(An excerpt from The Gangster’s Son, a Shig Sato Mystery)
The police inspector knelt over the dead woman. He gently tilted her young, battered face. Her hair, dusty with debris, fell at odd angles. Sticky crimson blood oozed out her nose, ears, and mouth. One eye stared into the night, and what remained of the other was a swollen bloody mass. He pressed his finger against a plum-colored cheek split open. Some bone was still intact.
As he got up, he noted how her legs were oddly twisted beneath her. The sleeveless silk blouse and short black skirt she wore did not look disturbed. Nothing lay beside her. In the harsh crime scene lights, he thought the girl looked like a broken mannequin, carelessly discarded and alone.
It was a still, humid Tokyo evening, past midnight. Detective Ken Abe watched Inspector Shig Sato. Five minutes had passed since Sato said he wanted to take another look at the body. Abe wondered if his friend had lost his ability to concentrate, with his wife so ill, and this being his first night back in Criminal Investigations after two years of diplomatic security duty.
“Inspector?” Abe believed he hid the concern in his voice.
Sato raised his hand to shade his eyes from the blinding lights.
Abe pulled a cigarette from his lips.
Sato took another long look at the young woman, walked over to Abe, and said, “She was probably surprised, then beaten and left for dead. Probably dropped to the ground where she stood.”
Abe was relieved to see Sato focusing on the crime, putting what he saw into some sense of order.
“You said she’s a waitress at the jazz club?” Sato asked.
“Yep. Right in there,” Abe said, pointing at a neglected brown door. “A jazz club. Called the Down Low.”
There were many scattered anonymous doors along the alley. Some led to long, narrow, dim bars selling grilled chicken and beef on sticks to whet the appetite of the tired businessmen drinking beer after lonely beer. The meat’s lingering aroma, the grease, the alcohol, the sweat of the cooks, all clung to the thick night air. Behind other doors, sushi denizens had watched countermen slice their tuna and eel and octopus, caress their roe and rice, priests preparing their offerings. In tiny cabarets with low and plaintive jukeboxes, hostesses rested their aching feet while night managers quickly counted the evening take after rousting patrons from their drunken stupors.
The inspector saw these doors, once open in the vain hope of catching a midnight breeze, now closed tight against the bad luck that came with a dead body.
“It is too quiet here,” Sato said to himself. He did not like the quiet, not in that part of Tokyo, on the fringe of nightclubs and cabarets and bars and restaurants, that place where two alleys met, where a girl lay dead.
Sato took another look at the dead girl, then turn toward the medical examiner.
“It looks like somebody struck her across the face so hard it snapped her head back against that concrete wall,” the doctor said. A slight, bald, fidgety man, the doctor was truly at ease only when performing an autopsy. He hated making definite statements at crime scenes, but knew Sato needed to hear something. “Blunt force. Caused some type of bleeding in the skull, I’d say. And then maybe something snapped. She slumped to the ground, and that was it.”
Sato looked back at the body, then at the doctor, and paused before asking, “No one moved her, touched her in any way?”
“No!” If it had been anyone other than Sato, the doctor would have been insulted.
“Any signs of resisting? Bruising? Rape?”
“I don’t know.” The doctor hesitated, scratching his ear. “Her underclothes don’t look like they’ve been disturbed, and there’s nothing strange about her thighs or buttocks. I mean, there’s no strange marks or bruises. Like I said, it looks like she just dropped. Some kind of smack in the face, her head hits the wall. Probably burst something in her brain. Anyway, it probably shut down her central nervous system. That’s probably what killed her. We’ll know more later.”
Abe watched as Sato talked to the medical examiner. He watched Sato’s face harden as the doctor gave his assessment.
“She was pretty,” Abe said.
Sato turned to look at the girl once more.
“What was she doing in a dark alley so late at night?” he asked. “What could have happened that would lead to this?”
“This is Roppongi,” Abe said. “She probably liked the excitement. Nightclubs. Music. Lots of strange new people.”
“People.” Sato grunted.
“This club has a lot of foreigners come listen to jazz.”
Sato frowned. “Foreigners.”
“Young girl looking to meet foreigners, maybe have an adventure.”
“Adventure.” Sato shook his head.
“Hey, Tokyo’s booming,” Abe said. “It’s 1991. Things are good. Lots of people come here from all over the world, looking to make money, have a good time.”
“Maybe she had a boyfriend,” Sato said. “Maybe a jealous boyfriend.”
“Maybe a secret admirer,” Abe said.
(Read more here.)
Joseph Mark Brewer is author of the Shig Sato Mystery series. You’re invited to visit his web site, www.josephmarkbrewer.com. You can get your copy of The Gangster’s Son by visiting Amazon at