Charles Fraser had no idea why he had accepted the invitation of his neighbour, Ms Hasekura. He had never had much time for socialising with neighbours and – to hell with political correctness – had no time for the Japanese. Neither did he like the woman herself and he was certainly not in the mood for a party.
All the above begging an obvious question he duly asked himself as he sipped at a nonetheless welcome glass of Scotch and eyed his fellow guests with indifference.
“What the fuck am I doing here?”
That the woman’s home was no more than a hop and a skip from his own residence across the road – the same house the father of the wife who had divorced him owned and had now sold out from under him – was surely not the only reason he had chosen to spend an evening with a woman he actively disliked and who, he got the impression, returned the compliment with equal intensity; even if, he also knew with certainty, she desired him physically.
The vol-au-vents he was shifting from salivatory mouth to hollow and groaning stomach at such a rate of knots his tongue hadn’t time to make even a guess at the constituents of the filling inside them went, he knew also, only a part of the way to explaining his presence at the woman’s gathering of neighbours, friends and business associates to celebrate…?
Whatever it was she was celebrating.
Fear of the future – especially now the wife from the wealthy background had finally taken enough and jettisoned him was, he was compelled to acknowledge, another reason for his attendance. A jettisoning that had been made after he had played on the awe and infatuation his handsome looks had inspired in a woman who had always been, and would always remain, a plain-Jane to walk all over her. Yet another aspect of his current situation leading him to seek out food, drink, hospitality and other people.
Even if it meant finding it in her home.
It was, though he wasn’t to know it, not the only thing he would find in her home that night.
And for a long time to come.
The rooms of the minimally furnished, if traditionally Japanese, house was full of chattering people, male and female, in a whole a range of homogenous and mostly grey conservative suits. Some of them were fellow neighbours and, though Charles knew them well enough to keep himself occupied if he wanted to talk, he found he was happier drinking and eating alone as he observed the lucky bastards around him who would at least be returning to a home of their own that had not been sold from under them at evening’s end. An observation, along with the scotch, not about to improve the somewhat self-pitying mood with which he had entered.
Ditto the following intrusion:
“Here you are, Fraser-San. I trust you are having fun?”
Charles forced a weak smile it had to be pretty obvious to even his hostess that he didn’t feel, aware, as he had always been aware, of the physical attraction she felt for him that matched her obvious personal distaste; even though she tried to disguise it with some form of oriental inscrutability he, as a practiced womaniser, had seen through as easily as if her mind were plate glass and her thoughts and feelings etched upon it in bold crayon:
“I can’t stay too long, I’m afraid, Ms Hasekura,” he said by way of accompaniment for his pallid and insincere smile of greeting, not for the first time finding her an unimpressive example of her sex unworthy of his attention – and certainly any attention of either a romantic or sexual kind.
The widow gave him what he took to be an inquisitive look at this, as if surprised, and her next words in their clipped and precise, if heavily accented, English, proved him right:
“I would have thought there would not be too much waiting for you across the road of, shall we say, a pleasant nature, Fraser-San?”
Charles felt his teeth grate at being addressed in such a way, even though he knew it was no more than formal and very Japanese politeness on her part.
But then, he had never liked formal.
A little anger also accompanied his irritation at her inference that she knew of his marital situation and, perhaps – she had invited Louisa across for coffee on a few occasions – more.
Again, her next words confirmed his suspicions.
“It is why I invited you to come here tonight,” she told him. “When my dear husband passed away it was the kindness of friends and neighbours who helped me through my terrible loss.”
An image of the wealthy, elderly, and decidedly unmissed, Mr Hasekura presented itself to him and, as he recalled the few times he had spoken with the man himself, Charles struggled to remember any evidence relating to why his passing would provoke the “terrible loss” of which she spoke and came up empty handed.
Not, as may be expected, concerned by his lack of success in this endeavour, he returned his attention – or that much of it he was inclined to spare her – to the widow and hostess.
A level of attention that had not been much to begin with.
On the rare occasions they had encountered each other – he liked to take a run each morning and the woman enjoyed a brisk and unaccompanied walk around that time also – he had, along with spotting interest on her part for his features and still lean physique, sensed something of disapproval for him in her attitude during their short and stiffly polite exchanges.
Of course, being a child born in the sixties and having spent much time with a grandfather and former second-world-war serviceman who had spent time as a POW in the care of his neighbour’s countrymen, a grandfather who enjoyed scaring him with comic book type tales of their “fiendish” cruelty, it did not sit well with him to feel he was being judged by a person from a country with – similar crimes against humanity committed by his own country conveniently brushed aside – so much to answer for.
It was a sense of disapproval he picked up on even more after Louisa instigated divorce proceedings and left their/her Blackheath home to live once more with her likewise separated mother back in Buckinghamshire; though knowing how private a person his now ex-wife was it would have amazed him had she shared any of their marital details, and his less than exemplary behaviour throughout it, with a neighbour she had done no more than share a morning coffee with on a couple of occasions.
Though it did strike him that people did open up more readily to strangers.
It was, after all, a facet of human nature that had been most beneficial to him down the years.
He guessed the woman to be around thirty-five, maybe a touch more, some nine years older than him if he was right, with the usual oval and very oriental face; though it lacked the daintily defined features he mostly associated with the women of the same region.
In fact, the hooked nose had more in common with the curve of a scimitar than the slim and straight lines of a ritual dagger and the slitted, yet still somewhat feline eyes hinted at more of the Mongolian than that of a child of Japanese parents whose formative years – this according to Louisa – had been spent in the historic former capital of Kyoto.
Her hair was jet black without showing any sign of artificial colouration and she was – for a Japanese, of course – of middle height.
“That was very… thoughtful of you,” he had thanked her, knowing she was waiting for an acknowledgement of her kindness for inviting him as, careful to keep the irritation and burgeoning anger he felt from his voice.
At least, that is, until he had drunk and eaten his fill of the supplies that were in short supply across the road in the home he would soon be obliged to vacate.
The oval face and its quasi-Mongolian features as it took him in was unreadable.
“It is hard enough in life to have a loved one removed from our lives by natural causes,” she continued, missing, or unconcerned enough to be bothered, the signs of his displeasure for the area into which she seemed intent upon taking the conversation, “but to know that loved one is still alive but no longer feels the love previously felt for one must be…”
“Really,” he cut in quickly, “I know you mean well, hmm…”
“Rin,” she prompted him, looking completely self-contained and unperturbed by his interjection.
“Yes, thank you. Anyway, Rin, I would…”
It was her time to cut in this time:
“In Japanese it means: ‘dignified’.”
“Really? Well, look…”
“It can also mean: ‘cold’,” she told him, adding then, as if meaningfully: “‘Severe’, also.”
“You learn something every day,” he told her, unable now to keep the sarcasm borne of irritation at bay entirely. “Anyway, it’s getting late, and I should be getting off.”
“I have offended you, Fraser-San.”
“No, really,” he protested half-heartedly. “Not at all.”
“Why else would you leave so early?”
“Truly, you haven’t offended ne in the slightest,” he lied. “I’m just tired and there’s so much to do before…”
He found himself at a loss as to how to phrase the fact he had only a week remaining to the end of the month to find himself a roof and – god forbid! – a job of some kind without looking and sounding desperate – even if that was exactly how he did feel. New residence and a form of income to go with it found before the family of Indian grocers, to whom Louisa’s father had sold the house he had provided his daughter on her wedding day, took possession and he was out on his ear. Out on everything, in fact.
As it turned out, it was a loss he had no need to make good on as his hostess was ahead of him:
“Before the new owners take up residence in what, for the moment, is your home,” she finished for him, not even bothering to phrase it as a question, so certain was she that this had been what he was about to say.
Charles Fraser bit into his cheek and pinched at the bridge of his nose as if at a sudden migraine, hoping that she would stop spouting her mixture of fact and bullshit before the effects of the Scotch and the irrefutably dire nature of his situation she seemed intent upon highlighting provoked his famous temper.
Famous to Louisa, anyway.
If she sensed this response in him, she looked supremely unconcerned and, as she stood before him in a figure hugging and sheath fitting dress in a maroon fabric, he realised she at least had a supple and shapely figure to match the full and most un-Japanese like breasts that were the only things about her ever to have caught his interest.
And even then, in only the most detached of ways.
Womaniser or not, her face and – again, to hell with political correctness – nationality pre-empted any interest of a romantic kind on his part towards her.
Even if the fortune left to her by the late Mr Hasekura was of more interest.
Thoughts switched instantly by the reminder of her wealthy widow status, in the way of all such men who’ve pretty much gone through life living off their looks – mercenary and moral free self-interest triggered by the attention rather than “inscrutability” she seemed to feel free show in him now he was free of Louisa – he put aside his irritation and began to wonder if there wasn’t something here for him after all.
Aside from the breasts, which looked as full and pert as ever, he noticed the dress looked rather tight around her hips and, though out of preference his tastes were more bamboo-shoot catwalk than tree-trunk high-street, assured himself there was nothing so wrong with a full-figured woman that a healthy personal allowance and a few debit and credit cards couldn’t overcome them.
Acting skills honed from many years of seduction kicked in and his expression took on something of the heroic victim:
“Yes, you’re right. That’s what I was about to say. It… Well, it’s a bit of a worry if I’m truthful.”
“I should think it must be,” she agreed.
Taking a half-step back, he used the perspective his new position provided to take a fuller and more covert look at her; allowing eyes well-versed in these matters to take mental snapshots of her physical dimensions, other than the Mongolian facial constituents and full breasts, without her being in the slightest way aware he was doing so.
The first thing he noticed, as he lowered a shaking head and pretended to be deep in thought in respect of his current plight, were a pair of nylon covered, and surprisingly shapely, feet with strong ankles and slightly muscular calves.
Encased in a pair of pumps the same colour as her dress, with short dagger heels and pointed toes, it was obvious they were well maintained, and he recalled reading somewhere that women from her part of the world were most particular in this aspect of personal grooming.
The shoes themselves, though he had no idea which designer they were from, were undoubtedly expensive and were yet another reminder of the luxuries in the way of male apparel that would soon be a thing of the past for him now that Louisa had kicked him into touch and taken her money and a cast-iron pre-nup with her.
In fact, he had already visited one of the recently sprung-up second-hand clothing stores to sell off a part of his wardrobe that he might have some cash in his wallet now his usual outlets had been closed to him.
The only concession to make-up he could discern on the severe looking face that lived up to her name was the bright red lipstick covering full lips that were the best features of the visage itself.
Which was not saying much.
From each ear hung a small teardrop pearl earring – again, expensive.
“Have you ever visited Japan, Fraser-San?”
“A pleasure still left to me, I’m afraid. Why do you ask?”
His glass was empty, and he wanted more, but he held off; sensing as he did that there might just be something to his advantage that could come out of this most unpromising evening.
Fucking a none too pretty Jap suddenly didn’t seem too great a price to pay if it bought him some time. It wasn’t, after all, as if he hadn’t made similar sacrifices in the past. And, if the antennae that had proved infallible in the past could still be trusted, she did seem… interested.
“I was thinking that you would not find it to your… taste… which I find a waste.”
Despite knowing she was on the button – about it not being to his taste, anyway – he was intrigued:
“What makes you say that, hmm, Rin? And why would it be a waste?”
“Your glass is empty, allow me to fetch you another,” she offered without answering, though he could not be sure if she was being evasive or simply an attentive hostess; though it did strike him she seemed pretty certain he was going to stay – even if mercenary and predatory intentions had only a few moments before persuaded him to do just that.
“Scotch with no ice, please,” he said, smiling his most winning smile which she returned with a polite if formal example of her own before taking off to the bar to have one of the staff she had hired for the evening pour his drink.
“What’s to lose?” he told himself as he watched her ample but not unattractive buttocks in the confinement of the sheath dress oscillate away from him. “I’ve been with worse.”
And she had gone to the trouble of inviting him over, after all; the least he could do out of simple neighbourly courtesy was give her a run-out.
Who could say what might develop after that?
When she returned, she handed him his drink and told him she needed to pay more attention to her other guests. This had both surprised and disappointed him. Simple logistics told him that if he was going to work on her then he needed to spend some time in her company.
Her next words were quite an encouragement, however:
“Fraser-San,” she began, “I would like to speak with you in private when my guests have gone. Would this be acceptable to you?”
“Acceptable?” he thought, hackles of opportunity raised as he caught the familiar scent of a female patsy susceptible to his charm, though he contented himself with a friendly and amenable:
“Of course, Rin, what’s troubling you?”
“If I may speak frankly,” she began, before going on without receiving his permission to do so, “I was thinking more of your troubles, Fraser-San.”
“On the subject of which, I have a proposition to make you that could prove a solution to your present problems.”