I have been watching him.
It's been nearly ten minutes now, and he hasn't spoken a single word. Hasn't given off any silent nods or signals. He couldn't have known that I was in the same room with him, but I remained hidden in the shadows for a few minutes more, fangs lowered all the way, katana blade over my right shoulder, 'ready'...just in case.
Looking at Takeshi Ogata now...he seemed so weathered. So torn. Time and stress has not been good to him over the years. Then again, time is a mortal enemy for all those who walk in daylight. But not for me. Not anymore.
Besides...after a lifetime of criminal behavior and murderous acts, Takeshi would be a pretty pathetic choice for 'time' to do him any favors.
I watched him stand in front of his high rise window, his business office almost completely dark inside with the exception of a single desk lamp, and the dazzling lights of the Kabukicho Shinjuku District of Tokyo down below...a half full glass of warm brandy in his hand that he took frequent sips from as he waited for my arrival. He called for me...he'd knew I'd come. I just wasn't ready for him to see me yet. Always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to men like him.
I only took my eyes off of him long enough to scan the rest of his office for potential threats, but when I looked at his reflection, hearing him sigh with a heavy heart...my curiosity got the best of me. Who knows? Perhaps his urgent request to see me tonight was actually legit for once.
Clearing the room, I decided to make myself known...stepping out of the shadows behind him and sitting in the expensive chair behind his desk, putting my feet up and crossing them at the ankles. When he turned around, there I was...a mischievous grin on my face, still looking the way I did when I was only 17 years old, despite my many years in darkness. "Grey hairs now?" I smirked. "The years are catching up to you, old man. You're getting a little pudgy around the middle too, if I do say so myself."
"How long have you been here?" Takeshi asked.
"Long enough." I answered. "You called, I came. That's how this is all supposed to work, isn't it?"
Stepping away from the window, Takeshi took an even larger gulp from his drink, and it looked as if he had some serious matters to discuss tonight. He took a moment to stare at my feet on his desk, and then back at my eyes. Maybe it was a sign of disrespect, but I allowed him to feel it for a few seconds longer before finally dropping my feet back down to the carpet.
"Nice office." I said. "You've done well for yourself in a very short time. I take it the criminal racket is bringing you the kind of wealth and prosperity that you always hoped it would, huh? When was the last time we saw each other? Two years? Three, maybe?"
"It was back in 1981..." He said, quietly...looking at a small wall full of closed circuit security camera footage screens.
"Six years? Already? Wow. Time flies, I suppose. More for you than it has for me, of course." I could see a look of concern on his face, and it intrigued me. "So, are you gonna tell me what all this is about, or did you just invite me over for company's sake? You look awfully lonely up here in the dark, all by yourself."
Takeshi grinned to himself as he gazed back out of his window. "Same old Norio Myoki. Do you ever plan to mature past the reckless mindset of a teenager?"
"Not if I can help it, no." I replied. "Same old Takeshi Ogata. Still playing crime boss."
Looking at my sword, he asked, "I trust that all the men that I pay so handsomely to guard my building and keep me safe are still alive?"
With only a slight hesitation, I assured him, "They're all resting peacefully...but not resting in peace. You have my word." Then I spun around in his desk chair for a moment, saying, "You really should have told them that I was coming. It would have made things a lot less painful for me...and for them."
"I wasn't sure who I could trust. Even in my own house...opportunities for betrayal are everywhere."
"Awww...is the big bad Tokyo gangster suddenly feeling a bit paranoid about the people in his employ these days?" I said with a fake pout to mock him. I could see traces of insult in his expression, but they quickly went back into hiding. Too late, though. Pulling his strings had already been achieved.
"Trust me, Norio...you know about as much of my life in daylight as I know about yours in darkness..."
"Blah blah blah, yeah, I get it. But it's not like you didn't have an opportunity to be one of us at some point, Takeshi. You made your choice, and I made mine. So, do me a big favor? Spare me the lecture and tell me why I'm here in your office right now, 'Pops'. I ain't got all night. I'm looking to hit the red light district, get a bit of scratch to satisfy my urges, and then spaz out with some drink to make sure that I'm way gone by dawn. You get me?"
"I'm afraid that you'll have to stay sober tonight." He said, sipping more brandy and finally stepping away from the window to face me head on. "I need your help, Norio. The kind of help that only you can provide."
I couldn't help but to snicker out loud, right in his face. "Ha! Yeah. As if..."
"I didn't have anywhere else to turn. You are the very best at what you do. Or so I've heard."
"You heard right. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to stick around and meddle in your underground criminal affairs when I could be having a killer time elsewhere."
"You OWE me a debt." Takeshi said sternly, "A life debt." But I didn't let it phase me.
"Correction. My father owes you a life debt, old man. Not me."
"And your father is no longer with us...which means that his debt falls onto your shoulders instead. It's a matter of honor."
I spun around in Takeshi's chair again, putting my black Converse shoes back up on his shiny expensive desk. "C'mon, man...are you seriously going to bang me in the head with that stuff? My father is dead and gone. You saved his life once, he was grateful, and he's gone now. Tough shit."
"I did all that I could for your father out of respect for you and the rest of your family, Norio. No one else got better treatment from me, or anyone else around me." He said. "Are you telling me that you plan to dishonor his memory and the Ogata family triad's efforts to keep your family safe for all these years, by not even hearing me out?"
"Dishonor? Those were the old ways, Takeshi. It's the 80's for crying out loud. We've got cable television now, microwave ovens, cellular car phones...we've got NINTENDO! Nobody's got time for that ancient 'blood oath' garbage anymore. It's a forgotten era. Technology is pushing things forward. You need to drop the old traditions and catch up with the times. You want protection, buy yourself a couple of pitbulls, a couple of Uzis, and call it a day." I said. "What the hell do you need me for?"
"I need you because technology IS moving forward. Faster than you may think. And soon, things may become much more dangerous...both in your world, and in mine."
"I don't have a 'world', Takeshi. I live, I party, I go back home. Next evening? Wake up...repeat. That's kind of how I like it."
Paying little attention to my standoffish behavior, Takeshi walked over to his wall safe and worked the combination lock until it opened. Inside were a few large wads of cash, a couple of over-sized jewels, and a satchel that he brought out to place on his desk in front of me. I gave him a strange look at first, but then reached out to open it and see what was inside. He said, "As the new decade approaches, more and more consumers are making home personal computers a rather commonplace commodity. I suspect that, within the next few years, they won't just be for businesses and video games any longer. They won't be expensive yuppie toys anymore, but they will become the standard. Even more so than they are now."
"Well, duh..." I said. I opened the satchel to find a collection of floppy discs and a couple of microchips that looked as if they were encased in small sticks of wax. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Takeshi paused for a moment, then his eyes met mine and he said, "The worlds of Daylight and Darkness...they have been attempting to coexist for centuries now. There are many who believe that they can share the same space with harmony. A sense of perfect balance, as with all things. The Yin and the Yang." He said. "However, there are others out there who are pushing forward with a constant crusade to perpetuate an ongoing power struggle that will ultimately have devastating effects on both sides." "You care to clue me in on what any of that shit you just said actually means?" I asked, looking at the intricate coding and markings on the disks.
"It means...the humans are organizing their efforts. And so are the vampires. Instead of finding ways to bridge the gap between them, they are only searching for ways to further tear both sides apart. I've seen this happen before. Secrets lead to lies. Lies lead to fear and paranoia. And, in time...daylight and darkness are sure to collide in a conflict that will never see an end to the bloodshed. That day is coming, Norio." He said softly. "Maybe in the next ten years, or the next twenty, maybe even longer. But I can see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon...and dark days are coming."
I couldn't really make heads or tails of this whole thing, but as I found a small, handwritten, notebook inside the satchel, I opened it up to see page after page after page of highly detailed, but nonsensical, computer code. "What is this?" I asked. "What's on these floppy disks?"
"The new personal computers are now being equipped with affordable modems, Norio. And access to the World Wide Web. That means, soon, every household is going to have access to a vast wealth of information that they never had access to before. All at the click of a few buttons. All computers will be connected. Monitored. Communication Nirvana." Takeshi said. "The web is going to be the new frontier in the near future. It grows more and more with every passing hour. And human kind will be watching every message, every file, every random communication to keep tabs on those in darkness. Some to study...some to document...some to destroy."
"And you're helping them do it?"
"No. I've had my best and brightest experts working on a way to restore the balance. To give those of you in darkness a way to communicate under the radar. Completely off the grid. The information contained in that notebook and on those disks might actually give your kind a fighting chance. But you have to take it away from here. Far away!"
"How far are we talking?" I asked.
"I have a few interested buyers in America that are willing to pay a king's ransom for this technology. Vampire Elders and human government officials who have agreed to work together on this. But it will only work if they get the first crack at hacking the code. If my rivals here get their hands on it first...the power struggle begins again. They'll use it against those who walk in daylight, and they'll only agitate the coming war between the species. It can't fall into the wrong hands, or all bridges between our kinds will begin to crumble and burn."
"I'm sorry...did you say, AMERICA???" I was taken aback by that comment, but he seemed to be very serious about this. "What the hell kind of tech are we talking about?"
"It will take time to build, perfect, and evolve...but it acts like a protective shield around vampire communications by operating on a totally different frequency than what the World Wide Web is able to tap into. At least for now. The wizards overseas will have to maintain and update it to keep prying eyes from getting a hold of the data, but it can be done. It's based on the concept of secret back channels, like what governments and world leaders use to talk to one another without being monitored." He said. "It's an alternate vampire algorithm that will be specific just to those in darkness, and no one else. No matter how many computers become globally connected to one another, they won't be able to tap in to this particular resource. Not without the right frequency. We're calling it, 'Sector V'."
"Heh...'Sector V'...fresh. Very original." I scoffed, still turning pages in the notebook while Takeshi looked at me from the other side of his desk. Almost with a certain fondness that I hadn't seen in a long long time. "What?"
"Nothing." He replied.
"Well, quit gawking at me then, dork. I'm trying to make some sense out of this."
Takeshi finished what was in his glass and walked towards on of his cabinets in the corner of his office for a refill. "You must realize...that despite his turning you away...your father was very proud of you. Right up until the day he died." He said.
"Gee...you don't say?" I said with a roll of my eyes. "My father was a criminal and a fiend. Just like you're pretending to be."
"He was convinced that you possessed the kind of skill that only appears in the family bloodline once every few generations. Your strength, your speed, you unmatched expertise with a sword...he was in awe of you, boy."
"He certainly had a funny way of showing it." I said. "He loved me so much that he decided he didn't ever want to see me again. I mean, I don't know what kind of bogus story he told you...but I was under the impression that he would forever be ashamed to have a bloodsucking vampire for a son. The message he sent wasn't exactly what you would call 'subtle'. Being disowned by your own blood isn't something to be proud of."
"You come from greatness, Norio. He wanted you to be remembered for being great as well."
"And who gave him the permission to dictate what greatness was and wasn't when it came to MY life, huh?" I said, now feeling a bit bothered by this whole conversation. "I crossed over into darkness of my own free will. I did what I had to do. I offered you a chance to come with me...and you decided to get old, wither, and die, instead. So...live with it. Own it."
"And you're going to tell me that you crossed over for...what? For love?"
With hesitation, I told him, "For business." Adding, "It appears that 'love' wasn't in the cards for me. Not when the other person would rather die a senile old man than spend eternity with someone who...who could have given him everything." I didn't want to show a moment's weakness, so I shoved the emotion back down my throat and stood up from his chair. "Look, if you're not going to tell me what all this is about, then I might as well be on my way. My 'skills' are always for sale, but this time...I don't think you can afford me."
"I don't think you can afford to leave before I tell you the whole story of why I needed you here tonight."
"Fine. Good. Then make with the explanation already, Pops, so I can say no and be on my merry way."
"I'm afraid that it won't be that simple, Norio."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because..." He took a quiet moment, and then said, "...The men that I have been trying to hide from have been watching the building since before you got here. For days, in fact. They are waiting outside. Or, perhaps, they have penetrated my defenses already. Either way, it won't be long before they find their way to my office."
"What are you babbling about?" I asked. "There's nobody outside. I would have seen them."
"These men are very good at what they do. Highly trained. Very loyal." Takeshi told me. "I called on you because I knew that you would be the only one skillful enough to sneak by them and get into the building undetected. And you would be the only one capable of getting out of here alive with the cargo that I'm about to give to you."
With an incredulous look...I stared Takeshi right in the eyes, and I said, "You set me up..."
"As you said, Norio...I did what I had to do..."
"You lured me into the middle of a FUCKING hornet's nest, knowing that I wouldn't have any choice but to fight my way out of here!!! THAT'S what you did!!!" I shouted.
"I didn't have a choice either. You must believe me."
"I DON'T! You fucking piece of SHIT!!!"
But he raised his voice while still trying to keep me calm. "NORIO!!! The men coming for me...they're 'hooded ones'. Just like you and I once were. Promises were made, pacts were signed. They won't fail at their mission here tonight. They can't be bargained with. The fact is...they ARE coming! And there's nothing that either one of us can do about that now."
The hooded ones were humans that ran around the city, day and night, doing all of the local vampires' dirty work for them without question. Vermin. Scoundrels. Thieves and heartless killers. But they did what they did while chasing the opportunity to be bitten by one of their masters...getting a chance at eternal life. An old traditional practice, providing services for the blood gods and being rewarded with the blessing and the curse of immortality. Takeshi and I were once a couple of youngsters, running these streets together with the most mischievous of intentions. And when it was time for them to fulfill their part of the bargain...only one of us was brave enough to be sired. Only one...
I guess his heart wasn't feeling the same emotions that mine was. And I knew, at long last, that I had been wasting my affections on him from the very beginning.
"How could you do this to me?" I said, actually feeling the hurt sting my sore heart with his betrayal. "Why would you force me to get involved with this?"
"Because..." He said, "...You are Norio Myoki! Descendant of the legendary samurai, Tatsuro Myoki! A swordsman and a warrior that strikes fear into the hearts of all who would dare to oppose him. The one who could cut through the shadows themselves if he had to. You are the only one skillful enough to escape this building with the cargo and get it to where it needs to go."
Almost feeling tears well up in my eyes, I said, "My great great grandfather would be ashamed of what I have become! Even more so than own father! You KNOW this!" I said. "My ancestor died a traitor's death, with NO family left to mourn him! And you put me in league with the likes of that loathsome dog?"
"Tatsuro Myoki was a legend! A hero to many! He would have drawn his sword against any enemy to fight for what he thought was noble and true..."
"But those were HIS ways! The old ways! I'm struggling to survive in an entirely different landscape. And I am NOT him! Frankly, I'm sick of hearing his name brought up! THIS is what you wanted from me?" I said, already searching the room for an easy exit if needed. "DAMN you for putting me in this position, Takeshi!"
He almost seemed emotional himself, but was able to fight back his tears much better than I could. Perhaps my teenage hormones were still having a major affect on me, even after all this time. "Had I been honest with you ahead of time...you would not have come."
"You're damn right, I wouldn't have come. You USED me!"
"Norio...you have no idea how important this is..."
"I don't WANT to know!" I said. "You draw me out, put both of our lives at stake...just for a satchel full of floppy discs and a notebook of gibberish? I'm going to leave you right here where you stand, and I hope the hooded ones come in here and slice you to pieces!"
But he put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. The contact made me immediately draw for my sword...but I held it still. Because it was him. ONLY because it was him.
"It is NOT just the technology that I need you take out of this building!" He said, a pleading tone creeping into his voice. And it was then that I saw a single tear roll down from his right eye. This...this hardcore criminal boss, who has probably shed just as much blood as I have since I crossed over...suddenly had a heart? "There is a much more precious cargo that I need you to tend to, Norio. And they mean more to me...than you can possibly imagine."
"They...?" I asked, and I watched as Takeshi pressed a small button underneath the front drawer of his desk. I could hear the sound of a faint buzzer going off in the background, and a hidden side door opened from the middle of his office wall. It was then that I felt my heart drop down into my stomach, nearly making me nauseous from the oppressive weight of it.
I dropped the satchel of floppy disks to the floor as I saw three small children nervously step into the room. They were all under the age of ten from the looks of them, but not by much. Two boys and a girl. And after a few timid looks in my direction, I saw them run across the room to hug Takeshi around the waist. All of them whimpering and crying as they obviously feared for their lives.
"Norio...these...are my children." He said, and it felt as though my heart had been ripped in half.
"Your...children?" I asked. Had he given his love and affection to someone else? Someone more to his liking? Had he been hiding them from me all these years? I know that I haven't been around in a long time, but definitely recent enough for him to tell me that he had...children.
"Yes." He said. "These are my two sons. Natpea...and Kenshiro. And this is my adopted daughter, Katrina. They are the loves of my life. The one good thing that I've done in my many years. But...I fear that my sins have fallen upon their shoulders the way your father's have fallen upon yours. And they owe the devil no tribute, Norio. Not for the things that I've done."
"There are no depths that you won't sink to, just to get your way." I said. "You bring me here...for this? The audacity..."
Suddenly, the wall of surveillance footage began to flicker slightly...and we both turned our heads to watch the black and white camera feeds go dead in the lobby. One by one. Never a good sign. "I'm afraid that I don't have much time left to explain, Norio. Our options are going to get very small, very quickly."
"What, exactly, are you asking me to do here, Takeshi? Are you suggesting that I sneak your children out of here and somehow fly them all the way to America where you assume they'll be safe? That's bonkers!"
"Everything is already set up. Arrangements are in order. You'll leave from the airport tomorrow evening..." As he was telling me this, a red light began to blink in the corner of his office. A silent alert to let him know that trouble was coming his way, so he had to be quick. "...You will all be flying from Tokyo to O'hare airport in Chicago. You'll be traveling in a small batch of coffins that will be located in the hull of the plane. Completely sunproofed for the long journey. You'll be listed under the names of the Dojima family, and carried from the airport to a sanctuary not far from your destination. I already have contacts there that are ready to get you set up with whatever you need." I started to get a bad feeling about all of this, especially when he said, "When you've been settled in, and the coast is clear, I need you to get this tech and the notebook to Vampire Elder Masato and the Circle Nocturnus in that area. They'll know what to do with it from there. Whatever he pays out for your service...it's yours to keep. Provided you take care of my children."
"Do I look like the 'Mr. Mom' type, dude? What am I gonna do with three kids? Three daylight kids, on top of it?" I asked.
Again, he put a hand on my shoulder. Then he put his other hand on my other shoulder. Then leaned in to press our foreheads together for a brief moment, as he closed his eyes and said, "Just see to it that they make it to Chicago safely for now."
"And then?" I asked, now closing my eyes as well. Sometimes, I swear I can still feel the gentle spark of love for him in the center of my heart, whether he can ever love me back or not.
"Then, I want you to train them, Norio. I want you to teach them all that you know. The skills that were passed down to you through the generations to make them just as deadly as you are now...if not deadlier."
Disappointed, I opened my eyes and looked down at the floor. "You want me to teach them to be criminals..."
"I want you teach them how to carry on the legacy of the Ogata family triad...and live on with the name and royalty that they never had." He said. "I want you to make them strong. Make them fighters. And when they've reached an adult age...I want you to give them the gift of eternal life, Norio. I want you to give them opportunity that I never took for myself."
Feeling the emotion well up in the back of my throat, I kept up a stoic front, and said, "It doesn't sound like you have any plans to follow behind us..."
I waited for a verbal answer, but the look in his eyes beat him to the punchline. "I've lived a full life. One of many pitfalls and mishaps, but a life that I stand by, proudly...without much regret. Outside of losing you." He caressed the side of my face, our misty eyes connected for what may very well be the last time. "For what it's worth...I could have never been what you needed me to be for you, Norio. But that doesn't mean that you weren't beautiful." He gave me a kiss on my forehead, and as I let him go from a hesitant embrace, I tried my best to harden my disposition, and prepare for what was to come.
I cleared my throat, wiping my eyes to free them from emotion. And I said, "Takeshi Ogata...this is my life debt...offered to you."
And he nodded, sadly. "Norio Myoki...life debt accepted. And I hearby free you from your commitment."
And as more of his surveillance cameras went blank, faster and faster...the sounds of a ruckus now being heard throughout the building, I drew my sword and looked over at the three shivering kids in the corner of the office, their wide eyes looking to me for help. And Takeshi's worried gaze doing the same. I would have allowed them to say goodbye to their father, just in case they never got the chance to part from him in a way that could have been seen as endearing or appropriate. Lord knows that it was more than I ever got from my own father. But Takeshi remained strong for them. Telling them to follow me and do everything that I said without question. Telling them to move forward, and become a true force to be reckoned with in the new world overseas. I'll teach them how. I owe Takeshi that much. Just for brightening up my life in darkness...of only for a little while longer.
He slowly walked back towards his skyrise window, now just taking the bottle of brandy with him, and he turned his back on us. Giving us the green light to leave him behind without any further hesitation. Time was of the essence.
He may have gotten old, gone grey, and added on a few pounds...but deep down, he was still the same Takeshi that I once fell so deeply in love with. Oh so long ago.
I'll miss you, dear friend...
I grabbed the satchel of floppy disks and shoved the notebook back inside, holding my razor sharp katana blade at my side. "Come on, kids! Stick close by my side, unless I say otherwise! Do EXACTLY as I say, when I say it! You got it? NO QUESTIONS!!!"
"Ok..." They all said, trembling nervously at the idea of what may be waiting for us between this office and the car park, twenty two floors below us. I guess there's only one way to find out, isn't there?