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.”
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.”
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.
Nara nearly smiled. He could not stop thinking about what Oshiro had said. There was a box filled with gems that needed to be stolen. Oshiro wanted to file an insurance claim when the gems were found missing, and get some extra money. Gems stolen by a trustworthy man, Oshiro said. Steal the gems, return them the next day, collect the two million yen. No questions.
“You’ll never be able to fence them,” Oshiro had said. “And anyway, you’d only get about two million, and that’s what I’m paying you. So do the smart thing. Take the money and disappear.”
Oshiro had been very specific. “Go to the back of a copier repair shop in Gotanda. The back door was never locked, and no one was ever there past seven in the evening. The gems would be in a small wooden box sealed with red tape. In the bottom drawer of an unlocked wooden file cabinet, just a few feet from the back door.”
Nara had said, “Uh-huh.”
“Take the box,” Oshiro had said. “Leave. Meet me again at Gotanda Station at six in the evening the next day. Give me the box. Don’t open it. Don’t break the seal. I’ll give you the money. Nothing could be easier.”
Nara had said, “Okay.”
On the agreed-upon evening, at the agreed-upon hour, dressed in black from his cloth cap to the tabi on his feet, Nara went to the back door of the copier repair shop, found it open, took five steps to his left, found the large wooden file cabinet, opened the bottom drawer -‑ but no wooden box.
No box with gems!
Nara opened every drawer of the filing cabinet. Nothing but paper.
His panic roared into anger — he had not brought a flashlight, he could see nothing, he had no way of searching the shop. The job had been so simple, he thought ‑ why bring a flashlight?
Fury. Searching for anything that may lead to the gems, Nara saw a light coming from the bottom of a door across the room. Then he heard music.
Nara rushed to the door.
The sign on the door said Manager.
The copier repair shop had shelves for parts along two walls, a dozen copiers in mid-repair, a few chairs along another wall, several vending machines, a sink, a door that led to a commode, but in the middle of that wall was the door to the manager’s office.
It was an office big enough for a dull gray desk, a worn leather chair with squeaky wheels, a comfortable leather sofa, a television, a small refrigerator, a table with a toaster oven and a rice cooker, and tucked into a corner, a filing cabinet, regularly stocked with fresh uniforms, underclothes and socks.
For Toshi Akihara, it was home — eighty square feet of comfortable dinginess his wife never would have tolerated. Although it was not said outright, Akihara knew it was his inability to fit into his wife’s domestic scheme, her relentless pursuit of sterile perfection that, over time, led him to remain in his cave of an office for days at a time.
With his beer and Fanta Melon Soda and rice cooker and snacks, Akihara spent nearly every night of the week in his office, feeling as close to living the life of a bachelor as any married man could hope for. And almost as good, the boss did not know about it. Old man Oshiro never came to the office. All Akihara had to do was keep the staff busy, count the receipts, and deposit the cash. Oshiro said he didn’t know anything about copiers and didn’t care. All he wanted was to make a profit every month. Akihara took care of that so Oshiro left him alone.
Another of Akihara’s unspoken agreements with his wife — Sundays were family day. Akihara’s daughter, his only child, appeared with husband and baby to settle in and learn her role as wife and mother at the elbow of her mentor. Akihara regretted that his daughter’s small, teasing admonitions were now slipping into the tone and tenor of a middle-aged shrew, but he left that to the mysteries of life. Monday always came soon enough.
This particular night, though, was Wednesday, a warm night, and the office was a little stuffy despite the overworked fan. Akihara listened as the Giants eked out a late-inning victory at the Tokyo Dome. His take-out soba swam with the two bottles of Kirin in his belly. He knew he had no interest in going to sleep on the couch, not yet, so he decided to sip some Suntory whisky and watched a samurai drama from his extensive collection.
After half an hour it was still too warm to sleep, and with nothing better to do, he pushed the button on his CD player, and “Jailhouse Rock” boomed from the speakers.
Akihara, in his underwear and socks, was poised to dance to Elvis when the flimsy, hollow door separating his kingdom from the rest of the shop flew open and Akihara saw a black ball of rage shout, “Where is it! Where is the package! The package! I want it! Give it to me!” in a voice so unearthly maniacal that the drunken Akihara instantly thought a tormented spirit had come to snatch his soul when he least expected it.
The black figure opened every drawer, turned over every piece of paper, and flung every loose ledger book onto the floor, all the while screaming “The package! Where’s the package?”
“What the…” was all Akihara could manage.
“Don’t lie to me! Don’t lie to me!” Nara shouted as he jumped onto Akihara, and when they fell to the couch, Nara pinned Akihara’s arms and began beating Akihara’s face with his fists. “You know there’s supposed to be a package here! Where is it!”
Nara’s demands could not penetrate Akihara’s stupor. “What package? What …” he cried as he futilely fought off his attacker.
“Tell me! Tell me!” Nara demanded.
“I don’t know!” Akihara moaned, frightened, believing danger truly was upon him.
“Tell me or I’ll kill you!” Nara shouted, pinning Akihara to the couch.
“I don’t know! I don’t know!”
Nara pulled a switchblade from his pocket, its silvery steel reflecting the fluorescent light above Akihara, who weakly moaned “I don’t know, I don’t know …”
The deranged eyes behind the black mask and the flash from the blade were the last things Akihara saw before Nara slit his throat.
“It’s the perfect plan.”
The Kobayashi twins muttered that sweet phrase to each other for hours, sitting on the cots that served as their place of rest. The phrase was almost musical, and it made their spirits soar.
The twins needed something to lift their spirits. Newly released from jail, they were bunking at their cousin Fukui’s machine shop. Ishi and Joji appreciated their cousin’s hospitality, but there was just enough room for two cots tucked into a corner opposite the drill press, where there was a sink and a small refrigerator. It was dark and dank and dirty and not much better than jail, but the twins moved there, grateful to be free. Fukui lived in the small flat above the shop, a space barely big enough for one person. The twins understood that sleeping in the shop meant leaving in the morning, allowing the cousin to get about his work.
It was not much, but the twins knew it was better than jail.
Ishi and Joji Kobayashi — identical twins, small and scrawny, with small black dots for eyes, long noses, weak chins and weaker intellects — resembled rodents and behaved like rodents, twitchy and watchful and suspicious. They spent their first day of freedom scavenging for junk they thought might be useful in a machine shop, knowing the cousin might give them a few hundred yen for some decent scrap metal. Burglars by trade, they decided that scavenging would be a good cover for casing houses and businesses. The machine shop was in a poor neighborhood in Gotanda, nestled between flashy Shibuya and vibrant Shinagawa. It was as good a place as any for resuming their career in petty crime.
The twins’ first phone call after their release from jail was to their boss, Fat Katsuhara, a captain in the Fujimori crime syndicate. A round, ugly, vengeful man, Katsuhara had little to say to the boys other than “stay away until I say you can come back.” Ishi and Joji knew their banishment was because they had been caught snooping on the son of the big boss when the son was the subject of a manhunt. They were snooping on Katsuhara’s say-so, but that did not matter. They would have been in trouble if they had not done what they were told. And with their typical luck, the cops nabbed them, and they wound up in jail.
That first day spent wandering around a strange neighborhood, the twins were no closer to finding anything worth stealing when late that afternoon they found themselves in the rear of a business and under an open window. They overheard a man talking on the telephone who kept saying things like “perfect,” and “easy,” and “no one will ever know.” Listening as they crouched beneath an open window, the man repeated the plan two more times, and then he said, “diamonds and gems.”
Clutching each other, one brother squeezed the other so hard the beautiful phrase “diamonds and gems” very nearly popped out of their mouths, giving themselves away. Covering their mouths, their watery eyes bulging out of their small heads, the twins did not dare move until the man stopped talking and they heard the shuffle of feet and then a door close. For many moments the twins remained still, watching for any movement, listening for any sound as the day become dusk.
They went back to the garage as fast as they could, quietly repeating what the man had said. They arrived at their dim sleeping quarters in a decidedly different frame of mind, sure of the fact they could manage to endure their cousin’s spare hospitality for a few more days, because now they had the perfect plan.
Too excited to sleep, the Kobayashis spent the evening in the machine shop talking about the plan. As they talked they realized they had been in the alley the man described, and in their scavenging for something to steal, had crept past the back door the man said would be unlocked. They decided to walk the five blocks to the back door, to make sure it was what they thought it was, in the back of a copier repair shop. They found the alley and then the back door, only one of two along the long, narrow, lonely back lane. The discoveries convinced the twins the job would be as easy as the man talking on the phone said it would be.
As they walked through the neighborhood and planned their route to and from the shop, they saw the late-night denizens that populated the neighborhood, and a policeman walking near the main thoroughfare. The twins decided to grab the package the next night, well after midnight, when everything would be quiet.
Poor as they were, they had enough money between them for two rice balls, so they spent their time the next day seeking shady spots to sit and talk and dream, munch on the rice balls, and chuckle at the thought of the poor fool who would be in for a big surprise when his big night came and there was no box to grab.
That day of waiting and planning and dreaming passed slowly, but eventually night came, then midnight, and shortly after two a.m., believing the stillness and darkness would cloak them on their journey, Ishi and Joji slipped out of the machine shop and made their way to their destination and their future.
With Joji keeping watch, Ishi crept to the door, found that was indeed unlocked, slowly opened the door, took the three steps to the cabinet, and slid open the drawer.
His hand swirled and danced in the empty drawer.
For a moment he thought the flashlight he took from the garage might be defective. He banged it on the heel of his palm, the light went from dim to less dim, and he stared into the drawer again.
He reached for every drawer, opened them, found nothing but paper.
“It’s not here!” Ishi cried, unable to control himself.
“Shhh,” Joji hissed, immediately at Ishi’s side, his hands feeling in the dark, wishing he had flashlight, cursing himself for not thinking to bring one.
“I can’t …” Joji began, but the beam of a flashlight blinded him, and as he blinked, he saw two Tokyo Metropolitan Police officers staring at them from the doorway.
For two days, the police officers in the neighborhood substation had heard about two suspicious characters lurking about, picking through trash left out to be collected, and spending far too much time walking in and out of back lanes, looking at the rear entrances of businesses and scanning rooftops. When the officers on the night shift spotted the twins skulking through the quiet streets the night they decided to carry out the perfect plan, they quietly followed Ishi and Joji, hung back as they watched the twins enter the copier repair shop, then heard the commotion.
The officers were surprised at how easily the twins gave themselves up, how the shock and surprise gave way to defeat. They almost felt sorry for the two stupid young men, getting caught red-handed breaking into a copier repair shop in the middle of a summer night.
That all changed when a crime scene technician walked into the manager’s office and discovered a man on a couch with his throat slit.
Ishi and Joji told the detectives in interrogation everything they knew. Three times. What puzzled the officers was the thoroughness of the twins’ stories. No slip-ups. No confused details. Each said the same thing, word for word.
This worried the detectives. The twins repeatedly said that they heard a man they had never met tell someone they had never seen just how perfect the plan was. Now a man was dead. The twins said they knew nothing about the man in the office, much less anything about a dead man. All they said, over and over again, was that they went into the shop, couldn’t find what they were looking for, and then they were arrested.
Their story was too good. Something was wrong.
The police had the twins in separate rooms. They produced a picture of Akihara, his eyes open, his throat a bloody mess.
And each twin had the same reaction: fear, denial, dread, and woeful pleading. “I don’t know nothin’!’ each cried.
The detectives tried to trip up the twins: You were seen casing the business. You were seen breaking in. You were seen in the room with the dead body. Where is the knife? Where did you hide it?
Ishi and Joji knew that whenever there was a dead body, that the cops wanted a confession and would do anything to get one. But they stuck to their story. It was the only thing they knew to say.
After three hours of interrogation, the twins were marched into a room and told to sit down together at a table. Seated across from them was the police station’s organized crime control supervisor.
“We know you work for Fujimori,” he said. “Was this a Fujimori hit?”
Ishi and Joji were now more bewildered than ever. What did they know about someone wanting to kill someone? No one ever told them anything.
“Why was Fujimori interested in a copier shop?” the man demand to know. “What are you hiding? Why were you in Gotanda? What does Fujimori want in Gotanda?”
Ishi and Joji had no idea what the man was talking about, so they repeated their story once more. They were tired, hungry, and desperate for the questioning to end. And now this man was asking questions about Ses Fujimori? Frustrated, Ishi muttered, “I wish it was Inspector Sato with all the questions. He’s not so bad.”
“Sato?” The organized crime control supervisor perked up. He called the other detectives into the room.
“Sato?” Joji whispered to his brother. He liked the idea. He and Ishi hated cops, but at least Inspector Sato treated them like real people.
“I want to talk to Inspector Sato,” Ishi said, somehow grasping the idea as a way out of their predicament.
“Yeah, I want to talk to Sato!” Joji cried.
The organized crime control supervisor said, “Sato isn’t at this station,” suspicion in his eyes.
“I’ll tell him everything you want to know. But just to him.”
Ishi’s defiance impressed the detectives.
“You’re in no position to make demands!” the organized crime control supervisor said.
Emboldened, Ishi yelled “Sato! Sato! Sato!” Joji joined in. “Sato! Sato! Sato!”
A truncheon across the back of their heads shut them up.
The detectives put the twins in the holding cell and returned to the interrogation room.
“What do you think?” one asked.
“The prosecutor’s office is going to want to know something soon,” another said.
“It’s morning. We’re going to have to tell the reporters something before long,” said another.
The organized crime control supervisor said, “Is Sato still working? I thought he retired.”
A detective said, “He left after the jazz club murder. And then his wife died.”
“Where is he?” a detective asked.
“I don’t know,” another said.
“What do you think we should do?”
The organized crime control supervisor had no doubt about what needed to be done.