I should have known better. From the moment I saw him, I could hardly take my eyes off him. You can chalk that up to whatever you please, my being a bodyguard or an overwhelming suspicion of his initial appearance as a clean-cut, well-mannered boy.
I wasn't quite sure why, myself. My father, recognizing in him a potential to do our organization harm through his charming naïveté, ordered me to protect him. I admit, I did my job with little desire or graciousness, taking every opportunity to show him how much I resented my forced labor. I hung up on him abruptly when he called, shutting my ears against his anxious pleas. When we met in person, I treated him coldly. But really, what else could I do? It would be pointless to tell him how I genuinely felt. Or so I thought.
I still remember that awful day in New Yokosuka Harbor. I was following him around as always, keeping a good distance away from him as he spoke with the owner of the Hokuhoku stand. I made a mental note to order a little bit of food when I saw him running in the general direction of the major cargo holds.
Where was he going? Who the hell knew? The kid was a born do-gooder if ever I saw one. But I had promised my father…I gave chase.
He was running here and there, stopping to pester the guards and workers. But finally he found his way and went behind a couple of oversized shipping trailers. I stopped near the edge of the wharf, close enough to hear without being detected.
The voices I heard were shrill and harsh, the voices of children, but with a strange, acrid tang. I peeked cautiously, and saw to my horror, Ryo lying on the ground, surrounded by girls in school uniforms.
Immediately throwing caution aside, I strode towards them purposefully. Two of the girls looked at me, their soft faces marred by cold eyes. "What's your problem, pops?"
"What's going on here?" I asked, my voice growing angry.
"None of your damn business! You want us to slit your throat, like we did with this punk?"
I hissed derisively. "You're certainly welcome to try."
They darted towards me, imprudent in their pride. I tripped one, casting her aside easily. The other swung a pipe at me, but I caught it between my two palms, twisting it out of her grasp. Unarmed and scowling, she broke a bottle and swung wildly. I stepped backwards, nearly bumping into the third girl behind me. Our eyes met for a fraction of a second and she whimpered, "Please be careful."
I tensed, waited. My father was teaching me a move that emphasized hand tension. I had seen him shatter crates with mere thrusts of his fingers. Would it be effective on glass? I could only hope as the irate girl moved my way. Fortunately, circumstances made it unnecessary. She tripped on a forgotten board and fell to the ground.
I looked at the other girl. Her face was twisted with fear as she avoided my gaze and looked down at Ryo. I knelt beside him to examine his wound. It was pretty serious, but he would heal easily with bed rest. I turned him over as he groaned helplessly.
"This is all my fault," the girl said softly.
I stood, brushing the dust from my slacks. "Are you his friend?"
"Yes," she answered.
"Then stay here. I'll be right back."
I went home as quickly as I could manage, more than once cursing the ridiculous amount of traffic that I encountered. As I entered the warehouse impetuously, my father looked up, surprised.
"Father…" I stopped and bowed to him rather abruptly. "I must have your car."
"But w…" The word trailed off as he met my eyes. "I see. Drive it carefully."
Within fifteen more minutes, I was driving in the general direction of Dobuita, glancing at the hastily scribbled directions I had received from the girl. I grunted angrily as I attempted to navigate the narrow, populous streets. "Damned hillside towns," I muttered. "Damn this kid. Who needs all this hassle?"
The streets became perceptibly more narrow as I entered Sakuragaoka. I slowed my speed as I approached a group of children playing the street. Not wanting to miss my way, I stopped the car and beckoned to a young girl in a bright red jumper to approach. She came, hesitantly.
"Where is Ryo Hazuki's house?"
"The street past the Yamanose shrine takes you right to it."
"Thank you." I put the BMW in gear and started again slowly as Ryo gasped for air.
I looked at him as I turned up a street and past the ancient-looking shrine. "Hazuki, sit still."
He tried to speak, but failed. I pulled up at a wooden gate, looking anxiously at the hand-painted nameplate. I had made it rather quickly; only fifteen minutes had elapsed from beginning to end. I've had entire days that felt shorter.
I helped him out of the car and supported him against my body as I walked him to his front door. My face didn't show my concern; it never did. But I felt fear for his sake. His body felt boneless as I held him up. Was he in shock?
"Ryo-san!" A voice behind me made me crane my neck as a stocky Japanese man ran up. He immediately opened the door for us, and helped me carry him to his room. He leaned over the boy. "What happened to him? Is he alright?"
"Go get some hydrogen peroxide and gauze strips. We need to sterilize this cut right away."
The man bowed and left, returning shortly. He had just as many questions as before, but I couldn't answer them immediately, needing to concentrate. So I shooed him away curtly, telling him that I would talk with him as soon as I was done attending to Ryo.
He backed into a corner of the room, in order to have the best possible chance of assaulting me with questions as soon as I finished. And as I carefully cleaned and covered Ryo's wound, I was almost glad that someone else was in the room. The physical contact that I made with Ryo involved a lot of facial adjustments, and I could hardly be insensible to the novelty of stroking someone's face, deprived as I was of the chance to exert any sort of emotion.
"Do you think that he needs stitches?" the stranger ventured to ask.
"It's possible." I stood and put the chair back in its accustomed place, underneath the desk. "Thank you for your help."
"Wait!" The voice was pleading and grating and very irksome. "What happened to Ryo? You gotta tell me!" He grabbed my arm, but let go after feeling me grow rather tense.
"I'm not entirely sure. I saw him injured in the harbor, and I brought him home. Don't grab me again."
He stepped back, uncertain. "Was it Lan Di?"
"No. I'm going now."
"Wait…" He came after me once more as I walked out of the house's entryway. "What's your name?"
"You don't need to know it." I got in the car and shut the door, ignoring the rest of his inane questions as I began my drive home.
I needed a little time to myself, time to think about what I had just done and how I felt about it. I parked the car in a small garage, and walked the short distance to Dobuita's Red Light District.
I wasn't particularly hungry or thirsty, but the desire for a stiff drink was nearly overwhelming at this point. But first things first…as I entered the closest bar, I asked the barkeeper for a phone. He handed me his, with a scowl. He seemed suspicious that I wasn't actually going to buy anything.
I called home for any further instructions on my father's behalf. Upon finding none, I asked him if he wanted some Chinese food for a change. He agreed and I made another mental note before calling the barkeeper back over.
"Bombay Sapphire and Tonic. Neat."
"Excellent choice." The man pulled down a shimmering blue bottle and expertly measured out 2 ounces of the premium gin into a ice-cold rock glass, before filling it with tonic water and adding a lime wedge. He set the glass in front of me on an elaborate cocktail napkin. "You enjoy, sir."
I took my glass and my napkin away from the bar to a more comfortable and more obscure booth. I sipped slowly and pondered for a while as I savored the bitter flavor.
What was Hazuki's goal? One thing that my father had taught me, and taught me well, was that motives were rarely, if ever, clear. Could his sole motivation be vengeance? Perhaps he wanted to prove himself? He was the last claimant of the Hazuki style.
I chewed my straw into fragments. That line of thought hardly made sense. Who would seek to prove themselves by choosing the Chi You Men as antagonists? It was inconceivable. Furthermore, warriors with his level of discipline didn't go around starting fights. Well…
I thought back to the pervasive anger that colored his speeches in all of our meetings. What if it really had been my father? Would I also be running about frantically, grabbing at straws and the faintest hopes to keep me sane?
"Hi, there. Want some company?"
I was startled out of my reverie by a woman sitting next to me. I sat up a little straighter as I inwardly cursed my inattention. I hadn't even seen where she had come from! That damned Hazuki kid…he was making me forget just about every lesson my father had taught me.
I looked at her as she gave me a smile too bright to be genuine. She was rather pretty, with short blonde hair and a denim miniskirt. I vaguely recalled seeing her once or twice in the harbor area, wearing a blue and white striped shirt with a tan fishing vest. Now, however, she had on a much more flattering rugby style shirt and stylish sandals. Very nice legs. I slid away from her. "No."
"Aw, come on. I see you around at Yokosuka sometimes. You're always alone." She scooted after me, actually touching my thigh this time. "Let's spend a little time together…you and me?"
I looked at her again as I drank, trying to determine whether or not I had missed anything in my first appraisal. She didn't seem like a prostitute. An informant, maybe? I finished my gin and tonic and set the glass down. "Not interested."
She pouted, an obvious affectation. Perhaps she thought that I was more intoxicated than I actually was. "I got something nice for you…" She unbuttoned the top two buttons of her shirt, and I looked away with an exasperated sigh. She used the opportunity to drape her calf over my own. "Just 15000 yen, and I'm yours for the night."
"What makes you think that I have 15000 yen?"
She smiled again, having gotten a complete sentence out of me at last. "This is a wool suit, and this – " she caressed my chest pointedly – "is a silk tie. Oh, you've got money, baby. Live a little. Unwind for the night."
"Once again, not interested." I brushed her off and stood, taking the opportunity to check for my wallet. I took it out to pay for the drink and noted how quickly her eyes latched onto the money inside. Turning my back on her, I handed 1200 yen to the barkeeper, who thanked me in a surly voice. But my offense was quelled; I could see that my behavior had little to do with his attitude. He was just naturally quarrelsome.
I left the bar and turned to the left quickly. I could feel eyes boring into my skin as I passed several other establishments on the way to Ajiichi Chinese Restaurant, and I knew that I was being assessed as a potential mugging victim. The thought barely penetrated my consciousness, to be honest. I don't think that I could even remember the last time that I was genuinely afraid.
I collected my purchase quickly and was making my way back towards the garage that my car was parked in when I was accosted once again by the same woman. Her smile had gone from bright to feral. Maybe it was the darkness. Maybe it was her darkness.
"You know, guys don't normally turn me down."
"There's always a first time."
"I suppose so. You're not Japanese, are you? You're Chinese?"
"I'll leave that up to you to determine."
"You're not connected with the Mad Angels, are you? I see you all the time at Yokosuka. Always shipping and delivering packages. You wouldn't be doing anything…untoward, would you?"
I stopped and faced her. "Are you a police officer?"
I continued to walk; she continued to give chase. "Unless you plan to arrest me and charge me, I suggest you leave me alone. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a 'harassment' complaint on your record." By this time, I was at the car, unlocking the door. She stood there defiantly. "I'll keep that in mind, Gui Zhang Chen. Meanwhile, you and your father keep your noses clean."
"You do the same. And keep yours out of my business." I started up the car and drove off quickly, leaving her behind in the night.