Brandon eyed his underling.
“You’re saying that if I get punched in the head when I’m a kid, it changes my brain? Well, no shit aniki, I know that much,” Bunji said. “That’s got nothing to do with I’m saying though, and that’s meat is important, it helps your brain grow.”
Rather than argue, Brandon returned to his salad. Again, he failed to explain himself the way he wanted. Yes, meat was essential to any diet, but it wasn’t the only key to a brain’s development.
Lee spoke up then and said something simple, to which Brandon didn’t agree or disagree; his explanation was plausible if not a bit condescending, but that was Balladbird’s style.
The Balkon outclassed most men at communicating, though he never made Brandon feel stupid.
“Nobody knows how the brain works,” Bunji said, chewing his pound of flesh.
Kugashira had ordered a 12-ounce steak, well done and smothered in onions. Lee outdid him by ordering the same cut of beef, only rare with seared mushrooms.
“Science has long known how the brain works,” Lee said.
“Not all of it, uh-” Bunji didn’t know whether to call the man he just met, Balladbird or Lee.
“My name’s Balladbird,” he said. “But call me Lee,”
“Your name is full of shit until you can explain how something like pissing on a sidewalk makes my brain grow,” Bunji laughed.
Lee put down his fork, lifted the napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth. He took a long swig of his beer, sucked his teeth clean, and then aimed his gaze at Bunji.
“In the prime of any man’s life, the cerebral cortex contains over twenty billion neurons linked through roughly one-half trillion synapses.”
Brandon watched Lee’s lesson in gray matter with interest.
“Thoughts are threaded through about seven million miles of dendrite fibers, then they moved into sixty-thousand miles of axons that are compacted in a neural network that’s no larger than a grapefruit.”
Lee swung one leg over the other, folded his hands together in his lap and spoke to his reflection in Bunji’s glasses.
“Spurred by learning, these neurons and synapses are brutally pruned in fits and starts throughout one’s childhood, conditioning that begins again in middle age.”
Unimpressed, Bunji put his elbows on the table.
“So, my brain changes with each new interaction I have?” Bunji gulped his lager and then belched with length before putting a cigarette to his lips.
“Now you understand what Brandon’s trying to tell you,” Lee frowned. “You also understand how bad smoking is for you Kuga-”
“Bunji, but you can call me Madness,” he pointed at Lee’s two empty bottles of beer. “Drinking ain’t good for you either,”
“Yes, but my drinking doesn’t hurt you unless I drive you somewhere and crash because I’m drunk,” Lee’s right cheek dimpled when the corner of his mouth curled up. “That smoke, on the other hand, hurts everyone exposed to it.”
Bunji aimed his eyes over his shades and exhaled a long line of white smoke across the table at Lee.
“Bunji,” Brandon scolded.
“It’s all right Brandon,” said Lee. “Madness is just flirting.”
Out the corner of his eye, Balladbird watched him creep closer.
The secretaries in Magritt Oil’s posh lunchroom weren’t used to seeing the likes of Kugashira Bunji. He strolled past them with his hands in pockets, arms pressed in tight so that his guns didn’t show.
“What is it Kugashira?”
Bunji’s forehead nearly touched his shoulder, “You owe me, Bee-Bee,”
“I owe you for what, Kugashira?”
Bunji surveyed the room, “For Friday,”
That afternoon saw Balladbird on his couch after lunch, fighting a migraine. Suddenly, Bunji appeared outside his 20th-floor window on a cleaner’s scaffold. After much struggle, he climbed in, and Balladbird wasted no time unzipping Bunji’s suit.
He yanked those scruffy sky-blue overalls down past Bunji’s thighs, and when Bunji’s oversized cocked popped out and slapped him in the face, Balladbird decided against warning Harry that the scruffy assassin finally showed.
“What do you want?”
Bunji rose up on his toes and whispered in Balladbird’s ear.
“Just like yesterday!” Bunji demanded.
“Be on the roof in ten minutes,” Bunji said.
Later, Balladbird found Bunji by the bulkhead. Air lashed his hair and jacket as he peered through sunglasses at the fog below; there would be no witnesses today except the tops of the other skyscrapers.
“Kugashira,” he whispered.
Bunji jumped out of skin.
“How do you do that?” he demanded.
“Eliminate any hint of one’s existence,” Balladbird grinned. “It’s a gift,”
“Whatever,” Bunji said. “Get on your back,”
Balladbird rolled his eyes, “This is so juvenile,”
“Shut the fuck up and do it,” Bunji said.
Balladbird kicked off his boots and stretched out flat on the concrete. Once comfortable, he brought his knees to his chest and lifted his hands.
“Come on Kugashira!”
Bunji took off his glasses and shoved them in his coat pocket. Grinning, he charged two broad steps, leaped up and landed his taut abdomen square on Balladbird’s feet.
He quickly grabbed Bunji’s wrists, steadying him and when sure the scruffy mongrel was balanced, he let go.
Back arched, Bunji spread his arms wide and kicked his legs apart, tensing them when the wind gusted into his jacket. He joyously howled as the wind whipped through him.
Balladbird envied his freedom. Zen always bothered him though, so he bent his knee and brought Bunji out of his tranquil flight pattern.
“Hey quit!” Bunji shouted, smiling. “No turbulence!”
Balladbird laughed as Bunji adjusted his wingspan.
“I want to turn!” he cried.
Balladbird deftly maneuvered his feet to Bunji’s sternum and right hip, allowing the man to tilt; Bunji was in complete control, a natural flier.
“Are we ready to come in for a landing?” Balladbird asked.
Bunji sighed, “Yeah I guess,”
Balladbird spread his legs and let Bunji drop, and Bunji landed on his palms, careful not to knock the wind out of him.
The aroma of Bunji’s body, mixed with the tobacco smoke in his hair made Balladbird drunk with lust. Hands moved under Bunji’s shirt and found cold skin. Tongues probed and pushed at each other.
“You taste so good,” Bunji whispered.
Balladbird hummed something into Bunji’s mouth.
“I love that shit,” Bunji said, gently biting his way down Balladbird’s neck. “I like it when you sing and suck my dick too,”
“Why do you think they call me Balladbird?” Balladbird said.
“No shit,” Bunji’s mouth found his throat and bit down on the flesh. “They call you that because you sing during blow-jobs?”
“Yes,” Balladbird gasped.
“Who first called you Balladbird?” Bunji asked.
Balladbird whispered, “My father,”
Bunji lifted his head up, “Aw shit Bee-Bee why do you do that!”
Balladbird cackled uncontrollably.
“You always say nasty-weird shit like that!” Bunji whined.
“Sorry Bunji,” Balladbird pulled him back down for a kiss.
“I like it when you say my name,” Bunji said. “The way you say it makes me hard,”
“Boonji,” Balladbird purred against his lips.
“Yeah-like that,” Bunji feasted on Lee’s ear.
“Boonji, Boonji, Boonji,” Balladbird sighed.
Bunji stopped suddenly, “‘Hey Bee-Bee,”
Bunji’s eyes begged, “One more time?”
Balladbird pushed air out his nose and again indulged the Madness in another round of airplane.