By Rory Mulholland.
There were two things she never shut up about. One was the Aum Shinri Kyo sect. The other was the Coen brothers. I’d heard about the Aum cult. They were the crowd who’d done the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. Taeko claimed she’d been a member and had to do a runner after the attack. Judging by her age now she must have been the group’s mascot if she’d ever had any contact with it at all. I humoured her.
As for the Coen brothers, I’d never heard of them. But since she said it was on account of them that she’d come to Minnesota, I pretended I had. I bluffed my way at first and then quickly genned up on the Coens, getting all their movies from a video club downtown and reading stuff about them that I pulled off the net.
I liked them. It seemed that every single movie they made looked like it had an entirely different director. Fargo was my favourite, and hers too. But I didn’t believe, like she did, God bless her oriental soul, that it was a true story like it said it was before the credits finally rolled over the snowy flatness of rural Minnesota. I didn’t believe it because I’d read that it was just another of the Coens’ little jokes. Nor did I think, like she did, that the buried dollars were there for the taking by whomsoever made the effort to find them. I just liked the flick because it was a great yarn, its small-time crooks were pretty true to life (I didn’t like to dwell on the fact that their criminal incompetence had some uncomfortable personal parallels), and it reminded me how ridiculous the Swedish lilt makes the Minnesota accent. But the thing I liked most about it was seeing Steve Buscemi’s leg sticking out of the wood grinder after the rest of him had been neatly minced.
* * *
I needed Taeko for a job. I owed a lot of money to someone it wasn’t good to owe money to for long. I couldn’t do the job on my own and, given my less than glittering criminal career, nobody worthwhile would do it with me. It was an easy job but it needed two people.
She didn’t take much persuading. Apart from being a Coens freak she was also obsessed with American crime movies. Put her in front of any screen showing violent transgression of US legislation and she would almost wet her pants with excitement. She told me that violence in Japanese films just didn’t do it for her. Also, the thought of bourgeois little mum and dad back in Yokohama finding out their daughter was a bank robber turned her on no end.
It was mid-October. I’d decided December was the best time for our adventure. By then the days would be short and there would be snow. The intervening weeks we spent on her learning to fire a gun, working out an escape route, casing the bank, and doing a lot of fucking. We’d usually do this after a trip to the bar where we’d first met, that evening when, to my bold “I’m hung like a horse” gambit, she politely replied, “A horse? No thank you, I take a beer.”
Taeko may have misunderstood that particular bon mot, but her English was pretty good. She used it mostly to bemoan the stifling middle-class conventions and restrictions of life in Japan. She did tend, however, to omit the definite article. I would tease her by saying she’d end up inside the bank, gun in hand, screaming: “Give me fucking money!” or “Open fucking vault!”
I suppose I was in love with her. Sometimes I’d feel bad about what I was going to do. Then I’d think about the man I owed the money to and would quickly shut down any thoughts of a romantic future with this particular girl.
After a while I told her I’d finally been able to find out where the money in the Coen film was hidden. She swallowed the ridiculous reasons I offered as to why no-one else had ever thought of recovering it before now. We’d go straight there after the bank job, I said, and gave her a hand-drawn map that would lead us to the buried treasure.
* * *
The bank was even easier than I’d imagined. Taeko didn’t even forget the definite article when she put her pistol to the chief teller’s head. Three hours after the job we were far out on the plains. A fence ran along the straight road as far as the eye could see. The white glare of the snow was turning to grey as the light faded. I’d scouted the place before, just to make sure it looked as close as possible to the shot in the closing scene of Fargo. I’d also picked a spot where there was no traffic and no house or town for a very long way in either direction.
The map was in the back pocket of her jeans. The only other thing she had on was a light jersey. The car was warm. I’d turned the heating right up. I pulled over and reached into the back seat to take the champagne out of the cooler. We looked at each other and laughed, drank to our future, and then did some fooling around.
When she pulled her jeans back on I told her we had a long drive ahead, we’d better take a leak now before we got going. As soon as she climbed out of the car – helpfully not bothering to put on her coat – I pulled the door shut and stepped on the gas. The music from the radio drowned out the screams I saw coming from her mouth in the rear-view mirror.
* * *
The bank job was a front-page story in the local papers the next day. The frozen Japanese woman made the news in brief section two days later. But it moved onto page one on the third day when someone realised Taeko was one of the bank robbers. A week later, after a film buff mortuary worker figured out what the map was he had found in Taeko’s pocket, it started to make the national papers. The words “Mystery” and “Deepens” figured in their headlines.
© Copyright, 2007. Rory Mulholland.
(Rory Mulholland is a journalist who lives in Paris. He has translated novels from French into English and has written his own book on his experience as a reporter in Iraq: Camp Britney, Tikrit: The Genteel Art of War Reporting).