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The fetor of the vomit-caked floor hit Mark immediately, seconds before his eyes focused on the base of the toilet. He'd fallen asleep there last night, after purging himself—again.
Head throbbing, he slowly lifted himself from the cold tile. His stomach was a toxic cauldron. When was the last time he'd eaten? Yesterday? Two days ago?
A nightmare had woken him. It was a variation of the same dream that had haunted him since his soon-to-be ex-wife, Farah, had left him, almost a month ago. A mist-pale banshee had been chasing him through dark woods, howling her bloodlust as she gained on him. Stumbling over thick, slimy tree roots, he couldn't outrun her—the banshee was relentless, her gelid, swiping claws whispering like death's breath on his neck. Just when she was about to get him, the dream ended.
Was it any wonder that he was drinking so much?
Careful not to step in his crusted sickness, he lowered the lid on the toilet and sat down, cupping his forehead in his shaking hands. The dizziness passed after a minute. He got up and washed his mouth out with water from the bathroom sink. It tasted terrible, like chemicals, but it was an improvement over the emetic currently flavouring his breath.
After cleaning up his mess and tossing the Jack bottle in the far corner of the hotel room with the others, he stripped off his tank top and boxer shorts. He tossed them in the dirty clothes pile near the bottles.
The shower, long and hot, soothed him into the day as he scrubbed away the previous night. He felt clean again, if only for a moment.
Toweling off, he wondered: should he risk breakfast?
With a shaking hand he washed down two aspirin with a freshly-opened bottle of Jack as he phoned room service. When he connected with the room service operator, he had to repeat his order because he'd mumbled it the first time.
This made him angry. Repeating his order—he knew their menu by heart, having lived here for a month—he was curt with the woman on the other end of the line.
Despite this, the woman was polite. "Face" was the guiding principle in this land of ritual and illusory kindness. He imagined her lips upturned in that national smile that meant the opposite, even as her sing-song voice expressed her gratitude.
In Wisconsin, this would not have been tolerated.
Not that Mark cared. Between the impending divorce (brought about by his reckless affairs) and his meltdown during a business meeting with Goto Corporation, he'd been cast out of his former life.
Two weeks ago, Mark, the junior Mr. Goto and several of Goto's associates had been drinking, conducting business in a Ginza hostess club (one of many Mark had visited in his brief stay), when Mark, drunker than usual, had told Goto what he really thought of the effeminate, jowly man.
To accuse a man of homosexuality in a country that counted masculinity among its highest virtues was a huge mistake. It had instantly elided any goodwill (and with it, the possibility of a profitable merger) that had existed between Daniels Technologies and Goto Corporation.
Pat Daniels had fired him the next morning. Pat, who'd been Mark's boss for nineteen years, had given him a generous—considering what Mark had done—severance package. This had allowed him to keep his room in the Hilton Tokyo, boozing (and up until a week and a half ago, fucking) while he agonized over the turn his life had taken.
But not for long. He would have to return to the States soon, get another job. It wasn't likely that a middle-aged gai-jin like himself could easily find a job in xenophobic Tokyo, whose economy was unstable.
Also, there was the divorce to consider. He knew that Farah, owner of a successful hair salon, would bleed him dry. It wasn't money she wanted; it was revenge.
A knock on the door: breakfast had arrived. He threw on a terry-cloth robe and retrieved it.
He washed down his eggs and bacon with Jack, ignoring the rawness in his throat. The food sat uneasily in his stomach. He wondered if he'd be making another visit to the bathroom soon.
He hoped not. He'd need his strength. Tonight he'd be going out with Bill Green, an American kid he'd met at a club several weeks ago. Bill had shown Mark stuff he'd never seen before. Two weeks ago, Bill had taken him to a bar where five, condom-bearing female dwarfs (two of them Thai, the rest Japanese) had dispensed blow jobs to patrons who bought them sake.
It'd been strangely arousing watching those hafu in the skimpy, see-through dresses stand on sake boxes and suck off the bar patrons.
Of course, everybody in the bar (mostly American men) had watched. It was the reason that the bar was so popular.
By the end of the night, Mark had bought one of the dwarfs sake. After he'd jetted his seed into her hot, welcoming mouth, she'd smiled—she was prettier than her blow-mates—and politely thanked him for the sake in accented English.
Bill had just watched. He was a spectator, he said. He'd write about it in his journal later.
"For someone as young as yourself—you're what, twenty-nine?—you must have a lot of interesting memories," Mark had replied, post-orgasm.
Bill, nodding, had taken another sip off his Guinness pint. The look he'd given Mark said: you couldn't begin to imagine the things I've seen.
Breakfast done, Mark phoned the laundry service. Could they pick up his clothes? Yes, they could, the female operator (not the same one as before) assured him. It would be done within fifteen minutes.
He would've called an escort club (a Goto ex-associate had given him the number, citing the service's lack of "Special Fear"—the Japanese urban legend that all foreign men, especially Americans, had AIDS and other diseases), but it wouldn't do him any good now. The alcohol had made him impotent.
Not even the memory of the short Thai whore in the form-fitting dress could make him hard. She'd sucked him off with her pretty mouth, then let him fuck her up the ass, while slapping it with a hardwood paddle. All the while, he'd marveled that what they were doing wasn't considered prostitution here—neither were hand jobs, for that matter.
The whore had cried out as his blows reddened her ass cheeks, a mix of pain and feigned ecstasy. Mark had ignored them; the whore had been paid to perform a service, and she would fulfill the contract.
As far as Mark was concerned, all women were whores. Some of them were honest, like this one, and did it for money; others, like Farah, were more insidious: they were users, lusting after the grand prize—matrimony, security—with phony emotions, and when their men expressed dissatisfaction, via an affair or two, or a mid-life crisis, they filed for divorce, striking when men were most susceptible to downfall.
Mark hadn't subscribed to these notions before the divorce. Since the bitch had left him, his outlook had taken a stark turn.
"Kekko desu!" the squirming whore had cried out. Enough!
Her last cry had jarred him out of his fury. His first thought—something he'd never do—had been to smack the back of her black-tressed head. Then he'd seen the blood-spotted paddle, and stopped.
Her ass had been lightly bruised, blood-beaded. Withdrawing his cock—he'd been on the verge of coming—he'd gotten off the bed and, instructing her to stay still, cleaned her with a wet towel. It wasn't that he cared about her; it was damage control. He might want to engage the escort club's services again.
She'd stared angrily at him, her dark, almond-shaped eyes narrowed, as he'd gently pressed the cool, wet towels to her crimson-dotted ass. When she'd stopped bleeding, he'd tossed the towels onto the floor and retrieved extra yen from his wallet: money was the best salve.
"I'm sorry," he'd bowed low to the departing whore a few minutes later. "I must've lost my head."
The whore, her smile dangerous and friendly, had nodded and left. Mark had hoped that she'd encountered worse situations than this-
A knock at the door brought him back to the present. Laundry service.
Mark watched as the young man in the hotel uniform, wincing at the odor of Mark's clothes, loaded them into the cloth laundry cart and left. The tip Mark gave him didn't merit the level of gratitude the man expressed.
* * *
Mark was drunk by the time Bill picked him up, outside the hotel. The night was sweltering, odd for August.
Either way, Mark didn't care. The heat was making him dizzy. If Bill didn't get here soon.
Bill lightly beeped his horn as his Toyota Corolla rolled up to the curb.
"You don't look good. Sure you want to go out?" Bill, concerned.
"I'm fine. Let's go."
The drive to the club was a short one, Bill said, but he drove with caution. Japanese traffic laws favoured the offender in car accidents, especially if the victims were foreigners. Because of this, a foreigner motoring in Japan was a moving target, a financial opportunity for the low.
"That's fucked up," Mark opined, taking a slug of his Jack snifter.
"Yes, it is," Bill agreed, intently watching the road.
"A club called Akegata—'before dawn.' It's in the Shinjuku district. You'll like it, I think."
"I trust your judgment. You haven't steered me wrong, yet." Mark laughed.
Bill smiled as he parked on a narrow, neon-bathed street.
"The club's a few blocks down. But parking spaces are limited, especially in this area. Best to park now, and walk the rest of the way—if you're up to it."
"Sure," Mark replied, with a certainty he didn't feel. "As long as I can get a glass of water when we get there."
Bill nodded as they locked the car and headed towards the club. Hipsters, some young, some middle-aged, wore the latest Western fashions, mostly short skirts, jeans and leather, as well as low-cut blouses, button-up shirts and t-shirts. Many of younger Japanese shot them derisive looks.
If Bill noticed, he didn't show it. Mark wondered how he kept calm in the face of their hypocrisy.
Bill showed a red key to the two burly doormen, who let them enter the red and black building.
They each paid the four thousand, seven hundred yen cover charge to a pretty Japanese woman on the other side of the red door.
They made an odd pair. Bill, brown-haired and slender in his blue jeans, anime t-shirt and brown bomber jacket, was a sharp contrast to Mark, who was balding and bloated in his rumpled, grey business suit.
They chose a small, round table near the edge of the central, circular stage. An attractive Japanese waitress in a red-and-black leather bikini took their order: a glass of water, two Jack and Cokes for Mark, Guinness for Bill.
The club began to fill up, as other patrons (mostly Americans and Japanese, some of them in leather S&M outfits), took their seats. Mark, ignoring them, asked Bill, "How's Tori?"
Mark had been asking him this for the past two weeks, since Bill had shown Mark a wallet-sized picture of his employer. Tori, thin and pretty in a pink kimono, was sitting in a lush garden, a mysterious smile on her lips.
"She doesn't look sick," Mark, half-drunk, had commented. "She looks radiant."
"Sick people often have radiant expressions," Bill had replied.
Two weeks later, Bill smiled. "She's holding steady, for now. Why are you so interested in her?"
"Because of your reluctance to speak of her. I mean, you're open about everything else in your life, but the minute I bring her up."
"I don't talk about other peoples' affairs. My life is another story."
Mark ignored that. "The other thing is that you carry her picture around. Most people don't have wallet-sized pictures of their boss. That leads me to wonder if there's more to your relationship than meets the eye."
"I don't see how my relationship with Tori is any concern of yours."
"I know it's none of my business, but you're my friend. If you are bumping pelvises with her, it would go a long way towards explaining why you're a journal-scribbling voyeur and not a participant."
Their waitress returned with their drinks. Bill paid her, tipping generously. When she left, Bill said, "Next round's on you."
"Fair enough." Mark nodded, smiling, as he sipped one of his drinks. He grimaced. "Not enough Jack."
"Perhaps you shouldn't drink so much."
"Don't change the subject, Bill. I'm curious."
"So you said." Bill took sip of his Guinness. "I'm the closest thing to family she has. All her friends and relatives are dead. Happy?"
"Almost. You should invite her out, sometime. She's a looker, and I'm sure she has some interesting stories to tell."
Bill smiled. "She's 'interesting,' as you say. But no, that's not a good idea."
"She's not bedridden, is she?"
"Why don't you let her decide, then? Promise me you'll ask her, and I'll never mention it again."
Bill looked doubtful, then: "I'll hold you to that promise."
"Shall we drink to that?"
They did. Just then, the club lights dimmed; a swell of traditional Japanese music filled the room. On the other side of the club, a spotlight followed three women as they made their way towards the elevated stage. Two of them were diminutive Asian twins, one in a scarlet female harness, the other in a black female harness. Their harnesses were open-crotch, revealing their scarlet- and raven-down snatches and lithe bodies. Long hair, scarlet for the scarlet twin, black for the black twin, fell straight down their backs.
They sandwiched a tall, shapely ainoko, a half-Japanese, half-black girl. Unlike the twins, she was nude, and her snatch was shaved.
Reaching the central stage, the twins strapped the trembling girl to a vertical, black X.
The black twin lubed an arm-length rubber glove and fisted the writhing ainoko. Nether juices glistened on the black glove and the girl's thighs as the other twin, standing on a scarlet box, kissed and bit the girl's now-bleeding lip. She ran her hands over the girl's belly, breasts and nipples, pinching the latter with cruel glee.
The girl's moans became whimpers when the scarlet twin blindfolded her with scarlet silk.
The fisting—the black twin's arm was into the girl almost up to her elbow—was violent. All the while, the scarlet twin heated a brand of indeterminate shape with a butane torch. The black twin withdrew her snatch-slicked glove as the scarlet twin pressed the red-hot brand into the girl's upper left thigh.
The girl's cry of ecstasy and animalistic pain caused a collective gasp from the club patrons. Her body went rigid, her fingers digging into the black wood of the X. The sweet-sickly smell of burnt flesh filled the room; windows and doors were opened to air out the club as the house lights came on.
Bill, who'd been watching the twins put clear cream on the girl's pinkish-red wound, met Mark's eyes and smiled.
A few minutes later, the twins took the glazed-eyed, grinning girl off the X and put her between them, her arms around their shoulders. They made their way back towards their dressing rooms. They were careful not to touch her bandaged wound, a Japanese symbol.
"What does her symbol mean?"
"Peace," Bill replied, still smiling.
"Doesn't sound peaceful to me, branding yourself like that."
"Peace is relative." Bill glanced at Mark's empty drinks. Mark, irritated, pretended not to notice.
* * *
The next morning, Mark woke up in his bed, reeking of puke and piss. He didn't remember puking or pissing—in fact, he didn't remember much of anything after the girl got branded: he'd blacked out, again.
The phone rang, spiking his head with pain. With a shaking hand, he snatched up the receiver.
"Tori will meet you. However, there's one condition. You must be sober when you meet her; she's not fond of drunks. I'll pick you up at seven, in front of your hotel." Bill was business-like.
"When you meet her, you'll understand. Still interested?"
"Yeah." Mark paused. "You okay, Bill? You sound. different."
"I'm tired. See you at seven."
The phone went dead. Had he done something to piss Bill off? He'd ask him later.
Aspirin and Jack were called for—enough to get steady him, but not so much that he couldn't act sober. Otherwise, he'd never get through the day.
Might be a good time to let a maid clean the room. He reached for the aspirin and a half-empty bottle of Jack on the nightstand.
The aspirin bottle was empty.
* * *
Mark got out of Bill's Corolla. They were in front of a large, two-story house; it resembled a tea house from a nineteenth century painting.
"This must've cost her a lot of yen."
Bill nodded. He'd been like this for most of the forty-minute drive. Tokyo glittered below them.
"You sure you're not mad at me, Bill?"
Bill smiled for the first time that night. "Of course not. It's just that Tori doesn't meet many people these days. don't upset her, okay?"
Bill opened the wooden gate for him, closing it behind them. They passed through a moss garden as they stepped over a wooden foot-bridge. To their right, a few swans floated past them, their rippling passages drowned out by croaking frogs. The mingled scents of the pond and blossoms filled the warm night air.
The interior of the house was a direct contrast to its exterior. Tasteful, American-style furniture, much of it made from silk, leather and hard wood, dominated the place. Asian paintings, which looked centuries old, and vases reminded Mark that he was in Japan.
Bill entered another room through burnished double doors. Mark tried to get a peek at what lay within, but Bill shut the doors too quick for him to see anything.
This is weird, he thought, not for the first time. Why am I playing this bitch's game?
Because you're curious. You want to know.
You'll find out soon enough, won't you-
"She'll see you now." Bill held one of the doors open for him. When Mark passed him, Bill gave him a funny look, and said, "Be careful." Before Mark could reply, he closed the door behind him.
He was alone in an expansive, lantern-lit room. Wooden rafters gleamed darkly in what seemed to be a cross between a bedroom and a living room. Long, silk-cushioned couches with floral patterns dominated the center of the room. Ornate carvings of fearsome, half-human monsters graced the low table between the couches.
Near the back of the room, burnished steps led into a darkened, veiled area. He couldn't see anything within it.
He hated how his voice sounded: timid, scared. It echoed throughout the room, as if to taunt him.
He went to the table and studied a porcelain pitcher in the center of it. A large, porcelain cup was beside it. The man-monsters that graced the antique table were depicted on them, as well.
I need a drink, bad.
He'd kept his promise—he'd drank less than usual, enough to fend off the DTs, but not enough to get smashed. He regretted that now; this shit was downright spooky.
"Sit. Have some plum wine, Mark-san."
Mark jumped when the pellucid veil parted. The beautiful woman from Bill's photo descended the steps gracefully, as if floating. Her voice wasn't sing-song like other Japanese women's. It was melodic, soothing, no trace of an accent.
He returned her bow, aware that he'd bowed lower than her—he'd acknowledged her as his superior. Mentally, he kicked himself: why was he so nervous?
He took a seat on the couch, poured the plum wine into the cup. With shaking hands, he brought the cup to his lips, swallowed and winced. The plum wine had a bite!
She sat on the couch near him. Her pretty smile was practiced, her eyes dark as her bound, black hair. Her skin was pallid, an admired genetic trait in Japan. She could've been in her late twenties, early thirties.
"Bill tells me that you're a misogynist and self-destructive. He means that in the kindest way, of course."
Mark snarfed the plum wine he'd been drinking. It sprayed all over his shirt and dinner jacket.
"Forgive my directness, Mark-san. When Bill told me you wanted to meet me, I knew it was time."
Her dark eyes enthralled him, silencing his question: time for what?
"Time for this," she smiled, baring razor-sharp incisors. She lunged.
* * *
Upstairs in his room, Bill paused as Mark's scream echoed throughout the house.
Poor bastard. But she's right. he does deserve it
Bill returned his attention to the computer screen in front of him. He'd been typing a letter to his friend, Martin, back in San Francisco. He missed his friend. Maybe he could visit Martin, come spring.
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