Never Look Back

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Chapter 70

“Father, shall we enact wounded bird protecting her young?” Miyamoto nodded. “You are mother bird. Quickly, Bruce, follow me.”

“One survivor for questioning, but no one risks their life for it,” I told Miyamoto moving down the hallway on Kira’s heels.

Kira led me into the second room to our left. She slid open a section of the wall. The dojo armoury. One dozen or more different types of edged weapons hung neatly on hooks and rested on leather-padded wooden ledges.

“Father will provide a lure. Not always easy to distinguish prey from hunter. We will impart lessons on civility to most rude houseguests. Follow my lead.”

“This is no dojo duel, Kira. Unrestricted rules of engagement. Attack without pause. This is war.”

“Yes. I understand.”

For herself, Kira chose a wide belt hung vertically from the weapons’ pegboard. The belt housed a dozen throwing daggers tucked neatly into individual pockets. She buckled it bandolier style across her chest while I eyed a pair of Japanese fighting swords. They were more than two-thirds the length of a katana and designed for close quarter use. Black braided leather wrapped hilts were joined to twenty-eight inches of folded Damascus steel. Their twin silver surfaces gleamed menacingly when I unsheathed them. When I looked to Kira, she belted two katanas snugly around her waist under the daggers slung across her torso bandolier fashion. Those katana hilts crisscrossed her waist. She squeezed her hands into a pair of tight-fitting black leather gloves.

Sounds of multiple booted feet charging up the rear stairs seemed ten times louder than usual. No sounds from the front of the dojo, the largest portion of the building. Presumably, another team searched the downstairs training area, offices and change rooms. It would not take them long to clear the first floor and to join their comrades upstairs. Standard military procedure. Always clear the area behind the team. Perhaps they intended to sweep forward to back, to herd me into the second team’s waiting arms. Kira and I rolled out of the room moving toward the rear rooms.

“They used one two-man team from each entrance and a driver waiting outside when they breached Odera’s condo. No reason to think they’d change tactics for a building this size unless it was to increase team members. That makes four inside here; at a minimum,” I calculated, feeling in my gut it would be more this time around.

“You take one side of the hallway. I’ll take the other; father will remain between us. Each room has multiple entries and exits. Typical Japanese style for offence or defence. They will not be able to identify the door. You will. Fifth rectangle from the wall is the edge of each pocket door. After they check a room, enter it from the concealed door and stalk them from behind.”

A heavily accented Spanish voice penetrated the rice paper walls calling out in a loud harsh whisper, “Clear on the left.”

The rear team had gained the second floor.

“Right side clear,” spoke a second voice into his throat microphone.

The owner of the second voice advanced out of the room nearest the rear stairs. The laser sight of his MP5, a subgun manufactured by Heckler and Koch, the US Special Forces preferred weapon, pointed down the hallway. The selector switch on the Heckler and Koch permitted its owner to choose fully automatic, bursts of three bullets, or a single shot. The selector switch of the front man’s MP5 was set to a three-bullet burst.

Miyamoto stepped slowly into the hallway saying, “Do not shoot; I am unarmed.”

The second team’s leader focussed on the stopped figure, reconciling no immediate threat. He saw an older man who wore his long white hair in a bun, was slightly stooped forward and who serenely faced Juan, his partner, a stocky man garbed in loose black clothes. The MP5’s red laser dot painted the Japanese man’s chest. He had been mentioned in their mission briefing. He was not a target. He was collateral damage if necessary. The Japanese man stood with his hands raised submissively. Open doorways flanked either side of him. The point man’s eyes darted perpetually left to right from one open door to the other.

“Freeze. Stay where you are,” he instructed and then said into his throat microphone, “This is Juan. Twelve o’clock. Hallway. Older male subject. Confirm.” Addressing the old man again, he asked, “Where is Bruce Garland? Any answer but the right one, you get dead. No one needs to die today. Comprende?”

“Roger that. I see him. Closing on waypoint one,” answered Chavez as he came down the hallway on the balls of his feet crossing one foot over the other, his MP5 rifle stock pressed low on his shoulder, not close to his cheek. “Keep him covered; I got the doorways.”

The short black muzzle of Chavez’s weapon swung to cover the two doorways to the rooms they had just cleared. A ten-gauge shotgun was slung across his back by a strap. Across his chest, three long ammunition clips holding forty-cartridges each protruded from black nylon-webbed pockets. Both men wore balaclavas, flak jackets and dark camouflage clothing with jungle utility webbing belted on their torsos.

When Chavez back-stepped, recrossing terrain he had cleared from potential danger, he put space between himself and Juan. By not stepping forward until he was directly behind Juan, so one man faced forward and one man faced backward, he committed a tactical error. It was now possible to slip between the two men. He had created a field of crossfire.

Mistake number one.

Since he falsely believed the second set of cleared rooms behind him were safe, he stopped considering them as a potential source infiltration.

Second mistake.

Heavy boots pounded up the front set of stairs ahead of them. A familiar voice crackled in his earpiece, “Detain the old man for questioning.”

“Roger that,” Juan responded pressing the module resting on his throat. “We are two-thirds down the hallway when you breach the landing. No sign of the main objective.”

“The person you seek is behind you,” Miyamoto said calmly.

Down the hallway, Chavez’s eyes went from blank to wide with understanding. Miyamoto pressed his back flat to the hallway wall and squatted low. When Chavez looked to Miyamoto when he had spoken, I had stepped out of the room on his left. Now, he had to turn his head back around to face the threat from the area which should have been free of targets, and which he never should have stopped covering.

Mistake number three.

Without hesitating I shoved tempered steel the blacksmith had folded untold times to impregnate strength and flexibility into the side of his chest. It pierced his heart and lungs as easily as a hot knife passes through butter. Up ahead, Juan dropped into a crouch bringing his weapon around demonstrating the kind of smooth speed and control that comes from thousands of hours of practice and dedication. Miyamoto was not an immediate threat. Before he had completed his crouch and spin and brought his front sight to bear, I stepped back into the room I had exited.

Juan approximated where my person should be. Before he squeezed the trigger, two Japanese throwing daggers sliced through the same paper rectangle. One dagger sunk to its hilt in the soft tissue at the base of his skull where it connected to the neck. Its fully polished double-sided edges severed the medulla oblongata, which was responsible for sending signals to the heart to make it beat and to the diaphragm instructing it to inflate the lungs. Four-one-hundredths of a second later, a second dagger sprouted from his back and pierced his heart. Their impact destroyed his aim. Three-bullets drilled into the wall several feet over my head. As he folded to the floor, knees buckling, already dead, his right hand, the hand grasping his weapon, hit his thigh and depressed the trigger. A second swarm of bullets peppered into the floor.

“Father. Kill the power.”

Kira took one of the katanas from her waist and tossed it to her father. Miyamoto caught it in his left hand and tossed away the saya so that he held an unsheathed weapon. As Miyamoto disappeared through the doorway to comply, Kira crossed into the room I occupied. The main door at the end of the hallway, the one that led to the dojo, slid open with a crash and a bang.

“Bruce. This way.”

“Team two, sitrep!” shouted Paulo, the TAC team leader, the first to enter the second-floor living quarters from the dojo.

No answer.

“Chavez! Juan! Report.”

The building power went out.

Kira and I entered the kitchen. Enough light poured into the kitchen from the skylight to remove most shadows. Copper pots and pans, several sizes of woks, and all the ladles and spoons and tongs to go with them hung from an overhead rack from smallest to biggest. The centre island, whose bright and gleaming top doubled as an oversized chopping board, rested underneath the shiny cookery.

Somewhere near the private residence entrance, a voice softly announced the first room had been cleared. This team practised more caution than the last. They were not charging into an unknown confrontation with an unknown number of assailants and into unknown terrain. Five seconds passed before I detected the scratch of booted feet advancing quietly over the bamboo floor. Presumably, it was the same individual I had heard seconds earlier. What had become of his partner? Surely, they worked in teams of two, or more. Was he flanking our position. I would have. Motioning for Kira to stay crouched behind the island, I moved across the kitchen until I knelt beside a set of cupboards next to the north entrance. The second kitchen doorway lay to the south of me and faced the domicile’s rear. Kira had stationed herself out of sight, close to the south entrance.

No sooner had I found a comfortable position than the muzzle of a black Ingram Uzi machine gun appeared two feet above my head. Its owner poked his head into the kitchen where stools butted a serving counter. Seeing nothing to alarm him, the man pulled his head back and moved toward the north kitchen entrance. Slow and easy, I laid one of the Japanese fighting swords on the floor. Perched on one knee, I flattened my body tighter against the cupboards and stared up at a large copper ladle reflecting ambient sunlight. It showed the man advancing into the doorway beside me. When the man’s booted toe preceded him, I drove the point of the sword I held in both hands downward with all my strength. Folded Japanese steel pierced leather, skin and bone. It exited the boot’s neoprene rubber sole and buried itself several inches into the bamboo floor.

The man howled bone-scraping pain as a burst of automatic weapon’s fire erupted downstairs. Despite impalement, he reflexively attempted to yank his foot backward. I rose from my crouch, latched onto the underside of his weapon’s muzzle, and drove my body upward carrying his Uzi toward the ceiling. The weapon discharged at the same time as my knee ploughed into his stomach. The short muzzle turned incredibly hot, but I refused to release it as I kneed him a second time, and then a third. Motion from the opposite kitchen doorway filled my peripheral vision. Garbed in similar clothing and gear, a second bandit somersaulted into the kitchen.

I swung my adversary around to use as a human shield. Although the sword I had driven into the floor remained motionless, his steel-skewered foot turned with his body to produce a long and terrible scream. Kira was in motion before the man who somersaulted into the room had firmed up his firing stance and levelled a long-barrelled sidearm at my chest. He sensed, rather than saw Kira drawing her katana in midair, but only after he had double tapped his weapon’s trigger.

Twin thunderclaps punctuated his partner’s screams. The man I held in front of me jerked twice when 45 calibre slugs slapped into his flesh. One of the heavy slugs tore through his shoulder and continued high over my head until it met a ceiling joist. The second piece of lead deformed when it hit his scapula, twirled and yawed to be stopped by the man’s flack vest. His legs buckled. He was too heavy and awkward for me to hold upright indefinitely, so I bent my knees with him as he went lower and lower toward the floor.

When I glanced over his shoulder, I did so in time to witness kissaki, the tip of Kira’s katana, pierce the left side of the shooter’s ribcage and exit the other. The shooter had been in the process of turning to bring his weapon to bear on Kira when she had struck. His twisting motion aided the katana’s polished edge and sliced horizontally between his ribs like a Ginsu knife halved a tomato. Kira had lunged at him with such force tsuba, the handguard that kept the fingers off the blade, impacted his ribs and bowled him over.

When I felt for a pulse in the man who now lay motionless at my feet, I came up empty. Threat resolved. There was no point in checking the shooter Kira had engaged. Far too much blood had rushed like a tsunami wave out of his torso and spread in an ever-widening sheet across the floor. Shocked nerves twitched his body once or twice, and then stopped altogether. Breath whistled out. The man shat himself. Body gasses and liquids polluted the air with a nasty, sour taint that made taking short and quick breaths necessary. I had hoped to take one of the intruders alive. I had hoped to acquire the address where Odera was being held. I still had one hope remaining.

“Where’s your father?”

“Behind you,” answered Miyamoto entering the doorway behind me with blood showing on his blade. “One more visitor waited downstairs at the front door. So sorry Bruce, he was impossible to capture.”

Miyamoto’s unexpected announcement startled the hell out of me, made me very nearly swing crosswind at what I had nearly perceived as a threat. The corners of Miyamoto’s mouth turned upward at my white-faced expression. He correctly read my fright. Kira wiped the blood from her blade on the shooter’s pant legs and rose to her feet wrinkling her nose at the acrid smell.

“Lucky for you I am a harmless old man.”

Rather than respond to his adolescent prank, I joined Kira, who looked at the man she killed wearing a glazed expression. Her face turned bloodless and pale, and her limbs began to shake with shock. Before she could hold a hand to her mouth, she bent at the waist and vomited on the floor. I reached her in time to gather her long hair into a ponytail and hold it out of the way as her stomach heaved again, and then a third time until nothing remained.

“Breathe,” I said compassion. “Stop picturing it in your mind.”

“I never expected so much blood and body fluids. How do you do it?” Tears formed in the corners of her eyes as she used the back of her hand to wipe her mouth. “How do you tell yourself it is okay to end life?”

“It’s never okay, Kira. But sometimes it is necessary. I’ve tried to bury the responsibility you’re feeling, but it only changes into something destructive. The death you administered freed him from the life he chose. Now you must free yourself from guilt. The life you ended stopped him from committing further unprovoked murders.”

“What right do I have to make those decisions or judgements?”

“It is not a right, precious daughter. It is a heavy burden. This man killed for money. No one forced him to enter the kitchen with the intent to kill. He could have just as easily chosen another profession. Your actions freed him of his obligations.” Miyamoto laid a hand on Kira’s shoulder. “Never relinquish what you are feeling. It is bushido. Keep it close as a reminder of what separates us from our enemies.”

Hai. I think that I understand, father.” Turning to me, Kira bowed slightly. “Thank you, Bruce. I will attempt to be more worthy.”

“Just be yourself. That’s a tough enough act to follow.”

“It is doubtful anyone remains upstairs, but it would be wise to check,” Miyamoto said. “Downstairs as well.”

I pointed to Kira and then down the hallway. As she went right to investigate, I turned left. It was quickly evident only three of us occupied the living quarters. If there had been others in the dojo downstairs, the gunshots would have brought them running. We gathered in the hallway where Kira and I had downed the first pair.

“There’s still a driver. After we check the training area for lingering guests, we need to have a friendly chat with the driver.”

“Bruce,” began Miyamoto, “we heard the rapid approach of a vehicle. They were not parked outside waiting for you to come here but came from a greater distance. How they know you arrived? How they know when and where to confront you?”

“I’m an idiot. They’ve set up a staging area, an observation post. The post could be located one block away, or twenty. All these tangos are wearing communication gear. By now, if the observation post is still manned, it will have reported in. Additional manpower could at this moment be on its way. I want to say hello to the driver before he discovers his friends won’t be returning and before others arrive.”

Crackles and static buzzed from the communications gear of the dead man at our feet. The noises coming from the headgear were unintelligible, but I could imagine the urgency building in whoever was on the other end. Before they categorized the team they had sent in as KIA, I removed the Sig Saur sidearm from the dead intruder’s holster, chambered a round, engaged the safety and ran for the backdoor. I took the long, single bank of stairs four at a time. I heard Kira call out my name. My actions were impulsive, but I did not give a rat’s ass about subtlety.

“Kira, follow Bruce. Watch for others. I’ll gather equipment.”

A red SUV had pulled up at the traffic lights in the few seconds required for me to reach the street corner. Ignoring the cars travelling through the green light on the street perpendicular to the stopped SUV, I dodged one vehicle and sighted a brown cube van parked up the street. It had not been parked there when I entered the building. It was not familiar to me. I crossed the pavement on a dead run counting on speed and not stealth to wrap my hands around the driver’s throat. When I was still thirty feet away from the van, I noted a disbelieving expression form on the driver’s face. Viewed from afar, it seemed as though he expected me to be haring down the street toward safety, not bounding fast and hard straight for him.

“Bruce! Stop! There might be more gunmen!” shouted Kira from some distance behind me.

Good luck zeroing me on the run from who knows how far distant. A potential long-distance shooter did not concern me. Asshole in the van was mine. He held Odera’s location. Had the team captured me, they would be at this moment transporting me to Odera’s location. Of that, I had no doubt. The driver possessed the address I wanted.

The cube van driver pressed the accelerator to the floorboards before I closed half the distance between us. The weight of the one-tonne cube van prevented it from rapid acceleration. I grabbed onto one of the backdoor handles and pulled myself up onto the wide, heavy metal bumper. The driver stomped on the brake, and then alternated with the accelerator, repeatedly throwing me face-first into the glass window. The five-point-six-litre engine bellowed as it called upon the power at its disposal. The sudden forward motion jerked my arm and shoulder mightily as the torqued-out engine catapulted two tons of glass and steel down the street.

Rather than use the roof rack and pull myself up onto the ladders, I took the handgun from my belt, flicked off the safety and cocked the hammer. I intended to shoot out the back window and then enter the cube portion from the rear. Leaning my head back as far as I dared, I pressed the muzzle against glass.

Now at the intersection, the driver cornered tightly on a two-way street. The heavy-duty chassis absorbed the sudden g-force. The inside wheels lifted six inches off the road. Centrifugal force flung my body outward. One hand alone was not sufficient to keep my balance. My feet were flung out into the air until I hung by one hand wrapped around the chromed handle, and then I was airborne. Maybe I could keep my legs moving fast enough, for long enough, to decrease my speed sufficiently not to break too many bones as gravity pulled me groundward. And it might have worked, if not for an oncoming sports car closing from the opposite direction. The candy-apple red corvette swerved to avoid the big cube van when it encroached upon its lane. Oversized disc brake pads brought the red corvette to a rapid halt with its long nose pointing at me.

The corvette became a snowboarding ramp as I thudded upon its engine hood and scratched my way across it. Limbs flailing and flapping impotently, I slid up the windshield where rubber wipers scraped across my chest and stomach before I went airborne and belly-flopped on the trunk.

I am not sure who was more surprised, me when I dented the flimsy trunk or the corvette’s passengers who watched me bodysurf their vehicle. I did not blame them for double-checking the door locks, especially after they identified a woman carrying a long sword running towards them. Kira gained my side seconds after my feet touched pavement. By some miracle, I had not dropped the Sig Saur. I tucked it between the small of my back and my blue jeans.

“We must hurry and gather items we need before the police arrive. Father is preparing them for transportation.”

Kira pulled me into a jog back the way we had come. The couple in the car remained frozen in place, but once their adrenaline-saturated nervous systems recovered, they soon would. They would regain their senses after we departed the area and their fear and shock dropped a level or three. As soon as they calmed down, they would report the incident to the police. That timeframe did not give us long to collect our gear and to leave. Minutes at best.

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