Dana shrunk from the nail clippers in Yasu’s hand. Haruki yelled at the yakuza to murder him first, to show some decency, but Yasu only rolled his shoulders and chuckled at a dry, nasal pitch, as if he were savoring a Ryu Murakami novel, and seized Dana’s thrashing foot.
“I’ll cut it off if you don’t hold still,” he said.
With exacting care, he clipped all the nails from her foot, leaving an even, smooth curve where before there were bumps and inconsistencies. He hardly breathed as he did this. Haruki moaned, open-mouthed, straining against his cords and rocking the chair as if to break it. He cherished no real hope of escape, but in times of great stress, he knew, adrenaline could make a man do almost anything. In the meantime he mouthed reassuring words to his wife, who watched him with the pained stillness of a cancer patient.
“I love you,” Dana said.
Yasu held a finger to his lips and moved to the next foot. Husband and wife absorbed each other’s cold fear. When the last pinky toe had been shorn, Yasu swept the clippings into a Ziploc bag. “Now you, Tamashi Number Two.”
The professor breathed carefully to keep his skin in place. The gangster relieved him of his ragged toenails, attending to them with the same care he had shown Dana’s, then swept them into the same bag. He held the clippings over his head like a medal.
“Now what?” said Dana. At once she regretted the outburst. Her voice echoed lonely and small in the storage shed, a clue to the black vacuum she would vanish into when she died. She fixed her attention on the radio, hardly aware of the music, only recalling her father’s slow-dance across the living room in his house slippers, dead drunk, to Arthur Alexander’s “Go Home Girl.”
“That’s it,” said Yasu. “You didn’t think I was really going to torture you, did I?” He stowed the bags in his pockets and lit a second joint. “I was having a spot of fun. I’m not sick. You can go. Wake from death and return to life, as they say.”
“What?” was all Haruki could manage.
“In Okinawa we have little cause to mangle and maim. We’re pacifists. One just intimidates and payment is usually offered. I thought it would be amusing to divert myself with your fear. It worked, yes?”
Husband and wife nodded in synchrony. Yasu set about freeing them.
“Good. And I know I don’t need to say that if you tell the police, nothing will happen. That part I wasn’t lying about. Isn’t that right Haruki?”
The professor, unaware he was being addressed, permitted a stream of drool to descend from his lip.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Off you go, then.” Yasu clapped his hands and switched off the radio. Pride twinkled in his eyes. He puffed on the joint. “Either of you poor souls care for a toke?”
The former prisoners craved any means of plastering over their trauma, but they shook their heads. They wanted out. Yasu watched them go, then removed the toenail clippings from his pocket and unzipped his fly. Sweat rolled down his throat.
“Oh, God, finally,” he said.
“Oh, God, finally,” whispered Reiko, mid-coitus. Jin had wanted to wait; prim and proper, with his little whip of moustache. A gentleman. The orchids he’d brought had wilted in the humidity, glaringly out of place among the peeling wallpaper and faded sheets.
Afterwards, she probed the story of his trek from Tokyo, alone, braving the plane and street and sweetly pungent taxi.
“My roommate,” he said, with her curious hand curled over his chest. “He talked me into it. We don’t hang out much—though he’s pretty cool—but he was getting ready to go to Okinawa on business, and he mentioned that I looked shocked, and I confessed I was seeing you. Online. Oh, he laughed at first, but he took it seriously enough. Encouraged me to come here, actually. Practically forced me to buy the ticket. Granted, he doesn’t understand what it’s like…being inside. But when I got here, the airport shut down, and they couldn’t find my luggage, and I had a full-on panic attack.”
“Were you okay?”
“The whole problem is you’re afraid of not being okay, or you’re afraid of the possibility of not being okay, and you start hyperventilating. I hid in the airport bathroom the whole night, with my head between my knees. In total darkness. I’m lucky a janitor didn’t find me. It’s shameful, I know.”
“No, it’s not; not at all. You took care of yourself. And you’re here.”
“Well, it felt awful at the time. I can’t talk to anyone when I’m like that. It has nothing to do with you. I apologize again for the whole trouble. I should be better by now, at my age.”
“Shut up. I’ve known you for two years; I know what I’m expecting. You can’t help this, and I don’t want you to be different.”
“You’re not angry, then?”
She gestured to their nakedness, the tossed covers under the light.
“Well, yes, that. Thank you, Reiko, I…for a while I thought I would just get on the next plane home and say nothing. I almost did, too, but it was that picture of you that made me stay. I realized I wanted to let go. Not that I can just will myself out of my condition, but…it worked out that I’d just finished a song I was making for you, and it seemed so perfectly timed. It would’ve been stupid to turn back.”
“A song? You need to play it for me, just so you know.”
“Yes, of course. Later. I want to hear you, first, listen to you talk.”
“What a charmer. You don’t want to run off and pretend this never happened?”
“Not in the slightest. I wish we could stay here until the universe expands into isolation.”
Reiko inhaled the sweet disinfectant in the air. “I might choose something a little… less rundown. But yes, of course.”
They kissed, and each found solace in the other’s arms, and together they turned from the churning storm without further thought. New love is a beautiful lobster trap.
When Reiko ducked into the restroom, Jin checked his missed, urgent calls. In the spit-dotted mirror Reiko pinched her chin, squinted her eyes to sightlines, and reapplied cover to a blemish. Was this what she’d hoped for?
“Yes,” she said, on the cold black-and-white tiles. Yes, it was perfect. Enough to forego her work duties, her byzantine email list. Enough to block the force of the storm and the men who had invaded her privacy. Deadlines will always menace, and she had a lifetime of correcting grammar ahead of her.
Would they live together? She had a little money saved, she could move, but she needed the position first. She’d write some incisive article about the crisis here, send it over with a bow and a bottle of seventeen-year Nikka to the Asahi Shimbun’s politics editor. Her story was saleable, relevant, highlighting the true dangers of the yakuza. They were not entrepreneurs whose placards you passed in Ginza; they were criminals, breaking the law, without regret or shame.
Her phone rang: head editor.
“Mr. Editor, good evening.”
“I’m quite sorry to bother you on your day off, but we have just been discussing your proposed article. A very moving piece, I must say; perhaps just what we need during a storm like this. Get the people moving! Although safety first, safety first, of course.”
“Of course.” Reiko had no idea what he meant.
“Rizu followed up with the police to confirm the facts. They’re even providing a quote! Perhaps they didn’t feel like stonewalling us today. Too drunk at the station!” They both chuckled, Kuroji with satisfaction, Reiko with politeness. “We must add a section about safety, did I mention that? Just a little bit at the end.”
“Uh, yes, yes of course. That sounds fine, Mr. Editor.”
“Wonderful. Your girl did some fine work; you tell her that, please!”
“Have a pleasant evening, Ms. Shinsato. Stay out of the rain!”
“You too, Mr. Editor.”
Reiko stowed her phone, puzzled. More confusion on holiday. When she was satisfied that her chin avoided the most blatant relation to China, she returned to the bedroom. Jin looked cold, his narrow chest paler than Etsu. He managed a weak smile under his moustache.
“Me? Sure, just missing you. It feels strange in this place, though.”
“Agreed. I’m not sure I’d have picked this décor, but whatever. Are you feeling panicky?”
“I suppose, yes.”
Reiko clamped him to her shoulder. She kissed his ear, his hair, the wrinkle in his forehead. Two years and she loved him like a husband. Life was not all bad, it had its swells and peaks. Savor them, please.
For several minutes they dozed, lost in nebulous thoughts, in that middle stage when unaware of reality or dreams. Stumbling together in their fog.
A man’s heavy footsteps brought them to wakefulness. Reiko reached over to the bedstand and plucked a Seven Stars from a waiting pack.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
Jin nuzzled into his woman, watched her exhale a jet of gray.
“They were there when I got here, actually. I almost never partake, but do you think I might have a drag?”
“You don’t have to be so formal.” She passed the tobacco, ruminated about her job prospects. “So you picked this place online? I mean, if you make 80,000 yen a month, wouldn’t you want something more than a skeezy hotel? Not that I’m complaining. Because it’s still, you know. Magical.”
“Well, my roommate offered it to me. He’s here, in town, but he’s… out.”
“You’re sharing?” Reiko gathered the sheets over her breasts, as if a strange man might burst in with a briefcase and a Boss coffee. She looked at her face in the mirror, saw the shock stamped in her expression.
“It’s not like that. I mean, he didn’t tell me he was staying in a terrible hotel, and once I got here I figured it was just better to stay, with the storm and all.”
“But it’s okay for me to risk my neck coming out here?”
“What? No, no, of course not. I offered to come to you anyway. Remember?”
Reiko loosed a block of tension in her neck. She pressed her fingers against her bleary eyes. “Right, right. Sorry. I didn’t mean to start fighting already. I mean, I know we’ve already had our fights, before, but. I just want today to be special. As special as it can be under the circumstances, you know? I feel like I’ve had to take care of people forever.”
“I understand. It’s okay you’re stressed—I am, too. The barometric pressure alone is enough to drive people haywire right now. Tonight has been perfect for me so far, I just want to say. I don’t care where we are. I feel like I’ve gone on this crazy journey just to see you and nothing could ruin this second, right now. I love you.”
Reiko averted her head, fluttered her eyelashes in a way she’d hate under normal circumstances. With Jin she had a chance to be different, improved.
“I love you, too.”
After the second round Reiko asked, “So where is this roommate of yours, anyway?”
Jin massaged a bone in his wrist, which he had bruised in the physical demands of the evening. “I’m not sure, actually. I met him here, he handed over the key, and he left. His leg was hurt. He looked in pretty bad shape, actually. But I didn’t ask. Yoshio and I, we’re not that close.”
“Yoshio,” said Reiko, understanding. “Jin, does your roommate have a bunch of tattoos?”
“Uh, well, yes, as a matter of fact.”
“And does he work for the Kintsugi-kai?”
“Erm, I shouldn’t answer that…”
Slaps on his face and chest. He cowered behind a pillow.
“You bastard, you lying snake.”
“Please, stop, what do you mean, ow, I didn’t—”
“Are you in on this? Did you set this up to fuck with us? Me and Etsu?”
“What? Your friend? No, what do you mean? Please stop hitting me.”
“I’ll stop hitting you when you explain.”
The cigarette, which had fallen into the bedsheets, seared his knee. “I did not expect this when I came to Okinawa!”