St. Stephens College
Clive Atkinson looked out the window of his classroom. The lousy wet and cold weather that had punctuated Chinese New Year continued. No bother he thought, at least it was warmish in the classroom thanks to the overhead air conditioning unit that switched to warm air in the winter.
He started to write out an outline of the lesson on the whiteboard. Soon the kids started to file into the room and sit at their desks ready for the history lesson that was about to begin. Clive stood in front of them and spent a few minutes asking about their holidays and how they were spent.
“Today, we are going to talk about the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong that took place in December 1941. As the seniors of our school I expect that most of you know that St. Stephens played a part during these dark times. Who can tell me what that part was?”
Scanning his students, Clive saw the hand of Harvey Ashton shoot up immediately. Experience taught him to pause and wait for the other less sure hands to appear and give them a chance and sure enough hands started to be raised. He saw the hand of Simon Au go up and chose him.
“The Japanese used St. Stephens to intern the prisoners after their invasion. They continued to use the school this way until Hong Kong was liberated.”
“Good answer Simon,” responded Clive who was genuinely impressed. “Now who can tell me how the school was used before the Japanese won the battle for Hong Kong?”
This time only Harvey’s hand was in the air.
“It was used as a hospital on the frontline of the battle to attend to the wounded soldiers. The soldiers defending Hong Kong were British, Canadian and Indian. They were vastly outnumbered by the attackers. I believe it was the only battle in the Second World War that resulted in one hundred percent casualties. Everyone was either killed, wounded or captured.”
Despite himself Clive couldn’t help but smile. “Excellent answer, Harvey,” he said.
Clive’s smile disappeared. “Now I want to tell you what is regarded as the darkest day of our school, Christmas Day, 1941. A day we don’t like to remember but which should never be forgotten.” Clive paused and saw he had the attention of every student in the class. You could hear a pin drop.
“This is the day of the St. Stephens College Massacre. Like I said, it is not a pretty story but you’re all old enough to hear it and it is important to know our history. On that holy Christian day, Japanese soldiers entered the hospital only hours before the British were to surrender. When they went into St. Stephens, set-up as a temporary hospital, they were met by two doctors who they promptly killed and mutilated.”
Clive Atkinson looked around, the ashen faces of his students showed a mix of concern and anxiety, and then he continued.
“They say that war brings out the savage heart in men and that can be the only explanation for what followed. When the Japanese soldiers entered the hospital ward they immediately started to bayonet the wounded soldiers in the beds where they lay. These men were too weak to even lift an arm to defend themselves. The survivors and nurses were locked in separate rooms. The soldiers later took two Canadians out of one of the rooms and killed them. They also took many of the nurses away and gang raped them. The next morning, the Japanese ordered that the bodies of the dead along with bodies from the battle in Stanley be cremated together. Later on, when the school was used as a civilian internment camp, the people imprisoned here gathered up the burnt bones and other remains they could find and buried them. A gravestone marks the spot in Stanley Cemetery.”
Harvey sat transfixed, listening to the horrific story and the tragic end of many good people. He tried to imagine that dark time at his own school and wondered how he would act in the face of such brutality. Would he attack the aggressors and face almost certain death? He began to wonder about the Japanese soldiers committing the fierce crimes of violence. How could people be so cold and cruel to have no basic regard for humanity? Could war really turn you into such a savage beast?
His thoughts turned to the ring that had been briefly his and the Japanese connection with it. What kind of past did that ring have? What was so special about the ring that someone would start a fire to get it? It was a real mystery why someone would go to such lengths to steal it.
At the end of the class as he was walking out, Mr. Atkinson stopped Harvey.
“Can you come and see me in my office this evening after supper? I have something important to discuss,” asked Mr. Atkinson.
Harvey wondered what it could be about but resisted the urge to ask.
“Sure, I’ll come by around seven.”
Emma had come to the library during her spare period after lunch. She stayed through her maths class and had been working for nearly two hours. She knew she would get in trouble for skipping the class but once she stuck her teeth into something she could easily become completely absorbed in it. She loved doing research in the library for two reasons. Since it was a library, you had to be quiet and therefore no distractions. She wasn’t actually using the books in the library but using her laptop computer which she preferred for the speed with which she could get information on the web. The second best thing about the library is that it had the best Wi-Fi hotspot on campus for bandwidth.
She had been thinking about the mystery of the ring ever since the fire incident with Harvey and her overhearing the conversation with the mysterious Sato. She knew Sato was Japanese and it seemed the ring was from Japan too.
But what makes this particular ring so special? Emma wondered.
She had started with the name that Harvey said was inscribed on the ring in Kanji characters, Okanabe. A quick search on the internet told her the name wasn’t common but she found one significant Okanabe in history. In the late sixteenth century there had been a great Japanese ruler called Ota Okanabe who was lord of Himeji Castle in Japan. He had aspirations to become shogun, or leader of Japan, and had gone into battle against Lord Tokugawa. Tokugawa had won.
As fascinating as the history was, it didn’t explain the connection with Okanabe and the ring. Finding out about the ring was proving elusive. She suddenly remembered Harvey describing the ring like the grain of wood. She typed wood grain ring into the search engine. This gave her results for a video game called Dark Souls and some sites for cheap looking rings you could buy online. This didn’t fit with the fine ring Harvey had described. She gave it some thought and decided to add the word Japan to her search. Bingo!
Emma learned that mokume-gane was an ancient Japanese method of working with metal that was perfected by master swordsmiths. The technique was used to decorate the swords, or katana, of samurai. She found out it is now a popular technique for wedding rings and engagement rings. Emma reflected on this.
Hmm, if this decorative art is used for rings now then it could have been used for rings long ago. Maybe this mysterious ring holds secrets from the past. It looks like it once belonged to someone named Okanabe. Not a popular Japanese name. Is it possible it belonged to Ota Okanabe who had ambitions to rule Japan?
Emma was feeling slightly frustrated. The concentration line between her eyebrows deepened. She couldn’t find a link between rings created in the mokume-gane way and the sixteenth century period of Japan. All the references were for modern rings created using the ancient metal technique. She wondered if the ring Harvey had described could be an old wedding ring belonging to some anonymous Okanabe?
She typed in the name Sato and quickly learned that it was the most common family name in Japan.
Is this ring going to prove as common as the name of our mystery man? Emma wondered.
No, her intuition told her this ring was special, that and the fact that someone was willing to burn down a shop in Stanley to get the ring. But why no mention of mokume-gane used historically for ring making?
Enthusiastically, Emma kept working away at her laptop. She learned the ring making technique was credited to a swordsmith known as Master Denbei over 100 years after the time of Okanabe. The ring was proving to be quite the mystery. Emma looked at her watch and saw that classes were over for the day. She sent a text message on her phone to Harvey asking him to meet her in the library. She went back to her computer screen to read more about the ancient Japanese sword making art of mokume-gane.
After reading the message on his phone, Harvey quickly made his way to the library and strode through the front doors. It didn’t take him long to find his friend huddled over her computer.
“Hey Emma, skiving class this afternoon?”
Slightly startled after being so long absorbed with her computer, Emma blinked and turned to notice Harvey slide into the seat next to her.
“Harvey!” She exclaimed a little louder than she had intended. The librarian gave a disapproving glance in their direction.
In a more hushed tone, Emma said, “That ring of yours that was stolen is proving to be quite the mystery. I’ve been reading about samurai and battles of conquest.” She stood up, took her computer and grabbed Harvey by the arm. “Let’s go to the study room where we can speak freely.”
A few of the tables in the study were occupied. Emma led them to a table at the back of the room where they could have more privacy. Harvey noticed some heads turn in their direction as they walked in with most of the eyes on Emma. She paid no attention to the smiling eyes from the boys in the room, she was used to it. With her Eurasian good looks, smooth skin and long flowing brown hair, Emma was known as quite the beauty around campus. Her most striking feature was her hazel eyes. They were almond shaped with naturally long dark lashes giving her an exotic look.
As they sat down, Emma could barely contain her excitement.
“Harvey, this ring of yours, it’s totally amazing. The name you told me, Okanabe, belonged to an important samurai lord in Japan over four hundred years ago. I think the ring may have belonged to him”
“Really, how can you be sure?” He was completely surprised to hear this possibility. His mind returned to the day he tried the ring on his finger at Alex’s shop. “It seems quite a stretch that it would belong to someone famous. Tell me more about what you learned,” Harvey asked.
“Well, I can’t say with certainty that it did belong to him, nothing was mentioned about a ring in connection with the samurai Okanabe.”
Emma paused and looked into Harvey’s eyes. A smile of excitement played across her face.
“But I have a gut feeling that there is something special about your ring and I believe there is a connection between it and Okanabe. That and something else”
Harvey was intrigued. “What is it?”
“You told me the surface of the ring was similar to the grain of wood. I found a Japanese art form where they make rings just as you described. It is based on an art form the ancient Japanese swordsmiths had with metals. They used this technique to decorate the swords of samurai. It’s called mokume-gane.”
What Emma said jogged his memory. Harvey’s eyes opened wide.
“That’s it! That’s the word the guy said in the shop. He was very impressed with the ring and called it mokuma...”
“Mokume-gane,” Emma corrected. “It’s really beautiful. Take a look at these pictures.” She opened up her computer and pointed to one of the pictures on the screen. “This one looks like oil shimmering on water. And this looks like the more pure wood grain design that you described.”
Emma continued to tell him what she had found out about the metal sword craft and about the history of samurai in Japan she had learned that afternoon.
“This is very cool and interesting what you have learned but it doesn’t explain why someone would steal the ring from me. Who is this guy Sato and why did he want the ring?”
“Good questions Harvey. That ring must be something special. I think there is a very good reason why Sato stole it from you. He could have done it because he knows it is worth a lot of money, or maybe it holds some secret and Sato knows what that secret is. One thing is for sure, he was compelled to take drastic action to steal it since he was willing to risk a fire and getting caught.”
Emma felt a wave of excitement. She gave Harvey a big smile revealing dimples in her cheeks and shining eyes.
“Harvey, I’m going to Japan to ski with some friends during the Easter break. You have to come with us. It will be exciting to learn about Japan firsthand and I know you love to ski. ”
Harvey remembered Emma mentioning her ski trip before but he hadn’t considered going as he couldn’t afford it. He had made plans with Briggs instead to attend the Rugby Sevens, a major sporting event held in Hong Kong. But now with all this mystery about the ring and its connection with Japan he really would like to join Emma.
Emma could see the hesitation on Harvey’s face and suspected the cause.
“Harvey we have to go together. You can’t miss a chance like this to see Japan and with the mystery of the ring it will make it extra exciting. Let me invite you and help you with the cost of the flight.”
That helped Harvey make up his mind. Emma had always been very generous with him in the past and had even taken him last year on a wonderful holiday to her family chalet in Switzerland to ski in the Tyrol. He didn’t want to take advantage of that generosity.
“You know I’d love to go. And it is compelling with what we’ve just found out but I don’t want you to buy my ticket. Besides, I promised to go to the Sevens with Briggs.” Harvey looked at his watch. “Speaking of which, he’ll be wondering where we are. Let’s go for supper.”
The dining hall at St. Stephens hadn’t had any significant renovations for as long as any of the school staff could remember, that was going back at least thirty years. The large room was more functional rather than appealing for any design attributes. The walls were painted a dull grey and the tables and chairs were typical of large institutions like a hospital or prison. The chairs were a hard blue plastic and gave no hint of being comfortable, they were scattered around large metal tables. The hall was full with groups of students sitting around the tables. Most of the kids were engaged in lively conversations with more focus on talking than on eating their dinner. Todd Briggs was waiting at their usual table, looking suspiciously at the soup in front of him, when Harvey and Emma walked over.
“Hey, what took you guys so long? You’re missing out on this delicious soup of clear broth with random bits of fish in it.”
St. Stephens College had a lot to be proud of as an institution of higher learning but the culinary skills in the kitchen were somewhat lacking. Emma and Harvey sat down and began to tell Briggs what they had learned about the ring and its possible origin.
Someone walked up to their table and stood behind Harvey. It was Skye Lars, the blond-haired captain of St. Marks House. Skye had a strong athletic build he maintained by working out regularly.
“Hey Ashton!” Skye said in a voice loud enough to carry in the cafeteria. A few of the tables nearby stopped talking and turned in their direction. “Fat chance you’re going to win the game this Saturday.”
A flash of anger crossed Harvey’s face but he quickly composed himself and made a wide grin as he faced Skye. In a clear voice he said, “You’re pretty sure of yourself Skye, which is surprising, since we kicked your ass last time we played.” A few chuckles could be heard through the room.
Skye’s normally pale skin started to colour in his face. “We’ll wipe the field with you during the match this Saturday.”
“Good luck,” replied Harvey sarcastically as Skye walked away, “we’ll be ready for you.”
There was a big house rivalry between St. Andrews and St. Marks and this was often settled through the inter-house sports matches. This Saturday they would be playing football.
“What a jerk Skye is, does he think he can intimidate us? I don’t get that guy,” said Briggs.
“He must feel threatened by us but then who wouldn’t?” Harvey replied with a smile.
Emma remained silent throughout the exchange. She felt slightly embarrassed by the juvenile barbs thrown between Harvey and Skye. Skye was in a couple of her classes and they had started sitting and working together. She knew a different side to Skye and had liked what she had seen and knew he liked her.
“Everybody is talking about the football game this weekend but I’m feeling out of shape after all the festive eating during Chinese New Year,” said Briggs. It was true that he had put a couple of pounds on over the holidays.
“We’ll get you back in shape, let’s go for a run this evening and work that baby fat off you,” Harvey teased his friend. “Now let’s continue to talk about the mystery of the stolen ring.”
More food was brought out as they told Briggs about the ring and how they thought it was connected to a great samurai warrior in Japan. Harvey later excused himself leaving Emma and Briggs at the table. He had to go and see Mr. Atkinson.
Clive Atkinson was sitting in his spacious office on the upper floor of St. Stephens House, the colonial H shaped building that provided classrooms on the ground floor and dormitories for the students who boarded at the campus on the upper floor. The House was a historic two story building well over eighty years old. The outside walls were made of rough cut granite covered with ivy on the ground floor and plain white rendered finish on the floor above. The building consisted of an east wing and west wing connected by a central block and had an arcaded verandah that ran the length of both the wings.
As the teacher warden who was responsible for the boarders who stayed in the west wing, Clive was afforded a large corner suite consisting of his office in the front room with a separate bedroom at the back connected by a door. His office was more like a large living room and even had its own fireplace which, to be honest, he had never used but was tempted to several times during particularly cold days in winter. The only thing that had stopped him was the thought of setting the building on fire as the chimney hadn’t been cleaned in all the time he had been at the school.
The comfortable front room had a sitting area composed of two leather high back chairs facing a brown leather buttoned down couch which he used for meeting students or entertaining friends. He was proud of the large elm desk he had brought over from Macau. The desk was situated so that it faced anyone walking into his office but if he swivelled his chair around he could look out a large window that commanded a magnificent view towards Stanley Beach and the sea. He prided himself on this million dollar view that was to die for in crowded Hong Kong.
Clive liked his music and had a modular speaker that he could stick his iPod into. And then there were the bookshelves so full they looked set to burst. They were replete with history books, especially dealing with the Far East, atlases, his volumes of National Geographic, and a generous helping of fiction.
A regular fixture at St. Stephens, Clive had been warden of the west wing for almost twenty years. This was practically his whole teaching career at the school, except for the first year when he was fresh in Hong Kong from England and had lived in Wan Chai. Always wanting to be welcoming, he made it a point to leave his door open when he was in his office so that any student could freely walk in and talk to him.
He heard a polite knock on the door and looked up to see Harvey Ashton standing in the doorway. He waved him in. He wanted to talk to Harvey but not about his studies. Clive Atkinson had been appointed Harvey’s legal guardian after the tragic death of the boy’s parents.
Clive stood up and went to shake Harvey’s hand.
“Hi Harvey, how was dinner?”
“Hi Mr. Atkinson, supper was the same as usual.”
Clive smiled. “I’m surprised the students haven’t had a small revolt against the cook. I’m glad I’ve made it my practice to take supper off-campus or make something here in my little nook.”
Clive pointed to the sideboard table by the back wall with a toaster oven on top, a basket with bread, a bowl with fresh fruit and a large container for cereal. There was also a mini fridge under the table.
“I’ve just made some hot chocolate. Can I get you a cup?”
“That would be great, thanks.”
“Have a seat Harvey, I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Clive poured the hot chocolate into two mugs and then crossed the room and set the drinks on his teak coffee table and sat across from Harvey in the other high back chair.
“Wow, this tastes great, maybe the best I’ve ever had,” Harvey remarked.
“It’s delicious, isn’t it? It was a gift from a Colombian friend of mine. It comes in a solid piece which I melt in a pot with milk. Much better than the powder stuff they sell at the supermarket. I must remember to ask her to pick me up some more the next time she goes back to Colombia.”
Harvey took another sip of his drink and enjoyed the rich chocolate taste.
“I haven’t seen much of you lately, outside of class. How have you been?” asked Clive.
“I’ve been pretty much keeping my head down and getting on with my studies. That and trying to keep fit. We’ve got a big game coming up this Saturday.”
“Of course, the football match between St. Andrews and St. Marks. As a teacher, I’ll be impartial of course,” Clive said with a wink. “How are things around the dorms, getting along with everyone?”
“Sure, no problems, some light ribbing between the teams in the lead up to the games but its all good natured.”
“And your friends?”
“Emma, Briggs and I continue to be as thick as thieves.”
Clive smiled when he heard Harvey mention his friends. He was glad the boy had such close friends in his life.
“You have certainly made some good friendships during your time here at St. Stephens. Now tell me,” Clive continued, “is there anything you’re in need of Harvey?”
Harvey thought of the ski trip to Japan. He received a regular monthly stipend from Mr. Atkinson which was more than enough to pay for his daily expenses and the Thai kickboxing class he attended with Emma but it wouldn’t cover the trip.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Harvey, if you ever have any personal problems or if I can help in any way please remember that my door is always open.”
Harvey was thinking to tell him about the incident with the ring at Alex’s shop and the brute called Sato but decided to just keep it between himself and his friends. They both finished their drinks.
“There’s one other thing I want to talk to you about,” Clive began. “As your legal guardian I have been responsible for handling your financial affairs and looking after the estate that was left by your late parents. It was their wish that you would come into your inheritance when you reached the age of twenty-one. Of course before then, all your needs and educational expenses will be looked after. I have some latitude in my role and I can see the increased level of maturity in you over the last year.”
Clive could see Harvey looking at him with a quizzical look on his face and decided to get more to the point.
“Harvey, I’ve decided to make the bank account used for your on-going expenses a joint one. Of course the bulk of your trust fund is in investments but you’re now over eighteen and responsible enough to handle some of your finances. Your education expenses come out monthly by direct debit and there is a healthy amount kept in the current account to handle anything you may need. You’re old enough now to decide what that may be and don’t need to ask me if you can have some of your own money for something you want to buy or a trip you want to take.”
On hearing this Harvey’s face lit up, “Thanks a lot Mr. Atkinson. I really appreciate this.”
Clive smiled. “Now you can have more freedom and I am confident that you will spend wisely. Let’s sign some papers to make it official.”
Harvey returned to his dorm room with the signed legal paper Mr. Atkinson had given him. He was thinking of his new financial freedom and the possibility of joining Emma and her friends, Sara and Judy, on their ski trip to Japan.
Harvey kept all his important documents in an ornately carved wooden box that had belonged to his father. He reached up to get the box from a wall shelf. As he was fetching it, he lost his grip and it came down with a thud onto his bed and then bounced onto the floor.
Harvey cursed as he saw that one of the wooden corners was damaged from the fall. When he opened the box he saw that everything was in disarray. He took out the contents so he could reorganise the box and that is when he noticed that the wooden bottom also looked damaged. Upon closer examination, he noticed that it wasn’t actually damaged. What he had discovered was a false bottom. There was a small space hidden below it. Harvey was surprised to discover a large file folder inside. There was a single word written on the folder, Medusa. He opened the file and found a lone piece of paper within. Three names were written on it.