Life Changes After the Sushi Bar

I wrote this after the local sushi bar closed down.  Of course, KLM is involved.  This one is actually finished.  It’s short.

If you don’t know what KLM is, that’s OK.  This is the first KLM story, I’ve blogged.  It is not the first one written however.  This is sort of an introduction to KLM from the outside.  Other stories are written from the inside.  Enjoy.

Life Changes in a Sushi Bar

The rain was thick as mud that fateful morning…
Don’t you just love the dramatic entrance.  It is a bit of dramatic license on my part.  It was raining, but only lightly.  The kind of rain that doens’t bother you if you can run to the bus stop quickly enough.  Otherwise, it’ll soak you through.  This kind of rain generally doesn’t let up for a few days.  Instead of the black sky most people think of when they hear ‘rain’, it was a light gray.  Locals know that when you can see the first hint of the sun, the rain will stop in a few hours.
That was a long time away, though.  I was sitting at the bus stop with a fine layer of water droplets on my bright blue windbreaker jacket.  No one else was waiting, which suited me fine.  It was ten AM and I was just heading to work.  Fortunately, I work at restuarant and don’t have to be at work until ten thirty.
For some reason, rain makes me nostalgic and I think way too much.  The bus carried me to work and I looked out the window at the east side of Houston.  This area is alternately known as the artists’ quarter, the gay side, and the pit, depending on who you ask and what time of day it is.  Contrary to the belief of most people in the ‘better’ parts of Houston, not everyone here is gay, I’m proof of that, and this is not a depressed area of town.  Another brand new art store just opened up and if you know how much art supplies are, then you realize that this area is not depressed at all.  It just… has character.
In fact, some of my favorite customers are artists, they generally come in during the slack times and are fun to talk to.  You can tell which ones just sold some work by looking at what they order and the size of tip they leave.

I work at Taste of Japan on Westheimer in Houston.  We just moved to a place across the street from a witch supply store.  It’s a brand new building and I consider myself lucky to work there.  With the mass die offs of fish and poisoned sea water, it’s hard to be a sushi chef.  Sure, you and I know sushi is really vinegar rice, but to most Americans, sushi equals raw fish.  Like I said, I’m lucky to work where I do, the owners are painfully rich.  They just have the sushi place cause they like to eat there.  They fly in a lot of the fish from way out of country (Japan has really gone into the environmental age and is protecting large areas of the ocean just for fish farming).  They are also involved in some experimental salt-water fish farms in West Texas.  Believe it or not, some of the best tuna I’ve ever had comes from the farm.  The fish tend to be small, but very tasty.
I once saw the Japanese ocean farms.  I was doing my apprenticeship in Japan and got to got out with my Sensei to the farm.  Master Yokohiro is a very popular man and being given an invitation to the ocean farm is a big deal.  There are these central towers that float.  They stick up about 100 meters from the ocean surface and go down to over 600 meters.  Some of the new ones go even deeper.  They’re really big.
Anyway, there’s a ring around the pole that can be up to several kilometers in diameter.  The top of the pole supports the ring and a special kind of net is suspended from the ring and goes down to the bottom of the pole.  It forms a bowl with lots of seawater in it.  The material is supposed to allow water and oxygen through, but filters out all the nasty chemicals.  The farmers have to manually add salt to keep the seawater right, but they do a good job.  They can raise big schools with no danger from poisons.  Some of the farms even raise sharks right in with the other fish.
The pole houses all the farmers, a lot of scientists, and processing facilities.  There are even artificial reefs mounted to the pole and they extend out some distance into the ‘lake’.
Anyway, this kind of brain function takes my mind off the bus ride.  I get amazingly car sick, but I wasn’t sick on the ocean that one time.  Weird.
The bus lets me off less than a block from the restuarant.  It’s a beautiful shade of light blue.  Not a neon blue that so many places are going to, but a nice soft sky blue.  Not that the sky is blue in Houston.
Sara always lets me in the front door.  I have a key, but she’s always early.  I think she just liked to feed the coy in the big fish tank on the right hand wall of the main dining room.  The sushi bar was separated from the main dining room by the kitchen, bathrooms, and checkout counter.  Sushi is best when no cooked smells get in the way.
I told her good morning.  She replied with her usual, “Konichiwa.”  She insists on speaking in Japanese to me.  I appreciate that, though it isn’t necessary.  I don’t feel out of place as the only person of Japanese descent in the place.  In fact, I was born in Beaumont, about 90 miles to the east of Houston.  But both my parents were natives of Japan.
“Has the truck arrived yet?” I asked.
“Hai.”  She strung out the last sound too long.  I was running late or the truck was running early.  So I put my coat on and went to the back.
I spent the next twenty minutes selecting fillets for the day.  I had to force myself (as I do every morning) to pick some of the fish that I don’t like and make sure they were good cuts.  The owners had made arrangements to be the first of the restaurants visited each day, so we always got the best fillets.  Again, contrary to popular belief, the fish are not delivered live and I don’t spend my mornings slaying fish.  In fact, I’ve never cleaned a fish before in my life.  I know how, but I’ve never practiced.
With about 40 minutes to opening, I began the first of many pots of rice that would be made that day.  With less than ten minutes to go, I got the first filets in the refrigerated viewing cabinet in the bar.  The seaweed was ready (another gift of the Japanese Ocean Farms) and the rice was resting.
We don’t really have a set time to open.  Whenever everything is ready (or nearly so) Sara unlocks the doors.  We’re not like some restaurants that have a full floor of customers waiting in line.  Sometimes we don’t get anyone for a while.
Someone was waiting though.  Mr. Grant came in as soon as Sara could get the door wide enough to admit his ample belly.
“Good morning, Daniel-san,” he rumbled.  He always sounds like an avalanche to me.
“Gofu tomaku,” I said.
“Beautiful, what does it mean?”
“The afternoon brightens with your presence, roughly translated.”  Of course it meant nothing of the sort.  As far as I knew it was gibberish, but it made the big man feel better.  When Mr. Grant comes in, it’s going to be a long day.
He hefted himself into a stool and started ordering.  He can order more at once than most people eat in a few hours.  I started to work.  Fortunately, once he gets started eating he doesn’t talk much.  On the other hand, not many people like to sit at the bar when he does.  I wonder if they’re afraid of getting sucked up.  I smothered a laugh and started on his order.
Soon afterward, four men in business suits came in and moved to the back corner table.  That was fine with me, normally I don’t want to know.  Other people moved in and out and the day moved quickly for a Tuesday.  It was also payday so I expected to see the owners come in at some point.
I was not disappointed.  Kevin came in about six.  He was alone, which is unusual.  Mr. Grant was just paying his considerable bill so Kevin sat at the now vacant bar.
“Has it been a good day?”
“Yes sir,” I replied.  “Mr Grant ate all of the hamaki, but other than that things are going well.”
“How’s the whitefish?”
“Pretty good, but the tuna is really good today.”
“How about a spicy tuna roll and some whitefish nigri.”
I got to work.  It’s always nice to have an audience, even if it is your boss.  It didn’t take me long, those are relatively simple items.  When I handed him his order, he motioned to the suits in the back.
“How long have they been here?”  He sounded mildly upset about something.
“They came in right after Mr. Grant, about noon.  They’ve been ordering fairly constantly, so I didn’t say anything.”
“That’s fine.  Where’s Sara?”
“In the back.”
“Would you get her please?”
“Hai.”
I went to the back and told Sara the boss wanted to see us.  She looked kinda scared so I asked what was wrong.  She said that there were four guys in suits behind the building, just standing around.  She also said that they hadn’t been there an hour ago when she took the trash out.
I said, “Come on,” and went to the front.
The door from the kitchen opens directly into the bar, so that’s where we were standing.  Kevin was standing in an obvious fighting posture.  Three of the men had him surrounded and the fourth was standing back with his hand in his coat.
The man in back was saying something about ‘notorious criminal’ and ‘surrender’.  Kevin was muttering under his breath.  I couldn’t hear a word, but he seemed intent on it.  Sara was a frozen mass behind me.  I could feel her fear.  I glanced down real quick and saw a knife in my hand.  It was one of my best fillet knifes.  It had been custom made by Master Yokohiro’s smith.  It had only cost about nine hundred dollars.  I was still paying it off.  It felt comfortable to be holding it.
Kevin told them to back off.  “It’s not your fight gentlemen,” he said.  I thought it was strange, which is why I remember it.
The men responded by moving in closer.  Then Kevin moved.  I don’t know how to describe it.  I’ve taken some karate classes, but nobody I’ve ever seen, except in the movies, ever moved like that.  He was a blur, then he was behind one guy with the guy’s arm held up at a forty-five degree angle behind him.  It must have really hurt.  Kevin dropped down and the guy went flying into another of the three men.  I glanced over to the guy in back and he was pulling out a gun.
I don’t remember throwing the knife.  The next thing I really remember is Kevin, Sara and I running down the street and him handing my knife back to me.
“You shouldn’t leave important things behind,” he said.  Now I was getting scared.  The running wasn’t bad.  It was clearing my head, but Sara was having trouble keeping up.  She’s not fat or even chubby, but she doesn’t exercise much.  It’s that engineer mentality.  I guess now is the wrong time to mention that she’s an engineering student at the University of Houston.  She’s not bad looking in fact.  I never really noticed it until we were running down the street together.
Kevin made a sharp turn into an alley and I almost didn’t notice.  I heard cars honking and tires squealing.  Kevin was still talking under his breath as he ran, but I could hear the words now.
“… on Missouri street.  Yea, I know you can’t get shot down.  That’ll work, give us a block, we’re getting tired.”
I didn’t pretend to understand.  I didn’t even have the energy to figure it out.  I was all but dragging Sara.  What was really weird was that no one  even noticed us.  There were some people out, but they didn’t even look our way.  An oriental with a bloody knife dragging a blond down the street and no one cares, not in Houston.
A flash of light appeared ahead of us and a roar.  It sounded like rockets, which, in retrospect, it was.  A large metal sphere crashed into the cement road just ahead of us.  Kevin pulled us behind some brush and stopped.  We were breathing heavy and Sara looked about ready to throw up.
I’ve always wondered what a war really sounded like.  I mean, did the guys in the movies get it right?  I only ask because I consider myself a realist.  I don’t go in for the modern art scene and stuff like that.  The more real something is, the more I respect the creator.  I may never watch another war movie again, because now I know.
At the time I was very afraid.  Sara was too, I was more worried for her.  The fear was bad, but I could handle that.  She wasn’t ready for it.  I don’t consider myself a brave man, but being a realist does have its advantages, I know I’m going to die sometime and while I would prefer it not be anytime soon, I can accept it.  She couldn’t, she wasn’t ready for what was going on, not that I was, but I was more philosophically prepared.
I looked to Kevin for help.  He merely sat, crouched down, looking through the bushes into the street.  He had a half smile on his face.  It wasn’t a pleasant expression.  I think it scared me more than the running and the other stuff.
There was a soft sound of metal moving from the street.  Then the squeal of car tires and brakes.  Then the explosions began.  Sara cringed and grabbed onto me.  I was seriously looking for a deep hole to hind in.
After a few minutes, he nodded and said, “All clear.”  Suddenly, there wasn’t any fear or stress or adrenaline.  I felt totally drained of energy.  He stood up and walked out into the street.  I followed carefully with Sara right beside me.  Her eyes were wide with fear.  I wasn’t too stable myself.
The first thing I saw was the metal dinosaur in the street.  I don’t remember the name for it, but it was the one with three horns on its head.  It wasn’t that big, about halfway between the size of a horse and a big dog.  I thought those dinosaurs were much bigger.
It wasn’t a real one, of course.  It was definitely metal and there was a cannon or something in the middle of the back.  Instead of sitting on the thing’s back, it was like the back of the creature had been cut out and the gun put in the cut-out.  The barrel of the gun was glowing softly.
I smelled smoke drifting on the breeze.  I looked down the street where two large cars were burning brightly.  I couldn’t feel the heat until I saw the flames.
The machine was moving almost nervously.  I would have said it was pumped up, if it had been real.  At least a real dinosaur and not a miniature, metal creature.  Its large, triangular head moved around, bobbing left and right.  Occasionally, it would lower its head to sniff at the ground.  It kept crouching, well not quite because it would stop in mid-crouch and move back to standing straight.
The creature made me very nervous.  I’d never heard of anything like this before and I watch the discovery channel a lot.  It was a gorgeous machine, but it was obviously a machine, but it didn’t act like a machine.  I was getting confused.
“What is that?” Sara asked.
“Dinobot,” Kevin replied.  “He’ll come with us.”
“Can I ask, what just happened?” I said.
“Yea, you two got caught in the crossfire between KLM Enterprises and the Federal Government.  They want me and the rest of KLM dead or out of business, but they can’t do it.  They’ve been trying for a long time now.  That’s the long term.
“The short term is that, we got chased.  A buddy of mine couldn’t get close enough to help out, but he did have a dinobot handy, which he dropped in the street.  It woke up and mayhem ensued.  Fortunately, they are fairly intelligent.”
The dinobot grunted and started stomping away.  Its metal skin glistened in the sunlight splattering through the trees.  I could almost see muscles rippling under its skin.  It looked tough.  Fortunately, we were heading away from the burning cars.
“We’ll need to find an open spot where Chrome can pick us up.  I’m afraid that you’ll have to come with me, so you’ll be safe.”
“What do you mean, safe?” I asked.  “We just work in your restaurant.  How can that not be safe?”
“I’m sorry guys.  It’s like this…”
Kevin spun this amazing tale of almost high adventure.  Heroic people fighting against incredible odds to overcome the power of belief and the strictures of nature.  In the end, he almost went to far with his story.  It seemed to be the purest of fantasy.  No one could do what he described.  No country could do what he described, yet over it all hung the shimmering shroud of truth.
It seemed that he had lifted a curtain that I hadn’t even known existed.  The one fact that punched through my disbelief was that great metal beast treading before us.  Every word Kevin spoke bounced from the armored flank right into my brain.  There was no suspension of disbelief, there was no disbelief period.  Not in the face of that monster.
“So what happens to us?” Sara asked.  She sounded stronger.  I guess the story pumped her up a bit.
“Well, you can join KLM and work with us in the Arcology or we can drop you off wherever you want.  Because this is all my fault, I’ll make sure that you don’t hurt for money, but I won’t be able to protect you from the government.  You should be safe…”
“Well that’s just great,” I said.  “My life is down the tubes.  I’ve lost all but one of my knifes.  I’m not an engineer or scientist, so what am I supposed to do.”
“Well, you could open your own restaurant.  Did I mention that KLM has a signing bonus of ten thousand dollars.  I’m sure we could arrange a loan for the rest.”
I suddenly stopped in the road, my mind whirling.  My own restaurant.  I couldn’t have imagined the possibility yesterday or even this morning.  I was content as a chef with my work and my customers.  Now though, and here my mood changed, I was being given money, to buy off my anger at what happened to me today.
Now I was really mad.  I wasn’t some pawn in the great game to be used and bought off.  How dare he?
“Do I get the signing bonus too?”
That stopped my rant.  Was she going to sell out?
“Of course,” he said.
“Then we could open a restaurant together,” Sara said grabbing my arm.
I looked at her.  She was about my height.  She had copper colored eyes.  I noticed that for the first time.  OK, now I was confused.  What was she saying?  Why wasn’t I mad anymore?
I don’t know how long we stood in the street.  Me looking at Sara, her looking at me with those copper eyes.  I’m not sure what Kevin was looking at, but I am sure he was amused.  I could feel it. I’m also not sure what the dinobot was looking at, but it stopped.  The whole world stopped.
“OK,” I heard myself say, “we’ll open one together.”  Now what is this all about, I asked myself.  My reply was, Shut up!
Two days later, we had settled into the Arcology, a glorious structure that deserves a book of its own, and had gotten together with an Arc-itect.  An Arc-itect, if you haven’t guessed, specializes in designing spaces in the Arcology.  He had a nice design laid out, but it’s a little too big.
The curtain continues to lift showing the truth in more digestible chunks than that first one.  Life in the Arcology isn’t too bad.  I’ve heard a lot of stories from some of my customers, but I like my nice simple life.  Sara and I will be getting married soon.  I never saw it coming, apparently she’d known even before that day in Houston.  Women are like that.

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~ by OgreMkV on January 25, 2009.

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