The scent of smoke – Part 6

A blink, a heartbeat before he recognized her Jazz was already staring at him, eyes wide, a shy smile tugging at her lips. It only widened when he looked directly at her, eyebrows shooting up only to sink again when a genuine smile crinkled the corners of his eyes.

“The beer fairy. What are you doing here?” He motioned towards the seat next to her, slid on it when she nodded.

“Beer fairy? Wow, I got called a lot in my life already, but that one is new.” She motioned towards the barkeeper, ordered a pint of their draft for Jinpachi and grinned when he laughed.

“Well, Mr. Photographer, I’m here to see the band. What’s your excuse?” Over the rim of her glass she watched him, sipped from her straw, glad she had something to hold in her hand.

“Actually I’m looking for a location and heard of this bar. Thought it could be what I need for a photo shoot.” He raised his glass once, eyes widened at the first swig. “Wow, that’s good. You tried it before?”

Back home, in Europe, beer was more common than wine and she had drunken countless of different kinds. This one was new to her, though.

“No, but I take your word for it.” She sipped more fruit juice disguised as cocktail. “But then again, what did you expect? I’m the beer fairy after all.”

He laughed, wiped a bit of foam from his upper lip.

“So if you are here to scoop out the location and I’m here to scoop out the band, is anyone here for fun? Or are the others here for work, too?” Jazz set her empty glass down, smiled at the barkeeper who took it immediately only to bring her a new cocktail.

“I’m just here for the music. And the pretty girls,” the barkeeper said, earned a laughter from Jazz this time.

“I’ll remind you of that later when you bring me the bill.”

When she turned around to face Jinpachi again he was looking at her intently, a light crease between his eyebrows.


“Nothing. You know that guy?”

Her eyes followed the lazy wave of his hand towards the barkeeper who just chatted with another guest.

“No. Why do you ask?”

“You seem familiar. I thought maybe since you work in a similar profession…”

“You think everyone who serves drinks knows everyone else?” Her chuckle got muffled by the cocktail, she set it down after another sip.


A shake of her head and both grinned. The band started a new song, Jazz didn’t recognize the original version but liked the slow, light melody, the way the singer breathed half of the words. Her seat was too small to dance on it, so she swayed only lightly, watched the few couples and even some solitary dancers on the floor.

“You wanna give it a go?” He tipped his head back, drained his glass and slid from his seat.


“Dancing. You’re here for the band, right? Come on, let’s see if their music is any good for dancing.” His hand was right there, palm open, facing upwards, waiting for her to place her own hand on top.

It was just a dance, right? Nothing wrong about that. And she had to be thorough in her rating.

“Okay, yeah. I hope you can dance, because I’m really good.” Years of dance classes, only for fun but still, had made her picky when it came to dance partners. A simple two-step wasn’t enough to impress her. Even Subaru had taken some lessons before their wedding, fully aware that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with her otherwise.

“I can manage without hurting myself or others,” he assured her, squeezed lightly when her hand rested in his, warm and fortunately not sweaty.

On the dance floor he placed his free hand in the dip of her waist, safe territory so Jazz relaxed a bit. Close, but not too close. After a few steps she found her rhythm, matched it to his, gave him the lead, one hand on his shoulder. Just a dance.

“Hm, not sure what I like better,” he mused loudly, tilted his head lightly when she looked at him. “Watching you is really interesting. But this? Dancing? Having you in my arms? Also great.”

Jazz bit her bottom lip. So far everything had been innocent, easy. Not even really flirting. Should she tell him?

“So, a photographer, huh? Shouldn’t you be great with details and such? Notice the small things?”

“I’d say so, yes. Why?”

Heart pounding she pulled her right hand from his grip, raised it with the back towards him. “Did you actually miss the wedding band or are you flirting like that with every married woman you meet?”

She gave it a teasing tone, flashed him a smile. His brow furrowed before he shrugged, twirled her once, his hand now landed further up her back.

“Only the interesting ones who conjure beer bottles out of thin air.”

“Ah yes, that’s my most attractive trait. Capable of beer magic.” She still laughed when he twirled her once again, pulled her back into his loose embrace.

“Maybe not your most attractive trait, but definitely in the top three.” An easy smile played on his lips, no signs of discomfort or disappointment.

The song ended, Jazz let go of him to clap politely. He was a good dancer, not on a professional level, but solid.

“Thanks, that was fun.” Ready to go back to the bar she bowed her head lightly, not enough to be formal, just to indicate her approval.

“Night’s not over yet, and so is the music.”

A new song started, for once one that she knew. Everyone knew it, it was a classic.

“Huh… I thought they took modern songs and turned them vintage, not taking old songs and made them a different kind of vintage.”

“Are you an Elvis fan?” Again he held out his hand, this time she didn’t hesitate.

“I know ‘Suspicious minds’ mostly from the Fine Young Cannibals,” she admitted, listened for the tempo, the slow, almost lazy rhythm far from the pop version she was familiar with. Jinpachi led her over the dance floor, evaded other couples, his free hand just barely grazing the bare skin of her back, above the deep cut of her dress. Her breath shouldn’t hitch like that, it was just a dance after all.

“You’re too young to know Elvis, huh?”

Jazz snorted, glad she had an excuse to lighten the mood again with some banter.

“What do you think how young I am? And how old are you that you act as if you knew the King personally?”

“I’d say you are quiet young, but I’m not old enough for that. Still, I grew up with his music.”

Se threw her head back, shook her hair once and looked back at him.

“We all did. That’s why he’s a legend after all.” Another spin, a turn and he led her closer towards the stage.

“So, if I dip you now, will you help me up if I throw out my back?”

“How about you don’t risk it and don’t dip me?”

“And where’s the fun in that?” With one fluid motion he bend her backwards over his arm, kept her there for a heartbeat or two. Or ten, if her racing heart was the standard. Without a hitch he pulled her up again, spun her around and got back into a slow sway.

“You like danger?” she asked once she was upright again, chest heaving with what she swore was heavy breathing due to the dancing.

“I like – excitement. A bit of uncertainty. You know people who are all about security and certainty? Good for them, but life can’t be planned through completely so I decided long ago to just enjoy the changes and the chances they bring.”

To Jazz, who actually liked a certain amount of safety – hence the marriage – it sounded elusive.

“Isn’t that what someone says who’s not ready for commitment?”

The last notes of the song just faded, applause filled the air between them.

“I wouldn’t say that. I committed to a job just fine, I’m doing this for years already and it never got boring.” He clapped his hands, waited for the next song to begin. An upbeat number, more swing than smoochy dance. With a raised eyebrow, a small tilt of his head he looked at her. Jazz shrugged. Why not?

“I guess your job is pretty exciting. All those locations, all the people you meet.” Faster songs required a tighter grip so they didn’t drift apart during the spins. She adjusted her grasp, reduced their distance.

“It is. And once you get this one shot you have envisioned the whole time – incredibly rewarding.” He spun her once, led her in a circle around himself and got her back close against his chest afterwards.

“What are you doing when you’re not working your beer magic?”

Dancing was one thing, but actually telling him about herself crossed a line she didn’t dare touching at all.

“I’m a beer fairy 24/7, I’m afraid. Not very glamorous, but it pays the bills.” Let him think she was a waitress. The less he know about her the better, the smaller the risk. She refused to think about the risk at all.

“Well, as long as you are content with it, it doesn’t matter, right?”

Jazz tilted her head, almost rested her forehead against his shoulder, only pulled away when she noticed how close she was.

“It’s safe at least. Freedom and safety unfortunately are mutually exclusive, so if I wanted to have more freedom in my working life, I would have to sacrifice some of my security.”

“And you don’t want to renounce your safety.” His nod was brief, his smile wavered. His grip on her hands tightened, he spun her once, twice, led her into a step sequence.

“Do you want to renounce your freedom?”

“For a dance or two, I just might.” He grinned, dipped her low.

Jazz laughed again, somehow he managed to keep it classy and fun, not smarmy at all. Not pushy or demanding.

The song ended and this time they decided to go back to the bar, finish their drinks.

“What’s your verdict?” he asked, laughed when she looked at him with eyebrows raised high, eyes wide. “Of my dancing skills.”

“Oh, that. Well, I had fun, so you passed.” A last smile in his direction and she downed her drink, grabbed her purse and slipped off her seat. “I think I’m done with my research here. Have a nice night, Yushima-san.”

“Hey, gorgeous,” he stopped her, but didn’t get up from his seat. “I hope we’ll meet again.”

From beer fairy to gorgeous in only three dances. Warm pride prickled in her belly, shone in her eyes when she waved at him.

“We’ll see.”

The warmth in her belly didn’t fade until she reached home.


Children screamed and laughed, someone shouted into their general direction and the scent of grilled meat and sausages wafted through the park at the annual picnic for police forces of any department.

Jazz looked around, today in her role as guest – her husband was a police officer after all, even if he wasn’t working in the regular service – and as event planner. Mostly had already been decided when she got the award job, but she brought Liana, just in case she needed a helping hand or two. No ulterior motives at all.

“Every year I have to sit through this and there’s no booze in sight,” Miho grumbled, glared at the fruit punch as if that would turn it into something with more ooomph. It didn’t.

“Why do you even come here if you hate it so much?” Despite her sunglasses against the warm spring sun Jazz’s eyes were closed, the few rays she soaked up would have to suffice for a while. Even someone as pale as her had to be careful, white skin still was a beauty standard in Japan.

“Seiji and I had our first date her in this park. So this is our anniversary party. And of course there’s food.”

Every year they hauled a few barbeque grills over, some men from different departments volunteered to grill countless sausages, burgers, pieces of meat and fish. Salads, bread, dips and vegetables offered some alternatives for those who didn’t like meat or simply needed something to snack on before the actual picnic started.

Most members of the force brought their partners, some even their kids, especially the couples with both parents working for the police.

Subaru was manning a grill, just like his superior, Katsuragi. Goto chatted with someone, Liana was just checking if there were enough napkins and Jazz simply relaxed for once, listened to Miho’s explanations of people’s jobs, backgrounds and general flaws. Quite entertaining.

“Hey, tell me one thing,” Miho just said, set her glass down. “Lately you seem in a pretty good mood. Anything I should know?”

Glad her eyes were hidden behind her glasses Jazz straightened up. “What are you hinting at?”

“Dunno. Earlier, when this kid fell and cried, you went to comfort it. We haven’t been out for drinks since our little celebration the other day. You complain about smells more.”

Having detectives as friends held the risk of having secrets exposed before one could come up with a good explanation. But not this time.

“I only complain when Subaru smells like cigarette smoke because that makes my stomach churn. It’s not my fault you don’t have time to go drinking with me and I only comforted that kid so it would stop crying already. So if you have something to ask, by all means, ask me. But not in this roundabout way.”

“Since this is your normal level of bitchiness I take that you’re not pregnant.” Unfazed by the strict tone Miho grabbed a handful of grapes, popped one into her mouth.

“No, I’m not pregnant. You think I wouldn’t tell you if I even considered that?” Despite the hints Subaru dropped every now and then there was a clear agreement between him and Jazz. She wanted to work a couple of years longer before she put her career on ice for their family.

“You know I’m not a big fan of kids, so I thought you wanted to present me with a fait accompli.”

“Nah.” Jazz waved off, leaned back in her seat again. “Still got that handy little thing inside that should prevent any visitors getting too cozy in there.” She patted her belly, frowned and sat up again. “Since we are already talking about filled tummies, I could use a bite. Food better not takes too long anymore.”

Liana came back, a clipboard in her hand. “Okay, we got everything.”

“Great. In that case, take a seat. Our only job today was providing the supplies, the rest is up to the others.” Jazz pointed to the bench across from her seat, divided by the picnic table. “Get a drink and enjoy the nice weather. This is one of the easier jobs of the year.”

With a sigh Liana complied, the clipboard clattered on the table. “Just sitting around, doing nothing?”

“Not exactly,” Miho piped up. “You can eat, drink – albeit nothing stronger than fruit punch – play some stupid games. Go and mingle. Have fun.” Miho emphasized her words by downing her glass, or better paper cup, and waving towards a tall man with glasses who passed in a short distance.

“Captain! You remember Ichiyanagi’s wife?”

He changed his direction, now headed towards the table.

“Hello, Sergeant Fujiwara. Mrs. Ichiyanagi.”

“It’s Mann. Miss Mann.” Jazz smiled brightly, took off her sunglasses. “Let me introduce my coworker to you, Captain. This is Liana Starling, most of today’s plannings are her work.”

“Miss Starling.” A brief nod and Miho pitched in.

“This is Captain Ishigami, Goto’s direct superior. One of the best police officers I know.”

“Captain,” Liana retorted with an equally brief nod, but a smile tugged at the corners of her lips.

“Okay, I’m going to check on Subaru and the food. I’ll be right back.” Jazz casually grabbed her drink and strolled towards the smoking grills, a grin on her face.

“Oh, is that Officer Nasaki? If you excuse me, there’s something I gotta ask her.” With Miho so hastily gone Liana found herself alone with the captain, his expression serious, observant.

“So, you planned the picnic this year? Impressive. As far as I can tell there are finally enough napkins this time.” He pushed his glasses up a bit, stared at the bench next to them.

“There are some things you can never have too much of. Like napkins. Do you want to have a seat, Captain? I was told to mingle but to be honest, there are still some things left I want to check before I can relax.”

“Very well, Miss Starling. Don’t let me keep you from doing your work.”

They both sat down, Liana took the clipboard and flipped the first page. “If you notice anything amiss, please let me know, Captain. I like it when things are in order.”

He cocked one eyebrow, a faint smile ghosted over his lips. “So do I, Miss Starling. So do I.”

With a carrot stick between her fingers Jazz wandered over to Subaru, greeted a few people she knew on the way. In the last three years she had met a couple of coworkers, former academy mates and other friends of Subaru, all working in the law enforcement. As if he had no life outside of his job. He was successful in what he did, with his father the former superintendent of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police he also had the best connections. Elite schools and universities, a father who had big plans for him – the only flaw in his life was his choice of wife. A strategic marriage would have paved his path to mayor of Tokyo in ten, fifteen years.

And now he was standing there, flipping burgers, chatting with some simple police officers instead of sucking up to some influential bigshot. He looked happy, though, laughed just with that woman he was talking to. She was slender, around Jazz’s height, but slimmer, less curves. Long, black hair, big eyes, pale skin. A Japanese beauty, probably named Sakura or Yuri or something equally floral and cute. Subaru nodded every once in a while, but focused on his task.

“Hello, handsome. If I needed something hot, would you be able to help me out?” Jazz batted her lashes, nibbled at the carrot with a smile.

“Hey Jazz, have you met Takamura Mei already? She’s the newest member of my squad.” Subaru put a piece of meat on a plate, carefully checked the fish and added a piece of that, too. “Here, cut into the meat and tell me if it’s done, will you?”

Armed with a fork and knife Jazz cut it right in half, nodded once. “Yep, it’s perfect. And sorry, where are my manners? I’m Jazz Mann, nice to meet you.” She dipped her chin low, not even half a bow but considering she was too close to the grill it had to suffice.

“Ichiyanagi-senpai has already told me so much about you, Mann-san. It’s a pleasure working with him, I can learn so much.” Takamura bowed perfectly, her hair like a silk curtain.

Jazz almost choked on her hastily chewed piece of fish. “‘Ichiyanagi-senpai’?”

She turned to her husband, grinned widely. “Is it too hot at the grill for you, senpai? You are flushed a bit. Should I get you something to drink?”

“No, I’m fine. Do you want some chicken kebab, too?” His eyes fixed on the grill he busied himself with turning the meat, a crease forming between his eyebrows.

“Sure, give me whatever you have, I’m sharing with Miho and Liana.” A quick glance over her shoulder confirmed her suspicion; Ishigami was still sitting with Liana. “Do you know what kind of meat Ishigami prefers?”

“The cyborg? I’m not sure he’s eating at all. Probably only recharges at night.” He piled more food on a new plate, handed it over once he was done.

“Takamura-san, would you like something to eat, too?” Jazz asked before she could marched off with most of the ready food.

“Don’t worry about me, Ichiyanagi-senpai is taking good care of me. I have already eaten.”

“Barely,” he piped up, rolled his eyes so that Jazz could see, but Mei couldn’t.

“Oh, Mann-san, I want to apologize for the smoking. I heard you dislike it when Ichiyanagi-senpai smells like it after our shifts together. I will try to cut down on it, but it’s too hard to stop just like that.”

“Most bad habits are.” Jazz shrugged, still balanced two plates. “It’s your decision, really. Subaru could just as well use some air freshener or change his clothes. He’s an adult after all and can either avoid the smoke or take care of his clothes afterwards.”

When Mei didn’t reply to that Jazz smiled politely. “It was nice meeting you, Takamura-san. I’m better taking this to the others before it gets cold.”

Out in public she had learned not to kiss her husband, especially not with so many coworkers around. He didn’t approve and she didn’t want to embarrass him.

“Tell me if you need anything, okay?”

“I will, don’t worry. Go and enjoy your meal, tell Miho not to choke on the food.”

At home he would be more affectionate, but he was Japanese after all. Reserved whenever others were around. Years ago Jazz had accepted this and now it was easy for her to simply smile and wink at him, leave with a spring in her step.


“I got some food for us. Captain, do you want to eat with us?”

Both Liana and Ishigami were hard to read, but since they were still sitting at the same table introducing them couldn’t have been a bad idea.

“Let me get some sides. Captain, is there anything you don’t like?” Already on her way Liana paused, smiled when he shook his head.

“I’m not exactly a picky eater.”

“Me neither. That makes it easier to decide what to get. I’ll be right back.”

Jazz watched her, glanced over towards Ishigami whose eyes also followed Liana.

“Have you seen Miho or Goto, Captain?”

“Not since – well, since I came over to your table, I suppose.” He straightened slightly, shoulders squared and chin up.

“Huh. Well, I won’t wait until the food gets cold. Please, help yourself. I hope it is okay that we invited you over, but Miho mentioned how much you dislike these gathering so I figured you might feel more comfortable with a few familiar faces.” The plate with the pile of grilled meat and fish ended in the middle of the table, the other, smaller one with Jazz’s already cut piece of meat and the half eaten fish in front of her.

“And that is why you left me with a woman I never met before?” Ishigami pushed his glasses up, turned up his mouth.

“No, I left you with her to get us some food. You could have left at any point.”

His short huff hadn’t even faded when Liana came back, balancing three plates with snacks and salads.

“I got us a small selection.”

Jazz helped her, took two plates from her hands and arranged them on the table. “Have you spotted Miho somewhere in the last ten minutes?”

“No, but if she doesn’t hurry most of the food will be gone.” Liana fixed a plate for herself, nodded towards Ishigami. “Help yourself, Captain.”

“‘Ishigami’ is sufficient.“ He took a plate, some veggies and chicken.

Jazz hid her grin by stuffing some bread into her mouth. Once she had finished her food she would have to find another reason to let them alone. She could look for Miho, but since Goto has vanished, too, Jazz was pretty sure she didn’t really want to find them. Not again.


The scent of smoke – Part 5

Just a chat, nothing more.

Jazz shrugged, scooped some curry into a bowl with rice and handed it to Subaru.

“Thanks. Do you want some tea?”

“Yes, please.” She filled another bowl with curry, shuffled over to the table. “So, today I was hunting for locations and you will never guess who I-”

“Sugar?” He set the cup down, turned back to get his food.

“No, thanks. But you will never guess who I met today.” She made a pause for the dramatic effect, waited until Subaru sat down.

“I probably won’t, but I guess you will tell me now.” He dipped his spoon into the curry, blew on it.

“Yushima Jinpachi.” Her chair scraped over the floor when she leaned back, smiled at her husband.

“Who?” He ate, focused on temperature and taste of his food.

“The photographer? Yushima?” Someone as sophisticated as Subaru had certainly heard that name before.

“You are aware that I am working with top of the political hierarchy in Japan, plus countless of actual celebrities, aren’t you?” He stirred a few drops of soy sauce into his curry, tried it again and scrunched up his nose. “Did you forget to season the food?”

The clank of her spoon on the table got his attention, with a frown he stared at his wife.


“Nothing. You know what? You always complain about my cooking, so it’s all yours now. Either you cook or we order in.” She pushed first her bowl back, then her chair.

“Are you miffed now because I like my food to actually taste like something?” Subaru yelled after her, but Jazz just waved over her shoulder, slammed the door to the bedroom shut behind her. Out of her clothes and into the shower, to wash away the anger, the vague nagging guilty conscience talking to Liana had caused. The warm water poured down on her, all over her, swirled down the drain, but didn’t take the emotions with it.

Eyes closed she could almost believe she was somewhere else, but the cool tiles she rested her forehead against anchored her to reality. A last sigh and she lathered up, massaged shampoo into her hair.


The water took the suds with it, but didn’t drone out Subaru’s voice. It echoed in the bathroom, got clearer when he came closer.

“Hey, listen, I like your cooking. And I know you had a long day, so taking time to make dinner for us – I appreciate it. Do we really argue about a bit soy sauce now?”

She turned off the water, took a generous amount of conditioner, worked it into the lengths.

“How long do you plan to make me talk to your back?”

“Why? You used to like that view.” She looked over her shoulder, watched his crossed arms unfold.

“Is that an invitation?” His fingers already worked open the tie, but he didn’t pull it off yet.

“Depends. Are you going to season me with soy sauce?”

“I’m going to season you with something else,” he announced, quickly stripped down and stepped into the shower with her.

“Wash my back.”

Armed with a washcloth and body wash he did as told, moved his hands over her back, down to her butt, from there over her hips before he pulled her closer against his chest. With his chin on her shoulder he whispered into her ear.

“You little outbreak earlier wasn’t because of the soy sauce, was it?”

Jazz tipped her own head back, sighed.

“Not really. I wanted to tell you something exciting and you had to one up me again.”

“You wanted to tell me you met a photographer?”

Jazz squirmed, turned in his embrace and looked at him.

“No, I wanted to tell you I met this photographer – not for the first time by the way – in a wonderful art museum while looking for a location because – and now comes the really exciting part – I got the G&A awards job.”

“You did? What happened to Yamamoto?” Water dripped from his hair into his wide eyes, he blinked, wiped it off with one hand.

“Well, his trusty combination of catering and a ballroom somewhere in town couldn’t convince the higher ups, not even with Tres Spade as possible venue.”

Considering how fancy some of the artists could be Jazz was surprised, usually they jumped at the chance to walk down some red carpet.

“And your idea was a bit more extraordinary?”

“Everything about me is extraordinary. Haven’t you noticed yet?” Her breasts pressed against him she grinned, wiggled her hips.

“Oh, I noticed. First thing I noticed about you.”

There it was again, her laughter. Carefree and happy.

“Let’s get rinsed off,” she suggested, but didn’t move.

“And afterwards?”

“You get me dirty again.”


Wrapped up in her robe Jazz padded barefoot towards the kitchen. She was starving, her interrupted dinner plus the physical activities were taking their toll on her body. On weak knees she put her bowl into the microwave, set the time and went back into the bathroom where Subaru’s clothes were still on the floor. His tie, his shirt, his pants – she picked them up, took them to the hamper.


A lazy hum from the bedroom told her he was at least listening.

“Have you smoked?”

The bed creaked, fabric rustled.

“Not me, but our new squad member is a smoker. We shared a car today.”

Jazz scrunched up her nose, glared at the clothes in her hand.

“Cold, second hand smoke. Yuck.”

“I know you don’t like it, so I’ll take care of the laundry.”

“Tell your coworker to stop smoking when someone else is around. That’s not only rude, it’s harmful,” she grumbled, buried the offending clothes deeply in the hamper.

“Hey.” In his boxers he stepped behind her, nuzzled her neck with his arms wrapped around her. “Less angry now?”

She hummed, the ping of the microwave alerted her.

“Some food and some make up sex – best combination.” She turned around just enough to peck his shoulder, ran off towards the kitchen.

“Didn’t I pay enough attention to you lately for you to get moody?” He wandered after her, found her singing an easy tune under her breath.

“I like it when you’re happy.” Arms crossed in front of his chest he leaned against the doorframe, watched her milling around.

“Because you get more sex when I’m happy?” She flashed him a grin, handed him a cup of tea.

“Because I just like it when you are happy. I love you, that’s part of it.”

“You old sap.” A quick peck and she got her bowl from the microwave, slid on a chair and dug in. The first spoonful was quickly gone, the next she chewed thoroughly. “And it’s seasoned just fine.”

This time he didn’t argue.


“The flowers and the cake are ordered, but Miss Osmond asked for assistance picking out her wedding dress.” Liana handed Jazz some papers, waited for feedback or an order.

“Okay, can you schedule an appointment in our usual bridal shop? Try to get one from noon to open end.” Jazz scribbled some notes on one of the order forms, put it aside. “Anything else?”

“No, not really. Do you have any instructions for me?”

“Have you already booked a band or DJ? Asked if they want some performances? A photographer maybe?” The word was out before Jazz could think about it, but the way Liana’s eyes narrowed at her served as a reminder of their conversation the day before.

“No. Do you know a good one?”

“Several.” Jazz opted to ignore the dry sarcasm in Liana’s voice, reached for her file with flyers and contact infos of wedding photographers, handed it over. “Pick one, they are all good. Not exactly award worthy, but good.” With her sweetest smile she sent Liana back to her own desk, wondered again why this was such a big deal for her assistant.


Miho stared at the print out in her hand. This was impossible. Weeks and months of research and painstakingly reading, comparing and marking thousands of maps, papers and phone transcripts she had found a solid lead. Well, as solid as it could be.

“Seiji! Get your sweet ass over here, I need second opinion!”

Goto, buried in a similar high pile of papers, cleared a path and trudged over, leaned over the shoulder of his wife and looked at the part she pointed at.

“That’s the third time I see the name of this ship. Can’t be a coincidence anymore, can it?”

“Unlikely. How about I make some phone calls and see if we can get our hands on some waybills and such?”

“Good idea. You got someone for that?” She turned her head just enough to notice the crease between his eyebrows.

“Mhm, I might just have. Will tell you after the call.” He straightened, changed his mind and leaned in again, kissed her ear. “Good job.”

“I’ll show you ‘good job’,” she grumbled, with a smile though. “If this turns out to be something, I’m going out for a drink tonight.” Arms high above her head she stretched, worked out the kinks of her back and neck, rolled her shoulders. Caught him smiling at her.

“If this is what we were looking for, I will buy the first round.”


“What are we celebrating?” Jazz asked, the fruity cocktail in front of her begging to get tasted sooner rather than later. Before ice watered it down too much.

“Small success at work. And you? I heard you have some good news, too.” Miho swirled her glass with bourbon, looked at Liana who held a margarita.

“We got a highly coveted award show job. Snatched it from a coworker who thinks it’s enough to offer champagne and hors d’oeuvre.” A lot of careers had skyrocketed after such a chance, some had crashed furiously. Jazz was hellbent on making it her breakthrough, not a nosedive.

“Congrats.” Another round of raised glasses.

“And she ran into that guy again. The ponytail one.” Liana pursed her lips, not because of the lime in her drink.

“Oh?” Miho blinked into Jazz’s general direction, raised an eyebrow. “Do I have to look into that after all?”

“Nah, it’s fine. I already know everything I need to know. His name, occupation, Instagram account.” Jazz leaned back, but shot a sharp gaze towards Liana.

“You looked him up?”

“I found out his name by accident so I figured I could just – you know, stalk him a bit.” Jazz shrugged, made Miho grin.

“That’s not all you did,” Liana pointed out. “I was there when you talked to him, don’t forget that. I saw you do this – thing.”

“I what?” Jazz blinked, waited for an explanation, hackles already rising.

“You did this thing, this beaming smile and the cutesy head tilt. No need to give a guy your number or your name when you look at him like that. He’s getting ideas anyway.”

“Liana, may I ask a question?” Miho’s glass made a clinking sound as it touched the table in front of her. “Why did you get divorced?”

The direct question and seemingly random change of topic stilled the conversation briefly.

“I – we didn’t fit that well together anymore.”

“Regarding what?” In detective mode Miho wasn’t easily thrown off a track, her observational skills impressive.

Liana pursed her lips, wiped the salt off her finger by rubbing it with her thumb.

“He wasn’t as committed as I was.”

“Did he cheat?” Jazz had never asked before, they weren’t that close yet after all.

“No. He just – he stopped caring. Everything was a joke and when I got angry he shrugged it off. Basically he avoided taking responsibility for anything.” Head held high Liana met Jazz’s gaze.

“That’s a very rational, well reflected answer.” While Jazz considered herself a sensible person she was definitely more emotional when it came to past relationships. Not talking badly behind her ex’s backs, but in some cases unable to let it just go, the anger and annoyance caused by heartbreaks and breakups.

“I already talked about that with my therapist.” Not enough though, as Jazz assumed from the big gulp Liana took from her glass.

“So you prefer the serious type? Straight-laced, rational, responsible?” The look Jazz and Miho shared, a raised eyebrow here, a light nod there, and everything was hashed out.

“Well, he should have some sense of humor at least, but not just run off whenever there’s a problem or try to get out of by joking.

“A hard worker? Dedicated? Not easily distracted?” Jazz added to the catalogue, her grin grew when Liana nodded.

“Sure, sounds better than some lazy bum.” Catching up on the sneaky glances the other two traded Liana straightened up. “Hey, wait, we are not talking about me right now. It’s about you and the ponytail guy.”

“No matter how often you bring that up, there’s nothing between me and him. Glowing or not, I wouldn’t risk my marriage for some attention from random men.” Jazz gaze wandered through the bar, back to Liana. “Without wanting to sound cocky, but I could go and chat up at least four, maybe five guys here. I have a pretty good idea what kind of man is interested in me and who not. That doesn’t mean I would actually do it and pick them up. I’ve been on the other end of that situation before and honestly, it was shitty enough, I wouldn’t do that to anyone else.”

“You have been cheated on before?” Liana’s eyes widened, her glass paused only inches away from her mouth.

“Yep. Ruined my final year in university for me. Great guy, we were together for a bit more than two years. He banged this other chick behind my back for three months. He broke my heart, I broke his nose, and we still aren’t even.” Years later there was this tension in her stomach and her heart when she thought about it, less intense than when she had found out but too strong to ignore. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, smiled when she opened them again.

“Wow. I – I had no idea.” Slumping back into her chair Liana exhaled.

“Of course that doesn’t rid me of suspicion and it also doesn’t guarantee that I won’t make mistakes. Never say never. But I would not knowingly get myself into a situation that would destroy my marriage and hurt my husband. I love him after all, and he doesn’t leave me wanting for anything. Not attention, nor love or satisfaction. I would be stupid to throw that away for some fling.” With a shrug Jazz ended her short monologue, followed up with a swig of alcohol.

“And if she’s one thing, so it’s not stupid,” Miho concluded.

“Thank you.” Jazz raised her glass towards her friend who reciprocated.

“But you are still an attention whore and a limelight hog, so you love your audience and them fawning over you.”

“Hey, I thought you were on my side!”

Snickering into her glass Miho motioned for the waiter. “I am, but I’m also honest.”

“A little less honesty next time.” Jazz pouted, only perked up when Miho ordered her another cocktail.

Their conversation moved to lighter topics and after a few more rounds they shared a cab, dropped Liana off at her flat before Miho and Jazz headed towards the next stop. Jazz’s place.

“Should I call your hubby to help you inside?” Swaying lightly even while sitting Miho giggled at Jazz’s pout.

“Nooooo… I can do it. I’m just – I need to find my keys…” A hiccup rattled Jazz and her purse, the jingling of keys muffled by layers of clutter.

“You could just ring.”

The cab stopped, the driver waited for the women to figure out who actually had to get out.

“Don’t wanna wake him,” Jazz muttered, dug deep in her purse and howled a triumphant ‘Aha!’ when her fingers curled around cool metal.

“Okay, text me when you get home. Love ya…” It took her two tries to open the door and find her feet, slowly she staggered towards the door, one hand on the wall for support. Tomorrow her hangover would be the just punishment for going overboard, but her buzz pushed all the thoughts of consequences aside for now. The world spun and wouldn’t stop, Jazz managed to down a glass of water before she fell into bed, without even taking off her makeup or clothes.


The morning sun woke her up, found her grumpy and tired, her eye makeup smudged and her clothes wrinkled. The morning sun – Jazz turned around, patted the empty bed next to her. It was cool, the sheets smooth. Subaru hadn’t slept there last night.

With a groan she sat up, ran her hands over her face and squinted at the alarm clock. Not even 6am, still enough time for a shower and a bucket full of coffee. On the way to the bathroom she checked her phone, found a text saying Subaru had to fill in for someone and stay for the night shift. Wasn’t the first time and would definitely not be the last, so Jazz just shrugged it off, pulled off her clothes while walking and reached the shower already naked.

Clean, dressed and with a huge cup of coffee she already felt human again, smiled when she heard the key turning in the front door.

“Morning, darling!” she chirped, poured Subaru a tea – coffee wasn’t a good idea, he would go straight to bed after a full day of work after all – and hopped from her chair.

“Hey.” He pressed a kiss on her cheek, walked right past her towards the kitchen.

“You smell like smoke again.” Nose scrunched up she watched his back, how he opened the fridge and grabbed some leftovers.

“Yeah, same coworker. Asked her to stop smoking but – well, it was a shitty night and dealing with any withdrawal symptoms wasn’t worth it.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Despite the churning in her stomach she followed him into the kitchen, hugged him from behind and rested her chin on his shoulder. Or better, she tried to, but without heels she was too short.

“It’s not that bad. I will throw my clothes into the hamper later and take a shower before I go to bed.” He shoved a piece of braised vegetables into his mouth, chewed slowly.

“Okay. I gotta get ready for work now. You will be here when I get home?” Jazz drained the rest of her coffee, put the cup in the dishwasher. Subaru was a neat freak after all.

“I guess so. You want anything special for dinner?”

She kissed him, didn’t mind the drop of sauce on his lips.

“Nope. Surprise me.” A last pat on his bum and she rushed to get to work, left Subaru behind to sleep and take care of his clothes.


Snatching the biggest chance of her career so far didn’t mean Jazz could skip out of her other obligations. With the Nomura-Osmond wedding delegated unto Liana she had some wiggle room but still more than enough work to keep her busy and distracted all day.

One glance at her planner, just before she wanted to finish for the day, destroyed her dream of a quiet night in that would allow her to nurse her still aching head back to health.


“Yes?” a voice answered from the other office, just through the door.

“What day is it?” Jazz still stared at the planner, there was no chance to miss the date.

“Wednesday, why are you asking?”

She had forgotten about it. Dammit.

“Nothing, I just realized that I have to go to this thing tonight.” Did she still have the spare dress in the closet?

“What thing?” Liana’s face, with furrowed brow, appeared in the doorframe.

“This band I wanted to check out. I consider adding them to my live music options for events and they invited me to see them play today.” Sorting through her purse, packing the essentials into a smaller one, more fitting for the evening Jazz looked up, smiled at her assistant. “What do you say, you want to come with me? Good music, maybe a drink and dinner?”

“Are you hitting on me?” A perfect eyebrow cocked Liana smirked, shook her head. “No, thanks. I can’t go out every night, I’m still feeling the last two cocktails of last night.”

Since Jazz was in the same boat she didn’t argue, just nodded. “Okay, in that case I’ll tell you  how it was tomorrow. Go home now, I’m out in ten, too.”


Changing into her spare dress and touching up her makeup didn’t take long, Jazz sent Subaru a quick message and hailed a cab to the small club where the band would play. Pop jazz. Thanks to countless puns with her name Jazz wasn’t into that music genre anymore, but a friend told her about this band that gave pop music a new spin with old instruments and vintage vibes.

The club was clean, had a cozy interior. Actual red velvet ropes separated private areas from public ones, lots of polished dark wood on the walls and the bars. A stage filled with instruments and four musicians. With her burgundy shift dress Jazz fit right in, she fluffed up her hair once more – the golden color guaranteed her instant attention in a country where most people were brunette – held her chin up high and her shoulders squared to ward off the annoying guys, preying only on weak and insecure woman. Her openly worn wedding ring wasn’t enough of a repellent, there were always the smarmy ones who didn’t care about her marital status, only about conquering.

The bar counter was mostly empty so she slipped onto a barstool, motioned for the bartender and asked for a virgin cocktail. Something that would make it look as if she was drinking but only raised her blood sugar, not the blood alcohol.

The singer joined the other band members on stage, they started with something easy, a catchy tune that sounded vaguely familiar but she didn’t recognize it until the singer crooned the chorus. A few jotted down notes and Jazz could focus on listening. At least it wasn’t a waste of time, after the second song she found herself turned towards the stage, her feet tapping in time with the music. A few other guests chatted, watched the band or drank, but the club was far from being crowded. So it was easy to spot him right when he entered.

“Holy crap…” Jazz muttered when Yushima Jinpachi, photographer and apparently music lover, walked through the door, directly into her direction.