Graveyard of Memories (John Rain #8)
Asian face and local language skills to handle the cash. I had just returned to the States from Vietnam, having left the military under a cloud, the origins of which I was able to understand only years later. My mother, the American half of the marriage, had just died; I had no brothers or sisters;
I closed my eyes, listened to the music, and began sipping the coffee. It was ungodly strong but also delicious, and I realized someone had employed a lot of care to impart that much richness without bitterness or anything else creeping in to overpower the flavor. I had been expecting just a routine cup of coffee, and was struck by the notion that even in an everyday thing like coffee preparation, there was a way of doing things right, with care and maybe even devotion. Maybe this was part of what Miyamoto had been trying to describe as we had taken our tea at Nakajima. I wasnt unfamiliar with what it meant to be ruthlessly squared awayask any combat veteran about the care that goes into planning, training, weapons maintenance, and everything else on which your life might hang in the balance in the fieldbut this was different. Lion spoke of devotion brought to bear on small things, everyday things, things that otherwise might have seemed inconsequential or have been overlooked entirely, and like the confidence that characterized the place, I sensed this kind of everyday devotion was also something to which a person might want to aspire.
If theres one lesson I learned early on during the decades Ive spent in this business, its that of all the qualities that distinguish a hard target from everyone else, among the most important is self-control. Yes, you have to be able to think like the opposition, which enables you to spot the ambush. And yes, you have to be able to take immediate, violent action in caseoopsyour ability to spot the ambush fails. And yes, sentiment is a weakness. But fundamental to the rest is self-control. Because if youre not in control of yourself, someone else is, most likely an enemy, and in my business, an enemy isnt someone who wants the promotion youre after, or who covets your corner office, or who wants to beat you on the tennis court or golf course or display a better car in his driveway. In my business, an enemy is someone determined to end your life, and probably with the means to bring it about.
If you knew at the outset what you understood at the end, would you make the same choices, take the same risks, accept the same sacrifices? No. No one would. You cant appreciate the weight of that burden until after youve assumed it. You cant comprehend what it really means.
I miss her. God, I do. Its beyond missing; its a kind of mourning. And not just for everything we had, but for everything we might have had, could have had, if only I had made other choices, if only I had been someone else, or something else. But who, or what, would that be? I try to imagine it and I cant. It feels like a delusion, a deception, a dream. All the worlds a stage, isnt that what Shakespeare said? And all the men and women merely players. And so they are. So we all are. But thats poetry. The prose is simpler. Sometimes theres just what you can do. And what you cant.
In the movies, they always make sure the hero kills only in self-defense, typically in the instant before the bad guy gets the drop on him. Even in that film Miyamoto had mentioned, Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood blows away a guy who had kidnapped, tortured, and killed a teenage girl only when the guy goes for a gun. To me, thats all bullshit. More than anything else, killing is about survival. About doing everything you can to deceive, and cheat, and stack the odds in your own favor. You dont wait for the other guy to go for his gun; you shoot him before he has a chance. If he has his back to you, thats even better. If you can call in an air strike, thats better still. You dont just do everything you possibly can to prevent a fight from being fairpreventing the fight from being fair is the entire point. Do you want the enemy to have as good a chance of killing you as you have of killing him? Or do you want to make sure he gets no chance at all? As far as Im concerned, the people who think a fair fight is desirable can go ahead and die in one.
I picked up the earthen cup and went to take a sip. Not like that, Miyamoto said. Let it cool a little. Give yourself a moment to appreciate the aroma, the feel of the bowl in your hands. I was a little surprised and didnt respond, though nor did I drink any tea. Miyamoto flushed. Im sorry, he said. This is why my children prefer to avoid me. Only it seems a shame, not to pause to appreciate the small things. So often theyre more important than what we think are the big ones. Somehow, being corrected by Miyamoto didnt sting. Its fine, I said. Do you know a lot about tea? He shook his head quickly as though embarrassed. Very little. I sensed he was being modest. Youve done sad?, I think, I said, referring to the Japanese tea ceremonyliterally, the way of tea. Perhaps I was exposed to it somewhat, when I was younger. But still its really not right for me to suggest to others how they should comport themselves. No, I dont mind, I said, setting my bowl down. Show me the way you would do it. He beamed. All right, since you ask. Whats important is not much more than what I said. The purpose is to appreciate, to pay careful attention to be mindful. Not to overlook what seems small but that is in fact significant. The rest is commentary, no? The word he used for mindful was nen, which typically means sense or feeling. If he hadnt offered the additional context, I wouldnt have quite understood his meaning. I nodded and followed his lead, holding the bowl, appreciating the aroma, savoring the taste. At first I was just being polite, but after a few moments, I started to wonder if he might have a point. I knew there were tradecraft things Id been missing. Why wouldnt there be everyday things, as well? What would it cost to become more heedful of those things and would the practice of becoming more heedful of one naturally cause me to become more heedful of the other? I thought this nen was an attitude worth cultivating. Not just to appreciate the things that make life worth living. But to be attuned to the things that can keep you alive.
I resolved to never again be unprepared for the shit hitting the fan. I would pay attention to small thingsthe way people dressed and spoke and walked. The things that made them part of a background environment, or made them stand out against it. I would watch them, try to consciously identify the signs and behaviors that made them who they were, and then imitate and adopt those things as my own. It would be like performing a role, with the preparation a kind of acting school. Id make it a game, and play it every day.
I thought of an expression my father had once told me: Be good to people on your way up. You may meet them again on your way down.
Its funny to consider how important things like that felt to me then. Proving people wrong. Fighting stupidity. Wanting formal recognition. It took me a long time to learn that proving people wrong is purposeless, fighting stupidity is futile, and formal recognition prevents people from underestimating youand thereby from ceding to you surprise and other tactical advantages.
It took me a long time to learn that proving people wrong is purposeless, fighting stupidity is futile, and formal recognition prevents people from underestimating youand thereby from ceding to you surprise and other tactical advantages.
It was only later that I came to learn how dangerous it is to allow yourself to be seduced by that first attractive theory. If you dont keep testing for alternatives, you might wind up satisfying yourself with, and proceeding on, whats no more than a partial truth. And a partial truth, I would understand soon enough, can be more dangerous than a lie.
I was surprised at how much the genuine clothes made me feel like a monk. I would remember thatthat the details mattered, not just in how you looked, but in how you felt, in the kind of unconscious vibe you emanated and that people might key on one way or the other.
I wish Id told her I loved her. It bothers me that I didnt. Id been so close, and then Id held back. I tell myself it would have made no difference, and I believe thats true. But at least then she would have known.
People talk about morality. Sometimes I think theres just what you can do, and what you cant.
Relax, he said again, probably reading my thoughts from my expression. Ill get you the other file. I considered telling him what would happen if he didnt, but recognized that doing so would have been childish, the product of ego. Worse, because he already knew what would happen, verbalizing it could only serve to dilute the strength of the threat. Because why would anyone waste breath describing what was already axiomatic? I didnt realize it right away, but that was a big moment in my development. Self-awareness leading to self-control. I had a long way to go, but you have to start somewhere.
Sometimes I go to her Facebook page. Its silly, I know. Pathetic. And every time I do, I promise myself next time Ill be stronger. I dont even know what impels me. Why are the most painful memories also the sweetest; why does the sweetness always draw us back no matter how long the pain might have kept us away beforehand? I dont know, any more than I know why sometimes I have to sit in the dark and listen to Terumasa Hino playing Alone, Alone and Alone. I just do. I cant seem to help periodically disinterring that little box of memories, no matter how lachrymose its contents. I try to stop. But sometimes theres just what you can do, and what you cant.
The guy was shrewder than he looked. I realized I had given too much credence to the scrawny body and the obvious age, and had underestimated him. Watching him set up what would be our makeshift classroom, I wondered whether there would be some value to that. Getting people to underestimate you. Not letting them see what was under the hood. Preventing them from seeing it coming. I thought of the Japanese expression N? aru taka wa, tsume o kakusu. The hawk with talent hides its talons. It had always been just that for me, an expression. But for the first time, I felt an inkling of what it might really imply.
What was that Churchill saying? Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result. Thats what this felt like.
When Id killed Ozawa at the sent?, Id briefly wondered whether I was now one of the bad guys. By the time I did McGraw, Id figured out there are no bad guys, any more than there are good guys. There are only smart people, and stupid ones; puppets, and puppet masters. Better a wise r?nin, I decided, than a naïve samurai.
would show that inside twenty-one feet against a knife, trying to get a gun out is typically a losing bet, especially if youre backing straight up rather than getting off the line.