• Ladies and gentlemen!

    I had been working on this short story for quite a while but the numerous changes in my life brought by the coronavirus pandemic and its chaotic impacts had slowed down my writing process over the past few months. As soon as I got used to the new state of anomaly and finally found some precious free time, I managed to rework this short story properly and write a quite intense ending. Two things that inspired me to write this short story are the movies by Quentin Tarantino and the horrible Bataclan concert hall attack that happened almost exactly five years ago. I would like to dedicate this short story to all innocent victims of terror attacks around the world. Please note that the events described in this short story are quite brutal and most recommended to adults who appreciate relentless action thrillers. Enjoy and stay safe out there in this crazy world!


                Fukuda Eikichi parked his old red Chevrolet on the small muddy parking lot behind the shady bar in a suburb of Taipeh. He stepped out of the vehicle, lit a cigarette and looked at the desolate wasteland around him. Pale blue plastic bags were lying around, a rusty bicycle had been leaned on a crumbling wall and two rats ran from an abandoned garage to a few leafless bushes. A few misty raindrops were falling from a grey autumn sky. The uneasy humidity could be felt through the clothes from head to toe.

    Eikichi had once been an aspiring pop singer who had participated in several talent shows. He had even recorded a rather successful album but the record company had exploited him and he had never seen a cent of the profits of his own album and its subsequent tour. He had since been replaced by younger and more beautiful singers and had spent years playing in shady bars. The marriage to his childhood sweetheart in Japan had also failed and led to a costly divorce. He had moved to Taiwan to start all over again less than three years ago and was now working as a music journalist and session singer. He had trouble to make ends meet but at least, he was doing something he actually liked. A week ago, he had been recruited by the manager and owner of the Roxy Bar. His name was Nakajima Umeji, a grumpy military veteran, with ties to organized crime organizations. As a matter of fact, Fukuda Eikichi was supposed to perform some Japanese pop and rock classics for the birthday of Okimoto Zentaro, an elderly gangster boss who was also a military veteran and had once saved the manager’s life during the Battle of Amami-Oshima.

    The thoughtful pop singer who had passed his prime threw his cigarette into a puddle of mud and went to the backdoor of the shady bar. A grumpy muscular security guard looked at him with laser eyes through impenetrable sunglasses and nodded briefly to approve the singer entering the backstage area. Eikichi hurried through a small gangway with a leaking roof and opened the door that led to the small practice space where he had been preparing for the concert over the past few days. He recognized the noisy and smelly refrigerator filled with cheap bottles of commercial beer, the small dusty sofa with plenty of holes in it and a few shaky wooden chairs in a corner of the room. The greyish walls were covered with faded band posters of the nineties and a ten-year old calendar with pictures of bare-naked models.

    Eikichi was surprised to see that he wasn’t the first band member to arrive here. Bassist Kobayashi Chikara was already tuning his instrument in and nodded at Eikichi with a quick smile. He was wearing brownish snake skin shoes, khaki cargo pants and a yellowish vintage aloha shirt. With his dyed platinum blonde hair, expensive sunglasses and a height of only five feet, Chikara was certainly the most stylish member of the band. Eikichi didn’t know much about him but liked the sympathetic youngster with androgynous look and excellent manners. He only knew his band mate was an aspiring fashion designer from Yokohama who was currently in training in Taipeh.

    The singer seized the folder with the lyric sheets that lay on the sofa, took his microphone out of the rucksack he had left in the corner and grabbed an ice-cold beer from the stinky refrigerator. The beer didn’t taste great but it was refreshingly cold and helped him get rid of the cigarette smoke smell in his mouth. He put the bottle on a chair, plugged the microphone and performed a short sound check.

    ‘’How long have you been here today?’’, asked the singer.

    The bassist blew a bubble with his pinkish gum and smiled radiantly with his perfect white teeth.

                ‘’Oh, I have been preparing a couple of things earlier this afternoon.’’

    Before Eikichi could ask any further questions, the door to the practice space opened with a menacing squeak and drummer Taguchi Takahisa stepped inside the room. He held his drumsticks in one hand and a tape in the other, greeted quickly and went to his drum kit in the corner of the room.

    As far as Eikichi knew, the drummer was a native Taiwanese with Japanese parents. He was a severe police officer who had arrested quite a few drug dealers in his short but successful career. He had played for different bands at the Roxy for quite some time now. Eikichi wondered how a police officer could play in such a shady bar for years. Perhaps, he was actually spying on some of the guests to report any unusual activities to his superiors. Maybe it was also the other way around and he was a mule for one of the clans that gathered at the Roxy on Friday and Saturday nights. Takahisa was very private about his job but Eikichi respected him for his incredible knowledge as the police officer could actually speak five languages. Eikichi also envied him for his beautiful girlfriend, a model who aspired to move to the United States of America one day. She reminded the singer of his greedy ex-wife who had recently been married to a hedge fund manager.

    ‘’Where are the other guys? We should get on stage in about thirty minutes.’’

                The drummer sounded nervous but focused. Eikichi didn’t know what to say. Chikara blew another bubble and raised his hands in an appeasing manner.

                ‘’Don’t worry, I have already made a soundcheck earlier today. Everything is set. We just need to warm up and tune our instruments.’’

                Takahisa nodded noiselessly and Eikichi silently admired how calm, organized and reassuring his bandmate was. He inspired confidence and control. Eikichi already knew that he wanted to work with Chikara again in the future.

                The drummer smoothly tested the different parts of his set and put his drumsticks down after only a few minutes while Chikara was still tuning his bass guitar and Eikichi was practicing his voice once more. Eikichi thought that Takahisa was perhaps the best musician in the band. He didn’t need much preparation either and seemed to be a natural talent. If his work as a police officer were as efficient, then it was obvious why he had such a stellar reputation.

                ‘’What are you guys going to do when this concert will be over?’’

                Now that his work was done, the drummer decided to socialize a little bit. That was rather unusual for the quiet police officer. Maybe he was really bored. Perhaps he wanted his bandmates to feel at ease. In Eikichi’s opinion, his question rather sounded like the beginning of an interrogation.

                ‘’I might as well celebrate our great concert with some alcohol and a few beautiful ladies at a karaoke bar. What do you guys think?’’

                Eikichi was surprised by the bassist’s response. He had rarely seen the organized youngster so confident. Eikichi was also surprised to learn that his bandmate seemed to be interested in girls. The way he had always been looking at his bandmates had seemingly indicated the opposite.

                ‘’Not for me, mate. I wasn’t thinking about tonight. I was wondering whether you guys would still play at the Roxy in future.’’

                Before anyone could answer the drummer’s question, the backdoor opened and the guitarist stepped inside. He was carrying his case with his electric guitar in the left hand and his acoustic guitar without a case in his right hand. He was sweating profusely and out of breath.

                ‘’Sorry, guys. There was so much traffic tonight.’’

                ‘’It’s Friday night. What did you expect?’’

                The drummer’s reaction sounded a little bit colder and harsher than it should have been. The guitarist nodded bashfully and put his instruments in the top left corner of the room. Since he had two instruments to play during the set, he now needed a lot of focus to tune them and make himself feel at ease.

                Eikichi had never seen the guitarist react so timidly. Usually, he was always prepared and perfectly on time. He wondered what had taken him so long to get to the bar. Sakai Hironori was the oldest member of the band and thirty-five years old. Even though he had been playing the guitar since he was a little boy, his skills were rather average. That’s why the experienced drummer was actually considered the reliable bandleader who gave the members feedback from their employers, negotiated with management and scheduled their practices. Sakai Hironori worked as an accountant and was probably the most prosperous of the five band members. He liked to play chess semi-professionally and Eikichi considered him a quiet genius. However, Hironori was a sad and solitary soul since his former fiancée had left him three years ago. She had actually married the much older gangster boss Okimoto Zentaro two and a half years ago. She was certainly going to be in attendance tonight as well. Eikichi wondered why the guitarist wanted to play for the gangster boss who had seduced his former fiancée. Perhaps it made him feel great to be in the spotlight on stage in front of his former rival. Maybe he just wanted to see his former love in attendance. Another possibility was that this gig could finally help him turn the page, move on and change his mind in order to normalize relationships. Eikichi sensed that his sensitive band mate must have really loved his former fiancée to still be grieving three years later. Perhaps the guitarist should come along with the bassist to a karaoke bar with intoxicating drinks and sexy waitresses after the show to change his mind and put a smile upon his face for the first time in a while.

                Somebody suddenly knocked on the door from the side of the bar. Before anyone could answer, the door swung open and manager Nakajima Umeji stepped inside. He closed the door behind him and coldly looked around. The manager had an almost intimidating physical appearance. He was six foot and two inches tall, particularly muscular and had multiple tattoos depicting scenes from ancient Japanese tales on his shoulders, back and arms. Umeji certainly looked unlike anyone Eikichi had ever known.

                ‘’Where the hell is your keyboarder?’’

                The manager asked this question in a grunting and low voice and looked at the four speechless band members who didn’t have any explications. Umeji grew furious over the fact that nobody could provide any answer to him. He menacingly and slowly turned around and pointed at the drummer.

                ‘’Hey, you are the bandleader. You should always know where your partners are. Don’t you have a way to contact that damned keyboarder?’’

                For the first time in his life, Eikichi could see the drummer sweat. His face was getting pale. He nervously lowered his head. Takahisa cleared his throat. Warm phlegm gathered in his mouth. He hastily grabbed his rucksack to look for his cell phone.

                Just before he could find it, the backdoor opened hastily and the keyboarder stepped inside. His movements were slightly out of rhythm and his widened eyes moved frantically from face to face. Eikichi could immediately see that his bandmate was under the influence of some alcohol or drug.

                The manager stepped forward, grabbed the keyboarder’s collar and pushed him against the door that had just closed behind him. Umeji slowly pushed the skinny keyboarder in the air as if he were a lamp that needed to be replaced. The keyboarder breathed heavily and his body convulsed uncontrollably.

                ‘’I have three pieces of advice for you, asshole. First, don’t ever disappoint your employer by being late. Secondly, today is the last time you will ever be at the Roxy. Thirdly, if you mess up the concert, I will personally deal with you. Is this understood?’’

                The keyboarder nodded nervously and the manager let him fall like a bag of potatoes. He grabbed a towel from the chair next to him and cleaned his hands as if he had just smashed an insect. He threw the towel in the corner of the room and only missed the drummer’s head by a few inches. Umeji took a lighter out of his pocket, a fancy cigar out of his jacket and lit it with quick and sure movements. He inhaled the smoke carefully and deeply and exhaled it slowly and strongly. A cloud of smoke immediately filled the room. Eikichi was wondering how much volume the manager’s lungs seemed to have. The manager glanced at his expensive watch and progressively turned around to look in the eyes of the five band members. Then, he threw the cigar out of his mouth, determinedly stepped on it and walked towards the door leading to the stage. Just as he grabbed the handle, he turned around calmly but confidently.

                ‘’Your instruments will be on stage in five minutes and you will start playing in twenty minutes.’’

                The manager spoke in such a determined way that nobody dared to contradict him. Eikichi thought of him as an actor who was putting on an intimidating show. He secretly wondered whether Umeji was really as tough as he pretended to be.

    Umeji opened the door, stepped through it in a thunderous way and closed the door with a banging noise. Eikichi swallowed nervously and looked at his bandmates. Chikara quietly blew a bubble and acted as if nothing had happened. Hironori was nervously tuning his instruments. Takahisa angrily glanced at the keyboarder who still hadn’t moved away from the door he had been pushed against.

                Eikichi had always known that the keyboarder was the least reliable member of the band. Fujimoto Motoki was a skillful player who had even performed internationally in a handful of rock cover bands about a decade ago. He had stopped playing in bands to become a semi-professional boxer. Apparently, he had been involved in a betting scandal and spend a few months in prison. Since those fateful events in his late twenties, Motoki had been suffering from a heroin addiction and had only gotten clean a few months ago with the help of his beloved uncle who was the mayor of some small town in the northeast. Apparently, playing music helped Motoki to get his life back together and pay his debts to gangster boss Okimoto Zentaro who had supported his boxing career, involved him in the betting scandal and gotten him in touch with his heroin dealer. The gangster boss had also helped him avoid a longer prison sentence thanks to his numerous influences. He had presumably done that to thank Motoki for not revealing his name to the judges.

    The singer thought that Motoki saw the gangster boss as the family father he had never had. Motoki had come from a violent family. His father had been killed in a police shootout when Motoki had only been nine years old. His mother had suffered from an LSD overdose and had been living in a mental institution since Motoki had been twelve years old. He had spent his teenage years growing up in his uncle’s small town before returning to Taipeh as a young adult.

                Eikichi didn’t like Motoki very much. Aside of his personal problems, the keyboarder had unpredictable anger management issues, often made distasteful misogynist jokes and was a little bit too patriotic for the singer’s taste. The fact that the keyboarder had come late and almost gotten the entire band in trouble only made things worse. Eikichi crossed his fingers that he would never see Motoki again once they had completed the concert.

                ‘’Alright, guys, let’s stay focused and get the job done!’’

                The drummer encouraged his bandmates by clapping his hands and pacing across the room. Eikichi snapped out of his thoughts and checked the microphone one last time. Chikara was still playing his bass in a relaxed way. Hironori had just finished preparing his two guitars for the show. Motoki moved towards the keyboard in the top right corner and started to prepare his instrument.

                ‘’Our instruments need to be on stage in three minutes! Let’s go, we can do this!’’

                Takahisa confidently grabbed the first part of his drum kit, kicked the door to the shady bar open and started transporting his gear on stage. Chikara followed with a smile upon his face and plugged in his bass guitar for a last soundcheck. Hironori followed quietly with his acoustic and electric guitar.

                Eikichi got a quick look at the bar. It was quite shady since a lot of people were smoking inside the bar. He could see Okimoto Zetaro sitting right in front of the stage. Two young women were sitting close by his side. He held a glass filled with scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other. The gangster boss was talking to Nakajima Umeji who was patting his shoulder. They were both laughing but even their joyful gestures appeared to be slightly intimidating.

                ‘’I don’t like it one bit.’’

                Eikichi turned around towards Motoki who was still hectically tuning his keyboard. He was sweating profusely and his fingers were twitching nervously. His eyes were opened widely but he seemed to be looking through the singer as he was speaking to him.

                ‘’What do you mean?’’

                Eikichi had gotten used to this kind of attendance and audience. He was well aware that most people had come to chat with the gangster boss and arrange some deals and didn’t care much about what the band was going to play. When he was younger, he would have felt frustrated about such a lack of interest. Nowadays, he actually appreciated the lack of spotlight. The job at the Roxy was one like many others. Motoki however seemed to see things differently.

                ‘’It’s this whole thing. We are playing in this city’s shadiest bar. The guys in attendance are mostly gangsters and prostitutes. We really have lost all our self esteem to be playing for such a rotten crowd. I don’t have much of a choice due to my debts. But you should be performing on television or play in a decent concert hall.’’

                The singer thought about the keyboarder’s emotional statement. A few years ago, he would have wholeheartedly agreed. Things had changed however. He had become less ambitious and more disillusioned. He was just working from one pay check to another. He didn’t earn much as a freelance journalist and the karaoke bar he co-owned cost more money than it made. Eikichi realized that he was playing tonight because he didn’t have much of a choice even though his reasons were less personal than Motoki’s.

                ‘’Take it easy. It’s just a gig. We will only be playing for an hour. It will be over before you even know it actually started.’’

                The keyboarder nodded grimly while Eikichi grabbed his microphone and went on stage. He could see the muscular armed bodyguards at the entrance. A few criminals were playing cards around a few tables in the back of the club. The waiters were busy serving young thugs who were paying overtly expensive drinks to young prostitutes with heavy make-up. He could see Hironori’s former fiancée who was sitting on an elegant couch beside the bar by herself. She seemed lost, sipping at her cocktail and smoking a cigarette as she didn’t seem to mind that her husband was giving some superficial hookers more attention than her.

                Motoki entered the stage last and looked quite uncomfortable. He almost knocked over his own instrument. His brief sound check sounded terribly out of tune. He was making a desperate effort to avoid eye contact with his band members because he felt ashamed.

                Nakajima Umeji gave the band members a sign by showing a starfish hand. They were scheduled to get started in about five minutes. Takahisa gave his band members a sign to gather around his drum kit.

                ‘’We will exit the stage in three minutes. The soundboard will play our introduction. We will then get on stage. I will be first, get behind the drum kit and play some smooth rhythms. Up next is Motoki on keyboards with a few atmospheric sound patterns. Chikara on bass guitar and Hironori on electric guitar will come from two different sides and bring some energy to the stage. Once we have started with the first song, Eikichi will get on stage, go to the front, greet the crowd, congratulate Zentaro on his birthday and start singing. Do you have any questions?’’

                Takahisa looked fully focused. Eikichi was slowly anticipating to get started. Hironori didn’t move a muscle. Chikara nodded coolly and was already going backstage. Motoki still looked like he didn’t want to be there at all. Takahisa nodded briefly when nobody spoke up and gave his band members a sign to go backstage. He held the door open for his band mates. Umeji entered the stage behind them, took the lead singer’s microphone and spoke a few words to his friend Zentaro and his invitees. Takahisa smoothly closed the door behind them. Shortly thereafter, the technician from the soundboard started playing the opening tape. The drummer looked at his band mates and rose his fists in energetic enthusiasm.

                ‘’Let’s give it our best!’’

                 The band leader was the first to enter the stage. A few drunk prostitutes cheered loudly. Some men were raising their arms. Umeji stood in a corner of the stage with a stone-cold face. Zentaro was still busy chatting with the two prostitutes who were hugging him and had put their hands on his legs. His wife was melancholically looking at her cocktail glass instead of paying any attention on what was going on.

                Motoki almost forgot his turn and needed to be tapped in the back by Chikara to get going. He approached his keyboard, pulled it further back towards the back of the stage and started playing some notes in a nervous and abrupt way. They sounded out of key in the first few instants but the musician finally got some focus after fifteen seconds and an angry look from the drummer.

                Chikara and Motoki carefully went behind the drum kit, looked at each other and went to the front of the stage on the count of three. They started playing their instruments simultaneously. The crowd was now paying some more attention. Even Zentaro was now looking at the band and forgetting about the two prostitutes next to him and the three massive bodyguards behind him.

                It was now Eikichi’s turn to hit the stage. He breathed in nervously, jumped in the air and then ran through the open backstage door and onto the stage. He grabbed the microphone straight ahead, greeted the crowd, congratulated the gangster boss and announced the band’s name. Umeji was slowly walking down the stage during the short speech and moving towards the backside of the bar.

                At that moment, Takahisa hit the cymbals three times to count in the first song. Hironori started playing the first song’s opening riff. Chikara faced the drummer to follow his rhythm. Motoki missed his start by a few seconds and played the first few notes much too fast to catch up on his own mistake. It was finally Eikichi’s turn to start singing. He regretted having smoked before the final practice now. The bad air in the shady bar didn’t help him either. He knew that his voice would be strained by the end of the night but the attendance deserved a decent performance nonetheless and so he gave it all he got. Eikichi performed most of the song with his eyes closed to avoid the cold looks of the shady characters and the irritatingly smoky air.

                By the end of the first song, most people were focused on the band. Umeji had gone towards the entrance of the club and closed the doors to prevent new customers to come in and disturb the show. Zentaro was tapping on the prostitutes’ hips in the rhythm of the first song. His wife saw it, looked away and spotted Hironori on stage who had been looking at her on numerous occasions. He was looking nervous while his wife’s eyes looked emotionless.

                There was some modest applause at the conclusion of the first song. Eikichi thanked the crowd briefly. Takahisa counted in the second song and Eikichi swiftly moved across the stage in the rhythm of the drum beat. He saw that the security guards at the front door moved further into the club and were now also watching the band play. Umeji was clapping his hands and looked happy for the first time of the night. Even the bartender had stopped serving drinks and was nodding along to the rhythm of the second song. Eikichi was surprised to see that the crowd participated much more than he had anticipated. The positive vibes reminded him of the greatest hours of his early career. Instead of screaming female teenagers, there were now elderly gangsters and their associates but he knew that they actually appreciated his performance and not only his looks. He now decided to keep his eyes open and started to actually enjoy the show.

                As the second song concluded, Zentaro stood up and cheered enthusiastically. Even his reserved wife had put her drink aside and applauded briefly. The bartender shouted, looked around and seemed to enjoy seeing the guests of the packed club having a great time. The security guards had moved closer to the stage yet again. Umeji rose his left hand to show the sign of the horns.

                Eikichi looked at the magnificent scene in front of him. People were cheering, raising their hands and standing up. He quickly looked at his band mates behind him. Takahisa had gotten up behind his drum kit in excitement. Hironori was now openly smiling at his estranged fiancée. Chikara had a radiant smile upon his face. Even Motoki wiped the sweat from his brows and cracked a smile for the first time of the night. Eikichi waited to announce the third song to let the enthusiastic atmosphere kick in. The lights were now fully focused on the band and blinded him. He grabbed his microphone as the lights slowly shifted towards the crowd to show the enthusiastic reactions. Eikichi could see Umeji still raising his left arm. As the singer announced the next song, Umeji’s arm swung down like a guillotine.

                The singer could barely process what started happening around him now. The security guards raised their weapons as soon as they saw the bar owner’s movement. Hironori’s former fiancée was the first person to fully understand what was going on and her piercing scream shattered the enthusiastic cheering in the bar. The barkeeper who was positioned closest to her hectically ducked behind the counter and shattered a bottle of whiskey in the process. Okimoto Zentaro stared at his wife in bewilderment while the two prostitutes nervously squeezed his hands.

    His three bodyguards were briefly distracted by the scream and reacted much too late to the danger behind them. As they turned around, the security guards opened fire before the bodyguards could defend themselves or their employer. One of them was hit by several bullets and was smashed in the back of Okimoto and the two screaming prostitutes.

    Their table was overthrown in that sequence of events. Okimoto crouched behind the table and was now positioned between the stage and the entrance of the bar. The two prostitutes were holding his arms and trying to hide behind the table as well but there wasn’t enough space. Okimoto kicked one of the women in the lower abdomen as she gasped for breath and was pushed to the side. Before she could react any further, several bullets hit her in the side. One of them seemed to have hit her aorta as well since a squishing fountain of blood covered the nearby chairs and tables in a light shade of red.

    Okimoto’s egoistic survival instincts continued to kick in as he punched the other prostitute in the face to get some more space. The force of the attack pushed her right towards one of the gunmen who had been aiming for Okimoto’s head but was now shooting his ammunition into the delicate body of the helpless young woman whose body shook like a broken ragdoll before collapsing lifelessly right in front of the stage.

                The second bodyguard almost managed to move towards the bar for cover but was hit in the back before reaching it. His body flew across the room and crashed into two chairs seated by two shocked customers. The three men fell to the ground as they screamed in agony, confusion and fear. One of the gunmen approached them with three quick steps and emptied his gun into the three men while screaming in ecstasy to motivate himself. Okimoto’s fiancée hid behind a comfortable armchair nearby and screamed in terror as she watched the three men die.

                On the other side of the bar, the third and last bodyguard dodged the bullets shot by two of the gunmen. He ran towards the backstage of the bar but Umeji was positioned right there and had pulled a small handgun. The bodyguard’s eyes opened widely as the manager shot a bullet right in his forehead. The victim collapsed and lost his life even before his body hit the stairs leading up to the stage.

                Meanwhile, the screaming customers rushed towards the doors and managed to force them open as the gunmen decided to let them go and focus on what was happening in front of them instead.

                Eikichi witnessed those events as if they were happening in slow motion. He almost felt as if the stage were the eye of the storm as all the violence seemed to happen right around it. He realized much too late that his bandmates weren’t as idle as he was. Chikara moved to the side of the stage where Motoki was positioned, opened a tool box behind a curtain and pulled out a machine gun. He started to aim for the gangster boss who didn’t see the danger coming from behind.

                The barkeeper managed to grab a gun behind the counter and shot the gunman who had downed three men right in front of the bar three times in the chest. The victim’s body shook as if electrocuted and the barkeeper hid his face again before the gunman’s body noisily crashed on the dancefloor.

    He gave a quick sign to the distressed fiancée who crouched from the armchair towards the counter. As soon as she reached the counter, the barman rose quickly, looked across the bar and analyzed the most obvious danger instantly. He now aimed at Chikara who saw the barkeeper from the corner of his eye and let himself fall to the ground. The barkeeper fired his weapon just a moment too late. His bullet missed the agile bassist and hit the stunned keyboarder behind him in the chest. Motoki touched his wound in surprise, stared at the blood on his shaking fingers and slowly fell backwards. He got caught in the red velvet curtains behind him and ripped off their holders as he fell on the ground. The curtains covered the keyboarder and his instrument like a burial shroud.

    As his bandmate got shot, Eikichi finally snapped out of his stupor and felt the adrenaline inside him instil a panic he had never sensed before. He saw the chaos around him and simply wanted to head for the safest place nearby. The way to the backstage area was however blocked by the dead keyboarder and the dynamic bassist who immediately rose to his feet and now aimed at the barkeeper who could duck just quickly enough to avoid the bullets that noisily hit the bottles on the shelves that burst into a myriad of pieces. Okimoto’s fiancée was still behind the counter and screamed as if her heart had to burst as well. The gangster boss rose his head for a moment, stretched his hand towards the counter and shouted his fiancée’s name. A bullet only missed him by a few inches and hit the slightly elevated ground of the stage behind him.

    The singer frantically looked at the other side of the stage where manager Umeji stood solid as a rock. He now aimed at the gangster boss whose birthday he had pretended to celebrate while planning this bloody massacre. Zentaro was still looking at his fiancée and didn’t see the danger behind him. Before Eikichi could make up his mind on what to do next, Hironori paced across the stage, rose his electric guitar above his head and smashed the instrument into the stunned manager’s face. Umeji screamed in agony as his nose broke and was pushed violently back into his brain. His elegant clothes were covered in a spray of blood as his body flew down the stairs and crashed on the ground. His lifeless body now laid right beside the man he had attempted to kill but who was still alive and kicking.

    The gunmen had all turned around and were now aiming for the reckless guitarist. There was nowhere he could escape to. He looked at his former fiancée who had witnessed the scene from behind the bar counter. Hironori rose his hand with a smile as if to say farewell to the love of his life. Before he could do anything else, gunfire lit up the shady bar and bullets pierced the guitarist’s chest and face. The power of the numerous impacts pushed him back as if he were suffering from multiple seizures at the same time. He fell off the stairs and into the front left corner of the bar from Eikichi’s point of view.

    The singer now figured that his best chance was to hide behind the drum kit but as he wanted to pace towards it, he witnessed yet another unexpected turn of events. Takahisa had risen behind his drum kit and was holding a gun in his hand. He was aiming at Chikara who immediately sensed that something was wrong and turned around like a spinning top. As soon as he saw the weapon in his bandmate’s hand, the agile bassist jumped to the side and collided with Eikichi. The singer lost his balance, instinctively grabbed his bandmate’s collar and pulled him off the stage with him. The two young men hit the ground right next to the gangster boss who vividly looked at them and then discovered Takahisa who was standing on his drum kit and had his pistol raised in the air like a king lifting his scepter. The drummer briefly looked the gangster boss in the eyes, nodded grimly and started to aim at the remaining gunmen in the bar. The drummer and police officer turned out to be efficient and precise as his first shot burst the head of a gunman who had raced towards his employer Umeji like a ripe pumpkin.

                For the first time since the beginning of the grisly massacre about three minutes earlier, its intended victim Okimoto Zentaro got the occasion to react proactively. He pulled a small knife out of his sock, flipped it open and punched it into Chikara’s neck before the quirky bassist could raise his arms in defense. Blood ran out of the wound like thick red syrup. The bassist’s face grew pale as his mouth opened in surprise and his eyes mirrored the shock he was feeling. Okimoto Zentaro had a sadistic smile on his face as he pushed the blade further into the bassist’s neck. The victim’s eyes now started to lose their vivid shine and became rigid and pale. Okimoto Zentaro pulled the knife out of the neck with a violent gesture and the accumulated blood stream gushed out of the wound like water out of a fire hose. The sweet red spray covered Eikichi’s and Zentaro’s faces but their reactions were quite different. Eikichi gagged with disgust while the gangster boss laughed maniacally.

                The tides now seemed to turn for Okimoto Zentaro and his supporters. The barkeeper arose once again and emptied his gun into an attacking gunman who was about to jump over the counter. The attacker was shot in midair, dropped his weapon and crashed into some of the shelves behind the bar that had remained intact. They burst into thousands of pieces and covered the dead attacker in a piercing rain.

                There were two gunmen left in the bar. They tried to eliminate the two brave men who had defended the gangster boss so bravely. The first gunman was positioned behind a table next to the entrance of the bar while the other one was situated right at the center of the dancefloor without any place to hide. Takahisa jumped from his drum kit onto the stage, paced a few steps forward and aimed at the second gunman who recognized the danger and tried to turn away. It was much too late for such a reaction as the police officer shot him in the back until he was out of ammunition. One bullet deflected from a nearby table and hit the mirror ball on the ceiling. It crashed down on the gunman as he collapsed right in the middle of the dancefloor.

                Takahisa proceeded to jump from the stage onto the dancefloor to hide behind the table that covered Eikichi and the gangster boss. The experienced police officer was just a fraction of a second too slow. The last gunman arose from behind the table and fired a shot that hit the drummer in the head as he was in the process of jumping forward. The police officer was dead immediately and lost control of his body in midair. He crashed into Eikichi and Zentaro who then proceeded to accidentally overthrow the big table that had covered them. The gangster boss grunted in surprise and dropped his knife while Eikichi was buried under the lifeless body of his bandmate. The two men now laid helplessly on the dancefloor. The singer could hear how the remaining gunman ducked behind the table and reloaded his weapon. Eikichi glanced at the bar and could see that the barkeeper was also hiding and preparing a new round of ammunition for his revolver.

                Eikichi wondered who would make the first move. For the first time in five explosive minutes, the bar was almost entirely silent. The singer could only hear the heavy breath of the gangster boss, his own frantic heartbeat and the slowly vanishing ringing in his ears due to all the extreme noise of the past few moments.

                This short break gave the singer the occasion to understand what had just happened. The entire birthday party had been an ambush for gangster boss Okimoto Zentaro by his untrustworthy friend Nakajima Umeji who probably wanted to take over his business. The owner of the shady bar had gained the trust of the gangster boss over many years and led him into this shady isolated bar in a glum suburb of Taipeh on a busy Friday night. There were no police officers nearby to intervene, the hired gunmen had blocked all entrances and exits and the gangster boss was caught in a deadly trap. Nakajima Umeji had even put a skilled assassin among the band members on stage to surround and defeat his opponent.

                Nakajima Umeji had however made three crucial miscalculations that led to his own demise and a final duel of equal strength. First of all, the conspirator had underestimated the other band members who had intervened and especially drummer and police offer Taguchi Takahisa who had sacrificed his life in order to eliminate the hired gunmen and protect the unsuspecting targets in the bar. Secondly, Nakajima Umeji had certainly not seen it coming that the barkeeper was a courageous fighter and excellent shooter who would never give up. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, Nakajima Umeji had underestimated his main target as Okimoto Zentaro hadn’t reacted like a helpless old man but managed to dodge all attacks and even proceed to defend himself by any means necessary.

    Despite those important mistakes, the most crucial part of Nakajima Umeji’s plan could potentially still work out. The customers had broken open the doors, fled outside the bar and alarmed authorities as Eikichi could now hear sirens of police cars rushing by from afar. However, at this very moment, Okimoto Zentaro was caught in the middle of an improvised battlefield with the surviving barkeeper trying to keep him safe and one lone gunman willing to see the initial assassination attempt through.

                Eikichi’s body was shaking as the adrenaline gave way to terror. Thick sweat ran across his face and burned his eyes. His fingers were twitching nervously as he tried to push the body of the drummer aside. The tension inside the destroyed bar was almost unbearable. The worst thought was that the tense deadlock could break at any moment. As the sound of the police cars’ sirens grew louder, Eikichi knew that the final standoff was inevitable.

                The courageous barman made the first move, rose behind his counter and shot towards the lone gunman. His bullets hit the table behind which the gunman was hiding but they didn’t go through. Just as the barkeeper attempted to hide again behind the counter, the gunman surprised him by rolling to the side instead of raising up behind the table. The gunman shot only once but there was no obstacle in his line of fire anymore. The bullet hit the target’s temple, went straight through his brain and burst out of it to hit the few remaining shelves behind the bar. The dirty mirror behind the counter got covered in blood, bones and brain matter as the barkeeper sank to the ground.

    Okimoto Zentaro’s wife screamed in agony while the gunman roared triumphantly and now turned towards the gangster boss. While Eikichi felt motionless, numb and terrified, the gangster boss didn’t give up just yet. Perhaps the reaction of his wife had given him the motivation to save her and his lives by any means necessary. He rolled to the side, grabbed the knife he had lost in the fall and threw it towards the last remaining attacker in one fluid movement. The gunman had risen his arm to aim for his intended victim and paced towards the center of the dancefloor. He was completely defenseless and had never seen that final attack coming. The blade of the knife pierced his stomach and stopped his movements almost immediately. As the gunman fell to the ground, he tried to fire his gun in despair but only managed to shoot one bullet into the ceiling. The gangster boss didn’t remain idle, raced towards the injured gunman, kicked the weapon out of his hand, pushed his knee against his throat and then used both of his hands to push the blade further into the gunman’s stomach. The hired gun screamed in agony but it soon turned into a muffled wheeze and finally into a hoarse dying breath. As the last gunman breathed his life out, the exhausted gangster boss collapsed on his body.

    And then there was silence.

    The police cars’ sirens had stopped as the officers finally arrived at the scene of the abominable crime. Eikichi was in a state of shock and could once again barely process what was happening around him. The arrest of the gangster boss who was caught holding onto his knife that was stuck five inches into his last opponent’s body by the police officers, his agonizingly crying wife and who was hitting, kicking and spitting at anyone attempting to approach her and the dull voices of the nurses who were asking Eikichi plenty of questions were only dimly noted stages as the traumatized singer was finally led outside the shady bar.

    The night was about to fall but the dim light still blinded the singer. He witnessed five police cars and an ambulance in the small street in front of the isolated bar. First responders were hectically running around and yelling orders. Some of the guests at the bar who had managed to escape earlier were sitting on the ground, covered in blood and crying their eyes out. A few nearby homeless people had come to witness the scene and had to be hold back by some police officers. The muddy ground was covered in bandages, blood and pieces of glass. The sidewalk was covered in greyish weeds. The nearby street was filled with cracks and potholes. The building of the abandoned factory across the street was covered in graffiti with vulgar messages, its windows had been broken and putrid smell came from the inside.

    It was a scene of horror for any objective spectator but after the ten past minutes that had changed his life forever, it certainly looked like paradise to Eikichi.

    The End

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