EXTRACTS FROM THE JODAN JU Prologue, Ch 1, Ch 19, Ch 20
Lashio Railhead, Eastern Burma, February 1945
‘See ya, mate. For a sheep shagger you aren’t too bad.’
The lanky Kiwi flashed back a quick, understanding grin. The Aussie’s grudging compliment was about as high as praise ever got between the two nationalities. Even after the past three years of unbelievable hell.
‘You too, Jim…for a descendant of a convict whore.’
Where they drew the reserves from only God could know. For both men, and the other two in line beside them, were only piteous creatures resembling men. Hollow cheeked, emaciated, festering with open sores and livid from the incessant beatings.
They were on their knees, hands bound behind them, heads bowed. Waiting.
‘Here the bastard comes,’ the third in line, the Pom, muttered through sun-drenched, bloated lips. Dozens of flies, heartened by their host’s immobility, had settled hungrily on the oozing ulcers on his neck. Flies hardly even registered any more. Without moving his head – to avoid invoking furious reaction from the five guards in front of them – Jim Murphy eyed down the pathetic assembly in the direction he knew Mitani would come. Their fourth in this fatalistic group, a Burmese native, was calmly and softly incanting some ancient appeasement with his gods.
Christ. I wish I had at least that, he thought.
But no, Jim had no truck with religion. His grandfather had left Ireland to get away from it. His no doubt countless, long-forgotten relatives there were probably still fighting over it – on both sides. Do unto others as… that was Jim’s only credo. And now this incarnation of the Devil was about to do unto them whatever he fucking wanted without any threat of retribution.
Murphy’s eyes scanned the now near-deserted camp, his second jungle prison since his unit was captured in Singapore nearly three years ago. Some of the Nips hadn’t been all bad he recalled. The first camp, under that Colonel Ojiwa, had been relatively okay. Food had still been short but with the locals helping out and all the other tricks they survived reasonably. And Ojiwa knew how to maintain the fine line between strength and starvation that extracted the work required of them. Ojiwa’s side was winning then.
But now they weren’t…and this Mitani bastard was something else.
From the cowered viewpoint, Murphy saw the urgent stride of the Captain’s boots come to a position some ten feet in front of the pitiful line-up. It was a swaggering gait, assured, self-important and today steeped with a sense of urgency. With his eyeballs at maximum elevation, Jim could only see up to the short man’s thighs. The boots faced away – Mitani would address his own men first.
Three years had given Jim, like most of the prisoners, a smattering of understanding of the language. Mostly short barked commands, for obedience, activity, punishment. On rare occasions he had learnt other words from an exchange here or there with a guard, usually one young and frightened like himself – homesick and still part of humanity.
What Mitani had to say today would have nothing to do with human beings.
With an understanding of perhaps two out of every five words and interpolating the gaps, Jim listened with resignation to the harangue. First, the extolling of the warrior’s duty to the Emperor, the virtues of death in combat, the divine elevation of those who follow the code of bushido. On and on – he’d heard most of it before but never so believing and strident.
Ten minutes passed, with Mitani not once shifting his wide leg stance; only his unseen arms flailed as he stressed further salient points in his exhortation to his men’s honour.
Jeez, it’s hot! The thought passed through that Jim should maybe just drop to the ground and let the bastards do him in right now. It would save listening to all this shit. The end result would be the same anyhow. But with each temptation he found that an inner surge would come, willing him not to go down before this pig.
If they’re gonna chop my head off I won’t be lying down…fuck them…fuck them…FUCK THEM!
The tone of the lecture shifted. Mitani was getting down to reality – the now of the situation. Phase two of his carefully structured diatribe. Yes, their forces had headed north-east; a temporary setback before regrouping to wipe out the white and yellow devils. Yes, this small group had been left to clean out this camp. They were honoured men.
Clean out this camp. Holy shit…the main body of Japs had departed yesterday morning with all the able-bodied prisoners – if you can call half-dead able. This little lot remained to clean up alright. All the really sick and disabled and the comfort women left behind had been shot or bayoneted and buried alive in the haste to cover up. And you fucking volunteered, Mitani – you arsehole!
Mitani moved suddenly, striding forward to confront the far left soldier of his remnants before him. A rapid exchange followed; the speech too fast and overlapped for Murphy to follow.
Next soldier. Same questions, same answer. ‘Hai!‘
Number three must have faltered or had been too hesitant in his reply. Mitani spat off two more deeply searching probes. There was momentary silence; broken by the unmistakable slithering hiss of the katana being swiftly drawn and air being sliced.
Followed in the same second by the sounds that ancient steel makes as it cleaves flesh, blood vessel and sinew and ultimately dense bone. The unfortunate’s head, eyes wide open in frozen horror, rolled twice over in the fine compound dust even before his body collapsed in the opposite direction.
Soldiers four and five would follow the Way; true-hearted knights of Bushido.
Now came phase three.
Jim had expected the sword but it became apparent that he and his comrades were not deemed worthy of that. They had been captured or surrendered yet had not killed themselves, rendering them lower than could be imagined in their captor’s eyes. It was to be the bayonet. The British and Indian forces were advancing from the south-east and the Chinese from the north. Rifle shots could not be risked nor bullets spared.
Oh Jesus! Jim looked sideways at his three hapless companions. Moving and looking up didn’t matter now as the four committed soldiers advanced upon them.
The Burmese was first to go, lips still forming obscure, unheard words as the polished blade plunged into his chest centre. Only after it was hastily withdrawn with a twist did the bubbly red froth begin to seep from his mouth and the deeper crimson life force gush from the gaping hole to pool on the dirt where he fell.
Mitani had obviously instructed his men to proceed one, two, three, four; each a few seconds apart in order that his victims could contemplate the death of the man alongside a little before his own demise. A nice touch, designed to show them the error of their Western thought process.
‘God Save the King and I love you, Meg,’ whispered the Englishman just before the second soldier followed the lead of the first.
Up you, Mitani and Fuck you, Tojo came almost simultaneously and loud from the two last – the Australasians – as the flashing spears thrust into their tissue-thin bodies with nil resistance.
Whether it was their concerted curses that upset the intended timing and precision of the strike, or something else Jim Murphy saw in the face of his allotted executioner, he would never know. He felt a warm glow, ethereal…these bastards couldn’t kill him. The thrust hurt and at the same time felt quite pleasurable; almost a release from the torment. Certainly no worse than some of the pain he had already endured. His man, number one soldier, looked down on him as he placed his foot on Jim’s chest for leverage in extracting the blade. There was no twist; in fact the withdrawing seemed as careful as its initial placement.
When their eyes met, Jim knew that this had been the man’s last act of absolution before his own more certain finality. Bushido. Despite Mitani, Jim sensed that the soldier, maybe only ten years older than himself, had determined his own time and place with his maker and what sins he would be called to account for.
It took less than a minute for the astute ants to locate their afternoon’s harvest. They traversed urgently all over him as he lay there unmoving, one half of his face impressed in the sandy dirt. Never twitching, Jim endured their travel up his nose and everywhere else they cared to search for nutrient. As the blood from his wound began to congeal, it became their epicentre of activity.
Yet through this he kept his one available eye open, like a rolling camera, fixed vacantly upon the brutal practice unfolding before him.
The four remaining guards each stripped down and made ritual preparations for seppuku – hara-kiri. Honourable suicide was preferable to capture or defeat by the enemy. Railed incessantly by their warrior-leader Mitani, who strode impatiently up and down the line, they made ready to join their ancestors.
Murphy’s linking of the visual input and mental comprehension ebbed and flowed as the physical reality of the damage done to him took its effect. Time had little meaning. Whether it lasted five minutes or five hours he did not know. But what would be indelibly etched in his mind was the slow motion self-slaughter of four human beings. Bloody hell – back home he’d been raised on a cattle farm – butchering was part of their means of living. But this was quite different.
He watched motionless yet not uncaring, nauseous but incapable of gagging, as each man slowly, ritually, cut his own guts open. Individually endeavouring to stifle their cries of pain as they squirmed on the blade. With little success; they were mere conscripts…not Samurai.
In turn, Mitani stepped up to them and severed their lowered heads from their bodies with one sweeping blow of the sword. Jim’s man, number one soldier, he was sure glanced fleetingly in his direction before he had plunged in the short sword to begin his horizontal cut.
Perhaps Jim should have passed out, maybe it was only a dream or nightmare, but his unmoving eye continued transferring its visions to his brain through it all.
With the others dispatched to the afterlife, it was now Mitani’s turn. Jim could see that, uncapped, the man was young; about his own age. How old was that? Murphy struggled with the poser for a while. Eighteen months of malnutrition and scurvy in this camp had taken their toll on the grey cells. It was…1945. He was...shit! More than twenty-one he knew because Red Cross had got parcels through back when he was first in Ojiwa’s camp. Letter from his mum, six months old but congratulating him, amongst the tearful prayers for his welfare.
Mitani didn’t look much older…a year or two at the most. Maybe twenty-five or twenty-six. He’d never really bothered to notice before – the man’s actions had been the point. How could someone so young do what this prick has done? The Japanese knelt head-bowed before his consecrated comrades for barely a minute. His shirt was discarded and the katana lay on the ground before him, pointed at his tightly muscled stomach.
Hurry up, you bastard. Do it! Jim shouted in his head, unsure whether he was part of this or watching from some other life. He knew that the blood still seeping from his own body was making him light-headed. Watch it, don’t move. Don’t move…don’t move.
Mitani picked up the sword in his left hand and ceremoniously placed the point centrally just under his ribcage. The hilt he lowered and jiggled into the soil until it was firmly wedged. It then just dawned on Murphy that the bugger didn’t have anyone to chop his head off and he was just going to fall on the damn thing. That wasn’t fair.
I’ll do it, you arsehole, his mind screamed to his mouth that wouldn’t work. He tried to move, to get up and run over and remove this filth from the planet but nothing happened. The mind is willing but the flesh is weak! Who said that? Come on, you can do it…move! Don’t move! Jim’s mind started spinning, weaving in and out of rationality, switching from resolve and purpose to distanced inertia. He felt cheated and deprived, then almost deliriously happy. In the lucid frame he knew he was badly hurt.
Both survivors were absolutely static, poised for the fluid act that would see Mitani thrust forward and downwards on to the finely honed blade. From within his haze Jim could visualize the bloodied steel emerging in his direction through the monster’s body…like Excalibur from the lake. Come on, do it!
Suddenly, in one snap action Mitani sprang from knees to feet, the katana raised exultantly to the beating sun. Jim was transfixed by the gleaming image, poised and shimmering as if it was alive. His unmoving eye took in the bloodied silver blade from tip to haft, then the red-black hilt bindings with the gold and pearl inlays and entwined red-black tassels gently swinging despite the arm’s rigidity. Involuntarily, his focused lens continued down the near vertical arm to the broad, brown shoulders that gleamed with sweat and he saw the tattoos for the first time. Red and black dragons entwined around a sword, etched into each strong-muscled side; rippling, almost squirming with the intensity from beneath. A deep controlled yet maniacal laugh began to emanate from the short and powerful Asian figure before him. Mitani’s free arm rose to join the other as if in tribute to the sky and the katana quivered in the sunlight, defying all. Then, accompanied by spasm-like movements of body and feet, a torrent of shouted utterings spewed forth from the madman as if he were invoking the Devil.
Despite his limited understanding of the Japanese language, Murphy knew that much of what was being vented was in some other tongue. Harsh, guttural, monosyllabic – ancient and pagan-like.
The fierce mantra abruptly stopped. Mitani stood still, his hands and sword still rampant for several seconds. Then he spat out several isolated words, names Jim figured.
‘Musashi…Muramasa…Jodan Ju…Mitani. Haaiiiii!‘
The man lowered his arms, stepped the three paces to his decapitated countrymen, spat once at their headless, distorted torsos, then turned and loped off into the jungle’s edge. And Murphy knew then that whatever creed this animal adhered to that disconnected him from the human race was all consuming and very powerful.
You lousy cheating bloody bastard, was his last thought as he lapsed unconscious.
Inland Queensland, Australia 1993
At one thousand feet David Turner lowered the Cessna’s landing gear, eased back on the throttle and began his descent toward the distant strip. Strip – hell – just a darker red-brown patch on lesser red-brown dirt on a stony, barren plain that once had been a thriving cattle station. El Nino, the drought, the salinity and the economic climate and every bloody thing else had turned this place halfway to a desert.
Jim had almost casually said to drop by when he was next passing through. However it was more than the usual open invitation; there had been a quite noticeable appeal in the asking and Jim Murphy was as independent as they got. That conversation had been two weeks ago. Although it was not really convenient, Turner hadn’t seen the crusty old man in eighteen months and, almost ex-uncle-in-law or not, he liked him. Besides, it was only five hundred miles out of his way.
‘Hey, Dave, you made it. Good t’see ya.’
‘Hello Jim, you old bugger. How are ya? You’re looking well.’
‘Fair to middling, mate. Y’self?’
‘I’m alright. What’s up?’ Turner took in the wiry frame, the balding grey wisps of hair shaped by years of the wide-brimmed Akubra hat and endless sweat wiping. They said he’d never regained the weight he lost in the war. But looking at the man, carelessly attired only in dirty, knee-length, cut-off khaki shorts and battered sandshoes sans socks, David knew that every pound not there was surplus to necessity and what remained was tough as nails.
His skin looked like wrinkled leather – nobody gave a bugger about Factor 15 out here – except for the jagged three-inch scar on his mid-riff that never took a tan. David had enquired about the wound once and once only. Jim had semi-politely told him to mind his own business and that was the end of it.
‘Come on up to the house…I’ll fill you in.’
As they paced beside each other in the soft red dust toward the once elegant homestead, now well on the neglected course to dilapidation, Turner’s mind ticked over on what this could be about.
Jim had lived alone for what, fifteen years, ever since his Sarah had died of breast cancer. He’d carried on, running the cattle, trying to make a go of this God-forsaken north-west Queensland ball-breaker until these last five years had made it impossible. The cattle and the jackaroos had all gone, the cook, everyone. He lived alone on the two hundred square mile property with nothing but his wireless, the mail plane once a month, three dogs and the countless thousands of kangaroos and rabbits putting the finish into the once fertile land. The mail plane didn’t have to touch down most times as Jim rarely got mail but the pilot had known him almost forty years and made the stop anyway. A couple of cold beers – stuff the regulations – and a chat covered nicely for the check on Jim’s welfare.
Nomadic aborigines called in maybe four times a year, also checking up on Jim, David figured. He’d always been good to them, treating them as equals. When it came to survival out here, they were far superior.
What had he said last time, David asked himself. It had been after more than a few beers a year and a half ago.
I don’t owe anybody anything. The bloody bank, the neighbours, the whole bloody world. They can all go to buggery. I’ll be right just here – me and me dogs. Stuff the lot of them.
So why had he wanted to see me, David wondered. With Jim, urgent usually meant sometime in the next year or so.
They were seated opposite each other at the long hewn ironbark table in the centre of the large kitchen. Used dishes and dust covered the benches and as David glanced around while waiting for the old man to start he could see that probably only one-eighth of the house got actually used. They were on their fourth can of Fourex and Jim was hedging around what he had to say. It was coming soon, David sensed.
‘Now listen to this, mate.’ It had begun. ‘You’re my nephew-in-law or whatever, right?’
David nodded, not risking the flow by reminding the old man that he and Jim’s niece had split up. That’s why he’d come out to this place last time; to get away from everything.
‘Now, you’re also the bloody gun geologist, right?’ David wouldn’t concur with the gun part but dipped his head. He was well qualified but it was the experience and practicality that gave him his good reputation.
‘You know that lead deposit you found out toward the west boundary last time…’
David nodded again.
‘Well, you told me it wasn’t viable…not enough yield to warrant development you said.’
Jim had a cautious look on his face as he said it and David knew he was being tested.
‘Sure. The assays didn’t add up, Jim. It has to be a pretty rich lode to warrant it these days, with lead being dumped from everything. You know…petrol, paint and so on. When I found it, it looked okay but it’s just not enough these days.’ They eyed each other off. Jim had something up his sleeve, David knew, because that’s the way he did things – never saying more than had to be said but also always having a trump card or exit.
‘Well, tell me what you think of this then.’ Jim paused for effect and, seeing he had the attention, continued. ‘You know I hold the lease on the property next door – for about twenty miles west past my west boundary, right,’ he said pointing out the door to the verandah. David nodded, though he could only vaguely remember. ‘Christ knows why I ever took it over, plus the option to buy. Things were going a lot better back then, I guess. Well…not that I doubted your assessment, I went out that way, past where you went, fossicking around, you know…’
David nodded...please continue.
‘I followed the line of the ridges you’d identified, kept going a fair way. Things seemed to change a bit. I dunno…the area seemed different, less disturbed or something. Anyway, I picked up a few rocks, hacked here and there and filled up a haversack full.’
Murphy paused to swig on his beer, eyes levelled at Turner to show he was serious.
‘So, being curious to see what was in ’em, I gave them to a gem fossiker bloke I know to take to the big smoke.’
Brisbane, David presumed – some thousand miles away.
‘Didn’t want to bother you. Besides, you were overseas somewhere.’
Yeah, David recalled – Asia, working, and trying to forget or come to terms with the bust up with Julie.
‘Anyway, my mate took them to this assay crowd, a branch of some French mob. I didn’t hear anything for about four weeks, then out of the blue in drops this bloody executive type prop-jet with these three swanky guys on board. Dressed for the bush they were…safari suits and all. Ha!’
David grinned – Jim had no reverence at all for image and general citification – and the two resumed sipping their warming beers. The discourse had slowed the pace of the imbibing.
‘The head honcho, this Frenchie, was all over me. The great potential, the opportunity, and all this crap.’ Jim’s arms were waving in mimicry.
Turner had taken real interest now. ‘When was this?’
‘About six months ago. Tried to call you but you were away. Anyhow, knowing what you’d said, I said to this bloke what d’ya mean. The yield’s no good.’ Murphy looked up at David expectantly, like a child hoping he’d said the right thing. Turner waved his hand, intrigue rising.
‘So then this Frog really went to town. No, no, NO…and stuff,’ Murphy gesticulated like the Frenchman was a pansy. ‘They had a new technology now that would make it three times more viable. Some bacterial leaching process that extracted the lead as cheap as buggery. Anyway I said it all sounded too much for me and said that I’d talk with this gun geologist I knew.’ Murphy winked then carried on.
‘No, no, no, the Frenchie said. This is very real – at the forefront of technology. No one knows about it yet. Then the guy pulls out a bloody bank cheque for half a million bucks and stuck it out at me.’
‘Jesus!’ David exhaled. If he’d expected anything of Jim’s little saga it wasn’t this. ‘And…?’ was all he could say.
‘Okay, I looked at the thing, his cheque, and it was already made out to me and it looked bloody real so I said to this bloke what for? I’d figured they wanted to buy the lease outright, you know, they’d found something we hadn’t so were trying to get in cheap and make a killing on whatever it was they’d assayed. So I hedged a bit…’ Jim paused.
‘That’d be right,’ David said, with a grin, but noticed Murphy didn’t respond. He was serious.
‘The half a mill, Dave, was only their offer to lease the bloody area for a year. They wanted to use it for trials of their new process and if it all worked out they’d be prepared to negotiate a full sale. Plus royalties and so on. What d’ya think of that?’
Turner’s mind spun. Sure, he’d heard about the bacterial leaching technology and it sounded pretty good. But even for it to be viable at current prices, the lead percentage would still have to be way above the yield that he’d established on the deposits on the main property. Maybe the mother load was further out, on the lease as Jim had described. But the outright tender of that much money – pre-prepared as an inducement to agreement – smacked of something unusual.
‘Jim…these French guys. Were they acting for themselves or someone else? Some other group?’
‘Yeah. They were agents for this Jap company…Tanada Industries. It was Tanada’s technology and cheque, but they had total authority to negotiate and finalize the business. So they said.’ Jim Murphy now looked a little sheepish, as if anticipating some admonishment from the younger man. ‘Look, Dave – I know I’m out here and my newspapers are usually a long way out of date but I do read them. Tanada is one of the biggest industrial-chemical companies going.’
Dave nodded very slowly. Tanada Industries…they were a massive conglomerate. As an independent consultant he’d done some work for a mining company dealing with them a few years back. And Tanada had been tough to negotiate with. Nothing was left to chance or up in the air. Not like this arrangement. After thinking for a minute he asked.
‘So, what’d you do? Take the money?’
‘Bloody oath I did. It’s still sitting in the bank ’cause I can’t think of much to do with it yet. Heh…funny isn’t it? Here I’ve been watching this place go down the gurgler for years and now I’ve got enough dough to do something about it I can’t be bloody bothered. I’m kinda growing to like it like this.’ The words were said hesitantly, seeking approval as Murphy swept his arm, gesturing at his world out there.
It would take ten times the dollars to do what had to be done Dave figured, and the old man knew it.
‘Well, I know who to come to for a loan, don’t I?’ he said with a quick grin, then began more seriously. Something did not add up. ‘This was six months ago. What’s happened since?’
Murphy took his time in formulating his answers, getting the order of events right. While thinking he stood up and extracted two more cans of beer from the gas fridge. There was no mains electricity this far inland, just a little from the windmills and fossil-fuelled generator.
‘Thirsty work all this talking,’ he said as he placed one can in front of David and opened both ring pulls simultaneously with his two strong index fingers.
‘Ambidextrous. Anyway…’ he began as he sat down. ‘You know there’s a sort of plateau out there – on the lease. This flat top on the ridge.’
David didn’t, but nodded his head to maintain Jim’s flow.
‘Now, you can’t see it from here – it’s about seven miles on past my west boundary. But about three weeks after the deal, I was over that way checking the ‘roo fence – why I bloody bother any more I’m stuffed if I know. I camped the night out there, figuring to finish fixing a big gap the next day. That’s when they started coming in. You’d think the bloody army had arrived on exercise. Big choppers with bugger-all lights coming and going all night, carrying in who knows what. I guessed they were trucking stuff to Mount Isa and then flying it here ’cause the roads aren’t that crash hot.’
Barely passable in the dry, David mused. Non-existent in the wet season. But why were they transporting only at night, without full lights. He flew the things…why make the task more bloody difficult.
Jim paused to sip at his beer. ‘Okay. Now…I’m not usually a nosey bugger, and one of the terms of the deal was that I wasn’t supposed to go onto the lease or tell anyone about it. But in the morning I thought I’d just go a bit closer to have a bo-peep at what was going on. Anyway…I only got about a mile in and this small chopper comes straight out of the blue and sits down in front of my truck.’ Jim shifted a little, licked his lips and eyed David to see if he still had his interest. Turner was leaning forward on the table, listening intently.
‘So, this guy gets out and comes over to me. He was…well, ahh…Asian looking. I say looking because he had sort’ve slanty eyes and the straight black hair but his skin was quite fair and he had to be over six foot tall. Powerful looking bloke – about in his mid-twenties I’d say. Eurasians, they call them, don’t they?’
David nodded. Interesting so far but where was Jim heading?
‘This bloke was real polite; spoke with a little bit of a Yank twang. Introduced himself as Jimmy Shan…the mine manager for Tanada. We had a bit of a general chitchat before he very subtly reminded me of the agreement. He stressed that when everything was up and running in a few months he’d personally pick me up in the chopper and show me over the plant. But for now, he said their patents and stuff weren’t in place and they couldn’t risk any leak of how their process worked. They had millions tied up in it – even this pilot plant was costing them some seven million.’
Not that much in the mining game, David thought, but if the lead yields weren’t at least three or four times better than the assays on Jim’s land something was way amiss in the equation.
‘Anyway, I just shrugged, said it was okay and made to leave. This Jimmy said it had been good to meet me – as I said, polite – and David…’ Jim looked squarely at the younger man as if to convince him he wasn’t crazy, ‘…this guy flashed me a big warm smile as he held out his hand but his eyes…jeez, his eyes. They were the deepest, coldest bloody eyes I’d ever seen. Well, only the second lot that cold but that’s another story. And Dave – his little finger on the left hand was missing down to the second knuckle.’
As he halted, Jim looked away. Had all the years out here on his own made him a bit crazy; would David think he was off his rocker. Then, looking back up, he said, ‘Dave, this bugger made me shiver inside. And it was a hundred and ten in the shade out there. I felt evil, smelt it; something I’ve never experienced since…’ he trailed off. Then, with eyebrows raised, asked. ‘You think I’m bloody mad?’
‘No,’ Turner replied quickly. Jim was saner than anyone he knew. ‘If you felt it, it was probably real.’ He’d learnt that himself in Vietnam. ‘What happened next?’
‘I just high-tailed it back home and haven’t been back since. Over five months. Oh, that’s right, another thing about that bloke. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, in that goddam heat. Strange. I’d thought about it later then remembered that as he stretched out his arm to shake hands I saw these swirly, multi-coloured tattoos just below his cuff.’
David tensed and straightened in his chair, deep in thought.
Jim rose from the table, slipping on a stained rumpled flannelette shirt as he padded over to the fridge once more. Returning, he gestured with a can for David to follow out on the wide hardwood verandah.
Noting the old man’s token concession to the rapidly dropping mercury, Turner shrugged his jacket on over his t-shirt. Jim’s tolerance of the extremes was legendary.
Slumped back in the ancient squatters chairs, the two men silently mulled their own thoughts while vacantly absorbing the splendour of the orange fireball sinking behind the western ridge. Winter blackness descended quickly in this part of the world. As did temperature, albeit relatively less than in the more elevated inland regions.
The nightlife began its cacophony of chirps and squawks and myriad calls as the evening forage began. What the creatures subsisted on used to mystify David, until many years in outback exploration had educated him in the reality of the food chain.
He heard the generator in the back shed start up and settle into its low hum as it downloaded charge into the batteries that would power the lights later. But for now Jim would not switch any on. David knew that while the old man reckoned it only attracted the bugs, he really liked it like this. Alone, at one with the dark and all the creatures out beyond.
Glancing over, he watched as Jim methodically rolled another thin cigarette, lit it with both hands cupped about the match from years of habit despite the breathless night, patted one of the dogs on its rump, then leant back contentedly.
One day I’ll ask him again, David thought. What happened back then in the war that had so shaped his character.
‘Dave,’ came out of the near darkness. ‘What d’you think…about what I told you earlier?’
‘Still thinking about it, mate. It seems strange. The guy you described sounds kind of young for a mine manager and the assay side of things has got me stuffed. Unless they’ve found some really heavy concentration over on the lease. Unlikely though!’
‘Yeah. That’s my thinking too. But I’ve got half-a-million bucks for doing bloody nothing. I’ll tell you about that.’ He paused, framing what he had to say.
David knew there had been more to tell but, as always, he had waited until Jim was ready.
‘Y’know, Dave, I implied before that I jumped at the money. Well, I didn’t really. Thought long and hard about it for nearly a week.’
As always, Turner concurred.
‘Tanada Industries – Japanese right? Well…as you know, not that you know much ’cause I’ve never told anyone what happened back then, what…over fifty years ago. I was a POW…three years with the mongrels in Burma. Hated their guts for bloody years and years afterwards. Then, over the past maybe twenty years or so, and especially since the wife died, I’ve sorta mellowed. Guess I’ve kind of seen the human race for what it is. We fought that bloody war just as my old man fought his and so on. Nothing’s ever changed – we’ve been fighting bloody wars since time began. Look what’s happening around the world right now; little wars all over the place. The Iraq thing, bloody Africa, Yugoslavia.’ Pausing for a haul on the cigarette and quick toss of beer, Jim Murphy was deciding on how and how much to say about himself and his innermost feelings established by a hard life.
‘Not all of them were bastards, Dave. Some were okay – some of the Japs. Poor young buggers just doing what they were told like us. One in particular…’ He hesitated, remembering. ‘He saved my life. I should have been dead. Then again, his bloody commander was the vilest excuse for a human being you’d ever be likely to meet.’ He ceased abruptly, inhaling on the smoke. No, not that. He could never relate that. After reflection and adjustment he continued.
‘Now, what I’m saying is this. I reckon that most people, like as a race, aren’t inherently bad. It’s only individuals – ruthless power-hungry pricks that use their fellow countrymen as pawns – that cause the real damage. Now…ahh…I had to really battle with this one. Selling out the farm as they say…to the bloody Japs. But hell, I’m way over seventy now. No dough to fix this joint up, no incentive to do it. The cattle industry is stuffed, like most of the other rural industries. The place is probably not even saleable fixed up or not.’
Jim paused, waiting for any comment from David. There was none. ‘So I had to say to myself – and these dogs here copped a lot of it – what is the point of me hanging on waiting for God knows what. To just keel over one day and that’s it. No, I figured if I took the dough I’d maybe be able to do something useful with it. And also, maybe the Tanada mob would get something going out here, y’know, create some jobs. Better than bloody nothing, isn’t it?’
It made sense to David, but then he could also understand the man’s struggle within. Not totally of course – how could one man feel another’s anguish. Imagine yes, but not really feel.
‘If you’re comfortable now with it, Jim, then you’ve done the right thing. Anyway, you haven’t sold it to them, have you? It’s just a trial plant on the lease. And you’ve still got this place.’
Murphy sighed deeply. ‘Yeah. But I’m not all that comfortable about it now, Dave. That’s the worry. Y’know I thought – clever bastard me – that I had the trump hand in this. It was only a lease to them for one year. Terms and conditions for a full sale to be negotiated after that, subject to their success and this and that. I could just bail out of it then if I wanted. Five hundred grand for a year…easy money.’
‘Well, what’s bothering you then?’
Murphy held back for a moment. ‘The agreement, Dave. I realize now that it was just too bloody sweet and simple. It’s all loaded my way and open-ended. Does that sound like the Japs’ way of doing business to you?’
It certainly didn’t. Turner had been involved in dozens of negotiations over mining leases with the Japanese, especially on coal deals. Yields, quantities, delivery dates, escalation factors, currency fluctuations, out-clauses, contingency items – all meticulously negotiated and hammered out to the last detail. And almost always slanted in favour of the Japanese company on a take-it or leave-it basis.
‘It’s not usual, Jim but hell…you’ve got the money so what’s there to worry about?’
‘Something’s going on out there. I can feel it and I don’t like it. Look, when I rang you from town that couple of weeks ago, I wanted to talk to you about this. But what I had in mind then was that if these guys could make a successful mine out of the lead on the lease property, then maybe you could see a way to putting the same technology to work on this property. I mean…if the yields are the same. That’s what I first wanted to put to you. But now…y’know, after thinking things through, waiting for you to get here, I just don’t know. My head’s churning. And I keep thinking about that white-skinned Asian. He gives me the creeps.’
David remained silent. The situation was perturbing and he needed time to give a considered opinion. As a geologist, things did not add up. Rocks either did or did not contain certain elements. Conclusions on a possible oil field or mineral deposit were never pre-empted by wishful thinking, except by the fly-by-night shonky speculators. Only detailed exhaustive analysis provided the truth.
‘Jim, what say we do a fly-over in the morning?’
David had the plane at two thousand feet, banked slightly to port and fixed on autopilot. It was mid-morning and the sun was glaring in from starboard. Jim had insisted that they only did one pass – for discretion – and far enough away to be reasonably deemed passers-by. They were to disappear over the ground horizon and return to the homestead the long way round.
Each man held one of David’s high-powered Zeiss binoculars pressed against the perspex windows as they peered down at the plateau. Jim was in the seat behind David, muttering and cursing as he fiddled with the new-fangled auto-zoom and digital read-out controls. Bearing, distance, focus hold – half a dozen simultaneous read-outs flashed in front of his eyes and he wished he’d brought his old Lecias. But when the lens snapped onto the right combination, more by chance than understanding, Jim understood just how good these things were. He felt like a spy satellite.
The pre-fabricated huts, the three hundred foot long open-cut pit, the strange looking fifty foot high round steel tower and the ant-like men scurrying about with urgency all became crystal clear. ‘Bloody hell,’ he exhaled, glancing sideways at Turner who he noticed had put his binoculars aside and was busily operating the plane’s under-side camera. Normally it was aimed at land formations – now it was trained on the Tanada plateau site.
‘Well, what d’ya think?’ Murphy was peering behind the geologist, trying to get a look at the photographs drying on the bench. Turner carried all the gear with him in his plane. It was like a mobile laboratory, as it had to be, with satellite phone, fax, and ore-testing equipment. He could run his business from anywhere on the continent from that plane, and have his information sent anywhere in the world within minutes.
David waited patiently as the developers fixed; studied them for perhaps thirty seconds, then turned around to confront the eager old man.
‘I’m not sure, Jim. I don’t know that much about this new bacterial leaching stuff. Chemical leaching sure. But look…see the tower. You saw that today didn’t you?’
‘Yeah…clear as a bell. What’s it do?’
‘That’s my problem; I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to fit in with what I’ve read about the process.’
They were silent for a moment. ‘Any ideas?’ Jim asked.
‘Maybe – but I don’t like them. Have you still got some of those samples you took from the plateau area?’
The old man stroked his wispy head a couple of times, thinking hard. ‘Yeah. Yeah…out in the shed. I only gave my mate about half. You want them?’
A tense hour passed as David performed his assay. Jim shuffled about, made them a sandwich, went out to feed his chooks and forced himself to keep his mouth shut to allow David to do his work.
‘Bloody dogs,’ he cursed as the three mongrels suddenly started barking and scurrying about the yard parameters. Then the fowls started up. One loud shout shut them all up; sometimes this happened out here. Maybe dingoes were prowling; maybe the Abo’s were coming back in. Even Jim couldn’t always know. Still, for now they had gone into a restless quiet. When he re-entered the kitchen, Jim found Turner sitting ashen-faced in front of his equipment on the table. Rock samples were strewn all over the floor.
‘Jeez, what’s up?’
David turned on him angrily, looking deeply into the veteran’s face, then softened. It wasn’t the old bugger’s fault.
‘Jim,’ he started slowly, trying to form what he had to convey in non-technical language and as gently as possible. ‘Jim…I’ll tell you what’s happening.’ He held off to take stock of his uncle-in-law, wondering how he’d take it. Seeing the realization in the other’s face that something was very wrong, David thought a few seconds before continuing. ‘Do you know what lead is?’
Jim’s look of worry transformed into one of perplexity. ‘Course I do. It’s bloody heavy. You make fishing sinkers out of it, batteries; X-ray bloody machines use it. Like you said earlier, they used to stick it in paint and petrol and stuff. So what!’
‘Lead, mate, is the end product of even heavier elements. Thorium, Actinium, Uranium. They break down over thousands of years, releasing their natural radioactivity until they end up an isotope – all chemically identical to lead. Non-radioactive, stable, but still very toxic lead.‘
Murphy lowered his head abruptly. He knew what David was about to say would be damn serious.
‘Jim, the Tanada Corporation isn’t trialling some new lead extraction process. They’re pulling out fucking high-grade uranium!‘
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than an instinctive chill made the hair on his neck stand on end. Turner swivelled around, only to experience the broad fleeting smile and deadly black eyes that Jim had described. Six-foot plus tall, handsome white-skinned Asian features, with his long black hair tied back. The Eurasian – with four others, all much smaller and darker. In the kitchen with them, Uzi machine pistols hanging on thin leather straps from their shoulders.
By the nonchalant ease with which these men carried their weapons, David knew that they were experienced. One stood immediately in front of Jim’s gun rack, his wide flat face passive, not even daring them to have a go. These men understood – as did he and Jim – that the situation was totally under their control.
‘So…Mr Jim Murphy and now Mr David Turner,’ the Eurasian said calmly with a hint of an American accent. He was looking inquisitively as he spoke but raised his hand to silence David before his question could emerge. ‘Your plane’s registration number, Mr Turner, has given me your name. That you have analysed these rocks,’ he said, sweeping one arm at the mess on the table and floor, ‘–confirms that you are the geologist who owns the plane.’ There was no hint of smart-arse in the delivery, mere matter-of-fact statement.
‘I am very pleased that you have not radioed or faxed anyone about our little operation on the plateau. Yes…’ he paused as he saw David’s eyes widen, ‘…we have very sophisticated monitoring equipment at the mine. We locked on and photographed your discreet flyover then tracked you back here. Had you endeavoured to communicate with anyone you would not be sitting there now. A surface-to-air missile was trained on you all the time. Now…’ Jimmy Shan paused, smiling, allowing the impact of their haplessness to sink in. ‘Enough talk. Our operation is near an end and we have little time. You shall be coming with us. I am sorry for the inconvenience.’
As he swept his left arm towards the door, the Eurasian’s sleeve pulled up just enough for Turner to see the ornate colourings starting just above the wrist. And two-thirds of the little finger was missing, as Jim had described.
David knew Asia and the prospects of this arcane scenario were all but incomprehensible. What in hell was Tanada Industries, the well-respected international industrial behemoth, doing here operating so covertly in Australia? And how could it be that the operation was being controlled by a mid-ranked member of the Japanese Mafia – the Yakuza?
EXTRACTS FROM the INTERLUDE, SET IN 1940’S JAPAN
Over the next few years, Yoshimasa immersed himself in his teaching. He ignored the ongoing expansionary war in China, preferring to pretend that it did not exist, for it was not of the Way. When Asano and Tanada tried to draw him in to their animated discussions on the pros and cons and Japan’s progress in this period, he subtly avoided involvement.
By 1937 their sons, Hideyoshi and Oda, had gone as far in the martial arts as they had purpose for and ceased regular training. They were capable and adept in the motions, yet still a gulf away from the levels that made great protagonists. Nowhere remotely close to himself; nowhere near…Shiro.
In late September 1939 the two boys, now eager young men in their early twenties presented themselves to him at the dojo, proud in their new uniforms. Hideyoshi, the thinker, was already a lieutenant; Oda one rank behind as always. It was their salute, a thanks and farewell, and Yoshimasa’s heart had swelled. Partly in pride that they had turned out such decent youth, but more so in trepidation for their welfare. He loved them both.
Despite their protests he ordered them to strip down to the basics for one final belated lesson. And in those few hours, Yoshimasa Mitani taught the pair more about combat survival than they had learnt in the past eight years. From his point of view it was vitally necessary – the madness of war had now become global.
It was not until the autumn of 1942 that Yoshimasa learnt that Shiro was still alive. Once again the circumstances of his son’s surfacing were abhorrent. More deaths and maiming, more shame and dishonour to the house of Mitani. This time striking at the father’s very essence; mocking, challenging, daring. At the Jodan Ju of 1942, held near Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu.
Yoshimasa had won the title in 1930 and had looked forward to defending it in 1933. But an injury had precluded that, leaving him with the dream of regaining the championship in 1936. However, when Shiro had fled in 1934, Yoshimasa had lost heart in the matter. He became occupied in his quest for his son; his soul not centred sufficiently for him to prepare properly for a return to the arena. He was still regarded as the finest martial arts exponent in Japan yet, despite many others’ pleas and questioning of his wisdom, Yoshimasa Mitani effectively retired.
While he never competed again, nor even attend, Yoshimasa ensured that he was kept informed of the outcomes of all future Jodan Ju. It gave him strength and faith in the continuum of the Way. In 1942, when the news was delivered of the ruthless, ignoble conduct of one protagonist, a young man in his mid-twenties who appeared to have that year’s contest won, Yoshimasa’s inner core had frozen. His informer, an old friend and confidant, had artfully avoided mention of a name until directly asked.
While he did not register by the name, Mitani-san, I recognised him as Shiro. Even after these eight years passed since he fled, I knew it was him. He was a brilliant strategist, wielding a Muramasa katana with breath-taking skill and force. He still carries much of your flair and style, but with callous and lethal twists. He was formidable, but not of our Way at all. He deliberately used banned strikes when loss threatened and callously slew Atsuo Miyuzawa in the final.
Infused with anger, Yoshimasa had sped to Fukuoka. Again, to no avail. While Shiro had so blatantly appeared at the Jodan Ju, goading his father, he had left no other impression in the entire region. In and out, disappearing into smoke. Methods, tactics no doubt learned from the tanjian master Shinogi and perhaps others.
In shame and anonymously to all but the trusted few that knew, Yoshimasa Mitani provided aid and money to this latest round of victims of his son. The Mitani heirlooms were rapidly depleting.
That Jodan Ju of 1942 and one other incident five years later were the last positive indications of Shiro’s existence relayed to his father for nearly fifty years.
In mid-1947, with Japan occupied and administered by the Americans and British, Yoshimasa received callers at his modest house high on the hilly outskirts of Kyoto. The suburban sprawl was some twenty years off, services non-existent and visitors had to labour the winding uphill dirt road through the dense spruce forest.
He had selected the site for its vantage – end of the line, elevated, and tranquil. From the front verandah he could sight people on the road up at some half-a-mile. What he saw at that distance that particular day made him curious. A strange shape, slow and laboured, stopping increasingly often, changing shape then resuming.
At three hundred yards the form became more discernible and, just as he thought he had a clear definition, it collapsed into the dust and separated into two parts, small and large. Woman and child. Yoshimasa Mitani loped down toward them, his mind questioning what this could be, why should they possibly be making such an arduous journey to a dead end.
The woman was face down in the dirt, beyond exhaustion. The child, a girl about four or five, clung to her prostrate mother yet watched him with such wary eyes that it made him halt and stand back a few yards. He had never seen such a hateful look of resentment from anyone so young and knew that he was dealing with a situation he had never encountered before.
‘Hello,’ he said after a moment, seeking the right voice. ‘You look like you could need some help, little one. Your mother…she has carried you up this hill?’ The girl glared back with her wild brown eyes, offering no response. Yoshimasa could feel the fear. ‘Your mother needs help. You and I must carry her up to my house so that she can rest and get better. You want that, don’t you? I won’t hurt her or you.’
There was a flicker of reaction, a conflict between innate distrust and an equally intense want for her mother to be looked after. He saw the welling of tears with the struggle.
‘My name is Yoshimasa Mitani,’ he volunteered with hopefully a disarming smile. ‘Perhaps you have come all this way just to see me.’
The mother, early twenties Yoshimasa guessed, weighed not more than a hundred pounds. He barely registered her skinny frame cradled in his long powerful arms as he trudged up to the house in the evening light. The daughter clung to his broad back, arms wrapped around his neck over-tightly and legs gripping his chest for purchase. And she prattled incessantly in the five-minute hike.
‘Mama said you’d look after us. She said you’re my grandfather. She said…’
The woman, Umi, her daughter told him, slept for over sixteen hours. Yoshimasa stirred her occasionally and made her imbibe as much as she could take of his special vile-tasting broth, a recipe for recovery and renewed strength.
When she woke her pallor had gone, her skin glowed and Yoshimasa saw that she was quite beautiful. She had quietly padded out to the verandah where he sat rocking in his chair thinking about things and had stood there at the doorway. Saying nothing, just staring at him.
The moment was awkward for both and Yoshimasa understood that he had to speak first. ‘Come sit, Umi,’ he said gently, sweeping one large hand toward the cane chair opposing him. As she did so, he appraised her walk and demeanour. Obviously of good family, traditional. And her dress, though far from new, was of quality.
‘You have been through a considerable ordeal, it would seem,’ he began. ‘Do you care to discuss it with me?’ The young woman’s eyes flickered, at first with almost a reactionary defiance then more softly. She nodded, and then waited for the call to speak.
‘Perhaps before you do, may I tell you, Umi,’ Yoshimasa stated, ‘that your daughter, a delightful and spirited young girl, has already informed me that I am her grandfather. Having ever had only one son,’ Yoshimasa hesitated for he no longer wished to consider Shiro his progeny, ‘–you must therefore have formed a union with him. Was this…’ Yoshimasa paused again for he could never conceive of Shiro acting chivalrously, ‘…honourable?‘
Tears welled as she shook her head in the negative. ‘He said he would be back soon, Mitani-san. He was only on three days leave and…’
Carefully and paternally without being condescending, Yoshimasa coaxed the details. While degraded through the telling, Umi clung to her composure and what remained of her dignity. The past years of abject misery and maltreatment had not extinguished her innate nobility.
In 1942, Shiro, under a different name, had lodged in her parents’ guest-house in the hills outside Fukuoka. The building had once been a gracious house, one of three the aristocratic family had owned before her father’s failed ventures on the stock markets in 1929 had reduced them to having to sell one and rent out the other two to tourists. She had then been seventeen and already well capable of managing the establishment while her parents were running the other in Nagasaki, some seventy miles away to the south.
There was only one elderly couple in residence when Shiro had arrived seeking accommodation. He had been resplendent in dress uniform, an army lieutenant, his chest blazoned with medals. Young, self-assured, handsome and with tales to tell of heroism and adventure. And as these were related to both she and the older travellers around the fire in the main room that night, Umi Toyoda was swept off her feet. On the afternoon of day two the seduction was complete, her virginity left suffusing the sheets of her parents’ bed in their private chambers.
But immediately after the rapid and disillusionary event, Shiro’s mood had changed. It was as if he had shed one skin and donned another. He did not want her near him and commenced a martial training schedule in the rear gardens that, as she observed from an upper window, made her tremble at the ferocity of the open hand and sword katas.
On day three he had left very early in the morning, returning some twelve hours later in a dishevelled state, storming through the house as he hurriedly gathered his possessions. There had been blood on his clothing. When Umi had interrupted, he had slapped her to the floor and shouted.
‘When this war is over and Japan is victorious I will come back for you. I am your first man and your last. Stay mine.’ With that he had fled.
Two hours later three serious but polite men had turned up, seeking one Shiro Mitani, or him under another name. She had showed them the register and denied having seen anyone of the description. The pursuers were organisers from some martial contest Shiro had competed in. Two days after that another man had turned up. It had been he, Yoshimasa Mitani she knew now, but her parents had been there and had handled the enquiry. Again they had referred to the register – no Shiro Mitani or the other alias he had used for the tournament. Later her father had asked her about the possibility of a connection. No; there had not been anyone of the names or description staying that weekend. What else could she say?
It was not until the morning sickness came on, and the swelling began that Umi Toyoda realised her status. Wartime Japan, almost eighteen and with child. Eventually the truth, the reality, had to be faced. After the initial shock her parents had been reasonable. They loved her. All held hopes that the dashing lieutenant of noble birth would return from the war and, as promised, redeem Umi’s virtue. The times was the easy excuse for this aberrant circumstance.
Masako was born and cherished by her mother and grandparents. The absence of a father was not so extraordinary given the times. So many young men were killed after having left pregnant wives behind and little question was raised. Especially when embellished so well. A war hero, an officer, a descendant of ronin stock, of Shogun heritage; Umi and little Masako’s safety net in the moral equation of Japan in 1943.
Shiro had fed the girl quite a line, albeit almost true. As he listened to the tale, Yoshimasa found himself wondering whether his son had really absorbed the mantle or merely used it. He concluded the latter.
‘My parents were at the Nagasaki house when the big bomb came in 1945,’ Umi stated matter-of-factly. ‘They were killed and my father had been in more debt than we knew. The guest house in Fukuoka was taken by the money lenders and Masako and I were tossed into the street.’
At this news Yoshimasa had breathed in deeply, wondering what had become of decency, of chivalry; to the time when one person did not disadvantage the other or profit by another’s weakness for temporal gain. Japan, or what he had always expected of it, had certainly changed.
‘The last two years have been very hard, Mitani-san. Masako has needed to be fed and clothed. There is no work and I cannot find the money to support us. Because of this I…’ Umi stopped, realizing that she was about to commit herself into an open ethical abyss. Then she resolutely continued, looking at Yoshimasa with steadfast eyes. ‘I began to see the American soldiers,’ she forced out.
Haaiiee. Yoshimasa’s long sigh as he closed his eyes was one of understanding, not condemnation. So many of their people were now subjugated to similar fates; the price of losing a war. Sensing that she was not about to be reproved by this seemingly kind man – almost a total stranger but one who others had endorsed as kind – Umi continued to unfold her story.
Most of the occupying Americans had been nice. Usually young men seeking no more than long dreamed-of female company; someone to talk to about home, wives or girlfriends waiting for them, just as alone and afraid in the world as she was. Sometimes they would push for more than talk and she had become adept at circumventing such things. The gifts of nylons, cigarettes, chocolate and US dollars all sold readily on the black market and kept she and Masako alive. Not well, but sufficient. She knew many girls who went to bed with the occupiers and they lived opulently compared to her.
This basic survival mode had lasted until three weeks ago. Two American Marines, whites, had followed Umi home from the bar where she worked and forced their way into the tiny two-room apartment. They threatened to do terrible things to Masako if she did not co-operate, then they had abused her body all night. Umi withheld the details and Yoshimasa Mitani, sensing her pain, did not press for elaboration.
But he felt an anger rising. Partly due to this self-inflicted national helplessness, so damaging to the Japanese psyche, and also from a deeply personal sense of responsibility. All life revolved on consequence. That this girl was here with him resulted from matters past; the linkage was inescapable. Even as she talked, he recalled Soseki. The winds that blow – ask them which leaf of the tree will be next to go! Life!
‘The violation by these two was bad enough, Mitani-san. I endured that for Masako’s safety. But…’ she hesitated, glancing over her shoulder as if pursued before continuing her tale. Yoshimasa looked elsewhere himself, out over the spruce covered hills and far beyond, absorbing the vales and rural textures as he ruminated on what was being conveyed to him. The Americans had been seen leaving Umi’s building early the next morning. The first rock came through her second floor window only half an hour later. Fraterniser. She had gone to the authorities – Japanese first, then American. No one was that interested. She was a bar-girl. They had more important things to deal with. Besides, they said, she didn’t have any names to put to the men plus she had stated that as they left they had laughed about being transferred away from Fukuoka that day. They could have been any of two thousand men going to two dozen places. No one had the time or resources to pursue such flimsy allegations. And besides, she hadn’t appeared to be too harmed by the alleged incident.
As she had returned to her quarters – and thankfully Masako was being looked after by the couple in the neighbouring flat – there was a gang waiting outside. Youths mainly, being urged on by an older, more menacing, man.
‘Fraterniser…with the gaijin devils!‘ She had to run a gauntlet to the entry door of the tenement; kicked, shoved, spat upon. The last two of her taunters however were serious, intent on more than nominal punishment. Their feet swung in and up heavily; their bamboo sticks rained down in vicious arcs across her shoulders, back and stomach as she rolled down to the concrete, then the blows struck across her legs and chest. Another long sigh came from Yoshimasa Mitani. He had seen the still fiery welts as he had tended to her last evening. His head came up and he looked at the young woman with deep sympathy.
‘I thought I was going to die there, Mitani-san. But for Masako I could have done so readily. Then…’ she halted for a moment as the memory surged vividly. ‘A man stepped over me and hit the two worst assailants so hard and so fast with his bare feet and fists that they went down and did not rise. The mob scurried away like frightened hens, although this man said nothing.’
Haaiiee – a man amongst chickens, Mitani thought. A true Samurai no doubt.
‘When he raised me to my feet I found he was perhaps a half-a-head shorter than me, and as you see I am not very tall. He was not only small but also old and wizened. And very kind.’
Indeed a true warrior – never too old; using smallness and age as weapons in themselves. Off-putting disguises for the never forgotten powers indelibly retained. He would have to meet this man. Three weeks ago she said this happened. In Fukuoka.
The old man had helped Umi upstairs, organised for Masako to be quartered with the neighbouring couple, called in a doctor to tend Umi’s wounds and arranged for a woman to stay the night to look after her.
About mid-morning of the following day he had returned, bearing gifts of fruit, food and flowers. She was very sore but coping. Masako was oblivious to her mother’s condition as she revelled in the excitement of the difference and attention. She was so boisterous and demanding of the old man that eventually he had gently taken both her hands in his, looked at her intently for a few moments and Masako had fallen asleep there and then on the floor. It was like magic.
A stirring had begun in Yoshimasa at this point of the telling. Matters of a few years before began to rise.
‘Somehow, Mitani-san, he then had me tell him of everything that had befallen me these past five years. His questions were not questions, his manner was not at all demanding yet I found myself revealing my life to him. To this old man who I had never met before, yet who also had such power to dispatch men one-third his age. He seemed to know me.’
Ah…consequence again, Yoshimasa accepted. The endless circle. ‘I believe I know this man, Umi,’ he said eventually, with some caution. If she was still under his spell and command he must be wary. ‘Did he give his name as Shinogi?‘
At Umi’s eager wide-eyed nod, Yoshimasa relaxed. The tanjian wizard would not have been so accommodating if he had subterfuge in mind. Shinogi must have still been seeking Shiro, not himself.
‘He said he knew you, Mitani-san. And that you were honourable…a true master, that you would most surely look after Masako and me.’ Umi had blurted the last part out and suddenly stopped, looking down and placing her hand over her mouth in embarrassment at the blatant insinuation.
Yoshimasa breathed in then out slowly as he came to understand the young woman’s circumstances. She was, de facto, his daughter-in-law. Yet he could quite easily order her to be gone. She and her progeny came from Shiro. However Yoshimasa was of the past; chivalry coursed in his veins, tempering and orchestrating his every deed. If his son would or could not exhibit honour then he, Yoshimasa, must. It was the Way. Masako was still of the Mitani.
He spoke to Umi matter-of-factly for a few minutes, explaining just enough of Shiro to enable her to understand their all round relationship. He to his son, his son to her, she and her daughter to him. And even as he did so, Yoshimasa felt a gradual glowing, a rounding off. Perhaps the fact that his wife had died so young, after and due to giving birth to Shiro, had bearing on the matter. This young woman and her daughter somehow filled a void. He could be comfortable with that – providing Shiro did not come into it. Which, inevitably, he knew could not be. One day Shiro would surely surface.
‘Thank you, Mitani-san, thank you,’ Umi proffered with a smiling bow when he had finished. ‘Your offer is most kind and gracious. Masako, as you have already seen, is quite active and precocious. I shall endeavour to curb her behaviour while we are here; until we can find our own place. We will not trouble you, Mitani-san. We will cook, wash and maintain your house such that you will never…’
Yoshimasa Mitani barely heard the rest. That it was occurring, that he was not alone, was sufficient. That it was not as he had imagined it might be, back when Shiro was born and he had thought ahead idealistically to grandchildren and the lineage, was for the time forgotten.
The next morning, from the same timber balcony, Yoshimasa and Umi watched Masako play down by the small stream bounding the property, tossing stones and leaping delightedly at every splash.
‘She has never experienced such open space, Mitani-san. I should like very much that she could grow up in this environment, free of the intensity of the cities.’
Yoshimasa had indeed been contemplating the proposition for much of the night. The prospect had eventually come to please him as he had carefully weighed the changes to his existence, the intrusions into his solitary, contemplative life. Then there was also his duty. Despite the deliberations, he had no real choice. With sparing words and a few conditions imposed he firmed temporary residence to permanent. And Umi’s beaming effervescent delight, while so obviously suppressing urges to squeal and jump about, told him that his decision, this union, was right.
Excusing herself, Umi had begun to bound down the steps to run to Masako with the tidings when she baulked and turned back up. ‘Shinogi-san gave me this for you,’ she said, her face less buoyant at the potential of the ribbon-bound fold of papers she had extracted from her jacket. Tentatively, she held it out, hoping the content would not affect her and Masako’s newfound circumstance. Once the papers were in her daughter’s grandfather’s large hand, she again turned and began to descend, less spritely this time.
Yoshimasa Mitani passed the sheaf of papers from hand to hand as he watched Umi’s passage down through the spruce trees toward the brook; he was as trepid as she was of the message contained. Good or bad? Due to his training, he would normally confront matters directly; matters either were so or they were not. Nothing could be done to affect reality until one accepted the status of a situation. Then one acted, creating a new reality. Somehow this was different. He wanted to keep this new element in his life.
Shihan Mitani. Salutations. It appears that we are still entwined in our fate on earth. Not by co-incidence as you would be aware. The letter began in flowing old-style kona calligraphy. I deliver the mother of your grandchild. A fine young woman plagued with adversity in these tumultuous times. I know that she and your granddaughter will be safe with you and that you shall benefit from their presence. Why have I done this you may ask? We who are of different paths yet seek the same end. As an old man, with little time left to suffer this pestilent human form, please allow me to indulge myself and explain…
Shinogi’s discourse then touched briefly on the nature of evil. Was it innate or did it settle itself within individuals at random? Or was it learned and passed on? Or as the Christians purported, was it there to be adopted by choice? Could it – evil – actually be taught to a person not inherently receptive to and desirous of it?
Which led then to Shiro. A youth somehow inexplicably spawned by Yoshimasa, a most adept and honourable man. A youth who had also deceived the elderly Shinogi, a tanjian priest, in his quest for the powers beyond the physical. Techniques that had been sought by Shiro to enhance his capabilities for use in another dimension – true evil. The two sensei had a joint responsibility to see this demon of their making extinguished, did they not?
Haiiee. Yoshimasa released a sigh of abject agreement. Shinogi was indeed correct. A demon. He took his eyes from the papers and gazed down for a while at Umi and Masako as they played gleefully by the stream. They certainly did not exude evil, just as he knew himself not to be evil. Yet, transposed between them was Shiro. Seed was seed. Steeled with new determination to protect the two newcomers to his life, he recommenced reading.
Shinogi’s monastery had not survived Shiro’s foul deeds. The villagers below had expected swift vengeance and found none eventuating, even four years later. They cut off food supply and similarly the flow of new students dried up as news of the failure spread. Reduced to just three followers, Shinogi had set about finding Shiro. Vengeance fuelled his quest, more so than the commercial consideration. He too eventually reached the conclusion that the boy had gone off to Manchuria with the army. He had also learnt later of his brief return in 1942, to contest the Jodan Ju. Despite his using an alias, the wizard knew it had to be Shiro.
That one so young would have, but for his viciousness, attained that title is certainly tribute to your own capabilities, Shihan Mitani. May we both be thankful that he did not. You ably demonstrated to me the powers that ensue; techniques that pale my own. I shudder to think what your son would be capable of had he also gained them. I, as he came to know, terminated his advancement at the basic kokoro. Yet, when you and I mentally jousted those years ago, I applied levels of power ten times that. Your Shin Ju, as I have learnt it is called, dealt with my efforts comfortably. My path has gone from a smooth carriageway to a rocky goat track promising little enlightenment, even should the traveller reach its end.
Yoshimasa looked up, his mind dwelling on this so open admission of failure from the tanjian master. There was an air of fatalism in the words and he felt that he should meet with the old man to discuss such matters. Continuing, he learnt that for the past seven years, since the closure of his school, Shinogi had watched and waited for Shiro Mitani’s return. After becoming aware that it had been Shiro at the Jodan Ju, he then uncovered the brief liaison with Umi and had her surveilled in Fukuoka. With apologies for the intrusion, Yoshimasa was also placed under observation here in Kyoto. Each of them were his only chance, though flimsy, to catch his quarry. He had been very careful to ensure discretion, which Yoshimasa had to agree had been the case. He had not noticed any spies, but then he had no reason to expect any.
Shinogi had observed Umi’s deterioration to lowly bar-girl fraterniser status, and confessed shame that he had not assisted her – like him, a victim of Shiro Mitani. Such was his obsession, chivalrous thoughts had been shamefully repressed. When however, three weeks ago, his observer told him that two American soldiers had forcibly spent the night with Umi and that local rascals were planning a serious assault on her, Shinogi had swiftly descended from his mountain retreat, arriving just in time to thwart their intent.
So, Sensei Mitani, they are now with you, as should be. I have assessed my actions in all this and confess that my aim in saving the two was at first one of self-interest. I had come to think of them as mine; my bait for Shiro and I would not allow a mob to take them from me.
Upon coming to know these young women, even so briefly, I have come to understand that my years of celibate isolation, the rigid pursuit of my Way, has been almost futile. At least now, in my final days, I have completed one good deed. And, before I take the honourable path to the next life…
Yoshimasa abruptly ceased reading. The honourable path. Seppuku. The understanding swiftly coursed his mind – he was reading a final testament from a man already departed from temporal existence. Glancing down toward the stream, he saw Umi and Masako, hand in hand, winding their way back up and swiftly perused the last of the epistle.
Shinogi had several final deeds, all deemed to be good he hoped. He was bequeathing his monastery to the villagers below; what they would do with it he didn’t know, it being so isolated, but no doubt one day it would be of benefit.
His tanjian artefacts; the ancient scrolls and yellowed time-worn books, he wanted Yoshimasa to have. As the last of the true tanjian masters, his Way died with him. Not all of the literature was to be so preserved. Shinogi had destroyed those tomes encompassing the Dark Side…the evil dimension. Use what you will of the rest, Yoshimasa Mitani. There is some validity in it.
For one who had preached the virtues of simple non-material existence as the one true path, Shinogi possessed a tidy fortune. The bulk of his cash money would care well for his now few faithful retainers. And his real wealth – rare paintings, precious works of jewellery, ancient jades and porcelains – he wanted to go to Umi and Masako. Delivery would be arranged once cataloguing and valuations had been finalised by experts.
So that they will know. Please do not tell them until it arrives. From my vantage point in the hereafter I should like to see their looks of pleasure and surprise. Now with that done, Shihan Mitani, the letter continued, I shall finish with my reasons for this course, reinforcing my earlier point relating to the futility I feel. I should like to think that it is a gift to you but I also fear that it is not. Please do not think badly of me for the conveyance; it is not my intent to cause damage to you. You are still young enough to pursue Shiro. I cannot hope for the luxury of time to be made available to me. And it will be many years before he returns to Japan, if ever, Shihan Mitani-san.
Umi and Masako were stopped some hundred yards from the house, bending and picking wildflowers, as he prepared himself for the turn to the next sheet. What could Shinogi mean by such a statement? How could he be so positive?
Mystified, he quickly scanned the two newspaper articles that were pasted there. No annotation by Shinogi, just the two neatly cut clippings. Headline over a photograph of a group of men being the top pasting, with report below. A straight written article being the second, primarily a list of names.
Each headline, dated only three weeks ago, June 1947, was quite bold. Not the most prominent news, nor minor. WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL featured strongly in both. The war had not been over two years yet.
Seeing nothing of immediate significance, Yoshimasa began a slower perusal. First the headline – INFAMOUS 508 UNIT ARRAIGNED FOR TRIAL. Underneath the photograph he read that this particular team of scientists had conducted horrific experiments on the Chinese peoples of Manchuria since 1935. Research relating to germ warfare, the effects of heat and cold and various noxious gases, abilities to tolerate pain and exhaustion. All carried out using hapless human guinea pigs…Chinese people liberated by the Imperial Japanese Army from the oppression of the Chinese rulers. Most of the experimenters were in custody and it was anticipated that they would be found guilty and executed. Some were listed as dead or missing. He scanned the names once more. No Shiro Mitani. So why…? Looking carefully at each face, the important looking white-coated first row first then the next tier, he found him. Two in from the left, military uniform, crop-haired. Only two-thirds of his face evident from behind the larger man in front. Unmistakeably Shiro, under another name and noted as missing. Especially sought after because of his special skills exercised in the name of science. His son! WAR CRIMINAL! SADIST! INHUMAN!
Yoshimasa – always a calm man, accepting of fate and ready to concede that what is is – felt the onset; the palpitating rush. The lifetime of discipline and training eroding as a deep cutting spasm of pain and guilt surged from his inner being into every cell of his body. He, a man afraid of no man, found himself beginning to tremble at this outrage, this onslaught to his very essence. Of necessity, he closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply, strongly, invoking the Shin Ju. It was his only chance to hold together. Shiro, Shiro, Shiro – news that Shiro was dead was preferable to this.
The excited chatter of Masako as she clambered up the steps drew him from the trance. As he opened his eyes and saw them there, Yoshimasa regained his composure. The little one had her tiny hand outstretched tendering the bunch of field flowers. Her mother was waiting behind, outwardly radiant; a guise that he could clearly see was engineered to camouflage deep concern. Shinogi had delivered them to him, in a final gesture of humanity. He, Yoshimasa Mitani, would not see that deed sullied by anything.
‘Thank you, Masako,’ he said gently. ‘Indeed, these are most beautiful flowers. I shall cherish them. Perhaps you would find a vase and water to place them in. They are in the kitchen, little one.’ As the girl danced off, revelling in the new life, Yoshimasa Mitani beckoned for Umi to sit down, on the chair beside him this time rather than the one opposing. Pre-empting her questions, he was to the point.
One – she and Masako had a home here. There was no need for them to suffer any more. Two – there was nothing in Shinogi’s letter that should concern her. All was well. What had happened a few weeks ago was done with, thanks to Shinogi. Three – Shiro was forever gone, killed in the last months of the War. Just as he, the father, must learn to adjust to life without him, so must she and her daughter. They had a new life to live.
At this latter statement, Yoshimasa had watched for Umi’s reaction. Negative and positive fluctuated like the hummingbird as it flitted this way and that from flower to flower. She still loved him, he concluded. Only two days of encounter and she loved Shiro. Her first impetuous love, and her last. The father of her child, who so obviously meant so much to her. Her delusions that her briefly known man was coming back were obviously so hard to relinquish. Perhaps she had come to believe the story her family had concocted of the dashing, noble soldier about to return from gallant war. Yoshimasa observed the push and pull as Umi came to grips with the false reality he had engendered. Perhaps Shiro did still exist, however for this young woman, her daughter and himself, it was best that he did not.
Yoshimasa felt good when Umi had then stood up, defiant and daring. No tears in her eyes, no self-recriminations. ‘So it shall be, Mitani-san. Now…’ she paused, indicating to the oncoming night sky, ‘…I have looked at your larder and, I think, determined your preferences in food. Would it be acceptable for me to attempt to prepare a meal for you? I ran a guest house you will remember…I am a passable cook.’ She said this with just a perceptible hint of levity, which Yoshimasa latched upon. He smiled broadly and swept his hand toward the kitchen in willing acceptance – his own cooking was atrocious. Indeed, food aside, good could be wrought from this otherwise tragic circumstance.
With Umi inside preparing their meal and Masako occupied with investigating the many intriguing things that came with a new residence, Yoshimasa returned to Shinogi’s letter. The evening light was no longer sufficient so he lit the oil lamp that hung on plaited twine from the eaves. Electricity had not yet reached these parts, though it was not far off. Personally, he did not care for it – too many changes to the old ways had come about already.
The second article, published by the Allied War Crimes Tribunal, gave the names, rank and service of Japanese military personnel identified as indictable for atrocities committed upon Allied prisoners of war and civilian populations in South East Asia between 1939 and 1945. The list was the Tribunal’s first-phase release – the men against whom it had incontrovertible proof of the worst charges laid. Many more secondary identifications would follow. Beside each name, the subject’s status was given. Detained, Confirmed Deceased, Possibly Deceased, or Wanted. Following this came the country or countries in which the crimes were committed.
Calmly this time and anticipating the inevitable, Yoshimasa ran his finger through the alphabetical list until he found it. MITANI, Shiro. Captain, Army. Possibly deceased. Wanted. China, Singapore, Malaysia, Burma. Yoshimasa slumped back into the bamboo chair. MITANI – his family name. Honourable lineage, Samurai, ronin stock, descendants of Shogun. War criminal Mitani. Shiro – only twenty-nine years old, a killer since seventeen. Wanted, possibly deceased.
Yoshimasa dropped the sheaf of papers onto his lap, lolled his head back and digested the portent of this news. Shinogi was correct. Shiro would not, and could not, ever return. That was obvious. The prospect both angered and pleased him. The anger was tinged with guilt in that he, the father, would not be given the opportunity to despatch his own son from this life. The pleasure…satisfaction in that Shiro would not return to inflict more harm, especially on Umi and Masako.
He began to reflect on the life that had been before; Shiro’s birth, his expectations as a father, the loss of his wife, his own responsibilities in the continuum of things. Then he stopped abruptly before the train of thought went too far. Evil – in the guise of Shiro – could not be explained or dissected or rationalised. He was. That his son might be dead did not register emotionally with Yoshimasa. The prospect was, in fact, more palatable than the alternative. If however they should one day meet, Yoshimasa’s imperitive to terminate Shiro’s life had not altered.
‘Your meal will be ready in five minutes, Mitani-san. Does it suit you to have it then?’ Umi’s soft sweet voice had penetrated the anguished haze of thought. Haiiee! Indeed it would suit him. The food was irrelevant. He, his granddaughter and her mother were together. So it would be. From this point Shiro would cease to exist. Life would recommence, as it should.
Anticipating the pleasurable family meal and he turned to the last sheet of Shinogi’s personal communication. There were a few sheets of further data appended and Yoshimasa Mitani was keen to see it over. Nothing could affect him more than what had come so far.
Shihan Mitani, no doubt you have suffered from the preceding revelations. For that, as the bearer, I apologise, but I also know that you have the strength to accommodate them.
Your conclusions, I anticipate, are that Shiro is either dead or exiled forever. As tanjian I tell you that he is neither. You may dismiss my judgement or accept it, as you wish. However, in such areas, despite other fallibilities, I am never wrong.
Shiro is certainly alive and may the Gods help all the people he impacts upon between now and when he decides to return to Japan. As he will, but not in my lifetime or even possibly yours.
Salutations, Shihan Mitani. I trust wholeheartedly that you and I shall meet – not soon for your sake – in the afterlife and look back at all this as mere nonsense in the greater scheme of things. It has been my honour to have met you.
Yorimoto. Yorimoto. Yoshimasa’s brain delved into the name momentarily then made the connection. Eleventh century. The Taira versus the Minamoto in the struggle for control of the Imperial Court and Government. Lost then regained by the Minamoto under the leadership of Yorimoto, who went on to become one of the greatest statesmen Japan ever experienced. Allied and married into the Shirakawa Imperial family that ruled in the name of the child-Emperor, Antoki. Haieeii! Matters began to make sense. Not Shinogi Yorimoto’s immersion in the occult world of the tanjian; that was something never to be fathomed. But it explained to Yoshimasa the wealth left to bequeath.
The last few sheets must have been annexed after the old man had finished his testament. There was no covering explanation to the copy of an official document headed WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL. Translation into Japanese of the statement by Corporal James Murphy, formerly of the 2nd Battalion, Australian Infantry Forces. Prisoner-of-War in the Lashio Work Camp – Upper Burma, 1943 to 1945. The verbatim testimony in relation to actions of Captain Shiro Mitani of the Japanese Imperial Army.
To have been shocked and ashamed by Shinogi’s earlier revelations was one thing. The term WAR CRIMINAL, just two words, was indeed terrible for any father to accommodate when applied to his son. But fleshed out into vivid detail, given real descriptions of the horrific cruelty inflicted on other human beings by one’s own progeny was another thing entirely.
Yoshimasa forced himself to continue through the damning statement, fighting off the urge to distance himself and view the words from behind a protective mental veil. However the words were those of a man who had endured the deeds and who then had the strength to bravely relive them without any such protection. Yoshimasa would be less of a man to be afraid of the words alone.
‘…then the bastard – sorry, there I go again. I just don’t have any other word for him – well, a few others, I guess. The bastard, having made his own men commit ritual suicide and chopped their heads off, makes like he’s going to go the same way by falling on his bloody sword. I thought good fuc…sorry – good job, though I didn’t like the thought of him going out the quick way.
‘Anyway, the prick didn’t do it. I thought these Samurai geezers were supposed to be honourable. No; he jumps up, stretches his arms and the sword towards the sky and starts screaming these words I’d never heard before. And I’ve heard pretty well most of their battle cries. It was like, ahh…like he was bloody possessed.
‘That’s when I noticed the tattoos on his shoulders. A double dragon on each, curled around each other and a sword and done in red and black, same colours as the bindings on his katana – his sword. Just telling you that as it’ll help identify him if you get the bastard.
‘Then he turns and spits at the bodies of his soldiers and pisses off into the jungle. That was that. End of story on all the cruel things he did to people over two years. But one thing…if you find him, I want the job of executioner. It won’t be as quick and neat as the rope though.‘
Stupefied, with bolts of pain and anguish cleaving his battered mind, Yoshimasa Mitani sat very still. Moving, he feared, would trigger actions that he might not be able to control. The very centre of his being, the essence of the Way he had lived and breathed was under violent assault. Doubts clawed at the virtues that he aspired to, tearing at the very fabric of goodness, at his understandings of existence itself. Slowly the battle waned, and he found himself considering, and then dwelling upon the honourable path, just as Shinogi had concluded on when his Way became so clouded. Yes, that course, that option would…
There was a sound, a light tinkling sound beginning to penetrate his dark cocoon of abject pre-occupation. Then he felt a slight trepid touch. Slowly, Yoshimasa opened his eyes. A vision confronted him; a beautiful round face with black eyes that danced with the flame of the oil lamp. A tiny hand placed on his so massive one. The sound – her voice he realised – repeating. ‘Grandfather…your supper is ready. Mama asked me to fetch you. Were you asleep, grandfather? I’m sorry…’
His deliberation of the honourable path melted away. No, that course would achieve nothing but his own selfish delivery from his duty. His duty to the world, to this Australian James Murphy and the others, in slaying Shiro. If he could be found. If not, then in waiting for him to return, so that he could rid mankind of the demon from his loins. And his duty to this little innocent and her mother. Haiiee. So it would be.
Carefully folding Shinogi’s papers to their original creases, Yoshimasa tucked the document inside his tunic, making a mental note to place it somewhere very safe tonight. Never would he allow these two to see it. Never.
The ensuing five days were the happiest for Yoshimasa in many years. Certainly since his wife had died twenty-seven years ago. He could see changes in Umi too and the mistrusting fear seemed to be gone from Masako’s eyes. His house had been transformed from the abode of a single man of simple taste and set in his ways, to something more family-like. Perhaps too much so he would think as he adjusted to not finding things where he was used to them. He said nothing about this, for Umi’s so evident delight superseded his own petty concerns.
This pleasure, this concession to happiness, did not mean that he had forgotten the raw horror of what he had learned from Shinogi. Nor did it indicate that his resolve had waned. It could not, ever. He had adjusted and compartmentalised his life – Umi and Masako should never have to suffer for the sins of the Mitani. But he, in that name, had an inviolate obligation. To himself, to his ancestors, to the spirit of the ronin, to the code of the true Samurai. He could not let Shiro destroy all that had gone before.
With purpose each day, beginning at dawn, Yoshimasa engaged in two hours of intense training down by the stream. His katas for the karate; the intricate sword manoeuvres involved in the kendo. Always with focus, always centred on a no longer theoretical opponent. Shiro, his own son, was imagined there before him. And so it would be until the real moment came.
Before the two young females had arrived he would normally train bare-chested but now he ensured that he wore a gi top or shirt. Not out of modesty; that was not a concern. It was the mark of the Jodan Ju on his right shoulder that had to be concealed.
He thought of this often as he worked out. He, Yoshimasa Mitani, was hiding the honour, whereas his son had been flourishing a bastardised red and black version never earned. Almost, but never attained. Thank the Gods, as Shinogi had said. And one on each shoulder the Australian Murphy had sworn. Claiming two victories. Had Shiro deemed his short-lived conquering of his father the first? Was his dishonourable killing of his opponent in the final of the 1942 Jodan Ju considered the second? And the colours – red and black. The colours of some of the Muramasa swords – associated with ignoble deed and calamity. Adopted by choice!
Every morning as his thinking reached this same point, Yoshimasa would double the intensity of his training. Then return to the house and to the concern of both Umi and Masako at his state. Why he did this they might question but dared not ask.
On the morning of day six of their arrival, it was decided that the household needed provisions. Umi was profusive on the matter. She and Masako did not want to be a drain on Yoshimasa. Once truly settled she would endeavour to find a job; he would not have to be so supportive. His protestation that what she was already doing was more than enough, that he was a lonely old man – only in his early fifties, she reminded him – and he welcomed all the tending and attention had little impact. This young Umi was as independent a woman as Yoshimasa had ever met, notwithstanding her circumstance.
Even when he had hinted to her, beyond earshot of Masako, that he was not without means and could quite comfortably support them, he received a warm rebuff. She was not here to live off him and would find work to ensure that. True to Shinogi’s request, he did not divulge the pending inheritance. The fact that Umi and her daughter would be quite wealthy soon made the current situation and banter almost amusing.
Obtaining provisions meant a long walk down into Kyoto. One hour downhill, one-and-a-half back normally for Yoshimasa – regardless of what he carried. Two, perhaps three hours to return he figured this day with Umi and Masako. So be it. It was a pleasant stroll through the woods, young Masako darting here and there at each piece of interest. A mossy rock, a gecko fleeing, leaves and stones both ordinary and unusual and of various colours. Two hours down it eventuated, but time was of little concern.
At several stages Yoshimasa had resorted to carrying the young girl on his back, not always from fatigue on her part but for the fun and also for him to speed up the journey. Once she had lurched back, pulling his tunic top with her and sighted the tattoo, still fresh looking but some seventeen years old now.
‘What scary looking dragons, Grandfather,’ Masako squealed, resisting Yoshimasa’s pull to cover up. ‘What have you got that for? Mama says that bad men have those things. Are you a bad man, Grandfather?’
‘Come down right now’, Umi said sternly as she plucked her daughter off Yoshimasa’s back, sighting the intricate etching herself in the process. ‘You mind your own business, Masako, as I have too often told you.’
‘It’s all right, Umi,’ the tall man chuckled as he shrugged the top back to position, then squatted down before his granddaughter and took both her hands in his. Masako looked back balefully, not knowing whether she was in trouble or not. Smiling, he explained. ‘No, little one, I am not a bad man. Your mother is right though. Many bad men do have these things called tattoos. But not this very special one. One day when you are much older I may tell you about it. Now, we had better hurry or that vendor may have run out of the sweetmeats I promised you.’
Yes, he is a good man, Umi thought as they strolled the last mile to the outskirts of Kyoto. But she could not help wondering about the tattoo. When Shiro – calling himself by another name – had seduced her almost six years ago, he had convincingly embellished his aura with tales of his father’s great prowess in the martial arts. And not at all modestly insisted that he was himself better, as he would soon prove. There was that, and the story he had given about his noble forebears. Perhaps either of these tales accounted for the tattoo. One day, she thought, when she and Yoshimasa Mitani knew each other better, she might broach the subject with him. It was important, even without Shiro, that Masako should know her lineage.
Feeling somewhat like a mule, Yoshimasa slung the last of the paired and roped sacks across his wide shoulders. Small as the sacks were, each containing some necessary victual, the accumulative weight was not insignificant. Seeing that Umi was also relatively burdened, he deigned not to say anything. Living by himself, none of this was usually necessary and when the occasion did arise he had availed himself of the store’s delivery service. Before the war it had been by horse and dray; now it was by the smoke-spewing, thundering Mitsubishi automobile truck that terrified every life form from the foothills to his front door. But that did not matter. Umi saw it differently, and saw him quite differently, he realised. He would go along with it and indeed enjoy it. Though he wondered already how he would adjust his load to accommodate little Masako after the first quarter mile uphill as they made their way home.
‘Hey, Umi baabby.’ The raspy call was crass and forceful Yoshimasa discerned, judging it to have come from the motor vehicle crawling on the bitumen alongside them. He knew the general sound of the English language and that the accent was American – even he had not been able to totally avoid the occupiers. But he knew very few meanings for their words.
The camouflage-painted Willeys Jeep slewed across their path and stopped. Two men, large he could tell even though they were seated. US Marines fatigues, holstered pistols at their waists. Yoshimasa glanced sideways at Umi. Her eyes were bulging in terror and he could see that she had begun to shake as she clutched Masako to her skirts.
The driver, with crew-cut hair like the other but dark rather than fair, leaned over the side panel. ‘Umi, baabby, remember us? Course you do. Best night you ever had, huh?’ The man swung his head briefly back to his passenger and gave a leery wink.
‘Well, wadda ya know, Umi,’ he carried on as he turned back. ‘We get transferred to this goddam joint and you just turn up. We were that good you tracked us down, huh? Needing some more good-ole American cock, eh, Umi? Saves us a whole lotta arse-hunting tonight.’
Yoshimasa, not knowing what was being said but understanding that it was harassing and unpleasant, barked a rapid question at Umi. ‘You know these gaijin?’
Although rooted in fear, she nodded quickly and spat out. ‘They are the ones, Mitani-san. Back in Fukuoka.’
‘Gaijin, huh, slant-eyed arsehole.’ This came from the blonde marine, who had stood up in the vehicle and looked ready to jump out. A formidable looking young man wearing a khaki singlet top that displayed the musculature, his G.I. tags around his neck swaying with his every aggressive movement. Yoshimasa, even at the ten-foot distance, could smell the whiskey but assessed that neither was drunk. Merely fuelled for trouble.
The driver tapped the other on the leg, indicating he should take it easy, then said almost reasonably, ‘Umi – you come with us, there’ll be no fuss. Grandpops or whoever the hell he is can take care of your kid. Get in the back or things will happen to all of you.’ His thumb jerked in the direction of the rear of the Jeep.
Yoshimasa registered the terror on Umi’s face and also a gathering crowd. He slowly lowered the provision bags to the ground behind him as he instructed Umi to move back and shield Masako from all view. She began to protest that no, she would go with them rather than see him hurt. Yoshimasa snapped back so fiercely that she understood there were no options – exercisable by her anyway.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing, old man,’ the driver snarled. ‘We are fucking Marines. We wopped your arse in the war and you’re gonna get fuckin’ wopped right now if you fuck with us. Understand? Wakarimasu ka, slope-eyes?’
Yoshimasa took note that it was the fair-haired one, the passenger who was the more poised to move. ‘Hai, wakarimasu,‘ he answered, although he did not understand the man’s English words, just their intent.
‘What’s this goddam girl to you, shithead,’ the second man shouted, still standing and swaying with aggression. ‘She’s just a fuckin’ whore. A bar-girl. A cock-sucker. Get out of our way. Wakarimasu ka?‘
Quarter-turning to Umi, Yoshimasa urgently requested her to translate if she could. The tears welled and she shook her head, clasping even more tightly to little Masako. Returning square-on to these Americans – Umi’s rapists of only a month ago – Yoshimasa indicated with hand signs that if they wished to progress to her, they could only do so through him. Each looked at the other, shrugged and smiled with inflated contempt. What could this middle-aged man do to them – US Marines? He must be insane.
As anticipated, it was the blonde one, the passenger, who moved first. Swiftly jumping onto the seat, vaulting over the windscreen of the Jeep, pounding the bonnet with his combat boots and springboarding off it. Fast, precise, with deadly intent and obvious training. Factors which, when coupled with fuelled aggression, made an ominous force.
Shihan Yoshimasa Mitani rejected the prospect of killing the man while he was in flight. These two men had subjected Umi to many hours of pain and humiliation, pillaging her young body at will to gratify their perverse wants. Yoshimasa did not have the luxury of similar hours to reciprocate. All the same, in only a few seconds he would ensure that their six hours of deviate pleasure would convert to a lifetime of hell.
Stepping aside slightly to avoid the vicious but Westernised flying heel strike directed at his head, he allowed the American – half his age, a little taller and much more solid – to land and roll on the grass verge. Perhaps it was because Yoshimasa did not rush in at the marine’s disadvantage, did not even feint but stood still, hands at sides waiting for the secondary assault, that caused the attacker to hesitate and flick a glance at his cohort.
A thumb came up from the swarthier Marine, accompanied by a flashed grin and wink. ‘Go Marty.’ Goddam, after all, Marty was pretty damn good at this stuff. The slope-eye didn’t have a shit’s show in hell.
Marty sprang forward from his crouch, elevating and extending swiftly into a variation of the mawashi, a roundhouse sweep kick intended to fell Yoshimasa about the knees, preceding a finishing strike.
Mitani let it gather momentum and near completion before he moved. And then, with blurring speed, he unleashed an obscure version of the chusoku, the ball of his right foot impacting on the American’s striking leg at the side of knee with such force that every major bone from hip to heel shattered in unavoidable unison.
Before the man could even form a scream or register pain, Yoshimasa had struck twice more. Once with a nukite, the spear hand, at an oblique angle into the middle of the neck, toward the oesophagus. Not a killing strike, but penetrating and quite purposeful. Simultaneously, the steeled toes of his left foot had swept up into this Marty’s crotch, incidentally bursting his testicles on their inward passage. This arrogant young rapist of the weak and helpless would neither walk, talk nor have potency again.
The second Marine – the darker one, the instigator in Yoshimasa’s judgement – had one hand placed on the door of the Jeep and was poised to leap into the fray after his compatriot had suffered the first blow. Two seconds after that he had frozen; the crack of the leg snaps and the heavy muffled sound of tissue and organs being pulverised pulled him up cold.
He looked about wild-eyed, seeking avenues of escape but there were none. A small arena had formed around the vehicle; eager local faces peering at the day-lifting spectacle. A murmur had begun rising…Mitani, Mitani.
The tall Jap bastard just stood there, looking at him, while Marty writhed on the ground, screaming silent screams.
Fuckin’ hell! He, Frankie Bellino from Brooklyn – jammed by a bunch of slope-eyes. With no choice but action, he swung over the low door, clawing at his holster with the precision that he had been taught and had so successfully utilised in the past.
Having solid metal – his issue Colt 38 – sandwiched between his hand and hip accentuated the destruction as the kakato struck with massive speed and power. Yoshimasa’s heel crushed Frankie’s hand into the pistol and kept pushing through as if he had no mass or substance. The hapless second-generation New York Italian, stud of the block before this war and more so on leave, felt his pelvis fracture and then something else snap towards the base of his spine. He did not even see the second leg swing up, or feel a thing, as he received the same withering kick to his groin as his comrade in rape, neutering him. Frankie Bellino was henceforth condemned to paraplegia from the waist down. Quite deliberately left with voice so that he could tell the authorities of their misdeeds and the reasons for their demise. A voice now silent, for his brain had lapsed unconscious, shutting down bodily functions to minimise the trauma. Yoshimasa turned toward Umi, and saw that she had not moved. Her eyes were wide open in shock at the destruction she had witnessed but she had young Masako well buried in her skirts to avoid her sighting what had just occurred.
Mitani’s attention turned to the still gathering crowd and he ascertained that there were two moods. Some, those who had recognised him and perhaps were enjoying seeing these occupying devils dealt with, were continuing a low chant…Mitani…Mitani.
But there were also some others, engendering mischief. Low woman. Fraterniser. Fancy Yoshimasa Mitani defending such a woman – a whore of the Americans. The rumblings were on the increase, passing from the almost festive toward the ugly.
Yoshimasa turned his back on the two Marines – one inert, one silently squirming – and began to pick up his discarded provisions. He ignored the crude suggestions being called out from certain sections of the throng and the upturned palms that waved back and forth at Umi, although he noted that she could not dismiss the insults and was becoming visibly distraught. Then he heard the approaching siren. As the crowd began to part Yoshimasa again took the sacks from his shoulders and waited for whatever was in store.
It was Military Police, in American uniforms much more crisp and neat than the fatigues of the two assailants. Three men – two front, one rear – the latter bearing the air and dress of higher rank; an officer. The open Jeep was a shiny dark green emblazoned with the white stars and large initials that certified their authority. They stopped the vehicle some twenty feet off where Yoshimasa stood, assessing the situation as the officer rattled off instructions into his walkie-talkie and to his men. Ambulance, back-up in case the crowd turned violent, front men not to draw their weapons but to be prepared to, and step from the vehicle cautiously. On seeing that the tall Japanese made no endeavour to move, the Major exited from the Jeep himself, looking around at the now silent gathering. To wait for more support or move – that was his dilemma.
Yoshimasa meanwhile automatically reviewed his strategy should defence become necessary. Even at the distance between them, should they extract their guns, he could most surely take them. Then, from the front of the crowd, about halfway between the two parties, a man stepped forward, removing his hat as he did so. Mitani had only a quarter profile but could tell that he was not more than thirty.
‘Major,’ the man addressed the M.P. chief in near flawless English. ‘I, and many others about me, witnessed this event. Those two men,’ he flourished toward the ground behind him, ‘–attacked the gentleman you see standing there with the sacks at his feet. They were attempting to abduct the young woman you see there, the one holding her child. My countryman interceded to prevent that happening, and was set upon for his trouble. That your men are in the state they are is the product of their own folly. They are indeed most fortunate to be alive.’
Shit, the Major thought as he grappled with the situation. Two men down and both known to him. Bellino, a real troublemaker; and Marty Coleman – bad news too but also one of the Pacific Marine’s best unarmed combat champions. Both with the crap kicked out of them by this middle-aged lanky sod-busting looking Jap who was just standing there like he’d take him and his men out too if they made a move.
And the crowd had moved back in to close the gap the Jeep had come in through. Now he had this smart-arse English-speaking Jap guy who acted like a goddam lawyer from the East back in the States. Shit.
Glaring at his two N.C.O.’s and indicating that they should sit tight, the Major spoke to this young advocate. He couldn’t risk gunplay, not with the crowd. Orders were to appease, defuse, and at all times maximise fraternal relations.
‘I don’t know who you are, sir, but we have to have a look at those men. They seem in very bad shape to me. An ambulance may be a while. Will that man,’ he said indicating Yoshimasa, ’cause any problem with that.’
The young man shook his head. ‘I don’t believe so, Major. Allow me a moment to speak with him.’ He pivoted about, taking short solemn paces towards Mitani. His face held solemn too, as he stopped and bowed low, holding for longer than necessary for mere introduction. But as his face came back up there was the barest suggestion of a smile. One matched by a surprised Yoshimasa Mitani.
‘Hajimemashi te, Sensei Mitani.’ Hideyoshi Asano was pleased to meet him. Mitani’s student for eight years before the war; the scholar and thinker, not bull-at-a-gate like his friend Oda Tanada. Following the lead, Yoshimasa replied as formally, and then listened intently as Asano took charge, inverting their former roles. He now was a lawyer.
As negotiated by Asano, Yoshimasa was detained in custody for three days. Just sufficient time for the two Marines to stabilise in hospital and for the one who could still speak to provide a statement that the other also signed. Their admissions, consequent to Asano’s bedside discussions with them, were that it was they who had been the aggressors and that they waived all liability on Mitani’s part. That Asano held multiple charges of rape, deprivation of liberty and assault over their heads and aquainted them with what Yoshimasa Mitani could further do to them should they not co-operate, had bearing on the outcome. The two, he convinced them, were indeed most fortunate to be living eunuch cripples.
Hideyoshi Asano had seen that Umi and Masako were cared for in this time, sending his wife up to the house, with strict instruction to support, not probe. For Umi was delicately poised, one finger hanging on to what was left of her dignity and one push from total devastation. The comments from the crowd had been disgusting as Yoshimasa was led away and Asano had shielded her and Masako to his own car. Over the few days of Mitani’s incarceration, Hideyoshi heard the street talk of this fraternising woman who had caused the great Mitani so much trouble.
From Yoshimasa himself, Hideyoshi got little of the background to the incident. Umi was merely a homeless distant relative, cooking and caring for him he had explained. She had turned up after being dealt with so badly by the two American soldiers and he had taken her in for the time being, as was his duty. Out of respect, Hideyoshi had not delved further.
Just as, when he carefully enquired about Shiro – Yoshimasa’s son who had badly beaten up he and Oda Tanada thirteen years earlier – and received the curt statement that he was dead, killed in the war, Hideyoshi demurred from further questioning. If Yoshimasa Mitani did not know the truth then it would not be he who would be the one to tell him. For Hideyoshi Asano, the English-speaking lawyer and returned soldier had since the war ended and until recently worked for the War Tribunal. Shiro’s foul deeds were well known to him and he also knew that he was listed as missing, un-returned. Not confirmed dead at all. No known relatives – Asano had never informed the Tribunal that he knew Shiro’s father, being aware of the impact the relevations would have on his revered former teacher.
Life in the Mitani household was reasonably content for the next three weeks however not as happy as it had been for that first week, which was understandable to Yoshimasa’s mind. He had no misgivings for what he had done to the Americans. Nor derived any pleasure, for it had merely been giri, his duty. Yet he wondered if the violence had upset Umi, if that was what was affecting her especially the last two days.
In lightly talking to her, bit by bit he gleamed that no, it was not that. She accepted that the men got just reward. That she had brought trouble upon him bothered her deeply though, particularly the disrespect and taunting of the townsfolk below. He was obviously held in great esteem prior to the incident. Patiently, Yoshimasa explained that this did not bother him. Just as she had not caused the violence – the men had attracted it upon themselves – so were the uninformed bigots in town attracting their own bad karma. He likened it to a stone tossed into a placid lake. The stone caused violence to the water, sending it erupting upwards at the point of impact then radiating outwards in all directions at once. Any plant, insect or fish within the ripples’ path was in some way affected. And, in time, all returned to as it was. Placid. Was it the stone that caused the violence or the person who tossed it? She seemed calmed by this thought and had busied herself about the house and with little Masako. Two days later however, when it was time again to go down into Kyoto for provisions, Umi would not come. Yoshimasa stressed that she should in order to show the people that she was not afraid of them or their accusations. In time this thing would pass if she did so; most certainly not if she baulked at it. It would always be there, waiting for her, until she confronted the issue.
Umi insisted that the fear of ridicule was not the reason. Then on coaxing, shyly revealed that it was the wrong time of the month for her. She did not think she could make the long journey down and back this day without complication and embarrassment. He should take Masako though. Having lived so long without feminine company, Yoshimasa had never considered such a matter and acceded, with a touch of abashment.
He enjoyed the exclusive company of his granddaughter, revelling in her childish delights and pandering to them on the easy passage down to the city. This time, knowing that he would have to cart her much of the way back, he arranged for the store to deliver, despite the premium.
No one said anything directly to him of course, but he caught the allusions and after-talk of the city folk several times. The hasty gathering of heads and the whispers, mostly intended not to be heard and, when intended to be, made by people who were hurriedly making their way distant. All this was beyond Masako and Yoshimasa kept it that way. And when they reached home, he shared none of it with Umi, allowing Masako to bubble out the day’s happy events.
The next month passed reasonably well, although Yoshimasa sensed that Umi was presenting a strong front. Sometimes too eager to please, other times remote and withdrawn. This business with the Americans, and the aftermath, no doubt had wounded her deeply he concluded and did not press on any issues. Time would heal. So he thought, until he once more had to go to town to replenish supplies. His simple single life was different with these two. With Umi’s help he had added to his vegetable patch but the results were some weeks off fruition. Staples were needed and, while he could have made arrangements, he also looked forward to the outing.
Again, Umi would not come, for the same reason as the last time. Yoshimasa juggled their food inventory about in his head, calculating that they could last another five days and put the proposition to her… next week then? Definitely not she insisted. She had planned the meals and they were short on so many things to make them really satisfactory and to his liking. When he stated that the embellishments did not matter, Umi had dug in. They were needed, absolutely. Otherwise she would be failing in her obligations.
Resigned, and wondering whether this still came down to a problem with facing the Kyoto public, Yoshimasa sighed and indicated to Masako to get ready. No, Masako could not go today Umi told him and in no uncertain terms. Masako had things to learn, school was looming in a few months, there were preliminaries to be set in train. Umi had allocated this day to begin these. Putting the stress of the situation down to the woman’s monthly thing, Yoshimasa nodded stoically and headed off. The very few years he had shared with his own dear wife had been nothing like this. Perhaps the solitude of the walk would be of benefit to his slightly perplexed male mind.
As he emerged from the descending pine forest and began his steady stride onto the flats toward Kyoto, Yoshimasa stopped. He had an uneasy feeling about today’s goings on. Breathing deeply with his eyes closed he invoked the Shin Ju. Only to the level that shed superfluous thought and allowed him to see through confusion to the essence of the reality.
Haaiiee! He swivelled in the dust, then commenced a long loping run, although knowing that he was too late. How stupid he had been. How complacent. Stones cast in ponds indeed.
They had gone. All the little things, all but one of Masako’s drawings that had been plied upon him daily – gone. It was as if they had never existed. Swept out with a broom, leaving only a scent and a tidiness that meant their stay had been real. Umi had left a note. Sad, apologetic; sorry for all of them – him, herself, Masako. But she would not see Yoshimasa dragged down into her own pitiful mire. Nor Masako as she grew. With what had happened, and would worsen she alluded, Kyoto would never tolerate her. She would not bring the shame to Yoshimasa’s threshold.
Worsen. The term gelled with his conclusions reached only one hour earlier at the base of the foothills. The tension at month one which had increased at month two. Umi had not suffered from menstrual conditions at those times but from the lack of them. She was with child. To one or other of the only men it could be – the American rapists.
Despite his efforts, Yoshimasa never managed to trace Umi and his granddaughter. The young woman was both intelligent and resourceful, planning the flight meticulously. Hired car from the house in the reverse direction of Kyoto – northward to Nagoya. Rail from there to Tokyo. From where the trail went cold.
In her note she expressed regret that she had taken money from his cash jar. It was necessary for this move and she would repay it once stabilised wherever she settled and she had work.
Some six months later an envelope containing the money, and a naive but lively drawing of Masako’s, did arrive at his door. There was no note, no contact address, the source untraceable. Yoshimasa had felt deep remorse – he missed them terribly. The sorrow was compounded because three months prior he had received Shinogi’s legacy to Umi and Masako. They were wealthy but he, the trustee, was unable to tell them. Even his advertisements in newspapers about the country received no response.
From this point Yoshimasa would devote much of his daily meditations to each of his progeny. Shiro, his son whom he had a duty to kill on contact. And Masako, his granddaughter whom he would do anything to preserve. The paradox was not lost on him.