Top Ten Writing Mistakes Editors See Every Day

Joseph Mark Brewer:

While you’re on your writing journey, take a coffee break and read this. really. Do it.

Originally posted on Blot the Skrip and Jar It:

Goya -The sleep of reason produces monsters (c1799) recut

In addition to writing and teaching, one of the things I do for a living is to evaluate manuscripts for their suitability for publication. I read fiction (and non-fiction) across several genres, and write comprehensive reports on the books. I try always to guide the author towards knocking his or her project into a shape that could be credibly presented to literary agents, publishers and general readers. You know how Newman and Mittelmark introduce How Not to Write a Novel by saying, ‘We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy,’ well they’re right; I am one of those editors.

However good the idea behind a novel, when the author is still learning the craft of writing – like any…

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The Reluctant P.I.

(Another chapter from The Thief’s Mistake, Book 2 in the the Shig Sato Mystery series, available in ebook soon.)

clip6265Shig Sato was lost, and nearly ready to admit it. He had followed Ken Abe’s directions to his new office – three blocks south from the Akasaka-mitsuke subway station, right, and walk another block, where he would approach an intersection with a coffee shop at the bottom of a white office building five stories high. At another corner, a bank; another, an electronics equipment sales outlet with garish signs shouting bargains too good to be believed, and finally a real estate agent’s office with dozens of photos of properties of every type, size and price. It was quite a quartet that formed that intersection in Akasaka. Yes, he was in the right place. But what now?

The crossing light music brought Sato into the present. He became part of the hustling mob crossing the street, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of the coffee shop.

“Inspector?”

Sato turned toward the voice, feminine but low and tinged with too many cigarettes and too much sake. It was a middle-aged bar hostess’ voice, but the person attached to that rumble was plump, fair, pretty, and dressed in a subdued plum purple.

“I saw you from the coffee shop,” the woman said as she studied Sato with a look of apprehensive curiosity, then mild amusement, not trusting the beard or such casual clothing on so handsome a man – faded yellow sport shirt, rumpled khaki pants, and a round blue canvas hat. Mariko Suzuki had remembered Sato as a tall, commanding presence. Now, what she noticed was that he had the saddest eyes.

But she plowed ahead. “Good thing I was here this morning. I seldom stop in. But I saw Abe just now and he’s in his office. I think you’ll like it. He’s been there every day that I know of since starting the business, but you know he insisted your name should be on the door. I haven’t gotten a proper sign for outside yet but–”

Sato’s disadvantage produced a weak “Hello …?”

Then the woman realized Sato may not remember her. “I’m Mariko Suzuki. Abe’s friend.”

“Ah, Mrs. Suzuki,” and Sato then recalled meeting her five years before, at a coffee shop in the Ginza. He was there with his wife, Miki, stealing precious moments all to themselves before a social function he had no way of avoiding. Back then he was an Inspector in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and was summoned to the event by the department’s superintendent general. Saying “No, thank you,” was not an option.

But Ken Abe – at that time, he was a detective, and that lowly status enabled him to skip such boring soirees. When Abe spotted Sato from across the crowded dining room that evening, he approached Sato’s table to introduce Suzuki and remind Sato that he had tickets to a prize fight, knowing it would make Sato envious.

Standing on that street corner on that warm August morning, Sato gave Suzuki a small smile and said, “I remember the last time we met.”

“Oh, that awful boxing contest Abe wanted to go to,” Suzuki blurted out. “I don’t know about Abe sometimes. But I’m glad I saw you. I’m so sorry about your dear wife.”

Sato managed a nod while Suzuki forged ahead: “I bet you were looking for your office. Abe told me about the detective agency. I think it’s wonderful. You can count on me to send business your way. Well, you need to go to that door over there,” and Sato saw her point to a glass door just behind him to his right. “Just inside is a small lobby. It has two other offices, and a stairwell. You’re one floor up. I’m sorry I don’t have a sign on the outside of the building yet.”

Just as Sato’s hearing caught up to the woman’s verbal torrent, the intersection’s crossing light music caught her attention. “I have to go but please make yourself at home and good luck! Abe’s already up there.”

Sato watched Suzuki dash across the street as the last strains of the music blared from speakers above the intersection.

For much longer than he was aware, Sato stared at the door Suzuki had pointed at, as if memorizing its appearance. But he knew he was allowing his memory to capture the moment when one life ended, and another began.

It was a moment of dread.

“What a reluctant P.I. I am,” he muttered as he opened the heavy glass door. The white tile floor was buffed to a dull mat finish and he noticed grim along the baseboard in the corners, but the stairwell seemed clean, and Sato caught himself inspecting the tile for cracks as he slowly walked up the stairs, step by step. Sato opened the stairwell door that opened onto the second floor, and off to his right, five feet away, he saw a door, its top half inset with opaque glass and words declaring “Sato Private Investigation Service.”

So, what had started as a somewhat truthful answer to a seemingly benign question asked by the TMPD superintendent general was now a fact – Shig Sato was now a private investigator.

Sato sighed. “Reluctant, indeed.”

~

Ken Abe had not been so sure that his friend would show up that morning.

The day before, he skipped his search for an air-conditioned drinking establishment once he finished for the day, and instead took his ten-year-old Toyota Carina out of the towering parking garage near his home in Mita and drove the forty minutes it took to get to Shig Sato’s family home in Takatsu, Kawasaki, to bring his best friend and business partner back to Tokyo. Abe was not fond of driving, and did not know what he was going to say to Sato. He was not sure if he would want anyone bothering him if his wife had died so recently. But Abe had a problem: after Miki Sato’s funeral, his friend Shig left for Takatsu, leaving Abe to established the agency and put in the hours needed to get it off the ground. Not that he minded. He was glad to leave the department after Sato’s retirement. They had been partners off and on for nearly 18 years, and Abe did not relish the idea of having another partner, and was eager to face the challenge of a new venture.

He knew Sato was going to the Takatsu house to mourn, and believed that was only right. Miki Sato had been like a sister to him, and could not imagine what Shig went through, watching Miki slowly waste away.

But no tender feelings for Miki’s memory, and no long-established friendship with Shig changed the fact that Abe’s advertisement for Sato’s fledgling detective agency was bringing in more business than he could handle, and with 30 days passed, it was time for Shig to get busy with this crazy P.I. business he started.

~

As dusk began its short life in earnest, Sato, tanned and dirty and unshaven and wearing dingy shorts, wooden sandals and a frayed cotton shirt, was drinking his sake cold while sitting on the back steps of his family’s small house, with what remained of his dinner of rice and edamame next to him. He squinted at the sun dipping towards the mountains and breathed in the scent of jasmine and pine. Footsteps along the side of the house and the clink of bottles invaded his silent meditation. When he heard the deep rumble of a fake cough, he knew his visitor was Ken Abe. When the shuffling and clinking stopped, he glanced down and saw the familiar scuffed brown loafers.

He did not turn around.

He heard Abe’s unmistakable sniff, once and then once again, and Sato thought about his friends’ unusual sense of smell. A childhood injury left him with the olfactory senses of a bloodhound. He had stopped being amazed at this peculiar prowess long ago, but knew Abe’s mind was instantly taking inventory of whatever odor he could detect: the sweat on his back, the Tama River dirt on his sandals, the stale rice in the pot, and the soy beans wilting.

“I guess you’re going to tell me do something about the rice, eventually,” Sato said.

“No.”

“You brought your own refreshments. Thoughtful.”

Abe had yet to glance down at his friend, but instead, was watching the late evening sun’s progress from a sliver to nearly nothing. “I wanted to make sure I could pour you into the Toyota if I had to.”

“Am I going somewhere?”

“Yes,” Abe said, flat and low.

“Where?”

“Work.”

“Why?”

“Because it was your idea to start this business. And I’m stupid to let you do whatever you’re doing here while I do all the dirty work.”

“What dirty work?”

“Taking calls from angry wives, suspicious husbands, marriage-minded grandmothers. It’s time for you to get going.”

“You’re kidding. You came out here because of that?”

“Would I be here if I was kidding?”

Sato glanced up at Abe, then at the beer and then he recognized a package. He knew it was pickled eel.

Sato knew there were never gifts between him and Abe, never any small tokens of appreciation, kindnesses given and received. He knew Abe could have shown up empty-handed. But the eel was what he brought with him whenever he came by to visit him and Miki at their home in Tokyo, all those hundreds of times over the years.

“Want to come on in?” Sato asked, eyes still on the eel.

“Sure.” And without missing a beat: “I hate the beard.”

“I know,” Sato sighed as he rose and walked into the house, somewhat cooled by an ancient electric fan, burring along with the sounds of the summer evening. He tasted the eel, pleasant on his tongue. Sato found beans and peas and they sipped the beer, munched their food, and said all they needed in saying nothing.

But Abe knew his friend, and knew Sato’s mind. Sato may be mourning, may be deep into his sorrowful contemplation, and may even be fishing every morning to sooth his sleepless nights, but he also knew Sato could count. Abe was not the least bit religious, but knew Sato was, and seven days after Miki’s death, after the Buddhist priest’s chants ended, Sato slipped out of Tokyo, to Takatsu, to escape and to mourn the only way he knew how. Abe did not have to be present at the fourteenth day remembrance or any other occasion to offer prayers to the spirit of Miki Sato. But he knew the 49th day was approaching, the day a Buddhist believed the spirit of the deceased crossed over to the other side, and Abe knew that his friend, who loved his wife more than he lived himself, would be thinking of nothing but that.

Abe did not like to contemplate the consequences.

Having finished his eel and his beer, Abe lifted a knee, placed his foot flat on the floor, and eased his bulk onto his left flank until he was flat on the floor, and with several small sure gestures, he freed a cigarette from its pack, raised it to his lips, found his lighter, lit his cigarette, inhaled, exhaled, then said, “Ready to go?”

Sato stabbed at some beans, and looked at his glass of beer still half full. “Now?”

“When I finish this,” Abe said, holding up the cigarette.

Sato studied Abe’s deceitful lethargy. He only nodded and said, “Okay.”

Abe expected more of a fight, but Sato quietly rose and then wandered around the house, and he heard the random sounds of shutters sliding into place and boxes being shuffled about, then Sato reappeared and wordlessly gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink.

Abe turned his attention to his Mild Seven cigarette and after a few puffs, snuffed it out and got to his feet. By this time Sato had disappeared, but a minute later reappeared, wearing clean, comfortable, presentable clothes for the drive back to the city, and seeing Abe erect and ready to move on, said, “Let’s go.”

Abe pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and gave it to Sato. “Here are the directions to the office, in case you plan on coming in the morning.”

Sato noticed the sarcasm, and a surge of mild belligerence rose inside. “I’ll be there,” he said, pocketing the instructions.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Pleased to see some sign of the old Sato, he asked “You riding with me?” thinking that his friend looked tired beyond measure.

“No, I’m driving in. I don’t want to leave the Pajero here,” Sato said. Gathering what he wanted from the house, Sato placed the bundles in the Pajero. Abe saw that his friend seemed up to making the drive back to the city. “Follow me?”

Sato looked up at Abe. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You have the directions to the office?”

“In my pocket.”

“Don’t get lost,” Abe said. And as he started his Toyota, he glanced into his mirrors and in the dark of the August evening, he saw the shadow of Shig Sato sitting behind the wheel, the look of concentration Abe knew well, and watched as Sato started the engine, checked the gauges, adjusted the mirrors, buckled himself to his seat, turn on the low beams, then finally glance up. He noticed Abe, and nodded. Then Abe watched his friend pull away, and drive toward the road that led to his future.

~

Sato stood at the door to his office long enough for him to realize he had no idea how long he had been standing there. Then he heard “It’s open.”

And as he opened the unlocked door, Sato took a sight he had seen a thousand times, Ken Abe smoking a cigarette and reading the morning’s sports pages, all tussled hair, rumpled jacket and scuffed loafers in pose of careless nonchalance. The image pleased Sato immensely. “Perhaps things aren’t as new as I think they are,” he muttered as he walked to the center of the office, eying an empty chair behind a small lonely gray desk with a telephone, calendar, pen and notebook atop it. On a side table along one wall he saw a bucket of ice, highball glasses, and a pitcher of iced coffee.

Abe peered above the top of the newspaper. “You’re here, I see.”

“Yes, I’m here.”

Abe had heard the tentative steps to the door, the pause – Abe could have counted to five and knew that as soon as he said “six,” the doorknob would turn, and there he would stand, Shig Sato, ready to start his new day. Abe watched his friend wander around the small office, peer into corners where there was nothing to see and open the blinds of the three large windows, whose bottom pane opened outward, offering an escape for Abe’s cigarette smoke while offering up all the cacophony known as a busy Tokyo intersection, this one mere yards from their window.

Abe lit another cigarette to keep his iced coffee company, but kept his eyes on his friend as he walked around the office. His silence was born of shock. Sato was wearing a yellow sport shirt, worn khakis, and green socks above scuffed white sneakers, but it was the round blue cotton twill hat with the canvas rim, soft and faded by years in the sun, that made him stare. He recovered quickly enough to noticing Sato fix a look at everything in the office, one item at a time. He had seen this performance before: whenever Shig Sato entered a room for the first time, he inspected it much like a dog sniffing at every corner. He never pointed this out to his friend. Anyway, Sato would have denied any behavior resembling a canine. Abe was content to sit, and watch. He knew what he had to tell him would not be welcome.

As Sato settled into his chair, Abe asked, “Have you seen the papers? Watched the news?”

“No, I wasn’t really paying attention to anything when I walked to the station,” he said, settling his body into the chair, testing it for strength and comfort. “I was people watching, quite frankly. Wondering if I would see anyone I knew. I didn’t.”

“You took the train?”

Sato turned in the chair to the right, then to the left. “Yes. Why?”

“No reason.”

Abe knew Sato’s power of concentration could block out the world around him. Ignoring the morning news was not surprising. But the thought of Shig Sato a morning commuter seemed amusing. He watched Sato for another moment before casually saying, “Well, I got a call this morning.”

“Oh?”

“Osaki Police Station. From Saburo Matsuda himself.”

Sato looked up. “Matsuda? What does the station chief at Osaki Police Station want?”

“He wants you.”

This got Sato’s attention.

“At Osaki? Why –”

“Matsuda wanted to know if you were in town. I was happy to tell him that yes, you were.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Abe put down his paper and snuffed out his cigarette. “Remember how we picked up the Kobayashi twins at the end of the Down Low case?”

Sato nodded. It was only two months before, and it was his last case with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. He was at Azabu Police Station for his last month on the force. He had looked forward to returning to regular investigative work. He had spent two years working security details for the Imperial Household Agency and for English-speaking foreign diplomats who visited the city, since he was fluent in that language.

At the time, all Sato wanted was to get a good case to work on. But what he got was the Down Low murder – girl dead, GI boyfriend nowhere to be found, but for Sato, worst of all, was the fact Jun Fujimori had become a prime suspect in the case. Sato had to solve the murder without exposing his ties to Jun’s father, Ses Fujimori, leader of one of Tokyo’s powerful crime syndicates. Ses Fujimori was Sato’s childhood friend, and their two families were linked in ways that would have been hard to explain to a police commission.

Abe saw a faint look of dread cross Sato’s face. He said, “Those two were arrested early this morning in Gotanda, trying to steal something that wasn’t there, so they say. What was there was a man with his throat slit. The Kobayashis were picked up for murder. And the people at Osaki don’t believe the twins’ story. But what’s really strange, those two idiots demanded to talk to you, if you can believe that.”

Sato let slip a shocked “Why?”

“I don’t know. But Matsuda said something about anti-organized crime deciding ‘OK, call Sato.’”

“That’s absurd!”

“Well, forensics don’t have anything yet, obviously. Way too soon. But a dead man rankles a lot of people, especially in Gotanda. Matsuda said he can’t help it if the press got their hands on the story, but they want to shut the case before it’s open.”

“The twins go to do a job and a guy winds up with his throat slit? And then they want to talk to me?”

“That’s what they say.”

“The only throats the twins ever cut are their own while shaving,” Sato said. “Whose bright idea was it to arrest those two?”

“I don’t know. But Matsuda said the anti-organized crime supervisor wants you to come in.”

“Who is that?”

“Kamioka.”

Sato sighed. Koichi Kamioka: young, ambitious, not particularly bright, and part of a gang of yakuza cops loyal to Tatsuo Tanaka, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s top anti-organized crime supervisor, and a man who hated Shig Sato. Tanaka and Sato were partners once. Sato solved a case that made his reputation as a true investigator, and to some, made Tanaka look bad. Tanaka never forgave, or forgot.

“The reason they want to talk to me is because of Fujimori,” Sato said.

Abe lit a cigarette, and tried to think of what it would be like to have a childhood friend like Ses Fujimori, one of the most powerful crime bosses in Tokyo. Between Ses and his father, Key, the Fujimori clan was ruthless, efficient, powerful, and at least for Key and Ses, impossible to arrest. Abe was certain this new mess with the anti-organized crime boys and Fujimori was probably starting up again, all because the Kobayashi twins got caught burglarizing a copier repair shop.

“I can see Kamioka thinking the twins are part of some gang,” Sato said. “But Matsuda. He has more sense than that. He should be able to see that no one would take the twins seriously.”

“I don’t know,” Abe said. “It’s not like he’s never dealt with a case like this.”

“You really think they want to talk to me because the twins asked for me by name, and they know about me and Ses?”

“Well, a lot of people are going to think that,” Abe said.

“I know that. But it’s just idiotic to me that those guys take one look at the twins and make them for killers.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Abe said. “The twins show up and there’s nothing to be stolen. So why is there a dead guy? And where is the loot? Did they stumble onto a murder?”

Sato had leaned back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. Abe knew he was listening.

“Was there another guy there for the loot and did he get surprised? Did he kill the guy on purpose?” Abe asked. “I can think of a lot of things those guys might be thinking, Shig. None of it makes sense.”

He watched Sato ease into a thoughtful pose, his fingers laced together behind his head, and stare at nothing.

Abe stretched, then stood up. “So what are you going to do? We got a lot of things to do.

“Like what?”

“We’ve been getting calls from the ad I put out,” he said, lighting another cigarette.

“What ad?” Sato asked, as if the idea had been invented just then.

“The one advertising our business, Shig. You think we can just sit here and wait for business to come to us? We need to make money. Pay rent.”

“Oh …”

“And we’re getting inquiries.”

“Like what?”

“Marriage proposal investigations, suspicious wives wanting dirt on wayward husbands. Things like that. There’s a shop owner wanting to investigate a vendor because he thinks he’s being cheated. And I have to say ‘I’ll call you as soon as my partner returns from a big case.’ That seems to placate them, but that won’t last forever.”

“Huh,” Sato grunted. Lying, cheating, suspicions.

It filled him with dread.

Abe knew Sato’s dejected look. “This was your idea,” he said.

“I know. It’s just that – ”

“This is it, Shig. This is what it is.”

“I know. I just need to let my mind catch up with all this.”

“It will,” Abe said, and he returned to his chair, to sip the last of the coffee from the shop downstairs.

“So what are you going to do about the Kobayashis?”

“Go over,” Sato sighed. “See what happened.”

Abe’s “Really?”surprised Sato.

“Why?” Sato asked.

“Shig, you’re not a cop any more. You don’t have to jump every time a station chief tells you.”

“I’ll head over. But how did they know to call here?”

“I saw Hiro the other day,” Abe said. “You remember him? The sergeant at Azabu? He was transferred to Osaki. When your name came up, he knew where to find you.”

“I see.”

Abe saw Sato stand up like a man with somewhere to go. He knew what was next.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you.”

“Yes. I suppose I have to. What you are doing today?”

“Going to Ikebukuro to see this woman who wants to investigate her husband. It’s probably nothing. After that it’s a woman with a daughter who has a prospective groom. The mother wants the boy checked out.”

“Okay,” Sato said.

“I’ll probably be back here in the afternoon,” Abe said as pocketed his cigarettes and lighter and checked his jacket pocket for his car keys. “Don’t forget, your pager is in your top desk drawer. So are the extra business cards.”

“Okay.”

Sato opened the drawer, found the pager and the cards, placed them in his pocket, but his mind was on the twins, Matsuda, Kamioka and Osaki Police Station. As he shut the open windows and then turned off the office lights, a dark premonition overcame him. He cast a rueful glance back at the darkened office as he shut the door behind him.

Friday Finds – October 10, 2014

Joseph Mark Brewer:

Looking for a weekend read? Check out Friday FInds.

Originally posted on Vauquer Boarding House:

SnoopySpyGlassFFFriday Finds is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Readingto showcase books you recently found and added to your TBR (to be read) list. It doesn’t matter whether you found them free online, borrowed them from a library or purchased them. Anything and everything works.

I stopped at the library of a neighboring town and found two books in their sale room.

The Rescue
by Nicholas Sparks

TheRescue

Although I’ve long heard of Nicholas Sparks, surprisingly I haven’t yet read one of his books.

Too Many Murders
by Colleen McCullough

TooManyMurders

This is book #2 of McCullough’s Carmine Delmonico series. I may have vaguely heard of these but had forgotten about them. I almost didn’t buy this one but it is set in 1967 and I’m a sucker for the sixties. The $1 price will give me the opportunity to see if I like this series enough…

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Toyama Park

Joseph Mark Brewer:

In my Shig Sato Mystery series I often write about Tokyo and its environs. I found this interesting tidbit.

Originally posted on Leveraging Visionary Paradigms:

Toyama Park is located in Shinjuku. Its best known feature is Mount Hakone: At 44.6m, it is the highest mountain inside the Yamanote Line. It also has lots of flowers and a few sport grounds.

Above, hydrangea in late may.

Above, goats… They were eating anything green in sight.

Above, path to Mount Hakone in spring.

Above, in winter.

Above, tiger statue in the Okubo area of the park.

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A crime, a culprit, a worried man

(A sneak peek at  The Thief’s Mistake, a Shig Sato Mystery)

Chapter 3

Motionless, unsure of anything, remembering nothing, no matter how hard he focused, Nara slowly felt his hands and face for blood, but the damp, slightly stinging sensation must had come from lying down in the alley’s gritty pavement. He felt pebbles in his ribs and breathed dirt and dust into his nose as he regained a sense of time and place. Then came a vague awareness of the darkness, stillness, and the ambient light, then blinked.

The job.

The door.

The cabinet.

The rage.

He lifted his head once his eyes adjusted to the dark, and breathed deeply, exhaled, calmed himself, and read the darkness for the cover he needed for his return home. The few minutes he had spent on the ground seemed like hours. He looked up into the sky. Ambient light, strange shadows. He was sure it was still the middle of the night.

He breathed a little easier.

But his mind raced beyond itself. After prison, after the promise from Oshiro, after taking so much care – he had nothing.

He would not allow himself to think about that now.

“I have to get back to the flat,” he told himself. “Unseen. Undetected.”

He had to escape,

He had to think.

Nara breathed deeply and exhaled again, wrestled the rage inside him, cursed himself for being so weak, for giving into rage, and suppressed the rage renewing inside him, the fury that made him kill a man.

He had had to get back to the flat.

He had to think.

Nara knew he had been a fool to believe anything like a plan so simple as open a door, open a drawer. Greed, desperation, everything he hated in weak, selfish people – now he was as bad as the vermin he despised.

“Easy job. Easy money,” he whispered as he raised himself, and clung to the dirty wall beside him.

“Fool.”

~

Nara had been raised knowing that only after hard work came the reward. He had worked all his life, on the farms in the unforgiving Hokkaido countryside. He grew his own food. Hunted his own game. And he took the bounty for hunting deer that grazed through sugar beets, wheat, rice, potatoes, destroying valuable crops. He loved stalking them. Killing them. Dressing them. Consuming them.

It was what he knew.

“At least you’re good at something,” his uncle said when Nara was the only member of the hunting party to have something to show for the day’s work.

But at another time his uncle said, “You’re not good for much.” It was the night he packed Nara off to Tokyo, away from the drunken brawl that left a man dead and Nara holding the knife. The uncle knew Nara had a temper, possessed some demon deep inside him that sprang from nowhere, frightening and unexpected. Nara knew his uncle was right. He had to flee Hokkaido. He left his woman, he left his daughter, for the city. And a for a different set of problems altogether – unemployment, interspersed with periods of backbreaking labor; poverty, since he sent every spare yen to his woman and child in Hokkaido. Desperation drove him to thievery. Desperation got him a cell in Fuchu Prison.

And it was that deep, antagonizing desperation he now fought in that alley, his sense of rage and fear and dread coming alive. “Don’t give in. Don’t give up,” he whispered, as if to make the mantra seem as real as possible.

He knew he had to find his way back to his flat. He knew his peace of mind would come back to him if he could only get there.

Nara was sure he must have made some kind of racket running out of the copier repair shop. He had no recollection of bolting out the back door, running down the alley in the darkness. So he waited, tense and taught, and listened – for the shouting, the police, anticipating the violence he would inflict on anyone trying to interfere with his escape.

But there was no shouting, no police.

There was nothing but silence. So he thought through every skill of evasion he knew, and slithered out of that alley without being detected.

~

The still, sticky evening air suffocated him, and he boiled in the black he wore to protect him from the night.

But he controlled his breathing, his rage subsided, his vision returned, and Nara slowly crawled along the alley and peeked past the chalky building’s edge onto the street that offered his escape.

He saw no danger.

His small, cheap room was five blocks away, eight if he took the side streets with dim lights. He chose the darkness. He had to gain control of himself. He had to think. He had to make it to the flat and get out of the miserable clothes and wash his face and think.

“Oshiro.”

Nara decided there would be time enough to think about that rat once he made it back safely, to his flat, to his futon to rest his head, to the ice in his cooler, ice to bathe his face, ice to cool his rage.

~

It was a small room with only the simplest of amenities. But it was better than prison, and Nara finally breathed easy when he unlocked his door, slipped inside, shed his far-too-warm clothes, ran cold water on a cloth, and wiped away his sweat and grim. His rage was simmering, but at a low temperature. He subdued it to focus on getting home undetected

He was tempted to unleash it, now that he was safely home, but he knew that was the way of the amateur. Finally cool and clean and resting on the floor, now was the time to think.

“Oshiro,” he told himself. “Oshiro. Liar. He lied about the package. He probably lied about the money, too.

Nara pulled the tab off a can of cold beer, savored the brew’s liquid rush over his tongue, down his throat, and slurped it in one long swallow.

Oshiro.

The job.

The package.

Then Nara’s mind shifted.

“Was it to get rid of the stupid guy in the office?” he wondered as he grabbed another beer. “Make me the fall guy for something?”

Nara’s mind vainly raced to possible conclusions. He sat, he drank, he thought, he searched his mind for possibilities.

“I have to play it smart. He thinks he can fool me. I’ll show him. Cheat me out of my money.”

In his mind, fighting to keep his rage in check, Nara calmly replayed everything he knew about Oshiro, from the time he first heard about him in Fuchu prison, to the time he met him, walked with him to the taxi, sat next to the man, and stared at the van Oshiro pointed at.

The van, with the teddy bear in a diaper.

And the taxi. Green like the pines of Hokkaido.

That’s when he knew.

He’d find the van. He’d find the taxis.

Then he’d find Oshiro.

And then he wouldn’t have to wait so long for his money.

Nara drank two more beers and finally gave into sleep he needed, sleep that led him to dream of Hokkaido, and escaping Tokyo. It was sleep resembling fitful unconsciousness. But the few hours helped him rest some, and he dreamt about his mission: find Oshiro.

He awoke with purpose. Splashing water on his face and dressing in his mechanic’s overalls, ball cap and tattered sneakers, he strolled into the midmorning August heat with a plan: go to Gotanda station, where he met Oshiro, and walk around the station, keeping an eye open for a light blue van or a deep green taxi. Walk, observe, walk, observe. Find the van, find the taxi, pick up the trail.

Reconnoiter.

Stalk.

Nara was not a thinker, but he was a hunter. He knew how to track. He knew how to follow game. He knew how to read his prey. He wasn’t sure what he would do once he spotted either vehicle, but it didn’t matter. He trusted himself to know what to do when the time came.

With practiced nonchalance, Nara strolled out into the morning, pulled the bill of his cap low to his eyes as they adjusted to the morning light, and looked for a vending machine for something cool to drink. He chose not to be in a hurry. He would walk, think, keep an eye out for the van, then decide what to do. Tall buildings, narrow streets that led to a wide main thoroughfare – nothing about Gotanda was familiar, but for Nara, that could be said about any part of the city. He hated the city, and coped by thinking of it as a forest. He walked the walk of a hunter.

He found a vending machine dispensing soft drinks. Parting with one of his precious 100 yen coins, he slurped the orangey liquid with far more greed than he imagined. The explosion of liquid in his belly only made him hungry. Several yards away was a shop selling fragrant rice balls. He had enough change for one triangular onigiri.

More money spent. Nara chose not to dwell on it. He moved on.

A newspaper caught his attention. “Murder in the night” and the story of a man killed while sleeping in the back room of a business. He saw the story in one newspaper. Then another. Then another, all lined up, to be snatched by the curious.

“That’s me,” Nara silently whispered. But he did not stop. He had to focus on the van. And Oshiro.

He was on the trail of his prey.

~

Goro Oshiro had no trouble putting the caper out of his mind once he gave Nara his instructions. He was sure Nara was the type of man who would do as he was told for a chance to earn two million yen and disappear. It was the perfect plan, and it would work. Oshiro had no trouble falling asleep night of the robbery.

He was deep in slumber when his wife shook him.

“Goro, someone’s at the front door!”

He dreamt that he heard her.

Then she pinched his arm.

He was up, on his feet, and sleepily answering the door.

A fresh-faced police officer asked if he was Goro Oshiro.

“Yes,” he said, instantly thinking one of the taxis was in a collision.

Then the officer asked if he owned a copier repair shop. The older, weary police officer standing behind the younger one fixed a gaze on Oshiro.

Oshiro was no longer sleepy.

An apprehensive “Yes” led to a request for a visit to Osaki Police Station. Something had happened.

Oshiro excused himself to dress.

Shushing his wife, telling her it was nothing, just a problem with a taxi that he had to look into personally, promising to be home by breakfast, Oshiro dressed quietly and quickly, in a simple gray suit, loafers buffed to high gloss, his crimson and gray tie perfectly knotted, a cool stiff mesh fedora rested lightly on his head.

He was out the door and walking with the police officers to their patrol car, and making every attempt to remain calm and think clearly as he rode in the predawn darkness to the station. He corralled his thoughts while blinking at the black moonless vision outside the car window.

“Nara was supposed to take the package,” he thought. “The job should have been as simple as one, two, three.” If there was a problem at the copier repair shop, then maybe Nara had done something foolish and got caught. If that was true, then the scheme was ruined before it ever started. It did Oshiro no good to have the package in police custody as evidence. He needed the package.

He had to find out what happened, but not seem too eager. He could not tip his hand that he knew anything about a robbery. Everything depended on staying calm, listening to what the police had to say, pretend to be shocked, or thoughtful, or whatever was appropriate, then decide what to do.

He had to.

It was the only way.

“Damn Nara,” he whispered

~

Within fifteen minutes Oshiro was at Osaki Police Station. Summoning all of his resolve, he began his performance as the innocent business owner. He would know nothing, say nothing, do nothing, until he knew what the police knew.

The officer with a boyish face who called himself Shimizu delivered him to a detective named Watanabe. He told Oshiro he was the lead detective on the case. Oshiro saw a lean, grizzled man with an unruly thatch of salt-and-pepper hair and a permanent scowl. Watanabe was given to bouts of stomach ailments, thanks to an ulcer and a teenage daughter, and was often an ashen color. From what Oshiro could see, this Watanabe person was a sick man. But it was Oshiro who sat, perspiring, his nerves and the still room air getting the better of him. He was not a good actor. In a voice bordering on boredom, Watanabe asked, “You the owner of a copier repair shop east of the train station just off Sakura-dori?”

“Yes.”

“You know a man there, Akihara?”

Oshiro gave a cautious, “Yes.”

“How?”

“He’s the manager,” Oshiro said, desperate to know what the idiot did to cause such trouble. “I own it, he operates it.”

“Can you describe him?”

Oshiro saw the detective did not bother with notes. He said, “Average height, average size, a little bald. Why? What’s he done?”

“He’s dead.”

“What?”

The color drained from Oshiro’s face. He clasped his hands to hide the shaking, but Watanabe saw the surprise in Oshiro’s eyes. He watched Oshiro sweat. He knew it was more than the heat.

“Dead. Throat slit.”

Oshiro crumbled into his chair. “How –”

“You know any reason why he’d get his throat slit?”

“No, I have no idea –”

“Any reason why he would be there in the middle of the night?”

Watanabe heard Oshiro stammer, “I-I-I-I  don’t know … I have no idea …” and decided the man seemed convincing. Watanabe said, “He was there in his office. Looked like he lived there.”

“What? He’s married! Has a daughter!”

Watanabe pressed his hand to his stomach, grimaced, but he kept his attention on Oshiro. “This Akihara person was there, in some room, and was killed.”

“That’s terrible … .” Oshiro had mechanically mouthed the words, but his true, unspoken thoughts were “What the hell what Akihara thinking? Where is Nara? What is happening? Where is the package?”

Watanabe stood and paced back and forth hoping it would quell his stomach.

“Did you go there tonight?”

“No.”

Watanabe heard the word come out too quickly.

“Have any plans to go there?”

“No.”

Watanabe heard a different tone in the man’s voice.

“Know anyone who was supposed to go over there?”

“No!”

Watanabe stopped pacing and faced Oshiro. “Do you keep anything valuable at the shop?”

“Oh, no,” Oshiro said automatically, sweating, reaching for his pocket handkerchief, dabbing his forehead. “That would be foolish. No security. What a thought…”

And with those words, Oshiro realized his chance to ask about filing a report about the package slipped through his fingers, and without realizing that it could be possible, he sunk into a deeper misery.

The plan.

The package.

The robbery.

The claim.

It had been so simple.

Oshiro swallowed the panic swelling deep inside him, and tucking the handkerchief back into its pocket, he asked, “Is it all right if I go over there? Take a look around? Is that too much trouble?”

“Sure,” Watanabe said, somewhat satisfied that the man seemed surprised and wanted to see for himself what was going on. “It’s a crime scene, but since you’re the owner, you can go.”

The fresh-faced officer drove Watanabe and Oshiro to the copier shop. Watanabe pretended to be fascinated by something outside the car window, then jerked his head and stared at Oshiro. “We have two men in custody.”

“Two?” Oshiro said, quickly adding, “No, I didn’t know that,” in a tone he hoped covered his surprise.

“Two young guys. Not very bright.”

“I see.”

Watanabe said nothing more. When Shimizu pulled up to the front of the shop, officers saw Watanabe and made way for the detective and the man in the suit. Shimizu followed.

The front entrance to the shop was hardly big enough for two men to walk through, but at the end of a short hallway, a door led to the actual repair room. Oshiro spied the top of the wooden cabinet by the back door, but Watanabe led him to Akihara’s office, raising a hand in a “please let us by” gesture the crime scene team was obliged to honor. “Shop owner,” Watanabe said to the crime scene leader, who nodded, then returned his attention elsewhere.

One look and Oshiro blanched. “There’s so much blood …”

“It doesn’t look good,” Watanabe said.

Oshiro stepped back, then tried not to seem too obvious about wanting to inspect the filing cabinet, drawing attention to himself.  He asked, “Mind if I take a look around?”

“It would be a help,” Watanabe said.

Oshiro slowly worked his way around the room. He had been in it just twice before – once, several years before, to place an antique urn on a shelf for safekeeping far from the shop’s myriad copier machine parts scattered on most of the shelves, and then, two Sundays before, to place the wooden box in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. Oshiro knew nothing of the equipment and parts he pretended to expertly look over, but slowly make his way around the room to the cabinet.

As he turned the corner, stepping away from the metal shelving and into the aisle to the back door and the cabinet, Oshiro saw the bottom drawer was open and empty. His knees buckled. Bracing himself with one hand against the wall, he forced his heart down out of his throat as he dabbed his face with his handkerchief once more.

Watanabe did not see Oshiro’s reaction at seeing the file cabinet. He was clutching his stomach and grimacing. But Shimizu saw Oshiro’s face go pale, and remembered the two young guys that were arrested had said something about a package in that drawer, how there was supposed to be something in it, but when they got there, it was gone.

When Oshiro regained a sense of himself he finally said, “Is there anything more you need from me here?”

Watanabe shook his head, and asked, “You ready to go?” He heard Oshiro’s faint “in a moment.”

~

Shimizu thought the business owner seemed almost to be in some sort of shock as he drove him from his home near Koyamadai to the police station, and then from the station to the scene of the crime. He watched the man dab his face with his handkerchief and heard him swallow noisily. As Oshiro climbed out of the patrol car at the crime scene, Shimizu believed he caught the man murmuring something, his lips moving, the word ‘package’ so faint, so imperceptible beneath the noise of the car, the streets, the city, Shimizu was not sure he heard anything.

What he did not ignore was the look on Oshiro’s face when he saw the bloody manager’s office, and then walked around the shop, then saw the filing cabinet.

It seemed to the young officer that Oshiro was behaving like a man sleepwalking, or walking through a dream. Each step seemed tentative, each gesture disconnected. Shock? Dismay? Dread? Shimizu could not decide.

Oshiro gathered what little fortitude was left inside him, purposefully walked to the workers, acknowledged their bows, and in his calmest, most paternal voice, expressed his regret at the situation the workers found themselves in, his unhappiness at Akihara’s terrible turn of fortune, his shock at such a heinous crime, and his faith the staff’s resolve to carry on, once the police completed their thankless tasks. The staff solemnly nodded as they stared at the ground. Some glanced at Akihara’s office in silent remembrance. Some anxiously watched the police. The senior copier repairman stepped out of the crowed, bowed, thanked Oshiro for everything he had said, and promised that he and the staff would renew their resolve, to do their work as best they could, to honor Akihara’s memory.

The staff watched Oshiro nod, then quickly rejoin the police. They took his abrupt departure as a sign of respect to Akihara, that he was going to carry on, and were satisfied that they were witnessing their employer’s stoic resolve.

Shimizu watched Oshiro ask Watanabe to wait, then walk to some men standing off to the side. It seemed to Shimizu that the men were surprised, but they took off their hats and bowed respectfully. Shimizu watched Oshiro nod to one man, who seemed to be the foreman. He could not hear what was said.

Shimizu watched the performance and decided that Oshiro did not feel comfortable in the copier repair shop, had no real rapport with the staff, and wanted to make his exit as fast as possible. So why did he react so strangely when he saw the filing cabinet?

“Will there be anything else?” Oshiro asked.

“I think we have what we need for now,” Watanabe said. “Shimizu can drive you home.”

“If it’s all right, I’ll have one of my taxis pick me up,” Oshiro said. It was well past dawn. Oshiro did not want his neighbors to see him in a police car. He produced a business card for Watanabe, eager to make his exit. Watanabe took the card and nodded. He already knew he would be speaking to the man at least once more. Oshiro’s hasty goodbye did not surprise him. He believed something was not quite right about the man. It was nothing he could name, but experience told him his misgiving might become a bothersome itch that would eventually need to be scratched.

Oshiro saw Watanabe glance at the card, then heard him say, “I will need to talk to you again later in the day, I’m sure. Is this where I can reach you?”

“Oh, yes, anytime,” Oshiro said, almost absentmindedly.

Shimizu thought about what he had just seen – a man surprised by something, and nervous about something, but what? Clearly, the man tried to seem cool and competent, but he was upset about something, and not just that an employee was murdered. Shimizu was willing to bet it had nothing to do with the man who was killed there. There was something else.

But he kept his opinion to himself.

~

Oshiro, his chubby cheeks sagging, his massive forehead a sea of sweat, cursed himself the entire ride home. “‘Do you keep any valuables here?’ he asked. And I botched it. I should have said yes, there’s a package missing. Yes, it contains valuables. Yes, I know it seems odd to keep it here, but it seemed safe. No one breaks into copier shops. Or so I thought! I should have said something! Oh, why didn’t I say something?”

But the murder, the blood, the strange man asking questions – Oshiro seethed, hating himself for losing his head. He was always bad with police. It took every bit of willpower not to lose his temper, pound his fists on the back of the car seat in front of him, kick and scream and curse for missing his chance to carry out the most important part of the plan. He was supposed to report the package missing. He needed to have the police report. The police report and the fraudulent insurance papers meant a payday of more than almost a million dollars.

The plan had been so simple, and now he had a murder on his hands.

Oh, it was murder. And he knew who did it.

That worried him the most. Akihara. Oshiro tried to feel sorry for the man. But being where he wasn’t supposed to caused such problems: no way to ask him where the hell the gems were, if he did know, the idiot. And now that widow of his – Oshiro would have to do the decent thing and look after her in some way: wake, funeral, cash, expenses of all sorts.

Akihara dead.

Package gone.

No way to file a police report.

Oshiro swallowed the vomit rising inside him as the warm August sun bathed Gotanda in summer morning light. Oshiro swallowed hard as he watched the passing scenery from the back of one of his taxis, changing from clusters of businesses and apartments to simple homes to more fashionable neighborhoods, then he recognized the smartly trimmed shrubbery of his private enclave.

He prayed for some brilliant idea to come to his worried mind, something he could seize onto, something that would avert any more disasters.

“Should I meet Nara as planned?” he wondered. “I have to give up a lot of money to hush him up. That’ makes me an accessory. What if he goes after me? Or my family?

“Nara probably killed Akihara for some reason.”

Oshiro noticed his taxi was drawing nearer to the right turn that became the narrow lane to his home. Without realizing it, his body shifted from shock to something like anxiety: what to tell his wife – what would he do with himself all day? How would he carry on? And the police were bound to start asking real questions. He had a chance to come up with an airtight plan to keep Nara, the plan, everything away from him and his family.

But the package – Oshiro cursed losing his senses when he heard about Akihara. He could have easily said something was stolen right then, and he would have been believed.

Oshiro wiped his brow. He lowered his window to its very bottom, gasping for air, furtively glancing about, hoping no one was noticing.

The shop. The package. Nara.

“And what if that little maniac turns on me?” his mind suddenly screamed. The threat to himself, to his family – it made him nauseous.

He was dealing with a man crazy enough to slit an innocent man’s throat.

Oshiro knew he had to keep Nara away from him, his businesses, his family.

For that he would need help.

(To read Chapter 1 of The Thief’s Mistake, click here. You can buy book No. 1 in the Shig Sato Mystery Series, The Gangster’s Son, on Amazon or Nook.

Tell your own story

So today I’m perusing what’s in my Twitter feeds,  cruising along, looking at some of my favorite sites from Japan, like The Tokyo Reporter and The Japan Times (fond memories of working there. Great people) when I see a book review for Barry Lancet’s new novel, “Tokyo Kill.” Lancet wrote “Japantown” and earned much praise and an award or two, and has the type of mojo going any author would kill for.
Lancet writes about a reluctant private investigator and Japan and mines his extensive knowledge of Japanese art and martial arts to add depth and flavor to his enviable writing ability. A long-time editor and Tokyo resident, Lancet has everything going for him.
And I wanted to kill him.

Jealous much?

But then I started remembering what every writing coach, friend, counselor and guru has said countless times:

“Write the story you want to read.”

My reluctant P.I. stories, the Shig Sato Mysteries, began life as a spinoff from my American in Tokyo ex-pat novel. I lived in Japan off and on for five years (GI and civilian), met my ex-wife there, married there, my son was born there, and I worked there as a journalist and book editor. My small observations, coupled with my fascination for Japanese art and literature, which my no means made me an expert, propelled me into taking more than a casual interest in the arts and events and culture, modern and ancient.
The one thing I noticed living in that culture so unlike my own was the similarities – how people laughed at jokes, how grandparents doted on grandchildren, how teenagers clustered and giggled and strived to be different by being the same. Harajuku_girlsTired salarymen, weary housewives, industrious students striving to gain entry into elite universities — this could be anywhere.
My fear of writing about Japan and the Japanese fell by the wayside because I saw the similarities, not the differences, between my culture and theirs.
Sure, there are many people with more intimate knowledge of that language, life and culture. God bless them. I wish them all the success in the world. Me? I’m happy that a few people like my stories, and if I work hard and remain true to my vision and my story, maybe a small band of dedicated readers will like what I write and want more.
It’s all a writer can ask for, isn’t it?

 

You’re invited to visit my web site, my Kindle page or my Nook page.

Stumbling onto the Perfect Plan


Shig Sato Mystery “The Thief’s Mistake”roppongi3

 

Chaper 1

 

The plan was too good to pass up, and Nara knew it.

It pleased him that the job was set for the morning after next. Nara hated waiting. Four years at Fuchu Prison frazzled what little patience he possessed. And he knew when he got out he would not be able to wait for fortune or luck to bring work to him. He needed something.

And he got something.

Nara first heard about the plan while in Fuchu. He had confided in a cellmate he respected, saying he needed money to return to Hokkaido, his home prefecture, and never set foot in Tokyo again. He needed a lot of money fast, so he needed an easy job that paid well, a job that would not land him back in prison.

The cellmate said nothing as he listened to Nara’s worries all those months. Then one day the cellmate said, “I know a man. Oshiro is his name. He always has little jobs that pay well. If you’re interested, I’ll see what’s out there.”

Nara said, “Good.”

The cellmate asked what Nara did on the outside. Nara said he was a mechanic. Which was true -‑ he even had mechanic’s overalls among his few possessions.

The cellmate said nothing more. But four days before Nara’s release, the cellmate said he had heard from Oshiro. There was a job. Did he want it?

Nara said “Yes.”

 

Nara’s first telephone call on his first day of freedom was to Oshiro.

The cellmate had told Nara: Identify yourself as “the mechanic,” and say “the car is ready to be picked up.” The cellmate had said Oshiro would give a time and location for a meeting.

When Nara phoned Oshiro and repeated what he was told, Oshiro said, “Yamanote line. Gotanda station. Main entrance. Noon tomorrow.” Nara was about to ask how would he recognize him, but decided this Oshiro fellow would find him. Nara decided not to worry.

At noon the next day, standing on the bus island across from the East Gate of Gotanda station, wearing his overalls, dirty sneakers and an old Yomiuri Giants ball cap, Nara watched the ebb and flow of people around him, and at exactly noon a man dressed in a fine suit, shined shoes and sporting a pencil-thin mustache approached Nara and asked, “Is the car ready?”

Nara said “Yes.”

“Follow me.”

Nara followed the man through the pedestrian walkway under the station, turned right, and saw a green taxi with red lettering. The door was open.

Oshiro said, “Get in.”

Nara did what he was told.

Then Nara saw there was no driver.

“What’s going on?” Nara asked unpleasantly.

“Don’t worry,” Oshiro said. “I own this taxi. The driver is having his lunch. I own a dozen taxis. See that van over there? The blue van? I own three of them.”

Nara nodded. He saw the van, saw the cartoon of a teddy bear in a diaper on the side.

“Okay.” But Nara was still wary.

“I need a man who can follow instructions exactly,” Oshiro said, not smiling, not frowning, not giving Nara any indication that he was happy, anxious, or miserable. The man seemed business-like. Nara relaxed a little.

“Go on,” he said.

And Oshiro said, in terms simple enough for a child to understand, exactly what needed to be done. Nara was shocked at its simplicity.

When Oshiro finished, he said, “You understand, when this is all finished and you get your money, you disappear. You don’t know me. I don’t ever see you again. That’s what the money is for. You disappear.”

“How much money?”

“Two million yen.”

Nara didn’t blink. “You won’t see me ever again when this is finished.”

“Good.”

~

Nara returned to his rented room, and for the first time in four years, was able to relax. He felt his mind relax, his muscles relax, his tendons, his neck, his shoulders, his arms, his fingers, his legs, his toes. He sat in his bed, drank from his small bottle of whiskey, and thought about the plan.

It was the perfect plan.

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