I woke just after seven. Nine hours of unbroken sleep. Luxury! I turned on my mobile and as soon as it connected with my service provider it chimed. Sounds like a doorbell. I hesitated before I looked at the incoming message. I was warm and comfortable. I put the phone back onto the bedside table. I got out of bed and did some stretches and warm-ups before donning my running gear. I did six miles on what is euphemistically called an undulating course. It took me 45 minutes, not bad. I showered and went back to look at the mobile. I think I wanted the message to disappear just to give me more time. I went into the kitchen and cooked a full English breakfast, none of those American hash browns for me, but with a couple of slices of black pudding. The mobile was staring up at me from beside my toast and marmalade. Ok. Here goes.
‘Cedar Court Jct 24 M62 – today 19:30’
That’s sudden! I don’t know what I was expecting but not this and not quite so quickly. I wonder if it’s to be another envelope? Anyway I have the rest of the day to chill and prepare myself. One fact it does indicate is that Sumisu or his representatives must be close. Certainly in the UK.
I set off an hour earlier. I wanted to be there first. On ‘home turf’ as it were. I walked into the foyer through the side door and made a discreet circuit of the very plush seating area. There were a few reps about reading papers and having an early evening drink, one or two small groups. A couple of waiters tidying up as well as serving customers. A fairly ‘normal’ scene for a plastic 4 star hotel. However, not a single oriental gentleman in sight. I went to the reception desk and asked if there were any messages and drew a blank there as well. I walked up to a waiter who was retiring towards the doors leading to the kitchen and asked for a cup of coffee to be brought to a table in the quietest corner of the reception area and went and sat down with my back to the wall and facing the room. I had half an hour to kill. I picked up one of the tabloid newspapers and settled down into a deep leather armchair. My coffee came with a till slip charging me almost £5! Won’t be buying anymore of them! As I should have guessed, with typical oriental efficiency, a text messaged arrived at 19:28. It just said Room 328. That would be the third floor. I ran up the stairs rather than take the lift. I spent 30 seconds composing myself and walked down the corridor, following the brass signs with room numbers and arrows on the flock wallpapered walls, and found the door. I hesitated. No room key this time. I was going to meet someone. I knocked and waited. The door opened and there was Mr Sumisu.
“Steele san, Konbanwa. O genki desuka?” he said with a slight smile.
“Konbanwa. O genki desu, arigahtoh. Anata wa?” in my best beginners Japanese.
“O genki desu. Arigahtoh!” said my host. “Well done Steele san, you are even getting an appropriate accent. Would you like a drink?”
“No thanks! I have just had a very expensive cup of coffee.” I replied.
“Oh I am sure you can afford it Steele san.” Inscrutably!
This was the first signal that I’d had that he was the source of my other employment. He looked pleased with my reaction when I raised my eyebrows. The room was a typical 3 or 4 star hotel room. You could be anywhere in the world once you close the door which Sumisu did as I walked into the room.
“Have a seat Steele san.” He indicated the chair at the far side of the small table by the net curtained window. The lights from the car park made the curtaining seem yellow with age. The wall lights were on but not the ‘big light’ in the middle of the room.
“Thanks.” I said quietly. This guy was cool. He sat opposite me and gazed steadily into my eyes for a full 30 seconds. It was not completely unnerving! Honest!
“You have news Steele san?” Sumisu asked.
“Yes.” Over the next five minutes I reported back what I had found about Thompson and his situation. I missed out nothing. I concentrated on the European connection, principally the Italian influence. I played down the Jim Thompson side and I couldn’t say why. I guess I felt he was the first contract I had failed to complete and I didn’t know how Sumisu was going to react! I didn’t have long to wait. I was shocked at the bluntness and the tone.
“Why did you not terminate Thompson?” the eyes had narrowed and the voice was significantly harder. He was staring again! I looked straight back. I know what I have to say. There is only one way to say it. Shoot from the hip!
“He was not my target and you know it!” I looked him straight in the eyes and kept my voice low and even.
“Ha ha!” My host stood and walked across the room with his back to me. We had just acknowledged the relationship we had in a few terse words.
“I think it’s time we brought you up to speed on who you represent and what our aim is. The Gurentai!” Have you heard of them?” I shook my head. “In the early part of the twentieth century they modelled themselves on American gangsters of the Al Capone era, using threats and extortion to achieve their ends. Smart suited right wing. The official Yakuza history portrays the group's ancestors as underdog folk heroes, who stood up for the poor and the defenceless. In your history the equivalent group would have been Robin Hood and his band of merry men. So we are the Gurentai a branch of the Yakuza, but going back centuries to our roots to realise our true purpose. All this on an international stage and this was the point we decided we needed to contract out some of our ‘work’. Which is where you came in. Our aim is to promote stability and where we can, prevent organised crime. Oh! I know what you are thinking. We sanction murder. Yes. Our parent group, the Yakuza, are Japan’s version of organised crime. Shouldn’t we clean up our own act before venturing abroad you may ask? Well we could, and start a civil war. They are trying to expand oversees, so in some respects we are. However, when we started to operate abroad we discovered that they were forming allegiances with organised crime in other countries. This is not new. The mafia have done much the same throughout the twentieth century. We believe that they are a disgrace to the Japanese culture. It is our national duty to certainly limit, and where possible stop their activities. We are not naïve enough to think this is achievable by negotiation!”
At this point he let out a loud staccato laugh. He liked his own little joke.
“Your history and skills made you a perfect choice for us. We wanted someone unencumbered by family ties and who was physically fit and had weapons training. You fulfil almost all necessary criteria for the Gurentai.”
“Where am I lacking?” I asked rather defensively. I had become pleased with my own skills and the level of success I had achieved.
Sumisu smiled and said,
“Hand to hand combat! You have been lucky so far; no one has been close enough to cause you a problem. We maintain our discipline and fitness by practising Aikido. All members of the Gurentai take part, from the top echelon to the newest recruit. It is the combination of using your adversary’s aggression to defeat him, and spirituality.”
“A bit like Friar Tuck saying his prayers while punching the Sheriff on the nose!” I quipped.
My host was not amused.
“We will organise some training for you near your home.” He instructed.
There was no doubt in his mind that I would be part of his organisation for some time to come. I didn’t know that trying to end this association was even on Sumisu’s agenda. I also think I know why! It’s a life long commitment, depending on how long life was going to be. This did not feel comfortable, but on the other hand there was that shot of adrenaline that I get hooked on. I didn’t even question what he had told me. He just nodded. He is adept at reading people, his command of English is superb and he has a quiet strength that gives him the confidence to be closeted in a room with a guy who had killed on half a dozen occasions. He was right though. I had never been close to a job before and I don’t know how I would handle the situation. I am very fit but all my targets had been taken at distance.
“You will keep your usual employment – for now. There is an Aikido Dojo in Huddersfield. The Sensei, the teacher, is part of the Gurentai. You will attend classes on one of your normal work evenings. Your tuition will extend beyond the normal class timetable. We need you up skilled as soon as possible. Aikido must become part of your life. One final point what do you intend to do about Thompson?”