Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 138 - Cameron Ashley



Cleaner was thankful that Ai had chosen someplace at least visually low-key to fuck up in once again. Hotel Spring Kingdom wasn’t much to look at from the outside, just a several storey brown brick building with a bright pink neon sign glowing down its side. However, on the inside, it was a fuck-feast of differing kinks, fetishes and themes. Rooms with built-to-scale crucifixes, rooms made out like aquariums, jungles. Bondage rooms, princess rooms, classrooms, all with cosplay outfits a phone call away.

Love Hotels, for all their garishness, are built upon a façade of discretion. You don’t sign in. You don’t sign out. Human interaction is kept to minimum. Sometimes you speak to a slot in a wall; other times you choose a room from a screen display, push a corresponding button and feed a slot some yen. Still, despite the seeming anonymity, there is always staff. Before he went any further, Cleaner had to make sure that the staff at Hotel Spring Kingdom were either paid to forget or made to forget. He bullied his way into the manager’s office where a fat young man read a hentai comic called Monster Breast So Succulent and watched the Hanshin Tigers game. Fat Boy said he hadn’t seen Ai and Cleaner believed him. However, a quick check revealed that the security cameras in the lobby had sure seen her. Cleaner got serious and, after a slapping, a payoff and an editing, Cleaner was ready to really get cleaning.


Cleaner’s eyes went straight to the television. On-screen, an old man performed furious cunnilingus on a teenage girl. She made noises like a deer in distress. The old man moved to finger fucking, and Cleaner looked away as the girl came, shooting fluids across the camera. Cleaner pulled his gloves tight, wheeled his huge suitcase against the wall, closed the door behind him, slipped off his shoes and slipped on some powder- blue room slippers and a hairnet.

Ai Shibata stood in front of him. She ate panda-shaped cookies from the box. She was dressed in a schoolgirl uniform stained shades of pink and red, color spattered across her like a bad tie-dye job. Cleaner gave her the once over.

-Please tell me you didn’t call reception and have that delivered?

-Of course not. I brought it with me. Last time I rented an outfit at a dump like this I got a rash on the inside of my thigh.

She hiked her tiny skirt and stroked her thigh to emphasize. Cleaner looked away, his eyes straying back to the TV screen. Ai watched with him.

-Not my finest work, I know. Early days. That old guy? His breath stunk like a dirty fish tank. I actually threw up in my mouth a couple of times. That diaper thing he’s wearing had shit stains in it by the time we were done.

Cleaner grunted. He looked around the room. Black walls, wooden floor painted a glossy black and red. A circular bed enclosed in a cage of thick red irons bars, food and sex toys scattered across the satin sheets.

-You watch your own movies when you fuck?

She came up to him, ran a hand down the lapels of his overcoat.

-I can never get enough of me, you know that.

Cleaner breathed her in -- even sweaty and fucked filthy she smelled like an angel. He pulled away and turned to her fuck buddy.

A huge metal chair was propped up on a pedestal in a far corner of the room, a pool of blood around the base. Fuck Buddy, naked, sat slumped in it, strapped in at the wrists and ankles with thick leather cuffs. He was a mess of burns and cuts and other assorted ugly wounds. A pair of lacy panties was stuffed in his mouth. His hair was perfect. Cleaner felt a weird urge to touch it, so he did. He found its gelled, spiked peaks stiff as rigor mortis, a tactile cue to get on with the job.

Ai lit a smoke. She gave Fuck Buddy a once-over like an unsatisfied artist contemplating another dab of paint here and there even though her canvas had already been mounted and hung.

-Do you think he looks like Sexyama?

-I wouldn’t know about that.

She sat on the carpet and pouted.

-I think he looks like Sexyama.

-I don’t think he looks much like anybody right now.

She got to her feet. She jumped on her tippytoes and clapped and giggled.

-What do you think?

-What do I think?

-Mm. Of my work.

-You want me to...?

-Tell me how you think I did.

He shook his head and walked over to the TV where Ai and the old man rutted on-screen, moaning in fucked up, off-key harmony. The old man looked like a skin origami slowly unfolding. Ai, writhing underneath his loose folds, wore the typical unwilling look of the pink film idol. Cleaner, slightly nauseated, turned it off. He took a big can of Sapporo from the bar fridge, popped it and drank.

-Take a peek out of the curtain and tell me what you see.

She rolled her eyes, but she did as she was told.

-I see the Dotonbori River. I see lights reflecting prettily off it. I see signs and bridges and I see buildings. Lots of buildings, tall and dark and stretching out forever. Tako Tako is down there somewhere, isn’t it? Do you think, maybe, once we are done here, we can get some takoyaki from there?

-What else do you see, Ai?

-Convenience stores?


-Well, there are people.

-Yes. There are people. There are a whole lot of people. You’re something of a celebrity and you walked around this area. With a handsome man. You probably had dinner somewhere expensive and made a scene and made sure you were noticed because you’re Ai Shibata, pink film idol, and then you brought your handsome man here and you fucked him and tortured him to death.

She went all little girl on him. All doe-eyed and pouty. Hard to pull off while gore-spattered, but she did it.

-You know how I am, Cleaner. Sometimes, I…need to release things. I miss Dad.

-He would not be happy right now, Ai. Your father did all he could to circumvent trouble. He never courted it like you do. Saori is in control because she is like him. Junko is in control because she is like her mother. You are not in control because you are like your mother. You are dangerous.

Ai leaned against the cage surrounding the bed and hit the back of her head softly against the bars.

-He loved my mother, though. He never loved Junko’s mother or Saori’s mother. Is this why they look down on me? Why they hate me so much?

-They hate you because you do things like torture and kill handsome men in inappropriate places and ways. Because I have to spend more time fixing your messes than handling business problems. And because your father did love your mother most of all. But I am Cleaner, Ai, not Counselor. Perhaps you need to speak with her about this. I only know of death and how to give it and how to hide its presence and how to imply it to gain advantage. I know nothing of the strange things of your mind.

-You always clean up my messes. I’ve never thanked you for that.

-No, you haven’t.

-Thank you.

-I get paid. Very well. So don’t bother to thank me again.

-What you do for me, you don’t get paid for.

Ai rubbed her nose. Some dried blood flaked off. Cleaner watched her, rosy-cheeked and beautiful in her shame.

-I need you to shower now, Ai.

They went into the bathroom. Huge and open and concrete. Steel manacles hung from chains bolted to the wall. Cleaner shook his head. He sucked his teeth and pulled a garbage bag from his coat pocket. He held it open and Ai stripped. He didn’t need to be there. He could have waited outside and begun to deal with Fuck Buddy but he didn’t move. His hands shook as she peeled off her bloody top, shimmied out of her tiny skirt. Naked, she stood before him and smiled. She made no attempt to hide herself, no effort to be coy. There was no shyness or embarrassment. She knew he didn’t like feigned modesty. She dropped the top into the bag then slowly bent over to pick the skirt up from the floor. Naked, she was hyper-confident and sharp. She dropped the skirt into the bag, stepping unnecessarily close as she did so.


His gaze lingered on her. He couldn’t help it. He stood there holding the open garbage bag even after she had started to shower. He finally got it together and left the bathroom. He unzipped his suitcase and flipped open the top. He took out a roll of plastic sheeting, a thick roll of tape and a large set of knives rolled up in black cloth. He stripped naked save for his hairnet and gloves. He crouched down on his haunches and looked at Fuck Buddy. He peeled off a glove and with his naked hand he ran his fingers over the cigarette burns, the cuts, the welts, feeling where she had been, re-tracing her movements across the map of the body. Each time she’d killed, he’d done this. It was now a part of the pre-clean ritual of her fuck-ups.

His heart started beating strange and uneven. He felt himself getting...something. As he wasn’t really used to feeling much of anything, he couldn’t pin the feeling down. He stood up and lit a smoke, looked around for the blade Ai had used. The cuts all over Fuck Buddy were small and clean but deep and numerous. Cleaner suspected a razor. Sure enough, on the floor near the body was a tiny razor blade. He picked it up with his gloved hand. It was a blade from the device with which she shaved her eyebrows down. It was bloody. He dropped it in the bag with her clothes and then added Fuck Buddy’s clothes and belongings to it. Before he dropped Fuck Buddy’s phone in, he flipped it open and checked the messages.

What he found was not good.

He turned the phone off and tossed it into the bag. He stood outside the bathroom and smoked and watched Ai shower. He thought about Fat Boy downstairs. He thought about the cleaning staff somewhere in the building. He thought about the other guests. Had anyone else possibly seen Ai? There could be no room for witnesses anymore. He would have to kill everyone in the hotel, burn the place to the ground. He saw himself going from room to room, butchering whoever occupied them, leaving the playful sexual settings tainted spaces of bloody, crude irony through the violence and death he would bring to them. He wished he hadn’t looked at Fuck Buddy’s phone. He wished he was still ignorant of what he now knew: this was a mess beyond cleaning. He fought down paranoia, breathed deep and thought.

Do what you came to do, how you came to do it. The future is beyond your control. You cannot raze a hotel to the ground. You cannot slaughter all the guests and get away with it and even if you could, then what? Kill everyone at the restaurant they went to? Kill everyone that might have seen them in the street? Annihilate Osaka itself? Sometimes you clean by making a bigger mess. This is not one of those times. This time, a bigger mess is nothing more than a bigger fucking mess. This is a time for prayer and luck.

He crouched down and slapped Fuck Buddy in the face. He grabbed Fuck Buddy’s face between his fingers and stared into the still-open eyes.

-You should have been stronger. She is a goddess, but she is insane. You should have been so much stronger, because I cannot be.

Fuck Buddy slumped into his arms when his restraints were unbuckled. Cleaner hoisted him over a shoulder and with his knife set under his other arm, he carried him into the bathroom. Ai, naked and freshly toweled off, stood there watching Cleaner as he dumped Fuck Buddy onto the smooth concrete floor. It was a fine place for a spot of dismemberment, hard and flat and complete with a nearby drain for easy cleaning. Cleaner rolled out his knives. Ai got down on her knees and gazed down at the blades. She touched the delicate engravings, the swirling patterns, the hammered finish of the cobalt steel.

-They’re beautiful. They’re sashimi knives? I’ve never seen such beautiful blades.

-They are modified sashimi and kitchen knives, yes. They were built to cut and bone and fillet. They don’t care what they cut and bone and fillet as long as they do the jobs for which they were made. Stand back, we just got you clean.

-Can I help?

-I need you to clean the bedroom. Go to my suitcase; get out the bag of cleaning paraphernalia and the vacuum, put on gloves, a plastic jumpsuit and a hairnet.

-I want to help.

He looked at her. She held up a kawamuki – a knife made for skin-peeling.

-We don’t need to use that one.

He took it from her hands.

-We just need to…chop. There is no need for anything fancy or skilful. We just need to chop and wrap.

She watched him work. She watched the blades do the jobs for which they were made. When she started to help, he didn’t resist.


Cleaner smoked and through the gap in the curtains watched as the sun came up. Ai wore a tight pair of jeans, some runners and a t-shirt. Cleaner forbade her to wear make-up and she looked nothing like herself as a result. She looked like something innocent. She rested a hand on his shoulder and with him watched the natural light slowly supersede the neon.

At night, the cityscape emitted an artificial yet warm orange glow with dabs of blue and red. Apartment and office lights dotted dark concrete buildings with uniform pinpricks of white. The colors blended in impressionistic ripples off the Dotonbori, hiding the river’s true murk. Alive and playful at night, maze-like Osaka beckoned Cleaner, invited him into its corners, its alleys, its dead ends and its throughways, making it a part of him and him of it. In the day, Osaka, hazy and hung-over, grey and brown, repulsed Cleaner. Its filthy river, its faceless business men, its hordes of brand-obsessed consumers all alienated him. It was like stepping into a parallel world.
Ai saw only the sun and the light blue sky of the morning.

-It’s going to be a beautiful day.

Cleaner stubbed out his smoke in a nearby ashtray and turned to the suitcase. Upright and full, it sat in the centre of the room. The white elephant, butchered and quartered, stuffed within in individually wrapped pieces.

-What you’ve done...it will come back to you. To us.

Ai took his hand and held it tight.

-It doesn’t have to.


Saori Shibata woke from a night of horrible dreams like old Koji Wakamatsu movies. She rolled over and picked up her phone from her nightstand. Shinji hadn’t returned her messages. Saddened, she went to the bathroom, fixed her hair and put on her face. She gave her eyebrows an extra sharpness with black pencil, colored her lips a dark blood red and dressed all in black. By the time she was done, she not only looked like the kind of porcelain doll a sadist would create but had also unconsciously fashioned herself from the stuff of her dreams. She knew Shinji had someone else and his current silence only confirmed it. She didn’t know who the someone was, but it wouldn’t be hard to find out. Saori looked at herself in the mirror and wondered aloud:

-Who do I find and kill first?

BIO: Cameron Ashley lived in Japan for three years, teaching English like everybody does. He managed to stay fairly level-headed (even though he bears a striking resemblance to mega-popular anime character Lupin III and caused several small outbreaks of Lupin-mania) but his Japanese is crap. He would like to point out that Cleaner is a fool and Osaka during the day is good times. This is the second Shibata story and he has a lot more yet to write. If they don’t suck, hopefully you will find them here in the near-ish future. You can find his other stuff at Plots with Guns, Powder Burn Flash & The Flash Fiction Offensive. He would like to thank C&C Quality Control for their assistance.


Michael Solender said...

it goes w/o saying that i am into stories than involve pinky rings...

Peter Rozovsky said...

If I ever visit Japan, could you recommend a good hotel?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Color Security Camera said...

Thats nice to read it.

Cameron Ashley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Ashley said...

Peter- damn straight. I can even point you to the room I set this in.

Paul D Brazill said...

Vivid and hard hitting. A gem.

Security Camera System said...

This was a great read! Keep up the good work!