Chapter five: The stakes
The weeks pass on and for a while, I’m on edge expecting Takeyo or any of the other Go siblings to pop up somewhere with unwanted advice and vague threats but to my surprise, the home front stays silent.
And slowly but surely the monotony of restaurant life takes over.
It’s hard to worry about the Kashuya when the shops don’t have what you need or Yobu has a cold and the restaurant needs to be closed for the day.
There are a thousand and one worries to be had when trying to keep a business running.
One day Yobu has to step out for a bit to talk to a new supplier. So Himowa and I offer to keep an eye out for a bit.
It’s early in the afternoon meaning that if we’re lucky a regular will come in for a cup of tea, but chances are bigger it’ll just stay empty.
That’s why I’m surprised to hear the bell over the door chime while I’m sweeping in the back.
Probably Jenny, the eccentric foreigner, looking for a quiet place to write.
But then I hear Himowa shriek and my muscles respond before my brain does, dashing to the front of the store.
When I arrive there my blood runs cold.
Their faces are strange to me but the dragon crests tied around their upper arm makes me want to hurl.
Himowa is standing by the wall, face white but without apparent injuries “Are you okay?” I ask and she nods. I smile reassuringly at her, then focus my attention on the gangsters “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I shout with my broom at the ready.
The man at the back of the trio looks at the broom and chuckle dismissively, the man in front merely asked in an icy cold tone “Where’s the owner?”
“He’s out on errands, come back later.”
“He left two kids to take care of the place? That’s brave.” He then directs his men “Take the till.”
I can hear Himowa gasp behind me, my blood begins to boil. “What? You’re common thieves now!?”
“He’s been consistently late in paying protection, now he hasn’t paid at all for two months. He can count himself lucky he’s not here cause normally we leave a good beating behind. I’d wait but we’re on a schedule. Tell Yobu if he misses next months payment as well he can kiss his shop goodbye.” The leader makes a lighthearted waving gesture.
The goons take it as their cue and head for the cash register.
“You can’t, he needs that money! Get out of here you rats!” I brace myself, ready to pounce and let loose hell with my broomstick but Himowa grabs my arm and squeezes severely. “Please don’t.” She asks with a sob. I look at her, She’s scared and crying and the bigger priority right now. So I hug her, tell her it’s gonna be all right and let those bastards crack open the till and take all the money inside.
Then they head out without a word.
Leaving two distressed children behind.
When Yobu comes back and we tell him what happened he slinks down on one of the chairs and holds his head in desperation.
“Did they hurt you?” he asks miserably and we both shake our heads.
He sighs a sigh of relief but then sinks even further into his chair “How am I supposed to get the money in time now? They expect me to raise the money in three weeks.”
“I don’t get it, we’ve had more customers in the last couple of weeks than ever before, how come you can’t pay the protection money?”
“It’s because of me, isn’t it? It’s because you have an extra employee to pay.” Himowa asks softly.
“It’s not just you-”
“I can work for free you know.” Himowa snaps crossing her arms.
The old man shakes his head “I don’t want you to.”
“Why not? I already live in your house, eat your food-”
“Because I have my pride as well.”
Her eyes squint together “Fine, then I’ll quit.”
“How much do they need?” I ask in an attempt to keep people from saying more they’ll go on regretting later.
“Eight hundred Chui”
“That’s insane!” Himowa yells shocked.
“And way more than just two months of salary, this isn’t going to be solved by you running away Himowa,” I conclude.
Yobu grunts “Perhaps I should just close down now…go into hiding and hope they’ll lose interest in me.”
“No way. We cannot let them win!” My hands are balled into fists at the idea of those rats getting the last laugh.
“I appreciate the optimism but-”
“No, we’re doing this.” I hit the table for emphasis. I’ve had enough, just when I’m busy building a life for myself they manage to screw it up anyway.
“Well…” the old man starts but the chime of the copper bell over the door ends the conversation. “For now let’s just work.”
Himowa rolls her eyes “Fine.”
That evening as I walk home I hear a familiar voice.
“Need some help?”
I grab at the shadow behind me and slam it against the wall.
“You got some guts showing your face now.” I hiss at my brother.
Takeyo waves his hand at me in a helpless gesture “Whoa whoa calm down, this neighbourhood is not my territory. I’m here to help out, not make things worse.”
“And how do you plan on doing that?”
“I know about your boss’ problems, I can lend you the cash.”
“And be indebted to the Kashuya,” I spit on the ground “Nice try but I’m not that stupid.”
“Not the Kashuya, just me. Hashiro wouldn’t even know.”
“And I would take your word for it because?”
“Because I’ve always been nice to you?”
His eyes narrow, voice filled with annoyance he says “How about you just let go of your pride for one damn second and let me help you.”
I huff, bring my face close to his and say clearly, coldly “No.” Before letting him go and disappearing into the shadows.
“Remember I tried to help you, little brother!” He shouts after me, but I’m not interested.
Favours lead to debts, debts lead to obligations, obligations I may not want to keep.
I’ll fix this myself.
Now just to figure out how.
That night my mind is whirling.
I try to sleep but all I can think of is the restaurant, how to save it.
Keep it out of the Kashuya’s filthy claws.
I’m not an expert on finance or marketing or even just running a restaurant!?
That much becomes painfully clear as I try to find that perfect plan.
The solution to everything.
Hours later I shock myself awake.
I must have missed the landlady knocking on my door.
I get dressed in a frenzy, rush up to the surface world and find it’s half-past eight already.
I start to run.