Illustrated by Aisha Akeju
Julia Roberts was right. I should never have kissed him. The circumstances may have been different, but it amounted to the same thing. 'Don't kiss on the mouth' was just a way of saying 'don't let feelings get involved.' I should have listened. Falling in love was not supposed to be part of the job.
It's late when I get the text, but it doesn't matter. I don't sleep like I used to anymore. Late nights on the job mean if I'm in bed at 1 a.m., it's early for me. It's only a few minutes before midnight, so the night owls are still just getting ready. I'd have thought I'd be too old for this by now, but seven months of blackjack and poker a couple times a week means I've become one of them, in more ways than one. They trust me now.
With that in mind, I get up, wash my face, and shower, after sending back a quick response that I'll be there. I slick back my hair, the way I've been wearing it for months. It's not my hair. It's Robert's hair. It's Robert's face in the mirror, Robert's clothes I'm wearing, Robert's life I've been living since the police asked me to go undercover. James feels like he's gone, buried under the perfectly cultivated facade. I don't know if I'd even recognize James anymore, if I can go back to being him when this is all over. I hope I can. I hope he isn't as far gone as I fear. I don't want to be Robert, but I can't stop now. The job isn't done.
I pull into the valet lot of Black Suede, a night club I'd never been in before this job. Black Suede is an exclusive club downtown, in the part of the neighborhood where you have to drive an expensive car to even look like you fit into. My car fits the bill, but only because I've been paying out my ass to lease it for this job. Black Suede is also invite-only, and only the most elite even get invitations. It's why this whole thing was constructed. It's why I haven't used my own name in seven months.
I've been counting.
As I get out of the Jaguar, which I'll be sure to miss when the case wraps up, and hand the keys to the valet, I am every inch Robert Inoue: Japanese-American entrepreneur and rising star in the financial world. Once inside, I shake hands with Kureno Nagasaki, the one who sent me the invite and one of two other people inside who knows what's going down. Kureno's been in about four months longer than me, and he's only just getting to the same point. I've had freer rein than he has. He's on the police force. Me, I'm a private investigator. I go by my own book. Cops needed an inside man, but outside the force. Lucky me, I fit the bill. Pretty sure it didn't hurt I'm the only Japanese P.I. in town, and Black Suede's a Japanese club. But I like to think it was my stellar recommendations and previous work with the police that got me in.
Our last contact is Isamu Takahashi. A lot of our success depends on his inside knowledge, his distaste for his boss's practices, and his willingness to be an informant. It's because he came forward to be an informant that the cops were able to put together this whole operation. Isamu and I go way back, back to when we were both on the wrong side of the tracks. It took him a little longer to clean up than me, but he's pretty straight now. I just hope getting involved with Black Suede hasn't set him back down a dark road.
Infiltrating the club is a means to get to its owner, Fujimoto. Fujimoto considers himself a mountain of power, of success, of wisdom. It's why he chose that name. He isn't much on modesty. The cops have turned up records on who he is, records we'll need when the case goes to court, but we have to get enough evidence to arrest him first.
When Kureno leads me inside, there are only a few other men there I recognize and neither's Fujimoto. I still haven't met him yet. Kureno's not my favorite person to hang out with, but he and Isamu make what I'm doing here a little more bearable. Kureno started out all right, but the longer we're wrapped up in this case, the more it seems to get to him and the less pleasant he is to be around. I get it though. It's not our usual lifestyle. It changes a person. It's why I'm worried about whether or not I'll be able to step back out of the role when it's all over.
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Illustrated by Aisha Akeju