Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 14

Mushing his illustrious potbelly, Maruka wedged another pickled plum into his cheek. On his lip he balanced a Chinese cigarette built chiefly of ash, while senshin music spooled through the radio to praise the wind rushing past the open door. Old Hyundais and three-speeds motored down Kokusai-dori, where hung the shimmering gaslights that drive us to new and reduced-price delusion.

“Hello, baby.”

Maruka’s bodyguards flanked the newcomer: some flashy joker in a powder blue suit. The swollen Okinawan businessman snatched a plum and held it to his teeth, as if weighing the fate of a newborn planet.

“I am too fat to be a baby,” he said.

“Oh, don’t give me that; you’re as fetal as they come. What’s with the bodyguards? They look like they just watched Grave of the Fireflies. Don’t worry, no one’s getting bombed. I’ll buy you all a shot, okay? Sake, please. The primo variant.”

Maruka waved a pancake hand. “No sake.”

“It’s a weekday, sure, I understand. Let’s be sober. Friendly. We’re friends, huh? Play games on the beach like in Sonatine?”

“Get this capuchin weirdo out of here.”

Yoshio set his feet shoulder-width apart and waved to the whole room. “Kobo, right? And Yasu? I read your files. They’re short.”

“Come on, asshole,” said Kobo.

“You must leave this establishment,” said Yasu.

“Whoa, it’s like one of you is polite and the other is a tough guy. Are you like that when you order in restaurants? ‘Taco rice, goddamnit.’ ‘A5 wagu beef and a nice malbec, my good gentlewaiter.’”

“Mr. Maruka is quite busy,” said Yasu.

“Eat a fucking sand dollar,” said Kobo.

“I feel like you guys just cancel each other out, you know?”

“Don’t razor him yet, you dummies. Okay Tokyo, I’ll give you five minutes, what do you want? Speak up now.” Maruka jammed a plum into his cheek. Sweet purple juice dribbled from his chin and darkened the napkin tucked into his collar.

“Don’t pretend you’re ignorant.”

“I know you’re a tacky cloud of gas in my mineshaft, and that I don’t want any trouble from the Kintsugi-kai. But you like to stir things up, no matter what consequences they cause. I wonder how great the shame is that you bring to your family.”

“Well, I don’t sell child pornography, so I can’t confess to feel all that shameful.”

Maruka scoffed, then tapped his silver rings on the table and rubbed a double chin that was spiky with short growth. First impression of the man: eggplant with fuzz on top.

“Don’t play funny with me, dipshit. I was born stealing and selling and I started before your parents pitched you into the gutter. My mother used to hit me with a broom when she caught me hustling cigarettes; my father didn’t say anything because he was dead in a turtle-shell grave. I graffiti’d the grave. Oh boo-hoo Maruka. Isn’t that right? No. No, no, because I did what I needed to survive. It’s what I do now, and what you do, I would imagine. Your organization sells the same products we sell, whether it’s Chinese toys or alcohol or kiddie smut, so don’t get on your crippled high horse in front of me. I’ll saw off your cock with a straight razor and feed it to my cats. Let them bat it around and lose interest, like one of the hideous women you’ve been fortunate enough to drug and defile with whatever you have behind that two-bit fly. Now don’t give me your uptown shit; talk to me straight, and quickly for God’s sake.”

Yoshio tapped his sharkskin shoe on the floor in some complicated pattern only he could decipher, and ground his palms together.

“I’m killing Wasayama.”

“The activist?”

“No, the mining property in Nicaragua. I know you know, so we’re all up to speed. Let’s drink, yes? I brought awamori.” Kobo showed a pistol as Yoshio went for his pocket. He met the hardness behind the bodyguard’s eyes without malice or distaste, but it didn’t matter since Yoshio was wearing sunglasses.

“It was a book first,” said Yasu. “Grave of the Fireflies.”

“Shut the fuck up!” Maruka shoved aside his plate, turned his full attention on Yoshio. The corner of his mouth flicked down in a tic of revulsion. “Hidari Wasayama is a national treasure.”

“I would say prefectural treasure.”

“I would say you are killing someone who is good for business. The more controversy we have here, the better. More media, more tourists, more sales. I’ve come to rely on her as a figure of doomed transformation; she will die fighting the pit that Okinawa has become.”

Yoshio tightened his jaws until his teeth felt they would splinter. He felt an itch crawl down his spine and wrap around his buttocks, but Kobo and Yasu’s eyes warned against movement in general, so he held off scratching. “We’re all part of the pit,” he said.

“Thanks for your philosophy, Hotei, but most of us just die without reaching beyond the next dumpling plate.”

“Wow, profound.”

“Don’t take that tone of voice with me! I don’t care who you are, I’ll cut you up and drop you into the ocean with a colostomy bag around your head. I’ll force an umbrella up your ass and pop it open, then feed you laxatives from a gallon bottle.”

Yoshio whistled a broken arpeggio. “Your depictions of torture are wonderfully graphic, Maruka, but don’t lecture me. I’ve been feeling squirrelly ever since I got here.”

“As long as you know I’m not above cutting out your intestines for a New Year kadomatsu to make me feel better.”

Kobo stifled a laugh.

“Shut the fuck up,” said Maruka.

“Sorry, sir.”

Yasu smiled, so only Yoshio could see. This soft-spoken man with the circular eyewear once burned his name into a man’s back with scented candles. His wife and two kids thought he was an insurance salesman.

“Do you know a flatworm named Juzo?”

“No.”

“He’s a pimp’s bodyguard.”

“I’m supposed to know pimps? I don’t know them. Yasu, do you know them?”

“Do I know Juzo, sir? No.”

“I know him,” said Kobo.

“This is helpful.”

“What do you want him for? He owes you money? You cripple one of his livestock?”

“I’m just looking for the man.”

Maruka stroked his chin. He ate another plum with obvious enjoyment. Closed eyes, flared nose, shivering cheeks. The radio went to commercials.

“The more important question being: what am I looking for?”

Yoshio swiveled his head back and forth, from Yasu to Kobo to the big man before him. Slowly he raised an eyebrow into a bell-curve. “Like, money, or…?”

Maruka laughed, then snapped his wrist at the waiter to fetch awamori. He placed a finger on his lips before thrusting it in front of him, a pudgy dagger fixed straight at Yoshio’s heart. Then he seized one of an infinite supply of plums and shoved it far back into his ample cheek. Purple vinegar fizzed on his lips. “You know, you’re not the dumbest person I've ever met; you should swing over to my house sometime and kiss my wife.”

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