11-13-2011, 07:57 PM   #6



: May 2006
: 远海
: 581  [ ]






After finishing her job and exiting the hotel, Aomame walked a short distance before catching a cab to yet another hotel, in the Akasaka District. She needed to calm her nerves with alcohol before going home to bed. After all, she had just sent a man to the other side. True, he was a loathsome rat who had no right to complain about being killed, but he was, ultimately, a human being. Her hands still retained the sensation of the life draining out of him. He had expelled his last breath, and the spirit had left his body. Aomame had been to the bar in this Akasaka hotel any number of times. It was the top floor of a high-rise building, had a great view, and a comfortable counter.
She entered the bar a little after seven. A young piano and guitar duo were playing Sweet Lorraine. Their version was a copy of an old Nat King Cole record, but they werent bad. As always, she sat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic and a plate of pistachios. The place was still not crowdeda young couple drinking cocktails as they took in the view, four men in suits who seemed to be discussing a business deal, a middle-aged foreign couple holding martini glasses. She took her time drinking the gin and tonic. She didnt want the alcohol to take effect too quickly. The night ahead was long.
She pulled a book from her shoulder bag and started reading. It was a history of the South Manchurian Railway Company of the 1930s. The line and right-of-way had been ceded to Japan by Russia after the Russo-Japanese War of 19041905, after which the company had rapidly expanded its operations, becoming fundamental in Japans invasion of China. It was broken up by the Soviet army in 1945. Until the outbreak of the Russo-German War in 1941, one could travel between Shimonoseki and Paris in thirteen days via this line and the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Aomame figured that a young woman drinking alone in a hotel bar could not be mistaken for a high-class hooker on the prowl if she was wearing a business suit, had a big shoulder bag parked next to her, and sat there absorbed in a book about the South Manchurian Railway (a hardcover, no less). In fact, Aomame had no idea what kind of outfit a real high-class hooker would wear. If she herself were a prostitute looking for wealthy businessmen, she would probably try her best not to look like a prostitute so as to avoid either making potential clients nervous or having herself ejected from the bar. One way to accomplish that might be to wear a Junko Shimada business suit and white blouse, keep her makeup to a minimum, carry a big, practical shoulder bag, and have a book on the South Manchurian Railway open in front of her. Come to think of it, what she was doing now was not substantially different from a prostitute on the prowl.
As the time passed, the place gradually filled up. Before she knew it, Aomame was surrounded by the buzz of conversation. But none of the customers had what she was looking for. She drank another gin and tonic, ordered some crudits (she hadnt eaten dinner yet), and continued reading. Eventually a man came and sat a few seats away from her at the bar. He was alone. Nicely tanned, he wore an expensively tailored blue-gray suit. His taste in neckties was not bad, eitherneither flashy nor plain. He must have been around fifty, and his hair was more than a little thin. He wore no glasses. She guessed he was in Tokyo on business and, having finished the days work, wanted a drink before going to bed. Like Aomame herself. The idea was to calm the nerves by introducing a moderate amount of alcohol into the body.
Few men in Tokyo on business stayed in this kind of expensive hotel. Most chose a cheap business hotel, one near a train station, where the bed nearly filled the room, the only view from the window was the wall of the next building, and you couldnt take a shower without bumping your elbows twenty times. The corridor of each floor had vending machines for drinks and toiletries. Either the company wouldnt pay for anything better, or the men were pocketing the travel money left over from staying in such a cheap place. They would drink a beer from the local liquor store before going to bed, and wolf down a bowl of rice and beef for breakfast at the eatery next door.
A different class of people stayed at this hotel. When these men came to Tokyo on business, they never took anything but the bullet trains luxury green cars, and they stayed only in certain elite hotels. Finishing a job, they would relax in the hotel bar and drink expensive whiskey. Most held management positions in first-rank corporations, or else they were independent businessmen or professionals such as doctors or lawyers. They had reached middle age, and money was no problem for them. They also knew more or less how to have a good time. This was the type that Aomame had in mind.
Aomame herself did not know why, but ever since the time she was twenty, she had been attracted to men with thinning hair. They should not be completely bald but have something left on top. And thin hair was not all it took to please her. They had to have well-shaped heads. Her ideal type was Sean Connery. His beautifully shaped head was sexy. Looking at him was all it took to set her heart racing. The man now sitting at the bar two seats away from her had a very well-shaped headnot as perfect as Sean Connerys, of course, but attractive in its own way. His hairline had receded from the forehead and his sparse remaining hair recalled a frosty meadow in late autumn. Aomame raised her eyes a little from the pages of her book and admired his head shape for a while. His facial features were nothing special. Though not fat, his jowls were just beginning to sag, and he had a hint of bags under his eyes. He was the kind of middle-aged man you see everywhere. But that head shape of his she found very much to her liking.
When the bartender brought him a menu and a warm towel, the man ordered a Scotch highball without looking at the menu. Do you prefer a certain brand? the bartender asked. Not really, the man said. Anything will be fine. He had a calm, quiet voice and spoke with a soft Kansai accent. Then, as if it had just occurred to him, he asked if they had Cutty Sark. The bartender said they did. Not bad, thought Aomame. She liked the fact that he had not chosen Chivas Regal or some sophisticated single malt. It was her personal view that people who are overly choosy about the drinks they order in a bar tend to be sexually bland. She had no idea why this should be so.
Aomame also had a taste for Kansai accents. She especially enjoyed the mismatch between vocabulary and intonation when people born and raised in Kansai came up to Tokyo and tried to use Tokyo words with Kansai pronunciation. She found that special sound to be strangely calming. So now she made up her mind: she would go for this man. She was dying to run her fingers through the few strands of hair he had left. So when the bartender brought him his Cutty Sark highball, she said to the bartender loudly enough so the man was sure to hear her, Cutty Sark on the rocks, please. Yes, maam, right away, the bartender replied, his face a blank.
The man undid the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie, which was a dark blue with a fine-grained pattern. His suit was also dark blue. He wore a pale blue shirt with a standard collar. She went on reading her book as she waited for her Cutty Sark to come. Discreetly, she undid the top button of her blouse. The jazz duo played Its Only a Paper Moon. The pianist sang a single chorus. Her drink arrived, and she took a sip. She sensed the man glancing in her direction. She raised her head and looked at him. Casually, as if by chance. When their eyes met, she gave him a faint, almost nonexistent smile, and then immediately faced forward again, pretending to look at the nighttime view.
It was the perfect moment for a man to approach a woman, and she had created it. But this man said nothing. What the hell is he waiting for? she wondered. Hes no kid. He should pick up on these subtle hints. Maybe he hasnt got the guts. Maybe hes worried about the age difference. Maybe he thinks Ill ignore him or put him down: bald old coot of fifty has some nerve approaching a woman in her twenties! Damn, he just doesnt get it.
She closed her book and returned it to her bag. Now she took the initiative.
You like Cutty Sark?
He looked shocked, as if he could not grasp the meaning of her question. Then he relaxed his expression. Oh, yes, Cutty Sark, he said, as if it suddenly came back to him. Ive always liked the label, the sailboat.
So you like boats.
Sailboats especially.
Aomame raised her glass. The man raised his highball glass slightly. It was almost a toast.
Aomame slung her bag on her shoulder and, whiskey glass in hand, slipped over two seats to the stool next to his. He seemed a little surprised but struggled not to show it.
I was supposed to meet an old high school girlfriend of mine here, but it looks like Ive been stood up, Aomame said, glancing at her watch. Shes not even calling.
Maybe she got the date wrong.
Maybe. Shes always been kind of scatterbrained, Aomame said. I guess Ill wait a little longer. Mind keeping me company? Or would you rather be alone?
No, not at all, the man said, though he sounded somewhat uncertain. He knit his brows and looked at her carefully, as if assessing an object to be used as collateral. He seemed to suspect her of being a prostitute. But Aomame was clearly not a prostitute. He relaxed and let his guard down a little.
Are you staying in this hotel? he asked.
No, I live in Tokyo, she said, shaking her head. Im just here to meet my friend. And you?
In town on business, he said. From Osaka. For a meeting. A stupid meeting, but the company headquarters are in Osaka, so somebody had to come.
Aomame gave him a perfunctory smile. I dont give a shit about your business, mister, she thought, I just happen to like the shape of your head.
I needed a drink after work. Ive got one more job to finish up tomorrow morning, and then I head back to Osaka.
I just finished a big job myself, Aomame said.
Oh, really? What kind of work do you do?
I dont like to talk about my work. Its a kind of specialized profession.
Specialized profession, the man responded, repeating her words. A profession requiring specialized techniques and training.
What are you, some kind of walking dictionary? Silently, she challenged him, but she just kept on smiling and said, Hmm, I wonder
He took another sip of his highball and a handful of nuts from the bowl. Im curious what kind of work you do, but you dont want to talk about it.
She nodded. Not yet, at least.
Does it involve words, by any chance? Say, you might be an editor or a university researcher?
What makes you think that?
He straightened the knot of his necktie and redid the top button of his shirt. I dont know, you seemed pretty absorbed in that big book of yours.
Aomame tapped her fingernail against the edge of her glass. No, I just like to read. Without any connection to work.
I give up, then. I cant imagine.
No, Im sure you cant, she said, silently adding, Ever.
He gave her a casual once-over. Pretending to have dropped something, she bent over and gave him a good, long look at her cleavage and perhaps a peek at her white bra with lace trim. Then she straightened up and took another sip of her Cutty Sark on the rocks. The large, rounded chunks of ice clinked against the sides of her glass.
How about another drink? he asked. Ill order one too.
Please, Aomame replied.
You can hold your liquor.
Aomame gave him a vague smile but quickly turned serious. Oh, yes, I wanted to ask you something.
What would that be?
Have policemens uniforms changed lately? And the type of guns they carry?
What do you mean by lately?
In the past week, she said.
He gave her an odd look. Police uniforms and guns both underwent a change, but that was some years back. The jackets went from a stiff, formal style to something more casual, almost like a windbreaker. And they started carrying those new-model automatic pistols. I dont think there have been any changes since then.
Japanese policemen always carried old-fashioned revolvers, Im sure. Right up to last week.
The man shook his head. Now there, youre wrong. They all started carrying automatics quite some time ago.
Can you say that with absolute certainty?
Her tone gave him pause. He wrinkled his brow and searched his memory. Well, if you put it that way, I cant be one hundred percent sure, but I know I saw something in the papers about the switch to new pistols. It caused quite a stir. The usual citizens groups were complaining to the government that the pistols were too high-powered.
And this was a while ago? Aomame asked.
The man called over the middle-aged bartender and asked him when the police changed their uniforms and pistols.
In the spring two years ago, the bartender replied, without hesitation.
See? the man said with a laugh. Bartenders in first-class hotels know everything!
The bartender laughed as well. No, not really, he said. It just so happens my younger brother is a cop, so I clearly remember that stuff. My brother couldnt stand the new uniforms and was always complaining about them. And he thought the new pistols were too heavy. Hes still complaining about those. Theyre 9mm Beretta automatics. One click and you can switch them to semiautomatic. Im pretty sure Mitsubishis making them domestically under license now. We almost never have any out-and-out gun battles in Japan; theres just no need for such a high-powered gun. If anything, the cops have to worry now about having their guns stolen from them. But it was government policy back then to upgrade the force.
What happened to the old revolvers? Aomame asked, keeping her voice as calm as she could.
Im pretty sure they were all recalled and dismantled, the bartender said. I remember seeing it on television. It was a huge job dismantling that many pistols and scrapping all that ammunition.
They should have just sold everything abroad, said the thinning-haired company man.
The constitution forbids the export of weapons, the bartender pointed out modestly.
See? Bartenders in first-class hotels
Aomame cut the man off and asked, Youre telling me that Japanese police havent used revolvers at all for two years now?
As far as I know.
Aomame frowned slightly. Am I going crazy? I just saw a policeman wearing the old-style uniform and carrying an old revolver this morning. Im sure I never heard a thing about them getting rid of every single revolver, but I also cant believe that these two middle-aged men are wrong or lying to me. Which means I must be mistaken.
Thanks very much. Ive heard all I need to about that, she said to the bartender, who gave her a professional smile like a well-timed punctuation mark and went back to work.
Do you have some special interest in policemen? the middle-aged man asked her.
No, not really, Aomame answered, adding vaguely, Its just that my memory has gotten a little foggy
They drank their new Cutty Sarksthe man his highball and Aomame hers on the rocks. The man talked about sailboats. He moored his small sailboat in the Nishinomiya yacht harbor, he said. He took it out to the ocean on holidays and weekends. He spoke passionately of how wonderful it was to feel the wind as you sailed alone on the sea. Aomame didnt want to hear about any damned sailboats. Better for him to talk about the history of ball bearings or the distribution of mineral resources in Ukraine. She glanced at her watch and said, Look, its getting late. Can I just ask you something straight out?
Sure, he replied.
Its, uh, rather personal.
Ill answer if I can.
Do you have a decent-sized cock? Is it on the big side?
The mans lips parted and his eyes narrowed as he looked at her for a while. He could not quite believe he had heard her correctly. But her face was utterly serious. She was not joking. Her eyes made that clear.
Let me see, he said, speaking earnestly. Im not really sure. I guess its pretty much normal size. I dont know what to say when you spring it on me like that.
How old are you? Aomame asked.
I just turned fifty-one last month, but , he said.
Youve been living more than fifty years with a normal brain, you have a decent job, you even own your own sailboat, and still you cant tell whether your cock is bigger or smaller than normal?
Well, I suppose it could be a little bigger, he said with a degree of difficulty after giving it some thought.
Youre sure, now?
Why are you so concerned?
Concerned? Who says Im concerned?
Well, no one, but , he said, recoiling slightly atop his bar stool. That seems to be the problem were discussing at the moment.
Problem? Its no problem. No problem at all, Aomame declared. I just happen to like big cocks. Visually speaking. Im not saying I need a big one to feel anything, no no. Or that Im okay with anything as long as its big. All Im saying is I tend to like em on the big side. Is there something wrong with that? People have their likes and dislikes. But ridiculously big ones are no good. They just hurt. Do you see what I mean?
Well, then, I might be able to please you with mine. Its somewhat bigger than standard, I think, but its not ridiculously big, either. Itsshall I say?just right
Youre not lying to me, now?
What would be the point of lying about something like that?
Well, all right, then, maybe you should give me a peek.
Aomame frowned while struggling to control herself. Here?! Are you crazy? What are you thinking, at your age? Youre wearing a good suit and even a tie, but wheres your social common sense? You cant just whip out your cock in a place like this. Imagine what the people around you would think! No, we go to your room now, and I let you take your pants off and show me. Just the two of us. That much should be obvious to you.
So I show you, and then what happens? he asked worriedly.
What happens after you show it to me? Aomame asked, catching her breath and producing a major uncontrolled frown. We have sex, obviously. What else? I mean, we go to your room, you show me your cock, and I say, Thank you very much for showing me such a nice one. Good night, and I go home? You must have a screw loose somewhere.
The man gasped to see Aomames face undergoing such dramatic changes before his eyes. A frown from Aomame could make any man shrivel up. Little children might pee in their pants, the impact of her frown was so powerful. Maybe I overdid it, she thought. I really shouldnt frighten him so badly. At least not until Ive taken care of business. She quickly returned her face to its normal state and forced a smile. Then, as if spelling it out for him, she said, Heres what happens. We go to your room. We get in bed. We have sex. Youre not gay or impotent, are you?
No, I dont believe so. I have two children
Look, nobodys asking you how many kids youve got. Do I look like a census taker? Keep the details to yourself. All Im asking is whether you can get it up when youre in bed with a woman. Nothing else.
As far back as I can remember, Ive never failed to perform when necessary, he said. But tell meare you a professional? Is this your job?
No, it is not my job, so you can stop that right now. I am not a professional, or a pervert, just an ordinary citizen. An ordinary citizen who wants nothing more than to have intercourse with a member of the opposite sex. Theres nothing special about me. Im totally normal. What could be wrong with that? Ive just finished a tough job, the sun is down, Ive had a little to drink, and Id like to let off steam by having sex with a stranger. To calm my nerves. Thats what I need. Youre a man, you know how I feel.
Of course I do, but
Im not looking for any money. Id almost pay you if you can satisfy me. And Ive got condoms with me, so you dont have to worry. Am I making myself clear?
You certainly are, but
But what? You dont seem all that eager. Am I not good enough for you?
Thats not it at all. I just dont get it. Youre young and pretty, and Im old enough to be your father
Oh, stop it, will you please? Sure youre a lot older than me, but Im not your damn daughter, and youre not my damn father. That much is obvious. It sets my nerves on edge to be subjected to such meaningless generalizations. I just like your bald head. I like the way its shaped. Do you see?
Well, I wouldnt exactly call myself bald. I know my hairline is a little
Shut up, will you? Aomame said, trying her best not to frown. I shouldnt scare him too much, she thought, softening her tone somewhat. Thats really not important.
Look, mister, I dont care what you think, you are bald. If the census had a bald category, youd be in it, no problem. If you go to heaven, youre going to bald heaven. If you go to hell, youre going to bald hell. Have you got that straight? Then stop looking away from the truth. Lets go now. Im taking you straight to bald heaven, nonstop.
The man paid the bill and they went to his room.
His penis was in fact somewhat larger than normal, though not too large, as advertised. Aomames expert handling soon made it big and hard. She took off her blouse and skirt.
I know youre thinking my breasts are small, she said coldly as she looked down at him in her underwear. You came through with a good-sized cock and all you get in return is these puny things. I bet you feel cheated.
Not at all, he reassured her. Theyre not that small. And theyre really quite beautiful.
I wonder, she said. Let me just say this, though. I never wear these frilly lace bras. I had to put this one on today for work, to show off a little cleavage.
What is this work of yours?
Look, I told you before. I dont want to discuss my job here. I can say this much, though: its not that easy being a woman.
Well, its not that easy being a man, either.
Maybe not, but you never have to put on a lacy bra when you dont want to.
So dont pretend to know what youre talking about. Women have it much tougher than men. Have you ever had to climb down a steep stairway in high heels, or climb over a barricade in a miniskirt?
I owe you an apology, the man said simply.
She reached back, unhooked her bra, and threw it on the floor. Then she rolled down her stockings and threw those on the floor as well. Lying down beside him, she started working on his penis again. Pretty impressive, she said. Nice shape, just about ideal size, and firm as a tree trunk.
Im glad it meets with your approval, he said with apparent relief.
Now just let big sister do her thing. Shell make this little man of yours twitch with happiness.
Maybe we should shower first. Im pretty sweaty
Oh, shut up, Aomame said, giving his right testicle a light snap, as if issuing a warning. I came here to have sex, not take a shower. Got it? We do it first. Fuck like crazy. To hell with a little sweat. Im not a blushing schoolgirl.
All right, the man said.
When they were finished and she was caressing the back of the mans exposed neck as he lay facedown, exhausted, Aomame felt a strong urge to plunge her sharp needle into that special place. Maybe I should really do it, the thought flashed through her mind. The ice pick was in her bag, wrapped in cloth. The needle that she had spent so much time sharpening was covered by a specially softened cork. It would have been so easy, just a quick shove of her right palm against the wooden handle. Hed be dead before he knew what hit him. No pain. It would be ruled a natural death. But of course she stopped herself. There was no reason to expunge this man from society, aside from the fact that he no longer served any purpose for Aomame. She shook her head and swept the dangerous thought from her mind.
This man is not an especially bad person, she told herself. He was pretty good in bed, too. He had enough control not to ejaculate until he had made her come. The shape of his head and the degree of his baldness were just the way she liked them. The size of his penis was exactly right. He was courteous, had good taste in clothes, and was in no way overbearing. True, he was tremendously boring, which really got on her nerves, but that was not a crime deserving death. Probably.
Mind if I turn on the television? she asked.
Fine, he said, still on his stomach.
Naked in bed, she watched the eleven oclock news to the end. In the Middle East, Iran and Iraq were still embroiled in their bloody war. It was a quagmire, with no sign of a settlement. In Iraq, young draft dodgers had been strung up on telephone poles as an example to others. The Iranian government was accusing Saddam Hussein of having used nerve gas and biological weapons. In America, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart were battling to become the Democratic candidate for president. Neither looked like the brightest person in the world. Smart presidents usually became the target of assassins, so people with higher-than-average intelligence probably did their best to avoid being elected.
On the moon, the construction of a permanent observation post was making progress. The United States and the Soviet Union were cooperating on this project, for a change, as they had done with the Antarctic observation post. An observation post on the moon? Aomame cocked her head. I havent heard anything about that. What is wrong with me? But she decided not to think too deeply about it. There were more pressing problems to consider. A large number of people had died in a mine fire in Kyushu, and the government was looking into the cause. What most surprised Aomame was the fact that people continued to dig coal out of the earth in an age when bases were being built on the moon. America was pushing Japan to open its financial markets. Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch were lighting fires under the government in search of new sources of profit. Next there was a feature that introduced a clever cat from Shimane Prefecture that could open a window and let itself out. Once out, it would close the window. The owner had trained the cat to do this. Aomame watched with admiration as the slim black cat turned around, stretched a paw out, and, with a knowing look in its eye, slid the window closed.
There was a great variety of news stories, but no report on the discovery of a body in a Shibuya hotel. After the news, Aomame turned the TV off with the remote control. The room was hushed, the only sound the soft, rhythmic breathing of the man sleeping beside her.
That other man, the one in the hotel room, is probably still slumped over his desk, looking sound asleep, like this one. Without the breathing. That rat can never wake and rise again. Aomame stared at the ceiling, imagining the look of the corpse. She gave her head a slight shake and indulged in a lonely frown. Then she slipped out of bed and gathered her clothing from the floor, piece by piece.