Book: What You Do Not Know You Want
What You Do Not Know You Want
MY THREE A.M. NIGHTMARE DISPERSED like a disappointed audience as I tried to find the Coke machine. A woman passed, in her fifties maybe, cuddling, saying, "All I want out of life is a good night's sleep." Too woozy to reply, I just smiled back. The second person I met at that sweltering hour was a barefoot girl of eighteen or nineteen, kneeling before the Coke machine, extracting a can from its cumbersome mouth. Pixie-nosed, Oriental, wearing surfer's clothes for pajamas, not an ounce of fat on her, bony as macaroni in fact. "You can't sleep either, huh?" I asked. Apparently she hadn't heard. I raised my voice. "So you can't go to sleep either, huh? We should throw us a party for insomniacs." The machine relinquished her 7UP but she still refused to acknowledge me. Her dead eyes bore through me. "Sure was a pleasure meeting you," I thanked her retreating figure. Bitch. But particles of the girl remained in the air. These I breathed in. Musk, salt, lime.
Back in room 404 my sheets were chewy with sweat. Jesus Molten Christ, where was the Hawaiian ocean breeze tonight? A double dose of aspirin downed with whiskey and Coke-revolting-helped my mind cut its tight moorings. Each lush leaf on the lime trees lining the Ganges at Varanasi, you once told me, houses a soul for forty-nine days before the soul is reincarnated. Did you make that up? Remember the crows on the floating carcasses, eating their rafts? I thought about the Oriental girl, lying on her bed, sipping her 7UP. Her blanking out of me belittled-erased-me more than any verbal insult. Oriental? Who knows? Anyone in Hawaii could be from anywhere, no matter how they look. Who was she thinking about now? Me? Doubted it, but. Hotel rooms store up erotic charge, and men sleeping alone are its copper wires. Once upon a time she would have smiled, stroked her midriff, struck up a conversation. One thing might have led to It. Was she sleepwalking? Or is my voltage weakening now I'm thirty-six? Mirrors are my friends no longer. Nightingale picks through my golden locks for gray hairs. I must laugh along.
"Not this way! Not this way." Jesus Jackhammer Christ, who fell out of that nightmare? A minute passed, two, five, thirty, but I heard nothing more. Hush now, I told my wild pulse, hush, it's tomorrow morning already. I read Confessions of a Mask until Waikiki's tourists, elevators, juicers, chambermaids, toilets, showers, bellboys, lifeguards, deliverymen and waitresses resumed their appointed function in this three-square-mile vacation machine. My Marc Jacob shirt, I decided, should send the right signal to the police. On my way out through reception I was surprised to see not the miserable werewolf who had checked me in, but the Oriental girl from the Coke machine, reading a Chinese paperback with a demon doll on the cover. "Good book?" I asked. "Stephen King," she replied, glancing up, but making no reference to the previous night. "Chinese?" I asked, indicating the book. "Me? The book? Breakfast?" As you know, my interpersonal skills include both patience and charm, so I learned that Wei is from Hong Kong and has helped her uncle in the running of Hotel Aloha since his wife killed herself one year ago. "Sleeping pills," Wei volunteered this detail. "Enough to kill an elephant." "How tragic," I responded. Uncle? If that hairy Caucasian belch really is her uncle then I really am Richard Nixon.
My attention drifted over the lost-property form like a balloonist surveying a strange city. Name, address, occupation. Occupation… how would "Dealer in esoteric memorabilia" sound? I nearly decided the form was a waste of time. Was that fat custodian of justice, picking his nose and wiping it under the seat of his chair, really going to get me nearer my holy grail? One Nozomu Eno at Runaway Korso and even Werewolf at Hotel Aloha were far likelier leads. In the end I wrote, "Trader," figuring officialdom may as well be on my side as not. Truth needed to be cut to size, however. The "missing item" I registered, therefore, was "an ivory-handled ornamental bread knife (approx. 40 cm) last housed in a flute case." That this knife was crafted by the Master Kakutani of Old Edo in 1868, I omitted to mention. That the Yukio Mishima had disemboweled himself with this very blade and attained his gory apotheosis on an otherwise nondescript November 25, 1970, I omitted to mention. That one month ago my business partner, Zachary Tanaka, was approached by one of the writer's ex-lovers, now an alcoholic dentist in Tokyo with debts up to his cancerous throat, for quick cash and no grief from the Mishima estate in return for this knife plus certificate of authenticity sealed by Mishima himself-verified by ourselves-I omitted to mention. That one week ago Zachary Tanaka had flown to Honolulu, phoned me in Yerbas Buenas to confirm he had receipt of the knife, then jumped to his death from the roof of Hotel Aloha here in Waikiki, I omitted to mention. That the dagger had not been found and that an ultranationalist emperor worshiper in Kyoto had upped his offer to Y25 million-what, five years of police pay?-I damn well omitted to mention. "Ivory-handled ornamental bread knife, huh?" snorted the cop. "Is that for slicing ornamental bread?"
Wei studied her admirable reflection in two mirrors held in exact positions. "If you look at your face from different places," the girl explained, "you are reminded that we are not a Me, but an It who lives in a Me." I showed her your photograph, the one I took of you by your glider. "Never seen him." Wei shook her head. "Is he famous'" He is-was, I prompted-a Japanese-American named Zachary Tanaka who had stayed here two weeks ago. "So? Waikiki is Japan's national playground. Even we have hundreds stay here, every year, all shapes, all sizes," said Wei. Yeah, I said, but how many throw themselves from your roof? Wei did an oh face. "Uncle handled all of that. I slept through it, believe it or not. I sleep like a baby in this place. Ask Uncle about him." Disappointing. Werewolf was a last resort. Hotel owners are hustlers, and if "Uncle" scented how valuable this artifact might be, and if it was in his possession, well, it may as well be guarded by lasers. So I just asked Wei what happened to Zachary Tanaka's belongings. "The cops took everything," stated Wei. "It was just clothes and pilot magazines, I heard."
An hour in the creamy Hawaiian surf was an inviting prospect after a day of precinct offices. Were you on the bus to Koko Head, Vulture' Did you see that bullish ocean kicking up three-meter waves? Grace would say you were watching me lick up those spectacular rollers. For thirty pure minutes I achieved a state of grace with the sea. Everything I tried came off, but then, scanning the beach for admirers, I neglected a fundamental rule: Never rest idle with your back to the ocean. A godalmighty breaker crashed down on me, forcing me way under, where a churning riptide pulled me deeper. Stay calm, and normally the air in your lungs tells you which way is up, right, Not off Koko Head. No up, down, sound-save a dim roaringand an inner voice lamenting, Drowning, you're drowning, and my lungs collapsing and ABBA, amazingly, singing Supertrouper lights are gonna blind ya to scenes flashing by. Not scenes of my life but of clays after my death. Of my missing body, eaten by skipjack tuna. Of Wei or Werewolf reporting my absence to a nose-picking cop. Of Nightingale, assuming I'd bottled out of the wedding. I tell you of my dip with death, Vulture, to illustrate my conviction that ninetynine deaths in one hundred-accidents, disease, old age, you name it-are banal. There. My Big Thought. Only suicides can truly say, Yes, here is my reason for dying. crafted by my hand according to my logic.
A second breaker tumbled my puny ass farther up the sucking beach. Jesus Half-dead Christ, a gallon of Pacific or more I barfed up, then crawled to the high-water mark and lay prostrate and eyed the murderous surf. Funny, none of the other copper-skinned surfers had even noticed I'd almost died. A geriatric jogger passed at slower-than-walking speed, grinning at me without teeth or sanity. Finally I heaved myself over to my gear, then waited for the bus back to Waikiki. Another fundamental rule: Don't be caught on American soil without a car. My second reason for telling you all this is to explain the eat-now-for-tomorrow-we-die frame of mind of this week. If my cruelty to others is casual, I only follow the world's lead. And look, I'm paying for it now, aren't I? Oh, it's a fucking butcher's shop down here.
Nightingale called me from L.A., where she's spent the week modeling for a chain of cosmetic surgeons to check for the nth time about Not Having u Veil. Sure, honey, I crooned, veils are too Barbie doll. Nightingale went stony on me, so I agreed with whatever guff the bounteous moo spouted next, so of course that added condescension to my list of sins against womankind. Premenstrual sadism, I hope. The shinier the apples of attraction, Vulture, the wormier their maggots of repulsion. Afterward, I shaved, aftershaved with a Hugo Boss scent-an expensive mistake-put on my Paul Smith suit, waxed my hair and was leaving when I saw these words doodled on the phone pad:
long live the emperor i don't think they even heard me
You will recognize Yukio Mishima's final words, but I needed a minute to trace them to their source. That my unconscious mind had not only digested his last utterance whole, but excreted it during an earwigging from Nightingale is further proof that our brains are dark globes lit by very distant stars.
Werewolf acted pissed that I'd assumed he'd know of Runaway Horses. "Bars spring up and die like weeds around here," he said. "Find it in a phone book." I asked him for a phone book. "Ain't got one. So sorry." All hail the service economy. Were his cracked eyeballs the last ones to see you? I was tempted to pluck them out to look for you, nickel-sized and inverted, impressed there. On Olohana Street I paid a Tin Man mime artist a dollar to direct me up to the intersection with Kunhio Avenue and down a flight of steps. Runaway Horses might have been any gaijin-friendly basement bar in Tokyo with a clientele three-quarters Japanese, one-quarter Western. I asked the barman if he had Sapporo beer. "Sure I do," he replied, opening one for me. I said, "Nozomu-san, I'm Vulture's associate." My clever opener shot my foot off. "That settles it!" growled the barman, "I'm changing the name tomorrow, new sign, everything, and screw `Runaway Horses, Established 1998.' I am not Nozomu Eno. I am Shingo Ogawa, okay? I own this bar now. Eno skipped town a week ago. Yes, gambling debts. No, I don't know what stone he's hiding under. No, I'm not his friend, I don't know his friends, and no, his debts are nothing to do with me." The man went on in this vein at length, but I'd glazed over. That your last known lover disappears at the same time that this singular artifact vanishes into thin air pointed to an obvious conclusion. I persuaded Shingo Ogawa-just-to write down my details, in case Nozomu showed up. Then, casually, I mentioned an ivory-handled ornamental bread knife left here by another friend. Shingo Ogawa clenched his jaw. "Nothing like that here," he said, but I got a list of other Japanese bars you might have hung out at. One, I recognized from your last e-mail.
Bar Wardrobe, slotted above Waikiki Hula Karaoke Palace, was well named: cramped, dark, hot, varnished. Two inhabitants dwelt within. One lay slumped in a pool of mahogany light, as if shot ten seconds ago. His companion was semiobscured by gloom. Was this Bar Wardrobe? I asked, just to ask something. Her nod said, Stupid question. When would the barman be back? She blew smoke over the snorer to indicate, That's him. Great. How could I get a drink? She shrugged. Well, how had she gotten hers? This time she deigned to answer verbally, "I have an arrangement with the management." So I clipped a $10 bill to the till and helped myself to a Kilmagoon and soda. No sign behind the bar of a battered flute case or a pre-Meiji-period knife. The woman lit a match whose flare-up lit a face younger than her voice. Hooked nose, defiant lips, Hawaiian blood or maybe Filipina, I guessed. Birthmark like a wine stain but my right hand brushed my left to confirm my engagement ring was in my soap bag at the hotel. Blemishes fasten memories. Don't you look at me that way, Vulture; when did you ever turn down a little entertainment? "You are a model," I began, "am I right? It takes one to-" She cut in. "Wanna hear funny joke!" Okay, I said. "Okay. Tall blond Ameri-can marine walks into a bar in Manila, where he chooses a cute native girl. So lucky she feels! She, a trainee hairdresser in her first month in Manila, already on her way to luxury apartment in Beverly Hills or Honolulu. Not like cousins in sweatshops or worse. No way, not her. River of dollars, many drinks. You can't get pregnant your first few times, the marine laughs, later, on her back, then her front. A medical fact, he says. Sure, a warning goes off, but she's too drunk now to fight-stop me if you know this joke, okay? and he does call her next weekend, and the next, and the next. `My boyfriend this, my boyfriend that,' she says to make the other hairdressers jealous. Three months the doctor gives her the news. You guess it yet! Pregnant as Queen Turtle. Funny, hey? Her boyfriend tells her their baby will be a beautiful Filipino-American son, okay, no problem, they move to California, okay. She weeps with joy. Good man, good father, not like her father, the fat sweaty incest pig. He promises to phone next night from base. Guess what? No call. Two weeks later an officer at the base tells her she isn't the first girl to be duped by an American saying, `Hey, babe, I'm a marine, stick with me.' She has no one to discuss pregnancy to, so she begs and borrows and spends everything on a private clinic. Keep it secret. The operation is a five-star fuckup. Half her womb gets sucked out too. She can't stand for six months. Blood all the time. Well, this joke's over almost. Years later the same girl, she lives in Honolulu. She does hair for rich wives. Hears their chatter about husbands, about affairs, about babies. Some days she wants cut their wrists, some days hers, some days the wrists of this world. So. Whatever line you're to begin, don't. All of them I heard already, okay?"
"Do I look like a fucking marine?" I shut the door.
"What did you do to the door? Monday night in room 404 was no more restful than Sunday. "What did you do to the door?- Hearing someone jibber at whatever stalks their dreams unnerves the lemon yellow shit out of me. Wallpaper and paste is what separates our waking selves from those jibbering night stalkers. I padded down to the Coke machine at the end of the corridor, hoping to encounter Wei. All I met were black moths. Back in my room i took it round of aspirin, stripped, and watched my body in the mirror to see too, was an It inhabiting a Me. The jury was out. I took the elevator up to the roof to try to see your last view, but the tiny access stairs were locked by the shiny new padlock. The replacement for the one you'd cur through. So I had to make do with sitting on the steps. Back in my room I read a story from Death in Midsummer called "Patriotism," where a military husband and wife commit seppuku together. Sex in death and death in sex. You loved it too; you'd underlined your favorite passages. I smoked a spliff but couldn't stop crying. Sadness is fertile and thorny and takes root in any soil.
Werewolf was all sympathy when I complained about my nightmareprone neighbor. "The Holiday Inn's the eighty-floor fucker out by the lagoon. They insulate the walls there. Four hundred bucks a night. You'd like it. You'd sleep like a baby." Little wonder your wife checked out early, I very nearly told him. I walked to Shore Bird Beach Broiler for the breakfast buffet and the view of bikinis in the sun. Options re: Yukio Mishima's knife had dwindled to a pretty pathetic clutch. The police had not contacted me. In the Hawaii Times I saw that my personal ad-"Nozomu, contact me about Vulture"-had been misprinted as "Nozomi, contact me about vultures." Jesus Vegetable Christ. I caught a bus to Honolulu Center and spent the day making inquiries at various lost-property offices in museums, malls and the bus station, wherever I could think of; consulted the owners of antique shops; considered engaging a private detective, for ten seconds, before I realized how stupid I'd sound. Real-life Maltese Falcon quests are wastes of time. You do not find a lost object in a city unless you know exactly where to locate it, in which case it isn't really lost. The place itself got to me. Nightingale may love it here, models are paid to love Hawaii, but I wouldn't be sorry if Oahu sinks under a tsunami and soon. Palm trees are tarantula ugly. Honolulu is concrete ugly. Waikiki is glitzy ugly. Jetloads of Westerners microwaving themselves are pink ugly. Ala Moana Center, a monstrous cuboid vagina for Japanese tourists to ejaculate yen during seven-day orgies of spending, is unthinkably ugly. Mildewed side streets where syringes roll in weedy doorways of the Polynesian poor are just ugly, but fat vacationers paying fat prices for fat fat in fat seats in fat diners by fat parking lots of fat cars by fat freeways are ugly ugly ugly ugly. Wipe them out or wipe me out.
Nightingale called most evenings at nine. Matrimony, dear Vulture, is a political act. Don't look at me that way. Nightingale is attracted to my assets-depleted by the purchase of Yukio Mishima's knifeand I am aroused by hers. You Asians have always been pragmatic about this. Romantic marriage is a European fantasy, and Jesus Legal-aid Christ, we have the divorce rates to prove it. Fidelity is the smuggest elf of the love fantasy, so every evening by ten I was in Runaway Horses trying to get laid without lowering my standards too drastically. In L.A. Nightingale was shining up that Czech photographer's zoom lens, doubtless. Why should I mind as long as she is as discreet as I am? Marriage is a public act; sex is a private one. What I mind is that my forget-me-not eyes are not what they were. What I minded was Wei's mockery when I returned alone. What I minded is that Bar Wardrobe was locked by the time I scaled its stairs. Here's another Big Thought, one that most men do not know they know, although Mishima says it without spelling it out: Sex is not, as cliché claims, a little death-sex is man's 'fuck you!' to death. When we are inside another body, death is not inside ours. Hence the absence of sex drives men to folly, lunacy or even worse.
Friday morning exposed a chink in my week's armored bad luck. Werewolf was perched on a hillock of angling equipment in recep-tion, threading a fishing line. "Off fishing?" I asked, just as a galaxy-class SUV pulled up outside. Werewolf muttered, "No, it's my line-dancing morning," and left Wei at reception. Opportunity stuck its thumb up my ass. From a call box I got hold of Dwight Sil-verwind, telling him the hour of repayment was at hand, then sidled back to Hotel Aloha to watch where Wei put the key. When the call came her face went from complacency to worry in twenty seconds. Dwight can still work his magic, the fraudulent old prick. Pive minutes later Wei went rushing out, carrying a document wallet and leaving reception guarded by Barney the dinosaur whose Back at… toy clock promised me a whole hour. One retrieved key and one deep metaphorical breath later I was in the back office, stashed with clutter from more prosperous days for Hotel Aloha. Trespasser, fretted Fear, trespasser. trespasser. Strung beads clatted as I passed into a lounge and kitchenette maintained with the minimum effort. The furnishings were bargain bin circa 1975. Fire escapes zigzagged the walls of the inner concrete courtyard. This rectangle of concrete must be where you fell. Here. Right here. Someone stepped over my grave. On the wall, a framed photograph held a poodle-cuddling woman in long-faded Hawaiian sunshine, perhaps at Lahaina. Mrs. Werewolf, deceased, I presume. No evidence of children, past or present. The bedroom housed an unmade bed and a dressing table hidden under bales of Angler's Weekly and Playboy. Well, Vulture, I searched in a cupboard of hammers, saws, chisels, power tools and screws in labeled boxes but no seppuku dagger or flute case; a bestiary of purple teddies, lime rabbits and lovey-eyed dalmatians; an empty fish tank, under mattresses, between folded towels, amid dead shoes and albums of fishing trips, inside an umbrella stand and casserole dishes. Hurrry, nagged Fear, hurry, harry. Possible footsteps from reception kept worrying me. How long had Wei been gone.' How long before she smelled wild goose? Should I take every key I could find and search the entire hotel? Oh, impossible, a squad of spies would need a week. Then the reception bell chimed and a wheezy voice called through, "Frank? You at home?" I froze. The outer office door creaked. Dildo! shrieked Fear, You left it ajar!
I crouched down looking for a hiding place. "What you doing to yourself in there' It'll make you go blind. Ain't that why you bought Miss Slitty?" I scuttled under the table and beseeched the god of farce to do me this one favor but banged my head on a leg. "Frankie?" I heard heavy breathing. I saw his legs lumber by, close enough to touch. A bottle was opened, a glass filled. A magazine opened. A chuckle. "Thanks, Frankie, don't mind if I do." If he sat down now, he'd have a clear sight of me crouching here. My knee was killing me. Sixty seconds scraped by. Sixty more passed by before I suspected he might have gone.
Wei was in a royal bitch of a mood when I got back from lunch. "Those Immigration fatheads! Just after you left this morning, I get a call saying there's an inconsistency has been found with my green card extension, so present yourself immediately and ask for Oily Schmidt. No, no, it won't wait, immediately means now, so off I run and guess what happens when after fifty goddamn minutes my number finally flashes up' There is no Schmidt in Immigration! A Sampson, a Silvestri, a Stein, but no Schmidt. No one knows a thing about why I had to go there! Fatheads!" American bureaucracy for you, I sympathized, then steered the subject to the nocturnal disturbances on the fourth floor. Wei just frowned. "What shouting? I sleep like a baby in this place." Then what about her trip to the Coke machine the other night? Wei just gave me an Are you crazy? look. "I sleep like a baby in this place."
Nightingale called to check exactly when my plane got back to Yerbas Buenas, and to ask what I'd like for my welcome-back dinner. For an eternity of three or five seconds I contemplated telling her to marry someone who loves her back. "Peppered steak." I came to my senses, realizing there are several reasons why this information might be useful, one of whom might be Czech. "Your mozzarella salad, and you, my angel. " Jesus Gold-digging Christ, I thought to myself climbing into the shower, what a catch I am. Brutal truth was, if Yukio Mishima's dagger failed to materialize, I have nowhere to fall but Nightingale's money. If she knew that, she'd call the wedding off. "I don't do cheap," she says. I can't afford to see her go. I don't do cheap, either. Fears of financial insecurity wrecked my shower. But What I saw on the bathroom mirror as I climbed out, finger-written in letters not yet steamed over, turned my warm skin cold:
d y i
d y i n
d y i n g
d y i n g i
d y i n g i n
d y i n g i n h
d y i n g i n h e
d y i n g i n h e r
d y i n g i n h e r e
Who? When? Dripping, I wrapped a towel around me, unlocked the door and looked down the buzzing corridor. Who, me? said the Coke machine. The elevator was climbing from 1F upward, not 4F down. Werewolf? Too subtle. Who else has a key? Wei? A joke? A threat? Who? A skeleton key? A cleaner? Another guest with a muddled-up key' The nocturnal shouter? But why that message? Back in the bathroom, the mirror letters were fading. Had they really been so clear? Isn't it more likely that room 404's previous occupant had drawn them on? Quarter-convinced by this, I dressed and wandered out for some air, for want of any other plan. Wei, far from hiding a triumphant smirk, was watching Will and Grace on a mini TV. Ten A.M. I wanted to speak to someone who knows me. Nightingale? Women attribute emotional calls to a guilty Conscience. Jesus Null-and-void Christ, I miss you, Vulture. I found myself on a bridge over the Lunalilo Freeway, watching the lights in Pearl Harbor. Depression turns Outdoors indoors. Dying in here.
Werewolf was at reception by the time I'd eaten and wandered back to Hotel Aloha. The scarlet carnation in the semen-cloudy vase had rotted to tampon maroon. My last-but-onc 'light, so I had little to lose by getting out your photo and telling Werewolf I had a couple of questions. My hairy hotelier squinted. "So that Jap's why you're hanging around like a wedged turd. Well, ain't got nothing to say about him, 'cept I wish to sweet God he'd ended his misery in someone else's hotel. The paperwork he cost me! The favors I had to call in to hush it up." My request that Werewolf hand over those possessions which he'd "forgotten" to give to the police produced a row of browned fangs. "What're you saying?" Theft from a suicide is still theft is what I'm saying; that I knew about the knife; that I wanted it back. Werewolf chose a lookey here, asshole voice. "If I had anything belonging to that faggoty half Jap"-he flicked your photo and I fought an urge to ram a pencil up his nostril and through his brain-"I'd probably drop it down the nearest sewer." I held his gaze but explained that your relatives would pay a reasonable sum for the knife's safe return. It has no monetary value, but it was a family heirloom. Werewolf went all oh? "A `family heirloom'? Well, bless my bleeding heart, that changes everything. Then I'd definitely drop it down the nearest sewer. Will you tell Faggoty Jap's relatives that from me, during this dark and difficult time?"
The pyramid of mirror letters in 404 had faded away. Logic administered bromides: staying in a hotel where you died just two weeks ago, searching for another suicide's blade, wedding just around the comer… little wonder I was this wired up. I hadn'thaven't-gotten over what you did. Disbelief was my first reaction. You'd just closed a deal worth as much as Princess Diana's damaged diamond Rolex, second hand forever twitching on 8:17. More than the telegraph pole James Dean drove into. Mishima's knife would make us both wealthy for two or three years. You were the newest member of a balloonist's syndicate. Please, not a suicide. But the policewoman talked me through the coroner's verdict: the message on your mirror, going down going down going down, confirmed as yours by the state graphologist, to your prints on the wire cutter used to access the roof, ten other proofs, left little room for doubt. Nervous collapse? Compounded by your Mishima complex? But no. Doubt grows into counterfact in the tiniest crack.
"Give it back!" Percussive, savage, desperate. My limbs were sticky from sleeping in clothes. The shouter had been quiet for a few nights. I thought he'd left. "Give it back!" I called back, "Who are you? Are you okay?" No answer. I listened, I listened, I listened. I got up, crept outside and pressed my ear against 403. Silence. Against 405. Silence. Lights off in both rooms. On not quite a whim, I crept up to Wei's room and pressed my ear against her room. Her breathing? Or my own? Why did I feel that sense of being watched? Hotel Aloha has no CCTV A black moth hinged its wings. Uneasy, I went back to my room and turned on the TV with the sound right down.
Saturday evening's Runaway Horses was fuggy with laughter, booming reggae and Asian-American youth in bloom. In my last clean Gucci shirt I took the very last seat at the bar and Shingo slid me my nearly last Sapporo in Waikiki. This time tomorrow, I'd be back in Yerbas Buenas with a business to try to rebuild. The Yukio Mishima Knife Book would be a bad passage in a disastrous chapter, but the main narrative would go on. A woman right by me cleared her throat and said, "I never thought you were marine. You're too stick-insect. They'd throw you out." Well, thank you very much, I smiled at the Filipina from Bar Wardrobe. She stepped over my irony. "I drank too many the other day, okay? Spoke too many too. What you learned, shush, is secret, please." Therapeutic to spill your guts occasionally, I assured her, and promised I'd never repeat a word. But my silence could be bought only by her name. Grace, she told me, and Grace took my Sapporo Black so I ordered another. Some loud Aussies across the bar shot me looks: rebuttees, I guessed. "So you live on Oahu?, asked Grace. "You a businessman or a tourist or what?" I surrendered to the seductive quasi-truth and told her I run a special business, one that never advertises, which obtains singular artifacts that are otherwise unobtainable. Grace was sharp. She asked how we got clients. Introduction only, I told her, unable to resist giving her a business card. She read, "'What You Do Not Know You Want.' That all?" I nodded, and told her I was on Oahu trying to locate a historic weapon for a wealthy client. Grace was fascinated. "Is all legal, your business?" I told her, "If we exercise discretion, the question doesn't apply." My codealer, I explained, had apparently entrusted this item to the exowner of Runaway Horses… Who," Grace filled in the blank, "is Runaway Barman now. Is hilarious joke, yes?" Hilarious, yes.
"Death isn't some faraway land, okay, at the end of time," Grace insisted several bottles later. I had no inkling how we got onto the subject. "Death is the white lines down the highway, okay, in your cutlery drawer, okay, in bottles in bathroom cabinets, inside cells of your body. Death, hey, we're made of the stuff. Death is the pond; we the living are the fish. So to answer your question, yes, of course, the dead are everywhere, and yes, they watch us. Like TV. When we interest them." Women love being asked if they are clairvoyant, so I did so. "Men uluuy.r ask that," frowned Grace, "but intuition is just seeing and listening, is not being blind because it does not agree with culture or fashion or desires. Intuition is not mystical." Believing that the dead swarm around the living sounded pretty mystical to me, I suggested, if not morbid. "Buying and selling suicide weapons of your Japanese writer is not morbid?" Yes, Vulture, loose lips sink ships, but I haven't wanted a woman as much as I wanted Grace since you-know-when. "Such a knife will only attract devil's eye, no? Is obvious!" I said, Would she consider continuing our discussion in a less public venue? "Okay, sure, I consider." But when I got back from the bathroom, Jesus Mary Poppins Christ, her bar stool was straining under a German as big as a grizzly. Gone, shrugged Shingo. Sorry. I ordered a last beer to show those smirking Australians but dealt the bur a series of vicious toe pokes and hoped that Grace intuited each one.
Wei was drawing her self-portrait from a mirror and munching coffee-crusted macadamia nuts. "No, you can't have the picture," she said, handing me a piece of paper with a string of digits on it. "A woman called. Five minutes ago." The number was unfamiliar. "Not your Nightingale who sings every evening," Wei said, making me wonder if she listened in, "another." Hadn't the caller left a name? Wei shook her head. "Didn't you ask what she wanted?" Wei snorted like a sly pony and for one second I wanted to crack all her bony bones like biscuits in bags and see her sly smile then. Back outside, I tapped in the mystery number. Grace answered. She'd made me look pretty stupid in Runaway Horses, I told her. "You recover okay. Listen, I made one-two phone calls. If you still want that knife, I know someone can maybe help." Of course I still wanted that knife. Grace was coming to Hotel Aloha now. Through the glass, Wei watched me, fingers twizzling her braided hairband. I knew that look. Female jealousy is rich cream.
"Quicker to walk than to find cab." Grace led me at a brisk clip down poorly lit backstreets. She swatted away my requests for information, saying only that I was free to turn back anytime I wanted. None of the weak stars were familiar from my childhood astronomy. Was I being led into a trap like that time in Cambodia' Perhaps, perhaps. Through a doorway half-blocked with rusting junk we climbed five concrete flights, lit by lamps swarming with black moths. No view but other housing blocks and washing strung across balconies. Grace stopped before a nameless door. Monkeywrench marks scarred the frame. To my astonishment she kissed me on the lips. Not erotically, not brashly, not shyly. Surely not pityingly? "What was that for?" Grace pressed the bell and ran back down the stairwell. Jesus Bodysnatched Christ-but before I could call out, a Japanese guy had stepped through into the milked moonlight, uttering my name, with your crucifix-it had to be, there's only one-on his hairless torso. Was I in room 404, dreaming this, or stuck in one of Dwight's fag-queen home movies? Certainly the youth was coffee-advert handsome, ponytailed, judo trousers, but he was stitched and patched from a very recent, pretty serious beating. "So you're here." His English was as American as it was Japanese. "Shingo told me you'd been into Runaway Horses. I, like… meant to call you"-he gingerly indicated his bruises-"but my creditors, like… changed the terms of repayment." His name came to me and I said it: Nozomu. Nozomu asked how I'd found him. Police sirens wailed from the dark mass under Diamond Head. Grace showed me here, I answered, gesturing at the stairwell, but even her footsteps had vanished. Nozomu frowned. "What Grace'" Grace the Filipina, Grace from Bar Wardrobe and Runaway Horses. Nozomu spat over the railing. "Shingo better not be giving my address to, like… no one. But you better come in, now you're here." I followed him into a poky apartment smelling of men, soy sauce and local marijuana. "I've only got, like… cold beer, but sit down anyway. I know what it is you come for. Don't worry. You're welcome to it."
Nozomu dug out a battered flute case from a closet of ratty towels, then shoved the moraine of surfing magazines and fast-food wreckage off the coffee table with his foot. "Vulture went to your seller's hotel, the Holiday Inn or somewhere. He brought it to my bar after closing. Never seen him so, like… high. Not even when he was high. When Vulture told me what it was, I was like… 'Yukio Mishima's suicide knife? Like, sure.' But Vulture showed me the Kakutani mark and I was like… 'Whaah.' Hou awesome!"' Nozomu unclipped the case and I assumed my professional calm. Twelve inches of gunmetal gray, blade tapering to a fang, shaft housed in an age-yellowed ivory handle. Just a piece of pre-Meiji ironmongery, but not. Events-grandiosely, "History "-imbue objects with a frequency just beyond the human ear, just. This frequency is our livelihood. The sunglasses shading Oppenheimer's eyes from the first H-bomb test in 1944; the shiny 3mm bullet that liberated Ernest Hemingway from Ernest Hemingway; and yes, Yukio Mishima's knife, radioactive with what it had done. I picked the weapon up-its lightness surprised me-and checked for the tiny characters "Kakutani" inscribed on its nub. There, the real thing, just as its certificate of authenticity promised. I very nearly laughed. "Vulture went back to his hotel to get some Big Island weed to, like… celebrate. But morning came and still no Vulture. I was like… `He'll be back in day or two. For this little beaut at least."' Nozomu meant the knife. "But I tell you, since he left it with me I got, like… an evil streak of luck. Every table I sat at, every game, every casino, hands of cards, good cards, strong cards, turned to shit. King Midas in reverse, right? My creditors cut my, like… lifeline, I lost my bar, oh, yeah, my motorbike got stolen the day after my insurance is finish. My fortune-teller, like, a guru really, told me today, like… `an impure metal' in my life was, like, the source. Pretty, like… obvious, huh'" I grunted in sympathy. Your beautiful fool-still ignorant of why you never returned?-had no idea that he was about to hand me enough impure metal to buy his bar, everything in it and everyone in it. "So it's no, like… bullshit? This dagger really killed Yukio Mishima?" The icy beer burned my fingers. "Well," I began, "Mishima did open up his abdomen with this blade, yes, but it takes hours to die from a single cut. To force one's innards out, a further cut is required, from crotch up to sternum. You'll appreciate, the subject rarely has the strength for this jumonji-giri, so tradition dictates that he-or she-appoint a kaishakunin to cut off the subject's head with a full-length samurai sword after the first cut. Mishima's appointee was a kid of twenty-five, Hissho Morita, a colonel in his private army of adoring boys. But with jieitai troops kicking down the door, helicopters thundering overhead and a tied-up general having a pulmonary seizure in the corner, Morita blew it and hacked at Mishima's shoulder blade instead. Morita missed three times, before a third compatriot, Furukoga, grubbed the sword and beheaded Mishima with one clean blow. So strictly," I finished up, "this knife is the shorter accomplice in Mishima's death, but the one with brains." TV laughter broke through the mosquito screen. I wanted to leave. There was no point giving Nozomu a sales pitch or the Mishima myth. "Why did Mishima do it? I heard it was, like… 'cos he didn't like how Japan was, like… Americanizing. But what difference could he make if he was, like… dead?" Millions of words have been shoveled into the grave of that very question, I replied, before parroting your theory: Yukio Mishima feared senility more than dying. By 1970 he felt his literary and physical prowess was sliding, so he exchanged his life for a piece of theater shocking enough, entertaining enough, to guarantee an immortality his literary canon could not. "Must have hurt tike fuck," Nozomu muttered. "At least his death was for something," I said, replacing the knife in the flute case and getting to my feet. Nozomu asked where you are now. Werewolf did hush you up welt. El Salvador, I lied to your last boyfriend. I'd seen you off from the airport here in Honolulu on Sunday. Nozomu repeated, "El Salvador," like an orphan sighing, "When my father was alive…"
Is language erased, Vulture? Are quotations and word pyramids the last toys of literacy to go? You, who had a word-dozens, puns, similes-for everything, are you now struck dumb, Zachary Tanaka? Is this why you didn't warn me? Is this I heard only my own echoes? My key was in room 404 when I noticed, down the corridor, the PRIVATE door was ajar. Gone midnight. An invitation? You'll understand, I was jubilant with the promise of wealth. As you had been. Yukio Mishima's knife, in this flute case, under my arm, had sought me out, cutting me free of dependency on Nightingale, on orthodoxy. Come now, I assured myself, where's the harm in it little entertainment? One last time before a fling becomes adultery? Remembering the jealousy in Wei's face as Grace had led me to Nozomu's, I knocked on Wei's door. No answer, so I half peered in. Spray from a just-cut lime scented the air. Her room was identical to 404, even down to the print of the ukulele-strumming hula girl. "Wei?" Was she sulking? Putter patter patter a poodle ran by, lead trailing from its collar. Rumors might scamper to Uncle if I dithered on the threshold, so in I slipped and closed the door. "Wei? It's me." A spine-cracked Chinese-English dictionary lay splayed. Clothes lay slumped on the armchair. Look. Wei's braided hairband. I picked it up and ran it between my nose and lip. "What do you think you're doing?" asked Wei. Jesus Cardiac Christ! The clothes on the chair were Wei, who now sat up like a big cat. "It says `Private' on my door." Sex, or anything like it, was not going to happen. "Um, just making sure you're okay, Wei. You seemed upset earlier. But you're okay now. So. Off to bed. Early flight tomorrow. Ciao."
But the door was no longer there. You heard correctly. See for yourself. No door. Just wall. Where I came in. No door. No tricks. No fucking door. When I turned to Wei, unable to believe what my eyes and fingers swore was true, I knew my physical superiority counted for nothing. I got out the words, "How did you do that?" Wei watched me like a lecher in a strip bar. Fear choked me so I had to shout, What did you do to the door? Louder. What did you do to the door? Wei ran my seppuku knife between her nose and lip. But I was gripping the flute case. No. It lay open on Wei's lap. "How did you do that?" Wei pricked her tongue with the point. Testing. Give it back! Give it back! Wei proffered the ivory handle and my legs-mine yet no longer mine-walked me to her like an inexpertly deployed marionette. A muffled shout reached me from a nearby room: "Who are you? Are you okay?" but no reply was permitted. The It inside Wei is coo strong for any battle of wills. You learned that, Vulture, when It made you scrawl on the mirror; cut the chain on the roof hatch; teeter on the lip; take one little step. It now made my fingers unbutton my shirt, buckled my knees, made my hand grip the ivory handle and aim the steel tip at my navel. Now I knew I knew what I feared most. Not this way! Not this way! It stilled my tongue. "Your hoax call from Immigration was entertaining." Wei's voice, not Wei's speech. "Did you find much in Uncle's room? Did you see Aunt? She still busies herself around Hotel Aloha." Wei leaned close enough to kiss me. "You're thinking, `Why me?' Did those black moths you and Zachary used to dismember ever complain, 'Why me?' No, they blundered into the wrong room, at the wrong hour, lured by the wrong candle. That's all. you want? Cause? Effect? Logic? Meaning? This is the meaning, here…" My right arm spasmed and the razor-sharp metal bored through my stomach wall. Left to right, rip. Severing cartilage, intestines, notching my spinal cord. Pain firecrackered, but the It in Wei kept my backbone erect and stopped the blackness swallowing the lights. It was feeding. My hand plucked the blade out and a jet of blood spattered like piss on the wall, I heard it, before the knife plunged back into my groin. My second juddering groan took a long time, hours, days, to burn out. Groin to sternum, rip. It arched me so my innards slithered out like a never-ending placenta, shittily, mushily. Now I was dead enough to glimpse you, Vulture. Wei's lips moved. "This is what you did not know you want."