If you’ve ever read a Shig Sato Mystery, you know the hapless Kobayashi twins can’t buy a break.
Will their luck change in Traitors & Lies? This is how it begins for them:
Sweat and grime was all Ishi and Joji Kobayashi had to show for their long hot weekend in an Osaki Police Station cell. Fatigue reduced their consciousness to a dim awareness, so that Monday morning in August, after an insurance fraud and murder case veered in another direction, the powers that were decided to get the twins out of the building. Startled awake by the “on your feet, on your feet” a bored police officer rattled keys and stomped his boots just to frighten to two rat-like creatures as they wiped sleep from their beady eyes.
“What?” Joji whined.
“You’re leaving,” the officer said, unable to muster any concern.
“What?” Ishi’s suspicion was of a practical nature. Being caught breaking and entering in a copier repair shop where a body lay dead, he was sure prison was in his future, not freedom.
“Get up and get out of here,” the officer said. “Go see the sergeant on your way out.”
The twins found their way to the Sergeant Hiro, plump and with a wise owl countenance. Hiro looked down at the boys over the top of his half-moon glasses. He knew the boys were held that weekend because they had broken into a copier repair shop where a dead man was discovered. The twins had no idea of what had happened and had pleaded their innocence until the interrogations stopped. But that had been on Saturday. This was Monday. Hiro saw the suspicion in their twitching eyes.
“Seems like you boys got lucky. Forensics decided you two had nothing to do with killing that copier repair shop guy,” Hiro said. “And you’re little breaking and entering escapade is being ignored …”
“Really?” Joji twitched, unable to believe his freedom was only a few feet past the station’s front door.
“… thanks to Inspector Sato. And the chief. So do the smart thing. Get out of Gotanda as fast as possible. And stay out of Gotanda.”
“But…” Joji began, but Ishi only said, “What day is it today?”
Hiro cast a worried glance at the boys. “Monday, August 19.”
Joji began to count on his fingers how many days they had been locked up. He lost count after two.
“Okay,” Ishi hissed as he grabbed his brother by the arm and followed a waiting officer out a back door of the station. A minute later, the twins were walking down Yamate-dori, free to go where they pleased.
“Something’s not right,” Joji said.
“They let us go,” Ishi replied.
“You think Katsuhara had anything to do with this?” Joji doubted getting out of jail for no good reason. What he doubted more was the benevolence of Fat Katsuhara, a top captain and right-hand man to yakuza kingpin Ses Fujimori. Katsuhara occasionally had the twins do small jobs. Usually it got the boys in jail.
“I hope not,” Ishi said. “I think we’re in trouble, maybe not with the cops, but with the fat man.”
“Yeah. I don’t want to go anywhere near the fat man.”
“What about going back to the garage?” Joji’s question worried Ishi. He knew that when a cop like Sergeant Hiro said stay out of Gotanda, he meant it. His brain ached from the thoughts invading his brain: No place to go. No money. No food. All of their belongings at their cousin’s machine shop and no way to get there except by foot. Hot, tired, hungry and thirsty, the twins faced a long walk to a place where they were sure they would not be welcome.
Despite the sergeant’s warning, the twins agreed only place they could think of to go was their cousin’s machine shop on the other side of Gotanda station. It was the last home they had, two cots off to the side of a greasy work area. Sure of Katsuhara’s fury if he caught sight of them or knew where they were hiding, the twins walked, talked, tried to think of how to stay out of trouble, but came up with nothing other than getting their bag of a few clothes and the bar of soap and they towel they shared.
Ishi said, “Lets go.” Joji fell into step by his side.
A dozen yards behind the twins, slow and steady, a white Toyota panel van followed the twins as they walked east side toward the Yamanote elevated commuter rail line. At a red light it sped to the corner, a door opened, a man jumped out, grabbed the twins, shoved them into the van, and as the van sped off as the door slid shut and the lock clicked.
When the twins overcame their bewilderment, they saw the faces of Katsuhara thugs, young men snarling under punch perms and willing to knife their prey without blinking. The twins had been assigned one thug each. The driver was equally fierce. But it was the man in the passenger seat that got the twins’ attention.
“You two have been busy.”
Ishi and Joji glanced up saw demonic black mane of Dragon Matsumura, nephew of a Fujimori captain and their nemesis from the days when Dragon recruited potential Fujimori foot soldiers from the bosozoku motorcycle gangs. Matsumura made sport of the likes of the Kobayashis. The twins both had the same thought at the same moment: “We’re dead.”
Matsumura had seen to it that no police were following the twins. He also was sure they only thing any onlooker would do after seeing to boys hustled into a van is stop, stare, and go on about their business. He was told the cops would let the twins go after realizing they were small fry not worth housing and feeding for another day, but then, the cops were liable to do anything. When a Fujimori contact at the station said the twins were being set free, Dragon got the word: Pick them up.
Joji, too nervous to speak, glanced at Ishi, who managed to say, “Where are we–”
Matsumura kept his eyes on the road.
The twins then recognized the driver. Shiro Nakano, a motorcycle gang delinquent who acted tough and wanted to prove it. The Kobayashi twins knew him from Kenbo’s motorcycle shop in Shinjuku, a teen gang hangout where the twins were treated like vermin.
Joji and Ishi glanced at the back of Matsumura’s head, then at the rear-view mirror. Nakano’s fierce scowl unnerved them.
They clutched each other’s arms.
“You little shits. You can’t stay out of trouble for a day without fucking up big time,” Matsumura’s disdain spewing from his angry lips.
“We didn’t -”
Unable to see out a window, Ishi and Joji glanced at the floor, each other, Matsumura, and Nakano, their breathing quickening, their nerves fraying.
“You two are costing me a morning when I could be doing something else. Certainly not driving you around,” Matsumura snarled. “But I’m here to give you a message. Stay away from anything Fujimori. You have nothing to do with the Fujimori clan, the Fujimori name, nothing, nothing to do with Fujimori. Nothing. You do not say the name, you do not talk about anything you know, you think you might know. You don’t talk to anyone about anything you’ve said or done. Got it?”
“I hear of anything, you’re dead. Fat Katsuhara hears anything, you’re twice as dead. No associates, no riding clubs, no one. You’re through. Got it?”
“Now get out.”
Joji’s minder opened the side panel door and the soon Joji and Ishi found themselves pushed to the ground in front of their cousin’s machine shop.
What little native intelligence the twins’ possessed had by now lead them to realize the men was not going to beat them.
“But…” Joji began.
“Don’t forget,” Matsumura said, his finger running across his throat. It was the last thing the twins saw before the van pulled away.
Picking themselves up and brushing themselves off, Ishi and Joji Kobayashi notice huge bay door into the machine shop is closed. Furtively looking about, they quickly walk along the side of the building to the back of the garage. They know the book door alarm latch had been broken and unrepaired the last time there were at the shop. Each wished it remained so.
As the peeked around the corner they saw the door shut. But the alarm still appeared broken.
“What are we going to do?” Joji asked.
“We have to try something, ” Ishi replied as he slowly crept to the door and turned the knob.
With no alarm sounding.
The twins scampered into the shop as fast as they could, shut the door behind them and for the first time that morning, began to believe they were out of trouble.
Traitors & Lies
A Shig Sato Mystery
Look for it December 16
and other vendors Jan. 1