[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Prologue 001-002 Chap 1 003-005 Chap 2 006 Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010 Chap 5 011-013 Chap 6 014-017 Chap 7 018-019
Chap 8 020-023 Chap 9 024-027 Chap 10 028-031 Chap 11 032-041
Chap 12 042-048 Chap 13 049-055 Chap 14 056-063 Chap 15 064-074
Chap 16 075-084 Chap 17 85-95 Chap 18 96-110 Chap 19 111-123
Chap 20 124-131 Chap 21 132-133 Chap 22
Revenge Should Have No Bounds
Chapter 23: Rethinking
Ojiro’s circuitous tale was not a pretty one, but it was believable, and it went some distance towards explaining what I had come to think of as Yukiko’s ‘offness’.
The Mizushima family, for all its Japaneseness accentuated by Yukiko, was tediously universal in its vast dysfunctionality. It wasn’t an East-West thing, but a very human one, already explored exhaustively on human and divine levels in its infinite variations throughout that great epic of family, Homer’s Iliad. There was nothing novel in the case of the Mizushimas. It was just surprising to me that I hadn’t thought these matters through more carefully as I got to know the sweet of Yukiko and then the increasingly bitter. No wonder the woman was a mess, especially as I did a comparison with the realities of my own not always perfect family.
The parents of Yukiko and Ojiro had been born in the late thirties and one of the first experience of their lives as sentient beings had been the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As young adults they had immigrated to a country about which they had at best ambiguous feelings. And they came ladened with a once militaristic society’s ethos about family dynamics, bringing up children, and the relative worths of males and females, configurations of identity that had imprinted themselves more deeply on the complex – and female — Yukiko than the more easy-going – and male — Ojiro. In her own heart and mind Yukiko had never lived up to the exigent mandates of her tyrannical father, try as she had, nor had she felt much sympathy for her put-upon mother, whom, according to Ojiro, she deemed weak and feckless, certainly not a template for the shaping of her own persona. The clash of cultural imperatives as represented by her parents’ generation in the Japan of the thirties and her own in the Southern California of the sixties and seventies had created a bloody battleground in Yukiko’s soul. No armistice had ever been declared.
“This will help you to understand my sister, I hope,” Ojiro pleaded, who cared genuinely for his older sibling. “She is a troubled person.”
We were drinking tea as Ojiro talked and some, but certainly not all, things became clearer to me.
“Of course these are things I had no knowledge of,” I said, “though it’s occurred to me over the year or so that I’ve known Yukiko that there was something off kilter in her or her background. I am grateful to you for being candid with me.”
“I tell you this because I want you to understand that what I think you are thinking is not true.”
“What am I thinking?” I asked, suspecting that Ojiro might be a lot brighter than first impression might have led one to believe.
“She did not kill that Vietnamese woman, Trinh.” He laughed briefly. “She was in love with her. And not in love like a crazy woman, either.”
“How do you mean that?”
“As you know, she is very seductive, very persuasive. I do not know for a fact, but I think she might have half-way convinced Trinh to become her lover, maybe even abandon Fabian in favor of her. But I do not know this for a fact. It is merely a suspicion.”
“What did you think, or do you think about Fabian? Could he have done it?” I knew from the dossier Natalie Siu had provided for me that Fabian had an iron-clad alibi in his bunions, but I was still interested in Ojiro’s take on the man. After all, Fab could have hired a hitter.
“No way!” Ojiro’s tone was adamant about this. “He was an O.K. guy. Fairly sharp, pretty good to Yukiko, but he had a roaming eye. If you know what I mean,” he eyed me as he said this.
“Check,” I agreed.
“I wasn’t crazy about the guy, but he was O.K. As far as I know he never took a hand to Yukiko, which is what she was probably looking for at some level. The way my old man treated my mother – he liked to let his fists do the talking to her. I’m not a shrink, for sure, but, hey, what does it take to make a connection? That was what Yukiko grew up with. We talked about it with each other, and she knew it was wrong. But who knows how she really took it? Deep in there where we all live?” He shrugged his shoulders and got a misty far-away look in his eyes. “Me,” he said, wiping his nose on a napkin, “the way I deal with it is I’m thirty-six years old and never been married. And I’m not gay.”
Mazarine put her hand on his forearm and gave him a small squeeze.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“Whatever,” he answered, embarrassed.
“So to your way of thinking Yukiko could not have been involved in Trinh’s murder, could she?”
“I know she couldn’t,” he answered vehemently.
“Just for the sake of argument, how can you be so sure?”
“Because that night after they came to the restaurant, when things slowed down around ten or so, Yukiko and I drove Trinh up to her folk’s place in the Blaylock part of the city. Nice homes,” he added.
“And you saw Trinh go into the house?”
“Of course I did. Yukiko walked up to the door, and while Trinh was working the key her father opened the door. The three of them had a brief chat, Trinh went in the house, and Yukiko came back to the car. Then we headed down to the restaurant again. When we closed, she came back to my place and stayed there. She said she didn’t want to be alone. It had happened before, and I thought nothing of it.” He finished his tea. “One of the times after she’d had a big argument with you,” he added, not accusingly, but informatively.
“And the next day?”
“We spent it together, just hanging out. No big deal. After she and Fab split, we did things together from time to time, and I thought nothing of it at the time. Of course, once that murder took place and the trial and everything, I did wonder if Yukiko could have been involved. The only time she wasn’t with me that weekend was Saturday night when I was at work here in the restaurant. But I’ll tell you I know she was home then, because she taped two movies for me I wanted to see and there were no ads on the tapes. She must have been here all the time to have stopped the tape running during the breaks.”
If true, that was pretty convincing. Somehow I didn’t think he was making it up. “And she left when?”
“She stayed over till Monday morning – I didn’t work that Sunday evening, so I was with her all the time.”
Ojiro had at least given me the impression of being up-front all the time, and there had been no obligation or requirement for him to have talked to me at all. I pretty much believed what he had said. But I sure wished he had told someone this before I was put on trial! Still, in fairness, I guess there was no way for him to have known at the time that this was crucial information – he didn’t strike me as a court-junkie type who had been keeping up minute by minute on the trial and all its personalities.
I thanked him for his time, and we shook hands. He was a good-looking guy, and I warmed to him. “Come by the restaurant any time for dinner, and it’ll be on me,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll definitely do that.” I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He seemed embarrassed but not displeased.
So, I thought to myself as I walked back out into the busy atrium, if not Yukiko, and not Fabian, and surely not Ojiro, and the parents were, according to Ojiro, the last people she was seen with, could they be involved somehow?
It was not a notion that gave me much pleasure. Another family, another tragedy?
As I walked slowly among the happy Friday nighters I churned over something in my mind I’d read once in a scholarly book on Homeric society — Homeric society, one governed not, as in ours, so much by guilt as by shame. It was still applicable.
Guilt and shame are relatives, I was thinking – not direct siblings, perhaps, but surely cousins. In one culture guilt is the more likely interior disciplinarian, in another, the other.
Today it is undeniably guilt, all leathered up with the encrustations of Christian sensibility and our peculiarly American Puritanism, that is the whip-wielding dominatrix punishing us in our writhing silence for wayward behavior towards society, friends and enemies, and – most harshly – self. Guilt is an internalizing monitor whose power derives from the external teachings of parents, schools, religion, and social connectedness. All acts are potential triggers for this cruel adjudicator, this torturer of souls, to leap into eager action. From the trivial to the terrible, from copping cookies in the kitchen to committing murder in the night, guilt rides double-saddle right behind the doer of the deed and makes ready to start its relentless gnawing away at our sense of inner wholeness, pushing for ‘getting it out’ by confessing to priest or parents or police. Indeed it is precisely this desperate desire to confess, to externalize the internalized, to relieve the intolerable pressure from within for the sake of securing absolution at least from that harshest of evaluators, our own conscience, that the police play on, that parents manipulate, that we ourselves give in to.
Freud no longer holds the pride of place in the imagined understanding of our necrotizing emotions that he once did. Yet, I still believe he was quite sensible in ripping off the ‘myth’ of the charioteer and his two steeds from Plato’s Phaedrus and developing therefrom as one possible map of human motivational psychology that holy trinity of ego, id, and super-ego, that is, respectively, of the normative personality (our everyday rational self mediating between the contradictory demands of id and super-ego), the instinctual personality (our inchoate urges and drives), and the hypercritical personality (our ever censorious conscience). It is at least one way, even if a mythopoeic one, of attempting to give some kind of account of the operations of what every one of us not a sociopath feels at some time or another, guilt. Given our human imperfectibility, no doubt we need this monitor of our behaviors.
Shame is different. Where guilt internalizes and tries us before the single unforgiving judge that is our own conscience, shame externalizes and mounts our trial before a jury that consists of the entire world. How many times have we said, or thought, ‘I wish the earth would just open up and let me disappear into it’? We need desperately to escape from the judgmental eyes of others — or somehow to blind them. Mortification hardly begins to describe the feelings that stir in us. Where guilt launches a savage, cannibalistic campaign against our own inner view of ourselves, shame attacks the image of ourselves that we would present to the world at large to see, preferably through lenses of our own manufacture. And I would argue that it is precisely this public relations aspect of shame that makes shame so much easier to handle, to dismiss, to dilute, even to ignore – perhaps even to exploit and glorify. No amount of clever spin will disabuse us of our own rigid and interior censoriousness, but spin is precisely what shapes a public understanding of our behavior in such a way that any objective opprobrium is attenuated in favor of more benign constructions.
Guilt is here to stay and continue performing its thankless tasks. Our Puritan roots, shooting deep in the national soil, will make sure of that. But that same culture has likewise grown essentially shameless. Today, in the words of the prescient Cole Porter tune from 1934, ‘anything goes’ — as long as its pejorative aspects can be coöpted by the public ameliorations of … well … the shameful shamelessness of lawyers, of spokespersons, of other spin-meisters.
But shame, wasn’t that what Eastern cultures talked about as face, and could not have blithely explained away at glib news conferences by clever p.r. people? What was the phrase Natalie Siu had once used, bu xi huan dio lien, ‘I don’t like to lose face’? Could something as trivially – to my Western way of thinking – as relevant as family honor somehow be involved in this business? Could that lie at the heart of things?
I had met the Caos once, when Trinh had invited Yukiko and myself to tea there. That was last December some time, about eight months or so ago, and I did not remember details. But I do recall being impressed with the parents, in particular with Mr. Cao, who seemed to love his daughter very much. I’m sure the mother did too, but she was less demonstrative. Maybe, like Yukiko’s mother, the wife in this relationship also made a point of docile compliance with the husband’s conduct. Certainly I had no negative recollection of that afternoon, no sense of hidden currents, animosities, rivalries. But as somebody once said, no matter how ideal a family may seem to the outside world, nobody can know what really goes in that family unless they’re a living part of it. And I obviously wasn’t, and hadn’t been.
Among the affidavits and reports in the police file on Trinh’s murder, two officers had figured prominently in the investigation. The chief of detective, Phoebe Light, and her partner, Ulla Sundelius were names I had no trouble calling to mind because of the exhaustive investigations they had made and written up concerning Trinh and her background, including an extensive interview they had conducted with the Caos. I seemed to recall that the conclusion the detectives had come to was that the parents could not have been involved in the demise of their beloved daughter.
Yet, at this point in my rummaging around in this case, the evidence – such as it was – that I had been able to dig up did seem to point in their direction. Assuming that Ojiro had been straight with me, my prime suspect, Yukiko, looked less and less likely. And if it was the parents, or the father, then my anger was, if possible, all the more seething. Wasn’t I too someone’s daughter who had been shamed — and almost thrown into prison in the bargain? I needed revenge.
That’s why I made up my mind that what I had to do was see if I could get an appointment and talk to those two detectives. I was going to pursue my quest no matter where it would lead.
TO BE CONTINUED