"...flawlessly well-written mystery with a captivating plot that offers a dark perspective on family unity.” –IndieReader
Japanese business magnate Kenji Watanabe, 80, has protected the secrets surrounding his father’s murder for many years. When a detective calls in 2002 hoping to solve the case with new information, Kenji takes immediate action to keep the truth from becoming public.
In 1967, Kenji’s father, a former general in the Imperial Japanese Army, had more than his fair share of enemies. When a burglar stole his war sword and left a threatening note, it became clear that someone held a nasty grudge. And when the general was found murdered with Kenji holding the same sword over his dead body, Kenji became the prime suspect.
Kenji learned who killed his father and knew why, but no one was ever arrested. In 2002, the statute of limitations has already run out. No charges can be brought regardless of the new evidence. Yet, Kenji would rather die than reveal the secret.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)|
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Thursday, August 10th: Afternoon Toumi – Village near Karuizawa, Nagano
There were days when the war and China seemed little more than a distant dream, and then there were days like today. Kenji sat naked on the smooth stones of the outdoor hot spring bath high above a mellow green valley deep in the mountains of Japan and marveled at the serenity. He took in the scenery through the rising steam swirling above the fountain. Views such as this, abounding in the magnificence of nature, had always been uniquely spiritual for him. This was the land where he had spent his summers as a youth away from Tokyo's stifling heat, horizon-blocking skyscrapers, punctual trains every four minutes, and the anonymity that came with living in the largest city in the world.
Out on the plateau far below, he spotted a train meandering down a track and a few scattered specks of automobiles ambling about unhurriedly. The terrain brought back bittersweet memories of the days he had spent in Manchuria serving in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. He closed his eyes and listened to the breeze lifting and lowering the branches of the many cedars beside the bath and inhaled the scents of summers past.
It was a time and place to ponder, and Kenji was a man who loved to reminisce.
If he could just go back to those days of youth – of simplicity and freedom from the complexities of life that now dogged him daily. A sudden gust of wind caused him to open his eyes, and he resolved that he would begin living life differently from today, a promise he made to himself and broke on a regular basis. He had one last soak in the hot spring, dried and dressed, and went out to the lobby to meet his companion.
As was her custom, Ai sat in a provocative pose on one of the many sofas in the spacious lobby, her slender legs drawn up under her petite frame, smoking a cigarette, and thumbing through a magazine. She wore a red silk pantsuit embroidered with fearsome golden dragons. Her hair was held in a bun on the back of her head with a few inviting strands falling about her face and neck. She had a natural beauty that required little effort to maintain. Few women smoked in public, but Ai lit up in defiance of social norms. It was her protest to the world and all its inequities. As Kenji strode through the empty lobby toward her, she smiled at him – a smile that still thrilled Kenji after all the years they had been together.
"You had a nice bath?" she said in Japanese, but with a Chinese accent that Kenji found captivating. Ai had come to Japan from China after the war with her baby girl, Kayo. Her Japanese was far from perfect, but with her sense of style and elegance, it was impossible to detect anything other than grace in her delivery. Her slight mispronunciations merely added to her considerable feminine charm.
Her name, Ai, was one of the few words that held a common meaning in both Chinese and Japanese: love. Kenji had helped her name her daughter Kayo, a Japanese name meaning forgiveness.
"Wonderful. And you?" Kenji replied, holding out his hand to help her up.
"The view here is so beautiful. It reminds me of home." She placed her fingers in his hand and stood, sliding her feet into gold sandals.
"Are you homesick?"
"Sometimes," she said as she put her hands on his chest. She looked into his eyes and asked, "Will you go away with me? We could have such a peaceful life together."
Ai loved to play the seductress, and it took all of Kenji's powers of restraint to keep her at bay in public. He hated the thought of cheating on his wife, but there was no doubt that Ai held a bewitching sway over his sensibilities. To her credit, Ai didn't enjoy torturing Kenji in any sadistic sense; she just thought he deserved better. She thought his family – his wife, mother, and father – caused him pain, and she hated anything that made Kenji unhappy. She loved Kenji, truly.
"If only that were possible," he said as he touched the hair about her cheek.
"Because you love her more than you love me," she teased.
The thought of his wife snapped him back to reality and caused him to become self-conscious. He glanced around, fearing that someone might be watching even though he didn't know anyone in the small town.
"Let's get out of here," he said as he took his hands away from her and began moving toward the exit, "I'll get the car." He pushed through the door and walked out into the parking lot.
Ai frowned as she moved even though there was no one to watch her, and Kenji knew that she would be pouting even though he couldn't see her. This was not the first time they had had this conversation.
He pulled to the front in his new Corvette convertible which he had just picked up in Tokyo the previous week. The family wealth afforded him many luxuries, and like most kids who grow up pampered, he took it all for granted. With a smile, he leaned over and pushed her door open, but she stood and stared for a moment before sliding in beside him. He wheeled through the parking lot and out onto the wandering mountain road.
"Can you stay tonight?" she said over the whine of the engine.
"I've got to be at the office first thing tomorrow," he said, trying to give a better excuse than the fact that he didn't want to have to go to all the trouble of making up lies for his wife as to why he wasn't coming home. "I'd better get back to Tokyo tonight."
"But I told you I have something important that I need to speak with you about."
Kenji shifted and downshifted through the sharp turns and could only glance at her occasionally. Ai sat with one foot pulled up on the seat under her thigh, staring at Kenji with an unlit cigarette between her fingers. The free strands of her hair were pressed by the wind against the sharp features of her face. Kenji had to make a conscious effort not to look at her.
"Let's talk now. What is it?" he asked.
"It's about Kayo," said Ai reluctantly, trying to decide how to discuss the topic in such a way that Kenji would be forced to stay the night to finish the necessary deliberations. "She's become bored living in the country like this," she said, waving her hand at the forest, "and wants to attend a university in Tokyo. She's interested in the arts and may want to pursue acting as a career."
"That's fantastic," Kenji said, looking over at her with a laugh that he tried to cut off as it was leaving his mouth. He didn't want to appear condescending and laugh off the prospect as the ludicrous idea of a star-struck young girl. "She's so beautiful. She'd make a wonderful movie star," he said with a straight face.
"And so that's it? You can just decide on our ..." she hesitated. "I mean, you can just decide Kayo's future while flying down the road without a second thought." Kenji knew that Ai had almost said our daughter's future, and that was a phrase which was strictly forbidden.
"Well, Ai," he stammered, "I was just saying that it sounds like a good idea. That is, of course, it will require a great deal of thought and discussion, but if that's what Kayo has decided to do, then she'll have my full support."
"So, just let her move to the city alone? Is that how much she means to you, Kenji Watanabe?"
"Well she certainly isn't going to find a top-notch acting school here in the sticks of Nagano, now is she?" he said, allowing himself the laugh he had checked earlier. "You may think I'm lying, but I've always thought she was gifted. I believe that she'll be successful at anything she sets her mind to, and honestly, when I think about it, yeah, she could be an amazing actress."
"And I'll make such a fine, lonely, old spinster – how did you say it – here in the sticks of Nagano," Ai repeated.
Kenji stared straight ahead for a moment as they wound their way under the overreaching arches of the forest toward Ai's hideaway. A fisherman in hip boots just off the roadway fishing a rocky stream turned with a sneer as their car sped by, kicking up a torrent of dirt and pebbles.
"Ai, you know how I feel," he said as he glanced over to meet her gaze. "As much as I would like to move away somewhere and never come back ... I just can't. My wife – my children – it wouldn't be right."
They pulled to a red light, giving Ai the opportunity to light her cigarette. She inhaled, tilted her head back, and let the smoke out through pursed lips as Kenji watched, thinking how she made anything she did look erotic. The heat of the day had been sweltering, and a welcome, cool breeze blew along the peaceful mountain road. A car behind them honked to break Kenji's reverie, letting him know that the light had changed.
"How is your dad?" asked Ai in a way that made it clear she didn't like the man.
Kenji's father, General Tatsurou Watanabe, had been diagnosed with lung cancer the previous year. Japanese doctors always kept such diagnoses from their patients so as not to place additional stress on an already difficult medical situation. They had only notified Kenji, as the eldest son, and his mother. He had confided in Ai because she was the one person he trusted not to spread the information. After discussing all of the possible treatment options, and the dangers of each, Kenji and his mother had decided to forego any treatment and let the old man enjoy whatever time he had left.
"Not bad. Little signs of slowing down, but he still doesn't know."
"That's good," she said. "We wouldn't want to see the great General Watanabe suffer, would we? He's such a wonderful human." Kenji decided to let the comment go.CHAPTER 2
Friday, August 11th: Morning Tokyo
Kenji had been no match for Ai's powers of persuasion and had stayed until she decided to release him in the wee hours of the morning. The drive back to Tokyo was normally a good three hours, but Kenji had made it in half that, managing to get back a little before daybreak and lay down on his futon next to his wife, Ami. The kanji her parents had chosen for her name meant elegant beauty, and she had not disappointed.
Kenji had just dozed off when the alarm rang, which he slapped off before rolling over and going back to sleep. Ami woke him again at eight o'clock and asked why he hadn't gotten up earlier. He explained that he lost track of time on his test drive to Nagano the previous evening and had decided to take a nap in their summerhouse before returning early this morning. Following the standard protocol, she phoned and let his office know he would be getting in late, and he slept until ten. When he went downstairs his breakfast plate was on the dining room table covered with a napkin along with a glass of orange juice. Ami was outside in their front yard weeding the soil around the lavender and morning glory in her flower garden.
Kenji squinted, his eyes not yet adjusted to the light of day, and called out to her through the open sliding doors: "Did you call the office for me?"
"Of course – first thing this morning," came the chipper reply. "I told them you'd be in this afternoon and to call if they had anything urgent. Your secretary laughed when I said to call if she had anything urgent," she plodded on somewhat absentmindedly. "She said she couldn't remember anything urgent in all the time she's been there. Is that true? With such a large and important company, I told her there must be urgent matters sometimes. Don't you find it odd that she would say that?"
"Can't you ever just answer yes or no?" Kenji mumbled, turning away from the yard and the light.
"What did you say, dear? I can't hear you with all these bees buzzing around."
"Thank you," he said a bit louder as he sat down to eat.
Ami was not a bad wife, and she was actually quite an efficient and prudent mother. She was charming and attractive; she had been faithful; she kept house exquisitely; and, most importantly as far as Kenji was concerned, she always kept a cheerful, though at times insincere, disposition. But for many years now it had been as if he tolerated her rather than having any genuine feelings toward her – nothing like the desire he felt for Ai. Both the apathy and the passion troubled him.
Many things had begun to trouble Kenji.
"Did you have a chance to ask your father about the money?" she said as she came in, dropping her gardening gloves in a basket and moving to the sink to wash her hands. She had found a new house in the mountains which had caught her fancy, and since they had not purchased a new property in several years, she reasoned they were due for a new place. They already had their principal residence, a very spacious modern home in the high-rent district of Tokyo, and two other houses – a beach bungalow in Hawaii, and a log cabin in the mountains. But she had been after Kenji to talk his father into buying the new house for them because their mountain home was getting too old for the likes of a noble family such as theirs.
"He said he'd think about it," Kenji lied. He knew he could easily persuade his father to purchase the house but felt a bit disgusted at his wife's greed. Between new cars, private school tuition, new homes here and there, this favor and that loan, it seemed as if he was hitting his father up for money five or six times a year. And he already earned a ridiculous salary in the family business.
"Tell me again why it is that we need a new house," he said with a hint of sarcasm that eluded Ami.
"You know we can't continue to entertain guests in that little old house forever. The insects in summer are unbearable, and the wood on the deck is simply embarrassing," she replied.
"So why don't we sell it?"
"Well we can't do that," she said as she turned off the spigot and dried her hands. She brought a pail of boiling water from the stove, sat down beside Kenji, and poured over a strainer full of green tea leaves into a cast iron teapot. "We have so many wonderful memories there, and I was planning to let the boys use it in the future." "I suppose the insects won't bother them at all, huh?" Kenji said as he pried open his salmon with chopsticks.
"Stop toying with me, Mr. Watanabe," she said, playfully slapping him on the arm.
"And I suppose this has absolutely nothing to do with your friend buying that new house in the same snooty neighborhood."
"Why would you say such a thing?" she replied. "Do you think me that shallow?"
"Of course not, dear. You are the epitome of moral integrity," he said with a straight face. "Salt of the earth – that's what I always say about you."
Ami gave him a cold stare, angry that he dared to hold her in ridicule, but knowing that there was no honest reply to be made. She knew, and she knew that Kenji knew, that her tennis mate's boasting about her new house in the snobbish, over-priced neighborhood where anybody that was somebody had to have an address had indeed influenced her. Ami had rehearsed her announcement to be made over lunch at the tennis club with the entire haughty-bitch populace present – the same way the impudent Miki had cockily regaled the women of the club some months prior. Maybe she would even invite the handsome young instructor to dine with them to add to the humiliation. "Oh Miki, she would begin, Kenji and I drove by your new house. It is so cute! You had the right idea – keep it small and simple. That's what I wanted to do as well, but Kenji insisted we buy that mansion just up the street from you. You may not have seen it yet since it's located in the center of several acres of forest, not out on the street like yours. We've had to hire a team of caretakers year-round to oversee the place for us even though we're only there a couple of weeks during the year, whereas you can probably take care of that place of yours all by yourself, can't you?" She couldn't wait to see the reaction on Miki's face.
Kenji knew that he should stop while he was still on the moral high ground, but he couldn't resist the temptation to further his assault on his wife's susceptible character. He had never known when to let well enough alone.
"And, by the way, you were asking the other day about my father's will," he said with apparent sincerity. The mention of the sacred topic lassoed Ami by the neck and brought her immediately out of her trance at the tennis club.
"Yes. Yes. Did you have a chance to speak with him?"
"I know it's because you're concerned for his well-being and peace of mind, of course," he began. "I asked him and, indeed, he did prepare a will several years ago," he said, pausing to see her reaction.
"Well, go on," Ami entreated. "Please, go on, Kenji."
"He's leaving everything to charity – Buddhist monks," he said without cracking a smile. "He wants us all to make our own way just as he's done."
Ami stood abruptly upon realizing the ruse and tossed the towel she had been holding toward the kitchen sink and started out of the room. "I'm glad my concern for our family's future provides you with such amusement," she said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Watanabe Name"
Copyright © 2019 Sakura Nobeyama.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
BOOK 1 – 1967,
Book 2 - World War II,
Note From The Author,
About The Author,