It was getting harder and harder to get Pacific bluefin tuna. Yeah, I could get other varieties, but everyone knows Pacific bluefin is the best. Especially for sushi. I contacted supplier after supplier, and all of them told me the same thing: they were being pressured to phase out the product and the prices would continue to rise because the demand was higher than ever.
My customers are well off. They can afford the best, so they demand the best. If I can’t give them what they demand, they’ll go elsewhere. In this competitive restaurant environment, if that happens, I’m done for. You can imagine my growing panic as the prices for bluefin rose and the supplies dwindled. Sure, my customers would pay whatever I charged when I could get it in, but that was becoming less and less frequent. The bigger restaurants would get first dibs. Why sell one to me when you can sell three or four to the guy down the street, especially when he had enough cash on hand to outbid me?
I was getting ready to give up hope. My sales were at an all-time low as the customers sought a better, more high-end selection from my competitors. In my desperation, I realized I’d be willing to circumvent the law if it meant staying in business. Staying in business meant my girls could stay at Yale. It meant my wife could continue receiving top-quality nursing care in our home while her Alzheimer’s worsened. I wasn’t ready to take that all away from them.
Ten years ago, I met a man named Satoshi. He was the nephew of one of my suppliers. He’d gone into business for himself and got into quite a bit of trouble for poaching some endangered sharks to sell their fins to the Chinese market. I think he spent a couple months in jail and had to pay a pretty big fine, but rumor had it that he’d emerged a new man. He reformed his business and appeared to be extraordinarily successful. It was that extraordinary success which caused me to get in contact with him.
To me, it appeared Satoshi was too successful. His business was small compared to the other suppliers in the area, but he was living a life of luxury. He drove a Bentley when the other guys drove BMWs. He had three houses in the most expensive areas of the city when the other guys had one. That kind of thing. I had a feeling he was into something extra.
Within an hour of our meeting, Satoshi said he could get me Bluefin for 80% below market price. To say I was surprised was an understatement. In fact, I laughed in his face. He remained serious, though, and insisted he wasn’t making it up.
Apparently, there was an area off limits to fishermen where Bluefin congregated in massive numbers. They were attracted to the warm water or something. Satoshi’s connections were in the Japanese coast guard, and they’d been planning a pretty big scam where their patrol boats got rigged with fishing gear and they could haul up Bluefin at night and sell them off at dawn. All they needed was a buyer.
80% below market price. I didn’t ask any questions and just said yes. I was fairly sure the police would break in through the windows and arrest me as soon as I shook Satoshi’s hand, but they didn’t. Satoshi just smiled at me as I wrote him a check. He told me I should expect the first delivery in the morning.
True to his word, at 5am, an unmarked truck pulled up in front of my restaurant. Two men got out, opened the back of the truck, and pulled three gorgeous bluefin from the icy compartment. Two were flash-frozen, one was ready for preparation. They brought them into the kitchen, helped me put two in the freezer, and left without saying a word.
I broke down the unfrozen one. It was perfect. The meat was firm and succulent. The samples I tasted were as good as the expensive stuff. I say “good” despite the fact I’m not actually a huge fan of the fish. Go figure. But I could still tell when I was tasting the real deal, and this most certainly was the real deal. I went and drew a huge advertisement on our sidewalk chalkboard. I was going to sell the bluefin dishes for half what my competitors were asking for. Then I went into the kitchen, started to prepare the fish, and felt relieved for the first time in as long as I could remember.
Dinner service was the busiest in the history of my restaurant. Word spread on social media and the place was packed from open to close. People who’d never been able to afford bluefin showed up once they learned how low the price was. The night was spectacular. So was the following night. And the night after.
I was delighted to take home many, many bluefin dishes to Aiko. She’d been having a rare, multi-day stretch of lucidity, and it warmed my heart to see her eating her favorite food and relishing her time spent with me. If I could feed her the food she loved most and could actually afford to do it, I was going to. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her happy.
I received delivery after delivery from Satoshi’s guys and was making money hand over fist. I was tight-lipped about where I was getting my supply, and the competitors were scrambling to keep up. Aiko drifted in and out like those with Alzheimer’s do; but no matter how far gone she was on some nights, she always perked up when I served her the bluefin she adored.
I started to grow a bit concerned, though, because it looked like Aiko had developed a skin condition. She’d bruise very easily and her skin was so delicate. Her nurse would have to be extremely careful when brushing her teeth because her gums would bleed badly. I was told it was a nutritional deficiency. Aiko was given some injections to help bring her levels back to normal.
The customers kept coming to the restaurant but Aiko got worse every day. Her nurse said if she didn’t start to show signs of improvement soon, she’d have to bring her to the hospital. When I stroked my wife’s hair, I was dismayed to see that some came out in my hand.
On a busy Saturday night, the nurse called me in a panic. Aiko had developed terrible, bloody diarrhea and was vomiting blood. She’d been rushed to the hospital and was in intensive care. I told the restaurant manager to take over and I sped to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Aiko was in a room by herself. She was stuffed with tubes and plugged with wires. Monitors displayed countless readouts that meant nothing to me. I stared at her from behind the glass and told the doctors I needed to go in and sit with her. They refused. I protested and fought, but I couldn’t get through the door. It was locked. Behind the glass, a torrent of blood erupted from Aiko’s mouth. It filled the tube and poured out over the sides of her face. A door on the other side of the room opened and doctors wearing yellow suits and masks ran in. They closed the curtains and I was left with Aiko’s nurse. We cried together.
My cell phone rang. Satoshi. I don’t know why I answered, but I did. He was beside himself with what sounded like terror. I barely could make out what he was saying, but in his panicky outbursts, I realized he was telling me something was wrong with the fish he’d been selling me.
I demanded that he calm down and speak clearly. “What about the fish, Satoshi?”
“You have to stop using it,” he choked out, panic still tainting his voice.
“Why?,” I asked, as pinpricks of dread rose along my back and neck. All I heard on his end was weeping. “Satoshi!,” I yelled, causing the nurse to jump.
His voice trembled. “I didn’t know they were getting it from there.”
“Oh no,” I breathed. I closed my eyes. “Satoshi…where are they getting the bluefin?”
An eternity passed as I listened to the man sob weakly into the phone.
I screamed his name with such violence I felt something in my throat tear.
In a tiny, almost childlike tone, Satoshi answered me.