The well-dressed man slid the yellow envelope across the counter to hide. “Please give this to Yoshiki. It’s urgent. Tell him it’s from Sakurai.”
He paid for his drink and left, pulling up the collar of his black trench coat against the cold and the rain outside.
As soon as the door closed behind the man, hide exchanged a quick glance with Sugizo and Heath.
“I’m going to take a quick break, guys,” he said, and they nodded.
He retreated into the back room and stared at the envelope. It was unsealed so he slipped a hand inside and pulled out several glossy photographs.
“Hey. What was that all about?”
hide didn’t look up from the photos. “Taiji, this wasn’t you, was it?”
Taiji took a swig of beer and glanced through the photos that hide held out to him. “Nope. I’ve never seen this guy in my life.”
Pata wandered over. He took a couple of the photos and held them up to the light. “How can you tell?” he asked. “His face is completely ruined.”
“You always recognise your own work,” Taiji said. “Please. Give me some credit here. Even I’m not that sloppy.”
Toshi reached a hand out. “Let me see those.”
Taiji shoved the photos under his nose and Toshi’s brow furrowed. He turned toward hide without looking away from the pictures. “Who did you say it was that gave you these?”
“He said his name was Sakurai. He told me to give these to Yoshiki urgently.”
Toshi looked through the photos carefully, sometimes going back for a second or a third look.
hide was impatiently rocking back and forth on his heels. “Well?”
Toshi chewed on his lower lip. “Christ, I need a cigarette for this.”
“Don’t give it to him,” hide said when Pata reached for a pack. “Toshi, I thought you quit.”
“I did. Just give me a cigarette.”
Taiji sighed. “Give him a cigarette.”
hide slapped Pata’s hand away. “No!”
Toshi rubbed his face with his hands. “Fine. You see this?” He tapped one of the photos. “It’s a pretty hard to see through all the blood, but there’s the word witch carved into his back.”
The other three crowded around the photo and squinted.
“Huh. I think you’re right,” Pata said.
“Shit,” said hide. “That’s got to be her, then. The little witch.”
“Yeah. I’m positive it’s her.” Toshi looked around the room. “Where are Heath and Sugizo?”
Taiji pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. “Out the front bartending like bartenders.”
“Tell them to close up and kick everyone out.”
“But it’s not even 9pm—”
Toshi stacked the photos together neatly and slid them back into the envelope. “I don’t care. We need to talk to Yoshiki about this.”
hide, Pata and Taiji were leaning against the counter playing Blackjack while they waited for Yoshiki.
Toshi was diligently wiping down the counter and stopped when he reached them. “Move.”
“Go ‘round,” Pata said, waving a hand lazily.
Toshi ground his teeth and sighed, and wiped around the three of them and their cards.
Heath sat at a table reading a dog-eared copy of The Shining.
Sugizo was sketching in his notebook. “Which part are you up to?”
Heath calmly turned the page and stretched his long legs out on the chair next to him. “Creepy bathtub lady in Room 237.”
They all looked up when they heard knocking at the front door.
“Just ignore it,” hide said. “They’ll go away.”
The knocking persisted and the six of them exchanged a mildly irritated look.
“Bar’s closed, asshole!” Taiji shouted, and Toshi smacked his arm. “Can’t you read the fucking sign?”
The person on the other side started banging on the door, so hide heaved a sigh and went to unlock the door. “Sorry, but we’re closed tonight,” he said as he swung the door open.
He stopped short when the dim light inside the bar fell upon their guest: a woman with long, dark brown hair.
“I thought I was always welcome here,” she said, affecting a plaintive tone.
hide’s face lit up. “Anza! How long has it been?”
“Couple of years, maybe,” the woman said, giving him a warm hug. “I’m glad to see that not much has changed around here. Speaking of which…” She set her eyes on Taiji, crossed the room in a few brisk strides with her hair bouncing against her shoulders, and kissed him full on the lips. He tasted of smoke and whisky.
Taiji wore a shit-eating grin. “How’s my best girl?”
“You tell me,” she said, giving him a saucy smile. She looked around the rest of the room and her gaze fell upon Sugizo. “Hel-lo. You’re new.”
“Anza’s a very old friend of ours,” hide said to Sugizo. “Taiji’s her favourite.”
“I can see that,” Sugizo said, looking somewhat mystified.
“Anza, this is Sugizo,” hide said. “He’s been with us for about a year now.”
“Hello, Sugizo,” she said silkily. She gave him a little wave and Taiji looked peeved. “Looks like Taiji might have some competition. Hot, nice arms, tattoos… you’re just my type.”
“Not so fast, my dear.” hide put a hand on her shoulder as she started forward. “You’re going to have to keep your hands off this one. He belongs to Heath.”
“Really?” Anza said, looking interested. She winked at Heath and then gave Sugizo a good looking over. “Nice. I bet you love having those gorgeous legs wrapped around you.”
Heath coughed and quickly took his legs off the chair, trying to be discreet.
“Only you can make Heath blush like that, Anza,” Pata chortled. hide was laughing and even Sugizo had to smother a grin.
“What brings you back to Tokyo?” Heath asked, changing the subject. “Sapporo too cold for you, or did you miss us?”
Just like that, Anza’s flippant demeanor faded. “Actually I uh, got some bad news.”
“So did we,” Toshi said. He popped the lid off a bottle of beer and handed it to her.
“I know,” she said with a wry smile. “Atsushi told me about it as well. That’s why I’m here.”
“Is this Sakurai? Who is he?” hide asked.
“A very, very old associate of Yoshiki’s,” Toshi said.
“I… I know I won’t be of any help, but I just felt like I’d be safer with you guys,” Anza added a little nervously. She held the beer bottle tightly in both hands. “I hope you don’t mind…”
Toshi patted her head reassuringly, but Sugizo looked confused. “I feel like I’m missing a big chunk of the story here.”
“This was way back in the day,” Toshi explained. “Back in Tateyama, Chiba. Before The Underneath.”