It seemed like forever since Hideki and Eddie stepped into the parlor. The rain still stuck to their lapels as they were guided by the highly ornate sign at the door to have a seat.
Hideki was on a mission tonight. His childhood friend, Eddie, had just received a promotion in his accounting firm. Eddie is good at what he does, so success was and has always been within reach. Still, it pained Hideki to see his highly capable and intelligent friend go through life hiding in his apartment, and avoiding almost every opportunity for human contact.
Hideki has been friends with him since primary school, and the only time he has seen him fail, was when he couldn’t parallel park correctly. The result devastated him. He gave up on trying to drive. Which more or less sheds light on his philosophy on relationships.
Tonight is the night where Hideki breaks Eddie’s shell, and brings him out into the world. Tonight is the night where he is determined to show him a good time. The night starts here, in a place that is hard to find. A place that is only accessible through invite only, and even then there’s a slim chance you’d find it.
Tonight, they sit on a plush sofa in a plush room. A geisha appeared from behind a silk curtain, silently floated across the room carrying a tea tray. An ancient man sits like a gargoyle behind a counter opposite them. His wrinkled, skeletal hands wrap themselves around a walking stick that looks like nothing more than a crooked tree branch. A fedora’s brim covers most of his face. A long, white, silky beard covers the rest. Although Hideki and Eddie could not see his eyes, they knew he was watching them. Silently watching. Silently judging. A wisp of smoke from an incense cone rises and dances beside the cash register. The painted lady pours tea into two cups with an extra helping of grace, and glides across the room just as silently as she came in and disappears. Steam. Smoke. Silence.
Eddie leans into Hideki’s ear. “Tea,” he whispered. “See, usually when a guy takes another guy out for a good time, there’s usually beer, boobs and maybe chicken wings involved. I didn’t expect to be brought to a…what is this, an opium den?”
“Shhh…” Hideki hissed. “This isn’t an o… wait a minute, do you really think I’d take you to an opium den? Do they even make opium dens anymore? Seriously, what kind of friend would do that to a guy who just got a promotion?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time you got me into trouble.”
“Dude, that was years ago. Let it go.”
“Hideki, what are we doing? Honestly.”
“We are celebrating. As your good friend, I cannot in good faith stand to see you go through another day locked away in your apartment.”
“So, we’re celebrating with tea?”
“Nope. Tonight, we are going to get you laid.”
All the blood drained from Eddie’s face. “What? You took me to a wh…”
“Shh..” Hideki whispered. “Don’t be rude. Drink your tea.”
They sat, quietly sipping their tea. Echos of the rain outside disrupt an already unsettling silence. The old man behind the counter did not stir. It seemed like forever since they first stepped into the parlor.
“So,” the old man’s voice was ancient timber yielding to a strong wind. “Why you here?” His broken English propped up by a Japanese accent.
Hideki’s outgoing nature made him rise and smile. “Kind father,” he was almost singing. “We are here to partake in your kind hospitality and exquisite taste. We are but humble travelers who…”
“Don’t bullshit me, son.” The old man’s words sharp as needles “Why you here for real?”
Hideki is well versed in the art of negotiation. It’s how he’s lives his life. “Sir,” he continued feigning offence. “we are here merely to get out of the rain and to warm our bones beside your fire and…”
By this time, the old man has swooped down from his perch and propped the crook of his crude walking stick under Hideki’s chin, cutting off his words and slowly cutting off his air. “Little boy,” the old man growled, “Look at me.” The old man pinched the brim of his fedora and flung it behind his back across the room to an awaiting hook in the wall. It’s a pretty neat trick, thought Hideki. It was made even neater when the friends focused on the ratty blindfold around the old man’s head. “I am old enough to be your Great, Great Grandfather. Time is something I don’t have much of. State your business or get out.”
Hideki tried to push the walking stick away from his throat. Noticing his accent, he thought that in order to get through this encounter, it would be best to bring him home. “<Sir,>” Hideki said switching to Japanese. “<I assure you, our intentions are correct. I have brought my friend to your doorstep because he is in need of your help.>”
The ancient blind one sniffed the air, “<Your friend seems fine to me. What makes you think that I can help him? And how do you know ‘Tohoku-ben’ when you reek of Yankee cheeseburgers?>”
“<My parents immigrated to San Francisco before I was born,>” Hideki said. “<I grew up with my parents speaking this dialect. They brought many stories from the old country with them. They told me of The Great War and how they had to leave everything behind. They told the story of a Yakuza who disobeyed his boss and forfeited his eyes. They told me of a man leaving their village an eyeless gangster one day, and returning many years later a, what most of the villagers would call, a blind wizard.>”
The old man lowered his stick. His voice softened. “<Did they now? A wizard. Did this wizard come riding in on a dragon?>”
“<See, I knew there could be no such thing either, and I always thought they meant ‘healer’ or ‘shaman’. But I was always a little confused, because a healer doesn’t heal when he carves his spells into the skin of the one who needs healing.>”
The old man chuckled. “<That is quite amusing. Your parents seem to believe in old ghost stories. Wizards indeed.>”
“<Stop bullshitting me, old man. Are you the one they say can mend souls or not? Because right now, you’re wasting my time.>”
The old man steered his nose towards Eddie, who at this point is more than a little uncomfortable. The old man outstretched his free hand toward his cheek and spoke softly. “Come here, son. Indulge a blind old man. Let me see you.” As ancient fingertips traced the curves of younger flesh, the old man read his story. “Hmmm…young…professional…a decent enough person… you are good with…numbers…not so good with people. I see.”
“See?” Eddie squeaked. “You see what? Is this a joke?”
“Blind humor,” the old man smirked. “Relax, kid. You are fine.” He turned his attention back to Hideki. He took a deep breath, and walked his crooked walk towards the curtain. “I will attend to him.”
“Hideki, what is he talking about?” Eddie drenched in flop sweat. “Wh…what needs attending? Is this some sort of bondage slang? I don’t get…”
“Eddie, calm down.” Hideki smiled. “We have plenty of time to get your wick wet tonight. But right now, we need to get you ready.”
“Ready? Ready for what? What am I doing here?”
“Your friend has brought you here because he cares about you, but he is also concerned. Here,” the blind old man grabbed the curtain. “Let me show you.”
As he pulled back the curtain, he revealed that the room is much bigger than they thought. Behind the colorful silk was an ornate and well used dentist’s chair, an autoclave loaded with inking pistols, and rows of inks of different colors. A work table, several shelves, a door and a sink line the back three walls, but are all hidden by door sized banners. Each with bold, hand painted calligraphy. Each one had Hideki’s full attention. “Please, sit.” the blind old man said to Eddie, motioning to the barber’s chair.
“Wait,” Eddie said. “I’m getting tattooed?”
“It would appear so, yes.” Hideki said, too engrossed in the banners to turn around.
“I never agreed to this?” Eddie protested. “What am I getting? What are you putting on me?”
“I think it’s at the discretion of the artist.”
“Oh, and is it one of those things you’re looking at?” Eddie said, pointing to a banner.
“No,” Hideki said half paying attention. “Not necessarily.”
“So what, is Grampa Creepy going to fetch the artist or what? Is it the tea lady?”
“No, it’s Grampa.”
There was a pause big enough to drive a milk truck through.
Eddie took a deep breath and gathered his wits. “Okay, let me get this straight. You brought me out of my apartment, where I was perfectly fine with binge watching Gilmore Girls, dragged me to a place that’s so far off the grid that I wouldn’t be surprised if Bilbo Baggins showed up, to get a mystery tattoo given by some blind guy who’s older than dirt? Is that’s what’s happening?”
Hideki finally turned around slowly. “Can I show you a good time, or what?”
Blood found its way to Eddie’s face again. “Oh, to hell with this!” Eddie squirmed out of the chair. “I’m getting out of here. You are both crazy!”
“Eddie, wait,” Hideki said.
“Leaving,” said Eddie over his shoulder.
“Eddie, indulge me for a moment.”
“Eddie, you can’t go.”
“Just watch me.”
“You won’t get very far.”
“Oh yeah? How do you know?”
“Because it’s cold, dark, rainy and you’re in a scary part of town and I have the keys to the car?”
Eddie stomped back into the room, muttering something to the effect of sonofabitch.
“How’s your Kanji, Eddie?”
“Your Kanji. Your comprehension of the Japanese language.”
“Dude, just because my grandparents came off the boat a long time ago, doesn’t mean I’m fluent.”
“Ah, so I guess that means you don’t know what’s on these banners?”
“How the hell should I know? It could be a recipe for Kung Pow Chicken or something.”
By this time, the blind old man has carefully, lovingly prepped his work area. As if he were guided by sonar, he had washed his hands, attached hoses, laid down paper and plastic, and instead of pulling the entire spectrum of color to his palate, he chose a small, singular bottle of black and filled a tiny cup with ink.
“This,” Hideki gestured to the banners. “These are not just decoration. These are a life story.” He glanced at the blind man, “His story. And as you can see, he only has one color prepared. Do you know what that means?”
“It means he’s going to give me a Mike Tyson?”
Hideki chuckled. “No, it means that this won’t take long. So, if you’re in so much of a hurry at least spare a few moments and hear his story.”
“Will it hurt?”
“I promise, by the time I finish…you won’t have felt a thing.”
A little late, a little long, and nowhere near finished.
Due by noon today with a 1000 word limit. It is well passed quitting time, and I’m barrelling close to 2000 words. This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s Ten Titles Challenge. I was close to halfway finished with this entry before I noticed Chuck Wendig posted a fresh challenge. Oh well.
I had a vision in my head that the tattooist was like Zatoichi; a total badass killer who would rather spend his time helping people in need. He is the only living practitioner of a type of tattooing where the art and the ink transform the person he tattoos.
Let me know what you think. Scrap it, or flesh it out?
Thanks for reading.