The shower wasn't exactly a luxury accommodation. 他 had only seen a unit like it once before, on a cruise ship. The entire bathroom was one room-sized, injection-molded plastic housing--the toilet, the sink, and the shower. If Apple had manufactured it, the marketing team would have spun it as "unibody." It reminded him of Bruce Willis' all-in-one apartment unit from The Fifth Element.
他 realized this wasn't the first time he'd fixated on bathroom tech or made a comparison to a twenty-year-old Luc Besson science fiction movie since landing.
The apartment was serviceable; small, but tidy. If the serial badge on the bathroom unit was any indication, this place dated back to 1986. Much of Tokyo had this curious air of being at once thirty years into the future, and thirty years in the past. It was a city for a space-age that had come and gone, the world of William Gibson novels and breathless dystopian proclamations of "the rising Eastern tiger."
Reality had proven more complicated than that. A massive real estate bubble had led to a generations-long recession, prompting all kinds of domestic hand-wringing from the olds as their kids elected to trade in indentured servitude to a zaibatsu for arubaito, or part-time work. To a twenty-something American in 2016, it seemed like a smart move.
他 toweled off and got dressed while 苦 rinsed off in the iShower. 他 checked the train directions to their destination. This was where they were to meet their most promising lead in the investigation of K's whereabouts.
K had fled to Tokyo half a year earlier, after selling an app to a mobile games publisher. Well, that wasn't quite the full story.
It would be more accurate to say that K, a man of ideals to the point of fault, had developed a satirical mobile game that had unexpectedly taken off. It seemed to 他 that K had had underestimated how subject to the laws of Pavlovian conditioning his potential audience was. Missing the joke, millions of people made meaningless in-app purchases for things like "Purple Kitten Caddy" (99 cents) and "Stylish Tote for Purple Kitten Caddy" (Flash sale: 49 cents). Within twelve months, K had built a small fortune on the backs of the unthinking masses, and he'd become the very thing he'd sought to undermine.
He could have refused to sell out. He could have shut the whole thing down. But he was so disenchanted that he instead sold for a princely sum (which he never quite disclosed to 他 or 苦), to a publisher with a burn rate justified by nothing but their ludicrous IPO valuation. (The publisher had since gone through two CEOs and was now on the verge of death, looking for a buyer at bargain-basement prices. The tech bubble, it turned out, could be a cruel mistress.)
Shortly after depositing his shame check, K had retreated from their shared social circle. No one heard much from him. One day 他 sent him an email with the subject line, "You ok?" and a GIF of a shrugging cat. It took K three weeks to respond, and when he did, he told 他 that he'd gone to Japan. He was sick of his old life and wanted to try going someplace new. He said not to worry about him, and that he'd reach out again when he was ready.
If that had been the end of it, 他 wouldn't have been on a flight to Haneda International six months later. But of course, that wasn't the end of it.
他 had been grabbing fourthmeal at Taco Bell not two days before landing, when an international phone number rang. He answered it, and in the background of a quiet line heard arguing in Japanese that was beyond his limited comprehension. The caller hung up, and when 他 tried calling back, he got nothing.
K's Instagram, which had once been filled with smiling pictures of him and his friends at barcades or haunting the Venice boardwalk, now consisted of artful but cryptic scenes of the Tokyo environment. Usually the buildings were the subjects; rarely were people in the shots and if they were, they were anonymous passers-by. 他 had put his detective cap on, identifying the Shibuya police box with its nautical curves and ebony structure, or the Jules Vernes-ish clock on the facade of the Shibuya Mandarake retail location, to identify that as his most recent neighborhood.
But the real breakthrough had come when 他 noticed most of the comments on K's photos originated from the same account: a girl named JUNK01. Most of her comments were some combination of emoji and kana that seemed to be part of an elaborate and ongoing inside joke.
他 took 苦 with him down to the station, where they boarded the short ride on the Den-en-toshi line to Shibuya proper. Here, in a little ramen shop, they would meet with JUNK01.
He'd explained to her, to the best of his abilities (and with the questionable help of Google Translate), why he was coming into town. She had told him that yes, she knew K but had not been able to get a hold of him in three days. She would gladly show him to the spots where she'd known him to frequent, in the hopes that 他 might make a connection. She also asked if he'd hired a detective.
他 had considered the possibility; but he couldn't shake the feeling that this was one of K's games. That in order to win it, he'd have to do the sleuthing himself.
Junko Ichikawa was round-faced and comfortable in her skin, with little of the formal poise 他 had come to expect in his limited interaction with cashiers and airport employees. Perhaps, he wondered, this was what it meant to be in the "in-group." Then again, she was a member of the slacker generation, an art-house cast-off of a system he figured had little need for free thinkers.
Junko was in love with K, she admitted. But it was a secret. She was married to a performance artist, but had tired of his infidelity and attention hogging. She managed to articulate this concept for 他 and 苦 with the help of charades.
The next four hours were spent wandering the side streets of Shibuya, weaving in and out of multi-level department stores that hid tiny gems--underground hideaways in back rooms and rented lofts, all filled to about bursting with rock and roll memorabilia and video visualizations on monitors and projected onto the walls. At each one, the hosts and regulars acknowledged the photos of K with recognition. 他 and 苦 tried to keep up with Junko's conversations, but they didn't need to be fluent to tell each was going to same way as the previous had: Yes, I remember him, but he hasn't been in here in a long time.
Each time, 他 began to feel a little more like this was all a fool's errand. Perhaps he would need a P.I. after all.
Finally, as the streets started to get swallowed up by the shadows of the concrete canyons, Junko bid the travelers farewell. She wore a smile on her face. It was sad, 他 interpreted, the kind of face you make for a stranger when you don't want to burden them with anything greater.
They waved good-bye and rode the train back to their apartment. The city was just beginning to come alive in dancing neon, but they wanted only to go to bed.