“Hitogui” Fiction by Shane Huey

Rob loved what he got paid to do but it was now noon—lunchtime—and he would stop what he was doing for his well-earned, hourlong break. He had the time marked on his calendar as a standing appointment and rarely did he permit intrusions upon this sacred hour. Especially on Fridays and today, it was Friday.

Rob was always invited but seldom entertained the invitation to join his colleagues from the IT department for lunch on such Fridays, though he would on occasion. But, today was a special occasion and he wanted to celebrate it at best alone or, at worst, maybe with a few special friends.

He hit Windows+L on his computer and locked his screen, made his way out of the Philips Pavilion and into the employee parking deck, hopped into and started his car. It was Florida in summertime so it was hot. He fired the AC up, cracked the window, exited the deck, and was soon headed west on Glades. In just a few minutes, he was parked outside of Hitogui, a very traditional, Japanese-style Hibachi restaurant. His favorite restaurant.

Hitogui was an established but still relatively unknown restaurant catering to an exclusive clientele. Though in the heavily-trafficked strip mall for three years now, few knew that it existed. The management neither advertised, at least not via traditional means, nor placed signage indicating the presence of the restaurant. The plexiglass windows and door were darkly tinted and the only designation being the small lettering on the door, “Hitogui” beneath which followed the same in Japanese (人食い).

Rob opened a darkened door and stepped inside simultaneous with the ringing of a bell. The bell notified Chef Koroshi that he had a customer. Rob was the first customer for the time being and so he took his usual seat near the back of the restaurant at table number four, one of the only four table and chair sets in the place, all amply spaced out for an exclusive and private dining experience.

Unusual for the typical hibachi restaurant, each table had only one chair before it and a small grill immediately opposite the patron. This was no restaurant for groups and parties but one in which the patron could sample, directly at the hands of one of Japan’s most skilled artisans, a meal cooked personally for him. Nor was a menu on the table as the selections were few and especially personalized for the clientele that such lists of food were not required, save for the drink menu listing a number of Japanese beers and whiskies. Rob liked the Yamazaki 18 chased with an Asahi Super Dry or two but he had to be back to work shortly so he would have a water and a pot of hot matcha.

Chef Koroshi approached the table where Rob sat, placing silverware wrapped in a black linen napkin upon the table, turned over an empty glass and poured some water. “Good afternoon Mr. Rob,” he said in English but with a thick and heavy Japanese accent.

“Konnichiwa Koroshi-san,” responded Rob with a smile. “O genki desu ka?” Good afternoon Mr. Koroshi. How are you?

“Genki! Arigatou Rob-san. Just genki!” Great, just great, thank you.

Rob didn’t speak much Japanese, not for lack of trying as he had studied for years, but because Japanese is a very hard language to acquire for the typical westerner and, though Rob was smarter than average, he still spoke at a basic level but did try to speak a little when at Hitogui. It delighted Chef Koroshi just to see an American try.

“Nanika nomimasu ka, Rob-san?” Something to drink?

“Ee, ocha o kudasai. Arigatou gozaimasu” Rob replied, politely requesting the matcha and thanking the chef.

“Hai!” Certainly.

When Chef Koroshi returned with the small porcelain tea pot and cup, after having poured Rob a bit of tea, returned to English, “How you like your steak today Mr. Rob?”

“What Japanese, culinary magic did you work on this lot?”

“This week, we rub our meat with koji, a special (paused a moment searching for the word) fungus, yes fungus, and this tenderize steak in two day make look like forty-five day of dry age. Oishii desu—delicious!”

“Sounds great. Medium rare with the vegetables and fried rice. No mushrooms please.”

“Hai…right away, Rob-san,” bowing his head only slightly in the way the Japanese do to show respect while still demonstrating a certain superiority, he turned and walked back to the kitchen.

Rob sat sipping the green, powdery matcha as Chef Koroshi returned pulling his cart and donning his hibachi chef’s belt. Rob noted the well-worn handle of the santoku chef’s knife. He had always admired the implement, a harmony of hinoki wood and Damascus steel, as well as the skill with which it was wielded by Koroshi-san.

Koroshi sprayed and wiped down the grill, turned on the gas burner, streamed some oil upon the surface and within moments had it ready. He retrieved a silverish, covered platter from his cart, carefully removed the lid and tilted the bottommost plate toward Rob. Rob looked at the slab of pinkish brownish meat and nodded in approval.

Koroshi carefully placed the slab of meat upon the grill to which it replied with a burst of smoke and sizzle. He then poured out a bowl of vegetables to one side and a bowl of rice to the other. He tossed two eggs into the air simultaneously catching them on the edge of his spatula and with nothing more than a slight bob of the wrist the eggs slid out of their shells and onto the grill and the yellows did not break.

Koroshi flipped the carnivore’s dream and again, smoke and sizzle, revealing one side already browned and medium rare. He scooped the eggs up and placed them atop the pile of rice with a pour of soy sauce and then ran his knife through his hibachi fork across the mountain of grain, flipping with his spatula to thoroughly mix, finally scooping the rice up and placing it upon the ceramic plate on the table before Rob. Next came the vegetables.

Koroshi returned to the meat once again and, likewise, with hibachi fork and knife, sliced the former muscle turned lunch fare with a surgical precision that seemed less scientific than art. Rob watched with delight as the knife passed through the meat with ease. There was no resistance, no fight in this once vigorous and living thing. Life for life, thought Rob. All creatures feed up on other creatures for life, even vegetarians take life to sustain their own. They just like to pretend that they don’t, he continued to muse, silently and to himself.

Finally, the steak was done and Chef Koroshi laid it to rest alongside its accompaniments upon the plate. He turned off the grill, sprayed once more, and gave it a quick scraping, placing his implements and dishes back upon the cart, turned to Rob, “Enjoy your lunch, Rob-san.”

“Arigatou, Chef.” Thank you.

Chef Koroshi, cart in tow, returned to the kitchen leaving Rob now alone in the dining room, ready to enjoy the meal for which he had worked so hard.

Plate in front of him properly seated upon a large doily, he retrieved and unfurled the linen roll from the table, removed the fork and knife, and placed the cloth triangle upon his lap. There were none of the typical sauces before him and Rob would not desire those anyway, preferring to taste the essence of the meat itself. He spun the plate such that the steak was front and center, stabbed a piece with his fork, sliced his knife down the center of the morsel still steaming from the grill. The knife cut through the meat as if heated and rendering pats of butter. He carefully drew the entree to his mouth and placed it within, chewing slowly, carefully attentive to the oral sensations…the heat, the moisture, the flavor, the texture… It was delicious and he caught himself thinking so in Japanese, oishii desu. Then, for the briefest flash of a moment, be believed that he had felt a certain quickening within himself. And his heart raced, pumping a few extra ounces of warm blood. 

Finishing his meal, Rob looked at his watch and it nearing time to return to the office. He cleaned his plate, sopping up the last bit of red juice from the steak with a fork full of vegetables. Chef Koroshi came out, inquired regarding his patron’s satisfaction with the meal to which Rob replied, “Oishii Koroshi-san…oishii. As always.” Delicious Mr. Koroshi, delicious…

“I am glad you enjoy Mr. Rob,” placing the check on the table. “Take your time.”

Rob turned the check over. “$325,” smiling to himself. “And worth every penny. Can’t get a meal like this just anywhere.” He removed four bills from his wallet, placed them underneath the clip of the plastic tray with the check and stood, hands upon his stomach and grand, Cheshire cat grin. He was in heaven right now and wanted to savor the last crumb of the moment before returning to the world outside.

Walking toward the door he was met by Chef Koroshi, “Thank you Mr. Rob, have a nice weekend.”

“You too Koroshi-san. Say, how much more meat do we have?”

“Hmmm… about maybe two meal, maybe three still.”

“I guess I’ll have to get to work again real soon,” said Rob, not referring to his day job but, rather, his one true passion.

“Hai, yes…I think so Rob-san.”

The two men smiled at each other and Rob turned to walk out of the restaurant.

Before Rob could exit, Chef Koroshi reminded, “Oh, and Mr. Rob, when you make your delivery, please remember use back door.”

“Of course,” Rob replied.

“Oh, and I almost forgot. Silly me! I have a little something for you Mr. Rob,” said the chef with a prideful grin.

The chef reached into a pocket and retrieved a small envelope which he then handed to Rob in formal, Japanese fashion (much as one would share a business card with a new client—envelope resting upon cusped hands and humbly presented to the recipient with a respectful bow). “Dozo.” Please take it.

Rob carefully took the envelope from Koroshi-san’s hands doing his level best to emulate the gesticulations in return. The envelope was constructed of rice paper with, what appeared to be, real blades of grass embedded in its fibers. What it contained was not a document, this much Rob could immediately tell, but something small, oddly shaped, and rather tensible upon depressing with the fingers.  

“Thank you Koroshi-san,” Rob said while offering a bow before turning, finally, to return to his car and then to work. “Good bye Chef.”

“Mata ne.” See you next time.

As Rob walked to his car, the pleasure elicited by the recent meal was quickly supplanted by a rising excitement for his next hunt. Yes, he would begin preparations this very weekend. The planning almost as exhilarating as the hunt itself. It would be a successful hunt as are most for Rob was a very skilled hunter—methodical and careful.

At hunt’s end, as always, he would bring his prize to Chef Koroshi at the little hibachi restaurant, Hitogui. And Chef Koroshi would process, store, and prepare it for a very fair price. But Rob would pay any price for this special service for he loved to hunt so and to consume the game which had fallen by his own hands and prowess.

So excited was Rob that, by the time he had reached his car, he had completely forgotten about the envelope given him by Chef Koroshi. He started the car, hearing first the hum and then feeling the cool air, and he opened the envelope. He was initially puzzled as he removed an origami swan from its delicate sleeve, wings and neck fully extending as if spring loaded. He smiled to himself admiring it for a moment. Then he noticed that the swan was not made with traditional folding paper, or paper at all for that matter. No, it was fashioned out of what appeared to be a very fine mesh. Had Rob not known better, he might have suspected it to be constructed from the type of material used in screening off a patio. But he soon recognized the material for what it was. It was a special mesh, the kind utilized by surgeons to repair abdominal wall defects and injuries—hernias and the like. In that moment, his last kill replayed as if a movie in his mind and he recalled the slight but unnatural resistance that his cold steel blade had met as he finished off his quarry with the final thrust. Ahh…

He smiled again, carefully placing the swan back into the envelope and then into the glove box. I never kept a trophy before, Rob thought. Maybe I should start. And he returned to work having had a good lunch.

Shane Huey is the author of a number of short stories and the occasional haiku. He often writes about dark things from his home in sunny South Florida. Learn more at www.shanehuey.net.

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