Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Into the Deepest Shadow - Karen Bremer Masuda

Into the Deepest Shadow

The light from his cell phone lit up a square area of his face; the bluish white illumination changing him into a ghostly figure in the fading light of this tiny, tiny room. Gonta was so absorbed in the words in front of him that it was like he had been abducted from the present by them, and taken to the brink of shadows which he was just now considering.
‘Would you rob a bank with me?’

The ‘me’ was a nameless faceless person, gender, age, and everything unknown, who had answered Gonta. His frame of mind was one of curiosity rather than desperation, the ad for ways to make money fast had jumped out at him as he checked his mail. This little square frame of his cell phone, exuding light, was his address; his home, absolutely the only rooted thing about him. It was his life line; the place where he contacted the work for the day, and where people could find him. He had even gotten fired by a text message, ‘we don’t need you tomorrow.’ They had been unkind anyways. Nobody was looking for him now, except someone who wanted to rob a bank with him.

After a few seconds the light went off and the words that had held him in their grip disappeared. He sat in the gathering dark of this tiny room, the luxury of not having to move at this moment washed over him. He didn’t have to make any rash decisions right now. He had paid his two thousand yen for the night, and if he didn’t eat a couple of meals, could even afford one more night. He thought about getting out his money belt and counting his money once again, but he wanted this luxury of non movement just a little longer.

Movement meant worry and thinking about his next meal and going out in the cold or heat where he was worn to a frazzle by construction work and then paid meager wages. Movement meant wandering the streets looking for a place to stretch out or using his insufficient funds for a room like this for the night or a hot meal, or an internet café where he could surf the internet and curl up to sleep for only a thousand yen.

He stretched out face down and sniffed the tatami matt, his body taking up the full length of the room. He couldn’t smell any newness to it and therefore didn’t start to reminisce of childhood nights spent on new tatami, falling asleep to the fresh clean smell of it. He only smelt old smoke tinged with someone else’s sweat. Maybe the owner of that sweat wanted to rob a bank; the person who had asked him if he wanted to. Gonta rolled over on his back and stared at the dark screen of his keitai. It would only take the light pressure of one of his fingers to lighten up the screen for him again, but he put it off.

At first it had been his right to leave home after high school and come to Tokyo to look for work. My god, that had been fifteen years ago now. At first he had had an apartment of his own, an address, a name. He had worn suits to job interviews, but why would anybody hire him anyway? Nobody wanted him. He began to loath himself and working for convenience stores and gas stations was the only thing he could do. This is when he became a slave to his life.

“He should go on a diet!” The other clerk of the convenience store where he’d just got hired to whispered, all too loudly, about the manager, Mr. Noda, puffing out of the office. Gonta had snickered, and nodded to the girl who was cute in a very childish way. The manager’s eyes swept over him, she could be forgiven, she was a girl, but from that day on the manager had it in for Gonta. He spoke gruffly to him and glared when he had the chance.

“You’re lucky I don’t call the police!” The double chin of Mr. Noda expanded as he lowered his head. “You’re fired, give back the money and I’ll give you what you earned up to today.”

The rent was paid but with ten days left till his next pay check there would be nothing to eat. The ten thousand yen note laid on the counter by the customer floated off to Gonta’s feet with a gust of air from the door before he had time to secure it with a paper weight. He smiled at the customer, handing him his change, counting it carefully, while securing the ten thousand yen note with his foot. Three customers later, he had time to bend over for the note and having already closed the cash register slipped it easily into his jean’s pocket. No thought whatsoever had gone into the act, but it was recorded on the security camera and he was called into the office the evening of the same day. At the end of that month he left his apartment for the streets.

The light flicked on with the slight pressure of his thumb and there shown the message, “Would you rob a bank with me?” Gonta felt the absoluteness of the darkness surrounding him. Feeling the light’s magnetic power he quickly pushed reply before the light could go out and leave him in total darkness.

Gonta nodded to the man at the counter sliding into the high stool next to him. It had to be who he was looking for because of the red scarf he was instructed to look for which was tied around the man’s thick neck. This was a coffee shop, a pleasant one in fact, and the man next to him, other than the red scarf, was dressed like he was ready to play golf. He was probably older than Gonta by a few years which, with his attire, intimidated Gonta, so that his heart beat loudly. Wishing he could silence it, he waited for what was to come.

“You drink coffee don’t you?” The red scarf asked him. His voice was surprisingly pleasant for a bank robber.

He nodded and the man ordered one for him.

Through the ensuing silence Gonta became increasingly agitated; wanting to get on with this meeting, needing answers to his burning questions, he leaned over to the man as close as he dared and whispered, “bank robbery?”

The coffee arrived and as the woman who served it disappeared from Gonta’s peripheral vision, the man threw his head back and laughed. “Oh yes, oh yes, but better!” He put his hand on the back of Gonta’s chair, leaned into his coffee and took a sip. Gonta was mesmerized, for what could be better than bank robbery?

This was the beginning of the four ‘runs’ that Gonta did for the man. He called Gonta Ashinaga, long legs, although, in fact, Gonta’s legs were very short, so that he knew he was being mocked. Gonta didn’t know his name, and never had to address him. He knew him only from the various accessories he said he would be wearing; a red scarf, a bright yellow bandana, or light green baseball cap. And it worked, for if asked to describe this man, those are the only items that would come to mind. He would contact Gonta with the place and the accessory of the day, they would meet, and he would give him his instructions. Take this cash card, go to such and such bank down the street, and using this pin number, handing him a tiny sliver of paper, withdraw one million yen. He gave Gonta a black knit cap, and high collared black bomber jacket to wear. “I’ll be waiting here, and I’ll be watching.” This was said as pleasantly as when he offered him coffee. When Gonta got back, the fat envelope, cap, and jacket were retrieved and a ten thousand yen note was removed, and handed over to him.

After the third run of withdrawing money Gonta decided to ignore the contacts from this man; after all the last time, instead of pulling out the ten thousand yen note from the envelope, he had withdrawn from his own pocket, a wallet, and extracted only five thousand yen from it. The fact that he was being duped angered him, but it was still easy money, allowing him to treat himself to a business hotel for a change. Gonta was beginning to get his own ideas for making money. He went on one last run because along with the place, time, and accessory, the man wrote, “This time I need you for something different.” in his message.

“More money?” Gonta asked back.

“Of course”, came the answer.

They were sitting lined up at a counter in yet another coffee shop. “This time I need you to deliver a bag, a black Nike bag, from a locker in Yotsuya station to a contact in front of Hachiko in Shibuya station."

“What about money?” Gonta felt emboldened for he wasn’t going to put up with any five thousand yen this time!

The man’s thin mouth turned up as he handed over a crisp ten thousand yen note along with a locker key. ‘The locker is in the Southern exit of the station”.

“How will I know who to give it to?”

“I’ll send you a message so you’ll know.”

But there was no message. After waiting five minutes Gonta was accosted by two men who turned out to be plain clothed policemen. He was arrested and taken in.

It didn’t matter how frustrated the detectives got with him he could only tell them what he knew, which was very little. Gonta was imprisoned for possession of illegal drugs for what should have been seven years but only amounted to one when he was paroled, and he was back on the street.

This time, he placed the ad, through his reactivated keitai, which he now held lovingly in his hand. All he had to do was to go to the website and make a post. He would not be anyone’s sucker again!

He wouldn’t use the bank robbery line, but something just as good. “Get your hands on a lot of money!”

Gonta was surfing the net in an internet café, when he got not only one reply, but two. Since getting out he had spent a week on a construction site job which ended. That money was already gone for he had spent it on a business hotel and booze. He had no patience any more. Bitterness filled his empty stomach leaving a rancid sour taste in his mouth. This time he would be the user; he was determined.

This coffee shop only had three booth-like tables and a small counter, and since they were three, they sat in a booth, at first, just blinking at one another.

Without saying it they knew they were all much in the same predicament. Gonta had one thousand five hundred yen in loose change and that was all. He didn’t want to buy these guys’ coffee, because that would nearly deplete it.

“How’re we going to make money?” Gonta opened his mouth first.

“We’ll have to rob somebody.”

“A woman, let’s rob a woman.”

Gonta nodded as it suddenly dawned on him that these two guys didn’t know he’d posted the ad, and it didn’t matter that he didn’t have a definite game plan. They were gathered for that purpose, to make a plan.

A woman came over to take their order and they all looked down at their hands for a moment. “Coffee”, they all chimed together.

“Three coffees, American, or blend?”

The American was the cheapest so that is what they ordered.

“Yeah let’s rob a woman,” then, “someone who lives in one of those rich neighborhoods”

“Yeah that would be the easiest thing! I could do that alone so no problem with three of us!”

“What if she escapes?” Gonta regretted asking such a question for they both shot him accusing looks.

“She couldn’t escape from the three of us.”

“No of course not!” Gonta felt he had to make up for his doubts.

They all grew silent as the woman came with their coffees. There was such a tension in the air that the woman wondered why the three had their fists clenched like that.

When she’d retreated, “after we grab her purse we’ll push her in the car,” it was said vehemently.

“Car?” Gonta and the one sitting next to him cast their eyes questioningly on the one sitting

across from them.

“Yeah”, he said gleefully, “by the time we do this I can have a car.”

“Where will he take her?” Gonta was afraid to ask.

“She’s going to squeal and squirm and yell.”

“We’ll tape her mouth shut!”

“And tape her hands and feet together!”

"We’ll kill her!”

It was not Gonta who said that. But his blood was already rushing violently around his body.

They exchanged cell phone addresses. Gonta called one A and one B on his cell phone. They met three nights in a row, the first night to buy the necessary tape and a metal bat, and the second night to check out one of the rich neighborhoods that A knew about. The third night a taxi pulled up on the corner and a young woman alighted.

Mr. Noda stretched in his office chair and turned his cell phone on to TV thinking to catch the news. The screen was so tiny that he didn’t recognize Gonta’s face when it was lined up with the two other’s on the screen.

“Three men have been arrested in the murder of a young twenty three year old woman who was kidnapped as a taxi drove away, only fifty meters from her front door. She was gagged and beaten to death three kilometers away in an empty parking lot. Forty thousand yen was stolen from her bag.”

Mr. Noda shivered, deciding that he didn’t want to hear anymore of such news, turned off his keitai, leaving the little screen in total darkness.

BIO: I am a writer living in Shizuoka, Japan with my two teenage kids, husband, dog, and cat.

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