The Kaisho (Nicholas Linnear #4)


by Eric Van Lustbader

New York

AUTUMN

His name was Do Duc Fujiru, but everyone who knew him in Hollywood, Florida called him Donald True because all the forged papers he was using identified him by this name. Do Duc, a physically intimidating man, claimed that while his muscles came from his father, a Vietnamese martial arts expert, his inner spirit came from his mother. Not that anyone in Hollywood was that interested in his inner spirit or anyone else’s for that matter. At least, no one at the auto mechanic shop where he worked. In fact, Do Duc’s father was not Vietnamese at all.

At thirty-eight, he was the oldest mechanic there. While the younger mechanics all surfed in their spare time. Do Duc worked out at a gym and a martial arts dojo that, by his standards, was woefully inadequate, but better than nothing at all.

He was an exceedingly handsome man in a dark, exotic manner, charismatic to women, frightening to other men. He had thick blue-black hair and bold, explorer’s eyes. The sharp planes of his face gave him an aura he could intensify from deep inside himself when he deemed it necessary. What he was doing wasting his time in an auto shop was anyone’s guess, save for the fact that he quite obviously had an extraordinary affinity for vehicular devices. He could remake engines of any kind so that they far outperformed their factory specs.

In fact. Do Duc had chosen Hollywood because he could blend into the ethnic stew, could most easily remain anonymous within the grid of the bleak post-modern metroscape of endless strip malls, nearly identical housing developments and shoreline freeways.

He had been married for the past two years to a beautiful all-American woman named Hope. She was a tall, lithe, blue-eyed blonde, who had been born and raised in Fort Lauderdale. Besides adoring Do Duc, she was deeply in love with fast cars, fast food, and a life without responsibilities.

To Do Duc, who had been raised to treat the myriad responsibilities of adulthood with care and respect, she was like some gorgeous alien creature, unfathomable, a curiosity from a zoo whom he took to bed as often as he liked. In those moments, when her screams of ecstasy echoed in his ears, when her strong, firm body arched up uncontrollably beneath him, Do Duc came closest to finding life in America bearable.

But, in truth, those moments were fleeting.

He was in the bedroom of his ranch house, pulling on his oil-and grease-smeared overalls, when the front doorbell rang. It was a clear, hot late October morning, the sunlight already so strong it would have made a northerner’s eye sockets ache with the glare. He looked first at his wife, lying asleep on her stomach amid the rumpled bedclothes. He was abruptly overcome by a sense of distaste, all eroticism drained from the sight of her naked buttocks.

This feeling was not new to him. It was more like a toothache if not constant, then recurring when one bit down on a roll. The sound of the doorbell came again, more insistent this time, but the woman did not stir.

Making a hissing sound in the back of his throat. Do Puc padded in his bare feet down the hall, through the kitchen and the living-room to open the front door.

There, a young Federal Express agent bade him sign his name on a clipboard, then handed him a small package. As the agent did so, he caught a glimpse of the image tattooed on the inside of Do Duc’s left wrist. It was a human face. The left side was skin-colored, its eye open; the right side was blue with dye, and where the eye should have been was a vertical crescent.

The agent gave an involuntary start, then recovered himself, and hurried off. Do Duc turned the package over. He saw that it had come from a store in London called Avalon Ltd. He offered a strange smile to the already insubstantial house around him.

With the door closed behind him, he unwrapped the package. Inside was a dark-bfue matt box within which he found a pair of socks swaddled in hunter-green tissue paper. The socks, green and white striped, had what seemed to be a pattern running down their outsides. Do Duc stepped into the kitchen where the sunlight slanted in through the large eastern-facing window.

It was then that he saw the words emerging from the pattern. They were in a vertical strip down the outside of each sock. PRIMO ZANNI, they said.

The packaging dropped from Do Duc’s hand, and he felt the slow thud of his heartbeat. He sat on an aluminum and plastic chair while he donned the green and white socks. Then he walked through the house, looking around each room as he passed through it, fixing them all in his mind.

At length, he returned to the bedroom. He went to his closet, pulled down his dusty overnight bag, thrust into it what he needed from the closet and his dresser drawers. He found it wasn’t much. In the bathroom, he did the same.

Back in the bedroom, he gave one swift glance toward his still sleeping wife before moving his dresser to one side. He took out a folding pocket knife, inserted the blade beneath the exposed edge of the carpet, pried it up.

He removed two lengths of floorboard he had sawn through when he had first moved into the house, before he had met Hope, and removed the old olive-metal ammo box. He opened this, pushed aside the cushioning wads of unmarked bills, plucked out a mask. It was a remarkable item. It appeared old and was hand-painted in rich, burnished black, with accents of green and gold on the cheeks, over the eyeholes and the lips. It was constructed of papier-mache, and depicted a man with a rather large nose, prominent brows and cheekbones, and a crowned forehead in the shape of a V. The mask ended just above where a person’s mouth would be. Do Duc held the mask as tenderly as he would the body of an infant.

“What’s that?” He started, looking around to find Hope sitting naked on the corner of the bed.

“What are you doing?” She ran a hand through her long blonde hair, stretching in that sinuous manner she had.

“It’s nothing,” he said, hurriedly thrusting the mask back into its incongruous container.

“It’s not nothing, Donald,” Hope said, standing up. “Don’t tell me that. You know I hate secrets.” She came across to where he was still crouched.

He saw her with the morning sun firing the tiny pale hairs along the curve of her arm, and the air around her exploded in a rainbow hue of arcs. The aura emanated from her, seemed to pulsate with the beat of her heart or the firing of the nerve synapses in her brain. Do Duc’s lips opened just a bit, as if he wanted to taste this aura with his tongue.

A sly smile spread across Hope’s face. “We’re supposed to tell each other everything. Didn’t we promise’ Do Duc drove the blade of the pocket knife into Hope’s lower belly and, using the strength coming up through the soles of his feet, ripped the knife upward through her flesh and muscle, and reached her heart.

He watched with a trembling of intensity as surprise, disbelief, confusion and terror chased each other across her face. It was a veritable smorgasbord of delicious emotions which he sopped up with his soul.

He stepped quickly back from the bright fountain of blood that erupted. A foul stench filled the bedroom.

Silence. Not even a scream. He had been trained to kill in this manner.

Do Duc looked down, staring at his wife’s viscera which gleamed dully in the morning light. Steam came off them. The iridescent coilsť seemed to him beautiful in both pattern and texture, speaking to him in a language that had no rules, no name.

The sight and the smell, familiar as old companions, reminded him of where, soon, he would be headed.

On the plane ride up to New York, Do Duc had time to think. He drew out the strip of color head-shots of himself he had taken in an automated booth in a mall where he had stopped on his way to the airport in Lauderdale. Then he put it away, along with his ticket stub, which was made out in the name of Robert Ashuko, and opened a copy of Forbes. While he stared at the text, he pulled out of memory the information he had memorized just after he had moved to Hollywood. It had been sent to him in a book of John Singer Sargent’s paintings, remarkable for the extraordinary sensuality of their women, the lushness of their landscapes.