Aside

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Victoria

Two days later.
He’s bent over the Olivetti.
Sweating, bare chested
in the roaring Mexico City heat.
Clack. Clack clack.

He’s typing with two fingers,
like Papa Hemingway.
The stack of typewritten pages has grown.
There’s a loud,
insistent knock.

He stops typing.
Sits up straight.
Listening,
he shuts his eyes.

One? Two?
He decides it’s one.
He knows, for some reason he can’t fathom,
it’s a woman.
He feels it’s her,
the near-raped rich girl
from the Club Papillion.

How did she find him? How?
Security cameras.
She’s rich and misbehaving —
and she has a father.

All this the blue eyed man
comprehends in a flash.

He picks up his blue shirt from the bed
and shrugs it on
before going barefoot to the door.
He unchains and opens the door a crack.
Sees a wide, gleaming eye.
An arched eyebrow.

She’s dressed today in a white blouse,
blue slacks, barely any jewelry.
She’s wearing flat white leather shoes
with star patterns cut into the toes.
Her hair is parted in the middle
and combed back shining.
She’s put on pink lip gloss
and a little eye-shadow, that’s all.

She looks very thin
and very prim,
as if stepping fresh through the gate
of a convent.

He opens the door.
Wide.
Gestures with his palm.
She steps in.
He shuts the door, locks and chains it.
She goes to the bed —
a liquid, strange, cutting walk.

Sits on the edge.
It squeaks as the springs settle.
Gazes up at him.

May I do something for you? he asks.

You already did. Two nights ago. I am Victoria.

Her English is perfect.

So he tells her his first name.
The real one.

Then:
How did you find me here?

She shrugs. Smiles a little.
My father. His men.

Obviously,
the topic of finding people is boring.
He’s found, that’s all.

The blue eyed man goes to the chair.
Turns it around.
Sits.

Looks at her.
At the wild beauty,
the youth.
The amazing youth.

At the green eyes,
the wild black hair.

For some reason,
she evokes for him Ilena Sanchez.
And so many others.

Are they downstairs?
Si.
All around the hotel?
Si.

He feels a little better.
It wouldn’t have helped to get a room with a fire escape.
Not since they’re all around the hotel.

I am to go with you?
Yes.
To see your father?
Yes.
So he can thank me personally,
and with the appropriate Latin warmth?

She smiles. A dimple. Dazzling teeth.
Si.

He says:
I will leave my own weapon here. But these —
he opens a drawer and takes out Bald Man’s pistol
and Cowboy Boots’ switchblade —
I should present to you as souvenirs.

She takes them, smiling
— this time her lips are pressed together,
as if in recognition of a secret joke —
from his hands.
Then, Victoria turns her body
as he studies her calm Latin profile
to slip them into her small white purse,
which she now zips fast.

She stands.

Are you coming?
Of course.

He stands.

They look at each other.
She takes two steps foward, then three.
She looks up at him,
her brows at his chin,
eyes great and shining.

He says,
You don’t need to —

She lifts herself on her toes,
ballerina-like,
and kisses his lips,
softly. Delicately.
It’s like the kiss of a butterfly
or a flower.

He shuts his eyes.
His heart is drumming.
She licks her upper lip
with the point of her tongue
and says to him,
And now that I’ve thanked you as I should,
shall we go to see my narco papa?

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.

Club Papillon

He walked slowly in the heat and smog and the smells of seared meat grilling back to his hotel.

It was not a luxury hotel. He saw the fat whore in an aqua blue dress and spike heels standing in a doorway across the street. She tossed her head and gave him a smile that managed to be both wry and inviting. She had a gold tooth. He ducked his head and gave her a small, shy pressed-lips smile that managed to be honorable and warm yet discouraging. He liked whores. He felt no contempt for this one.

He took the old creaking cage elevator to his room. Padding down the hall on a stained wine-red carpet that stank of a century of cigarette smoke.

He stopped at the laundry chute and glanced both ways. No doors were open and there was no chambermaid’s cart. He stepped up to the chute and put his arm into it and felt along the side. His fingers touched plastic. He reached in with both arms and peeled away two layers of duct tape and withdrew the parcel.

He carried the plastic wrapped package against his hip down the hallway to his room. Opened the door with his key and entered, shutting the door behind him by pushing it with a heel of his loafer. It clacked shut. He went to the sagging bed with its garish orange coverlet and set the package on it.

He then went to the window, as was his habit, to look down at the street. Nothing was going on but for traffic and the clanging radio of the small and dirty cafe across the street.

There was a stiff humid breeze and the curtains were blowing in. This breeze brought in the stench of Mexico City. Of dust and meat and earth and blood and horses and sweat and the perfume of a million streetwalkers. He shut the window. At once the little hotel room seemed eerily almost silent.

Lost in another dimension.

He took the switchblade from his trouser pocket.

A good knife, with a heavy steel handle that fit his hand well.

Flicked it open.

He bent over the parcel and cut away some of the plastic.

It was a tie-box. Yesterday he’d bought two exquisite ties at a men’s boutique in La Roma.

He shut the knife and put it back into his trouser pocket.

He tore away the lid of the tie box and tossed it to one side.

In the small, narrow rectangular box, packed in red tissue paper, lay his Remington .44.

Cleaned and oiled, lovingly, and ready for action.

He picked up the Remington, checked the safety (engaged) and removed the clip (full). He thrust the clip back into it and stuck the pistol into his waistband at the back.

He peeled away another layer of tissue paper. There was a Ziploc freezer bag containing his two extra passports and a thick wad of American currency. He’d depleted much of his travelling fund already, though he was living poor. He opened the freezer bag, peeled off three hundred in 50 dollar bills.

He stuck this small wad of cash into his shirt pocket.

He replaced the lid on the tie box. He was now sweating a little. Looking at how little money he had left now made him so tense that he began to sweat.

To a fugitive in Mexico or anywhere else, money is life itself.

He pulled open the top drawer of the small bedside table and got out his roll of duct tape. He tore off six more strips of the black, heavy tape with his teeth and fixed them to the parcel. Then he went to the door. He listened, his head bent. No footsteps. Nobody was out there. He opened the door, walked quickly to the laundry chute and reached in and securely re-taped the parcel to the rough plaster wall just inside, in the darkness where it could not be seen but only felt, and then only by someone feeling for it.

He went back to his room. He kicked off his loafers. He’d been wearing them without socks. He shut and locked the door and put on the chain. The lock and chain wouldn’t hold out anyone determined to get in but might give him ten seconds or so of time to react.

In the bathroom, he stripped down quickly, laying the Remington on the shut toilet seat, and got under the shower in the tiled stall. He ran the water hot, first, then cold — as cold as he could get it.

He soaped himself. His body was still hard. His fingertips passed over some of the old scars. There were two bullet holes and a knife wound.

He rubbed himself dry with a towel. His skin burned pleasantly.

He left the towel hanging over the shower rod and picked up the gun and went out into the room.

Naked, he stood at the small escritoire on which sat his Olivetti and two stacks of paper. One of the stacks was big, the other small. The big stack was all blank. The small stack was his book on the Group of 22. There were about thirty pages in it; he hadn’t counted exactly. He’d placed the pages with the typewritten faces down. He felt a small temptation to read over what he’d written, but he decided consciously against it. He’d heard that writers often felt a strong, almost visceral pull to reread their own pages, but that this impulse should be resisted until the book was done, or mostly done.

He went to the bed. He put the gun under his pillow and lay down naked. He gazed at the ceiling. Light reflected from the street was making flickering patterns on it.

He shut his eyes.

*

Twilight.

He opened his eyes to see that the sunlight was almost gone.

The ceiling was pink. Then, slowly, the pink vanished.

He got up and dressed again. Shirt, briefs, trousers.

He put the gun into his waistband at the back and put on a loose brown silk jacket to cover it.

He stuck his bare feet into the loafers.

He went out.

Into Mexico City.

Into the city of jackals.

*

He didn’t want to sit in the hotel room clicking typewriter keys tonight.

He felt like celebrating.

Maybe it was because of the brusque hurt he’d inflicted on the two Mexican petty thieves. Or the comical looks on their faces as he did it.

It had reminded him how much fun his life of action once was, hurting people with elegance, devastating speed and absolute impunity.

But no — that wasn’t it.

He was just feeling lonely. Morose, even.

Actually, more than loneliness or moroseness — tonight, he was suffused with saudade, a deep and terrible longing that threatened to devour him whole.

And the pistol? The pistol was for merely for any one of potentially hundreds of unforeseeable contingencies.

*

As it happened, there was such a contingency, and it arose, as they often do, out of nowhere.

*

In the glare-ridden noise of a Mexican boulevard, the blue eyed man was sauntering slowly past the Club Papillon, noting the blue lights of the entrance and the pounding beats echoing in what must have been a vast industrial space inside the building, when he noted a sleek red Lotus cruising up smoothly to the curb. It was an eye catching car, and he slowed his pace to appreciate it. Other pedestrians did, also, and the two thick, tall, colorfully tattooed bouncers working the front entrance raised their heads higher with interest. The doors of the Lotus hissed upward like wings, and out of it as if from a fairy tale climbed two desperately beautiful dark haired, teak-tanned girls in glittering low-cut cocktail-style sheaths — one flashing gold, one glittering silver with sequins. Laughing, the driver tossed her key to a parking attendant, who looked as if he could not believe his luck and had trouble deciding what he would rather look at, the car or the girls. But the girls, click-clacking on high heels, mostly naked and smooth and hypnotically voluptuous all over, were gone very quickly into the smoky, blue-pulsating interior of Club Papillon, so in the end he had to settle for stroking the roof of the car before he slipped into it, lowered the doors, and drove off with a throaty vroom.

The blue eyed man didn’t watch the Lotus speed away from the curb, however. He was looking across the street, at a parked black Humvee. A sparking cigarette butt flew out of a one inch gap in the Humvee’s rear side window, then the door opened and a young man in a leather jacket worn over a floral patterned silk shirt and jeans and black cowboy boots stepped onto the street. He had a relaxed, flat, ironically candid nowhere-and-everywhere at once gaze that the blue eyed man had come to associate with a certain type of deadly individual. The opposite door opened and a bald man in a blue silk jacket and khaki pants and black motorcycle boots came around the rear of the Humvee and joined Cowboy Boots and they walked slowly together yet apart across the street to the Club Papillion and joined the small line of people waiting for approval to enter.

The blue eyed man watched as Cowboy Boots lit a cigarette. Bald Man was glancing around. There was a small curved bulge at the base of his spine under the blue silk jacket. A pistol grip. One or two or three men — it was impossible to tell, because of the blacked out windows — were still sitting inside the Humvee. It was a hit, or a kidnapping, or some kind of take-off. No question.

Did it have something to do with the two beautiful rich girls? Two beautiful and misbehaving young rich girls driving up to a club alone and going in without bodyguards? His intuition said: Si.

He thought about it for only an instant, then walked over to the line and joined it. He was standing about five people behind Cowboy Boots and Bald man. Close enough to inhale the smoke of Cowboy’s Boots cigarette. It was a clove cigarette.

Cowboy Boots would be quick, ruthless, flamboyant — and insane. He probably favored a knife for a weapon. Bald Man would be the brains, also very quick, cold under pressure.

The blue eyed man had a sense that this was not about money. There was something extremely iconic and crazed in the air. A killing? Maybe. Maybe worse.

*

He got into Club Papillon easily. The bouncers were there only to run off people apparently without money, obvious riff-raff.

He walked around the place in the pulsating blue and red lights until he glimpsed the two posh girls at a corner table, drinking and laughing excitedly, flanked by two young men they’d apparently cut from the dance floor.

Cowboy Boots and Bald Man were at the bar, rarely taking their eyes from the girls.

It was as he’d feared.

Maybe much much worse.

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.

Vayos Con Dios

Two days later, he was in Mexico City.
Fumes. Traffic. Men sweeping the streets with brooms.
Ice cream pushcarts. Taco pushcarts.
Billboards. Women.
Donkey carts. Plush cars. Buses.
Hooting and roaring.

Sweat at the back of his shirt.
His scalp tingling.
His nostrils full of charcoal smoke, exhaust.
The stench of seared meat.

As soon as he hit Mexico city, he went to a dealership and sold the Jeep for a pittance.
Then he bought a small, battered blue tin can of a car.
He paid the cash down on it, paid extra to have it held on the lot for him.
The Jeep screamed “American.”
The blue tin can– driving it he might pass for French, or even German.
He’d go deeper south in that. Deeper into his cover.

He’d kept a safe deposit box under one of his false names in a Georgetown bank.
A .44 pistol. An envelope full of US currency.
One hundred gold krugerands in a money belt.
Two passports.

The name on his current working passport: Cole James.
He’d bought it in French Guyana.
The Agency didn’t know.
The name on the other: Frank Younger.

*

He slept the first night in a fleabag hotel.
Had to avoid the luxury places.
At night he walked and walked around the great Plaza.
He went into a blazingly bright bar and ordered tequila, almonds, grilled shrimp.

He devoured it. Ravenous.

*

He took apart the pistol and cleaned and greased it on a newspaper spread over the coverlet of the hotel bed.
In the next room, a woman was panting and screaming.
He thought about it. Probably the fat whore he’d seen earlier, posed at the entranceway in the flashing neon.

He’d bought a bottle of Centenario. He took swigs from the neck.
Wiped his mouth with his hand.

Looked at himself in the faded and streaked mirror.
Ageing. Haggard from lack of sleep. Unshaven.

What now?
He didn’t know.

*

In the morning he walked around again.
He went into a cybercafe.
He sat at a computer.
It felt dangerous.

He didn’t open the browser. He finally just got up and walked out.

At a street stall, he bought a small Olivetti typewriter.
He carried it back with him to the hotel — a small black suitcase.
He didn’t have any real paper. He rolled a sheet of cigarette paper into the carriage.
He typed — click click click — Government by Shadows: The Group of 22.

*

At night he went out again.
Thirsty.
In a bar, he drank tequila.
He ate pork tacos from a banana leaf at a street stall.

As he made his way back to the hotel, having memorized every step, two rooster-sauntering men followed him.
They were wearing: shiny shoes, pleated trousers, colorful shirts, gold necklaces.
Both Mexicans.One had a greased ponytail.

He pondered it. They were take-off artists.
Ordinary criminals, looking for tourists.
He was only surprised they’d tagged him as American.

His blue jeans and white shirt — he could have been any nationality.

Or maybe they were going after Europeans, now, too?

He waited for them at a traffic blaring corner.
They parted slightly as they approached.
The one that wasn’t poneytailed had a goatee. And a gold tooth.

At a glance: no pistolas.
But the ponytailed one brought something out of his pocket.

Flick.

*

Greased Ponytail waves his switchblade lazily in the blue eyed man’s face.
Goatee takes hold of his shirt. Purses his lips to speak Mexican —

The blue eyed man grasps and twists Goatee’s shirt-holding hand palm upward and turns it so he lets go of the fabric and staggers, a wild Texas two-step.
Hits him twice in the throat, edge-of-hand blows.

It’s so quick that Greased Ponytail has time only to blink, once, before the blue eyed man snatches the toothpick from his lips and hits him viciously in the solar plexus.
Doubling over, Greased Ponytail retches and spills beer-shrimp-chilis-corn onto the sidewalk.

He, the blue eyed man, now takes control of the knife arm at the elbow joint, knocks the knife loose. It clangs, skitters, even as Goatee sinks to the sidewalk and lies gasping in the fetal posture, holding his neck.

The blue eyed man crouches. Picks up the knife. Shuts it. Sticks it in his pocket.
Puts the non-chewed end of the toothpick in his mouth.

Stands, slowly.

Looks at Greased Ponytail, who is still doubled over, wobbling and gasping for air.
At Goatee, who is jerking with agony and, like his amigo, wholly engrossed in the non-threatening task of trying to breathe.

Walks away.

Vayos con dios.

AKIKO’S FURY

Deadly “Akiko” retires from killing to restore a Zen temple on a remote island off Japan. But violent people won’t let her alone.

THE LONELINESS OF THE BLUE-EYED ASSASSIN (originally titled AKIKO’S FURY) is the first in a planned series of crime thrillers dealing with the life of a half-Japanese half-American young woman who also happens to be a highly paid assassin code-named Akiko.

Born in Okinawa to a heroin-addicted American ex-Marine and a Japanese bar girl, the blue-eyed, black-haired Molly Vance grew up in San Francisco until age nine, when her father died mysteriously. She was then brought to Tokyo and raised by her father’s friend, a yakuza gangster.

As a teenager, she was trained in martial arts by the head of an ancient cult of tattooed female assassins called the Habu Kurage, or Medusas. Following her adopted father’s death in a yakuza war, Molly went on a bloody rampage, destroying the entire rival yakuza clan.

Still later, after more intensive training by the head of the Medusas, she began working worldwide for a shadowy group known only as the Organization, and quickly gained renown as the deadliest woman alive.

But, after glimpsing an underlying pattern and suddenly realizing the Organization’s motives behind the “hits” she is assigned, Akiko risks it all to help one of her targets escape.

She then disappears from view, going to live in an abandoned mountain temple on a remote island off the coast of Japan.

Both the Organization and the Medusas are now determined to find Akiko — and kill her. Even worse, they have found a way to get to Molly through people in her past. To save their lives and her own, she must unleash all her fury.

***

In this novel Molly Vance, living under a false name, is busy restoring the ruined Zen temple as a way of purging her dark karma. At the same time she is falling in love with the remote island’s only policeman, a young man named Jiro Takagi, whom she begins to train in the sword.

One day she gets a letter from her adopted father’s former mistress. The woman’s teenaged daughter was kidnapped by Chinese gangsters on a trip to San Francisco and is being forced to work as a prostitute in a sleazy massage parlor.

Akiko travels to San Francisco to get the girl back and soon finds herself fighting for her life against a hired kung fu master. Though Akiko survives almost unscathed, retrieves the girl and returns to her island, the head of the Medusas has now gotten word of her whereabouts, and sends assassins.

After Takagi is badly hurt trying to save her life, Akiko realizes that she cannot run away any longer — that she must face her former teacher in a combat to the death.

“Akiko” is like a female Jason Bourne, James Bond, or Nicolai Hel (the reluctant assassin hero of Trevanian’s SHIBUMI). Each novel in the series is fast paced, cleanly written, and structured as cleanly as a Simenon mystery or an Ian Fleming Bond novel.

Though Akiko is the central character we get immersed in many other characters, places and situations, so each novel has its own mood and “feel,” and stands on its own.

This opening novel gives us Akiko’s painful backstory, shows her fighting like a fury to save her friends, and at the end launches her on a completely unexpected path.

***

A damaged but appealing protagonist whom I hope everybody will want to cheer on as she fights impossible odds using only her finely honed skills and wits, plenty of sharp martial arts action reminiscent of samurai and yakuza movies (including Tarantino’s KILL BILL 1 and 2 and just about anything by Takashi Mike), exotic settings, and strong, evocative, sensual writing. That’s about it.

Enjoy reading!