You Only Live Twice (James Bond #12)

2,323
28.05.2019

‘That is common practice,’ said Tiger indifferently. ‘We are much over-populated. Abortion is legal. It is helping to solve one of our problems if a few extra people die in an automobile accident. But there is something in what you said earlier. Our word for suicide is jisatsu, literally “self-murder”, and although it is a violent solution to a personal problem, it carries no stigma as it would in your country. In fact, one of our most famous folk-tales, known to all children, is of the forty-seven ronin, or bodyguards. Through their negligence, their lord, Asano, was assassinated. They swore to avenge him and they did so. But then they came together at a place called Ako and all committed seppuku to expiate their negligence. This is what you know as hara-kiri, which is a vulgar term meaning “belly-cutting”. Today, at the time of the festival at the Ako shrine, special trains have to be laid on to accommodate the respectful pilgrims.’

‘Well, if you bring your children up on that sort of stuff, you can’t expect them not to venerate the act of suicide.’

‘Just so,’ said Tiger proudly, ‘25,000 Japanese commit suicide every year. Only the bureaucrats regard that as a shameful statistic. And the more spectacular the suicide, the more warmly it is approved. Not long ago, a young student achieved great renown by trying to saw his own head off. Lovers link hands and throw themselves over the very high Kegon Falls at Nikko. The Mihara volcano on the island of Oshima is another favourite locale. People run down the roasting slope of the crater and hurl themselves., their shoes on fire, into the bubbling cauldron in its centre. To combat this popular pastime, the interfering authorities have now opened, at great expense, a “Suicide Prevention Office” on the peak. But always the wheels of the good old-fashioned railway train provide the most convenient guillotine. They have the merit of being self-operating. All you need to do is make a four-foot jump.’

‘You’re a bloodthirsty old bastard, Tiger. But what’s all this lecture about anyway? What’s it got to do with friend Shatterhand and his pretty garden?’

‘Everything, Bondo-san. Everything. You see, much against the good doctor’s wishes of course, his poison garden has become the most desirable site for suicides in the whole of Japan. It has everything – a ride on our famous “Romance” express to Kyoto; a boat trip across our beautiful Inland Sea that is so full of Japanese history; a local train from the terminal harbour at Beppu to Fukuoka and a walk or taxi drive along a beautiful coast to the awe-inspiring ramparts of this mysterious Castle of Death. Climb these, or smuggle yourself in on a provision cart, and then a last delicious, ruminative walk, perhaps hand-in-hand with your lover, through the beautiful groves. And finally the great gamble, the game of pachinko the Japanese love so much. Which ball will have your number on it? Will your death be easy or painful? Will a Russell’s Viper strike at your legs as you walk the silent, well-raked paths? Will some kindly, deadly dew fall upon you during the night as you rest under this or that gorgeous tree? Or will hunger or curiosity lead you to munch a handful of those red berries or pick one of those orange fruit? Of course, if you want to make it quick, there is always a bubbling, sulphurous fumarole at hand. In any one of those, the thousand degrees Centigrade will allow you just enough time for one scream. The place is nothing more than a departmento of death, its shelves laden with delicious packages of self-destruction, all given away for nothing. Can you not imagine that old and young flock there as if to a shrine? The police have erected a barricade across the road. Genuine visitors, botanists and so on, have to show a pass. But the suicides fight their way to the shrine across the fields and marshes, scrabble at the great walls, break their nails to gain entrance. The good doctor is of course much dismayed. He has erected stern notices of warning, with skulls and crossbones upon them. They act only as advertisements! He has even gone to the expense of flying one of those high helium balloons from the roof of his castle. The hanging streamers threaten trespassers with prosecution. But, alas for the doctor’s precautions, the high balloon serves only to beckon. Here is death! it proclaims. Come and get it!’

‘You’re daft, Tiger. Why don’t you arrest him? Burn the place down?’

‘Arrest him for what? For presenting Japan with this unique collection of rare plants? Burn down a million-pound establishment belonging to a respected galjin resident? The man has done nothing wrong. If anyone is to blame, it is the Japanese people. It is true that he could exercise more careful surveillance, have his grounds more regularly patrolled. And it is certainly odd that when he has the ambulance called, the . victims are always totally dead and are usually in the form of a bag of calcined bones fished out of one of the fumaroles. From the list I have shown you, one would have expected some to be only crippled, or blinded. The Herr Doktor expresses himself as much puzzled. He suggests that, in the cases of blindness or amnesia, the victims presumably fall into one of the fumaroles by mistake. Maybe. But, as I have said, his tally so far is over five hundred and, with the stream of publicity, more and more people will be attracted to the Castle of Death. We have got to put a stop to it.’

‘What steps have been taken so far?’

‘Commissions of investigation have visited the doctor. They have been most courteously treated. The doctor has begged that something shall be done to protect him from these trespassers. He complains that they interfere with his work, break off precious boughs and pick valuable plants. He shows himself as entirely cooperative with any measures that can be suggested short of abandoning this project, which is so dear to his heart and so much appreciated by trie Japanese specialists in botany and so forth. He has made a further most generous offer. He is constructing a research department – to be manned by workers of his own choice, mark you -to extract the poisons from his shrubs and plants and give the essences free to an appropriate medical research centre. You will have noted that many of these poisons are valuable medicines in a diluted form.’

‘But how has all this come on your plate?’ Bond was now getting drowsy. It was four o’clock and the horizon of jagged grey, porcelain-shingled roof-tops was lightening. He poured down the last of the sake. It had the flat taste of too much. It was time he was in bed. But Tiger was obviously obsessed with this lunatic business, and subtle, authentic glimpses of Japan were coming through the ridiculous, nightmare story with its undertones of Poe, Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Ambrose Bierce.

Tiger seemed unaffected by the lateness of the hour. The samurai face was perhaps etched in more sinister, more brutal lines. The hint of Tartar, tamed and civilized, lurked with less concealment, like a caged animal, in the dark pools of his eyes. But the occasional rocking motion on the buttocks and sides of the feet was the only sign that he was interested, even excited. He said, ‘One month ago, Bondo-san, I sent one of my best men into this place to try and discover what it was all about. I was so instructed by my Minister, the Minister of the Interior. He in turn was under orders from the Prime Minister. The matter was becoming one of public debate. I chose a good man. He was instructed to get into the place, observe, and report. One week later, Bondo-san, he was recovered from the sea on a beach near this Castle of Death. He was blinded and in delirium. All the lower half of his body was terribly burned. He could only babble a haiku about dragonflies. I later discovered that, as a youth, he had indulged in the pastime of our youngsters. He had tied a female dragonfly on a thread and let it go. This acts as a lure for the male dragonfly and you can quickly catch many males in this way. They attach themselves to the female and will not let go. The haiku – that is a verse of seventeen syllables – he kept on reciting until his death, which came soon, was “Desolation! Pink dragonflies flitting above the graves.”’

James Bond felt he was living inside a dream: the little room, partitioned in imitation rice-paper and cedar plywood, the open vista of a small, inscrutable garden in which water tinkled, the distant redness of an imminent dawn, the long background of sake and cigarettes, the quiet voice of the storyteller telling a fairy tale, as it might be told in a tent under the stars. And yet this was something that had happened the other day, close by – was happening now, something that Tiger had brought him here to tell. Why? Because he was lonely? Because there was no one else he could trust? Bond pulled himself out of his somnolent slouch. He said, ‘I’m sorry, Tiger. What did you do next?’

Tiger Tanaka seemed to sit slightly more upright on his black-edged rectangle of golden tatami. He looked very directly at James Bond and said, ‘What was there to do? I did nothing except apologize to my superiors. I waited for an honourable solution to present itself. I waited for you to come.’

‘Me!’

‘You were sent. It might have been another.’

James Bond yawned. He couldn’t help it. He could see no end to the evening. Tiger had got some Japanese bee in his Japanese bonnet. How in hell could Bond stop it buzzing? He said, ‘Tiger. It’s time for bed. Let’s talk about the rest of this tomorrow. Of course I’ll give you any advice I can. I can see it’s a difficult problem. But those are just the ones to sleep on.’ He made to rise from his chair.

Tiger said, and it was an order, ‘Sit down, Bondo-san. If you have any regard for your country, you leave tomorrow.’ He consulted his watch. ‘By the twelve-twenty from Tokyo main station. Your ultimate destination is Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu. You will not be going back to your hotel. You will not be seeing Dikko. From now on you are under my personal orders.’ The voice went very quiet and velvety. ‘Is that understood?’

Bond sat up as if he had been stung. ‘What in God’s name are you talking about, Tiger?’

Tiger Tanaka said, ‘In my office the other day you made a significant statement. You said words to the effect that in exchange for MAGIC 44 you were empowered to carry out any personal services that I might require of you.’

‘I didn’t say that I was empowered. I meant that I would do anything for you on my personal responsibility.’

‘That is quite good enough. I took you at your word and I requested an audience of the Prime Minister. He instructed me to proceed, but to regard the matter as a State secret known only to him and to me-and of course to you.’

‘Come on, Tiger,’ said Bond impatiently. ‘Cut the cackle. What is it you want me to do?’

But Tiger was not to be hurried. He said, ‘Bondo-san, I will now be blunt with you, and you will not be offended, because we are friends. Yes? Now it is a sad fact that I, and many of us in positions of authority in Japan, have formed an unsatisfactory opinion about the British people since the war. You have not only lost a great Empire, you have seemed almost anxious to throw it away with both hands. All right,’ he held up a hand, ‘we will not go deeply into the reasons for this policy, but when you apparently sought to arrest this slide into impotence at Suez, you succeeded only in stage-managing one of the most pitiful bungles in the history of the world, if not the worst. Further, your governments have shown themselves successively incapable of ruling and have handed over effective control of the country to the trade unions, who appear to be dedicated to the principle of doing less and less work for more money. This feather-bedding, this shirking of an honest day’s work, is sapping at ever-increasing speed the moral fibre of the British, a quality the world once so much admired. In its place we now see a vacuous, aimless horde of seekers-after-pleasure – gambling at the pools and bingo, whining at the weather and the declining fortunes of the country, and wallowing nostalgically in gossip about the doings of the Royal Family and of your so-called aristocracy in the pages of the most debased newspapers in the world.’