Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 30

With a spasm more powerful than any reflex she had yet known, Etsu expelled her thankfully light lunch—soba noodles—into the kitchen sink. A small surprise; she prepped to leave, flinging Reiko’s property into a knockoff Prada suitcase, then lost control when a cat flit over the neighboring roof. She sought a lesson in the yellow mess, some glimmer of a next step, but her normally-robust powers of interpretation failed her.

“I think this beer made me sick.”

“Nonsense, it’s—shit, is that all from you?”

Reiko stood with her jaw hanging and a camisole crushed in her fist. She bottled the frustration that had built up over the last two days, grappling the need to demean her chin in the bathroom mirror. She needed Jin.

“I don’t get any of this. They come to me, they bypass the chief editor. You vomit. I just want to get drunk and watch South Park. Is that so much to ask?”

“Maybe the chief editor’s dead,” said Etsu, wiping her mouth.

“Don’t put those ideas in my head. If someone wants something in the paper, they go to the top, presumably. Or is it easier to apply pressure on someone below them? They think I’m weak because I’m a lady? Or I’m special somehow?”

“You have a personal relationship with Ms. Wasayama.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can get a story in the paper.”

“True. Do you have any antacids?”

“Shit, I’ll get some…plus a towel.”

Reiko cleaned up her friend, punctured a beer, and downed it in one swallow. Her belch echoed off the walls; no need for politeness at this stage.

“I thought you were driving?”

“Fuck it, you know. Where are we running to? We’re going to hide in a hotel? Now? I’ll just wait out whatever comes.”

“What about your parents?”

“They’re in a damn love hotel. I guess the divorce couldn’t keep them apart. I told them just stay there. No discussion, please.”

Etsu passed a thoughtful interval on the couch. Her own parents were never meant to come together again. They’d joined up, popped her out, split off for different horizons. Ensign Harriman had made all these choices unilaterally, of course.

She twisted an imaginary pen and said, “I’m not going to sit here and wait for someone else to stomp on my life. Tupac, you know, wouldn’t.” She cast her eyes to the floor, to the well-swept tiles, as if ashamed at invoking the rapper’s name.

“Well, next person who tries to stomp on anything in this apartment will learn what a World War II handgun looks like.”

Reiko winked. Etsu shook her head, but failed to repress a smile.

“So maybe let’s figure out why they came here,” said Reiko. “Since we’re stuck in a typhoon.”

“To make you print that article. Right?”

“Sure, but why me? I don’t know Wasayama well. Kuroji’s the head editor, go to him.”

“Maybe they couldn’t find him.”

“He’s always at work. They’d just go to the office.”

“Maybe he said no.”

“Either way, you don’t threaten journalists. People do it, obviously, but it’s moronic. They must want me to know about Wasayama. Two crooks delivering the article gets the message across. They want to destroy her reputation, or at least cause a furor over it. Something going to happen?”

“That man, who killed my cat—he said he was going to kill her. Wasayama.”


“He said he was paid to kill her, by the yakuza. He’s some assassin for them. I thought he was just being weird, until I found Lucy.”

“But you told the police—”

“They said don’t mention it to people. But now, I mean—”

“Well that’s pretty fucking important information, don’t you think?”

Etsu joined her hands and nodded over and over. “I know, I’m sorry, I was afraid to go against police orders.”

“Afraid to—excuse me, Etsu, but you went against a fucking hitman’s orders. The police aren’t going to care.”

Puffing out her cheeks, uncomfortable: “It’s the rules.”

“The rules let plenty of evil crud happen on a daily basis. This is pertinent whatnot in an ongoing criminal case. Give me paper. I'll repressurize our brains, figure this shit out.”

From a great pile of items on the coffee table, Etsu unearthed a red spiral notebook with RESEARCH hastily scrawled in kanji on the cover. She opened to find writing under, over, and beside the ruled lines, the frenetic spew of Reiko’s inner detective.

“How can you read this? I separate by date, subject, color. Without organization—”

“Stop being a student. This is the stuff that makes up cases, the raw dough, and I’m going to leaven the hell out of this. Setting equals Naha, Category-4 typhoon. Okinawan mafia put pressure on junior editor, Politics Section, Ryukyu Standard. Tokyo yakuza pay hitman to kill Okinawan peace activist. Hitman threatens local student, invades her home, kills her cat. Hitman talks to local mafia. They’re helping him. Why? Money. Wasayama stirs up trouble for Japan over the base issue, not to mention the whole 20th century. She works with sexual violence groups, she’s a certified counselor, I think. She wrote books about it. She’s bad for the local mob, tries to unionize prostitutes. Lot of conservatives in the yakuza, I doubt they’re crazy about the anti-base stuff, rallying against yamato and 'Japanese greatness.' Is that enough to kill her?”

Etsu blinked and yawned. The unclean room spun around her.

“Are you listening to me, even?”

“I feel strange. Throwing up emptied me out; my nerves are shot. But I’m listening. Yakuza conspiring to kill Wasayama because of her peace mission.” A gunman in a blue suit rolled up to Biggie Smalls’ Suburban and shot him four times in Los Angeles. An armed assassin slew Jam Master Jay in his Jamaica, Queens recording studio. Etsu knew what happened to folks who spoke up.

“Right, except the yakuza don’t do things like this. They don’t just assassinate people out of the blue, apropos of nothing. They blackmail and extort, they use their web of influence. Like what they did to us, although I’m concerned about their motives for coming to a newspaper employee. The other day Wasayama told me about a petition she’d started for Okinawan independence. Maybe that? But everyone knows it won’t work. Shit, they can’t even move Marines out of Furusato. Is the negative Japanese publicity enough reason to kill her? No, why do it now? There must be a personal reason.”

“To kill Wasayama?”

“Right. It doesn’t make sense from a business perspective. All this money, all this effort. They could just spread rumors at home, on the Internet, using some journalist they already own. Why me? What’s special about me?”

“Well, you’re very pretty,” said Etsu, resting her cheek against the table. Her eyes fluttered and closed.

“Not pertinent. And stop with that, I don’t like the compliments. I’m half-Chinese, there’s that, right off the bat. My mother’s a foreigner. The yakuza works with the Chinese triads in some capacity, smuggling people and products. My family has no triad ties, unless my mom is a good liar—which, granted, she is. I write articles on politics and edit the section for the newspaper. I meet with local politicians and in some small degree influence public opinion on them. I meet with representatives from American bases occasionally, although usually they just issue statements.”

“Maybe they saw your picture and just liked you. Random chance.”

“Ah, maybe, but there’s no random chance for a journalist.”

They looked at each other before Etsu could say, “Junior editor.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Reiko.

Etsu puffed out her cheeks and rubbed the middle of her forehead with a thumb, as if to soothe herself from clawing ideas. “You’re a good person at heart, at least.”

“Compliments. No, no, last warning. Otherwise I start slapping.” Reiko grinned, self-effacing and sleepy. “I’m going to check my mail.”

Etsu leaned back in her seat. She folded her arms, grateful for the respite.

Reiko studied the Type 94 pistol as her laptop booted up. Old technology, new. Both weird and binding and all the time crushing civilization into different shapes. Absently she brushed the lines of her lips.

No response from online lover Jin. Okay, the typhoon screwed things up. He was busy (but no, he was on vacation, he was here just for her). He was in danger (possibly). He didn’t want to meet her, he’d been faking the whole time (this couldn’t be true, it was too painful, she blocked it).

She opened her last message to him. Address, phone number, dope picture. Maybe his plane had been canceled. She re-checked his flight out of Haneda and Narita airport; everything had been grounded a day before Ayara made landfall, but his had landed. A pit burrowed through her stomach, drained away her resolve. She fled to the fridge and scurried to the couch with an Orion.

The shrill of a phone filled the room.

“Etsu, that’s you.”

Gloomily, the student stomped over and picked up. Her expression shifted from unease to confusion to outright surprise. All she said was, “Of course. Yes. I’ll SMS the address.” She turned to her friend. “That was my professor.”

“Asking about your paper?” Reiko felt the joke falling flat as it emerged.

Etsu stared at her phone, then at the light through the window behind her friend. “He thinks his wife met the guy who killed my cat.”

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