Akiko went over the numbers again. They came out the same as they had the fourth time she'd run them; her business wouldn't last through the month. She slammed the ledger close in disgust and cradled her head in her hands. What was she going to do?
All of the guys at the old real estate place told her she couldn't make it on her own. They'd said that there was no way a someone could get an agency up and running in this economy. That had only fueled her on. In the end, it looked like they were right.
Things weren't as simple as crawling back and admitting they were right. She'd made loans. Loans that men in suits with missing fingers (the yakuza) would be wanting back. Giving up completely, Akiko put her head on her desk and started to cry. One of the florescent lights flickered in time with her sobs.
"Excuse me!" a voice cried out from the other side of the partition. A customer? Not that he would save her enterprise, but he might go a little way in helping delay the day she'd have to meet up with the yakuza.
She whipped her eyes and checked her make up. "Just a second," she called out and straighted her hair. She went around to the main portion of the office and her heart went into her stomach.
The pudgy man who'd called out to her was wearing a cheap suit, sunglasses, and had a diamond earring in his left ear. This was no customer, this was debt collection. "C ... can I help you?"
"Akiko Sakamoto?" he asked.
The round man burst out into a toothy grin. "Hi, I'm Kenji Sakamoto!" He stuck out his hand to shake hers, then pulled it back. "Oh, right, I'm not in America anymore." He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a silver business card case.
Taking one out, he handed it to Akiko and bowed slightly. She took it in both hands as proper etiquette required. "Is there something you're looking for?" she asked.
"I'm just back from the states and I was looking for some work."
Akiko shook her head no. "I'm sorry, my company's not in any state to take on staff at this time."
"But you haven't even heard my pitch, yet." Sakamoto pulled out a worn-out chair from under the counter and sat down. The flickering florescent bulb finally gave out causing the dingy room to get gloomier.
"I don't need to hear your pitch. My company's closing its doors at the end of the month."
Sakamoto slouched down in the chair and put his hands on his belly. "Well, that'd give me a whole 17 days to turn this place around."
"My company is broke. Even if I wanted to higher you, I couldn't pay you."
Sakamoto motioned for Akiko to sit down. She pulled out the seat on the other side of the counter and sat down. Sakamoto leaned forward and cuffed his hands together on the counter top. "I'll work pro bono."
"Why would you want to want to work at a place that's going out of business for free?"
"I'm attracted to the charm of this place," he said and gestured around the dirty room. Akiko tried her best to keep it tidy, but running every aspect of the business herself left her no time to clean. The windows still had layers of soot and dirt caked on them, the counter was falling a part, even the chairs they were sitting in she'd picked up from a second hand store and were covered in duct tape.
Not believing him, Akiko frowned. "You'd get nothing out of it. I can't even offer you connections in the business. If anyone found out your were associated with me, it'd probably hurt you more than help."
Sakamoto waved her off. "I'm not looking for recommendations."
"Then what are you looking for?"
A chill ran down Akiko's spine as the man stared into her eyes. "I'm looking for your company."
Akiko didn't know how to respond. What did he mean he wanted her company? The man was obviously deranged. But if he wanted to sit around in this dingy, customer-less office till the end of the month, that was fine with her. Might as well pretend to interview him.
"Okay. So, what sort of experience do you have in the real estate industry?"
Sakamoto leaned back and put his hands behind his head and crossed one leg over the other. "None."
"None? What makes you think you can do it?"
"I know people. I can find their perfect place just by looking at them."
That settled it, not only was he deranged, he was delusional as well. "I don't think you're very funny, Mr Sakamoto. Now, if you'd please excuse me, I have some work I need to get to."
"Wait," he said, stopping her midway of getting out of her chair. "I don't want you to go blowing me off right away. I've looked hard for this place and I think it's perfect for my talents. Let me try to convince you."
She sat back down. "How do you propose doing that?"
"Let me find a new place for you."
Akiko couldn't contain her impolite laugh. She'd just recently bought a new condo and she still had 30 years left on the mortgage. Not only that, but it was within a five minute train ride from her parents place in one direction and five from here in the other. There was no way he could get more "perfect" than that.
"Sorry for laughing, it's just that I'm already living in the perfect place for me."
"Well, that just means I've really got my work cut out for me, doesn't it."
What did she have to lose? Sure, she wasn't sure if she could stand to work with the boorish man, but what if what he was saying was true? She could barely convince the few customers that did come in to go look at a place, let alone sign a contract. Plus, he was offering to work for free until she closed down. But there was something odd about it. There had to be a catch.
"So, say I let you convince me and you do a wonderful job. I let you stay on and work for free and you save my company. Is that when you come in and hit me with a bill for all sorts of made up fees, bleeding me dry?"
Sakamoto's face went white and his mouth dropped open. "How did you..." Suddenly, he burst out laughing. "Just fooling with you! No, I'd let you decide the salary."
"Mr. Sakamoto, I'm just finding this all a little hard to believe."
"Look, I told you. I've got zero experience and I'm on the plus side of 35. No national firm would ever go near me. So, I looked local and wouldn't you know, there's a nice little agency with my last name! I figured if I got on there, it would look like a nice little family business."
Akiko shuddered at the thought of being mistaken for his relative. But she couldn't find the catch and didn't really have anything to lose. "Fine. Convince me." She sat back and folded her arms across her flat chest.
Sakamoto sat up, clapped and then rubbed his hands together. "Mind if I go through your listings?"
"They're right there," she said, gesturing to the filing cabinets behind her. Sakamoto rolled out of his chair and walked behind the counter. Akiko leaned forward so that he could pass behind her, but he still put his hands on both her shoulders to support himself as he squeezed by behind her. Her arms tingled, like they were being lightly electrocuted.
After he passed by, she sat back in her chair. Even though the contact had stopped, the electric tingle persisted. Sakamoto looked down at her. "I think something east of the castle would be suiting for you, somewhere in Izumi."
Akiko was impressed that he not only picked out something on the side of town that she actually lived on, but the area just north of her parent's place. Sakamoto opened up the drawer for that area of town and started flipping through the listings. He found a couple that he liked and set them on top of the cabinet.
After going through all the listings, he picked up the ones he'd pulled out and shuffled through them. One by one, he returned them to the drawer until he only had one left. As he put the last of the rejected listings back, he peered intensely into the drawer.
A huge grin broke out on Sakamoto's face. "Someone sure enjoys a little 'filing'," he said. He reached his hand into the drawer and pulled out a pink dildo. Akiko's face went red.
"That's not mine!" Was he trying to pull some sick joke on her?
"I sure didn't put it there," Sakamoto said.
"There's no other way it could have gotten there!"
"Hey, calm down, there's no reason to get mad at me because you can't hide your toys well."
Akiko fumed. She [i]didn't[/i] keep a dildo in her one of her filing drawers. He had to have put it there. But, what if he didn't? She'd bought those cabinets from a pretty shady place. It could have been possible that it was stuck in the corner and she'd just never noticed. With her lack of customers and how rarely she opened those drawers, that was a possibility. "It's not mine."
"Okay," he said and put it back. She'd have to throw it out later when he left.
Squeezing back past her, his hand slid across her back. Once again, she felt like she was being shocked. It didn't feel bad; it didn't feel good, either. It just felt weird. It was like her arms and back had licked a nine volt battery. Again, even after the contact was broken, her back continued to tingle.
Sakamoto sat down in his seat again. Akiko had calmed down enough to find the fact that their positions were reversed funny. She was sitting on the realtor's side as a customer and he was sitting on the customer side as a realtor. She enjoyed little things like that.
"Show me what you got," she said.
He laid out the listing file. Akiko recognized it. It was a dumpy little one room apartment that had been on the market for years. The only good thing about it was that it was cheap, but even at that it was overpriced for how old and tiny the place was.
"That's it? Well, that was a waste of 20 minutes."
"Whoa, don't get your panties in a bunch just yet. You haven't heard about this place yet."
"Haven't heard about it? I was trying to move that place back when I was working for one of the national chains. They dumped it on me because no one couldn't move it."
"Have you actually been to see it?"
"Well..." Akiko closed her mouth. She hadn't, but then again there was no need to. She knew where it was. It was only a couple minute bike ride from her current condo. The room was on the third floor next to a busy street, so not only was there no view, it was always noisy. And the interior was a standard one room box.
Looking at the floor plan, she could see the front door would opened up to the entrance area where shoes could be stored. After stepping up into the room there would be a door that lead to the washroom, toilet and bath. Going straight would led her down the kitchen hallway. The wall of the hallway on the bathroom side would be cut out so that the kitchen sink and a single gas burner could be installed. At the end of the hallway would be the single large room. This particular listing, that "large" room was large only in comparison to the bathroom. At 6 jou, roughly 4.5 square meters, it barely large enough to contain a futon, table and a TV.
Usually these types of places were rented by business men on short transfers, college students, or foreigners, but all of them had turned their noses up at this listing. "I don't need to see it. All the information is right there and I know that it's a dump."
"Aww, come on. See, that's why you need my help. How can you expect to rent out a place like this when you've never seen it? You have to sell its charms. If you hate it, no one will like it."
He had a point, but he'd said that he would find her her "perfect" place. "I've already bought a 3LDK near by. What makes this place so much better than my condo?"
"Well, we'll just have to go down there and see." He stood up and gestured towards the elevator. Akiko stood up, but hovered over her chair. She didn't really want to go anywhere with him.
He walked back around to her side of the counter while she debated about just sending him on his way. He slapped her on the butt. She jumped forward as another shock hit her. This one was so strong, Akiko thought she could see sparks out of the corner of her eye. "Come on, let's go. Oh and get the lights. Wouldn't want anyone to come up to an empty office, now would we?"
The tingling feeling that ran from her ass to her shoulders overwhelmed the irritation she felt at being treated like an underling for that man. Who was he to smack her ass and tell her to get the lights? He was asking her for a job, not the other way around. She'd never stand for that sort of sexual harassment from a boss. Or an underling.
Akiko walked over to the light switch and turned it off. The remaining few florescent lights went out and the dreary office was now only illuminated by the light fighting its way in through the filthy windows. "You oughta clean more often," he said.
She didn't have time! While they waited for the elevator to come up, Sakamoto pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. "I don't allow smoking in my office," she told him.
Just then the elevator doors opened. Sakamoto got on and turned around to face Akiko. "Well, it's lucky I'm not in your office anymore." He let out a hearty laugh. "Aren't you getting on?"
"I'll wait for it to come back up."
Sakamoto clenched the cigarette in his mouth, reached out with both hands and grabbed Akiko's hand. The electric shock coursed through her fingers. It didn't hurt like static electricity, but it caught her off guard and she allowed herself to be pulled into the elevator.
Letting go of her hand, Sakamoto took the cigarette out of his mouth and let out a plume of smoke. "See, it's not so bad, is it?"
Akiko coughed. "I really wish you would put that out."
The unkempt man frowned and held the cigarette in his hand. He didn't shield the smoke from going Akiko's direction (not that the could have in the confined elevator), but he also didn't take another drag. The elevator chimed and the pair got out. Sakamoto took one last long drag from the cigarette and then stopped it out.
Akiko looked at the cigarette on the ground, almost half of it was unsmoked. Sakamoto noticed and said, "I've got a lot of American habits, but I still smoke like a Japanese. Never cared for burning it to the filter. Do you have your keys?"
"We're taking your car, of course."
"My car? I don't think so."
Sakamoto pulled his keys out of his pocket and walked over to a beat up moped. He unlocked the seat storage compartment and pulled out a file with several papers in it. "Unless you want to ride on the back of old Betty here, we're taking yours."
Akiko sighed. She pulled out her keys and remotely unlocked the doors to her Audi. She'd foolishly splurged for it when she started her company. She'd believed that if she presented an image of success, she would be a success. Now, in all likelihood, she'd lose the car about the same time as she lost her business. If she didn't lose more...
"I'll drive," Sakamoto said and snatched the keys out of her hands.
"That's my car! Give me those keys back."
"Now, now. What sort of image would it be if the client drove the realtor to the listing? Terrible. And, since I don't have a car, that means I've gotta drive yours."
She didn't care what it looked like. They weren't really customer and client. "But..."