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 wasn’t unfamiliar with what it meant to be ruthlessly squared away—ask 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 field—but 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 there’s one lesson I learned early on during the decades I’ve spent in this business, it’s 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 case—oops—your ability to spot the ambush fails. And yes, sentiment is a weakness. But fundamental to the rest is self-control. Because if you’re not in control of yourself, someone else is, most likely an enemy, and in my business, an enemy isn’t someone who wants the promotion you’re 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 can’t appreciate the weight of that burden until after you’ve assumed it. You can’t comprehend what it really means.

I miss her. God, I do. It’s beyond missing; it’s 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 can’t. It feels like a delusion, a deception, a dream. All the world’s a stage, isn’t that what Shakespeare said? And all the men and women merely players. And so they are. So we all are. But that’s poetry. The prose is simpler. Sometimes there’s just what you can do. And what you can’t.

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, that’s 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 don’t 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, that’s even better. If you can call in an air strike, that’s better still. You don’t just do everything you possibly can to prevent a fight from being fair—preventing 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 I’m 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 didn’t respond, though nor did I drink any tea. Miyamoto flushed. “I’m 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 they’re more important than what we think are the big ones.” Somehow, being corrected by Miyamoto didn’t sting. “It’s 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. “You’ve done sad?, I think,” I said, referring to the Japanese tea ceremony—literally, “the way of tea.” “Perhaps I was exposed to it somewhat, when I was younger. But still it’s really not right for me to suggest to others how they should comport themselves.” “No, I don’t mind,” I said, setting my bowl down. “Show me the way you would do it.” He beamed. “All right, since you ask. What’s 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 hadn’t offered the additional context, I wouldn’t 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 I’d been missing. Why wouldn’t 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 things—the 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. I’d 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.

It’s 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 you—and 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 you—and 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 don’t keep testing for alternatives, you might wind up satisfying yourself with, and proceeding on, what’s 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 that—that 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 I’d told her I loved her. It bothers me that I didn’t. I’d been so close, and then I’d held back. I tell myself it would have made no difference, and I believe that’s true. But at least then she would have known.

People talk about morality. Sometimes I think there’s just what you can do, and what you can’t.

Relax,” he said again, probably reading my thoughts from my expression. “I’ll get you the other file.” I considered telling him what would happen if he didn’t, 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 didn’t 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. It’s silly, I know. Pathetic. And every time I do, I promise myself next time I’ll be stronger. I don’t 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 don’t 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 can’t seem to help periodically disinterring that little box of memories, no matter how lachrymose its contents. I try to stop. But sometimes there’s just what you can do, and what you can’t.

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.” That’s what this felt like.

When I’d killed Ozawa at the sent?, I’d briefly wondered whether I was now one of the bad guys. By the time I did McGraw, I’d 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 you’re backing straight up rather than getting off the line.