Regular readers, check the previous blog post for a little insight into the role of music and reading aloud in the editing creative process. If you need to catch up on the action up to now, visit the newly revamped Arisugawa Park website.
Jiro lit a cigarette as they waited for bowls of noodles to arrive. Hayao glanced past him at an old faded poster of a model advertising Sapporo beer and inched his gaze back––no mistake, the years were beginning to catch up with his erstwhile protégé. Barely out of the academy when they had met, Jiro had been eager to right all wrongs. He had made a name for himself, rapidly rising through the ranks, though at a cost. There was a guardedness to his eyes now, the look of someone who dealt in half-truths more than he liked––one could only tell the truth so many times at headquarters without doing irreversible harm to chances of promotion. A couple ranks hit at the appropriate age was the difference between living comfortably in central Tokyo and enduring commuter hell––crowded 6am trains populated by living wraiths and resulting dysfunctional marriages with kids who never saw their father. The sixth level of hell.
Hayao, comfortably ensconced in Azabu, had taken the other route. He had maintained his integrity at the expense of everything important in his life––he still remembered that crashing sensation when the Izaki case broke against unbreachable walls and it became clear, despite assurances, that he had been left out to dry. His wife and son had suffered the full weight of demotion and the unstated threats behind it. He and Naomi had spoken about moving once or twice––an unthinkable concession to a coordinated campaign of intimidation that seemed to come from every direction.
It had been at this ramen shop, 15 years ago, that Hayao made the conscious decision to become the kind of paper shuffler he should have been from the start. Ensconced in his window seat, watching the seasons change in the park, the pressure had turned off as from a spigot. He had been given license to live out his days with no real responsibilities––so long as he was not active on sensitive cases and asked no more questions, he was free.
“What’s this foreign woman to you?” Hayao asked, recognizing that Jiro had been waiting for the question for some time.
Jiro shook his head noncommittally, letting out a long trail of cigarette smoke. “You know I can’t say anything. We need to find her, the sooner the better.”
“I thought you kept tabs on all the good looking hostesses in Roppongi––”
Jiro ignored the jibe, tapping his cigarette on the rim of the china astray, cracked and yellowed with stains that had accumulated over the decades. “Her fingerprints aren’t in the database, basically we’re drawing a blank. We didn’t get a clear enough image of her face to make a positive ID. She may not even be officially in the country.” He paused for a moment under Hayao’s steady gaze. “It’s true, we’ve let certain operational aspects slide a little. We rely too much on the data fed us by big machines––”
“No time to get to know actual humans these days.” The bowls of ramen arrived. Hayao made no move for his chopsticks, holding Jiro’s gaze.“The victim must be of some importance. Your higher ups haven’t gone about releasing his identity to the press.”
Jiro shrugged. “As far as I know, he is still unidentified.”
Hayao separated his chopsticks and drew up a generous portion of steaming noodles and broth. “Suspect and victim both unidentified. That in itself is interesting.”
“We’re in agreement on that,” Jiro said, flashing a look that was, if not quite inquisitive, no longer impatient. The thought crossed Hayao’s mind that his involvement was not simply obligation––Jiro had brought him in to puzzle out certain aspects of a case that was bothering him. That didn’t mean Jiro would bring him in on anything beyond the tangential. His mission was to find the girl and get out. If he added any insight, that was bonus.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Anti-Terror Department had been formed after the 9/11 attacks and planted itself in the upper reaches of headquarters, as terror threats showed no sign of abating. Shadowy, TMAT had the reputation of being a landing place for officers of a certain background. Hayao caught the flicker in Jiro’s eyes and continued on a tangentially related subject, probing. “North Korea must be giving the suits a scare at the moment––not knowing which way Kim Il-sung might swing. Not knowing whether he still has control over the country. First the agreement to suspend the nuclear program, then the test launch of ballistically guided missiles. Leading up to five nuclear tests in a row––North Korea’s order of the day seems to be to appease America just enough not to cause havoc in an election year where foreign policy takes a backseat, while keeping all neighbors on edge. Especially South Korea and Japan.”
Jiro’s eyes were hooded now. This was dangerous territory––Hayao was not supposed to have knowledge about his connection with TMAT and the cases they occasionally assigned him. But he did know and his strategic reveal had opened another level in Jiro’s calculation of how far he would have to let the old detective into his investigation.
Having hit a nerve, Hayao continued––he really had nothing to lose. “A murder involving a foreign woman and a businessman of indeterminate nationality––sounds like something our terror unit would have more than a glancing interest in. Sure they aren’t mucking around somewhere in the background?”
Jiro’s gaze was direct now, his voice purposeful, “What was it you wanted to know about the Giants’ prospects for the upcoming season?
Hayao shrugged, his answer already prepared. Raising his hand to catch the attention of the proprietor, he gave Jiro a sight shake of the head. “Never mind. I always get my picks from Oki-san.”