Disclaimer: yada yada yada -- we all know the spiel. Raven and denizens belong to Frank Lupo, etc. Beryl Coltrain is the epitome of not belonging to Frank Lupo, etc.
Time: 1994 - September
Spoilers: I'll know when I get through.
Synopsis: An enigmatic woman enters Raven’s life, disrupting relationships between Raven and Ski as well as Osato and Raven.
Dark Raven: Lambs to the Slaughter
Beryl Coltrain, representative of an international organization dedicated to the consolidation of world power into the hands of a select few of their own personnel, set the Lear Jet down on the tarmac at Honolulu International Airport, glanced at her watch and cut the engines. She slid out of the pilot’s seat and headed back down the carpeted walkway into the back where she stopped at the top of the stairs, lifting her sunglasses to see if she attracted any undue attention. The area was devoid of other than her own personnel. Confident she was unobserved by those she wished not to interfere in her business, she slid the sunglasses back into place and descended to the concrete where she spoke briefly with the flight crew, confirming that her bags would follow her to the hotel. After the long flight from the mainland, she wanted to clean up before she went out.
Checking into the hotel suite, her bags arrived just ahead of room service with fruit and cold meat. Beryl tipped the bellboy and waiter generously. Alone, she stripped out of her flight suit, slipping on an expensive dark purple silk kimono, the color like dried blood against her flawless pale skin. She let her mind wander as she snacked on strawberries and ham. With two days to rest before she met with the Yakuza leader she was in Hawaii to meet, she had some time to do the tourist thing, relaxing before she made the final pitch to the man she had seen only in photos.
Others might spend two days rehearsing their pitch. Beryl could recite the proposal she would make backwards and forwards in her sleep. There was no way to tell whether the man would accept her proposal. She had researched him, his organization, and his family. She believed she had an understanding that would allow her to leverage him into the agreement she wanted. Once the agreement was reached, he and his clan would be a weapon in her hand, a trustworthy weapon in support of her goals. If he would not work with her – well, that bridge was best crossed when necessary. For now, she had two days to herself.
An hour later Beryl walked out into the sunlight looking more bright and breezy in a white silk dress with a froth of skirt. She collected her car and went for a drive. The only unchanged item in her wardrobe was the sunglasses shielding her eyes from the bright Hawaiian sun. She stopped at a beach front bar and restaurant called Big Kahuna's for a drink and a look around. At a nearby table, seated alone, was a tall, dark haired man feigning interest in the newspaper he held. He was also keeping an eye on the denizens of the establishment, although it was obvious to her eyes that his mind was on neither the paper, nor the habitués of the establishment. Their eyes met for a moment. She smiled.
Jonathan Raven, seated at his usual table, noticed the raven-haired beauty when she walked in; the lightweight white dress moving about her legs in sinuous slithers as she walked. He let the slither motion distract his thoughts for a moment. With his son off in Maine finishing up his last year of high school, he was at loose ends and he still wasn’t certain what had happened between him and the boy’s mother. He knew the red head liked him, found him attractive, yet she pushed him away. It was the first time he had found himself rebuffed and not knowing why or how to handle it.
He pulled his thoughts away from his son and the woman who protected him to find the woman in white silk regarding him curiously over the top edge of her sunglasses. He met her gaze with a slight shock of recognition. He didn't know her, but he recognized the roving gaze. Trouble.
He let his attention wander away, his thoughts occupied by Cal and Zeph. Jonathan was mulling over her refusal of his entirely honorable and emotionally correct offer of marriage. They were obviously attracted to each other. All right, he was attracted to Cal and he thought he had correctly read her own attraction to him. That kiss on the beach had not been platonic. He was puzzling over the situation again when he looked up to find himself staring at a white waist. He looked farther up. Green eyes under winging black brows looked down at him. She was holding a drink in one hand and a small purse in the other. The woman in silk.
"Hello." His voice was steady, if a little wary.
"Waiting for someone?"
"But not definite?"
"No." He was still wondering how she managed to approach without his being aware of it. Cal could do it, but then, Cal was – he decided that he didn't want to go there at the moment. It was hard enough knowing that the woman loved his son, responded to his own advances before abruptly repulsing him, and refused, for whatever reason, to accept him into her life as other than Hikari's father.
"Mind if I join you until it's definite one way or the other?" she asked, wondering what he was thinking about. While his gaze rested on her face, his eyes were definitely not focusing on her.
Focus. "All right."
She sat down, her gaze traveling over him in an appreciative and predatory manner. “I’m Beryl.”
“Business, in a few days. Right now, I’m in Hawaii at loose ends. Very loose ends. Any ideas?”
“You could take a tour.”
She laughed. “Done that. The first time. And I’ve probably seen most of the popular, overcrowded beaches. And the nightlife. Any other suggestions?”
“What haven’t you done?”
“I haven’t learned to surf. I’ve never importuned a very attractive man in a bar before, not in Hawaii, anyway. There must be something else I haven’t done.”
Her smile finally sparked one of his. She was certainly an original. “How about sailing?” he asked.
“With or without motor?”
“Not in a very long time. It sounds like fun. Come along?” she offered.
Jonathan surprised himself when he agreed. “I’m beginning to think I’d enjoy doing so.” Well, it would give him something to do and might keep him from worrying about what Zeph and Cal were doing in Maine.
They drove to her hotel where she grabbed a change of clothes before continuing to the harbor where Jonathan rented a nice sized sailboat, complete with a diesel inboard engine in case the wind died down and they were becalmed. Beryl disappeared below deck to change from her dress. She reappeared in denims, a light colored cotton long sleeved shirt tied over a tank style t-shirt and light weight canvas deck shoes on her feet.
Jonathan looked her over approvingly. He smiled at her and received a smile in return. She was right, she was rusty, but the business of sailing came back to her swiftly. The boat was a nice one, held to the wind well. Beryl found herself smiling into the salt spray that came over the boat’s upward side as she heeled over in the water.
Sunset found them sailing serenely back into the harbor and tying up the boat in the slip. He linked arms with her as they walked up the dock to the parking lot. They hadn’t done a lot of talking while they were out, yet it had been one of the most enjoyable afternoons he’d had in a while. If he couldn't take Hikari – Zeph – out with him, this was a good substitute.
“Dinner?” he asked.
“My place.” // My place? // Would the invitation have come so easily if Cal and Zeph had been in town? No. Logically, he wouldn't have taken the woman sailing if his son was available.
She gave him a measuring look. “Take out or cook in?”
“You cook?” She sounded amused and attracted.
“Well, it’s worth a try. Take me back to Big Kahuna’s. I need my car.”
He saw her off and headed home to set things in motion. Just about the time Jonathan wondered if she’d changed her mind, there was a knock at his door. He opened it. This time she wore a deep forest green kimono over silk trousers. She kicked off the leather thong sandals she wore, leaving them outside. Her hair was pulled up in a knot, skewered into place with a trio of gilded sticks.
“You like?” she pirouetted for him. The skirt of her kimono whirled out slightly then fell back in graceful folds around her legs.
‘Very nice.” All thoughts of a roguish red head were banished from his mind as he led her into his home. There were odd little alarm bells going off in the back of his mind, but the rest wasn’t paying any attention.
She browsed his bookshelf while he finished up preparing dinner. She pulled one book down, opened it and flipped through the pages. Japanese. Not one of her strongest languages in the written department. She neatly replaced the book and tried another. A soft laugh escaped her.
“You know, if you want people to get an idea of what you might be interested in, you might try to leave a book or two lying around in – oh, English.
Jonathan looked over at her as she slid a third volume back onto the bookshelf. “Perhaps the lady should not be so nosy.”
“Perhaps her companion should not be so closed mouthed. Besides, I’m not asking for English, necessarily. Russian. Arabic. Chinese. French. I am a polyglot, but written Japanese is not my strong point.”
“I was raised in Japan.” He gestured for her to join him at the low Japanese style table.
“Ah. That would explain the books," she agreed with a laugh. "And the table. Japanese cuisine; Japanese books; Japanese sword," she inclined her head toward the ninjato displayed in a place of honor. "So, why Hawaii?"
"I prefer the climate."
"It is nice. A little humid for my tastes, but a wonderful place to visit. I love the vivid colors."
"They are nice. Where do you live?"
"Hotels, mostly. I travel a lot."
"Must be interesting."
"Sometimes. Then again, sometimes it's incredibly boring. Most hotels are homogenous these days. Hilton Hawaii is a little more colorful; Hilton Japan has shoji screens in silly places; Hilton New Orleans has a wonderful view of Canal Street and the river; Hilton London has fog."
"You could stay someplace with – more character?"
"Is that an invitation?" Again her eyes roved over her companion's long, lean form. The very green eyes met his. Her meaning was difficult to miss.
Why was he trying so hard to miss it? Cal? No. His son's adoptive mother had turned him down in no uncertain terms. Whatever lay in her background prevented her from accepting him as lover or husband. He frowned at the thought. Sooner or later, he'd figure it out. But not tonight.
"It – uh – could be." A beautiful woman who appreciated things Japanese, including the elegant use of chopsticks to pull apart and devour her food; who wanted an evening or two of amusement; and he was holding back. What the hell was the matter with him?
Answer: Regardless of the reaction he'd already received, of the explanation (or non-explanation) for her refusal, he wanted to be close to the woman who had been his son's mother for the last eight years. Right. The woman who had melted into his arms and then shoved him away; who had run for cover, re-mangling her broken ankle and had passed the entire incident off as overwrought nerves when she got back from having the thing reset and re-plastered. The woman lied to him again and again.
And she'd taken care of Hikari when he was dieing, when he was too badly hurt in spirit and body to want to survive. She had struggled for 8 years to put him back together again and had done a very fine job with nothing to go on except the boy's reactions to stimulus.
Beryl laughed, her eyes taking in every nuance of his minutely changing expressions. Something was nagging at the man. Something deep, something she had yet to touch.
"Oh, my. Am I being too forward? Too fast? Ah, too fast. Sorry. I live in a high tech, supersonic paced world, Jonathan. I tend to forget that there are other ways to live. So, movies?" She gracefully accepted his rebuff and turned the subject to safer topics.
He surprised himself by warming to her as she steered the conversation from one point to another, never asking, never pushing, never seeming to have noticed more than his personal reticence. Never * seeming * to have noticed. Yes, he knew that was true as well.
After dinner, they wandered out into the back yard. The torches were already lit giving a golden glow to the well manicured garden. She wandered over to his meditation deck and looked out over the dark drop to the water. "Nice deck. Interesting placement."
"I use it for meditation. I find it soothing."
"Hmm," she turned back to face him. "And you find me unsettling." She held up a hand to silence his protests. "No, it's all right. I'm finding you a bit the same way. You have undercurrents, tensions. Makes you interesting, which is, of itself, somewhat unusual."
"Jaded?" The remark was light, but there was an odd look in the eyes regarding her.
Again the laugh. "Possibly. There are days when I begin to suspect I've been and done just about everywhere and everything I really want to do, and more than once for a lot of it. And then I spend a day with a companion who doesn't quite know what to make of me on part of an ocean I haven't sailed before – I really did have a very good day thanks to you."
Beryl moved closer. He could feel the heat of her body. She tilted her head slightly to look up at him. Very gently, he leaned down and kissed her. Her smell was heady in his nostrils. She was gently spice, no one scent outshining the others. He could separate out a touch of sandalwood and maybe a little frankincense, old fashioned scents for a very modern woman.
His arms went around her and hers around him, pulling them together. His mouth found hers again. He was not involved, but he could give freely of his own arousal and interest. With her this close, his desire was rapidly censoring his misgivings. He heard her moan gently, deep in her throat. Without breaking the contact, he scooped her into his arms and carried her into the house.
The hair ornaments pulled out of the silken strands piled up on her head; the blue highlighted mane shaking out into a curtain of night to swirl around her. He slid the kimono off pale shoulders, revealing soft satin skin. Her breasts were high set, firm, her nipples surprisingly dark. The silk trousers joined her kimono in a heap on the floor. Soon, his shirt and trousers joined hers as they met in the age old ritual of men and women.
She straddled him, sweat slick and passionate. He looked up into her face, partially hidden by the curtain of her hair. For just a moment, time froze and he was looking up at another woman with blue-black hair. Dark eyes full of love and desire gazed down at him. Aki. He blinked and the eyes were still dark in the dim light of his room, but it was Beryl who lowered herself to find his lips with hers, not his lost lover.
Jonathan closed his eyes and let the physical sensations take him. He pleased and was pleasured. A distant piece of his mind realized she was just as well schooled as he was in the arts of pleasure. No strings attached. He let himself sink into the world of senses they both knew.
Beryl awoke an hour or so after they exhausted themselves on each other to find herself alone. This was not a normal situation after such an intensity of experience. She sat up and looked around. He'd retrieved his pants, but not his shirt. She slipped out of bed and into her own kimono, then padded silently out of the bedroom. Ah. There he was. The golden glow of the torches illuminated his body. He sat in partial lotus position, eyes closed, hands in traditional posture resting lightly on his knees. Meditation. She smiled. Her eyes traced the lines of the dragon tattooed on his back. Black Dragon, her mind made a connection. Interesting. But not currently on the roster. She knew of no gaijin in the Black Dragons. She would have to research this. It might somehow impact what she was here to do.
She decided it was time to go, finished dressing and let herself out silently. He frowned when he heard the car engine outside. Curious, he came out of his meditations and walked back into the house. There was a small parchment card on his pillow.
"Thank you for a wonderful day and evening."
That was all. No phone number, no room number, nothing else. He felt a let down. The interlude had been special. This was – professional. He went back outside for a while.
Beryl let herself into her hotel room, closing the door behind her and turning on the light. She met the black gaze of Hiroshi Osato, Oyaban of the Tanaka clan of the Yakuza as she turned from the light switch. She let her gaze travel down his immaculately suited figure and back up again. A pity there was a patch of ultra smooth scar tissue on his face, echoed by patches on each of his hands. He had been burned at some point.
She bowed politely, equal to equal, then kicked off her shoes and stood gazing at him silently. He took in her garb, the flow of hair down her back, and wondered why he was bothering to meet with this woman. He did not acknowledge her bow.
"Osato-san," she finally broke the silence. "We are scheduled to meet tomorrow morning – or, later this morning to be accurate. If you have changed your mind, you could have called."
"You were seen with this man," he rumbled. He tossed a photo at her feet.
She looked down incuriously, and looked back up. "I don't know whether to appreciate your – concern – or to dispatch you for intruding in my personal time." She walked across the sitting area to the bedroom. "You will not mind waiting while I change, will you."
It was not a question. The door closed between them. He could hear running water for perhaps 5 minutes. Silence. The door opened again. She wore a black suit, her damp hair swept into an elegant twist on the back of her head, emeralds gleaming at her ears and throat. She came out and sat in a chair opposite him.
"You have a question for me?"
"Why are you seen with this man?"
Beryl smiled, her eyes alight with laughter. She retrieved the photo, a distance shot of Jonathan standing on a balcony overlooking the ocean. She let her eyes linger on him for a moment, then looked up at her guest. "I should think that was obvious. I prefer not to pay quite so obviously for my pleasures, Mr. Osato. Mr. Raven was – to hand. What has this man to do with our negotiations?"
"I want him dead."
"It is not that simple."
"Yes, it is. If you wish him dead, kill him. If you wish to torture him and gloat over the deed, then that is your problem and does not touch on the matters we have to discuss. I would prefer to speak to you when your mind is not clouded by such—trivial matters. I will see you at 10 this morning, Mr. Osato." She rose to her feet, brooking no denial that the meeting was at an end.
He responded instinctively to her assumption of power and rose to his feet as well. Was she expecting him to bow first? He gave her an angry inclination of his head to break the stalemate of wills. She returned the nod, in the manner of a great lord dismissing a vassal. Osato seethed inside, but this was not the time to teach a gaijin bitch her place.
He turned on his heel and strode out of the room leaving Beryl to wonder what lay between her quarry and her amusement.
Beryl walked back into the bedroom of the suite, shedding her suit as she walked. An impish grin curved her lips. For just a moment, she wondered what Osato-san would have thought had he known she wore not a stitch of underwear beneath the sober suit. She slid into bed and picked up her cell phone, punching an autodial number as she did so.
"It's late. This had better be good," a pouty male voice answered on the second ring.
"Paolo, behave yourself or you'll sing soprano."
The man on the other end sat up abruptly, removing his sock clad feet from the surface of his computer desk. "Sorry. What can I do for you, Director?"
"Jonathan Raven. Early to mid thirties. Raised in Japan. Possibly ex-covert. I want his connection to Hiroshi Osato and the Tanaka Clan. Also, any possible connection to the Black Dragon ninjas."
"Black Dragon – yes, Director." He swallowed his protest that the Black Dragons were historical legends. "Time frame?"
She glanced at the small alarm on the bedside table. "It's four am here now. I will see Osato at 10. I want half an hour before the meeting. No later."
"We're on it."
She went to sleep smiling, knowing she would have their secrets before she met with Osato.
Jonathan Raven lay in his bed and stared up into the darkness. He ran over his time with Beryl in his head, trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle nagging at him together. Something lay just beyond his ability to recall, but he had no idea what. Just an island encounter. Or so he told himself as he slipped into sleep.
Blood. Death. Ninjas. Assassinations. Would the dreams never stop? Hadn't the Black Dragon blood paid for that of his parents? When did it end? When?
Hiroshi Osato gazed at his ruined face in the mirror he kept to remind him never to believe there was only his way. The scars were not bad, but he knew them intimately, centimeter by centimeter. He snarled at the photo of Raven and tore it to shreds. Soon. Very soon. First he would teach the fools who spoke to him of power not to send a woman to speak for them. Then he would take Jonathan Raven's head and place it somewhere he could see it every day to remind him of his victory.
Beryl's cell phone rang just as she was stepping into the shower four hours later. "Coltrain."
"Director, we have a problem. Mr. Raven is classified. We haven't secured access yet. Mr. Osato apparently tangled with him about a year and a half to two years ago when the Oyaban tried to muscle his way into a club owned by his cousin, a son of the late clan head. The club burned. Mr. Osato was apparently inside when the fire started. There's some reference to a Japanese assassin involved in the confrontation, but the bodies that came out of the fire were never identified or claimed.
"There appears to have been a second meeting. Mr. Raven is apparently looking for a son he did not know about until after the birth. Mr. Osato is also looking for the boy. And there may be a third party interested. Possibly the Black Dragon Clan.
"Are you aware that someone practically decimated the adult male numbers of the Clan back in the late '70's?" Paolo asked curiously, breaking the professional delivery of his information.
"No,” Beryl replied. “But I'm not surprised. There were some shoddy going's on in the 70's. Go on."
"Mr. Osato apparently blackmailed a young woman – the sister or cousin of the mother of the boy they're looking for – into helping him get to Mr. Raven. The woman and her husband left the islands for Japan a few days later. Mr. Raven returned home undamaged and Mr. Osato seems to have nursed a wound for several weeks before returning to his usual pastimes. Given Mr. Osato's penchant for burning bridges, it is unlikely that he released the husband and wife on his own."
"Good work. Let me know if you manage to un-classify Mr. Raven's past. Let me know where you get stuck if you can't. Coltrain out." Well, well, well. Osato and Raven. A feline grin curved her mouth as she stepped under the running water.
Beryl walked out of the hotel into a waiting limousine. The shining black car moved into traffic. Two of Osato’s men followed it in a non-descript late model sedan. Beryl was aware of her following. She sat back on the leather seat and enjoyed the ride..
The limo pulled up outside of a club. From the name, it seemed to be an “Asians only” sort of place, but she could be wrong. She stepped out into the bright Honolulu sunshine and looked around, directly at the sedan carrying Osato’s men. She smiled behind her sunglasses and walked into the club: a slim file in her hand.
Hiroshi Osato sat behind a sleek ebony desk, his face shadowed. He did not rise when she entered, but sat, watching her. Beryl decided to ignore the studied incivility. Part of it was cultural. Part of it was Osato’s own animosity because of the Raven meeting. She stopped directly in front of him and stood, waiting.
Silence stretched out between them. It was customary for the host to greet a guest. Osato’s continued silence and seated posture indicated his disdain for his guest. The green eyes began to glitter in her pale face. If he wanted to play it this way, there were other clans in the islands, native clans. Beryl smiled. It was a wickedly amused smile. “Very well, Mr. Osato. I can see that you have no interest in what my people have to offer,” she said softly. “My apologies for having wasted your time – and ours.” The last words were shards of ice.
“Your people send a woman to insult me –“
She laughed, cutting him off. “My people wasted my time sending me to a child who plays at being oyaban,” she snapped back. “A “boy” who plays at being a lord.” Her face was now an alabaster mask of disdain. The gun in her hand kept him from moving. Her hand was delicately made and rock steady wrapped around the .38 automatic she held trained on his heart.
He resisted the urge to react, knowing that she held the upper hand. “Kill me, and you will not leave here.”
Beryl smiled again, a stretch of the mouth that did not come close to lighting her eyes. “Kill you? Why would I kill you? Write your name on the wind? Make you a homeless spirit forever wandering on the shores of Ana no Mori? Just you? Waste of time. However,” she set the file in her hand on the desk and reached into the pocket of her suit coat, pulling out a small black object that looked like a wireless remote car key. “your clan – all of it here – Now that would be an impressive demonstration of what I can do for the next oyaban I approach, wouldn’t it?”
Staring into her eyes, he knew she meant it. She would allow nothing to stand in her way, not the death of every man he had, not the destruction of all he had built here. Slowly, he rose to his feet. Standing, he gave her a respectful bow, equal to equal, no more than that. “Show me your plan, Coltrain-san.”
She regarded him steadily for a moment, then returned the bow, pocketing the remote detonation device and the gun. “Wisdom, Osato-sama. I believe you will find our offer – both profitable and assuring of the Tanaka Clan’s place in the Yakuza hierarchy, here and at home.”
Osato opened the folder and read the four pages outlining the exact degree of involvement expected form the Tanaka Clan, and the rewards to be reaped. His eyes widened slightly as he read. In exchange for the services of the clan, at call, the islands of Hawaii would be his to exploit, within reason. Within three years he would have the power base built in the islands to back his return to Japan, to become a power among the Yakuza clans – to become * the * power among the Yakuza.
His eyes lifted from the paper and he realized that both he and the woman were still standing. He gestured for her to be seated, and returned to his own seat. “You have – ambitious plans, --“
“Beryl,” she cut in. “I suspect that continuing to refer to me by my patronymic would wear on one in time. Too much of a mouthful, Osato-san.”
The beginnings of a smile curved his mouth. “As you wish. Such familiarity will give rise to speculation.”
She gave an unconcerned shrug of the shoulders to indicate her complete unconcern. “Let them. The less those outside of this room know, the better. Can you work with me?”
He let the silence grow as he really looked at her. There was power here, power she had worked for and achieved within an organization about which he had heard rumors and knew very little. She was ruthless, as she had just demonstrated. He had no doubt that the item in her hand would have detonated an explosion powerful enough to take out all his people in the building. And she knew enough about the Japanese culture to threaten a fate even modern men would not wish to face. Not just destruction, but erasure from memory. As long as one was remembered, one lived on. This was why ancestors were still worshipped in his homeland; why shrines to those who had passed on still existed in most homes. Small shrines that took little room; small shrines that frequently were for form’s sake only, but always there.
He nodded slowly. “It will not be – easy. Women do not rise to power in Yakuza clans – not easily.”
That got a true smile. “Women do not rise to power easily anywhere, Osato-sama. Any more than men of true vision do. I think together we will go much farther than we will apart. What else troubles you?”
“What about him?”
“He has caused me much dishonor. Twice he has caused me to lose face.”
“Tell me about him.”
Osato blinked at that. He thought for a moment, then nodded. He gave her a short version of his first encounter with Jonathan Raven, including his attempt to kill his cousin and the cousin’s daughter to gain control of the nightclub that had subsequently burned down.
She laughed. His face grew stormy. “You find it amusing?”
“I think he thought his way around you. Besides, there was really no reason to kill your cousin and his daughter, you let your temper get away from you. Not a good idea if you wish to succeed.”
“If Raven had not interfered, my cousin would still be running his club, for me.”
“If Raven had not interfered, your cousin’s daughter would be dead and there would be a feud between you. Tanaka Clan would be tearing itself apart because of the two of you. You let your anger get the best of you. Not a good idea. Raven bested you because your plan was flawed.”
“My plan --- “ He considered her comment. Perhaps she was right.
“If you’re going to insist on following your obsession, we have nothing further to discuss.” She reached for the file.
His hand came down on the file hard. Eyes like green glass met black eyes like pits. “I have not made up my mind, yet.”
She smiled, a stretch of her mouth that owed nothing to good humor or amusement. “The offer is pending, Mr. Osato. I have no need of a loose cannon among my people, neither do my superiors.”
“Who * are * these superiors?” Somewhere there was a man he could intimidate.
“At this point in the negotiations, none of your business. You will deal with me, or there will be no deal.”
“Perhaps there will be no deal because I do not wish to work for a woman.”
Beryl leaned closer across the desk. “Then you are a fool. You turn away from the power and control you desire because one man has bested you twice in confrontations and because a woman brings you the plan which will put you where you want to be. I do not deal with fools, Osato. You will never control the islands, you will never see Japan again, you will never be more than an annoyance to Jonathan Raven. You have already lost.”
Madness flickered in the depths of Osato's eyes. Hers held steady. He sensed no fear in the woman facing him. That, of itself, was odd. Everyone around him feared Osato. He looked down and opened the file. Beryl straightened. Hurdle one cleared.
There were only four sheets of paper in the folder, but they were enough. They held a clear, well articulated plan for taking over the underworld in Hawaii, both controlling it and cleaning it up. This was paired with a plan for returning to Japan and taking control of all Yakuza clans on the main island, followed by the absorption of or extermination of, those clans based on other islands. Within ten years, whoever Beryl backed would hold control of all the Yakuza clans remaining alive. It was an incredible plan, and it was workable.
Osato looked up at her. She had perched on the edge of his desk, waiting. “This is your plan?”
“Why the Tanaka Clan?”
“The clan is young, strong and not so steeped in foolish traditions that it cannot accept new ideas. These ideas are very new to the Yakuza way. But they will succeed.”
“No longer of concern to you or your men. If he is a threat when you are not actively pursuing him, he will be dealt with. If not, he may continue to exist. I do not care.”
Osato considered killing the woman and utilizing her plan, which was a good one. Something in the calm green eyes told him he would be unwise to attempt to do so.
Beryl grinned up at him. “And we are waiting for?” she asked as she turned to look toward a broad shouldered older man moving toward them.
“A friend of mine, Herman Jablonski. Ski, this is -"
"Ski?" The tone was one of wondering recognition.
Ski looked uncertain as he took in the woman's face. He frowned. "Beryl? Beryl Coltrain? Damn, I ain't seen you -- "
"In a long time," she finished for him. "They told me you didn't make it out." She looked him up and down appreciatively, stirring little green-eyed things in Jonathan's psyche. "I'm glad you did." She moved into his arms and kissed the man before he quite knew what was happening.
Ski surrendered to the enjoyment of the armful of old - er - friend, oblivious to the look he was getting from his newer friend. They broke for air. Ski looked a bit glazed.
"Well, you certainly haven't lost your touch." Her voice was throaty with enjoyment.
"I - take it you know each other," Jonathan observed.
Beryl turned to face him, only partially disengaging from Ski's arms. "Oh, dear." She grinned at him. "Yes. We met - in a number of places," she told him, her grin broadening with mischief. "But, as I said, I was told he didn't make it out of Vietnam his last tour there. I guess it's a good thing I didn't go looking for his name on the monument, isn't it?"
"Yes." How the hell was he supposed to take this? All right, the lady had not indicated she was interested in anything more than a few days of fun in the sun, that Hawaii was not her normal habitat and that she was not in the market for soul stirrings. Still - Ski?
"And how does this effect - us?" she added softly. "I don't know. That rather depends on the two of you, doesn't it?" She slid out of Ski's arms and retrieved her purse, sunglasses and car keys. She looked from one man to the other and smiled. "I have some things to do. Sort it out between you. I have no problems keeping company with both of you, but if that's a problem - well, I don't chose. Either. Both. Neither. It's up to you. I'll be at BK's at about 4pm."
Beryl walked out with a saucy swing of her hips calculated to call to the blood of any man not 3/4 dead and buried. Ski looked at Jonathan. Jonathan looked at Ski. Ski looked worried. After about four minutes of silence, Jonathan grinned and broke into a laugh, shaking his head.
"She's good. Why don't you have a beer and tell me about her."
"You ain't gonna believe me," came the rusty reply.
"I'm not sure * I'm * gonna believe me. Where's that beer?"
Ski raided the refrigerator and tried to marshal his thoughts. Beryl Coltrain had been a deep covert agent in 'nam. His first. Special Ops. She had been sweet tempered, giving, and ungodly deadly. He'd only crossed her path by accident. And she hadn't looked a day older here at Jon's place wrapping her mouth over his and curling his toes again.
Ski downed about half the bottle as he walked out to the back yard where Jonathan was doing some serious kata work. He watched the man move, marveling at the limber, suppleness of the lean form. The man moved like a cat with felt boots. Silent. Deadly. Concentrated.
Ski let his thoughts wander backward. Beryl at the bar, pretending to be a B-girl. A good time whore in a bar in Saigon where no good little American girl would be. Clad in a body hugging Vietnamese dress that left little of her slim, high-breasted figure to the imagination, he'd been taken with her right off the bat. Something in the sinuous way she moved attracted him. Then he saw the green eyes and knew this was trouble. There are no green eyed Oriental girls, except the various animal spirits of legends. Chinese and Japanese Fox or Cat spirits, who show up as beautiful women, seduce men and are either major problems or major loves.
Didn't stop him from walking over and plopping his ass down on the barstool next to her.
She swiveled the stool seat to take a look at the lonely GI next to her. She'd grinned at him, her eyes twinkling. Apparently she liked what she saw. "Hello, GI Joe," she shot back in a perfect imitation of the Vietnamese accent. "My name Mai Ling. You like?"
"Yeah, I like."
The smile broadened, yet he could see the laughter in her eyes, as though she was inviting him to share the joke, whatever it was. "Soldier Boy buy Mai Ling drink?"
Oh, she had the patter down pat, including eventually inquiring if he'd like to purchase her company for a "long time" or a "short time". Why the hell he'd said "long" he'd never quite figured out, except he wanted to know who she was - who she really was. Had that ever been a mistake. Oh, yes. A mistake he wouldn't have missed for the world, disregarding that it nearly got his head blown off by his own people and his body seriously blown apart by the opposition.
Watching Jonathan work and thinking back to his introduction to Beryl, it suddenly clicked that they were a lot alike. Both moved like martial arts were an inborn trait. Both had been covert. Both - "Oh, hell," he muttered into his beard and downed the rest of the beer.
Jonathan, concentrating on the flow of his practice, heard the muttered comment and wondered what had prompted it. He wondered where all this would take them. He did not want to give up what he had started. He suspected that Ski was not going to want to back away, not after that kiss. Where did that leave them?
He finished up, bowed respectfully to the East and turned his attention to Ski who was sitting on the edge of his porch watching him thoughtfully. An empty bottle sat beside him. Jonathan walked over and sat down in the grass. He watched Ski's face for a few moments, wondering where his memories were taking him. Ski came back and met his friend's gaze squarely.
"I don't have a clue where this is going," he started.
"Maybe if you tell me where it's been?"
"Yeah. Y'know, the two of you are one hell of a lot alike on some levels. Honor. Duty. Right. Wrong. Though it's sometimes difficult to know which way y'all are thinking it."
"That was enlightening," Jonathan commented with a smile. He had recognized the undercurrent of danger with her, now he had a basis for his feeling. "Try specifics?"
Surprisingly, with very little embellishment of his own involvement, Ski did tell him the specifics. He'd found himself in over his head very quickly. Beryl was playing Chinese agents against Vietnamese underground against US interest against some shadowy organization he never did quite manage to unravel. Two missing US nukes and a French proto type managed not to fall into the wrong hands and got returned to their respective governments without the two governments seeming any the wiser. And all that in the space of a 48-hour leave in Saigon, minus about three hours.
"Ski, you're making it sound like a bad movie plot."
"I know. You shoulda been there. By the time we were through, if that guy who played James Bond had walked in on us, I woulda took in stride. It was crazy. And that was just the first time."
"The - you got involved with her two more times?"
"Yeah. I went through Special Forces training after the first time. Seemed somebody recommended me for my brains. I got through the training and went back to 'nam. About a year later this red haired wench showed up and grabbed me with a very cryptic "you're needed" and off I went. Took a couple of days that time to figure out it was her again, she was masqueradin' as a Russian assassin. Third time was just before things ended. She was in that mess in Saigon while we were pullin' out. That one I have no idea what was going on. I saw her long enough to help put about 60 people on transport heading out of Saigon toward the coast. She had a bag full of passports, all stamped and ready to go. Lost track of her. Couple of bombs went off and I got knocked down and out for an hour or so. I guess that's why she thought I didn't make it."
"You were startled when you saw her."
"Yeah. I look in the mirror, Jonathan. I know what I looked like then and what I look like now. I got gray hair and I've put on weight and-and I swear she don't look a day older than she did when I met her."
"Some people age well."
"No, I mean it. She ain't aged at all."
"You're sure it's her?" Jonathan was beginning to get suspicious again.
"Yeah. Can't fake a kiss like that."
That got a laugh. "No. I don't suppose one could." He had his own memories of her kiss, among other things.
"Yeah." Ski colored slightly. He had no doubt that Jonathan and Beryl had shared sack time. There was a part of him that wondered if she was as - enthralling, as he had found her. But he really didn't want to ask.
"Well. I guess - that - "
"Ain't neither one of us willing to be noble about this," Ski cracked with a grin.
"No." Short, succinct, agreement. Jonathan's dark eyes met Ski's crinkled blue. "And she refuses to make the choice."
"Yep. This ain't gonna be easy. - She say how long she's gonna be here?"
"No. She said she has business and that she's got a couple of days before she has to deal with it."
"Amusin' herself. Dang. She ain't serious about either one of us."
Ski shot a look at his friend who declined to meet his eyes. Oh - oh. Not good. "You ain't - I mean -"
The younger man got to his feet abruptly and strode over to the deck he had built overlooking the ocean. Ski's voice followed him, sounding worried. He looked back at his friend. "I don't know, Ski. I don't know. She's - " he looked away, trying to find some inspiration for the words within. "I find her very attractive. She's comfortable to be around. I don't get a feeling of games, although from what you're saying, games are a part of her. I know it's just a - a fling for her; a distraction; but that doesn't keep me from feeling more."
"Oh, hell. Jonathan, you can't afford to fall for Beryl. I can guarantee that."
"I know. Look, I'll back off. You've known her before, you can - Go meet her tonite."
"All right." Ski turned and started to leave, but something stopped him. He half turned back. "Y'know. There's safety in numbers," he pointed out. "I mean - we could just have some fun and not - worry about anything more?"
Jonathan turned to look at him, a quizzical look crossing his face. "Just dinner and a walk on the beach and talk?"
"Well, yeah. That'd keep her amused and us outta trouble." Oh, hell. Had he gone too far? He relaxed when Jonathan started to laugh.
"All right. That should throw the lady nicely off stride."
He re-evaluated his thoughts on that when they arrived. Beryl was dressed in a one-shouldered black silk sheath, slit to the hip on one side. Her blue-black hair cascaded down her back. A single solitaire emerald, square cut, twinkled in the hollow of her throat, suspended on a thin silver chain. Her eyes were smoky green, outlined in smudged black to give them a faintly oriental cast. Her makeup was underplayed. She smiled to see both of them and raised the heat three or four degrees.
The sat down, both giving her admiring glances. One of the waitresses brought the usual for the gentlemen. Beryl already had a drink in front of her. She sipped it as she waited for one of them to open the conversation.
"You going somewhere?"
She laughed. "I got an invitation to a stuffy consular party this evening. Care to come along and keep me from getting too bored?" The invitation included both of them.
"What time?" Jonathan inquired.
"Seven or so. The usual raft of international celebs and wannabes and diplomatic types."
"You gotta go?"
"It would be wise of me to do so. Some of my business contacts will find it - more alluring to do business with me if I show up at such functions."
"What - exactly - do you do?"
She grinned at Jonathan. "Good question. I supervise. I'm a cross between an Executive, Executive Secretary and Acquisitions. I facilitate skill mergers."
"Something like a professional headhunter, I believe the term is."
"Something like. Although more along the lines of locating entire organizations of small size to do things for organizations of large size, preferably without gobbling up the small one."
"Interesting. And what brings you to Hawaii?"
She met his eyes directly and smiled. "A small Lear Jet."
For a moment he was nonplussed by her answer. Ski's laugh jarred him out of his incomprehension. He frowned for a moment, then smiled. "Too prying?"
"By half. Sorry, but the job is considered critical and hush-hush until it's a fait accompli. Now, it's my turn to ask. How the hell did the two of you manage to become friends? Not that I am ignorant of Ski's many fine characteristics, but - the two of you just seem like the odd couple, if you won't take offense at my saying so."
Neither man took offense and they happily concocted a story to satisfy her, each man knowing that she wasn't believing a word of it. They ordered a bite to eat, discussed possible excursions to non-tourist haunted areas of the island and easily passed the time until the two men needed to go change for the consulate party. Beryl considered giving the party a miss and distracting each of them for a while. But, no. She had an obligation to attend this party.
They arrived a fashionable fifteen minutes late. Beryl, flanked by two of the most attractive men in the area, paused just inside the entrance. The effect was all she could have wished. Amid the whirl of colors worn by the other women present, Beryl was a striking figure, her pale skin white against the black of the silk. Her legs were bare of stockings, flashing through the skirt long slit as she walked. The trio turned heads as they moved into the room.
One of those head belonged to the current head of the Tanaka Clan of Yakuza in Hawaii. Hiroshi Osato turned to see who had entered. He froze. Raven. Here. His eyes flickered over the hefty older man and the woman with him. The fool who worked with Raven was easily dismissed. But the woman. Time seemed to stop for a moment. He frowned. The woman's face was familiar, although he was more used to seeing her with her hair pulled away from the chiseled face. What was that fool woman doing with his enemy?
As the trio circulated through the crowd, Osato moved to intercept them. He despised these parties, but they brought him valuable contacts from time to time. Tonight, he moved like the dangerous animal he was. The diplomats and their entourages parted around him, until he came face to face with Ms. Coltrain and her companions. He greeted Beryl with an incline of the head, never taking his eyes off Jonathan, who returned the favor. Ski scanned the area for cover.
"Ms. Coltrain. How nice to see you here. I was not aware that you moved in such - circles."
"Mr. Osato. How kind of you to greet me," came the brightly brittle response. Her mouth stretched in a welcoming smile. Her eyes were like chips of green ice, colder and harder than the emerald at her throat. What the hell did the man mean by accosting her here? Was he attempting to show that his "class" was acceptable to her superiors? Or was there something else?
His eyes, like black pits in his scarred face, seemed to stay focused on Jonathan. Beryl's gaze flickered to her companion and back to Osato. Wonderful. The two men seemed to have "issues", as the current pop psychobabble promoters called them. This wasn't just two tomcats squaring off over a female or territory, this ran deep. With an internal sigh, she wondered of which one it would be more expedient to dispose.
"Do you come on your own invitation? Or on your companion's?" the soft guttural voice hissed.
The finely arched eyebrows rose, her gaze grew hot. "It is considered polite in European and American circles to keep your eyes on the person to whom you speak," she shot back. "Since your first comment was addressed to me, am I to now understand that you address my companion?"
The tone drew the attention of both men. Ski scooped two glasses of champagne off a tray and handed one to Beryl. If he was gonna die tonight, at least he would do it attempting to present a proper front. The remote, chiseled face softened as her gaze met his. She accepted the glass and turned back to the tomcats. Icy amusement. "Well, if the two of you * must * act like a couple of adolescent tom cats fighting over their first female, I suppose I can pretend to enjoy it. Jonathan Raven, may I present Mr. Hiroshi Osato, Tanaka Clan, Yakuza."
Oh, that got their attention but good. Both men were now focused on Beryl wondering what she would do next. Something really cold with lots of hooks on its taloned feet took up residence in the neighborhood of Jonathan's faltering heartbeat. A near relative was flapping around inside Ski's chest cavity as he handed off one glass and grabbed another, a smile pasted to his face.
"Mr. Raven," Osato grated, smiling and nodding, his eyes glaring daggers at his two time nemesis and hated enemy.
"Mr. Osato, I present my companion for the evening, Mr. Jonathan Raven, and a * very * old friend, Mr. Herman Jablonski." Her gaze was daring him to do anything other than accept the introductions.
He glared back and nodded to the two men who returned the nods stiffly. "Two escorts?"
"My appetites are known to be - hearty." Ski choked on his champagne as the green gaze wandered over Osato and seemed to only just notice the lack of a lady in his vicinity. "Did you come to see me tonight, thinking I might not have found an escort? How kind of you, Mr. Osato."
Jonathan was beginning to catch undercurrents other than his own. The woman was baiting Osato. Did she have - of course, she did. Had she not just quietly informed him that the man was Yakuza? What game was she playing? And how did she think he and Ski would fit into it?
Her gaze turned from Osato to someone past his shoulder. She smiled what looked like a genuine smile at a grizzled Admiralty type. Her attention came back to Osato. "You will excuse me, Rear Admiral Hyde-Parthington is an old friend of the family. I must say hello." She slid her arm through Jonathan's, set down her glass and caught Ski's free arm as well. "Mr. Osato," she acknowledged him with a slight inclination of her head, and dismissed him at the same time as they moved away.
Apparently, she * was * known to the Rear Admiral who greeted her with a hearty buss on the cheek and a hug. He wanted to know what she was doing in Hawaii and how her sister was and he apparently knew her entire family. It took half an hour to extricate herself from his clutches.
"Old friend of the family," Ski noted.
"Oh, yes. And why I have to run into the long winded, incredible steel trap minded old annoyance at just about every embassy party I go to, I have no idea. I think they ship him around to keep him out of trouble. Well, I think we've done enough damage and damage control for one night, shall we go?"
"Yes!" was Ski's heartfelt answer.
"If you're ready." Jonathan's voice was - cold, to say the least. There was a dark place inside him that was trying very, very hard to overwhelm his carefully established controls. He wanted answers, he wanted them yesterday and he wasn't entirely certain he didn't want to find a cliff to drop the woman off. Preferably one with lots of nasty sharp rocks at the bottom.
She let it go until they were in Jonathan's jeep. She let him drive and seethe for a few minutes, then reached over and turned the car off, causing him to have to find a place to park before they became a traffic hazard.
He turned to face her, his eyes practically all black and angry ice. "My keys."
"Not yet. Ski; take a short walk, please. I think you're friend is very, very angry with me and I suspect your presence is keeping him from venting his wrath."
She turned to look at Ski and smiled. Warm. Human. Melting. Oh, hell. "Please. I'll be fine. Honest."
He clambered out of the back seat and took a short stroll down to the nearby beach where he kicked off his shoes and sat in the sand, probably ruining the borrowed tux.
Beryl turned back to Jonathan. "Now. Where were we? Oh, yes. Your keys and your temper tantrum." For a fraction of a moment, she thought she'd pushed just a little too hard and too far. There wasn't much maneuvering room in the front seat of the jeep to avoid an attack if one came.
Jonathan sat on his desire to dispose of this woman and sat on it hard. First he needed to know what kind of game she was playing and why. He caught her left wrist in his hand. Her pulse jumped under his fingers, then steadied. "Who are you?"
"I think we've been over this ground before. Beryl Coltrain. Businesswoman. Tourist. Randy bitch."
Rock steady. Not a skip, not an acceleration, nothing. "What was that all about? How do you know Osato?"
"Well, not biblically - yet," she answered the latter question first. "Mr. Osato may be of use to my employers. I don't know yet."
"Use? He's Yakuza," he shot back, as though she had not already introduced the man as a clan leader.
"Your point is?" She laughed softly and shook her head. "Look, I don't know what's between the two of you, but it has no bearing on you and me or tonight. It's obvious the two of you have - what's the current term? Issues? But it doesn't concern me."
"It concerns me."
"Oh. Well, then I suppose we should part as amicably as possible when I get out of the jeep at your place. Or would you prefer I get out now?"
Her pulse was still even, not a hint of acceleration, of fear, of - dammit. He let her wrist go. "What are you doing in the islands?" he asked again.
"I told you. I'm looking at a few small organizations to do some work for a larger one."
"What kind of work?"
"The kind you really don't want to know about, Jonathan Raven."
Their eyes met in the darkness. Her face was a pale oval in the light from the quarter moon, yet he could tell she was serious. Shock. She was protecting him? What was she? "Ski!" he yelled.
The man on the beach scrambled to his feet and came back to the Jeep. Well, they were still sitting in the front seats. That was a good sign. He clambered into the back. "Y'all through?"
Ouch. Ski almost sighed, and didn't. He hadn't thought it was a good idea for his friend to get entangled with her anyway. The rest of the drive was silent except for the wind in their hair. Beryl hardly waited for the jeep to come to a stop before she was out of the vehicle and walking away. Ski suddenly realized she had left her own vehicle at BKs.
"Beryl! Wait up!" He shot an apologetic look at Jonathan who was frowning. "She ain't got a car here," he pointed out. "I'm just gonna run her back to BK's."
"All right. Be careful."
"Of course. What else am I gonna be?"
He climbed into his own venerable Caddy and cruised after the woman who was only regretting the several mile walk in heels a very little bit. "Y'all need a ride somewhere?"
For a moment, she considered refusing. Then she looked around and saw not only the man he was now, but the man he had been in Saigon. Her face softened, she smiled and nodded. "High heels do great things for a woman's ass as she walks away from you, but they are not built for long walks." She got in and closed the door behind her, sliding across the bench seat to sit next to him. "Can you still drive one handed?" she whispered saucily. She was rewarded with a laugh and a warm arm around her shoulders.
Instead of collecting her car, they went to the hotel where she was staying. If the desk found anything amiss with her barefoot arrival and his somewhat disheveled tie, they were polite to a fault and said nothing about it. She stopped and ordered wine and food to meet them at the room and led him into the elevator. The night was young yet.
If he was surprised that she had a suite, he didn't show it. He sat and waited patiently while she disappeared into the bedroom and changed out of the silk gown into something more comfortable.
She laughed as she said it. "How trite. And untrue. But this one's expensive and not as easy to get out of as it looks. Back in a moment."
She returned as room service knocked. Her long legs were bare under an oversized silk shirt. She rolled the cuffs up and seemed to have neglected to make certain it was buttoned up. He caught glimpses of bra and creamy breasts as she moved. Damn, but she could still move him. He felt his trousers getting tight as he watched her move. She brought the trolley over and then sat opposite him on the curve of the overstuffed sectional. She poured the wine and handed him a glass. It wasn't his usual fare, but he wasn't going to object, not when she apparently had something other than old times and good food on her mind.
By the time dinner was finished, she'd removed his tie, gotten him out of the tight fitting tux coat and was busily unbuttoning his shirt to run her fingers through the soft matt of hair on his chest. Surprisingly, he was the only really furry man of whom she had felt this fond. She slid out of the shirt she wore. Oh, man. Black lace and black silk - and not a lot of either. She slipped onto his lap, straddling him, leaning against him and their mouths met.
Mmmmm. He still tasted good to her. Spice and musk and male through the aftertaste of the wine. Peripherally, she was aware of someone outside the door. Damn it, if she had to deal with an interruption now, she was inclined to just shoot it, stuff it in the closet and worry about it later. The presence eased away. Good. Now, to concentrate on the - oh, wow - the - um - yeah. Damn, he was impressive. They slid together like parts of a machine that are made to fit. She groaned in pleasure, as did he. Oh - man - was this --- space wrecking - good!
Beryl had known many men in her long life. A few stood out in her memories. Ski was reminding her just exactly why he was one of them. He was considerate, he took his time, he made certain - oh heavens~! - that his partner was - satisfied - and he had an incredible amount of stamina. Damn, how the hell had she let him get away? Oh, yeah, right. She'd thought he was dead. And, uh, wasn't he - uh - er - here thought train - oh, there you are. What was she - oh yes - married. Hadn't he been? Somewhere along the line? All thought of anything other than the golden bear in her arms and between her legs dribbled away in a golden fog for a while.
Much later, she snuggled into him in infinitely satisfied smugness. She gazed at him sleepily. Yes. He was smiling. Good. She wrapped an arm possessively over him, laid her head on his shoulder and slept.