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16

Seiji Kuwahara reached the bottom of the curving staircase just in time to watch his marbled entryway explode, the double doors collapsing inward with a thunderclap. There was fire, he saw that much, and then the man from Tokyo was clearing the stairs in a rush and seeking sanctuary toward the rear of the house.

Somehow, Spinoza's men had come upon him unaware, and now they were upon his doorstep, pouring automatic fire into his very home. The Yakuza ambassador was not quite sure how such a thing had come about, but he would have to shoulder the responsibility in any case. The failure, any shame attached to it, was his.

He knew that any one of his superiors in Tokyo would face disaster of this sort with equanimity that was predictable and loathsome. Staring at defeat they would find refuge in seppuku, the ancient time — honored escape hatch of suicide.

And they would expect the same, no doubt, from Kuwahara in his present situation.

But Seiji meant to disappoint them on that score. His studies of the West and of the Mafia had taught him many things — not least of which had been the sheer futility of killing oneself whenever things looked dark.

He learned that those who won success in America were those who hung on through adversity, who never gave an inch, but rather kept on fighting toward the dream they cherished. In the end their perseverance and tenacity were what made them winners.

And Seiji Kuwahara meant to be a winner.

Even now, with hot flames licking at his back and automatic weapons streaming fire into the foyer of his one-time palatial home, he knew that he could salvage something from the situation if he kept his wits about him. Even if Spinoza's soldiers overran his house, there would be other times and other chances to exact his retribution. If he lived.

Exactly.

And his first priority was getting out of there, removing himself from the scene of the action and finding a safe place where he could bide his time, regroup his forces, mount another campaign against the Mafia Brotherhood.

He was reminded, strangely, of a game that he had played in childhood with his brothers. Each of them would raise a fist, and on the count of three an open hand would be displayed in one of three configurations. Two extended fingers were the scissors; a flat hand was the paper; and a closed fist was the stone.

Seiji could still remember the childish litany as if it had been only yesterday. Scissors cut paper, paper wraps stone, stone blunts scissors. He was the stone to Frank Spinoza's scissors, yes, and if he did not blunt them here, with force, then he could change his shape and become the paper that would wrap and smother the mafioso's stone.

His victory was preordained, Kuwahara thought. It was his karma to achieve preeminence in his chosen field, and anything that happened in the here and now was mere digression.

He met the first contingent of his ninja in the corridor that led to the kitchen. They were on their way to battle, armed and ready. He stopped them and issued other orders in the curt clipped tones of his beloved native tongue. They understood and would not dare question anything he said, no matter how bizarre they might consider his orders to be. They would do anything he asked, short of dishonoring themselves, and they would see him now to safety if that was his wish.

It was.

The little human caravan doubled back through the kitchen and toward the rear of the big house where Kuwahara's limousine was stowed in the garage. There was no firing yet from that direction and the man from Tokyo was hoping he could get a jump on anyone who might be trying to outflank him by attacking from the rear.

They would still have to run the gauntlet of the driveway, certainly, but anything was preferable to sitting here, waiting for the roof to fall around his ears.

Another loud explosion rocked the house and Kuwahara cringed involuntarily. The place had cost him better than a million dollars to construct but it was only money. Seiji had lives to save. One very near and dear life in particular.

He let the ninja lead him out of there, his eyes and mind already set upon another brighter day, when he would see the rising sun above Las Vegas like a battle flag of old Nippon. That day was coming soon and when it came, he would be well and whole to lead the troops — his troops — to victory against Spinoza and the rest. The stars had told him so.


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