The Lady Killer leads a double life in Tokyo's shadowy underworld. By day, he is a devoted husband and hard worker; by night, he cruises cabaret bars and nightclubs in search of lonely single women to seduce.
But now the hunter is being hunted, and in his wake lies a trail of gruesome murders. Who is the culprit? The answer lies tangled in a web of clues—and to find it, he must accept that nothing is what it seems.
The Lady Killer pulls from author Masako Togawa’s vibrant personal life as a cabaret performer for Tokyo’s gay nightclub scene during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Throughout her writing career, Togawa continued to champion the LGBT community as a queer woman—sealing her reputation as one of Japan’s most prominent crime fiction authors and LGBT heroines.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In summer, the bars and small restaurants in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, usually greet the first customers of the day at about 4 p.m. However, trade at this hour is listless; the place has only just opened, and the air conditioner has not begun to bite, or else the floors are still glistening with fresh-sprinkled water. The customers huddle at the end of the counter and get on with the serious business of drinking; they certainly do not revel at that hour or spend money on itinerant street musicians.
These wandering minstrels usually turn up in the entertainment districts after 8 p.m. But on a certain day a violin player known since his youth as "Ossan" — "the old fellow" — set out early and was cruising the area by 6 p.m., when the sun was still high in the sky. This was because he had taken the previous day off and needed the money. Both the old fellow's low-heeled shoes, the soles of which were worn to paper-thinness, and the sandals of his partner were spattered with white dust.
"Hey! Old fellow!" They were passing the Bar Boi just behind the Koma Theater when a waiter came out and called them. "One of our customers wants music. She says only a violinist will do."
"She really wants a violinist? That's unusual." Nowadays, no one seemed to want violin music, what with the craze for the guitar. They followed the waiter into the cool and almost deserted bar.
He led him to a table where there sat a female customer wearing dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat. The old fellow bowed to her.
"What would you like me to play, madam?" He studied his client's face carefully, noting the large mole on the side of her nose.
"Can you play 'Zigeunerliedchen'?"
"Ah, now, if you ask me for a classical piece I can play anything you want."
"Go ahead, then, let's hear you." Her voice seemed strangely toneless.
Getting his instrument out of its case, the old fellow reflected that he'd heard of a woman who made this request to some of his colleagues. None of them could play it, which was a pity for them, as the woman offered to pay a thousand yen just to hear that one tune. It must be the same woman, he thought. But the old fellow was a far better hand at the classics than at modern music. The guitarist began to strum, and he embarked upon the haunting melody.
The woman just sat and listened, without making any effort to sing the words. Yet she didn't seem to be drunk, just odd. When they came to the end of the tune, she merely said, "Once more."
He complied, and when he finished he asked, "How about something else?"
But the woman was silent. There was certainly something odd about her: mad, perhaps. Here she was at a Shinjuku bar wearing a large hat and sunglasses, just as if she was on the beach. It was impossible to read the expression on her face, tricked out as she was in that manner.
At last she broke her silence, and when she spoke her voice seemed artificial.
"Do you play that often?"
"Well, it's not a common request."
"But surely you play it sometimes?" The woman spoke almost aggressively, as if trying to force his answer. I know the type, the old fellow thought. Kindergarten teachers, they're like that.
"I used to play it a lot in the old days."
"But how about recently? How about a year ago, for instance?"
This question was so preposterous that the old man could not prevent himself from laughing.
"Well, if you say so. I mean, I play every day, so I can hardly remember what I played when."
"Surely you remember. It was in this very bar, right?"
"Yes, in the Bar Boi, on the ground floor. A man and a woman sang the song, and only that song, several times over."
"Can you remember?" He turned to his partner, a much younger man with heavily oiled hair.
"Search me." The guitarist plainly did not like her interrogative approach.
She stood up suddenly and pointed to a corner of the room. She had the posture and tone of a prosecutor in court.
"It was over there. There was a man sitting alone who asked for that song. Now think back. He looked a bit foreign — he had very sharp features. You must remember him, he was so handsome."
The two strolling players were astonished. They looked at her in a puzzled manner, but she went on, ignoring their bewilderment.
"He was singing down here. And upstairs there was a young girl. She joined in the singing, and after the first duet she came down and joined him and they sang it again. Surely you can remember! Think! Think!"
The old fellow did his best to remember, but his partner was plainly bored.
"An unforgettable voice," she went on. "Unusually deep — not at all typically Japanese. Now do try and remember. I'm asking about a man with a deep bass voice."
"Ah," said the old fellow in a relieved tone. "You're talking about Mr. Honda. Yes, that's who it will be. Haven't seen him around much recently."
"What does he do for a living, this Mr. Honda?"
"Oh, I really couldn't say. I mean, I address all my customers either as 'professor' or as 'president,' and think no more of it. I used to call him 'professor,' that's all I can tell you. He likes singing, though, and has a good voice. I think he once told me that he was the leader of the choral society when he was at college."
"Which university was that?"
"Now, let me see. A.B.C. — was that it? No, not quite, but it was something like that — three letters of the alphabet. Maybe it wasn't in Japan at all, but overseas, with a name like that."
"Have you seen him around recently?"
"No, come to think of it, not for quite a while. He used to be a regular in the local bars, but not anymore. Moved on to some other area, I suppose."
At this, the woman looked disappointed, but she opened her handbag nonetheless and pulled out a thousand-yen note. As she handed it to them, she added, "If there are any other bars around here where he used to go, please tell me."
"Other bars? Yes, there were one or two; now, let me see." And after a little thought, he reeled off the names of several bars. The woman wrote them down carefully in a notebook and left.
"I suppose it was all right to tell her that much," said the old fellow.
"You mean, maybe she's got it in for the professor and wants to make trouble?"
"Yes, but no need to worry, I suppose. I mean, it was all true, what I said, and nothing bad about him. She didn't look like a policewoman." He pocketed the thousand-yen note. "All that matters is that we got well paid."
Thereafter, whenever he went into one of the bars, the names of which he had given to the woman, the old fellow always made sure to ask about her, but never with any result.
"No sign of that woman? The one who asked about the professor, the man with the deep bass voice?" Always, the answer was no.
"An odd one, she was. Anyway, we did our best to help. But what's she up to, I wonder?" He racked his brains to no avail. "Well, that's life, I suppose. People are here today, gone tomorrow. Just like the wind, people are. I mean, they go and drink at the same place for a while, and then just vanish. Plenty of cases like that, come to think of it."
"Well," said his young companion philosophically, "that's the entertainment business for you. A chancy trade, with customers always coming and going."
And there they left it. After a while, they forgot all about the inquisitive woman with the mole on her nose.
Asia Moral University is located on a hill outside Tokyo, some fifteen minutes by bus from K Station on the Chuo Line. It is generally known as A.M.U.
It stands in broad grounds amidst the woodlands of the plain of Musashi. In the center of the campus stands a fine, three-story building, the center for studies, and in the surrounding grounds there are spacious dormitories for students and the faculty, who all live in. The student body includes many from elsewhere in Asia and even from Africa, so not much Japanese is heard on the campus. English is the most common language used at A.M.U.
The students are allowed out to the local centers of amusement on Sundays and national holidays; otherwise, they pass their lives in this monastic atmosphere concentrating on their studies.
It was at 1 p.m. on the tenth of October that a bus drew up at the bus stop in front of the university, depositing a single female passenger there. The university operates a two-semester system, and it was still vacation time. As the cloud of dust thrown up by the bus settled, the woman removed the handkerchief that she had kept pressed to her face, replacing it in her handbag and straightening the collar of her kimono before moving on.
She walked down the narrow country road for about five minutes, which brought her to the gates and the broad drive leading to the university. She stood there for a while, gazing in, and then, seeming to change her mind, turned and went back the way she had come. Just beyond the bus stop was a shabby store selling candy, bread, cigarettes, and other small necessities of daily life. It also had a public telephone. It was an unprepossessing sort of a shop; a thin film of dust covered the goods. It did not seem likely to attract many customers.
The woman went to the phone and picked up the receiver. Immediately an old crone emerged from the shadows at the rear of the shop, her eyeglasses slipping down her nose.
"Calling Tokyo?" she asked sharply. "If you want long distance, I've got to do it for you."
The woman shook her head and covered her face with her handkerchief. The old woman withdrew into the shadows but continued to watch her. It seemed that the woman was calling the university.
She got through to the switchboard. She had a list of faculty members open in front of her.
"Professor Matsuyama, please. He is responsible for the choral society, isn't he?"
"Yes, madam. Putting you through now."
Saburo Matsuyama, Professor of the History of Church Music, was studying ancient scores in the library when the phone call reached him. Although he was a recognized authority in his field, he was now over seventy, and lecturing was no longer easy for him. He was also rather deaf, and nowadays his chief pleasures were playing the organ and conducting the choral society.
"Hello," he said into the mouthpiece. "Matsuyama here. Who's that?"
"Professor Saburo Matsuyama?"
"Yes, yes, who's that?"
"I am from a matrimonial agency, Professor. I am ringing to inquire about one of your former pupils, a Mr. Ichiro Honda, who I understand used to lead the choral society."
"Speak up, I can't hear you." Although the voice was polite, the woman seemed to be speaking through her nose. She repeated herself twice, raising her voice at the last occasion until he could hear.
"Oh, I see. Yes, ask me whatever you want to know."
Guided by the woman's questions, he began to expatiate on the university career of Ichiro Honda. Fortunately, Honda had been an excellent student, and the professor remembered him well. Also words of praise, so important on these occasions, came easily to him. He talked enthusiastically of the diligence, the musical aptitude, and even the good looks of his former pupil. What else could he say?
"Oh, yes, there's one other thing I've just remembered, which goes to show what a fine young man he was. Honda has a rare blood type — only about one in several thousand have it, I gather. Yes, well, he donated blood when he was a student and saved the life of a baby. Yes, it was in all the newspapers at the time, I seem to remember. How did we know he had blood in that group? Well, madam, we have an American Institute of Biology here, of which we're very proud, and we note every student's blood type."
"What type was it? Can you tell me?"
"I can't remember exactly. But if you ring the Institute, they'll certainly have it on record."
The professor suddenly realized that having a very rare blood type was not necessarily conducive to marital negotiations and tried to rectify his error.
"Well, an unusual blood type shouldn't affect his married life, you know. Just ring the Institute and they'll tell you. By all means use my name when you talk to them if you like. The switchboard will put you through. By the way, how is Honda nowadays? I gather he went to the United States and studied computer sciences there. I heard that he's working in that field now and is very busy; we haven't seen him for years."
"Ah, yes, well ... I'll certainly tell him to visit you soon," said the nasal voice hurriedly. She then excused herself and put the receiver down, cutting the professor off.
She dialed again, only this time the old woman could not make head or tail of what she was talking about. It seemed to be about blood, but it was all very complicated. It was not just the complexity of the conversation that was to stick in the old woman's mind, causing her to remember the incident; rather, it was the disagreeable impression left with her by a customer who bought nothing and monopolized the telephone for so long. She watched the woman leave, sliding her glasses up from the tip of her nose, and it was then that the old woman noticed the mole at the base of one nostril.
The old woman was superstitious. Surely, she thought, only great wickedness could be denoted by a mole like that on a woman's face.
It was a few hours later that Professor Matsuyama began to entertain doubts about the phone call.
He was talking to his secretary. "I had an inquiry just now about one of my graduates," he said. "It was from a matrimonial agency."
"Who was it about?"
His secretary expressed astonishment. "That's most odd," she said.
"If I remember right, he got married some years back. Let me see. It was when he was in America, wasn't it? A Japanese girl from a rich family, if I remember aright. She was studying at the same university. Quite a beauty, I gather. You're too wrapped up in your work, Professor, that's the trouble with you. Fancy forgetting something like that!"
The professor mumbled something and changed the subject. Come to think of it, he did remember having received a notification of marriage on a beautiful card printed in both Japanese and English some five or six years before.
He went into the corridor outside and gazed across the school grounds. The fine buildings stood serenely in their landscaped surroundings, each casting its shadow in the fading sun. It seemed to him that some dark shadow also lay over his former student, whom he remembered so clearly singing vigorously in the back row of the chorus.
He felt strangely uneasy. Pressing his head against a marble pillar, he began to pray, as a good Christian should, for the safety of his old pupil.
"Front desk. Hello!"
Junji Oba, reception clerk at the Toyo Hotel, answered the phone with the soft voice he reserved for business transactions. He moistened his lower lip with his tongue, just in case it was a foreigner and he had to switch to English.
"J.C. Airlines here," said a woman's voice. "Could you give me the room number of a Mr. Honda who is staying with you, please."
"Honda? Yes, certainly. What would his first name be, please?"
"Ichiro. I-chi-ro." She spelled out the three syllables of the name, pausing between each.
Junji Oba was new to the job. He had many years' experience, but an unfortunate error at his last place of work had brought him to the Toyo Hotel. So despite his experience, he was forced to concentrate like a beginner in order to avoid error.
He searched the register diligently, running his fingers down the five-hundred names that were listed floor by floor. Soon he discovered Honda's name — corner room, third floor. Age twenty-nine, Japanese national, occupation engineer.
"Mr. Honda is in room 305," he told the woman. He was about to hang up when the voice came back with an inquiry that was so strange that he had to ask her to repeat herself.
"I said, does he have a low voice?"
"A low voice, did you say? Or did you ask if he is short?"
"Yes, a low voice ... a deep voice ... an unforgettable voice."
The reception clerk thought quickly. What a peculiar line of inquiry. If one wants to confirm that one has the right person, one doesn't normally ask about his voice. One might ask about the person's occupation — Mr. So-and-So of such and such a company, for example. Or Mr. Honda from America, or Mr. Honda from England. And yet this woman said she was from an airline company. So this was not a routine inquiry; it was aimed at research, detective work perhaps. He thought for a moment and remembered an Oriental with a deep voice amongst the guests, a man who normally spoke in English.
"Yes, I think he does have a low voice. We have so many guests staying, you see ... it's hard to remember."
"But he really is staying there, isn't he?" The clerk fancied he heard a tone of relief in her voice, as if she had tracked down the man at last after many difficulties. She went on: "Do you know how long he's staying for?"
"Wait a minute and I'll see."
He put down the receiver and checked the reservation for room 305. It turned out that Ichiro Honda was a long-stay guest who had spent the last three months in the hotel. Maybe she'll make it worth my while, Oba thought; he looked around carefully to see that he was not overheard before picking up the receiver again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lady Killer"
Copyright © 1963 Masako Togawa.
Excerpted by permission of Pushkin Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART 1: THE HUNTER,
The First Victim (November 5), 35,
The Second Victim (December 19), 60,
The Third Victim (January 15), 74,
PART 2: COLLECTING THE EVIDENCE,
The Lawyers, 99,
The Blood Bank, 128,
The Black Stain, 172,
Insertion — A Monologue, 189,
The Black Stain — Continued, 192,