Stick

I.

NEO‑TOKYO.  05‑21D.  22:59:20 p.m.

 

Score: All tied up, four to four.

My weight shifts from my left leg to the right, nervous energy building, waiting for release. My eyes flash to the judge, opponent, judge again, waiting.

I spring forward, my stick extended to the right, rushing the cube. Every muscle trembles as I stride, right, left, right, feint. An opponent charges me from the left, his stick swinging for my legs. I jump, clearing the ark, land, pivot, and bring my bar crashing into his knees. There is a snap as bone gives way to steel, a scream ringing through the air.

The cube.

Once more my legs propel me toward the piece sitting center field. One stick down, two more around. I blink the sweat from my eyes and strike the cube, sending it hurling down the floor. Push, push, a stick appears on my right, but is slammed by one from my own team. Two steps. One.

Pain shoots through my shins, and the floor tilts toward me at an alarming rate. I bring the bar up, raising my arms to roll with the fall. My head turns, as my opponent strikes out for the cube. Swinging my stick upward, I meet steel, the impact jarring my arms. I sweep his legs, sending the player sprawling on the floor.

Fire burns through my legs as I stand, slapping the cube further down the field. Pumping as hard as I can, I follow it. Adrenaline gives me the rush I need, jacking me. The distance closes. My eyes flash to the board.

Three seconds.

My stick is wrenched from my hands and sent spinning across the field, as anopponent strikes it with his own. The force of the blow spins me a full turn as I run, and I struggle to retain my balance. One foot slides from beneath me, twisting, and my other qlrms into the cube, sending it flying.

One second.

The cube bounces once, and enters the net, scoring the final point of the game.

As I lie, gasping for breath, the surroundings begin to blur, melting together, fading out to reveal the blank,empty space of the game room.

“Nice game, kid.”

I look up, locking gazes with that of my coach. He stands, smiling at me, his moustache smirking.

“You made that last point practically single handed. Too bad you took that hit in the shins though.”

At the mention of the tag, pain once more courses through my exhausted legs. “Thanks for reminding me.” I manage to squeeze the words out through pressed lips. Planting my open palm on the floor, I lever myself to a sitting position. “You wouldn’t think a hologram could hit so hard.”

“Christ, kid, you’re lucky it did only hit you in the shins! Coulda done the same thing to you as you did to it.”

Yeah. Lucky.

I nod in acceptance, groaning slightly as I force myself to stand. Walking across the floor, I reach down and retrieve my stick. Its scratched and dented surface shows the wear and tear of the many matches it has seen. Decals line its body, of places fought and won. Playing the hot is nothing like playing live. Human opponents are unpredictable, and they bleed. The only way for me to enjoy the games against the hot any more, is to jack up the difficulty level ten points. Give them more strength, quicker reflexes.

“Kid. Shower up. Then tell the med to look at them shins. We play Denver in two weeks, and I want you in top form. Got it?” He turns and stalks out, the three rooks following him. Just a few more punks trying to play cube, thinking they’re hot. Well, let them wind up with five broken ribs and a wheelchair for life.

 

One of my releases, the shower. The hot water runs down my body, washing away the sweat and pain from my limbs. My Pores feel cleansed, all of the dirt rinsed out by the torrent of heat. Water pounds my sore muscles, massaging them through. With every blissful fiber resisting, I reach to the handle and turn the temperature to cold. Immediately I am awake. In a single second, my skin tightens, my pores close up, and I am refreshed completely.

Stepping from the shower, I dry the water from my body and slip into a clean outfit. The leather of my jacket creaks as I slide my arms into it and buckle the front. My reflection in the mirror stops me briefly as I run my fingers through my wet, dark hair, and then I gather my helmet, bag, and stick, leaving.

 

Can’t believe I got the hell smashed out of my shins by a hol.

The med turns around, placing a support guard over each of my shins. “Never thought I’d see you in here for a hot accident Christianson. What did you set the difficulty level up to this time?” He smiles.

I hate him. I hate his white coat and his damn support guards. I don’t deserve this. Those punks should be the ones getting their asses kicked to hell, their legs smashed, not me. “Forty.”

He does not hide his astonishment well. “That’s twenty points above advanced. I’m surprised you’re not dead.”

I’m sick of it all. The monotony. The weak challenges. “I’m not.” I feel the need to vacate somewhere, and fast. “Thanks a lot, doc.’l Grabbing my things, I trek for the door when his voice stops me.

“Be careful Christianson. You’ve got talent. I’d hate to see you waste it because of an attitude.”

I nod. Opening the door, I walk through and close it without looking back. I hate that man.

 

My hand slams the throttle forward, kicking in the boosters. The bike rises from the ground, hovering over the blanket created from the anti‑grav. I turn the bike toward the alley entrance and crank the accelerator. The fusion engine whines, propelling me out of the mouth and onto the street. Lamp posts flash past me, streaking their lights into long trails as my eyes register the after‑images.

I veer hard to the left, my knee almost scraping the pavement from the lean. It’s a close cut, taking the bike mere inches from the vehicle. A horn blares out, the hissing of brakes in accompaniment.. I kick the bike into second, laying low as it launches ahead, wind buffeting me.

One‑fifteen.

One‑twenty. Revs still running low.

I accelerate more. The speedometer climbs steadily as the bike hums, racing onward. Buildings rush past, sign posts lost in the blur. Flashing lights signal a warning ahead, and I kick third. Construction barricades fly past as I barrel down the center of the narrow path. The ground opens up outside of the barriers, dropping twenty feet. Rushing toward me looms a‑loading ramp, hitched to the back of a hov‑truck. I take it.

Centrifugal force pushes me into the saddle as the bike races up the incline. I jerk the controls to the right, flying off the ramp. The speed and trajectory send me cruising over the pit, and vertigo clutches my stomach. The ground begins to climb upward, and my legs tense, awaiting the impact. It comes, slamming me down, as the bike fights me for control. I fight back harder, managing to retain the balance that could mean serious injury.

Jack’s Place.

I take a right at the next corner, taking the bike back down to second, turning wide and pulling around in the opposite lane. Headlights blind me, and I manage to quickly pull the bike into the right lane as a car screams by.

Nothing like a bike ride to mellow the nerves after a game.

The neon optics glare out from their sign above the bar as I circle around to park in the alleyway alongside of Jack’s place. The engine is cut, its whine slowly fading, and the bike lowers to the ground. The sounds of scurrying rats and vagabonds sleeping become more apparent, and I switch on the vehicle’s defense mechanism. Dismounting, I unbuckle my helmet, unsling my bag and stick, and enter the archaic bar

Loud music bombards my ears, driving its beat into my system as I step inside. The odor of smoke and liquor fills my eyes and nostrils, the haze in the room accented by the glow of Who old T.V.s hanging from the ceiling. Pushing my way through the noisy crowd, I make my way to the counter. The people who do notice my stick move aside to allow me through, and the others are too wasted to care.

It’s an English bar in a Japanese city, but hell, my father was English, and my mother was Japanese, so it’s my kind of place. Most of its inhabitants are Japanese anyway, so I can still blend in. I find the drinks counter, and flag down the nearest bartend.

“Jack. Saka, on the rocks.” All the bartends go by Jack. Just like they all wear aged english suits. It’s a nice touch, right down to the pictures of the most famous English serial killer’s victims hanging on the walls. The father of it all they say.

I check out the T.V. while waiting for the drink, catching the tail end of a sorry excuse for a news program

‑”…with numerous stab wounds from a fork, the killer’s preferred weapon. Police still have not…”-­

“Here you go Tohita.”

I know this tend.

“Lookin’ psyched tonight Toh. Just get out of a match?”

I hand him my cred stick. “Just a lame hol practice, Carl. Did take a nasty slap on the shins though.” The drink burns down my throat as I consume its entirety. I hold up an index finger.

“Another eh? Pain killer?”  A slight grin touches his face as he pours the drink.

“Eat me.” I finish off the second drink with a flourish. As I set the glass down, a large fist slams the counter next to me, and I look up into the face of a seven foot tall barbarian. His extra large, black leather jacket is strung with chains, spotted with dark stains very much resembling blood. Nice man.

“Two saka hunh? Lotta drink for a little guy.” He talks through his teeth. Very large, sharp teeth, which look like a professional job. Why do I always get the pumped up, lowlife, street gang toughs on my ass. No peace.

“Like Jack says, it’s a pain killer.” I turn away from him, hoping he’ll turn away from me. Fat chance. His hand clamps down on my shoulder like a vice, and I can smell his alcohol tainted breath as he leans down, close to my ear.

“Come on, cube boy. Whatcha got? You know how ta use that stick, or are you just for show?”

Take him.

I turn my stool to face him, looking into the punk’s eyes. My foot snaps downward, striking the inside of his knee. I hear the pop, and he stumbles, catching himself on the bar. Swinging my leg back up, I strike the bridge of his nose with the shin guard, shattering bone, destroying cartilage, spattering his face with blood. He coughs, falling toward the floor as I step down from the stool and grab the collar of his jacket.  I plant another kick from the shin plate against the side of his head. Another. I release him, and the man drops to the floor. So I pick him up again. Leaning him against the counter, propped up by a stool, I jump up, thrusting my foot into the punk’s lower jaw. He topples backward over the bar, hitting the back wall, cascading glass and liquor down on him. Carl rushes over.

“Take it easy Toh! Deal with it outside, but don’t trash the place!”

I swipe my hand inches from his face in a slicing motion. “And just what kind of place is it where a guy can’t have a drink or two without being disturbed?” I get the sentence out just before I’m struck by a severe wave of dizziness. Saka. Glad it didn’t kick in a few seconds ago. I flash a broad smile to Carl and mumble something about my cred‑stick. He places it in my hand, and I fumble with it fOr a moment before I am able to put it away.

“Thanks Jack.” Smile.

“Watch yourself Tohita. Don’t do anything too stupid.”

“There’s a very fat line between stupidity and routine, my friend.” I stumble as I turn, and begin to leave the continually growing confusion of the stuffy, claustrophobic building. Something in the back of my mind tells me that my name has been called, and I look behind me. Carl is shaking his head and pointing to my equipment by the stool. With a bow of thanks I pick it up.

 

Juice. Ha, ha!

Lights glare to life as I punch the buttons on the bike’s panel. It jumps to a start with a whine, and I top out the throttle. Tearing from the alley and into the street, I lean hard to avoid hitting the buildings on the other side. My tail hits a garbage can, sending it spinning out of the way. It crashes into a wall, exploding waste in every direction. It’s beautiful. Unfortunately, the police vehicle which flashes its lights and burns down the street after me doesn’t think so.

Hah! Chase.

Come and set me sucker.

“Come and get me sucker!” My voice screams out, only to be lost to the insulation of the helmet, and the whistling of the wind. So I begin to alleviate the problem. Fourth gear and three‑twenty five an hour. One hand controls the bike as the other unbuckles the strap on my helmet. Immediately it is torn off by the wind, tumbling behind me through the air.

Glass fractures, shatters, and flies everywhere as the windshield of the vehicle is destroyed by the flying helmet. The car swerves, slamming into the front of a building. Instant wreckage. My bike speeds on as the explosion flares up behind me, illuminating the block. A shockwave blows past me, shaking my control slightly. To cover the imbalance I begin playing test driver between the parking meters.

Weave in. Weave out. Weave in. Blockade. End of the line.

The first of the construction barriers breaks apart as I plow through it. One of the pieces flies up, striking me just above the eye, and I am shaken to the side. Just enough. The second guard barrier catches my arm, spinning me out of the seat. I hit the pavement hard, trying to roll with the fall, but the speed and awkward position make this impossible. I Tumble along the ground, scraping limbs, face, and body, and a third barrier strikes the back of my neck. Darkness lays a fog in my head as an explosion sounds mutedly in the background.

 

Very black.

A constant clicking sound pervades my sense of hearing. Slowly, the sound of a siren grows in volume, piercing the air. My face is numb, and so are my hands. The small shivers running through my body give me hope that it has to do with the temperature. I test the theory. My finger moves, as does my hand. I feel my face, and try to massage the numbness away. The friction does warm the skin a little, much to my relief. Now, what the hell happened? It’s a damn good question.

Bike. Explosion.

I exert effort and force my eyes open. Sitting five feet from me is a derelict, behind him, flaming wreckage from a Honda 5600‑X hoverbike. He stares directly at me, not moving, except for his hand, tapping a fork repeatedly on the pavement. I try to sit upright and pain wreaks havoc with my entire body. I scream. It feels good.

There is a brief moment of silence, and the realization that the bum has stopped his tapping hits me. He continues to stare, and I now realize that the silence is not so silent. The siren once again blares its call.

Gotta move.

I extend my hand toward the bum, and then notice the amount of blood running from my from my fingers. Quickly I close my eyes, stopping any reflex to investigate the rest of my body. It won’t feel half as bad if I don’t know what it looks like. This is proven as my hand throbs in a sudden rush of pain. I open my eyes and speak to the man.

“Please help.”

He sits perfectly still, and then once again begins to tap the fork. Obviously he doesn’t play with a whole stick. I try again.

“Get off your damn ass and give me a hand!” My voice cracks, and I realize the condition of my throat as it is painfully torn by the volume. The bum, however, is affected by my display. Slowly, he rises to his feet and steps tentatively in my direction. My hand remains extended, and he circles it, staying just out of reach, assessing my predicament. Then he stops. His mouth opens in an evil smile, showing his blackened, decaying teeth. A screech resounds from him as he leaps forward, swinging his fork in a downward ark towards my midsection. Reflexively, I reach up to stop it, and he hits my arm. Nerves scream as the bum pounds it again and again. My other hand fumbles around me, searching for a weapon of some kind. Fingers touch a piece of plastic from the broken barricade. Gripping it as tightly as I can, I swing it upwards, hitting the bum squarely on the chin. He stumbles back, trying to regain his stance. Bringing the fragment around with a backhand motion, I throw at his face. The plastic connects with its target and spins off to the side. Taking the small opportunity, I force myself to stand despite the pain.

Head rush.

I almost fall back down as a white haze creeps into my vision. Trying to regain my balance, I trip over my stick, which lies on the ground. I reach down, grabbing its handle, feeling the familiar surface in my hands, and look back to the bum. He has regained his wits, and rushes me.

Big mistake.

As he charges, I step to the side, swiping with the stick toward his ankles. It strikes, and I hear and feel the familiar splintering of bone. Continuing the sweep, I pull upwards, carrying his legs along with. As support lifts from beneath him, the bum falls to the ground. His face plants itself in the sidewalk, nose crushing, teeth shattering, and his neck twists at a critical angle with a snapping sound. Reaching down, I yank the fork from the bum’s limp hand, rolling the body over, and jab it into his throat. Blood rushes forth from the puncture as a blinding light suddenly flashes into my eyes. The siren grows louder, and I realize that it comes from the same source as the light.

I stand, not knowing what to do.

Run. My legs remain frozen, and I stare into the approaching light. Run!

Something inside of me snaps, and I turn, pushing the ground with all of the strength my legs can give. I cross the sidewalk with a leap, and alley walls surround me. Dumpsters pass by, doorways come and go, and streets become a giant maze of confusion as I run. I do not stop. Sweat runs down my face, stinging my eyes, filling them with a red mist. My breath becomes to short for endurance, my lungs burning with pain, and I fall to the ground, again driving myself into the pavement. I haven’t the breath to cry out in pain. I cannot even move. Agony consumes me, every nerve feeling torn out from the root. My lungs heave, trying desperately to consume enough oxygen to keep me concious. The blackness returns, slowly covering me with its thick blanket, and I fight it. Every ounce of will concentrates on reality, trying to see clearly again. Slowly, the fringes of my vision becomes clear again. Breath comes more easily to my lungs, and the pain returns to my body with startling harshness.

I don’t want to die.

Still refusing to look at my body, I glance around, trying to get a grasp on my surroundings. The area is familiar to me. My muscles cry in reluctance as I roll over, pushing myself to get up. Blood mingled with sweat drips from my forehead, splashing upon the street, and my palms leave puddles of red as I lift them from the ground. I cannot think of what to do, the shock has so clouded my thinking, and I stumble my way to the nearest place where I know friends will be.

 

Not much further. Good.

If it was another block I wouldn’t make it. Painfully I grasp the handle of the door, pulling it open. Only a few people remain inside of the bar, drunkenly mumbling to themselves.

“Toh! Jesus Christ!” Carl throws down his wiping rag and leaps over the counter. My legs will support me no longer, and I collapse into him. Desperately, I use the lingering scent of cigarette smoke as a focus, trying to stay awake, but the pain, shock, exhaustion, and traces of alcohol twist my surroundings into a surrealistic collage of colors, smells, and odd sounds.

Carl looks into my eyes, saying something, and a show of concern is on his face. I cannot force my body to remain aware any longer, and the waiting dark of unconciousness engulfs me like an abyss.

 

 

II.

NEO-TOKYO.  06-21D.  11:30:07 a.m.

 

Reality flickers.  Sounds wash over me in waves, bringing various images to mind, voices murmuring.

Pain.  My body aches more than I have ever felt before.  I feel as though I’ve been dragged over a giant shredder behind a speeding car.  I’d like to look around, but my eyelids are crusted shut and refuse to open.  Too bad, there’s no way I’m going to move my arm.

“Toh?”  The voice sounds like Carl’s.  I can’t see him, but I’m pretty sure.  “C’mon man.  Wake up.”  Another shove.

“Nuggeduff.”  I can barely vocalize at all, much less form words.  My tongue feels bloated, refusing to cooperate, and the inside of my mouth is covered with a layer of paste.

“You look worse than Hell Tohita.  I told you to be careful, but you just had to go and thrash yourself anyway didn’t you?”

“Fggyoo.”  I’m shoved again.  That does it.  Straining against my own weight, I bring my hands to my face wiping away the cement on my eyes.

Pain!

My eyes crack open, and the blurred shape of Carl is leaning over me.  The instant I am able to see, my fist smacks into the side of his face, sending him stumbling backwards.

“What the hell was that for, Toh?”  Carl has regained his balance, and is rubbing his chin as he quickly moves back over to me.  His foot pushes itself sharply into my midsection, forcing the air from my lungs.  “Mellow out or I’ll give you another one!  You may be a good stick player, but I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with hungover drunks, and with the shape you’re in I’d kick your ass.!”  He’s right.  Just the volume in his voice makes my head throb.  I gotta lay off the compound alcohol drinks.

“I’m sorry.  Just…keep your voice down, okay?”  I look up, squinting my eyes, and I can see a little more clearly.  I can also tell that the light will be a definite problem.  “Could you dim the..the…”

“Lights?”  He finishes my attempt at verbalization, almost laughing.  Personally, I don’t find it very funny, but I imagine Carl would get off on seeing one of his his friends with a hangover from a previously wasted night.  He moves for the switch as I attempt to move from the sofa I’m sprawled on.

Bad idea!

A gutteral yell is issued from my mouth as I sit upright, pain swimming through my surface nerves and muscles.  This only feeds my pounding headache, and I find myself stuck in an ironic situation.

Pain.  Scream!  More pain.  SCREAM!  Even more pain.

I grit my teeth, holding back the urge to belt forth more cries of agony.  Carl just smiles at me.

“Through yet?”

“Eat me!”  More pain.  I resolve myself to silent speech, as shouting seems to have gotten me nowhere.  “what i mean to say is, why don’t you come over here and chew on this because it couldn’t hurt much more than what i’m going through now.”

“No thanks.  But how about some breakfast.  You need to get some food in you.”  Carl walks out of the room in the direction of his kitchen.

How many nights I’ve spent crashed on this sofa I don’t know.  I bury my face in the familiar smelling cusions as I fall back down.

I lie here, tolerating the pain, pushing it from my mind.  It’s an old trick, one you learn right away as a cube player, though I haven’t really used it to a level of this extremity.

“Toh!  Switch on the vid, quick!  I thind you really oughta see what’s goin’ on here.”

My hand fumbles around on the small table, pushing away magazines and empty cans in an attempt to find the control for the video screen.  A finger brushes something that could very well be, and I hit it, hoping to turn the screen on.       Bingo.

“…and it seems to have happened again.  This time, however, the perpetrator has been identified.”

I look over at the screen, wondering just what the big deal is for Carl.

“Just last night he was caught in the act.  After being seen, the man fled the scene, leaving behind the murder weapon.”

So what?  I don’t get it, until I see my picture glaring back at me from the top right corner of the vid.

What the hell is this?

“The man was identified as Tohita Christianson, a star cube player.  Apparently, before Christianson could cause injury, the victim ran into the street, trying to escape.  Christianson followed, assulting the man with his playing stick, and proceeded to stab the victim with a fork.  The same fork used in other recent slayings.”

No.  That’s wrong.

It’s all wrong!  It was self defense!  The mother’ came at ME with the fork.

“He was happened upon by a police car investigating the sudden disconnection of another officer’s radio line.  Christianson then escaped into an adjoining alleyway.  A search has been put up for the criminal…”

I stare blankly at the screen, not seeing, not hearing.  Impossible.  This is not happening.

Not to me.

“Toh.  What the hell is going on?”  I look over, and Carl is stnading in the doorway, watching me.  I am only able to open my mouth in an attempt to form some sort of verbal explanation, and cannot find the words.  “Be straight with me, pal.  What did you do last night?”  He doesn’t move from his place.

Doesn’t hurt to try.

I reach over to the table, hitting the off button for the vid screen.  “I didn’t do it, Carl.”

He starts forward from his position.  “They saw you!  What do you mean you didn’t do it?”

“It was self defense!  The bum is the one who came after me with the damn fork!  I had to do something!”  Carl stays put, mixed emotions crossing his face.  “Come on, does it sound like me to run around stabbing people with a fork for cryin’ out loud?”

Apparently, that makes up his mind.  “No.  No it doesn’t, Toh.  But you’re still screwed over with the authorities.  I mean, you still killed the bum-”

“In self defense, Carl!”

“Who cares?  He’s dead!  They’ll never believe it anyway.  Why a bum would attack someone with a stick and your build-”

“I was down.  My bike wrecked, and I passed out for a minute.  When I came to, the guy was squatting there, tapping the damn fork on the ground.”

Carl turns away, mumbling.  “I told you to be careful, Tohita.  None of this would have happened-”

“I was careful!  I handled that bike very well considering the explosion was so close!”

It doesn’t even take a second for Carl to turn around.  “What?”

“What explosion, Toh?”

“Uh, that car.  Don’t you watch the news?”  I lie back down on the couch, trying to make myself as small as possible.

“Uh, that car?  Uh, that car!  That doesn’t hack it with me, pal!  What car?  Jesus, I find out something new every minute.”  A hand grabs my shoulder roughly and yanks me over onto my back.

“Ouch!  Damnit, Carl!  Be a little more considerate!”

“Considerate?  Oh.  Okay.  I’ll be a little more considerate.”  His fist slams into my stomach.  It’s not a nice feeling, and I think very strongly about vomiting all over Carl.  “Considerate is showing up at the bar, looking like you’ve just been run over, knowing I would help you, and being a wanted felon?  I could get creamed for this too!  But it just wouldn’t be right for me to not help a friend in need.  Right?”  He looks irritated, so I try to appease him.

I nod my head in agreement.

“No!  Tell me what the hell is the deal with the car, Tohita!”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath.  “The car was the police.”  I hear Carl let out a choked laugh and slap his hands down at his sides.  “It chased after me as soon as I left the bar.  I was trying to scream at it and couldn’t, so I took my helmet off.”

“You took your helmet off?”

“Hey!  I didn’t know it would hit the windshield, and send the thing crashing into a building!”

“You’re right.  I concur that it wouldn’t be the normal assumption.”

“I’m glad you agree.  But after that, the shock wave made me lose my balance, I went right up on the sidewalk, hit a barrier of some kind, and boom.  Lights out.”

I’ve never seen the look that Carl’s face shows me.  What it means I do not know.  Carl turns away, without a word, and leaves the room.

I’m up the proverbial creek.

What do I do?

I don’t know.

Carl enters the doorway again, carrying the remains of what used to be my leather jacket in his hand.

“You can’t stay here.”  He holds the coat out toward me.

“Please, Carl.  Just help me.”

“How?”

It’s a damn good question.  I haven’t even considered it myself.  Where is there to turn?  Coach?  No, that’s the first place the police would check.

Alibi.  Surely all of the other murders must have taken place while I was seen elsewhere.

“Carl, I can get an alibi.  I mean, the odds of my being somewhere remote when every single murder occured os pretty slim, right?”  He sets the jacket down on the coffee table, and looks me in the face.

“You know the system, Toh.  They’ve chosen you for their scapegoat, and they’ll hang you.  I’ve seen it done before.  Politicians screw the world, and the don’t use condoms.  The few who do speak up, abortion cases.  Know what I mean?”

My head lowers.  He’s right.

“You’ve been screwed.  So are you gonna be a single parent, or go for the clinic option?”

My hand reaches for the jacket.  I force myself to stand, ignoring pain, for the most part, by concentrating on the predicament at hand.  What do I do?  What is there to do?  I can’t pull through this thing on my own.

“Carl.”

“Yeah?”

“Do me one thing?”

“If I can.”

“Get me to Yoshi.”

He grabs my arm, tightly.  His face is angry, and his words are forced.  “Don’t bring her into this.  When she left you, she left all of you.  This isn’t fair to her and you know it.”

“Come off it Carl!  I have to leave town!  She just happens to be the one person I want to see before I go.  Please.”  I am pleading.  Never, since Yoshimina and I were divorced, did I think I would have this sort of desire to see her.

“You just want to say goodbye?”  I nod.  “Then get your ass into the shower and clean up.  I won’t take you to her looking like that.”  I grab his hand, squeezing it tightly.

“Thank you.”

 

It takes half an hour for me to do a rustic job of cleaning my wounds.  I didn’t realize, but should have expected the damage that falling from a motorcycle going two-fifty could inflict on the human body.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m hoping Yoshi can clean me up when I get there.  Nurses are good at that.

Two years.

Long enough to get me out of her mind.

If she turns me away, she turns me away.  That’s the least of my worries.  How to get out of the city poses a much larger problem.  The thought of hanging out in Old-Tokyo for a while doesn’t excite me, so there are actually two questions to be solved.  How?  Where?  But hiding under a blanket in the back of Carl’s hov-car isn’t exactly the best place for thought, so I hope Yoshi will see me.

Always the practical one, Yoshi.  How could a stupid game break us apart?

Easy.  That game is your life life jerk-off, and you kick ass at it.

Doesn’t mix well with nursing.

The car stops, and I feel the bump as it lands on the ground.

“Listen, Toh.  Have you heard from her at all in the last two years?”

“Uh, not really.”  I pull the blanket off my face.

“Okay.  I’ll see if she’s home.  If I call, come on out.”  Carl starts to get out of the car, and then stops.  “Things are a little different now.”  He’s gone before I can question.

I wait, uncomfortably, for Carl to call me.  It seems an awful lot as though he’s taking his time, leaving me an eternity to ponder just what he meant by “different”.  A whistle cuts through the air, and that’s a good enough signal for me.

I uncover myself from the blanket, open the door, and slowly step onto the street.  The unfamiliar street.  Looking toward the house the car is parked in front of, I see Carl standing on the porch, next to him, Yoshimina.  She’s just as beautiful as always.

Nice house too.  What happened to the old one.

“Oh my God!”  Yoshi cries out a little too loudly, bringing her hand to her mouth and turning to Carl.  “Is he crazy?  What is he trying to-”

“He doesn’t know.”  Carl puts his hand on her shoulder, “I didn’t tell him, because he wouldn’t have wanted to know.”

Yoshi looks back at me, her hand still covering her mouth.  Her eyes hold a look of decisiveness in them.  It’s one I remember from the not-so-good times.

“Get him inside, quickly.  He’s risked his life for this, though that’s nothing new.”

That’s an old wound.  It stings.

She turns, going inside, and Carl starts toward me.  I meet him halfway, and he grabs my hand.

“I got you here, Toh.  That was the deal.”  His grip tightens.  “You leave when she tells you.  Got it?”

“What?  You’re takin’ off?  Don’t you think that’ll piss her off a little?”

He smiles.  “She’ll get over it.  Somehow, I don’t think this will be a good confrontation for me to be in on.”

“Thanks, Carl.  You’ve been a great bartend.”

“Take care of yourself, Tohita.”  He starts toward the car.

“Hey, this isn’t forever.  I’ll see you in a couple years.  I think it should be safe to visit then.”

Carl turns around, laughing.  “Then I’ll see you at Jack’s.”  Turning again, he opens the door to his car and gets in.  I only hear him leave as I walk toward the house.

Yoshi hasn’t closed the door, so I invite myself in, closing it behind me.  I am in  a nice house.  Too nice.  The kind of nice that isn’t affordable on just a nurse’s salary.

“You might as well sit down.  It’s your time.”  Yoshi stands in the middle of the living room, gesturing to one of the many sofachairs.  I take her up on the offer.  She stares at me for a moment, speechless, and then quite suddenly starts to cry, shouting at me.  “You son of a bitch!  You completely shut yourself off from me for two years, and then, on the spur of the moment, show up on my doorstep?  What the hell are you doing?  You have absolutely no idea what sort of danger you’re in by being here!  You know that the police are after you, but you just don’t happen to know that I’m married to one now, do you?”

For the second time this morning, I am completely speechless.  The only thing that even comes to mind is the most stupid thing I could say.  I say it anyway.

“I’m sorry.”

I asked for it.

“You’re sorry?  That’s what you have to say for yourself?  Sorry for what, not even caring enough to find out about my life for two years?  Sorry for putting your life in danger?”

I didn’t expect that one.

“Sorry for at last wanting to se me before you disappear?  I found out how your life was going from Carl.  He’s an old friend, remember?  And I can assume that you’re going to leave.  How, I have no idea, but it seems like just the kind of thing you’d do.”

This is not going where I thought it would.

“You always took off when the going got rough.  Never sticking it out until the end.  Always thinking of yourself.  that’s why we split, remember?  You didn’t want to deal with the problems caused when a nurse got married to a cube player.  Causes interesting predicaments, a situation like that.  You always came home, the hell beat out of you-”

This is more like it.

“-and who cleaned you up?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.