The World of Shig Sato

Do you remember where you were in 1991? Some of you do, of course, and some of you don’t. And one of the great thrills of reading is being taken to a time and place you may never have been: Paris, 1870; Dublin, 1904; Rome, 30 A.D.; A galaxy far far away — stories take us to memorable places with people and creatures that entertain us for hours.

In the Shig Sato Mystery series, the reader enters the world of Tokyo, 1991. A world capital, a center for government, entertainment, industry, diplomacy, a cavalcade of characters from the world over stepped onto the shores of the Land of the Rising Sun. It was a time of Japan Inc., riding an economic boom, the nation making its mark as an industrial leader. A city and a nation with a new emperor, a new vision for the future.

japan_imperial_palace_217304The world of Shig Sato was unique: a long-serving, highly respected police inspector, Sato returned to Azabu Police Station after two years of diplomatic security detail and security assignments for the Imperial Household Agency. Sato’s world was heart of Tokyo – the Imperial Palace, Roppongi, the embassy districts, and Sato knows every inch of it.

Roppongi: served by Sato’s beloved Azabu Police Station, isn’t so different now than it was in 1991. And Sato knew that among many of the foreigners out for a good time in that nightclub district were American servicemen, including some stationed with the U.S. Navy and Marine forces in Yokosuka, 37 miles down the coast. In the Shig Sato mystery The Gangster’s Son, Kimi Yamada’s beloved Cpl. Charlie Parker Jones is a Marine stationed on a American ship at the Navy base.

Sato’s return to Azabu Police station, the murder of Kimi Yamada, and his journey to finding the truth about her killer and himself make The Gangster’s Son “A highly readable murder novel with authentic Japanese flavor and a fresh, intelligent plot,” “Unique,” “Gritty. ”

Next time: Tokyo Inc.

To get a copy of my ebook mystery The Gangster’s Son click here and The Thief’s Mistake click here.  And you’re invited to keep up with the latest Shig news by signing up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

Sato and Abe are called to a murder scene

(An excerpt from The Gangster’s Son, a Shig Sato Mystery)GangSon1400

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.

“Yes?”

Abe pulled a cigarette from his lips.

“So?”

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.

“Yes, maybe.”

(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

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The World of Shig Sato: Ses Fujimori and the yakuza

Yakuza.

In some countries it’s called tong, triad, mafia, la cosa nostra — in Japan it’s yakuza. Organized crime. As an institution, it is a part of the fabric of Japanese life. For an individual, yakuza means many things: outcast, criminal, brother, compatriot.

But what is yakuza? Our hero Shig Sato’s closest childhood friend is Ses Fujimori, boss of a powerful yakuza clan, a position not just inherited from his father, Key Fujimori, but earned by Ses’s ruthlessness and business acumen. The Japanese police, and media by request of the police, call yakuza “bōryokudan” – violence groups – degenerate, violent gangsters with no sense of tradition or honor. Yakuza consider this an insult. They refer to themselves as “ninkyō dantai” – chivalrous organizations. Members often have elaborate tattoos, sometimes covering most of their body.yak

These organizations – often called clans, or families – in the Tokyo of 1991 view themselves much as Ses Fujimori does in the fictitious Shig Sato mysteries: legitimate businesses and charitable organizations, motivated by nothing but concern for the public good. The yakuza response to the 2011 tsunami and the 1995 Kobe earthquake are well documented. But so are the criminal aspects: Extortion, loan-sharking, day-labor contracting, drug-trafficking and blackmail all fall under the various clans’ control. It is gambling that is at the root of yakuza – the name comes from the worst hand possible in a card game (a reflection of the low opinion society views the men and the organizations).

Some say yakuza dates back to the 17th century and ronin – masterless samurai. Authorities knew roving bands of the “kabuki-mono” – crazy ones – were troublesome and were intensely loyal to one another. Some say the men viewed themselves as honorable, Robin Hood-like characters who protected towns and citizens. These gangs of men, among them some gamblers and some peddlers, gradually organized into clans, or families, adopting roles of  leader/father and follower/child. Gambling, prostitution – legal and sometimes encouraged from time to time by the government of the day – were businesses the yakuza controlled. In the Shig Sato series, gambling is the activity that built the Fujimori empire, from its humble beginnings in Kawasaki in the late 1800s to its nearly untouchable status as a quasi-legitimate business empire 100 years later.

Shig Sato’s  sense of giri – obligation – is central to who he is. This includes honoring his relationship with yakuza kingpins Key and Ses Fujimori. And Sato must reckon with this situation as he begins his new life as a reluctant P.I.

Next time: Miki Sato and women in medicine in Japan

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

Time to Return – an excerpt from The Thief’s Mistake

JBBookCoverRShig 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 at the fourth, a real estate agent’s office with dozens of photos of properties of every type, size and price. 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 – too many cigarettes, 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 business jacket and skirt and matching pumps.

“I saw you from the coffee shop,” Mariko Suzuki 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. She saw the faded yellow sport shirt, rumpled khaki pants, and a round blue canvas hat – so unlike what she had remembered, a tall man with a commanding presence. Now what she noticed was a man with the saddest eyes.

“Good thing I was here this morning,” she chirped. “I seldom stop in. But I saw Abe just now and he’s in his office. I think you’ll like it.”

Sato could only nod.

“ 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 “Do I …?”

Then she realized Sato did not remember her. “I’m Mariko Suzuki. Abe’s friend.”

“Ah, Mrs. Suzuki,” and Sato then recalled meeting her several years before, the first time at a coffee shop in the Ginza. He was there with his wife, Miki, stealing precious moments all to themselves before a police 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 mere detective, and his lowly status enabled him to skip such boring soirees. When Abe spotted Sato that evening, he introduced Suzuki, and reminded him he had tickets to a prizefight, knowing it would make Sato envious.

Standing on that street corner in the nascent morning heat, Sato gave Suzuki a faint smile and said, “I remember the first 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 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 watched as she pointed 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.

All he felt was 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 matte finish, and he noticed grime 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. He opened the stairwell door and off to his right, across the hall, he saw a door, its top half in-set with opaque glass, with words declaring “Sato Private Investigation Service.”

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

Sato shook his head.

“Reluctant indeed.”

~

Ken Abe had not been so sure 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. Instead, he 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 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, Shig left for his family home in 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 20 years. 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. He knew Miki Sato had been like a sister to him, and could not imagine what Shig had gone through, watching Miki slowly waste away for two years.

But no tender feelings for Miki’s memory, and no long-established friendship with Shig, changed the fact Abe’s advertisement for Sato’s fledgling detective agency was bringing in more business than he could handle. With a month gone since Miki’s passing, Abe knew 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. What remained of his rice and edamame dinner sat 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. He knew Abe 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, the soybeans 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 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, the beer, and he recognized a package. He knew it was pickled eel. There were never any 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 rose and walked into the house. Dusk and an ancient electric fan, its burring distinct among the sounds of the summer evening, helped cool the room somewhat. Abe took his spot next to the table as Sato tasted the eel. It was pleasant on his tongue. He found beans and peas and the two friends sipped beer, munched food, and said all they needed in saying nothing.

But Abe knew his friend. Sato was mourning. And he may 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 the shonanoka prayers, 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 passed from its state of chuin to wherever it was going to go, and Abe knew his friend, who loved his wife more than he loved himself, would be thinking of nothing but that.

Abe did not envy his friend.

Having finished his eel and his beer, Abe had enough of Sato’s contemplative loitering. He freed a Mild Seven cigarette from its pack, raised it to his lips, found his lighter, lit his cigarette, inhaled, and exhaled.

“Ready to go?”

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

Abe lifted his cigarette. “When I finish this.”

Sato nodded. He quietly rose and began wandering around the house, and Abe heard the random sounds of shutters sliding into place and boxes shuffled about. Sato reappeared and wordlessly gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink. Abe turned his attention to his cigarette, and after a few puffs, snuffed it out and got to his feet.

By this time Sato had disappeared again, but a minute later reappeared, wearing clean, comfortable, presentable clothes for his return to the city. “Let’s go.”

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

Sato ignored the sarcasm. “I’ll be there,” he said, pocketing the instructions.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“You riding with me?” Abe thought Sato looked tired beyond measure.

“No, I’m driving in. I don’t want to leave the Pajero here.” Abe watched his friend close the back of the house, disappear, reappear with two bundles wrapped in a furoshiki cloth. Abe saw 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.”

As Abe started his Toyota, he glanced into his mirrors and in the dark of the August evening. He saw Sato sitting behind the wheel, the look of concentration Abe knew well. He watched Sato start the engine, check the gauges, adjust the mirrors, buckle himself to his seat, turn on the low beams. Then he saw Sato nod his goodbye and pull away toward the road, 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.”

He did so, and 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.

“Perhaps things aren’t as new as I think they are,” he muttered, immensely please, and he walked to the center of the office and saw an empty chair behind a small gray desk. It held a telephone, calendar, pen, and notebook. 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.”

What Abe saw was Sato in 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 notice Sato fixing a look at everything in the office, one item at a time. He watched Sato wander around the small office, peer into corners where there was nothing to see, and open the blinds of the three large windows. The bottom pane opened outward from the bottom. The one by Abe’s desk offered an escape for Abe’s cigarette smoke. It also allowed the cacophony known as a busy Tokyo intersection to fill the room.

Abe lit another cigarette to keep his iced coffee company and kept his eyes on his friend. 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 tested his chair, turning right, then 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.”

“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 for his last month with the department. 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.”

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. Matsuda said he can’t help it if the press get 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 dead? And then they want to talk to me?”

Abe shrugged. “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 charge 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 was 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. Tanaka was handsome, vain, and hated Sato. They were partners once on a counterfeiting case. When Sato found out it was all Fat Katsuhara’s idea, he busted the fat man – with Ses Fujimori’s permission. This put Sato into Fujimori’s debt, a secret he kept his entire career. The case made Sato’s reputation, but Tanaka had always been suspicious, and Tanaka never forgave, or forgot.

Tanaka.

His eyes close, Sato said, “The reason they want to talk to me is because of Fujimori,” and he shook his head, believing and disbelieving it all.

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. The Fujimori clan – 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 the Fujimoris 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. But it’s just idiotic 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 say there’s nothing to be stolen. So why is there a dead guy? And where is the loot?”

Sato leaned back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest, and tapped his chin with his finger. “Was there another guy there for the loot and did he get surprised? Did he kill the guy on purpose? I can think of a lot of questions Matsuda might have. But it makes no sense.”

Abe stretched. “So what are you going to do? We’ve got a lot of things to decide.”

“Like what?”

“We’ve been getting calls from the ad I put out.”

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

“The one advertising our business, Shig.” Abe walked to the side table and poured more iced coffee. “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.”

Sato grunted. Lying. Cheating. Suspicions. It filled him with dread.

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

“I know. It’s just that –”

“This is it, Shig.”

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

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

“Go over,” Sato sighed. “See what’s going on.”

Abe was not surprised – he knew his friend could not say no to a fellow police officer. But he could not help saying, “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. What you are doing today?”

“Gotta go to Ikebukuro to see this woman. Wants to investigate her husband. It’s probably nothing. After that, 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 he 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 business cards.”

“Okay.”

Sato watched Abe depart. Returning to his desk, he spread his fingers out like a fan and lightly glided his hands across the top of his desk. He opened the lap drawer and pocketed the pager and the cards. He shut the windows and then turned off the lights, and when he reached the door, he cast a rueful glance back at the darkened office and shut the door behind him.

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.