Sasha Sursi was nodding off when the alarm sounded on the computer in front of her. Tonya, the other Ukrainian housekeeper sitting next to her in the back room of the Fancy Flower Love Hotel, nudged Sasha to make sure she was fully awake.
“Room twelve,” Tonya said, pointing at the computer screen. “This one’s yours.”
“What? Why?” Sasha squirmed in her chair. “I cleaned the last three!”
“Those were easy! You finished long before I was done with that one room.” Tonya gave an exaggerated shudder. “Men are so gross.”
“I still did three rooms,” Sasha protested. “You only had one.”
“Hey, we agreed to equal time, remember?”
“How do I know you weren’t just taking a nap in there?”
“Ew!” Tonya shook her head vigorously. “Trust me, if you had seen this room, you wouldn’t have wanted to sit down anywhere, much less sleep. Come on, please? I know your three rooms were easy. All single occupancy, right? Hideaways?”
“Yeah.” This love hotel was close enough to Shibuya Station that people had started using it to avoid Chinese security sweeps in Tokyo’s transit centers, which had increased in frequency since the power boat bombing. Many of the “random patrols” seemed to occur during rush hour, and some workers had decided it was worth the money to hide out for an hour before traveling home.
“Just let me rest my feet for a little longer,” Tonya said. “I’ll take the next one, okay? I just can’t handle cleaning up after another couple right now.”
“You peeked again?” There were no cameras anywhere in the hotel, for maximum guest privacy, but the back room included a peephole that looked out over the front desk. The owner insisted it was only there for emergencies. The staff frequently used it to satisfy their curiosity about who was checking in.
“Man and woman. At least they’re heterosexual,” Tonya said. “You’re less likely to find lube spread all over the—”
“Fine, fine, I’m going!” Sasha said, deciding that the quiet of even a filthy hotel room would be preferable to Tonya’s continued whining.
When Sasha entered room twelve, followed by a robotic cart of cleaning supplies, she found all the lights turned off. That was unusual; most guests didn’t bother to find the controls for the decorative sconces along the wall and in the bookshelf. Perhaps that was a good sign? Someone conscientious enough to want to save energy might also be kind enough to leave a clean-ish room.
Sasha tapped the controls on the front of her cleaning cart to increase the illumination in the room. All the lights came back, growing brighter slowly over the course of a few seconds.
There was someone lying in the bed. A man, judging by the short haircut and the shoes—which he was still wearing, in bed! Sasha sighed and cleared her throat loudly.
“Sir? Excuse me, sir?” She didn’t want to approach too closely; sometimes people flailed when awakened unexpectedly. “It’s past your checkout time, sir. If you’d like to extend your stay, you’ll have to talk to the front desk. Sir?”
The man remained silent—and very still. Sasha suddenly had a very bad feeling.
She moved slowly toward the bed. The cleaning cart followed, its robot instincts programmed to stay close to her. Sasha came up to the side of the bed next to the man and reached out to turn the lamp on the nightstand to full brightness.
It was only then that she noticed the blood staining the pillow and bedsheets under the man’s neck. And his pale, slack face and dead eyes.
Sasha leapt backward, crashing into her cart, and screamed. The cart slowly backed away, but not fast enough for Sasha’s comfort, and she slammed herself back against the wall, still watching the man, hoping against hope that he would rise and tell her this was all some sick prank that Tonya was playing on her.
The man did not move. When Sasha stopped shaking enough to work her cart controls again, she pushed the panic button, then huddled in the corner against the wall to wait for the police.
Inspector Koreda Miyako of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department had gotten out of the habit of asking where her partner, Lieutenant Emma Higashi of the United States Peacekeeping Forces, would go whenever she had to “run an errand.” Though the official circumstances of Emma’s secondment to Tokyo police remained the same, Miyako was pointedly aware of how Emma’s demeanor had changed ever since the coup attempt at the Diet a few months ago, the day that her former commanding...