Meanwhile in Japan...
(No Date - Japan Fact-Finding Visit)
“Good morning, Ms. Chase; Ms. Hanamura,” said a gentleman whose age was only hinted at by a touch of gray at his temples, and a fan of crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. “I am Masaru Matsudaira, and I will be showing you our properties, and why we would welcome a merger with the Westview Group.”
He presented his business card to Selene Chase with a bow.
“Domo, Matsudaira-san,” Selene said, offering her card in return. Mika had coached her in some basic formalities.
“We have nothing scheduled, so you may refresh yourselves after a long flight,” Masaru said. “Your rooms, of course, are at one of our premier resorts, and you may call upon me at any time, day or night, should you require something.”
Masaru gave a discreet signal to their driver, who began placing their bags in the trunk, then opened the door of the limousine for them.
“Is this your first time visiting Japan, Ms. Chase?”
“Second, actually. But my first visit was many years ago,” Selene smiled.
“I grew up in Kyoto,” Mika said. “I will be translating for Ms. Chase.”
“Excellent. I am fluent in English, but some of our board of directors are not,” Masaru said.
“I’m afraid our guide will only show us those things his superiors wish us to see,” Selene confided to Mika.
“That is true with any merger,” Mika said. “But, perhaps, especially in Japan. It is like classical theater, Noh; the players’ true faces are hidden behind masks, and there are underlying themes that may not be readily apparent. If you see something that appears curious, or out of place, make note of it and mention it to me later. I will do my best to discern any significance beyond the obvious.”
Mika addressed herself to an assistant’s role, placing Selene’s garment bag in the closet, and laying the board member’s suitcase on the low table by the dresser.
The hotel was the Sugureta Meisei, or ‘Excellent Prestige’ in an awkward English translation. The decor was contemporary, and care had been taken to make the rooms ‘internet friendly’ - with charging ports, complementary high-speed Wi-Fi, and a cloud-friendly business center.
“I will be in the adjacent room, Ms. Chase,” Mika said. “As Matsudaira-san pointed out, if you need something, do not hesitate to call upon me. I have sent you an e-mail that contains links to two translation apps for your smartphone. The first will translate spoken language, the second translates any printed kanji that you capture with the camera.”
“Thank you, Mika. As curious as I am, I’m also tired. I think I’ll get some rest, and we can meet for dinner later.”
"Sumimasen, Kimura-san,” Masaru Matsudaira told his superior. “There is a ... complication.”
“Selene Chase is being accompanied by a young woman named Mika Hanamura,” Masaru explained. “She is using her mother’s maiden name, as one might expect, but her father is Isao Muramasa of the Kuroi Inazuma.”
“Proceed as planned.”
“Should we ... leak the information to Muramasa?” Matsudaira asked.
"Iie. We are miezaru te, the Invisible Hand.”
Selene Chase turned off the lights in her room, which allowed her to see when Mika Hanamura did the same. Click. There. She remained still, almost eerily so, for another twenty minutes before leaving the room.
Now she moved with a quiet, seductive grace. She had pled ignorance of Japanese, when she was fluent in the language. Nor was she tired after the nearly 11-hour flight. She passed through the lobby and onto the street, though her passage did not go unnoticed.
She walked several blocks away, finally finding an internet cafe where she rented a terminal with a debit card under a different name, and wrote a short e-mail addressed to someone named Janus.
Arrived in Tokyo. Will visit various properties over the next couple of days. I see no reason to give an unfavorable report.
She returned to her room and availed herself of an hour or two of rest.
The group reconvened at the premier restaurant atop the main tower of the hotel, the maitre’d showing them to a window seat that offered a panoramic view of Tokyo at night, including the sprawling Shinjuku district.
“I would recommend the Tasting Menu,” Masaru said. “It will allow our Executive Chef to demonstrate his skills, and the standards we strive to attain at our properties.”
Selene nodded her approval. Mika studied the menu and prices before accepting the recommendation as well. It was clear their party was being afforded some extra attention, but the quality of service was outstanding.
“And to drink?” Masaru asked.
“Something light, please,” Selene said.
“Water, for me, dozo, Masaru-san,” Mika replied.
But all was not the pleasant facade being presented to Selene Chase and Mika Hanamura.
Quietly, a hotel employee slipped into Selene’s room and went through her things. A cursory examination of her business papers. The SD card in her tablet was cloned, as were the contents of her laptop. A listening device was slipped into a lamp.
The employee was well-trained in such intrusions, completing his examination quickly, and performing the simple courtesy of turning down the bed and leaving a complimentary chocolate for the guest.
Mika’s room was next. Everything received the same treatment, but he had been alerted to the woman being the daughter of the formidable Isao Muramasa of the Kuroi Inazuma Ryu, and a misstep here could have serious repercussions ...
The Tasting Menu was exquisite, a meal comprised of small plates that showcased the chef’s talent over the course of a seven-course meal. Samples of various wines were offered with each plate, though Mika abstained, and several amuse-bouche were offered as well.
“The cuisine is certainly on a par with offerings from the Westview Group,” Selene assured Matsudaira. Masaru bowed. It would still be an early evening, with Selene and Mika retiring after the meal.
Selene took note of the complementary turn-down and foil-wrapped chocolate truffle set on the bed, but that was not what was troubling her. It was the absence of an obvious scent - no cologne, no soap, no shampoo, no deodorant. And if she had not been possessed of particularly keen senses, it might have worked. Selene concentrated for a moment, picking out her visitor’s scent despite the effort to minimize it. And she could tell they had been through her things. Corporate espionage, most likely. Selene didn’t particularly care - let the mortals fuss over the trivialities that defined their world.
In the next room over, Mika had reached a similar conclusion, not from any gift of preternatural senses, but from old fashioned telltales. A strand of hair here, a slip of paper there. Someone had gone through her things. But she didn’t know if it was corporate espionage or her father’s people ...
The tour of Pacific Rim’s holdings began in earnest the following morning, with a much closer look at the hotel and its behind-the-scenes operations, including a corporate-style morning exercise and cheerleading session. None of the workers seemed to be dragging themselves into the room or concealing boredom and apathy behind polite smiles.
The hotel’s operation was spotless. Reservations were handled by actual people, rather than a sterile computer interface. There were no supervisors stalking the employees to enforce artificial notions of efficiency through skewed metrics. And they were shown everything, from the maintenance and safety staff to housekeeping - none of whom appeared to be the ‘stealth’ visitor from the previous evening. Nor were there any of the stereotypical indicators of a Yakuza presence - no glimpses of elaborate tattoos, no severed pinky fingers on janitors.
Lunch was with their board of directors, some of whom weren’t fluent in English, as Matsudaira had noted. He translated Selene’s words, and Mika translated theirs, a chess move that assured accuracy on both fronts.
It was then that Selene picked up on the presence of their visitor from the night before. He was another aide to Toshiro Kimura, Pacific Rim’s CEO, and seemed to be another non-entity, except for eyes that held a familiar watchfulness, which made him a troubleshooter or attack dog, a term that made Selene smile.
Hitoshi Ryder, of course, had his own pieces on the board. James Sokatsu was cut from the same cloth, and Mika Hanamura ... well, her background would have to be examined. Played right, they might even be able to recruit her as a human ally.
The afternoon was much the same, a tour of two other holdings, a second hotel and a small casino. There were no blemishes on this golden apple. If the Westview Group didn’t agree to the merger, the Janus Group would certainly take an interest in it.
Dinner was at Toshiro Kimura’s home. Pacific Rim’s CEO was a collector of art and artifacts, including a set of lacquer armor and statues of the Amaterasu, though there were no indications that he held any religious devotions to the pantheon.
If she wished, Matsudaira would accompany Selene to any of the various nightclubs and entertainment venues held by Pacific Rim. Tomorrow, there would be a tour of a recording label among their holdings, which could certainly offer new possibilities for live entertainment at the Westview Grand.
The Myūjikaru no hōseki (Musical Gem) recording label was a full-service company, incorporating agents, performance coaches, production facilities, advertising, and tour management. Selene and Mika were introduced to the members of several J-Pop groups, but also sat in on a portion of a scoring session for a film, as the company had a soundstage capable of holding a symphony orchestra.
“As you can imagine, a merger with the Westview Group could open new venues to our artists, extending their reach to new audiences,” Matsudaira said.
Another luncheon with the Board of Directors followed, along with an small ceremony, an exchange of gifts between the two parties. Selene had been amused at the notion, but Hitoshi and Mika had been insistent - one simply did not do business in Japan without observing customs, even if the merger were to be declined.
And while the gifts were modest, nor were they disposable trinkets or branded glassware. Fountain pens, printed scarves for the women, and tie clasps or stick pins with gold cranes bearing a Swarovski crystal were presented to Selene for herself and the Westview board members.
In return, Mika had chosen cufflinks set with deep red garnets for the Pacific Rim board members (all men), and a decorative brooch for Toshiro Kimura’s wife.
Their business concluded, Selene and Mika would return on a flight that would have them back in Las Vegas just after midnight.
(No Date - Report on Fact-Finding Tour)
The 10-hour flight from Narita International to LAX was followed by an American Eagle flight to Las Vegas. Mika returned home at 3AM local; their meeting with Hitoshi to discuss their findings would, thankfully, be at an informal lunch meeting with those Westview board members who were still at hand.
Selene had feigned travel weariness once more, then shed the facade once she was home.
“I don’t need to hear you breathing to know you’re there, Armand,” she said quietly.
“That’s not my name anymore,” Lyman said. “Did you have a nice trip?”
“Routine. Pacific Rim tossed my room,” Selene said dismissively. I’m not sure if that’s corporate espionage, Yakuza meddling, or perhaps one of Amaterasu’s brood poking about.”
“And your recommendation?” Lyman/Roget asked.
“Approval. It gives us a presence in Japan.”
“Indeed. You’ve done well, Selene.”
“Don’t condescend to me, Armand,” Selene snarled.
“What can I say?” Lyman smirked. “It’s good to be king.”
The meeting was with Hitoshi, Amelie Pelletier, and two other board members. Gregory Mason and Doug Maxwell were absent.
“It’s a very well-run and efficient operation, that appears to be built upon traditional Japanese lines,” Selene explained. “There are no women on their board of directors, but they did not seem to be put out by having to deal with me.”
Hitoshi folds his hands in front of him. “I see.” he nods at Selene and turns his attention to Mika Hanamura. “Mika, what did you see?” He asks quietly.
Mika bows before answering.
“Hitoshi, it is as Ms. Chase described. Pacific Rim is a business concern run along traditional Japanese lines. Japanese corporate culture, of course, is not entirely the same as American corporate culture. The holdings are well-run, and accurately depicted in their prospectus.
She ends with a direct gaze that suggests she has more to say, but not in public.
“Thank you, both of you.” Hitoshi smiles. Looking at his watch. “Well I am going to suggest that we meet again to make this final decision since Mason and Maxwell are not here at this time. My suggestion is to meet Monday at ten AM to make that decision to give them time to take in the information, and to give Mika and Selene time to rest and recover from their long trip.”
He stands and pushes in his chair. “Any objections to this?”
“No,” says Amelie. “However, I’d like to know where you stand, so I can take the sparkle out of Gregory’s morning.”
“Heh” Hitoshi chucles. “Well I am inclined to say yes so long as we proceed carefully.”
“Then we’re adjourned until then?” Selene asks. “Crossing the International Date Line is always confusing.”
“Unless Hitoshi has something more for us ...?” Amelie says.
Hitoshi shakes his head. “Nope, nothing. Get some sleep folks, we shall reconvene on the big issue Monday.” He smiles and shoots a look towards Mika.
“Oh! I am being remiss,” Mika said. “Part of Japanese custom, particularly in business, is to give small gifts to one’s business associates. Kimura-san presented these for the Westview Group board members.”
She picks up a small reusable tote and lays out the gifts that were presented.
“Hitoshi-san, I will make arrangements for a reciprocal gesture in case Kimura-san and the Pacific Rim board wish to visit.”
She excuses herself to the same side office/conference room as before, appearing to busy herself with her tablet computer.
After bidding the other board members farewell, Hitoshi enters the room.
“You have more to add to your report, Mika?”
“I do, Hitoshi-san,” she says quietly. “First, my room was very expertly searched. I learned to set tell-tales against snooping when I was a teenage girl with three brothers. It is likely they also searched Selene’s room, though she does not believe anything was out of place.”
“At best, it is corporate espionage and shows a measure of ruthlessness by our prospective business partners. Worst case, they are another Yakuza concern curious as to why the daughter of a rival Yakuza crime lord is in their territory.”
“Also, despite her claim to the contrary, Selene speaks Japanese. It was very subtle, but she was following a conversation between board members at our dinner with Kimura-san.”
She reaches into her portfolio case and takes out a small box. She bows and presents it to you.
“Hitoshi-san, this is a small thank you for entrusting me with being your eyes and ears on Selene’s visit to Japan,” Mika says. “I have a gift for Karen, as well, but I will give that to her when I see her.”
The box is of lacquered wood, with a small catch. Opening it, you find akaiken, - a dagger made from the broken end of a katana. The hilt and sheath are made from a mahogany so dark as to almost be black. The quality of the blade is evident, including a hamon or temper line that isn’t sandblasted or stenciled onto the blade.
Hitoshi sets the box down, and carefully closes the lid. Then he bows. “Domo Arigato Mika-san.”
He pulls out a chair and sits. “What you have said worries me, but it isn’t anything I can bring up to the rest of the board. I can talk to Selene privately about her lying, but I don’t think that will affect the boards decision to merge with Pacific Rim.”
Crossing his arms he leans back and thinks for a moment.
“Would you be willing to be my eyes and ears after the Merger? Your insight into things is something that I consider valuable. I don’t want this company taking us over from within.”
Mika gives you a formal bow. “I would be honored to serve in that capacity, Hitoshi-san.,” she says.
Hotoshi smiles. “No need to be formal anymore Mika. You passed my test, and have earned my trust. behind closed doors, formality can be tossed away.”
“Thank you, Hitoshi,” Mika smiles. “Do you want me to do further research into Pacfic Rim to see if I can discover what clan, exactly, we are dealing with?”
“If you wish to, then yes. Otherwise, I don’t want you to do anything that might cause you to put yourself at risk. ” Hitoshi replies solemnly.
“I will ‘take a look around,’ then, and advise you of my findings. I will try to have the information ready for you before the meeting on Monday,” Mika says.
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