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Romance Drama Sad

Alexander Blackwell’s tongue glides over his lips as he savors his Mojito, and he draws deeply on his Camel Natural (no additives), his feet tapping under the table to the familiar lounge music. The air vibrates with Anggun’s sensual ‘Summer in Paris’. He glances at the time on his phone, and exhales slowly as he leans back. His gaze follows the smoke as it drifts up into the subdued light.

Rumi Kaneko takes a last look at herself in the gold leaf mirror, adjusts the spaghetti straps on her white French lace crop top and glances at her dark blue Sapphire and diamond inlaid Bulgari before going downstairs to the bar. She laughs to herself; always keep them waiting, it’s a rule. ‘Don’t want to seem too eager now, do I?’ She visualizes Alexander from his Myspace profile, and she delights at the image in her mind’s eye. ‘I’ll soon know if he’s as elegant as he appears to be’.

He’s just stubbing out his cig when she walks up to his table. The aroma of the tobacco is hit with spicy saffron, followed by the sweet fragrance of roses, jasmine, vetiver and sandalwood.

“Kon Bon Wa Alex, hope I didn’t make you wait too long.” She bows slightly from the waist but doesn’t offer her hand. Her voice is silk and her smile is cashmere. The paleness of her skin tone contrasts brilliantly with her black jacket and short black skirt and it sends Alex into a brief flashback, as it parallels the best painting he has ever made; His wife Michele’s portrait just after their honeymoon in ’84. Rumi looks to be the same age as his wife was at the time. He melts inside.

Alex stands and returns her bow. “Kon Bon Wa Rumi, not at all.” He sits back down. “It’s the new ‘Magnifique’, isn’t it? I love it, and it suits you just as much as Anne Hathaway. Is your suit a Prada too?” His eyebrows flash in appreciation. Her smile vanishes, her eyes are defiant. But how could an American know that such an informal show of immediate affection is considered indecent in the high context culture of the Japanese? The sincere warmth of his smile saves their first impression though, and her good humor returns in a flash.

“Thanks for the compliment, I’m not the Devil though.” She sits down next to him on the plush red velvet bench, crosses her legs, and helps herself to the pack on the table, their eyes make contact as he lights her cigarette. Her fine eye for luxury has already confirmed that while his look is classy, his suit isn’t tailor made or even designer. $200 maybe? At least he’s wearing Givenchy perfume, and then again, some men don’t spend money on clothes, even if they can afford it. She thinks of her own father, He made a fortune with diamond mining and trading in Sierra Leone, but always stayed simple. He could easily afford bespoke but always wore off-the peg.

“Indeed, you do look divine, not at all devilish. How’s your room?”

The waiter comes and takes Rumi’s order. “I’ll take the same, except virgin.” Then looking back to Alex “Cozy and comfortable. You said you were familiar with Hôtel Costes, have you stayed here before?”

Alex is thinking ‘That’s a good one, I could never afford to spend a night here. Just one night’s stay is more than my monthly rent, and my rent is already too expensive!’ But he doesn’t let on. He answers smoothly and frankly “No, I only know it because I worked in the music industry. I worked with Pschent records on the Hôtel Costes 5, 6, 7, and 8. I did the heavy vinyl versions. This is the first time I’ve even been in the bar. In fact, Hôtel Costes 5 triple album was my first big order as a music broker seven years ago. I made €10,000 on the deal. Pschent stopped making vinyl in 2006, like everyone else, so there wasn’t a vinyl version of the Costes 9. Even the CD market crashed in 2006 because of digital, music sales dropped by 50% that year. That’s when I got out of the music business. Looks like we’ve got another financial crisis on our hands now.”

“I don’t care about that. No worries. I’m alright even if there’s a crash, and there’s already a crisis in Japan. The Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda threw in the towel last Monday after just 11 months in office. Whoever holds office next won’t have it easy, to put it mildly.”

“Let’s go eat, shall we? Do you know a good place?”

“Do you like Japanese?”

“Love it.”

“I know the best place in Paris. Only by reservation.”

Rumi calls to book a table and they finish their Mojitos. Alex pays and they head for the door. She gives her car keys to the Valet.

“Lovely evening. It reminds me of my first night in Paris, September 7th, 1983, exactly 25 years ago tomorrow. It was the night I met my future wife. We met on a street corner, at Pont Neuf on the Left bank, Quai des Grand Augustins.” Alexander’s eyes are starting to water. Rumi can’t help but notice.

“A romantic. You still love her. Why did you break up?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” His smile is as sincere as the first one. “I don’t want to spoil our evening.”

“OK. sumimasen, gomennasai, Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“Dai jōbu desu, That’s OK.”

Silence sets in for a few minutes until the Valet pulls up in a red 2008 Alfa Romeo Spider Cabrio convertible. Alex marvels, sinking into the leather and enveloped in the new car smell. Rumi notices his delight, but doesn’t even ask him if he’d like to drive. Looking at Rumi, no one could imagine that under her soft, sweet, demure allure a bold rebel is always waiting to surface, but once behind the wheel her true character is unchained; passionate and daring. Rumi loves fast cars and thrills. She slips off her heels, revs up barefoot, and does a U-turn in the middle of the street, heading back to the crossroads. She takes a right on Rue Saint-Honoré and the wheels shriek as she slams the pedal down, shifting from 1st to 5th in as many seconds. In just a few minutes they’re crossing the Pont Neuf to the Left Bank, and passing by the exact spot that Alex had met Michèle a quarter of a century earlier.

“You took this route on purpose, didn’t you?” (it’s not a question)

Alex’s stunned look brings an amused smile to Rumi’s lips but she only throws him a glance, keeping her eyes and attention on the road. “The coincidence crossed my mind as soon as you mentioned the Pont Neuf, but in fact, it just happens to be the fastest route.”

On the Left bank she takes a right, a left, and another left on to Rue Mazarine. In less than a minute they’re passing by one of the trendiest Restaurant Lounges in Paris, and she had planned that in her route as well. She knows the streets of Paris almost as well as Tokyo.

“I’m sure you know this place.” She winks.

“The Alkazar, of course, I also made the “Mezzanine de l’Alkazar” compilations for Pschent. I miss working with them. Davy was a good friend, and I don’t have many. He fell in love with Hatanaka and moved to Tokyo. They’re married now.”

“Do you ever visit him?” For her it was obvious. New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Rio, Prague, Venice…the world is small when you can go wherever you want whenever you want.

“I’ve never been to Tokyo.”

“You should, it’s another world.”

“I will if you’ll be my guide.” Alexander is playing her but beginning to wonder where all this will lead. He’s just a project manager in a communication agency, and she doesn’t even have to work. Ever.

“I’d be happy to. By the way, today’s a special day in Japan. It’s the 2nd birthday of our beloved Prince Hisahito, the Royal Heir. He’s the only boy. We’re here.” The ride didn’t take 10 minutes.

The place is unassuming. Alex has to duck his head to go through the front door. Inside it’s immaculately clean and wonderfully cozy all at once. The wood-beamed ceilings and stone walls form a stark contrast with the modern minimalist furniture. The kitchen is in the same space as the restaurant, separated by an L shaped dining counter with wooden stools.

“Kon Bon Wa Rumi San!” The chef bows to them from behind the counter. “Good evening sir.” They both bow back.

“Kon Bon Wa, good evening.”

“Kon Bon Wa Shiro San! (continuing in Japanese, Alex can’t follow as he only knows a few basic words and phrases of politeness) We’d like a private room please, and give us the red-carpet.”

Shiro Isao, the owner and chef, leads them to a small intimate room in the back of the restaurant with a low table and two cushions. Soothing Japanese music caresses their ears as they sit facing each other and their eyes lock. Alex holds out his pack for Rumi, she nods, takes a cigarette and brings it to her lips, leaning towards him for a light. Shiro comes and serves tea, sake, and spring water in silence (sake only to Alex) and leaves.

“No menu?” Alex’s eyes are questioning.

“No menu. Just relax and enjoy.” Rumi’s smile is titillating.

Not a word is spoken as they gaze into each other’s eyes. Alex is finishing his first cup of sake when Shiro returns with a plate of mukimono, Alex is astounded by the exquisite presentation of fruit. Several kiwis are skillfully sculpted into beautiful flowers, their skin has been transformed into the leaves. A watermelon has been turned into an aquarium with a white and pink carp, swimming behind the rind that has been shaped into water plants. A mango has become an owl, two pears are white roses…

“It’s all too beautiful to eat!” He can’t believe his eyes.

“Tonight, Alexander, you will know pleasures like you’ve never experienced before. Let yourself go.” Rumi starts in on a kiwi. Alex follows her lead.

They are at the end of the meal, and Rumi wasn’t exaggerating. Alex has dined like a Crown Prince for the first time in his life. He has experienced savors that he never could have imagined, they’ve gotten to know a lot about each other, and he has no idea how much time has passed. It’s been like a dream.

Shiro brings the bill in a leather folder. Both protocol and etiquette dictate that the man pays the bill, and Alex’s breath stops when he opens the folder. The dream suddenly becomes hard reality. Rumi has already foreseen this as being the most likely scenario, and she makes a bold move to help him save face. In the context, it is almost unimaginable, as the idea of a woman paying or even ‘going Dutch’ on a first date is a completely foreign one to the Japanese.

“This one’s mine. You’re my guest tonight, and I also want you to join me in my room. I want you to have the most memorable night of your entire life.” She takes the folder, glances at the total, and puts a stack of bills in it. “Tell Shiro to keep the change.” She gives it back to him so that it will appear as if he paid the bill.

They bid good night to Shiro, and Rumi lets Alex take the wheel for the return trip. Even though he knows the fastest route back, he makes an enormous detour so that he can enjoy driving the Spider.

Rumi has a discreet and intimate double room which opens onto the inner patio. She always takes the same room booked in advance when she’s in Paris, it’s her pied-à-terre. About 270 ft.² with antique furniture and objects, a 63” queen size bed, silk sheets, a satin bedspread and velvet curtains, original artwork, and of course a bathroom with a vintage Victorian bathtub. It’s €600 per night, not as much as Alex had imagined, (there are much more expensive rooms in the hotel) but still way out of his means.

The night brings more surprises. Rumi holds true to her words, and when the morning light breaks through the curtains he’s completely under her charm.

“Oha yō Rumi san.”

“Oha yō Alex san.”

“Anata ga ski des.”

“I love you too Alex san. Sit tight a minute, I have a secret to show you.” Rumi goes to a safe tucked inconspicuously into the wardrobe and takes out a small velvet box. She comes back to Alex, laying on the bed in ecstasy, and empties the contents of the box onto the bedsheet. The sunlight on the bed explodes into a display of brilliance.

“They’re real, aren’t they!”

“Try to guess how much they’re worth.” She teases him.

“No idea. Can’t even imagine.”

“There’s a million dollars in front of you. They were cut by an expert here in Paris. Alexander, think about this…the rest of your life could be like the last 12 hours. What I want to give you is a life of luxury.”

Alex is dazed and confused. “I’ve never really cared about money.” He’s fighting a war inside.

She tries another angle as he gazes at the scintillating pile of rocks…“You love to paint, I know that. You know that you can make it as an artist, you can become rich and famous, but to do that you have to do two things: the first is to do only abstract and contemporary art, and the second is to blend in to high society and socialize with people who have money to buy art at high prices. That’s a fact. Most famous artists have connections to people in high places. I can be your connection, and more.”

“Wakarimasen. I don’t understand. Why me?”

“You’ll need to work with me. I have to get this pile of rocks to Toyko, without anyone knowing.”

“Are they stolen?”

“No, they’re not exactly legal, that’s all.”

“They’re blood diamonds!”

“You catch on quick, but it’s not like in Hollywood. I didn’t make anyone suffer. My dad has been in the diamond business in Sierra Leone since before I was born. It’s our whole life. Join me, please, you won’t regret it. I can tell you’ve had a hard life. All that can change. Every day and every night will be like living a dream.”

Alex doesn’t know what to say or do. “I’m hungry, let’s order breakfast.”

Room service delivers and they dine on a little table on the private terrace that adjoins the room. Afterwards they have a smoke, while their eyes search each other’s souls and their bare toes flirt sensually. They go back to bed and spend the day there. Not a word is spoken about Rumi’s proposition. She’s certain that she’s hooked Alex. She’s proud of her performance.

Sunday evening comes an eternity later. Alex dresses and prepares to leave.

“I have to go now. I have work tomorrow.”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you? You aren’t going back to work. You have a new and beautiful life.” Rumi really doesn’t believe that he could go back to his job. It wouldn’t make sense.

“Yeah, just kidding.” Alex smiles. “I’m going to my apartment to pack my bags. I’ll be back in a flash. Let me get a whiff of Magnifique before I go to keep you in my mind.” They embrace and he buries his nose in her soft black hair.

“Kon Bon Wa Rumi San.”

“Kon Bon Wa Alex San, anata ga ski des. Don’t be too long.”

The next morning, Alex is on time for work. There’s nothing in the papers about the bust at Hotel Costes. It was kept a secret for diplomatic reasons.

“Everything alright Alex?” It’s Lilou, another project manager and good friend.

Alex is far away this morning, and his soul is weeping.

“I’ll be OK.”

“Join me for Sushi at lunch?” She says gleefully in an effort to cheer him up.

“No, not today, thanks.” He smiles but the pain is all over his face. Rumi was right, he will never forget.

February 18, 2021 16:23

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1 comment

Ali Anthony Bell
07:02 Feb 19, 2021

The first half of this story is creative non fiction, i.e. A.B. did meet a Japanese woman who matches the description of Rumi on a September night in 2008. They did meet for a date at the bar of Hotel Costes, A.B. did work with Pschent on the lounge music compilations, Davy did fall in love with a Japanese woman and move to Paris, the red Alpha Romeo was true, they did go to the best Japanese restaurant in Paris after the woman reserved a table...from that point on, the story is pure fiction. Hope you enjoyed!


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