Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 42

Exposing even a close friend to your creative work is a nerve-wracking task, but Jin hid the sweat under his arms with a worthy show of ease. He smiled politely as Reiko took his hand and rubbed the soft, unadorned knuckle, reaching back from the driver’s seat.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “So…80s, you know?”

“Thank you, thank you. It is nothing. I made it in the hopes that you would gain some small enjoyment from it. I owe it all to my musical influences, who were crucial in guiding me to the right melody.”

“This is what you’ve been working on?” said Yoshio. “Maybe it’s the gunshot wound talking, but it sounds like a lame version of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Some Ryuichi Sakomoto rip-off.”

Jin squeaked. Didn’t know what to say. He dove into himself, eager to escape the shame and its sense of endless space, so Reiko spoke on his behalf.

“You shut up over there. You wouldn’t know good music if it shot you in the shoulder.”

Yoshio laughed at that.

“What’s more, at least Jin has a real profession. He’s a musician and a businessman. He makes 80,000 yen a month.”

Yoshio whistled in appreciation. “High roller, huh? 80,000, was it, Jin?”

The recluse shifted fitfully in his seat, eyes flitting about as if to avoid alighting on something solid. “Maybe more like 40.” He hung his suddenly dejected head, his mustache fibers slick with sweat.

Reiko squeezed his hand until veins popped up along her own. A wrinkle in her forehead formed a gash that, while strangely attractive, still signaled incredible and everlasting wrath. “So you don’t make 80,000?”

Jin dithered behind her. His voice skipped randomly around three octaves. “After taxes, and factoring in equipment costs…”

“Oh God, what else have you lied about?”

“I didn’t, I swear. My monthly projections were 80,000.”

“This is great,” said Yoshio. “It’s like Love Generation.”

“I can’t fucking believe this.”

“Hey, don’t fight each other, guys. Hate me. I kill people, with a gun? Just ask Etsu.”

The graduate student sulked and balanced her pistol on the passenger car seat, behind Yoshio’s head. Keep out of the drama; focus on the killer’s movements, he’s sly, he can escape if I don’t watch carefully; or worse, turn the tables on us.

Reiko spun her hand along the wheel, eyes turned to the rearview mirror. All at once the fire fled out of her, replaced by a weary, almost grandmotherly understanding. “Fine, it’s not like I make that much, anyway.”

“You’re a marvelous woman, Reiko. Forgiving beyond belief. I love you.”

“Don’t say it so sheepishly, jeez, we’re out in the open now.”

With not altogether bitter irony, Yoshio applauded the soulmates, though he was careful to mind his shoulder. “I’d pour us all awamori, if I still had any.”

Jin’s song ended. They drove in silence, neon flashing past as they cruised the lanes of shuttered Naha. Once in a while they passed a man wrestling debris away from his front porch, or carrying some improbable bag of groceries along the sidewalk. The houses glowed under shots of moonlight; shisa dogs smiled or frowned, depending on gender, frozen in place on tiled roofs.

“Are you sorry for killing those people?” said Etsu at last.

“You’re still harping on this? No, it’s my job. It’s what has to happen.”

“So what’s to say you won’t just kill us?”

“Well, for one, two of you have guns, and I have zero. Although I do know some tai chi.”

“I’d bet you wouldn’t miss an hour of sleep.”

“Probably not. Or maybe, I don’t know. I’m kind of falling apart out here.”

“Good.” Etsu smoldered, her eyes boring into the back of the man’s head. The police officer shoved her cat in the evidence bag. Dr. Tamashi retold the deaths of those two people in Ms. Wasayama’s village, plus the innocent truck driver.

That’s harsh.”

“You deserve to understand the kind of pain you cause other people. It’s only fair.”

“Fair, fair. People moan about balancing history, equating this and that wrong. We have it in the yakuza, too, only it works better. More action.”

Etsu steadied the gun with her other hand. “Illegal action, you fool.”

He shrugged; make your own opinion. The Toyota’s engine bucked as they sped over a watery pothole.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but my bladder is about to explode. You mind if we stop here?”

“Yes.”

“Come on, have a heart. Otherwise I’ll go all over the seat.”

“Not my car!” Reiko shrieked.

“Fine, fine, pull over. But I’m watching.”

They piled out and slammed the doors in synchrony. Etsu began to meditate in the rain, shielding the gun beneath her shirt and plotting the next point on the go board. Shoot him and run. Leave him and drive away with the other two. Run away from everyone, toss the gun, and head straight home for a new life of actions that were not associated with this insanity.

“I feel like I could fill up an oil barrel. What did I even drink?”

Yoshio stumped towards an unlit club that huddled under its own decay. Normally Etsu would have felt a pang of pity for the bruised leg, the hanging arm, but she was hardened with this weapon against her skin. She had fired it in anger and won.

“Wait.”

Yoshio stopped. His shoulders humped, then sank as he stretched his arms out and worked a kink in his neck. He turned his head, lowered the Ray-Bans, and stowed them in his pocket.

“Some parting words, Miss Etsu? I’ll be right back, I promise, after I attend to nature’s urges.”

Shoot him now. End the mess, prevent his reign from infecting other people. Fix history, for once, and let the act of death be somewhat acceptable. She stood her ground, saying nothing. She tilted the gun barrel toward the street.

“No? By the way, I didn’t kill your cat. Just so you know.”

Etsu peered down at her body, the pale, unstable form from an island and a continent. “You’ve said that. It doesn’t matter now, I still detest everything you do and stand for. I always will.”

“Detest? That’s a hurtful word to say.”

Etsu refused to acknowledge his grin. She realized, under the surface, what was happening. The point of this terrible game, when people moved each other about for some dimly reckoned puzzle that ended in sorrow whether you won or not.

“I guess we’re done then. Reiko, do you think I could have my Sig Sauer back?”

The editor froze; she looked at Jin, at Etsu. Yoshio extended his palm and waggled his fingers, grunting in imitation of a spoiled child. Reiko reached for her coat pocket to confirm the pistol’s presence.

“I’m kidding. I’m kidding, you guys, of course. I took it off you when I climbed out of the car. Dummies.” Yoshio stroked the weapon as if it were a kitten just rescued from a predator.

“Now what?” Reiko seemed to realize she was standing outside, in the gathering dawn with two pistols and a lover and a best friend and a dangerous lunatic she had unwittingly helped. All for her own peace of mind.

“Drop the weapon, please.”

“Get it over with,” said Etsu. The Type 94, Grandpa Nakano’s gun, clattered on the pavement.

“You guys are pretty slow. I don’t know why you’d even take me to the doctor, to be honest.”

“I didn’t want to get Jin in trouble.” Cowed, now, with the knowledge of what had happened. “I just wanted to stay out of it, have a good day. Just one damn day.”

“And you? You went along with it? To keep harmony in the group?”

“I trust her,” Etsu said between grit teeth.

“Why do humans do that? I don’t get it. You have a history together? Who cares? Let me ask you: what did your instincts tell you to do?”

Student compelled herself to match hitman’s eyes. Liquid and hazel, a little red around the edges. “They told me to shoot you.”

“See? And your instincts were right. I always hate this part, you know. Being correct. You know I always trust my impulses, even when they don’t make me happy.”

“Then just leave. Don’t you want to just go free?”

Yoshio looked away, down, at his shoes, then back at the woman who had already put a bullet in his torso. “I could do this, yes. But it would jeopardize my own position. Now, I greatly appreciate the date. I am truly sorry for the loss of your cat. If I knew who the culprit was, I would surely kill him. Or her. You never know. But there are rules.”

“I wrote about you.”

“I masturbated to you. Twice. That doesn’t mean we’re important.”

“Oh, God.” Jin convulsed, shutting his eyes, his hands almost transparent blue. His jaw knocked up and down like a puppet’s. “This place.”

Reiko seized his arm and started to massage the back of his neck, moving her thumb in tiny, too-rough circles. “We have to get him in the car. Jin, can you hear me? It’s okay, I promise. I’m here.”

“No, no, please don’t move me. Please don’t. I’ll get in when I can move. Please don’t move me.”

She kissed his earlobe and squeezed him, glaring at the street as if it should apologize to the hikikomori. A wind sang down the road and he clutched himself, allowed Reiko to attend to his pain, tried to accept the sensation of penetrating loneliness. Out here he was drowning.

“I’m here, baby, I’m here. You want to go in the car? It’s right next to you, we can just sit down and you can be safe.”

“I want to go home. I never should’ve come here.”

“Don’t say that, you don’t mean it, you’re just worried.”

“I should be home, I know I should.”

“See what you did to him?” said Reiko.

“Me? Come on, you’re attributing too much shit to my actions. He just does this sometimes. He’s a loner, he stays inside.”

“You’re pathetic.” Etsu jabbed a finger in the hitman’s direction. “Every choice you’ve made, you could have helped people, and you killed them, you decided to kill them. It doesn’t matter what the hell your impulse is. But I don’t care—that’s for you to live with.”

Preoccupied, Yoshio tapped his heel against the asphalt. He scratched the spot on his back where the otter tattoo curled and grinned, and he ran his finger along the bright gunbarrel. No one in the road but them.

“You’re justified. I see why you’d hate me. You hang around papers and…interestingly shaped ideas. It’s admirable.”

“Oh, shut up, asshole.” Reiko brandished her fist while pinning Jin to her hip like a toddler.

“You? This is great. You would’ve given me the gun to protect this sad-sack over here. I buy you one drink and you’re ready to be my best fucking friend, just because you want to believe everything’s fine. You’d sell this whole island to the U.S. if you could suck Jin’s tiny dick until the stars imploded. I read your emails, by the way. All those awkward clichés. If it’s any consolation, you’d break up in a few years. You’d drink too much, Reiko, and fuck some guy, and he’d forgive you, and you’d do it again, and hate yourself, and he’d forgive you again, and then one day, without any fuss, Jin would take a rope and hang himself from the rafters of the house you saved all your ten-yen coins to buy. You made a mistake by coming with me to this place.”

“A mistake,” said Etsu. Her fingers grasped for a pen, to write down what threatened her, but they were all at home.

“Yes.”

Jin whimpered in a low pitch and Reiko buried his head in her shoulder. She kissed the part in his hair.

“I should’ve killed you, after all,” said Etsu.

“Pacifism is a sad joke, probably the saddest, and the guy who wrote it dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two guys, I guess. Americans. You know the city of Kokura? You guys took more history than I did, you remember: it was the secondary target for the Hiroshima bombing; like if Hiroshima was cloudy, they would’ve dropped the bomb on Kokura instead. But Hiroshima was all clear. Then Kokura was the primary target for the other bomb, Fat Man. But the city was cloudy and the Americans diverted to Nagasaki. So Kokura was safe by random chance. All we can do is try to be Kokura.”

“Why are you trying to ruin our lives?” said Reiko. “After all we did?”

“No no no. It’s too empty here. I need to go home.”

“It doesn’t even make sense to threaten us. I mean—”

“I came so far. You could have come to me.”

“Empty out your pockets,” said Yoshio. “IDs, everything.”

Reiko had to reach into Jin’s pants to fetch his wallet, which was technically a cheaper leather than she would have liked. “I was too polite to ask,” the musician said. “I just wanted to be safe. I poured my heart into that song for you.”

“Throw me your stuff.”

“You’re going to fucking shoot us? Is that it? Shoot your friend, too? How do you plan to explain that?”

“I’m not going to shoot you. I’m letting you go, slowpoke. Live your little life together.”

Reiko shielded her man with her willowy body. “Well lower that gun first.”

“Women are seriously fucking different in Okinawa. That is the one thing I have learned.”

“We’re not slaves,” said the editor, “if that’s what you mean.” Now she wanted to cripple him, smear his face on the front page with a trenchant headline. Why not before the gunshots and doctor and fateful table-turning? Screw it. Too late for regret at the phone calls left undialed. At least she had found Jin.

“No, of course you’re not slaves. No one’s a slave. I’ve never heard the term before.”

Detached from the back-and-forth, Etsu huddled into herself, becoming the quiet kid with bangs who had failed her timid displays in public. She stood by Grandpa Nakano, the man who scooped a gun from a blood-soaked shore, who was thin and wrinkled like a plum left under the couch. His moustache, shot through with bolts of gray, floated in the salty breeze.

What did the naicha say to his wife when the storm hit? (He winked at her because her mother was out of earshot.)

I don’t know, Grandpa.

Nothing—he was out drinking with his boss!

I don’t get it.

Priorities, my dear. You’ll understand later, rest assured.

Do you know everything, Grandpa?

Everything? Hmm. That’s a tall order. No, just the bright side of life, little one.

And how do you know that?

Curious, eh? You’re going to be a scholar, just like the ceremony predicted.

I’m going to learn everything.

No one can learn everything, now. We just hope to understand enough to get by.

Well, how much is that?

It depends. It means looking out for your friends and family, your community. Taking care of the people around you. You’ll get by just fine, then. I promise.

“You awake, there, Etsu?” Yoshio flurried his fingers, in control, able to feel amusement even in this increasing disorder.

The earth seemed to lose its hold on people and objects, to cast off its matter to the cavern of space. She snapped back to attention.

“I have a fairly humble request. When we first met—and aren’t you glad I remember?—we discussed music. I like Madonna, you like Tupac. You write your own raps. I bet you, back then, that I could get you to share a verse. So I can’t resist asking you to provide a few words before I leave. To bring this matter to a close. Then I’ll go away forever, I promise. I promise. A verse or two is more than enough.”

Etsu slackened her face, a prisoner faced with some new routine to master and internalize. “You want me to rap for you? After this?”

He waved the gun under the streetlight beside him. “I’ll be so kind as to provide a beat.” With that he cupped a hand over his mouth and mimicked a kick and snare, although he couldn’t keep even a decent rhythm. Etsu reeled away from him, intaking air like a dying woman trapped underground.

“Hold a moment,” said Jin. “If this is really what we’re going to do, please at least let a professional handle the background.” He hitched up his corduroy slacks and cleared his throat. Reiko kissed him for luck.

With his whole body Jin propelled himself into a beat, feet slapping asphalt, knuckles pinging the car hood, mouth blatting out bass notes, hi-hats, and even chamber orchestra strings, when the occasion called for it.

“Damn solid production value,” said Yoshio. “That’s your cue, Etsu. Sixteen bars.”

Etsu folded her arms in her finest B-boy stance. This muddy point where the world had dumped her: on a road by a cheap bar, in her island’s capital, under a Category-4 typhoon. It made no sense. But her father’s abandonment made no sense, and her mother’s self-punishing labor ran on even shakier logic. She could pull some of the inner words of her thoughts into reality, hitman be damned. Perhaps the day would play out without a massacre. She didn’t know why—was Yoshio as good as his word?—but a sudden lightness flooded her body, lifted her toward the sky to promise calming journeys. This was the magic of performance, of capturing a crowd with nothing but your voice to make them stay. Hidari Wasayama would approve.

“All right, then…if you’re going to murder me otherwise. I might as well take the opportunity first to apologize for hurting you—shooting you in the shoulder, the left one—as inadequate as it sounds. I am deeply sorry.” She bowed until she could have placed her hands on the ground without trouble. For several seconds she held the position, then pulled herself stiffly upright.

Yoshio hummed and shrugged it off, as if he was accustomed to projectiles entering his body. “Don’t mention it.”

“It is very important for me to mention it, so I can differ from you. Attacking you compromised every value I hold as a pacifist.”

Yoshio laughed. “Hey, you’re young, who doesn’t turn into a hypocrite? And aren’t you supposed to be rapping?”

Etsu puffed out her cheeks and nodded, once. Bobbing on the balls of her feet, she worked her limbs and body into a state fit for delivering lines. In the gathering dawn her outline was slim and sharp like a manga persona's. “Fine. But I’m doing it for myself, because I want to share this with someone, before… you’ll let me go, I’m sure…

“Okinawa doesn’t live how it’s supposed to

You got to move on from pawn to being powerful, don’t you

Think so, I’d give up every mink stole

To feel half-alive and claim some of my pride

And what’s it like being stepped on,

Left out, DEFCON

Nightmares, price shares, you never think there’s life where

The windows are broken

Left hopeless in the moments where my heart lies open

To knives and fat lies and sinister opponents with bright teeth

No need to dream or speak

I just write life down and walk lightless streets

You can’t stop me,

Put pen to paper but you still can’t copy

My style

White and yellow, I’m a half-born child

My pops left I guess he’s flown over eight miles away

Gone to Taiwan, Tokyo, or hot Bombay

But my mission

Is nuclear fission

Split you down the middle til the world stops to listen

Call me peaceful, every lesson I teach you

Is feasible to preach from a cell, sky, or beach

If I die, bury me where I lie

My spirit will exist in the wind and the tide

My writing will insist on the good and the right

So maybe someone’s gonna miss my bitter isolated life

Well I could pray to cut through the decay

My conscience is a father who’s forever on his way

And I wait for the Ryukyu state

You know I never say it loud but I’m proud to hold my spine straight.”

Heartfelt clapping resounded across the road and doubled back in imitation of a crowd. Jin ended with a flourish of snaps and shoe-clicks, sweat gleaming on his lip and neck and staining his paisley shirt. The avenue remained drenched and empty.

Yoshio said, “That was brilliant. Etsu, you should work with Jin in the future, you’d make beautiful music. I’m not lying about that.”

“Thank you.” Solemn Jin bowed, despite everything. “I feel less afraid.”

“Now we just need some beer, some ramen, and a movie or two.” Reiko palmed her boyfriend’s back and imagined her apartment, free of gangster and soldier, simply waiting for her to claim it. She could get drunk and write a first draft of her groundbreaking article, Hip-Hop and Murder in Okinawa. Jin might even clean the dishes.

A wind shrieked down the street. With it, a tawny cat, seeking shelter in the far bushes.

“I think that’s a girl,” said Yoshio.

Etsu leapt. An oval stone, carried by the typhoon, had slashed her foot. The hitman caught the motion and shot her through the heart in mid-jump. With difficulty she peered down at the damage. Her Jam Master Jay shirt was ruined. Now her back was in a puddle, all cold and wet, and there was gravel by her eyes.

“You goddamn dickless son of a bitch,” said Reiko.

“Now hold on, I didn’t want to. I thought she was going for the gun.”

Reiko skidded the few meters to her friend and knelt to cradle her. The head was wet and light in her arms, the eyelids twitching. Blood pumped from Etsu’s tiny chest in warm freshets, staining Reiko’s coat past the point of repair. Fading, the student reached out to her companion’s face. With a thumb she traced her symmetrical chin, sponging up the beauty she had spied back in primary school. She imagined them sitting under a banyan tree with the day descending in tatters, when a kijimuna drops down to stifle her body. The ruddy imp locks eyes with her, pokes out his tongue, and suffocates her for the fun of it, because he can. Grandpa, Harriman, mother, Reiko, Lucy, 2Pac, and John the sly shih tzu crowd around her, wishing her well in the next life. 2Pac lights a cigar and hands it to her, and this is the perfume of her demise: the wealthy smell of burnt rubber.

Reiko snatched the Type 94 and aimed it at Yoshio’s nose.

“I’ll do it, you asshole, I’ll shoot you in the face.”

“Put it down, please.”

“She did it, I’ll do it.”

“I won’t tell you again.”

“Fuck you.”

Reiko made to squeeze the trigger and Yoshio, foolish human that he was, drilled a pit the festive crimson of deigo blossoms into her skull. The woman’s teeth clacked together and echoed in the uneasy stillness of the street. She flopped down over Etsu’s corpse, a belated protective pose, hair spooled in the curve of the other woman’s throat.

Jin stood there and vibrated. “You shot her.”

“I had to shoot her. You saw what was happening.”

“You shot her,” he said, without affect. He stepped towards his roommate. “Me too, then.”

“Don’t get dramatic on me, man, come on. We’ll get rid of the bodies, we can start over. It’s not a big deal. Other sponges in the sea.”

“She is my life, Yoshio. The woman who has sustained me for two years. I left my room for her.”

“Oh, come on.”

Jin shuffled to his lover and buried his face in her hair. He wept without noise as the wind rippled over his clothes, which made him seem even frailer. Clothes stuck to his skin, hair matted and wet, he pried the pistol from Reiko’s fingers.

“God damn it, Jin, what are you doing?”

The musician’s face was one of deep, solemn emptiness, although tears marshalled at the edges of his eyes. He had never held a gun in his life. He stared at Yoshio without condemnation as much as powerless disappointment.

“Just put the gun down and we can talk it out. Get some sushi or something. You like uni?”

Jin steadied the weapon and curled his finger over the trigger.

“It doesn’t have to be like this, man. We’re friends.”

The wind flattened the report into a faint rumble and peeled back Yoshio’s lips and cheeks like he was freefalling. Not even enough time for Jin to register an expression of pain. The man fell away from his lover into a puddle that bounced back a sickly, burgeoning light, a mirror of some weeping ancestor from the mountains. Then silence, a roadsign swinging mournfully. Yoshio stepped forward over the blood that misted the pavement in ugly patterns.

“Good night, little dugongs.”

He studied Etsu’s complexion under the clouds: pumpkin cheeks, thin lips. A student with no sense of her own worth. Reiko was superfluous, although she certainly had a swell chin. And Jin. He hadn’t wanted to kill his roommate, but Yoshio lived off the books, and Jin’s emails led straight here. It was a shame, for a guy on his first time out in years.

He knocked on the door to the unopened bar: the intended destination. Music emanated faintly from within. He grabbed the handle, turned, and the door swung inward to a lightless hallway. Maruka lounged in a daze in the back room, drained after a night of celebration, J-pop cranked to top volume. Sukugarasu and awamori on the table. Kobo was splayed on a green suede couch with a whiskey in one hand and his woodwork in the other, consulting the fetish as a child might a treasured toy.

“My reckless friend, how good of you to show up. I was just going to bed. Unfortunately for you, the whores just left.”

“Lucky for the whores,” said Yoshio. “Was Izuma there?”

“Who? Oh, that one you were obsessed with. No, shit, after the trouble you caused I’m shipping her off to Bangkok. She’ll have a nice time there.”

“I see.”

Yoshio loomed over them with full awareness of his shadow, engorged and flickering on the wall. It is possible to feel enormous and insignificant at the same time.

“What happened with the Tamashis?”

“Oh, you know,” said Kobo. “Yasu had some fun with them.”

“Alive?”

Maruka’s laughter pummeled the walls, fighting the bass in the J-pop. “Concerned about them all of a sudden? Yes, they are alive. Unharmed, as a matter of fact. We’re not thugs like you.”

“Like me.”

“Yes, you buffoon. You know, your boss called mine and bawled you out. It was quite unpleasant, I hear.”

“I just have no control anymore,” said Yoshio.

“That’s putting it mildly. Shit, if you were my soldier I’d stick you in the Sakhalin Islands, permanently. You’re too wild. Bad for business.”

“Ever since that otter died, I’ve been coming to pieces. Sex doesn’t help. Killing doesn’t do it for me.”

Maruka palped a wrinkly umeboshi and held it to the light. “Sex never helps, it only makes you forget where you’re heading. And killing. That only sinks you deeper. Isn’t that right, Kobo?”

“I guess so,” said Kobo. “I just like to watch.”

“Oh ho, hear that. He just likes to watch. And Yasu’s no better.”

“He clips toenails,” said Kobo, looking down, as if he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Yasu’s a strange one, all right.” Maruka turned the plum under his nose, sniffing, pretending it was wine. To savor the juice he licked along the pliant skin. “I guess I can’t speak from a moral high ground, right? I like girls. Teenage, preferably. You should’ve seen the one we had over here before. What a looker! They’re best before they’re in high school. Puberty ruins a lady, you know that? It’s in that book, that what’s-it-called.”

Lolita,” said Kobo. “I only know because of Yasu. He mentions it sometimes.”

Lolita,” said Yoshio.

“I was thinking more Ihara Saikaku. This western stuff is poisoning your sense of culture. Where is Yasu, by the way?”

Kobo shrugged. “Smoking a joint.”

“That reefer’s going to addle his mind. It’s not good, you know? But what do I care? He does his job well, that’s for sure.”

Kobo whittled his woman’s head; looked at it like he was in love. He sighed.

Yoshio asked, “Do you think you could change the music? I don’t fancy J-pop.”

“What?”

“I said—”

“Ah, I heard you, I’m just fucking with you. Kobo, turn the station. What is this, now?”

“Yellow Magic Orchestra,” said Yoshio. “‘Behind the Mask.’ It’s a good song.”

“They’re singing in English, are they? Well, I can’t understand it.”

“It’s just about walking around, feeling dead inside.”

Maruka squinted at his umeboshi—looking for signs, perhaps. He plucked the fuzz under his chin and grunted.

“Sounds like what Wasayama’s supposed to be saying from the spirit world. But she’s not, is she? You haven’t killed her yet.”

“No,” said Yoshio. “This was the first song I heard after my foster parents died. I don’t even remember where. The hospital, perhaps. Or the zoo. It holds a great deal of meaning for me.”

“The fearsome Yoshio spills his guts for us. What will your oyabun say? First you cherish an otter, then you’re tearing up over songs. It is a strange day, to be sure.”

“I am not crying,” said Yoshio. “I did enough of that when they died. They were exceptionally good to me in a world that was, objectively, devoid of love and approval. They bought me things. Food, clothes, toys. I was lucky. Even more, they cared about me like I was more than a thing. And they died. Then it rained.”

Maruka screwed up his lips like he was stifling a laugh. He extended a hand in parody of fatherly affection. “Ah, so this storm’s got you in a pensive mood. Well, don’t let it. You still have a job to do, right? My boss is graciously allowing you in our territory, so don’t overstay your welcome. He’s a fickle guy. As am I.” He gave the plum another healthy squeeze. Yoshio tried to detect the scrape of Kobo’s knife against the wood, but he could only hear music. “Sit down, by the way, for fuck’s sake. You’re creeping me out, you psychopath.”

“Apparently, psychopaths and sociopaths are different.”

“The hell you hear that from?”

“A shrink.”

“Shit, you really are cracking. Get out of here, Yoshio, you’re ruining my mood.”

“I was supposed to keep a low profile.”

“Yeah, well go keep it somewhere else. I’m tired.”

“We’re all tired. We’re quite tired in this dying sea.”

“Poetic. You should compose ryuka with this knucklehead over here. Yasu’s the one who makes them up, though. Fucking loafers.”

“I prefer haiku,” said Yoshio.

A sly wink. “You would, asshole. Now get out of here.”

“Otter on the sea

Hunting for his supper clams

Shell cracks on tummy.”

Yoshio looked at Kobo with approval and, possibly, a small glimmer of admiration. “That’s not bad, Kobo. You just made that up?”

“Kobo’s a goddamn poet genius,” said Maruka. “We’re all geniuses; that’s why we’re in this business—except you, you cheap-looking hood.”

“It’s finished,” said Kobo, admiring his work. “You remember that journalist girl? I added her face.”

Yoshio smiled with something akin to serenity. He breathed in and loosened every joint in his busted frame. Surfaces. The pistol swung from coat to open air and popped Maruka’s left eye into gelatin. Even with the music, the sound annihilated the tiny room. Kobo let go his fetish and drew his sidearm as Yoshio fired, carving a gap through his cheek and jetting blood over his afro and across his white cotton pants. Painted thickly with their own fluid, the two gangsters jerked away the last energy in their nerves. Yellow Magic Orchestra finished their song: exhale.

The hitman stepped toward the corpses.

Near-sighted Yasu burst forth from a bathroom to the right and unloaded, twice, missing because Yoshio had hit the ground before the door finished swinging open. The reports of his .45 called to mind a mob boss nursing an ulcer as he barked out some inarticulate curse. When Yasu looked down at the carpet he saw the assassin pointing a gun at his head, spread almost seductively with one leg bent and an easeful smile upon his features.

“Drop yours.”

Yasu closed his eyes behind his spectacles. “Maybe I’m fast.”

“This isn’t the movies,” said Yoshio.

With a discharge of tightness from his whole body, Yasu dropped his gun. The sour fragrance of marijuana radiated from his clothes. “I don’t particularly wish to die.”

“This is why luck eludes you.”

The Okinawan flashed his rotten teeth, as if in agreement. He picked a shred of lint from his shirt and dropped it on the floor. “ ‘The red comb floated out of the sinking boot and silently drifted down the great river.’ ”

“Sure thing, buddy.”

“It’s from Kawabata’s ‘The Money Road.’ The final line.” He sniffed, propping his spectacles further up his nose.

“Cool, I guess. Fitting. Literary.”

“Quite so.”

Yoshio snatched the other man’s gun and fired four times into his stomach. The bodyguard sank to his knees and uttered a low, monotone grunt that jarred horribly with the pop music thumping over the speakers. Yoshio stood and dusted off his coat, one section at a time, despite the bullet hole in his shoulder. Yasu cupped his palms against his belly, unable to staunch the rivers of blood that extruded from him. He tipped over and coughed, twice, the glasses knocked onto the floor beside him, reflecting his own homely face.

Yoshio kicked him in the ribs until he heard the bones give way, then pissed on his back while smoking a cigarette. Blood darkened the carpet. He wiped the prints from the Sig Sauer and arranged it in Yasu’s hand—a coup d’etat gone wrong—and left Yasu’s gun in the blubbery palm of his boss, near the dropped umeboshi.

Yoshio retrieved the plum and ate it.

“Katsuobushi-flavored.”

He smiled. He stole a joint and several oxycodone tablets from Yasu’s pockets, taking care to avoid the urine. He crunched the pills in his mouth. From his pocket he took a million yen, counted in 100,000s, riffled the stack, and set it on the table. They were small-time enough. To be sure, though, he added a second million. He limped behind the bar and guzzled from a bottle of fine kusu, then hurled the thing into the great mirror that looked onto the bloodbath. It descended in shards.

Yoshio wiped down the passenger seat of Reiko’s car, grumbling at the blood on the cushion. He came back with bleach and dumped it over everything.

“At least there’s no rain,” he said sweetly, and meant it.

Inside he changed into a white leisure suit with a lavender oxford shirt and set the bar alight. He looked like a parvenu at a trendy onsan spring. He shut the door to keep the smoke from spilling into the road and then set the car on fire. He stood admiring the second plume of smoke that rose from the car, admired Reiko and Etsu and Jin as they waited to burn.

“Goodbye, folks. It was nice knowing you. I’ll leave you an offering sometime. And Etsu, you’d have been prettier if you didn’t think so little of yourself. You just didn’t want to live. Admit it.” He used his bruised foot to open her mouth and close it.

“‘I admit it, Yoshio.’”

“See? That wasn’t so bad. At least you didn’t back down. You went out with honor.”

His spirits had been lifted by the improved weather. Maybe it was just the eye, a temporary effect, but who cared? Savor pleasure while it lasted. On the way out he collected Grandpa Nakano’s Type 94.

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