I had met Harry about five years earlier in Roppongi, where he'd found himself in a jam with a few drunken off-duty American Marines in a bar where I happened to be killing time before an appointment. Harry can come off as a bit of an oddball: sometimes his clothes are so ill fitting you might wonder if he stole them from a random clothesline, and he has a habit of staring unselfconsciously at anything that interests him. It was the staring that drew the attention of the jarheads, one of whom loudly threatened to stick those thick glasses up Harry's Jap ass if he didn't find somewhere else to look. Harry had immediately complied, but this apparent sign of weakness served only to encourage the Marines. When they followed Harry out, and I realized he hadn't even noticed what was going to happen, I left too. I have a problem with bullies--a legacy from my childhood.
Anyway, the jarheads got to mess with me instead of with Harry, and it didn't turn out the way they had planned. Harry was grateful.
It turned out that he had some useful skills. He was born in the United States of Japanese parents and grew up bilingual, spending summers with his grandparents outside of Tokyo. He went to college and graduate school in the States, earning a degree in applied mathematics and cryptography. In graduate school he got in trouble for hacking into school files that one of his cryptography professors had bragged he had hack-proofed. There was also some unpleasantness with the FBI, which had managed to trace probes of the nation's Savings & Loan Administration and other financial institutions back to Harry. Some of the honorable men from deep within America's National Security Agency learned of these hijinks and arranged for Harry to work at Fort Meade in exchange for purging his growing record of computer offenses.
Harry stayed with the NSA for a few years, getting his new employer into secure government and corporate computer systems all over the world and learning the blackest of the NSA's computer black arts along the way. He came back to Japan in the mid-nineties, where he took a job as a computer security consultant with one of the big global consulting outfits. Of course they did a thorough background check, but his clean record and the magic of an NSA top-secret security clearance blinded Harry's new corporate sponsors to what was most fundamental about the shy, boyish-looking thirtysomething they had just hired.
Which was that Harry was an inveterate hacker. He had grown bored at the NSA because, despite the technical challenges of the work, it was all sanctioned by the government. In his corporate position, by contrast, there were rules, standards of ethics, which he was supposed to follow. Harry never did security work on a system without leaving a back door that he could use whenever the mood arose. He hacked his own firm's files to uncover the vulnerabilities of its clients, which he then exploited. Harry had the skills of a locksmith and the heart of a burglar.
Since we met I've been teaching him the relatively above-board aspects of my craft. He's enough of a misfit to be in awe of the fact that I've befriended him, and has a bit of a crush on me as a result. The resulting loyalty is useful.
"What's going on?" I asked him after he had sat down.
"Two things. One I think you'll know about; the other, I'm not sure."
"First, it seems Kawamura had a fatal heart attack the same morning we were tailing him."
I took a sip of my chai latte. "I know. It happened right in front of me on the train. Hell of a thing."
Was he watching my face more closely than usual? "I saw the obituary in the Daily Yomiuri," he said. "A surviving daughter placed it. The funeral was yesterday."
"Aren't you a little young to be reading the obituaries, Harry?" I asked, eyeing him over the edge of the mug.
Copyright © 2002 by Barry Eisler. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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