The Ship and The Water – Jamie Stedmond

Hideki Itô had an unsettling gait. He walked like a man uncomfortable in his own skin, a man not yet fully accustomed to the ebb and flow of his limbs. Shambling forward seemingly unaware of just how far his legs would take him at each step, of how wide the arc of his pendulum arms would be each time they swung. His walk was lumbering and ridiculous, but at just that much more than a glance he could be seen to be in perfect command of his unsteady totter. He strained to contain each bodily progression, steadying it just enough to take its absurdity and make it seem lithe, even graceful. His confusing stride lacked an audience as it clicked its way over marble surface to the elevators for his floor of the Moud-Iverson.

The elevators were cylindrical containers with walls made entirely of glass. They ran down the side of the building like surface veins, supplying their occupants with breathtaking views of the city above and below. Hideki could see the varied and garish lights of the undercity, illuminating the mismatched assortment of buildings and shanties that made it up. He could see innumerable cars gridlocking along the webs of motorway that snaked above the under, and through blocks of skyscrapers that cast long shadows on the laneways. In his peripheries he felt the rhythm of the whirring drones patrolling the upper reaches next to low-level satellites, their lights blinking steadily against the dark.

Hideki’s pupils widened and his breath grew shallow as he tried to absorb the view in a single stare. The city was laid out before him, all shining towers and endless bridges and flowing slums and bars and walkways and snaking sections of road and pillars and monuments and sparse patches of green and thousands of people, repeating to the horizon, more gridded and arranged here near the fringes but towards the centre it was a fractured cluster, a heaped mess of buildings all clambering over each other to escape, a cradle of primordial cityscaping.

Hideki thought about the billions of hours of labour, the innumerable materials and projects, the ego and freedom it took to build a city, the scale, the movement, the colour, looking out on it was like having his head smashed open by a bullet train. The city was a wonderful, unlikely idea. His reverie ended abruptly as the elevator pinged loudly, it had reached the ground floor. A tinge of red crept into his pale features as he exited the elevator. He allowed himself to become too submerged in his thoughts at times, embarrassingly so. Nevertheless, as he made his way out of the lobby he was still wading in the shallows.

He checked the time, he was on schedule for his meeting. He gave a few hard blinks in quick succession, trying to clear his head and shake off distraction. He was a pragmatic person. Sometimes this served him well, at other times it got him into trouble. He moved quickly across the road, this was the fastest route to his destination but it was also an area where someone in a suit as expensive as his could not afford to relax. He weaved his walk through various alleys, past shanties and dive bars and mumbling figures on the ground before taking another elevator, up this time, to a safer, more respectable level of the city.

As he had risen the sun had fallen and the nighttime dark gave the city room to glow. Nightlife began to crawl out of the woodwork like insects from under a damp rock. Hideki glanced around with faint disdain. The bars and restaurants in the area were all themed around nostalgia. There were ’50’s diners with waitresses on wheels and red vinyl booths, millennium bars that “rang in” the year 2000 almost nightly, to his left he saw Vision 2020 a barrage of flashing lights and dance music pulsing. More bars cluttered each side of the walkway, an overload of light and sound churning at each edge. He grimaced. It wasn’t drugs, loud music or flashing light that bothered Hideki – he mostly enjoyed drinks, clubs and dancing. No, it was the faces all twisted, facing backwards; nostalgia was insidious. The past was a dull thing to celebrate when the future was so much closer, the breath on the back of your neck, razor edged with potential.

For this reason he was childishly annoyed at the meeting place his supervisor had chosen, one Sammy Swing’s – Resongin’ The Sixties. He took a table for himself near the back, ordered a water and a gin/tonic, then waited patiently while near-ancient wails rebounded around him. As the third song kicked into gear Hideki was joined at his table by a rounded, balding man in an ill-fitting suit. He smiled as he looked around, enjoying the sixties aesthetic which he’d missed in the firsthand by a few generations at least.

“Nice evening, welcome, Mr Itô,” Hideki nodded in reply. He ordered a large burger and fries for them both. They remained silent until the food came. The man chewed his burger enthusiastically. “Some very sad business has been set afoot of recently, Mr Itô. A young executive has brokered a deal that is very sad for us. Of course, he likes his deal, it works well for him. He does not know of the special relationships his deal interferes with. It is no good.” Again Hideki simply nodded at this, sending blond hair waving over a broad forehead.

“Obviously,” he squeezed out between bites, “you are a very experienced negotiator. I must ask of you to make a counter-offer to him. He celebrates tonight, higher up than this,” he laughed, “approach him and perform with your customary efficacy, and all will be well, no more sadness for us.” He cocked his head at Hideki in question.

Hideki replied with a final nod. The man eyed Hideki carefully. Hideki’s face was blank, his eyes empty. The man was staring into a keyhole, he could stare into this dark for hours and still not be able to guess the shape of the key. Still, he seemed satisfied with Hideki’s inscrutable features and after a few moments the man took his cue from Hideki and simply nodded.

The man wiped his chin and cleaned his hands with a napkin bearing Sammy Swing’s smiling face. He set off to settle the bill, turning back once “Rafa Cole. His name. The rest of the details will be sent along accordingly.” He nodded again and smiled, seeming happy with his new habit.

*   *   *

The moon hung still and clear in the sky as Hideki ascended in another elevator. He had changed into a less formal suit, a cut more suited for an executive party rather than an executive meeting. He checked his pockets reflexively and repeatedly until the elevator reached its floor. As soon as the elevator stopped he stepped out and instantly adopted a more carefree face, and let some of the awkwardness of his stride show, not wanting to appear intimidating. The bar he was headed for reeked of its height, with black walls, tinted windows and a team of bouncers ensuring the privacy of its upper clientele.

“Name?” the bouncer stated more than questioned. “Lars J., with Shimenji,” Hideki stated back. The bouncer checked the list and his ID before stepping to the side allowing Hideki to be swept up into the bar.

The whole place pulsed with bass; music throbbed throughout, almost visible in the air. The room was full up with smoke and laughter, the floor awash with people. Clusters of young businessmen and women were perched on black leather couches, more were swaying in dancefloor haze. The lights were low, dimming and brightening in time with the music. Hideki couldn’t spot any light fixtures on the walls or overhead, the room seemed to generate its brightness from thin air.

Hideki slid himself atop a stool and leaned on the dark quartz counter. He could see himself, reflect dully in the black sheen. The whole area behind the bar was walled with a matte black metal, the bartenders dressed in all black too. The grim suaveness of the place almost made him miss the homely tackiness of Sammy Swing’s.

The bartenders were an efficient procession, moving up and down the length of the counter, never letting a glass stay empty too long. Hideki ordered a daiquiri and watched impassively as the bartender made it in front of him. He sipped it and made a smile. It was too sweet for his liking. His attention didn’t stay on his drink for long. He took another sip and began to search for Rafa Cole.

He knew Cole’s appearance from the pictures the supervisor had sent on to him. Rafa Cole was the inverse of Hideki in appearance. Where Hideki had blonde hair and pale skin, Rafa was tanned with short black locks. Where Hideki was broad and stocky, Rafa was slight and wiry. One was tall, the other still boyish in his height. Hideki, being the taller one, was able to spot Rafa quickly from his higher viewpoint. Rafa walked along, entertaining a group of his young colleagues. His movement was fluid and extravagant, unrestrained. He talked with animated eyes and he smiled easily. Hideki’s face was meaningless, it did not convey anything at all. He was comforted by their difference. Their mirroring. There was something of balance in it.

Hideki thought this in passing. He was no great believer in fate, but some things to him felt more important than others. In a situation like this he respected balance, a touch of magnetism would make things go more smoothly. He studied Rafa for a few minutes until he saw the young executive head out to the balcony for a cigarette. He followed him.

He moved across the dancefloor unnoticed, brushing through its occupants. No one turned their head to watch him go. His ghostly march brought him to cold night air and the sight of distant lights below. The club was in the upper reaches of the city. A long ways below people thronged about too tiny to be made out, and cars buzzed and clumped like feasting flies.

Hideki leaned on the black railing of the balcony. The man he sought stood a few feet further down, lost in thought, or drunken stupor, Hideki couldn’t tell. Hideki too became lost again as he watched the city. His mind moved like a watermill, turning over the same thoughts slowly and evenly. The man, Rafa, noticed him. He smiled, gave a nod. Hideki raised his daiquiri in reply. Again, silence.

Moments passed like this. The man turned to go, his cigarette end crashing to earth below. “Light?” Hideki ased. Rafa turned back seeming puzzled. He strolled over and leaned next to Hideki. “Light” he repeated, patting his pockets until he found one. He lit the cigarette Hideki had produced, the two men standing close to shield against the wind. “Rafa Cole?” Hideki grunted around his cigarette. “There we go… hmm? Sorry, yes, Rafa”.

Hideki Itô took a long drag of his cigarette. Rafa Cole watched him, relaxed and expectant, not reading into what was a moment of stomach churning stillness, nauseating tension. The fragile moment was still, then it was broken. Hideki moved, a sliver of silver flashing at his wrist. He pounced, slashing. Adrenaline pumped through him, his heartbeat filling his ears like wool and din. He worked with assembly line rote, his mind clear and focused. He was calm and immutable still. Rafa Cole struggled; Hideki was strong.

He swatted the flailing arms. He stabbed, forcing steel into the gristle and softness of a neck. He stabbed and stabbed again, in and out, clear heavy strikes that damaged and bloodied. He rended Rafa Cole until he was sure he was dead, and blood flooded out of Rafa, hot, bitter, marking his success.

Hideki took a moment to breathe. His heart seemed to rise like Shepard’s tone. It couldn’t get any faster and it continued to quicken. Breath shallow and heart knocking he searched his pockets. There was confusion inside, he had to act before it became commotion, action.

He took out a small black device, it was smooth and had a grainy texture.

Hideki had killed. A heart had stopped beating. Police drones would have recognised the loss and he would be surrounded already. There was no escape for a killer here, not at these heights.

The black device hummed. It was ready for transfer. He placed it on the back of his neck and it attached itself like a leech, making a wet sound. It was time. Now things became difficult, unsavoury. He picked up his knife again, and denied any shake to his hands. He gulped down deep breaths. He brought the blade under his chin and carved his neck in a fluid, practiced motion.

Hideki cut his throat, fluid and beautiful, like poetry. his neck gushed oily red onto the balcony. He dropped to his knees slowly. From his knees it was another short fall to the cold marble floor. His blood began to pool around him. . He had felt himself sinking, felt himself being dragged down into quicksilver water. Slowly, moving down to dark and cold, and calm. Dying was always cold, always calm. He felt his eyes closing and let cold waves wash over him, let urgent tide drag him down.

Two men lay dead when scene was locked down. An unfinished daiquiri and a lit cigarette kept each other company on the balcony.

*   *   *

His eyes shot open, blinked, gasped. There was no air in his lungs. His limbs thrashed pointlessly, heavy and foreign. Clothes were lead weights on him, he felt sodden. His brain burned with the burden of thought, his mind heaved, overcome with pure animal panic. He flopped and shuddered on a hard metal trolley, mouth fixed in an O, gasping, dumb.

He wriggled and writhed on the trolley. Eventually the tinny rattle quietened and he was still. His chest began to move up and down in a more regular fashion. His pupils reduced themselves to pinpricks. He sat up on the side of the trolley he had awoken on, staying there a few moments, not wanting to stand too quickly; new legs always took getting used to. He could tell these legs would turn to jelly when he set them to the floor.

He waited for some time, just breathing and feeling the feel of his skin, the weight of his hands. The way his mouth curved when he made different expressions. When he was sure he could stand without vomiting he stood up and walked, stumbling and spasmodic, over to the mirror on the other side of the room. He looked at his face. Stranger. Japanese, certainly. He could imagine him being from somewhere near home. It was comforting. His build was slight, but muscular. He liked it well enough.

He stared for a few more moments then reached around to the back of his neck and plucked a small black device from it. Similar to the one he had stuck in his neck a few minutes ago, but inverted, the other side of a relay. As the body dies, but before the brain shuts down it transfers, across aether, across space, across nothing. Now he was here. Mostly.

As he inspected his new face more closely the door behind him opened and a bald, rounded man entered. “Very late, Mr Itô, suspicious to be wandering around so late” he chuckled. Hideki tried to nod, instead jerking his head to the side jarringly. “A flawless evening. A happy evening. Sad for Rafa Cole. But needs must, yes?” He smiled. “Iamb glad forrour success” Hideki said, trying to work the words past a large and disobedient tongue.

The man brought Hideki to have tests run. Standard of course, and all very healthy results. He picked up his pay package on the way out. Money, and keys. A new apartment, a new car, a new everything. His old apartment would be ransacked and scoured soon enough. Nothing would be found. The night had passed by the time Hideki was allowed to leave the company building.

Hideki enjoyed the sunlight as he stepped out onto the sidewalk. The warmth of the sun soaked into him, new to his skin, skin in which he had never been warm. Skin that still remembered death, a different death, far away. Someone else. He had been plunged headfirst into dark water and a hand, this new, warm hand, had broken the surface, half a world away. Hideki wandered aimlessly through the city on the way to his new address. He took breakfast in a small cafe, and later stopped for a drink at a disco themed restaurant. His stomach showed no upset at his preferred food and drinks, which was some comfort.

The sun was preparing to set all over again when he reached the Moud-Iverson.

Hideki took an elevator, rising up the side of the building. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the cool glass. Looking out at the city while he rose made him feel nauseated. He fit his key into the door of his new apartment. It was stylish and lush and he tasted ashes in his mouth. Everything in the apartment felt plastic and mocking. It was always like this at first, he reminded himself. Starting again.

It would pass. It would pass, and still, Hideki Itô did not sleep well that night.




JAMIE STEDMOND is a young Irish writer, currently based in Dublin. Jamie is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Previously published in The Bohemyth, Cagibi, ZeroFlash (forthcoming), and Paragraph Planet.


Image: via Pixabay



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