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In the Miso Soupby Ryu Murakami
Frank was standing in the shadow of a pillar in the lobby of the Shinjuku Prince. I was passing by on my way to the cafeteria when he popped out from behind the pillar.
"Hey, Kenji," he called. It literally took my breath away. "Frank," I gasped. "I thought we were going to meet in the cafeteria."
It was kind of crowded, he said and winked. The world's weirdest wink: his eye rolled back in his head as he closed it, so that for a second all you could see was white. And the cafeteria, clearly visible from where we stood, was almost empty. Frank saw me looking that way and said it was really crowded a few minutes ago. He was dressed differently tonight--black sweater and corduroy jacket with jeans and sneakers. Even his hairstyle was different. The short, slicked-down bangs he'd had the night before were now standing straight up. And instead of the old leather shoulder bag, he was carrying a cloth rucksack. It was like he'd had a makeover or something.
"I found a good bar," he said, "a shot bar. You don't see many of those in this country. Let's go there first."
The bar, on Kuyakusho Avenue, is a pretty well known place. Not because it serves delicious cocktails or the interior is anything special or the food is particularly good, but simply because it's one of the few no-frills drinking places in Kabuki-cho. It's popular with foreigners, and I've taken clients there several times. It has no chairs, just a long bar and a few elbow-high tables along the big plate-glass window. To get there from the hotel we'd walked along a street lined with clubs and crowded with touts, but Frank wasn't interested in their lingerie pubs or peep shows.
"I just wanted to start off by wetting the old whistle," he said when our beers came and we clinked glasses. We could have drunk beer in the hotel cafeteria. Did Frank have some reason for not wanting to go in there? I remembered reading in a hard-boiled detective novel that if you drink in the same place two nights in a row, the bartender and waiters will remember your face.
I looked around for someone I knew. Jun had told me not to be alone with Frank, and I thought it might be a good idea to let someone who knew me see us together. Frank peered steadily at my face while he drank his beer, as if trying to read my mind. I didn't see anyone I knew. A wide range of types stood shoulder to shoulder at the bar. Affluent college kids, white-collar workers bold enough to wear suits that weren't gray or navy blue, office girls who were old hands at partying, and trendy dudes who looked like they belonged in Roppongi but had decided to drink in Kabuki-cho for a change. Later on, hostesses and girls from the sex clubs would stop in for a drink.
"You seem a bit funny somehow tonight," Frank said. He was gulping his beer at a much faster pace than he had the night before. "I'm kind of tired," I told him. "And like I said on the phone, I think I'm catching a cold."
I guess anyone who knew me could have seen I was a bit funny somehow. Even I thought I was. This is how people start the slide down into madness, I thought. Suspicious minds breed demons, they say, and now I knew what they meant. Frank kept peering at me, and I searched for something to say. I was trying to decide how much I should let him suspect I suspected. It seemed best to hint that I thought he was a dubious character, but not to the extent that I'd ever imagine he might be a murderer. If he knew I imagined any such thing, I was pretty sure he'd kill me. And if, on the other hand, he decided I was completely naession of people from overseas who seem to be having a good time. The foreigner's enjoying himself, so maybe old Nippon isn't so bad after all, in fact maybe this is a world-class bar, and we drink in places like this all the time, so maybe we're happier than we realized, is how the reasoning goes. This spot had some excellent jazz on the sound system--a rarity for Kabuki-cho--and the lighting was fashionably dim, so that not even the people standing right next to us could see Frank's face very clearly. Even as he slapped my shoulder and laughed, Frank's eyes were as cold as dark marbles. I had to force myself to return the gaze of those chilling eyes and try to look perky and cheerful. It was agony of a sort I'd never experienced before. I didn't know how long my nerves would hold up.
"I want sex, Kenji, sex. I want to drink some beer here to get in a good mood and then go to a club where I can get sexually aroused."
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