"Every parting is a form of death, as every reunion is a type of heaven."
I went back to Brazil.
The city was warm. It was summer there, south of the equator, and it felt good to be back, to walk the beaches and swim in the ocean and listen to choro and drink caipirinhas and live, for a while, as Toshiro Keitaro again. I knew there were people now who would think to look for me here. But I'm not easy to get to, even if you know the right city.
I had been back for about two months when I found a message on my private phoneline. It was a young woman's voice, one I knew very well for the short time we had spent together. She said, "I'm vacationing in a wonderful city. Every morning I swim at the most famous beach there. The older beach, the one farthest north. I wish you could join me."
I stared at the message recorder for a long time.
Then, without even being conscious of a decision having been made, I started packing a bag.
That night I checked into the Copacabana Palace Hotel, Rio's grandest, positioned on its famous beach. I took an ocean-view villa on the fifth floor. I had brought along a pair of binoculars--not quite the quality of the Zeiss model that I had employed during the mission, but good enough for gazing at the ocean. Or the beach.
At nine o'clock the next morning, she showed.
She was wearing a pink thong bikini. I decided it would have been a crime for her to wear anything else. She swam for twenty minutes, then lay down on a towel in the sun. She seemed to be alone, but the beach was starting to fill up. I had no way of really knowing. I told myself that she had no reason to set me up. And that was true. But the funny thing was, I just didn't care anymore. For the moment, I didn't even care how she knew where to find me, or had gotten my phone number. It just didn't seem to matter anymore.
I undressed down to board shorts, slung a towel over one shoulder, and made my way down to the beach. The sun was beating down hot from above, and I squinted through my sunglasses against the glare coming off of the ocean and the sand. Placing the towel down next to her, I sat on it. "Is this spot taken?"
She opened her eyes. They were greener than I had ever seen them, taking on some of the hues of the sea. She smiled, sat up, and looked at me for a long time. "You got my message."
I nodded. "It was a surprise. A pleasant one."
"You probably want to know how I found you."
"I want to know how you've been."
She was beautiful. She was just...beautiful. Not a single word was spoken for a while, until she smiled, leaned in, and kissed me. Then she pulled back and glanced at my arm and my thigh. The dressings and bandages were gone now, and the slowly healing results of Gaara's handiwork were clearly visible. Whoever had patched me up must have been more concerned about closing the wounds than with their cosmetic appearance. It looked like I had been attacked by a pissed off cutlery set.
"I heard what you did to Gaara."
I shrugged. "No idea what what you're talking about."
She chuckled. "You know where those weapons were going?"
I shook my head. It may have been cold of me, but I didn't care who was going to use them, or for what purpose. Wars are a terrible thing. And they never stop. Since the dawn of mankind, I don't think that the human race has experienced one single day of peace, and I told her so. She actually seemed like she understood.
"But you stopped the shipment and took care of Gaara. Right now, you have a lot of admirers among the people I work with."
I smiled. But the smile felt a little sad. "Why do I have the feeling that there's a job offer in all of this?"
"Well...I'd be lying if I said there wasn't."
I nodded and looked away. I'd really been hoping there, for a minute. On glimpse of a thong bikini, and my common sense had melted away. It was ridiculous.
"But I'm not here to make a sales pitch to you."
I wasn't going to buy it. "Yeah?"
She nodded. "I'm taking a long vacation, a long...decompression. It's standard practice after living undercover and in danger of discovery for so long. My organization is generous this way, and sensible. They understand the stresses. Usually I lose myself for a while after an assignment is finished. I travel, hook up with some rich, handsome young man, try to blot out recent memories with a lot of wine and sex. No one knows where I go, and no one asks. I come back when I'm ready."
"And this time?"
"This time...I thought I'd like to spend some time with a young man I met. If he's interested."
I looked out at the water. "Tell me how you found me."
She nodded, understanding. "After you disappeared from China, priority was given to tracking you, and we put together a lot of information pretty quickly. The more we learned about you, the more we were able to figure out. A few smart people I know made assumptions, and some technicians fed data into supercomputers. They tracked you to South America, but after that your trail went cold."
"Not cold enough, it seems."
"But you forgot one thing," she smiled. "I know you. We spent time together."
"Yeah, one date and a midnight tryst."
Her smile widened, but her eyes diverted downward. "Remeber that date? You ordered caipirinhas. You said por favor when you ordered."
"No, I didn't."
She nodded. "The waittress was ethnic Portugese, so at the time I thought you were just using some trivial knowledge of the language. But, when the technicians tracked you to South America, I started thinking about what you had ordered, the way you had ordered it, your accent, the Japanese community in Brazil--"
I sighed. "I guess that's the problem with being multilingual. You forget what the hell language you're speaking."
She laughed. "Anyway, Rio felt right to me. It just felt right. I decided to give it a try. Tokyo would have been my next guess, but a caipirinha wouldn't taste nearly as good there, would it?"
"You want to get one now?"
She gestured to the position of the sun. "It's still morning."
I shrugged. "I've got a room in the hotel. We could kill some time first."
Her smile broadened. "That sounds really nice," she said.
"How long are you going to be in town?"
"For as long as it takes."
I held out my hand. She took it and we stood. Then we walked back to the hotel.
"You know, you haven't even told me your name yet..."
THE AUTHOR WOULD LIKE TO THANK...
First off, the reposting of this story would have been impossible had it not been for a comrade named seetheworld. I respectfully bow to you, my friend.
My medical professor friends at Florida International University, for offering (unbelievably reluctant) expert advice on killing someone with just the right combo of staphylococcus aureus, chloral hydrate, and potassium chloride--and providing the detailed descriptions of what each chemical could do. Oh yeah, and even providing the right type of needle needed!
To Gavin DeBecker, for writing The Gift of Fear, which has helped Sasuke (and countless others) spot subtle signs of danger and effectively deal with potential violence.
To Maj. John L. Plaster USAR (Ret.), for writing The Ultimate Sniper, and for his other excellent books and videos on sniping, all of which proved invaluable background on and tactics for Naruto.
To Dr. Gilliar, for overcoming his queasiness about my questions just enough to explain exactly what would happen to Naruto's knee if Sasuke would have gone through with his threat (them sambo foot locks are dangerous!)
To Marc "Animal" MacYoung and the rest of the Animal List folks who hang out at nononsenseselfdefense dot com, the most qualified experts on everything involving survival in real life-or-death situations; in particular, thanks to Dave, mad scientist and moral philosopher, for sharing his knowledge of firearms and the results on what really works and what's just Hollywood; Jake, former army sniper, for helping me understand Naruto and refine his tactics; and Kevin, Savate Silver Glove, for teaching me (the hard way) how real Savatuers fight.
To Matt Damon, for his excellent portrayal of Jason Bourne and inspiring me to write a character just as lethally cool.
To Barry and Yuri, for help with Japanese phrases and spelling.
To my friends at the Barnes & Noble cafe, for serving the best coffee--and background music--that any writer could ask for.
To Krav Maga instructors Kubiyanka, May, and Salazar, for teaching Sakura (and myself) just how hard an elbow can really hit, for their constant knowledge to help inspire me, and for having enough patience to help me pass my Level 3 exams. I respectfully bow to you three, sirs.
To Jill, for her insights into what sophisticated, sexy young women wear and how they think; and for the unbelievably fun research sessions that are probably illegal in several states (this most definitely being one of them).
Most of all, always and forever, the readers.
The Ninja Assassin will return for his sequel.