Barry stood from the table where he, Sato, and Nagase had had their celebratory dinner. There was every reason to believe that the woman at the bar would be open to his advances.
But a few pertinent questions remained.
Did the woman at the bar speak English? Barry had no idea. The Japanese could fool you that way. On one hand, there were Japanese wait staff like Mayumi, who could hold forth on Faulkner and Hemingway. On the other hand, the vice president of Yukimura, a major Japanese corporation, could barely bungle out a basic greeting in English.
Barry quickly closed the distance between his table and the bar. He approached the woman from the side, so as not to startle her.
When he leaned into her field of vision, she looked up at him, and smiled again.
She was even prettier up close.
“Hajimemashite. Watashi no namae wa Barry Lawson desu.”
This was a very basic Japanese greeting. A pleasure to make your acquaintance. My name is Barry Lawson.
She clapped her hands twice, delighted with his Japanese. But Barry was relieved to learn that he wasn’t going to have to continue with his limited skills in that language.
“My name is Keiko. Keiko Yamada,” she said. Her English was accented, but she was clearly comfortable with it.
“My name is Barry. Barry Lawson.”
“So you said. Why don’t you have a seat, Mr. Barry Lawson?”
Barry sat on the barstool beside her.
“Thank you for the champagne,” he said.
“Japan is a friendly country,” she said. “We can’t let any foreigners go thirsty, can we?”
Barry considered the double entendre that she might—or might not—have intended.
“I suppose not. Anyway. Let me return the favor. Your glass is just about empty.”
Barry motioned at the bartender—a young Japanese man wearing black trousers, a starched white shirt, and bowtie.
“One more for the lady,” Barry said. “And I’ll have one of whatever she’s having myself.”
They went through the normal rituals of two strangers meeting at a bar. Barry told her that he was a marketing consultant. (He resisted the urge to say international marketing consultant. That would have sounded bombastic. And it was obvious, anyway, given that he was here in Japan, and he had just signed a contract with a major Japanese company.)
“Sounds impressive,” Keiko said.
“And what about you?”
“I’m a freelance translator and interpreter.”
The conversation went back and forth like that for a while. Polite and not too intimate. Barry kept a discreet eye on the clock above the bar.
He was approaching another decision point, he knew.
As was she.
Barry glanced at his watch. It was now ten o’clock.
There were no more introductory pleasantries to be exchanged. They knew as much about each other as was reasonable for a first conversation at a bar.
Now they had to do something. In most cases, this would mean exchanging phone numbers, with promises for a follow-up date—a real date.
But Barry knew how things worked. He would never see Keiko again. Now that the contract with Yukimura was signed, he would return to Japan in perhaps three or four months. Maybe once again three or four months after that. The bulk of his work for the Japanese company had to be done stateside, where its American target customers were.
There was no way he could hope to begin a relationship with Keiko—no matter how appealing that prospect might seem.
The question then, was: Would he spend the night with her—or would she leave him soon, with nothing more between them but a half-hour’s worth of pleasant conversation?
Ask her now, he thought. What was the worst thing that could happen?
On one hand, she could make a show of being offended. She might possibly even do something dramatic, like throw her drink in his face.
But probably not. The worst likely outcome here was that she would simply say no.
Then Barry’s evening would end as planned—with him sleeping alone in his hotel room.
All right, then. Out with it.
“Keiko, I don’t know exactly how to say this, but I’m going to try. I’ve really enjoyed my time with you tonight. But I’m leaving for Chicago tomorrow morning. And so all we have is tonight…What I’m wondering is, would you do me the pleasure of accompanying me back to my hotel room?”
She smiled and placed her hand over her mouth.
“Why—Mister Barry. I believe you do know how to say that.”
“I know it’s sudden,” he said. “But I really like you. And—if I may say so, you seem to like me as well.”
Otherwise, you wouldn’t have sent me a glass of champagne, he thought, but did not say.
“Go on, Mister Barry.”
“I have a room two floors down, on the eighth floor of this hotel. Go there with me. Please.”
She did not respond, but looked down at the bar.
“I’ve offended you,” he said.
“I’ve moved too fast, then.”
“No—not that, either.”
“It—it is not possible,” she said. “I cannot go with you to your hotel room. I cannot.”
He wondered if Keiko was simply playing hard to get—if maybe she wanted to be convinced.
But then she said: “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“I simply can’t do it.”
Barry nodded. He was not above propositioning a woman. But he was also a good sport when some of them inevitably said no.
“I understand, Keiko.” He shrugged. “No harm in asking, right? But anyway. It is getting late, and I have that flight to catch in the morning. I want to thank you again for the glass of champagne. That was a lovely gesture.”
He started to slide off his barstool. He could not avoid a quick look at her exposed olive skin, her high cheekbones, her taut cleavage. Everything that he would be missing out on tonight.
But she said no—so drop it.
“Wait a minute,” she said, before he’d slipped completely off the stool. She laid her bare hand on his.
Her skin was soft, and warm to the touch. Barry felt a little flood of heat go through him.
“Have you changed your mind, then?”
“I said that I couldn’t go with you to your room, Mister Barry. But there is a very specific reason for that. My brother, you see, he works at this hotel as a porter—a bellhop.”
“I see,” Barry said.
“If he were to see me enter the hotel room of a strange man—a foreign man who is not my husband…”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t be together tonight, though.”
“Okay,” Barry said. Time for Plan B, he thought.
In Japan, he knew, there were hotels that marketed themselves specifically for romantic trysts. (This was another little tidbit of Japanese culture that Nagase and Sato had shared.) The Japanese called them rabu-hoteru or “love hotels”. Although they were obviously used for extramarital flings and hook-ups with prostitutes, not all the sex that went on at these places was illicit. According to Sato, married Japanese couples living in cramped, multigenerational homes sometimes resorted to the rabu-hoteru when they wanted some privacy.
But where would one find such a place? And how long would that take?
“We could go to another hotel,” Barry suggested tentatively.
Keiko frowned a little at that suggestion. What’s wrong? Barry thought. Have I finally offended her?
“I don’t want to go to a place like that,” she said.
“All right. That’s okay. Then….”
“Actually,” she brightened, “I have a flat—an apartment—not far from here. We could go there.”
Barry now had yet another decision to make.
He had to be up early tomorrow to catch his flight. Taking Keiko back to his room was one thing. A boondoggle outside the hotel was another.
If he spent the night at her place, he would need to catch a taxi back to the Ichiryu Hotel first thing in the morning.
Then he would need to pack, check out, and catch another taxi to the Osaka International Airport.
But then again: What was the worst thing that could happen? He would miss his flight, and catch another one out later in the afternoon. Not ideal—but not the end of the world, either.
Barry strongly suspected that Keiko’s story of a brother who worked in the hotel was a fabrication. If she was ever-conscious of her brother’s all-seeing eyes, then what was she doing here, at the bar of that very same hotel?
He could have challenged her over this contradiction. He decided not to. Women often had their own indecipherable, idiosyncratic reasons for doing things—just like men did.
Maybe the idea of a tryst in a hotel room simply struck her as cheap, sleazy.
“You want us to go to your apartment, then?”
She smiled and nodded. “It is not far from here.”
“Sure, Keiko,” Barry said. “Let’s go to your apartment.”