Persistence of Memory - Pt. 9
By Paul Seely
"You understand what you're supposed to do?" Julia asked, pacing in front of Gedde's chair as she twirled a strand of pale gold hair. "I don't want any surprises once we make the connection."
"Despite first impressions, I am not entirely ignorant. I know what would happen to me should I attempt to - how do you say - get too cute?"
"You're already too cute," she responded, grinning. "I just don't want you to get stupid again."
He felt a blush wiggling across his face, and the shame of being affected by her tossed-off compliment made him blush even more. "I will do my utmost to spare us both from that fate."
"Wonderful! Now practice looking exhausted and battered. Tap into your artistic nature. I'll be back in a moment with some... props."
Gedde watched her leave the room, stalking out with long, soft steps that barely left a mark on the puffy yellow carpet. The young man shifted uneasily in his stiff-backed chair, yearning to get up and walk until he could feel his ass again. After sitting still and listening to Julia for the better part of an hour, he felt considerably more informed and enlightened, but his rear deck was dead asleep.
He hoped that he had enough defiant courage left in him to look into the video camera and lie to his father without letting on the truth of his situation. Even though Julia promised the call would be brief, the young man realized that even the smallest slip of his facade would paint him as a traitor and put his own name on Hideo Yoshima's black list. Julia told him that if her plans fell through, he would need to be able to leave the country without a bullseye on his back.
Nervous fingertips stroked the ivory katana grip as he wondered for the thirty-third time why she'd chosen to let him hang on to the sword. For his own comfort, he supposed. She seemed very adept at making situations feel normal, even when they were outrageously abnormal.
"And this is definitively abnormal," he mused aloud.
"Baby, you ain't seen nothin' yet," a feminine voice trilled in response.
Julia was back and he hadn't even heard her come into the living room - like that was a great big honking surprise. He realized by then that she simply didn't make noise. Not when she walked, chewed, swallowed, or breathed. As she leaned over the desk in front of him, stretching her gray trousers across a firm bottom, he found himself wondering is she made noise when she...
"Stop staring at my bum."
Gedde jerked his eyes away and lowered his head to stare at the katana again, his cheeks on fire. She wasn't even looking at him, so how could she tell where his eyes had landed?
"Because you're a nineteen year-old boy," Julia said, answering the unspoken question. Her back was still to him as she prepared a tube of fake blood. "Keep focused on lying through your teeth, or I'll have to knock them out for real."
"I'm not - I mean, I don't normally do - "
She turned around, waving a slim hand as if tut-tutting away his explanation. "Think nothing of it. There are extreme pressures on you - extreme for anyone, but more so because you are such a young person. Your mind is struggling for something to latch onto, anything that doesn't involve betraying your family or experiencing a horribly painful death on this ropey yellow carpet."
"Still, it is an inappropriate response."
"Nineteen year-old boys want to fuck more than they want to breathe," Julia announced, leaning back against the desk and stretching her neck from side to side. "It's just the nature of the beast, simple biology. Despite your amazing self-discipline, you're not above it. Now give us a smile."
"Display your teeth," she ordered again, brandishing the tube of red goo. "It's nearly show time."
Gedde Yoshima parted his dry lips and eased them back, showcasing two perfect rows of white enamel. He flinched when the blonde leaned in with a gob of red on her finger aimed straight for his mouth, but she stayed on target and smeared the gook across his incisors, then ran her finger under his upper lip to leave a thick trail between his lip and gum. Surprisingly, he found that the false blood tasted quite nice. Like cherry cola, almost.
"This deposit will gradually dissolve and leak down your teeth while you speak, giving the appearance of an open wound inside your mouth," she explained, stepping back to examine the effect. "It looks rather gruesome, actually. As if you had been chewing glass."
The young man grimaced, watching closely as she picked up a blue plastic safety razor - the double-bladed kind that could nick a water buffalo hide through two inches of shaving cream. Gedde found himself clinging to the sword a bit more tightly as she tested the razor's edge on her thumb.
"You don't plan to cut me badly, do you?"
"Don't be nervous. I've shaved a man or ten in my day," Julia said comfortingly. "One woman, too, come to think of it. Elana was East German and had no access to waxing facilities, poor dear. She also had enormous knees, like cantaloupe. Very ticklish behind those large patellae."
A moment of confusion dropped over him like a great cloud, then blew away in a cold wind. Diana, her little lawyer, even his own sister... were all modern women bent to similar inclinations?
"You mean you... with women?"
"Now, I do what I like, and usually I do who I like," she explained, ever the subtle diplomat. "Things were different during the Cold War. Those in my line of work would kill, steal, blow and suck to get what we needed. Since that job required making love with a fuzzy communist elephant, I chose to consider myself an agent of romantic Glasnost."
"So it was simply work, then?"
"Not entirely difficult work, I must confess. Elana was very sweet and very, very vocal - a smoky alto, if I recall accurately. She often sang rollicking folk songs after too much vodka, or when she was... satisfied. I remember humming a happy little tune as I exited the checkpoint to West Berlin."
Gedde Yoshima shifted in his chair and fumbled with the scabbard, as well as his next words. "But when you are - I mean, when you have your choice - do you still..."
Julia smiled, charmed a little by how flustered the boy had become. As his mind was not on what she had to do next, she encouraged the line of conversation as she approached with the razor. She had to cut him. Damned modern camera lenses showed too much detail to fake facial lacerations, and if his father didn't buy the act, the operation would slip a little off-track; like an AmTrak commuter train. She determined to try and make the cuts as small as possible, and to keep Gedde distracted.
"Truth be told, I have genuinely enjoyed coupling with only three partners of my adult life, and yes, one of them was a woman." She placed two fingers on his forehead and stretched the skin taut.
"My preferences run a tad on the rough side, and men are naturally more inclined toward such behavior, but that one woman... she had a gift for sensual cruelty." Julia touched the razor to his skin and slid it sideways, splitting open two thin, red rows on his brow. Gedde didn't even notice.
"She knew exactly what I wanted, and she let me know that she could break me in half if I displeased her." The razor dropped to his left cheekbone, but he didn't see it. His eyes were locked on Julia's wide gray orbs, watching her every blink.
"She withheld her climax on purpose, keeping herself on the brink and blaming me, berating me and threatening me with unspeakable torments should I fail to satisfy her. It took me the better part of an hour to force her to orgasm. I'd never had to work so hard in my life." Again, the blades bit into his flesh and sent rivulets of crimson down his face. He was only aware that his pants were far too tight.
"Do you know what I got for my efforts?" she purred, bringing her face level with that of the near-catatonic youth. "For working her flesh until my fingers curled into arthritic lumps, until my lips were numb and my tongue ached like a tread-worn radial tire?"
Julia was quiet, just hovering in front of him, dangling a licentious carrot for him to snap his teeth around. Gedde couldn't resist. "Tell me."
She drew one finger along the bridge of her nose, smiling as she felt the small, irregular bump about halfway down. "This. At her... crucial moment, she slapped me so hard, she accidentally broke my nose. I didn't even know it until several hours later."
"She hit you?"
"Oh, but that's what I wanted. I came when she hit me. God, how I screamed..."
Just as she pounced on that last word, Julia smashed her folded knuckles across Gedde Yoshima's nose, breaking it as cleanly as any Beverly Hills plastic surgeon could.
"OWWW!!!" Both of his hands rocketed toward his flattened proboscis and cupped around it protectively, far too late to do any good. "Why dod yew do dath??"
"Sorry," she said, again parading that sincere, heartfelt smile. "If you'd seen it coming, you would have jerked away. This way, it will heal properly and you won't have a souvenir like mine."
"Noo thuveneerth, please. Thith ith nah thumthing I wan to rebember."
"And here I thought we were having such fun getting to know each other."
"PHUNN?? I amb betrayig by fambly!"
"You are taking care of your family," Julia corrected. "You're a very brave young man."
The prematurely matured teen just sat there and bled. He could feel his nose swelling already, and a steady, throbbing pain was drumming under and behind his eyes. He let them drift shut and imagined himself along the bank of the Seine, watching the sun blossom orange and gold in a blue and white garden of atmosphere. Maybe he could still get there someday, maybe he would watch that sunrise with his mother and sister. As impossible as it seemed, the fantasy calmed him down. Gedde's shoulders relaxed and his neck slacked, causing his face to droop forward and sending his unmarred cheek into a gentle collision with Julia's lips.
"Wha-?" he murmured, jerking back immediately, sure that the contact was somehow his fault. Julia was bent onto one knee, looking at him in a very open and direct manner as she spoke softly.
"I am sorry for hurting you. I need your help to make this work, and I am very grateful that you have consented to deal with me regarding your family. You will not be required to say anything regarding your father's business dealings, his failing health, or his personal behaviors. All you have to do is look into the camera and agree with everything I say to him. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now, try not to take this personally."
His eyes went wide as he wondered what torment would be visited upon him next, and he watched the face of this strange angel as she moved her mouth to his right cheek, just below his eye, and planted warm lips on his skin. Her mouth was open, and he was aware of only a hot, wet tickling as she pulled a patch of flesh into her mouth and began to suck, gently at first, then with increasing force until it was nearly painful. As she finished, her full bottom lip brushed against his eyelashes, and he discretely inhaled her breath. Gedde identified the smell as a mix of rum and sour cherries.
Julia eased off and backed away as his skin turned red and purple, blood welling up inside. "There we are. To the camera, that will look like a godawful bruise. A Mike Tyson left hook."
She sounded for all the world like a cool pragmatist, shrewdly choosing the methods because of their ease and effectiveness. In all truth, Julia knew exactly what kind of effect she was having on Yoshima's son. She'd have to be blind not to notice.
"After we're done, you'll have another decision to make," she said, standing and smoothing her hair.
Gedde lowered his hands to his lap and rested them on what he thought was the ivory katana scabbard stretching along his thigh. "What is that?"
"Whether to unsheathe that thing and show me what you can do."
His brow furrowed in confusion. She wanted to fight him? "I don't want to hurt you, Julia."
To her credit, she didn't laugh. "My, my. Someone thinks a lot of himself."
The blonde beauty smiled broadly and lowered her eyes to his lap. He followed her gaze down to where his hands rested... and then over to the other leg where the katana lay. That firm length under his palms wasn't the ivory scabbard after all.
Gedde Yoshima was torn between wanting to die of embarrassment, and wanting that video call to be over five minutes ago. He knew that he would have no trouble lying to his father now... and the weak, dishonorable part of him that was merely a nineteen year-old male didn't really care.
"I apologize in advance for what I am about to do," Julia said as she linked up with the satellite and powered up the digital video software on the sprawling desktop computer.
"You'll understand if I wait until afterwards to forgive you," the nervous young man replied.
"Oh, you'll forgive me, alright. At the top of your voice. Over and over."
At the beach house, Hideo Yoshima was growing impatient. He paced and sat down, paced and sat down, then took several hits of oxygen. Over and over.
The remaining ten guards were getting antsy, too. Hours had passed since the kid left with his crew, and there was no word on the success of their mission. Since the dread Diana Starrett had already come and gone, a few of the senior men debated the merits of asking to be dispatched as back-up, but tossed that idea after the old man's ninth circuit of the living room was complete.
At 6:58 p.m., an electronic bleating broke the silence, and all eyes turned to the computer near the kitchen. Yoshima walked calmly to the desk and took a seat in the leather captain's chair. He tapped the keyboard's integrated touchpad and cleared the screen of flying toasters, revealing the minimized program icon for his active video phone software. One extended finger drew the cursor to the button marked 'receive,' and the seventeen inch screen was suddenly filled with two faces which represented his worst-case scenario. He started recording the call.
In full screen living color, with over six-hundred lines of resolution, he saw his teenage son's bloodied, bruised face. The first feeling Yoshima knew was a profound disappointment and shame at his child's failure. If there was any concern for the boy's condition, it was a distant, unheard whisper.
Behind the boy was a smirking blonde hellion, her chin hovering just above his slumped shoulder, her hand resting comfortably around his throat. The silver blade of a straight razor bit gently into the thin skin covering Gedde's jugular vein. The camera focus was tight, revealing little of their surroundings, and absolutely nothing to reveal their location. Yoshima activated a keystroke macro which started a trace on the call. It would take thirty seconds to pinpoint the bitch.
"Hello, Yoshima-san. So nice to see you again," she opened, grinning cattily, just enough for him to see the canary feathers in her teeth.
The Yakuza chief paused for five seconds, and got right to the point. "What do you want?"
"Will you never change? Cold, cold, cold!" she chided. "You know, you're one of the few people I have ever met who makes me feel secure in my humanity.Your children are just fine, thanks for asking. I'm taking good care of Hansel and Gretel."
Julia took a fistfull of Gedde's straight black hair and pulled back on his head, revealing more of his throat and forcing his face around to meet her own. "I'm not as bad as your mean old daddy, am I?" She twisted his hair from side to side, dragging his head into an unwilling gesture of agreement. "See? Even little Gedde agrees that you're a monstrous old bastard. And that's nothing compared to what Angelia's been telling me! Oh, she's got some hot tales to tell about you, old goat!"
Hideo could feel his chest tightening, blood pounding in his veins as the Whore of Babylon dared to indict him. "You lie. You lie!"
"Eleven years old? For the life of me, I do not understand how anyone could go after a child that young," she continued, her tone acid and merciless. "What was the problem? Afraid an experienced adult would recognize how pathetic you are? Couldn't lower yourself to buy a whore? What?"
Uncaring that his guards were just around the corner and probably hearing the entire exchange, Yoshima raised his voice in anger. "I love my angel! She is mine and you will return her to me!"
"Or what, stud?"
"YOU WILL DIIIEE!!"
Julia held out one incredibly steady hand. "Look at me shake."
"Bitchwhoredemoness!! I will destroy you!!"
"Calm down, Hideo. You used to be so rational, so reasonable. Oh, but that was before the tumors started eating into your brain, wasn't it? How tragic it must be to lose one's mind..."
"I am sane enough to save myself and to take vengeance on you! When I recover -"
"You won't be recovering. Don't tell me you fell for that red herring about Diana Starrett's miracle cure! Hoho! Ohh, that's rich!" Her smile grew wide and bright with gloating, and she rested one cheek against Gedde's head as she laughed, stroking her face against his hair.
The old man froze quietly from the inside-out, feeling a chill growing from the marrow of his bones and stretching up to his skin. "Liar. You speak nothing but lies, you with your forked tongue."
"Honestly, I didn't think you'd fall for it," she confessed. "I wanted you distracted by your disease, by the fruitless search for treatments. It's simply too perfect that - out of all the breadcrumbs I dropped for your researchers - that was the trail they chose to follow. Irony can be so beautiful."
The trace timer on Yoshima's computer had passed thirty seconds, and there was still no lock on her location. He didn't notice at all, didn't hear or see anything except the red and black swarm of dying cells dancing behind his closed eyes. The room was absolutely devoid of sound; even the ocean seemed to be mute. The ten guards in the adjoining hall were holding their collective breath.
"Thanks to your selfish inattention, I have secured your operations in Africa, Central and South America, the Koreas, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, the Philippines... pretty much everything. They're mine now. You've been economically neutered."
"Yes, yes! Despite the old cliches, there is no honor among thieves - or
criminals of any stripe. I offered them a better deal, and they jumped on board
the H.M.S. Julia without hesitation. They don't like you, Hideo. Did you know
that? Most of them couldn't wait to cut ties with your organization. 'A sinking
ship,' one Brazilian casino magnate said recently."
Choking on his own bile, Yoshima gagged and retched pitifully until one of his men brought him a glass of water and his oxygen tank. He chugged the water and grabbed up the mask, inhaling as deeply as his lungs would allow. Seconds passed as he got control of himself and managed to croak out the one question she wanted to hear.
Julia slid her chin to the top of Gedde's head and angled the razor to increase the bite on his neck until a trickle of blood flowed from the nicked skin. "Boss's orders. The U.N. wants the entire economic structure in Japan to fold, and that includes the black market. If the Yakuza were listed on the Nikkei, your stock would bottom out Monday morning. We're making it happen."
"So this... all of this is not about me or my family?"
"Not entirely, no. You were chosen as our test case because you once brought pain to someone the director cares about, and because you are a murderous pederast. You shouldn't have blamed your children for your own problems, and you certainly should have thought twice before threatening Harry Mars' pet. Lady Diana's person is strictly off limits, old son. No touchie. If you didn't have something we want, you'd probably be resting in your coffin by now."
Yoshima was boiling inside, his anger spewing acid around in his stomach like magma in a volcano. He had confirmation of some of the business losses Julia mentioned, but the others would have to be checked... after. After he had taken care of the impetus of his trouble - Diana Starrett. After he had seen to the return of his property and legacy - his children. After those things were done, he would make this woman and her master pay for interfering in his business.
"I want my children returned to me," he said, low and slow.
"And why should I give them back?" Julia flickered her tongue at Gedde's ear, while at the same time her hand slid the razor up and down his neck. "They're such lovely company."
"What is it you want from me?"
"Here, now. Let me think... for starters, how about turning over all your research and staff currently involved in producing a toxic compound bioagent?"
"I cannot give you these things. I have no such interests."
"Yes, you do. I want every scrap of paper, every bit and byte of
magnetic media, every gray cell in the brains of your chemists and virologists
in Europe, Asia, and right here in California at Rowland," Julia clarified,
leaving no room for additional denials. "And I want a pony."
Gedde flinched, causing the razor to take a nip at his throat. It wasn't until later that he confessed to Julia that he didn't do it out of fear - he was trying as hard as he could no to laugh.
"You have until the end of business Monday to comply, or the Yoshima family line ends when your sorry existence is over. I will contact you again soon to check your progress."
As Julia reached toward the camera, presumably to terminate the call, Yoshima found his voice.
"Oh, what is it now?" she asked, clearly exasperated.
"I want to see Angelia. I want to know she's alright."
"The princess is positively peachy. Isn't that right, Gedde?"
She lifted the razor away from his neck and watched carefully as the young man prepared to speak. This was the money shot, as far as she was concerned. If Yoshima believed he could get the girl back safely AND rain hellfire down on Diana Starrett's life and loves, then things were gonna work out just fine.
Gedde's lips parted, and a perfectly timed trickle of red gushed over his teeth as he said his piece. "She is unharmed, father. Just give them what they want so we can come home. Please."
Yoshima's face relaxed, and he barely nodded. "I will do as you ask, with one caveat."
"You're in no position, but go ahead and ask."
"Retribution must be taken. If that woman is not able to help with my illness, and I am warned against attacking her directly, what would come of hurting her... indirectly?"
* Bingo, * Julia thought, as lights went on behind her eyes. "That is not my concern. Just know that any attempt on Diana's life would be viewed with extreme prejudice."
"That is all I needed. I will begin gathering the requested data and materials as soon as possible."
"Thanks, Hideo. It's always a pleasure doing business with someone who understands the intricacies of negotiation. Good day."
Julia cut her end of the video call and moved around to straddle Gedde's lap. The boy was shaking slightly, so she tossed the straight razor away to make him less nervous. It didn't work.
"All those things you told him... are any of them true?" he asked cautiously, arresting a tremble that started at his feet and worked up to his hips. It was smothered by her light, warm weight and went no further, except in his mind. Inside, he was shaking like a leaf in a typhoon.
"True?" Her spare, golden eyebrows arched in surprise. "Does it really matter?"
Gedde hesitated, wanting to think before speaking out again and saying something truly dumb. His hands were resting neutrally on the sides of his chair, and he tried unsuccessfully to pry his attention away from her face. He wanted to touch her, and he wanted to run. Unable to produce the courage to do either, he simply whispered an answer to her question. "I suppose not."
"What are you so afraid of?" she asked sweetly, staring into his dark eyes and seeing his conflict.
"What do you think?" he answered honestly. "You absolutely terrify me."
"We'll have to work on that."
Julia tilted her face up a little and brushed her lips across her captive's sweetened crimson mouth, noting that he managed to tip forward a smidge to encourage further contact. She drew back quickly and placed both palms along his photogenically battered cheeks, forcing him to look into her eyes. To his credit, he remained perfectly still and waited for her to make another move.
"Do you think I'm a monster?" she asked softly.
He nearly got lost in those wild gray fields, wanting to romp there all day like a child trespassing on property posted as dangerous or condemned. Gedde's mind was still sharp enough to compose an answer. "No. Monsters often are unaware of the nature and quality of their acts. You are fully aware of your acts and the potential consequences."
Julia nodded ever so slightly, not angered by his candor. "So what does that make me?"
"A professional," the young man said calmly. "What concerns me is... why I am sitting here with you instead of lying dead outside, or on this ropey yellow carpet? Why am I cooperating?"
"Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?"
"No. Is it contagious?"
"Perhaps, as much as a mass sociogenic illness can be. Stockholm Syndrome is the name for the curious phenomenon of captives identifying with and becoming fond of their captors."
"So I am merely weak-minded or mentally ill."
"No, not at all. I offer you the chance to win your unconditional freedom, and to save your sister and mother. Your father offers you humiliation, degradation, and certain death," she argued logically. "Now, tell me - with whom would a wise man choose to align himself?"
She smiled at him, and this time, he smiled back. Compelled forward by some blessed influx of confidence or foolishness, he brought his mouth to hers and covered her lips in a sticky, cherried kiss that spread heat throughout his numbed body and inflated his hands, enabling them to rise up and circle Julia's waist. When she broke off and looked at him, she was grinning with a strange humor, false blood smeared across her mouth and teeth. He was nearly able to laugh. Nearly.
"Stockholm Syndrome it is, then," Gedde agreed finally, causing the svelte beauty on his lap to laugh. The sound of it tickled his ears like crystal wind chimes on a winter's day. "What do you find so amusing?"
"I'm a Swede by birth," she responded, still tickled by some private joke which he wasn't catching on to at all. He made a puzzled face, and she tried again. "Stockholm? Sweden?"
"Oh," was all he said as her lips parted and he gave himself up to the illness.
After the call expired, Hideo Yoshima's monitor screen went blue. He glanced at his tracer timer. Over three minutes passed with not a clue as to her location, as the call was evidently bounced off every digital tower in California. Undoubtedly, she had vacated the safe house after her location was discovered, and now she was out of his reach. He had not choice but to deal with her, for losing his angel was not an option... but vengeance was. Maybe he didn't have the power to go after the one he wanted, but he could still make her suffer. Even if it took every last bit of his wealth and power, he would hire the best and make sure this was done right.
He called up his speed dialer program and selected the fifth entry, a Hong Kong number marked only by the letters "CK." As the digits were dialed, he opened an encrypted file and viewed the text and images within, including several color photographs, home and business addresses, phone numbers, driver's license and license plate number, vehicle I.D. number, college transcripts...
"Kaige Fish and Lobster," a woman announced as the phone finally stopped ringing.
"Chen recommends the swordfish," Yoshima replied.
The line went dead and a dial tone sounded for ten seconds, then the phone rang again and a man answered in a harsh, rusty voice.
"What do you want?"
"The black fist wishes to obtain your services," Yoshima announced, playing on his affiliation with the organization immediately.
If the man was interested in taking a job for the Yakuza, he did an excellent job of hiding it. "I'm busy," he sighed, seemingly bored and tired.
"This job would take little time, and you can name your price," Yoshima told him.
Silence fell again, no noise on the line except the man's breathing. "Word is you couldn't cover my price anymore."
"Rumors. Disregard idle talk and believe your bank balance. I will wire the full amount - in advance - to your personal account. Two-point-five million for one single target."
"There must be a catch."
"Not unless you find killing defenseless women difficult. I am faxing you all the necessary information. Complete the job by midnight Monday and I will include a fifty percent bonus."
In Hong Kong, a color fax machine hummed as sheets of paper were decorated with the flat life of another soon-to-be dead person. The assassin known as Chen Kaige plucked the stiff, warm paper from the fax tray and looked into a facsimilie of his target's eyes. He wondered for only a second or two why Hideo Yoshima wanted this done, then remembered that he didn't care.
"Send the money," the killer said quietly. "By Tuesday, Charlotte Browning will be dead."
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