Ieyasu Takezo opened
the soji screen and padded out to a cushion at the edge of the
porch in his tabi socks. His silver hair glowed against his blue
and gray kimono in the brilliant morning sun. Pulling the katana
from his belt, he settled cross-legged on the cushion and placed
the sword on his right, in easy reach. Breathing deep as he gazed
at the tiny garden in the courtyard, he focused on that quiet
space at his center. But at the scuff of footsteps, Takezo snatched
up his katana and jumped up. Long sword drawn, he glared at three
small boys in short kimonos huddled at the other end of the porch.
They fidgeted as the old man stood with sword raised.
“What’re you doing?”
Takezo smiled and
slide the blade into its lacquered scabbard. “I was going to
meditate before I was interrupted by my dirty-faced grandsons.
Maybe I should beat you rascals instead.” He scowled at them.
The boys leered back, then broke into giggling fits.
“We’re bored,” the
six-year old announced. “There’s nothing to do. Would you tell
us a story?”
“Yeah, the story about
your adventure!” said the second.
“About your fight
with the blue-eyed demon,” the youngest added.
Takezo sighed, glancing
to the immaculate rock garden with its carefully raked sand. “All
right, if you promise to leave me alone afterwards. But do you
want that story? You’ve heard it so many times.”
“Oh please, please,” the
boys shouted. “It’s exciting. Tell it again.”
Smiling, the old man
nodded. “Come and sit. But you’ll give me peace after that, eh.”
“Yes, sir,” they chorused.
They scampered over, bowed at the waist and plopped in a semicircle
in front of Takezo. They’re getting tall and strong. Soon
I’ll have to train them for battle for our lord. But these
thoughts jostled against others about little league, cub scouts
and college funds. Takezo pushed the rogue thoughts away. Gazing
over the little garden, he collected his thoughts as he sat.
“One day many years
ago, I realized I’d been trapped by an evil demon in a bizarre,
nightmare world.” Takezo settled on the cushion and folded his
hands on his lap. “I don’t know how I got there, but I had to
“What did the demon
look like?” the oldest boy asked.
“Oh, he was horrible!” The
old man threw his hands up and grimaced at the boys. “He was
bald and ugly. His skin was pale white, as white as snow. His
eyes were round like coins. And they were bright blue, like the
“Blue!” the boys breathed
and huddled together.
“But that wasn’t the
worst thing. You see, the blue-eyed demon was about to steal
Jon Ieyasu glanced
up to find Frank Bartel, his boss, waving from across the room.
Just inside Frank’s office a tall, hatchet-faced man in a dark
suit stood staring. The suit struck Jon. Pressed and buttoned
up, it made Jon think of a uniform. Especially with the crisp
white shirt, the man’s crew cut and steel rimmed glasses.
“Hey, Achoo!” Mr.
Bartel shouted. “Get in here!” He turned and walked into his
office followed by the guy in the suit.
Jon dropped his files
on the typist’s desk and hustled to Mr. Bartel’s corner office.
Prickles of fear whispered through his gut. There’d been rumors
circulating for weeks about a surprise audit. Sam in accounting
dropped hints at lunch yesterday that the expense account records
for Frank’s sales unit for the last year had been pulled by an
auditor. The guy in the suit?
Jon paused at the
doorway and fought to keep his expression neutral. Mr. Bartel
sat behind his massive mahogany desk, bald head glistening, pasty-faced,
and sweating in the office air conditioning. The suit stood over
Frank’s shoulder as the suit pointed to different things, as
he flipped pages and whispered. Frank glared when he saw Jon
shuffling in the doorway.
“You deaf? I told
you to get in here. Sit.” Jon licked his lips and sat.
A tremor passed through
Jon as his face burned under the other man’s stare. His gaze
wasn’t angry or friendly. More like a scientist examining a questionable
specimen. Chill out. My expense reports are clean.
The man in the suit
stood back and waited, face hard, eyes on Jon. Am I supposed
to say something?
Mr. Bartel shook file
at Jon. “Pay attention, smart boy. You’ve screwed up big time.
Mr. Phillips’ firm conducts the corporation’s audits. Accounting
asked them to review my department’s expense accounts. Did you
think nobody would figure out what you did at the San Diego Convention?”
Jon’s stomach jolted
as he reviewed the trip in his head, a trade show out near the
airport. Other than drinks with sales reps at the hotel bar,
he couldn’t think of anything untoward he’d claimed. “I’ve got
no idea what you’re talking about. Frank. I turned in my receipts
with my report as soon as I got back.”
The suit broke from
his careful examination of Jon, picked up the file and stepped
around the desk. “I’m Ron Phillips with Jacobs and Smith, the
accounting firm retained by your board to conduct the independent
audits for the annual report.” Holding out an expense report,
he pointed to the bottom. “This is your signature, right?”
Jon glanced at the
paper and nodded.
“Well, can you explain
why you visited the Ledo Bar seven times for meals? At a hundred
a pop? That’s a topless club in the red light district. They
don’t serve food. Or four nights at the Aces Up Hotel down the
block, two hundred a visit? They rent rooms by the hour, not
the night. And I believe you were booked into the Marriott for
this trip, right?”
Jon opened and closed
his mouth several times before words came out. “No! That’s not
true. I was at the Marriott or the Convention Center the whole
Mr. Phillips sat on
the edge of the desk and smiled, the first Jon had seen on him. “Look,
son, I was with the LAPD in the white collar crime unit, I can
smell a lie across the room. And I understand. You were there
on the company’s dollar. You thought you could get a little slap
and tickle while you were away, right? No big deal. But you can’t
bill your employer for getting your jollies off.”
Jon glanced from the
investigator to Frank and back. His voice cracked as he said, “Hey,
this is bull. I never left the convention. I definitely didn’t
go to any strip clubs. Frank, you were there, tell him.”
Frank just shook his
head once, right then left.
“Sorry, kid. I spent
most of my time with the guys from Wiler Chemical. They signed
that big contract while I was there. I saw you around, but I
didn’t keep tabs on you.”
Mr. Phillips turned
to face Frank. “But, you did sign off on this expense claim.”
Frank grinned and
rubbed his neck. “Well, yeah. It sounded kind of funny, but Jon
swore it was all legit. I took his word.” Frank sat forward and
stared. “And I warned Jon about messing with the expense accounts.
But he insisted these were all real, places he took clients to.
No big deal as long as he can give us the details. Like who was
with you?” He stared at Jon, waiting.
Jon froze, shocked. What’s
he talking about? We never talked about that.
Mr. Phillips waited,
his look patient. Like this is old hat. How many times has
he gone through stuff like this? Jon looked to Frank and
caught the briefest of smiles, there and gone in a blink that
Jon jumped up. “What
are you trying to pull, Frank? What did you do?” Jon felt the
heat of anger building as he glanced at the report. All neat
and in order, with his signature at the bottom.
Jon turned and walked
out the door. Damn. I’m screwed!
Complete story available in the
print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010