[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Prologue 001-002 Chap 1 003-005 Chap 2 006 Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010 Chap 5 011-013 Chap 6 014-017 Chap 7 018-019
Chap 8 020-023 Chap 9 024-027 Chap 10 028-031 Chap 11 032-041
Chap 12 042-048 Chap 13 049-055 Chap 14 056-063 Chap 15 064-074
Chap 16 075-084 Chap 17 85-95 Chap 18 96-110 Chap 19 111-123
Chap 20 124-131 Chap 21 132-133
Revenge Should Have No Bounds
Chapter 22: Tracking
I decided to look some more at the massive investigative data and trial information Natalie Siu had secured for me. I had set up a table in the living room on which to spread out my materials, some notepads, and a laptop. My main task at this stage was simply to try to organize the material in some way. In that connection I had secured a number of differently colored manila folders, similarly sized storage boxes, and labels.
In thinking about how to prove to myself to any degree of certainty that Yukiko had done in Trinh, I had to establish that she had seen Trinh after Trinh and I had parted company outside the Momiji on that Friday evening back on January ninth. How could I do that? A good place to start seemed to be to find out if anybody had seen the two of them together later that evening. Who could have seen them? A possibility, as I pondered this issue, would be one of the doormen at the Momiji. And today being Friday just like that Friday all those months ago, was it possible that the same men could be on duty today? I wouldn’t know till I did some serious tracking.
I searched one of my bookshelves and found the box of photos I was looking for. I went through some piles and found several good photos of Yukiko and of Trinh that had been taken recently. I cut up some pieces of notepad backing for stiffeners and inserted them in plastic food bags and then put the photos on top. I stuck these in my handbag.
It was getting on towards two in the afternoon, and I took a shower, put on my face, and dressed as comfortably as I could for the August heat. Fortunately the summer had been less intense than last year, but it was still a scorcher out there. I walked towards hotel row and stopped off at a coffee shop I liked where they had the good sense to serve breakfast twenty-four hours a day. At that time of day I had no problem finding a booth, and ordered coffee and a boiled egg with well-done toast, hard butter on the side. While waiting for the order I scanned the main daily. I noticed with some satisfaction that I had finally disappeared from the front page along with all the irrelevant associated narratives, now relegated to one of the inside venues to which news deemed less important was buried. In another week my saga would be gone from there too, and other hapless victims of mindlessly zealous prosecutors would have their lives torn apart on the evening news and page one of the city dailies.
The egg came, and I took my time eating and finishing my coffee.
As usual there was lots of people action in front of the Momiji. Taxis and limos were loading and unloading the anointed, and a steady stream of guests entered and exited the doors. Several doormen were working the cars, directing the bellhops, palming tips. I marched up to one older guy I knew I had seen there before during one of my many visits to the hotel.
I palmed a fifty. “Say,” I said, “how about giving me a few minutes of your time?”
Ben Franklin got folded in four and disappeared into his coat pocket. “Yes, ma’am?”
“How long have you been working here?” I began.
“Oh, my,” he said, “it’s going on twenty-five years now.” He glanced at me quizzically. “Say, you look awfully familiar to me,” he added.
“I’ve been here a few times before,” I said, playing it down. He nodded knowingly but his face stayed impassive. “And you usually work Fridays?” I continued.
“That’s right, ma’am. Wednesday through Sunday the last ten years or so,” he said with an affirmative bob of the head. “Three to midnight.”
“And you get a break, right?”
“Usually around eight or so. The traffic seems to slow down a bit then.”
“I wonder,” I continued, “if you recall if you were on duty here earlier this year on the ninth of January?”
“What day was that?”
“I’m sure I was. Haven’t been out sick for over three years now.”
“I see,” I said, taking out the packet of photos from my bag. The top one was a good shot of Trinh. “Do you by any chance recall this woman?”
He took the photo from me and held it up close to his face. He was shaking his head slowly. “I’m not sure, ma’am, it’s possible, but I can’t be certain.” He studied it some more and then handed it back to me. “But I admit she does look familiar. Just can’t put any specific date to her. Sorry.” He looked as though he were trying hard to put Trinh in some kind of context.
Disappointed but not surprised, I turned the photos in my hand towards the doorman so he could place the one in his hand in the correct position on top of the others.
“That’s it,” he said suddenly, snapping his fingers as he saw the photo on the top of the pile. “ I have seen the woman in this photo,” he said, tapping a three-by-five of Yukiko. “And, yes, that’s who the first woman was with. Yes, I do remember it. The second woman I’ve seen a lot of times here. But not the first one.”
“Can you be sure?”
“With twenty-five years on a job like mine, ma’am, you get real good with faces. And I remember those two because they were, well, if you don’t mind me saying so, ma’am, they were real lookers. I remember people were staring at them. Both very beautiful young ladies.”
“And this was the ninth of January?”
“That I can’t swear to, but I do know it was early this year. I remember it was a very cold weekend, and I was standing inside the revolving doors to stay warm when they came by. It was dark outside, so it was certainly some time after five or so.”
Since I had left with Trinh around seven, and been with her since around four, he must have seen her some time after seven. “Do you recall if you’d had your break yet or not?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” he said, slapping his forehead. “Now it’s all coming back to me. And, yes, now I do recall that it was a Friday. Fridays the hotel gives staff half price on dinner in the kitchen of any of the restaurants. I remember thinking at the time that it was less than an hour till I would get off and be able to eat at that Japanese restaurant there in the lobby,” he said pointing to the teppanyaki steak house. “You know, Japanese restaurant, Japanese women. The two of them made me think of the dinner I was looking forward to.”
Without straightening out his ethnic conflation, I said, “So that would have been some time between what, seven and eight?”
“Yeah,” he answered slowly, “yeah. That sounds about right. I’d guess maybe closer to seven than eight.”
That fit perfectly. “Which way were they headed? Coming or going?”
“Oh, they were coming into the hotel, ma’am. They passed real close to me as they came out of the revolving doors into the lobby. And, as I say, they were a really attractive pair, so I did turn and see where they were headed.”
“And?” I could hardly contain my excitement.
“Towards the Japanese restaurant,” he said. “There was a pretty good line outside at that time. There always is. But the two of them got ushered right in without any kind of wait. Maybe they knew the people running the restaurant. Something like that, I suppose. And that’s the last I saw of either one of them that evening.”
We had been standing outside during this colloquy, and he began to jump lightly from foot to foot and clapping his arms as if eager to return to work.
“I should be getting back, ma’am,” he said, giving his neck a small bend in the direction of the entrance and the other doormen. “Another thing, though” he added. “I remember thinking it was strange at the time. The second woman was definitely not dressed for winter weather. She had no overcoat on, or hat or even mittens. Yes, I do recall this struck me as odd. As if she’d just popped out into the cold for a minute to bring the first lady back with her inside.”
That made excellent sense, too, given the evening’s timeline that I was acquainted with.
“You’ve been very helpful,” I said. “And I thank you.”
“My pleasure, ma’am,” he said touching the shiny brim of his hat.
“One final thing,” I said. “Do they have video surveillance of the entrance?”
He laughed. “Of course. Every inch of this place is taped twenty-four seven. The sidewalk here, the lobby, restaurants, elevators, hallways, wouldn’t surprise me if they tape the rooms too,” he said somewhat cynically. It was a scary thought to me. “But, ma’am,” he went on, “I know where you’re going with this. There must be fifty cameras working all the time, so if they use eight-hour tapes, well, you can see it soon turns into an impossible storage problem. What, a hundred fifty tapes every day? So they only keep the tapes a couple of weeks or so at most and then recycle them. Anything from last January,” he made a shrugging gesture, “all gone by now, many times over.”
I nodded, disappointed. But I knew a lot more now than I had an hour ago. So far, my tracking was pretty much on schedule.
I decided to enter the lobby of the Momiji and think a little about what the doorman had told me. There was something he had said that triggered a connection in my mind, but unfortunately it was shaky. I couldn’t quite pin it down, swirling around as it was with all the other information I was trying to hook up. The lobby was comparatively cool, and after a slow walk up and down its length, I found a spot at one of the ‘outdoor’ galleria bistros that dotted the vast atrium. I ordered a latte and a small plate of cucumber sandwiches, and watched the moving spectacle of people.
Just as my cell phone went off I realized what it was the doorman had said that set off an association in my head. He’d said Yukiko and Trinh had approached the teppanyaki restaurant and been ushered right in despite a long line of diners waiting to be seated. The connection was Yukiko’s brother, Ojiro Mizushima! I had met him once about nine months or so ago, and Yukiko had told me he was a chef in a restaurant in the city. Could he be a chef in this teppanyaki restaurant? Could that have been the ‘in’ that permitted Yukiko and her guest immediate access to the steak house?
“Hello,” I said.
“Mazarine, this is Ray Rany.”
“Oh, Mr. Mayor. I’m surprised to hear from you out of the blue like this.”
“Yes,” he said, sounding a bit uneasy.
There was a lot of noise, like traffic, coming across the line. “What is all that background sound I hear?” I asked.
“Oh,” he laughed nervously, “truth be known, I’m calling you from a pay phone several blocks from city hall. I’m sure you can appreciate the point.”
“Say,” he continued, “I’ve been meaning to call you since your trial. A lot of people were watching it, and a lot of people were jittery. Nobody really knew where things might head.”
“I see,” I said, sensing where he was heading.
“I want you to know how much I appreciated that you kept my name out of the picture. I know I speak for a lot of other people, too. If I can ever do anything for you, if you need some red tape cut, have some problem with the city bureaucracy, let me know. I’ve got a private number you can use.” He gave it to me, and I asked him to repeat it after I got out my little date book.
And as we were talking, my rage – calculated, cunning, controlled, but rage nonetheless – began to surface into prominence. I was going to get to the bottom of this thing and exact my measure of vengeance on the person or persons responsible for the precarious and dollar-draining position I had been put in. I had always thought of myself as a decent, non-vindictive individual, but after the transformation I had endured, it was no more Mr. Nice Guy – so to speak. If I had to get dirty, I’d get dirty. And I had a flash of inspiration.
“Well, there is one thing I’d like a little help with right now.”
“What’s the name of the person who is in charge of city health inspections of restaurants?”
“That’s an odd one, but easy enough. His name is Wes Westerfield.”
“Can you describe him for me?”
“Sure. Kind of tall, mid-forties, a little chunky, sharp dresser, usually wears a bowtie. Dark hair, blue eyes.”
Using a kind of private shorthand, I jotted it all down in my notebook as fast as Rany was talking. “I appreciate that very much, Roy. I really do.”
“It was nothing.” He paused a second. “Say, Mazarine, are you … you back to … to business yet?”
“Actually I’m not, Ray. I’ve been through the wringer, and I need some time to myself, to recoup, to think about things. But in time I will get back to it, and I’ll be sure Miche lets you know when I do. I appreciate the vote of confidence, if that’s the right way to put it.” I laughed.
He laughed. “Good for you, Mazarine. I’ll look forward to that. In the meantime, you take care of yourself, and remember you have a thankful friend where it counts.”
He hung up.
Serendipity is what that’s called, I thought. Never mind that it was primarily due to Natalie Siu’s categorical refusal to put me on the stand that no ‘names’ had surfaced in the course of the trial, but it was nice to be treasured all the same! And, frankly, I reflected, I would not have revealed any names in any event: I did respect the paramount importance of privacy in my line of work – that was part of what the big bucks were all about.
But now I had an operational plan for the afternoon. I finished up my little snack, left a generous tip, and walked over to the restaurant. It was still early enough that Friday night’s dinner crowd had not yet begun to line up. I was met at the entrance by an attractive woman who could have been Chinese or Japanese, dressed in a high-collared red cheongsam with scattered yellow embroidery.
“I have an appointment with chef Ojiro Mizushima,” I lied glibly. It wasn’t so hard after all. The whole point of anger was to harness it and make it work for you, not against you, wasn’t it?
The woman gave me a once-over and looked uncertain. Since she did not automatically say ‘Who?’, it clued me to the fact that my intuitive leap earlier had probably been right.
“I’ll see if he’s available,” the hostess said. She walked off towards the kitchen area and I followed her closely. As she entered the kitchen I was right behind her. The woman turned around in surprise, but it was too late to prevent me from coming right in. She hesitated just inside the kitchen, but then continued on.
The place was a cacophonous bustle. In one large area sectioned off from the rest of the room were half a dozen young men and women standing at large chopping blocks busy getting the night’s vegetables ready. The most inescapable sound was the machine-gun clatter of the large knives descending on chopping blocks as celery and green beans were cut on an angled bias, radishes and garlic shredded into thin rounds, bok choy and the leafy stems of green onions stripped and frayed, raw ginger and carrots chopped, eggplants and zucchinis slivered along their lengths, large Vidalia onions peeled and sliced, and carrots julienned. In other sections of the vast kitchen were older men and women doing their thing with meats and sauces, loading small trays and plates with their cuttings and storing them in huge commercial refrigerators. A dozen or so carts with knife blocks, cooking utensils, sauce containers and ladles, spices, oils, and butter trays were being organized by lesser beings for the chefs who would soon be rolling them out into the dining area and cooking theatrically at a table for eight with the large griddle in the center.
As I gazed around me and took in this banausic frenzy I was reminded of something I’d once read in a book about the last empress of China, Tzu Hsi, who died in 1908. One section described her kitchens in the Forbidden City and the massive efforts needed to prepare her one hundred dishes for dinner each day. An entire department was given over just to the vegetables, where ten-year olds began their apprenticeship to become royal chefs. First they spent years learning to perfect the chopping and slicing of vegetables and fruits; moved on to more years of studying the culinary anatomy of mussel, fish, eel, snake, shrimp, crab, duck, chicken, pork, and beef so they could deftly shell, skin, disjoint and debone the meats to best cooking advantage; continued with still further years of excelling at the preparation of soups and sauces; devoted more years to mastering the arts of cooking, steeping, boiling, frying, braising, grilling; and – if they lasted – be promoted some time in their mid-thirties to apprentice chefs in the imperial kitchens, where they might toil another fifteen years before at last ascending through the hierarchy to qualify as chef to the empress.
As this was flashing through my head, the hostess had gone over to a stove that ran along most of one wall and begun to speak earnestly with a man in a wilted toque blanche whose back was resolutely turned towards me. The hostess looked over in my direction several times, and the man, without glancing back, nodded his head slowly up and down.
Finally the hostess motioned to me with her hand that I should approach, and I worked my way through the narrow corridors of the crowded kitchen, trying to stay out of the way and not disrupt the frenetic activity of the white-coated personnel.
The man was, as I had suspected, Ojiro Mizushima.
I smiled at him but got no reaction. “Do you remember me?” I asked.
“I need to talk to you about Yukiko?”
“Why should I talk to you?” he said in a sullen tone. The hostess had withdrawn to the dining room, and Ojiro and I were standing alone in a little alcove away from the main action in the room.
I slowly ran my finger under the wooden ledge that rimmed the stove he was standing up against and examined the dirt with a quizzical look. He wasn’t sure what to make of my gesture.
“Yukiko told you how I make my living, didn’t she?”
“So you know I know a lot of people. A lot of important people. Right?”
“So what,” he came back, still sullen.
“Do you know Wes Westerfield? The health department inspector? The guy who licenses this restaurant for the city? You know, mid-forties, tallish, dresses nice, with a bowtie, chunky? Dark hair, blue eyes? That guy?”
“So what if I do?” He was still surly, but I could read his eyes, and they signaled he knew where we were headed.
“One phone call to my grateful friend,” I said, making an exaggerated show of looking at the dirt on my finger. I picked up one of the white towels lying near the stove and pointedly wiped the gunk off, putting the cloth down in such a way the dark grease showed cleanly.
“O.K. You’ve made your point. Let’s sit down over here for a while.” He pointed to a table with chairs that stood in a corner of the kitchen. He yelled to another man, somewhat older than himself, probably one of the chefs, “Hey, Giichi, I’m gonna take five.” Giichi-san waved a hand at him.
They settled in, and he popped a Pepsi he’d taken out of a cooler. “Want one?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, thanks.”
“So, what can I do for you?”
“Well, I’m trying to figure something out about Yukiko that happened here last January, the ninth, a Friday, to be exact.”
“That’s … that’s at least half a year ago,” he said, shrugging, the muscles in his throat pushing the pop down as he put his head back and sucked the can.
“Around seven or eight. She came in here. And she had a friend with her. A Vietnamese girl named Trinh. Does that ring a bell?”
I was good at reading people. It came with my professional territory, as it were. And I could read Ojiro like an open book in large text. My question rang lots of bells.
But he just looked at me, squirmed a little, and started counting the holes in the acoustic tiles of the ceiling.
“What’s all this about?” he finally asked.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to find out, Ojiro. That’s why I’m here being rude to you.”
He cracked a small smile at that and took another sip. “Yes, you are,” he agreed. “O.K., she did come in here with that girl. It was around eight or so, I don’t remember exactly. It was a Friday night and we were really busy at that time. I asked her and her friend to sit right here, at this table, and wait till I had a break. I even served them some garlic beef in oyster sauce and fried rice while they were waiting.”
“O.K.,” I said. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me what happened.”
And Ojiro Mizushima, brother of Yukiko, talked, and talked, and talked.
TO BE CONTINUED