Devotion of Suspect X

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9780349123745: Devotion of Suspect X

Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered.When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime...One of the biggest-selling Japanese thrillers ever, and the inspiration for a cult film, The Devotion of Suspect X is now being discovered across the world. Its blend of a page-turning story, evocative Tokyo setting and utterly surprising ending make it a must-read for anyone interested in international fiction.

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About the Author:

Keigo Higashino is a Japanese author chiefly known for mystery novels. Born in Osaka, he started writing novels while still working as an engineer at Nippon Denso Co. He won the Edogawa Rampo Prize, which is awarded annually to the finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hokago (After School) at age 27. Subsequently, he quit his job and started a career as a writer in Tokyo.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

At 7:35 A.M. Ishigami left his apartment as he did every weekday morning. Just before stepping out onto the street, he glanced at the mostly full bicycle lot, noting the absence of the green bi­cycle. Though it was already March, the wind was bitingly cold. He walked with his head down, burying his chin in his scarf. A short way to the south, about twenty yards, ran Shin-Ohashi Road. From that intersection the road ran east into the Edogawa dis­trict, west toward Nihonbashi. Just before Nihonbashi, it crossed the Sumida River at the Shin-Ohashi Bridge.

The quickest route from Ishigami’s apartment to his work­place was due south. It was only a quarter mile or so to Seicho Garden Park. He worked at the private high school just before the park. He was a teacher. He taught math.

Ishigami walked south to the red light at the intersection, then he turned right, toward Shin-Ohashi Bridge. The wind blew in his face, making his coat flap around him. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and hunched over, quickening his pace.

A thick layer of clouds covered the sky, their gray reflection making the Sumida River look even murkier than usual. A small boat was making its way upstream. Ishigami noted its progress as he crossed the bridge.

On the other side, he took a set of stairs that led from the foot of the bridge down to the Sumida. Passing beneath the iron struts of the bridge, he began to walk along the river. Pedestrian walkways were built into the molded concrete riverbanks on both sides of the water. Further down, near Kiyosu Bridge, families and couples often strolled along the river, but such people seldom vis­ited the riverbanks this far up. The long row of cardboard shan­ties covered in blue vinyl sheets kept them away. This was where the homeless lived, in the shadow of an expressway overpass that ran along the west side of the river. Ishigami figured the looming overpass must have provided some shelter from the wind and rain. The fact that not a single shack stood on the other side of the river gave weight to this hypothesis, though it was possible the first squatters had settled there by accident and the others had simply followed them, preferring the safety of their community, such as it was, to solitude across the water.

He made his way down the row of shanties, glancing briefly at them as he walked. Most were barely tall enough for a man to stand up inside, and some of the structures only rose as high as his waist. They were more boxes than shacks. Maybe it was enough to have a place to sleep.

Plastic laundry hangers had been rigged up near the boxes, signs of domestic life. A man was leaning up against the railing that ran between the walkway and the water, brushing his teeth. Ishigami had seen him around. He was past sixty, and his gray­ish white hair was bound in a long ponytail. He had probably given up on work. If it was physical labor he wanted, he wouldn’t have been hanging around now. Those jobs were filled in the early morning hours. He wouldn’t be going to the unemploy­ment office, either. Even if they did find a job suitable for him, with that long hair of his he’d never make it as far as the inter­view. The chances of anyone wanting him for a job at his age were close to zero anyway.

 

Another man stood near his sleeping box, crushing a row of empty cans under his foot. Ishigami had witnessed this scene sev­eral times before, and he had secretly named this fellow the Can Man. The Can Man looked to be around fifty. He had good clothes and even a bicycle. Ishigami figured that his can-collecting trips kept him more active and alert than the others. He lived at the edge of the community, deep under the bridge, which must have been a position of privilege. The Can Man was a village elder, then—an old-timer, even in this crowd—or so Ishigami saw him.

A little way on from where the line of cardboard shanties petered out, another man was sitting on a bench. His coat must have once been beige, but now it was scuffed and gray. He was wearing a suit jacket underneath it, though, and beneath that a white work shirt. Ishigami guessed that he had a necktie stashed away in his coat pocket. Ishigami had labeled him the Engineer a few days earlier, after spotting him reading an industrial trade magazine. He kept his hair cropped short, and he shaved. Maybe he hoped he’d be going back to work soon. He would be off to the unemployment office today, but he probably wouldn’t find a job. He would have to lose his pride before that happened. Ishi­gami had first seen the Engineer about ten days ago. He wasn’t used to life along the river yet, still drawing an imaginary line between himself and the blue vinyl sheets. Yet here he stayed, not knowing how to live on his own without a home.

Ishigami continued walking along the river. Just before Kiyosu Bridge, he came upon an elderly woman taking three dogs for a walk. The dogs were miniature dachshunds, each with a different colored collar, one red, one blue, and one pink. As he approached, the woman seemed to notice him. She smiled and nodded. He nodded in reply.

“Good morning,” he offered.

“Good morning. Cold, isn’t it?”

“Quite,” he replied, grimacing for effect.

The old woman bade him a good day as she passed by, and he gave her a final nod.

Some days before, Ishigami had seen the woman carrying a plastic convenience store bag with something like sandwiches in it—probably her breakfast. He surmised from this that she lived alone. Her home wouldn’t be far from here. She was wearing flip-flops, and she wouldn’t be able to drive a car in those. She had probably lost her husband years before and now lived in a nearby apartment with her three dogs. A big place, if she was keeping three dogs there. No doubt her pets had kept her from moving to a smaller room somewhere. Maybe she had already paid off the mortgage, but there would still be maintenance fees, so she had to scrimp and save. She hadn’t been to the beauty salon once this winter. Her hair showed its natural color, free from dye.

At the foot of Kiyosu Bridge, Ishigami climbed the stairs back up to the road. The school was across the bridge from here, but he turned and walked in the opposite direction.

A sign facing the road read “Benten-tei.” Beneath it was a small shop that made boxed lunches. Ishigami slid open the aluminum- framed glass door.

 

“Good morning! Come in, come in,” came the call. It was a familiar greeting and a familiar voice, but it somehow always managed to put a spring in his step. Yasuko Hanaoka smiled at him from behind the counter. She was wearing a white hat.

Ishigami felt another thrill as he realized that there were no other customers in the shop. They were alone.

“I’ll take the special.”

“One special, coming up,” she replied brightly. Ishigami couldn’t see her expression as he was staring into his wallet, unable to look her in the face. Given that they lived next door to each other, Ishigami felt like he should have something to talk about other than his boxed lunch order, but nothing came to mind.

When he finally came up with “Cold today, isn’t it,” he mumbled the words, and they were lost in the sound of another customer opening the sliding glass door behind him. Yasuko’s attention had turned to the new arrival.

Boxed lunch in hand, Ishigami walked out of the store. This time, he headed straight for Kiyosu Bridge, his detour to Benten- tei finished.

 

 

 

After the morning rush, things slowed down at Benten-tei, at least as far as customers were concerned. In the back, however, there were lunches to be made. Several local companies had the shop deliver meals for all their employees by twelve o’clock. So, when the customers stopped coming, Yasuko would go back into the kitchen to lend a hand.

There were four employees at Benten-tei. Yonazawa was the manager, assisted by his wife Sayoko. Kaneko, a part-timer, was responsible for making deliveries, while Yasuko dealt with all the in-shop customers.

Before her current job, Yasuko had worked in a nightclub in Kinshicho. Yonazawa had been a regular there and Sayoko had been the club’s mama— though Yasuko hadn’t known they were married until just before Sayoko quit.

“She wants to go from being the mama at a bar to the good wife at a lunch shop,” Yonazawa had told her. “Can you believe it? Some people never fail to surprise me.” Rumors had begun to fly at the club, but according to Sayoko, it had been the couple’s long-held dream to run a place of their own. She had only been working at the club to save up for that.

After Benten-tei opened, Yasuko had made a habit of drop­ping in now and then to see how the two were doing. Business was apparently good—good enough that, a year later, they asked her if she’d be interested in helping out. It had become too much for the two of them to handle on their own.

“You can’t go on in that shady business forever, Yasuko,” Say­oko had told her. “Besides, Misato’s getting bigger. You wouldn’t want her developing a complex because her mom’s a nightclub hostess. Of course,” she’d added, “it’s none of my business.”

Misato was Yasuko’s only daughter. There was no father in her life after Yasuko’s last divorce, five years ago. Yasuko hadn’t needed Sayoko to tell her she couldn’t go on as she was. Besides her daughter’s welfare, there was her own age to consider. It was far from clear how long she could have kept her job even if she wanted it.

It only took her a day to come to a decision, and the club didn’t even try to hold on to her. They had just wished her well, and that was all. Apparently she hadn’t been the only one con­cerned about her future there.

She had moved into her current apartment in the spring a year ago, which coincided with Misato entering junior high school. Her old place was too far from her new job. And, unlike the club, get­ting to her new work on time meant getting up by six and being on her bicycle by six thirty. Her green bicycle.

“That high school teacher come again today?” Sayoko asked her during a break.

“Doesn’t he come every day?” Yasuko replied, catching Say­oko sharing a grin with her husband. “What? What’s that for?”

“Oh nothing, nothing. We were just saying the other day how we thought he might fancy you.”

“Whaaat?” Yasuko leaned back from the table, a cup of tea in her hand.

“You were off yesterday, weren’t you? Well, guess what? He didn’t come in yesterday. Don’t you think it’s strange that he should come every day, except for the days when you’re not here?”

“I think it’s a coincidence.”

“Well, we think maybe it’s not.” Sayoko glanced again at her husband.

Yonazawa nodded, still grinning. “It’s been going on for a while now,” he said with a nod at his wife. “‘Every day that Yas­uko’s out, he doesn’t come here for his lunch,’ she says. I’d won­dered about it myself, to tell the truth, and when he didn’t show yesterday, that kind of confirmed it for me.”

“But I don’t have any set vacations, other than the days the whole shop is closed. It’s not like I’m out every Monday or some­thing obvious like that.”

“Which makes it even more suspicious!” Sayoko concluded, a twinkle in her eye. “He lives next door to you, doesn’t he? He must see you leave for work. That’s how he knows.”

Yasuko shook her head. “But I’ve never met him on my way out, not even once.”

“Maybe he’s watching you from someplace. A window, maybe?”

“I don’t think he can see my door from his window.”

“In any case, if he is interested, he’ll say something sooner or later,” Yonazawa said. “As far as we’re concerned, we have a regu­lar customer thanks to you, so it’s good news for us. Looks like your training in Kinshicho paid off.”

Yasuko gave a wry smile and drank down the rest of her tea, thinking about the high school teacher.

His name was Ishigami. She had gone to his apartment the night she moved in to introduce herself. That’s when she’d learned he was a teacher. He was a heavyset man, with a big, round face that made his small eyes look thin as threads. His hair was thin­ning and cut short, making him look nearly fifty, though he might easily have been much younger. He wasn’t particularly fashion conscious, always wearing the same sort of clothes. This winter, when he came in to buy his lunch, he was wearing the same coat over a brown sweater. Still, he did do his laundry, as was evidenced by the occasional presence of a drying rack on the small balcony of his apartment. He was single and, Yasuko guessed, not a divorcé or widower.

She thought back, trying to remember something that might have clued her in to his interest, but came up with nothing. He was like the thin crack in her apartment wall. She knew it was there, but she had never paid it that much attention. It just wasn’t worth paying attention to.

They exchanged greetings whenever they met and had even discussed the management at their apartment building once. Yet Yasuko found she knew very little about the man himself. She had only recently learned that he taught math, when she happened to notice outside his apartment door a bundle of old math textbooks, wrapped in string and awaiting disposal.

Yasuko hoped he wouldn’t ask her out on a date. Then she smiled to herself, trying and failing to imagine the dour-looking man’s face as he asked the question.

As on every other day, the midday rush at Benten-tei began right before lunchtime, peaking just after noon. Things didn’t really quiet down again until after one o’clock.

Yasuko was sorting the bills in the register when the sliding glass door opened and someone walked in. “Hello,” she chimed automatically, looking up. Then she froze. Her eyes opened wide and her voice caught in her throat.

“You look well,” said the man who was standing there. He was smiling, but his eyes were darkly clouded.

“You . . .  how did you find me here?”

“Is it so surprising? I can find out where my ex-wife works if I have a mind to.” The man looked around the shop, both hands thrust into the pockets of his dark navy windbreaker, like a pro­spective customer trying to figure out what he should buy.

“But why? Why now?” Yasuko asked, her voice sharp but low.

She glowered at him, inwardly praying that the Yonazawas in the back wouldn’t hear them talking.

“Don’t look so frightening. How long has it been since I saw you last? And you can’t even manage a polite smile?” He grinned.

Yasuko shivered. “If you’re here to chitchat, you can save your­self the trouble and turn around right now.”

“Actually, I came for a reason. I have a favor to ask. Think you can get out for a bit?”

“Don’t be an idiot. Can’t you see I’m working?” Yasuko said, then immediately regretted it. That made it sound like I would have talked with him if I wasn’t at work.

The man licked his lips. “What time do you get off?”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk to you. Please, just leave and don’t come back.”

“Ouch. Cold.”

“What did you expect?”

Yasuko glanced outside, hoping that a customer would walk in, but the street w...

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