The clean-cut police officer really did have the shiniest nose I had ever seen. It was as if he had purposely polished it along with his boots before leaving for work that morning and it took everything in me to stop myself from laughing, as the situation was far from humorous.
Even so, Kathy still glared at me. The Japanese policeman however didn’t look up, instead he continued to sit straight-faced in front of us, repeatedly flicking through endless sheets of paper in front of him.
I was bored. We had been sat in the miniscule interviewing room for nearly two hours like this, waiting for the police to take Kathy’s character reference for Sai, her former Japanese lover. I hadn’t wanted to join her in Japan, let alone in the interviewing room, but she had insisted. I knew I owed it to her as she had come to Thailand with me weeks ago, but it had meant leaving behind Sunan in Bangkok.
‘The beautiful, gentle Sunan,’ I groaned to myself, as I recalled how he had broken the news to me that he wasn’t coming to Japan with us because he had to wait for his passport.
As the memory of him washed over me I lost my smirk. Kathy had pleaded with me to still come to Japan and I could hardly refuse as Sai had been the only man to have ever gotten under her skin, but sadly the relationship had been troubled from the word go. He was married, and now he had been incarcerated for his wife’s murder.
The awkward silence was finally broken as another Japanese officer came into the room, thankfully one without a shiny nose, and apparently more senior, as his colleague partially stood up and nodded as he walked in.
“Miss Kathy Schneider? Is that correct?” the man asked in perfect English as he shut the door with a firm slam and joined his colleague at the table.
“Yes. I’m here to give a character reference for Sai Yamamoto? He is innocent you know,” Kathy replied defiantly, but neither of the policemen looked flustered at the sudden revelation.
“And you are?” the policeman asked, eyeing me with interest from behind some heavy rimmed glasses.
“Kathy’s friend, Emily Lapping.”
“I see. Did you know Mr Yamamoto-san personally?”
“No. I never met him,” I replied embarrassed. I didn’t understand why I had to be in here either, but as I shifted in my seat Kathy grabbed my hand and clenched it tight.
“She’s staying,” Kathy whispered, but neither of the policemen seemed bothered by my presence. To me it seemed the character reference was just a formality, and more due to the fact that Kathy had insisted on giving one.
“Can I speak with Sai yet? When can I see him?” Kathy asked, but both the men ignored her pleas.
“How long have you known Yamamoto-san Miss Schneider?”
“I… I’ve known him for a year or so, on and off,” Kathy stuttered nervously.
“On and off? Could you explain what you mean by that please?”
“Well, we used to meet up when he was in London on business. He teaches martial arts to children and holds seminars all over the world. He is a good man.”
“When did you last see him?”
“A few months ago. We… err… parted on bad terms,” Kathy whispered looking down, not wishing to give any indication that Sai’s reputation could be questionable, but her remarks finally raised an eyebrow from the senior officer.
“Bad terms? Can I ask why that was?” the officer asked.
“Well… err… I didn’t feel our relationship was right, as he was married.”
Sighing, I leaned back in my chair as I listened once again to the torrid affair that had gone on between Sai and my best friend. No matter how much Kathy had tried to make it sound honourable, the fact they’d had an affair couldn’t help but make Sai look bad. Even the shiny nosed policeman finally expressed some interest, clearly understanding some of what Kathy was saying and the implications of what it could mean.
“But that doesn’t mean he killed his wife. He would never do that,” Kathy pleaded, as even she began to realise that every word leaving her mouth was probably making the situation worse.
“Miss Schneider,” the senior policeman remarked, leaning in to look at her, “a very credible witness has given a statement that Yamamoto-san was the last person to leave his wife’s bedside the day she was murdered. The murder, it also seems, was committed by someone who had the martial art experience that he has, and by what you tell me here today it seems he had a motive too. The way I understand it is that his wife was suffering from early Alzheimer’s, she was in hospital care, he felt trapped in his marriage and wanted a way out. To be with you perhaps? And I presume that is his baby?” the policeman declared, looking down at the small bump that had slowly appeared over the last few weeks on Kathy’s belly.
Dumbfounded, Kathy stared at the policemen in front of her. She couldn’t argue back and I could see the tears starting to well up in her eyes.
“Sai never knew I was pregnant. He still doesn’t. I left him. I told him it was over,” Kathy sobbed, looking at me for help. “You have to let me see him!”
“I am afraid that is not possible at the moment. Thank you for your time today Miss Schneider. I think we are finished here. We will be in touch if we need you again.” And before Kathy could argue we were efficiently escorted out of Harajuku police station and onto the streets of Tokyo.
It was already getting dark as the late autumn sun set behind the numerous skyscrapers, but I could tell that Kathy was already regretting her not so sparkling character reference.
“I’m sorry,” I winced.
“What are you sorry for?” Kathy replied with a hint of anger, but not turning to look at me.
“You did your best,” I smiled, trying to reassure her.
“I did my best?” Kathy mocked, finally looking at me. “I may as well have written guilty all over those damn policeman’s papers for the good my reference has done Sai.”
As the city buzzed around us in our little foreign bubble, I tried to hold Kathy‘s hand but she pulled away.
“I’m still sorry Kathy. What are you going to do now?” I whispered.
“Look, I need a drink. Let’s find somewhere okay and sit down. I just want to get away from this place and clear my head.”
“Sure, but non-alcoholic for you okay?” I said nervously as I followed Kathy away from the busy main road and down the narrow back streets, to where I wasn’t sure.
As I struggled to keep up with Kathy I couldn’t help but feel like I had stepped into chaos once again, but instead of leaving the dreary London I had known for most of my life and disappearing into the remote jungles of Thailand, I was now back in the city. A similar city in many ways with its tall buildings and endless traffic and people, but a city which was also vastly different. For the last couple of days since arriving in Tokyo I had felt dis-attached in ways I couldn’t explain. Maybe I had become too accustomed to the remoteness of the Thai jungle and was no longer a city girl, but as people rushed by, careful to avoid me but clearly ignoring my presence in their Japanese way, it just made me feel lonely.
The streets grew narrower as we headed deeper into the on-coming night life of Harajuku. As I stared up at the vertical neon signs I thought Tokyo looked quite futuristic in its appearance compared to London, but it was just as busy, if not more so, as thousands of locals and tourists alike crowded the streets forcing me to focus on where Kathy had gone.
“Hey wait up,” I shouted to Kathy as I rushed after her, finally causing a few locals to look at me. “Where are we going?”
“Does it matter?” Kathy mumbled, stopping in a daze as giggling cosplay girls and steely-eyed ginger-haired rock wannabees wandered by, oblivious to our mood and heavily focussed on theirs.
“You can’t just give up Kathy. I thought you believed in Sai?” I replied, trying to reason with her. She was scaring me as I had never seen her so defeatist.
“I guess you don’t believe in him either do you?”
“What? Where did that come from? How can you say that? I barely know the guy.”
“So you do believe he did it? You’re just as bad as them,” Kathy scowled.
“What? Kathy please, you’re being unreasonable. Why not just calm down and we’ll find somewhere nice to go eat okay?” I pleaded, beginning to get annoyed, but Kathy was beyond reasoning and shrugged me off, disappearing into the crowd. I didn’t have the energy to follow her and swearing under my breath I turned and headed in the opposite direction in the hope of finding my way back to the hotel. I didn’t feel like hanging around Harajuku, or any Tokyo streets for that matter. I just wanted Sunan and the quiet, but neither were forthcoming.
“Ow!” I blurted angrily as an unusually stocky Japanese man bumped into me, but upon catching his stare I swallowed my pride and apologised for fear of reprisal. ‘How British,’ I thought angrily to myself as I turned to leave, but then I realised he had been the first person to actually bump into me. ‘All these hundreds of people swallowed down these alleyways and not one has even brushed past me,’ I thought turning to see if the man was still there, but I was relieved to see he had gone.
Breathing a sigh of relief I wandered dazed onto the underground train in the direction of Shibuya and our hotel. I was still feeling annoyed at not only being bumped into, but also at Kathy. I was beginning to feel like she was blaming me somehow for Sai’s imprisonment, which was really unfair.
‘I came here for her,’ I thought angrily, recalling how she had virtually begged me to come to Japan after I said I had wanted to stay with Sunan in Bangkok. ‘I have no idea if Sai is guilty or innocent. How can I?’ I asked myself, but after all the evidence put forward it was hard not to side with the policemen. ‘Maybe Sai is just a psycho trapped in a miserable marriage,’ I thought angrily. ‘He had been harassing Kathy by phone a lot to join him in Japan even though his wife was still in that care-home.’ I felt guilty at the way I was thinking, but it was hard to disagree with the evidence.
Sighing, I rested my head against the end of the train carriage and stared at the darkness of the tunnel opposite. It matched my mood. Even though Japan seemed exciting, and at any other time I would probably be delighted to explore its secrets, all I wanted to do now was to bury my head in a pillow and pretend I was back in Thailand. I was being selfish and miserable, I knew that, but I couldn’t stop myself.
Placing my hand in my pocket to check my phone once again for any messages from Sunan I was surprised to find a piece of card poking out.
‘Mr Eguchi Hiroto? How the hell did this get here?’ I asked myself, turning a pristine business card over in my hand. The man’s name was written boldly in English alongside a single phone number with a small yin and yang symbol underneath in gold. Turning the card over I was shocked to read a hand written message stating ‘call me’ on the back.
‘Is this some kind of weird pick-up line?’ I thought confused, but then I twigged. “The stocky guy,” I blurted out loud, much to the surprise of my fellow passengers. ‘But why would he want to speak with me? How does he even know me?’ I thought.
As Shibuya was called out over the tannoy, I flew out of my chair and headed out of the station in a daze. I was relieved to find that the hotel Kathy had booked for us, or rather Sai had got someone else to book for us, was easy to find. The building stood tall in the distance, and looked quite upmarket compared to anything we had stayed at back in Thailand, which kind of made me resent him even more. It also made me wonder how much money Sai had to afford such a place.
I headed up the street and over what seemed like a major highway running right through the city and into the swish foyer of the swanky hotel. For once I had at least dressed for the part, having been clearly instructed by Kathy to dress smartly for the police interview, although I didn’t think it had made a blind bit of difference.
“I have a room booked here I think. Name Lapping, or Schneider?” I asked one of the many receptionists. Smiling, the neatly dressed young Japanese girl typed away into her computer and efficiently gave me my room card, and before I knew it I was staring at my pale appearance in the very lavish gold tinted lift mirror. Back in Thailand I had repeatedly complained about the accommodation we’d had to endure at the remote temple in the jungle, and even dreamed of staying in such a place like this, but now I just wished I was back at the rustic temple.
My thoughts returned to Kathy. I wondered if she was okay. Nothing had felt right since we got here, what with me being away from Sunan and now Kathy and I arguing. I had never felt so far away from home, not that I even knew where home was anymore. Even Piyabutr back in Thailand had said that helping friends was more important than hanging around there. That had hurt a little, but I knew he was right. I just selfishly didn’t want to admit it.
Opening the door to mine and Kathy’s room I discovered two huge single beds, more like individual double beds, and a stylish seating area next to a vast floor to ceiling window, which looked out onto a now glowing city night skyline. It was stunning and for a second I couldn’t stop gaping around the room and out at the view. Gathering myself I dumped my bag and flicked on the bathroom light next to me. It was just as lavish, with chrome taps and a massive walk-in rain shower. Even the toilet was like something from a futuristic science exhibition with all its buttons and gadgets.
‘I’ll have to play with that later,’ I smiled to myself as I headed over to the window.
The room was high up amongst the skyscrapers and it was a lot quieter compared to being on ground level, but I could still see all the people rushing about below. I was amused at how they all congregated at the traffic lights, patiently waiting for the lights to change before they crossed the busy road en masse. Neon lights and large LED screens flickered messages on endless skyscrapers, either displaying adverts or various Kanji characters. I had no idea what they said, but I couldn’t help but think they looked cool.
‘Tokyo is definitely beautiful at night. Maybe I haven’t given it a chance,’ I thought sadly, trying to relax.
Spying a bottle of champagne on the side I walked over and cracked it open. ‘Kathy can’t drink anyway,’ I thought, ‘and after the day I’ve had there is nothing more I need right now. Well, except Sunan,’ I thought miserably. I knew I was displaying stereotypical female traits as my heart ached, but he hadn’t called once since I’d arrived in Tokyo. I also had no way of calling him as I had no idea where he even was, ‘just somewhere in Bangkok,’ I thought helplessly as I poured myself a glass of the extremely bubbly alcohol. The only thing that had kept me going was the fact that he had wanted to come and had pleaded with me to stay behind. ‘Maybe that was why I was now being a little cold towards Kathy,’ I thought guiltily. I knew I was being selfish as she had gone through so much for me back in Thailand, ‘and now she thinks I don’t even believe in Sai. I’m such a bitch,’ I thought, as I swigged at what I now discovered was very expensive champagne. ‘Damn, I hope this is already paid for.’
As I topped up my glass I noticed a card propped up behind the bottle and picked it up.
“Courtesy of Yamamoto Enterprises,” I whispered out loud, looking over the card. ‘Yamamoto Enterprises? This Sai guy has some serious money by the looks of it,’ I thought, but what really caught my eye was the gold yin and yang symbol printed underneath. It was the same as the one on the card I had found in my pocket. ‘Weird,’ I thought, placing it back down in haste as Kathy launched herself into the room.
“Where have you been?” I exclaimed rushing over.
“I see you started before me?” Kathy grunted pushing past me and dumping her bag.
“You haven’t been drinking have you? What about the baby?” I asked concerned.
“Of course I haven’t. What do you take me for?”
“Where have you been?” I repeated, as Kathy slumped down on one of the Italian leather chairs and stared out at the view.
“Nowhere interesting. Just stop fussing will you.”
“Look, stop taking this out on me. I came all the way to Japan for you.”
“Yeah and don’t I know about it,’ Kathy growled, but sighing she softened her voice. ’Look, I’m sorry. It’s just … I feel so helpless,” Kathy sobbed, burying her head into her hands. Rushing over I couldn’t help but feel guilty at my earlier coldness.
“I’m sorry I walked off Kathy. It’s just been hard leaving Sunan behind that’s all. I am here for you, honestly. I don’t think Sai is guilty. If you are convinced he is innocent then I believe you and we will do whatever we can to find out as much as we can okay?” I didn’t know what else to say but Kathy seemed reassured a little as her sobbing calmed.
“It’s just… if I’m honest? I am unsure myself and that’s what hurts the most. Do you really think he could kill his wife just to be with me?’ Kathy asked. “What kind of man does that? Was it because I refused to be with him because of his ill wife? What if I caused her death Em?”
“Kathy you can’t think like that. Have faith okay, even if no-one else does. We need to speak to people he knows and lead our own investigation somehow.”
“Can we do that?”
“Why not? Sai must have contacts that can help us or give us some information. He seems to have a lot of money. Just look at this place.”
Kathy smiled. “Yeah, I forgot to tell you, he’s quite well-off.”
“And you didn’t want to be with him?” I laughed.
Finally smiling Kathy hugged me.
“I’m sorry Em. I know I’m being a bitch, and I know how hard it was for you to leave Sunan behind but I really do appreciate you being here. I couldn’t do this without you.”
“So where did you end up?” I asked.
“Oh I just found this cool little café stroke art gallery place. Was rammed mind you, but I just sat and had an ice-tea and some noodles. Weird though, this guy kept staring at me.”
“Well, who wouldn’t? You’re a complete babe,” I grinned, trying to lighten the mood.
“No seriously, it was weird. This guy was huge, not sumo huge, but stocky. There was this weird tree coming out of one of the tables and I was just staring at it thinking how unusual it was and that’s when I noticed him staring at me. I left in the end as it was freaking me out. It’s like Thailand all over again.”
“He didn’t have a red coat on by any chance?”
“Yeah he did, why? Have you seen him too?”
“I think so. When I left you I was a little pissed off… sorry,” I winced. ’But I bumped, or rather this guy bumped into me really hard. He was big too and he had a red coat on. He left me this card. At least I think it’s from him. I found it when I was on the train heading back here.”
“Card?” Kathy asked confused.
“Yeah, it says call me?”
“Are you going to?”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit weird? He sounds like the same guy who was staring at you. It’s creepy if you ask me.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. I thought he looked kind of sad. I mean yeah, the guy was huge, but he was all alone and he just had this look, as if he was really depressed. Being stared at wasn’t comfortable, but he didn’t follow me or anything.”
“Well, he certainly gave me a bruise. But get this, look at the yin and yang symbol on this card and then look at this card.” I got up and showed Kathy the courtesy card from Sai’s company with the same yin and yang symbol.
“Do you think he knows Sai then? Maybe he has some information. You have to ring him Em,” Kathy replied, the desperation returning to her voice.
“Why me? If he was spying on you then maybe he’s keen to speak to you more, and you do know Sai after all. Can’t you call him?” I replied nervously. I really didn’t feel like ringing him anymore than Kathy seemed too, but I knew one of us had too, and I knew it was going to be me, especially after Kathy gave me her puppy-eyed look.
‘Great,’ I thought.