Something is Blooming By D.I. Jolly
It had a been a long year, and it was only March. One of those years where every day felt like a fucking Thursday and every night could be your last. But I was never that lucky. When I entered The Tulip, a fancy night club in one of Tokyo’s trendier districts, I was struck by how nice the place looked. Usually, when you go to a night club during the day you are greeted by the grim reality that sunlight puts on dark deeds. But not this place, this place still held that air of sophistication, of class and secrecy. Even at noon, the whole place felt like one big dark room. And the barman’s smile wasn’t helping me any.
“May I help you sir?”
“Been looking for Ryū ‘The Dragon’ Saito, he in?”
Even though there was no one else around, the room somehow got quieter, and the situation suddenly felt dangerous.
“Right this way.” Said the barmen with his creepy smile and gestured to a door behind the bar. I walked in to find a man sitting at a desk with an overflowing ashtray, a cigarette in his mouth and a look on his face that said it had been a long day, and an even longer night.
“I said I don’t want to be bothered!”
His words slipped around the cigarette butt, and it was clear that he hadn’t realised who I was.
“That’s ok,’ I said casually, ‘I’ll be brief.”
Ryū’s head snapped up in surprise but his wide eyes narrowed when he saw me.
“Mr. Jones, what do I owe the pleasure.”
He rose slowly, careful the keep his hands on the desk in plain sight and gestured for me to take a seat, which I did. He then offered me a cigarette and a lighter, another polite and careful move. I made sure to light his before mine, and then spend a moment enjoying the gift.
“That’s mighty white of you Mr. Saito. But I have a feeling you know why I’m here.”
Ryū Saito let his eyebrows go up and his smile fade in a movement so natural I had to believe they were deliberate. The man was no fool, he knew the fight had already begun and wasn’t going to let me get the upper hand so easily.
“A racist as well, I’m disappointed to find that my files on you not so complete as I thought.”
“You’re breaking my heart, I’m actually a bit disappointed. Maybe you don’t know why I’m here.”
I took another long drag of the cigarette, letting the smoke fill my mouth. I don’t know where he got his cigarettes from, but he always managed to have the best in town. I also waited for him to talk, if he actually didn’t know what was going on, that was something I needed to know.
“You’re here, Mr. Jones, because a woman in a red dress told you to be here. Because she cried in your office and then offered you a lot of money and sweet sorrowful lies. The same reason you do everything.”
She hadn’t been wearing a red dress, it was a deep warm blue that was ripped at the shoulder and it brought out the flashes of green in her eyes. She also didn’t have any money, but she had something else, something more motivating than straight cash.
“So, what did she tell you? Do I have a secret family? Do I not pay my staff? Does she think she saw something she wasn’t supposed to see?”
I finished the cigarette and flicked it into the ashtray. It hit the stack of dead butts, bounced twice and rolled to the middle of the table where it threatened to burn a small hole in the expensive-looking leather top.
“Actually, she didn’t say anything, couldn’t speak poor thing. On account of the hand-shaped bruises around her neck.”
Ryū reached across the table and crushed my cigarette out with his thumb, and then something unexpected happened. He looked at me with a flicker of genuine surprise. We held each other’s gaze for a full minute, each trying to read the other’s face for some hint of something. And while I didn’t see him take another drag, when he let out his breath through his nose two long clouds of smoke came with and I suddenly started to wonder if there was more to his nickname than I knew. His eyes narrowed but his posture relaxed just enough to tell me that I’d won the round.
“Congratulations Mr. Jones, you’ve managed to do something only very few other people have ever done.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“Surprised me.’ He once again held out his box of cigarettes, I took two, lit them both and held one out to him as a peace offering. Ryū smiled and bowed ever so slightly as he took it. ‘Now tell me, why are you here?”
I leaned back in the chair, breathed a sigh of thick smoke and said.
“Like I said the girl couldn’t talk, but she held out matchbook for The Tulip and your business card.”
I put both on the table and slip them forward for him to see. Ryū looked down and frowned.
“That, is not my business card.”
He pointed across his desk at a cardholder, I reached forward and grabbed one to examine it.
“Well, then I guess I’m here to tell you that one or both of us are being set up.”
Ryū picked up the fake card and flipped it through his fingers a few times, an expression on his face I’d never seen before.
“So, it would seem.’ He thought for a moment and open a desk drawer. ‘Or you’ve been deliberately sent here to deliver me a message.”
“Oh?’ I said, my interest starting to rise. ‘How’d you figure?”
He pulled out a small dusty black card box, which he opened, then handed me an equally dusty card. I looked it over and realised it was incredibly similar to the one I’d been given, but not exactly the same, the flaws of memory.
“That was my first ever business card, from when I first lived here, before even I moved to Hong Kong.”
I slipped the card into my pocket and put my box cigarettes on the table.
“From what I understand, and if rumours can be believed, the man you are today and the man you were back then are very different people.”
Ryū ’s eyes grew wide along with his smile.
“The Demon of Kowloon Bay?”
“Well, don’t believe everything you hear Mr. Jones. Some of it might get you in trouble.”
I finished my second cigarette and this time I crushed it out neatly.
“I’m starting to believe I’m already in trouble Mr. Saito.”
He moved so quickly that I didn’t actually see him move. One moment he was sitting comfortably, and the next he was sitting comfortably with my wrist in his hand and me hauled halfway across the desk.
“Yes, and if you come with that racist bullshit again, you’ll be in even more.”
My voice came out a bit strained because of the pressure from the desk in my stomach but I did what I could to sound casual.
“That was a tactic and you know it.”
He gave my wrist a quick squeeze and I suddenly got the impression that he could break it that way, and without much effort, then he let go and I pushed myself back up onto my feet.
“Find a better tactic, Mr. Jones. Stupidity is unbecoming.”
I frowned, picked up my cigarettes and once again lit two.
“Do you feel better now that you’ve gotten that out of the way?”
He took the offering and smiled.
“I do, now, take me to see this woman.”
My car was nothing to look at, and that was the point. Just the same kinda car that your average Joe nobody would drive from his average Joe home, to his average Joe job and back again. Most people give me a bit of grief about it, or at the very least a raised eyebrow. Ryū Saito, however, nodded his approval and climbed into the back seat.
“What are you doing?”
“I am not your buddy nor your partner I am not sitting next to you. You are driving me to your office as a guest.”
He then closed the door so probably didn’t hear me say quietly under my breath,
“Well, then we’re smoking your cigarettes the rest of the day.”
But somehow still held them out to me when I climbed in. A deliberate but friendly gesture to tell me to be more careful. I pulled out into traffic and we started the long slow drive through the city. A couple minutes passed in comfortable silence until Ryū let out a long sigh and said.
“Have you ever been the love of someone’s life Mr Jones?”
“I have, her name meant Violets, her favourite flower, and she was incredible. We met as youths and our families couldn’t have been happier when we started courting. I was going to make millions in business after I got my education and she was going to be a doctor until we had many impressive babies.”
I checked my mirror and saw him absently staring out the window watching the city crawl by as traffic inched forwards.
“I had done everything above board, and by the book, while we were together. Legitimate businessman through and through. Ha, I actually got my first job working for Nintendo selling games to children. Saving money where I could and developing my own business on the side. The way they taught us in school. Nightclubs seemed like such a good idea to a wide-eyed business student. People love to party, and dance and sing. They just need a place to do it. Business school never taught me that clubland, was gangland. On the day The Tulip became the nightspot to be seen in, was the day my house burnt down, taking my wife, and my life with it. It was also the day that I moved to Hong Kong.”
He crushed out his cigarette and for the first time, he lit two and leaned forward to tap me on the shoulder to offer me one.
“Why are you telling me this?”
‘The Dragon’ Saito pulled his whole cigarette into his lung in a single breath and held it for a minute. Then he let out a cloud that covered his face and his voice came out dark and hard.
“Because Violet was the one who designed that business card, Mr. Jones.”