Hanbe Gardens, Hiroshima
The trip back on the train was happily uneventful. Harvey relaxed in his seat in the unreserved section and reflected on the day’s events. Japan had been a real adventure so far and he still couldn’t believe he had the ring. He didn’t dare take it out on the train, not wanting to attract attention. He thought that precaution probably wasn’t necessary.
It’s not like the ring will announce itself to passers-by, ‘I’m the water ring.’
All the same, the ring stayed in his pocket. He took a look at a discarded paper on the seat beside him and was pleased to find a sudoku puzzle to complete. Sudoku puzzles were universal in that they could be enjoyed by people all over the world no matter the language of the paper.
The train arrived into Hiroshima Station a little past nine-thirty. When he exited the station he couldn’t help but notice the bright flashing neon lights and the flow of people in and around the station. Harvey knew the name of the place where they were staying but not how to get there. There was a tram line near the station with old fashioned trams of different makes and colours. They were similar to the trams in Hong Kong but not double deckers like back home. He knew the tram was slow in Hong Kong and imagined it would be the same here. He wanted to get to the hotel as soon as he could. He couldn’t wait to tell Emma about Kyoto and knew she would want to know he was fine.
He walked up to a taxi and the back door opened. He leaned inside and spoke to the driver with the limited Japanese he knew.
“Hanbe Gardens, Onegaishimasu.”
The driver looked at him and then nodded his head indicating he understood. The ride was quick and it didn’t take long before the taxi stopped in front of a two-story brown building. He couldn’t see any obvious sign advertising the resort. He paid the driver, got out, went through the main entrance into the building and walked over to the reception desk.
“Konbanwa,” greeted the front desk clerk with a short bow.
“Konbanwa, watashi wa Harvey Ashton desu,” Harvey said and then returned a slight bow.
“Ah, Ashton-san, we expecting you. You have message, dozo.”
The clerk handed a note to Harvey.
“Domo arigato,” Harvey responded, thanking the man.
He opened the message. It was from Emma, telling him she would be in the onsen, which Harvey knew were thermal spas, until ten at night and asking him to come and join her. He checked his watch, he still had time to meet her.
“Your room this way, Ashton-san.”
Harvey followed the hotel clerk down a corridor and then up some stairs to the second floor. He opened a door and turned on a light to reveal a small yet charming room with tatami floors. A futon was made up and ready for sleeping on the floor.
“Sumimasen, where is the onsen?” asked Harvey.
“Back downstairs and walk the corridor to the end. Please wear robe to onsen,” the clerk said, indicating a white robe neatly folded on a table by the door.
“Enjoy stay.” The clerk gave another bow.
“Arigato,” said Harvey returning the bow.
Harvey arrived at the entrance to the onsen in his robe and slippers, and was wondering which of the two doors to enter. He couldn’t understand the characters written on the door and there was no one to ask. His dilemma was quickly solved when a lady walked out of the door to his left.
He entered through the other door and walked into the male change room. There was a cubbyhole to store your slippers and robe, which he deposited along with his boxer shorts. He took the ring out of the pocket of the robe and slipped it onto his finger. There was no way he was going to let it out of his sight. The ring fit snuggly and felt good on his finger.
Harvey grabbed a towel from a neatly stacked pile and was surprised to discover that it was a little bigger than the size of a hand towel.
How will I cover myself with this?
Harvey decided to take two towels.
There was a small entrance that led to a wide open shower area with a few men cleaning themselves. They were sitting on low wooden stools and using a shower hose to wash themselves and then using the towel and soap to clean with.
Harvey decided to shower like the men before going out to the onsen. After cleaning himself, Harvey tied his spare towel around his waist. He had to stretch the ends together to meet, which they barely did, and feared the knot could come undone at any time.
The onsen was actually outside and accessible from a sliding door at the back of the shower room. Harvey’s senses seemed keenly alert. The chill in the air caused his muscles to contract, he could feel his calf muscles tighten as he walked. There was a short stone path illuminated by stone lanterns that wound its way through a garden to the pools. The gardens were quite stunning and peaceful with many assorted shrubs and small trees that were artfully groomed. He was able to notice small details in his surroundings that he would normally be oblivious to. He could smell a sweet fragrance in the air that stirred a memory of a childhood trip he had taken with his parents to Bali. Harvey wondered why his senses were particularly acute and then remembered what Kenji had said about the ring.
Emma was the only person in the thermal rock pool. Hot steam was rising from the water. She had her eyes closed and seemed to be deeply enjoying her soak. She was wearing a bikini and looked quite stunning. She was wearing her hair tied up, revealing her lovely face and slender neck. Her cheeks were slightly flushed from the heat of the pool.
Harvey always knew she was attractive but had never thought of her as more than a friend but something felt different this time. He couldn’t resist checking her out in her swimsuit. Emma suddenly opened her eyes and was surprised to see Harvey looking at her.
“Harvey, oh my god you’re here!” she nearly shouted. “Hurry up and get in, you must be freezing.”
Emma noticed that he was only wearing the small towel and a big smile spread across her face.
Harvey felt his face start to redden.
“Oh Harvey, get in. It’s not like something I haven’t seen before,” Emma added with a laugh.
Harvey wondered about the meaning behind this comment and then made a decision. He felt a bit silly about not wearing a swimsuit but wasn’t going to let that spoil the moment. He got into the pool with the small towel around him and was grateful it didn’t slip.
“This feels great, it’s just what I need to relax,” said Harvey enthusiastically.
“Isn’t it wonderful? I could stay in here for hours, actually I think I have been. I was beginning to wonder about you. Thank god you made it back no worse for wear.”
“Take a look at what I brought back.” Harvey held up his hand to show her the ring.
“You got the ring!” Emma said excitedly. “Wow, it’s beautiful just like you said.”
Harvey could feel the heat from the water permeating his skin and his blood coursing through his body. He had been stunned at how truly beautiful Emma was. He watched beads of sweat dripping down the side of her face and onto her breast. Thankfully the small towel was doing its job and staying in place but with the warmth of the pool and his heightened senses, he began to wonder how long it would stay put.
It’s this ring that’s making my perception extra sensitive, he thought. Harvey slipped the ring off his finger.
“Here take a look.” He handed the ring to Emma who put it on her forefinger.
“It’s a bit loose for my slender fingers but it is quite enchanting.”
“I’ve quite the story to tell you.”
Harvey recounted about meeting Yuki and how she helped him on the train and then about meeting Kenji and what happened in Kyoto. He told her that Sato had been meeting Yamaguchi.
“Harvey, you put your neck on the line following that goon Sato like that. I hate to think what would have happened had you ventured into the teahouse on your own. I’m so glad you met Kenji. He sounds like someone I’d like to meet someday.”
“I was definitely in the thick of it. Those guys were no mere thugs. Kenji made it clear that Yamaguchi will stop at nothing in his thirst for power and to redeem his samurai family name. He has been keeping track of Yamaguchi and his activities for some time but never saw him as much of a threat until the past couple of years. He said Yamaguchi has become more active around the world with frequent visits to global hotspots like sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and the Middle East.”
“What interest would a Japanese CEO have in those conflict areas?”
“I don’t know. Kenji told me, in the past, he mostly stayed in Japan so the increased travel seems odd and doesn’t fit with his normal business interests. Kenji suspects he is in league with someone else but he hasn’t found any evidence to back this up and has no idea who they might be.”
“This Yamaguchi is a real mystery. He’s certainly more than an ambitious businessman. Why do you think your dad was interested in him?” asked Emma.
“I’ve been wondering about that too. I told Kenji about the Medusa file. He seemed interested in my father and what he did for a living. I also told him the three names that were on the paper.”
“Three names? But you just told me two names. Yamaguchi and another name.”
“Jon Malak,” said Harvey. “No, there was a third name on the list and you’re not going to believe who it is.”
“Who?” Emma asked eagerly.
“Mr. Atkinson, no way! He’s your guardian. What connection could he have with Yamaguchi?”
“You’ve got me. And the thing is, I’ve always felt I could trust Mr. Atkinson. Why would my dad include his name on a secret list? It makes no sense.” Harvey smiled at Emma. “I could have asked Yamaguchi if he knew Mr. Atkinson but unfortunately he was not in a position to answer.”
“So Harvey, now that you have the ring, what does Kenji want you to do with it?”
“I’m not sure but I told Kenji if he ever needed any help in Hong Kong, to follow up a lead or investigate someone, he could count on me.”
“So he wants you to keep the ring and protect it from falling into the wrong hands?”
“I was amazed he trusted me to safeguard it. He seemed to feel better that it would soon be out of Japan. Kenji told me something interesting about the ring. It can heighten the senses of the person who wears it.”
Emma arched her eyebrows. “Really? What was the ring making you feel when you first arrived here?”
The question caught Harvey off balance. He didn’t want to reveal his amorous thoughts to Emma.
“That I came underdressed,” Harvey quickly replied. “It’s my first time to an onsen you know. I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
“Well, to tell the truth, most Japanese actually do bathe naked in the pools. So in that sense you came overdressed.” Emma said with a smirk.
“So why didn’t you go native and arrive in the buff,” Harvey said with a smile. His smile broadened. “Tell me Emma, since you’re wearing the ring now, what are you feeling.”
Emma hadn’t expected this question. For a flickering moment a startled expression crossed her face like she had been caught out but she recovered quickly. She was aware that her body was completely relaxed and she was enjoying this quiet time alone with Harvey. She guiltily thought she would even be comfortable being naked in the pool with him. This was odd because she had never thought of Harvey in this way before. But she was enjoying this time with him alone. The hot water soothed her body and she was having some wicked thoughts. She felt the ebb and flow of sweet rapture ripple through her body. These sudden feelings caught her off guard.
“I’m really enjoying this moment here in the garden together. Isn’t it just so beautiful here? It’s so relaxing and serene.”
“It’s my first time to a hot spring, but I definitely want to come again,” replied Harvey.
A sly smile formed on Emma’s lips. “I think I should give you back your ring, otherwise you may never get it, since I fancy it.”
Harvey attached the ring to the necklace he wore around his neck. His mother had given him the golden necklace with the pendant of St. Christopher when he had turned fifteen. She had died shortly after. When she gave it to him, she had said that it would keep him safe when travelling. He always wore and treasured it.
“Harvey, I want you to know how happy I am to have you in my life.”
Harvey looked into Emma’s eyes. They seemed to sparkle in the reflection from the ambient lights. He moved over beside her and put his arm around her and gave her a hug.
“I feel the same way Emma. You’re like family to me.”
They smiled at one another and felt a strong bond between them. They sat in the hot pool without saying a word for sometime, enjoying the night sky in their private sanctuary. They had the spa to themselves at this late hour and the only sound was from the flow of steaming water spilling into the rock pool.
“So what time is the bus picking us up tomorrow to go to the ski resort?” asked Harvey breaking the silence.
“We need to be ready by 8 in the morning. It takes about ninety minutes to get there. Everything is arranged for our arrival: passes, skis, snowsuits, even some lessons for the girls,” Emma replied.
“What do you think the conditions will be like?”
“We’re in for a treat, they’re supposed to have some decent powder.”
“Sounds awesome, I can’t wait to carve up the slopes tomorrow,” he said with a smile.
“I’m looking forward to seeing your moves. They should have some moguls and maybe even a few jumps so I hope your knees are ready,” Emma said.
Harvey looked at his watch. It was going to eleven. “I need to get some sleep after all the excitement of today. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay. Don’t slip when you’re getting out,” Emma said with a mischievous grin. As Harvey stepped to get out of the onsen she couldn’t resist herself, she yanked on the corner of the tied towel and it fell into the water.
She was giggling. “Sorry, I didn’t want you to miss out on having the full onsen experience.”
Later back in his room, Harvey lay awake on his futon thinking about Emma. They were the best of friends and really cared about each other. But there was a moment back in the pool where he had felt something stronger for her and he still had the lingering feeling that he would have liked to have kissed her passionately on the lips. Harvey mulled this over.
I’ve never thought of Emma as a girlfriend before but I can’t deny I felt something for her back in the hot spring. That was when I was wearing the ring and my senses were extra sharp. And didn’t I see a gleam in her eye when she was wearing it? Yes, we definitely had a moment. And hadn’t it lasted even after we had taken the ring off? We like to joke with each other but this was more like flirting. Was it just a brief flirtatious moment in an otherwise warm friendship or is there something else going on here?
Harvey continued to think about Emma and wonder if he wanted her to be more than a friend. She was the closest thing he had to family in Hong Kong and he didn’t want to risk losing that if it turned out they had the wrong chemistry as a couple. He had a lot to consider as he stayed awake deep into the night.