The Gaijin Ninja

Using Yamanouchi's connections, Yori and Hirotaka flew to Nagasaki via first-class accommodations. The corporate fatcat who provided the jet was a close personal friend of Master Sensei; and a former student. He was only too glad to be of assistance.

Hirotaka was only too glad to oblige him. After spending years sleeping on a hard mat, meditating on a wooden floor, and trudging through mud, rock and dirt, his lower extremities experienced the plush comforts of upper-class travel. His body melted into the rich, Corinthian leather seat. He reclined as far back as the chair would allow, putting his feet up and activating the seat's personal massage feature. The stewardess, a stunningly attractive girl whose outfit revealed a bit more than standardized uniforms would allow, was at their beck and call throughout the trip. She seemed to take special care of Hirotaka, which was okay by him. He would have to thank Hironobu-sama the next time they met.

Yori was distant throughout the entire trip. She remained silent ever since they'd left Yamanouchi. Each attempt to strike up a conversation or even a playful exchange was met with a nonchalant reply and a vacant look. All she did while on the plane was stare out the window. The mountainous terrain of Japan sprawled out beneath them with various intervals of city lights and absolute darkness. It was early in the morning when they left for Nagasaki. The Land of the Rising Sun had yet to live up to its name.

It was late, but Yori was not tired. She had too much to think about to sleep. For Yori, sleep was always an afterthought, her missions sometimes requiring her to be awake for hours. She'd learned to fight back that temptation while at the same time pushing her body beyond its physical limitations. But it was not sleep she was fighting now; it was restlessness.

Hirotaka decided to catch a few Z's before their arrival. Yori was happy he decided to come along. He would provide that extra support that she knew she was going to need. Whatever differences they had, Yori knew she could count on him when the time comes. It's good to have someone watching your back even if that someone was a very annoying but sometimes sweet best friend.

The flight went by smoothly and they landed at Nagasaki Airport without incident. The place was busy even at this time of night. There were interconnecting flights passing through on their way to other parts of the country and while it was nowhere near as packed as larger airports such as those in Tokyo or Osaka, it was still a lot more people than either of them were used to seeing. Back in Yamanouchi, Hiro and Yori was two big fish in a small pond. Here, they were little fish in a vast ocean. The contrast was not lost on either of them.

Hirotaka stretched out the creaks in his neck. "We should travel like that more often."

"I never thought you a creature of comfort, Hiro-chan. Though by the way you were looking at that flight attendant I was afraid I would never get you off the plane."

"I must admit, the thought of strapping myself permanently to that seat did sound appealing. Being waited on hand and foot by a beautiful woman is every man's dream."

"And I'll bet you were dreaming about many other things while you slept."

The smirk on his face couldn't be any more evident.

"Pig." She scanned the airport lobby. "We are supposed to meet a contact here. Keep a lookout for,"

"A ninja," Hirotaka said and when Yori turned to him he pointed to a black-clad figure sitting with his legs crossed and reading a newspaper in the middle of the lobby. "Guess she was absent the day they taught stealth at school."

"It's a she?"

"I'd recognize the sensual curves of a female any day."

Yori glared at him. "Sometimes, Hiro-chan, I believe that is the only thing you recognize in a woman."

He held up his hands. "What can I say? I'm a Japanese Casanova."

"More like a Japanese Howard Stern." Hoisting her bag, Yori made her way toward the female ninja and with a graceful bow, she clasped her hands together. "Greetings."

Casually folding the newspaper before putting it aside, the female ninja got to her feet and returned the salutation. She was about Yori's height and width, though her eyes were slightly rounder with a grayish tint to them. It took Yori a moment to realize that she had a long ponytail sticking out the back of her head. The strand bobbed back and forth as she began to size her up. "You've grown, Yori."

Taken aback by the familiarity in her voice, Yori turned her head sideways and asked, "Do I know you?"

"Forgotten me already? Guess I didn't leave that much of an impression. Maybe this will jog your memory." Looking over her shoulder, the ninja winked over at Hirotaka whose eyes became intrigued by the gesture. Then, without warning, before Yori could even react, she leaped over her head, dived into a barrel roll, and came up to Hirotaka. Sweeping her leg out in front of her, she kicked his legs out from beneath him. The smug look on his face vanished along with his pride.

Hirotaka recovered, twisting his arm about to catch the floor and flipped back to his feet. He was barely halfway up when a downward kick came down on his shoulder. The youth took the blow head on and grabbed her leg by the shin, only to have her leap up with her other leg and coil it around his neck. She did a spinning flip that twisted her around his body like a boomerang, using the inertia to flip him over. Again Hirotaka's swift reflexes saved him from an unsavory meeting with the floor and rolled with it; he came up, only this time with every intention of not letting her gain the upper hand again.

Realizing that speed was her greatest asset, he decided to go for her legs, removing her advantage and getting some payback at the same time. Hirotaka fired off two kicks; one straight, the other a spinning back kick meant to throw her off guard. His intent was to goad her into striking what he would make her think was an opening that he'd purposely provided. Once she saw that opening, she took the bait. During his spinning back kick, the ninja dodged it like a tornado, spinning inside his defense perimeter to bring up her arm for a smashing elbow to the face.

But Hirotaka didn't place all his energy into the attack; instead he saved some for his real plan. At the last moment he buckled his other leg, ducking under her strike which struck right where his face would have been. Now with her backside toward him, he reached out and grabbed her just under the knees, and pulled. She fell down hard, her breath blurting out when her legs met with the floor. Not finished, Hirotaka then spun himself around her legs, positioning his buttocks just above her own and bracing her legs under his armpits, leaned back in a painful wrestling hold.

Believing he had her beaten, Hirotaka offered terms. "Do you yield?"

But amazing as it may seem, the girl was far from beaten. Demonstrating agility and flexibility that defied her muscular form, she leaned back farther than most humans would believe possible in that position and reached back with her hands. Using the middle and pointer finger on each hand, she coiled them around Hirotaka's head and poked his eyes. It was shock and not so much the pain that forced Hirotaka to let go. He truly believed he had won but when the surprise attack came he wasn't ready. It was a rookie mistake and one he did not intend to make a second time, but now she was free and he was temporarily blind.

Free at last, the ninja put some distance between her and Hirotaka. Spinning around to see him clasping his face, she gathered up speed before leaping into the air, her leg fully extended.

"Flying kick!" Yori warned.

Hirotaka immediately fell back, his knees bent, forcing his body to lay flat on the floor. His opponent flew over him. She landed as gracefully as a crane on water. As it turned out, she was using the Crane Style, mimicking its subtle and feminine motions while secretly hiding her true strength within. Hirotaka regained his sight just then and reared back into the Tiger Style, his preferred form. Like the predator he so admired, he moved with amazing speed, striking so fast it was almost impossible to know which hand was moving. He clashed with the ninja, exchanging blow after blow.

Yori watched with awed entrancement. The fight mimicked the duel she and Hirotaka had in the dojo just hours ago. Being an avid practioner of the Crane, Yori recognized each and every movement as if she were the one fighting instead. It all seemed so familiar to her.

"Is it…" she started to say then blurted out, "It's you!"

Yori's exclamation drew the ninja's attention for a split second, long enough for Hirotaka to bypass her defenses, reach up and grab her mask, removing it so roughly that she staggered backward. He was about to finish her off when he caught a glimpse of her face. "I know yo…" he never finished as she kicked him square in the chest. He let go of the mask and she grabbed it out of the air. "I'll be taking that back, thank you."

On his back, Hirotaka reached for his chest which was sore after that last blow. Looking up, he found himself staring at her. Yori was doing the same. She ran over to Hirotaka's side to check on him then turned to face the kunoichi. "You used to be at Yamanouchi. You were a student there."

"Ding-Ding-Ding! You are correct. And to think all I had to do was kick your boyfriend's ass to do it."

"You did not kick my ass/He is not my boyfriend!" They said at once. Looking to each other only briefly, they turned back to her when she laughed out loud. "Still the same old Yori and Hirotaka. Or should I say, Hiro-chan."

Hirotaka grumbled.

The young woman was a stunning beauty, but she had features that made her slightly more exotic than the average Japanese; that being that she wasn't fully Japanese to begin with. Her rounder eyes with the grayish coloring were a testament to that, plus she had a lighter complexion than Yori or Hirotaka. The more pronounced nose and thin lips were also a dead giveaway of her mixed ancestry. Her hair, on the other hand, was fully Japanese: long, dark, silky, the kind you could run your fingers through all day.

She had a self-satisfied look about her as she looked down at them. "That was fun. We should do it more often. What say you and I go a round, Yori? For old times sake?"

Yori shook her head. "Still as informal as always. You have not changed either, Mifune-san."

"It's Hoshi," she said. "You'd think that after all we've been through a first-name basis wouldn't be out of the question." Lowering her gaze, Hoshi put her mask back on, leaving nothing but her eyes visible. "But you always did have a problem letting your guard down. Always being the perfect little ninja to loosen up. Life's not all about becoming one with the shadows. I thought you'd learn that by now."

"And I thought you would learn proper respect for your teachings. I see you still treat our ways like a joke." She stood up. "And why did you attack Hirotaka? You might have hurt him."

"Your concern is touching, Yori-chan, but I believe I was capable enough of doing my fair share of damage to this dropout."

"Transfer," Hoshi said, placing her hands on her hips as she spoke. "They let me in, I let myself out."

"Leaving is leaving."

"Yeah well, your hair's funny."

Hirotaka gasped. "How dare you!"

"Brush Head."

"Stop this, both of you!" Yori scolded. "I think it would be best if we took our business elsewhere." Her words rang true. All around them, airport personnel and travelers alike had gathered a safe distance away from where the fight had taken place. Security was called in to put a stop to it and already they could hear the approaching footsteps of several men. "We must go."

"A fine ninja you are starting a fight in such a public place. No wonder you were kicked out of Yamanouchi."

Hoshi promptly turned on Hiro and said, "That place was too stuffy for me. I decided it was time for a change of scenery. So I left."

"You are a disgrace!"

"Look who's talking. How the hell are you going to let someone get the drop on you like that? Aren't you supposed to be ready for anything?"

Hirotaka's face flushed with anger but Yori grabbed him by the arm. "We don't have time. Hoshi, we have to leave."

"Already on it. Stand next to me."

Hirotaka was hesitant to do so after what happened, but with Yori around his arm and with security getting closer he didn't put up much resistance when he was pulled in beside her. Making sure not to forget their bags, Hiro and Yori kept them close.

Security had just rounded the corner and the people there parted to let them through.

"Well?" Hiro asked.

"What are we waiting for?" Yori was ready to make a made dash toward the exit.


"It is already night," Hirotaka said. "Or haven't you noticed?"

"Gods how I missed your charm." Hoshi gently raised her finger and touched Hiro on the nose. Leaning in, she whispered, "Hope you're not afraid of the dark."

The lights went out. People screamed, and all the security personnel who were running at full speed tripped over each other as they clamored to a halt.

"Kay, guys, do the ninja thing," Hoshi told them.

Moments later, less than five seconds to be exact, the power returned to that terminal and everyone looked dazed by the ordeal. The security officers picked themselves up from the floor and began to search for the three troublemakers. But they were gone, escaping during the blackout. There wasn't a trace of them – save for a neatly folded newspaper laying on an empty bench.

The ninjas regrouped on a radio tower overlooking the runway. Hoshi stood on surveillance; not like there was any fear of pursuit but the night air was refreshing and she needed it after spending just a few seconds with the two Yamanouchi students. She sensed Yori walking toward her and didn't bother to turn around. "How did you do that?" she asked. "Did you sabotage the power system knowing we would need to make a quick escape?"

"There would have been no need had she been more discreet about meeting us." Hirotaka joined Yori by her side. He had his arms crossed, and bore his eyes into Hoshi's back. "I've never met a more reckless ninja in all my life. And I use the term lightly."

"Blah, blah, blah. You really do love to hear yourself talk, don't you?"

"Interesting hearing that coming from a gaijin."

"Hiro-chan!" Yori exclaimed.

Hoshi slowly looked over her shoulder. "Careful, before we finish what we started." Her voice became very low.

"What you started, you mean. I was defending myself."

"And doing a remarkable job of it. How have you survived all these years?" She raised her hands in exasperation.

"Will you two be fighting the entire time? I really do not want to play mother hen so if you mind can you please get along?"

"Don't ask me. Ask the Yankee girl."

"You have a problem with that?" Hoshi asked.

"I have a difficult time trusting those who cannot be trusted."

"I'm hurt. And here I took time out of my busy schedule just so I could help you." She pretended to sob. "Makes a girl feel unwanted."

Yori approached Hoshi. "Please. Do not make fun of this situation. The mission I am on is most dire. It is something I have a personal stake in."

"Do tell." Hoshi's eyes widened.

"Don't tell her anything, Yori."

"You…" she pointed at Hirotaka. "Shut up." Back to Yori. "So?"

"It is private."

"She should mind her own business."

"Do you understand Japanese? I said, shut up!"

"Please don't fight."

Hoshi rolled her eyes. It was bad enough she had to baby-sit Yori, but to deal with that pompous playboy Hirotaka was only going to make her job a lot harder. Why couldn't she have picked someone nicer? Some guy who didn't spend all his free time trying to dive into the pants of the first pretty girl he saw? Hoshi and Hiro never got along; even from the first day they met. Maybe it was her American heritage, maybe it was his womanizing ways; either way, they were like Yin and Yang, two sides of a coin that never got along. Now Hoshi understood why both sides of a coin always faced in the opposite direction.

"Look, you're here to meet someone right? A woman?" Yori looked at her. "I got all the details. Don't worry; everything I read was strictly need-to-know. I'm to serve as your contact in Nagasaki and to assist you in any way possible during your stay. At no time will I interfere or otherwise allow anything to interfere with your mission. I am to be at your disposal at all times – that includes food and quarter. I already have us rooms at a nearby hotel. It's nothing fancy but hey, we're ninjas right? Compared to the sleeping conditions we're used to it'll be like the Imperial Hotel. So whenever you're ready we go."

When Yori did not reply, she added, "I know we aren't exactly best friends, but so long as you're here I'll take care of you. Ninja's honor."

Hirotaka "hmphed".

Hoshi leered at him. "The message didn't say anything about two of you so you're going to have to sleep outside."

"If you don't mind," Yori began. "I would like to see this woman right away."

"Already? Don't you want to rest first? Not like she's going anywhere. I've done some reconnaissance where she's holed up and I can honestly say,"

"You've seen her?"

"Um, yeah. It's kind of what I'm paid to do."

"What does she look like?"


Yori's brows furled.

"It's a joke. Come on, laugh. No? Fine. She's a middle-aged crank who's already over the hill, if you get my meaning."

Touching her lip, Yori said, "I do not understand."

"You will…when you grow up. Come on. My car is this way."

"You drive?"

"No I leap across rooftops and use a grapel to scale tall buildings. It's the twenty-first century, Yori. Get with the times."

Yori glared at Hoshi even as she walked toward the opposite end of the radio tower. Hirotaka joined her, not once taking his eyes off of Hoshi. "Of all the ninjas in Japan, why her?"

"These things happen for a reason. In any case if she's here to help us then we deal with it and move on. We won't stay any longer than we have to." Yori went to get her bag and follow Hoshi. Hoshi waited for Yori at the edge. She then jumped off the tower with Yori following right after. Sighing, Hirotaka grabbed his duffel bag. "I don't care what she says. I am not sleeping in outside." Hirotaka leaped into the darkness.

Hoshi drove a nice Toyota sports car. How she could afford it on a ninja's salary Yori could not even begin to guess. They'd lost touch after she left Yamanouchi four years ago and it wasn't as if ninjas had a My Space account or a cellphone to keep in contact. Hoshi's sudden departure had caught Yori by surprise. Even back then she was one of the most skilled ninjas she had ever seen, and the two would often spar in their free time. One day, Yori woke up to find Hoshi had left Yamanouchi, and did so without saying a word. She told no one this, but she felt saddened by her leaving because, in a strange way, Yori had found a kindred spirit.

Unorthodox hardly described the gray-eyed woman. Her mixed ancestry meant she had a foot in two different worlds. The daughter of a Japanese woman and an American man, Hoshi never quite fit in well with either group. To Americans, she was too Japanese; to the Japanese, American. It seemed she was a culture all her own. Hoshi had a difficult time fitting in wherever she went and that did not change when she attended Yamanouchi.

Yori remembered how lonely Hoshi seemed whenever she was among the other students. They would talk to her, but would always comment on her funny accent and strange mannerisms. Hoshi took their criticism in stride and gave back as much as she received. In training, she proved to be a fast learner, which served to help her rise in the rankings and even earn respect from those who used to make fun of her. Try as she might, however, she could never fully integrate herself into the student populace, and worst still, she could never lose her accent. That alone would always make her the outsider.


It was an old word barely used in contemporary Japan. But its meaning still carried great weight. The word was used to describe foreigners and to a lesser extent, barbarians. Namely, if you weren't Japanese, you were a gaijin. This term was sometimes used to describe someone who did not fully fit in to Japanese society. Mixed students, or Japanese who were born elsewhere and returned to Japan, fit into this category. Japanese lived their lives according to a strict code of conduct that called for respect for one's elders, academic excellence, hard work, and to put the group above the individual. Those that did not adhere to their guidelines, regardless of whether they were Japanese or not, were often frowned upon and made fun of.

To become an outsider in a land that valued the group ethic was the closest thing to banishment one could achieve. It was shameful for any Japanese to be called gaijin. For foreigners, it was a borderline insult. To mixed breeds like Hoshi, it meant you were completely alone.

People did not socialize with Hoshi too much, as gaijin were considered odd enough as it is. And yet Yori could not deny she was fascinated by the girl. She was so different from the other students, so confidant and self-reliant. She spoke her mind and wasn't afraid to take criticism even against her heritage. Hoshi was brave and never backed down when challenged even by the more advanced students. She stood alone against the mountain and never wavered. Standing strong in the face of adversity, overcoming one challenge after the other through skill and determination – that was Bushido – The Way of the Warrior.

That being said, Hoshi was also a bit of a troublemaker. At times she would talk back to her instructors, get into fights with a student, or worst still, she would swear. Her record was such that Master Sensei was forced to call together an inquiry on whether she should be expelled from school. That had been the day before Hoshi left. Yori never did find out what happened to Hoshi and when asked neither Master Sensei nor any of her teachers would speak about it.

As time went on, Yori thought less and less of Hoshi until she had completely forgotten about her. Back in the airport, when she and Hirotaka fought, it all came back to her. The way she moved, her technique, there could be no question! Yori recognized her almost immediately because it had been Hoshi who taught her the Crane Style.

Memories came flooding back and Yori knew this mission just grew more complicated.

"Don't you think it's strange driving while wearing a ninja outfit in public?" Hirotaka had been sitting quietly in the back – his question having brought Yori out of the past and back to the present. She was sitting in the passenger seat, which in Japan meant the left side, turning to Hoshi who still donned her black ninja gi.

"This is Japan. Ninjas here are a dime a dozen," she told him. "Or have you been holed up in the mountain for so long you think anyone will care whether a bunch of ninjas roll up in a car?" Even with the mask, Yori could tell she was smirking.

"I still think you're taking too many risks."

"And I think you don't know how to lighten up. What say you and I have a drink while Yori's catching up?"

This caught Hirotaka by surprise but he quickly regained his composure. Sitting back, his arms spread, legs crossed, the glint of having some fun appeared in his eye. Oh no, Yori thought, he wouldn't…

"Are you asking me out?"

He would.

"I know a little watering hole right by the hotel. The manager's an old buddy of mine so we can throw back a few and relax. You're not a minor are you?"

"And if I was?'

"Eh. He wouldn't care anyway. Guy's been trying to tap my ass for months." She chuckled. "He's not gonna, though."

The notion of bringing Hoshi down a peg by drinking her under the table was quite appealing to Hirotaka. It was a way to finish their fight without having to resort to fisticuffs. Besides, for all her faults, and there were many, she was attractive….and there were other ways of conquering a foe.

"So we on?"

"Most definitely."

"Good. Yori," she turned to her. "We'll save you a seat. Maybe later you and your lady friend can join us and we can have a four-way."

Now Hirotaka's eyes really lit up.

"Please tell me we're almost there," Yori muttered, suddenly feeling ill.

"Oh we're already here." Hoshi turned the next corner and pulled up to a squat, four-story building. Judging from the neighborhood, this was one of the seedier parts of town – very low rent and low key. Perfect for those who did not want to be found.

Exiting the car, Yori took one look at the hotel and her face frowned. "This is it?"

"Top floor, room 4-D. I scoped it out this morning. Place is clean." Hoshi had yet to leave the driver's seat. "We'll be hanging out right across the street. See that bar?" Yori found what she was talking about. A filthy looking place with questionable characters hanging out up front. "Just tell 'em Hoshi sent ya and they'll let you in. I'll wave to you when you come in."

Yori leaned back into the car entrance. "But why," she stopped when she noticed Hoshi was undressing…with Hirotaka still in the car. "W-What are you doing?"

"Changing. Can't be a ninja everywhere I go." She had already discarded her mask was and was undoing the straps on her waist – the upper half was down her shoulders when Yori peered in. In the back seat, Hirotaka was enjoying the view.

Modesty, apparently a word as unknown to her as subtlety.

"Do you have to do that when he's here?"

"I don't mind." Hiro said.

"Hiro-chan, get out the car."

"But she…"

"Either you get out right now or I will tell Master Sensei about your disgraceful conduct."

"Better do what she says before she tattles," Hoshi told Hirotaka and he begrudgingly complied.

Glaring needles at Hirotaka as they waited for Hoshi to change, the students waited outside. When she finished, Hoshi stepped out of the car. "All done."

Hiro and Yori turned around to find Hoshi wearing a black leather skirt, fish-net stockings, black heels, and a sleeveless white shirt that showed off ample bosom. Her hair she kept in a ponytail. Stepping back, Hoshi posed for them. "How do I look?"

"Like you have no shame." Yori said, her eyes widening.

Hiro's eyes widened too but for different reasons.

"You're no fun. Come on, Hiro," Skipping over, Hoshi grabbed Hiro's arm and began to escort him to the bar. She turned back to remind Yori, "Remember, it's apartment 4-D. She usually just lounges around her room this time of night. When you're done just hop on over and hang out with us."

"I will be nearby, Yori-chan," Hiro said and with a little concern in his voice. Despite the major distraction that Hoshi was, he still did not forget he was here to help Yori. She nodded a thank you to him and watched them head for the bar. A couple of drunks couldn't take their eyes off Hoshi. The bouncer up front stopped them at first but when he recognized Hoshi he stepped aside to let them in. With them gone, Yori turned to the hotel.

She went through the front door, taking notice of the overweight woman watching a show called Ninja Warrior on a small television screen. The woman, with curlers in her hair, barley acknowledged Yori as she entered. "We're booked for the night," she said, watching the latest contestant try his hand at a deviously clever obstacle course. "Come back tomorrow."

"I am here to see someone. Apartment 4-D."

"I cannot give out names."

"I already know her name."

"Is she expecting you?"

"Yes." That much was true.

"Okay, go up." She suddenly laughed when the contestant fell into the war after falling off the infamous "Rolling Log". Yori bypassed her. She didn't know what she found more ridiculous; the woman's lack of commitment to her job, or the show she was watching. She could be an assassin out to kill the woman in apartment 4-D for all she knew and had just been allowed upstairs without even a phone call to ask if the woman was expecting company. And that program of hers – Ninja Warrior? Was nothing sacred these days?

Taking the stairs up to the fourth floor, Yori quietly made her way to the room in question. Upon reaching 4-D, she stopped to think. On the other side of this room was a woman who could tell her everything about her past – a past which may not be something she wanted to hear. On the other hand, not knowing who she was would harm her more than any skeletons in the closet so she took a deep breath, composed herself, and knocked.

She waited and nobody came to the door.

Was she asleep? Not if what Hoshi said was accurate. Then again she could have made a mistake. She didn't look like the type to stay in one place for too long and that's what reconnaissance dealt with. Perhaps she was still sleeping. Perhaps she was out. Perhaps she left a long time ago and there was no one in this room. The woman downstairs told her they were booked. She could be disturbing a complete stranger with no connections to Yori. There's not telling whether the room's occupant was even a woman.

She came all this way, the least she could do was make sure. Yori did not look forward to hanging out in a bar all night. Heaven knows what those two would be up to when she got there. So she knocked again. "Excuse me? Kimiko-san?"

Again no answer.

"Is anyone inside?" She knocked again. Waiting for a reply was getting to her and against her better judgment she tried the doorknob. The door opened and red light peered at her from the other side. Pushing it open all the way, Yori found herself looking at a very bare apartment. There was a bed at the far end near the window which was open just a crack. A small lava lamp on the floor provided the only illumination; bathing the room in a crimson glow. The room's only fan was creaking after years of misuse. To the left appeared to be the bathroom and beside that, next to the door was a closet. Upon further inspection she saw a bag underneath the bed though couldn't make out the features in the dim light. There was a brown suitcase by the door, propped up as if there for the specific purpose of a quick departure. A lone round table sat near the window adjacent to the one with the crack, two metal stools to either side. There was an ashtray.

Yori smelled smoke throughout the building on her way up here. Apparently the proprietor didn't enforce fire-safety laws. One look at the dying embers of the last cigarette and she knew that it hadn't been there for long.

"Hello?" Yori asked. A tiny sound reached her ears and she lowered her gaze. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to intrude."

"Get in," said the voice behind her. Something hard, tapped Yori in the back of the head and she pretty much figured she was being held at gunpoint. "Now!" Said the woman, only more commanding. "And get those arms up."

Yori did as she was told, raising her hands and taking slow steps into the apartment. Moments later, the door slammed shut.

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