Extract: The Mantis by Kotaro Isaka
The book follows Kabuto, an ordinary family man with a not-so-ordinary job: he’s a hired assassin who works for a man called the Doctor. He’s trying to escape his employment, but first he must complete a few last, lucrative jobs: taking out other professional assassins. Little does he know, his final assignment will put both him and his family in danger…
The Mantis is out 9 November 2023, but we have an exclusive extract from the first chapter below.
‘I’m doing this for my family.’
‘You have a family?’
Kabuto realizes with a shock that he blurted out an unnecessary personal detail. ‘That’s got nothing to do with you,’ he mutters, wrenching the man’s arm upward.
They’re in a field, not far from the airport. Brown grass spreads around them, surrounded by a fence of trees. They’re locked in struggle among the weeds.
Kabuto is wearing an airport janitor’s uniform.
‘Damn, you’re sturdier than I thought you’d be,’ he gripes. The headshot he had seen at the doctor’s was of a man with a slight, weak-looking face, but the body under the face turned out to be thickly muscled. I got sold a bill of goods. ‘And how come your plane was late?’
‘Talk to the pilot. Or the air current.’
If he can wrap this up quickly, he’ll be able to make it to Katsumi’s school on time. That’s what he was hoping for anyway, but the plane arrived twenty minutes behind schedule. Kabuto waited in the arrivals terminal until he spotted his target, the bomb craftsman, strolling out at a leisurely pace, which only annoyed Kabuto more.
Disguised in the uniform, he followed his man down the escalator, keeping a bit of distance. Tailed him toward the taxi stand. At that point he caught up and called out to him: ‘Excuse me, sir!’ The man stopped and turned around to see what looked like a janitor approaching. ‘You dropped this.’ Kabuto held out something small, flat and plastic that looked like a protractor. The man had never seen it before, but he reflexively took it.
At the exact moment that Kabuto handed it over he pushed a button on the remote in his pocket.
The man’s body spasmed and Kabuto caught him as he fell. The device had delivered a strong electric shock. But even if the scene showed up on a security camera, it would just look like someone having a sudden collapse and a janitor helping to support them.
Kabuto carried the man over to a fake taxi he had parked nearby, loaded him into the car, and drove away. When they reached the trees at the edge of the field, he hauled the bomb craftsman out of the car and slapped his face a few times.
Once the man was awake, Kabuto challenged him: ‘Come on.’
At first his opponent was still in a daze, but after a few moments he realized what was happening. His eyes sharpened and he came at Kabuto.
They locked up, then broke, then locked up again. It was more grappling than throwing proper punches and kicks. All the while Kabuto steadily dealt damage with vicious close-range blows to the collarbone, solar plexus, throat, fingers, trying to wear his target down.
The man wasn’t as fast as Kabuto had worried he might be. He was able to control the fight: attack here and he moves this way, strike there and his joint bends that way. If only my wife were so easy to handle.
‘I’m doing this for my family.’
Before long the man grunts, ‘Why?’ He takes a swing at Kabuto, who dips his head back to evade.
‘It’s just a job.’
‘No—’ The man rushes him and Kabuto sidesteps like a bullfighter.
The man whips back around. ‘Why didn’t you finish me off after you shocked me?’
‘Oh,’ Kabuto says, controlling his breathing and keeping his eyes on his target. ‘I don’t like taking out someone who can’t fight back. Prefer a fair fight.’
‘There’s no such thing as fair.’ The bomb craftsman furrows his thick brows.
Be fair. Kabuto is always trying to teach that to his son. He’s never been all that interested in loftier lessons like do the right thing, or do your very best, or don’t be afraid to fail. But he feels strongly about this one thing: As much as you can, be fair. That’s all. Whether you’re attacking someone or protecting someone, try to be fair about it.
‘Dad, that’s like, pretty vague.’ Recently Katsumi had started saying this about his father’s teaching, if it could even be called a teaching. ‘It doesn’t give me any kind of concrete direction on what to do.’
‘Well, concrete, I mean, it depends on the situation. Say you’re making fun of someone.’
‘Making fun of someone? What am I, in elementary school?’
‘It’s just an example. So, you should never make fun of someone’s name, or their face or body.’
‘Because those aren’t things they can change. If you go after someone over something they can’t do anything about, that’s hardly fair. Right?’
‘Okay, so what can you make fun of someone about?’
‘Let’s see.’ Kabuto thought about it for a moment. ‘Their snacking habits. That’s something they have complete control over. You can say, “Ha ha, you just can’t stop snacking at night, can you?” Or something like that.’
‘Right. Sick burn, Dad.’ Katsumi rolled his eyes. ‘So what should I do if someone says to me that my dad is a lame corporate nobody?’
‘Someone said that to you?’
‘It’s just an example.’
‘Well, if they did, don’t worry about it.’
‘Don’t worry about it?’
‘If someone says that to you, do they score any points? If your dad is a corporate nobody, does that mean this other guy did anything special? Nope. He’s just pointing out a fact. It might not even be true. But even if it is, it’s just saying words. Anyone can do that. But they don’t, because they have common sense. So this guy who says this, all he’s doing is abandoning his common sense and letting his emotions take over so that he’s just stating facts that won’t change, whether he says anything about them or not. Like I said, not scoring any points on you. And then you can just say the same kind of thing back to him. Your ancestors were apes, something like that. That’s a fact too.’
‘And that’s your idea of fairness?’
‘Yep. And if there’s something that you feel fine doing but you don’t like when someone does it to you, that’s unfair.’
‘Fine for me to do but not fine for someone else. Okay, how about when you come home late and Mom gets mad because she says your footsteps are too loud and she can’t sleep. But when you have a day off, she runs the vacuum cleaner while you’re trying to sleep. So that’s unfair, right?’
When he heard his son say that, Kabuto’s eyes almost welled up. He felt the deep emotional impact of finding someone who truly understood his plight. But he couldn’t suddenly throw his arms around his boy. If he expressed out loud his appreciation for his son’s empathy, there was a non-zero chance that his wife would find out. It’s not like he thought his son was a double agent, working both of his parents. But you could never be too careful.
Kabuto has the man from behind, crushing his neck in the crook of his elbow. Finally the man stops breathing.
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