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Stolen Soul [盗まれた魂]

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His head wrapped tight in silk, he warmed the bintsuke between his palms until it was pliable enough to spread.

On the floor before the mirror, he smoothed a thick layer over the identical scars on his cheeks and with a powder brush in hand, dabbed its bristly head into a jar of white dust.

He touched its coated tips gently to the shallow water in the bowl before speedily working the foundation onto his face. Lips, brows, and scars disappeared in the white glow, leaving only a border of bare skin around his hairline. A few shiny patches were quelled by a sponge until his skin resembled polished stone

Sedate black streaks climbed in opposite directions above his eyes, tinged with a hint of the same red that marked the center of his bottom lip.

There was no reason for that red patch upon his lip to be so small; to hell with moderation, Ogata Hyakunosuke wasn’t an innocent virgin. He coated the narrow brush with red and painted his lower lip fully with the allure of a glossed oiran.

A true courtesan, the dead woman’s collection of shimadas were too ornate for a simple geisha. He chose a highly domed and very western coiffure. Unused and still in the box, it came with a simple chignon in the back.

He unwound the silk from his head, his locks combed through with beech oil to keep them flat. After applying a sticky balm along his hairline, he secured the wig tight behind his ears before choosing a kanzashi in the shape of two mochibana branches. Its gilded stalks were bordered in a shimmering black that matched his glass eye.

The dead woman’s closet was a small room onto itself.

One side contained an array of stylish western frocks. Each piece clung to a velvet-lined hanger and was packed tight enough to flatten any bustle.

It was a different world on the other side, where eighteen kimonos were draped with care over standing caged-wire torsos. Regardless of the endless supply of yōfuku, the dead woman remained a daughter of Japan at heart.

White nagajuban in place, he chose a dark blue homongi to wear over it. Made of chirimen, faint smoky lines ran vertically from collar to hem.

Beneath the waist were painted gulls in flight over white embroidered waves. An obi the color of wet sand fit snug over his ribs, its design lackluster to curb lingering glances.

Geta in hand, he rushed to the small western-style suitcase waiting by the front door.

Two doors down, uniformed grunts were already clearing another house. Dozens of onlookers watched as they stormed inside and herded the inhabitants onto the street.

Hyakunosuke trotted past them, a master of the thick-soled geta. No one spared him notice as soldiers tossed cabinets and cupboards out windows.

When a crowd of restless locals began shouting at the men inside, two soldiers standing guard at the station entrance left their posts for the street.

The men quickly crossed as taunts became punctuated with thrown stones. Clear to proceed, he climbed the platform, and with the dead woman’s travel voucher in hand, entered a first-class passenger car.

An affluent couple came in behind him, their twin boys dressed in yōfuku attire while the old woman holding their infant wore a modest yukata.

There were many empty seats to choose from, but Hyakunosuke didn’t get the chance to sit.

“You boarded without me,”

Fear seized him, “Genjir-”

“—Don’t call me that,” fingers clenched tight around his bicep. “That’s not my name,”

“Let me explain,”

“You’re on the wrong train, sister,” Tanigaki smiled at the family as they passed; he then whispered, “You’re going walk off this train with me, arm in arm,”

“This train is the only way out of Asahikawa,”

“Not for you,” Tanigaki stepped out onto the pavement and then offered a hand. “Come on, sister, let’s not hold up the train,”

Hyakunosuke lowered his painted gaze and allowed the Matagi to lower him down.

“Those men at the south entrance have never laid eyes on me,” Tanigaki held his arm tight and walked him along. “We’ll be passing through their checkpoint,”

The grip of a pistol peeked out from his kimono jacket.

“You even think about snatching it,” Tanigaki wrapped a firm hand around the nape of his neck. “I’ll take one those pretty geta off your foot, and beat you to death with it,”

“You’re angry with me, you have that right,”

“Shut your mouth,” he grinned at the guard. “Excuse me, what’s going on here?”

“You in from Otaru?” the young soldier asked.

Tanigaki nodded, “I was told Asahikawa is a safe town,”

“We’re trying to keep it safe, Sir,” an army detachment photograph of Hyakunosuke in his hand, the young man focused on the faces passing behind them. “Move along, please,”

“Thank you,” said Tanigaki, taking them outside the gate.

There was no way out of this—but at least Tanigaki wasn’t Tsurumi.

“Please let me explain,” he pleaded.

“Two blocks south, I have a room at that western hotel,” Tanigaki yanked him along as they crossed the street. “Up in that room is your rifle,”

“I suppose you want me to eat it,” he spat.

“If I wanted you dead,” Tanigaki laughed. “I’d have outed you to that guard back there,”

Hyakunosuke said, “I came back for you-”

“—Keep your head down and your mouth shut, like a good woman,” he said. “Don’t bring attention to yourself when we enter the lobby, you stay a step behind me and don’t look any man in the eye,”

The moment Tanigaki pushed his way into the strange revolving doors, Hyakunosuke kicked free of the geta and sprinted down the pedestrian walk.

Something cuffed the back of his neck, sending him headlong into an alley. An open hand stung his cheek as footsteps picked up on the pavement; witnesses unwilling to get involved.

“You have the audacity to flee my charity!”

Against the bricks and with the taste of blood on his tongue, he glared up at the Matagi.

“If you’re going to kill me, do it!”

Another slap made his ears ring.

Tanigaki’s hand clamped around his throat, picking him up off the pavement and pinning him to the wall.

“You scream, I break your neck,” he remained eerily calm. “Don’t make me break your neck, Hyakuno, please,” 

He dropped to his feet when the Matagi released him.

“Walk with me and no screaming,” he forced him to walk ahead as they ventured farther into the alley.

Around the corner, Kirawus, one of the Ainu men hunting him, stood at the hotel’s service exit.

“Who’s this?” he asked.

“Did you get it all upstairs?” Tanigaki asked.

Kirawus smiled, “It took us a while, but yeah,”

“The other two?” Tanigaki said

“Shot in the back with an army rifle,” said Kirawus. “Just like you ordered,”

“Good,” Tanigaki put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “The last thing we need are loose ends with eyes and mouths,”

“What’s with the whore?” Kirawus whispered. “I don’t need her, and neither do you bear cub,”

“She’s in the wrong place at the right time,” Tanigaki kissed him before punching a knife into his belly. “Just like you,”

Handfull of Tanigaki’s shirt, Kirawus tore it open as he fell sputtering to the ground.

Hyakunosuke ran for the alley.

A rag of pungent ether found his mouth as Tanigaki bore down on him like an iron blanket. 

 

We’ll be together soon brother—

 

Wax weighed heavy upon his lips, and sweat coated his back. Moving brought discomfort; something wedged inside of him.

“The sleeper awakens,” came that familiar baritone.

It was hard to breathe in this steam.

Thousands of tiny black tiles formed the floor; there was one door but no windows. Thick twine tethered his ankle to the claw-foot of a porcelain tub.

“The owners call this washroom a Goring,” Tanigaki stood, his body glistening beneath the low hanging bulb. “There’s a hotel called Goring in Britain, they have these bathing rooms attached to all their suites,”

Towel upon his broad shoulder, he stepped over the tub’s high lip and brought his foot down upon the hem of Hyakunosuke’s kimono.

“You look like those kagema I used to trick in Kosaka,” he wiped at the beads of water trapped in his chest hair. “They’d get painted up before begging me to rut,”

Hyakunosuke reached back, determined to dislodge what was inside of him.

“Recognize that rope?” he said, moving in close enough to make Hyakunosuke cower. “It’s just like the one I lassoed around your neck before you got the better of me and dragged me overboard,”

His cold tenor belied his smile.

“I was going to give you up for what you did to Yuusaku. My recollection of him is unclear,” Tanigaki leaned back and retrieved a straight razor from atop the porcelain sink. “The time you put into deluding me,”

Unfolded from its handle, Hyakunosuke saw himself as a white blotch upon its steel.

“I don’t know if I should be impressed or angry,” the dull side glided along his brow until Tanigaki brought it down to the looped twine and cut it through. “What you did to me was beyond the scope of decency. I think the word Tsurumi used was depraved,”

The tossed razor skidded over the tiles.

“He would know depravity better than anyone," Tanigaki dragged a finger along his scarred cheek. “He plucked you right out of Primary School, told you where you to find your father, knowing the man wanted nothing to do with you,”

Hyakunosuke’s youthful naïveté turned his stomach.

“Depraved isn’t something I’d call you,” said Tanigaki. “Complicated. That’s a word you’re fond of, right brother?”

Shame became anger.

“Is that glare for me?” Tanigaki flashed that grin Hyakunosuke so foolishly loved. “I’m a creature of habit, I don’t think I’ll ever stop calling you brother,”

He flinched when the Matagi’s hand came close.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” said Tanigaki softly. “You’re a damaged piece of shit without an ounce of decency to your name, Ogata Hyakunosuke, but I love you,”

“Genjir-”

“—I’m not Genjirou,” a firm hand grasped his chin. “And I’m no son of Hanazawa,”

“Please-”

“—I’m a product of your lies and half-truths,” soft lips grazed his jawbone before a determined gaze trapped him. “That’s over, brother, no more lies,”

Tanigaki’s tongue flicked across his cheek.

“I know I’ve said these words many times before today, and you’ve ignored them in the past. Things are different now, do you understand?”

Hyakunosuke wrenched from his grip and with frantic fingers, clutched the knobbed handle between his buttocks. The black dilator free of him, he pitched it across the room.

“That was for your benefit,” Tanigaki sat cross-legged before him. “You owe me for everything you’ve done, and I plan to collect on that debt,”

“Tanigaki, let me expla-”

“—I don’t want to hear it,” he yanked open Hyakunosuke’s kimono and forced it down.

Arms trapped, he was pulled onto the Matagi’s thick thighs and resisted it all until pleasured hands brought a deserved defeat.

“That first night in Kosaka after you put me to sleep, brother,” words tickled his neck. “I loved how good your skin felt against mine,”

Mouths indulged until the need to breathe intervened, and Tanigaki’s face was smeared with streaks of red.

“Genji-”

“—That’s not my name!” Tanigaki tossed him to the floor. “You say my name, brother,”

“No!” he fought back when flipped onto his belly.

Tanigaki curled an arm around his neck and brought the other across his hips, forcing his backside up. Palms pressed to the floor, Hyakunosuke bucked to free himself, but the Matagi was too strong.

“Say my name,” Tanigaki growled against his cheek before pleading like a child. “Say the name you gave me, brother,”

“Damn you,” he sobbed. “I’m sorry,”

 Fingers laced into his hair and yanked up his head.

“What have you done, boy?” Tanigaki pushed into him.

He cried out through the agonizing pierce, “I did it for you!”

The invasion gave way to a sweltering fullness, and he welcomed every inch of it. Ankles locked, he clenched tight around the Matagi and arched his back.

Hyakunosuke’s eyes rolled up, and his lips spread.

“Love me!”

Wetlands mud cooled his knees while his panting grandfather drove into him; that first time sullied by the old man’s guilty tears—a pitiful apology for the pain.

No feeble drunkard plied into him now, no, this was a potent lover who set every nerve in his body on fire.

There were many lovers after the theft of his innocence, but none belonged to Hyakunosuke Ogata, the way Tanigaki Genjirou did.

“Please,” the Matagi grunted. “Say my name!”

“Yu—saku!” he whined. “Yuusaku!”

The fullness abandoned him, replaced by warm wetness on the small of his back. He turned over beneath the Matagi, opening his legs and allowing the man a place to die.

“Love it, Hyakuno,” Tanigaki mumbled in his neck.

Tears pooled in his eyes as calm settled over his body.

“I love you too, Yuusaku,”

Blood filtered through the steam, turning it red.

“Go away,” he whispered. “I deserve to be happy,”

Water sloshed in the tub and kicked over the rim. One blink brought a bloated, monstrous face to his. Water gushed from the specter’s swollen lips when he smiled.

We’ll be together soon, brother.

*

It hurt waking in the bed alone.

“Good morning, brother,”

Tanigaki stood at the mirror in a tailored green changshan that stretched tight over his upper body and fit snug around his backside.

A single suitcase sat by the door with a narrow-rimmed fedora on the handle.

“Where are you going, Tanigaki?”

His reflection turned cold, “Stop using my surname,”

“What am I supposed to call you?”

“The name you gave me works fine,” from his pocket, he pulled a diamond-shaped leather tag with two keys attached. “Your share of the gold is in the room across the hall,”

“What are your plans…Yuusaku?”

“I’m boarding a steamer bound for Alaska,” he grinned. “It’ll take about a month sailing through the Sandwich Islands before making final port,”

“What’s in Alaska?”

“The price of gold in the States averages almost twenty-dollars an ounce,” he said.

“You’re letting me walk away?” Hyakunosuke fingered the strap. “After everything I did to you?”

“That old convict in Hokkaido, Nihei,” he pulled the fedora onto his head. “He used to say life’s too long to carry a grudge. If someone crosses you, kill them. If you don’t kill them, forget they exist,”

“You’re choosing to forget me?”

“I’ll never forget you,” he sat beside him. “I won’t force you to come with me, you’re not my prisoner, brother,”

“I’m not your brother, either,”

“No, you’re the love of my life,” he said without hesitation. “But I won’t have a liar in my bed. I meant what I said, no more lies. Are you willing to change? You need to think about that, Hyakuno.”

“I’ve had plenty of time to think,”

“I want you to take a little more time,”

“We’ve been apart long enough-”

“—and it’s been hard on me,” he rose from the bed. “I’m boarding the SS Siberia out of Yokohama. We set sail at nine on Wednesday,”

“Five days from now,”

“We can’t be seen leaving Hokkaido together,” he moved toward his bag. “Use these days to consider what you want to do. I hope to see you in Yokohama,”

Hyakunosuke’s heart thrummed behind his eyes.

“And if you don’t, Yuusaku?”

“Then you should know, no matter what’s happened between us, I’ll always love you,” bag in hand, he closed the door behind him.

Hyakunosuke found comfort in last night’s memory.

They’d woke on the bathroom floor, and after Tanigaki gently washed away the last vestiges of Hyakunosuke’s face paint, they coupled wordlessly on the bed.

To sleep on the Matagi was a pleasure. That bristly chest against his back and a hip bone in his ass, these things took him back to Ibaraki when they’d been the only two men alive in the world.

Keys in hand and shrouded in a sheet, he walked to the door and cracked it open. No stragglers wandered between rooms, but an infant’s distant cry signaled he wasn’t alone.

At the opposite door, he jammed the key into its hole and entered a dark room.

Parting the drapes revealed four dingy walls covered with faded paper. A rolled-up futon riddled with holes sat upon the bare floor, and the neat square of unworn wood under his feet whispered there was once a rug.

Opened on the floor was a knapsack containing everything the Ainu man Kirawus ever owned; beside it was a large metal plated trunk.

Hyakunosuke fell to his knees and pressed his thumb against the keyhole of the trunk. After admiring the imprint left upon his skin, he hesitated before mating it to the lock; what if that Ainu’s body lay tucked inside?

Unlocked, he lifted its barrel-top.

Four rows of gilded bars stared back at him, stacked twelve high to the rim; each ingot was stamped with the seal of a fictional Republic of Ezo Bank.

That clever Matagi bastard stayed with Tsurumi until the gold was to cast to bullion!

 In his hand, he calculated its worth in weight; five-hundred grams at twenty American dollars a troy ounce would net him three-hundred dollars a bar.

If Tanigaki’s share were the same, his net would be over fourteen-thousand. A return to Japan with United States currency would buy him enough yen to live out the rest of his life in luxury.

Bar cradled to his chest, Hyakunosuke fell back laughing.

First, he would buy back his family’s rice-plantation and reside in the mansion denied to him by his great-grandfather’s shitty choices.

Grandma’s body would be exhumed in Mito and laid to rest in her favorite part of the marsh—after he burned down that retched farmhouse.

Hyakunosuke locked the trunk and crept back to his room. Single bar in hand, he retrieved a pen and two pages of stationery from the flip-top desk.

Naked upon the floor, he jotted down his plans.

Bribery ensured his way back into the ranks where he would double his worth by detailing Tsurumi’s treachery and warning them of Hijikata’s plans.

Command of the garrisons in Hokkaido would be his after defeating of the ronin.

If Tsurumi were right about an impending world war, he’d finance a munitions factory and staff it with local Ainu; their loyalty would come cheap if he allowed them to own land and hunt it.

Next on his list was the last Hanazawa in Hokkaido.

An established man, buying up his dead father’s holdings, would be easy. Left with nothing, his widow, for the sake of social and financial salvation, would quickly accept any marriage proposal.

Once betrothed, he’d force her to eat anglerfish nabe daily and wear the robes of a geisha when entertaining guests.

If that weren’t enough to make her kill herself, he’d bring men into their home that resembled her precious son, and make sure she caught them sucking his cock.

He folded his plans neatly and wrapped then around his gold bar like an obi. Clothes were needed, but venturing back across the hall proved futile; the Ainu owned nothing but the clothes on his back.

Gold bar tucked under the mattress, he pulled the rope-bell for service. It took several moments for an elderly matron to appear.

“You called, Sir,” she asked at his door.

“There was a prostitute here,” he pulled the sheet tight around his hips. “I believe she’s left with my clothes,”

“Mister Hanazawa delivered your clothes to our laundress last night,” she kept her head bowed. “He explained that the woman woke up and was so drunk she vomited all over-”

“—yes, I was here,” he interrupted. “I apologize for my rudeness, but I didn’t want to share that part of the story with you,”

“I will see to your clothes, Mister Sugimoto,” the matron shriveled under his scowl before exiting.

Last night’s straight razor rested upon the sink, alongside the dilator now wrapped in a hand towel. A discarded soap bar provided enough slickness for a clean shave, but his growing head of hair needed a proper barber.

Back in the room, an elderly man waited with a sack suit draped over his arm.

A gray atrocity made worse by white pinstripes, the double-breasted suit with three buttons on the vest fit loose around his chest. There was even room in the trousers at the waist, but at least the Matagi remembered his preference for leather suspenders.

There was enough cash in his discarded kimono to procure a jinrikisha to the train station. It had only been twenty-four hours, but the military presence now was nonexistent; perhaps the slippery Tsurumi was dead.

In Otaru, the young banker handling his transaction revealed him to be the fifth ex-military man that week to sell a single gold bar; now, he was sure the demented bastard was dead.

Hyakunosuke ordered the first fifteen hundred yen in big bills. The remaining thousand he took in small bills and some coin.

Stamped upon his money was a red Mi-hon overprint, but the letters curled above the back-sided seal read Nippon Ginko in English; not even their currency escaped westernization.

He purchased a first-class ticket on the new train line connecting Otaru to Hakodate, then employed a local service to retrieve the trunk in Asahikawa. It proved costly to have it crated and delivered to a guarded billet at the port.

The coastal city of Hakodate teemed with Western influence. Clothiers and cafés catering to European and American tastes lined the wide roads where citizens mingled as if round-eyes were native to Japan.

Downtown he booked the grandest room on the highest floor of the largest hotel.

That afternoon he was fitted for a set of western suits and then dined on quality seafood and seared red meat. After dark, he sampled wines from Italy and France and discovered a preference for crisp Bohemian ales.

Tanigaki spoke true of the enclosed moving lift—it was a strange contraption, but he wasn’t in the mood to climb the stairs. Beside him in the elevator stood the concierge, a short oily man with better taste in clothes than the youthful attendant operating the up and down handle.

“Mister Ogata,” he asked. “Will you need entertainment this evening?”

“What sort of entertainment is there in Hakodate?”

“We have women from all over the world,”

“Women aren’t to my liking,”

He nodded, “Another one so soon,”

“Excuse me?”

“Forgive my utterance,” he bowed. “Yesterday a man stayed the night with us with no interest in a woman’s company either,”

“Mister Tanigaki?”

Eyes widened behind his thick glasses.

“Yes, Yuusaku-san wasn’t with us long,” he grinned. “He awaited delivery of goods, just like you,”

“Just like me,”

“When I saw him with a manfriend before retiring,” he nodded. “I understood why he wanted no women for the night,”

“I won’t be requiring a manfriend,” he snapped, stepping out without bidding the bespectacled fool a good night. “Please send me up a box of Bal Tiga’s and an iced bottle of Budvar,”

“Right away, Mister Ogata,” the elevator door closed.

A single tatami lined his room’s balcony and clad only in a yukata, he observed the bustling nightlife beneath his feet.

Did it matter if Tanigaki screwed some nameless man here? For all that promiscuous bastard knew, the lover he called brother wasn’t going to abandon their country with him.

Japan.

What the hell had this country ever done for him?

A newly purchased journal lay opened on the drafting desk. Inside were rewritten plans with pertinent details and plenty of cruel introspection.

After a good scrub with a top-dollar bar of soap, he steeped in a hot bath while smoking the best cigarette of his life. The ice-cold pilsner he drank afterward tasted fine, but all he could think about was the shōchū he shared with Tanigaki in Kosaka.

Memories of their intimacy brought a sound sleep, but waking alone made him restless. Drapes closed to the morning sun, he tossed his new journal into the marble fireplace.

Tanigaki’s words had cemented his fate.

Haven’t you ever just wanted to be someone other than the person you were raised to be? I got a chance to be happy...you deserve that chance too.

Those words kept a stranglehold on his heart.

All that time, he’d felt nothing stronger than lust for the brain-damaged Matagi, but that night in Ibaraki changed everything.

Tanigaki desired his happiness, but happiness didn’t seek cursed men—theirs was bought or stolen.

This was a sound truth that comforted Hyakunosuke for three days holed up in a single cabin with no window aboard a dual sail clipper ship.

Before boarding, he ordered his crate of iron castings delivered to Yokohama, and it took several pricey telegrams to learn that the Grand Hotel was the only establishment willing to store heavy freight for its guests.

Yokohama wore the promise of a world outside Japan. Street vendors here hawked English newspapers as foreign languages polluted the air.

The Siberia carried eighty-seven passengers with cabins and over two-hundred less fortunate sharing steerage with eight-thousand tons of cargo.

At the wharf, Hyakunosuke reviewed the prerequisite paperwork for his stowage. Extra service fees were levied for arriving late, but while haggling with the cargo clerk, his eyes roamed the manifest until they found the name Tanigaki.

Outside on the pier, the odor of sea salt and horseshit turned his stomach.

Kerchief pressed to his nose, he moved through the line of men and women coaling the steamer. Cogs with skin coated black, they were a human assembly line, passing buckets to the person beside them until the last man emptied the carbon into an open shudder atop the ship’s hull.

The last passenger to arrive, Hyakunosuke explained to the Chinese intake steward that he was late joining his wife; the man’s apprehension faded after some cash was slapped into his hand.

Crowded on the surface deck, Chinese women scrubbed clothes as their children played games in the sun. The laboring crew also appeared to be Shanghai natives, content to take orders from round-eyes in naval service uniforms.

One of them demanded Hyakunosuke present his ticket when trying to enter the cabin deck. He regarded the bearded American with disdain even after the man politely handed it back and wished him a safe passage.

All outside noise died when he entered the deck of cabin’s carpeted corridor. There were dozens of closed doors, and the silence born from its careful architecture felt strange.

“Hyakuno, you came!” Tanigaki stood before a door marked C4, his hair freshly clipped, and his jawline trimmed.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” he said.

“How did you get here?” the snug white changshan brought out the color of his recently tanned skin.

“I turned in a bar to the Bank of Japan,” Hyakunosuke stepped to him for a kiss. “Just like you-”

“—not out here,” he whispered. “We don’t want the crew thinking we’re a couple of pots,”

“Our yen is all they think about,” he smirked.

“How’d you get your goods on board?” he asked, eyes aglow.

“Tool and die equipment,” said Hyakunosuke. “A crate of honing stones and files,”

Tanigaki laughed heartily as he opened the door.

Inside found him caught in a bear hug and lifted off his feet. He barely managed to kick off his shoes before being dumped onto the bed and mauled with affection.

“Wait,” he protested. “You need to close the door,”

Tanigaki jumped up as commanded, returning to paw at Hyakunosuke’s belt with resolute hands.

“This can wait, can’t it?”

“No,” he whispered. “I’m starving for you,”

Ravenous, the Matagi fed with gentle fervor, licking and lapping at Hyakunosuke’s sex until it became impossible to hold out. After finishing in the Matagi’s mouth, he savored the man’s weight upon his stomach.

“No more lies, Hyakuno,” he murmured.

“I need a smoke,”

“Open a window, please,” he said, rising from the bed.

Hyakunosuke slid open the panel of thick glass.

“I think we’re moving,”

“You made it just in time,” Tanigaki spoke over the sound of falling water. “These cabins have washrooms, but the toilet’s next to the shower. I don’t like that,”

Hyakunosuke finally kicked the pants from his ankles.

“They give you bars of soap,” Tanigaki held one up to sniff, but he waved it away while emptying his bladder in the toilet.

The cotton curtain clung the shower’s curved metal ribs, and through it moved the Matagi’s shadow. Hyakunosuke pulled aside the soaked cloth and joined him in the small space.

Fused to that soapy chest, Hyakunosuke crooked an arm around about his taller lover’s neck and the other around his waist. Safe and secure, he wanted the hot water to last forever.

Just as in Ibaraki, Tanigaki washed his body from head to toe before pushing him away. Out of its warmth, he quickly toweled off and took an inventory of the Matagi’s new life.

The old trunk had been replaced by a standing steamer wardrobe. Packed with suits and kimono jackets, western-style underwear and socks filled the drawers, along with a collection of books about the United States.

One book owned a gaudy blue cover with cheaply drawn filigree around some English he couldn’t read. A yen-bill marked a page in the back with an illustration of a house.

“That’s my bungalow,” said Tanigaki, emerging from the washroom.

Hyakunosuke smiled, “You’re what?”

“I’m buying land in the Rocky Mountains,” he took catalog from him and kissed his cheek. “I’m building this house on it,”

“You’re not going back to Japan?”

“There’s nothing left for me in Japan, brother,”

“We can double our cash if we retur-”

“—You can double your cash in Vancouver,” the western undershorts fit loose around his buttocks. “Bank of Japan operates a branch there where you can buy and sell yen,”

“Where’s this Vancouver?”

 “It’s between Alaska and the Rocky Mountains,” the sleeveless undershirt stretched tight across his chest. “I’ll be exchanging a little at a time, but once all my take is converted, I’m traveling to a mountain state and purchasing land,”

“No agent will sell a house to you,”

“Sears and Roebuck will,”

“You’re Japanese-”

“—it doesn’t matter to them,” he fell onto the bed and tossed the book into Hyakunosuke’s lap. “These are catalog houses. There’s no man behind a counter refusing to take my money because I don’t look like him.”

Hyakunosuke flipped through the pages.

“You can be dark-skinned, even Chinese,” the scent of his clean skin invaded. “It doesn’t matter so long as you can pay for it by wire and accept delivery of materials.”

“They mail you a house?”

“They mail you the lumber, trim, stone, nails, even the plumbing,” animated, he opened the marked page and ran his finger over the itemized list. “See, these are the plans to build, and this is all the materials,”

“What are these extras you circled?”

“Heating plants. There are two kinds, one for soft coal, the other for hard,” Tanigaki sat against the headboard. “I’m getting the more expensive steam heating plant because I’m ordering the full plumbing kit. I need a proper soaker tub,”

“You’re going to build this, Home 191?”

“I’ll pay some laborers to build it,”

“They have men that’ll just build it for cash?”

Tanigaki smiled, “North America is filled with men that’ll do anything for cash,”

Hyakunosuke mounted his thighs.

“Like you, Yuusaku,” he said, kissing him.

A knock at the door interrupted their new moment.

Tanigaki kissed his hand, “I’ll get it,”

“Get rid of whoever it is,” he whispered.

Tanigaki’s voice at the door thanked someone before returning to the bed with a silver ice bucket containing two brown bottles, “The serviceman said these come with the room,”

“What is it?” he asked.

Tanigaki pulled a bottle up, but the label slid off and in the melted ice. “Coca Cola! We drank this in Kosaka, remember?”

He nodded, “At the chemists’ who sold European fountain drinks,”

“I didn’t know it came in its own bottle,” Tanigaki said, jerking the metal tops free under the bucket lip.

“Yuusaku,” he said. “When did you learn to read English?”

“What?” Tanigaki pushed a bottle into his hand.

“This label, that catalog?” he asked. “I don’t even know English,”

“To the Rocky Mountains!” Tanigaki declared. “And the rest of our lives together,”

Hyakunosuke knocked his bottle to Tanigaki’s and took a swig of the bubbling sweet concoction.

After a few sips, he preferred it through a straw over a glass of ice. Bottle back in the bucket, he leaned in for another kiss.

Tanigaki inched back, “I want to clean my teeth,”

“Your breath is fine,”

“Cola makes my teeth feel chalky,” he rose from the bed.

“Do they have cold water in the stateroom?”

“Stateroom?” he called from the washroom.

“Where people go to socialize?”

“There’s a man with a block of ice at the end of the hall,” he appeared in the doorway with white paste on his lips. “He breaks off some for you if you bring him the bucket,”

“That’s ridiculously western, Yuusaku,”

“I know, I love it!” he said, returning to the washroom.

Hyakunosuke stood and felt the room spin. His bearings askew, one step sent him tumbling to the floor, along with the ice bucket.

Sleep took hold as Tanigaki’s bare feet moved closer.

 


 

 

Close your eyes, brother, we’ll be together soon.

 


 

 

The steamer trunk teetered at the edge of the aft deck.

Filled with heavy items bought from the desperate travelers in steerage, it was lugged to this spot and cross-bound with a chain.

Behind him, the eye of Ogata Hyakunosuke slowly opened.

“Did you really think you steal my soul and never answer for it?” he seethed, clutching his collar.

The look of panic in that solitary orb brought joy.

“Listen to me, Genji-”

“—You destroyed that name!”

“Listen to me!”

“I’m through with your lies!” he let go of him and marched to the trunk. “What goes around comes around, brother!”

Ogata struggled against his full-body binding

“Don’t do this to me, please!”

One push from his boot sent the trunk over the edge.

“Tanigaki, I love y-!”

Words faded as Ogata sped past and flew out to sea.

Silence reigned for several moments.

There was something familiar about the ocean churning behind a ship; the sail to Manchuria flashed in his mind like lightning in a cloud. Even on that trip, his anger was palpable.

“Tanigaki?”

“There’s no need to use my family name,” he softened at the sound of his voice. “We’re not in the army anymore,”

“You should’ve let me do this-”

“—Your days of doing another man’s dirty work are over,” he turned to the shorter man and with a smile added, “That was my promise to you, and I keep my promises,”

You did the right thing, brother.

Dread crept in, “You’re not real,”

A comforting hand found his shoulder, “Is she here?”

“I can’t seem to make her go away,” he whispered.

“It’s your brain talking to you,” the scent of cologne brought calm. “It’s all right to answer, I don’t mind,”

“I don’t want you catering to my insanity the way you did the Lieutenant’s,” he looked into his eyes. “I’m so sorry about all of this, I didn’t think Ogata would show,”

“I suspected he would, it’s why I never unpacked,” the former Sergeant gave a sigh. “I’m going to move my things back into the room,”

“Please, Hajime,” he eyed the area before kissing his forehead, “Did you visit the dining room yet?”

“I’ll go again if you don’t want to go alone,”

“I’ve never had real western food,”

“They’ll be plenty of it in Alaska prefecture,”

He laughed, “They don’t have prefectures in America,”

“That’s right, they’re called states,” concerned eyes regarded him. “Don’t stay out here too long, Yuusaku,”

“I won’t,” he called after him.

The moment Tsukishima was inside, he turned to find her spinning about the deck, flapping her arms like a bird.

You did the right thing, brother, beneath a winter-white kimono, pox scars dotted the little girl’s charred skin. I told you at the hospital when he came to get us that he was bad.

“It’s very late,” he scolded. “You should be in bed,”

I want to see the ocean, brother-

“—You can’t be out this late,” he took hold of her crisp blackened hand and gently guided her along. “You can sleep with me tonight,”

Is Hajime sleeping with us, too?

“We’re not keeping Hajime,”

She went limp and sunk to the ground.

I like him, brother-

“—I like him too,” her blackened flesh chipped off as he put her on his shoulders. “That’s why we’re going to separate in Vancouver,”

He’s different than the others.

“I know, but I don’t want to hurt him,”

You never hurt me when I make you mad.

She wasn’t yet old enough to understand.

“Maybe when I’m better, we’ll find someone like Hajime,”

Hajime is like Hajime.

“Please stop making this hard for me,”

Her specter faded, I love you, brother.

“I love you too, Fumi,”