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WILL A SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD MATTER OF HONOR TRIGGER THE NEXT GREAT WAR?
As Jiro Sato contemplates suicide, he receives an unexpected visit from two soldiers announcing the recovery of his grandfather’s remains. Discovered on an island claimed by the Japanese but now held by the Russians, it is the final piece of a seventy-year-old puzzle of shame.
The Imperial Regalia have been missing since the end of World War Two, and the Japanese government, along with the new—and secretly illegitimate—emperor, have been lying to the people.
But the truth isn’t out yet, and the Japanese will stop at nothing to secure their secret and retrieve the ancient relics confiscated by a belligerent Russian government.
Join Archaeology Professors James Acton and Laura Palmer, along with Delta Team Bravo, Dylan Kane and Chris Leroux, as they try to stop a war that threatens to consume the entire Asia-Pacific region, all because one grandson, seventy years later, wanted to restore his family’s honor and turn around a life of shame and humiliation.
If you enjoy action and intrigue, ancient conspiracies and modern geopolitics, then Raging Sun from USA Today Bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy is for you, an action packed adventure that will keep you laughing, crying and on the edge of your seat until its heart-stopping conclusion.
"James Acton: A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"
Though this book is part of the James Acton Thrillers series, it is written as a standalone novel and can be enjoyed without having read any of the previous installments.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
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“The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established, in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people, a peacefully inclined and responsible government.”
Article 12 of the Potsdam Declaration, July 26, 1945
“As part of such advice and consent the Senate states that nothing the treaty [San Francisco Peace Treaty] contains is deemed to diminish or prejudice, in favor of the Soviet Union, the right, title, and interest of Japan, or the Allied Powers as defined in said treaty, in and to South Sakhalin and its adjacent islands, the Kurile Islands, the Habomai Islands, the Island of Shikotan, or any other territory, rights, or interests possessed by Japan on December 7, 1941, or to confer any right, title, or benefit therein or thereto on the Soviet Union.”
On both July 25 and July 31, 1945, in the dying days of World War II, Emperor Hirohito ordered the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan to protect the Imperial Regalia “at all costs.” These ancient relics, a sword, a bronze mirror and a jade jewel, through tradition, represent valor, wisdom, and benevolence, and their possession confirms the Emperor’s claim to the throne.
Two weeks later, at noon local time on August 15, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito was heard on radio delivering what became known as the Jewel Voice Broadcast in which he announced the Japanese acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. Without admitting defeat, it was effectively an unconditional surrender.
Three days later the Soviet Union invaded the northern islands of Japan known as the Kuril Islands. They then proceeded to expel the 17,000 Japanese inhabitants, and in violation of the Potsdam Declaration, continue to occupy these islands. The issue remains a cause of friction between the two nations, both with significant navies in the Pacific.
On January 7, 1989, the Imperial Regalia were presented to the new Japanese Emperor, Akihito, as part of the enthronement rituals. All were covered by red brocade, the artifacts unseen, unlike during the enthronement of Akihito’s grandfather, Hirohito, in 1926.
To this day, many question whether the Imperial Regalia were actually lost at the end of the greatest war to have ever afflicted mankind.
Courtyard Moscow Paveletskaya Hotel Moscow, Russian Federation Present Day
Professor James Acton poked his head out of the elevator and checked both ways before stepping into the hallway, his wife’s hand gripped tightly—Professor Laura Palmer clung even tighter. Tensions were high in Moscow, and there was no way any sane person would be here right now, not with a war brewing off the coast of Japan.
But he had never been accused of being sane.
His life as an archaeology professor was far more exciting and far more dangerous than it should be, with more bullets, rockets, bombs, knives and vehicles thrown at him over the past few years than most soldiers experienced in a lifetime.
And it had almost got him and Laura killed on multiple occasions.
In fact, she was still recovering from a gunshot to the stomach about a year ago, leaving her easily winded.
She should definitely not be here.
“There it is.” He pointed at a door to their right. Room 906. He knocked and they both listened, Acton stepping back so whoever was on the other side could see his face.
He just prayed that the person was who they were expecting.
Professor Arseny Orlov.
They had met only once, several years ago in Germany, to discuss how best to protect ancient ruins in war zones.
How prophetic that turned out to be.
At the time, no one could have conceived of an ISIS type group rampaging almost unopposed across the land, destroying priceless, irreplaceable pieces of history. It angered him to no end, and he wished a horrible, prolonged death for any involved, then an eternity of damnation in the afterlife.
The door opened and they both breathed sighs of relief as Orlov ushered them inside, holding a finger to his lips. They had received his desperate call only that morning, the cryptic message begging them to come to Moscow on hastily arranged visas.
A matter of life and death.
His day never went well when that line was delivered, even by the best of friends.
You could stop a war.
That had piqued their interest, sending them to Laura’s private jet, the wealth left her by her late brother a blessing in times like these.
Orlov hugged him then kissed him on both cheeks, Acton’s thoughts flashing to their crotchety old Interpol buddy, Hugh Reading.
Hugh would have decked him.
The greeting was repeated on Laura before the man finally spoke.
“I cannot thank you enough for coming!”
Acton nodded. “You made it sound like we had no choice.”
Orlov smiled slightly, his eyes darting between the door they had just entered and one to an adjoining room. Acton glanced at it, noting the deadbolt appeared to be in the unlocked position.
A double-knock had Acton spinning toward the sound, Orlov raising his hands. “It’s okay, it’s my son.”
The adjoining door opened and the young man who had driven them here stepped inside, smiling at them, his eyes lingering on Laura a little too long. She was a striking woman, and Acton sometimes forgot how he had reacted the first time he had seen her through the window of her classroom door at University College London.
She had taken his breath away.
Then helped save his life.
They had been together ever since, and he was finally, truly happy.
Acton nodded at the young man who took up a position at the door, peering periodically through the peephole. Acton turned to Orlov. “Why are we here?”
“This.” Orlov motioned toward a table, a cloth covering something whisked away in a flourish.
Acton gasped. “Are those what I think they are?”
“I don’t know, that’s why you’re here. I know what I think they are, but I need you to authenticate them.”
Laura leaned in without touching. “Don’t you have people who can do that for you?”
“None that I can trust. Not with what is happening.”
“So these are why the Japanese are so hopping mad.” Acton picked up one of the three priceless relics sitting on the table. “I had heard rumors they had been lost during the war, but I had assumed they were just that.”
“This is what my own research tells me,” said Orlov. “Do you think they are real?”
“Where were they found?”
“On one of the northern islands of Japan that my country claims as its territory.”
Acton’s eyes narrowed. “Where they recently found the bodies of those Japanese soldiers from the war?”
“Huh. If these were with the soldiers, then that means they’ve been lost for over seventy years.”
Laura glanced up from the relic she was examining. “Do you realize what this means?”
Orlov shook his head. “No, what?”
Acton placed the relic on the table. “It means that the current emperor of Japan was sworn in with fakes, and his claim to the throne is illegitimate.”
Laura returned her relic. “Not only does it mean the Japanese government and the emperor have been lying to its people for decades, but the current emperor is technically a fraud.”
Orlov stared at them wide-eyed. “No wonder they’re willing to go to war.”
Laura tugged on her earlobe. “One question begs to be asked. I can understand why the Japanese want them back and are willing to risk everything, but why Russia? Why won’t your country simply return them?”
Orlov shrugged. “Politics, I fear, but whatever the reason, they must be returned.”
A pit formed in Acton’s stomach. “What’s your plan?”
Orlov looked at him then Laura. “I want the two of you to smuggle them out of the country.”
Tires screeched on the streets below.
Imperial Palace Tokyo, Empire of Japan August 13, 1945
Major Hiroshi Sato cringed as the room shook, dust floating gently down from the ceiling of the bomb shelter. The Americans so far had left their location alone after destroying much of the palace during the firebombing of their city three months ago, though that didn’t preclude a stray bomb from hitting them. But the gods would protect them, would protect their son in this realm.
They will protect His Majesty, and through Him, us.
He told his family every day that this was the safest place to be, though unfortunately, they couldn’t be here with him. Instead, much of their days were spent trying to live as normal a life as possible in the dying days of this war they should never have lost, the betrayal of His Majesty by the military and government, obvious.
We would have won if everyone had committed to the cause as they should have.
His duty was his life, and his duty was to protect His Majesty at all costs, and as the days grew more dire, the American bombing almost incessant now as more bombers came into range, it was clear the end would soon be here.
Especially after the unbelievable massacres in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He had only heard the reports, the devastation unlike anything imaginable. Apparently, both cities were essentially flattened, as if the gods themselves had crushed everything for miles.
And the bodies.
Vaporized, dark outlines on buildings, charred remains frozen in time.
The survivors, their flesh hanging off them, burned head to toe, many blinded by what was apparently an incredibly bright light. Even some here in Tokyo claimed to have seen it, though he didn’t believe it. Surely it couldn’t have been that massive. It would take more bombs than the entire army could muster to create something so large.
Yet there was no denying the reports.
Over one hundred thousand dead, mostly the elderly, women, children.
The soldiers were fighting.
And not a man, woman or child that remained, went to bed at night not worrying that Tokyo, or their city, would be next.
What kind of monsters could do such a thing?
The war was lost. Surrender wasn’t what terrified him and his comrades.
It was occupation.
The government had filled the airwaves for years about the imperialist pigs that were the Americans, how they viciously massacred and desecrated the bodies of the brave fallen of the Imperial Japanese Army, and how, should the people fail their emperor, and these round eyes set foot on Japanese soil, they would rape and pillage their way across the country in a bloodlust not seen for a thousand years.
It was his wife, son, and three daughters that he feared for the most. He was willing to die, in fact, as a matter of honor, expected to. He could think of no greater shame than to survive the war, unscathed.
Except perhaps to fail His Majesty.
The door to the shelter opened, the heavy wood slamming against the concrete wall with a loud slap, startling everyone inside. “Major!”
Sato leaped to his feet, snapping to attention at the sight of his commanding officer, Colonel Tanaka. “Yes, sir!”
“Yes, sir!” He grabbed his hat off the table, the others saying nothing, all eyes averted lest they be dragged themselves from the safety of the shelter, the pounding outside showing no signs of letting up.
He pulled the door shut behind him, climbing the stairs carved into the ground, soon joining his commanding officer in what was hard to describe as fresh air. He presented himself to Tanaka and bowed, the gesture barely returned, the man instead staring out over the city.
A city afire.
Searchlights crisscrossed the sky, anti-aircraft fire thundering away, tracer fire revealing their positions, the sky thick with the drone of heavy bombers delivering their death from above, unchallenged by a decimated air force.
His home burned.
His country cried for mercy.
A mercy they wouldn’t receive. Not from the brutal Americans.
“I’ve chosen you for a most important mission.”
He snapped to attention, sucking in a deep breath. His stomach filled with butterflies and his chest tightened with fear, but a slight flush of pride flowed through him, tempering the natural fight or flight response. He hadn’t seen a day of action since the war began, though if he should be needed in these final days, he may yet regain the honor he felt he had lost by not defending his country.
“You are to handpick a team of ten men. His Majesty has ordered that the Imperial Regalia be moved from their sanctuaries to somewhere safe before the Americans arrive.”
“Yes, sir. It will be my honor to protect the Imperial Regalia from the American horde. Where shall we take them?”
“To the northern islands. There are currently no enemy troops near there, nor do we anticipate any as they have no strategic value. Take your men, three month’s supplies, and bury the Imperial Regalia so they cannot be found by the enemy should you be discovered. When it has been deemed safe by His Majesty, you will be called for.”
“When do we leave?”
He hesitated for a moment, the colonel catching it.
“What is it?”
“Our families. If this is indeed the end…”
The colonel eyed him. “Is it not their duty to sacrifice their lives for His Majesty? Would you have their well-being interfere with your duty to Him?”
Sato dropped into a bow of shame, his eyes squeezed tight, his arms straight and tucked against his sides. “I apologize for my selfishness, Colonel. Of course, our duty to His Majesty is of the utmost importance!”
There was a pause, the sounds of the bombs and screams in the distance the only sounds besides the rustling of the leaves of the keyaki trees surrounding them. “Your family is near here, is it not?”
“I think your route will take you past their house, will it not?”
It wouldn’t. It couldn’t. It would actually be a few minutes out of the way.
He suppressed an eager smile, cocking his head slowly to the side so he might catch a glimpse of the Colonel while still hunched over with his shame. “Ahh, yes?”
“It would be unfortunate if there were vehicle trouble for a few minutes in that neighborhood.”
“I-it would be?”
“Yes, I think it would be. Now fulfill your duty to His Majesty!”
He bowed even deeper. “Yes, Colonel!”
Kharkar Island, South Kuril Islands, Russian Federation Japanese name: Harukaru Island Present Day. Four weeks before Acton’s arrival in Moscow
“Umm, Comrade Lieutenant, you need to see this.”
Lieutenant Markov stared up the communications tower at the white, red and blue of the Russian flag fluttering overhead in the wind, replaced moments ago, the Japanese having an annoying habit of sneaking onto the island from time to time to steal the flag, sometimes even replacing it with their own.
So it probably wasn’t the government, but civilians doing it.
Teenagers.They’re the same everywhere.
He had no doubt that if he went on YouTube, he’d find footage of them carrying out the deed. It never ceased to amaze him the stupidity of today’s youth, and he knew from friends around the world that it wasn’t just a Russian phenomenon.
They’re stupid everywhere.Who posts footage of their crime on the Internet?
He grunted, taking one last glance at the flag.
I wonder why so many flags are red, white and blue.
He looked at the seaman. “What is it?”
“I, umm, found something.”
Markov frowned. “Out with it, Seaman. What did you find?”
Instead of replying, the young man, part of the generation he had little respect for, turned and walked hurriedly to the southern portion of the tiny island. Markov followed, his frown deepening. He was about to open his mouth when he came upon two of his men standing, staring at the ground.
They looked up as he arrived.
“What is it?”
They all pointed at the side of a slight embankment. Markov stepped forward, the recent typhoon evidently having done a number on the already rough terrain, the communications tower not the only thing to take a hit from the storm.
His eyes popped wide.
“Bones!” cried the seaman, the others bobbing their heads rapidly.
“Someone was murdered and buried here,” said another, stepping forward and pointing at a shattered skull, its grinning visage unsettling to say the least. “Look, a bullet hole!”
Markov knelt down beside the remains and leaned closer to the skull, there clearly a circular hole in the forehead, as if the person had been shot at close range, essentially between the eyes.
He noticed something flap in the wind, a sliver of fabric exposed by the torrential rains. He reached over and gently brushed away the dirt, exposing more of it. His eyes narrowed. He carefully yanked at the cloth, revealing what appeared to be an epaulet.
He leaned back on his haunches, considering the find.
“It’s a Japanese soldier.”
“But who killed him?” asked the seaman, kneeling beside him. “He looks like he’s been dead a long time.”
“He has. I’d say at least seventy years.”
Shiba District Tokyo, Empire of Japan August 13, 1945
The Isuzu Type 94 truck ground to a halt, his driver glancing at him curiously then nervously at the sky. The bombing had continued over the hour that it had taken to load their supplies, though it wasn’t concentrated on this area, this mostly residential and already devastated.
There’s not much point in bombing homes to dust when they’re already rubble.
Factories and naval yards, however, were fair game.
Over and over.
“What is it, sir?”
“Something’s wrong with the engine.”
The young corporal’s eyebrows rose. “Sir? The engine is—”
Major Hiroshi Sato glared at him, the young man cringing. “There’s something wrong with the engine. I think it will take you about fifteen minutes to repair it.”
“Umm, y-yes, sir. I-I think there might be.”
“Good. Get to work.” Sato hopped to the ground then rounded to the back where his second-in-command, First Lieutenant Moto, joined him from the second vehicle. “Something’s wrong with the truck.”
“Really?” The lieutenant pushed his sleeves up, appearing eager to dive under the hood of their Isuzu built transport.
Sato held up a hand. “Your family is near here?”
A cloud replaced the eagerness. “Yes.”
“Tell the men. Fifteen minutes. Anyone not here when I get back will be hunted down and shot along with their families.”
Moto appeared confused for a moment then his jaw dropped slightly before snapping tightly shut. “A patrol of the neighborhood, perhaps?”
Sato smiled. “You’ll earn that third star with thinking like that.”
Moto grinned then snapped to attention, a smart salute executed. Sato returned it.
“Fifteen minutes. Tell the men.”
Moto nodded and spun on his heel as Sato turned, walking briskly down a rubble-strewn lane and rounding a corner. Out of sight of his men, he sprinted toward his home, still standing though damaged the last time he had seen it. He turned the corner and the air sucked out of him as if he had been struck in the stomach by a cricket bat.
His home was leveled.
Bile threatened to fill his mouth yet he pushed forward, stumbling toward his humble home, now reduced to a single wall, the rest collapsed inward, a crater next to it where their neighbor used to live.
Their home destroyed.
His, at least, was recognizable as once being the safe haven of an innocent family, once a home where the laughter of children and the singing of his wife and mother-in-law could be heard before times had turned grim.
The laughter was sometimes still there, the innocence of children a blessing that could still bring a smile to his face even on the worst of days.
But the singing had stopped, his wife no longer a happy woman. He had told her to take her mother and stay with his family in the countryside yet she had refused.
“This is my home. No one will force me from it, not the Americans, and not you.”
It was a futile argument that he hadn’t pressed.
As he collapsed to his knees in what was once their front doorway, tears threatened to erupt, tears of shame in his failure as a husband to protect his wife, a father to protect his young children, as a soldier to protect these innocent civilians.
And as a man, to fail them all.
His shoulders shook and his chin dropped to his chest as he could hold back the emotions no longer. He cursed the war, he cursed the Americans, and if he weren’t such a dedicated soldier, he would curse His Majesty.
But he couldn’t.
And he chastised himself for even thinking it.
Though he would curse the military and the government, those truly responsible for getting them into this war, and truly responsible for its failure.
A siren sounded in the distance, the air raid over, the reprieve missed in his grief.
He tensed up, his hands darting to his face to wipe the tears as he pushed to his feet. He brushed his knees free of the dirt he had knelt in then drew a breath before turning.
He smiled slightly as he recognized his neighbor. “Mrs. Kita, it is a relief to see you are well.” He nodded toward the crater that was once the old woman’s home. “I had feared the worst.”
She shuffled over to him as others emerged from their hiding places, the occupants of a bomb shelter down the road spilling out into the nearly impassable street. “We are fine. We were all in the shelter when it happened.”
His head dropped and he squeezed his eyes shut. “When did it happen?”
“Three days ago. It was the only bomb to hit the area. The Volunteer Fighting Core Officer said it was probably a mistake, a bomb not releasing when it should, or one of the murderous Americans thinking nothing of dropping a bomb meant for a factory, instead on a house.”
Three days. If only she had listened!
His chin lifted and his eyes widened as he heard a voice he would recognize through the shock of a thousand bombs. His wife. He peered past Mrs. Kita and spotted her, running toward him, her arms outstretched, her usually beautiful hair held tightly by a dirty bandage wrapped around her head. He stumbled toward her, numb to the reality of the situation, a moment ago the love of his life dead, and now, alive and well, falling into his arms, sobbing. He held her tight, saying nothing, his eyes shutting out the world around them as he lost himself in this moment granted him by the gods.
It was a chorus as wondrous as the most capable of choirs as four little bodies slammed into them, their tiny arms wrapping around his legs and those of their mother. He breathed a sigh of relief as he released his wife, gazing for a moment to the heavens to thank the gods for watching over his family.
“I feared you were dead.”
“We almost were,” said his wife. “I was getting water with the children when it hit.” She stared at their home, tears rolling down her cheeks. “We should be dead.”
“But you are not.” He checked his watch then turned to her. “I want you to take the children, tonight, and head for my parents’ place.”
His wife shook her head. “No, I want to—”
He lowered his voice, putting his mouth to her ear. “The war is about to be lost. Perhaps in a matter of days. Once the Americans arrive, they will rape and pillage their way across the country. Our children will be slaughtered in front of you, and when they are done with you, you will beg them to kill you.” His wife paled, his message at last sinking in. “You must go. Now.”
She gripped her children close to her side. “What about you?”
“I’m leaving on a special mission for His Majesty. I should be safe. Once the war is over, it may take some time before I return, so do not be alarmed.”
She looked up at him. “I love you.”
He smiled. “I love you too.”
“We love you, Daddy!”
He dropped to a knee and gave them all hugs then took his eldest son, only nine, by the shoulders. “You are the man of the house until I return. You will obey your mother, but protect her and your sisters. Understood?”
He snapped out a salute. “Yes, Major!”
Sato smiled then rose to return the salute. “As you were!”
Little arms instantly ensnared his leg. He looked at his wife. “I have to go. I’ll come find you as soon as I can.”
She nodded, a final hug and kiss exchanged. “Be safe.”
“You be safe.”
She pried the children off him and he walked briskly away, taking one last glance at his family as he turned the corner, his children waving, his wife forcing a smile, the image one he hoped he could burn into his memory until he saw them again.
But as he rounded the corner and lost sight of them, a chill ran through his body as he knew with a certainty unlike any he had felt before, that he would never see them again.
Ebiso District Tokyo, Japan Present Day. Three days before Acton’s arrival in Moscow
“It’s a matter of honor.”
Jiro sat on the floor of his living room, legs crossed, hands resting on his knees as he breathed deeply, his eyes gently closed. He held it then slowly exhaled, willing his inner demons out of his body.
It wasn’t working.
He couldn’t meditate anymore, his troubles far too great, his discipline far too lacking. His mother was pressuring him to get married, his boss was pressuring him to put in more hours, and his landlady was pressuring him to do the chores around the property he had promised in exchange for a break on his rent.
And his stomach growled with a ravenous hunger, despite having eaten only an hour before.
I hate diabetes.
He was one of the lucky ones—and he meant that sarcastically—where his body didn’t work properly, his brain constantly signaled that he was hungry, despite having just eaten a generous helping of salmon and rice. He was so ravenous, he would be tempted to gnaw at his arm if he could.
He cast his eyes down at his too round stomach.
It’s all your fault.
He had abused his body for years trying to escape the pain, the pain of a childhood of teasing, of a propensity to gain weight at the drop of a hat, never to lose it unless he starved himself.
What kind of a life is it if I have to starve myself for the rest of it?
A tear rolled down his cheek.
No life at all.
He worked his ass off at work, putting in twelve hours a day minimum, six days a week, yet it was never enough. Times were tough, and the boss wanted everyone to put in more effort.
For the same pay.
And then there was his love life.
There was none.
At least now there wasn’t. He had been pining over Keiko in Personnel for the better part of two years, and had finally gathered up the courage just this morning to ask her to coffee.
The look she had given him had cleaved his stomach hollow.
He hadn’t waited for the words of rejection, he had merely turned and left.
It was the giggles that echoed behind him from the others that had truly knocked the wind out of him.
He was pathetic.
With the hours he was putting in at the office, he’d never have time to find a woman to marry, so his sick mother would never get off his back, and even if he did find the time, it was obvious after years of trying he was neither appealing to the opposite sex—no matter how much his mother insisted he was—nor confident enough to approach a woman.
He would die alone, exhausted, doing the same job he had committed to during college.
His life was a prison he couldn’t escape. One of constant work, little play, and now a disease he wasn’t sure he could handle.
Life isn’t worth living.
He opened his eyes, his grandfather’s ceremonial shin gunto sword mounted on the wall. He knew how to commit seppuku, the ritual suicide—he had researched it enough over the past few months—a painful though quick method of ending all his suffering, and also a terrifying prospect.
And Keiko had always been there, a beacon in his darkness, a beacon extinguished when she had stared at him, wide-eyed with horror, at his audacity in asking her out.
Perhaps it’s time.
He sucked in a deep breath and rose, straightening his shirt before walking over and lifting the ornate sword off the wall, the family heirloom a gift from his father to him when he had turned nine.
“That was how old I was when my father last saw us. He left on a mission for His Majesty and was never heard from again. Now it is yours, and when your son turns nine, it will be his.”
He had been in awe of the sword ever since, and of his grandfather, the brave major who in the dying days of the war had been sent on a daring mission to protect the Imperial Regalia.
A mission he had apparently failed to fulfill, though the true extent of the shame of that failure was a family secret never shared with anyone.
A shame, if it were to become known, that would destroy his family’s honor for generations.
He unsheathed the sword slightly, exposing part of the gently curved blade.
It could all be over in minutes.
Compounding the shame of his family.
But at least you won’t have to deal with it.
The doorbell rang and he flinched, his heart racing as he jammed the blade back in its scabbard and returned it to the wall. He crossed the tiny floor space of his far too expensive apartment and peered through the peephole, fully expecting it to be his landlady with another chore for him to do.
He gasped at the last person he had expected to see.
He unlocked the door and opened it, his heart hammering, his stomach flipping, his world almost ready to spin out of control. He clamped down on his cheek with his teeth.
“Hi, Jiro. Umm, can I come in?”
He nodded hastily, retreating, pulling the door open for her. She stepped inside and he motioned toward the living room, saying nothing. She smiled awkwardly and removed her shoes, slipping her feet into a pair of sandals he kept for visitors then tentatively entered his humble abode.
She turned. “I-I wanted to apologize for earlier.”
His mouth went dry, his eyes widening.
But what did that mean? Did it mean she had changed her mind? Did it mean she was sorry for the giggling from the others? Did it mean she was sorry for not actually saying the words, “no thanks”?
He said nothing.
“You caught me off guard. That’s why I didn’t say anything when you asked.”
“Your face said it all, I think,” he mumbled, shocked he had the courage to challenge her.
Her face slackened, the color draining from it as she bowed deeply. “I-I’m so sorry. It wasn’t because it was you. It was because of where you asked me. Y-you’re the first boy to ever ask me out in my entire life, and, well, I guess I didn’t think it would happen at my desk, surrounded by a bunch of gossiping women.” She rose, peering up at him, her hands clasped low in front of her. “If we had been alone, I would have said—”
The doorbell rang and they both flinched, Keiko quickly curling inward, as if protecting herself from whatever was to come. Jiro didn’t know what to say or what to do, his mind filling in various endings to the interrupted sentence. “Yes.” “No thanks.” “Are you kidding me?” “I’d rather date anyone but you!” “Why don’t you go kill yourself you fat pig!”
The doorbell rang again, followed by several hard raps.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, turning toward the door. He didn’t look to see who it was, his mind still reeling. He pulled open the door and nearly pissed. Two men in military dress uniforms stood in the hall, their faces serious.
“Are you Jiro Sato?”
“You are the grandson of Major Hiroshi Sato?”
His eyebrows rose slightly, the temptation to glance back at his grandfather’s sword almost overwhelming. “Yes.”
Both men bowed, the first extending his arms, presenting a previously unnoticed wood box. “Sir, I am Major Oshiro. It is with great humility that I, on behalf of the Japanese people, present to you the personal effects of your grandfather, Major Hiroshi Sato.” Jiro took the presented box, not sure what to say, when he noticed Keiko beside him.
“Please come in,” she said, gently tugging Jiro toward the living area.
“Thank you, ma’am.” The two men followed them inside.
And Jiro still said nothing.
“The remains of your grandfather and his platoon were recently discovered. It took several weeks to confirm their identities, however there is now no doubt as to who they are.” He held out a hand and the other soldier placed an envelope in it. “These are all the pertinent details. Your grandfather is entitled to a funeral, paid for by the government. We attempted to contact your mother, but she—umm—refused us entry.” Jiro smiled slightly, picturing it. “When you are ready, please contact us.” He handed the envelope over, Jiro taking it with two shaking hands.