Authors: Gaku Yakumaru
Keiji no Manazashi
Â© 2012 Gaku Yakumaru. All rights reserved.
First published in Japan in 2012 by Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo.
Publication rights for this English edition arranged through Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo.
Published by Vertical, Inc., New York, 2016
Originally published in Japanese as
Keiji no Manazashi
in 2011 and reissued in paperback in 2012
451 Park Avenue South, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Shinichi Koide was loitering around the front shopping street of Otsuka station.
It was already getting dark. When he saw a lighted bar sign, a strong temptation to have a drink came rushing to him, but he decided against it. If he drank now, he would likely drink himself into a stupor.
Since half a year ago, Shinichi had been working at an
pub in Ikebukuro, but he'd just been dismissed by the manager.
It happened right when he thought he was finally getting used to the work. He'd heard that business hadn't been good lately. Even so, he resented that out of all the many employees, he was the one laid off. Why, when he'd worked harder at this job than any other? When he pressed the manager for a reason, the mealy-mouthed answer was that times were hard and it couldn't be helped.
When Shinichi saw the manager's expression, he sensed it. There was only one reason. The manager had gotten wind of his past.
It was always like this. No matter how many times he tried to start his life over, his past, his black record, always got in the way.
The manager said they'd postpone the dismissal for a month so that he could find a different job in that time. Shinichi had kicked over a nearby chair and rushed out of the pub. Since then, he'd been walking aimlessly.
He passed by the front of a gaming arcade and stopped.
When he looked at the crane game sitting outside, the prizes in it were new. They were dolls of a rabbit character called Momo-chan that was popular among children.
Thinking of bringing one home to Haruna, he put in a hundred-yen coin.
He focused on the dolls piled in the case and fixed his aim. When he pressed the button with perfect timing, the crane grabbed the doll in his sights and dropped it down the chute.
Today had sucked, but at least for this game, the gods hadn't abandoned him. Shinichi was great at it. He'd improved from playing time and time again to get gifts for Haruna, his niece whom he lived with.
He put the vinyl doll into his jacket pocket and headed to his East Ikebukuro apartment, which was a twenty-minute walk away.
In a dim alley of the residential area, he spotted a small figure wearing a school backpack.
“Mai,” he called to her back, and the girl's shoulders twitched and she stopped in her tracks. Mai Yokose slowly turned around with a tense expression.
Calling out to her in a desolate alley must have startled her.
“Haruna's big brother,” Mai said, her face relaxing.
She seemed to think Shinichi was Haruna's brother, but he didn't bother to correct her. It was better than being called an uncle.
“You're not with Haruna today?” Shinichi asked while walking with Mai.
Mai and Haruna were classmates in the fourth grade and also went to the same cram school. But when he saw the two walking together, they hardly looked the same age. Mai was taller than Haruna, and unlike Haruna, who was always noisy, she lacked the characteristic bright perkiness of a child. Perhaps her large, somehow melancholic eyes were what made her seem more
mature than her age.
“Yeah. I had some shopping to do, so we said bye partway.”
Mai and her father lived together in a nearby house. It was a fairly impressive one. According to Haruna, who'd gone there to play, they had a large TV, an expensive-looking video camera, and such. Shinichi didn't know what the father did, but as the landlord of the apartment building that Shinichi and Haruna lived in, the family couldn't be struggling.
“Don't tell me you're the one who makes dinner?” Shinichi said, glancing at the bag of groceries hanging from her right hand.
“Not every day, but sometimesÂ â¦”
“Good for you. I wish Haruna would follow your example.”
Haruna lived with her single mother, but he'd never seen her help with the housework. Shinichi's older sister, Naoko, often scolded Haruna to at least clean up the messes she made.
Near a street corner, two housewives were muttering something while looking their way. In this day and age, merely walking with a little girl raised eyebrows. If there weren't people around, Shinichi would have walked Mai home, but he decided to split and head back to his own apartment.
“Mai, I'll give you this.”
Shinichi pulled out the doll he'd won at the crane game out of his pocket.
“Are you sure?” Mai asked, tempted.
“It's a reward. Because you're being so good by helping around your house.”
“Thank you, Haruna's big brother.”
Mai put on a smile as she took it.
After seeing off her receding figure, Shinichi walked home to his apartment.
When he opened the sliding door, a scream rang out.
Haruna was in the middle of changing in the Japanese-style
room they used as a bedroom.
“Shin, at least knock!”
She looked furious as she threw a stuffed animal at him.
“You're so dramatic.”
Without heeding her, Shinichi took off his jacket and put it on a hanger.
“I'm a woman, so treat me with proper delicacy,” she said cheekily.
Until just the other day, she'd been running around the room naked and pestering him to take a bath with her. Recently, though, she seemed overly sensitive to his gaze. Was it what they called the onset of puberty?
He took a beer out of the fridge and went to the other room, which had the low table and TV.
The three of themâNaoko, Haruna, and Shinichiâlived in this old two-room apartment that had been built nearly thirty years ago. It was by no means easy living, but to Shinichi, the peace and quiet were irreplaceable.
He heard the sound of sirens in the distance.
“I wonder if there was a fire somewhere,” Haruna came and asked.
“No, that's not a fire truck. It's a police car,” he replied from bitter memory.
As the sound of the siren came closer, he became uneasy. The neighborhood was on the lonely side, and apparently, molestation cases weren't rare.
He became worried and emailed Naoko on his phone. The immediate reply was that she had overtime and would be a little late.
As he watched Naoko's back while she cleaned up after dinner in the kitchen, Shinichi looked for a chance to start his conversation. Haruna was in the bath by herself.
“Hey, sis,” he called to Naoko, and she turned around. “I quit my job today. This month, I might not be able to bring that much money home, but I will next month, all right?”
He'd tried his best to make it sound like nothing, but Naoko looked at him with surprise. “Why? You liked that place so much.”
Her expression gradually clouded. Maybe she was going over why he might have quit.
“There was a guy I didn't like and I got in a fight.”
He couldn't bring himself to tell her he'd been dismissed.
Since he'd left reform school nine years ago, he'd been meaning to work hard but changed jobs time and again for the same old reason. On every such occasion he felt like cursing his black record, but he could never gripe about it to Naoko.
“I'll start looking again tomorrow, so yeah.”
“Do you want me to ask at work?” Naoko worked at a flower shop near Ikebukuro station.
“NoÂ â¦” If they found out about his record, Naoko might suffer tooâbut he swallowed those words. “Early mornings aren't for me.”
Beyond that, neither of them managed to get out a word. As though to break the heavy silence, the doorbell rang.
With some relief, Shinichi turned his eyes to the door.
“Coming.” His sister went and opened it with the chain still in place.
“Excuse us for bothering you at such a late hour. We're policeÂ â¦”
At the word, Naoko's shoulders twitched, and her eyes turned to Shinichi.
He didn't recall doing anything at all to warrant this visit. Even so, his heart shriveled and ached. When Naoko removed the chain and opened the door all the way, he saw two men in suits standing there.
“There was an incident nearby, so we'd like to ask a few things,” one of the men said.
Feeling intense palpitations, Shinichi stood up and headed to Naoko's side.
The man continued, “Are you acquainted with the Yokoses who live nearby?”
“YokoseÂ â¦Â You mean the landlord of these apartments?” replied Naoko.
The detective who was doing the talking was well-built and imposing. Yet the tall one behind him was the one whose sight sent an intense shock through Shinichi.
For a moment, he doubted his eyes, but when they met the man's as he glanced back, Shinichi felt certain.
Nobuhito Natsumeâsomehow he remembered the name.
Why was he here? It was beyond confusing.
It seemed Natsume had also recognized Shinichi, and relaxing his expression somewhat, he greeted Shinichi with just his eyes.
“A resident who got home called to report that there was a dead body at the Yokoses'Â â¦”
“Did Mai make the report?” Naoko asked with a pained expression.
“Yes. The deceased is her father, Toru Yokose.”
“And how is MaiÂ â¦” Naoko barely managed.
“Currently, she is in police custody. But having found her father in such a state, she seems too shocked to answerâ”
“Why in the worldÂ â¦” Shinichi interrupted without thinking.
“It appears that he was murdered with a solid blow to his head.”
MurderedâShinichi gulped when he heard the word.
“At this time, given the condition of the room, we believe that it was a burglary. We have eyewitness reports of Mr. Yokose
getting home around sixÂ â¦Â Did you see any suspicious persons in the vicinity around that time?”
“I was working past seven and only came home a little before eight.”
“Where are you employed?” the detective asked Naoko, and she gave them the flower shop's name and address. Natsume, hanging behind, jotted them down.
“I saw Mai there just before she got home,” Shinichi mumbled.
“Wha-” Naoko looked at him. “You did?”
“What time was that?” the detective asked.
“I think around six twenty.”
After receiving the doll from Shinichi, Mai had gone home smiling. Immediately after that, she'd found her dad murdered. It hurt him to imagine her shock.
“Did you happen to see any suspicious persons at that time?”
“Not reallyÂ â¦Â Just two housewives standing around and talking.”
“By the way, where were you before that?”
The detective's eyes seemed to sharpen. An alibi?
Natsume took one step forward and opened his mouth for the first time. “Please don't be offended. As far as that goes, we ask everyone we talk to.”
Shinichi candidly shared his actions before and after six o'clock: loitering near Otsuka station, playing the arcade crane game before heading home.