The scent of smoke – part 7

Like the good wife she could be when she was in the mood Jazz ironed Subaru’s shirt, ignored his frantic back and forth while packing.

“Do you need anything else ironed?”

She put his shirt on a hanger, waited for his answer.

“No, that should be all. Thank you.” A quick peck on her cheek and he took the shirt from her, put it into a garment bag.

“So, you are working with the future mayor of Tokyo now, huh?” The iron in her hand Jazz grinned at him, watched his lips curl up in a smirk.

“He’s not there yet, but yes. I guess in three or four years he will run for that position.” Fukuhara Jun, a 38 years old politician with a bright future was the new client Subaru and his squad worked for.

“Will his wife travel with him?”

Subaru’s suitcase was already full so Jazz carefully folded another sweater as small and flat as possible.

“The first week, yes. The second we will be on our own.”

“Guy’s roadtrip?” she teasingly asked, took the garment bag from him and handed him a pair of shoes in return.

“With less fun and alcohol.” His smile stayed on his lips only, and not for long.

“You don’t look excited about this wonderful chance,” Jazz concluded. She hung the garment bag on a hook, turned to her husband and wrapped her arms around his neck. “What’s wrong?”

His brow furrowed he exhaled deeply, put a smile on. “Nothing for you to worry about.” A quick pat of her bum later he let go again, busied himself with shuffling clothes around. “Let me get the packing done and we can go out for dinner, what do you say?”

A second of hesitation before Jazz cleared the ironing board away and wiped her hands on her jeans.

“I don’t feel like getting dressed up again. I could just order something and we have a relaxed dinner at home. And more time for dessert.”

“Or you could call Miho and ask if she and Goto would like to come over and have dinner together with us.” His head still bowed over the contents of his suitcase he didn’t look at her, stuffed more underwear into the small free spaces around his clothes.

“You are aware that I know you long enough to realize that you’re keeping something from me, do you? If you don’t want or simply can’t talk about it, fine. But don’t insult my intelligence and experience as your wife by trying to deflect.”

When he looked up again she stood with her arms crossed and a pout on her lips next to the bed. He heaved a tired sigh, sat down on the edge of the mattress, held out a had towards her.

“I can’t talk about it, it’s work related. And yes, it’s bugging me but I promise, it’s nothing you have to worry about. It’s just keeping my thoughts occupied for now so I’m not exactly good company tonight.”

She took a small step towards him, allowed him to grab her wrist and pull her closer. Standing between his legs she ran a hand through his hair, scratched the spots she had found out ages ago to be his favorites.

“I don’t expect a great show of you. Just be honest with me, okay? See, now I know it’s not something I did or said and that’s all I need to know. You are allowed to worry about your job, you are allowed to feel sad or angry. You don’t always have to be strong, you know? Not with me.”

A muffled hum sounded from where he had buried his face against her belly, crinkled the fabric of her shirt.

His “I love you”, although slurred, prompted a deep inhale and a smile from her.

“And I love you. So you better get over with packing while I order our food. I’d rather spend the night in your poor company than with anyone else.”

 

The SS Serendipity was a medium-sized container vessel, one among countless in port. So far it hasn’t appeared in any other investigations, neither the crew nor the owner suspicious before.

“I found another mention in a phone transcript. That makes six so far.” Confirmed in her suspicion now Miho leaned back in her chair. “How far are you with the background check of the owner?”

Goto came over to her desk, handed her a couple of documents and sat down on the chair next to hers.

“He seems clean so far. No criminal record, no strange activities, no traceable connections to any name we have.”

“Can we get our hands on some destination list of the last few months?” With a few notes Miho jotted down what they had so far.

“That shouldn’t be a problem. We could call port authority for a start. That’s standard procedure and doesn’t raise attention to our investigation at all.”

“Do that. I try some other sources to find out more about the vessel.”

Working together as a married couple put a strain on a lot of relationships, for Miho and Goto though it proved to be easy. Mutual respect for each other’s personalities and approaches was the key – and taking care of budding tensions.

“Take care.” He pressed a peck on her lips, nodded and got up to contact the port authorities.

Miho pored over the connections once more, wondering where she could pull a thread to unravel this mess.

 

Cooking dinner for just one person was less fun than cooking for two. It was less work and no one complained in the end about the taste or the selection, but Liana tended to prepare one dish and eat it for several days. Her freezer was well stocked with leftovers and small servings of pre-cooked dinners she often spruced up with fresh ingredients.

Which she had to buy.

Her shopping cart was filled with vegetables and fruit, some rice and condiments. After a week like hers she deserved a treat, so her next goal was the dessert aisle. Some people rewarded themselves with alcohol, Liana preferred a bit of sugar. Not too much, of course, she wasn’t 20 anymore and didn’t lose weight easily. Better not putting on any. In a country where a lot of women were petite she already stood out with her height. A pudding every now and then wasn’t a problem, or maybe some ice cream.

She turned around the corner, faltered when she spotted the tall man with the glasses.

“Captain Ishigami?”

His eyebrows raised when he saw her, just briefly before he schooled his expression back into a neutral one.

“Miss Starling. Hello.”

‘Are you shopping, too?’ or ‘What are you doing here?’ were pointless questions that neither of them asked, but the awkward silence begged to be filled.

“It’s nice meeting you again.” She pushed her cart past him, turned to inspect the pudding shelf.

“Do you have a recommendation for me? I know none of these brands.” With a wide gesture he motioned towards the shelf, tilted his head lightly.

“Actually I like the almond vanilla one. It’s not too sweet, but incredibly creamy. If you prefer chocolate, the double choc with cream over there is heavenly. As for classics, the crème brûlée over there is decent enough. Even better if you add some more sugar and caramelize it.” She took two of the almond vanilla cups and smiled, nodded in parting and turned to leave.

“Miss Starling?”

“Yes, Captain?” Liana faced him again, still a polite smile on her face.

“How do I caramelize the sugar?”

She cocked her head, brow furrowed.

“Should I show you? I have a bit time tonight and was just about to buy what I need for dinner. If you have no other plans…”

Ishigami stared at the pudding cups in front of him, back to Liana.

“Thank you, that’s a kind offer I gladly accept. Besides the crème brûlée, what else do I need?”

 

Planning and preparing an award show was completely different to a wedding or an anniversary. The theme was constricting and vague at the same time. Graphics and photographs – finding the essence of a type of art was basically impossible.

“The location is artsy enough, we don’t need to equip the waiting staff with painter’s palettes as trays or give them paint-splattered frocks or anything like that. No photo booths or fake paparazzi either, we don’t want the artists to feel mocked.” Jazz stared at the expose, scribbled some notes down.

“So basically we have the usual setup? A fancy location and some canapés? Isn’t that the same Yamamoto suggested? You know, before he lost this job?”

Despite Liana’s objection Jazz made some alterations at the expose, put the pen down after the last word.

“Basically, yes. But we give it a completely different vibe. This band I found will add some background music, we transport the whole show to a time where photography was still analog. Classy, but with a twist.”

Since Subaru was on a business trip she spent most of her time working. Miho and Goto were neck-deep into their investigation so they didn’t even have the occasional dinners together. Perfect conditions to ponder over details and come up with the strangest ideas.

“Old Hollywood or roaring 20s?” Already armed with a pen of her own Liana leaned in closer, despite the desk between the two women.

“I was thinking early 50s underground jazz club. Too specific?”

“No, sounds good. Decorations?”

“That’s the good thing about it, all we need are some bar tables and waitstaff with white shirts and a bowtie. The museum has some white walls and some with red brick. Wooden floors. We build a small stage, red velvet curtains and some wooden chairs and we are done.” Jazz stretched her arms above her head, sank back into her chair and grinned. “This hasn’t been done before, it’s simple enough not to distract from the art but fancy enough to satisfy anyone’s need for luxury and pomp.”

“I like the idea. You think the higher ups will agree?”

Jazz shrugged, hid her yawn with one hand. “Sorry, long night. Anyway, there’s not much time until the award show anymore, so either the big bosses approve or they have no concept for it at all.”

“So what’s next?”

“I’ll get the proposal all nice and shiny and take it to Mr. Takuchi for his approval. I doubt he will refuse, so once that’s through we better start with the preparations. By the way, how’s the wedding planning going? Any problems with that?” Again she fought a yawn but lost.

“All good on that end. But are you sure you shouldn’t go home early today and sleep for a change?” Liana got up, pointedly looked at the clock on the wall.

“I will, after I got this done. We lost a lot of time while Yamamoto sat on this job, can’t afford to dawdle now.” Maybe food was a good idea, it’s been ages since lunch. “When the proposal is ready I’ll go and fetch some dinner. You want to join?”

Liana dropped her gaze to the floor, shook her head. “Sorry, I got plans for tonight.”

“No biggie. Enjoy your plans.” With a smirk Jazz focused on her task again, chuckled when the door closed behind Liana. Plans, was it? She would have to ask Miho what Captain Ishigami was doing that night.

It was dark outside when Jazz printed out the final version of her proposal, took it to the office of her superior and fetched her bag to leave.

The short walk to the small ramen shop woke her up just enough to recognize the man in the back of the small place.

“You gotta be kidding me…” she mumbled, lips already turning up into a smile and feet taking her over to him.

“Hey, is the seat taken?”

Yushima looked up from his phone, eyes widened when he recognized her. “Dunno. You got a beer for me?” He pushed the chair next to his out a bit, waited until she was sitting. “Are you stalking me or something?”

“Funny, I wanted to ask you the same.” The shop owner, at the same time waiter, dish washer and chef, came over to take her order.

“One jumbo bowl, please. Make it spicy. And can I get a beer for me and one for my friend here, please?”

“Sure.”

Jazz turned back to Yushima, found him grinning at her.

“So, we are friends now?”

“I couldn’t say ‘a beer for my maybe stalker’, could I?”

He laughed, leaned back in his seat. “I thought we agreed that you are stalking me, not the other way around.”

“Nope, no stalking here. But you have to admit, there are too many chance meetings to make this feel like actual coincidence.”

“True, but you won’t hear me complain about it.”

The fell silent until the owner brought them their beer and told Jazz her ramen would be ready in a minute or two.

“You’re not having dinner with your husband?” Yushima asked, clinked his bottle against hers.

“Not tonight, no.” She took a swig, sighed in delight.

“Rough day?”

“Hard day, week, month. But that’s nothing new, so I’ll live.” She perked up when the owner set a bowl down in front of her, thanked him and picked up her chopsticks.

“Have you eaten already?”

“Yeah, don’t mind me. Go ahead, the food’s great here.”

Hunger beat self-consciousness and after the first bite of crispy chicken Jazz slurped her noodles as if her mother had never told her not to do it as kid. Sitting next to each other gave her at least enough cover so he wasn’t staring into her face the whole time. Halfway through the bowl she slowed down, picked the bites to find the perfect balance of taste and texture.

“Don’t you like the egg?”

Her chopsticks stopped moving around, she tilted her head. “Not really. Most places out egg into their ramen, but I’m not a big fan. Why? Do you want it?” She picked up half of a boiled egg, the yolk silky and still shining.

He leaned back an inch, furrowed his brow. “Are you sure?”

“Of course. I don’t eat it, I would just leave it in the bowl at the end.” Subaru often scolded her for wasting food instead of telling the chef to forgo the egg while ordering. Before he ate the egg.

“Should I get my own set of chopsticks?”

“Why? Come on, it’s just food, I don’t offer you my liver.”

“You’re not afraid of any diseases? I could have cooties,” he pointed out, grinned when she rolled her eyes.

“You want it or not?”

“I want it.” He opened his mouth, waited until Jazz fed him the egg before he closed his lips.

“See? Nothing bad happened. Oh, except for you having my cooties now.” Jazz stuck out her tongue at him, snickered when he almost choked on the egg. She stirred her ramen once again, picked up some noodles and slurped them down.

“You are quite a handful, aren’t you?” he remarked, still coughing lightly.

“Yep, that’s what people say. But at least I’m not boring,” she replied, laughed when he shook his head. The ringing of his phone cut into their banter, he excused himself and she returned to her food. The bowl was almost empty when he came back, gulped down his beer and set the bottle back on the counter.

“Sorry, gorgeous, gotta go now. Thanks for the beer. I guess I’ll see you around?”

“Like things went so far I would be surprised if not. Thanks for keeping me company. And for taking care of that egg.” She waved with her own bottle, full and lazy now.

“Hey, would you- nah, it’s fine.” With a last wave he left.

When Jazz went to pay she was told her bill was already taken care of.

 

“I like that guy,” Miho stated and turned up the volume of the TV where a political debate was heating up.

“Which one?” Goto handed her a cup of tea, sat down next to her on the couch.

“That Fukuhara. Lately he talks a lot about fighting against gun violence and drug rings.” The bitter tea was welcome after the late dinner they had. She gently blew on the dark green surface, sent ripples over it.

“He sure is popular lately.” Goto’s cup still sat on the table, cooling off before he drank it.

“True. Let’s hope it’s not only talk but that he will actually do something against crime. I’m sick of hearing politicians promise the moon but once they get the position they wanted they can’t remember any of their words from their campaign.” She drained her cup, rolled her shoulder and stretched her neck from left to right and back.

“Tensed?” With one hand Goto took the cup from her, the other rested on her shoulder.

“A bit. You wanna help me unwind?” She turned her back to him, looked over her shoulder.

“Do you even need to ask?” His hands found the knots just below her neck, thumbs rubbed circles into her tensed muscles.

She groaned lowly, her head dropped forwards while he massaged her neck, shoulders and upper back.

“That’s the spot… oh yeah… just a bit more…”

With a satisfied sigh she straightened up, just enough so she could slump against him, one hand on his thigh.

“Thanks, I needed that.” Her hand wandered higher, she looked up and grinned at him.

“So, any spots I can relax for you?”

The TV kept playing in the background while Goto and Miho got lost in their own world.

2 comments

  1. I’m enjoying the developing relationships and interactions (I enjoy the drama genre in general when it’s done well, good talkies like how Richard Linklater and Aaron Sorkin can do). 🙂
    1) Fukuhara must be quite a mover and shaker indeed, if while not even being a mayoral candidate yet he merits travelling with a bona fide full-time bodyguard +/- the usual political entourage of aides.
    2) Now I really want to know how the caramelizing sugar tutorial transpired between Ishigami and Liana, and how that led to their current plans(?) for the night… 😉
    3) Could be an interesting playlist at that awards show shindig… =)
    4) Since it’s established(?) that Yushima is not stalking Jazz, he must work and/or live where she does, as they do seem to be running into each other an awful lot in such a big city…
    5) Some ramen places here actually charge extra for the (half an) egg, so I guess that would be no loss for Jazz… 😉
    6) I don’t know a lot about Japan, but I thought gun violence was something they actually *don’t* experience a lot of, even among the yakuza in country?
    Looking forward to the next chapter! ❤

    Like

    1. 1. And can you imagine a reason he might need bodyguards? 🤔
      2. Go on and write it 😅
      3. Classy with a hint of sass, that’s what I imagine.
      4. You know how you sometimes seem to run into the same people over and over… you sometimes only notice after a certain incident because you need to remember them first to recognize them.
      5. No ramen places around here at all 😥
      6. Yep, gun violence is rare. That’s why it’s a rather easy topic to deal with. But it makes a lot of impact in a land that strives to be the safest in the world.
      Hope you enjoyed the chapter! 😘

      Like

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