Deadly Music-Chapter 1: Monday, January 16th, 2017


(They eat, drink, and…)

Deadly Muic-Chapter 1: Monday, January 16th, 2017

The alarm clock bell rang.
Gerard Perrier twisted onto his other side between the covers and the futon. The hated first day at work on the road of the year had finally caught up with him. Five o’clock in the morning was not a time for honest people to wake up. Just as if on cue, the weather had recently turned for the worst. It was still night, and day time, or whatever might be left of it, would not appear for at least another hour. Never an early bird, more of a night owl, the Frenchman was trying to drown himself back into his rudely interrupted dreams when a feminine voice called from the kitchen:
-“Gerard! Get up, will you?”
His partner of ten years, Atsumi, had prepared breakfast as she usually did on Monday mornings when he had to travel early to Murota University about an hour by train from Shizuoka City in Shizuoka Prefecture, situated between Tokyo and Nagoya.
-“Aye, aye! Coming!”
Gerard reluctantly extracted himself from the warm bedding and went to the kitchen to greet his girlfriend. He had better not forget their little morning ritual unless he wished for a whole week of hell. They might not be officially married, but their life was no different from any other marital obligation as he scornfully called state-sanctioned couplings.
-“Ohayoo! (Good morning!)” He said planting a kiss on Atsumi’s lips.
Although pleased by the gesture, she could not help gripe a little:
-“If you don’t hurry, you shall be complaining again! The bath is ready. Breakfast is ready. Your clothes are ready on the armchair and your “bento” lunch box is ready! Why do I have to tell you the same things all over again on the very first day of work at University every year?”
Gerard did not feel the courage to retort. He did not even have the excuse of being the bread winner. Atsumi was working at a private clinic, looking after the entire office of a rich and tight-fisted practitioner, a characteristic shared by many doctors in Japan. But as it was an establishment specializing in aesthetic surgery, the working days were concentrated at the end of the week, meaning that Atsumi finished her weeks on Sundays, whereas Gerard started his on Mondays. A great arrangement on Sundays when he needed all the time he could grab, but not an ideal one on Mondays when his partner resented waking up early on her rest day!
He entered the living room where breakfast was waiting for him on the large table occupying half of the space available. Before sitting down he switched on the computer to check his e-mails and the TV to watch the BBC news on the cable channel.
Atsumi came with coffee and filled his coffee bowl to the brim, a habit his French upbringing would not allow him to give up although he appreciated Japanese green tea and its English counterpart, another habit he had cherished since his college days in the South of England, some twenty-five years ago.
As on every Monday, his breakfast gave him a good indication of what was included in his lunch box, but he did not object to eating the same fare twice in a row as Atsumi was a good cook, hot or cold, literally and figuratively.
-“I’m going to Tokyo today to meet Takemi as I told you all week and that you have most probably forgotten. What time do you expect to be back tonight?”
He had actually forgotten.
Well, he would be back to Shizuoka City at about one thirty as he had only two lectures. After that he had a couple of private classes at his office and a late trouble-shooting session at his friend Norio’s fashion clothing company’s main shop.
He had decided a long time ago to refuse any full-time position at any university, school or company. His permanent visa obtained through a previous failed marriage allowed him this luxury. Having opened a small office-cum-school and registered it as a legal business, he could easily manipulate his accounts so as to benefit from generous rebates on his income tax returns. The Japanese Tax Office does actually “allow” you to be in the red in one main business and pay only the minimum taxes at city, prefecture and national levels. In fact, he even got all his university taxes back by the end of the year. Certainly a better deal than working in France or Great Britain, where he would be rewarded with little recognition in society and certainly not profit from all the advantages of his independent work schedule. A lot of socializing is necessary to the good running of any business, big or small, in Japan. It surely proved a good enough excuse for his own brand of social drinking and eating. Atsumi had always been aware of it, but could not prove the real reasons behind this particular behavior. True to tell, Gerard made a point to take his partner out for dinner at least once, more usually twice a week, far more than any Japanese couple he knew of. Even so, Atsumi could not gracefully accept his nights out. Well you can never fully please anyone, especially women, he mused.
Atsumi’s annoyed voice brought him back to earth:
-“I asked you what time you expect to finish work!”
-“At least nine tonight,” he mumbled through his teeth and full mouth, “why?”
-“Well, as I will not be back before late, I was thinking we could go out for dinner tonight.”
-“After all that gorging and guzzling over the last two weeks?”
Which was true, as they had enjoyed almost non-stop traveling and reveling since the New Year, which had fallen on a Sunday in 2017. Mind you, he was evading the question because he had planned a little drink at his favorite “izakaya” restaurant all by himself. But knowing his girlfriend, he probably would have to pass that for today.
-“Speak for yourself! You have been stuffing yourself and boozing for the whole past fortnight, not me! Shall I remind you of how many parties you joined with your buddies?”
Sensing himself on increasingly slippery ground, Gerard relented:
-“All right! All right! Call me on my mobile at around nine, then! I will be at Norio’s main shop.”
He could always pop into Tomii, his favorite haunt between six and eight. A couple of drinks would not be enough to frazzle his mind before he would have to go through all those international calls, e-mails and faxes for Norio’s business. His friend was very understanding when it came to “socializing”, or “o-tsuki-ai” in Japanese. Needless to say, they shared quite a few scabrous secrets a lot of people would love to hear about.
Having finished his breakfast, Gerard checked his e-mails. Nothing in particular there, apart of the crap he had to regularly erase. The BBC reported the ongoing conflicts between China and countries around the South China Sea, no mentioning Japan who was having its usual spat with South Korea. The kind of topic that became increasingly practical for many countries when their politicians felt their citizens should forget about more vital problems. Practically no word from North Korea for a change. Why did Gerard have the impression that somebody somewhere was making fun of people all over the world? The whole affair stank. Where would the Chinese or Putin next venture for a fight? After all Donald “The Duck” Trump was doing his best to contribute to the general global mess before even becoming President of the United States. Japanese economics were seemingly getting out of the doldrums in spite of the new consumption tax about to befall the country under a Prime Minister getting more and more strident with his wish of Constitution changes. Prime Minister Abe had planned all kinds of so-called of goodwill trips in Asia and somewhere else to avoid queries at home.
Ruminating on these happy news reports, he entered the bathroom to take a dip in the “0-furo”, Japanese-style bath, relax and warm his stiff body. Once out of the water he went through the chore of shaving himself. Fashion? Ethics? Or simply interference with one’s life? He noticed that his skin showed more and more available space between his hair. This was one thing he wished he could shave once for all and be done with wasting money at the hairdresser (beauty salon to be more precise as he cared little for effeminate prattling blokes). Atsumi had adamantly refused to contemplate the idea the last time he mentioned it. She said he would have to lose some weight first. His face was presently too pudgy and his jowls would look wider than his pate. She had a point. But he certainly was not prepared to starve himself for the sake of fashion! Having reached fifty, he was very reluctant to give up his hedonistic pleasures. One had only one life to enjoy, and a very short one at that. He was still fairly fit under the layer of fat thanks to constant sport until late in his forties and lots of bicycle riding to work. Many of his friends had derided his total lack of interest in cars for so long. But now the comparison stood in his favor. Some of his acquaintances could not buy a pack of fags without taking their car out. He had officially stopped smoking a long time ago to please Atsumi who simply hated the smell of smoke to the point of switching pavements on the street if somebody exhaled the stuff in front of her. But the real reason he gave up smoking was that one day he had caught a blinding cold and suddenly ceased to appreciate the habit. He did not try smoking again after that. Since he felt all the healthier for it, he saw no reason to fall back into that subservience. Moreover, food and drink had gradually tasted better. That was at least one concrete benefit he saw in his personal relationship with Atsumi. Not to mention the rise in his personal funds. One pack a day at more than three bucks made up for a sizeable bit of extra cash at the end of the year!
He was still pondering this as he rode his bicycle on the twenty-minute jaunt to the main station where he would board the local train at 07:28. The university refused to pay the twice faster trip by “Shinkansen” bullet train, which meant a total of six hours wasted on only two lectures. But he could not afford to lose that job as it looked too good on his c.v., or resume (with the accents) as they called it in Japan.
Outside was freezing while the train was overheated inside. How all those overdressed Japanese passengers did not catch pneumonia was one of those insoluble mysteries in the Land of the Rising Sun. He went through his little ritual of taking off his coat, putting on his reading glasses, taking out a magazine and stashing his coat, bag and lunch box into the overhead net before sitting down and starting reading. He hated the waste of time spent in trains, so he made a point of at least reading or writing, even if it included a small nap. Most passengers were soon fast asleep. Japan was still such a safe country, at least away from large megalopolises like Tokyo or Osaka, that people had no qualms falling asleep in an environment propitious to crime as in the States and most large cities in Europe. How could those commuters wake up in time to dash off at their destination was another mystery. All those comatose passengers did not realize how much they lost by ignoring their fellow citizens. Gerard had always found unequalled pleasure observing other humans in communal areas such as stations, libraries, restaurants or transport such as trains, buses or planes. You could learn a lot about people and yourself in this way: idiosyncrasies, fashions, trends and other factors that made everyone so alike and so different. Young girls’ noisy spiked sandals and colored loose leg-warmers, so conspicuous for some years had disappeared to be replaced by thin platform shoes that defied gravity. Skirts were hiked as high as ever by a majority of high school girls, although they now hid their panties with sports trunks. Gerard did have problems averting his eyes from all those lolitas who did not seem to have a clue of what impression they were making on all the old lechers on crowded trains and station escalators. A typical sight in trains is that of “yankee girls”, or ultra-fashionable lolitas of all ages, barging into a compartment without waiting for other passengers to alight, choose the best seat, settle down, check their e-mails on their mobile phones, check the last gossips on their 1-phones or tablets, take out a mirror, redo their make-up, especially eyelashes and suddenly doze off for the whole trip. Then they would barge out again, and climb the stairs or ride the escalators with a hand pressed on the back of their mini-skirts lest somebody might catch a glimpse of their underwear. This was fine with Gerard as long as those females possessed good figures. Unfortunately, almost everybody else followed the fashion regardless of one’s size, looks or girth! The worst sights occurred in winter when high school girls wore mid-thigh sports shorts or full length training pants under uniform skirts hitched up to the very limit of their buttocks…
The train finally reached Furamoto Station where Gerard alighted to board a bus for a ten-minute ride to the university in an unbreathable fetid atmosphere emitted by student passengers packed like pilchards in a tin. It was with some relief that he penetrated the office of the campus to punch the clock, pick up his keys and any notes left for his attention. His friend, Shinji Fukuo, a young professor of sociology, as well as a computer and internet buff, had not arrived yet. He happened to be one of the very few lecturers he looked forward to meeting on Monday mornings. Shinji had the peculiarity to be more proficient in English than any of the Japanese lecturers of the English Faculty in this particular university, or for that matter in many other local universities, too. On the way to his classroom Gerard checked his friend’s office but found it locked. He might be late, then. Quite understandable on the first day of the year. He went to pick up other papers at the visiting lecturers’ room, greeting the library’s attendants on the way, and finally made for class.
Its entrance opened onto a large inner yard where he found the usual smokers and spitters. Being dirty and disreputable seemed to be the fashion prevalent among boys and young men these years. Although he supported students for having as much fun as possible during his lectures, he never hesitated to assert his views when it came to manners and hygiene. The polluters now kept a respectful distance from his person and his door. One quiet explanation some time ago had sufficed. He had pointed out in a few choice words that he was not prepared to share somebody else’s germs or trash. If they wanted to soil the place where they stood, they could do it near the many available dustbins. Every year, at the beginning of his first lecture, he stated his very few rules: greet your teacher, switch off your mobile phones and what else. If you are late, come to the teacher and greet him personally, in French, and apologize for disturbing the class. Apart of a few private lectures on backaches caused by slouching, flu sharing because people sneezed without protection and snores when somebody fell asleep, he was having a pretty good time. Japanese students were fairly nice kids once you had asserted yourself and kept to the same line. They appreciated his corny jokes and gestures emphasizing the finer points of French conversation.
More than once did he have trouble to destroy the myth that Japanese students were of a diligent kind when asked about his work during his many trips abroad. Japanese kids went through cramming hell until the start of university. But once at college, their long-held thirst for fun finally burst out and teachers found themselves with a clear-cut dilemma: either ignore it, go through the motions and pick up your wages. Or participate and play the role of brother, father, friend and in some cases lover to youngsters who had suddenly become adults without living through a normal teenager’s transition. Being a female teacher was even worse and Gerard had difficulties contemplating their sorry lot. Moreover, the maturity gap between boys and girls was such that the latter readily chose a far older man for guidance and entertainment, while keeping a nice little boyfriend of similar age to fulfill their romantic urges.
Today was neither a bad nor good day, and the lecture proceeded without a hitch.
Having finished somewhat early to prolong his break, Gerard ran to the nearest toilet to get rid of the previous day’s celebrations.
Luckily enough, the only Western-style toilet was free. He sat with relief and was about to spend the next ten minutes in peaceful reverie when he heard two middle-aged men enter the facilities. Steps noticeably sounded different. Nothing strange about that. The two men stood at the urinals and began to talk in muffled voices. Gerard pricked his ears. What were Ryotaro Sawaguchi, the University Dean, and owner, and Daisuke Sagi, the twerp who served as his Vice-Dean, doing in the common staff and students’ toilets?
Oh well, he supposed anybody could use them as long as the ladies and gents were kept apart.
He nevertheless tried to catch what was being said for the sake of curiosity.
The Dean said:
-“Sagi, have the Russians notified you according to plan?”
-“Yes, they have. Do not worry, Chairman, everything is going smoothly! The merchandise is ready, too!”
-“Have you confirmed with…”
The voices were suddenly drowned by the noise of water flushing into the urinals. Nothing else could be heard until they left.
Russians? What the hell had any blokes from that country got to do with this university? And what merchandise? He had heard that the Music Faculty had been kept very active with international relations, so it could be that they were expecting to see some Russian musicians visit the College very soon. As for the merchandise, they probably meant musical instruments of which they were actually in constant need.
He had already forgotten about the small incident when he visited the office to clock out after the second lecture. He asked the staff again whether they had seen Shinji. He only met with negative answers. He was told that the office had to post a notice to announce the sudden absence of their professor. He tried to contact his friend on his mobile, but he only got a terse reply from an answering machine stating that the line had been disconnected. He would have to check later.
He went to the cafeteria to eat his lunch in the company of other students. He did not fancy sharing his meal time with other teachers in their common room. He had decided once and for all long ago that he would not waste his time listening to his colleagues’ recriminations, nor witness their petty intrigues. That certainly did not make him very popular with other lecturers, but he did not care a fig. Establishing communications and relations with his students was of a far greater importance, and certainly brought him more gratification.
He did not fiddle around after lunch and took the bus back to the station to board the next train back to Shizuoka City. He proceeded directly to his office where he taught a couple of classes to local kids whose rich families paid for their individual tuition. The money was good, although educating spoiled brats was not his forte.
At six, as he had promised himself, he went to Tomii for a quick meal and a few drinks. As he was a “joren”, or regular customer, he did not have to worry about the menu and gratefully ate what the “oyakata”, or main chef, offered him. There were many advantages to becoming a “joren” in a Japanese “izakaya”, literally “sake place”, or at a “kappo ryori”, or “traditional Japanese cuisine” restaurants. The owners knew how much you were ready to spend, what food or drink you favored, and they kept a tab you could pay at an agreed time every month. It worked both ways as the establishment could rely upon a few chosen regular customers with a reasonable income and good manners who enhanced the reputation of the place. The restaurant he was presently patronizing served a combination of traditional and modern Japanese food. It lay on the ground floor of a four-story building owned by the husband of the “0-kami-san”, the lady managing the restaurant.
Interestingly enough, their daughter had opened a really good Italian restaurant on the third floor. The second floor harbored a busy “hostess club” he did not care much about. The building also stood right in the midst of the amusement district of the city, a practical arrangement when he wished to visit more than one spot on his “binge nights”, or when he had to take friends and business acquaintances around. Since he had been through that district at least twice a week for the last ten years or so, a lot of people he did not have a clue about greeted him every time he rode through on his bicycle. Among them he had found the time to answer and talk to a young woman from Shanghai who was working for a less than reputable club spending her evenings and early mornings inviting old lechers to her “pink salon”. He also knew a motley group of night owls prowling the same territory after dark.
When he entered the restaurant, half of the seats at the counter were already occupied by couples on “dohan” agreement. “Dohan” was a particular system through which a lot of clubs allowed their hostesses (of course, “mama-san” owners were not exempt) to go out with customers for a fee according to a determined period of time. What they were doing during that lapse was nobody’s business or responsibility. In this way wealthy customers hired high-class companions as entertaining partners for themselves or their groups. As long as the women were not caught obviously hooking customers in the streets or parks, the police were impotent. Mind you, many people would agree that the latter cared little as long as complaints did not reach them.
Most of the tables were also busy. Mondays saw a lot of business as many deals were struck by companies at the beginning of the week and sealed later around a meal or drink.
Gerard took a seat without waiting for the staff to guide him. This was another tangible advantage of being a regular. You could pass over all the obsequious niceties reserved for new customers. He could always move to another seat later if the o-kami-san wished him to. One of the two chefs busy behind the counter greeted him and enquired about his choice of drink. He asked for a glass of wine as sake or beer tended to leave a smelly trail. He was served “o-tooshi”, a snack coming automatically with the first drink, as he ordered sashimi. He also asked for some tempura and “yaki nigiri”, grilled rice balls, to be brought later and settled himself.
He was enjoying the spectacle of the chefs deftly cutting and artfully arranging ingredients of all kinds on various small plates for the benefit of other diners, when the door slid open to let four men inside. He recognized none other than Kenichi Komatsu, the Mayor of Shizuoka City, and Kentaro Ishikani, the Governor of Shizuoka Prefecture. In the States, the two would be accompanied by a whole platoon of guards and secretaries. In this country, politicians usually came to their haunts by private limousine or taxi and kept fairly inconspicuous. As a general rule, the better the establishment, the more the customers kept ignoring celebrities.
Etsuko, the o-kami-san, literally jumped out from behind the cash register to greet them with a profusion of “irrashaimase” (“welcome!”) and bows before leading them to one of the vacant tables. This type of patron would normally retreat to a tatami room at the back of the building, but since the mayoral elections were scheduled for this May, Gerard thought that the politicians welcomed extra exposure. A few greetings and handshakes were actually exchanged with some guests before they sat down.
Gerard entertained a very low opinion of both lawmakers. The Mayor, for all his relatively young age and good looks, was a creep who cared little for his city but was all butter for its main contractors who were generally granted juicy contracts all over the town through prearranged “contract auctions”. The Governor had a sorry propensity for spending taxpayers’ money on prestige projects with an utter disregard for utility or practicality. Like the Mayor, who belonged to the same Party, he had to pay back construction companies, his main political backers.
The other two he did not know, although one of them seemed familiar.
Drawing the o-kami-san aside as she passed by, and keeping his voice low enough inside the din to shut off unwanted listeners, he asked:
-“Etsuko,” calling by her name would signify to neighbors this was a private conversation, “since when are politicians coming here?”
-“Ah, my dear friend Gerard! They have been coming for some time, although very irregularly, I must say. You know, these people usually go to the tatami room, but they asked for a table here. You don’t like them?”
Etsuko was shrewd enough not to expect a straight answer from Gerard who knowingly nodded.
-“I was actually meaning to ask you who those two other guys are. I think I know one of them.”
The o-kami-san laughed. She teased him:
-“Aren’t we nosey today? Alright, I will tell you: the older one is actually Ryuuji Kataoka, the Shizuoka City Police Superintendant. The other one I don’t know. I think he is one of his lieutenants. I’m actually surprised they come to my restaurant. They usually go to “J and J”.
“J and J” happened to be the most expensive hostess bar in town. You had to fork out almost two hundred bucks just for the privilege of sitting down and being served a single drink with a minuscule snack. Through sheer coincidence the resident jazz singer in that club happened to be an acquaintance of the Frenchman as he gave her private lessons at her home.
-“Well, if that bloke patronizes “J and J”, you don’t really want him around here, do you?”
-“Gerard, don’t patronize me!” she said with a warning smile.
-“Sorry, sorry! I stand corrected!”
-“Liar!” she replied, leaving him in order to look after other guests.
Embarking on a long conversation with any customer in a busy restaurant was out of place. Gerard was actually thankful as he did not want to delve too deeply into local politics. He knew enough to keep away from these conniving nerds.
The tempura and rice balls having come, he ordered miso soup and hot green tea as he did not have much time left.
Once finished, he did not linger and took his coat off the rack, a service that other diners would have expected from the staff, and left thanking the oyakata. A few eyes followed him to see if he was going to pay at the cash register by the entrance. Some people could not help ogling others’ business. He was happy to disappoint them and at the same time signify he did not belong to the same league. Money was not the criterion. Service was. If he was granted credit, it meant he was an integral part of the place, even if he came by bicycle, a fact that some curious patrons would surely have noticed.
The o-kami-san walked after him as he was passing through the door.
-“You’re already leaving?”
-“Going back to work, sorry!”
She pulled a face. Gerard was one of her favorite customers. She could afford to talk shop with him without danger of any secret being flaunted around, a rare luxury in Japan. Nobody could even accuse them of flirting as everyone was well aware she was in no need of any sponsor or special patron as was fairly common with other restaurants and bars in town.
-“You’d better go back to your guests. I will be back on Friday anyway. Bye!”
-“O-kiotsukete! (Take care!)” She said with a bow.
-“Spare me, will you?” he replied with a chuckle as he climbed on his bicycle to leave with a wave of his hand.
On his way to Norio’s clothing shop, he saluted Chian Lin who smiled back from the entrance of her club. Business did not seem very good that if she had to stay outside to lure men inside at this time of the evening.
Work at Norio’s proved pretty eventless that day, apart of the inevitable altercations with unwilling business partners abroad who could not, or did not, want to comply with the exacting standards of the Japanese. When you realize that for instance they bought no less than twenty percent of the whole French luxury industry output, Gerard felt like kicking ass when faced with his compatriots’ haughty behavior and assuming arrogance.
He surely felt like going for another drink, but he would have to share this with his better half.
Her call reached him early enough, confirming that he would have to walk a straight line that night. It was up to him to make the best of it. They opted to visit one of their favorite sushi bars. At least they would not argue about the food as this was one passion they shared. Sushi-Ko, the restaurant they visited was considered one of the most popular of its kind as they had the grace to clearly post their prices on small wooden tablets along the wall. Their wares were of a remarkable quality for the price and the bar was always bound to come up with rare food such as “kochi”, or sand borer, or “botan ebi”, a large and very sweet prawn all the way from the island of Hokkaido. You could take your time at the counter and order your dishes one at a time. There is a misconception that sushi is more expensive at the counter than when served on the tatami mat or at tables. The only reason why it might prove dearer is that you could have a good look at all the fish under the glass-paned display enticing you to choose more extravagant morsels than the “sets” you would order if seated away from the counter.
Mr. Birukawa, the oyakata of Sushi-Ko, was a personal friend of Gerard’s as they not only shared a love of sushi, but also partook in the same activity, namely internet surfing and blogging. They also exchanged loads of pictures and information on sushi and sashimi, the main subjects of their respective sites.
Gerard was beginning to thoroughly enjoy himself when a new arrival considerably dampened his pleasure.
This was nothing less than Satoru Akase, the former Mayor. Whereas the present one was a creep, his predecessor simply ought to be shot. After six years of tenure, he had been forced out of office, or more aptly had been left with no other alternative but to tender his resignation or be brought to justice over a particularly unsavory bribe scandal. But such were the local politics that he had been let off scot-free as citizens considered “voluntary” departure honorable enough. What rankled Gerard no end was that the cheat had been awarded a retirement bonus of no less than twenty-five million yen, more than two hundred thousand US dollars. Not content enough with that seemingly lucky escape, Akase had run for a seat in the Prefecture Council and won it on a red carpet. Shizuoka citizens had short memories. Or maybe not. Especially when considering that Akase’s motto for his election campaign had been “Nobody knows Shizuoka City better than I!” The bastard certainly had a nerve. Something else pissed the Frenchman off to new heights. The man was actually making more money than during his one and a half terms as a Mayor. Politicians did make a lot of money in Japan at any level. Just out of morbid curiosity he had checked how much a mere City Councilor in Shizuoka was earning.
His search results were edifying enough:
-Monthly wages: 650,000 yen
-Research money: 150,000 yen. Research is a vague term applying to any study of local affairs. As long you produced a monthly report, phony or not, you were entitled to the earnings.
-Four-month annual bonus
-Travelling expenses: 3,000 yen per day as long as you provided a receipt (easy enough to fabricate. The trick was to ask a taxi company for a bunch of blank receipts and fill them yourself.)
-Council attendance: 10,000 yen per day, whether you slept in your seat or not.
Total: minimum 15,000,000 yen per year, approximately 130,000 US dollars. Not bad for the lowest-ranked politician in a city, of about 800,000 souls.
Mr. Birukawa knew and shared Gerard’s opinion, but could not afford to jeopardize his business. Politicians had a very long arm in this nation, which presumably was no news in other countries.
The Chef winked at his guest who nodded in assent.
Atsumi chose to ignore the whole incident, although she understood too well that her partner was notorious for his public spats with indelicate lawmakers and incapable policemen. The beauty of it all was that as a foreigner, and as long his Japanese was correct and apparently respectful, he could get away with all manners of snide remarks, a stunt that he would certainly not dare to pull off in his own country, or any other country for that matter.
The only fact that could be said in favor of Akase was his humble origins, whereas the grandfather of the incumbent Mayor started the family’s fortune in “Turkish baths”, or “soaplands” as they were currently called after vehement protests from the Turkish Embassy some twenty-five years back. The joints were nothing less than officially sanctioned brothels. Nothing much to be ashamed of, right?
Gerard had a feeling he had reached his fill of unwanted encounters for the day. Being a die-hard agnostic helped him to believe these were pure coincidences, otherwise he would have had some pointed questions for some capricious deities. Only had Bacchus and Wotan been for real, would he have been glad to bend to them. The God of the Christians and of the Jews had castrated himself into heavenly meditation, the vengeful God of the Moslems had been misguided into a teetotal, and the Hindu credo was far too fragmental for his taste. Buddha might have stood a chance, but he was not a God and enlightenment simply did not suit Gerard.
-“What are you thinking Gerard?” Atsumi asked with some asperity.
-“Trying to find a God.”
Looking at her blank face, he quickly added:
-“Only joking. About time we went home, no?”
-“Well, don’t try that trick on me! Pay the bill and let’s hurry! I’ll have to wake you up again tomorrow morning as usual. So the earlier to bed, the better!”


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