Looming afternoon clouds, dull and dark, hung oppressively low in the heavens as, in a blanket of fear and anxiety, Mr. Kenso Nakano disembarked Northwest flight 7 and entered Tokyo's Narita Airport.
He recognized a man known as Kiichi Sugimoto standing at the gate, a surprise which caused Mr. Nakano's heart to pound. This man Sugimoto did not look at Mr. Nakano; instead, he walked off. Mr. Nakano's chest tightened as he followed the short man to the baggage claim area. There, the man angled himself away from Nakano, as though unacquainted.
Mr. Nakano took slow deep breaths to settle himself. When he wheeled his two bags to the street, Sugimoto followed. A black limo pulled up.
The chauffeur opened the trunk and reached for Mr. Nakano's bags.
“No,” Mr. Nakano said. “I'm not going for this ride.” The driver closed the trunk.
Mr. Nakano grabbed Sugimoto's lapels and in a hushed voice said, “What are you doing here? Why did he send someone like you?”
Sugimoto glared. He removed Mr. Nakano's grip on his coat. “I have been promoted. Something you will never get.”
“I created the Alaskan route. It's perfect. And Nishimoto knows that!”
“We will review your little operation, see how it's going,” Sugimoto said. His breath smelled of saki.
“You are a common gun-slinging cowboy. You kill people for him! And now you are standing here in the open with me?”
Sugimoto said, “Nishimoto wishes you to appear before him and me at a meeting, just us three.”
“Nishimoto will wait! I have an emergency.”
“So your wife is sick again?” Sugimoto asked. He shrugged, looked off at nothing, as though to say Mr. Nakano's wife was the least important of concerns to him.
“It's getting worse. Who told you about that?”
“Her name is Misako, correct?” Sugimoto asked, his narrow lips turned up slightly, almost a smirk. He looked at a young woman passing.
“How do you know her name? Who have you been talking to?”
Sugimoto picked at something in his nose, looked at his finger.
“You think I will go for a ride with you? You're crazy.” Nakano turned his back on Sugimoto and hurried towards the Narita Express ticket office.
“Why, you got something to hide?” Sugimoto shouted after him.
“You talk too much. Why don't you shut your mouth?” Nakano called back.
Mr. Nakano purchased a “Green Car” ticket, expensive, but with more privacy for the two hour journey. Aboard the train, he rested his perpetually sore knee. Free of the despicable Kiichi Sugimoto, he calmed himself, confident he'd safely get to Misako's hospital room. That he was forced to stand next to that man in an open public area at the airport was yet another insult from his superior, his oyabun, Nishimoto.
He stepped off the Narita Express at Shinjuku, changed to the JR Soubu Line and rode that to Shinanomachi, in the center of Tokyo.
He wheeled his luggage north along the sidewalks, and in the near distance Keio University Hospital rose before him in hanging gray light, reminding somehow of the cold stones in his neighborhood burial ground.
Mr. Nakano approached the information desk.
“I am Misako's husband!” Mr. Nakano blurted out to the young lady. He gasped for breath, which surprised him, for he'd neither run nor walked that fast.
She examined his ID. “Would you like some water, some tea? You do not look well at all. Sit down over there, catch your breath,” she said, firmly.
“No no. I am fine! I just need to see my wife. Her name is Misako Nakano. My wife.”
“Just calm down. Sit over there, please. You are very very pale, sir. Please, sit down.”
Reluctantly, he obeyed. The chest pains again. And the shortness of breath. He concentrated on the calm things he enjoyed when traveling aboard the Tustumena in Alaska, the following seas, the birds he photographed, his sketches. He did not drink the tea, but closed his eyes and forced himself to imagine he was taking a nap, seeking some way, any way at all, to ease his oft-occurring discomfort. This did indeed work for him, to a degree. He jerked his head up suddenly. He must see her. With difficulty he rose from the seat and approached the information desk again, forgetting about the luggage.
“I am tired from a long trip,” he said, forcing a polite smile. “May I see her?”
“She is in room 412,” the lady said. “Take that elevator over there. Are you sure you are OK?”
He stepped into her room, a private one, very expensive. When his eyes adjusted, he discerned his wife lying on her side in a fetal position.
“I heard you come in,” she whispered. “Don't turn up my light. I want it dim.”
“The pain pills?”
“I don't like those,” she said.
“What about the antibiotics? You taking those?”
“How long have you been taking them?”
“I already told you on the phone. Two days,” she said, her voice coming up. “I must finish them all. But the pain is worse this time.”
“Is he going to operate?”
“He will be here soon. He'll tell you.”
“He is the best one, you know that. An American trained in Chicago. You will always have the best.”
“This will cost a great deal of money. The financial assistant came here yesterday asking how we are to pay for all of this. I said you would get insurance or assistance from Nishimoto.”
“Do not think of that. I will arrange everything, I promise.”
“I do not understand why your boss would not provide insurance earlier,” Misako said. “He does for the others, even some who are not as talented as you. And why didn't you just get insurance on your own? Why be so frugal? Now we are in difficulty.”
“Nishimoto is always cruel, you've seen him. Calls me his subordinate, his kobun, as though I am his dog, worth nothing. Just the way he is.”
“Stand up to Nishimoto for once. He pays medical expenses all the time for the others. Some come into emergency with bullet holes in them and Nishimoto always pays. Why not for me? I am even related to some of them! What is the matter with that man?”
Nakano sat down suddenly in the chair.
“You look so tired. All those trips,” she said.
“Just the usual,” he said. “Twenty-three hours. They seem a little more difficult now, for some reason.”
“You promised you'd get a check-up.”
“I'll take care of everything. Do not worry at all. I will handle this in my own way.”
The knock on the door made Mr. Nakano sit upright.
Dr. Manakar, tall, a neck like that of a sand hill crane, moved languidly into the room, his hands clasped like a praying mantis. A yellow stain on his long front teeth irritated Mr. Nakano, and he looked away. The doctor's Japanese, heavily accented, served him well enough. He shook hands with Mr. Nakano, a slight bow.
“Well, Misako, how are we feeling?”
“She is refusing the pain pills,” Mr. Nakano announced.
“I don't like those pills. Makes the air and light seem strange to me,” Misako said.
“Well, Misako,” Dr. Manakar said, “You had a high white blood cell count. The antibiotics should completely take care of that in a few days. You were experiencing the chills, right?”
“Not so much now,” Misako said.
“Well here's what we have. Weight loss. Abdominal pain. Rectal bleeding. And this has been going on intermittently for, what, five years?”
“I tried to take care of myself at home with liquid diet. It usually goes away. But not now. The pain is....”
Dr. Manakar said quickly to Mr. Nakano, “We examined the CT scan and we looked looked inside. Her sigmoid colon, the lowest part of her colon, is the problem. She has diverticulitis.”
“Cancer?” Mr. Nakano asked.
“Absolutely not. What she has, Mr. Nakano, happens when bulging pouches grow in one's digestive track. They are inflamed and infected. Diverticulitis.”
“Then chop them out of there!” Mr. Nakano shouted.
Dr. Manakar's yellowed front teeth appeared. He studied Mr. Nakano over his glasses resting low on his long nose. He turned to Misako.
“I must, I repeat, must do a primary bowel resection. I shall remove the diseased part of your intestine and then reconnect the healthy segments. Then you can have normal bowel movements. I am a specialist at this. Laparoscopic surgery. I have done hundreds of these procedures. I will make three for four small incisions in your abdomen and do what must be done."
“Three or four incisions? She will die!” Mr. Nakano shouted.
“No, she will not die,” Dr Manakar said. “I will relieve her entirely of her pain. And with laparoscopic surgery, recovery is much faster, much quicker.”
“I will take care of everything,” Mr. Nakano announced. “No matter how much it costs. Money will not be a problem.”
Dr. Manakar, said. “I am well-acquainted with the organization for whom you work. They always take care of their own. Always.”
“How much will this cost?” Mr. Nakano asked.
“Generally, with hospital stay, around 4,000,000 yen, little over 40,000 US dollars. Sometimes the bill runs higher, depending on how everything goes. The healing will quicken, Misako, if you allow us to administer pain relief for a few days while we ensure your potassium levels come up to where they should be.”
“I will see that she agrees to this,” Mr. Nakano said. “I will see she obeys and behaves as you request.”
Mr. Nakano slunk down in the hospital chair as Dr. Manakar spoke quietly with Misako. He could do no more, except ask one more question.
“When will you operate?” he asked. “Tomorrow?”
Dr. Manakar's yellow front teeth displayed themselves to Mr. Nakano. “Misako will stay here, as I discussed with her, for five days. That's when the operation has been scheduled, assuming the white cell count stays down and everything is taken care of.”
“Everything? You mean the 4,000,000 yen?” Mr. Nakano asked, excitedly.
“No, of course not. If her infection is completely gone, her colon is cleared and ready for the operation, her general health is still as good as it appears to be, then we will proceed. The billing will, of course, come later, and I am sure you have nothing to worry about. I have met Mr. Nishimoto myself on several occasions. He always takes care of his people. Always.”
Mr. Nakano slunk into his chair. Deep in thought, he did not listen as Dr. Manakar and Misako continued to quietly talk. Not only did he need money for the operation, but also, he must have money to pay for his son's college education, for his son planned to enroll as a foreign student at the University of Alaska, Anchorage in the Fall. Never, ever would his own son follow in his footsteps.
A cyclone roared in his brain, anger that his boss Nishimoto would send a common killer to meet him out in the open at the airport. What was going on? Mr. Nakano had controlled his own most perfect drug route, the Aleutian route, for years. He'd created the operation. Perfect in every detail. He never even allowed use of cell phones and had himself developed the coded conversations necessary when talking to Tokyo from the dockside Alaska pay phones. Perfection. What was Nishimoto up to? Why would his oyabun think there was a need to review this most perfect of all creations? And why had he promoted Sugimoto? A common killer!
His fuming persisted. To regain control, he hefted himself from the hospital chair, kissed Misako, and returned to his family apartment and his son Kano. Sleep was the answer. Tomorrow evening, perhaps, he'd meet with Nishimoto and get the money he deserved. In his mind, his contributions to the organization carried substantial, creative, even ingenious value, more than that contributed by the animals, the thugs Nishimoto preferred to associate with day in and day out.
Thirty minutes after greeting his son, sleep took Mr. Nakano away from his torments.
The following night, Mr. Nakano took a local bus, and got off in the middle of the Akasaka district. Rain blew in sheets as he hurried toward the honbu, or head office, of one of the largest yakuza families in Japan. He paused when he finally reached a sign marking the entrance to a private social club. He checked his watch: 9:50 PM.
Inside, he handed his raincoat and hat to a young woman. A few men in pinstripe suits sat around drinking, smoking, playing cards; a few more huddled together in a corner talking. One puffed his chest out for an accommodating comfort woman standing invitingly nearby. Nakano knew some of the men, mostly bakuto involved in the illegal gambling operations. Some of the others he knew only by sight.
He approached an orange door in the back of the club. A man in a black t-shirt, tattooed arms, stood guard. He glared as Nakano drew near.
“Shige Nishimoto wishes me to present myself at a meeting,” Mr. Nakano announced. “I am....”
“I know who you are. He's busy, but you go up and sit in one of the chairs. Let him finish before you approach. He is not in a good mood. He is drunk again.”
The guard opened the door.
Five unoccupied work stations hugged the length of the second floor, nearly all the way to Shige Nishimoto's glass enclosed office, the door partially open. Polished wooden flooring pointed the way to a chair where Mr. Nakano sat. He watched and listened to what was going on.
Shige Nishimoto, balding and squat, about Mr. Nakano's age, sat behind an expansive oak desk. Two women flanked Nishimoto—one in a short black cocktail dress, the other in a schoolgirl's pleated plaid skirt and white blouse. Mr. Nakano heard Nishimoto shout at a bowing young man in a sharkskin suit, who responded to Nishimoto's berating with an unvarying hail of Hai! Hai! A bloody bandage covered the young man's left little finger. The killer, Kiichi Sugimoto stood behind the young man. The young man offered without lifting his eyes a wrapped object no bigger than a wad of gum, setting the item on Nishimoto's desk with both hands. The women looked away. Nishimoto stared at the offering, then stared at the young man's damaged hand. The moment hung in the air until Nishimoto nodded, and spilled whiskey into his glass. He ordered the women to remove the wrapped offering, which from Mr. Nakano's experience in such things, contained the severed last joint of the young man's finger, an act of appeasement.
The two women and the young man departed.
The killer, Sugimoto, looked directly at Mr. Nakano and motioned as though to a pet dog, for him to enter.
Inside, Nakano bowed slightly and said, “This is an honor to me and my family that you have called for me once again.”
“Yes, yes, we go back even to childhood, you and I. Yes, yes.” He drank some of his whiskey. He continued in a barking tone, a superior to a subordinate. “But this is today, we are no longer children! The whole nation is in economic trouble! Operations are not as rich as they should be! Look at me! Before, I drove a BMW. Now, a stupid little Toyota!”
“My operation is producing revenue. A perfect route. Many years hard work,” Nakano responded.
“In hard times there is nothing perfect when what you are doing stands still and does not grow! Look at me! I did not even have my Kobe beef last week!”
“I cannot increase a saturated route! Prices will fall, danger of discovery will rise. My creation will flounder!”
“Do not raise your voice to me!” Nishimoto barked. Nakano did not realize he shouted at his own oyabun. Nishimoto filled his glass and gulped. The killer Sugimoto and Kenso Nakano focused their eyes on the floor.
Nishimoto snarled and slammed his glass on the desk. “What is the matter with you! You made a drug business in Alaska. Now make it grow! If you can create, then create more! We need more money! Use your so-called talents! We've done so much for you! You took the oath with us.”
“There is something wrong with my wife,” Nakano said. “I must get what the others have. Medical insurance. Or at least take care of her operation, 4,000,000 yen. And I need to set aside much, much more for my son's college education.”
“What? What ? You are well-paid! You get your own insurance. Or just pay for that stupid operation yourself!” Nishimoto shouted. “And besides, so what if she dies? Did we not arrange this marriage? We'll just get you another wife!” He laughed and slapped the desk.
The words struck like a knife. Get me another wife? She is Misako! How can he... Nakano recognized the trace of a smile on the face of the soldier, Sugimoto. With a stone face Nakano tried with much difficulty to pay attention as the oyabun pressed on.
“And your son, Kano. He is seventeen years old, correct? When I was his age I had already started here. So you will do exactly what everyone else does. Bring him in with us now! He can start low, work his way up like the rest. College education. A waste of time and money. I don't have a college education, and look at me! I am successful. And I will continue to be successful. But I will not be so happy if you keep begging for money like a common dog. And I will be very unhappy if you do not expand the Alaska route!”
Mr. Nakano controlled his anger, not looking.
Nishimoto continued his barrage, mocking Nakano, “Speak to me, Mr. Kenso Nakano, our little professor who takes pictures, draws pretty little pictures. Tell me again of this beautiful, perfect route you created. How is our little drug operation in Alaska? Smooth? Give me details. I want to hear it again. Please, Mr. Kenso Nakano, our little professor, enlighten me some more.”
Mr. Nakano's fists tightened. He said, “My men follow orders. They obey me, always.”
He needed to say more. He thought to insert a small, made-up “problem” for Nishimoto to solve. Perhaps, playing to his ego would calm him, drunk as he was. The tactic had worked with him before.
“Only a small problem with Jeffrey Johnson in Sand Point,” Nakano said.
Nishimoto sat back in his chair, obviously interested. “Here. You drink some of this whiskey. It is good stuff!”
Mr. Nakano did not drink often, and did not like whiskey, but he took a sip.
“No, no! Drink it all! Drink all of it!” Nishimoto shouted.
Nakano gulped the whiskey down. He was not pleased with the effect strong drink had upon him, Nishimoto refilled the glass.
“This Jeffrey Johnson,” Nishimoto said. “Has he betrayed us?”
“No. Nothing like that. Just that he's boisterous. Too noisy for my comfort,” Nakano said. The dismissive attitude of his boss towards his wife together with the whiskey that burned his insides made it difficult to think clearly: He could think only of Misako, rather than focus on what he found himself continuing to say and what Nishimoto and Sugimoto heard and understood. And while he talked Nishimoto again insisted he gulp down another glass of the strong American whiskey. He told the two men how Jeffrey Johnson's loud voice carried in the night when drug transfers took place. In the small location of Sand Point, Alaska, that was not good, very dangerous. Everyone knew everyone else. A wrong word, speaking too loudly in the night, and someone could cause trouble with the Alaska State Troopers.
“But I will talk to him, if that is what you wish,” Nakano said, giving Nishimoto the opportunity to give him a harsh order to correct this horrible flaw in the system, untrue as it was.
Nishimoto asked, “What does he look like, this Jeffrey Johnson?” He again refilled Nakano's glass.
Mr. Nakano observed how the soldier Kiichi Sugimoto looked and listened as Mr. Nakano threw out a description of Jeffrey Johnson of Sand Point. For over an hour questions from the drunken Nishimoto continued. How much shabu – meth – are you bringing to Alaska on the ships to Whittier? Seward? Southeast Alaska?. Why not double the quantities? Why do you not recruit more distributors? Anchorage has the biggest population, so why not recruit from there? Why do you not get people from our Los Angeles operations to work for you in Anchorage? They will move to Alaska if I tell them to. Nishimoto often returned to the question of Sand Point, Alaska, and Jeffrey Johnson, placing more whiskey on the desk for Mr. Nakano to drink. Nakano's tongue loosened and he became quite imaginative with his description of how disgusting, even barbaric, this Jeffrey Johnson of Sand Point, Alaska had become. Then, at long last, the boss decided something: He decided he was tired.
“I am tired now,” Nishimoto said, his words slurred. “You will work on your route. Just make it grow. Make us rich. We are on hard times. But I am tired now. Tired. You may go now. Go away and leave me alone. Go away.”
Mr. Nakano reeled from the office out into the rain, where he vomited on the sidewalk.
version Copyright 2009 by ARNE L. BUE
Page Updated August 12, 2010 © 2009 Baxter Bog Cards & Collectibles, Homer, Alaska