At the pale concrete storage shed on Route 58, rain funneled through the corrugated roof, past the windows, to splash up muck on the doorstep. Dana held in her urine but dripped sweat in free streams, her stares bouncing off the captor’s circular glasses. She was bound to a chair with beige polypropylene rope, like her husband. Nearby stood a second, fuzzier criminal to keep tabs, plainly sleepy and eager for a piss of his own.
“I am going to torture the two of you,” said the bespectacled man, in English, hands folded behind his back. “No one is coming to rescue you, or save you. This is my reward, just so you know what is transpiring. Your young Tokyoite conceded you to me in exchange for my services. You see, Kobo here enjoys money, and who doesn’t? I certainly do. But it’s not what gets me out of bed in the morning. Not my passion.
“Kobo loves to buy hookers and awamori, that sort of thing. CDs. He’s quite the music aficionado. Ask him anything you want about rock music and he’ll tell you—in Japanese, of course. He only has a weak grasp of English, which is why he’s staring so vacantly right now. Aren’t you Kobo?”
Kobo said nothing. He stared at a neat pile of shovels in the corner.
Vindicated, the sadist spread his hands like a preacher smiling widely on his congregation. A pipe banged in the hot, vaulted shed. “Forgive me for prattling, but I rarely get the opportunity to practice English, so it is refreshing to exercise this part of my mind. Healthy brains, healthy habits, no?” He winked. “Plus, I enjoy the anticipation almost as much as the actual act. The fear, the pleading. Neither of you look like pleaders—well, maybe Haruki, his hands are more lover’s than fighter’s—but I can see quite clearly that you are afraid. Why? You do not know what is going to happen, and that is beautiful. To me. Our imagination is, by far, the worst part of us, wouldn’t you say?”
“You have lived through terrible pain,” said Dana, pushing for the longshot, although she felt all hollow inside.
The man laughed with his whole concave chest. He clapped his partner’s shoulder and translated. The other man huffed, ran a hand through his messy afro, then spit on the floor.
“You are intelligent, Doctor, so you know this will do nothing for you.” He lit a joint and tasted it with unconcealed relief. “Wonderful. I would invite you to partake, a sort of last cigarette, but I’m afraid I’m rather selfish about my belongings.” He smiled—rotten teeth, black and skewed. “I can see you flinching. I am not handsome, it is true. I have suffered much, I don’t mind telling you; but details, like lives, are unimportant.” Inhale, exhale, dainty cough.
“Now, I realize I jeopardize my yakuza group by engaging in this behavior. You may be aware of a new law which states an oyabun can be charged with a crime committed by someone else within his organization. This is to force the oyabun to rein in his wilder members and protect the citizenry from harm. So as I torture you, I am aware that I am taking a risk—not just for myself, but for my fellow members everywhere on Okinawa. But especially for my oyabun.
“The thing is, I have a deep need to hurt other people. Since there is always a proper outlet for these urges, my oyabun helped me create a checklist for this behavior, to ensure the strictest secrecy. Suffice it to say that when I wish to torture and kill someone, he temporarily revokes my membership to the gang. This way, it is impossible for him to be at fault. He will have documentation, with witnesses, that I am not part of the family. I will be a lone—how do you phrase it?—nutjob.”
The man smiled. The hair on his arms and neck stood on end, as if aroused by his own diatribe. He pulled on his joint and hissed away rooster-tails of fragrant smoke.
“You need help, you have to understand this. Treatment. Even if you kill us, you know it will only deepen your pain. This isn’t going to change anything.”
The psychopath laughed. He blew a smoke ring over the woman’s head, judged it, and asked Kobo for his opinion: not bad.
“Let’s have some music, shall we?”
He pressed a button on the boombox to his right, and Tamotsu Chinen’s “Where You Cannot Walk” flooded the chamber with saxophone and gentle guitar hammer-ons. He slid a pair of nail clippers from his pocket and swayed to the music. Haruki and Dana locked eyes.
“I love you. Whatever happens, I love you, I swear. No matter what I’ve done.”
“We’ll get out,” said Dana. “I know it seems like he’s going to murder us.”
“I love you, all the same.”
“Jesus, I love you too, but what the fuck?”
The yakuza waltzed toward them with the nail clippers. “Let’s start with the feet.” The melody swelled like mourners airing the endless weight of their hearts. For the man in control, the world shrunk to the point of a nail and winked out of sight. He breathed for the first time in weeks.
“Let’s talk about this,” said Dana, her jaw locking. The fresh bruises on her neck throbbed, and she jerked in her chair to test the rope’s tension, but it was impossible to even squirm.
The gangster’s eyes vanished in the glare on his spectacles. “Feel free to talk. In fact, I encourage it.”