Cupcake (Flash Fiction)

(30 day Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 1: An impulse buy leading to intergalactic warfare.)

“Stand back!” cried the cupcake through crackling static. It jumped up off the plate on tiny legs and sprouted tentacle arms holding shiny little instruments. The blueberries popped open to reveal eyeballs.
Susan shrieked and jumped off her chair. She picked up a large hardbound book and held it up to swat it.
“Freeze! Don’t move!” said the cupcake creature. “Or I’ll… I’ll shoot!” Its tentacle hands were trembling. The voice sounded like it came filtered through an old radio.
“What? Who? What are you?”
“I am Zeno of Baloo here to investigate the disappearance of Isheka, the expedition scout with whom we lost communication. I awoke from cryosleep to find myself here. Where am I?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. You’re a cupcake I bought at the outdoor market. I’d been off gluten for thirty days. I couldn’t help it.”
“What are you talking about? I do not understand. Where is gluten? Terrestrial or celestial?”
“Neither,” said Susan, still holding the book, not sure whether to strike or to run. “It’s a substance. It’s something we eat. A protein.”
“Carnivores!” cried the cupcake nervously pointing the shiny instrument at Susan.
“No! No! I’m a veggie!”
“Why am I here?”
“I bought you!”
“What for?”
“Because I wanted to eat…”
A sudden flash emitted from the shiny instrument and a laser beam burned a dollar sized crater in Susan’s book. She looked at the scorched cover and realized it was her newest copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
“That was uncalled for!”
“Stay, creature!”
“Listen cupcake…”
“Don’t call me cupcake!”
“You may be new around here, but in these parts we have this thing we call manners.”
“Manners? Isheka must have been eaten. Eaten!”
“Ew.”
The alien raised its weapon.
“Wait! Wait! You don’t know that! Anything could have happened.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know. Someone might have bought your friend just like I bought you.”
“And eaten?”
“If your friend was eaten, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. It’s that you look so much like something we eat.”
“We must hurry.”
“We?”
“Isheka may still be alive. You must take me to the place you found me.”
“It was the farmer’s market in the park.”
“Then we must go there. The peace of the universe is at stake.”
“That sounds a little overly dramatic but I guess I had fights over a cupcake before. Can you get in my purse because people might freak out when they see you.”
“Yes. We shall go to the rescue. And don’t call me cupcake.”

(Written in response to 30 day Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 1.)

The Scene (Flash Fiction)

I had to swerve to avoid spilling my coffee on the forensic guy as he rushed out of the crime scene to vomit in the ditch full of broken glass and mummified trash. Either the guy was still green or this was a really bad day to show up with a hangover. In the rush, I forgot to take out the diaphragm and my underwear was getting uncomfortable. The cup was hot in my hand.
“Hi, Martha.”
The medical examiner barely looked up from her clipboard, her graying Afro obscured under a police issue shower cap.
“Morning, Carol. How was the date?”
I tried to buy time to come up with an answer by sipping on the coffee, still too hot to really drink. Martha looked over her glasses at me.
“That bad, huh?”
The place smelled like a million dead rats. Everything looked grayish, the house had been vacant so long.
“You need a shower cap,” she said pulling one out of her bag. I was suddenly aware of the state of my hair.
“Thanks.”
“It’s greying.”
“What?”
“Your hair.”
“Well at least I won’t get blond jokes anymore.”
I put on a pair of disposable gloves and stooped over the corpse partly hidden under plastic cover.
“What have we got?”
The smell of blood was overwhelming. And there was the chicken meat smell of fresh corpses. And the smell of wet hair.
“Same age group. Twenty-two or three. We won’t know for sure until we get a positive ID.”
The victim’s wrist was very thin and her skin was still fresh and smooth. Dark and beautiful.
I thought I grew up to be decently inclusive, color blind practically, but last night when it was time to actually sleep with a dark skinned man, a loving man I did not deserve, I took more Scotch than I should have to help me go through with it. And as the puss from the diaphragm ran down my thigh and I fought back the sick in my throat, I realized what I was beneath the veneer.
“Bitch,” I said.
“What?”
“No, not her.” I stood up, and immediately felt the blood draining out of my head, the floor a ski slope under my feet.
“I was talking… about myself.”
A cold chill gripped my body and liquid squeezed through the goosebumps.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine.”
“Seriously, your eyes look like rotten fruit. What the hell?”
“Nothing. I just…”
I looked at the corpse. So young. So still. Martha spoke down at it.
“Same M.O. Same African-American victim. Same brutal rape. Fifteen stab wounds. Sign of anger, like the others. Three makes a serial.”
“Whew…”
“It gets worse. The two previous sperm samples, they were from the same individual, big surprise, but both had the C282Y gene mutation, cause of hereditary hemochromatosis, most commonly found in Scandinavians and related Europeans.”
“Meaning the perp is probably white.”
“And probably race motivated. You gotta get this bastard before the media gets wise or it’s gonna be a fuckin’ circus.”
“I can’t do this.”

(Composing this piece was previously discussed under the heading “300 words“.)

Koyashi

Translations of great fiction rarely live up to their originals. Sometimes the failure to do justice to the original work boils down to one word. When a single key word cannot be properly translated into the other language, it can become the stake that kills the work.

Koyashi is a Japanese noun difficult to translate to another language. Its etiological origin is the word that means “to fatten”, koyashi is a “fattener”, therefore it implies nutrition. However, its meaning in actual usage is “fertilizer”. Koyashi is the material that fattens the soil and makes it nutritious to crops. It is also used metaphorically in phrases such as “gei no koyashi” – “fertilizer for art”. “Gei” (芸) can mean any act of art, but usually implies performance art. A “fertilizer for art” is any experience that enriches the performance of the artist, but is usually associated with vice and hedonism. A musician, for example, can claim that his womanizing is simply food for his art, and thereby justify his actions by disguising it as devotion to his craft. “It’s all part of the process”, as they say.

Up until quite recently in history, in most Japanese cities, human excrement was collected from homes and carted away to be mixed with chopped hay and animal manure and fermented into organic fertilizer. An ultimate form of waste recycling, this fertilizer, koyashi, was kneaded into the soil each year to produce a richer harvest and provide sustenance for the consumers from whom the fertilizer came from. Japanese people were quite aware of this cycle. And it is telling that this word was chosen to describe the acts of vile deviance that produced richer performances for the consumption of the public.

The lack of a word equivalent to koyashi in the English language subtracted greatly from the English translation of The Tattooer, a short story by Junichiro Tanizaki. The word used in the translation is “victim”, which is clearly not the same thing. When, at the end of the story, the young woman says to the tattoo artist “You have become my first koyashi,” the tattooer is not just a victim, he is food. His life and blood had been sucked dry by the vampire of his own creation. That is the point of the story.

The story is so short and minimalist, the modern parlance for it would be “flash fiction”. It barely spans three pages in a paperback book. The original story in Japanese, first published in 1910, is written in a style, modern for its time, that became a template for generations, mixing commoner dialect with almost melodic colloquial prose. A prime example of turn-of-the-century Japanese aestheticism, the story is set in the waning days of the Edo period where a talented but sadistic tattoo artist named Seikichi, who loved to torture his willing patrons with his needles, is scheming to create a masterpiece. For that he needs a perfect canvas, a young woman who has not yet fully blossomed.

The title in Japanese is not “The Tattooer” but “Tattoo“. The word for “tattoo” in Japanese is “irezumi”, “ire” meaning “to infuse” and  “sumi” meaning “ink”, it can be written with two characters, each meaning “infuse” and “ink” (入墨). But Tanizaki chooses an alternate, more elaborate way of writing it, one character meaning “pierce” and the other meaning “blue” (刺青). The word possibly comes from the color of traditional tattoo ink which is somewhat bluish or greenish. It makes no grammatical sense to pronounce this combination of characters “irezumi“. This is called “ateji“, a spelling that has nothing to do with the actual pronunciation of the characters, and the ideograms are employed only to convey the meaning. There is no way you will know how to pronounce the word without some kind of assistance if you do not already know how to read it. We do not know, when we first see the title, just two characters on the cover page, why Tanizaki chose to write “piercing blue” instead of “infusing ink”. But those are the two letters that first enter our eyes.

Because of his talent and artistic reputation, Seikichi was never short of customers. But he loved to watch strong men struggle to hide their agony as he employed the most painful techniques to bring out the best effect. He secretly enjoyed seeing them, after being pierced hundreds of times in the most excruciating ways, then soaked in a hot bath to bring out the colors, collapse at his feet, exhausted from pain, unable to move. He would comment on how painful it must have been in dry, mock sympathy. Then he continued to work on them, day after day, for a month, sometimes two, secretly gleeful of their agony. Such was the man who was constantly on the lookout for the perfect girl to be his canvas.

One day he chanced to catch a glimpse of a perfect ankle, and knew immediately that this was the woman he was looking for. He did not see her face, and lost her in the crowd. He searched for her frantically. His ambition turned to obsession. His obsession turned to desire. His desire turned to pain. His pain turned to fire. The fire burned until this man, a genius artist but a sadistic torturer, chanced upon a geisha’s teenage apprentice, and knew immediately that this was the one he sought. He knew it was the same perfect ankle, the same perfect skin, the same perfect toes. He abducted her and lied about his knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts when people asked. Then got to work. He would turn the young girl into a work of art, and that ankle would become his agent to crush the souls of unsuspecting prey, whose juices would further empower his carnivorous creation.

He started by first showing her a scroll, an elaborate painting depicting a legendary Chinese princess who was said to have derived pleasure from watching the torture of innocent victims. Adorned in heavy jewelry and glamorous costume, holding a goblet, she looked over a man chained to a post about to be sacrificed for her pleasure. The languid decadence of the moment was captured vividly. The girl resisted looking at the painting but the tattoo artist insisted that the painting reflected herself. The second scroll he showed her was a painting titled “koyashi“, which showed a woman leaning against a cherry tree in full bloom, whose roots spread over the ground at her feet strewn with bodies of dead men. Perhaps she was a part of the tree itself soaking nutrition from the blood of men. She smiled triumphantly as birds sang around her. Seikichi told the girl that this was her future. The girl begged him to put the horrible painting away, but eventually looked at it, like a woman coerced into sex for the first time, gradually coming around to enjoying it.

He anesthetized the girl and worked all day and all night to inject ink into her skin. He poured his soul into the ink. He worked with great concentration. He held his breath at every entrance of the needle. He exhaled deeply at every extraction. As the girl lay unresponsive, he worked by moonlight and candle light. Black slated rooftops turned frosty blue and slowly changed to a stardust of dew, and white sails of river boats faded in the mist, ever so slowly as night turned to dawn. He whispered as he worked “You shall no longer know fear nor intimidation, for you shall become the greatest beauty of them all. Every man shall drop at your feet, and be reduced to your koyashi.” He painted a picture of a giant spider, its legs extending into her arms and legs; a black and yellow spider, known for its habit of eating the males with which it mated, known as jorogumo, the whore spider.

When she awoke the tattoo was done. She felt the pain of a thousand needles through her skin and moaned as she slowly began to move, the spider rippling on her skin. Her fingers flexed, her brows knitted, her toes twisted as voice left her lips. She awakened to the pain, her initiation. She woke up sharp, and walked by herself to the bath to pour hot water over her searing skin.Her high pitched cries echoed through the house. She emerged from the bath, her wet black hair draped over her naked flesh, and found the tattooer drained. He had injected every last drop of his soul into his art.
“I shall not be afraid any more,” she said, as she pulled her kimono over her shoulders. “I have thrown away my cowardice.”
“Take the scrolls with you,” he said. “They are yours, as is the tattoo.”
There was a powerful glow in the girl’s eyes as she spoke to the artist.
“You have become my first koyashi.”
“Please, I beg of you!” said the artist, “before you go, show me the tattoo one last time!”
She nodded, complied, and dropped her robe. Morning light filled the room, and shone on the glorious tattoo.

And that is the story. Piercing Blue.

 

This is War (flash fiction)

“I almost feel sorry for the guy,” said Kevin as he sawed off the bottom of another can. He tapped the can over the bucket and a foamy white cylinder fell out. He tossed the empty can into the cardboard box and started working on the next can with his hack saw.
“This is war, Kevin. No sympathy for the enemy,” I said, dropping another foamy cylinder into the bucket.
The cans were so cold we both wore heavy gloves in spite of the hot weather. We had sweat on our foreheads and our arms and shoulders ached after hacking for so long.
“How many cans?” said Kevin, slightly out of breath.
“We bought four dozen.”
“I mean, how many left?”
“Five.”
“You think we have enough?”
“Let’s do them all. No sense having any left.”
“I was worried maybe the first ones are beginning to melt.”
“They are at the bottom of the bucket over the dry ice. They’ll last another while.”
“If he wasn’t such an asshole…” said Kevin, hacking through a can.
“The way he slammed that door,” I said, “nearly caught Mei’s fingers, I mean, she’s a piano student, right? He could have hurt her.”
I cut through another frozen spray can and dropped the white content into the bucket. Kevin nodded while cutting away.
“What gets me is that he kept bugging her even after he found out she was my girlfriend, then after he realized that he had no chance with her, none whatsoever, he started on that racist crusade of his…”
He cut through another can and knocked out the white cylinder into the bucket.
“… total douche.”
“He deserves this,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He picked up another spray can, frosted on the surface. “Are you sure about the window?”
“His side of the dorm has lousy air conditioning. He sleeps with his window open every night.”
“What if he wakes up when we throw these in?”
“Then we run. Abort mission.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t.”
We hacked away in silence for a while. A soapy smell was rising from the bucket already.
“How long does it take for these things to start melting?”
“Once out of the bucket, an hour, maybe two.”
“These spray cans were never meant to be frozen. We’re lucky they didn’t blow up or something.”
We emptied the last of the cans into the bucket.
“Okay, we better hurry. Let’s go throw these into his window. If it works out as planned, he will wake up in the morning swimming in shaving cream.”
“This is war, dude. This is war!”
“Let’s do it!”

 

What Are Friends For? (flash fiction)

“Hello, old friend.”
He looked calm, his dark eyes as piercing as ever, his hands relaxed on the shotgun, finger on the trigger.
“Milo.” For half a second I froze in the doorway, then, having no alternative, I walked in the room.
“Mind if I have a Scotch?”
“Be my guest,” he said. The point of his gun followed me as I walked.
I poured a finger, stopped, then poured a double.
“You want one?” Milo did not answer or shake his head, his eyes on my every move, shotgun on my chest.
“Mind if I sit?”
He gestured slightly to acknowledge my question. I sat by the liquor counter, just for convenience.
“Any last requests? Any message to your wife?” said Milo.
“My wife died last year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. How did it happen?”
“Cancer. How about you put some flowers on her grave for me?”
“I can do that.”
“And you can tell Big Murd to go fuck himself.”
“Murd had a message for you too. He said ‘Rot in hell.’”
“I’ll be waiting for him.” I washed down the Scotch over the residue taste of afternoon coffee. I hated Starbucks then like I never knew. Milo was biting his lip.
“You want me to shoot Murd for you?”
“You can do that?”
“I’m your friend, Steve. I’d do anything for you.”
Except spare me, of course. He was a professional that way. I took another sip, and realized the Scotch was going down real fast. I shook my head, not at anything in particular, but Milo didn’t like it. His finger tightened slightly on the trigger.
“Murd needs to die, Steve. He’s gone paranoid.”
“Not my problem now, is it?”
“We go back, Steve. We’re friends. You need to help me on this. I know I’m next.”
“What do you need?”
“Proof of your death.”
“Then chop off my head and take it with you.”
“To Chicago? I have to take a flight. Get real.”
“Well how do you figure?”
“Murd needs to know I killed you. Then maybe I can get close enough to cut him down.”
“Good luck with that.”
“I’m serious!”
I reached for the bottle and poured myself another. I gestured the bottle to Milo, but he shook his head. I sipped on the Scotch, trying to enjoy it. Then I reached in my shirt and saw Milo tighten again as I pulled out a crucifix on a chain.
“Murd gave it to me. Happier days. Said it belonged to his mother. He’ll know when he sees it.”
“I still need someone to find your body.”
I reached for the phone on the counter with my eyes on Milo, one hand holding the glass to my mouth. I pushed the button for the speaker phone.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”
“Home invasion. 1866, Gilmore road.” I hung up.
“It will take them fifteen minutes,” I said.
“Thanks, Steve. I owe you.”
“What are friends for?”
“Finish your Scotch.”

(This piece was an assignment in a Facebook forum to write a story about friends within 500 words by the end of the week.)

The Wish (flash fiction)

“Awake!” he said into the night.
There was no reply from the darkness.
The warrior sat down, cross-legged, in front of the fire. His eyes darted left and right. There was nothing to see but the dark woods. An animal called in the distance.
This was the right place. This was the right night. He came alone. Everything was done correctly. Still, nothing.
“Curses!” he hissed.
Then, there was the sound, possibly the wind, though there was little of it. It sounded like a slow breath through an empty pipe, a low series of blows. He looked around, but there was nothing.
“Who dare wakes me?” It was clearer this time.
“It is I,” he said standing up, looking around. “I wish my clan to rule all of the Rising Sun.”
“I wish to eat your liver. Shall we trade?”
“I am Prince of Izumi, not common rabble!”
“Nobler the blood, sweeter the meat.”
The origin of the voice seemed to float around in the darkness, as if an invisible ghost was circling the fire.
“Can you make me ruler?”
“You want to hear yes, but no.”
“Then why should I give you anything?”
“Because your son will be given a chance.”
“When?”
“After your death. You shall not live to see it. Pity. It will be quite a battle.”
“Can he win?”
“If he makes the right choices. Not difficult if it were you. You are noble, but a traitor, a warrior, but an assassin, a conqueror, but a thief. You choose your path as craftily as a viper.”
“Impertinence!”
“Is it? You are Saburo-emon-no-joh, Lord Ukita Naoie, Prince of Izumi. Your name is a string of stolen titles. You mutinied your way up to where you are. Vengeful ghosts surround you. Trust me when I say, I am not the only spirit who desires your innards.”
Cold sweat ran down the warrior’s neck. The voice was whispering directly in his ears.
“Time is short. You must do it now. Take your sword and cut open your stomach. Give me a piece of your liver. This is the only chance for your name to live on in glory.”
He sat down again, opened his robe, drew his sword, and hesitated.
“Do it now! Day light comes!”
He slit his belly. He could feel the slick surface of his liver. He sliced off a piece. Blood gushed out. He gritted his teeth. He picked up a burning stick and shoved the cinder end into his belly to stop the bleeding. He screamed in agony.
When he opened his eyes, the fire had gone out. He felt the piece of liver slip out of his hand.
“The deal is sealed,” said the voice. “You shall die from the wound you incurred tonight. You have ten days to prepare for your death.”
“What of my son?”
“He shall live a long life, win or lose. Longer than you by far.”
“Wait! Wait!”
There was no answer.

 

Ukita Naoie (1529-1582)
Often depicted as an evil schemer and a monster, he assassinated his enemies and relatives alike. He died of a mysterious disease, cause unknown. His son Hideie would be the major force behind Ishida Mitsunari in the epic Battle of Sekigahara, which they almost won, against Tokugawa Ieyasu who would go on to found the Tokugawa Shogunate.

I Did Right. (fiction)

(First Draft)

Wilson looked over the railing to the blue expanse of the Mediterranean below, the only witnesses being the eroded marble busts on the low pillars spaced between the rails gazing woefully at the terrace.
“The outcome?” Nakamoto asked.
“Terminal.”
“What’s the time frame?”
“It’s a priority.”
The young Asian in his tailored Italian suit projected an air of an artistically inclined playboy. Only a trained eye could have detected the faint remnants of his military demeanor.
He straightened his coat as he turned to leave.
“It will be done tonight.”
The man disappeared down the stone stairway that wound down to the sea.
Horrid business, Wilson thought, to be conducting under such a glorious sky.
He took a silver cigarette case out of his jacket, pulled out a slender cigar, Davidoff Exquisitos, and lit it, cupping his hand over the lighter against the breeze.
He took his time with the tobacco, taking in the scenery, before he finally crushed out the stub at the base of a marble bust, then walked back to his spacious hotel room on the other side of the compound.
It was a hot day and dry. He felt that he could have used a cold drink. He was about to ring for service when the concierge appeared at the door.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Is it about the guests?”
“They have mostly left, sir, but your daughter would like to talk to you before she leaves for the honeymoon.”
“Show her in.”
He welcomed his daughter with a broad smile, his arms spread wide. It was a long walk from the door to the hug.
“It was a beautiful wedding daddy. Thank you so much.”
“I wanted to do it. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you. Thank you.”
“You have thanked me enough times. Now, be safe on your honeymoon. Don’t keep the good man waiting.”
“Thank you daddy.”
She walked to the door and turned before she left.
“See you soon.”
“See you soon, dear.”
“Will there be anything else, sir?” said the concierge.
“Yes, a beer. No, wine. Two bottles. The Burgundy we served last night should do.”
“I believe we still have a case, sir. It shall be up shortly.”
The concierge left.
He served himself some cold water and sat with it while he waited for the wine, and picked up a volume of Nabokov. He was half way through Invitation to a Beheading, a strange thing to read on his daughter’s wedding night, but the irony of it appealed to him.
She was his eighth child, by his third wife. All his children were independent now. All with legal, legitimate professions. Only two were even aware of the dark side of their father’s life. But all that was over now. Nakamoto had never failed him before.
He took a seat by the window. The view of the sea was not as good from here as it was from the terrace, but the light was just right for reading. He read a chapter and a half before the wine arrived. He poured himself a generous portion and continued to read.
It was a quiet afternoon.
He read unsteadily. He would put down his book and look out the window, conversing with the ghosts of his past, pick up the book again, put it down, nap a little, wake up, read again, sip some wine to wake himself up, and sip some wine to put the book down.
And then he awoke to find the room dark, the second bottle of wine half empty. He must have slept longer than he thought.
“Are you awake dear?” She glided into the center of the room, out of a dark corner.
“Natasha.” His first wife was as youthful as he remembered her, when Wilson was still Walenski.
“I think I am still asleep.”
“You have always been asleep.”
“I should wake up then.”
“Too late, I should think.”
“I did well. I did right.”
“Not with me.”
Her head exploded in a shower of blood and bone as a bullet hit her temple, and she dissolved into the darkness.
“It was not me! It was not my fault!”
But she was gone.
Wilson reached for his glass of wine and drank from the trembling glass.
“I did right.”
Clouds shifted in the night sky and half the room was filled with moonlight. It was clear that there was nobody there but himself.
“I am alone!” he said out loud, angrily defiant.
“Are you?” She sat across the small table from him, his second wife, wearing a hood over her head concealing her shriveled face long dead from cancer. She took his glass and lifted it to her thin dry lips.
“I shall accept your apology now.”
“I have nothing to apologize for.”
Upon those words she vanished.
“I have nothing to apologize for!” he screamed into the empty room.
There was silence. A dry silence of the sort you can only experience in the Mediterranean summer.The lint in the air was like chalk dust petrified into place. Even the wet sobs of the figure hugging her knees on the bed, a half naked girl just barely old enough to be called a woman, felt dry as the air.
“Why are you crying! You are always crying!” he shouted to his third wife. “I command you to stop crying!”
The girl looked up, her face swollen with tears.
“How much did my father owe you?”
“Shut up! I did right with you! I did right!”
He stood up in rage.
And that was when Nakamoto’s bullet pierced the window glass and entered his skull, accurately tearing through the pineal body, the hypocampus, and the amygdala, leaving his brain in shreds.
“I did right” were his last words.

(Second Draft)

Wilson looked over the railing to the blue expanse of the Mediterranean below, the only witnesses being the eroded marble busts on the low pillars spaced between the rails gazing at the terrace.
“The outcome?” Nakamoto asked.
“Terminal.”
“What’s the time frame?”
“It’s a priority.”
The young Asian in his tailored Italian suit projected an air of an artsy playboy. Only a trained eye could have detected the remnants of his military demeanor.
He straightened his coat as he turned to leave.
“It will be done tonight.”
The man disappeared down the stone stairway that wound down to the sea.
Horrid business, Wilson thought, to be conducting under such a glorious sky.
He took a silver cigarette case out of his jacket, pulled out a slender cigar, Davidoff Exquisitos, and lit it, cupping his hand over the lighter against the breeze.
He took his time with the tobacco, looking over the sea, before he crushed out the stub at the base of a marble bust, then walked back to his spacious hotel room on the other side of the compound.
It was a hot day and dry. He felt that he could have used a cold drink. He was about to ring for service when the concierge appeared at the door.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Is it about the guests?”
“They have mostly left, sir, but your daughter would like to talk to you before she leaves for the honeymoon.”
“Show her in.”
He welcomed his daughter with a broad smile, his arms spread wide. It was a long walk from the door to the hug.
“It was a beautiful wedding daddy. Thank you so much.”
“I wanted to do it. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you. Thank you.”
“You have thanked me enough times. Now, be safe on your honeymoon. Don’t keep the good man waiting.”
“Thank you daddy.”
She walked to the door and turned before she left.
“See you soon.”
“See you soon, dear.”
“Will there be anything else, sir?” said the concierge.
“Yes, a beer. No, wine. Two bottles. The Burgundy we served last night should do.”
“I believe we still have a case, sir. It shall be up shortly.”
The concierge left.
He served himself some cold water and sat with it while he waited for the wine, and picked up a volume of Nabokov. He was half way through Invitation to a Beheading, a strange thing to read on his daughter’s wedding night, but the irony of it appealed to him.
She was his eighth child, by his third wife. All his children were independent now. All with legal, legitimate professions. Only two were even aware of the dark side of their father’s life. But that was over now. Nakamoto had never failed him before.
He took a seat by the window. The view of the sea was not as good from here as it was from the terrace, but the light was just right for reading. He read a chapter and a half before the wine arrived. He poured himself a generous portion and continued to read.
It was a quiet afternoon.
He read unsteadily. He would put down his book and look out the window, conversing with the ghosts of his past, pick up the book again, put it down, nap a little, wake up, read again, sip some wine to wake himself up, and sip some wine to put the book down.
And then he awoke to find the room dark, the second bottle of wine half empty. He must have slept longer than he thought.
“Are you awake dear?” She glided into the center of the room, out of a dark corner.
“Natasha.” His first wife was as youthful as he remembered her, when Wilson was still Walenski.
“I think I am still asleep.”
“You have always been asleep.”
“I should wake up then.”
“Too late, I should think.”
“I did well. I did right.”
“Not with me.”
Her head exploded in a shower of blood and bone as a bullet hit her temple, and she dissolved into the darkness.
“It was not me! It was not my fault!”
But she was gone.
Wilson reached for his glass of wine and drank from the trembling glass.
“I did right.”
Clouds shifted in the night sky and half the room was filled with moonlight. It was clear that there was nobody there but himself.
“I am alone!” he said out loud, defiant.
“Are you?” She sat across the small table from him, his second wife, wearing a hood over her head concealing her shriveled face long dead from cancer. She took his glass and lifted it to her thin dry lips.
“I shall accept your apology now.”
“I have nothing to apologize for.”
Upon those words she vanished.
“I have nothing to apologize for!” he screamed into the empty room.
There was silence. A dry silence of the sort you can only experience in the Mediterranean summer. The lint in the air was like chalk dust petrified into place. Even the wet sobs of the figure hugging her knees on the bed, a half naked girl just old enough to be called a woman, felt dry as the air.
“Why are you crying! You are always crying!” he shouted to his third wife. “I command you to stop crying!”
The girl looked up, her face swollen with tears.
“How much did my father owe you?”
“Shut up! I did right with you! I did right!”
He stood up in rage.
And that was when Nakamoto’s bullet pierced the window glass and entered his skull, tearing through the pineal body, the hypocampus, and the amygdala, leaving his brain in shreds.
“I did right” were his last words.

 

Linda’s Father (fiction)

The moment Linda left me alone with her father, my ears started ringing in the silence. What did she say? She was going to get the drinks? Or was it food? Her voice, I think, trembled. I was left sitting in an antique leather chair in an oak paneled study with a man I had barely introduced myself to. He was pacing back and forth like a tiger in a cage, occasionally stopping to look at me.
“So,” he said.
“So?” I thought.
He paced a little more.
“You want to marry my daughter.” He pronounced each word separately, like he was reading each word off of flash cards. I did not acknowledge or deny, although it was not a done deal. I had not yet bought the ring or popped the big question. We were seriously considering. We tended to talk about it, Linda and I, like a distant possibility. She had not entirely warned me what I was walking into this day. But she seemed anxious.
“You want to marry my daughter.” He repeated at the same pace.
I did not nod or respond.
“Do you like this house?” He gestured at his spacious study.
“Yes.”
“Ever been in a house like this before?”
“No, I can’t say I have.”
“You speak good English. Where did you say you were from? Korea?”
“Japan.”
“Oh. Tokyo? Kyoto?”
“Okayama.”
“Never heard of the place. Would you say, it’s a small town?”
“Yes. I would say that.”
“So you are from a small town, in Japan, and have never been in a house like this.”
He nodded, somehow disapprovingly.
“You will be marrying into a great deal, wouldn’t you?”
“I think marriage would be a major commitment regardless.”
“But you see, my boy… What did you say your name was?”
“Kenji.”
“Kenji. We are a big family in this country. We have been in this country since before the declaration of independence. We were business owners early on. One of my ancestors hired Benjamin Franklin as an apprentice. We can trace our family back three hundred years. I own five businesses. My brother owns seven. I have friends and relatives up and down the east coast in real estate, construction, retail, banking, and politics. This is not the only house I own.”
“I see.”
“Do you? The way I see it, a marriage is a kind of a deal. Both parties have to bring something to the table. It’s not a charity of some sort where one party gives and the other party takes. It has to be an equal partnership. Do you agree?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you really.” It was not a question.
He stood there looking at me.
“Would you like some whiskey?”
“Yes, please.”
He walked over to an inlaid mahogany cabinet and poured a finger each into two tumblers out of an elegant cut glass bottle. I thanked him for the drink. It had a sweet, smokey aroma, a peaty bite, and a creamy aftertaste with a hint of a sherry cask.
“You might be more accustomed to sake, but I don’t keep any of those around.”
“This is fine.”
“You have no idea.”
I took another sip of the Scotch. My ears had kept ringing, but the alcohol helped.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Mr Brooks. I love your daughter very much, but…” I looked at the remnant of the whiskey in the tumbler, tilting it to admire the color. “This isn’t going to work is it?”
“You mean this marriage.”
“Yes.”
He seemed a little taken aback.
“Well, I have my concerns that it might not.”
“Sir, I hope you will not be offended when I say that I had concerns of my own.”
“What about?”
“My mother. It would have been a hard sell at best. I know it is an obsolete way of thinking, but she never would have accepted my marriage to what she considers, for lack of a better word, a barbarian.”
“What?”
“You see, in Japan, any family worth even considering is twice as old as yours. My family, for example, can be traced twelve hundred years.”
“Oh.”
There was a silence that felt even emptier than before.
Eventually, Mr. Brooks knocked back the last of the whiskey left in his glass and asked.
“What kind of a bride would your old fashioned mother approve of?”
“A Japanese one. But she is critical of anyone who cannot hold a decent tea ceremony.”
“And by decent, she means?”
“Her standards are quite high.”
“I see. Would you like another whiskey?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
We were quietly sipping our second round of whiskey when Linda and her mother came in with a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
“Well, are you boys playing nice?”
“Yes, in fact, I think we came to an agreement.”

I stayed for dinner, the most tense affair I had ever experienced. A month later, I officially broke up with Linda. She had since had three marriages to three white men. Her first husband, a very rich man from a celebrated family, turned out to be an abusive philanderer, and she remarried to a nicer man after a lucrative divorce settlement. But the nicer man lost his fortune and some of hers in a financial crash and shot himself. She then married a much older man in need of a trophy wife, a role she was just young enough to fill. She became a chain smoker with drinking problems and never had children.

I had problems of my own with my family and stayed in the States and remained single. I somehow kept in touch with Linda’s father, who became something like my mentor in business. We never talked about what might have happened if I went through with marrying his daughter. But one day he brought out a set of tumblers and an elegant cut glass bottle half filled with whiskey.
“Do you remember this glass?” he said.
“Yes.”
“I had it stowed away for some reason. Chanced on it when I was looking for something else.”
He poured me a finger and and we sat on his porch enjoying the whiskey.
“Life is a strange thing,” he said. “You try to steer in the right direction, but you never know how things will turn out.”
“I agree.”
I stayed for dinner that day. A silent one, like always.

Yasuke, the Black Samurai (2)

The sun set warm over the stench of glory. Crows cried. Blood-caked hands sheathed in lacquer black armor grabbed a fallen warrior by the chest plate, a pin cushion of broken arrows, and lifted him up above the razor grass. Broken joints dangled in odd directions and his eyes, lost to crows, were sockets of darkness in the orange light.
“Mitshuhide wa dokoda?” A heavily accented voice barked into the blinded man’s face.
“I know you. You are the black man,” said the eye-less samurai. Then he vomited as he gargled curses through burbles of blood and choked on his own dying breath.
The black man threw the samurai on the ground. A fist-sized fresh-water crab was crawling on the blood smeared mud. Yasuke looked over the battle field strewn with corpses and dismembered limbs, the enemy leader nowhere in sight.  The battle, for him, was not over until Mitsuhide’s head was in hand.
Black smoke rose from the camps as the men of the
honjin threw bodies of the dead on a fire. The dusk filled with the foulness of burning flesh, and mouths and nostrils became dusty with bitter soot. Columns of smoke slowly multiplied in the darkening sky, announcing to the world beyond that a fight had been won. And yet the traitor was still at large, a taste in the mouth worse than the soot. 
Silhouettes of soldiers stood by the fires, their lances and spetums held erect against the purple sky. Scavengers scurried about, bolder now that darkness was near, looking for purses with gold and weapons to be sold. Foot soldiers and pages parried with them as they tried to retrieve the heirlooms and jeweled armaments, but they also had to carry the bodies for the fires. Noblemen in the camps sorted through the corpses for heads to be severed and taken home as trophies. 
Yasuke, the black warrior, paid them no heed, for he had been fed the cold dish of treason and it sat ill in his stomach.
He made his way through the tall grass, when he heard a rustle. He found a young warrior, hiding.
“Spare me!”
He was clearly noble. His armor had a
Namban chestplate of European make, and the rest was gold plated scales tied together with silk.
“Your leg is injured. If you stay here the scavengers will kill you for your belongings. I must take you back to camp.”
“No! Leave me!”
“You will die here.”
“I am Atsuji Magoro Sadahiro. Son of Sadayuki. If I am captured they will take my head for Hideyoshi.”
“You will have an honorable death at least.”
“Spare me Black Man! I do not want to die!”
“I can promise you a clean, swift slice. The scavengers will take you apart with blunt weapons. You will not survive the night.”
The young warrior looked away. He was barely teenage. He had a string of beads and a cross hanging from his neck, a Christian, like so many of Mitsuhide’s subjects.
“If you tell me where Mitsuhide is, I shall bargain for your life. But I make no promises.”
The boy looked up, rebellious, and took measure of the man in black armor.
“Why do you fight for that peasant Hideyoshi?”
“I do not fight for Hideyoshi, but I owe allegiance to Lord Nobunaga our master.”
“But Nobunaga is dead.”
Yasuke gritted his teeth. He had failed to protect the man who had freed him from slavery. He drew his sword.
“I can take your head now, if you so wish.”
The boy shrank.
“Mitsuhide ran for Settsu.”
“That would be a hard escape. The road is ambushed.” He sheathed his sword. “Come.”
Before the boy could object, he was lifted on the huge man’s shoulder. He waded through the razor grass and carried him to the camp. Soldiers gathered curious to what prisoner he had brought, but kept distance, wary of the black warrior two heads taller than the best of them. He set the boy down near the center of the camp. Ishida Mitsunari came out of the pack, shoving noble soldiers aside, clawing through them.
“What is this?”
“This is the son of Atsuji Sadayoshi. He has given us the location of Mitsuhide in exchange for his life. Mitsuhide is headed for Settsu.”
“If you plead for his life, you shall not have his head as trophy.”
“I do not care for trophies. I want to avenge my master.”
“Very well.”
Ishida Mitsunari, known as Hideyoshi’s lap dog, was despised by many but his position as Hideyoshi’s closest aid was solid, and he was never shy to show it. He bent down and snarled at the boy warrior sitting on the ground.
“So you, the Atsuji heir, is selling out your master to save your own hide? I would not find that surprising, knowing that your master is a traitor.”
He straitened up and addressed his men.
“Behold! Treason trickles down the ranks!”
The men laughed. The boy, humiliated looked down at the ground fighting back the tears.
“Send a messenger!” he cried. “Our enemy is headed for Settsu! He must be killed before he reaches the fortress!”
Some men ran about, rushing left and right, fetching the horse for the messenger, but just as a samurai mounted the horse, another horse came riding into the camp nearly colliding with the out going horse.
“Hear ye! Hear ye! Mitsuhide is dead!” cried the horseman. “Our enemy is dead! He was killed in an ambush on the road to Settsu! We have victory! Hear all! Mitsuhide is dead!”
The soldiers erupted in cheers.
“Ey-Ey-Oh! Ey-Ey-Oh!”
“We won! We won!” the soldiers cried. “Our master is avenged!”
Ishida Mitsunari stood before the boy and sneered at him.
“It looks like I shall have your head after all. You betrayed your master too late.”
The boy spoke out at the top of his lungs.
“Hideyoshi is the true traitor! He knew of the revolt in advance! He tricked Mitsuhide into it! He never warned Nobunaga because he wanted to see him dead and take his place!”
“Silence!” cried Mitsunari, but he was clearly taken aback.
“Listen to me, all of you!” cried the boy. “Hideyoshi knew what was happening! He set a trap and made Mitsuhide kill Nobunaga, then he killed Mitsuhide so he could claim credit for avenging his master! It was all planned!”
“Rubbish!” said Mitsunari. He drew his sword. “Silence or you shall not live.”
The boy said in a defiant growl.
“You will kill me anyway.”
Mitsunari, crying out in rage, flung his sword down at the base of the boy’s neck. The blade got caught in the mail of the armor, but bit deep enough to cut into the artery. A shower of blood erupted from the wound and the boy fell sideways.
Yasuke knelt beside the boy, but the wound was fatal. As he faded away, the boy slipped a piece of paper into the black man’s hand. Yasuke took the paper, pretending not to notice. He turned to Mitsunari.
“The boy is dead.”
Mitsunari turned away in a huff and ordered to his men.
“Slice off his head and put it in a box.”
Yasuke stood and watched as the corpse was taken away. He could not help having the uneasy feeling that he had yet to fight another battle with a much greater enemy before justice was had for his master.

In the Interrogation Room

Cop: Let’s make one thing clear. We’re pros. If you lie to us, we’ll know. If you tell us the truth, we’ll know. It’s that simple.
Suspect: Okay, let me make one thing clear. This is a lopsided conversation. Because I know one thing for sure that you can never know for sure.
Cop: What’s that?
Suspect: I didn’t do it.
Cop: We’ll see about that.
Suspect: No you won’t. You literally will never know for sure because it is your job to suspect. You are not here to protect my rights. You are not even here to find the real killer. You are here to get rid of a problem. A problem that very well may have flown the coop by now. But you have to catch someone, so you caught me. And only I know for sure that you are barking up the wrong tree.
Cop: Where were you at the night of the murder?
Suspect: Like I said. At home, alone, reading a book.
Cop: So you have no alibi.
Suspect: No.
Cop: You have a motive.
Suspect: I don’t think so.
Cop: He was sleeping with your wife.
Suspect: Ex-wife. She was sleeping with a lot of people. Only one of them ended up dead.
Cop: Maybe you were out to kill your ex and missed. Shot him instead.
Suspect: So she was with him at the time?
Cop: That’s not for you to know.
Suspect: Well, you don’t believe I went to kill my ex.
Cop: Why not?
Suspect: I just won the divorce case. I proved she was sleeping around. She gets nothing.
Cop: Nothing?
Suspect: She keeps her handbags.
Cop: You got a better deal than most.
Suspect: No reason to shoot her now.
Cop: If not her, you still had a motive to shoot her lover.
Suspect: I barely knew the guy. He was just one of many people screwing my ex.
Cop: Nobody else has a motive.
Suspect: It could have been a random burglary gone wrong.
Cop: It was a safe neighborhood, with no recent burglaries.
Suspect: Not any more.
 Cop: I can get more aggressive with you. You know that.
Suspect: I can lawyer up and stop talking.
Cop: Tell us what you really know.
Suspect: All I know is that some rich guy that I barely ever met died in his home in Orange County and, from what you say, it sounds like my ex was there with him when it happened.
Cop: Is that how it sounds?
Suspect: It sounds like that to me.
Cop: Then how come you haven’t asked whether she was alright?
Suspect: What?

Cop: I never told you the specifics of the murder scene. How do you know no one else was shot?
Suspect: I didn’t know…
Cop: She was your wife.
Suspect: Yes, but…
Cop: You believed she was at the scene of a murder and you didn’t ask if she was hurt.
Suspect: Oh… I see. She wasn’t there, was she?
Cop: That’s not the point.
Suspect: You planted that idea in my head to see how I would respond. To see if I worried about my wife.
Cop: Oh, now it’s your wife, is it? I thought she was your ex.
Suspect: I think I’ll call my lawyer now.
Cop: You’ve already told us enough.
Suspect: You had your mind made up from the beginning. You weren’t investigating. You were just accusing.
Cop: We’ll see about that.
Suspect: There’s nothing to see.