That time I was a murder suspect
Before I came to Tokyo, the only time I had ever gone outside of the United States was to visit my friend Monica in Belize. It was an amazing trip. The tropical central American paradise on the border of Guatemala and Mexico lived up to every ounce of my expectation. The people were laid back and friendly. We lounged on white sand next to emerald water and drank rum from the coconuts we had cut down from trees. Belikin, the nation beer of Belize, flowed freely as we spent a week soaking up the sun. We were told that Belize city had a very high crime rate but we never really felt it while we were there. The only sense of danger we ever got was on the road between Belize and Guatemala. On our way to see the Mayan ruins we came upon a pickup truck blocking the road in front of us. Monica’s uncle was driving. He stopped the car about 100 meters away from the roadblock then made a slightly exaggerated motion as if he was reaching for a gun. Or maybe he put the gun on the dashboard. The details are fuzzy. I do remember that we waited and watched to see what would happen. After a few minutes, the truck drove away. He never really gave us much detail about what happened. He just said the roads were dangerous and an ambush could happen at any time. The tense moment on the highway had been burned into my memory and with it, a valuable lesson that would come in handy in a year or two..
In Cleveland, I used to take a shortcut to work over a large field that separated two busy roads. On one side of the field, traffic flowed in one direction. On the other side, traffic flowed in the opposite direction. Once I crossed the field I would usually make my way through the back entrance of the Cleveland Art Museum and cut through the grounds to the hospital where I worked as an orderly every night from 4pm till midnight. One day, I was crossing the field as usual when I saw a car “stalled” on the opposite side in front of the path that led to the art museum. A strong feeling of danger hit me. The stalled car seemed odd but I couldn’t quite figure out why. Just like Monica’s Uncle had done, I stopped in the middle of the field and waited. I noticed that the two men who were checking under the hood were in fact paying more attention to me than the car. It became obvious that it was a trap. I turned around to go back the way I had come. If they wanted to get me they would have to drive all the way round the massive field and chase me in front of all the witnesses driving by. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the two had immediately closed the hood and started driving around the field. It was a one-way street so they couldn’t go back. As soon as their car was in motion, I turned around and continued along my original route. My experience in Belize saved me the hassle of possibly being robbed at gunpoint in Cleveland. When I told my sister about it, she told me she and her friend had been robbed by two guys who also pretended to be fixing their car. It seems the robbers were kind to her but less kind to the dude she was with as they made him lie on the ground while they emptied his pockets.
Compared to Belize City and Cleveland Ohio, Tokyo is an incredibly safe city. It's very hard to find trouble unless you actively participate in it or you are extremely unlucky. Since humans are basically the same the world over, there can be danger if you are not careful. I knew a guy I had met briefly before he fell onto the worst possible luck. He loved the arts and wanted to become a patron of a painter friend of mine named Ponzi. I can’t remember the guys’ name but I do remember that he was a big fellow. He looked like someone you might encounter on the frozen tundra of Alaska. I never knew the details of his business, but it seemed he had lots of money to spend. Just before he was ready to officially take up his position as Ponzi’s patron of the arts, he got caught up in an altercation in Roppongi, the nightlife district of Tokyo. As I remember it, he lived next door to a bar or nightclub. One night, he decided to complain about the noise. Things escalated and he got choked to death by one of the bar staff. The guy came from behind and locked his arm around his throat until he crumpled lifeless to the floor.
I knew another guy who was nearly murdered in the same part of town. He's a British photographer named Beezer who was notorious for having no filter when he was drunk. Apparently, he got into it with someone in a bar. And overzealous bouncer manhandled Beezer then kicked him down a flight of stairs. The police arrived and instead of arresting the violent bouncer for attempted murder, they brutally restrained and arrested Beezer. Unfortunately, the injuries he sustained from his fall down the stairs were so severe that his life was in danger. The police roughed him up without care or mercy until he started puking blood. Luckily, they got medical help for him, otherwise, he most certainly would have died.
In a different part of Tokyo, Ikejiriohashi, I thought I would be arrested for murder. A girl named Emily, a regular at the bar I frequented in the neighborhood, had been brutally slain at a nearby construction site. Apparently, I left the bar just after she did and returned a few hours later looking tired and sweaty. No one stopped to think it was the middle of summer when the humidity in Tokyo is so thick you can feel the wet air on your skin. A month later, I was walking along Futakotamagawa river with a friend when I saw a poster with a hand drawn picture of Emily. At the time, it didn't make the connection. I knew that I had recognized the face but I couldn’t recall from where. A month after that, the police called my phone. I thought it was a prank at first. There was no reason I could think of for the police would want to talk to me. After asking three times, “who is this reeeeaaaalllly,” I understood it wasn't a prank. When they told me over the phone that the girl had been murdered I blurted, “I knew it!” The words fell out of my mouth before I could stop myself.. The officer on the phone became aggressive. “What did you mean by that!” He said. I explained that I had seen a poster and I thought it resembled the poor murdered girl. They insisted on talking to me face to face.
I didn't want the officers coming to my house, so I invited them to visit me at the office. 2 plain clothes detectives arrived the next day. They were very polite at first. I brought them coffee on a serving tray. My hands were shaking and some of the coffee spilled onto the tray. Of course, I was not even remotely involved in the woman’s death but the idea that the police being there to question me made me very nervous. I must have looked like someone who had something to hide. They asked where I was on the night of the murder. At that time I was working as a music promoter and my job was to promote dance remixes for a major Japanese pop band. On weekend nights, I went to clubs and bars to personally hype up a remix to DJs then hand them a copy to play. The night that Emily was killed, I'd stopped at Coda for a few drinks before being picked up by my colleague for my nightly promotion rounds. It was purely by coincidence that Emily had left Coda 10 or 15 minutes before I did. She wasn't very attractive in the traditional sense. That’s why I remember very clearly the last thing I said to her. “Wow, you got a new haircut. It looks really nice on you .” It was my way of being friendly. Also, I wanted to give her a boost in confidence and make her feel good. It wasn’t a lie. The haircut really did look nice on her.
Usually, when I went to Coda, I stayed until the first train, which ran at 5am. Taking a taxi was way too expensive. Once, I tried to walk home but it took about four hours. There was also a time when I used to ride my bicycle but riding home drunk was not a good idea. I learned that the hard way when I crashed into a parked scooter.
One of the police officers asked me what time I left Coda that night. I honestly hadn't remembered and told him I probably stayed until the morning, as usual. That's when their mood suddenly went dark. “You're lying! You left at midnight and came back at 3:00 AM. Where did you go? What did you do?” I was in a worse panic. I had never been suspected of murder before. I remembered to check my log book. I thought I must have been doing my promotion rounds that night. Saito had come to pick me up in his car and drive me around to the clubs. He never wanted to drive me all the way home so he always took me back to Coda. He was my alibi. Just in case, I showed them my logbook of the places I had visited, the DJs I talked to, what time I gave them records, and their comments. I always kept meticulous notes. In the end, I didn't need the book because whoever committed the murder, which has never been solved, left DNA and footprints at the scene. There are very few people in Japan whose feet are as big as mine. So that put me at ease. I gave the cops some of my saliva and cells from the inside of my cheek and told them my shoe size. I asked if that would be enough to clear me. They were silent at first then reluctantly said yes.I put a little extra spit on the swab for good measure. Then I said to them with a nervous smile, “I hope it also means that I will never be seeing you gentlemen again .” They were not amused.