Excerpt

Seventeen

Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Seventeen, by former investigative journalist turned crime writer Hideo Yokoyama. In his second work to make it to the sates, a reporter goes after the mysterious truth behind a deadly plane crash. In the following passage, a newsroom first learns of the disaster.

By six o’clock that evening, all the editorial staff were in turmoil.

Yuuki was sitting at the political editor’s desk, checking the draft of his article. As he’d refused to attend the wireless meeting, he was stuck filling in for Kishi instead. The top story had been decided. The Sanko Steamship Company was in financial difficulties and was planning to file an application the next day for assistance under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law. The company had an aggregate debt of more than five hundred billion yen. It was the biggest financial collapse since the Second World War. Yuuki had been covering cases for the local news section for a long time, and rarely looked at the economics pages, but even he knew that the real owner of the Sanko Steamship Company was Kawamoto, a Cabinet minister. It was clear that bankruptcy would not be the end of the affair; the dynamics of political power would be affected. Sure enough, as soon as this thought ran through his head, a wire from Kyodo News Service was delivered to him with the heading “Kawamoto Tenders Resignation.” Once again, Yuuki reached for his red pen.

To Yuuki’s left sat Nozawa, copy editor for the local news section. He was puffing on a cigarette as he flicked through an album of clippings about the Glico Morinaga case. The two men had started at the newspaper at the same time, but Nozawa never spoke a word to Yuuki. He held a grudge, and the sheer doggedness with which he held on to it was impressive. It seemed he would never forgive Yuuki for what had happened fifteen years previously, when the two of them had worked together on a case where a husband had murdered his wife and children but it had been Yuuki alone who had received the Editor in Chief’s Award for the story.

Today, even though Yuuki was just filling in for Kishi, it was clear that Nozawa didn’t like him sitting at the desk of someone of a higher rank, and was demonstrating this by frequently clicking his tongue.

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Yuuki had just sent his article on the steamship company off to press when the phone rang. It was the political correspondent Aoki, calling from Tokyo.

“Sorry about today. How did the interview and stuff go?”

“Ah, it was no big deal. I got it all finished.”

“Cheers. I’ll treat you to dinner when I get back.”

“Don’t worry about it. Anyway, what’s up?”

“Yeah, about Yasukuni Shrine-it looks like it’s been officially decided that Prime Minister Nakasone will visit it on the fifteenth.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujieda had apparently made the formal announcement at a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party. The format of the visit and the exact sum of money that should be offered at the shrine had not been decided, and that would be the focus of any further talks. Clearly excited, Aoki explained the current state of affairs and got off the phone as soon as he could.

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Yuuki looked at the wall clock. It was 6:40 p.m. The meeting was running over. As well as Kishi, the editor in chief, the managing editor, and the chief editor of the local news section were all away from their desks.

Yuuki began to calculate backward; it took less than three minutes to walk to Gunma-Soja Station but, as the train would leave at 7:36, it’d be safer to leave the office by 7:30. He planned to change into his climbing gear in the night duty room and slip out of the back exit. Allowing ten minutes to change, he’d need to get out of the Editorial Department by twenty past seven.

“High of eighty-nine degrees!” someone shouted. The temperature hadn’t reached that of the human body today, so it must be the humidity that was making it so damn uncomfortable. Yuuki was just thinking this when the prominent beer belly of the editor in chief, Kasuya, appeared in the doorway. The meeting must be over.

“Suits you.”

Kasuya made the remark as he passed behind Yuuki’s chair on his way back to his office. His tone was ironic. Back in early spring, Kasuya had sounded out Yuuki about moving to the regional news desk. He’d have been in charge of all the reporters from the branch offices scattered around the prefecture. But Yuuki had quickly shut the conversation down by telling him he didn’t want to be responsible for anyone. Kasuya had groaned and scowled at him.

“Don’t keep on expecting special treatment,” he spat out.

It had been the previous editor in chief who had refused to accept his unofficial resignation and had set Yuuki up as a “lone wolf” reporter.

Yuuki understood his meaning well enough. It had been the previous editor in chief who had refused to accept his unofficial resignation and had set Yuuki up as a “lone wolf” reporter. Five years had gone by, and now Kasuya was editor in chief. Yuuki had still not been promoted to editor. The fact that he was still a reporter gave rise to all kinds of speculation. No further action to be taken—while that had been the company’s official position following the incident with Mochizuki, in reality he’d been frozen in the same position ever since. However, in Yuuki’s case, it just happened that this continuation of the status quo was exactly what he wanted. But from Kasuya’s point of view, as the person who had to manage and unify the department, Yuuki was something of a headache. Kasuya most likely wanted to give Yuuki some kind of editorial position as soon as possible, just to stop the false rumors that he was trouble.

The other reason for assigning Yuuki a managerial role was that more and more of the younger reporters had begun to express a wish to be like Yuuki—a career reporter. This was not the usual vision of people in the profession. To turn one’s back on a managerial post and dream of spending the rest of your days at crime scenes, pen in hand, was definitely proof of a healthy attitude toward reporting. But if you looked at the actual structure of the newspaper, the only people who remained reporters their whole lives were those who were deemed incompetent by management and packed off to some tiny branch office in the mountains. Yuuki’s existence had disrupted this pattern. The forty-year-old roving reporter in the head office appealed to the younger staff members’ sense of adventure.

Needless to say, Kasuya was not happy with this trend. It’d be different if they were a national newspaper company where reporters were a dime a dozen, but this was a small local paper with fewer players. If too many reporters tried to do their own thing, the situation could easily get out of hand. Kasuya was aiming to get rid of the bad example.

Yuuki had never expected to be allowed to continue as he was for so long. This spring he had somehow managed to get one more year’s stay of execution. He had the impression that if he turned down an editorial post again in April, the beginning of the next fiscal year, he wouldn’t be kept on at the main office. He suspected a transfer to the Business or Advertising Department, or perhaps even banishment to the Utsunomiya or Ashikaga branch office in neighboring Tochigi Prefecture. Ten years ago, the North Kanto Times had tried to increase its circulation outside the prefecture, but now the number of subscribers in Tochigi was pitifully low. The announcement of a transfer to one of these branch offices was essentially a recommendation to retire.

Suits you. Kasuya’s words were still ringing in his ears. Yuuki sometimes felt like telling Kasuya to transfer him wherever he liked, but, as he’d known nothing but working as a reporter, it was difficult to imagine any other life.

He looked at the clock again. It was after seven. The meeting had definitely finished, but Kishi still hadn’t returned.

He suddenly felt like calling home. He hadn’t told Yumiko about tomorrow’s trip to the mountains. She was used to being the wife of a reporter, and was never bothered by her husband staying out all night. However, tomorrow would be different. He wasn’t off interviewing someone or covering an event. This was Tsuitate. Feeling, ridiculously, as if he were about to write his last will and testament, Yuuki picked up the phone.

No one answered. Jun was probably out at cram school. The bus ran only once an hour, so whenever Jun missed it Yumiko would drive him. That would explain their absence, but he wondered why his daughter, Yuka, wasn’t home. She’d told him that her sports club practice finished by 6:00 p.m. in the summer.

There was no point trying to figure it out. Apart from the cram school and sports clubs, Yuuki knew very little about his children’s schedules.

As he replaced the receiver, he noticed that managing editor Oimura was heading toward his desk. Yuuki hurried to catch up with him.

“Sir?”

Oimura turned around, revealing his usual disgruntled expression. “What?”

“Is Kishi still in the meeting room?”

“Yes. He’s talking to General Affairs.”

Yuuki was exasperated. It was now a quarter past seven. “I hear you’re off mountain climbing.”

Yuuki turned his attention from the clock back to Oimura. “That’s right. I need to get going.” Oimura lowered his voice. “Best to stay away from that one.” There was a tiny explosion of anger in the managing editor’s eyes. “That one …?”

Then Yuuki realized that Oimura was talking about Anzai. He was completely taken aback, but didn’t have time to ask Oimura what he’d meant. Kishi’s long, thin face had appeared in the doorway. He was talking to Todoroki, the chief local news editor, the two of them moving at a snail’s pace across the room.

Yuuki returned to the political editor’s desk. He quickly tidied up his stuff and laid out the memos relating to the finished article that he’d sent to press for Kishi. The phone on the next desk began to ring. He ignored it, but it kept on ringing. He glanced up and saw that no one else was going to answer it. Nozawa must have taken a toilet break.

There was nothing for it but to pick up. On the other end was Sayama, the current chief reporter at police headquarters. He’d been promoted from second reporter after Yuuki was removed from the top post. Sayama sounded both surprised and pleased to hear Yuuki on the line, but then quickly lowered his voice.

“Yuuki-san, is everyone freaking out over there?”

“Why?”

 “A jumbo jet’s gone missing. At least, that’s what I thought I heard.”

Yuuki glanced around the room. The activity and noise level seemed about the same as usual.

“No, not especially.”

“Really? Okay, well, the Jiji Press reports have been saying something strange.”

He’d been listening in to the reports in the press club room. Worried about the time, Yuuki spoke faster. “What were they saying?”

“A jumbo jet’s gone missing. At least, that’s what I thought I heard.”

A jumbo jet? Yuuki looked into the distance. His gaze fell on the TV set perched on top of a bookcase. The NHK news was on.

“Oy!” Nozawa was back and trying to get Yuuki out of his seat. Yuuki moved, but his gaze was fixed on the news ticker running across the bottom of the screen.

A Japan Airlines jumbo jet has vanished off the radar.

“Hey! Look!” The loud voice was from the copy team. Suddenly a bunch of people were gathered around the TV.

“Does that mean it’s crashed?”

“Jumbos don’t crash.”

“So the radar’s broken?”

“Where did it go missing?”

“Well, it’s not going to be around here. There are no flight paths over this area.”

The crowd around the TV was two or three people deep now. There was still no follow-up report. Yuuki had crossed to the door and, half in, half out of the corridor, was watching the screen over the crowd. He had to leave now if he was going to make the train.

If a plane really had gone down somewhere, then the whole of tomorrow’s newspaper would need to be rewritten. In other words, it meant a lot of work for the section that handled the Kyodo News reports, and particularly the Copy Department, who would have to rearrange the layout of the pages. Unless there were residents of Gunma Prefecture on the passenger list, there shouldn’t be too much work for the reporters. But if the plane had gone down somewhere in the prefecture, it would be a different story.

Yuuki decided to wait to hear where the crash site was. But after several minutes had passed, there was still no update. He left the room. As someone had said, there were no jumbo-jet flight paths over Gunma Prefecture. If he missed the train because he was worrying about such a remote possibility, it’d seem like Anzai had been right-he was trying to get out of it.

However, just as he set off down the corridor, it happened. He heard the familiar ping from the speaker in the newsroom wall. The sound was to warn staff that a transmission from Kyodo News was about to start.

The announcer sounded agitated.

Kyodo News Service report: A Japan Airlines jumbo jet has disappeared off the radar at a position tens of kilometers northwest of Yokota Air Base! Repeat:…

Yuuki stopped dead. A crash site tens of kilometers northwest of Yokota? He couldn’t immediately work out where that would be. But he did know it wasn’t far away. He turned and hurried back to the newsroom. The place was in turmoil. People had grabbed maps and were spreading them out on their desks.

The NHK news updated their report.

According to the Ministry of Transport, Japan Airlines Flight 123 disappeared off the radar along the border of Saitama and Nagano Prefectures.

It wasn’t Gunma. There was a slight sense of disappointment.

But just then a much louder chime rang out. It was different from the usual ping, and always preceded Kyodo’s most serious announcements.

It appears that Japan Airlines Flight 123 has crashed on the Nagano Gunma prefectural border.

Roars went up in the newsroom.

“Nooo! You’ve gotta be kidding!” someone yelled. It expressed perfectly what everyone was thinking at that moment.

As if to deal the final, devastating blow, the speaker then gave the number of passengers and crew aboard: 524.

As if to deal the final, devastating blow, the speaker then gave the number of passengers and crew aboard: 524.

The room fell silent.

It was impossible to conceive of such a number being dead. There were, in total, 511 people employed by the North Kanto Times. It was as if the whole company had been annihilated, plus another thirteen.

“Biggest-ever crash involving a single plane!”

This comment from a staff member in the reference room was the signal that brought the whole floor back to its senses.

“Page everyone who’s out of the office!”

“And Tokyo! Get in touch with Haneda Airport!”

“Call Japan Airlines! Get the passenger list!”

Yuuki stood frozen by the door. But then it was as if a fire had been lit, and he was moving again.

We’ve got to get to that crash site.

What he felt wasn’t a huge rush of flames, more a spark running along a fuse wire toward something that threatened eventually to explode.

But it still wasn’t clear where to go. Was it Gunma? Nagano? Saitama? Where had that plane come down?

“Yuuki!”

He turned at the sound of his name. Editor in chief Kasuya was heading in his direction.

He had a bad feeling. How many different motives were concealed behind those eyes?

“You take this one.” There was no question of refusal. This was an order.

“JAL crash desk chief. You’re in charge of seeing this story through to the end.”

__________________________________

From SEVENTEEN, by Hideo Yokoyama. Used with the permission of the publisher, FSG/MCD. Copyright © 2003 by Hideo Yokoyama. Translation © 2018 Louise Heal Kawai. 




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