A long gray path stretched out ahead. Dan Ryan, many years younger, with fewer lines in his face, and none of the scars that over twenty years in the business would ultimately bring, sits on a bench near a gray concrete path.
Settsukyo Park, nestled in and around a scenic valley, halfway between Osaka and Kyoto, extends out in every direction. On the South side of the broad-ranging park, there is a cherry blossom garden, and next to it a small playground for children. Paper lanterns line the path, lighting the flowers in a golden hue as the sun begins to go down.
A little girl, around four years old, with dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, is hopping and skipping with her hands reaching out overhead, trying her best to catch the cherry blossom petals as they fall around her.
On the bench with him, James Ryan, his father, in his mid-40s, with graying hair around his temples, lesser in size than his son, but still impressively tall being six-foot-four himself. And behind him, a very serious-looking Japanese man in an all-black suit and dark sunglasses over his eyes.
James looks up at the man behind him.
“Mr. Takeuchi, keep an eye on Danielle while I speak with my son.”
Dan Ryan leans over, his elbows leaning on his knees and hands intertwined in front of him, and looks up slightly at his father, while the family ‘bodyguard’ tends to his only child.
“She likes the flowers.” James looked at his granddaughter and smiled slightly. “She’s beautiful, Daniel. She has your smile. At least, your mother thinks so. I can’t remember what your smile looks like.”
He looks intently at his son, his eyebrows furrowing a bit.
“I’ve made arrangements to see that she’s cared for while you’re away. I’ve also deposited enough money into the account to see you to the States safely. Mr. Takeuchi will have some of his men meet you at the airport in Los Angeles and get you situated.”
Dan nods slightly.
“Sounds like you’ve covered everything.”
James sits up, leaning back slightly against the back of the bench.
“It’s a shame, though. You could stay here. She should have at least one of her parents with her, don’t you think?”
Dan bristles. “Look, I’m not the one who abandoned her and took off to God knows where to protect their…. honor. Fucking honor. I hate how this place is crawling with talk of it when it’s convenient. My future is in the States, not here. I can provide for her best if I make as much money as I possibly can, while I can.”
“I suppose,” James shrugs, “Although sometimes money can’t buy the things a child needs to thrive. What she could use is a father.”
Dan looked away, his eyes trailing over to where Danielle danced while a stoic Minato Takeuchi allowed her to take turns hanging from his outstretched arm, or holding her hand as she twirled. She giggled, and the laughter brought a smile to his face, only momentarily.
He turns his head back toward his father, the smile gone.
“I have every confidence in you and mom giving her the parenting she needs while I’m away. Soon I’ll be the one sending you money and not the other way around.”
Dan Ryan stands up, stretching his arms out, leaner in musculature than in later years, and holds a hand out to help his father to his feet.
“You’ve run a successful business here, made a home for us here, in a foreign country so different from the one you grew up in. You instilled in me the strength I need to make this happen. Where do you think I learned it all, this determination, this unwillingness to settle for second best? No one is more qualified for this task than you.”
James looks past him, watching as the very silent Mr. Takeuchi walks up the path behind Danielle as she skips and hops her way toward her father.
“I have to admit,” he smiled. “It will be nice to have a child in the house again. I miss those days.”
The little girl reaches them and Dan Ryan turns, leans over, and hoists her up in his arms to one side. He looks at his daughter, at her brown eyes, with a small scar over her left eyebrow, a leftover from a clumsy moment near a coffee table. She smiles and buries her head into his neck, and he holds her tightly to himself.
He closes his eyes, briefly, squeezes them shut, then opens them again. His father, watching, gives him a knowing glance and motions up the path toward a parked 1998 Toyota Century.
Dan gives a look at Mr. Takeuchi, who gives him a curt bow and motions him forward. As he starts walking, he takes a deep breath and sighs, fighting back his own thoughts of doubt and pushing forward.
He mutters under his breath an answer to a question his mind asked itself. “I know what I’m doing.”
And the petals fell.
“I had someone once who made every day mean something. And now…. I am lost…. And nothing means anything anymore.”
– Ranata Suzuki
“How have you been sleeping?”
Dan Ryan lay half-asleep in a king-sized mahogany-framed bed. Dark blackout drapes covered the only window, keeping the light out and the room unlit.
“How have you been sleeping?”
The same voice asked him the same question again, the words ringing through his head more forcefully this time. His eyes snapped open, but in the inky blackness, he couldn’t see a thing. He called out.
From nothingness, the next words bubbled up, coming from around him and inside his head at the same time to his perception.
“The visions are getting stronger, more powerful. You can’t control them, can’t stop them. Find her.”
“What?” Ryan sat up, startled, but all was still and quiet and he couldn’t see a damn thing.
It gurgled to life again.
Then again, so loud and forceful that he covered his ears.
“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”
– T.S. Eliot
We are what we remember. If we lose our memory, we lose our identity, and our identity is the accumulation of our experiences. When we walk down memory lane, it can be unconsciously, willingly, selectively, impetuously, or sometimes grudgingly. By following our stream of consciousness we look for lost time and things past. Some reminiscences become anchor points that can take another scope with the wisdom of hindsight.
And so it is with our own past. It is a labor in vain to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.
When a man is young, he still thinks that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery and studied hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Columbian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it, devoted my life to being bad.
And then I did it.
Oh, maybe I didn’t join a monastery or face down Columbia drug cartels. But I did become the baddest motherfucker in the world. For twenty years, I couldn’t be touched, couldn’t be denied.
But karma comes after everyone eventually. You can’t get away with screwing people over your whole life, I don’t care who you are. What goes around comes around. That’s how it works. Sooner or later the universe will serve you the revenge that you deserve.
Revenge is what I have always sought, after all; not revenge due me, but revenge due the world. The uncaring, unfulfilling world which dares to take and take without giving, and expects me to pretend like it’s okay.
Why should I give up revenge? On behalf of what? Moral principles? And what of the higher order of things, in which evil deeds are punished? For a philosopher and ethicist, an act of revenge is bad, disgraceful, unethical, and illegal. But I ask, where is the punishment for evil? Who has it and grants access?
I know what evil is afraid of. Not your ethics, not your preaching or moral treatise on the life of dignity. Evil is afraid of pain, mutilation, suffering and at the end of the day, death. The dog howls when it is badly wounded. Writhing on the ground and growling, watching the blood flow from its veins and arteries, seeing the bone that sticks out from a stump, watching its guts escape its open belly, feeling the cold as death is about to take them. Then and only then will evil begin to beg, ‘Have mercy! I regret my sins! I’ll be good, I swear!’
Yes. That is the way to fight evil. When evil wants to harm you, inflict pain – anticipate them, it’s best if evil does not expect it. But if you fail to prevent evil, if you have been hurt by evil, then avenge. Avenge. It is best when they have already forgotten, when they feel safe. Then pay them in double. In triple. An eye for an eye? No. Both eyes for an eye. A tooth for a tooth? No. All their teeth for a tooth. Repay, make them wail in pain, howling until their eyes pop from their sockets. And then you can look under your feet and boldly declare that what is there cannot endanger anyone, can’t hurt anyone. How can someone be a danger, when they have no eyes? How can someone hurt when they have no hands? They can only wait until they bleed to death.
The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud; this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refused to stay buried.
Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of the victims.
To punish others for your own mistakes or for the consequences of your own actions, to harm them by shifting blame that is rightly yours; this is a wretched and cowardly sin. But of this sin, I am without a doubt guilty. One great pain, one phone call spun my world into horror, this evil happenstance thrust upon me, and I have spent the rest of my life trying to get my revenge, but I’m here now, near the end of my rope. My physical strengths are fading, my renown suffering by the day. With each new loss, a piece of me is taken. Two losses in a row? No big deal, you say. But it might as well be an ice pick stabbed deep into my brain.
But one win…
This one win… and nothing else matters. No one remembers the two matches before War Games. Nobody cares that two Best Alliance dipshits pulled some sneaky shit to get a couple of meaningless victories. Win on the big stage, and all the pain goes away. And who can remember the pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind. Away, away.
“Payback is a bitch, and the bitch is back.”
– Stephen King
I despise you.
You, John Sektor.
You, Jatt Starr.
You, Cancer Jiles, Mr. right place at the right time, after getting pinned by me TWICE in the span of a month, but catching Mike Best just as he was getting tired of winning all the time.
Sure, I don’t like the rest of your team much, but you three are the holy trinity of worthless trash.
For that matter, I’m not spending much time with my own team either. I don’t have a strong desire for camaraderie, I’m not interested in grabbing a bite to eat, or catching a movie, or going bowling. I volunteered for this spot in this match because Conor Fuse showed respect, sought it out, found me, and listened. And because he gets it, I am well-placed to be as effective as I can possibly be, taking the World Tag Team titles before taking the World Title as well.
And I am well-placed, more importantly, to take back my pound of flesh.
I don’t forgive, I won’t forget.
Lee Best uses you all as pawns, of course, and it is that character trait that initially drove me to oppose him at every turn. He holds no power over me. I don’t need his money, not that he pays well to begin with, and I don’t need him to help my career. I need nothing from him. He’s a small man with a big name who peddles in fear. But no one is more vulnerable to fear than a man who keeps another in bondage. He will do anything to prevent justice from rearing its head – for he knows well what he deserves at the hands of those he subjugates.
He thinks he’s humbled me, as he’s made sure to interfere in every loss I’ve had for over a year to make sure I’m defeated. Vengeance would have us assault an enemy’s pride to beat him down. But vengeance hides a dangerous truth, for a humbled foe gains patience, courage, strength, and greater determination.
You all make me stronger with every plot, every scheme, you create the monster you fear with your own hands, without even realizing it. You do this because you think this is a simple exercise, but it is much more complex than you know.
You garish, overfed, swollen midget on stilts. You stuttering, jaundiced, walking skin disease in clothing. You fucking imposter. I’ve been waiting for a long time to get my hands on your stupid, doughy face and crack your fucking skull between my hands. Too long have you waltzed around here making your stupid fucking name puns, boring the fuck out of everyone with your proclivity for long-winded conversations that no one gives a damn about. Feeding us all a steady diet of your mediocrity while Lee Best drools all over you because he remembers you as an important part of High Octane history.
You free-associating dipshit human hair gel bottle. Fire off some more of your quick shot observations and quotes like anybody gives a shit. You planning on showing up for War Games? It’s a fair question. You never know when Cancer Jiles is gonna decide to show up for a big match. You got some good shit in the tank or will you just be phoning in another bunch of words that sound like a mildly controlled stroke? I have proven… multiple times… that I’m better than you, but you keep worming your way into positions you don’t deserve by putting in the absolute minimum effort possible and getting rewarded for it, simply because you’re willing to lick Lee Best’s balls for him.
And you, John Sektor, you moronic lump of blubbering, quaking, pathetic lard. I’ve been watching every move you make, every stupid meandering word that comes out of your mouth, you sloppy rotten Cuban sandwich of a human being. You creaking pile of bird bones and flaming dog shit. Don’t get so flattered. The only reason I follow you so closely is to never do what you are doing and then become who you are.
Are you taking things personally, John? It’s so personal. Big fuckin’ deal. I hate to break the news to you but every fucking thing I do is personal. I don’t half-ass anything ever, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for you and like, seven out of your eight partners. You nerds ought to call yourself The Sopranos because most of you just lounge around some shit hole waiting to get whacked.
And I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, but you see, what kept me from rushing in with an answer to you was not the difficulty of so doing, nor the pressure of other work, nor the grandeur of your eloquence, nor fear of you, but simply disgust, disinclination, and distaste – which, if I may say so, express my judgment of everything you do.
I’m here because I have to be, you know. There simply is no other choice, no other path to take. I would like to turn in my skin and change it for a new epidermis. It feels as if I will never be able to rinse the madness from my soul. All the while I am cognizant of the fact that I am trying to purge myself of my feelings. I spend my days consumed, consumed with thoughts of her and I don’t know why. I am hoping that she felt safe. I am worried that she is so deeply alone and frightened. I know somewhere deep inside of me that the decisions and choices I made were sound. I spend my nights hoping and wishing that I will not awaken in the night with my heart beating out of my chest; that I will not be haunted by that gnarled up figure in that box; that I will not perseverate on every nuance of my day – the smells, the bugs, the piercing torment of her in my head, raking at the corners of my mind and forcing me to seek her out.
Fuck all of you.
That is the ultimate summation of what I have to say to you all.
Nothing else could say it better.
“So long hoped for that its coming was a shock.”
– Mohsin Hamid
Minato Takeuchi folded his hands in front of him. The sizzle of the grills throughout the restaurant dining area muffled the sounds of the people around him.
Over a long counter next to him, with a pass-through to the kitchen, a black sign was draped from left to right, with the words “Han no Daidokoro Honten” in Japanese, and beneath it, English.
Takeuchi had his eyes closed, meditating, but remaining alert to his surroundings he knew that his guest had arrived and settled into a chair across from him. Slowly opening his eyes, he spoke.
“I took the liberty of ordering the 8-piece beef. I trust it will be satisfactory.”
Dan Ryan sat across from him, the hulking son of the man Takeuchi had dedicated his life to protecting, and who, by extension was protected himself.
“The beef will be fine. I’m more interested in hearing what you’ve discovered.”
Takeuchi nodded and pulled from his jacket a manila folder, which he placed on the table.
“You wanted me to do some digging into certain… family matters. The trail I followed led me to some interesting information. The accident that claimed the life of your parents, and of your daughter…”
Ryan stiffened up.
“What about it?”
Takeuchi placed his hands on the folder, gripping tightly with his left hand.
“It appears that it was not actually an accident. Kyoko…”
Dan flinched. “Danielle’s mother??”
Takeuchi nodded to the affirmative.
“Kyoko, as you know, came from a very let’s say… connected…. family. It seems her father didn’t want his granddaughter raised by gaijin.”
Anger flashed in Dan Ryan’s eye, rising to a blinding rage as he listened. Takeuchi could sense it, and he steeled himself for what would come next.
“Your parents, sadly, died in the incident. You daughter…. survived.”
Dan blinked once, twice, processing the information as if in a daze.
“But I…. I saw her body. I buried her, grieved her, it shattered everything I knew….”
Takeuchi holds his composure. “As I said, the family is very connected. You were shown the victim of another accident, a car explosion, about the same age and size as her, and you were allowed to believe she had died…. So that they could take her and raise her themselves.”
Ryan’s eyes narrow, a dark storm rolling in them from somewhere deep inside, where an emptiness suddenly burst open. His hands firmly gripped the table and he leaned forward, eyes trained directly on his long-time associate.
“Where. Is. She?”
Takeuchi sighed. “She was taken to a compound in the mountains near Nagano. It seems though, that… well…. Your father suffered greatly. He never told you. He took great pains to keep it from you, but he was in and out of mental facilities most of his adult life. I understand that you have suffered from a similar affliction.”
The color drained from Ryan’s face, and he snarled, any semblance of courtesy erased in an instant.
“Say what you mean to say, Takeuchi. To the point. SAY IT.”
Takeuchi, used to these outbursts, held his own and gave another curt nod.
“It would seem that these difficulties are hereditary.” He slid the manila folder over. Dan looked down and opened it. On top, a photo of the inside of a mental hospital, a room all white in four directions, and sitting on the floor crouched against the wall, a female, long-limbed and lithe, with black hair shoved over to one side, and eyes — almond-shaped eyes that stared directly at the camera overhead.
He stared hard at the photo, a rush of thoughts swarming through his head.
“How did they do this? How could they have known where they would be, what they would be doing? How would they know unless….” He paused and raised his eyes up. “Unless they were tipped off by someone on the inside.”
Takeuchi held the stare, and nodded, almost imperceptively.
Ryan’s eyes closed, then slowly opened again.
“There’s only one other person who would have been there, could have known enough to help cover up this… plot.”
Takeuchi said nothing more. He didn’t need to. Dan Ryan stood to his feet, growling under his breath.
And hurriedly walked away.