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.
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.