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Murky Water

The three-story house of paper and wood with its multiple slanted pitched roofs, square windows, and sliding doors was built in the traditional Japanese style. Despite the delicacy of the structure it had somehow survived the storm of fire the conquering army had rained down on the rest of the country. Ornamental paper lanterns were strung up along the front of the building, and a bulky gas-powered generator kept the interior so brightly lit the electric yellow glow cast distorted human silhouettes on the paper doors. It was a bastion of decadence and debauchery that stood out in stark contrast to the charred landscape where limbless beggars quietly held up empty wooden bowls, and emaciated war orphans scavaged any sustenance they could from the growing piles of refuse choking the streets.   Dejected masses of disbanded imperial soldiers with no army and no home drank themselves to death regretting having missed their only opportunity for an honorable death. The balmy summer air was thick with the smell of the corpses rotting in the rubble.
Americans filtered in and out of the house at all hours. They walked in with slicked-back hair and neatly pressed attire and stumbled out hours later often missing a few articles of clothing and leaving piles of vomit as their comrades helped carry them away. The occupiers were the only ones in the city with any money, and so they were almost the only clientele of the makeshift night spot and when they didn’t have the paper the operators of the establishment were happy to barter. A couple of bottles of whiskey or a case of cigarettes was usually enough to get a young GI some private time with a girl of his choosing
Hatsuo was 11 years old with black eyes and shaggy black hair. His country had been at war nearly all of his life, and his physical development reflected the deprivations felt by his people. He was short and thin enough to see his clearly defined bones protruding from beneath his tanned skin.  This den of iniquity that serviced the conquered was the only place in the decimated city where he could find work. Without which his widowed mother and little sister most likely starve.
The piddling boy was trying to slide his way through the drunken soldiers that crammed the room and spilled out into the street. A thick cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air and stung and the boy's eyes and tore at his throat. The combination of jazz music and rambunctious men made it almost impossible to hear.
“Excuse Excuse,” the boy repeated as he navigated through the swaying bodies. There was a small open space in the dense crowd where three officers were sitting at a roundtable. The table was covered with empty shot glasses and in the middle were three human skulls that were bleached an ivory white.
“Well let’s get this over with I want to get to one of these Jap broads before my dick stops working!” a colonel joked.
“Yeah, yeah you already know that Tojo's head is coming home with me you son of a bitch!” Replied the other officer sitting across the table with a toothy grin.
Hatsuo carefully approached the intoxicated trio. “More refill?” he shouted in the colonel's ear.
The colonel took a moment to process the question. Hatsuo glanced at the grimacing skull and quickly looked away.
“Yeah jus... bring us the goddamn bottle!” the Colonel hiccuped.
“I sorry I no understand,” Hatsuo replied.
“Son of a bitch,” muttered the colonel and his entourage laughed.
He spoke again this time slower and louder. “WE,” he pointed to himself and the men he was sitting with. “WANT THE WHOLE BOTTLE!” his attempted explanation was accompanied by pantomimed hand gestures. “GET US AN ENTIRE BOTTLE OF WHISKEY OR I’LL SHOOT YOU DO YOU UNDERSTAND??”
His friends laughed uproariously. Hatsuo got what the slurring colonel was asking of him. He smiled politely, nodded, and replied “Right away sir!” before hurrying off to retrieve a bottle. He slipped back into the crowd so he could make his way to the other side of the room. When he finally made it out again, he was grabbed Yamagata, a middle-aged man with a scraggly grey beard who also worked in the house.
“You are needed upstairs right away,” he said grimly.
“I have to get a bottle for a colonel,” Hatsuo explained
“I said right away,” he hissed laying a stinging slap across the boy’s face.
The upper level was divided into several rows where curtains made up semi-private areas. Behind each curtain, there was a mattress on the floor. Hatsuo looked down at his feet and quickly walked by the little makeshift cells where he heard men grunting and girls whimpering. At the end of the row, a pale-faced soldier was sitting against the wall sobbing while his friends tried to console him. MAdame Nakamura, the lady of the house, was talking with the soldiers. She saw Hatsuo and motioned for him to come over to them.
Hatsuo ran over. The curtain was pulled back; the mattress was soaked with blood. The soldier on the floor was crying and mumbling incoherently while his friends helped him to his feet. Madame Nakamura stern stone-like face showed no emotion.
“Clean this up quickly!” she hissed before following the soldiers down the hall.
Hatsuo closed the curtain so no one could see him cleaning up the aftermath of whatever awful thing had happened.  Less it should kill their mood and deter them from throwing down their money. He got down on his knees and scrubbed the dried blood caked on the floor. The water in the rusty bucket started to turn a cloudy red, and the crimson water ran off the rough bristles and flowed down his small hands staining his flesh the same color as the murky water.

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