Reid Hollister tapped his wife’s freckled shoulder. “Are you going to eat that last pistachio?”
“The one on the floor there.”
“With the dustball on it? No, it’s all yours, sweet one.”
Nimbly he somersaulted past the couch where his wife sat and scooped up the castaway nut. He shelled and ate it with a cheery smile.
“You’re having the nicest typhoon ever, aren’t you?”
Reid crabwalked over and kissed Rebecca’s ankle. She flicked his ruddy face with her toes.
“I am, as a matter of fact. I hope everyone else is, too.”
Hidari and Glen parked before Reiko’s apartment and slid off the bike in tandem. The woman’s arm throbbed where the private had slashed her. She made no comment. He lurched toward the building, ignorant of the entrance, then had to wait, irately, for Hidari to catch up and lead him inside.
“I have only visited here once,” she said. Her eyes betrayed no sorrow, nor hatred, nor even fatigue. Only black glass in her head.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Glen. “This storm, this is bullshit. It’s not going to work.”
“Why do you not return to your base? You know you will not be prosecuted harshly for whatever you have done. It is the way things are.”
“No, fuck that, it’s different. I know how command thinks. I don’t want them to know.”
“Enough to go to Taiwan?”
Hidari glanced up at her captor, mouth relaxed in a blue, unassuming line. This balding man in her old coat, in shorts meant for an Okinawan teenager. Thighs pale and shaking in the rain. He belonged in Yoshiwara—the ancient red light district—in such an outfit. Pleasing a tycoon with exotic taste.
The senseless nature of Glen’s plan was apparent even to him, at this late stage, yet Kumiko had interred strange fears in the man’s heart. He saw the Air Force Base, where he should, in all sense, seek refuge, as a marker impossible to cross, a trap to mangle his true shot at escape. There was no salvation in the Army’s fold. He was a Marine, at heart, never meant to defend the black and gold, but even Marines couldn’t change him now. A blood betrayer. In Taiwan, in the unlikely event he made it, he’d either be picked up by customs at once and sent back, or, if he sought political asylum, imprisoned for an indeterminate length of time.
“Life is an empty fucking shell,” he said.
“And we love each other anyway,” said Hidari, hands shaking but her voice calm with belief.
There were no police; Hidari ran through the possibilities. Reiko didn’t receive the communication (an SMS while driving Tatsuo’s van, a lady’s sly subterfuge); Reiko thought it was a joke, or not worth her time; the police hadn’t responded; the police had come and gone.
Up the stairs, now, to 304. Grinding of wind against the outer hull of the building. A light in the hall flickered once, a glitch, warning of the boundaries of objects. Glen grabbed Hidari’s arm, the one without wounds.
“Her name’s Reiko, her father operates a ferry to Taipei. You’ll pay him.”
“This is my plan, lady, not yours. And don’t forget, you only speak English.”
Glen gazed into the door’s worn woodgrain as though in preparation for a funeral. His body surrendered itself to a game it thought it had already lost.
“Hello,” said Hidari, in Japanese, as the door opened. “Don’t indicate with your facial expressions that I’m saying anything but pleasantries. I’ve brought a guest, I hope you don’t mind. Did you receive my message? I’m here with a frightened American who has a knife. He already cut me once, so don’t make any sudden movements. Think of him as a wildcat and we’ll be fine. I’m sorry to drag you into this, by the way. But he’s essentially harmless, I assure you, as long as we humor his conscience.”
Reiko shoved down all her fears and concerns and presented a winning smile to her uninvited guests. She glanced back at Etsu, who had stowed the gun in her purse and smoothed down the wilder licks of her hair.
“Welcome,” said Etsu, waving. “Sorry for the mess.”
Glen crept into the den, hackles up, fighting the urge to wick rain from his bald spot. He sniffed the air. Doors on either side, a kitchen ahead. He peeked into the bathroom and bedroom with his right hand hovering near his chest, casting uneasy glances toward Hidari. The young women locked their full-toothed smiles in place. A scream echoed inside the private’s empty stomach.
“We’re speaking English.”
“Of course,” said Reiko. “Mine is not good, I’m afraid.”
“Glen.” He jabbed a thumb at his haggard face.
They settled around the dining table, beers opened or waiting, softened by the golden light from the overhead fixture. The rain hit the window in sidewinding bursts.
“Our friend here has an emergency and needs to leave the island. I know this is sudden, but we were wondering if your father might be able to assist us. Before you say anything, I am aware of the danger of setting out in a typhoon, so perhaps he could merely direct us to a boat we can use.”
Reiko absorbed the petition with a big, false smile for the American. White men loved a simpering Asian lady, especially if she was trapped in a position of lesser power. Behind her water dripped from the tap and pinged against the metal sink.
“It is an odd request, but I will ask. I do not think Father will be operating now.”
“Does your dad speak English?” said Glen.
Reiko switched her eyes over to the American; his snub nose, his puffy lip. Blue eyes only seen in soldiers. She memorized his face. Peace activist Hidari Wasyama’s account of a harrowing hostage situation at the hands of a US solider known only as “Glen.” The man was short, burly in an unassuming way, with a face that called to mind both infants and retirees. He was a man who appeared to lack all sense of a middle ground, both physiologically and mentally. Further evidence for the extreme measures America thinks it needs to achieve its goals.
“He does not.”
Glen chugged his beer and motioned for another. He took off the woman’s jacket and draped it on his chair, stretching his chest against the overtight t-shirt. Bangkok, Thailand Marathon, 2009. With a pout he cracked the new can, threw his head back, and drank until the drops stopped hitting his lips. “I know the word for police in Japanese. And soldier. If I hear you say either of those, we’ll have a problem. I’m just going to lay this on the table right now. I’m ditching the military. Running away, so I’m asking for your help. If you say no, I’ll leave. I know you’re going to phone the police either way when I’m gone, and I can’t stop that. My best bet is to make it to Taiwan and hope they don’t give a shit I left the Army. If they have, that’s all she wrote, unless I convince them to keep me.
“I’m a dangerous motherfucking person, so don’t fuck with me, and since I assume Hidari told you, even though I specifically said otherwise, I have a knife on me, and I already cut Hidari with it, although I’m sorry for that.” He looked at Hidari, the hardness behind his eyes breaking up. “I apologize for what I did. I don’t expect you to forgive me, though. It’s just a fucked-up situation, so at this stage I’ll do what I have to in order to leave. Understood?” He lowered his eyebrows and panned around the table, devoid of rage, exhausted, merely acting out his apportioned role.
“I will not put my father in danger for you,” said Reiko. “But he has an old boat, a personal one. Maybe you can use this. No promises. He is…he may say no.”
“That works. We can—”
Knock at the door.
“That’s Professor Tamashi and his wife,” Etsu whispered in Japanese.
“Answer the door,” said Reiko.
“English, please, shit. You women aren’t listening to me.”
“Sorry.” Reiko beamed, a smile to cast at a head editor or politician. “We have company.”
“Tell them to leave.”
“I’m afraid we cannot do that, sir. It is very important.”
Glen widened his eyes, scoffed, and pulled roughly at his shirt collar. He held out his hands, indicating the man between them. “Does this not seem important? Right now, what I’m doing? This situation. They can fucking wait.”
Etsu rose to get the door. She had not understood most of what Glen said, but she knew it was safer to fetch the gun. Casually she hefted her purse onto her shoulder and squinted through the peephole.
“Dr. Tamashi, hello,” she said through the space allowed by the doorchain.
“Good afternoon, Etsu. May we come in? I’m afraid I have some distressing news.”
The couple stood sodden and drained on the doormat. For all Etsu’s woes, her heart broke for the two adults, the way they looked, clinging to each other like stranded sailors.
“There is a problem right now with the—”
Glen pulled her away and slammed the door.
“Let’s sit down,” he said.
Haruki knocked twice, loudly.
“Etsu? Where did you go?”
With the American’s hand still wrapped around her arm, Etsu reached in her purse and brandished the Type 94. Glen froze, then pulled the knife from his coat pocket.
“Stop,” said Etsu in English. She hardened her face and imagined blood spouting from a hole in Glen’s chest. His torso heaving, feet pounding the floor. An American. She could do it.
“Jesus, I knew I shouldn’t have come here. Put that thing down, it’s older than both of us put together. It might backfire and kill you for all we know.”
He extended a hand, balancing his weight away from the injured leg, his anger bitten back because he couldn’t hide. No progress. They stood enclosed in their stress, with the kitchen a thousand miles away, and felt the sweat drip down their necks. The light faded. The apartment crumpled to a point and vanished.
“My name is Glen. I don’t want to hurt you. Put down the gun now.”
“Okay, you got it, I’m dropping it. Now I can tell you don’t know how to use that weapon. I don’t want you to hurt yourself or me, can you understand me? Hidari, tell her to put down the gun.”
“Shoot him if you can, sweetheart,” said Hidari in Okinawan. “Not to kill, though; I’m still a pacifist. Maybe just the foot.”
The front door opened against its chain, exposing a sliver of Haruki’s face. “Are you in there? Etsu? Oh—” He backed away from the standoff, down the hall, pulling his wife after him. “There’s a man in there with a knife—an American. And Etsu has a gun!”
“An American? Let me talk to him.”
“No, no, we will let this take its course. I would call the police, if we could afford to do so, but we cannot. We must wait.”
Dana tapped her foot, strained her ear to listen. She wanted no drama, only a fuzzy, interminable sleep that could wash away the pain of this year. Yet drama had presented itself. She was aching and confused and faced with a lopsided choice.
“Put the gun down,” Glen said again. He checked the weapon to see if the safety catch was on, which it was. With a cry he lunged diagonally, accepting the pain that flooded his foot and calf and thigh, and seized Etsu’s wrist with one hand while grabbing the gunbarrel with the other. He rolled the pistol into her thumb so that it faced her own chest, then rolled the handle into her thumb to break it free of her grip. Glen swung the weapon into Etsu’s skull, which made a heavy thump, then flipped the safety and aimed at her face.
“That was stupid,” he said. His chest leapt up and down, more from the leg pain than the struggle. From the coffee table Yoshio’s bobble-head figure watched him, monitoring his crime like its partner had in the van. Upon seeing it, Glen felt the lust in his brain flare like embers and die. He went slack, collapsed in a fetal ball next to Etsu. His eyes rolled up into his head and vomit streamed from him, over his shirt and shorts, past the unconscious student, dribbling toward the couch and television.
“What the fuck?” said Reiko.
Dana pressed her eye to the door and wrenched the knob sideways, shaking the frame. “Open this now, those people need medical attention.” Once inside she slung her bag from her shoulder and knelt to tend the injured parties. “I don’t know why I expected things to be easier from here on.”
Reiko shook her friend by the shoulders until Dana, with supportive phrases and nods, ushered her away. The American was no medical doctor, but she knew more than reporters (she felt like a reporter again now) when it came to physical wounds. Reiko switched the electric kettle on and scrubbed the sink, again, to banish the wet smell of vomit. Although what was the use? A fresh puddle sat in her living room. She dropped the sponge, choosing to grumble instead, and set the Type 94, safety re-armed, on the kitchen table, within reach of Hidari.
“Did anyone call an ambulance?”
“I had planned to phone the authorities,” said Haruki, easing onto a kitchen chair, “but there seems to be some confusion about my legal status. If it’s not an emergency, would you excuse my rudeness and wait? Dana has some medical training, she’ll make sure everyone’s healthy.”
“Legal status, sir?”
“My friend called to say the military are looking for us. For questioning. Our plan had been—Dana’s and mine—to hide on base from this yakuza thug who had taken her hostage, but when I got wind of the alert, I called Etsu. I figured this might be the same thug who killed her cat. I was frightened, I didn’t know the right course of action, but I didn’t want Dana in jail after what she’s just been through. She was asleep during most of this, she’s exhausted.”
Haruki told her precious little about Glen, but he knew beyond all doubt that Yoshio was a lunatic, a murderer, everything Etsu had warned about. That Dana survived was a miracle. Reiko filled a page in her notebook, plying Haruki with tea. Break a case, gain fame, head to Asahi Shimbun. A simple path. And Jin to set the journey to music, if he would respond to her damn emails.
With a kit from the bathroom, Dana wrapped Etsu’s wrist and applied a cold compress to her head. She stared at the young woman with a paralyzing clench of loss and shame.
Glen she recognized while wiping the drool from his mouth with a towel. She checked his vitals and propped him up against the sofa with his head reclined against the cushion.
“This man came in with me,” said Hidari. “He is an American, someone who has committed a crime. I do not know what. He wants to escape to Taiwan.”
Dana dusted her hands and stood frowning at the soldier’s bald spot. Her knotty, damp hair slapped her shoulders as she paced the length of the living room. “I know this man. His name is Glen Margery, he works at Heiwa Air Force Base.”
“He entered my backyard, at night, I caught him. He was hurt and I chose to care for him, though I suspected he had committed some crime. Against Okinawa. Eventually he forced me to drive here, so I am afraid that I am the cause of this unpleasant situation.”
“It is not your fault that he coerced you into something you didn’t want to do.”
“I sent Reiko an SMS to inform the police, but they were not here when I came.”
The journalist ground her hip into the counter and combatted the instinct to squeeze her chin. Her arms were folded in a figure-eight just beneath her chest, as if to ward off any threats that might aim for her heart, or at least deflect them with arm bones. “They came and left. I didn’t understand much from your message, I couldn’t keep them here with a typhoon going on. We can call them again, of course.”
“No.” This from Hidari, emphatic. “I must figure everything first. There is the gun, and the fight, and your arrival, Mrs. Tamashi. By the way, I ask you to restrain Mr. Margery. He is dangerous.”
Reiko fetched a pair of handcuffs from her room and cinched Glen’s hands behind his back. “I just had these, you know. Need to be…prepared. For stuff.”
Hidari spared her the inquiry. Stay away from caves. Sho Norito spitting at the aji’s feet. Dana signaled to get her attention.
“Ms. Wasayama, may I speak with you for a moment? About your home.”
“Yes, of course.”
Reiko stole back to the bedroom to mind Etsu, who slept without snoring or twisting; only the slight rise of her chest confirmed she was alive. Even her pulse seemed faint. The one she protected, mothered in the hard way Etsu’s own mother couldn’t handle. Reiko had asked for nothing in return. She didn’t ask anyone for help. Only Jin, who was gone, who was leading her on.
Stop. He’d be here.
“That was brave, lady.”
Reiko drew the covers over her feet, pressing Etsu’s warmth to her curled thigh. Two ladies stressing their youth away. She heard sobs coming from the kitchen; an old woman’s grief released into the walls. Not her place to intervene. She checked her voicemail to block the sound.
“It’s your mother. Your father’s got drunk again, left me alone at this damn hotel. Stupid to even come out here in this weather, but you know him: take me back, take me back, oh, boo hoo. Men shouldn’t pretend to have spines. He’ll be off at his boat, then, blowing through his stash. He doesn’t care about a storm. He never cared. You know they spit on drunks in China. He’s lucky I only kicked him. You could come pick me up, do your mother a favor for once. Unless I find a taxi dumb enough to be out here. God, is this thing even on?”
Not even a clear command to follow. Just venting into her daughter’s head, then. Reiko set the phone on the envelope containing Wasayama’s article. Obligation to read that, especially with her here and all, but…
She flipped open the laptop, saw the waiting message.
My dear Reiko,
This weather is unbelievable! I’m in a hotel near Kokusai-dori, in Naha. My plane was the last one to get in the city before they shut down the airport. I can’t tell you what kinds of nightmares I’ve been through just to get settled. Suffice it to say I spent the night in a cave. Sorry for keeping you waiting so long—you must have figured I’d bailed, huh? Sincere apologies. You are more than welcome to slap me upon our first meeting, although I would definitely not say no to an embrace, too (you also figured I’d substitute something else for an embrace, right?). I love you. When can we meet? I don’t have a car, unfortunately, and I don’t see too many cabs rolling around in the typhoon, but just let me know how I can reach you. I’ll go on foot if necessary (I’ll be a hero, I know it’s dumb, isn’t that what romance is all about?) I know you’re well within your rights to keep me waiting, but please reconsider! I brought you a gift and everything.
P.S. I adore you. My number is 090-0401-1945. SMS only—it’ll be worth it to hear our voices for the first time in person.
Reiko sent the following message:
My place is a madhouse. I’ll come to you. Where are you staying?
She waited. Within thirty seconds her phone shook and chirped.
Room 203. The Henka Hotel.