Shoda squeezed Aki’s arm. “Don’t think you’re getting out of buying me a beer that easily, Mr. Hot Shot Secretary.”
“We got to find a place first.”
“There should be one up another block.”
The streets were quiet, except for trash workers, but they avoided even glancing toward Aki and Shoda. Even without the inward-facing arrows of the Matsukawa crest pinned on their shirts, they could never lose their yakuza swagger.
“I’ve been trying to suck up to the ward leader in the red-light district,” Shoda said.
“You think the ward leader will move you there when your apprenticeship is over?”
“I think so, but who the fuck knows. I do everything they want, and I still feel like I haven’t gotten anywhere.”
“It hasn’t gone unnoticed. There have been a few times Father Murata talked about how he wished all the recruits were as dedicated as you.”
Shoda tugged on his ear. “I just gotta spend another six months cleaning toilets. Then probably another doing the same thing at one of the Kyoto wards. I joined the yakuza, not a maid service.”
Aki laughed. “I felt that way, too. It takes time. People have to learn they can trust you before they hand over bigger duties.”
“Is that so?”
“Wherever you go, I wish you the best. You’ll make a name for yourself.”
Even with the good wishes, Shoda’s face remained tight. “It was easier for you.”
The two passed through a narrow alley reeking of rotting fish and piss. The yellow trash bags took up so much space they had to walk single file.
“Maybe if I’d taken it up the ass, too, I would’ve gotten a cushy job answering phones by now,” Shoda said.
“I don’t just answ—”
“So you still have to suck his dick, too? Maybe we could both take turns. The fag might want some variety.”
Aki’s mouth slackened. “Shoda, you’re drunk.”
“And more clearheaded than ever before.”
Shoda snatched a handful of Aki’s chin-length hair and jerked him back. The world spun, and the first of the sun rays blinded Aki. Then Shoda’s fist connected with the side of Aki’s
face, and he fell onto the stuffed trash bags.
“Shoda!” Aki cried out while all the hours of training he put in at the boxing gym fluttered away like a paper trapped in a whirlwind.
“B-but we’re friends,” Aki managed to say. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
Shoda grunted and drew his arm back again. “Huh? High school grad can’t figure it out? You think you’re better than the rest of us, don’t you?”
Aki held up his arms, covering his face, but Shoda delivered a blow to his wrist that sent a shock wave of pain throughout Aki’s body. But it didn’t hurt as much as their breaking friendship.
“No! I never thought that,” Aki pleaded.
“I’m going to fuck you up so bad Father Murata won’t want to look at you. You two-toned freak!”
Another punch landed on Aki’s stomach. The beer sloshing in his gut churned up his throat. His thoughts swirled as he slid down the trash bags and vomited. It splashed back onto his white hands.
Shoda kicked him in the ribs. A trail of acid followed the rest of the contents of Aki’s stomach. Even with the copper taste of blood mixing with acid in his mouth, Aki knew the scuffle had to be a misunderstanding. They were best friends. Shoda just got a little hotheaded.
Aki wiped his mouth as Shoda stumbled back. Sure, Aki trained on a punching bag, but he never sparred with an actual person, let alone struck his best friend.