Who Killed Kata?
Welcome to the 1930s black and white detective story in my mind: I’m sitting in my offi ce on a dark New York night. The camera pans across the outside of my dreary building, then up to my dimly lit window, as you hear a subway train scream past. Cut to the window, “Mayhem Miller – Private Investigator.”
I lay my head on my desk, pull a puff from my cigarette and lay my brimmed hat beside me. I stare deep into an empty bottle of whiskey. The name’s Miller. I’m a gumshoe. A private Eye, a dick. Call me what you will, I call it a living. A meager one at that, see. The Great Depression has hit like a ton of bricks, and all that I got to comfort me is this here bottle of whiskey and this pack of Jack Johnsons. At least nothing like this will ever happen again. Not with the New Deal and all that jazz. At least real estate is a sure thing.
I’ll start at the beginning. Ev always said, “Start at the beginning, and when you get to the middle, the end won’t come as too much of a shock.” I never understood what he meant. He was a good man. He was a bit mad, but he was a good guy. Got me to where I am today. I was thinking back to happier times when the bells of the phone sprang up and kicked me in the junk somethin’ fi erce. When I found the receiver, I got an earful of sultry sounds from a woman on the other end. Voice sweeter than Ella Fitzgerald, but shaken up like a Martini at a Big Band spot, or one of those jazz clubs down in Harlem where they smoke the reefer. She says she’s headed right down. I try to knock some of the whiskey off my whiskers and clear my haze before she shows up. In no time, a knock at my door, and I see the curvy silhouette through the frosted glass. “Come in,” I choke out, and in walks quite a dame. I’m talkin’ quite a dish—could make her my girl Friday, knowwhadeyemean? Not just some Apple Annie trying to scrape by. A broad with style, with class. She takes off her hat, with its giant brim and veil, and show’s her face. Puffy from crying, a dark-haired dame, looks Spanish with a touch of something else, like her father was a sailor.
“Arianny Celeste” She says. One of the pretty ladies that holds the card and struts her stuff for the UFC fi ghts or what have you. A burlesque girl, but with more glamour, more moxy. Fine job, sounds to me, but comes with a boatload of trouble. Her friend. Murdered. Cold Blood. Broad daylight, for everyone to see. Just one name, “Kata.” A Japanese fellow. The name struck a chord with me. Then I realize she meant “a sequence of prearranged movements and techniques.” OK, I pulled that outta the Webster’s on my shelf, but I’m a real P.I. and I get the job done anyway. I can, see. Don’t worry, Ms. Celeste. I’ll fi nd the dirty rat that killed your pal. Just make the check to “Jason Miller,” and I’m off into the night.
I’m not on the beat fi fteen minutes when I get a big lead, something that could crack this case like an egg over at Mel’s Diner. The Japs! They could’ve had it out with ol’ Kata because of its outdated place in the world of martial arts, fast being replaced by shadowboxing and real cardiovascular conditioning. I put my ear to the street and hit my source, Uncle Chonan over in Chinatown. We talk shop about the big boys of the Orient: Boss Sengoku and the King of Japan, Dream. These swordwielding samurais could’ve dropped Kata like a bad habit, any day of the ol’ week, if ya ask me. They have a fl air for the fl ashy giant entrances with a walkout ramp, pyrotechnics, and a dead-cold heart for anyone that gets in their way. This thought is interrupted by the tiny TV in the corner of his shop, Bruce Buffer shouting out about “THE MILLIONS WATCHING AROUND THE WORRRLD!” Uncle Chonan won’t talk, not because he doesn’t know, but because he doesn’t want to get involved. He rubs the nub where his pinky used to be, and I understand why. After I slide a bag of opium across the counter that he promptly puts under his cap, he directs me to a massage parlor on 67th. “Talk to Mitsuko,” he says before hustling me out of his shop.
I hit the streets again, the darkness hanging like a cloud all around me. Steam from a pothole rises into the air as I cross the street to a dimly lit storefront with blacked-out windows and a small sign claiming “massage” in poorly scribed red paint. Once I open the door, I know that the sign is a baldfaced lie. Two beautiful China dolls, almost twins, in traditional red dresses with all the stitching. They mesmerize me so much that I don’t realize I’m fl anked by Chinamen in black pajamas. They grab me up quick and yell to each other in Chinese and pat me down.
“Hey buster, what’s the big idea?” I say. I’m not sure if they understand. I’m not holding my piece, it’s Wednesday, so they let me approach the desk her front desk, leaving me alone in the hallway. I open the door and, inside, in the candlelight, is a lady of the Orient to die for. Dressed in a traditional kimono and looking like her eyes could pierce right through me. I break the silence with a question, “Mitsuko?”
“Yes” she says, now standing and taking off my jacket. With the heat bubbling under my collar, I wish I would’ve packed my fl ask. “Hey, lady!” She starts to tug at my suspenders. She’s all business, the type of dame that eats Joes like me for breakfast. “Uncle Lin sent me. I need to know who killed Kata.”
This puts the tiger at bay, long enough for me to put my hat back on and wipe They have always hated each other. Go to where the fi ghts have no entrance theatrics and you will fi nd your killer of Kata.”
She’s having a second go at my suspenders when it dawns on me: UFC president Dana White! Japanese dames always talk in riddles, something I learned in the Army.
This isn’t gonna make my job any easier. The UFC is the biggest fi ght biz in the world, and no one battles them and lives to tell about it. Especially not a broken-down ol’ gumshoe with a drinking problem and a Tokyo Rose attacking his trousers. If I’m going to do something, I gotta make it quick. I push Mitsuko down on her bed, and explain “Sorry, toots, I got big fi sh to fry, the biggest.” As her face gets sad the way that someone who’s been rejected for the fi rst time would look, I collect my things and rush out the door. She’s sitting on the bed, looking at me longingly. No time for that. The fi ghts are starting, and I’ve got to get across the bridge.
As I rush out the door of the massage parlor, Mama-san exclaims, “Oooh… you vely quick!” With two goons ready for battle, she proceeds to shake me down for two big ones. I tried to explain that all I did was talk, but suddenly Mama-san doesn’t speak English so well.
I hit the deck in Newark and slip a couple bucks to Johnny Nickles for riding me into godforsaken Jersey. Why anyone would come to this stink hole is beyond me. I fi ght the paper mill stench long enough to pass by a jazz club where a nice fella sells me a ticket for another whopping two mahoneys! I hope the fl apper girl that holds the ring cards gets paid in cash. This case is getting expensive. I’m barely up to the gate when I hear the dingbat in the suit, “IN THIS CORNER…” in his louder-thanlife voice.
I walk into the arena, give the security the slip, and make my way to the fl oor, right by the cage, eventually squeezing within a stone’s throw of the puppet master of this whole shindig: Dana White. This is gonna be tough. Word ‘round town is he used to box, and the twin goons on either side of him scanning the crowd aren’t his hospitality directors. I gotta use my head for something more than a punching bag. It hits me. I tear my library card from my wallet, jam it in the band of my hat, take out my pen and pad, and give goon number one a fi rm “KEVIN IOLE, Yahoo Sports, need a couple of words with Dana before the main event.” “Um, uh..”
Our thoughtful conversation is interrupted by “HE IS A MIXED MARTIAL ARTIST WITH A RECORD OF…” over the PA system. Works in my favor. He buys it enough for me to walk right by, right to the man himself, who shoots me a look. I shoot one right back and get right down to brass tacks. “What do you know about the death of Kata, Mr. White?”
A moment passes. A brief one. “What the fuck do you mean the fucking death of fucking Kata? I’m running a fucking business here. You think I fucking have fucking time to fucking keep track of every fucking goon who dies?”
Man’s got a way with words; I’ll give him that. I spin a 180 and get grabbed by an usher who sends me to where my tickets are, in the nosebleeds. But on the way, I get grabbed by a muscular older man wearing karate pants, a mullet hair-do, and wild eyes. All screwy, if you ask me.
“I know what you are thinking! They thought I did it! It wasn’t me, it’s not Dana!” That’s when it hits me: This is Keith Hackney, the infamous Karate fi ghter from UFC #1. The tank top gave it away.
“I know who killed Kata. He is here!” he continues, his eyes darting wildly. And suddenly, “SQUACK!” Blood shooting profusely from his neck, Hackney goes down like a fl apper girl hit with a blackjack. I hit the deck too, as do some bystanders, though most don’t even notice because the main event is about to begin. On the fl oor, I look over at Hackney, and I see not a bullet hole, but a fresh wound in the shape of a bow tie, clean through to the other side of his mullet.
Hackney was one of my favorites, and I can’t believe they did this to him. I sprint back down the stairs, the ushers trying to stop me, but then BOOM! A knockout upset in the main event, and the crowd goes WILD, enough distraction for me to jump over the railing and into the fi ghters’ entrance, just as the befuddled loser is stumbling with his corner men toward the back. I jump in with them lickety-split and get to the back as I hear “…AND THE NEWWWW CHAMPION!!” I duck into a dressing room and sit down to collect my thoughts.
Who would do such a thing as killing off the last remnants of a dying art form? Who would have anything against it? And who would have so many tuxedos in his dressing room? Just then, I hear the doorknob jiggle, and I jump into the closet with all the tuxes, leaving the door open a crack. The booming voice of Bruce Buffer fi lls the small space. “Now entering his dressing room, Bruuuce Bufffffer!!”
Does this guy ever shut up? He takes off his nice jacket and begins to take a deep horse stance in the mirror. Then he starts. Up block, up block, reverse punch, ridge hand, turn, up block. Jesus Jumpin’ Johosephats! Kata lives on, with traditional martial artist Bruce Buffer. What the hell? He’s mid-turn when I realize, no bow tie. He took off his jacket but didn’t remove any bow tie. And he wasn’t wearing one.
I jump out of the closet with the six-shooter that Nickles gave me. It IS Thursday now. And Buffer looks at me in shock. “So it was you, the whole time?! Betrayed your only true friend? Killed Keith Hackney? You dirty rat!”
Just as I say this, Buffer grabs the gun and steps at an angle, fl ipping my ass over a teakettle. He’s performing a PERFECT disarm, with me on the ground and him now holding my gun. “So you think you’re so smart? You think you’re the best detective IN THE WORLD!!! Don’t you?”
I have to admit, that sounded pretty good. Just then, the door opens and it’s Arianny, holding enough luggage to go on safari. “Baby, great job tonight! Your voice…” She stops short when she realizes the jig is up, then pulls a Tommy gun out of her suitcase.
“Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone? Go ahead and sink Dana and the rest of the UFC for killing off Kata,” the brazen babe barked, “but just leave us be. It was only a matter of time before everyone knew that martial arts had evolved, and he would’ve died anyway. We just put him out of his misery! But you had to go snooping around, and now you are going to die!”
The ring-card broad swung the cannon my way, and I thought for sure I was on the 11:15 to the graveyard, when a shadowy fi gure does a front fl ip over the backstabbing cage walker, grabbing the gun clean from her hands, “YA!” It kicks the gun from Buffer’s hand, “HIYA!” It reverse kicks Arianny in the chin, “KIYA!” Then smacks Buffer with the butt of the gun,”KAEeeeeeeeeeeee!!” and knocks them both out in a perfectly executed Kata!
“They paid me to tell you to go after Dana, but I could not betray you,” Mitsuko says, pulling her ninja mask off. “I could not betray the memory of Kata like that. I spent far too many years as a student of Kata to do that.” Tears now rolled down her porcelain-white cheeks.
I pull myself from the fl oor and grip her tight. “Don’t cry, Sugar.” I now comfort my savior, and, as the paddy wagon pulls up to take the two to the big house, we walk arm and arm down a back alley. The streetlight at the end of the alley casts a long shadow, drawing a sharp, elongated silhouette of my hat, and a cool breeze blows at the ends of my trench coat.
“In this crazy twisted world, all we got is what we got.” Ev said that to me, too. Mad man, but a great man. It’s a shame that sometimes we have let go of old friends. Maybe the broad was right. Kata was bound for the morgue, and all the common fan did was close the curtain early. Hell, who am I to make that call? Who is anybody to make any call, for that matter? I just hope the UFC paid the girl before she headed up the river. I need a stiff drink, and I need that check to clear.