Chaos In the Cherry Blossoms Part 5

Chapter 5: Consequences

Katarina sat with a newspaper at a table in a small café. She was outside among the hustle and bustle of the daily crowd, behind a small gate near the restaurant. Katarina was not wearing her iconic eyepatch so as not to attract unwanted attention. She had no idea how to read the newspaper, she had only heard that you read right to left. She drank some tea softly and scanned the area for her target. A young Japanese man in a red suit sat down at a table on the other side of the dining area from Katarina. He was nervously fidgeting with the top button on his jacket and looking around anxiously. After a few moments, two older men walked up to the table with him. He stood up and bowed to them and they bowed back. Katarina stood up and slowly walked towards the group. She slid a tiny electronic device, circular like a disc and basically unnoticeable if you weren’t looking for it, into the palm of her hand. She walked over towards the group, pulling her scarf up around her face so she wouldn’t be recognized, she approached the table. As she did, she flung herself to the floor as if she had tripped and landed at the feet of the table. The men jumped up to help her. She slid the device under the foot of the table and then stood up with the help of the men. She thanked them in Japanese and dusted off her jacket, then proceeded to continue past them out of the seating area and around the corner into the nearest alleyway.

She popped open a red and white parasol with a blinking light in the base near the handle. She rotated the parasol around until it picked up the signal from the bugging device. She could clearly hear the voices of the men.

“Kohaku-san, it’s an honor to meet with you.” The young man said, there was a quiver in his voice.

“My time is precious. You’re lucky I’m spending it on a Matsuhara clan dog such as yourself.” The man replied coldly. “Speak quickly.”

“I want to help you because I think my family has strayed too far from their roots. Akio Matsuhara is an arrogant and foolish old man who is blinded by his anger with his brother who died long ago, plus, he’s set in the old ways. He thinks a yakuza is still somebody who extorts local business owners for protection and that being a yakuza is a noble cause. Nobiru is dead-set on getting revenge for his father at all costs.”

“And why should I believe that you would betray your family?” the other man questioned

“The people running our family are leading us down a path to ruin. I can’t stand by any more. We need to evolve. All of our lieutenants were killed, the ranks are in disarray and the clan is weak. If we can oust the heads of the family, we can dissolve it and join forces with you, and build a better clan. Together.”

Katarina had pulled out a polaroid camera and was snapping pictures from afar using a massive lens. The pictures were then developed and she shook them. You were clearly able to make out the faces of the people at the table from the pictures.

“Alright. We’ll consider your proposal. I’ll call you to meet again soon. Be ready.” The man said, standing up and walking away. As the younger man stood up, Katarina retracted the parasol and moved quickly to intercept the young man as he went to get into his car. She pulled him into the alleyway and looked around to make sure nobody else was around. She opened up her coat and flashed her Makarov handgun.

“If you move or scream, I shoot.” Katarina said in the best Japanese she could cobble together

The young man was panicking, but he understood well enough to nod; a firearm is a universal language. Katarina showed him the picture of the meeting. She pointed to the hotel that was on the corner of the road.

“You meet me at this hotel tomorrow. Seven thirty. Room 318, I’ll reserve it for you. Do it or I send this to your fish.” Katarina said

The kid gave her a strange glance. “Uh, boss. Your boss. I send to your boss. Aiko. Understand?” she added frustratedly.

The kid nodded furiously and Katarina let go of his shirt. He ran off back to his car while Katarina walked back towards the restaurant. She looked around and picked up the bug without drawing attention to herself, then slipped into the crowd of people walking the streets unnoticed.

Sylvia laid in bed alone with her thoughts for a while after Shinji had left, something that never ended well for her.

“You know he’s never coming back, right?” Angel said in her head.

“Will you stop Angel; Shinji isn’t like that.” Janice replied

“Both of you shut up please.” Sylvia cried, rolling over in bed. She reached for the clear orange bottle which held her medication and shook it, but it was empty. She sighed and stood up. She decided to occupy her mind by doing something productive. She grabbed her dagger from the bedside table and went and found a whetstone. She oiled up the whetstone and began running the dagger along it in a crescent arc. The grinding of the steel against the stone, working out the knicks and dulled spots that time had inflicted on the beautifully crafted weapon was satisfying to her ears. Finally, after alternating directions and sides, she grabbed a small piece of old mail and slashed it with the blade. The steel effortlessly cut the thick paper into two neat fragments. Sylvia smiled and resheathed the short blade. She put it back in the same place by her end table and then went to get ready. She showered and looked through her wardrobe for something to wear. She decided on a white shirt with a blue floral print.

“Are you wearing that because it’s what you want to wear, or what you think Shinji will like?” Angel asked

“I’m wearing it because it’s nice and I haven’t had a reason to dress nicely in years.” Sylvia replied out loud

“You’re wearing it for your new boy toy you whore.” Janice responded, uncharacteristically rude.

“Please just shut the fuck up.” Sylvia groaned, hitting her head against the closet door several times.

She tidied up the bedroom when suddenly there was a knock on the door. It shocked her a bit, so she grabbed her katana and sidled up against the door frame. She looked out the peep hole and saw that it was Katarina. She unlocked the door, putting the katana down.

Kat stepped in and Sylvia locked the door behind her.

“Why are you here? And where is your eyepatch? I’m not used to seeing both your eyes. You know, I might fall for you if you keep looking at me with those cold baby blues.” Sylvia remarked sardonically.

“Hahaha, very funny.” Katarina replied, “Are you sure you want to make fun of me when I’m trying to help you?” she said, sliding the polaroid pictures across the counter top to Sylvia. She flipped through them and then looked inquisitively at Kat.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Sylvia asked

“It’s a picture of one of the Matsuhara clan members talking to members of the Kohaku clan.” Katarina explained “Here.” She handed Sylvia the curved handle of the parasol which had been dethatched. It played the recording from the meeting in clear audio.

“I don’t know exactly what was said, my Japanese is rusty. But I get the gist is that this young man wants to betray the clan because the family is being poorly run.” Kat spoke

“Yeah, you got it. But how does this help us?” Sylvia questioned

“I talked to our young friend over here.” Katarina answered, pointing to the man in the photo.

“He agreed to meet us at the hotel right there tomorrow at 7:30. I figure we could get some information out of him.”

“Seems about right. Well, good work. I’ll talk to Shinji tonight about it. We’ll meet you there.” Sylvia responded

“I do for free by the way.” Kat added unfeelingly, heading towards the door. She let herself out and left Sylvia alone with her thoughts again.

You’re kidding yourself if you think he cares about you.

Sylvia stopped for a moment and realized that the previous thought wasn’t attributed to either of the voices in her head.

“You’re right you know; he’s just using you like everyone else.” Angel said

“Will you two assholes leave me alone, you’re not even real!” Sylvia shouted out loud

“Wow, you tell somebody to burn down one orphanage and suddenly you’re the asshole.” Angel responded indignantly.

Sylvia walked into her bedroom and threw herself on the bed. She turned on the tv to give herself something to think about. There was a baseball game on, it was between the two worst teams in the league, but she didn’t care. Anything to distract herself. Soon, there was a knock on the door. Sylvia stood up and grabbed her knife off the bedside table. She walked to the door and looked out the peep hole again. Shinji was standing there with a bag of food in his hands.

Sylvia unlocked the door and opened it, hiding the dagger behind her back in her left hand. Shinji stepped in and removed his shoes. Sylvia turned her away from him as he walked by before shutting the door and placing the dagger on the table near the door.

“Hopefully this is still warm. I got stuck in traffic so sorry I’m late.” Shinji apologized

“No worries.” Sylvia said nonchalantly.

She walked over to the table where Shinji was laying out various plastic containers full of steaming food. There was condensation dripping from the bag as he threw it in the garbage.

“Oh my god, is that Sylvia Yamazaki wearing something that isn’t black?” Shinji joked as he opened up the containers to divide up the food.

“Fuck you, I wear different colors all the time.” Sylvia replied with a laugh

“Agree to disagree on that.” Shinji smiled

“I mean I used to all the time. Look, I miss the 80’s.”

“Well, you look nice.”

“Thanks. So anyway, what did you end up getting?” Sylvia asked sitting down at the table

“Just taste it and find out.” Shinji responded giddily, pushing a bowl of hot udon towards Sylvia. She brought the bowl up to her lips and took a taste. A warm rush of nostalgia ran over her along with the taste of rich beef broth as she took a sip from the bowl. She looked up at Shinji with a beaming grin.

“Wow, you went to the place we used to go as kids, didn’t you? That little bazaar by the convivence store, right?”

“Yep, I knew you would recognize it instantly.” Shinji replied “I can’t believe it’s still there after all these years.”

“You really drove all the way across town in rush hour traffic just to get this for me?” Sylvia questioned

“Yeah, I figured it would make you happy.” Shinji answered in between bites of rice. “I figured you could use somebody showing they care about you.”

Sylvia smiled warmly back at him and continued digging into her meal.

“So, I’ve been meaning to ask you something, and I want you to answer honestly.” Sylvia stated, twirling her chopsticks around.

“Of course.” Shinji prodded.

“Did you have a crush on me when we were younger?”

“Sylvia, I was obsessed with you when we were young.” Shinji answered quickly and earnestly. “I mean, I got over it pretty quick when you left for America, but it’s totally back with a vengeance now.” He added as a joke. “What about you? Did you ever have a little crush on me?”

There was radio silence from the other end of the table.

“Oh no, I don’t like the sound of that pause.” Shinji said with a slight chuckle to try to hide the dejected tone in his voice.

“I was chewing.” Sylvia responded

“Oh, sure.”

“Honestly Shinji… I always thought of you as a good friend. I had more of a crush on Tanaka-San than you.” Sylvia answered sincerely

“Naturally. I’m not a mysterious tattooed badass with a cool nickname like him.” Shinji replied

“I was stupid when I was younger like we all were. You’re seriously way better and nicer a person than he could ever be Shinji.” Sylvia replied gleefully “I would never pick him over you given what I know now.”

“Well, to be fair, Snake Eyes Suijin is a really badass nickname.” Shinji conceded

“Whatever happened to him anyway?” Sylvia asked

“You didn’t hear? He was doing a ton of contract work for the yakuza, and one day they set him up and he got thrown in jail for murder. 15 years. He was in the clink for almost as long as you were overseas. When he got out, he married a shrine maiden. That was the last I heard from him.”

“Wow, the three of us couldn’t have taken much different paths in life huh? Back in the day we were inseparable.” Sylvia lamented

“Well, such is life as they say. At least our paths happened to cross again.” Shinji said, looking over at Sylvia. They both smiled. As they finished their dinner and cleaned up, Sylvia and Shinji retired to the bedroom.

“Were you watching baseball?” Shinji asked with a laugh as she turned the TV on.

“Yes, why?”

“It’s always anime or baseball with you.” He smiled, putting an arm around her.

“We can watch something else if you’d like.” Sylvia suggested

“No, baseball is fine. I’ll watch anything with you.” He replied, kissing her on the forehead.

Sylvia was sitting in the leather seat of her car, checking her silenced Walther PPK pistol, making sure it was ready to go if needed, then she flipped the safety on and holstered it. She grabbed her dagger, wrapped it around her waist and then stood up out of the car, her trench coat concealing the weapons. She looked over at Shinji in the passenger seat and he nodded, glancing at his watch quickly. They stepped out of the car and walked across the parking lot until they noticed a tall woman leaning against her car smoking a cigarette. They approached Katarina who had one hand shoved into her coat pocket.

“Ready?” She asked bluntly, taking a drag from the cigarette.

“Aww, I was looking forward to seeing you without the eyepatch again. And why are you dressed like that?” Sylvia asked, remarking about her outfit which was a black shirt with a white frill around the collar with black stockings and high heels along with a white eyepatch embroidered with a red cross. “Is Shinji paying you so little that you had to take a part-time job at a maid café?” Sylvia said snidely

“Always with the sarcasm.” Katarina sighed, stomping out her cigarette on the concrete.

“Oh c’mon, anyone can learn how to shoot. Not everyone has as quick of a wit as me while doing it.” Sylvia stated. The trio walked towards the entryway to the hotel.

“So how exactly did you lose your eye?” Shinji asked a bit anxiously

“I ask somebody too many stupid questions.” Katarina replied coldly, efficiently ending the conversation before it started.

They entered the lobby of the hotel. It was your standard cheap hotel, neatly decorated but nothing too fancy and a bit dusty. They walked past reception and to the elevator where they rode it up to the 3rd floor. They walked to room 318 and knocked. A man cracked the door open and peaked out. When he saw Katarina, he opened the door and let them in. He was wearing a suit unbuttoned and was fiddling with the top button nervously.

“Tell him to sit down.” Katarina instructed Sylvia. She began translating then the young man interrupted

“I can speak English just fine. You don’t need to translate.” He said, sitting down at the cheap chair behind the table in the room.

“Good.” Katarina continued. She unfolded a picture of the man at the table with the rival yakuza members. “Why are you meeting with rival clan members?” Katarina asked, pointing to the photo.

“The patriarch of the clan and his family are too wrapped up in personal affairs. They care more about serving their own agenda then serving the family.” The young man stated.

“And this is why you’re talking to their sworn enemies? You disagree where the leaders are taking the clan?” Sylvia asked, drawing the ire of Katarina in the form of a fleeting stare.

“The people at the top are serving their own interests and especially Aiko, is afraid of embracing a modern approach to organized crime. He still thinks yakuza means extorting business owners for protection money. It took a lot of convincing from his right-hand man, Genchiro to even get him to get into arms dealing.” The man answered “And I’m not the only one that feels that way. Almost all of the high-ranking officers that aren’t related to Aiko Matsuhara do too.

“So, what is the end game here?” Katarina interrogated him. “I didn’t get your name by the way.”

“Call me Kuro, and our plan is to oust Aiko and his family from the top of the clan and coming together with the other families. We’ve been in this stupid turf war for 15 years and it’s not benefitting anybody.” The man answered with obvious disdain in his voice. “What I’m wondering is who the hell you guys are and why you care about the inner workings of our family so much.” He added

“The man who left the golden oni masks at the scenes of the murders, he’s with your clan, correct?” Sylvia asked

“Maybe, again, why the hell do you care? I ain’t talking about that.” He spat

“Tell us or we…” Sylvia started

Katarina cut her off by placing her hand in front of her chest. She stood up and reached for the pistol in its holster on her hip. She spun the silver revolver around her finger a few times as she walked over to the man. She continued to spin it as she paced back and forth and talked.

“I don’t know how well versed you are in firearms Kuro-san so I have to ask, are you aware of the model of this gun?” she asked

“N-no. I’ve only seen cheap Chinese pistols before.” The youngling stated anxiously.

“A wise man once said, God created men, but Samuel Colt made them equal. This is a Colt Single Action Army.” Katarina stated, spinning it around to present to him. She ran her hand along the barrel. “It’s nowhere near as functional as a semi-automatic handgun, but there’s just an elegance to an old revolver that I find modern guns simply don’t have.”  She spun it around a few more times, then opened up the cylinder and pushed a bullet out with the ejector rod. The spent shell casing landed on the table with a thunderous clank as it bounced a few times. Katarina picked it up and placed it in front of the man.

“This gun comes chambered in a 45 ACP long Colt round.” She spun the gun around one last time and then placed the tip of the barrel directly on his kneecap. “And I can tell you, having one of those rounds go through your knee is not a fun experience, so if I were you, I would start talking.” She finished, pulling the hammer back with a menacing click.

“Ok, fine… Fine.” Kuro conceded. “The masked assassin, the one that leaves the oni masks at the scenes. That’s Nobiru, Aiko’s nephew. He’s the top assassin for the Matsuhara clan.” He answered

“Tell us where we can find him.” Katarina added.

“I don’t know where he is. He goes all over Japan and Korea. He’s wherever Aiko and Genchiro need him to be.”

“Bullshit, tell me where he is.”

“Fuck you.” Kuro shouted back at her. Katarina pulled the trigger and the cylinder rotated. The young man flinched, but a round was never fired. Katarina pulled the hammer back once again.

“Next time, you won’t be so lucky. Tell me where he is.” Katarina demanded

“Ok ok ok…” the kid stammered nervously “The high-ranking members of the clan spend most of their time in a building called the Singing Cricket shipping company. Over in the waterfront district. It’s a front obviously, only the first two floors look like a trading company. The rest are for family business. He’ll probably be there, or at least Aiko and Genchiro might be. I swear that’s all I know, ok.”

Katarina put the hammer back down and placed the gun in its holster. She turned around and walked back towards Sylvia and Shinji.

“See, that wasn’t so hard. You can go now; you’ve outlived your usefulness to us.” Katarina stated emotionlessly. “But if you tell anybody about us or where you were tonight, we’ll send that picture to somebody in the clan, and something tells me you won’t just be losing a pinky.” She added.

The young man nodded, then turned around from the trio to leave the room. As he approached the door, Sylvia pulled out her silenced pistol and shot him in the back of the head. His body fell to the floor with a deep thumping sound, blood spilling from the wound onto a placemat. His body remained there lifelessly resting while Sylvia put her gun away calmly and nonplussed.

“What the fuck Sylvia!” Shinji shouted, his hands were shaking furiously and he looked as if he was shell shocked. “Why did you do that?”

“He’s a loose end, couldn’t risk letting him go free.” Sylvia replied with an unnerving amount of nonchalance.

“A loose end? Sylvia, he was a kid. He had his whole life in front of him!” Shinji responded hysterically. His breathing was frantic and labored. He ran his quaking hands through his hair.

“I was doing him a favor. They would have found out about this and done far worse things to him than I just did, and the result would have been the same. I was sparing the kid.” Sylvia answered in a solemn tone.

“Oh, you were doing him a favor? Great. Great justification for murdering a teenager, Sylvia. I’m glad that’s what you came up-”

“Right now isn’t the time to argue morality.”  Katarina interjected. “We need to deal with this body.”

“Well, maybe we should have thought about that before murdering him.” Shinji sneered

“Shut the fuck up Shinji, your negativity is not helping.” Sylvia replied angrily

“Who exactly do you call at 8 o’clock on a Thursday night to help you get rid of a dead body?” Shinji remarked

“Think about it for a second. Call Magic Man. He said he does cleanings.” Sylvia answered

“That’s what cleaning means?” Shinji replied incredulously

“Yes! You know, for somebody who spends nearly all his time exclusively with hitmen and yakuza, you would think you’d understand how organized crime works.” Sylvia commented crossly “Call Magic Man right now while me and Katarina figure out what to do with the body.”

Shinji turned around and found the phone. He fumbled through his leather wallet looking for Magic Man’s card, then he attempted to dial on the phone, but had to start over a few times because his hands were shaking so badly that he mishit the numbers on the phone. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and finally dialed it correctly. The phone rang twice and then Magic Man answered the phone.

“Magic Man automotive, you’re talking to the Magic Man, how can I help you?” he said professionally.

“Hi, uh… This is Shinji.”

“Well don’t say your name on the phone you moron.” Katarina shouted under her breath at him from across the room.

Shinji pulled the phone away from his mouth and turned to her. “Do you want to do this?” he spat

“Sure, if you’d prefer to move the body.” Katarina replied, grabbing the dead man by his feet.

Shinji paused in silent anger for a moment then put the phone back to his mouth.

“Sorry.”

“Ah, yes I remember you. I sold you that 1991 Toyota Corolla, correct?” Magic Man replied

“Y-yes. I need a cleaning.” Shinji stated

“Deluxe package or just normal?” Magic Man asked

“Deluxe.”

“Great, and where will I be doing this cleaning?”

“Uh, the lucky 6’s hotel. The one over just off the main street. By the café with the bright blue awnings.” Shinji answered.

“I know the place. Unfortunately, I’m actually in Yokohama right now, so it’ll be a while before I get to your cleaning.”

“Yeah, that’s… That’s fine. Room 318”

“Alright, see you then. Goodbye.” Magic Man hung up and Shinji did as well. Sylvia and Katarina had moved the man’s body into the bath tub. The man’s head rested motionlessly against the heel of the white plastic tub. His body was just barely able to be squeezed into the length of the bath. Sylvia and Katarina stopped to look at it, as blood began to fill the tub and slowly be pulled down the drain. Katarina unceremoniously pulled the cheap plastic curtain around the front of the bath to hide the body.

“That’s about as good as it’s going to get.” She remarked aloofly  

“That should be good enough for now.” Sylvia agreed.

They both washed their hands of the deep crimson blood as they walked back into the common area. Shinji was sitting at the table looking down at the tabletop, head in his hands. Katarina took a towel from the kitchen and wiped the bits of remaining blood off of her coat.

“Why do I insist on wearing white to these things?” she sighed under her breath as she tossed the paper towel into the garbage can.

“I go now, unless there’s a reason for me to be here.” Katarina stated “I left the key cards on the table for you.”

“Like hell you are. I’m paying you, so you’re going to stay here until this is sorted.” Shinji interjected

“Just let her go. There’s no reason to have 3 people arguing about the dead body in the bath tub.” Sylvia exhaled tiredly.

 Katarina opened the door and walked into the hallway. Almost as soon as she heard the door close behind her, she collapsed to the floor. Her breathing was labored, it felt as if her entire chest was caving in. The hallway began to spin and tighten in around her. She closed her eyes and tried to dampen her senses enough to focus on her breathing. Eventually, she was able to stand up and make it to the elevator before falling to the ground again.

Back in the room, Shinji was doing everything in his power to help quell his nerves but nothing was working. His leg was moving up and down incessantly and he continuously ran his hand through his jet-black hair desperately trying to think of something to occupy his mind other than the dead body just on the other side of the wall. Sylvia sat down at the table next to him. The long amount of quietness in the room had created a tension as thick as coastal fog. Shinji was first to break the silence.

“He didn’t need to die Sylvia, and deep in your heart, I know you know that.” He said calmly

“I’m not explaining myself Shinji, I already-” Sylvia started

“It’s a weak justification and you know it.” Shinji interrupted

“I don’t have to justify anything to you.” Sylvia snapped “Besides, I thought this made you feel alive.” She added mockingly.

“Sylvia, this is diff-”

“Oh, is it different? So, it’s all fun and games when you don’t have to face the consequences of your actions, huh? As soon as a name is attributed to who I’m shooting, suddenly you object morally.” Sylvia cut him off.

“…”

“Whatever you were going to say, it can’t have been important, because you didn’t seem to be questioning my morality when you were fucking me.” Sylvia spat, skipping his turn in the conversation.

“Yeah right.” Shinji scoffed once he was finally given a chance to speak again “You drove across an entire continent just to kill somebody. They all thought you were dead; you could have just gone on living your life scot-free. When the hell have you ever thought about the consequences of your actions?”

“I think about them every goddamn time I pull the trigger. How you’re feeling right now is how I feel every fucking minute of my life. Welcome to my world Shinji, I hope you enjoy it.” Sylvia stood up and walked into the kitchen area, and Shinji followed her.

“You think this conversation is over?” Shinji exclaimed “And speaking of fucking you, I’m really glad you’re a fighter Sylvia, because you sure as hell aren’t a lover. I mean honestly, who is sharing an impassioned kiss with a childhood friend and their first thought is to hand them a belt and make them wail on you?”

“Well, you seemed to enjoy it enough to do it two more times, so you could have foo….”

“I faked it every time.” Shinji shouted over the end of her sentence

Sylvia had no response except to passive aggressively laugh. “You know what your problem is Shinji? You romanticize everything. In your head, what we’re doing is noble, we’re fighting against criminals to avenge a person who was like a father figure to both of us. I hate to break it to ya’ buddy, but while Master Umata undoubtedly did things that helped us and a lot of kids, he’s just as much of a criminal, if not more than the people we’re currently hunting. What we’re doing isn’t heroic, and I’m sure as fuck not a hero.” She added, definitely walking away from the conversation.

There was a sudden knock at the door and both Shinji and Sylvia dropped the conversation to investigate. Sylvia sidled up on the side of the door, drawing her pistol. Shinji looked at her with a concerned glance. She non-verbally prodded him to open the door. He reluctantly opened it a bit, to reveal an older woman who was hunched over a cart of towels.

“Do you need any towels?” She asked kindly

“Oh no no no no… We’re very much good on towels, thank you.” Shinji said flustered. In a panic, he closed the door as fast as he could. Sylvia had been pointing the gun directly at the door. As soon as he heard the cart rolling down the hallway fade off at a safe distance, he turned to Sylvia with obvious disdain in his expression.

“What the fuck!” he shouted

“What do you mean what the fuck?” Sylvia repeated incredulously

“Were you going to cap the poor towel lady?” Shinji seethed

“First of all, there isn’t even a round chambered.” Sylvia explained angrily, pulling the slide back on the gun to prove her point. “And no, I was not going to shoot anybody. At worst I was going to flash it to intimidate her in the off chance it came to that. Get off your moral high horse.” She added, frustratedly slamming the firearm back into its holster.

“Well, you were pointing it right at her.” Shinji scolded Sylvia.

“We had no idea who it was. He could have been followed. Again, you seriously have no clue how any of this works do you?”

“I’m sorry if I’m not good at being a criminal Sylvia.”

“Well, that’s kind of a problem if you want to commit crimes.”

“You know what my biggest crime is? Working with you because you’re mentally ill. No wonder they threw your ass in the madhouse.” Shinji shouted

Sylvia said nothing in response, but just started laughing again. “You know what, you’re right Shinji. I can’t argue with that, I am mentally ill. I concede, you win the argument. Where should I leave your award for excellent investigative work?” Sylvia responded sardonically.

Shinji had moved into the other room and took the key card off the table.

“I’m going to run to the convenience store around the corner. I need a drink to calm my nerves. You want anything?” Shinji asked coolly

“I’m good.” Sylvia grunted as Shinji stormed out of the room.

Shinji marched angrily down to the lobby, but by the time he made it to the convenience store his anger had subsided substantially. He bought a bottle of cheap whiskey and a container of sticky rice. He carried the alcohol out of the store in a brown paper bag. He looked both ways down the street to make sure nobody was watching him and then he took a massive swig out of the plastic bottle after cracking open the black lid. The dark brown liquid stung his throat as it went down. He continued to circle the block until he had enough time with his thoughts to cool off… And enough alcohol to sedate his nerves.

Meanwhile, Sylvia was also alone with her thoughts, but they weren’t going as smoothly as Shinji’s time alone.

I told you he was just using you. Just stick him in the neck when he walks in with your dagger. Nobody would ever know.

No, fuck that. This is your fault anyway. It’s your fault he doesn’t care about you, it’s your fault everything is the way it is. Put a bullet in your own head if you want this to end.

Sylvia hit her forehead with the butt of her palm several times.

“You’ve got to do something. Nobody tells you you’re mentally ill except us.” Angel said

“Yeah, just give him a nice cut on the cheek, A scar to make sure he remembers not to cross you again.” Janice added

“Shinji is my friend; I’m not hurting him.” Sylvia said assuredly and out loud to no one in particular.

But how can you be so sure he’s your friend? What if he never comes back? And then whose fault would that be for trusting him? Yours, like always. Because everything you do is your fault. It’s your fault he’s never coming back, it’s your fault he’ll never love you and it’s your fault everything is always so fucked up.

Her mind was bombarding her with compulsive negative thoughts, enough so that she was starting to actually believe some of them. She took a deep breath and tried to find the remote to the TV. She turned it on a flipped a few channels to the baseball game. She turned her chair so she could watch it. Almost as soon as she clicked it on, Shinji returned to the room and as he opened the door, he saw Sylvia sitting at the table, instinctively reaching for her gun.

“Sylvia, relax it’s me.” Shinji said without a hint of real alarm. Sylvia removed her hand from the inside of her jacket. Shinji walked to the far side of the room and slumped down to the gray and blue carpet, his back resting along the wall. He took another quick drink from his whiskey and put it down.

“How you holdin’ up Syl.” He asked gently

“Holding up what? My fucking tits?” Sylvia responded, much more aggressively “You wanna know what color my bra is?”

“Well, it’s good to see you’ve cooled-”

“It’s black by the way.”

“O-Ok.”

Shinji took a long pull from the bottle of whiskey before attempting to strike up the conversation again.

“How much longer do you think until he gets here?” he asked cautiously

“He said he was in Yokohama, right? That’s what, 5 hours? And he probably has to go by his office. So, I’d say at least 3 more hours.” Sylvia answered simply.

“Shit.” He unscrewed the lid once more, then took another drink from the bottle. He held it up for Sylvia. “You want some?” Shinji offered

“What is it?” Sylvia asked with the harshness returning to her voice.

“It’s just cheap whiskey. It tastes awful but it’s effective.” Shinji answered

“Whiskey huh? My dad used to drink that like it was water.” Sylvia replied

“Well go on, have a sip. Maybe it’ll remind you of him.” He insisted, once again holding out the open bottle still in the crumpled brown paper wrapping.

“I fucking hated my father.” Sylvia snapped, as Shinji rescinded his offer.

“Right. I’m sorry.” He replied meekly

“Besides, you need it more than I do. You’re shaking like Michael J. Fox on a bumpy international flight.” The joke drew a moderate chuckle from Shinji and a genuine smile from both of them that seriously cut the tension between the two.

“I really admire your ability to keep your sense of humor in the darkest of times, Yamizaki-Chan.” Shinji praised her as he took a swig from his drink. The two fell into silence again, and the only thing that could be heard was the sounds emanating from the TV.

“Sylvia, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry I brought up your mental health issues. It was way out of line and I ask you for forgiveness. I let my emotions get the best of me.” He said, expressing sincere regret

“It’s fine Shinji, I can take it. I have thick skin.” Sylvia sighed in reply

“Yeah Sylvia, that’s kind of the problem.” Shinji continued “If you would stop being so emotionally guarded for five seconds, you’d realize that I’m angry with you because I care about you.”

Sylvia exhaled from her nose and shook her head back and forth. She was running her hand along the outline of the scar on her side, debating whether or not to open up to him about the story of how she got it, but she choked on the words and remained silent. She turned back to the television and continued watching the baseball game. She had taken a napkin off the table, found a pen and had started to keep score of the game by haphazardly doodling baseball diamonds to track the batter’s records. She just needed anything to keep her mind busy.

The time on the clock marched on, agonizingly slowly until eventually there was three raps on the door. Shinji jumped up as if he was snapped out of a deep trance, spilling residual drops of the whiskey while doing so. He stood up and placed it on the kitchen counter before moving towards the door. Sylvia moved with him, unsheathing her knife and hiding behind the door as Shinji opened it. A familiar face entered the room.

“Well, if it isn’t my three favorite degenerates, how are you tonight? You would not believe these crabs I had in Yokohama. It was worth the trip for the meal just by itself, and the Soapland wasn’t bad either, though thankfully for completely different reasons.” Magic Man strutted in wearing rattle snake skin cowboy boots and was dragging a massive hard-shelled luggage bag behind him whose wheels were making a loud rubbing noise against the carpet.

Shinji and Sylvia were not amused by their colleague’s story and stared back at him nonplussed.

“Oh, well it’s just the two of you anyway. I guess Snake Plissken had somewhere better to be, huh?” Magic Man chuckled

Sylvia and Shinji were not up for his antics. You could feel the sense that their nerves were frayed beyond repair just by the stone faced looks upon their visage.

“Ok, you’re not big Escape From New York fans” Magic Man added “Jeez, tough crowd. The plight of being a funny man in a humorless world, amiright? Well let’s go see the victim.”

Sylvia silently led him to the bathroom where he theatrically pulled the curtain away from the tub to one side to reveal the body, which had started to decay in select spots. You could see the dark, sponginess of the skin around the area where the deterioration of the body had begun to set in, and the head had gotten the worst of it, to where you could see fragments of the skull peeking out from the receding edges of the flesh. Just the thought of being reminded that the body was there made Shinji turn away and start dry heaving into the nearby garbage can. Sylvia and Magic Man however were not deterred in the slightest. Magic Man opened up his bag and pulled out huge hand saw, and about 15 clear bottles of equally translucent liquid. He pulled a pair of thick black gloves and put them on, along with a matching apron and plastic safety goggles.

“Good, very good. I was hoping the bath tub was plastic.” He said under his breath.

“What exactly do you plan to do here?” Sylvia questioned “Just cut him up and haul him out in your massive suitcase?” she added skeptically.

“What kind of amateur operation do you take me for here?” Magic Man replied, offended. “I’m going to cut him up, then I’m going to pour this liquid right here, which is pure hydrofluoric acid, into the tub. This acid will dissolve organic material, but not our friend the polyethylene tub here.” He said, slapping the bath enthusiastically. “Then, I scoop up the liquid, put it into a plastic bag and dump it in the bay and nobody suspects a thing.” He explained matter-of-factly.

“And you’re going to do all this without making a worse mess?” Sylvia replied

“Relax girl. Just sit back and let me show you why they call me Magic Man.” He replied cockily “Because I got the magic hands mama.”

Sylvia shot him a wayward glance.

“Ok, so you’re not a Heart fan either. Noted.” He sighed, kneeling down to get to work.

Sylvia let him go about his work and returned to the common area where Shinji was hunched over the garbage can, shaking in between pulls of his inexpensive whiskey.

Sylvia gave him a half-hearted slap on the back for support and he looked up. She sat down on the couch and flipped through channels on TV until a Gundam anime came on.

“How the fuck can you just sit around casually watching anime?” Shinji exclaimed

Sylvia looked back over at him calmly. There was the loud sound of frantic sawing coming from the bathroom.

“You don’t get a nickname like Ice being squeamish around death.” Sylvia replied solemnly.

Shinji just had to laugh. “I can’t take this shit, man. We’re done. This whole operation is done. I’ll send you your money in the mail, but I don’t ever want to see or hear from you again. I’m gonna go to fucking Tsushima or Okinawa, who the hell knows where and just drink Mai tai’s on the beach like a normal retired doctor. Fuck man.” Shinji was talking to nobody in particular, but he felt the need for his desperate ramblings to be heard, if not by somebody willing to listen, then by the universe itself. He took another frantic drink from his whiskey, almost spilling it. After about an hour, Magic Man emerged from the bathroom and took his goggles off, wiping some perspiration off his brow.

“Well, I’m gonna let our friend marinate in there for a bit.” He stated abrasively “Now to work out this little mess going on here.”

“I don’t want any bleach used. Too suspicious if they were to check the room.” Sylvia demanded

“Again, why do you expect amateur hour out of me? I have my own solution for getting blood out of carpets, thank you very much.”

Sylvia turned away and continued watching her show as Magic Man worked tirelessly into the night. Finally, he began scooping the soupy, slushy mixture of red blood, entrails, acid, bits of bone and other organic matter into the garbage bags using a small bucket. Eventually, he emptied the tub enough to start cleaning it. He scrubbed it down to every last surface, nut and bolt. He then packed up his suitcase full of the evidence and zipped it up after taking out one last item, a black light lamp that he used to look around the entire room for traces of bodily fluids.

The sun had long since begun to come up, and Sylvia was sitting, watching TV still, but mostly in a peaceful, almost comatose state, while Shinji had continued to pace the room anxiously, and had nearly finished his bottle of whiskey except for a few fleeting drops at the bottom. Magic Man called her to take a look at his work by following the path of the body with the black light and into the tub. The room was practically spotless and almost nothing had shown up on the black light, indicating no bleach had been used.

“Wow.” Sylvia remarked, genuinely marveled at the level of craftsmanship on display. “I have to say, I underestimated you. This is absolutely impeccable work.”

Magic Man bowed and said “Thank you, I’m glad I finally won over your trust.” He smirked

He grabbed his suitcase and very slowly rolled it towards the door to leave. “You might want to just wipe everything down just so you don’t leave any finger prints, you know, just in case.” He advised, opening the door and tipping his non-existent hat

“I’ll see to that Shinji pays your fee.” Sylvia assured him as he left. The pair silently wiped down the room and then left together. The walk down the hallway to the elevator was more of a death march than a simple stroll. As they got in the lift, Shinji quietly pressed the button with an L indicating the lobby. The buttons on the elevator were plastic, backlit with obnoxiously bright fluorescent lights, but the borders around the button itself were a fancy white fake ivory, slightly stained yellow by age. There wasn’t a word said between Shinji and Sylvia, just quiet disdain for the situation, and a cumulative weariness between the two. The elevator was moving at slower than a snail’s pace, and eventually stopped to let more people on, which would have dragged a groan out of Shinji if he’d been able to expend the necessary energy. He was too exhausted to even put on a convincing smile for the people joining them in the ride, although their presence did well to break up some of the pressure between the two protagonists. The carpet in the elevator was different than the rest of the hotel, a tacky off- gray color with random splotches of purple and blue. The people who had joined the pair in the lift had exited on the first floor, and now Sylvia and Shinji were left alone again, their wits so far at their ends that they couldn’t even muster to create small talk or even look in the general vicinity of each other, Shinji electing to study the pattern of the lights on the floor buttons, and Sylvia looking at the ground, tapping her forehead until she reached the number 8 and repeating over and over again. Finally, the elevator door opened and the emotionally exhausting journey ended.

They hauled themselves to Sylvia’s car and sat down, driving back to her house. The same tense, strained silence resonated throughout the atmosphere of the vehicle, but at least this time, there was the sound of airy jazz music to fill the worried airwaves with something for the pair to focus on, if that was even possible in their state. They eventually pulled onto Sylvia’s street where Shinji had parked his car around the back of her house. He stood up and got out of the car, closing the door with a solid noise. He pulled out his keys and slowly walked to the door with Sylvia.

“I’m not going to be calling you or contacting you ever again.” Shinji said coldly and conclusively; he could barely summon the energy to push the words from his vocal cords. “I don’t want to see you or hear from you either. This is goodbye Sylvia, I mean it. I’ll send your money to your bank account, paid in full.”

“Don’t bother.” Sylvia replied, you could hear how emotionally drained she was in her voice as well. “I don’t need it.”

Shinji turned around and started walking away to his car, his shoulders slumped over.

“Shinji.” Sylvia called, and he turned his head slightly toward her. “I’m sorry I belittled you about being romantic and sentimental. Please don’t ever feel ashamed of being who you are.” She stated, there was a quiver in her voice as if she was going to cry, but the tears never came.

“Thanks Syl.” He said with a resigned warmth and a genuine smile on his face. He walked away into the sunrise as Sylvia fought the urge to tell him about the scar again, but the words wouldn’t form, and she eventually thought against it, wanting for those last, sweet words to be how he remembered her by.