Short Story: “Sushi to Go,” by James H. Peterson III

“Sushi to Go,” by James H. Peterson III

For Aziraphale and Crowley

1.

It began, or part of it began, near a motel in Salt Lake City. Several people had a very bad day. It was the sort of bad day you often dream about after you have seen a vivid and violent movie coupled with Cajun food. This bad day differed for most of the participants because they never awoke from the dream. Sensational movies, serious documentaries, and both good and bad books were written about this bad day.

Two young men were arrested and charged with crimes they did not commit. One of the young men never said anything, not even to his lawyer. The other young man confessed to everything the police told him he’d done. The police had told him what he did so many times and showed him so many pictures that he had come to believe, convinced by his nightmares, that he had, in fact, done the crimes. He dreamt of the slaughtered cheerleaders, the blood stained money. He dreamt of the motel manager in his sloth and the crisp clean mini-market across the dusty street, and the once pretty, now dead cashier. Most of all, he dreamt of the little girl, that one that had come to the motel with her uncle. Once the dreams started to produce prolonged insomnia, the confessing young man went onto confess to every sin he could remember. That same young man’s lawyer later tried to use the fact that the confessing young man also confessed to being James Earl Files’ back-up shooter to make the point that this client was no longer dealing with reality in any coherent fashion. The judge disallowed this evidence, and the confessing young man and his friend were subsequently given due process, and multiple life sentences. No one on the jury was bothered by the fact that none of the physical evidence placed the young man at any of the murder scenes. He had confessed, and that was the main fact presented at his trial. Later on, almost no one would remember that the young man’s lawyer had been out of law school for less than one year, and had never argued a capital case before.

Somewhere fifteen hundred miles east, Mary Smith put down the Courier-Journal newspaper in disgust. She and her husband John had become involved with The Innocence Project after John had picked up a copy of “The Innocent Man,” by John Grisham that one of John’ students had left in his classroom. Neither of them realized at first that the novel was a non-fiction account of Ron Williamson’s life. Williamson spent 11 years on death row, more than once coming close to the last terminal show, before being cleared by DNA evidence.

Mary had been motivated to enter law school and had finished with the distinctions that only come from ignoring everything else in your life save the winning of distinctions. John had remained a history professor and continued with surgical precision pointing out death tolls, casualty counts, the logic of blood debts, the cyclical nature of violence, and the long-term consequences of this or that war to whichever of his students managed to stagger into his seminars.

Mary stood, smoothed her red, orange, and yellow sundress before walking through their apartment to the bathroom. She inhaled the cold crisp winter morning air breezing through one open kitchen window of the fourth floor Cherokee Road apartment. She remembered how that same breeze would carry the smell of coffee and Indian food from the streets below. Stopping just before the open bathroom door, she cast a critical eye over her husband.

“We are going to be late,” she said.

John finished the stroke of his razor before turning to her. One-half of his face was covered in shaving cream.

“Right, let’s go,” he said.

Mary rolled her eyes.

“Just my luck,” John said turning back to the mirror and eyeing his work. “I find the one woman in the whole city that takes less time to get ready than me, and I have to go and marry her.”

Mary foldered her arms and continued looking at her husband.

“A sundress in winter?” John asked.

Mary smiled as she stepped backward and flashed him her woolen under wear.

2.

It began, or part of it began, a little less than two miles west of Mary Smith in her sunset colored sundress. In a shotgun house on Samuel Street, Jobab Jabes Miller, loaded rounds into the magazine for his Tariq 7.65mm pistol. Jo did not think while he did this. Jo had not thought much since his family had gone away.

Every now and then, Jo would come out of his reverie and realize he had washed dishes, or been to work at the corrugated box factory, or had been out for an evening’s walk and had walked clear outside of the county. Then, and only for a brief time did Jo wonder about how little conscious thought was required to get through the day.

Jo thought even less since he had resolved to join his family. Jo wrote out the following note and left it on the living room coffee table.

I do not want to be famous.

I just want to be with my family again.

–Jobab Jabes Miller

Jo stood, walked to the coat rack beside the door, then stopped. He went to the mirror on the mantel and turned it around. He walked into his wife’s room (he never slept in there anymore), and turned her mother’s full-length mirror to face the wall. In the bathroom, Jo covered the wall-mounted medicine cabinet mirror with a towel. As he traveled through the house, he pulled all the blinds down and drew all the shades. Jo paused for a moment in the darkened livingroom and stared down at the hardwood floor, that he and his wife stripped and refinished the weekend after they had moved in. His wife always maintained that was the same weekend that they had conceived their son.

Jo tried to imagine his son kicking his soccer ball in the room, using the never used and well scrubbed fire place for a goal. Jo tried to remember showing a younger toddling version of his son how to kick the ball, using the insides soles of the feet. Jo tried to remember the sound of his wife’s voice.

Jo could not remember anything.

After stepping out onto the porch, he came back in for his coat, picked up the Tariq, placed it in his coat pocket and left the house again. He did not bother locking the front door.

On the porch, he picked up the two thirds empty gallon jug of purified water he had bought a week ago. He poured out what remained of the water into the street, between the parked cars.

“Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam, dayan ha’emet,” Jo said aloud once. He repeated it over and over in his mind as he capped and returned the plastic gallon jug to the porch.

Jo had tried hard in the last few weeks to remember all the rituals, to remember everything he was supposed to do. He felt a great deal of pain whenever he tried to remember, so he had stopped trying to remember anything. His wife had been part of the Chevra Kadisha. She had sat with many, and no one had sat with her, or with their son. Jo had tried to gain access to them in the county morgue, Taharah must be preformed. The Chevra Kadisha had tried, even though they told him it would be a futile effort. The police, the coroner, the laboratories, all had to do their work. It had been weeks before their bodies were laid to rest in Saint Michael Cemetery.

Returning to the sidewalk, Jo turned right away from his gray stone house, and headed southeast, down Samuel Street in the midday mists. He paused before crossing Spratt Street while a large Ford pick-up with a set of double rear wheels accelerated by him, drenching his pants with frozen ice water. He hurried across the road, and covered the last block to Texas Avenue. There he turned northwest and tried not to look at the obelisk crowned with a cross that stood just inside the cemetery gates at the end of Texas Avenue. Even in the freezing rain, the American Flag fluttered in the wind.

Jo stopped, brought himself to military attention, and saluted the flag. He then made the sign of the cross as he entered into the cemetery.

3.

It began, or part of it began, on the third day of the year. One angel and one demon sat in Café Mimosa drinking Mimosas. The restaurant did have a liquor license serve alcohol, but they did not make Mimosas. At least, they did not make Mimosas like these. These Mimosas gave you the sense of having one perfect moment with each drink. This did not matter. There are a few advantages to being a demon. For instance, there was always a table with a view and the wait staff never noticed them. Both the angel and the demon preferred it that way, especially since that cock-up at the motel in Utah which had gotten so very out of hand.

They had left Salt Lake for River City after the mess at the motel. The archangel Chrétien and under-lord Mania had arrived to clean it up and they were not pleased. Chrétien had taken them aside and told them, in a low, confidential tone, that management was not pleased. Mania took them aside and said that management was, in fact, well pleased. He even went on to add in a manic breath that it was ‘…important to see the big picture, and to be a team player in the context of this new world of customer-centric services, and that management wanted them to touch base with the humanity relations officer downstairs to talk about a generalized program to up-skill everyone in order to enable more win-win solutions of a similar nature…’

The angel, called Mick, liked Vietnamese food, and sat eating Pho Tai. The rare beef was medium well done and the noodles were under cooked. The demon, named Keith, sat toying with the last piece of Nigiri from his Osechi Ryori special. The demon was almost everything but a traditionalist. Keith liked to maintain appearances. It was all he could do with a name like his.

Neither one of them liked Chinese food.

This had been a major problem when they had been posted to Shenyang as advisors to Lin Tse-hsü, during the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. The dynasty did not collapsed so much as it imploded after the loss of the First Opium War and the subsequent Taiping Rebellion placed Hóng Xiùquán in power. The angel and the demon had both received medals of commendation and a hundred years of solitude for their efforts. Mick had taken up oil painting and studied under Jacques-Louis David. Keith had spent most of his time hanging around with Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, telling him stories about the good old days, which had not yet happened, and handing Herr Gutenberg tools whenever he asked for them. When Mick and Keith met up again just in time to work for the newly elected President Andrew Jackson, neither one of them could explain why their side had been so happy with their work.

“What do you think went wrong in Utah anyway?” Keith asked.

“It was the kid, the little girl,” Mick said.

“Oh, the cheerleaders got what they deserved-”

“No, the little girl, the one that came in with her uncle,” Mick interrupted. “That was it- that pushed it over the line.”

“Yes, you’re right,” Keith agreed, stuffing the last piece of Nigiri sushi into his mouth. “My people have never been keen on hurting children.”

Mick gave Keith a long cold stare, something that angels are particularly good at.

Keith ignored him. If there is anything that demons are good at, it’s ignoring angels. That, and both looking and sounding so much like a used car salesman that they can often not only sell you a stolen used car, but also the car you drove up in.

“I’m sorry,” Mick, said, “I had this silly little idea that your people were behind those little fiascos called the Holocaust and the Inquisition?”

“Which ones do you mean specifically?” Keith asked feigning innocence by snapping another drink into one hand, while waving his dirty dishes out of existence with the other. “There’s been more than one of each you know.”

“You know damn-,” Mick coughed. “You know which ones I mean.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Keith replied sipping his drink, “we always get the rap for those. Look, xenophobia, and religious zealotry are fine things generally, but hurting children is never good for long-term evil. You need adults for long-term evil. Seriously, look at what the kids did that grew up in the kind, loving arms of the Hitler-Jugend and the Hitlerjugend.”

“I doubt that many people would agree with that argument,” Mick said looking over at a young mother and her daughter waiting for their take out order. A little old Asian lady with mid-neck length black hair was handing them their order. Her face was set in a tight, but friendly smile.

Keith shrugged.

“Maybe,” he said. “But some of those boys in Hitlerjugend were the first ones to join the Hitler-Jugend in the 1920s and good G-d what they did in Poland, France, and Russia in the ‘40s.”

“I’m just glad all that’s over,” Mick said.

Keith choked on his drink.

“Over? You think that shit’s over?”

“Hey, isn’t that Mot over there?” Mick asked with obvious relief pointing to a slender pale man who looked even paler for having a Middle Eastern complexion and thinning gray hair who had just walked in the back door.

The little old Asian lady with her natural tan and smooth manners looked rather young in comparison to the newcomer.

“The Angel of Death?”

“No, the other one, the he’s the angel-no-but-yes-I-use’ta’-be-a-celestial-being guy of Death ain’t my thing anymore ’cause I got religion now. I wonder what’s he doing here?”

“Probably came to see the cats next door,” Keith said.

“That is a tasteless stereotypical comment and not the sort of thing that I want to-“

“What? There is a vet’s office next door. Didn’t you notice it? I parked right in front of the sign that said Fairleigh Pet Center Parking Only, or something like that anyway.”

“I haven’t seen Mot in ages,” Keith said waving him over to their table, “and I keep my eyes shut most of the time when you drive.

Mot waved back.

“Oh great, just what I never wanted,” Mick said, “a convert.”

“Hello,” Mot said as he came up to the table, sat down, and looked at the traffic on the street outside through the fish tank. “Are you here for the show?” he asked unpacking his take-out order.

“Show?” Mick asked.

“Yeah, what show?” Keith demanded. “We’re usually the show and I ain’t talked with my agent today.”

“Oh, it promises to be fun,” he said airily. “Should bring about reporters and policemen and everything. I was going to go across the street and watch from the other side of the large glass window, but here is good enough.”

4.

It continued, or part of it continued, in the back seat of a Yellow Cab which was somewhere between the River City International Airport and Café Mimosa. Ryan Ridge sat in the backseat of the cab alternately flipping through his notebook and trying to consign the NO SMOKING sign to the purifying flames of pyrokinesis. Neither industry was working out for him. He had never been much good at reading in the car and reading his own handwriting was sometimes a wasted effort when he was standing still. Now, after almost three years in Irvine, California, he longed for the relative freedom of smoking in public again, even if it was only outside. He looked out the window at the near freezing drizzle. There were few places on Earth that could compare to the Ohio Valley for weather that was not quite snow, rain, or ice storm. The sky slid between gray and bright white, depending on the cloud patterns. Ridge thought about how nice it was to be back home. Home in a city where the cabbies ignored you and never tried to give you a copy of their manuscript. That fact alone almost made-up for the schizophrenic weather.

Ridge tried to focus on his notes from his one telephone call from Mary Smith, and cussed himself for not remembering the print-out of the long and detailed e-mail that John had sent. Ridge would not even allow himself to think about having left his laptop back in his office on campus. He had been in the air over Arizona when he had remembered. The phone call from the airline phone to the GTA with whom he shared the office had cost him $24.00.

Ridge tried to focus and read:

Thomas A. Pierce, 39, Pleasure Ridge Park. Pierce was involved in gang-related activities and drug trafficking until his arrest at the age of 19, on rape charges that were later reduced to aggravated assault. After serving 5 years, his life was apparently straight. Ten years later, working as a janitor, a murdered woman and her son were found in the back seat of Pierce’s car by the building’s security guard. Chava Sarai Miller and Seth Abel “Sam” Miller, ages 33 and 5- their death caused by multiple stab wounds. Pierce was convicted 1 year later mainly because of his prior record rather than any actual evidence. Pierce was later released after four years on death row. Pierce’s conviction was overturned after a another death row inmate’s confession forced a reexamination of the physical evidence, which the Innocence Project had been arguing for three years.

Ridge reread the mini-biography again, and thought about what a miserable experience that must have been. The Smiths had contacted Ridge soon after Pierce’s release to discuss the possibility of his writing a non-fiction account of this man’s experience. Ridge was not big on non-fiction, but his Irvine thesis project was not going how he wanted it to, and he was seriously considering throwing it out, in-favor of just about anything. One of the many things he wanted to do in life besides write was found a Neo-Gonzo Journalism school of thought and work. Perhaps a non-fiction work might be the perfect springboard to start with after all.

The cab stopped in front of Café Mimosa at a little before noon. The clouds had parted, taking the misty rain with them, allowing the sun a brief visit to the asphalt and concrete. Ridge paid the driver, stepped out of the cab, and lit a cigarette. Smoothing his “Han shot first!” t-shirt and adjusting his well-worn blazer, he turned to face the sunlight, letting the smoke linger in his mouth, before making a slow controlled exhale.

Irvine is great, he thought, but smoking outside is bliss.

Ridge turned a second time and looked inside the old familiar restaurant. The front area was empty and so was the Sushi bar. One old, pale Middle Eastern-looking man sat at one of the tables in the raised closed-in area that had been the former smoking section before the city enacted a restaurant and bar smoking ban. Ridge had some choice feelings on that subject, but time in Southern California, which was rapidly burning down from a lack of National Guardsmen being in the country had softened his stance somewhat. The Middle Eastern looking man was visible through the window, but the two men that he sat with were obscured by the large fish tank that sat atop the wall surrounding the former smoking area. Later, Ridge could never accurately describe the other two men.

Ridge was hot-boxing his second cigarette when his phone rang.

“Hey Mary,” he said after looking at the Caller ID.

“I’m sorry, we are going to be late,” Mary Smith said. “John just finished shaving and has now decided he doesn’t like the tie and shirt combination.”

“No worries,” Ridge said, “I’ve got five more hours on this layover before I got to catch another plane up to Hancock International.”

“Pardon?”

“Sorry,” Ridge said. “That’s the airport in Syracuse.”

“It must suck having an entire country between you and your girlfriend,” Mary said. “Then again, I wonder if it wouldn’t help John dress faster sometimes .”

“Nah, no way,” Ridge said. “Besides, you’d just come home to months of dirty laundry.”

Mary laughed, passed on some gossip about mutual friends, and hung up.

Ridge smoked another cigarette, ogled a few teenaged joggers, and went inside the restaurant. Settling into one of the tables on the raised platform in the front of the restaurant, by the large window, he ordered hot tea and five different sushi rolls, and settled down to wait, listening to the contemporary piano music playing in the background.

5.

It continued, or part of it continued, in the middle row of small gravestones in the far southeast corner of the cemetery when Jo bent down to scrape the ice off one long gravestone.

The Miller Family

Jobab Jabes │ Chava Sarai │ Seth Abel

Jo tried to think of something to say. He had been trying to think of something to say all morning. He pulled his wedding ring off his finger, and placed it between his wife’s first and middle names. He stood and wondered why he had not thought to bring an offering to his son’s memory. He stood there a few more moments before he took the Tariq out of his coat pocket and ejected the chamber. The metal of the pistol turning cold and biting his fingers, Jo removed the first round and placed it inside the vertical depression of the t of his son’s name. After standing, he reinserted the clip into the pistol, chambered a round, and placed the safety to lock the trigger.

He stood looking from the ring to the bullet and back again before turning away from his family. He made his way to the North side of the cemetery and made his exit through a hole in the fence that he had found one day when he and his wife had been walking in the cemetery while she was pregnant.

~ * ~

Jo entered Café Mimosa through its back door, traveled along the long hallway that passed the storage room and kitchen, and passed through a second door that opened behind the former smoking section. A few of the tables in the former smoking section had customers. One young man was talking about something that required expansive hand gestures, while his young lady companion look bored.

A Middle Eastern man with thinning gray hair caught Jo’s attention for a moment as he stood waiting to be seated. He wondered if the man of was of Syrian or Jordanian extraction.

When the waiter asked him where he wanted to sit, Jo froze.

What am I doing here?

“Sir?”

Jo shook his head and pointed to a table between the fish tank and the front window section.

With only a curt nod, Jo sat down at a table with a good view of the Smiths, Ridge, and the fourth empty chair. He turned his back to the Middle Eastern man and immediately forgot about him.

Jo nodded for both water and tea, sending the waiter away. He made a pretense of looking through the menu, knowing full well he would not order anything from this unKosher kitchen. Laying the menu down in front of him, Jo slipped the Tariq 7.65mm pistol onto his lap, pushed off the safety, and covered the pistol with his napkin.

Jo watched the lawyer, the professor, and the writer, and waited.

6.

It continued, or part of it continued, back in the former smoking section of Café Mimosa. Mot had just finished catching Mick and Keith up on the story.

“Well, I’ll be angelic,” Keith, said, while Mot went to order more Crab Rangoon from the little old Asian lady. “That is one pretty messed-up-setup.”

“At least this one isn’t our fault,” Mick said. “That’s a nice change.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Keith said while washing his hands with liquid hand sanitizer. “I’m sure people will blame us one way or another. You know, that old stand by, Why didn’t G-d step in and make it stop, or my personal favorite, The devil made me do it. I really love that one. I mean, there is only one devil, the supreme spirit of evil – Mr. S. L. Devil himself. We demons do all the heavy lifting and he gets all the credit. I mean seriously, I have never once heard a sermon about me and I’ve been working around here for close to the last quarter million years!”

“Pardon,” Mick interrupted, “it has only been about fifty thousand, thank you.”

“We were working on the last bunch and besides,” Keith said with an expansive gesture, “I personally came up with the idea of the dinosaur bones. I waited a long time for that pay off.” Keith’s grin widened to the point that his lizard tongue was visible. “Did you see the gun?”

“No,” Mick said putting his hands in his pockets and looking at the table. “I don’t have to, I know it is there.”

“Shame you can’t get involved,” Keith said, “and me, me, I don’t want to.”

7.

It ended, or part of it ended, when Mary Smith picked up her beeping cell phone and read:

S2S CRAFT PDS CID TBL MTFBWU

Mary took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and put down her phone.

“What’s the matter, dear?” John asked, his eyes looking about the restaurant.

“Stock market crash?” Ridge asked in that sort of way that people do when they think that a yes answer will provide a lot of entertainment. He leaned back in his chair and added, “Shit, I got nothing to lose.” Ridge picked up his birthday Zippo off the table. The engraving read A. M. F., circled by an extravagant heart design.

“Pierce is not coming,” Mary said, pronouncing each word as if it were an advocacy.

“What?” Ridge exclaimed slamming his chair down. “Not coming? What?”

John took a deep breath. He had taken that same deep breath several million times before in his graduate seminars, just before two graduate student were about to fight over whether or not Richard Nixon was or was not a worse president than G. W. Bush. John continued to look around the restaurant. John wondered again why it was that no one ever argued about John Fitzgerald Kennedy; the man who blundered two wars, brought the globe closer to nuclear annihilation than anyone else in history, and sold generations of Americans on the idea that America had to protect the entire world, was the worst president since Andrew Jackson. John’s eyes settled on Jo Miller.

Jo Miller saw John Smith look at him, and he dropped his eyes to the table. He intently stared at the tea pot. Jo gave the engraved picture of a Chinese Cloud Dragon descending from the skies all the intent passionate attention that a sycophant gives its object.

“Great, that’s just great,” Ridge, said doing a drum rip on his skinny stomach. “I could have been in Syracuse already. What the hell? He get pinched for something?”

Mary shrugged and tossed Ridge her cell phone.

“What’s this fucker’s phone number,” Ridge demanded randomly punching buttons on Mary’s phone. “Geez,” he said staring at the screen, “I think I just dialed up a nuclear strike on the Kingdom of Norway.”

John leaned forward and took Mary’s phone away from Ridge and handed it back to her.

“Got some Scandinavian issues?” Mary asked, her eyes narrowing.

“As a matter of fact, I can’t stand those pretentious peaceniks-“

“Shut up,” John said. “The both of you.”

Mary turned her head at an angle and looked at her husband.

Ridge tossed his arms up and locked his fingers behind his head.

“Mary,” John said, “look at the table just in front of us.”

Mary looked.

Ridge watched as Mary’s face settled into the grim determined hardened lines of bureaucracy. It was the face that was often referred to as expressionless, despite the fact that it contained more expression then anyone ever wanted to see. That face contained everything but the hope that there was anything to be done about your case. It was the face that functionaries the world over had refined to show nothing more than grim determination to be ride of their interlocutor. It was the face that Franz Kafka inked ten thousand words to capture.

John nodded towards Jo for Ryan’s benefit.

“That there,” John said in a whisper, is “Chava Miller‘s husband.”

“And little Sam’s father,” Mary added, almost to herself.

“The guy with the funny name?” Ridge asked pitching his voice into a low registor while not looking away from Mary’s face. “The one that lost his family?”

Mary nodded.

“Does he still think that Pierce did it?” asked.

John said nothing.

Marry shrugged.

“Well Hell,” Ridge said. He looked out the window and saw the same teenaged joggers returning from their turnabout. “We only live once,” he muttered as he stood up, and turned for Jo’s table.

John began to standup and restrain Ridge, but heeded to Mary’s grasp on his arm. Looking at this with in mild astonishment, he sat back down.

Ridge jumped down the two steps that led to the raised platform and made a straight line for Jo Miller.

Jo Miller sat still, frozen, his hand gripping the pistol through his dinner napkin.

“How the hell are you, man?” Ridge said pulling out a chair and flopping into it. His elbow hit the untouched teapot, sending it over off its cradle.

Hot, steaming tea rushed across the table, flooding over the edge, landing in Jo’s lap.

Jo screamed in pain, attempted to stand, and fell backwards.

The Tariq discharged.

Ridge sat stunned, his ears momentarily deafened by a low continuous hum. The stench of sulfur and potassium nitrate irritated his eyes and nose. Looking down, he saw Jo Miller fumbling underneath one of the tables behind him.

Ridge slowly stood-up to see Jo Miller recover the Tariq and point it at him.

Ridge sat back down, instinctively placing his hands, palm down, on the table. He looked at the fish tank, and into the eyes of a gigantic Jack Dempsey fish. Ridge thought about Greedo.

I never did get my sushi, Ridge thought.

Ridge watched as Jo Miller picked himself up off the floor. His left hand, his dominate hand, was badly scalded by the contents of the emptied teapot. Jo held the pistol trembling in his right hand, while his left was coddled into his stomach.

“Dude, I’m sorry man, really sorry,” Ridge said.

Jo said nothing. He motioned from Ridge back to the Smiths with the Tariq.

“You want me to go back there?” Ridge asked.

Jo nodded.

Mary, her hands trembling, dialed 9-1-1 on her phone. As soon as the operator answered, Mary punched the volume down to its lowest level.

The operator said hello twice, and fell silent.

Mary punched on the speaker phone and slid the phone back up on the table. She stared as the seconds changed on the call timer on the cell phone screen.

Ridge slowly stood, keeping his palms pointed towards Jo Miller, and turned back towards the Smiths, who sat wide eyed at the table. Ridge noticed the contemporary piano music again for the first time since he came into the restaurant and tried to square it against the man pointing a gun at his back. He completely failed to do so.

The Smiths sat, one watching Ridge walk back to them, the other watching Jobab Jabes Miller hold a gun to Ridge’s back.

Mick, Keith, and Mot sat watching the scene.

Mick wondered why this sort of thing seemed to happen whenever humans were around each other for more than five minutes.

Keith wondered how he could get the building to burn down. Insurance agents brought out the very best evil in their customers. It was a knack that he had spent a couple of years trying to cultivate while working for The Sun back in 1710. Since that time, he had helped in low visibility but singularly important ways to grow the firm into the Royal & Sun Alliance company.

If I get really lucky, Keith thought, maybe I can take out the vet’s office too.

Stories about hurt puppies always depressed people, and depressed people could spread evil almost as quickly as the flu went through a lower school. Keith inhaled the old familiar smell of sulfur and potassium nitrate.

What an ingenious little species of creatures, Keith thought. Pack chemicals tightly together, apply fire, and projectile death. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Mot wondered about nothing in particular. He had given up speculation for Lent last year. By the time Lent was over, he found he had not missed speculation at all, and vowed to give it up permanently.

Mot noticed the little old Asian lady walking up behind Jo Miller, two hands gripping the handle of a cast iron wok. The wok looked every bit as old as the Qing Dynasty. Mot sat passively as the little old Asian lady raised the wok up over her head, charged Jo Miller’s back, and connected the wok to the back of his skull.

Jo Miller went down.

The Tariq discharged.

Ridge screamed in pain, hit a table, and then the floor. The bullet had passed through the lower right portion of his gluteal muscles, shattered a portion of the large glass window, and buried in the side of the Burritos as Big as Your Head building across the street.

“Well,” Mot said turning to Mick and Keith, “my work here is done.” Mot stood up and headed for the back door.

The little old Asian lady was screaming at Jo Miller and kicking his limp body in the back.

“What, you’re just going to leave?” Mick screamed at him.

Mot smiled and waved as he headed out the back door.

“G-d damn it!” Ridge screamed, “that jerk shot me in the ass!”

John Smith cautiously opened his eyes. His hands were covered in shards of glass and small cuts. He looked over at his wife.

“Mary?” he screamed, louder than he had anticipated because of the dull sensation in his ears.

Mary turned her head to him and nodded. Her face was pale and her eyes seemed to have sunk far into her skull.

“Some fucking help down here!” Ridge screamed.

“Say something, Mary,” John said in what he hoped might sound like a soothing voice. His ears acked.

Mary opened her mouth, but only a small shard of glass fell when her lips parted.

“Close your eyes Mary,” John said, before leaning into her and with gentle breaths blew glass dust off her face

“John,” Mary said with her eyes still closed.

John stopped and looked at his wife.

She opened her eyes.

“I love you John,” Mary said.

John slowly put his arms around her as she began to cry against his chest.

“The bullet – Is – IN – MY – ASS,” Ridge screamed, clutching at the hole in his backside. “No hurry or anything!”

Two of the sons of the little old Asian lady came running out of the back kitchen and dragged their mother screaming away from Jo Miller’s still limp body.

A third son ran to Ridge carrying almost every clean white towel in the kitchen. He stopped just short of Ridge and just dropped the towels on him.

~ * ~

It ended, or part of it ended, on when the police showed up, followed by the paramedics. The unconscious body of Jo Miller was taken into protective medical custody. They said he would most likely live, but declined to comment on whether or not he would talk again.

The little old Asian lady almost went in for homicide when one of the police officers told her that there would have to be an inquiry into her assault of Jo Miller. All three of her sons held her back, and the offending officer was always glad afterwards that he had no idea what she really said to him.

Ridge settled down after a shot of something that he later wanted to take back to California with him.

His last recorded comment on his witness sheet was “And tell that damned waiter I want my sushi to go.”

Everyone in the restaurant gave a statement; except Mick and Keith. Keith waved off each approaching officer with “We’re not the witnesses you’re looking for.”

~ * ~

It ended, or part of it ended, on the way out of town. Mick insisted that they drop the video tapes of the Utah Motel Massacre off in the mail to Mary Smith. The tapes raised considerably more questions about the events, but undoubtedly cleared the two young men who, after two more speedy years of due process, were released from prison.

Epilogue

Mary Smith went on to work for The Innocence Project for most of the rest of her career. She never answered anyone who asked her how it was that she recovered evidence connected to the Utah Motel Massacre, even when she was grilled under oath. She simply invoked her 5th Amendment Constitutional rights. At one point, a highly exasperated prosecuting attorney asked her if she planned to answer any of his questions. Mary Smith broke into a smile and said ‘Yes, Sir, I do intend to answer some of your questions.’ When asked which ones, her smile broadened further and she invoked her 5th Amendment right again. After two decades of working for The Innocence Project, Mary held a brief and uneventful term as a US Congressional Representative until she lost to the former incumbent. She then returned and worked for the rest of her life on a laboriously exact autobiography, which was never published. Whenever anyone asked her if she had regretted anything in her life, Mary always returned a polite stare of misunderstanding until the speaker changed the subject.

John Smith continued teaching history lectures, survey courses, and seminars well past his retirement age, and even after the death of his wife due to cervical cancer. John buried her in St. Michael Cemetery, not far from the then completed Miller family lots. Whenever he went to visit his wife at the cemetery, he always stopped over and paid his respects to the Miller family before going on to visit with his wife. John had managed to publish three history books, one on the Second World War, one on the historical consequences of neo- colonialism as seen in the light of the surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the last as an economic analyses of the first and second Persian Gulf Wars.

Jobab Jabes Miller served seven of fifteen years of a sentence for attempted murder and other related charges at the medium security prison facility in LaGrange, Kentucky. He was a model prisoner for all of the time he was there and worked with both the chaplain’s office and the prison library. During his time in prison, Jo made peace with both Thomas A. Pierce and Ryan Ridge. At Ridge’s urging, Jo began keeping in the third year of his prison sentence, a detailed journal of his activities, thoughts, and feelings while in prison. This journal later served as a foundation for the book that he wrote entitled Revenge before Prison, Peace before Freedom. While the book never became even a national best seller, it was widely acclaimed in the academic and reformist communities, and provided Jo with comfortable royalties checks for several years. After his release from prison, he returned to the corrugated box factory as a miscellaneous worker, but quickly elevated himself back to a position as a machine operator. Later, he took the early retirement scheme offered by the company that wanted to relocate to the Philippines. Some time after all of his hair had turned white, Jo died. He suffered a heart attack while he was sleeping peacefully in the room that he had always shared with his wife.

Ridge went on to write his Irvine thesis, a non-fiction account of the lives of both Thomas A. Pierce and Jobab Jabes Miller, entitled “Damn It! I Just Wanted Sushi!” The book became an international best seller after it was picked up by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Ridge did very well with the Oprah audience, telling them jokes that had little to do with the book, but were funny which was much more important to his book sales, and carried on a question and answer session with the audience that all but upstaged Oprah on her own show. The decisive factor for the Oprah audience had been his wearing the pants that he had been shot in. Ridge later went on to write another non-fiction account of his one failed and one successful law-suit to recover the pants from the Louisville Metro Police, entitled Man, I Just Want My Pants, You Can Keep the Boxers. Ridge continued a moderately successful writing career in both fiction and non-fiction, and co-authored three screenplays. Ridge married soon after the shooting and he and his wife had many adventures until they were both killed in a deep-sea diving accident. They were both in their eighties by then.

Mick and Keith left America after the conclusion of this story, until all of the participants had passed the point where they could no longer avoid religion. Mick took a job with Idealist.org as an African liaison officer. Keith took a job as a UN security counsel weapons inspector.

Mot carried on much as he had before, always being around for near-death experiences, leaving real death to the professionals.

The little old Asian lady went on serving her customers and watching the ebbs and tides of romance, business, and society as seen from the inside of her restaurant. She never volunteered to tell the story of wokking Jo in the back of his head, but also never failed to tell the story with enthusiasm. Every now and then, when her teenaged sons were in high school or college and returned with a poor report, she offered to wok them for free. This always made the boys laugh in a nervous sort of way, but it also inspired them to do better. They had seen what she could do with a wok. The little old Asian lady died comforted by the idea that she stopped at least one killing, that she had saved at least one life.

© 2008 James H. Peterson III

Note: Special thanks to Joanne Mengel for catching some important edits. You have my sincere thanks!

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