3. Ashes to Ashes

Narita Airport is located around 66 clicks east of Tokyo. To get to the city you have to race through a quasi-industrial wasteland blighted with giant apartment blocks composed of thousands of cramped little dwellings occupied by Tokyo workers and their families. Laundry draped like prayer flags festoons the narrow iron balconies that climb up the faces of tower after tower, and on a hot August day the seamy tableau swelters under a thick mask of grit.

Alone, in the back seat of the air-conditioned sedan, I hunched by the door, my face pressed to the window, at once excited and apprehensive about the upcoming meeting with my dad. Would I be able to forgive him for abandoning us, for my mother’s drift into madness and death?

Ryu sat in the front seat with the driver. He was on his cell phone again, arguing with someone named Mura. “Fool,” he snarled into the phone. “It is business.”

Yakuza business, I suspected, which had to be nothing worthwhile. I had to remind myself that, handsome as he was, this was no knight in armor, but a yakuza in tattoos. Why in the world would my father send a gangster to fetch me? An uneasy feeling made me squirm in my seat. I tapped Ryu’s broad, suited shoulder. He turned to me, his black eyes narrow and, for a moment, almost cruel.

“Ryu,” I asked warily, “why did my father send you to meet me?”

“Bodyguard,” he said, lips stretching over his teeth in a long gondola of a smile, dark eyes turning squinty with pleasure.

His smile was ominous, but disarming. A flutter of excitement kicked its way into my chest and drifted down into my lap. “Mmmm,” I nodded, more distracted than appeased.

He turned back to his phone, speaking quietly now. I leaned back in the seat and resumed surveying the scenery. By the time we reached the Rainbow Bridge, the magnificent span that arcs from Daiba Beach to Tokyo, the dirty haze had thinned. Sunlight did a spangled dance on the waters of Tokyo Bay. I felt a little like Dorothy did when she first set foot in Oz.

Soon enough we were crawling through the crowded Tokyo streets where pedestrians and vehicles vie for purchase. Large signs looming far overhead promised colorful nights ablaze in a neon extravaganza. Intersections bustled with life. Ancient, modern, wooded, high-tech—Tokyo was a city of contrasts. Ryu seemed to draw energy from the surroundings. I watched his body react physically to them, his movements quickening, his neck and jaw muscles tightening in a way that was almost electric.

My father’s apartment was in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. If the city has a foreign heart, this is it. It’s an international compound, the home of many an expat, a neighborhood full of Japanese antique stores, western-style restaurants, swank hotels and fabulous Roppongi Hills, a high-end, sky-high “village” for the terminally trendy. Dad’s place was on a tree-lined residential street with a park nearby in which a handful of noisy western kids were scooting around on their razors.

“We are here,” announced Ryu, easing out of the car.