Authors: Howard Fast
Tags: #Police Procedural, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Crime
The Case of the Murdered Mackenzie
A Masao Masuto Mystery
Howard Fast writing as E. V. Cunningham
For Barbara, welcome
Detective Sergeant Masao Masuto, his wife, Kati, his twelve-year-old son, Uraga, and his ten-year-old daughter, Ana, all departed for Japan on the very same day that Eve Mackenzieâas the subsequent indictment saidâmurdered her husband. The two events had no connection other than the fact that Masuto, had he been in Beverly Hills, would have investigated the murder. As it happened, Masuto was in a Pan Am plane, high over the Pacific, leaving the investigation to his partner, Sy Beckman, and to Beckman's boss, Captain Wainwright.
The trip to Japan was something that Masuto and his wife, Kati, had discussed through the years, not as any sort of reality, but as a pleasant fantasy. Every dollar they could put aside went into a fund for the children's college education, and the stories they'd heard of astronomical hotel and restaurant prices, on top of very expensive airplane fares kept the Japanese excursion in the area of fantasy. Both Masuto and Kati were Nisei, which meant they were American-born of Japanese-born parents. Kati was less eager than her husband to visit the land of her ancestors. She was a nest-builder, and her own small universeâher cottage in Culver City, her two children, and her husbandâsatisfied her completely.
Masuto, on the other hand, was a Zen Buddhist, and he had often dreamed of meditating in one of the Zen temples in Kyotoâor perhaps listening to the wisdom of some famous Roshi, promising himself that before that unlikely moment arrived, he would do something to correct his very poor Japanese. However, it arrived very suddenly. His greatuncle Ishu, who lived in San Jose and who was very old, and who had little faith in the inheritance laws, sent Masuto a gift of round-trip plane tickets to Tokyo for his entire family. For a whole evening, Masuto and his wife debated the pros and cons of the trip, the money that would have to be spent even if they went only to Tokyo and Kyotoâbut what of other cities where there would be relatives who had to be visited as a minimal act of courtesy? In the end, agreeing that the opportunity might never come again, they decided to take the plunge. Masuto had a month of vacation time coming to him, and he managed to talk Captain Wainwright, his chief on the Beverly Hills police force, out of another month, and since it was already late in June, the children would miss only a few days of school.
The family tour, like all family tours, was both wonderful and depressing. Masuto emerged with new respect for Kati, whose Japanese was so much better than his, and Kati willingly stayed with the children while Masuto was guest of honor at a police banquet where, alas, no wives were present.
The prices were depressingly higher than anything either of them had anticipatedâand for Masuto, his dreams of the pure beauty of Kyoto was brought down to earth by the sight of a bustling city of over a million people. As poor as Masuto's spoken Japaneseâand perhaps even worseâwas his ability to read the printed Japanese characters; and since after a few weeks away from California he began to feel isolated and totally divorced from both past and present, it was indeed fortunate that Tokyo had several English-language newspapers. It was there, in the
that he first heard of the Mackenzie affair.
Eve Mackenzie was one of five women who had appeared in a picture called
The Old Gang
, which was released in 1961. The picture was a great hit, and all five of the women, who played in a film about a high school reunion five years later, went on to a sort of stardom. Eve Mackenzie had married Robert Mackenzie just before the film was made. In the film she played under the name of Eve Hardin. She played in five more films, became pregnant, lost the child in the seventh month, appeared in a few more films after that, and then eclipsed. That was not unusual; indeed, that was in the nature of the new Hollywood. Stars were created and died in less than a lifetime.
Robert Mackenzie, the victim of Eve's passion or anger or frustration, was Scottish-born, an engineer, brilliant, and when alive employed at the Fenwick Works, which nestles in the hills to the east of Malibu and which, as they say, has more millions in war contracts than one can shake a stick at. The marriage had not been a happy one, and Eve's friends told reporters that she had been driven to the act. Kati, reading the account of the crime to Masuto as he sprawled on a couch in their Tokyo hotel, responded indignantly to the suggestion that anyone might be driven to murder.
“How inhuman! To solve anything with a murder!”
“Yet it is done every day, my dear Kati.”
“You justify it? How can you?”
“Of course I don't,” Masuto said. “You know me better than that, Kati. Yet our civilization, here as well as at home in the States, has laid the basis for the act and the justification.”
“War. What else is war?”
“You know I can't argue with you about such things. You know that, and you make me feel so foolish.”
“My dear Kati, I don't mean to make you feel foolish. You're not. You're a very wise woman.” And then he went to her and held her in his arms, which proved his love if not his sincerity.
But he knew that the crux of it was the fact that a murder of major consequence had taken place in Beverly Hills, where murder is certainly not an everyday occurrence, and he had been thousands of miles away. It was the first murder in Beverly Hills in eleven years that he had not investigated.
In Morioka, where he had gone to speak with a Roshi who was an old friend of the Roshi at the Zendo in Los Angeles, he was unable to find an English-language newspaper.
His irritation was such that it caused Bukko, the venerable Zen Roshi he had come to Morioka to meet, to ask Masuto whether there was some serious family difficulty or loss that disturbed him. This question served at least to bring Masuto to his senses.
“I was so mortified before the Roshi,” Masuto explained to Kati later, “that I lied to him, and for that I cannot forgive myself.”
“But from what you have told me about Zen masters,” Kati said gently, “he would know that you were lying.”
“Of course he knew.”
“Then did you explain to him?”
“What was I to explain to him?” Masuto said unhappily. “It is bad enough to enter a temple and reveal that I am a policeman. Should I add to it the fact that I have become so irritable and unpleasant over a murder committed in Beverly Hills while I am here in Japan?”
“But we are here in Japan,” Kati said, “and it is filled with such delightful things. Can we enjoy themâplease, Masao?”
“Of course. And I promise you, there will be no further mention of this Mackenzie business.”
He kept his word, and he even rejected the notion of a long distance call to his partner, Sy Beckman. This for two reasons: firstly because of its cost, and secondly because he felt it would be both unprofessional and unfriendly to insert himself into the first homicide that Beckman had undertaken alone.
But it was Beckman who brought up the matter of the Mackenzie case after Masuto had reported in on his first day back. Masuto shook hands with his colleagues, responded to the necessary jokes about geisha girls and massage, blew the dust off his desktop, and asked himself whether or not he was pleased to be back in sunny, smog-laced Beverly Hills. He could not help but contrast this quiet, orderly community with the turbulent, explosive and marvelously vital life in Tokyo; yet for all of its gilt-edged lethargy, Beverly Hills had a particular fascination for a policeman. For one thing; it was the largest per capita concentration of wealth in the entire world, and for another, with a population of thirty thousand or so, it contained thirty-five banks, twenty savings and loans, and more jewelry stores than any comparable area anywhere on earth. The gross deposits in Beverly Hills banks amounted to over seven billion dollars, which made the work of a Beverly Hills policeman absolutely unique.
Masuto was always aware of these facts. Rich people are a race, a subculture. Different. “Was he rich?” he asked Beckman, referring to the murdered man, Robert Mackenzie. It was the initial identification.
“What's rich? Compared to us? House on Lexington Road, house at Malibuâthat adds up to a couple of million. A million more or so in securities. She's well fixed. Pity she can't use it.”
“Damn it, Masao, I like the woman. And just between us, I don't think she did it.” Beckman, a huge, overweight, overmuscled hulk of a man, shook his head with irritation.
“You brought in the evidence,” Masuto said gently.
“Hell, it was there. What could I do? So help me God, I wish you had been there, Masao.”
“It's your case, Sy. I don't want to interfere.”
“Bullshit. Anyway, you can't interfere. Wainwright's closed the book on it. She goes to trial tomorrow, and there's at least a chance they'll convict.”
“The case is that good? You know, I've been dependent on the bits and pieces in the Tokyo English-language papers.”
“It's good, yes. Not great but good.”
“Unseemly haste, as they say. Why so quick to go to trial?”
“Very unseemly. You ask me, she has a pair of lousy lawyersâher husband's lawyers. Can you beat that? Just imagineâher husband's lawyers.”
“They may believe she's innocent.”
“Not the way I hear it told,” Beckman said. “The gossip goes that they don't give a damn and they'd just as soon see her put away for life. Evidently, they've snowed her in some way. Why on God's earth does she use these lawyers? I just don't understand it.”
“Why do you think she's innocent?” Masuto asked. “That's more to the point. If you have anything, Sy, put it together and we'll try to make something out of it. Wainwright won't stand in our way.”
“I got nothingânothing. That's why she's on trial, Masao. Pleaseâcome into this.”
“I'll talk to Wainwright. But with nothing new in the way of evidence, he won't welcome me.”