Join the CRA
Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.
When Mordent first arrived in Tokyo he left Kovacs in his hotel room and grabbed a taxi to Mr D’s Diner.
It was dark but the city was filled with light. Neon signs reflected off glass buildings; kaleidoscopic mirrors. Advertisements beckoned customers from multiple angles, rain-lit tarmac beamed back car headlights. Every pedestrian held a glowing palm from a smartphone, and in the combined glare even their eyes were endowed with Godzilla’s ocular laser sight.
Mordent was struck by the multitudes. People oozed out of subways, department stores and offices; were absorbed into subways, cars and taxis. Sharp-suited businessmen cut corners in the corners of his eyes, smart-dressed women flashed around his peripheries; everywhere Mordent looked there was movement…movement…movement. It was real life at 24 frames a second shot through a neon-noir filter and pushed into his head at a hundred miles an hour.
Notwithstanding the foreignness, he almost felt at home.
Yet despite the skewed familiarity he craved a haven. Before leaving New York he had searched the internet to find a refuge. Mr D’s Diner fit the bill. Their website featured an old time American jukebox with the navigational buttons animating records and leading to menus, photos, archive material and pretty girls. Mordent was a creature of habit when it came to food. During the flight Kovacs had enthused about sushi, speaking as if Mordent hadn’t known it was more than fish. They had a fractured relationship; their roles had sidestepped within the police food chain: from Mordent being Kovacs’ boss, Kovacs had leapfrogged and became Mordent’s boss. Mordent didn’t mind. Kovacs could have the job. But Kovacs was young and fresh and just on the cocky side of confident and felt he had to display all his knowledge immediately, just like Tokyo city itself.
“Sushi means sour tasting,” said Kovacs, not long after they had left New York. “It was originally created through the fermentation process of rice and fish, but eventually this long procedure was discarded in favour of vinegarisation. It shortened the process considerably and made it one of the world’s first fast foods.”
“Is vinegarisation even a word?” Mordent said, sourly. “I prefer my junk food to be a slab of beef between two slices of bread. Very simple. Very fast.” He buried his head in the in-flight magazine between a double centrespread Wonderbra advert.
Mr D’s Diner was as American as its website suggested except for one important difference. All the staff were Japanese. Mordent paid the taxi driver and stared. The US flag bent a rainbow over the entrance, and a cute Japanese girl in a red and white starred waistcoat and blue and white striped mini-skirt beckoned him inside.
Inside it appeared the interior designer’s only reference point had been movies featuring American diners. The walls were bedecked with black and white photographs of golden age celebrities; some so old that Mordent couldn’t put a name to them. Flags jutted out from the walls every five paces in a wedding sabre arch flanked by long chrome tables that resembled ironing boards, channelling customers along the central walkway that led to the waitresses and their ever present teeth-whitened smiles.
Mordent walked obediently towards the hostesses, glancing from side to side at the all-Japanese clientele holding burgers in both hands, fries piled neatly to the side, salad left untouched – more decoration than foodstuff. Yet the smell of the food teased his stomach, as though the Ghosts of Burgers Past had infiltrated his nostrils and made their way towards his intestines, an olfactory reminder of how food should really taste.
“Howdy,” said the hostess. She was no more than nineteen, had braces on her teeth, and a strangely shaped face that resembled playdough left in the sun. Mordent checked out his brain with the greeting and decided to satisfy himself purely from the food and the ambience. If he closed his eyes he might believe he were still in New York. No, if he closed his eyes and ears that might be the case. The Japanese language accompanied his experience as steadily as the boxset of American classic 50s hits from the jukebox.
Mordent sighed as he viewed his All American Burger. He reminded himself why he was here. Why Kovacs was here. He sank into reverie as his teeth sank into the burger, satisfying his stomach if not his curiosity.
It had begun with Ruby Mercado.
They had hauled her into the precinct with a few thousand dollars worth of cocaine strapped in a package near the top of her right thigh. Mordent led the way in the search, almost finding more than she bargained for, before Kovacs burst into the interview room like a dog through a paper hoop and halted the investigation until the proper procedures could be adopted. Kovacs was a stickler for procedure, and Mordent’s right fist was a stickler for Kovacs. But Mordent held back and handed the Mercado girl over for interview. It was only later, once Kovacs had gone home, that Mordent blagged his way into her holding cell for something resembling a private chat.
Ruby was all lips and hair. A Latino with pasty skin, she looked like she needed to be left out longer in the sun. Mordent would have pigeonholed her as a retro 70s hooker if it weren’t for the sharp wit behind her coal black eyes. They had tangled before: both professionally and unprofessionally. One of the reasons why Mordent wanted to tackle her before Kovacs.
“Don’t worry none, honey,” she said, the drawl as put-on as her lipstick, “I didn’t haul you into any of this.”
“You couldn’t anyway, no matter how hard you tried,” growled Mordent. “You know I have nothing to do with it.”
Ruby crossed her legs, displaying an expanse of cigarette-burned thigh.
“Where’d you get that stuff?”
She rolled her eyes. “As if I’m gonna tell you.”
“What did you tell Kovacs?”
“But he didn’t have the heat on you like I do. You might as well blow this sky high. We’ll get it eventually.”
Ruby puckered her lips like a kissing fish. “Do I get anything first?”
“You can get out of the act, for starters. Your accent don’t fool me none.” Mordent stood and slapped her once, across the side of her face. It was a gentle slap, a puppy slap, but a slap all the same.
“Cut it. I can guess the ruse. The cocaine is passed through a complicated system of fake pimps, whores and johns. From A to B. Now, I know you’re not A and you’re definitely not B, so perhaps we can start by learning the alphabet and then move onto the numbers.”
Ruby smiled. Her accent fell away with her guard. “If you know everything, why’d you come and see me? That Kovacs don’t know shit.”
“It’s because Kovacs don’t know shit that I’m here. I want a bigger piece of this kill than he’s going to be able to strain out of you. Kovacs piggybacked his way to the top and I want to make sure he squeals as part of the process. It’s time for the lunatic to take back the asylum.”
Ruby nodded. “The stuff is cut. It’s not pure. Its dirty snow, you got that? Dirty snow.”
Mordent stretched and looked out of the window at the Bunkyo Civic Center. From there he could see the entirety of Shinjuku, the buildings standing like students in a classroom photograph, the shorter buildings at the front and the taller ones at the back. Behind them Mount Fuji dominated the skyline with a reminder that Earth could throw up greater structures than all the architects of the world combined.
Kovacs came to stand by his shoulder. “The Bunkyo Civic Center has been described as a colossal Pez candy dispenser. That’s not Westerners being rude, that’s the opinion of the Japan Times.”
Mordent pretended not to listen. The snow on the top of Mount Fuji was whiter than white. It was a clear day and not even a single cloud sullied the skyline.
“Remind me why we’re here,” said Mordent; although he knew the drill.
Mercado’s cocaine had revealed a chain that created a chain reaction that had chained Mordent to Kovacs as the investigating team. Rather than supplanting Kovacs, Mordent found himself bound to him. When those above contemplated sending a local team overseas so as not to appear heavy-handed with their corresponding foreign authorities the names of Kovacs and Mordent were top of the list. In that order.
“They’ve chosen to meet us at this municipal office building because they don’t want to make our appearance here too public…” Kovacs began.
But Mordent didn’t require a literal explanation for the precise reason to their existence. He knew Kovacs was quieter when he was talking. When his brain was occupied Mordent could do the real police work, although he would have preferred to have done so from the sanctity of his favourite New York hang-out – Morgan’s Bar, with Bukowski’s café joint just around the corner – rather than from the gleaming city of Tokyo.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t help but disturb Kovacs’ rumblings with the pop pop pop of something in his pocket.
Kovacs glanced at him furiously. “What are you doing?”
Mordent pulled out the keychain toy, laid it flat in his palm. “I came across this the other night. When you were catching the zzz’s after the flight and I had my burger fix over at Mr D’s Diner. It’s a mugen puchipuchi, a virtual bubblewrap toy. It literally means infinite bubblewrap. It’s not as good as the real thing, but each of the eight ‘bubbles’ on this toy make a popping sound when depressed. You pop 100 times and it farts.” He laughed.
Kovacs nodded at the door which had swung open. “Put that away.”
Mordent pocketed the toy. Kovacs had no idea how amused he had been to find it. But then Kovacs had no idea of his fetish.
“You like it this way?”
Mordent looked up from his position on the floor. The girl standing over him was naked from the waist down. Her top half was semi-see-through; her breasts distorted viewed through the overlapping layers of bubble. She squeezed her forearms against her chest and one of the skeins burst as she giggled. Mordent felt himself harden, and as she squatted over him more of the bubbles burst and he almost came there and then.
The girl bit her lower lip, then sat.
Mordent worked his way through Mercado’s contacts before Kovacs had the chance to follow procedure. He moved from pimp to whore to john: back and forth, always in that order. The network was immense and complicated. The pimp scored the cocaine and cut it. The whore needed the rush for the job. She carried it to the john who got the whore as part of the sweetener. The whore got a bonus hit from the john as a thankyou. It was a neverending case of supply and demand, with all parties being satisfied. Mordent wouldn’t have been bothered with it if it weren’t for the innocents getting hurt at both ends of the line: those pulled into gang warfare at the start of the process and those wrecked families that lay at the end of it. He didn’t often have a moral sense of duty, but he knew the snow was dirty before Mercado expressed her opinion. It was always dirty, right along the line.
Mr Yakamoto bowed and also shook their hands, then beckoned them to sit at the long oak table that dominated the room. Mordent noticed that Kovacs sat with his back to the view. He assumed from plain ignorance.
“I have your information,” Mr Yakamoto smiled. “We are investigating the likelihood that the cocaine is being distributed here, in Tokyo, by the same process as it is in New York. That is, from the himo to the baishunfu to the okyakusan. This is not a new problem, of course; these types of people are always part of the connections which form a drugs ring. But from our discussions we understand that the relationship is more complex than that. Similar, perhaps,” he allowed himself another smile, “to the predator, victim, parasite relationship that can exist in the animal world. There is an expression in the West, is there not, that there is nothing new under the sun?”
Mordent nodded. But he preferred the relationships that operated under the dusky, night-drenched glow of the moon.
They left the Bunkyo Civic Center only a little wiser than when they had entered. Mr Yakamoto had advised all investigations were in hand, that the two departments – foreign to each other – would communicate through the usual channels. Kovacs had nodded in an officious, accepting manner. Mordent had also nodded, but the mugen puchipuchi popped multiple times in his pocket as they descended the elevator. Halfway down, it farted.
Kovacs grimaced. Mordent smiled, pulled it from his pocket.
“Hey Kovacs,” he said, “you know that in the 1850s, when cocaine was first discovered by the Western world, that it was considered to be useful medicinally for whitening of the teeth, and as treatment of a furred tongue and flatulence?”
Kovacs shook his head. “Let’s get back to the hotel room. Our work here is done.”
“Our work hasn’t even started,” said Mordent. As well as the mugen puchipuchi in his pocket he had a list of names. “Why don’t we go and get some sushi?”
Kovacs eyes lit the way an educated man might raise his eyebrows at hearing a beggar speak Latin. “Well, we have to eat,” he said.
Mordent smiled. “I know just the place.”
The bubblewrap simulator had been a lucky by-product of Mordent’s investigation. Mercado had supplied a handful of names for contacts in Japan. It seemed that the semi-prostitutes masquerading as drug runners masquerading as prostitutes had developed their own network for staying safe. They had a Facebook group. And whilst all of them used false names and locations, Mercado was chatty enough to have made a few friends. “I like to expand my mind,” she said, as Mordent fixed her a snow bomb by wrapping cocaine in rolling paper and allowing her to swallow it in her holding cell. Everyone had to have a payoff. That was how Mordent got information and Kovacs got paperwork.
“She say you like this.” The Japanese girl had smiled as she handed over the mugen puchipuchi.
Mordent slid a hand between her legs. “Why are you doing this?”
“Some of us want to break this gang. We work from the inside out.”
“You work for a rival gang?”
“Sometimes it pays to have insurance,” she said. “The penalty for exposure is harsh. But whilst it lasts, the life is good.”
Mordent couldn’t argue with her morals; but Mercado was right, the girl would agree to help and as she stimulated him with her technique she pulled a thin plastic tube containing a list of clients from her anus and inserted it in his; as her himo kept an ear to the door.
“This is the best sushi bar in Tokyo,” said Mordent, as they entered Sushi Saito. “And over there,” he pointed to the imposing building opposite, “is the U.S. Embassy. We have them to thank for our booking.”
Kovacs mouth hung open. The bar was tiny and unassuming. There were only seven seats in the establishment. His eyes roved around the menu. “Dinner courses start at fifteen thousand yen.”
“So they might, but we’re here for lunch. That’s around Y6000, or $65.” He grinned. “Expenses.”
Kovacs nearly swore under his breath. “We can’t claim for this.”
“We already have.” Mordent gestured to the staff. “We have a booking. These normally have to be made months in advance. But I pulled a string.”
They sat at a table. Mordent watched as Kovacs accepted the situation, the beauty, delicacy and taste of the food on offer. He allowed Kovacs to dig in, whilst he fantasised over the All American Burger at Mr D’s Diner and one of the waitresses who he had persuaded to give him her cell phone number.
As they ate, the temperature outside the bar dropped, the sky grew cloudy, and fat flakes hit the window and slid down the pane picking up dirt on the way, so that by the time they reached the bottom of the glass they were almost black; like cotton wool used to remove nail varnish. Mordent picked at a sashimi but it wasn’t to his taste. He passed it over to Kovacs. Watched him eat.
“This is incredible. The best I’ve ever tasted.”
Mordent nodded. The food was sour, but the bar was the sweetener.
“That meeting with Mr Yakamoto was a joke,” he said.
Kovacs looked up. “He’s a senior officer with the National Police Agency. He knows what he’s doing. In retrospect, we needn’t be here. But that wasn’t for us to discover.”
“He knows nothing,” said Mordent. “And he had the face that sank a thousand ships. I got more information in one evening than he would have got all year.”
Kovacs wasn’t listening. His tastebuds had overtaken his other senses. He was in sensory paradise. Mordent let him have his moment.
There were four other occupied seats in the bar. Each contained a Japanese male of portly appearance. Gold rings adorned their fingers. The remaining seat, the one closest to Mordent and Kovacs, was unoccupied.
Then the door opened and the American Mordent had watched leave the Embassy shook a light covering of snow off the shoulders of his jacket and took the remaining seat beside them.
Mordent held out his hand. “Mr Jamieson,” he said. “Mordent.”
Kovacs looked up, surprised.
“And your partner, Mr Kovacs, I assume,” said Jamieson.
Kovacs opened his mouth to speak, realised it was full of sashimi, and closed it.
“Mission accomplished,” said Mordent. He pulled the thin plastic tube out of his pocket, was about to pull the rolled slip of paper from the inside, then thought better of it and passed it to Kovacs. “Blow this out.”
Kovacs looked puzzled, but the surrealism of the situation had surpassed his usual demeanour. He placed the tube in his mouth and blew hard. The piece of paper shot into Jamieson’s hands.
“Everyone involved is on that list,” said Mordent. Jamieson unrolled the paper and ran his eyes over the names. He raised his right hand, slowly; within seconds the four Japanese businessmen had left the sushi bar, each accompanied by their personal law enforcement officer.
“We’ll pick up the others immediately,” Jamieson said. “Good work.”
Kovacs blinked, rapidly.
Jamieson stood. “Finish your meal. You’ve earned it.”
Mordent watched him leave.
“What was that all about?” Kovacs hadn’t got his head around proper police work.
“Nothing,” said Mordent. “Finish your sushi.”
Kovacs took a bite. Licked his lips. “I think it’s off.”
The snow had turned to slush by the time Mordent arrived at Mr D’s Diner. He nodded to the girl at the entrance, shivering in her mini-skirt. She had added thick white woollen tights to her ensemble, but would need a hug if she were going to get warm. Mordent ducked into the heated establishment and made his way down the tables to find the seat he had occupied the previous evening was empty. He was ushered towards it, hurriedly; the howdy having barely left the hostess’ lips.
“With the compliments of Mr Daigoku,” she said. She placed a cool jug of Sapporo Fuyu Monogatari on the table. “Would you like to order?”
Mordent checked himself out a large double cheeseburger with bacon and a hefty portion of fries. He thought of Kovacs alone in his hotel room, trying to understand how they’d manage to crack the case without moving a finger. Then Mordent raised his glass and muttered a word of thanks to Ruby Mercado. It was 7pm in Tokyo and so 2am in New York. Her funeral would have taken place the previous afternoon. And according to his sources it had also been snowing in Brooklyn.
Find out more about author Andrew Hook here.
Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.