co-authored by Kay Makishi (福岡県)
The following is based on true events, as retold by two of the agency’s undercover agents. Some names and details have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
“All of the new recruits will have specially designed badges on their person,” said the woman. We all wore the same bright-blue disguise that humid summer day, briefed as “travel agents” and “tour guides” for the incoming operatives. Several Narita Airport patrons shot curious stares in our direction, but suspected nothing out of the ordinary.
Our silent sea of loud-blue-shirted “attendants” contrasted the perfectly primped decor of the Keio Plaza Hotel. Only the humming whir of the constantly rolling escalators around the corner filled the air when the coordinator paused between explanations. He pointed his clipboard towards the glass-lined walkway; the new J.E.T. agents were to be funneled through there. I recalled the process vividly from when I joined the organization, myself.
The main objective was simple: escort the new recruits safely to the hotel. My role was even simpler: hold a sign and point.
I soon found out, however, that some agents like myself were playing for a second team. The former seafaring duchess, Agent Dallas, and I were assigned to the same post at the end of the final walkway. A year earlier, the two of us had been drafted into a sub-organization deep within the J.E.T. as people with supposedly “anonymous protected identities,” often abbreviated simply as the “api” (pronounced “ap’ee”). Our secret mission was to inform specially selected recruits of their induction into the group, which became evidently impossible as soon as the first few faces walked off of the airplanes.
I was in the direct path of all incoming J.E.T. operatives on the last leg of their journey before receiving their new identification cards and temporary room keys. That meant that I was to see every new recruit before the end of the night. Yet, there was no distinguishing the api agents from the rest of the white-badged plain-clothes walking in my direction.
Glancing at the base of the escalators towards Mr. Miyagi, who had proven to be another api agent like me, there had yet to be any sign of any interception by the end of the first envoy. He shrugged at me and turned towards Agent Sassoon in the other wing of the lobby. She, too, raised her shoulders at the situation. We needed a clear tactic, but the api organization had been quiet even to its own agents for years, and there had been no detailed word from the higher ups about the mission whatsoever. At points, there were even speculations whether the api still really existed as an entity, but we knew that we were a part of it somehow.
Even before the genesis of the J.E.T. in 1987, it was theorized that the api were already in operation for decades, or even centuries, slyly hiding amongst the Japanese nationals, undercover. Although it existed in other forms elsewhere in the country, it was not until 2009 that the group broke its silence within the J.E.T. umbrella organization. After its second year in the public eye, however, the group sank back into its clandestine existence, without inasmuch as a whisper or a trail of its disappearance. The agents were left to our own devices to complete missions that we could only deduce as official from their very purpose and nature, never knowing the true source of the communiqué.
We were ordered to grab our last meal of the night by one of the clipboard-toting, red-lanyard-wearing programme coordinators. There was a lull between arrivals, and it was our only chance to take a break from the normally fast-paced action on the hotel grounds. Return in one hour. No later. Roger.
One by one, the recruits passed. One by one, I did my best to lead them in the right direction according to J.E.T. protocol, but the final flights were soon scheduled to land, and I was losing sight of the api mission.
Agent Dallas suggested to just keep our eyes peeled. Mayhap there was a second badge that we had been missing. I kept looking, but the view remained empty. Then, from way out of left field, one of the other J.E.T. “tour guides” started humming a familiar tune, which sparked a revelation as he boarded the final busload of new recruits headed to the hotel.
Mr. Miyagi and I convened with Agent Sassoon and Special Operative Jackson at a secluded cafe next to the Shinjuku Train Terminal, within a click of the Keio sector on the outskirts of the Metropolitan District well into the moist and humid evening. We had to save the api mission. We needed a fresh approach. At least the team was bigger than I was initially led to believe.
After mulling over a myriad suggestions, from the go-for-broke and hope-for-the-best approach of randomly interrogating an inbound recruit, to the outlandish idea of involving toy boats in Tokyo’s rivers, we still could not agree on a concrete solution. That was until we looked up from our suppers and really met eyes with each other for the first time. Simultaneously, we dropped our spoons and forks, and bolted towards the door with renewed vigor to complete the mission.
I stopped everything and allowed the Korean pop rhythm to linger in my ears. At first looking at nothing specifically, I quickly turned towards my fellow agent holding her informational sign lifeless between her hands. Catching a final glimpse of Gordy the “tour guide” who clearly was not an api operative but singing an api tune, it opened up my eyes wider than the setting sun.
The badge we had been looking for was in plain sight the entire time. I told Agent Dallas to look at me closely. We, too, had the calling card of an api agent written all over our faces. No wonder the organization had been able to exist for so long without worry of being exposed. We were not api agents; we were A.P.I. agents.
We grabbed our bags, and we ran as fast as we could to the bus that would take us back to the Keio Plaza Hotel, wishing to get there before it was too late.
We made a mad dash through the busy streets. Thousands of people and hundreds of cars flooded the area. We knew what to look for at last, but navigating the urban grid in the middle of the evening rush hour was no easy task.
The traffic could not have been any more congested. Stuck on an unmoving coach in an everlasting gridlock, we could only hope that the caravan of buses that had left before us would be more delayed than our lighter coach. Maybe there was still a chance we would arrive ahead of the final batch.
With the Keio Plaza Hotel’s towers visible through the massive cityscape, we split up into pairs. Sassoon and I went one direction while Mr. Miyagi and Jackson sprinted in another, our groups cut off from each other by red traffic lights and hordes of suits walking in multiple directions.
I turned a corner to descend a set of stairs. Two more turns later, Agent Sassoon was gone, lost among the hundreds of dark-haired office workers filing out of their buildings in drones. Even her blue shirt was nowhere to be seen. She was lost in the crowd, an indistinguishable figure. I had to continue alone and trust that the others were not far behind.
There was no getting out of the four-wheeled prison. Outside the windshield were the brilliant lights of Shinjuku’s bustling boulevards. If we could not accomplish our mission by the end of the night, the new recruits would be out of our hands forever. We had to make a call.
I did not hear a ring, but the vibration in my pocket shook me from my lost trance. I flipped my phone open and continued to run in the general direction of the hotel, steps getting ever faster to match the heartbeats in my chest.
“Agent Voldemort?” a voice whispered on the other end. “The airport interception mission was a failure.” The familiar voice was almost inaudible with the revving engines and the hundreds of idle chatter coming from all directions.
Between breaths I answered, “Ka…AGENT Kaysian I presume?” The syllables almost could not form in my rush to catch a pedestrian crossing light.
“So you know it, too,” I whispered even lower. The other J.E.T. operatives in the bus were loud enough to muffle out the phone call, but I could not risk being caught as a double agent, especially before I could confirm a mission accomplished.
We were inching towards the final drop point when a blue blur sped past our front window.
“Yes!” I yelled in a moment of clarity. Between huffs, I responded the best I could, “I need to go. Hotel. We know who they are!”
On a bridge above our sluggish bus, two more blue runners flew between the red and amber lights of the dozen taxis lining the avenue. From another vantage, a female figure in a similar uniform darted out from a soon-to-be drunk group of salary men.
As we pulled into the hotel rotary, Agent Voldemort came to greet us. He was doubled over, hands on his knees to keep him from collapse. I huddled towards our side window, leaning an arm atop Agent Dallas’s bag that rested on her lap, awaiting a sign from the exhausted agent on the sidewalk. None of us moved even while everyone else had already begun making their way towards the coach’s door. It was as silent between us as the airport had been much earlier that day.
I arrived at the hotel earlier than the other agents. Once I could finally gather myself, the last limousine coach stopped and hissed to engage its brakes. To my left was Agent Sassoon jogging to a halt. To my right were Mr. Miyagi and Special Operative Jackson descending a set of stairs. In front of me were Agent Dallas and Special Agent Kaysian leaning close to their coach’s window.
Without a word, he stood straight and lifted his arms. He crossed them in the shape of an “X”, and we all exhaled a large disappointed breath in unison. Complete mission failure. However, not all had been lost.
Later that evening, when all of the new recruits and other J.E.T. operatives had gone to sleep, we gathered behind closed doors. Although we had all met before at the previous night’s briefing, it was as if we were again meeting each other for the first time, never having known that we had always shared a common mission, and what a mission it was.
It was the A.P.I. mission, and we were the A.P.I. agents. ◆