The Hostess

The plushness in the pillows, the thread-count in the sheets, the spring in the mattress—none of the comforts of her hotel suite help Kaori sleep. Megumi’s murder haunted her, and she was just beginning to recover when Mama-san called. The figures lurking in the shadows, the mystic conversations, the sinister glances—they’re all a part of street life, but since the murder they seem to have magnified in intensity and frequency. She was just beginning to think they were nothing unusual when Mama-san called, but The Snake’s persistence has convinced Kaori she’s entangled in a devious plot. Moving to the suite had been her manager’s idea under the guise of protecting a valuable asset; Kaori relished the lavish, first-class treatment as fitting restitution for all the years of struggling and suffering. Does her manager perhaps know something she doesn’t? Whatever the motivations, Kaori takes comfort in the suite’s security. Tip-toeing toward the window, she looks down at the twinkling lights of Tokyo and wonders what mystery is unraveling on the streets below. Her perch atop the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku affords an unrivaled view of the expansive metropolis, a mesmerizing plane of lights stretching beyond the limits of her vision. Just a few blocks away, the neon of Kabuki-cho flickers in a red-light district even raunchier than the Dogenzaka. But it’s almost prim and proper in comparison, with the neon leaving no secrets—quite unlike the cloistered, foreboding alleys of the Dogenzaka.

In the morning, Kaori takes her tea and breakfast from room service and eats at a leisurely pace. A young celebrity’s smile beams through the TV screen as she holds court before a fawning host and audience. I’m much better looking than she is, Kaori thinks. Look at how her eyes are uneven, and the flaring nose. And what is she thinking with that make-up? Without her handlers and coaches, she’s nothing. But me, I do it on my own. I live at the Park Hyatt—how about you?

Flicking to another channel, Kaori spots a graying actor she entertained in her suite just last week. His talk of dedication to his family and morality ring hollow—if they only knew, Kaori thinks. He’s a feeble, lonely man, nearly undone by his fame and celebrity. When the lights go off and the cameras stop rolling, he’s a pathetic shell of his public self. Women’s attention is his sustenance—even if he has to pay Kaori for it.

All the clients are like that, each at the top of his profession—business, politics, medicine, sports, show business. They have all they could ever want, and things seem to come so easily. Kaori exploits that weakness over and over, because she is the one thing they cannot have.

Her cellphone rings and Kaori answers her manager’s call. “I have a new client for you tonight,” he announces.

“A new client?” she replies, trying to mask the trepidation.

“Relax. A very respected and trusted third party made the arrangement—and paid an astronomical fee. Our guys will check him out before he arrives at the suite. I just need you to be your absolute dazzling best.”

“He’ll get his money’s worth.”

“Like they always do.”

“Like they always do.” Click.

For Kaori, getting ready for a date is like a movie star getting ready for a scene. The ritual begins with a spa treatment at the hotel salon. The female attendants marvel at the smooth, milky quality of her skin; one holds Kaori’s arm and admires it like an objet d’art. Another gently rubs lotion into Kaori’s cheeks, scouring the almost porcelain-white face for blemishes, finding none. Kaori tips them generously and leaves to a string of bows and a serenade of thank-yous. Back in the suite, a brigade of stylists and estheticians file in as the afternoon progresses. The manicurist arrives first, holding Kaori’s delicate hand in hers and deciding on a design of butterflies and glitter. Leaning back, calm and serene in her robe, Kaori holds out her hand and waits for the tingle of the polish on her nails. Carrying an album of headshots and runway models, the hairstylist sits next to Kaori and flips through photos of the latest styles. Unconvinced, Kaori dispatches her to find the make-up artist for a three-way consultation. The make-up artist scans her palette of colors as the hair stylist rifles through her album; Kaori grows weary of the commotion and dismisses them until they find a suitable combination. “Are you almost done?” she barks at the manicurist.

“Almost,” she replies.

“Don’t rush it,” Kaori admonishes. Even getting pampered can grow tedious.

The hair stylist and make-up artist return and approach Kaori hesitantly—as if addressing a monarch. “Make it happen,” Kaori instructs after approving their concept. With professional alacrity, the pair work with each other, dancing around Kaori like a choreographed ballet. With a long, thin brush, the make-up artist applies a vibrant red to Kaori’s thick, full lips. A splash of silver eye shadow follows the application of a raven mascara. She compliments Kaori on the angle of her cheekbones and the soft hue of her skin as she applies a thin layer of foundation. Meanwhile, the hair stylist combs out the ebony strands of Kaori’s shimmering hair, amazed at the bounce and life. Recognizing its natural beauty, she lets the hair fall freely in the back, yet curls it around the face to create the veil of secrecy Kaori demands.

A silence settles in over the suite once the beauty makers have gone, allowing Kaori to collect her thoughts. Normally she would spend this time studying up on her date—his interests, his profession, the fears and secrets he shares only with her. Though she doesn’t know much about him, a profile begins to emerge. Someone else is paying for the date—he’s either being thanked, or perhaps is in a position to help. Does he realize it? This will likely be his first experience with a hostess—at least of her caliber. Perhaps he won’t be as egotistical and intellectually rapacious as normal—a refreshing change. He’ll be nervous and seek refuge and relaxation from alcohol. I’ll pour him enough to get a comfortable buzz, yet keep his sensibilities in place, Kaori plots. If he’s carrying a secret, it’s just a matter of time before Kaori draws it out.

First impressions are everything. When she opens the suite door, the man will take in her face, then slowly evaluate her figure. She must present the unattainable beauty that taunts his dreams. Entering her walk-in closet, Kaori runs her fingers along the rows of blouses and skirts. An image comes to mind—a sleek black and silver combination to convey dignity and professionalism. The skirt is an easy selection—black and knee-length, with an enticing slit on each side. Shutting her eyes, Kaori rifles through her mental inventory, and instinctively pushes away a few hangers to reveal the chosen blouse. It’s soft white with silver pinstripes, and perfectly hugs the contours of her chest.

The robe slips away and Kaori stands naked in the closet, ready to get dressed. First she pulls on her stockings—never pantyhose—then attaches them to the garters. When she sits and crosses her legs, the man’s eyes will bulge in fascination. She also chooses a frilly, lacey black bra, knowing exactly how it will be exposed when she leans forward to pour tea. The skirt and blouse follow, then Kaori steps into her black sandals, admiring the rise the heels provide her shape. The blouse fits perfectly, and Kaori adjusts it only slightly to tease him just so. She exits the closet and stands before a wall-length mirror. The oeuvre is complete.