She walked out of the airport doors, wearing a lovely red dress. Her hair was long and tied back in a pony tail, and her lovely gold eyes skimmed the roads and streets. People, bustling like busy ants, to and from the doors and parking lot, they seemed to give her little inclination or care. She pulled along her two suitcases, searching for the man to receive her. Her raven black hair swished behind her and her heeled shoes clicked on the steps with each step she took. Her patience was beginning to run thing, until at last she saw a man standing at the bottom of the stairs, by a long black car. He had up a sign that read “Oichi Taiga.” Her name, emblazoned upon its white surface beckoned to her like a light in a stormy sea. She approached the man and he lowered the sign.
“Are you Oichi?” He asked.
“Yes, I am.” She replied, politely. He seemed a bit surprised by the fluency of her response. Her native language was, after all, Japanese. However, she'd made it her mission to become as immersed in the language and ways of America. As she gave a bow, she took note of the mans attire vs what the driver of the vehicle was wearing. She was not impressed. While this gentleman was wearing a white button down suit with an overcoat, the driver of the vehicle was wearing a shirt far too long for his body, baggy pants, and a hairdo that made Oichi feel sick. Both men were black in skin color, but both were incredibly different in manner and in attitude. It didn’t take much for Oichi to guess who she would take more to. The respectable man gave a gesture to get in the car, as Oichi climbed in calmly.
“Welcome to New Mercia.” He sighed. He sat down in the seat next to her and leaned forward. “Start driving.” The man up front grunted and started pulling away from the airport. The inside of the car stank of weed and something she rather didn’t want to think about.
“We’ll be meeting Boss Hamen in a while. He’s in the meeting of an important business meeting.” The respectful man explained. “My name is Mason…I’m to be your guide and retainer.”
“Nice to meet you, Mason.” Oichi replied.
“So, from what I gather…you’re from Kyoto, Japan. Your father was a….I’m sorry my Japanese isn’t that great.”
“Waka gashira.” Oichi replied. “Think of it as a second in command.”
“What does it mean?”
“…Just…second in command.” Oichi replied. She didn’t feel the urge to explain it. Just bringing up her father seemed to drain the patience out of her. Considering she was only here because of him…for HIS sake.
The Aizukotetsu-kai…the fourth largest Yakuza family in Japan, wasn’t technically a family itself but actually a federation of over a hundred smaller families and organizations within the yakuza who required this unity to maintain power. Her family, the Saruto-gumi, was only a small family within its ranks, but her father had been a respected lieutenant in the Aizukotetsu, making it all the way up to the position of waka gashira….the underling and middle man between the leader, the Oyabun, and his underlings. He had power, prestige, and status. In the words of an American film maker; he was a made man.
But that changed two months ago. Her father had screwed up. He failed to deliver an important message about a change in delivery for a stash of drugs. The police caught wind and thousands of yen were lost in the deal. Her father was dishonored and faced an execution at the hands of the Oyabun…until she stepped in.
The task she undertook was a simple one….and it would spare her father and restore his name…but as the car drove deeper into New Mercia, she felt dread creep into her very soul at the prospect.
Mason seemed to sense this and tried to smile encouragingly.
“He is excited to meet you, you know.” He pointed out. “He’s been talking about it quite a bit. The plan will be very advantageous to our organization as well as yours.”
“What kind of a man is your boss? What is Hamen Johnson like?” Oichi asked.
“A good man. He’s hit some rough patches here and there, but he’s a decent leader.”
“Man, you one ly’n mutha fucka.” The driver scoffed. Mason shot him a dirty look.
“I didn’t ask your opinion, C.J.”
“No…please explain.” Oichi interjected. “What do you mean?”
“It like this,” C.J continued, “the boss ain’t one for ‘work’ if ya know what I mean. It ain’t like he a dick or noth’n….but ya can’t count on him ta do what he say he gon do.”
“An mo ‘an that,” C.J carried on, “I glad I ain’t you, bitch….he ain’t what I call ideal fuck’n material.”
“SHUT UP!” Mason roared. He looked at C.J with a look that could shatter glass, but the damage was done. Oichi had heard the truth now. Her future husband, Hamen Johnson, was a reprehensible fool, from the sound of it. To be fair though, C.J didn’t seem like much of a respectable character himself, but Oichi had learned that it was often the street rats who knew the most to tell.
“All of that may sound bad, but I guarantee that things will go a lot smoother when you’re by his side, miss.” Mason tried to reason. Oichi’s first impression of Mason was that he was a respectful fellow, very much a good underling for a boss, but she could tell he was weaving lies. From the way he spoke, he too had little respect for his boss. This Hamen seemed even worse in her opinion, and yet that wasn’t what set her off. Something about his phrasing had stuck out.
“What do you mean ‘go a lot smoother?’” Oichi asked. Mason grumbled and looked to C.J, as if blaming him for this whole conversation even happening.
“The truth would be nice, Mason.”
“…..Right….well I’ll put it bluntly; we’re up shit creek without a paddle.”
“I’m not familiar with the slang.” Oichi muttered, confused. "What is this 'shit creek?'"
"It's a...well that's not important." Mason sighed, though C.J just snickered in the front seat.
"Man, you is one dumb-"
"Focus on your driving, dumbass." Mason snarled. "Look, Miss Taiga...I'll get straight to the point."
"I would appreciate that." Oichi responded softly, bracing herself.
“Our organization prizes itself on drug trafficking and smuggling. But Hamen is…well he’s throwing away resources on past times and fucking…gambling. He’s racked up debt with bigger and more dangerous crime syndicates in the city, and now we’re being harassed by one, called the Black Death syndicate.”
“What’s being done about it?”
“Well…that’s the trouble we’re in, I fear.” Mason sighed.
“Damn nigga’s got the 5-0 in their back pocket.” C.J pointed out. “We can’t do shit ‘less they back off.”
“He’s right.” Mason agreed.
“5-0? Sorry...” Oichi again gave a confused look.
“It means police. The police work for the Black Death. In fact, the police have relations and connections with many gangs and crime families in the city.” Oichi turned and looked Mason dead in the eyes, disbelief on her face.
“Are you serious?” Oichi cried.
“The Union bosses are more corrupt than some of the gangs out here. As long as the gangs in their payroll give a cut of their profits, the police look the other way, and at times will provide support for their operations. Money makes the crime go ‘round as they say.” Mason growled. Oichi looked out the car window and sighed, her breath fogging the glass. Outside she watched people like blurring objects shoot by, and buildings massive and imposing glaring down at her. Already she felt so far from home, and yet so familiar with the sights of a city and it's underbelly.
“And you think I’ll make a difference from marrying Hamen?” She asked.
“It’s my hope that you will.” Mason admitted. “Perhaps having a reasonable voice at his side will convince him to step up and deal with the problems at hand.”
“…I guess.” Oichi muttered.
The car came to a halt at a gas station. C.J climbed out to fill the tank, leaving Mason and Oichi alone in the car together, with the awkward silence. Mason crossed his arms over his chest and blew slowly from his lips, as if he were trying to kill the silence somehow.
“Answer me one thing,” Oichi finally spoke, “back in Kyoto, I had heard stories of your American mafia’s…your godfathers….Al Capone and other figures. I can believe you to be from such stories, but C.J….I cannot imagine him as one who would belong in such a world. He strikes me as some common street punk Are there…many like him in the organization?” Mason frowned and shook his head.
“I hate to admit it, but…those stories you heard? Mafia lords and dignified criminals? That died out with the 60’s. C.J is indeed a street punk…but street punks are what make up the majority of the gangs and criminal groups in this city.” Mason answered.
Oichi didn’t need Mason to tell her that. Any hope she had was now dashed. Each step she took into this new world…this new future, felt more and more hopeless. The man she was to marry was a lazy fool who was running his group into the grave. The police force was just as corrupted and cold hearted as the criminals that controlled the streets. And the criminal organizations weren’t the dignified and refined mafia gangsters she’d heard about, but instead street smart punks with backwards hats and baggy basketball shirts.
“What of the Yakuza?” Mason asked. “Are they that greatly different?”
“…In almost every way.” She growled back. While the Yakuza too had street enforcers comprised of young blood and a few arrogant brats, the higher ups made great strides in reigning them in, and presenting themselves as respectfully as any other in the families. Here? There was no respectability to be found in C.J aside from his crude honesty. Mason saw C.J removing the nozzle of the gas pump and putting it away. Mason leaned over and looked at Oichi’s eyes.
“Miss Taiga, I worked with this organization back when Boss Hamen’s uncle was the head. It sickens me to my soul to see what’s happened to it…but I can’t leave it. It’s what my uncle built up from the ground to here! When I heard a daughter of a high ranking yakuza family member was going to marry our boss, I felt real hope for the first time in years! With your leadership and guiding wisdom, maybe Hamen could be persuaded to see reason!”
“Reason is lost to fools.” Oichi sighed. “But let me meet my fiancé…and then we’ll see.”
“I appreciate your willingness to try.” Mason smiled.
“I do this for my father and for my family….not for you and definitely not for Hamen.” Oichi said Hamen’s name as if she were spitting it across the street, and Mason sensed her disgust and looked away. C.J climbed back in the car and sat down. The car drove off again and Oichi felt it dragging her away to her destiny.
In the Yakuza, loyalty, respect, and civility are not only admired….it is expected. They referred to themselves and their families as ‘ninkyo dantai,’ which means ‘chivalrous organizations.’ True, they were criminals…and they profited off of darker and more illegal practices, but her family…all of the best families, respected dignity and courteousness. Three years ago when the earthquakes shook Tohoku and the tsunamis ravaged the land, it was their organizations that supplied relief and support to the needy. When a common street punk killed a police officer in cold blood, her family hunted the rat down with the same efficiency and dedication as the police themselves…sometimes with even more tenacity. The Aizukotetsu-kai, the Inagawa-kai, the Sumiyoshi-kai, or even the Yamaguchi-gumi….what ever yakuza family you observe, they were all criminal groups, yes, but they were also honorable; dignified, and in a bizarre way to the commoner, respectable. That was why Oichi had been so interested to see the famous mafia crime families of America…only to learn such codes of dignity and respect did not exist for the gangs of America. She shook her head and rubbed her brow.
“Oh father, what have I gotten myself in to?” She asked herself quietly in Japanese. Mason and C.J did not act as if they were confused by her sudden shift to Japanese. Instead, Mason merely sighed.
“I do apologize for the…situation you find yourself in, but I am hoping that, in time, you will make this city and our organization your home.” Mason offered as they pulled up to a small garage meant for car repairs, though it looked out of commission for ages. Was this their headquarters?
“Hmmm…” Oichi grumbled as she looked out at her soon to be new home. “Maybe…perhaps I can learn to make this place a home…but for that, I’ll have to make some changes….big changes.”
“I’m looking forward to those changes.” Mason smiled encouragingly. Oichi smiled back as she climbed out of the car. She didn’t say it…but she had a feeling Mason might not appreciate all she had planned in terms of her ‘changes.’ Her plans were already beginning to formulate. She would salvage this hell…even if it killed her, and a few others, in the process.