Shining Path


Chapter 16

The bishounen bar enforced a strict dress code. There were other requirements also, but the main issue was that out of (first) dyed hair, (second) longer than shoulder-length hair, and (third) being male, you had to have at least two. On the other hand, this was one of the few bars in Tokyo that didn't care at all whether you might be organic or seru.

Kamioka Hanako's bodyguard satisfied only one of the three points, and the lady herself zero, so the bouncer was less than enthusiastic about letting them inside. She tried to bribe him, and she tried to threaten him, but what actually worked was the mention of the name Nobeyama Yoshio. The bouncer made a short phone call, of which the only part they overhead was the fragment "yeah, boss, a sailor uniform and just the tackiest little book bag, rubber squid on the zipper even–" and then he allowed them to enter the bar – but, clearly, he did so under protest. He insisted, at the very least, that Hanako spit out her gum first.

It wasn't hard to find Nobeyama. The man was sitting at the bar, drinking something blue with an umbrella in it that looked like a seru drink but wasn't, with a tough guy on either side of him and everyone else keeping a respectful distance. He sneered at Hanako.

"And whom," he said, "might you be?"

"Too Fow–" and she caught herself, saying more boldly, "I am Kamioka Hanako. Head of the Kamioka family, sir."

"Oh, that's great!" he said, the sneer changing to a smile, "I saw this movie!"

"We're not in a movie, sir. I'm totally for real."

"Yeah, yeah," he said, "But really no. It was just darling of those boys to think of getting me a stripper and all, but really you can leave your clothes on, Miss. I'm gay, anyway – maybe they didn't know that. Nice job with the uniform. I especially like the 'Kamioka' plaid – not many agencies would think of a detail like that. Of course the real Kamioka family would get all bitchy if you walked around wearing that in their territory, but you're among friends here. Can I buy you a drink, honey? What agency do you work for?"

"I am not a stripper, sir."

"Oh, aren't you?" He still wasn't taking her seriously.

"No, I never charged for it in my life."

"Well then, at the very least you've come to the wrong bar, honey."

"I'm in totally the right one. Let me tell you a story, sir. About something that happened, hey let's say last night. Wing's Laundromat."

He shook his head, still grinning, "No interesting stories ever happen in Wing's Laundromat, honey – and I only wear 'hand wash.'"

"Wing's Laundromat down on 22nd. Rough neighborhood. Fights break out around there, kids sell drugs on the playground, vicious dogs run loose, Wing's've got a lot of expensive washing and food-prep equipment, they buy an insurance policy for it. You with me so far, Mr. Nobeyama?"

He became more serious. "Maybe I am."

"But you know insurance is a competitive business, and the group they got their policy from, maybe that group's been having some hard times lately and some other insurance, ah, agents think, okay, it's an easy sell, they can make the clients a better offer. That's business, right, sir?"

"Well – every businessman knows you have to keep the customers satisfied or they'll take their business elsewhere."

"Right. Every businesswoman, too." She had removed just the tackiest little book bag from her shoulder and was playing with the polyisoprene toy cuttlefish attached to the zipper.

"So the story is that last night Wing's Laundromat gets a visit that isn't entirely nice, some stuff gets broken and robots pushed around, it was a visit from some, ah, some salesmen let's say. Salesmen working for another insurance company. Salesmen who didn't think I could take care of my clients."

The book bag was open, now; she grabbed some of the cellulose acetate film inside, wadded it into a ball, and threw it at him, then upended the bag, dumping the rest of its contents out on the floor.

"Some of their hands are here."

Nobeyama set down his drink carefully on the bar, looked at the grisly pile, looked at Hanako. The cels were still moist. He could smell the diethyl phthalate odor of seru blood even over the blue CuraƧao in his cocktail. Of course if they'd only lost isolated cels, as would be typical in a knife fight, then the soldiers involved could have replacements painted – it takes more than a severed hand to permanently inconvenience a seru – but this wasn't a lighthearted matter anymore.

"It appears, Miss Kamioka," he said gravely, "that my family owes yours an apology."

"No problem, forget it – I already have. Those puppies'll be better trained next time, you just have to rub their noses in the puddle a couple times, you know? I've got something better to show you, too, and I'm glad it's you so I won't be embarrassed." That was a lie. Having almost completed Level Four, she could no longer be embarrassed by what she was about to do, at all.

Without shame or hesitation, the head of the Kamioka family undid her tie, pulled it away, and removed her blouse. She was wearing nothing underneath, further proof that she wasn't a professional stripper; and because this wasn't a movie, all three bodyguards pretended hard that they weren't seeing anything, instead of immediately revealing their baser instincts. Hanako turned and stood with her back to the Nobeyama Clan leader, flashing the entire bar.

"What do you see, Mr. Nobeyama?" she called, over her shoulder.

He stared at the pale skin of her back – unsure of the point of this bizarre display, but compelled by politeness and caution to humor her at least a little further. "I don't know. What do you want me to see, honey?"

"All right then, I'll make it easier for you. What don't you see?"


"That's right." She turned and faced him again. "Ten points for you, Nobeyama Yoshio Level Two. I have no tattoos, except only this number 'three' on my shoulder and that's just kind of weird and doesn't really count. I'm not like you. I'm not a member, I'm not made, I'm not in the business, not one of the tribe, never mind what my Daddy was into – no doubt he's rolling in his grave now – but I'm not, you know, however you want to say it, I'm not part of this thing of yours. Wakarimasu ka?"

"You're saying that you're not yakuza."

"I'm just an ordinary college student, and I don't even know what that world is like."

"Hmm. What am I to think–" and he looked around the room, saw how many people were staring at them, and switched to "Miss, before we go on, would you please put your blouse back on?"

"Oh? I thought you were gay, sir?"

"Many of the other men in this bar are not, and there are women here too, you know, and I don't think you want to attract too much more attention. You're already that close to getting us both kicked out. You've made your point."

"Oh, very well," and then she muttered in a lower voice, "you fruity old square," but she said it with a smile and he took no offense. Nobeyama had other things on his mind.

"So, naturally, you're wondering why I've come to see you."

"Let me say again that I apologize for last night's incident–"

"I said forget that! But it's like this, sir. See, even if I know I'm not inked to be a gangster, even if you know that now, a lot of other people don't know it yet. And the previous head of my family, my, ah, uncle, he made kind of some big mistakes and – and he got himself shot. And what do you know, so did his wife and the next two in line to take over the business. Funny how that happens, huh? So now here I am trying to get over my grief at the unfortunate deaths of my family who weren't actually related to me anyway, and I can't hear myself think because all day, every day, mainichi, mainichi, it's nothing but 'Oh, Miss Hanako, the dogs showed up and menaced our laundromat again, will you do something about it for us?' or then it's all 'Hey, Hanako-chan, I'm having a party, would you happen to know where I could buy a couple of grams of high-quality methylenedioxymetha-whatever-you-call-it –'"

"We just call it 'E.'," Nobeyama supplied, fascinated.

"Yes sir! And then it's all 'Golly, Haa-chan, I'm so lonely, do you have like a cousin or whatever that you could introduce me to who's like tall and blonde and like does all the kinky stuff?' Do I look like I'm in that kind of business?"

"With those stockings, honey–"

"Well, okay, fine, but, I'm not. Ne?"

"I'm starting to get an idea you might like, Miss Kamioka."

"Oh, good! I'm sure it's the same idea I had, and I'm glad to know you're a reasonable man."

"Well, if I may, then, 'now that we've established what kind of woman you are, we're just negotiating the price.'"

She groaned, "Oh, that was bad! But actually it's even simpler than that. The way this works is that there is no negotiation. I tell you how it's going to be and then you say, 'Yes, thank you, Miss Kamioka.' Because here's the deal. I figure this thing of mine is so square to me that I'm going to give the whole works to you for free. Like I said – I never charged for it in my life. How do you like that?"

"Yes, thank you, Miss Kamioka, but we have a saying in this business about the deal that sounds too good to be true–"

She took an old phone from her pocket – in fact, it was the same old phone she'd had when she left the Shining Path Academy – and handed it to Nobeyama.

"Tomorrow night, at the time and GPS coordinates in there. Sixty kilos of that metha-E stuff. The drugs themselves are already paid for, but the shipper will demand cash for the service of delivery. You – or, hey, probably your little wiener-dogs actually, not you yourself – somebody explains that the enterprise is under new management and you offer twenty percent more than the asking price to show the shipper you're cool. It'll still be a bargain compared to the value of the shipment, so hey, I'm actually paying you to take my business off my hands. You do your special gangster things that I don't understand, to make sure it's not an ambush or a police sting – all my dogs will be chained up far away at the time – and after you do this you know that I'm for real and we're cool, ne? And hey, you can keep that phone, too, I'm buying a new one anyway – oh, but I would like the charm back if you don't mind – and it's got numbers on it for all the new clients you'll be dealing with, and a few other bits of information you might like."

"Have your – whatever employees and clients come included in the deal, and I hope that's recorded on the phone – have they been told about this deal?"

"Mostly. Anybody who hasn't, well, that's your problem to deal with. But if anybody asks me I'll back you up on it. Just so I don't get asked too many times, because I really want as little to do with all this in the future as possible."

"Hm. Well, it certainly sounds – yes, I suppose I can't refuse your offer. Ah, 'Yes, thank you, Miss Kamioka.'"

She gave him a radiant smile. "I'm so glad. Now, pinkie swear?" and she held out her little finger in a hook, like some kawaiiko from a love comedy anime. Nobeyama's seru bodyguard couldn't restrain a giggle at the sight; the boss shot him a look, but complied with the procedure. He had to use his left hand. His right was missing that finger.

"Now there's one other thing."


"Yeah. From now on I'm not going to be in the insurance business or the drug business, so you and I will probably never get in each other's way. The business I'm going into is something a little different. I won't be making any trouble for you and you aren't going to make any trouble for me, ne? But now here's the thing, what if maybe some day you decide that this very generous offer I'm making to you, it's not enough and you or your dogs sniff out what I'm up to and give me some kind of grief, you know? Well, if a day like that ever comes – sure, we both hope it won't – but you'd better know that I'm just a silly little girl, I don't know anything about the yakuza business, and so that means I'm not going to be as scared of you as maybe I should be, because I don't know anything about how dangerous you are, and furthermore I will not be polite to you on that day and I will not be honorable and you'll regret it the rest of your life, which won't be long.

"It won't be like in that movie – yeah, I saw that one too – with me in a pretty little uniform and a machine gun dancing with all the boys, there won't be anything precocious or cute about it at all, because I don't play by your rules, I'm not clean or fair like you, I'm not a man of honor, I am a schoolgirl and we are by far the dirtiest bitches on this filthy planet. I'm giving you a fair shake just this one time because it happens I don't have anything against you. If you have any doubts, just you go find my dear uncle and ask him just how I got to be head of the Kamioka family, ne? Maybe you already heard about my uncle. Do you understand what I am saying to you, sir?"

He risked a smile. "I understand perfectly. And thank you for teaching me something I won't forget about schoolgirls. I'm glad I prefer boys. But if you ever do change your mind and want to come join my world, Miss Kamioka, I think your father would be proud of you after all. Maybe you never knew him all that well, but you take after him more than you know."

"Well, that's his problem, ne?"

"As you say. Until next time, then?"

"I don't expect to ever see you again."

"My loss, Miss. Thank you for the favor you've done me; I wish I could return it some day. Goodbye."

She was long gone, and Nobeyama had almost finished his drink, before his human bodyguard said, "She's crazy, huh, boss?"

"Yes. Totally bonkers. It's sad. I blame modern opera."

"What are we gonna do?"

"Well, first of all, find out whether what we just saw really was the legitimate only daughter and heiress of Kamioka Yoshihiro – a man I always respected – and assuming she was for real, we say a little prayer for his tortured soul and then we do like she said. We take over the old Kamioka territory, and steer the Hell clear of whatever career the Little Princess is planning for herself. That's more or less what we were planning anyway given the shake-up over there, with or without the girl's cooperation, so if she makes it easy for us, there's no sense looking a gift horse in the mouth. Right?"

"Right, boss."

"And hey, get somebody to clean up that disgusting pile of cels before someone slips on it and gets hurt."

"Right, boss."