Book: The Fifth Profession
The Fifth Profession
To Sarie: daughter,friend
“I don't understand you,” said Alice. “It's dreadfully confusing.”
“That's the effect of living backwards,” the Queen said kindly. “It always makes one a little giddy at first.”
“Living backwards!” Alice repeated in great astonishment. “I never heard of such a thing!”
“But there's one great advantage in it, that one's memory works both ways.”
“I'm sure mine only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can't remember things before they happen.”
“It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward,” the Queen remarked.
Through the Looking-Glass
The Way of the bodyguard is resolute acceptance of death.
a seventeenth-century samurai
No single historical event marks the origin of Savage's profession. The skill to which he devoted himself has its antecedents prior to fact in the haze of myth. At the start, there were hunters, then farmers, then with something to be gained by barter, prostitutes and politicians. Given some debate about precedence, those are the first four human endeavors.
But as soon as something can be gained, it must also be protected. Hence Savage's-the fifth-profession. Although his craft's inception has not been documented, two incidents illustrate its valiant traditions.
When the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain four hundred years after Christ, they brought with them a Germanic code of absolute loyalty to a tribal chieftain. In its ultimate interpretation, this code required a chieftain's retainers or comitatus to defend him with their honor unto death. One of the most gripping instances of warriors displaying such total commitment to their lord occurred on the shore of the Blackwater River near the town of Maldon in Essex in 991.
Scandinavian pirates, having raided ports along the eastern coast of Britain, camped on an island that during low tide was linked to the shore by a narrow causeway. The local British chieftain, Birhtnoth, led his faithful comitatus to the causeway and ordered the Vikings not to cross. The enemy defied him.
Swords flashed. Blood soaked the causeway. As the battle intensified, one of Birhtnoth's apprentice soldiers turned cowardly and fled. Others supposed that the retreating figure was Birhtnoth himself and fled as well. Only Birhtnoth and his bodyguards remained.
A javelin struck him. He yanked it out and stabbed his assailant. A Viking ax cut off his sword arm. Helpless, he was slashed to pieces. But although Birhtnoth no longer ruled, his faithful comitatus persisted. To protect his corpse, to avenge his death, they attacked with greater valor. Their deaths were brutal, yet joyous because the comitatus adhered to their code of loyalty.
The original Anglo-Saxon document that describes their heroic defeat concludes in this manner:
Godric often let his spear fly, thrusting his slaughter-shaft toward the Vikings. Bravely he advanced among his brethren, hewed and laid low till he died in the struggle. He was not that Godric who ran from the battle.
Those two Godrics represent the principal conflict in Savage's profession. To protect was the mandate of the comitatus. But at what point, if the cause seemed hopeless, if the chieftain was dead, should a bodyguard protect himself? Whenever Savage debated this moral issue, he remembered Akira and an incident from a quite different culture that illustrated the extreme traditions of the fifth and most noble profession.
In Japan, the equivalent of the comitatus were the samurai. These protective warriors came into prominence eleven hundred years after Christ when provincial chieftains, known as daimyo, needed fiercely loyal bodyguards to control their domains. Over the centuries, a central military ruler, called a shogun, exerted power over each daimyo. Nonetheless each daimyo‘s samurai felt bonded to their local lord. In 1701, against this complex background of loyalties, an incident occurred that formed the basis for one of the most famous Japanese legends.
Three daimyo were summoned to the shogun's court in Edo (now called Tokyo) with orders to pledge allegiance. However, these daimyo had little knowledge of court manners. Two of the three sought help from an expert in court etiquette. They bribed him with gifts and were rewarded with advice.
But the remaining daimyo, Lord Asano, was too innocent to bribe the etiquette instructor, Lord Kira. Kira felt insulted and ridiculed Asano in the shogun's presence. Humiliated, Asano had no alternative except to defend his honor. He drew his sword and wounded Kira.
To draw a sword in the shogun's presence was a grievous crime. The shogun commanded Asano to atone by disemboweling himself. The daimyo obeyed. Still, his death did not solve the controversy. Now Asano's samurai were bound by the rigorous code of giri, which loosely translated means “the burden of obligation,” to avenge their master's death by destroying the man who'd begun the chain of insults, Lord Kira.
So compulsory was the code of giri that the shogun assumed there'd be more bloodshed. To end the feud, he sent his warriors to surround Asano's castle and demand the surrender of Asano's samurai. Inside the castle Oishi Yoshio, the captain of Asano's samurai, held council with his men. Some favored resisting the shogun's warriors. Others advocated committing ritual suicide as had their lord. But Oishi sensed that the majority felt their obligation had ended with their master's death. As a test, he offered them the option of dividing Asano's wealth among them. Many unworthy warriors eagerly chose this option. Oishi paid them and urged them to leave. Of more than three hundred samurai, only forty-seven remained. With these, Oishi made a pact, each cutting a finger and joining hands, sealing the pact with their blood.
The forty-seven surrendered to the shogun's warriors and claimed to disavow any obligation they felt to giri and their dead lord. They pretended to accept their lot as ronin, masterless samurai, wanderers. Each traveled his separate way.
But the shogun-suspicious-sent spies to follow them, to insure that the feud had ended. To deceive the spies, each ronin bitterly engaged in unworthy conduct. Some became drunkards, others whoremongers. One sold his wife into prostitution. Another killed his father-in-law. Still another arranged for his sister to become a mistress of the hated Lord Kira. Permitting their swords to rust and themselves to be spat upon, all appeared to wallow in dishonor. At last, after two years, the shogun's spies were convinced that the feud had ended. The shogun removed surveillance from the ronin.
In 1703, the forty-seven ronin regrouped and attacked Kira's castle. With long-repressed rage, they slaughtered their enemy's unsuspecting guards, tracked down and beheaded the man they so loathed, then washed the head and made a pilgrimage to Asano's grave, placing the head on the tomb of their now-avenged master.
The chain of obligation had not yet ended. In obeying the burden of giri, the ronin had violated the shogun's command to stop their vendetta. One code of honor conflicted with another. Only one solution was acceptable. The shogun dictated. The ronin obeyed. In triumph, they impaled their bowels with their swords, drawing each blade from left to right, then fiercely upward, in the noble ritual of suicide called seppuku. The tombs of the forty-seven ronin are revered to this day, a Japanese monument.
The comitatus. The forty-seven ronin. Savage and Akira. Codes and obligations. Honor and loyalty. To protect and if duty compelled, to avenge-even at the risk of death. The fifth and most noble profession.
Obeying professional habits, Savage directed the elevator toward the floor below the one he wanted. Of course, an uninvited visitor would have had to stop the elevator at the second-highest floor, no matter what. A computer-coded card, slipped into a slot on the elevator's control panel, was required to command the elevator to rise to the topmost level. Savage had been given such a card but declined to use it. On principle, he hated elevators. Their confinement was dangerous. He never knew what he might find when the doors slid open. Not that he expected trouble on this occasion, but if he made one exception in his customary methods, he'd eventually make others, and when trouble did come along, he wouldn't be primed to respond.
Besides, on this warm afternoon in Athens in September, he was curious about the security arrangements of the person he'd agreed to meet. Although he was used to dealing with the rich and powerful, they were mostly in politics or industry. It wasn't every day he met someone not only associated with both arenas but who'd also been a movie legend.
Savage stepped to one side when the elevator stopped and the doors thunked open. Sensing, judging, he peered out, saw no one, relaxed, and proceeded toward a door whose Greek sign indicated FIRE EXIT. In keeping with that sign, the door's handle moved freely.
Cautious, Savage entered and found himself in a stairwell. His crepe-soled shoes muffled his footsteps on the concrete landing. The twenty-seven lower levels were silent. He turned toward a door on his right, gripped its knob, but couldn't budge it. Good. The door was locked, as it should be. On the opposite side, a push bar would no doubt give access to this stairwell-in case of emergency. But on this side, unauthorized visitors were prevented from going higher. Savage slid two thin metal prongs into the receptacle for the key-one prong for applying leverage, the other for aligning the slots that would free the bolt. After seven seconds, he opened the door, troubled that the lock was so simple. It should have taken him twice as long to pick it.
He crept through, eased the door shut behind him, and warily studied the steps leading upward. There weren't any closed-circuit cameras. The lights were dim, giving him protective shadow while he climbed toward a landing, then turned toward the continuation of the steps. He didn't see a guard. At the top, he frowned when he tried the door-it wasn't locked. Worse, when he opened it, he still didn't see a guard.
On nearly soundless carpeting, he proceeded along a corridor. Glancing at numbers on doors, he followed their diminishing sequence toward the number he'd been given. Just before he reached an intersecting corridor, his nostrils felt pinched by tobacco smoke. With the elevators to his right, he turned left into the corridor and saw them.
Three men were bunched together in front of a door at the far end of the corridor. The first had his hands in his pockets. The second inhaled from a cigarette. The third sipped a cup of coffee.
Amateur hour, Savage thought.
Never compromise your hands.
When the guards noticed Savage, they came to awkward attention. They were built like football players, their suits too tight for their bullish necks and chests. They'd be intimidating to a nonprofessional, but their bulk made them too conspicuous to blend with a crowd, and they looked too muscle-bound to be able to respond instantaneously to a crisis.
Savage slackened his strong features, making them non-threatening. Six feet tall, he slouched his wiry frame so he looked a few inches shorter. As he walked along the corridor, he pretended to be impressed by the guards, who braced their backs in arrogant triumph.
They made a show of examining his ID, which was fake, the name he was using this month. They searched him but didn't use a hand-held metal detector and hence didn't find the small knife beneath his lapel.
“Yeah, you're expected,” the first man said. “Why didn't you use the elevator?”
“The computer card didn't work.” Savage handed it over. “I had to stop on the floor below and take the stairs.”
“But the stairwell doors are locked,” the second man said.
“Someone from the hotel must have left them open.”
“Whoever forgot to lock them, his ass is grass,” the third man said.
“I know what you mean. I can't stand carelessness.”
They nodded, squinted, flexed their shoulders, and escorted him into the suite.
No, Savage thought. The rule is, you never abandon your post.
The suite had a sizable living room, tastefully furnished. But what Savage noticed, disapproving, was the wall directly across from him, its thick draperies parted to reveal an enormous floor-to-ceiling window and a spectacular view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Though Athens was usually smoggy, a breeze had cleared the air, making the pillared ruins brilliant in the afternoon sun. Savage allowed himself to admire the view but only from where he'd paused just inside the room, for he hated huge windows whose draperies were open: they gave an enemy an unnecessary advantage, inviting easy invasion with telescopes, microwave-beamed listening probes, and most crucial, sniper bullets.
The potential client he'd been summoned to meet wasn't present, so Savage assessed a door on the wall to his left. A closet perhaps, or a washroom or a bedroom. He directed his attention toward a muffled female voice behind a door on the wall to his right, and that door he was sure led to a bedroom. Because he didn't hear a responding voice, he assumed that the woman was using a telephone. She sounded insistent, as if she wouldn't conclude for quite a while.
With disciplined patience, Savage glanced farther right toward the wall beside the door through which he'd entered. He recognized two Monets and three Van Goghs.
His burly escorts looked bored when they realized that their employer wasn't present. No brownie points for them, no audience with their client, no compliments for supposedly doing their job. Disappointed, two of them shuffled their feet, adjusted their ties, and went back to their stations in the hall, no doubt to drink more coffee and smoke more cigarettes. The third closed the door and leaned against it, crossing his arms, trying to look diligent, though the pressure with which he squeezed his chest made it seem that he suffered from heartburn.
As air-conditioning whispered, Savage turned from the paintings toward a glass-enclosed display of Chinese vases.
The remaining bodyguard straightened.
The door on the right swung open.
A woman, a legend, stepped out of a bedroom.
Her official biography put her age at forty-five. Nonetheless she looked astonishingly the same as when she'd last appeared in a film a decade earlier. Tall, thin, angular.
Intense blue eyes. An exquisite oval face, its sensuous curves framed by shoulder-length, sun-bleached hair. Smooth, tanned skin. A photographer's dream.
Ten years ago, at a press conference in Los Angeles after she'd won her best actress Academy Award, she'd surprised the world by announcing her retirement. Her marriage one month later-to the monarch of a small but wealthy island-kingdom off the French Riviera-had been equally surprising. When her husband's health had declined, she'd taken over his business affairs, doubling the tourism and casinos that accounted for his island's wealth.
She ruled as she had acted, with what film reviewers had called a style of “fire and ice.” Intense yet controlled. Passionate but in charge. In her love scenes, she'd always played the dominant role. The sequence in which she finally seduced the charismatic jewel thief whose attentions she'd persistently discouraged remained a classic depiction of sexual tension. She knew what she wanted, but she took it only when her desires didn't put her at risk, and her pleasure seemed based on giving more than she took, on condescending to grant the jewel thief a night he'd never forget.
So, too, her island subjects courted her attention. In response, she waved but kept a distance until at unexpected moments her generosity-to the sick, the homeless, the bereaved-was overwhelming. It seemed that compassion to her was a weakness, a fire that threatened to melt her icy control. But when politically advantageous, emotion could be permitted, indeed allowed in excessive amounts. As long as it didn't jeopardize her. As long as it made her subjects love her.
She smiled, approaching Savage. Radiant. A movie in real life. For his part, Savage admired her artful entrance, knowing that she knew exactly the impression she created.
She was dressed in black handcrafted sandals, burgundy pleated slacks, a robin's-egg-colored silk blouse (its three top buttons open to reveal the tan on the top of her breasts, its light blue no doubt chosen to emphasize the deeper blue of her eyes), a Cartier watch, and a diamond pendant with matching earrings (their glint further emphasizing her eyes as well as her sun-bleached hair).
She paused before Savage, then studied the remaining bodyguard, her gaze dismissive. “Thank you.”
The burly man left, reluctant not to hear the conversation.
“I apologize for keeping you waiting,” she said, stepping nearer, permitting Savage to inhale her subtle perfume. Her voice was husky, her handshake firm.
“Five minutes? No need to apologize.” Savage shrugged. “In my profession, I'm used to waiting a great deal longer. Besides, I had time to admire your collection.” He gestured toward the glass-enclosed display of vases. “At least, I assume it's your collection. I doubt any hotel, even the Georges Roi II, provides its clients with priceless artworks.”
“I take them with me when I travel. A touch of home. Do you appreciate Chinese ceramics?”
“Appreciate? Yes, though I don't know anything about them. However, I do enjoy beauty, Your Highness. Including-if you'll forgive the compliment-yourself. It's an honor to meet you.”
“As royalty, or because I'm a former film personality?”
A flick of the eyes, a nod of the head. “You're very kind. Perhaps you'd feel more comfortable if we dispensed with formalities. Please call me by my former name. Joyce Stone.”
Savage imitated her gracious nod. “Miss Stone.”
“Your eyes are green.”
“That's not so remarkable,” Savage said.
“On the contrary. Quite remarkable. A chameleon's color. Your eyes blend with your clothes. Gray jacket. Blue shirt. An inattentive observer would describe your eyes as-”
“Grayish blue but not green. You're perceptive.”
“And you understand the tricks of light. You're adaptable.”
“It's useful in my work.” Savage turned toward the paintings. “Superb. If I'm not mistaken, the Van Gogh Cypresses were recently purchased at a Sotheby auction. An unknown buyer paid an impressive amount.”
“Do you recall how much?”
“Fifteen million dollars.”
“And now you know the mysterious buyer.”
“Miss Stone, I deal with privileged information. I'd be out of business tomorrow if I didn't keep a secret. Your remarks to me are confession. I'm like a priest.”
“Confession? I hope that doesn't mean I can't offer you a drink.”
“As long as I'm not working for you.”
“But I assumed that's why you're here.”
“To discuss your problem,” Savage said. “I haven't been hired yet.”
“With your credentials? I've already decided to hire you.”
“Forgive me, Miss Stone, but I accepted your invitation to find out if I wanted you to hire me.”
The sensuous woman studied him. “My, my.” Her intense gaze persisted. “People are usually eager to work for me.”
“I meant no offense.”
“Of course not.” She stepped toward a sofa.
“But if you wouldn't mind, Miss Stone.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“I'd prefer that you used this chair over here. That sofa's too close to the window.”
“Or else let me close the draperies.”
“Ah, yes, now I understand.” She sounded amused. “Since I enjoy the sunlight, I'll sit where you suggest. Tell me, are you always this protective of people you haven't decided to work for?”
“A force of habit.”
“An intriguing habit, Mr… I'm afraid I've forgotten your name.”
Savage doubted that. She seemed the type who remembered everything. “It doesn't matter. The name I provided isn't mine. I normally use a pseudonym.”
“Then how should I introduce you?”
“You don't. If we reach an agreement, never draw attention to me.”
“In public. But what if I have to summon you in private?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“A nickname. The way I'm identified in my business.”
“And did you acquire it when you were in the SEALs?” Savage hid his surprise.
“Your former unit's name is an acronym, correct? Sea, air, and land. The U.S. Navy commandos.”
Savage subdued an impulse to frown.
“I told you I found your credentials impressive,” she said. “Your use of pseudonyms makes clear you cherish your privacy. But with persistence, I did learn several details about your background. In case I alarm you, let me emphasize that nothing I was told in any way jeopardized your anonymity. Still, rumors travel. The help you gave a certain member of the British Parliament-against IRA terrorists, I believe-is widely respected. He asked me to thank you again for saving his life. An Italian financier is similarly grateful for your skillful return of his kidnapped son. A West German industrialist feels that his corporation would have gone bankrupt if you hadn't discovered the rival who was stealing his formulas.”
Savage kept silent.
“No need to be modest,” she said.
“Nor should you. Your sources are excellent.”
“One of the many advantages to marrying royalty. The gratitude of the Italian financier was especially compelling. So I asked him how I might get in touch with you. He gave me the telephone number of-I suppose, in my former life, I'd have used the term-your agent.”
“You didn't learn his name, I hope.”
“I never spoke to him directly, only through intermediaries.”
“Which brings me to my problem.”
“Miss Stone, another force of habit. Don't be specific in this room.”
“No one can overhear us. There aren't any hidden microphones.”
“What makes you sure?”
“My bodyguards checked it this morning.”
“In that case, I repeat…”
“Don't be specific in this room? My bodyguards didn't impress you?”
“They impressed me, all right.”
“But not the proper way?”
“I try not to criticize.”
“Another commendable habit. Very well, then, Savage.” Her smile matched the glint of her diamond earrings. She leaned from her chair and touched his hand. “Would you like to see some ruins?”
The black Rolls-Royce veered from traffic to stop in an oval parking lot. Savage and two of the bodyguards got out-the third had remained at the hotel to watch the suite. After the guards assessed the passing crowd, they nodded toward the car's interior.
Joyce Stone stepped smoothly out, flanked by her guards. “Circle the area. We'll be back in an hour,” she told her driver, who eased the Rolls back into traffic.
She turned, amused, toward Savage. “You keep surprising me.”
“Back at the hotel, you objected to my sitting near a window, but you haven't said a word about my going out in public.”
“Being famous doesn't mean you have to be a hermit. As long as you don't advertise your schedule, an accomplished driver can make it difficult for someone to follow you.” Savage gestured toward the swarm of traffic. “Especially in Athens. Besides, you know how to dress to match your surroundings. To echo a compliment you gave me, you're adaptable.”
“It's a trick I learned when I was an actress. One of the hardest roles… to look average.”
She'd changed before they left the hotel. Now in place of her designer slacks and blouse, she wore faded jeans and a loose gray turtleneck sweater. Her diamonds were gone. Her watch was a Timex. Her shoes were dusty Reeboks. Her distinctive sun-bleached hair had been tucked beneath a floppy straw hat. Sunglasses hid her intense blue eyes.
Though pedestrians had paused to study the Rolls, they'd shown little interest in the woman who got out.
“You're playing the part successfully,” Savage said. “At the moment, a producer wouldn't hire you, even for a walk-on.”
She curtsied mockingly.
“I do have one suggestion,” he said.
“Somehow I knew you would have.”
“Stop using the Rolls.”
“But it gives me pleasure.”
“You can't always have what you want. Save the Rolls for special occasions. Buy a high-performance but neutral-looking car. Of course, it would have to be modified.”
“Reinforced windows. Clouded glass in the rear. Bullet-proof paneling.”
“Don't humor me, Miss Stone.”
“I'm not. It's just that I enjoy a man who enjoys his work.”
“Enjoy? I don't do this for fun. My work saves lives.”
“And you've never failed?”
Savage hesitated. Caught by surprise, he felt a rush of torturous memories. The flash of a sword. The gush of blood. “Yes,” he said. “Once.”
“Your honesty amazes me.”
“And only once. That's why I'm so meticulous, why I'll never fail again. But if my truthfulness gives you doubts about me…”
“On the contrary. My third movie was a failure. I could have ignored it, but I admitted it. And learned from it. I won the Oscar because I tried harder, although it took me seven more films.”
“A movie isn't life.”
“Or death? You should have seen the reviews of that third movie. I was buried.” “So will we all.”
“Be buried? Don't be depressing, Savage.”
“Did no one tell you the facts of life?”
“Sex? I learned that early. Death? That's why a man like you exists. To postpone it as long as possible.”
“Yes, death,” Savage said. “The enemy.”
They followed a tour group toward the western slope of the Acropolis, the traditional approach to the ruins since the other ridges were far too steep for convenient walkways. Past fir trees, they reached an ancient stone entrance, known as the Beulé Gate.
“Have you been here before?”
“Several times,” Savage said.
“So have I. Still, I wonder if you come for the same reason I do.”
Savage waited for her to explain.
“Ruins teach us a lesson. Nothing-wealth, fame, power-nothing is permanent.”
“ ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.’ “
She turned to him, impressed. “That's from Shelley's ‘Ozymandias.’ “
“I went to a thorough prep school.”
“But you don't give the name of the school. Anonymous as usual. Do you remember the rest of the poem?”
”… Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Shelley understood precision. If he'd been Japanese, he'd have written great haikus.”
“A bodyguard quoting poetry?”
“I'm not exactly a bodyguard, Miss Stone. I do more than run interference.”
“What are you then?”
“An executive protector. You know, except for the sand, the ruins Shelley describes remind me of…”
Savage gestured toward the steps they climbed. The marble had been eroded by time, by use, by various invaders, and worst of all, by automobile exhaust.
They passed through a monument called the Propylaea, its precious decaying walkway protected by a wooden floor. Five gateways of columns grew wider and taller, leading them to a path that split right and left.
After the cloying heat of summer, September's moderate temperature brought the start of the tourist season. Sightseers jostled past them, some out of breath from the climb, others taking photographs of monuments on either side, the Precinct of Brauronia and the less impressive House of Arrhephoroi.
“Tell your guards to walk behind us,” Savage said. “I'll watch ahead.”
Turning right, they proceeded to the vast rectangular Parthenon. In 1687, a conflict between invaders had resulted in a Venetian bomb's igniting a Turkish gunpowder magazine in the Parthenon, which in ancient times had been a temple devoted to the Greek goddess of purity, Athena. The explosion had destroyed a considerable part of the monument, toppling pillars and much of the roof. Restoration was still in progress. Scaffolding obscured the magnificence of surviving Doric columns. Guardrails kept visitors from further eroding the interior.
Savage turned from the tourists, approaching the precipitous southern ridge of the Acropolis. He leaned against a fallen pillar. Athens sprawled below him. The earlier breeze had died. Despite a brilliant clear sky, smog had begun to gather.
“We can talk here without being overheard,” Savage said. “Miss Stone, the reason I'm not sure I want to work for you-”
“But you haven't heard why I need you.”
“-is that an executive protector is both a servant and a master. You control your life-where you go and what you do-but your protector insists on how you get there and under what terms you do it. A delicate balance. But you've got a reputation for being willful. I'm not sure you're prepared to take orders from someone you employ.”
Sighing, she sat beside him. “If that's your problem, then there isn't a problem.”
“I don't understand.”
“The trouble isn't mine. It's my sister's.”
“Do you know about her?”
“Rachel Stone. Ten years your junior. Thirty-five. Married a New England senator campaigning to be president. Widowed because of an unknown assassin's bullet. Her association with politics and a movie-legend sister made her glamorous. A Greek shipping magnate courted her. They married last year.”
“I give you credit. You do your homework.”
“No less than you.”
“Their marriage is like the Parthenon. A ruin.” Joyce Stone rummaged through her burlap purse. Finding a pack of cigarettes, she fumbled with a lighter.
“You're not a gentleman,” she snapped.
“Because I won't light your cigarette? I just explained, when it comes to protection, you're the servant and I'm the master.”
“That doesn't make sense.”
“It does if you realize I have to keep my hands free in case someone threatens you. Why did you ask to see me?”
“My sister wants a divorce.”
“Then she doesn't need me. What she needs is a lawyer.”
“Her bastard husband won't allow it. She's his prisoner till she changes her mind.”
“She's not in chains, if that's what you're thinking. But she's a prisoner all the same. And she's not being tortured.” She managed to light her cigarette. “Unless you count being raped morning, noon, and night. To remind her of what she'd miss, he says. She needs a true man, he says. What he needs is a bullet through his obscene brain. Do you carry a gun?” she asked, exhaling smoke.
“Then what good are you?”
Savage stood from the column. “You've made a mistake, Miss Stone. If you want an assassin-”
“No! I want my sister!”
He eased back onto the column. “You're talking about a retrieval.”
“Whatever you want to call it.”
“If I decide to take the assignment, my fee…”
“I'll pay you a million dollars.”
“You're a poor negotiator. I might have settled for less.”
“But that's what I'm offering.”
“Assuming I accept, I'll want half in an escrow account at the start, the other half when I deliver. Plus expenses.”
“Stay in the best hotels for all I care. Spend as much as you want on meals. A few extra thousand hardly matters.”
“You don't understand. When I say ‘expenses,’ I'm thinking of as much as several hundred thousand.”
“You're asking me to antagonize one of the most powerful men in Greece. What's he worth? Fifty billion? His security will be extensive, costly to breach. Tell me where your sister is. I'll do a risk analysis. A week from now, I'll tell you if I can get her.”
She stubbed out her cigarette and slowly turned. “Why?”
“I'm not sure what you mean.”
“I get the feeling this job's more important to you than the money. Why would you consider accepting my offer?”
For a chilling instant, Savage had a mental image of steel glinting, of blood spraying. He repressed the memory, avoiding her question. “You told your driver ‘an hour.’ It's just about time. Let's go,” he said. “And when we get back to the car, tell him to take an indirect route to your hotel.”
Adhering to his own advice, Savage used an indirect route to return to the Acropolis, or rather to an area immediately north of it-to the Plaka, the principal tourist shopping district in Athens. He entered narrow, crowded streets lined with myriad markets and shops. Despite the renewed bitter smog, he detected the aroma of smoking shish kebob, which soon gave way to the fragrance of freshly cut flowers. Loud vendors gesticulated toward handcrafted carpets, leather goods, pottery, copper urns, and silver bracelets. He reached a labyrinth of alleys, paused in an alcove, satisfied himself that he wasn't under surveillance, and proceeded past a tavern to a neighboring shop that sold wineskins.
Inside, the wineskins hung in bunches from hooks on rafters, their leather smell strong but pleasant. Savage bowed to pass beneath them, approaching an overweight woman behind a counter.
His knowledge of Greek was limited. He spoke in memorized phrases. “I need a special product. A wineskin of a different type. If your esteemed employer could spare a few moments to see me…”
“Your name?” the woman asked.
“Please tell him it's the opposite of gentle.”
She nodded respectfully and turned to proceed up a stairway. Seconds later, she came back, gesturing for him to ascend.
Passing an alcove from which a beard-stubbled man with a shotgun studied him, Savage climbed the stairs. At the top, a door was open. Through it, Savage saw a room-bare except for a desk, behind which a muscular man in a black suit poured a clear liqueur into a glass.
When Savage entered, the man peered up in surprise, as if he hadn't been notified he had a visitor. “Can it be a ghost?” Though Greek, the man spoke English.
Savage grinned. “I admit I've been a stranger.”
“An ungrateful wretch, who hasn't seen fit to keep in touch and maintain our friendship.”
“Business kept me away.”
“This so-called business must have been truly mythic.”
“It had importance. But now I make up for my absence.” Savage set the Greek equivalent of ten thousand U.S. dollars onto the desk. Spreading the bills, he covered the pattern of circular stains made by the glass refilled compulsively each day with ouzo. A licorice scent-the aniseed in the ouzo- filled the room.
The middle-aged Greek noticed Savage's glance toward the liqueur. “May I tempt you?”
“As you know, I seldom drink.”
“A character flaw for which I forgive you.”
The Greek swelled his chest and chuckled deeply. He showed no sign of his alcoholism. Indeed the ouzo, like formaldehyde, seemed to have preserved his body. Clean-shaven, with glinting, superbly cut black hair, he sipped from his glass, set it down, and studied the money. His swarthy skin exuded health.
Nonetheless he looked troubled as he counted the money. “Too generous, Excessive, You worry me.”
“I've also arranged for a gift. Within an hour, if you agree to supply the information I need, a messenger will deliver a case of the finest ouzo.”
“Truly the finest? You know my preference.”
“I do indeed. But I've taken the liberty of choosing a rarer variety.”
Savage gave a name.
“A tribute to your talent,” Savage said.
“As you say in your country”-the man sipped from his glass-”you're an officer and a gentleman.”
“Ex-officer,” Savage corrected him. He wouldn't have volunteered this personal detail if the Greek hadn't known it already. “And you are a trusted informant. How long has it been since I first negotiated for your services?”
The Greek concentrated. “Six years of delight. My former wives and many children thank you for your frequent patronage.”
“And they'll thank me even more when I triple the money I placed on your desk.”
“I knew it. I sensed. When I woke up this morning, I announced to myself that today would be a special occasion.”
“But not without risks.”
The Greek set down his glass. “Every day brings a risk.”
“Are you ready for the challenge?”
“As soon as I fortify myself.” The Greek downed the rest of his glass.
“A name,” Savage said.
“As the greatest English bard said, what's in-“
“A name? I don't think you'll like it.” Savage pulled a bottle of the best-of-the-best, hard-to-find ouzo from beneath the back of his jacket.
The Greek grinned. “That name I like. And the other?”
The Greek slammed down his glass. “Holy mother of fuck.” He swiftly poured more ouzo and gulped it. “What lunacy prompts you to risk investigating him?”
Savage glanced around the almost bare room. “I assume you've been cautious as usual. Your vice hasn't made you neglect your daily cleaning chores, I hope.”
The Greek looked hurt. “The day you see furniture in this room, apart from my chair and desk, you'll know I'm unworthy of trust.”
Savage nodded. Not only did the Greek keep his furniture to a minimum. As well, the floor had no rug. There weren't any pictures on the walls. There wasn't even a telephone. The room's austerity made it difficult for someone to conceal a microphone. Nonetheless, each morning, the Greek used two different types of sophisticated electronic scanning devices. With one, he checked every inch of the room for radio signals and microwaves to determine if a “bug” was transmitting sounds from the room. However, that type of scanning device could detect only an active, permanently broadcasting microphone.
To discover a passive microphone-which stayed dormant if there weren't any sounds in the room, or which could be turned off by remote control if an eavesdropper suspected a sweep was occurring-the second scanner had to be used. It was called a nonlinear junction detector. Through an attachment that resembled the head of a portable vacuum cleaner, it beamed microwaves that located the diodes in the circuits of hidden tape recorders and transmitters. Though this second device required more time to be employed effectively, the Greek always activated it, even on those rare occasions when the first device revealed a microphone-because a skillful eavesdropper always left both active and passive monitors, in case a less skillful searcher would feel that his efforts had been successful and stop if he found only an active microphone.
With his customary humor, the Greek referred to this daily thorough search for bugs as “fumigating.”
“Forgive my inquiry,” Savage said. “I meant to be careful, not rude.”
“If you hadn't asked, I'd have wondered if you were worthy of trust.”
“You're understanding as always.”
The Greek sipped his drink and gestured agreeably. “An obligation of friendship.” He pressed his palms on his desk.
“But you still haven't answered my question. Papadropolis?’
“I'm interested in his domestic arrangements.”
“Not his business affairs? Thank Zeus, you had me worried. The wretch has two hundred ships. They earn a modest profit from transporting grain, machinery, and oil. But he accumulated his fortune from smuggling weapons and drugs. Anyone who inquires about his lucrative contraband becomes fish food in the Aegean.”
“He may be as protective about his family life,” Savage said.
“No doubt. A Greek would kill to protect the honor of his family, even if in private he didn't care for them. But business is survival. Its secrets are fiercely kept, whereas family secrets are taken for granted to be unavoidable gossip, as long as no one dares to repeat the gossip in front of the lord of the household.”
“Then find me some gossip,” Savage said.
“About Papadropolis and his wife.”
“I've already heard some specifics.”
“Learn more,” Savage said. “Where she is and how she's being treated. I want to compare what you tell me with what I've been told.”
“May I ask your purpose?”
Savage shook his head. “Ignorance is your protection.”
“And your protection as well. If I'm unaware of what you intend, I can't reveal it if someone questions me with a force I can't resist.”
“But that won't happen,” Savage said. “As long as you stay careful.”
“I'm always careful. Like you, I use intermediaries, and often messengers between intermediaries. I speak directly only to clients and those few assistants with whom I have a bond. You look worried, my friend.”
“Six months ago, something happened to me. It made me doubly cautious.” Remembering, Savage felt his stomach clench.
“Commendable. However, I note the lack of detail in your revelation.”
Savage subdued his temptation to continue revealing. “It's a personal matter. Unimportant.”
“I'm not convinced of this so-called unimportance, but I do respect your discretion.”
“Just find out what I need.” Savage walked toward the door. “Papadropolis and his wife. Two days. That's all the time I can give you. When I return, I want to learn everything.”
The Cyclades are a cluster of small Aegean islands southeast of Athens. Their name derives from the Greek word kyklos or “circle” and refers to the ancient Greek belief that the islands surrounded Delos, the island upon which the sun god of truth, Apollo, was supposedly born. In fact, Delos is not at the center but near the eastern rim of the islands. A few kilometers farther east of it, on the edge of the Cyclades, lies Mykonos, one of Greece 's main holiday areas, where tourists worship their own sun god.
Savage piloted a two-engine, propellor-driven Cessna toward Mykonos, taking care to approach the island on an indirect course, first heading due east from Athens, then easing southward above the Aegean Sea until he flanked the eastern rim of his destination. He radioed the airport at Mykonos to notify the controller that he didn't intend to land. His flight was strictly for practice and pleasure, he explained, and if the controller would warn him which air routes to avoid, Savage would gratefully obey instructions.
The controller obliged.
At a distance and height of one-half kilometer, Savage put the Cessna on automatic pilot and began taking pictures. The Bausch and Lomb telephoto lens on his Nikon camera magnified images amazingly. The photographs would be further magnified after he developed them. The main thing, he knew from his training, was to take plenty of pictures, not only of his target but of its surroundings. Details that seemed unimportant at the moment could too often be crucial when he later constructed his plan.
Yes, plenty of pictures.
He paused frequently to readjust the Cessna's automatic pilot, then resumed his photographic surveillance. The sky was blue, the weather calm. The Cessna seemed to glide on a silken highway. His hands were rock steady. Except for the minor vibrations of the plane, conditions were perfect for taking clear photographs.
His initial objective was the town of Mykonos on the western side of the island. The town spread around two small bays, its houses projecting onto a peninsula that separated each harbor. The buildings were shaped like intersecting cubes, each brilliantly white. Here and there, red domes- sometimes blue-identified churches. Windmills lined a jetty.
But the design of the town, not its beauty, attracted Savage's attention. In antiquity, Mykonos had been a frequent target of pirates. To make their homes easier to protect, the local population had constructed the streets in the form of a labyrinth. Attacking pirates had no difficulty entering the town, but as they pillaged deeper into it, higher up its slopes, they soon discovered that the complex maze of lanes confused their sense of direction. The pirates could see their ship in the harbor below them, but to reach it, they had to test this and that route, all the while encountering ambushes set by the villagers. Eventually, after several defeats, the pirates left Mykonos alone in favor of uncomplicated prey on other islands.
Yes, a labyrinth, Savage thought. I might be able to use that.
Continuing to circle the island, all the while taking photographs, he reached a deep gulf to the north… perhaps a pickup site?… then studied a forbidding cape to the east… to be attempted only in an emergency… and finally reached his primary goal: Papadropolis's compound above Anna Bay on the southeastern side of the island.
Since he'd met with his Greek informant two days earlier, Savage had been busy and to his wary satisfaction, had learned a great deal. He'd flown to contacts in Zurich and Brussels, the two most dependable European sources of information about black-market armament sales and the security systems of the men who smuggled the weapons.
Through seemingly casual conversations-and generous gifts to “friends” to whom Savage pretended delight when he learned that the rumors weren't true about their having been killed-he discovered what he'd already guessed. Papadropolis was controlled by his arrogance. The Greek billionaire was too consumed with power to hire protectors who had sufficient professional integrity to insist on giving orders to their employer.
Savage had also learned that Papadropolis was fascinated by gadgets and technology. Just as the shipping magnate had a passion for computers and video games, so he'd hired an expert in security systems to construct a web of intrusion-warning obstacles around his various European estates.
All Savage cared about was the Mykonos estate. The moment he learned who'd designed its defenses, he knew-in the same way an art historian would have recognized a Renaissance style-what barriers he faced.
His longtime and trusted Greek informant had verified what Joyce Stone had claimed. The movie legend's sister was being held captive on her billionaire husband's lavish summer estate on Mykonos.
You want to divorce me, bitch? No woman ever walked away from me. I'd be a joke. An ungrateful wife has only one use. On your back. I'll teach you.
But summer had become September. The start of the tourist season in Athens was the end of the tourist season on Mykonos -because of lowering temperatures. To force her to spend an autumn and perhaps a winter on the island was Papadropolis's idea of a further insult.
Savage lowered his camera, switched off the automatic pilot, and gripped the Cessna's controls. For six months, since the disaster he'd almost described to his Greek informant, he'd been in seclusion, convalescing. His arms, legs, head, and back still ached from the injuries he'd sustained. Nightmarish memories persisted in haunting him.
But the past could not be changed, he strained to remind himself. The present was all that mattered.
And his work.
He had to get back to his work.
To prove himself to himself.
He veered from Mykonos, heading north above the legendary wine-dark Aegean, patting his camera. It was good to be on an assignment again.
He felt as if he'd returned from the dead.
Savage rose from the waves and crept toward the shore. His black wetsuit blended with the night. He crouched behind boulders, stared at the murky cliff above him, and turned toward the sea. The speedboat's pilot, a British mercenary whom Savage often employed, had been told to hurry from the area as soon as Savage dropped into the water a half-kilometer from the island. The pilot hadn't used any lights. In the dark, with no moon and approaching storm clouds obscuring the stars, a sentry couldn't have seen the boat. Amid the din of waves crashing onto rocks, a sentry couldn't have heard it either, though Savage had taken the precaution of placing a sound-absorbent housing over the speedboat's motor.
Satisfied that he'd reached here undetected… unless the guards had night scopes… Savage pulled at the strong nylon cord cinched around his waist. He felt resistance, pulled harder, and soon withdrew a small rubber raft from the water. Behind a rock that shielded him from the spray of the waves, he unzipped the raft's waterproof compartment and took out a bulging knapsack. His wetsuit had kept the frigid water from draining his body heat and giving him hypothermia as he swam with the raft toward shore.
Now he shivered, peeling off the wetsuit. Naked, he hurriedly reached into the knapsack to put on black woolen clothes. He'd chosen wool because its hollow fibers had superior insulating ability, even when wet. His socks and cap were made of the same dark material. He slipped into sturdy ankle-high shoes with cross-ridged soles and tied them firmly. Warm again, he applied black camouflage grease to his face, then protected his hands with dark woolen gloves that were thin enough to allow his fingers to be flexible.
What remained in the knapsack were the various tools he would need, each wrapped in cloth to prevent their metal from clanking together. He secured the knapsack's straps around his shoulders and tightened its belt. The knapsack was heavy, but not as heavy as the equipment he'd been accustomed to carrying when he was in the SEALs, and his strong back accepted the burden comfortably. He placed his wetsuit, snorkel, goggles, and fins into the raft's compartment, zipped it shut, and tied the raft securely to a rock. He didn't know if he'd be forced to return to this site, but he wanted to have the raft here in case he needed it. Papadropolis's guards wouldn't notice it until the morning, and by then, if Savage hadn't returned, their discovery of the raft wouldn't matter.
He approached the cliff. A breeze gained strength, the storm clouds now completely obscuring the sky. The air smelled of imminent rain. Good, Savage thought. His plan depended on a storm. That was why he'd chosen tonight to infiltrate Papadropolis's estate. All the weather forecasters had agreed-around midnight, the first rains of autumn would arrive.
But Savage had to get to the top of the cliff before the storm made climbing difficult. He reached up, found a handhold, braced the toe of one of his boots in a niche, and began his ascent. Though two hundred feet high, the cliff had multiple fissures and outcrops. An experienced climber, Savage would not have trouble scaling it in the dark.
The wind increased. Spray from the waves stung his face and made the cliff slippery. He gripped his gloved fingers tighter onto outcrops, wedged his boots deeper into niches, and climbed with greater deliberation. Halfway up, he reached a fissure. Recalling it from the photographs he'd studied, knowing it would take him to the top, he squirmed inside it, braced his boots against each side, groped up for handholds, and strained higher. His mental clock told him he'd been climbing for almost ten minutes, but all he cared about was each second of caution. The fissure blocked the wind, but a sudden cascade of rain replaced the spray from the waves, and he fought the urge to climb faster. He groped up, touched nothing, and exhaled, realizing he'd arrived at the top of the cliff.
The rain fell harder, drenching him. Even so, it now was welcome, providing him with greater concealment in the night. He crawled from the fissure, scurried across the rim, and crouched among bushes. Mud soaked his knees. His stomach fluttered with nervousness as it always did at the start of a mission.
But it also burned with fear that despite his meticulous preparations he might fail as he had six months ago.
There was only one way to learn if he'd recovered.
He inhaled, concentrated on the obstacles he faced, and subdued his distracting emotions.
Scanning the storm-shrouded night, detecting no guards, he crept from the bushes.
The photographs he'd taken had revealed the first barrier he would come to-a chain link fence around the estate. From the photographs, he hadn't been able to determine the height of the fence, but the standard was seven feet. When he'd magnified the photographs, he'd discovered that the fence was topped by several strands of barbed wire attached to braces that projected inward and outward in the shape of a V.
The rain made the night so dark that Savage couldn't see the fence. Nonetheless, by studying the photographs and comparing the theoretical height of the fence with the distance between the fence and these bushes, he'd calculated that the barrier was twenty yards ahead. The photographs hadn't shown any closed-circuit cameras mounted on the fence, so he didn't worry about revealing himself to remote-controlled night-vision lenses. All the same, from habit, he crawled. The rain-soaked ground felt mushy beneath him.
At the fence, he stopped to remove his knapsack. He took out an infrared flashlight and a pair of infrared goggles. The beam from the flashlight would be invisible to unaided eyes, but through the goggles, Savage saw a greenish glow. He aimed the beam toward the fence's metal posts, scanning upward toward the projecting metal arms that secured the barbed wire.
What he looked for were vibration sensors.
He found none. As he'd expected, the fence was merely a line of demarcation, a barrier but not an intrusion detector. It kept hikers from trespassing unintentionally. Its barbed-wire top discouraged unskilled invaders. If animals-roaming dogs, for example-banged against it, there'd be no alarm needlessly attracting guards.
Savage put the flashlight and goggles into his knapsack, hoisted the pack to his shoulders, and resecured it. As the rain gusted harder, he stepped away from the fence, assumed a sprinter's stance, and lunged.
His momentum carried him halfway up the fence. He grabbed for the projecting metal arm at the top, swung his body up onto the strands of barbed wire, clutched the metal arm on the opposite side of the V, swung over the second group of barbed wire, and landed smoothly, his knees bent, on the far side of the fence. His woolen clothes and gloves were ripped in many places; the barbed wire had inflicted several irritating nicks on his arms and legs. But his injuries were too inconsequential to concern him. Barbed wire was a discouragement only to amateurs.
Staying close to the ground, wiping rain from his eyes, he studied the murky area before him. His British mentor, who'd trained him to be an executive protector, had been fond of saying that life was an obstacle course and a scavenger hunt.
Well, now the obstacle course would begin.
The island of Mykonos was hilly, with shallow soil and many projecting rocks. Papadropolis had built his estate on one of the few level peaks. Savage's photographs had shown that a surrounding slope led up to the mansion.
From the mansion's perspective, the bottom of the slope could not be seen. Hence Papadropolis had decided that an aesthetic barrier around his property, a stone wall instead of a chain link fence, would not be necessary. After all, if the tyrant didn't have to look at the institutional-looking fence, it wouldn't offend him, and metal was always more intimidating to an intruder than stone and mortar.
Savage tried to think as his opponent did. Because Papadropolis couldn't see this rocky slope and probably avoided its sharp incline, most of the intrusion sensors would be located in this area. The photographs of the estate had shown a second fence, lower than the first but not enough to be jumped across. The fence was halfway up the slope.
But what worried Savage was what the photographs couldn't show-buried detectors between the first fence and the second. He removed his knapsack and selected a device the size of a Walkman radio: a battery-powered voltmeter, its purpose to register electrical impulses from underground pressure sensors. He couldn't risk referring to an illuminated dial on the meter, the light from which might reveal him, so he'd chosen a device equipped with an earplug.
Lightning flashed. His earplug wailed, and he froze. The night became dark again. At once his earplug stopped wailing, causing him to relax. The voltmeter had reacted to atmospheric electricity from the lightning, not to buried sensors. Otherwise the earplug would have continued to wail even when there wasn't lightning.
But the flash of light, though startling, had been useful. He'd been given a glimpse of the fence a few yards ahead of him. It too was chain link. Not topped by barbed wire, however. And Savage understood why-anyone who'd climbed the more imposing first fence would be tempted to scramble over this seemingly less protected barrier.
He approached it cautiously. Another flash of lightning revealed small metal boxes attached to the posts supporting the fence. Vibration detectors. If someone grabbed the chain links and started to climb, an alarm would warn guards in the mansion. A computer monitor would reveal the site of the intrusion. The guards would quickly converge on the area.
In theory, the vibration sensors could not be defeated. But Savage knew that vibration sensors had to be adjusted so that a specific amount of vibration was necessary before the sensors would trigger an alarm. Otherwise, wind gusting against the fence or a bird's landing on it would needlessly alert guards. After several false warnings, the guards would lose faith in the sensors and fail to investigate an alarm. So the only way to get beyond the fence was to use a method that seemed the most risky.
To cut through the links. But it had to be done in a special way.
Savage unslung his knapsack and took out wireclippers. Kneeling, he chose a link at shoulder level and snipped it. Instead of fearing that he'd caused an alarm, instead of succumbing to second thoughts and rushing away, he calmly waited forty seconds, snipped another link, and waited another forty seconds, then snipped a third link. Each snip was the same as a bird landing on the fence or given the weather, rain lashing against it. His carefully timed assault on the fence had insufficient constancy to activate the sensors.
Twelve minutes later, Savage removed a two-foot square from the fence, eased his knapsack through the gap, then crawled through, slowly, making sure he didn't touch the surrounding links.
He put the wireclippers into his pack and resecured the pack to his shoulders. Now, in addition to the voltmeter, he carried a miniature battery-powered microwave detector. As well, he again wore his infrared goggles. Because his photographs had revealed a further danger. A line of metal posts near the top of the slope. Nothing linked them. They appeared to be the start of a fence that would soon be completed, wires eventually attached to them.
But Savage knew better.
He stared through his goggles, anxious to know whether infrared beams filled the gaps between the posts. If his suspicion was correct, if the beams existed and he passed through them, he'd trigger an alarm.
But as he crept closer to the top of the rain-swept hill, his goggles still did not detect infrared beams between the posts. Which meant…
The moment the thought occurred to him, the earplug attached to his microwave detector began to wail.
He halted abruptly.
Yes, he thought. Microwaves. He'd have been disappointed if Papadropolis used infrared. That type of beam was too susceptible to false alarms caused by rain. But microwaves provided an absolutely invisible barrier and were much less affected by weather. This test meant nothing without a sufficient challenge.
Again, as lightning flashed, the earplug to Savage's voltmeter wailed. He paused, in case the lightning coincided with an electrical field from a buried pressure sensor. But when the wail stopped, he knew that the microwave fence was his only obstacle.
He approached his objective. The lightning had allowed him a glimpse of the nearest post. The post had a slot down its right and left side, for transmitting beams to and receiving beams from the next posts right and left. The post was too high for him to leap over the microwaves, the earth too shallow for him to dig under them.
Still, the installer-for all his cleverness-had made a mistake, for this system worked best when the posts weren't in a continuous line with each other but instead were staggered so the microwaves formed an overlapping pattern.
In such a formation, the posts were protected. If an intruder tried to use them to get past the system, he'd interfere with the microwaves. However, Savage's photographs had shown that the system was in a straight line.
It could be defeated.
Savage removed a metal clamp from his knapsack and attached the clamp to the post, above the slots that transmitted and received the microwaves. He screwed several sections of metal together to form a three-foot-long rod, then inserted the rod into the clamp, the rod projecting toward him. Next, he threw his knapsack over the post, gripped the rod, and raised himself onto it. For a heartpounding instant, he almost lost his balance. The rod became slippery in the rain. Wind pushed him. But the ridges on the soles of his boots gripped the rod. He managed to steady himself and dove over the top of the post, avoiding the microwaves.
He landed in a somersault. His shoulders, back, and hips absorbed his impact. So did the rain-soaked ground. He cringed from pain, however, still tender from the injuries he'd sustained six months ago. Ignoring the protest in his muscles, he came smoothly out of his roll and crouched to study the near crest of the slope.
It was haloed by faint light made misty by the rain. No sign of guards. In a careful rush, he put the clamp and rod back into his knapsack, along with the infrared goggles he no longer needed. He aimed his voltmeter and microwave detector and proceeded higher.
At the top, he lay on soggy ground and studied his target. Arc lights, dimmed by the rain, illuminated a lawn. Fifty yards away, a sprawling white mansion-a concatenation of cubes and domes that imitated the houses in the town of Mykonos -attracted his attention. Except for the arc lights on the corners of the building and a light in a far left window, the mansion was dark.
His photographs had not been detailed enough to let him know if closed-circuit television cameras were mounted above the doors, but he had to assume they were present, although in this storm the cameras would relay murky images and at three A.M. the guard who watched the monitors would not be alert.
As Savage charged toward the mansion, he saw a camera above the door he'd chosen-on the right, farthest from the lamp in the window on the opposite side of the building. The camera made him veer even farther right, rushing toward the door obliquely, clutching a canister that he'd taken from his knapsack.
When he reached the door, darting from the side, he raised the canister and sprayed the lens of the camera. The canister held pressurized water, its vapor coating the camera's lens as if a gust of rain had lanced against the house. The streaks of dripping liquid would impair but not eliminate the camera's murky image, thus troubling the guard who watched the monitor but not compelling him to sound an alarm.
Savage picked the door's lock-a good lock, a dead bolt, but freed in twelve seconds. Still he didn't dare open the door.
Instead he removed a metal detector from his knapsack and scanned the door's perimeter. Metal on the upper right, four feet above the doorknob, made his earphone wail. Another intrusion detector.
Savage understood the principle. A magnet within the door kept a metal lever in the doorframe from rising toward a switch that would signal an alarm if the door was opened.
To defeat the alarm, Savage removed a powerful horseshoe magnet from his knapsack and pressed it upward, against the doorframe, while he gently shoved the door open. His magnet replaced the magnet within the door and prevented the lever in the frame from rising toward the contact switch. As he squeezed through a gap in the door, he slid his magnet farther across the doorframe, then eased the door shut before he removed the magnet. Now the door's own magnet prevented the lever from rising.
He was in.
But he didn't dare relax.
Joyce Stone had described the mansion's layout. Having memorized the floor plan, Savage proceeded tensely along a dark hallway. He studied an opening to his left and saw an illuminated clock on an oven. The kitchen was spacious, fragrant with the lingering smells of oil and garlic from the evening's meal. Passing a counter, he entered a shadowy dining room, its rectangular table long enough to seat fifteen guests on each side as well as the master and his wife at each end.
But Papadropolis was not in residence. A member of Savage's surveillance team had reported that Papadropolis and an entourage of guards had flown on the billionaire's private plane to Crete this morning. The tyrant's departure had been an unexpected gift of the Fates. Not only had Papadropolis lessened the number of guards at the mansion, but those who remained would feel a lessened sense of duty.
So Savage hoped. He'd soon find out.
At a farther doorway, he halted, hearing muffled voices. Three men. Down a stairwell on his left. Laughter echoed upward. Sure, Savage thought, they're happy to be dry and warm.
He continued through the shadows, entering a murky living room. Halfway across, he heard a chair creak and ducked behind a sofa. The sound came through an archway ahead. Holding his breath, he crept nearer and saw the glow from a rain-misted light outside two barred windows. Each window flanked the mansion's front door, and in the vestibule, another glow-red, from a cigarette-revealed a guard in an alcove on the far side of the door.
Savage raised a pistol. Its projectiles weren't bullets but tranquilizer darts, and its front and rear sights had been tipped with infrared paint that allowed him to aim in the dark, its luminous specks visible only through his goggles.
The weapon made a muffled spit. At once Savage moved as quickly as the need for silence allowed, crossing the vestibule, grabbing the guard as he slumped from a chair, and more important, grabbing the guard's Uzi before it clattered onto the marble floor. He set the guard behind his chair and folded his legs to make sure they didn't project from the alcove.
With the Uzi slung across his shoulder, Savage studied the top of a curving staircase. A light up there indicated a hallway that Joyce Stone had described. Shifting his gaze from the vestibule toward the corridor above him, then once more toward the vestibule, he slowly ascended.
At the top, he pressed against the left wall and peered cautiously through the archway, toward the right, along the illuminated corridor. He couldn't see the corridor's end, but so far he hadn't glimpsed a guard. Rachel Stone's bedroom was in that direction, however, and he took for granted that a sentry would be watching her door.
He risked leaning farther into the archway to get a better view of the corridor. Still no guard.
At last he had to show his head, his view of the hallway complete.
A guard in a chair at the end! The man read a magazine.
Having revealed himself gradually, Savage used equal care to shift back out of sight, lest sudden motion attract the guard.
Would there be a corresponding sentry at the opposite end of the corridor?
Savage stepped softly toward the right side of the archway and peered with greater caution along the left flank of the corridor.
Or started to. A noise alerted him. A gun being cocked.
There was a guard on the left flank of the corridor. Savage aimed reflexively. His weapon spat. The guard on the left stumbled backward, his eyes already losing focus as he pawed at the dart protruding from his throat. The guard's knees buckled.
Savage prayed that the man's cocked handgun wouldn't discharge when it hit the floor. At the same time, he pivoted into the corridor and fired at the guard on the right. This guard had seen his counterpart stagger backward. Reacting to the commotion, he'd dropped what he was reading and grabbed his pistol. He began to surge out of his chair.
Savage's gun spat yet again. Its dart struck the man's left shoulder. Though the man tried desperately to aim his pistol, his eyes rolled upward. He toppled.
The thick carpet had muffled the noise of the falling bodies. Or so Savage prayed. Pulse hammering, he hurried to the right, toward the door to what Joyce Stone had told him was her sister's room. He tested the knob; it was locked. He suspected that the bolt could not be freed from inside but only from this side. After picking the lock, he scanned the doorframe with his metal detector but found no sign of an intruder alarm, urgently entered, and shut the door.
The bedroom was luxurious, but Savage barely noticed its expensive furnishings as he scanned them in search of Rachel Stone. A bedside lamp was on. The bed had been slept in; its rumpled covers had been thrown aside. But the room was deserted.
Savage checked beneath the bed. He peered behind closed draperies, finding bars on a window, then searched behind a settee and a chair.
Where the hell was she?
He opened a door, found a bathroom, and turned on the light. The shower door was closed. When he looked inside, the stall was empty.
He tried another door. A closet. Dresses. Rachel Stone lunged through the dresses. Scissors glinted. Savage clutched her wrist an instant before she'd have stabbed his left eye.
Her anger-contorted features suddenly changed to a frown of surprise. Noticing Savage's black camouflage-greased face, she struggled backward.
Savage clamped a hand across her mouth and shook his head. As he yanked the scissors from her grasp, his lips formed silent words. Don't talk. He pulled a card from his pocket. The card was sealed in transparent, waterproof plastic.
She stared at its dark hand-printed message.
YOUR SISTER SENT ME TO GET YOU OUT OF HERE.
He turned the card, revealing a further message.
THIS ROOM MIGHT HAVE HIDDEN MICROPHONES. WE MUSTN'T TALK.
She studied the card… and him… subdued her suspicion, and finally nodded.
He showed her another card.
GET DRESSED. WE'RE LEAVING. NOW.
But Rachel Stone didn't move.
Savage flipped the second card.
YOUR SISTER TOLD ME TO SHOW YOU THIS.
TO PROVE SHE SENT ME.
He held up a wedding ring, its diamond enormous.
This time when Rachel Stone nodded, she did so with recognition and conviction.
She grabbed for a dress in the closet.
But Savage squeezed her arm to stop her. Shaking his head, he pointed toward jeans, a sweater, and jogging shoes.
She understood. With no hint of embarrassment, she removed her nightgown.
Savage tried to ignore her nakedness, directing his attention toward the door through which guards might any moment charge.
Hurry, he silently pleaded. His pulse hammered faster.
Glancing again in her direction, he was too preoccupied to dwell on the jeans she tugged up over smooth, sensual thighs and silken bikini panties that revealed her pubic hair.
No, Savage's attention was directed solely toward two other-the most significant-aspects of her appearance.
One: Rachel Stone, though ten years younger than her sister, looked like Joyce Stone's twin. Tall, thin, angular. Intense blue eyes. A superb oval face, its magnificent curves framed by spectacular shoulder-length hair. There was one difference. Joyce Stone's hair was blond whereas Rachel's was auburn. The difference didn't matter. The resemblance between older and younger sister remained uncanny.
Two: while Joyce Stone's face was smooth and tanned, Rachel's was swollen and bruised. In addition to repeatedly raping his wife, Papadropolis had beaten her, making sure his fists left marks that couldn't be concealed. Humiliate- that was the tyrant's weapon. Subdue and dominate.
Not any longer, Savage thought. For the first time, he felt committed not just professionally but morally to this assignment. Rachel Stone might be-probably had been-spoiled by luxury. But nothing gave anyone the right to brutalize her.
Okay, Papadropolis, Savage thought. I started this for me, to prove myself. But I'll end this to get at you.
You son of a bitch!
His skull throbbed with anger.
Turning from the door, he saw that Rachel Stone was now dressed.
He leaned toward her ear, his whisper almost soundless, conscious of her perfume. “Take the few things you absolutely need.”
She nodded with determination and leaned close to him, her words as soft as her breath. “I'll give you anything you want. Just get me out of here.”
Savage headed toward the door.
With the grace of a dancer, Rachel Stone rushed soundlessly down the stairs. In the shadowy vestibule, Savage touched her arm to guide her toward the living room, intending to reach the hallway near the kitchen and leave the mansion through the same door he'd used to enter.
But she twisted away from his grasp, her long, lithe legs taking her quickly toward the front door.
Savage rushed to stop her before she opened the door and triggered an alarm.
But she didn't reach for the door, instead for a switch above it, and Savage understood abruptly that, despite her compulsion to escape, she retained sufficient presence of mind to deactivate the alarm.
She opened the door. Rain lashed beneath a balcony. Savage followed her onto wide white steps and gently shut the door. Feeling exposed by a misty arc light, he turned to give her instructions.
She was gone, racing past pillars, down the steps, into the storm.
No! He ran to catch up to her. Christ, doesn't she realize there might be guards out here? She can't just scramble over a fence. She'll trip an alarm!
The rain was stronger than when he'd entered the mansion, and colder. But though he shivered, he knew that some of the moisture streaming down his face was sweat. From fear.
He reached her, about to tackle her, intending to drag her toward the cover of a large statue to his left. At once he changed his mind. She wasn't fleeing at random. Rather she stayed on a concrete driveway that curved in front of the mansion. Constantly heading toward the right, she reached a short lane that intersected with the driveway. At the end of the lane, a storm-shrouded arc light revealed a long, narrow, single-story building with six large doors of a type that opened upward.
The estate's garage. That was her destination. They could hide behind it while he explained how he planned to get her past the sensors.
Gaining speed, Savage flanked her, his voice low but forceful. “Follow me. Toward the back.”
But she didn't obey and instead lunged toward a door on the side of the garage, in view of the mansion. She twisted the knob. It didn't budge.
She sobbed. “Jesus, it's locked.”
“We have to get in back-out of sight.”
She kept struggling with the doorknob.
”Come on,” Savage said.
He spun toward a shout from the mansion.
A guard charged out the front door, pistol raised, scanning the storm.
Oh, shit, Savage thought.
A second man charged out.
Savage hoped that the rain was too dense for the men to see the garage.
Then a third man charged out, and Savage knew the entire guard force would soon be searching the grounds.
“No choice,” he said. “Your idea's lousy, Rachel, but right now I can't think of anything better. Stand back.”
Rain drenched him as he frantically picked the lock. When he opened the door, Rachel shoved past him, reaching for a light switch. He managed to shut the door just in time, before the sudden illumination would have attracted the guards.
He faced a long row of luxury cars. “Is it too much to hope you brought keys? I can hot-wire one of these cars, but it'll take me a minute, and thanks to you, we don't have that much time.”
Rachel darted toward a Mercedes sedan. “The keys are already in them.”
“No thief would dare to steal from my husband.”
“Then why was the door locked?”
“Isn't it obvious?”
“To stop me from taking a car if I somehow got out of the house.”
As they spoke, Savage ran after her toward the Mercedes. But she got behind the steering wheel and slammed the driver's door before he could stop her. She twisted the ignition key she'd predicted would be in place. The car's finely tuned engine purred; acrid exhaust spewed into the garage.
At once she pressed a button on a remote control attached to the dashboard. A rumble reverberated. The door ahead of the Mercedes slid smoothly upward.
Savage barely managed to open the passenger door and scramble inside before she stomped the accelerator. His head snapped back. He slammed the door shut an instant before it would have smashed against the garage exit's frame.
“You almost left me behind!”
“I knew you'd manage.”
“But what if I hadn't?”
Rachel spun the steering wheel to the left and skidded down the lane away from the garage. A brief glare from an arc light revealed her braised, swollen face. She pressed harder on the accelerator and spun the steering wheel again, this time to the right, toward the driveway that led away from the mansion.
Before he could put on his seat belt, Savage was jerked in the direction of her steering.
“What if you hadn't got into the car before I sped away?” Rachel asked. “I've got the feeling you're resourceful.”
“And I've got the feeling you're a bitch.”
“My husband calls me a bitch quite a lot.”
“Hey, don't get sentimental on me. I need a savior who kicks ass.”
“No, what you need right now”-Savage reached toward the controls and pressed a switch-“is to turn on your windshield wipers.”
“I told you, you're resourceful.”
Savage glanced all around, seeing guards try desperately to intercept the car. They carried weapons but didn't aim them.
It didn't make sense.
Then it did.
They'd be glad to blow my brains out, Savage thought. They'd get a bonus. But they don't dare shoot for fear of hitting Papadropolis's wife. In that case, the guards themselves would not be shot. Papadropolis would feed them to the sharks.
As Savage stared forward, lightning flashed, and in the stark illumination, he saw a man on the driveway ahead. The man held a rifle, and like the other guards, he refused to raise it and fire.
Unlike the others, he held up a powerful flashlight, aiming its fierce beam toward the driver's side, hoping to blind Rachel and force her off the road.
Rachel jerked up a hand to shield her eyes and steered toward the man with the flashlight.
The guard jumped out of the way, his leap so smooth that Savage wondered if he'd had gymnastic training. Landing safely on Savage's side of the car, the guard continued to aim the glaring flashlight.
And that, too, didn't make sense. The guard couldn't hope to blind Rachel from the side.
Then the logic was obvious.
The guard directed the flashlight not toward Rachel but Savage.
To get a good look at me! So he can describe me to Papadropolis, and maybe someone can identify me!
Savage quickly covered his face with his hands. At the same time, he slumped, in case the guard decided to risk a shot at the passenger window.
The moment the car sped past the guard, Savage stared backward. Other guards ran down the road from the mansion. Every light was on in the house, silhouetting the guards in the night and the rain. The man who'd aimed the flashlight stood with his back to the house, scowling toward the Mercedes. The flashlight had prevented Savage from seeing his opponent's face, but now as the man shut the beam off, a further bolt of lightning revealed the guard's features.
The glimpse was imperfect. Because rain streaked down the back window. Because Savage's vision had not fully recovered from the glare of the powerful flashlight. Because the Mercedes was speeding away from the man.
But Savage saw enough. The guard was Oriental. His deft leap away from the car-had it been due to gymnastic training, as Savage had first suspected, or to expertise in martial arts?
Four seconds. That was all the time Savage had to study the man. The lightning died. The night concealed.
But four seconds had been enough. The man was in his midthirties: five feet ten inches tall, trim, and solid looking. He wore dark slacks, a matching windbreaker and turtleneck sweater. His brown face was rectangular, his rugged jaw and cheekbones framing his stern, handsome features.
Oriental, yes. But Savage could be more specific. The man was Japanese. Savage knew the man's nationality as certainly as his four seconds of shocked recognition had made him shudder at the eerie resemblance the man bore to…
Savage didn't want to think it.
But as the Mercedes sped farther from the mansion, Savage analyzed his brief impression of the guard, and the major detail about the man wasn't his wiry frame or his stark rectangular features.
No, the major detail was the melancholy behind the intensity on the Japanese sentry's face.
Akira had been the saddest man Savage had ever met.
It couldn't be!
In shock, Savage pivoted toward Rachel. She supposedly was in his custody, but her hysteria controlled her. “You'll never get through the gate.”
“Just watch me.” She increased speed.
“But the gate's made of steel. It's reinforced.”
“So is this car. Armor-plated. Grab the dashboard. When we hit the gate, the Mercedes'll be a tank.”
Ahead, guards scrambled away. The chain link gate loomed quickly. With a jolting concussion, the sedan crashed through the barrier.
Savage swung to stare through the rain-drenched rear window, seeing headlights pursuing them.
With terrible certainty.
The man who drove the car would look impossibly like Akira.
“Did I scare you?” Rachel chuckled.
“Not at all.”
“Then why do you look so pale?”
“It could be I've just seen a ghost.”
Savage had planned several ways to get Rachel off the island. Under ideal circumstances, they'd have rushed to a motorcycle that a member of Savage's team had hidden among rocks on a slope a half-kilometer away. From there, they'd have had a choice of three widely separated coves, in each of which a small, powerful boat was waiting to speed them to a fishing trawler that circled the island.
One of the contingencies Savage had to worry about was the weather. While he'd invaded the estate, the storm had been to his advantage-the harder it rained, the better he'd been concealed. But he'd hoped that the storm would lessen during the evacuation, and instead it had strengthened. The wind would be too powerful, the sea too rough for a boat to take them to the fishing trawler, which itself would be in danger and need to seek shelter.
Of course, Savage never based a plan merely on the chance that the weather would improve, even if the forecasts were in his favor. One of his scouts had found a secluded cave in which they could hide till conditions permitted them to use a boat. Savage hadn't worried about dogs following their scent, for Papadropolis had a phobia about dogs and refused to have them on his property. But even if there had been dogs, the rain would have impaired their sense of smell.
Savage took into account that guards might find the boats in the coves, so he'd arranged for a helicopter to be waiting on the neighboring island of Delos. All he had to do was signal it with a radio transmitter in his pack, and the chopper would rush to pick them up at a prearranged rendezvous.
But suppose the weather stayed bad, and the chopper couldn't fly? Suppose Papadropolis's men were in the rendezvous area? Pursued, Savage had no opportunity to get Rachel to the cave. That left him with one final variation in his plan. The most desperate alternative.
“Ahead, the road soon forks. Turn left,” he said.
“But that'll take us northwest. Toward-”
“ Mykonos.” Savage nodded.
“The village is a labyrinth! We'll be trapped before we can hide!”
“I don't plan to hide.” Savage stared back toward the headlights enlarging in rapid pursuit.
Akira? No! It couldn't be!
“What do you mean, you don't plan to hide? What will we-?”
“Here's the fork. Do what I tell you. Turn left.”
When they'd crashed through the gate, the concrete driveway had become a dirt road. The rain had softened the dirt. The heavy armor-plated Mercedes sank into muddy puddles. Tires spinning, rear end fishtailing, the car struggled forward. At least the pursuing car will have the same trouble we do, Savage thought. Then he noticed that farther back the headlights of other cars had joined the chase.
The mushy road had slowed the Mercedes to thirty kilometers an hour. Even then, Rachel had trouble controlling the steering wheel and keeping the car from sliding into a ditch as she obeyed instructions and took the left fork. “Satisfied?”
“For now. You drive well, by the way.”
“Trying to bolster my confidence?”
“It never hurts,” Savage said. “But I wasn't lying.”
“My husband lies to me all the time. How do I know-?”
“That I'm not? Because your safety depends on me, and if you couldn't control this car, I'd insist on trading places with you.”
“Compliment accepted.” Frowning with concentration, she managed to increase speed.
Savage stared again toward the headlights behind him. They weren't gaining. The trouble was, they weren't receding either.
“My husband hired fools. When they had the chance back there, they weren't smart enough to shoot at the tires.”
“It wouldn't have mattered.”
“I don't understand.”
“The tires on a car this heavy are reinforced. They can take a shotgun blast or a bullet from a forty-five and still support the car.” A gust of wind shook the car.
Rachel almost veered off the road. Voice trembling, she asked, “What happens when we get to Mykonos?”
“If we get to Mykonos. Pay attention to the moment.”
They reached the village of Ano Mera. At this late hour, the village was dark, asleep. The Mercedes gained speed on its rock-slabbed road. Too soon, with the village behind them, the route became muddy again and Rachel eased her foot off the accelerator.
Rachel misinterpreted. “Am I doing something wrong?”
“No, I was worried that the guards would have phoned ahead to warn the men your husband pays to watch for strangers passing through the village toward his estate. We might have faced a roadblock.”
“You've done your homework.”
“I try, but there's always something, the risk of an unknown threat. Knowledge is power. Ignorance…”
“Finish. What do you mean?”
“Ignorance is death. I think the headlights are gaining on us.”
“I noticed in my rearview mirror. Talking helps me not to be afraid. If they catch us…”
“You won't be harmed.”
“Until my husband returns. To beat me again before he rapes me. But you'll…”
“Then why are you helping me? How much did my sister pay you?”
“It doesn't matter. Keep your eyes on the road,” Savage said. “If we get to Mykonos -it's only eight kilometers ahead-follow my instructions exactly.”
“Then you do have a plan.”
“I had several, but this is the one I'm forced to use. I repeat”- Savage glanced toward the pursuing, possibly gaining headlights-“your life depends on total obedience. Do everything I say.”
“When my husband gives me orders, I resent it. But when you give me orders, I'm ready to follow you to hell.”
“Let's hope you don't have to prove it.”
Their headlights gleamed off cube-shaped houses, brilliantly white even in the rain-swept darkness.
“ Mykonos!” Rachel pressed her foot harder onto the accelerator.
“No!” Savage said.
Too late. The sudden increased speed caused the Mercedes to hydroplane on the mud. The car veered sideways, spun- twice, the steering wheel useless, Savage's stomach twisting-and crashed against a fence at the side of the road.
Rachel rammed the gearshift into reverse, tromping the accelerator again.
“Stop!” Savage said.
But the worst had been done. Instead of easing away from the fence toward the road, Rachel had made the car slip sideways onto a mound of earth that snagged the car's drive shaft, propping it up. The tires spun not on mud but air. The car was useless. Two people wouldn't be strong enough to push it off the mound.
The pursuing headlights loomed closer.
Rachel scrambled out of the car. Savage rushed to join her. His boots sank and slid in the mud. He almost lost his balance but managed not to fall as Rachel did lose her balance. He caught her, kept a tight grip on her arm, and urged her forward. The sensation was that of a nightmare, racing through mud and yet staying in place.
But they stubbornly gained momentum. Before them, the white cube-shaped houses enlarged as the headlights behind them magnified.
At once, the nightmare of running in place concluded. Rock slabs beneath Savage's boots made him feel as if a cable that restrained him had snapped. He and Rachel shot forward, the solid street providing traction.
The moment they entered the village, Savage realized that the Mercedes would have been useless anyhow. The street they ran along was narrow, winding. It forked, the angles so sharp and confining that the Mercedes could not have maneuvered with any speed. Hearing the engines of the pursuing cars, Savage chose the left tangent and hurried along it, suddenly confronted by two more tangents. Dismayed, he knew that no matter which direction he took, there'd soon be other tangents.
The maze of Mykonos, the streets arranged in a labyrinth, a means of confusing pirates in antiquity, of making it easy for villagers to trap marauders. Or for present-day hunters to trap their quarry.
Behind him, Savage heard slamming car doors, angry voices, urgent footsteps echoing along a street. He studied the tangents before him. The one to the left veered upward, the other down. His choice was inevitable. He had to keep moving toward the harbor. Guiding Rachel, he fled to the right, only to discover that the street soon angled upward.
It's taking us back to where we started!
Savage pivoted, forcing Rachel to retrace her steps. Except for the gusting rain and the angry voices of their hunters, the village was silent. Only the white of the houses, occasional lights in windows, and sporadic flashes of lightning helped Savage to see his way.
He found a lane he'd failed to notice when he'd passed this way earlier. The lane led downward, so constricting that his shoulders brushed against the walls. He emerged on a wider lane, horizontal, so flat that he couldn't tell which direction might eventually lead downward. But clattering footsteps to his left made him nudge Rachel and charge to the right.
This time, when the lane ended, there was only one exit -to the right, and that led upward.
No! We have to keep aiming toward the harbor!
Savage spun, staring along the lane they'd just taken. The footsteps and curses of the guards sounded closer. Flashlights blazed at the end of the lane. One guard turned to another, his beam revealing the face of the second guard.
The second man was the Japanese. Even at a distance, he still reminded Savage disturbingly of Akira. The Japanese grabbed the first guard's arm and shoved the flashlight away from his face. They rushed along the lane.
In Savage's direction.
They haven't seen us yet, but they will.
Savage's boot struck an object at the side of the lane. A ladder lay against a wall, half of which had a fresh coat of white. He braced it against the wall. Rachel scurried up. As Savage followed, he saw the flashlights checking doorways and alleys, rushing closer.
On the roof, he pulled the ladder up. It scraped against the wall. The flashlights aimed toward the noise. Savage was blinded when a beam revealed him. He ducked back, yanking the ladder with him, hearing the distinctive muffled report of a pistol equipped with a silencer, a bullet zipping past his ear. An instant later, he was out of sight from the lane.
He almost set the ladder down but quickly changed his mind.
“Rachel, grab the other end.”
Awkward, they strained to hurry with the ladder across the roof, lurching to a stop when a gap before them revealed another lane.
In the distance, Savage saw murky lights in the rain-swept harbor.
“Let go of the ladder.”
He swung it over the gap, setting the far end on the other roof, propping the near end securely.
Rachel started to crawl across, but the ladder's rungs were slick with rain, and her knee slipped, a leg falling through. She dangled, gasped, raised her knee to the ladder, and crawled again.
Savage steadied the ladder. He stared toward the gap below him-no flashlights, although he did hear shouts. He glanced behind him, toward where he and Rachel had used the ladder to climb the wall. No one appeared on the rim.
Rain gusted against his eyes. He squinted toward Rachel, managing to see her on the opposite roof. Flat, he pulled himself along the ladder, its moist rungs easing his way, helping him to slide.
On the other roof, he stood and swung the ladder toward him. They struggled with it toward a farther gap between buildings, moving lower into the village, closer to the harbor.
When he crossed the next gap after Rachel did, Savage stared behind him. A flash of lightning made him flinch as a head appeared on top of a wall. The head belonged to the Japanese. Savage recalled the glint of a sword! The…! Abruptly the Japanese scrambled upright.
Another man joined him, raising a pistol, aiming at Savage.
The Japanese lost his balance on the rain-slicked roof. But the Japanese had moved so gracefully at the mansion, it didn't seem likely he could ever lose his balance. Nonetheless he fell against the man with the pistol, deflecting his aim. The shot went wild. The man with the pistol toppled backward. With a wail, he plunged off the roof.
The Japanese stared down at him, then charged after Savage and Rachel, his movements once again graceful.
He'll have to stop! Savage thought. He can't get past the two gaps we crossed!
Don't kid yourself. If this is Akira, he'll find a way.
But you know he can't be Akira!
Frantic, Savage picked up the ladder. As Rachel assisted, Savage glanced again toward the Japanese, expecting him to halt when he reached a lane between roofs. Instead the Japanese increased speed and leapt, his nimble body arcing through the rain, his arms outstretched as if gliding. He landed on the opposite roof, bent his knees, rolled to absorb the impact, and in the same smooth motion, sprang to his feet, continuing to race.
Burdened with the ladder, Savage and Rachel struggled toward another lane. But this time, instead of bracing the ladder across the gap, Savage lowered it against a wall. As Rachel scurried down, Savage turned, dismayed to see the Japanese leap across another gap.
Guards shouted nearby. Savage scrambled down the ladder and tugged it away from the wall so the Japanese couldn't use it. The lane sloped down to the right. He and Rachel sprinted along it. Behind him, Savage heard frenzied footsteps, the Japanese charging toward the side of the roof.
He'll dangle from the rim and drop, Savage thought. Maybe he'll hurt himself.
Like hell. He's a cat.
The lane ended. Savage faced another horizontal street, so level he couldn't decide which direction would take them closer to the harbor.
A light from a window reflected off water on the street. Heart pounding, Savage noticed that the water flowed toward the left.
He ran with Rachel in that direction. Shouts echoed behind him. Footsteps charged closer. Flashlights blazed ahead.
An alley on the right led steeper downward, away from the flashlights. The closer he and Rachel came to the harbor, the more the village narrowed, forming a bottleneck toward the sea, Savage knew. He'd reach fewer tangents, fewer risks of making the wrong decision and heading inadvertently upward, away from his objective.
But he had to assume that his pursuers understood where he was going. They'll try to get in front of us.
He prayed that the guards were as baffled by the maze as he was. Amid the curses behind him and the blaze of flashlights on his flanks, he heard a single set of pursuing footsteps.
As if a nightmare had been dispelled, Savage broke from the village, from its confines and confusion. His way now was clear, across the beach, along the dock. No enemy awaited him. Beside him, Rachel breathed hoarsely, stumbling, on the verge of exhaustion.
“Keep trying,” Savage urged. “It's almost over.”
“God, I hope,” she gasped.
“For what this is worth”-Savage breathed-“I'm proud of you. You did fine.”
His compliment wasn't cynical. She'd obeyed him with Style and strength. But his encouragement-no doubt the only positive words she'd been told in quite a while-did the trick. She mustered her deepest resources and ran so hard she almost passed him.
“I meant what I said,” she gasped. “I'll go with you to hell.”
The yacht, one of several, was moored near the end of the dock. Savage's final option. If the boats in various coves had been discovered, if the fishing trawler had been forced to retreat due to hazardous, weather, if the helicopter couldn't take off from nearby Delos and pick them up at the rendezvous site, the last possibility was a yacht that a member of his team had left in the Mykonos harbor.
Savage sprang aboard, released the ropes that secured it to posts, raised the hatch above the engine, and grabbed the ignition key taped beneath the deck. He slid the key into the switch on the vessel's controls, swelled with triumph when the engine rumbled, pushed the accelerator, and felt a satisfying surge as the yacht sped away from the dock.
“Thank you!” Rachel hugged him.
“Get down on the deck!”
She instantly complied.
As the yacht churned away from the dock, raising waves dwarfed by the greater waves of the storm, Savage scowled behind him. The force of the sea made the yacht thrust up and down, but despite his confused perspective, Savage saw a man rush along the dock.
The Japanese. Beneath a light at the end of the dock, his features remained as melancholy as Akira's.
He showed other emotions as well. Confusion. Desperation.
Most of all, fear.
That didn't make sense. But there wasn't any doubt. The Oriental's strongest emotion was fear.
“Savage?” The voice was strained, obscured by the gusting storm.
“Akira?” Savage's yell broke, strangled by waves that splashed his face, filling his mouth, making him cough.
On the dock, other guards rushed beside the Japanese. They aimed pistols toward the yacht but didn't dare fire, aware of the risk of hitting their client's wife. Their faces were rainswept portraits of desperation.
The Japanese shouted, “But I saw you…!”
The storm erased his next frantic words.
“Saw me?” Savage yelled. “I saw you!”
Savage couldn't allow himself to be distracted. He had to complete his mission and urged the yacht from the harbor.
“… die!” the Japanese screamed.
Rachel peered up from the deck. “You know that man?”
Savage's hands cramped around the yacht's controls. His pounding heart made him sick.
He felt dizzy. In the village, he'd predicted that the Japanese would leap down from the wall like a cat.
Yes. Like a cat, Savage thought. With less than nine lives.
“Know him?” he told Rachel as the yacht fought stormy waves to escape the harbor. “God help me, yes.”
“The wind! I can't hear you!”
“I saw him die six months ago!”
Six months ago, Savage had been working in the Bahamas, an uneventful babysitting job that involved making sure the nine-year-old son of a U.S. cosmetics manufacturer didn't get kidnapped while the family was on vacation. Savage's research had made him conclude that, since the family had never been threatened, his assignment was really to be a companion to the boy while the parents abandoned him in favor of the local casinos. In theory, anyone could have served that function, but it turned out the businessman made frequent racial slurs against the local population, so Savage assumed that the supposed potential kidnappers had a skin color darker than his employer's. In that case, why, he'd wondered, had the businessman chosen the Bahamas at all? Why not Las Vegas? Probably because the Bahamas sounded more impressive when you told your friends you'd spent two weeks there.
Savage had disapproved but hadn't shown it. His job, after all, wasn't to like his client, but instead to provide security, and besides, despite his aversion to his employer, he enjoyed the boy's companionship extremely. While never allowing himself to be distracted from his duties, he'd taught the boy to windsurf and scuba dive. With the businessman's money, he'd chartered a fishing boat-captained by a Bahamian native, to Savage's rebellious delight-and never baiting a hook had shown the boy the graceful majesty of leaping sailfish and marlin. In short, he'd behaved like the father that the endearing boy's actual father should have been.
When the boy had flown back to Atlanta with his family, Savage had felt empty. Well, he'd thought, you've got this consolation. Not every job's as pleasant as this one. He'd remained in the Bahamas for three more days. Swimming, jogging, hardening his muscles. A vacation for himself. But then his habitual compulsion to work had taken control. He'd phoned one of his several contacts, a restaurateur in Barcelona, who'd received a call from a jeweler in Brussels, who passed the word that if Savage was available, his agent would be pleased to speak with him.
Savage's agent, Graham Barker-Smythe, the Englishman who'd trained him, had his home in a renovated carriage house in an elegant brick-paved lane in New York City, a half-block from Washington Square. As Graham liked to say, “At midnight, I can hear the junkies howl.”
Graham was fifty-eight, overweight from too much champagne and caviar, but in his lean youth, he'd been a member of the British military's elite commando unit, the Special Air Service, and after leaving the military, a protective escort to several prime ministers. Eventually his civil servant's income had been unacceptable compared to the guardian's fees he could earn in the private sector. America had offered the richest opportunities.
“This was after President Kennedy was shot. Then Martin Luther King. Then Robert Kennedy. Assassination was the major fear of anyone in power. Of course, the Secret Service had cornered the market on high-level politicians, so I chose to deal with prominent businessmen. They've got the bucks, and after the terrorists hit in the seventies, I made a bleeding fortune.”
Despite his twenty years in America, Graham still retained his English accent, though his vocabulary had become an intriguing mixture of American and British expressions.
“Some of the businessmen I protected”-Graham pursed his lips-“were no more than ruffians in Brooks Brothers suits. An elegant front. No class. Not like the aristocrats I used to work for. But this is what I learned. A protector has to repress his ill opinions about his employer. If you allow disapproval to control you, you'll unconsciously make a mistake that might kill your client.”
“You're saying a protector should never disapprove of a client?”
“It's a luxury. If we worked only for those of whom we approved, we'd seldom work. Everyone has imperfections. However, I do adhere to minimum standards. I would never help drug dealers, arms merchants, terrorists, mobsters, child molesters, wife beaters, or members of militant hate groups. I would never be able to repress my disgust enough to protect them. But unless you're confronted by unmistakable evil, you don't have a right to judge your client. Of course, you can still turn him down if the fee he offers is insufficient or the job too dangerous. Because we're tolerant doesn't mean we have to be schmucks. Pragmatism. Adapt to circumstances.”
Graham always enjoyed these philosophical discussions and despite his heart doctor's orders, indulged in lighting an enormous cigar, the smoke from which hovered above his bald head. “Did you ever wonder why I accepted you as a pupil?”
“I assumed because of the training I'd received in the SEALs.”
“That training was impressive, no doubt about it. When you came to me, I saw a strong young man accustomed to the stress of lethal conditions. A commendable background. Promising. Unrefined, however. I might even add, crude. Now don't look insulted. I'm about to give you a compliment. I grant that the SEALs are among the best commando units in the world, though my own SAS is of course in a class by itself.” Graham's eyes twinkled. “But the military insists on strict obedience, whereas an executive protector isn't a follower but a leader. Or more exactly, a protector exists in a delicate stasis with his employer, commanding yet obeying, allowing the client to do what he wants but insisting on how he does it. The relationship is known as symbiosis.”
Savage responded dryly, “I'm familiar with the word.”
“Give and take,” Graham said. “A protector requires the skills of a military specialist, agreed. But he also must have the talents of a diplomat. And above all, a mind. The latter-your mind-is what attracted me. You left the SEALs…”
“Because I disagreed with what happened in Grenada.”
“Yes, the U.S. invasion of that tiny Caribbean island. It's been several years since you approached me, but if my memory hasn't failed, the date of the invasion was October twenty-five, nineteen eighty-three.”
“Your memory never fails.”
“As a Briton, I'm instinctively precise. Six thousand U.S. soldiers-coordinated units of Rangers, Marines, SEALs, and Eighty-second Airborne paratroopers-attacked Grenada, their mission to rescue one thousand American medical students held captive by Soviet and Cuban troops.”
“Supposedly held captive.”
“You sound as angry as the day you came to me. You still feel the invasion wasn't justified?”
“For sure, there'd been trouble on the island. A coup had deposed the prime minister, but he was pro-Cuban, and the man who replaced him was Marxist. Different shades of red. The coup caused civil unrest. A hundred and forty protesters were shot by local soldiers. And the former prime minister was assassinated. But the American medical students stayed in their compound-none of them was injured. Basically two Communist politicians had fought each other for power. Why Americans were studying medicine on a pro-Cuban island I don't know, but the coup hardly threatened the balance of power in Latin America.”
“What about the Cuban, East German, North Korean, Libyan, Bulgarian, and Soviet technical advisors on the island, many of whom were actually soldiers?”
“An exaggeration of U.S. Intelligence. I saw only local soldiers and Cuban construction workers. Sure, when the invasion began, the Cubans grabbed rifles and fought as if they'd had military training, but what young man in Cuba hasn't had military training?”
“And the ten-thousand-foot airstrip being constructed, capable of accommodating long-range bombers?”
“What I saw was less than half that long, suitable for commercial flights to bring in tourists. The invasion was show business. The U.S. looked impotent when Iran took our embassy personnel hostage in ‘seventy-nine. Reagan defeated Carter because he vowed he'd act decisively if Americans were threatened again. Just after the Grenada coup, an Arab terrorist drove a truckload of explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in war-ravaged Lebanon. Two hundred and thirty peacekeeping soldiers were killed in the blast. What happened in Lebanon was obscene, but did Reagan retaliate in that region? No, because the Mideast situation's too complicated. So what did he do to save face? He ordered American forces to attack an easy target to rescue supposed American hostages in the Caribbean.”
“But the American public perceives Grenada as a blow for freedom, an important U.S. victory against a Communist threat in the Western Hemisphere.”
“Because reporters were restricted from the invasion. The only reports came from the military. In civilian life, it's called lying. In politics, it's called disinformation.”
“Yes,” Graham said. “Disinformation. Exactly the word I was waiting for. As I said, what attracted me to you was your mind. Your ability to step back from your military conditioning, recognize the truth, and think independently. Why was your reaction so bitter?”
“You know that already. I was part of the first team to hit the island. We parachuted from a transport plane. Other chutes brought us rafts because we had to infiltrate the island from offshore. But the Navy misjudged the weather. The wind was stronger than predicted. At night, the waves were so fierce we couldn't see the rafts. A lot of us-a lot of my friends-drowned before we reached the rafts.”
“In the service of their country.”
“In the service of a movie-star president who sent us needlessly into combat so he'd look like a hero.”
“So with disgust, you refused to reenlist in the Navy, despite the fifty-thousand-dollar incentive the military offered you. However, a disaffected Navy SEAL, a top-of-the-line ex-commando, could have asked a huge fee from mercenary recruiters.”
“I didn't want to be a mercenary.”
“No. You wanted dignity. You had the wisdom to understand your true vocation, not a soldier but a protector.”
Graham leaned back behind his spacious mahogany desk, puffing his cigar with satisfaction. Though corpulent, he wore impeccably tailored clothes that minimized his bulk: a gray pinstripe suit and vest, a subdued maroon tie, and a subtle blue handkerchief tucked perfectly into the chest pocket of his suitcoat. “The tie and the handkerchief should never match,” he always insisted, instructing Savage about the proper way to dress if a distinguished client had to be escorted to a semiformal occasion. “Wear clothes to match your surroundings, but never choose a suit that's more elegant than your client's.”
Proper dress had been only a small part of what Graham taught Savage about the rules of executive protection. The occupation was far more complex than Savage had imagined when he first came to Graham in the fail of ‘83, though to Savage's credit he had not assumed that his extensive experience with one of the finest military units in the world had been all the preparation he would need. Quite the contrary. Savage's commando training had taught him the value of admitting what he didn't know, of thoroughly preparing himself for a mission. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is death. That was why he'd come to Graham in the first place-to dispel his ignorance and learn from a world-class expert about the refinements of his newly chosen profession.
Weapons: Savage required no instruction in that regard. There wasn't a weapon-firearms, explosives, ballpoint pens, or piano wire-that Savage couldn't use proficiently.
But what about surveillance techniques? Savage's training had been to assault, not follow.
And “bug” detection? Savage's experience with bugs was limited to disease-bearing pests in jungles, not miniature microphones implanted in telephones, lamps, and walls.
And evasive driving? Savage had never evaded an objective. He'd always attacked. And as far as driving was concerned, he and his unit had always been transported to whichever plane or ship would take them to their target. Driving was something he did for fun in a rented Corvette to take him from bar to bar while on leave.
“Fun?” Graham had winced. “I'll cure you of wanting that. And conspicuous vehicles are forbidden. As for bars, you'll drink only in moderation, a distinguished wine while eating, for example, and never when on assignment. Do you smoke?”
“Not anymore. How can you notice a threat to a principal-”
“A principal. In the profession you claim you wish to enter, a client is called a principal. An appropriate word, for your principal is your main-your exclusive-concern. How can you notice a threat to your principal when you're busy fumbling to light a cigarette? You think I contradict myself because I smoke a cigar? I indulge myself now that I've given up protecting in favor of teaching and arranging for my students to find employment. For an agent's fee, of course. But you, how can you protect a principal when your hand is compromised by a cigarette? Yes, I can see you have a great deal to learn.”
“Then teach me.”
“First you must prove you're worthy.”
“Why did you choose-?”
“To be a bodyguard?”
“An executive protector. A bodyguard is a thug. A protector is an artist. Why did you choose this profession?”
Accustomed to the demeaning shouts of his Navy instructors, Savage hadn't felt angry at Graham's outburst. Instead he'd humbly sorted through his instincts, trying to verbalize his motivation. “To be useful.”
Graham had raised his eyebrows. “Not an inferior response. Elaborate.”
“There's so much pain in the world.”
“Then why not join the Peace Corps?”
Savage had straightened. “Because I'm a soldier.”
“And now you want to become a protector? A member of the comitatus. Ah, I see you're unfamiliar with the term. No matter. You'll soon understand, for I've decided to accept you as a student. Return to me a week from now. Read the Iliad and the Odyssey. We'll discuss its ethics.”
Savage hadn't questioned this seemingly irrelevant assignment. He was used to obeying, yes. But he sensed that Graham's command was not a mere test of his discipline but rather the beginning of a new kind of knowledge. A skill that would make his previous training-as superb as it was- seem a minimum requirement for the greater demands of what Graham eventually told him was the fifth and most noble profession.
After the Iliad and the Odyssey, Graham had insisted on discussing other classics that merged military and executive-protection skills. “You see, tradition and attitude are paramount. There are rules and codes. Ethics and yes, aesthetics. In time, I'll teach you tactics. For now, you'll learn a beautiful devotion to your principal, but as well an unrelenting obligation to control him. This relationship is unique. Perfectly balanced. A work of art.”
It was Graham who made Savage read the Anglo-Saxon account of the loyal comitatus who fought to the death to defend their master's corpse from the ravaging Vikings at the battle of Maldon. And it was Graham who introduced Savage to the remarkable Japanese fact-become-legend of the forty-seven ronin who avenged their insulted dead lord by beheading their master's enemy and in victory, obeyed the shogun's command to disembowel themselves.
Codes and obligations.
“I have an assignment for you,” Graham said.
“Why so solemn? Is it dangerous?”
“Actually it's fairly routine. Except for one thing.” Graham told him.
“The client's Japanese!” Savage said.
“Why does that make you frown?”
“I've never worked for a Japanese.”
“That intimidates you?”
Savage thought about it. “With most other nationalities, I'm able to take for granted common elements of culture. It makes the job easier. But the Japanese… I don't know enough about them.”
“They've adopted a lot of American ways. Clothes and music and…”
“Because of the U.S. occupation after the war. They wanted to please the victors. But their habit of mind, the way they think, that's unique, and I'm not just talking about the difference between the Orient and the West. Even the Communist Chinese, to give one example, think more like Westerners than the Japanese do.”
“I thought you said you didn't know anything about the Japanese.”
“I said I didn't know enough about them. That doesn't mean I haven't studied them. I knew one day I'd be asked to protect a Japanese. I wanted to be prepared.”
“And are you prepared?”
“I'll have to think about it.”
Savage's pride made him tense. “Of what?”
“That you can be a comitatus but not a samurai?”
Graham cocked his head. “I'm not familiar with the word.”
“It's Japanese. It means the compulsion to conform to a group.”
“Yes? And so? I'm puzzled.”
“Omote and ura. Public thoughts and private thoughts. A traditional Japanese never reveals what he truly believes. He always says what he thinks the group will accept.”
“I still don't-”
“The Japanese caste system, the absolute command of masters over retainers. In premodern times, the order was shogun to daimyo to samurai to farmer to merchant to untouchables, those who butchered animals or tanned hides. Apart from that hierarchy, the emperor existed with little power but great authority, the descendant of the Japanese gods. That rigid system was supposedly erased by the democratic reforms of the U.S. occupation. But it still persists.”
“As usual, you've done your research.”
“Keep listening,” Savage said. “How am I supposed to protect a man who wants to conform to a group but won't tell me what he's thinking and who secretly believes he's better than his inferiors, which in this case is me? Add to that, the Japanese habit of avoiding favors because they impose an obligation to repay those favors in greater degree. And add to that, the Japanese habit of feeling mortally insulted whenever an underling assumes authority.”
“I still don't-”
“Everything you've taught me comes down to this-a protector must be both servant and master. A servant because I'm employed to defend. A master because I'm obligated to insist that my employer obey my instructions. A balance, you said. An artistry of give-and-take. Then tell me how I'm supposed to fulfill my obligation to a principal who won't reveal what he's thinking, who can't stand being obligated to an underling, and who won't take orders.”
“It's a dilemma. No doubt. I agree.”
“But you still recommend I accept this assignment?”
“For purposes of education.”
Savage glared at Graham and abruptly laughed. “You are a bastard.”
“Consider it a challenge. A broadening of your skills. You've succeeded so far-commendably. Nonetheless you haven't achieved your full potential. Ignorance is death. To become the best you must learn the most. And the samurai tradition offers the greatest opportunities. I suggest you immerse yourself much further in the culture of your principal.”
“Does the fee he offers make the effort-”
“You won't be disappointed. It more than compensates.”
“Giri,” Graham said, surprising Savage by his mentor's knowledge of that essential Japanese word. “The burden of obligation to your master and to anyone who does you a favor. Even if the assignment's uneventful, my friend, you won't be bored.”
A dingy drizzle fell from a soot-colored sky. It sprayed off the greasy tarmac, forming a dirty mist that beaded against the dusty windows of LaGuardia Airport.
Savage sat in a crowded American Airlines concourse and watched a DC-10 approach an arrival dock. He periodically scanned the confusion of activity around him, on guard for potential danger, sensing none. Of course, an enemy skilled in surveillance would not allow himself to attract attention, so Savage remained alert.
“What's the principal's name?” he'd asked Graham.
The Japanese put their family name first, their given name last. The formal term of respect-san instead of “mister” -applied not to the family name but to the given name and came after the given name. Thus the principal would be addressed as Kamichi-san.
“He arrives in New York tomorrow,” Graham had added, “after going through Immigration and Customs in Dallas.”
“The purpose of his visit?” Graham had shrugged.
“Come on. Is he a businessman? A politician? What?” Graham shook his head. “Ura. Those private thoughts you so rightly noted the Japanese cherish. The principal prefers to keep his intentions to himself.”
Savage breathed out sharply. “That's exactly why I'm reluctant to take the job. If I don't know at least the general reason for his visit, how am I supposed to assess the risks he might face? A politician has to fear assassination, but a businessman's biggest worry is being kidnapped. Each risk requires a different defense.”
“Of course. But I've been assured that the threat potential is extremely low,” Graham said. “The principal is bringing his own security. One escort. Clearly if he were worried, he'd bring others. What he wants you to do is be his driver and stand in for his escort when the escort's sleeping. A simple assignment. Five days’ work. Ten thousand dollars in addition to my agent's fee.”
“For a driver? He's overpaying.”
“He insists on the best.”
“His name is Akira.”
“Only one word?”
“He follows the practice I recommended to you and uses a pseudonym, so an enemy can't trace his public name to his private identity.”
“That's fine. But is he effective?”
“From all reports, extremely. Equivalent to you. Language won't be a problem, by the way. Both of them speak English fluently.”
Savage was only partially reassured. “Is it too much to hope that the principal's willing to confide in me enough to tell me beforehand where I'll be driving?”
“He's not unreasonable. And indeed you will be driving some distance.” Graham looked amused. “He's authorized me to give you this sealed envelope of instructions.”
The DC-10 reached the concourse. Its engines stopped shrieking. Friends and relatives hurried toward the arrival door, eager to meet their loved ones.
Savage assessed and dismissed them, studying observers on the sidelines.
Still no sign of a threat.
He moved toward the fringe of the waiting crowd. As usual, it took a frustrating minute for the docking to be completed. At once the empty ramp was filled with surging passengers.
Exuberant hugs of reunion. Kisses of affection.
Savage once again studied his surroundings. Everything seemed normal. He directed his attention toward the exit ramp.
Now came the test. His principal and his escort had flown first class. The extra fare meant not only bigger seats, anxious-to-please attendants, better meals, and unlimited free cocktails (which the escort should decline), but the privilege of entering and leaving the jet before the standard-fare customers.
Early boarding was a plus. Getting quickly through a possible danger in the crowd. But exiting early, facing a crowd and its unstudied risks, was a liability. A professional escort would insist that his principal wait until most passengers left the plane.
Avoid commotion. Maintain maximum order.
So Savage felt encouraged when he saw no Orientals among the Rolex-and-gold-bracelet, dressed-to-impress, first-class travelers, who marched past the crowd, their power briefcases clutched severely, their chins thrust high. Many wore expensive cowboy boots and Stetsons, to be expected since this DC-10 came from Dallas where an earlier 747 from Japan had landed. Evidently the Japanese passengers on the trans-Pacific 747 had either stayed in Dallas or taken connecting flights to cities other than New York.
More Caucasians. More exuberant reunions.
The surge of passengers became a trickle.
An American Airlines attendant pushed an aged woman in a wheelchair through the arrival door. In theory the DC-10 was empty.
Savage glanced behind him. The waiting crowd had dispersed. At the same time, another crowd-impatient-had boarded several departing planes.
This section of the concourse was almost empty. An airport custodian emptied ashtrays. A young couple looked dejected because they'd been too low on a waiting list for openings due to canceled reservations.
Savage turned again toward the exit door.
A Japanese man appeared, dressed in dark slacks, a dark turtleneck sweater, a dark windbreaker.
Midthirties. Trim but not slight. No suggestion of muscles, but a definite suggestion of strength. Wiry. Supple. His movements smooth. Graceful. Controlled. Economical. No needless gesture. Like a dancer-who knew martial arts, for the tips and the sides of his hands had calluses typical of someone with karate training. Equally telling, his hands were unencumbered. No briefcase. No carry-on bag. Just a handsome Japanese, five feet ten inches tall, with brown skin, short black hair, strong jaw and cheekbones that framed his rectangular face, and laserlike eyes that assessed every aspect of what he approached.
This would be Akira, and Savage was impressed. On equal terms, an enemy would be foolish to confront this man. Even on terms to the enemy's advantage. Savage was so accustomed to dealing with inferior protectors that he almost smiled at the thought of working with an expert.
Behind Akira, another Japanese emerged from the ramp. Late fifties. Slightly stooped. Carrying a briefcase. Blue suit. Protruding stomach. Streaks of gray in his black hair. Sagging brown cheeks. A weary executive.
But Savage wasn't fooled. The second Japanese could probably straighten his shoulders and tuck in his stomach at will. This man would be Muto Kamichi, Savage's principal, and evidently he too had martial arts training, for like Akira (but unlike any other principal Savage had ever worked for), the tips and sides of Kamichi's hands had calluses.
Savage had been instructed to wear a brown suit and paisley tie to identify him. As Kamichi and Akira approached, he didn't offer to shake hands. The gesture would have compromised his ability to defend. Instead he chose the Japanese custom and bowed slightly.
The two Japanese maintained impassive expressions, but their eyes flickered with surprise that this Westerner was familiar with Japanese etiquette. Savage hadn't intended to obligate them. Still, he suddenly realized that the dictates of their culture forced them to respond, though their bows were less than Savage's, Akira's just a bob of the head as he continued to survey the concourse.
Savage gestured politely for them to follow. Proceeding down the concourse, he watched travelers ahead while Kamichi stayed behind him, and Akira followed, no doubt glancing frequently around.
The moment Savage had seen his principal, he'd raised his right hand to the outside of his suitcoat pocket and pressed a button on a battery-powered transmitter. A radio signal had been sent to a receiver in a vehicle that one of Savage's associates had parked in the airport's ramp. As soon as the associate heard the beep, he'd drive from the ramp to rendezvous with Savage.
The group reached the end of the concourse and descended stairs toward the commotion of the baggage area. Weary ex-passengers hefted suitcases off a conveyor belt, impatient to get outside and into taxis.
Savage assessed the harried crowd but didn't go near its risky confusion. Instead he gestured again, this time toward a sliding door. Kamichi and Akira went with him, unconcerned about their luggage.
Good, Savage thought. His initial impression had been accurate. These two understood correct procedure.
They emerged on a busy sidewalk beneath a concrete canopy. Beyond, the drizzle persisted. The temperature, high for April, was sixty degrees. A moist breeze felt tepid.
Savage glanced to the left toward approaching traffic, reassured to see a dark blue Plymouth sedan veering toward the curb. A red-haired man got out, came quickly around to the curb, and opened the rear passenger door. Just before Kamichi got in, he handed the red-haired man several luggage receipts. Savage approved that the principal was experienced enough to perform this menial service rather than requiring Akira to relax surveillance by reaching into his windbreaker pocket to get the receipts.
Savage slid behind the steering wheel, pressed a button that locked all the doors, then fastened his seat belt. Meanwhile the red-haired man went for the luggage. Because Kamichi and Akira had taken a prudent length of time to get off the plane, their suitcases would almost certainly be on the conveyor belt by now. A safe, efficient arrival.
One minute later, the red-haired man finished placing three suitcases in the Plymouth's trunk and shut the lid. Instantly Savage drove from the curb, checking his rearview mirror, noticing his associate walk toward a taxi. Savage had paid him earlier. The man would take for granted that Savage couldn't permit distraction by saying “thanks.”
Savage himself took for granted that since the two Japanese had behaved so knowledgeably about security, they understood why he'd chosen a car that wasn't ostentatious and wouldn't be easy to follow. Not that Savage expected to be followed. As Graham had said, the risk level on this assignment was low. Nonetheless Savage never varied his basic procedure, and the Plymouth-seemingly no different from others-had modifications: bulletproof glass, armor paneling, reinforced suspension, and a supercharged V-8 engine.
As windshield wipers flapped and tires hissed along the wet pavement, Savage steered smoothly through traffic, left the airport complex, and headed west on the Grand Central Parkway. The envelope Graham had given him was in his suitcoat, but he didn't refer to its contents, having memorized his instructions. He couldn't help wondering why Kamichi had rejected Newark's airport in favor of LaGuardia. The drive would have been shorter, less complicated, because although Savage's immediate route was toward Manhattan, his ultimate destination forced him across the northern tip of the island, then west through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. Kamichi's logic, the purpose of the mazelike itinerary, eluded him.
At five, the drizzle stopped. Amid the congestion of rush hour traffic, Savage crossed the George Washington Bridge. He asked his principal if he'd care to enjoy some sake, which having been heated was in a thermos, the temperature not ideal but acceptable.
Savage explained that the Plymouth was equipped with a telephone, if Kamichi-san required it.
Again Kamichi declined.
That was the extent of the conversation.
Until twenty miles west on Interstate 80, where Kamichi and Akira exchanged remarks. In Japanese.
Savage was competent in several European languages, a necessity of his work, but Japanese was too difficult for him, its complex system of suffixes and prefixes bewildering. Because Kamichi spoke English, Savage wondered why his principal had chosen to exclude him from this conversation. How could he do his job when he couldn't understand what the man he'd pledged to protect was saying?
Akira leaned forward. “At the next exit, you'll see a restaurant-hotel complex. I believe you call it a Howard Johnson's. Please stop to the left of the swimming pool.”
Savage frowned for two reasons. First, Akira had remarkably specific knowledge of the road ahead. Second, Akira's English diction was perfect. The Japanese language made no distinction between r and J. Akira, though, didn't say “prease” and “Howald Johnson's.” His accent was flawless.
Savage nodded, obeying instructions, steering off the highway. To the left of the swimming pool, where a sign said CLOSED, a balding man in a jogging suit appeared from behind a maintenance building, considered the two Japanese in the Plymouth's rear seat, and held up a briefcase.
The briefcase-metal, with a combination lock-was identical to the briefcase that Kamichi had carried from the plane.
“Please,” Akira said, “take my master's briefcase, leave the car, and exchange one briefcase for the other.”
Savage did what he was told.
Back in the car, he gave the look-alike briefcase to his employer.
“My master thanks you,” Akira said.
Savage bowed his head, puzzled by the exchange of briefcases. “It's my purpose to serve. Arigato.”
“ ‘Thank you’ in response to his ‘thank you’? My master commends your politeness.”
Returning to Interstate 80, Savage checked his rearview mirror to see if he was being followed. The vehicles behind him kept shifting position. Good.
It was dark when he crossed the mountain-flanked border from New Jersey into Pennsylvania. Headlights approaching in the opposite lanes allowed him to study the image of his passengers in his rearview mirror.
The gray-haired principal seemed asleep, his slack-jawed face tilted back, his eyes closed, or perhaps he was meditating.
But Akira sat ramrod straight, on guard. Like his master, his face did not reveal his thoughts. His features were stoic, impassive.
Akira's eyes, though, expressed the greatest sadness Savage had ever seen. To someone familiar with Japanese culture, Savage's conclusion might have seemed naive, for the Japanese by nature tended toward melancholy, Savage knew. Stern obligations imposed on them by complex traditional values made the Japanese watchful and reserved, lest they unwittingly insult someone or place themselves in another's debt. In premodern times, he'd read, a Japanese would hesitate to tell a passerby that he'd dropped his wallet-because the passerby would then feel honorbound to supply a reward much greater than the value of the contents of the wallet. Similarly Savage had read ancient accounts in which someone who'd fallen from a boat and thrashed in a river, in danger of drowning, had been ignored by people on shore-because to rescue the victim would be to inflict upon that victim an obligation to repay the rescuer again and again and again, forever in this ephemeral earthly existence, until the rescued victim was granted the gift of rescuing the rescuer or else had the privileged release from obligation by dying as the gods had intended at the river before the rescuer intervened.
Shame and duty controlled the Japanese personality. Devotion to honor compelled them but often also wearied them. Peace could be elusive, fatigue of the spirit inescapable. Ritual suicide-seppuku-was on occasion the only solution.
Savage's research made him realize that these values applied only to uncorrupted, unwesternized Japanese, those who'd refused to adapt to the cultural infection of America's military occupation after the war. But Akira gave the impression of being both uncorruptible and, despite his knowledge of American ways, an unrelenting patriot of the Land of the Gods. Even so, the emotion in his eyes was more than the usual Japanese melancholy. His sadness was seared to the depths of his soul. So dark, so deep, so black, so profound. An expanding wall of repressive ebony. Savage felt it. The Plymouth was filled with it.
At eleven, a country road wound through night-shrouded mountains, leading them to a town called Medford Gap. Kamichi and Akira again exhanged comments in Japanese. Akira leaned forward. “At the town's main intersection, please turn left.”
Savage obeyed. Driving from the lights of Medford Gap, he steered up a narrow, winding road and hoped he wouldn't meet another vehicle coming down. There were very few places to park on the shoulder, and the spring thaw had made them muddy.
Dense trees flanked the car. The road angled higher, veering sharply back and forth. The Plymouth's headlights glinted off banks of lingering snow. Ten minutes later, the road became level, its sharp turns now gentle curves. Ahead, above hulking trees, Savage saw a glow. He passed through an open gate, steered around a clump of boulders, and entered an enormous clearing. Fallow gardens flanked him. Spotlights gleamed, revealing paths, benches, and hedges. But what attracted Savage's attention was the eerie building that loomed before him.
At first, he thought it was several buildings, some made of brick, others of stone, others of wood. They varied in height: five stories, three, four. Each had a different style: a town house, a pagoda, a castle, a chalet. Some had straight walls; others were rounded. Chimneys, turrets, gables, and balconies added to the weird architectural confusion.
But as Savage drove closer, he realized that all of these apparently separate designs were joined to form one enormous baffling structure. My God, he thought. How long must it be? A fifth of a mile? It was huge.
None of the sections had doors, except for one in the middle, where the road led to wide wooden steps and a porch upon which a man in a uniform waited. The uniform, with epaulets and gold braids, reminded Savage of the type that bellmen wore at luxury hotels. Abruptly he saw a sign on the porch-MEDFORD GAP MOUNTAIN RETREAT-and understood that this peculiar building was in fact a hotel.
As Savage stopped at the bottom of the stairs, the man in the uniform came down toward the car.
Savage's muscles hardened.
Why the hell weren't my instructions complete? I should have been told where we'd be staying. This place… on a mountaintop, totally isolated, with just Akira and me to protect Kamichi, no explanation of why we came here, no way to control who comes and goes in a building this huge… it's a security nightmare.
Recalling the mysterious exchange of briefcases, Savage turned to Kamichi to tell him that ura, private thoughts, might be wonderful in Japan, but here they gave a protector a royal pain and what the hell was going on?
Akira intervened. “My master appreciates your concern. He grants that your sense of obligation gives you cause to object to these apparently risky arrangements. But you should understand that except for a few other guests, the hotel will be empty. And those guests, too, have escorts. The road will be watched. No incident is expected.”
“I'm not the primary escort,” Savage said. “You are. With respect, though, yes, I'm disturbed. Do you agree with these arrangements?”
Akira bowed his head, darting his profoundly sad eyes toward Kamichi. “I do what my master wills.”
“As must I. But for the record, I don't like it.”
Savage struggled to control the yacht in the storm. The heavy rain, combined with the night, made it almost impossible for him to see the harbor's exit. Only periodic flashes of lightning guided him. Glancing urgently behind him, he frowned toward the gale-shrouded white buildings of Mykonos and the murky arc light at the end of the village's dock. The guards who'd chased him and Rachel from Papadropolis's estate continued to stare, helpless, enraged, toward the yacht escaping through the turbulent water, afraid of shooting lest they hit their master's wife.
Despite the gloomy distance, one guard in particular attracted Savage's full attention. Handsome, wiry, brown skinned, his eyes the saddest Savage had ever seen. The Japanese.
“Savage?” the man had shouted, racing to a halt at the end of the dock.
The guards charged back along the dock. The Japanese lingered, glaring toward Savage, then rushed to follow the guards. Darkness enveloped them.
The yacht tilted, shoved by the wind. Waves spewed over the side.
Lying on the deck, Rachel peered up. “You know that man?” A flash of lightning revealed her bruised, swollen face. Her drenched jeans and sweater clung to her angular body.
Savage studied the yacht's illuminated controls. Thunder shook the overhang. He felt sick. But not because of the churning sea. Akira's image haunted him. “Know him? God help me, yes.”
“The wind! I can't hear you!”
“I saw him die six months ago!” A wave thrust his shout down his throat.
“I still can't-!” Rachel crawled toward him, grabbed the console, and struggled to stand. “It sounded like you said-!”
“I don't have time to explain!” Savage shivered, but not from the cold. “I'm not sure I can explain! Go below! Put on dry clothes!”
A huge wave smashed against the yacht, nearly toppling them.
“Secure every hatch down there! Make sure nothing's loose to fly around! Strap yourself into a chair!”
Another wave slammed the yacht.
“But what about you?”
“I can't leave the bridge! Do what I say! Go below!”
He stared through the rain-swept window above the controls.
Straining for a glimpse of something, anything, he felt motion beside him, glanced to the right, and saw Rachel disappearing below.
Rain kept lashing the window. A fierce blaze of lightning suddenly revealed that he'd passed the harbor's exit. Ahead, all he saw was black, angry sea. Thunder rattled the window. Night abruptly cloaked him.
Port and starboard were meaningless bearings. Forward and aft had no significance in the rage of confusion around him. He felt totally disoriented.
Now what? he thought. Where are you going? He checked the console but couldn't find the yacht's navigation charts. He didn't dare leave the controls to search for them and suddenly realized that even if he found them, he couldn't distract himself and study them.
With no other recourse, he had to depend on his research. The nearest island was Delos, he remembered: to the south, where he'd arranged for a helicopter to wait in case his primary evacuation plan had failed and he and Rachel needed an airlift from Mykonos.
Delos was close. Six miles. But the island was also small, only one and a half square miles. He might easily miss it and risk being swamped before he reached the next southern island twenty-five miles away. The alternative was to aim southwest toward an island flanking Delos. That island, Rhineia, was larger than Delos and only a quarter-mile farther. It seemed the wiser choice.
But if I miss it? Unless the weather improves, we'll sink and drown.
He studied the illuminated dial on the compass and swung the wheel, lighting waves, heading southwest through chaos.
The yacht tipped over a crest and plummeted toward a trough. The force of the impact nearly yanked Savage's hands from the wheel and threw him onto the deck. He resisted and straightened, at the same time seeing a light pierce the dark to his right.
A hatch opened. Rachel climbed stairs from the underdeck cabin. She wore a yellow slicker. Presumably she'd obeyed Savage and also put on dry clothes. Ignoring his own risk, he'd worried that the cold rain would drain her body heat and put her in danger of hypothermia. Her shoulder-length auburn hair clung drenched to her cheeks.
“I told you to stay below!”
“Shut up and take this!” She handed him a slicker.
In the glow from the instrument panel, Savage saw the determined blaze in her eyes.
“And put on this dry shirt and sweater! You stubborn…! I know about hypothermia!”
Savage squinted at the clothes and the slicker, then peered up toward her bruised, intense face. “All right, you've got a deal.”
“No argument? What a surprise!”
“Well, I'm surprised. By you. Can you take the wheel? Have you piloted a yacht before?”
“Just watch me.” She grabbed the wheel.
He hesitated, but a bone-deep chill forced him to relinquish his grip. “Keep the compass positioned as is. Our bearing's southwest.”
In a corner beneath the overhang, partly sheltered from the rain and the waves, he rushed to change clothes and at once felt new energy, grateful to be warm and dry. Protected by the slicker, he took the wheel and checked the compass.
Directly on course.
Good. He planned to tell her so, but a wave struck the yacht, cascading over them. Rachel started to fall. Savage gripped her arm, supporting her.
She caught her breath. “What did you mean I surprised you?”
“When I work for the rich, they're usually spoiled. They expect me to be a servant. They don't understand…”
“How much their lives depend on you? Hey, my dignity depends on you. I'd still be back in that prison, begging my husband not to rape me again. If you hadn't rescued me, I'd still be his punching bag.”
As lightning flashed and Savage again saw the swollen bruises on Rachel's face, he shuddered with rage. “I know it doesn't help to hear it, but I'm sorry for what you've been through.”
“Just get me away from him.”
If I can, Savage thought. He stared toward the convulsing sea.
“My husband's men?”
“I doubt they'll chase us blindly in this storm. In their place, I'd wait till it ended, then use helicopters.”
“Where are we going?”
“Delos or Rhineia. Assuming the compass is accurate. Depending on the current.”
“And where do we go after-?”
“Let me listen.”
“For what? All I hear is thunder.”
“No,” Savage said. “That's not thunder.”
She cocked her head and suddenly moaned. “Oh, Jesus.”
Ahead, something rumbled.
“Waves,” Savage said. “Hitting rocks.”
The rumble intensified. Closer and closer. A deafening roar. Savage's hands cramped on the wheel. His eyes ached, straining to penetrate the dark. Assaulted by bomblike concussions, his ears rang. He urged the yacht northward, away from the breakers. But the force of the wind and the waves shoved the yacht sideways, relentlessly toward the continuous boom he struggled to escape.
The yacht listed, pushed by the eastward-heaving current, tilting westward. Water gushed onto the deck.
“I'm afraid we'll go over!” Savage said. “Brace yourself!”
But Rachel darted toward the underdeck cabin.
“No!” he said.
“You don't understand! I saw life vests!”
“What? You should have told me earlier! That's the first thing we should have-!”
Abruptly she emerged from the hatch, handing him a flotation device, strapping on her own.
The yacht tilted sharper, deeper, westward, toward the boom. Water cascaded over the portside gunwale, filling the deck, listing it farther westward.
“Hang on to me!” Savage shouted.
The next wave hit like a roc
They couldn't use the Athens airport. That was the obvious place for Papadropolis's men to look. The only other international airports were Salonica, several hundred kilometers to the north, and Corfu, equally far to the northwest. No doubt, those sites would be watched as well. Papadropolis-chronically impatient-would automatically consider the most rapid form of travel, even if reaching the latter two airports was time-consuming.
The subsequent option was to drive from Greece, but that would be an ordeal. To reach safety, Savage, Akira, and Rachel would first have to drive north to Yugoslavia, a country four times as large as Greece, then west through the extensive mountains of northern Italy, and finally south through France to the island principality, controlled by Rachel's sister, off the Côte d'Azur.
The best way seemed by boat. Even someone with Papadropolis's wealth couldn't arrange to put every Grecian port under surveillance, though he would have his men check those near Athens, of course, as well as the motorrail terminals in the area. So Savage, Akira, and Rachel drove toward Patrai, four hours away, on the western coast of Greece. There, they briefly considered bribing a fisherman to smuggle them across to Italy. But could the fisherman be trusted to violate international boundaries rather than report them to the authorities? Legal transportation seemed safest.
“All the same, I'm skeptical,” Akira said. It was nine o'clock at night. He stood with Savage and Rachel in a murky alley, scanning traffic and pedestrians outside a ticket office next to a ferry on a brightly lit pier. “Granted it's faster than driving, but it's not as fast as flying.”
“Which we've agreed isn't smart,” Savage said.
“That ticket office could be as risky as an airline terminal.”
“No question. I'll check it out. They know I'm Caucasian and possibly guess I'm American, but I can pass for a European. A Japanese, though. They'd spot you at once.”
Ten minutes later, Savage came back. “I didn't see any surveillance.”
“That doesn't mean there isn't any.”
Savage shrugged in agreement, handing Akira and Rachel their tickets. “My assumption is they'd watch the ferry as well as the ticket office.”
“Or watch on the ferry,” Akira said. “A limited area. A captive group.”
“That works the other way around. We'd have a better chance of spotting them.”
Akira thought about it. “Yes.”
“How long till we reach Italy?” Rachel asked.
“The ferry makes two stops up the coast before it cuts across the Adriatic,” Savage said. “The fact that it's slow appeals to me. Papadropolis won't expect us to choose a method that takes us so long to escape. We leave in fifty minutes. We'd better get back to the car.”
Savage and Rachel drove to the pier, joining a line of cars and small trucks waiting to pass through customs and onto the ferry. In Italy, there'd be customs officials as well, but the Greeks inspected luggage leaving the country to insure that ancient artifacts weren't being smuggled out. Though a customs station wasn't as stringent as immigration, passports would have to be shown.
Passports. Savage had retrieved his from a safe-deposit box in Athens. Akira never went anywhere without his own, in a water-proof pouch.
But Rachel's passport had been kept by Papadropolis, another way for him to exert control.
The usual solution to the problem would have been for Rachel to go to the U.S. embassy, explain that she'd lost her passport, and apply for a new one. But the process might take days, and Rachel didn't have other documents to prove she was a U.S. citizen. More to the point, Papadropolis would assume that she'd need a passport and order the U.S. embassy watched.
An alternative solution was for Savage to arrange to get Rachel a bogus passport. The trouble was that Rachel's face had a multitude of bruises; even cosmetics couldn't disguise them. When an official compared the photograph on the passport to the woman standing before him, her bruises would so nearly match those in the picture it would be obvious that the photograph had been taken less than a day ago, that the passport was forged.
Savage hadn't known about Rachel's bruises before he went in to rescue her. But his professional habits had prompted him to establish a contingency plan, in case she couldn't get her hands on her passport. Joyce Stone had shown him photographs of her sister. Savage had been struck by the eerie resemblance between the two women, as if they weren't just sisters but twins, though Rachel was ten years younger.
So he'd told Joyce Stone to return to her island empire and to use her authority to insist that her passport not be stamped when she arrived. A messenger had then brought Joyce Stone's passport back to Savage in Athens. As a consequence, there wasn't any evidence that Joyce Stone had ever left Greece.
Comparing the photograph in the passport to the younger sister's face, Savage had once again been struck by the eerie resemblance. With two exceptions. Joyce Stone was blond whereas Rachel's hair was auburn. And Joyce Stone continued to look like a movie star whereas Rachel looked like a battered wife.
I can take advantage of those contrasts, Savage had thought. At the farmhouse near Athens, he'd given Rachel dye to change her hair from auburn to blond. And now that he drove the car toward the customs official in the ferry depot, he glanced toward Rachel, shaking his head in wonder. The blond hair made Rachel look amazingly like her sister, and paradoxically the bruises contributed to the illusion, making her look older.
The customs official searched the car. “No suitcases?”
“Just these handbags,” Rachel said in keeping with Savage's instructions.
Savage and Rachel handed them over. Akira would soon board the ferry separately on foot, so the three of them wouldn't be conspicuous together.
“Joyce Stone?” The official glanced up from the passport, staring at Rachel, surprised. “I apologize. I didn't recognize… I'm a fan of your movies, but…”
“My bruises, you mean?”
“They look so painful. They've ruined perfection. What terrible…?”
“A traffic accident near Athens.”
“My deep regrets. My countrymen are clumsy drivers.”
“No, it was my fault. Thank heaven, neither he nor I was seriously hurt. I reimbursed the man for repairs to his car and paid his medical bills.”
The official straightened. “Your Majesty is extremely kind. Even with your injuries, you're as beautiful as in your movies. And as noble.”
“May I ask a favor?”
“I'm your humble fan.”
She reached for his hand. “Don't tell anyone I'm aboard. Normally I appreciate the attention of admirers. I've retired, but I haven't forgotten my responsibilities to those with memories long enough to recall my career.”
“Your magnificence will always be remembered.”
“But not when I look like this. People will say I'm ugly.”
“You're very kind.” Rachel continued to grasp his hand. “But there might be photographers on board. If you enjoyed my films…”
“I worshiped them.”
“Then please don't destroy their memory.” Rachel gave his hand a squeeze and released it.
The official stepped back. “Obviously you're not smuggling ancient artifacts. By all means, instruct your driver to proceed aboard.”
“Thank you.” Rachel rewarded him with a gracious smile.
Savage drove toward the ferry. “You're a better actress than your sister,” he murmured. “Very very good.”
“Hey, I always envied my sister,” she said, her lips barely moving. “She always did better. But now when I'm scared, I've got the guts to prove I'm better.”
“You'll get no argument.” Savage parked the car on the ferry. “Now we wait for Akira.”
But twenty minutes later, Akira still hadn't joined them as the ferry left the dock.
“Stay in the car,” Savage told Rachel.
Shoulders tensing, he got out and scanned the shadowy spaces between the rows of cars. The hold stank of oil and exhaust fumes. The other vehicles were deserted, their passengers having climbed to the upper decks to sleep or to buy refreshments and admire the moonlit water and the lights along the coast. The hold's metal floor vibrated from the muted rumble of the ferry's engines.
Still no sign of Akira.
“I've changed my mind,” Savage said. “Get out. Stand next to me. If anything happens, run. There'll be security guards upstairs. Stay close to them.”
Rachel hurried toward him. “Is something wrong?”
“I'm not sure yet.” Savage kept scanning the hold. “But Akira should have joined us by now.”
“Unless he's being extra-cautious checking the passengers.”
“Maybe… Or else he found trouble.”
Despite the surrounding cars, Savage's spine tensed from feeling exposed.
He made it a rule never to try to cross an international border with a firearm. True, the checkpoints in many countries had lax procedures, and handguns made mostly from plastic didn't register on an X-ray machine, especially when disassembled. But Savage's weapon had been an all-metal.357 Magnum revolver, and it couldn't be taken apart, except for its cylinder. More, though Greece and Italy had attempted a conciliatory attitude toward terrorists, the fanatics had taken advantage of their hosts’ goodwill and committed further atrocities. Greece and Italy had strengthened security at their borders. Accordingly, Savage and Akira had dropped their handguns down a sewer before they reached the ferry depot.
But now Savage dearly wished he hadn't done so. Footsteps echoed on metal. A man emerged down a stairway. Savage hoped it would be Akira.
No! The man was Caucasian!
Savage felt as if arms crushed his chest. Abruptly he exhaled.
The man wore a uniform. A member of the ferry's crew, he studied the cars in the hold, then focused on Savage and Rachel. “I'm sorry, sir. No passengers are permitted down here.”
“Right. My wife forgot her purse. We had to come back for it.”
The crewman waited until Savage and Rachel passed him. As the man walked across the hold, Savage concentrated on the top of the stairs.
“There's supposed to be safety in numbers, isn't there?” Rachel said, trying to sound confident, not succeeding. “So let's join the crowd.”
“And find Akira. Just remember,” Savage said, “your husband's men don't know what I look like. And they're searching for a woman whose hair is auburn, not blond.”
“But I can't disguise these bruises.”
“If you lean on the railing, prop your chin in your hands, and study the water, in the dark no one will notice your face. Ready?”
She trembled for a second, then nodded. “Just hold my hand.”
The ferry was large, capable of transporting six hundred passengers. Above the hold, a B and an A deck contained cabins and rows of reclining seats. Savage had rented one of the cabins, but until he discovered what had happened to Akira, he couldn't risk using it and being trapped.
Continuing to climb the stairs, approaching the main deck, he heard numerous voices, a babble of accents and languages. A sea breeze cooled his clammy forehead. He squeezed Rachel's shaky hand and stepped through a hatch. At once a swarm of passengers passed him, bumping, jostling.
Savage put an arm around her, guiding her away from lights toward the night-shrouded railing. The moment she leaned on her elbows, resting her face in her hands, he pivoted toward the crowd.
Where was Akira?
The ferry had a promenade area that rimmed a mid-deck restaurant and a bar. Through windows, Savage saw passengers clustered at tables.
Where the hell was Akira?
Five minutes. Ten. Savage's stomach writhed. But though desperate to search, he didn't dare abandon Rachel, not even in the cabin he'd rented.
From the mass of Caucasians, an Oriental proceeded along the deck.
“Two of them,” he whispered, approaching.
Savage glanced toward the restaurant, then turned toward the sea, apparently oblivious to the Japanese who passed him.
“Lead them around once again,” Savage murmured.
When he turned from the railing, Akira had disappeared into the crowd.
Two men followed, their suitcoats too small for their muscular chests, their expressions grim.
Savage wondered if they were decoys intended to make their quarry realize he was being followed while other members of the surveillance team watched Akira's reaction. That was possible. But the two men weren't clumsy, and Akira wasn't the target. Rachel was, and as long as Akira ignored the men behind him, they couldn't be sure they'd found the Japanese they were looking for. So unless they captured Akira and questioned him, they'd have to wait to see if Akira rendezvoused with a Caucasian man and woman. Then, regardless of Rachel's change in hair color, they'd know they'd found their targets.
So what do we do? Savage wondered. Play hide-and-seek all over the ferry?
Pulse speeding, he scanned the crowd, alert for anyone who showed interest in Rachel and him. When Akira strolled past the second time and the same two men followed at a careful distance, Savage concluded that they were alone.
But that still didn't solve the problem.
Jesus, how do we deal with them?
The simplest method would be to let Akira keep leading them around until the promenade was deserted, the passengers asleep. Then Savage could try to stalk the stalkers, incapacitate them, and throw them over the side.
But was the surveillance pair under orders to use the ferry's sea-to-shore telephones to call their superiors and make reports at regular intervals, even if they'd found nothing? In the SEALs, that was basic strategy. If a team failed to check in at its scheduled time, their commander would first conclude that the team had logistical problems and been forced to rash toward a safe location. If the team persisted in not reporting, the commander would then conclude that the team had been captured or else been killed.
Maybe preventing these men from checking in would tell Papadropolis where to focus his search.
As Savage analyzed the problem, a corollary disturbed him. Suppose they'd already made their report? What if they'd told their superiors that they'd spotted a Japanese who might be Akira? In that case, Papadropolis would order additional men to board the ferry tomorrow morning when it made its first stop farther up the Greek coast at Igoumenitsa.
Too many unknowns.
But the present situation couldn't be allowed to continue.
Something had to be done.
Through a window, Savage saw Akira in the restaurant, sitting at a table, dipping a tea bag into a cup. The two men watched unobtrusively from a distant table. One of the men said something. The other nodded. The first man got up, leaving the restaurant through a door on the opposite side of the ferry.
Savage straightened. “Rachel, let's go.”
“But where are…?”
“I don't have time to explain.” He led her through the crowded smoke-filled bar beside the restaurant, peered out toward the promenade on the opposite side of the ferry, and saw the man standing at a row of phones. The man inserted a credit card into one of them and pressed a sequence of numbers.
“Rachel, lean against this railing, the same as before.”
Savage quickly walked toward the man, stopped next to him, and picked up a phone.
“We don't know yet,” the man was saying. He sensed Savage beside him, turned, and scowled.
Savage pretended not to notice, going through the motions of making a call.
“Yes, Japanese,” the man said. “He fits the description, but we weren't given many specifics. Age, height, and build aren't enough to be sure.”
“Hi, dear,” Savage said to the phone he held. He'd pressed numbers at random and was getting a busy signal. “I just wanted to let you know I managed to catch the ferry out of Patrai.”
“Then make sure?” the man asked. “How the-?”
“Yeah, we dock in Italy tomorrow afternoon at five,” Savage said.
“Question him?” The man scowled again at Savage, unable to speak as freely as he wanted. “But if it is him, I thought the point was to see if he contacted his associates. From what I've heard about this man, the two of us won't be enough to persuade him to cooperate.”
“I'm looking forward to seeing you, dear,” Savage said to the phone.
“Yeah, that idea's a whole lot better. Send more negotiators.”
“No, everything went fine. I saw every client on my list,” Savage said to the phone. “They gave me some very large orders.”
“ Corfu?” The man sounded baffled. “But that's the second stop. Why can't they board at Igoumenitsa? Yeah, okay, I see that. If the team's already at Corfu 's dock and the airport, they might as well stay in place. Besides, there's no way for them to get off the island at this hour. They'd never be able to cross the channel from Corfu to Igoumenitsa in time to meet the ferry.”
“I love you, too, dear,” Savage said to the phone.
“Right. I'll see you at nine tomorrow morning,” the man said. “If anything develops in the meantime, I'll let you know.”
The man hung up and returned to the restaurant.
Savage replaced his phone and walked toward Rachel in the darkness along the railing.
“Change of plans,” he said.
“I don't understand,” she said.
“I'm not sure I do either.” Savage frowned. “I'm still working out the details.”
At one A.M., the promenade was almost deserted. Most of the passengers had gone to the sleeping areas on the lower decks, though a few still remained in the bar and the restaurant.
One of those in the restaurant was Akira. He'd ordered a meal and taken so long to savor every mouthful that his two watchdogs, still sitting at a corner table, had begun to look conspicuous-and looked as if they knew they looked conspicuous.
Any moment, they might decide to find a less exposed vantage point from which to study their prey.
“It's time,” Savage told Rachel. While she'd been standing out of sight from the restaurant window, he'd periodically glanced inside. For all he knew, he had begun to look conspicuous. Yes, he thought. Definitely time.
“You're sure this'll work?” Rachel's voice shook.
“No. But it's the only plan I can think of.”
“That doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.”
“You'll do fine. Keep telling yourself, it's another chance to prove you're a better actress than your sister.”
“I'm too terrified to care.”
“Hey, impress me. Get in there.”
Savage smiled and nudged her.
She studied him, returned his smile, breathed deeply, and entered the restaurant.
From the darkness at the railing, Savage watched the two men. They glanced toward Rachel and almost dropped their coffee cups. In contrast, Akira kept eating with deliberate calm.
Rachel sat beside him. Akira put down his knife and fork as if she was exactly the person he'd expected to see. He said something, then said something else, leaning toward her. She responded, elaborated, and gestured toward the lower decks. He shrugged and nodded.
In the background, the man who'd made the earlier phone call stood and left the restaurant.
Savage was waiting in shadows when the man, his eyes bright with victory, veered toward the row of phones.
A quick glance right and left showed Savage that there weren't other passengers on the promenade. He grabbed the man's left arm, thrust his right leg upward, and threw him overboard.
The fall was five stories. The water would have felt like concrete. The man was too surprised to scream.
Savage spun toward the window, remaining in darkness. In the restaurant, Akira stood, paid his bill, and left with Rachel on the opposite side of the ferry.
The watchdog hesitated, seeming to wonder how soon his partner would return from making the phone call. But the watchdog couldn't allow Akira and Rachel to get out of his sight. Savage knew. As expected, the man rose hurriedly, threw money on the table, and followed.
Savage proceeded along the deserted promenade. It wasn't necessary for him to get to the other side of the ferry and track the stalker. After all, he knew where the man was going.
Taking his time, he descended the stairs to the A deck. Had to take his time. It was imperative that Akira and Rachel reach the cabin Savage had rented, imperative that the watchdog see them go in, hear the lock shut, and realize he had to rush to tell his partner where their master's wife was hiding.
As Savage pretended to stumble drunkenly toward the bottom of the stairs, he groped in his pockets, apparently unable to find the key to his cabin. The watchdog darted toward him, frantic to return to the main deck and locate his partner. Savage punched him in the stomach, chopped the side of his callused hand across the man's jaw, and lugged the unconscious (to all appearances intoxicated) man along the deserted corridor, knocking three times on the door of the cabin.
The door inched open.
“Room service,” Savage said.
The cabin was small, starkly furnished with a bureau, a top and bottom bunk, a tiny closet, and a washroom. Designed for two occupants, it provided little room for the four of them to move around. While Rachel locked the door, Akira helped Savage set the unconscious man on the bottom bunk. Working quickly, they used the man's belt to secure his hands behind his back and bound his ankles together with his tie. They searched him and satisfied themselves that he hadn't risked bringing a weapon through customs.
“He's awfully pale,” Rachel said. “His jaw… it's so swollen.”
The stress in her voice made Savage turn. He suddenly realized that this was the first time she'd seen the effects of violence on someone other than herself.
“And his breathing sounds…”
“Don't worry,” Savage said. “I didn't hit him hard enough to really hurt him. He ought to wake up soon.”
“Let's see if we can encourage him.” Akira brought a glass of water from the bathroom and dribbled it onto the man's face.
The man's eyes flickered and slowly focused. When he saw Savage, Akira, and Rachel staring down at him, he struggled to stand, only to realize in panic that his hands and feet were tied.
“Lie still,” Savage said. “Don't be stupid and shout for help. Your friend isn't able to hear you.”
“He fell overboard,” Savage said.
“You son of a bitch,” the man said.
“We have a proposition,” Akira said. “We'd like you to enjoy a good night's sleep and in the morning make a phone call for us.”
“You're not going to kill me?”
“That's always a possibility.” Akira's eyes expressed greater melancholy. “We'd appreciate your cooperation so you don't join your ancestors needlessly.”
“Ancestors? Is that some kind of Japanese thing?”
“If you wish to call it that. Yes.” Akira's lips formed a thin, bitter smile. “A Japanese thing.”
“What kind of phone call?”
“The ferry reaches Igoumenitsa at seven tomorrow morning. After it continues to Corfu, you'll call your superiors and tell them we spotted you and your partner. You'll tell them we panicked and drove from the ferry at Igoumenitsa. We're escaping eastward, inland, toward Ioannina, on route nineteen.”
“But all of us will really be on the ferry on its way to Corfu?” the man asked.
“Precisely. The reinforcements that would have boarded the ferry at Corfu will then be diverted.”
The man became suspicious. “And then what? What happens when we get to Corfu? We continue toward Italy?”
“Our plans aren't your concern.”
“I mean what the hell happens to me? Why should I make the call? You killed my partner. What stops you from killing me?”
“You have our word you won't be harmed,” Akira said.
The man laughed. “Your word? Hey, give me a break. Your word means shit. As soon as I'm no use to you, I'm dead. You can't afford to let me live to tell Papadropolis where you've really gone.”
Akira's eyes blazed. “My word does not, as you put it, mean shit.”
The man swung his head toward Savage. “Look, you and I are both Americans. That ought to count for something. Damn it, don't you understand my problem?”
Savage sat beside him on the bunk. “Of course. On the one hand, you're worried that we'll kill you after you make the phone call and we don't have further use for you. On the other hand, you're worried that Papadropolis will kill you if he discovers you helped us escape. He won't care if you acted practically in order to save your life. From his point of view, you betrayed him. He'll punish you. Severely. So you've got a problem. I agree. But the issue you have to face is whether you prefer to die now instead of later.”
“And have no doubt, if you refuse, you'll join your partner in the sea,” Akira said. “We do have other ways to escape the trap.”
“Then for Christ's sake, use them.”
“But what would we do with you?” Savage asked. “Right now, Papadropolis isn't our worry. You are. So what are you going to do about that?”
The man darted his frightened eyes from Savage toward Akira, back toward Savage, and finally stared at Rachel.
“Mrs. Papadropolis, don't let them-”
“I hate that name,” she said. “Don't call me that. I'll never use it. I never want to hear it again. My last name is Stone.”
“Miss Stone, please, don't let them kill me. You turned pale when you found out this man”-a nod toward Savage -”killed my partner. You'll feel worse if you let him kill me. You've seen me up close. You've talked to me. My name's Paul Farris. I'm thirty-four. I'm a security specialist, not an assassin. I've got a wife and daughter. We live in Switzerland. If you let these men murder me, even if you don't see them do it, you'll feel guilty for the rest of your life.”
Rachel's brow furrowed. She swallowed.
“Nice try, but we searched you before you woke up,” Savage said. “We went through your wallet. Your name's not Paul Farris. It's Harold Trask. The only true thing in what you said is your age. Rachel, don't get sentimental about him.”
“You think I'm dumb enough to carry real ID when I'm working?” the man asked. “The people I investigate, if they knew who was after them, they might hunt down my wife and kid to get even. It's a sure bet the two of you don't use real ID either.”
“Convincing,” Akira said. “But beside the point. You still didn't solve your problem. Even if Rachel told us not to kill you, it wouldn't matter. Her life isn't at risk. If Papadropolis found her or she decided to return to him-”
“Never!” Rachel said. “I'd never go back to him.”
“-her husband would beat her, no doubt with increased viciousness, but he wouldn't kill her. He would kill us if we knew who we were and managed to catch us. So to silence you would be self-defense.”
“Make up your mind,” Savage said. “Will you cooperate?”
“I call my superiors? Then you let me walk away?”
“We already promised that.”
The man debated. “Apparently I'm forced to.”
“A reasonable man,” Akira said.
The man's eyes became calculating. “Even so…”
“I'm getting impatient.”
“I'll need an extra incentive.”
“Money? Don't press your luck,” Savage said.
Rachel interrupted. “Pay him.”
Savage turned to her, frowning.
“He's taking a risk,” she said. “My husband will be furious if he thinks this man lied.”
“That's right, Miss Stone. I'll have to take my wife and daughter and disappear for a while. It'll be expensive.”
“If you even have a wife and daughter,” Savage said. “How much?”
“A quarter million.”
“Then make it two hundred thousand,” the man said.
“I'll make it fifty thousand, and you'll be grateful.”
“But how do I know you have it?”
Savage shook his head in disgust. “Do you have a choice?”
The man paled.
“Don't make me impatient,” Savage said.
“All right.” The man swallowed. “You've got a deal. There's just one other matter.”
“You're impossible,” Akira said.
“No, listen. I need you to help me think of a way to stop Papadropolis from coming for me.”
“We'll sleep on it,” Savage said.
“The least you can do is untie my feet and hands.”
“No, what I'd like to do is gag your mouth,” Akira said.
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
Akira raised his hands in exasperation. “I don't think I can tolerate this man till tomorrow morning.”
“The look on your face.” Rachel started laughing.
It was ten after seven the following morning. As the ferry left the small town of Igoumenitsa, heading west toward the island of Corfu, Savage, Akira, and Rachel stood tensely beside the man while he made the phone call. Savage kept a tight grip on his arm, listening to what he told his superiors.
“Hey, I know it's a mess. You don't need to tell me. But damn it, it's not my fault. My partner followed too close. The Japanese spotted him. Just before we docked at Igoumenitsa. The Japanese ran. It took us a while to find him. By then, the American and Mrs. Papadropolis were with him. They must have been sleeping in one of the cabins. Hey, what was I going to do, knock on every door and say, ‘Mrs. Papadropolis, are you in there?’ The Japanese was obviously the decoy-to check if the ferry was being watched. If everything looked safe, they'd have continued to Corfu.”
The man stopped talking. Savage heard someone shouting from the other end of the phone.
“No, we couldn't stop them before they drove off the ferry,” the man continued.
More shouting from the other end.
“Hey, I'm telling you it's not my fault. My partner's so scared about fucking up he ran. He figures Papadropolis will kill him.”
The man winced, the shouts so loud he held the phone away from his ear.
“Well, it's his ass, not mine. I'm still on the job, but it's damned hard chasing them on my own. I barely caught up to them before they left Igoumenitsa. Heading east on route nineteen. Why didn't I phone you sooner? How was I going to do that and not lose sight of them? I wouldn't even be calling now if they hadn't stopped for gas. I'm in a restaurant down the street. I can see them through the window. They don't realize I'm… Wait a minute. Shit, they're about to leave. Look, I think they're headed for loannina. The Yugoslavian border's less than an hour's drive north from there. Tell everybody to watch the border crossings. Christ, they're driving away! Can't talk anymore! I'll check in later!”
Sounding breathless, the man slammed down the phone.
Savage released his arm.
The prisoner wiped his sweaty brow. He leaned against the phone and trembled. “Okay?”
“Extremely believable,” Akira said.
“And now?” The man looked apprehensive, as if Savage and Akira might kill him after all.
“We relax and enjoy the cruise,” Akira said.
“You mean it?”
“You fulfilled your part of the bargain.”
The man exhaled and straightened. “I think I got Papadropolis off my back. They'll be looking for my partner.”
“Whom they'll never find,” Akira said. “Yes, it seems your worries are over.”
“And ours,” Rachel said. “No one will be waiting for us at Corfu. They'll try to intercept us on the way to Yugoslavia.”
“Where we have no intention of going.” Savage turned to the man. “Just make sure you get back to the mainland as soon as possible. You'll have to pretend you're chasing us. Phone in. Keep giving them false reports.”
“You bet I will. If I don't rendezvous with a team at one of the border crossings, they won't believe my story. But by then I'll have lost you.”
“There's just one thing,” the man said.
“Oh? What's that?”
“You forgot to give me my money.”
Ninety minutes later, when the ferry reached Corfu, they watched the man drive onto the dock and disappear among traffic.
“He might still betray us,” Akira said.
“I don't think so,” Savage said. “Rachel's instincts were right about paying him. He knows if he tells them where we really are, we'll implicate him. Papadropolis would kill him for taking a bribe.”
“So now we cross to Italy?” Rachel asked.
“Why bother?” Savage smiled. “The Corfu airport won't be under surveillance now. Let's catch the next plane to France. By tonight, you'll be with your sister.”
But Rachel looked troubled.
Why? Savage wondered.
“Then you and I catch another plane to New York,” Akira told Savage, the sadness in his eyes intensified with anger. “To force answers from Graham. To make him tell us why we saw each other die.”
“Excited? Of course, I am. Why wouldn't I be?” Rachel said.
They'd left their car at Corfu's airport, then taken an Alitalia flight to Rome, where they transfered to an Air France jet bound for Nice.
Midafternoon. The weather was magnificent. Rachel had the window seat, and as she spoke, she peered toward Corsica to the west, then down toward sunlight glinting off the Mediterranean.
But Savage sensed she was motivated less by attraction to the scenery than by the need to hide her expression when she answered his question.
“Because back at the ferry you weren't overjoyed when I mentioned you'd be with your sister tonight,” Savage said.
Rachel kept her face turned toward the window. “You expected me to jump up and down? After everything that's happened, I'm drained. Shell-shocked. Numb. I still can't believe I escaped.”
Savage glanced at her hand in her lap. Its fingers were clenched, their knuckles white.
Her fist became tighter.
“I want you to look at me.”
She peered closer to the window. “Eager to see my sister? Naturally. She's more than my sister. She's my closest friend. If it weren't for her… and you… I'd never have gotten off Mykonos. My husband would have kept beating me.”
“Rachel, please, I'm asking you to look at me.”
She stiffened, then slowly turned in Savage's direction. Her bruises emphasized her somber expression.
Savage reached for her fist, unclasped its fingers, and encircled them with his own. “What's wrong?”
“I keep trying to imagine what's ahead of me. My sister. A happy reunion. A chance to rest and heal. Oh, for sure, I'll be pampered. The best of everything. But then what? A cage is a cage, gilded or not. I'll still be a prisoner.”
Savage waited for Rachel to continue, all the while conscious of Akira, who sat at the rear of the plane, assessing the other passengers.
“My husband won't be satisfied until he gets me back. When he learns where I am, he'll put my sister's estate under constant watch. I'll never be able to leave.”
“Yes and no. There are ways to sneak out.”
“‘Sneak.’ Exactly. But away from my sister's estate, I'd never feel safe. Wherever I went, I'd have to use another name, disguise my appearance, try not to be conspicuous. Sneak. For the rest of my life.”
“It's not as bad as that.”
“It is.” Rachel jerked her head toward the passengers across the aisle and behind her, embarrassed for having raised her voice. She whispered, her words intense, “I'm terrified. What happens to other people you've rescued?”
Savage was forced to lie. Anytime someone needed a protector with Savage's expertise, he knew that their problems were only temporarily solved. He didn't cancel danger; he merely postponed it. “They get on with their lives.”
“Bullshit. Predators don't give up.”
Savage didn't respond.
Savage glanced toward the aisle.
“Hey, damn it, I looked at you. Now you look at me,” Rachel said.
“Okay. If you want my opinion, your husband's too arrogant to admit defeat. Yes, you'll have to be careful.”
“Oh, that's just fucking swell.” She yanked her hand from his.
“You wanted the truth.”
“And I sure got it.”
“The usual option is to negotiate.”
“Don't talk to me like a lawyer.”
“So what do you want?”
“For the past couple days, as horrible as they've been, I've never felt safer-better-than being with you. You made me feel… important, comforted, respected. You treated me like I meant everything to you.”
“As a client,” Rachel said. “And if you deliver me to my sister, you'll be paid.”
“You don't know anything about me,” Savage said. “I don't risk my life just for the money. I do this because people need me. But I can't stay forever with…”
“Everyone who needs you?”
“Sooner or later, I have to let go. Your sister's waiting for you.”
“And then you forget me?”
“Never,” Savage said.
“Then take me with you.”
“What? To New York?”
“I won't feel safe without you.”
“Rachel, three weeks from now, sipping champagne at the pool on your sister's estate, you won't remember me.”
“For the right kind of man, I'm stubbornly loyal.”
“I've had this conversation before,” Savage said. “Many times. The man who taught me…”
“Yes. He always insisted, ‘Never involve yourself with a client.’ And he was right. Because emotion causes mistakes. And mistakes are fatal.”
“I'd do anything for you.”
“Like follow me to hell?”
“I promised that.”
“And you survived. But Akira and I have our own kind of hell, and we need to understand why it happened. Believe me, you'd interfere. Enjoy your sister's pool… And think of two men trying to solve a nightmare.”
“Hold still for a minute.”
Rachel leaned toward him, gripping the sides of his face.
“No,” Rachel said, “hold still.”
“Quiet.” Rachel kissed him. Her lips barely touched his, making them tingle. She gradually increased pressure, her mouth fully on him. Her tongue probed, sliding, darting. “
Savage didn't resist, but despite his erection, he didn't encourage her, either.
She slowly pulled away.
“Rachel, you're beautiful.”
Rachel looked proud.
Savage traced a finger along her cheek.
“I can't,” Savage said, “betray the rules. I'll take you to your sister. Then Akira and I will go to New York.”
She jerked away from him. “I can't wait to see my sister.”
They landed outside Nice shortly after four P.M. Savage had phoned Joyce Stone before he, Akira, and Rachel had flown from Corfu. Now, as they entered the airport's customs-immigration area, a slender man wearing an impeccably tailored gray suit stepped past other arriving passengers toward them. He had an identification pin in his lapel, though Savage didn't know what the pin's striped colors signified. A uniformed guard walked behind him.
“Monsieur Savage?” the distinguished-looking man asked.
“Would the three of you come with us, please?”
Akira showed no sign of tension, except for a brief frown toward Savage, who nodded reassuringly and held Rachel's hand.
They entered a room to the side. The guard shut the door. The distinguished-looking man sat behind a desk.
“Monsieur, as you're aware, visitors to France are required to present not only a passport but an immigration visa.”
“Yes. I'm sure you'll find these in order.” Savage placed his passport and visa on the table. Before the assignment, knowing he'd have to take Rachel to France, he'd instructed Joyce Stone to obtain visas for the two of them.
The official glanced through the documents.
“And this is Miss Stone's passport,” Savage said. Because Rachel had been forced to use her sister's passport instead of her own, and because her sister had become a French citizen, it wasn't necessary to present her immigration visa.
The official examined the passport. “Excellent.” He didn't seem at all impressed that he was theoretically talking to a woman of fame and power.
Savage gestured toward Akira. “My friend has his passport, but I'm afraid he neglected to obtain a visa.”
“Yes, so an influential acquaintance of yours has explained to me. However, while you were en route, that oversight was corrected.” The official placed a visa on the table and held out his hand for Akira's passport.
After flipping through it, he stamped all the documents and returned them. “Have you anything to declare to customs?”
“Please come with me.”
They left the office, passed crowded immigration and customs checkpoints, and reached an exit from the airport.
“Enjoy your stay,” the man said.
“We appreciate your cooperation,” Savage said.
The official shrugged. “Your influential acquaintance was most insistent. Charmingly so, of course. When possible, I'm pleased to accommodate her wishes. She instructed me to tell you she's arranged for your transportation. Through that door.”
Curious, Savage stepped outside, followed by Rachel and Akira. In brilliant sunshine, on a street with a grass divider, a parking lot, and a background of palm trees, what he saw at the curb appalled him.
Joyce Stone-ignoring Savage's advice in Athens to use an inconspicuous car-had sent a Rolls-Royce. And behind the steering wheel sat one of the burly escorts that Savage had met at Joyce Stone's hotel suite near the Acropolis.
“I don't like this,” Akira said.
Rachel tensed. “Why?”
“This isn't the way it's done,” Savage said. “All that's missing is a sign on the side of the car. ‘Important people inside.’ We might as well put up a target.”
The burly driver got out of the car, squared his shoulders, and grinned at Savage. “So you actually made it. Hey, when I heard, I was sure impressed.”
Savage felt more dismayed. “You were told? You knew we'd be your passengers?”
“The boss has been biting her nails for the last three days. She couldn't wait to tell me.” The man kept grinning.
“Hey, everything's cool,” the man said.
“No,” Akira said, “it isn't.”
The man stopped grinning. “Who the hell are you?”
Akira ignored him, turning to Savage. “Should we get another car?”
“What's wrong with this one?” the burly man said.
“You wouldn't understand.”
“Come on, it's fully loaded.”
“At the moment, stereo and air-conditioning aren't our priorities,” Akira said.
“No, I mean fully loaded.”
The stream of passing cars and pedestrians leaving the airport made Savage uneasy. It took him a moment to register what the man had said. “Loaded?”
“A shotgun under each front fender. Automatic. Double-ought buck. Flash-bang ejectors under each side. Smoke canisters in the rear. Bulletproof. Armored fuel tank. But just in case, if the fuel tank gets hit by a rocket grenade, a steel plate flips up in the trunk and keeps the flames from spreading inside. Just what I said. Fucking loaded. With all this terrorist stuff, the boss believes in precautions.”
Akira frowned at Savage. “It's possible.”
“Except the car's so damned ostentatious,” Savage said.
“But perhaps not here in southern France. I saw five equally vulgar cars drive past while we talked.”
“You've got a point. I'm tempted,” Savage said.
“Vulgar?” the burly man said. “This car isn't vulgar. It's a dream.”
“That depends on what kind of dreams you have,” Savage said.
Rachel fidgeted. “I don't like standing out here.”
“Okay,” Savage said. “We use it.” He shielded Rachel while he opened the rear door and she quickly got in. “Akira, sit beside her.” He pivoted toward the burly escort. “I drive.”
“Sit in the passenger seat, or walk.”
The man's feelings looked hurt. “You'll have to promise I'm not responsible.”
“That's a given.”
“You're not responsible. Get in the car.” As Savage scrambled behind the steering wheel, the man scurried next to him, slamming his door.
“Controls,” Savage said. “Where are they?”
“It's just an automatic.”
“I mean the flash-bangs, the smoke, the shotguns.”
“Lift the console to the right of the gearshift.”
Savage saw clearly marked buttons. He twisted the ignition key and hurried from the airport.
Despite the airport's name, Savage's destination wasn't eastward toward Nice. Instead he drove west on N 98, a coastal road that curved along the Côte d'Azur and would lead him toward Antibes, Cap d'Antibes, and a few kilometers later, Cannes. Among the islands off that glamorous city was Joyce Stone's equally glamorous principality, which she ruled in the name of her infirm husband.
“Yeah,” the burly man said, “just stay on this road until-”
“I've been in southern France before.”
A year and a half ago, Savage had escorted an American film producer to the festival at Cannes. At that time, terrorists had threatened to attack what they called “the purveyors of imperialistic racist oppression.” Given the tense political climate, Savage had approved of his principal's choice to use a hotel in one of the nearby villages instead of Cannes. While the principal slept, he'd be safely away from the site of the threatened violence. Preparing for that assignment, Savage had arrived a few days early and scouted both Cannes and the surrounding area, learning traffic patterns, major and minor streets, in case he had to rush his principal away from an incident.
“Yes, I've been in southern France before,” Savage said. “I'm sure I can find the way to your boss.”
The farther he drove from the airport at Nice, the more traffic dwindled, most of it having turned onto a superhighway to the north. That superhighway ran parallel to this road and would have taken Savage to Cannes sooner, but he didn't intend to enter the city. His instructions to Joyce Stone had been to have a powerboat waiting at a beach along this road a half-kilometer before he reached the city. The powerboat would take them to a yacht, which in turn would take them to Joyce Stone's island-an efficient, surreptitious way to deliver Rachel to her sister.
“I hate to tell you this,” Akira said. “I think we've got company.”
Savage glanced toward his rearview mirror. “The van?”
“It's been following us since we left the airport.”
“Maybe it's headed toward one of the resorts along this road.”
“But it keeps passing cars to stay behind us. If it's in a hurry, it ought to pass us as well.”
“Let's find out.”
Savage slowed. The van reduced speed.
A Porsche veered around both of them.
Savage sped up. So did the van.
Savage glared toward the burly man beside him. “Is it too much to hope you brought handguns?”
“It didn't seem necessary.”
“If we survive this, I'm going to beat the shit out of you.”
Rachel looked terrified. “How did they find us?”
“Your husband must have guessed your sister arranged for the rescue.”
“But he thinks we drove into Yugoslavia.”
“Right. Most of his men are searching there,” Savage said, increasing speed. “But he must have kept a team in southern France in case we managed to get this far. The airport was being watched.”
“I didn't notice surveillance,” Akira said.
“Not in the airport. Outside. And when this idiot showed up in the Rolls-”
“Hey, watch who you're calling an idiot,” the burly man said.
“-they activated the trap. They won't be alone. Somewhere ahead, there'll be another vehicle in radio contact with them. And” – Savage glared at the burly man – “if you don't shut your mouth, I'll tell Akira to strangle you.”
Savage swerved past a slowly moving truck filled with chickens. The van did the same.
To the left, down a slope, Savage saw Antibes stretched along the sea. The resort had extensive flower gardens, an impressive Romanesque cathedral, and ancient narrow streets. To the right, picturesque villas dotted a hillside.
Savage reached a curve and halfway around it pressed the accelerator. The transmission changed gears sluggishly, finally responding.
“An automatic,” Savage said. “I can't believe this.” Again he glared at the burly man. “Don't you know a standard's more efficient if you're being chased?”
“Yeah, but an automatic's smoother in stop-and-go traffic, and the streets in these towns are an obstacle course. With a standard, it's a pain to keep using the gearshift.”
Savage cursed and rounded another curve. Now opposite the rising slope of villas, a descending slope was cluttered with hotels that almost obscured the sea.
The pursuing van sped closer.
“There might be another explanation,” Akira said.
“For their spotting us?” Savage urged the Rolls from the curve.
“Your phone call. Before we left Corfu. The incompetent man beside you admitted that your employer talked openly about the rescue.”
“Hey, what do you mean ‘incompetent’?”
“If you persist in speaking,” Akira told the man, “perhaps I will indeed strangle you.”
Savage frowned at another curve.
“I suspect your employer's phones have been tapped,” Akira said. “And I also suspect there are spies in the household.”
“I warned her,” Savage said. “Before I went in, I told her Rachel's safety depended on absolute secrecy.”
“Before you went. Afterward, she felt free to reveal her concerns.”
Savage scowled toward the rearview mirror. The van was closer. “I think you're right. Someone on Joyce Stone's staff is a spy for Papadropolis. That's why his team was ready.”
“So what are we going to do?” the burly man asked.
“What I'd like to do,” Savage said, “is throw you out.”
“Ahead,” Akira barked.
Savage's chest constricted as a van appeared.
The interceptor skidded, turning, blocking the narrow road.
“Rachel, make sure your seat belt's tight.”
The pursuing van loomed closer.
Savage eased his left foot onto the brake, kept his other foot on the accelerator, and spun the steering wheel. The maneuver was difficult. If he pressed too hard on the brake, he'd lock the rear wheels. He had to balance the pressure between braking and accelerating so the car's rear wheels spun while skidding. The consequent tension of forces gave the car torque. As Savage twisted the steering wheel, the car snapped around. The 180-degree pivot made the tires squeal, rubber smoking. Savage's seat belt gripped him.
The van that blocked the road was now behind him, the pursuing van ahead. Savage jerked his foot off the brake and stomped the accelerator. The Rolls surged toward the approaching van. Its driver veered. Savage rocketed past. In his rearview mirror, he saw the van skid to a stop. Farther back, the van that had blocked the road was in motion again, passing the van that had stopped, resuming the chase.
“At least they're both behind us,” Savage said. “If we can get back to-into-Antibes, we might be able to lose them.”
His stomach turned cold when a third van emerged from a curve ahead.
“Jesus,” the burly man said. “The team had backup.”
The van turned sideways, blocking the road. In his rearview mirror, Savage saw one of the other vans block the road behind him while the remaining van sped toward him.
“We're boxed,” Savage said.
The road was too narrow for Savage to veer around the obstructing vehicle. Now the steep upward slope was on his left, the steeper downward slope on his right.
He tensely reached toward the buttons on the console. “These weapons better work.”
The system had been invented by drug lords in South America. He pressed a button. A section of metal rose from above each headlight. He pressed another button and felt the Roils tremble from the concussion of shotguns firing. Mounted beneath each fender, the guns sprayed double-ought buckshot through a vent above each headlight.
Ahead, the van that blocked the road jolted from the fusillade's repeated impacts. As the shotguns kept firing, the van's windows imploded. Pellets punched metal, causing clusters of holes, three-foot circular patterns that narrowed as the Rolls sped nearer. The continuous shotgun blasts chewed the van to pieces.
Savage released the button and stomped on the brake. The Rolls fishtailed, skidding, barely stopping in time to avoid smashing against the wrecked vehicle.
He swung to stare behind him. While one of the remaining vans continued to block the road, the other rushed nearer and braked. Men scrambled out, weapons drawn.
“Rachel, close your eyes. Cover your ears.”
Savage pressed two more buttons on the console and instantly obeyed his own directive, scrunching his eyes shut, squeezing his palms against his ears. Despite these precautions, he winced. Chaos assaulted him.
The buttons he'd pressed had caused flash-bang devices to catapult from each side of the Rolls and detonate when they hit the ground. The devices were deceptively named. “Flash-bang” suggested a firecracker. But the blaze and the blast produced by these matchbox-shaped metal objects were extreme enough to temporarily blind and deafen. Even one could be powerfully disorienting. Several dozen had awesome results.
In the Rolls, Savage saw sudden fierce glares through his tightly closed eyes. Peristent staccato roars forced their way past the hands he pressed to his ears. He heard muffled screams, the hunters collapsing outside the car. Or perhaps the screams were inside the car. Possibly from himself. The Rolls shook. His ears rang.
And suddenly the chaos ended.
“Out of the car!” Savage shouted.
He scrambled from the driver's side and found himself enveloped by dense swirling smoke. Not from the flash-bangs, instead from pressurized canisters beneath the car's rear bumper. One of the buttons he'd pressed had triggered the release of their contents.
Both the flash-bangs and the smoke were designed to confuse assailants and allow potential victims to escape amid the confusion, though the flash-bangs could be lethal if they detonated directly beside an enemy. In the smoke, Savage had no way to tell if any of Papadropolis's men had accidentally been killed. But he was sure that for the next half-minute they'd be lying on the road, squirming in pain.
His sight impaired, he felt his way hurriedly around the Rolls, bumped into the burly man, pushed him aside, and found Akira guarding Rachel. No conversation was necessary. Both he and Akira knew the only practical escape was down the slope toward the hotels that rimmed the sea.
Concealed by the smoke, they scurried from the road, each holding Rachel between them. Over rocks and grass, they felt their way down the slope. At once they emerged into eye-stabbing sunlight.
“Run,” Savage said.
Rachel didn't need encouragement. She darted ahead of them, jumped from a ledge, and landed on the continuation of the slope four feet below. The impact threw her off balance. She rolled, slid on her back, and pushed herself upright, continuing to run.
Savage and Akira lunged after her. Any moment, their hunters would recover from the stunning barrage to their senses. They'd struggle to orient themselves, emerge from the smoke, see their quarry, and continue pursuing.
Rachel's pace faltered. Savage and Akira caught up to her. Charging lower, they passed tennis courts perched on the slope. Players had stopped their games, staring toward the smoke on the road above them. Several noticed Savage, Akira, and Rachel race past, then redirected their attention toward the smoke.
As the slope leveled off, the hotels seemed larger, taller. Savage paused with Akira and Rachel behind a maintenance building near palm trees and a swimming pool. No hunters scurried down the slope.
But Savage was dismayed to see the burly man, breathing heavily, stumble toward them.
“Jesus, I almost lost you. Thanks for waiting till I caught up.”
“We didn't wait so you could join us,” Akira said. “We're trying to decide what to do. But one choice is very clear.”
The man wiped his sweaty face. “Yeah? Quick, tell me. What is it?”
“We don't want you with us. Whichever way we go, you take the opposite direction.”
“Come on, quit joking. We're in this together.”
“No,” Akira said.
“The top of the slope,” Savage said.
Akira followed Savage's gaze toward the hunters scurrying downward.
“No, we're not in this together.” Akira grabbed the man's neck and pressed a finger behind his left ear.
In pain, the man sagged. He groaned and squirmed, struggling to release Akira's grip.
Akira pressed harder. “You will not follow us.”
The man's face turned pale from the power of Akira's grip. “Okay, I'm out of here.”
“Go.” Akira pushed him.
The man took a last frightened look at Akira and stumbled toward the opposite hotel.
In the distance, sirens wailed.
“And we'd better go,” Savage said. He pointed toward the hunters a quarter way down the slope, then grabbed Rachel's arm and ran with her.
“Where?” Rachel gasped.
They passed between two hotels and reached a noisy street that flanked the sea. Savage waved his arms toward a taxi. It pulled to a stop. They hurried inside.
Savage echoed Rachel's question. “Where? I worked in this area a year and a half ago. A man I met owes me a favor.”
He turned to the driver and gave him directions in French. “We're late for a party. I'll double your fare if you get us there in five minutes.”
“Bien entendu, monsieur.” As the driver sped toward Antibes, he pointed toward the smoke on the upper road. ‘ ‘Qu'est ce que c'est?”
“Un accident d’ automobile.”
“Trop de gens ne regardent pas la route.”
“C'est vrai, monsieur. C'est vrai.” The driver turned from Savage, flinched, and jerked the steering wheel, avoiding a truck.
In the backseat, Savage stared behind him. The hunters had not yet rushed from between the hotels onto the palmlined street. When they finally did, they wouldn't be able to read the license plate on this taxi.
Antibes had a population of more than sixty thousand. Though October was past the height of the tourist season, there were still sufficient visitors to congest the narrow streets. When the taxi began to move with frustrating slowness, Savage told the driver to stop, paid him the promised bonus, and left with Rachel and Akira.
They disappeared into an alley above which laundry dangled from ropes. To his right, Savage heard waves crashing onto the beach. To his left, above the alley, he caught a glimpse of a centuries-old, towering château.
Rachel hurried past the alley's narrow walls made even more narrow by garbage. She frowned toward Savage. “But you gave the driver an address. If my husband's men question the driver, they'll know where we're going.”
“The address was fake,” Savage said.
“Standard practice,” Akira said.
They reached the end of the alley.
Rachel stopped and caught her breath. “So everything's a lie?”
“No,” Savage said. “Our promise to protect you isn't.”
“As long as I'm worth money.”
“I told you before, the money isn't important. You are.” Savage tugged her toward an opposite alley.
“Your husband has spies on your sister's island,” Akira said. “If we try to take you there, we'll face another trap, and then another. Eventually you'll be captured.”
“Which means it's hopeless,” Rachel said.
“No,” Savage said. “You've got to keep trusting me.”
They crossed a street, blended with the crowd, and entered another alley.
“A year and a half ago,” Savage said, “when I worked in this district, I needed special additions to a car. I found a man in Antibes who could do the job. But he didn't care how much I paid him. Money, he said, meant nothing if he couldn't buy what he wanted. He needed extra benefits. What kind? I asked. Guess what he wanted? He saw some movie posters my client had left in the car and took for granted I had something to do with the festival at Cannes. So he wanted to meet his greatest idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, I said, that might be possible. But if it happens, you won't get to talk to him, except to shake his hand. Then one day I'll come back to you and ask a favor. Of course, he said. One favor deserves another. And it'll be worth it, he said.”
“So now you'll demand the favor,” Akira said.
“And then what?” Rachel asked.
“Force of circumstance,” Savage said. “We've got our ‘ nightmare, but you're our obligation. So it looks like you get your wish, what you tried to get me to agree to on the plane.”
“You're taking me with you?” Rachel breathed. “To New York?”
“And Graham,” Akira said. “But I have to qualify my approval.”
“Why?” Savage asked.
“Because we're no longer protecting only this woman,” Akira said. “We're also protecting ourselves. Solving our common nightmare. Your death and mine. If this woman gets in the way…”
“You'll defend her,” Savage said.
“But of course,” Akira said, his eyes tinged with sadness. “Arigato for reminding me. The three of us are bound. But our paths conflict.”
“We don't have a choice,” Savage said.
Thirty-six hours later, they arrived at New York 's Kennedy Airport. During the intervening time, they'd driven to Marseilles and flown to Paris, where Savage decided that Rachel's bruises had faded enough that, with the use of cosmetics, she could pose for an acceptable passport photograph. She no longer dared risk attracting attention by pretending to be her sister. Using a trusted contact in Paris, Savage arranged for her to obtain a complete set of first-rate counterfeit documents, all in the name of Susan Porter. If anyone-especially an immigration official-commented on her likeness to Joyce Stone, Rachel merely had to say, “Thanks for the compliment.” As it happened, she and Savage passed through the checkpoints at Kennedy without incident.
Akira, who stood farther back in line so he wouldn't seem to be traveling with them, joined them shortly afterward. “I studied the crowd. No one showed interest in us.”
“Just as we hoped. Papadropolis has no way to guess where Rachel went. He probably figures we're still in southern France, trying to get onto her sister's island.”
They walked through the noisy, crowded concourse.
“Then I'm free?” Rachel asked.
“Let's call it ‘reprieved,’ “ Savage said. “I have to be honest. Your problem's been postponed, not canceled.”
“I'll settle for what I can get. For now, it's a relief not to have to keep watching behind me.”
“Ahead, though,” Akira said. “We have to deal with Graham.”
“I understand. I'm holding you back. I'm sorry. But if it weren't for the two of you… I don't know how to… It sounds so inadequate. Thanks.”
She hugged them.
They took a taxi to Grand Central Station, entered on Forty-second Street, came out on Lexington Avenue, and took another taxi to Central Park, from where they walked two blocks to a hotel on a side street off Fifth Avenue.
The suite that Savage had phoned ahead to reserve was spacious.
“Rachel, the bedroom's yours,” Savage said. “Akira and I will take turns using the sofa.”
They unpacked the travel bags they'd bought before leaving Paris.
“Anybody hungry?” Savage took their requests and ordered smoked-salmon sandwiches, salads, fruit, and bottled water from room service.
For the next few hours, they rested, bathed, and ate. Though they'd slept on the plane, they still felt jet lag. A further call to room service brought coffee and tea. The stimulants helped, as did a change of clothes. Just before five, Savage went to a nearby store to buy coats and gloves, a TV news announcer having warned that the night would be chilly and damp.
They waited till nine.
“Ready?” Savage asked.
“Not yet,” Akira said. “There are still some things we need to discuss. I know the answer already, but the question can't be ignored. Would it not be better to leave Rachel here?”
“We think we weren't followed, but we can't be totally sure,” Savage said. “If we leave her unprotected, she might be in danger.”
“An unacceptable risk.”
“I agree,” Akira said.
“So what's the trouble?”
“Something I should have realized. Something I suddenly thought of. Your assignment to rescue Rachel,” Akira said. “What about it?”
“My assignment was to protect her husband. I arrived on Mykonos a day before you did. Graham negotiated my fee. And Graham sent you to get Rachel. Doesn't it strike you as curious that the man who arranged for both of us to protect Kamichi also arranged for both of us to go to Mykonos, our first assignment after we recovered from our injuries?”
“We were meant to meet?” Savage's spine froze.
“There was no guarantee we'd see each other. But I'd have chased you.”
“Just as I'd have chased you if our roles had been reversed, “ Savage said. ‘ ‘Graham knew he could count on our sense of obligation.”
“And on my skill. No matter how long it took, eventually I'd have found you.”
“There are few men I'd admit this to, but yes, you're good enough, eventually you'd have found me. We were meant to come face-to-face,” Savage said.
“And confront each other's nightmare.”
“A nightmare that didn't happen. But why do we think it did? Why did Graham arrange for us to meet six months ago and then meet again?”
“That's why I have to ask. Since we don't know what we're facing, should Rachel be part of it? We might be putting her in worse danger than she already is.”
“Then what do we do? Stay here?”
“I have to know why I see a dead man before me.”
“So do I,” Savage said.
“Then you're going,” Rachel said.
They turned, surprised.
“And I'm going with you.”
The weather forecast had been accurate. A cold, damp wind gusted along Fifth Avenue, bringing tears to Savage's eyes. He rubbed them, closed the top button of his overcoat, and watched the taillights of the taxi he'd left recede toward Greenwich Village.
Rachel stood next to him, flanked by Akira.
“One more time,” Savage said. “If there's any trouble, run. Don't worry about Akira and me. Go back to the hotel. If we're not in touch by noon, check out. Leave town. I gave you ten thousand dollars. That'll help you get started. I've told you how to contact your parents and your sister and get money without your husband being able to trace it. Pick a city at random. Begin a new life.”
“At random? But how would you find me?”
“We wouldn't, and no one else would either. That's the point. As long as you stay away from anyone or anything related to your former life, your husband can't track you. You'll be safe.”
“It sounds so”-Rachel shivered-”lonely.”
“The alternative's worse.”
The three of them walked down Fifth Avenue.
Three blocks later, near Washington Square, they reached a lane between streets. A wrought-iron gate blocked the entrance, its bars topped with spikes. The gate had a keyhole beneath a handle. When Savage twisted the handle and pushed, he discovered that the gate was locked. That didn't surprise him.
He studied the bars. They were tall. The many passing cars and pedestrians were bound to see two men and a woman climb over.
Despite the myth that New Yorkers minded their own business, it was more than likely that someone would call the police.
“Do the honors, Akira.”
On the way here, they'd stopped at an East Side tavern, where the owner-one of Savage's contacts-had sold them a set of lockpicks.
Akira freed the lock as easily as if he'd possessed a key. From their frequent visits here, both men knew that the gate was not equipped with intrusion sensors. Akira pushed the gate open, waited for Savage and Rachel to follow, then shoved the gate back into place. In case they needed to leave here quickly, he didn't relock it. Anyone who lived along this lane and found the gate unlocked would merely be disgusted that one of the neighbors had been irresponsible.
They faced the lane. A century earlier, stables and carriage houses had flanked it. The exteriors of the buildings had been carefully modified, their historical appearance preserved. Narrow entrances alternated with quaint double doors that had long ago provided access to barns. The surface of the lane remained cobblestoned. Electric lights, shaped like lanterns, reinforced the impression that time had been suspended.
An exclusive expensive location.
The lane was wide. Intended for horse-drawn buggies, it now permitted residents to steer cars into renovated garages. Lights gleamed from windows. But the only lights Savage cared about were those that shone from the fourth town house on his left.
He walked with Rachel and Akira toward it. Pausing at the entrance, he pressed a button beneath an intercom.
The oak door was lined with steel, Savage knew. Even so, he heard a bell ring faintly behind it. Ten seconds later, he Tang the bell again, and ten seconds later again. He waited to hear Graham's voice from the intercom.
“Asleep?” Savage wondered.
“At ten P.M.? With the lights on?”
“Then he doesn't want to be interrupted, or else he's gone out.”
“There's one way to tell,” Akira said. “If he's home, he'll have wedged a bar against the door in addition to locking it.”
The door had two dead-bolt locks. Akira picked them in rapid succession. He tested the door. It opened.
Savage hurried through. He'd been here so often that he knew the specifics of Graham's defenses. Not only were the windows barred; they had intrusion sensors. So did the doors to Graham's garage. And this door. As soon as its locks were freed, anyone entering had to open a closet on the left and press a series of buttons on a console to prevent an alarm from shrieking throughout the neighborhood and, more important, to prevent the local police from sending a squad car in response to a flashing light on their precinct's monitor. This had to be done within fifteen seconds.
Savage yanked the closet door open. A year ago, after several tries, due to professional habit, he'd managed to catch a glimpse of the numbers Graham had pressed.
He pressed those numbers now. A red light stopped glowing.
No siren wailed.
Savage leaned against the closet's wall.
Akira's silhouette filled the doorway. “I've checked this floor. No sign of him.”
Savage had been so preoccupied he hadn't paid attention to the harsh throbbing music he'd heard when he entered. “Heavy metal?”
“The radio,” Akira said. “Graham must have left it on when he went out. If someone tried to break in, the intruder would hear the music, decide the house was occupied, and look for another target.”
“But why would Graham bother? If someone tripped a sensor, the sirens would scare an intruder a lot more than the music would. Besides, when we stood outside, I barely heard the doorbell and didn't hear the music at all. The radio's hardly a deterrent.”
“It's not like Graham to go out and forget to turn it off. Heavy metal? Graham hates electric music. He's strictly classical.”
“Something's wrong. Check the top floors. I'll take the basement. Rachel, stay here.”
As Akira crept up a stairway to the left, Savage's bowels contracted. He crossed the large room that occupied this level. The room was Graham's office, though the glass-and-chrome desk at the rear was the only detail that indicated its purpose. Otherwise, it seemed a living room. To the right, bookshelves flanked a fireplace. To the left, stereo equipment filled a cabinet, Boston Acoustics speakers on either side, the source of the throbbing music. In the middle, a coffee table-its glass and chrome a match to Graham's desk-separated two leather sofas. Beneath them, an Afghan rug covered most of the floor, the border brightly waxed hardwood. Large pots of ferns occupied each corner. The brilliant white walls-upon which hung only a few paintings, all by Monet-reinforced the feeling of spaciousness created by the sparse furnishings.
A stranger could not have known, as Savage did, that Graham hid business documents in alcoves behind the bookshelves, and that the stereo's purpose was to assure those few clients he trusted enough to come here that the swelling cadences of Beethoven's glorious Eroica prevented their subdued conversation from being picked up by undetected microphones.
While Savage passed the coffee table, he noticed three empty bottles of champagne. Approaching the desk in the rear, he saw an ashtray filled with cigar butts and a tall-stemmed glass, the bottom of which contained a remnant of liquid.
To the left of the desk, he reached a door and cautiously opened it. Shadowy steps descended to a murky basement. He opened his overcoat and withdrew a.45 pistol that the owner of the East Side bar had sold him along with the lockpicks. Akira had bought one as well.
Gripping the pistol with his leather-gloved right hand, Savage pawed with his other hand, found a light switch, and illuminated the basement. Sweating, he took one step down. Another. Then another.
He held his breath, sprang to the bottom, and tensely aimed.
Three tables. Neat piles of wires, batteries, and disc-shaped objects covered them, various sophisticated eavesdropping devices in progressive stages of assembly.
A furnace. Ready with the.45, Savage peered behind it, seeing no one. Moisture dripped from his forehead. There weren't any other hiding places. He climbed the stairs.
But he wasn't relieved.
When Akira joined him, having searched the upper floors and reporting nothing unusual, Savage still didn't feel at ease.
Rachel slumped on a sofa.
Akira holstered his pistol. Electric guitars kept wailing.
“Maybe we're overreacting. There might be a simple explanation for Graham's uncharacteristic choice of music.”
“You don't sound convinced.”
Rachel pressed her hands to her ears. “Maybe he likes to torture himself.”
“Let's do ourselves a favor.” Savage pushed a button on the stereo's tuner, and the heavy-metal radio station became mercifully silent.
“Thank God,” Rachel said. She studied the coffee table. “Did you notice these empty bottles?”
Akira nodded. “Champagne. Graham loves it.”
“So much? Three bottles in one evening?”
“Graham's large enough to tolerate a great deal of alcohol,” Savage said. “But you're right, it does seem strange. I've never seen him overindulge.”
“Perhaps he had company,” Akira said.
“There's only one glass,” Rachel said. “If he did have guests and he put away their glasses, why didn't he put away his own glass and the empty bottles as well? And something else. Have you read the labels on the bottles?”
“No,” Savage said. “What about them?”
“At the farmhouse outside Athens, when the two of you talked about Graham, you said he drank Dom Pérignon.”
“It's the only brand he'll accept,” Akira said.
“Well, two of these labels say Dom Pérignon. But the third is Asti Spumante.”
“What?” Savage straightened.
“And what's that noise?” Rachel asked.
Savage glanced around sharply. His ears had been slow to adjust to the silence after the throbbing music. But now he heard a muted drone.
“Yes,” Akira said. “A faint vibration. What's causing it?”
“A refrigerator?” Savage said.
“Graham's kitchen's on the second floor,” Akira said. “We wouldn't hear the refrigerator this far away.”
“Maybe the furnace turned on,” Savage said.
Akira lowered his hand toward a vent. “No rush of air.”
“It seems to come from”-Rachel frowned, passing Savage- “this door beside the bookshelf.”
She opened the door and lurched back as thick gray smoke enveloped her. The faint drone became a rumble. Rachel coughed from the acrid stench of the smoke.
Except that it wasn't smoke, Savage realized.
Graham's garage! Savage hurried through the doorway. The garage was dark, but the lights in the living room managed to pierce the dense exhaust rushing past him. He saw Graham's Cadillac, its engine running, a bald, overweight figure slumped behind the steering wheel.
He rushed to lean through the car's open window and twisted the ignition key. The engine stopped. Straining not to breathe, he yanked the driver's door open, clutched Graham, and dragged him across the garage's concrete floor into the living room.
Rachel shoved the door closed, preventing more exhaust from spewing in, but enough had already entered the living room that when Savage finally breathed, he bent over, coughing.
Akira knelt beside Graham, feeling for a pulse.
“His face is deep red,” Rachel said.
“Carbon monoxide.” Akira listened to Graham's chest. “His heart isn't beating.”
Savage knelt opposite Akira, Graham between them. “Give him mouth-to-mouth. I'll work on his heart.”
As Akira opened Graham's mouth and breathed into it, Savage pounded Graham's chest once, then placed both palms over his heart, applying and releasing pressure.
“Rachel, call nine eleven,” Savage blurted, pressing again on Graham's chest, leaning back, pressing once more.
Rachel scrambled toward the phone on Graham's desk. She picked it up and began to press numbers.
“No, Rachel.” Akira sounded sick. “Never mind.” He stared at Graham and slowly stood.
“Keep trying!” Savage said.
Akira shook his head in despair. “Feel how cold he is. Look at his legs. When you set him on the floor, they stayed bent-as if he's still sitting in the car. He's been dead for quite a while. Nothing's going to revive him.”
Savage squinted at Graham's bent knees, swallowed, and stopped pressing Graham's chest.
Rachel set down the phone.
For several seconds, they didn't move.
“Jesus.” Savage's hands shook. He had trouble standing.
Akira's neck muscles were so taut they resembled ropes.
Rachel approached, trying not to look at Graham's corpse.
Savage suddenly noticed how pale she was. He reached her just in time before her legs gave out. He helped her toward a sofa, choosing the one that allowed her to sit with her back to Graham. “Put your head between your knees.”
“I just lost my balance for a second.”
“I feel better now.”
“Of course. I'll get you some water,” Akira said.
“No, really, I think I'm okay.” Her color was returning. “For a moment there, the room seemed blurry. Now… Yes.” She mustered strength. “I'll be fine. You don't need to worry. I'm not going to faint. I promised myself I wouldn't get in the way. I won't hold you back.” Her blue eyes glinted, stubborn, proud.
“Get in the way? The opposite,” Savage said. “If it hadn't been for you, we probably wouldn't have discovered…” He bit his lower lip and turned toward Graham's body. “The poor bastard. I came here ready to strangle him. Now I'd hug him if he were alive. God, I'll miss him.” He pressed downward with his hands, as if repressing emotion. “So what the hell happened?”
“You mean what appears to have happened,” Akira said.
Rachel looked confused.
“Three empty wine bottles,” Akira said.
“Right. A drunken man decides to go out for the evening. He starts his car, but before he can open the garage, he passes out. The exhaust fumes kill him.”
“A coroner will reject that explanation.”
“Of course,” Savage said.
“I don't understand,” Rachel said.
“The garage was dark, and the door from the living room was shut,” Akira said. “Even a drunk would realize that the garage wasn't open when he found himself blundering around in the dark. His first instinct would be to open the outside door.”
“Unless he had an automatic garage-door opener, and he figured he could press the remote control in his car while he started the engine.”
“But Graham's garage actually has two doors. Like the stable doors they're supposed to resemble, they open out on each side, and it has to be done by hand.”
“So the garage was left closed deliberately.”
“I'm missing something,” Rachel said. “It sounds like … Graham committed suicide?”
“He sits here alone, the stereo blaring while he smokes and drinks and broods. When he's drunk enough to work up his nerve, he goes out to his car. Doesn't bother to shut off the stereo. Why worry about it? Makes sure the living room door is closed to keep the garage sealed. Turns the ignition key. The exhaust smells terrible, but after several deep breaths, his eyes feel heavy. He drifts. He dies. No muss, no fuss. Yeah,” Savage said, “the coroner will buy it.”
“And that's the way Graham would do it. He's too fastidious about his appearance to put a bullet through his head. All the blood would ruin his three-piece suit,” Akira said.
Rachel looked disturbed.
“He'd need a reason to kill himself,” Savage said.
“Problems with his health?”
Savage shrugged. “The last time I saw him, three weeks ago, there didn't seem anything wrong. Overweight, of course, but robust as ever. Even if he suddenly learned he had cancer, he's the type that would pamper himself till every medical option proved useless and he was terminal. Then he might kill himself. But not before.”
“Then business problems.”
“Better,” Savage said.
“You're still confusing me,” Rachel said.
“It wouldn't have anything to do with money,” Akira said. “Graham was wealthy. He invested shrewdly. So it has to be a client that turned against him, or a client's enemy who discovered that Graham arranged an attack against him.”
Savage thought about it. “Good. It'll work. In his prime, when Graham belonged to the British commandos, a challenge excited him. But after he retired, once he put on weight and got soft from too much champagne and caviar, he'd have realized that he'd lost his ability to tolerate pain. He trained me, but his own skills were memories from his youth. He once admitted to me that these days, one-on-one, he wouldn't have a chance against a practiced opponent. If he knew he was being stalked, if he was certain his death would be painful, he might have chosen a peaceful suicide.”
“Especially if we were stalking him,” Akira said.
“Except that when Graham sent us to Mykonos, he had to assume we'd eventually come here demanding answers, and he knew us well enough to assume that no matter how angry we were, we'd never kill him. Besides, the coroner isn't aware of us. I don't think he's supposed to be aware of us, either.”
“I agree,” Akira said. “Still, the coroner will have to believe that someone was stalking Graham, or else the scenario isn't valid. Somewhere-probably behind those bookshelves, in Graham's hidden files-the police will find evidence that Graham feared for his life.”
“And knew he would suffer.”
“And chose the dignity of a self-inflicted death.” Akira raised his eyebrows. “Very Japanese.”
“Would the two of you please explain?” Rachel asked.
“Graham didn't kill himself,” Akira said.
“But the way you've been talking…”
“We're pretending to be the coroner,” Savage said. “The verdict is suicide. But the coroner doesn't know that Graham would never have chosen a heavy-metal radio station. And the coroner doesn't know that Graham would never have mixed Dom Pérignon with Asti Spumante. Graham was murdered. He was forced-I assume by several men-to drink the champagne he had in stock. But two bottles weren't enough. So they sent a man to buy another. He came back with his choice, not Graham's. When Graham passed out, they put him in the car, turned it on, shut the living room door, waited till he was dead, then left.”
“But not before they played the radio to pass the time,” Akira said. “Again their choice of stations. They probably figured the music would be a realistic touch, so they didn't switch it off before they activated the alarm on the outside entrance and left.”
“Almost perfect,” Savage said. “The bastards. I'll…”
“Make them pay?” Akira's sad eyes blazed. “That goes without saying.”
Savage raised Graham's arms while Akira lifted his legs. Rachel opened the living room door, turning from the cloud of exhaust spewing in while the two men carried the corpse to the garage.
They positioned the body behind the Cadillac's steering wheel. The poisonous fumes were still so dense that Savage held his breath while making sure that Graham slumped on the seat exactly as before. After all, as soon as Graham's blood had stopped circulating, gravity would have made the blood settle toward various pockets in his abdomen, hips, and legs, causing purplish-red discolorations in those areas. If the corpse had discolorations in higher areas, a coroner would know that the corpse had been moved.
The corpse had been moved, but Graham's body had not lain in the living room long enough for the blood to be redistributed and thus discolor the back. The coroner would not become suspicious.
Savage twisted the ignition key, hearing the Cadillac's engine rumble. He slammed the driver's door and ran with Akira into the living room.
The room was filled with haze. Savage coughed, hearing Rachel shut the door.
“The windows,” Akira said.
They hurried toward opposite ends of the room, pressed buttons that shut off intruder-detection alarms, raised panes, and gulped fresh air.
A cold wind billowed drapes, attacking the fumes. Gray wisps swirled toward the ceiling, dispersed, and flowed out the tops of the open windows.
In the wind's subtle hiss, Savage listened to the muffled drone of the Cadillac's engine. He turned toward the living room door, the garage beyond it. “I'm sorry, friend.”
“But was he a friend?” Akira asked. “A friend wouldn't have deceived us. Why did he do it?”
Anger conflicted with grief and made Savage hoarse. “Let's find out.” He crossed the room and tugged at the bookshelves.
The wall swung outward, revealing further shelves. Metal containers. Graham's documents.
Savage and Akira sorted urgently through them.
Rachel stood in the background. “You said you didn't think the coroner was supposed to know about you. What did you mean?”
“Too coincidental. Graham's murder. Our coming here to question him. They're related.” Savage scanned pages.
“You can't prove that.”
“Yes,” Akira said, “we can.” He sorted through another box of files. “Graham keeps these documents for one reason only-to explain his income to the IRS. If it weren't for taxes, his passion for secrecy would never have allowed him to keep business records. Of course, he took the precaution of using pseudonyms for his operatives and his clients, so an enemy wouldn't learn anything vital if he found these files. The code for the pseudonyms is in a safe-deposit box. The arrangement with the bank is that both Graham and his lawyer have to be present to open it, so we know the code is secure. But Savage and I don't need the code to tell us which pseudonyms Graham used for us. We chose our pseudonyms ourselves. In fact, the names by which you know us are our pseudonyms.”
They searched through other boxes.
“What are you looking for?” Rachel asked.
“Graham kept two sets of documents, cross-referenced, one for his operatives and the jobs they did, the other for the clients who commissioned the jobs. Did you find them?”
Akira checked the final box. “No.”
“I didn't either.”
“Find what?” Rachel asked.
“Our files,” Savage said. “They're gone.”
“We don't know the pseudonym Graham gave Kamichi, or the ones he gave your sister and your husband,” Akira said. “But since our files aren't here, I assume the others are gone as well. That's the proof I referred to. Whoever killed Graham must have taken the files. The coroner isn't supposed to be aware of us, not even of our pseudonyms. Graham was killed to keep him from telling us why we saw each other die.”
“And here's the suicide note Akira predicted we'd find. Typed, of course. Because Graham didn't compose it.”
“Left by his killers. All right,” Rachel said. “I'm convinced. But how could they be sure the police would look behind these bookshelves?”
“The shelves weren't closed completely.”
“We'd better get out,” Akira said. “The neighbor on the other side of Graham's garage might wonder about the faint rumble he hears through the wall and call the police.”
They replaced the files and arranged the metal containers in their original positions.
Savage shut the bookshelves, leaving a slight gap just as Graham's killers had done.
Akira turned on the radio. Guitars throbbed and wailed.
“The room's aired out. I don't smell exhaust fumes.” Rachel closed the windows.
Savage glanced around. “Is everything the way we found it? We all wore gloves. There'll be no fingerprints. Okay.”
Akira went outside, checked the lane, and motioned for Rachel to follow.
Savage activated the intrusion alarm in the closet, shut the closet's door, stepped outside, shut the front door, and waited for Akira to use his lockpicks to secure the two dead-bolt locks on the entrance.
Savage held Rachel's arm as they walked along the lane.
She trembled. “Don't forget to lock the gate behind us.”
“Don't worry. We wouldn't have. But thanks for reminding us,” Akira said. “I'm impressed. You're learning, Rachel.”
“The way this is going, when it's finally over-assuming it ever is-I've got a terrible feeling I'll be an expert.”
In the night, they walked down Fifth Avenue, passing streetlights, approaching the shadows of Washington Square. The cold, damp wind continued gusting and again brought tears to Savage's eyes. “Would the killers have left the area?”
“I assume so. Their work was completed,” Akira said.
“But was it completed? If the point was to silence Graham, they must have guessed we'd be coming here.”
“How would they know about us?”
“The only explanation I can think of…”
“… is that Graham worked with and possibly for the men who killed him,” Savage said.
“But why would he have helped them in the first place? He didn't need money. He valued loyalty. Why did he turn against us?”
“Hey,” Rachel said. “Let me understand this. You're saying we're being watched by Graham's killers?” She stared behind her. “And they'll try to kill us as well?”
“They'll follow us,” Akira said. “But try to kill us? I don't think so. Someone went to a lot of trouble to convince Savage and me that we saw each other die. Why, I don't know. But we're very important to somebody. Whoever it is will want to protect his investment.”
Savage hailed an approaching taxi. They scrambled inside.
“ Times Square,” Savage said.
For the next hour, they shifted from taxi to taxi, switched to a subway, went back to a taxi, and ended with a stroll through Central Park.
Rachel was surprised to see so many joggers. “I thought the park wasn't safe at night.”
“They run in groups. The junkies don't bother them.”
She looked doubly surprised when she noticed that Akira wasn't next to her. “Where…?”
“Among the trees, above the rocks, going back the way we came. If we're being followed, he'll deal with them.”
“But he didn't explain what he was doing.”
“He didn't have to,” Savage said.
“The two of you read each other's mind?”
“We know what needs to be done.”
Ten minutes later, Akira emerged from bushes. “If we were being followed, they're not foolish enough to trail us through Central Park at midnight.”
The shadowy path forked.
“This way, Rachel.” Savage guided her toward the right. “It's safe to go back to the hotel.”
The fourth man swung his katana.Its blade hissed, struck Kamichi's waist, kept speeding as if through air, and sliced him in half. Kamichi's upper and lower torso fell in opposite directions.
Blood gushed. Severed organs spilled over the floor.
Akira wailed in outrage, rushing to chop the man's windpipe before the assassin could swing again.
Too late. The assassin reversed his aim, both hands gripping the katana.
From Savage's agonized perspective on the floor, it seemed that Akira jumped backward in time to avoid the blade. But the swordsman didn't swing a third time. Instead he watched indifferently as Akira's head fell off his shoulders.
As blood spewed from Akira's severed neck.
As Akira's torso remained standing for three grotesque seconds before it toppled.
Akira's head hit the floor with the thunk of a pumpkin, rolled, and stopped in front of Savage. The head rested on its stump, its eyes on a level with Savage's.
The eyes were open.
Frantic, he struggled to overcome the pain of his broken arms and legs, to force them to move, to raise himself from the floor. He'd failed to protect Kamichi and assist Akira. But he still had an obligation to avenge their deaths before the assassins killed him.
He compelled his anguished limbs to respond, lurched upward, felt hands press against him, and fought. The hands became arms encircling him. They pinned his own arms, squeezing against his back, thrusting air from his lungs.
“No,” Akira said.
“No,” Akira repeated.
Abruptly Savage stopped. He blinked. In contrast with the sweat trickling off his brow, his skin felt terribly cold. He shivered.
– hugged him fiercely.
No! You're dead!
Akira's face loomed inches away, his sad eyes narrowed with alarm, eyes that Savage had just seen blink from a severed head resting upright on the floor.
Akira again repeated, this time whispering, “No.” Savage slowly peered around. The image of the blood-spattered hallway in the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat blurred and dissolved, replaced by the tasteful furnishings in a room, in a suite, in a hotel off Fifth Avenue.
The room was mostly dark, except for a dim light next to a chair in a comer to the left of the door to the hallway. Akira, having slept while Savage kept watch, had taken his turn on guard.
Savage breathed. “Okay.” He relaxed.
“You're sure?” Akira kept holding him.
“No doubt the same as mine. Brace your legs.”
Akira released his grip.
Savage sank onto the sofa.
The bedroom door jerked open. Rachel appeared, focused on Savage and Akira, inhaled, and quickly approached. She wore a thigh-length blue nightshirt. Her breasts swelled the cotton garment. Her urgent strides raised its hem.
She showed no embarrassment. Savage and Akira paid no attention. She was part of the team.
“You screamed,” Rachel said. “What happened?”
“A nightmare,” Savage said.
Savage nodded, then turned and peered up at Akira.
“I have it, too,” Akira said. “Every night.”
Savage studied Akira in pained confusion. “I thought, once we'd met for a second time, it would finally go away.”
“I thought mine would, too. But it hasn't.”
“I've been trying not to talk about it.” Savage gestured in frustration. “I still can't get over the certainty that I saw you killed. I see you before me! I hear your voice! I can touch you! But it makes no difference. We've been together for several days. Yet I'm still sure I saw you die.”
“As I saw you die,” Akira said. “Every time I doubt myself, I think of my six months of agony while I convalesced. I've got the scars on my arms and legs to remind me.”
Savage unbuttoned his shirt and revealed two surgical scars, one below his left rib cage, the other near his right pelvic bone. “Where my spleen and appendix had to be removed because they'd been ruptured by the beating I received.”
“Mine were removed as well.” Akira exposed his muscular chest and abdomen, showing two scars identical to Savage's.
“So we know… we can prove… that you both were beaten,” Rachel said. “But obviously your ‘deaths’-that part of your nightmare-are exactly that: a nightmare.”
“Don't you understand it doesn't matter?” Savage said. “The fact that Akira's alive doesn't change what I know I saw. This is worse than déjà vu, worse than the eerie feeling that I've lived through this before. It's more like the opposite. I don't know what to call it. Jamais vu, the sense that what I saw never happened. And yet it did, and what I'm seeing now isn't possible. I've got to find out why I'm facing a ghost.”
“We both do,” Akira said.
“But Graham's dead. Who else could explain what happened? How do we find the answer? Where do we start?”
“Why don't you…?” Rachel's voice dropped.
“Yes? Go on,” Savage said.
“This is just a suggestion.”
“Your suggestions have been good so far,” Akira said.
“It's probably obvious.” Rachel shrugged. “For all I know, the two of you have already thought of it and dismissed it.”
“What?” Akira asked.
“You start where your problem started. Six months ago. At this place you keep talking about.”
“The Medford Gap Mountain Retreat.”
They ate a room-service breakfast and checked out shortly after seven. Using evasion procedures, they reached a car rental agency when it opened an hour later. Savage had considered asking one of his contacts to supply a car, but he felt nervously convinced that the fewer people who knew he was in town, the better. Especially now that Graham was dead.
Rachel confessed that she'd had a nightmare of her own, seeing Graham propped behind the steering wheel of his Cadillac, enveloped by exhaust fumes, driving into eternity. But the Cadillac would eventually use up its fuel, she explained. If a neighbor didn't hear the engine's faint rumble before then, it was possible that Graham would sit in the car for several days, bloating, decomposing, riddled with maggots, until the stench from his garage finally made someone call the police. Graham's nostrils, filled with maggots, had climaxed her nightmare, startling her awake.
“Why couldn't we have phoned the police and pretended to be a neighbor concerned about the sound in Graham's garage?” she asked.
“Because the police have an automatic computerized trace on incoming calls. In case someone reports an emergency and hangs up without giving a number. If we phoned from Graham's house or a pay phone, it would have told the police a neighbor wasn't calling. Since we don't know what Graham's killers are up to, it's better to let the scenario play out the way they intended.”
As Savage drove the rented Taurus from the city, Rachel lapsed into brooding silence. Akira slept in the back.
Attempting to recreate his previous journey, Savage left Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge and entered New Jersey, heading along Interstate 80. Twenty minutes later, he started scanning the motels near the exit ramps.
Holiday Inn. Best Western.
“There,” Savage said. “Howard Johnson's. That's where Kamichi changed briefcases. It puzzled me.”
The October day was splendidly clear, the sun dispersing the chill of the night before. As they left New Jersey and progressed into Pennsylvania, cliffs rimmed Interstate 80. After half an hour, the cliffs were mountains.
Rachel began to relax. “I've always loved autumn. The leaves turning colors.”
“The last time I drove here, the trees hadn't budded yet. There were patches of snow. Dirt-covered snow. It was dusk.
The clouds looked like coal dust. Akira, wake up. We'll soon be leaving the highway.”
Savage steered toward an exit ramp. He followed the directions he'd memorized six months ago, found his way through a maze of narrow roads, and finally saw a road sign: MEDFORD GAP.
The town was small. Impoverished. Almost no traffic. Few pedestrians. Boards on many store windows.
“Akira, is this the way you remember it?”
“We came here after dark. Except for the streetlights, I saw almost nothing. We turned to the left at the town's main intersection.”
“This stop-street ahead.” Savage braked and turned, proceeding up a tree-lined mountain road. It curved, bringing him back to Medford Gap.
“Obviously not the main intersection.” He drove farther. “Here. Yes. This is it.”
He turned left at a traffic light and angled up a steep winding road. Six months ago, mud and snow on the shoulders had made him worry about descending cars he might have to avoid. The road had been so narrow that he couldn't have passed approaching headlights and would have been forced to risk getting stuck in the ditch near the trees.
But now, as before, no cars descended. Thank God, unlike earlier, the dirt road was dry and firm. And in daylight, he could see where to swerve if a vehicle did approach.
He steered through a hairpin curve, driving higher past isolated cabins flanked by dense forest. “Wait'll you see this, Rachel. It's the strangest building. So many styles. The whole thing's a fifth of a mile long.”
He crested the peak, veered past a rock, and braked, his seat belt squeezing his chest. The Taurus skidded.
He stared in disbelief.
Ahead, the road stopped. Beyond, there was nothing. Except boulders and brilliantly colored trees.
“You took another wrong road,” Akira said.
“No. This was the road.”
“Day versus night. You can't be certain. Try it again.” Savage did.
And when he'd eliminated every left road up from Medford Gap, he stopped outside a tavern.
A group of men stood next to the entrance, adjusting their caps, spitting tobacco juice.
“The Medford Gap Mountain Retreat. How do I get there?” Savage asked.
“Mountain Retreat?” A gaunt man squinted. “Never heard of the fucking thing.”
Savage drove faster, unable to control his urge to flee. With tunnel vision, he stared at the broken line down the middle of the narrow road, oblivious to the glorious orange, red, and yellow of the trees on the flanking towering slopes.
“But it was there!” Savage drove even faster. “Akira and I both saw it. We slept there. We ate there. We guarded Kamichi along every corridor! Three nights! Three days!”
“Soold,” Akira said. “The wagon-wheel chandeliers. The ancient staircase. I can still smell the must in the lobby. And the smoke from the logs in the parlor's fireplace.”
“But it isn't there,” Rachel said.
The Taurus squealed around a bend. Struggling with the steering wheel, Savage suddenly realized he was doing seventy. He eased his foot from the gas pedal. Beyond a bare ridge-a sign said BEWARE OF FALLING ROCKS-he saw an abandoned service station, its sign dangling, its windows broken, and pulled off the road, stopping at the concrete slabs where fuel pumps once had stood.
“We asked a dozen different people.” Though Savage no longer drove, he continued to clutch the steering wheel. “None of them had the faintest idea what we were talking about.”
He felt smothered. Jerking the driver's door open, he lunged from the car, filling his lungs with fresh air.
Akira and Rachel joined him.
“This isn't some small hotel so far from Medford Gap that the locals might not have heard of it.” Savage stared toward the bluffs beyond the service station but was too preoccupied to notice them. “It's a major tourist attraction, so close that Medford Gap's part of its name.”
“And we checked every road that led to the top of the mountain,” Akira said.
“We even drove back up the road that you're sure is the one you used six months ago,” Rachel said. “We searched the trees in case there'd been a fire. But there wasn't any charred wreckage. A half-year isn't enough time for the forest to hide evidence of the building.”
“No,” Savage said. “The forest couldn't have hidden a burnt-out cabin, let alone a massive hotel. And the fire would have been spectacular. The local population couldn't possibly forget it so fast. Even if there had been a fire, it wouldn't have destroyed the lake beside the hotel. But the lake's not there either!”
“And yet we're certain both the hotel and the lake were there,” Akira said.
“Certain?” Savage asked. “Just as we're certain we saw each other die? But we didn't.”
“And”-Akira hesitated-“the Mountain Retreat never existed.”
Savage exhaled, nodding. “I feel like…What I described last night in the hotel. Jamais vu. Nothing seems real. I can't trust my senses. It's as if I'm losing my mind.”
“What happened to us?” Akira asked.
“And where?” Savage scowled. “And why?”
“Keep retracing your steps,” Rachel said. “Where did you go from here?”
“A hospital,” Savage said.
“Mine was in Harrisburg,” Akira said. “A hundred miles south. I had to be flown by helicopter.”
“ Harrisburg?” Savage's hands and feet became numb. “You never mentioned…”
“It didn't occur to me. The look in your eyes. Don't tell me you were flown there as well.”
“Did your doctor have blond hair?”
“And his name was…?”
“Shit,” Savage said.
They raced toward the car.
“What's keeping her?” Akira asked.
“It's been only ten minutes.” Savage had let Rachel out when he couldn't find a parking space. He'd been driving repeatedly around the block. Still, despite his assurance to Akira, Savage's need to protect her-coupled with his growing affection for her-made him nervous by her absence.
Midafternoon. Traffic accumulated. Savage reached an intersection, turned right, and sat straighter, pointing.
“Yes,” Akira said. “Good. There she is.”
Relieved, Savage watched her hurry from the Harrisburg public library, glimpse the Taurus, and quickly get in. He drove on.
“I checked the phone book,” she said. “Here's a photocopy of the city map. And a list of the hospitals in the area. But this'll take longer than you expected. There are several. You're sure you don't remember the name of the hospital?”
“No one ever mentioned it,” Akira said.
“But the name must have been stenciled on the sheets and the gowns.”
“I was groggy from Demerol,” Savage said. “If the name was on the sheets, I didn't notice.”
Akira studied the list and read it to Savage. “Community General Osteopathic Hospital. Harrisburg Hospital. Harrisburg State Hospital.”
“Osteopathic?” Savage said. “Isn't that something like chiropractic?”
“No, osteopathic medicine's a theory that most illness is caused by pressure from injured muscles and displaced bones,” Akira said.
Savage thought about it and shook his head. “Let's try…”
“I'm sorry, sir,” the elderly woman at the Harrisburg Hospital information desk said. “There's no Dr. Hamilton on our staff.”
“Please,” Akira said tensely, “check again.”
“But I checked three times already. The computer shows no reference to a Dr. Hamilton.”
“Maybe he's not on the staff,” Akira said. “He might be in private practice and sends his patients here.”
“Well, of course that's possible,” the woman said behind the desk.
“No,” Rachel said.
Savage and Akira turned to her.
“When I checked the phone book, I looked under private physicians. He isn't listed.”
“Then he works for another hospital,” Akira said.
They crossed the crowded lobby toward the exit.
“What troubles me,” Rachel said, “is there was no Dr. Hamilton in the white pages either.”
“An unlisted number.”
“What kind of physician has an unlisted private number?” The lobby's door hissed open.
The overweight man behind the information desk at the Harrisburg State Hospital shook his head, tapped more buttons on the keyboard, watched the computer screen, and pursed his lips.
“Nope. No Dr. Hamilton. Sorry.”
“But that's impossible,” Savage said.
“After Medford Gap, nothing's impossible,” Akira said.
“There's got to be an explanation.” Savage suddenly thought of one. “This happened six months ago. For all we know, he resigned and moved to another city to work for another institution.”
“Then how would we find that information?” Rachel asked the man behind the desk.
“You'd have to talk to Personnel. The computer lists only current staff members.”
The man gave directions to Personnel. “But you'd better hurry. It's almost five. They'll soon be closing.”
“I'll do it,” Akira said quickly. “Savage, phone the personnel office at the other hospital.”
Akira hurried down a corridor.
Trying not to bump into visitors, Savage rushed toward a row of pay phones at the side of the lobby.
“I'll meet you back here,” Rachel said.
“I've got an idea.”
Continuing toward the phones, Savage heard her urgently ask the man at the information desk, “How do I find the business office?” Savage wondered why she wanted to know. But at once all he cared about was that every phone was being used. He glanced at his watch. Six minutes to five. Anxious, he pulled coins from his pocket, scanned the list of hospitals, addresses, and phone numbers Rachel had given him, saw a woman leave a phone, and darted toward it. As the call went through, he glanced across the lobby. Rachel was gone.
They sat in the hospital's coffee shop, staring at their Styrofoam cups.
“The personnel office has no listing for a Dr. Hamilton in the past five years,” Akira said.
“The other hospital did have a Dr. Hamilton,” Savage said.
“Three years ago,” Savage said. “Female. Elderly. She died from a stroke.”
Akira slumped back in his chair.
“It's beginning to look as if our Dr. Hamilton didn't exist any more than the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat did,” Savage said.
“And that's not all that didn't exist,” Rachel said. “The two of you may think you're real, but you're not.”
“What are you talking about?” Akira asked.
“At least as far as the Harrisburg hospitals are concerned. I went to the business office. While they found out what I needed, I went to a phone to call the other hospital and get its business office before it closed. I asked for the same information.”
“What information?” Akira asked.
“The business office is the place that sends patients their bills. Earlier you told me the names you'd used when you stayed in the hospital. I pretended to be an insurance agent. I said my company had paid for your treatment several months ago. Now I was getting complaints from you. I asked each hospital why it was sending you notices about overdue bills. The people I spoke to were quite sympathetic. It was easy to solve the problem, they said. They checked their computers. You'll never guess what. The computers came up blank. There's no record that you stayed in either hospital.”
Savage squeezed his Styrofoam cup, almost breaking it. “Then where the hell were we?”
“Maybe the Osteopathic Hospital,” Rachel said. “But when we go there during business hours tomorrow, I strongly suspect…”
“We'll get the same answers,” Akira said. “There's no such place as the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat. We didn't see each other die. We never met Dr. Hamilton. We weren't in a Harrisburg hospital. What else didn't happen?”
Savage stood forcefully and walked away.
“Where are you going?” Rachel hurried to follow, joined by Akira.
“The information desk.”
“But why?” Rachel tried to keep pace as Savage stalked into the lobby. “We've asked everything we can think of.”
“No. There's one thing we haven't asked. The way to the goddamn Emergency Ward.”
In a brightly lit vestibule, a weary nurse peered up from behind a counter. “Yes, sir? May 1…?”
She suddenly frowned, seeing the tension on Savage's face. She shifted her troubled gaze toward Rachel and Akira.
“I want to see a doctor,” Savage said.
“Has there been an accident?” She stood. “You don't look injured. Is it someone else who needs…?”
“I said I want to see a doctor.”
The nurse blinked, startled. “Of course, sir.” She stepped back nervously. “Please wait right here.” She disappeared down a corridor.
“Be calm,” Akira said.
“I'm trying, but it's not doing any good. I have to know.”
Abruptly the nurse returned, accompanied by a tall man wearing hospital greens.
“Yes, sir?” The young man slowed, approaching Savage cautiously. “I'm Dr. Reynolds. The senior resident on this ward. Is there something-”
“I need an X ray.”
“Why?” The resident studied him. “Are you in pain?”
“You bet I'm in pain.”
“But where? Your chest? An arm?”
“I want…What I need… is a full-body X ray.”
“A full-body…? Why would you…? Describe your symptoms.”
“I ache from head to foot. I can't bear the pain anymore. I have to know what's wrong. Just give me the X rays.”
“But we can't just…”
“We still can't…Does your family doctor know about your pain?”
“I travel a lot. I don't have a family doctor.”
“But without a diagnosis…”
“I said I'm willing to pay.”
“Money's not the issue. We can't give X rays needlessly. If your pain's as severe as you indicate, you'd better come into the ward. Let me examine you.”
“Your name, please,” a young woman said.
Savage turned toward a civilian, who'd replaced the nurse at the counter.
“And the name of your insurance company.”
“I changed my mind,” Savage said.
The resident frowned. “You don't want to be examined?”
Savage shook his head. The resident's suspicious gaze bothered him. “I thought if I asked…My friend here was right. Be calm.”
“But something is wrong with you.”
“You're right about that. The question is what.Don't worry, though. I'll take your advice. I need a family doctor.”
The elderly physician, who had a gray mustache, wore suspenders, and didn't mind ordering full-body X rays for anyone willing to pay him five thousand dollars, came out of a door marked TECHNICIANS ONLY. Instead of sending his patients to one of the hospitals, he'd chosen a private facility called the Radiology Clinic. As he crossed the waiting room, Savage, Akira, and Rachel stood.
“Well?” Savage asked.
“The films are excellent. We won't need to take a second set. I've studied them carefully.”
Savage couldn't keep the anxiety out of his voice. “But what did you find?”
“You paid so handsomely to have your pictures taken, why don't you come along and see for yourselves?”
The doctor led them through the door. They quickly entered a dimly lit room. To the right was a counter with cupboards above and below. To the left was a wall upon which a row of X-ray films hung from clips, illuminated by fluorescent lights behind them.
Various skeletal segments were revealed in shades of gray.
“These are yours,” the doctor said, gesturing to Savage. “And these farther over are yours,” he told Akira.
They leaned toward the films. After thirty seconds, Akira shook his head and faced the doctor. “I don't know how to read them.”
“You asked me to determine how well your injuries had mended. My response is, what injuries?”
“Jesus,” Savage said. “I was right.”
“I'm not sure what you mean, but I'm sure of this.” The doctor traced a pencil along bones on the various films. “I'll save you the medical terminology. This is your upper right leg. Your lower. Your left leg, upper and lower. Right ribs. Left ribs. Various views of the skull.”
The doctor shifted toward Akira's X rays and used the pencil to draw attention to the images of his bones as well. “Completely intact. No sign of calcium deposits where the bones would have mended. Why would you tell me that each of you had suffered broken legs, broken arms, broken ribs, and a fractured skull, when none of those injuries obviously ever happened?”
“We thought they did,” Akira said.
“Thought?Traumas that extensive wouldn't leave you in doubt. Your suffering would have been enormous.”
“It was,” Savage said.
He trembled. Rachel gripped his arm.
“Howcould you have suffered?” the doctor asked. “If the injuries didn't occur?”
“That's a damned good question. Believe me, I intend to find out.”
“Well, while you're at it, find out something else,” the doctor said. “I don't like coincidence. Both of you claim identical injuries, though they never occurred. But both of you do have signs of surgery”-he gestured with his pencil toward two X-ray films-“which weren't the result of broken bones.”
“Yes, each of us had our spleen and appendix removed,” Akira said.
“You showed me those scars,” the doctor said. “They're exactly as they should look if those organs were in fact removed. Your X rays aren't detailed enough to verify my conclusion, of course. Only further surgery would prove it. But that's not my point The surgery I'm referring to wasn't on your chests and your lower torsos. It was on your skulls.”
“What?” Savage said.
“Of course. Because of the fractures,” Akira said.
“No.”The doctor kept gesturing toward separate X-ray films. “These tiny circles? One above each left ear? They're unmistakable evidence.”
“Intrusions into the left temporal lobe of each brain.” The doctor pivoted toward Savage, then Akira. “And neither of you is aware of the surgery?”
“I asked you a question.”
“No,” Savage said, “we weren't aware.”
“That's hard to believe.”
“It wouldn't be if you'd been with us for the past few days. Please.” Savage swallowed bile. “Help us.”
“How? I've done what I could.”
“No, where do we go? Who do we ask from here?”
“All I can tell you”-the doctor turned to the films-“is the surgeon was a genius. I'm merely a Pennsylvania general practitioner about to retire. But I haven't ignored the latest medical texts. And I know of nothing this sophisticated. The juncture between detached skull segments and each skull itself is almost perfectly disguised. The procedure was magnificent. Where do you go from here? Where money buys superstars. The best neurosurgeons at the biggest institutions.”
The neurosurgeon's name was Anthony Santizo. He had thick dark hair, swarthy skin, and extremely intelligent eyes. His handsome features were somewhat haggard-the consequence of fatigue, Savage guessed, since the doctor had just completed seven hours of surgery. In contrast, his body was trim-the consequence of addiction to racquetball games, one of which Santizo had explained he was scheduled to play in an hour.
“I know you're busy,” Savage said. “We're grateful you made time for us.”
Santizo raised his shoulders. “I normally wouldn't have. But the neurosurgeon your physician spoke to in Harrisburg happens to know a former classmate of mine, a good friend from Harvard Medical School. Harrisburg has excellent physicians, of course, but the way your problem was described to me, I think my friend was right to send you here.”
Here was Philadelphia, the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. A hundred miles east of Harrisburg, it was quicker to get to than Pennsylvania 's other major university hospital, twice as far to the west, in Pittsburgh.
“I'm intrigued by mysteries,” Santizo said. “Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie. The wonderful clues. The delicious riddles. But the brain is thegreatest mystery. The key to the door to the secret of what makes us human. That's why I chose my specialty.”
A secretary entered the immaculate office, bringing in cups and a pot on a tray.
“Excellent,” Santizo said. “On time. My herbal tea. Would you care for…?”
“Yes,” Akira said. “I'd like some.”
“I'm afraid it's less strong than you're used to in Japan.”
Akira bowed. “I'm sure it's refreshing.”
Santizo bowed in return. “I went to Harvard with one of your countrymen. I'll never forget what he said to me. We were both just starting our internships. The long, brutal hours wore me down. I didn't think I'd survive. Your countryman said, ‘When you're not on duty, you must find an exercise you enjoy.’ I told him I didn't understand. ‘If I'm already tired, why would I want to exercise?’ You know what his answer was? ‘Your fatigue is caused by your mind. You must combat that fatigue by physical fatigue. The latter will cancel your former.’ That made no sense to me. I told him so. He responded with one word.”
“Wa,” Akira said.
Santizo laughed. “Yes! By God, you remind me of your countryman!”
“ ‘Wa’?” Rachel asked, assessed the word, and frowned. As everyone looked at her, she reached self-consciously for a cup.
“It means ‘balance,’” Akira said. “Mental fatigue is neutralized by…”
“Exercise,” Santizo said. “How right your countryman was. It's tough to find time, and after the days and nights I put in, I'm usually so exhausted I hate to do it. But I have to do it. Because racquetball makes me abetter neurosurgeon.” Preoccupied, he glanced at his watch. “And in fifty minutes, I'm due at the court. So show me these supposedly baffling X rays.”
He took the oversize folder. “Hey, don't look depressed. Remember ‘wa.’ Racquetball and neurosurgery. Sherlock Holmes.”
Santizo stood in a corner of his office, glancing back and forth at two X-ray films of skull profiles that he'd clipped onto a fluorescent screen.
He'd been studying the films for several minutes, his arms crossed, listening to Savage's explanation of the events that had brought them here.
“Executive protectors?” Santizo continued to assess the films. “It sounds like the two of you have a fascinating profession. Even so…”
He turned toward Savage and Akira, took a penlight from his shirt pocket, and examined the left side of each man's head.
He sat behind his desk, sipped his herbal tea, and thought a moment.
“The surgeon did an excellent job. State of the art, Mind you, I'm referring only to the cosmetic aspects of the procedure. The skillful concealment of the fact of the surgery. The minimal calcification around the portion of each skull that was taken out and then replaced. You see, the standard method is to drill holes in the skull, at the corners of the area to be removed. These holes are carefully calculated so the drill doesn't enter the brain. A thin, very strong, very sharp wire is then inserted into one of the holes and guided along the edge of the brain until the wire comes out another hole. The surgeon grips each end of the wire and pulls, sawing outward through the skull. He repeats the process from one pair of holes to another until the segment of skull can be removed. The wire is thin, as I explained, but nonetheless not thin enough to prevent the demarcation between the skull and the segment that's been removed and later replaced from developing obvious calcification. Even without that calcification, the holes in the skull would be impossible to miss on an X ray. In this case”-Santizo rubbed his chin-“there aren't any holes, only this small circle as if a plug of bone had been removed and then replaced. The demarcation between the plug and the skull is so fine that calcification is negligible. I'm surprised the general practitioner you went to detected the evidence. Someone not prepared to look for it might not have seen it.”
“But if a standard technique wasn't used, what was” Savage asked.
“Now that's the question, isn't it?” Santizo said. “The surgeon could have used a drill with a five millimeter bit to make a hole the same size as this plug. But he wanted a technique that wouldn't leave obvious signs. The only solution that occurs to me is…The plug was removed from the skull by a laser beam. Lasers are already being used in such delicate procedures as repairing arteries and retinas. It's only a matter of time before they become common procedure in other types of surgery. I've experimented with them myself. That's what I meant-this was state of the art. There's no doubt-in terms of getting in and out, whoever did this was impressively skilled and knowledgeable. Not uniquely so, I should add. Among the top neurosurgeons, I know at least a dozen, including myself, who could have concealed the evidence of the procedure equally well. But that's a superficial test of excellence. The ultimate criterion is whether the surgeon accomplished his purpose, and because we're not aware of why the surgery was required, I can't fully judge the quality of the work.”
“But”-Akira hesitated-“could the surgery explain…?”
“Your dilemma? Perhaps,” Santizo said. “And then again maybe not. What was the term you used? The opposite ofdéjà vu?”
“Jamais vu,” Savage said.
“Yes. Something you think you've seen, but you've never seen. I'm not familiar with the concept. But I enjoy being educated. I'll remember the phrase. You realize”-Santizo set down his teacup-“that if it weren't for these X rays, I'd dismiss you as cranks.”
“I admit what I told you sounds bizarre,” Savage said. “But we had to take the risk that you wouldn't believe us. Like you, we're pragmatists. It's our business to deal with facts. Physical problems. How to get our principal safely to his or her destination. How to anticipate an assassin's bullet. How to avoid an intercepting car. But suddenly the physical facts don't match reality. Or our perception of it. We're so confused, we're not just nervous-and it's normal for us to be nervous. We're scared.”
“That's obvious,” Santizo said. “I see it in your eyes. So let me be honest. My schedule's so crowded the only reason I agreed to see you was that my former classmate asked me. He thought I'd be intrigued. He was right. I am.”
Santizo glanced at his watch. “A half hour till I'm due for my racquetball game. After that, I need to make rounds. Meet me back here in”-he calculated-“two and a half hours. I'll try to arrange for a colleague to join us. Meanwhile, I want you to go to Radiology.” He picked up his phone.
“More X rays? To make sure the first sets are accurate?” Savage asked.
“No. I'm ordering magnetic resonance images.”
A frail-looking man with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing a sportcoat slightly too large for him, was sitting across from Santizo when they returned. “This is Dr. Weinberg,” Santizo said.
They all shook hands.
“Dr. Weinberg is a psychiatrist,” Santizo said.
“Oh?” Savage's back became rigid against his chair.
“Does that trouble you?” Weinberg asked pleasantly.
“No, of course not,” Akira said. “We have a problem. We're eager to solve it.”
“By whatever means necessary,” Savage said.
“Excellent.” Weinberg pulled a notebook and a pen from his sportcoat. “You don't mind?”
Savage felt ill at ease. He tried never to have his conversations documented but was forced to say, “Make all the notes you want.”
“Good.” Weinberg scrawled several words. From Savage's perspective, they looked like the time and date.
“Your MRI scans are being sent up to me,” Santizo said. “I thought, while we wait, Dr. Weinberg could ask you some questions.”
Savage gestured for Weinberg to start.
“Jamais vu.The term is your invention, I'm told.”
“That's right. It was all I could think of to describe my confusion.”
Savage did. On occasion, Akira added a detail. Rachel listened intently.
Weinberg scribbled. “So to summarize. You both thought you saw each other die? You failed to find the hotel where the deaths supposedly occurred? And you can't find the hospital where you were treated or the physician in charge of your case?”
“Correct,” Savage said.
“And the original traumatizing events took place six months ago.”
“Yes,” Akira said.
Weinberg sighed. “For the moment…” He set down his pen. “I'm treating your dilemma as hypothetical.”
“Treat it any way you want,” Savage said.
“My statement was not antagonistic.”
“I didn't say it was.”
“I'll explain.” Weinberg leaned back in his chair. “As a rule, my patients are referred to me. I'm given corroborating documents. Case histories. If necessary, I can interview their families, their employers. But in this instance, I really know nothing about you. I have only your word about your unusual-to put it mildly-background. No way to confirm what you claim. No reason to believe you. For all I'm aware, you're pathological liars desperate for attention or even reporters testing the gullibility of what the public calls ‘shrinks.’ “
Santizo's eyes glinted. “Max, I told you their story-and their X rays-intrigue me. Give us a theory.”
“As an exercise in logic,” Weinberg said. “Purely for the sake of discussion.”
“Hey, what else?” Santizo said.
Weinberg sighed again, then spread his hands. “The most likely explanation is that you both experienced, you're suffering from, a mutual delusion caused by the nearly fatal beatings you received.”
“How? The X rays show we weren't beaten,” Savage said.
“I disagree. What the X rays show is that your arms, legs, and ribs weren't broken, that your skulls weren't fractured as you believed. That doesn't mean you weren't beaten. I'll reconstruct what conceivably happened. You both were assigned to protect a man.”
“He went to a conference at a rural hotel. And while he was there, he was killed. In a graphically brutal manner. With a sword that severed his torso.”
“In the process of defending him, the two of you were beaten to the point of unconsciousness,” Weinberg said. “On the verge of passing out, you each were tricked by your failing vision into thinking mistakenly that the other was killed. Inasmuch as neither of you died, something caused the hallucination, and the combination of pain and disorientation is a logical explanation.”
“But why would they both have the same hallucination?” Rachel asked.
“I don't follow.” Savage frowned.
“If I understand correctly, your profession means more to you than just a job. Obviously your identity is based on protecting, on saving lives. It's a moral commitment. In that respect, you're comparable to devoted physicians.”
“True,” Akira said.
“But unlike physicians, who inevitably lose patients and are consequently forced to put a shell around their emotions, I gather that both of you have had remarkable success. You've never lost a client. Your success rate has been an impressive one hundred percent.”
“The events in the rural hotel six months ago,” Weinberg said. “For the first-the only-time, you lost a client. A major threat to your identity. With no experience in dealing with failure, you weren't prepared for the shock. A shock that was reinforced by the vividly gruesome manner of your client's death. The natural reaction is guilt. Because you survived and your client didn't. Because your client's safety meant everything to you, to the point where you'd have sacrificed yourself to save him. But it didn't turn out that way. He died. You're still alive. So your guilt becomes unendurable. Your subconscious struggles to compensate. It seizes on your murky impression that your fellow bodyguard died as well. It insists, it demands, that your client couldn't possibly have been defended if both he and your counterpart were killed and you, too, nearly died in your heroic but demonstrably futile effort to fulfill your vocation. Given your similar personalities, your mutual hallucinations are understandable, even predictable.”
“Then why can't we find the hotel?” Savage asked.
“Because deep in your mind you're struggling to deny that your failure ever took place. What better way than to convince yourselves that the hotel, where your failure occurred, doesn't exist? Or the doctor who treated you? Or the hospital where you recovered? They do exist, at least if your account is authentic. But they don't exist where your urge for denial compels you to search.”
Savage and Akira glanced at each other. As one, they shook their heads.
“Why”-Akira sounded skeptical-”did we both know where the hotel ought to be? And the doctor? And the hospital?”
“That's the easiest to explain. You reinforced each other. What one of you said, the other grasped at. To perpetuate the delusion and relieve your guilt.”
“No,” Savage said.
Weinberg shrugged. “I told you, this was all hypothetical.”
“Why,” Akira asked, “if our arms and legs weren't broken, were we put in casts? Why did we endure the agony of rebuilding our muscles for so many terrible months?”
“Casts?” Weinberg asked. “Or were they immobilizers required to help repair ligaments detached from your arms and legs? Were the casts on your chests actually thick, tightly wound tape that protected bruised-but not broken-ribs? And possibly your bandaged skulls indeed had fractures, hairlines that healed so perfectly an X ray wouldn't detect them. You admit you were given Demerol. It affects one's sense of reality.”
“Certainly,” Rachel said. “And of course I wasn't there. I didn't experience their pain. I grant I'm fond of these two men. We've been through a lot together. But I'm not a fool, and of the three of us, I'm the one with the best claim to be objective. My friends have not been reinforcing each other's delusions.”
“Well, of course you've heard of the Stockholm principle,” Weinberg said. “People under stress tend to identify with those they depend on for their safety.”
“And of course you've heard of the ostrich principle,” Rachel said. “A psychiatrist who puts his head in the sand because he can't acknowledge a problem he's never heard of before.”
Weinberg leaned forward, scowled, and abruptly laughed.
“You were right,” he told Santizo. “This is amusing.”
“You're sublimating, Max. Admit it. She made you angry”
Now Santizo laughed. “Hey, of course. Let's write a hypothetical article. About the phenomenon of being hypothetically angry.”
“What's going on?” Savage asked.
Santizo stopped laughing. “A test. To determine if you were cranks. I had no choice. And Max is wonderful. A gifted man with a marvelous mind and a talent for acting.”
“I wasn't acting,” Weinberg said. “What I've heard is so bewildering I want to hear more.”
Someone knocked on the door.
Santizo pivoted. “Come.”
A secretary, who'd brought in the teacups, now brought a large brown folder.
“The MRIs.” Santizo stood.
Two minutes later, he turned from the films. “Thanks, Max. I'll take it from here.” “You're sure?”
“Yes. I owe you a dinner.” Santizo faced the MRIs. “But the problem's back to me. Because psychiatry won't explain this.”
Savage stood next to Akira and Rachel, studying the dusky films. Each had twelve images, arranged in four rows and three columns. They made little sense to him, harder to read than the earlier single-image X rays.
“Beautiful,” Santizo said. “I couldn't ask for clearer pictures.”
“You could have fooled me,”Akira said. “They look like ink blots.”
Santizo chuckled. “I can see where you'd get that impression.” He studied the films again. “That's why, to help you understand, I have to begin with some basics, though I'm afraid the basics will still sound technical…An MRI scan is an advanced technique of photography, based on magnetic resonance, that allows us to see past your skull and into your brain. It used to be that the only way we could get pictures of your brain was with a CAT scan. But a CAT scan isn't detailed enough, whereas these are the next best thing to actually opening up your skull and having a look. We take so many pictures from so many different angles, the combined result provides the illusion of 3-D.”
“But what have you learned?” Akira asked.
“Just bear with me a little longer,” Santizo said. “The brain has many parts.” He gestured toward portions of the MRIs. “The right hemisphere. The left hemisphere. Paradoxically the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. Our ability to think spatially comes from the right hemisphere, our verbal skills from the left. The hemispheres are divided into parts. The frontal lobe. The parietal lobe. The occipital lobe. The temporal lobe. And these in turn contain numerous subparts. The visual cortex. The olfactory tract. The somatic sensory area. The pituitary gland. Et cetera. What makes this awesomely complex organ work is the presence of billions of interconnecting nerves that transmit energy and information. These nerves are called neurons. They're analogous to electrical wires and telephone cables, but that's a simplification. No analogy can truly describe them… By the way, have you ever had epilepsy?”
The question was so unexpected that Savage blinked.
“Epilepsy? No. Why? What makes you ask?”
“I'm trying to account for something.” Santizo pointed toward a dark speck on a light portion of one of the images. The speck was on the left, near the middle. “This is a view of your brain from the rear. That speck is in your mesial temporal lobe-the amygdala hippocampal area. It's in line with the plug of bone that was taken out and then replaced in your skull.”
Savage felt as if he'd swallowed ice. “Speck? Jesus, what-?”
“A lesion. That's why I asked about epilepsy. An abnormality in this area sometimes causes that condition.”
“You're telling me something's growing in my brain?”
“No.” Santizo turned to Akira, then pointed toward another film. “There's an identical speck in the same area of your brain. The coincidence leads me to conclude that whatever it is, it's not a growth.”
“What is it then?” Akira asked.
“An educated guess? Scar tissue. From whatever was done to your brain.”
Savage listened in shock as Santizo returned to his desk. “More basics,” Santizo said. “First rule. Eliminate the obvious. The purpose for the operation performed on each of you was not to excise a tumor. That type of surgery requires a major invasion of the brain. Hence a major portion of the skull would have to be removed.”
“But not,” Rachel said, “a five-millimeter plug of bone.”
“Correct. The only reason to create so small an access to the brain would be”-Santizo debated-“to allow an electrode to be inserted.”
“Why?” Savage had trouble breathing.
“Assuming familiar but serious circumstances? Many reasons. I mentioned epilepsy. An electrode inserted into the brain can measure electrical impulses from various clusters of neurons. In an epileptic, different levels of the brain transmit normal and nonnormal current. If we can determine the source of the nonnormal current, we can operate in a specific location to try to correct the abnormality.”
“But we're not epileptics,” Savage said.
“I was offering an example,” Santizo said. “I'll give you another. A patient with impairments of sight or hearing or smell-impairments due to the brain and not external receptors-can sometimes have their impairments corrected if internal receptors, those in the brain, are stimulated by electrodes.”
“But we can see and hear and smell,” Akira said.
“And yet you think you saw each other die. You can't find a hotel where you were beaten. Or a hospital where you were treated. Or a doctor who supervised your case. Someone has interfered with your brain functions. Specifically your ability to…”
“Remember,” Savage said.
“Or more interesting, has someone caused you to remember what never happened? Jamais vu.The phrase you invented is fascinating.”
“To remember what never happened? I didn't mean it literally. I never believed…”
“I can take you down to Pathology,” Santizo said. “I can dissect a corpse's brain and show you each component. I can tell you why you see and hear, why you taste, touch, and smell, why you feel pain-though the brain itself cannot feel pain. But what I can't do is show you a thought. And I certainly can't find a specific site in your brain that enables you to remember. I've been doing research on memory for the past ten years, and the more I learn, the more I'm baffled…Describe what happens when you remember a past event.”
Savage and Akira hesitated.
Rachel gestured. “Well, it's sort of like seeing a movie inside my head.”
“That's how most people describe it. We experience an event, and it seems as though our brain works like a camera, retaining a series of images of that event. The more we experience, the more films we store in our brain. When circumstances require, when we need to review the past to understand the present, we select an appropriate reel and view it on a mental screen. Of course, we take for granted that the films are permanent records, as immutable as a movie.”
“But a movie isn't permanent. It cracks. It discolors. Scenes can be eliminated. What's more, we're explaining memory by means of analogy. There aren't films in our brain. There isn't a screen. We merely imagine there are. And memory becomes even harder to explain when we pass from concrete events to learned abstractions. When I think of the mathematical principle of pi, I don't see a film in my head. I somehow, intuitively, understand what pi signifies. And when I think of an abstract word such as ‘honor,’ I don't see a film. I just know what ‘honor’ means. Why am I able to recall and understand these abstractions?”
“Do you have an answer?” Savage's chest ached.
“The prevailing theory is that memories are somehow encoded throughout the brain in the neurons. These billions of I nerves-the theory goes-not only transmit electricity and information but also retain the information they transmit. The analogy of a computer is frequently used to illustrate the process, but again, as with the illusion that we have a movie screen in our heads, an analogy is not an explanation. Our memory system is infinitely more complex than any computer. For one thing, the neurons seem capable of transferring information from one network to another, thus protecting certain memories if a portion of the brain is damaged. For another, there are two types of memory-short term and long term-and their relationship is paradoxical. ‘Short term’ refers to temporary memories of recently acquired but unimportant information. The telephone number of my dentist, for example. If I need to make an appointment, I look up the number, remember it long enough to call his office, and immediately forget it until the next time I need an appointment and repeat the process. ‘Long term’ refers to lasting memories of necessary information: the telephone number for my home. What physical mechanism causes my dentist's number to be easily forgotten but not my own? And why, in certain types of amnesia, is a patient unable to remember any recent event, whether trivial or important, while at the same time he can recall in vivid detail minor long-forgotten events from forty years ago? No one understands the process.”
“What do you believe?” Akira asked.
“A musical by Lerner and Loewe.”
“Gigi. Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold sing a wonderful song, I Remember It Well.’ Their characters are former lovers recalling when they met. ‘We went here.’ ‘No, we went there.’ ‘You wore this dress.’ ‘No, I wore that.’‘Ah, yes, I remember it well.’ But they don't. Sure, the point of the song is that old age has made them forget. The trouble is, I'm not sure the rest of us don't forget also. A lot of specifics. And sooner than we realize. Dr. Weinberg and I have a sentimental tradition. Every Saturday night, when Max and I aren't on call, we and our wives see a movie and then go to dinner. After the stress of the week, we look forward to the distraction. Yesterday, Max fondly remembered a film the four of us had seen together. ‘But Max,’ I said, ‘I saw that movie on cable television, not in a theater.’ ‘No,’ Max insisted, ‘the four of us saw it downtown.’ ‘No,’ I told him, ‘I was at a conference that weekend. You, your wife, and mine went to see the film without me.’ We questioned our wives, who didn't remember the circumstances. We still don't know the truth.”
“Of course,” Savage said. “You just explained short-term memory doesn't last.”
“But where does short term end and long term begin? And how can we be sure that long-term memory truly endures? The basic issue is the limitation of consciousness. We're capable of knowing we remember only if we remember. We can't be aware of something we've forgotten…Describe the future.”
“I can't. The future doesn't exist,” Savage said.
“No more than the past, though memory gives us the illusion the past does exist-in our minds. It's my opinion that our memories don't remain permanent after they're encoded. I believe our memories are constantly changing, details being altered, added, and subtracted. In effect, we each create a version of the past. The discrepancies are usually insignificant. After all, what difference does it make if Max and I saw that movie together or separately? But on occasion, the discrepancies are critical. Max once had a neurotic female patient who as a child had repeatedly been abused by her father. She'd sublimated her nightmarish memories and imagined an idyllic youth with a gentle, loving father. To cure her neuroses, Max had to teach her to discard her false memory and recognize the horrors she'd experienced.”
“False memory,” Savage said. “Jamais vu.But ourfalse memory isn't caused by psychological problems. Our brain scans suggest someone surgically altered our ability to remember. Is that possible?”
“If you mean, would I be able to do it, the answer is no, and I'm not aware of any other neurosurgeon who could do it, either. But is it possible? Yes. Theoretically. Though even if I knew how to do it, I wouldn't. It's called psychosurgery. It alters your personality, and except for a few procedures- an excision of brain tissue to prevent an epileptic from having seizures, or a lobotomy to stop self-destructive impulses-it isn't ethical.”
“But how, in theory, would you do it?” Rachel asked.
Santizo looked reluctant.
“I pride myself on being curious, but sometimes, against my nature, I've refused to investigate intriguing cerebral phenomena. When necessary, I've inserted electrodes into the brains of my patients. I've asked them to describe what they sensed.”
“Wait,” Akira said. “How could they describe the effects if their brains were exposed? They'd be unconscious.”
“Ah,” Santizo said. “I take too much for granted. I skip too many steps. I'm too used to dealing with fellow neurosurgeons. Obviously you think exposing the brain is the same as exposing the heart. I'll emphasize a former remark. The brain-our sense receptor-does notitselfhave a sense receptor. It doesn't feel pain. Using a local anesthetic to prevent the skull from transmitting pain, I can remove a portion of bone and expose the great mystery. Inserting an electrode into the brain, I can make the patient smell oranges that don't exist. I can make the patient hear music from his childhood. I can make him taste apples. I can make him have an orgasm. I can manipulate his sense receptors until he's convinced he's on a sailboat, the sun on his face, the wind in his hair, hearing waves crash, skirting Australia's Great Barrier Reef-a vacation he experienced years before.”
“But would he remember the illusions you caused?” Rachel asked.
“Of course. Just as he'd remember the true vivid event, the operation.”
“So that explains what happened,” Savage said.
“To you and your friend? Not at all,” Santizo said. “What I've just described is an activation of the patient's memory by means of an electronic stimulation to various neurons. But youhave memories of events that apparently…”
“Never happened,” Akira said. “So why do we remember them?”
“I told you, it's only a theory,” Santizo said. “But if I expose the left temporal lobe of your brain…and if I stimulate your neurons with electrodes… if I describe in detail what you're supposed to remember, perhaps show you films or even have actors dramatize the fictional events…if I administer amphetamines to encourage the learning process… and when I'm finished, if I use the electrode to scar selected neurons, to impair your memory of the operation…you'll remember what never happened and forget what did happen.”
“We've been brainwashed?”
“No,” Santizo said. “ ‘Brainwashed’ is a crude expression that originated during the Korean War and is used to describe the process by which a prisoner can be forced to surrender deeply held political convictions. The methodology originated in the USSR, based upon Pavlov's theories of stimulus and response. Subject a prisoner to relentless pain, break his spirit, then offer him a reward if he'll agree to denounce the country he loves. Well, as we know, a few soldiers did succumb. The miracle is that more did not. Especially when psychosuggestive drugs are added to Pavlov's theory of conditioning. But if you've seen newsreels from the fifties, you know that prisoners who were conditioned always looked as if they'd been conditioned. Gaunt features. Shaky hands. Glazed eyes. Their confession of war crimes wasn't convincing. You two show none of those symptoms. You're frightened, yes. But you're functional. What's more, no attitudinal changes seem to have occurred. Your identity remains intact. You're still determined to protect. No, you haven't been conditioned. Your problem isn't directed toward the future. It's not anything you might have been programmed to do. It's what happened to you in the past. Or what didn'thappen. And what really happened that you don't recall.”
“Then why was this done to us?” Savage asked.
“Why? The only answer I can suggest-”
The phone rang. Santizo picked it up. “Hello?” He suddenly listened intensely, his face becoming more grave. “I'll be there at once.”
He set down the phone. “An emergency. I'm due in OR right away.” Standing, he turned toward a wall of bookshelves. “Here. Some standard texts. Young's Programs of the Brain, Baddeley's The Psychology of Memory, Horn's Memory, Imprinting, and the Brain. Study them. Call my secretary tomorrow. She'll arrange a time for us to meet again. I really have to go.”
As Santizo hurried toward the door, Akira surged from his chair. “But you started to tell us why you thought-”
“You were given false memories?” Santizo pivoted. “No. I can't imagine. What I meant to say was the only person who'd know is whoever performed the procedure.”
They managed to get a room in a hotel near the hospital. The setting sun was obscured by smog. After ordering room service-fish and rice for Akira, steak and fries for Savage and Rachel-they each took a book and read in silence.
When their food arrived, they used the distraction of what Savage called “refueling” to talk.
“The medical terms are difficult for me to interpret,” Akira said. “My knowledge of English, I'm embarrassed to confess, has limitations.”
“No,” Rachel said, “your English is perfect. For what it's worth, these medical terms might as well be Japanese to me.”
“I appreciate the compliment. You're very gracious. Arigato,”Akira said. “That means…?”
“And what should I say in return? What's the equivalent of…?”
“ ‘You're welcome’? I'll make it simple. Domo arigato.A rough translation-‘thank youvery much.’ “
“Exactly,” Rachel said.“Domo arigato.”
Akira smiled, despite his melancholy eyes.
“Well,” Savage said, “while the two of you are having a cultural exchange-”
“Don't get grumpy,” Rachel told him.
Savage studied her, admiredher, and couldn't help smiling. “I guess that's how I sound. But I thinkI understand a part of this book, and it scares me.”
Rachel and Akira came to attention.
“Memory's more complicated than I realized. Not just that no one's really sure how the neurons in our brain store information. But what about the implication of what it meansto be able to remember? That's what scares me.” Savage's head throbbed. “We think of memory as a mental record of the past. The trouble is the past, by definition, doesn't exist. It's a phantom of what used to be the present. And it isn't just what happened a year ago, last month, or yesterday. It's twenty minutes ago. It's an instantago. What I'm saying is already in the past, in our memories.”
Rachel and Akira waited.
“This book has a theory that when we see an apple fall from a tree, when we hear it land, when we pick it up, smell it, and taste it, we're not experiencing those sensations simultaneously with the events. There's a time lag-let's say a millionth of a second-before the sense impulses reach the brain. By the time we register the taste of the apple, what we think is the present is actually the past. That lag would explain déjà vu. We enter a room and feel eerily convinced we've been there before, though we haven't. Why? Because of the millionth of a second it takes the brain to receive a transmission from the eyes and tell us what we're seeing. If the two hemispheres of the brain are temporarily out of sync, one side of the brain receives the transmission slightly before the other. We see the room twice. We think the sensation happened before because it did Not in the distant past, however. Instead, a fraction of an instant before, one side of the brain received what the other side later received.”
“But our problem isn't déjà vu-it's jamais vu” Akira said. “Why are you disturbed by what you just read?”
“Because I can't be sure of the present, let alone the past. Because there is no present, at least as far as my brain's concerned. Everything it tells me is a delayed reaction.”
“That may be true,” Rachel said. “But for practical purposes, even with the time lag, what we perceive might as well be the present. You've got a big enough problem without exaggerating it.”
“Am I exaggerating? I'm scared because I thought I was struggling with false memories someone implanted in my brain six months ago. But was it six months ago? How do I know the operation didn't happen much more recently? How can I be sure of what occurred yesterday or even this morning?” Savage turned to Rachel. “In France, when you learned about our pseudonyms and the cover stories we had to invent, you said it seemed that everything about us was a lie. In a way I never imagined, maybe you're right. How many false memories do I have? How do I know who I am? How can I be sure that you and Akira are what you seem? Suppose you're actors hired to trick me and reinforce my delusions.”
“But obviously we're not,” Akira said. “We've been through too much together. Rachel's rescue. The escape in the helicopter. The ferry out of Greece. The vans that tried to intercept us in France.”
“My point is maybe none of it happened. My false memories might have begun today. My entire background-everything about me-might be a lie I'm not aware of! Did I ever meet Rachel's sister? Is Graham really dead?”
“Keep thinking like that,” Akira said, “and you'll go crazy.”
“Right,” Savage said. “That's what I mean-I'm scared. I feel like I'm seeing through a haze, like the floor's unsteady, like I'm in an elevator that's falling. Total disorientation. I've based my identity on protecting people. But how can I protect myselffrom my mind?”
Rachel put an arm around him. “You've got to believe we're not actors. We're all you have. Trust us.”
“Trust you? I don't even trust myself.”
That night, as Savage slept fitfully, assaulted by nightmares, he woke abruptly from a hand that caressed his cheek. Startled, he grabbed the hand and lunged upright on the sofa, prepared to defend himself.
He restrained his impulse. In the soft light from a lamp in a corner, he saw Rachel's worried face beside him. She was kneeling.
“What?” Savage scanned the room. “Where's Akira?”
“In the hallway. I asked him to leave us alone.”
“Because I asked him,” she repeated, her blond hair silhouetted by the dim light in the corner.
“No, why did you ask him to leave?”
“Because I need to be with you.”
“That still doesn't answer my-”
“Hush.” Rachel touched his lips. “You think too much. You ask too many questions.”
“It's impossible to ask too many questions.”
“But sometimes it's wiser not to ask any.”
Savage smelled her perfume. “I can't imagine-”
“Yes,” she said, “I know
Savage drove from the motel, hoping no one had seen them get into the car.
Again Akira hid on the floor in back, though Rachel sat next to Savage, her auburn hair making it safe for her to show herself. She studied a road map. “The nearest major airport is in Raleigh. That's a hundred and fifty miles west.”
“No, Raleigh won't do,” Savage said. “There'd be so few Japanese flying out of that airport-probably none- Akira would be sure to attract attention.” Reaching a highway, he headed northwest. “Will this route take us around Virginia Beach?”
Rachel checked the map. “No problem. But where are we going?”
“ Washington. Dulles International Airport. We can count on a lot of Japanese flying in and out of there. Akira won't be noticed.”
A few miles later, Savage pulled into a truckstop. He took care to park well away from other vehicles so no one could see into the back of the Taurus. Referring to the directory in a pay phone's booth, he called the toll-free numbers for several airlines. Though it would have been easier to phone from the motel, he didn't want to leave a record of his calls.
“We're in luck,” he said, getting back in the car. “I managed to get three seats on an American Airlines flight.”
“What time does it leave?” Akira asked.
“Tomorrow morning. Ten to eight.”
“But Dulles Airport must be-”
“Four hundred miles away, given the roundabout route we're forced to take to avoid the eastern part of Virginia,” Savage said. “The airport's security inspection takes longer on an overseas flight. All our luggage is carry-on. That'll save time. Even so, to pick up our tickets and guarantee we're on the plane, we need to be at the airport by five A.M. at the latest.”
“Can we do that?” Rachel asked.
Savage glanced at his watch. “Twenty-one hours to drive four hundred miles? Sure. Even if traffic's bad, we'll be in Washington tonight.”
Despite his confident tone, Savage reflexively increased speed. At once he thought better and strictly obeyed the limit. They didn't dare get stopped by a traffic cop. “There's plenty of time.”
“Then we should use it,” Akira said. “You have much to learn.”
“What about?” Savage asked.
“I gather that neither of you has been to Japan.”
Savage and Rachel agreed.
“Yes,” Akira said. “You have much to learn.”
“I've read books about Japan,” Savage said.
“But I can't assume that the books were accurate or that you retain the essentials,” Akira said. “And Rachel apparently knows almost nothing about Japan.”
“True,” Rachel said.
“You must be prepared. Soon you will enter a culture completely alien to you. Behavior you take for granted might be interpreted as rudeness. And what you think of as an insult might be a sign of respect. In the West, I've taught myself to behave as a Westerner, to adjust to your values, to accept your ways of thinking. Perhaps, then, you've concluded that the only differences between Americans and Japanese are the food we prefer to eat and the color of our skin, not to mention our language. The differences are much greater. Profound. If you are to survive the dangers we face, you must learn my ways just as I learned yours. Or try to learn-because I don't have much time to teach you.”
The 747 cruised over the glinting Pacific at forty thousand feet. As Savage assessed everything Akira had told him, he wished there'd been a chance for Akira to continue explaining during the long flight. There was so much to know, to absorb. But the only seats available had been widely separated, in three different sections of the plane, and Savage couldn't even see Akira, let alone talk with him.
Not only Akira but Rachel.
Savage felt nervously isolated from her. His instincts as a protector made him squirm at being distanced from his principal. More, despite his professional's need to be objective about a client, he reluctantly admitted that another need had grown within him. Accustomed to fearing for others, he'd never feared for his own safety-till now. Suffering a nightmare in which the dead came back to life, how could he be sure of anything? How could he trust his sense of reality? He had to depend on something. Love gave him hope.
He glanced out his window. Below, for many hours, there'd been nothing but ocean, and he understood why Akira had said that east of Japan there was only west. It was obvious why Japan identified so strongly with the sun. In ancient times, the blazing globe that seemed to rise each day from the infinite expanse of the sea must have exerted a powerful force. The land of the rising sun. The symbol on the nation's flag. As Akira had said, “ Japan is the only country whose tradition maintains its citizens are descendants of gods. One deity in particular. Amaterasu. The goddess of the sun.”
Savage felt pr
Making sure they weren't followed, they walked for several miles. By then, the sun was up, the streets bustling, noisy. Crossing intersections, Savage had to keep reminding himself not to check for cars approaching from the left, as he would have in America and most of Europe, but instead to glance toward the right, for here as in England motorists drove on the left side of the street and thus approached from a pedestrian's right.
At first, Savage's impulse had been to hire a taxi, but for the moment he and Rachel had no destination. Even if they did have an immediate destination, their lack of familiarity with the Japanese language made it impossible for them to give directions to a driver. Akira had partially solved that problem by writing his instructions-how to reach the restaurant and his sensei-in both English and Japanese script. Those instructions didn't help their present circumstance, however, and Savage and Rachel felt totally lost.
Still, they had to go somewhere. Wandering wasn't only pointless but fatiguing. Their travel bags became a burden.
“Maybe we should get on a bus,” Rachel said. “At least we'd be able to sit.”
She soon changed her mind. Every bus was crammed, with no possibility of finding a place even to stand.
Savage paused at the entrance to a subway.
“The trains will be as crowded as the buses,” Rachel said.
“That's more than likely, but let's have a look.”
They descended into a claustrophobia-producing maze. Travelers jostled past them, almost too urgent to cast curious glances at the two Caucasians among them. Savage's bag was slammed painfully against his leg. Ahead, he heard the echoing roar of a train. Emerging from a passageway, he faced a deafening, throng-filled cavern. At least, in contrast with New York subways, the terminal was clean and bright. A chart hung on a wall, various colored lines intersecting. Beneath Japanese ideograms, Savage saw English lettering.
“It's a map of the subway system,” Rachel said.
With effort, they deciphered the map and determined that this branch of the subway was called the Chiyoda line. Its green path led to midtown Tokyo, to the east of which was a black path labeled GINZA.
Savage examined the piece of paper Akira had given him. “The restaurant's in the Ginza district. If we take this train and get off at one of the midtown exits, maybe we'll be close to the rendezvous site.”
“Or even more lost than we are.”
“Have faith,” Savage said. “Isn't that what you keep telling me?”
Travelers lined up at a gate to buy tickets from a machine. Savage imitated them, using Japanese currency he'd obtained at the airport. When a train arrived, the waiting crowd surged toward its opening doors, thrusting Savage and Rachel inside. The sway of the speeding train and the crush of passengers pressed Rachel's breasts against him.
Several stops later, they left the subway, climbing congested stairs to the swelling din of midtown Tokyo. Office buildings and department stores towered before them. The swarm of traffic and pedestrians was overwhelming.
“We can't keep carrying these bags,” Rachel said.
They decided to find a hotel, but what they found instead was a massive railway terminal. Inside the busy concourse there were lockers, where they stored their bags, and finally unencumbered, they felt revitalized.
“Only nine o'clock,” Savage said. “We're not supposed to be at the restaurant till noon.”
“Then let's check out the sights.”
Rachel's buoyant mood was forced, Savage sensed, an anxious attempt to distract herself from the traumas of the night before. She managed to seem carefree only until she reached an exit from the station and noticed a vending machine filled with newspapers. Faltering, she pointed. The front page of a newspaper showed a large photograph of the Japanese they'd seen on television in the North Carolina motel.
“Muto Kamichi.” Savage exhaled forcefully, unable to repress the false memory of Kamichi's body being cut in half. At once he corrected himself, using the name the television announcer had called the anti-American politician. “Kunio Shirai.”
The photograph showed the gray-haired Japanese haranguing an excited group of what looked like students.
Why am I supposed to think I saw him die? Savage thought. An eerie chill swept through him. Does he think he saw us die?
“Let's get out of here,” Savage said, “and find someplace that isn't crowded. I need a chance to think.”
They headed west from the railway station and reached a large square called Kokyo Gaien. Beyond a moat, the Imperial Palace glinted. As Savage walked with Rachel along a wide gravel path toward the south of the square, he struggled to arrange his thoughts. “It's almost as if Akira and I were manipulated into coming to Japan.”
“I don't see how that's possible. Every step of the way, we made our own choices. From Greece to southern France to America to here,” Rachel said.
“Yet someone anticipated that we'd arrive at Akira's home. The assault team was ready. Someone's thinking ahead of us.”
They came to a street and once again proceeded west. To the left was the Parliament Building, to the right, beyond a moat, the Imperial Gardens, but Savage was too distracted to pay them attention.
He walked for quite a while in troubled silence. “If two men thought they'd seen each other die and then came into contact with each other,” he finally said, “what would they do?”
“That's obvious.” Rachel shrugged. “The same as you and Akira did. They'd be desperate to know what had really happened.”
“And if they discovered that someone they knew had arranged for them to come into contact?”
“They'd go to that person and demand an explanation,” Rachel said.
“Logical and predictable. So we went to Graham and discovered that he'd been murdered. No answers. But we needed answers. Where else could we look for them?”
“Only one choice,” Rachel said. “Where you thought you'd seen each other die. The Medford Gap Mountain Retreat.”
“Which we discovered didn't exist. So is it also predictable that our next choice would have been to find out what else had never happened?” Savage asked. “To go to the Harrisburg hospital where we thought we'd been treated for our injuries and where we each remembered the same doctor?”
“But after that, your theory falls apart,” Rachel said. “Because no one could predict that you'd decide to have X rays taken to find out if you'd really been injured. And for certain, no one could predict that eventually you'd talk to Dr. Santizo in Philadelphia.”
They passed two institutional-looking buildings. A wooded park attracted them. A Japanese sign at the entrance had English beneath it: INNER GARDEN OF THE MEUI SHRINE.
“But a surveillance team could have been waiting at the hospital,” Savage said. “Or more likely at Medford Gap, where we'd be easier to spot when we showed up to search for the Mountain Retreat. In New York, we made sure we hadn't been followed. But after Medford Gap, we were so distracted we might not have realized we had a tail. When we left the car to go into the Harrisburg hospitals, the surveillance team could have planted a homing device on the car and followed us easily after that, all the way to Virginia Beach where they killed Mac to keep him from talking and tried to get you away from us. Now that I think of it, Mac's death didn't only stop us from getting information. We were blamed for his murder. It put more pressure on us to run.”
“And when we saw Kunio Shirai on television, we knew exactly where to run,” Rachel said. “ Japan.” She shook her head. “There's a flaw in the logic, though. How could anyone be sure we'd see a picture of Shirai?”
“Because we'd be forced to check the news to learn what the police were saying about the murders. If not on television, then in magazines or newspapers, we'd eventually have found out about him.”
“… I agree.”
Savage frowned. “But the team that killed Mac works for someone different than the team that tried to kill us last night. One wants us to keep searching. The other wants us to stop.” He gestured, angry, bewildered.
Ahead, a wide path led them through a huge cypress gate, its tall pillars joined near the top by a beam and at the very top by other beams, each beam progressively wider, the entire structure reminding Savage of a massive Japanese ideogram. Trees and shrubs flanked the path and directed Savage's troubled gaze toward a large pagoda, its three stories emphasized by long, low buildings to the right and left: the Meiji Shrine. The pagoda's roof was flat, its sides sloping down, then curving up, creating a link between earth and sky. Savage was struck by the elegance and harmony.
A voice speaking English startled him. Rachel clutched his arm. Nervous, he pivoted and saw something so unexpected he blinked in confusion.
Not a few but several dozen, and though Savage had arrived in Japan only yesterday, he'd become so used to seeing crowds composed exclusively of Orientals that for a moment this throng of awkward Caucasians seemed as foreign to him as he and Rachel felt amid the numerous Japanese they'd been following toward the shrine.
But the voice he'd heard speak English belonged to an attractive female Japanese in her twenties. She wore a burgundy skirt and blazer that resembled a uniform. Holding a clipboard with pages attached, she turned her head as she walked and addressed the Americans following her.
A tourist group, Savage realized.
“The Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Japan,” the guide explained, her English diction impressive, though the l and r in “pilgrimage” gave her trouble.
She paused where the path led into a courtyard. The group formed a semicircle.
“In eighteen sixty-seven,” she said, “after more than two and a half centuries in which a shogun was absolute ruler of Japan, an emperor again assumed power. The name of His Imperial Highness was Meiji”-she bowed her head-”and the return of authority to the emperor was called the Meiji Restoration, one of the four greatest cultural changes in the history of Japan.”
“What were the other three?” a man in blue-checkered pants interrupted.
The guide answered automatically. “Influences from China in the fifth century, the establishment of the Shogunate in sixteen hundred, and the United States occupation reforms after World War II.”
“… Didn't MacArthur make the emperor admit he wasn't a god?”
The tour guide's smile hardened. “Yes, your esteemed general required His Highness to renounce his divinity.” She smiled even harder, then gestured toward the pagoda. “When Emperor Meiji died in nineteen twelve, this shrine was created in his honor. The original buildings were destroyed in nineteen forty-five. This replica was constructed in nineteen fifty-eight.” She tactfully didn't mention that American bombing raids had been what destroyed the original buildings.
Savage watched her lead the group across the courtyard. About to follow toward the shrine, he glanced reflexively behind him and noticed, his stomach hardening, that some Americans hadn't proceeded with the group. They lingered thirty yards back on the tree-rimmed path.
Savage redirected his gaze toward the shrine. “Come on, let's join the group,” he told Rachel. He tried to sound casual but couldn't conceal the urgency in his voice.
She turned sharply toward him. “What's wrong?”
“Just look straight ahead. Match my pace. Pretend you're so fascinated by what the tour guide's saying, you want to keep up with her.”
His heart cramped. “When I tell you, don't look behind us.”
They neared the group. The spacious courtyard was bathed in sunlight. Savage's spine felt cold.
“All right, I won't look behind me,” Rachel said.
“Five men on the path. For a moment, I thought they were tourists. But they're wearing suits, and they seem more interested in the shrubs along the path than they are in the shrine. Except for us. They're very interested in us.”
“I don't know how they found us.” Savage's fingers turned numb as adrenaline forced blood toward his muscles. “We were careful. And that subway was too damned crowded for anyone to keep us in sight.”
“Then maybe they really are tourists. Businessmen with a few hours off, trying to get over jet lag. Maybe they're less interested in the shrine than they thought they'd be and wish they'd gone to a geisha house.”
“No,” Savage said, pulse hammering. They reached the tour group. He had to keep his voice low. “I recognized one of them.”
Rachel flinched. “You're sure?”
“As sure as I am that I saw Akira beheaded and Kamichi cut in half. One of those men was at the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat.”
“But the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat…”
“Doesn't exist. I know that. I'm telling you I remember him being there.” Savage's head throbbed. His mind reeled, assaulted again by jamais vu.
Though he tried to hide it, the distress in his voice made members of the tour group turn and frown at him. A fiftyish woman with blue-tinted hair told him, “Shush.” The Japanese guide hesitated, peering back toward the distraction.
Savage murmured apologies, guiding Rachel around the group, walking anxiously toward the looming shrine. “False memory, yes,” he told Rachel. “But that doesn't change the fact that it's in my head. It feels real to me. Akira and I both remember Kamichi having a conference with three men. One looked Italian, the other Spanish, or maybe Mexican or… The third, though, was American! And I saw him just now behind us on the path!”
“But the conference never happened.”
“I saw him one other time.”
“At the hospital. While I convalesced.”
“In Harrisburg ? But you were never in a hospital in Harrisburg. How can you recognize a man you never met?”
“How could Akira and I recognize Kunio Shirai, the man we knew as Kamichi?”
“You never met Kamichi either.”
Savage flooded with terror. He needed all his discipline, the effects of all his years of training and hardship under fire, to keep from panicking. Reality-the shrine before him- seemed to waver. False memory insisted that it alone was true. If what I remember isn't true, Savage thought, how can I be sure that this is?
They entered the shrine. In a glimmering corridor that stretched to the right and left, Savage saw burnished doors emblazened with golden suns. Equipped with hinges in the middle, the doors had been folded open, revealing the precinct of what looked like a temple. Railings prevented him from going farther.
“This way,” Savage said, urging Rachel to the left, disrupting the concentration of Japanese who gazed toward the shrine's interior in reverence of solemn artifacts that symbolized their noble heritage prior to the U.S. occupation, prior to the Second World War.
Judging the corridor ahead, Savage jerked his eyes furtively to the left, through a doorway that led outside. The five Americans, led by the distinguished-looking, expensively dressed man he remembered from the Mountain Retreat and the Harrisburg hospital, hurried with strained long strides across the crowded courtyard, nearing the shrine. The only reason they didn't break into a run, Savage guessed, was that they knew their skin had attracted too much attention to them already. A commotion here would provoke a rapid police response.
The jasmine-scented corridor veered to the right. Struggling to avoid further groups of meditating Japanese, Savage and Rachel zigzagged, turned sideways, twisted, and veered, desperate to reach an exit on the left.
They burst from the shrine into blinding sunlight, faced another wide courtyard, heard indignant Japanese voices behind them, American voices apologizing, and started to run.
“I'm certain,” Savage said. Past the courtyard, another path-lined with trees-beckoned. “The well-dressed man, the one with the mustache, who seems to be their leader? Midfifties? Sandy hair? Eyes like a politician?”
“Yes, from a door in the shrine I got a look at him,” Rachel said, racing.
“In my memory of the Harrisburg hospital, he came to visit me. He said his name was…”
Words that were never spoken made Savage shiver.
Philip Hailey. “As useful a name as any other. Anonymous. Waspishly American.”
“Kamichi and Akira. What happened to their bodies?”
“They were hurried away.”
”…So much blood.
“That corridor of the hotel has now been remodeled.”
“Who killed them, damn it, and why?”
“The motive for the murders relates to the conference, but the purpose of the conference is not your business. We expect to identify whoever was responsible. Consider the topic closed. My purpose in coming here was to express our sympathy for your suffering and to assure you that everything possible is being done to avenge the atrocity.”
“In other words, stay out of it.”
“Do you have any choice? Think of this money as compensation. We've also paid for your hospital bills. Incentives. Demonstrations of our good faith. In return, we count on your good faith. Don't disappoint us.”
And good old Phil hadn't needed to add, “If you don't cooperate, if you don't keep away from our affairs, we'll mix your ashes with Kamichi's and Akira's.”
Spurred by fear, Savage raced harder. Japanese pilgrims darted to the side, glaring in outrage at this violation of the shrine's peaceful atmosphere. Rachel's low-heeled shoes rapped on the concrete courtyard.
The tree-lined path seemed to widen as Savage charged toward it. Ten yards. Five. Sweating, he surged into its funnel, hearing Rachel exhale beside him.
He also heard shouts. With a frantic glance backward, he saw the five men led by Philip Hailey lunging out of the temple and across the courtyard.
“Forsyth!” Hailey yelled. “Stop!”
Forsyth? Savage tensed with shocked recognition. Forsyth was the alias I used in the hospital! Roger Forsyth! But I was never in that hospital! I never met Philip Hailey! So how could he know-?
“Damn it, Forsyth, stop!”
Again the objects before him seemed to shimmer, as if the path, the trees and bushes along it, weren't real. But the urgent footfalls of the men in the courtyard sounded very real.
Savage strained to run faster. “Rachel, are you okay? Can you keep up?”
“These shoes”-she breathed-”weren't built for a marathon.” She kicked off the shoes and sprinted next to him, her long strides billowing her loose cotton skirt.
“Forsyth!” Hailey yelled. “Doyle! For God's sake, stop!”
Doyle? In Virginia Beach, that's what Mac said my name was! Savage thought. Robert Doyle! And that's who the bartender told the police killed Mac!
Ahead, the path curved toward the right, but just before the curve, another path intersected with it.
Savage slowed. He couldn't know what lay beyond the curve. Perhaps a barrier. Staring desperately to the right, he saw that the intersecting path formed a straight line for quite a distance. It was almost deserted. We'll be in the open- easy targets. He spun toward the left and saw that this side of the intersecting path had several tangents along the way.
Tugging Rachel's hand, he sprinted toward the left as Hailey and his men rushed closer.
Savage almost drew the Beretta from beneath his jacket. But so far Hailey and his men hadn't shown any weapons. Despite their evident determination to stop Savage from continuing to search for answers-had they been responsible for the attack on Akira's home last night?-they weren't foolish enough to start shooting and cause the Japanese pilgrims to panic and the shrine's attendants to alert the authorities. Hailey and his men have to kill us in private, quietly, or they'll never get out of the park before the police block off the exits, Savage thought. If there's shooting, every Caucasian in the area, even blocks away, will be questioned.
Racing past bushes, Savage saw another path to his right and twenty yards farther, one on his left. But the path to his left would lead back toward the shrine. For a startling instant, Savage was reminded of the maze in Mykonos through which he and Rachel had fled her husband's men.
A labyrinth. Assessing the path to his right, he saw that it too had many tangents. Thick shrubs and trees flanked them. “Come on!” he told Rachel, veering right.
Another intersection. Which way? Savage wondered. To the right-other paths. Straight ahead-a sharp angle that also led right. To the left-nothing. Dead end. A barrier of trees and bushes.
Can't get trapped, Savage thought and almost charged straight ahead before he realized that Hailey would think as he did. Have to keep moving. Can't get cornered.
But why should the trees and bushes be a trap?
Abruptly Savage corrected his direction and dodged to the left, pulling Rachel with him. The path was short. The dead end threatened. Spotting a gap between shrubs, Savage gripped Rachel and urged her through it, stooping, squirming after her. He squeezed past trees, crawled under branches, struggled up a slope, snaked around boulders, and crouched in a thicket, his shoes sinking into a deep, moist, unpleasant mulch. Bushes surrounded them. The park was a perfect blend of artifice and chaos, the meticulously tended paths in contrast with the formlessness of nature. A wilderness in downtown Tokyo.
Canopied by leaves, tickled by ferns, Savage inhaled the mulch's loamy fragrance and drew his Beretta. Rachel's breasts heaved, sweat trickling off her forehead, her eyes wide with apprehension. He motioned for her not to speak. She nodded rapidly, emphatically. Ready with the pistol, he stared down the slope, the woods so thick he couldn't see the path.
The cloying leaves buffered sound. Hurried footsteps, urgent breathing, frustrated curses, seemed to come from far away.
But Savage's hunters couldn't have been more than twenty yards below.
“-way. How do I know where they-”
“-must have gone-”
“-over here. No-”
“-there. They wouldn't-”
“-choose a trap. This other path-”
“-heads toward that other path which-”
“-heads toward the western exit. Damn it, give me the radio. Christ.” The labored voice belonged to Hailey, Savage realized. But with frightening clarity, he remembered the voice not from the shouts that had chased him out of the shrine, instead from the cultivated, threatening, oh-so-confident, imperious aristocrat who'd tried to bribe him in the hospital and implied a death sentence if Savage didn't back off.
False memory. Yes! But it made no difference. I didn't back off, you son of a bitch, Savage thought. And if it's death you want to talk about-Savage clutched the Beretta -let's debate.
Below him, past the dense tangle of trees and shrubs, he heard Hailey say, “Beta, this is Alpha!” Hailey evidently spoke to the radio he'd told one of his men to give him. “We've lost them! Instruct all units! Block all exits from the park!”
In the distance, sirens wailed, the distinctive alternating high-low blares of police cars approaching. Had the disturbance at the shrine been sufficient for attendants to phone the authorities?
“Christ!” Hailey said. “Beta, fall back! Avoid all contact with-!”
The sirens reached a crescendo, their wail diminishing.
“Wait!” Hailey said.
The wails receded, farther, fainter.
“Beta, disregard fallback order! Maintain surveillance on exits! Assume camouflage status! Out!” His tone changed, less loud, as if he addressed the men beside him. “Let's go.”
“Which way?” a man on the path asked.
“How the hell do I know? Split up! Check all the paths! Maybe they've doubled back! One thing we're sure of-they can't get out, and they're bound to attract attention!”
Footsteps scurried from the area, veering down various lanes.
“What if they're in the woods?” a receding voice said.
“Hope to God they're not!” Hailey's voice diminished. “A hundred and eighty acres! We'd need fucking Tonto and Rin Tin Tin to find them!… No, they'll feel trapped! They'll want to get out of here as quick as they can! Before we block off the exits!”
A breeze rustled branches. Birds sang. This section of the park became silent.
Savage exhaled softly, slowly, and lowered his Beretta. When he turned toward Rachel hunkered behind him in the bushes, he saw her open her mouth to speak. Quickly he put a hand to her lips and forcefully shook his head. He pointed toward the unseen path below and shrugged as if to indicate that one of the men might have stayed behind.
She flicked her eyes in acknowledgment. He removed his hand and eased his hips to the ground, straining to be quiet. Sweat trickled down his face. The shadows of trees cooled his brow.
But fear still churned his stomach. How long will they search? he thought. Besides the men who chased us, how many others does Hailey have? Who is he? Why am I a threat to him? How did he find us?
The nagging questions made Savage's temples throb.
Forsyth. He called me Forsyth, then Doyle. But why both names? And why last names? Why didn't he call me Roger or Bob?
Because a first name is used for a friend. But a last name's for someone you hate or…
Yes? Or what? Or control. During SEAL special warfare training, the instructors always chose our last names and always made them sound as if they were calling us shitheads.
But this isn't the SEALs. Hailey looks like a corporate executive or a politician, and for whatever reasons, he sure wants me out of the way.
Savage frowned, suddenly hearing voices on a path. He didn't understand what they were saying, suspected that the bushes muffled their words, then realized that the words were Japanese. The speakers didn't sound frantic or angry but rather seemed entranced by the gardens. He relaxed his tight grip on his handgun.
A further glance toward Rachel forced him to smile. She was tugging at her cotton top, trying to fan the sweat that had trickled onto her breasts. He averted his gaze from the dark stains that emphasized her nipples, pulled his own damp shirt from his chest, flicked a bug off his arm, and pretended disgust. It did the trick. Her blue eyes brightened, tension slowly draining from her.
But at once she seemed to remember something, scrunched her forehead, and pointed toward her Rolex watch. Savage knew what she meant. It was almost eleven o'clock. They were due to be at the restaurant in the Ginza district at noon, ready for Akira's phone call.
If Akira had a chance to phone. Maybe the police hadn't believed his story about defending himself against the three intruders. Maybe they'd taken Akira to headquarters for intensive questioning.
But maybe not. If Akira phoned the restaurant at the scheduled time and Savage and Rachel weren't there, he'd…
Phone again at six P.M. as they'd agreed. That was the point of a backup plan-to allow for contigencies.
But what if we can't get out of here by six? Savage thought. The next contact time was nine in the morning, and if that didn't work, if Savage and Rachel still couldn't get away from Hailey by then…
Akira would assume the worst. He might go to ground. The only chance for contact was the further backup plan of Savage's phoning Akira's home. But Eko didn't speak English. Her sole instructions were to answer “moshi, moshi” -hello-if Akira was safe, and “hai”-a rude tone of “yes”-if Akira was threatened and wanted Savage to run.
Christ, we didn't plan enough, Savage thought. We're professionals, but we're used to protecting others, not ourselves. We need protectors. As it is, trying to defend ourselves, we're too involved, we've got fools for clients, and we screwed up. We assumed that Akira would be the only one in danger. But now…!
Get control, Savage told himself. You're safe for the moment, and even if it's impossible to get to the restaurant by noon, six P.M. is a long way off.
Yes, that's what worries me, he thought. Anything can happen. If Hailey and his men are stubborn-and Savage assumed that they would be-we won't get out of here till dark.
We can't just walk out. We'll have to go over a wall. And in a city of twelve million Japanese with only a few thousand Americans living here, we'll attract as much attention, we'll be as conspicuous, as Godzilla.
Shit! Savage mustered the strength to subdue his increasing distress and turned yet again to Rachel. Leaves on her skirt. Dust on her cheeks. Dangling strands of auburn hair. Despite all those imperfections, she looked as beautiful… as spirited, angular, sharply featured, and glowing… as only Rachel could look.
I love you, Savage wished he could take the risk of telling her. Instead of violating silence, he leaned close and gently kissed the tip of her nose, tasting her dusty, sweat-salty skin. She closed her eyes, shuddered, reopened her lids, blinked nervously, and stroked his hair.
Remember, Savage told himself. Until this is over, she's your principal, not your lover. And Akira's waiting. Maybe. And Hailey's men are out there. Certainly.
So what are you going to do?
Savage gripped Rachel's elbows, kissed her…
And turned her, pointing toward the thickets beyond them.
She mouthed silent words. It took him a moment before he realized. What she'd silently told him… a familiar refrain…
I'll follow you to hell.
They squirmed through the mulch through the forest.
The park had frequent low hills. On occasion, thickets gave way to stretches of waist-high ferns, which Savage and Rachel avoided, anxious not to crush the ferns and leave a path in case Hailey's men managed to follow them. Staying among the trees, Savage took his bearings from the passage of the sun, imitating its movement, heading westward. He worried that when they reached a path, a sentry would see them rushing across it, but this section of the park was evidently extremely remote, for they never did reach a path. Though the temperature felt like low sixties, comparable to October weather in New England, he and Rachel sweated from exertion. Their dusty clothes snagged on branches. Rachel's skirt tore. Worse, because she'd been forced to kick off her shoes to be able to outrun Hailey and his men from the shrine, her feet-despite the mulch-became scratched and bloody. Savage took off his shoes and gave her his socks. He'd have let her have the shoes as well, but they were much too big for her and would have added blisters to her scratches. As it was, without socks, he developed blisters. Sometimes, where the mulch was too deep, he carried her. Their progress slowed. By one P.M., they slumped to the ground, exhausted.
“This park's enormous,” Rachel said. “And the Japanese claim they've run out of space. Not that I'm complaining.” She massaged her feet. “Hailey would have caught us by now if it weren't for…” She cocked her head. “Do I hear traffic?”
Savage focused his attention. The dense trees around them buffered sound, but beyond, it did seem… A rush of energy made him stand. “I'll check.” He made his way through the mulch and trees, smiled at what he saw, and quickly came back. “There's a wall about fifty yards ahead. We've reached a street.”
“Thank God.” At once she looked troubled. “But now what? Hailey's men are probably still looking for us. They'll assume there's a chance we'll go over a wall.”
“Whoever Hailey is, his reinforcements have to be limited. They'd need to be widely spaced to watch every section of the wall around the park. But you're right-as soon as one of them saw us, he'd radio for the others to converge. With your feet hurt, we couldn't outrun them.” Savage thought about it. “Let's follow the wall.”
With no basis for choosing one direction instead of another, he arbitrarily decided on north. The wall was high enough to conceal them, low enough for them to climb over if they needed to. As they moved along it, weaving past bushes, Rachel limping, Savage imagined Akira's unease if he'd been able to call the restaurant at noon. Failing to make contact, what would Akira fear had gone wrong? How would he react? What would he do until the next scheduled call at six?
The wall angled east, then north again. After sixty yards, Savage heard Japanese voices, tensed, crouched, peered beneath low concealing branches, and saw an east-west path. Traffic was louder. To the left, a gap in the wall formed an exit from the park, cars and pedestrians swarming past beyond it.
Savage scanned the exhaust-hazed street and squirmed backward through shrubs until he and Rachel could talk without being overheard. Overhanging boughs cloaked them with shadows.
“I didn't see any Americans,” he said. “Not that it matters. They wouldn't be in the open. For all we know, they're directly behind the wall at each side of the exit. Or in a van across the street. Or…”
“In other words, nothing's changed. We still can't get out of here.”
Savage hesitated. “Yes.”
“Then what do we-?”
“Wait for dark.”
Rachel's eyes widened. “Then we'll miss Akira's next call at the restaurant.”
“If we try to leave now, the odds are against us. Hailey's men… We'd be stopped. We'd never reach the restaurant,” Savage said. “I don't know why Hailey wants us so bad, but I'd sooner depend on Akira's patience than on Hailey's losing patience.”
“I feel so… Is this the way you normally live?”
“Normally? If you can call it that.”
“I've been with you for less than two weeks, and already I feel like I've been through several wars. How do you stand it?”
“Right now, after having fallen in love with you”-Savage swallowed-“I'm beginning to wonder. What I wish, what makes me want to keep going, is…”
“It's foolish to think about. A beach near Cancun. I'd like to take off your swimsuit. I'd like to make love in the surf in the moonlight.”
“Don't stop. Describe the feel of the waves.”
“I can't. What I mean is, I don't dare.”
“Make love to me?”
“Don't dare distract myself,” Savage said. “My love for you could make me so careless it kills you.”
“At the moment… How long did you say we had to wait?”
“Then there's plenty of time. When I close my eyes, I can hear the surf.”
She reached for him.
And she was right. When he closed his eyes, as they tenderly, languidly embraced, Savage could hear the surf.
Rachel slept while Savage watched over her. The shadows thickened. Near sunset, she wakened, beautiful despite puffy aftersleep.
“Now it's your turn,” she said.
“No, I have to…”
“Sleep,” she said. “You're no good to me if you're exhausted.” Her blue eyes twinkled.
“But suppose Hailey's men…”
Rachel gently removed the Beretta from his hand, and Savage-recalling last night-was well aware that she could use it. At the same time, he was also aware of the trauma she repressed. Her hand shook on the pistol's grip. With determination, she held the gun firmly.
“You're sure?” he asked.
“How else will we get to Cancun?”
“If something makes you afraid…”
“I'll wake you. Provided there's time and the target isn't obvious.”
“You're thinking I'll lose control again… shoot… keep shooting… and maybe for no reason.”
“No,” Savage said. “I'm thinking you don't deserve to belong in my world.”
“To hell with your world. I want to belong with you. Put your head down,” she said.
“Do it,” she said. “On my lap. If you're tired, you'll make mistakes. Don't fight me. There. Yes, there. That's right. Oh, yes. That feels so good.” She shivered. “Right there.”
“It's after six. We've missed Akira's next call. He'll…”
“Be nervous, yes, but he'll call again at nine tomorrow.”
“Unless he has problems in the meantime. We should never have separated.”
“There wasn't an option,” Rachel said. “The way you talk about him… the bond between you… it almost makes me jealous.”
Savage chuckled. “Remember where my head is.”
“Just close your eyes and keep it there.”
“I doubt I'll sleep.”
“You might if you think about that beach near Cancun. Imagine the rhythm of the waves on the shore. Even if you don't sleep, relaxing will do you good. R and R. Is that what you call it? So you're ready for what we'll be facing.”
“As soon as it's dark…”
“I'll wake you,” Rachel said. “That's a promise. Believe me, I want to get out of here.”
Rachel's teeth chattered-less from fear than cold, Savage sensed. In the dark, as the temperature kept dropping, he draped his jacket around her shoulders and guided her farther along the wall. He'd decided that trying to leave through a path from the park was possibly more dangerous during the night than in daylight. Hailey's hidden men would have a safer chance of killing them and escaping under cover of the neon confusion of Tokyo 's nightlife.
Reversing their earlier direction, Savage led Rachel southward, reached a western jog in the wall, and followed its angle. Unseen branches tugged at his shirt and threatened his eyes. If not for the halo of dense traffic opposite the wall, he couldn't have found his way. Horns blared. Engines roared.
“Enough,” Savage said. “Hailey's pissing me off. This spot's as good as any. If we go much farther, we'll circle the park. Screw it. Let's go.”
Savage raised his arms to grip the top of the wall, pulled himself up so his eyes showed just above the wall, and warily studied the street below him. Headlights surged past. A Japanese man and woman strolled beneath him along a sidewalk. Otherwise there were few pedestrians.
Savage dropped back onto the ground. “I didn't see anything to make me change my mind. Are you ready?”
“As I'll ever be.” She mustered resolve. “… Better give me a boost.”
Savage put his arms around her legs and lifted, feeling her skirt and thighs against his cheek. A moment later, she squirmed upward out of his grasp. As soon as she reached the crest, inching over, he hurriedly climbed after her. Together, they dangled from the opposite side. Heart pounding, Savage landed first and helped her down so her stockinged feet wouldn't be injured if her full weight struck the concrete.
Checking both ways along the sidewalk, Savage barked, “Quickly. Cross the street.”
A man had appeared from shadows a hundred yards to his left. Headlights revealed the man's face. A Caucasian. He blurted something to a radio in his hand and raced toward Savage and Rachel, fumbling for an object beneath his suitcoat.
“Do it!” Savage said. “Cross the street!”
The blazing cars formed a constantly moving barrier.
“We can't stay here!” To Savage's right, opposite the Caucasian running toward them, another Caucasian appeared, racing to flank them.
“Now!” Savage said. He grabbed Rachel's hand, saw a slight break in traffic, and darted off the sidewalk.
Headlights streaked toward them. Brakes squealed. Savage kept running. He still gripped Rachel's hand, although she no longer needed urging.
In the next lane, another speeding car made Rachel curse. She surged in front of him.
Horns shrilled. The stench of exhaust flared Savage's nostrils. His stride lengthened.
They reached the street's divider. Wind from rushing cars flapped Rachel's skirt. Breathing hard, Savage glanced behind him and saw the two Caucasians rushing along the sidewalk. Assessing traffic, they searched for a break between cars so they could sprint across the street.
Savage waved at drivers in the opposite lanes, warning them that he and Rachel were about to race across. A Toyota slowed. Savage took the chance and bolted, Rachel charging next to him. They dodged another car and reached the far sidewalk.
Storefronts gleamed. Pedestrians gaped. An alley beckoned. As Savage ducked into it, he glanced again behind him, seeing the two Caucasians bolt from the sidewalk. At the same time, he sensed an object looming toward him. Pivoting, startled, he saw a van veer out of traffic. It aimed toward the alley.
He turned to run, but not before the van's windshield starred. Holes stitched it, glass imploding. Bullet holes.
The van hit the curb. With a jolt, it heaved above the sidewalk, walloped down, veered, kept surging, and smashed through a storefront to the left of the alley.
Metal scraped. Glass shattered. Despite the explosive impact, Savage thought he heard screams from within the van. For certain, he heard pedestrians scream. And shouts from the men across the street.
Several cars skidded to a stop.
Rachel trembled, frozen with shock.
“Run!” Savage said.
He tugged her.
The compulsion of fear canceled her stunned paralysis. She raced past garbage cans along the dark alley.
But what if the alley's a trap? Savage suddenly thought.
Suppose Hailey's men are in here.
No! They can't be everywhere!
Who shot at the van? Who was driving the van?
Dismay racked Savage's mind. Confusion threatened his sanity.
Someone wants to stop us. Someone else wants us to search.
What the hell are we going to do?
They reached the next street. An approaching taxi made Savage's chest contract. He flagged it down, shoved Rachel inside, and scrambled after her, saying, “ Ginza,” hoping the driver would understand that they wanted to go to that district.
The driver, wearing a cap and white gloves, frowned at the disheveled appearance of his harried Caucasian passengers. He seemed uncertain whether he wanted Savage and Rachel to be his customers. But Savage held up several thousand-yen bills.
The driver nodded, pulled away, expertly merging with speeding traffic.
Savage heard the increasing wail of sirens-with no doubt where they were headed. Straining not to show his tension, he could only hope that the driver wouldn't decide that his passengers had something to do with the sirens.
The taxi turned a corner. Police cars swiftly approached in an opposite lane, their sirens louder, flashers blazing.
Then the cruisers were gone, and though the taxi's driver glanced after them, he didn't stop. Savage touched Rachel's hand. Her fingers trembled.
Amid dense traffic that somehow kept flowing, they finally reached the Ginza district. Akira had explained that Ginza meant “silver place” and referred to the fact that several hundred years ago the national mint had been located here. Since then, the area had developed into Tokyo 's major shopping center, with seemingly endless stores, bars, and restaurants.
The closest equivalent Savage could imagine was New York 's Times Square before the junkies, hookers, and porno shops had contaminated its glamour. Neon. Savage had never seen so much of it. Everywhere he looked, brilliant lights turned the night into day. An awesome combination of electrified colors. Some constantly blazed. Others pulsed or flashed messages in a row along buildings like a massive radiant ticker tape. The glare of congested headlights added to the spectacle. Well-dressed pedestrians crowded the exciting streets.
Savage had no intention of showing the driver Akira's note, which in Japanese provided directions to the restaurant where Akira was supposed to call. The authorities might question all taxi drivers who'd picked up Caucasians, and Savage wanted to keep the rendezvous site beyond suspicion. Besides, he and Rachel weren't due there again until Akira's next scheduled call at nine tomorrow morning.
But Savage had other motives that compelled him to reach this district. For one thing, the comparatively few Caucasians in the city tended toward the Ginza 's glittering nightlife, and he and Rachel needed desperately to blend in. For another, they needed fresh clothes, but having been followed so expertly, they didn't dare return to the railway station, where they'd left their travel bags in a locker. A surveillance team might be waiting, on the chance that Savage and Rachel would retrace their steps and attempt to retrieve their belongings.
“Arigato,” Savage told the taxi driver, pointing toward the curb. The white-gloved man pulled over, counted the money Savage gave him, and nodded with satisfaction. With a flick of a front-seat lever, he opened the door in back. Savage and Rachel got out.
As the taxi drove away, Savage became more aware of the blazing lights around him. The din of traffic and music from bars overwhelmed him. Exhaust fumes assaulted his lungs. Pungent cooking odors drifted from restaurants.
Wanting to rush, he and Rachel were forced to match the pace of the crowd so they wouldn't attract attention. But despite their efforts to look calm, they did attract attention. Japanese pedestrians kept staring at them. Because Caucasians are unusual, even in the Ginza district? Savage wondered. Or because our faces are dirty, our clothes torn? Rachel's limp and the socks on her feet didn't help.
Savage led her toward gleaming storefronts. “We've got to find-”
He halted abruptly before an electronics shop, stunned by the image on television sets in the window. No sound came through the glass. Not that it mattered. The words that matched the startling scenes would have been incomprehensible to him, the text in Japanese.
But he didn't need an interpreter to make him understand the dismaying significance of what he watched. Heart sinking, again he saw a ghost. Muto Kamichi… Kunio Shirai… the man he'd seen sliced in half at the nonexistent Medford Gap Mountain Retreat… harangued thousands of Japanese protestors holding up anti-American signs outside the gates of a U.S. Air Force base. American soldiers stood nervously on guard beyond the fence.
The news report was similar to the TV footage Savage had watched three days ago in America and the photographs he'd seen this morning on the front page of newspapers in vending machines at Central Station.
With two important differences. The earlier protests had been outside U.S. civilian buildings, and the demonstrators -numerous to begin with-had increased dramatically not only in size but intensity.
The grim-eyed faces of American officials appeared on the array of television screens. Savage recognized the U.S. secretary of state, haggard, his brow furrowed, being interviewed by Dan Rather. The image shifted to the President's press secretary tensely answering questions from reporters.
At once, Kamichi-Shirai-was back on the screens, inciting the protestors. Whatever his name, the gray-haired, slack-jowled, slightly overweight, midfiftyish man who resembled a weary executive projected an unexpected charisma when he stepped in front of a crowd. His commanding eyes and powerful gestures transformed him into a spellbinding zealot. With every jab of his karate-callused hands, the crowd reacted with greater fervor, their expressions distorted with outrage.
“This new demonstration must have happened today while Hailey's men trapped us in the park,” Savage said. He turned toward Rachel. Her pallor made him frown. “Are you all right?”
She shrugged, impatient, as if the blood that soaked her socks hardly mattered. “What's going on? What caused this?”
“Some incident we don't know about?” Savage shook his head. “I think Kamichi”-he quickly added-“Shirai doesn't need an incident. I think the point is America… America in Japan.”
“But America and Japan are friends!”
“Not if you believe those demonstrators.” Savage sensed movement behind him and nervously pivoted. Japanese pedestrians crowded toward the television screens.
“Let's get out of here,” he said. “I'm awfully self-conscious.”
They squirmed through the thickening crowd. Savage's veins chilled. His contracting muscles stopped aching only when he reached the comparative openness of the normally congested sidewalk.
“But all of a sudden,” Rachel said. “Why? The demonstrations are larger, more dangerous.”
“Catalyzed by Kamichi.”
“I can't get used to calling him that,” Savage said. “The man I drove to Pennsylvania.”
“To a hotel that doesn't exist.”
“In my reality, I drove him there. To me, the hotel does exist. But all right”-Savage's mind whirled, seized by jamais vu-“let's call him Shirai. He's the cause of the demonstrations. I don't know why. I can't imagine the source of his power. But he, Akira, and I are somehow connected.”
A sudden thought made Savage face her. “The former emperor, Hirohito, died in January of ‘eighty-nine.”
Rachel kept walking. “Yes? And?”
“After Japan 's defeat in World War Two, MacArthur insisted on a new Japanese constitution. Even before that, when Japan surrendered in ‘forty-five, America insisted that Hirohito go on the radio and not only announce the unconditional surrender but renounce his divinity and publicly tell his people that he was human, not a god.”
“I remember reading about it,” Rachel said. “The announcement shocked Japan.”
“And helped MacArthur reconstruct the country. But one of the strictest articles in the new constitution was that church and state had to be separated. By law, religion and politics were totally severed.”
“What's that got to do with Hirohito's death?”
“His funeral. In violation of the constitution, but with no objection from America, political and religious rites were combined. Because of Japan 's economic power, every important nation sent its highest representatives. A Who's Who of international government. And all of them stood passively under wooden shelters in a pouring rain while a Japanese honor guard escorted Hirohito's coffin into a shrine, where behind a screen Shinto rites, traditional Japanese religious funereal rites, were performed. And no outsider said, ‘Wait a minute. This is illegal. This is how the Pacific War got started.’ “
“They respected a great man's death,” Rachel said.
“Or they almost shit their pants in fear that if they objected to the Shinto rites, Japan would get so angry it would cut off their credit. Hell, Japan finances most of America 's budget deficit. No country would dare object if Japan reverted to its former constitution. As long as Japan has the money-and the power-its government can do what it wants.”
“That's where your argument falls apart,” Rachel said. “ Japan 's government is responsible.”
“While moderates rule it. But what if Kamichi-Shirai- takes command? Suppose the old ways come back and a radical party assumes control! Did you know that Japan – supposed to be nonmilitary-spends more on defense than any NATO country except America? And they're suspicious of South Korea! And China 's always worried them! And…!”
Savage realized he was talking too loud. Japanese pedestrians frowned at him.
Rachel kept limping.
“Come on. We've got to do something about your feet.”
A brightly lit sportswear shop attracted Savage's gaze. He and Rachel stepped inside. There were almost no customers. When two clerks-a young man and woman-bowed in greeting, they looked puzzled by Rachel's stockinged feet.
Savage and Rachel bowed quickly in return and proceeded through the store. In addition to athletic clothes, there were jeans, T-shirts, and nylon jackets. Rachel made a stack in her arms and looked questioningly at the female clerk, who seemed to understand that Rachel wanted to know if there was a changing room.
The clerk pointed toward a cubicle in the back, where a drape functioned as a door. Adding thick white running socks and a pair of Reeboks to her pile, Rachel disappeared behind the drape.
In the meantime, Savage chose a pair of brown socks to replace the pair he'd given Rachel. His pants were filthy, his shirt soiled with sweat. He picked up replacements. As soon as Rachel came out of the cubicle, wearing stone-washed jeans, a burgundy top, and a blue nylon jacket that matched the cobalt of her eyes, Savage went in to change, glancing periodically through a corner of the drape to make sure no one who looked threatening entered the store while Rachel was unprotected. Eight minutes later, they paid and left the store, carrying their dirty clothes in a bag, which they dumped in a trash container a few blocks away.
“These shoes make all the difference.” Rachel sighed. “It feels so good not to be limping.”
“Not to mention we don't look like we slept in a ditch.” Savage wore khaki slacks, a yellow shirt, and tan windbreaker. The combination made his chameleon green eyes seem tinged with brown. He'd combed his hair in the changing room, as had Rachel. “A few smudges on our faces. All in all, though, not bad. In fact, you look lovely.”
“ Blarney, but I never turn down a compliment. The bonus is, now that we've changed clothes, it'll be harder for witnesses at the park to identify us if the police decide to pick us up.”
Savage studied her with admiration. “You are catching on.”
“Given the right teacher and the proper motivation- fear-I learn damned fast.” She wrinkled her brow. “That van at the park. It seemed to veer out of traffic and aim toward the alley, toward us.”
“Hailey must have had vehicles circling the park, so his men could radio to them if we were spotted. Our bad luck that the van was nearby.”
”Our bad luck? The unlucky ones were in the van,” Rachel said. “The windshield starred as the van headed toward us. Did I see bullet holes?”
Savage pursed his lips and nodded. “Someone was determined to stop Hailey's men from catching us.”
“But who, and how did they know where we'd be?”
“For that matter, how were Hailey's men able to follow us through the subway? We were careful. I kept checking behind us while we walked from the railway station. But then all at once they showed up at the park. It's like they're thinking the same as us or even ahead of us.”
“You said earlier…” Rachel brooded. “A lot of what we've done is predictable, given the problems we need to solve. But that park had nothing to do with our problems. We just happened to go there.”
“Yes,” Savage said. “We've been intercepted too many times. I don't understand how they keep doing it.”
“My God”-Rachel turned-“I just thought of something. We've been assuming that Hailey's the one who wants to stop us.”
“But what if we've got it turned around? What if Hailey wants to protect us? What if the team in the van belonged to whoever wants to kill us, and it was Hailey's men who shot out the windshield, so we'd keep searching?”
For a moment, Savage had trouble understanding, the twist in assumptions bewildering. Abruptly he felt pressure behind his ears. Something seemed to snap in his brain. His vision paled, his mind attacked by unsettling contradictions. Nothing seemed sure. Everything was false. Jamais vu fought with reality. But something had to be true! There had to be a solution! He couldn't bear…
No! Three weeks ago, his single burden had been to prove himself again. Now?
Rachel grabbed his arm. Her eyes wide, she steadied him. “You turned pale.”
“I think… For a moment there… I'm… all right now… No… Feel dizzy.”
“I feel a little off balance myself. We haven't eaten since yesterday.” She pointed. “Here. This restaurant. We need to sit down, rest, get something in our stomachs, and try to clear our heads.”
Now instead of Savage guiding Rachel, she guided him.
And he felt so helpless he didn't resist.
The waitress-wearing white makeup, a kimono, and sandals-presented them with a menu. When Savage opened it, he again felt disoriented. The items on the menu weren't printed horizontally, as in the West, but vertically, the contrast reinforcing his sense that everything was inverted, his mind off balance. Mercifully, English script appeared beside Japanese ideograms. Still, Savage was so unfamiliar with un-Americanized Japanese food that all he could do was point toward a column on the left, the restaurant's recommendation for a dinner for two.
“Sake?” the waitress asked with a bow.
Savage shook his throbbing head. Alcohol was the last thing he needed.
“Tea?” he asked, doubting he'd communicate.
“Hai. Tea,” she said with a smile and left, her short steps emphasized by her tight kimono, which in addition emphasized her hips and thighs.
In the background, at the restaurant's frenetic cocktail lounge, a Japanese country-western singer delivered a flawless version of Hank Williams's “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Savage wondered if the singer understood the words or had expertly memorized them.
The midnight train is…
“If we're in trouble and we thought only Akira would be in trouble…” Savage shook his head.
“I know. I hate to imagine what's happened to him today.” Rachel reached across the table. “But there's nothing we can do to help him, not right now. I told you, rest. The food will be here soon. You've got to try to relax.”
“You realize how turned around this is?”
“Me taking care of you?” Rachel asked. “I love it.”
“I don't like feeling…”
“Out of control? You'll have plenty of chance to exert control. To do what you do best. And soon. But thank heaven, not right now.”
Can't you hear the whippoorwill…?
The restaurant was filled with cigarette smoke and the permeating aroma of sauces. Savage and Rachel sat on cushions at a low table with a cavity beneath it that allowed them to dangle their legs, an architectural concession to long-legged foreigners who wanted to sit according to Japanese tradition but without discomfort.
“Kamichi… Shirai… We've got to meet him,” Savage said. “Akira and I have to learn if he saw us die as we saw him die.”
“In his place, if I were leading demonstrations against U.S. Air Force bases, I'd have protection that even you couldn't breach,” Rachel said. “It won't be easy to meet him. And since you're American, I doubt you can simply call him up and arrange an appointment.”
“Oh, we'll talk to him, all right,” Savage said. “Bet on it.”
The waitress brought warm, damp napkins. Then their meal arrived: a clear soup with bits of onions and mushrooms, seasoned with grated ginger; yams in a mixture of soy sauce and sweet wine; rice with curry sauce; and boiled fish with teriyaki vegetables. The various sauces accented each other superbly. Savage hadn't realized how hungry he was. Though the portions were more than ample, he ate everything, so ravenous he was hampered only slightly by his awkwardness with chopsticks.
But throughout, he kept thinking about Akira and how in the eighteen hours they'd been separated so much had changed that their arrangements for getting in touch with each other no longer seemed adequate.
“I can't wait till nine tomorrow morning,” Savage said. He gulped the last of his tea, left a generous tip with payment for the bill, and stood. “I saw a pay phone in the lobby.”
“What are you-?”
The phone was in a corner away from the restaurant's entrance and the coatcheck area. Partially sheltered by a screen that depicted brilliant sunflowers, Savage put coins in the phone and dialed the number Akira had given him.
The phone rang four times.
Savage waited, his fingers cramping around the phone. A fifth ring.
A woman suddenly answered. Eko. Savage couldn't fail to recognize her voice.
“Hai.” In response to her curt tone, Savage's knees weakened. He'd just heard the signal that Akira was in trouble, that Savage was supposed to leave Japan as quickly as possible.
Heart racing, he desperately wanted to question her, to find out what had happened. But Akira had emphasized-Eko didn't speak English.
I can't just break contact! Savage thought. I have to think of a way to communicate! There's got to be a-!
He heard a rattle on the phone. Another voice spoke abruptly. A man's voice. In Japanese.
Savage's heart pounded faster as he listened, dismayed, unable to identify the speaker or to understand his furtive statements.
With equal abruptness, the voice switched to English.
“Doyle? Forsyth? Damn it, whatever you call yourself, listen, buddy! If you know what's good for you, if you want to save your ass, you'd better-”
Savage acted without thinking. Reflexively, in shock, he slammed down the phone. His knees kept shaking.
In the background, from the raucous bar, the Japanese country-western singer reprised Hank Williams's song.
So lonesome I could die.
“Who was it?” Rachel asked.
They skirted the crowd on the neon-blazing street. Heat from the massive walls of lights felt like sunlamps.
Savage's stomach churned. He feared he'd vomit the enormous meal he'd eaten. “I never heard the voice before. I can't judge his Japanese accent, but his English was perfect. I think-American. No way to know whose side he's on. He was angry, impatient, threatening. I didn't dare stay on the line. If the call was traced, they'd know to search the Ginza district. One thing's sure. Akira wouldn't have permitted strangers in his home, and Eko wouldn't have answered ‘hai’ without a reason.”
“Don't have Americans on their staff. And how did he know to call me ‘Forsyth’ and ‘Doyle’? Akira wouldn't have told them.”
Savage knew how effective certain chemicals were in making reluctant informants cooperate. “I have to assume Akira's in trouble. But I don't know how to help him.”
A siren made him flinch. Turning, primed to run, he saw an ambulance wail past.
“We can't keep walking the streets,” Rachel said.
“But where would we feel safe to spend the night?”
“There's no way I could sleep,” Rachel said. “I'm so uptight I-”
“Two choices. Find someplace to hide, wait till morning, and go to the restaurant, hoping Akira will call at nine. But the restaurant might be a trap.”
“So what's the second choice?” Rachel asked.
“Skip plans. I told Akira that even if Eko gave me the warning signal over the phone, I wouldn't leave Japan. I want answers.” Surprised by the growl in his voice, Savage unfolded the note of directions Akira had given him. “A wise and holy man, Akira said. His sensei. The man he wanted to talk to. Well, let's see just how wise this holy man is.”
In contrast with the glare of the Ginza district, this section of Tokyo was shadowy, oppressive. A few streetlights and occasional lamps in narrow windows did little to dispel the gloom. After paying the taxi driver, Savage got out with Rachel and felt conspicuous despite the darkness. His shoulder blades tensed.
“This might not have been such a good idea,” Rachel said.
Savage studied the murky street. The murmur of distant traffic emphasized the silence. Though the sidewalk seemed deserted, even in the darkness Savage detected numerous alleys and alcoves, in any of which hidden eyes might be watching, predators waiting to… “The taxi's gone. I don't see any others. It's too late to change our minds.”
“Swell… How can we be sure the driver even brought us to where we wanted to go?” Rachel asked.
“‘Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd,’” Savage said, reminding Rachel of her favorite quotation. “At this point we have to trust.”
“Swell,” Rachel said again, making the word sound like an expletive.
Savage parted his hands, a gesture of futility. “By the book, the way to do this is to leave the taxi several blocks away and approach the area cautiously, trying to get a sense of whether there's a trap.” He glanced around. “But Tokyo has very few street names. Without the driver's help, I'm not sure I could have found this place, even from a few blocks away.”
The place he referred to was a five-story, dingy concrete building without windows. It looked like a warehouse, out of place among the numerous tiny-windowed apartment complexes along the street, though those structures too looked dingy.
The building was dark.
“I can't believe anyone lives here,” Rachel said. “There's been a mistake.”
“… Just one way to learn.” Yet again Savage scanned the dark street. He placed his hand on the Beretta beneath his windbreaker and approached the front door.
It was steel.
Savage looked but couldn't find a button for a doorbell or an intercom. He didn't see a lock.
He tried the doorknob. It turned.
“Apparently no one cares if strangers go in,” Savage said. He couldn't subdue the puzzlement in his voice. “Stay close.”
“Hey, if I was any closer, I'd be in your underwear.” Savage almost grinned.
But her joke didn't ease his tension. He pushed the heavy door open and frowned at a dimly lit corridor. “Quickly,” he said, tugging Rachel in before their silhouettes made them easy targets.
As quickly, he shut the door behind them and noticed that there wasn't a lock on this side either. More puzzled, he scanned the corridor.
It ended ten feet before him.
No doors on either side. A staircase led up.
“What kind of-?” Rachel started to ask.
But Savage put a finger to his lips, and she became silent.
He knew what she'd meant to say, though, and nodded with understanding. He'd never seen a warehouse or an apartment building with a layout like this. No sign on the wall to give directions or indicate where they were. No mailboxes with names and buzzers. No further door with a security system that prevented access to the core of the building.
The stairway was concrete. As Savage and Rachel ascended warily, their shoes scraped faintly, echoing.
The next floor was also dimly lit, the corridor short, without doors, a further staircase leading upward.
Again they climbed, Savage's nervousness increasing. Why weren't Akira's instructions complete? he thought. How the hell can I find where someone lives when there aren't any doors or names on-?
At once he realized that Akira's instructions were complete.
The absence of doors eliminated the possibility of making a mistake. There was only one continuing direction- upward-and after an identically barren third floor and fourth floor, there was only one destination: the fifth floor.
Where the staircase ended.
Like the others, this corridor was short.
But at its end, a steel door beckoned.
Savage hesitated, his hand on the pistol beneath his jacket. The door seemed larger the closer he came. Again, as with the door through which he and Rachel had entered the building, Savage couldn't find a doorbell or an intercom, and this door too had no lock.
Rachel's eyes narrowed, communicating bewilderment and apprehension.
Savage squeezed her arm to reassure her, then reached for the doorknob. Pulse hammering, he changed his mind and decided that this door-seemingly unprotected-looked too much like the entrance to someone's apartment for him to just walk in.
Holding his breath, he raised his knuckles and rapped.
The steel door responded with muted thunks.
Savage knocked again, this time harder.
Now the steel door reverberated, a hollow echo beyond it.
Five seconds. Ten seconds.
No one's home, Savage thought. Or there's no apartment beyond the door, or Akira's sensei is too asleep to hear me, or…
Akira's sensei would be the best. No professional sleeps that deeply.
Savage turned the doorknob, pushed the door open, and entered.
Though Rachel clutched the back of his jacket, Savage ignored her, finding himself confronted by muted lights in a massive chamber.
No, not muted lights. The recessed bulbs beneath ledges that framed the ceiling glowed so dimly that “muted” wouldn't describe them. Twilight. False dawn. Even those descriptions weren't adequate. The illumination was vaguer than candles but just sufficient to reveal an enormous dojo, countless tatami mats on the floor, with subtly reflecting polished cypress wood on the beams and panels of the burnished walls and ceiling.
With deep dark spaces between each isolated, recessed, barely perceptible light.
Savage felt overwhelmed, awestruck, as if he entered a temple. The dojo, though in semidarkness, exuded an aura. Of sanctity. Of solemnity.
It was redolent of the sweat and pain… the discipline and humility… the mysticism of the Oriental martial arts. Mind and body, soul and sinew, combined as one. A sacred place. And as Savage inhaled its holy fragrance, stepping forward, metal slid against polished metal.
Not a scrape, not a grating sound, not a rasp, but a smooth, oiled, slippery hiss that made Savage's scalp prickle.
Not one hiss, but many. All around him. The dark walls seem to come alive, to swell and give birth. Gleaming objects appeared, reflecting the dim, widely separated bulbs that rimmed the ceiling. Long, curved, glinting blades apparently hung in midair. Then the walls gave birth again, shadows emerging, assuming the shapes of men dressed totally in black, with hoods and masks that covered their faces. They'd been perfectly camouflaged against the walls, and each gripped a sword he'd drawn from a scabbard.
Where Savage stood a third of the way into the dojo, he pivoted and saw that he was flanked on every side. His spine froze. He drew his Beretta.
Glancing toward the open door, Savage frantically wondered how he could concentrate on fighting to get Rachel out and at the same time not be distracted by the need to keep Rachel from getting hurt. The Beretta held fifteen rounds. But there were certainly more than fifteen opponents. The shots would be deafening, however, the muzzle flashes a distraction. The swordsmen might hesitate for a couple of seconds, enough time for us to get through the door and start scrambling down the stairs! he thought.
But while he thought, the door was slammed shut. Swordsmen stepped in front of it. Savage's stomach sank. In desperation, he aimed toward the men who blocked the door.
Lights blazed, searing, blinding, the murky dojo suddenly as bright as the sun. Savage jerked a hand toward his eyes, frantic to shield them from the stabbing rays. In that instant, his only warning was a swift, subtle brush of air, an unseen swordsman lunging toward him. The Beretta was yanked from Savage's grasp. Powerful fingers paralyzed nerves in his hand, preventing him from firing. Distraught, Savage blinked, fighting to focus his eyes, to erase the white-hot image of multiple suns temporarily imprinted on his vision.
At last his pupils adjusted to the glare. He lowered his hand, his chest cramping, cold despite the heat of the lights, and studied his captors. He understood now that their masks had not only helped to camouflage them in the shadows but that the eyeslits in the masks had guarded the swordsmen's vision from the sudden disorienting glare.
Rachel moaned again, but Savage was forced to ignore her distress, to focus his attention, every instinct, on his captors. Without a weapon, he couldn't hope to fight them with any chance of escaping. He and Rachel would be sliced to pieces!
But the man who yanked the pistol away could have cut me in half while I was Blinded, Savage thought. Instead he stepped back to the wall, his sword raised like the others. Does that mean they're not sure what to do with us, whether to kill us or-?
As if on command-but without any perceptible signal passing among them-they abruptly stepped forward. The dojo seemed to shrink. Then they lowered their swords, tips aimed toward Savage and Rachel, and the dojo shrank even more.
Another step forward, each of the numerous footfalls almost silent on the tatami mats, just a faint sibilance as if the woven reeds exhaled from the weight upon them.
Savage pivoted slowly, tensely, judging the room, searching for exits, for the slightest sign of weakness on any flank. But even if I do see a possible exit, a corridor, anything, he thought, there's no way I can get Rachel past those swords without a weapon!
The masked, hooded figures stepped forward yet again, blades pointing, gleaming, their presence more constricting, and as Savage kept pivoting, his eyes narrowed fiercely toward the wall opposite the one through which he and Rachel had entered. At the same time, another undetectable signal seemed to pass eerily around the room, and the swordsmen stopped their relentless advance. The dojo-virtually silent to begin with-became as silent as the dead.
Except for Rachel's repeated moans.
The swordsmen who'd proceeded from the wall at the far end of the dojo shifted to the right and left, leaving a gap through which a man who'd been hidden behind them stepped forward. He too gripped a sword and was dressed in black, complete with a hood and mask. Unlike the others, he was short, gaunt as opposed to lithe, his tentative footsteps suggesting fragility. He pulled off his hood and removed his mask, revealing the almost bald skull and wrinkled features of an elderly Japanese, his gray mustache and dark-yet-glowing eyes the only features that prevented his face from looking mummified.
But Savage had the nerve-tingling impression that the tentative footsteps were actually the product of stealth, that his fragility was deceptive, that this old man could be more adept and dangerous than any of the others.
Scowling at Savage and Rachel, the old man gestured with his sword as if he intended to slash.
He suddenly darted, each stride as fast as an eyeblink.
But he didn't slash toward Savage.
Savage lunged in front of her, prepared to sweep with his arms, hoping to deflect the blade, to duck under it, and chop the brittle-looking bones of the old man's throat. He didn't stop to consider what the blade would do to him if he failed. He didn't matter. Rachel did!
Savage's gesture was reflexive, his instincts making it impossible for him to do anything else but fulfill his profession's mandate-to protect.
In a blur he braced himself, straining to prepare for the greater blur of the old man's lunge, the flashing edge of the speeding blade so fast that Savage could barely see it. He parried with his arm, though he knew before he began, knew in his soul, his attempt was futile.
But I can't just give up!
I can't let the sword hit Rachel!
He imagined the blade flicking through his forearm, the stub of his hand and wrist flipping through the air, his arteries pulsing crimson. But he didn't flinch as he misjudged the old man's timing and parried too soon, his arm exposed as his soul had predicted.
He stared defiantly, and the blade stopped with startling abruptness, as if an invisible force had blocked it. The sword's polished, gleaming edge hovered rigidly against the sleeve of Savage's jacket. With fear-intensified vision, everything magnified before him, and he saw severed threads on his sleeve.
Savage exhaled, adrenaline flooding through him, volcanic heat erupting upward toward his chest.
The old man squinted at him, jerked his chin down, a curt nod, and barked an incomprehensible question.
But not to Savage, instead to someone behind him, though how Savage knew this he wasn't sure-because the old man's searing eyes, as searing as the spotlights, never wavered from Savage's defiant gaze.
“Hai,” someone answered in the background, and Savage's heart swelled, for he recognized the voice.
“Akira?” Savage had never spoken anyone's name more intensely or with greater confusion.
“Hai,” Akira answered again and appeared through the gap in the swordsmen. Like them he wore black clothing, almost like pajamas but the material rugged. un like them, he had no hood and mask. His handsome rectangular face, seeming all the more rectangular because his short black hair was combed straight from left to right, the part in his hair severe, had a somberness that made Savage frown. The melancholy in Akira's eyes had become more deep, more brooding, more profound.
“What's going on?” Savage asked.
Akira pursed his lips, his cheek muscles hardening. When he opened his mouth to respond, however, the old man interrupted, barking another incomprehensible question to Akira.
Akira replied, with equal unintelligibility.
The old man and Akira exchanged two further remarks, quick intense bursts that Savage found impossible to interpret, not just the words but the emotion that charged them.
“Hai.” This time the old man, not Akira, used that ambiguous affirmative. He jerked his chin down again, another curt nod, and raised his sword from the severed threads on Savage's sleeve.
The blade gleamed, nearly impossible to track, as with impressive speed the old man slid the sword into a scabbard tucked under a knotted black belt made of canvas. The blade hissed in to the hilt.
Akira came forward, his expression controlled except for his melancholy, his public self severely in charge of his private self. Stopping beside the old man, he bowed to Savage and Rachel.
All day, Savage had felt hollow, incomplete without Akira, but he hadn't realized how much he felt incomplete until now, at last rejoined with his friend. In America, Savage would have given in to impulse and reached for Akira's hand, perhaps in less public circumstances have clasped his shoulders to show affection. But he resisted his Western urge. Because Akira was obviously behaving according to the expectations of those around him, Savage conformed to Japanese protocol and bowed in return, as did Rachel.
“It's good to see you again,” Savage said, trying to imply strong emotion without embarrassing Akira in front of the others by displaying it. “And to find that you're safe.”
“And I, you.” Akira swallowed, hestitating. “I wondered if we'd ever meet again.”
“Because Eko gave me the signal to run?”
“That,” Akira said. “… And other reasons.”
The cryptic remark invited questions, but Savage restrained them. He needed to learn what had happened to Akira and to tell Akira what had happened to them, but other immediate questions insisted.
“You still haven't answered me.” Savage gestured toward the swordsmen. “What's going on?”
The old man barked again in Japanese, his voice deep and raspy.
“Permit me to introduce my sensei,” Akira said. “Sawakawa Taro.”
Savage bowed, repeating the name, adding the obligatory term of respect. “Taro-sensei.“ He expected another curt nod in response, surprised when the old man braced his shoulders and imitated Savage's bow.
“He's impressed by your bravery,” Akira explained.
“Because we came in here?” Savage shrugged in self-deprecation. “Considering what almost happened, I was stupid, not brave.”
“No,” Akira said. “He means your attempt to protect your principal from his sword.”
“That?” Savage raised his eyebrows. “But you know the rules. It wasn't something I thought about. I just responded to training and did it.”
“Exactly,” Akira said. “For Taro-sensei, bravery means instinctive obedience to duty, regardless of the consequence.”
“And that's all that saved us?”
Akira shook his head. “You were never in danger. Or at least only briefly while you entered. After the door was slammed shut and Taro-sensei recognized you from my description, he knew you weren't a threat.”
“What? You mean…? Those men stalking toward us…? The son of a bitch was testing me?”
Taro's aged voice rasped. “Neither a son of a bitch nor a bastard.”
Savage gaped, skin shrinking in astonishment.
“You disappoint me,” the old man said. Though a foot and a half shorter than Savage, he seemed to tower. “I expected more. Never assume that because a stranger addresses you in his native language he doesn't understand your own.” Taro glared.
Savage's face burned. “I apologize. I was foolish and rude.”
“And more important, careless,” Taro said. “Unprofessional. I was about to compliment whoever trained you. Now…”
“Blame the student, not the teacher,” Savage said. With distress, he remembered Graham's corpse behind the steering wheel of his Cadillac, acrid exhaust fumes filling his garage, while he drove for all eternity. “The fault is mine. Nothing excuses my behavior. I beg your forgiveness, Taro-sensei.
The old man's glare persisted, then slowly dimmed. “Perhaps you redeem yourself… You learned from your instructor to admit mistakes.”
“In this case,” Savage said, “with regard to information about your country, my instructor was Akira. But again blame the student, not the teacher. He warned me to be careful not to give offense. I'll try harder to behave like a Japanese.”
“By all means,” Taro said. “Try. But success will elude your grasp. No outsider, no gaijin, can ever truly understand… and hence behave like… a Japanese.”
“I don't discourage easily.”
Taro's wrinkled lips tightened, possibly in a smile. He addressed Akira in Japanese.
Taro turned to Savage. “I'm told you're a serious man. What we call ‘sincere,’ a word that should not be confused to mean your strange Western custom of pretending that your public thoughts and private thoughts are identical.” The old man debated. “I may have been hasty. Your offense is forgiven. I invite you to accept my humble hospitality. Perhaps you and your principal would care to enjoy some tea.”
“Yes, very much,” Savage said. “Fear has a habit of making my mouth dry.” He gestured toward Taro's sword and did his best to make his eyes crinkle, trying to sound respectful, humble, and ironic all at once.
“Hai” Taro inflected the word so it seemed a laugh. “Please”-he bowed-”come.”
As Taro led Savage, Rachel, and Akira toward the swordsmen at the rear of the dojo, the old man motioned subtly with his hand. Instantly, in unison, the hooded figures sheathed their blades. The combined slippery sound, the high-pitched metallic ssss of polished steel against steel, again made Savage's skin prickle.
“Taro-sensei, a question,” Savage said. “I'm troubled. But please understand, I mean no offense in asking.”
“You have my permission,” the old man said.
“When we entered, after you recognized that we weren't enemies…” Savage hesitated. “I can understand why you wanted to test us. You needed to know how we'd react when apparently threatened, to determine if you could depend on us. Outsiders. Gaijin. But even so…” Savage frowned. “There was no guarantee I wouldn't panic. Suppose I'd lost my nerve and started shooting, even though I didn't have an escape plan and hence would have wasted ammunition that I might have needed later. Many of these men would have died.”
“Your question is wise,” Taro said. “But the test had controls.”
“Oh? In what way? I'm sure these men are superbly Skilled, their swords unbelievably fast, but not as fast as a bullet.”
“If you'd raised your weapon…”
Taro didn't need to complete his sentence. As Savage approached the rear of the dojo, he saw two men concealed behind the row of swordsmen…
And each man held a tautly strung bamboo bow, a fiercely barbed arrow strung, ready at any instant to be fired.
Yes, Savage thought. If I'd seemed about to shoot, I'd never have had a chance to pull the trigger.
In a rush, another question insisted, but he forced himself not to ask. Cold sweat trickled down his back. Would the archers have shot to disable his gun arm?
Or to kill?
“Taro-sensei's building is self-sufficient,” Akira explained.
They sat, cross-legged, on cushions at a low cypress table. The small room had latticed paper-thin walls with exquisite pen-and-ink drawings hanging upon them. It reminded Savage of Akira's home.
In an obvious display of deference, Taro dismissed a servant and poured tea into small, thin, beautifully painted ceramic cups, each depicting a colorful scene from nature (a waterfall, a blossoming cherry tree) with a minimum of brush strokes.
Akira continued explaining. “The fifth floor, of course, is the dojo. On the other floors, there are dormitories, a shrine, a library, a cooking and eating area, a shooting range… everything that Taro-sensei's students need to attempt to perfect their spirits, minds, and bodies, to make them as one.”
Akira paused to pick up his cup, placing his left hand under it, using his right hand to support the cup on one side. He sipped the tea and savored it. “Perfect, Tam-sensei.”
Savage watched Akira carefully and imitated the way he gripped the cup. Prior to their leaving America, Akira had explained the protocol of the tea ceremony. Its sanctified tradition dated as far back as the fourteenth century. Influenced by Zen Buddhism, the ritualistic sharing of tea was intended to produce a condition of purity, tranquillity, and harmony known in Japanese as wabi. When strictly performed, the ceremony took several hours and incorporated a minimum of three locations and servings, accompanied by various foods. The tea-master prepared each serving, adding tea to hot water and whipping it with a bamboo whisk. Conversation was limited to gentle, soothing topics. The participants felt freed from time and the turmoil of the outside world.
On this occasion, the ceremony had been starkly abbreviated. Of necessity. But respect for the ritual still applied. Noting the solemnity of Akira and his sensei, Savage quelled his urgent questions and raised the gleaming cup to his lips, inhaling the fragrance of the steaming tea, sipping the clear, delicately flavored liquid. “My spirit feels comforted, Taro sensei.” Savage bowed.
“This quenches the thirst in my soul,” Rachel added. “Arigato, Taro-sensei.”
Taro chuckled. “My not-inadequate student”-he indicated Akira-”taught you well.”
Akira's brown face became tinged with a blushing red. He lowered his eyes in humility.
“It's rare to meet a civilized gaijin.” Taro smiled and lowered his cup. “Akira mentioned a library in this building. Most sensei would never allow their students to read. Thought interferes with action. Words contaminate reflex. But ignorance is itself an enemy. Facts can be a weapon. I would never permit my students to read works of fantasy. Novels”-he gestured with disparagement-“though poetry is another matter, and I encourage my students to expand their spirits by composing haiku and studying such classic examples as those by the incomparable Matsuo Basho. But books of information are mostly what my students read. History, in particular that of Japan and America. Manuals of weaponry, both ancient and modern. The principles of locks, intrusion detectors, electronic surveillance equipment, and various other tools of their craft. Also languages. I require each of my students to be skilled in three, apart from Japanese. And one of those languages must be English.”
Savage glanced surreptitiously at Akira, at last understanding how his counterpart had acquired so impressive a fluency in English. But why the emphasis on English? Savage wondered. Because English was pervasive throughout the world? Or because of America 's victory in World War Two? Why did Akira's expression become more melancholy as Taro emphasized that his students had to be expert in America 's history and language?
Taro stopped talking and sipped his tea.
Akira kept a close watch on his sensei. Apparently concluding that Taro did not intend to say anything further for the moment, that it would not be rude to break the silence, he resumed his explanation.
“When I was ten,” Akira said, “my father sent me to Taro-sensei, to study martial arts. Until I completed high school, I came here five times a week for two-hour sessions. At home, I religiously practiced what I had been taught. Most male teenagers in Japan supplement their high school classes with intensive private tutoring in order to devote themselves to preparing for university entrance examinations. These occur in February and March and are known as ‘examination hell.’ To fail to be accepted by a university and especially Tokyo University is a great humiliation. But as my studies with Taro-sensei became more demanding and intriguing, I realized that I had no interest in applying to a university, or rather that he and this institution would be my university. Despite my unworthiness, Taro-sensei graciously accepted me for greater instruction. On my nineteenth birthday, I came here with a few belongings and never stepped outside for the next four years.”
Savage tightened his grip on his cup. Turning to Rachel, he saw that the surprise on her face was as strong as what he felt. “Four years?” She was too amazed to blink.
“A moderate amount of time, considering the objective.” Akira shrugged. “To attempt to become a samurai. In our corrupt and honorless twentieth century, the only option for a Japanese devoted to the noble traditions of his nation, committed to becoming a samurai, is to join the fifth profession. To make himself the modern equivalent of a samurai. An executive protector. Because now-just as then-a samurai without a master is a warrior without a purpose, a frustrated wanderer, a directionless, unfulfilled ronin.”
Savage gripped his frail teacup harder, afraid he'd break it but controlled by greater surprise. “And all those men in the dojo…”
“Are Taro-sensei's advanced students. Many are about to graduate after the privilege of having studied with my master for almost four years,” Akira replied. “You might compare them to monks. Or hermits. Except for grocers and other merchants who bring necessary goods, no outsider is permitted to enter.”
“But the outside door was unlocked,” Savage said. “And so was the door to the dojo. In fact, I didn't even see a lock. Anyone could walk in.”
Akira shook his head. “Each door has a hidden bolt, electronically activated, although tonight the bolts were left open. In case my enemies managed to follow me here. An enticement. So they could be subdued and questioned. The stairway, of course, is a trap once the doors are sealed.”
Savage pursed his lips and nodded.
Taro inhaled softly.
Akira turned to him, aware that his master intended to speak.
“Although my students retreat from the world,” Taro said, “I do not wish them to be ignorant of it. By means of newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts, they're instructed in contemporary events. But in these sequestered surroundings, they're trained to study the present with the same detachment that they do the past. They stand apart, watchers, not participants. Because only by being objective can a protector be effective. The essence of a samurai is to be neutral, without expectations, maintaining a stillness at his core.”
Taro considered his words, bobbed his wizened head, and sipped his tea, the signal that others could speak.
“My apologies, Taro-sensei. But another potentially indelicate question occurs to me,” Savage said.
Taro nodded in permission.
“Akira mentioned the corrupt age in which we live,” Savage said. “In that case, few young men-even Japanese- would be willing to shut themselves away and commit themselves to such arduous training.”
“Yes, few. But sufficient,” Taro said. “The way of the samurai is by definition limited to the most determined. You yourself, as I've been told, committed yourself to the severest branch of America 's armed forces-the SEALs.”
Savage stiffened. He strained not to frown at Akira. What else had Akira revealed about him? Mustering discipline not to look troubled, he replied, “But I wasn't shut off from the world, and the military paid for my instruction. This school… four years of isolation… surely few candidates could afford the financial expense of…”
Taro chuckled. “Indeed. And you warned me. Your question is indelicate. Americans do say what they think.” His good-humored tone barely hid his disapproval. He sobered. “None of my students bears any financial expense in coming here. The only criteria for acceptance are ability and determination. Their equipment, meals, and lodging, everything they require, is given to them.”
“Then how can you afford…?” Savage held his breath, unable to bring himself to complete his further indelicate question.
Taro didn't help but merely studied him.
The silence lengthened.
Akira broke it. “With your permission, Tam-sensei.”
A flick of the eyes signified yes.
“My master is also my agent,” Akira said, “as he is for every student with strength and discipline enough to complete the course. Taro-sensei arranges for my employment, continues to advise me, and receives a portion of everything I earn-for the rest of my life.”
Savage felt jolted. Thoughts raced through his mind. If Taro was Akira's agent…
Taro must have information about Kunio Shirai, the man Savage knew as Muto Kamichi and saw cut in half at the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat.
Akira had said he worked with an American agent when assigned to America. Graham. But Graham had not been the primary agent. Taro was. Taro might have the answers Savage needed.
But Kamichi-Shirai-was never at the Mountain Retreat. No more than we were, Savage thought.
He winced. Lancing, crushing, spinning, and twisting, jamais vu yet again assaulted his mind.
If we never met Kamichi, we couldn't have been hired to protect him! Savage thought. So Taro might know nothing about him.
But someone set this up. Someone arranged for Akira and me to imagine we were hired. Who? When? At what point did jamais vu intersect with reality?
This much was sure, Savage knew. Akira had held back information. In emphasizing that his agent was Graham, he'd deliberately avoided drawing attention to Taro.
Was Akira an enemy? Savage's former terrible suspicion flooded through him, chilling his soul. His sense of reality had been so jeopardized that he feared he couldn't trust anyone.
Even Rachel? No, I've got to trust! If I can't depend on Rachel, nothing matters!
Again he realized the dilemma of trying to protect himself as well as Rachel, in trying to be his own principal. He needed a protector who wasn't involved, and at the moment, that luxury wasn't possible.
“I'm afraid I will be rude,” Savage said. “I know that conversation over tea is supposed to be soothing. But I'm too upset to obey the rules. Akira, what the hell happened since we last saw you?”
The question hung in the room. Akira, who'd been sipping tea, gave no indication he'd heard it. He took another sip, closed his eyes, seemed to savor the taste, then set down his cup, and looked at Savage.
“The police arrived quickly.” Akira sounded oddly detached, as if what he described had happened to someoneelse. “One car, then two, then three, as word of the situation's gravity spread. The coroner arrived. Police photographers. A forensic team. Senior police officials. At one point, I counted twenty-two investigators in my home. They listened to my account. They made me repeat it several times. Their questions became more detailed, their expressions more grave. I'd rehearsed my story before they arrived. I'd made necessary adjustments so the crime scene would be consistent with the robbery attempt I described and the murderous reaction of the intruders when they were discovered. But this isn't America, where multiple killings seem an everyday occurrence. Here, violent crime involving handguns is rare. The investigators were grim and methodical. In my favor, although I'd fired and killed with one of the intruders’ pistols, I'd also used a sword in defending my home, and that-as I anticipated-evoked tradition, making me seem heroic.
“As noon approached, I was still being questioned. I anticipated your concern if I didn't phone the restaurant on schedule, so I asked permission to excuse myself and make a call to break an appointment. Imagine my concern when I learned that you weren't at the restaurant to receive my call. I hid my feelings and answered more questions. By midafternoon, the bodies had been removed. Eko mustered strength despite her grief and accompanied Churi's body to the morgue, to make arrangements for his funeral. In the meantime, the investigators decided they wanted me to go with them to headquarters and dictate a formal statement. On the street, the police cars had attracted a swarm of reporters. Without making it seem I had something to hide, I tried not to face their cameras, but at least one man took my picture.”
Akira's voice became somber, and Savage knew why. A protector had to be anonymous. If a photograph was published, Akira's ability to defend a principal would be jeopardized, because an assailant might be able to recognize and attack him before attacking the primary target. In this case, the potential complications were even more serious. A newspaper photo of Akira would draw the attention of his and Savage's hunters and possibly hinder their search.
“It couldn't be helped,” Savage said.
“At headquarters while I dictated my statement, the police checked my background. I'd told them I was a security specialist. Several major corporations I'd worked for gave the police a positive assessment of me. But I sensed that the police checked other sources. Whoever they spoke to, the police soon treated me differently. With deference. I didn't understand their reaction, but I certainly didn't argue when they told me I could leave. But not to go far. They made clear they'd want to talk to me again.”
“And after that?” Rachel asked, self-conscious, her voice strained, the first time she'd spoken in several minutes.
“An enemy wouldn't have had any trouble following the police car that drove me to headquarters,” Akira said. “It turned out the police were so inexplicably deferential that they offered to drive me back to my home. I politely declined, pleading the need to walk and clear my head. Puzzled, I found a side entrance from the building and tried to blend with the crowd on the street. But I soon discovered I had company. Japanese. Skilled, though not skilled enough. For the next two hours, I tried to elude them. Six o'clock loomed quickly. I managed to use a pay phone to call the restaurant on schedule, knowing how distressed you'd be if I didn't report. But again you weren't at the restaurant. Something was obviously wrong! What happened to you?”
“Soon,” Savage said. “Finish your story.”
Akira stared at his teacup. “Seeking shelter in a public place, a bar that wasn't so crowded that I wouldn't see my pursuers coming in, I noticed a news report on a television behind the counter. Kunio Shirai. Another demonstration.” He shook his head in dismay. “But this one was larger, more intense, almost a riot. Outside a U.S. Air Force base. Whatever Shirai's trying to do, he's turned up the pressure dramatically.”
“We saw the same report.” Rachel's forehead was knotted.
“And somehow we're connected with him,” Savage said. “Or with the man we knew as Muto Kamichi, whom we never met.”
“But saw cut in half at the nonexistent Medford Gap Mountain Retreat.” The veins in Akira's temples throbbed. “Madness.” His eyes blazed. “I knew I had only one option-to seek safety with my mentor.” He glanced toward Taro. “I didn't dare return to my home. But I couldn't ignore my responsibility to Eko. On the chance that she'd come back from being with Churi at the morgue and arranging his funeral, I used the phone in the bar to call my home and felt startled when she answered ‘hai,’ the warning signal to run. I quickly asked her, ‘Why?’ ‘Strangers,’ she blurted. ‘Gaijin. Guns.’ Someone yanked the phone from her hand. An American spoke Japanese. ‘We want to help you,’ he said. ‘Come back.’ I slammed down the phone before they could trace the call. Americans with guns? In my home? And they claim they want to help? Not likely! The police would have posted guards to restrict reporters from the crime scene. How did Americans get inside?” Akira glared, his emotions finally showing. “If I could get to Eko and rescue her…”
“We called her as well,” Savage said. “At eleven tonight. She gave us the warning signal before an American grabbed the phone. They need her. They'll question her, but she knows nothing. They'll scare her, but she's valuable as a hostage. I don't think they'll hurt her.”
“ ‘Don't think’ isn't good enough,” Akira snapped. “She's like a mother to me!”
Taro raised his wrinkled hands, motioning for silence. He spoke to Akira in Japanese.
Akira responded. His melancholy tinged with relief, eyes bright, he turned to Savage. “My sensei has vowed to rescue her. His most advanced students will leave a few weeks early. Tonight will be their graduation. And Eko's release.”
I bet, Savage thought. Those guys upstairs looked as if there wasn't any obstacle they couldn't overcome. Whoever's in Akira's house, they won't know what hit them.
Savage bowed to Taro. “For my friend, I thank you.”
Taro frowned. “You call Akira a friend?”
“We've been through a lot together.”
“But the friendship is impossible,” Taro said.
“Why? Because I'm a gaijin? Call it respect. I like this man.”
Taro smiled enigmatically. “And I, as you put it, like you. But we will never be friends.”
“Your loss.” Savage shrugged.
Taro raised his head in confusion.
Akira interrupted, speaking solemnly to Taro.
Taro nodded. “Yes. An irreverent attempt to be humorous. So American. Amusing. But another reason that we'll never be friends.”
“Then let's put it this way. I'm a fellow protector. A good one. And I ask for professional courtesy.” Savage didn't give Taro a chance to react. Pivoting quickly toward Akira, he asked, “And then you came here?”
“Where I waited in case my enemies arrived. I couldn't imagine why you hadn't gone to the restaurant as we agreed. I feared that you still wouldn't be there when I called again in the morning.”
“Just as we feared for you after Eko gave us the warning signal.”
Savage focused his thoughts, trying as best he could to restrain emotion, to summarize objectively what they'd been through: the chase at the Meiji Shrine, the escape from the gardens, the attack on the street.
“But we don't know if Hailey's men were in the van or if they shot at the van.” Rachel's voice dropped, plummeting toward despair. “More questions. The answers keep getting farther away.”
“And maybe that's the point,” Akira said. “To keep us confused. Off balance.”
“The obstacle race and the scavenger hunt,” Savage said.
Akira looked puzzled.
“That was Graham's view of life. It fits. While we search, we try to elude whoever wants to stop us.”
“But we don't know which group is which,” Akira said. He repeated a word he'd used earlier: “Madness.”
“I may be able to help you,” Taro said. “With regard to Kunio Shirai.”
It took a moment before Savage registered what Taro had said. Chest contracting, he stared in surprise at the deceptively frail old man.
“Before I explain, I sense,” he told Savage, “that you need to be assured. I have no acquaintance with the name by which you knew him… or falsely remember that you knew him… in America. Jamais vu, I believe you call it.”
Savage frowned. Straightened. Tensed.
“No need to be alarmed. My excellent student”-Taro gestured toward Akira-”earlier described to me the impossible events at the nonexistent Mountain Retreat. You saw each other die. You saw a man called Muto Kamichi, whom you've learned to call Kunio Shirai, cut in half. But none of it happened. Jamais vu. Indeed. As good a description as any. I'm a Buddhist. I believe that the world is illusory. But I also believe that earthquakes, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions are real. So I force myself to distinguish between illusion and truth. Kunio Shirai is real. But at no time did I arrange for my excellent student to accompany him-under any name-to America. I've never met the man. I've never dealt with him through intermediaries. I beg you to accept my word on this.”
Savage squinted, felt his shoulders relax, and nodded. Trapped in a sickening, wavering assault on his consciousness, he repeated to himself Rachel's favorite quotation. Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd.
“Very well,” Taro said and turned to Akira. “A great deal has happened in the six months since I last saw you. In Japan. Or at least in the undercurrents of Japan.” The old man's eyes changed, their pupils expanding, as if he concentrated on an object far away. “In secret, a small force has been gaining power. Even longer ago than six months. It began in January of nineteen eighty-nine. With the death of our esteemed emperor, Hirohito, and with the forbidden Shinto rites involved in his funeral.”
Savage felt Rachel flinch beside him and recalled their conversation in the Ginza district about this same subject.
Taro's eyes abruptly contracted as he shifted his attention from the imaginary distant object and steadied them, laserlike, on Savage. “Religion and politics. The postwar constitution demanded their separation, insisting that never again would God's will be used to control this nation's government. But words on a document imposed by a gaijin victor don't cancel tradition or suppress a nation's soul. In private, the old ways are bound to persist. In pockets. Among absolute patriots, one of whom is Kunio Shirai. His ancestors descend from the zenith of Japanese culture, the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate in sixteen hundred. Wealthy, determined, disgusted by our present corrupt condition, he wants the ancient ways to return. Others share his vision. Powerful others. They believe in the gods. They believe that Japan is the land of the gods, that every Japanese is descended from gods. They believe in Amaterasu.”
The name, eerily evocative, made Savage tingle. He strained to remember when he'd heard it before-and suddenly recalled that Akira had mentioned it on the way to Dulles Airport while he tried to teach Savage and Rachel about Japan prior to flying here.
“Amaterasu.” Savage nodded. “Yes, the goddess of the sun. The ancestress of every emperor. The ultimate mother of every Japanese from the beginning of time.”
Taro cocked his ancient head; he clearly hadn't expected Savage to recognize the name. “Few gaijin would… I compliment you on your knowledge of our culture.”
“The credit belongs to Akira. He's as excellent a teacher as he was your student… Amaterasu? What about her?”
The old man spoke with reverence. “She symbolizes the greatness of Japan, our purity and dignity before our glorious ways were contaminated. Kunio Shirai has chosen her as the image of his purpose, the source of his inspiration. In public, he calls his movement the Traditional Japanese Party. In private, however, he and his staunchest followers refer to their group as the Force of Amaterasu.”
Savage straightened sharply. “What are we talking about? Imperialism? Is Shirai trying to recreate what happened in the nineteen thirties? A mix of religion, patriotism, and might to justify trying to dominate the Pacific Rim and…?”
“No,” Taro said. “The opposite. He wants Japan to become secluded.”
The statement was so astonishing that Savage leaned forward, trying to repress the force in his voice. “That goes against everything that…”
“ Japan has accomplished since the end of the American occupation.” Taro gestured in agreement. “The economic miracle. Japan has become the most financially powerful nation on earth. What it failed to do militarily in the thirties and forties, it achieved industrially in the seventies and eighties. It subdues other countries economically. We bombed Hawaii in nineteen forty-one but failed to capture it. Now we're buying it. And huge chunks of mainland America and other nations as well. But at a cost beyond money, a terrible penalty, the increasing destruction of our culture.”
“I still don't…” Savage squeezed his thighs, frustrated. “What does Shirai want?”
“I mentioned that his ancestors date back to sixteen hundred, the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Did Akira explain what happened then?” Taro asked.
“Only briefly. There was too much to know, too little time for him to… You tell me.”
“I hope you appreciate the value of history.”
“I was trained to believe it's imperative to learn from mistakes, if that's what you mean,” Savage said.
“Not only mistakes but successes.” Taro braced his shoulders. Despite his frail body, he seemed to grow in stature. His eyes again assumed a faraway gaze. “History… During the middle ages, Japan was inundated by foreign cultures. The Chinese, the Koreans, the Portuguese, the English, the Spanish, the Dutch. To be sure, not all of these influences were bad. The Chinese gave us Buddhism and Confucianism, for example, as well as a system of writing and an administrative system. On the negative side, the Portuguese introduced firearms, which quickly spread throughout Japan and almost destroyed bushido, the ancient noble Way of the warrior and the sword. The Spaniards introduced Christianity, which attempted to displace the gods, to deny that Japanese were divinely descended from Amaterasu.
“In sixteen hundred, Tokugawa Iyeyasu defeated various Japanese warlords and gained control of Japan. He and his descendants returned Japan to the Japanese. One by one, he banned foreigners. The English, the Spanish, the Portuguese… all were expelled. The only exception was a small Dutch trading post on a southwestern island near Nagasaki. Christianity was exterminated. Travel to foreign countries was forbidden. Ships capable of reaching the Asian mainland were destroyed. Only small fishing boats, their designs restricting them to hugging the coast, were allowed to be built. And the consequence?” Taro smiled. “For more than two hundred years, Japan was shut off from the rest of the world. We experienced-enjoyed-continuous peace and the greatest blossoming of Japanese culture. Paradise.”
At once the old man's face darkened. “But all of that ended in eighteen fifty-three when your countryman, Commodore Perry, anchored his squadron of American warships in Yokohama Bay. They are still known by their bleak prophetic color. Perry's black ships. He demanded that Japan reopen its borders to foreign trade. Soon the Shogunate fell. The emperor, formerly kept in seclusion in Kyoto, was moved to Edo, which soon changed its name to Tokyo, where the emperor became the figurehead ruler for politicians eager to exercise power. It's called the Meiji Restoration. I believe in the emperor, but because of that restoration, the gaijin contamination resumed… increased… worsened.”
Taro paused, assessing the effect on his audience.
Rachel breathed. “And Kunio Shirai wants to return Japan to the quarantine established in the Tokugawa Shogunate?”
“It's easy to understand his intention,” Taro replied. “As a tribe, we no longer abide by the ancient ways. Our young people disrespect their elders and treat tradition with irreverence. Abominations surround us. Western clothes. Western music. Western food. Hamburgers. Fried chicken. Heavy metal.” Taro pursed his lips in disgust. “Eventually Japan, like a sponge, will absorb the worst of other cultures, and money-not Amaterasu-will be our only god.”
“You sound like you agree with Shirai,” Savage said.
“With his motive, not his method. This building, the four years of isolation that each of my students submits to… they are my version of the Tokugawa quarantine. I despise what I see outside these walls.”
“You've joined him?”
Taro squinted. “As a samurai, a protector, I must be objective. I follow events. I don't create them. My destiny is to be distant, to serve present masters without involvement -and without judgment. The Tokugawa Shogunate insisted on that relationship between retainer and principal. But I hope he succeeds. He probably won't, however. The thrust of history moves stronger forward than backward. Shirai can use his wealth, his influence and power, to bribe, to coerce, and entice multitudes of demonstrators. But on television, I've seen the faces, the eyes, of those demonstrators. They're not devoted to the glory of their past. They're consumed by hate for outsiders in the present, for those who don't belong to the tribe. Make no mistake. Pride controls them. Longrepressed anger. Because America won the Pacific War. Because atomic bombs were dropped on our cities.”
Chilled, Savage noticed that Akira's eyes had become more melancholy. In despair, with compassion, Savage recalled that Akira's father had lost his first wife… and his parents… and his brothers and sisters… because of the A-bomb that hit Hiroshima. And the father's second wife, Akira's mother, had died from cancer caused by radiation from the blast.
Taro's brittle voice rasped. “Make no error. Whenever you speak to a Japanese, no matter his reserve and feigned politeness, he remembers the bombs called Fat Man and Little Boy. And this long-repressed rage is the power behind the multitudes Shirai has gathered. He wants retreat, a return to the glorious sacred past. But they want a too-long-postponed attack, to the land-of-gods destiny. Domination.”
“It'll never happen,” Savage said flatly.
“Not under present circumstances. Greed insists, and if Shirai misjudges, the multitudes he incites will outreach his control. Land, possessions, money. That's what they want. Not peace and balance. Not harmony. Shirai was right to protest America 's presence in Japan. Away with you! All of you! But in the vacuum of your absence, the Force of Amaterasu could become not a blessing but a curse.”
Savage's muscles felt drained. Sitting cross-legged on the cushions at the low cypress table, he leaned back on his hips and tried to diffuse his tension. “How do you know this?” His voice was strained, a whisper.
“I seclude myself. But my many former students remain in contact. And they have reliable sources. Kunio Shirai… for motives I admire… has the potential to cause a disaster. Aggression, not consolidation. All I want is peace. But if Shirai pushes harder, if he finds a way to attract even larger and more zealous followers…”
Savage spun toward Akira. “Does what happened… or didn't happen… at the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat have something to do with this?”
Akira raised his increasingly melancholy eyes. “Tarosensei referred to seclusion. At my father's home, which I maintain, I preserve a piece of the past, though I'm seldom there to enjoy it. I wish now I had enjoyed it. Because after everything that's happened I no longer believe in protecting others. I want to protect myself. To retreat. Like Taro-sensei. Like the Tokugawa Shogunate.”
“Then I guess we'd damned well better talk to Shirai,” Savage said. “I'm tired of being manipulated.” He glanced toward Rachel and put an arm around her. “And I'm tired,” he added, “of being a follower, a servant, a watchdog, a shield. It's time I took care of what I want.” Again he glanced with undisguised love toward Rachel.
“In that case, you'll lose your soul,” Taro said. “The Way of the protector, the fifth profession, is the noblest-”
“Enough,” Savage said. “All I want to do is… Akira, what do you say? Are you ready to help me finish this?”
“What are they shouting?” Savage asked.
The seething crowd roared louder, some jerking placards, others shaking their fists. Their furious movements reminded Savage of a roiling river. It was ten A.M. Despite smog, the sun was blinding, and Savage raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glare as he studied the enormous mob that filled the street for blocks, their fury directed toward the U.S. embassy. How many? Savage thought. He found it impossible to count. An estimate? Perhaps as many as twenty thousand demonstrators. They chanted rhythmically, repeating the same brief slogan with greater intensity until the din-amplified echoing off buildings-made Savage's temples throb.
“They're shouting ‘Black ships,’ ” Akira said.
In a moment, the translation became needless, the demonstrators changing to English. From last night's conversation with Taro, Savage understood the reference. Black ships. The armada that America 's Commodore Perry had anchored in Yokohama Bay in 1853. As a symbol of the demonstrators’ antipathy to America 's presence in Japan, the image was fraught with emotion. Succinct. Effective.
But lest the message nonetheless fail to make its point, the mob chanted something new. “ America out! Gaijin out!”
What seemed an eternity ago, when Savage had met Rachel's sister, Joyce Stone, in Athens and gone with her to the Parthenon, he'd quoted from Shelley's “Ozymandias” to describe the lesson of those ruins.
“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
… Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Joyce Stone had understood: “Nothing-wealth, fame, power-is permanent.” Indeed. Take nothing for granted. The future confronts, interprets, and more often than not, mocks the past. History. False memory. Disinformation. These issues, as much as his nightmare, haunted Savage. The paradox of, the relentlessness of, the deceit and treachery of time.
The truths of Shelley's poem soon became evident. After the discovery of the massacre at Kunio Shirai's mountain retreat, the Japanese news media inundated its readers, viewers, and listeners with reports and speculations for seemingly endless weeks. Intrigued as much as baffled, the nation demanded increasingly more details.
One item that attracted obsessive attention was the discovery of a diary that Shirai had kept. As he'd said to Savage and Akira, he intended to create a legend, convinced that the nation would talk about it for a thousand years. Of course, in his diary Shirai did not reveal the lie at the core of the legend. Instead he attempted to bolster the legend by comparing himself to great historical figures, to Japanese heroes who'd so boldly altered the course of their nation's history that they'd achieved the magnificence of myth. Shirai's intention had evidently been to release the diary shortly before or after his death, so his followers could revere his written legacy just as they worshiped his kami.
The hero whom Shirai most identified with was Oshio Heihachiro, a political activist in the nineteenth century. Outraged by the poverty of the lower classes, Oshio had organized a revolt, so committed to his cause that he'd sold his belongings to buy swords and firearms for starving farmers. In 1837, his rebels sacked and burned rich estates. The city of Osaka was soon in flames. However, the authorities managed to defeat the revolt. Oshio's followers were executed, but only after being tortured. Oshio himself was caught and avoided dishonor by committing seppuku.
Shirai's decision to compare himself with this particular hero seemed puzzling at first, and Shirai admitted as much in his diary. After all, Oshio's rebellion, though brave, had ended in defeat. But Shirai went on to explain that the cause for which Oshio sacrificed his life had consequences of which Shirai greatly approved. After Commodore Perry's “black ships” anchored in Yokohama Bay in 1853, a new generation of rebels protested America 's demand that Japan lift its cultural quarantine and allow foreigners to import mechandise, to become a satellite of the West. Inspired by Oshio's principles, these new rebels reaffirmed the cultural purity of the Tokugawa Shogunate. They insisted on the mystical uniqueness of their nation, their god-ordained nihonjinron, their divine Japaneseness bequeathed to them by the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Warriors, masterless samurai who called themselves shishi, swore to expel all intruding foreigners and in some cases slaughtered Western settlers. Shirai emphasized deceitfully in his diary that he didn't advocate bloodshed but rather an overwhelming political movement in which the Force of Amaterasu would accomplish the dream of Oshio's later followers, “Expel the barbarians,” and return Japan to Japan.
When put in this context, Oshio did seem the proper hero for Shirai to emulate. But there were ironic disturbing implications that Shirai either didn't recognize or didn't want to admit, for his diary abruptly changed topic and described its author's patriotic zeal in conceiving, organizing, and unleashing the Force of Amaterasu, which his diary took for granted would be successful. The implications that Shirai's diary ignored were that Oshio's later followers had taken their dead leader's principles-”Feed the poor”-to such an extreme that “Expel the barbarians” and “Keep Japan pure” became synonymous with “Revere the emperor.” Since 1600, the Tokugawa Shogunate had insisted on keeping the emperor in the background, in Kyoto, far from the shogun's center of power in what is now called Tokyo. But the zealots, who unwittingly perverted Oshio's intentions, so identified their Japaneseness with the former sanctity of the imperial institution that they insisted on reinstating it, on bringing the emperor from Kyoto to the shogun's capital, and on reaffirming him as a symbol of the greatness of Japan.
Thus in 1867 the Meiji Restoration occurred. After more than two and a half centuries, the Tokugawa Shogunate fell, and calculating bureaucrats realized that they could benefit financially and politically from this amazing shift in power. Secluding, surrounding, and above all controlling the emperor and his attitudes, they embraced what they saw as the lucrative pronationalistic consequences of Commodore Perry's “black ships.” In the words of Masayoshi Hotta, who'd seen the future in 1857, four years after the “black ships” arrived:
I am therefore convinced that our policy should be to stake everything on the present opportunity, to conclude friendly alliances, to send ships to foreign countries everywhere and conduct trade, to copy the foreigners where they are at their best, and so repair our shortcomings, to foster our national strength and complete our armaments, and so gradually subject the foreigners to our influence until in the end all the countries of the world know the blessings of perfect tranquillity and our hegemony is acknowledged throughout the globe.
Shirai-attempting to change history-had been blind to it. Akira, though, had recognized the truth. As he'd told Savage en route to their destiny at Shirai's mountaintop retreat, “We can try to learn from history, but it's impossible to reverse its trend.” In other words, we move forward, Savage thought. Relentlessly. We can try to build on the past, but the present-a wedge between then and soon-makes all the difference, contributes new factors, guarantees that soon will be different from then.
We can never go back, he sadly concluded, recalling the innocent happiness of his youth and the night his father shot himself. But what does that say about ambition, hope, and especially love? Are they pointless, doomed to fail? Because the present emerges, is programmed by, but at a certain point is divorced from the past… and the future is by definition a change, controlled by unanticipated circumstances?
Jamais vu. Déjà vu.
False memory. Disinformation.
For months, I relived a past that wasn't true, he thought.
I then confronted a present that seemed to replay the past. But with a difference. Yes… Savage swallowed… Akira died. (Dear God, how much I miss him.) But his death was not an exact replication of my nightmare. He was…
And his head struck the floor, rolled toward me, and blinked.
(How much I miss him.)
But before his body toppled, his lifeless hands gave me the sword.
It wasn't the same! It wasn't the past!
So maybe we can reverse, change, alter, correct what's behind us.
But in that case, the past was a lie. It never happened. It was all a damned trick played on our memory.
Isn't everything? Remember what you read in the book Dr. Santizo gave you. Memory isn't a year ago, a month ago, a day ago. It's a second ago, as the past becomes the present, about to change to the future. I'm trapped in my mind, in my momentary perceptions. The past can't be proved. The future's a mystery. I exist forever now. Until I'm dead.
So what about hope and love? What about Rachel? What about…?
Tomorrow? Will my dreams collapse, my hopes fall apart, my love dissolve?
I don't think so.
Because Rachel knows the truth. She's told me often enough.
By virtue of the absurd.
The alternative is unacceptable. As long as I act with good will-
– and I know there'll be pain, disasters-
– as long as I struggle forward-
– with good will-
– despite the disasters-
– despite the pain-
– with the help of God-
– by virtue of the absurd-
– I won't be fortune's hostage.
Now Savage's nightmare was twofold, a hideous double exposure, Akira being killed not once but twice, Kamichi dying twice as well. Sprawled paralyzed in a pool of blood, seeing Akira's severed skull, the melancholy, tear-beaded eyes blinking, Savage screamed and struggled upright.
But hands restrained him. A soothing voice reassured him. For a moment Savage wondered if he were back in the hotel in Philadelphia, where Akira had calmed him after Savage wakened screaming from his nightmare. Hope abruptly changed to fear, because Savage groggily realized that if he were still in Philadelphia, then the final disastrous confrontation with Shirai had not occurred. The present was the past, and the horror of the future had yet to be endured.
This terrifying murky thought made Savage want to scream once more. The gentle hands, the soothing voice, continued to reassure him. At once Savage recognized that the voice belonged to Rachel, that he sat weakly on a futon, that bandages encased his skull, that a cast weighed down his right arm, that tape bound his chest. He shuddered, recalling the hospital in Harrisburg, where he'd never been, the casts that had imprisoned his body, though his arms and legs had not been broken, the blond-haired doctor who'd never existed.
“You mustn't excite yourself,” Rachel said. “Don't move. Don't try to stand.” She eased him gently back onto the futon. “You have to rest.” She leaned down and kissed his beard-stubbled cheek. “You're safe. I promise I'll protect you. Try to stay quiet. Sleep.”
As the mist in Savage's mind began to clear, he realized the irony of the change in circumstance, Rachel protecting him. Though confused, he almost grinned. But his head felt as if a spike had been driven through it, and he closed his eyes in pain. “Where am I?”
“At Taro's,” Rachel said.
Surprised, Savage looked at her. He struggled to speak. “But how did…?”
“The two men who stayed with you when you followed Shirai brought you here.”
“I still don't… How…?”
“They say that you and Akira told them to wait at the bottom of the mountain while you went up to investigate.”
Savage nodded despite the pain in his head.
“Two hours later, they heard shots,” Rachel said. “Handguns. Automatic weapons. They claim it sounded like a war. Shortly after, two cars sped down the lane from the mountain and raced away.”
Savage inhaled, fighting to concentrate. “And then…?” His voice cracked.
“Save your strength. I'll do the talking. Are you thirsty? Would you like a-?”
“Yes,” he managed to say through parched, scabbed lips.
She set a glass of water beside his head and placed a bent straw between his lips. Weak, he sucked water over his dry swollen tongue. He had trouble swallowing but kept sucking the water.
She took the glass away. “You'll get sick if you drink too quickly.” She studied him, then continued. “The two men decided to investigate.”
Savage closed his eyes again.
“Are you sleepy? We can talk about this later.”
“No.” Savage breathed. “I want to… have to… know.”
“They assumed that the men in the cars had done the shooting, so because it would have taken them too long to go up the mountain on foot, Taro's students risked driving their motorcycles up the lane.”
With his good hand, Savage gestured weakly for her to keep going.
“Near the top, they hid their bikes and snuck through the forest,” Rachel said. “They found a huge building, or rather all kinds of different buildings weirdly joined together. It reminded me of the way you described the Medford Gap Mountain Retreat.” She hesitated. “There were bodies all over the lawn.”
The memory made Savage grimace.
“Then the cars came back, and the two men hid. The men from the cars went into the building. Taro's students waited, then followed cautiously. They found more bodies.”
“Yes,” Savage said. “So many.” His nostrils flared, retaining the coppery stench of the blood. “Everywhere.”
“They heard more shots. On an upper floor. They didn't know what they'd be facing. Only two men, they had to go up warily. By the time they reached the third floor, they found it littered with corpses.” Rachel bit her lip. “Akira had been beheaded. Shirai had been cut in half. And three men with wooden swords were about to crack your skull apart. Taro's students grabbed guns from the floor and shot the three men before they could kill you.”
Savage's concentration wavered. He fought to keep his mind from swirling, desperate to know the rest. “But you still haven't told me. How did I get here?”
“One of Taro's students drove his motorcycle to a nearby village where they'd hidden your car. He brought the car back, put you and Akira in it, and drove you to Taro's while the other student followed on his motorcycle. Taro ordered them to return to the mountain, to retrieve the remaining motorcycle, and to arrange the bodies so it seemed as if some of Shirai's men tried to kill him while others tried to defend him. According to the newspapers, the authorities believe the deception, though no one can explain what caused the rebellion.”
Savage's consciousness began to fade.
“Taro took care of you,” Rachel said, “cleaned your wounds, set your arm, did whatever he could. It would have been too risky, have attracted too much attention, to take you to a hospital. But if you hadn't wakened soon, I'd have insisted on taking you to a doctor.”
Savage grasped her hand. His mind dimmed, turning gray. “Don't leave me.”
He drifted, sank.
And reendured his nightmare, or rather both of them, one on top of the other.
The next time he wakened, he felt stronger, more alert, though his body still ached and his skull throbbed. Rachel sat beside him, holding his hand. “Thirsty?”
“Yes… And hungry.”
She beamed. “I have to leave you for a moment. There's someone who wants to say hello.”
As Rachel left, Savage expected that she'd bring in Taro. Instead, to his delight, he saw Eko come in, her aged face strained with grief for Churi, but her eyes aglow with the pleasure of serving, of bringing Savage a tray upon which, he soon discovered, were a cup of tea and a bowl of broth.
Rachel stood next to her. The women exchanged glances more meaningful than words. With a gesture, Rachel invited Eko to sit on the futon and spoon broth into Savage's mouth. Occasionally Rachel helped by giving Savage a sip of tea.
“So Taro's men finally rescued you,” Savage told Eko, the warmth of the broth and tea making him sigh. At once he remembered that Eko didn't speak English.
Rachel explained. “I don't understand what the problems were in accomplishing the rescue, but the night you followed Shirai to the mountain, Taro's students arrived with Eko.”
“Akira”-emotion prevented Savage from speaking for a moment-”would have been overjoyed, immensely grateful. At least one good thing came out of this… God, I miss him. I still can't believe he's… Does she know Akira's dead?”
“She helped prepare his body for the funeral rites.”
“I wish I knew how to tell her I'm sorry,” Savage said.
“She understands. And she feels sorry for you. For your grief.”
“Arigato.” Close to tears, Savage touched Eko's arm.
She bowed her head.
“Taro's students came back with someone else,” Rachel said.
“It's complicated. When you're strong enough, you can see for yourself.”
“I'm strong enough now.” With effort, he managed to sit.
“You're sure?” Rachel asked. “I'm worried about…”
“Now,” Savage said. “Help me to stand. Too many questions haven't been answered. If this is who I think it is… Please, Rachel, help me.”
It took both Rachel and Eko to raise him to his feet and steady him. Each woman supporting him, he shuffled toward the sliding panel.
Light hurt his eyes. He faced a room in which cushions surrounded a low cypress table. Taro sat, legs crossed, on one side. And on the other…
Savage glared at the well-dressed, fiftyish, sandy-haired man he knew as Philip Hailey.
But Hailey looked haggard, unshaven, his suit wrinkled, his tie tugged open, his shirt's top button undone.
Hailey's hands trembled worse than Savage's did, and his eyes no longer were coldly calculating.
“Ah,” Savage said and sank to a pillow. “Another closing of a circle. Who are you?”
“You know me as…”
“Philip Hailey. Yes. And you were in my nightmare at the nonexistent Medford Gap Mountain Retreat. And you chased me at the Meiji Shrine. And Kamichi-Shirai-told me you're my contact, that you and I work for the CIA. Answer my question! Who the hell are you?”
Savage's anger exhausted him. He wavered. Rachel steadied him.
“If you don't remember, for security reasons it's best that we don't use real names, Doyle.”
“Don't call me that, you bastard. Doyle might be my name, but I don't identify with it.”
“Okay, I'll call you Roger Forsyth, since that's your agency pseudonym.”
“No, damn it. You'll call me by my other pseudonym. The one I used when I worked with Graham. Say it.”
“Right. Because, believe me, that's how I feel. What happened to me? For Christ's sake, who did what to my mind?”
Hailey tugged at his collar. Hands trembling, he opened the second button on his shirt. “I don't have clearance to tell you.”
“Wrong. You've got the best clearance there is. My permission. Or else I'll break your fucking arms and legs and-” Savage reached for a knife on the table. “Or maybe I'll cut off your fingers and then-”
Hailey's face turned pale. He raised his arms pathetically. “Okay. All right. Jesus, Savage. Be cool. I know you've been through a lot. I know you're upset, but-”
“Upset? You son of a bitch, I want to kill you! Talk! Tell me everything! Don't stop!”
“It was all”-Hailey's chest heaved-”a miscalculation. See, it started with… Maybe you're not aware of… The military's been working on what they call bravery pills.”
“The problem is, no matter how well you program a soldier, he can't help being afraid during combat. I mean, it's natural. If someone shoots at you, the brain sends a crisis signal to your adrenal gland, and you get terrified. You tremble. You want to run. It's a biological instinct. Sure, maybe a SEAL like you, conditioned to the max, can control the reflex. But your basic soldier, he suffers a fight-or-flight response. And if he runs, well, the ball game's over. So the military figured, maybe there's a chemical. If a soldier takes a pill before an anticipated battle, the chemical cancels the crisis signal that triggers adrenaline. The soldier feels no emotion, just his conditioning, and he fights. By God, he fights.
“The thing is,” Hailey said, “when they tested the drug, it worked fine. During a crisis. But afterward? The soldier's memory, the stress of what he'd been through, caught up to him. He fell apart. He suffered posttrauma stress disorder. Eventually he was useless. Haunted.”
“Yes,” Savage said. “Haunted. I'm an expert in that, in being haunted.” He aimed the knife toward Hailey's arm.
“I told you, Savage. Be cool. I'm telling you what you want to know.”
“Then do it!”
“So the military decided that the bravery pill worked fine. Memory was the problem. Then they got to thinking about posttrauma stress disorder, and they figured they could solve two problems at once. Relieve the agony of vets from Vietnam who couldn't stand remembering what they'd been through. And at the same time, guarantee that the bravery pill would work if something else removed the memory of the horrors that the bravery pill had forced them to think was normal.”
“Psychosurgery.” Savage's voice dropped.
“Yes,” Hailey said. “Exactly. So the military experimented on removing traumatic memories. It turned out to be easier than they expected. The techniques existed. Neurosurgeons, treating epileptics, sometimes insert electrodes into the brain, stimulate this and that section, and manage to find the neurons that cause the epilepsy. The surgeons then cauterize the neurons, and the epileptics are cured. But they have memory loss. A trade-off for the patient's benefit. What the military decided was to experiment with the same technique to remove the memories of combat that gave soldiers posttrauma stress disorder. A brilliant concept.”
“Sure,” Savage said, tempted to plunge the knife into Hailey's heart.
“But somebody realized that the soldiers had a gap in their minds, a vacuum in their memories. They'd always be confused by the sense that something important had happened to them that they couldn't remember. That confusion would impair their ability to fight again. So why not… as long as the surgeons are in there… find a way to insert a memory, a false one, something peaceful, calming. Drugs combined with films and electrode stimulation did the trick.”
“Yeah,” Savage said. “What a trick.”
“Then somebody else thought, what if the memory we insert isn't just peaceful but motivates the patient to do what we want, to program him into doing…?”
“I get the idea,” Savage said, stroking the knife against Hailey's arm. “Now talk about me. Where do I come in?”
“ Japan.” Hailey fidgeted, staring at the knife. “They screwed us at Pearl Harbor. But we beat them. We stomped them. We nuked them. Twice. And then we spent seven years teaching them not to screw with us again. But they are! Not militarily. Financially! They're buying our country. They dump their merchandise onto our markets. They own our Treasury bills. They control our trade deficit. They're responsible for our national debt.”
Taro's wizened face turned red with fury. He glared, unforgivably insulted.
“Just get to the point,” Savage said.
“A group of us in the agency, not the agency itself,” Hailey said. “It's too damned cautious. But a group of us decided to correct the situation. We knew about Shirai. For quite a while, he's been trying to undermine the status quo in Japan. Last year's influence-buying scandal, the Recruit corporation giving top politicians bribes in the form of undervalued stocks that would soon be worth a fortune… Shirai was behind that. Through intermediaries, he controlled Recruit. And through the newspapers he owned, he leaked the information. Politicians fell. Party leaders. Former party leaders. One prime minister and then another. The system verged on collapse. And Shirai intended to step in, to use his wealth and power to take control. But he needed an incident, a symbolic, catalyzing sensation, so outrageous that it would attract sufficient followers to unite the nation and achieve his goals. Inward, though, not outward. A rejection of the world. Japan for itself. And my group within the agency loved it.”
“So you decided”-Savage clutched the knife-”that you'd help him.”
“Why not? Shirai's goals coincided with ours. If Japan turned inward, if the country established a cultural quarantine and refused to deal with outsiders, America wouldn't be smothered with Japanese merchandise. We'd have a chance to correct our trade deficit. We'd reduce, hell, maybe eliminate, our national debt. We'd balance our budget. Jesus, man, the possibilities!”
“You were prepared to help a…? Surely you realized that Shirai was crazy.”
Hailey shrugged. “Everything's relative. We preferred to think of him as idealistic.”
“The agency's been watching Shirai for quite a while,” Hailey said. “One of his lieutenants was on our payroll. He kept us up-to-date on what Shirai was doing, and we sent information through the lieutenant-scandals involving bureaucrats and politicians-that helped Shirai continue disrupting the Japanese establishment. Shirai knew nothing about our help, of course. And then we waited to see if our investment would pay off.”
“That still has nothing to do with me.”
“Well, yes,” Hailey said and wiped sweat off his cheek, “I'm afraid it does. I didn't find out till recently, but some of the men in our group formed their own group. We're conservatives, proud of it. But these other guys…” He swallowed nervously. “They're the kind that thinks Oliver North's the best thing since microwave popcorn, and they had what North would have called a ‘neat’ idea. They figured, why not go all the way? Why not give Shirai a chance to stage an incident that would be so sensational he'd gain all the support he needed? What if it seemed that America felt so threatened by Shirai's anti-American attitude that we sent an assassin to shut him up? A CIA operative. The attempt would fail. The operative would be killed. Shirai would reveal the assassin's link with the agency, and Japan would be incensed. If tens of thousands of Japanese demonstrated because we lost a nuclear weapon eighty miles off their coast, how many hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, would demonstrate against an assassination attempt engineered by America?”
“But that's… Those guys are as nuts as Shirai was. What in hell made them think it would help America if Japan turned against us?”
“Don't you see? If Japan rejected us, if relations between our countries were severed, Japanese imports would stop. We'd have won the economic war,” Hailey said.
“Yeah, and suppose Japan then sided with the Chinese or the Soviets.”
“No. It wouldn't happen that way. Because Japan doesn't get along with the Chinese and the Soviets. The Japanese-Chinese feud goes back hundreds of years. And the Japanese are angry that the Soviets won't give up a string of northern islands that used to belong to Japan until after the Second World War. Shirai would turn anti-American sentiment into universal anti-foreign sentiment, and we'd be back in business.”
Savage shook his head. “Absolute madness.”
“The splinter group in the agency arranged for Shirai's lieutenant to promote the idea, and Shirai loved it. Mind you, Shirai still didn't know that Americans were suggesting it or that the nutso group in the agency believed that America would gain a lot more than Shirai would. Now,” Hailey said, “this is where you come in. Illegal or not, it's one thing to tell an operative to assassinate someone. It's quite another to order him to go on a suicide mission. No one would do it. What the splinter group needed was an operative who wouldn't know what he faced and, better yet, wouldn't even know he worked for the agency so he wouldn't have second thoughts, contact his control, and back out.”
“And you were-are-my control.”
Hailey sweated more profusely. “We recruited you when you were in the SEALs. In nineteen eighty-three, you pretended to be outraged by America 's invasion of Grenada. Politically motivated, pointless and needless, you said. Fellow SEALs died so a movie-star president could bolster his image, you said. You got drunk. You made speeches in bars. You fought with your best friend.”
“Yes,” Hailey said. “He was part of the plan. Sworn to secrecy. The two of you trashed a bar. Mac swore in public if he ever saw you again he'd kill you. You left the SEALs and became an executive protector.”
“Trained by Graham.”
“He was also part of the plan. With your cover established, an American who hated his government's policies, no one would suspect that you actually worked for the agency and that every powerful client you protected was actually a target, a means of obtaining information. A protector, pledged to be loyal, has access to a lot of dirty secrets. The information you gave us helped us put pressure on a lot of important people.”
Sickened, Savage turned to Rachel. “You suggested that as a possibility. Remember? After Mac was killed? But I didn't want to believe it.” He glanced back at Hailey. “So for all these years I've been”-bile stung his throat-”a blackmailer.”
“Hey, it's not that bad, Savage. Don't be hard on yourself. You saved a lot of lives. You're a talented protector.”
“That doesn't change the fact that I pledged allegiance to my clients and then betrayed them,” Savage growled.
“Not all of them. Most were legitimate assignments, to maintain your cover… But some clients… Yes, you betrayed them. You've got to believe me, Savage. They deserved to be betrayed.”
Savage stared at the glinting knife in his hand. He almost slammed its point through the table. “And you were my contact. That's how the splinter group learned about me.”
“Your background was perfect. A man with superior military skills and with protection abilities that enabled you to understand and bypass security systems. An operative in deep cover who wouldn't be missed by the agency if you dropped out of sight for a while. And one other item, a crucial detail about your past.”
“Now here's where we pause for a moment, Savage.”
“Tell me! What detail?”
“No, first it's deal time,” Hailey said. “I'm not telling you all this for fun. The guys who brought me here would just as soon kill me as let me go. I'm walking a narrow line. My price for telling you that crucial detail about your past is my freedom. You're so concerned about honor. Okay, I want your word, I want you to swear that if I tell you, I walk out of here. And this is your incentive-the information's about your father.”
Savage clutched the knife so hard his knuckles whitened.
“What about my father?”
“You won't like it, Savage.”
“He shot himself! If that's your filthy secret, I already know it!”
“Yes, he shot himself,” Hailey said. “The question is why.”
“My father helped organize the Bay of Pigs invasion. When it failed, the government needed a fall-guy. My father, God bless him… Incredibly loyal, he agreed. So he took the heat and resigned. But humiliation ate his soul. The agency meant everything to him. Away from it, he had no purpose. He started drinking. The booze intensified his emptiness. He blew his brains out.”
“Yes and no.”
“What are you talking about?”
“A deal,” Hailey said. “I want to walk out of here. And what I'm selling is the truth about your father's suicide.”
“The truth? My father's dead! What other truth can there be?”
“Plenty. Let me walk out of here, and you'll find out.”
“Maybe I don't want to know. Maybe if I killed you right now…”
Hailey shook his head. “You'd regret it forever. You'd always want to know the secret. And I'll be honest with you. The truth will tear you apart. But that's why you'll want to know.”
Savage glared. “You…” In horror, he remembered the night he'd found his father's body, a towel placed beneath his father's head to minimize the spatter of blood and brains. “You have my word.”
“Not just yours. I want this man's word.” Hailey pointed toward Taro. “He has no obligation to me. And after all, I'm a gaijin. I doubt he'd feel remorse or bound by your word if he killed me.”
Savage slowly turned, directing his gaze toward the bald, wrinkled, stern-eyed Japanese. “Taro-sensei…” Struggling to choose the proper words, Savage bowed. “Taro-sensei, I ask a formal favor of you. Akira explained the significance of such a request. I'm willing to put myself in eternal debt to you. I accept the obligation of giri. I ask you… with respect, I beg you… to spare this man's life if he tells me what I need to know.”
Taro squinted, assessing.
“I ask you this,” Savage said, “in devotion to Akira's memory.”
Taro squinted harder, staring from Savage to Hailey, then back again.
“For Akira?” the old man asked. “Hai.” He bowed in grief.
“All right, Hailey, it's a deal. You have our word,” Savage said.
Hailey debated. “I've worked for the agency too long. I'm not used to acts of faith.”
“Okay, I'll trust you. Your father committed suicide. Yes. But not for the reasons you think. It had nothing to do with the Bay of Pigs.”
“Your father, Savage, was in charge of the agency's attempts to assassinate Castro. He kept trying and trying. And every plan failed. But Castro found out what the agency was doing. He warned the United States to leave him alone. But your father, under orders, kept trying. So Castro decided enough was enough and arranged for President Kennedy to be shot in Dallas. Your father killed himself because of grief, because he was responsible for Kennedy's death.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Savage's strength failed. He slumped, falling backward. Rachel supported him.
“I told you you wouldn't like it,” Hailey said. “But that's the truth, and I expect you to fulfill your bargain.”
“I promised.” Savage could barely speak. “You'll walk out of here.”
“And that's the piece of your background that made you an ideal candidate for the assassin who'd fail to kill Shirai. Like father, like son. Shirai could not only implicate the United States in an attempt against him, but he could link that attempt all the way back to the Kennedy assassination and the U.S. attempts against Castro. Shirai would dredge up garbage from the past and convince his nation to call us a pack of killers. Oh, you were perfect, Savage, and all that needed to be done was erase crucial portions of your memory, so you didn't know you were CIA, and then implant a hideous nightmare that compelled you to track down Shirai.”
“What about Akira?” Savage exhaled with grief. “How did he fit in?”
“Shirai needed to compromise the Japanese establishment as much as he did America. So why not use a Japanese Intelligence operative who also had executive protection as a cover? If the two of you thought each other had died, and if you both discovered you were still alive, you'd each want to know what caused your nightmare. Certain choices were predictable-that you'd go to the Medford Gap Retreat and discover it didn't exist, that you'd go to the Harrisburg hospital and discover you'd never been there. Et cetera. Et cetera. But as soon as Shirai made his move and it was publicized, on television, in the newspapers, you'd recognize the principal you saw cut in half, and you'd run to him to find out what he knew about your nightmare.”
“But some things weren't predictable,” Savage said. “My decision to go to Virginia, to talk to Mac.”
“Exactly. After you were conditioned… it happened in Japan, by the way, at Shirai's estate… before the casts were put on your arms and legs, a location transmitter was inserted in a cap that was put on one of your teeth. That site was chosen because you and Akira, like many people, already had a dental cap. On an X ray, the replaced caps wouldn't attract attention. And because of those location transmitters, Shirai's men knew about-could follow you-everywhere. In case they had to nudge you in the right direction.
“But seeing Mac in Virginia was not the right direction.”
“Yes,” Hailey said. “Shirai's men feared Mac would tell you too much and erase your conditioning. They had to kill him.”
“And try to grab Rachel because she was the reason Akira and I came together but after that she didn't belong in the plan.”
“Unfortunately that's true.”
“What about the man and woman I thought were my parents?”
“The ones in Baltimore?” Hailey asked. “Window dressing. Further confusion. Shirai's intention, with prodding from the splinter group in the agency who used Shirai's lieutenant, was to so confuse you that when you saw Shirai on television or in the newspaper, you'd race to get in touch with him. Of course, the alternate plan would have been to abduct Akira and you, drug you, take you to Shirai's estate, and kill you while Shirai's men sacrificed their lives for their leader's ambitions. Mind you, that plan has the merit of simplicity.” Hailey shrugged. “But it wouldn't have been convincing- because you and Akira had to leave a trail. In Greece. In southern France. In America. Most of all, in Japan. You had to leave evidence-the stamps on fake passports you carried, not to mention the conversations you had with taxi drivers, hotel clerks, and immigration officials-that showed your determination to get to Shirai.”
“And Graham's death?” Savage trembled.
“The agency had nothing to do with that. After Graham arranged for both you and Akira to be on Papadropolis's estate, Shirai's men decided he was a liability. They killed him, attempting to make it appear a suicide.”
“But Graham knew what he was doing when he sent Akira and me to Mykonos. His ultimate loyalty was to the agency. Not to us.”
“Savage, you ask too many questions. Don't dig too deep. He was your friend. Yes. But he was also a professional. He obeyed his masters. Why else would he have traveled back and forth from Maryland to Massachusetts to nurse you and Akira back to health? He loved you, Savage. And he loved Akira. But he loved his profession-not protection, but espionage-more.”
Nauseous, Savage leaned back against Rachel, welcoming her warmth. “You're right. I ask too many questions.” Despite his multiple painful injuries, he managed to straighten. “But I do have one more question.”
“Ask it. You're entitled. We made a bargain. But after that, I'm out of here.”
“Okay,” Savage said. He struggled to stand. Rachel-ever dependable Rachel-helped him. Wavering upright, with Rachel's arms around him. Savage glowered down at Hailey. “Okay, here's my question. At the Meiji Shrine, did you try to stop me or urge me forward?”
“Hell, man, I wanted to stop you. The plan was out of control.”
“And the van, was it yours?”
“You said just one question.”
“Damn it, answer me!”
“Yes, it was ours.”
“Who shot the driver?”
“Shirai's men. The transmitter in the cap on your tooth. They were able to follow you. And they didn't want us stopping you!”
“And what about…?”
“That's two more questions,” Hailey said. “Don't tell me you're breaking your bargain.”
“I'm almost finished.” Savage's knees sank. Rachel held him up. “What about…? Who invaded Akira's home and tried to kill us? Who ordered…?”
“Man, your guess is as good as mine.”
“No,” Savage said. “My guess is better. You did. You ordered the assassins to take us out! Because the plan was out of control! Because you'd discovered what the assholes in that splinter group were up to! And you felt it had to be stopped! So you made the choice to have us terminated! And when that didn't work, you followed us to the Meiji Shrine to try to kill us there! You're my enemy, the same as those jerks! The difference is, apparently I once trusted you! Apparently you were my friend!”
“Hey, Savage, business and friendship… as much as I'd like it… sometimes…”
Fury canceled weakness. Anger canceled pain. With every force he could muster, Savage used his good arm-and it felt so wonderful!-to punch Hailey squarely in the face.
Teeth snapped. Hailey's nose crunched. Blood flew.
Hailey lurched backward, groaning, sprawling.
“I ought to…” Savage grabbed him, jerking him upward. “Kill you.”
“Giri,” Hailey muttered through swollen lips and broken teeth. “You gave your…”
“Word,” Taro said and stood. “So did I. A formal favor. An eternal obligation.” Taro restrained the knife in Savage's hand. “Obey it. Or you're worthless. You have no honor.”
Trembling, seething, sobbing, Savage gradually lowered the knife. “Something has to mean something. Get out of here! Now!” he told Hailey. “Before I change my mind. Because of you my friend is dead, you…!”
Hailey ran, clutching his broken face, yanking a panel open, disappearing, his footsteps dwindling.
“You did the proper thing,” Taro said.
“Then why do I feel like hell?”
“Because he might come after you.”
“Let him,” Savage said. “I'm better.”
“For a gaijin, you're a noble man.”
“But are you?” Savage spun. “Our business isn't finished. I refuse to believe that you weren't aware…”
“That Akira belonged to Japanese Intelligence?” The old man nodded. “That's correct.”
“And you knew what Shirai was trying to do! You knew that Akira and I were supposed to die!”
“Giri,” Savage said. “Thank God for giri. For the solemn promise I made you. If you allowed that bastard to leave, I swore I'd be eternally in your debt. Otherwise…”
“You'd try to kill me?” Taro chuckled.
“Yes.” Fueled by ultimate rage, Savage overcame his weakness, pressed a paralyzing nerve in Taro's neck, and tickled the point of his knife against Taro's jugular vein. ‘ ‘Your problem is you’ re arrogant. Even a gaijin can be…
“A worthy opponent. Savage-san, you have my respect.”
“And your word that there'll be no recriminations? Giri?”
“Yes.” Taro's face became more wizened. “Giri. Friendship. Loyalty. Obligation. What else is there to believe in?”
“Love.” Savage lowered the knife. “What did you do with Akira's body?”
“It was cremated. The urn with his ashes is in my room. But Japanese Intelligence can't know about his death. The investigation would be disastrous. To us all.”
“May I have them?” Savage asked.
“Yes. If his interment must be a secret, Eko and I know what to do with them.”
Taro studied him.
Before Akira had brought Savage and Rachel to Japan, as he'd explained the complexities of his divinely born nation, he'd referred to a summer ritual known as the Feast of Lanterns and otherwise called the Festival for the Dead. During three days, involving incense, prayers, and funereal meals, traditional Japanese obeyed the Shinto custom of revering- one might almost say worshiping-the dead.
Savage complied, though this was autumn, not summer. But he didn't think Akira would mind. After three days of scrupulous devotion, he and Rachel embraced each other in the garden at the rear of Akira's home.
Night surrounded them.
But a glow reflected off their faces.
For Savage had placed a lantern on the garden's pool. Throughout the afternoon, he'd drained water from the pool, removing the assassin's blood that tainted it. He'd refilled the pool and drained it.
And refilled it again.
And drained it again.
And cleaned it again, determined to purify it, to exorcise its desecration.
At last he'd been satisfied that the ritual would not be corrupted. He lit a match and set fire to the lantern's paper.
“God, I miss him,” Savage said. The flames reflected off his face.
“Yes,” Rachel said. “So do I.”
“His eyes were so sad.”
“Because he belonged in another time.”
“Commodore Perry's ‘black ships,’ “Savage said. “Akira was a samurai. He belonged in a time before samurais were outlawed. Before America corrupted Akira's nation. You know”-he turned to Rachel and kissed her-”before he died, he called me…”
Savage choked on emotion. He gagged on his tears.
“He called me… oh, Jesus…”
Rachel held him. “Tell me.”
“And he was your friend,” Rachel said.
“But do you understand the effort, the sacrifice, it took him to say that? All his life, he'd hated Americans. Because of Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Yokohama Bay. Perry's ‘black ships.’ Akira belonged in another century. When Japan was pure.”
“It's always been pure,” Rachel said. “And it always will be. Because if Akira… if he's typical… this nation is great. Because it understands honor.”
“But he's dead.”
“Because of honor.”
Savage kissed her, the flames of the lantern blazing higher.
“What I wonder…”
“ America. Our Civil War. We made a myth of the South before the war. The magnificent mansions. The dignity of the lifestyle.”
“Except for the slaves,” Rachel said.
“That's what I mean,” Savage said. “Myth. Sometimes, for some people, myth hides ugliness and becomes its own reality.”
“Like memory. But memory's a lie. Above all, Jesus, that's what I've learned. Now is what matters.”
The lantern flamed brighter. “Not love? Not the future?” Rachel asked.
“Don't I hope.”
“But not the past?”
“Akira would have hated the past,” Savage said. “The Tokugawa Shogunate. From everything I've learned, it was fascist. An oppressive system of control, shogun to daimyo to samurai to… Akira would have desperately craved the present.”
“And what do you crave?” Rachel asked.
The lantern flared to its brightest. Sadly its flames diminished.
“In Greece, after we rescued you,” Savage said, “I asked Akira if we could be friends… But he refused.”
“Because of his background. He was conditioned. And you were…”
“But you love him,” Rachel said.
“Should I be jealous?”
“No,” Savage said. “Our love was different.”
“Can I be a substitute?”
“No.” Savage straightened. “You're unique. I'll always worship you.”
“I know what you want to say.”
“Don't presume.” Rachel frowned.
“ ‘Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd.’ ”
Now Rachel smiled. “You did know.”
“So what are we going to do?” Savage asked. “Hailey didn't admit it, but your husband was a part of this.”
“What?” Rachel paled.
“Yes,” Savage said. “Akira and I. Both sent to Mykonos. Both sent to meet each other during your rescue. Japan for Japan. That's fine. But Japan needs oil. And that means ships. And I think your husband made a deal to guarantee those ships. That's why Akira and I were sent to Mykonos. Because your husband's estate was convenient, since he was involved in the conspiracy.”
“So he beat me and raped me for political reasons?”
“From everything I learned, I think he did it…”
“Oh,” Rachel said. She clutched him.
“Because he liked it. A bonus in the midst of business.”
“I think…,” Savage said.
“I might have to kill him. Otherwise,” Savage said, “he'll keep chasing us.”
Rachel shook her head in fury.
“What?” Savage asked.
“No more killing. Too much! Too damned much!”
“He's a very proud man.”
“So are we proud,” Rachel said.
“Then what's the answer?”
“You mentioned a beach near Cancun.”
“Where I'd like…”
“To make love to me?”
“In fact I'd like to do that right now.”
“In spite of your grief?” she asked.
“Because of it. In memory of… in celebration of… life. That's all we have. Not the past, not the future. My past, I discovered, was a lie. But I prefer the lie to the truth. And the future…?”
“And that's absurd.”
“And don't I love it.”
“And don't I love you,” Savage said.
The lantern's flare sank, extinguished by water.
“I'll remember you, Akira, your kami in the wind and the rain,” Savage said.
They turned and saw Eko, who bowed.
Savage and Rachel bowed as well.
And turned toward the carefully raked and groomed sand of the Zen Buddhist garden, which Akira's father had spent years arranging, and which Akira had persisting in attempting to perfect after his father's death.
Neither man had achieved his obsession.
But as Savage scanned the meticulous design that he'd labored to recreate after the assassins had despoiled it, he grinned with melancholy, sensing that his eyes were as sad as Akira's.
For Akira's ashes had been scattered.
And raked among the sand.
One with nature.
“I know… I'm sure,” Savage said, “he's at peace.”
“And what about us?” Rachel asked.
“Will you marry me?”
“Jesus, Savage, I'm already married, and the bastard's chasing me.”
“Trust me. We don't need a legal ceremony. Just a private one. You and me.”
“Damned right.” He kissed her. “I promise to love, to honor and cherish you.”
“And a final promise.” He kissed her again.