Japanese policemen’s guns are small and sort of puny. Except when they are shooting at you. Right now, they are shooting at me and my companion and we are running scared. The Policemen’s shots are a little tentative, like someone picking chewing gum out of their hair. In fairness to the police, I should mention that we are in Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest. Currently it is occupied by? oh, I don’t know? 2.5 Lichtensteins. I am on average 4 inches taller than those around me, and a crucial 4 inches to boot, so as I barge through the crowd, hurting everyone, I must remember to crouch. To help me remember this, I visualize two things: the cloth that hangs in front of every drinking establishment in this country and those photos of JFK’s autopsy that my father and I discussed over breakfast in 1977.
Running next to me, in full flush of his compact masculinity is Takeshi Honda, ex-military. Now, if I were a Takeshi Honda in a blue suit in these circumstances I would fall to the ground and upon standing be a sheep rather than a wolf and watch events through the TV glaze. However, Honda stays with me, pointing me here and there, grabbing aggressive costumed Japan Railways employees by the forehead and smashing them to pieces, reminding them that it is not the peaked hats of the police that make us run.
We skid past a “Let’s Kiosk!” and I have never felt more like accepting its invitation. Yeah, let’s kiosk? anything but this.
The man behind the kiosk cannot believe his eyes: the crowds have parted, firstly, and secondly a white man with his face covered in blood and a salaryman with a soul are racing straight at him. If she were not such a traitor <a judgment of the moment : nothing is as simple as one word today> he would also see a most aggressively attractive woman neck-to-neck, probably openly armed. But she is gone and I don’t know if her beauty will aid or hinder her attempt to stay gone. When this is over, that will be interesting to find out. If I see her on TV or if I never see her again will be how I find out.
“Stop!” cry the cops in English, which I take personally. This makes me turn around. I see that things are over. Somehow they coordinated the station like an army to part and create a long shooting range. They are skidding around a little at their end of the range as they get into position. The floor of this station is necessarily one of the slickest surfaces known to man, polished by several million feet in predictable chaos daily. It is veined in a pattern that would tell the anthropological programs of my father’s future much about the recently dead human race. The three policemen are about to shoot, as soon as they can stand, and even if one accidentally takes out the Kiosk man who is cowering behind dried squid in front of us, that still leaves plenty of bullets for me.
The dried squid remind me of the enormous giant squid beneath the oceans, sacs of amazing pressure and death power and darkness who none the less have had no impact on my life.
The kiosk man drops.
The beginning is in at least four places.
1) Something unknown in my father’s life
2) Mother’s death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
3) When I got entangled with that girl, Claire
4) I somehow met the number-two man in one of those Japanese death cults.
But I choose to begin in the middle of things, or near the end of things. The crisis is when I will get started.
I arrived at Narita Airport, Tokyo’s airport, on an exceptionally hot August day. I got off the British Airways jet, where they had not announced the temperature on the ground: presumably to prevent a panic amongst those like me who were braving the Tokyo summer for the first time. In retrospect the crew who “goodbyed” me out the door had the looks of parachute instructors rather than smartly dressed waitresses as they bundled me out the door.
So, suddenly I felt terrible. I felt like a victim that could be picked by anyone. I was suddenly weak and confused because of the heat and also unexpectedly illiterate. I followed a long line of people to a place where many things got stamped. It was the 1970s in Narita, but I could have sworn my watch said 2000. Maybe it was just 8 o’clock. What time was it anyway?
Stamped, pulling round in a bar with a $32 beer in front of me, I congratulated myself on my deep cover. For half an hour I had even fooled myself into thinking I was some harmless idiot, instead of a member of an international conspiracy.
I took in my surroundings a little: I was in the most Western of the discreetly hidden dining facilities at the airport. Believe it or not, there is no McDonald’s in Narita Airport. On arrival I had been brought to this table with no words and very few and subtle gestures. There was some magnetism employed, the waitress influenced me in. Everyone was smoking Marlboro or Lark, a local brand that mapped its county in the wrinkles of aging tough-guy actors from here or from there. All of the American men had thick sideburns and glossy tan leather jackets. They were strangely quiet, by American standards. Did they feel out of place or too acutely in place? When you are too much in place, people don’t even have to look at you to know you and judge you.
Outside the planes continued to crash gently into the earth, harming nobody.
Narita Airport is, by the way, the dimmest airport in the civilized world. Other airports have some kind of slow x-ray going on with their harsh lighting but Narita is the smoking-room of the jet set. The basic color scheme is brown and black. The slick floors lead you off into many dim dead ends. There is a cleaner, or someone else to stare at you, at the end of each of these. The level of the floor there changes abruptly by a few feet every few feet. Cattle could never stampede through Narita Airport.
So, the man I was waiting for could well appear from nowhere. In addition, the description I had of him would be quite useful in Abu Dabi but not in the Tokyo Tectoplex.
I thought it might be good to eat. I unfolded a large illustrated menu. 20 illustrations of the top of some steaming bowl of noodles and one of crab and chips. I took a few moments to try and distinguish something uniquely appetizing about at least one of the noodle bowls, but it was escaping me? white noise food.
Then he came into the room: Sato Yosuke. Killer. Ugly fucker.
He had a haircut that everyone would describe differently when describing it to the police some months later. For my part, I would compare it to a helmet made from a lacquered tree trunk. Then beneath it was something like Roy Orbison just as the obituaries came out. The enormous dark glasses looked like a disguise, but may have been a concession to the shallow aesthetic judgments of society. In addition he was wearing a “Carlos the Jackal” style safari jacket.
I had briefly met Carlos the Jackal in my youth. He was passing through London for the first of one of his interminable arse-related operations and my father’s good friend was taking care of it. I was 9 at the time and had not yet fully worked out what was driving Dad. It was three years after Mum had died and the only thing you could really say about Dad at that time was that he had too many friends and too many of them were famous for too much of something. Dad’s friend was famous for the extremity of his views on children’s human rights. He basically felt that the words human and child had strong internal contradictions. He was the brother of cosmetic surgeon and would-be computer scientist Dr Cranwell Blythe and hence uncle of Claire Blythe, whom I would fall in love with and learn much from.
So my father headed down to London and had to take me with him. I was sleeping in a small room from too early till too late the next day as the talking went on.
I briefly met the Jackal (my Father had not been above entertaining me with this name on the train down) as he was leaving the next day. His fat face was lined with pain, but I should say ‘grooved’, and he didn’t say much but he did tell me that my father was crazy.
Sato sat down at my table. In the twenty seconds preceding his arrival, he had caught my eye by walking toward my table while looking fixedly out of the window. My first assumption, a blind man about to present a very real problem, lasted only a split second because Sato was carrying a sports newspaper under his arm. It was the kind of sports magazine that has a carefully doctored naked woman on the front cover and there are many other ways for blind people to get their sumo results. I decided that my table was solid enough to take a hit and that that was preferable to talking, shouting etc. Expecting a bump I was surprised when it all ended in a slide and with a party of two happily seated.
“Sato-san desu ka?” I queried. I had studied Japanese for a couple of months, but most of the discussions I had with people in Japan took place in English, you may be pleased to hear.
“Mr Williams? how was your flight?”
I assumed that he was giving me a false name as a precaution. I felt bad for calling him Mr Sato. Then he suddenly came out and told me that Sato is the third most common name in Japan. After he said that, a smile crept across his face like a wound on the belly of a TV samurai (although at the time I would have drawn another, less accurate, analogy as I had hardly watched any Japanese TV. That would come during the underground months.)
I felt at a distinct disadvantage. He either had read my mind or had a repertoire of cool tricks that he had acquired the hard way. I gave him a slow look that tried to say “Don’t mess about: I’m a pro too.”
But was he even a pro? Something about him sat wrong. He wasn’t making his joke to test me, it was just that he had seen humor in the moment. I could tell because he didn’t have a follow up ready. We sat in silence for long seconds.
“How long are we going to wait here?” I asked.
“Hmm? not so long. No one is watching us? too badly. I would like you to catch the Keisei Express to Kanamachi and when you get there buy the least delicious snack you can find from the platform man.”
“OK. Do you want to leave first?”
“Yes, we will meet again.”
And then he didn’t stand up. And just as I was wondering if I was making a fool of myself he smirked again and walked away.
I contemplated a second beer, but decided to just leave. Sato had irritated me into a state of mind where I wanted to be active. I get like that a lot, and it usually leads to more trouble than my characteristic passivity.
As I left the bar, after somehow managing to effortlessly pay for things, I felt strong nostalgia. It was partially the way it had reminded me of twenty years ago but it was also a new-born nostalgia that you feel when you leave a safe place that will never be safe for you again. Because, let’s face it, there was a good chance I would never be able to relax in an airport again when all the damage had been done.
I made my way toward the place where the small train icons were headed. Light seemed to be increasing, although from where it was hard to tell. I was approaching the clinical space of the Japanese train system which interweaves all of Tokyo like calcified veins and is untouched by the wildly varying degrees of modernity around it.
Someone was talking really loud. And it was in a mocking sing-song that, in English anyway, seemed suited to sitting on top of someone and shoving dirt in their mouth. I had to take a glance. Surprisingly, it was Sato who was making the noise and some dramatic hand gestures to a bunch of people who were deeply wishing not to be his audience. And the strangest thing was that he was standing in front of two policemen. They were wearing sidearms and no doubt had a two-man judo strategy for most eventualities, but instead they looked on amused. I could only assume that this was some kind of cover for me, that unexpected developments were afoot and I increased my speed to the space just before suspicion and I went underground.
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