A New Addition to the Clan
The Ishimura family received two visitors that night.
The cries of an infant child could be heard outside where the men waited. Kenji Ishimura worried that his wife, who had fallen ill prior to the birth, would not be able to delivery the baby. Her fever had grown worse two days ago and the village doctor could prescribe no strong medicines at this stage of the birth, so she was left to fight her sickness on her own while contractions riddled her body with pain.
Fearing the worse, Kenji could not sleep. Yuriko was strong but this was a critical point. She was fighting a heavy fever and delivering a child at the same time. Unable to imagine the terrible pain his beloved had been going through, the man prayed to his ancestors to see his wife through. He couldn't bear losing them both. Not his Yuriko, not his newborn child.
Kenji had two sons, Yusuke and Takeshi, who were equally worried about their mother's well being. Before this ordeal, the two brothers had placed bets on whether the child would be a boy or a girl. Now they only cared about the child reaching this world. Takeshi was the youngest at only six years of age. While he did not understand everything that was going on, he did know his mother was very sick. When he heard his mother's screams he asked his father if she was going to be all right. Not wanting to lie to his son but unable to consider otherwise, Kenji merely patted him on the head, telling him that it is not up to them to decide but to pray for her and the baby. The boy spent the past six hours on his knees praying for them. No one in the house or village prayed harder than little Takeshi.
Thirteen-year old Yusuke was not so easily coerced. While he did pray for his mother as Kenji had told him to do, the boy was as restless as his father, pacing back and forth and cringing every time he heard her scream. At one point he went charging for the door but Kenji stopped him, warning him that disturbing his mother and the midwife during the pregnancy could be disastrous. To put his mind off things, Kenji gave Yusuke some chores to do around the house but how could he concentrate knowing he might lose his mother at any moment? Finally, he gave up on working and praying altogether and sulked on the steps to the family home.
Hours had gone by and still nothing. Kenji was a wreck. He was tired but couldn't sleep. All he could think about was losing his wife and child. Such a tragedy would drive him over the edge. Family was everything to Kenji. He cried when Takeshi's parrot died even though it had only lived with them for four weeks. A man without family is nothing. He could not lose Yuriko else his whole world come crashing down….
Then the baby wailed.
All three of them looked at each other in unison, and then they scrambled toward the door but dare not go in. The baby's cries were strong and beautiful, but how was Yuriko? She had stopped screaming. Delight and fear warred with Kenji's emotions and he didn't know whether to leap for joy or fall to his knees and cry.
The door slid open, one of the midwife's helpers, a pretty young girl named Kimiko, sat kneeling on the floor. Her dark eyes were tired and her forehead was sweaty, but she stayed awake the whole time through. Kimiko was as determined to have this baby enter the world as they were. She had helped care for Kenji's sons like they were her own brothers. They always treated Kimiko like family ever since she lost her parents to an accident years ago. She was practically raised in this house alongside Takeshi and Yusuke. Since her water broke, Kimiko had spent nearly every waking moment with Yuriko and would not leave her side for anything. They just prayed her efforts were not wasted.
Looking at them right now, the Ishimura men feared the worse. Kimiko was drained and looked about ready to pass out but she raised her face so that they could see her smile. "Okay," she said softly.
Kenji's face beamed, a gesture mimicked by his two sons. "Can we see her?" Kenji asked.
Kimiko looked back inside to get approval from the midwife and when she nodded Kimiko opened the door all the way and shuffled to the side. Kenji, Yusuke, and Takeshi hurried in to find Yuriko exhausted but alive. She was covered in a blanket and her hair was a complete mess. Her face was sweatier than that of Kimiko's but she was alive. "Yuriko." Kenji knelt by his wife's side and took her hand. "How are you?" He knew it was a stupid question but he did it so that he could hear her speak. He wanted to hear her lovely voice again.
Fighting back drowsiness, Yuriko turned to her husband and said, "She's beautiful."
"She?" Kenji turned to the midwife who, smiling presented him with the crying form of a beautiful baby girl. She had her mother's dark complexion and high cheek bones.
Yuriko reached out to her and the midwife placed the baby in her tired arms. Kenji was so mesmerized by the girl that he could not take his eyes off her. Now his family was blessed with three wonderful children. He truly was the luckiest man in Japan…nay, the world!
"It's a girl," Takeshi always did have a knack for stating the obvious. Turning to his father he said, "See, daddy? I prayed really hard and the spirits took care of mommy."
Yuriko smiled at her youngest son. "I knew it was because of you. Thank you, Takeshi. Because of you your sister was born."
"I prayed too," said Yusuke. "And Takeshi was doing it wrong. I had to teach him the right way."
"I was not."
"Were too. Tell him, dad."
But Kenji didn't hear either of them. He was too busy looking at the prettiest thing in the world.
"Would you like to hold her?" Yuriko asked the father and offered the baby up. Kenji happily took her and cradled her in his arms.
"Why is she still crying?" Takeshi asked. "Is she hurt?"
"No son. She's just very happy," Yuriko said.
"When I'm happy I don't cry."
"No you just cry about everything else."
"Do not!" Takeshi told his brother.
"Be quiet, both of you!" Kimiko spat when she joined them. "Can't you see your mother's tired? This is no time to be acting like children."
"But we are children," They said.
"Then grow up! Why can't you be mature like me?"
"You're only two years older than me," Yusuke said. "And if you're so grown up, how come you still need me to protect you from bullies at school?"
"You're the one who keeps getting into fights. I have to keep saving you from bullies. You should see him at school; yelling for me to help him and crying after the kids beat him up."
"I don't cry!"
Takeshi laughed. "Yusuke's a baby!"
Kimiko put an end to the childish exchange by pinching them both on the ear and dragging them outside. "We're going out for some air," She told everyone inside. "Congratulations, Yuriko-san." The brothers protested but Kimiko was stronger than both of them. She made sure to close the door behind them to afford the family some privacy. No sooner did she do that when a cry went up and one of the brothers made a break for it. They could hear Kimiko give chase while the other brother laughed.
The midwife took this moment to address Kenji. "The worst of it has passed, but she still has a slight fever. I will give her something to help her rest but I recommend she gets plenty of sleep. When Doctor Yama returns tomorrow I will have him come over to check up on Yuriko and the baby."
"Thank you," Yuriko told the midwife.
"It was my pleasure. I was a close friend of your grandmother. At the least I can make sure her great granddaughter gets to meet her parents and her brothers before I pass onto the next life, which I hope is not soon because I think I still owe her money."
They all laughed.
"I should be going. It is getting late." The midwife rose to leave.
Kenji handed the baby back to Yuriko and went to fetch her jacket. He helped her put it on. "Thank you for everything you've done. I…I don't know what would have happened if,"
"Shh. Best not talk about such things during a happy occasion. You're a father again. Smile!" She chuckled and with a nod to Yuriko she took her leave. Kenji opened the door for her and bowed as she left. "Good night," she told the children as she left. Kimiko was struggling to catch the brothers who saw fit to split up and make her chase them. She growled and barked threats to them but the boys were having too much fun. Kenji laughed at it all and returned to his wife who was cradling the baby lovingly.
"Yuriko-chan, we are truly blessed." He sat next to her and stared at the baby. She had stopped crying and was cooing aloud.
"She's perfect," Kenji said. "Have you thought of a name?"
Kenji looked at her. "Your sister's name?"
She nodded. "I want her to have it so as to carry on her spirit."
Kenji smiled. "Yori. It is a beautiful name." He bent down and gave his newborn daughter a kiss on the head. The baby yawned and drifted off to sleep. "She has the right idea. It's been a long day for all of us. You especially. I think it's about time we all get some rest." Kenji stood up. "I'll get the boys and send Kimiko home. Her uncle is probably wondering where she is."
"Kenji, it's late. Maybe Kimiko can stay here tonight."
Kenji thought about it. "You're right. I'll take her home in the morning. Though I don't think she'll be thrilled to learn she'll be sleeping with the boys." Kenji recalled her last sleepover. He didn't get any sleep that night. "Perhaps it's best I put the boys in the living room instead."
Yuriko cradled little Yori in her arms. It was one of those moments Kenji could have stayed and watched forever.
Kenji heard Kimiko's cry. Briefly exchanging glances with his wife, he rushed outside to find his sons huddled together, Yusuke's arm around his little brother, by the family car. Kenji searched for Kimiko and found her by the main entrance to the Ishimura house grounds. But she was not alone.
"No," Kenji muttered.
Kimiko looked scared. As she should be, for these were dangerous men. One of them held her by the arm so tightly that she was wincing and fighting back tears. There were four of them, each wearing black suits. Kenji stepped forward. "Let her go!" His command fell on deaf ears for none of the men complied. Turning to his sons, Kenji said, "Get inside! Quickly!" They didn't hear him at first. "Boys!" Startled by their father's tone, the Ishimura brothers hurried indoors. Kenji closed the door behind them.
"Ishimura-san?" Kimiko didn't understand what was going on. She was still trying to catch the boys when a black car pulled up and these men stepped out. Before she knew it one of them grabbed her and she cried out for Mister Ishimura.
Kenji turned to face the suited men. "Let her go." This time he spoke with command. Kimiko saw a look in Kenji's face that she'd never seen before.
"I won't tell you again."
"You haven't changed, Kenji," said a voice Kenji hadn't heard in years. A man in a plush, white suit appeared. His hair was slicked back with so much gel that it shined in the moonlight. He wore a mask of supreme confidence as he casually strolled into the yard. "You still haven't learned how to pick your battles."
"Taro," Kenji grimaced.
"Been a long time, but I'm pleased to know you haven't forgotten me."
If only he were so lucky. "Let the girl go."
Taro thought about it for just a second. "Sure." He snapped his fingers and the goon holding Kimiko released her.
She immediately rushed to Kenji's side while rubbing her arm. Glaring daggers at the man who hurt her, Kimiko turned to regard Kenji. "Who are these men?"
"Get inside, Kimiko." In the dim lighting, she could see a change overcome Kenji. Gone was the sweet, fatherly face she'd come to know. In its place was something completely different; something alien. His face was stoic, lacking even the slightest hint of emotion. It was as if he'd turned off a switch inside of him and a new persona had taken over. He was no longer Kenji Ishimura.
His eyes turned on her when she failed to obey him. The look was so cold that Kimiko could feel her knees buckle with fear. It was like looking into the eyes of a monster….a monster who knew how to do its job all too well. "Now!"
Jumping, Kimiko ran inside and promptly shut the door.
"I see you still like to order people around," Taro began, "Particularly when it comes to women. I wonder, do you talk to your wife like that? Or has the dog lost his teeth?"
"Why are you here, Taro?"
"I was just in the neighborhood." He began to loiter. "I got to thinking I haven't seen my old friend Kenji in a while so I'd thought I'd check up on you. Seeing as you and I go way, way back." Taro spread his arms wide. "And what do I see? My old friend, Kenji," he scowled, "Has cut off his own balls."
Kenji watched Taro's every move. Despite his pompous exterior he knew what this man was capable of. Every step he took was to put himself in a better position. His exaggerated gestures were meant to distract his opponents but Kenji knew better. He wasn't afraid of Taro. He wasn't afraid of his men. There was only one man in the world who scared Kenji and that was what he feared this visit was about.
"But what can I expect from the man who turned his back on us, the one family he's ever known?" He lowered his arms. "We who made you who you are, this is how you repay us? Tsk-Tsk, Kenji. People might think you were unappreciative of what we gave you." He clasped his hands together and strode boldly toward Kenji. "In fact," Taro stopped just a couple feet short. "Some might even consider it a betrayal."
Kenji eyed him. "Like you?"
"Me?" Taro acted hurt. "How could I ever think of you as a traitor? You were never that fraudulent." Leaning in so that only Kenji could hear, Taro added, "Just stupid." And stepped back, smiling at Kenji right in his face.
For a tense moment, the two "old friends" locked eyes. Anything passing between them would have been seared by the intensity of their stares. But Taro did not come here to fight so he smiled and politely backed off. "But that's just one man's opinion."
Kenji glanced over his shoulder at the four men. Two stood inside the wooden gate, the other two remained outside. He saw the black sedan parked up front. "What is this about?"
If one could believe it, the smile on Taro's face grew wider. "Let's talk in private."
Resisting the urge to rip that smile off the man's face, Kenji reluctantly began to follow Taro to the car where one of the suited men opened up the back seat.
Some time passed before Kenji returned. Kimiko told Yuriko what she saw and how Kenji….changed. Upon hearing the description of the men in black, Yuriko's narrow eyes widened and she looked down at Yori. The baby was still asleep, unaware of the impending trouble about to befall her house and her family. She pulled the sleeping girl in close to her breasts, bending low and whispering something into her ear that Kimiko could not make out.
"I'm going to see if dad's okay." Yusuke was already halfway to the door when Kimiko stopped him. She had to forcefully hold the boy by the arm and when he tried to pull away she dug her nails into his flesh. Yusuke cried out. "Let me go! You're hurting me!"
"Stay inside! Your father told us to…"
"What if he's hurt?"
"Yusuke, please," she explained, "It's better if we remain here just like your father wanted. If we go out there we could get hurt. You think your father wants that?"
He stopped tugging on his arm momentarily to ask, "Who are they? What do they want?"
"I'm not sure." She was telling the truth. In all her years with this family she had never seen Kenji consort with questionable sorts. The car that parked up outside the Ishimura estate was very fancy. None of the villagers would have been able to afford such vehicles. The manner in which those men dressed also hinted at their out-of-towner demeanor. From the moment they arrived Kimiko wanted to run and hide. She could not even begin to understand what Ishimura-san had to do with them. All she knew is that she wanted them to go away.
Yusuke began pulling again. "I have to go!"
"Stop!" Kimiko barked. Using her superior strength, Kimiko managed to forcefully throw him down on his rear end. Standing over the boy like an angry grown-up, Kimiko dared him to disobey her again. "Until your father returns I am responsible for all of you." She looked at Yuriko who was still holding onto the baby like it was her lifeline in the ocean. "I won't let anything happen to you. Not so long as I draw breath."
Gawking at her, Yusuke could not believe how imposing Kimiko could be. She may have been older than him, but he'd always treated Kimiko like some annoying big sister. He was never afraid of her at the worst of times, but now was different. Now she'd become his protector and that meant she was in charge. He didn't like that, but neither could he challenge her authority.
Girls….think they know it all.
Takeishi crawled by his mother's side and began to stroke her head. "It's okay, mommy. Daddy will be back soon. Then we can all go to sleep."
No, Yuriko thought. She wouldn't be getting a good night's sleep for a long time. "Takeshi," she started, "I love you so much." She looked at him, gently caressing his face with her right hand. "You've been such a good boy. You do so well at school." Tears forming in her eyes, Yuriko added, "I want you to continue to study….and work hard so that you will get a good job. Can you do that for me?"
"Good." Turning to Yusuke. "Yusuke, my son, come here."
He spared an unfriendly glance at Kimiko before getting up and joining his mother. Kimiko watched her touch Yusuke's cheek in the same manner she had done her youngest son. "You are strong and brave. Use your strength to protect those you love and never lose your heart. You are my lion. Be brave for me, Yusuke."
"Mom?" Yusuke reached up to grab her hand. "What is wrong?"
"I….I love you both." This time she looked at Kimiko. "I need you to do something very special for me, Kimiko. Will you do it?"
Yuriko was like a mother to Kimiko. Her uncle was a good man, but he never wanted to have to take care of a child. He could not give her that nurturing environment that every child needs to feel loved. She owed that to the Ishimura clan. So Yuriko had but to name it. Any favor, any want or need she would do without question.
"Look after my boys."
She saw Yusuke scowl at that but quickly said, "I will."
Yuriko smiled. "Thank you." Then she said, "My daughter."
"Daughter?" Takeshi asked. "But Yusuke's the oldest mommy. She's not your daughter."
"She means she loves Kimiko like a daughter," Yusuke explained.
Yuriko laughed. "I'm going to miss these moments."
Kimiko rushed over to Yuriko and got on her knees. "Yuriko, please!" she pleaded. "Tell me what is going to happen. What is—" The door slid open and Kenji entered. His eyes fixed on the floor, Kenji closed it shut. The sound of gravel being churned as the car pulled away dimmed when he did so.
"Ishimura-san?" The teenaged girl asked.
"Kimiko, take the boys to their rooms and start packing their bags. Have them dressed and ready to leave in the hour."
"Where are we going?" Takeshi asked. "Are we taking a trip?"
"Yes, son. We're taking a trip."
"Yay!" Takeshi rushed to his room without waiting for Kimiko or his brother. Yusuke meanwhile did not budge. He was still by his mother's side when Yuriko got his attention. "Do as your father says." Only then did he slowly get up and head to his room. Kimiko stood up a moment later. She appeared to be carrying out Mister Ishimura's orders when she stopped. Kimiko was standing in the doorway, half-turning her head as she spoke.
"Those men….they were Yakuza." She had stated it more than asked but needed to hear it from Kenji's mouth. She may not have traveled outside of the village, but she'd seen enough movies to make an educated guess about the nature of those men. After seeing the way Kenji and Yuriko reacted upon their arrival, Kimiko pretty much knew that this wasn't some colloquial visit from old friends.
Yakuza—the Japanese mafia.
Kimiko looked at Kenji. "I see." She then left and slid the door shut behind her. That is, she pretended to. In reality, Kimiko had left it open just a crack while she took a few heavy footsteps down the hall. Sliding her feet across the smooth surface of the floor, she bent her knees to make as less noise as possible and she stopped by the door. Peering in, she could just barely make out Kenji, Yuriko and little Yori in the room lighting. Turning her head, Kimiko pressed her ear as far as she would dare and focused on that particular sense. Eventually, she could make out most of what they were saying.
Kenji had said something to Yuriko a moment earlier which Kimiko did not catch, but she did hear the woman's response.
"But we can't! They'll kill us if they find out."
"Just trust me on this."
"Fujimori would never…."
"Fujimori is dead!" Upon that revelation, Yuriko's eyes seemed to pop out of her head. "There's a new order and his name is Saito."
"Saito….." the name was spoken with dread. "Impossible."
"We've been gone a long time, Yuriko. Things have fallen apart. When I saw Taro outside I knew things had gotten out of hand. Though I never expected this." He rubbed her leg. "Regardless I must do what I think is best for this family. If we do what we had set out to do now, we'll lose everything. I'll call in a few favors and it will be all right. You'll see."
But Yuriko was not convinced. "He's a monster. He'll never let us go."
"I won't let him harm you or the kids. I will die before that happens."
"You can't possibly fight them all."
"No." Then sitting up straight he said, "But I can try."
"You're too stubborn."
"Isn't that why you married me?"
"But what about us? Where will we go? What will we do? This is our home, Kenji."
"I still have powerful friends. They will keep you safe while I try to fix this."
"You make it sound so simple." Yuriko looked down at Yori. This was the night she was born and this had to befall them. What gods had they angered to warrant such tragedy? "Poor little Yori. She'll never get to sleep in that crib you made for her."
Placing a hand on Yori's head, Kenji felt more determined than ever. Standing up, Kenji began walking out the room. "I'll help you get dressed. I know you're still weak but I'll carry you and we'll let Kimiko carry Yori. Just let me get some clothes and make a few phone calls and I'll be right back."
While she still did not understand everything that had transpired, Kimiko was old enough to realize she'd become a part of a dangerous world. Just being there made her a target and a part of her wanted to leave and run home to her uncle. But she could never abandon the Ishimuras, her surrogate family. Kenji and Yuriko had trusted her with important tasks and she would honor them by carrying them out. But whatever her loyalty to this wonderful family one thing was sure: Kimiko was terrified.
In the dead of night, the Ishimura family fled their home. Still weak from giving birth, Kenji carried his wife while the mother reluctantly handed her newborn daughter over to Kimiko. Wrapped in a white blanket, baby Yori continued to sleep though Kimiko still took great care not to awaken her. Yuriko constantly looked over her husband's shoulder to Kimiko and the kids. Wearing a red hairband, Yuriko looked like she belonged in bed; not fleeing for her life from a bunch of gangsters.
The brothers kept pace with Kimiko though the youngest constantly kept falling behind. It was a difficult pace to keep but Kenji was pushing them hard. It had almost been an hour since the arrival of the Yakuza and he knew they needed to cover a lot of distance before sunrise. Kenji had lied to his former cohorts and that officially made him a hunted man. What they would do to him and his family he dare not contemplate.
After a good fifteen minutes, running around farmland taxed a heavy toll on the children and they were pleading for rest. "Just a bit further," Kenji assured them. "Then we rest." He wanted to get out of the open and into some cover fast, so once they made it to the tree line he allowed the troupe to get a moment's respite. Yuriko asked how Yori was and Kimiko happily reported that the baby was still asleep. Apparently even appending doom had no affect on this brave little warrior. Yusuke and Takeshi told their mother they were fine, but were secretly beginning to suspect something was very wrong. Yusuke had his suspicions but Takeshi really thought they were going on vacation. The nearest airport was kilometers from here, in the big city. Did father plan to have them run all the way there?
Once they rested up, Kenji picked up his wife and ordered them onward. The forest wasn't that thick but it was night and many a stubbed toe was announced with an "Ow!" Once they reached a dirt road with a series of small statues surrounding a shrine, Kenji called for them to lay low. He gently placed his wife down; she let out a small squeal of pain as her body had become so fragile after the pregnancy. Kenji needed them to remain quiet but apologized to Yuriko for the inconvenience. They waited in the dark for what seemed like hours but eventually a small car came lunging up the dirt road. It was a red van, owned by the wealthiest man in town.
The van came to a stop and a tall gentleman with a large belly and a receding hairline protruded his form outside the car. Bending his knees, he began to skulk like he was looking for something. "Kenji-sama," He whispered into the night. "Kenji-sama?"
"Turn off the headlights," Kenji said in his loudest whisper. "Hiro, the lights!"
Upon hearing this, the man known as Hironobu immediately shut off the van's lights. Only then did Kenji reveal himself and walk up to the owner of the village's convenience store. "Thank you for coming."
"How can I not?" Hiro respectively lowered his head. "You saved my life. The least I can do is help you and your family get out of town."
Kenji looked around. "Were you followed?"
"I don't think so." Hiro leaned in close. "Kenji-sama, are you in trouble? Not that I won't help you if you are but I've got a wife and kid at home and,"
"I understand. In fact," he stuck out his hand. "Give me the keys."
"You've done too much for us already. I can't ask for more. You know how to find your way back from here, right? I will park the car in the gas station by the mini-mart and you can take a cab to pick it up there tomorrow. Please, Hiro, it's just for one night."
Thinking it over briefly, the round man handed over his keys to Kenji. "Take care of her."
"Of course. I trust the supplies I asked for are in the back?"
"I got everything you asked for."
"Thank you, Hironobu."
Bowing. "All those years ago, I was sure I was dead. I can never thank you enough."
"Just promise me you'll never try to con a con again."
"Good." Kenji walked back into the forest and when he returned he was carrying Yuriko while the kids followed behind. "Oh and if anyone asks,"
"I didn't see a thing."
"You're a good friend, Hiro."
The man smiled when he saw Yori. "Is this the newest addition to the Ishimura clan?" He asked.
"Her name is Yori," Yuriko told him.
"She's lovely even in this light."
"Is this the car we're taking on vacation?" asked Takeshi.
"We're not going on vacation." Yusuke, being older, already figured out as much.
"But daddy said,"
"Be quiet!" Kimiko snapped. "This is no time for that!"
"Children, please!" Despite being out in the woods, Kenji was on edge. "Get in the car." He then proceeded to put Yuriko in the passenger seat. Slight pains racked her body and she desperately wanted to lie down. Closing the door, Kenji made sure the children were inside before going back to the front with Hiro. He bowed. "Take care of yourself, my friend."
"I will. And next time yo—" Hiro's brains' splattered all over Kenji. The large man crumbled to the floor like a marionette that had its strings cut. Yuriko screamed at the sight and woke up baby Yori. Kimiko wailed after having just watched a man killed before her very eyes.
Instinct kicking in, as well as years of training, Kenji ducked and reached for the gun that wasn't there. When he put that life behind him he left everything. Now more than ever he wished he kept his gun. Searching, he knew he had not been the target for if he had he would have been dead. These men were trained and did not miss like they did in the movies—particularly when you're a stationary target. The notion of making a break for the driver's seat had crossed his mind, but he knew he would be dead before he made it. And seeing as he had the keys with him, his family was stuck here with him.
"You've gotten careless, Kenji," came Taro's snobbish voice. "Having a secret meeting by such a renowned local landmark. Honestly, have you forgotten everything we taught you?"
"Taro! Where are you, you coward?"
"I'm not the one running off into the night, old friend. But if it's face time you want…" He spotted the man's sleek, white suit coming out of the shadows. "Here I am." Kenji got up. "Uh-uh." Taro raised a finger. Pointing it this way and that, two silent bullets puffed holes at Kenji's feet. "What's that American cops always say? Ah yes: we have you surrounded. I always wanted to say that."
"Saito's not happy, Kenji. And when he's not happy, I'm not happy. Now why did you think you could up and leave us again like you did last time?" Taro removed a red handkerchief from his upper pocket. "I'd almost think you don't like us anymore. And after I came all this way just to see you." He pretended to sob and wipe his eyes dry. "It's enough to make a grown man cry."
"Dammit, Taro, leave my family out of this!"
Taro stopped pretending. "But we are your family." A dangerous gleam appeared in his eye. "And we take care of our own."
"No you don't. You're murderers!"
"The pot calling the kettle black. I wouldn't point fingers if I were you, Kenji-san, for if we were to get technical, and I always do, by last count you were our number one 'negotiator', if I recall correctly." Even in the weak light Kenji could see his smug face smiling. "You were something then. I dare say you'd have made it all the way to the top if you hadn't started thinking with something other than your head. What was it? Her silky hair? Her dark eyes? Her subtle curves? Or perhaps it was the way her skirt would flick every time she walked. You know what I'm talking about. She always did know how to flaunt it though I imagine you know that now better than anyone."
"And you've been busy." He chortled. "You always did accomplish what you set out to do. I imagine out of all your assignments that one turned out to be the most enjoyable. And you got to use your favorite gun while you were at it. What more could a man ask for?" Taro turned to the side as if to make himself a smaller target. Placing the hanky back in his pocket, the slick-haired gangster touched a finger to his forehead while raising his head to the sky. "Ah, Kenji. I admire you I really do. You were the one who got me into this business and I thank you for it. I learned how to take care of myself, how to talk got girls, and how to kill a man using only a bottle cap. I remember that one in particular."
He closed one eye. "But you know what I remember most about you?" And opened it. "How you used to take such fun in taking lives. How many people begged for mercy and yet you cut them down? Quite a few I take it. Even those you once called friends met their end by your hands. Do their faces ever haunt you at night? Do you hear their pleas while you snuggle next to your woman in bed? Do you wonder how many children no longer have their parents when you tuck your brats in at night? Tell me. I want to know." He looked at him. "Well, do you?"
One of the things he hated about Taro was the way he would go on and on and on; it's always been his weakness and had it just been the two of them then Kenji could take him. But his men lay hiding in the shadows. No way he could fight Taro and protect his clan at the same time. He had tried to put that life behind him. His kids knew nothing about their father's past. Were they to see him kill in cold blood would they ever look at him the same?
"Kenji." Taro said. "I'm waiting."
"Yes. Does that make you happy?"
"I haven't been happy in a long time. Ever since you left it's been no fun. The guys they recruit nowadays are such stiffs. No offense, boys." He called into the dark. "Now about our little arrangement."
"I won't let you take them."
"Oh for crying out loud." Taro regarded the entire forest. "He thinks he has a choice in the matter!" His cry filled the air. With his back turned, Kenji relished the thought of attacking him while he was exposed, taking him hostage and using him as leverage to get his family out of here. There was no way Taro's men could shoot a fast-moving target in the dark unless…unless they were wearing night-vision goggles. If that was the case then-the headlights! Hiro, may he rest in peace, only shut down the engine, but the car was still on. Perhaps there was a way out of this.
"This is ridiculous." Taro was unaware of his formulating plan as he continued. "Kenji, I'm tired. It's been a long ride and I want to go home. Why not make my life a little easier and hence your life much easier by just coming along so we can get out of this backwater. Seriously, the water back here really stinks." He covered his nose. "Have you noticed?"
"Something stinks alright." Casually, Kenji turned all the way around. He acted like he was tired, leaning over on the hood of the van and hanging his head. "I am tired."
"I said I am tired. I just want this night to end." Raising his face so that only those inside could see, Kenji casually mouthed the words "Turn-lights-on" to Yuriko who he knew could read lips. As he stepped away from the van he slowly brought up his hands, fingers spread to indicate the number ten. Yuriko understood though Taro just thought he was giving in. "So what say we put a stop to this, Taro?" He knew he was taking a big gamble, but his previous contemplation seemed accurate. He began counting down in his head. 10…9…8…7…
"Good." Taro turned to him fully now. "So just throw your hands in the air." 6…5... "And wave them like you just don't care." He laughed. "No but seriously you make a move and I'll blow your head off." 4….3….
Kenji did raise his hands.
"Man I'm good at this. Maybe I should be a cop."
…2…"Nice to know you've seen the light."…1…
Blinded, Taro screamed. Several shots fired out though they were preceded by startled cries as the hidden men threw their goggles off their heads. Kenji felt the bullets breeze by him, but he charged anyway, covering the distance between he and Taro with speed he thought he'd long forgotten. Taro reacted, as any good gangster would, by pulling out a weapon. It was box cutter, lethal in the right hands, but Kenji saw it and easily dodged Taro's blind swipe. Coming up behind him, Kenji grabbed Taro around the head, pulled him back to expose his neck and brought up the car keys. Those too were lethal in the right hands.
Kenji scratched the surface of Taro's neck with the keys. "Drop it! Drop the knife!" Angrily, Taro did so. "Now you listen to me! All of you! I will kill this man unless you all come out and drop your weapons." No answer. "Tell them to come out, Taro." He pushed the edge of the key down hard. "Now!"
"Ow! Okay! Come out!"
One by one, each of Taro's men appeared.
"Tell them to throw down their weapons."
"But I don't want to."
"Alright! Geez!" He squirmed, feeling a trickle of blood pouring down his neck. Idiot's going to ruin my suit!
"Throw down your weapons." The four men quickly complied. "Now stand over there by the shrine all of you," Kenji ordered and waited until they did so before dragging Taro over by the van. "Kimiko!" Upon hearing her name, the teenager slowly raised her head. "It's alright, Kimiko. I need you to help me." He felt like garbage taking the girl out of the relative safety of the van but he could not hold Taro, protect them, and get rid of the guns at the same time. "Please. I will keep you safe."
She didn't want to go out. All she wanted was to hide in this car until the world exploded. Yori was still crying and Takeshi was starting to as well. Yuriko tried to console the children but they weren't having it. "Don't go," Yusuke, who was trying to put up a brave front, said. "I'll do it."
"No. He asked for me and you're too young. Here, look after your sister."
He started to say "But" when Kimiko handed Yori over to him and with a deep breath opened the door. It felt like stepping off an airplane at thirty thousand feet.
Once he saw Kimiko he motioned to the guns. "Kimiko, throw all but one of the guns into the woods. Then bring the last one to me."
She did as he ordered. Three guns went spiraling into the forest. Picking up the last one, Kimiko felt strange. She'd seen guns on television and video games. To actually be holding something that could take another human being's life was exhilarating and terrifying. Just think, one squeeze of the trigger would make all these bad men go away. Fighting the urge, Kimiko took the gun to Kenji.
Something just felt…wrong.
As invisible as the darkness around her, something grabbed Kimiko. She screamed, dropping the gun. Kenji could barley turn around fast enough to see Kimiko being held by an inky blackness the likes of which he hadn't seen in years. "Brushshogun!"
One of Japan's deadliest super villains, Brushshogun was made entirely of ink. It is said his body was created by black magic which pooled the body of a talented but twisted artist with that of his ink. Now he was no longer human, but a monster. Kenji encountered him only once before. He hoped he'd never again.
"Kenji Ishimura." The creature spoke with a voice that resembled a wheezing man underwater. The face was a black mass of nothingness save four slit red eyes. Four arm-like tentacles whipped around his upper body, the lower half was just a mass of liquid. He was holding Kimiko six feet in the hair. As of right now, the thing was standing almost nine feet tall. "I'm flattered you remember me."
Yuriko screamed when she saw Brushshogun appear and began honking the horn to warn Kenji. "Silence, bitch!" One tentacle whipped around and smacked the entire van, a vehicle weighing tons, back twenty feet into a nearby tree. The vehicle was totaled.
Taro took this moment to butt Kenji with the back of his head. He was free and rushed for the gun Kimiko dropped. Standing besides Brushshogun, Taro wiped the blood from his neck. "Why are you here?" He asked the creature. "I told the boss I had everything in hand."
"Saito-sama didn't think you were up to the task. Good thinking on his part considering how things would have turned out."
"I had the situation under control." He turned to Kenji. "Tell him, Kenji; tell him I had everything under control."
But Kenji could see only one thing: the van. "Bastards!"
"Hold your tongue!" Brushshogun lashed out at Kenji who quickly jumped backward. "And mind your step." One of the thing's other tentacles slithered along the ground so fast that it kicked Kenji's feet from under him. He hit the ground hard and was pulled into the air. "Let me go!"
"Ishimura-san!" Kimiko wailed.
"Hang on, Kimiko." Kenji tried to free himself but it was no use. The creature's strength was inhuman.
Laughing Taro pointed the gun at Kenji. "If the boss didn't want to deal with you himself I'd put sixty bullets in you right now."
"That weapon does not carry sixty bullets, retard."
"Shut up! Anyway, I guess I'll just have to take out my frustrations on this pretty little thing." He turned the gun on Kimiko.
"Kimiko! Damn you, Taro!"
"What about me?" Brushshogun asked.
Taro leveled the weapon. "Hold her up will you?"
Brushshogun grumbled but did as he was told, raising the girl so that Taro would have a clean shot. Taro took aim. "Give my regards to the Grim Reaper."
Something threw Taro's gun to the ground and nearly took his hand with it. Gasping, the Yakuza stepped back, looked at the gun, and saw what looked like a throwing star buried into the handle. "What the…"
"Taro!" One of his men called. Taro followed his gesture upward and saw five dark figures looming in the trees. "You've got to be shitting me!"
One of them leaped and, in one swift motion, removed a sword from its holster and severed the limb holding Kenji. "Hey, that was mine!" Brushshogun complained.
Kenji recovered quickly as the ninja landed beside him. Taro pointed to them. "Kay, boys, time to earn your pay. Kill them!" He waited. "Uh, guys?" Taro nearly crapped in his pants when he saw all four of his men lying unconscious in the dirt.
Meanwhile, Brushshogun regrew his severed arm. "Pathetic. Looks like it's up to me." Brushshogun began swiping at both Kenji and the ninja. Each dodged, jumped and nimbly moved out of his way. The lead ninja motioned for his fellows to attack. Throwing stars went flying and peppered the inky creature, though Brushshogun acted as if he felt nothing at all. "These yours?" His body spat out the stars like spitballs, forcing the ninjas and Kenji to take cover. The ninja warriors unsheathed their swords, knives, staves, and sai, taking the fight to Brushshogun. The following battle was a bizarre concept straight out of an anime series. The ninja's fought bravely, cutting and dicing and batting each of the flailing limbs that in turn tried to crush, whip, or throw them. While the ninja's held their own, they were clearly no match for the supernatural being.
One by one, each ninja fell. Kenji turned to the leader. "They can't stop him. None of us can. He's too strong."
The leader watched with observing eyes. Each of his cohorts eventually was forced to retreat. Those who'd received wounds could no longer continue the fight. Another was disarmed. The last just thought, "forget this" and pulled back. Brushshogun stood triumphant.
"Ha!" Taro exclaimed. "Ninjas are so last century."
Kenji stood side by side with the leader. "We need to get by him. My family was in that van." When the ninja said nothing he grew frustrated. "Fine then, I'll do it myself." Luckily the lead ninja stopped him before he could make a kamikaze run. Removing a blow dart and a pipe from nowhere, the ninja readied the dart, took aim, and blew. The dart flew until it sunk into the Brushshogun's black form.
"Are you serious?" the monster asked. "That's it?"
"I could've taken that." Taro gloated. "Go ahead, Brushshogun, finish them off."
"You're not the boss of me. But I'll do it anyway because I like hurting people." Readied all his arms for one massive attack, Brushshogun had enough time to realize the lead ninja was holding something else in his hand, a small button device, a button he pressed. "Uh-oh."
The blast sent parts of Brushshogun splattering everywhere. Taro was covered in it. "No! My suit!" He cried out again when Kimiko came crashing down, knocking him unconscious. The blast did not kill Brushshogun, it only made a mess of him. It would be a while before the paint-blooded villain could pull himself together again. Kimiko slowly got to her feet. Looking around at all that happened, the girl began to wonder if this was all a bad dream.
"You did it!" Kenji exclaimed. "No one has ever defeated Brushshogun before."
"Any opponent can be defeated, Ishimura-san." The lead ninja removed his mask. "If you know the right time to strike."
Kenji could not believe it. Kozoburo Sensei, the greatest ninja in all of Japan! When he sent word to Yamanouchi that he needed help, he never expected the master of that ninja school to come to his aid himself. "Sensei-sama!"
The ninja was still in fine form despite pushing sixty. His hair was starting to gray and wrinkles lined his once flawless features, but he was still deadly and as of right Kenji's best friend. "I must say, Kenji-san, it looks like you've put on a few pounds."
Blushing slightly, Kenji turned when he saw Kimiko approaching them. "I think I'm going to be sick." Then she collapsed. Kenji tried to grab her but Sensei was much faster and caught the girl in his strong arms. Lifting her up, he turned to Kenji. "The girl will be alright. She's just tired. In the meantime why don't you see to your family?"
Kenji ran toward the damaged van. The ninjas were already there. After tying up Taro's men they quickly proceeded to aid the Ishimura family. Kenji saw them remove Takeshi and Yusuke from the back. The boys were out cold but they were fine. One of the ninjas held a screaming Yori in his arms. Yusuke had folded his body around his sister, protecting her from harm and shielding her from the worst of the jolt. Kenji quickly relieved the ninja of the baby and smiled. Yori, Yusuke, Takeshi, all of them were okay.
"Oy!" A ninja called to his brethren. Together, he and another ninja pulled something out of the front—something covered in blood.
Sensei saw it before Kenji did. "Kenji."
He looked. He saw. Were the bundle in his hands anything less than his own daughter he'd have dropped it. Yuriko?
Morning had come. In an isolated part of the forest a small grave had been erected just a few hours prior. It was a simple memorial, rocks gathered onto a little mound. The grave was placed beneath a cherry blossom tree which would be blooming very soon.
At the foot of the grave, a family grieved their lost. Sensei and his ninjas remained a respectable distance away though they too had said their silent prayers. Sensei did not want to disturb them but he knew that they had to get going. He silently approached the Ishimuras from behind; taking great care to letting them finish their final goodbyes to a wonderful woman.
"Forgive me, Ishimura-san. But I must speak with you."
Wiping away his tears, Kenji was sad to leave his wife's grave but relieved to finally be able to look away. Being there was just too painful. He joined Sensei off to the side with their backs to the kids. Now that had managed to escape they must decide on what to do next. Many tough decisions would have to be made.
"This is a very difficult time for you, but now you must decide on the course you wish to take. Keep in mind that vengeance can be an honorable path so long as you don't let it consume you and it is for the right reasons. On the other hand, there is no greater honor than passing on what you know to the next generation. Your children will need guidance. I can help you in that respect."
Kenji said nothing.
Sensei sighed. "Your choice is your own, my friend. Just know that you will have my support in whatever you do. But please, and this is a favor to me, think of the young ones. They have so much to offer the world. When you've made your decision make sure it is with a clear mind and not a closed heart. These children need a father now more than ever."
"I remember when I first saw you and Yuriko together," Sensei continued. "Never had I seen such a happier couple. You were so young, so full of spirit. When you decided to leave that world behind you, I knew it was for the best. Now you have three wonderful children and have practically adopted a fourth. You were both blessed, Kenji. Don't let it all go to waste by sulking in your misery." He touched his shoulder. "Yuriko would not want that."
Sighing, Sensei turned in time to see Kimiko approaching with little Yori in hand. "Ishimura-san."
"What is it, Kimiko?" His voice was low and distant.
"I'd like to know what your plans are."
Sensei politely stepped back. Kimiko said nothing, instead just staring at Kenji while he pondered. The more he saw them like this, Sensei thought, the more they looked like father and daughter.
"As much as Yuriko would want me to get on with my life, I cannot let her death stand. I would never be able to find peace knowing her murderers are still out there."
"Then you plan to go after Brushshogun?" Sensei asked.
"Not just Brushshogun. All of them. My family will never know peace so long as Saito and his men are after us. It's time to take the fight to them."
"Vengeance is your path then?"
"Yes, Sensei. I will find each and every one of those bastards and cut their throats out. It won't bring Yuriko back but at least I'll find some solace knowing they'll never harm another innocent." His fists clenched with righteousness. "One by one I will find them, I will kill them, and when I finally reach Saito I will make him pay for all that he's done."
"Very well, Ishimura-san. But the question still remains. What of the children? You cannot possibly have them join you on this crusade."
Kenji had to concede that point.
"If you want my advice," Sensei offered. "I know people who could keep them safe from harm, but they will have to be separated." Kenji and Kimiko looked at him. "It's too dangerous to keep them together, but at the same time we need to have them where we can watch and protect. These people I speak of are true and honorable, I can vouch for each of them, but the choice remains yours."
"Split us up?" Kimiko asked. "Is that wise?"
"Saito has eyes and ears everywhere, Kimiko. In just a matter of years he's risen to the top of the Japanese Underworld with frightening speed. It won't be long before he is the most powerful Yakuza the world has ever seen."
"Then could we not send the children elsewhere? To America perhaps?"
"Our resources are stretched thin. In America and in any other country we would not be able to properly keep an eye on them as we would in Japan."
Kenji nodded. "Very well. But I have a request."
"You have but to name it."
"The baby, Yori, she is so young. To separate her from everyone she knows….it will be difficult to say the least. However, Yuriko always spoke so highly of Yamanouchi. It has many young students, some of which were raised there since infancy. If you don't mind, I feel that Yori would most benefit from your care."
"It would be my honor."
"I have a request as well. Both men regarded Kimiko. "I made a promise to Yuriko to watch over her children. Seeing as how they'll be splitting up makes that promise difficult to keep. However, I believe there is a way I can honor her. Ishimura-san, please let me go with you." She bowed.
"Kimiko, while I appreciate your intentions I cannot possibly allow you,"
"The fight will be difficult enough as it is. You will need help."
"The answer is no."
She looked up, glaring. "I've lost two mothers in my lifetime. The first I can never pay back for bringing me into this world but the second I can honor by punishing those who have killed her. I'm young, I'm strong, I'm determined, and I have yet to see the world outside the village. After all that's happened I do not want to spend the rest of my life hiding when there's so much more I could be doing."
"You will not find a life worth living with me."
"Maybe not. But at least it will be the life I chose."
"You've no idea what you're getting yourself into."
"Respectfully, Ishimura-san, you need me."
Kenji turned on her. "You're young."
"That only means I have many more years to dedicate to the mission than you do."
Sensei laughed. "Stronger than steel, this one. I'd say you have a partner in crime."
Kenji saw the look in Kimiko's eyes and he saw himself…so many years ago. Back then he was arrogant, headstrong, believing he knew it all. Had he only known then what he knew now, he would never have stepped into that teahouse.
"Is this what you want?"
"Alright. But know that the moment you set out with me, you leave your innocence behind."
"So be it."
"Then it is settled." Sensei gave his ninjas a hand signal and they prepared to move out. He looked over at the boys. "Nothing will happen to them, Kenji, I swear it."
"I know." Kenji walked over to Kimiko who was wide awake now. Her beautiful brown eyes reminded Kenji of her mother. "You probably wont' remember us, Yori. But rest assured that we all love you and someday, though it may be a long time, we will be together. I promise you." He took something out of his pocket and gave to Yori. "This was your mother's. Cherish it, my little one." Yori chuckled and kicked when Kenji gave her the gift. Little did she know it would become as much a part of her as a Kimmunicator would be to another baby girl halfway around the world.
It was Yuriko's red hairband.