Katsuro Tanaka investigates a cold case murder.
One year ago, Nigel Nash, a twenty-four year-old musician is murdered and his body is dumped beside the Madres Creek. The victimâ€™s mother is terminally ill, with only six weeks to live, and she wants the perpetrator brought to justice before she dies. The police seem unable to solve the crime, so she hires private investigator Katsuro Tanaka, who is famous in San Sebastian for solving cold cases.
Thursday, March 16
Katsuro Tanaka (AKA Kats)
It was just after three-thirty p.m. when I walked into my office on El Centro in downtown San Sebastian. I was pleased to see Frances Gorman, my well-organized office manager, seated behind the receptionist's desk. She'd been away for a few days and had been sorely missed.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Tanaka," she said, jumping up from her seat.
"Hi, Frances. Glad you're back. You have a good time in San Francisco?"
"Yes, thanks, Mr. Tanaka. It was nice to get away and see my old friend, Wendy."
"How's she doing?"
"Just great. She's enjoying retirement."
"Well don't get any ideas...we need you here."
"Don't worry, sir, I'm not going anywhere."
"Good. That meeting at four still on?"
"Yes, sir. He confirmed it this morning."
"You have any info on him?"
"Just his name, sir. He wouldn't tell me why he wanted to see you."
She followed me into my inner office.
I picked up the post-it note Frances had placed on my desk.
Mr. Kenneth Nash will be in to see you at four.
"The name looks familiar, Frances."
She nodded. "It should. He works with your buddy, the mayor."
"He's not my buddy, Frances. In fact, I don't even like him. He's a chauvinist pig."
"Maybe he's not, but he sure is indebted to you since you saved his hide during that sad business with the tarot cards."
"Kenneth Nash is a city councilor?"
"Yes... in charge of finances."
"Ah. No wonder I recognize the name. Anything else happening?"
"No, sir, that's it."
At three forty-five, Frances showed a tall, lithe man, probably in his mid-thirties, dressed in a dark blue three-piece suit--looking like he just stepped in for an audition at Gentleman's Quarterly--into my office.
"Mr. Nash is here, sir," she announced.
I rose and stretched out my hand. "Katsuro Tanaka," I said.
"Kenneth Nash," the guy said and reached over my desk to shake my hand. "Thanks for seeing me on such short notice, I really appreciate it."
"Please, have a seat," I said.
"Would you like some coffee, Mr. Nash?" Frances asked.
"No thanks, I'm good."
Frances left my office and closed the door.
When we were seated, Nash placed the ankle of his right leg on the thigh of his left leg, exposing colorful argyle socks and a hairy ankle, and ran his hand through his thick dark hair. Very nice. Top-drawer as my mother would say.
"So what can I do for you, Mr. Nash?"
He appraised me with his dark brown eyes and deliberated for a few moments--as though he was trying to get his thoughts together, then blurted out, "You've got to help me, Mr. Tanaka. My brother was murdered, and the cops aren't doing anything!"
I was taken aback by his request. My breath caught in my throat.
Was this guy for real? Was this some kind of City Hall sting operation?
After a few moments, I answered, "I don't investigate murders, Mr. Nash. That's the job of the police."
"I know that, Mr. Tanaka, but they don't seem to be able to determine who's responsible. We've seen in the news, and on the internet, that you've been successful at solving the unsolvable, so you are our last chance."
Yes, but it didn't say in the news how those cases had affected me.
It had been five years since I had come home and found the body of my husband, Patrick--with his head smashed in, lying in a pool of blood on our bedroom floor. At the time, Patrick and I had both been police officers on the San Sebastian police force, so I wasn't a stranger to violence and homicide, but I have never completely recovered from that gruesome discovery.
After Patrick's death, I suffered from panic attacks every time I encountered a dead body. This wasn't an advantage for a homicide detective, so I left the force to become a private investigator. I no longer have panic attacks when encountering death, but I still react emotionally when murder rears its ugly head. Consequently, I try to stay clear of cases involving homicides.
I took a few deep breaths. "When was your brother murdered?"
"It's been a year since his body was discovered next to the Madres Creek."
"So, it's a cold case?"
"How old was...?"
"Nigel... his name was Nigel. Last month, he would've celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday."
"What was the cause of death?"
Tears formed in the corners of Nash's eyes. He pulled a white linen handkerchief out of his pocket, blotted them, blew his nose, then said, "The police told me he was beaten to death."
His display of emotion was contagious. I wanted to walk around my desk and hug him, but I didn't think he would appreciate the gesture. I remained silent for a few beats before I could continue with the interview. "I'm really sorry for your loss, Mr. Nash. I can see that it still upsets you to speak of him."
"It does. My mother and I loved Nigel, and still find it hard to come to terms with his death."
"Why have you decided to carry out an independent investigation now?"
"My mother is terminally ill, Mr. Tanaka. She really would like to know what happened to Nigel before she dies. She's the one who suggested I contact you."
"How much longer does she have?"
"She has end-stage adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. The doctors have given her a month to six weeks."
"This must be really tough on you. Do you have anyone to support you?"
"I'm married, and my wife is a great support, but she is recovering from major surgery, so I try not to put too much stress on her."
"You have any children?" I asked after a brief pause.
"No... unfortunately. I don't have any siblings either, and my father has been dead for three years."
"Sounds like you've got a lot on your plate."
"Yes, it's hard seeing my mother deteriorating. She's always been so active."
I remained silent for a moment, wondering how to proceed, then I asked, "So Nigel's death was ruled a homicide?"
"Yes. I can't remember the exact details on the death certificate, but they say he was severely beaten with fists and probably kicked."
I felt a cold chill course through my body as I thought about the condition of Nigel Nash's body. I'd seen plenty of victims with those types of injuries. "Was he beaten at the creek or elsewhere?"
"The police say he was beaten in the rear parking lot of Breakers when he was leaving the club. They think he was alive when he was dumped, with callous indifference, on the side of the creek."
"Was he robbed?"
"No. He was still dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, and his wallet and watch were on him."
"So, there must've been some other reason for the beating."
I didn't want to get involved in the case, but my heart went out to Nash, whose anguish was palpable. Maybe I could help him without getting totally involved? "Tell me about your brother."
"What do you want to know?"
"Everything. I need to know who his friends were, what his habits were, where he hung out. Sometimes the smallest bit of information will help identify the person or persons responsible."
He deliberated for a few seconds, then he said, "Well I guess the first thing you should know is he was gay."
"Did the police think it may have been a gay bashing?"
"They didn't say, but I wouldn't be surprised."
"Why is that?"
"He was one of those militant gays. You know, he'd say things like, â€˜Yeah I'm gay. If you don't like it, go fuck yourself.'"
"That probably wouldn't go over too well with some straights."
Nash reached into a pocket, pulled out a photograph, and handed it to me. "That was taken at his twenty-first birthday party."
I studied the photo, which showed a slim blond young man with a shy smile. They certainly didn't look like brothers. "He was quite a few years younger than you."
He smiled. "Yes. Ten years. My mother always said he was an unexpected bundle of joy from heaven."
"You always knew he was gay?"
"Oh yes. We always knew about him and loved him unconditionally."
"Did he have a profession?"
"No, he was a part-time student in the Master of Music program at UCSS. He wanted to be a teacher. He played a guitar and sang in a band and spent most of his time with his band members. He was very talented, and could play many different instruments, but being the lead singer and guitarist in the band seemed to be his forte."
I remained silent for a second or two while I thought about the wasted life of the gifted young man, then I said, "I really don't know if I can help you, Mr. Nash. I am apprehensive at getting involved in a murder case."
"Is it because he was gay?"
"Not at all. I am not homophobic."
"I think I understand your reluctance, but you are our last chance. I would like to get some answers before my mother passes on."
We were both silent for a few moments. "Can you at least talk to the police and meet with my mother?"
I didn't want to turn the guy down outright --and I thought it advisable to stay on good terms with the city councilor, so I said, "Okay, I'll talk to them. After that, if I still don't think I can get involved, I'll refer you to another competent PI."
"That'll really help, Mr. Tanaka."
"Is your mother in palliative care or hospice?"
"No. When her oncologist suggested palliative care, she hit the roof--she can be real feisty at times. She said she wanted to die at home, so we arranged for twenty-four-hour nursing care."
"Okay, I'll give it some thought, but I can't promise you anything, especially after all this time, and it may be expensive."
"That's okay, Mr. Tanaka, my mother is willing to pay anything. Money is not a concern."
"So will she be footing the bill?"
"Indirectly. I have power of attorney for her, so I will assume responsibility for all the costs."
"Okay," I said. "Can I give you a call and let you know my decision after I've spoken to her and the cops?"
"That'll be okay. I'll be available on my cell."
"You know, Mr. Nash, that nine times out of ten the murderer is someone the victim knew. So if I do decide to get involved, I'm going to have to look closely at Nigel's friends and acquaintances."
"Really? We thought it was probably a stranger."
"Well, what could the motive have been? You said he wasn't robbed."
"I can't think of anyone who would do such a thing. He got along with everybody."
That's not quite true. You just told me he could be militant. Maybe he confronted the wrong guy?
"I know it's probably difficult for you to think that somebody he knew would do that to him, but if I decide to investigate Nigel's death, I'll need to talk to everyone. You have any names of people he was friendly with?"
He played with his blue bowtie for a few seconds, then he said, "The only one that comes to mind is Lawrence Perry. Nigel and he had always been best friends. He was the drummer in Nigel's band."
"Were they in a relationship?"
"I don't think so, but Lawrence is gay."
"You know where I can locate Lawrence?"
"I don't know where he lives, but his mother lives next door to my mother. She could probably tell you where to find him."
"Where did Nigel live?"
"He had a suite in the family home. It was in the basement and has its own exterior entrance."
"You want to give me your mother's address and phone number?"
After I had recorded the information, I handed him a business card with my cellphone number on it.
He handed me a business card. "That's my private number. You don't have to go through the office to speak with me."
"Is there anything else you think I should know?"
Nash thought for a few moments, then said, "No I can't think of anything else."
"Okay. Remember, any little piece of information you have may help me. Don't hesitate to call me if you think of anything, no matter how trivial you might think it is."
"Will do, Mr. Tanaka."
"Please call me Kats."
Nash smiled. "Will do, Kats, and my name is Kenneth."
"You might as well sign a contract, and give me a retainer," I said. "If I decide not to get fully involved, I'll return the check."
"Good idea," he said.
After he had read the contract, he signed it, and then pulled out his checkbook and filled out a check.
We both stood and shook hands, then I held my office door open for him. Nice butt, I thought as he walked through the outer office. I wonder what he looks like out of that suit?
After he departed, Frances interrupted my reverie. "He's a good looking young man," she said. "He looks a lot like your Jeremy."
"Yes, sir... a lot like Jeremy. What did he want?"
"His brother was murdered a year ago, and he wants me to find the person responsible for it."
"Well he came to the right place."
"I'm not sure about that. I haven't decided whether I'm going to take the case. I'm going to speak to his mother and Rick before deciding."
"After all those deaths in your last case, I can see why you're not anxious to get involved in another homicide. But you'll be able to handle it."
"We'll see, Frances. His brother's name was Nigel. Could you see what you can dig up?"
"How old was Nigel?"
"Twenty-four. His body was found alongside Madres Creek."
"You have his home address?"
I held out my notepad, so she could see the address.
When she had recorded it, she said, "I'll get right on it, sir."
"Thanks, Frances," I said, then explained about the contract and retainer, and handed them to her.
"Keep them in the safe, Frances."
I knew she'd be able dig up something on the case, because she was a computer whiz, and a genius at doing research. She kept track of all our cases and looked after the billing. Without her the books would be a mess. She used to work part-time, but she'd shown that she was more than a bookkeeper in our last major case, so I had taken her on full time, and now had her more involved in the investigative side of the business.
Back in my inner office, I sat in my chair and placed my feet on my desk. A faint odor of Kenneth Nash's aftershave hung in the air.
Frances is right, I mused, he does look a lot like Jeremy. He's my kind of man. A roll in the hay with him would be memorable.
I shook my head to clear my mind of my erotic thoughts of Kenneth Nash, and focused on his murdered brother, Nigel. I didn't really want to get involved--the last time I'd investigated a murder, it had put my family in jeopardy, but then, I thought, if I didn't look into it, someone could get away with murder.
I turned on my desktop computer and pulled my notebook out of my bag. I'd been in L.A. most of the day, following up on a case that had kept me busy for the past week. One of the local banks were looking to hire a new vice-president. The president had asked me to vet the applicant. I had discovered that the applicant was having two extramarital affairs. One apparently wasn't enough. Needless to say, the applicant wouldn't be what the bank was looking for. I spent the next hour formulating a letter to the president, informing him of my findings. Satisfied with the letter, I printed it, signed it, and placed it in the out basket. Frances would send the letter and a bill, to the president.
I was checking my appointment book when Elaine Nielsen, my partner--a tall attractive woman in her early forties--walked into my office. Like me, she too was ex-police. While I'd been a homicide detective in the San Sebastian police force, Elaine had been an officer in the Ventura County Sheriff's department. She had left the Ventura Sheriff's office to get away from an abusive husband. Elaine and I had first met during a joint San Sebastian/Ventura County police investigation and had later reconnected while I was investigating the murder of a prominent lawyer. I was glad we had joined forces. We worked well together, and business was booming, especially with all the publicity I'd received after solving a mystery involving grim reaper tarot cards. We both had eight-year-old sons who went to the same school. The boys, and Elaine and I, had become close friends.
"How you doing, Kats?" she said as she took a seat.
"I'm good, Elaine, and you?"
"Just great, now that I've got the evidence about that malingering character that the insurance company was looking for." She opened her smart phone and showed me photos of a guy out jogging. "He appear crippled to you?"
"He seems fitter than me."
"Hardly!" Then, she asked, "You have a good trip to L.A.?"
"Yeah. I don't think the bank will be hiring him."
"You have anything pending?"
I told her about my meeting with Kenneth Nash.
"You gonna take the case?"
"I haven't decided yet. I'll decide after I meet with his mother and speak with Rick."
"Well I know how these homicide cases affect you. Maybe you shouldn't get involved. If you want, I'll take it on."
"I know you can handle it. If I feel I can't help him, I'll refer him to you. He's probably been speaking to the mayor, so we need to watch ourselves." I shook my head. "Poor guy, you should've seen how upset he was."
Elaine smiled at me. "I've met him, Kats, and he's not gay, so don't think about getting him into bed."
My ears flushed.
"The thought never crossed my mind, Elaine."
"Huh. I know how your mind works, buddy. I've got a feeling those thoughts frequently cross your mind. I've seen that look in your eyes before."
"Not this time."
"Okay. Keep your zipper up! I'm out of here. See you tomorrow."
I phoned my buddy, Richard Sadowski, a sergeant on the San Sebastian police force. Sadowski and I had been friends since first grade. We had gone to college together and then joined the police force at the same time, but I had left the police force and gone private after the death of Patrick. Even though I was gay, and Sadowski was straight, we remained inseparable.
"What's up, Kats?" Sadowski said. "Hope you're not calling to cancel tonight's game?"
We had been playing squash every Thursday night for years. Sadowski usually won two of the three games, but for the last two weeks I had beaten him.
"Now that I've got you on the run, I'm gonna keep winning. I'm calling about a new case I just got handed."
"Why am I not surprised? You never call to just say hi."
"Hi, Rick, how are you?"
"Hah, hah. Now what can I do for you?"
"It's a cold case. A murder that took place a year ago."
"You mean a frozen case, which is what it is, if it's been a year."
"A young guy, by the name of Nigel Nash, was beaten and dumped at the side of Madres Creek, and his assailant hasn't been apprehended--"
"Say no more. I'm familiar with the case. His brother, Kenneth Nash, calls once a month to find out what progress we've made. Unfortunately, the answer is always, â€˜We are still actively pursuing all leads, but have not yet determined who was responsible for your brother's death.' You know what that means, Kats. Every month we pull the file and dust it off. But we have to be careful with this guy. His office is responsible for funding the force."
"So, you're saying no progress has been made?"
"Do you have a problem with me pursuing it?"
"Not if you keep me in the loop."
"Don't I always?"
"Would you be able to review the file and fill me in tonight?"
"Sure, I can do that, as long as you don't blab to Gonzales."
When Patrick had been murdered, Lieutenant Gonzales and I had a falling out. Amongst other expletives, I had called him a homophobic prick. At the time, I had felt like killing the asshole. I knew I'd never be able to work with him again, so I had quit the force, and I was glad I had.
"Oh sure, Rick. Gonzales and I are having a tete-a-tete on Saturday night."
"I'll review the file and see what's what."
"Thanks, Rick. See you tonight," I said and disconnected.
Frances came into my office.
"I've started looking into the Nash case, but I have to leave, I've got a doctor's appointment. I'll get back to it tomorrow, Mr. Tanaka."
"Thanks, Frances. See you tomorrow."
I opened my computer and started a file on Nigel Nash. That done, I pulled my 9mm Beretta out of my desk drawer and placed it in my underarm holster. To hide the gun, I slipped into a lightweight sports coat. I hated the idea of walking around armed, because it reminded me of my time on the police force. I didn't used to carry the gun around with me, but after some creep had pushed me over the precipice in Lighthouse Park, while investigating the death of a lawyer, I never went out unarmed on a case. I locked up the office and drove home.