That Japanese Judge Is Very Tough
I had been in the kitchen of our residence of that time. I do most of the cooking for us when we don't eat out; not that Stephen can't cook, but he insists that I'm the better chef out of the two of us. I'm usually awake before him anyways. So that particular day, I was in the kitchen making omelets. It's one of Stephen's favourite breakfasts, and I quote him: "There's no comparison to waking up late Saturday morning to the aroma of Bloom's signature omelets wafting through the air." Very poetic.
I looked down to whisk the eggs. I looked up a moment later and there was a woman seated at our table with her boot-clad feet upon an adjacent chair. There was also a suitcase by the door. About one second ago there was no one, and now this woman sat there smoking like she'd been there all morning. Was I dreaming? I hadn't even heard anything! That was by far the strangest thing that had happened in a while. What could I say? I went back to whisking the eggs; maybe she'd be gone when I looked up again, like some sort of bizarre mirage. I was almost afraid to look up again, but I did and there she was. Definitely not a mirage, or a hallucination; there had to be a reasonable explanation. There was the sound of footsteps upstairs, indicating that Stephen had finally woken up – he'd know what to do.
"Um, excuse me," I said awkwardly before exiting the room. She may have just materialized in the kitchen but that was no reason to be rude.
Stephen was casually strolling down the stairs in a dark gray dressing gown – a nice contrast to my white one, I noted to myself. He smiled when he saw me. "Good morning. Don't tell me, you've gotten the eggs to cook themselves."
For him, it was never too early for a joke. "Good morning. The eggs are doing fine, thank you." Maybe he had a girl visiting; I hadn't considered that. "Will your lady friend be eating with us?"
"If I had one upstairs she would be."
"Well, she's already downstairs making herself comfortable."
Stephen peeked around the wall, catching a glimpse of the female in question, wearing a tight blue jumpsuit. "That's interesting," he commented, "I don't remember seeing her last night."
"Neither do I."
"Did you talk with her?"
"Not really, I mean, she only just appeared a moment ago."
Stephen looked thoughtful. "Well, that's a new one."
We entered the kitchen together. I went back to meal preparation, while Stephen took a seat at the opposite end of the table.
"You've picked a great time to visit," my older brother informed the woman. "Bloom, here, is an artist in the kitchen."
There was a complete lack of expression on her face – she just continued to stare off into the middle-distance and take an occasional puff of her cigarette. It was as though Stephen hadn't said a thing.
"If you were at that party last night, then I'm sure you're feeling much the same way that I am," Stephen said with a brief laugh. When his second attempt to elicit a response failed, he just glanced over at me and shrugged.
I doubted that I would be able to get this mysterious guest to talk, but I felt that I should give it a shot all the same. "So, I don't think that we've been introduced," I said, trying to sound casual, "My brother's name is Stephen, I'm Bloom, and you are…?"
She drew a card out of her pocket and, with a swift flick of her wrist, sent it sliding across the table to stop at Stephen's fingertips. He examined it – shimmering copper letters printed on ivory cardstock – and after a moment announced what was written upon it. "Bang Bang."
Definitely an ominous alias if I'd ever heard one, and I'd heard many. Suddenly she was shaking Stephen's hand, then my own. "Nice to make your acquaintance," I heard myself saying.
With those two little words, handshakes, and an omelette brunch, the Brothers Bloom had a new addition to the team. We often had other folks with various skills and areas of expertise assist in some of the parts of a con, but we didn't work with the same people all of the time. Not until now, that is. Bang Bang became our shadow. A quiet one though. We soon came to realize that she didn't talk. Ever.
Stephen and I kept waiting to see when she'd break her monk-like silence. Then we started waiting for if she'd ever speak. Eventually, we stopped waiting, because it became clear that she had no intention of doing so. Bang Bang only "spoke" through gestures, snapping her fingers, and with those piercing black eyes. Okay, they aren't black, they're dark brown, but when she looks at you, you feel like she can see inside of your very soul… Anyways, that took a few months of getting used to, but we developed a form of communication between the three of us.
Another thing about Bang Bang that became apparent nearly as quickly as her lack of speech was her habit of blowing things up. She has more than a touch of pyromania, which is something that you can never get used to, or at least I never will. Though our suspicions were later confirmed in the form of a box, her name alone should have raised a red flag.
Somewhere along the line, Stephen noticed that Bang Bang had a tattoo on the back of her neck. Since neither of us could read nor remember the Japanese characters, it took a bit of detective work to learn their meaning. Step one involved me taking a nonchalant photograph. It had to appear as though I was admiring the scenery when I was really getting a close-up of her neck. Next, Stephen and I took said photo to someone who was Japanese, and owned an amazing restaurant I might add.
"It doesn't translate exactly into English…" the man told us. He paused and thought about how he would re-phrase the meaning. "When something has ended, incinerate…no, detonate it."
"Explode it?" I asked.
"Well, yes. Basically, if you've finished with something, then you'll never need to go back to it again, so why keep it around?"
"That's reasonable," Stephen commented. "When you're done with something, blow it up."
I just stared at him. "And when she's finished with us? Do we get blown up?"
"I'm sure she doesn't mean it like that. It's a figure of speech."
"Really. Would you like to ask whoever she last worked with if it's a figure of speech? Keep in mind they may have been blown to bits."
"She'd never tell us anyways."
"Maybe that's why she doesn't talk – all her partners never knew what hit them."
To make a long discussion short, we reasoned that such an ending probably wasn't the case, since news like that would circulate too far and wide. That didn't leave out near misses, or hits, or whatever…
It was in Finland, we were on a con, and the three of us were staying in a rustic little cabin. There were various things strewn all over the place, so I really wasn't too concerned about a brown, unmarked box that I tripped over one afternoon. I was really hoping that no one had seen my folly, but then I caught sight of Bang Bang's face peering out of a wooden chest.
"What are you doing in there? You didn't sleep in there, did you?"
She shot me a contemptuous look and scrambled out of the chest, approaching me cautiously.
I made a move to get off the floor but she stopped me with a quick double-snap of her fingers. "What is it?" By now I was getting a little nervous, as she edged over and peered at the contents of the box.
There was a nearly imperceptible sigh of relief, then she slid out a bottle for me to examine.
I read the label, and did a double-take… more like a triple-take. "Nitro-glycerin? You're keeping nitro-glycerin in here?" I was shouting by that point. After all, I had nearly blown the entire shack to little pieces. "How did you get in that chest so quickly?"
Let's just say that if it hadn't been so cold in that darn cabin, thus freezing and minimizing the harmful effects of the liquid, there probably would be a crater there today. Stephen also had his own close call with highly explosive materials, which I'm not even going to mention. To be honest, privately we began to wonder if this whole thing with Bang Bang was such a good idea after all.
Nevertheless, she stuck around and did a couple jobs with us. Bang Bang must have done her research because she knew what we were all about, and quickly caught on to our style of cons. Generally we never like to work with the same crew, yet she made everything so cohesive. After the third job together, it was this unspoken thing that she would stay; by then it almost felt like she had always been there.
Bang Bang can do anything – or at least that's what Stephen tells me. Actually, I think that statement may be true. She's adept with complicated scenarios, a dead-eye shot with a gun, an explosives expert, a fearless driver… In fact, Bang Bang has gotten us out of several tense situations simply by being the person behind the wheel of the get-away car.
And yet, despite all that we've come to know about her, and all the time that she's been with us, both Stephen and I wish we could know more about her. Stephen especially. It's not like he has ever said anything directly in relation to that, but he has dropped hints; though knowing Stephen, it's impossible to tell whether it's a deliberate action or a Freudian slip.
Like the time we where out buying gentlemen's items. Stephen asked the clerk about fragrances that would compliment bergamot, citrus, and vanilla. I didn't really take any notice of it until much later. I happened to be sitting near Bang Bang when I realized that that was exactly what she smelled like. When Stephen passed by, I detected a whiff of his sweet tobacco scent and noted her reaction; not that I was expecting much though. She seemed to pause a moment and inhale a little more, while the corners of her mouth turned upward in an ever-so-slight smile.
Then there is Stephen's casual study of the Japanese language. He claims that he is trying to communicate better, though we both know that she understands English as well as her mother tongue. Bang Bang even has a hat similar to Stephen's – black, broad brim, flat top. I should add that that woman has a very fine style, right down to her silver lighter with crystal and mother-of-pearl accents.
Somehow, Stephen and Bang Bang have formed this unusual relationship even though both of them are intensely private. My brother doesn't really share his thoughts, but he's always the brave and resourceful one, the parent to me and himself. In some ways he wants the girl by his side to take care of him like the mother he never had. Yet he wants to be with someone as independent as himself. Paradoxical? Sure. Ironic? Maybe.
Even so, he's the one who can talk with her late into the night without a word of response on her part, though Bang Bang's subtle expressions can make it seem otherwise. They'll be the ones who get up and dance while I'm warming a seat somewhere. Just the way they move is so synchronized; they're so comfortable with each other. If they are sitting with each other it's always side by side, shoulders touching. So close and yet so distant. Bang Bang always knows what to do, like she's reading Stephen's mind, but it doesn't bother him. Actually, I think he prefers it.
"Do you ever wonder about Bang Bang? Like, what happens when she leaves?"
"Well I know that she's here now, but…"
"Bloom, now is the only time that matters."
Easy for him to say. We're lounging in a garden courtyard that could have been the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – it's a residence of someone related to Moroccan royalty. Floating around with a parasol, Bang Bang was arm-in-arm with our mark as he expounded the magnificence of the palatial abode. Stephen lay in a reclined chair sipping a drink and soaking in the aromas, always so untroubled.
"Now is great and all but…" I wasn't even convincing myself. I was at the edge of my own recliner with a drink in hand, looking tense.
"Exactly – now is great." Stephen tipped the brim of his hat up and looked at me. "When you're reading a book you want to know what happens next, but you don't look ahead then return to where you were in the story; that takes away the excitement."
"Yeah," I said with a shrug. It's true, after all.
"Staying one step ahead of a mark is one thing, but I don't want to get ahead of myself."
At that moment Bang Bang glanced over with a rare smile – you'd have missed it if you didn't know her – and we both raised our glasses in acknowledgement. Stephen, Bloom, and Bang Bang. Why change what works? And this definitely works.