Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 25

In Tatsuo’s van—“Of course you can borrow it; are you sure you don’t want me to go for you?”—they motored through the lull in the storm. Now and then a sharp wind slid into them, bucking the suspension and forcing a growl from the sullen passenger.

“This is a very unfortunate plan,” said Hidari.

“Shut up.”

“I know you are a soldier.”

Glen didn’t answer. He gripped the knife in his lap as if it would do more harm to himself than the old woman. A rain-slick car passed them on the opposite side.

“It is funny how people just go about their business in a typhoon. You all are required to stay indoors, is that right?”

“Don’t talk to me.”

“Very well. You just figure out the next step of your plan.”

“God damn it.”

Her husband Ouya never swore. He was generous, attentive, chiseled like a hero out of childhood myth. Everything a wife could pray for in 1945. She’d borne him a son to carry the name forward, and a daughter as sharp as any scholar. Cue days of sunny repetition. Sweet potato farming, painful at times, but eased by the effort of community.

Everything from the past threatened to crawl up Hidari’s throat and birth itself into the world once more, for another round of tragedy. Her husband and children perished again. Nayu left her for a new, purer direction. But the loss had taught her happiness.

Hidari tensed at the word even as it passed through her mind. Perhaps she knew joy, for it is a momentary state, but peace was denied her. Bitter decades clung like ticks, siphoning all confidence. She greeted the familiar sadness in her heart as she wound the path out of Tsugunai, directionless, unsure even at this stage what the future held. Death waited for her, sure, but she had learned to accept this. Death claimed people of all ages—why should it be scarier at ninety-one? There were toddlers stricken with fever, teenage accidents, middle-age heart attacks that dropped you in the street like a sack of yams. Death was the natural end to the tunnel. You could only hope for a pleasant one, surrounded by friends and family, in a cozy setting. If only Nayu could come back. To listen to her musical laugh would restore color to the world. She recalled the curve of her friend’s shoulder, near the cave that faced Okinawa proper, from where the Imperials had come in a little boat.

“Make a left here,” said Glen.

“That takes us south, in case you are wondering.”

“I know where it takes us.”

She doubted it. The man had committed some crime and only now had resolved to escape it. He was one of a million criminals, scrambling for peace even as he raged against it with his aging breath. Not that Hidari was any different. She had never counted herself among the innocent, and she did not entertain illusions that she was nobler than this hostile American at her side. She had seen knives before.

“You know, whatever you have done, wherever you think you are going, it is okay.”

Phlegm burbled in Glen’s throat. He cursed as the van rumbled over a pothole.

“There is nothing to do,” he said.

“There is always something, Adam.”

“What?”

“Adam Tangerine, was it?”

Glen actually laughed. “Yeah, right.”

Hidari cut around a shrub that the gale tossed in the road. Mabuya, mabuya.

“Your eyes are good.”

“I was just thinking eyes are the first to go. Tatsuo and I mentioned this the other day, it is getting harder to read all the time. For a writer, this is upsetting.”

Glen sighed, as if burdened by this disclosure.

“I won all the sharpshooting trials in basic. Basic training, like when you’re new.”

“I know what this is,” she said, not crossly.

“I guess you see a lot of Americans.”

“I do. They do not see me. I look the same as everyone else.”

“You probably think that about us, huh.”

Hidari’s turn to laugh. “As a matter of fact, I talked about this, too. It is human nature, I suppose. But it is our duty to push beyond. We are not animals.”

“Sure we’re not.”

“This is sarcasm, yes?”

He squinted at her in the darkness, looking for the joke at his expense. For the first time he wondered who he was dealing with.

“Motherfucker.”

“I know that word.”

“You know what it means?”

She spared him a look like he was naked and waving a dildo with his name engraved in akoya pearl. “I know this word.”

“Good. Most important phrase in the English language. Besides ‘extra parmesan.’ ”

“No, most important is ‘hands up.’”

Glen twisted his lips into a half-smile. “What, you get into trouble or something?”

“Soldiers, when they found us after the fight, they would say ‘hands up’. I did not know what they wanted. It was the first thing I learned in English.”

“Mine was motherfucker.”

“Did your mother say this?”

Glen bristled at the insult, then detected the lack of irony or meanness in her words.

“Could give a fuck what my mother said. Just drive.” Ten seconds passed, then: “Where do they do boats to Taiwan?”

Hidari weighed the question with full understanding of the man’s logic. “In this weather, I would say nowhere.”

“But if there was no storm, where would you do that?”

“Taiwan? Cruise ships, sometimes, but ferries are rare because no one uses them.”

“How about the Philippines?”

“No.”

“You know any Chinese people here?”

“I am friends with one woman in Naha, but—”

“Take me there.”

“In this weather, I—”

“Fucking take me there!” He brandished the knife as one might a celery stalk, but the motion still had its effect. Hidari turned around and made south for the capital, scrolling through the ways to buy the world time from this poor boy’s scheme. Impulsive Americans, after all, are massive accidents waiting to happen—and who pays for the damages?

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