Another One Word Story, written in one minute a day using a string of words suggested by www.oneword.com
The Absent Hostess
The paper screen was so thin it was almost translucent. On the other side, she could hear murmured voices discussing a "job". She had only been dating Kenji for a week or so, and had yet to tell him that she could actually understand Japanese. The hostess club Mama had told her to pretend she could only speak English as she would appear more exotic that way. But she could understand it, having lived here as a child, and she knew that the "job" Kenji was now discussing with the two men who had interrupted their dinner date was no ordinary work. They were plotting to kill someone!
She pulled off her earrings and dropped them on the bedside table. They had been a present from him, for her birthday, back when they had just started dating, and he was still trying to impress her. She wondered if she would ever wear them again.
The morning sun creeped through the window, slowly sweeping across the floor towards his bed. Frazzled after a night of heavy drinking, he was in no mood for what would happen next. At the instant the sunlight stabbed his eyes, the doorbell rang, followed soon by thunderous, frantic knocking. His mobile phone and land line both added their shrill tones to the excitement of the occasion. Ohara leapt from the bed, all at once terribly confused, slightly queasy, but ready for battle.
"I am delighted by all the attention, I assure you, but please, one at a time!"
He glanced at the woman standing in the entrance, then turned his attention to the phone again.
"Can I call you back? I have a visitor."
The phone clicked, wordlessly.
"Sorry about that." he smiled to her, gesturing to a chair. "How can I help you?"
The woman sat down, nervously, then looked up at him.
"I'm trying to find my sister."
Kenji sat motionless, staring at the floor, not daring to meet his boss' stare, even though he could feel it cutting into him. Eventually Miura took a sip of his tea, and grunted his disapproval.
"There will have to be some alterations, but we will go ahead with the plan. But Kenji, be assured; If you screw anything up from now on, I won't be able to protect you!"
Ohara pushed open the door of the police station, then stopped in his tracks. While it was normally a quiet, trundling kind of place, today it was as hectic as the Shibuya Crosswalk. Ohara weaved his way up to the counter and asked if Detective Makita was around.
Ohara was led into Makita's office, and sat down on the sofa; a quilted one he had brought from home, not the usual furnishing one would see in a Tokyo police detective's office. "What's with all the extra hands!" he asked. Makita clicked his teeth;
"We've got some bigshot coming, so I would really appreciate it if you don't ask me a favour right now!"
Ohara left Makita's office unsatisfied, with no new information, other than the fact that Makita, for some reason, was now in need of a fleet of patrol cars. There were no reports of foreigner bodies being found, no rumours of girls in trouble in any way. It looked like he would have to solve this case the old fashioned way.
As he left, he noticed a bunch of reporters huddled on the street just outside the entrance. He went over and asked one he knew;
"What's going on?"
"We don't know!" was the exasperated response.
"Absolutely nobody is talking! But something big is happening."
"If nobody's talking, how do you know something is happening?" Ohara asked him, half amused, half curious.
"Because no one is talking! All our usual sources just shut us off, everybody, completely, and all at once. It could be anything, but everybody's saying nothing."
She had sought refuge in an internet cafe, but would soon need to venture out for funds. She wanted to contact her family, but even if she did, what could they do? She knew she had to get out of Japan without being spotted, but the people who could best help her with that were the ones she was trying to avoid.
Ohara met her at a cafe. He had to report that he had learned nothing.
"Are you certain she hasn't just gone off on a trip somewhere?"
"My sister is not like that, she wouldn't do this on a whim, as a prank! She planned her trip to Japan for months, down to the last detail. See wouldn't just disappear like this! I'm telling you, something has happened to her!"
The first thing thing the girl did when she got hold of some cash was to buy some one-day contact lenses. When she left Kenji's place, she did so in such a hurried panic that she forgot her own lenses, and had spent the last three days in frantic, blurry confusion. Now that she could see again, she could calm down enough to think through her situation. Who could she call? Who could she trust? It scared her to think how totally alone she was in the world now. But she had to keep moving.
Ohara had learned from her sister that the girl he was looking for worked at a school in Kawagoe, just north of Tokyo. With a little help from her sister, and a few little white lies, he got into her apartment. The large wardrobe full of party dresses told him that she did a lot more than just tutoring schoolchildren. He would have to start scouting the local hostess clubs.
Ohara decided to venture out to Kawagoe that night. He knew that if he started asking questions about a foreign hostess in bars, everyone would clam up, because most of them were probably working illegally. He needed a cover story. And spending money would help.
He was at his fourth bar of the evening, and the whiskey, even though it was well watered, was beginning to make him drowsy. The Mama had gone to entertain other customers, and he was left alone with a pretty young hostess in a yellow dress. They had both reacted when he asked about the girl, pretending to be a regular customer of hers. The Mama seemed offended, as if he was implying the girls she was presenting that evening were not good enough for him, and had left them in a rather bad mood. But once she was gone, the other hostess said to him quietly.
"You shouldn't bother with her, if she hasn't gone back home, I bet she's run off with her boyfriend!"
The girl knew she couldn't leave through Tokyo, that would be too obvious. But Japan's train network was ubiquitous enough to give her cover; - something she had learned years before by getting lost on a ski trip. And so she was now riding a single track, two carriage train to the backwoods of Nagano, where another train waited to take her to the Japan Sea coast at Niigata.
She sat in the waiting room of the ferry port, wanting to cry. The TV hanging from the roof showed some sitcom with the volume down. But she felt like she could hear laughter; from Kenji and his friends, laughing at her, mocking her for being a thousand yen short of the price of a ferry ticket that would take her to Korea and safety.
"You'll never get away from us!" she could hear them;
"We'll find you anywhere you go!"
Kenji, when drunk, would often hint at having powerful friends; "connections" as he called them. On that night, when she overheard that conversation, she realised how terrifyingly serious he had been. And now they were chasing her! She checked her purse again. Not enough for a ticket, maybe enough to live on for a week. She had no choice; she would have to call her sister for help.
The answering machine made her voice sound coarse, but there was no mistaking who it was. "Jojo, it's me. I'm fine, but I need money. Can you send me a couple of thousand dollars? The English school is cutting lessons, and that other gig I'm doing panned out.
And I'm gonna have to cancel my phone, so I don't know when I can contact you again. Just send it to the same account as last time."
Kenji sat outside his boss' office, smoking with his boss' driver. He noticed he still hadn't got a reply back from his girlfriend, which annoyed him, so he started to send another message. Remembering this was his third try, he got more annoyed and dialled. A voice told him the phone was out of signal range. He clicked his teeth, and decided to visit the bar that night.
Joanne (only her sister called her "Jojo") chewed on her turtle neck sweater as she listened to the phone message again. Her sister sounded like she always did; rational, calm, practical; but that was just her words. Her voice sounded scared. Joanne spent the rest of the night dialling her sister's mobile, her apartment, every contact she had for her sister,
but got nothing. As dawn came she tried her sister's workplace. They said she had not come in for three days.
The hostess had described the girl’s boyfriend as “lofty”, which set off alarm bells in Ohara’s mind: In a place like this, that only meant one thing.
Kenji sat gazing out the window at the darkness outside, oblivious to the chattering of the hostess by his side. He had asked the Mama San about his girlfriend, and was told that she had stopped showing up for work suddenly, the night after their last dinner date. He had got into enough trouble for even discussing the job with Miura while she was at his apartment, but had presumed she would not understand. Had she been listening to his conversation? Had she actually understood what they were discussing? Was that why she had suddenly disappeared? He could not rule out a link. He had to find her and make sure she wasn't a problem.
Once he had found out that the girl was hanging out with a presumed "Yakuza", Ohara started treading very carefully. He had built quite up a few contacts on both sides of the law in his years as a detective, but if he stepped on the wrong toes, he might not be allowed to keep his life, but maybe not all his fingers. The Yakuza did not look kindly on people crossing them.
She gave back the plastic cutlery and asked the shopkeeper for chopsticks instead. She would have to wait a few days for the money to come from her sister, but she could not go home, or anywhere familiar, in the meantime. That meant eating 'Obento's and fast food for the foreseeable future. But her diet was the least of her worries. There were people looking for her, wanting to kill her. Then she remembered; they wanted to kill someone else too, and only she knew about it. Should she do something? What could she do?
Joanne had spent days trying to get information about her sister, but nobody could help her. She had sent the money as requested, but never even got confirmation that it had arrived or been withdrawn. Worried as hell, she booked a flight to Tokyo. The embassy there put her in touch with the Japanese Police, but they seemed disinterested. They didn't like taking on cases they knew they couldn't solve, as it would screw with their famous 99% conviction rate. In one of the free English language magazines she found in a bar one night, there was an ad for a detective agency. She decided to give the guy a call.
Ohara had traveled around a good bit of Central Tokyo making inquiries about the girl, but had learned little. As the day wore on, something else started niggling at his attention. The police presence around the Imperial Palace was huge. There were riot police manning every intersection in a 1 kilometer radius around the Palace, and a bit further to the north. Was all of this, he wondered, for the benefit of Detective Makita's "bigshot" visitor?
That evening Ohara got a lucky break. Asking around the girl's neighbourhood if anyone had seen her or her boyfriend, one old woman just pointed and said "That's him!", indicating a slim, well built man entering the Metro station. Ohara thanked her and started following at a discreet distance. He could tell from the way he walked, the way he dressed, and the small bulge in the back of his pants, that this guy was Yakuza, a suspicion confirmed when he entered a building known to be one of their offices. This new development raised all kinds of possibilities about the whereabouts of the girl, and none of them were good.
She was nervous, lining up for the cash machine. She was sure someone was watching her. When her turn came, she pushed the buttons and waited for what seemed like an age. She couldn't read the message on the machine, but the numbers in her balance said it all. Her sister hadn't sent the money yet! Cursing, almost crying, she stormed away, almost forgetting her card. She would have to call her sister again.
"Jojo, It's me. Listen, I really need that money in kind of a hurry!"
Joanne dived across the room to get to the answering machine in time.
"What the hell's going on!" she screamed into the phone. Are you in trouble? I'm your sister, for god's sake, I'm entitled to know!"
There was silence for a few seconds, then she could hear her sister crying.
"Yes, Jojo, I am. I think I'm in really big trouble!"
Joanne listened to her sister babble on for a full seven minutes, talking about how she had heard something she shouldn't have, something that meant she was in big trouble. None of it made any sense, and she didn't have time to explain it so that it did. Joanne complained that she deserved a better explanation than this if she was expected to bail her sister out again, but the response she got surprised her.
"If I told you, you'd be in the same trouble as I am! please, just send me the money!"
Before Joanne could protest again, her sister had hung up. Joanne was now confused, afraid, and angry. And her mind was made up; she would send the money, but she would follow it and find her sister.
After discovering that the boyfriend of the girl he was looking for was with one of the biggest crime organisations in Japan, Ohara reviewed his strategy. He contacted the Hostess bar where she had worked, and was glad to find out that the boyfriend had come back, quite fervently, and violently, looking for her. He was glad, despite getting an earful from the Mama San, because that meant that the boyfriend didn't know where she was either.
Ohara now faced one of the more interesting chores of his job: Guessing. He put himself in the position of the person he was looking for, and tried to decide what he would do if he were that person. It took a lot of logical thinking, which was always a challenge, and a lot more illogical thinking, which was always frustrating.
Imagining ways in which one could upset a Yakuza boyfriend was not difficult. This was Ohara's first line of thought. It struck him that it did not even matter how she had upset her boyfriend, all he needed to consider was that she had. The difficult part was figuring out what she, while well versed in Japanese, but unfamiliar with areas outside her locale, would do. How would she escape?
Ohara went around the girl's neighbourhood again, this time with a different set of questions. This time, he found out that apart from buying groceries, cosmetics and all the ordinary stuff, very late one night she also bought a guide book to Niigata.
She wondered if she could find work to get some cash together until her sister's funds arrived. Even though she had worked as a hair stylist during college, she knew the only gigs she could get here were as an English teacher or a hostess, or worse, something seedier. She shuddered at the thought of that, thankful that the fact she was on the run made it impossible anyway.
But again her thoughts came back to the conversation she had overheard, triggered by seeing a politician on the TV in some shop window. She had no idea who Kenji and his friend were planning to kill, but she got the impression from their talk that it was a politician, or some public figure: they kept talking about the impact it would have. But doing something about it would require her to be more brave than she was capable of being right now.
Ohara sat nursing a pint of Beamish in one of the few Irish Pubs in Niigata that carried it; he had been lucky to find it so quickly, and knew he would not be so lucky with the girl. He presumed she had come to Niigata, and was now there himself. He also presumed that she if she was on the run from the Yakuza she would want to leave Japan. He wanted to ask around the ferry port if anyone had seen her, but it had already closed for the day by the time he arrived, hence this hurriedly arranged strategy session.
Ohara woke with a hangover of mythic proportions; twelve year old Irish whiskey should require a licence! - so his investigations the next morning started later, and were a little slower paced than he would have liked. But they were fruitful. He soon found out that the girl had been to the ferry port on two occasions, and had boarded the ferry to Korea on neither. She was still in Japan!
Ohara phoned Joanne to report his progress. Several reported sightings of her sister, which proved unfounded, had caused him to waste half a day running around the town, but one witness actually was, it turned out, able to tell one gaijin from another. He asked Joanne to join him in Niigata, as he would need her help to approach her sister.
They looked like a couple on a date, except they barely spoke a word. In the time it took Joanne to get to Niigata, Ohara had tracked her sister to a capsule hotel. They now sat in a cafe across the street, awaiting her return. Joanne spotted her first, and sprinted out the door. Ohara took his time, as the sight of a stranger running towards her might spook her into fleeing again. Joanne slowed to a walk as she got closer, and called out to her sister.
Tricia turned like a startled cat, relaxed on seeing who it was, and both were crying by the time they embraced.
They had talked for hours, and it was now dark. Ohara felt at some points that he should leave them alone, but just sat there, watching the starry sky as it tried to squeeze through the neon signs, jostling for his attention. Tricia had told Joanne most of her story, and both Joanne and Ohara recommended that she leave Japan, but they had to inform the police somehow. He said nothing to her, but one part of Tricia's story gave Ohara goosebumps.
Ohara pleaded with Tricia to stay for a few more days until he could talk to his friend Detective Makita. He needed her to convince him the case was real, and there may be more questions as the investigation proceeded.
Ohara spent almost an hour on the phone with Detective Makita. He thought it would be harder to convince Makita, but he was hooked by the opening question:
"Who is the pediatrician?"
Ohara had heard other officers referring to the bigshot they were expecting using that codename as he waited in Makita's office. Kenji and his friend had used the same name for their target.
Tricia slept soundly on the trip back to Tokyo, worn out from her days on the run but now in the secure guardianship of four police officers. Ohara had insisted they should be from the Niigata force, not from Tokyo, because if Kenji's people knew the code name Makita's team had for the target, they might be able to find out more. Ohara knew he could trust Makita, they went back a long way; but he also knew he could trust absolutely nobody else.
A gust of wind blasted past them as the Shinkansen sped out of the station. Hidden within it's roar, and barely noticed by Ohara, was the whizz of a bullet. Ohara saw the puff of smoke as it hit the concrete of the wall ahead of them, and turned to see where it came from. The Niigata officers were already diving for cover, pushing Tricia and Joanne before them. Ohara caught a glimpse of two men, in dark clothing, bolting up the stairs. Two of the detectives rushed after them, while the other two manhandled himself and the girls into a stairwell, screaming into their radios as they did so.
It took almost a minute for the Station police to arrive, at which the Niigata officers visibly relaxed. Only now that they were with locals who knew the terrain, they conceded to move from their spot. A car was arranged at the nearest exit to take them to safety, and by the time they reached it, a full riot squad was in position, securing the scene.
As the police van rushed them to the safety of the Metropolitan Police Headquarters, the gravity of the situation was sinking in on all three of them. Joanne was worried sick that her sister's life was in danger, Tricia was realising that even if she survived, her life would never be the same again, and Ohara was wondering who the hell they were dealing with that had the police putting this much manpower into the case?
The three of them sat down in Makita's office, and he was much more attentive to them this time.
"Well, I'm impressed!" said Ohara, you've really put on quite a show here today! Who's the special guest?"
Makita gave him a frustrated glare.
"I can't tell you that!"
He sat on his desk and his tone softened as he turned to face Tricia.
"But it IS a big deal, so your help, Tricia, is essential."
He leaned even closer, lowering his voice.
"Tell me as much as you can remember of that conversation you overheard."
"We had been dating for about six months, and he seemed really nice, really kind. I had no idea he was involved in anything like this."
Tricia stirred her tea aimlessly as she spoke. It was already cold.
"I wasn't thinking of getting married or anything, but he was fun to hang out with. But when I heard him talking with his friend about guns and killing people, my mind went blank. I went home, filled a suitcase and just fled the next morning."
Makita put his hand on her shoulder.
"I can understand why you were afraid, but there's no need to worry now. We will put you in a police dormitory until this is all over, and will bring your clothes and other belongings to you. And you don't need to worry about your job, we'll talk to them too." Tricia brushed his hand off her shoulder;
"I don't need your charity, I just want to go home!"
Makita returned her stare.
"It's not about charity, it's about your security!"
"I should point out," Ohara interrupted, "that someone told them we were coming. Someone in YOUR organisation!"
Makita remained calm, and folded his arms.
"Yes, I'm sorry about that. We have been compromised. But only four people other than myself knew the codename for our VIP. I sent each of them with a team to meet you at four different stations; Tokyo, Shinagawa, Ueno and Shinjuku. Detective Kanda, who met you at Tokyo, has now been arrested."
Tricia jumped to her feet;
"You set us up? Used us as bait?"
Makita was still calm, but Ohara answered her first.
"No, he gave us a seventy five percent chance of NOT being ambushed!"
He smiled at his friend. He was right to have trusted him.
Kenji sat in silence, staring straight ahead. He brushed a speck of dust off the dashboard of his Lexus, but otherwise remained motionless. Eleven police officers now surrounded his car, but he would not acknowledge them, let alone open the door. He knew they could do nothing without a warrant. He had called his boss, his "oyabun", and was waiting for him to get their lawyer involved. Then a detective pushed through the uniforms, and tapped on the glass, showing Kenji a sheet of paper. They now had a warrant.
Kenji now sat in a small room, again staring straight ahead, with a single white light glowing above his head. Detective Makita entered the room and sat down facing him.
"We know what you've been planning. And your boss knows we know, and he's not pleased!"
He put a music player on the desk and pressed play. Kenji heard his boss' voice, recorded off a tapped cellphone.
"No, we go ahead as planned. But keep Kenji out of it. Bring him in, and keep him under wraps until this is all over. Then get rid of him. We can't have him blabbing to his girlfriends about what we do."
Makita turned off the player.
"If you help us, we can help you. But you've got to decide fast!"
Kenji looked up at him for just a moment, and Makita knew he would crack.
Tricia look up at the spikes on the top of the fence as the car passed through it. She had felt for the last few days like she was the one in prison. But now they said she was she was free to go. But she didn't feel free. She wasn't free to go back to her own life, the one she had a week ago. She had to run, and hide, and worry, for the rest of her life, that they might find her again.
Makita offered his hand, and Tricia shook it.
"Don't worry about them coming after you. We got enough from the wiretaps to go very high up into their organisation, and we've already arrested all but two of them. And they will be too busy evading our pursuit to worry about coming after you. Maybe after a while you could even come back to Japan again."
"We'll see." Tricia paused; "Thank you."
She was not very conversational so Makita said nothing further. As she and Joanne walked through the security check, he turned to Ohara.
"And Thank you! We really could have been in big trouble if this had gone ahead as they planned it. And we could still be in big trouble if word of it gets out. So I hope I can rely on you to be your usual discreet self?"
"I dont even know who the "Pediatrician" is!"
- THE END -
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