Short Stories

The Shoe Locker, A Short Story

The Shoe Locker

In the open-air Kumagaya train terminal, schoolgirls wearing white slouch socks and plaid miniskirts were drawing furtive glances from a group of salarymen undeterred by the Frappuccino fatrolls above their knees. The girls were holding up a cheerfully drawn sign suggesting that sexual molestation of minors was not, in the grand scheme of things, something Japan could be proud of. If they or the salarymen were aware of the irony of their respective situations, neither group betrayed any sign of it. Inspector Kayama of the Saitama Prefectural Police rummaged in his pocket for some change for the ramen shop; he knew that the first day of an unusual death investigation was always the longest and that his host, a world-renowned corporation, would not be getting him lunch.

Kayama’s standard issue grey business suit had seen its heyday come and go with the heady real estate bubble days of the mid-80’s and now seemed to want nothing more than to be granted a divorce. It met his frame in as few places as the laws of physics allowed and shone with the dull sheen of countless dry cleanings. The brown leather belt residing half way between his belly button and nipples was a relic from Dai Nippon, the Imperial Japan of which Kayama’s grandfather was both a supporter and a martyr. Many shirt re-tuckings since he had left home made sure that the belt buckle was resting comfortably against Kayama’s left hip. His shoes, black objects of indeterminate age, shape, and material, had already walked several kilometers this very morning between various train stations and taxi stands. Though in his early fifties, Kayama sported a full head of jet-black hair, balancing atop his large head like a stork nest carefully clinging to the vertex of a Japanese cedar. He was the type of swarthy, powerfully built, rather dark-complexioned Japanese male who is more at home as a samurai foot soldier in an Akira Kurosawa movie than in the corporate Japan of the present day. Slurping the rest of his noodles, Kayama braced himself for a date with the dead body of Makinouchi Susumu, the general manager of one of the historic and well-known company Y’s many engineering departments.

It had stopped raining earlier that morning, but the early March skies were still overcast and a cold rain was threatening to resume at any moment. The feeble light filtering down from above did little to break the dull monotony of the Japanese suburban landscape unfolding around the little yellow taxicab. The empty streets, their wet surfaces reflecting the glare of traffic lights and neon advertising signs provided a post-apocalyptic landscape, worthy of the set of Blade Runner. Kayama had the taxi driver drop him off next to a 24-hour “love hotel” a few blocks from company Y’s employee housing. “No need for any tongue wagging around the taxi stand” he thought, handing the driver his fare and receiving in return a world-weary look. “Arigato gozaimashita”, the driver gave him a slight nod barely masquerading as a bow. Clearly Kayama’s appearance did not betray his social standing; this was good.

Makinouchi exhibited in death more dignity than Kayama had ever exhibited in life. His tall and lanky frame was seated on the middle of the three steps leading to the vestibule of the two-story employee housing unit. With his leather briefcase carefully placed alongside his right knee and his head supported by the handrail, he seemed to be taking a rest, a brief respite before walking up to his studio apartment. Only one thing destroyed the illusion of peaceful tranquility; Makinouchi’s body was drenched in water and looked very dead indeed.

Yamada, the top uniformed guy in the Kumagaya municipality and the forensics team were already there behind the police tape awaiting his arrival. Well into his fifties, Yamada’s frame betrayed no signs of age; trim and fit, his uniform in every way adhering to regulations without having a parade appearance, he exuded the calm confidence of the experienced staff sergeant who had seen more battles than he cared to remember. “Good morning, boss”, Yamada said, “a sorry state of affairs”. “Report”, said Kayama. Flipping his notebook open with a respectful bow, Yamada reported. “Makinouchi Susumu, 59 years of age, General Manager, Electric Engineering Department, Precision Equipment Division. Y Corporation. He was found by his co-workers out to catch the first bus to the plant”, he said. “7:45 this morning. They thought he was just taking a rest, then saw he was drenched. It was down to two degrees last night, with steady rain from 2:30 to 5:00. They tried waking him up, yelling at him and so on, then called us. We found him like this. We haven’t touched anything since.” “Family?” asked Kayama, “We are just trying to find out, sir. A request to headquarters HR department is pending”.

Kayama surveyed the scene; Dr. Ogaya, the prefectural coroner was standing at a respectful distance awaiting his turn. Two beat cops were smoking cigarettes while minding the perimeter. The three forensic guys were suited up and sitting in the ambulance with the doors wide open. The sun was coming up and the day was promising to be a fine one; Sakura season was not far off. Time to put the team to work. “Ogaya-san, please process the body and send it back to the morgue. Standard autopsy, toxicology. Wait for me here with your preliminary assessment. Yamada, have your team call the plant and tell them we’ll be there at 10:00. I want to talk to everyone who spent the evening with the deceased and someone from HR. Do you have keys to the residence? “Yes, sir.” “Lead the way.”

Makinouchi-san’s studio apartment was on the second floor and rather spacious in recognition of his upper management status. It was divided into a Western section of roughly 150 square feet housing a small kitchenette and what looked to be a large workbench and a slightly raised traditional section of six jo. The tatami room was devoid of all furniture, the futon mattress undoubtedly tucked away behind the sliding doors of the built-in closet occupying the entire back wall. A plain shoji screen, now open, divided the two sections. Two large windows provided plenty of natural sunlight for the sharp shadows that accentuated the dwelling’s Spartan appearance.

The dead man’s house slippers set neatly side by side in the small sunk alcove at the entrance were studiously avoided by the officers who proceeded to quickly slip out of their shoes and step up into the apartment in their stockinged feet. In the kitchenette, the sink was empty and no utensils were left lying about. Kayama took a quick look in the small refrigerator to find it containing only two unopened bottles of Aloe Vera flavored green tea. As Yamada was checking out the tatami room, Kayama turned his attention to the workbench. On it he found a meticulously arranged assortment of hand tools used in electronics: small pliers, isolation strippers, etc. A soldering iron stood next to a multi-function meter and an old-fashioned oscilloscope likely dating back several decades. On a shelf above the bench there was a partially assembled, very old cathode ray tube audio amplifier and several speakers all bearing the trademark of the American audio equipment company JBL. An old turntable and a box of vinyl records completed the picture. The faded features of Ella FitzGerald, John Coltrane, and Louis Armstrong greeted Kayama from the album covers as he looked through the collection; “an old-time jazz fan”, he thought. Something in the meticulous, almost loving still life quality of the items reminded Kayama of his father’s old fly-fishing lure making station in his childhood home in Hakodate. The dead guy had a hobby and he was clearly serious about it. He glanced at Yamada who shook his head; “nothing, sir” he said. Kayama glanced at his watch; almost 9:45. Time to get to the plant.

Outside, the ambulance was gone and Dr. Ogaya was leaning against the rail. “Cause of death?” Kayama asked. “Cannot tell without toxicology. Likely hypothermia. No external injuries of any kind” was the reply. “When?” “Eight to five hours, no more.” “OK, keep me posted. Yamada, get your guys to seal up the apartment. Let’s go.”

The modern low-slung building and manicured lawn were hiding behind them a jungle of industrial structures dating back decades. Nothing fancy here, just the formidable industrial heartland of Japan. A place where things got done, quietly and well. Where (mostly) men toiled in quiet anonymity working hundred-hour weeks to make sure that families they hardly ever saw enjoyed a standard of living that was among the best in the world.

The lobby, as is often the case with such places, contained a small museum of Y’s many past accomplishments. Global firsts and bests formed a scene reminiscent of the alien technology trophy scene from the movie “Predator”. The message was clear; Y was a global leader without whom our smartphones would not be what they are today. On a raised dais straight ahead, there was the prerequisite bank of shoe lockers. To the right, a small window looked onto an enormous room full of young women hard at work staring at endless rows of computer monitors. To the left, a honeycomb of cubicles provided meeting spaces for visitors not deemed worthy of admission to the holy of holies behind a frosted windowed door with an RFID lock.

An older gentleman in the company uniform of khaki pants and zip-up blue jacket greeted the officers. His feet were in company branded slippers. “I am Hamatani, the HR chief for the Kumagaya plant”, he introduced himself with a bow. “Please follow me”. Walking through the maze of cubicles, they arrived at a non-descript door behind which a small simply furnished conference room revealed itself. Two Japanese, male and female, dressed in company uniforms and one gaijin in an expensive-looking business suit were seated at the window-facing side of the rectangular desk that occupied most of the space in the room. The gaijin’s cufflinks and gold tie clip were rather ridiculously gleaming above his stockinged feet tucked into a pair of guest slippers.

Kayama and Yamada exchanged a glance, which did not escape Hamatani’s lifetime of human resources experience. “The gaijin is a scientist, a consultant. American”, he offered. Opening his notebook, he added “Dr. Robert Jacques, Boston, America.” Upon hearing the word gaijin followed by his name, the gaijin briefly raised his glance to the newly arrived party. His two Japanese counterparts kept their eyes firmly on the notebooks in front of them. “Kamiyama Takahide and Iwagawa Maki, staff engineers.” Hamatani concluded the introductions. If they heard their names called, Kamiyama and Iwagawa betrayed no sign of it.

During the inevitable silence that followed the rather awkward introductions Kayama thanked his lucky stars that he was once invited to spend a year in Saitama’s sister city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, learning from Pittsburgh’s Finest their “non-lethal” crowd control techniques. Since an interpreter was not budgeted for, this year-long sink or swim English language immersion lesson produced unexpectedly good results. Finally, Hamatani took care of getting everyone seated and introduced. He glanced at Kayama. “I’ll talk to everyone one on one”, Kayama said. “Starting with Hamatani-san. Yamada please escort Kamiyama-san, Iwagawa-san, and Jacques-san out and wait with them until I am finished with Hamatani-san”.

“Rumors are flying, people are talking?” Kayama offered to Hamatani as soon as the door was closed. “Yes, Inspector”. “Have you made any announcements”? “No. We are waiting for instructions from the police on how to proceed.” “Please inform everyone at the earliest convenience that Mr. Makinouchi passed away this morning and that the circumstances of his death are being investigated with more information to follow as it becomes available.” Hamatani took his phone out of his jacket pocket, dialed a four-digit number, and spoke softly for a few seconds. He then looked impassively at Kayama with his notebook open. “Family?” Kayama asked. “Wife, Harumi, 57, part-time nurse assistant at the Yokohama General Hospital, lives in their home in South Yokohama. Son, Fumio, 23, junior sales rep, Mizuno Sports Equipment, Osaka. Mother, 85, retired, Kanagawa Prefecture. That’s all we know.” As he was speaking, Kayama was on the phone with headquarters making the necessary arrangements. “We will inform the family members as soon as possible”, he said hanging up.

Looking at Hamatani across the large conference table and forcing him to make and maintain eye contact, Kayama was about to speak, when Hamatani whipped his phone from his jacket pocket with a look of annoyance and stared at the screen. His expression immediately changed and he bowed so deeply that his forehead nearly hit the table. “Hai”, “hai”, “wakarimashita”, he said in rapid succession bowing with each word. Hanging up and putting the phone back in his pocket, he looked quite ashen, which for a decades-long denizen of Japan’s neon-lit offices was not an easy look to pull off. “This was Karia-sama’s personal secretary”, he said. Noticing the vacant look in Kayama’s eyes he added “Karia-sama is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the entire global Y corporation”, he said. “Karia-sama is begging for the privilege of your presence at his office in Marunouchi headquarters and he must insist on your indulgence at this very moment as he is dining with the Prime Minister later tonight. His personal car is already waiting downstairs”. Hamatani stood up and briskly walked to the door followed by Kayama.

Outside the conference room doors, Yamada, the two Y associates, and the gaijin were waiting. “Yamada, interview them yourself. Do you know where the gaijin is staying”? “Yes, sir. The Royal Park Hotel, Ningyocho, Tokyo”. “Take your car and drive Iwagawa-san and Kamiyama-san to their homes and Dr. Jacques to his hotel”, he said looking at each of the associates and the gaijin in turn. Switching to English and looking at the gaijin he said “Dr. Jacques, Lt. Yamada here will give you a ride to your hotel. Please stay there until further notice from us. Please surrender your passport to Yamada-san just for the next few hours, is that ok”? Not waiting for an answer and switching back to Japanese he instructed the two dumfounded associates to stay home and not speak to anyone until further notice. Having finished his instructions, he walked towards the large revolving doors beyond which a large black sedan with its passenger door wide open was waiting.

The backrest and armrest in the Toyota Celsior luxury sedan were covered in pristine white lace that looked like it came from the shop of the finest lace maker in Bruges. The driver, keeping his white-gloved hands on the wheel looked at him in the rear view mirror. “Are you comfortable sir? May I offer you something to drink”? “I am fine thank you. I need to make some phone calls. May I be assured of privacy”? A glass partition between the front and back seats suddenly and noiselessly appeared, starting its smooth journey upward. “Certainly, sir” was all Kayama heard before it came to rest against the headliner making what appeared to be an airtight seal.

The invitation to N’s headquarters was certainly puzzling. The likes of Chairman Karia did not engage in day to day company business and the death or even murder of one of the dozens of department heads in their organizations would not be something that they would personally deal with in any but the most extraordinary of circumstances. But what could these circumstances be? Certainly the presence of the American consultant was the leading candidate, as any international entanglements would most definitely fall under Karia’s purview. In all likelihood he just wanted to make sure that no loose ends arising from this sad situation were allowed to cross the Pacific, Kayama thought. Still, this could have been communicated via channels; Karia’s minute by minute schedule was surely set weeks in advance and any changes would not be made without a very good reason. Procedure for meeting the likes of Karia required that Kayama’s superiors in the prefectural headquarters and even the national police headquarters in Tokyo would have to be informed, in which case his phone should have been ringing by now. He looked at the screen; nothing but a message from Yamada; he was done with the interviews and driving to Tokyo with the American. A feeling of deep unease settled in the pit of Kayama’s stomach; he was routinely passed over for promotion because of his poor social skills towards even the mid-level prefectural brass. The likes of Karia he had never even glimpsed from a distance, let alone had an eye to eye meeting with. He ruefully stared at the greasy ramen broth stain prominently displayed at the center of his bargain bin polyester tie and considered asking the driver to stop by a store to buy a new one, but the idea of explaining himself to the haughty driver in his crisp uniform felt distinctly unappealing. As was his wont in these situations of indecision, Kayama got busy with clearing his to do list; he called Yamada and asked him to wait for him at the Royal Park Hotel lobby so they could together interview the American. He called the Yokohama, Osaka, and Kanagawa police departments and verified that notifications to all next of kin were proceeding. He further requested the Yokohama guys to see if Mrs. Harumi Makinouchi would be available to see him sometime the following day.

“Perhaps you would consider wearing this, sir”, the partition was down and the driver, now tie-less, was holding out his wide charcoal-black silk tie. Kayama knew when he was beat; “domo sumimasen, arigato gozaimas”, he murmured taking the tie and replacing his own with it. The sedan door flung open and a view of the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace presented itself. Large pagodas were discreetly peeking out above a low slung wall beyond the moat; he was in central Tokyo. The driver walked him into the gleaming lobby of Y’s steel-and-glass world headquarters and handed him off to an astoundingly beautiful young woman wearing something like the first-class air hostess uniforms he saw in Japan Airlines commercials. “I am Tokawa”, she said with a deep bow. “Please follow me”.

The elevator doors were opened and an only-slightly-less-stunning woman, dressed in a slightly simpler uniform was waiting inside. Once in, the door closed and the elevator took off noiselessly and with barely the slightest sense of acceleration. Standing at attention and staring straight ahead with their hands firmly clasped in front, neither woman pushed any buttons or in fact moved a muscle to cause any of these kinetics; Kayama’s stomach sunk deeper.

In a small oak-paneled conference room, two gentlemen were standing. There was no mistaking the Chairman; diminutive and in his mid-sixties, with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, Karia wore a suit that fitted him just as well as the best bespoke tailor shop in Ginza could make it fit. Gold cufflinks peeked from below white on charcoal pinstripes, matching the gold tie clip holding in place a wide, almost formal silver and black striped tie. A tall businessman, clearly of CEO rank stood by his side. As the door was closing behind him, Kayama automatically reached for his business card holder only to be preempted by Karia himself. “Please, Kayama-san, let us dispense with formalities. This is Mr. Ushida, president of our precision equipment division. Please sit down”. The conference room contained a round coffee table with three arm chairs arranged around it; two were close to each other, which made it immediately apparent to Kayama where his place was meant to be. He sat down.

In the few seconds that it took him to lower his frame into the armchair, three museum-quality cups of Japanese stoneware filled with steaming green tea were brought in by an elderly woman who made herself so inconspicuous that the cups seemed to have 3D-printed themselves onto the coffee table. Karia did not waste any time. “Kayama-san”, he began, “I know you are wondering why you are here and I am not going to insult your intelligence trying to beat around the bush. You’ve heard of course of karoshi”? “Death from overwork? Yes, I think so”, Kayama was beginning to see the light. “There are two points I wish to make to you and afterwards you may ask Ushida-san anything you wish to know. First, Prime Minister Abe is very concerned about karoshi; it’s a human tragedy, it hurts Japan’s image abroad, and it is very bad for business. Second, it is our firm belief that Makinouchi-san did not die from karoshi. Now, please ask your questions; Ushida-san will answer honestly and openly”.

Kayama gathered his thoughts. “Why do you think it’s not karoshi”, he finally asked accepting the no nonsense challenge laid down by Karia. Ushida looked him in the eye; “because Makinouchi was slacking off”, he said somewhat combatively. Kayama slumped back in his leather and brass-tack armchair; accusing a General Manager, the head of one of the key departments on one of Japan’s biggest and best-known companies of less than 100% effort was unheard of. Putting on his best imitation of the stern interrogator face, he simply asked “What makes you say that, Ushida-san?” Ushida shot a long sideways glance at Karia whose eyes were closed and who appeared for all the world to be in a state of deep slumber. That impression however was wrong. Karia’s eyes opened to a slit as he leveled his gaze at Kayama. “I am sure that confidentiality is guaranteed here”, he said giving Ushida permission to answer. “You see, Kayama-san, our latest product was not what we would think of as a success. It was late to the market and when it was finally delivered it did not meet the performance metrics that were promised to our customers. As a result we lost market share. And we lost face. Makinouchi-san’s department was responsible for the design of the subsystems that were at the root of these failures and so it fell upon him to travel to our customers and apologize for our shortcomings. I am afraid that this negatively affected his leadership; his team members appear to have lost confidence in his ability to lead them to a successful outcome. Eventually, my deputy in charge of the Kumagaya plant reported to me a significant drop in Makinouchi-san’s motivation level and even hours spent in the office.” Kayama nodded his understanding. “Are there any problems at home? Family? Recent behavior changes? Women? Drinking”? Once more a glance and a nod preceded Ushida’s carefully considered answer. “Makinouchi-san is, as far as I know, happily married, though his wife chose not to move to Kumagaya when we moved the plant from Tokyo to Kumagaya ten years ago. As to women, that is not at all his style. Drinking however was something we have had some concerns about for a while. Nothing beyond the norm though”. “What’s with the American guy”? “Ah, Dr. Jacques-san. Ushida cracked a small smile. Smart guy. A bit of a desperation move for us. Trying to get some MIT know-how to match our competitors. This was Makinouchi’s idea, but my deputy and I fully supported it. I’m afraid it may be too little too late though, and our culture resists these kinds of collaborations for better or for worse”. Karia’s eyes opened a fraction of a millimeter wider and he ever so slightly shifted his slight frame in the cavernous armchair. It was time to leave. Kayama stood up and recited the formula thanking his hosts for a successful meeting. A look of relief came up on both his interlocutors faces. “Please contact Ushida-san at any time”, Karia said with an almost imperceptible bow. The doors opened and Tokawa entered the room. “If you follow me, sir, I have transportation arranged to the destination of your choice”, she said.

The taxi had yet to come to a full stop, when the white-gloved hand of a tall doorman in the hunter-green and gold uniform of the Royal Park hotel was reaching for the passenger-side door handle. “Checking in, sir?” he inquired. “No, someone is waiting for me inside”, Kayama said, offering the driver his fare. The fare however was politely refused; this taxi was on Y’s retainer. The doorman was quietly talking into a small mic mounted on one of his vast lapels. “Please go right in”, he said. A young woman dressed in a very decent quality kimono, with tabi, geta, and even traditional hair ornaments was waiting for him on the other side of the revolving door. Only a small name badge with the hotel logo of a closed tulip set her aside from an affluent young Tokyo housewife having a tea break after visiting the nearby Suitengu Mae temple. Bowing rather deeply from the waist, she said “your party is waiting for you”, pointing to Yamada, who in his blue uniform and police cap looked quite conspicuous in the posh lobby full of Western businessmen and affluent Japanese. “Didn’t take them long to figure me out”, Kayama thought. Yamada was already on intercept course, meeting him just by the elevator bank. “Dr. Jacques is waiting for us at the executive lobby on the 16th floor”, he said. “Please follow me.”

The executive lobby was in the midst of doling out free food and drink to those who needed it least. A buffet station with Western and Japanese delicacies was set out next to a two-tier cart holding multiple brands of liquor and a large ice tub with bottles of Moet & Chandon. Both were already attracting a robust following of Westerners in ironed jeans and cashmere sweaters. Dr. Jacques must have noticed Kayama’s wistful look; the morning’s bowl of ramen was now but a distant memory. “Kayama-san, Yamada-san”, he said pointing to the buffet and nodding at the girl behind the reception desk, “please help yourselves”. The look-nod exchange between the girl behind the desk and the gaijin did not escape Kayama’s notice and he knew that two afternoon buffets would appear on the American’s hotel bill. Gifts from private parties, were of course, strictly prohibited. “Well, there’s always the chance he won’t be charged,” Kayama thought reaching for a plate and nodding his approval to Yamada. “Is there anywhere we may talk in private”, he asked in English. The girl raised her eyes from the computer monitor in front of her and answered, also in English. “Certainly. Dr. Jacques has already asked us”. She rummaged in a desk drawer and produced a heavy brass key with an image of a golden tulip on a green enamel background. “Room 1818”, she said. “Two floors up to your left”.

“So I gather you have heard the news,” Kayama said to Dr. Jacques after they got seated around the small conference table. Panoramic views of a gorgeous Tokyo sunset were making it hard to focus on the matter at hand. “Yes, I am so very sorry. It is devastating news.” “How long have you known Mr. Makinouchi?” “Let’s see, for quite a while now, almost seven years.” “And how well did you know him?” “Quite well I would say. We worked closely together and met several times abroad, in places like California, Holland, and the UK. He visited us in Boston and had dinner at my house.” At this last bit of news Kayama registered a slight surprise. “Really? And has he reciprocated? Invited you to his house, I mean.” “No, never. I wasn’t expecting it.” “Has Makinouchi-san shared with you anything about his life? His family life, for example, or his challenges at work?” “Family life – never. I know nothing about it. Work situation, just some small pieces, on a need to know basis I would say. So we could better support his team.” “And could you? To some degree, I’d like to believe we could, yes.” “But in the big picture?” “In the big picture, I’m afraid we are too small to affect real change.” “Over the years you have known Makinouchi-san and his team, have you noticed any difference, particularly of late, in his or his team’s behavior?” The gaijin did not immediately answer; he seemed to mull some things over in his mind finally coming to a decision. “Well, Makinouchi-san was in my opinion an excellent R&D engineer and engineering manager. But after his promotion to general manager, that GM armband on his cleanroom suit, it seemed to have suffocated him, sap his optimism.” “How so? What made you think that?” “Well, he definitely started drinking more, to the point where his team members got to making fun of his little ‘naps’ during meetings or at dinner. I personally thought this almost crossed the line from humor to malice. In fact when I was here last month I heard that he fell asleep on the stoop of his dorm and nearly froze to death. He was a really nice guy, he didn’t deserve this.” “I understand from Yamada-san’s chat with you previously that you come here about once a month, is that right?” “Yes, four to six weeks on average.” “And from your perspective then, from this pixelated as it were point of view, how would you characterize Makinouchi-san’s drinking problem and team leadership problem? Were they the same, better, worse?” “Unfortunately I would have to characterize these problems as getting worse.” “So yesterday – describe it to me please.” “It was a totally normal day; we started at about 10:00 and finished around 18:30. Then we went to dinner.” “Did you have lunch together?” “No, our normal procedure was for our hosts to have lunch on their own, in the company cafeteria. They were kind enough to bring me a bento lunch to the conference room.” “Anything unusual at the meeting?” “No.” “Where did you go for dinner?” “Do you know the Toraemon Izakaya near Kumagaya station?” “Yes, of course, a pretty nice place. Kurobota pork if I remember correctly. How did you get there?” “The Y guys took the company bus to Kumagaya station; I took a cab.” “You could talk to the cab driver? Give him directions I mean?” “Sure, I can say Toraemon Izakaya kudasai,” the gaijin smiled. “And that is the extent of your Japanese?” “Pretty much. I can order a beer, get train tickets, that’s about it.” “Ok, so at dinner, anything unusual?” “No.” “How much did Makinouchi-san drink? Was he drunk?” “Same as usual, I would say, three big beers, quite a bit of sake. He was nodding off towards the end, but it wasn’t unusual.” “When did you leave?” “So I normally try to wind things down around ten to catch the last Shinkansen to Tokyo at ten past ten, but they were having too much fun, so we only got going around quarter of eleven. I had to take the slow train. It was quite a hassle.” “You went directly to the station? How about the Y guys?” “Well, Makinouchi-san said he would walk to the dorms with Iwagawa-san. They both live there during the week. Kamiyama-san and I went to the station; he lives near Omiya, so on the way to Tokyo. We said our good-byes and left.” “How did Makinouchi-san seem to you when you said your goodbyes? I mean was he steady on his feet? Did he seem distressed?” “No, he did not seem distressed. Perhaps a little wobbly, nothing I haven’t seen before.” “Ok, Jacques-san, anything else you can tell me? Anything unusual at all that happened yesterday?”

Dr. Jacques considered for a few moments; today was certainly not a normal day. Business was clearly going to be impacted in a major way and not for the better. There was no way of telling if ongoing projects with Y would continue. But back to yesterday… “Well, there’s one silly thing”, he finally offered. “When I went to drop off my slippers and put on my shoes, I noticed that my shoes were swapped for a pair of someone else’s shoes. And it wasn’t, shall we say, an advantageous exchange.” “Really? You got someone else’s shoes? Has that ever happened before?” “No, never. It’s a simple system: each shoe locker has a number and in the locker there is a pair of slippers each with the same number printed on it. When you arrive you choose a locker that has slippers in it, put the slippers on and leave your shoes in the locker. When you leave, you just look at your slippers and right away you know the number of your shoe locker. It never failed before.” “Do the shoe lockers have locks? Are they used only by guests or also by Y personnel?” “There are no locks and the lockers in the lobby are only for guests. Y associates have their own lockers in a different area on the first floor.” “So what did you do? Did the shoes fit?” “They didn’t fit and they were of poor quality, but luckily they were too large rather than too small. It was a little bit gross, but I had no choice but to wear them for the rest of the night. This morning I went to a shoe store near Tokyo station on my way to Y and bought new shoes.” “Do you still have the pair that was swapped?” “No, I asked the store clerk to dispose of it.” “Have you mentioned this incident to the Y guys over dinner?” “Yes, we all had a good laugh at it, though to tell the truth I was pissed.” “You are right, Jacques-san, this is not funny. This kind of thing shouldn’t happen in Japan. Please allow us to see what we can do. Lt. Yamada is telling me your flight home is not until Saturday. Please attend to your other business and fly home at the regular time unless you hear from me. I would ask that you do not meet again with N’s associates or talk to them until this matter is resolved. With your permission, we will ask the hotel desk to hold on to your passport until your departure.”

At the Kami-no-Taki izakaya near Omiya station a large stoneware dish was set in an even larger dish hewn from basalt rock containing live coals. Above it, an enormous red leg of an Alaskan king crab was visible through the steam rising from a sea of nabe broth like a shipwreck in the fog. Kayama and Yamada stared at their glasses of oolong cha as frothing steins of beer went sailing by destined for other tables; it was time to sum up the day’s events and plan for tomorrow.

“So, Yamada-san, I’ll have your full written report tomorrow, but for now just the summary, please. Anything interesting from Kamiyama and Iwagawa?” “Well, sir, looks like Makinouchi-san was on a bit of a downward track so to say. Things at work are not going great for them right now, and their bosses are blaming Makinouchi. He’s been traveling all around the world apologizing to customers. ‘GM in charge of apologies’ they call him. He’s been drinking more too. Late for work more often. Distracted. Yesterday more of the same. Fell asleep during the gaijin’s presentation, didn’t contribute much to the discussion. Drank lots during dinner. Iwagawa was likely the last to see him alive, he and she walked to the dorms together. Female dorms are about five minutes before the male ones. Fifteen minute walk total from the restaurant. She said he looked same as always, perhaps a bit worse. Offered to walk him to his dorm, he declined. She is in a bit of shock. Especially since he was known to fall asleep on his stoop sometimes.”

“That’s all?” “Pretty much, just that story we’ve just heard about the gaijin having his super-expensive shoes swapped out for some shit Japanese salesguy shoes.” Kayama grinned. “Yes, about that. Actually, this is something we should address. Even petty theft involving a gaijin here on business, a scientist, that’s not how we want to be. So let’s open a case for the shoes and get one of your guys to review the security camera footage from yesterday from the Y lobby. See if there’s anything there. Now back to Makinouchi. What is your gut telling you? What happened here?” “Pretty simple, sir. The guy was pushed beyond his limits, started drinking more, got depressed, finally just sat down and gave up.” “You’re probably right. But of course we must follow process and if everything falls into place we will close the case out by the end of the week. We should have the autopsy and preliminary toxicology by end of day. Mrs. Makinouchi is on bereavement leave and her son is coming from Osaka at noon, so I will be seeing her at ten tomorrow. I want you to get the hospital where she works to text me her headshot, ok? Also get me Makinouchi’s official employment and health files from Y. Finally, go through the channels and arrange for us to talk to the division president Ushida sometime before the end of the day tomorrow, anywhere he wants. Do this in the morning and join me in the Koban that’s closest to Mrs. Makinouchi’s residence no later than eleven. Wear civvies, bring an unmarked pool car. Got it?” “Got it, sir.” Yamada flipped closed his notebook and picked up his chopsticks. The crab was finally going to be rescued.

Yokohama’s Izumi Ward must have been sufficiently removed from the docks and the shipbuilding plants in the harbor that Americans didn’t bother to bomb it out of existence. That meant that it consisted of a few large streets encompassing inner mazes of tiny alleys hardly passable by the smallest of Japanese subcompacts. The dwellings were mostly prewar twenties and thirties vintage and were as ugly and utilitarian as a country that was investing everything it had in its industrial-military complex could make them. Stucco of indeterminate color best described as greyish yellow covered what must have been cinderblock walls punctuated by small windows. Laundry was hanging out to dry. Women, young and old, wearing aprons over pants and sweaters were sweeping the tiny front “lawns”.

The Japanese civic address system was complicated even in the post-war neighborhoods; here it was all but impossible for a stranger, even a Japanese one, to find his way. Kayama felt rather conspicuous since he was the only male for many blocks, a fact that did not escape the notice of the ladies and small children playing in the street. The day was sunny and crisp; snow-capped mountains shimmering in the glow of the morning sun were just visible poking their heads above a thin layer of smog. He thought he could make out Mt. Fuji, but it could have been nothing but a mirage. Finally a small vertical cedar shingle with Chinese characters “Makinouchi”. The shingle was hanging on a low wall to the right of a small gate beyond which a much more substantial and modern dwelling was visible. Inside, there was even space to park a small vehicle, though it was currently empty. This was definitely the best house in the neighborhood. A small white button was mounted above the shingle. Kayama gave it a brief push and waited.

A diminutive woman in her fifties wearing the Japanese housewife uniform of a full-body apron over cotton pants and blouse, her greying hair tied back with a kerchief was walking down the short path to the gate. “It’s really unbelievable how they changed after the war”, Kayama thought recalling the schoolgirls at the station. For some reason that memory seemed quite ancient now. “I am Mrs. Makinouchi, at your service,” she said. “Inspector Kayama, pleased to meet you.” “Please follow me inside and do me the honor of visiting our humble dwelling”, she said briskly turning on her heels and walking towards the house door. Inside, in the small sunken alcove, guest slippers were already set out. Beyond, the house was in semi-darkness, as all the window shades were drawn. Stepping up in his slippered feet Kayama saw that the first floor of the house was furnished in the Western style, though with a nod to Japanese preferences. In the living room, a low-slung sofa was facing, across a similarly low coffee table, an 80’s vintage color TV set. Kayama’s eyes were just adjusting to the near-darkness; a single open envelope was lying on the coffee table. A small dinette-style table with four chairs was located to his left, next to a closed door, likely leading to the kitchen. A staircase led to the second floor. Mrs. Makinouchi was nowhere to be found. Kayama was immediately struck by the austere quality of his surroundings; nothing here betrayed a successful GM working for one of Japan’s premier companies. The walls had no scrolls or decorations, the furniture was clearly decades old. Considering the size of the house and its location so close to metro Tokyo, something here did not quite make sense.

The kitchen door slid open and Mrs. Makinouchi stepped out with a tray that she proceeded to place on the dinette table. “Please, Inspector-sama,” she said. “Allow me the honor of offering you some tea.” “I am very grateful Makinouchi-san,” Kayama said sitting down and taking his cup of steaming green tea. “I know you must still be in shock, but may I ask you just a few questions?” “Yes, that would be fine,” Mrs. Makinouchi took her glass of tea and kept her eyes down, avoiding making eye contact as was the polite way. “Mrs. Makinouchi, if I may ask, why have you not moved to Kumagaya when Y moved their factory there ten years ago? It must be quite challenging to live so far away from your husband.” “Yes, yes, quite right, but you see, we bought this property when my husband was just a young engineer in the mid-seventies. It had two old buildings on it would you believe it? But we could afford it, with a mortgage of course. We rented one out and lived in the other one, so the mortgage was all taken care of. Then ten years later our property was worth so much we thought ourselves to be invincible, you see?”

She gave a nervous giggle. “And Makinouchi-san was just made ka-cho and Y’s stock was breaking new records every day. So we borrowed more and had the two old buildings demolished to build this one. But then the bubble burst and now this place is not even worth what we owe on it… and the stock is not doing so well either. So you see, selling this place was not an option. Also Fumio, our son, he had juku classes, and his school, you know it’s one of the best in Japan, and his kyudo practice, he was quite good at it, you know. He couldn’t have any of that in Saitama prefecture, especially in a place like Kumagaya.

Mrs. Makinouchi’s eyes were beginning to be quite red; Kayama needed to change course or the morning would be wasted. “I hear that Fumio-san is doing great”, he said. “Mizuno is a fantastic company.” Mrs. Makinouchi gave a small smile seeing right through Kayama’s ruse; “Yes, Fumio-kun is a very good boy. And I am an old fool. Please forgive me. I am so selfish. I was born and raised in Tokyo, you see and leaving the metro area is so hard for me. I guess I am just too set in my ways to move.” “So I understand that Makinouchi-san worked in Kumagaya during the week and came home for the weekends, is that right?” “Well, in the early years when they just started building the new plant, he was still working mostly from their old plant in Tokyo, but in the past five years, that was the idea, yes.” “Idea? But not reality?” Kayama noticed something in Mrs. Makinouchi’s tone that put him quite on guard. “I don’t know if I am allowed to say this as we owe everything to Y,” all of a sudden Mrs. Makinouchi’s dark-as-coal eyes were staring right at him, “but they have killed my husband, I know this! Do you know when he last came home, when I last set eyes on him? It must have been three weekends ago. He was here two days and only got out of bed two or three times. We hardly talked. They have worked him to death, I am sure of it. You know this word karoshi? I always thought it was only for foreigners, you know, sangakujin, if you pardon my expression. Have you heard that Y went to court for one of these cases and lost? Big settlement to the widow. Well I guess they haven’t learned their lesson, have they?”

She was clearly not finished when Kayama bumped into his teacup. Green tea spilled onto the glass tabletop and the polished hardwood floor below. “Oh! Gominasai! Let me take care of that! Are you ok?” Mrs. Makinouchi was quite distraught. “I am so sorry Makinouchi-san, perhaps just a napkin; I am totally fine, please excuse me.” Mrs. Makinouchi was already in the kitchen when Kayama got up and walked over to the coffee table. The envelope had Y’s logo on it, but the return address, curiously, was from Sendai. He barely had the chance to make his way back to the dinette when Mrs. Makinouchi returned with a cloth towel. “Mrs. Makinouchi, I think I have intruded on your hospitality more than enough,” he said. “Please excuse me, I must leave now.” Mrs. Makinouchi gave him a rather long look. “I am sorry to see you leave so soon,” she bowed. “May I ask you a favor?” “Of course, anything at all, Makinouchi-san”. “You know my husband loved umeboshi o-nigiri I make them at home, you see. Never store-bought. It’s my mother’s recipe… Anyway I always gave him some to take with him so he didn’t have to eat the cafeteria food. You know their broth, it’s so salty and he has high blood pressure… so he wasn’t here this weekend and I made some and I cannot possibly eat them, but we can’t let them go to waste now can we? So I thought, perhaps you can take them, of course you are used to much better things, but I thought the guys at the station…”, her voice trailed off. “Of course, Makinouchi-san, it is a most kind gesture and an enormous privilege for us. I’ll be happy to accept them.” “Chotto-mate kudasai”, she said and disappeared in the kitchen only to reappear a brief moment later with a carefully wrapped package, which she handed to him with a deep bow. Quite the magic trick she just pulled off there, getting the package ready so quickly, Kayama thought. Walking down the narrow alley, he briefly looked back; she was there, by her gate bowing low.

Yamada was already waiting for him at the Koban when Kayama walked in; flanked by banks of vending machines of every possible description, this tiny hole-in-the-wall police station was the centerpiece of Japanese community policing. The uniformed guys inside knew everyone, including their “partners” from the other side of the law. Around it the early lunch crowd was beginning to form, housewives shopping at the AM-PM store and the fruit stand, a few local salarymen on their way to the yakitori pub. A large Pachinko parlor occupied its own building, its garishly blinking neon lights easily winning the battle against even the bright mid-morning sun. A row of Japanese-style vertical banners flanked the building, inviting passersby to try their fortunes. Yamada bowed and introduced the rather elderly gentleman in a blue police uniform seated behind the desk; “this is Tateyama, the local guy. He knows everyone here. It’s single person shifts in this location, apparently.” Tateyama stood up and bowed. “We are at your service, Inspector,” he offered somewhat tentatively. “Yamada-san has been just filling me in.” Kayama pulled up on his phone Mrs. Makinouchi’s headshot; “have you seen this lady around here?” he asked looking at Tateyama. Tateyama looked closely. “You know, boss, I think I have. Normally I would have a hard time saying, but this lady, it’s a bit unusual you see, I often see her rather late in the evening when I have that six in the evening to two in the morning shift. Perhaps around ten is when I see her, not many of her type around then.” “Where?” Tateyama nodded towards the Pachinko parlor. Kayama gave Yamada a look; they were not on their home turf here and this could get tricky. Looking at Tateyama’s rather grizzled face, he decided to cut the niceties; flashing him four fingers with the thumb tucked into the palm of his right hand, he asked “who runs that joint?” To his credit, only the slightest look of amazement passed over Tateyama’s face. After all Kayama just broke all rules of political correctness. Not pausing to think it over, he answered the question: “Suzuki. Second generation Korean. Old timer.”

Kayama was at a crossroads; barging in on Suzuki unannounced so far from his home base was certainly not an option. These folks didn’t much appreciate unexpected visits from plainclothes officers whom they didn’t know. Going through channels was also not particularly appetizing. It was entirely common for middle-aged ladies like Mrs. Makinouchi to frequent Pachinko parlors; in fact they made up most of their client base. The unusual time of her visits was likely due to the natural human aversion to spending nights alone; even the company of strangers was better than nothing. All indicators were pointing to Makinouchi’s death being an accident; whether work-related or not, whether karoshi or not, this was between Y and Makinouchi’s widow. His follow-up meeting with Y brass was scheduled for three that same afternoon in Kumagaya and they would hardly make it from Yokohama as is. With the autopsy coming in by the end of the day, it was time to spend the next few days writing up the report and move on. And yet…

Kayama took out his phone, dialed a number, and spoke softly, shielding his mouth with his palm. Hanging up he noticed a traditional-looking, string-bound package on Tateyama’s desk. “Oh, right,” he thought, “I forgot all about this.” “Tateyama-san,” he said, “these are some o-nigiri that Mrs. Makinouchi, the lady in the photo, made. She insisted and naturally I couldn’t refuse. But now, we really cannot be carrying them around. Would you please accept them from us? It’s lunchtime anyway.” With Tateyama nodding his acceptance, Kayama almost imperceptibly reached out to push aside Yamada’s jacket from his right hip; the checkered walnut grip of a .38 service revolver briefly made an appearance. “Let’s go,” Kayama ordered.

The Pachinko parlor was an almost square single-story building fronting to the main thoroughfare. Surrounded on its sides by a car dealership and a day spa complex, it backed to the railroad tracks that bisected every Japanese town. All of the building’s windows seemed to have migrated to the front, leaving the side and back walls entirely windowless. Loudspeakers were blaring J-Pop music in the bright sunshine, but as they turned into the small alley leading to the back of the building they suddenly found themselves in deep shadows. Their eyes finally adjusted, Kayama saw the prerequisite late-model black Mercedes-Benz S600 with tinted windows. A young guy wearing Men in Black suit and shades was leaning on the driver side door smoking a cigarette. Kayama walked right at him, picking up his pace somewhat while signaling Yamada to hang back. The guy looked rather incredulous; he threw away his cigarette and barked: “get lost, grandpa.” Kayama didn’t slow down; “take me to Suzuki-san,” he said. “I have an appointment.” Now both Yamada and the Yakuza were reaching into their jackets, one of them emerging with a mobile phone; “hai!” he said as turned to Kayama, “raise your arms and spread your legs.” Kayama complied. The young Yakuza gave him a rather thorough once over. “Follow me”, he said, turning his back.

A narrow door next to a small counter window was painted the same color as the exterior wall. Beyond the door, a grungy office containing only a small desk, a chair, and a large safe. A man who could have easily been a Sumo wrestler was seated behind the desk wearing a charcoal business suit with wide white striping and a silver tie. Green and red tattoos were just visible beneath the French-cuffed sleeves. “Yokoso!” he said with an amused smile. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” Kayama offered politely, but without a trace of a bow. “I only have a small question for you, in the spirit of cooperation,” Kayama continued. “Of course. Mr. Namba from Omiya is a good friend of mine. He asked me to afford you every courtesy. He and I spent some time together in rather tight quarters a while back,” the smile crossing Suzuki’s lips was not necessarily friendly; Kayama knew he was on borrowed time. He took out his phone and showed Mrs. Makinouchi’s picture to Suzuki. “Do you recognize this lady?” he asked. Suzuki took one glance; “yes,” he said. “She’s a regular.” “How much is she into you?” “Oh, it’s not like that at all,” Suzuki’s smile now had relief written all over it. “She is completely current with all her bills. But you want to know something interesting? She pays them with antique audio components. When she’s short of cash that is. American maker. JBL.” He pointed to the safe; “I have some in there, you wouldn’t believe how much people pay for these speakers and amplifiers. Top end people, too. Her husband restores them. A damn good job he does. Better than new I imagine. The amplifiers are updated with all the latest connectors, touchscreen controls, Bluetooth, believe it or not. Very high-end. I can’t keep them in stock!” This was unexpected, but the atmosphere in the room had certainly improved and Kayama made haste to take advantage; “So have you asked her for more? I mean if there’s such demand…” “Of course, I did. Promised her VIP status, you know, limo rides here and back, complimentary drinks… her husband does this as a hobby, you see. But she said he promised her he would take early retirement soon, just live at home and build these stereos. I bet you he could make more that way than his day job.” “Suzuki-san, I must thank you for your cooperation. You helped me to clear up a small matter of little consequence, but your kindness will not go unnoticed. Please contact me if your business or pleasure take you to Saitama.” Suzuki’s enormous frame rose up; “you are most kind, Kayama-san. Perhaps you are familiar with the Hot Lips karaoke club in Omiya. I used to love M.A.S.H., you know, being Korean and all,” he laughed. “Anyway, just mention my name to the mama-san, Konami; everything will be taken care of.” In the alley, Yamada was waiting. “Let’s go,” Kayama said. “We can talk in the car on the way to Kumagaya.”

“So, Yamada, would you take an early retirement package if one was offered?” Yamada’s hands visibly tightened on the faux-leather wrapped wheel, “You must be joking, sir,” he said with genuine concern. “With the daughter married and the wife just now starting her garden, what would she do all day long with an old piece of trash like me?” “But surely you have some hobby?” Kayama was not done teasing… “Besides drinking, you mean?” Yamada was clearly catching on to the humorous mood of his boss, “well, you know I belong to the Saitama shooting club. When my time comes to retire, I thought I’d be a little more involved; teach the new generation about our Japanese firearms.” This was clearly something Yamada was passionate about. Kayama recalled that Yamada was the prefectural sharpshooting champion for many years now. His phone vibrated; “looks like preliminary autopsy and toxicology are in,’ he said. “Let’s see, cause of death: hypothermia, blood alcohol: 0.2% by volume. Yea, he certainly indulged, that’s more than twice the legal limit, but still… a bit low for passing out. Must have been higher at some point. Drugs… only one. Hypertension, commonly prescribed. That’s all.” Kayama gave a sigh of relief; “looks like our work here is almost done, Yamada-san.”

Hamatani, the HR guy was waiting for them at the lobby. “Our president, Ushida-san, will be joining us shortly”, he said, leading the way to the same conference room where they met only yesterday. On the conference room table, two dossiers were waiting. “This is Mr. Makinouchi’s employee medical history,” he said pointing to one of those. “The other one Ushida-san will discuss with you personally.” Kayama opened the medical file. Psychological evaluation, dated roughly three month prior: signs of stress resulting in loss of motivation, more along the same lines with some dense jargon. Lungs, heart: normal – non-smoker. Blood tests: cholesterol – slightly elevated, liver function slightly compromised, blood pressure normal, weight normal. Recommendations: reduce drinking, healthier diet. Prescription medications: none, daily vitamin recommended. “This is all falling into place,” Kayama thought. “And yet… this guy is likely healthier than most of his peers here, why did he kick the bucket of all people?” Something still didn’t make sense.

Ushida was now seated opposite him at the table; “You had some more questions for me, Inspector-san,” he stated rather than inquired. “Only a few, as a matter of routine before we close this investigation. Ushida-san, I know personnel matters are sensitive, but this is an unusual death investigation and you must level with me. Both you and I know that Y would never tolerate a less than competent, enthusiastic, and hard-working employee in Makinouchi-san’s position. Nevertheless, you have informed me that he was not, at least recently, meeting these standards. Would you like to elaborate?” Ushida opened the dossier still lying closed on the table. “This is Makinouchi-san’s employee file.” He consulted the dossier. “About a month ago Makinouchi-san was offered two choices. One was an early retirement with full benefits. This would have meant receiving almost two thirds of his very generous compensation package until the day of his death; a very generous offer indeed. The other, and you must understand, this was only offered because under company policy a General Manager cannot be forced to retire, the other choice was to relocate to our consumer product division in Sendai, Tohoku Prefecture. Our plant there is just now resuming full operations after extensive tsunami damage and the surrounding countryside is still devastated. This is not a fun posting we were offering him, especially at his age. And while his rank in the company would have remained the same, the compensation packages in the consumer product division are much lower than here in precision equipment. His retirement package would have been affected too, because it is calculated based on the compensation package at the time of retirement. Finally, Sendai is much further from his home in Yokohama.” Ushida paused to take a sip of green tea. “So in short, the Sendai offer was purely pro-forma, nobody expected him to take it. But to our great surprise, Makinouchi did just that. He said that it would be his great privilege to help Y rebuild after the tsunami and that his wife was originally from the Sendai area and still had family there. She supposedly had often asked him to petition for a Sendai posting. So anyway, that was that. This coming Monday was supposed to be his first day in the Sendai plant; I imagine he was planning to break the news to his team and to Dr. Jacques in the next day or so.”

Kayama was listening to Ushida’s exposition with a growing sense of unease. Instead of coming together, things were falling apart. “Ushida-san,” he asked, “would there be any official notification sent to Makinouchi-san from the company? Such things as his new business title, other specifics and particulars?” Ushida glanced at Hamatani, who, getting his cue perked up and recited: “Of course, Inspector-san. Makinouchi-san would have received formal notification from his new employer. You see while Y is one single corporation, it is legally a conglomerate of several companies. So Mr. Makinouchi’s employment with the precision equipment company would be terminated and his employment with the consumer product company initiated. He should have received a series of letters both from me here and from my counterpart in Sendai, Mr. Ogawa.” Kayama’s feeling of unease was rapidly escalating. “Hamatani-san, these communications, would they be in electronic or hardcopy format? And where would they be sent?” “I am afraid that we here at Y are quite old-fashioned, especially for a high technology company,” Hamatani smiled somewhat apologetically. “Our employee communications on important matters are always sent in hard copy to the employee domicile of record.” He glanced at the dossier, “in Makinouchi-san’s case, this would be his home in Izumi Ward, Yokohama City.” “Well,” Kayama thought, “This explains the letter on the coffee table. Mrs. Makinouchi hasn’t been the paragon of truthfulness after all.” “One final question, Hamatani-san, does Y offer life insurance to its managers?” “Yes, or course,” Hamatani answered with pride, “We offer a comprehensive benefits package including life insurance. The payout would be roughly equal to remaining years of pre-retirement compensation plus the value of the retirement package to the average male life expectancy in Japan. That’s eighty-three years, as you may know, among the highest in the world.” “Looks like the old girl has got us all beat,” Kayama thought to himself. “She’s getting away with it so far – that’s for damn sure”. Knowing the answer, he still had to ask: “Hamatani-san, who is the beneficiary of Makinouchi-san’s life insurance policy?” “Please allow me to consult the file, Inspector-san,” Hamatani said rummaging through the file. It looked like he had to go way back, but finally there it was: “Right. It is Mrs. Makinouchi. Harumi. Named beneficiary in 1978, when Makinouchi-san first joined. Never changed since.”

Kayama stood up; “Well, Ushida-san, Hamatani-san, I think we have all we need here” he was going to thank them for their patience when Yamada uncharacteristically interrupted. “Kayama-san, if you remember, you asked me to have one of my guys review the lobby CC camera footage. For the shoe locker case, the gaijin’s stolen shoes.” A puzzled look crossed both Hamatani’s and Ushida’s faces. Kayama however was livid. Perhaps early retirement was not such a bad option for Yamada; he seems to be losing his marbles. What possible importance could the geijin’s shoes have now in the presence of the company president? “Yamada-san, surely, this matter of possible petty theft can wait?” he offered in a remote tone of voice. “Yes, boss, but you see, Makinouchi-san is in that video.” Yamada was speaking quickly now, making his case. “He is there, you see, just before lunchtime, coming down the stairs and meeting up with a lady. She gave him a package, you see, and I was just now reviewing the clip on my phone and the package, sir, it is exactly like the package we just gave Tateyama-san.”

Suddenly, it all fell into place. Kayama’s expression froze and he switched to a formal version of the Japanese language. “Ushida-san, I am afraid we have an emergency on our hands and I ask that you follow my orders. Is there something like an employee refrigerator where Makinouchi may have kept his personal food items?” Ushida once again looked at Hamatani, who said “Yes, there is a refrigerator near the cafeteria that is used by management-level employees. Makinouchi would have used it to store any personal food items.” Kayama and Yamada exchanged glances. “Yamada, call Tateyama’s Koban. Hamatani-san, go to the cafeteria and personally supervise that the refrigerator in question is sealed so it cannot be opened without permission. Do it now. Then wait for my instructions.”

Kayama and Yamada were running to their car, Yamada still holding the phone to his ear. Yamada slid behind the wheel and looked at Kayama. His face, normally so full of optimism suddenly seemed very weary. He shook his head – no answer. “Get out, switch with me,” Kayama said. He slammed the emergency lights on top of the small Toyota, flipping the sirens on with his right hand while his left was throwing the stick shifter into first gear. “Get an ambulance to the Koban,” he said, and get the Yokohama police to surround her house. But have them keep out of sight,” Kayama commanded.

“When did you know, boss?” Yamada asked. “Just now. It was the medical file. Blood pressure normal it said. No heart disease. No prescription medication on file. But Captopril found in blood. Beta blocker prescribed for hypertension. You know who takes it? I do. And you know what it says right on the pillbox? Do not take with alcohol as it may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure.” Yamada shook his head. “It was the o-nigiri. The loving wife delivering him lunch all the way from Yokohama. But Tateyama? Surely he hasn’t had a chance to drink? His shift is not over till six. There may yet be hope…” Kayama shook his head; “I suspect these were different. Maybe she saw me looking at that letter from Sendai on her coffee table. Didn’t want to take a chance. Probably had something right at home, being a nurse and all.” Yamada was listening to his phone; “I wish for once you were wrong, boss,” was all he said.

Kayama’s Yokohama counterpart met them at the entrance to the street and the two men talked. “Let me go,” Kayama said. “I will just ask her to come down to the station, tell her there are some small details to be sorted out. No need to make a scene with the son there and all.” The early evening streets were rather empty; dinners were being cooked and kids were cramming for exams. Everything was at peace and should remain so; no need to make a fuss. Kayama signaled to Yamada to check the back of the house and pressed the small white button. After a few seconds a young man wearing jeans and a T-shirt came out, looking rather distraught. Kayama bowed, rather more deeply than his station in life relative to that of the young man required. “Makinouchi Fumio-san? Please accept our deepest condolences with the passing of your father. I am Inspector Kayama of the Saitama Prefectural Police. May I come inside? I already spoke to your mother earlier today, but I still need to clarify some final points with her regarding your father’s unfortunate accident.” Fumio looked at him with little understanding; finally he just turned and walked towards the house, gesturing for him to follow.

Entering the shoe-changing vestibule, he was greeted by the rather incongruous sight of a small middle-aged Japanese housewife holding a Type 38 Arisaka rifle. The rifle was held at her hip and pointed directly at Kayama. Fumio was standing halfway between her and Kayama, though slightly to the side and out of the line of fire. “You know, Kayama-san,” Mrs. Makinouchi’s demeanor was completely calm and her tone could only be described as conversational. “This rifle belonged to my grandfather. It was with him when he fought the Koreans, and then the Chinese, and finally the Russians when they were chasing us out of China. And how he wanted to fight the Americans with it. I remember him telling me. He worshipped the Emperor, but could never forgive him for the surrender. Not with the entire Japanese army still intact and under arms. So when they were collecting all the weapons he hid this old rifle and some ammunition. A small act of rebellion I imagine. He taught me to clean it and take care of it. We would hide it in the old van and take it way up in the mountains. Three rounds each at a hundred paces, just to keep ready. He hoped to his dying day that they would call him to action. And he would have gone. With this five-shot relic.” Her expression changed slightly. “Though relic or not, I don’t need five rounds at this distance. One will do just fine. And unlike Hirohito-tenno I have no intention of surrendering.” She pulled back, rotated, and released the safety catch at the back of the receiver and slid her forefinger inside the trigger guard. “Sayonara, Kayama-san,” she said as a gunshot rang out. To his great disappointment Kayama flinched; his eyes closed as if on their own, just for a brief moment. When he opened them Harumi Makinouchi was lying on the floor, a bloodstain blossoming just under her left breast. Twenty paces back, behind the low-slung wall Yamada was holstering his revolver.

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