Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 24

SAN

A typhoon, above all, is a weapon to bring people together. In the face of it we can only burrow deeper, accept our slot in whatever gutter or penthouse we’ve attained in our painful efforts, and review our little checklists for survival. If nothing else, we can say a prayer. Eat. Have sex.

Araya’s leading edge hit the west side of the island at eighty-three miles per hour, gusts over a hundred and fifteen. Advance columns of clouds ratcheted the stress up to a catch in the heart. Walking outside, one heard dogs hooting and concrete structures settling awkwardly in place. Neon signs blurred and bled across the city in rivers of light: electric green, deigo red, and glossy, frozen amber. Strange static like guitar distortion crackled in nearby ears, as the corrugated roll-top doors of storefronts clanked out of sync in a chorus of isolated voices. And the power lines of Naha flailed like children in strangers’ arms.

The rain swept along Route 58.

Yoshio tooled a green ’69 Charger down mirrored streets, wild with exhilaration, blasting Kyosuke Kusunoki’s “For Our Love” so loudly he couldn’t make out the words. Soggy debris eddied and pooled in each lane.

The trunk thumped and Yoshio sang at the top of his lungs. The trunk thumped again and he cackled into the storm, slewing across multiple lanes with no regard for his own life.

A tawny cat sprinted, wraithlike, through the mist. Without hesitation he swerved to avoid her. Or was it a him? Either way, he began to hydroplane.

Yoshio struck the Toyota’s passenger side and crushed his right tire into strips of black treaded rind. Glass and sheet-metal and plastic crunched once, resoundingly, with no witnesses or toll cameras to ratify the event. The two vehicles spun around 450 degrees in concert before halting against a guardrail.

“Shit,” said Yoshio. Kusunoki continued to yell in harmony with his backup singers.

Dana Tamashi said, “Holy teething Jesus,” her hands still clutching the wheel like she was hanging from it. White cracks covered her windshield, which bulged inward, brokenly, collecting fluid like a cyst. A patina of dust settled around her car as The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” swelled into its chorus, and Dana told herself this was a serious accident. Need a hospital, probably.

Yoshio tried to clamber out of the droptop and slid back down. His left leg didn’t work. In his powder blue jacket was the Sig Sauer full of hollow-point ammunition, and he considered shooting the woman in the rust-brown Toyota without a single question. Here, on the highway was a conspicuous place, but even so.

“Are you okay?” he called in English.

Dana did not answer at once, only turned her head towards him. No tears: a good sign. She looked put together, stable, if shaken by whiplash. She leaned across the passenger seat and rolled down the window with some effort.

“Are you okay?” she said.

“That’s what I asked.”

“I think I am. I haven’t checked really, but I don’t feel any pain. What about you?”

Yoshio prodded his leg. He lurched over the driver’s side door and vomited a thin stream of orange liquid that ebbed away in the rain.

“You don’t look okay. I’ll call an ambulance—”

He brushed food from his lips and waved with an outstretched hand. “I’ll give you fifty thousand yen not to do that.” Why waste hours with pretend normalcy? He was a murderer.

“Excuse me?”

The woman looked taken aback—crumbly eyeshadow around her lids—and leaned back into her seat. She looked at the central panel and at the dashboard and finally at her own creamy hands. Thirty-eight years without even a fender bender.

Yoshio watched the gears turn in her little box; the innocent have such obvious quandaries. He muscled down the riot in his guts and patted his Sig while scanning for interloping cars.

“You’re offering me money.”

He nodded.

“So, what, you’re on the lam?”

“Lamb?”

“Running away.”

He smiled. A twitch in his leg made him grimace.

“You need medical attention.”

Ask Maruka for a doctor; this was the wise move. But impulse, thickly thought to be truth, often rules the day. Doubly so for a triggerman with hollowness problems.

“Do you have first-aid?”

With crimson, acrylic nails Dana drummed her kneecap. She glanced up and down the road and at herself once more to ensure no hemorrhages were on their way out, but of course she had no idea. Her car was still running.

“I have bandages and stuff in the trunk.”

Yoshio turned down the radio. He pulled free his Sig Sauer and took aim through the window with a forced grin (suave, hopefully). A high wind passed between them and shook their coats and the scattered glass around their cars and tugged at some unseen roadsign until it moaned.

“I would’ve gotten it without the gun,” she said. Less fear than the usual pawn, which was promising (weeping tends to prescribe a quick ending).

“I know. I am pressed for time. Remove your key and crawl through your passenger window to me.”

“Do what?”

A note of anger crept in. Yoshio would’ve laughed if he wasn’t starving and in need of a prostitute. He waved briskly with the gun.

“You can fit. Take your key, too. I’ll count to ten.”

Dana switched off the ignition and crawled out. The meat of her arms hurt as she leaned her weight on the car door to squeeze through. Her hair was pulled up in a bun and it snapped forward as her head cleared the window. Yoshio waited. He soaked in the guttering lights of the highway and the hardtop’s cherry finish, and he saw himself; but in Dana he found only the dregs of his ultimatum.

When the psychologist made her way to Yoshio’s passenger seat she crouched on the wet leather. Somehow pop had kept a clean driving record. No drunken crashes, not even a scrape; he cherished his old Volvo 164. Only a thousand near misses that he never remembered, that fell out of his head the moment he flopped onto the mattress, but still shocked his daughter into paranoia. And here was the real feeling. Not quite dissociation. She rubbed her achy wrists, felt along her neck for cuts.

“Thank you. Hand me your cell phone and keys and wallet. Now climb into the seat behind us, walk across, and climb out into the road. Nice hustle. Unlock your trunk and remove the medical equipment. Close the trunk. Now come here and look at this disgusting leg.”

The limb was purple with bruises but not broken. Dana seized a roll of tape and an Ace bandage and made a compress while leaning between Yoshio’s legs. Motivation: a pistol on one side and a penis on the other.

“I’m not a doctor,” she said.

“I’m not a poor shot.”

“If you missed me from here, that would reflect negatively on you, yes.”

Yoshio squinted at the woman. He stroked his mustache with the free hand. He probed a loose tooth the color of turmeric. “I wouldn’t be happy with that.”

“You and me both.”

“Well, you wouldn’t care. You’d be all over the road.”

Dana pulled the bandage tight and sat up. “I don’t know what’s wrong with your leg, but eventually you’re going to need a professional.”

“Thank you for your help.”

Thunder split overhead. Rain spat in their masklike faces.

“Well, let’s go inside. You can be my crutch.”

“Inside where?”

“There’s a supply shed down the road. I have forgotten an important piece of business, though. Help me over to the trunk.”

Yoshio popped the lid and angled his gun at a naked, bound man whose face was shuttered with blood. This was Juzo.

“Holy Christ.”

“I paid a lot of money for this guy. I went through the right channels on this one. Hell, he’s not dead, is he? That would be unfortunate.”

Yoshio prodded him with the gun. Nothing. He chewed his lip and looked out across the guardrail toward the ocean, then turned back to the criminal and whipped him in the ribs with the gunbutt. Juzo groaned and stirred.

“Nice. He’s a tough oyster, I knew a little accident couldn’t stop him. Do you know who this is?”

Dana shook her head.

“This is a pimp’s aide. Is that the right word, aide? Or associate, I suppose. He is a very bad man.”

Dana swallowed, but there was no spit to lubricate her throat. She flexed her hands and realized with a frightening rush of nausea that she could sprint across the highway and try to escape.

“So you abducted him?”

Yoshio shrugged. A thin line of blood fell from his nose and he wiped it onto his knuckles. With the same hand he grabbed Juzo’s cheek and waggled it back and forth until spit dribbled out. Four hundred-thousand yen. Money, as power’s elected representative, lies at the root of what we label fairness. All things considered, it’s a decent arbiter.

“I’m going to need you to move his body,” said Yoshio.

Dana blanched and took a step back from the trunk’s contents. Calmly her captor turned to smile at her, as though to allay unfounded fears about death and violence.

“Ah,” said Juzo with his eyes closed. Dry blood made a carapace around his nose and left cheek.

“I think his shoulder is broken,” said Yoshio.

“He needs to go to the hospital.”

“I agree. You hear that, Juzo? Do you want to go to a hospital?”

Juzo made a dry rasping sound and curled tighter into his fetal position. Yoshio smiled, accidentally settled his weight on his bruised leg, and howled in rage while Dana struggled to hold him up.

“Guess I won’t do that again. Where was I? Oh, yes. I learned a lot about Juzo. He likes climbing mountains and surfing. He owns no books and an unexceptional collection of CDs. He cries if you cut the veins in his feet. He works for Electric Joe, the pimp, who used to be an electrician. Very handy guy, I hear. He knows the whereabouts of a prostitute I recently had sex with, but he does not know her real name. I’m not sure if I have time to see her again, but I left her a message with his phone: dear Izuma, thank you for sending me to beat the shit out of that guy from Tokyo. He is an asshole. I am dead now, so try to be something that is not a prostitute. They have very poor health plans and the customers get to come inside them. My boss’s boss is okay with this (your leaving, not the customers coming inside you, although I guess he doesn’t really care), so don’t worry about someone coming after you. Don’t call or SMS this number, though—I’m dead, remember? But I already told you that. Farewell, little clam.

“Jesus Christ,” said Dana.

“There is no Jesus on Okinawa,” said Yoshio, and shot Juzo in the face. Blood sprayed and pooled in the dark trunk, streaming down the man’s tan skin with great enthusiasm, as if it had been begging to come out. The shell tore his mouth into a carnival grin of tooth-splinters and muscle and tongue. Yoshio slammed the trunk shut.

“That was a good line to say before shooting someone, don’t you agree?”

Dana vomited gray onto the asphalt in front of her. Yoshio patted her back, gently, as a lover might, saying, “There there, that wasn’t so bad; you didn’t even see me torture him.”

To her credit, Dana did not cry, although it would be perfectly acceptable to do so after a murder. In her life she had weathered exceptional distress, and this current incident, while outside her realm of experience, was nonetheless a burden she could bear. However shakily.

“You know, instead of hiding in a supply shed, let’s see if my car works. I’d like to get my job over with, if it’s all the same to you. This leg injury is really ruining my mood.”

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