Friday, June 16, 2017

Part 14

A Bird in the Hand

Norinko Hanasaki Research Case

by Anthony Servante

Above the McClure Tunnel Runs Ocean Avenue
In the Background the Santa Monica Pier, 
Where Famed Route 66 Ends


When I first started the Norinko Hanasaki investigation, I found subject matter in the origins of the United States railroad lines as well as the folklore of missing children to the arrival of the Chinese Triad in Asian communities. I heard stories of a haunted freeway tunnel and discovered that the homeless people living in the tunnel may in fact be the reason for the strange voices and screams coming from the freeway underpass.

Instead of finding answers to my questions, my research has only served to raise more questions. As the one year mark of Norinko's disappearance approached, I accepted an invitation to the Buddhist services for the missing middle-schooler where I could meet with the people who have been feeding me information and background on Norinko. I attended the services to show my respects, and, to my surprise, I found more answers than I had questions. 

Here is a summary of my three days in Santa Monica. Keep an open mind. Please re-read the cases in Parts 1-13 to gain a bird's perspective of my findings.

June 11, 2017

The Services for Norinko Hanasaki were festive, not morose. There was no talk or implications that Norinko will not be coming home soon. The opposite was true—there was much talk of preparing for Norinko’s return. The Priest opened the podium to friends and family to talk about Norinko.

My mind filled with morbid thoughts. I thought that no one wants to discuss the fact that Norinko may be dead, that her body could be found any day soon. But the fact that one year has nearly gone by and there has been no bad news for them was the good news. The time for something bad to have happened has passed. All that remains is for Norinko to come home.

After service, food was provided. I met Bridget, her parents, the Segawas, Suzie and her parents, the Namuris, and I couldn’t help but notice that Torinko Hanasaki and his wife, Amico, waited till after I met with the others, including Priest Horaguchi, before they introduced themselves. And just as quickly as they introduced themselves, they excused themselves to direct me to the buffet table. There would be no discussions today. That I understood right off. 

Note: Bridget did, however, talk to me, under the glares of both her parents and the attendees of the service. She told me that the attendees were speaking in Japanese about me being here to find Norinko. She got a laugh out of that—that they were so naïve that they believed I was there in some capacity beyond just being a blogger. They bowed to me and most of them deliberately avoided formal introductions, leaving that only for the parents of Norinko, Bridget and Suzie, the three close girlfriends. It made me feel guilty and a bit shamed about my being there. They brought me food and drink the whole time I was there, even though I already had a plate in hand. Bridget pointed out that they expected me to try their own homemade dish. It was a courtesy. There was no way I could live up to their expectations without overeating. I thought I’d be invisible at the event, but I seemed to be the light at the end of the tunnel. Not my words. The Priest’s.

June 12, 2017

Interview with Priest Horaguchi

As I learned right off, I was there to listen, not to ask questions. I was not allowed to tape the interview, so I took notes. The Priest insisted I use the pen and paper he provided. My backpack with my laptop, notebooks, pens and pencils, clothes, food and coffee, was taken by another priest dressed in a blue outfit similar to Horaguchi's red outfit. I didn't ask about this hierarchy. As I said, questions were not allowed or answered when I did manage to sneak one in. 

Priest Horaguchi

The Buddhist problem, he began, concerns itself with life. If we do not live a "sinless" life, to borrow from the Catholics and Christians, we are condemned to repeat our life again after serving penance in Diyu, as you so wisely discussed on your blog. You are a very insightful man. But you touch on many things without seeing the whole. Are you familiar with the tale of the blind men and the elephant?
I nodded yes, but before I could say anything, he continued. (Torinko sat to Horaguchi's right, just behind him, also nodding affirmatively).

Each blind man touches a different part of the elephant, one claiming that the elephant is like a snake, for he had touched the tail, another swearing it was like a tree trunk, for he had felt the great leg of the elephant, and each in turn describing his part, but none the whole. That is your blog. The elephant is there. But in dissarray. Let me help. Please write and tell me if I am speaking too fast.

I nodded yes.

And with a deep breath, Priest Horaguchi raised his right hand and made a fist. And then he offered his left hand with its palm up, as if asking for change. He said, The open hand is life, and the fist, the closed hand, is death. When does it stop being a hand? It does not. It opens and closes, just as does life. You follow, Mr. Servante?

I nodded yes.

He resumed, life opens and closes, but it does not end. And no, it does not go to Heaven. Not is our beliefs. It goes to Diyu after death, where the Great Judge, Chang Gui, or Wuchang Gui, as he is often called, decides how this closed life will be reopened. Chang Gui decides if the life before him requires tempering, as does unforged steel for a sword, or if the life requires modification by ice, as does good meat before cooking. Forgive my comparisons. I know they are crude, but in Diyu, as you well know, the life must be re-conditioned for reincarnation by either fire or ice. Chang Gui decides on reincarnation after fire or ice, how long the treatment will last, and the degree of the treatment. If the person lived a life of "sin", he'd be a closed fist entering Diyu as a closed fist, thus requiring much treatment. If the person lived the life of good, he'd be an open hand entering Diyu as a sinless person requiring no treatment. He'd pretty much be on the waiting list for a body to be reincarnated into--a human body; we don't hold to being reincarnated into insect or animal. That's not our way.

But then there's the In-Between. Neither a closed or opened hand. It wasn't your time to go to Diyu. But there you are. I know you wrote of this. The comatosed patient is neither dead nor alive. Yet, in our belief, they are in Diyu, in a waiting room. No ice or fire. It is not true death. Even when accident victims are in the In-Between, they often speak of seeing a light that beacons them. It is the door to Diyu being opened for the new person requiring treatment for reincarnation.

Now imagine hundreds of such people dying. Chinese railroad workers carrying nitroglycerin into the caves to create an explosion strong enough to weaken rock and stone, to build a tunnel for the trains to pass. Now imagine the nitroglycerin blowing up because the person handling it trips. The ensuing explosion would kill him and everyone in the cave. Not "would"--"did" kill a lot of Chinese and Japanese workers. Blown to pieces beyond recognition. How do you bury the substance of the man when all you have are bits and pieces of many men splattered on the walls, soaking into the ground loosened by the blast? We believe that a dead person can enter Diyu for treatment only if he is buried properly.

If the corporeal substance of these men is not buried properly, their essence, what you call the "soul", wanders the place of death, half here, half in Diyu. This gives Chang Gui nothing to work with, nothing to treat for reincarnation. So, the Great One ignores the Wanderers. Yet the door to Diyu opens for these victims of the nitroglycerin but because they were never buried properly, the door remains open for much longer than it should. And the Angry One, Yuan Gui, seeks justice for the Wanderers. And Yuan Gui now has a revolving door to our world in such tunnels where injustice and betrayal made victims of our countrymen.

Let me tell you about our work with the homeless. Another subject you covered quite accurately in your blog. So I know I am not straying too far from what you've already researched for yourself. The tunnel is not haunted. For us, haunted means wandering souls awaiting proper burial in Diyu, Earth, or the Skies, what you call the Heavens. We have spirits of air, fire, water, and pure evil. Goodness is reincarnation. Evil is not being reincarnated--to simplify things. Yuan Gui is the demon of grievance for the wandering souls. It flies through the open door to and from Diyu to collect these wanderers, for there are many, especially in the tunnels, especially in the McClure Tunnel.

When we took food and medicine to the homeless people living in what they called the Hole in the Wall--a room once used by the railroad managers for business, we found many documents and articles of railway communications that indicated that the tunnel and offices would be abandoned and sold to the City of Los Angeles for the new Interstate 10 freeway. We also found that the Tongs were paid to look the other way.

When we first helped the Hole in the Wall people, there were close to twenty. The number varies because many of them moved on, transients always on the lookout for better, safer home, even if just a cardboard box or a shopping cart converted to a place to sleep. Often, these transients move on because they wake up beaten and bruised, with cut lips and bloody noses, and they don't remembered the brutality they suffered deep in dream. It is a common occurrence. Thus they move on to safer shanties. But there was also the north wall behind the old file cabinets. One day they found the cabinets had been pushed aside, and noticed that the number of their group had diminished by a few members. But, as I said, transients move on, so no one gave it much thought. Until their numbers decreased to a handful. Then they left the Hole in the Wall.

Something was taking them. Sure some were transients, as the police claimed when we told them of the disappearances. But I know and recognize the work of Yuan Gui. Are not transients also wanderers? What a trifle for the Angry One to take both into the doorway to Diyu. One would think, no?

A reasonable person would thus ask: Then where is this Yuan Gui? Can't we trap it in the Hole in the Wall by sealing it? No. Not if the Angry One has a connection to this world somehow. And that connection, I'm afraid, is Norinko. She is descended from the victims of the McClure Tunnel explosions. It's the only answer I have, of course. The Angry One recognized something she had. Because only on the 13th of June 2016 did it act to spirit her away. What did she have that day that she did not have any other day?

The notebook. The notebook with the writings about an angry bird called Buzzkill. What do dogs do when they see themselves in a mirror for the first time? They bark at the other dog. In the notebook, Torinko informed me, was drawing of Buzzkill. Even he recognized the Angry One in that child's drawing. That is the one thing that was different that day from all the other days that Norinko was driven through the tunnel.

And the solution is simple, Mr. Servante. You must find the notebook of Norinko Hanasaki.

[Priest Horaguchi pressed on his knees and stood. He bowed to me and said he'd fetch tea. He motioned to Norinko's father as he left the room.]

Torinko Hanasaki

[Again, I was told to listen. My back was starting to tighten up, but I remained seated. And did as I was told.]

I love my stepdaughter very much. No, she is not of my blood. I am descended from Triad ancestors. It was my Tong bloodline that bore the responsibility to care for the workers in our charge as Triad Master ranks. It was my great great grandfather, Kenta Han, who was commissioned in 1885 with the establishment of a Tong presence in the railroad camps for the Asian workers.

At first my great grandfather passed the responsibility of caring for the Hanasaki family to my father and he to me. Little did I know that I would fall in love with Amico, Norinko's mother. Her husband divorced her to marry an American woman. How easily corrupted we are by the American Way. I, too, fell victim to this tradition of betrayal to our culture. I came to be known as Torrance when my true name is Torinko, named for my forefathers in the Triad. Today, the organization is mostly legitimate business, but there are a few criminal elements in the lower ranks. We try to deal with it by suffocating their business dealings. Beyond that, it's up to my superiors in Hong Kong to make such decisions. I am still only in charge of carrying out my orders, and of honoring our oaths. Yet, for me, I've been handed down the task of regaining the honor that Kenta Han dismissed by accepting bribes from the railroad barons. Is it no wonder that Diyu is at our doorstep?

Now our paths have joined. the Triad and the Victim have become one. Just as the Yuan gui and Wuchang gui have joined forces capture the living souls of those who have touched the notebook of Norinko. We have traced the missing people beyond the homeless in the tunnel; there is a bus driver, two deputies, a detective, and a reporter. They are missing too. What they have in common is the link to Norinko. The homeless have been taken through the open doorway that the Yuan Gui used to take Norinko, a descendatn of the first Hanasakis. You were right in your assessment of the Hanasaki name: It is a combination of Chinese and Japanese. Norinko's line begins with the Sakis, and mine with the Hans. Through our years of trying to honor our oaths and make up for the dishonor of my great great grandfather, the names Han and Saki have become one.

Beyond Norinko's disappearance, the others, too, were taken after they handled the journal of Norinko. Once you touch the journal, the Yuan Gui passes your essence to Wuchang Gui for judgment. Without your essence, you go mad; you are half in Diyu and half here on Earth. You have 14 days until your essence is completely in Diyu. It is in the journal where Yuan Gui hides. The Wuchang Gui is on the other side of the doorway in the Hole in the Wall inside the tunnel wall. There is only one way to break the cycle of injustice and judgment, arrest and trial, Earth and Diyu. We must read the journal and receive the messages from Diyu that Norinko has been sending.

Norinko can communicate through the journal, as can the others who are not dead but who are trapped in Diyu for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The birds in your blog. That’s Norinko trying to reach me. Only she’s reached you first through her friends, Beniko Segawa and Segui Namuri, or as you know them, Bridget and Suzie. So easy to become Americanized. It is now your responsibility. Priest Bobue Horaguchi and I can help, but it is up to you to find the journal. Juan Gui and Wuchang Gui are like birds in the earthly plane, demons in the Diyu plane. If we cannot break the cycle, the demon will enter the earthly realm and cause corporeal death to steal away more spirits to Diyu. It will no longer need to take the essence of the people without killing them. With a body of flesh and feather, it will be capable of spilling blood, of taking vengeance for the injustice of the victims of the tunnels, for the dishonor of the easily corruptible Tongs who have betrayed their oaths for American trinkets.

[Torinko grew silent as Priest Bobue, as he asked to be addressed, entered with the tea. As we drank our cups of Japanese tea with lemon and honey in silence, the sheer magnitude of what I just heard never occurred to me. I played along, promised to contact them as soon as I found a trail leading to the notebook, and then I left. They did not add anything more to what they had already told me. I was tasked with something beyond simple blogging. I left without any intention of looking back. The Norinko Investigation had just come to an end.]

June 13th, 2017

The shrine of Norinko Hanasaki was dismantled when I arrived on the Ocean Avenue Overpass above the McClure Tunnel to the Interstate Ten. There was one lone girl there. I asked her if she knew Norinko. She shrugged and said she saw me at the service on Sunday. Then she asked, "Did you know her?"  I shrugged  back, and that made her smile. She went on, "The cops came and picked up all the glass candle jars. There were some people here, but they left when the cops started taking down the signs and photos. One of the cops was mad. Even when everyone was leaving he yelled at them that 'where were the photos and candles for Mitchell and Baker. And where's the flowers for Wu?!' Who are they anyway!" She wiped away a tear, but smiled again.

She then told me, "But they didn't take this. Here. You can have it. I don't know who you are or why you're even here, but everyone at the service was calling you an angel. Don't get all happy. In my culture, it's not a good word, not always. It means like demon. There are good and bad. Demons. They're not sure which you are, but it doesn't matter. It takes a demon to beat a demon. You'll just have to do. I took this before the cops took everything. I know you know what it is. I hope you know what to do with it." And with that she handed me a drawing of a Plumage Pvnk and walked away.

I considered calling  the Sheriff's office to ask them why they took down the shrine but thought better of it. Jake, it's Chinatown. It was time to go home to the safety of my blog and add the new pieces to the puzzle and see if the picture becomes any clearer. I think I just may have a few answers, but at what expense? Did all this really happen? A bird in the hand, as they say.

Final Thoughts:

I've been procrastinating putting up Part 14 on the blog because I think we've crossed the line from nonfiction to fiction. I considered saying goodbye to Norinko at her shrine after that meeting with the priest and the stepdad. Was I being punked? After a good night's sleep, with the ocean waves lapping nosily during the night in that soothing way I so love, I decided this whole thing just wasn't worth the risk of being pulled into an elaborate joke or a superstitious maze. But that little girl at the empty shrine spot seemed to know me, seemed to be waiting for me--the me inside this skin, the hermit who runs a blog for fun in his retirement. I could just walk away. But somehow I did end up posting Part 14. And I want to find out who this girl was who gave me the drawing. And I want to find the journal of Norinko Hanasaki. And I want to find Norinko. Was that Norinko who gave me the drawing? I guess that means the investigation is still on. 

Thank you for your patience, dear readers. 

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