Etsu yanked the Type 94 from her waistband and fired four times into the car. Glass rang on its way to the gravel. A dark blossom opened in Yoshio’s shoulder and spread through his shirt, under the powder blue coat that had undoubtedly seen more successful endeavors.
“God damn it.” He dropped onto the car seat. He was not in shock, he could still function, and he drew his Sig Sauer to retaliate.
“You killed my cat. Don’t raise that gun or I’ll shoot. Again.”
“I didn’t even know you had a fucking cat.” Yoshio dabbed at the blood on his shirt. He scowled, as though disappointed with a menu.
Etsu steadied her hands again to keep the assassin covered. “You’re lying.”
“Lies,” said Yoshio, with an actor’s smirk. Bullets were lies because they praised the illusion of power. You buy a gun, you carry it, clean it: you feel strong. Really you were just nothing. Yoshio placed his weapon on the dashboard.
“Are you okay?” a man asked from the driver’s seat.
“Am I hit? I’m okay, I’m not hit. This is fucked up.” A different, familiar voice.
Reiko and Jin exited the vehicle. Etsu leapt back in alarm and shrieked, as if two demons had accompanied the hitman to their current location.
“Please explain. No one come closer until you explain.”
The rain stopped, mercifully.
“Look at that,” said Yoshio, grunting as he pushed off from the car and wobbled to his feet. “The typhoon is tired of pissing on me.”
“You shot him. Etsu, what the fuck, you could have killed me.”
“That is correct,” said Yoshio. “Solid hit, too. Probably luck. But shit, it hurts. You guys have a bandage or something?”
“Explain to me.” Etsu was unsteady, liable to pull the trigger on impulse. Reiko tottered forward towards her. “No, no, stay back. You’re with them. Why?”
“Etsu, everything makes sense, I’ll help.”
“I drove to Jin’s hotel while you were sleeping. I wouldn’t have left, but I’d been waiting so long. Two years, Etsu.”
“Why are you with him?”
Reiko turned to the murderer, who smiled and tossed up a peace sign with his mobile arm. She turned back to her friend.
“That’s Jin’s roommate.”
Unable to form the words of her distress, Etsu let out a raw, yet somehow polite cry. When she stomped her foot, water sloshed up her jeans and drenched her leg. She swung the gun from Yoshio to Jin and back again.
“This looks bad, I know. I met him online, we’re in love, it’s a whole thing.”
“It’s true,” said the musician, who bowed in salutation.
Etsu scanned his combed hair and glasses, the slight buck teeth. Wrists as thin as hers. “I don’t understand.”
“Listen: I live with Jin. Yoshio, me, lives with Jin. He’s hikikomori—stays inside, never leaves—lately cured, though, I guess. Thanks to me. He came down to see his girlfriend, who is your apparently-not-so-close friend Reiko. They’ve been ‘seeing’ each other for…one year? Two years. Two wonderful years.”
“He kills people for money,” said Etsu. “He killed my cat.”
“I did not kill your cat. That’s sick. I don’t hurt animals.”
“You’re here to murder an old woman.”
“Hey, it’s a paid job, it’s not my business who she is. I just have to take her out. And I haven’t even done it yet. Some assassin.” Yoshio heaved a sigh, as if depressed by his failure. He rubbed the scruff on his chin and fumbled for a cigarette, but dropped it on the floor.
“So Reiko… you left to meet Jin… and then you met up with Yoshio?”
“Well, I let our reclusive friend use my room, since he’s not particularly skilled at choosing hotels on the fly. And since I’ve been injured—twice, now, or three times, if you count Juzo—I had to go back to my room to get some things. At least I knocked politely.”
For the first time in their history Etsu wanted to slap her childhood companion. “I didn’t know it was the guy you went out with, I swear. I was with Jin, and I found out about Yoshio, and I beat the crap out of him—Jin, I mean—because I thought he was plotting against you.”
“It’s true. She hit me a lot.”
Yoshio barked like a hungry gull, at first with laughter but then in pain. “That is some ruined muscle right there. Beautiful shot, really.”
“We should get him medical assistance,” said Jin. “He’s losing a lot of blood.”
“Forget Yoshio.” Etsu half-squeezed the trigger, sweating, mistrustful of everyone now. At this rate Hidari would be in on the plan, too; a big joke at little Etsu’s expense. “Reiko, how can you do this when you know what he is? It’s probably because of him those two criminals broke into your home. He threatened all of us. We need to bring him to the police right now, before anything else.”
“Hold on, hold on,” Yoshio extending his good arm, “That’s silly. We’re going to sit down and hash this out like adults.”
“Is being an adult nailing my cat to my door?”
“Hey, you shot me in the fucking shoulder, lady. I didn’t kill your cat. I took you on a date, plain and simple. I was honest with you, I laid it all out on the table. How many guys do that, right? This is what I get for ‘being myself’? Thanks for the tip, Jin. He said Reiko had this cute friend, so I figured I’d take you out while I was down here, if you were willing. Which you were, I might remind you. Until you ran off.”
“Because you kill people for a living.”
“Well, I guess that’s a turn-off for some people.” Yoshio shrugged and rolled his eyes. “Honesty is obviously not your policy.”
“Don’t start in with your jokes yet. I’m still interrogating you.”
“Shoot,” said Yoshio. “Or, you know what I mean.”
“If you didn’t kill my cat, who did?”
“I tell you, I have no idea. I was in Tsugunai, trying to shoot Hidari, while someone was nailing a cat to your door. I have an alibi.”
“Hey, it is what it is. Just being honest.”
Etsu grunted, freezing, shaken. Above her, thunder rippled toward the shore, separated from any lightning. The sound of waves crashing on the docks rose and fell without cessation, edged with the sadness of “Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
“It’s a strange situation, to be sure. I mean, I love Jin, nothing will change that. But I’m clueless here.”
“And you? Jin? You live with this man knowing what he does?”
“I never asked questions. I mean, I saw the tattoos, but I kept to myself, I didn’t care. We buy separate groceries.”
“He always leaves expired fish on the top shelf.”
“Yoshio, the sell-by dates are just suggestions. But, yes, Etsu, this is how it stands, as of now.”
She assessed the facts: they made her want to hide herself in a cave. Her eyes throbbed and the rain dried on her skin, giving her cheeks brief paroxysms, yet she berated herself to stand. Confine this problem. “I’m too sleepy for this. What do we do now?”
With his thumb Yoshio caught a viscous trickle of blood before it marred his sport coat any further. “Damn, I’m losing feeling in this thing. Well, first things first, we find a doctor. My associate has a private one, we can just drive there. Or, well, whoever wants to drive me can drive me there. The rest of you can do what you want.”
Etsu menaced him with the gun but neither the waiting barrel, nor the knowledge that he had already been shot, upset the hitman’s easy demeanor.
“Throw your weapon away. Take it off the dashboard and get rid of it.”
“Now you tell me.”
Playfully, he spun the Sig Sauer by the trigger guard, whistling Toshiki Kadomatsu’s “After 5 Clash.”
Yoshio tossed the pistol on the driver’s seat.
“I meant out the car door, in the water.”
“Shit, I’m not messing up a solid piece of machinery like that for you. Trust me—I’m not going to kill anyone here, okay?”
Etsu swung the gun but did not fire, did not pursue the topic. Yoshio hunched forward in the space between the open car door and the seat. A coughing spell ripped apart his grin.
“Shit,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be something if you killed me?”
She hadn’t intended to hurt anyone. She’d just been angry. After her pressurized trials and dangers, wasn’t she allowed to eject a kernel of anger? She could fire a gun in the greater name of peace. “We can get you to the hospital. But after we’re going to turn you into the police.”
The sky above was black like a burnt offering. Yoshio tilted his head toward the clouds and streamed in air through his nose. He shut his eyes, steadied himself against the car door. “There’s a private doctor who’s closer.”
“The hospital will take better care.”
“Listen, he’s just up the road, okay? No one’s going to jump out at us with a gun. Like you. Okay?”
“You are not in a position to argue.”
“I’m begging you, how about that?”
“Five million yen. It’s yours. Just to go to the doctor. And after we can discuss the cops.”
Etsu furrowed her brow. Help her mom get shut of that demeaning job. She pressed the pistolgrip into her hand, taking strength from the cool resistance.
“I’m young and idealistic,” she said. “I’m not taking any money.”
“Etsu, we’re wasting time. Let’s take him to the doctor and get this over with.”
“Listen to Reiko,” said the hitman. “Do we have a deal?”
Etsu scrawled her thoughts onto some unseen paper, sealing them away, wishing for a desk and a quiet hour to drink tea. This was the man for whom she had written her article. Yamato incarnate.
“May I interject?” Jin raised a careful hand that boasted exceptionally well-manicured nails. “I’m growing quite uncomfortable out here. So much noise and space. Perhaps we should just do as Yoshio suggests, and allow him to explain himself when he is not in danger.”
“You did shoot him,” said Reiko.
“And did you actually see Yoshio commit any crimes?”
“Well, no, but. I mean, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that he takes me out and my cat is murdered. And the others! Dr. Tamashi saw you kill people.”
“I feel sick.” Yoshio leaned his head into the carseat, wiped sweat from his lip. “And you did shoot me. Which is a crime.”
“Look, let’s go to the doctor. He says it’s close. We’ll be done quicker without hospital procedures anyway.”
Etsu gave in. She was too tired to puncture the faulty logic of this reasoning. Power wends its subtle path and invades the brain like a pathogen. It saps your will and one day you’re on your knees, scrubbing a white man’s room on land your people once owned.
Yoshio brightened. His hair flopped into mad tangles as he clapped and, pulling the torn fibers of his shoulder, winced. “All right, then. We’ve got a plan. I’ll work out an amendment for the police part on the way.”
“We can’t let him die,” said Reiko, “even if he is a murderer. Or hitman. I’ll drive.”
“I’ll just stay here,” said Yoshio. The muscles in his neck strained into pasty cords.
Etsu lowered the gun with the safety off. Around her the wind carved runes in the gravel and pushed itself through the wide, black amphitheater of the docks. “I’ll sit behind you so I can shoot if you try anything. Reiko, you keep the other gun.”
“Shit, I just wanted to have a quiet night with my boyfriend.”
“Don’t worry,” said Jin. He patted her hand and sent gushing looks of devotion her way. “I’ll take you on a vacation after this. Just you and me.”
“True love,” said Yoshio, gagging on his spit. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
Etsu watched out the back window as they departed. Whatever the outcome, she was only a minor piece. A thing already made, already ended. A word in the gray that covered all nations, no matter how you roared for transcendence, independence, peace. Just a footnote. Sooner or later she’d see Grandpa Nakano, and tell him how helpful his gun was.