Nachikatsuura, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan—2010
Her lithe figure disappeared through the wooden doorway leaving Hudson Drake staring at the spot that her perfect bottom had graced. Flicking a glance to his left through the dirty windows, he caught sight of her walking away from the small bar, her long curly black hair swaying across her back as she walked across the narrow road. A small hybrid vehicle braked and stopped a few metres away. The middle-aged Japanese driver motioned for her to pass in front of him and Hudson caught himself smiling as she skipped, cat-like, on her toes, to get out of the way of the impatient man who followed her body with a lingering stare before driving off. A smile beamed across her face as she looked back at the bar, lighting up her olive-tanned Spanish features. Hudson had never met a woman like her.
‘You’d better watch yourself around that black-haired beauty, son,’ a voice behind him said in a rich northern English accent.
A knot formed in Hudson’s stomach as he stared down at his bottle of beer on the wooden bar counter, the feel of her kiss still tingling on his cheek. Looking up at the row of half-full bottles of liquor stacked on glass shelves at the back of the bar, he scanned the mirror behind them to try and catch a glimpse of the man seated somewhere behind him. Only a silhouette was visible.
‘Many men have been shipwrecked on her rocky shores,’ the man continued.
The hair on Hudson’s neck started to rise as his hand squeezed the glass bottle, large white scars on his knuckles visible under the pressure. Turning slowly on his bamboo barstool, Hudson squinted, searching for features on the face of the person sitting at a table near the window. Eight wooden tables were placed around the floor-space of the small drinking establishment, each with a few chairs tucked neatly beneath them. They were alone in the bar at that early hour.
‘Is that a fact, mister?’ Hudson sneered. ‘And you know Eleena that well, do you?’
The figure took a last swig of his Sapporo beer, the chair creaking as he lifted up his six foot four frame. As he walked into the light, the man’s shaved head and grey-streaked black goatee added menace to a face that had seen a lot of life. A barrel chest and muscular arms hinted at a previous life of regular activity, now overshadowed by a stomach spreading with middle age. Dressed in navy blue three-quarter pants with white flip-flops, and a khaki cotton shirt with a collar, he looked like a lost yacht skipper. Large darkened sweat stains, spreading beneath his arms, hinted to a foreigner in a warmer climate.
Hudson felt the warmth and humidity of the coastal air, long forgotten while sharing a beer with his beautiful companion. Wiping his forehead and dark brown hair with his forearm, he watched the stranger weave his way through the tables and take up a place at the bar near the door. One of the fluorescent light bulbs above the door flickered.
‘I happen to know that anyone who gets involved with her either goes missing or goes through a world of pain,’ the stranger said, leaning with his forearms on the bar counter and indicating to Gareth, the bartender, that he wanted a short chaser. The thin expat barman slipped off his stool behind the bar and grabbed a whisky bottle from the lowest shelf. Pouring a healthy shot into a tall, thin glass, he walked across to the tall man and placed it in front of him.
‘On your tab?’ he asked.
The stranger nodded his large bulbous head then downed the drink. ‘Is that a Southern African accent I hear there?’
‘South African,’ Hudson replied.
The stranger smiled. ‘Love the place. I have quite a few clients out there.’
Hudson stared at the fading tattoo of a parachute with extended wings on the man’s upper bicep, which was partially covered by his tight shirtsleeve. ‘Well? You seem to think that you know everything about Eleena. Don’t hold back on my account. Go ahead and bloody enlighten me.’
The stranger clenched his teeth, and his eyes narrowed. Turning, he glared at Hudson, who sensed the animal aggression in the brown eyes of the man. The look of how a lion might stare at a small rabbit, briefly interested, but arrogantly knowing the vast difference in their respective places in the food chain.
‘Well, I am guessing that if you were having a quiet drink with her, then you must be one of those tree huggers here to protest the start of the dolphin fishing season,’ the man said, tapping the rim of his empty glass.
‘I’d hardly call all that slaughter fishing,’ Hudson said.
‘Fishing or slaughter, it’s all the same to me.’
‘And that tells me all I need to know about you then.’
‘Be that as it may, young man. I have seen her around Taiji before, and every year she has a new young fella on her arm, all smitten with the idea of doing some good and being rewarded with a roll in the hay. Mark my words. You will be spat you out like a rubber chicken after she has had her fun with you.’
‘She’s nothing like that!’ Hudson said, feeling the anger rise as he lifted the beer for a cool distracting swig.
‘How sure are you about that? You haven’t been here that long, so I would trust my instinct a little more if I were you.’
The large man swigged another double whisky then slammed glass down, the sound amplified in the empty bar.
Hudson peeled the small label from his beer bottle, watching the stranger out the corner of his eye. ‘You a local here?’ he asked. ‘What can you tell me about the so-called fishing in Taiji?’
The stranger turned slightly to look at Hudson. ‘It’s a way of life for these people. They have fished these seas for hundreds of years, and a few young tourist protestors and television crews will not alter their traditions.’
‘The way they kill dolphins is both barbaric and inhumane.’
‘Maybe, but they are simply obeying the global law of supply and demand. They used to only fish for the meat they needed to eat or trade. Now, look around the town at all the whale and dolphin artwork, insignias and logos. It’s a business to them. I am sure your lady friend has already told you that it’s all driven by the greed of marine parks around the world to have dolphins for the entertainment of fat, ice-cream eating brats.’
‘For someone who claims not to care, you sure sound like a bit of an eco-warrior yourself.’
‘Nope, I just observe the world I live in.’
‘Well, you can see why we need to keep protesting then. Shutting down all the marine parks would be a bloody good start. That would surely slow this all down.’
The man looked at him then shrugged. ‘Well, I am hammered,’ he said, stroking his goatee, then he pushed himself from the bar. ‘It’s been nice to chat with you. Just a little small tip, be careful of the plainclothes policemen. They will try to befriend you when you are out and about.’
‘They will be targeting you now that you are in her company.’
Hudson smirked and nodded his head. ‘I can handle myself, thanks.’
‘Sure you can. She is older than you and not someone you would want to bring home to your mother, but I guess you have only known her a few days,’ the man said and threw down a hundred dollar bill. ‘Gareth, that should be enough to settle tonight’s bill. I’ll be back tomorrow to drink the change.’
Hudson watched the man stumble out of the doorframe and walk past the windows. He gave him a few seconds before sliding off the chair and walking to the right of the bar into the small public toilet. He stared at his reflection in the long mirror then leant forward to the small basin and poured some water into it from an ornate white jug. Splashing cold water on his face and head made him feel cooler and a little more awake.
Towelling his face dry, he stared at the black rings beneath his twenty-two-year-old eyes. A year of travel around the world had been fun, but at some point, he needed to think about settling down as his parents would have wanted. The image of Eleena’s smile flooded back to him.
Terry Slaughter cleaned his Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses with his cotton shirt and placed them on his face, feeling the visual relief instantaneously. He wiped his sweaty hand across his perspiring bald head and looked up to the clear blue Japanese sky. Countless overhead telephone wires and electricity cables covered the area like a net, reminding him of so many of the American cities he had worked in before. None of the small houses or factory buildings that surrounded the bar were taller than two floors, and all were made of lightweight corrugated sheeting and wood frames. This was earthquake territory. He leant against a black wooden corner post and lit up a filterless Lucky Strike.
A door slamming nearby made him look around the corner as Hudson Drake walked out of the bar. Terry stared at the well-built young man as he walked in the opposite direction and down the quiet street. Slipping out from the cover of the building, Terry moved along the front of a boarded-up shop and then slipped into its doorway for shelter. If he had been in London or New York, the doorway would have been littered with paper and smelled of piss. Here only the smell of the sea drifted on the air.
His target struggled to get his large frame into the small white taxi, which quickly disappeared from view. Reaching into the top pocket of his khaki shirt, Terry pulled out a smartphone and dialled the last number. After a few long drawn out tones, a sweet English voice answered. ‘Good morning. Hamilton-White and Associates.’
‘Morning,’ Terry said in a gravelly voice. ‘Put me through to Rob Hamilton-White, please.’
‘I am afraid that Mr Hamilton-White is indisposed at this present moment.’
‘He’ll take my call, love. Tell him it’s Terry Slaughter.’
‘I don’t think I can…’
‘Just put me on hold, pop your head into his office and tell him it’s Slaughter from Japan. He will take my call.’
A flute version of Robbie William’s Angel piped down the line as he took a last draw of the cigarette and stubbed it out on the flaking doorframe, flicking it past a hunched-over old woman as she walked by. She turned her grey-haired head in his direction, straining to look up at him, then slowly walked into the middle of the road and retrieved the offending piece of litter before waddling off in silence.
‘Terry!’ a familiar voice came over the phone… ‘I am sorry to keep you waiting. Marcia said it sounded urgent.’
‘That woman has the intelligence of a divot of grass,’ Terry said. ‘She knows who I am and that I would only ever call you if it’s urgent. She always claims you are indisposed.’
‘Oh do be nice, old boy, she is doing the job I pay her to do,’ Rob said. ‘So how is our boy doing?’
‘I had to make contact with him.’
‘What? Shit, Terry. You are being paid to watch over him and not interfere.’
‘Yes, Rob, and I’m also being paid to ensure his well-being, am I not?’
‘What has happened now?’
‘He’s got very friendly with the young lady I emailed you about, so I tracked them to a bar and have warned him off her.’
‘It’s the Morales woman, is it?’
‘Yes, although she is going under the name of Eleena Garcia now,’ Terry replied. ‘Apparently, it is her mother’s maiden name.’
‘Does he know who you work for?’
‘Don’t worry, he has no idea who I am or what I do.’
‘Okay then. Do you think that he will heed your warning, and leave her be?’ Rob asked
‘Ha! She is built like a prized racing filly. His hormones are all over this one,’ Terry said. ‘She looks very similar to that troublesome Iranian model he met in Mumbai.’
‘Bugger. That’s not good news. Do you think we should intervene and try to split them up?’
Terry thought for a while. ‘We could, but we might just end up strengthening his resolve and drive him into her arms.’
‘That’s true. He seems to have inherited his dad’s stubbornness and determination when he sets his sights on something.’
‘I agree, Rob,’ Terry said. ‘You retained me to watch him discreetly, but we need to discuss my role going forward since I have been made.’
‘Okay, let me come up with another plan. He needs watching until he is, at least, twenty-five and comes of age, for his full trust to payout.’
‘Do you still want me to stay here or put someone else onto him?’
‘You are there and know all the players, so stay in the background and please do more background work on everyone he gets close to.’
‘I already had my men back home doing more grunt work into her and her family’s background. It seems that they crossed paths with two other men who have been asking questions about her and Hudson.’
‘Not sure, but it does mean that we are not the only ones looking into her, or their relationship. I mean, they only met three days ago.’
‘Someone else must be watching them.’
‘It would appear so, but I have not seen anyone.’
‘Keep looking,’ Rob said. ‘Maybe it’s her father who is suddenly interested again.’
‘I bloody hope not, for Hudson’s sake.’ Terry said and took his packet of cigarettes out.
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