The Medusa File

By James R. Stevenson All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

Gion District, Kyoto

Standing in the shadows, Harvey had been outside for over fifteen minutes in a side street less than twenty meters from the house where Sato had gone in. The sun was fading in the sky and there was probably less than twenty minutes of daylight left. He had seen a number of tourists walking along the narrow street, which reinforced his idea that this was a historic quarter but no one had entered any of the buildings along the street.

Harvey wondered what the building was that Sato had entered.

Is it his home? A private kitchen?

There was a small white sign above the wooden sliding doors with four characters on it. But he had no idea what they meant. The structure was in good shape like most along the street. The outside wall was mostly made of red cedar panelling except for the upper section of the wall which was made of plaster painted ochre. It had a small wooden fence about a meter high that was only a foot away from the house. The fence was more for aesthetics than anything else. A few of the branches of the large pine tree on the second floor hung down over the railing.

Harvey knew what the place beside it was because it did have a sign he could read, Steak House Yoshida. His stomach made a rumbling sound in protest reminding him he hadn’t had anything to eat since his bento box on the train and he was starting to feel hungry. But the steak house didn’t look open either.

Long shadows were cast in the street now as the sun continued to set. He took a closer look at the house he was standing beside on the corner across from the steak house and mystery house Sato had entered. The elegant house was made of dark wood and beige plaster. Even though there wasn’t much space between the paving stones of the road and the building, the owner had arranged tiny smooth rocks in front of his home and had planted two miniature trees on the corner that Harvey suspected were bonsai. He walked over to the entrance and looked through the wooden sliding doors. He couldn’t see any light or movement inside. He turned around and faced the red cedar house again. He knew Sato was inside. Harvey wanted to go over to the house and open its door a crack and look around the interior.

A taxi pulled up in front of the red cedar house. Two ladies dressed in colourful kimonos with elaborate bows tied at their backs got out. One of them had thick white make-up covering her face and back of her neck. Her full lips were red with lipstick and she had black accents around her eyes and eyebrows creating quite a striking visage. The other lady wore more subdued make-up around her eyes and lips and didn’t have any of the heavy white on her face. Harvey thought she was the elder of the two. They both wore their hair up in fancy buns and the younger one had flowers in her hair.

These ladies must be geisha, he thought.

Harvey watched as the two ladies entered the house he was watching.

They must be there to provide some entertainment. I’ve had it with waiting, I’m going to take a peek and see what is going on inside.

His mind made up, Harvey started to cross the street. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Although he didn’t know it at the time, Harvey’s life was never going to be the same.

Kenji Watanabe had been watching the young westerner, or gaijin, out on the street for almost twenty minutes from inside the old townhouse in which he had stationed himself. Kenji could see that the young man had an athletic build and was about the same height as he was. The gaijin had high cheekbones and a square jaw set with blue or grey eyes under full boxy eyebrows giving him a handsome look even for his young age. Kenji guessed the guy was younger than him by three or four years.

Kenji had been in the townhouse for nearly three hours keeping an eye on the teahouse across the street. He was in place for a delicate operation that had been planned out carefully and was soon going to start. It was actually more of an opportunity since they had only learned of the meeting a few days ago. Kenji was pretty confident that Yamaguchi would bring something to the meeting that was very special. A contact he had at the Yamaguchi Group had informed him that Hiro Yamaguchi had recently acquired a special ring that he was quite fond of. A detailed description of the ring was all Kenji needed to hear to know his next plan of action.

Kenji had watched Yamaguchi arrive at just after five o’clock and then his associate, Sato, had arrived in a black Mercedes about thirty minutes later with the gaijin right behind him in a taxi. He had expected to see Sato but the gaijin was a big question mark and he didn’t know how he fit into the equation.

Kenji had a good vantage point of the street in front and the side street as well from the second floor of the old townhouse. Of course, he couldn’t see into the teahouse across the street because the blinds were down, and there was also the large pine tree blocking the view. But then again no one could see him as his blinds were drawn as well.

When the young man had arrived, Kenji saw him hesitate before he got out of the taxi, then the gaijin scanned the teahouse and the buildings around it before moving over to the side street and standing by the corner house almost directly under Kenji’s window. Kenji moved downstairs to get a better look at him. Along the wall on the lower floor there was a sliding window that allowed little light through it because it had wooden slats on the outside, but it did allow airflow and concealment. He got a good look and could see the gaijin was younger than he first thought.

Probably the same age as Eri, around nineteen, Kenji thought.

The teen had brown hair cropped short with a tuft at the front turned up. He was wearing blue jeans with a navy v-neck sweater but didn’t have a camera or any backpack. Kenji thought about the young man.

There’s something about this guy that doesn’t click, he doesn’t look like a tourist and he arrived by taxi at nearly the same time as Sato. Why is he here?

Kenji watched the gaijin walk quietly over to the wooden entrance door and peer inside the room he was in. The house was dark and Kenji was concealed behind a large wardrobe so he felt confident he wouldn’t be seen. Kenji looked at his watch. The girls would be arriving soon. Walking on his bare feet, Kenji silently crossed the room. A taxi stopped in the street and he could see the girls get out. They were right on time.

Sensing the young gaijin was going to do something rash, Kenji decided to make a move. The entrance door opened without a sound. Kenji took one step out and put his hand firmly on the shoulder of the teenager. When the guy turned around, Kenji looked directly into his eyes in a non-threatening way and with his head motioned for him to follow him back inside the old townhouse.

The teahouse, called Matsu, was Hiro Yamaguchi’s favourite on Hanami-Koji Street. It was small and private and he could easily arrange for the owner to provide entertainment for the evening if he so desired. Matsu was an exclusive teahouse. It offered a discrete service and only allowed bookings by a select clientele. Wishing not to be bothered by other patrons, Hiro had ensured that there would be no other bookings for the evening.

The elderly lady who ran the teahouse had performed a tea ceremony for him. He had enjoyed the ceremony with the preparation and presentation of matcha, the powdered green tea he was fond of. He asked the matron to leave him until his guest arrived. He had come early so he could enjoy this time alone and in peace. He knew Sato wouldn’t have enjoyed the ceremony and that they would drink sake later.

He lifted the tea bowl to his lips and sipped the green tea as he looked at a scroll on the wall in front of him. He turned the bowl in his hands and admired the skill of the potter in crafting such a fine vessel and then took another sip.

He had much to speak about with Sato but for now he wanted to free his mind and enjoy this serene moment. The tatami room was quite spartan save for the low wooden table he was sitting at with orange cushions around it. It had sliding paper doors that Hiro knew led to a small terrace that was dominated by the pine tree on it.

Hiro took out a purple velvet box from his jacket pocket and opened it to reveal the exquisite blue ring. Sato had served him very well in gaining the water ring. He took off the black signet ring he usually wore and replaced it with his cherished prize. He felt a thrill of exhilaration when he put it on. His family had waited centuries to be reunited with it. He wished he could wear the ring more often but knew this to be unwise. The ring was remarkable and people noticed its beauty when he wore it. It attracted unnecessary attention. He may have been a tad careless when he first received the ring and had worn it too often in the open at his work.

He looked at the scroll on the wall again. This time it came into sharper focus. He could see where the artist had placed the brush and made individual strokes. It was a fine piece but he could also see where the ink was too thin and where the brush hand had strayed in its movement.

Hiro heard a car stop out front. He looked at his watch.

That will be Sato, he thought.

After a few moments, the sliding door opened and Sato entered.

“Sato-San, konbanwa! Genki desu ka?” said Hiro in greeting as he stood up and gave a slight bow.

“Good evening, Yamaguichi-San! Yes, I am well” Sato replied switching to English which they both spoke fluently and often used to converse when they didn’t want prying ears to hear what they said. Sato bowed lower than Hiro had.

“Make yourself comfortable,” Hiro said. “I have much to say but we’ll have a toast first and I’ve arranged for entertainment to arrive shortly.”

Sato was eager to talk about what he had learned in Fukuoka and he knew his boss would be pleased to hear it but it was better to let Hiro lead the conversation. He knew Hiro would want to finish his tea in peace and focus his mind on the ceremony of drinking tea.

Sato had been working for Hiro for over twenty years and they shared many secrets together. He admired his boss and was fiercely loyal to him. Some parts of his job were dark and left his hands tainted with blood, he did’t desire these activities but he didn’t shy away from them either. He was proud how he always carried out his duties with great efficiency and willingness.

Sato walked across the room and opened the sliding door to the small terrace. He looked at the dwarf pine tree that dominated the terrace. It was amazing that the tree continued to thrive so well. Sato wondered about the tree.

How can it be so healthy when it has such a short root base? Are deep roots not so important in life?

Sato stepped onto the terrace and scanned the street below and saw a gaijin turn the corner into a side street. Something about the gaijin struck him as familiar but he quickly dismissed the idea, after all, it wasn’t uncommon for tourists to be walking around the historic area of Gion. The matron of the teahouse arrived with a bottle of sake. Sato stepped back into the room and slid the terrace door shut and then took his place across from Hiro at the low table.

The matron picked up the sake to pour some into the cups. Hiro waved her away and asked her to leave them in peace until the geisha arrived. Sato poured them each a cup of sake.

Kampai!” they both said as they raised their cups in cheers.

Sato waited patiently giving Hiro the opportunity to speak first. He noticed that his boss was wearing the ring he had stolen. That had not come easy. It had been a bit of bother to create a diversion in the shop in Hong Kong but it had been worth it. The most curious thing about the episode in Hong Kong with the ring was it had been Travis Ashton’s son who had led him to it.

“I have heard news from The Group. The agenda is moving ahead well,” Hiro said in a low voice.

Sato nodded his head not wanting to interrupt.

“We are moving into the second phase,” Hiro continued. “Unrest continues to escalate in the Middle East with the West and Israel openly accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons. Of course, Iran vehemently denies the charge but with our help they have developed a uranium enrichment facility deep underground.”

Sato nodded again. He was pleased to be trusted with such important information that only a select few around the world knew.

“Israel is threatening military action and the US President said he will not hesitate to use force to defend their interests. With the missile guidance systems we helped develop for the Israelis they can hit a target with pinpoint accuracy. When war breaks out, Israel will have to contend with two battlefronts. One with Iran, and the other with the Islamic countries that also despise them and surround them on all sides.”

Sato commented on these revelations. “Continued instability in the Middle East will also be profitable for some of our business ventures. You will make a tidy sum with the unrest that is being stirred up.”

“You’re right Sato, but that will not compare to the power and influence The Group will wield in the near future. When war breaks out, or even with the threat of a major war, the price of oil will reach a new high and the fragile global economic recovery will collapse. Shipping will be prohibitively expensive and trade will decline. Civil unrest and rioting over food and energy will happen on a scale that will make Greece and the North Africa turmoil look like a walk in the park. The time will be ripe for a new global order to step in to cure the ills of the financial system, the global economy and fractured world governments. We will offer a solution that will make the efforts of the United Nations seem infantile. From great leadership comes great power.”

Kenji walked up the stairs and over to the far side of the room with the teenager following behind him. The operation he had carefully planned was starting to unravel but was still salvageable. He needed to find out why the teen was here and what his interest in the teahouse was.

Kenji turned to face the gaijin and in a low voice he spoke. “Hi, I’m Kenji. Who are you?”

“I’m Harvey.”

“I noticed you out in the street, Harvey. It looked like you wanted to enter the private teahouse across the way.”

Harvey chose to ignore this statement as he closely regarded the Japanese man standing in front of him. “You speak English surprisingly well, Kenji,” responded Harvey who wanted to know why this guy was interested in his movements.

Deciding that a friendly approach may work, Kenji smiled. “I lived in Vancouver for some time, finished secondary school there and even worked in a sushi restaurant. I knew that if I was going to improve my English I needed to go and live where I could speak it everyday.”

Kenji paused before asking again. “So, tell me, why the interest in the teahouse?”

Harvey wondered if he could trust Kenji. He had been surprised by the tap on the shoulder but hadn’t sensed any danger when he looked the guy in the eye. Kenji looked fit and must be fairly agile to be able to sneak up on him undetected. Harvey closely scrutinised the young man as they spoke, he could see Kenji was relaxed and his gaze was steady. Harvey had learned that people who are dishonest tend to avoid looking you in the eye.

“There was a man on the train who took something from me in Hong Kong. I followed him here and saw him go into that teahouse.”

Kenji was intrigued. “Was it the man who got out of the black Mercedes?”

“Yes, he has a scar on the left side of his face. His name is…”

“Sato!” said Kenji finishing Harvey’s sentence.

Alarm spread across Harvey’s face and a knot tightened deep in his stomach.

“You know him?” asked Harvey.

Kenji could sense the teen’s unease. He was still wondering if he could trust Harvey. “He’s an associate of Hiro Yamaguchi and often accompanies him as his bodyguard.”

Upon hearing Yamaguchi’s name mentioned, Harvey focused all his attention on Kenji. He wanted to learn what he could about Sato and Yamaguchi and wondered what his father’s interest was in Yamaguchi.

“Sato’s background is murky but I have heard that Yamaguchi uses him for the dirtier aspects of his business. I can tell you this though, he’s not to be taken lightly. He’s a dangerous man. You could’ve walked into a world of trouble had you openly confronted him. Tell me, what did he take from you that is so special?”

Instinct told Harvey that he could trust the young Japanese man he had just met. He started to tell Kenji about the episode with the ring at Alex’s shop in Hong Kong and the subsequent chance encounter with Sato on the train to Hiroshima.

Listening to Harvey tell the story of how Sato had crossed his path, Kenji became fully alert when the ‘unique’ ring was mentioned. Kenji could see that his new acquaintance was telling him the truth and decided he could also trust him. The question was, how much should he confide in him about his mission.

The owner of the teahouse led the geisha and her young apprentice up the stairs. She had not met these two ladies before but they had been highly recommended when she had phoned yesterday to arrange entertainment for Hiro Yamaguchi. He was one of her better customers and was always quite generous when it came to settling the bill. The owner didn’t care for his companion though. The man called Sato. That man sent a shiver up her spine. His eyes were like a glacier when he looked at you. It was better to avoid looking at him if possible. She walked over to the sliding door and in a soft voice announced the arrival of the geisha to the patrons.

Hiro thanked the owner and told her to let them in. The door slid open and the two geishas removed their sandals, entered the room and introduced themselves in Japanese.

Hajimemashite, my name is Miyuki,” said the older of the two ladies introducing herself in the formal style and then giving a deep bow. Miyuki wore a beautiful green silk kimono with white cranes embroidered on it. This was complemented by a wide golden obi sash tied above her waist at the back using the common ‘drum bow’.

Hajimemashite, I am Hanako,” The younger girl said with a deep bow. Her kimono collar hung loosely at the back revealing the full nape of her slender neck. The kimono itself was quite exquisite in red which matched the colour of the lipstick on her full lips. Her obi sash was golden and tied in the ‘darari style’ allowing it to hang in long tails at the back.

Both Hiro and Sato stood up and introduced themselves then invited the girls to sit with them. Continuing to speak in Japanese, Hiro spoke to the women with disarming charm.

“Hanako, meaning flower child, an appropriate name for such a lovely creature. And Miyuki, which means snow, but I don’t detect any white in your hair.” Hiro smiled at the geisha revealing a full set of white teeth.

Miyuki let out a laugh and slapped Hiro playfully on the knee. “I see you are full of wit Yamaguchi-san. We’ll have fun this evening and you both will be spellbound by the beauty of Hanako-chan’s voice. But first I want to say a short poem from the Tale of Genji. You are familiar with the story?”

“Of course,” he replied. “It is one of our country’s most famous. Genji was the son of an emperor and the story focuses on his many romantic exploits.”

“Yes, the character Genji has many love affairs but his true love is Murasaki who he first meets when she is only ten years old. Over the years, the two are unable to have a fulfilling relationship as it often is punctuated by long absences.”

Miyuki smiles at Hiro and then continues her story.

“During one exchange between the two after a difficult period where they have been away from each other for quite some time, Murasaki says to Prince Genji, ‘The troubled waters are frozen fast. Under clear heaven, moonlight and shadow ebb and flow.’ To which Genji responds, ‘The memories of long love gather like drifting snow, poignant as the mandarin ducks who float side by side in sleep.’ I agree with the story that the memories of true love are the most endearing and often fleeting. We should cherish those that we have dearly. For myself, the memories of my lovers will keep me warm when old age sets into my bones.” She finished this last sentence with a slight smile playing on her lips as she looked at Hiro again.

“Spoken truly from the heart, Miyuki-san, now let’s have some sake together,” said Hiro with a smile on his face.

Hanako poured them a cup of sake and handed them out, first to Hiro, then to Sato and Miyuki and finally she kept the last cup for herself.

“Let’s have a toast,” said Hiro, “to the memories of past lovers.”

They all raised their cups to their mouths and enjoyed the taste of the fine quality sake.

“I envy you, Miyuki-san, with your warm memories,” Hanako began with a mischievous smile on her face. “But I regret mine couldn’t provide warmth on a hot summer’s day. For when the man I love goes by in the street he doesn’t stop and come in, but men I hate, they come a hundred times a day.”

They all laughed at the familiar geisha joke.

Miyuki stood up to excuse herself. “I will go and fetch some more sake for us. I won’t be long,” she said.

Kenji looked at his watch. There wasn’t a lot of time before he had to get into position. He started to reconsider how the operation was going to unfold. He liked the forthright manner and determination of Harvey. Kenji knew the easiest path to achieving a goal was the one with the least obstacles. He made a decision and decided to bring Harvey into his confidence.

“Harvey, you and I are here for the same reason, the ring.”

“What do you mean?” asked Harvey with a tone of incredulity in his voice.

“The ring that was taken from you in Hong Kong is unique and few people know of its existence.”

“Really? Tell me more about it,” Harvey asked eagerly.

“It is called the ‘water ring’ and was forged a long time ago by a great swordsmith known as Master Abe. Perhaps the greatest ever, though history has forgotten his legacy. Master Abe forged two rings which he intended to give to the emperor and the shogun. Legend has it that when the ‘water ring’ was forged, Master Abe added teardrops from the empress. This ring was intended for the emperor. The other ring is the ‘fire ring’ and legend says that Master Abe added a few drops of blood from the emperor when crafting it. The fire ring was intended for the shogun and would be bestowed upon him by the emperor once he was chosen from among the ruling samurai lords.”

“So the ring that was stolen from me is the water ring and it has a twin called the fire ring,” Harvey said as he confirmed his understanding of what Kenji was saying.

“Yes, these two rings were intended for the rulers of Japan but they never served that purpose. The rings were stolen by a feudal lord called Okanabe. He wanted to use the rings to win the backing of other feudal lords and claim the shogunate for himself. He lost the rings and was defeated in battle.”

“I’ve heard about Okanabe and his loss to Tokugawa but what does this have to do with someone stealing the ring from me in Hong Kong?”

“Okanabe’s defeat wasn’t limited to his loss in battle, most of his family was killed, all of their lands were lost and their family name was stamped out. The few surviving members of the Okanabe clan moved to Kyushu and changed their name. The new name they used was Yamaguchi.”

“Yamaguchi!” exclaimed Harvey as pieces of the puzzle started to take shape. “Do you mean Hiro Yamaguchi? The man Sato works for.” And the same man that is on the mysterious Medusa file my father wrote, Harvey thought to himself.

“Yes, Hiro Yamaguchi is the living heir of the Okanabe clan. The shame of his family’s fall from power has haunted Okanabe’s descendants through the centuries. They have always wanted to regain their position amongst the ruling elite of Japan. He will stop at nothing in his hunger for power.”

Harvey’s head was swimming with questions. Why was there no mention of these mighty rings in the history of Japan? How did Kenji come to know so much about the rings? How can Yamaguchi run a global corporation if he is so ruthless and perhaps criminal in his actions?

One question above all others rose to the surface, Was there any connection between Yamaguchi and the death of his parents?

Kenji walked over to the window. He could see the signal, it was time to get into position. Kenji looked closely at Harvey.

“Harvey, can I trust you with a secret?”

Harvey hesitated for a brief moment.

“Yes, Kenji you can trust me.”

“I’m here to get the water ring. Those two ladies you saw enter the teahouse, the ones dressed as geisha, they’re with me. Right now they are entertaining Yamaguchi and his associate Sato.”

Kenji could see that he had Harvey’s full attention.

“Soon the girls are going to put a neurotoxin into some sake they will serve that causes temporary paralysis. I need to be in position outside the room in case they run into any difficulties. I need to go now. Do you want to join me?”

Harvey considered his options. I can stay here and wait for Kenji to return, that is, if he does return, or I can go into the teahouse with him, which was what I was about to do on my own anyway.

“Count me in,” Harvey said with determination.

“Okay, but we don’t have much time. I don’t want the girls running into trouble without me there to protect them. I need you to follow my lead and stay quiet from the time we leave this house. If we run into any trouble let me take care of it. I have some experience in these matters.”

“Don’t worry I won’t make a sound. And if there is trouble I won’t leave you hanging. I’ll have your back.”

Kenji looked at Harvey, sizing up his new ally.

“Okay Harvey, sounds good. And if things go to plan we won’t run into any problems.”

Kenji extended his arm and they both shook hands.

The pair walked down the stairs and over to the front entrance. Kenji slid the door open part way. He waited for a strolling couple to pass and then indicated for Harvey to follow him. They quickly walked across the street and quietly entered the teahouse. There was a narrow staircase to the right leading to the floor above them and a door that was partially open leading to the kitchen.

Harvey took a peek inside the kitchen and saw a woman tied to a chair with a blindfold covering her eyes and a cloth over her mouth to gag her. She was sitting quietly and making no effort to struggle against her restraints.

Kenji pointed to the stairs and then took off his shoes and went up the stairs as quiet as a cat ready to pounce. Harvey took off his shoes and followed up the stairs trying not to make the wood creak under his feet. They both stood at the top of the stairs and had a clear view of the landing and the narrow passage that ran the length of the house. They heard a door slide open down the corridor and then quickly shut. The geisha in the green kimono appeared in front of them. She gave a quick nod to Kenji before letting her eyes fall onto Harvey. She eyed him up and down taking in every detail, like a gem merchant scrutinising a diamond she was considering to buy. Then she silently descended the stairs.

From their position they could hear the younger girl singing from inside the upstairs room. They could also hear the muffled voice of two men talking. Kenji was intrigued and wanted to try and hear what they were saying but he couldn’t risk Harvey making a noise. He signalled to Harvey to wait and then made his way along the passage and paused where he could listen better.

Sato had been patient with his news the whole evening not wanting to interrupt his boss or disturb his enjoyment with the ladies. Now that the young geisha was singing and the older one had gone to refill the sake flasks he took the opportunity to speak.

Switching to English, Sato turned towards Hiro and began speaking. “Excuse me, Yamaguchi-san. I wish not to disturb your obvious pleasure of listening to the young girl sing but I bring important news.”

This got the attention of Yamaguchi. “What news do you bring?”

“I think you will be pleased to hear it. I have a lead on the other ring you seek, the fire ring.”

Yamaguchi’s eyes widened and he brought his head closer to Sato. “What have you learned? Tell me?”

“A trusted source has informed me of where it is and who has it. It is in the hands of the Koga clan that originally stole it from your ancestor. The family name is Watanabe.”

A cruel smile formed on Hiro Yamaguchi’s face. He couldn’t believe his good fortune.

Not only is my stature within The Group rising but I’m within grasp of my birthright, Hiro thought. And now I know the name of the family that has caused the ruin of my great family.

Hiro felt the blood surge through his body. He felt jubilant. He heard a low noise outside in the corridor and then remembered the geisha would be returning with the sake.

“You have done well Sato-san. You are a loyal and trusted friend. Together we will achieve much glory and power. We will move tomorrow to gain the ring and take care of the Watanabe family. When we are finished with them there’ll be no record that they ever existed.”

Harvey had kept a close eye on Kenji. He was impressed with how the young Japanese man could move his body without betraying any sounds. Kenji seemed very focused on the conversation emanating from the room. Harvey was surprised to see Kenji’s back bristle like a shock had gone through him and Harvey noticed alarm spread over Kenji’s face.

Perhaps someone is about to leave the room and catch him outside, Harvey worried but no one came out.

The lady geisha came back up the stairs holding a tray with two ceramic flasks on it. She didn’t look at Harvey as she passed him - for her he simply wasn’t there. She swiftly entered the room and closed the door behind her.

The geisha Miyuki - or Megumi, which was her real name - was excellent about staying in character. She had a background in performing arts and enjoyed the thrill from acting live on stage. She was feeling ecstatic in her current role as Miyuki. But she was starting to feel a bit troubled. The expression on Kenji’s face when she had just passed him in the corridor hadn’t escaped her.

She wondered who the young gaijin was that Kenji had brought along. She didn’t like any deviation from the plan but she trusted Kenji’s instincts and knew he wouldn’t make the decision to bring him lightly. She had felt a twinge of anxiety when she had seen the ashen expression on Kenji’s face as she entered the room and wondered what could have caused it.

It was now the delicate phase in their operation and the key rested with her ensuring her male patrons drank the laced sake. She had put enough neurotoxin in the sake to quickly knock them out but not put them into a coma. They had been strict about avoiding killing these men unless the operation turned sour and they ran out of options. She believed taking another’s life, no matter if the person was evil or deserving of it, should never be taken lightly.

Miyuki sat down at the table with the men and poured the sake into their cups. Hanako’s beautiful voice filled the room. She offered the sake to both men.

“This elegant and fruity sake comes from Yamagata Prefecture. I think you will enjoy it, please try it,” Miyuki used a soft voice and her charm to encourage them.

“Miyuki-san, you must join us in drinking this fine sake,” said Hiro Yamaguchi. He took the flask and poured a cup for her.

Miyuki could see a gleam in the man’s eyes which hadn’t been there before. His changed demeanour wasn’t just an effect from drinking sake. She sensed a change had come over him in the short time that she had left.

What is he thinking? Miyuki wondered. She gave a radiant smile to Yamaguchi.

“Of course I will join you. Kampai!”

The three lifted their cups in cheers and then drank the sake. Miyuki was careful to not swallow any of the sake as she let the liquid rest against her lips and only allowed the smallest fraction to enter her mouth.

“You are right, this is delicious. A perfect drink for such a fine night,” said Yamaguchi.

Miyuki pretended to adjust her obi sash around her waist as she watched the men drink the sake. She knew that a cupful would take about ten minutes to render the drinker unconscious. Yamaguchi quickly finished his cup but the big guy named Sato seemed to be taking his time sipping his drink.

Hanako was giving a stirring performance. All eyes were fixed on her as she danced and sang. Miyuki pretended to take another drink from her cup and then discreetly lowered it out of view and poured the sake under her dress onto the tatami mat. After a few moments she lifted the empty cup up to her mouth and tipped the bottom up as if finishing the drink. She quickly filled Yamaguchi’s and her cups and then looked at Sato expectantly with the flask in her hand.

“Take your time Sato-san. We will wait for you.”

Noticing that he was the last to finish, he tipped his cup to his mouth and emptied it in one fluid movement.

Harvey was watching Kenji and the entrance to the room like a hawk. Kenji had not moved a muscle apart from the brief spasm that seemed to rack his body earlier. The voice of the young girl singing was dampened by the paper walls but still clearly reached their ears in the corridor. Harvey couldn’t understand the words but the song sounded sad, even haunting. And then suddenly it stopped. The door to the room slid open and the lady in the green kimono stood at the entrance.

Kenji and Harvey walked into the room. Yamaguchi was passed out with his head resting on the table. Sato was sprawled on the floor. A chill ran down Harvey’s spine as he looked at the man’s face. His inky black eyes were wide open and Harvey had the eerie sensation that Sato was looking at him even though he clearly was out cold. A wave of anxiety passed over him and he knew he would be happy to leave this place as soon as possible.

Kenji walked over to Yamaguchi and lifted his right hand. The water ring gave off a blue reflection from the light. He slid the ring off the finger and slipped it into his pocket. Then he reached inside Yamaguchi’s jacket pocket and took out his wallet and mobile phone. The girls were using a cloth to wipe any fingerprints they may have left on the cups. Kenji also took Sato’s wallet and phone and then gave a brief nod to the girls.

They were out of the room and down on the street in less than ten-seconds. Kenji said something quickly to the girls in Japanese and then the girls walked nonchalantly down the street as if heading for their next appointment at a teahouse. Kenji wiped the wallets for any fingerprints they may have left and then dropped them into a red post box on the street. He then walked down a side street with Harvey close behind. Kenji had a scooter waiting nearby. They both got on and were soon riding down the side streets. Before long they were out on a main road. Harvey could tell they were going back towards the train station but were taking a different route than he had come in the taxi.

As they rode the scooter through the streets of Kyoto, Harvey felt a mix of exhilaration and foreboding. He could still see the image of Sato on the floor with his inky black eyes wide open looking up at him. Something told him this would not be the last time their paths crossed.

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