For One Night Only

She knew him at once. As soon as he stepped through the swinging glass doors.

Into:
A crowded bar serving tapas and half price martinis, noisy with screeching Europop music.

He was as wiry, dark and sorrowful looking as in his picture.

The one she’d been shown in London, at Vauxhall Cross.
Of course, he was wearing an SAS uniform in the picture. And a beret. And was a few years younger.

He was now dressed a light black wool suit and a yellow pullover. Light brown leather shoes, probably made in Spain.
She chewed the olive from her martini as he approached.
Looked, as much as it was possible for her to look, bored.

-Hello, he said. May I sit?
She nodded.
He pulled out a chair and sat. They were in a corner, far from the front windows.
Even the floorboards seemed to vibrate with the bass line of the pop music. But it was possible to talk almost normally. One wouldn’t be heard beyond a few steps off.
-You like places like this? he asked.
-Sometimes, she said.
Smiling.

-You have a winning smile, he said.
-Yes, she said. Better than losing, isn’t it?
This was the code. He seemed to relax all at once, deeply.
His gray eyes looked at her. What did he see?
An ice-blue eyed natural honey-blonde, with starkly pale skin, a thrilling beauty spot low on her left cheek just under the ear, sheathed in a clinging black knit dress. Bare armed. Bare shouldered. No wedding ring. Flush of blood high on the cheeks. Beautiful, full smiling-scowling lips. About twenty-six years old.

-That’s a beautiful suit, she said.
-And the shirt?
-Yes, I like it also.
-You like many things.
-So it seems. Do you mind?
He laughed.
-No.

The waiter came over carrying a dish of almonds. He set it down on the table and turned to the man. He ordered a martini. She said she’d have another. The waiter bowed and went away.

He picked up a salted almond from the dish. His fingers were long and slender. He chewed it, cracking it between his back teeth. He wiped his fingers on his napkin after unfolding it and putting the silverware to one side. She sat back smiling at him.

-Is this your first outing?
His tone was pleasant. The skin around his eyes creased slightly.
-It is.
-Anxious?
-Not yet.
-Good. Don’t be.

Why should she be anxious? She’d already auditioned. She’d got the part.
She was going to be Mrs. David Blair.
He was going to be Mr.

-You brought the rings?
-Yes.
-They’ve put you through all the paces? Back story and all that? Anecdotes and so on securely in place?
-Absolutely.
-Then it seems we’re on for this evening. Ten o’clock. The roof terrace of the Hotel ____.

The waiter brought their two martinis on his cork-lined tray. He sat them down carefully. The glasses were misted from condensation. She took a sip. It was so cold it had no taste. The waiter scooped up and took away her empty glass.

-I’m going to call you Anne from the get go, if you don’t mind.
-I don’t.
-Though Elizabeth suits you much better.
-Does it?
-I think so.
-I go by Alwyn sometimes, too.
-Ah. Yes. Alwyn — I recall a bloke named that. Renowned.
-My dad.

Silence.
-I saw him sometimes at HQ. In passing. He always recognized me. Knew my name. Had a friendly way about him. Always a greeting, always an anecdote to amuse us. He is missed in the Service, you know?
-Yes. I know.

She is suddenly somber in her tone and even more starkly pale. The paleness causing her black beauty spot stand out even more thrillingly.

-Well, here’s to the grand old man, “David Blair” says.

They raise their glasses. Touch the rims. Clink.
-May he forever enjoy the splendor of that Paradise reserved for men who do their duty with ruthless passion.

They drink. Deeply.

-As for yourself, David says.
She looks up. Alert. Eyes calm and ice-gray-blue.
-I’ve seen some of your scores. In the confidential file. It’s impressive. Pistol, rifle, knife tactics, close combat. All ultra-high. You graduated at or near the top of all your classes at the Fort. And on top of that, rumor has it you’ve mastered the semi-mythical hoda kur0su school of martial arts. “Naked Kill.” Signed and certified by a real Japanese sensei. So, as it happens, it seems you’re the only woman right now in line for the fabled double O status. You’ll get it, I’m certain. And, I predict, you’ll definitely find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

She picks the olive out of her martini, glistening, and puts it in her mouth and chews it, looking directly into the man’s eyes.
Suddenly, she shudders.
He doesn’t see it. Or does he?
Just a twitch of the bare shoulders.
She swallows the olive. Then, smiling as if to herself, at some private joke or amusing memory, she picks up the cold martini by its fragile glass stem and drinks. It’s an even bigger gulp than before.
“David Blair” smiles at her. It seems he enjoys looking at a saucy woman who enjoys her martini. In his quiet and solid way he approves. She’s not just a killer, or a Service colleague. She’s a woman.

-But this isn’t a rough stuff mission. This is just a hand off. The target is getting a briefcase. In it is a homing device. C’est tout. Your role is to play your appointed part — the alluring and vivacious young wife of the up and coming London drug lord — observe, and get into the action only if and when something goes funny. I know you’ve got it, I know. I only repeat the boring details because I’ve been instructed to do so via Control by the suits in Whitehall. All right?
She nods.
-Say it then. For the benefit of the suits in Whitehall.
-Yes. All right. I mean, yes I fully understand.
-Good. Get the rings out now, and by the power vested temporarily in me by Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though without the proper pomp and circumstance, I’ll declare us man and wife. For the night only, of course.

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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.

Vampire Lover

Dear Agent:

I’ve written an absolutely kickass vampire novel seething with life and color, fully loaded with contemporary sass and sharp historical detail.  The action spans centuries, connecting a young English mercenary duelist in 15th century Venice to a well-heeled and glamorous college professor novelist in present day San Francisco.  (HERE IT IS!)

This novel blends elements of horror-occult, crime noir, and romance into an absinthe- potent cocktail. It has humor, eroticism, dark bloodfeasting, duels, double-crosses, and bloody revenge. And love triumphs over all. But nobody will be able to anticipate the dazzling twist at the end.

Voila. Here is the pitch, followed by a brief synopsis:

Pitch

A vampire bestselling novelist who teaches Creative Writing in foggy San Francisco falls in love with one of his students — a young girl with a fatal blood disease he believes is the re-incarnation of his “first and last immortal lover.”

Synopsis

Vampire Damien Stark teaches Creative Writing in San Francisco. His novel Vampire Blood is on the bestseller lists. He is falling in love with one of his students, an alluring 19 year old girl named Naomi who has written her own rather intense story about being a vampire in 15th century Venice. Damien Stark recognizes in this story the voice of his first and last immortal vampire lover, the Contessa Claudia Rezzonico, who was staked by a vampire hunter in 1790.

Do vampires re-incarnate? In any case, Damien and Naomi quickly become lovers. Yet Damien, who has long since given up feeding on humans, does not drink Naomi’s blood. Nor does he reveal to her that he is undead. Meantime, Damien Stark’s novel has brought him fame and wealth, but it has also piqued the interest of some fanatical Mexican vampire hunters. Naomi’s father has hired private detectives to follow him everywhere.  And Naomi’s jealous best friend Gretchen sets out to seduce Damien via blackmail.

When Naomi, who suffers from fainting spells, is diagnosed with a fatal blood disease, Damien faces a shattering dilemma. Should he make Naomi into a vampire to save her life?

Additional Note

I started Vampire Lover as a keitai shosetsu — a “cell phone novel.” It was very popular with young Japanese women as I serialized it on a cell phone novel site. Actually, only the rave responses of “fans” on the MobaMingle site kept me writing at all. It’s important for writers to feel an audience connection. Later I went back and wrote the “historical flashback” sections featuring the young Henry Moore before he becomes a Vampire.

It is the morning of November 2, 1489, Feast of the Dead — i morti — in Venice and Henry Moore has just finished fighting a bloody duel. Sometime after tonight’s sunset he will meet the Contessa, his “first and last immortal lover.” Why not come along for the hellish but cathartic ride?

Sincerely,

 

 

Okamoto

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.

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!

Akiko. Tokyo. Deep night.

Many readers have noted my “unconventional” approach to dialogue and sometimes also to indentation and punctuation.

In stark truth, I used to be much more “correct” about how I put together a piece of fiction. So correct, and so hyper-aware of real and imagined flaws, that I instantly destroyed just about everything I wrote.

Then, one fine day in 1992 or so, I read a generous excerpt from Cormac McCarthy’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES in Esquire. (This was at a time when big magazines were still publishing interesting stuff.)

At that instant, a light bulb flashed on over my head, as I began to see the possibilities open for sheer writing. I began to see that there is no necessary contradiction between action and poetry.

The great spaghetti Westerns, Hong Kong gangster and Japanese yakuza crime movies, for example, are lyrical as well as gritty and bloody.

Akiko Royale

The inspiration to begin writing the “Akiko” series came to Okamoto through reading Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, CASINO ROYALE. “What sort of human being would I want to write a series of crime/thriller novels about? Who could keep me so deeply fascinated that I would want to write the adventures of an entire lifetime?”

And there, popping up out of nowhere, was the image of a beautiful but melancholy, starkly blue-eyed half-Japanese half-Caucasian woman boarding a ferry to take her to a remote island on the Sea of Japan. The story of “Akiko” arose from that moment and unfolded itself in terse stages. It was the birth of lonely ex-assassin Molly Vance.

_____

The ferry that sets out for Kamijima from the main island is a small and rickety and paint-peeling launch with a clanging engine, a single smokestack, and room for about thirty passengers. It runs once every two days. It does not carry automobiles, though some of the tourists bring aboard bicycles or motorscooters.

On that morning in June a pale young woman, wearing a white linen suit and sunglasses and thin leather sandals, her lips coated with red lipstick of a shade so dark it was almost black, boarded the ferry with two heavy black calfskin leather luggage bags; she hauled them across the wobbling gangplank by herself, one in each hand, over the gibbering objections and complaints of the little brown ferryman who tried in vain to take hold the straps and wrest the bags away from her. She carried them without any seeming effort and once onboard she slumped on a bench, in a space that mysteriously cleared for her, the heavy bags at her feet, and without any fuss lit a cigarette and smoked it staring at the Sea of Japan.

Blue-green water boiled white behind the engine and with much clanking and a muffled roar as a boy in shorts and an oil smudged t shirt tossed the heavy frayed bow and stern ropes back onto the deck and a puff of black smoke and the stink of diesel the boat shuddered deeply and turned in the water and pointed its prow toward the low and distant outline of Kamijima then began to slide and jolt away from shore. The woman flicked her cigarette overboard and crossed her arms over her chest, as if already feeling the cold. She rubbed her shoulders.

She seemed to enjoy being out on the water, away from the heat and clamor of the city, and as the dark hair flew over her face in the salt-laced wind she was  taking in everything, alert with all her senses, exuberant even.

One might have thought she was coming to life again . . .