Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 35

Glen dragged himself through the capital with a blinding headache. Naha looked the same as Okinawa City: poor retailers, white flat-topped houses, bland camouflage for life. No one on the streets, though. He kept himself company with a humming, catlike growl in his throat.

In the hangar, at Heiwa Air Force Base, he’d cultivated no friendships. One of the problem cases. His medals helped, kept too many people from talking, but they kept a wary distance. And the family? They knew him well, even if they got nothing of his inner life. They were happy to keep him away, although Lydia sure loved those child support checks.

Glen vomited in an alley. There was little to cough up, but he wiped the thin stream from his lips with a wet hand. The pressure rolled around his skull, deadened his eyes; it lived in him now, didn’t subside, only brought on waves of fever and numbness. He wondered, dimly, what the hell was happening inside his body.

Lydia used to turn her head from him when he drank, angle her body to present as little of itself as possible. A slip of paper. He blamed her, now, in the darkness of Naha. It was her fault for bearing his kids, taking part in that farce of a union. She wanted him, in the early days, he was sure. She wouldn’t leave him alone.

In the glass of a darkened store he regarded himself like a nightmare creature invading a town. Ratty, matted hair, purple and stiff all over, his face wrenched into patterns of outrage. Woman’s coat and neon shorts. When had he last seen daylight?

The world before Kumiko wavered and shook like dress shirts on the line outside his apartment, in Jersey City. He moved on, closer to the sea, eager to complete his meaningless goal.

Find a boat. The phrase echoed in his head, and he used it to spur himself forward in the storm. More than anything he wanted a warm bed and food. Mac and cheese, perhaps, or fried chicken. At times in Iraq he hadn’t slept for days, shucking back the Red Bulls Joel’s wife would send, running missions in the city at night and guarding the base from the remains of Saddam’s army. On his second deployment he helped with rebuilding, but there were still cars primed into landmines, beardless kids in third-story windows with carbines older than themselves, a thousand shaky talks between language barriers, and of course the familiar old occupied apathy. Being at war compressed the outlines of life, conformed it to tiny routines like check the door, reach the alley, only to spoil the logic with some jarring attack. The rhythm was fucked-up, and it left him shifty and spooked in his bunk, or more often on the dirt.

Glen thought of his kids’ comics. They would have searched his room by now and discovered the copies. They would call and find the van. Kumiko would be forced into the news, dead or alive—he didn’t know, it tore him into pieces, he pushed it back down his belly and prayed the idea would die, even though he stood no chance of fooling himself in this regard.

He reached the docks. Led by nothing but intuition, or panic, he fled, lopsided, toward the unfatherly sea.

Naha’s boats were destroyed. Some had been ripped from their moorings and taken into the unclaimable reaches between here and China. One had smashed several pilings and forced itself into the jetty like a sharp barnacled tumor. Glen needed a key before he could venture on.

The houses along the shore seemed ripe for entry, so he chose the nearest one, entering by the front door. He was too weary to care about laws or angry occupants. He was angry himself, glutted with fatigue, and he would’ve broken any law he hadn’t desecrated already if it would send him to Taipei.

No one inside. Dark. Shadows strewn over front hall and kitchen counter. He looked to either side for a table or stand, but there was none. Past the foyer he found a den, cramped with wooden furniture and a question-mark lamp out of a catalogue. On the wall several rings of keys hung. Boat, boat. He could take them all, risk the theft, but it made no sense. He felt foolish in the room, stranded, hopelessly, from actual power.

In his pocket he caressed the plastic doll he had swiped from Reiko’s place, a bobble-headed ghost to prevent his getting away. Red hair, blue eyes. He felt the jiggling of the thing’s skull and smiled with a narrow joy born of daylight missions in Fallujah, the laceration of gravel as you crunched down an alley open to third-story snipers, every door concealing the offer of a jerry-rigged tripwire bomb. He wished his family were here. Give him a Red Bull, at least.

Outside, the sky ripped apart at the seams. Rain battered the ground at a forty-five-degree angle, boosted by fishtailing winds coming off the shore. A man hopped down the docks with a bottle in his hand and Glen hid on the porch of the house he had lately violated. Okinawan, drunk, one leg. Strange in these circumstances, no doubt. Melancholy sailor.

He watched the man slide over glossy planks. Behind him rust-colored boats heaved on the swells, slid down, then knocked into each other despite the lines secured between them.

Near the gravel apron extending to the dockhouse, the one-legged man sat down and began drinking with the bottle tilted straight up. Glen felt an affinity for this abandoned creature, who so closely mirrored his own predicament, so he staggered towards him.

“Hello,” he called over the wind. Slaps of rain like buckshot whipped the side of his face and neck. The man, who didn’t seem to hear, continued drinking. He smacked his lips, rubbed his belly. It was not until Glen was nearly upon him that the seated man noticed the American’s presence, upon which point he reeled back and held up his free palm in a gesture of submission.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Glen said with a tenderness that surprised himself. “I just need a boat. Do you have keys? To a boat?”

The man swayed in position, waved his hand. He muttered something in Okinawan.

“Do you understand me? Shit.”

The Okinawan drained his liquor and toppled back onto the docks; the bottle rolled away with a high, bright clanking. Glen stood over the man for a long time. He was alone in this mess, left to emptiness, but he was still better off than this drunk. Probably.

He rifled through the man’s pockets for a wallet and keys. From the anchor painted on the keychain he made his deduction. He just hoped the boat was intact.

“Hey, wake up, what’s the name of your ship?” He slapped the man’s cheeks, but the Okinawan didn’t move. Drool collected in the crook of his neck. “Fuck me.”

Glen dragged himself farther along the docks, inspecting each boat for signs of use. Some were damaged, others in the process of sinking. Tough to tell with the wind yanking craft around like bath toys. For such a storm-savvy people, this must be a hell of a typhoon to lose so much property. Not that he cared.

Empty bottles on deck: solid choice. Looked like a twenty-five-footer, dirty white and glazed with green seafoam. More a tourist boat than anything meant for fishing. The stern dipped and swung with the waves, and Glen swallowed a moan before steeling himself. You’re a fucking Marine. As the boat lowered he hurled himself to the deck.

“Sweet Jesus shit.”

He slipped while getting to his feet, slammed his chin on the hard plastic. Blood sprayed over his teeth and mixed with the water. Crawling up again, his body felt hollow, both with fatigue and a speeding dread that transfigured his veins to electrified wires. Get this over with fast.

The engine rumbled so softly under the gale he let out a wobbly laugh. No hope of standing against the whole sky, yet not even the forces of nature can dissuade a stubborn American when he fixes his eye on a marker.

“Oorah,” he said.

With numbing hands Glen untied the craft from the harbor. He looked down the pier at the old man lying on his back in the rain. Human remains, hopefully never seen again. He turned to the controls and water sloshed over the rails into the cockpit. His stomach quavered. The sky darkened and, as if to manufacture some balance, issued a spar of lightning that revealed the frothing, coruscating sea that Glen intended to cross. The sight struck him dumb with disgust.

Glen scanned the gauges and sensors under the intermittent light, grinding his teeth as he fought to bring the boat clear of the dock and a possible fatal beaching.

Hilarious. The notion of what he was doing was direly funny. He couldn’t help the grin that split his face, not even when he heard a tinny whine and turned to see the motorbike he’d stolen on the road to Naha, flying towards him with Hidari Wasayama grimly clutching the handlebars.

Etsu watched from the shore. An old woman ramping a bike into a boat in a typhoon. A peace activist chasing down a US Army soldier and throwing herself into his paltry escape craft. No matter how she phrased it, it didn’t work. It was silly.

She didn’t even call out as the boat disappeared from sight, the motorbike nestled up near the steering wheel, still chugging. She just watched the darkness swallow them up. The world failed to provide explanations, as always. It would all make sense in a paper, much farther down the line, when she would have time to think. If she ever made it back home to see a computer.

Reiko’s car pulled up to the gravel apron. Instinctively, Etsu started toward it, then reared away in terror when Yoshio emerged from the passenger side, tilting his Ray-Bans down to get a look at her face.

“Etsu, my dear—I knew we two cuttlefish were destined to meet again. Isn’t it totally kawaii?”

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