Keystone Trigger

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Chapter 50

Yoshio woke into white lights and faces. He felt disoriented, hot, dissolved like salt in a leftover ramen broth. Something whooshed and compressed and his lungs expanded for him, as if he was too weak to do so on his own. But he wasn’t weak, he was—

Motionless. He couldn’t move. A great pain in his temple like the stamp of too much sake.

“What gives?” he wished to say, but the words stayed buried. He could only watch, through miniscule cracks in his eyelids, a purple glove glide over and probe a spot above his skull. Filaments of silver crackled within him and swayed to the pale, bothersome cycle of pain. A voice muttered soothing but unintelligible phrases, which only enraged the hitman as he struggled to remain conscious, and to piece the last hours of his life together.

Riding in a truck.

Cave.

Some American, maybe, or had it been another nightmare? Maybe he was still in Tokyo, in his squalid cubby in Shinjuku. Neon forest outside all times of night, that explained the brightness. Perhaps he—

“I think the man’s lucid.”

Not his voice. Another human’s: intruder. Yoshio fought his arms, but they still failed to respond. He refused the idea that he must welcome paralysis and wait for the next step.

When Sub-Boss finds out, or even Full Boss, what would occur? Unless he was at headquarters already, they’d strapped him down and readied him for special torture, a plan cooked up by another burakumin eager for his shot at unseen notoriety.

No, that wasn’t it. He was in a hospital, wasn’t he, and he was in pain. A patient. Hadn’t he shot himself in the head? All the data was real, then: Dana, Hidari, the stones under the island. A fitting place to leave the Type 94.

Yoshio laughed, if one could call it laughing; it took place only in a hollow interior, the channels and wells that existed between his ears. He couldn’t even complete suicide correctly.

Thanks, universe, he thought as he pushed on his genitals in a plea to release urine. Nothing happened. Some machine was doing that for him, too.

For a long time nothing transpired. Dust settled on objects and somebody wiped it off.

What do you call a man who chokes his otter to death?

(The nurses wheel him into another room, pale blue, one with sunlight and a rubber plant in the far corner. “He'll never walk again, will he?” one of them says. “Oh my,” says the other, “he won't even speak, most likely.”)

I don’t know, Yoshio. What?

(The first nurse leans over him and smiles. She resembles Etsu, with pumpkin cheeks, only less murdered.)

Tell me!

(It is your last chance to let her know you liked her, isn’t it?)

What do you call a man who brings harm to another mammal? To one of the world’s coolest, if not the most intriguing of species?

I already said I don’t know, Yoshio. Jeez.

So do you give up?

… Yeah. I guess I give up …

Cool. Quadriplegic! Obviously. He'll rest there in his wheelchair, not getting any rest at all, and receiving blenderized protein jelly through a straw. Once a week they'll steer him through a yellow prison lawn to let him blink dumbly at the sun. That's after the trial, though. Right? There's that circus first. It's hard to tell sometimes, since time slips away and becomes rubbery when you're dead from the eyeballs down. Because things are different now, yes? The old days are finally finished. The past is a finger you chop off and hand to your boss, wrapped in a white cloth.

Ha ha ha ha.

Keep on laughing, sea lions—I’ll be around for a long, prosperous time.

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