The Man in the Homburg

The man sat on the same bench at the same hour every day, overlooking the gray river.
He wore a dark overcoat. Also a Homburg hat. The Homburg had belonged to his grandfather.
It was Zurich. The gray river was the Limmat.

He kept beside him a nearly flat leather case with silver clasps.
This, too, had belonged to the same grandfather.

His hair was silver at the sides. There was white speckled all the way through it. His face, gaunt.
He was well groomed, and his smallest gestures bespoke elegance.

This was a man who clearly had breathed the atmosphere of money all his life.
It was in his style of crossing his legs, in the way he removed his thin deerskin gloves, finger by finger, before crushing them into his overcoat pocket.

It was a vicuna overcoat he wore, well brushed and shining. Not a stray dog hair clung to it.
Not that he owned a dog. But perhaps he did. A small, elegant, well groomed dog. At home with the wife.

Every day at the same time, he came to this bench.
He sat on it and gazed at the gray river.
At the mist floating over it.
Sometimes there was ice in the river, bobbing along rapidly.
The river flows out of Lake Zurich.

He is the heir of a banking fortune.
In the billions, no doubt.
He is also one of the founding members of the Group.

Others call it other things.
The Organization.
The Cabal.
The Group of 22.
The Shadow Government.

He does not appear to be waiting.
Yet he is waiting -- without impatience. Elegantly.

Today, a man walks over to him and sits.
He's younger, maybe twenty years younger.
He's in a leather jacket and blue jeans.
He has some beard stubble. Also an ear-ring.
He's handsome. His hair is swept forward in a pompadour.

This younger man is holding a laptop computer.
He opens it and turns it on.
The man in the Homburg gazing placidly at him, sidelong.

The leather case is between these two men.

The younger man speaks. He says a name. It's indistinct. Mr. Something.
Mr. So and So.

His tone, deferential without being whiny.

The man in the Homburg nods. An elegant nod.

The younger man glances around.
There's nobody else within hearing range.
He asks if he might smoke.
The man in the Homburg nods.
He takes a packet of cigarettes from his jacket.
He lights one with a gold lighter. Snap.
He slips the lighter back into his pocket.
He draws on the cigarette. Breathes out smoke through his nostrils.

He appears to be worried. His face is drawn in a frown.

It's Akiko, he says. He glances at the Homburg man, whose face has not changed. Maybe the lips are a little paler, a little tighter. He's gazing placidly at the gray river.

Tokyo. They picked her up in Tokyo. Airport surveillance camera feed, matched up with the two existing photographs, set off alarm bells at Section.

He smokes. Breathes smoke into the vivid cold air.

The man in the Homburg doesn't speak. He waits. Elegantly, like a lizard.

We got her checking in at a big hotel. Again, video feed. We got the name on her passport. We contacted our man in Tokyo. Katsumoto. He scrambled his assets. Ex-military, some ex-police. He also got the Shimada Twins in from the coast. He put out calls to Hong Kong and Taiwan for more assets. A decision was made to send in the Shimada Twins with two back up teams. The Shimada Twins were highly rated, at least sixty confirmed kills, no amateur stuff. This Akiko snuffed them like they were beat cops or something. She got out of the hotel, took down three members of one team (the other's in the hospital, critical), and got away clean. Almost clean. She wiped out two members of the other team in the subway. But the third asset on this team, a schoolgirl cover, survived, and she got us a top quality image of Akiko using her cell phone camera.

With this, the younger man taps on the keyboard of his open laptop. He turns the laptop so the Homburg man can see the screen. The image of Akiko appears -- her hair wild, in a black rainslicker with a luggage bag on her shoulder, poised on a subway platform.

Staring into the lens.
Blue eyes like gun metal.

The Homburg man is now smiling. Bitterly.

Katsumoto, he says. Our man in Tokyo.

The younger man nods.
Should I -- ?
No. We'll keep him on for the nonce.

So -- says the younger man, tossing away his cigarette. It's a goat-fuck. Target slipped the net. We can assume she's gone to ground, no hotels or anything. We're monitoring airports and trains. We've got three more teams in place, better quality for sure. We've also got some interesting material from background research. Akiko's flight was from Okinawa. There was some mayhem in Okinawa City we trace to her.

Why was she there?

It seems to have been a grudge thing, related to her past before she started work for us. A woman and her daughter were raped and killed by a yakuza psycopath karate master guy named Tommy Ko. This seems to have been at the orders of Omitsu. Akiko showed up in Okinawa to kill him.

Did she?

The young man laughs.

She took his fucking head. In a box. Then she killed the two other guys who were in on it. Then she flew to Tokyo.

The Homburg man straightens his shoulders. Takes the gloves out of a side pocket of his vicuna overcoat. Slips them onto his fine, manicured hands one by one.

The younger man is staring at the river. Shaking his head.

Tokyo, he says. Fuck.

The Homburg man picks up his leather case. He stands. He touches the brim of his hat.

Do me one favor, he says.
What? Anything, replies the younger man.
Get Kondo on this.
Master Kondo?
This -- Akiko. She's beyond beyond. It's likely she killed Omitsu. In San Francisco. That's what your background research says, correct?
The younger man shrugs.
Yes. Sure.
For all we know, she has Omitsu's bank accounts. Her gold ingots. Right here in Zurich, maybe. And with yakuza connections, she has the capacity to wash the money and move it anywhere in the world. She has vast wealth now, we must assume, and that means she has formidable power. And she may know who the other Medusas are. If she wanted to go to war with us -- well.

The younger man coughs. He bends forward. He shakes his head a little more, as if to clear it.
I'm on the fucker, he says.

The Homburg man puts a gloved hand on his shoulder. Squeezes.
I know you are.
He walks away. The younger man sits back, his leather jacket creaking. Watches the slim dapper figure go. Into the drifting mist. Then he takes out his cigarette pack, taps one free, and puts it in his lips. But he doesn't light it. He stares at ice floes rushing along in the dark current of the river.