SAMURAIS NEVER SLEEP AT NIGHT
(They eat, drink, and…)
Deadly Music-Chapter 2: Tuesday, January 13th, 2017
-“Gerard, wake up!”
-“What time is it?”
-“I’m not leaving before ten. Can’t I stay in bed for a while more?”
-“Who’s going to clean the place, eh? How can I do it with that floppy body of yours lying around?”
Gerard emerged from the futon. The hangover assailed him without any warning. He should have known better than go straight to bed without drinking plenty of water the night before. How many times had he advised his drinking buddies to do so? Why couldn’t he do it himself? He would need plenty of coffee if he hoped to begin work with a clear head.
He absently switched on the TV and looked at the BBC News on Sky Cable. The Euro was strengthening beyond comprehension. The British Pound, on the other hand, was exploring new depths because of the coming Brexit that was proving day by day more difficult to execute. All the while the yen was keeping to very advantageous levels for foreign tourists and Japanese exporters. He might as well as say good-bye to his Spring Holidays abroad. A student of his had explained that the Japanese government was in fact encouraging, if not helping, the fall of their currency in order to pay back government bonds amounting to 700 trillion yen (a little more than 5 trillion US dollars). Try to figure that out!
-“Instead of watching that useless news on TV, you’d better take a look at the morning newspaper!” his partner shouted from the kitchen.
-“Why should I? That newspaper is crap!”
-“Well, you might find some interesting scoop on your university!”
-“Are you joking? Nothing happens in that bloody college!”
-“Don’t complain later that I hadn’t told you!”
Atsumi had this particular habit to read the morning newspaper in bed before getting up to prepare food and tackle the morning chores. That granted an extra half hour of sleep to her partner. He knew she had already read all the rubbish that stood for news in their city. There was only one local broadsheet in the whole prefecture as the competition had been ruthlessly cut down by the local TV channel which owned it. Publishing no less than 700,000 copies twice a day for a total population of around four million afforded a bit of clout. If Atsumi had found anything about his college, he had better read it.
Nothing was to be found on the front page. So he turned directly the penultimate one where local news were crowded into whatever space was left. Talk about a local newspaper!
True enough, he found an article at the very top that greatly concerned him.
“Young Professor Commits Suicide”
“Mr. Shinji Fukuo, aged 39, Professor of Sociology and Psychology at Murota University, Furamoto City, Shizuoka Prefecture, was found dead in his car at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, January 16th, 2017 inside a forest in the vicinity of Katsumata Village in the northern part of Shizuoka City not far from his home. The police, alerted by a local farmer resident, found the Professor already dead inside his car. The engine was still on, and a hose fixed to the exhaust pipe relayed the fumes inside the vehicle. An empty bottle of whisky was discovered on the driver’s lap. Furthermore, an autopsy showed that the deceased had consumed a large amount of alcohol from the same bottle. The police were treating the case as suicide and were taking no further action.
Mr. Shinji Fukuo’s body was cremated in the evening and his ashes returned to his home in Shizuoka City where his family will hold a wake, a day late in view of the delay caused by the discovery and the consequent investigation. He leaves a widow, Megumi, aged 32, and two sons, Tooru, aged 9, and Katsuki, aged 4.”
Gerard sat back aghast at the news.
Shinji committed suicide!
How could that be possible?
The man was one of the most active and happy-go-lucky Japanese men he had ever met. He thought he had known his friend well, but now he was suddenly faced with the fact he had gone through an act totally unexpected on his part. Shinji had a family he loved dearly and took great care of, certainly more than most Japanese husbands who tended to become just another child to add to their wives’ charges. Shinji had always struck him with his uncanny knack to adopt the qualities of both Japanese and Westerners. Often Gerard had visited Shinji’s home. His wife was uncharacteristically warm and open. His children were extremely well-behaved and attentive. What the hell had happened to make Shinji fall so low? Suicide was still fairly common in Japan, and even believed honorable in some extreme cases.
But it did not fit.
The more he thought about it, the less he could find it plausible that his friend had been capable of killing himself.
He read the article again and again.
Something seemed wrong.
-“When are you going to eat your breakfast?” nagged Atsumi.
But for once the cold empty look on her partner’s face made her regret her words. She lowered her visage in embarrassment.
Gerard’s eyes moved back to the newspaper.
He suddenly threw it across the room in a rage, stood up and walked to the bay window to plant himself, his eyes fixed on the view outside.
He was furiously thinking.
Something did not fit.
A tiny thing.
He could not put his finger on it.
His fists clenched inside his pants, he slowly turned around to stare at the room to help him concentrate.
His eyes wandered along the walls lined with the TV set, the sofa, the two cupboards, one for the drinks, glasses and bottles, the other for plates, cups and whatever, the table, the door, the kitchen, the computer, the door opening on the tatami room…
His eyes stopped at the bookshelves next to the tatami room door. He turned back past the computer, the kitchen door, the table, the kitchenware cupboard to stop at the bottles and the drinking glasses.
His eyes scanned the labels.
Cassis, Pernod, Glenfiddich Whisky, Negrita Rhum, Beefeater Gin, Drambuie, Sandeman Port,…
The last time Shinji had paid a visit to his apartment he had proposed him a dollop of the stuff. His friend, in his typically straight fashion, had quickly replied he could not stomach the spirit and would not mind a glass of Port instead. He had later explained that he had got so sick with whisky once in his college days that he could not even bear the mere smell of it.
If you wanted to forget about everything and commit suicide, the natural way would be to drink yourself silly with stuff you would prefer above all, not something that made you puke just to contemplate.
Moreover, he doubted that either Shinji could prepare his own demise after getting drunk, or would have had enough time to drink himself senseless before suffocating to death. He could have fixed one end of the hose to the exhaust pipe and pushed the other end inside the car through the window. But even so, he would have had to seal the same window tight with tape or something like it to be effective. They did not mention that detail in the paper. He found its absence excessively strange in the light that such grisly details were the bread and butter of the local reporters starved of juicy scoops in this quiet area of Japan. And why nothing was mentioned about fingerprints and other usual police investigation in particular?
On the other hand, the police had already closed the case, and judging from the succinct article, journalists had not reached the scene in time or been given much information. The whole affair seemed to have been wrapped up in a hurry.
It just stank.
A notion suddenly came to him.
He turned to his partner:
-“Atsumi, what is the normal procedure for funerals?”
-“Why do you ask?” replied his surprised companion.
-“Not now! Please tell me! I need to check something very important!” he pleaded.
Gerard was definitely not his usual self, she thought. She had better humor him for once. She started:
-“First, we hold “o-tsuya”, which means “wake” on the night of the death. We arrange the body so as to face north. An “o-boosan”, that is a priest, will pray in front of the body. The family of the deceased will sit behind the priest all night while we burn candles and perfume or incense in pots. On the second night, the body is carried to the temple, usually at around 10:00 a.m. All the family will follow the car or hearse carrying the coffin inside a bus. The body will be cremated in the “kasooba”, or incinerator. Seven days later, the family of the deceased will meet again for the “sho-nano-ka”, that is the seventh day after the departure of the dead. Finally, we hold another ceremony forty-nine days after the demise of the family member. Forty-nine days is supposed to bring luck as it is seven multiplied by seven, the luckiest number. We call that ceremony “shiju-ku-nichi-no-hooyoo”.
-“Thanks. Now, why was Shinji cremated on the very day of his death? Is it possible?”
-“Only at his family’s request, or in the absence of any relatives, or if the body cannot be preserved safely for a whole day.”
-“I see. Thanks again.” Answered Gerard who resumed his thoughts.
They were in mid-winter, so the body preservation was not the cause. Why would Shinji’s family have wanted him cremated so soon? To spare his children’s feelings? He doubted it.
He reached a decision.
Taking his mobile phone from the stand where he left it during the night, he began punching numbers and calling everyone he had to meet that day to cancel or postpone classes and appointments, explaining he had to attend a funeral of a friend.
-“Are you going to attend the service?” Atsumi asked.
-“Haven’t you heard me saying so?” Gerard snapped back. He relented when he saw Atsumi’s face. He kissed her on her forehead.
-“Sorry, I’m very upset by Shinji’s death. I really loved him as a friend.”
His partner could not help bringing up an old bone of contention:
-“If you showed at least a tenth of that kind of affection to me, we would be married, wouldn’t we?”
She belatedly realized that she had chosen the worst possible timing for her perennial demand when a sullen look was the only answer she could extract from him.
Gerard just got dressed and went out without bothering closing the door behind him.
He heard crockery crash in the kitchen on his way downstairs.
Katsumata Village was too far up the Abe River for him to hope to reach it on time by bicycle, or even by bus, as only a few ran up there, the reason why Shinji commuted to Murota University in his own car. Gerard just hailed a taxi passing by along the main road running near his apartment house. Taxis in Japan are constantly on the move and one doesn’t have to call or reserve a cab unless living quite far from the center of towns.
It still took him a good half hour to reach Shinji’s home.
He discovered the house already adorned with black and white curtains used at funerals all over Japan. The only difference was that they were a lot bigger than the ones he had ever seen in Japan. They must have cost quite a bit to rent. Considering the haste the funerals were held he very much doubted that Shinji’s family had had the time and money to organize the whole ceremony. The place was already pretty crowded with mourners and sympathizers dressed in black with black ties for the men (the same black suits could be used at weddings with a white tie). Women wore necklaces but as little makeup as possible. Every visitor left an envelope with cash inside according to their standing or relation on a small desk erected beside the main entrance with a couple of friends receiving the donations in the name of Shinji’s family with the proper bows and salutations before tallying them later. Gerard took his place in the queue until he could offer his own envelope he had prepared in a hurry buying the special stationery on his way, filling it with money (used, never new banknotes on a funeral) and writing his name on the inside envelope (such money is put inside two envelopes to avoid indiscreet eyes). He then proceeded past the entrance, took his shoes off and entered the main room used for the funeral service where Megumi and her sons were kneeling in front of a picture of Shinji surrounded with white chrysanthemums. Each visitor came to the small altar erected in front of Shinji’s picture to drop some incense into a small burner, bow and offer a silent prayer before paying their respect to the family of the deceased. Gerard who was an agnostic nonetheless feigned to do the same for the sake of Shinji’s family. As he was to step toward Megumi and her sons he noticed the entrance of Dean Sawaguchi and Vice Dean Sagi inside the room. Those two had been quick to come for people who were always claiming for all to hear that they had no time of theirs (except meeting in the toilets…) to spare.
He finally reached Megumi. She and her sons bowed markedly lower and longer to him. He had often visited their home in the past and was especially popular with the kids. As Megumi raised up he slid on his knees forward enough to bring his mouth near her ear.
“Megumi San, may I meet you in private after the service is finished? I will stay outside until you can either call me back inside or join me outside.”
Megumi nodded: “Yes, I will. I actually want to talk with you, too!”
The Frenchman didn’t tarry. After a last bow he stood up and walked toward the entrance, put on his shoes back and exited to stand in the front garden away from the crowd. It was cold indeed but he didn’t feel like talking to people whom he mainly did not know at all.
He had not stayed there long when he heard the Murota Dean and Vice-dean approaching. He made a show to ignore them. They actually did the same but on the other hand they probably didn’t know him as they had never met personally. The two were notorious among teachers for not socializing with their employees unless they had something to ask them such as participating to political support rallies or meetings. Murota University being a private one was not prevented by the law to openly root for candidates or established politicians like most private universities do in Japan. The only difference is that they were particularly insistent on their demands on teachers then. Gerard being only a visiting lecturer and a foreigner to boot did not have to attend such events, and he certainly was not ready to do so, although some other foreign lecturers actually did to curry favors from the establishment. Needless to say the Frenchman had very little time for such expats. The two did not seem to be wary of his presence assuming that a foreigner would not bother to listen or even understand their conversation. Gerard was certainly happy to entertain that notion. Let’s keep an ear open and see what those conniving twerps are up to, he thought to himself. Being a part-time translator and interpreter he had no difficulty understanding them in spite of the low voiced conversation.
The Dean seemed a bit agitated:
“Sagi, we have to leave as soon as possible! You know that we have to be there when the ordered pianos arrive at the university!”
“I know, I know, Dean! But they will not reach us before at least two more days!”
“Yes, but what about the agents we are supposed to meet for confirmation of our deal?”
The Vice-Dean tried to hush down his companion:
“Dean, please! Not here! We can talk about it later on our way back!”
“Alright, alright! But let’s get out of here! I don’t want to stay any longer with the relatives of that damn Professor!”
The Vice-Dean was ab0ut to reply when new arrivals in the garden forced him to clap up. The two hurriedly walked to another spot before Gerard could react.
Deal? Damn Professor? What the heck was it all about? He thought. But there was little he could do to hear more as the two men were too far away and in the company of more mourners. There was nothing else to do but to wait patiently for the calling or coming of Megumi.
It actually took longer than he expected as she had waited until the very end of the ceremony before he saw her slowly walking to the spot where he was standing behind a small copse of bamboo. She almost fell into his arms. She cried silently against his shoulder for a long time, throwing out all pretense of stoicism with a true friend. For all the peace of the land and probably because of it, real friendship rarely exists in Japan. Such a sentiment probably materializes within schoolboys and girls, but it is tempered by notions of seniority when a single year in difference meant an unfordable gap in relations. Many Japanese try to revive their youth ties by holding yearly “sobetsukai/alumni parties”, but with time these more than often develop into meaningless parties for the sake of appearances.
Megumi finally recollected herself.
“I have something for you.” She said handing over a small square envelope to Gerard.
The latter asked:
“What is it?”
Megumi’s eyes went moist again as she explained:
“Shinji gave it to me last Friday evening, saying to keep it safe with express orders not to open it or mention it to anyone. He added to give it to you at once if something happened to him. I asked him what it was all about of a sudden and how anything could happen to him. He got angry and locked himself in his study all night. We didn’t talk to each other for the whole weekend and he left early to work on Monday morning. Something is very wrong and everything is just going too fast! Gerard, what do you know? I just can’t believe that Shinji committed suicide! That is just not like him!”
Gerard took firmly her by the shoulders.
“Megumi, calm down and listen to me carefully if you want me to help you! Everything is going fast because someone or some people want it so! The only way to find out is to think carefully about it all! I understand I’m asking you a lot but will you take a hold on yourself and answer my questions?”
He looked at her intently. Her shoulders finally sagged and she weakly nodded.
I need to hurry even if it hurts her, pondered the Frenchman, but he had no choice.
“First of all can you relate what happened yesterday? Do it slowly and give me as many details as possible even if they seem insignificant!”
Shinji’s wife took his arm and pulled him along towards a bench under a still bare cherry tree.
They sat there and Megumi commenced:
“The police called at our house at about eleven in the morning. They came with the Shizuoka Police Superintendant and the Murota University Vice-Dean.”
Did that mean that the Superintendant and the Vice-Dean were at Megumi’s home within only half an hour of his discovery according to the newspaper? He refrained from commenting and waited.
“The two of them explained to me that Shinji had been found dead inside his car and how he had committed suicide. The Vice-Dean then said that the University would take care of the funerals immediately at their expense.”
He had to cut in then:
“But what about the wake? Why the hurry? And I’m sorry to say, a Superintendant does not come in person for such a case!”
Megumi was beyond pain and continued relating in a mournful voice:
“That is what I thought too, but the Vice-Dean explained to me that one of their noted lecturers committing suicide was not good for the University’s reputation whatever the reasons or circumstances and that the quicker they took care of all proceedings, the better for all. I’m sorry, but with two kids crying over my shoulders I was not in the state to think normally!”
Gerard took her in his arms and held her for a long time while she sobbed again.
All the while he thought furiously. Things were starting to unravel little by little. But why the hell were the Superintendant and the Vice-Dean on the scene and then back to Megumi’s home so fast? What kind of can of worms had Shinji inadvertently opened? What was involved and how many people had their fingers stirring the mud?
Megumi finally turned quiet. She would not say any more.
Holding her with stretched arms and looking firmly into her eyes he told her in a quiet and determined voice:
“Megumi, I promise you to find out what really happened whatever the costs. You are the wife of a dear friend and yourself a true friend of mine. Can you wait and look after your kids all the while? They will need all your comfort. Keep them and yourself as busy as possible!”
He was about to tell her that he would keep in constant contact but belatedly realized that it would not be a clever idea after all if so many powers-that-be were implicated. He would have to work on his own and his own only. There was still that envelope he would have to open but he was not ready to do it in front of his departed friend’s wife.
Quite a few taxis had been waiting in front of Megumi’s house, their drivers knowing well that many mourners would need them for the long trip back to the center of Shizuoka City, a town that spread to up to 3,000 meter altitude in the Japan Southern Alps. Gerard had no problem boarding one when he mentioned he was going all the way to the other side of the city.
Although no one could fault him for stinginess he ruminated that this sad affair was starting to cost him a fair amount of money, one more reason to make some people pay!
Once settled at the back of the cab he took out the plain brown paper envelope out of his shoulder bag and opened it.
It contained a CD inside its transparent plastic case. A sticker had been glued on the top lid. It read: “Song Title: Two names sharing history”.
Strange. The CD obviously contained dodgy information for his eyes only and that certainly was not a song!
Knowing that Shinji was an IT buff it could only be a message in the guise of a riddle. If the disc contained dangerous revelation it must have been locked with a password. Although Gerard was not that keen on computer technology and the like although he made a daily use of them he nonetheless had on many occasions indulged his friend on technical knowhow as he still had to live up to the demands of the times lest he find himself on the fringes of an increasingly virtual society.
He remembered a conversation on passwords and ID’s in particular. Shinji had stressed that such passwords ought to be as long as possible and contain both letters and numbers. That “song title” could only be a hint at such a password.
But “two names sharing history”?
Shinji had also mentioned that it was too dicey to write down or vocally formulate such information and consequently remembering or suggesting under the form of a riddle was the safest way.
Fine, now he had a CD containing momentous revelations for his eyes only and he had a riddle to solve before he could open it with the right password!
Two names? Sharing? History?
“Sharing” would very much mean a space for digits between two sets of letters.
As for “Two names”, since the CD was for his sole attention he could surmise it pointed to his own names, and that probably with a capital letter to start each and make the password more difficult to discover.
But “History” as a hint for numbers? And how many numbers?
Shinji had also explained that riddles should follow a reasonably logic pattern to be comprehended.
Letters plus numbers plus letters…
“Gerard” was formed of six letters…, “Perrier”…, seven letters.
Six and a half between the letters was not an option.
Six, seven, eight was a natural sequence, which meant eight numbers between the two names.
“History”? If he had eight numbers to think of, it could very well mean a date with two numbers for the day, two numbers for the month and four more for the year.
The more he thought about it, the more logical it appeared to him.
But two names sharing history in the shape of a date?
He found himself hopelessly hitting a wall.
He inserted the CD case inside the brown paper envelope and put the lot back into his shoulder back before settling himself for a doze. He would try to elucidate the riddle later back in his small office away from any interference.
He finally reached the small building in downtown Shizuoka City where his classroom lay on the second floor.
He prepared himself a pot of green tea. This was a luxury he never had to pay for as Shizuoka Prefecture produces no less than 45% of all green tea grown in Japan. His students and local farmers he interviewed from time to time for articles he uploaded in his blogs or sold to various hard paper or internet magazines. Actually, journalism had become a more and more lucrative occupation even if it was still as a freelance writer, what with the Olympics around the corner and Shizuoka Prefecture becoming an increasingly recognized and visited gastronomic region he knew a new career in the offing especially in a country where retirement eas not much of an option when you were bound to finish your life either single or without children to support you.
He switched his computer on and inserted the disc.
As foreseen and entry password was requested.
He sat back to ponder.
Now, what could be the historical date whom numbers he could include in the damn password?
Sipping his green tea his eyes fell on a small pile of French history magazines he was fond of read whenever he had some spare time. He kept plenty of books and magazines for regular French and English reading as all these computers, tablets and smart phones and what else and a propensity to turn you into a lazy mental and intellectual wreck. These few past years he had grown amazed at the grammatical horrors found on the internet and even in hard paper magazines.
French history? That was one thing he could say he shared every day… And what is the most important date in French history? … The French Revolution!
July 14th, 1789!
And the digits would be 07, 14, 1789! It made sense, but in what order?
He first typed, Gerard07141789Perrier… nope!
Fine, next …17890714… wrong, again!
Fine, let’s write it the French order… 14071789…
It had been comparatively easy in the end, but he had benefitted from the enormous advantage of intimately knowing Shinji.
His elation was cut short by the words appearing on the screen:
-Dear Gerard! Greetings!
Since you can read this it means you have successfully opened this CD, but it also signifies that I have met mu demise. I know you are an agnostic but I sincerely hope I can observe you now from whatever world I have ended up into.
Despite our differences in age, education and upbringing we have shared a rare friendship I am greatly honored to thank you for. That only would have made my destiny worth living although my dear wife and sons contributed to make my life as perfect as could be.
That was until Ryotaro Sawaguchi, the Dean of Murota University, where we both work, sent me an e-mail by mistake. It just shows the level of intelligence of the imbecile. Because it was part of a full exchange he took no care to erase or end, I ended up with the whole garbage.
Note that the Dean at least writes and reads English in spite of his many faults.
Here is a full copy of their messages:
-From Ryotaro Sawaguchi to Sergei Illyanov
June 6th, 2016, 10:36
Dear Sergei! Greetings1
It was a great pleasure to meet you the other day in Tokyo and learn that you could help me solve some problems of mine in the most efficient and discreet manner. Your 20% offer in the deal is indeed generous and it will be a pleasure to bring it to fruition!
Looking forward to reading you soon!
-From Sergei Illyanov to Ryotaro sawaguchi
June 21st, 2016, 08:37
Dear Ryotaro! Good day to you!
I have secured the purchase at a ridiculously low price of 10 grand pianos from the Conservatoire of Music of Vladivostok, which was in great need of cash. 8 of them are made by the Estonia Piano Fabric, one is a Bösendorfer, anf the last one, for yor exclusive use, is a Steinway & Sons. Make sure the last one stays inside your own office as a personal present from our company!
We still have to secure the other merchandise. I will contact you next only when we can send it with pianos.
-From Sergei Illyanov to Ryotaro Sawaguchi
November 28th, 2016, 17:45
Dear Ryotaro! Good day to you!
We have finally secured the merchandise. It will be included with the Steinway & Sons grand piano. The pianos will reach Niigata harbor by January 9th. We could not find a reliable ship to reach your country at an earlier date. Inform your friend to facilitate the customs procedures in Niigata. If everything goes smoothly, and I hope so for all of us, the pianos should Murota University on Saturday, January 21st as arranged with the truck company working for us.
Please confirm the safe receipt of this message as soon as possible!
-From Ryotaro Sawaguchi to Sergei Illyanov
Movember 30th, 2016, 18:10
Greetings and my heartfelt thanks!
I have personally briefed my friend at the Shizuoka Police Department who assured me again he has the necessary clout to speed up the customs procedures with the least hasssles.
-From Sergei Illyanov to Ryotaro Sawaguchi
December 21st, 2016, 09:30
I herein confirm that all the pianos and merchandise will soon leave Vladivostok aboard a ship named “Vladivostok XVII” owned by the “Vladivostok Shipping Lanes Company Limited”. Transmit these details to your police friend immediately to avoid any hassles. The truck Company in charge of transporting the lot to your University is called “Motose Truck Company Limited” and is based in Setagaya-Ku in Tokyo. I will send you a detailed proforma invoice sheet tomorrow.
Until then, best regards,
-From Ryotaro Sawaguchi to Sergei Illyanov
December 21st, 2016, 11:21
Once again a big thanks for your incredible help and expertise. I am waiting for your proforma invoice sheet and will provide a copy to my police friend for his sole attention.
Looking forward to meeting you again in January after the 21st.
Yours truly as ever,
I was sent the last message by mistake along with the preceding exchange. That idiot sent it to Illyanov with my name clearly visible instead of using a bcc listing1
No message has reached since then, and I greatly suspect they have notices m name on the last e-mail. I can imagine what kind pf “merchandise” is involved and that it made many people very unhappy to realize that someone has put his hands on such “confidential” information!
I have conducted some investigation of my own and found that Sergei Illyanov does own and run an import-export company in Setagaya-Ku, Tokyo. His company is named “Far East Trade Co., Ltd” and also have a branch office in Niigata Harbor. Accordingly his import-export seems to be legal, at least on the surface.
Although Iwata and Kawai Companies are famous piano manufacturers in Japan and all over the World many music universities and conservatoires in Japan do import top-class pianos from schools in Russia and former USSR States, which are no longer generously subsidized by their governments.
I also found out that no one less than Shizuoka Police Department Superintendent Ryuuji Kaataoka has visited Murota University at least twice in the last three months.
Beginning of January there were quite a few attempts to hack my compute. Fortunately I’m too good at firewalling and I’m positive that no one could invade my files unnoticed. But it also proved that I was finding myself in increasingly hot waters.
I then decided to write this CD for your sole attention before it was too late.
You are the only individual holding all this information, although still scant in my own view.
I don’t know if and how you can do it, but I have always known you for the rascal you are and I’m confident you will somehow find a way to avenge me and my family.
Even if you fail, be assured that I will always be truly thankful for your friendship from wherever my soul rests!
A dumbfounded Gerard read the whole message twice again before the information completely sank in.
He held his hand in both hands.
He felt cold sweat running down his back.
He understood only too clearly what was happening.
The ploy was simple but clever as the Japanese had unfathomable respect and love for classical music. Such valued grand pianos would have properly come through the Niigata Harbor Customs without much interference anyway as trade between Vladivostok and that very part of Japan was absolutely enormous because of the comparatively short distance involved for transport. Moreover, the pianos came from such a highly-regarded establishment as the Music Conservatoire of Vladivostok that the Niigata customs officers would even help facilitate the whole operation.
But now, why would Ryotaro Sawaguchi need money?
Because it could only be a matter of matter, and a big amount at that if it involved the “merchandise” he was thinking of. After all Russia, that is Siberia to be more precise, shared a frontier with Uzbekistan that everyone knew to funnel all the heroin made in Afghanistan into the rest pf the World.
And why would he include the Shizuoka Police Department Superintendent in hos nefarious dealings?
Another thing, the Vice-Dean was also in it up to his elbows!
He suddenly had enough for the day.
He ejected the CD and turned off his computer.
He very much doubted anyone would suspect his involvement or know how to open this damn disc he just left among other CD’s inside the drawer of his desk after having carefully peeled off the sticker from the plastic case and written “My Chanson (My song)” with a filter pen on the other side of the disc.
It was already getting dark outside and he had no lectures or appointments to worry about for the rest of the day.
He decided to walk up to Aoba Park Street to get some welcome exercise and think along the way to another “secret lair” of his.
Aoba Park Street is known all over Japan as the location of Aoba Oden Alley” (“Aoba Oden Kai” in Japanese). Oden, or Japanese pot-au-feu, is a comfort food enjoyed all along the Archipelago, but the variety served in Shizuoka Prefecture was very peculiar and attracted constant attention from the media and gastronomic critics in general. Until just after the Second World War oden food stands were erected in open air along the middle pedestrian space running through the wide Aoba Park Street. But in the early 1950’s the Shizuoka City declared them illegal for hygiene reasons. The merchant who had provided all these food stands with their charcoal came up with the idea of inviting their owners to move to a piece of land he owned just by the said street. He took on himself to build an alley of twenty-two shops under two parallel roofs and equipped with shared public toilets at its closed end, all according to the City hygiene laws. The proposal proved to be so popular that more than sixty years later twenty-one shops (one had been transformed into a tool and cleaning equipment shed) were still very much in business although most owners were already into the third generation.
A few years ago, Gerard who needed a practical venue of his own for quick food and drink at any time of the evening, especially in between various assignments, decided to take a closer look at the ally to choose a shop of his own liking. That day it was pissing outside but he nonetheless walked three times past all twenty0one shops before opting for a place called “Kasuri”. The noren/entrance curtain was longer and wider than in all other joints and hid completely the scene inside whereas most other shops allowed a clear view under folded-up curtains. The other reason of his choice was that it seemed the place was not only patronized by men but by a seemingly equal number of ladies who had rushed inside ahead of him in spite of the rain.
He had lifted the curtain to open the glass-paned door after a proper greeting asked for one seat. The lady owner, somewhat taken aback at the appearance of a Japanese-speaking mature foreign man somehow greeted him back and invited to sit on the only available seat, actually a low square tatami stool as the place could fit only seven guests along a low counter.
Yuka, the mama-san (lady owner) confided later after more regular visits that she had been caught in a dilemma as she was very careful about which new customers she could accept inside as particular she was on the privacy of her regular patrons (“joren” in Japanese). One reason her noren was larger was that most of her guests were either of higher standing or self-employed and cared for a comfortable privacy away from their daily social obligations inherent with their well-known companies or agencies. But she saw Gerard coming out of the heavy rain she had felt she could not refuse him inside. After a few more visits they actually struck an easy friendship, the more for Yuka who originally came from faraway Akita Prefecture to end up into a failed marriage in Shizuoka City had always considered herself as a bit of an outsider. While she was married she actually worked as an instructor in a local big driving school. As her marriage deteriorated she found solace in Kasuri owned by a first generation venerable single lady. When the latter finally decided to retire she had offered the business to Yuka who was only too happy to accept a regular and reliable job which guaranteed her independence once her divorce had been confirmed. Her “izakaya” (Japanese-style bistro) was different from the other shps in the Alley in many aspects. As opposed to most other shops she served not only oden but also all kinds of homey dishes she either prepared at home or cooked on site. Moreover she provided a far wider range of drinks that occupied all crannies and available space inside her tiny shop: beer, draught or bottled, wine, shochu, but also an unheard-of list of sake for such an establishment. Gerard being a real connoisseur of Japanese sake had had the pleasure to introduce her to all kinds of nectars brewed in Shizuoka Prefecture she added to the ones she regularly ordered from her native Akita Prefecture.
As he lifted the curtain up before opening the glass-paned door closed because of the cold weather he found only one customer sitting at the low counter. The hour was still early but the place would be full within another hour. He handed a bottle of Japanese sake he had kept in the fridge in his office for such a visit. Actually it had been offered to him by the owner of Hatsukame Brewery in nearby Fujieda City as a present for his interview. In fact he knew all the breweries in the Prefecture and had repeatedly reported on them for his own blogs and articles sold to magazines as well as introducing them in person to visitors from as far as England, France, Germany and the United States. Japanese sake brewed in Shizuoka Prefecture were not only among the best in Japan but were also more difficult to find as the region produced only half a percent of the total national output in spite of the existence of as many as 28 active breweries. The bottle he had offered Yuka was a junmai ginjo, a premium sake that many connoisseurs would be ready travel a long way to get their hands on.
He knew the sole customer very well in fact and he took seat next to him after a quick shake hand. Japanese do not shake hands much among themselves but actually enjoyed the welcome greetings with “gaijin” (foreigners in Japanese9, especially of a Caucasian origin.
His drinking pal, Makoto Kuboi, was a veteran reporter writing not for the local newspaper but for a famous tabloid sold nationwide. Makoto served as an “antenna2 for the whole of Shizuoka Prefecture but lived in Shizuoka City at the very center of the region.
Gerard, having ordered a glass of shochu mixed with hot water and matcha/refined green tea powder with some oden consisting of daikon, kuro hanpen/dark sardine fish paste and motsu/pork intestines cordially asked the reporter:
“I haven’t met you for some time! How’s business?”
“Just running around. Life has been a bit dreary of late. Not many significant scoops to be ferreted out in this quiet part of Japan!”
“You would rather live in Tokyo, wouldn’t you?”
“Not really. I prefer life here where people are more laid back and take the time to truly enjoy life!”
“And food and drinks!” Gerard chortled.
“But I have a hunch you might be in for some interesting news sooner than later, though!”
Makoto, felt somewhat miffed by the remark, but always on the alert he turned to take a close look at Gerard’s face. The journalist knew from long experience that information had the propensity to come from the most unseen corners as the Japanese was akin to a closed chest of drawers. Each drawer was kept tightly shut and little communication occurred between any of them. On the other hand long established foreigners, notably teachers, writers and artists benefitted from an easy access to each drawer of the Japanese society chest. He also was aware that Gerard had even better access to any of these drawers because he happened to be not only a language lecturer, translator and interpreter by trade, but also a very active blogger and writer mainly in gastronomy and tourism in three different languages. He regularly read the Frenchman’s Japanese blog to check reliable information on the local restaurants, izkayas and growers. Gerard moreover could boast from a widespread network in almost any field, including the police and governmental agencies thanks to his many years spent practicing judo in his early days in Shizuoka City.
“I would be extremely grateful for any information, indeed! Whatis your hunch, then?”
“I still have quite a few loose ends to put together but it shouldn’t take long before I can direct to one or two juicy scandals!” the Frenchman airily replied.
“Well, you know my number. Don’t hesitate to call me, even for the tiniest bit of news!”
“Count on me, but I shall hold you for a couple of drinks if I do so!” Gerard laughed.
“That would be the least I could do!” the reporter laughed back.
Later in the night, on his way back home, Gerard espied the beautiful but forlorn figure of Chian Li in the street along the “pink salon” she worked for.
He made a point to say hello, or good evening for that matter, and share a few words as he always did upon meeting her. He could not recall when he first met her, but she had never tried to hook him. It had started with a smile and a small wave of hand exchanged with another foreigner in Japan before developing into an easy camaraderie.
“Good evening, Chian Li! Cold weather, isn’t it? How’s business?” he friendly enquired.
“Not much of it, actually!” she replied with a gloomy face.
She continued: “And if it goes on like that, I will have to find another job!”
“Is it that bad?”
“I’m afraid so!” Looking at him straight in his eyes, she added, “and I would be grateful if you could help me find one! That place is going to close soon for sure!”
“I may ask some friends around, although I can’t make any promise. What kind of visa do you have anyway?”
“I actually have a permanent visa as I used to be married to a Japanese man. But he got killed in a car accident. The problem was he was drunk at the wheel and consequently I couldn’t get any insurance benefits. That is why I’m working at this pink salon!”
The Frenchman felt pity for her. She was not thirty yet for sure and she was already dangerously slipping onto the edges of society. He asked:
“What were you doing when your husband passed away?”
“All kinds of small jobs. I can speak and read English, Japanese and three Chinese dialects! Otherwise I do not have any qualifications!”
He wondered how she had found her way into a marriage with a Japanese man, but that was not for him to ask. He held a solid respect for privacy and in any case it was none of his concern. On the other hand he believed her sincerity even if her beauty might have clouded a less experienced man’s judgement.
“I see. As I said, I cannot promise anything, but I will ask around. Can I have your phone number?”
She told him and he duly recorded it on his smart phone.
When he finally left her Chian Li at least had a small smile on her face.