Brad Slayton was one of those middle-management tool chests who treat every business lunch with a woman like it was a date, and every date like a business transaction. From where I sat, he was there to debrief me on the Tokyo deal, which, to his credit, he locked down in record time. He seemed convinced it was more about waging a scorched-earth assault on a Bedrock-sized rib eye and flagon of Lagavulin sixteen-year. Between, often during, red mouthfuls of cow, he was talking to me, his direct superior at Cheswick Financial Group, like I was a first-week receptionist on Mad Men.
“The thing about Tokyo,” he declared, “is it’s a man’s world. They respect a guy who looks ’em in the eye and says, ‘Hey, now, here’s how it’s gonna be.’ I mean, you’re a player an’ all. I don’t mean to say you ain’t got no moves. You’ve got moves. I like ’em.” His face remained impassive around all that chewing.
“I’ve been to Tokyo four or five times,” I began, but Brad cut me off.
“Like I said, it ain’t nothin’ you’re doin’ wrong, Miz B. I just don’t think them Jap fellas know what to do with some foxy, five-foot-ten mama givin’ ’em what-for. They prefer male authority.” His sibilants launched a hard rain of steak onto my shrimp Alexander, which I ruefully pushed to the side.
“With all that testosterone slamming around,” I said, looking him directly in the eye as he claimed to prefer, “is there anything on your expense report I should worry about?” He grinned, but his cheeks danced like pennies on a washing machine. I returned the smile and waited for him to talk.
“Not me,” he replied, as full of shit as he was of scotch and steak. “I’m as pure as a driven choirboy.”
Look, I don’t know how this works. I’ve heard people flash micro-expressions that last a fifth of a second before they lie, so maybe my subconscious mind figured out some way of amplifying a fibber’s tells. Or maybe I’m a psychic from the planet Superhero, and my third eye was telling me this prick’s forebrain lit up like the Main Street Electrical Parade. I got my first sighting the same week I, as Mom said, became a woman, but maybe that’s a total coincidence. It took months for me to realize not every other person could do it. I call what I see the jitters, and Brad’s were a textbook manifestation.
“Really,” I scoffed. “Care to try that one again, Pinocchio?”
After an awkward beat, he chortled and swallowed his mouthful of steak. “You!” he announced. “Man, you’re good! I can see I’m gonna have to watch out for you, girl.”
“I mean, it’s pretty damn clear you know what boys like.”
“Yeah, we hit a few bars,” he drawled, “but honestly, I was back in my room at the Sheraton by eleven.” Now his face was leaping into visible pimples like paint on an amplifier.
“You hellcat!” he laughed. “I’m a happily-married man, you know that!” His face settled; he was happily married, regardless of how his wife may have felt about it.
“Okay, but you said it. I do know what boys get up to. They like a certain kind of…entertainment.”
Brad took a swig of his scotch. “I didn’t know we were going there, missy.”
“We aren’t going anywhere,” I admonished, signaling the waiter. “I’m just saying you should tell me the truth. Be a man, all right? We’re grown-ups here.”
The waiter arrived in record time. “Is everything delicious?” he inquired, noting my barely-touched plate. “Perhaps you’d like–?”
“No,” I demurred. “It was fine. I just had a big lunch. If I could get a fresh coffee, though. Black.”
“It’d be my pleasure,” he all but sang, then glided back toward the kitchen.
“So tell me,” I continued, hand cradling my chin. “What do a dozen amped-up fratboys do to get away from it all in Tokyo? I’m curious.”
“Hey, like I said,” he replied, grinning but ticking spastically, “it was cocktails and yakitori, then a lonely night of American HBO in the Sheraton.”
“Baloney,” I said, holding his stare. “You should tell me what really goes on, Brad. Who knows? It might…get me excited.”
My offer lingered in the air between us like perfume. He considered his options and braved a first move. “You ever been to Kabukichō?”
“I haven’t. What’s that, some high-end strip joint?”
“Nah, you’re close. Kabukichō’s a red-light district in Shinjuku, where the Yakuza used to hang out. Still do, prob’ly. It’s a fun kinda place. Makes Vegas look like a Methodist picnic.”
“So what does one do in—what did you call it?”
“Right. Is it safe to assume I’ll find a fair amount of booze on that expense report?”
“Hell, no. What happens in Kabukichō stays in Kabukichō, y’ask me. That was all outta my own pocket. The other guys said somethin’ to the cab driver, and he rattled off somethin’ with a grin on his face you coulda used as a cheese grater. Next thing I know, we’re pullin’ up in front of a…Yeah, I guess you could say it was a strip bar.” The jitters returned, clear as sin.
“I could, but I won’t, ’cause that’d be fibbing, now, wouldn’t it?”
“Listen, boss,” he said, lowering his voice, “I think maybe you’re playing with matches here. Are you sure you wanta hear all this?”
I thanked our waiter as he delivered a fresh cup of coffee and scotch for the driven choirboy, then drifted away. “All right,” I said, “tell me a story. And don’t spare the lurid details. Keep me awake nights.”
“Well, well!” he exclaimed. “Miz B turns out to be a bad girl! Who knew?” I shrugged. He verified no other diners were eavesdropping, then slurred, “You ever hear of a ‘soapland?’”
“A soapland? No. Sounds intriguing.”
“Yeah, they’re somethin’, all right. It’s a massage parlor, kinda. The girls are all naked, o’course. Oiled up. Supposedly they’re givin’ you a bath, which is legal in Tokyo. No matter how they do it, I guess.”
“Uh-huh. And they do it…some special way?”
“Well, let’s just say all our stories had happy endings.”
“And your wife?”
“Y’know, I kinda feel like, what the missus don’t know ain’t gonna hurt her.”
“When in Tokyo,” he grinned, “you gotta do like them Tokyos do, am I right? Hey, it worked. They decided we were peas in a pod. I had a signature faster’n you could bat an eye.”
“You’re right. And yeah, I know how it is.”
“I bet,” he agreed, sipping scotch. “I just bet you damn do.”
“And those girls, in the soapland? Did they know things, too?” I reached for my coffee, but the china was still hot to the touch.
“Christ,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Them Japanese girls, holy shit. Let’s just say, y’know, the geishas of old had nothing on little Yuriko. Damn.”
“You don’t say. So what made her so special? I might learn a new trick.”
“I don’t know. She had…moves,” he said, twitching again.
“Special moves. Like karate?”
“No. More like,” he started, eyes narrowing distrustfully. “Well. I’m just sayin’.”
“What are you saying?”
“She was strong. It surprised me.”
“Surprised you? How so?”
“She was…little. You know. Japanese girls. But tough.” His face was dancing like rain on a puddle. I could practically hear it, the susurration of snakes in the grass.
“She was short,” I guessed.
“She was short,” he agreed.
“Yeah. I couldn’t believe all the crazy shit that girl knew how to do.”
“So you and Yuriko did a lot.”
“Oh, I wore that girl out,” he acknowledged, flushed. His face was no longer dancing.
“You hurt her.”
“What happens in Kabukichō, man. She was into it.”
“I’m sure. And she was little.” He was silent. “She was young.”
“Eighteen,” he said, his face rippling in frantic waves. “Sixteen. Whatever.”
“Not eighteen.” He stared back, regretting—not what he’d done, but only what he’d said. “A child,” I added quietly.
“Hey, no. I would never,” he insisted, face pulsing, a blur of mendacity.
I didn’t mean to bump my coffee into his lap just then, leaving second-degree burns in spots he probably valued overmuch. No, that was truly an accident, I swear.
Don’t believe me? Well, I guess you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
*Christian Carvajal is the author of Lightfall, a 2009 novel released by Fear Nought Publishing, and he’s currently shopping a new novel with the working title Pornotopia. His work has been published in Cinefex and Literary Cavalcade, and he’s a regular theatre critic and feature writer for the Weekly Volcano. His short story “A Boy and His God” earned him honorable mention in the international Writers of the Future Contest. “Carv’s Thinky Blog” is at ChristianCarvajal.com, along with purchase information for his nonfiction e-book, Rereading the Bible: Agnostic Insights Into Genesis, the Gospels, and Revelation. Veritas!