Read Japantown Online

Authors: Barry Lancet

Tags: #Fiction


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Simon & Schuster

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New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013 by Barry Lancet

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition September 2013

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Designed by Kyoko Watanabe
Jacket design by Thomas Ng
Jacket photographs: man © Michael Trevillion/Trevillion Image; bridge © SuperStock/Corbis

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lancet, Barry.

Japantown / Barry Lancet—First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.

p. cm.

1. Antique dealers—California—San Francisco—Fiction. 2. Japanese—California—San Francisco—Fiction.

3. Murder investigation—San Francisco (Calif.)—Fiction. 4. Murder investigation—Japan—Fiction. 5. Japantown

(San Francisco, Calif.)—Fiction. 6. Mystery fiction. I. Title.

PS3612.A547486J37 2013

813'.6—dc23   2012049519

ISBN 978-1-4516-9169-6

ISBN 978-1-4516-9171-9 (ebook)

The translation of Rengetsu’s “The Thief,” as found in
Lotus Moon: The Poetry of the Buddhist Nun Rengetsu
(Weatherhill, 1994), is reprinted with the permission of John Stevens.


To my parents, Bob and Lenny, for their unflagging support, 
and to those of my Japanese friends who have always felt “hemmed in”
A wise man hears what makes no sound and sees what has no shape.



Day 1: Not a Trace of the Thief
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Day 2: The Tell
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Day 3: Kingbreaker
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Day 4: The Village
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Day 5: Shadow Shogun
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Day 6: Black Marilyn
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Day 7: Soga Speaks
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Day 8: Lost
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Day 9: Desperation
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64
Chapter 65
Chapter 66
Chapter 67
Chapter 68
Chapter 69
Chapter 70
Chapter 71
Chapter 72
Chapter 73
Chapter 74
Chapter 75
Chapter 76
Chapter 77
Chapter 78
Chapter 79
Chapter 80
About Authenticity
About the Author





shades of red darkened the Japantown concourse by the time I arrived. One belonged to a little girl’s scarlet party dress. The other was liquid and far too human. City officials would evince a third shade once reports of the carnage hit the airwaves.

But long before the news jockeys began grappling with the Japantown slaughter, the problem landed on my doorstep.

Minutes after receiving an urgent summons, I was charging down Fillmore in a classic maroon Cutlass convertible. Before the midnight call had interrupted my evening’s work, I’d been repairing an eighteenth-century Japanese tea bowl, a skill I’d picked up in the pottery town of Shigaraki, an hour outside of Kyoto. Now, even with the top down on the Cutlass, I could still smell the stringent lacquer used to fix the thumbnail-size chip on the bowl’s rim. Once the lacquer dried I’d apply the final flourish—a trail of liquid gold powder. A repair was still a repair, but if done right, it restored a piece’s dignity.

I swung left on Post hard enough to leave rubber and cut off two gangbangers tooling uphill in a flame-red Mazda Miata. A crisp night breeze swirled around my face and hair and wiped away every last trace of drowsiness. The gangbangers had their top down, too, apparently the better to scope out a clear shot.

They slithered in behind me, swearing in booming voices I could hear over the screech of their tires, and in my rearview mirror, angry
fists shot into the air as the sleek sports car crept up on my bumper.

A pistol appeared next, followed by a man’s torso, both etched in ominous shadow against the night sky. Then the driver caught sight of a police blockade up ahead, slammed on his brakes, and snaked into a U-turn. The drastic change in direction flung the shooter against the side of the car, and nearly into the street. Arms flailing, he just managed to grab the frame of the windshield and drop back into the Miata’s cushioned bucket seat as the car peeled away with a throttled roar of frustration.

I knew the feeling. If I hadn’t received a personal invitation, I’d have done the same. But I had no choice. A marker had been called in.

When the phone rang, I’d peeled off the rubber gloves, careful not to let remnants of the poisonous lacquer touch my skin. With my days filled to overflowing at the shop, I tackled repairs in the darker hours, after putting my daughter to bed. Tonight it was the tea bowl.

Lieutenant Frank Renna of the San Francisco Police Department wasted no time on pleasantries. “I need a favor. A big one this time.”

I glanced at the pale green digits of the clock. 12:24 a.m. “And a fine time it is.”

On the other end of the line, Renna gave a grunt of apology. “You’ll get your usual consultant fee. Might not be enough, though.”

“I’ll survive.”

“Keep thinking that way. I need you to come look at something. You got a baseball cap?”


“Wear it low over your eyes. Cap, sneakers, jeans. Then get down here asap.”

“Down where?”

“Japantown. The outdoor mall.”

I was silent, knowing that except for a couple of bars and the Denny’s coffee shop, J-town was bottled up for the night.

Renna said, “How soon can you get here?”

“Fifteen minutes if I break a few laws.”

“Make it ten.”

Nine minutes on, I found myself speeding toward the blockade, an impromptu cluster of rolling police steel parked haphazardly across the road where the pedestrian shopping mall on Buchanan came to an abrupt end at Post. Beyond the barricade I spotted a coroner’s wagon and three ambulances, doors flung open, interiors dark and cavernous.

A hundred yards short of the barrier, I eased over in front of the Japan Center and cut the engine. I slid off tucked black leather seats and walked toward the commotion. Grim and unshaven, Frank Renna separated himself from a crowd of local badges and intercepted me halfway. Behind his approaching bulk, the rotating red and blue lights of the prowl cars silhouetted him against the night.

“The whole force out here tonight?”

He scowled. “Could be.”

I was the go-to guy for the SFPD on anything Japanese—even though my name is Jim Brodie, I’m six-one, a hundred-ninety pounds, and have black hair and blue eyes. And I’m Caucasian.

The connection? I’d spent the first seventeen years of my life in Tokyo, where I was born to a rugged Irish-American father, who lived and breathed law enforcement, and a more delicate American mother, who loved art. Money was tight, so I attended local schools instead of one of the exorbitant American international facilities and absorbed the language and culture like a sponge.

Along the way, I picked up karate and judo from two of the top masters in the Japanese capital, and thanks to my mother got my first peek at the fascinating world of Japanese art.

What drew my parents to the far side of the Pacific was the U.S. Army. Jake, my father, headed up a squad of MPs in charge of security for Western Tokyo, then worked for the LAPD. But he took orders badly so he eventually returned to Tokyo, where he set up the city’s first American-style PI/security firm.

He began grooming me for a position at Brodie Security a week after my twelfth birthday. I accompanied him and other detectives on interviews, stakeouts, and research trips as an observer. In the office I pored over old files when I wasn’t listening to the staff speculate about
cases involving blackmail, adultery, kidnapping, and more. Their conversations were gritty and real and a thousand times better than a night out at a Roppongi disco or an ultracheap Harajuku
though I managed to work those in too, four years later, with a fake ID.

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