Murder and Intrigue in Tokyo’s Sin City

The following is an excerpt from the novel “Dead Hand Clapping”, a crime thriller with supernatural elements, written by Zoe Drake. 

Synopsis: Tokyo, January 2002. The world is still in shock after 9/11 and Japan is in a state of paranoia, fearing a terrorist attack on its own soil. This is the setting of “Dead Hand Clapping”, an edgy, sexy, supernatural thriller that follows three individuals whose fates are drawn together by a maddening and inexplicable sequence of events.

Sergeant Seichii Kondo is hunting a bizarre serial killer haunting Tokyo’s sex clubs; hedonistic Londoner Ian McKenna is attending the funeral of his expatriate father, and searching for the reason behind his sudden, unexpected death; young actress Noriko Tanahashi is rehearsing for a major production of King Lear and finding her life disrupted by the awakening of her psychic powers, bringing terrifying visions of holocaust.

Three lives, brought together by one lethal, horrifying secret that refuses to stay buried …

“A girl found dead in Marumayacho,” Seiichi Kondo asked. “It must be in one of the Love Hotels, is that right, sir?”

“Correct,” Sawaguchi replied, preoccupied with removing the plastic wrapper from an onigiri rice ball. He stared intently down at the snack, a lock of greying hair falling across his liver-spotted brow. “That’s the thing about Love Hotels. These days you find in them anything but.”

The unmarked police car sped towards the Hachiko crossing in front of Shibuya station, Detective Sergeant Kondo at the wheel and Inspector Sawaguchi beside him. In the pre-dawn gloom of the Tokyo winter morning, the skyscrapers of uptown Shibuya were monoliths of shadow, the video screens high on their walls still blank and mute. Through the gaps between the buildings, the January sky was beginning to submit to the invading light, pale red ribbons of dawn surrounding the city on all sides.

In stark contrast to his superior, Kondo was in his late twenties, in a moderately expensive suit, hair trimmed in the standard Japanese businessman style. A face not exactly handsome, but certainly not ugly – just on the border between memorable and unmemorable. Akio Sawaguchi was approaching sixty, the waxy skin of his face wrinkled and sagging, as if from a slow tire puncture taking decades to deflate. The odours of tobacco and stale shochu liquor wafted from his navy-blue polyester suit.

“Who’s on the scene?” Kondo asked.

“The police-box boys told me the Medical Examiner’s arrived. You know how quick off the mark Igeta is. Likes to get things tidied up fast so he can go back to his math puzzles.”

A mob of crows in front of the car angrily took to the air, their gathering disturbed, raucous cries echoing from cold concrete. Sawaguchi disposed of half the rice ball in one bite, the tang of cod-roe wafting through the car’s interior.

“You must excuse me, Sergeant,” he mumbled through a mouthful of vinegared rice. “Unlike you, some of us are in the habit of eating breakfast.”

“I used to eat breakfast, sir. I just figured I didn’t need it.”

“I don’t know how your guts stand the emptiness.”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. When it comes to lunchtime, I’m hungry whether I eat breakfast or not.” He flicked another glance at the Inspector, and gestured to his mouth. Sawaguchi put a hand to his face and removed the offending lump of rice from beneath his lower lip. “Excuse me.”

The car swung past the 109 building and into that part of Shibuya called Maruyamacho – or as most Tokyo dwellers said, the Love Hotel district. Hotels with rooms rented for the night or by the hour for couples of all kinds to perform their discreet assignations. Hotels with names such as Aladdin, Princess and Le Pays Blanc, their exteriors of grand architectural folly matching the names. Greek revival fronts with Ionic columns. Pyramidal roofs sheltering plaster frescoes of Pharoahs. Italianate villas with broad eaves, ground-mounted lamps illuminating their ice-cream colours. Reconstructions of rural Japanese inns, their unpainted wooden fronts behind tiny bamboo thickets, concealed speakers playing endless loops of Koto music and running water.

Sheltered from the traffic of everyday life, the Love Hotels huddled together in a maze of side streets and narrow alleyways atop the Maruyamacho hill. The streets leading up to them were peppered with bars, sex shops, pornographic video and DVD stores, host and hostess bars, dubious massage parlours, all greasing the pole that would bring their customers drunkenly falling into bed with each other just a few hundred metres away.

There was nothing, Kondo thought, nothing as drab as the Love Hotel district in the early morning. The elaborate facades surrounded them in the vague dawn light, their neon extinguished, as forlorn as discarded boxes of confectionery.

Uniformed officers waved Kondo’s Honda sedan past the cordon sealing off a narrow alleyway. Stopping the car behind several black and white patrol cars around the Hotel Cinderella, Kondo and Sawaguchi got out and approached the entrance, the uniformed officers manning the door bowing to them respectfully. Members of the Evidence Collection Team, in their caps and dark overalls, silently marched to and from their black minivan parked outside a noodle shop.

“The manager found the body,” Sawaguchi told his junior. “Apparently, someone opened the fire exit at five a.m. which set off an alarm in the manager’s office. The computer showed him the door to Room 405 had been opened just before.”

“Someone making their getaway.”

The other man nodded. “We’ll check the district CCTV cameras to see if we’ve got anyone on tape. The manager went up, found the girl dead and her escort nowhere in the hotel, then he called us.”

The two detectives took a sluggish elevator to the fourth floor. Bumping past more men in overalls with cardboard boxes in their white-gloved hands, they arrived at Room 405. Donning similar white gloves, they took off their shoes before entering.

It was a standard Love Hotel room – brown leather sofa, a TV set, a game console, a refrigerator, a king-size bed, all probably meant to look beguiling under soft light. The Evidence Collection Team went about its work with slow, careful movements, officers taking small steps across the carpet one at a time, pausing now and again to look up at the ceiling. They passed their white-gloved hands over the room’s shadowed surfaces, holding chemical sprays and fuming agents to develop latent fingerprints.

Kondo’s attention focused on the figure on the bed.

At first sight, it could have been a shop window dummy. Kondo was used to blood, the stains and smells of bodily fluids. The artificiality – the essentially decorative nature of the corpse – was a shock to him. But more than that, he was struck by the feeling the sight was somehow familiar.

Like a scene from a recent, almost-forgotten dream.

The naked girl was lying on her stomach. Her arms were pinioned behind her back and tied at the wrist with black rope. Her legs, feet tied together at the ankles, had been pulled back and fastened by a stretch of similar rope in a hogtie. Her body was pinched and corseted by lengths of rope pulled tight around her torso, her knees, over her shoulders and under her crotch. The girl’s head was hooded with a clear plastic bag sealed at the neck with insulating tape, glossy brown-tinted hair running from it across her shoulders.

Beneath the plastic, a bright red ball-gag had been inserted into the girl’s mouth and fastened with a leather strap around the back of the head. As the final humiliation, a loop of rope had been placed around the girl’s temples like an unholy tiara, and tied to her wrists, forcing her head back so she had been unable to look at anything except the hotel room’s only door.

The eyes, mercifully, were closed.

The flare of a police-issue camera threw the scene into sudden, harsh relief. The girl in her pose like a plant cut and tucked into an Ikebana flower display, the silent men moving around her in their dark clothes and white gloves, observing, measuring, calculating.

Kondo peered closer at the corpse. Fragments of tape stuck to the girl’s forehead and temples beneath the hair. He followed the black wires running from underneath the tape, across the girl’s back, to the ends of the bed.

To an electrical socket.

A tall, well-dressed man joined them and gave a deep bow from the waist that they both returned. This was Igeta, the Medical Examiner. His haughty look was accentuated by the lone streak of grey running through the centre of his pomaded black hair. “I’m very glad you could make it so quickly,” he said.

Sawaguchi nodded. “Is the Scene of Crime Officer present?”

“Here. I’m Hashimoto, sir. Good morning.” He bowed to them from beside the bed, a short, balding figure in a neat blue suit, eyeing them from glasses too large and too round to suit him. Stepping forward, Hashimoto explained that when the staff of the Love Hotel discovered the crime, they telephoned the emergency services, who then contacted the Shibuya police station duty officer. Uniformed officers had been dispatched from the Hachiko police box, riding the short distance by bicycle to secure the crime-scene.

“Well,” Sawaguchi sighed, “let’s make this official.” Hashimoto handed him a small ledger that he accepted and opened. “The girl has been identified as . . . let me see . . . Junko Suzuki, pronounced dead at the scene. This now passes into the jurisdiction of the Shibuya Homicide Investigation Department, Section One.” Sawaguchi put the open ledger on the table, produced his personal seal, and stamped his seal in red ink on the documents within. “I take it all appropriate personnel have viewed the body?”

Igeta nodded. “I’ve made my preliminary observations.”

“Very well,” Sawaguchi said with a deep sigh. “Do you mind walking us though the scene, while we’re waiting for the Illustrious Gods from Head Office to arrive? ”

“There are no signs of a struggle. No cuts or bruising on the girl, except a little chafing in the areas under the ropes.”

“So she let herself be tied up.”

“That seems to be the case. The likeliest cause of death would appear to be asphyxiation.”

“What about this?” Kondo moved over to the bed, indicating the electrical flex taped to the girl’s head.

The Medical Examiner shrugged. “No evidence of death by electrocution. Of course, it’s too early to tell.”

“No,” Sawaguchi growled, “I think the idea here is torture.” He accepted a brand-name leather handbag from one of the men in overalls, and gingerly put his gloved hands inside. Kondo moved closer, inspecting the visible contents.

“A packet of Pianissimo Menthol,” Sawaguchi observed.

“No cigarette butts in the ashtray, sir.”

“Yes, I was coming to that. Those ashtrays look like they were wiped clean.” Crossing over to the room’s only waste-paper basket, the two of them stood peering down at the contents.

“No sign of any tissues, sir.”

“It looks as if he took his garbage home with him. But this isn’t exactly a picnic, is it?”

Kondo turned his head, aware Sawaguchi was staring at him intently. “Let’s step outside for a moment,” the older man said.

In the corridor, Sawaguchi lit a cigarette, then fumbled with a window lock for several seconds before finally giving up and turning back to Kondo. “We’ve got problems, Sergeant. The girl’s purse was full of money. At least three crisp ten thousand yen notes, straight from the machine.”

“Perhaps it was some kind of erotic accident, sir,” Kondo suggested. The man was into some rough stuff but when he realized he’d killed the girl, he just panicked and ran.”

“Perhaps.” Sawaguchi stared at his cigarette end. “You know, Kondo, I really do hope you’re right.”


Sawaguchi called the first team meeting on the Suzuki case for eleven o’clock that morning. Men in polyester salaryman-style suits filled the glass-walled conference area, the air already thickening with the smoke from their cigarettes. Kondo looked around uncomfortably at the clear walls hemming them in, another recent change dictated by the Planning Department. “These will be necessary when officers need to discuss things in privacy,” the Planning Department had said, despite the fact that the walls were transparent and didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. Through them Kondo could see the rest of Homicide Section One; a large, open-plan office holding rows of desks piled high with manuals and folders, moveable screen partitions and whiteboards.

“All right, gentlemen,” Sawaguchi announced. “The victim’s name is Junko Suzuki, twenty-eight years old, single, employed by an insurance company in Otemachi on a temporary contract. She lived at home with her parents in Chofu. On the day of the murder – yesterday – she took the train as usual, reported for work and clocked in at the usual time. Her boss asked her to do some overtime and she left shortly after seven o’clock. We’ve informed her family; they said that she was a perfect daughter, always bringing back little gifts for them, helping around the house, taking cooking classes, things like that.”

Sawaguchi slipped a sheet of coloured paper out of the file and laid it on the table. “There’s a side to Miss Suzuki that her parents didn’t know about, however.”

Kondo and the other officers leaned forward to examine the flyer. Club My Dream was printed in flowing English script above a soft-focus photograph of a young Japanese girl. Beneath it, in Japanese, a list of types: secretaries, schoolgirls, nurses, housewives. A list of services: oral sex, anal sex, bathtub sex, masturbation. And a cell phone number.

They had seen plenty of its kind before; flyers for the ‘delivery health’ services, the semi-legal companies offering takeaway girls for sexual activities, tolerated because they proved so difficult to prosecute under the existing laws. No sex actually took place on the company’s premises, and the flyers didn’t mention regular sexual intercourse as one of its services.

Judging by the expensive-looking jewellery and brand-name handbag he’d seen in the hotel room, Miss Suzuki had most likely taken advantage of Club My Dream to supplement her meager Office Lady wages, Kondo thought.

“As far as we know, Miss Suzuki died from asphyxiation, but we’re waiting for the reports from the autopsy to confirm that. Ante-mortem sexual activity took place, but there were no other injuries and no signs of a struggle – just the evidence of use of restraints and torture. There are also signs that the killer washed the girl’s body after she died.”

Officer Shibasaki signaled his willingness to speak. “Sir . . . isn’t there something unusual about the torture?”

“You mean the use of electricity?”

“No, I mean that the wires were attached to the girl’s head. In cases of sexual torture that I’ve heard of before, the perpetrator usually goes for the genitals.”

Kondo smiled a little at Shibasaki’s astuteness. The Sergeant had actually thought of it himself, but had been modestly waiting for one of the older officers to speak.

Sawaguchi shrugged. “Make a note, gentlemen. That may be significant, or it may be not. And there’s also the elaborate way the girl was tied up. I don’t want to use the word ‘ritual’, but we can’t rule it out. Then there’s the forensic evidence to consider – or, to be honest, the lack of it. No blood, no footprints, and no partials that the fingerprint team could find. Looks like the suspect used a condom, so no semen for DNA analysis. We’ve had the room’s carpet taken up and sent over to the lab. It’s up to them to see if they can get any hair fibres from the carpet, and to be honest, that’s our strongest hope at the moment. What else we have is the SM paraphernalia, generic stuff the killer could have bought anywhere in Shibuya. ”

Officer Ueno held up his hand. “I’d say those indicate a premeditated intention to kill, Inspector. He brought the girl to the Love Hotel for the purpose of killing her, nothing else.”

“Well, don’t rule out a little rough stuff that went too far, Ueno. I don’t want to state right now that we’ve got another Lunchbox Killer on our hands.”

Sawaguchi leant over the table, putting his hands palm down flat. “So, let’s get to work. The main thing is to shake down the delivery health operators, because they’re well overdue for it and we’ll probably get decorated by old man Ichikawa himself. Tsuruta, Yamada, keep on that. Ueno, put together what exactly Miss Suzuki did in the last few days before her death, check with her friends and colleagues, but leave her family to me. Shibasaki, stick with the manager of the Hotel Cinderella, maybe something will turn up. Kondo, get onto J-Tech, make sure we have Miss Suzuki’s cell phone records for the last month as soon as possible. After that, go through the database of known sex offenders. Make sure you’re looking for someone with an SM fetish.”

Ueno couldn’t control his smile. “Well, that narrows it down to only half the population of Tokyo,” he muttered to Kondo.

Sawaguchi glowered at him. “Don’t make light of this, please. If Miss Suzuki was saving up cash by dealing out a few hand-jobs on the side, that means the night she met her killer was the first time she’d ever met him. He was a customer, not an acquaintance.”

Which is going to make him almost impossible to find, thought Kondo to himself.






About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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