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.
So here is my humble entry, enjoy….
I arrived into that haze between sleep and waking. My sheets were twisted around my body in a corkscrew, the covers long since kicked to the floor. The air conditioner coughed on the wall above my head. It had given up on it’s duties to make the room comfortable and had instead chosen a path of dripping foul smelling water onto the floor. To describe the air it belched forth as mustier than a desiccated corpse would be doing it a service. The many layers of padding scrounged from Goodwill that made up my bed had shifted during the night and had arranged themselves into a mosaic of lumpy uncomfortableness. That spidery, itching feeling I had on my arm could have been cockroaches wandering past or just my imagination. At this point I was unsure which and had long since crashed through the wall of not giving a shit.
I tried to sit up and reach for my water glass that I kept on a nearby table. However, I was impeded by a heavy weight sitting on my chest. Heavier than a cat and lighter than a box made of iron it sat there in the dark, restricting me to my unwashed prison of sheets.
I rubbed the gunk from my eyes and tried to figure out what the hell was sitting on me so casually. Dirty gray sunlight was starting to filter through the nicotine stained drapes but it was hardly enough light to clarify any detail no matter how obvious.
Where is my friend?
The amorphous darkness on my stomach had asked me a question. I didn’t quite know how to respond. I attempted to engage it in conversation.
The shape came closer and against all laws of physics as I understood them, I saw the pale morning sunlight flash off of five slender steel claws. Thin as a pencil lead they were. The beast, as I now considered it, dragged these filaments across my cheek.
The friend you always kept with me.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
The beast withdrew his thin claws from my face but I could hear them in the dark. A smell of honeyed wine drifted through my nostrils. Other scents lingered there. Freshly poured beer over cut grass. The smell of a concrete sidewalk after I’d sprayed it with a hose. Smells of summer back home. What torture was this?
You abandoned him.
“This is so not what I need right now,” I said, “I’ve got work in the morning.”
The creature rushed me. All I could see with my eyes was a darkness that deepened but the smell hit me with the power of a subway train. It took me a brief moment to place it but I knew the stench all too well. It was the smell of a third dry heave, head stuffed firmly into a porcelain bowl. Praying to anything that will listen to please release me from this horrific pain. Then it comes, the muscle pain and acidic bile rushes up my whole body.
That is what this creature smelled of now. What it made me experience again in vivid detail. I tried to look at it’s face but saw only a swirling black. It grabbed me with those thin metal claws and twisted my head around, as if it was searching for something. The thing leaned down and I heard it sniff me. Rapid and broken like a dog searching for a treat hidden inside my skin.
You don’t smell of him anymore. What did you do?
The horrific smell drifted away and was replaced by several more pleasant odors. Sizzling bacon, an ocean breeze, my most recent ex-girlfriend’s perfume. I think I had an idea what this thing was after now.
“I quit,” I said, “Cold turkey.”
The smells and the oppressive darkness came back. This time it was a truck stop bathroom with a hint of dead squirrel. I felt the long steel fingers pierce into my liver. The beast twisted them around vigorously though I couldn’t feel any blood spill. Only pain. I swatted at the darkness above me but found no purchase. It laughed at me and the smell of pretzels assaulted me.
What did you do with my friend? We were always together!
The creature screeched at me. My eardrums were ready to give up their day jobs and retire somewhere away from all of this insanity. My liver felt like it was going to explode in a sea of bile and whatever it is that causes jaundice. My nose was filled with smells that made a six day old human corpse seem like roses in comparison.
“I TOLD YOU I QUIT!” I shouted.
Everything went away in an instant. The pain, the smells, the sounds, and even the pressure on my chest.
You won’t quit me, will you?
The touch of the metal claws on my cheek was gentle this time. Almost protective even. I rolled over and gathered the sweat soaked sheets around me. I heard the the air conditioner kick into stronger life. The scent of cigar smoke wafted over me. Other smells, impossible to single out but when strung together brought back memories of many a night spent in a bar with friends.
“No,” I said, “I won’t quit you. You’re too fun.”
I felt the presence recede from my bed and from the room. After it was gone the stale scent of my home returned. The only sounds I was left with were the AC and the long haul trucks rumbling by outside of my window. I thought, not for the first time, that I should really clean this place up and get my life in order. But as I had done every other night that this thought occurred to me, I decided to leave it for the next day. There was nothing I could do tonight, I needed my sleep.
“I’ll start tomorrow.”
See you then.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I am coming up on one month without cigarettes so I thought I’d share a few of my experiences along the way.
Your sense of smell returns.
You’ve probably heard this before or perhaps told someone who’s trying to quit. Usually, it’s coupled with how good that will be. Food will taste better, you can stop and smell the roses, etc. However, it has been my experience that the good smells are not what the new ex-smoker will notice the most.
You will notice how terrible humanity smells. Maybe it’s because I live in a big city and rely on public transportation and I quit during the hottest part of summer, but it is a foul collection of smells that I have only just become aware of. Previously I was blissfully ignorant with my olfactory abilities overpowered by the tobacco. Now each sweaty, drunken business man next to me on the train is a private torture.
The main benefit is being able to smell tobacco again which helps reinforce the desire to quit.
You’ll be more energetic.
Now this one I haven’t experienced. I guess if I had to look at it objectively I might say that I feel a little healthier. It’s too soon to tell though. But don’t think that if you quit smoking that suddenly this magical desire to go jogging will beam down from outer space and fill your legs with Athlete Juice (that’s what steroids are for).
If you prefer to stay on the couch watching movies and playing video games, an end to your cigarette habit probably won’t change that overnight. At least it hasn’t for me. But on the scale of health, not exercising and smoking is a million times worse than not exercising and not smoking so there’s that. Just don’t be discouraged when you aren’t running marathons a week after you quit.
You can still taste them.
This was one of the hardest things for me. When I would go a while without a smoke, say two hours instead of one, I would get a strong taste of tobacco in the back of my mouth. It was like a signal, “OK you need some nicotine buddy, get on it.” When I quit that taste wouldn’t go away even up to this point. It’s less often and not as strong which leads me to think it’s all in my head. I usually try to chew a piece of gum when it gets too bad.
But remember, don’t use gum as a replacement reward for cigarettes because that never works. You have to change your thinking about cigarettes in general. Which leads to my next point…
It’s easier than you think.
A lot of people who smoke say it’s hard to quit. I was one of them myself. The problem is in the mental addiction not the physical. The nicotine withdrawal symptoms are really not that bad. The problem is, the smoker makes them worse by thinking he’s giving up something valuable. There’s nothing worthwhile to cigarettes. You think they make you feel better at certain times of stress etc. But the truth is nicotine withdrawal makes you feel worse and a cigarette only get’s you back to normal. The trap is the cigarette re-writes what you consider normal.
I’m not saying it’s easy, just easier than you think. I’ve been tempted several times but have held out longer than I think I ever would have if I hadn’t decided to change how I saw cigarettes period. And that’s the easy part, just change your mind and stick to it.
Some who might read this might think it sounds familiar. Well, truth is I read a book that pointed out a lot of this idea about changing your perception. If you want to know what it is just ask and I’ll point you in the right direction.