“The first rule of Bug Fight Club: is you don’t talk about Bug Fight Club. The second rule of Bug Fight Club: is you don’t talk about…”
“Joe, are you for real?”
“I’m sorry, Officer Fletcher," Joe said, "I'm only messin’, I've been waitin’ to say that to someone all night. No hard feelin’s.”
Fletcher smiled at the huge Samoan doorman. It was impossible to argue with him. It had nothing to do with his hulking size or his politeness. He hypnotised you with a child-like softness to his voice.
“Very funny, Joe.”
“I haven't seen you at one of these before, I didn't think this was your cup of tea. New girlfriend?”
In full police uniform, Fletcher was accompanied by the tiniest, geriatric, Chinese lady. They were easily the strangest pair trying to enter the 15th Annual Bug Fighting Symposium.
“Just let us in.”
Fletcher and his charge Nüwa, pronounced nu wah, descended the staircase. A cacophony of disco beats welcomed them. Entering through a large archway between the spray painted, electric pink, front claws of a praying mantis, they saw a huge underground carpark crowded with people. An empty arena occupied the centre with smaller groups of activity in the far corners. TV screens had been mounted everywhere with two additional large sport screens at either end. Covering the concrete walls were extraordinary bug related neon and UV art.
A young Asian gentleman stopped them at the foot of the stairs. Nodding to Fletcher’s date with deep reverence, he excitedly engaged her in conversation. Fletcher did not understand but overheard the words dou zhi zhu repeated again and again. The young man bowed again, then excitedly ran off.
“What was that about?”
“He want me attend spider wrestling. He want me stand in his corner. He say for him, big honour,” replied Nüwa.
“He believe me lucky. I stand with him, he no lose.”
Wishing he had time to change before he got here, Fletcher felt uncomfortable. Half the patrons were looking at his uniform with caution. While the other half just smiled and nodded at him with a knowledge that spoke volumes. The uncomfortable thing about it; it was the darker criminal element that appeared to know him favourably.
The music stopped, the lights grew brighter, a voice came over the speakers.
“Roll up, roll up. This is your twenty-minute call for the third fight of today’s Ultimate Grasshopper Fighting Championship. We have Red Orchid from Hong Kong versus Jimmy the Jump from right here in Brooklyn. The odds are appearing on your screens. Place your bets, then take positions around the main arena.”
Nüwa grabbed Fletcher’s hand and pulled him over to one of the bookies.
“I don’t think we have time,” responded Fletcher.
It was too late. The whole place was buzzing with excitement and they were caught up in the wave. Nüwa was starting to become a source of intrigue and surprise. To any outsider, she was almost invisible. In truth she was the boss and Fletcher was in her world. Fletcher was only running point.
They had met barely an hour ago, like a lot of stories it had started with a phone call.
Staring at his ringing cell, Fletcher knew the day was turning into a long one. Coming off duty, he had been looking forward to enjoying a couple of debauched hours in a speakeasy.
This was no police business phone call. It was his 'other business'. It was for his alter ego; 'the Fetcher'.
‘Fletcher the Fetcher’ was an unusual addition to any criminal gang. A genuine New York cop also utterly corrupt. Over the last two years he had become a vital member of the organisation. Everyone near the inner circle needed a unique skillset. Killing, robbing, intimidation were a dime a dozen to any criminal fraternity. The ability to find things and get things, especially things that were particularly hard to find was what Fletcher provided. Travel had been difficult over the last two years; flashing lights and a blue uniform made curfew and restrictions a joke. ‘Fletcher the Fetcher’ was currently more valuable to any criminal organisation than an internationally trained assassin.
With a sigh, he hit connect.
“It’s the boss. He's in trouble, we need you to grab ‘the Medic’, and come to Toni’s right away.”
“Is he okay?” he replied.
“Fletcher, just fetch her.”
‘The Medic’ was Nüwa and she had been expecting him. Fletcher saw her tiny, wizened frame waiting at the top of Chinatown with her grandson and a large, brown, leather doctors bag. Climbing into his police cruiser, she waved goodbye to her relative, with the sweetest smile. Fletcher could not believe how small and fragile she looked. About to ask if she was okay, she handed him a sheet of paper with a Brooklyn address on it.
“I’m sorry I don’t think we have time,” replied Fletcher.
“Just do it,” replied the tiny lady with an authority that made Fletcher feel the hairs on the back of his neck prick up.
Nüwa tore up her betting slip and spat on the ground. Red Orchid had lost. Turning away from the main arena she called over Fletcher pointing off to one side at a large stall.
“That why we come.”
They headed over to a large set of tables full of jars and terrariums. Behind the table was a wall of backlit tanks. Above it was a sign in electric blue saying, ‘Le Entrepreneur’.
“Need special bug,” said Nüwa.
‘The Entrepreneur’ was French, skinny and in a designer suit he indulged the appetites his clientele had for fighting bugs. The shop was magnificent, stocking every possible critter you could imagine. Fletcher watched him hold out a pencil in front of the biggest beetle. This beetle had a horn that must have been eight inches long. Grabbing the pencil it snapped it in two. The client was impressed. They shook hands and the beetle was placed in a box. Another satisfied customer. When he saw Nüwa he ignored the queue, leaving them for his staff to attend to.
“Ahh zee Tarantula Hawk, excellent choice.”
He lifted up a Perspex tank, presenting six large, black, flying insects. They had freakish long legs and were approximately three inches long. Flashes of metallic blue and orange danced over their wings and bodies; alien hornets from a nightmare dystopia.
“What are they?” asked Fletcher.
“Vasps, very big angry vasps,” replied ‘the Entrepreneur’.
“Oui. Big Spiders cause zee world to create big vasps. Zee Tarantula Hawk hunts one of zee most aggressive spiders in zee world. It lays eggs in its abdomen. Zee eggs then hatch eating their way out. Munch, munch, munch, yum, yum, yum. Keeping zee spider alive zee whole time. It can take over thirty days. Other times, zay just paralyse zem and eat zem. Ha ha ha.” he explained.
Fletcher was a bad cop with good detective skills. This French accent was ridiculous. Suspecting it was just a show for the clientele, he would not be surprised if 'The Entrepreneur', was native to somewhere no more exotic than Yonkers.
Behind the tank was a smaller container with a single Tarantula Hawk in it.
“Want that one,” pointed Nüwa.
“Why?” asked Fletcher.
“Vell spotted; not possible, zat eez a champion and very expensive.”
“Price no problem,” said Nüwa.
“It eez in an ex'ibition fight against an Australian 'untsman spider in thirty minutes.”
“Want it now.”
“No. If it survives I vill sell it to you after.”
“If it doesn’t survive?” questioned Fletcher.
“Ah vell, C’est la Vie.”
Walking away from the counter, Fletcher noticed Nüwa’s aura had changed. It was black. Furious.
“Will the Huntsman win?” asked Fletcher
“Wasp will win, but wasp now useless. Venom sacs be empty. Come with me. Time for plan.”
Central to the main arena was a huge terrarium; the fight was going to be broadcast live on the internet all over the world.
The Australian spider had a nightmare inducing leg span of almost twelve inches. In a separate container, sat the wasp about to be automatically released. Speakers started to blast out ‘Two Tribes’, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Click; the container opened with the wasp hovering up into space. Wheeling back, the spider prepared to leap.
Then there was a crash. The terrarium lid flew open. Fletcher reached in, grabbed the spider, and hurled it at one of the ring men. The creature wrapped his legs around his face like a hug and bit down. The ring man disappeared, falling backwards, screaming. Fletcher swished a net to catch the wasp. He missed. Instinctively he grabbed it with his other hand. Then it stung him.
Falling to his knees; immediate and excruciating pain shot up his arm. Biting down on his free hand he was struggling to control himself. Blurred and flashing white spots were dancing in front of his eyes. Blinding and electric agony consumed him. His mental abilities were starting to shut down. Despite all of this he held onto that wasp.
Nüwa leapt alongside him and swiped the wasp out of his hand.
“Am I going to die?” pleaded Fletcher.
Holding the giant wasp up to her eyes, she watched as it tried to sting her. The stinger kept catching her long fingernail and sliding off. Moving its stinger for a better angle to strike her, Nüwa foiled it away with the same nail. Smiling she placed it inside a bamboo cylinder and into her bag.
“Get up,” she commanded.
Whimpering, Fletcher stood beside her. Surrounding them was a baying crowd. Weapons appeared from everywhere. They had gathered for a death match. Justice now would be seeing a policeman and his pocket accomplice pay in ways appropriate to a blood sport arena. Demanding satisfaction right in the middle of them was ‘The Entrepreneur’. Putting two fingers in her mouth, Nüwa released the loudest whistle Fletcher had ever heard.
Barging through the crowd came the Chinese Spider Wrestlers, led by the young man they had met when they entered. They parted the crowd like the Red Sea. Armed with short sticks they were doling out a lot of pain. Mounting the stage and surrounding Fletcher and Nüwa, they faced the angry crowd. Fletcher let out a sigh of relief. They had an escape plan from out of nowhere.
Fletcher was looking over his shoulder, holding his painful hand, making sure that Nüwa was keeping pace. Forming a guard of honour, the Spider Wrestlers surrounded her, keeping instep with her movements. Impressing Fletcher, right up until he ran straight into a wall of flesh. Falling back onto the floor, among Nüwa and her allies, he turned to see the towering bouncer Joe from the door flexing his knuckles. Everyone still standing took a step back.
“I'm sorry Fletcher. I have to hurt you now. I hope you understand,” said the Samoan bouncer.
“That’s okay Joe, it’s your job.”
Standing up he prepared himself for the inevitable.
Nüwa grabbing a Perspex tray off one of the exhibitors stands, flung its contents over the doorman. Rubbing his face and the rest of the dirt off his immaculate suit, Joe was shaking his head in disappointment staring at the child like frame of Nüwa.
Just as her face bursts into a grin.
Joe’s eyes flashed wide open and his mouth pursed into a small circle. Starting to scream and tearing at his clothes, he barrelled off to the side sending chairs, tables and customers flying. Grabbing Fletcher’s good hand, Nüwa ran for the staircase.
“What did you chuck at him?”
“Bullet ants. Only insect more painful than Tarantula Hawk.”
Toni’s was an Italian restaurant in Tribecca. They were upstairs. Luca the boss was in bed, looking awful. Earlier that evening, while sitting down with the Haitians, an argument had ensued. No one there had a gun, the metal detectors at the door had dealt with that. When the row had broken out, one of the Haitian lieutenants pulled out a blowpipe, shooting a dart into the boss’s neck. A dart laced with a chemical from the back of an Amazonian tree frog. Toni was explaining the incident and the following carnage to Fletcher and Nüwa.
“Why have you not taken him to hospital?” said Fletcher.
“He die hospital," interrupted Nüwa, "maybe, just maybe we save him.”
“You better…” started Toni.
“GET OUT, get out all of you,” shouted Nüwa.
Large, intimidating Italian gangsters started to get up and timidly head for the door. Having fulfilled his role, Fletcher was joining them.
“No you Fetcher. You help,” said Nüwa.
Obediently, Fletcher stopped and went over to his ward. Something had changed she was no longer that fragile thing he had collected from Chinatown. In his mind, he was now Watson to Nüwa's Holmes, loyally following yet always five steps behind. He was in awe of her.
She silenced Fletcher with a look, they waited until the last Italians had left. She looked at the dart and at the wound on Luca’s neck. Treating him like a joint of meat, Luca grumbled.
“Your boss screwed. He dead. Batrachotoxin. Very bad. No antidote. It open sodium ion channels in body, never let them close. When reach heart; game over.”
“Why are we here, then?”
“You know, in Chinese kitchen not one chef have burn scar on hands.”
“When chef burns himself he put burn back into the blue flame, very hot on hob, he burns out burn.”
“Very painful but second burning mean no scar.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“When poison reach bosses heart, he die. We going to poison the poisoned. Venom of the Tarantula Hawk work exactly same way. One exception; it protect ion channels of heart. We fill his heart with venom so Batrachtoxin has no room. Then maybe boss no die, maybe still die. I think no die. It good plan.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“You hold him. Hold him strong.”
Stripping the clothes off his boss, Fletcher restrained him. Climbing up onto the bed with her bamboo cylinder, Nüwa straddled New York’s most powerful crime boss. Opening her bug prison, she pulled out the Tarantula Hawk. She held it above Luca's heart as it thrust in its stinger. The boss’s eyes flashed open. Before he could scream, Fletcher clamped his hand over his mouth. Looking at Nüwa, he watched her smile beam stronger every time the monster wasp stung his boss. The smile was no longer sweet it was terrifying. Scared of Nüwa, he looked back at Luca and could see his eyes calling out to him. If Fletcher could put words into that stare, it was telling him, Dear god, dear god, make it stop. Just let me die. Anything but this. Just let me die.
“Sorry Boss, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Fletcher.