After excusing myself from the party and saying goodnight to everyone in the bar, I took the train to Gunma. In less than an hour I was threading my way through the back streets of Maebashi, head down to avoid the stares of the homeless who were probably wondering what a young woman in an undoubtedly expensive tan suit was doing there so late it was almost morning.
The address I’d been given was a thin wooden building without even a sign. Just white kanji painted on the side of the entrance to stand out from the decay. The heavy breathing of men lurked beyond the curtain. I pulled my jacket tighter around me and dove in, pausing only to kick off my heels.
I kept my eyes on the far door down the narrow hall, away from the soft lights that tempted me to glance into the other rooms as I passed. I was in no position to judge anyone who came here. The door opened to a tiled, surprisingly sterile room. A man stood between a chair and a table full of steel needles. He was cleaning one of the needles.
“You’ve been waiting for me,” I breathed out.
He smiled. The man had a thin mustache and small, unusually expressive eyes.
“Certainly,” he lilted. “I’m dying to meet the star of New Revolution Battle-Witch: Dreamy Usa!” He swung his needle up to deliver the exclamation point.
I nodded and went to the chair, sliding off my jacket before I sat. The man took it and draped it over a different, empty table. “Nice coat,” he complimented me. “I’m Isoshi.”
“My parents bought the suit for me after my first voice role. Heaven-Sent Housemaid: Angel Lips.”
Isoshi returned to the chair. “I remember that show. My my, to have Sonrai Orisu sitting here in front of me,” he giggled.
I ignored his admiration. Isoshi was not what I had expected, but he was supposed to be the best. I began unbuttoning my shirt. “Do you want me on my side or on my stomach?”
“Whichever is more comfortable for you, of course, Ms. Orisu.” He took the shirt and laid it with the jacket.
“My stomach, then.” I rolled over on the chair while Isoshi came back to turn a handle and flatten it out. “That was how Toge preferred it.” I unhooked my bra.
Isoshi sniffled. “She was a treasure. Hell, she recommended me to you. A gem.”
Then I could feel Isoshi standing over me, gazing reverently at my back. He gasped. “I watched so many of these shows. A skinny finger brushed my shoulder. “Sweetheart Muzy Detective Agency. I cried when that ended. You’ve got some on here I don’t even remember. Lucky Akitaka Bakery, Tsugumi Card Shaman, you did voices in all of these?”
“Some were small roles. But every time a show ends, I commemorate it this way.”
“Just lovely, Ms. Orisu,” Isoshi gushed. “A lot of coverage, though. If you want me to put Dreamy Usa on here, I think you’ll have to remove your skirt.”
I was already reaching for the zipper. “Not a problem. Underwear too?”
Isoshi agreed. “Dreamy Usa is your biggest voice role, you’re the star. I may need to go past your hips.”
Once I wiggled them to my knees, Isoshi pulled the skirt and panties the rest of the way off and put them next to my other clothes. He returned, and I felt his hands probing the base of my spine.
“You should know I rarely work on women,” Isoshi admitted.
I shrugged. “Toge told me, the last time I saw her, you were the person to come to from now on. As long as you don’t tell anyone I was here.”
“A secret between us girls,” he chuckled.
“There’s a poster of Dreamy Usa in my jacket pocket if you need it to work from.”
Isoshi’s hand fluttered to his chest. “Certainly not,” he pretended to be outraged before grinning. “I could do Dreamy Usa from memory in my sleep.”
The next several minutes we spent in silence. Isoshi got his heavy equipment and a stool, laid out the needles, the dozens of bottles of ink.
He took a deep breath, sat down and finally spoke again. “Since you’re here, Ms. Orisu, I suppose that means Dreamy Usa is ending soon.”
“We recorded the final episode this evening. Everybody went out for drinks and I snuck off to make my appointment with you.” I sensed the needle was hovering just above me. “Are you ready? The picture’s still in my jacket.”
Isoshi coughed. “It’s embarrassing to say, Ms. Orisu, I just—”
“You want to know how the show ends.”
“I really do,” he whispered.
“I’ll tell you afterwards if you answer a question for me right now.”
I turned my head enough to see Isoshi’s face in full. “Why did you get Toge arrested?”
He didn’t flinch, not a single muscle. “She wasn’t licensed. Anybody could’ve called the police on her.”
“You did. She knew they were closing in and still recommended you. Tell me why.”
Isoshi set the needle down. “I just wanted to meet you. I’d heard rumors about your tattoos, for the shows you had voice roles on.”
“And you asked Toge.”
“She’d know. But she wouldn’t say yes or no. Just brushed me off.”
I held his eyes with mine. “And you called the cops.”
“What choice did I have? I really wanted to meet you.” For a long moment Isoshi looked back at the door. Was he wondering if the cops were going to break in on him too?
“You can start,” I told him. “When you’re done, we’ll talk about how it ends.”
I turned back and the first needle finally swept down my spine. It brought tears to my eyes. Not because of the pain, but because it was ice-cold. Just like Toge’s needles had been.
Samuel Barnhart’s short stories have appeared all over the Internet, occasionally in print, and at least once onstage. He sometimes blogs at sambarnhart.tumblr.com, and lives in South Florida.