At the top of the stairs, I turned left onto the nameless narrow street fronting Saboru, with its eccentric mountain hut façade and profusion of potted plants around the door and under the windows. The light hadn't yet entirely leached from the sky, but the area was already thick with shadows. A few knots of pedestrians passed me, probably heading home from work, or perhaps for a beer and yakitori in nearby Kanda. I knew my pursuers were close behind me, but they wouldn't be comfortable yet – the pedestrian density wasn't quite right. They'd be waiting for an especially congested area, where there would be so many people and so much tumult that no one would notice what had happened until several seconds after the fact. Or for an especially empty area, where there would be no witnesses at all.
I had a knife, a Benchmade folder, clipped inside my front pants pocket. But I would use it only for contingencies. Knives make a lot of mess, all of it laced with DNA. Guns, too, create an evidence trail. For sheer walk-awayedness, there's really nothing like bare hands.
Past Saboru, the neighborhood grew more residential; the yellow streetlights, fewer and farther between. Within a block, the sparse clusters of pedestrians had evaporated entirely. Over the incessant background screech of cicadas I could just hear a set of footfalls from ten meters back. Coming, no doubt, from whichever of them was keeping me in visual contact. The secondary guy would be about the same distance behind the first, needing only to maintain visual contact with him. If they narrowed the gap between them, it would mean action was at hand. I wasn't going to give them that chance.
There was a small parking lot on the left side of the intersection ahead. I had noted it on one of my periodic tactical explorations of the city's terrain, and liked it because among a cluster of dim vending machines to its rear was the entrance to a series of alleys, more like crevices, really, leading back to the street we were walking on now. In fact, I'd just passed a gate that led from one of the alleys, though I doubted my pursuers would notice it, or, even if they did, would understand its current significance. From the sound of the lead guy's distance behind me, I estimated that I could make it through the alley to the inside of the gate at about the same time the first guy would be pausing at the parking lot's corner, trying to figure out where I'd gone, and the second guy would be passing the gate.
I made a left into the parking lot, and then, the instant I'd turned the corner, accelerated and turned left into the entrance to the alleys. Another left, past a row of garbage cans, and I was at the inside of the gate I'd just passed. I paused, my back to the wall, enveloped in darkness, and watched as the secondary guy passed my position. I waited several seconds before gripping the metal rail at the top of the gate and moving it back and forth to confirm solidity and soundlessness. Then I hopped up, eased my belly over, put a hand on each side, and rotated my legs around, landing catlike on the street side. There was the second guy, just a few meters ahead, approaching the edge of the parking lot. He was moving so slowly, it seemed he was aware his partner would have stopped just around the corner to look for me, and was trying to give him time. I wondered for an instant how he could have known his partner had paused – maybe just a sensible precaution when turning a corner? – but it didn't matter. What mattered was that I was closing in on him, and that for the moment I had his back.
I traded stealth for speed, knowing I had only an instant before he might check behind him, and in fact as I reached him, he was just beginning to turn. But too late. I leaped into him, planting my left foot in the small of his back as though trying to climb a steep set of stairs. His body bowed violently forward and his head and arms flew back, and a startled grunt, loud enough, I was aware, for his partner to hear from around the corner, forced itself from his lungs. As he plunged to his knees, I wrapped my left arm around his neck, trapping his upturned face against my abdomen, secured my left wrist with my right hand, and arched savagely up and back. His neck snapped as easily as if it had been made of kindling, and with a similar sound. I let him go and he crumbled to the ground.
His partner appeared instantly from around the corner. He cried out, "Oh, fuck," the vernacular, and the accent, I was distantly aware, both American, and lunged at me. I had no time to get out of the way, but neither the inclination. Instead, I held my position, extending my torso away from him so he was forced to reach for me, and twisted slightly counterclockwise as we came to grips. I extended my left leg, planted the sole of my foot against his right knee, grabbed both his biceps, and used his momentum to spin him counterclockwise in hiza-guruma. He was overbalanced and couldn't get his legs out to correct because of the way I was blocking his knee. There was an instant of resistance, and then he was sailing past me, parallel to the ground, trying to twist away from me and turn his body toward the coming impact. But he was moving too fast for that now, and I was assisting his rapid descent, applying pressure to his shoulders to make them fall faster than his feet, wanting his cranium to bear the brunt.
He hit the pavement with a thud I could feel as well as hear, his shoulders connecting first, then the back of his skull as his head snapped back. I dropped to my knees next to him but he wasn't out, and even shocked and dazed as he must have been, he managed to turn into me and go for my eyes with his left hand. I grabbed his wrist with my left hand, slamming my elbow into his face on the way, snaked my right arm under his shoulder, secured my own left wrist, extended my body across his chest, and broke his elbow with ude-garami. He shrieked and tried to buck me loose. I scrambled back, reared up, and blasted a palm heel into his nose. The back of his head bounced into the pavement and I hit him again the same way. He rolled away from me, trying to get up, and I launched myself onto his back, throwing my left arm around his neck, catching my right bicep, planting my right hand against the back of his head, and strangling him with classic hadaka-jime. He struggled and thrashed and I kept an eye on his remaining good arm, in case he tried to access a concealed weapon. The choke was deep, though, and his brain was getting no oxygen. In a few seconds he was still and, a few more after that, gone.
I released my grip and came shakily to my feet, my heart hammering. I wiped sweat from my eyes with my sleeve and looked around. There had been that single scream, but I saw no one, at least not yet. Not likely either of them was carrying identification, but I felt I could afford a moment to check.
I knelt and pulled the guy I'd strangled onto his back. He rolled over with liquid ease, his broken arm flopping unnaturally to the pavement next to him. I patted his front pants pockets. A folding knife in the right. Something hard and rectangular in the left – a cell phone? I pulled it out and saw that it was a phone, as I'd hoped. But there was something else in the pocket. I reached back in and felt something metallic. I pulled whatever it was out and stared at it. It took me a moment to realize what I was holding: a small video camera.
A wire extended from the unit, disappearing beneath his clothes. I slipped my fingers between the buttons of his shirt and tore it open. The wire ran to one of the buttons. I leaned in – it wasn't easy to see in the dim light – and looked more closely. Shit, it was no button at all, but a lens. And I was staring right into it.
I tore the wire free and stuffed the camera and phone into my pockets, then scrambled over to where the other guy lay. He was similarly equipped. I pocketed the second phone and camera, too, then walked off, keeping to the quiet streets paralleling Yasukuni-dori. I would take the batteries out of the phones to make sure they were untraceable and examine the cameras when I was safely away from the bodies. If the two giants had been using the equipment only to monitor each other, I would be okay.
But I had a feeling they weren't just monitoring each other. And if I was right, I was in for another visit, and soon.
The Detachment by Barry Eisler. Copyright 2011 Barry Eisler. All Rights Reserved.