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Baishakunin, Inc.

Chapter Six—Behind the Shoji Screen

>> Chapter five

I pull Jake, my landlord, behind the Japanese folded screen in the back of the offices of Baishakunin, Inc. “Ah, ah—” No words emerge as I gesture towards the voices in the reception area. What do you say when your ex-boyfriend is looking for love at your fledgling dating service?

“Are you choking on something?” Jake asks and I quickly put my hand on his mouth to muzzle him. His full lips feel pretty soft, but that’s not the point right now. What was the point was that Rick, or LakerFan2009, was being questioned on his love life by someone who was playing me—well, at least serving as my public face—just about fifteen feet away.

“So, what kind of girlu you lookin’ for?” Oizumi-san, my public face, asks. She stays right on the script that we had decided earlier.

“Looks are not my Number One priority, at least not any more.” Rick paused. “Well, actually, there have been women I’ve dated that weren’t attractive, at least in the conventional way.”

My face flushed. I didn’t know which category I fell into, but either way, his comments don’t feel that complimentary. I sneak a peek behind the screen. Rick’s back is facing us. He still looks lean and has a full head of hair, damn him. I had always hoped that his hair had fallen out and he gained a potbelly after our relationship ended, or should I say blew up.

“She’s got to be her own person. Independent. Not needy and definitely not desperate. Don’t want a woman who’s all worried about her biological clock.”

“Ku-ra-ku—” Oizumi-san repeats and I hear her pen scrawling on her notebook.

“I dated a woman once, an amazing woman, in fact. She was gorgeous, smart. Had a great job. Ambitious. But underneath that façade, she was just so needy. Had to know where I was at all times. Like she didn’t trust me. None of those wackos.”

“No wa-kos,” Oizumi-san repeats.

“So in the e-mail you mentioned that I’d have to sign some kind of contract?”

Hai,” says Oizumi-san. She turns, looking for me. “My helpa—”

I push the clipboard with the contract into Jake’s chest with such force that he stumbles from out the paper screen into plain view. He takes a deep breath and saunters over to the table.

Oizumi-san first looks confused, but she’s obviously good at improvisation. “Yes, my helpa, Mista Jake-san.”

She kind of sounds like this character, Mrs. Livingston, in this old TV show, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” that I saw in reruns. Mrs. Livingston was a housekeeper for a widower and his son. She was also Japanese, but they never explained why she was called “Mrs. Livingston.” I feel embarrassed that I’ve reduced Oizumi-san to a role that was suited for a Seventies sitcom but without her, I’m sunk. The business is sunk, and so is my financial life.

The next thirty minutes is all business. Jake is a fast study and goes over the terms of the contract quickly. Here I thought that managing the building was just a gift given to him by his grandmother, but I’m starting to realize that maybe he’s actually qualified.

Our college videographer, Kyle Honda, meanwhile, reenters the office with my other college employee, webmaster Sophia Kim. They are carrying black lights and orange cords. “It’ll take only about twenty minutes and then I’ll be ready for you, Jake,” Kyle says, referring to his videotaping session.

Jake nods his head. Our Yonsei Steven Spielberg is oblivious that Jake has morphed from landlord/client to now personal assistant, but Sophia picks up on it. She silently searches the room with her eyes and spies the top of my head hiding behind the shoji screen.

“We will find a good one for you, Rick-san.” Oizumi-san stands up.

“I hope so. I’ve just had so much bad luck with women, you know. Especially these Japanese ones I’ve dated.”

I feel as if I’m melting into our linoleum floor.

“But my mother and sister tell me that I shouldn’t judge all Japanese girls by my past. So this will be my last ditch effort.”

“We find, we find.” Oizumi-san bows twice in succession.

“I’ll be in touch about booking a time to get videotaped—okay, Jack?”

“Ri-ight.” Jake’s voice takes on a grating tone. I can tell that he’s none too happy pretending that he’s a mere receptionist.

Then the door closes and it’s quiet for a moment. No more Rick. No more LakerFan2009. There’s no way that I can help him find the perfect Japanese woman. We need to return his money. Tell him that we can’t help him. But then there’s the contract that he signed. The full-proof contract that my best friend, Ginny’s fiancé had devised and written up. It was designed to keep people from holding us liable from any crazy dates. But the contract also held both the customer and us together until death do us part.

I’m no longer in my private hiding place as Jake pulls the shoji screen aside. I’m in plain sight of my whole staff: Oizumi-san, Kyle, and Sophia. Jake extends his arms, which are pretty toned, I notice. But that’s beside the point. “You want to tell us what the heck is going on?” he asks.

Chapter seven >>

* "Baishakunin, Inc." is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2009 Naomi Hirahara / Image: Neal Yamamoto and Vicky K. Murakami-Tsuda

baishakunin Baishakunin, Inc. fiction little tokyo naomi hirahara romance serialized story

About this series

"Baishakunin, Inc." is a new work of fiction from Naomi Hirahara the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series and two biographies published by the Japanese American National Museum. Its main character, Caroline Mameda, starts her own match-making business after being fired from her job. Set in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

Read Chapter One