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Vol. 3, No. 4

Hiropon My Heroine
by Roland Kelts

~

My cab arrives at a place called Shinjuku, where tonight's party is supposed to be. The car doors spring open and I step onto the sidewalk, the air carnival-like, chaotically festive, driven by an edge of consumer zeal and aggression that has me sidestepping and weaving, and still I am brusquely bumped. A clutch of blue-suited men passes. Beer-rich breath. No nod, no sorry. An old woman beside me in kimono finery and with an osteoporotic hump the size of a basketball bows low to an ATM screen.
    I walk east, fingering Veronica's pink-penned map in the pocket of my leather jacket. Every ten yards there are standing canvas displays of cartoon girls. Protuberant, preposterous breasts, skirts rising half off white-pantied buttocks--though none quite as cartoony, ludicrous, and, I realize, shrewdly parodic as Kazu's heroine. These are adverts, serious come-ons. Most of the text I can't decipher, but the block-letter exclamations of "Sex Me Happy!" or "Playtime Wet!" traverse cultures.
    I find the Kentucky Fried Chicken Veronica has circled on the map, the plastic Colonel statue with menacing grin, and barely dodge a delivery girl on a minuscule white scooter. Behind it is a pinched, unlit alley Veronica has labeled "Cul-de-Sack." I step into it. Someone in the purple-lit dark says: "You are Mis-ter Bates Gill?"
    "Rudy Zane."
    "Zane-san. Ah, okay. Go in, please."
    The man with the clipboard and wraparound sunglasses holds open a door that opens into an elevator, which, in a few silent seconds, has me gazing through glass at the light blazes receding below. A flashing billboard reads NTT DO CO MO, DO COMMUNICATIONS OVER THE MOBILE and then the doors slide open on a whisper.
    I hear her before I see her. Voice is a character rush, a billion strands of data in waves of sound. ". . . looks heavenly," is what she says, and it's Eve, all at once.
    The place has a panoramic view of the city--glittering buildings on both sides--then it doesn't. The walls are mirrors. I see my own face suspended above the shoulder of the woman in front of me. I am moving toward Eve's voice, trying and failing to affect nonchalance. I don't know anyone here.
    The blonde Eve sits at the center of a human cove, looking angular and poised. I search for signs of Max in her face and I find them, but her features are sharpened somehow, refocused. The cheeks are drawn taut toward her small mouth. The chin thrusts. She is smoking a cigarette in a long black holder, head arched back, and wearing a navy long-sleeve shirt, unbuttoned at her midriff. Wide collars, a flash of gold across her collarbone.
    "Eve," I say, but my voice fizzles like a spent balloon.
    A strobe flashes. The guy with a camera, his nose a sharp knife between his eyes, says something in Italian. Eve smiles, hands a piece of fabric to the bony-armed Japanese man in a leopard-print jacket at her side.
    "Heavenly," she repeats.
    Her mouth drops a fraction when she sees me, a millisecond glimpse of the Eve I knew. Then she rises, people part, and she is suddenly embracing me with a sort of effortless grace that the old Eve never used to have, a 1940s kind of grace, really, from black-and-white films you know but can't name.
    "Rudy," she says, so low and familiar that I don't let go of her. She gestures expansively, sweeping an arm around the semicircle of faces. I see them in a fish-eye portrait; hip, multicultured beauties through a convex lens.
    "These are my friends."
    Their combined dazzle shrinks me further.
    "Great," I say, with a little bobbing wave to the gang. Then, in a numb stutter to Eve: "Pretty . . . impressive."
    She smirks, touches my elbow. "I'll protect you."
    "I think I'm still a little jet-lagged."
    "Good excuse," she says, and leans over to kiss my cheek. "It's nice, Rudy."
    "What?"
    "You, here. I didn't know." She steps back, rests her chin on her knuckles, and examines my face. "Nice. You look the same."
    There are people coursing around us. I try to be still, to find her in her eyes.
    "You don't," I say.
    She draws lightly on her cigarette. "Thank God." She takes my arm into hers. "Come on. Let's show you off to the gallery."
    We embark on a tour of the room, which is smaller than I'd thought. Everyone Eve knows seems steeped in underground glamour--photographers, designers, actors, and musicians, demimonde types--and as Kazu said, everyone seems to know her. Four Japanese guys in a heavy-metal band called Sexpress Elephant kiss her hand, each in turn, their leather pants bunching around toothpick legs.
    She tells them all I'm here "on business," a line that stymies further inquiry and feels curiously apt.
    A DJ with a fuchsia-tinted afro leans over, says something in her ear.
    "Tomorrow, Tako," Eve whisper-shouts back, "Ashita, ashita. This is tonight. Ima, Ima. Enjoy."
    "Ima means `tonight'?" I ask.
    "Ima means `right now.'"
    When she smiles at these people Eve seems to bless them, sending them away stronger than they were. She doesn't smile a lot, but she does so cleanly, with precision, as though she'd learned how to parcel her love out. It's a cultivated power, a notion that unnerves me even as I am growing accustomed to her new charisma, addicted as I follow her.
    She touches one of the waitresses in a karate robe and orders two martinis in their language, rapid fire. We are standing near a table of food. I reach down for a glistening rice ball and wind up raising the entire plate.
    Eve laughs. "It's plastic. Isn't it beautiful?"
    The display contains sushi platters and octopi, bowls of clear soup with bits of tofu, a giant lobster on a tray garnished with six shrimp on each side. The arrangements are coordinated through color, the fake foods themselves creating a kind of candy-toned palette. There are shimmering lemons, tiny droplets of water on fresh-faced slabs of fish.
    I set down the rice-ball ensemble and take her hand.
    "May I request the pleasure?" I ask, blinking in fast, fluttery charm, conjuring Western artifice. A Fred Astaire for her Ginger.
    "You may, darling."
    "Your hand?"
    Mock faint, wrist on brow.
    We dance. To tangos and waltzes and swing, all of it set miraculously to undulating hip-hop beats, the DJ layering track upon track in a series of sonic contexts. The styles sound newly minted against the shifting rhythms, and we lock into a grinding groove suited to each, Eve's body churning closer, her thighs brushing mine as she purses her mouth, lowers her lids. Beneath us the city glows, stretching even farther, it seems, than it had earlier. I slip my palm under the back of her shirt and press it there, drawing her into me. Our foreheads meet and bow together.
    "I feel like we've just met," I say.
    "That's exactly--" She pauses, breathes in. "Well, maybe we have."
    "But I know it's not true."
    "Why?"
    "Because I've missed you."
    There is commotion coming from the door but I ignore it. In my mind we are dancing alone at the center of a wider world than I've known before.
    The music is turned down fast, though it's still playing. "What's going on?" I ask.
    Eve rises on her toes, looks over heads. "Anna's here maybe."
    "Who?"
    "Japanese supermodel. Half something else. Very twenty-first century. Sometimes she passes through."
    I could care less, of course. But while we are both focused on the door, I get nudged from behind. It's a hard nudge, a borderline shove. A fat guy in an incongruously trim suit hands an itty-bitty phone to Eve. He eyes me quickly, blinks, stands solid in the space between her and me. She places the phone against one ear, index finger over the other, and crouches down to hear. When she rises she is brisk and attentive, her eyes braced.
    "I have to go," she announces, using a broad, public voice intended for a roomful of people. She hands the phone back to the fat guy, who pockets it and nearly runs me over.
    "All right," I say. "Who's fatso with the phone?" I ask, brushing down my shirt.
    Eve grabs my hand, her thumb running quickly over my knuckles. "I'm so glad you're here," she says, words tumbling. "I'm so happy you're here. Will you be there tomorrow night? At Le Mois, I think. Harajuku. If not, Friday night on the island called Odaiba. Gommennasai. A million sorries. I'll find you."
    "Eve. Slow down." I grab her shoulder but she squirms away in a spasm. "Hey. Where're you going?"
    "Later, Rudy. I promise." She glances toward the door. "Oh, he's here. Gotta go."
    "Who?"
    "Hiro," she says.
    She cuts left, hard left, through a tight throng of people, her body somehow prying out space. I try to follow, looking for her head, tiptoeing to see over the crowns and parts. There is a flash of blonde at the door amid a mass of dark suits, and she is gone.
    The DJ turns the music back up, even louder than it was before. A wash of distorted guitars and cymbals. I stumble, tripped up by someone's dancing legs. The whole room seems suddenly darker than it should be. Someone's got my arm. I disentangle my calf from a woman's knee while trying to maintain my balance. The woman frowns at me as if I'd meant to ensnare her.
    The person gripping my arm is Kazu. He lets go, looks up at me, his features strained.
    "Loo-dee," he says.
    His nose is bleeding. Plus, his left arm is bent, tucked up to his chest like a chicken wing. "What happened?"
    "Bad," he says. He shakes his head and looks around quickly. "Where Eve go?"
    "She split with somebody named Hiro. You know him?"
    "Hiro." He nods. "My boss. Eve friend."
    Friend. I think of the connotations, all the shadowy stuff of that word.
    "Are you all right? Who knocked you around?"
    Kazu nods again, crouches down a little. "Bike," he says quietly.
    Veronica pushes into the room, breathing hard. She sees me immediately, like she'd been expecting me in exactly this spot. "Oh, God," she says. "You're still here." She leans forward and kisses me, forcing Kazu back against the wall. "I totally hate this scene," she says, licking her lips, eyes streaked red. "I hate this scene."
    She notices Kazu then. She hovers over him, speaking fast in sharp-edged Japanese.
    Kazu suddenly smiles. He points at her buzzing eyes. "Ecstasy?" he says.
    Veronica grimaces, draws away. "Otaku. Baka!"
    "I saw Eve," I tell her.
    "Not here." She grabs my arm in a thrust. We step-stumble into the hallway where she slams her finger against the elevator button, a lighted red arrow pointing down.

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