Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 37

In the truck later, having found nothing valuable in Hidari’s cabinets but a fine bingata kimono, Dana steeled herself to spin into a guardrail and finish what the first accident had tried to do.

“If you attempt to destroy us, I won’t die,” said Yoshio.

The psychologist’s voice was crushed of affect, diminished. “Hurting people doesn’t fill that emptiness inside you.”

“Nothing fills emptiness, unless you count dark matter. Anyway, I serve the same kind of people as you—war criminals—so don’t try this community tactic. You don’t know the meaning of servitude.” He sucked his teeth and pulled away his right pinky, offering the pale nub beneath for consideration. “What you have is pretend to make yourself feel better.” With a weary sniff he replaced the prosthetic.

Dana crunched her knuckles into the wheel. “What, my life? My job? You say that to justify the things you do. Elaborate self-protection. Is that too many syllables for you? Self-defense mechanism. Because you’re scared. Inside. In there. Like everyone else. Except you’re less prepared than I am, because you never allowed yourself to deal with anything negative. You’re stuck. Like in a pit, because you try to heal with violence instead of sitting down and talking out your dumb, jumbled emotions. Cutting off a finger doesn’t teach you shit except how to numb yourself to more pain.”

Yoshio had nothing to say. He watched the drowsy motion of the windshield wipers. He listened to the roar of the typhoon.

“Keep going south,” he said.

“I’m driving, logically understanding I’m going to die. Nothing I do will prevent this. I know, I go over the steps of grieving death with people. For money. So I’m angry, right now, at the entire fucking world. I’m angry you’re the person who has to listen to my final thoughts. I’m angry I never got to say goodbye to the people I love, to my husband, I’m angry I didn’t help more people in my time here. I want to kill you, to be honest. I know you don’t care about that, and you’ve probably had a ton of people say the same exact words to you. Humans are pretty unimaginative when it comes down to final ideas, which I’m sure you know as well as I do.”

Yoshio smiled gently, as if reminded of fond memories.

“I’m wondering what it is that keeps me here right now. You tell me you won’t die if I crash into the guardrail, but I know you probably would. I’m irrational, though. I know I am, because brains by their very nature are hypocritical and faulty. Neurologically, I’m clinging on to this hope that I’ll survive, and that I’ll see my husband again—I assume you’ve already seen the wedding ring, don’t bother with threats about tracking him down, it’ll just make me that much more likely to kill us. I’m praying I will see my husband again, even though I know, deep down, that it’s not true. I’m telling myself a lie to keep living as long as possible, even if those moments are horrible. For Christ’s sake, I watched you gun down a young girl and an old man just now, like they were nothing.”

“I didn’t want to do it.”

“You did it, that’s the point. Your intention is unimportant. You killed the two of them and they’re dead, and someone will find their rotting bodies after the storm is over. It’s hot, they’re going to collect flies and mosquitoes. It’ll look ugly. I probably won’t be around for it, though, so.” She laughed, but it was a hollow noise meant only for moving air out of her lungs. A wince followed; tender windpipe.

“I am aware of what I did, there is no need to try and teach me the error of my ways. You, psychologist or no, will not do this for me. I can distinguish right from wrong. I am not crazy. My actions are bound to an organization greater than myself, however, and I am obliged to act accordingly.”

“Your bosses tell you to make jokes and shoot unarmed civilians? In the yakuza, killing people outside a gang war is against the code of conduct.”

Yoshio nodded. “For this, I will be punished. Rightfully so.” He wiggled his fingers in a wry gesture of hello.

“So what is that—two fingers? A third for the owner of this truck? Another for the man in your trunk, the man I had to drag into the bushes by myself? A whole hand, then?”

“Whole hand, no.”

“How does that solve anything?”

Yoshio poked the false nail of his finger, assessing the artificial chill. “It makes you remember.”

“I thought they didn’t even do that anymore, the—”

“Yubitsume. No, not often. It depends. I chose this for myself. I am somewhat old-fashioned, you would say. Keeps me young.”

“So your life is traumatic, in the beginning. You’re an orphan, half-Korean, possibly? Lots of Koreans in the mafia.”

“Not Korean.”

“Either way, your life is difficult. You experience pain and isolation. Then you’re taken in by a thug, he initiates you into the lifestyle. Father figures you never had, safety, family. Rules and order to make up for the chaotic period you want to escape. Aggression balances out inner pain, and the gang rewards you for it. You receive positive feedback, see it as a necessary part of life, and learn to feel no remorse. Have you killed a lot of people?”

“You are not speaking much like a psychologist.”

“I’m not a fucking doctor right now, I can be a fucking human being too, all right?”

Yoshio waved his intact hand with palm up. “Of course. Keep going. I will not answer that question.”

“So you lose part of a finger; you’ve made some error. Not too many, though. You get paid to come down here and kill an old woman who’s trying to help her people, it’s simply another job. But there is this man in your trunk, the bodyguard; it sounded as though you were protecting a prostitute. This had nothing to do with the mission, right? This was acting on your own.”

“Keep going.”

“I see bruises on your face; this man wronged you, hurt you. You reacted. Maybe you got special dispensation to do this, maybe you did it without consulting your boss. Then you kill a man for his truck without trying to solve the problem through non-violence, or intimidation, even. You’re in pain, physically, and you’re stressed. Not thinking clearly, which you can’t afford to do on a mission. Then you fail to find your target, you sit with those people back there, Aomi and, and—”

“Tatsuo.”

“Tatsuo. You want to wait out the storm, you’re tired. Still hurt. You realize you’re wasting time, being inefficient, and you kill them. A logical decision. You say you didn’t want to kill them, but that didn't affect the result. Because of your obligations. Now we are driving to Naha, to wherever you are staying, presumably, or to someone who has information for you. Your phone buzzed, by the way. Why the fuck am I helping you, again?”

Message from Sub-Boss:

?

Reply:

Yoshio stowed the phone in his pocket to examine Dana’s. He scrolled through her contact list, forgetting the driver, fondling his chin with a languid finger while he hummed to himself every now and then.

“What are you doing?”

“I do not know anyone in your phone. Many military people.”

“I work on an Air Force Base.”

“No friends.”

“You can be friends with military people.”

“Haruki is your husband?”

“Stop it. Stop looking at that.”

Yoshio grinned, not without pity. “You know you have no position to tell me what to do.”

Dana jerked the car to the right and snapped off a clump of pine branches.

“You threaten me with the vehicle?”

“Protection mechanism. I perceive threat to my loved ones, I become more likely to crash this car.”

“At this speed, maybe a few bruises.”

She gassed the van, cranking the speedometer to 90 km/h. Out came the Sig Sauer.

“Slow down.”

“If you shoot me, the car will continue to go out of control.”

“I will simply grab the wheel.”

“Then how come you just don’t shoot me and drive yourself?”

“Easier to not shoot you.”

“Until you’re done here.”

“Possibly not.”

“What changes the possibility?”

He wanted to say nothing, but instead he said, “Money.”

“Like, my money?”

“Sure. You give me—let’s say 500,000 yen—and you can live.”

“You seriously want my fucking money?”

“Why not? It means more money.”

“What, we’re going to stop at an ATM? I think there’s a withdrawal limit.”

“It’s 500,000 yen.”

“I have no reason to believe you’ll keep your word.”

“That is correct.”

He watched Dana guide the van over ruts and scattered palm fronds and garbage. She concentrated on her breathing with one eye on the speed as a patch of blood widened in the bandage on her arm.

“You seem nervous.”

“I’m waiting for you to promise you won’t kill me.”

“You trust my promises?” Yoshio switched on the radio, flipped around until he found Yukihiro Takahashi’s “Curtains.” He listened through the first verse.

“Fine, don’t say anything. Good night, asshole.” She rocked the truck to the left, aiming for an earthmover in a construction site, but Yoshio seized the wheel. The reverse of driving home with dad after a release party, or a weekday.

“500,000 yen. You live.”

Dana eased up on the gas pedal. She was gasping, her throat blocked, the air doing little to relieve her pain. How did pop do it? Blind drunk has to make it easier: the world as a glittery game full of peaks.

“Jesus Christ.”

“I like deals; they make life so much cleaner.”

“I am disgusted by the way you ignore your conscience. Don’t talk to me.”

Yoshio lit a cigarette in celebration.


Seated on the checker-patterned couch from his college days, Haruki gnawed a hangnail and brushed away Muscles the Cat with unwashed, jittery feet. The dust that had flown up from his shuffling, which he had lately abandoned in favor of anxious lethargy, settled around him like a personal cloak of distress.

“You haven’t seen her at all?” he said into the phone.

“Sorry, Doc, we’ve been in hideout mode all day. No reports yet, but Dr. T never mentioned anything about staying out all night. I’m sorry, I wish I could help.”

“Reid, I understand. It is okay. How are you holding up so far?”

“Like I said, snug and safe. Keeping an eye on the weather. Halfway through The Hobbit.”

“I have not read this in some time.”

“Well, when Dana comes back—because I’m sure she’s safe, wherever she is, she’s smart as hell—I’ll give the you the book and you all can read it next typhoon.”

“Sounds good. Thank you once again, Reid.”

Haruki thumbed off the phone. He glanced around the apartment, teeth chattering, an untouched beer on the kitchen table. The guitar hadn’t helped. When did minor chords ever raise a man’s spirits? But he tried to take heart; Reid knew, Dana was capable, more than competent in fact: a survivor.

“Have faith and relax, Haruki. You love her; she will come back home to you.” His mom and dad’s bland, soothing wisdom, which aided more than any outside form of relief.

His parents had adored Dana the moment she slipped off her shoes in their doorway, from her updone braids to the bulldog-gray nail polish on her toes. And her efforts to speak the language, while abortive, were still praised. Never had he thought they would cherish an American so ardently. Introducing her to neighbors, patiently explaining the butsudan, or the salt dish on the front step, and helping her find the most affordable lacquer at the markets. The memories warmed his shameful heart.

“Fine, Muscles, come here.”

He dropped the cat on his lap and buried his nose in the sweet fur. Muscles reacted as any feline might, when faced with impromptu affection; he curled into a knot and batted the man’s face for encouragement. Love me, care for me. Show me meaning exists on this sphere.

Though he sought a fellow grief in those glowing eyes, Haruki found only amusement, and this was good enough for now. To forget was one way to cope, and the warmth of a living beast is nothing if not a pleasant avenue for distraction.

“‘Ay, lord; she will become thy bed, I warrant. And bring thee forth brave brood.’”

Haruki flipped on the television: Kumiko Natsuharu. Parents distressed, putting on a brave face for the cameras. You feel one way and act another. In a typhoon, no less. Haruki crabbed his body and scuttled around the empty apartment, chasing his cat, letting his inner Caliban creep out in the darkness.

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