Yokai Blues Chapter 3
As promised yesterday, (I hope because this is the first time I’ll try delayed posting trick) here is the next piece of the story of Nick and Tom, Yokai detectives.
Nick and Tom arrived in Roppongi close to an hour after they got the call. By that time the body had been roped off and most of the reporters lost interest. Nick recognized one from a particularly seedy gossip magazine. Usually they dealt with celebrity sex scandals and corporate shenanigans but no newspaper or magazine could resist the scent of a murder story.
When most of the reputable outfits find out it was a sex worker from Roppongi they pack it in early. The people down here dying were a dime a dozen. Only upstanding citizens; housewives, office workers, high school students, and the like made for good stories that sold copies. So the big players left these stories to the gossip rags that were more interested in client lists rather than life stories. Nick made sure to bump hard into the reporter as he passed. The whip thin man started to curse Nick when Tom knocked him to the ground with a casual nudge. Tom bowed low and offered his apologies but not a hand up. The reporter made a stumbling excuse about how he must have tripped and waved Tom off with a smile. Tom might dress like a clown on LSD but he was still seven feet tall and three hundred pounds of scary blue muscle. Tom nodded at the reporter then turned to join Nick at the police cordon.
Nick was chatting with his friend that gave him the tip. The officer looked the same as most do, broad shoulders, buzz cut, neat and clean uniform, but this one had a smile in his eyes as well as his face. Most cops Nick knew would smile at someone but couldn’t hide the contempt or even outright condescension they felt.
“Nice one Tom,” Nick said. He jerked his thumb in the direction of the reporter, who was busy dusting off his pants. “Have you met my friend Shin before?” The cop bowed at Tom who returned the gesture.
“I think we met at the end-of-the-year party last year,” Tom said. Shin stopped to think for a moment, hand on his chin.
“That’s right!” he said, snapping his fingers, “That was one hell of a party. I can’t remember the last time I drank so much.”
“Do you know a lot of Oni, sir?” Tom said, “I figured we’d be hard to forget at a party.”
“Like I said,” Shin punched Nick on the arm, “I can’t remember when I drank so much or even how much I drank. But forgive me,” he bowed again, “it’s nice to see you again Tom.” Tom returned the bow and Shin responded. This set off a small feedback loop as both bowed several more times to each other before breaking out into laughter.
“So,” Nick said, “are we going to get to see the body anytime soon?” Shin looked at him, wiping a small tear of laughter from one eye.
“Did you remember to renew your license?” Shin asked. Nick started to say something, stopped, then turned to look at Tom. Tom gave a small nod.
“Of course!” Nick said. Shin laughed but let them through the cordon and into the crime scene anyway.
The stairs leading up were narrow to the point of claustrophobia. Tom hit his head on the low ceilings twice. It was his only choice though, he wouldn’t fit in the elevator. Nick had wanted to take the elevator and avoid the seven flights of stairs but Tom had threatened to quit if Nick left him to climb alone. When they reached the seventh floor the door by the stairs had no markings except for three chinese characters written in the complicated traditional style.
“What’s that say?” Nick asked. He was breathing heavily through his nose though it was clear he didn’t want to let on how winded he was.
“Seems they didn’t take clients of my size into consideration when they chose this place,” Tom said. He was hunched over, the ceiling too short for him to stand up straight. Shin laughed again.
“Sorry Tom,” he said. Then he pointed a thumb at the door. “As for this,” he said, “It’s gibberish. ‘Happy Luck Day’ or some such. Come on, let’s go in.”
The massage parlor was rather typical in Nick’s opinion. Soft leather couches lined the walls underneath long plate glass windows. There was what looked to be a reception desk, papers and notebooks scattered across the surface. An office phone with multiple lines sat on one corner, the receiver dangled off the side, resting on the floor. A large TV hung on the wall. It was showing a re-run of a popular variety show. The sound was off but Nick remembered the human interest piece about a five year old kid that took the bullet train all by himself. On the opposite wall, facing the door, a security camera looked down at them.
“Was that thing on?” Nick said, pointing at the camera.
“Yeah but the first run through didn’t show anything obvious around the time of death. The footage is back at headquarters by now,” Shin said.
“You’ll get me a copy?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Shin then led them into the back of the parlor. Heavy curtains made of cheap fabric hung in large ovals. Some were open, revealing the flat massage beds covered in clean white towels. Nick had been in some less hygienic establishments before so this place was a step above the rest. Shin kept walking to the very rear of the massage area. There were two forensic workers standing off to the side comparing notes.
“About damn time,” one of them said when Nick and the others came over to the scene. The one who spoke looked like he was about to continue his complaint when Tom coughed. It was a deep rumbling noise that sounded like a spoon in a garbage disposal. The forensic workers went back to their notes. Shin smiled.
“Let’s finish this quickly, I’m already overstepping my authority letting you two in here,” he said.
“I appreciate it,” Nick said, clapping his friend on the shoulder. Nick turned to look at the body. It was already in a bag, resting on one of the tables. A softer pillow and heavier blankets than are typical for a customer were crumpled on the floor next to the bed.
“We think she was in here sleeping off her shift, waiting for the trains to start running,” Shin said. “Other than the bag, we found her pretty much just as she is now, flat on the bed, no signs of injury.” Nick unzipped the bag and looked at the corpse for a few moments. He zipped the bag up again.
“She’s human,” Nick said. Shin said nothing, his expression hard to read. “Why did you call me about this?”
“You didn’t recognize her?” Shin said.
“No,” Nick said. He stopped then, thinking. “Give me a light.” Shin handed Nick his flashlight. Nick unzipped the bag again and flicked on the light.
“Is she?” Nick asked.
“That fox we found the other day. She worked for this one,” Shin said. Nick said nothing as he continued to look at the corpse, trying to find a hint of familiarity in the features swollen by death. What he did notice, however, was the same yellow discoloration as his friend the fox had. It was harder to pick out on human flesh than white fox fur, but it was there.
“Did you get the results from the lab on what killed Lin, I mean, the fox?” Nick asked. Shin raised an eyebrow. Tom looked anywhere but the corpse. He had a weak stomach for death.
“Funny thing that,” Shin said, “Toxicology said she died of acute nicotine poisoning.” Nick sniffed the air. Out of the ordinary actions are just as contagious in yokai as they are in humans. Soon both Tom and Shin were sniffing the air and even the forensic guys started as well. Shin shrugged his shoulders.
“Smells like an overripe corpse to me,” he said. Nick looked at Tom.
“I can smell tobacco smoke though,” Tom said, “Even over that.” He waved a hand in the general direction of the corpse. Nick could smell it too. He had just given up cigarettes. Two months clean after seventeen years at a pack a day. People told him often that the sense of smell was the first thing to come back. Shin still smoked, however.
“I smell it too,” Nick said, “which is odd. They usually don’t let customers smoke in a place like this. At least, not in the rooms.” Nick saw the forensic team writing down new notes at a furious pace. They avoided his gaze when he caught their eye. Nick was used to it, the incompetence of your average crime scene investigator in this area of town.
“Might be something to follow up on.” Shin said, “If there’s nothing else you want to see, I’d like to get this body out of here and down to the morgue.”
“Of course,” Nick said, “I’ve seen enough for now. Hope you can get me that video though.”
“I’ll try,” Shin said with a small laugh, “but you’re going to owe me a beer or two if I come through on this.” Nick just smiled and followed Shin back to the exit. At the elevator Shin turned to Tom.
“Why don’t you head down ahead of us big guy,” he said, “I want to talk to Nick alone for a moment.” Tom sighed.
“More chatter about human females and their ample rear ends?” he asked.
“Exactly,” Nick said patting Tom on the arm, he couldn’t reach high enough to get his shoulder, “we’ll take the elevator and meet you down there.” Tom stomped off down the stairs muttering about “yokai discrimination”. After he disappeared around the corner of the stairwell Nick hit the elevator call button.
“So what did you want to talk to me about Shin?” he asked. Shin hesitated, unsure of how to begin.
“I know you and Lin were close,” he said. Nick shoved his hands in his pockets and began shifting his weight from foot to foot. His eyes locked onto the lights above the elevator signaling which floor it was on.
“And I know you had a falling out,” Shin said. Nick threw a sharp glance at Shin then went back to the elevator. He reached out and stabbed the call button a few more times.
“I’m not saying you’re a suspect,” Shin said.
“A suspect?” Nick said. His outburst echoed down the stairwell. The elevator arrived and Nick immediately stomped inside the car. Shin grabbed the door as Nick was pressing the button for the first floor.
“You’re not a suspect yet, Nick,” Shin said, standing in the doorway so it couldn’t close, “Yet being the key word. I’m just saying you should be careful.”
“Thanks,” Nick said. Shin’s shoulders slumped, hurt apparent on his face. Nick sighed deeply.
“No seriously,” he said, “Thank you. I know you’re trying to help.” Shin smiled. He stepped out of the way of the door.
“You still owe me a beer for the file I gave you,” he said as the elevator closed. Nick gave a thumbs up as the double doors slid shut.
Outside, Tom was waiting with his arms crossed.
“What took you?” he said to Nick as he entered the street.
“Slow elevator, should have taken the stairs,” Nick said. He paused to take a small flask from his coat. He opened it then took a long drink. He offered it to Tom who took it.
“Why does Shin help you out so much anyway?” Tom asked after he’d taken a swallow of the whiskey.
“I saved his life once,” Nick said. He had another long drink on the flask then put it away. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go talk to the kappa.”
“This should be fun,” Tom said.