Kansai Cowboy Chapter 24

“There a problem?” I asked. Jason snapped out of his shellshock and looked at me with an open mouth then back at Hina. He asked her a question, she confirmed, then he returned to me mouth agape. Hina watched Jason with a smile resembling a parent’s grin towards a child who just opened a present. Kind of like when I bought Julie her first Barbie.

“You won’t believe this,” Jason said.

“I’m believing anything at this point.”

“She said that Ozawa — get this — Ozawa used to work for Sato Tatsuya — I mean Tatsuya Sato. Tatsuya Sato!”

“Okay,” I replied, paused, then asked, “Who’s that?”

“He’s the artist, the creator, of ‘First! Madchen’!”

That explanation didn’t register. He realized it.

“Right, right, you don’t follow anime,” he said. He then said something to Hina that made her giggle. Probably at my expense. He then turned back to me with a smile. “Remember, I bought that LD — the laser, um, the laser disc? Only because it had an interview with him — with Sato-san? Remember? It caused me to-to, um, you know, to think about my existential crisis?”

“How could I forget?”

“Right, right. I spent all that money on the LD and now I’m talking to someone who knows him personally.”

“Can she contact the guy?”

Jason paused. “For what?”

“So, he can give us some clues to Ozawa’s whereabouts.”

“We need to meet him in person?”

“Not necessarily.”

“It would probably be better if we met in person,” Jason said. I noticed his hands shook a little. Anticipation and nervousness. Hina made a call on her phone then talked to Jason. Her conversation on the phone and with him looked cordial enough. Jason shook his head then sat back in his chair again, processing all that she had just told him.

“Everything okay?” I asked. When he didn’t immediately respond, I leaned over. “Jason?”

He snapped out of his stupor and looked at me. “She, uh, said that he wants to meet us.”

“The artist? When?”

“Yeah, Tatsuya Sato wants to meet us. Right now.”

“Then what are we waiting for?”

****

As we piled in to the taxi, Jason said “This is all happening so fast. I mean Sato has a reputation for being reclusive and now we’re going to talk to him. He said he wants to meet us.”

“It’d do you best to temper your expectations.”

“Easier said than done. ‘First! Madchen’ is like my favorite manga and anime ever. Definitely in my top five.”

“I once met a guy who player for the Dallas Cowboys. This was at the height of them being America’s Team, okay?”

“Yeah, and?”

“The guy was a dick. Even though he was just a suspect in a drug ring case, I wanted to take him in just for being an asshole. Afterwards, it was hard to watch him play or watch the Cowboys at all for that matter.”

“Oh,” Jason said. “I really hope it isn’t like that with Sato-san.” Jason took the backseat with Hina and told her about our little exchange. As I situated myself in the plastic covered shotgun position, I realized I would be in the driver’s seat back home. But the driver was next to me…in the passenger’s seat. Felt strange. But this was Japan. They drive on different sides of the roads. The driver, dressed in a suit and tie with a visor cap, gave me a suspicious stare before he started moving. Guess I stared at his side of the car for too long in my confusion. Jason leaned forward and said, “Hina just told me that Sato-san, the artist that is, um is quiet but amicable. So hopefully I won’t have to deal with a fallen idol, like you.”

“Okay.”

A few minutes later, he leaned forward again. “You know what Hina just told me? Remember how I said I’d seen her somewhere before?”

“Yeah? From the book, right?”

“No, no. She said that she modelled for Sato. For ‘First! Madchen’. She was the inspiration — or the model for Madchen Helga! Like one of my favorite characters in the latter part of the series. She was definitely the best character in the third wave. I wish I had my backpack with me. I don’t know how I’m gonna get signatures. God, I might have to resort to selfies on my phone. Something I swore I’d never do. Don’t tell anyone okay?”

“I won’t. Don’t worry. I don’t understand half of what you’re talking about save for the German sounding names. Is this cartoon about Germans?”

“That’s just a thing. Some Japanese, especially artists, like German things or things European. But Germanic things in particular.”

“Because of the war?”

“War? What war? You mean World War II?”

“Yeah, the Axis Powers and all that.”

Jason looked a little taken a back at my question. With Hina around, his apprehension had transformed in to confidence then metastasized in to myopia. Now the apprehension had returned a little. “No,” Jason said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the war. They just like things like classical music. Bach, Beethoven — all that. Just like they like American things, like Baseball and Hollywood blockbusters.”

“And cartoons?”

“They’re not cartoons. They are — oh, never mind.” Jason rested in his seat and started having a quiet conversation with Hina. There was no Plexiglas in the cab, separating the front from rear, like one would find stateside. The giggling and chatter I heard, noticing in the rearview both of them glancing at me, made me wish for one. I looked at the buildings and signage to pass the time. After a while they all seemed to run together.

****

As the taxi continued the urban terrain had dissipated a little. It pulled up to brown square block shape of a building that had neighbors but some room to breathe. Save for a few windows, the structure was a concrete monolith. On one side of the entrance, there was wall made up of small white square ceramic tiles with a faded brass sign of the word “Sterne”. A soda vending machine sat on the other side of the door. Hina made a call on her phone. Jason looked in every direction. The first time I’d seen him act like a tourist instead of a local. I just looked at the single glass door with black metal frame. I looked at Jason, “I take it we don’t just walk in?”

Jason shook his head. “No. No way. Hina is calling someone.”

I bobbed my head to the sign. “Is this artist stern or something?”

“Why would he be stern?”

“That’s what the sign says.”

Jason took a deep breath and shook his head. “No, no. That’s the name of his studio. ‘Studio Sterne’. ‘Sterne’ means ‘star’.”

“In Japanese?”

“No.”

“Then what language?”

“German,” Jason said, deflated. “But it has nothing to do with the Axis powers. It doesn’t.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

A man dressed casually in t-shirt and jeans, about the same age as Hina and Jason opened the door and asked us to enter. Hina led the way. He held the door and smiled at all of us as we entered. When I passed him, I tipped my hat and he bowed his head. We walked up a narrow flight of stairs and in to an open room. The studio looked more like an office. Draft desks were packed together with lamps attached overlooking each one. A few men and one woman were focused intensely on the drawings in front of them. Scattered about the desks and shelves were models of cars and artillery. Posters of landscapes as diverse as deserts and beachfronts fought for open space on the crowded walls, surrounded by bookshelves with reference material and drawings of different science fiction styled characters. Jason stopped in the middle of the floor to take in the scene. I was glancing around myself but kept on walking and bumped in to Jason. After an excuse me, I whispered to Jason, “We got to keep our eyes on the prize, okay?”

“This is my prize,” he said.

“Well, enjoy it but remember I need your help. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.”

“I know, I know. I won’t.”

I doubted that.

We were led to a corner office, where we found a gray-haired artist Tatsuya Sato sitting at a draft desk, with an ink brush in hand over a full page spread of a busty female in a tight-fitting outfit. He wore a Hawaiian shirt with a gray sports coat hanging on his chair. Around the desk were stacks of boxes for models and posters of big busted women, some scantily clad, others in tight-fitting uniforms. Sitting on his desk was a resin model of girl with a blue haired bob cut, wearing apparel that resembled that of the SS. Upon sight of Hina, the artist rose and bowed.

His smile was polite and he walked directly to me to shake my hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said. I returned the courtesy. He then introduced himself to Jason. My translator took the greeting with a deep bow and gushed in Japanese. Sato backed off and waved his hand up to even tell Jason to stop being an embarrassment.

To change the subject, he pointed at me. I then heard the word “cowboy” used a couple of times. He then came up to me and reached for my hat. I stepped back for a moment, I didn’t like people lunging at me, but he just grabbed the tip of my hat between thumb and forefinger and started rubbing. I then took it off and offered it to him. He put his head down and started backing up, waving his hand to stave me off. Jason then looked at me, “He — Sato-san was interested in the material on your hat. He’s really in to textures.”

“I gathered that,” I said. Looking at all the pictures of curvy women, I gathered he was interested in more than textures. He then picked up the resin model from his desk and brought it to Hina and started comparing it to her. I looked at Jason, “I take it she was the model for that character?”

“Yeah, that’s Helga,” Jason said looking at Hina. Sato then held the model next to Hina. At his urging, she took the same pose as the model with a slight grin. He then turned to Jason and me and asked a question. Jason looked at me then back at Hina. “He wants to know if we think the model, the character looks like Hina.”

“What did you say?”

“I said I thought so.”

I nodded my head and said, “I guess I see the resemblance. I don’t have much of an eye for art.” I didn’t see any resemblance. The character had blonde hair and blue eyes. Looked about as Aryan as Eva Braun.

Sato then started moving his hands on the outside of her body, as if tracing her figure. He started talking to Jason while cupping his hands on his chest. Hina then turned around at his direction and he pointed at her rear. She had a slight grin on her face so I guess she was game for the proceedings. Before I could ask, Jason turned to me: “He says that Hina has a rare figure for a Japanese. Very…curvy. Nice round…bottom…with a big…chest. He said she’s quite an inspiration.”

“I don’t need you tell me which part of him is inspired.”

Jason shrugged his shoulders. “Well, Japanese — I mean the men, can be pretty forward or unembarrassed about their sexual tastes. Or discussing them rather. At least to me they’ve been.”

Some of the same artists I saw earlier entered the room carrying chairs. The positioned them behind us. Sato motioned for us to sit down, even saying “sit down” in English in case we didn’t get the point. After we sat, anxious Jason looked at me. His hands grasped tightly around his knees. “Do you want to — What do you, um — I’m sorry — what do you want me to ask him?”

“Has he had any contact with Keiji Ozawa? Any idea where he might be?”

Jason looked at his idol and stammered his words. First time I’d seen him meek in Japanese interaction. Not good. “He wants to know if you’re with the police. The American police.”

“You know the answer.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Here,” I said and handed Jason my Ranger badge. “Just tell him the truth. Tell him why we’re looking for him. We’ve already done this a couple of times Jason. Nothing is different.”

“Right,” Jason said. He held the badge both hands and handed it to Sato. He accepted it with both hands and inspected it like a prize diamond. He asked Jason a question and pulled a camera out of a nearby desk. “He wants to know if he can take a picture of the badge. He’s never seen a real one. Only in movies when he was a kid.”

“Sure. Be my guest.”

He started snapping photos. He then talked to Jason while waving his hand towards me. Jason dropped his head, embarrassed. Trying to translate. I noticed Hina giggling too. She made some comment to Sato and he waved her off. “He wants to know if he can take some pictures of you. He’s never seen a real cowboy before.”

“I take it by Hina’s laughter this isn’t normal behavior?”

“She said Sato-san is always curious and taking pictures and videos of everything. He insists it goes with the job.”

“If he can help us find Ozawa, tell him I’ll give him a whole spread. Clothes on, of course.”

When Jason translated, Sato put his camera back on the desk and seem to become agitated. “He said he didn’t really know Ozawa that well. He was just an assistant.”

“What did he do?”

“Those people drawing? They do a lot of the hard labor.”

“What’s so hard about drawing a comic?”

“No — look, here you know — like the comic biz, um, the artists have to turn out product at a rapid pace. Their work is serialized in these weekly comic magazines. They have to turn out 15 pages a week. So most big time comic artists have studios like this. The creator will do the layouts but he has a staff of young artists to actually do all the detail work.”

“And Ozawa was one of these worker bees?”

“Yeah.”

“How long did he work here?”

“Not long. He couldn’t handle the workload. His studio is smaller than others, so there is a bigger work load. Everyone has to carry their own weight. He gets artists who are hungry, right out of art school or even high school. He said Ozawa was hungry but wanted a feast immediately without having to work for it. He even doubts the samples Ozawa brought him were authentic given the quality of his work.”

Hina then interjected with a comment and it seemed to surprise Sato. “Hina just said that Ozawa didn’t even snap the photos of her that were in his book. He just directed a photographer. Sato-san says that is the ‘art’ world for you.”

“He doesn’t think too much of the art world?”

“Guess not,” Jason said. After an exchange, Jason laughed and looked at me, “He says those in the art world just want to have a high opinion of themselves.”

“Well, I agree,” I said. Sato continued but Jason sat back in disbelief at his comments. They had a little exchange. Like Jason was trying to clear up what he said. It almost looked like they were arguing. Even Hina joined in with a giggle, almost teasing the artist. “Everything okay?” I asked.

Jason looked at me shrugging his shoulders. “He says — I don’t believe a word of this — neither does Hina but he said he just makes comics so people can enjoy their train ride. He thinks he’s no different than a carpenter or a chef. An artisan not an artist. Hina accused him of false humility.”

“Sounds like a man who knows his place in the world.”

“What?” Jason said. “You just — you haven’t been reading his work, watching the anime adaptations, collecting the artbooks. Never mind.” Sato leaned forward and asked Jason a question. Jason bobbed his head at me and answered him with scorn. Sato then looked at me and bowed, saying “Thank you,” and continued in Japanese. “He says he’s glad to have a met someone who understands him. He gets people coming here all the time for his autograph. He just wants to work on his comics. He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He just wants to work.”

“I know the feeling,” I said but Sato kept on talking.

Hina nodded her head, agreeing when Jason started translating: “He said Ozawa is not that way. He just wants the glory without the work.”

“Hina,” I said. She heard her name a looked at me with a look that said, “Who me?”

“What about Hina?” Jason asked.

“How did she meet Mr. Sato? Was it through Ozawa or just a coincidence they know each other?”

Hina started shaking her head with a smile as Jason translated the question. “He met Hina ‘by chance’. Ozawa just dropped by the studio once with Hina. He hadn’t been working here for more than a year but he brought Hina and asked Sato-san for a reference of some sort. When he looks back on it, he thinks it wasn’t a coincidence.”

“How so?”

“Ozawa knew what type of body type Sato-san liked, right? The curvy type? He brought Hina by here probably to impress her, you know?”

“Like get in her pants?”

“Yeah, sure, like that I guess but also to make amends with Sato-san by bringing a girl who could be a creative inspiration to him. He didn’t even want to talk to Ozawa but once he saw Hina, he humored him.”

“How does bringing a person make amends?”

Hina stood up after being directed by Sato. He held up the resin model again. “He says she has body type I like — I mean, he likes. She’s the inspiration for Helga.” Sato pulled a magazine off his shelf and handed it to me. There was a spread of Hina in the costume that Helga character wore, except she was wearing a blonde wig. “I knew I’d seen her somewhere before!” Jason said. “I have this very same magazine. It’s the ‘First! Madchen’ retrospective!”

“Okay.”

“He said Hina will occasionally do publicity in the costume with other girls dressed as the other characters. You know like at conventions and DVD release parties and stuff?”

“Yeah, that stuff.”

“Yeah, it’s just so…wow. He said usually there are professional modelling agencies they hire to dress up but he insisted Hina did the promotion work as Helga. Wow. She is perfect — well, you know perfect to model for Helga.”

“Right,” I said. “But he doesn’t know where Ozawa might be?”

“No,” he said. Sato then asked Jason a question. Sato waved his hand in protest and opened a file on his desk. He started pulling out some papers and showing them to Jason. “Well, he has some papers that Ozawa submitted when he was hired. Just normal employment info. You know CV, resume and all that? Just stuff you fill you when you’re hired.”

I rolled my hand towards Jason. “What does it say? That type of stuff helps! What does it say?”

“Um,” Jason started sifting through the papers and asked Sato some questions. Before I could ask again, Jason said, “It looks like — well according to the documents, he’s from Hiroshima. That’s weird.”

“Why’s it weird?”

“Because it lists Etajima as his hometown.”

“Why’s that weird?”

“It’s not weird, it’s just — I live near there.”

“What are the chances he went back there?”

“Who knows?”

“It’s worth a try. Definitely worth it, if you know the area.”

“Wouldn’t that be kind of easy to track? Isn’t it kind of counterintuitive to go back to a place people might be able to find you?”

“Possibly. Depends on how much he feels like a fugitive.”

Sato stood up with his camera. Hina tried to wave him off. “He wants to know if he can take some pictures now.”

“Of me?”

“Yes, of you.”

“Well, he lived up to his end of the bargain.”

“You’re a man of your word,” Jason said.
 “Unfortunately.”

I thought it would be just one picture. Turned out closer to 20. I felt like a model. He wanted a picture from almost every angle in different poses. Watching, Jason said, “I can’t believe this.”

“I can’t believe it either.”

“No, the way he’s shooting you. It’s like…I think you’re going to be a character. Or the basis for one.”

“Is that what he said?”

“No, it’s just the way he’s photographing you. Hina said he did the same thing to her when he created Helga. Except she was in her underwear.”

“The clothes are staying on. You can tell him that.”

“I think your clothes are the whole reason he’s interested.” Jason looked at the floor when he said this. Even Hina noticed his pouting by putting a hand on his shoulder and said something assuring. Sato finished his photos by taking a picture with me. Hina took the picture. I waved for Jason to join. He shook his head and said, “I think he just wants a photo with you.”

“Get in here. Ask him for that interview.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think he’s game. You heard him.”

“Tell him, I insist.”

“I don’t know…”

“Jason ask him, dammit. I don’t know a thing about these comics and cartoons but I know you admire this guy’s work. Ask him. You’ll be kicking yourself the rest of your life you don’t. Oh, also ask him for photocopies of all the Ozawa documents.”

Sato sensed my aggression and looked to Jason for assurance. Jason talked to him. Sato shook his head in agreement with Jason’s questions. Jason looked surprised at his answer. Hina then held Jason’s phone and took a picture of them together. Sato then took a card and handed it to Jason. He looked at me stunned. “He’s gonna give me an interview for my site. I don’t — it’s for real. He gave me his business card with his personal email. I can’t…” Jason then bowed deeply to Sato. The artist just bobbed his head up and waved his hand at him, embarrassed. Jason bowed a couple of more times. Now, I was getting embarrassed.

“Jason, I think it’s time we left. But after we get the photocopies.”

****

Jason talked to Hina in the back of the taxi. They both looked calmed and relaxed. Even though we saw her sans clothing she seemed unpretentious in how she carried herself. She wasn’t all dolled up like the other girls I saw in the city. Her clothes: a simple cloth fitting skirt with black and white tunic was about as simple as it got here. The tennis shoes she wore with the skirt seemed odd but it said she was dressed for comfort not to impress. Or maybe she couldn’t afford much else. “Jason, can you ask Hina a question?”

Jason stopped talking and inched towards me. “Yeah, what’s up?”

“Does she make a living doing all this modelling stuff?”

“She says she makes ends meet. She’s not a supermodel or anything.”

“Did she get in to modelling through Ozawa?”

“She said she did. She was buying clothes at a second hand store when he approached her.”

“He sweet talk her?”

“I guess that’s the word for it. She said he just complimented her looks and wanted to shoot her. They met for coffee, he showed her some of his ‘work’ and offered some cash for posing. He promised it wasn’t pornography but art. She was really embarrassed but he made her feel relaxed through it all. He then introduced her to Sato-san and you know, she built connections that way. She thought it was better than being a waitress.”

“He ever talk much about the mafia or anything?”

“No, never. At least until recently. Really, until he skipped town.”

“What about that guy. His agent? His mouth was wired shut. Somebody did a number on him. Did she know him? Anything about his connections?”

“She says she never really met him.”

“Really? Never?”

“She says never. Look, Japanese keep a lot of their lives compartmentalized. People will work together for ages without ever meeting their co-worker’s spouses or families. There was a pro wrestler that died in the ring, a big time celebrity, and upon his death, everyone learned for the first time he had a wife and kids. He never bothered to tell anyone.”

“Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

I found that a little depressing for some reason. I had people from work over for dinner several times. I think my wife knew every Texas Ranger and Texas Highway Patrol officer that came through our county. Even the last kid I worked with before retirement. He came over and complimented my wife on her cooking to the point we were both embarrassed. It made Jason’s behavior look tame. But my thoughts were interrupted when phone rang. I wasn’t used to it ringing. Only a couple of people knew the number. “Um, hello?” I said.

The signal was scratchy but I heard a female voice say, “Bowie? Bowie is that you?”

“Cheyenne?”

“Yes, yes, it’s Cheyenne. It’s me. Cheyenne!”

“There a problem?”

“Oh, it’s terrible! Terrible!”

Continued in Chapter 25