The Silent Dead: New Excerpt

The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda
The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda
The Silent Dead is the latest mystery novel by author Tetsuya Honda (Available May 17, 2016).

When a body wrapped in a blue plastic tarp and tied up with twine is discovered near the bushes near a quiet suburban Tokyo neighborhood, Lt. Reiko Himekawa and her squad take the case. The victim was slaughtered brutally—-his wounds are bizarre, and no one can figure out the “what” or the “why” of this crime.

At age twenty-nine, Reiko Himekawa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police's Homicide Division is young to have been made lieutenant, particularly because she lacks any kind of political or family connections. Despite barriers created by age, gender, and lack of connections, she is mentally tough, oblivious to danger, and has an impressive ability to solve crimes.

Reiko makes a discovery that leads the police to uncover eleven other bodies, all wrapped in the same sort of plastic. Few of the bodies are identifiable, but the ones that are have no connection to each other. The only possible clue is a long shot lead to a website spoken only in whispers on the Internet, something on the dark web known as “Strawberry Night.”

But while she is hunting the killer, the killer is hunting her… and she may very well have been marked as the next victim.

PART I

A putrid rain was falling, turning the whole world gray.

I knew what was really out there in front of my eyes. The passing taxi that was sending up a curtain of muddy water from the potholed street was green. The umbrella that the little school kid was holding was red. I looked down at my shoulder. I could see that my navy blue school blazer had turned black in the rain. My mind recognized the colors—but my heart couldn’t feel them.

My perception is monochrome. Not like a black-and-white photo, though. It’s got none of those soft edges, or depth, or sense of reality. It’s more like a crappy watercolor, a meaningless shadowy blur. Spilt ink on a sheet of white paper—that’s the gray universe where I live.

The flimsy prefab house was old and its walls rain-blackened. The front door was unlocked. I pushed it open in silence. Straightaway a sour stink invaded my body. I’m not imagining things. The house itself was sick, rotten.

Leaking sewage. A rank, animal odor. A thick, musty atmosphere. Mold on every surface—the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Living in that vile place was enough to destroy anyone’s sense of smell. Sadly, mine still worked. And the stink was rotting me from the inside out.

“That you?”

The voice gurgled like sludge oozing from a drainpipe. It came from the dimly lit living room at the end of the passage. It was about as welcome as a cockroach burrowing into my brain. I covered my ears. I did not reply.

“I’m talking to you, shit-for-brains.”

A shadow reared up and blocked the living room doorway.

He’d gotten dressed in my honor. He wore a sleeveless running shirt. It looked gray to me; in reality it was probably brown. Otherwise he was naked. Everything in this place was foul. Dirt and ugliness was my world.

“Didn’t you fucking hear me?”

Enjoying yourself, are you? Is bullying me really so much fun? Just because you’re my dad, you think you’ve got the right to make my life hell. You’ve been kicked out of your gang and hightailed it back here with a load of drugs you probably stole. You may think it’s fun to see which will hold out longer—your decaying body or the supply of drugs you’re stuffing it with. But it’s got nothing to do with me. Nothing.

“Get over here,” he growled.

He grabbed me by the hair, same as always, and dragged me into the room. My mom, covered in sores, was sprawled on the ripped-up couch with the sticking-out springs.

Her eyes swiveled toward me. She recognized me but didn’t lift a finger. I didn’t want or expect her help. Still, it’d be nice if she could at least manage to look a teeny bit upset. Her scrawny arms were black and pitted with track marks. Come on, Mom, I’m being abused here. Can’t you manage a teeny-weeny frown?

“This one’s for you.”

His thick palm smacked the bridge of my nose. It knocked me off my feet and onto the floor.

“Yee-haw.”

He straddled me, panting and laughing like a maniac.

That again?

I wondered where he got the strength. A washed-up two-bit gangster, he’d never even tried to support his family. He was so busy being perverted, most of the time he forgot to eat. The guy was sinking in a swamp of drugs and filth, but he was still as strong as a horse.

My uniform tore. Probably where I’d sewn it up the day before yesterday. Tomorrow I’d have to go to school in my tracksuit.

None of my classmates would speak to me. Same with the teachers. They all kept their distance. Because I stank; I stank bad enough to make them gag. Still, I was grateful that the school let me in at all. It was somewhere to escape to in the daytime at least.

My seat was right at the back of the classroom. They’d made a space for me by shifting a locker full of cleaning stuff out of the corner a little way. I sat wedged in between the locker and the window. During lessons I could only see half the blackboard, and the teachers never asked me any questions. At school I was alone all day. I didn’t care. It was nothing compared to the hell I went through at home.

Every day was the same. My clothes were ripped, and I was punched and kicked. I was throttled and my face shoved into the floorboards.

And with every passing day, I was losing my ability to see color, my ability to taste food, even my ability to speak. The only thing I never lost was the ability to smell the foul stink of it all. My father wasn’t the only one sinking into the swamp. I was the same. I was going down with him. I knew he could kill me at any time. I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me to take my own life.

Someday my life is going to change.

I was sure of that. I didn’t know how. I just knew that someday something would change.

Today was that day.

On the floor, right in front of me, I noticed something that looked like a squashed pen. It was plastic, pretty, baby-pink. The tip was silver, and the other end was white. It loomed up toward me like something from a 3D movie. The cheap box cutter that had slipped out of my breast pocket.

“What the fu—!”

He looked down at me in bewilderment. He had no idea what had happened. He was clutching at his throat. From between his fingers, red blood was pumping out, spraying all around the room. Red—that brilliant, vibrant red—poured all over me and drenched me like glorious Technicolor rain.

Perhaps the world is not gray after all!

He grunted and groaned as he rolled on the floor. He looked like he was about to burst into tears.

That’s funny. I always assumed he wanted to die.

I looked at the box cutter in my hand.

That was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be.

“He-he … help me!”

Fixing me with a look of terror, he dragged himself to the far side of the room. Duh, you think the wall’s gonna save your life? He finally made his way to the couch where Mom was sprawling. He grabbed one of her feet and gave it a shake.

“He-he … help me, please.”

He looked back at me from time to time as he tugged at her. Mom just gawped dreamily down at her own feet. Didn’t move a muscle to help him. Minutes passed. His pleas for help became incoherent. The eyes, which looked at me with terror, gradually became as dim and bleary as my mom’s.

“Beautiful,” I murmured.

Everything was red now. The blood had transformed my dreary gray life into a place of brilliant, vivid color. My dark, stinking nothingness was a brave new world.

Freedom.

The word just popped into my head.

My mom—my putrid, grungy mom—had been spray-painted a beautiful scarlet. I just stared at her. Then the color slowly started to fade. Blood blackens as it dries.

Oh God, I don’t want everything to go back to gray again!

In a momentary panic, I slashed the box cutter across my mother’s throat.

*   *   *

The pigsty of a house was burning. A red redder even than blood came billowing out the windows. Thick and surly black smoke hung heavily over the scene, as if a dark cloud had swallowed the whole neighborhood. Through the haze, I caught a glimpse of a streetlight like a full moon beneath a veil of cloud.

The firefighters came and tried to put out the fire. Clouds of white smoke shot up every time they trained their hoses at the house. I was watching from behind a hedge in the park a little way away. I couldn’t be certain, but it looked like they weren’t putting much of a dent in the fire. It was burning as fiercely as ever, despite all their efforts. I liked that.

A fire that fierce was sure to reduce both bodies to ashes. It wouldn’t be too hard for the police to find out that the man had been an addict. They’d probably conclude that he’d gone crazy and killed himself and his wife. It was perfect. I was free from that bastard. I had sidestepped my destruction at his hands.

“I’ve got to go now … I want you to forget what happened today. No, strike that. I want you to forget everything that’s happened in your life so far. Let it go. Make a fresh start.”

I nodded. That was what I planned to do. It didn’t make saying good-bye any easier.

“Can’t we see each other?”

“Better not.”

“Never?”

“Not never, but for a while…”

Am I going to be alone again?

Black smoke. White smoke. Bright streetlights. The pitch-black park. I could feel myself slipping back, down into my old gray world.

Copyright © 2016 Tetsuya Honda.

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TETSUYA HONDA is one of Japan's best-selling 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.

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