Charles Beaufort Yardley III, known as Trey to classmates of one era and Chas to those of another, champion coxswain, connoisseur of tea and tobacco and competent in five thousand kanji, now chief liaison between the government of Japan and the American administration of Eastern Tokyo, was at his leisure. It didn’t happen often, but Charles felt he had earned it when it did. He had worked nearly twenty hours a day in the weeks after the brief Chinese attack on Tokyo. He remembered with a blurry fondness the initial alarm-blaring confusion of trying to figure out what was happening and when it would stop; the desperate scrabble to set up systems; the exhilaration of realizing his years in what had been thought a boring post were paying off in relevance and almost certainly promotion.
The situation was quieter now. The détente was tense, but in Charles’s opinion the public relations battle—the only front currently active in this long and complex struggle—was going well. The loss of that gun shipment was a concern, but a salvageable one. Despite a few bumps, US-Japanese relations were still smooth and ASEAN was amenable to indirect leadership. Charles still worked most evenings and nearly every weekend, but he could take an hour or two on the occasional afternoon.
Not that he was really taking it. Charles did some of his best—or at least most creative—thinking outside of the sterile glossy fortress that was the American embassy. In there, the air itself had gone through three different types of filters! Besides, he had certainly earned the right to enjoy some of the more refined pleasures of this city he was working so hard to protect.
Like this little place. Hidden on the second floor of an unassuming building in Shinbashi, unknown to tourists and uninitiated locals. Charles had never seen it empty nor crowded, and at this point the staff knew him well enough to point him to the most isolated booth. Charles ordered his usual vintage, coffee beans harvested in Costa Rica in 1958 and ground seconds before their aromas were infused into ninety-eight-degree water. He sipped it, thinking about the current configuration of the Diet and what change would be most advantageous to his—which was to say, American—interests.
Coffee finished, plans and contingency plans tentatively laid in his unquiet brain, Charles took his engraved brass artisanal vaper from his pocket and popped in a fresh cartridge, naturally flavored with Earl Grey and cardamom. He ignited it, raised it to his lips, and inhaled, expecting the gentle fragrance and slight buzz that would cap a pleasantly productive afternoon.
Instead, he got a mouthful of poison.
Charles doubled over uncontrollably, banging his zygomatic bone on the table in front of him, as the soft tissues of his mouth burned and began to bleed. He choked and coughed, trying to close his throat against the fumes before they could reach his lungs. His tongue was already swollen to twice its normal size, which prevented him from using it to trigger the poison vacuum in his molar as planned—an appalling design failure, he noted through the blinding pain—and he worked his pinky finger in against his clenched teeth and jammed his nail along the crowns, praying he could find the right molar, praying it wasn’t already too late to save his lungs.
Emma Higashi arrived at the Shinbashi address at a fast jog, slowing only when she saw the emergency vehicle. Charles was sitting on the curb, which was a shocking enough image as it was. Emma had never imagined him sitting anywhere but in an ergonomic office chair, leather vehicle interior, or swanky restaurant booth. As she got closer she noticed a grayish pallor to his skin, a smudge of blood at the corner of his mouth, and a violent bruise at the side of his eye.
“What happened?” she asked, directing the question to both Charles and the paramedic hovering over him.
The paramedic murmured something hesitant and indeterminate, culminating in an incredibly respectful expression of deep annoyance that Charles refused to be examined. Emma only realized as she was listening to the response that she had asked the question in Japanese.
“Thank you, that’s quite enough,” Charles said, also in Japanese, waving the paramedic away. The young woman glanced at Emma, as though she might be the more reasonable younger relative of a crotchety and borderline-senile elder. Swallowing a smile at the thought, Emma gave her a tiny nod, and with a sigh the paramedic picked up her heavy bag and headed back to the ambulance.
“What happened?” Emma asked in English this time. She crouched down beside him.
“An assassination attempt,” Charles said succinctly.
“What? Who?” Emma looked around as if the perpetrator might be hovering...