Authors: Anthony Bruno
Also by Anthony Bruno
For Mia, the little sweetie
THE ORANGE Volkswagen Beetle emerged from the dawn mist and thumped over the old, uneven planks of the weathered pier followed closely by a black 1960 Cadillac De Ville, which in turn was followed by an executive-gray Mercedes SEL limousineâlittle fish, big fish, bigger fish. The Beetle stopped a few feet from the end of the pier, the Cadillac about twenty feet behind the Beetle, the limo nosing up under the Caddy's lethal-looking tailfins. They stood there in check, the Volkswagen's air-cooled motor wheezing and twittering, the Cadillac rumbling low, the Mercedes issuing a barely audible but insistent hiss.
The man behind the wheel of the Caddy, Katsumi Nagai, turned off the engine, wearily ran a hand through his hair, and draped his arms over the steering wheel. It was too fucking early for this shit. He looked across the cracked, black leather seats at Mashiro's broad back as he bent over to take off his shoes and socks. Mashiro folded his socks neatly and placed them inside the black lace-up shoes which he then tucked under the seat. Nagai stared at him. After all these years, Mashiro still made him stop and wonder. The squat, expressionless man then reached for the sheathed sword lying on the backseat and placed it in his lap. He looked at Nagai, waiting for the go-ahead from his boss. Nagai stared at the long, curved
, the samurai's primary weapon, then looked Mashiro in the eye and nodded wearily. The man bowed his head curtly but respectfully,
then got out of the car. As Mashiro walked around the front of the car, Nagai wondered what he was thinking, or if he thought at all.
Nagai watched him unsheathe the sword and set the black leather scabbard on the hood. Mashiro then marched over to the Volkswagen, back straight, sword at his side, and ordered the two inside to shut off the engine and get out.
The couple didn't move. Nagai reached over to the glove compartment and took out the small automatic he kept there. He pressed the button to open the power window on his side, then stuck his arm out and fired a shot left-handed over the VW. The sound of the shot rolled over the river, a sharp crack on the dull cold air. The girl started sobbing again. He could see her head bobbing up and down. He rested his elbow on the door, the gun leveled on them out the window so they could see it.
“Hurry,” Mashiro shouted in his harsh Osaka-accented Japanese. The young Japanese couple started to come out, reluctantly, like small animals forced to abandon a temporary shelter. They stood before Mashiro who eyed them with neither hate nor compassion. The girl held her hand over her mouth. Mashiro abruptly raised his sword like a spear and thrust its point into the rotting head of the nearest timber. It stood there glinting in the gloom of the gray dawn, swaying slightly, as staunch and deadly as its owner.
My faithful monster, Nagai thought.
Nagai glanced into the rearview mirror, feeling slow and heavy, then got out of his car and walked over to the back door of the limo. He stared at himself in the dark-tinted window, waiting for it to open. His face looked too sad and drawn, he thought, and his hair was streaked with gray now. He wished he looked more like his man Mashiro, robust and stone-faced, dangerous. And Mashiro was even two years older than him. When the rear power window started to glide down, he changed his expression and attempted to look properly grim for his boss.
“Good morning, Nagai,” the old man in the backseat said, not looking up. He was carefully prying the lid off a paper coffee cup, holding it away from his dark, Hong Kong-made silk suit.
“Good morning, Mr. Hamabuchi,” Nagai said with a respectful bow of the head. Nagai was suddenly hit with a memory of serving breakfast tea to Hamabuchi when he lived at the boss's Tokyo house as part of the apprenticeship that was supposed to teach him how to
obey his boss like a father. That was a long time ago. A dull ache started to throb at the back of his head as he thought about the course his life had taken and the fact that if he hadn't been so bull-headed back in Japan, he probably would've been sitting pretty now, running his own night club in the Ginza. But that's not how it worked out. You have to pay for your mistakes.
The old man blew over the surface of the steaming coffee as he squinted through the tinted windshield at the trembling couple standing before Mashiro. His brow was furrowed, his expression quizzical. He seemed to be studying them. Nagai recognized this look. It was the prelude to a Hamabuchi homily. The old man took a slow, careful sip.
Sometime today please, Nagai thought.
Hamabuchi suddenly looked Nagai in the eye.
Here it comes.
“Does the girl weep for their lost honor, Nagai, or for their unfortunate fate?” Hamabuchi asked with that inscrutable grin of his. It was a well-practiced gesture, one he cultivated years ago. Americans expect this kind of Oriental bullshit, he once confided.
Nagai glanced back at the couple, the girl sobbing softly into her boyfriend's shoulder as the boy tried unsuccessfully to look Mashiro in the face. He had no sympathy for them. They signed a contract and they broke it. You have to pay for your mistakes.
“She weeps for their lost honor, I would think.” Nagai knew all the expected responses.
Hamabuchi lowered the cup to his lap, shaking his head almost imperceptively. “No. I don't think so. Only old people concern themselves with honor these days. Old ones like me and Mr. Antonelli.”
Here we go again with the old stories about the Occupation and the black market in Kobe and the clever American corporal who knew how to play ball. The great Antonelli.
“I'm concerned about my honor,” Nagai said pointedly, hoping to cut him off. “I want it restored.”
“I know, I know you do.” Hamabuchi took another sip. “My promise still holds. If you succeed here in America, everything will be all right.”
Nagai nodded tactfully, trying to hold onto the fading mental picture of the faces of his three children back in Japan. Sweet Hatsu
is eleven now; next year she'll like boys. Kenji is eight; he must be a real hellion. And the baby will be going to school this year. Incredible.
“Tell me, Nagai, how are you getting along with D'Urso?”
“D'Urso. How are you getting along with him? I ask because he impresses me as a man of convenient loyalties, a man who thinks his own thoughts, if you know what I mean. I didn't think our Mafia friends tolerated such individuality within their ranks.”
Nagai wondered whether this was some kind of backhanded reference to himself. Probably. “D'Urso's an arrogant prick, but he's holding up his end. So far we've had no trouble with the law here, and his demand happily exceeds our supply.”
The old man looked up at him from under his brows. “And you are keeping up your end?”
He nodded. “Every delivery has been on time and to their satisfaction. The number of uncooperatives and runaways is minimal now, thanks to Mashiro and the extra men you've sent us. Only four in the last month, including these two.” He smiled at his man who was standing motionless before the scared couple at the end of the dock. “They fear him worse than death.”
“Ah, yes . . . the samurai. Gozo Mashiro, isn't it?” Hamabuchi muttered, scratching his eyebrow. “A very loyal man, I'm told.”
“May he never disappoint you.” Hamabuchi stared up at him.
Nagai put the hand with the gun on the roof of the limo and stared at the stump where the last joint of his pinky had been. Yes, yes, tell me again.
Hamabuchi blew his nose into a paper napkin, balled it up, and put it in the bag. “Well, let's get this over with,” he said. “You seem to be handling things adequately here. Very good, Nagai.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hamabuchi.” But when the fuck can I go back to Japan, old man?
Nagai watched the old man's face disappear as the dark window closed and the limo started to move backward, gliding back toward the fog on shore. Hamabuchi, man of the black mists. He comes and goes without warning, never letting anyone know what continent he'll be on next. Nagai had learned long ago that it was useless to
try to keep tabs on his boss's movements. “I want you to always act as though I am three steps behind you,” the old man often told his people, “for you never know. I just may be there.”
Nagai stepped away from the limo and saw in the Mercedes's dark windshield the reflection of the rising sun peeking through the skyscrapers of Wall Street on the other side of the river. He turned away from the glare and looked at Mashiro who was looking at him. Nagai gave him the nod and waved with the gun as he went back to his own car. He felt very tired. It
time to get this over with.
Mashiro bowed to his boss, then faced the couple again and separated them. They both stared at the glinting sword out of the corners of their eyes as Mashiro took a step back and positioned himself in front of the young man. Nagai could hear the departing limousine whining backward in reverse.
The sudden force of the blowâMashiro pivoting on one foot, swinging his other leg up high, his heel crashing into the side of the boy's neckâmade no sound of its own as far as Nagai could tell. The involuntary grunt emitted through flaccid lips and the thud of the already lifeless body hitting the wooden planks came a half-second later. Only the victim can hear the quick crunch of shattering vertebrae, Mashiro once told him. Almost totally painless. Nagai shook his head. What did that matter? When you're gonna die, you're gonna die.
Nagai watched the girl absorbing the hard truth of the moment as she hovered over her lover's body, leaning toward him but not touching him, petrified on her feet, terror painted on her face, fingers spread, mouth open but voiceless. She looked like someone poised to catch a cannonball. Nagai thought of his daughter and sighed. He shielded his eyes from the sun and took in the magnificent Manhattan skyline. Contracts must be honored, my dear.
The girl's body falling to the pier made a hollow thud. Mashiro immediately rolled the boy's body over onto the girl's, stacking them face to face. His head was buried in her neck; she was looking up at the sky, her mouth open. She looked like she was about to have an orgasm. Mashiro reached for the gleaming
then. Nagai looked away. He didn't think he could stomach this.
He stared instead at the silvery swells of the Hudson and let his mind drift. He heard the sudden swoosh of the blade then, felt the
referred impact on the boards under his feet, but he didn't look. He concentrated on the gentle, lulling lapping of the river against the timbers below and longed for home again.
A moment later, he started to hear the blood. A steady dripping that quickly turned into a heavy, uneven splatter, blood hitting water. He looked down. A dark tide gradually seeped out from under the shadow of the dock, a drifting stain on the quiet brown-green waters. He looked up at Mashiro who was carefully wiping his blade. The samurai bowed to him. Nagai thought he saw the hint of a grin. Maybe . . . maybe not.