The industrial air-handling unit clunked and rattled as damper motors closed heavy metal vents opened. We marched half-blind down the hallway unable to hear if someone approached from around the corner. Stairs leading to second-floor offices came into view near the end of the hall where the medical station and foremen’s office was located. Before heading upstairs to the biggest office shown on the drawings, an office we presumed belonged to Gomez, we intended to clear the first aid station, cafeteria and change rooms to ensure Odera was not confined on the first floor. We had taken five steps when a door opened on our right. Not enough time for us to reach the next closest door and step inside. I covered the short distance between us and the opening door. When a brown-skinned man wearing a foreman’s white safety hat entered the hallway, I pressed the sword to his throat, grabbed a fistful of his shirt and forced him back into the ‘Men’s’ room.
“Cry out and your first syllable will be your last.”
His pupils dilated, turning into saucers as a sword-carrying, balaclava-wearing man pushed him deeper into the washroom. And then Kira appeared like a medieval assassin, garbed head to toe in black with all but her almond-shaped eyes covered. Quiet as a ghost, she passed over the floor with barely an ethereal whisper of material to betray her passage. And then she was gone, leaving one to wonder if she had ever really been there to begin with.
“Si. Yo entiendo,” he sputtered in Spanish, obviously more frightened by Kira’s sudden wraithlike presence than with mine.
“¿Perdóneme? ¿Que esso?” a second voice answered from a nearby stall.
I pressed the sword tighter and shook my head at him to remain silent as Kira rounded the corner carrying her sword down low, held in gendan gamae. A toilet flushed. By the time the stall door opened, Kira waited beside it to intercept the occupant. She allowed the black-haired man wearing blue coveralls and a respirator slung around his neck to clear the door before she jammed her heel into the back of his left knee. He went down hard, arms flung outward to protect his forehead from striking the sink counter. Before he could get his legs back underneath him, Kira knelt on his back, pulled his head back by digging four fingers into his orbital sockets and brow ridges, and laid the razor-sharp edge of her katana across his throat.
“Don’t move!” Unintelligible Spanish dribbled out of him, growing more frantic with each passing moment. “That includes talking.” And still, the man’s voice increased in volume. “Quiet!”
The desperation in the panicked voice grew louder and louder. When Kira banged his forehead off the floor to shut him up, it only made matters worse. Finally, she raised the hilt of her sword and struck him behind the ear with the butt end. The second blow rendered him unconscious. She put penance for the noise into her gaze when she looked at me.
“Pat this one down for weapons.” When she had complied and shook her head, I instructed, “Check the hallway for movement. I’ll take care of these two.”
Kira paused for at those words while I detected a burning desire in her to seek clarification. Instead, she departed the room with a nod.
“Do you speak English?” I asked as Kira turned to leave.
“Si. I speak small ingles.”
We seemed to be alone.
To ensure our privacy, I shoved him roughly along the stalls, banging him mercilessly into each metal door, using him as a human shield to check each cubicle, but mostly to soften him up and because it felt good. At the last stall, I pushed him inside hard enough that he stumbled into the cement wall. Sour breath washed over me in shallow bursts. Light-brown eyes darted back and forth from the sword to me when I helped him to stand.
“The woman; where is she? The señorita. Speak.”
“¿Cual es mujer? Which woman? Only few work eere.”
I pressed the razor edge tight to his throat. The blade slid into flesh easier than a hot knife into butter parting skin as if by magic. Ropy neck tendons protected by a translucent sheathe showed moist and clear in the gap between parted skin. No veins were sliced, but he would require a dozen stitches to close the wound. It was nearly an effort to halt the blade’s progress.
“¡Segundo piso. Segundo piso. ¡Ahi!”
“English dude. Say it in English.”
“Second floor. Sylvia’s upstairs. Maria’s on producción floor. No other mujer work tonight. Dios Mío. My God, del espíritu Santo, I swear, eese true.”
An acrid odour rose between us. A damp stain spread outward from the joint of him ran down his leg and pooled on the floor. I relaxed the pressure. He seemed ignorant of Odera’s presence and mistakenly thought we had come for Sylvia. Fine. Let him think what he wanted.
“I don’t give a shit about drugs or about anything else, especially you. Least of all you, or your friends. Now, give me the truth or I’ll take it from you. Your choice. Where upstairs?”
“We’re no allowed upstairs. I know nothing,” he responded crying and whimpering as I pressed the blade tighter. The cut widened. “Ahi. Por favor. Please. Beside Gomez’s office. The mucho grande office in the middle, but she no there. Dan knows! Dan knows where! Please, por favor, no keel me, I have small niños and mi esposa!”
“I believe you,” I told him decreasing pressure so he could talk without losing his Adam’s apple when it bobbed. “Who else is upstairs? How many people and where are the majority of them located? Also, how many soldiers are there?”
“Dan, Sylvia, Pedro, Wayne, Carlos, and Lucien. Estevan maybe. Bandoleros come and go often. No sure how many. Maybe ten hombres. Lucien orders us much. Everybody mucho running around.” Blood flowed into the channel in ruby beads, rolled down the blade before dripping to the floor. “No one allowed upstairs except secretarias and accountant, but they haven’t been ’ere since last Friday. Monday morning Lucien sent everyone la casa. Ee say we no need them. “Por Favor, senor. I work for mi familia, no choice do I.”
“Do the soldiers have an equipment room? somewhere they change clothes?
“Si. Close to shipping and receiving rooms, but they have grande steel doors.”
“Is there more than one route from here to there”?
“No from inside. Long hallway separate shipping from production eese only path. They have a private exit door and garage to park vehicles.”
“Is there a control room where the security video feed is stored?
“La computadora in eléctrico room.”
“Where is it?”
“At other ends of building in the hallway near exit. There eese sign on door.”
“What’s going on out there on the main floor?”
“We close up. El fin run. Then mucho clean.”
“By 9:00 a.m.; no later, we told, but me think poco longer. Little more time eese necesito el fin.”
“Is the door leading upstairs locked?”
“Si. Yo have cardkey.”
“Where is it, exactly?”
“Mi shirt pocket.”
“When I tell you, reach up, pull it out with two fingers, and then place it in my left coat pocket. Do it very slowly. If anything but a piece of plastic leaves your pocket it will be the last thing you ever do. Now do it slowly.” After he dropped the plastic cardkey inside my coat pocket, I said, “You did well.”
“En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo y del espíritu Santo. Amen,” he said crossing his chest with a catholic blessing. “Bless you señor. I tell mi familia about the generous gringo who saved papa. We pray for your health.”
“Right.” With my free hand, I reached into an inner pocket for a cotton-topped dart. “Rest here a while and practice those prayers,” and poked him in the leg. “It’ll wear off. When you can move, get out. Leave the building quickly. I don’t care who you take with you along the way but get out immediately. Don’t look back.”
He flinched when I stabbed him with the dart. Confusion followed. Twenty or thirty seconds passed. He started to lean to the side, slumping over in slow motion. As his legs gave out, I guided him into the corner between the stall and the toilet. Not enough curare coated the darts to kill a grown man. His eyes saw everything, and his brain registered events, but his paralyzed muscles refused to obey the brain’s commands. In twenty minutes or so, the ability to move would begin to return. If he ignored my suggestion and hung around afterwards, so be it.Rather than leave the unconscious man in plain sight of the next person who entered the bathroom, I tucked him into the last stall with his partner and hoped that he would remain unconscious a while longer. If I dosed him with curare, I was not sure how it would affect an unconscious person. Nothing I had learned about curare told me it would cause his death, but nothing told me it wouldn’t, either. I wondered if the oath I swore to honour the Sasamori family heritage extended to my decision to err on the side of caution? Sometimes the precepts of Zen Bushido conflicted with the realities of life. No one in this plant was innocent. You couldn’t convince me they worked here and did not realize what they manufactured. Regardless, once before I had pledged to abide an oath and had broken that promise. I hoped I had not repeated my mistake by putting our lives before that of our enemy.