Chapter 18

Nakata found himself faceup in a clump of weeds. As he awakened he slowly opened his eyes. It was night, but he couldn’t see any stars or the moon. Still, the sky was faintly light. He could smell the strong scent of summer grasses and hear insects buzzing around. Somehow he was back in the vacant lot he’d been staking out every day. Feeling something rough and warm brush against his face, he turned and saw two cats eagerly licking both his cheeks with their tiny tongues. It was Goma and Mimi. Nakata slowly sat up, reached out, and petted them. “Was Nakata asleep?” he asked.

The cats cried out like they were complaining about something, but Nakata couldn’t catch the words. He had no idea what they were trying to tell him. They were just two cats meowing.

“I beg your pardon, but I can’t understand what you’re trying to say.” He stood up and checked his body to make sure there was nothing out of the ordinary. He felt no pain, and his arms and legs were working fine. His eyes took some time to adjust to the darkness, but once they did he saw that there wasn’t any blood on his arms or clothes. His clothes weren’t rumpled or messed up, either, and looked the same as when he’d left his apartment. His canvas bag was right beside him, lunch and thermos inside, and his hat was inside his trouser pocket where it belonged. Everything was in order. Nakata couldn’t figure out what was going on.

In order to save the two cats, he’d stabbed Johnnie Walker-the cat-killer-to death. That much he remembered all too clearly. He could still feel the knife in his hands. It wasn’t a dream-blood had spurted out of Johnnie Walker and he’d collapsed to the floor, curled up, and died. Then Nakata had sunk back on the couch and lost consciousness. And the next thing he knew, here he was lying among the weeds in the vacant lot. But how did he get back here? He didn’t even know the road back. And his clothes had no blood on them at all. Seeing Mimi and Goma beside him proved it wasn’t a dream, but for some strange reason now he couldn’t understand a word they said.

Nakata sighed. He couldn’t think straight. But never mind-he’d figure it all out later. He slung the bag over his shoulder, picked up the two cats, and left the vacant lot. Once outside the fence, Mimi started to squirm as if she wanted to be let down.

Nakata lowered her to the ground. “Mimi, you can go back home on your own, I imagine. It’s nearby.”

That’s right, Mimi’s wagging tail seemed to say.

“Nakata doesn’t understand what’s happened, but for some reason I can’t talk with you anymore. But I was able to find Goma, and I’d better take her back to the Koizumis. Everyone’s waiting for her. Thank you so much for everything, Mimi.”

Mimi meowed, wagged her tail again, then scurried off and disappeared around the corner. There was no blood on her, either. Nakata decided to remember that.

The Koizumis were overjoyed by Goma’s return. It was past ten p. m. but the children were still up, brushing their teeth before bed. Their parents were drinking tea and watching the news on TV, and they welcomed Nakata warmly. The two little girls, in pajamas, jostled each other to be the first to hug their precious pet. They quickly gave Goma some milk and cat food, which she eagerly tucked into.

“My apologies for stopping by so late at night. It would be much better to come earlier, but Nakata couldn’t help it.”

“That’s all right,” Mrs. Koizumi said. “Please don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about the time,” her husband said. “That cat is like a member of the family. I can’t tell you how happy we are you could find her. How about coming in and having a cup of tea?”

“No thank you, Nakata must be going. I just wanted to get Goma back to you as soon as possible.”

Mrs. Koizumi went to another room and returned with Nakata’s pay in an envelope, which her husband handed to Nakata. “It’s not much, but please accept this token for all you’ve done. We’re very grateful.”

“Thank you very much. Much obliged,” Nakata said, and bowed.

“I’m surprised, though, you could find her in the dark like this.”

“Yes, it’s a long story. Nakata can’t tell the whole thing. I’m not too bright, and not so good at giving long explanations.”

“That’s quite all right. We are so grateful to you, Mr. Nakata,” Mrs. Koizumi said. “I’m sorry it’s just leftovers, but we have some grilled eggplant and vinegared cucumbers we’d like you to take home with you.”

“I’d be happy to. Grilled eggplant and vinegared cucumbers are some of Nakata’s favorites.”

Nakata stowed the Tupperware container of food and the envelope in his bag. He walked quickly toward the station and went to a police box near the shopping district. A young officer was seated at a desk inside, intently working on some paperwork. His hat was on top of the desk.

Nakata slid the glass door open. “Good evening. Sorry to bother you,” he said.

“Good evening,” the policeman replied. He looked up from the paperwork and gave Nakata a once-over. Basically a nice, harmless old man, was his professional assessment, most likely stopping by to ask directions.

Standing at the entrance, Nakata removed his hat and stuffed it in his pocket, then took a handkerchief from the other pocket and blew his nose. He folded up the handkerchief and put it back.

“Is there something I can do for you?” the policeman asked.

“Yes, there is. Nakata just murdered somebody.”

The policeman dropped his pen on the desk and stared openmouthed at the old man. For a moment he was speechless. What the-?

“Here, why don’t you sit down,” he said dubiously, pointing to a chair opposite him. He reached out and checked that he had his pistol, baton, and handcuffs on him.

“Thank you,” Nakata said, and sat down. Back held straight, hands resting in his lap, he looked straight at the officer.

“So what you’re saying is… you killed somebody?”

“Yes. Nakata killed a person with a knife. Just a little while ago,” Nakata admitted frankly.

The young officer took out a form, glanced at the clock on the wall, and noted down the time and the statement about a knifing. “I’ll need your name and address.”

“My name is Satoru Nakata, and my address is-“

“Just a moment. What characters do you write your name with?”

“I don’t know about characters. I’m sorry, but I can’t write. Or read, either.”

The officer frowned. “You’re telling me you can’t read at all? You can’t even write your name?”

“That’s right. Until I was nine I could read and write, but then there was an accident and after that I can’t. Nakata’s not too bright.”

The officer sighed and laid down his pen. “I can’t fill out the form if I don’t know how your name is written.”

“I apologize.”

“Do you have any family?”

“Nakata’s all alone. I have no family. And no job. I live on a sub city from the Governor.”

“It’s pretty late, and I suggest you go on home. Go home and get a good night’s sleep, and then tomorrow if you remember something come and see me again. We can talk then.”

The policeman was nearing the end of his shift and wanted to finish up all his paperwork before he went off duty. He’d promised to meet a fellow officer for a drink at a nearby bar when he got off, so the last thing he wanted to do was waste time talking to some crazy old coot.

But Nakata gave him a harsh look and shook his head. “No, sir, Nakata wants to tell everything while he still remembers it. If I wait until tomorrow I might forget something important. Nakata was in the empty lot in the 2-chome section. The Koizumis had asked me to find their missing cat, Goma. Then a huge black dog suddenly appeared and took me to a house. A big house with a big gate and a black car. I don’t know the address. I’ve never been to that part of town before. But I’m pretty sure it’s in Nakano Ward. Inside the house was a man named Johnnie Walker who had on a funny kind of black hat. A very high sort of hat. Inside the refrigerator in the kitchen there were rows of cats’ heads. About twenty or so, I’d say. He collects cats, cuts off their heads with a saw, and eats their hearts. He’s collecting the cats’ souls to make a special kind of flute. And then he’s going to use that flute to collect people’s souls. Right in front of Nakata, Johnnie Walker killed Mr. Kawamura with a knife. And several other cats. He cut open their stomachs with a knife. He was going to kill Goma and Mimi, too. But then Nakata used a knife to kill Johnnie Walker.

“Johnnie Walker said he wanted Nakata to kill him. But I didn’t plan to kill him. I’ve never killed anybody before. I just wanted to stop Johnnie Walker from killing any more cats. But my body wouldn’t listen. It did what it wanted. I picked up one of the knives there and stabbed Johnnie Walker two times. Johnnie Walker fell down, all covered with blood, and died. Nakata got all bloody then, too. I sat down over on the sofa and must have fallen asleep. When I woke up it was the middle of the night and I was back in the empty lot. Mimi and Goma were beside me. That was just a little while ago. Nakata took Goma back, got some grilled eggplant and vinegared cucumbers from Mrs. Koizumi, and came directly here. And I thought I’d better report to the Governor right away. Tell him what happened.”

Nakata sat up straight through this whole recitation, and when he’d finished he took a deep breath. He’d never spoken this much in one spurt in his life. He felt completely drained. “So please report this to the Governor,” he added.

The young policeman had listened to the entire story with a vacant look, and didn’t understand much of what the old man was getting at. Goma? Johnnie Walker? “I understand,” he replied. “I’ll make sure the Governor hears of this.”

“I hope he doesn’t cut off my sub city.”

Looking displeased, the policeman pretended to fill out a form. “I understand. I’ll write it down just like that: The person in question desires that his subsidy not be cut off. Is that all right then?”

“Yes, that’s fine. Much obliged. Sorry to take your time. And please say hello to the Governor for me.”

“Will do. So don’t worry, and just take it easy today, okay?” the policeman said. He couldn’t help adding a personal aside: “You know, your clothes look pretty clean for having killed someone and gotten all bloody. There’s not a spot on you.”

“Yes, you’re entirely correct. To tell the truth, Nakata finds it very strange too. It doesn’t make any sense. I should be covered in blood, but when I looked it had all disappeared. It’s very strange.”

“It certainly is,” the policeman said, his voice tinged with an entire day’s worth of exhaustion.

Nakata slid the door open and was about to leave when he stopped and turned around. “Excuse me, sir, but will you be in this area tomorrow evening?”

“Yes, I will,” the policeman replied cautiously. “I’m on duty here tomorrow evening. Why do you ask?”

“Even if it’s sunny, I suggest you bring an umbrella.”

The policeman nodded. He turned and looked at the clock. His colleague should be phoning any minute now. “Okay, I’ll be sure to bring one.”

“There will be fish falling from the sky, just like rain. A lot of fish. Mostly sardines, I believe. With a few mackerel mixed in.”

“Sardines and mackerel, huh?” the policeman laughed. “Better turn the umbrella upside down, then, and catch a few. Could vinegar some for a meal.”

“Vinegared mackerel’s one of Nakata’s favorites,” Nakata said with a serious look. “But by that time tomorrow I believe I’ll be gone.”

The next day when-sure enough-sardines and mackerel rained down on a section of Nakano Ward, the young policeman turned white as a sheet. With no warning whatsoever some two thousand sardines and mackerel plunged to earth from the clouds. Most of the fish were crushed to a pulp as they slammed into the ground, but a few survived and flopped around on the road in front of the shopping district. The fish were fresh, still with a smell of the sea about them. The fish struck people, cars, and roofs, but not, apparently, from a great height, so no serious injuries resulted. It was more shocking than anything else. A huge number of fish falling like hail from the sky-it was positively apocalyptic.

The police investigated the matter but could come up with no good explanation for how it happened. No fish market or fishing boat reported any large number of sardines and mackerel missing. No planes or helicopters were flying overhead at the time. Neither were there any reports of tornados. They dismissed the possibility it was some elaborate practical joke-who would possibly do something so utterly bizarre? At the request of the police, the Nakano Ward Health Office collected some of the fish and examined them, but found nothing unusual. They were just ordinary sardines and mackerel. Fresh-and good to eat, by the looks of them. Still, the police, afraid these mystery fish might contain some dangerous substance, sent out a loudspeaker truck around the neighborhood warning people not to eat any.

This was the kind of story TV news shows lapped up, and crews rushed to the scene. Reporters crowded around the shopping district and sent out their reports on this curious event across the nation. The reporters scooped up fish with their shovels to illustrate what had happened. They also interviewed a housewife who had been struck on the head by one of the falling mackerel, the dorsal fin cutting her cheek. “I’m just glad it wasn’t a tuna,” she said, pressing a handkerchief to her cheek. That made sense, but still viewers chuckled. One of the more adventuresome reporters grilled some of the fish on the spot. “Delicious,” he told viewers proudly. “Very fresh, with just the right amount of fat. Too bad I don’t have any grated radish and hot rice to round out the meal.”

The policeman was baffled. The strange old codger-what was his name again?-had predicted all these fish raining down from the sky. Sardines and mackerel, just like he’d said… But I just laughed it off, the policeman thought, and didn’t even get his name and address. Should he tell his boss about it? He supposed so, but then again what good would it do now? Nobody really got hurt, and there wasn’t any proof that a crime was involved. Just a sudden squall of fish, raining from the sky.

But who’s to say my boss would even believe me? he asked himself. Say I told him the whole story-that the day before this happened a weird old guy stopped by the police box and predicted there’d be a shower of fish. He’d think I’ve completely lost it. And the story would make the rounds of the precinct, getting fishier with each retelling, and end up as a running joke with him as the butt of it.

One more thing, the policeman thought. That old man had come to report that he’d murdered somebody. To give himself up, in other words. And I never took him seriously. Didn’t even note it in the logbook. This was definitely against regulations, and I could be brought up on charges. But the old man’s story was so preposterous. No policeman would ever take it seriously. It’s a madhouse working the police box sometimes, with paperwork up to here. The world’s filled with people with a screw loose, and, as if by agreement, at one time or another they all seem to find their way into police boxes to blab out some nonsense. If you bother yourself with every one of these nutcases, you’ll go nuts yourself!

But that prediction about fish raining from the sky, a lunatic statement if there ever was one, actually did happen, so maybe-just maybe-that story he told about knifing somebody to death-Johnnie Walker, as he put it-might actually be true. Assuming it was, this was a major problem, for he’d turned away someone confessing to murder and didn’t even write up a report on it.

Finally a garbage truck came and cleaned up all the mounds of fish. The young policeman directed traffic, blocking off the entrance to the shopping district so cars couldn’t come in. Fish scales were stuck to the street in front of the shops and wouldn’t come off no matter how much they were hosed down. The street remained wet for some time, causing a couple of housewives on bicycles to slip and fall. The place reeked of fish for days afterward, getting the neighborhood cats all worked up. The policeman was kept busy with the cleanup and didn’t have time to think any more about the strange old man.

The day after it rained fish, though, the policeman gulped in shock when the body of a man, stabbed to death, was discovered nearby. The dead man was a famous sculptor, and his body was discovered by the cleaning woman who came every other day. The body was naked, lying in a pool of blood. Estimated time of death was in the evening two days previous, the murder weapon a steak knife from the kitchen. To his dismay, the young policeman finally believed what the old man had told him. My God, he thought, what a complete mess I’ve gotten myself into! I should have called up the precinct and taken the old man in. He confessed to murder, so I should’ve handed him over to the higher-ups and let them decide if he’s crazy or not. But I shirked my duty. Now that it’s come to this, the young policeman decided, the best thing to do is to just clam up and pretend it never happened.

But by this time, Nakata was no longer in town.