I was the go-to guy for the SFPD on anything Japanese—even though my name is Jim Brodie, I'm six-one, a hundred-ninety pounds, and have black hair and blue eyes. And I'm Caucasian.
The connection? I'd spent the first seventeen years of my life in Tokyo, where I was born to a rugged Irish-American father, who lived and breathed law enforcement, and a more delicate American mother, who loved art. Money was tight, so I attended local schools instead of one of the exorbitant American international facilities and absorbed the language and culture like a sponge.
Along the way, I picked up karate and judo from two of the top masters in the Japanese capital, and thanks to my mother got my first peek at the fascinating world of Japanese art.
What drew my parents to the far side of the Pacific was the U.S. Army. Jake, my father, headed up a squad of MPs in charge of security for Western Tokyo, then worked for the LAPD. But he took orders badly so he eventually returned to Tokyo, where he set up the city's first American-style PI/security firm.
He began grooming me for a position at Brodie Security a week after my twelfth birthday. I accompanied him and other detectives on interviews, stakeouts, and research trips as an observer. In the office I pored over old files when I wasn't listening to the staff speculate about cases involving blackmail, adultery, kidnapping, and more. Their conversations were gritty and real and a thousand times better than a night out at a Roppongi disco or an ultracheap Harajuku izakaya, though I managed to work those in too, four years later, with a fake ID.
Three weeks after my seventeenth birthday, Shig Narazaki—Jake's partner and "Uncle Shig" when he visited our home for dinner—took me on a "watch-and-see." It was a simple information-gathering stakeout for an extortion case involving the vice president of a major electronics firm and a local gang of yakuza wannabes. Just a recon trip. No action, no approach. I'd been on dozens like it.
We sat for an hour in a car tucked up an alley watching a neighborhood yakitori shop long closed for the night.
"I don't know," Shig said. "I may have the wrong place." And he left to take a look.
He did one circuit around the restaurant and was heading back when a street thug sprang from a side door and clubbed him with a Japanese fighting stick while the rest of the gang escaped out another exit.
Shig collapsed and I leapt from the car and yelled. The attacker zeroed in on me, glaring and cocking the stick like a baseball bat, which told me he had no training in the art of bojutsu. Then he charged. Luckily, the stick was the short version, so the instant his front foot shifted, I rammed my shoe into his kneecap. He went down with a howl—enough time for Shig to recover, snag the guy, and take me home with a story that made my father proud.
Unhappily, the incident demolished what was left of my parents' rocky marriage. While Jake loved his adopted country, my mother never really took to it. She felt like the perpetual outsider, a pale-faced Caucasian in a size fourteen dress surrounded by a sea of eternal size sixes. "Putting me at risk" was the last straw in a precariously high haystack. We flew to Los Angeles, and Jake stayed in Tokyo. The arrangement became permanent.
But that was fifteen years ago. A lot had happened in between: my mother passed away, I moved to San Francisco, and I got a handle on the art trade—soft work, according to Jake, but a world I found as fascinating as my mom had, though it was filled with its own brand of shark.
Then nine months ago, not a word between us in years, Jake died suddenly, and when I flew to Japan to attend the funeral, I landed in the path of real yakuza this time, not Uncle Shig's cheeseball yaki hopefuls. I managed to hold my own against them—barely—in the process tracking down a long-lost tea bowl that belonged to the legendary tea master Sen no Rikyu. The events made the headlines and I became something of a local hero.
Which was another reason I'd been invited to Japantown. That, and the fact that I had resources the SFPD did not: Jake had left me half of his agency, despite our estrangement.
Both my parents were gone, and I was being sucked into the life that had driven them apart. Which is how, at the age of thirty-two, I found myself juggling an art store and a detective agency. Refined on the one hand, brutish on the other.
In short, I was the bull in the china shop—except I owned the shop.
And tonight I had a very bad feeling about where that might lead.
© Barry Lancet
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