When I finally got around to reading Rising Sun by Michael Crichton (I’ve never seen the movie) last year, I noticed that on page 334, there is a character called, “Akira Tanaka.”
That is the name of my hero in the Tanaka stories.
Of course, both “Akira” and “Tanaka” are very common names, but I thought it was amusing.
We don’t know too much about Crichton’s Akira Tanaka–I believe that may be the only place in his novel–but my Akira Tanaka is tough. To prove that point, here is a 1,500 short story detailing an event in Tanaka’s past: (I just realized that this story takes place before he took on the name “Akira”–oh, well.)
Tanaka & the Oyabun
Sweat beaded and rolled across Kazuo Kobayashi’s forehead. His head was tilted to better examine the pattern of tile set on the wall. Something about it had caught his eye, keeping his mind well away from the life-changing choice he had only a few hours to make. Water dripped in constant two-second intervals from the 1960s era bathtub faucet.
He cradled the bottleneck of his still cold beer between his thumb and forefinger, dangling it over the edge and allowing it to melodiously ding against the acrylic tub. The cold liquid provided a sharp contrast to the steamy bath.
A few inches from the drink was his SIG P230. The steam wasn’t good for the gun, but in case of an intruder, it would be good for his health. His other hand played absently with the bullet wound on his side. It had been years and yet the scar still seemed foreign to him.
The typical Japanese bath consisted of two rooms: A changing area and a room with a tub and shower. He had already showered away the grime, but the scars remained–the scars always remained.
He thought about his “choice.” The Tsugawara yakuza knew he had killed their boss, the Oyabun. The Tokyo Police had provided this apartment as a safe house, but there was no full-fledged Witness Protection Program. He knew they would find him eventually.
The American offer of asylum and a new identity was appealing. But this meant he would leave Japan. His friends, his family–they would all be made to believe that he was dead.
He continued trying to discover meaning from the tiles while mulling over the choice in his mind. Of course, there really wasn’t a choice. If he stayed in Japan, he was a dead man.
A series of noises broke his focus from the tiles. The Yorkshire Terrier next door was barking as if someone had stepped on its tail. His neighbor was the only other apartment on the second floor. An intruder would have to pass by the small dog’s window. That dog never missed a visitor.
Must be Kawasaki’s lady friend, Kazuo thought as he relaxed and took a swig from his beer. No, it’s close to midnight.
Kawasaki-san was in his late seventies and tended to retire before nine. Kazuo set his bottle down and grasped the gun. He lifted his toe to silence the drip. The gentle swishing of displaced water soon gave way to silence. The dog also stopped barking.
After a few minutes of not hearing anything, his eyes turned back to the tiles and his muscles relaxed. His heavy foot sank back into the water.
Looking just above the troublesome faucet, he had a flush of remembrance. He understood why the tiles had caught his attention. The colors were a match. The crimson blood had stained the same pale blue tile floor. It was the yakuza boss’s blood.
Just then, Kazuo heard a different noise. It was low, soft, and tinny through the bathroom wall, but Kazuo recognized the sound as coming from the television and increasing in volume.
Sounds of children laughing blared through the walls. In an instant, Kazuo was out of the tub with a towel draped around his waist, dripping water into a drain in the center of the room.
With the gun held level to his eyes, he threw open the inner bathroom door. The outer bathroom room was empty.
The television changed to a commercial.
He continued toward the sliding glass door. The frosted glass had a sliver shaved off. He put his eye to the sliver. There appeared to be no one on the other side. After the peek, he realized the light behind him would have cast his shadow broadly for anyone on the other side to see.
But no one took the shot.
Rushing to the far side, he ducked behind the wall. While extending his left hand to slide the door open, his right hand held his gun with an unyielding grip.
The door slammed open against the butt of the doorframe making entirely too much noise. Kazuo had expected someone there, an ambush. But no bullets came flying; no yakuza rushed in.
The sound from the television changed to half volume.
Someone was in the living room, toying with him.
Kazuo lifted his weapon and followed it through the outer bathroom doorway into the middle room that was used for storage. The light escaping from the bathroom revealed nothing out of the ordinary.
He rushed, light-footed, to the wall, peering through the far doorway into the kitchen. On the cabinets, he could see soft, pulsating flashes of blueish light reflected from the television one small room away.
He crouched near the kitchen. He heard no sounds and saw no movement except that from the television. The volume was now low, but loud enough to mask any stealthy movements.
He took a quick glance left and right and saw no one hiding in the kitchen. Gripping his gun with both hands, he leaned in toward the living room.
There, on the couch, sat a man. As an affront to Japanese sensibilities, he had his shoes on. The light from the television tinted his features with varying colors and intensities. He didn’t move, but he was staring directly at Kazuo.
His weaponless arms were sprawled out on either side of the back rail of the couch. He propped his shoe upon the cushion.
“I’m a little surprised you didn’t install a dead-bolt.”
Kazuo aimed the gun at the man and inched forward. The stranger didn’t flinch. He eyed the intruder’s shoes–white oxfords, impeccably clean, but the leather was mature, well worn. The white boldly stuck out from under the navy blue pant legs. He wore a white tuxedo shirt with a ruffled front.
Seeing Kazuo’s eyes, the man said, “A bit overdressed, I admit. But, really, Kazuo, you could have done better than a cotton towel. Not even monogrammed.”
“Who are you?” Kazuo asked.
“I’ve been overseas. I came when I heard my brother had been murdered.”
Kazuo looked into the man’s eyes. He saw the resemblance. This was the brother of the leader of the yakuza he had killed.
“I have no quarrel with you,” Kazuo said. He was puzzled why the man seemed so relaxed, sitting on the couch without a weapon. He risked a glance to his left and right but saw no one else.
“That may be true, but I have a quarrel with you.”
“I have you at a disadvantage,” Tanaka said taking a step forward still holding his gun tight on target. “Get up and leave now.”
The man on the couch burst out in laughter. “Drop your weapon,” the man said, standing up.
Kazuo felt a cold, steel muzzle touch his left ear. There had been a man in the room. He’d come from a dark corner not illuminated by the television.
Kazuo slowly set the gun on the floor.
“Good.” The man in front of the couch reached inside his jacket for his Beretta 92. He continued speaking, waving the pistol freely as if to aide comprehension.
“I suppose I should thank you. My brother and I weren’t without our disagreements–which is why I have spent the past few years in South America,” the man said, before leveling the gun at Kazuo. “Thank you.” The yakuza smiled. “But I’m afraid you will still have to die.”
Kazuo could hear the man behind him shift his footing, getting out of the line of shot.
“Kuro-san, why don’t we let them find Mr. Kobayashi in his birthday suit. Would you mind removing his towel?”
Kuro-san let out a grunt and began to pull on the tucked-in towel.
Kazuo allowed the man to turn him around, unwinding. Just as the end of the towel whipped off his body, Kazuo grabbed the cloth and yanked the man toward him. The startled Kuro-san tightened his grip and leaned in. Kazuo jumped behind the intruder, wrapping his arms around his neck. Kazuo’s other hand reached for the yakuza’s gun but failed to reach it.
Two shots rang out: loud, ear piercing in the small room. The man in the tuxedo shirt had panicked when he saw Kazuo move.
One shot went into the wall; the other went into Kuro-san’s belly.
Kazuo continued to use Kuro-san as a human shield as he successfully grabbed the gun. His arm shot out from over Kuro-san’s shoulder. The yakuza was alive, but bleeding a fountain from his belly.
“Drop it and leave.”
Kuro-san was moaning and losing strength. Kazuo kicked him toward the other man.
The Oyabun’s brother smiled and holstered his gun.
“Come on Kuro.”
Kuro-san staggered out behind the other man. Kazuo closed the door behind them and turned on the lights to make sure there were no hidden intruders. He was alone.
Kazuo made the decision. He would no longer be Kazuo Kobayashi. Who he would become and what he would do from here on was up for grabs. But he would take the Americans up on their offer.