He goes to the men’s room. He bends over the sink. Turns on the tap. Splashes cold water on his face with both hands. Rubs his eyes with cold water. Gasping. Straightens up, shaking water from his hands. Looks at his face in the mirror. At his eyes. Blue and blazing. Will you do this? Really? Yes. He dries his hands with a paper towel, crumples it and tosses it into the trash can by the door. He opens the door and goes back out into the flashing blue light. He makes his way toward the bar. Cowboy Boots and Bald Man are swigging from beer bottles. Glancing to the side, he sees the girls. One gets up, bends at the waist laughing, then straightens, tosses her hair and walks toward him. Sexy sexy. Lean and clean. He steps aside. She flashes him a smile as she strides past him, heron-slim, proud and sexy on her high heels, not even wobbling a little. He turns his head to watch her go toward the women’s restroom. Then he steps aside as Cowboy Boots and Bald Man brush past him in the booming heat and noise. He’s close enough to see the dirt in Cowboy Boots’ pores, the sweat glistening on Bald Man’s chest under the V-neck shirt. They go. They follow the proud beautiful non-wobbling girl. She goes into the restroom, pushing aside the curtain first that hides the short hallway. He sees her open the door; the brightness appears, vanishes. She’s let the door swing shut. It appears again. Vanishes again after the two men step inside. He wipes his face. He’s sweating more. He walks in a calm deliberate step toward the w.c. He steps through the gap between wall and curtain. The music is banging wildly. He glances back. People are dancing, twisting and leaping in a nightmare. The other girl is still at the table, bending to sip her drink, both boys leaning close. One has his hand on her bare copper toned shoulder and is rubbing it. He shuts his eyes. Now. Okay? Now. He puts his fingers on the knob. Turns it. Nothing. He touches the door. Presses it. It holds. Locked. He reaches behind him, slips the gun out of his waistband. Holds it pointed down at waist height. Takes three steps backward. Inhales. Kicks the door dead center. The lock snaps and the door leaps inward and bounces on the wall. The lock goes clanging across the floor. The beautiful proud rich girl is bent over one of the sinks and Cowboy Boots is holding her by the hair. Bald Man is wrenching up the gaudy silver dress over her hips to bare the beautiful white ass as she writhes and chokes and screeches. His cock is sticking out of the hole in his unzipped trousers. He and Cowboy Boots turn their heads at the same instant. The blue eyed man kicks the door shut behind him without looking at it. It slams. His .44 is covering the two men both. He drifts the barrel back and forth between them. They look puzzled. Bald Man tells him to get the fuck out. Cowboy Boots’ face shows scorn and outrage. Bald Man isn’t afraid — his prick is still hard. Cowboy Boots doesn’t let go of the girl’s hair. She screeches, he bounces her forehead on the sink. Above the bashing electronic sounds, the blue eyed man says clearly, in Spanish, to let go of the girl’s hair. Cowboy Boots looks at Bald Man, frowning. Bald Man nods. He lets go of her hair. The girl throws herself away from the sink, staggering, and runs to the blue eyed man, her eyes wide. He grabs her by the elbow and yanks her behind him. He then brings his left hand back up to steady the butt of the pistol. He’s still drifting it back and forth. Bald Man’s erection has begun to sag. He’s holding his hands apart at chest level. Cowboy Boots narrows his eyes. Thinking, thinking. Judging distances and angles. The blue eyed man can hear the girl whimpering behind him, in the corner next to the door. Get out, he says, and the door opens to screeching music and flashing blue light and then shuts on the boggling thumps of the bassline. He adjusts his stance slightly. He tells Bald Man to reach behind him with his left hand and take the gun out of his belt by lifting it straight up. Bald Man is sweating now. He blinks rapidly. Then he swallows saliva and with insolent slowness obeys. The blue eyed man watches the way his elbow bends. Raise it higher, he says. With some strain, Bald Man does. His penis is now flaccid. Open your hand and drop it behind you from right there, the blue eyed man instructs. The pistol falls with a crack of steel and spins on the floor. Kick it over here with your right foot, he commands. Bald Man does. The pistol spins a good ten feet and bounces on the shut door. Bueno, says the blue eyed man, drifting the sight back to Cowboy Boots. You, on your knees. Cowboy Boots’ knees bend. He sinks to the tiles. He’s staring at the blue eyed man’s grip on the pistol. To see if it vibrates even a little. It doesn’t. Take out your knife. Cowboy Boots hesitates. Now. He complies. He takes it out of his leather jacket side pocket. Another switchblade, shut. Set it on the floor, says the blue eyed man. Cowboy Boots does. The blue eyed man drifts the sight back to Bald Man’s dark haired, sweat-glistening chest. Kick the knife over here, he says. Bald Man does so. The knife skitters across the tiles, stops a few inches from the pistol. The blue eyed man reaches behind him. Touches the knob. Opens the door wide and kicks the pistol and then the knife outside, into the blasting noise and dimness. The door swings near-shut again — it doesn’t click. Then he tells Bald Man to kneel. Bald Man, with insolent languor and slowness, obeys. Silently. Both of you will remain here for the count of one hundred. If you step out this door before you have counted one hundred as slowly as possible, I will kill you. Do you understand this? They nod, in unison. Cowboy Boots is sneering. The blue eyed man again reaches back with his left hand and takes hold of the knob and pulls the door inward. He steps outside into the ranting noise and the lights as the door swings shut blotting out the two men on their knees staring at him with deadly scorn and rage. He sticks the gun into his waistband at the front and picks up Bald Man’s pistol and Cowboy Boots’ knife and sticking them into the side pockets of his jacket walks quickly to the exit, noting as he walks that and the two boys are now seated alone at the misbehaving rich girls’ table over four drinks looking glum. As he emerges from the club, he sees the girls get into the Lotus with grim speed as the valet parking boy holds his tip in his hand, watching in awe. The Lotus roars off. The blue eyed man notes the Humvee — pulling out to tail the Lotus. He crosses the street, jumping over smashed beer bottles, cuts through an alley to another street, exhales a long slow breath and begins to run.
Two days later, he was in Mexico City.
Fumes. Traffic. Men sweeping the streets with brooms.
Ice cream pushcarts. Taco pushcarts.
Donkey carts. Plush cars. Buses.
Hooting and roaring.
Sweat at the back of his shirt.
His scalp tingling.
His nostrils full of charcoal smoke, exhaust.
The stench of seared meat.
As soon as he hit Mexico city, he went to a dealership and sold the Jeep for a pittance.
Then he bought a small, battered blue tin can of a car.
He paid the cash down on it, paid extra to have it held on the lot for him.
The Jeep screamed “American.”
The blue tin can– driving it he might pass for French, or even German.
He’d go deeper south in that. Deeper into his cover.
He’d kept a safe deposit box under one of his false names in a Georgetown bank.
A .44 pistol. An envelope full of US currency.
One hundred gold krugerands in a money belt.
The name on his current working passport: Cole James.
He’d bought it in French Guyana.
The Agency didn’t know.
The name on the other: Frank Younger.
He slept the first night in a fleabag hotel.
Had to avoid the luxury places.
At night he walked and walked around the great Plaza.
He went into a blazingly bright bar and ordered tequila, almonds, grilled shrimp.
He devoured it. Ravenous.
He took apart the pistol and cleaned and greased it on a newspaper spread over the coverlet of the hotel bed.
In the next room, a woman was panting and screaming.
He thought about it. Probably the fat whore he’d seen earlier, posed at the entranceway in the flashing neon.
He’d bought a bottle of Centenario. He took swigs from the neck.
Wiped his mouth with his hand.
Looked at himself in the faded and streaked mirror.
Ageing. Haggard from lack of sleep. Unshaven.
He didn’t know.
In the morning he walked around again.
He went into a cybercafe.
He sat at a computer.
It felt dangerous.
He didn’t open the browser. He finally just got up and walked out.
At a street stall, he bought a small Olivetti typewriter.
He carried it back with him to the hotel — a small black suitcase.
He didn’t have any real paper. He rolled a sheet of cigarette paper into the carriage.
He typed — click click click — Government by Shadows: The Group of 22.
At night he went out again.
In a bar, he drank tequila.
He ate pork tacos from a banana leaf at a street stall.
As he made his way back to the hotel, having memorized every step, two rooster-sauntering men followed him.
They were wearing: shiny shoes, pleated trousers, colorful shirts, gold necklaces.
Both Mexicans.One had a greased ponytail.
He pondered it. They were take-off artists.
Ordinary criminals, looking for tourists.
He was only surprised they’d tagged him as American.
His blue jeans and white shirt — he could have been any nationality.
Or maybe they were going after Europeans, now, too?
He waited for them at a traffic blaring corner.
They parted slightly as they approached.
The one that wasn’t poneytailed had a goatee. And a gold tooth.
At a glance: no pistolas.
But the ponytailed one brought something out of his pocket.
Greased Ponytail waves his switchblade lazily in the blue eyed man’s face.
Goatee takes hold of his shirt. Purses his lips to speak Mexican —
The blue eyed man grasps and twists Goatee’s shirt-holding hand palm upward and turns it so he lets go of the fabric and staggers, a wild Texas two-step.
Hits him twice in the throat, edge-of-hand blows.
It’s so quick that Greased Ponytail has time only to blink, once, before the blue eyed man snatches the toothpick from his lips and hits him viciously in the solar plexus.
Doubling over, Greased Ponytail retches and spills beer-shrimp-chilis-corn onto the sidewalk.
He, the blue eyed man, now takes control of the knife arm at the elbow joint, knocks the knife loose. It clangs, skitters, even as Goatee sinks to the sidewalk and lies gasping in the fetal posture, holding his neck.
The blue eyed man crouches. Picks up the knife. Shuts it. Sticks it in his pocket.
Puts the non-chewed end of the toothpick in his mouth.
Looks at Greased Ponytail, who is still doubled over, wobbling and gasping for air.
At Goatee, who is jerking with agony and, like his amigo, wholly engrossed in the non-threatening task of trying to breathe.
Vayos con dios.
I talked with a young man in a military greatcoat. His right sleeve was pinned to the shoulder. He was rolling a cigarette one handed as I approached him. He offered me one. I don’t smoke, but I took it and put it in my dry lips. He lit it for me. I couldn’t follow how he managed that. He was holding a matchbox in his one hand, and then out came a match and his fingers struck it into flame. I bent to let him light the hand rolled cigarette for me. The yellow chamois tobacco pouch lay in his lap. He blew out the match and tossed it away smoking. Nearby us a Japanese girl was playing with a red ball. The man in the greatcoat said he’d picked her up in the Empty Lands. I asked what that was, and where. He said: It’s a barren place, mostly just grasses and low hills, but sometimes you see a broken tower, or even a dome that turns out to be a ruined astral observatory. I asked him what other creatures he had met there. He said: A blue eyed coyote. A big raven holding a red thread in its beak. A few white owls. And this little girl here. She was walking around dazed. I took her along with me although I didn’t know where I was heading. Eventually we reached a kind of ampitheater. We walked around it. There were old broken statues in niches. It was twilight, but it’s always twilight in the Empty Lands. I saw bats shooting overhead. Then I saw a shooting star. It was night. The starry sky was vast and it took my breath away. But it didn’t look real. It was different than the starry sky here on earth. I tried to find the constellations. Couldn’t. Where was the Big Dipper? Orion? Gone. In their place were other stars in other relationships.
I asked him where he’d lost the arm. He said: At the Somme. It was probably still there. In the mud. Maybe the rats ate it. He laughed. The little girl dashed to us and crawled onto his lap. I asked her name. The man in the greatcoat said he didn’t know; didn’t even know his own. I asked the little girl where her parents where. She said, In a car. In a car where? The girl’s eyes looked at me. Upside down, she said. Then she jumped from the lap and dashed off, her bare legs red from the cold. I sat down next to the man in the greatcoat. I asked: Do you feel anything strange is happening here? He laughed. Who knows? It was strange to see my arm lying in the mud. After that, nothing seemed strange.
I asked how he’d thought to come back. He drew in a hiss of air through his nostrils. Then laughed. Thought? Yes, I said, picking a shred of tobacco from my lips. He shook his head slowly. He bit his lower lip, released it. Then he said. I really don’t know. We walked around for what seemed like years. Then I saw a town. In the distance. There was a beach, a boardwalk, like Atlantic City. A big lit up ferris wheel. There were people, eating ice cream. They were strangely dressed. A man playing an accordion, with a monkey jumping around holding out a hat for coins. It felt like home. We walked into the ocean, the little girl and I. We stood there in the waves. It felt good. Clean. Cool. We were both laughing. When we came back we got on a small train. When we got out of the train, here we were.
Deadly “Akiko” retires from killing to restore a Zen temple on a remote island off Japan. But violent people won’t let her alone.
THE LONELINESS OF THE BLUE-EYED ASSASSIN (originally titled AKIKO’S FURY) is the first in a planned series of crime thrillers dealing with the life of a half-Japanese half-American young woman who also happens to be a highly paid assassin code-named Akiko.
Born in Okinawa to a heroin-addicted American ex-Marine and a Japanese bar girl, the blue-eyed, black-haired Molly Vance grew up in San Francisco until age nine, when her father died mysteriously. She was then brought to Tokyo and raised by her father’s friend, a yakuza gangster.
As a teenager, she was trained in martial arts by the head of an ancient cult of tattooed female assassins called the Habu Kurage, or Medusas. Following her adopted father’s death in a yakuza war, Molly went on a bloody rampage, destroying the entire rival yakuza clan.
Still later, after more intensive training by the head of the Medusas, she began working worldwide for a shadowy group known only as the Organization, and quickly gained renown as the deadliest woman alive.
But, after glimpsing an underlying pattern and suddenly realizing the Organization’s motives behind the “hits” she is assigned, Akiko risks it all to help one of her targets escape.
She then disappears from view, going to live in an abandoned mountain temple on a remote island off the coast of Japan.
Both the Organization and the Medusas are now determined to find Akiko — and kill her. Even worse, they have found a way to get to Molly through people in her past. To save their lives and her own, she must unleash all her fury.
In this novel Molly Vance, living under a false name, is busy restoring the ruined Zen temple as a way of purging her dark karma. At the same time she is falling in love with the remote island’s only policeman, a young man named Jiro Takagi, whom she begins to train in the sword.
One day she gets a letter from her adopted father’s former mistress. The woman’s teenaged daughter was kidnapped by Chinese gangsters on a trip to San Francisco and is being forced to work as a prostitute in a sleazy massage parlor.
Akiko travels to San Francisco to get the girl back and soon finds herself fighting for her life against a hired kung fu master. Though Akiko survives almost unscathed, retrieves the girl and returns to her island, the head of the Medusas has now gotten word of her whereabouts, and sends assassins.
After Takagi is badly hurt trying to save her life, Akiko realizes that she cannot run away any longer — that she must face her former teacher in a combat to the death.
“Akiko” is like a female Jason Bourne, James Bond, or Nicolai Hel (the reluctant assassin hero of Trevanian’s SHIBUMI). Each novel in the series is fast paced, cleanly written, and structured as cleanly as a Simenon mystery or an Ian Fleming Bond novel.
Though Akiko is the central character we get immersed in many other characters, places and situations, so each novel has its own mood and “feel,” and stands on its own.
This opening novel gives us Akiko’s painful backstory, shows her fighting like a fury to save her friends, and at the end launches her on a completely unexpected path.
A damaged but appealing protagonist whom I hope everybody will want to cheer on as she fights impossible odds using only her finely honed skills and wits, plenty of sharp martial arts action reminiscent of samurai and yakuza movies (including Tarantino’s KILL BILL 1 and 2 and just about anything by Takashi Mike), exotic settings, and strong, evocative, sensual writing. That’s about it.
Many readers have noted my “unconventional” approach to dialogue and sometimes also to indentation and punctuation.
In stark truth, I used to be much more “correct” about how I put together a piece of fiction. So correct, and so hyper-aware of real and imagined flaws, that I instantly destroyed just about everything I wrote.
Then, one fine day in 1992 or so, I read a generous excerpt from Cormac McCarthy’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES in Esquire. (This was at a time when big magazines were still publishing interesting stuff.)
At that instant, a light bulb flashed on over my head, as I began to see the possibilities open for sheer writing. I began to see that there is no necessary contradiction between action and poetry.
The great spaghetti Westerns, Hong Kong gangster and Japanese yakuza crime movies, for example, are lyrical as well as gritty and bloody.
MEXICAN KILLING BALLADS by Okamoto is available as a shocking and beautifully crafted little e-book from Amazon/Kindle.
How can you decide if you want to read this dark, gory, poetic and rather crazy little book of stories and micro-stories?
Do you like violence and mayhem told in a morose, sensitive, melancholy and lyrical way?
This despairing little book contains a “planed-down-to-bareness” story that is one of my own personal favorites of all I’ve written over the years: “The Coffin Maker’s Son.”