When the voice on the other end of his mobile said his uncle died in prison, Daisuke slung the phone down the alley with a sidearm snap and cursed.
He watched his flip phone skip across the concrete. Daisuke played baseball in high school, over ten years gone now, and his throw was half as good as it used to be, but more than good enough for the occasion. The phone didn’t hit the ground for a good twenty feet, and it skipped across the alley when it hit. It bounced once, twice, and then hit the wall hard. The hinge and both screens shattered. The sound was pleasing, the short and final sounding clatter of several different types of high-tech plastic meeting an old-fashioned immovable object.
The deep bass pounding just inside the club’s back door was impossible to ignore, but Daisuke tried anyway. He closed his eyes, and breathed out, squeezing his eyes hard enough to hurt. He patted the pockets of his black slim-fit jeans, looking for a pack of cigarettes. He felt his keys, emergency knife, a thick roll of bills, and a business card from some geek who claimed he had a big idea, but no smokes. He opened his eyes and patted harder, looking at where he patted this time, only to realize that he’d quit smoking exactly seven days prior. Cold turkey. His nostrils flared and he closed his eyes again, breathing even more slowly. His breath crystallized in the cold night air, and he looked at it, his eyes unfocused, as it faded away.
Takeshi Yamamoto was blood, real blood. He wasn’t a true uncle, more of an older distant cousin, but Daisuke loved him. Yamamoto showed him the ropes, vouched for him when it counted, and now he was dead. Some tame cop, some coward, who had been more than happy to take Yamamoto’s money for years turned snitch, and now Yamamoto was dead. It wasn’t fair.
The wall hurt when he hit it. His punch landed just to the right of the hinges of the door with a flat slap. His knuckles scraped the intricate brickwork, sending a hot flash up his arm. Before the flash faded, he’d swung again, and again, and again. His blood smeared the wall with each new punch, and the last punch slipped on it, slamming into the door and leaving a starburst of blood on the cool metal and a low thud echoing down the alley. He lifted his hand again, ready to throw another punch, and paused. He forced his fist to unclench and worked his fingers. A blast of air shot out of his nostrils as his hand lowered to his side, still working his fingers. His other hand was still.
The door opened and the owner of the club, a nervous little worm of a man with thick glasses, peeked outside. “Ah,” said the worm, “sir, did you get locked out? I’m terribly–”
Daisuke waved him off and said “Shut up.” He grabbed the door with his right hand, the bloody one, and felt his fingers beginning to stiffen. He swung it open all the way, wrenching it out of the worm’s hands. “Bring a first aid kit to VIP.” Daisuke slipped past the worm, his lanky frame nearly bowling over the owner, and strode into the club. “And a bottle.” Daisuke paused his forward motion and spoke while facing straight ahead, away from the worm. “Proper whiskey, none of the watered down piss water you serve the simps. Top shelf, something golden brown instead of tan. Something with a burn.”
The club was packed. A year ago, it was some hole in the wall in Ikebukuro, barely worth the entrance fee. It was a terrible place for a dance club, even in that district. It had the wrong vibe, the worst location, and terrible foot traffic, but the owners managed to fast-talk their way into a sponsorship deal with a music label. That led to a series of shows with buzzed about, but low budget, rappers. The shows were very well received, and the right place hit the right time. Bigger musicians began to visit to play, and then to loiter. After six months, the club had a rep. The location and vibe became badges of honor. It was an out-of-the-way club that offered an off-the-beaten-path experience. Reality vérité, for people who wanted to see what wilding out was really like. It was a place to see and be seen, and the bouncers at the door — corporation men, every one of them, as were the label reps — served as the perfect barrier to entry. You Must Be This Rich To Ride, You Must Show This Much Skin To Get In.
The VIP booths, four of them, overlooked the dance floor. One was kept empty, just in case Daisuke or his brothers decided to come by. The other three were dedicated to the elite crowd. The booths were just past the bar, up a short flight of stairs. A single man, higher ranking than the thugs at the door, but not by much, sat by the stairs. His job was to flirt with the girls, glare at the men, and be there for whatever Daisuke needed. He was a glorified gopher, and Daisuke hated him, deep down.
The back door was across the dance floor from the VIP booths and the bar. Daisuke had to walk across the club to get back to the VIP. An annoyance, but an unavoidable one. The quickest route was through the dance floor. He could have gone around it, but there would be people in the way regardless. The direct route, then.
He stepped onto the dance floor and began walking, eyes forward. Most people, once they realized who he was or saw the reactions of others, moved out of his way. One woman didn’t. She noticed him. She winked at him when she saw him notice her, threw a sexy twirl his way, and danced at him. She danced close, close enough for her breath to be hot on his neck. Daisuke grimaced, placed a hand on her shoulder, and pushed her off. He kept walking.
The scrub guarding the stairs to the VIP was too busy with a girl to lift the velvet rope and let Daisuke in. Typical. Pathetic. Give a young man a bit of money and a little power, and the only thing on his mind would be a woman. The man had both his hands around the girl’s waist, fingers interlaced, and she stood over him while he sat on a stool, blocking his view. Daisuke reached over the woman’s shoulder, grabbed the man’s shoulder with his bloody hand, and pushed. He pushed hard. The goon fell backwards, tipping off the stool, and the girl went down with him. He caught the velvet rope on his way down, pulling the brass poles that supported it to the ground. Daisuke stepped to the side, away from the tumbling couple, and waited.
Before the dust could settle, the goon was rising to his feet, knife first. Daisuke watched him, looking him dead in his eyes, waiting for that flash of recognition that would mean the guy wasn’t a total idiot. It came late, almost too late, and was quickly replaced by panic.
He apologized profusely and politely, ignoring the girl when she asked what was going on. He swore fealty, stressed his loyalty, and promised to pay more attention in the future. Daisuke told him to go home.
“I’m deeply sorry, I didn’t know–”
“And you won’t. Go home. You’ll be called next time I need you.” Daisuke watched the man open his mouth again. “Not another word or I swear I’ll cut your throat with your own little knife.”
The owner didn’t bring the first aid kit up himself. Daisuke assumed he was too afraid to, or maybe just too eager to please. The man was a try-hard, desperate to seem like he was a willing and open-minded cog in the machine. He wanted everything to go smoothly, so when the worm sent up a pretty bartender, the first aid kit, whiskey, and several glasses balanced on a tray, Daisuke rolled his eyes and accepted it. He focused on breathing and didn’t look at her.
The woman sat down next to him on the plush purple couches. Her weight made Daisuke rise slightly as the couch stabilized. She was pretty, clad in a purple and black cocktail dress. The club’s palette ran toward varying shades of purple, from lilac to nearly black, and that was reflected in both the staff’s dress code and the decor of the club. Her skirt was on the darker side of purple; just enough to blend with the black, but not so dark that it wouldn’t be noticed.
She settled and introduced herself. She was Kanae, her boss had sent her up as a personal hostess, and would he be drinking alone tonight? She inclined her head toward the whiskey and the glasses. Unbidden, she turned over one of the ornate tumblers on her tray. Her hand shook slightly, and it clinked against the others. A small tattoo of a sunflower stretched between her index finger and thumb, the stem winding its way to her wrist, where it disappeared under a purple and black studded bracelet.
“You’re nervous,” Daisuke said.
“Oh, no,” Kanae insisted. She shook her head briefly, and her bob flicked from side to side in the hot room. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve just been on the clock for a while. Merely a tremor, sir. Nothing to worry about.”
Daisuke looked at her as she poured him a glass of whiskey. She was focused on her task, her eyebrows creased, and knew enough not to offer him ice. “Pour yourself a glass,” he said.
Kanae looked surprised, and then crestfallen. “I couldn’t afford it, sir,” she said. “I’m sorry, but this is very expensive for someone like me, and we aren’t allowed to drink on the job, besides.”
“Pour yourself a glass,” Daisuke said. “It’s on the house.” He lifted his glass and looked at her until she poured one of her own. They toasted (“To your health sir.” “To family.”), he nodded at her, and he drained his glass. She took a healthy sip, swallowed, grimaced, and coughed. “Not your speed?” Daisuke looked at his glass and frowned at the streaks of blood on the outside. The blood had thinned out, but still made the glass slippery. He poured himself another glass, ignoring Kanae’s attempt to pour it herself. It was too full this time.
“I usually like beer, honestly.” Kanae smiled and shrugged. “But this is good! Thank you very much.” She took another swallow, coughed again, quieter this time, and turned to face Daisuke. “Ah, I was informed that you needed first aid, sir? You’re injured?”
Daisuke polished off half his second glass with a gulp and treasured the burn as it made its way down his chest. “That I am,” he said. He held out his right hand palm-first. His palm was red, and dried blood flaked off as he moved his fingers. He turned his hand around and showed her his savaged knuckles. “Do you want to know what happened, Kanae?”
Kanae hid her look of shock by focusing on opening the first aid kit. It was a cheap little box, but it had mercurochrome, rubbing alcohol, bandages, and wraps. They were all generic, probably bootlegged, but they would do. She removed everything from the box, arranging them onto a table near the plate the whiskey sat on, and spoke. “If you’d like to tell me, sir, I’d be happy to listen.” She looked at his hand again, tentatively, and her eyebrows crunched again. “Do you mind if I disinfect that while you tell me? It may sting.”
“You are nervous!” Daisuke said, and laughed. He held out his hand over the empty plastic box and swirled his whiskey glass with his other hand. “Sting me,” he said, “and tell me why you’re so nervous.”
Kanae held both hands in front of herself, palms out. “I’m merely trying to show you the respect you deserve, that a man of your position deserves–”
“No,” Daisuke said. “You’re nervous. Why?”
She was silent for a moment, clearly weighing her options. She chewed her lower lip and lowered her hands into her lap before she spoke again. She spoke slowly, carefully considering every word. “I know that you are yakuza,” she said, “and I assume that you are fairly high ranking in your organization, considering how you are treated here.”
“And how am I treated here, Kanae?”
“With respect. With fear. The owner fears you,” — and here Daisuke laughed again, a harsh sound to Kanae’s ears — “and the staff always talk about you, they trade stories. Respectful ones, of course. You’re… a mystery to us.” Kanae motioned to Daisuke’s hand, and then to the medical supplies. “May I?”
Daisuke rolled up his sleeve and offered his hand again.
Kanae doused Daisuke’s entire hand in mercurochrome, rinsed it in water, and doused it again. His fingers were a mess, and the knuckles were in particularly bad shape, too. While Daisuke held his hand over the now-wet box, Kanae investigated the bandages, weighing the benefits of several bandages over one wrap. “I’m no expert, sir, but I’ll do my best.” She began dabbing at Daisuke’s wounds with a cotton ball, clearing out the rest of the blood and prepping for another round of antiseptic.
Daisuke watched her work for a moment, and then asked her, “What did the owner say when he sent you up here?”
She blushed underneath her makeup and stammered. “He said you were angry, and that I was to make sure you were comfortable, no matter what.”
“No matter what,” Daisuke said. He enunciated the phrase carefully, exploring the taste of it. “And that’s why you’re nervous?”
“Yes sir,” she said. “I must confess that I’m… not entirely sure what is expected of me.” She finished cleaning his hand, and moved on to applying bandages where she could. “I think I’m going to have to wrap this, sir. The bandages aren’t big enough.”
Daisuke grunted something like an affirmative and sat in thought for a moment. The silence was thick, and almost painful. “Kanae,” he said, and stopped. He started again. “Do you want to know what happened to my hand?”
Kanae’s voice was very small when she answered. “If you’d like to tell me, I would be happy to hear it.” She jumped when he flexed his hand.
“Do you want to hear the story, or not? Yes or no.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. She began working a wrap around his hand, folding it tightly around his wounds. She moved slowly, wrapping the hand as a hole and then each finger on its own.
“I don’t have a father,” Daisuke said. “He left, or died, or something long before I was born. I grew up with my mother. Eventually, she found a man, a boyfriend. I was twelve the first time he hit her. He wasn’t a drunk. He was just scum.” Daisuke finished his second glass and motioned for Kanae to pour him another. “I was angry, but he was bigger than I was. I knew my place. A month after he hit my mother, my uncle Takeshi came to visit. We put on a good front, we had a nice dinner. The perfect family, despite the cohabitation. I was to do the dishes that night, and uncle Takeshi offered to do them with me.”
Kanae finished wrapping his hand, tying a tight bow on his palm to top things off. She inspected her work, turning his hand this way and that, and nodded. “Your uncle sounds like a kind man.”
“You didn’t know my uncle,” Daisuke said. “My mother and her boyfriend went to watch television while we washed, and I told my uncle what happened.” He took another drink here, holding it in his mouth before swallowing. “My uncle was already my hero. He lived in the big city, he’d escaped our family, and he had nice clothes. He took me to see the Hawks a couple times, back before the Softbank business.
“I told my uncle what my mother’s boyfriend had done, and he stopped washing dishes. He knelt down — I thought he was really tall back then, but it turns out I was just short for my age — and he looked me in my eyes. He grabbed my shoulders, he grabbed them tight, and he told me something I never forgot. Do you know what he told me?”
Kanae’s hands were back in her lap at this point, and she was staring at her knees. Her drink sat in front of her, untouched since her second sip. “No, sir, I don’t. What did he say?”
“‘Daisuke,’ he said to me. ‘Daisuke, your family comes first. You’re a man, so be one. Even if it costs you your life, you do not let anyone fuck with your family.’” Daisuke smiled at the side of Kanae’s head, watching her watch her lap. “I was twelve,” he said. “And then uncle Takeshi dried his hands, walked into the living room, and put my mother’s boyfriend through a window. He opened the door — I thought that was the weirdest thing, that he’d walk to the door and open it — and went outside. He beat the man nearly to death without saying a word. And then he made a phone call. A cop arrived, took the man into custody, and I never saw him again. My uncle left a roll of bills with us to pay for the window. He told me to never forget what he told me, that some things are more important than my life.”
“Mm,” Kanae said. “And your uncle, he brought you into this… he helped you become a yakuza?”
“That he did, Kanae,” Daisuke said. He was quiet for a moment, joining Kanae in her silence. “Do you still not know what is expected of you?” Daisuke asked.
“Ah,” she began, but Daisuke interrupted her with a raised hand.
“My uncle died today, Kanae.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” she replied.
“I’m not interested in your body, and I’m no rapist.” Daisuke drank again, a shorter sip this time. “You’re too nervous.”
“I’m very sorry, sir.”
“All I want you to do,” Daisuke said, and took another swallow of whiskey, “is sit here and talk to me until I decide to leave. And you can’t do that if you’re this nervous.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot help it.”
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I apologize for thinking otherwise,” Kanae said. She finally met his gaze, ever so briefly, before looking away again.
“Are you going to apologize for apologizing next?” Daisuke asked, “or are we going to actually talk?”
“We can talk,” she said, and they did.
They were still talking when something caught Daisuke’s eye. He stopped talking to Kanae mid-sentence, stood, and watched the club from his window. Down, to the right, near the DJ. There was seating and a mini-bar for high rollers down there, just at the end of the dance floor proper. That’s where the movement was. There were surprised people there, but he couldn’t figure out why. He watched people trying to leave, and eventually the floor cleared to the point that he could locate the source of the trouble. Some fool had had too much to drink or was fired up on drugs, and he’d turned belligerent. He was waving a knife at the patrons and saying something, but his shouts couldn’t be heard over the throbbing of the music. A knife, of all things. A chair or two lay at the man’s feet, knocked over during his rise. The bouncers at the door were worthless. They hadn’t noticed the commotion yet, but they’d soon be on their way. Daisuke figured he’d join them.
“Kanae,” he said.
“How heavy is that whiskey bottle?”
There was a quiet moment, and then a thunk as Kanae tested its weight. “Pretty heavy, sir. It’s real glass, at least I think it is.”
Daisuke turned around and took the bottle. He poured her a drink, once again over-filling the glass, and said, “Stay here.” He left the VIP booth with the bottle. She nodded behind him, and obediently clutched her glass.
It was harder to get through the club this time. Bad vibes have a way of traveling, and while precious few people knew exactly what was going on, they knew something was happening. Something bad. They were less inclined to make way for anyone, even someone as obviously connected as Daisuke. He pushed and shoved his way through the crowd, taking pulls off his bottle on the way. Halfway to the trouble he met up with a bouncer, a low-level enforcer he knew from back in the day. Daisuke rose through the ranks. This guy didn’t. C’est la guerre. They looked at each other and moved through the crowd together, the bouncer clearing the way.
The idiot was definitely drunk, Daisuke realized. He could smell the alcohol, even over the fumes pouring out of his own bottle. The drunk had his back to the DJ booth and was swinging wildly at whoever got close. There was broken glass at his feet, and the crowd had retreated around him, forming a half-circle of spectators eager for a fight.
Daisuke inclined his head at the bouncer, and then motioned at the drunk. As Daisuke watched the bouncer move in, screaming epithets at the drunk all the while. Daisuke closed his eyes, mouthed a silent thank you to his uncle, and then opened them again. The noise of the club faded as Daisuke focused. He didn’t even hear the record skip when the bouncer threw the drunk up against the DJ booth. All of reality narrowed down to a single point, and the shouts, jeers, and screams didn’t even so much as make waves in Daisuke’s consciousness. He was watching the bouncer beat on the man and thinking about the next move.
He stepped forward, toward the action, just as the drunk shoved the bouncer off him. The bouncer looked as surprised at the knife stuck in his collarbone as the drunk, and stumbled backwards before tripping over a chair and bringing down a table. The drunk was bleeding from the face by this point, his face reduced to a red smear by the bouncer’s fists. He looked at Daisuke, balled up his fists, and decided to make a bad decision. He grabbed a broken bottle from the floor, a remnant of his earlier rampage. It dripped cheap beer from the broken end. The man took a step and then sprinted at Daisuke.
Daisuke didn’t smile when he brought the whiskey bottle up and around, slamming it against the side of the drunk’s head, but he wanted to. It felt better than anything had felt in ages, even if it made his wounded hand hurt more.
The drunk went flying, skidding to a stop to Daisuke’s left, close to where the bystanders were watching. The club was beginning to empty as the bouncers, hosts, and hostesses began escorting people outside. They worked quickly, promising free drink tickets and future admission in exchange for silence, and physically removed most of the people from the club. Daisuke looked at his whiskey bottle and his eyes widened in surprise. It was still half full, and it hadn’t so much as cracked during the impact. Kanae was right. It was heavy, real heavy. It clearly wasn’t suited to serve as a sharp weapon in a pinch, but it was a great cudgel. Good enough.
Daisuke turned his head to watch the drunk rise. The drunk shook his head, sending a halo of blood to the floor, grabbed a chair and lunged at Daisuke again. Daisuke threw the bottle this time, purely on reflex, and caught the man square in the face with its base. The bottle didn’t break this time either, and it didn’t halt his forward motion at all. The man tipped forward while his head snapped back, and his momentum carried him into Daisuke’s arms. He sat there in a daze for just a moment before trying to push away.
Daisuke rolled with the motion and turned him around, bending the man’s knife hand behind and up his back in the process. Daisuke pushed the man’s elbow up with his other hand, hard, until he felt and heard the shoulder pop, and then threw a punch directly at the base of the man’s skull for good measure. Daisuke’s right hand throbbed at the exertion, but the man fell to the ground, limp, and laid there moaning. The bottle slowly spun to a stop off to the side, still unbroken, whiskey dribbling out of its neck. Daisuke grabbed the bottle, gauged how much liquor was left and whether any blood had made it inside the bottle, and looked around. He wanted to do more; he had the perfect chance to do more, but now was not the time.
The club was empty now. Daisuke only spotted staff and fellow yakuza as he surveyed the area. The staff was cleaning up already, accelerating their shutdown process. Half the yakuza were looking at him for guidance. The other half was preparing to remove the man from the premises. One of them was lighting a cigarette, and Daisuke glared at him. When he went to put it out, though, Daisuke waved and shrugged. Do what you want. The club’s owner slipped into the area, eager to demonstrate how excited he was to clean up the spilled blood and liquor in front of his masters and to discipline his workers if they moved to slowly.
Another enforcer approached Daisuke and asked what he wanted done with the drunk. “Empty his pockets,” Daisuke said. “Leave his cards, but take his cash, identification, any photos. His phone. Does he have car keys?” A man checked and grunted a no. “Then dump him far from his home. He can walk back.” Daisuke watched the men work, and then had another thought. “Strip him naked, too, before you drop him off.”
Daisuke looked up at the VIP and saw Kanae looking out of the window. Her arms were crossed, a glass of whiskey held in one hand as she watched the melee. Daisuke smiled, his first smile of the night, and threw her a loose military-style salute with his bandaged hand. His fingers were locking into place now, so stiff that he couldn’t move them if he tried. It turned his hands into a claw. He’d have to visit a hospital. She smiled a sad smile and lifted her glass.