Tag Archives: An Overplayed Hand

An Overplayed Hand

The American sailor lay on his back. Naked from the waist down on the bed. The Japanese couple entered the hotel room. The woman was dressed neatly in robes. The man was dressed shabbily with unkempt hair on his face.  It was hard to tell his age, probably considerably older than the woman. She gently placed her satchel on a chair, then pulled off her robe and undergarment.
+++++No words were spoken as she crawled up on the sailor and sat on his erection. She lifted her hips, up and down, waiting for signs that her work was done.  Tears began to stream down the cheeks of the Japanese man who turned away slightly but was watching out of the corner of his eye.
+++++The sailor moaned and closed his eyes.
+++++The woman climbed off him and dressed herself. Her male companion continued to face away but he was wiping his eyes with a cloth.
+++++The sailor spoke in Japanese to tell the woman that the money was under the book on the dresser.  He added in English, “Tell your man he can’t come back if he cries.”
+++++She lifted the book and counted the bills carefully before folding them in her hand.  The crying man opened the door and the two visitors padded into the hallway.
+++++No pimp would cry in front of his trick. The sailor figured he was her husband or her father. He didn’t care. He hated the Japanese.  Seven years ago, he had spent the last months of The War as a prisoner on an island far south of this one. His crew had been tortured for meaningless information. Guards killed most of his buddies to keep the burden of prisoners down to a manageable number.  Killed in morbid extended rituals for the amusement of the warriors of Nippon.
+++++There was some daylight left and the sailor needed to go out to the restaurant. He hoped to walk back to the hotel before dark. The slums between the hotel and the restaurant made him nervous. This was Japan and he was playing against tricky people on their own court.
+++++He had jumped ship, a freighter going on further west, and couldn’t afford to get caught without papers. He was already at some risk by staying at a hotel that advertised to Americans.  A thorough search of his hotel room would turn up his reason for coming to Nippon. That would mean years in a prison. He needed passage on board a ship headed back across the Pacific. But first he had to hand over the reason for his trip to Japan.
+++++Someone would contact him at a certain restaurant during his evening meal and take the treasured relic off his hands.
+++++The sailor sat at the same table at the restaurant for three nights in a row, against the wall in a back corner where the ceiling hung low. He ordered the same meal. He washed it down with one cup of sake. The place was dimly lit.
+++++On the fourth evening in the restaurant, a well dressed older Japanese man and teen-age boy seated themselves next to his table under the low ceiling. Japanese diners usually gave him wide berth when selecting a table. He understood that foreigners were considered dirty by the Japanese.
+++++The man and the boy were served a small bowl of lumpy sauce inadequate for the large bowl of rice that arrived shortly after they sat down.
+++++The sailor heard something hit the worn bamboo floor. Something small.  The boy bent over and retrieved a figurine and placed it on the sailor’s table. He said something. The sailor knew enough Japanese to understand that the boy was asking him if the figurine belonged to him.
+++++The sailor picked up the item and looked at it with calculated nonchalance.
+++++He could see that it was a replica of the treasure hidden back in his hotel room. It was a netsuke of the same size and shape as the reason for his journey, but the color was different.  The carved turtle that the boy placed on his table had less fine features than the sailor’s smuggled netsuke which was white with a light brown coloring at the edges, stained dark in the intricate parts. A high priced artefact.
+++++His instructions were to handoff the netsuke to the person in Japan who showed him a matching turtle. The smuggled netsuke was carved from a wooly mammoth tusk and more than a couple of hundred years old, part of an original collection of five netsuke created to secure the sash of a long dead Japanese prince.  It was the last missing netsuke of a royal set. This piece would recomplete a collection which had been smuggled out of Japan during the occupation at the end of the War. Now, one by one, all five pieces had returned to Japan.
+++++The sailor handed the signal facsimile back to the boy. He told the pair that he would return for dinner tomorrow evening and show them a netsuke much like the one that the boy had found on the floor. The sailor paused and waited to be sure that the two understood the meaning of his Japanese.
+++++“Yes, okay,” the young man said handing the imitation netsuke back to the old man.
+++++The next afternoon, the sailor walked to the wharf a few blocks away. He found a ship that looked like it was leaving soon. The crew of a Mitsui freighter, the Daigen Maru, was busy bringing sacks of rice aboard from a truck. The sailor chatted with the crewmen and found that the ship was leaving for Seattle in three days with a load of raw silk and rubber picked up in Hong Kong. The sailor found the mate in charge and booked on as a passenger. He got a chit for his deposit and departed the docks for the restaurant.
+++++Back in Seattle, the sailor was to collect the back end of his payment for this job. The amount was much larger than Migaki had ever paid him but well deserved. The sailor had to jump a ship’s crew and hide out in Japan without proper papers in order to deliver a national treasure. Migaki told him the Japanese authorities suspected the netsuke was coming to the homeland soon.
+++++The payday would buy the sailor his dream, an old seiner docked in Seattle.  He intended to fish up and down on the west coast of Alaska. The boat’s owner had fallen to cancer. His widow was selling cheap. The sailor had made the down payment using all his savings. Migaki’s payment was nearly sufficient to finish purchasing the boat. The sailor would need a little luck to dig up the remainder. He thought he might have figured out a way to be lucky.
+++++He arrived early at the restaurant.
+++++The old Japanese man and the lad came in and sat at the table next to him.
+++++The sailor pushed his food aside and extended his arms out on the table with palms up. The valuable ivory netsuke was in his left hand.
+++++The boy rose and stepped to the sailor’s table. The kid pulled out his imitation netsuke and set it on the table.  Then he reached for the original but the sailor closed his hand before the boy could pick up the valuable piece of ivory.
+++++The young man swiveled his head to look at the older man then back at the sailor.
+++++The sailor advised that he wanted a specific amount of yen in exchange for the netsuke in his closed hand.
+++++The boy spoke in a crisp tone, “Mr. Migaki has received our payment.”
+++++The sailor was free-lancing for an out-of-contract bonus that didn’t involve Migaki. The sailor repeatedly curled his fingertips of his unlocked hand to make his point clear.
+++++In a quick motion, the boy raised a thin bladed dagger above his head then drove the blade down penetrating the open palm of the sailor’s hand. The point stuck into the wood table top beneath. The blade anchored the sailor’s hand in its place on the table top. Blood squirted from around the puncture.
+++++The sailor froze a moment before he opened his other hand to grip the dagger handle that had been abandoned by the teen-age boy. The old ivory netsuke dropped out onto the table top. The boy snatched it up and followed the older man who was already making his way to a back door.
+++++The sailor shut his eyes and tugged on the knife grip with his free hand.  After wiggling the handle back and forth, he was able to pull the blade from the wood table top and his hand.  The pain made him gurgle but he did not scream out.
+++++No one in the restaurant had seen the incident. The sailor wrapped his bleeding hand with a cloth napkin.  An American with a bloody hand would be of interest to the locals. He was feeling weak but placed his wounded hand in the pocket of his wool coat and made an effort to walk normally out of the restaurant. He leaned against a wall outside in the street. He forced himself to continue the walk. The sailor crossed back and forth on the street in order to stay in the shadows as he stumbled back to the hotel. He rested a moment outside the door before entering.
+++++The sailor stopped at the front desk and asked the clerk to send someone to help him at his room.
+++++Back in the room, he flopped on the hotel bed and breathed long and deep.
+++++After some time there was a knock at the door.
+++++The sailor rose and slowly pulled the door ajar. It was the hooker and her old man.
+++++“You need help, please?”
+++++The sailor realized that the desk clerk had misunderstood his request, “help” did not mean sex. He waived off the woman, then reconsidered. He called out for her to return. She shuffled inside leaving her man in the hall.  The sailor unwrapped his hand to show her the wound. She furrowed her eyebrows but did not react otherwise.
+++++The sailor conveyed his need for antiseptic and some wrap. She opened the door and spoke some orders to the old man who stepped quickly down the hall.
+++++She shut the door and took the sailor over to a table. The hooker pulled a cloth and bottle of water from her satchel.  She washed the puncture and applied a dark red ointment to the wound holes. Her fingers pushed the stuff into the holes with sufficient pressure to make the sailor cry out.
+++++A knock at the door. The old man came in carrying a bundle of gauze. The hooker wrapped the damaged hand.  The sailor pulled out a pint of whiskey from his back pocket and drank the bottle to half empty.
+++++The sailor asked the hooker to return the following night, with more bandage. She agreed. He held out a handful of yen. She took it, bowed and left the room.
+++++The hand festered and swelled up over the next several hours. When the hooker came again, the hand was mottled with dark spots.
+++++She gasped at the sight of the hand without the bandage. She was silent for a moment before telling the sailor what he already suspected. The infection in his hand would kill him.
+++++The mariner wasn’t sure if he could walk the six blocks to where the Daigen Maru was docked. He hoped for a medic on board the ship. He was afraid to go to a clinic. Papers might be required.
+++++The hooker spoke a couple of very fast sentences to the old man. He nodded.
+++++She pointed to her man and said, “Jinriksha”.
+++++“Him?” the sailor nodded at the old man.
+++++The Japanese man raised his hand as if to volunteer.
+++++The hooker quoted a price. It was more than a fat tourist and his wife would be bilked for a rickshaw ride, but the sailor took the deal. He didn’t dare to bring any more attention to himself outside on the street.
+++++“Half now, half at the ship,” he told the hooker who received his down payment and led the old man into the hallway. She told the sailor to go to wait in front of the hotel. The door shut behind her.
+++++The sailor packed his duffel. His clothes were packed around the collection of gears he had purchased from a shop on the dock here in Japan. His new boat needed these parts.
+++++He gripped is duffel with his good hand and walked past the front desk into the narrow street. After a few moments, the hooker’s old man pulled up with well used rickshaw.  The sailor stepped up and sat on the hard seat with his duffle bag on his lap. The whiskey bottle was empty and his hand was exploding with pain. Six blocks was a long bumpy ride on cobblestones.
+++++The old man took a route that stayed on dark unpopulated streets. When they got to the freighter, the sailor stepped down from the rickshaw and handed some yen to the Japanese man.  The old man didn’t say anything. He turned and trotted off into the night. The sailor swung his duffel over his shoulder and inserted his damaged hand into his coat pocket. He bit his lip to distract from the pain and walked on board the freighter.
+++++The sailor noted that the ship was older than he had first deemed but seemed to be tight and tidy. He made his way to the bunk room and found the man to whom he had paid the money for passage. He asked if the ship had a medic. The crewman shook his head from side to side. The sailor pulled out his wrapped hand. A dark fluid was soaking through the bandage. The crewman opened his eyes wide and nodded affirmatively. He trotted off. The sailor rolled onto a bunk.  He held his wounded hand by the wrist and waited. It would not be his hand much longer.
+++++After an hour, a new man came in the room and asked the sailor for a look at his wound. After some observation, he told the sailor that the hand required amputation. The sailor pointed at the hand then at the man. The new man refused the task until the sailor pulled out a bundle of yen and waived it under his nose. A deal was struck.
+++++The new man had served in a Japanese field hospital during the war. He was experienced at amputation. That lucky fact might save the patient’s life.
+++++The American sailor’s disdain for the Japanese didn’t suspend for this medic. The Asian was filthy and smelled of old sweat mixed with the stench of whatever it was these people ate. The dark signs of gangrene were plainly showing in his swollen hand. It hurt like hell. He was sure that the hooker had poisoned the wound or the young man in the restaurant had contaminated his dagger blade. But it didn’t matter now.
+++++The medic had only a small scalpel in his bag of tricks, nothing that would cut through a wrist bone. He left the room for the ship’s work bench and took down a hack saw.  He removed the blade and ran it up and down in a bottle of iodine. After washing his hands with the same iodine, he reinstalled the blade and returned to his patient with the hack saw hidden in a paper sleeve.
+++++The sailor was laid out on the crew’s dining table. The medic began a drip of chloroform falling into a cloth placed on the sailor’s face.  After the sailor passed out, the medic signaled his mate to take over the chloroform drip. When his hands were free, the medic placed a rope noose around the wrist of the gangrenous hand.  He jerked it tight.  A third crew member pinned the sailor’s arm down on the table. The medic used the scalpel to cut away tissue down to the bones. Then he began sawing. He paused his stroking back and forth in order to check the patient’s pulse. The strokes resumed at the same steady pace but quickened just before the hand detached.
+++++The medic cauterized the end of the stump with the red hot blade of a knife heated with a torch. He moved quickly with efficiency that comes from experience. The stench of burnt flesh was heavy in the room. The medic was soaked in perspiration and dotted with blood and bits of human bone on his face and clothing.
+++++After the amputation, the medic fed the patient some stupefying drug. The sailor was dazed for the next 24 hours.  He came out of his stupor on the morning the Daigen Maru was about to pull away from the dock.
+++++The rain had ceased and the sun shone through the window hatch. The sailor sat up on the side of his bunk.  The bleeding had stopped but the bandage was yellow with draining fluids.
+++++He thought about his one-handed future. He was a proud man. The sailor meant to be the feared captain of his own fishing boat. But he would also be the bosun, a stacker and at times, the only deck hand when the skiff man was out tending the nets.  He’d be a deck hand with one hand. A joke. The sailor’s dream suddenly seemed far-fetched. He had been a fool. A fool was not worthy to captain a ship, even a fishing boat.
+++++He stood up and gently eased into his coat. The sailor buttoned the coat all the way up to his neck using the fingers of his remaining hand. He pushed his feet into his boots and grabbed the duffel before kicking the door open and walking out onto the ship’s deck. He stood against the railing and looked back through the mist at the mountains of Honshu, dark and shadowy in clinging fog.
+++++Then the sailor who hated the people of this land, immersed himself in Japanese tradition for just a moment.  He raised the duffel to his chest and closed his good arm tightly around the heavy bag before plunging feet first overboard. He did not cry out during the fall nor resist his entry into water. The splash was shaded by the adjacent freighter. There was underway noise and crew was too busy minding the departure of the ship to have noticed. It would not have mattered anyway. He couldn’t be saved. The sailor sunk quickly, propelled downward by his missing hand.