"Vladimir Putin's biggest mistake may not have been his invasion of Syria, as is commonly taught, but rather his decision to press on into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and, most ambitiously, Iraq." Mr. Morrison paused as he surveyed the room, watching with sadistic glee the uncomfortable squirming of his Russian students.
The other international students were not as affected by the declaration, though Nobuyuki Sato thought the remark was uncalled for. Everyone knew what had led to the collapse of Russia as the world had known it for decades, but Mr. Morrison was just the type to enjoy rubbing it in.
Mr. Morrison paced down the rows of students as he continued his lecture, balding head tilted backward slightly with his nose pointed upward; he was the picture of a nobleman addressing his serfs. "If Putin had kept his ambition in check and remained in Syria, the Americans might have let it slide. Syria was a mess already, the effect of the civil war and its aftermath, and there was enough chaos for Putin to have established a hold there without the world powers even noticing, but like many tyrants, his greed overcame his ability to see reason and-"
"Putin wasn't a tyrant," one of the students interrupted in a thick Russian accent. He was sitting in the back of the room, in the row furthest from Mr. Morrison. Nobuyuki had the perfect seat to watch Mr. Morrison's reaction to the outburst, as the teacher had stopped a few feet in front of him, his hands crossed behind his back as he moved toward the front of the room.
Mr. Morrison's hands clenched for a moment before he began moving forward again, slowly but methodically until he arrived at the end of the row. He spun around abruptly, slamming his hand down on the desk of the Korean girl who sat in the front row. Most of the class was startled by the sudden noise and violence from their teacher and looked to him with rapt attention, but Nobuyuki was sure he wasn't the only one who'd expected the outburst from Mr. Morrison. Such displays of anger were common whenever the teacher was challenged on an issue, regardless of whether or not he was in the wrong.
"You dare to interrupt me again, Viktor?" Mr. Morrison asked, turning toward the young Russian student who had challenged him. His eyes were narrowed dangerously, but he kept his composure otherwise. "Was your last visit to Headmaster Kozlov's office not sufficient enough to teach you discipline?"
"If the kozel was half the Russian he claims to be, he'd agree with me on this," Viktor replied defiantly. Nobuyuki turned toward him with surprise along with the rest of the class. He appreciated Viktor's courage and spirit, but to defy Mr. Morrison and to call the headmaster a goat in the same sentence was just asking for trouble. In Nobuyuki's experience, trouble was best avoided when at all possible.
"Patriotism should not make one blind to the idiocy of one's rulers," Mr. Morrison said, sneering at Viktor. "You believe Putin devoid of fault because he was leader of your precious country, but the invasion of Iraq in 2018 was one of the greatest blunders in Russian history. Anyone with half a brain can see that."
"You're a hip . . . a hypa . . ." Viktor stammered, searching for an English word he'd forgotten.
"A hypocrite?" Nobuyuki supplied, earning a surprised glance and a nod of approval from Viktor. Nobuyuki didn't like Mr. Morrison any more than Viktor did, and was happy to help insult him as long as Viktor bore the brunt of the consequences, which he surely would.
"Yes, you're a hypocrite, Mr. Morrison," Viktor said with confidence. "You forget America's mistakes during the war. You defend them without admitting their idiocy. If they hadn't held on so tightly to their interests in Iraq, then a lot fewer people would have died."
"Casualties are a part of war," Mr. Morrison said dismissively. "It's Russia's fault for invading in the first place. And now they bear the price of it. After Putin was removed from office in the coup of 2020, the government was so eager to get the United States off their backs that they offered full American access to Vladivostok and the rest of the Eastern coast. If they hadn't, they would have been destroyed completely."
"That's only because we chose to avoid a nuclear war," Viktor replied with disdain. "Unlike the Americans who hold so little regard for life that they threatened to unleash hell on St. Petersburg and Moscow, and all in response to a simple hostage negotiation. You can act as superior as you like, Mr. Morrison, but I will never support you pretending Russia was imp . . . imporial . . ."
"Imperialistic," Nobuyuki offered. He felt Mr. Morrison's glare and turned toward him, shrugging. He knew he was starting to push his own involvement too far, and he resigned to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the class, though he was sure the discussion would soon be over. Mr. Morrison's patience had likely run out long ago, though his need to prove his point to Viktor was still driving him to continue.
"I will never support you pretending Russia was imperialistic when you refuse to admit America was as well," Viktor said with a snort of derision. "You call yourself a history teacher, yet you ignore any history which makes you look bad."
"Mr. Karimov, report to Headmaster Kozlov's office immediately," Mr. Morrison said, turning away from Viktor and facing the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Before he turned, Nobuyuki was able to see the tremendous rage in Mr. Morrison's eyes and realized Viktor had gotten the better of the teacher.
"My pleasure," Viktor said, snorting again. "Getting out of this class is the best part of my day, getting to leave earlier is even better."
Nobuyuki couldn't help but chuckle at that as Viktor gathered his things and started toward the door. The chuckle was a mistake as Mr. Morrison turned around and slammed the desk of the Korean girl again, locking his glare on Nobuyuki.
Sighing, Nobuyuki started gathering his things as well, knowing what Mr. Morrison was going to say even before he opened his mouth and said, "Mr. Sato, you will join Mr. Karimov in detention this week. I trust you can remember next time not to get involved in things which do not concern you. Of course, with you being Japanese, I'm sure you won't be able to help yourself."
Nobuyuki rolled his eyes, not willing to risk calling Mr. Morrison out on his hypocrisy, and instead finished shoving his history book into his satchel before walking toward the door. Viktor was waiting for him, and his blue eyes were sparkling with enthusiasm as he held the door open for Nobuyuki. Nobuyuki rolled his eyes and nodded back at Mr. Morrison before walking into the hallway. Viktor laughed and followed quickly, pulling the door shut hard as soon as he was through the doorway.
The resounding crash of the door against the frame was louder than either of Mr. Morrison's slaps against the desk, but Nobuyuki didn't mind it. He understood Viktor's need to let out steam after leaving Mr. Morrison's class, especially as this had been one of the teacher's particularly ethnocentric days.
Nobuyuki sighed, looking down the empty hallway. The walls were lined with blue metal lockers between the classrooms, and the linoleum floor was scuffed with the marks of hundreds of pairs of tennis shoes. It resembled an American high school, even though it was in the heart of Vladivostok, the largest port on Russia's eastern coast. Nobuyuki had seen American schools in movies and television shows, but this was the closest he'd come to actually being inside of one. The Vladivostok International Academy had been founded by American investors who wanted a school to send their children to whenever they were working in the city. The Americans had a lot of stock in the Vladivostok economy, and had ever since the War of Clarity ended in 2020. Russia had been forced to make a number of trade concessions to the United States and several of her allies in order to stop a full invasion of the country. It had been almost seventeen years since the war, but the effects of the conflict were still seen everywhere, and tensions remained high between the nations.
Nobuyuki had been born in the last months of the war, and had just passed his seventeenth birthday. He had grown up in Japan, which had profited from the war more than anyone, moving in along with the Americans into Russia and expanding their own economy, but without having to rebuild after the war. The Japanese economy was now considered the most powerful in the world, and it showed no signs of declining anytime soon. It was a good day to be Japanese, even if it wasn't a good day to be Nobuyuki.
"Well, I suppose we're supposed to go see the goat now," Nobuyuki said, turning to Viktor. Their eyes met for a moment and Nobuyuki felt the familiar response from his groin. Those eyes were so deep and beautiful, the color of the tossed sea during a storm. Viktor's face was framed by bright golden hair, a few inches in length and slightly messy. The way the hair was worn made Viktor look nonthreatening and Nobuyuki feel safe and comfortable when the two were together, and if he didn't look away soon, Nobuyuki knew he'd run the risk of falling in love quickly and deeply.
Viktor's eyes widened in surprise. "The goat? I didn't expect you to speak Russian. Most of the international students here don't bother to learn since all the classes are in English."
Nobuyuki nodded, looking away and starting down the hallway toward the headmaster's office. He started speaking when Viktor fell in step beside him. "My father insisted I learn when we moved here, and I've spent the last few months immersing myself in Russian culture, but also American, Korean, and Chinese. There are so many cultures mixing here, it's difficult to understand them all, but important for my father's business that I try."
"Your father owns the Horizons Casino, doesn't he?" Viktor asked. "You are Nobuyuki Sato, aren't you? I'm sorry I haven't taken the time to introduce myself yet. I know you've been here for a few months but . . . No, there's no excuse. I should have befriended you immediately, considering the way you helped me avoid making a fool of myself with Mr. Morrison."
"It's quite all right," Nobuyuki said, smiling warmly. "I don't go out of my way to make friends either, but you're definitely the kind I prefer to make. I know it's weird for a Japanese kid, but I'm not particularly fond of authority, unless they've earned my respect. Mr. Morrison never has, but you have."
"Wow, that sounds like quite the compliment," Viktor said, nodding slowly. "I just hate pre . . . pretank . . ."
"Pretentious?" Nobuyuki asked.
"Yeah, that's the word," Viktor said with an appreciative grin. "You're amazing at English. Far better than I am, and I've been studying it for years. You said you've only been studying it for a few months?"
"No, I've only been studying American culture for a few months. I've been studying English ever since I started preschool, and I guess I took to it naturally," Nobuyuki said, shrugging. "Sorry for the confusion."
"It's all right, Nobuyuki," Viktor said. "Thanks for helping me in there. Usually people don't help me out. I've been attending this school for three years now, and I still don't have a lot of friends. My mouth always gets me into trouble, it seems."
"Call me Nobu," Nobuyuki said, turning back to Viktor and smiling. "I appreciate it when someone is brave enough to stand up to a teacher. I'm fine becoming friends. It would be nice to have someone to sit with at lunch."
"Yeah, about that . . ." Viktor began, but then grew quiet. Nobuyuki turned toward him and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Um, I'm not sure that's a good idea. My older brother eats with me, and he's not exactly the nicest guy most of the time."
"I'm willing to give it a shot if you are," Nobuyuki replied, shrugging. "How bad can it be? Worse than spending lunch alone every day?"
Viktor considered the remark for a moment before returning Nobuyuki's shrug. "Sure, we can try it tomorrow. I guess there's no harm in seeing what happens. We can discuss it in detention today, depending on who is watching over us."
"What's detention like?" Nobuyuki asked, grimacing as he realized he'd have to explain the disciplinary action to his father, assuming Headmaster Kozlov didn't decide to take more serious action against them. It was sometimes difficult to predict how Masahiro Sato would react, especially when it had to do with the family image. At least they weren't a typical Japanese family, or Nobuyuki was sure he'd be beaten as soon as he arrived home.
"You haven't had detention yet, Nobu?" Viktor asked, surprised. "Mr. Morrison hands out detention more than he hands out homework. I don't know how you avoided it until now."
"I try to keep a low profile unless absolutely necessary," Nobuyuki said with a grin. "Today, I just couldn't help myself. I couldn't watch you struggle when you were doing so well."
"Yeah?" Viktor asked. Nobuyuki nodded and blushed, avoiding eye contact with Viktor. "Well, to answer your question," Viktor continued, clearing his throat awkwardly, "detention isn't bad. You sit in a room and can work on homework, usually, and sometimes they let you talk to each other. It's a different teacher every week, and some are nicer than others. The strictest ones expect you to sit in absolute silence."
"Doesn't sound awful," Nobuyuki replied, nodding slowly. "Do they tell your parents?" Viktor nodded and Nobuyuki sighed, then asked, "What do your parents think about you getting in trouble with Mr. Morrison?"
Viktor smiled wistfully, and then let out a rumbling belly laugh. Nobuyuki raised a questioning eyebrow as Viktor stopped walking and leaned against the nearby wall of lockers for support as he broke into hysterics. It took nearly a minute for Viktor to get his laughter under control, and Nobuyuki was shaking his head in bewilderment when Viktor finally straightened and wiped his eyes.
"I'm sorry about that," Viktor said, stifling another laugh. "I'm just remembering what my dad said the last time I received detention from Mr. Morrison. As soon as I got home he told me he was taking me out to dinner to celebrate. Each time I stand up to Mr. Morrison my dad thinks I deserve a medal, but I settle on a good steak dinner."
Nobuyuki chuckled at that and replied, "So, I take it your father is very patriotic?"
"Oh, he's the most patriotic man I know. He's very proud to be Russian, and so am I," Viktor replied with a solemn nod. "I want to be just like him when I'm an adult, which is why I plan on joining the police force as soon as I graduate."
Nobuyuki felt a sudden chill run through his body. He didn't like the sound of Viktor entering law enforcement at all, and with good reason. Over the course of his life he'd experienced nothing but abuse at the hands of the police, and he doubted any good could come of Viktor joining the force. But he wasn't willing to give up on the budding friendship just because of one detail. Besides, as long as they were friends he had a chance of changing Viktor's mind.
"So your father is on the police force?" Nobuyuki asked neutrally, forcing a smile and hoping to mask his derision.
Viktor gave Nobuyuki a blank look. He shook his head and said, "It must be because you're new here, but I honestly thought it was the first thing people learned about me. My father's the chief of police in Vladivostok. You don't think my family could afford to send their children here if they weren't wealthy, do you?" He grinned at Nobuyuki and then added, "There isn't a lot of money in police work unless you're high in the chain of command, and you don't get higher than my father."
Nobuyuki understood now. Viktor's father was none other than Mikhail Karimov, one of the most important political figures in Vladivostok. It made sense for his son to idolize him, considering the amount of prestige which went with the position. But despite all that, it made Nobuyuki less inclined to become friends with Viktor. One thing Nobuyuki didn't want was the attention of the chief of police.
But he wasn't about to burn any bridges just yet, and besides, there were advantages to being friends with the police as well. "Perhaps you're right," he said with a shrug. "But I'm surprised your father lets you attend this school at all. If he's so patriotic, why does he want you to attend school with all of the international students? Wouldn't he want you to have a strictly Russian education?"
"My father may be a patriot, but he's also not stupid," Viktor said, shaking his head. "He always makes it clear there's a line between respecting one's own culture and being willing to embrace new ideas. The world has changed and will continue to change. We have to be willing to change with it, or we'll never survive. The best hope for Russia to continue to belong to the Russians is if we learn to live with the world, rather than fight against it."
Nobuyuki couldn't help but smirk. "Are those your words or your father's?"
Viktor's eyes narrowed as he turned to Nobuyuki. "Do you have a problem with my father, Nobu?"
Nobuyuki forced a smile and raised his hands defensively. "Forget I said anything. It's been a rough day, all right?"
"Sure," Viktor replied, nodding slowly. "We'll get through Headmaster Kozlov and then maybe have a real conversation. I'm ready to find out how many days I get. How about you?"
"Hey, at least we'll be spending it in good company," Nobuyuki said with a disarming smile, hiding his earlier contempt. "With the two of us in there, time should fly by."
Headmaster Kozlov was a stern man, but fair, despite what the students said about him. He also knew the reputation of Mr. Morrison, and though he wasn't as patriotic as Viktor Karimov, he certainly understood the tactless way Mr. Morrison taught history. He listened patiently to Viktor as he explained why he felt the need to speak up in class, and how he had to defend Russian pride. After Viktor had finished, Headmaster Kozlov explained that although he respected Viktor's position, there was still a level of decorum expected from students in their interactions with their teachers. As this wasn't Viktor's first lapse in judgment in dealing with Mr. Morrison, he was given a week of detention, to begin at the end of the day.
And then it was Nobuyuki's turn. He noted the curious glint in the headmaster's eye as he turned toward him, sitting straight in his high-backed chair with his hands folded together on the desk in front of him. His brown eyes were locked on Nobuyuki's, analyzing the young Japanese boy for a suspenseful moment. Nobuyuki met the headmaster's eyes without giving any ground, despite his cultural conditioning which told him to respect his elders. He'd learned from his father to only respect those who'd earned it, and he'd yet to see anything in the Headmaster which warranted Nobuyuki's respect.
"You're new in this school, Mr. Sato," Headmaster Kozlov said slowly. "But I must admit I am surprised to see you here. I've never had an issue with any of our Japanese students before. Most respect the authority of the teachers without question. What made you decide to involve yourself in Mr. Karimov's affairs?"
Nobuyuki couldn't help but smile. "It's quite simple, really. Viktor was correct in his assessment of Mr. Morrison, and I couldn't let him face Mr. Morrison alone. I didn't think offering a few words Viktor was stuggling to find would warrant such a strong reaction from Mr. Morrison, but I do not regret my decision, either."
Headmaster Kozlov nodded. "I understand, though I am still surprised you'd act at all. I'm afraid this means you will have to be punished together, as is only fair. You will share Mr. Karimov's detention all week. Although I know Mr. Karimov will not amend his ways, perhaps you will be smarter than he and stay out of trouble in the future?"
Nobuyuki nodded, knowing the headmaster wanted him to agree, though the look in Kozlov's eyes told him he didn't believe Nobuyuki's sincerity. The headmaster's disbelief didn't matter to Nobuyuki. All that mattered was what actually happened in the future, whatever that ended up being.
"You might as well head to detention now, considering the day is almost over," Headmaster Kozlov said after a moment. "Please, try to avoid getting into trouble on the way there."
Viktor rolled his eyes and left the Headmaster's office, but Nobuyuki lagged behind. "Thank you, Headmaster, for your leniency," he said, bowing low before turning on his heel to follow after Viktor. Despite the reputation of Headmaster Kozlov, Nobuyuki found him to be a very respectable man, and he intended to treat him as such.
But Nobuyuki's behavior caught Viktor off guard, which became especially clear after they'd gone a short distance down the hall, away from the offices of the headmaster and his staff. "Why did you thank him?" Viktor asked, his puzzlement etched into every feature of his face. "He just gave you a week's worth of detention for helping me with a few words."
"Your father is a policeman and you don't respect authority for adhering to their own rules?" Nobuyuki asked, unable to withhold his grin. "Never mind, we've got detention to get to, and we don't want to be late."
Viktor was silent as they continued toward the classroom normally used for detention. The academy was below capacity, only catering to a few hundred students instead of the fifteen hundred it had room for, and there were many classrooms which were almost never used. It made the halls feel empty at times, but Nobuyuki didn't mind. He'd grown up attending Japanese schools filled beyond capacity, and during a brief stint in Seoul it had been even worse. It was nice to not feel so congested all the time.
The silence between them didn't bother him much, either. As much as he liked Viktor, he couldn't shake the agitation he felt whenever he thought about Viktor's father. There was too much at stake to risk getting further involved with the police, unless . . . He shook his head in response to his inner dialogue. There was an opportunity here which he had not previously considered, and one which his father would likely support.
As they arrived at the detention hall, Nobuyuki reached the handle first and held the door open for Viktor. Viktor gave him a strained smile, though his eyes were troubled as he stepped past Nobuyuki and into the room, which was empty. The final classes of the day were still in session, though a quick glance at the clock on the wall told Nobuyuki that they would be over in a matter of minutes. That left several minutes for them to be alone, and for Nobuyuki to start playing his new angle.
"Hey, um," Nobuyuki began with mock uncertainty after the door to the classroom closed behind him. "I'm sorry I keep on getting agitated whenever your father comes up. I don't do well with authority, and people in law enforcement are no exception. I had some bad luck with them in the past."
Viktor's face lit up and the troubled look faded away from his eyes. "Oh, I understand now. I thought I'd done something to upset you. So, what, you were a criminal when you were growing up, or did they just think you were one?"
"A bit of both, actually," Nobuyuki said with chagrin. "Once I was accused of a crime, my reputation was ruined. After that, I decided if I was going to be treated like a criminal then I might as well act like one."
Viktor nodded slowly. "But you're not one now, right? I mean, you don't act like someone on the wrong side of the law."
Nobuyuki shrugged. "That depends on if you can forget my past or not," he said cryptically. "We moved here to get a fresh start, away from the reputation I'd assumed in Japan. I had to do a lot of things just to survive, I stole and fought, and at times I was a bit of a bully, but I'm trying to be a better person, now."
"I'm willing to give you a chance," Viktor said with a grin, sticking out his hand for Nobuyuki to shake. "At least, as long as you're willing to give me one."
Nobuyuki nodded, grinning from ear to ear as he took Viktor's hand and shook it firmly. Their eyes met again, and Nobuyuki fought to resist pulling his eyes away. Viktor's eyes once again caused a physical reaction Nobuyuki couldn't ignore. Viktor was attractive, that much was certain, but beyond that was the intelligence and passion in Viktor's eyes which lured Nobuyuki in much deeper. The risk he'd thought of earlier was valid, and Nobuyuki knew it was only a matter of time before he fell in love with Viktor.
Viktor blushed and looked away, ending the handshake as he turned toward the empty desks. "Where would you like to sit?" he asked, coughing to cover the stammer in his voice.
Nobuyuki's eyes widened in surprise. "Um, anywhere is fine," he responded, staring at the back of Viktor's head. Before Viktor had pulled away, it was almost as if an electric pulse had been exchanged between them, and Viktor's eyes had become warm and inviting, as if they were asking Nobuyuki something.
Could it be the attraction was mutual? Nobuyuki wondered. The bell rang, and his thoughts were interrupted at the sound of doors opening down the hall. Nobuyuki would be able to explore the question over the next week during detention. Perhaps there was more than one reason to make friends with the son of the chief of police.
The Horizons Casino was alive and bustling, filled with hundreds of people who had come to test their luck, but would more likely end up wasting their fortunes. Masahiro Sato had always been a shrewd businessman, but when it came to gambling, no one knew the business better. Nobuyuki knew he was expected to take over after his father decided to retire, but he wasn't sure it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
His mind kept returning to his conversation with Viktor during their hour of detention. They had been fortunate enough to have a monitor who had no problem with them speaking quietly together, and they'd spent the time getting to know each other, from favorite foods to colors, and had discussed their goals in life. Nobuyuki had initiated conversation on the latter subject, hoping to gain some insight into the life of the chief of police whom Viktor admired, but when Viktor had turned the same line of questioning on Nobuyuki, Nobuyuki hadn't known how to answer.
He'd eventually replied that he expected he'd go into business like his father, but had kept out the details. Thankfully detention had ended shortly thereafter, and they'd parted ways, though not before exchanging phone numbers and class schedules. Viktor had acted surprised to learn Nobuyuki was in several of his classes, though Nobuyuki had already been well aware of Viktor's presence. They'd agreed to sit together when they could, and to continue the friendship they'd forged over their mutual dislike of Mr. Morrison, and both looked forward to the rest of the week.
But now Nobuyuki couldn't help but feel guilty for the way he was manipulating Viktor. His attraction to Viktor had only grown over their hour together, and he questioned his intention of using their friendship to get information. Sure, Masahiro Sato would be pleased, but was it worth the trouble?
Nobuyuki made his way to the service door on the side of the casino, intending to bypass the slot machines and pachinko machines on the first floor. The service door led directly into the kitchen, and would allow him to snag an after-school snack on the way up to his room in the hotel above the casino. He thought it a great plan until he turned the corner of the building and saw a middle-aged man standing stoically in front of the door. Daisuke Sanada was one of the toughest men Nobuyuki knew, and he had personally seen Daisuke kill three men with his bare hands when they thought they could get away with taking advantage of Masahiro Sato. Nobuyuki would have been fine with that if it weren't for Daisuke's undying dislike of him.
"Younger brother," Daisuke said as Nobuyuki approached. His one eye glared at him dangerously, the eyepatch over the other socket accentuating the stare. "You're late. Father wishes to see you as soon as you show up, and don't even think of stopping by the kitchen. I've already informed him of your arrival, and he will be expecting you."
Nobuyuki bowed, showing his respect and knowing it would be useless to argue. Daisuke had likely been informed by one of the earlier lookouts down the street that Nobuyuki was approaching the casino, which meant Masahiro had already been waiting several minutes. He would be displeased if Nobuyuki spent extra time to defend himself to Daisuke.
"I will head up immediately," Nobuyuki replied, keeping his head bowed slightly. "Let me inside."
"Maybe I should just keep you here instead and make you even later?" Daisuke replied, sneering at Nobuyuki. "I'd love for Masahiro to punish you further."
"And who do you think he'll believe, me or you?" Nobuyuki asked, raising his eyes and staring defiantly at Daisuke. "Do you really think he won't believe me when I tell him you stalled me? Have you forgotten I'm the favored son? Remember who was first to share sake with our father, brother. It wasn't you, even though you've been with him longer."
Daisuke's face clouded with rage, but he stepped aside, giving Nobuyuki access to the door. Nobuyuki slid his keycard into the reader beside the door, receiving a click in response which meant the door was unlocked. He opened the door and quickly stepped inside, sighing as soon as the door slammed shut behind him. Making Daisuke angry was one of the last things Nobuyuki wanted to do, but it was better than keeping Masahiro waiting.
Nobuyuki did as he was told and avoided stopping in the kitchen, heading instead toward the service elevator which the staff used for room service and cleaning. It was one of only two ways to get to the top floor where the family's rooms were located, and was the route Nobuyuki preferred. The other route took him through multiple layers of security, and he wasn't particularly fond of dealing with more of his brothers.
The elevator opened up onto a hallway, with doors lining both sides, and one set of double doors at the end, guarded by two men in black suits. Beside the elevator was the door which opened onto the staircase between this floor and the one below it. The floor was carpeted in a dark red, with intricately woven rugs of brighter red, black, and gold stretching down the center. Ornately carved wooden tables stood against the walls, evenly spaced between the doors, with priceless pottery and sculptures made of precious metals or decorated porcelain set atop each of them. The paintings which adorned the walls were no less impressive, most painted by well-known Japanese, Korean, and Chinese artists and done in the Oriental style. There were several recent additions which were done by Russian or American artists. Nobuyuki had spent time admiring every piece in the hallway in the past, but he did not have the luxury now, and he approached the double doors at the end of the hallway with haste.
Unlike with Daisuke, the guards wasted no time in opening the doors for him, revealing the tiled vestibule on the other side. The vestibule was nearly as impressive as the hallway, though the carved wooden paneling of the walls was not designed to keep one in the chamber admiring it. Several pairs of shoes hung on a shoe rack against the wall, and Nobuyuki hastened to add his shoes to the rack before slipping into one of the pairs of slippers waiting on the wooden floor which began at the edge of the tile, several feet before the doorway serving as entrance to the rest of Masahiro's suite.
The first room of the suite was a lounge, filled with a number of couches and chaises, not to mention a wide assortment of large pillows and cushions for sitting or lying upon. Masahiro used this room for hosting parties, some with a professional crowd, and some meant for more physical pursuits. Nobuyuki was impressed that the stench of sex, alcohol, and cigar smoke didn't permeate every corner of the room, but instead there was the distinct scent of sweet-smelling incense which invaded his nostrils and tantalized his senses.
Masahiro was lounging on one of the couches, sipping a cup of green tea as incense burned in front of him. His greying black hair was pulled back into a bun, and his fine-haired moustache and goatee were straight and sleek, ending in sharp points. He was dressed in a plain red kimono, its silky sheen reflecting the soft lights of the room. He looked up when Nobuyuki entered but then returned his attention to the cup in his hands.
Nobuyuki approached slowly. Now that Masahiro knew he was there, haste would only make Nobuyuki appear desperate for approval, which would not appeal to Masahiro's sense of mercy. When Nobuyuki was ten feet away from Masahiro, the older man raised his hand and indicated Nobuyuki should stop.
Pulling up short, Nobuyuki dropped to his knees and bowed low, prostrating himself before Masahiro. He kept the pose for only a second and then returned to his knees. He waited for Masahiro to say something, but was met with nothing but the sound of the teacup settling into the saucer.
This continued for several minutes until Masahiro finished his tea and set the cup to the side. Only then did he turn to regard Nobuyuki, his lips pursed thoughtfully. "Why are you late, son?" he asked at last.
"I was in detention," Nobuyuki replied neutrally.
"Detention," Masahiro echoed, nodding slowly. "Yes, I know. What I want to know is why you were harming our reputation. You know that we are currently in good standing. It's much easier for us to operate when no one is looking at us critically. Are you trying to harm our business?"
"On the contrary, Father," Nobuyuki said, unable to suppress his grin. "I think you'll be quite pleased with what I've done."
"I'll give you a chance to explain before I have you beaten," Masahiro replied. "Though I remind you that you have only one chance."
"I made friends with Viktor Karimov today," Nobuyuki explained. When Masahiro showed no recognition at the name, Nobuyuki added, "The son of Mikhail Karimov."
"The police chief of Vladivostok?" Masahiro stated more than asked. "How did this come to be?"
"I helped him defend his position against one of our teachers. It's an action which his father supports," Nobuyuki replied. "With any luck, I can infiltrate his family and gain information. Information which you can use to further your agenda."
Masahiro nodded and smiled, waving for Nobuyuki to rise. Nobuyuki did as he was told and moved to the couch across from Masahiro, knowing that he'd passed Masahiro's test. "You've done well today, Nobuyuki," Masahiro said. "We will forego the beating for now. Though I may have to beat you later in order to keep Daisuke in line. He was looking forward to your humiliation."
Nobuyuki bowed his head. "If such is your desire, Masahiro. I understand your need to keep order."
"We will see if it can be avoided," Masahiro said dismissively. "For now, let's speak of how we're going to bend this to our favor. If we can infiltrate the police force of Vladivostok, we'll be the envy of the Inagawa-kai. You've done great work for the Yakuza today, my son. The pieces are falling into place, and it's only a matter of time before we own this city."
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