♛ Scarlet Carousel | oo2

{Installation} – [oo2]

Noemie Matsumoto is accustomed to getting what she wants. A girl with a purpose.

February 2017
South Korea

“Noemie is late! I tried dialling her cellphone but it’s been going straight to voicemail.”

“I wouldn’t be too worried. Knowing Noemie, she’s possibly hooked up with some fella on her way to Miller’s.”

Reina rolls her eyes, sighs. Eiji was right. Her other best friend undoubtedly had the knack for lapsing into temporary non-existence. Especially when a decent-looking man was within twenty-feet radius.

“Even if that’s so, Miller’s is just down the corner, she should have brought whomever down to meet us! We’ve agreed on a celebratory toast to the end of finals and summer term.” Reina grumbled.

“So much for bros before hoes,” Eiji gives an empathetic nod, but is unable to hide a grin, “well in any case that leaves you and me Reina. Let’s head in while we wait for her.”

Eiji drapes a casual arm around Reina’s slim shoulders and steers her away from the sidewalk, and into Miller’s Pub.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Noemie Matsumoto is accustomed to getting what she wants. A girl with a purpose, she picks her outfit with calculated deliberation. A semi-formal navy blue blazer over an off-the-cuff white sundress that skimmed her mid-thighs – she would bite her own tongue if this is not a sure-fire way to turn heads on a casual Friday pub-crawl with her best mates.

She had let slip, in a conversation earlier, to the attractive new Professor of European Literary Classics that she would be spending Friday evening at Miller’s Pub with Reina and Eiji. That she was somewhat uncomfortable playing gooseberry to her two closest classmates, watching the lovebirds bicker and persist in absolute denial of obvious mutual attraction. The Professor was new to the faculty — so naïve was he as he shook his head, insisting on having thesis papers to grade. A slight tilt of her chin to accentuate her slim jawline and a slow flutter of her long dark Asian lashes were all it takes. Noemie had noticed the immediate shift in Professor Rousset’s stance.

He agreed to vet through Noemie’s draft essay on Henry David Thoreau. Of course, not a word of which had even been written. Noemie told him she needed loads of help, as English was merely her second language. A corner of his lips had lifted and his eyes narrowed into crescent moons. If that wasn’t a loaded smile, Noemie didn’t know what else it was.

Well, a girl with her charismata have got nothing to lose.

Standing with her feet crossed at the ankles to accentuate her long ivory-white legs, she blows a fringe out of her face. Even the ordinary stance she took while waiting for her two best buddies resembled a model posing for a photoshoot. From where she was standing, men had been giving her appreciative looks and extensive once-overs all night. Well, almost every man. That one earlier had looked at her as if she was a pest, a nuisance. Or worst, a prostitute. Oh please, I’m not one of them.

Men never looked at her without a second glance. Men certainly did not display such obvious disinterest and disgust. Indignant, her ego was admittedly bruised, which fuelled her urge to pursue the strange man in a bid to expose his inner lust. After all, all men were the same.

Forget Professor Rousset. He would be putty in her hands.

Noemie totters gracefully in her stilettos, yet hurries to catch the fast receding shadow of the tall, dark stranger. The alley, lined with two rows of rear kitchens, is rancid with a stench of rotting meat, vomit and expired liquor. A trio of women stays squat by the curb, puffing on rolled cigarettes while a bald heavy-set man appears to be handing out a stack of cash.

“Make good with the crowd tonight. All businessmen with spending power.” The bald man chortles, stuffing the rest of the large wad of money into his back pocket.

Here lies the reality behind glamourous nightclubs and pubs: they ran on filthy money. Noemie totters close enough to glimpse the rolled cigarettes in their hands.  Upkeep of pretty, and desperate, hostesses involved feeding them with cocaine and amphetamine and weed. In return there was a business quota each night that they had to meet – a minimum number of men that they had to lure into their chambers of secrecy. Spiralling further into the depths of drug addiction, what other choices do they have but to return every night for doses of sustenance? It was their choice of livelihood.

Here, women used their charms in an entirely different manner from the way Noemie normally does. Noemie was clever enough never to throw herself at men’s feet. It was always quite the opposite.

Past the trio of women, she almost stumbles over a foot of a drunkard, sprawled like a starfish, facedown in a pile of trash. His friends, equally drunk but conscious, wolf-whistles in her direction. They smell sour, a mix of body odour and putrid vomit.

“Hey sexy lady!”

“You’re so fine, you blow my miiiinddd.”

Oh God, the things drunken people say.

One of them, who’s obviously been having one drink too many with his belly the size of a football, staggers to his feet, lunges at her.

Noemie steps aside, sticks out a foot, and rolls her eyes amusedly as the man stumbles. Not giving up, he swivels around and grabs her blazer by the edge, tugs her so close that she could smell the rancid liquor on his breath.

“Get the hell off me!” She screams and smashes a fist into his face. Blood pours from his nose. He growls like an animal and from behind her, his friends roar with laughter.

Another hairy arm wraps around her waist and turns her around. “Feisty, I like this one.”

Without thinking, she stamps her stiletto heels into his loafers, grinds down with satisfaction as she realizes she had hit a toe. The man howls with pain and falls to the ground, clutches his bloodied feet. She spins on her heels, makes a dash for it, leaving the intoxicated mob howling in pain and booming with drunken laughter.

Men, a bunch of idiots.

She clutches her cellphone, switched to silent, in her clammy palms. The atmosphere in the alley felt infinitely foreign, so much so that she breaks into a run further down the path where the man had supposedly gone. Noemie knows that it is far too late to turn back, but she could no longer see any sign of the tall, dark man.

The smell worsens as the streets became narrower and less familiar to Noemie. She hardly dares to breathe audibly for now, the only sounds that filled the passageway were distant soft footsteps, and that of her own heart beating. Before her, she notices a stranger slip to the left of a T-shaped junction and she quickly follows suit. But as she rounds the corner, the figure of the handsome man was there no longer. Not even a shadow of the man remains.

Then there was a gunshot. Unmistakably, someone had opened fire.

Noemie looks all around her in sheer panic. She doubles back a couple of steps, unsure of where to go from here. The odor of gunpowder residue wafts into her nose. Then she hears a scuffle. She knows she must leave the alley, but which way to go?

What was it? Who was hit? Where —

“Urmph!” Her breath catches in her throat as she is flung aside, and pinned against a wall by very strong arms. Her cellphone tumbles to the ground with a clang, the glossy red cover falls apart.

Thrashing her arms, she struggles to free herself. Single-handedly, her assailant grasps both her wrists in a vice-like grip behind her back, another hand clasps tight over her mouth. Hardly a sound could escape, much less her muffled sttempts at screaming.

“Who are you? Did you come alone?” He fires his questions emotionlessly.

Unable to move her upper half, Noemie knees him hard in the groin.

“What the f—

Doubling over slightly in pain, his right leg immediately hitches up, pinning the hem of her swishy dress to the wall, just enough to reveal a sharp glint of an object that resembles a gun, nestled in the side of a thin leather belt.

Blood drains from her head. He fired the gun. He had shot somebody. He had possibly killed somebody. Noemie shakes her head to show that she means no harm, but the man slams her against the moth-eaten timber wall. Pain shot through her spine. Noemie gives a soft whimper as tears runs down her cheeks, and onto the man’s fingers.

“Look, I’m not going to hurt you. But if you struggle, or make any noise, I’m throwing your dead body into the boot of my car, you hear me?”

Knowing she could very well be shot dead in an instant, she drops her tensed shoulders and bows her head slightly, surrendering to her assailant.

Sensing her relax, he loosens his grip, and slowly drops his hand from her mouth. Noemie looks up and recognizes the man she had followed into the alley. She searches the face of the tall dark stranger that was hidden by shadows cast in moonlight, and catches the dark trickle of blood running down his temples.

“Hey…you’re bleeding! Let me see to that, I’ve got a handkerchief somewhere in my purs–

He holds a finger to her lips, shushing her. Then takes astep back from her. Women, they talk too much. They annoy the shit out of him. He readjusts the clip on his belt that, by now she realised, strapped the gun to his waist.

“Why were you following me?”

His ice-cold mannerism seems more appealing by the second. At a loss of words, Noemie opens her mouth with uncertainty. “I…” What is she going to say? No explanation could express her whys. What could this man do to her? Kill her? Not with her charms. So she plays it such that the ball stays in her court.

She lets more tears run down her cheeks as she sinks slowly to the floor, and in doing so, her dress rips at the seams as the hem catches a splinter in the wall.

“I’m lost and I can’t find my way out. I thought if I followed you, I could find a way.…I…then heard a gunshot.”

He squats down, looks frostily at her tear-stained face with no sign of empathy, and says, “Don’t pretend to be a helpless female. All you whores use the same tactics.”

Coolly, he picks up his cellphone which had slipped from his coat-pocket, dusts them off with the back of his hand, and gets back on his feet. As he turns to walk away, he says over his shoulder, “If anyone asks, you heard nothing. You’ve never seen me.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Professor Rousset!”

Reina spots him, waves him over and gestures toward an empty bar stool right beside her. The lean French lecturer looks around, as if searching for somebody, before accepting the invitation.

“Looking for anyone?” Reina hands the Professor a pint of lager, and smiles at the attractive academic tutor. Rousset shakes his head, accepts the beer and pushes a couple of dollars toward the bartender, who pushes it back at him.

“Hey, on the house ma brudder,” the bartender strokes his handlebar moustache, “it’s Free-Flow Friday. To celebrate the last day of Ms. Yamaguchi’s exams.” He gives Reina a conspiratorial wink, and whizzes away with twenty champagne glasses in his hands.

“You’re a celebrity around here huh?” The professor chuckles deeply and leans close to Reina, clicking his jug of lager with hers. Eiji clears his throat from across the table, and leans over in a territorial stance as he grabs hold of Reina’s beer jug and pulls it toward himself.

“Her dad owns the place. Everyone at Miller’s knows her.” To Reina, he knits his brows together and warns, “ Don’t drink too much.”

“You’re sooooo naggy.” Reina snatches back her jug of lager and defiantly downs it all. As she clangs her now-empty jug onto the table, she gives Eiji a look that says so-there.

“Ah… Princess Yamaguchi,” Professor Rousset nods knowingly.

Reina shook her head. “That’s too much a title for me to bear. Besides, I’m just a geek who loves the literary arts.” She orders another jug of beer for herself, and Eiji who declines and looks on at his marginally drunk best friend with concern.

Barely a month into his teaching career at Seoul National University, he was well aware of the Yamaguchi’s contributions to the academic institution. From the Deans’ conference hall, to the performing arts theatre and the college central library, the family had a large share in infrastructure – so much so that the theatre and its surrounding hallways were named Yamaguchi Hall of Artistry. And as Reina was an undergraduate in the Faculty of Literature and Humanities, Mr Yamaguchi had built a separate building for research in the literary classics. Indisputably, Mr Yamaguchi was an associate on the Board of Faculty Directors.

“I don’t want to be a princess. I’m a Queen. Princesses are as weak as useless Barbies, always primping at mirrors…demanding this and that. Never working hard for anything they truly want. I’m no princess.” Reina shakes her head. “But since my dad owns Miller’s, feel free to drink up, Professor. On me!” Reina smiles, swaying as she stands, slightly tipsy from having knocked back two glasses of Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, two tequila shots and 2 jugs of lager.

“Woah, steady there.” Professor Rousset holds Reina by her waist as she stumbles forward, giggling.

Eiji springs up, quickly shoves the professor’s hand aside, takes hold of Reina and allows her lean her entire weight against him.

Reina struggles out of his grasp. “Eiji!” She walks ahead a few steps, shaky but more steady. “I’m fine. Go back to your seat, I need the bathroom.”

“You sure?” Eiji looks ready to lunge forward to catch Reina if she should stumble and fall again.

“Naughty, naughty. Trying to get into the ladies’ bathroom on account of taking care of me? Tsk, Eiji Saito you pervert.” She slurs her last words and disappears round the bar corner into the washroom.

Reina grips the edge of the washbasin, and takes a good look at her face. She whips out her mauve lipstick and gives her lips a smacking fresh coat of colour, while remembering that her other best friend was still M.I.A.

“Let me give Noemie another call. She’s missing out on the hot Professor Rousset.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pierre swipes the sticky blood from his face with the back of his hands. The wound had clotted, and he could feel a throbbing headache arising from within his skull. He had dodged, a swift decisive move that saved his brains from being blasted to bits. The bullet scraped the right side of his head and probably he would find a clump of dark brown hair missing from his scalp. But that was all the damage done.

Nagasaki’s message had been intercepted. The original messenger undoubtedly dead. The women who had attempted to kill him was now lying gagged, bound and unconscious in a pile of trash, accompanied by a band of noisy drunkards. He would never physically injure a woman, even if they had tried to blast a hole in his chest.

And who the hell was the girl who had followed him?

He had to make a quick call to Las Vegas.

As he held up his cellphone a connecting call flashed in the screen.

From << REINA YAMA ❤ >>

What. The. Hell?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Her cellphone rang.

Sitting upright from her slouched position by the dirty alley wall, Noemie flipped aside her long black hair to answer the call.

“Hello, Noemie speaking.”

“Noemie? Who the hell is Noemie?”

She quickly checks her cellphone screen. Caller Unknown.

“I am Noemie Matsumoto. And since you’re calling me, you should know who I am.”

There was silence on other end.

“Hello?” Noemie repeats.

“What did you say your name was?”

“Funny that you’re asking me. Noemie Matsumoto. Who are you?”

The man sniggers. “New, aren’t you? Noemie, Noemie, Noemie…” the man rolls her names several times around his tongue, “Noemie Matsumoto? I see they’re hiring young girls now.”

“Young girls…?” She lets her thoughts run for a moment, anger rising up from the pits of her stomach.

“Now Noemie, did you complete what you were supposed to do?”

“What job?”

The man remained silent.

“What job?” She repeats, anger boiling over the edge at having been provoked so many times on the same night.

“Hey listen up, I’m not a goddamn prostitute if that’s what you’re implying!” Noemie bursts, filled with annoyance accumulated from her earlier encounters. “You’re the second person today who thinks I’m a whore and it’s getting on my nerves! Go to hell, asshole!”

The man on the other end chuckles once before the line went dead.

Noemie feels the sudden urge to fling her phone across the alley. She shuts the call, clicks on ‘Contacts’ to search for Reina’s number, but to her surprise, all the names on her contact lists were so foreign they could be from another planet.

“Wha…oh shit.”

She remembers that moment when her phone had fallen from her grip, and that the man had picked up a cellphone of an identical model after labelling her a whore.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

5 in the morning. Reina staggers weakly up the stairs leading to the shared apartment. Noemie had rejected all her calls and she should probably be home asleep by now. She herself could hardly feel her brain functioning any longer. Sleep beckons.

Eiji had walked her home. To be more exact, he had lifted her onto his back, made her straddle him in a limp piggyback for most of the journey home. She had been too drunk to grip onto his neck. When they had passed by a convenience store, Eiji forced an entire bottle of mineral water into her. That had sobered her up a great deal.

She wrinkles her nose as she reaches her floor, as a peculiar stench pervades the hallway leading towards the apartment.

Strange, Noemie had forgotten to lock the front door.

As she steps in, Reina gasps, her back stiffens. Shards of broken glass from a fallen artpiece stuck out from their Persian rug. Noemie’s favourite orchid vase was now in smithereens. Their linen cosy pink couch had been overturned, with cushions slashed open and their feathers strewn all over the living room. She scans the damage, thoughts running wildly through her head.

Her drunken stupor clears the very instance she spots Noemie, her back against the kitchen table, slumped in a pool of what appears to be blood.

She falls backwards, and lets out a piercing scream.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel ©
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

SCARLET CAROUSEL

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