. Omo-sa's booming voice rolled across the room again. 'Jaaaaaade!' he shouted.
'What is it, dad?' Jade said, looking exasperated.
'Remember - there will be extra work tomorrow in class to make up for your absence!'
'Yes dad.' Jade said wearily as she left.
'Class?' said Wade.
'Yes, Load-san.' Mr. Omo-sa called from across the room. 'One of the rooms in this house is devoted to study and class work, and I have a private tutor to instruct my Jade. You are welcome to join her in class tomorrow if you wish.'
'Uh....' said Wade, but the Omo-sas were already leaving the dining room through another exit. He hurried to catch up with Jade In the hallway and was surprised to see her shucking her kimono as she walked. Underneath, she was wearing her normal t-shirt, shorts and sandals.
'I can't stand this thing.' she muttered, slinging the kimono over her shoulder. 'Give me a pair of overalls any day....'
'Your folks seem... nice.' said Wade.
Jade snorted. 'Yeah, you saw what a riot our family dinners can be. A million laughs. And a word to the wise - don't feed him any info about Nakasumi. If he thinks he's gotten all the info out of you he can gather, it'll be sayonara Wade-san.'
'Duly noted.' said Wade. 'Was he serious about classes?'
'Was he serious?' Jade laughed. 'We're talking about a guy whose idea of humor is more homework! Yes, he's serious.' She raised her voice in a passable imitation of her father's grating voice. 'Class begins in the west wing at seven o'clock in the morning! Do not be LATE!!'
'Yeah...' said Wade. He thought maybe their time would be better spent in arranging more search possibilities for Maze and Monkey Fist, but he reasoned he could still do that independently.
'The servants set up computers in the guest house for you to use.' said Jade with a sigh. 'High speed access, multi-screen, printers, the whole nine yards. Anything you think you can jury-rig to find our targets, try it.'
On hearing the word printers, Wade's ears pricked up. 'You... don't mind me using them?' he said. 'I'd hate to impose....'
'Knock yourself out.' Jade said, turning and starting down another hallway. 'What, do you good guys need to get permission before you do anything?' And she disappeared around another corner while Wade was left near the rear door that led out towards the guest house. Once back in his room, he saw Jade wasn't fibbing. A very contemporary system was set up and ready to go, looking very similar to his own rig at home.
He spied the printer sitting on a stand next to the mainframe, looking quietly innocent. He took out his communicator and shuffled through the photos Kim had sent him. The printer was high-end, and he would have no trouble making the copies Kim wanted - no trouble at all. Compared to other things they had endured, this would be a cakewalk.
And as Wade sat down, he reflected that it was all just a little bit too easy....
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At the Fatigable house, Kim had her hands full with Indy. Rhonda's little brother seemed to have a knack for exploring, climbing and hiding. He wasn't as tough as Hana, but it was a near thing. She nearly lost track of him twice before finding him balancing on the bed frame and later hiding in one of her own bags.
Mrs. Fatigable walked by and Kim couldn't stop herself from asking. 'Is Indy some kind of.... super ninja baby?'
'Oh my goodness, no.' said Mrs. Fatigable. 'He's just very curious. I think he may grow up to be an archeologist of some kind. He simply loves exploring. Why, he found three Indian arrow-heads buried in the sandbox out back....'
'He doesn't like Flippies, does he?' Kim asked.
Mrs. Fatigable laughed again. 'No, no.' she said. 'Though he does seem to enjoy the kid shows on the Recovery channel...'
As Kim cycled through the house in her attempts to keep up with Indy, she felt her stomach rumbling. It had been twelve hours since her last meal, and she was disappointed that Mrs. Fatigable didn't seem to be making any extra food.
Just as she was gearing herself up to ask about dinner, there was a ring at the front door. Mrs. Fatigable answered and Grimm came in shortly afterwards, carrying a pair of handled paper bags. A delicious smell was around him and Kim felt her stomach rumbling in answer.
'Chow time.' said Grimm. 'But don't expect me to be the one making the deliveries every night, I've got other stuff to do.'
Monique turned up in a flash and Grimm went into the Fatigable's kitchen. Kim followed, but even more than the smell of the food, she found the image of Grimm wearing an orange jumpsuit in Cell Block D bringing a smile to her face.
'What's with you?' said Grimm, turning around once they were at the table. 'I've got the patent on smirk in this town.'
'Nothing.' said Kim, smiling even wider.
Grimm raised an eyebrow. 'You're weird.' he said.
Monique was bending her head towards the bags, her nostrils twitching. 'I have never found something that seems like it smells better than it tastes.' she said. 'Until now! Where did you get this?'
Grimm shrugged. 'I know a place called 'Sato's' that's supposed to be the best. After eating there, I haven't had any cause to argue with them.'
'This looks like Kim’s,' Grimm smiled as he handed her one of the bags before checking a slip of paper. 'Duck confi with roasted potatoes, garlic, and asparagus, a side of red cabbage and apples, slow-braised with apples and red wine, and Sato’s famous and ubiquitous ‘Peach Fried Pie’ and ice cream.'
'And this is Monique’s,' he continued, handing her the second bag. 'A Cheddar beer-cheese soup, watermelon salad, a blackened-catfish salad, extra fish, and more Pie and ice cream.'
Then as if he felt he'd said everything that needed saying, he stumped off and left through the front door. Kim and Monique looked at each other, and handed each other their dinners. 'Just like him.' Kim muttered. 'Somehow he knew what our favorite meals were, then he gives us the wrong bags.'
At a nod from Mrs. Fatigable, Monique sat down at the table and started taking caddies out of their bags. 'We're in enemy territory, so to speak.' said Monique. 'How do we know that...' but then she saw a slip of paper taped to the top of the main caddy for Kim's dinner. She pulled it off and opened it. It was a handwritten note that said, 'No, it's not poisoned. GP'
Monique sniffed, passing the note to Kim, then turned attention to her food. She hesitated, then took a bite. 'Oh!' she said, swirling her tongue. 'Oh, man! If this is poison, then please let me live long enough to finish this meal!'
Kim had to admit, the food was phenomenal. And for several minutes, neither she nor Monique said anything, devoting full attention to their meals. When she started on the peach pie, Monique's face took on an expression similar to as if she were getting a back rub from MIdas. Kim had to fight hard to keep a similar expression off of her own face. She figured it wouldn't do for the heroine to be bowled over by a dessert while in the villain's hometown.
Kim heard her Kimmunicator beep and knew it was Wade. 'What's the sitch?' she said quickly.
'We need to talk about.... the project you had me start on.' Wade answered. 'You free?'
'Beep me again in five.' said Kim, and Wade nodded before the screen went black. Kim hurriedly cleaned up after herself, thinking that maybe her real dessert was soon to follow...
Part IX: Truth Or Consequence
Soon she was back in Rhonda's room, closing the door behind her and sitting down at the desk. 'I'm alone Wade - what have you got?' she said.
Wade was biting his lip. 'Good news.. and bad news.' he said.
'What's the bad news...?' Kim said.
'Promise you won't get mad.' said Wade, rubbing the back of his neck.
'Wade, if you don't start spilling....' said Kim dangerously.
'Good news is, I made copies of the pictures just like you wanted.' Wade said hastily. 'Bad news is, I also took the time to run some tests on them...'
'Tests?' said Kim. 'They're photos. What could you be testing.... for....' but the truth was dawning on her and she felt a familiar cold chill that said she was about to find out she had been played.
'Forgeries.' said Wade. 'I wanted to believe they were real, but I also wanted to keep in mind who we're dealing with - Grimm Probable, Mr. Misdirection himself.'
Kim sighed. 'Let's hear it, Wade.'
'They're all fakes, Kim.' Wade said, his face grim. 'The pictures, the letters, everything. They're good fakes....'
'As opposed to the evil fakes they normally use.' Kim growled.
'Yeah...' said Wade uncomfortably. 'Even through the hi-res copies you sent I could pick up on patterns that show these things aren't the real McCoy. It's kind of like a ballistics test on a bullet. When you know what to look for....'
'And what would have happened if we had tried to use them as evidence in court?' Kim said.
Wade shrugged. 'An expert could prove they were forgeries inside of five minutes.'
'And the people who introduced them...'
'Would have been discredited - maybe even arrested for introducing false evidence. And there's more - I linked up to my computer at home and went through my files. There are copies of photos which match these backgrounds on my computer, along with file photos of the villains. There's also separate photos of Grimm and Rhonda hidden on my hard drives - and probably on your computer at home, too. They're the original unspliced versions of these composites. I'm positive that Jade planted them at some time during our previous encounters.'
Kim slammed her fist on the desk. 'He did this on purpose!' she said. 'He let me stay at Rhonda's place and he knew I'd go through those photos!'
'It's a little convoluted,' said Wade, shaking his head. 'But I think you're right. He was planning ahead to make sure you'd be charged with introducing false evidence in any lawsuit that came up. He may not have done it with you in mind, but it does look like he set this up long in advance in case a sitch like this ever came up.' He looked warily at Kim, who was glaring at the photos of Grimm and Rhonda smiling from the corkboard. 'So... do you still want the copies?' he said.
'Any point?' said Kim darkly.
'Not really...' Wade answered.
'Forget it then.' Kim growled, getting to her feet. 'I'm gonna have a talk with our 'host'....'
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Grimm opened the door to his house where Kim had been knocking insistently. 'What?' he said. 'Didn't like the dinner?'
'Food was fine, the sitch is totally unacceptable.' Kim snarled. 'I found out the truth behind your little 'photo album.'
Grimm raised an eyebrow, smiling, and he stepped out onto the porch, closing the door behind him. They were both dimmed by the twilight and the quiet of the evening air seemed to settle around them. 'I'm not sure why you're steamed.' he said quietly, stepping over towards the rail overlooking the front lawn. 'I think a compliment is in order. I'm impressed that you played it cool and checked them first...'
'Why'd you do it in the first place?' Kim hissed, following him. 'You're still playing your little games when we're supposed to be working together to find Ron and Rhonda!'
Grimm shrugged. 'I thought you might still be hankering to get me arrested. I haven't broken my promise, and I didn't do anything to betray you. It was just a little something I call the seppuku scenario - I only arranged things so that if you betrayed me, you'd be the one who took the fall.'
'You double-crossing slime bag!' Kim said.