Thursday, January 23, 2020

#127 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "Ai Witness" by Kate Thornton

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****Kate Thornton’s Ai Witness is #127 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Yes, first publication was in A Deadly Dozen, Uglytown Press, May 2000.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I wrote it in only 5 days, including editing and polishing. It was sometime in 1999.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail.  Back then, I had a large desk in my living room in an upstairs apartment in an old house in Pasadena, CA. I don’t have any photos, but the room was huge, with a fireplace at one end and a row of tree-shaded windows overlooking a side street.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? In those days, I used to write for an hour every morning before going to work. When I was between jobs, I would write in the mornings for several hours.
What is the summary of your fiction work? A woman overhears a conversation in a sushi bar and concludes that a murder has taken place.

Please include excerpt and include page numbers as reference. The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. Whole story attached…
Ai Witness
The precision with which the blade sliced through the pink flesh, neatly separating it into six equally beautiful and symmetrical pieces sent a chill down my spine. Or maybe it was the air-conditioning. They always kept it too cold in the Ai, but it was my favorite sushi bar.
The graying hostess in the baggy blue-and-white apron had shown me to the bar, one seat from the corner, with all the other high, backless chairs occupied by the usual weeknight crowd. I spotted a few strangers from nearly a dozen faces, and I got a friendly nod from the rest as I slid into a seat. This wasn't my usual night, but I'd had a hard day at work, and it wasn't over yet. The chef grinned across the flayed maguro and set a rectangular china plate in front of me.
I sipped my hot tea and waited patiently. The young chef would get to me sooner or later, and half the fun of the place was that it could take you all night to eat a couple of pieces of expensive raw fish. The little glass front refrigerator case that ran the length of the counter held only the freshest fish and shellfish, colorful and with interesting textures. But I knew all of it would be gone by closing time. The sushi had to be absolutely fresh, and even a few hours could make a difference.
I leaned back and listened in to the conversation of the ladies to my left as the chef sliced up a few freebie snacks for them.
The bar provided an illusion of companionship and camaraderie as well as dinner, and I settled in for an evening of pleasant dining and overheard conversation.
I waved and indicated that I would have an order of maguro sashimi, sliced tuna over threads of raw daikon. A beginner's dish, the raw tuna was easy to eat. It was also one of my favorites. Some of the dishes were more exotic and expensive because of the rarity of their ingredients, but I chose plain tuna.
"Kevin's just so demanding," one of the ladies to my left was saying. She looked about thirty, with wispy blond hair and a little too much makeup over one eye. "You know, if he even thought I was out here tonight, he would be furious!"
"Well, what I don't know is why you stay with him," the other one replied. She was smaller, dark-haired and intense. "Face it, Irene. He treats you like dog meat, and you just put up with it. I would have left him years ago."
"Oh, Patty, I've looked at my choices. Divorce is just so expensive," Irene said in her defense. "I would be left penniless. I have no skills, no education, no job. Where would I go, what would I do?"
"Well, it's a good thing you don't have any children," Patty said angrily. Then her features softened. "Aw, I didn't mean to make you feel bad. Let's look on the bright side. At least he works late, and you can meet me here every Tuesday evening for dinner."
She held up her bottle of Kirin and Irene clinked her own against it.  "And we have this to look forward to!"
"But it's true. If he even thought I was out of the house, he would never let me forget it," Irene said. "And the very idea of sushi turns his stomach. Why he would no sooner eat raw fish than he would chew gum from the bottom of a movie theater seat!"
They both dissolved into giggles at the thought of this. "But he sure does love other kinds of food," Patty noted. "I've seen him eat three large pizzas with everything on them – and I mean everything – and not even burp."
"You're lucky, then," Irene replied. "I get to see him burp, too!"
They started laughing again. Then, so quickly and unobtrusively that I would have missed it if I hadn't looked up just then to flag down the busboy and get a beer, Irene slipped something into her purse.
I bent over my plate of hamachi sashimi. Sometimes the things I heard were private, and I tuned them out. But other times, I listened eagerly. I felt like I knew these women, at least Irene of the swollen face and demanding husband. I had seen other women like her, women whose husbands kept them locked up and disciplined. I wanted to learn more about her, so I cocked an ear toward them, but I didn't make eye contact. I wanted to hear more about their lives, and I knew if I made conversation, it would just be the polite exchange of acquaintances at a sushi bar. Like I said, the feeling of intimacy and camaraderie was mostly an illusion. We didn't know each other, not really.
The two women talked more about Patty's job at the insurance office, and Irene said wistfully that she wished she could have a job or something. "But," she laughed, "Kevin say he's my job, my one and only full-time job." She laughed again, then frowned. "And it's true. He is a full-time job. One I wish I could quit."
I shifted on my high barstool a bit and waved to the chef for another order. I watched out of the corner of my eye to see if Irene put anything else in her purse.
       My order of unagi – broiled eel brushed with a sweet teriyaki sauce – arrived, and I delicately picked up one of the two pieces with my chopsticks. It was my idea of dessert, sweet and savory and – unlike most things at the sushi bar – cooked. But I noticed that Patty and Irene had the big sampler tray of delicacies like thinly sliced raw fish, rice-wrapped bits of raw squid and things I didn't recognize. They were either fond of sushi or very adventurous, I thought. But there was something about Irene that looked beaten down and not very adventurous at all.
I saw a tiny movement out of the edge of my vision and watched as Irene put another piece of something into her purse. This made no sense to me. Nothing spoils faster – or would make more of a mess in someone's purse – than raw fish. Not even my cat, Bertie, would touch leftover sushi.
I watched and listened and toyed with my final cup of hot barley tea. Patty and Irene talked about fashions and sales and then about beauty treatments and magazines they had read. They laughed and giggled and looked more like schoolgirls than grown women. When Patty tipped the chef and got up to leave, I asked for my check, too. I watched Patty and Irene hug each other and go their separate ways: Patty to a big sedan in the back parking lot and Irene to a waiting taxi.
I sighed and started walking. It was a beautiful evening, and my work was finished. I walked back to my office to type up my report, but I didn't mention anything about the sushi in Irene's purse.
Later that week when I read the newspaper article buried on page ten of the daily edition, there was nothing to connect the Ai with the death of Kevin Foster. In fact, his death was blamed on a virulent infection from a couple of spoiled pizzas.
But I knew better. I knew better even as I watched Irene Foster put the pieces of fresh raw fish into her purse. I knew better the morning after my visit to the Ai when I handed Kevin Foster the private investigation report I had just done on his wife.  
I don't always like my clients, especially when they are domineering wife-beaters, but I usually ignore it and give them what they pay for – in this case a report of Irene's Tuesday evening dates.
Kevin wasn't too happy with what I found out. He had been certain she had been cheating on him, not bust escaping out to dinner with a girlfriend once a week. Just the thought of Irene doing something without his permission enraged him. I guess the real turning point was when he accused me of lying to him and being involved with her. That did it. I handed him the report, took his check, and showed him out the door without another word.
But looking back, I guess I should have said one more word. I should have at least whispered a warning – one he could take to heart the next time he had a pizza.
I should have whispered, "anchovies."

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I wrote Ai Witness at a time when I was feeling particularly angry and needed to somehow right a very serious wrong, which I had observed. I was powerless to help in the real world, but in my story, I got the ending that I so fervently wished for in real life.
Kate Thornton spent over 22 years in the US Army where she worked as a Counterintelligence Agent and Instructor. As a writer with more than 100 short stories in print, Kate has been writing multi-genre short stories for decades. One of the editors for Sisters in Crime Los Angeles' recent anthology, LADIES NIGHT, she now lives in Tucson, AZ where she is working on a series of romantic crime novels.


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