Soul Cage by Tetsuya Honda is the second book in the Lieutenant Himekawa series, where a severed hand, a missing body, and a victim who was living under a false identity all add up to the most complex and challenging case yet for the homicide detective (available July 18, 2017).
A worker reports his boss missing, and a large amount of blood is found in the rented garage he used. At the same time, a severed left hand is found in a minivan abandoned in the outskirts of Tokyo, which is quickly identified as belonging to this missing man, Kenichi Takaoka. Lt. Reiko Himekawa of the Homicide Division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department is assigned to the investigation, along with her squad and several other units. From the amount of blood spilled in the van and at the crime scene, it’s clear to the team that the missing contractor Keninichi Takaoka is dead and presumably murdered. But searches of the area around the abandoned van and the river itself fail to turn up the rest of the body.
The mystery surrounding the murder takes a sharp turn when a childhood friend of the presumed victim is shown a recent photo and definitively declares that the missing man is not Takaoka. With every line of investigation leading to a confusing dead end, Himekawa and her team uncover a trail leading to a long-running yakuza scheme of forced suicide for profit, a complex history of victims, and a case of past transgressions coming back to destroy the present. As time runs out, Himekawa must unravel the mystery surrounding the severed hand if she’s to protect and rescue the next victim.
CHIYODA WARD, TOKYO
TOKYO METROPOLITAN POLICE HEADQUARTERS
Reiko Himekawa was having coffee with Kazuo Kikuta in the canteen on the seventeenth floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police headquarters. Kikuta was a sergeant in Himekawa’s squad and just a little bit older than she was.
“What’s wrong, Lieutenant? Why the long face?”
“Oh, no reason.”
It was three o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday, December 4. The canteen overlooked the Imperial Palace grounds. It was so bright and sunny that it was easy to forget how cold it was outside.
“Are you still having dreams about Otsuka?”
Reiko looked up. Kikuta was resting his chin in his hands and gazing into her eyes. It was an atypical pose for him.
Shinji Otsuka had been a cop in Himekawa’s squad. On August 25 this year, he’d been killed while investigating a series of murders. He was only twenty-seven. Two years younger than she.
Kikuta had hit the nail on the head.
“Yeah.” She paused. “He’s been showing up in my dreams a lot recently. It’s always the last time I saw him in Ikebukuro. It’s rush hour. He’s got no idea what’s coming as he gets off the train and makes his way through the crowd. And then—this is the part where the dream departs from reality—Otsuka always turns back and waves at me with this goofy grin on his face.…”
Reiko’s voice quavered. Take a sip of coffee and get a grip on yourself. Her hand refused to obey, and the words started pouring out uncontrollably.
“I say, ‘Don’t go, Otsuka, don’t go.’ For some reason, though, he can’t hear me, and off he goes, still with that goofy grin on his face.”
The waitress came over, and Reiko discreetly turned away to hide her face.
“Everyone talks about me having a sixth sense. It’s bullshit. God, I wish I did! Then I could have warned him.”
“So you’re still putting yourself through the wringer, Lieutenant.”
Kikuta was holding out a handkerchief. Reiko shook her head and began looking through her handbag. She couldn’t find a handkerchief or even a Kleenex. Should she use the napkin on the table?
“Think I will take that after all.”
Kikuta was about to stuff the handkerchief back into his pocket. He stopped mid-motion and, with a grin, handed it to her.
“It’s not healthy to obsess about it.”
Kikuta’s chunky fingers closed around the handle of his mug. His lips were thick and slightly chapped, and his chin was a mass of dark stubble. There was something endearing in his simple, vigorous masculinity.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean those dreams. It’s not your fault, Lieutenant. If you start going down that route, then it’s Director Hashizume and Captain Imaizumi who are ultimately responsible. They’re the ones who assigned Otsuka to Ikebukuro.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
“But it’s the same thing. Remember what you’re always telling us? How the criminal is the only one who is guilty, and that no one else should blame themselves? You mustn’t blame yourself, Lieutenant. And that’s exactly what you’re doing. For one thing, Otsuka wouldn’t have wanted you to. He loved being a cop, and he took his job—and that investigation—seriously. That’s the reason he’s always smiling. I mean, Otsuka is smiling at you in your dreams, right?”
“Hey, take it down a notch. You’re yelling.”
“Sorry,” mumbled Kikuta. The small black eyes that were such a bad fit with the great meaty slab of his face darted anxiously around the room.
Reiko suddenly saw a funny side to what Kikuta had been saying. She pressed the handkerchief to her mouth. “You’re about the last person I’d expect to say that sort of thing.”
Kikuta’s eyes widened.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that sort of new age, spiritual stuff: ‘Otsuka is smiling at you in your dreams.…’”
Kikuta put his mug down on the table with a shamefaced grin.
“Perhaps it’s because ‘that sort of thing’ is popular right now.”
“Do you believe that stuff, Kikuta? Spiritualism? Communicating with the ‘other side’?”
“Nah, not really. How about you, Lieutenant? Women are usually more into that sort of thing than men.”
“Oh, women are, are they? I’m not a big one for generalizations myself.”
Did she believe in it or not? That was a question worth pondering.
She certainly thought about the people she loved who had passed on. Did that mean she believed in the spirit world? Hardly. She had no sense that there were invisible beings out there, smoothing her way. When she went to the family grave, she thanked her ancestors as you were supposed to do, but as far as she was concerned, she herself was responsible for what she had achieved.
As for the idea of a personal guardian spirit—that, she rejected out of hand.
“Hmmm,” she grunted. “I’d have to say that I’m not much of a believer … I think.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Reiko felt slightly annoyed.
“Are you trying to tell me I’m not a normal woman?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean, then?”
“I just thought skepticism was more you, Lieutenant. That’s all.”
“And ‘more me’ means what, exactly?”
Kikuta looked flustered.
“What’s with the third degree? The Reiko Himekawa I know tends to be skeptical and look at things in a more detached and rational way. The Reiko Himekawa I know wouldn’t fret over all the hypotheticals with Otsuka—what if this, what if that—it’s a bottomless rabbit hole. No, the Reiko Himekawa I know would just come out and say, ‘The only person at fault here is the murderer—and that’s that.’”
Reiko could feel herself getting angry.
That’s what you think of me, is it?
Still, if people tended to see her as brisk, decisive, and businesslike, that was because it was the image she chose to project. As a woman in her twenties, there was no way she could move up the ladder at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police without some careful image-management.
Reiko had been appointed a squad leader in the Homicide Division soon after making lieutenant at twenty-seven. It was a nearly unprecedented achievement, but still, a woman could not be a woman in a work environment like the police. She had to be more of a man than the men if she wanted to avoid being treated as a joke.
To Kikuta, if to no one else, Reiko made an effort to show her feminine side. She thought they were close enough for that. She thought that he liked her.
It hasn’t worked out too well. He doesn’t understand me one bit.
She’d known all along that Kikuta was never going to win any prizes for sensitivity. His emotional obtuseness got on her nerves, but she was willing to overlook it as a lovable defect. The truth was, she had her own vulnerabilities, and she wanted his support. She thought he could at least sense her needs without her having to be explicit.
What a bummer!
She wasn’t going to transform herself and suddenly become all clingy and dependent, girly-girl style, just for his sake. She was too proud for that, and her rank as lieutenant obliged her to be a little more formal and stiff. Sometimes, though, she felt like she had a metal board strapped to her back.
“Perhaps we should make a move,” said Reiko, consulting her Longines watch. Kikuta reached for the check and sprang briskly to his feet.
“I’ll deal with this, Lieutenant. You go ahead.”
You’re the soul of tact when it comes to unimportant things, Reiko thought to herself.
“Seriously. You should go first.” Kikuta’s large head suddenly loomed in toward her. “You need to redo your makeup. Anyone can tell you’ve been crying.”
Reiko shuddered. The skin around her eyes flushed.
Was Kikuta being sensitive or obtuse? She wasn’t quite sure.
Worse than that, what was she coming to if she needed a man like him to tell her that her makeup needed fixing!
* * *
When Reiko got back to the big open-plan office on the sixth floor, everyone else on the squad was at their desks.
Sergeant Tamotsu Ishikura, the veteran of her team at forty-seven years old, had his nose buried in the newspaper as usual.
Officer Kohei Yuda was poring sleepily over a textbook for his promotional exam. With Otsuka gone, his position in the group had risen a notch.
Otsuka’s replacement was Officer Noriyuki Hayama. He was deep in an old case file.
Hayama was highly competent. Despite joining the force out of high school, he’d been appointed to the Homicide Division when he was only twenty-five. He was tall and handsome, but he didn’t let that go to his head. When he was working a case, he went about things quietly and methodically. He’d only been with Reiko’s squad for three months, and, as far as she could tell, he was a model detective.
If Himekawa was going to be picky, then perhaps Hayama was a little gloomier than she would have liked. When the squad went out for a communal booze-up, he barely smiled or spoke. Even when Yuda got so wasted that he started sticking chopsticks into his nose, mouth, and ears in his best Hellraiser imitation, Hayama’s only response was a solemn nod. He certainly knew how to wreck the mood.
There was also something about him that hinted at insubordination. It was nothing Reiko could put her finger on, just a certain irritating superciliousness. She’d gotten so annoyed that she’d asked him flat out if working with a female lieutenant was a problem for him. “Problem? No,” he’d replied, flatly. Worried that pressing him too hard would make her look immature, Reiko opted to let sleeping dogs lie. Perhaps he’d thaw out in time.
Sergeant Kikuta was the fourth and last member of Reiko’s team. Unit 10 of the TMPD Homicide Division consisted of the Himekawa squad and the Kusaka squad—and they were a whole other set of oddballs.
Ishikura pushed his newspaper to one side and cocked an eyebrow at Reiko. He wanted to tell her something in confidence.
Reiko walked around the clump of pushed-together desks until she was standing next to Ishikura. Kikuta, who was sitting on the far side, discreetly strained to listen in.
“What’s up, Tamotsu?”
Much older than the rest of them, Ishikura gave off quite a different vibe from the others in the squad. Reiko didn’t dislike it; if anything, just the opposite. Of late, she found middle-aged male stolidity increasingly appealing.
“Toyama is definitely up to something,” murmured Ishikura. “A moment ago he left the room with Kusaka. Perhaps there’s been a development in that business this morning.”
Toyama was a sergeant on Kusaka’s squad. “That business this morning” was a rumor about Director Hashizume bringing back an object from Kamata Precinct in Ota Ward.
“Have you got the lowdown on whatever it was?”
“It was in an ice chest. Hashizume took it to the crime lab and gave the head of Forensics a hard time about needing the results fast. That’s all I know.”
At present, the members of Homicide Unit 10 were the only people on standby at TMPD headquarters. There were three levels of readiness: A, B, and C. Level A meant standing by at headquarters; B was standing by at home; and C meant on call but free to go about your business.
There wasn’t much difference between being on level C and being on vacation. With the recent squeeze on department finances, however, C had been temporarily shelved, and for the last three days, both squads in Unit 10 had been at the desks on level A, while Unit 3 was on level B.
This meant that if there was a murder anywhere in Tokyo today, Reiko’s team would have to work with Kusaka’s squad on the case. This would be a problem. The Kusaka squad and the Himekawa squad were at daggers drawn; or to be precise, Lieutenant Himekawa loathed Lieutenant Kusaka.
Reiko wasn’t short of reasons. She detested everything about Kusaka, from his looks and the sound of his voice to the way he handled his cases. Through sheer dumb luck, they’d not had to collaborate on any cases over the last few months. Sadly, it looked like that happy state of separation was about to come to an end. Reiko was just going to have to suck it up.
“Any idea what’s going on in Kamata?”
“That must be what Toyama is trying to find out. My guess is they’ve put a gag order on it.”
All sorts of horse-trading went on behind the scenes before a task force was formally established, whether between different divisions of the TMPD, between the TMPD and the local precincts, or between the police and the media. The fact that the detectives hadn’t heard anything formally yet probably meant one of two things: either the incident was too insignificant to deserve its own task force, or it was a delicate and complex case and things were moving slowly. It was the latter scenario that Reiko thought more likely—and it was the one she was hoping for.
If you wanted to make a name for yourself in this department, it was far better to solve one big case than to fool around with a bunch of smaller ones. Big cases drew media attention, and the bigger the noise the media made about you, the more of a reputation you got inside the force. The best possible thing was to singlehandedly solve a case that made major headlines, like the Mizumoto Park murders earlier this year.
It’s a shame that someone else walked off with all the credit for that one.
Reiko gazed out across the office at the vast rows of desks. There was a cluster of men around the coffee machine near the door on the far side. It was Sergeant Mizoguchi, and Officers Shinjo and Itoi—all of them members of Kusaka’s squad.
“Hey, Tamotsu, have you seen the captain?”
Reiko was talking about Captain Imaizumi, the head of Unit 10.
“He went out about ten minutes ago.”
“Did someone come in to fetch him?”
“Not that I saw.”
As Reiko and Ishikura were talking, Kusaka and Toyama reappeared in the doorway. They seemed to be relaying information to the other three members of their squad, deliberately keeping their voices low.
Were they planning to keep whatever they had found out to themselves so they could be a step ahead when the task force was set up?
Come on, Reiko! Why must you always think the worst of other people?
Reiko walked over to the group. She could hear Kikuta’s footsteps right behind her.
“Hey, Lieutenant Kusaka, any interesting scuttlebutt come your way today?”
Kusaka stared blankly back at her with his small black reptilian eyes. As usual, his thin lips were clamped together in a straight line.
“Scuttlebutt? What’s that?”
That voice—deep, heavy, joyless.
“I know you’ve been gathering info. What did you find out?”
“You’ve got the wrong end of the stick. I just went to the bathroom.”
“Oh, and you’re so pally with your squad mates that you always take them with you for a communal piss?”
“Watch it, Himekawa. Dirty talk like that’s not going to help you find yourself a husband.”
Reiko caught the hint of a smirk on his face.
“Thanks for the marital counseling, but I’d prefer if you stayed off that topic in the workplace.”
“Sorry. I misspoke.”
Officer Itoi, who was standing in front of Kusaka, sniggered. Reiko ignored him.
“So what’s going on? In the crime lab, I mean?”
“Like I said, I just went to the bathroom—”
“A man of your caliber, Lieutenant Kusaka—I’m sure you can retrieve useful information even when it’s just floating around in the toilet bowl.”
Kusaka flinched and snorted with disgust. Reiko simply kept staring at him.
“Listen, Himekawa, if you’re so keen to get some information, how about finding it out for yourself? Being on standby level A isn’t supposed to mean getting all lovey-dovey with your subordinates and taking them out for coffee and a nice view.”
The bastard! He must have seen me and Kikuta!
“Which just proves I was right. You weren’t in the bathroom.”
“Did I say it was me who saw you? I’ve had enough of this chitchat. It’s a waste of time.”
Tapping Toyama on the shoulder, Kusaka headed over to his desk.
“Hey, just a minute. Are you trying to give me the slip?”
Kusaka glared at Reiko.
“You shouldn’t try and copy Stubby, Himekawa. You’re way too young to be able to browbeat information out of me. Try again in ten years’ time.”
Kusaka spun on his heel and marched off, his subordinates in tow.
Me? Trying to copy Stubby?
Stubby was the nickname of Lieutenant Kensaku Katsumata, a squad leader in Unit 5. He was ex–Public Security Bureau and a classic old-school cop in the worst possible sense. His method of investigation was a combination of foul language, violence, and bribes—and he excelled at all three.
Stubby’s the last person on Earth I want to be compared to!
Reiko heard footsteps in the corridor and turned to see Director Hashizume and Captain Imaizumi in the doorway.
“Listen up, everyone,” announced Imaizumi. “We’re going to be setting up a task force for a murder over in Kamata. Everyone needs to get over to that precinct right now.”
Director Hashizume looked like the cat who ate the canary and was clearly desperate for a chance to sound off.
“What’s going on, Director?” Reiko asked.
Hashizume cleared his throat rather theatrically, then announced: “It’s because I kicked their asses and told them get a move on. They insisted that they needed a minimum of nine hours. I knew that if they got it together, they could do it in seven.”
“Do what, sir?”
“DNA analysis. On some bloodstains and a hand. Sure enough, the DNA was a match.”
Now it was all starting to make sense. The “something” that Director Hashizume had brought back in the cooler was a human hand.
“You’ll get a proper briefing over in Kamata. I need you all to get a move on,” said Captain Imaizumi. “It’s already 3:20. If it gets dark, we’ll have lost a whole day.”
Copyright © 2017 Tetsuya Honda.
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Tetsuya Honda is one of Japan’s bestselling authors with the ongoing crime series featuring Reiko Himekawa, a Homicide Detective with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. The series has sold roughly 4 million copies in Japan and is the basis for two TV mini-series, a TV special, and a major theatrical motion picture. Honda lives in Tokyo.