Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 095 - Cameron Ashley

SWEETFISH BATTLE - CAMERON ASHLEY

OUTSIDE OF PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA

Courier pulled off the highway and took a much needed piss on a couple of small, bulbous cacti that looked a bit like prickly, mismatched tits. He looked up at the clouds overhead, light and whipped like meringue peaks. Some of these looked like tits, too. He needed to get laid.

He scratched at his biker beard with his free hand, looked on up at the big white tits drifting away from him slowly. Story of his life.

His phone went off:

I don't share your greed...The only card I need...

'Ahhh, fuck...'

The Ace of Spades! The Ace of Spades!

Reaching into his pocket, he lost his balance just enough to splash piss on his left boot.

The Ace--

'Goddammit. Yeah?'

On the other end: a voice. High-pitched, Japanese-accented.

Saori.

He finished, holstered himself and zipped up. He walked back to his 1978 Triumph Bonneville. The bike was dusty and scarred by long miles. On the gas tank: an elaborately painted, old-school flash art skull, the word Courier on its forehead, roses winding through empty eye-sockets. Flowing script bordered the skull: when it absolutely, posi-fucking-tively has to be there now.

'Ah. Konnichi-wa yourself, Miss Shibata. I'm on my way. What? I had to stop for a piss. Uh-huh. I had to stop for a fuckin' piss. Yeah, well, you try ridin’ a fuckin’ bike when your bladder feels like a—'

Saori turned it up a notch and Courier pulled the phone from his ear.

'That's a mighty big English word there, Saori...those lessons been paying off. And I am not being insubordinate, I am just emptying my fucking--'

He fished in the breast pocket of his denim vest for his smokes. First one he shook loose was busted. He flicked it away, second was good to go. He fired it up with a Zippo adorned with a picture of his guitar hero, Randy Rhodes.

'Shit, Saori, I pick stuff up for you and I drop it off. It ain't brain surgery, sure, but sometimes shit just comes up that puts the schedule off some. Yes, I know about that. Yes, I know about that, too. Yeah? Well, maybe I wanna talk myself out of this job, you ever think of that? Huh? Well, maybe I wanna meet a nice girl and I'll never do that in this line of work and...Your sister? Which one? Oh. No. She's a little...no. No, she's not that bad. I was thinking more like...um...unusual. Yes, I did see her video. No, no, it takes a special kinda girl to do bukkake flicks, for real. I'm just not sure I...Yeah, I'm flattered though, you tell her that.'

He sucked the remaining goodness from his smoke, flicked it away and straddled the bike.

'Uh-huh, well. I'd better...yeah. It's cool. Yup. Uh. Thank. Uh. No. Thank you for your hard work. Mata, ne? Yeah, I learned it. Ok. Bye.'

Courier fired up his bike. He pulled back onto the highway and headed for town.

'Broads.'

SWISSOTEL NANKAI HOTEL, OSAKA, JAPAN

Saori Shibata shut off her phone and threw it into her designer handbag. She tapped her long fake nails on the restaurant table and gazed across at her younger sister, Ai. They both wore matching white suit jackets with miniskirts. Ai had somehow gotten stuff from the chocolate fondue fountain on her sleeve. Saori wanted to bitch about it, but let it go.

-Courier says he's running late.

She popped a piece of chocolate covered pineapple into her mouth.

-He also says he won't fuck you, Ai.

Ai pouted and picked at the chocolate spot, smearing it into a muddy blur.

-Oh. But I so like his big beard. Is it a racial thing?

-I think it's the pink films.

Ai made a sound like her Pomeranian just refused to wake up.

Saori found her sister's disappointment sweeter than the chocolate.

SHIKI JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE, PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA

There’s Kobe beef and Kobe-style beef. American producers may claim there’s little difference, but unless your cows are massaged with sake, brushed daily and fed special grains that they wash down with a beer, you ain’t eating Kobe beef.

Hiroyuki imported his meat from the slaughterhouse in Himeji that his family owned and operated. Pretty dumb-ass move for a guy on the lam, but Hiroyuki was nothing if not a traditionalist. Authentic Teppenyaki was paramount.

Courier sat at one of several communal tables, popped edamame in his mouth and drank Asahi -- Hyogo livestock’s beer of choice. Courier thought a sake-massage sounded pretty sweet, too, wondered where he could get one of those. He watched Hiroyuki at work -- frying up garlic chips on his huge hotplate and masterfully browning some remarkably marbled beef. The guy was an artist, no doubt, capable of so much more than cooking steaks for gawking tourists.

Hiroyuki bantered some with the customers and did a lot of bowing. Courier looked on, put away Asahi and enjoyed a good feed. Hiroyuki eyed him off, clearly aware something was up but Courier just smiled and titled his beer glass in the chef’s direction.

The crowd thinned out some close to closing and Courier decided it was time for a chat.

‘I saw you on Iron Chef.’

Hiroyuki scraped down his grill.

‘Sweetfish Battle. What was that about, huh? I gotta say, I’m pretty open-minded, food-wise, but some of that stuff looked pretty nasty to me. Chocolate-covered innards ain’t really my bag.’

‘It wasn’t really designed for the Western taste.’

‘You were big time in Japan, huh? What brings you out here?’

Hiroyuki stabbed a large, two-pronged meat fork into the table between Courier's hands.

Courier barely twitched.

‘You have Shibata stink all over you. You should tell me what you want.’

‘You gonna go all ninja on me, Hiroyuki? Might wanna rethink that. I’ve got a black belt in Badass.’

Hiroyuki looked about the restaurant. The last customers were through the door and missed the show. However, Mika, the night’s remaining waitress, caught it and stood frozen to the spot. Hiroyuki plucked his fork from the table and put his nice face back on for the girl.

-Mika-chan, everything is fine here. You can go home early. Everything is fine.

Mika didn’t so much as breathe.

-Mika-chan. You may go. Thank you for your hard work.

Mika went:

-Are you sure?

Courier put away another beer and pulled a cash-heavy money clip from his pocket.

‘Just a little dispute over the bill, sweetheart. You know how this shit is; it tastes so good you put it away and put it away and before you know it, you’ve blown like a week’s wages. Nothing for you to worry about. My bad.’

Mika made a confused face, then gave a little shrug.


*

Courier watched the spotted koi swim about the pond like little moving slices of rainbow. Fish always chilled him out. It was a nice night, lit warmly by lanterns that shifted softly with the breeze. Hiroyuki chain-smoked Peace cigarettes with shaking hands. Courier figured him for about as stressed as a man could get. An appropriate reaction, considering Courier had just slapped him around. Hiroyuki lit another up.

‘You work for them, don’t you?’

‘I do.’

‘They are very bad. Do you know this?’

‘I do.’

‘How did you find me?’

‘I don’t know the actual who-got-what-from-who of it. There’s another guy does that. I know it wasn’t very hard though, man. Your family supplies your fuckin’ meat.’

‘Another guy? So what do you do?’

‘I’m the guy who brings them things they want.’

‘Is the old man still alive?’

‘He’s clinging on, yeah.’

-Shit.

-He’s a tough old dog. You know this already.

-You speak Japanese?

-A little. Go slow and we’ll be cool. The sisters' English is not so good. I learned some to help out.

-The sisters. How I hate them.

-You shouldn’t have run away from them. They are very angry.

-I hate them. Ai and her horrible porn films. Saori is a mean, cold-hearted bitch. And Junko…

‘I never met Junko.’

‘She’s worst of all. Why do they want me back? Why couldn’t they just leave me alone?’

‘The old man is clinging on, like I said. But not for much longer. His dying wish is a week's worth of food cooked by you and spoon-fed to him by gravure idols.’

Hiroyuki ground out a smoke underfoot. Courier thought he actually looked moved for the briefest of moments before he flushed once again with hatred.

-Fuck him.

‘See, now this is why I’m here. They know no money or sweet-talking would get you hot-footing it to the airport.’

Hiroyuki lit a fresh Peace. Offered one to Courier, who took it. Hiroyuki lit him up.

-He’s nothing but a filthy criminal with an empire of smut, drugs and violence. His daughters are deranged bitches. I’ll never go back to that. They will not own me or my food again.

‘I caught, like, fifty percent of that, dude.’

‘Afterwards, once he is dead. Will I be allowed to return?’

‘Here?’

‘Hai.’

‘Not my call, Hiroyuki. I’m just a guy who fetches stuff.’

-What if I refuse?

Courier lifted up his Sabbath T-shirt. Exposed the Desert Eagle stuffed down the front of his jeans cushioned by his belly hair.

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, JAPAN

-Hello?

-Cleaner, this is Saori Shibata.

-Good evening to you, Saori.

-You may have heard that my father passed in the night.

-I did. My most sincere condolences to you and your sisters. He was a remarkable man.

-My sisters and I thank you, Cleaner.

-How can I be of assistance?

-Courier is flying in a particularly ungrateful package that we have no longer any need of.

-The Chef?

-You’ve heard? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. We would like you to do what it is that you do so very well.

Cleaner got the flight details and hung up. He rolled his sashimi knives delicately and neatly into a black cloth and walked to his car with them under his arm. Halfway there, he snapped his fingers and went back to the house.

He needed a pen and some paper.

There were some sweetfish recipes he wanted to write down.

BIO: Cameron Ashley currently lives and drinks in Brunswick, Melbourne. Just down the road from where someone got stabbed to death the other week. Great. You can find his work at Plots with Guns and The Flash Fiction Offensive. He owes Jimmy Callaway a beer.

9 comments:

Jimmy Callaway said...

PBR, please.

Oh, and of course, fine work.

Keith Rawson said...

Callaway--only you would request a Pabst. When you're being offered free brews, go high end.

Cameron--I love dialogue based stories, this was great.

Cameron Ashley said...

You gonna take that Jimmy? Wait...he's got a point, ya fuck!

Thanks heaps Keith, I'll buy you one too. Wait, most yank beers are crap, eh? maybe Jimmy has a point ;)

Keith Rawson said...

Not all American brews are shit. (Sam Adams has it's moments.) But I tend to enjoy the products of Ireland, so I'll be more than happy to take a Guinness or four off you.

Cameron Ashley said...

I have sampled Sam Adams & given it a big thumbs up. Sierra Nevada Pale ale is also pretty good. It's winter here, prime Guinness time, so youre on!

Jimmy Callaway said...

I like my beer like I like my women: cold, cheap, and hardly worth the effort.

Keith Rawson said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Now that's what I call a philosophy to live by

Paul Brazill said...

So, I saved this till I was sober enough to savour it. It's a fantastic story. (More? )Packs us much punch as a Czech beer or two (as David Zeltserman about that!)or Ziewiec porter...

Cameron Ashley said...

thank you paul. you rawson & callaway are some yardstick, y'know. comments from you boys are flattering, to say the least.