Read Killing Commendatore: A novel Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami,Philip Gabriel,Ted Goossen

Killing Commendatore: A novel (56 page)

The Commendatore drew his sword from its scabbard. It was just eight inches long, but it looked very sharp indeed. Despite its dimensions, it was a weapon capable of ending a person's life.

“Stab me with this,” the Commendatore said. “We shall re-create the scene from
Killing Commendatore
. But hurry. There is no time to dawdle.”

I looked back and forth from the Commendatore to Tomohiko Amada, struggling to make up my mind. All I could be remotely sure of was that Tomohiko Amada was in desperate need, and the Commendatore's resolve was firm. I alone wallowed in indecision, caught between the two of them.

I felt the rush of owl wings, and heard a bell ring in the dark.

Everything was connected somewhere.

“Affirmative! Everything is connected somewhere,” said the Commendatore. “And my friends cannot escape that connection, however my friends may try. So steel yourself, and kill me. There is no room for guilt. Tomohiko Amada needs your help. By slaying me, my friends can save him. Make happen here what should have happened in the past. Now is the time. Only my friends can grant him salvation before he breathes his last.”

I rose from my chair and strode to where the Commendatore was seated. I took his unsheathed sword in hand. I was past the point of determining what was just and unjust. In a world outside space and time, all dualities—before and after, up and down—ceased to exist. In such a world, I could no longer perceive myself as myself. I and myself were being torn apart.

The instant I took the sword in hand, however, I realized its handle was too small. It was a miniature sword for a tiny hand. There was simply no way could I kill the Commendatore with it, however keen its blade. The realization brought with it a sense of relief.

“The sword is too small. I can't grip it,” I said to the Commendatore.

“That is a shame,” he said with a sigh. “Well, there is nothing to be done. We must use something else, although that means diverging further from the painting.”

“Something else?”

The Commendatore pointed to a small chest of drawers in the corner of the room. “Look inside the top drawer.”

I went to the chest and slid open the uppermost drawer.

“Within is a knife for filleting fish,” the Commendatore said.

Sure enough, a knife lay atop a small stack of neatly folded washcloths. The knife that Masahiko had used to prepare the sea bream he had brought to my home. An eight-inch blade honed to a razor's edge. Masahiko always kept his tools in perfect shape. This knife was no exception.

“Now take that knife and plunge it into my chest,” said the Commendatore. “Sword or knife, what is the difference. We can still reenact the scene in
Killing Commendatore
. But we must make haste. There is little time.”

I took the knife in hand. It was as heavy as stone. The tip of the blade shone cold and white in the light streaming from the window. The knife had vanished from my kitchen and come to wait for me here, in the chest of drawers. Masahiko had sharpened the blade, as it turned out, for the sake of his own father. There seemed no way to avoid my fate.

I still couldn't come to a decision. Nevertheless, I stepped behind the Commendatore's chair, gripping the knife tightly in my right hand. From his bed, Tomohiko Amada stared at us with eyes as big as saucers. As if watching history unfold before his eyes. His mouth was open, exposing his yellowed teeth and whitish tongue, a tongue that lolled in his mouth as though trying to form words. Words this world would never hear.

“My friends do not have a violent bone in your body,” the Commendatore said, as if to admonish me. “It is obvious. My friends are not built to kill. But sometimes people must act against their nature, to rescue something important or for some greater purpose. Now is one of those times. So kill me! I am not big, as my friends can see, and I will not resist. I am merely an Idea. Just insert the tip of the knife into my heart. What could be more straightforward?”

The Commendatore pointed his tiny index finger at the spot where his heart was. But the thought of that heart inevitably recalled my sister's. I could remember her operation as if it were yesterday. How delicate and difficult it had been. Saving a malfunctioning heart was a formidable task. It required a team of specialists and gallons of blood. Yet destroying a heart was
so easy
.

“Such thinking will get us nowhere,” the Commendatore said. “If my friends wish to save Mariye Akikawa, then do the deed. Even if my friends do not want to. Trust me. Jettison all feelings, and close your mind. But not your eyes. My friends must keep them open.”

I stepped behind the Commendatore and raised the knife. But I couldn't bring it down. Sure, it might be only one of a thousand deaths for an Idea, but it was still extinguishing a life as far as I was concerned. Was this not the same order the young lieutenant had given Tsuguhiko Amada in Nanjing?

“Negative! It is not the same,” said the Commendatore. “My friends are doing this at my behest. It is I who am asking my friends to kill me. So that I may be reborn. Be strong. Close the circle at once.”

I closed my eyes and thought of the girl I had throttled in the love hotel in Miyagi. Of course, she and I had been pretending. I had squeezed her throat gently, so as not to kill her. I had been unable to do it long enough to satisfy her. Had I continued, I might indeed have strangled her to death. On the bed of that love hotel, I had glimpsed the deep rage within myself for the first time. It had churned in my chest like blood-soaked mud, pushing me closer and closer to real murder.

I know where you were and what you were doing
, the man had said.

“All right, now bring it down,” the Commendatore said. “I know my friends can do it. Remember, my friends will not be killing me. My friends will be slaying your evil father. The blood of your evil father shall soak into the earth.”

My evil father?

Where did that come from?

“Who is the evil father of my friends?” the Commendatore said, reading my mind. “I believe your path crossed with his not long ago. Am I mistaken?”

Do not paint my portrait any further
, the man had said. He had pointed his finger at me from within the dark mirror. It had pierced my chest like the tip of a sharp sword.

Spurred by that pain, I reflexively closed my heart and opened my eyes wide. I cleared all thought from my mind (as Don Giovanni had done in
Killing Commendatore
), buried my emotions, made my face a blank mask, and brought the knife down with all my might. The sharp blade entered the Commendatore's tiny chest precisely where he had pointed. I felt the living flesh resist. But the Commendatore himself made no attempt to fend off the blow. His fingers clutched at the air, but apart from that he did not react. Still, the body he inhabited did all that it could to avoid its looming extinction. The Commendatore was an Idea, but his body was not. An Idea may have borrowed it for its own purposes, but that body would not meekly submit to death. It possessed its own rationale. I had to overcome that resistance through brute force, severing its life at the roots. “Kill me,” the Commendatore had said. But I was actually dispatching another
someone
's body.

I wanted to drop the knife, drop everything, and run from the room. But the Commendatore's words echoed in my ears. “If my friends wish to save Mariye Akikawa, then do the deed. Even if my friends do not want to.”

So I pushed the blade even farther into the Commendatore's heart. If you're stabbing someone to death, there's no halfway. The tip of the knife emerged from his back—I had run him through. His white garment was dyed crimson. My hands were drenched in blood. But the blood did not spew into the air as it did in
Killing Commendatore
. This is an illusion, I tried to convince myself. I was murdering a mere phantom. My act was purely symbolic.

Yet I knew I was fooling myself. Perhaps the act was symbolic. But it was no phantom that I was killing. Without question, my victim was made of flesh and blood. It may have been barely two feet tall, a fabrication created by Tomohiko Amada's brush, but its life force was unexpectedly strong. The point of my blade had broken the skin and several ribs on its way to the heart, then passed through to the back of the chair. No way that was an illusion.

Tomohiko Amada's eyes were open even wider now, riveted on the scene unfolding before him. My murder of the Commendatore. No, for him it must have been the murder of someone else. Who was he seeing? The Nazi official whose assassination he had helped plot in Vienna? The young lieutenant who had given his brother a Japanese sword and ordered him to behead three Chinese prisoners in Nanjing? Or that evil
something
, something more fundamental, that lay at the root of those events? I could only guess. I could not read the expression on Tomohiko Amada's face. Though his mouth gaped open, his lips were motionless. Only his tongue continued its futile quest to form words of some kind.

At last, the strength left the Commendatore's neck and arms. His whole body went slack, like a marionette whose strings had been cut. I responded by pushing the knife even farther into his heart. All movement in the room came to a standstill; the scene was now a frozen tableau. It stayed that way for a long time.

Tomohiko Amada was the first to move. Once the Commendatore had lost consciousness and collapsed, the strength to focus his mind evaporated. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes. Slowly and solemnly, like lowering the shutters. As if to confirm:
Now I have seen what I needed to see.
His mouth was still open, but his lolling tongue was tucked out of sight. Only his yellow teeth were visible, like a ramshackle fence circling an empty house. His face was free of pain. The torment had passed. He looked peaceful and relaxed. I guessed he was back in the twilight world, where thought and pain did not exist. I was happy for him.

I finally relaxed my arm and drew the blade from the Commendatore's body. Blood spewed from the wound. Exactly as in
Killing Commendatore
. The Commendatore himself spilled lifelessly into the chair. His eyes were open, his mouth contorted in agony. His ten tiny fingers clawed the air. Dark blood pooled around his feet. He was dead. How much blood had come from that tiny body!

Thus did the Commendatore—or the Idea that had taken his form—meet his end. Tomohiko Amada had sunk back into his deep sleep. Standing next to the Commendatore's body, Masahiko's bloody knife in my right hand, I was the only conscious person left in the room. My labored breathing should have been the only sound. Should have been. But something was moving. I sensed it as much as I heard it, to my alarm.
Keep your ears open
, the Commendatore had told me. I did as he had instructed.

Something is in the room.
I could hear it moving. Bloody knife in hand, I stood frozen like a statue, scanning the room, searching for the source of the sound. Out of the corner of one eye, I spotted something near the far wall.

Long Face
was there.

Killing the Commendatore had lured Long Face into this world.

52
THE MAN IN THE ORANGE CONE HAT

The scene in the room now matched the lower left-hand corner of Tomohiko Amada's
Killing Commendatore
. Long Face had poked his head out of a hole, and was raising its square cover with one hand as he peeked at what was taking place. His hair was long and tangled, and a thick black beard covered much of his face. His elongated head was shaped like a Japanese eggplant, narrow with a jutting chin and bulging eyes. The bridge of his nose was flat. For some reason, his lips glistened like a piece of fruit. His body was small but well proportioned, as if a normal person had been shrunk in size. Just as the Commendatore made you think of a scaled-down copy of a human being.

The big difference between the Long Face in
Killing Commendatore
and here was his expression—now he looked stunned as he stared at the lifeless body of the Commendatore. His mouth gaped in disbelief. How long had he been watching us? I had no idea. I had been so focused on snuffing out the Commendatore's life, and gauging Tomohiko Amada's reaction to his death, that I had been oblivious to the odd-looking man in the corner of the room. Yet I bet he hadn't missed a thing. After all, that was the scene in
Killing Commendatore
.

Long Face remained completely still, there in the corner of our tableau. As if assigned a fixed position. I moved slightly to see how he would respond. But Long Face didn't react. He maintained the same position he had in the painting—one hand holding up the square lid, his eyes round as he gawked at the slain Commendatore. He didn't even blink.

As the tension drained from my body, I moved from my own assigned position. I edged cautiously toward Long Face, deadening my footsteps like a cat, the bloody knife in one hand. I could not let him slip back underground. To save Mariye Akikawa, the Commendatore had given his life to re-create the scene in the painting, and drawn Long Face out into the open. I must not allow that sacrifice to be in vain.

Yet how could I wrest from Long Face what I needed to know about Mariye? I was at a loss.
Who
or
what
was Long Face? How was his presence linked to Mariye's disappearance? What the Commendatore had told me was more riddle than information. One thing was clear, though: I had to get my hands on him. I could figure the rest out later.

The lid that Long Face was holding was about two feet square, made of the same lime-green linoleum as the rest of the floor. When closed, it would blend in perfectly, perhaps even disappear altogether.

Long Face did not move a muscle as I approached. He seemed rooted to the spot. Like a cat in the headlights. Or maybe he was just fulfilling his designated role—to maintain the composition of the painting for as long as possible. Whichever, it was lucky for me. Otherwise, he would have sensed me behind him and slipped back underground for good. Once the lid had been closed, I doubted it would open again.

I crept behind him, softly laid down the knife, and snatched his collar with both hands. He was wearing drab, snug-fitting clothes. Work clothes, from the look of it. Clearly different from the fine cloth of the Commendatore's garments. These looked rough to the touch and were covered in patches.

Jolted from his trance, Long Face thrashed about, desperately attempting to flee down his hole. I held tight to his collar. There was no way I was going to let him escape. I gathered my strength and tried to yank him all the way out. He fought back, grabbing the sides of the hole with both hands. He was much stronger than I'd anticipated. He even tried to bite my arm. What could I do—I slammed his eggplant-shaped head against the corner of the opening. Then I did it again, this time more violently. The second blow knocked him out cold. I could feel his body go limp. At last I could drag him out into the light.

Long Face was a little bigger than the Commendatore. Two and a half feet tall was my guess. He was wearing what a farmer might have worn in the fields, or a manservant sweeping the yard. A stiff, rough jacket over baggy work pants cinched at the ankles. His belt was a thick piece of rope. He wore no shoes, and his soles were thickly callused and stained black with dirt. His long hair showed no sign of having been recently washed or combed. Half his face was covered by a black beard. The other half was a sickly white. Nothing about him looked clean, yet, strangely, his body had no odor.

Based on appearance, I figured the Commendatore belonged to the aristocracy of his time, while Long Face was lower-class. Perhaps he was dressed the way commoners did back then. Or maybe Tomohiko Amada had imagined,
This is how people might have dressed in the Asuka period
. Historical accuracy, however, was beside the point. What I needed to do was squeeze from this man with the strange face any information that would lead me to Mariye.

I rolled Long Face over onto his stomach and tied his hands behind him with the belt of a bathrobe hanging close by. Then I dragged his motionless body to the center of the room. Because of his size, he wasn't very heavy. About the weight of a medium-sized dog. I grabbed a curtain tie and bound one of his legs to the bed. Now he had no way to flee.

Stretched out unconscious in the bright afternoon light, Long Face just looked pitiful. Gone was the weirdness that had alarmed me when he had poked his head up out of his hole, observing events with those glittering eyes. I could find nothing sinister about him. He didn't look bright enough to be evil. Instead, he looked honest in a dull-witted sort of way. And timid, too. Not like someone who concocted plans and made decisions, but, rather, the type who meekly followed his superiors' orders.

Tomohiko Amada was still stretched out on the bed, his eyes closed. He was completely still. I couldn't tell, looking at him, if he was alive or dead. I leaned down and put my ear less than an inch from his mouth. His breathing was faint, like a distant surf. He wasn't dead yet, just sleeping on the floor of his twilight world. I felt relieved. I didn't like the idea of Masahiko returning from his phone call to find that his father had died in his absence. Tomohiko's face, as he lay on his side, looked far more peaceful and satisfied than before. Maybe witnessing the slaying of the Commendatore (or someone else he wished to see killed) had put some of his painful memories to rest.

The Commendatore was slumped in his cloth chair. His eyes were wide open, and I could see his tiny tongue curled behind his parted lips. Blood was still seeping from the wound in his chest, but the flow was weaker than before. His right hand flopped lifelessly when I took it. Although his skin retained some warmth, it felt remote and somehow detached. The kind of detachment life acquires as it moves steadily toward its own end. I felt like straightening his limbs and placing him in a proper-sized coffin, one made for a small child. I would lay the coffin in the pit behind the shrine, where no one could bother him again. But all I could do now was gently close his eyes.

I sat in the chair and watched Long Face on the floor as I waited for him to regain his senses. Outside the window, the broad Pacific sparkled. A few fishing boats were still plying the waters. I could see the sleek fuselage of an airplane shining in the sun as it slowly made its way south. A four-prop plane with an antenna jutting up from its tail—probably an antisubmarine aircraft from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force base in Atsugi. Some of us were quietly going about our business on a Saturday afternoon. I, for one, was in a sunlit room in an upscale nursing home, having just slain the Commendatore and fished out and tied up Long Face in my quest to find a beautiful thirteen-year-old girl. It takes all kinds, I guess.

Long Face didn't regain consciousness for some time. I checked my watch again.

What would Masahiko think if he came back now? The Commendatore in a pool of blood, Long Face bound and unconscious on the floor. Both in the unfamiliar garb of an ancient time, neither standing even three feet tall. Tomohiko Amada comatose on the bed, a faint but satisfied smile (if that's what it was) on his lips. A square, black hole gaping in a corner of the room. How could I explain what had led to this scene?

Of course, Masahiko didn't come back. He was tied up in a work-related phone call of great importance, as the Commendatore had said. He would be dealing with it for some time yet. Everything had been arranged in advance. No one would bother us. I sat on the chair, eyeing the unconscious Long Face. I had whacked his head pretty hard on the edge of the hole, but it shouldn't take him that long to come to. He'd have a fair-sized lump on his head, that's all.

At last, Long Face woke up. He twisted and turned a bit on the floor, and uttered a few incomprehensible words. Then, slowly, he opened his eyes a crack. Like a child looking at something scary—something he didn't want to see, but must.

I went and knelt beside him.

“There's very little time,” I said, looking down at him. “I need you to tell me where I can find Mariye Akikawa. If you do, I'll untie you, and you can go back.”

I pointed to the square hole in the corner. The lid was still raised. I couldn't tell if he understood what I was saying or not. But I decided to keep talking. All I could do was give it a shot.

Long Face violently shook his head back and forth several times. I couldn't tell if he was saying that he didn't know anything, or that my language was foreign to him.

“If you don't tell me, I'll kill you,” I said. “You saw me stab the Commendatore, I bet. Well, there's no big difference between one murder and two.”

I pressed the bloody blade of my knife against his dirty throat. I thought of the fishermen and the pilot of the southbound airplane.
We all have jobs we have to do.
And this was mine. I wasn't going to kill him, of course, but the knife was real, and very sharp. Long Face quivered in fear.

“Wait!” he gasped in a husky voice. “Stay your hand.”

His way of speaking was strange, but I could understand him. I eased off on the knife.

“Where is Mariye Akikawa?” I pressed him. “Come on, spit it out!”

“No, sir, I do not know. I swear it.”

I studied his eyes. They were big and easy to read. He seemed to be telling the truth.

“All right then, tell me, what are you doing here?” I asked.

“I am enjoined to verify and record these events. I do only what I am told to do. You have my word.”

“Why must you verify them?”

“Because I was so bidden. I know nothing beyond that.”

“So what on earth are you? Another kind of Idea?”

“Goodness no! I am a Metaphor, nothing more.”

“A Metaphor?”

“Yes. A mere Metaphor. Used to link two things together. So please, untie my bonds, please, I beseech you.”

I was getting confused. “If you are as you say, then give me a metaphor now, off the top of your head.”

“I am the most humble and lowly form of Metaphor, sir. I cannot devise anything of quality.”

“A metaphor of any kind is all right—it doesn't have to be brilliant.”

“He was someone who stood out,” he said after a moment's pause, “like a man wearing an orange cone hat in a packed commuter train.”

Not an impressive metaphor, to be sure. In fact, not really a metaphor at all.

“That's a simile, not a metaphor,” I pointed out.

“A million pardons,” he said, sweat pouring from his forehead. “Let me try again. ‘He lived as though he were wearing an orange cone hat in a crowded train.' ”

“That makes no sense. It's still not a true metaphor. Your story doesn't hold. I'll just have to kill you.”

Long Face's lips trembled with fear. His beard may have been manly, but he was short on guts.

“My sincerest apologies, sir. I am yet but an apprentice. I cannot think of a witty example. Forgive me. But I assure you that I am the genuine article, a true Metaphor.”

“Then who is your superior—who commands you?”

“I have no superior, per se. Well, perhaps I do, but I have never laid eyes on him. I only follow orders—acting as a link between phenomena and language. Like a helpless jellyfish adrift on the ocean. So please do not kill me. I implore you.”

“I can spare your life,” I said, my knife still on his throat. “But only if you agree to guide me to where you came from.”

“That is something I cannot do,” Long Face said in a firm voice. It was the first time he had used that tone. “The road I took to get here is the Path of Metaphor. It is different for each one who traverses it. It is not a single road. Thus I cannot guide you, sir, on your way.”

“Let me get this straight. I must follow this path alone, and I must discover it for myself—is that what you're saying?”

Long Face nodded vigorously. “The Path of Metaphor is rife with perils. Should a mortal like you stray from the path even once, you could find yourself in danger. And there are Double Metaphors everywhere.”

“Double Metaphors?”

Long Face shuddered with fear. “Yes, Double Metaphors lurking in the darkness. The most
vile
and dangerous of creatures.”

“It's all the same to me,” I said. “I'm already mixed up in a whole lot of craziness. So it's no skin off my nose if the craziness grows or shrinks. I killed the Commendatore with my own hands. I don't want his death to be in vain.”

“I see I have no choice. So let me offer you a word of warning before you set out.”

“What kind of warning?”

“Take a light of some kind with you. You will pass through many dark places on your way. You will come across a river. It is a metaphorical river, but the water is very real. It is cold and deep, and the current is strong. You cannot cross without a boat. You will find a boat at the ferrying spot.”

“How about after I cross the river—what should I do then?”

Long Face rolled his bulging eyes. “The world that awaits you on the other side, like this one, is subject to the principle of connectivity. You will have to see for yourself.”

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