Today's Reading

NOTE:
One million yen is approximately equal to 9,000 U.S. dollars.

PART ONE

I regret to say I was the very last person to notice what was going on.
—John Dickson Carr, SHE DIED A LADY


1

Glancing up at the wall clock, he saw that there were only twenty minutes to go until ten o'clock. Think I'll call it a night. Yutaro Namiki looked around the restaurant. It was almost empty—only a couple middle-aged women were left. When they came in, one of them had said something about how nice it was to be back. Yutaro Namiki sneaked a peek at her. The woman was certainly not one of their regulars. He had a vague sense that he recognized her but he could just be imagining things.

Right about then, the woman announced that she wanted to pay her check. "Coming," called out Machiko, Yutaro's wife, who was standing beside him, washing dishes.

Yutaro heard the woman say, "Thank you. That was quite delicious."

"Thank you for coming," Machiko replied. "I hope you'll come again."

"I'm sure we'll be back soon. Actually, I've been here before. It was quite a long time ago—maybe five or six years ago."

"Oh, really?"

"There was this amazingly pretty waitress. We ended up chatting and she told me she was the owner's daughter. I seem to remember that she was still in high school. Is she well?"

Yutaro was busy in the kitchen, putting away the knives, but his hand stopped in midair. He knew that hearing his wife's response to the offhand inquiry would only cause him pain, but he couldn't help straining to listen.

"That was my daughter. She's doing fine." Machiko sounded perfectly relaxed. She was keeping her feelings well hidden.

"Oh, good. Does she still live at home?"

"No, she's moved out."

"Really? She seemed such a well-adjusted kid. Not like mine. They're getting older but they still look to us for everything. I'm getting sick and tired of it."

"Oh, I don't know. That has its own charms."

"'Lucky the house with a child to spoil,' you mean?"

"Exactly."

He heard Machiko and the woman heading for the exit. There was a rattling sound as someone pulled the sliding door open. "Thank you very much. Good night," he heard his wife say.

Putting down the knife he was holding, Yutaro walked around the counter and out into the restaurant. Machiko had taken down the noren curtain over the front door and just come back inside.

Their eyes met and she cocked her head slightly. "Something wrong?"

"No. I just couldn't help overhearing." Yutaro scratched the back of his head. "You really kept your cool. I know it can't be easy."

"It's no big deal. I've been dealing with customers for years. That's the business we're in, after all."

"I know, but still . . ."

Machiko leaned the curtain pole up against the wall and turned to her husband. A petite woman with a small face, she'd always had a penetrating gaze, even as a young woman. It was hard not to flinch when she made eye contact.

"Haven't you accepted it yet?"

"Accepted what?"

"The fact that Saori has gone. I've come to terms with it. Since you spend all your time in the kitchen, you may not realize it, but people talking about Saori the way that woman did—it happens all the time. It's the same for Natsumi. She never makes a fuss about it because she's come to terms with it, too."

Natsumi was the younger of the Namikis' two daughters. She was a sophomore in college and helped out at the restaurant when she had the time.

Yutaro stood there, saying nothing.
...

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