Once you get past the overall irony of the situation, you realize that killing a guy in the middle of his own health club has a lot to recommend it.
The target was a yakuza, an iron freak named Ishihara who worked out every day in a gym he owned in Roppongi, one of Tokyo's entertainment districts. Tatsu had told me the hit had to look like natural causes, like they always do, so I was glad to be working in a venue where it was far from unthinkable that someone might keel over from a fatal aneurysm induced by exertion, or suffer an unlucky fall onto a steel bar, or undergo some other tragic mishap while using one of the complicated exercise machines.
One of these eventualities might even be immortalized in the warnings corporate lawyers would insist on placing on the next generation of exercise equipment, to notify the public of yet another unnatural use for which the machine was not intended and for which the manufacturer would have to remain blameless. Over the years, my work has made me the anonymous recipient of at least two such legal encomia--one on a bridge traversing the polluted waters of the Sumida River, in which a certain politician drowned in 1982 ("Warning--Do Not Climb On These Bars"); another, a decade later, following the aquatic electrocution of an unusually diligent banker, on the packaging of hair dryers ("Warning--Do Not Use While Bathing").
The health club was also convenient because I wouldn't have to worry about fingerprints. In Japan, where costumes are a national pastime, a weightlifter wouldn't pump iron without wearing stylish padded gloves any more than a politician would take a bribe in his underwear. It was a warm early spring for Tokyo, portending, they said, a fine cherry blossom season, and where else but at a gym could a man in gloves have gone unnoticed?
In my business, going unnoticed is half the game. People put out signals--body language, gait, clothes, facial expression, posture, attitude, speech, mannerisms--that can tell you where they're from, what they do, who they are. Most importantly, do they fit in. Because if you don't fit in, the target will spot you, and after that you won't be able to get close enough to do it right. Or the rare uncorrupt cop will spot you, and you'll have some explaining to do. Or a counter-surveillance team will spot you, and then--congratulations!--the target will be you.
But if you're attentive, you begin to understand that the identifying signals are a science, not an art. You watch, you imitate, you acquire. Eventually, you can shadow different targets through different societal ecosystems, remaining anonymous in all of them.
Anonymity wasn't easy for me in Japan when my parentage was a matter of public record and schoolyard taunts. But today, you wouldn't spot the Caucasian in my face unless someone tipped you off that it was there to be found. My American mother wouldn't have minded that. She had always wanted me to fit in in Japan, and was glad that my father's Japanese features had prevailed in that initial genetic struggle for dominance. And the plastic surgery I had undergone when I returned to Japan after my fling with U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam largely completed the job that chance and nature had begun.
The story my signals would tell the yakuza was simple. He'd only begun seeing me at his gym recently, but I was already obviously in shape. So I wasn't some middle-aged guy who'd decided to take up weightlifting to try and regain a lost college-era physique. The more likely explanation would be that I worked for a company that had transferred me to Tokyo, and, if they had sprung for digs near Roppongi, maybe in Minami-Aoyama or Azabu, I must be someone reasonably important and well compensated. That I was apparently into body building at all at this stage in my life probably meant affairs with young women, for whom a youthful physique might ameliorate the unavoidable emotional consequences of sleeping with an older man in what at root would be little more than an exchange of sex and the illusion of immortality for Ferragamo handbags and the other implicit currencies of such arrangements. All of which the yakuza would understand, and even respect.
From Hard Rain: A John Rain Novel by Barry Eisler, copyright © 2003 Barry Eisler, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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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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