Preview: The Night Market – 2

Author’s note: Just a preview of the next chapter of The Night Market, the modern Naruto AU fic I’m working on. Still pretty rough, so forgive any errors. Also will be naming the security guards before I finish the chapter. So that’s already one thing that will change in the final draft, instead of ‘the big dude’ and ‘the short one’. 🙂

Chapter 2

The red cigarette tip in the darkness of the alley was the only thing that Naruto could see of his two contacts. He didn’t know why he was meeting them at the back door of a video game parlor, but he didn’t ask questions. He just delivered the goods.

He kicked a can he didn’t see. It was so dark they wouldn’t even be able to inspect the object. But that didn’t matter. They knew he was good for it.

He passed over the parcel. The man in back produced a pen light as it was unwrapped, and they all leaned in to admire the jade hook that gleamed like brand new in palm of his hand. But the hook was almost 400 years old, or so Naruto had heard. A magnificent dragon carved of jade swooped over on itself in an elegant “S” shape. Its tale arced out to form the hook that held together the kimono of an old Konoha ruler.

Naruto hadn’t gotten a good look at it when he’d slid it out of its case and into his pocket. The tissue paper was to make sure he didn’t touch anything. But now it made the old trinket look like a gift, and in the dark Naruto felt a little whiff of pride at the nabbing such a beautiful object.

The man sniffed then pocketed the hook. The light clicked off. “You need to go back.”

“What?! Why? I got what you asked—”

“Shhh!” his partner snapped. “It’s won’t be a surprise visit if we give ourselves away!”

“What are you doing back here anyway,” Naruto rejoining in a whisper.

“They’re holding out on us,” the shadow in front of him sad quietly. “Nightly receipts. We’re here to make it right.” The red-tipped cigarette glowed again. “So you need to go back and get the other one too. The one beside it. The jade disc.”


“Because he wants the other piece too, that’s why! What’s the matter. This shouldn’t be a problem for you!”

“It’s not! It’s just that—“

“Did you get into any trouble?”


“Good, I already told you about the three guards—“

“But…. Well, it wasn’t the guards. They were no sweat.” Which was true. The three thick-necked security guards had been easy to outwit, although Naruto skipped over the heart-stopping moment when he thought he saw them again in Ramen Alley. “I was chased by the cops.”

“What?!” The cigarette jumped dangerously in the dark. The man behind him snorted a soft laugh.

“Wasn’t my fault, there was a big robbery up on the High Street. Smashed windows, yellow tape, police everywhere. I walked right into it. Guess I fit their description cause they stayed on me for longer than usual.” He gave a nervous laugh. “But I lost ‘em down past the market.”

“What’d you go up that way for? I told you to go around the long way, down by the wharf—“

Naruto tried to act nonchalant, but he breathed in the smoky air and coughed. “Bad info. I’d heard it was clear. Thought I’d save some time going the shorter route.“

This earned him another contemptuous snort. “Who told you that? Somebody that must have had it out for you if that’s the info they gave you—“

Naruto slid his eyes away, looking guilty, when the shadow jumped forward to shove him hard. “What’d you listen to him for!?! I’ve told you not to trust a thing he says! Probably screwing you over to get to me. That whack-job—” His partner grabbed his jacket and hauled him back, saying “Geez, just let it go already. You’re going to give us away!”

He shook off his partner’s grasp saying, “I’m not gonna let it go! Next time he says anything to you, come clear it by me first. Got it?”

Naruto rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah, alright,” he said quietly. “When does he need it by—“


“Maan,” Naruto whined but the man stopped him. “Is that a problem?”

“No,” Naruto answered darkly. “I was just hoping I could have a little time before going back. You know, let things cool off?”

“Nope.” The shadow stamped out his cigarette. “And it’s best to do it now, before they have time to figure out the hook is gone. If they move the other piece, we might never get it.”

Naruto nodded begrudgingly.

A wedge of yellow light suddenly cracked through the darkness and the obnoxiously loud sounds of a plinko parlor spilled into the alley. An old woman in a worker’s apron peered out suspiciously. Her pockets sagged with change and receipts, while the tinny sounds of digital cheers and falling coins crashed out around her, the woman blinking unseeing into the dark. Naruto automatically ducked his head to keep his face in shadow. When she focused on the two men, she straightened, bowed quickly then urged them in.

“Tomorrow night,” Naruto heard the man say from the door. “Bring it to me, same time. Come to the club.” Then the door slammed and a heavy lock slid into place, and Naruto was alone in the still, dark alley. He sighed and sunk his hand into his empty pocket.

It was only a few hours till daylight. He needed to sleep, then come up with a whole new strategy.


Eighteen hours later, Naruto squatted in the shadow of a perfectly round shrub outside an open kitchen door. It was the perfect angle to peer into the kitchen. He knew, he’d been frequenting this spot for the better part of two weeks.

He checked his watch. 10:20. A woman stood at the sink, humming to herself as she washed the rest of dinner’s dishes. Another housekeeper came in with a stack of small plates and tea cups, set in on the counter and sat down to share some gossip. They were completely at ease. Naruto was certain they didn’t know their household was a little bit lighter this evening, having lost one jade hook to him the night before.

These old clan families, tucked away in their perfect homes, safe behind Old Konoha’s walls, they probably didn’t even care about those ancient piece of junk, he told himself. It was just a status symbol, like everything else in their walled compounds. Sprawling historical houses, sweeping gardens, servants and gardeners. Some houses even gave tours of their oldest buildings. And some, like this compound, even employed security guards.

Naruto snorted. Like anything bad ever happened here.

Old Konoha was like a lazy old samurai, content to grow fat on the glories of the past. The poverty, hardships and crime of modern life had long been pushed outside of their old walls. And then they’d closed the gates. The only way you made it in here was if you have the right clan name.

Naruto knew where he belonged. And it wasn’t in here.

The tap suddenly turned off. There was a scrape of a chair and the clink of lifting plates, and then the voices drifted into the other room. Naruto looked at his watch. 10:30. They were putting away the dishes in the dining room. This was it.

Naruto hopped up and crept silently through the kitchen, then out the long open hall, making sure to duck under the open windows, and ran down the length of the polished wood floor to the clan scroll room.

It was so easy. They had no idea. In fact he was so confidant that he already felt the familiar buzzing in the back of his mind, the same light feeling he had when was younger and he picked off something good from one of the night markets stalls. Like a bowl of stew, still piping hot, swiped from the back counter while the some unlucky shopper was paying for it.

Naruto bit down a grin. He still had to focus.

This was the part where he felt like a ninja in one of his childhood books. He peered into the room, looking at obvious hiding spots before he entered. Once he was inside a room, it could work like a trap if he wasn’t careful.

But this room was empty. No shadows in the corners, no lines of light blocked. No movement in the air. The room was still dusty and untouched. Convincing Naruto he was the last one to come through here in months.

He crossed the room to the case laid out on the table. On one side of the black velvet was the indention where a the dragon hook had laid. Next to it was a disk carved with a matching dragon. He slid a piece of tissue paper out of his pocket and held up the edge of the glass case. Then he gingerly retrieved the disc, lowered the lid, and folded the trinket into the paper. It fit nicely into the palm of his hand. Even through the paper he could feel it was smooth with years of use at the end of the kimono sash. He slid it easily into his pocket, checked the room one more time, then crept back to the door.

The night air was warm, crickets were chirping, and the sound of water filtered in from the garden. The open door framed a beautiful picture of the walled garden beyond, with its winding paths, flowing streams and manicured trees that floated like green clouds above the manicured garden. He had to admit, this was the good life—

A sudden creak rent the air. Naruto’s heart leapt to his throat. A shadow fell across the wooden boards outside the door.

Someone was outside!

Naruto turned back into the room and dashed across, sliding open a screened window. He flung his legs over and looked back to see if he’d been caught, just as the shadow drifted away again.

Must have been a servant. But he decided to go out the back and through the garden just to be safe.

However the moment his feet hit the ground with a thud, the air erupted with shouts.

“Over here! He jumped out the back!”

He froze then shot off into a run, the two thick-necked guards coming out from the corners of the house. The third, the biggest of them, came pounding off the porch where he’d been waiting for Naruto.

Naruto ran through the garden, leaping streams and dodging rocky outcrops. He couldn’t make it back to the safety of the kitchen gate, so he hoped he could find a door along the back wall somewhere. He curse to himself as he jumped a low hedge that he hadn’t cased the garden as well as the house.

Up ahead the wall was looming, and he was eating up ground without finding an exit. He scanned desperately. The walls were too high to scale and there was nothing high enough or close enough to give him a leg up. The shadow of a shrub fell across in a strange way, as if hiding a depression. He didn’t know if it was a gate, but he’d have to chance it. The men were hard on his heels, their panting coming closer—

An arm shot from a turn in the path, and Naruto’s neck snapped backwards. All forward momentum stopped in one jarring second. Naruto’s vision spun as the biggest man stepped out of the hidden path and hoisted him up by the back of his neck.

“Caught you this time, you little punk.”  He walked him to a the widest part of the gravel path and threw him into the misshapen circle where several other paths intersected and where the two other men stood, panting hard.

As soon as he hit the ground, ignoring the deep scrapes in his hands from being flung to the ground, Naruto scrambled to run. But they surrounded him.

They were big. Bigger than Naruto remembered.

Their black suits wore a layer of dust from the chase and their hair was knotted at the top as if they were actual samurai. Or samurai in training. But no samurai he’d ever heard of would work at something as menial as a security guard.

Samurai or not, it didn’t matter. These men were huge. Their hands alone were like catcher’s mitts. They didn’t carry weapons, they didn’t need to. Their hands did the work. And right now, they aimed at Naruto.

He watched all three with fear coiling in his stomach. This was bad. Very bad.

The biggest one popped his knuckles menacingly. “Show us what you’ve got in your pocket kid, and maybe we won’t break all your bones.”

Naruto laughed and shrugged, trying to think fast and failing. “N-Nothing! I was just—“

He was silenced by a kick to the gut. Naruto curled in on himself as hands tugged at his coat and pants pocket.

When he cracked his fingers and looked up, the big one was bouncing the jade circle in his hand, smiling.

“Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way,” he slid the disc into his pants pocket, “let’s have a little fun before we call the cops!”

They dragged him to his feet and pushed him between the themselves, landing blow after blow to his gut, his chest and back of the head, laughing wildly and booting him as he went past, until Naruto was dizzy and grunting with each blow. He stumbled to his knees.

The worst of it was he knew that getting beaten up would be just the start of his problems. He’d lost the loot. And there would be a punishment for it, worse than getting laid out by thugs or being thrown in jail for a night—

Someone hauled him back up by his collar, and before Naruto could get his bearings, the biggest one clocked him above the eye, knocking him backwards.

Naruto blacked out as he fell, and only the jarring blow of his head against gravel brought him around again. He instinctively curled on his side. His vision blurred and his ears rang and something wet and sticky was running down the side of his face.

He curled his fingers around to touch it, but through the curve of his hand he saw the big dude reach for his pocket. He was checking that the disc was still there.

Naruto curled his fingers in before they made it to the wound, suddenly realizing that this wasn’t over yet. He could still finish the job!

He pushed up from the ground slowly, blood leaking into the corner of his eye, but he stayed focused on his goal.

The big man laughed as Naruto struggled to stand. Blood leaked into his eye. The two men came closer to take him down, but the big one waved them off. “That last one should have knocked him out. Tough little runt, you really want the pain then—“

He pulled out a set of brass knuckles from the other pocket, slid them on and grinned. “Come on, kid. This won’t take long.”

Naruto lurched forward with a weak punch, ducked under the man’s swinging fist and clung to the his jacket, clutching and falling as if he really did have the wits knocked out of him.

The man grabbed at him, but Naruto was too close and too slippery. While he the big man fought to grab hold of him, Naruto dipped his hand into the pants pocket and hooked a finger through the cool jade. In one fluid motion he pulled back and flipped the circle into the hollow of his palm, just as the big man clamped his hand down on Naruto’s shoulder.

Then Naurto went flying. The big man pulled him loose and flung him across the gravel. Naruto rolled with it, letting his body go. His only focus was on his closed hand. He clutched it tight and hoped for the best. When he finally rolled to a stop nearly at the far wall of the compound. Gravel was in his shoes, his hoodie was twisted around his neck and the sky was spinning. But tight in his palm was the cool, smooth circle. He still had it!

Naruto moved quickly, pocketing the disc as the sound of footsteps pounded closer.

Now he just had to get out of here.

Scrambling onto all fours, ears ringing, and a pounding headache starting above his left eye where he was sure there was a nasty gash, Naruto swung his gaze around the garden. The three men were closing in. One popped his knuckles. Another popped his elbow. The big one stalked around from the side, rolling his fingers in the brass knuckles and holding his huge palms out to each side to catch him if he ran for the house. Nostrils flaring, he looked like he wanted to pound Naruto right into the ground.

Naruto thought he’d be moving a lot faster if he knew his pockets were empty.

And he didn’t want to stick around when they discovered he’d pulled one over on them. Again.

Naruto sucked in a breath, dug his fingers into the gravel and sized them up. One was shorter than the rest. That was his man. Naruto needed someone closer to his size if his plan was going to work.

He lunged for the man and the other two were close on his heels. The short man swung, Naruto ducked, and before he could grab him with his open palm, Naruto flung a handful of dust and gravel up into his face. He ducked under his flailing arms and skidded past him down the gravel path.

“Get him!”

The two men were close on his heels.

Naruto had hoped to circle around and get back to the house and the open kitchen gate. But the sounds of a scuffle had the house on high alert. Lights flickered from the back of the house and reflected in the koi pond, and voices were already calling out in alarm.

Can’t go that way. Naruto veered off the path, leaping over shrubs and knocking down a stone lantern, and sprinted toward his only option left: getting over the garden wall somehow.

Down the long back wall, a manicured tree raised limbs like green cloud puffs up and over the edge. It was close enough that if he climbed it, he could jump. He only hoped the delicate tree would hold him.

Naruto scrambled up the tree as the man huffed through the bushes behind him. Halfway up, the limbs started to creak, and when he stepped out onto top branch it cracked ominously under his unsteady feet. He eased back and gripped the trunk, but he was still too far from the wall.

The leader waved to the other men. “Go around! Go around!” Then he approached the tree to climb up after Naruto.

He had a mean grin, like he knew there was no way out but down. And Naruto had a sinking feeling he might be right.

He gulped a last breath, shoved off from the trunk and took a running leap. Pushing hard, the branch snapped under Naruto’s feet, and he flailed ungracefully at the wall, praying in that split-second that his forward momentum was enough. The branch flung back and hit the guy in the face, knocking him out of the tree too.

Naruto hit the wall with an ‘oomph.’ His fingertips were just high enough to scrape over the top of the ledge and grab hold.

Gasping to get air back into his lungs, Naruto pulled hard, toed his way up the wall and threw himself over. He hit the ground hard on the other side and found himself in the middle of a dark lane. It was no more than a long stone corridor broken only by the occasional locked door leading to another clan compound, another hidden garden. There was no where to hide.

The two men exploded out of the nearest door. “There he is!” They tore down the pavement toward Naruto, who, still heaving from the wall, pushed himself off the ground and ran like his life depended on it. He didn’t know where he was going or even how he’d get out of there. He just knew he had to keep running and hope he didn’t hit a dead end.

The men proved to be smarter than he anticipated. They stayed together, following Naruto down the twists and turns of Old Konoha’s narrow lanes. But at some point they split off. Naruto’s heart almost stopped when he glanced back and saw only one guy.

That meant they’d made a plan. They’re better knowledge of the streets meant one of them could head him off. Now he watched ahead and behind—

Sure enough, just when the walled alley opened up onto a broad avenue lined with shops and doors and places to hide and Naruto thought he’d finally made it, the other guy came barreling around the corner. His arms were stretched out and his massive palms were ready to grab Naruto.

Naruto lunged sideways, missing by scant inches the hand that grasped for his neck, and stumbled over a curb. The two men were back on him, closer than ever. He turned onto the lane and ran down the crowded sidewalk, something he would never have done if he wasn’t desperate. All it would take would be one police officer, one security guard, one shop owner reporting a ruckus, and it was all over.

Just ahead of him, an old man was wheeling in his outdoor cart before locking up his shop for the night. Naruto felt a little guilty, but this was what he was looking for.

Running, he dodged it, but shoved hard as he went past, causing it to teeter and fall over, spilling the old man’s produce all over the sidewalk.

“Hey! You can’t— Come back here!!”

It slowed the two men by just a hair. But it was enough. Naruto was able to duck into the darkness of an alley two blocks down and lose the panting men. Then slipped out through the fading red gates of Old Konoha and into the tangled mess of Konoha’s modern streets. Threading between the towering apartment buildings and disappearing into a crowd on the sidewalk, Naruto knew he was safe. They’d never find him out here.

He breathed in deeply and walked slower, still keeping to the shadows and shortcuts he knew well, but finally letting himself relax.

He sunk his hand into the pocket of his hoodie. A brilliant grin broke out on his face. The piece was still there. He’d done it.

He felt light, like his feet were lifting off the ground with each step. This had to be one of the best lifts of his career. Not the easiest, not by a long-shot, because he’d worked so hard for it. But it had to be the luckiest, at least. Stealing it, then stealing it again, outwitting the big guy, then outrunning his buddies….

Another smile touched his lips at the thought of retelling this adventure at the club. He ought to head over there right now, even though he was early—

But skirting the crowded stalls of the night market, a waft of cooking food hit him. His stomach growled. His smile widened

There was enough time for a little celebration before he turned the piece in.

And he knew just where to go….