I spent the next days in a mild state of euphoria. I was about to make an important step toward my destiny, as Asami would say. Having my name on the guest list for a week, I decided to prepare as well as I could for the visit and not to rush to the club immediately. I had only one chance and I could not afford to blow it.
Things at work were going well. There was no sign of Sato or any suspicious individuals, who might have wanted to revenge on his behalf. He simply disappeared. Emile stopped worrying about him too. He was now the manager and seemed very satisfied with the new position. He showed his appreciation towards me by letting me pick the guests I wanted to serve and with thicker envelopes at the end of each shift. He also put in a good word for me with Ogata-sama regarding my working visa.
Meanwhile, I intensified my workout routine. I knew I wouldn’t achieve a significant improvement in my fighting skills in only few days, but at least the exercising made me feel more confident.
Days passed and the deadline for my visit to the club was approaching quickly. One morning, during my regular jogging in the park, I made the decision -- I would go to the club on Tuesday, the day after tomorrow. I was finally ready to take this step.
Hyped by the decision I just made I entered the lobby of the hostel, my clothes soaked with sweat and my stomach craving for a whole shelf of bentos. To spare customers at the convenience store from the proximity of sweaty me I headed for a shower first. Halfway toward the elevator, I was confronted by Miss Isoyama. I saw her mouth moving, but her voice was not loud enough to surpass the electronic music in my earphones. Wondering what the old fox could possibly want from me, I reluctantly removed one of my earplugs.
“Do you understand me, To-ru-sten san?”
“Umm, sorry, what did you say, Miss Isoyama?”
“I got a new room for you. Yes, big bed.”
I took out the other earplug. “Excuse me?”
She went behind the reception desk and beckoned me to approach. She searched through the keys that were hanging on the wall, picked one, and offered it to me.
“This room for you, To-ru-sten san, same floor, but bigger room and nice bed.”
She flashed a smile, which lined her face with myriad wrinkles and made me shudder.
“Huh,” I stretched my hand forward but didn’t grab the key just yet. “You sure it’s a better room?”
“Yes, yes, bigger, much nicer.”
“And I need to pay more for it?”
“No, no. Same price.” Her eyes thinned even more from the smile. She pushed the key into my hand, “Please move today, and bring back to me key of your old room.”
Her black eyes followed me and she gave a reassuring nod as I looked at her one more time with a certain amount of distrust before I stepped in the elevator. As soon as I reached my floor, I went to check out the new room. Same furniture, but double the size of my current room and, the most important, a much bigger bed. It took me less than twenty minutes to move all my stuff to the new room.
After I showered the first thing I did was lie on the bed. It wasn’t that wide, but it was much longer than my previous bed, allowing me to extend my legs fully without hitting the frame. This small, in many aspects, banal detail, made me happier than I ever expected. Even the air in this room felt different, as if there was somehow more of it. I took a long, slow breath, expanding my chest as much as I could. A smile of pure content set on my lips, and I continued to indulge in my thoughts about a brighter future when a knock on the door interrupted me.
Not expecting anyone, certainly not in my new room, I sat up promptly. “Who is it?”
The door opened slowly and a head with shiny, black hair popped in.
“Nik, mom ami?"
I never saw Emile with such messy hair. He always had them brushed backwards and fixed firmly with some super strong hair gel. Now they were loose, falling all over his face.
“Shit, Emile. You look like you’ve escaped from a Japanese horror movie.”
“I just woke up, give me some break.”
“How did you...come in, man. How did you know I was in this room?”
Emile looked around. “Oh, wow, that’s a great improvement, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. Was just wondering what made the old fox finally grant my request for a new room.”
Emile nodded and put on a prideful smirk
“And...I guess it is you I have to thank for?”
He briskly sat down on the bed next to me, leaning his back and head against the wall.
“Well, what are friends for?”
“Last time, you did me a favour, I paid a high price. You’re not expecting--”
“Nik, come on, I did this out of the goodness of my heart. I will never forget what you did for me. To get you a bed you can actually sleep in, was the least I could do. Besides, I got fed up listening to your constant complaints about it.”
I didn’t fully trust him on that, it sounded too simple for Emile. I was sure such little favours could easily gain a price tag in the future.
“How did you convince Miss Isoyama?”
“Oh, you know, living here for so long has its advantages.”
“You sure that’s it?”
Emile rolled his eyes.
“Geez, Nik, now you’re being paranoid. Just enjoy the gift.”
I observed him for a moment. “Okay. Thank you then.”
“Well, I do have one small request.”
“Here we go. I’m not going to beat anyone.”
"Non, non, listen, mon ami, don’t be like that.” He tucked his hair behind his ears and pulled out a tube from his pocket. “I need you to apply this cream on my back.”
I looked at him incredulously.
“That’s all, I promise. I can’t reach on the back, so could you just...” He pushed the tube in my hand and took off his t-shirt.
He turned his back towards me. “All over.”
My eyes widened at an enormous angry, red-faced Japanese demon with pointy fangs and horns staring at me from Emile’s back. The tattoo was a work in progress and it looked fresh.
“Geez, Emile, what the fuck!”
He turned his head around and grinned. “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s all thanks to Ogata sama. She referred me to a famous, traditional Irezumi artist and I finally got the appointment. I wanted to do this for a long time.”
I frowned. “It’s fucking huge. When did you do this....is this connected to your yakuza thing?”
“No,” he shrugged; “well, not yet. For now, it’s just a tattoo. Apply a thin layer of the cream but make sure you cover all the ink.”
As I touched his back he shuddered.
“Just do it gently, it’s fresh and it still hurts.”
I began to apply the cream, feeling rather uncomfortable about it.
“How long will it take before it’s finished?”
“It takes time. It’s not an instant thing, it’s a process. It’s changing me on the outside as much as on the inside. It will be finished when the change is completed.”
“Sounds like you’re in for an awful lot of pain.”
“True changes require suffering.”
“Is there some special meaning to this...demon?”
“It has a meaning for me.”
I didn’t want to prod further. I finished applying the cream and handed him the tube. Emile put on his t-shirt very slowly. He turned to me and placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Thanks, Nik, I knew I could count on you.”
“Yeah.” I stood up from the bed. His closeness -- after the practical, yet still somehow intimate act of applying the cream became -- unsettling.
“Something on your mind, mon ami?”
I passed my hand over my jaw. “Maybe. I want to ask you something.”
“Have you heard of a club called Tenko? It’s in Shibuya district.”
“No.” He shook his head. “But I can easily check it online if you want. What’s this all about?”
“I need to go there to meet somebody.”
“Oh,” His brow furrowed. “Does it have to do with any of the guests at the Mansion?”
“No, not at all.”
He waited for me to continue, but I didn’t elaborate further.
“Okay. Mysterious. Let me check my phone. Tenko, Shibuya...”
I sat on the chair by the desk and waited while Emile tapped on his phone, muttering words to himself.
“Nothing in English so must be mainly for the locals. Let’s see...first the spelling. Do you know what Tenko means?”
He directed his eyes back to the phone. “Hmm, let’s try with this meaning, a kind of mythical fox, I can see how this could be a name for a club. And the kanji is...bah, I should have used another character for it. It’s complicated to write in Japanese, but here, I have it!” With a proud grin on his face, he turned the screen toward me, but before I could see anything, he began to tap on it again.
“Interesting, I’ve never heard of it before. It’s a high-end shit. How did you get to it?”
“I’m just meeting somebody there, that’s all. Can you give me the address?”
A gleam of disappointment crossed his face before he looked at the screen. “Sure, I’ll send it to you now. Ah damn, write it down. You really do need to get a phone, you know.”
I chuckled, thinking ‘no, I don’t’, and wrote down the address and the train number on a piece of paper.
“The building is very close to the station. You can’t miss it. It’s in one of the highest towers in Shibuya, owned by one of the largest depatos. You know what’s that, right? Depato? A department store? Ok, so you won’t have a problem finding it, and the club, it says here...it’s on the last, 40th floor.”
“Still wondering, though, how somebody like you plans to enter such an exclusive club like this one?”
I shrugged. “I’ll take an elevator, I guess.”
“Oh, Ha, Ha, funny. Look, it’s fine with me if you don’t want to tell me.” He stood up from the bed. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, well,” I was hesitant about how and if at all to pose this question. “What do you think I should wear? You know, for such a club.”
Emile tilted his head slightly to the side, giving me a sly look, then sprung toward my only closet in the room and flung its door open.
I heard sighs of wonder and mocking laughter, as he went through my clothes.
“Dude, you need to buy some clothes. I mean, this is pathetic.”
“Fuck you, Emile. It’s all I need.”
“Well, you can’t wear this to the club. Any of these...pants, and...t-shirts. There’s not a decent garment in here.”
I began to regret I asked him.
“How important is this to you, Nik?”
“Huh, I’d lend you one of my suits, but your body frame is just too big. When do you need to go there?”
“In two days. Tuesday evening. I’ll need a day off by the way.”
Emile waved his hand. “That’s not a problem, but listen, if this is important to you then you need to look your best. This club is not some average, popular venue for students and tourists. It’s an exclusive club, for exclusive people. And the Japanese tend to be suckers for proper clothing.”
He shut the door of the closet. “Come on, let’s go. I know a few good clothing stores for you in Shinjuku.”
“Yes, now. I’m in a mood now and I might not be later. Besides, we don’t have much time, before the shift starts.”
We had at least six hours left before the Mansion opened, and the fact that Emile thought this was not enough time for shopping clothes began to worry me.
“I need to eat something.”
“We’ll have lunch there. Plenty of good restaurants. Meet you downstairs in 10 minutes.”