Moke-san had often accused me of having unspoken feelings for Ishtaaru-san. She was undeniably lovely and I had played the roll of her husband often enough. I found it a comfortable role to play; she seemed to find it equally acceptable. If there was a woman that I could - that I would want - to take as a wife...
Then, I was younger, more rash. The life of a mercenary suited my nature. My only commitment was to my current contract. My only loyalty was to myself.
I went where 'now' took me, and did what I was hired to do. I lived by my own honor; I saw myself as Ronin - the master-less samurai. I would not take a life purely for money, but there are many reasons for a man to die.
The 'now' took me around the world. Beirut, Belfast, Azerbaijan. They all began to look the same to me. I began understand why even the greatest of samurai sought to serve one Lord, one Emperor, one country. I began searching for a Lord I could swear loyalty to.
After President Fujimori's administration destroyed both The Shining Path and MRTA, I found myself in Peru in the company of a suddenly powerless rebel faction. Money was not a problem, but safe passage to my next destination was a more complicated question.
More importantly, I had no destination in mind. 'Now' I was here with no new 'now' presenting itself.
The rebels I was with slowly disbursed until a dozen or so remained. Those that left returned to their families or to the cities to try and become part of the new civil order.
Those that remained were the lawless bandits that had no civility within them. As Japanese among them, I wasn't the only foreigner, but I found their lack of honor disturbing. They were indiscriminate in their choice of victims and crimes and increasingly my unwillingness to violate my own code brought me into conflict with the de facto leader of the group.
Manchu Picchu is the best known of Incan ruins, but it is not the oldest or most sacred. Tourist groups, archeologists, and the occasional fool would occasionally find their way to the others and, regrettably, often fell prey to a group like ours.
The set-up was simple. Two of the locals would 'stumble' over a group, and in friendly conversation learn, where they were going and offer to guide them there -- for a small price. And they did lead them to the correct destination.
Where the rest of us were waiting, armed and ready. Most of the time, we robbed them of any cash and let them continue on their way. Occasionally, there was a woman -- or an attractive enough boy -- after too long without one, and the unprincipled among us would do unprincipled things.
Rarely, one of the victims would try to fight back. The response was always swift and brutal. The bodies were left in the jungle where they vanished within days.
The end came unexpectedly.
There were seven people in the group lead into the clearing we surrounded -- an older man with four collegiate boys and two girls. They seemed to be a teacher and a group of students. One of the girls was wearing a veil covering her hair and long pants that flowed around her ankles like a skirt. Her visible skin was dark, her eyes darker still.
If she truly was Arab and Muslim, as her appearance suggested, she was most likely a virgin. Deflowering her here, now, would be most dishonorable.
The teacher and at least one of the boys spoke Spanish and seemed to understand the situation. The boys spoke among themselves and two of the boys took the hands of girls. The blonde girl pulled closer to the boy for protection.
The Arab girl pulled her hand away. She began looking around at our band of thieves, taking stock of each man in turn. When she looked at me, our eyes met.
She had the eyes of a predator. Taking her would not be easy. Less so, now that I decided I would prevent it.
I heard the yelling start as our leader grew impatient and ordered his men to take their gear. The boys fought back.
The first was punched in the stomach and in the face. The second was shot. The bandits surged toward their victims.
I took a step to my left, grabbed the man passing me and snapped his neck. I killed two more before turning back to see what was happening. My attention had been diverted for two minutes.
Three men were on the ground before the Arab Beauty. She had taken a knife from one of them and slit the throat of a fourth man as I watched.
I glanced at the other students. The teacher was lying unconscious on the ground with a trickle of blood across his forehead. Two attackers were beating the boy who had initially been punched. A third boy lay immobile on the ground. The fourth had gotten a gun somehow and was attempting valiantly to defend the blonde girl from the remaining three; she clung to the boy's back, sobbing.
I looked back at the Arab Woman; she was looking at me.
Five of my former companions were still alive -- plus their leader. He had moved out of danger and was rifling through his apparent ill-gotten gains.
Between the remaining opponents, the two attacking to the boy on the ground were the lesser threat. I nodded my head toward the Arab Woman and then indicated those men. She nodded once sharply and then amazed me.
She took a running jump and kicked the first attacker to the ground. When she landed, she turned, and slit the throat of the second.
Everyone else stopped and watched as she set her stance in time to throw a jaw-breaking kick at her first opponent who was just beginning to try and stand.
There was a scream behind me. I chided myself for forgetting about the other woman. One of the bandits had her in his arms, gun to her temple. Her protector lay on the ground, clutching his side. I strode toward them.
"You like the young ones, eh, chink?" The one with the gun taunted me in English. "You finished that bitch, you can have this cunt when I finish."
I reached him before he could move away with the sobbing, struggling girl. The other two fled into the woods.
"I'll shoot!" He threatened. But his voice was shaking and, if he were planning to kill her, he would have pulled the trigger already. "I mean it!"
I grabbed his gun hand and broke it. I pulled the girl away from him and threw her out of my way. I elbowed him once to break his jaw. I am not a 'chink'. Then I took the gun from his broken hand and shot him twice.
A third shot was fired behind me, followed swiftly by the Arab Beauty crying out in pain. I turned to see her regaining her stance, but blood flowing freely from her leg.
My former leader had a gun pointed at her as he glared at me. "So what's the deal, Tamora? These asshole promise to smuggle you to America?"
The woman wobbled. She was losing blood and was clearly in pain, but kept her eyes on her target, waiting for an opening.
"The attack was dishonorable." I said simply.
"Yeah? Well fuck your honor! You think you're better than me?" He yelled and turned his gun on me. "Do you?"
I took a step forward and just slightly to his weak side. He fired on me as the Arab woman made her move.
She ran at him. But the leg with the bullet was losing strength and instead of her jumping kick, she attempted to bodily hit him.
She missed. She crashed to the ground behind him.
She did, however, distract him long enough for me to cross the distance between us and get my arm around his neck.
"Yes." I said in answer to his question. Then I snapped his neck.
The Arab woman was unconscious. I tore some bandages from the shirt of the body nearest to us and bound the wound as best I could without moving her clothing. To do so would dishonor her.
I carried her to where the blonde woman lay sniveling and checked the bandits to be sure they were all dead. I finished the ones that were not. One at a time, I moved the bodies into the woods. The jungle would claim them soon enough.
The blonde woman was still sniveling, but trying to speak to me. I ignored her and finished my task.