MILLENNIAL SAMURAI

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


A latent Samurai lurks beneath the pedestrian skin of a Japanese parking garage attendant in San Francisco. When Barry Stillwater questions the truthfulness, as well as the integrity of the
transplanted Kyoto native, deep currents of conflict, honor, and duty clash in a fight for the truth, which is girdled by a mystery.

Submitted: May 07, 2018

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Submitted: May 07, 2018

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LOST FACES

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

“It’s dated Tuesday. Today’s Wednesday. You owe two hundred and twelve dollars.”

“But, crap, man, I’ve only been parked here for forty-five minutes or so. Today. Wednesday.

Barry Stillwater dripped sweat. Fifteen minutes in the sauna at 24 Hour Fitness. After two hours lifting free weights. Now this. His parking ticket was dated yesterday. That’s what the Japanese guy was telling him.

“But, Jesus Christ, man, you’ve seen me damn near every day for the last six years,” gasped Stillwater.

Hiro Matsuki thought his teeth would crack. He was fully conscious of his grinding jaws. Bile stung his throat. Bitter thoughts bloodied his mind. He stared without moving.

Gino Pedrenzi came over to join his co-worker.

“Look, buddy,” growled the short, sixty-something, wiry-haired Italian, “look at the goddamned parking ticket, eh; what does it say, eh? Yesterday. That’s what it says. The date is yesterday. You owe two hundred and twelve bucks.”

Stillwater sucked in his lower lip and bit it. “Listen you two. I come to the gym damn near every day. You’ve seen me, right?” Neither employee spoke. Neither moved. “I’m here now. Look, I’m sweating. I haven’t been here overnight, for crissakes, I just came out of the sauna!” He gave them both his best look of reason. Neither man stirred.

Then Hiro, “The ticket says yesterday.”
Stillwater yelled, “Jesus H. Christ, you two. Look for Christ’s sake. It’s exactly seventy-seven minutes ago; here, on the ticket. Here’s my entry time, twelve-thirteen. So, add seventy-seven minutes and here is the exact time now, right now, right on: one o’clock.”

“But the ticket it is dated yesterday,” snarled Gino, “right here on the ticket. Tuesday. Today’s Wednesday.”

Gino Pedrenzi dropped the corners of his lips. His face shifted from flushed to incipient purple. Although he had no neck to speak of, he launched whatever he had plus his square flat-eared head into Stillwater’s exasperated pout. 
Stillwater threw up his hands and wheeled his glance around the top of the garage. Eventually he returned his look to the two faces of his tormentors.

“I can see that,” quietly, “but it’s wrong.”

Gino and Hiro narrowed their eyes. Their faces mounted reflexive looks of defense. Jaws worked. Brows gathered. Foreheads shrunk. Stillwater was calling them liars, cheats—even crooks.

Hiro reddened. He forced himself to maintain the dignity of his heritage, his ethnic origin, his race.

“We are not dishonest men.” Hiro hissed. “I am an honorable man. I do not cheat. I do not lie.” His eyes widened in self-affirmation. In an instant, Samurai planes of righteous menace angled his face. Stillwater stepped back.

Security arrived.

Luther Banda moved with a slight rolling motion. Given his enormity, the effect was frightening; like a mammoth drunken brown bear on steroids---with no brakes.

“Hi y’all,” Luther presented two rows of perfect dentition which fairly glittered in the dusky hollow of the confining exit area, “what seems to be the problem?”

Despite the banality of the de rigueur question, Stillwater felt an immediate affinity with the enormous black man. He mustered his gravitas.

Luther loomed. Stillwater repeated his story. Luther looked at the ticket.

“It says Tuesday here, Mr. __”

“Stillwater. Barry,” Stillwater made a conscious effort to sound calm, “I saw the ticket. It’s wrong, sir, it’s ______”

“Luther’s good.” He walked away from the three men. Stillwater followed as he spoke.

“I just finished my workout in 24 Hour and they won’t let me out. These two guys say I owe them two hundred and twelve dollars. But I’ve only been here seventy-seven minutes.”
Luther continued to smile. “Well, okay, let’s hear what they have to say.” He turned to face the two parking attendants.

Pedrenzi diminished in Luther’s dominating presence.

Hiro retreated to his inner Samurai, vowing to hold himself together in the face of this new threat to his veracity, his honor, his ancestry. Without warning, his thoughts were swamped with visions of Kyoto, the sand gardens, his favorite at Ryoan-ji. Serenity and fortitude, beauty and profundity, meaning and purpose steered his thoughts from one ancient religious statuary to another while he gathered his courage, his steel core, his dynamism, his secret Samurai.

“This man is calling me a liar. I am not,” bulging his entire jaw, “he says we are trying to charge him today for something he didn’t do; that we’re dishonest; that we are cheats. He lies. We do not.” The colors of Hiro’s face morphed from calm muted bronze to a fierce reddish orange.

Luther motioned with his head for Gino to follow him to a spot some ten yards from the others.

‘So, tell me again—Gino, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it you or the Japanese guy who first confronted this Stillwater guy about the ticket?”
“Hiro. He started. Then I heard that prick yelling at him and I went over.”
“Do you think that the Japanese guy___”

“Hiro. Hiro Matsuki. He’s originally from Kyoto. Came here about twenty-five years ago. Beings as he’s Japanese—from Japan, you know, direct; well, he’s very proper. You have to realize the guy is deeply hurt by any insults about his character; especially his honesty. He’s not a liar,” Gino tugged on all of his nose and then on his left ear lobe, “he had a lot of rough times adapting here.”

Luther, raising a brow, “Really? Hunh. I’da thought with Japantown and all, he’d have, you know, some friends, some of his old traditions, right here,” remembering,” like that garden in Golden Gate Park, you know the one.”

Gino nodded. “The Teagarden. Yeah. The Japanese Teagarden. But it’s for tourists, mainly. But about Japantown and all around there, you’re right; there are a lot of Japanese living around there,” thinking, “but that hasn’t seemed to help Hiro much. Plus, he has a real bad stutter most of the time. In fact, I’m damned surprised that he hasn’t stuttered at all when talking to that prick. Maybe getting’ angry takes it away.” He smiled as he turned his uneven eyes to Luther.

Luther Banda looked too large for the space. The ground-level garage was barely seven feet high. Dark green-grey leaked into the walls and along the walkways. Gloom slunk all about. An upstairs parking area was open to the sky, a playground of the diving gulls. Stillwater had parked up there. There was heaven. Down here was parking ticket hell.

 “Good. Well. That’s about it, I guess,” said Gino. He made a move to touch Luther’s arm but stopped. “What’ll happen now? What about this prick and our two hundred and twelve dollars?”

Luther shrugged, inhaled, and took a step toward the other two men. “I’ll take the ticket and talk with Stillwater some more. But it looks like you guys have it covered,” glancing down at the ticket before stepping out, “it’s sure says yesterday’s date. Can’t get around that.”

As Luther edged up beside Stillwater and Hiro, a short black man and a tallish young white woman came around the corner of the walkway between the grocery store and the parking exit area. Both held white slips in their hands. The black man was in his twenties, heavily muscled, wearing a Gold’s Gym T shirt and black martial arts pants. He wore his hair short, sported a fine thin moustache, and limped.

The woman wore a Warriors T over a sports bra, long red yoga pants, and Nikes. She glided, seeming to forego the use of her feet. Her oval face glistened with a healthy sweat. Despite the absence of makeup, she radiated a stunning effect. Although not at all a beauty, there was almost a preternatural attraction about her.

Both strode with purposeful vigor toward Luther.

“Hey, man,” called the black man, Ben Hines, “I got this ticket here and it’s dated yesterday. And I just came in. The guy at the desk pointed it out to me and told me to come down here and find you guys and straighten this thing out.” He waved the ticket as he approached Luther. Gino stepped up and grabbed it out of the man’s hand. Hiro sprang to Gino’s side, a low gagging sound escaping his throat.

Behind the two men, the woman, Alison James, waved her ticket under Luther’s nose. “Hey Luther, man, what the fuck’s going on here? My goddamned ticket is dated yesterday. I came down here earlier to go out and these two assholes told me I owed them over two hundred fucking dollars. I told them to go fuck themselves and went back upstairs to the club to alert the manager. He rang a few times and just got through now and said you were here investigating this shit. What the fuck?”

Luther beamed. Alison was his favorite foulmouthed honky. Something about her mesmerized him. He couldn’t stop smiling—or ogling—whenever she was around.

Laughing, “Hey you, Ali, what’s up?”
“Hey yourself, Luther man, I just told you. These two dickwads are trying to hold me up for two hundred bills. Assholes. Their goddamned machine is fucked up, but they won’t admit it,” pausing to brush back her wet tangled blonde tresses, “and there’s another guy up there, Danny. You know him, the big Mexican dude with the humungous Che Guevara tattooed all over his chest, right? Well, he has one too. He threatened to snap the twiggy little backs of these motherfuckers if they didn’t let him out. They threatened to call you. I guess they did. Anyway, he’s leaking adrenaline by pumping some more iron. But he’ll be here soon. And he’s really pissed.”

She stopped far too close to Luther’s chest, where she focused her large green eyes on the security guard’s smiling face. “Hey, man, can you get us out of this shithole?”
Luther inhaled a good chunk of the funky air eddying around their garage-stink enclosure. Immediately following the exhale, “Let’s go talk to these two dudes about their machine.”

‘Yeah, well, that won’t work worth a crap. I already tried that. They told me the machine was fine. Didn’t lie. Perfect condition. Shit like that.”

They were now within a few feet of the two guardians of the gateway to freedom.

Hiro’s chin was raised at a defiant angle, as though expecting a confrontation; an opportunity for him to defend his honor, his ancestry, his race. Again. Gino straightened his shoulders in his puny way of battle prep. Stillwater and Ben stepped closer to the other four.

“Look guys,” Luther smiled broadly while he turned his palms upward, “why didn’t you tell me about these other two tickets? And there’s another one up in the gym.”

Hiro’s body visibly stiffened. Gino thrust his jaw at Luther while he took a step toward the big man. “So what. So there are other deadbeats around. You don’t think we get these assholes every day. Christ, we hear every goddamned story you can imagine as to why their ticket is no good; mimicking, ‘oh, the time’s wrong; the machine’s wrong; this must be somebody else’s ticket’.Christ,” lifting his head toward Luther’s face, “if we let everyone out who complained, we’d be out of business, we__”

No.” barked Hiro sharply, but with a sheen of dignity, “No, Gino, that’s not true. We haven’t had a complaint for over a month,” relaxing his face muscles to the point where his skin appeared seamless and glowing with some mysterious lumination, “here we have at least four tickets that are supposedly from yesterday. Four in a row. I remember the times of all of them. I wrote a couple of them down. They all came at the end of the tape. Except one. But there might be others.” He hung his head.

A painful silence filled the area. No sounds of cars or pedestrians. No dogs or birds. The eerie calm took on a thickness. No one spoke.

Allison stepped toward Hiro with what looked like malicious intent. However, she stopped, as though thinking better of berating; instead, admiring the sincerity and abject apology surrounding the entire persona of the Japanese man.

Stillwater was also silent. Ben raised his chin slightly as though he sought to catch the passing breeze of truce, surrender, apology. He looked down and waited.

“Well, guys,” began Luther, “what can we do about this?” Hiro remained erect, but his head continued to hang, staring at the shiny garage floor. After a quick look toward Hiro, Gino stepped into the center of the waiting faces.

“Okay, here’s what. Show me your stubs and I’ll calculate the time as if it was just today. If you’re validated, then you can go.”

Alison was again tempted to unload a dump truck full of vituperation upon the two guardians, but after a look toward Luther, she thought better of it, shrugged her shoulders and muttered some knarly curses. She turned and walked back toward the elevator to the upper level and her car.

Ben, of the Gold’s Gym T, sighed, shook his head, but couldn’t resist a resonant, “assholes”, before turning to follow Alison.

Stillwater continued to drip while he looked to Luther for a sign that he was going to get his ticket back. Luther hesitated, appearing absorbed, distracted. 
“Hey, man,” Stillwater edging to Luther’s side, tapping a massive shoulder, “ticket, eh?”

Luther continued to stare after the departing parkers, “Luther?”

“Oh; yeah, Barry,” Luther swung his glassy glaze around and down to Barry, “yeah, you can go.”

“Great. The ticket?” 

Luther continued to pinch the small white rectangle between his thumb and index finger. “Hey, man, it’s okay. They’ll let you out. I’ll keep this just in case,” remembering, “they’ll want to have the tickets to give to the manufacturer to help them stop the screw-ups. Christ. Can’t have this kind of crap happening all the time, right?”

He quickly turned away from Stillwater and joined the two attendants. “You guys know which cars to let out?”
Gino nodded with pursed lips and a pissed expression. Hiro had not moved.

“He okay?” Luther nodded toward the Japanese.

“Yeah . . . I guess. Pissed, I guess; or more disappointed. I don’t know.”

Luther thought of tapping Hiro on a shoulder but genuinely believed that Hiro might tip over, maintain his constriction, and smash his face on the filthy floor.

“Guess he’s more angry at himself,” ventured Luther, “sometimes these guys get shamed real easy.”

“You mean lose face.”

“Yeah, guess that’s what they call it. Real embarrassed; hyper so. Deep down. He okay, you think?”
Both men were beginning to feel more that a little uncomfortable with the clothed statue of a hang-dog Japanese man anchored to their floor. He stood barely outside the lines of cars exiting the garage. Luther felt a momentary stab of fear that a corpse could be added to this morning’s curious happenings.

“Well, we should get him away from the line of traffic. Someone could knock him over.” Luther turned to Gino.

Gino gave a mini-shrug. “He’s okay. Let him be. I’ll watch out for him.”
“Okay. Here. I’ve got Stillwater’s ticket. Give me the others. I’ll return them in an hour or so. Got any others?”

“Yeah.” Gino moved past Hiro and walked to the booth. After a moment, he emerged holding three tickets. “I think these are all of them. I’ll need them back to show the machine rep. Son-of-a-bitch. Jesus, just wait until I have that bastard right in front of me. I can just hear the miserable prick,” mimicking, ‘Our machines are perfect; never had a bad print; never had one stuck; they’re precision-tooled’. Bullshit. These bastards have caused us untold grief. This isn’t the first time. Two times before. When Toby comes around—which I’ll make sure is tomorrow at the latest—that asshole is going to get both ears full for a long goddamned time. Prick,” softly, enervated, “yeah, assholes.” He looked toward Hiro, who remained motionless, “Yeah, assholes.”

He handed the tickets to Luther. The security guard took them gently, as though any force placed upon them would erase their stories.

Sighing, “Okay, Gino, I’m off. Look after your friend here,” and Luther rolled away toward the main mall area and his office.

Stillwater was at the gate, waiting to exit.

Gino averted his eyes while he activated the lift machine that raised the barrier. Stillwater smiled at Gino and silently mouthed, ‘asshole’. The car passed under the barrier. Gino walked to his friend.

*

Hiro gently lifted the ­­­­­Wakizashi sheath. Inside rested the ceremonial sword that his great grandfather had given him on his twelfth birthday. He searched for some emotion. He felt none. He had never considered himself a cold man. His wife, his four children, and his six grand-children treated him with warmth and affection. He thought he was reciprocating. Perhaps he was not. Perhaps he was heir to the steely genes of the Samurai. He firmly believed he was a Samurai on his seventh birthday. He proceeded to read everything about the Samurai. 

Before he was twenty, Hiro had seen every Kurosawa film, as well as those of the other leading Japanese filmmakers rendering tales of the Samurai. His hero, Toshiro Mifune, occupied the entire west wall of his bedroom in a poster from the “Seven Samurai”. Hiro saw the movie seven times before buying the DVD. 

Hiro’s wife, Tamiko, silently entered his shrine. “What is it, dear; what’s the matter?” He had not bothered to light the candles. However, every other artifact was in place. The atmosphere was heady, dramatic.

“I came to look at the sword”, softly, thoughtfully, “to ask my ancestors for direction.”
“Direction for what, darling?” whispered Tamiko as she approached he husband’s where she touched his elbow.

Hiro said nothing.

“Is this about that parking ticket thing?” gently, gripping on his elbow, “please tell me, Hiro, this is not any more about that silly matter.”

“It is,” hissing with fury, “they had me checking all the tickets from yesterday. As well as the ones from today. That security guard supervisor insisted. Gino is doing half,” sighing, “just because that loud foulmouthed Gai-ko says he was never there overnight.”

“And why are they checking the ones for today, darling?” When you called, you said they were only checking this man for a ticket from yesterday.”

Hiro’s shoulders slumped slightly. “There were four others on the end of the roll today.”

Tamiko drew back. “But then why are you so upset about the. . . the, whoever it was who you called me about?”

Hiro was silent for several moments. Softly, “Because he was the only one I insulted. The security man talked to the others. There was a malfunction of the machine.”

Tamiko had heard the entire drama several times. Hiro had called her in a rage from the garage the moment after the white guy was allowed to leave, pending a review.

 “Well, darling, if there’s something wrong with the machine then that’s something you and Gino have no control over.”

Hiro maintained his silence. Tamiko continued to hold his elbow. When she realized that her husband was thinking logically once more, that he was considering that it could be fate—out of his control—which may have caused the ugly incident, she slowly relaxed, dropping her hand to his waist and moving her arm around him to pull him close. The silence expanded. Their thoughts focused. Tamiko thought she had the answer. Hiro continued to mull.

*

Luther nestled into his ergonomically perfect swivel chair. Although drinking was prohibited on the job, Management relaxed almost every rule for Luther. The man was truly worth his weight in bloodless diamonds. He handled his cases with speed and a curious deftness that mystified all who examined his work. Over his twelve-year tenure, the Mall and all its occupants routinely filed evaluations of Luther’s work. They rated him at five stars every year.

Luther placed few demands upon his employers, despite his knowledge of the extraordinarily high regard in which they held him. Luther was a considerate compassionate man endowed with an overriding sense that life was absurd and that one had to laugh a lot just to survive.

Luther asked for and immediately received a three-bulb desk lamp with a green shade. As an avid reader of Raymond Chandler, Luther immediately relished both the description and the atmosphere of the green-shaded lamps in Chandler’s works. He had to have one.

Now, while he took a pull on his Stone Brewery Ruination beer, the slender fingers of his right hand caressed the parking tickets from this afternoon’s brouhaha while his left hand pushed aside the preliminary police reports of the jewelry theft in the mall from the night before.

Of course, Luther kept a supersized magnifying glass in his top drawer. He removed it, and placing the tickets under the light, examined each one through his hand glass.

“Oh,” softly eased from between his thin lips, “cute.”

After a few more minutes involving several inspections, Luther narrowed his examinations to three tickets. Once again, a word of surprise escaped his lips. He abruptly sat up as he downed the remainder of his beer.

Well, I’ll be goddamned. Yeah. That is really something. Well, well, well.
He picked up the phone and hit an extension. “Hey, Gino. Luther. Good, man. Thanks. You? Good. Say. Can you drop off your tapes roles for the last few days; you know, the ends . . . and the beginnings, if there are any. I have the tickets, but I need the rolls, okay? Great. Thanks. I can come and get them if you’re really busy. You’re sure? Okay. See you. Thanks Gino.”

Luther held the phone against his chest for a few moments while he thought.

*

Later the following afternoon, Hiro Matsuki’s path widened, revealing a short but elaborate bridge. Water from a native stream murmured its aimless flow beneath the hedges to the sea. All around, a miniature forest of cherry trees thrust forth their perfumed blossoms. Along the edges of the hedge-lined enclosure, peeked or protruded every variety of Western flora. A petulant gull momentarily shocked the soft silence.

For a time, Hiro believed the cherry trees were leaning in toward him. Perhaps they would fall on him, crushing his Samurai soul. Perhaps he appeared to them to be too earnest.

Hiro had found the spot the year before. He feared he had cancer and decided to take other means if the diagnosis was correct. It was not. Nonetheless, the vivid nature of his experiences in that spot under the pressing influence of the unknown, managed to sear every detail of both the setting and the ambiance into his memory.

Now, as he approached the location, all the sorrow from that prior occasion swept over him. He thought he might cry. However, the Samurai forbade him. Then he was there.

*

Around four o'clock that afternoon, Luther accompanied the local detectives, led by Detective Striker.

Janet answered the door. She nodded for them to enter. She had met Detective Striker at the police station earlier that morning, where she expressed her concern about her father’s behavior toward her mother, Apparently the yelling had been dangerously loud; threats were made. His wife had threatened to go to the police. Janet had overheard this screaming fight. She wasn’t sure what the root cause was, but it involved money. Property of some sort. Her mother had called him a thief and a liar before slamming the door and leaving for a hotel room. Janet had watched her father unobserved while he drank himself into a stupor.

Luther stepped through the living room door. The detectives dissolved into the shadows.

“Hey Luther. What’s up? why you guys here?” He looked first at Luther, and then squinted into the gloom enfolding the floor length drapes covering the huge bay window. Luther imagined himself in a Chandler novel. He embraced the gloom, appreciated his quarry’s condition, anticipated the proper dialogue for the interrogation.

“Hey, man; have a few questions. Probably have to search your house as well. We have a warrant,” nodding, “these guys do,” pausing to grimace, “and they want to arrest you.” The man lurched up from his reclining position on the houndstooth divan. A sparkle invaded his rheumy eyes. Almost at once, his entire body was on full alert. Danger bells clanged in his head. His fight or flight mechanism was fully charged, and the safety was off.

“Just be cool, man, just need to look around,” warned Luther, before following Striker and Janet into the rear portion of the house. Within minutes they returned, with Striker carrying a large suitcase. “Looks like it’s all here, I don’t even think it’s been opened since the robbery.”

Luther was shaking his head in a wondering manner as he approached Janet’s father.” What the hell, man; why did you leave your car there?” He didn’t wait for an answer before deftly tapping numbers into his iPhone.

“Hey Gino; you guys were right. Hiro was right. That ticket was from the day before. So tell Hiro; and let him know I’ll be around to congratulate him, okay? Oh, not in today? Well, tell him when he arrives; or call him at home, okay?”

 *

The outlook embraced the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond, toward his beloved Japan. The inexorable rays of the setting sun bathed his face in autumnal warmth. The Farallones peaked above the yellowing-red sea mist fashioned by the dazzling colors of the dying day.

Hiro inhaled. He removed the Wakizashi. With a swift move he plunged the sword into his belly at the precise point referenced in all the texts regarding Samurai seppuku.

His last view of this world was of gulls, gilding gently across the painted western sky.


© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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