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Matthew Bayan

Matthew Bayan

Bestselling author of EAT, FAT BE HEALTHY, professional editor to NYT bestsellers A.C. Crispin and Caroline Leavitt, author of three thrillers and one internationally distributed movie. President - HighSierraWriters.org

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BLAST RADIUS

A Techno-Thriller

Investigator, Zack Bennett, discovers a global conspiracy so treacherous it triggers a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel. Hunted by assassins, Zack’s choice: Save the world or his kidnapped daughter?

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Thriller International
Reno, Nevada
93,000 words
100% complete
2 publishers interested

Synopsis

SYNOPSIS

Main Characters

Zack Bennett – Sick of the politics that he saw creeping into the FBI, Zack resigned and became a private investigator. Struggling to make ends meet and to keep joint custody of his eight-year-old daughter, he accepts jobs that make him squeamish. His investigation of Congressman William Thorne drops him into a political maelstrom where terrorism and global conspiracy merge.

Maggie Carpenter – An industrial spy of questionable ethics. Hired and trained by a deep-cover Washington D.C. operative, she steals the secret plans for America’s next-generation super jet (known as the FX). When Zack Bennett’s investigation of Thorne begins to shed light on the international implications of her actions, she is marked for death and ultimately must turn to Zack for a way out.

Congressman William Thorne - Corrupt, self-absorbed, his greed triggers the theft of secret plans for the FX super jet. He becomes the blackmailed pawn of the international criminals who arranged the theft of secret plans off his unprotected home computer.

Butaro Kurimawa - Yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss whose theft of plans for the FX leads to a world crisis. Driven not only to make an obscene amount of money from the secret sale of the jets to Iran, he also intends to cripple the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) and become the unquestioned head (Shogun) of the secret organization.

Razu Nakadai – Butaro’s boyhood friend. A deadly sociopath assassin. As the Yakuza plans begin to unravel, Razu is dispatched to America to clean up loose ends, particularly Zack Bennett, Maggie Carpenter, and Congressman William Thorne.

SYNOPSIS

Zack Bennett, a disillusioned ex-FBI agent, takes on a job he has serious qualms about, but with an eight-year-old daughter to support, he can't get picky. He's sucked into a global conspiracy so treacherous it triggers Armageddon. After next-gen Iranian super jets drop weaponized anthrax on Tel Aviv, Israel's nuclear response triggers a wave of jihadi armies marching to finally sweep Israel off the map.

With only days to the American presidential election, Zack stumbles on proof so shocking it will unseat the current president and send members of Congress to prison. Proof so dangerous that Zack's daughter is kidnapped and he’s framed for murders he didn't commit. With the FBI hunting him and a Yakuza assassin on his tail, Zack must call in every favor and exploit every friend to stay ahead of destruction. And he must do it before his daughter pays with her life.

Maggie Carpenter, who stole the FX super jet plans five years earlier, allies herself with Zack after her Japanese sponsors mark her for death. Together they thread their way through an ever more dangerous path to save not only Zack’s daughter, but themselves.

With the stakes mounting, Zack Bennett allies himself with a shadowy agency in the hope of finding and freeing his daughter. But he's one step behind the Yakuza kidnapper. In a dramatic face-off, Zack pursues the Yakuza through the back alleys of Washington, D.C. He faces the riskiest decision of his life in a deadly climax that can have no winners.

Should he prevent Armageddon or trade his life for his daughter’s?

Blast Radius is a tale of greed, of raw political ambition, and of the enduring love between a father and his daughter.

Audience

The audience for Blast Radius would skew largely male, between 30 and 65. These would be readers who like international thrillers ala Tom Clancy (Patriot Games or The Sum of All Fears), David Baldacci (End Game), and Robert Ludlum (The Jason Bourne Series). Several beta readers commented on their interest in the Japanese Yakuza lore and settings. These are readers who have liked books such as Trevanian’s Shibumi, the Asia series of James Clavell (Noble House, Shogun, etc.) or the ninja/martial arts mystery thrillers of Eric Van Lustbader (Ninja, White Ninja, The Miko).

Blast Radius should be of interest to readers who like spy novels, adventure, crime novels, international settings, and complex, interwoven plot strands that tie together at the end.

Author

Matthew Bayan is a bestselling author spanning fiction and nonfiction books and magazine articles. His first book, EAT FAT, BE HEALTHY (Scribner, 2000) touched off a national debate on heart disease treatment. On book tour for over three years, Matt appeared on over 100 TV and radio shows. He earned well into six figures on this book.

Matt has published articles for the crime web site of Mulholland Books (Little, Brown & Co.) to help writers correct firearms mistakes in their novels. He’s almost finished with the nonfiction GUN 101: The Writer’s Guide to Using Firearms in Fiction. He has helped numerous bestselling authors – including Cara Black and Caroline Leavitt – to solve firearm- and forensics-related issues in their novels.

Matt’s been a professional freelance editor for over ten years, specializing in mystery, thriller, and adventure novels. He’s edited for sci-fi great, A.C. Crispin, and helped bring to fruition her Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom for Disney. He worked with Crispin uncovering scam publishers and scam agents which eventually led to her creation of Writer Beware on the SFWA website.

Matt is an active blogger with about 2400 steady followers for his editing blog in which he gives writing and editing tips.

Matt is President of High Sierra Writers, a Reno-based, twenty-year-old non-profit with the goal to help writers of all skill levels to improve their craft and get published.

His first novel, The Firecracker King, a coming-of-age mystery set in 1965, got this praise:

"I loved it!" - Caroline Leavitt, #1 New York Times Bestseller

"A wicked, marvelous book." - David Corbett, award-winning author

"Compares favorably to Stephen King's Stand by Me." - A.C. Crispin, New York Times Bestseller

"Best coming-of-age novel since The Catcher in The Rye." - William Gordon, International Bestseller

Body Drop, the sequel to The Firecracker King was released recently.

His sci-fi/fantasy novel, Time Jumper, was released last year.

Blast Radius is his fourth novel.

Promotion

It's only been a year since I started a blog and began featuring it on Twitter. My strategy has been to limit the blog to issues facing writers: story arc, character development, how to get an agent, how to handle a pitch session, etc. My goal has been to provide free content that writers find valuable. Occasionally, I mention one of my projects. Example: THE FIRECRACKER KING takes places around Independence Day in 1965. So, this past July 4th, I tweeted a cover photo and mentioned that it would be the perfect beach book for the holiday.

Since July 2017 I've built up about 2400 steady Twitter followers. My base keeps slowly building.

Market research shows that only 45% of people between 18 and 25 are on Twitter. Twitter users skew to older groups with more education. That's the sweet spot for Blast Radius.

I've not had success with Facebook and focus more on Twitter. Facebook seems to have become a place to hurl invective and to show what meal one is having for lunch.

When I pitched TV and radio producers for Eat Fat, Be Healthy, I raised issues that would interest their audiences. For Blast Radius, I would do the same. Granted, selling a novel is different than nonfiction, but Blast Radius has tie-ins to real-life crime and terrorism. For instance, Israel has nuclear weapons (though everyone denies it) and has a policy that if they are attacked with weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. In a media discussion, I would discuss how Blast Radius shows one of the results of such action.

Other sources of discussion: What happens when a criminal organization secures enough power to influence international order? We already have narco-states in Central and South America who are teaming up with terrorists. Rich fodder for an interview to discuss how Blast Radius explores exactly this poisonous relationship and allows Japanese Yakuza to unbalance the Middle East.

I would focus my attention on radio interviews. I’ve found that radio produces more traction than TV. The average TV interview is 3-5 minutes. The shortest radio I ever did was 15 minutes. The majority were from 30-60 minutes. Radio is stickier than TV. People listen while they drive, or cook, or stare out the window. Radio provides more time to explore issues and evoke interest in a listener.

I have been a frequent attendee at the Mystery Writers Conference held by Book Passage in Corte Madera every year. I'll use contacts from there to get promotional blurbs from bestselling authors in the thriller genre.

I would accelerate the number of my blog postings to increase my audience and to make more calls to action.

One very successful technique I discovered while promoting Eat Fat, Be Healthy was to make comments on Amazon listings of similar books. In one particular case I took on a national “expert” on heart disease and debunked some of his theories. That conflict raged back and forth for months and resulted in a high profile for my book. 

I would similarly interact with other books and authors in the thriller genre. That’s not to say I would look for a fight; instead, by positively commenting on issues in other books, I would try to funnel readers back to my Twitter feed or web site.


Competition

A Wanted Man by Lee Child, Dell 2013. In this book, as in all the Jack Reacher books, Reacher, whose background is investigation, stumbles into a situation of murder, corruption, and secrecy. He then works at unraveling the mystery and catching the bad guys with a lot of action along the way. 

Blast Radius's Zack Bennett also finds himself in a large complex situation which he doesn't understand and which he must unravel or perish. He's also an investigator. Though the set-up is similar, the difference is that Zack is a much more complex human being than Reacher. He has family ties and obligations which color the decisions he makes. He is willing to sacrifice for his daughter. Reacher, on the other hand, is a cardboard character; he has no real ties, he drifts across the landscape leaving no trace of himself behind. Book to book, he doesn't change. (And, unlike Reacher, Zack changes his underwear more often than every few days.)


Absolute Power by David Baldacci, Grand Central Pub. 2001. The central set-up for this book is corruption around and within the White House. Government operatives willing to do anything to protect their power base. And a lone hero set against impossible odds. Blast Radius sets out the corruption of the current administration and sets Zack Bennett as the lone hero fighting the government machine. The difference is that Zack is also beset by international criminals bent on killing him and his daughter. Where Absolute Power focuses most of its action within the containment of Washington, Blast Radius deals with even wider corruption and criminality on a worldwide basis.


The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader, Harper Collins 2009. A ninja assassin begins killing the people around Nicholas Linnear to exact personal revenge. In Blast Radius, we see a similar dynamic unfold as a ninja-like Razu pursues Zack Bennett and kills his ex-wife and a couple FBI agents to flush Zack out of hiding. The atmosphere of ancient samurai mystique and personal danger colors both books. The difference is that Zack Bennett lives in a wider world than Nicholas Linnear and the dangers within Blast Radius are not just from one source, but several. The conflict between Zack and Razu is personal and single-combat, but Zack is also in conflict with other forces trying to destroy him.


The Silence of The Lambs by Thomas Harris, St. Martin's Press, 1988. Though setting and basic plot are quite different, I bring up this novel because it features one of the greatest  psychopathic villains ever created. The character of Razu in Blast Radius is similarly driven by dark energies and capable of endless evil. The tone is similar, but Blast Radius operates on a much larger scale.


Patriot Games by Tom Clancy, Berkley reissue 2013. Jack Ryan's CIA career takes a turn away from his professional activities of previous books  when his family is directly threatened by terrorists. Zack Bennett, the main character of Blast Radius, is similar in the sense that he is a trained professional, but when his daughter is kidnapped, his training goes out the window. Where Clancy tends to deal with exteriors, Blast Radius digs deeper into the personal thoughts and shortcomings of the main character.

Sample

BLAST RADIUS

CHAPTER 1

WASHINGTON, D.C.
MAGGIE CARPENTER

“Oh, yes, Bill,” Maggie groans. “Yes, yes.” She rides him in ever-faster frenzy, sliding on the sweat built up between their bodies. He grunts and throws a few hip-thrusts up into her, then goes inert again. For once, she doesn’t have to fake an orgasm with him.

That Brad Pitt fantasy comes in handy sometimes.

She topples off his pale, bloated body and lays panting.

Congressman Bill Thorne rolls over, leans his head on his left hand. “You like getting pricked by The Thorne.”

Oh, Jesus, he didn’t just say that. 

She gives him her best smoky-eyed look. “Bill, you’re amazing."

Right, amazing how the big walrus just laid there while I did all the work. I wonder if his pasty, sixty-eight year old body has seen sunlight any time this century.

He rolls over as if she’s not there. In minutes he begins snoring.

Maggie smiles. Alcohol, a piece of ass, and they fall asleep like babies.

She eases out of his bed, pulling the comforter over him. She wants him snuggy-warm because if he wakes up too soon, she’ll have a problem. Tiptoeing down the hall to the Congressman’s study, she notes the expensive artworks lining the walls.

How do these small-town lawyers go into office with mortgages and student debt and after a few reelections are able to buy Dali and Picasso originals?

Maggie steps between the mounds of clothing that trail from his office like a comet tail of seduction. She whispers to herself, "I’ll burn these clothes when I get home."

She enters Thorne’s office, doesn’t even glance at the computer sitting on his enormous teak desk. Her handler, Mr. Smith, has already had hackers comb through it. Thorne has nothing of importance on it. But the hackers found word documents Thorne had sent out that contained threads to somewhere else. In some of them, the properties pages showed reference to being written on another computer. One that Mr. Smith’s experts could find no trace of ever connecting to the internet. That alone is suspicious.

Maggie pulls out all the desk drawers. Nothing. She ferrets through his file cabinets. More nothing. In a low, glass-fronted bookcase, she sees a slim something that isn’t a book. Opening the case, she reaches for the black sliver and pulls out a tablet computer. She presses a button and the computer comes to life. She carries it to the desk.

As her hot skin hits the chill of the black leather desk-chair, gooseflesh erupts across her naked thighs. Thorne’s tablet wakes and Maggie pulls an ivory barrette from her hair and yanks at both ends, sticks the camouflaged flash drive into one of the computer’s ports. She checks Thorne’s directories and sees one marked FX Design Specs. She starts the transfer onto her flash drive.

A knowing smirk twists her lips at the thought of how these power brokers think they can do anything. Bringing home top-secret data? Apart from being a felony, it’s stupid. But if fools didn’t exist, she’d be out of work.

She thinks of how her handler will be happy. What a weird word. Handler. The arthritic old man she knows only as Mr. Smith has never handled her. On the few occasions she meets him face-to-face, he never touches her at all, not even shaking hands.

The transfer completes and Maggie almost pulls the flash drive out of its socket. She ponders the screen, noting that Thorne has very little else on the tablet. On a whim, she starts a transfer of all the other directories on Thorne’s machine.

Who knows what else might be on here? Maybe something Mr. Smith will find useful.

As the tablet pumps everything of value out of its memory, Maggie ponders for a brief moment what she is stealing, then purges such thoughts from her mind.

I already know too much. Some knowledge can get you killed.

The black leather of Thorne’s office chair warms and she lingers, savoring the quiet as the tablet screen shows the progress of her transfer. Her eyes scan the ceiling corners and walls but see no evidence of surveillance cameras. Not that it matters. She has no tattoos, no identifying marks, no police record. By tomorrow, she’ll dye her red hair back to its natural auburn. Pop out the green contacts and have brown eyes again.

Her reverie shatters as she hears the toilet flush in Thorne’s bathroom. After half a bottle of Scotch, the guy’s liver must be like a nuclear reactor for him to be up and about. A knot of ice sinks into her stomach. Here she sits, naked and vulnerable. If Thorne walks in, what will she say? A film of cold sweat blossoms on her skin.

She loves the sheer brazen risk of the job more than the money. Well, maybe that goes too far. As much as the money.

She leaps from the chair, turns off the tablet and slips it back from whence it came. She pushes the barrette back into her hair as she glides past an antique mirror in the hallway. She checks to make sure the barrette is safely in place. As she hurries away she glimpses the rest of her body.

That gym membership is paying off.

From down the hall, she hears Thorne’s voice.

A flash of panic rips through her as she thinks what would have happened if she’d taken even a minute longer in his office…But she hadn’t.

She admits something to herself as fear flushes through her. Cutting things close always causes fear. But fear also makes her feel alive like every other adrenaline junkie.

“Oh, there you are,” Thorne says as he shuffles across the living room, a blue silk robe thankfully covering his body. He says, “What have you been up to?”

Conversation? Bad idea. If his clouded brain realizes she’s walking from the other end of his condo, he’ll start asking questions. She’ll need to make up things. No. She needs to shut him down.

She meets him halfway across the living room, wraps herself around him, stretches onto her tiptoes and gives him a kiss that takes his breath away. Stepping back a little, she fingers the gold locket hanging from her necklace chain. “I have something for you.” She pulls open the locket and reveals a blue pill. “You didn’t think you were finished, did you?”

His eyes remind her of her little brother at Christmas long ago when his letter to Santa was answered with his dream of a red fire truck. Maggie presses the Viagra between Thorne’s lips and hands him a half full wine glass that sits on a coffee table. He swallows the pill and she pulls him onto the nearest sofa. No more conversation. No more questions. She’ll be out free by dawn.

He’ll wake in the morning with the pleasant memory of seducing a woman half his age, one he assumes is part of the unending school of lobbyists who migrate upstream like salmon to the capital, get hooked, and thrown back into the stream in a ritual as old as power itself.

This time, however, the fish has done the fishing. The SpyTec glasses Maggie earlier set on his bedside table have captured everything they did. More leverage for Mr. Smith.

He owns you now, Thorne.

God, men are easy.


FIVE YEARS LATER

CHAPTER 2

WASHINGTON, D.C.

ZACK BENNETT

The biggest drawback to working from home stands in my kitchen. Twenty-one cubic feet of temptation. Have a pissing match on the phone? Grab a beer. Get bored doing research? Eat a slice of leftover pizza, or… I swear a burglar tailor breaks into my house and takes in the waistlines of my pants.

Late Saturday afternoon, my office phone rings. My office being that side of my bedroom not occupied by the bed.

“Mr. Bennett?”

“Yeah. Who’s this?”

“Name’s George. I’ll pay three thousand dollars for fifteen minutes of your time.”

“Okay, tell Joey his joke didn’t work. Tell him if he wants to phone prank, call the White House.”

I start to hang up, but not before I hear, “You know Soames in counterterrorism?”

“He’s retired.”

“Yeah, that’s why he turned me down, but he suggested you might be interested in what I have to offer. At least meet with me.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“Look, I got my kid for the weekend. Let’s do this Monday.”

“Make it four grand.”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. “Give me the address.”

He does. “Ask the bartender for George,” he says.

“This better not be a wild goose chase.” My bullshit meter redlines, but the prospect of getting my mortgage payments caught up makes the decision to go.

My usual sitter has a date. “Look, Marnie, it’s only an hour and a half. I’ll give you fifty bucks. Bring your boyfriend, order pizza, just don’t make out in front of Katie. Can you be here in ten minutes?”

“You pay for the pizza?”

“Yeah, if you’re here in five minutes.”

That girl teleports to my house.

Fifty bucks to make four grand? I can afford to live large.

Takes me half an hour to get across the city to an alley a half block off Wisconsin Avenue. The Hole. The heavy door creaks on its hinges as I enter. Cigarette smoke drifts so thick, I feel like I just woke up in the fifties. Peanut shells like sand dunes on the floor. I can’t believe this place exists between the upscale bedroom community of Chevy Chase and the even more expensive Georgetown. Could just as easily be a poorly lit dive in Newark.

I step to the bar thinking somebody could make a fortune renting out flashlights in this joint. “You know George?” I say to the broken-nosed bartender.

I feel like some flatfoot in a B movie. The tattooed bartender kind of nudges a beefy shoulder to a bistro table in a corner, like talking is a skill he hasn’t learned yet.

George’s Anglo face seems incongruous perched on a body that looks like it should belong to a Japanese Sumo wrestler. He doesn’t have a mug of beer. He has what’s called a “schooner” and it looks like a shot glass in his hand. I’d be drunk before finishing half that thing. But I don’t weigh three hundred pounds. Neither does George. He has to be pushing four.

As I settle into a cheap metal chair, George says, “Wanna beer?”

“Don’t drink.”

“Why not?”

“Last time I got drunk a guy stuck a switchblade in my ribs and took my wallet. Why am I here?”

George withdraws his left hand from the Mount Everest of potato chips sitting in front of him and wipes his greasy fingers on a bunch of paper napkins. He reaches into the inner pocket of a gray suit jacket that looks like he’s been wrestling in it, comes out with a letter-sized envelope. Pushes it across the table. “You can count it.”

I barely fan through the Benjamins and slip the envelope into my hip pocket. Why would a guy in a cheap suit have an impeccably starched shirt? Pale lavender. Not something you buy at Wal-Mart. I say, “If it’s not right, I’ll hunt you down and take away your beer.”

He has a good smile. I know it’s real when the skin around his eyes crinkles.

I say, “Fifteen minutes. Go.”

George leans forward and the smile disappears. “Seven years ago you helped the FBI team that nailed six Congressmen and two U.S. Senators on corruption charges.”

“How you know that? I wasn’t the lead agent.”

He ignores the question. “You know how these politicians think, how they do things. We want you to look at one Congressman in particular.”

“Who’s we?”

“The Republican National Committee.”

“Who’s the pigeon?”

“Democratic Congressman William Thorne.”

“Chairman of the Intelligence Committee? You crazy? He went to college with the President.”

“So?”

Standing to leave, I shake my head. “Getting between political parties is like dodging boulders in an avalanche. I don’t feel like getting crushed.”

“Mr. Bennett, I bought fifteen minutes of your time.”

“So, sue me.”

“Worried about publicity?”

“With a heavy-hitter like Thorne you think I shouldn’t worry about publicity?”

“National security’s at stake.”

“Gimme a break. It’s about the election. Don’t try to make it sound important.”

“We’ll guarantee you’ll have no publicity.”

“No Congressional hearings? No talking heads on TV?”

“Nothing. We’ll use what you find in ways that are, shall we say, indirect.”

“Oh, I see. Blackmail.”

George laughs. “In politics there’s no such thing as blackmail. It’s called negotiating.”

A shadow of a grin crosses my face. “You’re really something.”

“Thank you. Will you reconsider?” He gestures to my vacant chair.

As I sit back down I notice one of George’s feet sticking out from under the table. Alligator loafers like these cost at least a couple grand. They don’t match the suit. Something doesn’t add up about this guy. “Why me?”

George ticks off his stubby fingers. “First, any police agency is legally bound to pursue illegal activities. You don’t have that problem. Second, you’re independent, no partners, nobody to leak what you’re doing. Third, you’re ex-FBI. That could prove valuable.”

How does he know so much about me? His whole demeanor has changed. He looks like a shlub, but now he acts like a very intelligent shlub. What kind of chameleon am I dealing with?

I say, “Let me get this straight. You already think Thorne is dirty, but if I prove it, you don’t want me to reveal it. That could be felony conspiracy. My ass in a sling. You already know something is fishy or we wouldn’t be here. Why not save time and let me in on the secret?”

“We want an objective opinion.”

He stops talking or I stop listening while the gears in my head clang around for a minute. I say, “There’s more to it than that.”

For a fraction of a second, I see something slide across his eyes. Why would someone with brains try to act like a dolt? Because he thinks I’m more of a dolt? The word “operative” forms in my thoughts. NSA? CIA? DIA? Or maybe I’m overly paranoid in my old age.

“So, say it.”

He frowns. “Say what?”

“You’re about to make me an offer.”

He heaves his bulk to one side and I think he’s going to let one rip. Instead, he pulls a manila envelope from under his right leg, plops it on the table. “We’ll pay you fifteen grand a month plus five thousand for expenses. In cash. Here’s the first two months. Interested?”

 Forty grand? I stare into George’s beady brown eyes. He must think I’m stupid. This kind of money means a shitstorm of epic dimensions howls over the horizon. My instinct says, “Run,” but my checking account says, “Buy hip boots.” I say, “Tell me the rest.”

The eyes crinkle again. “I knew you were the right guy.” He reaches into an accordion folder that sits on the floor and comes out with a bunch of folded papers, hands them to me. “Three years ago, Thorne wrote some piece-of-crap book and self-published it. 200,000 copies shipped to one buyer for four million dollars. The Institute for Political Studies. The books wound up in their dumpster. They bought Thorne’s ear bigtime.”

“They got around campaign finance laws.”

“Yep. Here’s the beauty part. This institute got set up two weeks before they bought the books. They’ve never published anything on politics, or done polling, or appeared on TV. They have an office with a lobby, but you can’t get past the receptionist. Oh, yeah, two armed guards in the lobby.”

I frown and say, “That makes no sense.”

“That’s why we’re hiring you. Make sense out of it.”

George sucks down the last of his beer and heaves to his feet. As he looms past, he drops a business card on the table. “You can reach me day or night. The only head start I can give you is a woman who popped up in some late-night activities with Congressional leaders. Including Thorne. No idea what she’s up to. Real looker. Body like Marilyn Monroe.”

I guess I’m hired.

I sit silently for at least five minutes, feeling my stupid gene kick in. Maybe I should get shitfaced in this bar so I have an excuse for later.

I have a strong feeling I will need an excuse.


CHAPTER 3

TOKYO

BUTARO KORIMAWA

SCORPION CLAN DAIMYO (OVERBOSS)

I need a higher penthouse. That hideous skyscraper being built down the block will eventually hide my view of Mount Fuji. Then again, why should I have to move? Maybe I will kill the contractor.

This is what Butaro thinks of as he sits in his Eames chair and gazes out the window-wall fifty stories above the streets of Tokyo. Hearing a shoji screen slide open, he turns to see his childhood friend, Razu Nakadai, enter Butaro’s living room.

“Razu, someday we must climb Mount Fuji. For sport.”

A frown crosses Razu’s pockmarked face. “When do you think we’ll have leisure time to do this?”

“You never want to have fun.”

“I am a realist, Butaro. You are the dreamer.” Razu settles into the gray leather sofa like a panther. Yes, he is sitting, but he can be up and halfway across the room in the space between two heartbeats. His bulbous sunglasses make Butaro think of the eyes of a praying mantis.

“Without my dreaming, where would we be today?” Butaro says.

“Probably stealing on the street like when we were boys.” The slight tilt of his head shows his only admission of humor. Razu never smiles, as if to do so would show weakness.

Butaro says, “Is that executive ready?”

“He’s seething at the disrespect of making him wait.”

“Show him in.”

Butaro turns his chair to face the room. The bright window wall behind him will leave his face in shadow. He has learned the importance of appearances.

Razu returns with the executive in tow. The mighty Takeo Mitomi of Mitomi Aerospace. His suit is so wrinkled, he looks like he dressed at a rummage sale. Yes, a night spent in a cage will do that to you. His bloodshot eyes? Rabid dogs look better.

He can sleep when he’s dead.

Razu does not offer Mitomi a seat. He wants the old man to feel disrespect, to know his place.

Butaro doesn’t rise from his chair. He doesn’t bow. He treats him as nothing more than a servant. “Takeo Mitomi, the planes are behind schedule.”

Mitomi does not answer. His eyes shine like black marbles. His chin thrusts forward and his nostrils dilate with each breath. Butaro watches his fists bunch at his sides.

“Do not be a stupid old man,” Butaro says.

His eyes squeeze to slits and in a deep voice which probably terrifies his underlings, he says, “I am finished with you yakuza vermin.”

Standing next to the executive, Razu hisses softly. “The old man has a tongue. A tongue is useful. It allows the dog to lick the feet of its master.”

The old man doesn’t even acknowledge Razu, instead keeping his eyes on Butaro.

Snubbing my dangerous friend? I could not have dreamed of such delicious conduct.

He can glare at me all he wants. A flick of my wrist and Razu will strangle him where he stands.

“Mitomi, we are so close to the end. Not long and you will be free of us. Think of the alternative. Should I explain?” Takeo Mitomi says nothing, but Butaro enjoys watching the blood drain from his face. “You stupid old man, I will personally cut the throats of your wife and daughters. My butcher will tear them to pieces and sell them in a street market as pork. When I castrate your sons your bloodline ends.”

Enough stubbornness, Butaro thinks. After five years, he is too close to his goal for this fool to grow a conscience at the eleventh hour. Butaro rises and open a nearby cabinet, unwraps the silk shroud from around an ivory-handled dagger, a tonto. He steps close to the executive, offers him the knife, handle first. Mitomi stares at it like something teleported from another world.

“Go ahead. Draw it from the scabbard.”

Mitomi pulls the glinting blade free from its housing.

“Escape if you choose. Gaze onto Fujiyama and commit seppuku right here.” Butaro throws a cushion near the window wall.

“Yes, you recognize the knife. My men took it from your home. Over five hundred years old. How many of your ancestors used it? Now it is your turn to slide it into your belly. You will have an honorable death rather than being owned by ‘yakuza vermin’ like me.”

Butaro watches Mitomi’s muscles tense. Butaro knows the blade of molten silver could end his life as well. He watches Mitomi thinking through the how. How to move, where to thrust.

Butaro knows he takes a great risk, but without that risk, he cannot crush the old man’s will. He is too close to success to not take this chance.

“You are making billions of dollars.” Butaro says.

“Your plan is insane. I am insane for letting you corrupt me.”

“Enough talk. Decide. Live or die.”

The lines in the old man’s face deepen. He needs one more push. Butaro says, “Your youngest daughter is eight?”

Takeo Mitomi says nothing. He stands motionless, the knuckles of his right fist now white. He grips the tonto so tightly Butaro wonders if he will crack the ivory handle.

Butaro signals to his man at the end of the room. He pushes open a shoji screen and three men in black suits lead three dogs into the room, lining them up facing the executive.

“Mitomi, I will let you pick the dog that will take your youngest daughter’s virginity.” Butaro steps even closer. “The Alsatian, the Doberman, or the Rottweiler. All big, aggressive dogs. How old is your other daughter? Eleven?”

Takeo thrusts the knife blade to within a hair of Butaro’s neck before Razu’s well-aimed kick crushes into Takeo Mitomi’s ribs and sends him flying to the floor. The executive writhes, his lungs refusing to work. Razu wrests the tonto from his hand as if taking a toy from a child.

Butaro remains calm, as if nothing has happened, as if this is a common occurrence. “You are a stubborn man. And selfish, because it will not be you who pays the price for your stubbornness.”

Mitomi rolls onto his back, his shallow breaths whistling through his teeth. He hisses, “I will find a way to kill you.”

“I welcome the challenge,” Butaro says as he settles back into his chair.

As the executive slowly regains the power to breathe, he sits up. The silence goes on and on, punctuated only by his rasping breaths.

Seeing hope burn in the old fool’s eyes, Butaro knows he must crush such thoughts to own him. Now is his moment of greatest weakness. He gestures to his man. The shoji screen opens again. Seeing his youngest daughter enter, Takeo Mitomi tries getting to his feet, but Razu kicks him down.

“Papa!” the little girl screams. She lunges toward Mitomi. A leather dog collar bites into her neck. The man holding the other end of her leash stands like an anchor. The girl alternately sobs and screams, straining to cross the distance to her father. Butaro and his men ignore her as if deaf.

Butaro’s stare bores into the executive. He spits his next words. “Pick a dog!”

Silence.

Butaro imagines he can almost hear the old man’s guts squirming inside his belly. Sweat beads on Mitomi’s forehead, gathers into droplets. His bloodshot eyes vibrate in their sockets. Everything Butaor wants hinges on this moment, this decision.

The tiny mewling from the girl is the only sound in the room.

One of them must break.

It will not be me.

Butaro waits.

The soughing of air rushing though air conditioning vents sounds like a distant waterfall.

Eyes to the floor, Mitomi finally says, “You win.”

Butaro watches him deflate, savors the moment of victory. “Wise words from a fool.” He gestures and his men shuffle Mitomi’s daughter and the dogs out of the room. “You will speed production? Get back on schedule?”

So delicious to see his eyes rise to mine, see the hate.

Butaro exchanges glances with Razu.

Even now, this rat scurries through his mental maze to find an exit. Except he has no exit, no piece of cheese at the end.

“Get off the floor, Mitomi.”

As he rises, the old man’s face scrunches as if he’s bitten his tongue. “These planes are advanced beyond anything else in the world. Where will they go?”

“None of your business.”

“They will start a war somewhere.”

Butaro smiles and leans back in his chair. “War presents opportunity. Black markets thrive in war. We specialize in black markets. I don’t see a problem.”

“You cannot believe there will not be retribution from America.”

“By then I will be so rich I am untouchable and you will be retired.”

“No, I will be disgraced.”

Butaro’s friend, Razu, does not smile, but Butaro likes to smile. This moment offers the perfect opportunity for his teeth to show. “Then you will be allowed to commit seppuku. It solves your problem and it solves mine.”

“You are a jackal, a devil! Have you no decency?”

“None whatsoever. It would be best to do as I say.” Butaro flicks his hand toward the door. Two of his minions come forward. “Take the old man home. And his daughter.” He turns back to Mitomi. “We watch every member of your family. You cannot escape. I think the Rottweiler liked your daughter the most.”

Takeo Mitomi’s dark eyes stare out from under his furrowed brow with a look Butaro is sure he uses to cow his subordinates. Compared to the looks Butaro’s father gave him, Mitomi’s face appears in good humor. Butaro’s men usher the executive from his presence.

Butaro glances at Razu, now lounging on the sofa, his sharkskin pants and gray silk shirt blending into the gray leather like camouflage. Butaro remembers how in school other boys jeered at Razu’s pockmarked face. The joke around school was that Razu’s face was on fire and that someone put it out with an ice pick. No longer a boy, nobody dares jeer at his face anymore.

Butaro says, “The other oyabun would spit blood if they knew what we are about to do.”

“The other bosses are fools,” Razu says.

“After my father died, did any of them offer a helping hand? No. They thought me a weak college boy. They tried to cheat me. So, here we are fifteen years later and I am stronger than ever. And my memory is long. I remember each fool and his foolishness.” My eyes rise again to Mount Fuji. “Soon we will have the resources to sweep away all the fools.”

Butaro slouches in his chair and sips at the scotch he’d poured before Mitomi’s arrival. “Thirty billion dollars, Razu, for forty planes. Four times what they cost to build. I am still in a state of shock.”

“For buyers who pump money out of the sand, price is not an issue. These people have many grudges.”

“So do I. I will enjoy watching the Americans suffer and squirm. Small payback for our grandfathers.”

Razu nods. “They died bravely.”

“Is being roasted by flamethrowers on Iwo Jima a brave death?” Butaro stares into the distance, his heart gripped with revenge. “The Americans will pay a thousand-fold.”

“Would that the Chinese could pay,” Razu hisses.

“Their day will come. But for now, we must enjoy their anger at not getting these jets.”

“Yes, for the moment, let Muslims spill American and Jew blood into the sand.”

Razu almost smiles.

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