The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Sign of the Dragon
7pm, August 13th 1999
The Kudanshita Temple, Tokyo
One by one everyone returns Mahmu’s bow of greeting.
“Pleased to meet you,” Joe says. “Would you mind telling me what you are a student of?”
“Of Miyage-san.” He smiles broadly. “He teaches me martial arts and the way of the Buddha. One day, when I have studied enough I may have students of my own. A long time away yet, but I do my best.”
“I am sure we are all more than delighted to have you along, Mahmu,” Robert Turing says formally. “Fisticuff is not my forte, so if it all comes down to…” he throws a mock punch, “I for one will be making sure I’m standing well back!”
Mahmu smiles politely, but Nora’s eyebrows rise. The punch Turing just executed was an almost exact copy of the move she made against Miyage. Before she has had time to think about this, Turing has turned to Miyage and copied Mahmu’s bow, hesitating a moment before making it a little deeper.
“I can see that we are well supported in our endeavours, with your men to back us up,” Greg says. He glances round once at the group and continues grimly, “but I am coming to believe that any assistance which we are provided will invariably be needed. So you should expect that we will call upon your resources – and you must be prepared for the possibility that we will expend those resources.” His deep voice echoes a little in the open space of the room.
The look Miyage gives him is equally serious. “I understand. Men have died before defending what they believe in. Some things are worth paying a high price. My people will be ready when you need us.”
Nora thanks him, speaking a few words of Japanese. “We would gratefully accept Mahmu’s help,” she says, switching to English. “We shall call on him tomorrow if you agree. In the meantime it would help us if you could tell us about the robbery, and the things that were stolen.”
Turing adds his voice to hers. “Indeed. The destruction and theft of prized possessions is oftentimes a very heavy psychological blow and their recovery, when possible, of paramount importance to one’s peace of mind.” He waits for Miyage to react but the Japanese man doesn’t move. Joe and Flint, both watching him, are surprised at how still he is. None of the usual nervous habits, fidgeting with hair or clothing; he seems to make no unconscious movements at all. Joe is filled with a new admiration for him: it must have taken a lifetime’s practice to achieve that extent of control.
Turing is talking again. “I could not help but notice on the way in that several of the visual focus points were empty, indicating to me the disappearance of several objets d’art, I am right, am I not? If you or someone else with an ‘adequate’ grasp of English could spare me a few minutes describing the missing objects I have some very good local contacts with experience in tracking down these type of items. Don’t underestimate how important this might be!”
His phone rings. He whips it up to his ear with a speed that makes Nora blink. “Hello? Kenzo, you got my message, great. Listen, I’m in the middle of a meeting, but do you want to meet this evening, at two, usual place? Great, see you then. Bye.” He takes a breath to start the next part of his speech. Miyage, smiling slightly, raises his hands.
“The missing objects – I will not call them possessions for in truth they belong to no man. A small statue of the Buddha, overlaid in gold. An incense bowl – plain iron but it is many centuries old. And a set of paintings which were donated to the temple some twenty years ago. None of them have any significance save for their age, and we do not blame the thieves. The blame lies with the one who created the climate in which people want to steal from temples.” He looks at them each in turn, turning his head slowly. “I am grateful for your offer of help, but please, do not be turned away from your true path in this. Tell me, please, what are your plans now?”
“To recover your property,” Turing and Nora say in unison.
“Then go on to Hakone,” Maddy puts in excitedly. “I wanna see Fuji! I read this, like, haiku thing that was so cool – it’s by this Matsuo Basho guy…” She clears her throat and intones, “A day when Fuji is obscured by misty rain! Interesting…” She collapses in giggles, but Miyage regards her calmly, showing no sign of either amusement or offence.
“You will see Fuji as you travel to Hakone,” he says. “There is a temple in one of the mountainside villages, I suggest you stay there. I can make the arrangements for you. Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”
He seems to be expecting something more. Daniel nods. “Can you train me in a martial art?” he asks. He looks a little embarrassed to be asking and avoids Nora’s gaze. “It’s just that if this thing gets dangerous we’re going to have to.. I mean, I’m going to have to defend myself. And then there’s my fiancee and my daughter…”
“Who you feel are both vulnerable,” Miyage finishes. “When you have finished your mission in this country, come back here. I will be glad to teach you. You too,” he says to Nora. “In the meantime, Mahmu will give you whatever training there is time for. Maybe it will be enough.”
There is a short pause. Miyage bows to them again.
“One more thing,” Robert Turing says, as they prepare to leave, “I know this is not exactly your side of the Shinto-Buddhist ship, but I wanted to ask you about origami. The subject seems to be popping up with some regularity lately and I am shame-faced to say that my understanding of this art form and how it fits into Japanese culture and religion is infinitesimal.”
“There was a ninja guy who made an origami dragon that flew,” Maddy offers. Joe laughs, disbelieving.
“Some people use origami as a focus for magic,” Miyage says thoughtfully. “I have not seen this myself, but here I use the art as a training exercise to focus concentration. The movement of folding the paper can aid a meditative state and it is through meditation that you open your mind to true power.” He frowns. “It would take much power to breath life into a thing of paper, though.”
“Do you mind if I take a quick look at your necklace?” Turing asks Maddy as they leave the temple.
“Sure.” She holds it up away from her neck for the rest of the group to see. It is nothing special by the look of it. The beads are plain, undecorated wood, not of any particular style and not very old either. Maddy seems pleased with it, however, and holds it in both hands as she skips along. She is chanting something that sounds like a random collection of syllables. A random collection, however, that sends a shiver down Flint’s back. He gets the feeling that if she said it all again with a little more effort something very unpleasant could happen.
Back at the hotel, Daniel calls a meeting with Nora, Greg and Robert Flint.
“I’m worried,” he admits, uncharacteristically serious. “SITU seem to have thrown the others in at the deep end and that’s going endanger them and us.”
Flint shrugs. “They’re here now. What do you want to do – send them all home?”
“If that’s what it takes.” Daniel scratches his head. “What we certainly need to do is to talk to them, make them realise how dangerous this all is. If they go blundering around telling people why we’re here and giving out all sorts of names and information we’re going to be sitting ducks. If they can’t understand that, then yes, they should be sent home.”
The four of them exchange uneasy glances. “Then,” Greg says, resting his hand lightly on Nora’s shoulder, “I suggest we call a meeting. Talk to them as you suggest.”
“I’m worried,” Joe confides to Rob Turing. “I never realised I was letting myself in for this when I joined SITU. Ylids and magic that really works. I’m a magician: I know magic doesn’t really work. What do you think of it all?”
Turing pauses a moment before answering. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure either. I don’t know what to believe. Maybe the others are right and there is something strange going on. Or maybe they’re all nuts. Tell you what I’m doing for now: sticking to what I know best. I’m going to track down those artefacts that were stolen from the temple.”
Joe nods. “Stick to what you know best. Maybe you have a point. Do you know where Maddy went? I think I’ll have a quick word with her.”
He doesn’t get the chance. At that moment Nora calls to them to meet in Daniel’s room for a conference.
Maddy is incredulous by the time Daniel has finished speaking.
“You think we’re, like, a security risk? Because Rob and Joe are new, and because I’m…” She meets Daniel’s gaze defiantly. “Well, why do you think I’d go telling people we’re from SITU an’ everything? I’ve been on missions before, I know what to do.”
Her gaze drifts involuntarily to Nora’s open handbag. The Australian’s hand catches her across the ear and she yelps. “What did I do now?”
“It was what you were thinking of doing,” Nora replies calmly. “Keep out of my belongings. As for you two,” she looks at Joe and Turing, “this isn’t a game. It is deadly serious, and I mean deadly in the sense of you can get yourself killed just by saying one word out of place.”
Turing scowls at the floor. “All right, warning heard and heeded. There’s no need to talk to us like we’re a group of school children on an outing. Now, does anyone else have anything to say, I’ve got a phone call to make.”
Joe catches up with Maddy in the corridor.
“Where are you going now?” he asks.
She blushes furiously under his gaze. “Uh, I thought, that is, I was going to get us train tickets to Hakone, an’ then just have a walk.” She hesitates before glancing at him shyly. “You wanna come?”
Even with Maddy’s toned-down garb they draw several curious stares from passers-by as they make their way along the busy Tokyo streets.
“During the introductions back at the Hotel you indicated that you had an interest in magic,” Joe says. “Me too! s’why I’m here.”
Maddy’s eyes go wide. “Really? I saw you do that thing with the coin at the airport. That was cool.”
“That was stage magic,” Joe corrects her. “An illusion that anyone can do once they know how. What I wanted to talk to you about was real magic. Making origami dragons. That sounds pretty cool to me.”
She shivers, prompting him to offer her his jacket. “It wasn’t cool,” she says with a suppressed giggle. “Some ninja agent made a dragon out of paper an’ it came to life and breathed real fire. Proper, hot fire. Here’s the station; shall we go and buy the tickets? I hope someone there speaks English otherwise we’re going to be stuck.”
Much arm-waving later they emerge with a set of open return tickets to Hakone leaving the following afternoon. Maddy is smiling, flushed with the success of making herself understood. Joe is quiet, thoughtful. He is trying to work out how you can possibly create an illusion of a paper dragon breathing fire. On stage it would be possible, but anywhere else… it would take a hell of a lot of preparation. Try as he might, he can’t quite see how it could be done.
Nora is on the telephone, catching up with old acquaintances.
“I’m glad everything’s going well for you… Yes, I’ll certainly try to visit you while I’m in the country. It’s only a short ride out from Tokyo main station… Well, we might be moving on soon, I’m not sure when. I’m here as part of a tour. It’s Hakone next, and…”
She goes suddenly silent.
“Hakone’s not the safest place for foreigners right now,” her friend says. “People are being evacuated and no one seems to know why. I heard there were several foreigners who were arrested just for being there. They were released as soon as they got back to Tokyo, but they were never offered an explanation or apology.” There is a pause, then she asks, “You’re not in trouble again, are you?”
“Not at all.” Nora smiles. “Thanks for the advice. I’ll be in touch again.”
She puts the phone down, stands for a moment looking at it, then takes it up again.
As Turing expected, his Tokyo contact, Sunrise, doesn’t answer the phone. He leaves a message on her answering machine and goes to find Anthony Marwood.
Greg is sitting in his room when he comes in.
“Turing,” he greets him without enthusiasm. “What do you want?”
He looks irritated, and Turing holds out his hand placatingly. “Do not be alarmed Mr Marwood, but I thought it only fair to let you know that I finally remembered where I’d seen your face before.” He coughs uncomfortably. “Personally, I deplore the media’s habit of sentencing public figures without a trail and intend not to let these matters colour our professional relationship. Please rest assured that I have no intention of telling anyone else about…”
Before either of them really know what has happened, Greg has slammed Turing against the wall. “Listen,” he snaps. “My name is Anthony Marwood. I am a lawyer and therefore I know exactly how far I can twist your stupid head round and still get off on a plea of aggravation. The moment you start thinking I’m someone else, you risk blurting the wrong name out in company and landing us all in danger. Do you understand?”
Turing croaks an affirmative. Sighing, more at his own actions that his companion’s stupidity Greg thrusts him out of the room and sinks back into his chair. He’s been on too many missions to be sentimental. Innocents suffer. Regrettable it may be, but it happens. It is simply a matter of facing reality to accept that it will happen again – and it is a matter of common sense to make sure the team knows there is no room for mistakes.
His mood growing blacker he pulls out a postcard, addresses it to Marie-Claude and scrawls a note. “Having a dismal time, glad you’re safely elsewhere. Look for me when you see me, and pray for me if you don’t.” He leaves it unsigned. She’ll know who it’s from.
The Geisha house is one that caters specifically to foreign tourists. All the girls speak perfect English (though they pretend not to for effect). The three men are offered small bowls of sake and larger ones of green tea and shown to a low, square table surrounded with comfortable cushions.
“Remind me again why we’re here,” Joe asks Flint.
Flint grins at him and kicks his shoes off. “Do we need a reason?” He raises his cup to Daniel. “Cheers. Coming here was one of your better ideas.”
“We’re looking for information,” Daniel reminds him. Flint cheerfully ignores him.
Other groups of business men come in – most of them white, Daniel notices – and seat themselves at tables partitioned off with bamboo and paper screens. All they can see is the silhouettes of the girls, moving between groups, pouring drinks, stopping to talk and giggle in false, high voices. The three girls who come to their table look identical, white painted faces, tiny red lips, elaborate hair styles decorated with combs and fans. One of them kneels gracefully to pour more sake.
“So, tell us the news,” Daniel says. “What’s been happening in Tokyo?”
Any hopes of a James Bond type scene with the girls revealing everything there is to know about Yashimoto is soon dashed. None of them have even heard of him. They do tell them that Miyage’s temple isn’t the only one to have been broken into. Several others in Tokyo have had religious artefacts stolen or vandalised.
“And all over the country,” one of them says. “Is becoming a problem everywhere. The government says the foreigners are to blame.”
“And what do you think?” Flint asks. She giggles.
“I am ignorant girl. I do not know. Always we were told foreigners are good because they have money. Now they say we are not to like foreigners any more. But I like you.” She slips her arm through his. With her painted face and wide, innocent eyes, she looks like a schoolgirl in fancy dress. Flint finds himself warming to her.
Rob Turing sees his artist friend Kenzo the moment he walks into the bar. The small man is busy sketching, as usual. A tall glass of mineral water sits untouched on the table. Rob slides into a seat.
“Greetings, fellow creature of the night. Is that drink for me?”
Kenzo doesn’t look up. “Shut up and drink your foul western water gaijin.” He utters the Japanese word for foreigner with a harsh laugh. “I am creating art, nothing that you would understand.”
Turing grins back at him. “I see you haven’t lost your talent for conversation. Well, you just keep churning out that excrement and I will keep finding gaijins stupid enough to buy it.” He takes a sip of the water and sets the glass down carefully. “But seeing as those feeble efforts at drawing cannot possibly occupy your entire attention span, why don’t you tell me some gossip. Go on, you have my undivided attention.”
With that, he takes out a book on origami and begins flicking through it.
After a moment, Kenzo responds.
“Gossip! Ha! You would not believe half of it. Have you heard of the Yakuza?”
Turing nods. “The Japanese mafia, yes. What about them?”
“They have been – how shall I put it – visiting us all. Anyone noted for dealing with gaijin. Telling us we should keep our artwork for the benefit of Japan.” He lets out a grunt of laughter. “I wouldn’t mind if the Japanese would pay western prices. And they say they’re behind the temple thefts. You know about those, I expect.” Turing nods. Kenzo grunts again. “I thought you would. If the Yakuza are behind it, whatever’s been stolen will be in the hands of the government now. What they want with it is anyone’s guess.”
In the morning, Nora, Maddy and Greg are the only ones who look as if they’ve slept much. Nora is holding a fax.
“I asked SITU for details about the things that were stolen from the temple,” she tells the others quietly. “Here it is.”
The message is short:
‘Background detail as requested. Typical works of Japanese art, of a sort found in many temples. Relevance to Ylids, unknown. However, they are items that a great deal of belief has centred around and therefore they may well have picked up some sort of psychic energy, if only of a very low level.’
“I had a message back from an art dealer I know,” Turing adds, handing the paper to Flint to read. “She says that none of the stolen artefacts have turned up on the market. She didn’t understand it, and I certainly don’t. People usually steal things so they can sell them.”
“Or use them,” Greg says morosely.
Maddy, last to read the message, ponders over it then gives it back to Nora at arm’s length.
“We’re off to Hakone today,” she sings. “To see the temple an’ the scientist an’ everything!”
9.30 am, August 14th 1999
The hotel, Tokyo
NORA: The detective agency tell you that the theft from the Kudanshita temple was one of many across the city, and indeed across the country. No one seems too clear on the details save that the attack happened at night and that it was carried out by a group of men presumed to be linked to the Yakuza. The police have taken little interest, other than making preliminary enquiries which have got nowhere. The missing valuables have not yet surfaced in any market. Surveillance of the hotel is not a problem – only the hotel maids have entered the rooms so far. A pair of bodyguards have taken rooms on the ground floor to be ready to follow you.