Aside

Tin Soldiers

George Wetherby.
Down from Tunbrudge Wells.
Retired: “old soldier” for the Circus.
Handled Hong Kong for 15 years, ran the China networks.
Sent agents in and out of the People’s Republic. Lost some.
Had a few triumphs, too.
All in all, a “good run” for the old Cold Warhorse.

Now: plaid scarf and dull overcoat. Stooped shoulders. Gray hair.
Watery blue-gray eyes
bulging behind steel-rimmed spectacles.

Down to London, to a coffee shop.
Gazing out the rain-streaked window,
sipping his Oolong through a sugar cube.
Watching the Tube entrance, the exhaust-coughing buses.

Enter: an American. Tom Shlegel.
The usual brashness.
Prep school to Dartmouth College.
Asian Languages. Two years in Japan.
Seven years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst.
Now an up-and-comer in special ops.
A Langley man, fair haired, walks like a boxer.
Works out with a rope and free weights four times a week,
gets up a healthy sweat and sits in the sauna
“leeching the poisons right out of the old system.”

He shakes the water from his raincoat,
hangs it by the entrance,
smooths his hair back and heads to George,
raising one hand. George, self-deprecating as always,
draws his shoulders in and nods.
Tom drops into the seat across,
lays the big-knuckled hand on the table.
-Having a spot of tea?
He grins at his joke. Brits. Their cliched habits.
-Naturally, with a slice of lemon, George says.
They look at each other.
Tom is smiling widely.
George shows just a hint of amusement.

Pleasantries ensue. What else?
How’s the wife, offsprings’ recent accomplishments and so forth.
Playbook.

-So what’s the furor? Tom asks.
-It’s the assassin lady again, I’m afraid. Molly Vance.
-Killed some more hit men?
-Worse. Destroyed the whole Tokyo Section. Took down the Man in the Hat in Zurich. The Group is livid. Stirred up about the blue eyed apocaplyse.
-Shaking in their boots eh? Ha ha.
-They want her, stat. And we’re on the line. A working group’s forming. I’m to be control. They want you as my leftenant.
-What if I don’t want to get any dirtier hands than I’ve got already, old man?

George sips. Puts down his teacup. Thin china, it clinks on the blue-bordered saucer. Tom’s candid gaze is on him, seemingly unfocussed, taking it all in. Relaxed. The face expressionless but for a trace of appreciation at George’s wit. The old alertness always comes back.

-I’m afraid just as Whitehall has put the grip on me . . .
George shrugs. Pilate dunks his hands in the basin.
-Ah. You’ve heard it through the Atlantic grapevine, then. NIS is in the basket too. The old fogies are going to wind me up and make me stagger across the carpet.
-It’s Christmas morning. Once the wrapping’s torn off, Tom, the tin soldiers have to march. You know that.

Intervention

He goes to the men’s room. He bends over the sink. Turns on the tap. Splashes cold water on his face with both hands. Rubs his eyes with cold water. Gasping. Straightens up, shaking water from his hands. Looks at his face in the mirror. At his eyes. Blue and blazing. Will you do this? Really? Yes. He dries his hands with a paper towel, crumples it and tosses it into the trash can by the door. He opens the door and goes back out into the flashing blue light. He makes his way toward the bar. Cowboy Boots and Bald Man are swigging from beer bottles. Glancing to the side, he sees the girls. One gets up, bends at the waist laughing, then straightens, tosses her hair and walks toward him. Sexy sexy. Lean and clean. He steps aside. She flashes him a smile as she strides past him, heron-slim, proud and sexy on her high heels, not even wobbling a little. He turns his head to watch her go toward the women’s restroom. Then he steps aside as Cowboy Boots and Bald Man brush past him in the booming heat and noise. He’s close enough to see the dirt in Cowboy Boots’ pores, the sweat glistening on Bald Man’s chest under the V-neck shirt. They go. They follow the proud beautiful non-wobbling girl. She goes into the restroom, pushing aside the curtain first that hides the short hallway. He sees her open the door; the brightness appears, vanishes. She’s let the door swing shut. It appears again. Vanishes again after the two men step inside. He wipes his face. He’s sweating more. He walks in a calm deliberate step toward the w.c. He steps through the gap between wall and curtain. The music is banging wildly. He glances back. People are dancing, twisting and leaping in a nightmare. The other girl is still at the table, bending to sip her drink, both boys leaning close. One has his hand on her bare copper toned shoulder and is rubbing it. He shuts his eyes. Now. Okay? Now. He puts his fingers on the knob. Turns it. Nothing. He touches the door. Presses it. It holds. Locked. He reaches behind him, slips the gun out of his waistband. Holds it pointed down at waist height. Takes three steps backward. Inhales. Kicks the door dead center. The lock snaps and the door leaps inward and bounces on the wall. The lock goes clanging across the floor. The beautiful proud rich girl is bent over one of the sinks and Cowboy Boots is holding her by the hair. Bald Man is wrenching up the gaudy silver dress over her hips to bare the beautiful white ass as she writhes and chokes and screeches. His cock is sticking out of the hole in his unzipped trousers. He and Cowboy Boots turn their heads at the same instant. The blue eyed man kicks the door shut behind him without looking at it. It slams. His .44 is covering the two men both. He drifts the barrel back and forth between them. They look puzzled. Bald Man tells him to get the fuck out. Cowboy Boots’ face shows scorn and outrage. Bald Man isn’t afraid — his prick is still hard. Cowboy Boots doesn’t let go of the girl’s hair. She screeches, he bounces her forehead on the sink. Above the bashing electronic sounds, the blue eyed man says clearly, in Spanish, to let go of the girl’s hair. Cowboy Boots looks at Bald Man, frowning. Bald Man nods. He lets go of her hair. The girl throws herself away from the sink, staggering, and runs to the blue eyed man, her eyes wide. He grabs her by the elbow and yanks her behind him. He then brings his left hand back up to steady the butt of the pistol. He’s still drifting it back and forth. Bald Man’s erection has begun to sag. He’s holding his hands apart at chest level. Cowboy Boots narrows his eyes. Thinking, thinking. Judging distances and angles. The blue eyed man can hear the girl whimpering behind him, in the corner next to the door. Get out, he says, and the door opens to screeching music and flashing blue light and then shuts on the boggling thumps of the bassline. He adjusts his stance slightly. He tells Bald Man to reach behind him with his left hand and take the gun out of his belt by lifting it straight up. Bald Man is sweating now. He blinks rapidly. Then he swallows saliva and with insolent slowness obeys. The blue eyed man watches the way his elbow bends. Raise it higher, he says. With some strain, Bald Man does. His penis is now flaccid. Open your hand and drop it behind you from right there, the blue eyed man instructs. The pistol falls with a crack of steel and spins on the floor. Kick it over here with your right foot, he commands. Bald Man does. The pistol spins a good ten feet and bounces on the shut door. Bueno, says the blue eyed man, drifting the sight back to Cowboy Boots. You, on your knees. Cowboy Boots’ knees bend. He sinks to the tiles. He’s staring at the blue eyed man’s grip on the pistol. To see if it vibrates even a little. It doesn’t. Take out your knife. Cowboy Boots hesitates. Now. He complies. He takes it out of his leather jacket side pocket. Another switchblade, shut. Set it on the floor, says the blue eyed man. Cowboy Boots does. The blue eyed man drifts the sight back to Bald Man’s dark haired, sweat-glistening chest. Kick the knife over here, he says. Bald Man does so. The knife skitters across the tiles, stops a few inches from the pistol. The blue eyed man reaches behind him. Touches the knob. Opens the door wide and kicks the pistol and then the knife outside, into the blasting noise and dimness. The door swings near-shut again — it doesn’t click. Then he tells Bald Man to kneel. Bald Man, with insolent languor and slowness, obeys. Silently. Both of you will remain here for the count of one hundred. If you step out this door before you have counted one hundred as slowly as possible, I will kill you. Do you understand this? They nod, in unison. Cowboy Boots is sneering. The blue eyed man again reaches back with his left hand and takes hold of the knob and pulls the door inward. He steps outside into the ranting noise and the lights as the door swings shut blotting out the two men on their knees staring at him with deadly scorn and rage. He sticks the gun into his waistband at the front and picks up Bald Man’s pistol and Cowboy Boots’ knife and sticking them into the side pockets of his jacket walks quickly to the exit, noting as he walks that and the two boys are now seated alone at the misbehaving rich girls’ table over four drinks looking glum. As he emerges from the club, he sees the girls get into the Lotus with grim speed as the valet parking boy holds his tip in his hand, watching in awe. The Lotus roars off.  The blue eyed man notes the Humvee — pulling out to tail the Lotus. He crosses the street, jumping over smashed beer bottles, cuts through an alley to another street, exhales a long slow breath and begins to run.

Score

Sabine, hiking fast. Torn by brambles, whipped by fir branches.

When she hears the crack of a twig she drops and lies flat. screened by dense-growing ferns.

Two more men. She smells them before she sees them. They stink of fear-sweat. And gun grease. And nylon cloth. And fear-sweat again. Sweat is shining on their grease paint darkened hands and faces.

They’re in the same dark Ultra paratrooper Nazi type uniforms as the previous team, gliding through the primaeval forest.

Sabine peers at them, through the fronds of the lush fern that screens her, as they move softly in the fog. In the diminishing rain and the reek of metal and sweat.

They’re holding their light automatic rifles at ready and are using signs to “speak” to each other.

It seems they sense Sabine might be near but they are looking in the wrong direction.

Sabine hears it: a rattle of branches. A swishing in the ferns off to her left.

She shuts her eyes. It sounds like a deer. Yes. Probably. That.

The Ultra agents are too stupid to suspect it is a deer based on the gliding rush and the tapping of fern fronds — how could it be a human being? Even a little girl? It’s too swift, too sudden, too glissando, like musical notes played by an accomplished musician.

The agents are stupid, and fearful, and jumpy. They make tense hand signals to each other and jog double time toward the glissing rushing ferny sound.

To head it off. Off at the pass. Idiots.

Tense, their eyes wide and staring out of the smears of black grease they’ve layered on for camoflauge.

Sabine wants to laugh. To laugh herself sick. She doesn’t. She rolls over very quietly, unslings the rifle from her right shoulder, and lays it flat beneath the fern. Then she rolls back onto her belly, meantime reaching down to grasp the hilt of her combat knife, which slides from its sheath in total silence.

She lies there, her breasts pressed flat, her heart beating. One of the man hurries past her only three yards distant — she sees the black clad legs moving briskly.

He’s jog-walking with his rifle pointed at the direction of the deer-gliding-sound.

Sabine’s eyes move. She takes in the location of the other man. He disappears behind a clump of pines. He’s about twenty yards off.

Silence. Silence, except for the drip drip of rain water from the massive branches above, and the shrills of a few distant birds.

Sabine adjusts her grip on the knife. Reverse grip. She braces her elbows.

The Ultra agent is now seven yards off, with his back to Sabine.

She pushes off the rain soaked leaves and runs fast and silently until she is directly behind the Ultra agent. She taps his elbow. He spins, eyes wide, and tries to hit her with the rifle barrel. Sabine ducks it and flows to his right side and with one smooth movement leaps onto his shoulders, wrapping her legs around his neck. Then she drops her body to one side — in the same direction the agent was moving — speeding up his spin to a whirl. He loses his footing on the mossy earth and they’re airborne. Sabine lands first on her left shoulder with the tight grip of her legs on the man’s neck, the momentum of the fall tossing him over her. He comes down on his back on a decaying log that shatters. He grunts. Sabine releases her leg grip and rolls onto his chest, smashing down with her knees as he gurgles and tries to scream. Whips her knife edge across his throat just under the ear twice, once for each artery.

She rolls off the twitching body, snatching up the rifle one handed and spinning as she rises. Putting her forefinger into the trigger guard, she brings up her weapon and sights the other Ultra man, who has turned at the noise and is standing there  looking amazed in a patch of sunlight. She presses the trigger three times, hitting the man twice in the chest and once in the wide open mouth. He falls.

Sabine runs to him, keeping the rifle steady, looking for movement. But he’s dead. Sprawled backward, blood pattering from the back of his skull. Sabine lowers the rifle and jogs back to the first man. He’s dead, too, his blind eyes staring at the canopy. She tosses the smoking rifle on his chest.

Ultra: 0. Sabine: 4.

ULTRA: THE SCHOOL FOR YOUNG ASSASSINS

ULTRA: THE SCHOOL FOR YOUNG ASSASSINS on Movellas.

When Chief Executives of the top secret agency “Ultra” get ordered to “prejudicially retire” the classified program for training child assassins to do the government’s dirty work worldwide, they naturally comply by destroying the secluded Ultra Training Facility and terminating every last student, instructor, and staff member — right down to cooks and janitors. But what will “Ultra” do about the five young assassins already sent out on assignment to five different spots around the world? HUNGER GAMES-esque. Dark and violent.

The Blind Swordswoman

What is the strange allure of the swordswoman figure in martial arts novels and movies?

Is it all just pulp garishness? A prolonged adolescent erotic fantasy hangover?

Then why is the swordswoman figure — whether she is blind, tattooed, one-armed, or merely disgraced, outcast, suffering and abused — always so melancholy, so wounded, so tragic?

Listen to these painfully beautiful last lines intoned by a narrator at the end of CRIMSON BAT: THE BLIND SWORDSWOMAN (1969, aka BLIND OICHI STORY: RED BIRD OF FLIGHT): “Oichi went away on the cold wintery wind, carrying with her her sword-cane and a great deal of loneliness . . . her sightless eyes filled with tears.”

As for me, I wrote my novel OSAI’S RAZOR (here it is in the Kindle format) to tell the story of a swordswoman in old Japan whose life was almost unbearably harsh. Osai Itto’s story came to me in great, blazing and silent images. I found it, and her, irresistible.

And I wrote the final sentence blinded by tears.