Stories

The Hunt is On

An unexpected phone call and the suspicions of Mrs. Abe’s ramen delivery boy put Sato and Abe on the trail of a killer

from The Gangster’s Son – A Shig Sato Mystery

Sato sat at his desk, fanning himself with a thin white and red paper fan that looked like a heart on a small handle, and waited for the dull buzz in his head to die down. Ses Fujimori, Kazuo Takahashi, Mai Sakamoto, the superintendent general, Michiko Hayashi: voices roiling in his head, and all he saw was Kimi Yamada’s beaten face, and Miki’s weak smile beneath her oxygen mask. He stared at his desk, fanned himself, and kept thinking of everything, and nothing.

Then Abe’s phone rang.

“Damn,” he thought. “Will this never end?”

After a deep breath and long exhale, he walked to Abe’s desk, wondering what else could interfere with the investigation.

“This is Sato.”

“Oh, Inspector!”

okinawa-646182_1920Mrs. Abe seemed startled to hear a voice other than her son’s. But she recovered quickly, and her words fell like a waterfall. Before he was aware of it, Sato was settling in to listen to whatever Abe’s mother had to say, trying to ease into a state where he could endure the harmless diversion.

But he heard anxiety in the old woman’s voice as she hoarsely whispered that since she was talking to Inspector Sato himself, she had to share something she heard from one of the delivery boys. She explained how Taki made deliveries for old Kamiya’s brasserie, Mr. Edano’s sobu shop, Mrs. Fukuyama’s tempura shop, and of course, Abe’s ramen shop. The delivery “boys” were, as Sato well knew, old men. Taki, for example, was gray as a dirty raincloud, with yellowed teeth and milky eyes, and was stubborn beyond reason. But they delivered the food and collected the dishes, and the system worked. One of the side benefits of using the delivery boys was learning the latest gossip.

Sato sighed, not wanting to interrupt Mrs. Abe.

“And Taki is a one-man neighborhood watch. One place he doesn’t like is an ugly old place two streets over. It’s filled with the worst sort of people. Like today,” she said.

“Taki says a ‘young punk up to no good’ is there off and on, with one of those noisy motorbikes, you know the kind, and sometimes he’s there with women, and sometimes with girls not even high school age, and the most loathsome creatures stopping by day and night, not staying long. I wonder why Ken never told you about it. Well, sometimes this person orders food and sometimes beer or something even stronger, and sometimes there’s an odor. Taki thinks it smells like one of those opium dens. Not that I would know. But Taki says there has to be something illegal going on.”

(more…)

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Shig Sato Prequel – Coming April 21

Was it suicide – or murder?

A sick and desperate housewife. Her career bureaucrat husband has a big promotion in his grasp. All she wants is her migraines to stop.

ssnovella1One night, they stop for good.

And the Tokyo police turn Inspector Shig Sato to get to the truth.

But who’s truth? The Bank of Japan wanting to keep a scandal quiet, or following the clues wherever they may lead?

Toky Summer, a Shig Sato novella, is available for pre-order now before its April 21 launch.

Here’s Chapter One

+ + +

 

“It feels like knives behind my eyes.”

Setsuko Usami said it so often her husband seemed deaf to it. She knew that their years together taught her that Taro would not understand it, not even try. Taro Usami’s indifference had become almost as painful as the migraines themselves.

(more…)

A Little Something for the Holidays

newlargeTwelve stories about life, love and family. A little something for the holidays.

Here’s a sneak peek:

The Secret

Some things are best kept secret. Mothers and daughters know this. Occasionally, daughters try to keep secrets from their mothers, especially when, in the end, the joy comes from the telling.

Especially at Christmas.

Something seemed out of place in that living room decorated red and green and gold. It didn’t take long to see the pale peach bag off to one side beneath a festive Christmas tree with presents populating its lower reaches.

It was a pale peach shopping bag, tasteful and eye catching, and even if it did not have the easily identifiable logo on each broad side, it would have stood out among the gifts in shiny lacquered paper and festive bows and ribbons. It was a noticeable bag. It stood out in a decidedly un-Christmas fashion. In a house with four women it would seem that a pale peach shopping bag from a well-known lingerie shop would invite comment. It didn’t. Studiously ignored or embarrassingly avoided, it sat off to one side, on its own.

It was a predominately female household. There was a mother and her husband, and three grown daughters frequently darkened its doors. The youngest daughter may not have officially left home, but her rare appearances made her seem more like a visitor than a resident.

This worked out well for the wayward uncle visiting that particular Christmas. He could stay in the youngest daughter’s almost unused room, giving the dilapidated convertible couch in the television room a reasonable retirement. The wayward uncle paid for this space with a cut-glass bowl filled with chocolates. His bonus in the deal was being with family for the holidays. Over the years he spent much of his free time at that house with that sister and her daughters. He felt welcomed there.

In that house, in that year, that particular Christmas was one fashioned for grownups. There were no small children anxiously waiting for Christmas morning. So, with the absence of children, the ritual of opening gifts with loved ones was postponed until evening. It made the day calm and steady in a way more typical of adults.

When evening approached all the characters assembled and enjoyed the usual ebb and flow of family and greetings and conversation and food before the ritual unwrapping of gifts began. The pale peach bag remained anonymous, holding its position, waiting its turn. As the unwrapping of gifts came to its conclusion, the bag become more noticeable, until, at last, it was the center of attention.

The oldest daughter reached for it and gave it to her mother, who accepted it with a puzzled but bemused smile. “I wonder what’s in here?” she quietly asked.

“It’s a surprise,” her daughter answered.

And after lifting a piece of wrapping paper, everyone was silently introduced to each gift.

A baby blanket.

A rattle.

A toy.

A baby book.

The mother-to-be couldn’t contain herself any longer. “We’re going to have a baby!”

Joy and laughter and an entire household, and entire holiday, was set on its head. The mother-to-be said she’d known for months but could not, would not say anything until Christmas, and confessed it was the hardest thing she’d ever done.

The mother, now a grandmother-to-be, knew that her daughter’s silence, that keeping of a secret, was a gift, for she knew her daughter would tell her anything. Her sacrifice of silence sealed the surprise. The ruse was perfect.

All eyes were on those innocent items and the promise they held.

No one looked at the pale peach bag in quite the same way afterward.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town: A Christmas Story Collection – stuff that cyberstocking for only 99c !

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A Traitor and a Lie

SS3new5sm

Moscow, 1991. A tumultuous summer pushes the Kremlin to the brink of chaos. The Soviet spy network begins to unravel. Rivals choose sides.  Ambitious men make their move. Especially in Washington, D.C.

“I hate this country.” It was said in a manner so off-handed, with a sigh so deep, Konstantin Morozov nearly made a quick feint to the left, hoping quickness and surprise would at least rid him of the cold steel round barrel of a 9mm pressing against his sweaty head.

He hoped to stand and face his executioner. If he was going to die at the hands of The Wolf, he wanted to do it like a man, face to face. Konstantin Morozov was not a foolish man, but dire circumstance produced foolish thoughts. But what was more foolish, sitting at his own kitchen table in his own apartment in Washington, D.C., with a gun to his head, or believing the message traffic he had seen indicating that his government would send someone to analyze recently ‘obtained’ American intelligence data concerning the American Navy’s Pacific Fleet’s reactions regarding the turmoil in Moscow – data he had gathered himself, thanks to his cooperative American network of associates, especially a certain American Navy communications officer in Tokyo.

Morozov had been glad he was in Washington, concerned only with making sure his cabal of American informants kept providing their information, paying them as usual, and most importantly, reminding them of the dire consequences they faced if they decided to renege on their “arrangement.” Morozov may be a slight man, but his mild manners hid a feral instinct for survival.

Everything had been going so well for so long Morozov knew something was bound to go wrong eventually. He enjoyed his anonymous life in this place called Gaithersburg, Maryland, just outside America’s capital city, and he especially enjoyed his job at the National Institute of Health. He was biologist first and foremost, and his cover fit his intellectual mind so well he often thought of himself as the perfect American. That he had managed to survive his background checks was not surprising, once he understood the nature of the American government bureaucracy.

Why he expected everything to keep on as normal with a revolution at the fore in Moscow made him curse his stupidity, mental flaccidity, his own ease into an American lifestyle that he should have guarded against. Now he was paying for such sloth. He should have known the GRU would never be ambitious enough to want to review what he had done in America. Only a man like The Wolf, a brigand and a renegade, would have been able to penetrate the idiotic Soviet intelligence community to the point where he could slip into Washington, D.C.

“Do you have it all?” The Wolf asked, casually but firmly, watching Morozov complete the handwritten note he had been dictating.

“Yes, just as you said.”

The Wolf peered over the man’s shoulder, reading the note for himself. He had memorized the code the man was using. From his vantage point, standing over Morozov’s shoulder, peering down, firmly pressing the silencer of the 9mm to Morozov’s head, The Wolf carefully read the note through one last time, then said, “All right. Seal it and address the envelope as you normally would.”

Calming himself, waiting for his hands to steady, Morozov took a deep breath and asked, “No different than any other time?”

“No.”

Morozov wrote the return address first, in the American custom, in the upper left-hand corner. Then in the center of the envelope he wrote

CWO Daryl Bennett, USN

Communications Department

Commander, Seventh Fleet

USS Blue Ridge LCC-19

FPO Seattle 96628

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Morozov replied.

“What is this Seattle?”

Morozov felt the gun press harder.

“It’s the Americans. They send their mail to Seattle before sending it to Japan,” Morozov calmly explained despite the sweat rising from forehead. “I swear. FPO means Fleet Post Office. The letter will get to Tokyo. I swear.”

Morozov had been proud of his brainstorm, using this sailor’s regular navy address to send his coded messages. The Wolf reluctantly admired it, too. It was brilliant in its simplicity. Right under the American navy’s nose, every time. Not that there were many messages. This Bennett person knew what Morozov wanted and sent the material to him the same way, in duplicate, in case one parcel got lost. Regular mail, from Maryland USA to a ship in the American fleet on the other side of the world, and back the same way.

“You always were a brilliant fuck,” The Wolf said, picking up the letter and tucking it into his shirt pocket.

“You’re going to need a stamp,” Morozov said.

“You’re going to need more than a stamp,” The Wolf replied, walking around Morozov, allowing him to take a good look at his former commanding officer. Morozov wasn’t looking at Bogdan, but the barrel of the silencer at the end of the 9mm. Before Morozov exhaled his final breath the bullet from the gun smashed the bone above his right eye and traveled through his brain, exited the other side, and lodged itself into a sofa ten feet away. Vorkov stood motionless as he watched Morozov go limp.

The Wolf enjoyed executing a worthless bureaucrat in the worthless espionage apparatus of a worthless politburo cracking apart. The Wolf was glad to be on the outside, watching the traitorous bureaucracy crumble, the nation fall apart, especially after all he did for Mother Russian, long years fighting her wars, only to be cashiered after losing men in in the mountains of Afghanistan, good men the Kremlin did not seem to care about after so many years in those foreign mountains.

No, The Wolf was glad to be on the outside, with his own regime. He could watch fools like Gorbachev and Yeltsin and know he had real power, real influence. But he needed the intelligence the traitorous American naval officer had been providing the Kremlin all these years. It had been somewhat difficult to find the traitor’s handler. But he had.

The Wolf retrieved the slug that had passed through the bookish little man’s head and lodged into the decadent plush leather furniture, picked up the spent shell casing, and quietly left the small apartment, stopping only to tug his wallet from his jacket pocket to make sure he did indeed have the stamp for the letter to the traitor Bennett.

Traitors & Lies – A Shig Sato Mystery – look for it in early 2016.  To keep up with the latest T& L news and get a sneak peek at an advanced copy, sign up for my newsletter.

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.

The Reluctant P.I.

(Another chapter from The Thief’s Mistake, Book 2 in the the Shig Sato Mystery series, available in ebook soon.)

clip6265Shig 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 finally a real estate agent’s office with dozens of photos of properties of every type, size and price. It was quite a quartet that formed that intersection in Akasaka. Yes, 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 with too many cigarettes and 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 purple.

“I saw you from the coffee shop,” the woman 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 – faded yellow sport shirt, rumpled khaki pants, and a round blue canvas hat. Mariko Suzuki had remembered Sato as a tall, commanding presence. Now, what she noticed was that he had the saddest eyes.

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

Then the woman realized Sato may not remember her. “I’m Mariko Suzuki. Abe’s friend.”

“Ah, Mrs. Suzuki,” and Sato then recalled meeting her five years before, at a coffee shop in the Ginza. He was there with his wife, Miki, stealing precious moments all to themselves before a social 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 detective, and that lowly status enabled him to skip such boring soirees. When Abe spotted Sato from across the crowded dining room that evening, he approached Sato’s table to introduce Suzuki and remind Sato that he had tickets to a prize fight, knowing it would make Sato envious.

Standing on that street corner on that warm August morning, Sato gave Suzuki a small smile and said, “I remember the last 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 dear 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 saw her point 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.

It was a moment of 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 mat finish and he noticed grim 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. Sato opened the stairwell door that opened onto the second floor, and off to his right, five feet away, he saw a door, its top half inset with opaque glass and words declaring “Sato Private Investigation Service.”

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

Sato sighed. “Reluctant, indeed.”

~

Ken Abe had not been so sure that 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, and instead 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, Kawasaki, 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, his friend Shig left for 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 18 years, and 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. Miki Sato had been like a sister to him, and could not imagine what Shig went through, watching Miki slowly waste away.

But no tender feelings for Miki’s memory, and no long-established friendship with Shig changed the fact that Abe’s advertisement for Sato’s fledgling detective agency was bringing in more business than he could handle, and with 30 days passed, 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, with what remained of his dinner of rice and edamame 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, but knew Abe’s mind 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, and the soy beans 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 had yet to glance down at his friend, but instead, 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, then at the beer and then he recognized a package. He knew it was pickled eel.

Sato knew there were never 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 sighed as he rose and walked into the house, somewhat cooled by an ancient electric fan, burring along with the sounds of the summer evening. He tasted the eel, pleasant on his tongue. Sato found beans and peas and they sipped the beer, munched their food, and said all they needed in saying nothing.

But Abe knew his friend, and knew Sato’s mind. Sato may be mourning, may be 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, 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 crossed over to the other side, and Abe knew that his friend, who loved his wife more than he lived himself, would be thinking of nothing but that.

Abe did not like to contemplate the consequences.

Having finished his eel and his beer, Abe lifted a knee, placed his foot flat on the floor, and eased his bulk onto his left flank until he was flat on the floor, and with several small sure gestures, he freed a cigarette from its pack, raised it to his lips, found his lighter, lit his cigarette, inhaled, exhaled, then said, “Ready to go?”

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

“When I finish this,” Abe said, holding up the cigarette.

Sato studied Abe’s deceitful lethargy. He only nodded and said, “Okay.”

Abe expected more of a fight, but Sato quietly rose and then wandered around the house, and he heard the random sounds of shutters sliding into place and boxes being shuffled about, then Sato reappeared and wordlessly gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink.

Abe turned his attention to his Mild Seven cigarette and after a few puffs, snuffed it out and got to his feet. By this time Sato had disappeared, but a minute later reappeared, wearing clean, comfortable, presentable clothes for the drive back to the city, and seeing Abe erect and ready to move on, said, “Let’s go.”

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

Sato noticed the sarcasm, and a surge of mild belligerence rose inside. “I’ll be there,” he said, pocketing the instructions.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Pleased to see some sign of the old Sato, he asked “You riding with me?” thinking that his friend looked tired beyond measure.

“No, I’m driving in. I don’t want to leave the Pajero here,” Sato said. Gathering what he wanted from the house, Sato placed the bundles in the Pajero. Abe saw that 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,” Abe said. And as he started his Toyota, he glanced into his mirrors and in the dark of the August evening, he saw the shadow of Shig Sato sitting behind the wheel, the look of concentration Abe knew well, and watched as Sato started the engine, checked the gauges, adjusted the mirrors, buckled himself to his seat, turn on the low beams, then finally glance up. He noticed Abe, and nodded. Then Abe watched his friend pull away, and drive toward the road that led 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.”

And as he opened the unlocked door, 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. The image pleased Sato immensely. “Perhaps things aren’t as new as I think they are,” he muttered as he walked to the center of the office, eying an empty chair behind a small lonely gray desk with a telephone, calendar, pen and notebook atop it. 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.”

Abe had heard the tentative steps to the door, the pause – Abe could have counted to five and knew that as soon as he said “six,” the doorknob would turn, and there he would stand, Shig Sato, ready to start his new day. Abe watched his friend wander around the small office, peer into corners where there was nothing to see and open the blinds of the three large windows, whose bottom pane opened outward, offering an escape for Abe’s cigarette smoke while offering up all the cacophony known as a busy Tokyo intersection, this one mere yards from their window.

Abe lit another cigarette to keep his iced coffee company, but kept his eyes on his friend as he walked around the office. His silence was born of shock. Sato was wearing 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 noticing Sato fix a look at everything in the office, one item at a time. He had seen this performance before: whenever Shig Sato entered a room for the first time, he inspected it much like a dog sniffing at every corner. He never pointed this out to his friend. Anyway, Sato would have denied any behavior resembling a canine. Abe was content to sit, and watch. He knew what he had to tell him would not be welcome.

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 turned in the chair to the right, then to the 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.”

Sato looked up. “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. 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, if you can believe that.”

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, especially in Gotanda. Matsuda said he can’t help it if the press got 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 with his throat slit? And then they want to talk to me?”

“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 arrest 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: 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, and a man who hated Shig Sato. Tanaka and Sato were partners once. Sato solved a case that made his reputation as a true investigator, and to some, made Tanaka look bad. Tanaka never forgave, or forgot.

“The reason they want to talk to me is because of Fujimori,” Sato said.

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. Between Ses and his father, Key, the Fujimori clan was 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 Fujimori 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 that. But it’s just idiotic to me 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 there’s nothing to be stolen. So why is there a dead guy? And where is the loot? Did they stumble onto a murder?”

Sato had leaned back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. Abe knew he was listening.

“Was there another guy there for the loot and did he get surprised? Did he kill the guy on purpose?” Abe asked. “I can think of a lot of things those guys might be thinking, Shig. None of it makes sense.”

He watched Sato ease into a thoughtful pose, his fingers laced together behind his head, and stare at nothing.

Abe stretched, then stood up. “So what are you going to do? We got a lot of things to do.

“Like what?”

“We’ve been getting calls from the ad I put out,” he said, lighting another cigarette.

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

“The one advertising our business, Shig. 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.”

“Huh,” Sato grunted. Lying, cheating, suspicions.

It filled him with dread.

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

“I know. It’s just that – ”

“This is it, Shig. This is what it is.”

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

“It will,” Abe said, and he returned to his chair, to sip the last of the coffee from the shop downstairs.

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

“Go over,” Sato sighed. “See what happened.”

Abe’s “Really?”surprised Sato.

“Why?” Sato asked.

“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.”

Abe saw Sato stand up like a man with somewhere to go. He knew what was next.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you.”

“Yes. I suppose I have to. What you are doing today?”

“Going to Ikebukuro to see this woman who wants to investigate her husband. It’s probably nothing. After that it’s 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 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 extra business cards.”

“Okay.”

Sato opened the drawer, found the pager and the cards, placed them in his pocket, but his mind was on the twins, Matsuda, Kamioka and Osaki Police Station. As he shut the open windows and then turned off the office lights, a dark premonition overcame him. He cast a rueful glance back at the darkened office as he shut the door behind him.

Moms always know

My writing journey began before the dawn of my consciousness. I’m convinced of this, because I’ve been told I was always reading, always had a book in my hand. I remember creating stories as early as the first grade. My brother told me he has memories of me sitting in our bedroom and writing.

Always with something to read.

Always with something to read.

It’s easy for dreamy, overly imaginative kids – like I was – to float through life with no sense of reality. That’s where my mother enters the story. She always, always accepted the idea that I liked words, writing, music, creativity, the arts. But she made sure that wasn’t the only thing in my life. Growing up in a household of a mom and dad and seven  brothers and sisters, sometimes it’s easy to stand beside the chaos and go off on your own. My mom was always there to reel me back. It’s the everyday stuff of raising a child, sure, but the one thing she never did was squash my dreams. She just made sure my feet were on the ground and I was going in the right direction.

I was always itching to go out into the world. My youth was spent away from the house – playing, biking, then when I was a little older, hiking, then a little older, camping. Then I left  home to work at a summer camp. Mothers see what their child is like and sense what their child will become. I’m sure my mother saw the restlessness inside me and saw that my life outdoors kept me grounded.

I think she saw my love of reading and writing in the same way. I didn’t fully realize this until I was much older, in the Navy, home on leave, and I was with my mother somewhere, and she introduced my as ‘an aspiring writer.’ It surprised me. I don’t ever recall really talking to her about it. Maybe it was too obvious for words.

But the truth is, she got it before I ever did. And for that I salute her.