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Amerikano Hiaika, (c) 1990 by Wil McCarthy, Part 1

Sidewalk crowds surged against him as he made his way down the street, and he resisted the urge to grab his head in both hands and scream himself blue. His clothing reeked of sweat and grime and sake, and was dark with accumulated soy-sauce stains. His body was reedy and thin. His brain was a messy Tanner/Geist jumble of thoughts and memories that didn't match up. His narrow arms were achingly sore, speckled with punctures and 'derm bruises.

The rage and frustration were hard to fight back. Geist was such a loser! A body like this, not a penny on him, and warrants out for his arrest!

Excuses floated up in his mind, but Tanner repressed them savagely. Billy Geist was the kind of dirtbag to whom shooting up a dose of Tanner seemed like a fun idea, a diverting way to spend the weekend. Tanner intended to see he got his money's worth.

How's this, Billy? He asked himself with naked hatred. How do you like the pain, the hollow emptiness where Karen used to be? It's like somebody pulling your teeth out, huh?

He clenched his fists, clenched his teeth, and continued walking despite the need to smash somebody full in the face. The pain and the hollow emptiness were quite simply unbearable. They sliced through his tangled thoughts like razors, driven deep by Tanner's one clear memory, the memory of Karen.

They had been walking together, Nick and Karen Tanner, along the dark streets that led back from Roppongi. He'd been too stingy to spring for a cab, too stupid to take the long way back, and too drunk to worry much about it. He could still hear the sounds; the strange and quiet slap of bare feet running on asphault, the coarse breathing of a man behind them. Karen's grunt of muddled astonishment as a rigid monofilament whipped through her torso diagonally from kidney to armpit.

Tanner remembered, too, the feeling as his flesh parted, as his neck became almost two separate things. There was a jolt, a flash, an electrical shock as the monowire flickered through his spinal column, but no other pain or discomfort. All that would come later. He had one final memory, though, perhaps the most terrible of all. It was another sound, the dull smack of Karen's top half hitting the pavement.

Things went down tough in Americatown.

Nick's head had lolled over, ragdoll-style, and the street had met him hard. The rest was merciful blackness.

Tanner groped through the crowd, grabbed at a bannister. A thin howl escaped him, and tears ran down his face like warmly flowing blood. Who? Who was it that had stolen away his wife, ended her existence with a flick of the wrist?

Who did it? WHO DID IT!! He tried to keep himself from screaming, but realized he was already doing it.

#

Nick belted back another Suntory and, with a sigh, set the shotglass down on the bar. He pretty much had his shit together now.

Billy-chan's look of scruffy helplessness had netted him nearly a thousand yen, hustling away salarymen's pocket change as they took their girlfriends and fiancees out for early Saturday dinner. It seemed the more prosperous Nips got a kick out of lording over down-and-out gaijin, particularly when they had a female on their arm. Doda, kakoii daro?

But he'd about drunk up that thousand, now, and it was time to get down to business.

He looked around him, looked at the lounge decor of mirrors and gray marble, and the blue-collar types trying morosely to enjoy themselves, and the bar girls pushing drinks and smiling their mannequin smiles of abstract welcome. The air was hung with blue garlands of cigarette smoke and the low staccato of murmured Japanese.

This was Osakejo, the bar Nick and Karen had been drinking at before... Before the murder. A block off from the fashionable Roppongi district, and two kilometers south of Americatown, the 'Jo was one of those increasingly rare establishments which catered to Tokyo's working class. No ice cubes mined from millennia-old glaciers, or shrimp snacks wrapped in gold leaf. Not in this joint. But it lacked, too, the sleazy crowds of the waterfront, and the bogus down-home good cheer of Americatown. It was a good bar, and Tanner had always liked it. God damn it all to hell.

He picked up the shotglass again and rapped it twice on the bartop. "Hey Inoue-san!" he said.

Behind the counter, the man named Inoue turned and looked sharply at him. "Omaesan itai daredane?" His face bore a strange expression, like a polite sort of contempt. He saw, of course, the filthy scarecrow called Billy Geist, sitting alone on this side of the bar because nobody wanted to get near him.

Tanner bowed his head a little, and made a belated attempt to look respectful. This man didn't know him.

"Sumimasen," he offered tentatively. "Chotto otazune shimasu."

Inoue frowned deeply, and set down the white cloth he'd been holding. "Question?" He asked with obvious irritation. "I, know, your question, already." (Inoue, like most Japanese, spoke English competently but with infuriating slowness). "You, want to know, about policeman's, wife, fu was killed, last month."

A feeling of discontinuity settled into Nick's mind. "How did you know that?" He demanded quietly. The shotglass slipped from his fingers, rolled back toward him, disappeared off the edge of the bar. When it smashed on the marble floor, he scarcely noticed.

"Iikagenhishite kure!" the bartender snapped, his face reddening. "You, gaijin, come here, always dirty. Always, ask, about policeman's wife. Tanna-san wa koko no otokuisan datta dakeda. They, were good people. You, go away."

"Go away?" Nick cried. "Why, who else has been here? What's going on?"

Inoue-san, almost purple with rage, reached across the countertop and grabbed the front of Billy-chan's oily gray shirt. "Wakatara. Deteittekure." The barman's voice was a malignant hiss, his words a genuine warning. Get out of here, understand? He gave a hard shove, and Nick rolled backward off his barstool and tumbled to the floor, leading with his left elbow. Pain exploded like a bomb.

Nick scrambled quickly to his feet, and grabbed his left arm in his right. Things were definitely not going as planned. He glowered at Inoue, but even a quick look was enough to tell him the man was seriously, seriously pissed off. With a sick, helpless feeling, Tanner headed for the door, pushed it open with his shoulder, and slipped out into the evening. Like a beaten dog.

God damn it! God damn it all to hell and back, he had to fucking be Billy Geist!

He grabbed a signpost, leaned against it, let the passing people brush by him. He inhaled a deep breath, held it. Exhaled. Felt the deep throbbing of his left arm. It was important that he stay cool.

Clearly, he wasn't going to get anywhere until he had a bath and a change of clothing. A haircut wouldn't hurt, but then neither would a few months of proper diet and exerscise. Dammit, he was under a death sentence! Geist's liver was working overtime, processing Nick out of the picture. In three days, four at most, he'd be nothing but impurities in Billy-chan's urine.

Hell, he'd wasted enough time already. Cradling his elbow against further harm, he waded into the crowd and headed uptown.


Click here for Part Two.

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