7. Maintaining Control

"Aeolian Designs, how can I direct your call?" the receptionist asked pleasantly.

"Extension six-zero-one-one-three, please," Tenner answered smoothly from a phonebooth in Fukuoka.

"One moment, please." There was a click, a short faint sequence of beeps and squeals, then an automated voice. "Welcome to Aeolian Designs' Research and Development Group. If you know the name of the individual you wish to speak to, please say it now."

"Monte Cristo, go secure." More clicking and beeping, then a human voice picking up the phone.

"Control here. Would you mind telling me exactly what in the blue hell happened out there in Tokyo, Tenner?"

"We had a Loki situation. I don't know how much the opposition knows, and I'm beginning to think that there's another layer of opposition that we did not know about previously."

A pause. "Let's go over this bit by bit. What's your status?"

"On the run. The team's scattered all to hell, on my orders. They're smart, and a little crazy. The Koancho will be falling over themselves trying to catch them. My guess is we got about a six hour head start, and that's pretty damn good, all things considered."

"Your friend in the Koancho will cover your back?"

"He's going to be too busy trying to watch his own. Again, due to this previously unknown opposition." Tenner spent the next several minutes compressing the team's activities in Tokyo. When he finished, there was a low whistle.

"God damn, Tenner, when you put your foot in it, you don't go by half-measures, do you?"

"Unfortunately not, Sir."

A long pause. "I'm sorry to hear about Maughm. Who'd have thought he was a mole? We never had a sniff that he was anything but a talented thief with a loyalty to the nation."

"I've been mulling on that, Control. If I had to try and come up with a really good explanation why Maughm burned us when he did, I'd suspect he was some kind of sleeper. He'd had dozens of chances over the last few years to burn us before this. Why do it now? Whoever he was working for, and again the arrow points to this new group of players, figured that we were getting too close to whatever little scheme they're up to and decided to get us out of the way. And since we weren't officially covered, the Koancho would have been exceedingly generous if all they did was declare us persona non grata and deport us. But of course, the unknowns already had an agent in place with the team. Since he would have been kicked out along with us, there would be less reason to suspect him.

"The problem with the execution of that plan was that our driver caught a bullet in the ribs from his gun. The way she told it to me, there were two messages that came in on his secure cell. One of them had been a general rendezvous message I'd sent to the whole team. Since Van Rijn didn't get a second message from me, it stands to reason the second one was from the unknowns."

"All right. So, at this point, the Koancho may or may not be hot on your heels because of one definitely dead mole from your house and one possibly fugitive infiltrator from theirs. The subject of our investigation has been dead for some time and very convincingly impersonated by somebody employed by this mysterious new outfit who also employed the same mole you killed and the infiltrator you turned loose. Any loose ends I'm missing?"

"Two, Sir. The first involves Merriweather's friend and the shooters that she deployed. I'm not going to beat around the bush. Were they ours?"

"If, and this is a big 'if' mind you, if they were working for us, nobody told me about them. I know that's not really saying much, but it's the truth. I don't who hired them, or who supplied them, or who briefed them. I wish I did."

"Whoever it was, Control, they had access to some cutting edge gear. Hyrax is looking over what Okami was able to scavenge from her and I caged a few smaller pieces in the confusion right after the shootout. They weren't amateurs, and they weren't working on a logistical shoestring."

"What's the second loose end?"

"Tsukiko Kanzawa. She's still missing. Ascertaining her whereabouts and her part in this whole incident is critical to finding out more about these unknowns."

"You're assuming she's still alive."

"No, Sir, I'm operating from a theory, not an assumption. Hideo Kanzawa was dead, had been for several months, but they kept him and or his double out in public and in Parliament quite often, right up until the fiasco at the party. Tsukiko Kanzawa, on the other hand, was only trotted out on a few occasions. From what my people could uncover, they've pulled her out of the world as much as possible. Cell phone use dropped sharply till the service was ultimately cancelled. Her school received notice she would not be returning. Now, if I were going to get rid of her, I'd arrange a similar 'suicide' act, something I had control over. I wouldn't be pushing her out into the street or dumping her in a lake after doping her up. It'd be too chancy. It's possible the unknowns have killed her in some place that people are unlikely to find the body, but it will have to happen eventually. The smell alone will lead somebody to her. And they're not going to cart a corpse around. Whoever these guys are, they know the culture and they're not afraid to exploit the nuances of the culture if it means covering their tracks. A distraught daughter killing herself in the wake of her father's death would get rid of that loose end neatly. I've been checking news reports out of Tokyo. There's no mention of her at all. That leads me to believe she's still alive."

"Very well. Keep after her. If they are keeping her alive, there must be a reason."

"Agreed. I have a request. Need to get some info on a Chinese operator linked with Kanzawa. Guy named Deng Wei Chiang."

"The full package, I'm guessing."

"Yeah. And his current whereabouts. He seems to have left Japan in the last month or so. Not much to go on, but the best I've got."

"Where do you want it sent?"

"I'll let you know when I get there."

"Hong Kong?"

"No, I may be laying over in Hong Kong, but I'm not going to operate there. Not yet, anyway. It's way too high profile for my tastes. I'd like to avoid making any ripples that would alert anybody in Guoanbu. Vicious bastards, all of them. I don't need them complicating my already complicated life."

"Understood. I'll have the packet ready to deliver on your mark. Anything else?"

"Well, if you squeeze in some time with God, or a few of the angels at least . . ."

Control chuckled. "I'll see what I can do. Tread softly, Tenner."

"Will do." Tenner hung up and strolled casually down the street towards a ferry bound for Okinawa.