"No, I haven't," I answer, putting my big-!@#$ bottle down and looking him in the eyes: "I was waiting for you to tell me why you didn't shoot your target."
"How did you know...?" the President starts to ask me. Then I smile, and he remembers who he's !@#$ing talking to.
And then he just shrugs, sighs, and shuts the !@#$ up, which is how I like my Presidents.
* * *
We're finishing up our lunch at the ridiculous, underground steak restaurant that I'm always threatening to take people out to, when I'm in Tokyo. You've heard of live sushi, son? Well, this is that, only on a larger, more intimate scale.
You not only get to see your food die, but you get to !@#$ing kill it.
That's right, son -- you pay a lot of !@#$ing money to have the help bring you a whole !@#$ cow, still alive, and leave all the tools and equipment necessary to kill, slaughter, prepare, and cook the !@#$ing thing. For a extra fee they'll do it for you, but it runs against the whole ethos of the establishment.
It's really meant for a full day's excursion for large groups of rich, somewhat cracked people. Me? I do it for a casual lunch.
And I just love !@#$ing taking new people here.
The President had no idea what the !@#$ was going on, today. We !@#$ing drank ourselves in and out of !@#$ing oblivion, after our deal, yesterday, and I didn't give him the time to sober the !@#$ up before taking him out. In fact, the security for this place is so !@#$ tight he thought we were going to yet another secret meeting, and got all !@#$ angry with me, because I didn't tell him what was up.
(You go to a !@#$ing imposing office in a large building in Marunouchi, sit in a waiting room, show off enough ID to sink a !@#$ boat, and swear you're not from the !@#$ health department. And then they put you in !@#$ car with blacked-out windows, and drive you around Tokyo for what feels like a !@#$ing hour. And if you ask too many questions on the way, they just ride around in circles for another hour, toss your !@#$ out by the docks, stamp on your !@#$ hands, and leave you to crawl the !@#$ home.)
So you can imagine his !@#$ surprise when finally arrive, he walks into the place (all decorated in cow hides, and staffed by large, Japanese women in cowboy hats and daisy dukes) and gets the first whiff of blood and !@#$.
Being polite, he just thinks we're at some strangely-placed steak restaurant, and that someone !@#$ing farted their guts out in the bathroom. It isn't until we walk by an open dining room, and he sees a group of sarariiman standing around a frightened heifer, waiting for the one with the bolt pistol to stop !@#$ing crying and kill the thing, that he knows what's up.
They're all wrapped up in clear, plastic raincoats, like they're in that one movie where Batman !@#$ing loses his !@#$, and brandishing knives, and they're all staring silently at the crying guy. He must have drawn the short straw because no one wants to step in and help him, but no one's calling him a !@#$ing coward in that delightful, growly way the Japanese have of insulting each other, either.
(You don't have to pay the 60000 Yen per group until the !@#$ cow is dead, so you've got time to back the !@#$ out if you can't !@#$ing handle it.)
We get to our dining room, I order the whole !@#$ing thing before the President can say a !@#$ thing, and then I make him a deal: I'll cut if he pulls the trigger, and then we can both cook our own meat. It took him a long !@#$ while to stop looking the !@#$ thing in the eye, put the pistol up to its !@#$ noggin, and put it out of its misery, but he did.
And then I let him sit down and have a !@#$ smoke and a beer at the table while I butchered the !@#$ing thing. And I'll tell you, son, you have no idea just how much work slaughtering a !@#$ cow is until you're up to your ankles in blood and steaming guts, with the smells of iron and !@#$ stinking up your nose.
(Learned it from villagers in north Vietnam, in case you were !@#$ing wondering. Good people. Great cows.)
An hour later, I've got the cuts washed and laid out on the chilled, clean surface they provide for you, and the President's got the grill going. Fifteen minutes later we're cooking and eating and drinking !@#$ good beer. And then he's !@#$ing full but I'm still working on the thing until it's skin, bones, and the guts I don't really !@#$ing care for.
(You have to eat the !@#$ing liver, son. If you think you !@#$ing hate liver, you haven't ripped it out of a still-steaming belly of a cow, sliced it thin, and tossed it onto the !@#$ing grill. No onions or mustard needed, here!)
After that, it's all over but the chopsticks, the sauce, and what's either exhausted satisfaction or true horror -- maybe both. They have blood-flavored ice cream for dessert, if you're still feeling !@#$ing adventurous, but you're probably better just getting the !@#$ check and going back to Marunouchi.
I've been going to this place since it opened, back in the 80's. I find it's perfect to put certain things into !@#$ing perspective. Capitalism. Consumerism. Carnivores-prey relationships. Our weird disconnection from the food we eat.
And, ultimately, war.
* * *
"So, did you feel sorry for Wen, or did you just lose your nerve?" I ask the President.
"A little of both, I think," he says, not quite wanting to look me in the eye: "I thought there was some way we could fix this, just for a second-"
"And then it was too late."
"Four of them. They appeared out of nowhere and he... I don't know, it looked like he was breaking down. I guess working with us was screwing him up."
"Oh, you could say that," I tell him, cutting off some more of that delicious liver I just cooked: "And I know better than to ask if you !@#$ing remember how to handle it when that happens."
"'Better !@#$ing rotting than !@#$ing talking,'" he quotes me, verbatim.
"!@#$ straight. And then you felt sorry for the fat !@#$."
"Well, next time? Don't. And I'll tell you why. You want to know what those Harolds are to us, Mr. President?"
"You're !@#$ing eating it," I say, pointing my chopsticks over at the stinking pile of bones and offal that used to be a cow, over in the corner.
He looks at the cow, looks back at me, and nods: "Point taken."
"So, my question. Was there any truth to anything I told him?"
"Like what?" I ask, chowing down on some more liver. The soy sauce here is !@#$ing exquisite.
"Like that box, for example. You had me give it to him so he could call me for help, in case things got hairy."
"Did it have a dual function, or was it always just a !@#$ing bomb?"
I smile a little, imagining the scene. There's Wen Boxiong, surrounded by floating Imago, crying his eyes out because he's !@#$ing convinced they know what he's been up to with us. And then he's slowly realizing that they didn't know, and he just confessed, Tell-Tale Heart style. So he pulls out the call box I had the President give him, hoping that somehow I'd come flying the !@#$ out of nowhere to save his fat !@#$ from the brutal brain-sucking they were about to give him.
But instead of calling me, it explodes, creating a fire hotter than white phosphorous, designed to completely incinerate everything within a radius of ten feet, and light paper on fire up to fifty feet away. It turns him into stray, singed, and traitorous molecules in a split second, thus ensuring that no one is going to stick their metal-plated thumbs into his eye sockets and read his !@#$ mind the hard way.
(Effective !@#$ing things, those blastboxes.)
Of course, it probably didn't so much as inconvenience those !@#$ing Imago, but they were so !@#$ surprised by the thing that it gave the President more than enough time to pick his !@#$ jaw up off the floor, pack up his !@#$, and run like !@#$ to Shanghai. Which is why he was able to grab his waiting disguise from the Ju Kikan's dropoff, prove a bunch of idiot birthers right by way of a phony passport and a highly-exotic disguise system, and get his !@#$ to Japan.
As opposed to getting caught assassinating a foreign head of state, followed by what would have been one terrible !@#$ of an interrogation, and maybe a trip back to where those !@#$ing sick alien metal-wrapped body-jacking bastards left him, the last time they got their hands on him.
Of course, I'm so !@#$ing wrapped up in imagining all that that I forget there's a question I need to answer. So I smile at the President, have another delicious bite of cow's liver, and tell him the !@#$ truth.
"It was dual use. I had it switched over to call us, up until the point that I realized that keeping him alive was more dangerous than useful. And then I switched it to explode if he did."
"And when did you decide he wasn't worth it, anymore?"
"When I thought he might have squealed on us, after what happened at the train station."
"I think he did," the President admits.
"Well, I know he didn't," I say: "It was that Russian !@#$weasel. Try to keep up-"
"Not to the Imago," the President says: "I made a few inquiries, while I was waiting for you to rendezvous with me, here. That day I lost track of him? He went to the Botanical Gardens. He met someone there."
"I don't know. She was contacted as a beautiful older woman in a white coat. They were seen talking, then they went away. And when they were seen, later, she left alone in a huff, and he stumbled out of there like he'd been dumped with a vengeance."
"'Beautiful older woman?'" I ask.
"Caucasian. Dark hair. Long white hat. Smoked cigarettes with a black holder. Acted angry with him, then cozy. They looked like they might be going off into the trails to fool around...."
He goes on for a bit, there, but I'm not really listening. Because I know of exactly one !@#$ person who dresses like that and smokes like that, and I haven't seen here since all this !@#$ trouble started.
Geri !@#$ing Yesterday -- wife of Dr. Yesterday, who I know has been replaced by the Imago, and had a big !@#$ hand in what happened on 3/15.
She hasn't been seen since then, and I always assumed he's just !@#$ing killed her as part of his part in the plan. But then, she was always a !@#$ of a lot smarter than him, now wasn't she?
And there is no !@#$ way that someone that smart gets !@#$ing killed by some stupid alien !@#$ who's replaced her beard.
At some point in the President's over-exerting attempt to sound like a competent intelligence professional, instead of someone who !@#$ed up his first real job, I hold up a finger and look at him. Thankfully, he falls silent, so I don't have to punch him so I can hear myself think.
"Part of the reason I used Wen was because he was on my triple-red list," I say: "He was mentally weak, morally questionable, and in a position where those two traits would make him really easily talked into doing whatever the !@#$ we wanted."
"I think I remember you saying this, before."
"Well, we're not the only country with a triple-red list," I go on: "And I always figured it was only a matter of time before someone got to him."
"Alright, so are you saying someone else got to him after we did?"
"No. I'm starting to think someone !@#$ing got to him before we did," forgetting about my !@#$ing liver and going for the beer: "How does a shuddering, friendless loser like him get put in charge of those kinds of secrets, anyway?"
"Someone put him there," the President says: "Someone wanted him in charge of those files. So they could control the files through him."
"Only we come along and talk him into being a triple agent," I say: "So maybe this other person got him a long time ago, and he's had time to think it over and thinks we might be able to get him a better deal?"
"Or maybe something changed," the President suggests, taking a bite from my liver, since I'm not !@#$ing eating it: "My contact said it looked like they were two people who hadn't seen each other in a while. He was nervous as !@#$, and she was angry, then cozy."
"Like two old lovers, meeting again," I muse: "Must have been one !@#$ of a makeup !@#$, back in the bushes."
"So say he talks to her, and say he tells her everything. But the Imago tell you it's the President of Russia who gave you away. No talk about her at all."
"So who is she, and what kind of game is she running?" I ask, not yet wanting to disclose that I'm pretty !@#$ sure I know who she is, just yet.
"My guy wasn't able to get a decent photo" the President sighs, handing me a piece of paper. I take it and open it, and see a decent copy of a decent security camera photo from the Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, the area of interest looks like a computer !@#$ing threw up all over it.
"Electromagnetic shielding," I say: "Really sophisticated stuff, but not the best available. The really good !@#$ works so well there isn't even an effect. You don't even show up on the camera."
"Vampire coats," the President says, having some more of my liver: "I remember you talking about those, too."
"Alright then," I say, grabbing his beer and knocking it back, which makes him stop eating my !@#$ food: "We got ourselves a !@#$ing mystery to solve, here, Scooby Doo. But the problem is that we don't !@#$ing have time. The Imago are going to finish mopping up our little distraction in the next 48 hours, and that means we have a war of our own to start."
"We can farm this out," the President suggests: "We have enough people with their hands in their pants, don't we? We can have one of them look into it."
"Good idea," I say: "But before we start talking about bringing someone else into it? I just want to be clear on one !@#$ thing. The next time I tell you to kill someone? Just !@#$ing do it."
He looks at me, and nods: "I will."
"Because the next time this happens, I will just !@#$ing cut you loose and leave you on the sidelines," I tell him: "I don't care if that means it takes me twice as long to do what needs to be done. If I can't rely on you in the field, I can't have you out there. And I can just have you locked up in a !@#$ing hotel room in Tijuana until it's time for your close-up.
"You got that?"
He looks at me again, and nods: "I got it."
"Good," I say, knocking back the rest of his beer, and then regarding the dead cow in the corner.
"You got your speech, ready?" I ask after a while in silence.
"Best I've written," he says, patting his shirt pocket: "You got the rest ready?"
"Pretty much," I lie: "Just a little more finagling, and we got ourselves a revolution."
He smiles, and leans back. I know he knows I'm not being entirely truthful. And I know that he knows that I know.
And maybe that's the real lesson of this crazy !@#$ meal, after all.