As a somewhat-cynical young Japanese-American who prided herself on combining modern sensibilities with a respect for the past, Reire Suzaki would have rolled her eyes in the way she did that so irritated her mother had she heard the phrase, “From one ending comes a new beginning.” However, it was that kind of rather trite sentiment that would come to have real significance in the young woman’s life as her grandfather’s death ushered her into a whole new life of her own.
But that epiphany would only come later. For now, after the sudden death of her grandfather, Rei — as she preferred to be known — felt only grief that she had never truly gotten to know the old repairman better. She remembered certain things about him from her past infrequent visits to his combination home and store. There was a slight scent of oil about him. This came from his constant tinkering with machines and his passion for handling small and intricate components. He loved his job as a fix-it man and never seemed to express any regret over the fact that he might have been so much more had he been willing to assert himself.
She also remembered his smile. He had been affectionate in a very quiet and gentle manner. He was not demonstrative, but he radiated a benignity that made those he cared about feel cherished. Funny, no one else ever made me feel that special. Not even mom and dad, she thought.
Rei’s well-polished black high heels clattered across the floor as she looked around the empty store and delicately caressed the still shiny Closed sign in the store’s front window. She knew her mother would scold her for coming into the repair shop in her only expensive imported Kawakubo designer suit. But something about the service itself made her want to feel closer to the old man, and she could think of no other place that so embodied all he had been as much as the Suzaki Fix-It Shop.
Grandfather almost never closed his shop, she mused. He welcomed customers even during mealtime or late at night. I suppose it was that dedication to his job that made him so popular. Many customers preferred to use his shop instead of driving out of town to one of the big chain stores. He had a personal touch and valued craftsmanship for its own sake.
Rei signed softly and hugged herself as she paced around the small shop. She felt a little cold and smiled ruefully as she recalled how her grandfather’s small body had always seemed immune to temperatures that others found to be extreme in one manner or another. She whispered, “Akiro Suzaki, you will be missed.”
She gazed out the window and watched passersby as they entered or exited one of the other neighborhood stores around her own building. This would be a nice place to spend my days, she thought. It would certainly beat that library with its windowless basement view.
Rei worked as a librarian at Central City Public Library, and while she was both capable and experienced at her job, she found it unrewarding and for the most part boring. She also had a poor relationship with her director. The friendliest she’s ever been with me was when she came for her own job interview with the Board. I guess back then she didn’t know how utterly without influence I am there.
She felt angry, and waves of bitterness threatened to engulf her until she shook her head and caused her long black hair to cascade across her face. She swept it aside and said, “Let it go. Forget about it.” She felt better momentarily and tried to forget about her hated job for a while.
Rei idly bent down beneath a counter and carefully lifted out an account book. “For all his skills with machines, grandpa still kept his books on paper,” she said with a wry grin. She opened the ledger and instantly recognized her grandfather’s spidery writing from samples she had seen on old birthday cards.
As she started to return it to its place beneath the counter, she spotted a second ledger wedged just within the counter’s upper shelf. It was almost impossible to detect because of its placement. “A second ledger! Don’t tell me grandpa kept them going back to the ’50s when he opened shop. Hmmm, this isn’t old after all. It’s a different version of the one I just looked at. Was grandfather cooking the books?”
As she flipped through the old accounts book, her eyes widened in surprise as she found a notorious name written on one line. “Todd Van III!” she said with a gasp. I can’t imagine there could be two guys with weird names like that, and the only one I’ve heard of from the papers is the real honest-to-bad leader of the super-criminal gang called the Squids. Why would a super-villain be listed as one of grandfather’s customers?
She found another odd name that stood out because of some forgotten association. “Max Gallagher. Gallagher? Well, there’s a gimmick comedian with that last name, but I don’t know if you could really call his act a crime in and of itself.”
Rei made a mental note of the name and vowed to research it when she returned to work. “One thing the library is good for is locating data. I love libraries. I just don’t like the way mine is run.”
Later, as Rei relaxed alone in her small apartment, she studied the ledger she had taken from the store. She now wore a comfortable if overly large T-shirt with a Whitesnake logo on the front, and she sat with both legs propped over one chair arm.
“Maxwell Gallagher was the name of another old super-villain. He died during those red skies last summer when so many action-heroes were seen around the nation fighting natural disasters and such. His nom du crime was the Black Raider.”
She frowned thoughtfully as she sipped from a glass of milk. “I know grandfather was certainly never arrested, nor did he ever make the news for any reason. He led a peaceful life and had no enemies. Why would a nice, capable, but ultimately ordinary repairman have done business with infamous costumed creeps?”
Rei sat up and swung her bare legs to the ground. “Money laundering! I’ve read about small store owners who were forced into handling mob money. Maybe grandpa had to work for those goons.”
She put down the glass and listened for a moment as Pepsi, her small white dog, growled as he dived at one of her fallen slippers. “I know mom and dad never reacted to him in any way that would suggest he was mixed up with anything improper, and the way mom’s antennae raises up at almost anything I do, I know she would have had plenty to say if her father-in-law had been some kind of criminal. They couldn’t have suspected anything.”
Rei gave the little Shih Tzu a pat and thought over her options. “I don’t want to tell my parents about this. Why spoil grandfather’s memory? If he was involved with the underworld in some way, it certainly wasn’t as a hired thug. Perhaps other stores around the neighborhood were also being forced to handle crooked sources of income.”
The next day was Saturday, and Rei eagerly slept in until noon before heading out to revisit the store. “I’m going to search the place again. Maybe I’ll find Al Capone in the storeroom,” she said with a grin.
Later, as her boom box blared out with the sounds of Survivor, Rei discovered something a bit more realistic, if scarcely less usual. Grandpa had a secret room off from his rear workspace, she thought as she walked within. It wasn’t that hard to find, since I was half-looking for something that odd anyway. This is starting to feel like something out of Ian Fleming. Maybe I could end up a Bond girl when they do the movie version.
She studied the rows of neatly stacked pieces of equipment and found a file cabinet full of detailed blueprints and plans. “I can’t believe this!” she gasped. “Grandpa wasn’t handling money for super-crooks. He was selling them their gear! This is some kind of one-man factory for weapons and gadgets like those used by the Squids, Black Raider, and others. My kindly grandfather was running the equivalent of a mom and pop shop for kinky pieces of criminal equipment!”