(This story is 1,899 words long. Reading time is approximately 9 minutes.)
All spring long, rain had flooded the city streets. The Pacific winds had battered down the most ambitious of outdoor gatherings. The highly anticipated cherry blossoms had come and gone in less than a week, struck down nearly as quickly as they could bloom. Weathermen were calling it the “meanest” spring in Japan’s recent history.
The citizens of Tokyo, in particular, bore the weather with their usual grace and stoicism. But by late May, even the bubbliest of kids were finding it hard to laugh or play.
And that’s why on Sunday, June 7th, when the sun rose high in the sky, smiling like a long lost friend, and the temperature soared to 25 degrees, the busy people of the city were quick to drop their sundry obligations. They staggered outside, as if in a dream, to lift their eyes to the sky and admire their sudden change of fortune.
The families and the couples, the young men and the groups of chattering teens, the food stand vendors and the cab drivers and even the government officials poured out of the buildings and into the streets, the parks, the rooftops, the plazas and the wide open spaces. The few remaining cherry blossoms tried their hardest to shine as pink and as purple as possible. And old Mt. Fuji gazed out across the city, her white crown top looking as fluffy and friendly as a dollop of cream.
Down in Ueno Park, families came to spread their blankets and pitch their day tents. Kids ran wild on the play structures and parents lounged in the grass. The riverside vendors pulled their dusty canoes and picnic tables out of storage and into the sunlight. Young couples paid cash to rent colorful boats shaped like swans, which floated along the banks and left everyone feeling young in their wake.
But in the midst of all this unexpected joy, a young boy’s life was erupting into sudden turmoil.
No older than 3 or maybe 4, the boy stood alone at the foot of a pedestrian bridge that spanned a small stream. He was crying the word for mother, “Haha!, Haha!”, and for all appearances he seemed to be alone.
Two slightly older boys flew a kite nearby, but they paid no attention to the child. Bikers zoomed by to quickly to notice. A group of teenage girls huddled together by a maple tree; one of them held an ice cream cone which, unbeknownst to her was melting, the scoop of chocolate sliding slowly but surely over the lip of the cone. Families were picnicking in the grass nearby, but no one seemed to hear the young boys cries.
A tall European man was coming over the pedestrian bridge, and more than a few heads did turn to notice him. Not only was he unusually tall, but he also wore a dark blue, impeccably pressed three-piece suit and a grey bowler hat that made him look even taller. His pointed shoes were a glossy cherry color, and he carried a brown briefcase in his left hand. The briefcase was old and worn – the single thing about the man that wasn’t new or sharp. On his left hand he wore a silver plated watch with a brown band. He looked more like a 20th century Londoner than a modern international business man.
When the tall man came over the bridge and strode briskly past the crying boy, neither took much notice of the other. The boy’s eyes were shut tight, and the man walked with an intention that matched his attire.
Now he came to a wooden bench and table and sat down. He snapped his left arm in order to glance at his watch; the time was 2:10 in the afternoon. From his briefcase he produced a silver point-and-shoot camera. He turned the camera on and held it out in front of him. Through the little bright screen he observed the Tokyo skyline.
“Haha! Haha!” The little boy cried louder still.
The tall man looked up, noticing the boy for the first time. The man’s face was expressionless. He looked around at the nearby families, and then turned back to his camera.
“Aahhaeiaaahh!” The boy cried. He was past using words now. His shoulders drew up to his ears and hot tears rolled down both cheeks.
The man looked at his watch again, it was 2:14.
Very slowly he closed his briefcase, stood up, and walked over to the boy. It was quite a strange and almost hilarious sight: the tall straight-faced man looming over the little boy. But neither of them seemed to find it funny.
The man did not try to comfort the boy, but looked casually around the park. Finally he spotted a young woman about 20 yards away. She was leaning against a lamp post and typing something on her cell phone. She might have been too young to be taken as a mother, but an empty stroller sat still at her side.
Rather than picking the child up or attempting to talk to him, the man left and approached the mother. She was still busy with her phone, and did not notice the tall man in the blue suit until he was looming her. She jumped back, surprised, when she realized she was being watched.
“Your boy is crying.” he said.
The woman looked around, as if to be sure that he was really talking to her.
“Over there,” he nodded.
Whether or not she understood, she ducked quickly out of the man’s gaze, bowed politely, and pushed her empty stroller back onto the sidewalk. She walked casually in the direction of her son. When she saw that he was crying she called to him, and only then did the boy’s feet finally come unglued from the ground.
Meanwhile, the man examined his watch; the time was 2:19. He briskly returned to his park bench and unlocked the brass buckles of his briefcase. Again he turned on the camera and peered at the city through it’s digital screen.
The man pushed “record” on the camera and it began to capture a video. He ran the camera’s viewfinder across the Tokyo skyline, out over the park and across to the skyscrapers on the other side.
One particularly tall building stood higher than the rest. It had a sleek, modern shape, with three prominent sides instead of four. Running up each of the three sides was a single black column, otherwise the entire building was covered in blue glass. On each side of the building, a long, zig zag pattern sent colorful lights bouncing up and down the impressive length of the tower. The neon lights were especially dazzling at night; but right now, in the early afternoon, they were faint and indistinct.
The man’s watch clicked to 2:22pm. He saw the explosion even before he heard it.
Two thirds of the way up the tower, on the north-facing side, the glass exterior erupted in a violent fiery blast. Glass and steel projectiles shot sideways from the tower, trailing tails of fire like comets. The debris plummeted down on nearby buildings and into the streets below.
A few seconds later, the tall man in the three piece suit felt the rushing wind from the blast on his face. It was enough to knock his hat to the back of his head. But with both hands he continued to steady the camera, keeping it trained on the tower.
People screamed and car horns blared, but the echo of the booming blast rang the loudest.
What happened next was a surreal and terrifying sight. The upper third of the tower, the part above the blast, began to tilt and cave. Over a hundred meters and a thousand tons of steel and glass and iron began to slide – in one hulking piece – like a scoop of ice cream sliding off the side of a waffle cone.
But at the peak moment, instead of plummeting neatly over the edge in one piece, the upper part of the tower seemed to simply… disintegrate. At first it began to lean, then it began to quiver, and then it simply fell to pieces.
More deadly debris rained down, and an enormous billow of black smoke began to rise from the tower’s fresh wound.
Back in Uedo park, the people who had just been playing and enjoying their innocent summer afternoon were now thrown headlong into either shock or turmoil. Mothers screamed in fear, children ran, fathers scrambled desperately about. A few stood rooted to their places, simply watching. One man sat on his blanket in the grass, arms wrapped around his knees, staring blankly at the burning building.
The only one in the whole city who wasn’t panicking was the tall man in the blue suit with the bowler hat and the briefcase and the little handheld camera. His expression was just as impassive as the distant snowy face of Mt. Fuji, who likewise watched without saying a word.
After about a minute, the man turned off his camera and returned it to it’s place inside the briefcase. He closed the case and pinched the brass locks into place. He returned his hat to it’s upright position, stood up, and dusted off the front of his jacket. Tiny bits of ash and debris began to fill the sky as the man turned and walked into the park.
He reached into his inner coat pocket, produced a phone, and called the one and only number saved in the contacts.
Another man’s voice came through on the other line: “Yes? Who is this?”
“Hello, Charles,” said the tall man.
“Yes, hello, who is this?”
“The hour has come for your reckoning, Charles. Today a chain of events has been set into motion. But it is only the beginning.”
“I’m sorry, you must have dialed the wrong-“
“You ruined my business and my livelihood. You killed my family. I’ve never forgotten you Charles. I never will. And soon enough I’ll repay you in kind.”
Charles grew quiet.
“I’ve got a handful of projects in the works that will surely…. interest you,” said the tall man as he walked. “The next one will take place in a week’s time.”
Now Charles gave a nervous cough, “Listen, I’m sure there’s been a misunderstanding. Who am I speaking with?”
“Mr. Green,” came the answer.
“And what exactly are you-”
Mr. Green abruptly ended the call and stuffed the phone back into his jacket pocket. He came to the end of the sidewalk and took a right turn into the field. His cherry colored shoes cut briskly through the grass and the mud. When he reached the end of the field he stepped out onto a quiet, residential street. He was now walking away from the park and into the common area of a large apartment complex.
Had he paused to look behind him, he would have seen the impressive, triangular glass tower, it’s upper third now completely missing, emitting a plume of jet-black smoke from it’s top like a chimney in winter.
Instead, he lifted his wrist to observe his silver plated watch. It was nearly 2:30, and for now at least, everything was going according to plan.