The silver Lexus turned left at the light, then glided a few blocks down Waine‘e Street and slowed. It bumped into a pitted lot behind a small frame building. Though the bar looked closed and forlorn from the rear, a handful of dilapidated cars were parked on the worn gravel. A black Mercedes S600, isolated in the far corner, stood out like a tank at a peace demonstration.
The young man at the wheel of the Lexus gulped, and his eyes flicked to his father. Ichiru Tagama kept his gaze straight ahead, but a muscle twitched along his jaw.
Ryan Tagama parked the Lexus on the other side of the lot from the Mercedes. “I thought we were early.”
The older Tagama grunted. Both men got out of the car, Ryan locked it with the remote, and adjusted the hang of his linen jacket. Tagama’s broad face glistened and the tic in his jaw muscle pulsed.
Inside, father and son paused to let their eyes adapt to the dimly lit room, where a handful of male customers sat at small tables. Though Ryan watched to see if anyone noticed their entry, the customers’ reddened eyes followed only the attractive, heavily made-up hostesses. Ryan watched to see if anyone noticed their entry, but the men only had eyes for the women.
There were more women than men, in assorted stages of dress. One wore a Chanel suit with a silk peony pinned to the lapel. Nearby, a very young woman wore a sheer pareau over a thong bikini in a vivid tropical print. She was less than five feet tall, with a couple of water balloons barely restrained by two tiny triangles, on her chest. Still another wore a short pleated plaid skirt, knee socks, and high heeled pumps. No one but the women smiled, and only when they faced a customer to set his drink on the table with a little curtsy or bow.
Chanel’s perfect coiffure swiveled to the men coming through the door, and her mouth turned up in a smile that reached her smoky almond eyes a second or two after her red lips parted. “Tagama-san,” she said in a husky voice. “Welcome.”
“Yasuko, flower of Asia,” Tagama said in his accented English.
“It’s so good to see you again.” Her sultry, warm gaze turned to Ryan. “And this is your handsome son.”
“Yasuko, this is Ryan.”
She gave a little bow, which Ryan returned. He bent deeper than she had.
“Come with me.” She turned to lead them through a curtain of plastic beads and a blast of cold air from an overhead vent.
Ryan ducked his head and smoothed his hair. Tagama walked through the refrigerated air and the beads with the dignity of an old soldier. They entered a simple room that was unfurnished except for a table, two chairs, and a cluster of pachinko machines in the corner.
A tanned, beefy man dwarfed the table where he sat alone. Sunglasses hid his eyes. Two younger, brawny men, also wearing dark glasses, stood behind their boss.
The seated man wore an expensive Italian suit with a slight sheen, as if silk were mixed with the fine wool. He rolled his broad shoulders and nodded to his guests.
“Welcome, Tagama.” The dark glasses flickered at the woman. “Thank you, Yasuko.”
She backed from the room. Tagama bowed deeply. “Obake-san,” Tagama said. “This is my son, Ryan.”
Ryan took his cue and bowed. The man lowered his oversized head a fraction of an inch. His big hands spread flat on the table, three and a half fingers on each hand. The ends of both pinkies were missing.
“Thank you for coming.” Obake pointed at the other chair.
His dark lenses reflected a distortion of Tagama. Tagama sat. “How is your health, Obake-san?”
“Good, thank you. The ocean keeps me fit. I swim a mile each morning, and again before the sun sets.”
Ryan took a place behind his father in the manner of Obake’s bodyguards. The elder Tagama spoke to his son. “Obake-san is a skilled swimmer and diver.”
Ryan bowed again. “We would be honored to take you on a tour.”
Obake didn’t answer the young man, and with his eyes on the elder Tagama, waved his guards away. Tagama did not ask Ryan to leave and after a brief pause, Obake acted as if he and the older Tagama were the only people in the room.
Ryan watched the muscles around his father’s eyes tighten, a reaction he doubted anyone else would notice. As a boy, it was a trait for which he’d learned to be on the lookout.
During the drive over, his father had shared information about this meeting. The few moments of candor were unusual, and Ryan was both flattered and unsettled by it. First, Tagama had told him that Obake would use an interpreter. Second, he’d revealed that Obake, who was a Japanese national, came to the U.S. several times a year, but supervised his financial empire from his home in Tokyo, and used an intermediary to carry out his negotiations. Tagama had been his agent on a few occasions, but he hadn’t been a member of Obake’s stable for several years.
Though Tagama never bragged, something in his voice told Ryan this hadn’t been Obake’s decision. Tagama did share that he was never certain about Obake’s long term word, and he always made it his business to know what the Yakuza chief was up to in the islands. Secrets were more precious than diamonds when one dealt with Obake.
Ryan, chastened by Obake’s snub, studied the face of the swarthy foreigner.
“We have a problem.” Obake addressed Tagama in heavily accented English.
“I heard Tom Peters died in the explosion,” said Tagama.
“I was the target.” Obake took a long pull on his Marlboro.
Tagama squinted at the smoke. “No one knows you’re here.”
“Peters has enemies. I can think of several people who would like him to disappear.”
“No.” Obake slapped the surface of the table and the ashtray jumped. Tagama sat like a boulder, though Ryan twitched.
“They want me.”
Ryan saw his father blink at this news, though he didn’t speak. “I only survive because I leave meeting early.” Obake paused a moment, as if making a decision. “I get a warning.” “When?” Tagama asked.
“This morning, in Japan. Noboru sent a text message.”
Tagama raised an eyebrow. Noboru was Obake’s personal secretary, a man whose extensive tattoos proclaimed his loyalty to Obake and the businessman’s clan.
Tagama took a deep breath and looked down at his folded hands. “May I ask what the message said?”
“It said, ‘ikimasu.’”
“‘I’m coming?’ One person?”
Obake nodded. “Not a native speaker, but it is someone who knows my business. He knew to contact Noboru, after all.”
Tagama sat quietly for several seconds. “I will need a list of your business contacts.”
“This is not a time to be devious. You know them.” Obake removed his dark glasses and stared at Tagama, his murky brown eyes stones in the tanned mask of his face. “Find the leak, Tagama.” Fine da reek, Tagama.
Neither the older Tagama nor Ryan found the butchered words amusing.