I was detached to Bobby’s team. We were going to cover John’s ass while he retrieved his kid. Anyway, I was going to monitor the elevators. I wasn’t to stop anybody, but just monitor traffic and dissuade people from using them as best I could. So I wasn’t armed, either.
In retrospect, this was the mistake.
We arrived 50 minutes before zero hour. The stadium was already full because it was a home-town game and the weather was nice. You could see the stars through the wisps of cloud, where the moon didn’t outshine them. I had given into the vendors’ blandishments and bought a pretzel. If you’ve ever gone to one of the big professional baseball league’s stadiums, you know that the pretzels are salty and good; everything else is crap—the hot dogs are dubious, the beer watered down and absurdly expensive. I was just leaning against the wall opposite the bank of elevators, nibbling on my pretzel. I was content. It was a good night to be alive.
About 20 minutes in, a young Asian guy sort of lackadaisically wanders into the end of the emptied hall. I was chewing on my pretzel, and happened to look at him. The kid looked at me. Our gazes locked, and he gave a little jerk. What could I do? I nodded back to him, of course.
He picked up his stride and came closer. About 20 feet away, he stopped. Reaching a hand over his shoulder, he slid out a straight sword about 2 and a half feet long. Would you believe I didn’t even notice it before that? Thinking clinically, I knew it had to be a straight sword because whenever I’d seen a katana drawn, it had always whispered as it came out. The curve was what made the sound. My best guess is that whatever it was, it was meant for one of the Chinese martial arts like tai chi, or perhaps just something less exotic like Western fencing; I don’t know of any living Japanese martial arts that use a uncurved blade. But it looked sharp enough to do for me.
He whipped the blade up and down, across and back, a few times. It made a nice swishing sound which peaked at the end when the tip snapped back after being bent under the acceleration. I was still non-chalantly leaning against the wall, watching all this a little slack-jawed.
“I see you. You are the one responsible for the death of my cousin when you shot into the air in New Orleans. For that, you must die.”
As luck would have it, just as he finished his little set-piece speech, an empty elevator arrived. I was no fool; dashing into the elevator, I frantically hammered on the door-close button with a speed that would do a New Yorker proud. I knew that I could beat him down to the first floor. From there I had an ID card that would let me into the maintenance corridors. At that point, I could easily elude this kid and link up with Bobby.
He broke into a flat-out sprint.
I almost made it. The doors had nearly sealed shut, when he lunged and thrust his damned rapier or whatever right into the gap. And of course, this was a modern elevator, which meant that it felt the obstruction and began to open up again—stupid f—king machine! Plan A was kaput.
The trick was to go past him just before he had pulled the sword back enough to thrust. I had seen his lunge, and I was now sure he had been trained in Western-style fencing, so he’d try to kill with the point and not the edge, unless he had been trained by a fencing master who was 400 years out of date. (Even saber fencers don’t put much strength into a cut, so I couldn’t see any bothering in the real world with cuts.)
Then I was rolling through the opening door and straight into his legs. I lurched up and clutched him. The two of us were dancing around like a pair of drunken bears squabbling over a party favor. I grabbed his wrist and twisted it out and around his back into an arm-lock. He flexed somehow and dropped to the floor. He had a death grip on the sword, so as he fell, the sword rotated to the vertical.
You know what happened then? Despite having been out-grappled and thrown to the floor, as I turned around to run, he shoved the blade straight through my right arm!
I can’t even begin to describe how much it hurt as it punched through and ripped down. Suffice it to say that the mixture of primal fear of death, fear of damage, the nauseous weak feeling accompanying blood loss, and sheer outrage that such an unfair and dishonorable move worked is something one experiences only once in a lifetime.
Staggering back, he pulled out the blade and recovered himself. For my part, I half-knelt and half-fell clutching my right arm. From that point on, I was worsted. I don’t want to linger on it, but he stood off at a distance and occasionally lunged in to poke little holes in my flesh.
By this point, perhaps only a minute had passed. Only.
I was coated in blood, and could barely see out one eye. One of his cuts had got me in the forehead or eye—I only remember the one thrust hitting me, but nevertheless. I think he regarded me with great satisfaction, but I cannot say for sure.
“Hiroki—come on in. It’s over.”
A young boy—Asian as well—walked in slowly, starting at the sight of me and staring alternatively at me and the other guy. He was followed by Bobby. My heart soared at the sight of him. Bobby was always packing, and a gun against a sword? I began to feel that I might live out this night.
“Bobby… kill him and call a medic, for Buddha’s sake!”
Bobby regarded me carefully. My breath sucked and rasped in my chest.
“Marines never leave a comrade behind. But you were never one of us. You were just the payment for some hired help.”
It did make sense, in a sick way. Why wasn’t I given any weapons at all, even though I usually was? Why was I dispatched to do something as useless as watch the elevators? For that matter, how had the kid known where to find me and when, and known he could come with only a sword?
Bobby turned to the kid.
“Is this satisfactory? We have done our part.”
“Yes, thank you very much. Here it is, as promised.”
I didn’t see what happened, but I did see Bobby turn and leave.
It was at that moment I realized I was dead. You may think I was angry at this realization. I wasn’t really; it didn’t come as a surprise: “Suffering pursues the evil-doer, even as the wheel follows after the foot of the ox.”
The kid turned his attention on me.
“Pay attention, Hiroki. When striking, you can combine a stab and a cut.”
He positioned himself with his right foot forward lined up with my left shoulder, in a closed stance. He was right-handed like me, and he thrust in such a way that it went straight forward and slide along the side of my right shoulder in such a way that it slide through the muscle horizontally and cut a line right through it. He snapped the blade back, and handed the blade to the little one (who must be Hiroki).
“You do it.”
The little one nervously grabbed the sword and positioned himself likewise.
As I watched him make mistakes and be corrected, I felt some strength return to my left arm. Hiroki thrust, slowly. Time slowed for me,
I stretched my arm out as far as I could and grabbed the hilt. Jerking it towards me, I flipped it and seized. Slowly, I thrust the blade out.
It came at Hiroki’s throat. And paused there. Time abruptly sped up. Weak, I dropped the sword. Hiroki was dragged into safety. Blood pulsed out of me.
The kid retrieved the sword and stood before me enraged. I spoke.
“I could have killed him. We both know that. But why would I do that? I am dying. Slaying another child would spread more death, and need more revenge. Only one need die here, and I ask only one thing of you: a clean death. Let it be said of me too that nothing so became him in life as did the leaving.”
We were still. For a time, nothing changed. There was only the drip of blood, the quiet roar of fans, and the occasional alarum.
He nodded. He pulled me out from the wall, and assisted me into a kneeling position.
He paused. I realized he was waiting for my last words. I spoke.
"I give you my death poem.
This from nothingness - My pitiable terror and loneliness shall soon blow away all, like cherry blossoms."
He nodded, and moved behind me. I heard the sword come up. I heard his quick breathing. I heard the uncaring fans. I felt the cold concrete shift minutely under me.
An old friend once told me that the Bodhisattva of Mercy vowed to save all who called on her, even if they but called upon her name once.