Newcomer: New Excerpt

Newcomer

Keigo Higashino

November 20, 2018

International bestseller Keigo Higashino returns with his latest crime mystery―Newcomeras newly transferred Tokyo Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga is assigned to a baffling murder.

Detective Kyochiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he investigates, the greater number of potential suspects emerges. It isn’t long before it seems nearly all the people living and working in the business district of Nihonbashi have a motive for murder. To prevent the murderer from eluding justice, Kaga must unravel all the secrets surrounding a complicated life. Buried somewhere in the woman’s past, in her family history, and the last few days of her life is the clue that will lead to the murderer.

1.

“Thank goodness it’s finally a bit cooler. It’s only June, for goodness’ sake.”

Emerging from the back of the shop, Satoko began rearranging the packets of rice crackers on the shelves.

“You just got out of the hospital, Grandma. You shouldn’t be running around so much. Dad will give me a hard time if he sees you carrying on like this.” Naho frowned.

“It’s okay, really. I’m better now. That’s why the hospital let me come home. It’s back to business as usual. You know that old saying about how people who don’t work have no right to eat? It won’t be long before you’ll have to stand on your own two feet.”

“Oh God, not that again.” Naho crammed a piece of mayonnaise-flavored rice cracker into her mouth.

Satoko peered into her granddaughter’s face.

“But my, you do love your rice crackers. I know it’s the family business and all that, but you’ve been eating those things since the day you were born. How you don’t get sick of them I’ll never know.”

“This is a new flavor.”

“New or not, a rice cracker’s still just a rice cracker. I can’t bear the things myself. They play havoc with my teeth.”

“Then why did you spend fifty years running a rice cracker store?”

“Like I’ve told you before, Naho, we only started selling rice crackers thirty years ago. We used to sell Japanese sweets until your father decided to switch to rice crackers. Gosh, I still miss those sweet bean jellies.”

“Miss them?” said Naho, pursing her lips. “How? You’re always eating the things.”

Just then, a plump man in a gray suit opened the glass door and entered the store.

“Hello, all,” he sang out cheerfully, giving a little bow.

“Oh, Mr. Takura, thanks for dropping by,” said Satoko. “I feel terrible making you go out of your way in this heat.”

“That’s not a problem. This is my job, after all. Besides, it’s already cooled down a lot this afternoon. At noon, it was unbearable.”

“You must be exhausted. Come in and I’ll fix you a nice cool drink.” Satoko motioned him toward the room behind the store. It was the family living room.

“Thank you, but I’ve just come to pick up that … you know.” Using the tips of two fingers, Takura sketched a square in the air.

“My medical certificate, you mean? No problem. Naho and I went to the hospital today. I told her I’d be fine by myself, but she insisted on coming along.”

Satoko kicked off her sandals.

“It’s all right, Grandma. I’ll get it.” Naho gently edged her grandmother aside and disappeared into the back room.

“You know where it is?” Satoko called out.

“Of course. I’m the one who put it there. You’re the one with no idea where anything is.”

Her grandmother must have made some sort of comment as Naho heard the sound of laughter behind her.

“Don’t forget the tea while you’re at it,” Satoko yelled.

“Yes, I know.”

Naho clucked her tongue. What a nag her grandma was.

She poured out a glass of cold oolong tea, put it on a tray, and went back to the shop. Her grandmother and Mr. Takura were happily chatting away.

“I’m delighted to see you looking so well. When was I last here? Four days ago? You look so much better already.” Takura shook his head in amazement.

“Being back home has helped. I feel much better. I get to be up and doing even though Naho’s always telling me to take it easy. Such a pest.”

“That’s only because she’s worried about you.” Takura reached out and plucked the glass of oolong tea off the tray. “Ah, thank you. It looks delicious.”

“Here you go, Grandma.”

Naho handed an envelope to Satoko.

“Thanks, dear.”

Satoko took a single sheet of paper out of the envelope, glanced over it, and held it out to Takura.

Takura took the document and looked it over.

“Good heavens, you were in the hospital for two whole months? That must have been tough.”

“I wouldn’t have minded if they’d actually taken care of what I was sent in for, but they didn’t do anything about that. Instead, they found out I had something else wrong with me and then spent two whole months treating that. So frustrating.”

“The certificate says you had an infection of the bile duct. Oh, what’s this here? You also had tests for an aneurysm?”

“The aneurysm’s the important thing. I went in to have it operated on, but the operation was postponed.”

“But you will have the operation at some point?”

“Apparently, yes. But it’s probably better for me just to keep going as long as I can. Operations can be risky at my age.”

“I see what you mean. It’s a difficult call to make.” Takura was looking a little uncomfortable.

“Is the certificate in order?” Satoko asked.

“Yes, along with the documents you gave me the other day, I’ve got everything I need. I’ll go back to the office and process it as fast as I can. Your hospitalization claim will be paid by next month at the latest.”

“You’re going to go back to the office now? That’s terrible.”

“Not at all, not at all. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Takura put the certificate into his briefcase and smiled at Naho. “Thank you very much for the tea.”

“No. Thank you,” Naho replied.

Satoko walked Takura to the street and waved to him as he went on his way.

About two hours later, Fumitaka—Satoko’s son and Naho’s father—got back home. There was grime on the collar of his white polo shirt.

“I was at the rice cracker wholesaler,” he said, slipping off his shoes. “On the way back, it looked like something big was going on over at Kodenmacho. There were loads of police cars around. No sign of a car crash or anything like that, though.”

“Something serious?” Naho suggested.

“Why else would the cops be all over the place?”

“This area’s not safe anymore,” declared Satoko, who was in the kitchen tasting the miso soup. “There are just too many newcomers moving into those new apartment complexes.”

Fumitaka said nothing. He turned the TV on to watch the baseball game while Naho busied herself with setting the table. The idea that new apartment buildings meant more people—including bad people—moving into the neighborhood was a theory Satoko never tired of expounding upon.

The rule in the Kamikawa family was to wait and have dinner once all three of them were home. Since Fumitaka had been out, they were eating later than usual this evening.

Naho had been doing all the cooking until a week ago, when Satoko came home from the hospital. Now everything was back to normal.

Naho had been in kindergarten when her mother was killed in a car crash. Although she’d been little more than a baby at the time, some of the shock and sorrow of those days stayed with Naho even now. That her father was around all day running the family store definitely softened the blow. Satoko’s presence also helped. Although she hungered for a mother’s love, she had Satoko to cherish her and feed her. In fact, the other kids were always jealous when they peeked into Naho’s lunch box.

Back in April, Naho had paled with shock when she learned that Satoko was critically ill. The news caught her off guard, and she couldn’t stop crying.

As Satoko had explained to the insurance salesman, she’d originally been hospitalized to have an aneurysm removed. Before she was operated on, however, she developed a raging fever. No one knew the cause, but it was severe enough for her to lose consciousness.

She was unconscious for three days. When Satoko came around on the fourth day, Naho burst into tears all over again.

The doctor told her that Satoko’s fever was caused by cholangitis, an infection of the bile duct, and in that moment, Naho realized that the person she had most depended on her whole life was now an old woman ridden with disease.

When Satoko was discharged, Naho held her grandmother’s hand and said to her: “You took care of me for many years. Now it’s my turn to look after you.”

Touched by her granddaughter’s words, Satoko wept loudly.

However, their lovefest didn’t last. At first Satoko was willing to overlook Naho’s various domestic missteps, but gradually they started to get on her nerves. Nothing her granddaughter did was right. Satoko criticized her and sometimes barged in and took control of things. Stubborn and quick-tempered, she had no idea how to avoid hurting Naho’s feelings. Unfortunately, Naho’s temperament was similar. “If all you’re going to do is complain, why don’t you just do it yourself?” In no time at all, everything was back to how it had been before Satoko went into the hospital.

No one was more pleased about that than Fumitaka. He’d lost ten pounds while Naho was in charge of the cooking. Now that Satoko was back in the kitchen, he was starting to put the weight back on.

“By the way, you are going to your beauty school, aren’t you?” Fumitaka asked Naho. “You’re not cutting classes?”

“Of course not, Dad. Today’s a school holiday. That’s why I’m at home.”

“That’s all right, then.”

“My little Naho, a hairdresser. I really hope you can make the grade.”

“Of course I will.” Naho glared at her grandmother. She could hardly come out and say that she’d had to skip several days of school because of her grandmother’s condition.

“The important thing is for you to learn to stand on your own two feet, so you can earn money and take of yourself,” said Fumitaka. “I know I’ve said this before, but—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times. ‘People who don’t work have no right to eat.’”

2.

Naho had started beauty school in April. She’d completed her enrollment and had been looking forward to classes when Satoko was hospitalized. As a result, she’d fallen far behind and only recently caught up. She’d dreamed of becoming a hairdresser since elementary school. The idea of going to college never once crossed her mind.

The family business wasn’t doing very well. They were just about scraping by. Satoko wasn’t getting any younger, and Fumitaka’s health would give out at some point too. Naho knew she would have to step into the breach one day; that was why she was eager to be financially independent as soon as possible.

Classes at the beauty school went on until four. As usual, Naho caught the subway home at 4:20. She got off at Hamacho Station, passed in front of the theater, crossed Kiyosubashi Boulevard, and headed home. On the way, she noticed several men walking in the opposite direction with their jackets slung over their shoulders. It was a scorcher of a day.

Omakara, the rice cracker shop that doubled as Naho’s family home, was on Amazake Alley, a narrow shopping street.

No one could possibly accuse the street of being trendy. The clothes displayed in the shop windows were for middle-aged and elderly women, and at lunchtime the sidewalks were overrun by office workers dislodging food from between their teeth with toothpicks. The only thing to be said in the area’s favor was that it retained something of the atmosphere of the Edo period—premodern Tokyo. It had taken Naho a while to realize that few other districts in the capital had shops that specialized in wicker suitcases or shamisen lutes.

Naho was walking past Hozukiya, a handicrafts shop with wooden spinning tops and Japanese pellet drums displayed out front, when a figure in an apron shouted hello from inside. It was Misaki Sugawara, the part-time shop assistant at Hozukiya. She was a year older than Naho, and the two had recently become friends.

“How’s things at the beauty school?”

“Not too bad.”

“Great. You stick with it now.”

“Thanks,” said Naho, raising her hand to say goodbye.

Omakara was three shops farther down. As she approached, Naho noticed three men standing in the street right in front of the store. Two wore suits; one was more casually dressed in a short-sleeved checked shirt with a T-shirt underneath.

Nearly all of their customers were female, so Naho assumed the men weren’t planning to go in, but just as she reached out to push open the store’s glass door, the man in the short-sleeved shirt did the same thing. If he hadn’t taken a step back, they would have collided.

“I’m sorry. After you.” The man motioned for her to go in. He smiled broadly.

“No, you first. I work here.”

The man nodded at her.

“Oh, do you? Well, that’s good timing, then,” he said as he stepped inside.

Inside the shop, Fumitaka looked at the two of them with a mildly puzzled expression on his face.

“Good afternoon, sir,” he said. The man waved his hand deprecatingly and gave a slightly shamefaced grin.

“I’m afraid I’m not here to buy rice crackers. I’m actually from the local police station.” He pulled out his badge wallet from the pocket of his pants, opened it, and showed them his ID.

To the best of Naho’s knowledge, this was the first time the police had ever visited the store. She peered at the ID and read the name: Detective Kyoichiro Kaga.

She tried guessing the man’s age. Definitely in his thirties, she reckoned, but she couldn’t tell if he was above or below the halfway mark.

“Did a Mr. Takura visit yesterday? Let’s see now. His full name is Mr. Shinichi Takura of New City Life Insurance.”

The question startled Naho.

“Yes, he was here,” she stammered back.

“Were you here at the time?”

“Yes, me and Grandma—I mean, my grandmother—were minding the store.”

Kaga nodded.

“A couple of detectives from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police would like to talk to you about his visit. Would it be all right if I called them in?”

The words Tokyo Metropolitan Police evoked a twinge of fear. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police were the municipal police, and they were in charge of more serious crimes.

“I … uhm…” Naho glanced across at her father.

“Yes, of course. Has something happened?” asked Fumitaka.

“Just something we need to check up on. Won’t take a moment.”

“I see. Fine, go ahead. Shall I call my mother?”

“You mean this young woman’s grandmother?” said Kaga, darting a look in Naho’s direction. “That would be very helpful, yes.”

“Got you,” said Fumitaka, disappearing into the room at the back of the store.

Kaga gestured at the two men waiting outside. They had tough, weather-beaten faces. Naho had no idea what sort of age they were. If she had to classify them, she’d have to go with “geezer.” They had geezer hair and geezer clothes, with big, fat faces and beer bellies to top it all off. They introduced themselves to Naho, but their names went in one ear and out the other.

The older-looking of the two detectives began asking questions as soon as Fumitaka reappeared with Satoko.

“We have been informed that this gentleman paid you a visit yesterday. Can you confirm that is correct?” asked the detective, holding out a photograph. It showed Takura with a meek expression on his face.

“Yes, that’s correct,” said Naho and Satoko in chorus.

“Around what time was that?” asked the detective.

“What time do you think it was?” asked Satoko, turning to Naho.

“Six or six thirty—something like that.”

“You’re sure it wasn’t before six?” asked the detective.

“Oh, maybe you’re right.” Naho clapped her hand to her mouth. “I’m really not sure. It was still light outside, I think.”

“It stays light until around seven at this time of year,” the detective said. “Anyway, I take it you’re not sure about the exact time?”

“Down to the exact minute and the hour … no,” said Satoko dubiously.

“And what was Mr. Takura here for?”

“It was with regard to the paperwork necessary to file a claim for my recent hospitalization. He needed my medical certificate, apparently, so I gave it to him.”

“And how long did he stay here?”

“Let’s see.” Satoko thought for a moment. “Ten minutes or so, I reckon.”

Naho silently nodded her agreement. She was watching Kaga, who was inspecting the rice crackers in the glass display case and appeared to have no interest in the conversation.

“Did he say where he was going next?” the geezer detective went on.

“Back to the office. To take care of the paperwork for my claim, he said.”

“That makes sense.” The detective nodded. “How did he look?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did Mr. Takura look any different from normal?”

“He didn’t, did he?” Satoko glanced at Naho for confirmation.

“He had on a different suit,” Naho ventured. “The time before his suit was navy blue, but yesterday it was gray. It suited him better. That’s why I remember it.”

“I’m not talking about his clothes. Was he on edge? Did you get the impression he was in a hurry? Anything like that?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Despite seeming a little disappointed at Naho’s responses, the detective squeezed out a smile in an effort to keep things friendly.

“So to sum up, you don’t recall the precise time when Mr. Takura was here. It could have been before six, and it could have been after six. Can I safely say, ‘sometime between five thirty and six thirty’?”

“That sounds reasonable,” replied Naho, looking at her grandmother.

“Good. Thank you very much for making time to talk to us.”

“Excuse my asking, but is Mr. Takura all right?” Naho asked.

“Let’s just say that this is an ongoing inquiry and leave it at that.” The detective jerked his eyebrows at Kaga, who thanked the family and bowed at them.

The three men left the store.

“I hope this hasn’t got anything to do with what happened at Kodenmacho,” blurted out her father.

“What do you mean?” Naho asked.

“Haven’t you seen the papers?” Fumitaka frowned. “A good barber should always read the papers.”

“I’m not going to be a barber, Dad,” protested Naho. She darted back into the living quarters and opened the newspaper.

The crime Fumitaka had referred to was featured on the local news page. The body of a forty-five-year-old woman who lived alone had been found in her apartment in the Kodenmacho area. She’d been strangled. The fact that the room showed no signs of a struggle suggested that she knew her attacker. The local police and Tokyo Metropolitan Police were treating the incident as a homicide.

“There’s no way that Mr. Takura was involved in that. The man’s a true-born Tokyoite with our natural dislike for anything underhand,” Satoko said. She was standing next to Naho, reading the paper over her shoulder.

“From the questions the detective was asking just now, my guess is he was checking up on Mr. Takura’s alibi. Doesn’t that mean he’s a suspect?”

“Oh, come off it. It doesn’t matter what the police think. By testifying that Mr. Takura was here yesterday, we cleared him.”

“But remember how insistent they were about the exact time he was here. That has to be important.”

“Can you really not remember the precise time?” said Fumitaka, sticking his face through the door from the shop.

“We only know that it was sometime between half past five and half past six. We can’t be any more precise than that.”

“You’re useless, you two.”

“That’s not fair. I mean, it’s not like you know what you’re doing every minute of every day either, Dad.”

Eager to avoid a confrontation, Fumitaka pulled his head back out of the doorway.

“Well, I, for one, am very worried.” Satoko knit her brows. “I just hope they can clear Mr. Takura very soon.”

*   *   *

After dinner, Naho went to close the electric-operated roller shutter in the front of the store. It was about halfway down when she noticed a man standing on the other side of it. She automatically pressed the stop button.

The man bent down and peered up from under the shutter. It was Detective Kaga. Their eyes met, and he grinned and ducked under the shutter and into the store.

“Can you spare a minute?”

“Uh … yes. Shall I call my father?”

“No, just you is fine. There’s one thing I need to double-check.”

“What?”

“It’s about what Mr. Takura was wearing—you said he had a suit on, right?”

“Yes. A gray suit. And the time before it was dark blue.”

Kaga smiled sheepishly and waved her remark away.

“I don’t care about the color. Do you remember if he had his suit jacket on when he was here?”

“He did, yes.”

“Really? I thought as much from what you said about him looking good in it.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Not quite sure myself yet, but thanks anyway.” Kaga plucked a packet of rice crackers off the shelf. “These look nice. I’ll take them.” He handed Naho 630 yen.

“Thanks.”

“Right. Good night, then.” Kaga ducked back under the shutter and out onto the street.

Naho just stood there blankly for a while, then walked over to the shutter switch. Before pressing it again, she squatted down and surveyed the street outside.

A handful of businessmen were strolling along the lamplit street. Work was over for the day, and they were probably heading out for a drink somewhere. Kaga was nowhere to be seen.

Copyright © 2018 Keigo Higashino.

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