Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn: A Thriller (Thomas Dunne Books)

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9780312311582: Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn: A Thriller (Thomas Dunne Books)
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Detective Inspector Hideo Aoki learns that his case against ex-Governor Tamaki--one that he has been building for months-- has been dismantled. Rattled by this directive, his life begins to spiral out of control, fueled by his obsession over the case, heavy drinking, and several repercussions too close to home.  In an effort to help the emotionally unstable Aoki, the police department sends him to a remote Japanese mountain retreat.

What was supposed to be a relaxing stay for the recently suspended investigator instead becomes a hotbed of suspense.   Soon, familiar faces, furtive glances, secret dinner conversations and lurking secrets make Aoki realize that the guests at the Kamakura Inn are not unrelated. It becomes clear that something beyond coincidence has put them together; politician, banker, suspended detective, and an elusive Go master who manipulates Aoki like his game board pieces.

A sudden snowstorm traps the guests together just as Aoki begins to piece together each guest's connection to an unsolved disappearance years prior. With no communication to the outside world, or method of escape, the relaxing retreat becomes a maze of stone walls, a geisha's seduction, and bloody murders in the night. Before long, Aoki realizes that his investigation into ex-Governor Tamaki and the unsolved disappearance are part of a larger scheme.
 
Now Aoki must survive the snowstorm and make the swift return to Tokyo to uncover a multitude of secrets, and return alone to the case against Tamaki.  Even in Tokyo, the characters from the Kamakura Inn are players and Aoki once again must escape the web of deceit before it closes in around him.  Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn is another thrilling tale crafted by the critically acclaimed author of Eye of the Abyss and the Inspector Anders series.

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About the Author:

MARSHALL BROWNE, born in Melbourne, is a sixth generation Australian. He is currently working on a second Inspector Anders thriller. His wife Merell, is an interior designer, and their daughter Justine, works at the Australian Embassy, Washington D.C..

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Aoki's brain registered the muzzle flash as the bullet went bzzzz past his head. His pistol was thrust forward two-handed as he fired a fast bracket at where he'd seen the flash. Ten yards into the alley a figure detached itself from the darkness and Aoki fired again. The figure toppled backward and thumped on concrete. Aoki, breathing hard, sweat drenching his armpits, edged forward. Saburi, weapon extended, moved past him and the prone figure, going deeper into the alley.

Nothing more. No one else. Only the muffled sound of traffic, the rattling of air conditioners, and water spitting down. In Aoki's flashlight the wide open eyes of the dead yakuza shone like glass buttons.

Today, gazing down into the street from his window at the incoming tide of salarymen and women, the flashback from two years ago had come as a momentary distraction to Aoki. In the here and now his stomach was queasy, as if he'd had a meal of bad food. He sucked softly at his lower lip.

The terse brevity of Superintendent Watanabe, when he'd reported to him on the interoffice phone five minutes ago, had been a wake-up call, but more than that, it was the general atmosphere he was taking in. After twenty years in the Tokyo police, the beeping of the excrement detector in his brain was a definite warning that shit was coming down the freeway.

Turning away from the window he told himself, "Overnight, something's changed." At 10:00 p.m. everything seemed on schedule.

Aoki was a man of medium height, broad-shouldered, with a wide, dark-complexioned face that had a prominent mole on its left cheek. He stood in his glass cubicle and, eyes narrowed, watched the seven detectives of his team emerge from the elevator. Initially there'd been ten, but three had cracked under the strain and departed. Assistant Inspectors Nishi and Sagamoto, who were to accompany him and the superintendent to the director general's office at 8:15 a.m., led the way, each with an armful of files.

It was just after 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday in August. In the modern air-conditioned building that housed several divisions of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's Criminal Investigation Bureau, computer screens were flashing on, and phones beginning to ring.

Aoki lit a cigarette and stared through the glass at his men assembling outside his door. He looked solid, seasoned, and tough, and all of that was true.

Just possibly, his imagination was acting up, though he wasn't strong on imagination. He muttered, "We'll just go in and do it." He butted the cigarette in an ashtray, turned, put on his suit coat, and stepped outside.

The waiting detectives bowed as one, and he gave a perfunctory response. Their eyes were on his face. Two years before, he'd broken a big insurance fraud case that had hit the headlines, and three big-time businessmen, despite the intervention of local politicians, had gone to prison. Relentlessly, Aoki had flushed them out from behind a complex corporate structure, together with the crooked appraiser who inflated the building's valuation before they set it alight. The same year, Aoki had taken over a stalled double-murder investigation in Shinjuku, unearthing a new set of witnesses and solving the case. His team members might sometimes curse him behind his back, but they respected his record, as did his superiors.

Now, possibly, this major case was about to break, bringing them all promotion.

"Okay, let's go," he said to Nishi and Sagamoto.

"Good luck, Aoki-san," Sergeant Saburi said, with a thumbs-up. They took the elevator to the top floor.

Superintendent Watanabe was waiting in the director general's anteroom, his thin lips skeptical, wearing one of his yellow silk ties. He was an ambivalent supporter of the case, as Aoki'd known for a long time, though Watanabe's agenda was always hard to precisely determine.

Something was wrong. Aoki knew that as soon as the female secretary, all bows, ushered them in. The only person in the room was Director General Omori, and he was standing, his hands locked behind him, gazing at a wall map of the central business district. Every other time Aoki had entered this room the DG had been seated at his desk, and he'd reported here the last Friday of each of the past seventeen months, to brief the CIB chief.

The director general was a sawn-off heap of muscle, thick-necked, with a bull-like torso and a sparse hatch of spiky hair. His face was molded by impatience and pressure, as were his movements, but this morning, gazing at the map, he was as inert as a squat stone statue.

The long conference table wasn't set up for a meeting, and the district prosecutor and his aides weren't there. Aoki took this in.

In unison, the four detectives bowed to the DG's back, and the secretary withdrew, closing the door. Watanabe cleared his throat, the DG turned around, and right then, Aoki knew what was coming.

Omori nodded at Superintendent Watanabe, then peered at Aoki. "The case won't be proceeding," he growled. "There's to be no prosecution. The decision's come down from the top. The investigation's to be closed off, the work records sealed." He took a step forward, and peered harder at Aoki's face. "This is bad news for you, after all your good work."

Aoki watched the DG's lips move, heard the words spoken in the harsh, irritated voice, and his brain was analyzing them---yet was it someone else's brain?

Omori said, "Do you understand? There's nothing more to be done. There'll be no discussion. That man is now off-limits."

In the silence, Aoki heard the distant hum of the traffic below. "Yes, Director General," the superintendent said for the silent Aoki. "That is understood, by everyone."

"Very well." The DG had eyes only for Aoki.

Aoki's mind was in a turmoil now, but his face was blank. Overnight, it appeared, even the ex-governor's name had become unmentionable; it was the fact his brain had seized on to be amazed at. He'd had so much to say, so much careful and watertight evidence to present. He felt his face begin to redden.

Abruptly, restored to full energy, the DG turned his back on his officers and headed for his desk. They bowed and filed out.

In the anteroom, Watanabe took Aoki aside. "Politicians give and they take away. That's the world you and I live in, Inspector." His all-seeing, cynical eyes studied Aoki. "You and your team will receive new assignments tomorrow. Today, there'll be some cleaning up to do."

That was the moment when Aoki realized that this was no surprise to the superintendent.

In the elevator, Watanabe said into Aoki's ear, "At least you'll get your life back."

In his glass cubicle, his team standing in a half-circle, Aoki told them precisely what had been said, nothing less, nothing more. He absorbed the shock on the younger cops' faces. Sergeant Saburi was red-faced and squinting. Aoki knew almost nothing about his team's private lives, but he did know the case had cost Saburi his marriage. Assistant Inspectors Nishi and Sagamoto, who were about Aoki's age, had not spoken a word since leaving the DG's office.

Through the glass wall he could see that five men in plain clothes had arrived. Two of them he recognized: senior officers from the internal affairs unit. They were wheeling a cart piled with flattened cardboard boxes.

At 2:30 p.m. Aoki led the team out of the building, across the road, and into a narrow Ginza street lined with bars and overhung with racketing air conditioners. The air felt heavy and liquid. Even at this hour, rock music beat bruises on the brain. Aoki's wet brow was deepset in a frown. Where does this leave me? Where in the fuck does it leave me? He pushed through the entrance of a bar and ordered beer for all.

His men drank in silence, some of them glancing at the inspector. Among themselves, they'd nicknamed him De Niro after the American film actor he resembled, especially because of the mole. Gradually the shock loosened its grip as they drank the beer. They'd all had to hand in their notebooks and computer disks on the case and, supervised by the internal affairs officers, clean the files from their computers. All of them, in varying degrees, had found it a demeaning experience.

Slamming his pile of notebooks into one of the boxes, Aoki had felt deeply dishonored. The internal affairs inspector had shot him a look, but Aoki had tightened his lips and kept silent: His men were all taking their cue from him.

He fumbled for a cigarette and lit up. The internal affairs men had been impersonal, but Aoki had seen the senior man observing him closely, doubtless under instructions. He'd have to watch himself. Already, in walking out with his team like this, he'd made a wrong move.

His ex-team. He'd driven them hard: fourteen-hour days, six-day weeks, no vacation for seventeen months, each guy sworn to secrecy. It was a wonder the casualty rate hadn't been higher. Occasionally, usually after a breakthrough, he'd taken them out for beer, his only concession to a note of relaxation.

They were drinking Kirin. Assistant Inspector Nishi, who had a cousin who was an executive with the brewer, drank that beer out of family solidarity and encouraged colleagues to follow suit. All of them were smoking.

Chin in hand, Aoki gazed at a huge colored photograph of Mount Fuji on the bar's wall. The great snow-capped dome gleamed against an azure sky, captured on one of the few days in the year when smog and the weather permitted it to reveal itself in its full glory. Mostly its presence was as elusive as the shape of the case they'd been working on.

Aoki took a sudden long pull at his beer. The case was etched on his brain like a steel engraving, from the first day till this one: corruption, and other crimes, at top level in the government; specifically, ex-governor Yukio Tamaki, known in the ruling party's circles, even nationwide, as the Fatman. The case had been assigned to Aoki in extraordinary secrecy, with a personal briefing by the director general, Superintendent Watanabe, at his most enigmatic, sitting in.

That ex-governor Tamaki had connections to the yakuza had been no surprise to Aoki. Cynical gossip had enfolded the man over a long political career; every post he'd held---in his prefecture, in the national government, on parliamentary committees---had been a pipeline for the gangsters. Massive apartment developments that had bypassed planning rules were nicknamed Fatman's Towers, or Gardens, or some such. Even a large bridge that had only been necessary in the eyes of the developers and certain officials was unofficially named for him. The yakuza had been deep in these projects.

Aoki glanced along the bar. Sergeant Saburi appeared to be in a daze. Poor bastard. Aoki stubbed out his cigarette and stuck a fresh one in his lips.

The only surprise was that politicians in Tamaki's own party, albeit from a different faction, had decided to destroy him. Naturally, this wasn't mentioned at the briefing, but it had soon become clear enough. Aoki had handpicked his ten detectives, and they'd begun to identify committees Tamaki had been on and suspicious projects in the wide spectrum of the ex-governor's affairs. Then they'd gone after witnesses. For a man with so many enemies, the Fatman was careless in protecting his back. Painstakingly, they'd assembled the evidence, persuading a dozen witnesses to testify.

In this, Aoki had been as forceful as he needed to be. Using blackmail and intimidation didn't worry him, and he cut corners where he judged he could get away with it. His attitude: The ends justified the means. It was all knife-edge stuff anyway. Of those in his team who'd fallen by the wayside, one had developed an ulcer, another'd had a nervous breakdown, and the third had resigned from the force.

"Do it all as softly as a spring breeze in bamboo," the director general had said. "Keep it quiet, keep it low-key, for now."

Some hope! They were forbidden to interview Tamaki; his factional opponents didn't want the Fatman forewarned of his impending fall. But Aoki had never fooled himself that word wouldn't soon wing back to the politician, who had eyes and ears planted in the nation's interlocking political and business structures. People who owed him.

Doubtless, he'd found out. When he'd sprung into the spotlight again as an alternative prime minister, the opposing faction had decided to back off. Sitting in the lazy afternoon, in the dim coolness of this bar, Aoki read it that way. Seventeen months! He stared again through the cigarette smoke at Mount Fuji. The Fatman! It was said that he gloried in that name, and he'd slipped through yet another net.

Deeply dishonored. Aoki turned his eyes to the survivors.

The younger guys, even Sagamoto, were getting boisterous. Assistant Inspector Nishi, silent, stared into space. Saburi played with his glass. It was 5:00 p.m., and he should send them home. Tomorrow, he'd have Watanabe on his back about this. Departmental discipline and the strictly hierarchical nature of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police didn't countenance such actions; the walkout and the drinking session would be taken as an act of dissent, though he guessed his yellow-tied boss would try to keep it quiet. He wouldn't want the undermining of his authority publicized.

A patrolman from the nearby police kiosk put his head in the door, attracted by the unusual volume of noise at this hour. Two of the detectives fumbled out ID, and he nodded companionably and went on his way.

Time to go. Aoki's wife and father would be startled by his return home at this early hour---unprecedented.

"Is it really all over?" Nishi muttered the question out of the corner of his mouth as they left.

Aoki gave him a terse nod. "We took too long. The climate's changed."

Smelling ripe with beer, they bowed to him. Tomorrow they'd be far-flung on new assignments.

Inspector Aoki didn't go home. A little drunk, but not showing it, he took the subway to Roppongi. From Roppongi station he walked ten minutes to the building where Tamaki had his apartment. Moisture from air conditioners flicked onto this head. The city and its citizens were suffering and enduring. "Everyone dies a little faster in a Tokyo summer"---his father's words. Down a stairway leading to a jazz club, a band was warming up, and Aoki turned toward the sound, but tonight it just didn't mean a thing.

The building was a prestigious high-rise, with expensive potted plants in the lobby and a uniformed doorman. The adjoining narrow streets were jam-packed with bars, restaurants, and human commotion. Soaked with perspiration, Aoki gazed up at the fourth-floor windows. How many times had he, or his men, watched this apartment, recording the comings and goings? The windows were dark. Tamaki was out and about, reveling in his multifarious activities and connections, scheming to get his fat ass into the prime minister's chair; scheming in a hundred fucking directions.

Aoki had penetrated the murky channels of much of the Fatman's world, but there was a lot more they hadn't uncovered. Now a steel door had crashed down, and here he was, saying good-bye to it, like a mourner at a funeral. This was going to take some getting used to.

Aoki took the train back to Central and walked through to the platform for Kamakura. The homeward commute was at its most virulent, and he had to stand for most of the one-hour journey. A wind of hot air hit Aoki in the face when the doors opened to disgorge people. He ignored the red-faced salarymen, coats slung over their arms. The bare-armed women looked cooler. He gazed at them, thinking that his wi...

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