Tokyo, March, 2017….
Takamoto’s face was plastered around the city and in all the Tokyo newspapers. Twitter was rife with conspiracy theories about a foreign cop missing too and pressure mounted as each fruitless day passed by. International media gathered and pressed for answers to the hearsay.
‘Is it true there’s a foreign detective working with the Japanese police also missing?’ Large furry microphones pushed in the direction of the suits and politicians. ‘Have the abductors made any demands?’ The translators hardly had time to take a breath. ‘Do you think your missing detective is a victim of organized crime?’ The questions were relentless and focused on a sorrowful Police Commissioner. He bowed his head in silence, shame drawing his jaws to the floor. Alongside him stood a defiant Tokyo Governor. She had a steel and determination and would not confirm or deny any rumours about a missing foreign detective. On the other hand, the Commissioner was a terrible poker player, and offered little more than weak tattle of a situation that could soon change for the better, and how his officers would not give up.
Wind swept through gaps in the high rises and the cold cut through his police uniform. The cop sniffled through long days, standing and waiting together with other cops in huddled groups for instructions; orders to progress to the next block, or to enter businesses with a loose connection to the yakuza. Takamoto was one of their own and like all the beat cops, he was dedicated to the search in his own way. But he silently resented procedure, and openly resented the cold.
His fingers numbed in his thin white gloves, and he fixed a surgical mask to his face to keep his nose warm. Despite his fur-lined jacket, the nights were long and colder than they should have been in March.
At least he was paid a little extra for the overtime and the inconvenience of missing sleep. A small consolation for his numb extremities, and when the stinging wind whipped, his eyes watered, and the pittance received simply was not enough. When he managed to find warmth indoors, his calves ached, and he sighed behind his mask.
After a week, the dogs sniffed in circles and were retired to headquarters. The faint scent faded in the city grime and precious time ticked by with nothing to show for their efforts. The cops on the ground held out little hope but kept their opinions to themselves, while the Commissioner’s torment continued daily until the public lost interest and the news networks moved on.
On the final night of the official search, the cop left his group and entered a nearby convenience store. He walked to the back, glancing at a couple of late-night shoppers before he entered the toilet. He locked the door and removed his thin white gloves. He turned the water tank cover upside down and quickly removed a mobile phone attached to the cover. He placed a call and waited.
‘We’re close. No more than a day’s search away. Move tonight.’ He never waited for the answer, just hung up. He took the battery and SIM from the phone and tossed the phone shell in the bin. He replaced the cover on the water tank and leaned on the sink. He looked at his masked face in the wall mirror and his eyes were calm. He felt no guilt, just the ache in his calves, which suddenly felt worthwhile.
The door of the basement room burst open, and Russell was pulled to his feet. Two men half-pushed and half-lifted him upstairs and marched him through the darkness, past the old, rusted petrol pumps, to a waiting small bus. After ten days, nothing, and now they had to be somewhere quickly. His fellow captives sat quietly, and the bus took off with a jerk, throwing him into the nearest seat. It would seem the hunters were not far away, he thought. His clothes smelt of gasoline, which smothered the smell of sweat. He was hungry and exhausted, too tired to speak, and yet, lack of sleep stung Russell’s dry eyes.
His hands were bound together in front of him, and he just sat, peering vacantly at Detective Takamoto who sat opposite. The bus windows had a dark tint, but faint streetlights and a hint of daylight from the Tokyo daybreak peeked through a rear window. Paul Russell could still see her well enough. Her make-up was long gone, but her high cheekbones accentuated a natural beauty. She looked tired and indifferent, probably wishing the ordeal to be over. He remembered what she was like, her strength, her leadership, her patience. He raised his eyebrows at how he must have tested her. He blinked slowly and sighed, promising himself once more that he would do things differently when this was all over. He did not know why it took a crisis to help him realise his deficiencies. Life was too short he told himself in a moment of poignancy a few days earlier. He sat with his head resting against the side wall of the bus, but he never noticed his Japanese partner, the Queen of Cops, looking back at him.
‘Detective Russell, have you something you’d like to say?’ Her voice was a little rough, and Russell realized that he had been staring. He swallowed, shook his head and sat upright. He looked straight ahead towards the front of the bus and the driver. His head felt heavy on his neck, so he lowered his chin to his chest, shut his eyes and went back to thinking about breaking free. Every minute of every day, during the first few days of captivity, he had considered a breakout, but his guards were thorough, and they subdued his strength, breaking his will. The bus shuddered over a rough patch of road, and he winced. The bruises on his back and sides were still visible but were no longer sore unless pressed. His captors expected an obedience that belied Russell’s instinct. Now, hungry, with little spirit remaining, he just hoped for rescue.
Chaz started to hiss a low derogatory laugh behind them both. ‘Gotta say, the cops over here look a damn sight better than our crowd at home.’
Russell never turned in his seat to look at him but ground his teeth. His breathing grew heavier through his nose, and he clenched his fists above bound wrists.
Damn your eyes O’ Connor.
Chaz cleared his throat and spoke to Takamoto. ‘What do you say to some dinner together when we get out of here?’
Russell raised his head. ‘Shut up O’ Connor.’ The words spat out, partly from hatred and partly, a spur of the moment, jealousy. O’ Connor deserved his treatment, but Takamoto deserved to be treated like a queen, and she didn’t need to be burdened with his uncouth tongue.
The order to be quiet prompted Chaz to smile. ‘There ye are, Detective. I thought we lost you, like.’ He leaned forward in his seat and whispered. ‘I’d say she’s into me, what do you think?’
The bus slowed and ground to a halt distracting Russell from Chaz’s provocation. The side door slid open, and Russell hunched his shoulders in the early morning cold. Miho’s men pulled the three captives out of the bus and marched them across a concrete yard into a Warehouse. They filed to the back of the stores, and Russell noticed a soldier guiding Takamoto away down a long aisle of shelves. Although they were separated since taken captive, the words were out of Russell’s mouth before he could stop them. ‘Where are you taking her?’
His question fell on deaf ears and the soldier disappeared with Takamoto.
Chaz snorted and shook his head. ‘Muppet.’
Chaz followed by Russell were driven down a narrow, winding stairs, and finally pushed into a dark bare room underground. A Kato soldier entered after them and switched on the light. Russell squinted at the light bulb at the centre of the small room, raised his hands to shade his eyes and looked away towards the wall.
Flanked by two Kato bodyguards, Miho stood at the door and calmly examined Russell. Miho walked around him, looked him up and down as he stood rooted to the spot. ‘Detective Russell, I never thought you cared about anyone but yourself.’
Russell wanted the madness to stop and make Miho see sense, but suddenly he just wanted to hurt her. ’They’re getting closer. You can feel it, can’t you?
Miho blinked at Russell. ‘Who are?’
‘It won’t be long now until they’re all over you and we’ll be free.’ Russell sneered. ‘The cops. They’re comin’ for ye. Why else did you move us in such a hurry. They’re closing in-.’
Miho’s laugh interrupted Russell’s sneering conjecture. He gritted his teeth and lunged at Miho. The blow to his abdomen was swift and he was on his knees in front of one of her guards before he knew what happened. Russell’s eyes bulged, and he gasped and wheezed, doubling over as he struggled for air. The thin air in the room was musty, but glorious when it finally entered Russell’s lungs. Chaz sniggered in the corner enjoying the show, while Miho turned and left the room.
Miho walked back up the narrow winding stair linking the basement room to the warehouse floor. The dungeon room was perfect to store awkward cargo. She smirked at the similarity to her prison under Shaughnessy Meats warehouse in Limerick. A taste of satisfaction that she fully intended to build on. When she arrived at the storage area, she pulled on the ends of her jacket and flicked her hair before she walked the length of an aisle of empty racking with her guards in tow.
At the end of the aisle, in the corner, were some office desks and filing cabinets. shoved close to the concrete wall. Takamoto sat on a chair close to the desks with her hands bound behind her back. Her hair hung over one eye and partially covered a cheek, unbecoming her usual professionalism. Duct tape trapped her legs to the chair in case she got any ideas, and since Miho got to know Russell, she deduced that cops were prone to all sorts of stupid ideas.
Miho put her hands behind her back and walked back and forth in front of the chair. She walked slowly, and began to speak in a calm voice, normal, not too loud, not too soft, just right.
‘Detective Takamoto…You are extra baggage. Not part of my plan.’ She glanced at Takamoto as she turned, while Takamoto motioned her head left and right as Miho traversed. ‘But for the past week, I have considered how to deal with you.’ Turn. ‘You are a good and loyal citizen of Japan and I like that.’ Turn. ‘You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ Miho stopped and looked at Takamoto. ‘Believe me I know how that feels.’ She continued to walk. ‘It’s not your fault, I know that, but you are also the police.’ Turn. ‘A liability that has complicated my plan. What to do indeed?’ Miho stopped in front of Takamoto, looked at her and folded her arms. ‘Would you like to go free?’
Takamoto blinked. ‘What? I, I…’
Miho took three steps forward and stood over the detective. ‘It’s a simple question, would you like your freedom?’
Takamoto glanced at a nearby Kato soldier, indifferent to her situation and she swallowed. She peered up at Miho, her eyes filled with tears, and she nodded. ‘Yes,’ she sobbed.
Miho smiled and extracted her mobile phone from her pocket. ‘Excellent choice.’ She pressed play on a video and Takamoto could see her parents at home, enjoying dinner with her son. Miho paused the video, leaned into Takamoto and whispered. ‘Remember who I am, and your family will continue to live happily.’
Miho stood upright and nodded at her soldiers, who immediately cut Takamoto’s binds. The detective hesitated, and the guards pulled her to her feet. Miho waved her to the door and Takamoto took a few uneasy steps, before she straightened and began to walk away from the office. She glanced behind her at the gangsters before she staggered through the open steel door to the outside. She squinted at her surroundings, unsure of which direction to take. She looked back at Miho once more and silently asked with her gaze if she could continue. Miho encouraged her to move forward with a half-smile and a nod.
Takamoto faced forward again and began walking along the concrete footpath, slowly at first, moving past small, shuttered warehouses on either side. Miho watched Takamoto’s head move from side to side. Each step took her further away from danger. Miho glanced at her soldiers beside her and then back to the disappearing cop. Twenty meters from the door, and Takamoto quickened her pace, looking behind, almost as if she expected the gun shot. Miho’s heartbeat grew faster, and she realized her mistake. She turned sharply to one of her guards and clenched her fists. She shook her head, and the soldier took aim. The gun kicked twice in silence and Takamoto stumbled. She fell onto her hands and knees, coughing blood onto the concrete. Her body heaved as she struggled to breathe, and she knelt, reaching with both hands to her throat, choking on her blood, drowning it would seem in a sea of concrete. She collapsed onto her back and stared at the grey Tokyo sky. Her blood crept across the clean concrete, and she lay still.
An explosion of pain burst in Miho’s stomach, pouring forth like shards, piercing her scaled heart. Her face was solemn, her eyes stone, as she watched her soldiers pick up the limp body in the dim morning light. She had every intention of letting the Detective go, but it was inevitable, the cop would have talked. People do what they are made to do, and cops talk, it’s in their nature.
Chaz sat in the basement, breathing in the stale room air. He relaxed in the knowledge that he was going nowhere until Miho Kato decided what must be done. He watched Russell lose his patience shouting at the door after Miho. Chaz kept his emotions in check and the shadows helped to masquerade his annoyance at being held in the same room as the irritating shade. He sucked at his teeth and played the waiting game. But being a captive did not suit him and his mind grew restless. Weak daylight touched the room ceiling through narrow dust laden grill windows located on the walls near the ceiling. Chaz itched his beard and shut his eyes. He thought about Cork and smiled down on Glanmire from his panoramic sitting room window. Sharon stood by the fireplace, sipping a glass of red wine. She looked at him with a sense of adventure and lust, like she did when they first met. He walked to her, her beauty was undeniable, and he took her in his arms. She said nothing, exactly how he liked it and he leaned towards her in the darkness. They were about to kiss when he saw her father’s face about three inches from his own and his eyes flashed open. Even his fantasies were plagued with that bastard, Tom Shaughnessy. The darkness of the room invaded his senses, throwing him reluctantly back into the present, and he clenched his fists.
Russell wore a path in the middle of the room and Chaz watched him go back and forth, scratching his head and biting his nails. Chas ground his teeth and could not bear to watch him. He had enough, and his frustration burst through his veil of composure.
‘Russell, would ye give us a fuckin’ break? I’m crackin’ up just lookin’ at ye, like.’
Russell stopped and peered down his nose at Chaz. ‘What the hell is Miho Kato doing here today? Why did they move us? Why am I here with you?’ He walked to the door and pulled on the handle. ‘The cops are close and that’s why they took Takamoto. I know it.’
Chaz snorted. ‘Fuckin’ know it? You know nothin. Would you just sit down for Christ’s sake?’
Russell grimaced his disgust and was about to set him straight when Chaz stood up and took a couple of steps forward.
‘Look, I don’t like you, and I know you can’t stand me, but if you want to live pain free in this room with me, you’ll calm down right now.’
Russell swallowed more disgust and shook his head at the taste. ’The only reason I’m here is ‘cos of you. You’re some boy, with your warnings.’ The detective grimaced. ‘You know what, fuck you, O’ Connor, I’ll do whatever the hell I want.’
The echo from the proverbial bell hadn’t dulled when Chaz launched himself at Russell.
The noise of their skirmish alerted guards upstairs and Miho, curious to what her two Irish men were up to, followed the noise. She raised an eyebrow at their struggles and grunts and then nodded at the guards. They were pulled apart and Russell continued to struggle. Miho glared at her sorry excuse for prisoners with too much energy. Both lay in the middle of the floor with bloody faces, and they panted to catch their breaths. Chaz spat blood on the floor and laughed when he saw the cop squirm in the firm grasp of his captors. He stopped abruptly with a yelp and put his hand to his stinging jaw. Russell’s resistance faded and he stood limply in the firm grip of two men. Chaz rose slowly on to an elbow and wiped the blood from his mouth with his sleeve. Miho walked slowly forward to where her soldiers stood between both gladiators. She folded her arms and peered with arrogance and feigned disappointment from her perch. She’d like nothing more than to watch them continue a fight to the death, but she had decided that their suffering was not at an end. She glanced at her guards and issued an order. They grabbed Chaz and stood him up. Miho turned and walked out of the room, followed by a limping Chaz and a stumbling Russell, urged onwards by their jailors. In the large storeroom at the top of the stairs, battered hands were bound with cable ties once more and Miho smiled. Tools which kept her tethered in Cork, were on her aggressors and she felt a tiny piece of satisfaction as she made her announcement.
‘Gentlemen, we’re going on a little journey, north.’
Tochigi Prefecture, March, 2017….
Blindfolded, Chaz and Russell came out of separate cars and were led across a graveled parking area. After almost half a day on the road, Russell’s legs were numb and stiff, and he took small steps in the blackness. With each step, his body ached, and he grimaced as he stumbled over the uneven ground. He slept little in the car and tiredness coupled with pain shorted his temper. He breathed in the fresh chilled clean air. The noise of the city had disappeared, replaced by the crunch of shoes on gravel and something which sounded like a wind chime close by. Wherever he was even smelt like the meadows outside Kinsale, and the homely smell calmed his urge to fight.
Suddenly, the blindfold was tugged from his head, and he blinked in the evening light until his eyes adjusted. Dusk was beginning to take hold and he stood alongside Chaz on a wide winding pathway leading to a lone house. The walls of the house were white with glass sliding doors running along the front. Wooden eaves supported the black tiled curving roof, which seemed to touch the branches of the still pine trees behind it. Miho stood on the elevated front entrance of the Kato summer house in North Tochigi. Wind chimes dangled in front of the doors and rang a lonely intermittent tingle in the soft breeze. Russell glanced at Chaz who seemed resigned to whatever fate had in store and drew air through his teeth before he yawned. Russell swallowed and winced, his mouth was dry and still sore from his encounter with a fist that morning.
He cleared his throat. ‘Where are we?’
A Kato soldier stood between Russell and Miho. He had no English, but his expression choked Russell’s next sentence, unmistakable international language for stay quiet or suffer the consequences.
Chaz snorted. ‘I must learn how to do that.’ The same soldier threw Chaz the same face and Chaz sucked at his teeth before resuming his passive approach to the evening.
‘You will remain here while I consider an appropriate fate for you both.’ Miho turned and disappeared into the house.
Chaz raised his eyebrows and nodded as if he knew what she meant. Looking around at his farmhouse prison, he seemed content with his ambiguous fate. Russell shook his head. ‘What the hell does she mean, fate? This madness needs to stop.’
A large hand caught him by the throat and started to squeeze. ‘Shhh,’ said the voice controlling the hand and Russell managed to croak and nod his understanding before the hand released and he slumped forward, coughing.
The house faced south towards Tokyo and when the front door closed, a fierce dragon carved into the thick wooden door stared intensely at the two captives. Four Kato soldiers half-pushed, half-guided their captors around the east side of the large house, through manicured gardens to a stone storage house, surrounded by pines and smaller shrubs. A stroll garden to the right of the store house had a still pond illuminated with underwater lighting. A white stone carved seat, with dragon heads emerging from the arm rests, stood out in the greenery.
Chaz stopped to look, and he spoke softly to himself. ‘What’s with all the dragons?’
His answer was a push in the back, propelling him into Russell, who shrugged him off.
I can’t believe I’m stuck here with him. What the hell did I ever do...? Why doesn’t she do us all a favour and just kill the bastard? Be done with it and let me go. I shouldn’t be a prisoner…I’m… the law. I should be a free man.
The door creaked open and a light on the stone wall illuminated a bare room with concrete floors, a high wooden ceiling and four narrow windows on the wall opposite the door. The reluctant prisoners were shoved inside. Miho’s instructions were clear, and the cable-ties were cut, replaced by ankle tethers linked to opposite walls. The light was extinguished, and darkness enveloped both Chaz and Russell as they stood in the basic room. The heavy-duty door was shut and locked, and Chaz slid his back along the rough wall, ending with a final slump on to a mattress. Rooted to the spot, Russell blinked his eyes at his surroundings, trying to capture some of the faint evening light. As far as he could tell, the store was empty except for the mattresses and bedding on the concrete floor. The cool stone insulated the old store, keeping it dry and comfortable. Russell did not appreciate the basic comfort and he realized he had not eaten since early morning. Hunger and tiredness took over and he sat on his mattress in the dark, cloaked in rich silence, thinking about food, thinking about survival, but mainly thinking about himself.