Part Seven - Opposites Attract

The Hoods settled into their occupation of Gus and Daisy’s narrow boat. Haskell had the mesmerised Gus go place disguised cameras atop the boat and around the marina.

They tuned in on their ipads, and laughed about how easy it was going to be watch the Round and eventually make a well planned move.

“Like shooting fish in a barrel,” quipped Don.

Over on the Dutch barge, the members of the Round had no idea they were under surveillance. They were oblivious to the danger, their minds reeling from the mental and emotional impact of their visions of China.

Caden’s already pale skin was visibly a whiter shade. Sitting on the floor, leaning against the side of the boat, head back, Caden gazed wide-eyed at the ceiling of the Dutch barge. Ying Yue, only just pinched from the effects of several of Ginny’s G and Ts, looked down at the large pale brick of a man. “Hey there, big fella. Where are you off to?”

“Oh, just, it’s so hard sometimes; hard to believe that this is what life is now. I just wanted to play rugby and make my Nan proud. Life was simple, no other ambitions. Never been interested in things and money. Just wanted to play and look after Nan. How did it come to this?”

Ying Yue knelt down by Caden’s side. “It’s been a wrench for us all, Cadie. I know it’s surreal at times, but at least we are with friends that understand what we are going through; that are going through the same shit.” And she stroked down the side of his face, eventually cupping the side of his huge square jaw.

Caden turned his head and gazed generally in the direction of the elegant, gentle, empathic face. “I couldn’t do any of this without you, you know that, don’t you?” he said slowly, softly.

 “And I wouldn’t be here if it were not for you,” replied Ying Yue. 

Caden’s still sad face cracked a smile, but his eyes remained full of sadness. “Them bastards killed my Nan,” he said, slightly welling up. 

“I know, and I wish there was a way to bring her back, but no one here has that power. I think all we can do is dispense a little justice, and, hopefully, save others from losing their loved ones.”

Ying Yue cupped the other side of Caden’s jaw with her other hand and pulled his face to hers, and kissed him deeply. Across the room, Bert nudged Ginny. “There ya go, I said, did I not?”

“Oooo, you did,” replied Ginny. “Well, they do say opposites attract”

“Absolutely,” Bert agreed. “I claim first to call them Yingden!”

Ginny just groaned and gave him that ‘really’ look.

The rest of the room seemed to zoom out into the distance  for Ying Yue and Caden; all others were irrelevant now, they were alone in a crowd. Eventually, Ying Yue got to her feet, wiped on her empowered Dark Mirror persona and held out a hand to help Caden get to his feet. 

Caden was still a little worse for too many of Bert’s beers, he stumbled a little.

Bert saw what was happening and pinched away the alcohol in Caden’s system. Instantly sober, Caden gave Bert a little salute. “Thanks bonny lad”.

Now standing, Caden placed his hand on his thighs and wiped up... shazam! He was instantly suited up as his alter ego,  ‘Hot Chocolate’. 

He patted the little cup and saucer icon on the front of his T - out floated a small hot chocolate. “For you my lady,” Caden offered up the cup to Ying Yue. 

“Why, thank you kind sir, ” she replied. “The perfect bed time beverage... Shall we?”

Caden said nothing, but offered his arm. They linked and the only suited up members of the round walked off to Ying Yue’s room.

They looked as different as any two people possibly could. The willowy, half oriental - half west African Ying Yue was now over six foot six; eight inches taller than when she wasn’t suited up - dark, elegant and lithe. 

Caden, by contrast, was a huge block of a man; very pale, short blonde hair, with more muscle than the rest of the Round combined.

At this point, all in the room were quiet. All watching the grand exit. Ying Yue left the room slightly ahead of Caden, ducking to get under the door frame. Caden, who had to turn slightly sideways to get through the door, smiled back at the others, waved and closed the door behind him. 

Somehow Caden and Ying Yue’s get together lifted the spirits of the others. It let it be known that good things can still happen too.

Lucas decided it was time for some music; Ginny and Bert took that as a queue for a dance. The mood was lifting. 

In Ying Yue’s room... well, let’s just say the music they could hear coming through the wall was about as far from the truth as it could be; it was early Rolling Stones with Jagger singing ‘Can’t get no! No satisfaction!’ 

After some time, the couple relaxed. Ying Yue sitting up at the top of the bed with Caden resting his head in her lap, looking up at her, content, happy, having his face and chest gently stroked. 

Another tune came through the thin wall. James Brown, ‘I feel good’. It made Caden smile. “More like it,” he sighed.

“Tell me, Cadie” enquired Ying Yue. “Tell me more about you. How did you become the man you are? Not the Hot Choc man, just you... in there,” and she tapped his forehead.

“Not much of a story there really, nothing unusual.” said Caden.

Well... what did you want to grow up to be when you were a boy?”  Ying Yue probed, “Did you always want to be a rugby player?”

Caden took in a deep breath, and then slowly blew it out with a thoughtful expression. “OK, let’s see. I suppose I wanted to be a soldier like Dad, at first, anyway. He was S.A.S. and I was very proud of him. He was built like a brick shithouse.”

“Like father, like.......” said Ying Yue.

“Ah, suppose,” said Caden. “But he was very smart with it. He knew so much; practical stuff, useful stuff, and he could apply his knowledge. Used to teach me survival techniques. And, and, he was a qualified pilot. But that’s how I lost them. He was just flying me Mam up to Edinburgh for a weekend break.  He had the use of a little two seater prop’ plane. Something went wrong with the fuel lines. Flames, explosion. I was ten. Thought the world had ended, but my Nan took me in.

She taught me other skills, other values. She used to be a nurse. She cared, loved, and forgave. She smiled all the time. She was happy with her lot. Down to earth, never pretentious. She, mostly, but with a little help from her sister, my aunty Valerie, great aunt, I suppose, brought me up.  I didn’t want for love.

For a while I wanted to be a doctor, or a health worker of some sort. Eventually, I started filling out and by the time I was thirteen or fourteen everyone was telling me I should play rugby. Can’t say I complained. I loved it, and I thought if I could earn enough playing rugby to look after me Nan and me Aunt that would be me sorted. 

It was going well too. Until Auntie Valerie got me the hot chocolate T Shirt.”

“Why hot chocolate?”  Ying Yue asked.

Caden closed his eyes tightly, as if looking inside for a memory. 

“She always made hot chocolate for me when I visited her, so she got me the T shirt one Christmas. I thought it was a bit naff at first, but decided I had to wear it next time I visited her. Obviously, once on, never off. I didn’t know how to explain the T shirt in the showers after the matches and eventually I had to quit.  I worked out what the T could do, and, I set up my own café. People flocked to try my special hot chocolate and mocha coffees. But it made the papers; ‘Rugby prodigy - future rugby ace quits the game to start a café.’  They talked to the other players and they said about the T shirt.

Next thing I know, you and Harvey are knocking on my door.”

“Aahh, Harvey,” said Ying Yue. “Poor old Harvey. What a way to go.”

“Yeah,” said Caden, grimacing at the memory. “And that was my introduction to the Round. To my new life.”

“We were very naive in those days,” Ying Yue sighed. “We felt we could handle anything the world, even the Hoods, could throw at us.”

“When the hoods turned up and the iceman froze the doors and windows, and trapped us inside, it terrified my old Nan,” said Caden. “She thought we were being taken over by evil spirits. Like in some horror movie. Ya know, the air turns cold, you can see your breath, and out come the evil spirits. When they called me out, and I went with them, we thought Nan would be spared, and that you two might be able to deliver a surprise attack to free me, but after tying me up, that bastard filled the house with Arctic wind; froze Nan solid and laughed ahout the resulting ice statue. I can still hear her screaming my name. That much anger can give a person a lot of extra strength. Nothing was going to hold me.”

“And he would have had all of us, if not for your strength and quick thinking,” added Ying Yue. “I don’t know how you got that tiny cup into his mouth, but the results of enlarging it to the size of a bucket once in there, were, erm... very effective. “

“It did the trick,” said Caden. “But, LOL still got Harvey later.“ 

There was a short pause in the conversation as both reflected on what had happened to ‘poor old Harvey’. It was a grim memory. A last passing shot by LOL as he retreated and Harvey was hit by his full beam and laughed himself to death over six days.

Finally, Ying Yue said, “I was sorry I couldn’t have been more of a help.”

“You were almost frozen solid yourself,” said Caden. 

“Well, yes,” agreed Ying Yue, “and if it wasn’t for your hot chocolate bath thawing me out, I’m sure I would have at least lost fingers, toes, maybe even a limb or two. Hell, let’s face it, I would most likely have died.”

“But you didn’t, and you’ve saved me at least four times since then,” said Caden.

“Oh, I think you will find, it was six actually,” said Ying Yue, with a grin, after counting on her fingers.”

“Oooo, we’re counting now are we?”  said Caden.“The cheek of it!” He jumped up, the two wrestled playfully... and more.

Back in the main room, all of the other members of the Round were sat on the floor, gathered around a kind of campfire display of Flaming Lamborghini cocktails constructed by Lucas. The music was chilled and all other lights turned off. The blue flames flickered and cast dancing shadows on the walls and ceiling.

It was a bonding moment, spirits were lifted, for now, but in the back of everyone’s mind - China.

It was now midnight, but just across the marina Don was still awake, watching the surveillance screens.

“What the..?!  Do they have a camp fire in the middle of that barge? If all their brains were dynamite, they couldn’t blow a nose. “

Bert and Ginny were the first of the ‘campfire party’ to eventually say ‘let’s call it a night’ and they made their way to the narrow boat next to the barge.

Fergus had nodded off, curled up on a large fake fur rug by the fire. Lucas was going to wake him, but Finnegan signalled to let him sleep. He got him a pillow and a quilt. 

“He’ll be fine,” said Finnegan.

Lucas nodded and pinched away the flaming drinks.

Across the water, Don was relieved to see the ‘campfire’ was out. “Don’t you ass hats go killin’ your selves,” he said under his breath, “we’re supposed to take you in alive.”

Don was tired, but happy about the way things were going for the Hoods and he thought to himself, ‘We are goin’ to scoop y’all up and put you on a slow boat to China.’

“Yes, we are,” said Haskell. “The Ahrn will prevail.” 

“I wish you’d stay out of my head,” grouched Don. ​

To be continued