On-board the Hikari Rail Star Bullet Train
As they left Hakata station, Harvey was watching the LCD monitor at the front of the carriage which indicated the speed of the train. It didn’t take long for it to get up to 240 km/h. The landscape outside raced by as the bullet train sped across the Japanese countryside. Emma sat beside him and her two friends, Judy and Sara, sat across from them. Harvey thought Judy was cool but Sara was a different story, she acted like a diva and obviously craved attention.
“This is amazing. I can’t believe we’re in Japan. This trip is going to be the bomb,” said an enthusiastic Judy. Judy was Cantonese but had attended English schools since kindergarten and had spent a few years studying in England. Her accent was clean and cut from the UK.
“It’s exciting to be travelling with you guys. I only wish we could have spent more time in duty free, I was looking for some Juicy Couture perfume that I’ve been wanting,” said Sara.
“I’m starving. I’m glad Emma suggested we buy some bento lunch boxes at the train station.” Harvey said as he took a small box from his bag.
Harvey took the top off his bento box to reveal a neatly organised meal fitting compactly into little compartments.
“Well, I know boys need to feed their appetites,” Emma joked with a big smile. “I want you guys to experience the real Japan and that includes trying the delicious food here.”
“We’re going to have a blast,” said Sara. “This is going to be my first time skiing. Is it hard to learn?”
“Don’t worry, I’ve taken care of you and Judy. I’ve arranged for someone to teach you the basics and you can practice on the beginner slopes,” Emma assured Sara.
“I hope we get a cute Japanese guy to teach us!” Sara said excitedly.
Harvey tried the pork cutlet that rested on the rice. It was crispy but not oily and tasted great. There was something purplish in a smaller compartment that he decided to try. It was a pickled radish or something similar and he loved it. Harvey was a fan of pickles, olives and generally all things salty. He once had a contest with Briggs to see who could eat the most pickles from a jar. Harvey had beaten Briggs and earned a bellyache for his efforts.
“So how are your university applications coming along?” Emma asked the group. “Have we all decided where we want to go?”
“I’m applying to HKU but I’ll need good grades to get in,” replied Sara.
“Don’t you want to get away from Hong Kong, and have a new adventure?” Emma inquired.
“You know, Indian families are very conservative and my parents prefer I stay home. And I do love the retail therapy I get from shopping in Hong Kong.” Sara replied.
“Well, I’m applying somewhere exciting,” said Judy enthusiastically. “I plan to go to University College London. And you all have to come and visit me.”
“Wow, that’s a great school,” remarked Emma. “I’ll definitely go and visit. You know my mum is from London and I have family there.”
“What about you Emma? Where do you want to go?” Judy asked.
“I’m applying to McGill in Montreal. I like the idea of living there. It’s a romantic and charming city. It’ll be fun to see what French-Canadian guys are like.” She emphasised the last sentence with a wink aimed at Judy and Sara. The girls started giggling.
“I’ve heard that French guys are great kissers,” replied Sara enthusiastically. “as in French kissing, they like to use their tongue.”
Now the three girls were really laughing. Harvey tuned out of the conversation and directed his attention back to his lunch, he was about half way through his bento. He only half listened to the girls’ conversation as he enjoyed his food and watched the train’s speed creep up to 280 km/h.
“Harvey, where are you applying?” Sara asked him as he was about to take another bite of his pork cutlet.
Harvey put down his chopsticks and looked at Sara. She was smiling at him. Her amber eyes set with fine features and honey coloured skin made her quite attractive. Harvey suspected that she liked him but she wasn’t his type. He thought she was too girly with all her shopping and he guessed a little shallow. He liked girls that were more adventurous and fit.
“I haven’t decided where I want to apply.”
The three girls all stared at him in stark disbelief. Harvey could see Judy’s jaw drop.
“Oh, come on, you must have some idea where you want to go?” Emma pressed him.
“Nope, your choices all sound great but I haven’t settled on any one place just yet.”
“But it’s already the Easter break,” protested Judy. “In a couple of months we’ll have our final exams. When we get the results we need to forward them with our applications. There’s a narrow window of time before universities send out acceptance letters. You don’t want to leave it until the last minute or you’ll lose out on getting into the better schools.”
“I’m not too bothered but thanks for the advice. I’ll give it more thought when we get back.”
“I think Harvey already has an idea but is just being secretive.” Emma said with a smile and then shoved his shoulder playfully.
Judy and Sara opened their bento boxes and started to inspect the contents. Judy snapped the disposable wooden chopsticks to separate them and began to enjoy her meal. Sara eyed the contents of her bento suspiciously and took little nibbles.
Harvey nudged Emma with his elbow.
“So you’re going to Montreal?” He asked.
“I’m really excited about it. Montreal has a cool vibe and thriving music scene. It has a great Jazz festival in the summer and the clubs put Hong Kong to shame. And McGill University is considered Ivy League, I couldn’t get a better education elsewhere.”
“Sounds great, you should like it there and I’m sure you’ll do well. You always land on your feet wherever you go,” Harvey said this with genuine admiration in his voice.
“You’d love it. My parents took me there a few years ago. It has a European feel with outdoor cafes, large open parks and great food.” Emma gave a sly smile. “And the French-Canadian girls are quite sexy. I think you’re going to want to go there too.”
“I can’t wait.” Harvey said smiling back. He already had an idea of what he was going to do after graduation. He just didn’t want to tell the girls that he had other plans for next year.
The train was slowing down as it approached a station. The distance between the stations seemed to be shorter now. Harvey read the name on the LCD at the front of the compartment. They were approaching Shin Yamaguchi. The name reminded Harvey of one of the names written on the paper he had found hidden in his dad's old wooden box. Emma had discovered that Hiro Yamaguchi was the CEO of a large Japanese company and they had found a photo of him with the mysterious Sato who they were convinced had stolen Harvey’s ring. Sato had been desperate enough to steal the ring to start a fire in the shop.
Did Sato do it out of desperation? Maybe it was a calculated move. Sato strikes me as a professional. He was totally relaxed when he spoke to us and didn’t hesitate to offer huge sums of cash.
The train stopped at the platform and people quickly got off as others boarded the train. It stopped for only about a minute before the doors closed and it started off again.
“You wouldn’t want to be caught in the toilet doing your business as the train pulled into your station or you’d miss it.” Emma said with a grin.
“I’m sure it’s happened before,” Harvey replied with a chuckle. “I’m going to go for a walk and stretch my legs.”
“Okay, see you later.” Emma replied and then pulled a magazine out of her bag. Sara and Judy were happily talking away as they ate from their bento lunch boxes.
Getting up from his seat, Harvey decided to walk towards the back of the train. The carriage was quite spacious with plenty of room for walking down the aisle. It was also fairly quiet inside. Many of the people were reading either books or newspapers. Some were happily playing with their smart phones and tablets, others were having conversations but their voices were little more than a whisper. What a difference from the MTR in Hong Kong he thought, where people were known to shout into their mobile phones and conversations could easily be mistaken for yelling matches. There was nothing quiet about the daily commute aboard a Hong Kong train.
As he passed into the next carriage a teenage girl walked towards him. The girl shyly smiled at him as she looked into his eyes. She had on a navy blue school uniform with a skirt that was a couple of sizes too short with the hem just reaching her mid-thigh. Her white stockings seemed to defy gravity coming up above her knees.
Harvey smiled and said, “Ko nichi wa”.
Might as well practice my limited Japanese on the locals, Harvey thought.
The girl giggled as she walked by.
A woman was pushing a cart along the aisle towards Harvey. He squeezed to the side to let her pass. The cart was full of an assortment of canned drinks, cookies, pretzels, bags of chips, there was even a container with hot water to make tea.
Harvey continued towards the back of the car and noticed there were some individual compartments here. Harvey looked through the glass pane of one of the compartment doors to see inside. A young couple were kissing, oblivious to the outside world. He looked into the next compartment. A businessman was working away on his laptop computer while the lady across from him, his wife Harvey guessed, was reading a book. When Harvey got to the end of the carriage, the door was locked.
Harvey turned around and started to walk towards the front. Just as he reached the front of the carriage the door opened and the conductor entered. He gave Harvey a close look and appeared as if to speak but hesitated. Harvey smiled at him and gave him a quick nod as he passed and went through the door into his carriage. Emma was still reading while Judy and Sara chatted. Harvey walked quickly down the aisle and passed into the next carriage. He saw the schoolgirl he had said hello to earlier sitting by herself. She smiled at Harvey as he passed by. As he approached the front of the car a thickset man in a charcoal grey suit stood up to retrieve his bag from the overhead rack. Something about the man seemed vaguely familiar to Harvey. The man turned slightly and Harvey could see a mean scar on the left side of his face.
Harvey had a flash of recognition and felt a wave of anxiety wash over him. He could feel his heart start to race. He quickly opened the door and exited the car. There was a row of vending machines. He put his hand up against the side to steady himself.
Was that him? Harvey wondered. I need to find out but I better calm down first and I certainly don’t want him to notice me.
He put a one hundred yen coin into a machine and got a cold drink. Harvey waited a few moments and then walked back into the compartment. He put the drink up to his mouth using his right hand to shield his face as he glanced at the man.
There’s no mistaking it, we have a match.
Harvey returned to his seat and sat down beside Emma.
“The conductor came by while you were away to punch our tickets,” Emma said as she looked up from her magazine. A knot of fear tightened in her stomach as she looked at Harvey.
“Harvey you look like you’ve seen a ghost, what happened?”
Harvey glanced quickly at the two other girls. They didn’t seem to take notice.
“Emma, he’s here,” he said in a low voice.
“Who are you talking about?”
“The Japanese guy, Sato.” Harvey replied.
Emma’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“What? Are you certain?” she asked.
“Absolutely, there’s no mistaking the scar on his face.”
“You really think it’s him?”
“Yes, he’s sitting in the next carriage in front of ours on the left hand side by the window near the front. He’s wearing a dark grey suit.”
“Unbelievable, I’m going for a look.”
She started to get up as Harvey put his hand on her arm to stop her.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. This guy is dangerous.”
“He doesn’t know me so I can act casual. You stay here and think of a plan.”
“Okay, but try not to be too obvious.”
“Don’t worry, girls know how to check out guys without being noticed,” she replied with a knowing smile.
Moving slowly along, Emma made her way down the aisle of the next compartment paying particular attention to the men sitting along the left side. About half way up there was a balding man in a wool sweater looking out the window.
Not our guy, she thought.
Next there was a woman with a young boy and girl. They were talking excitedly as they drew pictures in their books.
She looked at the next seat along and saw him. He was looking at some documents. Emma paused and started to stretch her neck like people do when they’ve been sitting for a long time. Then she stretched her hands up and placed them on her head and twisted her torso to the side. She got a good look. She couldn’t see the scar as that side of his face was facing the window but she recognised him from the club where she’d first seen him.
In the strong light of day she could clearly take in his profile. He had a strong build with features that could almost be handsome in a rugged sort of way but which for him came across more as mean looking. The man glanced up from his notes for an instant to see who was standing in the aisle. His expression was blank but the eyes were alert with a hint of cruelty behind them.
This is not a man to take lightly, she thought. He definitely has a brutish side to him.
Emma twisted her torso to the other side to complete her little stretching routine and then continued walking towards the front of the train. Ten minutes later she returned to her seat as the train pulled into the next station.
Emma looked at Harvey and said in a low voice, “You were right, that’s him. He’s dangerous. I can see it in his eyes, he’s a man who wouldn’t hesitate to inflict violence on others. What do you think we should do?”
“I’m not sure. But I would like to know where he’s going and what his connection to Yamaguchi is. And why my dad was interested in this guy Yamaguchi,” Harvey responded. “By the way, did you notice if he was wearing the ring?”
“I didn’t see anything but I was focusing more on his face,” Emma said.
“How much longer do we have before our station?” asked Harvey.
Emma quickly checked her map. “We get off at Hiroshima, it’s the next station. I think we have ten minutes or so before we arrive.”
“That doesn’t give us a lot of time and chances are he won’t be getting off there as well.”
Judy and Sara stopped their conversation and looked over at Emma and Harvey.
“What are you two talking about so secretly?” Judy asked.
Harvey looked quickly into Emma’s eyes. It was just long enough for both to know they would keep this secret between them. He then turned to the two girls.
“I was just talking to Emma about Montreal. She’s trying to persuade me to go but I’m not sure it’s my best choice. What do you two think about studying there?”
“Well, I wouldn’t know. My heart is set on London but I’m sure Montreal also has a lot to offer,” Judy replied.
“For me it’s just too far. I can’t imagine living half way around the world,” exclaimed Sara.
“Travel is part of the spice of life that makes it exciting,” Emma responded. “It’s true that I’ve lived most of my life in Hong Kong but I want to experience many places around the world.” Emma arched her eyebrows up to punctuate her last sentence as she looked at Judy and Sara.
“I agree with Emma. There are so many places to visit and live in. Not considering where you want to study, if you could all pick one place to go and live for three months and money wasn’t an object, where would it be?” Harvey asked the girls.
“I would go to one of the islands in Thailand like Phuket or Koh Samui. I love Thai food and could work on an amazing tan by just becoming a beach bum,” Judy said enthusiastically.
“I’d love to spend some time in Morocco,” Emma said. “I imagine places like Fez, Casablanca and Marrakesh are romantic and exotic. I’d have a roof top suite with a large terrace overlooking the sea. And I just die for Moroccan food. What about you Sara?”
Sara didn’t seem to have made up her mind just yet.
“Well, I guess I’d go to Mumbai.” She replied in a flat voice. She brightened as she said her next sentence, “I could really work on my dance moves there and stay with family.”
Emma looked at Harvey. “How about you Harvey, where would you go?”
Without hesitation Harvey replied. “Rome, it has such a great mix of fantastic food, world class museums and then there are all the ruins. It would be like living in history.”
“Not to mention all those Italian beauties you could chase around, right?” Emma said with a smirk.
An announcement came on saying that they would soon be reaching Hiroshima station.
“Oh my god, that’s our stop isn’t it?” Sara asked with a tremor of excitement in her voice.
“That was fast, I can’t believe we’re already here. We better grab our stuff,” said Judy as she stood up to get her bag.
While Judy and Sara were getting down their bags, Harvey leaned over to Emma and spoke in a low voice so the other girls wouldn’t hear him.
“Do me a favour and bring my bag for me please. I’m going to have a peek at our friend and see what he’s doing. I’ll meet you by the door.”
“What’s your plan?”
“I’m not sure. I just want to keep an eye on him.”
Harvey got up and told the girls he was just going to the washroom. He walked into the next train car. He didn’t want to attract any attention but wasn’t sure how he could act casually and keep an eye on Sato. Then he saw the Japanese schoolgirl he had said hi to earlier. Harvey walked over to her. She was sitting on the right side of the train in a seat by the window listening to her iPod. Harvey leaned on the headrest of the empty seat beside her and gave a big wave.
She took off her headphones and with a big smile said, ’Ko nichi wa’.
“Hi! Do you speak English?” Harvey asked.
“Hai, sukoshi. I mean yes, a little.”
Harvey looked into her dark eyes. “I’m Harvey. What’s your name?”
“Hi Harvee, my name is Yuki.”
The train pulled into the station. Harvey turned his head to look over to where Sato was sitting. Sato was tall and Harvey could see the top of his head above the seat. He wasn’t making any moves to get off the train. Harvey made a decision.
“Yuki, can I practice my Japanese with you?”
Yuki brightened to this idea. “Yes, and I can speak my ingrish with you.”
“Great, I’ll just go and tell my friends that I’m going to sit here. See you soon.”
“Okay,” she said and gave him a big thumbs up.
Harvey walked quickly back to the next car. People were already walking onto the train and taking their seats. He saw Emma and the girls on the platform.
Harvey stuck his head out the train door.
“I’ve just bumped into an old friend. We’re going to have a chat. I’ll catch you three at the hotel later.”
The doors signalled they were about to close. The three girls looked at him in utter surprise. Emma had an unpleasant look on her face but nodded at Harvey. She mouthed, ‘be careful’ just as the doors closed.
Harvey went back into the other car and sat down beside Yuki. From his sight angle he would be able to see if Sato left his seat. Harvey smiled at Yuki. “Where are you going?”
“I go to Kyoto to visit grandma. Where do you go, Harvee?”
Think fast Ashton. You can’t say you’re following a strange man or that you left your friends on the platform just now.
“I’m going to Kyoto too. I hear it is a beautiful city.”
“Hai, it’s utsukushii. That means beautiful. Yuki is also utsukushii, do you think Harvee?”
She gave him a big smile revealing dimples in her cheeks.
Harvey smiled. “I think the word for you is cute. How do you say cute?”
“Kawaii! I love it. All girls like to be kawaii. With our clothes and how we look.”
“Well, you are definitely kawaii.”
Yuki giggled when he said it.
“And your uniform is kawaii. I’ve never seen a girl in Hong Kong wear it like that.”
“Japanese girls like to be special,” she said with a smile.
“What music are you listening to?” Harvey asked.
“Ayumi Hamasaki, her music is sugoi. That means very, very good, neh? Want to try it?”
“Sure, let’s share your ear buds.”
“Okay” Yuki said in response.
Yuki played her iPod and they both relaxed in their seats and listened to the music.
She smiled at Harvey and said,“Sugoi, neh?”
“Sugoi, definitely sugoi,” he replied.
While they had been chatting, Harvey had been periodically looking over to the left to see if Sato got up. Now that he was listening to the music he could keep a steadier watch as he sat back and let his head rest against the seat. They continued to alternate between listening to songs and chatting. Harvey enjoyed hanging out with Yuki and learning some Japanese. He learned that Yuki was seventeen and from Fukuoka. He also learned that the school year was different from Hong Kong’s. School had just finished a week ago in Japan and she was set to start her final year of secondary next month in early April.
The train was starting to fill up, most of the seats were now taken. With apprehension, Harvey noticed that at the last couple of stations more people were getting on the train than getting off. Harvey had a sinking feeling as he saw the conductor enter through the car’s front door. He was asking to see the tickets of the newly occupied seats.
What will I do? I’m riding the train holding a ticket to Hiroshima. I can’t make a scene with the conductor to see if I can pay the difference. Pay the difference to where? I don’t know where Sato is going to get off or, more importantly, what I’ll do when he does.
Harvey put his hand on Yuki’s arm to get her attention.
“I’m just going to see how my friends are doing. I’ll come back later for some more Japanese lessons.”
“Catch you later, Harvee,” she replied using one of the new expressions he taught her.
As casually as he could, Harvey got up and walked towards the back of the train. He thought he could feel the eyes of the conductor staring at his back as he made his way out of the carriage. He felt a wave of relief as the door closed behind him. He quickly walked through the next carriage where he and the girls had been sitting. There was a short passage between this car and the last which had vending machines and toilets. He checked the male toilet. It was locked. He started to feel panicky.
What can I do? I’m going to be trapped at the back of the train and the conductor will find me. What if he forces me off at the next station?
Harvey saw that the female toilet was free. Without hesitation, he quickly entered and locked the door behind him.
The man with the mean little scar on his left cheek, Toru Sato, looked out from his window seat at the passing countryside. The train was moving through a small farming community. He could see empty fields that in a couple of months would be planted with rice. There were a few random houses scattered around the fields and some others closer together that would make up the heart of the sparse village. The landscape reminded him of his own upbringing. He had grown up in a small village similar to this one. He let his mind trail back to those days. He could feel his facial muscles turn into a frown. He really hated his life back then which he could sum up as one punctuated by impoverishment in both physical and spiritual terms.
He generally avoided talking to others about his past but was always interested when others spoke of their own life growing up. It always amazed him when someone would recount how the time of their youth seemed to go by so quickly. This had not been the case for him.
The years had ticked by slowly with the passage of time marked by his family’s toil in the fields. The only thing he had enjoyed was attending school which was sort of ironic since most kids couldn’t stand the place. He had applied himself to his studies with great effort and was pleased to gain the notice of his teachers. His middle school academic results had been near the top of the class and were strong enough to gain entrance to any of the prestigious secondary schools in the Kansai region.
He can still remember the day his teacher came to his home to encourage his parents to apply to a famous school in Osaka. His teacher knew the headmaster of the school and gave Toru’s parents a letter of recommendation he had written to help gain admittance. His parents thanked his teacher for his kind words but regretted they lacked the resources to send their son.
Burning to the core when he heard this news, Toru felt a mix of anger and shame. More than ever he needed to get away to the city where bigger and brighter things awaited. He knew that if he stayed and went to one of the local secondary schools he would be trapped in that rural existence forever.
With renewed determination, Toru had decided to take matters into his own hands. His father had a brother who lived in Osaka who was almost never mentioned. Apparently, there had been some falling out between the two brothers in the past. What this was about Toru had no idea but he did recall his mother mentioning his uncle was well to do. Toru was able to find out his uncle’s address and secretly wrote to him about his desire to attend secondary school in Osaka. The reply that came was favourable.
That spring after graduating from middle school he told his parents nothing of his plans. The weekend before he was set to begin at the school in Osaka he told his parents he was leaving. There was open shock on their faces but they made no attempt to stop him as he walked out the door with one lonely bag of possessions on his back. He had just turned fifteen and this would be the last time he saw his parents.
Looking out the window of the train, Toru glanced at his reflection in the window and felt his gut tense as he looked at the livid red scar on his face. Getting that scar had hurt. He had been out at a nightclub in Osaka with Hiro Yamaguchi when it had happened. Hiro and he had become best friends at secondary school and spent a lot of time together. Hiro had style and class and Toru liked to emulate this.
One of their favourite pastimes was to pick up girls and make out with them. On this particular night things were going well with two girls until a couple of thugs showed up at their table and claimed the girls belonged to them. The girls didn’t make a move to leave but the men were insistent and became rude. Toru spotted a fusion of tattoos on one of the men’s right forearms - Yakuza. Hiro stood up and told the men to get out. Their response was quick. One of them knocked Hiro down to the floor with a solid punch to the face. Within moments, Toru was out of his seat and tackling the aggressor to the floor. He gave a flurry of punches to the man’s face and saw the guy’s nose explode with blood. Out of the corner of his eye, Toru saw the man with the tattoos make a quick movement. He never saw the blade of the knife but he instantly felt the searing pain as the blade sliced him. In agony, he recoiled from the man he was on top of. Blood gushed into his eye as he watched the two thugs run out of the nightclub. Many years later he would meet up with the man with the tattoos on his arm. That was a memory he particularly cherished.
Anxiously, Harvey looked at his watch as he stood behind the door of the women’s toilet. The time seemed to tick by very slowly. The train had stopped at another station and had started up again. He listened carefully for any movement outside. He heard someone come into the corridor. There was a sharp knocking on the men’s toilet door.
Harvey heard a deep voice call out from the male toilet and say something harsh sounding in Japanese.
The person in the corridor replied, “Gomen nasai.”
There was a pause and then he heard the swish of a door opening and closing.
Harvey knew ‘gomen nasai’ meant sorry. So the person in the corridor must have apologised to the man in the toilet and then moved into the next compartment. Harvey waited a few more minutes. He opened his door a crack. The corridor was empty. He heard the flush of the other toilet. He walked into the corridor and glanced quickly into the last carriage. He could see the back of the conductor making his way down the aisle checking tickets. Harvey would have a bit of time before the conductor returned to the front of the train but not much.
Harvey quickly entered into the carriage where he had been sitting with Emma and the girls. It was nearly full. The train was about to stop at Himeji station. He remembered Emma telling him about the famous castle at Himeji. The castle of the ancient samurai lord, Ota Okanabe, whom she suspected the stolen ring had originally belonged to.
What if Sato is getting off here? He could have already got off at the last station as well. I’ve wasted too much time hiding from the conductor.
The train stopped at the platform as Harvey walked into the next carriage. The seat beside Yuki was no longer empty and with horror he saw Sato was not in his seat.
Where has he gone? Is he getting off at Himeji like I thought he might?
Harvey was considering making a mad dash off the train but it was too late, the doors were already closing. Harvey had a sinking feeling that he had let Sato get away and it was hopeless to find him again.
Harvey looked around the carriage to see if the man had changed his seat and something caught his eye. It was the bag on the overhead rack he saw Sato retrieving earlier, it was still there.
So he didn’t get off the train. He’s just using the toilet or something.
There was a young woman sitting in the seat beside Yuki. Yuki was happily listening to her music and looking out the window. Harvey leaned over the back of the seat and tapped her on the shoulder.
Yuki looked up and spoke a little too loudly.
“Harvee! How your friends?”
“They got off at Himeji. They want to see the castle.”
“Himeji-jo, it is utsukushii,” she said with a smile. “You don’t go too?”
“Nah, I’ll meet them later,” he replied. Harvey was quick on his feet when he needed to be and the story he was telling Yuki came out sounding natural. “But I did something silly. My ticket is only through to Himeji but I’m going on to Kyoto.”
“No worry, you can pay more at Kyoto using special pay more machine.”
Harvey was relieved to hear this bit of information. The lady beside Yuki was short so he was able to rest his elbow on top of her seat with his hand partially covering his face. He hoped he looked nonchalant.
“But my seat is now taken by someone else.”
“No worry, you can sit in the other car with open seating,” Yuki replied. “I go too.”
“Are you sure? You don’t have to,” Harvey replied.
“No, I okay. We soon come to Shin Osaka and change train there to Kyoto. And I like my Ingrish lesson,” she said with a smile.
Changing trains was news to Harvey. He was sure glad he had met Yuki. She was helping him out more than she knew. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sato returning to his seat. He shifted his gaze to get a better look.
So where are you getting off mister? Osaka? Continuing on to Kyoto? Going all the way to Tokyo?
Harvey had committed himself now and would deal with any contingencies as they came up. He was determined to learn more about this mysterious Mr. Sato and what his connection was to Hiro Yamaguchi. Another mysterious man who appeared on a list of names his dad had written down and hidden. Obviously the list of names had been important to his dad for some reason, otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to hide it.
Yuki stood up to leave her seat and Harvey helped her get her bag down.
“Where your bag, Harvee?”
“I like to travel light,” he said with a grin.
He carried her small overnight bag as they made their way through the carriage and entered the next one. He hadn’t noticed before but the layout of this carriage was slightly different from the back three. All the seats were forward facing and less spacious with three seats along the right side of the aisle and two on the left. They were able to find two empty seats on the left near the front of the car. Harvey took the window seat so he could keep an eye on the platform when they arrived to the next station.
The time passed quickly and they were soon approaching Shin Osaka. As far as he could tell Sato hadn’t gotten off the train. Harvey thought he should go take a peek at the guy. He would want to stay hot on his heels once everyone got off the train and that wasn’t going to be easy with the crowd.
“I’m going to get a drink from the vending machine. Would you like one too?”
“Kekkou desu,” she replied.
Yuki could see a confused look on Harvey’s face.
“Kekkou desu, It means no, thank you.”
“Okay, I’ll just get one for me and meet you at the back door to exit the train.”
“Okay, catch you later”.
People were getting ready to exit the train. The train stopped at the platform and the doors opened. Harvey could see Sato stand up and walk towards the exit door. He had his bag over his shoulder. Harvey quickly joined Yuki who was waiting by the exit door in their car. As they walked along the platform, Harvey never lost sight of Sato. He saw him get on the escalator.
“We take other train at platform 15,” Yuki informed Harvey.
The escalator took them down to a concourse area. It was quite busy, people were moving in all directions to catch their trains or exit the station. Harvey scanned the area and could see the sign for platform 15 and as luck would have it, he saw his target going in that direction too. He slowed his pace not wanting to get too close.
“Yuki, let me carry your bag.”
“Thank you, Harvee”
When they reached the platform the train was already there. Harvey saw Sato enter car number eight. As they walked over to the train he could see car eight was indicated as a ‘green car’ and was reserved. They got onto car seven which was non-reserved with open seats. Harvey took the window seat again on the platform side.
“Yuki, what does ‘green car’ mean?”
“It has more bigger seats. Need to pay more money too, neh?”
Harvey checked his watch. He could see from the display on the platform that the train was set to leave in one minute at 4:27pm. It had been over ninety minutes since he had left his friends on the platform.
What am I getting myself into here? Harvey wondered. Am I going to confront Sato and demand the ring back and then ask him who his buddy Hiro Yamaguchi is? No, not yet anyway, let’s see where he goes. If I follow him to his home, I’ll know where he lives and have an advantage.
Harvey knew there was a risk to confront a dangerous man like Sato and the adventure of following the man made him feel slightly anxious. But what was really driving Harvey was the desire to find some clue about the mystery of his parents disappearance and supposed death. The list of names in the Medusa file was brief but it was the first clue he had found and he was eager to learn why his father had written it.
The train pulled out exactly on time. Harvey had read once that the schedules of Japanese trains were so precise that you could set your watch to them.
“I’m just going to have a look around,” Harvey said to Yuki.
“Catch you later,” she said with a wink. She’s getting the hang of that phrase Harvey thought.
He made his way towards car eight. He was taking a risk of being seen but decided to enter the ‘green car’. He walked with his head down but with his eyes scanning the faces. And then he saw him. Sato was talking on his mobile phone. Harvey casually turned around and went back to his seat.
“Dozo Harvee, this my email and phone number. Call if you need friend or for more ingrish lesson.” Yuki said smiling as she handed him a piece of paper with the information.
“Arigato,Yuki.” Harvey wrote out his contact information and handed it to her. “I’ll find you on FaceBook and friend you. Hope you make it to Hong Kong sometime.”
“Sugoi, I want go to Hong Kong.”
The train pulled into Kyoto Station. Harvey helped Yuki with her bag and they walked onto the platform. He paused just outside the train as if to say goodbye. He couldn’t see the man he was following and the crowd was thinning out. He was about to jump back on the train just as Sato walked onto the platform less than ten meters away.
Oh no, he may see me.
Harvey made a quick decision and gave Yuki a kiss on both cheeks.
“That’s how we say goodbye in Hong Kong,” Harvey said to a surprised Yuki.
Yuki’s cheeks were turning pink but her eyes were glowing.
“I like it. Bye Bye, Harvee.”
Harvey handed Yuki her bag. “Take care, Yuki. You’ve been a big help. Bye!”
Alert to his surroundings, Harvey could see Sato descending the stairs to exit the platform. He walked briskly to the stairs but slowed his pace going down as he had the man in sight. The stairs led to a concourse area where people could transfer to different trains. There was also an escalator going down with a sign indicating this was the Hachijo-guchi exit. Harvey could see the man in the crowd going down to the exit and followed him. At the bottom, people were flowing through the exit gates quite quickly. Harvey couldn’t see the ‘pay more machine’.
Great, I was probably supposed to adjust my fare up at the transfer area.
There was a glass booth with a station attendant over on the right. He was considering taking the risk of surfing through the exit close behind someone as the automatic gates opened but didn’t like that option. With relief he saw a sign in English saying fare adjustment by the station booth.
Harvey walked up to the booth and gave the lady his ticket. He practiced some of the Japanese he had learned with Yuki.
He saw Sato go through the turnstile while he waited.
“Ichi man, ni sen yen, okudasai,” said the attendant.
Harvey understood she was talking about money but didn’t know how much she wanted, so he took out three of the ten-thousand yen notes from his wallet and put them on the counter. She took two of the notes and gave him back some change.
This little adventure is getting expensive, he thought as he grimaced inwardly at the extra cost he just paid.
At the station entrance, a set of glass doors were open to the outside and Harvey could see Sato pass through them. Harvey rushed out just in time to see the man climb into the back of a black Mercedes.
I’m going to lose him, Harvey thought.
There was a line of taxis picking up passengers and the black Mercedes was waiting for the taxis in front of it to drive off.
Wow, in Hong Kong a car would just pull out to get around the taxis.
Harvey walked up to the taxi behind the Mercedes and the back door opened automatically. He was about to get in but hesitated at the door.
What do I say to the driver? I barely know any Japanese.
He turned to see Yuki exiting the station. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket as the black Mercedes pulled away from the curb. A plan quickly took root in his head. This girl is saving me more times than I can count today.
“Yuki, I’m glad to see you. The man in that black Mercedes driving away dropped his wallet,” Harvey held up his own wallet to show Yuki as he said this. “I want to give it to him. Can you tell the driver to follow him?”
“Yes, no problem!”
She leaned into the car and spoke to the driver in quick Japanese. The driver gave a quick nod of his head.
The taxi drove out of the station and turned left onto the street. The black Mercedes was not too far ahead but there was some traffic between them. The taxi passed a white van as he closed the gap.
Something struck Harvey as being different about the taxi. The driver operated the car with ease and had a peaceful countenance. He looked dignified wearing a crisp white shirt under a blue sweater vest. There was soft classical music playing at low volume over the stereo. As Harvey sat back and relaxed into his seat he thought how the taxi contrasted with taxis in Hong Kong.
It is quiet, almost serene, in here. In Hong Kong, taxi drivers typically have five or more mobile phones attached to their dashboard and are constantly yakking away on them as they negotiate their next fare.
The taxi flowed with the traffic and easily kept behind the Mercedes. The black car turned left at the junction up ahead. Harvey quickly read the big blue sign overhead indicating they were turning on route 24 towards Kawaramachi Gojo.
Harvey was looking out the window paying attention as much as he could to where they were going. He had a good sense of direction and made it his practice to take in the surrounding area and the direction he was going whenever he was exploring a new place. He would look for landmarks, street names and buildings to imprint on his memory. These would later serve as reminders when he needed to make his return. He didn’t know if he would have a simple journey back by taxi or would need to be more resourceful. It would all depend on how the encounter with Sato went.
He was finding it difficult to distinguish many of the buildings he passed by. Many of them were grey or off-white nondescript structures a few stories high. There was an eight or nine story apartment block on the corner of the junction he would try to remember, to help him find his way back.
They went through a long underpass and reached another big intersection but they continued straight through following the Mercedes. Harvey noticed a large white and red radio or television tower to his left. The blue street signs were in English and Japanese but that was about all the English he could see apart from the odd word on a store front. They passed a gas station and then there was a long brick wall topped with clay tiles that continued along the left side for some time. Harvey thought it must be the boundary for a park as there were a lot of trees behind it.
Harvey checked his watch. It was almost a quarter past five. The streets weren’t exactly deserted but there were few people out on them. A vast difference to the hustle and bustle he was used to back home. A delivery truck pulled in front of them just as they were approaching another large intersection. The Mercedes drove through the intersection just before the traffic light turned amber. At the same time the truck ahead of them began to slow down. Harvey noticed a slight hesitation cross his driver’s face but he pulled into the other lane and drove through the intersection. The driver made a quick glance meeting Harvey’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Harvey smiled back and gave a quick nod in thanks.
They continued along the road at a swift pace. Harvey noticed a convenience store over on the right called Daily. And then he saw something he knew he wouldn’t forget, a giant red crab attached to the side of a brown building.
Well, I guess that’s one way to advertise the specialty of the restaurant.
They came to a major intersection that seemed to be in a commercial district with more people walking about. There was a large department store on the left and a prominent brown building on the right with the name Hankyu elegantly written on the side in large white letters. The black Mercedes turned right at the lights. Harvey read the street name as the taxi turned the corner, it was Shijo Dori. They soon came to a bridge that crossed over a river. It was the first time since leaving the station that he was able to see a wide open area. The water level was low but the river looked long and wide, splitting the city. There seemed to be an earthen pathway or levee that ran along the side of the river with people strolling along it.
After they crossed the bridge, Harvey noticed a majestic building on the right. It had a traditional tile roof and stood about five stories high. The curious thing about the building, it had many wooden slats attached to the front of it with Japanese characters written on them. Below these there were traditional Japanese pictures of people in colourful outfits. Harvey suspected it may be a theatre of some sort.
They drove on for a few minutes and then the Mercedes turned right onto a narrow street. This street was completely different from what he had seen so far. There were no sidewalks or signage like on the main streets and the road was made of paving stones. He had the sensation of entering a historic area in Kyoto. The buildings were well looked after and largely made of wood. It also seemed a very private street as most of the windows were shuttered and the doors closed.
The black Mercedes stopped in front of a place that stood out for the pine tree that was growing out from a small terrace on the first floor. Sato got out of the car just as the taxi pulled in behind it. Harvey watched Sato slide open a wooden slatted door, enter and then close the door behind him. The Mercedes drove off.
Harvey was wondering what he should do next when he noticed the taxi driver looking at him expectantly.
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be returning the guy’s wallet.
He looked at the meter and handed the driver the money for the fare. Harvey said, ’arigato,’ thanking the driver as he stepped out of the car.