The suggestion that the woman might be dangerous totally floored Barry. He was open to the argument that the woman was out of his league, or best left alone because the situation was likely to require more effort than it was worth. (And yes, he was also open to the possibility that she was a pro; Barry had already begun to consider that possibility himself.)
But dangerous? No, he couldn’t quite fathom that.
“I don’t understand, Nagase-san.”
Sato was looking at Nagase with a puzzled expression, too. What had been a convivial celebratory meal only a few minutes ago was now something more serious.
“As you know, Barry-san, Japan has a reputation for being a very safe country. And for the most part, this is true. But this doesn’t mean that there are no dangerous people in Japan.”
“There are dangerous people everywhere,” Barry said.
“Hai. But in Japan they are not always easy to recognize. Have you ever heard of the yakuza—the Japanese word for the…?” Nagase paused while he thought of the proper words. “Mafia. Organized crime.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of the yakuza. But surely you don’t mean—that woman at the bar? She’s just a pretty woman in an evening dress.”
“Maybe. And maybe not. By herself, she looks harmless enough. And she smiled at you. She noticed you. But maybe she isn’t alone here tonight, neh?’
“Now you’ve really got me confused, Nagase-san.”
Tilting his head, Nagase subtly gestured to the area of the dining room beyond the bar.
“Consider those two men on the other side of the room. The two men dining alone.”
Barry looked in the direction that Nagase had indicated. He saw two Asian men. They were both well-dressed. They were sitting at a small table.
“They’ve been watching our table throughout the evening,” Nagase said. “At first I didn’t think anything of it. But now that woman at the bar has been watching us, too.”
“Hey,” Barry said, attempting to make light. “She was looking at me.”
“Looking at you then. But so were those two men, perhaps.”
Barry studied the men at the little table more closely. Although they were dressed in business attire, the suits and ties somehow seemed out-of-place on them. They were burly, stocky men. But more than that, there was a hardness to their expressions that one rarely saw in the world of offices and boardrooms.
Barry couldn’t explain why the two rough-looking Asian men might have been watching them (or him). But that didn’t mean they were yakuza.
“Nagase-san. I don’t know what to—”
Barry saw one of the men throw an unmistakable stare in their direction. (Nagase was right about that much.) But he didn’t look away when Barry met his eyes.
The man rose from his seat, and pushed his chair back.
Without taking his eyes off Barry.
The man was carrying something long and cylindrical in his hand, Barry saw.
The stranger started walking toward the table that Barry shared with his two Japanese guests. The stranger was making a beeline, in fact.
Who in the world was this fellow—and what did he want?
Barry had the feeling that he was going to find out very shortly.
The man approached, and Barry tensed up.
He wasn’t sure if he should stand, or remain seated.
He decided to remain seated for now.
The stranger was almost at their table. At this point, Barry got a better look at the cylindrical object he was carrying. It was a rolled-up magazine.
Maybe he’s got a gun in there, Barry thought. Maybe this is a mob hit about to happen.
Barry chided himself. It was ridiculous to think of his life in terms of a scene from The Godfather or The Sopranos. The man wasn’t coming over here to shoot him.
That was crazy.
I’m a marketing consultant, Barry thought. Nothing exciting ever happens to marketing consultants.
The unknown man stopped right before their table, just behind Nagase and Sato. There was no denying his destination now.
But what did he want?
“Hello?” Barry said.
“Excuse me. Are you Barry Lawson?”
“Yes. Yes I am. But how did you—”
The stranger smiled, and unfurled the magazine he was carrying. He held it up so that Barry could see it.
Advertising World Weekly. Of course.
Barry immediately recognized his own face on the front cover of the magazine. Advertising World Weekly had interviewed him back in February, for the issue that came out in the first week of April. The magazine carried a full write-up of him, with special attention to the work that he had done in the automotive sector. The editors had also decided to put Barry’s photo on the cover of that issue. So…Barry Lawson could honestly say that his full-color image had graced the cover of a magazine.
But Advertising World Weekly was a humble trade magazine. Virtually no one outside of the advertising, sales, and marketing sectors even knew of the magazine’s existence. The write-up in Advertising World Weekly had been useful for self-marketing purposes. According to Nagase and Sato, the Yukimura board had read a Japanese translation of Barry’s interview.
But it hardly constituted fame.
Nevertheless, this man—whoever he was—had read the article about Barry, too.
Barry stood up and said, “Yes. That’s my ugly mug on the cover.”
Barry’s self-deprecating humor apparently exceeded the stranger’s language skills. He didn’t acknowledge the joke, but he did introduce himself.
“My name is Mr. Kim. I am from Korea.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Kim.” Barry knew that Koreans, like Japanese, customarily bowed when meeting someone new. Barry gave Mr. Kim a brief bow, and Mr. Kim reciprocated.
“Your work is much admired in Korea,” he said.
“That’s good to hear. I never would have thought that.”
“It’s true,” Mr. Kim assured him.
Barry suddenly realized that he had left Sato and Nagase completely out of the conversation.
“Mr. Kim, these are my dinner companions and business associates: Sato-san and Nagase-san. They both work in the marketing department of Yukimura Electronics.”
In Japan, one’s place of employment was a fundamental aspect of identity. It was therefore normal to introduce Sato and Nagase as men of Yukimura Electronics, even though this Mr. Kim was a complete stranger, whom they would likely never meet again.
Nagase and Sato stood and bowed. Mr. Kim made a curt bow in their direction. Then he immediately looked back to Barry.
“Anyway. I have disturbed your dinner. I just wanted to see if it was really you. I will go back to my table now.”
“Thank you for saying hello,” Barry said. “Yes, it’s really me.”
As he watched Mr. Kim walk back to his table and join his companion, Barry reflected that yes, this had been an unusual coincidence.
But today was one of those days: the signing of the big contract, an attractive woman noticing him at the bar.
Some days were just luckier than others, he told himself.
After he’d sat back down with Nagase and Sato, Barry was determined to put an end to Nagase’s flights of anxiety.
“Well, there we go,” Barry said. “The mysterious Mr. Kim is Korean, not Japanese. So he couldn’t be part of the Japanese mafia.”
Barry expected that the matter would be put to rest with that. It wasn’t.
“So perhaps Mr. Kim is something even more dangerous.”
“Nagase-san. What is it with you tonight, buddy? You seem to see the dark side of everything.”
Nagase wasn’t dissuaded, however.
“Did you notice that Mr. Kim didn’t tell us his place of employment?”
“Well,” Barry said. “He’s Korean, not Japanese.”
“Korean just like Japanese in that way,” Nagase insisted. “For a Korean man, at least, his company is very important. In Korea, a Hyundai man is a Hyundai man, just like a Mitsubishi man is a Mitsubishi man in Japan.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying,” Nagase said, “that Mr. Kim was hiding something. I can’t tell you what he was hiding. But he was hiding something.”
“Maybe you’re right, Nagase-san,” Barry said. “But that doesn’t mean that he’s dangerous.”