GORILLA REVIEW – Introduction To Kokoro

Rather than put together a traditional synopsis we like to introduce novels by quoting their prologue. What follows is the prologue to the novel, Kokoro.  If you like the mystery of the orient, combined with fiction interwoven with real history and a dose of martial arts thrown in for good measure, chances are you will enjoy, Kokoro.

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Tokyo, Japan, February 10, 1986

 Junko followed the stretch Mercedes limo down off the elevated Narita expressway and merged with the crush of traffic on the surface streets of Shinjuku. She was a private investigator with a specialty in surveillance; an unusual profession for a female even in modern Japan. But then Junko was no ordinary woman. She was the only child of an ancient samurai family, and her father had raised her as though she were the son he never had.

Schooled in Europe, and taught to think for herself, Junko was neither submissive nor willing to abandon her own independent thought processes. As a result, she had been effectively “ruined” as a Japanese wife and, at the age of 28, she remained unmarried with no likely prospects on the horizon. But it didn’t matter to Junko. At the moment she was making her own way in a purely male-dominated society. Maybe someday, when it pleased her instead of the men around her, she would return to Europe and search for the husband she could not find in her own country.

Downshifting, Junko allowed a large truck to pull in between her and the limo she was following. She was keenly aware of her employer’s desire she not be detected and here, in the stop-and-go traffic of the city streets, there was a distinct possibility she might be noticed. So she hung back, following the limo from a distance, as the dark shadows of Shinjuku Central Park passed on her left. On the right, in strange counter point to the park’s darkness, shone the bright lights of greater Shinjuku.

Junko lit a Mild Seven cigarette and tried to relax. The video monitor mounted low on her dashboard gave a warm glow to the darkened interior of the small Nissan. The graphic display was an experimental map system being tested by some of the larger cab companies to ease the problems of driving in a city where the majority of the streets were unnamed and there were no systematic methods of addressing. The electronics were interesting and, on occasions like the present, Junko found the device to be useful.

The limo turned right onto Ohme-Kaido avenue and headed for the heart of the gaming district. Junko quickly snubbed out her cigarette and shifted the map display to show the streets ahead. In the past her quarry had demonstrated a penchant for the theater. Would he go there again tonight?

The big limo passed beneath the Chuo line overpass and onto Yasukuni-Dori Avenue, but instead of turning left toward the Koma theater, as she thought it might, it continued on a few blocks and turned right into the Isetan Kaikan store complex. Good, Junko smiled, we’re going to do something different.

The Mercedes stopped behind the huge department store and Junko pulled over to the curb a half block away to wait. Nothing happened, so she lit another Mild Seven and rolled down her window. With all of her concentration focused on her quarry Junko failed to see the dark figure that detached itself from the side of a nearby building and moved toward her car. In fact, she didn’t even feel the fist that slammed into the side of her head just above her right eye.

“What is your name!”

The voice filtered into Junko’s consciousness as she struggled to open her eyes. Something was seriously wrong. The right side of her face felt like it was on fire and her eye wouldn’t open.

“More water!” the voice commanded. “She’s coming around.”

A torrent of cold water struck Junko in the face. Shocked into awareness she opened her good eye and the dimly lit room spun sickeningly. She suddenly realized she was hanging by her hands from the ceiling.

“Wake up!” the same voice yelled.

Junko tried to focus on the speaker as he passed her field of vision. He was an extremely large man, big enough to be a sumo wrestler.

Someone grabbed Junko by the hips and stopped her slow spinning.

“Tie her feet together, I don’t want her kicking once we get started.” The voice came from a second man seated in a darkened corner of the room.

The big man grabbed Junko’s ankles, looped a heavy cord around them, then ran the cord through a ring in the floor beneath her feet. With a grunt he pulled the cord tight and Junko immediately felt an increase in the pain in her wrists. Glancing up with her good eye she saw she was hanging from an ancient bolt mounted in a ceiling beam.

The big man stepped back and surveyed his work. Satisfied, he grinned widely disclosing a collection of yellowed and broken teeth.

“What is your name?” the man in the corner shadows asked.

Junko disregarded the question and looked around the room. There were no windows, and the only light came from a single low-wattage bulb hanging from the ceiling almost directly above her. Except for the chair in which her questioner sat, there was no furniture and the only door appeared to be made of metal.

The big man stepped forward and looked directly into Junko’s good eye as if studying her.

The man seated in the shadows said, “I am going to ask you some questions and I expect them to be answered truthfully. When you do not answer a question, my assistant will cause you great pain. I must warn you, he is quite experienced at this, and I fear he enjoys his work.”

Junko blinked and tried to clear her vision.

“What is your name?” the questioner asked.

When Junko remained silent, the big man reached into his jacket and removed what looked like a large black cigarette case. He then opened it and held it so that she could see its contents. The case was filled with long gleaming needles.

“Like you I am a professional and I have an assignment to accomplish.” The questioner said as he struck a match to light a cigarette. “I have not been instructed to cause you pain, and therefore will do so only if you force me. Now, please tell me your true name.”

In the flare of the match Junko saw that the man was missing half of the little finger on his left hand.

When she didn’t answer, the questioner’s assistant selected a needle from his black case and set the case down on the floor. Then, with a surprisingly quick movement he tore away Junko’s skirt, exposing her legs. He studied the rippling muscles of her thighs for a moment before he grabbed her left leg just above the knee in a vise-like grip. The needle in his right hand was poised above the brown skin of her leg.

“Yamada,” Junko blurted out her cover name.

“Wrong,” the questioner sighed. “Your true name is Ishido, Junko Ishido, and you are employed by the Asahi Investigative Agency. “Please do not lie to us.”

The questioner nodded silently to his assistant and the big man slowly pushed the needle into Junko’s thigh. She endured the pain without expression until the tip of the metal instrument found the bone. The pain grew exponentially and Junko bit through her lower lip causing blood to run down her chin. Encouraged, the big man wiggled the needle causing its sharpened tip to scrape against the femur. Junko’s good eye teared, but she maintained her silence. Finally, the big man stepped back and picked up another needle.

“Very good, Junko,” the questioner said. “I am impressed. But sadly, in the end, your bravery will be wasted. No one knows you are here and we can do what we want with you, for as long as we want. Now please make it easy on yourself and give me the name of your client.”

Junko spit out blood that had accumulated in her mouth and shook her head in the negative. In her mind the fact that she was going to die was now a foregone conclusion. All that remained for her was , the performance of duty. To fail in her duty would only bring bad with her into the next life.

The questioner snubbed out his cigarette and nodded again to his assistant who approached with a second needle. As the big man worked, the questioner lit another cigarette and waited patiently as the agonized woman twisted and jerked in the ropes. Somehow Junko maintained her silence.

The big man stepped back and picked up another needle. He then wiped the sweat from his upper lip with a forearm. What had started out as an interesting bit of torture was quickly becoming unnerving work. The woman was far stronger than he had imagined, and she had unwittingly gained his respect. There was very little honor in what they were doing. He looked at his boss for direction.

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