Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 39

There had been little choice, but Haruki and Dana feared returning to Reiko’s apartment. Home wasn’t safe, the police wouldn’t help, the base was off-limits. It was stupid to involve other Tamashis in the mess, much less to attempt to explain what had happened. So said Dana, anyway.

Having fled the storage shed, toes looking neater than they had in weeks, hearts on the verge of implosion, they hailed a lucky cab on Route 58 and trudged up to number 304 to collapse in the kitchen and grapple with the last few hours. They were too drained to drive off into the night. Beer helped, somewhat, but it didn’t wash away the scratching of ropes around their arms, or blot out the mechanical snick of Yasu’s clippers.

“At least they gave you your phone back,” said Dana. She shuddered under the kitchen light. They had changed their clothes but they couldn’t shake the chill inside, the bitterness unpeeling this day to their conscience like a rotting tankan orange. She pulled at the lines under her eyes, listened to the electric kettle. There was a hole where the front door used to be. A man walked down the hall, gave them the briefest of glances, and studiously continued on his way.

“This is quite a mess.” said Haruki.

“Mess? This is a disaster we haven’t even started to feel the effects of. It’s not like Yoshio’s going to own up to what he did.”

“I mean, once they check everything out, they’ll let us go. Or they’ll let you go at least, you’re American. Me they might keep in a basement until the next presidential election.”

Dana tapped a much filthier nail against her teeth and sighed without turning her face towards her mate. “Japanese or American?”

“Well, since Japan has prime ministers …”

They smiled, but the motions were rote and unpleasant. All that pressure in their skulls from data too tangled to analyze until a serious decompression.

“Do we go to your parents’ place?”

“At this point? I’m sure the military have talked to them. God, what if they took them into custody?” Haruki fumbled for his phone, frantic, his eyes gone wide with a thousand fatal scenarios. Hands up, hands up. What are you saying? Pop, pop, two old folks dead in the mud.

“Mom? Dad?”

“Ruki? Is that you? There’s been so much commotion.”

“Ayaa, hi. Listen, whatever you’ve heard, it’s just a story. I’m with Dana, we’re okay, we didn’t try to blow anything up. It was a hoax.”

“Oh, some Americans came by with an interpreter and asked us some questions. If we’d seen you, heard from you. I didn’t tell them anything. Figured they were trying to stir up trouble.”

“Mom, thanks, they—they didn’t do anything, did they?”

“What do you mean? They were very polite. The interpreter, at least.”

“Okay, good, I was just worried.” Guilty, more than anything. Forgetting a responsibility and having it surge back, belatedly, in a searing rush—what was more shameful than that? Losing your kids, perhaps. Committing a real terrorist attack. Dana’s lessons came back to him, calming his nerves, reminding him he had worth, he wasn’t a failure, he’d done well by calling them now.

“Listen, I’m glad you’re okay—is dad there? He’s okay, too?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t he be?”

“Okay, I love you, I love you very much. Please just call Oda and the others and tell them to stay inside, don’t let anyone in. I’ll call again soon. I just have to figure some things out with Dana.”

“Is everything all right, Haruki?”

“Yes. Just please call Oda and the others. I promise I’ll call back and explain.”

“Well, good luck. Tell the other doctor we said hello!”

“Of course, mom.”

Haruki stowed his phone and stilled his wife’s hand tremors with a touch.

“Let’s push the mattress against the door, at least.”

After that, some semblance of privacy returned to the room. They turned the sofa around and pushed it against the mattress to hold it up. They sat down on the sofa and stared into the stark, neat kitchen, the tea still steaming on the table.

“Muscles,” they said at once, in full panic.

They tore through the rooms—all two and a half of them, in five minutes. No cat. A few hairs on the carpet, but this signified nothing. He could have left hours ago, found his way out of the building, into the typhoon.

“Shit.”

“Jesus.”

“I’ll go left.”

They threw back the sofa, the mattress, undoing the work. They split up for the first time since the koban, and Dana felt a tether pull her back, begging her to keep Haruki in sight at all times. Nothing deferent, just a chemical need for closeness. Panic lights terrorized her psyche at a strobe frequency, warning of killers, of high winds, of unknown bruises lurking around a bend.

Yoshio’s face coalesced from the dust balls in the hall. Before the pretend torture, in the car, he had smiled like they were old college friends. Dragged from Reiko’s apartment and shoved into the company of this walking human rights violation.

“Hello, again, my delicate stalk of trench coral.” Ray-Bans, stubble, a devious mustache beginning to fill out. His two goons marching Haruki and her into the Camaro.

“We’re like a bunch of eels crammed into a tiny corner of the reef, aren’t we? And the reef is all the time dwindling.”

“Beautiful,” the other man had said: the toenail clipper.

“Eels are delicious,” said the shorter man in Japanese.

Yoshio breathed in slowly and tugged the lapels of his jacket, as if reassuring himself they were still sewn on. “I had heard an old woman might be hiding out here.”

“You still looking for her? Who knows where she is?”

“Well, she was in the room you two have lately been occupying, so I’d like to hear an update on that front—if it’s all right with you, of course.” No guns shown, no blatant threat. He’d already shot her, crushed the skulls of three innocents; plus a pimp’s bodyguard, who still hadn’t deserved to be murdered in the trunk of a Charger. Probably.

Haruki held his arms rigidly at his sides, his teeth clenched, sweating like some contestant on a mainland game show. And now, you must dive into this pool of near-boiling water to retrieve a steel yo-yo! Yoshio leaned over and patted his knee.

“For a professor, you seem pretty confused.”

“Hurt me, whatever you need to do. You hurt Dana enough.”

He clucked his tongue, a teacher calmly but firmly remonstrating the student. “No one said anything about violence, Dr. Tamashi. I’m just looking for Ms. Wasayama. She came to the apartment, with her little American friend—then where?”

Haruki surveyed Dana’s wound, the bandaged flesh. “The docks at Naha. Specifically, no idea where. The American ran away, she chased after him.”

“In love with a younger man, perhaps?”

Haruki shook his head, fast, back and forth. Dana stared at her damp feet. At least they’d put on clothes when they’d woken up, hadn’t been caught naked. Even so, she was done with the whole charade, the chasing and hiding and uncool jokes.

“I have no idea. He might be a rapist, there was a girl, abducted. Ms. Wasayama went after to him to stop whatever he was doing. Go to Taiwan, supposedly.”

“Taiwan? I’ve been there a few times. Fun; the guys don’t dance, though. Women were all over me.” He sucked his teeth, bristling the hairs above his lip. He tilted his filthy sunglasses and scratched under his eye. “Okay. I have no reason to think you’re lying. I’ve seen you lie. You two are a cute couple, by the way. Evidence of the future, pushing the 21st century forward.” He removed his sunglasses, pointed with an ear-rest from husband to wife. “American-Okinawan thing.”

“Sure,” said Dana. Didn’t want to provoke him, impel to him act erratically. If she waited, she could write up a memoir about this when it was all over: My Time with an Assassin. “You know you’re not a psychopath, right?”

“Excuse me?” Ray-Bans back on. Seated in the passenger seat, circle-specs in the driver’s position, afro behind him.

“A psychopath. Like a person with narrow and shallow emotions. You don’t fit the criteria. Most like to blend in, conventional appearance, not often in conflict with the law. You don’t want to rule the world. You’re not even a hardened killer. I think you’re nervous, deep down.”

Shut up, shut up. Definition of kicking the beehive right here. But she was angry, and Dana’s outrage was impossible to rein in.

“Listen, sweet radish, I don’t care. Who knows what a sociopath is?”

“No, socios are different, they come from highly dysfunctional families. Psychopaths don’t generally have the same tough upbringing, since they’re distributed normally through the population. Genetics and all. If anything you're more borderline: impulsive actions, sensitivity to and intensity of emotion, especially in reaction to perceived criticism.”

Yoshio yawned and pulled at the bags under his eyes. “Madonna,” he said.

“What?”

“Madonna.” Then he sang, wobbly, off-pitch, a little gruffly, his eyes closed in mock-ecstasy and his hand over his heart, over his powder blue jacket that hung around his shoulders the smallest bit too loosely, “Just try to understand, I've given all I can, 'cause you got the best of me.”

Dana laughed, sadly. The sound of it was deep and dry in the confines of the car. “I think you have some beaten-up moral sense, inside. Not religious shit, just what you think is right and wrong. You had a good minute in your life and it left an impression.”

Parental Machimotos: hello, Yoshio, I love you, I just wanted to say. Plus I fried okonomiyaki, exactly how you like! Eat it now, while it’s fresh.

“I disagree,” he said.

“I disagree with your disagreement.”

Haruki squeezed her thigh, like please cut it out, but she couldn’t stop. Was this self-sabotage? Did she not want to protect her family? What pettiness a seed of injustice breeds. Need to have the final word. All those coping strategies fell away in a period of intense stress; even psychologists, sure; knowing something logically doesn’t mean the response will change. Such a shift in feeling takes years, and Dana had thirty-two of one system to fight against, only six in the next. Failure is expected.

“You really want to get into this now?” said Yoshio, as if he, too, knew what Dana was driving at. The explosion, a wild aggressor with no boundaries. Push him to where pop fell after a fifth of bourbon, swinging and yelling if you laid a fork in the wrong drawer. She wanted to stare the terror in the eyes and say, “I wouldn’t really call that hardcore.”

“You’re trying to make this personal?” said Yoshio.

The rain beat the outside of the Camaro and shielded them from the cluster of ferns they’d parked beside, as well as the palm tree that offered nominal coverage.

“Yes I am. You killed other human beings. You think it’s wrong, I heard you say so. Sociopaths don’t feel remorse, psychopaths even less, but you hate what you do, and we both know it. You don’t want to shoot and bury people. It’s just a very bad habit of yours.”

A weight settled in the car. Smell of chemical citrus from the air freshener under the rearview mirror.

“I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “You don’t have to turn yourself in. I won’t even call the police. You get free therapy for life. A chance to actually get rid of that shitty emptiness in your heart, relieve some serious guilt and self-loathing. Call me whenever you want. Anonymously, I don’t care. I’ll help. This is an offer of help.”

Yoshio sat back and hummed to himself. He rubbed his bony shoulder and yawned, with pleasure, feeling the stretch in his neck and cheeks. “That’s not a conflict of interest? I mean I kidnapped you, shot you. Technically, I kidnapped you again. We’re probably not allowed to have a professional relationship.”

“I’ll make a referral if you want, but under the circumstances I think the APA would be okay I if I hashed it out this way. You can make progress, Yoshio.”

The hitman thought for a long moment, the fibers of his beard suddenly gray in the overcast light. “You know, I hate the way you say my name. Yo-shee-yo! Like I’m a brand of shoe.”

“My accent makes you angry.”

“I’m not interested in making deals. I’m wasting my time. Goodbye.”

Yoshio threw open the passenger door and climbed out. He hobbled into the rain and stuck out his thumb, as if to hitch his way to the docks.

“You know, we could conceivably drive you to your destination,” said Yasu in Japanese. He appeared amused by the whole show; funny story for the bar.

“Nah. This is more interesting.”

“And what shall we do with our two compatriots here?”

“Those guys?” Yoshio smiled, huffed around the cigarette he stuffed into his mouth. “Do whatever you want. They’re old news. Later.”

They sat in the car like that, the four of them, watching Yoshio stump further into the rain. He vanished in curtains of gauzy mist that overlaid continuously, dimming and dimming his image, until his outline blurred into a dark chimera. Somehow his departure lessened the sound of the wind.

Yasu started the car. They heard a single gunshot, sharp in the slow orchestra of the dying storm.

“Well, let’s go to the shed.”


Dana came to in the stairwell at the end of the hall. She was not looking for Muscles; she was shaking in rage, holding her fists together and pushing with all her frustration into the stone wall behind her. The lack of social power robs a woman of self-regard. She had had this impersonalizing stamp sealed on her forehead throughout her life; first, by her pop; second, by her adolescent self; third, by the people she had chosen to surround herself. Okinawa was supposed to be new. It was peaceful. Where was the peace?

Dana did not cry. She found it hard to allow those heaving sobs, the late-night breakdown all the stereotypes demanded of girls. She had cried herself out as a kid, as a lonely teenager. She was just angry.

Gloomy concrete, mildew and fetid air. Smelled like her old family home outside Muscle Shoals. Danger there, danger here. Connections found you regardless of what magic you tried to weave around your isolation. Could be a bias, you seek out the risk, you only notice the risk, not the good parts, you’re stressed, your brain is literally responding differently than it normally would. This calmed her. Of course she was irrational. She was human. It was perfectly okay.

Call up Heiwa, demand an explanation. I am no terrorist—are you? Leave my life be. Well, perhaps this was expecting too much. Start with right now.

Dana stood. She padded back down the hallway, listening to the clink and rustle of hidden life, wondering why no one cared about the broken door. Apartment culture, group culture—not my problem, leave me out of the fiasco.

She could knock on a random door, call for Haruki, have him ask for help. To do what? Hide me in case the criminals came back? They should just drive away, spare these residents any further trouble. Who knows what stray shots could fly off, kill a woman cooking dinner at her tiny range. The walls were thin.

She found her husband on the bottom floor, talking to a super. He reported the facts: no, no one had complained of excessive noise. There was a typhoon, that was plenty loud. No, he had not heard of any break-ins. They should call the police in that case. Had he seen the Americans tearing around Naha like they owned it? Stirring up ill-will again. What was Governor Ikazawa really going to do, when you thought about it? Protect the status-quo. Another disillusioned citizen. Had he seen a cat? There were plenty of strays, he couldn’t keep track, he fed them once in a while. No, he hadn’t seen one with a collar. He’d call the number on Tamashi’s businesscard if he did, of course.

Husband and wife sat together in the stairwell, testing the weight of their marriage between them. Losing the cat reminded them of the kids.

“Are you willing to talk about it right now?” said Dana. “We can go visit.”

“I miss them,” he said, crying. Then, “I had sex with someone else.”

Stiffened back. Not even surprised, though she felt the last scrap of order collapse without the cornerstone. Trust and faith.

“I know.”

He blinked his weak, shimmering eyes. “You know?”

“Yes.” She watched her stomach. Her two kids in a turtle-shell grave on Route 58, Elia and Jun. Washing their unready bones. Sitting here, she remembered her place. She wasn’t born on this island, she wasn’t part of its fate. She was alone. Her natural state, after all these years.

Haruki wept, another pathetic uproar, and Dana assumed the role of comforting the man who had wronged her. He was tender, he needed an outlet, a woman who could have a child. All the falsehoods flew through her head. A wandering musician—you think he can settle down? Aomi was right about your bubble bursting late.

She bit her nail, snipped the edge clean off. Her injured arm pulsed and shook. Psychologists compartmentalize too, ignore what they want to ignore. So were we all hopeless—every patient a terminal case? Suicidal guy on the flight deck; runaway Glen, the child predator? He, out of all of them, was damned the deepest, even deeper than Yoshio. He made it his mission to be.

Dana turned in toward her own systems. Did she strive for the same fate? At some core setting, was she trying to ruin what she had worked for?

A breath. Pause for emptiness. Then: no.

She got up. She helped Haruki to his feet, absently rubbed his shoulder. “Let’s go home,” she said.

Her husband nodded. They found Muscles in the car, napping without a care in his tranquil head.

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