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The Fame Game
by Neil Ayres

23 votes, average score = 6.35

Christopher Reagan San

57D Jazz-Café Tower

Edo City

Tokyo Prefecture



Dear Gaijin,

My samurai ancestors will be spinning in their graves as I write this, but the lucky ones among us are blind-folded, lined up against a wall and shot by firing squad. The others – those not dead already by their own hand, like me – end up here. Frontman's Alley is what the more humane broadsheets call it. Its residents know it as the Zombie Hole. It's just off Dearth Row. You know the place, I'm sure: where the only reason for a car to stop is so the driver can pick up some wannabe-or-more-likely-has-been mimer-girl. I believe you guys in management use the term 'poptart'.

Anyway, that's where it is – where I am – fourth turning on your left off Dearth Row, if you're coming in from the Shinjuku end. No need for an appointment; I'm usually in. Just show your buyer's pass and ask for Kanada.

Best of the Best,

K.


In spite of the letter's tone, the signature made Reagan smile. 'Best of the Best' had been Kanada Yoshimoto's only number one. It had caused quite a stir a few years back, managing to stay in the charts for an astounding period of two weeks. The longest anybody else had managed in the preceding years had been nine days, and that had been with an Elvis remix. Post-Best of the Best no one had managed to surpass a single week at the top-spot, the average stay at number one being a meagre two and a half days.

Reagan folded the letter in half and, having scored a crease in it with his thumbnail, slipped it in the inside pocket of his jacket. Although he was late for a dinner-date with one of the richest women in the Antipodes, he appeared outwardly composed.

As he made his way from his penthouse suite down to the mall-level, briefcase in hand, Reagan checked his emessages in the relative privacy of the hotel elevator. Less than a minute later, and with over three hundred correspondences, newsletters and advertisements checked and responded to or deleted – including the quarter-hourly World Chart Update – Christopher Reagan, one-time A&R agent for Silver Publishing, the US's premiere music publishers, and of late chief executive of Gotown Records, emerged into the organised chaos of the Edo Media Share Centre, younger but bigger brother to the more reserved – and in Reagan's mind, more stuffy and outdated – Old Tokyo Stock Exchange.

He barged his way through to the Gotown private offices with little effort, standing head and shoulders above most of the dealers, agents, and media planners and buyers who'd been screaming at one another since dawn had broken over the grubby city.

The double doors to Gotown HQ were apparently shut. Occupying the respectful space left around the entrance, Reagan took a hit of speed before stepping through the holographic image of the doors and into the elaborate foyer beyond.

The receptionist was busy painting her nails. She must've been watching something on her EGs; either that or she was high, because she didn't react to Reagan's presence until he attempted to rap on her head with the knuckles of his free hand. The young lady had a katana blade at his throat before he could complete the action.

'Mister Reagan, you are late. Mrs Townsend is impatient this morning.'

Without further words he left the nu-ronin enthusiast and crossed the marble floor of the atrium, keying in the security code for access to Keiko's office.

Keiko Townsend had inherited Gotown after her husband's grim and not unexpected demise. She was a political force to be reckoned with. Having played a major part in reinstating provincial rule across much of Japan, she was puppet-master to several of the more popular candidates for Shogun of the newly consolidated Edo and Greater Tokyo prefecture.

Tellingly, it had also been under pressure from her that a sociological report on a cross-section of the city's youth had been conducted, resulting in the reinstatement of the old caste system, and along with it the Samurai code and the re-legalisation of hand-weapons.

Keiko was spread-eagled, a concubine's head between her slender legs, upon a leopard-skin sofa.

'Hello Christopher. What kept you? You've missed most of the – uhn – fun.' And then to her servant, 'Enough. Send in the girl.'

The woman, dressed as a geisha, did as instructed. Keiko crossed her legs.

'You've heard from Yoshimoto?'

Reagan nodded. 'I'm not convinced he'll go for this. His letter was pretty apathetic.'

'Yoshimoto is not a stupid man, Chris. Besides, he's desperate. Everyone has a price. I suspect his is pretty low at the moment.'

'Is fame such a low price? You might be powerful Keiko, but you're not invincible.'

'And there was me thinking you were a gambler.'

'Just considering all the angles.'

Keiko slid into a sitting position. 'Pass me that robe.'

She was fastening the gown's belt when Lindy entered.

'You wanted to see me?' the girl asked.

'Take a seat, dear,' Keiko instructed, 'we want to talk to you about the launch. We both think you've got something special, my love.' Keiko touched the girl's knee. 'Everyone knows you'll win over the J-Poppers for at least, ooh, I don't know . . . Chris?'

Reagan shifted uncomfortably where he stood, hands in his trouser pockets. 'A week. At least a week,' he assured them.

Lindy's eyes grew wide. 'A week? Wow! You really think the track's good enough?'

Keiko smiled, almost naturally.

'Oh, Lindy, darling. We think you're good enough.'

Lindy turned to Reagan for confirmation.

'That's right,' he said, with a flash of his whiter-than-white teeth.

'Geez!'

'Indeed. It's because we think you're so good, sweetheart, that we want to do something pretty radical. We think you've got crossover potential.'

'What do you mean?' Lindy's cartoon-like features turned quizzical.

'The Samurai, babes.'

'You mean, the Shogunate?'

Keiko laughed. 'Hell no, princess,' Lindy was completely out of touch with the urban scene. 'The nu-ronin, my lovely. The kids in black.'

'You mean those guys with swords and switchblades? The ones who hang around the subways and outside clubs? Daddy says they're dangerous; that they'd cut you up just as soon as look at you.'

Reagan interceded, 'But they've got money, Lindy, and they spend an awful lot of it on music. Just as much – if not more – as the J-Poppers. If you could nail both audiences, maybe we could even beat Yoshimoto's record!' Reagan was zealously enthusiastic, in his subdued manner. If he'd been as caricature-like as Lindy, Yen signs would have been ringing up in his eyes like dollars on a cash register.

'You mean Kanada? Best of the Best? Daddy loves that song!'

Keiko sidled over to Lindy's side. 'You know what would make Daddy love that song even more, sweetpea?' She draped an arm over the girl's shoulders, reminiscent of Kaa with Mowgli. 'If you sang it!' She continued, answering her own question.

Lindy was visibly moved at the prospect. She started to tremble.

'And for the coup de grâce, Lindy,' Reagan began.

'To add the cherry on top—' Keiko interjected, '—A live concert!' They finished the sentence together. Lindy squealed with delight.


A week before the show, pictures of Lindy were pasted across every spare surface of the city. Gotown's marketing department ceased work on all other projects and hired freelancers and college students to assist them with the donkeywork of making Lindy a household name.

Her bubblegum-pop face had been superimposed into two separate poster designs. In one she was dressed as a schoolgirl, standing on one alabaster leg, index finger suggestively in her mouth. She was wearing a white blouse and pleated blue skirt.

In the other picture she wore a black gi and wielded a Bokken in a defensive Bushido stance. In both pictures the legend above her head read: Lindy, Better than the Best!!!


Lindy's version of Best of the Best did beat Kanada's previous record and spent an unprecedented two months at the top of the J-Chart following the gig, with the re-release of Kanada's original hugging the number two spot for almost as long.

Yoshimoto was scheduled for a private execution the very evening following the concert, but after Reagan had a few choice words in his ear, he opted for a televised suicide by self-disembowelment in the boardroom of the Edo Media Share Centre. A wide smile split his face at the same time the sword split his belly. A rousing chorus accompanied Kanada's auto-execution:

'Don't fear Death's aim
If you win the game of fame
You'll stand out from the rest
As the best of the best.'

It got almost as many viewers as Lindy's funeral did.

The End

Story Copyright © 2007 by Neil Ayres. All rights reserved.
Illustration Copyright © 2007 by Marge Simon. All rights reserved.

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About the author

Neil's stories have appeared in places such as Apex Digest, Electric Velocipede, 3LBE and Aesthetica. His novelette, Skipping Stones, co-written with E. Sedia is available to pre-order from the publishers of Grendel Song magazine.

Neil shares a blog with the writer Aliya Whiteley. His first novel, Nicolo's Gifts was nominated for the ManBooker prize in 2003. Nicolo's Gifts is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Neil lives in Surrey.


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