He never told me in so many words, but I know what attracted the Shining One’s attention to my lads. Hayate was more than a group of musicians; they were friends. They enjoyed playing together and it showed. Furthermore, they had the knack of including the audience in their camaraderie. I’d seen it every time they played live and the performance I’m talking about was no exception. They had filled warehouse-sized Big Time Otaku and turned the popular bar into their private clubhouse for the night. The lads were all over Otaku’s three-tier stage, running, leaping, and teasing the fans without missing a note.
Shirtless, with the gleam of silver piercing his nipples, Michi kept the beat behind his big black drum kit. Bassist Tsubasa, with streaks of electric blue in his dark mane, mirrored the moves of the lead guitarist, leaning back to back. Fingers blurring on the strings of his red Gibson, Sora turned and pressed his crotch to Tsubasa’s hip, grinding as a stream of impossibly fast arpeggios stabbed the air. The crowd roared, applauding the antics as the bass player grinned over his shoulder and received a sweaty kiss from Sora. Kaji, the lead singer, ambushed Sora from the top of a speaker, jumping onto his back, clinging tightly with his knees as he launched into the chorus. The guitarist knelt and Kaji vaulted over him, turning to pull Sora’s head to his crotch. Kaji rolled his hips, tossing his dark, waist-length hair, his voice a purring siren call to forbidden pleasures. Unwilling to be left out, Tsubasa moved behind him, chewing on Kaji’s neck as he dry-humped him. Engaged fore and aft, undaunted, Kaji delivered the last lyrics with all the power and glory of a climax after a long dry spell.
It always came to this, as the heady rush of doing what they did best overtook them and they had to release the joy that bubbled up through the rock like a crystal spring. Anyone who’s been in the zone understands the transcendent feeling of flying high on the wings of your talent, of being in love with everyone and everything for as long as the flight lasts. The lads were irrepressible on stage, charged with energy and bleeding it off to the fans, making a celebration of each show. And every time they played, the crowd grew larger. Looking around at this one, I wondered if the club would still be standing at the end of the night. I wasn’t sure it would survive the mass orgy that was threatening to break out.
As I smiled to myself in the darkness, proud and, yes, possessive, I noticed someone else who wasn’t carried away by the giddy hurricane of sight and sound. With his long coat, hat, and sunglasses, he looked like a spy, and almost as soon as I saw him, he faded into the mob as if feeling the pressure of my gaze. Maybe if I’d been suspicious, or at least curious, I’d have saved myself and those I loved a lot of trouble. In the bright tumult of my memories of the night, he was a matte-black shadow, but I didn’t give him another thought until Sato came calling.
Ichiro Sato, or Sato Ichiro in the eastern style, was the manager of Japan’s most adored male pop idol and he was calling on me, the manager of a band still shopping for a label. How could I turn him down? I couldn’t, of course. I wanted my boys to be the biggest act in Japan, just for a start, and I was willing to do anything to reach that goal. I would not be hampered by the fact that I was an Englishman in the Orient; I believed in music and I believed in the group of talented young men that I’d been shepherding for the past couple of years. That explains the eagerness with which I invited Mr. Sato into my excuse for an office. He took the briefest look at the converted petrol station/garage and made no comments on the spare, battered furnishings, but he did pull his magnificent mohair trench coat closer around his body and he sat very gingerly, on what I considered my best chair. He wore sunglasses so dark that I could barely see the gleam of his eyes and he never took them off during the entire interview. Other than that eccentricity, he behaved in the normal fashion of an ambitious Asian man moving into his thirties like me.
“I am here to speak on behalf of Kazuki to the benefit of both our charges.” Sato got right to business, which is how we do it in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, even in Japan.
“I would be most interested to hear what you have to say,” I replied, wishing I had more to offer him than the flat soda or bottled water that he’d graciously declined. “Kazuki is much admired.”
Sato inclined his head in acknowledgment of the compliment, his blue-black hair almost iridescent under the fluorescent light. “Yes, much admired,” he said with a trace of smugness. He could well afford his complacency; he represented a phenomenon, a comet that had blazed in the sky of the music world for almost ten years and showed no sign of dimming. I had never seen anyone quite like Sato’s ageless client before, with the possible exception of one androgynous English rock star, but even that icon of my adolescence could not compare to this shimmering, half-mythical creature.
As everyone knew, he was born Naoki Murakami, but they called him Kazuki, the Shining One. It only took a glance at one of his many publicity photos to see why. His hair, currently a rich cinnabar, was thick and glossy. His features were perfectly shaped, his body covered with supple glowing skin, and he moved with all the grace of the average jaguar. If you saw nothing of him but that porcelain face, you could easily mistake him for a beautiful woman. His body, however, was indisputably male despite the smoothness of his skin. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with an aura of innate power that made his languid poses even more striking. He was quite deliberately seductive and the blatant nature of his smoldering mien gave it an element of farce, a joke you were in on, playing the game with him. He often averted his gaze to let the onlooker appreciate unobserved the classic oval shape of his face, the high cheekbones and full lips of a geisha, but when he stared directly into your eyes, you got the full effect of his startling gaze, pale green and cloudy as jade from the sea. He sang like a fallen angel and danced like a dervish on fire. He was worshiped by millions; what did he want with us?
“Hayate has come to Kazuki’s attention,” Sato said. “Very promising, he says. He likes the name and says it is appropriate.”
“Thank you. We thought Hurricane suited the band, but it’s very kind of him to say so.”
“Kind?” A smile was caught in one corner of Sato’s mouth. “Kazuki-san is truthful.”
“Ah… well, then, please thank him for his honest esteem of my clients.”
Sato nodded again. “Kazuki has been a star since he was sixteen, but he wishes for more fame. He wishes for his fame to stretch across oceans.”
“I don’t see why not. He’s got it all; he’s the total package.”
Sato half-rose in an abbreviated bow. “Arigato,” he thanked me.
“I’m just being honest.” I smiled. “What can Hayate do for Kazuki?”
Sato smiled back, knowing that I knew that Kazuki could do a lot more for Hayate than vice versa. “We are both privileged to work with very special people. They have the necessary talent for success. It remains for us to bring their gifts to the public.”
“That was very nicely put. I’d like to hear your ideas on the subject of publicity.”
Finally unbending a bit, Sato unbuttoned his floor-sweeping purple coat to reveal a suit so white I was tempted to reach for my sunglasses as well. Expensive, but flashy, stocky Sato’s clothes made him look like a boxer who’d done well as he leaned forward as though to share a confidence. “Kazuki’s image, you understand, is deliberately ambiguous.”
I waited for a moment, certain he was not finished, but he was obviously waiting for me to reply. “Ambiguous,” I repeated. “Are we talking about his political views?”
“We are talking about his sexual orientation.”
“Right. Well, I had formed the opinion that Mr. Kazuki was bisexual, or more likely, omnisexual. Of course, I know people who believe emphatically that he’s a woman in disguise. They claim to have evidence that the nude photos of him are faked.”
“Yes, Kazuki finds such tales very amusing. He does not care if people believe he is gay or a woman or a robot. He only cares that they find him… interesting.”
“And you’ve thought of a way to make him more interesting?”
“Hai,” he confirmed. “Research indicates that Kazuki’s most loyal fans are women and that the most loyal of the women prefer to believe he is a bisexual. I want to give him a boyfriend.”
“I see,” I said, though I wasn’t sure that I did.
“We have seen Hayate and Kazuki agrees with me that your vocalist would be a good boyfriend for him. He is shorter than Kazuki and he is also very beautiful as well as a known homosexual. They will look very fine together in photos.”
I agreed with his assessment of our lead singer. As it happened, Kaji was very attractive, and he was very openly gay, but I was a bit taken aback by the baldness of Sato’s approach. “Do you think I can just tell Kaji to be with Kazuki?”
“Doesn’t he want to be famous?”
I saw his point. “Of course, I’ll have to discuss this with the lads.”
“We did not expect an immediate answer,” he said, though I think he did. “Here is my private number. Please call me as soon as you have decided.” He stood and I realized that the meeting was over.
“I’ll do that,” I said, as I walked him to the door. “Thank you for your time.”
He bowed briefly and went to his chauffeur-driven Mercedes. Before the car pulled away, he rolled down the window. “One more thing, Mr. Blume: your singer will need to change his hair color. Blond would be best.”
At a loss for an answer to that, I lifted a hand in goodbye. When the big car turned the corner, I went to find the lads. I couldn’t decide if Kaji was going to go ballistic or laugh his arse off, but I couldn’t wait to find out. As it happened, he did neither, though his bandmates did both. With uncharacteristic gravity, Hayate’s resident spitfire agreed that the publicity would be extremely good for the group and if pretending to be the famous Kazuki’s lover in a few public appearances would help, he’d make the sacrifice. After this improbably altruistic statement, the rest of the lads were struck dumb for approximately half a second before they pelted Kaji with verbal abuse and whatever else was handy. The latter eventually included their bodies, which they piled on their vocalist in a laughing, tickling, writhing heap. I watched with an indulgent smile until Sora hooked my ankle and pulled me into the group snuggle. There are worse ways to celebrate good news.
I went to bed happy that night, optimistic for Hayate’s future. In the morning, I phoned Mr. Sato and he gave me the details of the scheme. In three days, Kazuki would fly in to Tokyo after a brief vacation on the island of Phuket. His return would be the perfect opportunity to stir the public’s curiosity.
Narita Airport is always crowded, but that day one of the concourses was packed to the point that security had to force paths through the throng for departing passengers. At the front were the reporters and camera operators dispatched to film a beloved celebrity returning home. Kazuki was back from a much-needed break after suffering exhaustion brought on by his devotion to his fans; at least that’s what it said in the press release.
I stood in the front row with Mr. Sato and representatives from Zennousha Music, just to the left of the lovely girl holding the gigantic bouquet. Even though I was in on the planning of the charade about to be enacted, or maybe because of it, I shared the mounting excitement of the crowd as they counted down the minutes until they would see their idol in the flesh. The tension grew as the private jet touched down and the fans realized the Shining One was only a few dozen yards away. The intermittent screaming became a sustained keening of desire. Keyed to a fever pitch, every sense heightened, the throng turned as one when a door opened to the left of the cordoned area.
I was waiting for it and so I was the first to spot the slight figure approaching the ranks of the press like a tomcat kitten on the prowl. Five and a half feet of pure dynamite, he wore an arterial red sweatshirt two sizes too big, bulky sleeves dangling almost to his fingertips. As he strode forward, the ripped neck hole slipped off one shoulder, baring tattoos inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs. His spiky, recently bleached and chopped mop-top shadowed kohl-rimmed eyes as dark and gleaming as the leather jeans that clung to his legs. I was probably beaming like a proud parent, but I was the one who had discovered him and named him Kaji Sukoshi, Little Fire, and he was everything I loved about rock ‘n’ roll in concentrated form. I think I might be excused a wee amount of paternal pride even if I hadn’t quite reached puberty the year he was born.
The members of the press took immediate note of Kaji’s entrance. Who was this striking stranger who arrived by a secret way just in time to greet Kazuki? The curiosity of the crowd was an almost palpable thing as the photographers recorded the interloper’s smallest movement like naturalists studying a gazelle at a water hole. He looked once at the fans, just a quick glance that appeared to surprise him. His demeanor went from unabashed cockiness to shy uncertainty and the cameras ate it up. As the reporters began to shout questions, the door they’d been watching so avidly for hours finally opened behind them. In a split second, the air was thick with the sound of Kazuki’s name and the cameras turned to follow him.
I had seen hundreds of pictures and probably a dozen videos of the Shining One and I knew he was beautiful with an otherworldly beauty that didn’t seem quite real. However, it was a very different thing to be standing in the field of his charisma. As he passed by me, my mouth went dry as though a lion had brushed against me in the dark. Frozen, I watched him pass by the press, the corporate greeters, and the fans. The huge room fell silent around me as Kazuki hurried to where Kaji waited. Kaji stood his ground, ready to recite a little speech of welcome, after which he and Kazuki would disappear slowly enough to allow plenty of photos. His lips parted as he took a deep breath and then Kazuki was on him like a tsunami, sweeping him up in a fierce embrace. The hush was preternatural as Kaji was pulled up onto his toes by the force of Kazuki’s greeting. “Gomen nasai,” Kazuki whispered an apology, just before he claimed Kaji’s mouth in a hungry kiss that unleashed a tumult of screams, sighs, and shouts of disbelief.
The snog was not in the script we’d discussed with Mr. Sato and I saw Kaji’s eyes go wide with shock when Kazuki’s tongue slid between his lips. Kazuki held Kaji tightly through the instinctive reaction to pull away, bending him backward until he was off-balance. Kaji put his arms around Kazuki’s neck to keep from falling and after a moment, his eyelids drifted down as he surrendered to the kiss. To say that the crowd went wild would be an understatement of monumental proportions. As if just now noticing the deafening roar, Kazuki lifted his head and scanned the front rows of the masses. Holding up one hand, he shoved Kaji behind him with the other as he gave his fans a sheepish smile. He waved and blew kisses, but backed steadily toward the door Kaji had used. Their hasty exit was captured by dozens of cameras, probably hundreds if you count phones. The door closed on a glimpse of Kazuki pinning Kaji to the wall with amorous intent and pandemonium erupted again.
I turned to look at Mr. Sato as he glanced my way. Our eyes met in a moment of perfect rapport. We had just set off a nuclear bomb of publicity and it hadn’t cost a thing. The crush of fans was so massive it was impossible for us to follow our clients, and it was nearly an hour before we caught up with them at the limo. I only needed one look at Kaji’s face to know that in that time, his world had changed radically. I wanted to ask him what had happened while we were separated, but things were moving too quickly.
Sato had arranged for us to have dinner at one of Tokyo’s most exclusive restaurants. It was atop one of the city’s tallest buildings, a glass corona atop a tower of light, attracting celebrities and those that made a living off them. The meal was awkward to say the least. Kazuki and Kaji were under constant barrage by photographers and autograph seekers who stared curiously at Kaji when they could take their eyes off Kazuki. I reminded myself that this was exactly what we wanted, but I could see that Kaji was upset and trying hard to hide it. Having been in the path of Cyclone Kaji before, I didn’t want his anxiety to reach critical mass. So, when Sato suggested drinks at a trendy nightclub, I begged off.
“It’s been a long day,” I said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d have your driver take us home now.”
Kaji, who’d not spoken more than five words during dinner, put his hand on my wrist in silent gratitude. His behavior was so out of character that it worried me. I glanced aside at him, but he was looking out of the limo window, his profile limned against the city lights. When I faced forward again, I caught Kazuki watching Kaji with an enigmatic expression on his drowsy feline features. Kazuki’s eyes brushed mine and slid away, leaving me with the feeling that he hadn’t actually seen me. I was starting to get a little creeped out by his mannequin-like calm. It made me feel as though he wasn’t really there at all; that his spirit was on some astral journey, leaving this beautiful shell illuminated but uninhabited. I hoped that was the case since my other theory involved the misuse of some heavy-duty drugs. No way would I allow that shite around my lads.
Sato was disappointed that I cut the evening short. He wanted the fans to see pictures of Kazuki and Kaji dancing together. I reminded him that it was better to offer several small tastes rather than a banquet to whet the appetite and he had the driver take us home. I told Sato I would talk with him in the morning and got out of the car. Kaji climbed out after me and we started up the drive. Before we’d gone two steps, Kazuki got out and caught Kaji by the elbow. Bending slightly, Kazuki said something of which I heard only the word takara—treasure. Kaji didn’t look at the other man as his lips moved in reply. Kazuki kissed the top of Kaji’s head and slid back into the limo as the other three members of Hayate burst from the garage that served as our living quarters, practice space, and corporate office. After a few moments of teasing, Kaji’s friends quieted when they realized he wasn’t responding. I asked them to give us some time alone, and they left to hit a few clubs. As we entered the big open space of the garage, Kaji whipped the red shirt over his head and flung it at a threadbare sofa.
“I am so… screwed,” he wailed.
“Take it easy. I’ll make some tea, and you tell me what’s going on.”
“It is a disaster,” Kaji said, pulling his hair into tufts as he trailed me into the kitchen area.
“We don’t have to keep playing this game if we don’t want to. If it bothers you to lie to the public, I can understand that.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t want to quit.” Kaji paused, biting his lower lip in thought. “I should quit. This will not turn out well.”
“Tell me what you want and I’ll tell Mr. Sato.”
“Right. I’ll tell him too.”
“No!” Kaji shook his head. “You asked me what I want and I said Kazuki.”
I put the kettle on the stove and turned to look at him. I still wasn’t used to the platinum-blond hair, but it was striking with his Asian features and dark eyes. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what you mean by that so I won’t misunderstand?” For the first time since I’d met him two years ago, a skinny, nervy seventeen-year-old punk with a voice too big for his body, he was hesitant to speak. “Come on, Susumu.” I called him by his real name to emphasize my seriousness. “Tell me what’s happening with you.”
“I am… in love with Kazuki.”
“Bollocks! You just met him a few hours ago.”
“I know, but….” Kaji finally met my eyes. “Will you promise me you will not tell the other lads?” he asked in the slightly stilted English the band members always used with me. I spoke their Nihongo, but had to translate in my head first, which slowed me down considerably. The other members of Hayate collected English slang like truffle hounds, but Kaji tended to front less. It was an endearing trait of his to tailor his speech to the listener out of respect. He called me Benny-chan as though I were a beloved child and didn’t care who thought he was being sappy. He was intelligent, sweet natured, and fiercely talented; how could I not love him?
“Your secrets are safe with me,” I said.
“When I was thirteen, Kazuki became a big star and I had to accept the truth that I liked boys. I bought all his music and put his picture on my bedroom wall. Many times—”
“Bloody hell, Kaji! Did you used to wank to pictures of Kazuki?”
“Well, never mind, mate. I used to flog my bishop to photos of a blond film star I won’t name. It’s no big deal, so don’t let it throw you.”
“I am thrown.” Kaji picked up the discarded sweatshirt and buried his face in it. “It still smells of him.”
“You’ve definitely got a big crush, but why is that a bad thing?”
He stared at me as though I’d gone mad. “Because he will never love me back. My heart will be broken and the best I can hope is that I will write a good song from it.”
“Kaji,” I said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Why wouldn’t he love you back?”
“He is Kazuki,” Kaji said, as though that explained everything.
“From the way he kissed you, I’d say there’s some interest there.”
“That was for publicity. He was being very kind, but I could see that it was part of his job.”
“Maybe it’s just leftover infatuation,” I tried putting another spin on it. “When you become a big star, you’ll laugh about the time you thought you were in love with the Shining One.”
Kaji rested his forehead against my shoulder. “When he kissed me, I forgot that we were being watched by hundreds of people. I forgot where I was. I almost forgot who I was.”
“That good, huh?”
“I want him so much, Benny-chan.”
“Well, there’s not a lot we can do about that. We want what we want, however….” I cupped Kaji’s chin in my hand and looked into his eyes. “We can decide for ourselves if what we want is good for us.”
“Hai,” Kaji assented. “I understand.”
“No matter what you decide, you’re still my ichiban.”
“You are my number one also.” Kaji smiled up at me, tilting his head to rest his cheek against my palm.
After two years, I was still getting used to the lads’ openly affectionate behavior. They had none of the personal space issues of the typical British or American male and were even more demonstrative than the Europeans were. Sora told me it was a samurai thing, but didn’t elaborate. Whatever the source of their untrammeled displays of affection, I wholeheartedly approved. I’m not attracted to pretty boys, as it happens, but Hayate taught me that it’s possible to be physically close with someone without needing to have it off with them. Furthermore, I will say that a good hug cannot be rated highly enough for the simple warmth and comfort it brings to body and soul. Call me a soft bugger, but it’s the truth.
“Come here, you cheeky monkey.” I pulled Kaji into an embrace. “You’re bloody gorgeous and sexy as hell. I love you. The lads love you. Why wouldn’t this Kazuki bloke love you too?”
“I just have a bad feeling.”
“Well, shake it off. You’re Kaji Sukoshi, the little fire. Let’s see you shine.”
“For you, Benny-chan, I will burn brightly.”
I let him go with a kiss on the forehead and he went to his bed in the loft. I stayed up for a while with my thoughts. Mr. Sato’s plan had not gone exactly as we’d mapped it out, and I thought he should have warned us that his client was prone to improvise. Now it was a tangled web with my young friend dangling from one of the threads. I took the emotional health of my lads as seriously as the condition of their musical equipment and Mr. Sato had just made my job harder. I couldn’t help feeling some resentment toward him and if this silly publicity stunt resulted in a broken heart for Kaji, I’d never forgive him, or myself.