An SDR is just what it sounds like: a route designed to force anyone who's following you to show himself. Harry and I had of course taken full precautions en route to Shibuya and Kawamura that morning, but I never assume that because I was clean earlier I must be clean now. In Shinjuku, the crowds are so thick that you could have ten people following you and you'd never make a single one of them. By contrast, following someone unobtrusively across a long, deserted train platform with multiple entrances and exits is nearly impossible, and the trip to Ogikubo offered the kind of peace of mind I've come to require.
It used to be that, when an intelligence agent wanted to communicate with an asset so sensitive that a meeting was impossible, they had to use a dead drop. The asset would drop microfiche in the hollow of a tree, or hide it in an obscure book in the public library, and later, the spy would come by and retrieve it. You could never put the two people together in the same place at the same time.
It's easier with the Internet, and more secure. The client posts an encrypted message on a bulletin board, the electronic equivalent of a tree hollow. I download it from an anonymous pay phone and decrypt it at my leisure. And vice versa.
The message traffic is pretty simple. A name, a photograph, personal and work contact information. A bank account number, transfer instructions. A reminder of my three no's: no women or children, no acts against nonprincipals, no other parties retained to solve the problem at hand. The phone is used only for the innocuous aftermath, which was the reason for my side trip to Ogikubo.
I used one of the pay phones on the station platform to call my contact within the Liberal Democratic Party--an LDP flunky I know only as Benny, maybe short for Benihana or something. Benny's English is fluent, so I know he's spent some time abroad. He prefers to use English with me, I think because it has a harder sound in some contexts and Benny fancies himself a hard guy. Probably he learned the lingo from a too-steady diet of Hollywood gangster movies.
We'd never met, of course, but talking to Benny on the phone had been enough for me to develop an antipathy. I had a vivid image of him as just another government seat-warmer, a guy who would try to manage a weight problem by jogging a few ten-minute miles three times a week on a treadmill in an overpriced chrome-and-mirrors gym, where the air-conditioning and soothing sounds of the television would prevent any unnecessary discomfort. He'd splurge on items like designer hair gel for a comb over because the little things only cost a few bucks anyway, and would save money by wearing no-iron shirts and ties with labels proclaiming "Genuine Italian Silk!" that he'd selected with care on a trip abroad from a sale bin at some discount department store, congratulating himself on the bargains for which he acquired such quality goods. He'd sport a few Western extravagances like a Montblanc fountain pen, talismans to reassure himself that he was certainly more cosmopolitan than the people who gave him orders. Yeah, I knew this guy. He was a little order taker, a go-between, a cutout who'd never gotten his hands dirty in his life, who couldn't tell the difference between a real smile and the amused rictuses of the hostesses who relieved him of his yen for watered-down Suntory scotch while he bored them with hints about the Big Things he was involved in but of course couldn't really discuss.
After the usual exchange of innocuous, preestablished codes to establish our bona fides, I told him, "It's done."
"Glad to hear it," he said in his terse, false tough-guy way. "Any problems?"
"Nothing worth mentioning," I responded after a pause, thinking of the guy on the train.
"Nothing? You sure?"
I knew I wouldn't get anything this way. Better to say nothing, which I did.
Copyright © 2002 by Barry Eisler. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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