It was the perfect plan

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From The Thief’s Mistake, Shig Sato Mystery Book 2

Desperate for money,  a man agrees to steal a package to help a crooked businessman commit insurance fraud. It’s the perfect plan. What could go wrong?

Chapter 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 had 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 would need something.

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 go home to Hokkaido 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. 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. East 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 entrance 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. At exactly noon, a man dressed in a summer suit, shined shoes and sporting a pencil-thin mustache walked across the bus lane and approached Nara and asked, “Is the car ready?”

“Yes.”

“Follow me.”

Nara followed the man through the pedestrian walkway beneath 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?” he 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 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.”

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

Oshiro finished by saying, “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.”

Nara tilted his head. “How much money?”

“Two million yen.”

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

“Good.”

Nara had guessed that if he was meeting a man at a train station in Gotanda, the job would be close by. So he found a room not far from the station. After meeting Oshiro he returned his rented room, and for the first time in four years, was able to relax. He felt his mind relax, his muscles ease. He laid on his futon and sipped from his small bottle of whiskey. Four years in prison – when he went in it was the old decade, the old age, everything seemed old. Now it was 1991. There was a new emperor. Now he had a new opportunity.

But first things first. He focused on 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 he wanted stolen. He wanted to file an insurance claim after the gems were found missing, and get the insurance money. He needed a trustworthy man, he had said. Steal the gems, return them to him the next day, and 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 about the plan. “Go to the back of a copier repair shop. The back door is never locked, and no one is ever there past seven in the evening. The gems will 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, “Got it.”

“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 knit 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.

No wooden box.

Nara flung open every drawer.

No box.

No gems.

Nothing.

He had not brought a flashlight – the job had been so simple, he thought. Why bring a flashlight?

Fury.

Searching for anything that might lead to the gems, Nara saw a light from the bottom of a door across the room. Then he heard music.

The sign on the door said Manager.

Nara rushed to the door.

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 just big enough for a dull gray desk, a worn leather office chair with squeaky wheels, a comfortable 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 – 99 square feet of comfortable dinginess his wife would not have tolerated. Although it was never 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 rice cooker and electric kettle and refrigerator filled with beer and melon soft drinks, Akihara spent nearly every night of the week in his office living as much of the life of a bachelor as a married man could. 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 did not know anything about copiers and did not 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: Sunday was family day. Akihara’s daughter, his only child, appeared with her husband and her baby to settle in to learn her role as wife and mother. Akihara regretted that his daughter’s small, teasing admonitions now were 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.

It was a warm night, and the office was a little stuffy despite the overworked desk fan. Akihara listened to the Giants eke out a late-inning victory at the Tokyo Dome. His take-out soba swam with the two bottles of beer in his belly. He had no interest in going to sleep on the couch, not yet, so he opened another Suntory and watched a samurai drama from his extensive video collection.

After half an hour it was still too warm to sleep, and with nothing better to do, he pushed the button on his compact disc player and “Jailhouse Rock” boomed from the speakers. In his underwear and socks, Akihara was poised to dance to Elvis when the flimsy, hollow door separating his kingdom from the rest of the shop flew open and a black ball of rage shouted, “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.

Akihara cowered as the black demon opened every drawer, turned over every piece of paper, and flung every ledger book onto the floor, all the while screaming “The package! Where’s the package!”

“What the…” was all Akihara could manage, too drunk to comprehend the danger.

“Don’t lie to me! Don’t lie to me!” The black demon jumped onto Akihara, and when they fell to the couch, it pinned Akihara’s arms and began beating Akihara’s face with its fists. “You know there’s supposed to be a package here! Where is it?”

The demon slapped away Akihara’s stupor. “What package? What …” he cried as he fought off his attacker.

“Tell me! Tell me!” the demon demanded.

“I don’t know!” Akihara moaned.

“Tell me or I’ll kill you!” the demon shouted.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!”

The silvery flash of a switchblade and deranged eyes behind a black mask 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’s machine shop in Gotanda. Ishi and Joji appreciated their cousin’s hospitality, but there was just enough room for two cots tucked into a corner where there was a sink and a small refrigerator opposite an ancient, unused drill press. It was dark and dank and dirty but the twins accepted it without complaint. The cousin 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.

The twins’ first phone call after their release from jail had been to their boss, Fat Katsuhara, a captain in the Fujimori crime syndicate. A round, mean, and 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 bad luck, the cops nabbed them, and they wound up in 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 knew that scavenging would be a good cover for casing houses and businesses. But the machine shop was in a poor neighborhood in Gotanda, nestled between flashy Shibuya and vibrant Shinagawa. It was not a very good place for resuming their career in petty crime.

On 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, behind a shed, an open window within reach. 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 behind the shed, 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. Their 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. The twins sat motionless, hidden from view, listening for any sound as the day became dusk.

They returned to the garage as fast as they could, quietly repeating what the man had said. They sat in their dim sleeping quarters in a decidedly different frame of mind. They dismissed their poverty and their cousin’s spare hospitality because now they had the perfect plan.

Too excited to sleep, the Kobayashis spent the evening in the machine shop sitting on their cots under a filthy open window, talking about the plan. As they talked, they realized that while scavenging they had been in the alley the man described – long, dark, only one door. And the door would be unlocked.

It was after midnight but they decided to walk to the alley to make sure what they heard was true, and saw there was a lone back door, the only one along one side of the long, narrow, lonely alley. This discovery convinced the twins the job would be as easy as the man said it would be.

As they returned home to plan their caper, they saw few late-night denizens populating the neighborhood. The twins decided to grab the package the next night, well after midnight, when everything would be quiet.

They spent the next day wandering about, seeking shady spots to sit and talk and dream. They had just enough money to divide a large onigiri between them. They talked and chuckled 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 it was indeed unlocked, slowly opened the door, saw the cabinet, and slid open the drawer. He cast his flashlight’s dim beam into the drawer.

No box.

His hand swirled around  the empty drawer.

No box.

For a moment, he thought the flashlight he took from the garage might be defective. He banged it on the palm of his hand, the light went from dim to less dim, and he stared into the drawer again.

Nothing.

He searched every drawer, but found nothing but paper.

“It’s not here!” Ishi cried.

“Shhh,” Joji hissed, immediately at Ishi’s side, his hands groping at the cabinet, wishing he had a flashlight, cursing himself for not thinking to bring one.

“I can’t …” Ishi began, but a powerful beam blinded him, and as he blinked, he felt Joji clutch his leg.

Two Tokyo Metropolitan Police officers filled the doorway.

The police officers in the neighborhood koban had heard about two suspicious characters lurking about, picking through trash and spending far too much time walking in and out of back lanes, looking at the rear entrances of businesses, and scanning rooftops. That evening, two officers spotted the twins and quietly followed them and watched as they entered the back of copier repair shop.

The officers were surprised at how easily the twins gave themselves up, how the shock and surprise so easily gave way to defeat. They almost felt sorry for the two young men, getting caught red-handed, breaking into a copier repair shop in the middle of the 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 everything they knew. Three times. To three different sets of detectives. 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. No one believed the two were smart enough to be good liars.

This worried the detectives. The twins repeatedly said that they heard a man they had never saw tell someone they had never seen just how perfect this plan was. 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, was that they went into the shop, could not find what they were looking for, and then they were arrested.

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 huddled. The twins’ story was too good. Something was wrong. So, the detectives tried to trip up the twins, saying “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 when a dead body was involved, 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 section supervisor.

“We know you work for Fujimori,” he said. “Was this a Fujimori hit?”

Ishi and Joji were more bewildered than ever. What did they know about some gangster boss wanting to kill someone?

“Why was Fujimori interested in a copier repair shop?” the man demanded 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. They were tired, hungry, and desperate for the questioning to end, but they repeated their story once more. Still, the man had questions about Ses Fujimori. Frustrated, Ishi muttered, “I wish it was Inspector Sato with all the questions. He’s not so bad.”

“Sato? Inspector Shigeru Sato?” The organized crime control section 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 told the supervisor, somehow grasping the idea as a way out of their predicament.

“Yeah, I want to talk to Sato!” Joji cried.

The supervisor said, “Sato isn’t at this station,” suspicion in his eyes.

“I’ll tell him everything you want to know,” Ishi said. “But just to him.”

“You’re in no position to make demands,” the supervisor said.

“I want to talk to Inspector Sato!” Ishi’s defiance impressed the detectives.

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,” the supervisor said.

“It’s morning. We’re going to have to tell the reporters something before long,” said another.

The supervisor said, “Is Sato still working? I thought he retired.”

A detective said, “He left after that jazz club murder. And then his wife died.”

“Where is he now?” a detective asked.

“I don’t know,” one said.

“What do you think we should do?” asked another.

The organized crime control section supervisor had no doubt about what to do.

“Find Sato.”

To continue reading The Theif’s Mistake click here  – and to read book 1 in the Shig Sato Mystery series, The Gangster’s Son, click here. To sign up for my monthly newsletter to get all the latest on Shig Sato, including a sneak peek at the new Shig Sato mystery Traitors & Lies, click here

 

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