In a private dining chamber of an exclusive restaurant, The Flowering Beetle, was a large round table around which were seated several large round men in black suits wearing shaved heads and tattoos. Yes, they were yakuza.
The lighting was dim, but not too dim that you would fail to see the artworks adorning the chamber — paintings and statues reflecting themes of cruelty and degradation, reminiscent of the dark chiaroscuro of El Greco or of Goya’s black paintings.
The air was saturated with the black pall of cigar smoke, which seemed not to bother the smokers or the non-smokers (of whom there were none). In their deep gruff voices they discussed an upcoming project: kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.Underneath the voices of the yakuza lay another sound, a high pitched keening halfway between a suppressed scream and a whimper.
The table was immaculately laid: All the implements and paraphernalia elegantly arranged according to the appropriate dictates of yakuza gentility.
One slightly odd note: at each place-setting scintillating glintingly was the sinister sparkle-glitter of curiously warped cutlery — silver spoons of unusual length and hyperbolic curvature the unholy geometry of which seemed to pulsate with pure dining evil.
A discreet tapping at the door announced the arrival of the waiter.
One of the yakuza barked a pre-emptorily peremptory command, and through the sliding doors came slinking Bernardo.
A small and oily man of much sebum and little brains, Bernardo had been born in Albania. Nobody’s perfect. After a relatively uneventful childhood, Bernardo had joined the merchant navy at the age of fourteen. After half a lifetime drifting from one sordid mess to the next, Bernardo had washed up on the shores of a restaurant in downtown Tokyo.
That had been the start of his inglorious waiting career, the zenith of witch was his current position as Third Assistant Head-Waiter, Acting, in the Flowering Beetle.
Everyone — cooks, waiters, chefs, barmaids, wine-stewards — called him “Bernardo of Albania”, with emphasis on the Albania, as if he were a person with airs and graces, which of course couldn’t have been further from the truth. Given his paltry intelligence and total lack of empathy. And the fact that had never worn nor would ever wear a T-shirt, let alone one emblazoned with the words “irony-free zone”. Why airs and graces would be associated with Albania is anyone's guess.
Bernardo was a slinky, stinky man with curly dark hair in abundance on his head and knuckles, and presumably in parts further south as well. His waiter’s livery was flecked with stains, and dried or drying particles of food, most rotten. So far so bad. But for one thing: his eyes. They burned and sparkled white hot — blue hot — within his head like coals of hate and rage from Satan’s loungeroom fireplace itself.
Bernardo was consumed by hate. Hate for the world, for the people, for his job, his boss, his parents (whoever they were), and most of all, himself.
The main driver of his hate was his belief that he had been badly done by in comparison to others. They had theirs. They had gotten theirs. He wanted his. He would get his.
Anyway, back to the private dining chamber and its yakuza incumbents.
From the moment Bernardo slunk into the room, eyes glittering with hate, things took a decidedly strange turn.
The head-honcho yakuza boss gestured imperiously end impatiently for Bernardo to lift the lid of the large silver platter in the centre of the table.
The expression on the faces of the yakuza did not change, but Bernardo’s did. As soon as he saw what lay upon the platter...
(Well strictly speaking it wasn’t what was on the platter, so much as poking up through a hole in the platter: the neck and heard of what appeared to be a small monkey. Eyes alive with fear. The monkey’s body was rendered immobile by virtue of being strapped into a metal frame attached to the underside of the table.
But what really shocked a shockingly unshockable Bernardo — “shocked” not “scared”: Bernardo had had much of the fear knocked out of him by the school of hard knocks at which he had graduated without honour — was the sight of the monkey’s exposed brain emerging from the bottom half of a shaven skull of which the top half had been removed, sawn off, cracked open, as it were, so to speak, if you will.
In an instant twin realizations bloomed within Bernardo’s mind, to the effect firstly that the monkey was still alive, a status confirmed by the plaintive whimpering of the poor abused creature, ...
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