Over the years, Hayao had developed the ability to be credibly anywhere, anytime, slipping in and out of character. Stepping into Pachinko halls and watching the balls rain for downcast eternities, bucket in hand. High stakes mah jong games, followed by shochu drenched evenings at nantaimori restaurants. Down easy streets where the best intentions smashed on shoals of inherent vice. Into izakaya and Irish pubs, past side-street bars owned by dreamers and survivors of all aptitudes and persuasions––fiercely protective of the human desire to go get lost. Past the creeping newcomers, billion-yen lofteers and bespoke service providers. Distributers of uncut tracks and as-yet unclassified synthetic drugs. Tucked into nooks where karaoke coexisted with sex clubs––speakeasy level, codes within codes to enter. Embedded throughout those beacons of perpetual succor, that universal salve for the spiky shoals of inebriation––the fabled double rainbow ending, or at least untroubled sleep.
The preliminary report from the love hotel murder lay on Hayao’s shipwreck timber desk. He had no official business investigating cases like these––not since he had stood his ground a decade ago, forced his superiors to pursue a case they had no stomach for. Embarrassing details had come to light that almost, not quite, reached the gun-shy Tokyo press.
Naturally, everything had disintegrated––computer hard drive wiped and carefully constructed case materials taken from thick oak compartments by ninja operatives, before he’d taken measures to protect them. Everything destroyed with a methodical completeness still possible in the days before the cloud.
The mechanics of the take down had been swift and brutal. One of his deep cover operatives had dead within the week, another missing and presumed in the Tokyo Bay. Knowing that family members came next and that it would take him a lifetime to get over his current losses, Hayao retreated. Stonewalled and blacklisted, he had been transferred to his current office within a matter of days. For his own protection, his superiors told him at the time.
The bottom line was that someone he had trusted implicitly had turned on him, or been ordered to. Screws turned deep, at the extended family level, in upper-echelon Japan.
Had it been worth it? Yes and no––sometimes sacrifice was required––he had accomplished a necessary change that affected the ability of extremist yakuza-police factions to collaborate. An appropriate amount of blood had been drawn, an example made of what not to do. And through everything, sought-after changes had occurred.
Who was to say what was wasted, really? Even those years in the wilderness had had their use in allowing him to draw sights on targets that could only be scoped from a distance, applying inner knowledge at an ecosystem level. Only whoever had crossed him––and there were three real possibilities––was still high up within the system. Even now, after years of close observation, Hayao was waiting for a slip that never came. It didn’t have to be physical evidence––it could be something as subtle as a neck-pulse tell, a clearing of the throat. Nothing.
The one saving grace––that which kept this from turning into some sort of auto-destructive retrograde obsession––was that retribution was no longer his primary goal. Not after so many years and accompanying realizations about mortality, human frailty. What he was after was something still becoming known to him in opaque ways, circumferential pieces falling into place. Mutation of evil, new skin for an old ceremony––the threat had not gone away, if anything it was stronger, more incipiently capable of what evil gravitated toward.
In any case, Hayao had survived. Not quite untouchable but not so easy to take down, given the bulwark of his support when the chips were down. Like a prisoner on good behavior, he had convinced those arrayed against him that he was just as anxious as they to make everything go away. They had left him alone finally, without even a hint of a threat to his wife or son––a rare touch of class within this existential battle. A nod to the departed, really.
Despite his demotion, Hayao had a reputation for knowledge of the inner workings of the old Tokyo “sewage-and-water” system, and he assisted his old protégé on local investigations whenever the occasion arose. Jiro held some sway at headquarters and he supposed that his off-the-record assistance was the reason his workload was kept so light––really, why he was kept on the force at all. The sleuthing instincts of the Tokyo police might be on the decline, but at least they knew which old dogs to shake when the need arose. Hayao wondered when the pre-stamped paid illness forms would arrive in his box. If Jiro thought they were getting somewhere on the case and could handle it without him, a week. Otherwise two to three days. Unless this was the kind of case where they skipped formalities altogether.
Other than stab wounds, there was no sign of trauma. No strangulation, no blunt force marks, no bruisings to indicate a struggle. Hayao didn’t draw too much from this. In all likelihood, the woman would have been the one to suffer trauma at the hands of the man, before resorting to violence.
Hayao reconstructed what might have happened, drawing on dozens of homicide scenes encountered over a lifetime in law enforcement. The woman seated on the bed, in a state of dress or undress, pre- or post-coitus––taking knife from handbag when her companion got rough, piercing his flesh almost by accident and, when the blade went in, pushing deeper––turning the victim soft and limp, bathing the floor in blood.
Had the man attacked her, forced himself on her? Tests indicated that his blood alcohol levels had been well above intoxication, gynecological results were not yet in. Even if there turned out to be an intimate mixing of fluids, so what? They were in a love hotel––the two had almost certainly entered the premises for the purpose of consensual sex.
Could this have been about money? Not a few of the Western hostesses in Roppongi sidelined in compensated favors. Had the man tried to slip out without paying her? She had been drunk, he had been drunk––there was, and always would be, a homicide division within the Tokyo police. Yet, despite the daily pileup of carnage in the media, knives and bodies weren’t simply things that went bump in the night.
There was the possibility of drugs and that matched the frenzied nature of the attack. The woman could have taken or been given a club-drug variant, been in a state of extreme reaction to perceived threats and vibes that lurked in the recesses of the suddenly uncorked mind.
Hayao stepped out onto balcony, gazing across a stretch of residences along the hillside. All but the highest tree branches of Arisugawa Park were hidden, with those visible vividly silhouetted as a crown against a flat crimson dusk. He sometimes imagined how the same soil ran along the quarter mile band to his house, underground root systems crawling around sewer pipes and cables, through earlier wood and bone artifacts, straining to expand through a specific geologic substratum in a similar orientation of light. This subterranean continuum only became evident every 13 years, when the entire hillside exploded with life, a colony of cicadas waking from root-system level hibernation.
Now, the sounds were more subdued-–cocking his head, becoming attuned to the darkness and the cricket hum, Hayao could made out other nighttime sounds––an occasional quack and hoot mixed with taxis braking, sirens, the rumble of heavy trucks. Remnant nature up against commerce-consecrated ecosystems, relentless in their money-driven persistence.
The question remained, how had this foreign woman not been stopped as she fled mid-morning through one of the most heavily-policed districts of Tokyo? Easy enough, he reflected. Tokyo residents were nothing if not risk-adverse, unwilling to get involved in anything until it literally dragged them in. There had been a case just a week ago of a student going into a coma at an Internet cafe after playing––as computer logs later confirmed––Starcraft for thirty-eight hours straight. The teenager, head heavy on table, headphones still attached and in plain view of customers, had not been noticed for seven hours. As for the police––a foreign woman running around with a little blood on her was not so unusual on a weekend in Roppongi and not worth getting involved in unless absolutely necessary. Hayao glanced briefly through the rest of the crime scene photos. Unrevealing, they showed the small bathroom where the woman had washed off whatever blood she could.
Beyond murder, what about the broader motives of the woman he was starting to think of as kinpatsu? The fact that she hadn't turned herself in to the police pointed to her as a primary suspect. Still, her guilt was far from certain. Sometimes people fled crime scenes because they were afraid of being questioned––particularly foreigners. Involved in prostitution and other borderline activities, they might not have proper work visas––coming forward, they risked long term detention, deportation.
Experience suggested that, while the identity of murdered man was a sensitive issue, he was not necessarily an unknown quantity. The real question was why finding the foreign woman was such a major concern at headquarters. The thought struck Hayao, leaving him acutely uncomfortable––given the way it had been flagged, prioritized at headquarters, would anything have been reported at all if kinpatsu had turned herself in? Would her detention have become a matter of pure speculation, to be pieced together by worried family members weeks or months later?