Uncle Kentaro stretched his arms out to his sides, sucked air through his clenched teeth again and cracked his neck twice. Then he brushed the ash flecks from his clothes.
“Let me tell you something about luck, Hana. Luck is a ceramic fox. When I was a young man, I drove cabs and limousines. It was the thing to do back in the bubble years. You couldn’t do anything without someone throwing money at you. Everyone was lucky before the bubble burst.
“Well, as luck would have it, I got a regular gig ferrying bankers from Nihonbashi to Abiko. They paid a pretty penny for the privilege of avoiding the crowds on the Joban Line. The big boys at the Industrial Bank of Japan and Yamaichi Securities had their hands on more money than they knew what to do with. That was back when the land value of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was worth more than all of California. On paper anyway.
“So the bankers sought the advice of the wisest of the wise. A fox. An inari no less, who guards the entrance to this shrine. Now, of course, stone foxes can’t speak. But money flows from the mouth of the fox. With the right oracle who can tell the lost bankers which stock to buy and which to sell. At his height, our stone fox controlled ¥10 billion in investments. Any fool could make money in 1990. Even a stone fox.
“The luck went south, though, in 1991 when the bubble burst. The stock market lost 80 per cent of its value. The oracle fell on hard times and actually did some jail time for fraud.”
“You were that oracle?”
“No. Aunt Tanaka was. I was just the driver. But here’s the thing. She’s in the shack at the bottom of the hill now and I’m at the top. Who is to say inari isn’t lucky? Just that luck is always after the fact.
“You have picked the side of the loser, but sometimes two losers together can become the winner. Let’s look on the bright side: If it is as easy to find this girl as you predict, you can get to her before the yakuza do. And if you can’t find her quickly, well, then neither can they. But don’t doubt for a second they will find her, and you eventually. A hundred-thousand bucks buys their interest. And you are going to need help.”
He sprang up and nodded for me to follow. In the entrance hall, he slid open the shoe cupboard and brought out two pairs of geta wooden sandals.
We clattered out into the morning.
Uncle Kentaro bowed at the threshold to the worship hall. I followed and bowed. We left our sandals at the entrance and stepped barefoot over the tatami to the honden sanctuary, with its paper screen doors shut ahead of us.
He knelt. So did I. He bowed to the floor. So did I. Then we both sat upright.
“OK,” he said, “here’s what you do. You find this girl. You hand her over to her Papa, but you let the yakuza know about it. And after it’s done, you hand over all the money to them…”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
“It’s not, but it’s the right thing to do. You don’t tell anyone else about it. Nobody need lose face if nothing is made public. Once your intentions are public knowledge, you have no leverage.”
“If you humiliate the yakuza, they won’t let you forget it. But you do have a way to find her, right?”
“Already have. On Twitter.”
“Hmm. Ain’t digital technology grand? But you need your analogue wits about you. You look shattered. Get a couple of hours rest.”
“Now? I don’t have time. I have three days to find Emi. I’ve got to start before the 80,000 yakuza are after me, right? And I don’t know what to do next.”
“There are many unknowns in this world. But one known is you have to shut down for an hour or two. Can’t be helped. Try. There’s a futon in the cupboard. Just make sure you are resting with your head facing to the north.”
“For good luck?”
“No, so you can see this,” he said, taking a portable TV out of a cupboard. “I’ve got no extension cord. Nothing better to anaesthetise you than those inane cooking shows.”
“I like the news in English.”
“Yeah, same difference.”
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.