The Anniversary

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been a decade now since I brought the wife out to these woods so I could bury her and get her out of the way.

Don’t ask me why, but here I am on the tenth anniversary of that night, trying to find the very spot. Stumbling around among the fallen leaves and broken twigs.

Ten years ago…

It feels like some kind of weird dream now. My whole life has been like that ever since that day. Like a dream. No real substance to anything I experience.

When I eat food, it remains tasteless on my tongue. I breathe air and there is no oxygen in it. I sleep but I’m half awake. I wake but I am still half asleep. Every day the darkness seems to close in around me and people become more distant. All my memories blur into one, focused around that fateful day ten years ago when I disturbed the fabric of creation by taking the life of another person and burying the proof.

I know, I don’t need telling – this is guilt calling.

The woods are dark this afternoon, like they were back then. The weather is chilly, the leaves crunch under my boots. Naked branches point at me accusingly. Through them I watch a raven swoop against the grim sky, ruling his kingdom. I notice I have stopped so I pick up my pace before night falls.

It’s so hard to pinpoint the exact place. But I left a marker at the time. Nothing conspicuous, just a chop in the trunk of the nearest big tree. But all the trees look big tonight and I can’t find the grave.

We’d finished the job, Sam and I, the big fuel station robbery, and the wife had found out about it.

Corrine and I had been separated some time and she had no claim on me, but she wanted a slice of the action. Trouble was, I knew it wouldn’t end there. It never did with Corrine. She would want more and more and would squeeze me dry till it was all bled out of me.

How had she found out? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that she had to be removed from the equation.

The way to remove Corrine from the equation was to take her out to the woods and shoot her.

Needless to say, first we made her dig her own grave.

She was a mess, crying through her mascara and making her face an ugly pattern of black streaks. She was covered in the soil and mud that clung to her sweat-stained clothes. Her nose ran and her mouth dribbled as she sobbed.

But I didn’t care. I’d done bad things before, I was hardened. And besides, I hated the bitch. She was getting her just desserts in my book, so her crying and pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears. And Sam, well, he was an evil bastard anyway.

But he was my brother and I loved him.

I suppose that he’d always led me astray, all my life. A bad influence, my mother used to say. But he was a loose cannon and I had to be there for him whenever he went crazy. I was the only one who could cool him down, the only one he would listen to.

I knew he’d have no qualms about killing Corrine because he simply didn’t give a damn. Human life meant nothing to Sam. I was the only one he ever cared for, I think. I like to believe he cared for me, anyway.

After all, we were blood.

So there I was, ten years ago, holding a gun and watching Corrine dig her own grave as the skies grew dark.

Once or twice she looked into my eyes, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get the odd nostalgic twinge for our long lost love. A pining for better times, before the rot set in. But not enough to change my mind. I was holding the gun and I would do the killing – because it was necessary and because I wanted to.

“Jim,” she said to me. “Jim, you’re not really going to do this, are you? It’s just a sick joke, isn’t it? Come on, it’s gone on long enough.”

“Just dig,” I said.

Sam said nothing, he just stood watching, expressionless, like a damned zombie.

“I’m so tired. Please, Jim.”

“You’re talking like I care, Corrine. After all the things you’ve done to me. I think you’re getting off lightly with a quick death.”

“You call this lightly?” She was on the verge of hysteria. I thought I’d better watch what I say till the grave’s finished. I didn’t want to have to shoot her and dig it myself.

But she wouldn’t be quiet. Corrine kept on at me and I had to remind her of a few things. Sam kept quiet through all this.

“You think what I’ve done is worse than the things you do?” she cried. “You’re a thief. You’re a killer. I’ve never done anything like that!”

I waved the gun at her. “Sam’s the killer, Corrine. And anyway, I never did any of those things to you, did I? I always treated you right. And how did you repay me?”

“That was a stupid mistake! I told you that. You’re the one I love Jim, you always were.”

“Which, I suppose, is why you slept with Don.” Don, my cousin. Now dead – guess why? Sam’s a good brother – he couldn’t bear to see me hurting.

I kicked some soil back into the hole, for spite. “No,” I continued. “You only ever loved the money I could make. Which is why you want half of it now. But you know what? I’m sick of giving you my money. You’re getting nothing more off me except a bullet in the head.”

“Jim…” and she sounded so pathetic.

“For five years you bled me dry, Corrine. You used me to get what you wanted and when you left, you left me with nothing.” Yes, she was a great manipulator. She was smart and she always got the better of me. She could talk me around every time. Not this time though.

I looked over at Sam. He was leaning against a tree smoking a cigarette, watching our drama unfold with apparent disinterest.

“So, it’s all about money…” Corrine began.

“No, it’s all about getting you out of my life for good. How did you find out about this, anyway?”

She looked at Sam, and for some reason alarm bells rang in my head. Something was amiss here. She noticed my expression.

“He’s not as smart as you, Jim,” she smiled, and I hated her dirty smile. “He probably doesn’t even know he let on.”

I turned to Sam, who was looking at me without knowing what had just transpired, and then I stared daggers at Corrine. “Bitch.”

*

I stumble over a hole hidden in the leaves and land on my hands and knees amongst the soft damp mulch. As I pull myself to my feet I notice a V chopped out of the base of the nearest trunk, weathered now and almost indistinguishable from the bark.

“I’ve found it,” I call back, and my companion’s footsteps crunch closer toward me.

The grave. The grave where I hid my sin, so long ago. I feel a comforting arm around my waist as I close my eyes, tears trying to escape the emptiness in my soul. My throat hurts as I remember the shot echoing through the woods, tree to tree.

The shot had taken me by surprise. The loudness of it, the bone-jarring force of it. That sound seemed to change the world.

It took some seconds to comprehend the situation. Sam was lying among the leaves, blood splashed up the trunk of the tree beside him. The gun in my hand, pointing at him. My mouth hanging open.

And then Corrine had spoken, her voice shaking. “Oh God, Jim. Oh Jesus.”

I looked at her. I let the gun fall from my grasp. She let the shovel fall from her hands, the shovel she had swung at me without warning, knocking the gun towards my brother. My finger squeezing at precisely the wrong moment.

My brother falling.

My brother dead.

I stared at him. He didn’t move. At all.

Corrine clambered out of the hole and touched my arm. “Jim…”

We held each other, watching the body, shivering as darkness fell.

Some time later, Corrine spoke. “We have to bury him.”

I turned to her, but all my anger was gone. I felt only cold and alone. We watched each other, faces like stone.

She passed the shovel to me.

*

Corrine rests her head on my shoulder over my brother’s final resting place. We do not speak. Now I’m here, I don’t know why I came. I still feel the same empty guilt I’ve felt for ten years. Corrine and I hold each other as we did that day.

Then we turn and find our way back to the car, forever entwined, for good or bad.

I feel so cold. We hug each other for warmth, but there is no real love. There is no hate. No words to say.

There is nothing, really.

Just darkness all around.

© Chris Young, 2010

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An Ending in Tokyo

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nakata rings me in the early hours and says, “It’s okay to kill a murderer, isn’t it?” He’s distraught, drunk. “I mean to say – he would not stop killing. I have saved lives haven’t I, by taking his?”

My third month working with the Tokyo police force and Nakata is my partner, my buddy. It’s early Saturday morning now, about two, and on Friday night he shot dead the notorious child killer Sandez, a Spanish-American.

Nakata’s first kill.

I remember mine. New York, winter, street punk who had a needle. He came at me and I wasn’t taking chances. One bullet in his chest ended his time on earth there and then. I was twenty-two.

A killer at twenty-two, standing in the snow with a smoking gun.

I’d been on the force a year and often thought how I might feel when the time came to take a life. If it ever came. I’d known guys nearing retirement who’d never shot anyone. Other guys, younger, had done it many times, hardened to it. They didn’t care. Or at least, appeared not to.

But I did. I didn’t want to have to kill a person.

Maybe I didn’t have to shoot him, I could have used my unarmed combat training to disarm him, but I wasn’t risking AIDS. So I shot him. Bang, dead. And it never affected me in the way I thought it would.

I refuse to hide behind my badge. I will not morally justify my actions. What it was, I took a life to save my own. It’s happened a few times since. I cope with it, I sleep nights. Because I’m still here.

But Nakata, he’s a different case. Sensitive guy, probably in the wrong job. Nakata won’t sleep, I know that. He’ll blame himself and question his motives and pray to his god. He’ll ask whether he has the right to take a life, even if it means saving the lives of others. Should he have that responsibility?

I could argue that, yes, he does have that responsibility. As soon as he joined the police he took on that obligation. Protect the innocent, even at the expense of your own soul. We are God’s cruel enforcers.

Instead, I say to that lonely, frightened voice, miles away in the night, “Never forget how you feel right now, Nakata-chan.”

He says nothing. I wish I was the one who had shot the child-molesting bastard. But I wasn’t. And I’m not about to let this one incident destroy a good man.

*

Sandez was one sick mother. I’d been chasing him a year in New York. We tracked him to Tokyo and I went there. The Japs didn’t like the idea of a foreign child killer on their turf so they co-operated. Gave me a partner and a car, a desk and free rein.

In fact, the Japanese don’t really like foreigners of any kind in their country, which is why over ninety per cent of the population are what you might call true Japanese. Of what’s left, less than half are Westerners.

Sandez proved surprisingly difficult to find, given the foreigner situation. He must have had help.

But three months later we found Sandez and took him down. Or rather, Nakata took him down.

We grew close as friends and colleagues during that three months. The Japs never gave me a hard time on the force and they were always polite. It’s what they pride themselves on. But I got the feeling, I dunno, like I was a gaijin. An outsider, which I was.

But my friend Nakata Endo treated me like a brother.

Family name Nakata, personal name Endo. They don’t use their personal names like we do, not even with friends. He is Nakata-san, or to those close to him, Nakata-chan.

Nakata showed me all the best parts of Tokyo. He took me to the National Museum, the Imperial Palace and around the Tsukiji Market, biggest fish market in the world, shopping for seafood. Hell, what a place that was. I couldn’t get the stink of fish out of my nose for days.

We went to bars and sang karaoke and drank sake.

But the place that gave him most pleasure to show me was Senso-ji Temple, built around the golden image of Kannon, which was supposedly found in the river. Nakata loves this place, though I have to say, temples leave me a little cold. Too much like churches. Except that the Japanese aren’t as easily offended if you commit a faux pas in one of these places as our Western clerics are.

You know, the Japs consider the major characteristics of Westerners to be laziness, dirt and superstition. This certainly summed up that son of a bitch Sandez, always mumbling into his rosary beads, the freak. I mean, what goes on in a mind like that? Twisting religion into such a mutation?

It’s good that Sandez is dead. This way he won’t ever get out to start his filthy work over again. I’d have shot the bastard anyway, even if he hadn’t pulled his gun. But that’s me. I don’t take risks, not with kiddie killers. Son of a bitch can fry in hell.

“Listen Nakata-chan,” I say, “I’m coming over. Don’t do anything stupid. Drink some coffee. Promise me?”

A pause. “Okay,” comes the almost whispered reply. “Bronson-chan?” It always makes me smile, the way he says my name.

“Yeah?”

“I haven’t eaten. Please bring food.”

*

I pick up noodles from a Thai take-away and make my way to Nakata’s place across the city. The noodles smell good, there on the passenger seat. I wish I’d bought enough for two.

I drive along Shuto Expressway and I hit the gaijin clubbing district of Roppongi as my cell phone rings. It’s Nakata, so I pick up, holding the phone between my shoulder and jaw, trying not to hit anyone as I steer through the mass of drinkers.

The O-Bon Festival is in full-swing tonight, the Festival of the Dead. I see paper lanterns bobbing all around, even the gaijin join in the fun. O-Bon, when ancestral graves are cleaned and offerings of food and flowers are placed before the family altars to welcome back the souls of the dead.

“How you doing, my brother?”

It starts to rain without warning, heavy, like it does in films. I hadn’t seen such rain in Tokyo and reckoned it was something that never really happened. Don’t know why. Not when they get earthquakes and eruptions tidal waves and all sorts of stuff. But tonight it rains like a movie and my windshield wipers struggle to cope. Paper lanterns collapse and die as their flames are snuffed out.

“I have disgraced my family,” says Nakata.

This is serious.

“My father taught me all my life never to kill. Never to take a human life. To follow the teachings of Siddhartha. I have condemned my soul.”

Think, Bronson. “You took a life to save lives, you know that.”

“That is not an excuse, not a reason.”

“Would you rather I was dead? Because I would have been. He was going to kill me.”

“I have ruptured the fabric.” Of the Universe, he means.

“Sandez was doing a hell of a lot more rupturing.” Silence. The wipers scratch across the windshield and my teeth grind in response.

I speak again. “You killed him, yes. But that’s something you have to learn to cope with, Nakata-chan. He wasn’t worth a damn, anyway.”

“Everyone is worth a damn.”

“Some people are beyond redemption.”

He says nothing. “I got noodles,” I say, “can I share them with you?”

Another pause. “Yes.”

*

I will soon be going back to New York, back home, and I’ll miss Nakata. He’s a gem, bound for greatness. He may never make a great cop, he’s too good for that. But he’s smart and quick, got strong moral fibre and he will someday make a great something, but I don’t know what that something will be. I’ve just got to get him through this black patch.

He’ll make it, he’s got a head on his shoulders. I know I’ll keep in touch once I get home. I’m terrible at doing that normally, but Nakata is one of those people you want to keep. So I’ll stay in touch.

Be nice to remain here. There’s a certain peace in Japan that’s completely opposite to America. Just as violent and nasty and riddled with all the worst crimes, but I feel a tranquillity here. Perhaps it’s Nakata’s influence. That Zen-like calm. I think about honour a lot. Would be nice to stay.

As I leave Roppongi I drive around a group of dancers that the rain could not disperse and I’m finally through the crowds and heading out towards Nakata’s home. I should have picked up the noodles out here, they’ll need reheating now. I try to call my buddy but the battery cuts out. The car wipers seem louder than ever.

Four minutes later I’m parking outside his place. The lights are on. I grab the take away and run through the rain, hunching my shoulders like it’ll keep me dry.

It’s cold. I shiver, and shake the drops from my hair as I ring his doorbell. Water trickles down my spine inside my coat and my trousers are soaking up to the thighs. I wait.

*

All of a sudden something occurs to me. I try the door and it’s unlocked. Course, he knew I was coming and it’s torrential. Wouldn’t keep me waiting out here.

I curse my stupidity and go in, squeezing rain from my hair and kicking off my shoes. Wonder if I can arrange some kind of transfer, find a place near here? Nothing to go back for, really. This case has ended here, in Japan, and so has my desire to go home.

Also, I’m looking forward to Nakata’s poetry reading in a couple of week’s time at the Moon-viewing celebration. He read some to me last week, his work in progress. I couldn’t understand a damn word, but I liked the sound of his voice. It should be good – poetry, sake and friendship.

I can hear restful traditional Japanese music as it floats down the stairway and I follow. “Noodles!” I shout. “Hope you got two plates.”

At the top of the stairs I reach the doorway to Nakata’s living room. It stands ajar and I can see the framed kanji on the wall that depicts eternal existence and peace. I love Nakata’s home. Spotless, peaceful and clean.

When I push it open the first thing I see are the dark red stains on the cream rug.

“Oh Jesus no.” I drop the noodles, they make a mess on the floor. I look at the mess but I’m still seeing the bloodstained knife in my Japanese friend’s cold hand.

I can’t bring myself to look back at the prone figure slumped forward sitting cross-legged on the red sheet that was white. His hands reaching out to me palms up, begging forgiveness. I try to speak, but words fail me.

The first thing that occurs to me is to call in and report the incident. My cell phone is dead.

I go to the house phone, avoiding his body and trying not to step in any of the blood.

As I report in, I stare absently at the soroban, the customary abacus, and for some insane reason my mind is overtaken with thoughts of how traditional these people are and yet how modern too.

I can’t help looking round the room at the sake-server, the kanji on each wall, the fantastic sound system and television. Nakata kept this place tidy. He even washed the sake cup he’d been using.

The only mess he’s left is himself.

There’ll be no moon-viewing poetry. No more visits to the holy temple, no more karaoke.

I walk to the window and look out through the streaked glass at the house across where an O-Bon celebration is taking place inside, away from the rain and the blood.

I raise my hand to the cold glass pane and emptiness threatens to suck away my guts. I am far away from home.

I decide to take the soonest available flight back to New York. Japan has lost its magic, and it feels like there is no safe haven anywhere.

I belong in New York. It’s in my blood.

© Chris Young October 2011

Frankie

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m a killer.

No ifs, no buts, that’s the short and long of it. A killer.

I hang my head in shame every night and worry myself to sleep, though I rarely sleep these days. The Family could find me at any time, and I have to keep Frankie safe.

Frankie’s a charming kid, you’d like him, but he can also be a real pain in the backside. I suppose that’s kids for you, though. And I knew all that before I decided to take him on. It’s a big thing, looking after a ten year old, you’ve no time for any life of your own. But if I didn’t watch out for him the Family would get him. And we can’t be having that, can we?

I pulled into the motel car park just after ten-thirty pm and left Frankie in the car while I booked a room. Nasty places, motels. I don’t know what it is about them, I just find them creepy. And this one was no exception. Clean enough, but with an air of guilt that won’t go away. And I know all about guilt.

“Room for me and my son, please.” That’s all I asked for, and she looked at me like I was some kind of bug. God knows what she thought, I don’t even want to guess. But that just shows what kind of people they get around here.

“There a TV in the room?”

“That’s extra,” she told me. So I said OK and paid extra. Everybody wants extra.

“There a bar?”

“Cross the road. Pig & Whistle.” Charming lady. I went back to the car.

“Hey, Frankie…” But Frankie was flat out, so I carried him to the room and put him to bed. I sat for a bit and flicked through the channels, but nothing was on. Nothing good, anyway. I was dying for a drink.

I looked over at Frankie’s bed for a while and decided it’d be okay if I nipped out for a swift one. I thought about waking him up to tell him but I just sneaked out instead.

The bar was fine. Nice atmosphere, but a bit overdone with the pine. Still, better than all the chrome you seem to get nowadays. All the new pubs, at least the ones where I live, are like a flashback to the eighties. The eighties were terrible and just because they happened over two decades ago doesn’t make them any better now.

I ordered a pint and a cigar for later and surveyed the room. Theme pubs, they’re worse than eighties bars. And they all seem to play the Eagles. Ah, good old modern uniformity, you can go anywhere in Britain and not feel lost.

The barman rang last orders so I decided to get another one in before heading back.

It was then that I saw Val.

There I was, sitting at one end of the bar, glass half-raised to my lips, and there she was, at the other end, looking straight at me. Her stare sent needles through my guts and I stopped breathing. Her beautiful red lips were set firmly together and I forced myself to look around the room.

They weren’t here a minute ago, but they were here now. Seven of them. I had to get out quick. But my legs were frozen and I hadn’t started breathing yet and I was sweating and needed the toilet. Blood pounded in my ears and all of a sudden I let out a gasp and ran for the door.

I couldn’t go back to the motel. I wouldn’t have time to get in, get Frankie out and escape in the car so I had to take a risk. It was possible they didn’t know where we were staying, so I had to lead them away. A long shot, but all I had.

My thoughts were all scrambled as I ran and a million voices jumped into my head, all shouting for attention. I had no time to listen. No time to ask how had they found me, no time to think. Only time to run.

It hurt, running. My chest tightened and my throat became sore as I gasped lungfuls of cold night air. Instinct kept me going. I knew, without thinking the words, that I had to run in the opposite direction and double back somehow and hope they hadn’t found the boy. I was fast, they would never catch me. No one ever can.

I looked back. They were crossing the road! They knew! I would have to go back and try to fight them off, though I knew it would be all in vain. Seven of them. What could I do? Some of them would have to die, like before. There was no way I was going to let the Family take Frankie. No way.

I launched myself across the road and was hit by a taxi.

*

Next thing I know this big fat guy with a messy beard is leaning over me. “You okay?” he says. “You just ran straight in front of me.”

I know I did, that’s why I got hit. I told him to go away and dragged myself to my feet. I hurt all over and there was a screaming pain in my left shoulder that worried me. I started for the motel and fell over onto my side. I cursed the ground and carried on, staggering like a drunk. I heard someone yell for somebody to call an ambulance and another voice telling me to come back, I could be hurt.

Well, I was hurt, but I’ve been hurt before.

I ignored the agony as best I could and made it to the motel. The receptionist was stunned as I ran past and looked like she wanted to say something, but I ignored her. I got to my room. The door was open, light pouring out and a shadow pasted on the corridor wall.

I had no weapons, I had nothing, and I had no time to think.

I burst into the room, pushing aside big Malcolm and yelling. Then I stopped in my tracks as I saw the body of Frankie lying on the bed. He wasn’t right, somehow. The Family members all turned to stare at me.

“You killed him!” two of us said. The other one who said it was James, Frankie’s older cousin, and he was saying it to me. I didn’t understand. I studied his bearded, lean face and went for him, hands around his throat.

We fell to the floor, scuffling. He tried to prise my fingers away but I was too strong. Other hands grabbed and pulled at me and then something heavy hit me on the temple.

I found myself against the wall and the pain came rushing back. The pain was in my head and everything became fuzzy. They were talking.

“What do we do?” Big Malcolm asked.

“Well, what do you think we do?” This was Val, her voice filling the room like a lovely Angel of Death. Sweet death.

“Val’s right,” said James. “We can’t let this lunatic carry on.”

“But he’s family!” Malcolm protested. I always liked Malcolm.

“I’m sorry, Malcolm. But look what he’s done now.”

They were going to kill me, I knew. I couldn’t remember any more, everything was muddy and hurt. James spoke again.

“Two of you get him, I’ll take little Frankie. I don’t need to tell you to keep out of sight. We’ll get back to the farm and take care of business there.”

I felt big hands lift me up and I saw James kneel beside Frankie, holding his head. “I’m sorry, little Cuz,” he said to him, “I’m so sorry.”

And they took me back to the farm for the final time.

© Copyright Chris Young October 2011


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