Squirrel and Tanabe

Squirrel and Tanabe


Tanabe exhaled through his nostrils and rolled his shoulders in frustration. He grabbed his driver with both hands and whacked its head down onto the ground.

No, not that kind of driver, at least not in this particular situation.

Blades of freshly cut grass scrunched under the soles of his brown Italian-leather golf shoes as he adjusted his stance. He turned his head to survey the vast green landscape that sprawled out beneath the bright blue sky. Under the blazing sun, he sweltered like a skewered rice cake roasting by a coal fire. Much of his discomfort could be blamed on the fact that he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, which had garnered lots of funny looks from the other players, rightfully so in this blistering heat. But he had no other choice. One flash of his inked forearms would make the course marshal demand he leave the premises at once, and squandering his time on the course was one of the very few things he looked forward to these days. Although today in particular wasn’t quite as enjoyable as it usually was.

He glared at the little flies swimming around in the heat waves.

Tanabe shook out his left arm and stretched his gloved fingers. The leather covering his pinky folded over ever-so-slightly, but not enough for anyone to notice that his little finger had been cut down to the second knuckle. Again, if the marshal caught a glimpse of it, Tanabe knew he would promptly be escorted out and banned from ever returning. He wrapped his hands back around the club and squirmed in search of the perfect grip. His truncated pinky always weakened his grip, which was just another annoyance that he had to deal with after he left his previous life behind.

He exhaled through his nostrils again, set a steady eye on the ball, and swung the driver.

It whipped across the grass and took out a chunk of dirt. Tanabe clicked his tongue and grumbled, fighting the urge to take a second or third swing at the ground. 

He sighed and tallied a shot in his mind. Every swing at the ball must be counted, even when no one was watching. No cheating; golf was a true gentleman’s sport. And he was a gentleman.

At least that’s what they had all told themselves in the Yakuza.

Tanabe re-established his stance and rolled his shoulders, this time with conviction. He just needed to relax and trust that the laws of physics would do most of the heavy lifting. He closed his eyes, took a deep whiff of the moist, earthy air, and—


Tanabe opened his eyes and turned around. There was a young couple standing behind him, apparently waiting to move on to the hole he was occupying.

“Could you hurry up?” the young man asked, crossing his arms impatiently.

“Fuck off,” Tanabe said, and turned back around.

If this had been ten years earlier, he might have smashed both of their heads in with his club. His gangster days were long over, but he caught himself drifting into violent fantasies every once in a while. He hadn’t been able to entirely get rid of his old ways, especially considering he had been in the Yakuza for fifty-nine years, as part of the Yoshimoto family, and spent thirty of those years as their boss.

Once a gangster, always a gangster, or so the story goes.

The couple muttered angrily as Tanabe focused back on his shot. He swung his club and this time it hit the ball with a thwack. Grinning in satisfaction, he roofed his eyes with his hand and peered up at the flying dot, which soared far and landed on the fairway.

Tanabe lifted his club, smiled at the frowning couple, and turned to his golf cart. As he strutted away, he heard the young man start to babble.

“H-honey, where’s my watch?”

“Your watch? Didn’t you have it on?”

“I-I put it right here, just a minute ago—my wrist was getting sweaty, I was only gonna take it off for a second—you didn’t pick it up, did you—?” He paused. “H-hey! Old man!”
Tanabe looked over his shoulder while still walking. “I didn’t steal your watch, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he yelled. He opened his arms and shrugged. “How could I anyway, with you two staring me down the entire time?”

Tanabe escaped to his golf cart before the couple could say much else. For reasons unknown, the richer guests always seemed to be misplacing their valuables at this golf course. He felt no sympathy whatsoever toward any of them though, all those pretentious bastards. In fact, he found great delight in the misfortunes of the wealthy; it was as if some higher power was working to equalize things around here.

Tanabe tossed his club into his golf bag and shimmied himself onto the cart. He figured his ball went a little over two hundred yards. Today was Cart Path Only, meaning the golf carts were only allowed to drive on the designated paths. Tanabe took off his glove, turned the key, and stepped on the accelerator pedal. He drove down the tree-lined path, glancing at the deep, verdant forest that extended to his left.

He always enjoyed playing this golf course, even though the food at the restaurant wasn’t that great, the golf carts were a little slow, and the other players were usually rich snobs. He loved being surrounded by nature, and more importantly, this was one of the few golf courses in the area that he hadn’t yet been banned from.

Just as Tanabe turned a sharp curve, a squirrel ran out of the shrubbery, froze in the middle of the road, and stared straight at him.


Tanabe veered right and slammed on the brakes, but his foot slipped off of the pedal and the cart went hurtling across the fairway. It dove into a bunker, and on impact, he fell out of his seat and tumbled onto the sand.

“What the hell?” He grunted, lifted his torso off of the ground, and sat up.

“Oh dear, oh dear, I’m terribly sorry, sir! I was on my way home and didn’t see you coming, I didn’t mean to get in your way—”



Tanabe stared at the squirrel he had almost run over. It scurried next to him and looked up with concerned eyes. It was holding a silver Rolex in its paws.

“You alright sir?” it asked.

“What the—”

He looked around to see if anyone else was witnessing this, but there was no one else in sight. “Who—”

He turned back to the squirrel. It blinked worriedly. Tanabe looked into its beady pupils, and then at the Rolex. He scoffed and rubbed his grey coiffure. “Fucking Christ, I must’ve hit my head—”

“Oh dear, do you need a medic? I can call a medic—”

“What the hell are you?”

“Me? I am a squirrel! Er, a member of the family Sciuridae, which includes small or medium-size rodents, er, a petite mammal with a bushy tail, like this one right here—”

“No! No, I know what a squirrel is!”

“Oh, then why did you ask?”

“What I meant was, well, you talk!”

“Oh! Right, yes, yes. I suppose it is a bit odd… Um, it’s a rather long story…” The squirrel paused and studied a gnat buzzing just above the grass. 

Tanabe leaned toward the squirrel and squinted. “Also, why the hell did you stop in the middle of the road? Did you want to die?”

The squirrel snapped out of its trance and looked back at Tanabe. “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry about that, it’s really just an inconvenient defense mechanism built into our nervous systems. I believe you say, er… like a duck in headlights?”

“Close enough.” Tanabe sighed. “Well I’d say we’re both lucky we’re alive. My reflexes aren’t exactly the sharpest they’ve ever been.”

“I’d beg to differ sir, that was quite the impressive maneuver. Thank you for sparing my life! I was certain I was done for when I saw the cart, we’ve lost a good few of our kind the same way…” The squirrel’s eyes kept darting back and forth between Tanabe and the gnat.

“You mean there are more talking squirrels?”

“Oh no, I’m the only one that can talk. Like I said, it’s a rather long story.”

Tanabe paused, then cleared his throat. “Well, you can get to that later. Right now I gotta deal with all this.” He gestured at the mangled grass and dirt. “They’ll probably make me pay a hefty fine.”

“I’m terribly sorry, I really am. I wish I could help, but I don’t quite understand how you are to pay. I’m guessing it’ll be with what you call money, which I must admit is an aspect of human behavior that still puzzles me…” The squirrel stroked its chin. “Do you take acorns? Oh, or ginkgo berries! Those are very valuable this time of year, quite hard to come by.”

Tanabe grunted in exasperation. “Forget it.” Retired Yakuza members usually didn’t have much in their savings since the Yakuza never kept much money liquid. But since Tanabe retired as a boss of the Yoshimoto family, he had a good stock of material things he acquired during his leadership, so his expenses were usually paid off by selling those items. Maybe he could ask the course management if he could pay the fine in installments, and he’d gather the money later… Or hell, maybe he’d just hope to drop dead before they could nag him about the debt.



Tanabe turned around to see a golf ball plummeting toward him. He ducked, and the golf ball barely missed his head. This was one too many near-death experiences he was willing to face in a single day.

“You serious? That could’ve killed me!” Tanabe yelled at the group of men in the distance, from where the ball apparently came. One of them, wearing a yellow vest, raised his hand and started running over to apologize. He only took a few strides when he squinted at Tanabe and slowed down to a jog. Then he stopped, turned his head around and said something to the other men while pointing at Tanabe.

“Oh, they know you!” the squirrel said. “Are they your friends?”

Tanabe’s line of sight shifted to the other men. Then his poor old heart nearly stopped.

There was a short bald man in a beige getup and orange-tinted glasses, surrounded by three other taller men in red, blue, and green vests. Tanabe knew that wrinkly, sour old face in the middle all too well; that face with no hair except those absurd eyebrows, which were like two furry caterpillars sitting on his forehead. It was the pompous face of Ryuzo Genji, the current boss of the Iwasaki family. The biggest rival of the Yoshimoto family.

“Oh, fuckfuckfuck—”

You!” Genji’s eyes widened as he roared at Tanabe. Then he yelled some sort of angry command to the red, blue, and green men, who Tanabe realized were Genji’s bodyguards. They ran toward Tanabe with their golf clubs in the air. Guns tended to put guys in prison, so the Yakuza did without them these days.

“Sir, they don’t look very happy to see you.”

Tanabe got up and scrambled onto the golf cart. “If someone stole sixty million yen from me, I wouldn’t be too happy to see them either.”

The squirrel jumped onto the passenger seat. “You stole money from them?”

“Yeah, from that puny bald guy, almost two years ago. Didn’t get to keep any of it though.” Tanabe glanced behind and saw the three bodyguards closing in. He quickly turned the key. Then he paused and looked at the squirrel, who put its torso through the Rolex and secured it around its waist. It looked back at Tanabe and clutched the armrest.

“With all due respect sir, the cart isn’t going to drive itself.”

Tanabe shook his head and shifted into reverse. “Hang tight, buddy.” He stepped on the accelerator pedal and backed out of the bunker. Why a talking squirrel with a Rolex would want to join being chased by a bunch of angry gangsters, he couldn’t say.

“Sixty million yen, sir? How much would that be in ginkgo berries?”

“Hm, I’d guess about a couple hundred trees worth.”

“Oh dear.”

Tanabe swerved onto the cart path as the bodyguards sprinted behind. They were younger guys, probably in their late twenties. They seemed to be catching up to the cart. Tanabe took a glimpse at the speedometer, which hovered somewhere between thirteen and fourteen kilometers per hour.

“Can’t this thing go any faster?”

“Sir, I think they are gaining on us.”
“I know, I know!” Tanabe said, stomping down on the accelerator pedal as hard as he could. Then he had an idea. “Squirrel, take the wheel for me would ya?”

“On it, sir!” The squirrel switched places with Tanabe, stood on the seat, and grabbed the bottom of the wheel with both of its little hands.

Tanabe kept his foot on the accelerator pedal, turned around, and pulled out a club from his golf bag. 

He centered his aim and chucked the club at the man in the red vest. It missed him by a long shot, but it ricocheted off the asphalt and hit the man in the blue vest under the chin. He stumbled and fell backward. Tanabe chucked another golf club at the red man, but missed again. He threw one more club at the man in the green vest, but the man blocked it with his own club. The cart wobbled and swayed, making it difficult for Tanabe to stabilize his shot.

“Can’t you steer any smoother? I can’t aim with all the shaking!”

“My apologies sir! I’m a little new to this, I’m trying my best,” the squirrel said.

Tanabe grabbed two more golf clubs, but then the cart hit a rough patch in the road and bounced up, almost throwing him out of his seat. His foot momentarily slipped from the accelerator pedal.


He held onto the armrest to steady himself and secured his foot back onto the pedal. He couldn’t stay facing backwards any longer, so he turned forward and sat firmly in the seat.

The remaining two bodyguards closed in on the cart, the red one to the right and the green one to the left. They banged their clubs against the bumper, their expressions raging. “We got you now, old man!” they squawked.

There was no way Tanabe could take on these two young bodyguards of a Yakuza boss. He glanced at their hurtling legs creeping forward along the sides of the cart. Then another idea hit him.

“Squirrel, hold onto the wheel tight!”

He pulled across his seatbelt and held the two clubs securely in his hands. A 7-iron in his left and a pitching wedge in his right. Nice and heavy, these should do nicely.

He took a deep breath, then simultaneously thrusted the heads of the clubs out both sides of the cart and slammed on the brakes.

The two men, unable to stop their bolting feet, smashed into the clubs at the groin. As they cried out in pain, Tanabe raised the clubs and clobbered down on their heads with a crack. They dropped to the ground, silent, knocked out. The 7-iron slipped out of his hand and fell onto the green man’s back.

“Nice one, sir!”

Tanabe massaged his left hand, as the movement put more strain on his four working fingers than they could comfortably handle. “Thanks.” He smiled at the squirrel. “Nice work to you too, I guess.”

The squirrel chirped back. Then, it looked behind them and its face turned pale, or something to that effect. “Oh dear.”

Tanabe turned around and saw the man in the yellow vest and Genji heading toward them in their own golf cart, from about a hundred meters away. “Oh shit.”

“It looks like they’re catching up with us, sir.”

Tanabe faced forward. “Keep the wheel steady!” he said, and stepped on the gas again. They lurched forward and accelerated at what seemed like a snail’s pace. Genji’s cart continued to inch closer while Tanabe’s cart struggled to reach top speed.

“We won’t be able to outrun them!” Tanabe said, peering behind his back toward Genji and the yellow man. He realized that the only way this would end would be for one of them to run out of fuel.

The cart suddenly whirled to the right and soared off the path.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Tanabe looked at the squirrel in horror as the cart flew into the forest. 

“Forgive me sir, but I have a plan! I’m taking us to my home!”

What?” Tanabe held on for his life as they plunged through leaves and branches.

“I believe my friends can be of assistance!”

“Your friends? How the hell are a few squirrels going to save us?”

“A few!” The squirrel laughed. “Sir, I have a little more than just a few friends.”

The squirrel steered left and right between the towering oak trees. Tanabe started to feel a bit queasy. He looked behind them and saw a stream of flattened foliage in their trail. Genji and his bodyguard seemed to have fallen back; they were nowhere in sight.

“Here it is! Slow down!” the squirrel said, and Tanabe lifted his foot off the accelerator and pressed down on the brakes. They came to a halt in front of a massive, moss-covered tree. Tanabe looked up and saw a large treehouse perched between its branches.

This is your home?” Tanabe stared at the treehouse in bewilderment. It was a worn-out structure made of light brown wood with moss starting to creep up along its splintered edges as well.

The squirrel jumped off of the cart and scurried up the tree and into the house. It then let out a sequence of high-pitched yips and barks.

Tanabe unbuckled his seatbelt, hopped out of the cart, and ran to the base of the tree. He spotted a ladder leaning against the trunk.

“Hurry!” the squirrel said.

Tanabe heard the sound of crunching branches and a humming engine coming closer. “That damn Genji!”

He heaved himself up the ladder and into the wooden chamber. What he saw inside was the last thing he expected.

“What in the world—”

There were piles and piles of jewelry, clothes, and various other objects all along the edge of the floor and stacked against the walls. The squirrel wiggled out of the Rolex and placed it on top of a heap of other watches. Then it leaped onto a windowsill and looked out. “They’re here!”

Genji’s golf cart arrived at the base of the tree, and the yellow man and Genji hopped out of it. The yellow man started to climb the ladder, but the squirrel ran to the top of the ladder and jumped onto his face. He screamed as the squirrel clawed at his eyes, nose, and mouth. He wrestled frantically, then hit his head on a low branch and fell to the ground, knocked unconscious.

The squirrel then jumped off the yellow man and sprang toward Genji, but before it could grapple onto him, Genji kicked it and sent it flying through the air.

“Squirrel!” Tanabe cried.

The squirrel fell and writhed against the ground. It lifted its head and let out another sequence of yips and barks, this time louder and deeper than before.

Then, a roaring chorus of other yips and barks filled the air in response.

Tanabe looked around and saw hundreds of squirrels scuttling onto the branches of the trees that surrounded the area.

“What the—” Genji gaped at the critters that loomed over him.

The squirrel (the talking one) gave a single piercing screech, and the rest of the squirrels barked in unison. Before Genji could take cover, a shower of acorns pelted down toward him.

“No!” Genji shielded his head with his arms and looked around for cover. One by one, the squirrels jumped off of the branches and attacked the wrinkly man. “Get off of me!” he said, desperately thrashing his arms around. The squirrels piled on top of Genji until Tanabe couldn’t see him underneath them all. They nipped and clawed and squeaked while Genji tossed and flailed and shrieked.

Tanabe drew his eyes away from the chaotic brawl, scrambled down the ladder of the treehouse, and rushed to his little friend who was lying on the ground. “Squirrel! Are you okay?”

The squirrel turned over and groaned. “I’m alright sir, just a little bruise.” It rubbed its hip and sighed. “It’s always harder to attack from below.”

“You saved me, squirrel.”

“I told you my friends could be of assistance.”

Tanabe let out a chuckle and looked over to the swarming mound of squirrels. “No kidding. You got a whole army.”

“We all look after each other around here,” the squirrel said, beaming. “Um, do you think they can be done now, sir?”

Genji’s screams had turned to meager moans. “Yeah, that baldy never had that much fight in him anyways.”

“Alright then, sir.”

The squirrel yipped to its friends, and they all immediately stopped and scampered off into the trees.

“Thanks, everyone,” Tanabe said to them.

Genji whimpered in a fetal position, with his beige outfit torn up and orange-tinted glasses broken and hanging off his face. Tanabe walked up to him and crouched down.

“Hey, Genji. Long time no see.”

Genji looked up. “Tanabe…”

“Got your ass beat by an old geezer and a bunch of squirrels, huh.” Tanabe patted Genji on the shoulder. “Why don’t we say this never happened, and I owe you nothing, eh?”

Genji curled himself back up and mumbled something Tanabe couldn’t quite understand.

“Well I’ll just let you get some rest, ol’ bud.” He glanced at the man in the yellow vest, who was still knocked out below the treehouse. “Him too.”

Tanabe stood back up. “Hey squirrel, can I get some help from your friends again? We should get these guys out of here.”

With the help of the squirrels, Tanabe lifted the yellow man and Genji, who were both now peacefully snoring, onto the golf cart. He and the squirrels drove out of the forest, dumped the two men on the edge of the fairway, and drove back to the treehouse.

Tanabe and the talking squirrel climbed back into the squirrel’s home, and Tanabe scanned the room again in awe. “Mind if I take a look?” he asked.

“Please do,” said the squirrel.

Tanabe squatted and studied the objects. He gently sifted through the piles and noticed there were many more designer watches, from Rolex to Omega to Cartier. Sprinkled throughout were hundreds of pieces of jewelry, which he guessed were from luxury brands as well. Some colorful scarves were strewn on top—Hermes, Burberry, Fendi. He spotted a few wallets too, all of them still full of cash.

Tanabe gawked at the squirrel. “Where’d this all come from?”

“Oh, well, I find them around the golf course, in carts, locker rooms, parking lots, all sorts of places! You’d be surprised at how careless some people are with their belongings. I just take whatever I think will cozy up the place nicely.”

Tanabe almost fell over laughing. “Well, you have good taste.”

“Why, thank you! I particularly fancy the shiny ones.” The squirrel grinned.

Tanabe smiled back and sighed. Some higher power, he thought.

In any other situation, he might have been tempted to take a handful of the watches and jewelry and run. But that was the last thing he wanted to do right now, especially after seeing what those squirrels could do. And strangely, he found himself valuing this particular squirrel’s company.

Tanabe lay down on the treehouse floor and looked up at the ceiling. “Hey, can I rest here for a little while?”

“Of course. I think I will lie down too.” The squirrel lay next to him and also looked up at the ceiling.

“Guess we’re all square now, huh.”

“It seems we are, sir.”

They lay in silence for a few moments.

“Hey, you said you don’t understand money right? Would you mind if I, you know, take the cash in the wallets you have over there?”

“Oh, I didn’t even notice! Please do, I won’t have any use for it anyway.”

“Ah, thanks.”
They lay in silence for a few more moments.

“Hey, you never got to telling me why you talk.”

“Oh, um, as I mentioned before, sir, it is a rather long story.”

“That’s fine, we’ve got time.”

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