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NEW YORK / TOKYO / HOKKAIDO
Drowsing, Justine Tomkin became aware of the nightblack shadow that slowly pierced the sunlight like the blade of a sword.
Her mouth opened wide and she tried to scream as she saw the face and recognized Saig?: the images of blood and carnage, a deathhunt too frightening to contemplate. The odor of the grave had pervaded this once peaceful room in her father's house on Long Island so full of childhood memories: of a Teddy bear with one eye missing and a plaid gingham giraffe.
Her powerful scream was muffled by the thick wind of Saig?'s passage, as if he could control all God's elements with a wave of his hand. His torso expanded, extending through the light streaming down through the great glass dome in the ceiling, an opalescent mist rising about him as if his connection to the earth was not meant for her eyes.
He bent over her prostrate form and while her mind screamed, Wake up! Wake up! he slowly began to work his magic on her, the icy menace in his eyes as dead as stones somehow transferring itself into her heart.
She felt the horror squirming there like a palmful of live worms. An unholy bond was forming which she was powerless to deflect. Now she was part of him, she would do his bidding like a servant, take up his fallen katana and slay his enemy for him.
She felt the cool haft of the heavy katana beneath her curling fingers as she drew it upward off the floor. She wielded it just as Saig? would have had he not been dead.
And before her stood Nicholas, his vulnerable back to her. She raised the katana, its shadow already beginning to slice through the sunlight striking his spine. Nicholas, my one and only love. Her mind whirled in a sick fury and her last thought before she began the lethal downward strike was not her own: Ninja, betrayer, this is your death! ...
Justine jerked awake. She was in a sweat. Her heart was thumping uncomfortably, as loudly as a blacksmith strikes his anvil. Slowly, she ran a shaking hand through her damp hair, pulling it back, away from her eyes. Then, with a great indrawn breath that halfway through turned into a wracking shudder, she clamped both arms about her body and began to rock back and forth as she had when she had been a child, frightened by dreams welling up from the pitch blackness of the night.
Blindly she reached out to the empty spot beside her in the large double bed, and fear touched her heart anew. It was not the terror of her own private nightmare which reared up at her. This was a new fright and she twisted, grabbing up a pillow from beside her where normally Nicholas would have been and, holding it tightly to her breast, squeezed it as if this gesture might bring him back to her arms, and the safety of America.
For Nicholas was on the other side of the Pacific and Justine was quite certain now: the fear she now felt was for him. What was happening in Japan? What was he doing at this moment? And what danger was amassing itself against him?
In a moment she lunged for the phone, a little cry filling the silence of the room.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Narita Airport. Please make sure your seat back is in the upright position and that your tray table is closed and secured. All hand luggage must be stowed under the seat in front of you. Welcome to Tokyo, Japan."
While the unseen flight attendant repeated her short speech in Japanese, Nicholas Linnear opened his eyes. He had been dreaming of Justine, thinking of yesterday, when they had driven out of the city to get away, as they often did, from the pressurized life they led within the steel and smoked glass canyons of Manhattan. Outside their house in West Bay Bridge they had doffed shoes and socks and despite the early spring chill loped across the white sand.
Running down to the sea after her, the cerulean waves cutting off her feet and ankles in violent foam. Catching up with her, long, dark hair in his face as he turned her around, linking them, a softly feathered wing coming down at the close of night. His hard burnished arm around her, pulling her to him, the feel of her like liquid against flesh heated by the sun and more.
Whisper of the salt wind, "Oh, Nick, I don't think I've ever been happy before; not ever. Because of you I have no more sadness in me."
She was voicing the knowledge that he had saved her from the many demons that life held in its fisted claw, not the least of which was her own masochistic self; an ego robbed—so she said—by the domineering specter of her father.
She put her head on his shoulder, kissing the side of his neck. "I wish you didn't have to go. I wish we could be here in the surf together forever."
"We'd turn blue." He laughed, not wanting to catch her abruptly melancholy mood. He felt his love for her like a gently purling river in the night, hidden from sight yet present nonetheless. "Anyway, don't you think it's better that we're both so busy before the wedding? No time to get cold feet and back out." He was joking again but she lifted her head and he stared into her extraordinary eyes, highly intelligent yet possessing an odd kind of naiveté he had found so alluring when he had first met her. He still did. He watched the several crimson motes floating like a hint of her soul in the midst of her left iris. Her eyes were hazel, that day more green than brown, and he found himself feeling grateful that the harrowing events of the past year had not altered the essence of her. For through those eyes he could still see her heart.
"Do you ever dream of it?" he asked. "Do you ever find yourself back in the house with the dai-katana in your hands; with Saig? in your mind?"
"You took all that he did—the strange kind of hypnosis—away," she said. "That's what you told me."
He nodded. "That's what I did."
"Well then." She took his hand and led him from the chilly curling wavelets up above the high-tide mark, strewn with the dark wrack of sea grape and odd bits of ashy wood, as perfectly smooth as stones. She turned her face up toward the sun. "I'm glad winter's over; I'm happy to be out here again with everything returning to life."
"Justine," he said seriously, "I just wanted to know whether there had been any—" He broke off, searching for an English equivalent to the Japanese thought. "Any echoes of the incident. After all, Saig? programmed you to kill me with my own sword. You never speak of it."
"Why should I?" The light turned her eyes dark, concealing all their delicate colors. "There's nothing to say."
There was silence for a time, and they were engulfed by the rhythmic suck and pull of the sea along whose edge they had begun to walk again. Near the flat horizon a trawler hung as if suspended in a gulf of piercing blue.
She was looking out there, as if the ocean's expanse contained within it her future. "I've always known that life isn't safe. But up until the time I met you, I had no reason to care one way or another. It's no secret that I was once as self-destructive as my sister is." Her eyes broke away from the glitter of the horizon. She stared down at her laced fingers. "I wish to God it had never happened. But, oh, it did. He got hold of me. It's like when I had chicken pox as a kid. It was so bad I almost died; it left scars. But I survived. I'll survive now." Her head lifted. "I must survive, you see, because there's us to think about."
Nicholas had stared into her eyes. Was she keeping something from him? He could not say, and he did not know why it should worry him.
She laughed suddenly, her face becoming that of a college girl, innocent and carefree, the light dusting of freckles over her creamy skin catching the warming sunlight. She had a pure laugh, untainted by sarcasm or cynicism. There were no danger signs in it as there were in many people.
"I won't have you here beside me tomorrow," she said, "so let's make the most of today." She kissed him tenderly. "Is that very Oriental?"
He laughed. "I think it is, yes."
Her long artist's fingers traced the line of his jaw, pausing at last to touch the tender flesh of his lips. "You're more dear to me than I thought anyone could ever be."
"If you'd travel to the ends of the earth I'd find you again. That sounds like the unrealistic statement of a little girl, but I mean it."
To his astonishment, he saw that she did. And he saw in her eyes at that moment something he had never seen there before. He recognized the determination of the samurai woman that he had encountered years ago in his mother and aunt. It was a peculiar combination of fierceness and loyalty that he thought nearly impossible for the Occidental spirit to attain. He was warmed by how proud of her he felt.
He smiled. "I'll only be gone for a short time. Hopefully no more than a month. I'll make sure you don't have to come after me."
Her face had turned serious. "It's no joke, Nick. Japan is at the ends of the earth, as far as I'm concerned. That country's terribly alien. Anywhere in Europe I may be somewhat of a foreigner but still and all I can trace my roots back there. There's at least some feeling of belonging. Japan's as opaque as a stone. It frightens me."
"I'm half Oriental," he said lightly. "Do I frighten you?"
"I think, yes, at times you used to. But not so much now." Her arms slid around him. "Oh, Nick, everything would be perfect if only you weren't going."
He held her tightly, wordlessly. He wanted to say that he'd never let her go but that would have been a lie because in less than twenty-four hours he would do just that as he boarded the plane bound for Tokyo. Too, his Eastern side—and his training—made him a private man, inward directed, the enigma of the blank wall. Nicholas suspected that his father, the Colonel, had been much the same way though he had been fully Occidental. Both father and son had secrets even from the women they loved the most in life.
He took a deep breath now, felt the change in pressure, the ozoned air, so thin and dry it clung to the back of the nose.
The 747-SP was banking to the left in a slow, lazy arc, chasing the streaking cloud layer until pale green fields, striped with perfectly regimented furrows, began to appear. Then, in the distance, the snow-capped crown of Fujiyama, majestic and immutable. He was home again.
Then they were into the heavy smog layer, lying like a pall over a festive party, drifting in an ever-widening circle from the intensely industrialized areas of the swarming metropolis.
"Christ," the stocky-muscled man beside him said, craning his neck for a better look, "I should've brought my goddamned gas mask." A pudgy finger stabbed out at what lay beyond the Perspex window. "They've got an inversion layer worse than the San Fernando Valley."
His lined, aggressive face was absorbed in the disappearance of the rising landscape outside. He had the eyes, Nicholas thought, of a seasoned Roman general, canny and weary at the same time. Both were a result of hard-fought experience, battles on two arenas, the huns in front and the political infighting behind.
The man's hair was short cropped, a gunmetal gray; he was dressed in a handmade lightweight business suit of a conservative cut. He was a man who over the years had become accustomed to a measured degree of luxury, but the twist of his nose, the thickness of the lips indicated that such had not always been the case. He had not been born to money, Raphael Tomkin, millionaire industrialist for whom Nicholas now worked. He was the man whom Saig? had been paid to kill; and though Nicholas had protected him, defeating Saig?, this was the same man who, Nicholas was certain, had ordered the death of Detective Lieutenant Lew Croaker, Nicholas' best friend.
Nicholas watched the profile of Tomkin's powerful face without seeming to. American power, Nicholas had come to learn, was often merely skin deep, and for him to incise beneath that layer to the soft interior was not difficult. But Tomkin was atypical of his fellow board chairmen. His wa was very strong indeed, proof of his inner determination and rock solidness.
This interested Nicholas intensely because his vow to himself and to the kami of his dead friend was to gain access to the interior of this man and, once having possession of that knowledge, sow the seeds of his slow destruction.
He recalled his thoughts on learning that Tomkin had ordered Croaker's seemingly accidental death in a car crash just outside Key West. Croaker had been there on his own time, and only Nicholas also knew that he had been running down the one solid lead in the Angela Didion homicide. She had been a high-fashion model who had once been Raphael Tomkin's mistress.
A modern rendering of a well-known tactic of Ieyasu Tokugawa, greatest of all of Japan's Shogun, whose family ruled for more than a thousand years, keeping tradition alive, safe from dilution from the West: To come to know your enemy, first you must become his friend. And once you become his friend, all his defenses come down. Then can you choose the most fitting method of his demise.
Nicholas' vow of revenge had led him, despite Justine's fervent arguments, to accept Tomkin's offer of employment a year ago. And from the first day on the job, all their energies had been directed toward this moment. Tomkin had been brewing this proposed merger of one of his divisions with that of one of Sato Petrochemicals'kobun. Any deal with the Japanese was a difficult enough task, but this kind of complex merger of two highly sophisticated entities was utterly exhausting. Tomkin had admitted that he needed help desperately. And who better than Nicholas Linnear, half-Oriental, born and raised in Japan, to render that assistance.
The wheels bumped briefly against the tarmac and they were down, feeling the drag as the captain put the four powerful jet engines into reverse thrust.
Now as they unstrapped and began to reach for their coats in the overhead compartment, Nicholas watched Tomkin. Something had happened to him since he had first made his vow. In coming to learn about Raphael Tomkin, in gaining his trust and, thus, his friendship—a gift the industrialist did not give often—Nicholas had come to see him for what he really was.
And it was clear that he was not the ogre that his daughters, Justine and Gelda, were convinced he was. In the beginning he had sought to communicate this new aspect of Tomkin to Justine, but these discussions inevitably ended in bitter fights and at length he gave up trying to convince her of her father's love for her. Too much bad blood had gone on between them for her ever to change her mind about him. She thought he was monstrous.
And in one way at least she was correct, Nicholas thought as they walked off the plane. Though increasingly it had become more difficult for him to believe that Tomkin was capable of murder. Certainly no man in his position got there by turning the other cheek to his enemies or those whom he had to climb over. Broken careers, bankruptcies, the dissolutions of marriages, this was the detritus that such a man as Raphael Tomkin must leave behind him in his wake.
He was smart and most assuredly ruthless. He had done things that Nicholas could never even have contemplated. And yet these seemed a long way from ordering a death in cold blood, a life snuffed out with Olympian disdain. His genuine love for his daughters should have precluded such a psychotic decision.
Yet all the evidence Croaker had unearthed had led directly back to Raphael Tomkin summoning his bodyguard and authorizing him to end Angela Didion's life. Why? What spark had ignited him to do such a desperate thing?
Nicholas still did not know, but he meant to find out before he meted out his revenge on this powerful and complex man. Perhaps this quest for knowledge would delay the time of his vengeance, but that had no real meaning for him. He had taken in with his mother's milk the concept of infinite patience. Time was as the wind to him, passing unseen in a continuous stream, secrets held within its web, enactment inevitable but coming only at the propitious moment, as Musashi wrote, Crossing at a Ford.
Excerpted from The Miko by Eric Van Lustbader. Copyright © 1984 Eric Van Lustbader. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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