It’s not common for me to end up in J-District.
Most of the street signs are written in English, but other than that, it’s all a bunch of Chinese and Japanese characters everywhere that I can’t even begin to decipher.
If it weren’t for the familiar welcoming logos of stores like Burger Box and Fami, I probably wouldn’t even be able to find the first thing around here.
After the Eastern Union overtook the United States as the world economy, many Americans began to see the country as a mortal enemy, never to be trusted, but generally in Atlanta, that was never the case. Today we have a whole neighborhood beyond dedicated to having a little slice of Japan right here at home, or in the case of the many Japanese businessmen who arrive or pass through this city on a daily basis, a slice of home right here in Atlanta.
It’s home mostly to Atlanta’s sizeable Japanese-American population, but also to people from all over the Eastern Union, or the federal republic consisting of the autonomous nations of Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Ryuukyuu, Bonin, and Hainan. There’s a Chinatown on the other side of the city but J-District itself is still home to a diverse mix of cultures, despite the vast Japanese hegemony.
It almost makes me uncomfortable walking around here.
As someone who is distinctly not East Asian (not that I have ever been able to figure out my father’s ethnic makeup considering he was adopted in Brooklyn and all records have been lost), it feels weird being in somewhere where I can barely read the signs, let alone understand what anyone is saying. I feel like an outsider in my own city.
And in the past few decades the immigration levels have been so high from East and Southeast Asia that the makeup of the entire city is swiftly changing.
It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but… I can’t say it hasn’t affected my feelings about leaving for Tallahassee, where the number of first-generation immigrants can be counted on two hands.
Yeah, Karina is lumped right in there with the rest of them, her parents coming over from Japan just a few months before she was born, but she doesn’t talk about her experience with the Japanese side of her very much. I’m not sure how much she knows or cares, just that she speaks exclusively in Japanese with her father when he gets in those critical moods towards her.
The main thing that brings me back to J-District is the food. You can find some absolutely delectable stuff here if you look.
My favorite restaurant is one an old friend from high school always recommended to me when we hung out; it’s a Katsudon shop called “Katsu-Don’t Stop!” and despite the incomprehensible name it serves some of the best pork cutlets you can imagine. If I survive this upcoming encounter I’m going to get a table for one and eat a mega-bowl for lunch. There’s no guarantee, though that that will ever come to pass…
As with the rest of Atlanta, crime is fairly low compared to what it was twenty or thirty years ago, but there’s always going to be rumblings of a yakuza gangs setting up shop and pushing around illegal contraband.
I’ve been involved in pretty underground work in Atlanta for over a year now, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it. That is, unless you count Motokawa…
I venture off into a sidestreet where I find a small, unmarked door. I go down a few flights of stairs and through a musty, dank hallway…
…and enter Motokawa’s place of business.
A large assortment of muscular men and leering ladies filled the hall, some of them drinking beer or playing pool, some of them reading over assignments.
And right at the center of the room, at the head of a large, empty dinner table, there she was.
She gives me a cold, blank stare out of her single functional eye.
The Mercenary Prince Yuri Motokawa.
Even before I met R8PR and gained my out-of-the-ordinary abilities, I had heard of Motokawa. A veteran of the war, a woman who lost an arm and both legs in a bomb blast during the Battle of Houston, a woman who became proprietor of a vast criminal business that has plagued Atlanta for about fifteen years.
The origin of her nickname is a mystery and I’ve heard a dozen rumors about how that came to be, but it’s no laughing matter that the Mercenary Prince is one of the foremost forces in Atlanta’s underground.
Despite the facial scarring, pale-white right eye, and three metallic limbs, she looks great for someone nearly forty. If I didn’t know better I’d say she was closer to my age. I wish I could have skin that clear.
She’s been around as long as the sky rail, is one way to look at it. As much a fixture in the city as anything could be.
“You know why I’m here,” I tell her.
Her response is quick. “No, I don’t.”
A stark silence sets over the entire room. Thugs and miscreants from all over the hall turn to face us.
A few men start walking towards me, aiming to cut off any chance of escape I might have, but Motokawa waves her arms and they lower their guard.
“Tell me why,” she says.
“Your men came to my house and destroyed it and attacked me because they thought I was the Social Media Killer.”
“You know I don’t discuss contracts with third parties,” she says. “I am usually not aware of the specific actions my clients’ requests of my employees.”
This is getting nowhere fast.
I’m done with these coy wordplay games with everyone. I just want to get straight to the point and get on with my friggin’ life.
“Let me simplify,” I say. “I saved your ass last time. And you don’t want to waste valuable resources pursuing me when you know full well what I’m capable of. We shouldn’t be enemies. So I need to know who hired your man Marco Marcucci and why I was targeted, and I want to be repaid for the damage done to my home.”
“Whether or not we are enemies is not up to my discretion,” she says. “It’s up to my contracts.”
Motokawa turns her head towards one of her employees, another middle-aged woman with short hair, and she leans in close to her. They begin speaking back and forth in Japanese. From the tone, I can tell that their discussion is tense, but I obviously can’t make out anything they are saying.
The woman steps away and Motokawa turns back to me.
“I make no exceptions to my client rule,” Motokawa says, simply. “In fact, I can assume that you found out about my connection to your assault only because Mr. Marcucci was sloppy. Rest assured he will no longer be in our employ.”
In this line of business, that doesn’t mean anything nice.
“I need your help,” I plead, trying to keep my composure while dozens of people surround me.
“You want me to help you, but you want more than I can offer,” she says.
You know what I want. But you won’t bend even your lightest of codes.
It’s honorable and infuriating.
She raises her robotic arm up onto the table and puts her hand on her chin to think.
The men and women around me seem confused that some scrawny young adult could walk into their boss’s room and make demands without being pummeled to death. A couple of them seem ready to pounce and attack me even against her orders.
I can feel myself sweating out my entire water intake for the week. Even if worst comes to worst I refuse to raise a fist to anyone, in case they see my ghastly pit stains.
“But,” Motokawa adds. “I owe you a favor, as you and I both recall.”
She owes me one for sure.
“I’ll tell you where you can find Mr. Marcucci. Because of his failure to extract information he was recently reassigned to another job in the same contract, standing guard at the Recall Epstein Campaign headquarters. I will not tell you the client, nor will I repay you. But you can do what you wish with Mr. Marcucci, because he is now a free agent.”
“Thank you, Mercenary Prince,” I say.
“We will cease to pursue you for the rest of the duration of this contract,” she says. “But this will be the only favor traded between us. There will be no exceptions, no do-overs after this. After this, we are even.”
“If you choose to continue to involve yourself in my employees’ affairs, they will not hesitate to kill you.”
“It’s only business,” I say.
Her expression remains neutral.
Without another word, I turn around and depart from Motokawa’s place of business.