The Consultant: Chapter 7

 But her apartment wasn’t close. He followed her across the street, and down a side street immediately on the other side.

Then he followed her down another side street.

On both sides of him were the sorts of businesses that shut down during the nighttime hours. Warehouses and industrial repair shops. A few small factories.

All of the windows were dark.

Barry was neither Japanese nor a native of Osaka. But he knew a residential area when he saw one. 

This was no residential area. 

There was no way, he realized, that a young woman like Keiko would have an apartment in this section of town.

 They had been walking for the better part of ten minutes when Barry finally protested.

“Stop,” he said. 

Responding to his command, she stopped.

“What is it, Mister Barry?”

“What’s going on here, Keiko? You tell me that your apartment is practically across the street, yet we’ve been walking for ten minutes. And this neighborhood—I don’t think a single woman would want to live in a place like this. Even in a safe country like Japan.”

 “My apartment isn’t very far from here, Mr. Barry.”

“No, Keiko. I’ve gone far enough. I don’t know what is going on here, exactly, but something isn’t right.”

I should have listened to Nagase, he thought.

“Not much farther Mister—”

“No, Keiko. I’m sorry. I’m going back. Enough is enough.”

Then she leaned into him. He could feel her body through her black evening dress. She was just the right combination of softness and firmness. 

She kissed his neck. When he tried to bring his mouth to hers, she gently pushed him away.

“Not in the middle of the street, Mister Barry!”

If I were a wiser man, Barry thought, I would simply go back. I know that something is not right about this. 

 But Barry Lawson knew that he was often not a wiser man. Hadn’t his past mistakes proven as much?

“All right, Keiko. Not much farther, you say?”

“Not much farther, Mister Barry.”

 

Five minutes later, Keiko said, “Okay, Mister Barry. We’re here!”

Barry looked around. He couldn’t see any building that vaguely resembled a residential apartment building.

“Where?” he asked.

Now Keiko started running.

Barry suddenly remembered her changing into those black slippers of hers. 

There was an alley just up ahead, immediately to their right. 

Keiko rounded the corner. 

And she was suddenly out of sight.

“I’ll be damned,” Barry said. He walked up to the edge of the dark alley. He looked around the corner. 

The alley was dark. The street apparently made numerous twists and turns, so that he could only see a short distance ahead. There the alley branched into two separate alleys. 

Keiko might have gone down either one of them.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Barry said aloud—to himself, not to Keiko. 

But then he called out to Keiko as well. He had no idea where she was, or if his words would carry to her. But he felt compelled to make the effort. 

“All right, Keiko! You got me! You wanted to pull a prank on a silly American? Well, you did it! Congratulations! Mission accomplished!”

There was no response. Had he really expected one?

What now? Barry thought. 

There was really nothing to do but go back the way he had come—the way that Keiko had led him. 

Barry Lawson had grown up in Chicago. He wasn’t intimidated by cities. Nevertheless, finding his way back to the Ichiryu Hotel might be a bit of a challenge. If he was lucky, he would happen upon a taxi, though he hadn’t noticed any journeying into this district. 

“Fuck you, Keiko,” Barry said under his breath. “You scheming, crazy bitch.”

Then he laughed at himself. This had been a wild goose chase, indeed. And it would make a good story, too—once he was back in the United States. 

He had lost time, but no substantial harm had been done to him. Keiko had cost him an hour or so of sleep. Nothing more. 

It also occurred to him that he owed Nagase an apology. Nagase hadn’t called this situation exactly right. Keiko wasn’t affiliated with the yakuza. But Nagase had been right about one thing: The gorgeous woman at the bar hadn’t been what she seemed.

“An elaborate prank,” he said, as he turned around. “A very elaborate prank.” Then he thought: It will be a long time before I proposition another strange woman in a bar. 

And the next time a strange woman sends me a drink in a bar, I’ll be skeptical. Another thing Nagase was right about: If something seems to good to be true, then it probably is.

Barry turned around and began his walk back. 

If I’m careful, I can be back in less than thirty minutes, he thought. 

A second later, Barry knew that something was very, very wrong. 

He heard the footsteps immediately behind him. They were heavy and advancing on him quickly.

These weren’t Keiko’s footsteps, either. 

Barry started to whirl around. But someone grabbed both of his arms from behind. A steel vise-grip yanked his shoulders backward.

“Ow! What?” he struggled.

At the same time, a black hood descended over his eyes, and then his entire head.

Everything went completely dark. But still he struggled. 

There was a chemical smell inside the hood.

Chloroform, perhaps?

Barry suddenly felt very light-headed. The chemical was overcoming his adrenalin. 

He now realized that Nagase was more right than he could have imagined. Keiko was not only something other than what she pretended to be—she was part of something very dangerous. 

I should have listened to you, Nagase-san.

This was Barry’s last coherent thought before darkness overtook him. 

Chapter 8

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