Traffic in a city this size is never not terrible, and it took almost an hour before we pulled up outside The Second Life. A discrete love hotel where you could get a room and a couple of people to share it with for a few hours. It was also a great place to hide out, since they never took real names and never let anyone into any of the rooms unless it had been pre-arranged. The man at reception looked me up and down and disregarded me as trash, then bowed deeply towards Ryū and asked him how he could help, in Japanese, clearly presuming I didn’t understand. Which was only half right. Ryū turned and cocked an eyebrow at me.
“You stashed your client here?”
“You know a better place in this city?”
The corner of Ryū’s mouth twitched into almost a smile.
“None, I’m actually impressed. It would seem you’re not as dumb as you look.”
The receptionist turned his attention back to me and scowled, but didn’t speak.
“I’m on the list to visit room 238. And my guest is coming with me.”
The receptionists scowl deepened and he turned towards a computer screen. Ryū then took out his smoked and light one handing the box to me. I took one but before I could get the flame of my lighter to the end of the cigarette, the receptionist snatched it out of my hands and grunted aggressively, pointing towards a no smoking sign on the wall. I, in turn, pointed at Ryū Saito, who casually let smoke drift out of his nose.
“What about him?”
Without blinking and still in Japanese the receptionist answered something like.
“Owners makes their own rules.”
I looked Ryū and said.
“I’m a busy man.”
“Apparently.’ I turned back to the receptionist. ‘So can we go up now?”
Without looking back at the screen, he tapped the keyboard one more time and said.
“You may, but that guest has already checked out.’ He then slid a small envelope across the counter. ‘But she left you this.”
I took the thing and turned to Ryū, who stared at me unmoved by the situation.
“What did she leave you?”
I opened the envelope and looked down at a human pinkie with red nail polish, and while my total outward reaction was to sigh and turn back to the receptionist, inwardly my blood turned cold and heart started racing.
“She dropped this off with you personally?”
“You notice anything odd about her?”
Ryū stepped forward and took the envelope out of my hands, cocked an eyebrow, then looked up and nodded.
“No. everything seemed in order except for …’ he paused a moment and wave a hand over his neck, ‘makeup.”
I nodded my thanks and started heading towards the car, with Ryū close behind me. He once again got into the back seat and I started driving, only this time with no clear idea of where I was going. After a minute he leaned forward and handed me a cigarette and an address.
“Let’s go here.”
I looked it over and realized it was out of the city, more towards the suburbs.
“That was my old address. It’s clear someone is trying the play with, and possibly threaten us Mr. Jones. This, in my opinion, would be the next logical step in the game. I say we play it and see where it goes.”
He wasn’t totally wrong, and if he was right about the card, it would be a good spot to start.
“That’ I said, ‘or back to my office? We can’t be sure that whoever is putting the moves on us would know you’d come with me. Besides, I’m not so sure I want to walk straight into a trap.”
He considered my words for a minute.
“There is no guarantee that your office is any less obvious than my old home.”
I cracked my neck and took a long pull on the cigarette, thinking.
“Or we say fuck it, and hit up Rosie’s for a few shots of something strong, a few pulls of something stronger and sing karaoke until whoever it is that’s so keen on this game comes to us.”
I could feel Ryū’s scowl even before I saw it in my review mirror.
“What did I tell you about that racist bullshit.”
“I’m not being racists, it’s not my fault that ever third bar in this city is a karaoke bar. Some clichés are clichés for a damn good reason. Besides, I can sing a fairly good Frank Sinatra, if I do say so myself.”
“If any bar will do, why specifically Rosie’s? I mean we have private singing booths at The Tulip?”
I let out a large cloud of smoke and almost flicked my cigarette out of the window but remembered at the last minute and crushed it out instead.
“Because you own The Tulip, and I’m also on a paying case that involves Rosie’s piano player Vincent.”
“And why do I have to come along?”
“Because Vinnie doesn’t have a little finger.”
Ryū looked back at the envelope and nodded thoughtfully.
“The 9 fingered pianist, now that would be something to see. Alright Mr. Jones, I don’t have any other pressing matters today, let’s go get shitty on watered-down highballs and sing together.”
“You know, for a man who’s potentially having his tragic passed dragged into the open and his life threatened, you’re taking this remarkably well.”
That faint hint of a genuine smile once again threatened the corner of Ryū’s mouth.
“You seem to think this is uncommon for me. I own and operate some of the most successful and discreet nightclubs in all for Japan. People threaten my life all the time. Granted they don’t usually go to such lengths but that is why I am here. I’m certainly not coming along for the conversation and the company.”
“Well, fuck you too Mr. Saito.”
Something sparked in his eyes and he turned to look out the window.
“And if anyone had heard you say that to me, you’d already be dead, Mr. Jones.”
By the time we got to Rosie’s, I was sick of driving and ready to sit back with a couple of drinks. Ryū’s cigarettes were excellent but strong and they were starting to take a toll. We walked in side by side, something I realised we hadn’t before, and when we got to the bar Ryū turned to stand almost back to back with me facing the room. Another wordless gesture to show that we were watching out for each other. I got us both drinks and we took up one of the booths with decent cover and a clear view of the doors and stage. The day then took a strangely mellow turn and time seemed to slow down a bit. Rosie’s was mostly lit by neon signs advertising Rosie’s and was famous for medium quality drinks, decent music and busy Saturday nights. The price was just right to keep your middle-class students in alcohol and good times. But you couldn’t trace their suppliers, and their rent was mysteriously low for its location. But there we sat, drinking gin, watching the room and listening to music, just waiting for something to happen. Eventually, Ryū slid the envelope across the table towards me.
“Here, before I forget I don’t actually want this thing. Who’s ever it is.”
I picked it up and again looked inside feeling my blood chill and my testicles shrivel.
“You don’t happen to have any cops in your pocket who could run a fingerprint do you?”
Ryū took a sip then waved his hand and signaled for our fourth round.
“You’re the detective, aren’t you supposed to have old cop buddies who owe you a favour for saving their life before you got drummed out of the force for not playing by the rules?”
Ryū wore the smile of a man playing and it looked slightly alien on his face.
“I’d like to make some comment about clichés, but I’m both aware of what I said earlier and I actually do have those people, just not in Japan.”
The new drinks came and the waiter left before Ryū spoke again.
“I do not have cops in my pocket, Mr Jones, and while I might be a man who colours outside of the lines, the kind of clout, influence and willingness to take risks is not something I’m interested in. Like I said before. I started out as a legitimate businessman.”
We clinked glasses for the first time and I slipped the envelope into my inside jacket pocket. A few more hours passed and I could feel the blur starting to set in, which seemed to make Ryū laugh. It took me awhile be I realised that while I was getting drunk he was just getting more cheerful. Then, just before the booze and the cigarettes overwhelmed me, I saw a man in a black suit, white shirt and red tie put down a new drink with a four-fingered hand. He then bowed to Ryū, and my head hit the table. The world then went from neon bright to blurry dark cherry stain, to black.