fast-moving purveyors of questionable wares. They also took it upon
themselves to be a kind of private militia, protecting a defenseless
citizenry from the predations of aristocratic warlords. They were, in
their own minds at least, Robin Hoods who championed the common man,
while also, not incidentally, catering to his penchant for
entertainment, excitement, and sin.
These days the Yakuza considered themselves the last heirs of the
samurai, but they still supplied escapism, be it in the form of
nightclubs, gambling, or amphetamines. And in so doing they had grown
fabulously rich. Jiro Sato's job in London was to reinvest and clean a
portion of that wealth.
Nippon Shipbuilding was headquartered in an eight- story building in
the new Docklands redevelopment, yet another expensive architectural
nonentity in that multi-billion-dollar new city on the banks of the
Thames downriver from the financial district. It was, in many ways, the
perfect location for a Yakuza beachhead. Unlike the older parts of
London, Docklands was ready-made for the parvenu, since everything
there was new and anonymous, yet it stood only minutes away from the
City - the best of both worlds. The London operation was going well, and
with the recent construction of their new Docklands financial complex,
at a cost of fifty million pounds sterling, matters were on a solid
Jiro Sato's relations with Kenji Nogami had, until today, been
conducted within the strict social dictates of Yakuza etiquette. As the
London _oyabun_, he had, in fact, bent the rules in journeying into the
City for their meeting today. Convention required that Nogami should
have come to him. However, a recent turn of events necessitated a new
concern with discretion. A muckraking series in the Telegraph two
months before had accused the Nippon Shipbuilding Company of being an
organized-crime front. Consequently he now had to take pains not to
connect his own operations with the workings of Westminster Union. It
was better all around if Kenji Nogami were not seen entering the
Docklands office by some snooping newspaper hack. Nogami was a useful
asset who needed to be kept above press speculation.
Also, Jiro Sato was beginning to wonder if the banker would actually
have come. Kenji Nogami was rapidly losing touch with the old ways.
None of this would ever have been known from the light talk at lunch.
It was only when the meal was over, and the staffers had discreetly
absented themselves with deep bows, that things finally got down to
matters at hand. But even then, as tradition required, the opening was
Japanese and indirect.
"Nogami-san," Sato Jiro said as he leaned back and reached for his
fifth go of sake, "do you recall the famous story comparing the three
great shoguns who ruled during that unsettled period surrounding the
Momoyama? The tale says they each were once asked what they would do if
they had a nightingale who refused to sing."
Nogami nodded and sipped from his sake saucer. Of course he knew the
story. Every Japanese did.
"You doubtless recall that Ieyasu Tokugawa replied, 'I will merely wait
until it does sing.' He was a patient man. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, by
contrast, said he would prefer to try and reason with the bird, hoping
to convince it to sing." He paused and smiled. "Sometimes gentle
persuasion does work. But the great warlord Oda Nobunaga declared he
would just ring the wretched creature's neck. He had no patience with
"Perhaps Ieyasu Tokugawa's answer was the wisest, Sato-sama." The
banker's eyes were defiant.
"He also enjoyed the luxury of time, Nogami-san. I suppose the pace of
affairs was more leisurely back then." Sato set down his black _raku_
sake saucer and lit a Peace cigarette, the unfiltered Japanese brand.
"These days events do not always allow us such luxuries, no matter how
much we might wish it. Sometimes it is necessary to proceed
"There is always a problem when the bird finds the song is . . .
unsuitable." Nogami again sipped from his own saucer, meeting Sato's
gaze. "When the notes are discordant."
Jiro Sato listened thoughtfully, appreciating Nogami's indirect and
poetic answer. Then the banker went on.
"Ninjo, Sato-sama. For over three centuries _ninjo_ has been what made
our brotherhood unique. Are we to forget that now?"
They both knew what he meant. _Ninjo_ was uniquely Japanese, because no
other people in the world had Japan's sense of tribal unity. The
Western terms chivalry or compassion carried only a superficial sense
of _ninjo_. It was the inborn golden rule of Japanese culture that
surfaced daily in expressions of racial togetherness, support and
cooperation. It also was a deep-seated part of the Yakuza tradition.
Great _oyabun _of the past liked to point out that the Yakuza's
honoring of _ninjo_ was what set their brotherhood apart from the
"The Yakuza have historically served the people," Nogami went on.
"Yakuza do not run dishonest gambling tables, even if the victims are
to be gaijin. It is not the Yakuza way to perpetrate fraud, which is
what the CEO's Eurobond issue amounts to."
Jiro Sato did not offer to refute the assertion. Instead he replied
from a different direction, his voice soft.
"There is _ninjo_, Nogami-san. And there is _giri_. Which do you
He knew he had just presented Nogami with a hopeless dilemma. _Giri_.
It was a word no _gaijin _could ever entirely comprehend. The closest a
foreign language, or a foreign mind, could manage was "duty." But that
pale concept missed entirely the reverberations of moral obligation in
_giri_. One could never fully repay such indebtedness, even with one's
life. A Japanese called it "the burden hardest to bear."
A Yakuza's foremost expression of _giri_ was to honor and obey his
_oyabun_. The great _oyabun_ of Japan's leading Yakuza syndicates were
more than merely godfathers. They were Confucian elders, patriarchs,
wisdom figures who embodied all the traditions of the clan. Their
authority was absolute and unquestioned.
Kenji Nogami owed as much _giri _to Tanzan Mino as any man could. The
Tokyo _oyabun_ had made him everything he was; it was an obligation he
could never fully discharge. One look at his face told how his heart
But as Jiro Sato studied Nogami's pained eyes, he was
torn as well. Tokyo was near to losing confidence in him. The CEO had
just announced by telex that a team of _kobun _had been posted to
London to "assist." But if the _oyabun's_ Tokyo people had to step in
and solve the problem, a lot more would be lost than finger digits.
Finally Nogami spoke, his voice firm. "Perhaps you will be pleased to
learn, Sato-sama, that I am prepared to make certain preliminary
accommodations. An initial offering of Eurobonds will be formally
"That is a wise decision." Jiro Sato tried to disguise his surge of
relief beneath a mask of unconcern. Nogami was going to go along after
"It will be for one hundred million Eurodollars," the banker continued.
"And it is already fully subscribed, in advance."
"Only one hundred million?" Sato felt his iron facade crack. "What
purpose - ?"
"It will provide the immediate funds I understand are now needed. After
that, we can discuss further steps."
Further steps? Sato thought. Yes, the Tokyo _oyabun _would definitely
see to it that there were further steps. His bird would sing. Or else.
Kenji Nogami was acting as though obligation, giri, had ceased to
exist. But such things were not possible. Giri lasted forever. Did
Nogami think the old ways no longer counted for anything?
"The debentures will be purchased by an American investor," Nogami went
on, his voice cutting through the silence. "His name is Vance."
"I have heard of him already." Sato felt his anger boil. Vance, he
knew, had the _oyabun's_ hundred million and was trying to hold the
entire scenario ransom. What he hadn't known until this instant was
that Kenji Nogami was helping him.
Well, he thought, perhaps the two problems can be solved
simultaneously. An example is going to be made of Vance, an example
that will also serve to provide a certain recalcitrant bird a needed
refresher course in _giri_.
Yes, Jiro Sato thought, the CEO's _kobun _from Tokyo are going to
arrive to find their work has been done. Enough face has been lost, not
to mention three men. The situation is intolerable. The only way to
regain the London office's tattered honor, to avenge its disgrace, is
to resolve the Vance situation immediately.
Tuesday 5:31 P.M.
"It's the best I can manage, Michael." Nogami's voice was apologetic.
"Nobody knows I keep this place, not even my wife."
"Afternoon business conferences."
"You catch my meaning." He smiled and walked on up the sandstone steps.
The townhouse was in the quiet residential South Kensington section of
London. From the outside, it looked to be the perfect safe house.
"So that's how the situation stands now," the banker continued. "Tanzan
Mino has agreed to your terms. He even seemed to like the idea of
laundering the hundred million one last time through a purchase of Mino
"Now we'll see if he sticks to his word."
"You've got leverage at the moment." He was fishing for his keys.
"Incidentally, I should tell you I broke the news to his London oyabun
here this afternoon. About postponing the rest of the issue. He was not
pleased. It's been a bad week for him."
"Are you planning to make this break with the organization permanent?"
Vance knew it was not something a Yakuza would do lightly.
"I'm still not sure." His voice was pained. "I don't even know if I
"The long arm of the Tokyo _oyabun_. Plenty of reach."
"It's not just that." Nogami was inserting a large key into the front
door, white with Georgian decorations and a leaded glass transom above.
"You understand the kind of obligation we Japanese must bear for past
favors. It's onerous, but all the same it's very real. We can't just
say thanks for the memories."
"_Giri_." Vance nodded. "The 'burden.' "
"Ah, you know. Yes, it's called _giri _and there's nothing we can do
about it." He was switching on the hall light. "_Giri _rules our
Vance noticed the floor had a pristine carpet in conservative gray. A
polished mahogany staircase led to the upper floors.
"Nice, Ken, very nice. The quintessential banker's pad."
"I have the entire building, my little indulgence. I keep a few
antiques here, some of my art. You know, special things. Unfortunately
I don't have a chance to use it much these days. The . . . friend I
used to meet here . . . well, her husband was transferred back to
Osaka. And I haven't had time to come up with a replacement."
"First things first, Ken. You should always make time for living. One
of my few rules in life. You never get another shot."
He laughed and opened the door leading from the hallway into the parlor
suite. It smelled slightly musty from disuse. "I'm better at giving
advice than taking it too, old man."
"Touche." Vance shrugged, then looked around the spacious drawing room.
It was furnished in standard English style, with overstuffed chairs, a
Victorian fireplace, an oak tea caddy and bar. But the nineteenth-
century appointments weren't what concerned him. Was it safe?
"Michael, we both may need this place if your plan doesn't work. I
don't know where else I can go." He walked to the bar, a collection of
bottles on the bottom tray of the caddy, and selected a flask of
cognac. "Now could you repeat that story again? About the protocol. I
must confess I'm dazzled."
In the limousine driving up from Westminster Union, Vance had finally
told him the real purpose of the bond issue, what the money was going
to be used for. The banker had listened in silence, stunned.
"Well, to make a long story short, you're being used, in what's
probably going to be the biggest shell game in history. Tanzan Mino
steals unsecured billions from European tax evaders and uses it to
finance the opening of Russia's markets for Mino Industries. You're
right to bail out now. If he pulls it off, he'll look like a genius.
But if it backfires and the truth comes out, you'll get full credit.
Not exactly a terrific downside."
"I didn't get this far exposing myself unnecessarily, and I don't
intend to start now. Not for him or anybody."
"Then we'll proceed with Plan A."
"This reminds me a lot of the old days." He laughed and poured a
snifter for each of them. "Here's to the end of _giri_."
"And the beginning of a new life." Vance clicked their glasses, then
took a sip. "Now, we need to get our coordination synchronized."
"Everything is ready at my end. Tomorrow morning I'll issue the zero-
coupon debentures you're going to purchase, and you'll make the trade.
After that I'll wire your hundred million to Tokyo, and Tanzan Mino is
taken care of. I've simultaneously arranged with Sumitomo Bank to
accept that paper as collateral for a loan. You'll get the money from
them on the spot. By the way, how do you want it?"
"Just park it in gilts, through the trading desk at Moscow Narodny
Bank, the new branch on Saint Swithins Lane."
"Done," Nogami nodded.
"Now how about the debentures that are Sumitomo's security? And mine.
Who's holding them?"
"We Japanese still act like gentlemen, Michael. At least up to a point.
They've agreed to let me hold them until we close our books at the end
of the month. I did them a similar favor last year." He sipped at his
brandy with satisfaction. "So you can still call them anytime if, God
help us, it comes to that. You'll have your leverage, and Tanzan Mino
will know it. If you should have to call them and he defaults, he'll
then have to answer to Sumitomo. And he wouldn't dare. I happen to know
they hold a forty-million- dollar mortgage on his new office building
down in the Docklands. They'd eat him and not even blink. There's some
bad blood between them, though I don't know exactly what it is."
"Okay, so far, so good." Vance looked around the room. "You're
absolutely positive nobody knows about this place?"
"It's been my little secret for four years now. I paid cash and I don't
even report the expenses on my tax forms, which gives you some idea how
I value my privacy. So there's absolutely no way anybody could know
"You never came here in your limo?"
"Only if I came without a driver, the way we did today."
"Then it sounds clean."
"This place is the least of your worries, Michael." He settled into a
chair. "After my meeting this afternoon, I have an idea that the London
_oyabun_, Jiro Sato, has every intention of taking things into his own
hands . . . to try and break me. He's going to push the pace - in swords-
manship it's called _mukatsu kasuru to iu koto_. He's lost too much
face. He can't let you get away with this and still control the
organization. After the debacle in Greece, he's near to becoming a
laughing stock among his own _kobun_."
"Can't Tokyo manage him?"
"Theoretically. But the organization is getting a little far-flung
these days. I don't know. My instincts tell me he's going to undertake
some face-saving on his own. Just temporarily overlook any agreement
you may have with the front office." He rose and splashed some more
brandy into his glass. "It's going to get rough, that's all I know for
sure. So the sooner you proceed with the rest of your plan, the
"Then I suppose it's time we wished each other well and got going."
Nogami finished off his brandy and dug the keys from his pocket. He
jangled them a moment in his hand, then tossed them over. "Take them
now. You might as well secure the place as we leave and start getting
used to that tricky front door lock. There won't be any time to
"Here's to you, Ken." Vance saluted him with the snifter,
then drained it. "And many thanks. If you ever owed me any _giri_,
consider it paid."
"That works both ways. I'm doing myself a favor too. I had to make a
break, if this financing double cross of his backfires, it could turn
into a worldwide scandal. I'd be ruined. Not to mention Westminster
Union, which the regulators here would probably padlock. With scarcely
concealed glee. It would merely confirm what everybody here wants to
think about those 'win-at-any-cost' Japanese these days."
"Well, I appreciate it. I mean that. I'm sorry we didn't get to know
each other better over the years." Vance tried locking the front door.
It was difficult, as Nogami had warned, but finally it clicked
securely. Outside the evening air was brisk, with a few of Nogami's
neighbors stoically walking large dogs and pretending to enjoy the
ambience of London's chilly dusk.
"If we both live long enough, maybe we can try. You're one of the few
Westerners I've known who ever really understood Japan."
"I had a crash course several years back."
"So I understand." He smiled as he opened the limo door. Vance would
drive. "Which is one of the reasons I wonder if this arrangement is
going to be as simple as we'd hoped. Tanzan Mino has a long memory,
Michael. He doesn't forgive or forget. I'm sure he still remembers you
were responsible for shutting down his cozy CIA arrangement."
"I thought it was time the Company cleaned up its act. But hell, that
was almost eight years ago."
"That's a mere snap of the fingers in Japanese time, as you well know."
"Well, fuck him if he can't take a joke."
"A joke is the one thing he can't take, my friend. He never smiles
unless there's a camera around."
"Look, you say he's agreed to deal. Let's assume for now he means it,
but in the meantime we proceed as planned. You trust your mother, but
you cut the cards."
Nogami settled into the seat and shut the door. Then he looked down
quizzically. "What's this? I didn't notice it before." He reached down
and picked up a black leather sachel off the floor, testing its weight.
"Somehow I've got a feeling it's not a new tie from Harrods."
"As it happens, that's a little housewarming gift from the Soviet
embassy. Part of my deal, along with the car. It's registered and
legal, or so they tell me."
"My God." He settled it back on the floor. "I must be getting old.
Hardware terrifies me these days. I'm not used to working this close to
the street anymore."
"It's only till we take care of business. You handle your end tomorrow
and we're both clear. At least for now."
"If it was really that simple, you wouldn't need this."
"The point is not to need this."
"My friend, if Jiro Sato breaks rank and moves on us, we're going to
need twenty of these. And more."
Tuesday 9:28 P.M.
"A KGB security squad was posted at the hotel, around ten o'clock this
morning, Sato-sama. They are armed."
"_Saaa_," he hissed an exhale of displeasure and leaned forward, an
unlit cigarette in his mouth. One of the black-suited _kobun
_immediately stepped up and flicked a lighter. He inhaled, then leaned
back. "I'd hoped this could be handled without any fuss. But we still
"Your decisions are always correct, Sato-sama." The second _kobun
_bowed. "But perhaps it might be wise to discuss the possibility of
waiting for the backup team from Tokyo, if only to convince ourselves
they are not needed."
"This office lost much face because of our problems in Greece. There's
only one way to regain it. We have to act now."
Worst of all, I've lost face too, Jiro Sato reminded himself, among my
own _kobun_. An _oyabun _has to lead. The minute he shows weakness,
he's through. Buddha only knows what would happen if I lost control
here. There's no turning back. An example has to be made of the
American meddlers, if only to make Nogami-san understand the organi-
zation still means business.
The Tokyo _oyabun's _daring project is going to succeed. In the long
run it's inevitable. The problems now are short-term. But if anything
else goes wrong with this office's responsibilities . . .
The _kobun_, five in all, bowed respectfully. They understood his
thoughts as clearly as if they had been projected in neon across the
back wall. The office had already lost three men. Face was at stake.
This problem could not be solved from Tokyo. It was time to draw
The operation was scheduled to begin at 11:00 P.M. sharp. The five
_kobun_ had already synchronized their digital watches and stashed
their H&K automatics in the two gray Fords now waiting in the
building's underground garage. No flashy limousines tonight; the
operation would be lowest of low profiles.
Three more of their team were already at the hotel, with walkie-
talkies, monitoring the entrances. The KGB security in the lobby would
be quietly diverted and then neutralized. The guard upstairs would
simply be overpowered, or taken out with a silencer if the situation
got out of hand. Since they were professionals, however, matters rarely
went that far.
The time had come to move. All five lined up in front of Jiro Sato's
massive oak desk and bowed to the waist; then one by one they filed
Tuesday 10:27 P.M.
It was going to be a simple operation, that much he was sure of. No
violence, no bloodshed. The bottle should take care of the situation.
All the same, he had a 9mm automatic in a shoulder holster. Life had
taught him that when something could go wrong, chances were good that
After this one last job, he was going to disappear. The situation had
deteriorated far past where any reasonable man would want to touch it.
The time had come to bail out and let the chips fall. One more day,
that was all.
Standing now at the side entrance of the Strand Palace, the small
alleyway named Burleigh that curved around the rear of the hotel and
met the main avenue, he pulled his overcoat tighter and glanced down at
It read 10:28. Time to get started. Everything was synchronized down to
He'd already made sure the service entrance was unlocked. He'd taped
the latch on the metal door during the comings and goings of the staff
during the evening shift change. Now all he had to do was slip through
and the rest should go like clockwork.
In he went. The neon-lit hallway was empty, again according to plan.
This was a slow time for all the staff except room service and the
He slipped off his overcoat and threw it into a large laundry hamper
parked halfway down the hall. Underneath he was wearing the uniform of
a Strand Palace security man.
He checked his watch. Sixty-five seconds . . .
At that moment the door of the service elevator opened and a tall
Irishman stepped off. He was wearing the same uniform.
It was a Strand Palace security guard, a real one. The worst possible
The moment seemed frozen in time. However, one thing was certain: the
security guard wasn't fooled for an instant by the intruder. He
automatically grabbed one of his trouser legs and knelt with a
practiced move, reaching for the holster strapped to his ankle.
The intruder was quicker. As the guard dropped down, his knee came up,
slamming against the man's square jaw. The Irishman toppled back
against the side of the elevator with a groan, but not before his fist
lashed out, aimed for the groin.
It was a glancing blow, and it was too late. The intruder chopped down
against his neck, disabling his left arm, then slammed his head against
the steel strut running down the center of the elevator wall. He
groaned and twitched backward.
Should I just break his neck? he wondered. Just kill him now? One twist
would do it.
No, he lectured himself, be a professional.
Instead he rammed the Irishman's head against the steel strut a second
time, and a third, till he felt the body go fully limp.
Not good enough, he told himself, and reached into his pocket for the
bottle. The ether was going to get more use than he'd planned.
He doused the heavy cloth he'd brought along and shoved it against the
fallen figure's nostrils. He continued to hold it on the ruddy face as
he closed the elevator door and pushed the button that would take him
As the lift rose, he checked his watch and smiled to see that his
timing was perfect. Ten seconds to go.
Tuesday 10:29 P.M.
"You bastard," Eva screamed as she slapped Vance with all her might,
knocking him against the door of their room. The thin walls shook.